Thursday, October 08, 2015

From rescue to enforcement

The Government withdraws two rescue boats, HMC Protector and HMC Seeker, the UK’s last two boats involved in proactive search and rescue missions. Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said the charity was “extremely concerned” by the withdrawal. He said it would reduce capacity Europe to save lives “at a time when rescue missions are most needed”.

The UK seeks to be more active in EUNAVFOR MED, a policing mission rather than a rescue. Smugglers’ vessels will  be boarded, searched, seized and diverted. Frigate HMS Richmond and survey ship HMS Enterprise have deployed as part of a multinational fleet to combat people smugglers who are trafficking refugees and migrants into Europe. The fleet of European warships to nine or 10 vessels in coming weeks and started operations on Oct. 7.

Mr Forsyth criticised the shift in focus away from rescue operations.
“Since Europe decided to restart the rescue in April, thousands of lives were saved - not least by Britain’s own Royal Navy,” he said. “We are facing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, a defining moment in our generation, and must ensure that our response efforts are equal to the task. The priority must remain stopping people from drowning, not border control.”

An isolated event?

Infant Formula Production Plant, Abu Ghraib, Iraq (January 21, 1991)
On the seventh day of Operation Desert Storm, aimed at evicting Iraq military forces from Kuwait, the U.S.-led coalition bombed the Infant Formula Production Plant in the Abu Ghraib suburb of Baghdad. Iraq declared that the factory was exactly what its name said, but the administration of President George H.W. Bush claimed it was “a production facility for biological weapons.” Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chimed in to say, “It is not an infant formula factory. It was a biological weapons facility — of that we are sure.” The U.S. media chortled about Iraq’s clumsy, transparent propaganda, and CNN’s Peter Arnett was attacked by U.S. politicians for touring the damaged factory and reporting that “whatever else it did, it did produce infant formula.”
Iraq was telling the truth. When Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected to Jordan in 1995, he had every incentive to undermine Saddam, since he hoped the U.S. would help install him as his father-in-law’s successor — but he told CNN “there is nothing military about that place. … It only produced baby milk.” The CIA’s own investigation later concluded the site had been bombed “in the mistaken belief that it was a key BW [Biological Weapon] facility.” The original U.S. claims have nevertheless proven impossible to stamp out. The George W. Bush administration, making the case for invading Iraq in 2003, portrayed the factory as a symbol of Iraqi deceit. When the Newseum opened in 2008, it included Arnett’s 1991 reporting in a section devoted to — in the New York Times’ description — “examples of distortions that mar the profession.”
Air Raid Shelter, Amiriyah, Iraq (February 13, 1991)
The U.S. purposefully targeted an air raid shelter near the Baghdad airport with two 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs, which punched through 10 feet of concrete and killed at least 408 Iraqi civilians. A BBC journalist reported that “we saw the charred and mutilated remains. … They were piled onto the back of a truck; many were barely recognizable as human.” Meanwhile, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said: “We are chagrined if [civilian] people were hurt, but the only information we have about people being hurt is coming out of the controlled press in Baghdad.” Another U.S. general claimed the shelter was “an active command-and-control structure,” while anonymous officials said military trucks and limousines for Iraq’s senior leadership had been seen at the building.
In his 1995 CNN interview, Hussein Kamel said, “There was no leadership there. There was a transmission apparatus for the Iraqi intelligence, but the allies had the ability to monitor that apparatus and knew that it was not important.” The Iraqi blogger Riverbend later wrote that several years after the attack, she went to the shelter and met a “small, slight woman” who now lived in the shelter and gave visitors unofficial tours. Eight of her nine children had been killed in the bombing.
Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory, Khartoum, Sudan (August 20, 1998)
After al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the Clinton administration targeted the Al Shifa factory with 13 cruise missiles, killing one person and wounding 11. According to President Bill Clinton, the plant was “associated with the bin Laden network” and was “involved in the production of materials for chemical weapons.”
The Clinton administration never produced any convincing evidence that this was true. By 2005, the best the U.S. could do was say, as the New York Times characterized it, that it had not “ruled out the possibility” that the original claims were right. The long-term damage to Sudan was enormous. Jonathan Belke of the Near East Foundation pointed out a year after the bombing that the plant had produced “90 percent of Sudan’s major pharmaceutical products” and contended that due to its destruction “tens of thousands of people — many of them children — have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases.” Sudan has repeatedly requested a U.N. investigation of the bombing, with no success.
Train bombing, Grdelica, Serbia (April 12, 1999)
During the U.S.-led bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war, an F-15E fighter jet fired two remotely-guided missiles that hit a train crossing a bridge near Grdelica, killing at least 14 civilians. Gen. Wesley Clark, then Supreme Allied Commander Europe, called it “an unfortunate incident we all regret.” While the F-15 crew was able to control the missiles after they were launched, NATO released footage taken from the plane to demonstrate how quickly the train was moving and how little time the jet’s crew had to react. The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau later reported that the video had been sped up three times. The paper quoted a U.S. Air Force spokesperson who said this was accidental, and they had not noticed this until months later — by which point “we did not deem it useful to go public with this.”
Radio Television Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia (April 23, 1999)
Sixteen employees of Serbia’s state broadcasting system were killed during the Kosovo War when NATO intentionally targeted its headquarters in Belgrade. President Clinton gave an underwhelming defense of the bombing: “Our military leaders at NATO believe … that the Serb television is an essential instrument of Mr. Milosevic’s command and control. … It is not, in a conventional sense, therefore, a media outlet. That was a decision they made, and I did not reverse it.” U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke told the Overseas Press Club immediately after the attack that it was “an enormously important and, I think, positive development.” Amnesty International later stated it was “a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crime.”
Chinese Embassy, Belgrade, Serbia (May 7, 1999)
Also during the Kosovo war, the U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia’s capital, killing three staff and wounding more than 20. The defense secretary at the time, William Cohen, said it was a terrible mistake: “One of our planes attacked the wrong target because the bombing instructions were based on an outdated map.” The Observer newspaper in the U.K. later reported the U.S. had in fact deliberately targeted the embassy “after discovering it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications.” The Observer quoted “a source in the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency” calling Cohen’s version of events “a damned lie.” Prodded by the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the New York Times produced its own investigation finding “no evidence that the bombing of the embassy had been a deliberate act,” but rather that it had been caused by a “bizarre chain of missteps.” The article concluded by quoting Porter Goss, then chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as saying he believed the bombing was not deliberate – “unless some people are lying to me.”
Red Cross complex, Kabul, Afghanistan (October 16 and October 26, 2001)
At the beginning of the U.S-led invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. attacked the complex housing the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul. In an attempt to prevent such incidents in the future, the U.S. conducted detailed discussions with the Red Cross about the location of all of its installations in the country. Then the U.S. bombed the same complex again. The second attack destroyed warehouses containing tons of food and supplies for refugees. “Whoever is responsible will have to come to Geneva for a formal explanation,” said a Red Cross spokesperson. “Firing, shooting, bombing, a warehouse clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem is a very serious incident. … Now we’ve got 55,000 people without that food or blankets, with nothing at all.”
Al Jazeera office, Kabul, Afghanistan (November 13, 2001)
Several weeks after the Red Cross attacks, the U.S. bombed the Kabul bureau of Al Jazeera, destroying it and damaging the nearby office of the BBC. Al Jazeera’s managing director said the channel had repeatedly informed the U.S. military of its office’s location.
Al Jazeera office, Baghdad, Iraq (April 8, 2003)
Soon after the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the U.S. bombed the Baghdad office of Al Jazeera, killing reporter Tarek Ayoub and injuring another journalist. David Blunkett, the British home secretary at the time,subsequently revealed that a few weeks before the attack he had urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to bomb Al Jazeera’s transmitter in Baghdad. Blunkett argued, “I don’t think that there are targets in a war that you can rule out because you don’t actually have military personnel inside them if they are attempting to win a propaganda battle on behalf of your enemy.”
In 2005, the British newspaper The Mirror reported on a British government memorandum recording an April 16, 2004, conversation between Blair and President Bush at the height of the U.S. assault on Fallujah in Iraq. The Bush administration was infuriated by Al Jazeera’s coverage of Fallujah, and according to The Mirror, Bush had wanted to bomb the channel at its Qatar headquarters and elsewhere. However, the article says, Blair argued him out of it. Blair subsequently called The Mirror’s claims a “conspiracy theory.” Meanwhile, his attorney general threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to prosecute any news outlet that published further information about the memo, and, in a secret trial, did in fact prosecute and send to jail a civil servant for leaking it.
Palestine Hotel, Baghdad, Iraq (April 8, 2003)
The same day as the 2003 bombing of the Al Jazeera office in Baghdad, a U.S. tank fired a shell at the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel, where most foreign journalists were then staying. Two reporters were killed: Taras Protsyuk, a cameraman for Reuters, and Jose Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish network Telecinco. An investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists concluded that the attack, “while not deliberate, was avoidable.”

Divide and rule?

 In the Kara Tepe processing centre in the Greek island of Lesvos, where Syrian refugees are registered after clambering off boats from Turkey, new arrivals are met by the smiling faces of International Rescue Committee staff and bottles of water. Young girls and boys have their faces painted by Save the Children, while their parents wait in well-organised lines for registration at UN refugee agency (UNHCR) booths. At the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) daily clinic in Kara Tepe, patients wait on neatly arranged wooden benches. For those who need to stay, there are brand new UNHCR transitional shelters and sturdy tents erected in tidy rows on freshly gravelled ground under the shade of olive trees.

Just a kilometre down the road it is a different and far darker world. The Moria immigration centre is a prison-like building with high barbed-wire fences and forbidding gates, now surrounded by a filthy ad hoc camp. Outside, entire families cram into makeshift shelters consisting of tarpaulins tied to the wire fence. Hundreds more sit in the hot sun. The food stalls have no customers: no one has money. The atmosphere is tense: police in full riot gear tramp past on their way to the office at the top of the settlement. Here, hundreds of people wait for hours in an unmoving queue outside the wire gates to apply for papers. “This is terrible,” ActionAid’s director for Greece, Gerasimos Kouvaras, visiting on an assessment mission, told IRIN. “This place can’t even provide the basics.”

The difference? Kara Tepe is for Syrians only. Everyone else must go to Moria.

“We call it the humanitarian caste system,” said one international NGO volunteer. “We see it in donations. We see it in volunteer interest. And we see it from the governments.”

Moria, initially the island’s only processing centre, was overrun in the summer when arrivals hit 4,000 a day. The Greek authorities designated Kara Tepe as a temporary processing site for Syrians, who made up the bulk of the arrivals. Aid staff told IRIN that initially Kara Tepe was also filthy and overrun. But once the crisis, and specifically the plight of the Syrian refugees, became global news in the summer, more aid agencies began arriving and focussed largely on helping the Syrians. Moria, meanwhile, continued to grow but received nothing like the attention or the support.

From governments - in the UK and Australia, for example - announcing increased quotas specifically for Syrians, to the focus on Syrians among public advocacy and volunteer efforts, the perception is growing that being Syrian is a short cut to asylum approval, public sympathy and more comprehensive levels of support.

In Greece, this discrimination isn’t implicit: it’s overt government policy. Those arriving from Syria are automatically given papers entitling them to stay in the country for six months. For other nationalities, it is only a month. “The view of the Greek authorities is that Syrians are considered to be prima facie refugees because of the war, so they should be entitled to international protection, whereas the others have a higher chance of being economic migrants,” said Djamal Zamoun, UNHCR team leader in Lesvos.

From a burgeoning trade in Syrian passports to fights between different nationalities, the distinction is impacting the relief effort in multiple ways.  At Kara Tepe, organisations have seen a surge in asylum seekers claiming to be Syrian. Some present fake or stolen passports – Syrian passports are for sale in Turkey for around $1,000 each. Others just say their papers are lost. The Frontex official said those claiming Syrian nationality not only believe they will get asylum more easily but also that European countries will give them additional support once they get there.

“We have suffered too,” said one newly arrived Afghan refugee. “We came on the same boats. Why should it be different for us?”

The UN refugee agency’s team leader was clear that de facto discrimination in favour of Syrians was not acceptable. “UNHCR does not share this view that it is acceptable to prioritise one group,” he said. “Unless proven that they are not genuine refugees, they should all be given the same treatment.”

People are angry

Anti-austerity demonstrations in Belgium on Wednesday drew tens of thousands of people—demanding an end to new measures which they say unfairly target workers and favor corporations. Organised by Belgium's three largest unions, the protests came in response to new rules pushed through by the country's center-right coalition government, led by Prime Minister Charles Michel, in its first month in office, including wage freezes amid rising inflation, an increase in the retirement age, cuts to social services, and punitive taxes on lower-wage earners.

"The signal is clear. People are angry, livid. This government's policies are totally unbalanced," Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV-CSC) said chief Marc Leemans.

Marie-Helene Ska, ACV-CSC secretary general, added, "The government tells us and all of the parties tell us that there's no alternative. We don't contest that they have to find 11bn euros (£8.6bn; $13.6bn) but we've been saying for a long time that it's possible to find this money elsewhere, rather than in the pockets of the workers."

"They are hitting the workers, the unemployed," one protester, Philippe Dubois, pointed out "They are not looking for money where it is."

The unions are planning a series of regional, weekly strikes beginning next month, along with a nationwide strike on December 15.

Oxfam condemns war-mongers

As the media concentrates its headlines on the military offensive in Syria by Russia, much less attention has been placed on the report from Oxfam International which rebukes wealthy and powerful nations for flooding the war-torn country with weapons, fueling bloodshed on all sides, and failing to adequately assist those seeking aid and refuge.

In a briefing entitled Solidarity with Syrians, Oxfam singles out the United States, Iran, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey for "fueling violence and violations of war in Syria through arms and ammunition transfers to parties to the conflict."

The report also slams the international community for its "cursory and insincere" efforts to arrive at a political resolution to the crisis.

For those Syrians forced to flee their homeland, says Oxfam, too many are being met with a faltering aid response from the international community, including from governments most able to afford assistance. Despite the heavy focus on the refugee crisis in Europe, the vast majority of the four million people who are registered as refugees are in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Palestinian refugees who had resided in Syria are also being displaced.
"Most wealthy countries are not contributing their fair share to the aid response—appeals are now funded at 44 percent only," the report states. "They have also failed to provide safe and legal routes for Syrians to their territory, including not doing enough to ensure that vulnerable refugees are offered resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission in sufficient numbers."
The United States, United Kingdom, and Kuwait are identified by researchers as "less than generous in their offers to welcome the most vulnerable refugees"—with the U.S. resettling just 8 percent of its "fair share."

Refugees from Syria and other countries have the right to be free from violence, to aid for basic needs and dignity, and to a welcome of safe haven," said Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima. "They are being short-changed on all three fronts. There will be no end to the suffering of people from Syria until action is taken on these issues."

"The aid response is faltering due to lack of funds—or more accurately, the lack of political will to loosen up funds," said Andy Baker, head of Oxfam's Syria crisis response. "Rich countries have ignored repeated alarm bells."

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Capitalism's Death Toll

According to calculations by Dr Gideon Polya, over 17 million ‘avoidable deaths’ occur every year as a consequence of life-threatening deprivation, mainly in low-income countries. As the term suggests, these preventable deaths occur simply because millions of people live in conditions of extreme deprivation and therefore cannot afford access to the essential goods and services that people in wealthier countries have long taken for granted.

 46,500 lives are needlessly wasted every day – innocent men, women and children who might otherwise have contributed to the cultural and economic development of the world in unimaginable ways. This annual preventable death rate far outweighs the fatalities from any other single event in history since the Second World War, and around half of those affected are young children. Given today’s technological advancements and humanity’s combined available wealth of $263 trillion, it’s perhaps no exaggeration to suggest that the magnitude of these avoidable deaths is tantamount to a global genocide or holocaust.

The World Bank’s definition of what constitutes ‘extreme’ poverty is now based on an international poverty line of $1.90-a-day (previously $1.25-a-day).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) argue that only by using a higher threshold of $5-a-day would it be possible to fulfil the right to “a standard of living adequate for… health and well-being” – as set out in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than 65 years ago. Poverty at this slightly higher level of income has consistently increased between 1981 and 2010, rising from approximately 3.3 billion to almost 4.2 billion over that period.

If the Millennium Campaign had used this more appropriate poverty threshold, MDG-1 would clearly not have been met: rather than halving the number of people living without sufficient means for survival, there are 14% more people living in $5-a-day poverty now than in 1990.

ActionAid and others rightly suggest, however, a $10-a-day benchmark may be a far more a realistic measure of poverty when comparing lifestyles in rich and poor countries, which would mean that an alarming 5.2 billion people live still in poverty today.

Cameron's False Promises

If you’re a family on the new National Living Wage, below is where you can afford to buy Cameron’s new Starter Homes.

Quote of the Day

"Big companies have always sought cheaper labor, moving from North to South in the United States, looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global" - PAUL THEROUX

Charity isn't Charity

Today’s philanthropy enthusiasts are never short on hyperbole. But it’s clear that rises in global giving over the past 10 years have not made a dent in reducing economic inequality in rich nations such as the United States or Britain. Individual philanthropic foundations have grown at a fast rate in the U.S. over the past 15 years: In that span, the number of individual foundations has doubled from about 40,000 to over 85,000. But this surge hasn’t helped alleviate extreme poverty. A 2012 report from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan points out that within the U.S., “the prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011.”

Philanthrocapitalism seeks to combine profits with poverty alleviation. The effort to do a good deed while at the same time making a good deal is the driving impetus behind the new philanthropy. ‘Today’s philanthrocapitalists see a world full of big problems that they, and perhaps only they, can and must put right,’ Matthew Bishop and Michael Green write in Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World,

Buffett and Gates have gained a reputation for the most effective altruists in history. It’s true that in dollar terms, their generosity is jaw-dropping. Joel Fleishman points out in The Foundation that Buffett’s 2006 announcement of a gift of $31 billion to the Gates Foundation represented, in 2006 dollars, more than Rockefeller Sr. and Carnegie gave away combined.

But as a proportion of the overall U.S. Gross Domestic Product, the size of today’s foundations pales next to their predecessors. The Ford Foundation’s endowment in the early 1960s represented more than double the share of U.S. GDP in comparison to the Gates Foundation 50 years later. Ever since the 1970s, overall charitable giving in the U.S. “as a share of GDP has rarely strayed far from 2 percent,” Suzanne Perry points out in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “despite the huge growth in the number of charities and fundraisers and periodic crusades to encourage greater giving.”

Corporations have become far stingier. Mark Kramer and Michael Porter pointed out in the early 2000s that corporate philanthropy as a proportion of corporate profits dropped since the 1980s. Since then it’s sunk even further, from 2.1% of pretax profits in the mid-1980s to 0.8% in 2013.

The presumption that Buffett and Gates are more effective than earlier philanthropists isn’t backed by data. Some of the Gates Foundation’s work has led to measurable gains. Vaccination rates are rising; global child mortality has fallen—the foundation’s work in global health has contributed to these gains. But in comparison to government donors, Gates Foundation grants are a small drop in the global health landscape: The U.S. government has committed over $65 billion to global HIV/AIDs programs alone. That’s double the amount of overall giving by the Gates Foundation toward U.S. education, global health, and global agriculture since its inception. To date, there has been far more hype than hard evidence about effective altruism’s achievements; its progress often seems to be measured and underpinned by self-sustaining feedback loops. Donors privilege what critics see as low-hanging fruit: aid projects where measuring the effect is relatively easy to do.

We hear a lot about the positive effects of different programs, such as the benefits of de-worming efforts worldwide that were once thought to have contributed dramatically to education attainment in developing nations, until a recent review from independent health research group Cochrane cast doubt on that link. Far less attention is paid to counterfactuals, such as the cost to welfare programs when tax revenue is lost as a result of philanthropists receiving lucrative tax exemptions for pet projects.

One of the biggest ironies facing 19th-century philanthropy was the question of whether growing charity simply exacerbated economic inequality by thwarting demands for better wages and the right to unionize. Carnegie published his first “Wealth” essay, in which he urged the rich to share their spoils, just a few years before the Homestead battle of 1892, one of the bloodiest labor standoffs in U.S. history, where he brutally stamped out burgeoning union efforts even while liberally dispensing charity to his workers. “Paradoxically,” David Nasaw, Carnegie’s biographer, has pointed out, “Carnegie … became, if anything, more ruthless in pursuit of profits once he had determined that those profits would be distributed during his lifetime.” Nasaw adds, “In remonstrating that only the millionaire could be trusted to dispense his millions, and that whatever that millionaire thought ‘best’ was best. Carnegie was promulgating a profoundly antidemocratic gospel, almost feudal in its paternalism.”

And just as in Carnegie’s day, philanthropy is often upheld as justification for gross profiteering.
“I donated a total of $5,000,000 to various causes recently. Looking forward to telling you all about it,” Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who was vilified for raising the price of Daraprim by 5,000%, tweeted in mid-September.

“The best among the poor,” Oscar Wilde wrote in his essay, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, “are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so … Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.”

US Deep Poverty

In the United States there is a category known as “deep poverty,” defined in a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer as: “income of 50% or less of the poverty rate.” In other words, the current poverty level income for a U.S. family of four is $24,000 a year, which means that the same family receiving only $12,000 is in deep poverty. At this level, hopelessness prevails and one’s day-to-day goal is just staying alive.

The deep poverty rate for the United States as a whole is 6.8 percent of the population. Using the rounded-off 2014 census figure of 322 million residents, that comes to about 22 million men, women and children in deep poverty. This is a pretty shocking figure for what most regard as the richest country on earth.

In Chicago, about 274,000 people this year—or 10 percent of the city’s population—fit the definition. Seven Chicago communities, all of them predominately black, have the highest percentage of residents living in deep poverty, according to an analysis of Census data by the Social IMPACT Research Center at Heartland Alliance, an anti-poverty organization in Chicago.

Toronto Inequality

Canada’s largest city, Toronto, has the “dubious distinction of being Canada’s capital of working poverty. Fewer than half of workers in the GTHA have full-time permanent employment with benefits. More than 50 per cent are working in temporary, part time or other less-secure jobs. Data from a study in April that found that couples with children must make at least $18.52 an hour each to make ends meet in Toronto.
"The provincially calculated minimum wage of $11 an hour leaves workers far below the poverty line," it said.

The concentration of poverty is growing, with the income divide between neighbourhoods up 96 per cent from 1980 to 2010. It found the highest levels of working poverty are in Scarborough and North York, while poverty has decreased in the area south of Bloor-Danforth. Outside of the city, working poverty grew by 26 per cent in Markham, 22 per cent in Brampton and 21 per cent in Richmond Hill.

Nearly half of Toronto residents live in "low-income" neighbourhoods, while 21 per cent live in high-income areas and 30 per cent live in middle-income areas. The low income cut-off is estimated based on data from Statistics Canada in 2013. Tuesday's report showed that, of low-income earners, the median income is $14,930. The median total annual family income of the Toronto region is estimated at $72,830, nearly $50,000 more than half of low-income earners are making.

The income gap between the richest one per cent and the remaining 99 is now the second-biggest in Canada. Toronto's top earners share 17.4 per cent of all income earned in the area. The Toronto region is second to Calgary, where income earners in the top one per cent share 25.1 per cent of all annual income.
The report found that the richest one per cent share:
12.3 per cent of all wealth in Vancouver
10.4 per cent in Montreal
8.1 per cent in Regina
7.3 per cent in Halifax
10.3 per cent across Canada

The number of visits to food banks is again on the rise after an encouraging drop in 2013. In 2014, there were 890,000 visits to city food banks. Since 2008, there’s been a 45 per cent increase in food-bank use in the city’s inner suburbs. Almost 12 per cent of seniors living in Toronto are below the poverty line

The Socialist Party of Canada

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Waking up from the Scandinavian dream

The number of homeless people in Denmark has increased by 23% since 2009. There are now an estimated 6,138 homeless people nationwide compared to 4,998 in 2009. The largest increase is found among those aged 25 to 29: in this case homelessness has increased 29% since just 2013. Nearly eight out of ten homeless people are men, while one fifth of all homeless are foreigners. Denmark’s poverty rates have doubled over the past decade, and inequality is on the rise: Since 2013, the wealthiest Danes have become 30 percent richer, and the poorest, 10 percent poorer. The growing gap between rich and poor is not a fluke but a matter of policy-making. Denmark’s poverty woes are still negligible compared to most of the world. The country’s Gini coefficient (the most accepted measure of inequality) is 25, still less than the EU average of 30.5 and far from the United States’ 40.8. Per capita income remains an enviable $60,000 or so, and the country’s generous benefits, from sizable student loans to socialized medicine, make it difficult to draw parallels with poverty-stricken Greece or Spain, with their dilapidated houses and soup-kitchen lines. Indeed, some argue that wealth inequality doesn’t matter so much in a state with such a strong social safety net — when the state guarantees university tuition and pensions, savings take less precedence. Nevertheless the trend is a reminder that not everyone is being caught by the Danish social security net. Indeed, homelessness has grown by a quarter since 2013, according to the Danish National Centre for Social Research, to 6,138 people. Youth homelessness is rising the fastest. The right wing recently won the elections on the promise of tax cuts, and, according to the Danish statistics office, while inequality was growing; Denmark’s economy has been recording the longest streak of growth in 10 years.”

Lars Benjaminsen, a researcher at the Danish National Centre for Social Research explained “It may be decades before most Danes experience the effects. But some experts say that equality as an afterthought is risky, because it’s not something that can be implemented retroactively, after the economy has grown. ‘The problem is that inequality is flying under the radar.
On July 1, Denmark slashed benefits to asylum seekers. Under the new rules, which came into effect in September, an asylum seeker without children receives $892 per month in benefits, almost half the $1,627 they previously received. For refugees aspiring to beome Danish citizens the bar has been raised. The language requirements will become more rigourous. The current citizenship test will be replaced by a new test that includes knowledge of Danish society, culture and history and requires a much higher pass mark. The test will consist of 40 questions, and at least 32 will need to be answered correctly in order to pass: a 80 percent pass mark. The current citizenship test consists of 32 questions, of which 22 needed to be correctly answered: a 69 percent pass mark. Applicants must also be able to document they have been self-sufficient for 4.5 out of the past 5 years, and the waiting period for those convicted of a crime will be increased by a further 50 percent. Under current rules, a criminal record results in a three to 20 year quarantine from obtaining citizenship, depending on the nature of the crime. The agreement also includes tougher demands for medical reports that can be used for dispensation grounds by applicants with psychological issues, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

 It is not the only Scandinavian country losing its egalitarian grip. In Finland, last year, the government cut benefits to pensioners, the sick and the unemployed, prompting Finland’s Left Alliance to withdraw from the ruling coalition. In Norway, more than half the population would sacrifice some of their social welfare benefits for a stronger economy, according to the Oslo-based research foundation Fafo. 

The TPP Deal

The TPP is the largest trade deal in history — involving countries stretching from Chile to Japan, representing 792 million people and accounting for 40 percent of the world economy –and it was drafted in secret. Lobbyists from the big corporations and banks have been involved but not the public.

Trade in the past has usually been a choice between “free trade” and “protectionism.” Free trade meant opening our borders to products made elsewhere. Protectionism meant putting up tariffs and quotas to keep them out. It’s no longer free trade versus protectionism. Big Business and Wall Street want both. The TPP represents not "freer" trade, but re-regulation of trade to entrench corporate profit making.

They want more international protection when it comes to their intellectual property and other assets. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that secure and extend their patents, trademarks, and copyrights abroad, and protect their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans. But they want less protection of consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment, because these interfere with their profits. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that allow them to override these protections. The TPP provides exactly this mix. The pharmaceutical industry gets stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs. That will be a good deal for Big Pharma but not necessarily for the inhabitants of developing nations who won’t get certain life-saving drugs at a cost they can afford.

The TPP also gives global corporations an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets. The tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits found to result from a nation’s regulations. The foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations could just as easily challenge any U.S. government regulation they claim unfairly diminishes their profits – say, a regulation protecting American consumers from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, investors from fraudulent securities or predatory lending, workers from unsafe working conditions, taxpayers from another bailout of Wall Street, or the environment from toxic emissions. Imagine a scenario in which the U.S., coming to its senses about climate change, imposes a revenue-neutral carbon fee on fossil energy. According to provisions of the TPP, a fossil-fuel company in a signatory nation could then sue the U.S. for lost profits, real or imagined. The threat is not an idle one. Philip Morris is using a similar provision against Uruguay (the provision appears in a bilateral trade treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland), claiming that Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations unfairly diminish the company’s profits. In 2012, the U.S.’s Occidental Petroleum received an ISDS settlement of $2.3 billion from the government of Ecuador because of that country’s apparently legal termination of an oil-concession contract. Currently, the Swedish nuclear-power utility Vattenfall is suing the German government for $4.7 billion in compensation, following Germany’s phase-out of nuclear plants in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. Twenty years after NAFTA -- the first free trade agreement to include ISDS -- came into effect there are many examples of laws duly passed by legislatures in the public interest that have been ruled in violation of NAFTA. Some are more egregious than others -- but they all challenge and assign financial penalties against laws that one government or another thought were important enough to implement. According to Scott Sinclair with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, "Canada has been the target of over 70 per cent of all NAFTA claims since 2005. Currently, Canada faces eight active claims… Foreign investors are seeking several billions in damages from the Canadian government. These include challenges to a ban on fracking by the Quebec provincial government…" Canada has never won a case against the U.S.

"TPP is a deal for big business," said Nick Dearden, director of the UK-based Global Justice Now. "Two fifths of the global economy will be covered by corporate courts, meaning a huge rise in governments being sued for protecting the public interest from corporate greed." Dearden continued: "Medicine prices will rise as Big Pharma gets more power to monopolize markets. Small farmers will suffer from unfair competition with industrial scale agribusiness. No wonder this has been agreed in secret."

Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America, said the agreement is "bad news" for working families and communities. "Despite broad promises from the Obama administration [the TPP]would continue the offshoring of jobs and weakening of our communities that started under the North American Free Trade Agreement and would mean labor and environmental standards that look good on paper but fall flat when it comes to enforcement." He added "It’s a corporate dream but a nightmare for those of us on Main Street,"

Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians asks "Just what are we supposed to make of a deal that has been kept secret from the Canadian public? Our own legislators don’t even know what’s in it. The Harper government has signed a deal that will lay off thousands of auto workers and put thousands of dairy farmers in jeopardy while giving even more foreign corporations the right to dictate Canadian policy," she continued, adding that “Stephen Harper negotiated the TPP during an election when his mandate is simply to be a caretaker government. Parliament now has the ability to vote on the TPP. We strongly encourage the next government to reject it."

The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States, explains “The Trans-Pacific Partnership would empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts and would expand trade in dangerous fossil fuels that would increase fracking and imperil our climate. The TPP’s environment chapter might look nice on the surface but will be hollow on the inside, and history gives us no reason to believe that TPP rules on conservation challenges such as the illegal timber or wildlife trade will ever be enforced.”

Criticisms of TPP are likely to continue to when the national parliaments seek to ratify the TPP in the months to come. In the world of business companies targeted with a hostile takeover often use a "poison pill" strategy to make their stock less attractive to the acquirer. What better poison pill for a prime minister than to tie the hands of future governments with a string of corporate rights agreements. As with all other trade agreements, the only "winners" are the 1% - the owners and controllers of capital. The workers and consumers in all of the signatory countries are the losers - always! It comes down to profits over people - every time. These trade agreements are about eliminating hurdles that stand in the way of earning ever-increasing profits by exploiting the planet and workers all over the globe by the huge corporate conglomerates for the 1%. That is the inherent nature of capitalism.

What's so special about the USA

On 1 October 2015, Somalia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), leaving the United States of America as the only remaining member state of the UN not to embrace this most universally accepted human rights treaty.

It baffles the rest of the world, and many thoughtful Americans, as to why the US has chosen to be the odd man out in not embracing this most humanitarian of all human rights treaties that seeks to protect the rights and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable children. It is all the more surprising if one considers that many distinguished American scholars and experts were actively involved in drafting the CRC, and the US government played a leadership role in negotiating and shaping it. But most American citizens remain unaware of this great human rights treaty that their country helped create, but refuses to ratify. Interestingly, while the US has failed to ratify the CRC, it has ratified two Optional Protocols to the CRC – on the sale and trafficking of children, child prostitution and pornography, as well as involvement of children in armed conflict.

The US reluctance to ratify the CRC seems to be part of a broader phenomena of “American exceptionalism” which holds that while the rest of the world needs to be bound by human rights treaties and conventions, the US need not join them as the US already has a great Constitution and progressive laws that are strong and often superior to what might be contained in such international treaties. Accordingly, the US is always reluctant and slow in ratifying any international conventions, including those that it may have played an active role in drafting, such as the Rome Statue on International Criminal Court, the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the CRC. Many Americans seem to feel that that such treaties might be necessary and useful for other countries, but not for the US, because they fear these might actually lower the standards contained in the US Constitution or create undesirable international obligations for the US. Such is the sense of self-righteousness among some key and influential American legislators that evidence to the contrary is conveniently ignored or dismissed. Last year, over 100 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organizations and faith-based groups made an impassioned joint appeal that President Obama should immediately order the State Department to undertake a thorough formal review of the CRC, so that it is ready for submission to the Senate for ratification whenever the situation becomes more favourable.  
The American Bar Association has done a comparative review of the CRC and the US Constitution and relevant federal laws, and determined that these are either mutually compatible or the CRC’s standards are more in keeping with the emerging human rights norms of the modern world. The CRC recognises every child’s right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence; to express his or her views and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future. It reaffirms the primary role of parents and the family in raising children. It seeks to emulate key provisions on child rights and well-being under the US Constitution and laws.

Some opponents of the CRC in America argue that it would impose all kinds of terrible international obligations that maybe harmful to America and its children and families. These range from how possible UN interference might compromise the sovereignty of the US and undermine its Constitution to how the CRC might weaken American families and role of parents in bringing up their children. Others stress how it might bring about a culture of permissiveness, including abortion on demand, and unrestricted access to pornography and how it might empower children to sue their parents and disobey their guidance. But in 25 years of experience in over a hundred countries, rich and poor, with liberal as well as conservative governments, such concerns have proven to be unfounded, exaggerated and hypothetical.

Studies by the highly respected American NGO the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF and others show that compared to the wealth of the US, a shocking number of children continue to lack the basics of life. Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. The US is towards the bottom of the league in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors in jail.

For many people outside the US, it is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth lets every sixth child live in (relative) poverty, how its laws allow a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families can live without basic health insurance. Ratifying the CRC will not by itself dramatically change the situation of America’s children. But it would help establish a critical national framework to formulate clear goals and targets which the federal and state governments, private organizations and individuals can use to shape policies and programs to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Media Double-Standards

NYT headline appropriately re-edited

Was the bombing of an Afghan hospital an accidental incident of “collateral damage,” as the government claimed at first, and as the media reverberated? Or was it a deliberate attack on the Taliban, who were supposedly firing from the hospital? It can’t be both.

When US enemies like Russia carry out airstrikes, all nuance is thrown out the window; US media drop their standards and accuse the enemies of war crimes. Yet when the US and NATO carry out airstrikes, journalists suddenly have a new found skepticism. Their language immediately becomes ambiguous, their writing unclear; murky passages written in the passive voice are ubiquitous. When Russia denies killing civilians in its airstrikes on Syria, US media are suddenly skeptical and thorough; yet when the US government makes the same claims, journalists just recycle US government press releases, justifying and excusing their criminal actions.  

 AFP, the first network to report the story, in the early hours of October 3, quoted NATO saying, “US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city…. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”

“Air Attacks Kill at Least 19 at Afghanistan Hospital; US Investigating,” wrote CNN (9/3/15). Who carried out those attacks? Never asked is who else could possibly have bombed the hospital. What other air forces are attacking Kunduz? Did the bombs magically fall from the sky? CNN provides no answer. “Aerial bombardments blew apart a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the battleground Afghan city of Kunduz about the time of a US airstrike” CNN said. The blowing apart of the hospital just appears to be a temporal coincidence.

The New York Times completely rewrote and changed the title of its report on the bombing seven times. Early on October 3, the Times published an article headlined “Airstrike Hits Hospital in Afghanistan, Killing at Least 9.” Minutes later, it changed the headline to “Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan.” Two hours after, it became “Afghan Hospital Hit by Airstrike, Pentagon Says.” Then “US Investigates After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital,” before finalizing as “US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital.” Not one of the five New York Times headlines indicated that the US was responsible for the bombing. The final title, “US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital,” which was published in print, fails to acknowledge that it was the US who dropped those bombs, which explains why it is blamed.

The Washington Post (10/4/15) also changed headlines and URLs for its reporting, making it difficult to track. It did choose a title acknowledging the US role in the attack, but attributed it to MSF, writing, “Doctors Without Borders Says US Airstrike Hit Hospital in Afghanistan; at Least 19 Dead.”

USA Today’s headline was ‘19 killed after Afghan hospital hit in suspected U.S. airstrike’

AP headlined an article (10/4/15) updating the death toll, “Doctors Without Borders Leaves Afghan City After Airstrike.” The piece says, “A deadly airstrike destroyed its hospital and killed 22 people, as the US and Afghan governments vowed to get to the bottom of the carnage.” Not mentioned is that the US government is responsible for the carnage.

The Wall Street Journal (10/4/15) openly justified the US bombing of the hospital. The unsigned editorial justified the mass killing of MSF aid workers by shifting the blame onto the Taliban insurgents. It even brought up the specter of Hamas, writing, “Like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the terrorists hide near civilians. These Taliban tactics put the medical personnel and patients at risk.” The Journal claimed that “no force in the history of warfare has done more to avoid civilian casualties than the American military.”

Ambiguous, misleading and dishonest language abounds throughout the coverage. Language that is often repeated verbatim by journalists who just uncritically quote government press releases.US media spin the story to reflect positively on the culprit; they report that the US is investigating the atrocity, while failing to acknowledge that the US itself is responsible for the atrocity.

Official international bodies have not minced words about the bombing. The UN says the US attack on the Kunduz hospital was “inexcusable and possibly even criminal”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein remarked, “If established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime.” MSF called the bombing a “war crime” and “a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.” The humanitarian organization is demanding an investigation “by an independent international body,” not by the US, noting that “relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.” Do not expect any American or NATO commander to be called to answer for this latest war crime in Afghanistan. And, of course, the US rejects the authority if the international courts and claims to be above their jurisdiction.

MSF says the US “repeatedly and precisely” hit the hospital. The aid group explained that the “bombing in Kunduz continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed by MSF that its hospital was struck.” That is to say, the US persisted in bombing a hospital that it explicitly knew before and during the attack was a hospital.

Monday, October 05, 2015

ROOTS (weekly poem)

From the September 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Okay you Smiths, Joneses, Bloggs and Leeses
I bet your roots go back as far as the Breezes.
Right! There's me, a wage slave, and also me dad,
And me dead and buried grandfather, and none of us mad.
Further back than that I'm unable to go
But I'll bet a pound to a penny we were all pretty low.
Perhaps I'm Spanish or German or Welsh
But the truth of it is I'll never know.
And what do I care? Not such a lot.
Apart from a purely academical point of view
The best I can say is it's all so much rot.
Now don't get me wrong, don't twist what I say,
We're here 'cos of history and that's how it'll stay
But let's get it straight, put it all nice and clear,
The past is the past, but it's the present that's here.
Right! Stop looking back with your complacent shrugs
And clinging to tradition with your endearing hugs.
Wake up to the present, take a cold look around,
Observe the ness that should be razed to the ground.
Pull up the rotten capitalist roots,
Jerk them, yank them free.
Pick up your spades, exercise your brain
And help to plant the Socialist Tree.

Paul Breeze

The US Military

With only 5% of Earth’s population, the US military budget makes up nearly half of the planet’s defense spending. America’s military budget surpasses its  next 15 closest rivals—combined.

The Corporate Tax Scam

The AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals group uses a legal tax avoidance scheme, paying no UK corporation tax over two years despite global profits of £3bn.

AstraZeneca, one of Britain’s largest businesses, is using a multimillion-pound tax avoidance scheme in the Netherlands, set up months after the UK relaxed its tax laws for multinationals in 2013. A newspaper investigationhas found the pharmaceutical giant created the scheme using $2.7bn (£1.8bn) of internal group loans routed through its Dutch subsidiaries. It was legally able to do so partly by securing some UK tax deductions from the Dutch lending structure as well as by offsetting high running costs and investment at its UK operations and using other tax breaks, some relating to new medicine research and development. Tax experts said AstraZeneca’s scheme appeared to be constructed solely as a way to avoid tax, and that the company could benefit from this in the future. AstraZeneca’s Dutch structure was set up less than five months after new rules came into effect reining in HMRC powers to combat tax avoidance by international businesses.

The loan structure, which is within the law, centred around a type of Dutch co-operative, an unusual corporate entity first allowed in the mid-19th century to assist dairy farmers. AstraZeneca’s co-operative is incorporated at the group’s Dutch offices, eight miles east of The Hague. Accounts for AstraZeneca Finance Coöperatief WA do not show signs of significant business activity: there are no staff on the payroll and it has modest operating costs. Nevertheless the co-operative was packed with loans of $2.7bn from head office in the UK, and charged interest of more than $140m a year. Interest flows exploited differences between the way tax codes in the UK and the Netherlands apply to Dutch co-operatives. The result was that the two tax offices treated the interest as occurring on their own patch, both awarding huge tax breaks for the same payment.  In tax avoidance jargon, claiming a tax deduction twice on the same payment is called “double dipping”.

Stephen Shay, a senior law lecturer at Harvard Law School who has held senior tax roles in the US Treasury and who gave expert testimony in 2013 on Apple’s tax avoidance structures in a Senate investigation, said that it was “hard to say” how the companies in the Dutch structure “have a real commercial purpose other than to achieve the tax outcome”.

Richard Brooks, a former HMRC tax inspector, now a journalist at Private Eye and author of The Great Tax Robbery, said: “It’s clear from the AstraZeneca companies’ accounts and replies to [the Guardian] that this scheme was designed to generate a UK tax advantage.”

Richard Murphy, accountant, tax campaigner and the author of The Joy of Tax, said: “The structure only appears to exist for tax purposes, to try to secure a tax advantage.”

AstraZeneca’s top tax accountant, Ian Brimicombe, sat for several years on a Treasury committee advising the government on the changes in the law. Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, was among more than 100 business leaders who signed an open letter in support of Conservative party tax policies during the general election campaign earlier this year.

Senior OECD officials have warned current rules are so abused – both by multinationals and by countries competing for investment – that they are close to breaking point. But British diplomats, while supportive of many OECD reforms, have battled behind the scenes to protect prized tax policies that helped make Britain a favourable environment for the location of international business.

Fact of the Day

Across the UK, the typical cost of a funeral is now £3,702, a 3.9 per cent increase compared with 2014. Cremation costs rose to £3,294 from £3,162 while burial costs increased more gradually, to £4,110 from £3,962 in 2014.

Heartless Tories

Ministers should waste no time to make unpopular cuts to pensioner benefits, a think tank director has said. Many of those hit by a cut to the winter fuel allowance might "not be around" at the next election, said Alex Wild of the Taxpayers' Alliance. And others would forget which party had done it. 

Wild said the Tories could not wait until a year before the next election to make the necessary cuts to the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes, the Christmas bonus and other pensioner benefits. The cuts should be made "as soon as possible after an election for two reasons", said Mr Wild.
"The first of which will sound a little bit morbid - some of the people... won't be around to vote against you in the next election. So that's just a practical point, and the other point is they might have forgotten by then." He added: "If you did it now, chances are that in 2020 someone who has had their winter fuel cut might be thinking, 'Oh I can't remember, was it this government or was it the last one? I'm not quite sure.'”

Sunday, October 04, 2015

They maybe sons of a bitches but they are our sons of a bitches

If we are to believe our media and government those Russians are bombing jihadist moderates (an oxymoron, if there was one) who have been supplied with weapons and training by the West nd the Gulf States. Many countries have been active in presenting Al Nusra, an affiliate of Al Qaida, as allies against the Syrian government and are critical of the Russians bombing their bases and arms depots.

The commander of the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) specifically identifies Jabhat al- Nusra (al-Qaeda in Levant), al- Soltan Morad Brigade and Ahrar al- Sham Movementas as its enemies who they fight as well as ISIS. “In my opinion, there is no big difference between Jabhat al- Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] but the war with al- Nusra is a little bit complicated because there are a lot of Syrians in its ranks and because there are some parties attempting to burnish its image on media.”  He goes on to say “it saddened us that there are some people in the Free Syrian Army who do not differ from Jabhat al-Nusra in their actions.”

Al-Nusra preaches religious war against the Shiites and Alawites motivated by the same Sunni Muslim extremism as ISIS originating from Saudi Arabia’s Wahabbism.

Here's One We Made Earlier

The one NATO ‘fixed’

Nearly half of the population of Libya has been affected by violence and needs protection and some form of humanitarian aid, the United Nations says.

"Armed conflict and political instability has impacted over 3 million people across Libya," the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report published on Thursday.

In a country of 6.3 million, "2.44 million people are in need of protection and some form of humanitarian assistance", it said. Since last summer, some 435,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, of whom 100,000 now live in outdoor camps or abandoned buildings such as schools and warehouses, the report said. An estimated 250,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya are facing significant protection concerns, with their status making them particularly vulnerable to abuse, marginalisation and exploitation," it added.

Remember the promises? Regime change would bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Libyan people. And now they plan to bring the same to Syria.

The Super-Rich

The wealth of the 400 richest Americans is now at $2.34 trillion, up from last year’s all-time record of $2.29 trillion.

The top three on the Forbes Rich List are Microsoft’s Bill Gates ($76 billion), Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett ($62 billion) and Oracle’s Larry Ellison ($47.5 billion).

According to the industry breakdown supplied by Forbes, its 400 include 126 engaged in investment, real estate and finance, 81 from computer technology and media, 36 from food and beverage, 32 from retail and fashion (including five members of the Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart), 31 from oil & gas, 20 from health care, 19 from miscellaneous services (including six members of the Pritzker family, owners of Hyatt Hotels), and 19 from sports and gaming.

Gates, who has held the number one spot on the Forbes 400 for 22 years, has less than 13 percent of his fortune in stock in the company he founded. According to Forbes, the majority of Gates’ wealth is bound up in Cascade, the software mogul’s investment firm, which specializes in “investing in stocks, bonds, private equity and real estate.”

Jeffrey Bezos, owner of Amazon, saw the largest gain in wealth for the year, making $16 billion in 2015, placing his total net worth at $47 billion and catapulting him to fourth place.

A US Census report released earlier this month shows that 14.8 percent of the US population lives in poverty; a figure that is unchanged from a year earlier. The Census findings show that 6.6 percent of the population lives in “deep poverty,” or less than half of the already unrealistically low official poverty line in the US.

Road Safety is for the Rich

In traffic fatalities in the United States the more disadvantaged you are, the more likely you are to die in car crashes than people who are well-off.

Research by Sam Harper, Thomas J. Charters and Erin C.Strumpf in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds that improvements in road safety since the 1990s haven’t been evenly shared. The biggest declines in fatalities have occurred among the most educated. As for people 25 and older with less than a high school diploma, fatality rates have actually increased over time, bucking the national trend: The underlying issue here is not that a college degree makes you a better driver. Rather, the least-educated tend to live with a lot of other conditions that can make getting around more dangerous. They own cars that are older and have lower crash-test ratings. Those with less education are also likely to earn less and to have the money for fancy safety features such as side airbags, automatic warnings and rear cameras.

The number of trauma centers, the researchers point out, has also declined in poor and rural communities, which could affect the health care people have access to after a collision. And poor places suffer from other conditions that can make the roads themselves less safe. In many cities, poor communities lack crosswalks over major roads. The residents who live there may have less political power to fight for design improvements like stop signs, sidewalks and speed bumps. As a result, pedestrian fatalities in particular are higher in poor communities. “It’s true that there are big differences in the quality of the residential environments that people have in terms of their risks of accidental death as pedestrians,” Harper says.

In 1995, death rates adjusted for age, sex and race were about 2.5 times higher for people at the bottom of the education spectrum than those at the top. By 2010, they were about 4.3 times higher. That means the inequality of traffic fatalities is getting worse, even as it looks nationwide as if our roads are getting safer. As we increasingly fantasize about new technologies that will save us from our own driving errors cars that will brake for us, or spot cyclists we can’t see, or even take over all the navigation we should anticipate that, at first, those benefits may mostly go to the rich.

Sugar-coating Poverty

Billionaire and one time Labour Government adviser, Lord Sugar, has dismissed the notion of poverty in 21st century Britain, claiming the poor enjoy luxuries undreamt of by former generations. He said today’s less well-off families have far more material benefits than the poor of his childhood. "You’ve got some people up north and in places like that who are quite poor, but they all have mobile phones, being poor, and they’ve got microwave ovens, being poor, and they’ve got televisions, being poor. Compare that to 60 years ago…If you really want to know what poor is like go and live where I lived in Hackney, where you didn’t have a shilling for the meter.” 

According to a report from the Debt Advisory Centre earlier this year, more than four million people say they often cannot afford to top up their gas meter and 4.7 million people regularly have their electricity cut off after failing to pay their bills.

Sugar frankly admits he does not bother looking at the price of most items he buys – “apart from planes and boats and things like that” – and confesses he does not know the price of a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. He said: “I never look at the price. I look at the product and if I like the shirt, I’m going to have it, and the price is whatever the price is.” Sugar said the last time he remembers having to wait for something because he did not have the money to pay for it was when he was a teenager and wanted a new lens for his camera.

We often hear from the defenders of capitalism that you aren’t poor because of your personal possessions such as fridges, TVs, and computers, etc. Sugar would like us all to equate poverty with destitution and the hunger marches of the Thirties. He doesn’t wish to liken todays “food banks” with yesterday's “soup kitchens”. He refuses to see that it is the local pay-day loan-shark businesses that have replaced the pawn shops of earlier eras. 

As workers, we have always been patronised by those like Sugar who cannot quite grasp the idea that we might aspire to something slightly better than a life of relative poverty. For us, we face insecure lives with ever more pressing problems and threats: loss of livelihood, dignity, home and maybe even family and if we are lucky to have a job it is now usually part-time, low-paid work and for those of us unfortunately to not to be in employment, claiming benefits is becoming an increasingly humiliating experience. We do not have the luxury of paying our bills without casting a glance at the cost but are cutting down on basic food items to pay their rising rents. We accept second best just to save the pennies.