Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Billionaire Thanksgiving

 

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) think tank has revealed that America's 650 billionaires since March surged $1 trillion amid Tuesday's record-breaking day on Wall Street. As the Dow Jones crossed the record-breaking 30,000 mark, the combined wealth of the nation's 650 billionaires neared $4 trillion. 

 Meanwhile reports show that 26 million Americans are experiencing hunger. 

"The increases in billionaire wealth continue to defy gravity in the real economy where millions have lost their jobs, health, and livelihoods," said Chuck Collins from IPS in a statement. 

The $1 trillion growth in U.S. billionaire net worth since March represents an increase of more than one-third. Collins noted that 29 billionaires have seen their wealth double since the pandemic began, and the combined wealth of this super-rich class is now "twice the amount of wealth held by the bottom 50% of households combined, roughly 160 million people."

Collins warned that "we're at risk of the oligarchic death spiral," wherein "wealth concentrates and power concentrates, and the wealthy use their power to rig the rules to get more wealth and power."

 Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' wealth increased by nearly $70 billion over the past eight months, growing from $113 billion to more than $182 billion.  Meanwhile, the Bezos-owned Washington Post on Wednesday published a harrowing photo essay documenting the worsening hunger crisis in the U.S., where "26 million now say they don't have enough to eat, as the pandemic worsens and holidays near."

The yawning chasm between the super-rich haves and the struggling have-nots is not a coincidence.  Working-class immiseration is NOT an aberration but rather a feature of the concentration of wealth and power that characterizes capitalist class rule. 

There is no "equal sacrifice" in this pandemic. The ultra-wealthy continue to win. The impending expiration of federal unemployment benefits threatens further financial hardship for an estimated 12 million Americans the day after Christmas, and the end of the national eviction moratorium and student loan forbearance is also looming.  

"The ultra-wealthy continue to win," IPS tweeted, while Collins said that "it's going to be a billionaire Thanksgiving."

Stock Market Soars and Billionaire Wealth Swells by $1 Trillion as Food Lines Stretch 'As Far As the Eye Can See' | Common Dreams News



Land Inequality

 


The wealthiest 10 per cent of rural populations control 60 per cent of the value of agricultural land, while the poorest half only have 3 per cent, according to the data that did not include corporate ownership.

"Growing inequality is the greatest obstacle to poverty eradication - in countries like Guatemala, extreme inequality costs lives," Ana Maria Mendez, Oxfam's Guatemala director, said in a statement. "As we confront the coronavirus pandemic and catastrophic hurricanes fuelled by climate change, the impact of land inequality is even more stark," she added. The widening gap in ownership and access to land especially hurts small and marginal farmers, women, and indigenous and rural communities, according to a report by the International Land Coalition (ILC) and anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

While rural and indigenous communities are being squeezed into smaller parcels of land or uprooted entirely, land is increasingly concentrated in fewer hands, mainly those of large agriculture businesses and investors, the research showed.

"As corporate and financial investments grow, ownership and control of land becomes more concentrated and increasingly opaque," said Ward Anseeuw, an analyst at ILC and co-author of the report.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Militarism of the UK

 


Globally, the UK military has a presence in 145 sites in 42 countries.  

Phil Miller’s overview of Britain’s military footprint for Declassified UK shows, “...the UK has the second largest military network in the world, after the United States.”

The UK military, for instance, has a presence in five countries in the Asia-Pacific: naval facilities in Singapore; garrisons in Brunei, drone testing facilities in Australia; three facilities in Nepal; a quick reaction force in Afghanistan.  The head of the British Army, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, spoke in September about there being “a market for a more persistent presence from the British Army (in Asia).  It’s an area that saw a much more consistent Army presence in the Eighties, but with 9/11 we naturally receded from it.”  The time had come “to redress that imbalance”.

Cyprus remains a favourite with 17 military installations.  

In Africa, British personnel can be found in Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mali.  

Then come the ever dubious ties to Arab monarchies. On September 12, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that a further £23.8 million would go to enhancing the British Joint Logistics Support Base at Duqm port, thereby tripling “the size of the existing UK base and help facilitate Royal Navy deployments to the Indian Ocean”.  T

 The UK has never had a problem with authoritarians it can work with.  A closer look at such relations usually reveal the same ingredients: capital, commerce, perceptions of military necessity. 

Over the next four years, the UK military can expect to get an extra £16.5 billion – a 10% increase in funding.

 “I have decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and ends now,” declared Johnson. 

Keeping the Empire Running: Britain's Global Military Footprint | Dissident Voice

Tesco Targets Romanians as Thieves

 Tesco has drawn accusations of racial profiling and fuelling discrimination after displaying anti-shoplifting signs in Romanian.  The posters singled out Romanians and were evidence of a prejudicial attitude towards the diaspora.

“Hoții din magazine prinși for fi urmăriți penal” (Shoplifters caught will be prosecuted) said the posters, which were placed along aisles with expensive items, such as alcohol.

“Tesco has used a heavy-handed and discriminatory approach that not only will not discourage shoplifters but also offend the majority of law-abiding and well-integrated Romanians living in the UK,” Alexandra Bulat, the chair of Young Europeans, “Many of them will be customers of the chain – I am one of them. EU citizens living in the UK are no more likely to commit a crime than British citizens.”

 The Romanian daily newspaper Libertatea, said: “The idea that ‘the Romanian is a thief’ is programmatically induced in the masses. That is, to be Romanian means to be a criminal. This phenomenon is a very serious matter. Terrible violence has taken place in history around these phenomena.”

Romanians in the UK have often been stereotyped and baselessly maligned by the far right as taking employment opportunities from the British people. Romanians are the second-biggest immigrant community in the UK, with many working long hours in British supermarkets, farms and hotels.

Tesco accused of racism with Romanian anti-shoplifting posters | Romania | Al Jazeera

The Gaza Ghetto

 The UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)  called for an immediate stop to the continuing siege that has caused a near-collapse of economic activities in Gaza and a poverty rate of 56 percent.

“This unfair blockade in which two million Palestinians are kept inside Gaza should be lifted immediately. They should be allowed to move freely, do business, trade with the outside world and reconnect with their families outside of the Strip,”  Mahmoud Elkhafif, coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People of UNCTAD, said. “The situation is going to get worse if the blockade continues.”

“Unless Palestinians in the Strip get access to the outside world, it is difficult to see anything but underdevelopment being the fate of the Gaza Palestinian society,” said  Richard Kozul-Wright, director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at UNCTAD. “It is really shocking that in the 21st century, two million people can be left in that kind of condition.”

The isolation of the Strip has not prevented the coronavirus pandemic from reaching Gaza, worsening an already critical situation. As of Monday, 14,768 people had contracted COVID-19, with 65 deaths. Health authorities in Gaza warned of an imminent catastrophe if Israel continued to block humanitarian access as well as the entry of necessary health equipment and medical supplies. Hospitals and healthcare staff are in need of protective clothing, ventilators and beds.

“The health crisis is exposing the underlying conditions that have been worsening over a decade,” said Kozul-Wright.

Over 1m Palestinians under poverty line in besieged Gaza: UN | Palestine | Al Jazeera

Austerity Returns (had it ever gone away?)

 


With every crisis within capitalism the price of it is paid by the workers in some way or other. With the COVID-19 pandemic while the pharmaceutical industries and the online home-delivery businesses and the booming stock-market look to the future with optimism, ordinary workers can expect more austerity cuts.

Millions public sector workers are to have their pay frozen. “This is austerity plain and simple,” said Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the public sector union. 


“For all the government’s talk of levelling up, this spending review will level down Britain, hitting key workers’ pay and breaking the government’s promises to the lowest paid,” said Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary.

Many retired workers will now see their future pensions reduced. A personal finance analyst at the investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “This is a horrible blow for pensioners, who will pay the lion’s share of the eye-watering cost of this move.”

Ignoring the increased plight of those in developing and undeveloped countries, the UK is to cut the amount given to foreign aid. Andrew Mitchell, a former Conservative international development secretary, said the aid cuts “will be the cause of 100,000 preventable deaths."

Being Hungry in the USA

 Hunger is not new in America. Even before the pandemic, 35 million people relied on food banks every year, according to Feeding America. But the pandemic has been catastrophic – despite initial lauded federal interventions such as the stimulus cheques and enhanced unemployment benefit. As many as 54 million people could experience hunger this year, including a quarter of all children.

Millions of Americans must rely on charity to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table this year, as hunger surges amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

 Less than half of US households with children feel “very confident” about having enough money to afford the food needed over the next month. 

 5.6m households struggled to put enough food on the table in the past week.

Families of color are suffering disproportionately with 27% of Black and 23% of Latino respondents with children reported not having enough to eat sometimes or often over the past week – compared with 12% of white people.

Overall food insecurity has doubled since last year due to record unemployment and underemployment rates. For families with children, hunger is three times higher than in 2019.

“We’re now seeing families who had an emergency fund but it’s gone and they’re at the end of their rope. We’re going to be doing this for a really long time, and that’s frankly terrifying given the impact hunger has on physical health, learning and development for children and parents’ stress,” said Kristin Warzocha, president of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

 “Hunger isn’t hidden anymore,” said Trisha Cunningham, CEO of the North Texas Food Bank. “If it isn’t you, then this is your neighbor, this is your child’s classmate, this is your hairdresser.”

According to the Lakeview pantry CEO Kellie O’Connell. “The pandemic has brought to light how normal wasn’t working for so many people, especially black and brown communities.”

'No end in sight': hunger surges in America amid a spiraling pandemic | Food | The Guardian

More on Food

 Even before the pandemic surfaced nearly a year ago, an estimated 690 million people around the world were undernourished, 144 million or 21 per cent of children under five-years-old were stunted, and about 57 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia could not afford a healthy diet. The COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world this year alone, depending on the scale of the economic slowdown, according to preliminary assessments.

Yet we do produce enough food for the world’s 7.8 billion people. It’s our food systems that are broken. Hunger is rising even as the world wastes and loses more than one billion tonnes of food every year.

Our food choices matter not just for health and social justice, but also for their impact on the climate and bio-diversity.  The current food system responsible for around 21 to 37 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Africa is a huge net importer of food but 75 per cent of crops grown in sub-Saharan Africa are produced by smallholder farms, with family farms estimated to number over 100 million. Women do the bulk of weeding work while three-quarters of children aged 5 to 14 are forced to leave school and do farm labour at peak times.

Post: Edit (blogger.com)

The Law Flouting the Law

 The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)  has a legal duty to review government policies to ensure they are not racially discriminatory, and that they comply with equalities legislation.

In its latest damning report EHRC concluded that the Home Office broke equalities law when it introduced its hostile environment immigration measures.  The EHRC study detected “a lack of commitment” within the Home Office to the importance of equality.

Negative consequences of the hostile environment were “repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded”, the report found. “This happened particularly when they were seen as a barrier to implementing hostile environment policies in a highly politicised environment.” The department’s approach to its legal duty to ensure that its policies complied with equality legalisation was “perfunctory”, half-hearted, in other words.

It found that officials failed to appreciate the severity of the negative impacts of its policy on this group of people. Even when the damaging consequences of the hostile environment policies began to emerge, the department failed to engage with representatives of the Windrush generation. 

The report found “there was a narrow focus on delivering the political commitment of reducing immigration, and a culture where equality was not seen as important. Identifying risks to equality was therefore not encouraged.” The EHRC detected an organisation-wide “lack of commitment, including by senior leadership, to the importance of equality and the Home Office’s obligations under the public sector equality duty. There was a misconception by some officials that immigration was exempt from all equalities legislation.”  

A series of hostile environment policies were introduced by Theresa May from 2012 during a drive to bring down net migration; the measures made it harder for people without documentation proving their right to be in the UK to get jobs, rent properties, access healthcare and open bank accounts. Large numbers of people who had the right to live in the UK, but no documentation, were adversely affected by the policies.  It was very politically charged environment; there was a very clear direction to reduce immigration. The Home Office did not comply with its obligations under the public sector equality policy.

Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said campaigners had repeatedly warned the Home Office that hostile environment policies would lead to serious discrimination.

“Successive home secretaries ignored these warnings. Today’s landmark EHRC report confirms that this was not only dangerous, it was unlawful. The Home Office has for too long cared more about its reputation and its political objectives than the real-life consequences of its decisions on individuals.”

Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “This latest report is yet more evidence of the discriminatory nature of the government’s hostile environment. The report’s findings are nothing short of a national scandal.”

A September 2020 IPPR research paper reported “hostile environment” policy has fostered racism, pushed people into destitution and wrongly targeted people who are living in the UK legally. The measures also failed to achieve their key objective of increasing the numbers of people choosing voluntarily to leave the UK.

An independent review into the causes of the Windrush scandal found that he Home Office demonstrated an “ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation consistent with elements of the institutional racism. Warnings were repeatedly ignored. The scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable”, and came about in part because of “officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history”.

Back in March 2019, a public accounts committee report, said the Home Office made life-changing decisions based on incorrect data and remains complacent about its systemic and cultural problems and that it  displayed a lack of concern for the impacts of its immigration policies on people without documents.

Even earlier, the National Audit Office in December 2018 criticised officials for poor-quality data that wrongly classified people as illegal immigrants, the risky use of deportation targets, poor value for money offered by hostile environment policies, failure to respond to numerous warnings that the policies would hurt people living in the UK legally. While in July of that year, the home affairs committee said that “Windrush generation” have been treated as if they were in the country illegally despite being lawfully resident for many decades. People have lost their homes and their jobs and been refused healthcare, pensions and access to social security. And a month previous the Joint Committee on Human Rights took the view that there was in all likelihood a systemic failure.

Home Office broke equalities law with hostile environment measures | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian


The Vaccine Race

 Several drug-makers now optimistically forecast that they can put into production an effective vaccine for COVID-19 and they stand to make enormous profits. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has already caused at least 1.33 million deaths around the world, means massive profits for Big Pharma. 

While all these individual companies across the world scrambled to develop a vaccine, one would think these companies and governments would have been able to come together to coordinate and pool their research to stem the spread of a virus that threatens us all. Not so.  Nations treated the development of the vaccine as a race, competing to win and accrue all the lucrative rewards of being first. All the scientific efforts and experiments were done in an uncollaborative manner. What mattered first and foremost to the pharmaceutical corporations was the effect on the value of their shares.

 In many countries scientific research receives state funding, but the resulting profits end up in private hands. The Bayh-Dole Act allows U.S. universities to sell patents on discoveries funded by tax dollars.  Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a Trump administration initiative, already reached an agreement with Moderna, and on August 11, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “announced up to $1.5 billion in funds to support the large-scale manufacturing and delivery of Moderna’s investigational vaccine candidate” in exchange for 100 million doses. That came on top of earlier support to the tune of $483 million and $472 millionAmong the main investments of OWS, there was “approximately $1 billion in funds to support the large-scale manufacturing and delivery of Johnson & Johnson’s (Janssen)” — added on August 5 to a previous $456 million. On May 21, HHS announced “up to $1.2 billion in support for AstraZeneca’s candidate vaccine, developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford.” On July 7, HHS announced $1.6 billion in funds to support Novavax. And on July 31, $2 billion were announced for Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) investigational adjuvanted vaccine. This $10 billion budget for OWS alone was approved by Congress.

While Pfizer received no OWS funds. The government reached an agreement to buy 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine if it wins approval, which would be enough to guarantee the two doses needed for 50 million people. The agreement also included an option to buy an additional 500 million doses. 

These companies have raked in public funding and increased their share prices, and now will add to that through deals with countries that will have to pay millions of dollars for access to the vaccine.

Global Justice Now have already pointed out, a majority of the vaccine doses that could be available in the near future have already been claimed by wealthy countries. For example, 780 million doses — or 78 percent of the doses Moderna claims it can produce by next year — have already been sold to the world’s wealthiest governments. The vaccine race has left most of the world to scramble for whatever is left when the great powers are done.

The challenge won’t only be purchasing vaccines but also handling the expensive distribution requirements, including access to freezers and dry ice. Dr. Germán Malaga, who is working on Peru’s response to the pandemic, told CNN that there are about 30 ultra-cold freezers in Lima to handle the Pfizer vaccine, but that “for the other 20 million Peruvians, including in the Andes and the rainforest, there are none.”

 India and South Africa submitted a request to the WHO to “guarantee a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.” In other words, the manufacture of vaccines will be held back by patents.

The capitalists are touting vaccine development as an example of the merits of innovation. In reality, though, the global vaccine race has exposed the falsehood of some of the most closely held beliefs of the capitalist elite. These include the idea that capitalism “raises all boats” and “stimulates innovation.” As we have seen, rather than coordinating and sharing the results of scientific research, each multinational company is working on its own, in complete secrecy. Companies are wasting resources on duplicate research and taking much longer to find a vaccine. Imagine if the world’s great scientific minds all collaborated to develop the best possible vaccine in the shortest possible time. It is not hyperbole to say we would likely already have a vaccine saving lives. Medicines should be made for the public good, not patented by private companies. All medicines, vaccines, and beneficial therapies should belong to the people. [the World Socialist Movement goes further and demands that all necessities be made freely available to all]

We need to eliminate competition and unite research and development efforts across borders. 

Taken from here

Capitalist Competition Is Sabotaging the Race for a Vaccine | Common Dreams Views

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What Food Problem?


 Further to the earlier post on the impact of the corporate ownership and control of farming, this research paper also has some insightful points to dwell upon on our attitude to food production.

 '...“Feeding the world” is the principal public relations gambit of international agribusiness. Only agribusiness has the yields to save the poor and starving, is their claim. If the scarcity narrative is true, that claim is powerful. It transforms agriculture into a moral issue. Pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and monocultures may have negative consequences, goes the narrative, but they are the necessary alternative to starvation. The sole alternative, accordingly, is merely a luxury for the privileged and of no interest to policymakers. Alternatively, if scarcity is a myth, then all pesticides are sprayed, and all GMOs exist, exclusively for profit. The destruction of the ecosphere, which is largely for the sake of agriculture, is effectively a waste. The stakes are high. Agribusiness stands or falls on this point...

...  there is abundant, even overwhelming, evidence that agriculture, and in particular industrial monocultures, needs to be realigned to become kinder to ecosystems and more beneficial for the individuals and the communities that feed us. This will not occur, however, until the scarcity narrative is set aside...'

There has been an over-emphasis on the production food by the international bodies which has benefited the business models of the corporations. Even if the FAO targets of increasing food production by 2030 by 70%, hunger will still persist.  There will be only “Modest reductions in the numbers undernourished” and other estimates suggest only 120 million out of the 850 million hungry will be lifted out of their hunger. 

But the problem has never ever been about producing sufficient food to feed everybody but always about ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of existing food stocks.  In 2018, even though food production did subsequently increase, and food prices fell, the number of malnourished rose to 821 million. If FAO wants to solve hunger, their own model is telling them to look elsewhere than increasing production. 

 In 2011 researchers from the World Bank Institute proposed that the world already produced enough food for 14 billion people. This number is well above UN population predictions, which are expected to reach 10–11 billion in 2050 and to then decline thereafter.  Before the 2007/2008 price spike caused by changes in US and EU biofuel policies , food prices had been falling at approximately 4% per year. The apocalyptic scenarios inspired by Paul Ehrlich's 'Population Bomb' proved to be fantasies. Food supply significantly exceeds current food demand and that the gap is if anything widening. The scare-mongering projections are "overestimating demand or underestimating supply, or both."

 Farming for fuel.

 ActionAid in 2013 concluded that the G8 countries consumed annually enough biofuel, mainly ethanol, to feed 441 million people. If measured today that figure would undoubtedly be much greater. The 'green' case for bio-fuels has been increasingly challenged and determined to be market-driven by vested interest lobbying than for making a meaningful contribution to lowering levels of greenhouse gases.

Food for Profit

 Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world, a population of 160 million resides in an area the size of New York state and one of the highest poverty and food insecurity rates. However, although wheat yields are about half that of winter season rice in Bangladeshi conditions, the market price of wheat is higher and the input costs are much lower.  Bangladeshi farmers therefore grow wheat on 415,000 hectares. Such farmers are chasing markets not nutrition.

The most glaring instance of chasing high prices and high profits is the meat industry. Historically, much meat and dairy production took advantage of marginal land that was less suited or unsuited to growing crops. Increasingly, however, especially in many “developed” countries, prime arable land is devoted to animal feed. Even the most efficient converters of non-vegetarian food (fish and chickens) yield a worse caloric return per hectare than the least nutritious vegetable, while the least efficient (beef) yields approximately fourfold less again. Thus it has been estimated that beef, in a feedlot system, has a feed conversion efficiency, measured in calories, of 3% (compared to chicken with 12%).  35% of the US corn crop goes to animal feed.  One estimate is that 4 billion additional people could be fed if animals were absent from the global food chain.

In 2002, OECD countries spend $318 billion annually on agricultural subsidies, overwhelmingly going to support either meat or biofuels ). Virtually none of it goes to subsidizing fruits and vegetables.

Better Farming Methods

the growing use of mixed cropping, agroecological production systems, and conservation agriculture further increase yields beyond the monoculture. The yield potential of rice is standardly estimated at 8–10t per hectare. Such high yields are assumed to occur only under agronomic conditions of very high fertilizer and chemical inputs and with ideal soil and watering regimes. Yet the world record for rice production is 22.4 t per hectare. This record was achieved with few inputs by a farmer using a method called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI.)  Yields achieved by SRI are sustainable with productivity exceeding comparative global models by several multiples. SRI methods have also been applied to other crops, again giving significant yield improvements. Since rice is the staple of half the globe (3.5 billion people) it can be readily appreciated that a tripling of yields, especially since SRI is a more sustainable method, represents the potential to feed perhaps a further 7 billion people,

Food Reserves

 Agricultural production exceeds consumption at the global or local scale. If we take cereals (wheat, rice, barley, millet, sorghum, and oats) as an example, excess production occurs even in densely populated countries such as India and China. In 2017, FAO estimated global stores of cereals at 762 million tons. These stocks represent an insurance against calamity. However, this 762 million tons also represents an excess of supply over global demand. Depending on the climate, the quality of storage, and the crop species, they may rot or be eaten by pests.  If stocks are not growing, crops may still be entering them at a high rate. The second relevant property of stocks is that, if there are multiple harvests per annum, quantities of lost stocks may represent multiples of the steady-state amount of an annualized store. For example, if 33% of each rice crop is lost in storage and there are three rice storage periods, corresponding to three harvests, then 100% of the annual total stock is, in effect, lost each year.  Even if stored well, stocks eventually degrade. In China, wheat stocks are considered by analysts to last maximally 3–4 years and an average of 2 years. For this reason, China, which is one of the biggest stock holders of rice and wheat, began a biofuel policy to consume excess stocks of wheat. This has steadily grown and now generates 845 million gallons of ethanol per year . Despite this program, Chinese wheat stocks are still growing.

How much of the global grain supply is lost in storage?  FAO estimates that postharvest losses in low–middle-income countries are approximately 6.4% for cereals. Most cereal and pulse loss estimates are much higher, but also highly variable and they acknowledge much uncertainty . Estimates include 20%–30% for maize in Africa (Tefera et al., 2011); 12% and 44% for maize in the West Cameroonian highlands during the first 6 months of storage ; 11%–17% for rice in India, without counting storage ; and 35% for rice in India. Some reports estimate very high levels, for example, 59% after 90 days in sub-Saharan Africa.  FAO’s figures for postharvest losses are very much at the low end.  This is not to say that stocks and reserves are undesirable or unnecessary it potentially meets the cereal needs of perhaps 1–2 billion people, even without counting the losses of more perishable (noncereal) crops.

To sum up, the world can provide food for an extra 12.5 billion people above its present population and that is a very modest estimate.


The 2nd Richest in the world

 Elon Musk surpassed Bill Gates as the world’s second-richest person, only a week after he overtook Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to become the third-richest. In January, Musk was in 35th place.

Driven by a further surge in Tesla’s share price, the 49-year-old entrepreneur’s net worth rose by $7.2bn (£5.4bn) to $127.9bn. It has soared by more than $100bn this year – outranking everyone else on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which lists the world’s 500 richest people. 

Big Ag Controls Farming

 Land inequality is rising with farmland increasingly dominated by a few major companies.

Just 1% of the world’s farms operate 70% of the world's crop fields, ranches and orchards.

 Control over the land has become far more concentrated both directly through ownership and indirectly through contract farming, which results in more destructive monocultures and fewer carefully tended smallholdings.

Landlessness was  highest in Latin America, where the poorest 50% of people owned just 1% of the land.

Worldwide, between 80% and 90% of farms are family or smallholder-owned. But they cover only a small and shrinking part of the land and commercial production.

Asia and Africa have the highest levels of smallholdings, where human input tends to be higher than chemical and mechanical factors, and where time frames are more likely to be for generations rather than 10-year investment cycles.

Over the past four decades, the biggest shift from small to big was in the United States and Europe, where ownership is in fewer hands and even individual farmers work under strict contracts for retailers, trading conglomerates and investment funds. These financial arrangements are now spreading to the developing world, which is accelerating the decline of soil quality, the overuse of water resources, and the pace of deforestation.

“The concentration of ownership and control results in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive agriculture as investment funds tend to work on 10-year cycles to generate returns,” he said. This is also connected to social problems, including poverty, migration, conflict and the spread of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19.

“Smallholder farmers, family farmers, indigenous people and small communities are much more cautious with use of land. It’s not just about return on investment; it’s about culture, identity and leaving something for the next generation. They take much more care and in the long run, they produce more per unit area and destroy less.”

1% of farms operate 70% of world's farmland | Farming | The Guardian

The Voice of Polish Women

 Libcom have posted an interview with  two members of Workers' Initiative in Poland involved in the Women's Strike movement against restrictions on abortion. The blog believes it is worthy of a wider audience so hence the link to it.

The Women’s Strike in Poland: Freedom of Abortion, Freedom from Exploitation (libcom.org)


Prescription Prices Cost Lives

 More than 1.1 million seniors in the Medicare program could die prematurely over the next decade because they cannot afford the exorbitant prices of prescription medications.

Unless drug prices are reduced, the analysis estimated that 112,000 seniors per year could succumb to early death as a result of not being able to afford their medications. If these trends continue, cost-related nonadherence to drug therapy will be "a leading cause of death in the U.S., ahead of diabetes, influenza, pneumonia, and kidney disease."

"One of the biggest contributors to poor health, hospital admissions, higher healthcare costs, and preventable death is patients failing to take their medications as prescribed," said Timothy Lash, president of the West Health Policy Center. "Cost-related nonadherence is a significant and growing issue that is a direct result of runaway drug prices and a failure to implement policies and regulations that make drugs more affordable."

Medicare beneficiaries are required to pay 25% of the list price cost of generic and brand-name medications until they reach their out-of-pocket maximum.

"As drug companies continue to raise list prices," the analysis explained, "patients may experience a significant increase in their coinsurance costs." 

In addition, researchers projected that health complications stemming from the unaffordable cost of prescriptions will force Medicare to spend nearly $18 billion annually on avoidable medical expenses.

Researchers expect "cost-related nonadherence" to drug therapy to increase not only unnecessary suffering but also Medicare spending, as deteriorating health conditions drive up preventable expenses by more than $177 billion by 2030. 

According to the Council for Informed Drug Spending Analysis (CIDSA), allowing Medicare to negotiate and limit drug price increases could prevent nearly 94,000 deaths per year while also reducing Medicare spending by almost $476 billion by 2030.

Sean Dickson, director of health policy at West Health Policy Center and chair of CIDSA, said that "the costs of doing nothing about high drug prices are too high."

"Especially when policy changes such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices would result in saving millions of lives and billions of dollars," he added.

High Drug Prices Could Result in Premature Deaths of More Than 1.1 Million Seniors in Next Decade: Analysis | Common Dreams News

Daniel Ortega - Despot

 Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was never a socialist according to the World Socialist Movement, one of the few critical voices of the Sandinistas over the decades. Our journals and our blogs revealed the authoritarian nature of his regime and the nepotism that existed.

So it did not come as a great surprise when Reuters did a feature on the corruption of the Ortega dynasty. 

The president, his family and close associates have gained ownership or managerial control of at least a dozen TV channels, radio stations, and online news sites. Some of the acquisitions, including the Canal 8 deal, were financed at least in part by funds provided by oil-rich Venezuela, said three current and former employees and people familiar with the acquisitions.

The Ortega family itself, according to 2020 tax and corporate registration documents reviewed by Reuters, controls ownership of Canal 8 and radio broadcaster Radio Ya.

Friends and close allies, according to the documents, own three additional television channels – Canal 4, Canal 13, and Canal 22 – all managed by children of the Ortegas. A fourth station, Canal 2, is also owned by an associate, according to people familiar with the channel, and the Ortegas manage its news operations.  

Through state ownership, the Ortegas control TV broadcaster Canal 6, national network Radio Nicaragua, and online news portals like El 19 Digital. Associates of the first family own at least three other radio stations, all openly allied with the government.

The clan’s media empire has silenced those opposed to Ortega. The National Assembly, the country’s pro-Ortega legislature, recently passed laws that further pressure rival media. One bill makes it a crime for anyone to spread “false” information via social media or in news outlets. Another imposes prison sentences of up to six years for anyone convicted of publishing information “not authorized” by the government. In 2018, an Ortega plan to increase social security contributions and lower pension payouts sparked demonstrations. At first, Murillo told state and allied outlets not to cover the unrest. “The order was to ignore everything,” said Carlos Mikel Espinosa, then an editor at El 19 Digital, a state-controlled online news portal. Espinosa quit when the upheaval intensified and the government response grew violent.

Over the past two years, Nicaragua’s government bought advertising worth an estimated $59 million from the three biggest TV channels owned or controlled by the Ortega family, according to data compiled by Media Gurú, a consultancy that tracks media spending. The government spent an estimated $230,000, less than 1% as much, at channels not affiliated with the Ortegas.  Over the past decade, Canal 8 hasn’t paid more than $4 million in tax and interest it should have under Nicaraguan law.

“They’ve created a system in which the money comes out of the national budget, runs through their holdings, and all stays in their pockets,” said Alfonso Malespín, a media specialist at the University of Commercial Sciences in Managua

The International Monetary Fund, in a 2017 report, estimated that Nicaragua received as much as $3.2 billion from Venezuela before the South American country’s economy imploded in recent years. Nicaragua’s own central bank has said the figure reached as much as $5 billion. But neither government has ever given a full accounting of the financing or how Ortega spent the money, which is equivalent to as much as a third of Nicaragua’s annual economic output.

As the media empire shores up the president’s power, his government is steering large sums of state money into the properties controlled by the family and its allies. By 2008, Ortega’s family and close associates had begun building what today is a business empire with assets in energy, security and other sectors. 


Workers in debt

 Nearly half of families with children have been forced into some form of debt since the start of the pandemic, prompting warnings that Britain risks becoming a nation “surviving on credit”.

Almost 18 million people, a third of the population, have had to use credit cards, go into their overdraft or borrow from friends and family since March. 3.6 million families have been pushed into debt. One in 10 families with children had been forced to sell belongings to make ends meet since March, while three in four parents had worked extra hours or taken on an extra job.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said more families now risk being pushed into economic hardship and groups who already faced poverty were likely to see their income reduced further, because coronavirus was “exacerbating existing inequalities”.

People on furlough were considerably more likely to be borrowing money, with half of those who have been furloughed since March falling into debt, compared to 23 per cent of people who have seen no change to the employment.

Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, said financial resilience across the UK was at an “all-time low.” 

“Even if a vaccine for Covid-19 became available tomorrow, the damage has been done to people’s finances. People have spent their savings and used up their rainy day funds, there is nothing left,” he said.

Nearly half of families forced into debt since start of pandemic, figures show | The Independent

Europe's Toxic Air

 


Governments across Europe are failing to protect their citizens from toxic air pollution, with most Europeans still breathing filthy air. Pollutants from farming, domestic heating and vehicles are beyond the levels needed to ensure breathable air within World Health Organization guidelines, despite EU legislation, government pledges and years of campaigning. Exposure to such pollution caused about 417,000 premature deaths across Europe – including non-EU member states – in 2018.

Only Ireland, Iceland, Finland and Estonia showed levels of fine particulate matter – one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution – that were below the WHO guidelines in 2018. Six member states – Italy, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and the Czech Republic – breached the EU’s limits for fine particulate matter, called PM2.5, in 2018. The EU limits are less stringent than WHO guidelines. There were 54,000 premature deaths from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2018 in the EU-28, which includes the UK, which was then still a member of the EU. Ground-level ozone caused about 19,000 premature deaths in the EU-28 that year.

Green campaigners said governments must act urgently. Margherita Tolotto, the senior policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, which represents campaigning groups across the EU, said: “How many wake-up calls do government officials need to take on air pollution? Their delay is costing us our health and a safe environment. They know what needs to be done to improve air quality: cleaner energy and industrial production, greener and smarter transport, and sustainable farming.”

European governments failing to protect citizens from air pollution, data reveals | Environment | The Guardian

Governments had failed to meet EU targets, the EEA said. Under EU rules, every member state should have submitted a plan for bringing air pollution within health limits in 2018. However, Italy’s plan is still at draft stage, while Greece, Luxembourg and Romania have yet to submit any plan.