Wednesday, June 20, 2018

World Refugee Day

The number of people forced to flee their homes rose to a record high in 2017, with 16.2 million people newly displaced around the world. The figure includes people who have been displaced for the first time and those who have been forced from their homes multiple times.
The figure of 68.5 million displaced people – 3 million higher than the total population of the UK – includes 25.4 million refugees, 40 million internally displaced and 3.1 million asylum seekers. The increase came despite the return of more than 5 million displaced people to their countries of origins.
The annual figures, compiled by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, saw five countries accounting for two-thirds of all refugees (excluding those defined as long-term Palestinian refugees): Syria (6.3 million); Afghanistan (2.6 million); South Sudan (2.4 million); Myanmar (1.2 million) and Somalia (986,400)
 This means one in every 110 people in the world is currently displaced

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Senators of War - bought and paid for

The US domestic gun lobby has already spent over $12 million on lobbying and given at least $1.1 million to members of Congress in this election cycle, 98 percent of it to Republicans. The gun lobby also wields power over Democrats through lobbying and public relations, and the threat of targeting individual Democrats who take a public stand for gun control.

The U.S. arms makers spend far more money on lobbying and campaign contributions: $162 million on lobbying and tens of millions in direct funding for members of Congress so far in the 2017-18 election cycle to keep the guns firing, the missiles flying, the bombs falling and to keep the cash flowing to the military-industrial complex.

The armaments industry have traditionally contributed more to Republicans than Democrats  but Senate Democrat hawks play a critical role as swing votes to keep the country at war. Many  regularly vote for record military budgets that hand over the lion’s share of U.S. tax revenues to war profiteers.

Thirteen Senate Democrats have already raked in more than $200,000 each in contributions from the war industry in this election cycle: Durbin (IL); Reed (RI); Kaine (VA); Schumer (NY); Nelson (FL); Leahy (VT); Murray (WA); Shaheen (NH); Warner (VA); Blumenthal (CT); Schatz (HI); Donnelly (IN); and Heinrich (NM). (Only Leahy had the integrity to vote against final passage of the $700 billion FY2018 military budget.)

 49 Democrats and Independents in the U.S. Senate have raised $5 million dollars in direct campaign contributions from the war industry, plus an additional $2.3 million for their “Leadership PACs,” from which they distribute funds to other corporate politicians and candidates. That amounts to 44.5 percent of the war profits Lockheed Martin and other weapons makers have reinvested in the U.S. Senate in this election cycle, compared with $9.1 million, or 55.5 percent, to the 51 Republicans.

The Tax-Fiddlers

The corporate tax cut passed by Trump and fellow Republicans that was in part designed to help dissuade U.S. companies from moving profits overseas may instead make the practice a lot more rewarding. Many big U.S. companies consistently report large domestic revenues while also reporting losses or relatively small profits at home. Such companies are among the biggest winners from tax reform.

That is because companies which shifted profits linked to U.S. sales, research or production previously had to pay U.S. taxes on the money at the rate of 35 percent when they brought those profits home. The new tax bill cuts the overall corporate tax rate to 21 percent, and allows income from overseas to be taxed at about half that rate – to as low as 10 percent.

AbbVie Chief Executive Richard Gonzalez told investors earlier this year that because of the change to a territorial system, whereby only profits reported by domestic subsidiaries face U.S. tax, the U.S. drugmaker expects its tax rate to fall to 9 percent this year from around 22 percent in recent years. That ranks among the lowest of the companies in the S&P 500 that have announced estimates for their tax rate, which average around 22 percent, according to Credit Suisse. The company has historically reported its income in lower tax jurisdictions, which is possible in part because AbbVie parks the majority of the patents for its top-selling drug in Bermuda - a country that has a zero tax rate on corporate profits. Despite recording over half its $28.2 billion in 2017 sales in the United States and basing most of its research facilities there, the Chicago company has never reported a profit in its home country, its annual reports show. The main driver for AbbVie, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment called Humira, generated more than $12 billion in sales in 2017 from patients in the United States, where the most common dose has a list price of about $60,000 a year.

In 2017, AbbVie reported foreign earnings before income tax of $10.4 billion on international revenue of only $9.97 billion. Yet, between 2013 and 2016 AbbVie had to pay around $1 billion a year of taxes in the United States, when it took the profits reported by foreign subsidiaries home to help cover expenses from its U.S. operations. In the future, it will not have to pay such taxes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The principal anti-tax avoidance measures introduced still allow companies to benefit strongly from profit shifting.

“If the guardrails in the new territorial system were meant to prevent companies from avoiding all taxes, AbbVie’s tax rate is a pretty clear signal that these guardrails may not be effective,” said Matthew Gardner, senior fellow with the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.

 Around two-thirds of those patents were assigned to the Bermuda subsidiary, AbbVie Biotechnology. Most of those patents were developed by teams of researchers entirely or somewhat based in the U.S., according to details in patent filings.

“This is the blueprint,” said Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the International Tax at the University of Michigan Law School. “The illusion that you would see more patents kept in the U.S. under the new tax law is unreal as long as there are places you can keep them offshore where you pay 0.”

AbbVie is not the only U.S. company with big operations at home but which reports relatively few profits. Pfizer , Expedia, Boston Scientific Corp, Synopsys  and Microsoft  also do the same and are set to be big winners from the shift in territorial system, executives have said and earnings for the most recent quarter show.

Analysts and academics say corporate filings often show that drug companies frequently reduce their taxes by parking patents in a low-tax haven, as AbbVie does, and then have their affiliates - which manufacture or market the drug - pay the tax haven subsidiary royalty fees for the right to use the patent. This arrangement sees a drug sold into a target market, like the United States, at a high price, with the U.S. distribution arm getting a sales margin as low as 5 percent. Sometimes the U.S. distribution profit is not enough to cover group costs incurred in the United States. For example, many of AbbVie’s biggest costs - including $1 billion a year in interest charges and over $50 million in compensation for its top 5 executives - are covered by AbbVie’s U.S. entities, contributing to the U.S. loss, filings show. That is why AbbVie can forecast a tax rate below the 10.5 percent GILTI rate, which some commentators have described as a new minimum tax rate.

“There is an incentive to profit-shift,” said Daniel Shaviro, a Professor of tax law at New York University.

Neo-Fascists Target the Roma

Italy ’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has ordered a new census of the country’s Roma community, as he continues his drive to root out and expel “foreigners”.

The Roma community has long been a target of Salvini, whose rise to prominence often involved press appearances at Roma camps, which he has frequently threatened to raze. On Monday he ordered the census and the removal of all non-Italian Roma – which he called an “answer to the Roma question” – and said he wanted to know “who, and how many” there were.

“Unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” Salvini said. Salvini is on record as having praised Benito Mussolini and his new policy has sparked comparisons to ethnic cleansing rules introduced in the 1930s that also targeted the Roma.
Up to 180,000 Roma live in Italy, about 43% of whom are Italian citizens. About 4,000 Roma live in state-sanctioned ghettos in Rome, according to a 2013 report by Amnesty International. These out-of-city ghettoes consist of pre-fabricated containers or mobile homes in fenced-off areas, often without adequate sanitation or clean drinking water. Inhabitants are excluded from other social housing despite many having lived in Italy for generations.

Hard Times Not Hard Luck

One in three teachers are providing pupils with basic hygiene products such as toothpaste and soap amid soaring child poverty rates, a new study shows.
Eight in ten primary school teachers have said they had seen a rise in the numbers of children coming to school unwashed or not looking presentable in the last five years and have found themselves intervening at an increasing rate. 
A survey carried out by UK charity In Kind Direct also revealed nearly one in five (18 per cent) of teachers say they have to resort to doing this every single week, with the problem starkest in London – where 50 per cent do this weekly – and in the North East, where the figure stands at 29 per cent.
Child poverty rates have surged in recent years, with one million more children in working households now growing up in poverty than did so in 2010, largely because of cuts to in-work benefits and public sector pay freezes.
Nicola Finney, head teacher at St Paul’s Primary School in Stoke on Trent, told The Independent around 18 per cent – or nearly one in five – of her pupils’ families were receiving products from the school, as growing numbers of households are “falling on hard times”. 
“I’ve worked in primary schools for 12 years and I’ve definitely seen an increase over the last five years. It can range from seeing a child wearing the same shirt for a few days, or noticing that they haven’t washed when they get changed for PE. We won’t stand by if we know people are in need,” she said. “It’s not always an impact on families that are on benefits – it can be self-employed families or those made redundant. More and more households are falling on hard times...I didn’t come into the profession to see children suffer. If we can help in any way that’s what we will do.”
Dr Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist, said: “Children’s self-esteem is greatly affected by the reaction of those around them – and if they are stigmatised, ridiculed or rejected by their peers because of poor basic hygiene, their sense of self-worth will quickly nose-dive. That’s why hygiene poverty has such a devastatingly negative effect on a child’s psychological development, not just on their health but also on their confidence, self-esteem, social relationships and class work.”
And, of course, it is not just school-kids who suffer.
A homeless person dies every two weeks in London, figures have revealed.  The charity St Mungo’s said 158 rough sleepers died in the capital between 2010 and 2017 – a figure campaigners have branded “nothing short of a national scandal”. 
Petra Salva, director of rough sleepers at St Mungo’s, told The Independent she believed the figures were an underestimation, with some being “missed altogether" because the government does not record homeless death statistics at a national level and local authorities are not required to record them.
Data shows a steep increase in the proportion of people dying who have mental health issues, which rose from 29 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2017. The outreach survey also shows 70 per cent said access to mental health services had become harder over the last five years.
Salva said, “We know that people with mental health needs – whether diagnosed or undiagnosed – are likely to end up sleeping rough for longer – and that’s mainly because the help isn’t fast enough. The truth is that there’s not enough help out there. We’ve definitely seen a correlation between cuts to mental health services and the rise in homeless deaths." A report published by the charity today shows 64 per cent of outreach services said access to emergency accommodation for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago.
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s chief executive, said: “This is nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable. We also know that there are things the government can do today to help stop this scandal, including reviews into deaths, removing the threat of funding reform for homeless hostels, and quicker decision-making around immigration for people stuck on the streets,” he added.
The number of people sleeping rough in England hit a record-high earlier this year – after a 73 per cent increase over the last three years. Official government data shows that on any given night in autumn last year, 4,751 people were recorded sleeping on the streets, a figure that has more than doubled since 2010.

America torturing children - Amnesty International

 Trump's  zero tolerance immigration policy has been been under mounting criticism since under attorney general Jeff Sessions, everybody apprehended illegally crossing the border has been criminally charged, even for those people seeking asylum.

Speaking at the Human Rights Council session, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said, “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”
Amnesty International claimed the images that emerged over the weekend would “leave an indelible stain on the reputation of the US” and that it was, “a spectacularly cruel policy, where frightened children are being ripped from their parent’s arms and taken to overflowing detention centres, which are effectively cages. This is nothing short of torture,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director "The severe mental suffering that officials have intentionally inflicted on these families for coercive purposes means that these acts meet the definitions of torture under both US and international law.”

LETSBY AVENUE! (weekly poem)

(A Fuzzy Fantasy)

In some areas, because of Government cutbacks, the Police
have  given-up investigating burglaries and are asking the
victims to solve the crime. London's detection rate is 5.5%.

I live in Letsby Avenue,
(The old ones are the best!)
And after being burgled as,
No burglar had confessed,
I was asked to investigate,
And then make the arrest.

“ 'Allo, 'allo, wot 'ave we 'ere”,
To myself, I then said;
“The two of us, both me and I,
Must put this case to bed,
So victim and detective, (us!)
Can rest our weary head”.

So I interrogated me,
With the housebreaker's cosh,
The Constable had left behind,
So I made up some tosh,
As the insurance paid on crime,
Amounted to real dosh!

So after I had punched and kicked,
Myself quite black and blue,
I then admitted to myself,
That all of it was true,
That I had burgled my own house,
But hadn't left a clue.

I took myself to Scotland Yard,
Locked myself in a cell,
I then beat-up myself again,
It was a living hell;
But I'd removed a thug from my,
Own street for a long spell!

© Richard Layton

Guns R' Us

Figures compiled by Geneva's Graduate Institute said the global civilian firearms stockpile had swelled from 650 million to 857 million between 2006 and 2017, accounting for 85 percent of all stocks.
Military arsenals held 133 million (13 percent) and law enforcement agencies 23 million (2 percent), raising the total to slightly more than one billion. 
The US gun market had put 393 million firearms in the hands of Americans. who buy approximately 14 million new and imported guns every year
Americans own almost 40 percent of the global stockpile, although they make up only 4 percent of the world population, more than the combined 25 top-placed nations and territories.
Out of every 100 Americans there were on average 121 firearms. By comparison, Yemen had 53 per 100, and Montenegro and Serbia alike 39 firearms. Canada and Uruguay followed, each with 35 firearms per 100 residents. Japan and Indonesia ranked at the other end of the spectrum, with less than one firearm per 100 residents.
740,000 men, women, and children die each year as a result of armed violence. The majority of these deaths  — 490,000 — occur in countries not directly affected by armed conflicts.

Virgin Branson

It’s no surprise to see that the clearest winner in the Clydesdale/Yorkshire bank takeover of Virgin Money - Richard Branson.

He is the owner of the Virgin Money brand. Virgin Money was paying £8m annually for the licence, but the sum will now rise to £12m and then to £15m. He gets a fat cheque each year for simply owning the rights to the name and doing nothing else.

Trumpeting Fake Facts

Trump has claimed “Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!"

The latest official crime figures from Germany show that 5.76 million crimes were reported in 2017. As a percentage of the population, this means crime is now at its lowest level for 30 years. The number of crimes fell almost 10 percent in 2017 over the previous year. 

Crime by foreigners specifically is also down significantly – and even more sharply. The figure of crimes by non-German nationals fell by 23 per cent since last year, from 950,000 to just over 700,000. 

Separate studies suggest that Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Germany are less likely to commit crimes, as they don't want to spoil their chances of obtaining asylum.

Water - too little - too much

Currently, 844 million people – about one in nine of the planet’s population – lack access to clean, affordable water within half an hour of their homes, and every year nearly 300,000 children under five die of diarrhoea, linked to dirty water and poor sanitation. 

It would cost just 0.1% of global GDP, to provide water and hygiene to all those who need it.

Climate change is bringing droughts and heatwaves across the globe, as well as floods and sea level rises. Pollution is growing, both of freshwater supplies and underground aquifers. The depletion of those aquifers can also make the remaining water more saline. Fertilisers leaching nitrates into the supplies can also make water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.

The poor are worst hit. Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at WaterAid, says: “Competing demands for water means that those who are poorer or marginalised find it more difficult to get water than the rich and powerful.” Many governments and privatised water companies concentrate their provision on wealthy districts, and prioritise agriculture and industry over poorer people, while turning a blind eye to polluters and those who over-extract water from underground sources.

Data from the Nasa Grace – Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – satellites over a 14-year period discovered 19 hotspots around the world where water resources are being rapidly depleted, with potentially disastrous results. They include areas of California, north-western China, northern and eastern India, and the Middle East. Overall, as climate change scientists had predicted, areas of the world already prone to drought were found to be getting drier, and areas that were already wet getting wetter. According to James Famiglietti, co-author of the Nasa Grace study, some of the areas most vulnerable are “already past sustainability tipping points” as their major aquifers are being rapidly depleted, in particular the Arabian peninsula, the north China plain, the Ogallala aquifer under the great plains of the US, the Guarani aquifer in south America, the north-west Sahara aquifer system and others. “When those aquifers can no longer supply water – and some, like the southern half of the Ogallala, may run out by 2050 – where will we be producing our food and where will the water come from?” he asks.

There is no global management system for water. Water is managed at a local level, and often poorly managed. The technology needed to help us use water efficiently and equitably exists, but often is not implemented. “In many instances, proper management of known technology [such as pumps, rainwater collectors, storage cisterns and latrines] rather than new technological solutions is sufficient to ensure users receive adequate services,” says Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at WaterAid. “We have been solving the problem of getting access to water resources since civilisation began. We know how to do it. We just need to manage it.” He notes, in many remote parts of sub-Saharan Africa, “there may be sufficient supplies of groundwater but there has not been enough investment in service delivery and service management to ensure that people can access this water”.

Some of the most effective ways of managing water resources are also the simplest. Plugging leaks in pipes is a good example – ageing or poorly maintained infrastructure wastes vast quantities of water. A dripping tap can leak 300 litres a year. In the UK, the Environment Agency has warned of water shortages across the south-east of the country within a few years, if the 3bn litres a day wasted through leaks – enough for the needs of 20 million people – continues.

 Irrigation has enabled farmers even in arid regions to grow a wider variety of crops. Some methods of irrigation are highly inefficient – in hot countries, water sprayed on crops evaporates before it can reach the roots. An alternative is drip irrigation, a system of pipes that delivers water directly to the roots of each plant, but this is also prone to wastage. Marc Stutter, of the James Hutton Institute explains that in Rajasthan, in India, restoring traditional small dams called johads enabled the periodic rains to be held before they dissipated across the land. The johads led to “the miraculous revitalisation to a green landscape and the surface water returning”.

Advances in sensor technology offer a new way forward. Field sensors, available for as little as $2 a year, can monitor the moisture content in soil, letting farmers know whether irrigation is needed and allowing them to calibrate the irrigation more finely than has previously been possible.
Science is also being brought to bear on the crops themselves. Plant biologists are breeding varieties less prone to drought, through natural selection, and in some cases using genetic modification. But science and technology can only go so far. As with most water issues, the biggest problem is still that farmers will grow what they can to turn a profit, and many have little alternative than to use scarce groundwater resources. How do you fit 130 litres of water in a single cup? The answer: fill it with coffee. Growing coffee beans is a thirsty business, as is growing cotton – 10,000 litres of water in a pair of jeans – and 2,500 litres in the average T-shirt. Avocados, almonds – even bottles of water themselves, are all highly water-intensive enterprises. Agriculture uses about 70% of freshwater across the globe. Vincent Casey, senior manager at WaterAid. “It doesn’t make sense for Saudi Arabia to use vast quantities of limited water resources for agriculture when food grown elsewhere can be imported.”
Climate change will not only mean more droughts, but also more frequent floods. These can be devastating to agriculture and cities, especially coastal cities already under threat from rising sea levels and stronger storm surges. The World Bank estimates that the damage to cities from flooding will top $1 trillion by 2050 if strong action is not taken to equip cities to cope with the consequences. In tropical areas more than a fifth of the mangrove swamps that used to cling to the coastline have been destroyed, cut down to make way for agriculture and aquaculture. Restoring mangroves yields many benefits: they protect inland areas from sea level rises and storm flooding, and provide nurseries for fish, increasing fishing yields. Flood plains and water meadows also provide natural water storage, with land that acts like a sponge to soak up water, releasing it gradually over time. This can prove unpopular with farmers who want to grow crops on such land, but payments from the public purse can offset the cost to them. 
he planet’s biggest water resource, seawater, is in no danger of running out, making up 97% of Earth’s water. Why not harness it for drinking?
The most basic technology to do so has been in use for nearly as long as fire: distillation, the process of boiling water and catching the steam, condensing it into liquid. In small quantities, this can be done easily, and cleanses water of other impurities as well as salt. But at large scale, such as providing the drinking water needs for a city, the process is fuel-intensive, even using modern methods such as low-pressure vessels to lower the boiling point.
Alternative technologies use electrical currents, which when passed through the water can separate out salt and other minerals, and reverse osmosis, by which saline water is passed at high pressure through membranes that exclude salt and impurities. Both these methods also have high energy requirements, which makes them costly, and adds to global greenhouse gas emissions. Sucking in seawater can also suck in fish and damage coastal ecosystems. Waste from the plants is another issue: the salty residue is usually released back into the sea, but this must be carefully managed because at the concentrations produced it is toxic to marine life.
Energy costs have proved prohibitively high for most countries, so the main users of desalination to date have been among the fuel-rich and arid countries of the Middle East. However, the water crisis has gripped so hard in some areas of the world that some cities see little alternative. Cape Town’s first desalination plant has just started operating, after some severe budget woes. China, Pakistan and India are exploring new desalination plants. If renewable energy can be used to power the plants, this should reduce the impact on climate change.
Floating houses are another idea that is taking off, from the Netherlands to south-east Asia. The houses are built on floating platforms instead of foundations, but anchored to the sea or river bed, and a wide variety of modern designs are now available. Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years. Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami. “People on the waterfront won’t be able to stay unless they are very wealthy. This isn’t a risk, it’s inevitable."

"zero tolerance" - No Comment

Monday, June 18, 2018

US Inequality Hurts

Right now, four in 10 Americans can’t come up with $400 in an emergency.
 Two out of 10 Americans have either no financial assets at all, or they owe more than they own. 
Over 70 million workers make less than $25,000 a year, 
The federal minimum wage is less than the cost of living in every major city in the country.

The top 1 percent according to a new study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, pulls in at least $458,000 a year. 
 The top 0.001 percent pulls in over $47 million.

While the 1% fly first class to fancy hotels on exotic vacations, the other flies in their private jets to mansions they own on islands they also own.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Where are the pay rises?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that wages for production and nonsupervisory workers decreased by 0.1 percent from May 2017 to May 2018 when inflation is factored in. 

The compensation for all workers together, including supervisors, rose an underwhelming 0.1 percent from April 2018 to May 2018.

When Republicans in Congress passed the tax break bill in December, they insisted it meant American workers would be getting raises totaling $4,000 to $9,000, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers assured workers. 

Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, estimates that the real hourly pay of middle-class workers has risen 0.4 percent over the past 18 months of Republican control of Congress and the White House.At that rate, Bernstein figures, it will take 28 years for a worker to get that promised $4,000 pay bump.

In fact, their real wages declined because of higher inflation. At the same time, the amount workers had to pay in interest on loans for cars and credit cards increased. And, to top it off, Republicans threatened to make workers pay for the tax break with cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. So now, workers across America are wondering, “Where’s that raise?” It’s nowhere to be found. Some workers got one-time bonuses and an even smaller number received raises. But not many. The group Americans for Tax Fairness estimates it’s 4.3 percent of all U.S. workers.  Those who earn less than $25,000 a year, that is those in the lowest fifth of income brackets, will get a tax cut this year totaling $60. That’s just about a dollar a week. For those in the middle-income quintile earning between $49,000 and $86,000 a year, the average tax cut is $900. That’s $17 a week—the cost of a large pizza and a Coke. By contrast, the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with incomes above $733,000 a year, will get a tax cut averaging $51,000. That’s $980 a week. So every week this year,  the nation’s richest will benefit $80 more than the entire amount that the middle-income worker will get in a year.

Most of the tax-gift went to stock buybacks, which enrich corporate executives and wealthy stockholders because they have the effect of raising stock values. Corporations set an all-time record for buybacks in the first quarter of this year. They bought $178 billion of their own shares, up by more than 42 percent from the first quarter in 2017. Companies buy back their shares when they believe they have nothing better to do with their money than to return capital to shareholders. So despite promises from the GOP and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, corporations believed further enriching their own executives and shareholders was a much better way to use the money than increasing workers’ wages—wages that have been stagnant for decades.

In 1981, S&P 500 companies spent about 2 percent of profits on buybacks. Last year, the S&P 500 companies spent 50 percent of profits on buybacks and 41 percent on dividends to stockholders. That left a pittance—9 percent. Corporations socked away some or all of that in overseas tax havens. Their workers, whose labor produced that profit, got virtually nothing.

The Federal Reserve increased the cost of borrowing this week for the second time this year and promised two more hikes before year’s end.  Workers will have to pay more for cars and homes and credit card debt. 

The  tax cut will add $1 trillion to the national debt. Even before passing the tax cut legislation, Republican leaders like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan began saying that workers would have to pay those costs in the form of cuts to cherished safety net programs—that is, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They already tried to slash funding for food stamps, the program that feeds the poor.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Media Misrepresentation on Migrants

Mainstream media are facing mounting criticism over the coverage of crime stories involving refugee and migrant suspects. Media analyst Kai Hafez told DW that the coverage reveals Germany's unexamined biases.

Recent cases in Wiesbaden, Kandel and Freiburg where young girls and women were murdered sparked outrage in Germany and were widely covered by the media. The nationality of the suspects became a central aspect of many of the reports, although German press code advises journalists only to mention ethnicity sparingly, if at all, in crime stories. We are only interested in refugees and migrants when it comes to big problems like terrorism and crime. There are exceptions to the rule, but a large part of it is negative. And the problem from an ethical point of view is that the ethnicity or the religious background of a person usually is not connected to the crime. Statistically, migrants in Germany are not more criminal than the rest of the population — so why identify a person in terms of ethnic background? 

 In many cases the German press code regulation is not adhered to and we see a constant violation of such norms and media ethics in our daily reporting. We have a loss of professional control, we have a loss of professional values. It seems to be OK nowadays to ethnicize events rather than to reflect whether this is fair. It's actually a specific form of racism — latent racism.  If people are constantly bombarded with messages of crimes committed by asylum-seekers and migrants, there's a high probability that they will tend to think that migrants are more criminal than the rest of society, which is not the case.

When it comes to migration, negative issues are more often covered than positive issues. If everything is OK, then migrants are not covered. If something is wrong, they're covered.

Russia ends extra time

Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev announced the Russian state pension age would be hiked from 60 to 65 for men by 2028 and 55 to 63 for women by 2034.
Expected to be officially adopted by next year, the new policy would mean the country’s retirement age for men would be a year higher than the World Health Organisation’s estimated life expectancy for a Russian man of 64. It estimated around 40 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women would not live long enough to claim their pensions under the new rules.
The announcement came during the national team’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the World Cup, a move that led some to accuse the government of trying to bury the news.

Class-Riven America

When analysts at Oxford Economics recently studied American spending patterns, they found that the bottom 60 percent of earners was essentially drawing on their savings just to maintain their lifestyles. Their incomes weren’t enough to cover expenses.
“Many people are still living on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis,” said Gregory Daco, head of U.S. economics at Oxford.
The top 10 percent of the country holds 73 percent of its wealth, a share that has crept steadily up since 1986, according to the World Inequality Database. The most sweeping gains are concentrated among the top 1 percent; this group holds nearly 39 percent of the wealth. And they’re arguably poised to become even more prosperous because Trump’s tax cuts largely favored the wealthiest taxpayers.
Contrast that with the middle 40 percent, a group that would historically be considered middle class. In 1986, they held 36 percent of the country’s wealth; now, it’s just 27 percent.
Worse off is the bottom 40 percent of Americans: They have a negative net worth and almost no financial cushion in case of an emergency.
Most Americans can’t draw on stocks, rental properties, capital gains or significant home equity to generate cash. They depend almost exclusively on wages. And after adjusting for inflation, the government reported that Americans’ average hourly earnings haven’t budged over the past 12 months.

Stuck in poverty

Income inequality has increased and social mobility stalled across the world’s richest countries since the 1990s, trapping families on low incomes at the bottom of the earnings ladder, according to an in-depth report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. While income mobility was a reality for many people born between 1955 and 1975 from low-educated parents, it has stagnated for those born after the mid-1970s. "Fewer people at the bottom have moved up while the richest have largely kept their fortunes," the OECD said.

In the UK the report found it could take at least five generations, or 150 years, for the child of a poor family to reach the average national income, currently about £27,000 for those in full-time employment. In the UK, 46% of children whose fathers have high earnings grow up to have high earnings themselves. Only 18% of sons born to low-income fathers make it to the top-earning group. The child of a parent with low educational attainment has only a 21% chance of gaining a degree-level qualification at college or university, compared to 71% of those with parents who themselves have a college degree.

However, the OECD found that the poorest Britons are more likely to escape poverty than those on low incomes in France and Germany, where it takes six generations to reach the average national income. A typical poor child in Germany would need 180 years to reach the average German.

 The average across the entire OECD, a group of 37 industrialized countries, is five generations. Children in low-income families in Denmark would need two generations, while children in the United States would need five generations.

To further illustrate the lack of social mobility across the 24 countries assessed by the OECD, one in three children with a low-earning father will stay trapped on low earnings, while most of the other two-thirds will only move one rung up the income scale during their lifetime. 

“Too many people feel they are being left behind and their children have too few chances to get ahead,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD chief of staff.  
“The wealthy will stay wealthy and the poor will stay poor . . ." Ms Ramos said people in the UK were more likely than in other countries to worry about losing their job or falling ill, because they lacked the savings or support to tide them over. The OECD said the UK’s high housing costs, which favour homeowners and make it harder for people on lower incomes to move to areas with better job prospects.

British people on lower middle incomes face a bigger risk of sliding down the scale than they did 20 years ago. The OECD said that there was a risk of the middle class “fracturing”, with the UK being one of four countries where the pattern of a widening divide between the lower and upper middle classes was “particularly pronounced”.

Poor and no vote

"The principle of 'one person, one vote' applies in theory, but is increasingly far from reality," UN special rapporteur Philip Alston says in the report. 

The net result of gerrymandering of electoral districts to privilege particular groups of voters, and the imposition of artificial and unnecessary voter identification requirements, among other factors, is that "people living in poverty, minorities and other disfavoured groups are being systematically deprived of their right to vote", the report says.

"In the US, there is overt disenfranchisement of more than six million felons and ex-felons," writes the Australian professor, who is co-chair of the New York University School of Law's Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice. This "predominantly affects black citizens since they are the ones whose conduct is often specifically targeted for criminalisation," he writes.

The US has one of the lowest voter turnouts in elections in the developed world - 55.7 per cent in the 2016 presidential election. Only about 64 per cent of America's voting-age population was registered in 2016. This contrasts sharply with other advanced countries. Canada and Britain are at 91 per cent, Sweden is at 96 per cent and Japan is at nearly 99 per cent.

Low voter turnout is also explained by "the perception that election outcomes will have no impact on the lives of poor people", the report says. There is a broad absence of party representation for low-income and working-class voters.

About 40 million Americans live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million in "Third World conditions of absolute poverty", the report says. At the bottom are indigenous people.
 "Indigenous peoples, as a group, suffer disproportionately from multidimensional poverty and social exclusion. The 2016 poverty rate among American Indian and Alaska Native peoples was 26.2 per cent, the highest among all ethnic groups," the report said. Indigenous peoples also have the highest unemployment rate of any ethnic group - 12 per cent in 2016, compared with the national average of 5.8 per cent.

Stanford Centre on Poverty and Inequality researchers Charles Varner, Marybeth Mattingly and David Grusky wrote in a spring 2017 paper that the poor in America were "becoming a more deprived and destitute class, one that's disconnected from the economy and unable to meet basic needs".

For migration - The World Bank

Global migration has lifted millions out of poverty and boosted economic growth, a new World Bank report finds. But destination countries risk losing out in the global competition for talent and leaving large gaps in their labour markets. The report argues that migration will be a fundamental feature of the world for the foreseeable future due to continued income and opportunity gaps, differences in demographic profiles, and the rising aspirations of the world’s poor and vulnerable.

Large and persistent differences in wages across the globe are the main drivers of economic migration from low- to high-income countries, according to Moving for Prosperity: Global Migration and Labor Markets. Migrants often triple their wages after moving to a new country, helping millions of migrants and their relatives at home escape poverty. Destination countries often benefit as migrants fill critical roles, from advancing the technological frontier in Silicon Valley to building skyscrapers in the Middle East.

Despite the lure of higher wages, rates of migrants as a share of the global population have remained mostly unchanged for more than five decades, even as global trade and investment flows have expanded exponentially during this time. Between 1960 and 2015, the share of migrants in the global population has fluctuated narrowly between 2.5 and 3.5 percent, with national borders, distance, culture, and language acting as strong deterrents. 

“The number of international migrants continues to remain fairly modest, but migrants often arrive in waves and cluster around the same locations and types of jobs,” said Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics and acting Chief Economist. “Better policies can manage these transitions in a way that guarantees long-term benefits for both citizens and migrants.”

Highlights of key findings from the report include:
• Migration flows are highly concentrated by location and occupation. Currently, the top 10 destination countries account for 60 percent of around 250 million international migrants in the world.
• Surprisingly, concentration levels increase with skill levels. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are home to almost two-thirds of migrants with tertiary education. At the very peak of talent, an astonishing 85 percent of all immigrant Nobel Science Prize winners are in the United States.
• Education levels of women are rapidly increasing, especially in developing countries, but opportunities for career growth remain limited. As a result, college educated women from low and middle-income countries are the fastest growing group among immigrants to high-income countries.