Thursday, February 22, 2018

Over-Crowded Planet?



Overpopulation is a frightening concept. But is the world actually overpopulated? No. Will it be in the future? Unlikely because population growth is slowing and most demographers expect a levelling off in the future. Also, with advances in technology massive efficiencies can be made.

The birthrate in China fell last year even though the country has changed its One Child policy to allow two children. Reasons given for the low birth rate were the trend toward later marriage, the desire for smaller families and concerns about the high cost of raising children.
With almost 1.4 billion people, China has the world's largest population but it is aging fast even before reaching its expected peak of 1.45 billion in 2029.
China's policy was changed in 2015 in an attempt to increase the size of the younger working population that will eventually have to support their elders. The number of births rose nearly 8% in 2016, with nearly half of the babies born to couples who already had a child. But that appears to have been a one-time increase.
Experts have recommended the country increase its retirement age to address an expected labor shortage and declining economic vitality.
One woman, a housewife in Beijing, pointed out that the burden of looking after aging parents is one reason not to have a second child. "They helped us look after one child, but we would have to babysit the second one ourselves."
"Until the young one is 2, mother won't be able to work which means a big loss of income that we're not prepared for," another person said.

Life in Retirement to Shorten

The Department of Health and Social Care has been accused of ignoring repeated warnings about stagnating life expectancy, from academics who are demanding an urgent inquiry into whether austerity policies could be driving the trend. They asked how ministers could justify pushing up the state pension age in the current climate, especially as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries had taken notice of the trend and adjusted their projections.
The academics said that in recent years there had been “one of the greatest slowdowns [in life expectancy improvements] for both sexes since the 1890s”, with rates even declining for some groups. It was indisputable that life expectancy had stalled in England and Wales, with suspicions that prolonged austerity mattered a great deal.
Given the lack of alternative reasons for the decline, they said they were calling for an immediate investigation into a potential link between the death rates and underfunding of the NHS and social care.
The four senior academics said, however, their warnings were falling on deaf ears. “Concerns about life expectancy have been raised by academics at least twice in 2017, and twice the DoH’s responses have been disappointing, even attacking the researchers involved,” they have written in the article for the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
One of the academics, Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said with no natural disaster to explain the phenomenon, and flu epidemics at most contributing only partly to the trend, it was imperative to look at “severe cuts in social care” and the evidence that the “NHS was struggling to cope”. He added: “Recent developments call into question current proposals to increase the state pension age.”
With pensions, said Danny Dorling, a professor at the school of geography and the environment at the University of Oxford, people ought to know that if the trend continued people in the UK could expect to experience among the very lowest life expectancies in Europe, with a larger proportion dying before receiving a pension or within a few years of the payments.
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/21/health-department-ignoring-uk-life-expectancy-concerns

Northern Ireland's Poverty

Little progress has been made on reducing poverty in Northern Ireland, with too many people locked out of the opportunity to secure a decent standard of living.

Overall, 370,000 people live in poverty, around one in five of the population – made up of 110,000 children, 220,000 working-age adults and 40,000 pensioners.

Only 35 per cent of working-age disabled people in Northern Ireland are employed, compared to 42 per cent in Scotland, 47 per cent in Wales and 50 per cent in England. 

Northern Ireland has higher unemployemnt and lower employment than elsewhere and the proportion of people in poverty in jobless households in Northern Ireland has increased. One in six adults in Northern Ireland have no qualifications (16 per cent), compared to less than one in ten working-age adults in England, Wales and Scotland. Only 47 per cent of children eligible for free school meals achieved five good GCSEs in 2016, compared with 68 per cent of all children.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said, “Northern Ireland has not seen the same benefits from rising employment as the rest of Great Britain, meaning more families are locked out of opportunities to build a decent, secure life."

Venezuela's Poverty Increases

Venezuelans reported losing on average 11 kilograms (24 lbs) in body weight last year and almost 90 percent now live in poverty, according to a new university study on the impact of a devastating economic crisis and food shortages. The annual survey by three universities, is one of the most closely-followed assessments of Venezuelans’ well being amid a government information vacuum and shows a steady rise in poverty and hunger in recent years.

Over 60 percent of Venezuelans surveyed said that during the previous three months they had woken up hungry because they did not have enough money to buy food. About a quarter of the population was eating two or less meals a day, the study showed.  The study flagged Venezuelans’ deteriorating diets, which are deficient in vitamins and protein, as currency controls restrict food imports, hyperinflation eats into salaries, and people line up for hours to buy basics like flour.

“Income is being pulverized,” Maria Ponce, one of the study’s investigators, told a news conference at the Andres Bello Catholic University. “This disparity between the rise in prices and the population’s salaries is so generalized that there is practically not a single Venezuelan who is not poor.” The study showed that 87 percent of people in Venezuela, were living in poverty last year, rising from 82 percent in 2016 and 48 percent in 2014.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-food/venezuelans-report-big-weight-losses-in-2017-as-hunger-hits-idUSKCN1G52HA



Billy Graham Departs the Earth

“We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?” -- Billy Graham, Saturday Evening Post, 1963

"Billy Graham's pulpit manner, in fact, reminds an East Londoner of nothing so much as a market cheap-jack's. He talks loud and fast, holding his Bible aloft as if to emphasize its startling value and slapping it with a knocked-down-to-you-madam finality. His approach is that of a man with a wonderful bargain who will nag you into buying it." -  Socialist Standard, April 1954 

"But nothing succeeds like success, and a man who gets as many thousand dollars a year as Billy Graham does merely for preaching must obviously be on to a good thing." - Socialist Standard, February 1956

The Billy Graham organization, that only brought in $91.6 million in 2011, announced job cuts owing to a need to emphasize its ‘airline ministry and other priorities’. Fifty-five were let go in February but the company said that the move, “…in now way reflects the financial health of the organization…and the Lord will protect.”

No home for the Karen

The Socialist Standard has drawn attention to how many indigenous peoples are punished by the creation of "nature" parks.

One of the latest is happening in Myanmar. Plans to create two parks to protect swathes of mountainous jungle in Myanmar could stop more than 16,000 refugees who fled conflict from going home, campaigners said on Wednesday. The parks, totalling 1.3 million acres (5,260 square km), could block the Karen people from returning to 55 villages in the Tanintharyi Region, said a report by the Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (CAT), an advocacy group. It said the proposals - which have been demarcated after being proposed in 2002 - should be halted until refugees' right of return was guaranteed. The CAT said plans for Tanintharyi National Park and nearby Lenya National Park pose a threat to people who traditionally lived within the proposed boundaries. Those fears are partly based on the impact of another protected area in the region - the Tanintharyi Nature Reserve Project, which was established in 2005. When residents of Kye Zu Daw village returned to homes they had fled during the war, said the CAT, they found their land had been split between the reserve and a palm oil plantation.  CAT said villagers were no longer able make a living by farming the narrow strip of land that was left, with efforts to cultivate areas on either side resulting in court cases. "If we go into our forest, the government will sue us. If we go into the lower part of the village, the company will sue us," said Saw Chit Wey Htoo, a villager.

The Karen National Union, an ethnic armed group, signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 2012 after 62 years of conflict, which led some refugees to return home - although fighting continues in parts of the country. About 100,000 refugees remain in camps across the border in Thailand, according to the United Nations refugee agency, while others sheltered within Myanmar after fleeing their homes.

http://news.trust.org/item/20180221152257-mogno/

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bad news for wages

The Bank of England has warned that economic uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote will knock 5% off UK wage growth by the year end.
Mark Carney, the bank’s governor, said British workers had already suffered a loss in earnings growth of 3.5% - compared with pre-referndum forecast inflation is taken into account, and would see that loss swell to 5% by the end of the year as wages growth remained below inflation.
The UK also had the strongest two quarters of productivity growth since the recession of 2008 after output per hour rose 0.8%
Yet unemployment increased by the largest amount in five years and employment and productivity growth slipped back. Wages have also played catch-up from a virtual freeze in the aftermath of the Brexit vote increased from a low point last year when growth slumped to 1.6%.
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/feb/21/brexit-will-knock-5-off-wage-growth-says-mark-carney

Lloyd's bankers fills their coffers

Lloyds Banking Group is to hand more than £3bn in dividends and surplus capital to shareholders and has awarded its chief executive a bumper £6.4m payout just nine months after returning to full private ownership following its taxpayer bailout in 2008.

The group, the largest bank in Britain with 27 million customers, posted a 24% jump in pretax profits to £5.3bn. In a bonanza for shareholders, Lloyds hiked its dividend by 20% and announced a buyback programme worth an extra £1bn. The surge in profits and payouts saw Lloyds shares climb nearly 3% higher.
The chief executive António Horta-Osório’s pay, including bonuses, increased 11% to £6.4m in 2017 from £5.8 in 2016. 
Unions said it contrasted with an average pay increase for staff of just 2% in 2017.
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/21/lloyds-bumper-profits-deliver-1bn-bonanza-for-shareholders

Hiding the cash

The UK protects its tax havens. The foreign minister Alan Duncan said the government would only pressure the territories to adopt new transparency measures when they became a global standard, and insisted that an EU commitment to introduce public registers did not meet that threshold.


 British crown dependencies and overseas territories, however, are only required to provide information on the true owners of offshore companies to law enforcement, and only if requested.
“Registers must be open – to civil society, the media, journalists, non-governmental organisations – if all the relevant dots are to be joined up, as the release of the Paradise Papers so clearly shows,” said Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative MP and former secretary of state for international development. “With the best will in the world, the regulatory authorities are not in that business, and narrow questions from regulatory authorities simply do not suffice.” 

Mitchell said World Bank data showed that more money was stolen from Africa through unpaid taxes or concealment each year than the continent received in overseas aid or foreign investment. “We owe it to the poor of Africa, as well as to our own taxpayers, to take the action we can to bring about an end to this scandal,” he said.

The Jungle Revisited

 15% (one in seven) of the US population suffers from foodborne illnesses annually. The US has shockingly high levels of foodborne illness, according to a new analysis by UK pressure group Sustain. It says that annually, around 48 million people of the US population is estimated to suffer from an illness, compared to around 1.5% (1 million) in the UK. In the US, 128,000 are hospitalised, and 3,000 die each year of foodborne diseases. Salmonella, causes around 1m illnesses per year in the US, while in the UK the numbers of officially recorded incidents is relatively low, with just under 10,000 laboratory confirmed cases in 2016. However, unreported incidents could substantially increase those numbers. Salmonella takes hold on farms and is found in the guts of poultry and livestock: farm animals and birds can become contaminated with faeces containing the bacteria during transport to abattoirs, where slaughter and processing procedures can also spread it.

Shocking hygiene failings have been discovered in some of the US’s biggest meat plants. Campaigners are calling once again for the closure of a legal loophole that allows meat with salmonella to be sold in the human supply chain, and also warn about the industry’s push to speed up production in the country’s meat plants. 

US- government records highlight numerous specific incidents including:
  • Diseased poultry meat that had been condemned found in containers used to hold edible food products;
  • Pig carcasses piling up on the factory floor after an equipment breakdown, leading to contamination with grease, blood and other filth;
  • Meat destined for the human food chain found riddled with faecal matter and abscesses filled with pus;
  • High-power hoses being used to clean dirty floors next to working production lines containing food products;
  • Factory floors flooded with dirty water after drains became blocked by meat parts and other debris;
  • Dirty chicken, soiled with faeces or having been dropped on the floor, being put back on to the production line after being rinsed with dilute chlorine.
  • In one incident, diseased meat – condemned from entering the human food chain – was placed in a container meant for edible product. An inspector discovered “carcasses of poultry showing evidence of septicemic disease ... carcasses showing evidence of having died from other causes than slaughter ... guts of carcasses, [and] poultry carcasses with heads attached.” He requested that the condemned items be removed. A similar incident was recorded some days later.
  • The documents seen by the Bureau and Guardian do not reveal the full numbers of non-compliance reports across the whole sector. However, one dataset covering 13 large red meat and poultry plants over two years (2015-17) shows an average of more than 150 violations a week, and 15,000 violations over the entire period. Thousands of similar violations were recorded at 10 pork-producing plants over a five-year period up until 2016, further documents show.
  •  Campaigners warned that other violations may go undetected. Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist with Food and Water Watch, said: “While the inspectors are able to cite the plants for hundreds of violations per week, I am confident that they are not catching every instance of unsafe practices being committed in these plants.” Meat hygiene inspectors interviewed by the Guardian agreed, saying fast line speeds and other pressures in some plants meant it was “inevitable” that some breaches slipped through the net.
  • According to Prof Erik Millstone, a food safety expert at Sussex University, “because of the risks of spreading infectious pathogens from carcass to carcass, and between portions of meat. The rates at which outbreaks of infectious food poisoning occur in the US are significantly higher than in the UK, or the EU, and poor hygiene in the meat supply chain is a leading cause of food poisoning in the US.”
  • The Guardian article is reminesicent of Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle", which exposed the Chicago meat industry in the early 20th C.
  • https://www.theguardian.com/animals-farmed/2018/feb/21/dirty-meat-shocking-hygiene-failings-discovered-in-us-pig-and-chicken-plants

Food Waste in the Farm

A new report has revealed the staggering levels of food waste coming from farms in the UK. The report describes food waste as an “ecological catastrophe of staggering proportion”. Research carried out by the food and environment charity Feedback has examined the role supermarkets play in driving the overproduction and subsequent waste of food on farms. As supermarkets have over 85 per cent of the market share of grocery stores, the report warned they have the power to burden farmers both with food waste and the associated costs. At the moment commitments to cut down on food waste do not include farms, meaning supermarkets are only held accountable for waste that occurs in their stores. 
Fruit and vegetable farmers reported they wasted up to 37,000 tonnes of produce every year – around 16 per cent of their crop. This quantity would be enough to provide 250,000 people with their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for a year. The overall quantity of wasted produce could keep cities the size of Birmingham or Manchester adequately supplied with fruit and vegetables.
 “Despite a government and industry focus on food waste occurring in homes, our pioneering research finds that waste on farms, often a result of supermarkets’ outsized power in the supply chain, is significant and pervasive,” said Carina Millstone, executive director of Feedback.
While some supermarkets have made public commitments to reducing food waste, the report concludes these measures have had little impact. In particular it notes that the inflexibility of supermarket contracts has “normalised overproduction and the resulting waste”. Over half the farmers surveyed agreed they were forced to overproduce because there is pressure to always meet buyer orders, or risk losing contracts. Produce being rejected for cosmetic reasons such as colour, shape and size was the major reason for food waste identified by farmers involved in the study. Nearly half those surveyed said retailers use cosmetic standards as an excuse to reject produce when they can get a lower price elsewhere, or else following a fall in demand.
While consumers can undoubtedly be fussy when choosing their food, the report suggests consumer fussiness is being driven by the supermarkets themselves. Moreover, the takeover of the market by major supermarkets appears to have left fewer outlets to sell “imperfect” produce.
“Farmers surveyed for our research reported an average 10-16 per cent food wastage in typical years, equal to around 22,000 to 37,000 tonnes: enough food to provide 150,000 to 250,000 people with five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for a whole year, about the same as the whole population of Wolverhampton,” said Mr Bowman. “Our surveyed farmers grew about 2.6 per cent of the fruit, vegetables and potatoes grown in the UK – based on rough and ready extrapolations from this small sample size, we estimate that 2-4 million people could be fed their 5 a day nationally on fruit and veg wasted on UK farms, equal to more than the population of Birmingham or Manchester.”

Flooded Cities

Major British towns and cities, including Glasgow, Wrexham, Aberdeen and Chester, could be much more severely affected by climate change than previously thought, according to new research by Newcastle University.
 Looking at the impact by the year 2050-2100, the team produced results for three possible outcomes – low, medium and high-impact scenarios. But even the most optimistic case showed 85% of UK cities with a river, including London, would face increased flooding.
In the high-impact scenario, some cities and towns in the UK and Ireland could see the amount of water per flood as much as double. The worst affected is Cork, which could see 115% more water per flooding, while Wrexham, Carlisle, Glasgow, and Chester could all see increases of more than 75%.
The team used projections from all available models associated with the high emission scenario RCP8.5, which implies a 2.6C to 4.8C increase in global temperature. They found the British Isles have some of the worst overall flood projections, with the high scenario predicting half of UK cities could see at least a 50% increase on peak river flows.

Doncaster public meeting (24/2)

Speaker:  Glenn Morris 

The Obesity Epidemic

The “obesity epidemic” deserves much more serious attention than it is getting. It is, after all, thought to be killing nearly 3m people a year worldwide. Obesity is invariably presented as a diet issue for nutritionists, whereas social inequality is deemed the domain of sociologists and economists. Put another way, even as the inequality gap becomes more and more obvious there’s been a medicalisation of a social problem. Yet obesity is not just a matter for nutritionists: rather, it is a product of social inequality and requires a collective social response.

This failure to face up to the underlying causes of obesity is all the more striking as issues of social inequality and justice are dominating the news agenda. Despite vast increases in total wealth in the world today, the health issue remains a marker for a general political problem about inequality in society, even in the most affluent societies. The tragedy is that obesity is usually treated as a problem and responsibility of individuals or families – not as a social problem like, say, low-educational achievement or delinquency. And so the solutions are pitched at that individual or family level. And yet the statistics point remorselessly towards obesity being a symptom with an underlying social cause. That should completely change the approach to dealing with it. But so far, it hasn’t.

Take the US. There, the most “obese” state, Arkansas, is also the fourth poorest state overall, whereas the poorest state, Mississippi, is also the third most overweight. Recent studies in England also illustrate this link between obesity and income. Of the ten worst areas in terms of overweight or obese children, half are also in the worst ten for child poverty. England’s most obese council, Brent, is also its ninth poorest, whereas England’s wealthiest council, Richmond, despite being a neighbouring council in London, is one of the sprightliest, with a relatively low rate of obesity. And England’s poorest council? Another London borough, Newham, is also the eighth most affected by childhood obesity.

In its way, these figures are as disgraceful an indictment of social priorities and inequality as the 19th-century mortality levels due to epidemics of rickets or typhoid. And the solutions needed are every bit as collective rather than individual. Imagine that the Victorians had tried to tackle typhoid by advising everyone to live in the countryside near clean wells, rather than by building sewers and water treatment plants. Today’s response to an epidemic that kills so many people around the world that it has become the fifth leading cause of early death, is just as unrealistic. Businesses fought against public sanitation proposals fearing increased costs – in much the same way that the food industry resists or subverts public health initiatives as the investigative journalist, Michael Moss, in particular, has detailed. And like today, the business interest was often backed by politicians. The hazards back then were not ambiguous things such as sugary soda drinks or ready meals, but rotting animal carcasses and mountains of refuse. Yet the opposition to change was similar – every improvement had to be fought for.

So what are the factors that push poorer people towards unhealthy eating? Food and health policy expert Martin Caraher has explained that food choices are massively influenced by factors such as income, knowledge and skills. Others have highlighted the fact that eating well invariably involves more food preparation time. Yet such explanations don’t fit many cases, indeed seem dangerously retrospective. What is sure is that you cannot deal with the obesity epidemic by taxing popular snacks, anymore than you could deal with rocketing suicide rates by taxing sales of rope.

The point is that we need to collectively tackle the stressed communities characterised by insecure and erratic employment, inadequate education, stress, depression and a lack of social cohesion. 

https://inews.co.uk/news/health/blame-poverty-not-food-preferences-britains-obesity-epidemic/





Single-Parent Poverty

A quarter of families are headed by a single parent. Single parents are increasingly being pushed into precarious zero-hours contracts and unsuitable self-employment, putting more children at risk of living in poverty, the single parents’ charity Gingerbread said.
There had been a 58% increase in the number of self-employed single parents in the past 10 years, but warned that a significant number of parents reported being pushed into unsuitable self-employment by jobcentre advisers in an attempt to get them into work.
“Single parents are being pushed into self-employment, either by jobcentres or as a way to secure insecure work. We are seeing people increasingly self-employed as contractors in retail, catering, caring – this is not an entrepreneurial choice, it’s a last resort,” said Dalia Ben-Galim, Gingerbread’s head of policy.  “The impact is pretty obvious. It cannot be right that in 2018 almost half of children from single-parent families are living in poverty.” 
 Two-thirds of single parents are in work, but 47% of children in single parent households are living in relative poverty. The figure has been increasing for the past two years and will reach 63% by 2020. One in 10 parents were forced to resort to “last resort steps” such as using payday lenders, loan sharks and foodbanks.
“It’s not right that we still live in a society where children of single parents face twice the risk of poverty compared with those from couple families,” said Gingerbread’s chief executive, Rosie Ferguson. “We want to see single parents valued and given the same opportunities as any other family.” Ferguson said the unreliability of modern employment leaves single parents unsure about how much they should earn or how much childcare they need and affects their ability to access government childcare schemes that require recipients to work at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage. Some parents, particularly those with children under two, were spending more than half their income on childcare, she said.
Single parent households have been the worst hit by the welfare reforms of the 2010-2015 coalition government and will continue to be under 2017 changes, with single-parent families expected to lose 15% of their income (over £3,800 annually) by 2021-22, according to the report.
Until 2008 single parents were not required to work until their youngest child turned 16, but now must actively look for work or face penalties. The report cites the case of a widowed single father who gave up work to look after his three school-age children and has been unable to find a job that fits with his caring responsibilities – as a result of the benefit cap there is a shortfall in their rent of £70 each week. “It’s a pretty harsh punishment,” said Ben-Galim.

A Healthy Diet


The Price of the Planet

Astrophysicist Greg Laughlin came up with a figure of €3000 trillion ($3,000,000,000,000,000) for the worth of planet Earth, given its breathable atmosphere—a shield from cosmic radiation.

 A close estimate is by Greg Laughlinas as US$5000 trillion.

 By contrast, Mars is estimated as a modest $16,000 while Venus is dismissed at about a penny

Far from a joke, such estimates symbolize the religious worship of money and the confirmation that capitalists know the price of everything, but the value of nothing

https://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/new-formula-values-earth-at-5000000000000000.html

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

TB and Poverty

India has the highest number of TB cases globally, according to the World Health Organization's 2017 report, and is also among the top five countries that report the highest multi drug resistant cases. Over the past year, there were more than 1 million TB cases reported across India, according to health ministry data. Campaigners argue that the numbers are even higher, as there are gaps in the detection and treatment of TB.
Adding to the health crisis is the increasing debt burden on patients as they try and stick with the treatment, say public health campaigners. Expenses such as transportation and the cost of food, combined with the loss of income, push families into debt and are disincentives to continuing treatment, they say.
A study presented at the European Respiratory Society's 2016 conference in London documented the "catastrophic costs" incurred by TB patients undergoing treatment at private hospitals. The study showed that patients were spending 235 percent of their income on the disease - meaning they had to borrow money to support their treatment.
"Not only is TB a disease of poverty, it also causes poverty," said Zarir F. Udwadia, a leading chest physician.
"It affects mainly poor and malnourished people," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told parliament  - a rare official acknowledgement of the scale and impact of the disease.
Patients often stop taking their medicines due to the side effects and the financial strain, said Radha Garikapati, a counsellor at the Hospital of Infectious Disease.
"Adherence has always been our biggest challenge," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation between counselling sessions. "Almost all patients tell us about their debts and finances," she said. "We provide them with some nutritional support, but wages lost due to the illness is something we can't compensate."
"The disease has driven me to poverty and despair," said Tuberculosis patient Yerdodamma Peddeti . "I would rather be dead."

No rules of war in Ghouta

Syria's Eastern Ghouta has become a "death sentence" for children as heavy bombing is killing scores of young people trapped in the besieged enclave, aid agencies said. A surge in pro-government air strikes, rocket fire and shelling has killed more than 210 people - including 54 children in the rebel pocket near Damascus since Sunday.  Bashar al-Assad have been besieging almost 400,000 civilians - half of them children - trapped inside Eastern Ghouta for years, but the siege has tightened this year and attacks on the enclave have intensified.

"The longer the siege and bombing goes on, it is effectively a death sentence for many children," Alun McDonald, a spokesman for charity Save the Children, said "People are trapped and thousands of lives are at risk not being able to leave, without medical evacuations, and lack of food and medicine." McDonald said more than 100 children in Eastern Ghouta need evacuation for life-saving medical treatment that is not available for conditions including cancer and kidney disease.

Siege tactics and indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas contravene the internationally-agreed "rules of war". UNICEF estimates that about 12 percent of children under the age of five in Eastern Ghouta are acutely malnourished, the highest rate anywhere in Syria since the seven-year war began. UNICEF was able to deliver nutrition and health supplies last week to children in Eastern Ghouta after two months without access, but Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the agency, said it was not enough. "We don't have the words anymore to describe our outrage at what is happening to children inside Syria," 

Wesam, a doctor in Eastern Ghouta "The situation in Eastern Ghouta is tragic ... if it is this bad psychologically for adults - it is worse for children," she said. "In the end, death is always finding its way. If not through medical problems, it is through war, it is through hunger. In the end death is the destiny for many people."

A Flooded Future

Global sea levels are set to rise dramatically, threatening the homes of some 100 million people, even if the strictest greenhouse gas emissions targets are met, according to a new study. The research, compiled by climate scientists from a number of international institutions, analysed the long-term impacts of different emission levels and concluded oceans will rise by over one metre even if the world sticks to the Paris agreementThe researchers estimated a global rise of between 0.7 and 1.2 metres – adding that if emissions are not curbed as soon as possible it will be even greater. As it stands, current efforts by nations to reduce emissions are not enough to avoid the more significant rises in sea levels predicted by the new analysis.

“For millions of people around the world living in coastal areas, every centimetre can make a huge difference – to limit sea-level rise risks, immediate CO2 reduction is key." said Dr Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

"Man-made climate change has already pre-programmed a certain amount of sea-level rise for the coming centuries, so for some it might seem that our present actions might not make such a big difference – but our study illustrates how wrong this perception is," said Dr Matthias Mengel.

"This is a great example of how delays to mitigation can make the costs of climate change add up,” said Professor Dave Frame, director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute.

Associate Professor Pete Strutton, a biological oceanographer at the University of Tasmania, explained, “We need to realise that climate change is happening. Even if we stop emitting today, the effects of our past emissions will be felt for centuries to come and every year that we delay action has consequences for the future."
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/sea-level-rise-climate-change-paris-agreement-global-warming-greenhouse-gas-a8219681.html

Save the Children

Unicef report says five newborn babies die every minute across the world or about 2.6 million every year, an ‘alarmingly high’ figure as 80% of these are preventable. Across the world, babies born into the poorest families are 40% more likely to die in the first month than those born into the richest.

The risk of dying as a newborn in the US is only slightly lower than the risk for babies in Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Babies born in Japan, Singapore and Iceland stand the best chance of survival, while those in Pakistan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds, according to the report. The risk of dying as a newborn, which is closely linked to income level of countries.

A million babies draw their last breath the same day they took their first. A further 2.6 million are stillborn worldwide, said the report. More than 80% of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth, or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis. Such deaths can be prevented with access to trained midwives, clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.

However, the report points out, while there are 218 doctors, nurses, and midwives in Norway per 10,000 people, that ratio falls to one per 10,000 in Somalia.
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/feb/20/newborn-babies-survival-rates-us-united-states-slightly-better-sri-lanka

CHEESED-OFF BY “CHEDDAR MAN”! (weekly poem)

CHEESED-OFF BY “CHEDDAR MAN”!
(A casein point to be caerphilly read)

Recent DNA tests have shown that some of the earliest
Britons were dark-skinned, blue-eyed and curly-haired.

Oh woe to racists everywhere,
There’s a gruyèresome smell;
That’s not just a brie(f) quandary,
In UKIP and the BNP,
But in the EDL.

Gorged on the news of their big cheese,
The Brown-skinned Cheddar Man;
His heirs are saying, “Whites go home,
Take your mutated Chromosome, (1)
And leave soon as you can”!

“Old Albion, a Rasta land,
Belongs to us, the Browns;
So White punk go and pack your trunk,
Take your crap Rap and Badger Skunk,
And leave our ghetto towns”.

“We know that all you Honkies won't,
Like our sarcastic jibe;
But catch the first banana-boat,
The 'SS Windrush' is afloat, (2)
To sail home to your tribe”.

“You come here pinching all our jobs,
And our dole money too;
Caucasians are a lower race,
Who shouldn't dare to show their face,
And should be in the Zoo”.

“So all you Whiteys, go back home,
And leave our precious land;
Get back to all your jungle huts,
Your palm-leaves and your coconuts--
Don't come back 'til you're tanned”! 

(1) A defective Chromosome may have given some brown
humans a fairer skin giving them an evolutionary advantage
to absorb Vitamin D from the weaker sunlight outside Africa.

(2) The ‘SS Windrush’ sailed from the West Indies to Britain in
1948 carrying one of the first large contingents of immigrants.

© Richard Layton

Monday, February 19, 2018

$15 Billion Stolen -Which side are you on?

With American workers already struggling against stagnant wages, declining union strength, and vicious attacks by the Trump administration, a new investigation by Politico published Sunday found that low-wage employees in the United States are also contending with wage theft on a massive scale.

According to Politico's Marianne Levine, who examined state minimum wage enforcement protocols over a period of nine months, "workers are so lightly protected that six states have no investigators to handle minimum-wage violations, while 26 additional states have fewer than 10 investigators."
"Given the widespread nature of wage theft and the dearth of resources to combat it, most cases go unreported," Levine adds. "Thus, an estimated $15 billion in desperately needed income for workers with lowest wages goes instead into the pockets of shady bosses."

Michael Hollander, staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, argued that the violations uncovered by Levine's investigation come as no surprise to labor advocates or low-wage workers themselves.
"Wage theft is the rule, not the exception, for low-wage workers," Hollander said.

Given that many low-wage American workers can barely afford rent, any amount of money taken from a worker's paycheck can have devastating consequences. 
Advocates for lowest-wage workers describe families facing eviction and experiencing hunger for lack of money that's owed them," Levine writes. "And, nationally, the failure to enforce wage laws exacerbates a level of income inequality that, by many measures, is higher than it's been for the past century."

When Donald Trump was running for the presidency, he promised that, if he was elected, “American workers will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”  Today, though, safely ensconced in the White House, President Trump is waging a fierce campaign against American workers. His appointments to federal positions created to defend workers’ rights provide an indication of his priorities.  For Secretary of Labor, Trump nominated Andrew Puzder, the CEO of a major fast food chain.  When Puzder’s nomination was withdrawn amid allegations of labor law violations, Trump turned to Alexander Acosta, a figure with a long history of aligning with rightwing and corporate interests.  As the new Labor Secretary, Acosta served as one of the stars at the annual gathering of the militantly anti-labor American Legislative Exchange Council.  For Deputy Secretary of Labor, Trump chose Patrick Pizzella, a former employee of the rabidly anti-union National Right to Work Committee who had lobbied against raising sweatshop-level wages.   For Assistant Secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Trump nominated David Zatezalo, a former CEO of a coal mining operation with serious mining violations.  The Trump administration also took control of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by appointing members with a record of opposing workers’ right to organize.  Furthermore, Trump helped ensure an unsympathetic hearing for American workers in the courts by appointing new federal judges known for their deeply-ingrained rightwing views.

Assisted by these and other pro-corporate officials, the administration quickly attacked worker health and safety provisions.  It repealed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to keep accurate injury records, repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule ensuring that federal contractors follow safety and labor laws, withdrew an OSHA policy allowing workers in non-union workplaces to participate in OSHA inspections, and scrapped more than a dozen rules from the OSHA and MSHA regulatory agenda, including standards on combustible dust, styrene, 1-bromopropane, construction noise, update of permissible exposure limits, and MSHA penalties and refuge alternatives in coal mines.  In addition, the administration delayed the issuance of the new standard for cancer-causing beryllium and enforcement of the OSHA standard for deadly silica dust.

Although the Obama administration had updated and expanded overtime protections for 4.2 million American workers, implementation has been blocked in federal court while Trump’s Labor Department lays plans to narrow worker eligibility.  The Labor Department has also proposed a new rule making it legal for restaurant owners to keep the tips given to their waitstaffs, thereby depriving millions of low-paid workers (most of them women and people of color) of a substantial portion of their income.  Of course, increasing the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for nearly nine years, would lift millions of workers out of poverty.  But Trump and Congressional Republicans staunchly oppose raising this pathetically low wage floor, arguing that there is no need for a federal minimum wage.

 It’s hardly surprising that the Trump administration has sought to weaken American unions.  For example, the Labor Department has proposed repealing the Obama administration’s rule that employers and their consultants must report how much money they spend on anti-union campaigns.  In December 2017 alone, the NLRB reversed a 2004 decision bolstering the right of workers to organize free from unlawful employer interference, reversed a 2016 decision safeguarding unionized workers’ rights to bargain over changes in terms of employment, and overturned a 2011 decision protecting the right of a group of employees within a larger non-union company to form a bargaining unit.  The NLRB also invited employers to withdraw from agreements to hold union representation elections, even in cases where the election had already been held.
One of last December’s NLRB actions―overturning a 2015 decision making employers responsible for bargaining with workers if they have direct or indirect control over these workers’ employment―has enormous consequences for millions of low-wage earners.  Fast food companies like McDonald’s license franchises for most of their restaurants, with the companies and franchise managements each avoiding responsibility for negotiating with their workers.  Thus, the Obama Labor Board’s decision provided fast food workers with a meaningful right to collective bargaining.  The Trump Labor Board took it away.

Perhaps the most serious threat to unions comes from the Trump administration’s support of so-called “right-to-work” laws, which eliminate the obligation of workers to pay for the union representation they receive.  Adopted in 28 states thanks to campaigns by big business and its rightwing allies, these laws have proven sure-fire methods for creating masses of “free riders” and, thus, crippling unions.  Naturally, then, House Republicans introduced the National Right to Work Act shortly after Trump’s inauguration and, within a few days, the Trump administration re-affirmed its support for “right-to-work” laws.  “The president believes in right to work,” declared White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  “He wants to give workers and companies . . . flexibility.”  When the Canadian government proposed barring “right-to-work” lawsunder the provisions of a new NAFTA agreement, the Trump administration promptly rejected the idea. The Janus case now before the Supreme Court provides another component in the same battle.  Brought to the court by the National Right to Work Committee, it would make every state and local government worker in the United States a potential “free rider.”  Entering the case, Trump’s Justice Department filed an anti-union brief.  In addition, Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch, a rightwing ideologue, makes it likely that the court will decide in favor of the National Right to Work Committee, with devastating consequences for America’s public sector unions.

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/02/19/shady-bosses-stealing-15-billion-wages-low-income-workers-report

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/19/trump-administrations-war-workers