Sunday, October 20, 2019

It is getting worse

Bad news just keeps coming. Again and again, studies provide increasing evidence that the planet is heading towards some sort of climate disaster.

In the last year alone, we have seen publication of the US National Climate Assessment’s Fourth National Climate report,  the UN Global Sustainable Development report (“The Future is Now”), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, the World Meteorological Association report on Accelerating Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on Climate Change and Land and Ocean and Cryosphere, the Science Advisory Group to the UN Climate Action Summit’s report “United in Science,” to say nothing of countless articles in science journals warning that catastrophe lies ahead. As “United in Science” put it, current efforts need to be “roughly tripled to be aligned with the 2o C goal and increased fivefold to align with the 1.5o C goal” adopted by the 2016 Paris Agreement (emphasis added).”

We are confronted by the damage already resulting from climate change: more intense and frequent extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, droughts, forest fires, and heat waves; rising sea levels that threaten the homes, lives and livelihoods of millions of people; and melting ice caps and permafrost, among others.

The consensus among science-based reports is that the path ahead is far worse: widespread food and water scarcity, increased exposure to diseases and allergic illnesses, economic decline, and damage to the “infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.” The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the world’s developed capitalist economies, with China and the US leading the way.  By contrast, people in nations that have the least impact on climate change are most vulnerable to the worst of its effects.

Millions are participating in global protests. Extinction Rebellion has mobilized direct action and civil disobedience in cities from New York and Philadelphia to London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam, Toronto and Sydney. Despite the demonstrations and the warnings from scientists the results so far has produced only modest pledges from a minority of nations. These steps remain woefully inadequate if the world is to avoid a cataclysmic outcome. 

Why this relative inaction in the face of global catastrophe? Businesses under capitalism are is loathe to weaken their competitive position and countries are reluctant to cede commercial advantages to the other capitalist economies.  In a capitalist world, each economic unit must act to protect what it deems its own interests. Corporations and the wealthy shape government policy. Each public authority — local, state or national government — is constrained by the fear that pushing public interests too far will cause capital flight. This is the way capitalism works, which suggests how profound and systemic the changes will have to be if the world is to avoid catastrophe.

 The world cannot wait for the capitalist states to enact adequate constraints on greenhouse gas emissions. The test will be the global resistance becomes a coordinated force for system change.

Workers Have No Borders (2)

Hundreds of migrants travelling in a US-bound caravan in the southern state of Chiapas, as well as others in the region, were detained on Saturday, despite many carrying official Mexican government documents that grant them the right to be in the state. Immigrant rights groups are raising alarm over the recent detention of hundreds of migrants and documented asylum seekers in southern Mexico. Many of the detentions came after National Guard troops blocked a key highway 30km (18 miles) north of Tapachula, and stopped the caravan, which included more than 1,000 African, Afro-Caribbean and Central American migrants. Detainees were taken to the Siglo XXI immigration detention centre in Tapachula.

Mexican advocates and activists held a protest against the crackdown on Thursday in Mexico City, declaring "we are not the wall".

"It is an outright war on migrants," said Luis Garcia, a lawyer working with the Center for Human Dignity, a migrant and inmate rights group in Tapachula, Chiapas. "They are treating migrants as enemies instead of as clients." He added, 

It is a complete abuse of authority. Most of the people detained have authorisation documents from [the Mexican Refugee Assistance Commission, COMAR] that permit them to be anywhere in Chiapas."

The Central Americans reported abusive treatment inside Siglo XXI but said African, Haitian, Garifuna and other black migrants and asylum seekers were subject to greater discrimination, worse treatment, and extended detention.

"We are being treated like animals," Kama*, an asylum-seeking migrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo living in a pan-African protest camp outside Siglo XXI, told Al Jazeera.
For more than a month, African migrants have held protests outside Siglo XXI and marches in Tapachula, calling for authorisation to transit through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States or Canada.

Mexican immigration officials used to issue African and some other US-bound migrants with temporary transit permits that allowed them to travel north to the US border. But in recent months, the documents restrict travel to the state of Chiapas, only permitting exit from Mexico via its southern border with Guatemala, prompting the protests. Initial COMAR documents issued in Chiapas also restrict travel to the state.

We want the government to treat us as human beings," Ze, an Angolan migrant who hopes to seek asylum in the US, told Al Jazeera.'

The detentions come as Mexico continues to ramp up its efforts to stem the flow of migrants travelling through Mexico towards the US border. Migrants have told Al Jazeera they are fleeing violence, political persecution, and extreme poverty. Many hope to make it to the US southern border to seek asylum. Trump has made hardline immigration policies, putting pressure on Mexico and Central American governments to stem the flow of migrants and asylum
seekers to the US. After Trump threatened to impose tariffs earlier this year, Mexico deployed thousands of troops from the incipient National Guard to southern border regions and stopped issuing northbound temporary transit permits in Chiapas. Rights groups say Mexico is doing too much to placate Trump and that the Mexican government has adopted similar "racist" policies.

"This policy of helping Donald Trump is a criminal policy," Garcia told Al Jazeera "It is increasingly intensifying. We do not know how far it will go."

Workers Have No Borders (1)

One year ago, 160 men, women and children set off from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, in the first widely televised Central American human caravan. By the time the migrants reached the border of Guatemala and Mexico, their numbers had swelled to 7,000. Most of the women, men and children undertook the desperate flight because they feared for their lives, not because they wanted American jobs or to live the "American dream". They recounted stories similar in horror to the warzones in the Middle East and Africa. Some 700,000 people fled their homes in northern Central America last year alone, mostly because of brutal violence. Over 10,000 people were killed over the same period. The region holds some of the worst violence statistics in the world. The number of asylum applications from northern Central America is only comparable with countries at war, according to the UNHCR. Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Mexicans were among the top 10 nationalities claiming asylum last year, alongside people from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan.  

Despite the tragedy and suffering of human lives, the US continues its war against asylum-seekers. Declaring El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras "safe third countries", it aims to cut off access to the US asylum system before families can even reach the border. This is in addition to building walls and cutting off aid to the countries from where people flee. These measures will only fuel hopelessness and drive the impulse to escape for safety in the north.

The US denial of the societal collapse close to the southern border is similar to Europe's shameful denial of the massive loss of lives in the Mediterranean. There is political apathy to engage in a crisis of this scale in the US's own backyard. Politicians were more interested in discussing conflicts in far off lands where US influence is commensurably smaller. Congress reflects little chance or interest in a change of policy. Similar to building a stronger Fortress Europe, US government attention is squarely focused on the shape and funding of its southern wall. Massive border control measures are expensive and inefficient.

The solution to the crisis in Central America does not lie in the great escape north. It will depend on displacing the political and economic elites of these countries. American fellow-workers must show solidarity and support for their Central American neighbours, not turn their backs on them. 

The World Socialist Party of the United States urge our American fellow-workers to show solidarity and support for their Central American neighbours, not turn their backs on them. 

Oil Opposing Thunberg

Alberta is home to Canada’s vast oil sands and holds the world’s third-largest crude reserves, but has struggled to recover from the 2014-15 global oil price crash because of delays building new export pipelines as a result of environmental opposition and regulatory hold-ups. A 2018 study by Stanford University researchers ranked the Canadian oil industry’s upstream emissions as the fourth most carbon-heavy in the world. 

Many energy sector workers and the Alberta government feel the oil sands, scorned by environmentalists for their high carbon emissions intensity, have been unfairly targeted and say the sector is making progress cutting greenhouse gas output.  The energy sector provides 150,000 direct jobs in Alberta and contributes more than C$71 billion ($54.1 billion) annually to the gross domestic product of Canada, the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas producer. 

Greta Thunberg joined thousands of protesters marching in Canada’s energy heartland Alberta on Friday. Several thousand led by indigenous drummers with students, young people and families marched slowly from a downtown intersection toward the Alberta legislature building. Many held banners and signs with slogans including “be a better ancestor”. 

“Richer countries such as Canada and Sweden need to get down to zero emissions much faster so people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living by building the infrastructure we have already built,” Thunberg told a cheering crowd, which organizers estimated was 10,000-strong, from the steps of the Alberta legislature building. “We’re not doing this because it’s fun or because we have a special interest in the climate or because we want to become politicians when we grow up. We’re doing this because our future is at stake,” the Swedish activist said. 

At the same time, the honking horns of big rig trucks blared from a nearby thoroughfare, where vehicles emblazoned with “We love Canada energy” signs were driving up and down. The truck convoy organized by pro-oil group United We Roll drove from the city of Red Deer to Edmonton Friday morning to protest against what the group called foreign activists campaigning against Canada’s oil and gas industry. There were around 150 counter-protesters in the crowd. After she left the stage shouting broke out between pro-energy demonstrators, armed with a noisy bull horn and yelling “We need oil and gas”, and climate marchers.

Plunder and Profit Before Planet

Six months ago, Jacqueline Evans won the Goldman Environmental prize – the world’s foremost environmental award – for her work establishing Marae Moana (meaning “sacred ocean”), which covers the Cook Islands’ entire exclusive economic zone of more than 1.9m sq km. This champion of the world’s largest marine reserve – the Cook Islands’ Marae Moana – has lost her job managing it because she supported a moratorium on seabed mining in the Pacific.  She argued in favour of a 10-year-moratorium on seabed mining to allow for research on its environmental impact.

The Cook Islands government is proceeding with mining exploration, saying it wants to be at “the frontier of the new gold rush” and could be ready to start seabed mining within five years. It says mining the seafloor for metallic nodules could provide financial security for the islands and help them mitigate climate change. The proponents of seabed mining argue it can provide minerals critical to renewable energy industries with little waste. Proponents argue it could yield ore far superior to land mining in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc, with little, if any, waste product. The industry is potentially worth billions of dollars and could assist the transition to a renewable energy economy, supplying raw materials for key technologies such as batteries, computers and phones.

But environmentalists arguing for caution say precious little is known about the deep ocean, and even less about the potential environmental impacts of mining it.

“The catalyst was my policy advice to my colleagues within government that we support Vanuatu, Fiji and PNG on their support for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining…so that baseline scientific data can be collected,” Evans told Guardian Australia. 

She said she was “gravely concerned that government officials don’t want to take the time” to collect data from the reserve, including on the little-understood species that live in the deepest parts of the ocean. Our ocean is important to us, for our survival. If we destroy the ocean, we destroy our food supply, our livelihoods and our economy. Marae Moana represents how Pacific Islanders feel about their Pacific Ocean. It’s important that this viewpoint is upheld.”
Evans explained, “Advocates for manganese nodule mining … say that the only life at 4.5km to 6km deep, where the manganese nodules lie on the seabed, are small ‘head lice’,” she said. “We know so little about the ecosystem at that depth. We need to collect more information before such statements can be made.”

Environmental and legal groups have urged extreme caution, arguing there are potentially massive ramifications for the environment and for nearby communities. Scientists argue deep sea biodiversity and ecosystems remain poorly understood, making it impossible to properly assess the potential impacts of mining – including disturbance of seafloor ecosystems, sediment displacement and noise, vibration and light pollution.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


25,000 Chicago Teachers Union members and the 7,000 teachers' aides, custodians, and security guards who joined the strike—have won praise for focusing their demands on making structural changes to the city and school district, instead of just teacher raises.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the city offered $8 to $10 million to reduce class sizes—an improvement over the $1 million it initially offered. The union is also demanding enough funding to pay at least one nurse for each of the more than 500 schools in the district. As of Friday morning the district had offered funding for 250 more nurses.

The union accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of "stonewalling" with claims that the city has no more money in its budget to meet the union's demands. They want a significant portion of a $181 million surplus from last year's increased tax revenue to go to hiring more teachers and support staff—far more than the $400,000 that were offered by the district ahead of the strike.

"The mayor is in control of every single resource in this city," Davis Gates said. "The fact that we can't conclude is about her refusal to do so.... She controls transportation, she controls public safety, she controls housing, she controls economic development, she controls public education. Certainly a mayor who has that much control can figure out how to land a contract that improves the lives of students in Chicago Public Schools."

On social media, supporters of the strike have demanded that Lightfoot follow through on her campaign promise to bring social and racial equity to the school system.

"Educators in Chicago want the same thing educators who have walked off the job all across this country want: the resources to give their students what they need," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said. "Mayor Lightfoot promised those resources during her campaign—she ran on a 15-point plan for education justice and equality. But she hasn't kept those promises."

Thanks to the solidarity efforts of community and labor groups, more Chicagoans support the possible strike than oppose it. To bolster support for the CTU and SEIU Local 73, the CTSSC has held multiple events to bring teachers and community members together by having discussions about the conditions in the schools and the importance of the unions’ demands. One such event was an October 10 town hall featuring speakers from over a dozen community organizations and local unions.

The unions aren’t just bargaining for better wages or pensions; they’re bargaining for vital things that we need in our communities.

Discontent in Chile

A state of emergency has been declared in the Chilean capital after protests against a rise in metro fares spilled out into violence fuelled by rising cost-of-living pressures. The latest protests follow grievances over the cost of living, specifically the costs of healthcare, education and public services. Unsatisfied by partial reforms following widespread education protests in 2011, the metro fare rise has proved the spark that has awoken Chile.

The state of emergency will apply to Santiago and can last for 15 days. It grants the government additional powers to restrict citizens’ freedom of movement and their right to assembly. 

Earlier, Chile’s interior minister, confirmed that the government would apply the State Security Law. The legislation – which is separate to the state of emergency – hands special powers of prosecution to authorities. In practice the law means that heavy sentences of up to 20 years imprisonment could be handed down to those found guilty of inhibiting or damaging public services.

Australia's Imperialism

Australia’s negotiations with Timor-Leste should be the subject of a royal commission, and the government should return $5bn stolen from the impoverished nation, an Australian parliamentary inquiry has been told. High profile Timorese organisations, allies and academics, supported the return, and called on Australia to be held accountable for its conduct.

Australia has a long history of exploitative dealings with Timor-Leste, including spying on Timorese representatives during treaty negotiations and recent revelations that successive Australian governments were driven by a desire for resources when legitimising the Indonesian invasion. Then when Timor-Leste regained independence, leaving open a border which had previously been subject to a treaty with Indonesia, Australia pushed for the new maritime border which gave it a greater share than Timor-Leste of the lucrative oil and gas fields in the region. Australia’s sudden withdrawal from the maritime jurisdiction of the the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in March 2002 is explained by one simple factor: unlike negotiations, litigation involves an independent umpire. The Australian government chose not to play by international rules simply when it does not suit them. The Australian government shunned international law and bullied its way into a series of temporary resource sharing arrangements that significantly short-changed Timor-Leste

Sixteen years later, in March 2018, the two countries finally signed a treaty which essentially followed the median line first envisioned as a fair demarcation years earlier. Australia could have “consolidated Australia’s relationship with a close, strategically placed neighbour”, if it had acknowledged a fair maritime border from the start. Instead Australia “put short-term economic interests above long-term international gain”. During that 16 years, while Timor-Leste was dealing with the aftermath of a brutal 24 year occupation and struggling to build a new nation, the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea were the only significant revenue source available to them.

It is estimated Australia pillaged more than US$5bn in oil and gas revenue since 2002 from reserves which both countries now acknowledge were always in an independent Timor-Leste’s territory. The figure includes more than US$105m taken since the 2018 treaty was signed.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign said, “When you look at the timeline of the events, it’s hard not to conclude Australia simply withdrew its recognition so that it could rip off East Timor...It’s hard not to be cynical that Australia is just picking and choosing when to abide by international law”

In Lebanon - "I fight to live"

In Lebanon in another example of the growing global discontent, demonstrators who are angry over plans to impose new taxes amid rising costs of living, chanted "Revolution! Revolution!" and "The people demand the fall of the regime". They also accused Lebanon's top leaders of corruption, and called for the country's strict banking secrecy laws to be lifted so that state funds stolen over the decades to be returned to the treasury. Lebanese from all sections of this divided country and all walks of life have come out on to the streets, waving banners and chanting slogans urging Hariri’s government to go. No political leader, Muslim or Christian, was spared their wrath.  Shi’ite protesters also attacked the offices of their deputies from the influential Hezbollah. Sectarian politicians, many of them civil war militia leaders, have used state resources for their own benefit and are reluctant to give that up.

They shouted: “Our demands are one, our objective is one: the people want the downfall of the regime.”   

"Everyone is tired of this, the situation is horrible, people have no money, the people are falling apart, and all they give us is taxes, taxes, taxes," said Samir Shmaysri, a 39-year old from Beirut.  "There's no reform process to even hope for the situation to get better."
"We want to change the situation in the country, that's it," said one protester who was blocking a road with a flaming rubbish bin near Beirut's Ras al-Nabaa area, just outside downtown. "We've tried being peaceful, it hasn't worked."
"This regime is totally corrupt,” said Fadi Issa, 51, who marched with his son. “They are all thieves, they come into the government to fill their pockets, not to serve the country.”
The demonstrations began on Thursday after the cash-strapped government announced plans to impose new taxes, including on WhatsApp voice calls. Overnight on Friday, protesters blocked streets across the country by burning tyres, and in some areas set fire to buildings and vandalised shops. Amid the unrest, banks, shops and schools closed operations on Friday, and Saudi Arabia said it was evacuating its citizens from the country. The anger prompted the Lebanese government to scrap plans for taxes on WhatsApp calls, but the measure did little to placate protesters. 
The protests come amid a worsening economic and financial crisis in  Lebanon that many blame on the small number of sectarian politicians who have ruled the country since its 15-year civil war came to an end in 1990. They also come just two days after the worst forest fires in more than 10 years, causing outrage among citizens who blamed the government's shortcomings for the scale of the damage. The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country's ailing economy and secure $11bn in aid pledged by international donors last year.
In Nabatieh, hundreds of men headed to the homes of local parliament members, including Yassine Jaber and Hani Qobeissi of the Amal Movement - headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri - and the leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad.
"Speaker Berri's appetite hasn't been satisfied in 30 years," one man, who identified himself as a father of two, told reporters in Nabatieh.