Thursday, September 30, 2010

82. The Search for Other Living Planets

In the final installment of David Attenborough's The Living Planet, he lets various voices air their view of the future of the Earth and its imperiled biodiversity. A zoologist, who is the director of a zoo in Florida, comments on the future of the tiger, as few are left in the wild.  She comforts her audience by declaring that tigers continue to live and breed in captivity.  She further suggests that it would be possible to freeze their DNA so that some day in the future, when it is possible to create a habitat for them on the moon, we can recreate a "wild habitat" for the tiger! 
Cosmologists have been searching for other planets that can sustain life for decades.  And once in a while a candidate is found.  As Stephen Hawking recently stated, it probable that our living planet, the Earth, is not alone.  This statement should not be taken lightly as the conditions that led to emergence of life on Earth are extremely improbable to assemble (see my posts about the Gaia Hypothesis and Biodiveristy).  But if it did happen on Earth, it could have happened in one or more of billions of other planets in the universe.  

However, the general attitude remains that human society can one day "colonize the space" (The Obama administration has already taken steps to privatize it) to allow room for the excess population, to search for new resource once those on the Earth are exhausted or if a nuclear war force the survivors to find a new home!   This sort of ideological madness should not be taken lightly. It create a false sense of the "long term" for the ruling elites and many ordinary folks who look to technology to save them from the worst.  How else can we explain the inaction of the world governments in the face of majority scientific consensus on the societal-caused climate change or continued decline of biodiversity? Or the passivity of even the more informed sectors of society?  

As one scientist pointed out--if you want to find life you need not peer into the night sky.  Just take the time to look all around on our home planet. It is full of life.  Alas many species are disappearing even before being discovered by us due to our social mode of existence.

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New Planet May Be Able to Nurture Organisms

by Dennis Overbye, The New York Times, September 29, 20101

It might be a place that only a lichen or pond scum could love, but astronomers said Wednesday that they had found a very distant planet capable of harboring water on its surface, thus potentially making it a home for plant or animal life.
National Science Foundation and NASA
A planet, as depicted in this rendering, orbits the habitable zone of a star 20 light years from Earth, meaning it could have water on its surface.
Astrophyisical Journal
Nobody from Earth will be visiting anytime soon: The planet, which goes by the bumpy name of Gliese 581g, is orbiting a star about 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra.
But if the finding is confirmed by other astronomers, the planet, which has three to four times the mass of Earth, would be the most Earthlike planet yet discovered, and the first to meet the criteria for being potentially habitable.
“It’s been a long haul,” said Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who, along with R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, led the team that made the discovery. “This is the first exoplanet that has the right conditions for water to exist on its surface.”
In a recent report for the National Academy of Science, astronomers declared the finding of such planets one of the major goals of this decade. NASA’s Kepler satellite — which was launched in March 2009 as a way to detect Earthlike bodies — is expected to harvest dozens or hundreds.
Gliese 581g (whose first name is pronounced GLEE-za) circles a dim red star known as Gliese 581, once every 37 days, at a distance of about 14 million miles. That is smack in the middle of the so-called Goldilocks zone, where the heat from the star is neither too cold nor too hot for water to exist in liquid form on its surface.
“This is really the first Goldilocks planet,” Dr. Butler said.
Other astronomers hailed the news as another harbinger that the search for “living planets,” as Dimitar D. Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics calls them, is on the right track.
“I’m getting goose bumps,” said Caleb Scharf of Columbia University.
But they expressed caution about this particular planet, noting uncertainties about its density, composition and atmosphere, and the need for another generation of giant telescopes and spacecraft in order to find out anything more about it. Other Goldilocks planets have come and gone in recent years.
The discovery was announced at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, and the findings have been posted on the National Science Foundation’s Web site and will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The authors said the relative ease by which planet was found — in only 11 years — led them to believe that such planets must be common.
“Either we have just been incredibly lucky in this early detection, or we are truly on the threshold of a second Age of Discovery,” they wrote in their paper.
Pressed during the news conference about the possibility of life on Gliese 581g, Dr. Vogt protested that he was an astronomer, not a biologist. Then he relented, saying that, speaking strictly personally, he believed that “the chances of life on this planet are almost 100 percent.”
Asked the same question, Dr. Butler squirmed and said, “I like data.” After a pause he added: “And what the data say is that the planet is the right distance from the star to have water and the right mass to hold an atmosphere. What is needed simply to find lots and lots of these things is lots and lots of telescope time.”
The latest results from Gliese 581 were harvested from observations by two often competing teams, using telescopes in Chile and Hawaii to measure the slight gravitational tugs the star gets as its planets swing by.
This is hardly the first time around the block for Gliese 581, which is a longtime favorite of planet hunters and now is known to have six planets in its retinue. It is a dwarf star about one-third the mass of the Sun and only about one-hundredth as bright, allowing planets to huddle closer to the campfire. “It hauntingly reminds us of our own solar system,” Dr. Butler said.
Two of Gliese’s planets have already had their moment in the limelight as possible Goldilocks planets. One, known as Gliese 581c, circles just on the inner edge of the habitable zone and was thus thought to be habitable three years ago. But further analysis suggested that the greenhouse effect would turn it into a stifling hell. Another planet, just on the outer edge of the Goldilocks zone, is probably too cold.
“One is on the hot side, the other is on cold side,” and the new planet is right in between, Dr. Vogt said. “It’s bookended.”
He and his colleagues estimated the average temperature on the surface of Gliese 581g to be between 10 and minus 24 degrees Fahrenheit, about the same as a summer day in Antarctica.
But that means very little, he said, because the planet, like all the others in that system, keeps the same face to the star all the time. So the temperature could vary wildly from the day-side to the night-side of the planet, meaning that an organism could perhaps find a comfortable zone to live in.
But nobody really knows what is going on on Gliese 581g, said Sara Seager, a planetary astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If it was all carbon dioxide, like Venus, it would be pretty hot,” she said, adding that she would give the planet a 90 percent chance of holding water.
That, she pointed out, is faint praise in scientific circles. “Sounds high, but would you fly on a plane that only had an 8 or 9 chance out of 10 of making it?” she asked.
“Everyone is so primed to say here’s the next place we’re going to find life,” Dr. Seager said, “but this isn’t a good planet for follow-up.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

81. Billions Face Water Insecurity, Study Finds

By Richard Black, BBC, September 29, 2010
About 80% of the world's population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis.
Researchers compiled a composite index of "water threats" that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.
The most severe threat category encompasses 3.4 billion people.
Writing in the journal Nature, they say that in western countries, conserving water for people through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature.
They urge developing countries not to follow the same path.

Start Quote

What we're able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat”
Charles VorosmartyCity College of New York
Instead, they say governments should to invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with "natural" options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.
The analysis is a global snapshot, and the research team suggests more people are likely to encounter more severe stress on their water supply in the coming decades, as the climate changes and the human population continues to grow.
They have taken data on a variety of different threats, used models of threats where data is scarce, and used expert assessment to combine the various individual threats into a composite index.
The result is a map that plots the composite threat to human water security and to biodiversity in squares 50km by 50km (30 miles by 30 miles) across the world.
Changing pictures
"What we've done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground - what is going on with respect to humanity's water security and what the infrastructure that's been thrown at this problem does to the natural world," said study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York.
"What we're able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape."
Those "trillions of dollars" are represented by the dams, canals, aqueducts, and pipelines that have been used throughout the developed world to safeguard drinking water supplies.
Their impact on the global picture is striking.

Looking at the "raw threats" to people's water security - the "natural" picture - much of western Europe and North America appears to be under high stress.
However, when the impact of the infrastructure that distributes and conserves water is added in - the "managed" picture - most of the serious threat disappears from these regions.
Africa, however, moves in the opposite direction.

Related stories

"The problem is, we know that a large proportion of the world's population cannot afford these investments," said Peter McIntyre from the University of Wisconsin, another of the researchers involved.
"In fact we show them benefiting less than a billion people, so we're already excluding a large majority of the world's population," he told BBC News.
"But even in rich parts of the world, it's not a sensible way to proceed. We could continue to build more dams and exploit deeper and deeper aquifers; but even if you can afford it, it's not a cost-effective way of doing things."
According to this analysis, and others, the way water has been managed in the west has left a significant legacy of issues for nature.
Whereas Western Europe and the US emerge from this analysis with good scores on water stress facing their citizens, wildlife there that depends on water is much less secure, it concludes.
Concrete realities
One concept advocated by development organisations nowadays is integrated water management, where the needs of all users are taken into account and where natural features are integrated with human engineering.
One widely-cited example concerns the watersheds that supply New York, in the Catskill Mountains and elsewhere around the city.

Start Quote

We would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth”
Peter McIntyreUniversity of Wisconsin
Water from these areas historically needed no filtering.
That threatened to change in the 1990s, due to agricultural pollution and other issues.
The city invested in a programme of land protection and conservation; this has maintained quality, and is calculated to have been cheaper than the alternative of building treatment works.
Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who was not involved in the current study, said this sort of approach was beginning to take hold in the developing world, though "the concrete and steel model remains the default".
"One example is the Barotse Floodplain in Zambia, where there was a proposal for draining the wetland and developing an irrigation scheme to replace the wetlands," he related.
"Some analysis was then done that showed the economic benefits of the irrigation scheme would have been less than the benefits currently delivered by the wetland in terms of fisheries, agriculture around the flood plain, water supply, water quality and so on.
"So it's not a question of saying 'No we don't need any concrete infrastructure' - what we need are portfolios of built infrastructure and natural environment that can address the needs of development, and the ecosystem needs of people and biodiversity."
Dollars short
This analysis is likely to come in for some scrutiny, not least because it does contain an element of subjectivity in terms of how the various threats to water security are weighted and combined.

"This study, for the first time, brings all our knowledge together under one global model of water security and aquatic biodiversity loss."Nevertheless, Mark Smith hailed it as a "potentially powerful synthesis" of existing knowledge; while Gary Jones, chief executive of the eWater Co-operative Research Centre in Canberra, commented: "It's a very important and timely global analysis of the joint threats of declining water security for humans and biodiversity loss for rivers.
For the team itself, it is a first attempt - a "placeholder", or baseline - and they anticipate improvements as more accurate data emerges, not least from regions such as Africa that are traditionally data-scarce.
Already, they say, it provides a powerful indicator that governments and international institutions need to take water issues more seriously.
For developed countries and the Bric group - Brazil, Russia, India and China - alone, "$800bn per year will be required by 2015 to cover investments in water infrastructure, a target likely to go unmet," they conclude.
For poorer countries, the outlook is considerably more bleak, they say.
"In reality this is a snapshot of the world about five or 10 years ago, because that's the data that's coming on line now," said Dr McIntyre.
"It's not about the future, but we would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth.
"Climate change is going to affect the amount of water that comes in as precipitation; and if you overlay that on an already stressed population, we're rolling the dice."

Monday, September 27, 2010

80. Carbon Trading: How It Works and Why It Is Controversial

FERN  has published a 100-page book that is the best I have seen to explain the history, theory, and experience of carbon trading.  Carbon trading is the main policy tool used under the Kyoto protocol to counter climate change and remains the policy of choice by the governments worldwide.  

As the book convincingly demonstrates, carbon trading, market-based policy tool, has failed.  To those who understand that governments place profits before human needs this failure was predictable.  But for the huge majority of thinking and caring people, this book will provide ample information to make up their own mind about carbon trading as a tool to combat climate change and enable to consider other, more direct, options to save the planet from capitalist greed.  

Below please find the "Introduction" to the book.  The book is available in PDF format for free download:

The English version is available to download here:
The French version is available to download here:

To order a hard copy in French or English contact

*     *     *

Carbon Trading: How It Works and Why It is Controversial
By Jutta Kill / Saskia Ozinga / Steven Pavett / Richard Wainwright

Published by FERN, 


In the drive to tackle climate change, carbon trading has become the policy instrument of choice among governments. It is also a central element of the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol. National or regional carbon trading schemes are now operational in Europe, the USA, New Zealand and elsewhere. Yet carbon trading remains highly controversial. Some see it as a dangerous distraction and a false solution to the problem of climate change. Unfortunately the subject is characterised by jargon, abstract concepts,mathematical formulae and technical detail, making it hard for most people to understand its implications and assess its merits or otherwise. This guide attempts to unravel some of this complexity.

To put it simply, carbon trading is the process of buying and selling of quotas that allow the holder of the quota to emit the equivalent of one tonne of  CO2. So if a company’s or a country’s emissions are lower than its quota, it can sell its surplus. If it exceeds its limits, on the other hand, it will have to buy additional quota on the market or cut its production. This report deals with each of the three basic components – cap and trade,
carbon offsets and trading transactions – which underpin the trade in carbon quotas.

Chapter 1 explains how the concept of carbon trading came about.

Chapter 2 explains the theory of cap and trade – also sometimes referred to as emissions trading – and looks at how the Kyoto Protocol set in motion the widespread use of carbon trading schemes. It also examines the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Chapter 3 explains the theory behind carbon offsets, including case studies of specific offset projects that are linked either to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or voluntary carbon offset schemes.

Chapter 4 describes the financial aspects of carbon trading. It explains how the carbon market changed as it matured, and how new interest groups and increasingly complex financial arrangements shape the carbon market today. There is a section explaining the key financial terms, and showing how their use has influenced the carbon market. The chapter also explores how complex financial instruments and new actors make prices more volatile, lead to greater speculation in the carbon market, and increasingly delink the development of the carbon market from its original objective of providing an effective cost-management tool for companies required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The glossary explains the key concepts and terms in plain English. Although at FERN we have our own opinion on why carbon trading does nothing to avert climate change, we believe it is important for readers to make up their own minds. At the end of Chapters 2 and 3, therefore, we present some of the arguments used by proponents of carbon trading, followed by counter-arguments. The discussion points we have selected cannot be exhaustive, but we hope we have tackled the main areas. We welcome discussion on other arguments which readers feel should have been included. We hope the guide will be useful both to those who want to understand carbon trading purely as a mechanism, and to those who want to strengthen their arguments against.

August 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

79. Granma Sheds Some Light on Cuba's New Economic Policy

Since I wrote on the recent and ongoing reorganization of the Cuban economy, more information has come to light that deserve careful examination.  Associated Press reported that CTC has begun organizing union meetings to "brief" workers on the lay-offs "and suggest ways that those fired (sic, laid-off) can make a living."  Granma has featured an article that shed more light on the new economic policy.  This important article is reproduced below.  It asks "experts" about the new policy, including Admi Valhuerdi Cepero, first deputy minister at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, who "explained that there will be 178 categories of self-employment, within which 83 may hire additional employees who do not have to be members of the same household or relatives of the business owner. " The article also refers to a new tax system details of to be explained later. There is no discussion of the probable rise in unemployment or of any recourse for those affected.  There is new information about further development of a housing rental market.   

So far, there is no information on how these new economic policies will work with the long-term socialist direction of the Cuban society.

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Leticia Martìnez Hernàndez, Granma, September 24, 2010 (translated into English by Granma International)
This past August 1 President Raúl Castro Ruz announced to the National Assembly the decision to extend the self-employed sector and use it as an another option for workers seeking alternative jobs after the necessary process of reducing the country’s inflated employment registers in the public sector. In the Assembly session it was made known that various current restrictions would be eliminated in order to allow the authorization of new licenses and the marketing of certain products, in addition to providing greater flexibility to hire a workforce within certain activities.
Since then many people have been awaiting a solution that, far from being improvised or ephemeral, makes it possible to increase the availability of goods and services, while assuring an income to those who decide to do this work. It will contribute to the state being relieved of the burden of excessive subsidies, while placing in non-state hands goods and services which it has provided for years in spite of a difficult economic context.
Increasing the opportunities for self-employment is one of the decisions which the country is making in terms of restructuring its economic policy, in order to increase levels of productivity and efficiency. It is also an attempt to offer workers another way of feeling useful in terms of personal effort, and to distance ourselves from those concepts that almost condemned self-employment to extinction and stigmatized those who decided to legally join that sector in the 1990s.
On August 1, the approval of a tax system of taxation for the self-employed sector was also made public, in line with the nation’s new economic scenario. Whoever contributes more, will receive more is the principle of the new tax regime that will help to increase sources of income to the state budget, and achieve an adequate redistribution of that income to society.
But, how is the self-employed sector to be extended? What activities are included in it? What restrictions are being eliminated? How is it to be organized and regulated? What taxes are to be paid? Granma went out to seek the answers to these and other questions by consulting specialists from the Ministries of Economy and Planning, Finance and Prices; and Labor and Social Security, which are preparing the regulations for self-employment, to be implemented from this October.
Self-Employment, Not Anothers
Admi Valhuerdi Cepero, first deputy minister at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, explained that there will be178 categories of self-employment, within which 83 may hire additional employees who do not have to be members of the same household or relatives of the business owner. "Authorizations are to be given for 29 new activities that, while they are currently exercised, were not given re-authorization a number of years back." Among them she mentioned food vendors of various categories, winemakers, saw operators, stonemasons, engine and ignition coilers, wreath and flower sellers, panel beaters, sports trainers (except martial arts), refuse recycler, masseurs, etc.
Seven activities have been added to the existing categories, which include bookkeeping, with the exception of accountants and bookkeeping working in that specialty; park and public place restroom attendants; subject revisers, excluding active teachers; casual agricultural workers; roadside stand or cart vendors of agricultural produce in sales outlets or highway kiosks; and travel assistants, referring to those people who organize passengers with private taxis at the terminals.
Valhuerdi also explained that the granting of new authorizations for self-employed work would remain limited for now to nine kinds of work, because there is no licit market for raw materials, although viable alternatives are being studied. They are: auto body workers, marble and granite carvers and vendors; sellers of soap, shoe polish, dyes, ropes and similar items; smelters and blacksmiths; flame cutters; vendors of aluminum items; floor waxers; and vendors of non-iron cast metal items.
Concerning the market for these activities, Marino Murillo Jorge, minister of economy and planning, explained, "We are designing within the economic plan for the coming year, what we have to incorporate bearing in mind the new changes which will demand hardware stores and kitchen equipment which is not are currently not on sale. We have to manage the plan to fit in with what has been done. The ideal is a wholesale market with different prices for the self-employed. But we are not going to be able to do that in the next few years. Right now we have to find a market where they can buy what is necessary although without differentiating retail prices."
Valhuerdi commented that, when the resolution comes into force it will allow up to 20 seats in "paladares,"(independently owned house restaurants) where places were previously limited to 12; it will allow the sale of food products made from potatoes, seafood and beef. It will also abolish the requisite of being retired or having some workplace link in order to have access to this form of employment.
With these regulations university professionals and technicians who graduated before 1964 may continue to work for themselves. In this way the work undertaken for more than 40 years by a small number of people registered in the Taxpayers Registry has been respected.
In creating greater flexibility in the self-employed sector an extension in the rental of housing has been borne in mind, which eliminates the old restrictions that involve a "highly visible" network of infractions. Those prohibitions, which at one point fulfilled a function, now constitute an obstacle in the difficult problem of housing. Therefore new regulations authorize people who have authorization to live abroad (PRE) or those who, while living in Cuba, leave the country for more than three months to rent their residences. Similarly, and to support self- work, they provide the possibility of renting homes, rooms and spaces for exercising their work.
It is worthwhile to note that the homeowners can appoint a representative to request a license to rent, to facilitate those who are not in the country and who wish to rent their homes. The approval will be in all cases, up to the municipal director of housing. The same situation will apply to transportation providers who decide to work in a self-employed capacity. Those who have authorization to live abroad or travel for more than three months may also name a representative to rent their vehicles.
When these new regulations come into effect, those linked to the self-employed sector, and those who join it, will be obligated to pay taxes on personal income, on sales, on public services, and for utilizing a workforce, as well as making in Social Security contributions.
A special mention should be made to self-employed workers’ Social Security contributions, because in order to offer them protection for old age, total disability, maternity or, in the case of their death, to their family, a special scheme has been organized that these workers are required to join, with the exception of those also working in the state sector, who are retirees, receiving a pension or who are beneficiaries of another Social Security program.
All of these measures related to self-employed work, which Granma is to continue detailing in upcoming issues, will make it possible for this form of employment to provide another alternative, under the vigilant eye of the state which, as the representative of the people, is mandated to seek solutions to improve the standard of living of Cubans, while always respecting the socialist principles that govern our constitution. As the president stated at the 3rd Ordinary Sessions of the 7th Legislature of Parliament on August 1, 2009, the objective is to defend, maintain and continue improving socialism, not to destroy it. That is the road along which Cuba continues to travel.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) regulation on the extension of self-employed work lays down that those in this sector can engage in more than one activity, within their municipality of origin or in any part of the country, as long as they meet the regulations established by the Administration Councils. Thus they will have the possibility of undertaking work at home or in any other rented premises or space. The document lays down that workers can market their good and services to state agencies within the financial limits that these have.
At the present time discussions are underway with the Central Bank of Cuba on how to facilitate bank credits for persons deciding to become self-employed in order to set up the activity they have chosen.
Officials at the National Institute of Housing have announced, from October of this year, the abolition of the prohibition on renting out entire houses in CUC; time-limited renting; and renting out buildings assigned by the state after 2001, and in those in which construction work has been carried out in recent years. These measures have been approved without exception in all of the national territory. The new regulation permits owners who rent to hire a workforce and undertake other self-employed activities.

Monday, September 20, 2010

78. Cuba Is Organizing a Formal Labor Market

The future of our world lays in the future of labor and nature, for they are the sources of our sustenance and happiness.  They are also central to the problems we face worldwide; the economic crisis and the ecological/environmental.  The rise and spread of the capitalist mode of production is the immediate cause of this crisis, which has been in the making since the dawn of class society.  That is why large-scale social experiments, like the Cuban socialist revolution, matter not just to those immediately involved but to the working people of the entire world.  It is from these large-scale, society-wide experiments that humanity as a whole can learn how to emerge from the burden of crises capitalist system has imposed on it.

A Major Decision
In a major policy decision, the Central Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), Cuba’s labor federation with over 3 million members, has announced that 500,000 government employees would be laid off by next March, and over a million in the next few years.  The great majority of Cubans work for the government. According to the Cuban National Statistics Office (ONE), only 591,000 Cubans currently work in the private sector, a number that includes mostly small farmers and agricultural cooperative workers as well as 143,000 self-employed.  A small percentage of Cuban workers are employed by foreign companies, e.g. in tourism, through an employment agency run by CTC.
The Layoff Process

The CTC statement does not indicate how the decision was reached and how it will be carried out.  It does not say who will make the layoff decisions and what sectors will be affected. But it says that to ease the blow for laid off workers “[j]ob options will be increased and broadened with new forms of non-state employment, among them leasing land, forming co-operatives and self-employment, absorbing hundreds of thousands of workers in the coming years.”

An online PowerPoint presentation, entitled “Process of Reduction of Payrolls”, that outlines the planned reorganization of the economy for the Communist Party members (posted on Penúltimos Días web site), offers more detail.  According to the presentation, eventually the state will only employ workers in “indispensable” areas such as farming, construction, industry, law enforcement and education. The presentation says workers at the Ministries of Sugar, Public Health, Tourism and Agriculture will be let go first, with layoffs having already begun in July.  It contains a list of "ideas for cooperatives" including raising animals and growing vegetables, construction jobs, driving a taxi and repairing automobiles, but acknowledges that "many of them (new enterprises) could fail within a year."

According to Marc Frank, a long-time reporter based in Havana who spoke to “Communist Party sources”, geographical limitations on self-employment and prohibitions on obtaining bank credits, doing business with state entities or hiring labor outside the family, will be eliminated along with some other regulations.
The government's definition of self-employment includes many entities that are essentially small businesses, including such things as family-run restaurants and cafeterias, auto repair shops and jobs in the building trades.
The non-state jobs will include, among other things, workers hired by the small businesses, taxi drivers who will now lease their cabs from the state and employees of small state businesses that will be converted to cooperatives.

Frank explains the process of layoff as follows. Laid-off state workers will be offered at least one other state job.  If they do not accept it they will receive unemployment benefits, equal to 70 percent of their wages, for up to three months. It must be noted that even after this period the laid off workers like all Cubans receive free health care and education, subsidized utilities, a subsidized food ration and automatic adjustment of mortgages or rent to 10 percent of the top breadwinner's income.
AFP reports of anxiety among Cuban workers.  Reuters reports similar emotions while stating that others are embracing the idea of working for themselves. Associated Press spoke with many people already involved in the private sector who were encouraged by the announcement, but also reported talking to workers who are nervous about the uncertainty of the future.
The Broader Significance of the Reorganization
The CTC supports the planned layoff because "Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities, services and budgeted sectors with bloated payrolls [and] losses that hurt the economy....” The CTC states that the massive reduction of the government labor force is part of “the process of updating the economic model and the projections for the economy for the 2011-2015 period.”

However, the proposed significance of the lay-offs goes well beyond the goals of the next 5-year plan; they will have much longer-term effect.  One, that the CTC has not expressed any misgivings about, is that it will potentially reduce national union membership by almost a third. Some unions in the sectors more affected by lay-off will lose even more. There will be a corresponding lose of social power for CTC and its affiliated unions. 
There is also little public knowledge about the “economic model” that CTC is referring to, and whatever its “update” supposed to entail.  The leadership of the Cuban revolution debated what economic model to pursue in the 1963-65 period.  The two positions reflected the two tendencies within the newly constituted socialist leadership.  Those who looked to Moscow in the new leadership, represented by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, argued for the adoption of the Soviet economic model.  Ernesto Che Guevara argued for an alternative model where emphasis would be on systematic development of moral incentive for work.  He argued that the models in use in the "socialist camp" were using administrative or material incentives and these methods would end up in capitalism.  We know now that he was correct in his diagnosis. 

However, after the failure of the 1970 sugar harvest campaign, which was a volunteerist error of the Cuban leadership, a majority in the leadership opted for the Soviet model. In 1986, the Third Congress of the Communist Party criticized the the Soviet-sponsored socialist economic management system (System of Economic Management and Planning – SDPE) for fostering  inefficiency, corruption, and profit-minded selfishness. Fidel Castro called for the “rectification of errors and negative tendencies” in economic management. The campaign focused on recentralizing economic planning authority, dismantling SDPE material incentives and market mechanisms, abolishing the free farmers markets launched in 1980, and combating corruption. 

However, with the collapse of the "Socialist Camp" and its trade and credit relations with Cuba, the Rectification Campaign came to an end.  The Fourth and last Communist Party Congress held in 1997 did not decide on an economic model.   

It is true that President Raul Castro has called for conceptual and structural reform of the economy since he has assumed power in 2006 and encouraged public discussion of Cuba’s troubled economy.  It is also true that some criticisms have been aired, including in the pages of the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.
However, these could not substitute for a clear leadership proposal and a genuine mass discussion of the challenges the Cuban revolution faces and its possible remedies.   The present reorganization does not even meet the best example of previous attempts to involve Cuban working people in the discussion of major changes in the Cuban economy.  One example is the Workers Parliaments that the CTC organized in the early 1990s in  workplaces all across the country to discuss the Cuban leadership's proposed economic policies and to offer criticism and policy recommendations on how to confront the depression-like crisis. Another example is the 2003-04 reorganization of the sugar industry that resulted in closing down of half of the Cuba's sugar mills and their related cane production. Over 100,00 employees had to be transferred to other sectors of the economy and often to other geographic locations.  This was done through a similar mass discussion of the problems in the sugar industry and why the change was necessary and how it should be carried out (for a report see the Militant, number 9 and 16, 2004; Farsi readers can read my article). 
The proposed reorganization aims to deal with some of the long-term problems plaguing the Cuban economy such as labor inefficiency, bloated administrative staff, and to figure out a better mix of moral and financial, and personal and social incentives.  It deals also more directly with the small black market that developed after the legalization of small business such as “family operated” bed-and-breakfasts (casa particular), and family-operated restaurants (paladares). 
However, the proposed changes should be articulated in the larger context of how the Cuban communists propose to move the socialist project forward.  This is especially important as the announced decision signal the establishment of a formal labor market that can only weaken article 9 of the 1992 Cuban constitution.  

The constitution defines as part of the duties of the “workers state” the following:
“b) as the power of the people and for the people, (the state) guarantees
“- that every man or woman, who is able to work, have the opportunity to have a job with which to contribute to the good of society and to the satisfaction of individual needs;
“- that no disabled person be left without adequate mean of subsistence;
“- that no sick person be left without medical care;
“- that no child be left without schooling, food and clothing;
“- that no young person be left without the opportunity to study;
“- that no one be left without access to studies, culture and sports;
“c) works to achieve that no family be left without a comfortable place to live.”
However, a formal labor market can only operate if the employers can refuse to hire workers, hence leaving a section of the workforce deemed "redundant" or "unemployable" without work.  

The announced decision will move more of the Cuban families from the public sphere to the realm of the private market. It does so by formally creating a labor market and expanding markets for necessary consumer goods. Of course, these will be regulated markets. But let us recall that the black labor market has operated for some time despite the fact that it was illegal.   And the very decision to adopt the market mechanism is an admission that the state is unable to do away with the market influence. 

This process is bound to affect class structure in the Cuban society.  It will strengthen the petty bourgeois (want to be bourgeois) layers and will tend to weaken the proletarian, socialist current.  it will undermine socialist solidarity. To effectively counter its influence, it is essential to strengthen the working class in all possible manners, but first and most of all, politically. It would be essential to strengthen the unions and all mass organizations.  But to that will require a significant expansion of genuine socialist democracy in Cuba.

As the constitution states, the Cuban working people should not just be invited to “participate.”  They should gradually become the prime movers of socialist policy.  This is even more important as other "economic" important policy decisions loom on the horizon. For example, take the needed tax reform to deal with the significant expansion of the private sectors and the needed reform of retirement policy as an increasing number of retired workers live longer lives thanks to the successes of the policies fostered by the Cuban revolution.  

The socialist revolution is a worldwide process.  The Cuban working people should be at the forefront of the debate and mobilization to fight environmental/ecological crisis, in particular climate change. 

The Need for Solidarity

The organization of a formal labor market will simply recognize the status quo of the Cuban revolution.  However, a policy to expand socialist consciousness and working class power, through an expansion of socialist democracy, will gradually replace the realm of the marker and will reduce the need for the hegemony exercised by the Cuban state and the Communist Party.  If so, the decision to reorganize the Cuban workforce and economy can become a true case of one step back to take two steps forward.

Meanwhile, international labor and socialist movements need to extend solidarity with the Cuban revolution, in particular by opposing the United States embargo.