Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blame The Brain

Thomas Riggins

Why do people commit atrocities? What is responsible for brutality and the cold blooded murder of innocents carried out by Nazis, the Hutu in Rwanda , or the United States against the Vietnamese people and more recently much of the civilian population of Iraq? Some scientists believe they have found the answer.

ScienceDaily reports ("Brain's Failure to Appreciate Others May Permit Human Atrocities," 12-14-2011) that the part of the brain responsible for social interaction with others may malfunction resulting in callousness leading to inhumane actions towards others. Scientists at Duke and Princeton have hypothesized, in a recent study, that this brain area can "disengage" when people encounter others they think are "disgusting" and the resulting violence perpetrated against them is due to thinking these objectified others have no "thoughts and feelings."

The study, according to ScienceDaily, considers this a "shortcoming" which could account for the genocide and torture of other peoples. Examples of this kind of objectification can be seen in the calling of Jews "vermin" by the Nazis, the Tutsi "cockroaches" by the Hutu, and the American habit of calling others "gooks" (as well as other unflattering terms).

Lasana Harris (Duke) says that "When we encounter a person, we usually infer something about their minds [do they have more than one?]. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human." I wonder about this? What is meant by fully human? Surely the Hutu, for example, who had lived with the Tutsi for centuries did not really fail to infer that they had "minds."

Practicing something called "social neuroscience" which seems to consist of showing different people pictures while they are undergoing an MRI and then drawing conclusions from which areas of the brain do or do not "light up" when asked questions about these pictures, the scientists conducting this study discovered that an area of the brain dealing with "social cognition"-- i.e., feelings, thoughts, empathy, etc., "failed to engage" when pictures of homeless people, drug addicts , and others "low on the social ladder" were shown.

Susan Fiske (Princeton) remarked, "We need to think about other people's experience. It's what makes them fully human to us." ScienceDaily reported that the researchers were struck by the fact "people will easily ascribe social cognition-- a belief in an internal life such as emotions-- to animals and cars, but will avoid making eye contact with the homeless panhandler in the subway."

I don't think many people, at least if they haven't recently watched "Herbie", really think cars have an internal emotional life. The reason people avoid eye contact with the homeless is not, I think, because they don't see them as fully human, but because they do and they know, deep down, that they are in what Sartre called "bad faith" with respect to not helping or being able to help a fellow human being.

What seems to be unaddressed in this study is the "cause" of the objectification of others. Suppose brain area X is responsible for empathy and it does not "light up" in Nazis when they are around Jews. is this the reason that Nazis engage in inhumane acts? Is it a brain malfunction? Or is it perhaps the case that people who have been educated as Nazis, who have been subjected to intense Nazi propaganda and have been led to believe the Nazi world view will then have brains that won't respond to empathy to those considered hostile to Nazism? It is not a brain malfunction but a normal brain response to educational conditioning. This is, by the way, why ruling classes seek to control the content of public and private education and de facto censor views and individuals they view as "subversive."

This is an interesting scientific study, but I do not think the answer to man's inhumanity to man, at least with respect to large political and social movements, is to be explained by college students (the test sample) looking at pictures while undergoing an MRI.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Capitalism in a Fish Bowl

Thomas Riggins

Capitalism can sometimes be very confusing to figure out, especially with the complex interrelations of the world economy and the the different banking laws and corporate structures and all the national forms economies take. It would be helpful if we had a very simple way to look at it and figure it out. A simple model of how this system works which we could extrapolate to the whole system to understand it the better. I propose to discuss what is happening to the fish in the seas and to suggest that their fate under capitalism is just a smaller version of the fate that awaits us all if we allow this economic system to continue to dominate our lives and our planet. My information is taken from a ScienceDaily online article from December 5, 2011 entitled "Marine Predators in Trouble."

As we are well aware the world's oceans used to team with sea life and great flotillas of fishing vessels have scoured the seas to catch this life and bring it to market to feed a hungry world [at least a hungry rich northern world] and to make a profit-- especially a profit-- and if a particular species of fish could bring in a good profit it would be fished to extinction to obtain that profit rather than be allowed to recover to be fished again some day in the future. It is not a sustainable food supply that capitalism seeks to create-- but immediate profits on its investments. This is, by the way, why humane farming laws are difficult to enact and almost impossible to enforce.

At any rate, the SD article reports that scientists at the University of British Columbia have published a study that shows since the 1950s large marine predators such as marlins, swordfish, tunas and sharks have declined by 90% and have practically been wiped out in the northern Pacific and Atlantic by commercial fishing. These commercial fish, having been hunted to near extinction in the northern Hemisphere, are no longer sought in great numbers in the north by the fishing fleets. After sweeping them out of the coastal areas of the northern continents and islands, the fleets scoured the the open seas and have now headed to the southern Hemisphere where they intend to continue their unsustainable fishing methods to maintain their profits; pillaging the coasts and the open waters of the Indian and South Pacific and Atlantic oceans as well as the Antarctic Ocean.

One of the researchers mentioned in the SD article and lead author of the study, Laura Tremblay-Boyer, was quoted as saying: "Species such as tuna have been seriously exploited because of high market demand. A constant theme throughout of global marine ecosystems is these top predators are today prey for human beings, assisted by some serious technology. Top marine predators are more intrinsically vulnerable to the effects of fishing due to their life histories. Bluefin tuna, for instance, cannot reproduce until age nine." But the demand for fish from the markets of the north has not ceased. And now, the same shortage are beginning to appear in the southern oceans.

"After running out of predator fish in the north Atlantic and Pacific," co-author of the study Daniel Pauly said, "rather than implementing strict management and enforcement, the fishing industry pointed its bows south. The southern hemisphere predators are now on the same trajectory as the ones in the northern hemisphere. What happens next when we have nowhere left to turn?"

A good question. This is exactly the same behavior we have seen the capitalists engaging in with respect to climate change. Cancun, Copenhagen, and now Durban. No binding agreements-- infact the major world leaders didn't even bother to show up for this conference (Durban)-- and it is breathable air and temperatures compatible with life that is the issue. What does happened next when we have nowhere left to turn?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Farewell to McRib (for now)

Thomas Riggins 
The famous McRib pork patty has once again made a brief appearance at a McDonald's near you. For a brief three weeks, October 24 to November 14, the elusive pork patty was available to the masses of gustatorily challenged carnivores who have become addicted to its unique combination of nutritionally disastrous chemical toxins. 
From it first appearance, 1981-1985, (occasioned by a dearth of chickens  available for nuggetivation) the McRib has been on and off the McDonald's menu several times. It was widely available after being reintroduced in 1989-- until removed again in 2005. Since then it has had a sporadic career in different parts of the McDonald's Empire (except for Germany where it has always been available due to the unquenchable appetite for all things porky). But in the last couple of years the Empire has begun to make it available nationwide but only for a few weeks at a time with long periods between appearances. 
What is the nature of this pork patty? It has no ribs in it so its name is somewhat misleading. Like a Hollywood star its real name, McRestructured-Meat-Product, was deemed by its creators too off putting to gain much attraction or many fans. Even McPork-Patty did not seem to have much appeal. But who doesn't like ribs? And who wouldn't fall for a juicy plump (at least in its roll) glob of restructured meat product with fake rib indentations slathered in barbecue sauce and introduced as the McRib sandwich (the name that brought it fame)? 
But behind that lovely exterior McRib hides a sordid past. Its popularity masks its history of chemical dependence. It cannot show up to perform it culinary wonders unless it has been provided with seventy different chemicals and compounds by its legions of enablers.  
It starts life on the slaughterhouse floor of Smithfield Foods which supplies McDonald with the raw meat that will become McRib. This relationship may soon end as the Humane Society of the United States is even now exposing what it calls cruel and inhumane treatment of the animals Smithfield slaughters and is asking for the intervention of the federal government to halt the company's alleged truly odious practices. 
McDonald's takes this meat-- basically pork shoulder mixed with pig tripe (the next door neighbor of chitlins in the pig digestive system), hearts, and scalded pig stomach technically known as "restructured meat (pork) product" but, due to the company's friends in Congress, listed for the public as "pork"-- mashed up into a mush to which about three dozen chemicals and compounds are mixed (including sauce and bun) to make it appear presentable and sells it to the public. Since you can imagine what this slop might taste like in its natural state it needed all sorts of artificial flavors and colors mixed into it, and its sauce and bun, before anyone could be lured into embracing it with the love it so richly does not deserve. 
One of its flavors comes from the 980 mg of salt it gets along with 26 grams of fat, including trans fat, and 41% of your daily maximum of cholesterol. McRib is now ready to weigh in at 500 calories, slightly less than the lead star at McDonald's, the Big Mack. And, if you find McRib's bun nice looking, one of the reasons is it is bleached with azodicarbonate a chemical more commonly used in making foamed plastics in shoe soles and gym mats. By the looks of some McRib's fans, azodicarbonate may be the closest they will ever get to a gym. 
Why the periodic appearance of McRib? I don't know but it  may have something to do with the fact that different states have different times of expiration for their statutes of limitation on personal injury law suits. 
In any case, the McRib is once again in semi-retirement. If we are lucky, maybe by next Thanksgiving McDonald's will have McTurkey ready for us.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Greenhouse Gases Continue to Increase

Thomas Riggins

Even as scientists around the world continue to warn that the build up of greenhouse gases, especially CO2 from carbon based fuels, is leading to drastic changes in the earth's climate which could result in catastrophic storms, floods, rising sea levels, famines and mass extinction of plants and animals the major international oil and gas cartels continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere while the leading governments of the world fail to take meaningful action to save the atmosphere.

Just this week Kerry Sheridan reported, in Agence France-Presse, that last year, according to the US Department of Energy (this is the one Gov. Perry couldn't remember he wanted to abolish) carbon based fuels (oil, gas, and coal) dumped the largest yearly amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in history. Led by the world's three greatest atmospheric polluters, China, the US, and India, the industrialized countries managed, despite all the warnings, to dump about 512 million metric-tons- of additional carbon into the air in 2010; the most ever seen in a single year since data began being collected as far back as 1751. This means there are about 9.1 billion metric tons of carbon based gases floating around in the atmosphere, about 6% more than in 2009. This is no way to fight global warming.

John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) School of Engineering was quoted as saying "This is very bad news. These results show that it will be harder to make the tough cuts to emissions if we are to head off a climate crisis." Another climate scientist, Scott Mandis, remarked that "Science tells us that we are driving in a fog headed toward a cliff but are unsure just how far away it is. Given this warning, it is quite foolish to be stepping on the accelerator."

In light of this it is shocking that so many people in our country don't even believe in this largely man made atmospheric pollution: this due to deep seated ignorance of science spawned by a dysfunctional education system, media complicity with Wall Street corporations that profit from a carbon based fuel economy, and know nothing right wing politicians, especially exemplified by the Republican presidential candidates who publicly proclaim that global warming induced by the burning of fossil fuels is a "hoax."

Fortunately the American people are beginning to wake up and take matters in their own hands. They are mobilizing to fight against states that desire to issue fracking permits to oil companies, and under the stimulus of the Occupy Wall Street movement and (the website devoted to mobilizing against global warming) have thrown a monkey wrench into the federal government's plan to rush through approval of the oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. Now they must mobilize against the oil drilling permits the government is handing out for off shore drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, especially the new ones to BP which hasn't even paid its fines for the Gulf spill it caused.

We must fight every plan to increase dependency on fossil fuels and demand that solar, wind, water, and other non polluting renewalable energy sources be developed (NOT including nuclear power).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Senator Rubio's Credibility Gap

Thomas Riggins

Senator Marko Rubio, a Tea Party Republican who wants to get rid of Medicare and cut back Social Security, according to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is fighting back after he was exposed juicing up his official biography in order to appeal to the ultra-right.

Rubio, recently elected to the Senate from Florida, has been touted in some quarters as a potential vice-presidential candidate on the Republican ticket in 2012-- a male version of Sarah Palin, the New York Times calls him "charismatic."

The Senator, however, has been exposed as claiming to be the son of Cuban exiles who had to flee the evil regime of Fidel Castro to find freedom in segregationist Florida, when in fact his parents came over to the Sunshine State in 1956-- if they were escaping anyone it was Batista and his capitalist dictatorship.

But in Rubio's version, dished out to unsophisticated Florida voters and until recently a part of his official Senate biography, he said his "Cuban-born parents came to America following Fidel Castro's takeover." Well, that has been removed from his official bio when it was pointed out that Cuba was liberated from the Batista dictatorship in 1959 not 1956.

Rubio who once said about his parents that "They were immigrants, and they were also exiles. That is the essence of my story." The "essence" of his story turns out to be one big fat whopper-- not easily digested. Called out on his "exiles" story Rubio said it was "outrageous" to think he might have, as the Times put it "embellished his family story for political advantage." Duh! [See, "Senator Lashes Out at Critics Who Say He Embellished His Family's Story,'' by Lizette Alvarez and Jennifer Steinhauer, NYT 10-22-2011.]

It seems he just got confused about the dates. He said that "In hindsight, I wish I had found out about the dates. But it was not relevant to the important narrative about what my experience was." Not important! The son of people fleeing communist "tyranny" or just the son of run of the mill immigrants looking for more moolah than they could make under the Batista dictatorship is "not relevant."

But it is relevant. Here is what George Gonzalez, a Cuban-American teaching at the University Miami says: "Every Cuban-American knows when their parents arrived and the circumstances under which they arrived. That's part of the Cuban exile experience, the political and psychological trauma of it [most of them chose to come here so it's not really so much exile as becoming expats--tr]. So the idea that he was murky on those ideas does not cut ice." There are those who defend him of course but I think Gonzalez has hit the nail on its head. The people of Florida are stuck with this phony for six years, then they should dump him.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Frederick Engels on the Theoretical Development of Modern Socialism

Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses the theories of modern socialism in chapter two of part three of his book Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science. We are informed that socialism is a politico-economic theory based on the materialist conception of history. Unlike idealist conceptions that history is based on the great ideas and actions of famous individuals (the view of Bertrand Russell for one), or guided by spiritual forces, or the expression of a grand plan set up by some deity or other (there are several choices as to which deity came up with the plan) materialists believe that the existence of the various institutions and social structures that have developed overtime, and by which various groups of humans arrange their social institutions, belief patterns, and social relations are to be understood, in the last analysis, by a study of how they interact to make their daily bread (production) and how they come to distribute what they made to each other (distribution). Thus the causes of the different phases of human development , Engels says, "are to be sought, not in the philosophy but in the economics of each particular epoch."

Today, Engels says (he means the 1870s in Europe but his comments are still as true now as then) there is a growing sense that something is basically wrong and unfair in how our national and international economic system operates. It can't employ all who wish to work, millions of people are living in poverty, famines droughts brought about by human activity engulf large sections of the globe and hunger stalks the streets of many of our largest cities, families are homeless and uprooted, and our schools and colleges fail to properly educate the youth to understand the world they live in. Yet a very small group of wealthy people grow richer and richer while the vast majority of humanity suffers and wastes away.

This shows, according to Engels, that new ways of production and distribution have evolved and that the social order we live in has not kept up with these developments. In fact our social order has become dysfunctional and is holding back all the possible potential improvements in human welfare that the new productive and distributive powers could provide. It is the task of socialists to discover and point out the current impediments which prevent the productive system from reaching its full potential and to discover the means of benefiting all humanity rather than just a small portion. And, he says: "These means are not to be invented, spun out of the head, but discovered with the aid of the head in the existing material facts of production."

Our present society is the creation of a class of people consisting of merchants, shopkeepers, owners of small manufacturing concerns, all those who made their living either by buying, selling, and trading commodities, small farmers who trucked their product to market and those who ministered to them (doctors, lawyers, teachers and preachers). Underneath this class was a class of laborers who made the commodities, or helped in their storage and distribution, upon which the former relied for their income. This latter class became the working class of today and the former the class of people living off of the surplus value created by the working class. Marx and others referred to them as the bourgeoisie or capitalists.

This mode of production, the creation of commodities for a market, has come to be called capitalism. The first capitalists found themselves subservient to a powerful ruling class of nobles consisting of feudal lords and (mostly) hereditary monarchs who lived by means of agricultural exploitation of serfs and taxation of the income of the developing bourgeoise. This ruling class stifled the productive capacity of the bourgeoise and prevented it from reaching its true potential. In other words, the bounds within which the feudal system restricted the capitalists were incompatible with that class's growing mode of production and so, Engels says, the "bourgeoisie broke up the feudal system and built upon its ruins the capitalist order of society."

Once the feudal bonds were broken (the French Revolution was one of the most dramatic instances) the capitalist mode of production flourished and developed the productive forces of society to unprecedented heights, only in its turn to find that its own associated method of distribution contradicted its mode of production. The social product is a collective creation of working people in all the branches of production but it is appropriated by a small number of capitalists who own and control the means by which this social product is created. The social product is then distributed in a way that increases the social wealth of the capitalist class at the expense of the well being of the working people, ultimately leading to their impoverishment. The only way the working people can free themselves from the exploitation of the capitalist class is by uniting together and abolishing it.

This conflict is waged daily in every work place, factory, field, and mine where the capitalist mode of production holds sway. This very active and real class warfare is a feature, 24/7, of daily life in almost every country on the face of the earth, and just like high blood pressure (the silent killer) it is going on and even intensifying whether the people involved are aware of it or not.

Engels says, "Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought , of this conflict in fact; its ideal reflection in the minds, first, of the class directly suffering under it, the working class." The fact that in many countries many, and even most, working people are lacking this "reflex in thought" is testament to the power of the capitalist class, through its mass media and control of the education system, means of entertainment, and professional sports, to fill the heads of working people with illusions and a false sense of reality.

How did this class warfare between workers and capitalists begin? It was not to be found in the Middle Ages because the peasant farmers and handicraft men, or their families, made their own necessities by and large, and the products of their labor belonged to them. They could use them themselves or take them to market as commodities or pay their taxes and feudal dues in kind or exchange them with one another.

With the progress of invention it was possible for a person to set up shop with, say, many looms, and put many hands to work side by side with the peasant with his own loom in his hut making products for himself. Now the product of the man with many looms belonged to him and loom workers were given wages.

Engels says the old division of labor of the peasant village with products being exchanged in kind began to break up as this primitive factory system began to evolve. "In the midst of the old division of labour, grown up spontaneously and upon no definite plan, which had governed the whole of society, now arose division of labor upon a definite plan, as organized in the factory; side by side with individual production appeared social production." Planning locally, and eventually central planning, was a major feature of the success of capitalism. Whatever the problems of 20th century socialism were, they did not result from the use of central planning per se.

As the capitalist system evolved it eventually replaced individual production with social production but kept in place individual appropriation of the products that were produced-- thus creating a new class of exploited human beings that became known as the proletariat who soon began to stand outcast and starving amid the wonders they had made, which wonders were now the property of the bourgeoisie.

As production for a market became more and more wide spread it was soon discovered, Engels points out, that: "Anarchy reigns in socialized production." This is because no one can really tell what the fate of the the commodities they are making will be, will there be a demand for them, will they be sold at a profit or loss. Even with the planning involved in setting up the factory system there always remains this risk factor under capitalism.

Capitalism thus finds itself subject to the laws of EXCHANGE ("the only persistent form of social interrelations") which manifest themselves in competition. The anarchy became exacerbated since capitalism destroys competing modes of production and will not co-exist with them; thus handicrafts were replaced by the system of manufacture and manufacture by steam powered machinery.

This all happened under pressure of the age of discovery, starting roughly with the voyages of Columbus, and planting of colonies which vastly increased the number of markets and sealed the fate of the handicraft system which could not keep up with demand. It also led to the outbreaks of wars between nations fighting for market share-- a form of anarchistic behavior that still marks the world capitalist system.

It is at this point that Engels turns to Darwinian images to describe the relations of capitalists to one another. Both Marx and Engels were very impressed with The Origin of Species but neither were so-called "social Darwinists." Nevertheless today's globalization is simply an extension of the world market of the nineteenth century that Engels described as a universal struggle of existence between different capitalist elites and whole nations and those who fail are "remorselessly cast aside"-- unless, of course they get government stimulus money and bailouts.

"It is," Engels says, "the Darwinian struggle of the individual for existence transferred from nature to society with intensified violence." Capitalism reduces humanity back to its natural animal form of existence. This is the result of the intensification of the contradiction between socialized mode of production and the private capitalist appropriation of the social product.

One of the results of the unfettered competition between capitalists is that they lose control of their own economic system, as we see going on at present, and as it crashes the anarchy of production (which also reigns in the financial sector) forces "the great majority" of the people into becoming "proletarians." The current Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWSM) reflects the fact the "middle class" (actually a better paid strata of the working class mixed with small business people and professionals) is being forced into lower paid jobs, unemployment, bankruptcy, and debt and sees no way out for itself in this economy. They are becoming part of the surplus population (from the point of view of the capitalists) and don't like it. They have yet to fully realize that this is the natural outcome of capitalism and their only hope for a better life is to support socialist economic measures.

The OWSM is a natural response to what is the latest breakdown in the capitalist system. Engels dates the first general breakdown to the Crisis of 1825-- caused by over speculation by the banks (esp. the Bank of England) in unsound investments in Latin America (esp. Peru). Just as our current crisis, investors were given misinformation about the soundness of their investments and when the market collapsed were left holding bag. The banks use the term "asymmetric information" to note that what they know about the investment and what you know is different. The term "fraud" would be more to the point. In 1825 France bailed out England, in our current crisis the US taxpayers bailed out the banks.

These panics used to occur about every ten years but there was some stabilization after World War II and we had about 60 years of minor panics and recessions before this current world wide on going economic crash of the capitalist system-- with no end in sight. However, for Engels, what looks like a financial crisis is really a crisis in production. Socialized production has made too many goodies for the markets so factories laid off working people who then could not pay their bills-- esp. the fraudulent mortgages. Since the financial sector had cooked up so many mortgages based on "asymmetric information" the whole economy began to fall apart.

So many factories remain closed or under utilized that unemployment balloons, and the great productive forces available to our economy are dormant until the capitalists can figure how to get them going again in such a way that they, not the American people, can once again appropriate the wealth that will be created by the workers. The added twist of our day is that capitalists, their industries having become unproductive during the down turn, add to their profits by getting out of paying taxes, by adding fees and surcharges to service products, and by hiking interest rates to private borrowers (credit cards for example) even while commercial interest rates are held low by government intervention via the Federal Reserve.

As the corporate world flounders, as the auto industry recently did, it relies on "its official representative"-- namely the state-- to come to its aid. It should be obvious to all that the state which Lincoln called "of the people, for the people, by the people" is now "of, for, and by the corporations"-- it is their referee.

Engels says that the state will eventually be forced to take over the commanding heights of the economy simply because the capitalists can no longer control them due to the growing contradiction between the socialized productive forces (masses of workers united with or without unions in the creation of the social product in factories and industries and subject to increasing unemployment and poverty) and the private appropriation of the social product by the 1 to 10% of the ruling class and its top functionaries. The tipping point has not yet been reached, but it is coming-- if not in this crisis, then the next it will present itself.

This state takeover under capitalism is not yet socialism, Engels tells us, even though the commanding heights will have been converted into state property. However, the takeover reveals that all the functions of running the economy can be taken over by state "salaried employees." Since the "modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine" as it is forced to nationalize failing industries "it actually becomes the national capitalist." The state directly exploits the working people having done away with individual, and incompetent, private capitalists (done in by their own creation).

This is not a stable situation and in a democracy it cannot last. The contradiction between the state and the people brings "to a head" the capitalist relation between people and their government and this must "topple over." State capitalism is not, therefore, the answer to the class conflict, "but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements" leading to that answer.

Once the people understand the source of their problems is the private appropriation of the social product, then the 99% can really set an agenda to put the 1% in their place. Here is what Engels thinks should happen. The people should set about " the harmonizing of the modes of production, appropriation, and exchange." Hopefully they can do this through political action and the regulation of the three modes. Engels says "it depends only upon ourselves to subject them to our own will" and if we don't do so these forces will continue to work against us and to master us. State capitalism will be transformed in the direction of socialism.

The greatest challenge is to become conscious of the need for what is to be done especially when that need is the take over of the economy by the people because "this understanding goes against the grain of the capitalist mode of production and its defenders"--i.e., the capitalists, the major political parties, the mass media, the mainstream churches, and the public and private education systems as well as the leadership of most unions and mass organizations as presently constituted.

Nevertheless, according to Engels, as the crisis deepens this consciousness will begin to develop in all of the above institutions except for the capitalist class itself and those completely dependent upon it. The working people and its allies and friends, the 99%, will have to take political power out of the hands of the corporations and their flunkies, if they have not already been nationalized, and turn the current privately held means of production into state property.

A by product of this action, the abolition of private property, is that the 1% will no longer have the means to dominate the 99%-- all people will be equally working for their own and the common good. This is what Engels means when speaking of the ending of classes and class exploitation.

An even more startling consequence, to both his own time and ours, is Engels' (and Marx's) belief that the state will disappear. Even the most jaded Libertarian or demented tea bagger could never hope to get government reduced to zero. But Engels points out that throughout history the role of the state has been to control the 99% in the interests of the 1%-- be they slave owners, feudal lords, or capitalists. This role will no longer exist in a society where everything (economically speaking) is owned and managed by the people collectively at the points of production and distribution. There will still be planning commissions and civic associations, but the state, as we know it, will be superfluous.

This doesn't mean that the state will be formally abolished by some sort of declaration or proclamation. It will just slowly wither away over time as its functions become moribund. At least this is the ideal that Engels has in mind for it; perhaps like "liberty and justice for all" it will remain an ideal that every generation comes closer to but never 100% attains, then again maybe Engels will be right.

We must be mindful that all of this speculation about the coming to power of the working people, the disappearance of the 1%, the transition to socialism, etc., is dependent on the development of the productive forces of society to such a high degree of perfection that they can eliminate scarcity and there will be the possibility of abundance of food and other necessities and luxuries for all and that the only reason for poverty and suffering is the control of society by the 1% in its own selfish interests.

In the language of philosophy this means that Sartre's proposition in the Critique of Dialectical Reason : "Scarcity is a fundamental relation of our History and a contingent determination of our univocal relation to materiality" leading to his assertion "There is not enough for everybody" does not hold, it has been overcome and negated, for our world. Indeed, Engels thought it did not hold even in the nineteenth century. We have the productive capacity but we cannot use it due to the capitalist framework within which it exists. It is as the sick person-- the medicine exists to cure him but he hasn't the money to buy it, so he dies.

If this is ever done, and it is a big IF, the world humanity will find itself in after the passing of the capitalist mode of production will be very different from the world of today. Commodity production will cease as there will be no market and no anarchy of production. Objects with use values will be made according to a central plan and they will be made to satisfy human needs not to be sold for profit. There will be no more struggle for existence as all humans will be provided for and, Engels says, for the first time humanity will live as humans should and not be subject to an animal existence. For the first time humanity will control the laws of its own social existence and economy and not be subjected to them. The pre-history of humanity will be over and the true history of humanity will begin. It will be the beginning not the end of history. It will be the leap of humanity "from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom."

Well, as the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, I hope we have made that step on September 17, 2011 a few blocks from Wall Street in Liberty Square. But even if we haven't and Engels was at heart an utopian and his vision of the future a dream, still a dream, if that is all it is, can, as Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, inspire people to fight for a better world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jim Crow Alabama County Loses in Federal Court

Jim Crow Alive and Well in Alabama
Thomas Riggins

The title says Alabama, but Herr Crow is doing well in many other states as well, it's just that this story is about Shelby County a suburban area of Birmingham. This part of Alabama has been trying to disenfranchise Black people for years but the latest ploy has been shot down by a Federal District Court.

Shelby County officials, ever zealous in trying to protect the Constitution and the rights it grants to American citizens went to court because they feared that the US Congress was trampling the Constitution underfoot by extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years (this was done in 2006).This means it won't be until 2031 that Shelby County can start discriminating against Black voters, and Congress could extend the act again!

The Voting Rights Act applies to areas where a history of discrimination has been manifested-- almost every county in every Southern state, but also, according to the New York Times (9-22-2011) "Alaska, Arizona and isolated towns and counties around the country."

These areas cannot change any of their voting practices without getting permission from a panel of federal judges or the US Department of Justice. Shelby County, and no doubt other areas, feel discriminated against and, as we all know, discrimination is unconstitutional.

The good officials of Shelby county are not about to have their rights stepped on. They maintain that Jim Crow is history and they went to court to argue that "it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose" on them, and others, "disfavored treatment"-- i.e., getting permission before mucking around with their voting procedures. The US Congress, they maintained had no evidence "of intentional discrimination" and, even if it did it seems, it is still a disregard of states rights (I thought that was resolved in 1865).

The federal court, however, found otherwise. At least 14 cases of intentional voter discrimination between 1982 and 2006 had been determined by the courts. The federal judge also noted that the county has openly racist lawmakers and poll workers [preposterous-- what in Alabama?] and that a town in the county had, in 2008, tried to eliminate the only district with a Black majority.

Poor Shelby County-- it looks like it will have to wait until 2031 after all before it can overcome "disfavorment"-- as the federal judge, a Bush Jr. appointee, John D.Bates, concluded: "Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that unprecedented legislative record [the attempt to eliminate the only Black majority voting district] the court concludes that 'current needs'-- the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting-- do, in fact, justify Congress's 2006 reauthorization imposed on covered jurisdictions."

Maybe the county fathers will have better luck with Jim Beam than with Jim Crow.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's the beef?

Agriculture Department Toughens Regulations on Beef
Thomas Riggins

The New York Times reports that the beef industry is upset with the Agriculture Department for its promulgation of new regulations regarding deadly food toxins found in ground beef. (NYT Business Day 9-13-2011).

Millions of pounds of beef (primarily hamburger) have had to be recalled since 1994 when a strain of Escherichia coli was banned in ground beef. This strain of E coli is a deadly bacteria whose home base is the lower intestine of warm blooded animals. Due to that way we raise cattle and process meat (don't ask) the bacteria finds its way into our hamburgers as well as onto fruits and vegetables we buy.

Not all E. coli is dangerous, there are many strains, but E. coli 0157:H7 is deadly and has been the focus of attention by the Agriculture Department. Now, to the dismay of the beef industry, SIX more deadly, but rare, strains of E. coli are also to be banned and won't be going to market-- at least not in raw hamburger and similar products.

Dr. Elizabeth Hagen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was quoted as saying, "We're doing this to prevent illness and to save lives. This is one of the biggest steps forward in the protection of the beef supply in some time."

It is certainly a noble objective to want to save lives and prevent sickness, but unfortunately it conflicts with an even more noble objective valued by the bourgeoisie-- namely making profits and getting rid of government regulations (bad for business).

Business already has it too good since its perfectly legal to sell food that is full of toxins as it is. Salmonella infested food can be sold to the public with just a warning to cook the food at a suitably high temperature or to wash it throughly. The government doesn't want to overly stress business interests by making them clean up their processing factories to eliminate salmonella contamination. What more do they want?

Well, for one, they want the new regulations against the six new strains of E. coli to go away. Here is what the American Meat Institute says: "Imposing this new regulatory program on ground beef will cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars-- costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers. It is neither likely to yield a significant public health benefit nor is it good public policy."

Well it may cost tax payers money-- we have to pay for some things besides war after all, and the industry will certainly try to pass along the cost of cleaning up their processing plants to their customers; but what is the alternative? The Times reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates these six additional strains of E. coli sicken 133,000 people yearly and a third of them get sick from contaminated beef.

Nevertheless, the American Meat Institute not only says it is not good public policy to regulate against this contamination, it also concludes the need for regulation is "just not supported by the science." It is at least reassuring that the industry is aware that there is something out there called "science" that should be taken into account even if its use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is misguided.

Anyway, waste not want not, the tainted meat can still be sold to the public-- it just can't be sold as fresh meat. E. coli 157 and the six new strains under regulation will be heated to 160 degrees F and sold to us in all those nice meat dishes that are labeled pre-cooked and all we have to do is warm and serve. The millions of little dead E. coli cells can then be happily consumed without, we are told, any ill effects. Yum, yum.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Drugs, Ads, and the FDA

Drug Ads, the FDA, and People's Health
Thomas Riggins

I think we all know that under our capitalist system big corporations, given the choice between making profits or obeying the law, mostly go for profits. This capitalist penchant can be fatal to some consumers who rely upon the safety of the products they use. This law breaking behavior by the corporate world is especially dangerous when it comes to the selling of prescription drugs that are advertised as safe but are really not.

A recent study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and reported in ScienceDaily of 8-18-2011 ("Majority of Pharmaceutical Ads Do Not Adhere to FDA Guidelines, New Study Finds") has disclosed that 82% of the ads placed by Drug companies in medical journals violate the Food and Drug Administration's regulations on truthfulness and risk disclosure and more than 50% failed to mention that death was a serious possibility from using the drug.

These ads are not directed at the public but at doctors and other health professionals who will be using these drugs to treat people in the future. Dr. Deborah Korenstein, the main author of the report was quoted by SD as saying, "Marketing research has consistently shown that journal advertising is the most profitable form of drug marketing, with an estimated return on investment of five dollars for every dollar spent." An irresistible temptation to hype your product and cover up its defects it seems.

Dr. Korenstein also remarked that "Our study, the first in nearly 20 years to provide a systematic assessment of the adherence of US advertisements to FDA guidance,
shows that the current system is not in the best interest of the health of the public."

Well of course it is not in the best interests of public health for the drug manufacturers to be engaged in massive fraudulent promotions of their products. But what about the FDA? Its job is to enforce the regulations and, as some other agencies do, it seems to be looking the other way with regard to these violations.

It is up to the executive branch to make sure the FDA is doing its job. Congress too is to blame. The drug lobbyists have more influence with our elected representatives than do the people who elect them. That means it is ultimately up to us, as voters, to see to it that everyone does their job. Next year will be a crucial election year and it is up to all progressives to go all out to convince the American people of the dangers that the current Republican agenda holds for democracy itself if it should get its adherents elected or re-elected.

If the Right gains more power in 2012 two things won't happen with respect to the FDA: its resources to police the drug industry will not be increased and stiffer regulations against drug industry fraud will not be forth coming. These are two crucial factors which must come about to keep dangerous drugs from being touted as safe.

Dr Korenstein explains: "The limited resources of the FDA's Division of Drug Marketing and Advertising are a major barrier to successful regulation of the pharmaceutical industry's multi-billion dollar marketing budget. We are hopeful that an update in FDA regulations, with increased emphasis on the transparent presentation of basic safety and efficacy information, might improve the quality of information provided in physician-directed pharmaceutical advertisements."

The science challenged crop of right wing ideologues who will be vying for power in next year's elections have no solutions to this, or any other, problem facing the American people. Let's make sure the folks who are going to vote know that and that those who think voting a waste of time know they may have to swallow a bitter pill if they don't vote.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Childhood Obesity and Food Adverts

Major Food Companies Promote Childhood Obesity
Thomas Riggins

Any democratic government has a responsibility to protect the health and well being of its citizens and especially to prevent private interests from exploiting children for private gain or any other reason. This may look like common sense, but governments around the world, including the US government, have been far too lax in allowing food companies to manufacture, advertise, and sell foods for children that they know is unhealthy and will lead to serious health consequences in the future.

According to ScienceDaily (June 30,2011) scientists at the University of Liverpool in the UK have shown that children watching TV commercials promoting unhealthy foods (foods with too much fat,salt and sugar) develop a desire to eat these kinds of food in preference to nutritionally healthy alternatives ("TV Food Advertising Increases Children's Preference for Unhealthy Foods, Study Finds").

The study was conducted on children 6 to 13 years old who were shown a cartoon after watching 5 minutes of toy commercials or 5 minutes of commercials of unhealthy snack foods. The children were then allowed to choose what kind of foods they wanted from lists of healthy and unhealthy foods including famous brand names and non brand named foods. The children choose significantly more unhealthy foods to eat after the food commercials but not after the toy commercials.

Emma Boyland, one of the authors of the study was quoted as saying, "Obesity in young children is now a major health concern around the world. Our studies highlight that there are global connections between advertising, food preferences and consumption. This is a beyond-brand effect, increasing children's selections of all unhealthy foods -- not just those shown in the adverts."

If these conclusions hold up it means that governments should ban all such advertising aimed at children and indeed ban the the production and sale of unhealthy foods entirely. The purpose of food is to provide healthy nutrition to the food consumers, not profits to capitalists. It is simply not rational, nor moral, to allow private companies to enrich themselves by making millions of young children around the world unhealthy and obese.

The suggestions from Ms. Boyland are not as strong as those I suggest. She says that limiting TV watching time, for example, might be one solution since only children who watched more than 21 hours of television seem to have been negatively affected by the food commercials. However reports show that US teens spend about 20 hours a week in screen time (60%) but about 30% of teens spent 40 or so hours in screen time. I'm sure different countries will have different breakdowns

In any case, Boyland concludes by saying, "This study demonstrates that children are far more likely to eat unhealthy foods if they watch a lot of television. This suggests that it would be beneficial to reduce the amount of television that children watch. These findings also have implications for the regulation of television food advertising to children. A 9pm watershed should be introduced so that children are not exposed to high fat, high sugar and high salt food advertising during popular family viewing."

Well, that would be a start, but a people's government would simply ban all such fake food products in the first place.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Public Health Spending means Healthy People

Thomas Riggins

Some things that just seem obvious are often denied for devious political or personal reasons. It just seems obvious, for example, that the more money the government spends on public health projects, the more healthy people would become. Conversely, the more public health funds are cut the less healthy people would likely become.

All this talk about cutting Medicare and rolling back federal, state and local funding on public health (to fight the deficit) seems to really be saying that the government should not care if its citizens are healthy or sick-- each individual is on his or her own. Cut back proponents, of course, claim that the cut backs won't really make such a big difference: there will still be emergency rooms and private charity available. But they really know better.

Let's take this argument out of the realm of politics and right wing dogma and see what objective scientific evidence is available. I am happy to report that what seems intuitively obvious to common sense is also what scientists report to be objectively true. A report has just come out in the journal Health Affairs that provides clear evidence that the more that is spent on public health, the healthier the population becomes. The report is summarized in ScienceDaily for 8-8-2011("Increase in Public Health Spending Results in Healthier People, Study Suggests").

The study concentrated on four public health concerns: infant mortality, heart disease, diabetes and cancer and correlated variations in spending over a 13 year period on public health by local agencies in the nearly 3000 local public health agencies in the US. It was found that causes of death for these four health conditions fell from 1 to nearly 7% for each 10% of increased public health spending.

Glen P. Mays (University of Kentucky) one of two authors of the study (along with Sharla A. Smith of the University of Arkansas) was quoted as saying: "In light of the Affordable Care Act that authorized the largest expansion in federal public health spending in decades, coupled with an economic downturn that has precipitated large cuts in state and local government support for public health activities, it's critical to take a data-driven look at whether public health spending translates to improved health of our population. Our findings suggest that a connection between spending and health outcomes does exist, although it's important to note that resources must be successfully aimed at activities that target at-risk population groups to ensure that spending is resulting in positive outcomes."

We should note, therefore, that almost every cut in public health funding affects the four major groups of illness studied and translates into a higher death rate, especially in poorer areas, for real individual people not just statistical entities. The right wingers, who complain about President Obama's imaginary "death panels," should be called on the real death panels they run when they push through spending cuts in public health funding. Moderate Democrats should also think twice about inflicting higher death rates rather than higher tax rates.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Fracking: Who Regulates the Regulators?

Fracking: Are the Regulators in Bed with the Oil and Gas Industry?
Thomas Riggins

One of the major concerns about the hydraulic fracturing industry, in which toxic chemicals and water are pumped under high pressure deep down in the earth to fracture and break up rock formations to release natural gas to be captured for commercial purposes, is that this method of fracking also can pollute and make undrinkable the water supplies in the area where it is applied.

A recent New York Times online article ("A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More" by Ian Urbina, 8-3-11) seems to suggest that some elements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be colluding with the oil and gas industry in covering up this threat.

The article reports, for example, that both the industry and those who are charged with regulating it, have told the American people for years that fracking is a safe way to extract natural gas and "has never contaminated underground drinking water": a statement that both know is untrue.

Urbina quotes the CEO of ExxonMobile, Rex W. Tillerson, who told Congress in 2010 that, "There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one." And it is not just a dishonest CEO who makes that claim, it is also bandied about by "our" state and federal elected officials and EPA directors ("past and present") all of whom know, or should know, that this is untrue.

There is at least one reported case on record and many other contaminations have occurred but have not been officially "reported " because they have been suppressed and covered up by the industry with the help of high ranking leaders in the EPA. At least that is my conclusion from reading Urbina's article.

The one official report was about an incident in 1984 when Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company did some fracking in West Virginia which resulted in a water well being contaminated. The EPA published its report in 1987. The oil and gas industry knows all about it and was successful in keeping the EPA from investigating other incidents which could have been included in the report. So ExxonMobile and its friendly EPA directors know that "Not one case" is not true and the reason there is only one case is due to industry pressure to cover up others and that the EPA helped them do so.

EPA investigators can't fully document the other cases, back then as well as now, "because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners." Urbina talked to Carla Greathouse, the author of the 1987 report, who said "If it's so safe, let the public review all the cases." She also revealed that she still didn't understand "why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake." She should read about how cozy the relationship is between Congress, the regulators, and the regulated not only in oil and gas but in every aspect of the government's dealings with powerful capitalist corporations.

An ExxonMobile spokesman, Alan T. Jeffers, when asked about sealed settlements, which prevent the facts about fracking from getting to the public, replied, according to Urbina, that if regulators actually were interested in this information subpoenas were available to them. But that's the point. The EPA didn't go after the oil and gas giants but just passively accepted that it couldn't investigate because of "sealed settlements." This is kowtowing to the industry, not protecting the public. "Our hands are tied," one anonymous EPA official stated. So the Environmental Protection Agency can't protect the environment because oil companies don't want it to. What the frack is that?

When in 2004 the EPA released a study that fracking for coal-bed methane wells posed almost no danger to drinking water people within the EPA itself complained that the official report was "unscientific and unduly influenced by industry." But who is there to regulate the regulators? Congress is ultimately responsible, but with the tea party at large in the House and industry lobbyists flooding Washington, don't expect much help from that quarter.

The people have to do it themselves by pressuring their elected representatives and demonstrating against the companies at their fracking sites and headquarters. And a rebuff at the polls next year for all those who put profits before people would not hurt.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guest Blog: On Politically Correct Meat

I think your blog on politically (and morally) correct meat is excellent and important.

It is good that scientific advance can in this instance contribute decisively to what in my view would be a politically and morally superior world while making a sound contribution to environmental preservation.

To Bentham goes the credit for first clearly coupling moral philosophy with the issue of causing pain to sentient beings. (Of course, this was the dominant view in Asian Indian civilization a thousand years before Bentham.) Bentham correctly found the crux to be in sentience, not just conscious awareness. (Tom is more convinced than I am that the lower animals are "conscious" of pain. It seems that the science is not decisive here, though it would be better to be in intellectual error than to induce horrible pain in other sentient beings. Cf. the research recently done in Ireland on the question of pain of lobsters in being boiled alive in addition to the late David Foster Wallace's famous essay on lobster pain. Lobster's do not have a developed brain with pre-frontal lobes and their spinal cord seems rudimentary. However,they are equipped with an inordinate number of tiny sensory organs over much of their bodies. These may help them in navigation and grasping and the like. But these organs could also involve a kind of pain-pleasure sensing mechanism on the avoidance-attraction model of behavior. Thus, there could be pain virtually throughout the body of the lobster, whatever may be the case in regard to crabs or crayfish or Japanese DOJO [a kind of river eel]) when being boiled alive).

What is of great importance, however, would be the overwhelming long-term environmental consequences of using "cultured meat." Given the incremental nature of greenhouse emissions and even more their consequences over time, even benefits on the scale projected by scientists in this instance would be highly significant.

There would be a cultural loss, however. "Food is culture," and the way we dine, notably with meat dishes, is so intertwined with much of high culture and even everyday life throughout the world (cf., e.g., the constant "noshing" of Thais on the street, e.g.) that the world would become less colorful and more interesting in spite of being more politically and morally correct and with a concomitant contribution to the restoration of the environment. But then head-hunting was out of favor with the British in Borneo and the Americans in the Philippines until the time came for the invasion of Borneo by Australian troops and guerrilla warfare in the Philippines so long as the heads gathered were Japanese. Cats and some bears are still boiled alive in some cuisines, as were mules in other cuisines, and this is certainly culturally unique. Yet, we condemn this nowadays, just as most of us look askance at head hunting (even though an environmental case for cannibalism has been on the agenda set forth by some radical environmentalists of advocates of "deep ecology." See This essays is by the late Australian philosopher and logician Richard Routley (later Richard Slyvan).

In conclusion, in his plea for animals, Bentham referred to efforts to mitigate the treatment of blacks in the West Indies. He was also committed to reforming the criminal law and brought the attention of the learned world to important theoretical work with practical applications being done in Italy and France in this regard. Some of his ideas concerning prison construction seem nowadays far from humane (cf. Foucault on Bentham), but partly even more so in the light of the treatment of Islamic prisoners and Private Manning by organs of the American government in more recent times. Bentham is right, however, the way we treat humans is willy-nilly intimately and intricately intercalated with how we treat animals.

Jack Clontz in the Big Mango

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Socialist US? Science Says It Can Happen

Thomas Riggins

One of the things many who consider themselves politically active would like to do is fundamentally change the US from a pro capitalist country to a pro socialist country. But to do that we would have to have the majority of the people begin to believe that socialism is a better system than capitalism.

Getting the American people to change their attitudes towards socialism and communism (Marxism-Leninism) has always been a worrisome problem for socialist activists. But now science has come to the rescue and has revealed how a tiny minority can, by sticking to its principles, get the vast majority to come around to its way of thinking.

ScienceDaily ("Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas" July 26, 2011) has reported on the research carried out at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by SCNARC (Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center) that shows "when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of society." This finding applies to many types of belief including political views.

People often tell me that it will be a few more generations before we can have socialism in the US. Some have said it will take 500 years. That is a long time. But according to SCNARC we only need to get 10 percent of the people for socialism and the trick is done since the majority always end up adopting the minority view.

Granted that we have to get the 10 percent to have "an unshakable belief" in the socialist ideal so we shouldn't talk too much about "flexible interpretations of Marxism." Another thing is we have to hurry up and get that 10 percent because it is the tipping point.

"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent," the SCNARC director Bolesaw Szymanski said "there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10 percent the idea spreads like flame." The age of the universe is considerably longer than 500 years so we really have to concentrate on building our readership and recruiting new people to our cause.

SD also reports that it doesn't matter from where or from whom the 10 percent comes-- just as long as the level of "committed opinion holders" reaches 10 percent. The conclusions reached by the scientists were based on computer models of different social networks were a society with a given belief system held by a majority population, which was also open minded, had introduced into it an additional 10 percent of people who were "true believers." In every case the beliefs of the introduced 10 percent were soon widespread and became the new majority consensus.

Sameet Sreenivasan, another SCNARC investigator, said, "In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models. As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change. People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further. If the true believers just influenced their neighbors, that wouldn't change anything within the larger system, as we saw with percentages less than 10."

The scientists are not just engaging in idle research. There are real world situations to which this research will be applied. Gyorgy Korniss, who co-wrote the research paper, says, "There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion. Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to move before a hurricane or spread new information on the prevention of disease in a rural village.

In fact I don't think the researchers had in mind getting people to adopt socialism. Note well that remark above about knowing how "to efficiently spread some opinion" and "how to suppress a developing opinion." SD lists the major funders of SCNARC and we see the money coming from the Army Research Laboratory, the Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research among others.

The true purpose of the research seems to me to be how to set up groups of government agents to disrupt liberal and progressive groups (remember the larger group is made up of open minded people and the true believers are "unshakable.") We are also told that the scientists want to study a polarized society where there is not just one traditional viewpoint to be changed. They want to expand their research to a society with two opposite major outlooks. "An example of this polarization would be Democrat versus Republican." Indeed.

The real practical value for socialists is to see that our major traditional group is neither Republican nor Democrat but the large groups of progressives, liberals, the "left", minorities, and working people who make up the real majority in the US. If we can get 10 percent of this group to favor a principled socialist agenda a new world really will be possible.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's Time for Politically (and Morally) Correct Meat

Thomas Riggins

I think we all know, or should know, that there is something wrong will killing animals for their meat. Modern science has shown that animals have both sentience and consciousness, feel pain, and experience an emotional life. From insects to us there is great chain of being aware which we, who claim to be at the top of the chain, should respect as much as possible.

Our Morlock behavior is much to be regretted and we are, I think, under an obligation to model ourselves after our future, hopefully, Eloi incarnations. We are also obligated politically to strive towards a world where the exploitation of humans by other humans comes to an end: and beyond that the exploitation and infliction of suffering on our fellow creatures in general.

Now science has come up with a method by which we can satisfy our current Morlockean desire to eat animal flesh without actually killing and mutilating animals. The July 18th online issue of ScienceDigest ["Lab-Grown Meat Would Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Save Energy, Research Suggests] discusses tissue engineering in the laboratory which produces animal meat ("cultured meat'') without the animal, which would not only solve the problem of our moral responsibilities but actually reduces, somewhat, the threat to the planet from green house gases: the major greenhouse gas threat comes from fossil fuels, especially coal.

This scientific study from Oxford and Amsterdam universities says that cultured meat production would create only 4% of the greenhouse gases as are currently produced by animal raising and slaughtering techniques. While fowl would require more energy, the lab meat would require only a very small part of the land and water used with living birds. Meanwhile pork, sheep and beef could be produced in the same amount as today for 7 to 45% less energy, according to the report.

Oxford's Hanna Tuomisto, the director of the study, said: "What our study found was that the environmental impacts of cultured meat could be substantially lower that those of meat produced in the conventional way [i.e., by killing-tr]. Cultured meat could potentially be produced with up to 96% lower green house gas emissions, 45% less energy, 99% lower land use, and 96% lower water use than conventional meat."

There is a friendly little pond bacterium (Cyanobacteria hydrolysate) which is used as a food and energy source in the lab to grow muscle cells. Cultured meat is not yet ready to be mass produced but mass production is feasible. Ms Tuomisto says, "We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now [don't scare off the Morlocks], however, our research shows that cultured meat could be part of the solution to feeding the worlds growing population and at the same time cutting emissions and saving both energy and water. Simply put, cultured meat is, potentially, a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly way of putting meat on the table."

The scientists also pointed out the land no longer used for animal meat production could be reforested and used to capture atmospheric carbon-- plus transportation and refrigeration costs would be substantially reduced with cultured meat.

Finally Ms. Tuomisto remarked:"There are obviously many obstacles to overcome before we can say whether cultured meat will become part of our diet, not least of which is whether people would be prepared to eat it! But we hope our research will add to the debate about whether we could, or should, develop a less wasteful alternative to meat from animals."

Will people eat cultured meat? This depends on their level of political awareness and their moral sensitivity. Today, in a world where a Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman can dream of being president of the US, where the Tea Party mentality stalks the land, where overseas people are gunned down in the streets for peaceful protests, American imperialism plans world domination, and Nato hopes to restore European hegemony in the third world, our "conventional" meat eating days seem far from over.

Nevertheless, another world is possible and we must set ourselves the task of trying to create it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Are Republics Democratic?

Thomas Riggins

The United States is supposed to be a democracy but is it really? If we live in a country where some citizen's votes count more than others-- i.e., in which one person one vote is really not the standard how can we claim to be a real democratic state? At best we have a limited and imperfect democracy.

It seems that having been set up as a "republic" we have just the sort of government that does not work on the one person one vote principle. A recent article in ScienceDigest ("Not all Citizens' Votes Created Equal, and Study Says It Shows in Funding" 5-28-11) points out that many democracies have been set up to water down the power of the vote in favor of denying the idea of equal distribution of voting rights on the one person one vote formula.

Here is just one example: California has 66 times the number of people as Wyoming yet they both have 2 US senators. Considering the power of the Senate how is it democracy when states with little populations can block the will of the people in states with large populations? The Senate was deliberately created to block the popular will ( originally the people did not even get to vote for their Senators).

SD reports that these disproportions become really important when it comes to the distribution of money (and goods and services). The study comprises long term (decades) trends in nine different republics, including the US. "Other things being equal, the most over-represented states or provinces can expect to receive more than twice the federal spending as the most under-represented states or provinces," says University of Illinois political science professor Tiberiu Dragu who shared authorship of the study with his counter-part at Sanford Jonathan Rodden. The disparity in some South American republics was 5 to 1. El Norte beckons.

While other factors may be at work, Dr. Dragu says that the unfair voting arrangements "cannot be explained away, the story remains the same: Representatives of over-represented provinces are able to bargain for a disproportionate share of the budget."

I know of at least two states where this happens, readers can no doubt supply other examples from where they live. The taxes collected from the people of New York City go to support upstate New York as the City receives less than is taken from it. The people in South Florida are also taxed for the benefit of the northern part of the state.

This is a very widespread practice in republics. The authors write: "Our analysis indicates that the rules of representation are indeed highly consequential. Controlling for a variety of country- and province-level factors and using a variety of estimation techniques, we show that overrepresented provinces in political unions around the world are rather dramatically favored in the distribution of resources."

Most people seem to just accept these conditions as the result of historical events in the past, especially at the founding of the republics or political unions. Nevertheless they are unfair an undemocratic and people serious about democratic and human rights must try to correct these imbalances.

Dr. Dragu ends by saying, "An important question is whether the stability of such federations is threatened if citizens of under-represented regions -- or ethnic groups, or countries -- must provide large, permanent subsidies to those with greater representation."

Well, what are we to support: practical politics or justice?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Frederick Engels on the Historical Development of Modern Socialism

Thomas Riggins

In the first chapter of Part Three of his classic work Anti-Dühring, Engels discusses the origins of the modern socialist movement. He begins with the enthronement of "Reason" by the pre-revolutionary 18th century French philosophers who thought that only reason could be used to answer any of the questions of existence.

After the overthrow of Louis XVI and the abolition of the monarchical French state, a new state was constructed by the revolutionaries-- one based on "eternal" reason and designed to be completely rational. The spiritual progenitor of this state was Rousseau's book The Social Contract.

But "eternal" reason turned out to be simply the explanation of existence from the point of view of the rising bourgeois class. The complexity of the new political reality they had created quite eluded them as the contradictions between their class and the newly conscious masses of the disposed poor of Paris and the countryside began to manifest themselves.

The wretched of the earth exerted themselves and the bourgeois rational state fell apart and morphed into the Reign of Terror under which the masses, for a moment, gained "the mastery" and saved the Revolution. With the abolition of feudalism the bourgeoisie had expected social peace but instead got a furious international response and the development of an intense struggle between the poor and the rich at home.

After Robespierre and the Jacobins, representing the French masses, were overthrown on 9 Thermidor Year II (July 27, 1794) by the conservative bourgeoisie, the new ruling class lost faith in its own ability to rule. After five years of corrupt government under the Directory, they surrendered to the coup d'etat of Napoleon Bonaparte on 18 Brumaire Year IX (November 9, 1799).

All this turmoil was a reflection of the "development of industry upon a capitalist basis [which] made poverty and misery of the working masses conditions of existence of society." From the dispossessed Paris masses (the "have-nothings" and other disadvantaged groups the proletariat began to develop "as the nucleus of a new class." However, at this time "the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, was still very incompletely developed."

At this historical juncture the three "founders" of socialism appeared: Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen. First on the scene was Claude Henri Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825). The Revolution was supposed to be a victory of the Third Estate (production workers) over a ruling class of idlers (the nobility and the Catholic hierarchy and its priests). But, in reality Engels says, the victory did not go to the Third Estate as a whole but only that part of it owning property, "the socially privileged part."

Saint-Simon saw the Revolution as a struggle between "workers" (anyone engaged in productive activity) and "idlers"-- people living off unearned income. For him "the workers were not only the wage workers, but also the manufacturers, the merchants, and the bankers." Science and Industry must move to the forefront and lead the revolution. The undeveloped nature of the class struggle within the Third Estate is apparent-- the proletariat and the capitalists are in the same "class." (I can't say the vast majority of the American people have gone much beyond that stage of consciousness yet but it has recently begin to dawn on them that class struggle is real).

Saint-Simon's heart was in the right place as he wanted to improve the conditions of the lowest and greatest number of the Third Estate-- what would become the proletariat and included the masses of downtrodden peasants, the most numerous and poor; Engels quotes him: "la class la plus nombreuse et la plus pauvre." However his socialism was utopian as he expected the bankers to lead the way into the new world! "The bankers especially were to be called upon to direct the whole of social production by the regulation of credit." Ironically the bankers today, the finance capitalists, do control production but in their interests not those of "la plus nombreuse et la plus pauvre."

Saint-Simon actually thought the rich bourgeoisie, bankers and manufactures, would change themselves into public servants and use their ruling positions to help the poor and oppressed. But at least he realized the "poor and oppressed" made up the majority of "the people" (Third Estate). In fact Engels credits him with understanding that the Revolution was a three way struggle-- Nobility vs. the Bourgeoisie AND the propertyless masses even though there was a tendency to group the latter two together when contrasted to the Nobility.

His greatness was in proclaiming that "all men ought to work" and recognizing that within the bourgeois revolution the Reign of Terror represented the power of "the toiling masses" against the haut bourgeoisie. Engels quotes Saint-Simon addressing himself to the poor masses: "See what happened in France at the time when your comrades held sway there; they brought about a famine." The "they" are the bourgeois enemies of Robespierre and the rule of the Parisian sans culottes.

Saint-Simon also saw a future where economics was more important than politics , i.e., the administration of things (planned economy) over the administration of people (the bourgeois state)-- i.e, he envisioned "the abolition of the state." We find in Saint-Simon the seeds, Engels says, of "almost all the ideas of later Socialists that are not strictly economic."

Following on the appearance of Saint-Simon came the ideas of Francois-Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837). He contrasted the actual living conditions of the people after the establishment of bourgeois rule ("material and moral misery") with the pictures of what life would be like painted by their pre-revolutionary propaganda and by the "rose-colored phraseology of the bourgeois ideologists of his time."

In his first book, The Theory of the Four Movements (1808) he wrote, "Social progress and changes of a period are accompanied by the progress of women towards freedom, while the decay of the social system brings with it a reduction of the freedoms enjoyed by women." Therefore, "Extension of the rights of women is the basic principle of all social progress."

Engels says of him, with respect to the above passage, that: "He was the first to declare that in any given society the degree of woman's emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation." This not only tells us a lot about Saudi Arabia, but where our own society is heading with its failure to pass an Equal Rights Amendment and the movement to restrict the right to abortion, as well as the recent Supreme Court ruling that the woman discriminated against for years at Walmart have no right to a class action suit to redress their grievances.

Fourier also divided the history of human development up to the present era into "four stages of evolution," which were 1.) Savagery 2.) the Patriarchate 3.) Barbarism, and 4.) Civilization. In this scheme "Civilization" appears with the development of capitalism in the 1500s and he says "that the civilized stage raises every vice practiced by barbarism in a simple fashion into a form of existence, complex, ambiguous, equivocal [and] hypocritical."

Engels says that for Fourier civilization develops along "a vicious circle" throwing up contradictions it cannot resolve and arriving at the exact opposite destinations that it wants to arrive at or at least pretends to want to arrive at so that, as Fourier writes, "under civilization POVERTY IS BORN OF SUPER-ABUNDANCE ITSELF." For example the US, the richest country in the world, has 25% of its children at or under the official poverty line-- a completely ridiculous society!

One of the things Engels admires about Fourier is his masterly use of the dialectical method in his writings, which he compares to that of Hegel "his contemporary." Engels also says something curious here. He says Fourier postulates the "ultimate destruction of the human race" which he introduced into historical science just as Kant had introduced the "ultimate destruction of the Earth" into natural science. But, in this pre-Star Trek world, Kant's end of the Earth scenario would have entailed the end of the human race as well.

Saint-Simon and Fourier were products of the French Revolution but, Engels points out, at the same time over in England just as great a revolution was taking place. The whole basis of bourgeois society was being changed by the development of steam engines and tool making machines and manufacture (from the Latin "manus" hand) was being replaced by gigantic factories were machines tended by workers began to to turn out commodities rather than commodities directly made by them, "thus revolutionizing the whole foundation of bourgeois society."

This industrial revolution began to divide society in to a powerful group of capitalists on one hand, and propertyless proletarians on the other. The heretofore large and stable middle class began to break up and tended to be forced down into the lower class of workers-- "it now led a precarious existence." Sound familiar?

However, then the term "middle class" had a different meaning than it does now. Then it meant the class of artisans and small shop keepers who thrived in the era of manufacture. Now it is used to refer to an income group consisting of well paid workers and professionals whose wages were partially subsidized by the mega-profits of the imperialist international capitalist corporations who bought a modicum of social peace at home at the expense of the international solidarity of first world workers with third world workers and peasants by the creation of a labor aristocracy, according to Lenin, in the metropolitan countries.

Professionals such as lawyers, doctors and the parasitical class of preachers and priests were also included. With the decline of high paying production jobs in the West due to the rise of industry in the third world, among other factors, these high wage jobs are disappearing forcing the "middle class" down into lower paying jobs and so, as in the first days of capitalism, it now leads "a precarious existence."

Another difference is that today we have labor unions, pro-working class political parties and associations, and growing class awareness which is developing into a major class battle for the protection of people's jobs, life styles and incomes. This battle is just beginning and should grow as today's world capitalist system proceeds further down the path of decay and self destruction.

But in the England of the early 1800s, capitalism was on the rise and not the decline. It was into this world that the third great early founder of socialism arose: Robert Owen (1771-1858).
Owen was a materialist in philosophy and thought that humans were the product of their heredity (although at this time nothing was known of genes or DNA or any of the mechanisms of heredity) and their environment, most particularly their childhood environment.

For 29 years (1800-1829) he managed New Lanark the large cotton-mill employing around 2500 "hands" in Scotland. And, Engels says, by "simply placing the people in conditions worthy of human beings" the workers lived in a society without "drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor laws, [or] charity." He sent all the children off to school at age 2, put the working day at 101/2 hours (not the 13 or 14 that was the norm) and kept everyone on full wages when there was a four month shut down due to a cotton crisis AND made large profits and doubled the value of the business. Well, my goodness! Why didn't all the capitalists follow suit?

They didn't follow suit, for the same reason Owen fought with the other shareholders at new Lanark-- they didn't like the extra expenses that had to be put out for "conditions worthy of human beings." After Owen left in 1829 the community continued, in one form or another, under different capitalists, until 1968 when it went bust. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site drawing in around 400,000 tourists a year to visit it and the house where Owen lived.

In his work "The Revolution in Mind and Practice" (1849) Owen wrote he was unhappy with New Lanark because "The people were slaves at my mercy." He pointed out that New Lanark's 2500 workers, with steam power, created as much social wealth as it it took 600,000 workers to create a couple of generations earlier. Those 600,000 had to be paid living wages just as the 2500-- so what happened to all the surplus wealth saved in wages that would have gone to 597,500 extra workers? It was pocketed by the capitalists.

This new wealth was being generated all over England. It was being used to wage the wars of the Empire and to maintain an oppressive aristocratic and bourgeois order at home. "And yet this new power was the creation of the working class." Owen wanted this vast new wealth to go to the working class that created it for the building of a new society in which it would be, as Engels says "the common property of all, to be worked for the common good of all."

In his day, because of his reforms at New Lanark, Owen was considered a great philanthropist. He was lionized and respected and welcome at the tables of the rich and powerful. But as soon as he started talking about the working class creating all the wealth and how it ought to build a new society based on "common property" he was dropped like a hot potato, became persona non gratia, and shunned by official society. He therefore went to the working class and became a union leader and, Engels says, "Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself on to the name of Robert Owen."

Owen called for the overthrow of three great impediments to the advance of the working class and the reform of society along communist lines-- private property, religion, and "the present form of marriage (Engels)." Marriage is going through some radical changes nowadays and it is certainly very different from the forms of marriage Owen would have seen in the early 19th century. But private property and religion (i.e., supernaturalism and superstition) are still major impediments that hold back social progress for workers.

The last few pages of this chapter Engels devotes to vituperative attacks against Dühring and his negative views of the three utopians compared to whom Dühring is a pipsqueak. Engels says Dühring displays "a really frightful ignorance of the works of the three utopians." Their works are still worth reading (Dühring's are not) and whatever limitations they have were the result of the undeveloped conditions of early industrial capitalism.

But, since the time of the utopians and today (the 1870s) "modern industry has developed the contradictions laying dormant in the capitalist mode of production into such crying antagonisms that the approaching collapse of this mode of production is, so to speak, palpable."

Well they may have been "palpable" to Engels, but capitalism is still around, sad to say. And once again the palpability of capitalist collapse is in the air. From the looming default of Greece, to the threat of defaults spreading to Spain, Portugal and Italy which will bring down the Euro-zone and mobilize millions of workers to take to the streets of Europe, to the failure of the recovery in the United States and the desperate turn to the Tea Party by big capital to nurture home grown fascism to attack the workers and their unions, the smell of capitalist decay is everywhere. Let us hope this generation of workers will pay due to the long ago optimism of Frederick Engels.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Children's Mental Health and War

Thomas Riggins

We all know what happens to many of our troops when they return home after fighting one of the Pentagon's dirty wars overseas. Who can forget what happened to thousands of the Vietnam vets after they returned home from a useless and criminal war fought as a result of the government's lies about what caused it and that we had to go for the sake of our freedom and security.

The vets were provided with inadequate medical care, many committed suicide, their families broke up, thousands became homeless, derelict and drug addicted and alcoholic suffering with mental problems and posttraumatic stress syndrome and lacked adequate care and mental health counselling to help them recover from all the horror, killings and massacres they had been ordered to participate in. And all for what-- so that part of the cost of war could recouped on their backs so that the rich wouldn't have to pay more taxes.

So we know what the government and the Pentagon does to many of its troops when it is done with them. The same thing is now happening to thousands of the young men and women returning from the same types of unjust and aggressive adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should not be surprised-- we have seen it all before and we will again if the peace movement does not galvanize more of us into action.

But now we are finding out, from new scientific surveys, that the government is not only willing to sacrifice thousands of veterans on the alter of capitalist greed and expansionism over its resource wars, but their children as well. ScienceDaily reports ("Length of Parental Military Deployment Associated with Children's Mental Health Diagnoses, Study Finds, July 4, 2011) that the children of soldiers deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) [why does the military always name their actions the opposite of what they are?] for longer times were more likely to have mental health issues that those whose parents were not deployed.

We have known for a long time that children of soldiers deployed in our imperialist wars are more likely than others to have mental problems but this study brings us up to date on our recent conflicts. The authors say "As troops face dynamic and evolving threats (e.g., an increasingly sophisticated array of roadside explosive devices) the need to anticipate the psychological consequences for their children and to offer timely intervention becomes increasingly important."

The roadside bombs are only one threat to our troops, and not the most deadly. The most deadly is the US Congress that abdicates its responsibility and duty to only authorize military engagements against real threats to the US, instead of caving in to the imperial presidency and the war lobby representing the defense industry and those who who make mega profits out of US involvements overseas. These wars for private profit at public expense are the real threat to our troops who are shipped overseas in bad faith not to fight for the country but for Daddy Warbucks and associates.

The study was conducted by Alyssa J. Mansfield, PhD of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PSD) and colleagues and involved 307,520 children 5 to 17 years old: 51,355 were found to have mental health issues: "most often for stress disorders , depression, behavioral problems, and sleep disorders."

These were the numbers for children with at least one active duty parent. Now in the subset of at least one parent deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, the study found that the longer the deployment or redeployment the more likely a mental problem would be found in a child.

The study turned up 6,579 children of parents from OIF and OEF deployments who were diagnosed for "acute stress reaction and adjustment disorders, depressive disorders, and behavioral disorders." The more the parent was deployed, the worse the diagnosis for the child in general. "Similar to findings among military spouses, prolonged deployment appears to be taking a mental health toll on children."

There is clearly a problem. The military has a simple solution. Either don't deploy soldiers who have children to combat zones or do not allow people with children to join the arm services in the first place. What is more important killing people overseas, or being killed by them, or having happy mentally healthy children (and adults) at home. I'm afraid we all know the answer to that one.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Big Tobacco Targets Minority Youth

Thomas Riggins

According to a recent Sanford University Medical School study, the big tobacco companies are trying to lure minority youth into taking up the smoking of menthol cigarettes. Even though these companies know many of the these young people will die down the line from smoking their product, and they claim not to be targeting young people, the evidence uncovered by the Stanford report makes it it clear these companies are out to make a profit by selling as much death and disease as they can to minority youth.

The report is featured in ScienceDaily, "Menthol Cigarettes Marketed in 'Predatory' Pattern, Study Shows," for June 27, 2011. The Food and Drug Administration is on the verge of banning menthol in cigarettes. The lead researcher of the report, Lisa Henriksen, PhD, says, "The tobacco companies went out of their way to argue to the Food and Drug Administration that they don't use racial targeting. This evidence[of the Stanford study] is not consistent with those claims."

Menthol is used to make cigarettes less harsh and is said in company ads to bring about a feeling of "freshness." The major users of these kinds of cigarettes are teenagers, minorities and the poor ("low-income populations"). The FDA tasked the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee to study the health hazards of menthol cigarettes and the committee concluded, in its own words, "removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States."

This is not very startling since removing all cigarettes would benefit public health so naturally we didn't need a special committee to report back that banning menthol cigarettes would be beneficial. The recommendation in non-binding anyway. The committee is going to meet again in the middle of July to write up a final report-- let's hope it is more specific than the quote in SD.

The FDA should ban menthol cigarettes just to stop the industry's predation against middle and high school students. The committee, which has the Stanford report, should really come down hard on the industry. Since it was charged, Dr, Henriksen said, "with considering a broad definition of harm to smokers and other populations, particularly youth. We think our study, which shows the predatory marketing in school neighborhoods with higher concentrations of youth and African-American students, fits a broad definition of harm."

The report reveals an increase in cigarette use by youth between 2004 and 2008, and that in the age group 12-17 71.9% of African American youth prefer menthol brands (the figures for "whites" was 41% and Hispanics 47%). Comparing the actions of Newport (menthols made by Lorillard) with Marlboro Reds (Obama's brand and non menthol made by Philip Morris) the report shows that Newport offers special price reductions around schools that have a large African-American enrollment. Other brands were also studied.

SD reported that the study found that ads for menthol cigarettes increased by almost 6% near schools for every increase in the proportion of African-American students of 10%, and Newport cut the price of a pack by 12 cents for each of those 10% increases.

Also in the surrounding neighborhoods Newport also seemingly checked out the proportion of youth ages 10-17 (!)-- and for each 10% increase in their proportion, increased ads by 11.6% and had odds of 5.3% that Newports would sell at discounted prices. Marlboro Reds had no ads or price changes related to the presence of youth or African-American students.

So we now know despite the claims of the industry that it is targeting young people and minorities to take up smoking menthol cigarettes. African-American teens are being especially targeted.

Stephen Fortmann, MD, who also participated in making this study, was quoted as saying, "When kids are exposed to more cigarette advertising they are more likely to start smoking, which will undoubtedly lead to dire health consequences. Our study finds that tobacco companies are trying to make smoking more attractive to teens, when we as a society should be doing just the opposite. Adding menthol to cigarettes makes it easier to smoke and harder to quit, so the public health community strongly supports an FDA ban on menthol flavoring."

My prediction. The FDA will vote for the ban and the Supreme Court will over turn it as a violation of free speech. Libertarians and Tea Party folks will be against the ban as an infringement of personal liberty. What 10 year doesn't want a Newport to suck on while playing a slice'em and dice''em video game.