Friday, April 16, 2021

The United Nations Dictatorship


In the war of words between the war-mongers and the anti-war movement in the build-up to the Iraq invasion, the name Denis Halliday should not be forgotten. An interview with him posted on the Dissident Voice website is an informative read. 

As an Assistant Secretary-General and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday saw at first hand the devastating impact of sanctions policy had had on the Iraqi population and he was eventually to resign his position when the UN Security Council refused to lift sanctions. 

In his answers to the questions posed to him, Halliday exhibits what humanitarianism really means.

 "...I think the United States and its populus, who vote these governments in, need to understand that the children and the people of Iraq are just like the children of the United States and England and their people. They have the same dreams, same ambitions of education and employment and housing and vacations and all the things that good people care about. We’re all the same people and we cannot sit back and think somehow, “We don’t know who they are, they’re Afghans, they’re Iranians, they’re Iraqis. So what? They’re dying. Well, we don’t know, it’s not our problem, this happens in war.” I mean, all that sort of rationale as to why this is unimportant.

And I think that aspect of life in the sanctions world continues, whether it’s Venezuela, whether it’s Cuba, which has been ongoing now for 60 years. People are not aware or don’t think in terms of the lives of other human beings identical to ourselves here in Europe or in the United States.

It’s a frightening problem, and I don’t know how it can be resolved. We now have sanctions on Iran and North Korea. So the difficulty is to bring alive that we kill people with sanctions. They’re not a substitute for war – they are a form of warfare..."

Halliday is asked " can the UN address the problem of a powerful, aggressive country like the United States that systematically violates international law and then abuses its veto and diplomatic power to avoid accountability?"

He answers, "I think the UN is doomed. The tragedy is that the five veto powers are the very member states that violate the Charter, violate human rights conventions, and will not allow the application of the ICC to their war crimes and other abuses. On top of that, they are the countries that manufacture and sell weapons, and we know that weapons of war are possibly the most profitable product you can produce. So their vested interest is control, is the military capacity, is interference. It’s a neocolonial endeavor, an empire in reality, to control the world as the way they want to see it. Until that is changed and those five member states agree to dilute their power and play an honest role, I think we’re doomed. The UN has no capacity to stop the difficulties we’re faced with around the world...The tragedy is that the decisions of the Security Council are binding decisions. Every member state has got to apply and respect those decisions. So, if you violate a sanctions regime imposed by the Council as a member state, you’re in trouble. The General Assembly resolutions are not binding."

Halliday spent 34 years as an UN official so his opinion of it and its future is to be valued.

"... in reality, the UN carries very little cachet nowadays to send a UN mission into a country like Myanmar or Afghanistan. I think we have no power left, we have no influence left, because they know who runs the organization, they know who makes the decisions. It’s not the Secretary-General. It’s not people like me. We are dictated to by the Security Council..."

"...The League of Nations failed, and the UN was the next best hope and we have deliberately turned our backs upon it, neglected it and distrusted it. When we get a good Secretary General like Hammarskjold, we murder him. He was definitely killed, because he was interfering in the dreams of the British in particular, and perhaps the Belgians, in Katanga. It’s a very sad story, and I don’t know where we go from here..."

Insecure Jobs Bring Insecurity


Workers on zero-hours contracts and other insecure jobs are twice as likely to have died of Covid-19 as those in other professions, according to a report from the Trades Union Congress.

 The research reveals stark inequalities in the workplace.

Those on the frontline of the pandemic, such as care workers, nurses and delivery drivers, were at a higher risk of death. It said many of these key workers were in insecure work, such as zero-hours contracts and agency employment, landing them with a “triple whammy” of no sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay, while having to shoulder more risk of infection. Insecure jobs were defined using occupations with a higher proportion of workers employed on contracts that did not guarantee regular hours or income, or low-paid self-employment.

Covid-19 mortality rates among male workers in insecure jobs was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared with 24 out of 100,000 in more secure work. For female staff the rate was 25 per 100,000, compared with 13 per 100,000 in higher-paying secure work.

Sectors such as care, leisure, and occupations such as labouring, factory and warehouse work have the highest rates of insecure work, compared with managerial, professional and administrative roles, which have some of the lowest. Insecure workers account for one in nine of the total workforce, with women, disabled people and BAME workers more likely to be in precarious roles.

The union body said the lack of proper sick pay was forcing those in insecure jobs to choose between protecting their lives and putting food on the table. The UK has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe and nearly 2 million workers, including many in insecure work, do not earn enough to qualify for it.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the government had failed to bring forward an employment bill promised in 2019 to bolster workers’ rights and legal protections. She said urgent action was required to tackle insecure employment practices and support low-paid workers.

“Lots of them are the key workers we all applauded – like social care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff. This must be a turning point,” she said. “If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound. No one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.”

Workers in insecure jobs twice as likely to die of Covid, TUC research finds | Zero-hours contracts | The Guardian

The United States of Oligarchs

third of $4.3 trillion in billionaire wealth gains since 1990 have come during the last 13 months of the pandemic.  

Between 1990 and April 2021, the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased 19-fold, from $240 billion in today’s dollars to $4.56 trillion in 2021. 

Between March 18, 2020, and April 12, 2021,the collective wealth of American billionaires leapt by $1.62 trillion, or 55 percent, from $2.95 trillion to $4.56 trillion. Billionaires’ huge pandemic-era wealth gains have come amid the past 13 months of coronavirus misery. During those same 13 months, over 30 million Americans fell ill from COVID, over 560,000 died from it and about 77 million lost jobs.

America’s 719 billionaires now hold over four times more wealth ($4.56 trillion) than all the roughly 165 million Americans in society’s bottom half ($1.01 trillion). In 1990, the situation was reversed—billionaires were worth $240 billion and the bottom 50% had $380 billion in combined wealth.

As of April 12, there were six American “centi-billionaires”—individuals each worth at least $100 billion. That’s bigger than the size of the economy of each of 13 of the nation’s states.

1. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, almost a “double-centi-billionaire” with a net worth of nearly $197 billion, is up 74 percent over the last 13 months. If he was still married to his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, together they would be worth another $60 billion or so—giving the couple a net worth of a quarter trillion dollars. 

2. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Space-X, with $172 billion, up an astounding 599 percent during the pandemic.

3. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, worth $130 billion, up 33 percent since March 2020.

4. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has $113.5 billion, a fortune that more than doubled (up 108 percent) in 13 months.

5. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett is worth $101 billion, an increase of 50 percent during the pandemic.

6. Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, is also worth $101 billion, up 71 percent since March 2020.

The Women's Revolution in India


Dalit activist Nodeep Kaur  comes from a family of activists and her parents have been associated with farmers’ union in Punjab. In 2014, her mother Swaranjeet Kaur led protest demanding justice for a minor Dalit girl who was gang raped in their village. She faced multiple death threats.

“I am who I am today because of my mother. Our society is not created equal, there is so much caste based bias and if you are a woman, and a woman from my background Dalit, its a bigger challenge. From a very young age I learnt to fight not just for myself but for others as well,” said Nodeep. She told IPS, “I am a woman, I am Dalit and I am giving voice to the people who are often very easily suppressed.”

During the lockdown in 2020, Nodeep joined a local workers’ rights organization called Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) in the Kundli Industrial Area in Haryana. In January Nodeep was accused of allegedly manhandling management and staff of an industrial area during a protest and also assaulting the police team.

Nodeep had been participating in the farmers’ protest against the central government’s new agricultural reforms as well. She was taken into custody and accused in three separate cases and was charged under sections of the Indian law which included, attempt to murder, extortion, unlawful assembly, rioting and criminal intimidation. She has been granted bail, but her cases are still pending.

Nodeep has become one of the strongest voices that is leading the farmers protest in the country.

“This solidarity that you see today between the farmers and the working class is so powerful. Can you imagine what all can happen now that we are all united and standing up for each other?” says Nodeep. “My battle started with fighting for unpaid wages and unfair treatments of the working class in an Industrial area, and from there, today, I am here supporting and giving my voice to the farmers. I don’t know how or when it happened, but they call me their leader, and I am not going to let them down.”

“Do you know why we call Nodeep our leader? She is just like us farmers, strong and resilient. Nothing can stop her, and when she goes up on the stage and talks, everybody listens,” says *Kiranjeet, a 57-year old farmer from Punjab. “Nodeep is the future, we need youngsters like her, and so many other sisters who came out to support us. When one woman speaks, so many others join her. Our husbands have gone back home, its crop cutting season and now we are going to be here for the next few months, it’s our right and our fight,” 

The farmers protest is considered to be one of the biggest protests that has taken place in india, not just for its size and magnanimity but also because it has put women in the forefront who are now often seen leading the protest.

“This is a revolution, we are here to raise our voices, if we don’t do this today, what will our future generations have,” says *Ratinder Kaur, a 65-year-old farmer from Punjab. “How can anyone tell us we can’t participate? We women are farmers too, we go to the field, we farm, we do other labour incentive work and we also look after our families,”

OXFAM states that nearly 80% of the full-time workers on Indian farms are women, they comprise 33% of the agricultural labor force and 48 % of the self-employed farmers yet only about 13% women own land. The agrarian societies in India are extremely patriarchal societies, characterized by deeply entrenched feudal structures where women and men rarely have equal access to resources. Gender based discrimnation continues to thrive in the country in different ways, for the women farmers in India, they are yet to be recognized as farmers in Indian policies, ”thereby denying them of institutional supports of the bank, insurance, cooperatives, and government departments,” says OXFAM.

The farmers protest is not the first time women in India took on leadership roles in both political movements and mass protests. Women constituted a significant proportion of street protesters during the anti-CAA protests in the country since December 2019. The biggest challenge in India however remains how to transform their leadership into equal representations in high-level government positions, without gender, caste and religious bias. The very idea that the farmers movement in the country is transforming women’s presence and influence within their own patriarchal and often caste based biased set ups, there is no pushing them back into a space of invisibility.

“Without women there is no revolution,” says Nodeep. “We women have gone through so much, have fought so much, have survived so much, they thought they could put inside a prison and I will keep quiet. I am here to fight and I am here to stay, come what may, they have made their people’s leader, and I am not going to let them down.”

People’s Leader: A Dalit Woman Becomes The Voice of Farmers In India | Inter Press Service (

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Oil wells abandoned


Thousands of abandoned oil wells dot the Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico, endangering humans and wildlife. With oil costs plummeting, they’re likely to proliferate. growing body of research suggests that these sorts of leaks make oil and gas wells significant contributors to climate change – especially if they’re not plugged. Leaking wells also have the potential to poison sources of drinking water.

Oil companies are legally required to “plug” their abandoned wells to prevent exactly these sorts of hazards. Drilling a well involves puncturing through layers of dirt, rock, and water to reach oil and gas deposits. The walls of the well are reinforced with steel casing and cement, but as they age – or if they were improperly drilled – cracks may form in the cement and the casings could corrode. This increases the risk of methane seeping into the air and oil migrating into the surrounding groundwater. For this reason, an operator is supposed to plug a spent well by pouring concrete into the well and also clean up the surrounding area by removing wellheads, tanks, pipes and other unused equipment that could endanger humans or wildlife.

 Texas and New Mexico have already identified about 7,000 abandoned wells.  State officials estimate these will cost $335m to plug. The states define wells as “orphaned” if they don’t have an approved operator on record; additionally, Texas only includes wells that haven’t produced in at least a year. However, a healthy chunk of roughly 100,000 “idled” wells in those states could also eventually end up abandoned.

While officials have argued that oil prices will eventually rise, reviving inactive wells, environmental advocates and energy analysts say that the industry is in a downward spiral that will cause the number of abandoned wells to balloon. The uncertain outlook means that independent estimates of the cleanup costs of Texas’s wells alone have ranged from a conservative $168m to a mind-boggling $117bn.

States have not collected nearly enough money from operators to foot the bill. Though they force oil and gas producers to front substantial cash to cover plugging costs in case their wells are abandoned, these bonds only covered one-sixth of Texas’s cleanup costs in 2015. In New Mexico, these bonds would cover just 18% of plugging costs for all of the state’s orphan wells.

How Texas’s zombie oil wells are creating an environmental disaster zone | Texas | The Guardian

Oil Industry's Fake Change


Lucrative pay and share options have created an incentive for oil company executives to resist climate action, according to a study by the Climate Accountability Institute that casts doubt on recent net-zero commitments by BP and Shell. Boardroom rewards also underpin a skewed corporate logic that is slowing the world’s path to decarbonisation, according to the study in the Energy Research and Social Science journal.

As public pressure and scientific evidence strengthened, the big four moved through the gears, the study asserts. “Business as usual” (pretending no problem existed) in the 1980s became “incremental adaptation” (casting doubt on the science as an excuse to move slowly) in the 1990s and early 2000s, and has today turned into “partial diversification” (accepting the science, but moving gradually towards long-term goals). Despite the change in tactics and public rhetoric, the long-term strategy was always the same: securing a social licence to extract oil and gas. All four companies plan to continue extracting fossil fuels after 2050. 

Co-author of the paper, Dario Kenner of the University of Sussex, said Shell’s and BP’s recent announcement of a net-zero goal by 2050, and Exxon’s and Chevron’s endorsement of carbon pricing, should be seen as similar tactics. Kenner said: “When BP, Shell and others talk of net zero, they are trying to stay part of the decision-making process. They want to be in charge of the transition as much as possible so they can slow it down – that is the whole point of trying to convince society to trust them.”

Compensation packages for CEOs, often in excess of $10m (£7.2m), are linked to continued extraction of fossil fuels, exploration of new fields and the promotion of strong market demand through advertising, lobbying and government subsidies, the report says. The setup with executives runs counter to efforts around the world to keep global heating to 1.5-2C (2.7-3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

Richard Heede,, a co-author of the paper, said:

“We show that executives have personal ownership of tens or hundreds of thousands of shares, which creates an unacknowledged personal desire to explore, extract and sell fossil fuels. That carbon mindset needs to be revised by realigning compensation towards success in lowering absolute emissions.”

The study tracks ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP – four of the biggest “carbon major” oil companies – since 1990. Executives had been told of the threat many years earlier, but instead of working on a transition to cleaner, safer forms of energy, they ramped up production, played down risks and adopted public relations campaigns that misleadingly presented oil companies as part of the solution rather than the source of the problem.

Between 1990 and 2019 the four companies made a combined profit of about $2tn. A minuscule fraction of these funds has been invested in low-carbon energy. ExxonMobil allocated 0.22% of its capital expenditure to low-carbon energy in the eight years until 2018. The share at Chevron was almost identical. Shell managed 1.3% and BP 2.3%. None were aligned with a 1.5C pathway, the report says.

Instead, the overwhelming bulk of the profits was either ploughed back into oil and gas extraction, invested in buying back shares, paid out in dividends to shareholders or used to lobby politicians, undermine climate science and pay for greenwashing advertisements. In the US, lobbying expenditures for the four companies totalled $731m between 1998 and 2019. Their corporate political donations in the US, stretching back to 1990, were worth $59m.

Kenner explained executive fortunes depended on continuing production and sales. The study examines the high levels of boardroom pay that motivate individuals to continue corporate practices that are destabilising the climate. At least seven executives received more than $10m in 2018, the most recent year covered by the study. Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, was the top earner with $23,069,040. Stock options make up a growing share of that compensation, which the study authors say encourages executives to use profits for share buybacks rather than investment in renewable energy.

Heede said, “This paper shines a light on incentives in corporations that may not align with their public commitments to get to net zero by 2050.” 

The paper concludes that oil and gas companies are ill-structured for decarbonisation at the speed and scale demanded by climate science. 

The authors said Shell, and to a lesser degree BP, had increased low-carbon investments, but its measures were still insufficient to meet the 1.5C target without significant emissions overshoot. The US firms, they said, were much further behind in responding to the risks. 

“Our study clearly shows why it is time to stop spending so much time being distracted by what these companies promise,” Kenner said. 

Oil firm bosses’ pay ‘incentivises them to undermine climate action’ | Greenhouse gas emissions | The Guardian

The Food Industry Giants

 — Four chemical conglomerates—Bayer (German), BASF (German), ChemChina (Chinese) and Corteva (U.S.)—control more than 60% of the world's commercial seeds market.

— Tyson Foods and three other U.S. poultry firms control 60% of the U.S. poultry market. Three global giants—JBS (Brazil), Tyson (U.S.) and Smithfield (China)—control 85% of the U.S. beef market and 71% of the pork market.

— Four multinational grain-trading powers—Cargill, ADM, Bunge and Dreyfus—control 90% of all grain (corn, wheat, rice, etc.) marketed in the world.

— John Deere and Italian conglomerate CNH Industrial control nearly half of the U.S. market for tractors and other farm machinery (even using their monopoly clout to prohibit farmers from repairing their own machines, forcing them to travel to expensive authorized dealers for repairs).

— Multibillion-dollar Wall Street speculators are the nation's biggest buyers of farmland, jacking up per-acre prices beyond what family farmers (especially young people trying to get into farming) can pay; indeed, the largest owner of U.S. ag land is superrich tech mogul Bill Gates, who holds land in almost 20 states that would amount to a nearly 400-square-mile farm (bigger than four Seattles, the sprawling metropolis where he lives).

Opinion | To Bust Monopoly Power, Start With the Companies Controlling Our Food (

The Defeatism of America's Health-care

 Back in July 2020 the Socialist Standard drew attention to the militarisation of many American police forces, turning them into heavily armed and equipped paramilitaries.

Left-wing commentator, Laura Flanders, once again draws attention to this development in an article on the Consortium News website.

But she compares this with the very obvious lack of commitment to "militarise" health-care and extend the medical services provided for veterans to the civilian population. 

The media indulges in many military metaphors in the "war" against Covid but fails to reach the logical conclusion that to defeat the virus enemy means putting the health servoces of America on to a "war-footing" with "military-grade" medical treatments. 

The Gig Economy Exploitation

 Drivers at  Hermesone of the UK’s largest delivery firms, say they are having to work for free for several hours a day.

 Couriers in several areas of the country say they feel compelled to “muck in” with the parcel sorting process in understaffed depots because they cannot start earning any money until it is done.

"People should not be working for free and people should not be exploited into working for free,” said the GMB union’s national officer Mick Rix.

Drivers came forward to describe the “impossible choice” they regularly face, explaining that as they get paid per delivery, they are entirely dependent on the sorting process being completed before they can start their working day. Many depots are routinely understaffed, they said, meaning the process can sometimes be lengthy. As a result, many feel compelled to go in early and help with the sorting without pay because their alternative would be to start late in the day and work until well after dark to get their deliveries done and keep up their earnings.

“There is this relationship that you find that exists in the gig economy where you think: how far do the norms go before it becomes accepted? What seems to be the acceptance here is that people are sorting parcels to ensure that they can get their deliveries out and they’re doing it for free,” said Rix.  “Sometimes you’ve got to wonder: is the success of companies such as Hermes in some respects because they can charge such a low price to clients and customers, because there’s a workforce that’s subsidising that price?” he said. “We think that is part of the model that has now got to change for the future. You can’t say you are decent companies if you are not treating people and looking after people well. People are just not going to wear that any more.”

 Meanwhile, new research by the Living Wage Foundation suggests that two-fifths of UK workers are given only short notice of their working hours, research has revealed, with lower-paid staff suffering the most during the pandemic, in a sign that precarious employment practices are widespread across the economy.

 38% of all workers – representing about 10 million people in the UK workforce – were being given less than a week’s notice of shift patterns by their employer.

In research exposing the scale of precarious work, the figures suggest that chaotic employment practices and just-in-time arrangements extend well beyond roles in hospitality, retail and warehousing into typically higher-paying professional jobs.

Short-notice periods were even more pronounced for those in jobs with variable hours or shift work built into their contracts, with 62% having less than a week to prepare for their schedule. At the extreme, 12% of this group – amounting to 7% all working adults – had less than 24 hours’ notice. Low-paid, full-time workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and those with children, were also disproportionately affected.

Laura Gardiner, the director of the Living Wage Foundation, said lack of clear notice of shift patterns meant millions of workers were being forced to make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life.

Some Hermes drivers working for free for hours a day, union says | Hermes | The Guardian

Almost 40% of UK workers ‘get less than a week’s notice of shift patterns’ | Gig economy | The Guardian

Socialist Sonnet No. 29



There are royal commissions established,

Commons committees of earnest MPs,

 In “the other place” by ponderous degrees

They discuss how to achieve what is wished.

Concerned documentaries on TV,

Radio phone-ins squabble and blare,

The press agree, society’s not fair:

But all are committed to equality.

The days of deference are long since passed:

‘Black lives matter!’ All lives matter! And yet,

For all the rhetoric, all the cant,

By prestige and pomp a person’s still classed.


When a prince passes he’s specially blessed;

Some lives, and deaths, matter more than the rest


Big Pharma - Entrepreneurs - No?

 One justification frequently used by the pharmaceutical industry is that patents and intellectual ownership is required to recoup the money invested in the early R and D stage of the development of a drug.

At least 97% of the funding for the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has been identified as coming from taxpayers or charitable trusts, according to the first attempt to reconstruct who paid for the decades of research that led to the lifesaving formulation. Less than 2% of the identified funding came from private industry, the researchers said.

Using two different methods of inquiry, researchers were able to identify the source of hundreds of millions of pounds of research grants from the year 2000 onwards for published work on what would eventually become the novel technology that underpins the jab, as well as funding for the final product.

The overwhelming majority of the money, especially in the early stages of the research, came from UK government departments, British and American scientific institutes, the European commission and charities including the Wellcome Trust.

“Our study shows that quite the opposite is true: public investment and international collaboration gave us the Covid-19 vaccines,” the team of researchers, from the advocacy group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines UK, said.  “We need to stop perpetuating the narrative in which the private sector and profit are the sole drivers of innovation, and recognise that the life-saving ChAdOx vaccine technology was developed with near total governmental and charitable funding.”

Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine research ‘was 97% publicly funded’ | Medical research | The Guardian

Our Damaged World

 Just 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact with healthy populations of all its original animals and undisturbed habitat, a study suggests. Previous analyses have identified wilderness areas based largely on satellite images and estimated that 20-40% of the Earth’s surface is little affected by humans. However, the scientists behind the new study argue that forests, savannah and tundra can appear intact from above but that, on the ground, vital species are missing. 

These scattered fragments of wilderness undamaged by human activities are mainly in parts of the Amazon and Congo tropical forests, east Siberian and northern Canadian forests and tundra, and the Sahara.  Some scientists said the new analysis underestimates the intact areas, because the ranges of animals centuries ago are poorly known and the new maps do not take account of the impacts of the climate crisis, which is changing the ranges of species.

It is widely accepted that the world is in a biodiversity crisis, with many wildlife populations  plunging, mainly due to the destruction of habitat for farming and building.

Dr Andrew Plumptre, the lead author of the study, from the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat in Cambridge, said, “It’s fairly scary, because it shows how unique places like the Serengeti are, which actually have functioning and fully intact ecosystems." He continued, “It might be possible to increase the ecological intact area back to up to 20% through the targeted reintroductions of species that have been lost in areas where human impact is still low, provided the threats to their survival can be addressed.”  

America's Food Insecurity


An investigation  by the Guardian and the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University reveals the scale of America’s food insecurity crisis during Covid-19. Food insecurity has been at the highest level since annual records began in the mid-1990s. But, the pandemic did not create America’s hunger divide.

 The week before Christmas, about 81 million Americans experienced food insecurity, meaning that one in four people in the so-called richest country in the world did not have reliable access to sufficient nutritious food needed for a healthy active life.

It found  racial inequalities in access to adequate nutrition that threatens the long-term prospects of a generation of Black and brown children. Black families in the US have gone hungry at two to three times the rate of white families over the course of the pandemic. 

“Food insecurity and poverty are absolutely racialized, so it’s horrifying, but not surprising, that Black and brown people have suffered disproportionately,” said Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare, a  food justice organization.

Kyle Moore, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race and ethnicity, explained, “In periods of general economic growth, racial disparities in a wide range of poverty indicators have remained constant, suggesting a lack of political will over decades to tackle the root causes. Black and brown households have been hardest hit in every economic crisis, and taken the longest to recover.”

The report found:

1. Hunger – defined as not having enough to eat sometimes or often during the previous week – has been reported between 19% and 29% of Black households with children over the course of the pandemic. This compares with 7% to 14% of white American families.

2. Latino families have experienced the second highest rates of hunger, ranging from 16% to 25% nationally.

3, Racial disparities varied across states: Black families in Texas reported hunger at four times the rate of white families in some weeks, as did Latinos in New York.

4. As many as 43% of Black households with children have been food insecure during the course of the pandemic – the highest rate nationally for any community since records began. Despite a substantial fall last month, about one in three Black and Latino families are still food insecure.

5. Between 17% and 26% of white American families experienced food insecurity over the past year – illustrating the extent to which hardship spread into previously economically resilient communities.

6, Since Christmas, food insecurity has fallen by 35% among white families, compared to 26% of Black families, 21% of Asian Americans and 15% for Latinos.

The rate of hunger for families with children has been on average 61% (41% to 83%) higher than for adult-only households. This is particularly troubling as inadequate nutrition can damage children’s emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, and the consequences can last a lifetime. Children who live in food insecure households are likely to get sick more often, recover from illness more slowly, and end up in the emergency room more frequently. Insufficient nutritious food impedes learning, and is linked to higher levels of asthma and depression.

“Covid has amplified existing disparities in education, food insecurity, unstable housing and health outcomes for a whole generation of children,” said Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. “Children have borne the brunt of the lack of action to contain Covid-19 and the failure to prioritize schools.” 

One in eight Americans has reduced food spending to pay for healthcare, with Black Americans twice as likely to be unable to afford quality healthcare compared to white Americans.

The US safety net for families with children  has always been less generous and less funded compared with other rich countries.

 “When the pandemic struck and so many jobs were lost, there were big holes in the safety net, especially for those who couldn’t access unemployment insurance because of their migration status or because they left work ‘voluntarily’ to care for children when schools closed,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, IPR director.

“The prevalence of hunger in the US is a political choice,” said Molly Anderson, professor of food studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. “Inequalities are down to political decisions.” 

Aid was often delayed by bipartisanship or bureaucracy, it was mostly temporary, and far from universal, with some vulnerable communities such as undocumented migrants and cash-in-hand workers excluded almost entirely. Millions of struggling Americans lost federal unemployment benefits between August and January as lawmakers bickered over how much people deserved. Even if economic and food assistance reached struggling families none of the short term federal fixes came close to mitigating existing racial inequalities that had left Americans of color less able to weather unexpected economic storms.

In 2019, at the end of a period of historical economic expansion, unemployment for Black Americans was double that for white Americans, while the poverty rate for Black children was triple. Black and Latino workers are significantly more likely to earn the minimum wage or less than white workers. When the pandemic struck, the average Black family had $1,500 in emergency savings, whereas a typical white family had more than five times that amount. Only 10% of Latino families had enough savings to cover six months of expenses, compared with 36% of white families.

The past year has been particularly tough for children from low-income households, who are disproportionately Black, brown and Indigenous. Before the pandemic, more than 20 million children got free school lunches; just over half of those also received for free breakfast. “The biggest challenge has been getting food to hungry kids out of school,” said Regi Young, chief strategy officer at the Houston food bank.

 " The truth is, we’re never going to foodbank our way out of hunger,” said Stuart Haniff, CEO of the RGV Food Bank.

America’s year of hunger: how children and people of color suffered most | Food | The Guardian

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The autonomy of a woman's body


The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has released a report highlighting the inability of women control their own bodies and be free from violence or coercion.

Nearly half of the world's women, in 57 countries, are denied the right to say yes or no to sex with their partner, use contraception or seek healthcare.

Twenty countries still allow rapists to marry their victims to avoid criminal prosecution.

Dr Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA, said such laws were “deeply wrong” and were “a way of subjugating women. The denial of rights cannot be shielded in law. ‘Marry your rapist’ laws shift the burden of guilt on to the victim and try to sanitise a situation which is criminal.” She explains, “The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek healthcare should outrage us all,” said Kanem. “In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others.”

43 countries have no legislation criminalising marital rape.

Dima Dabbous, director of Equality Now’s Middle East and Africa region, whose research is cited in the UNFPA report, said the laws reflected a culture “that does not think women should have bodily autonomy and that they are the property of the family. It’s a tribal and antiquated approach to sexuality and honour mixed together”.

More than 30 countries restrict women’s freedom outside the home.

“The denial of bodily autonomy is a violation of women and girls’ fundamental human rights that reinforces inequalities and perpetuates violence arising from gender discrimination,” said Kanem. “It is nothing less than an annihilation of the spirit, and it must stop.”

‘Marry your rapist’ laws in 20 countries still allow perpetrators to escape justice | Women's rights and gender equality | The Guardian

Another WHO Goal

 In 2019, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) killed more than 80,000 people and caused the loss of more than 18 million disability-adjusted life years (a measure of the burden of disease burden, expressed as the years lost to ill health, disability or early death.) 

Nonetheless, the resources allocated to help people suffering from NTDs remain scarce Despite their collective impact, do not attract as much attention as diseases such as HIV/Aids, malaria or tuberculosis.

 Currently, the WHO identifies 20 NTDs, different conditions that are caused by parasites, bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins, with complex transmission cycles involving multiple vectors – mosquitoes, sandflies or dogs via routes such as  oral, through the skin or congenital.

 Though medically diverse, NTDs can slowly kill, blind, disfigure and debilitate their victims. They cause untold suffering to victims and caregivers in the poorest communities and contribute to perpetuating a cycle of disease, stigma and poverty.

The WHO roadmap for NTDs sets a goal to “control and eliminate the NTDs by 2030”.

Neglected tropical diseases are the landmines of global health | Global health | The Guardian

Government promise to tenants broken

 700,000 renters are estimated to have been served with “no-fault” eviction notices since the start of the pandemic, despite a government promise to scrap the practice with the announcement that “private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice and without good reason”. The renters’ reform bill, which promised to abolish no-fault evictions, was announced in the last Queen’s speech in December 2019 but has not yet been delivered.

Section 21 eviction notices are still in use and ministers are now facing a new push to deliver on their promise from a new coalition for reform of renters’ rights, which includes the charities Generation Rent, Crisis and Shelter, as well as Citizens Advice and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said private renters have “had a bad deal for too long – living at the mercy of a broken and unfair system”.

Sue James, the chair of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, said: “Private renters face high rents, poor living conditions and perpetual instability. This causes needless disruption to people’s lives: their finances, work, health and their children’s education. Renters need certainty to enable them to put down roots in communities and create real homes in rented properties.”

About 700,000 renters served with ‘no-fault’ eviction notices since start of pandemic | Renting property | The Guardian

Sheikh owns more of the UK than the queen

 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. and his close family,  has acquired a land and property empire in Britain that appears to exceed 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres), making him one of the country’s largest landowners.

The property portfolio ranges from mansions, stables and training gallops across Newmarket, to white stucco houses in some of London’s most exclusive addresses and extensive moorland including the 25,000-hectare Inverinate estate in the Scottish Highlands. It surpasses the size of the Queen’s personal estates, according to Guy Shrubsole, a leading expert in land ownership.

The exact scale of his British landholding is not known because most of the properties connected to him are owned via offshore companies in the tax havens of Guernsey and Jersey. That raises familiar questions about the secretive nature of large amounts of property ownership in Britain, and whether it is structured in ways to avoid paying UK taxes when the properties are sold.

Revealed: the huge British property empire of Sheikh Mohammed | Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum | The Guardian

Please, more trees

 Woodland now covers 13% of UK land.

About half is made up of native tree species, such as oak, beech and ash, including centuries-old ancient woodlands. The remaining half comprises non-native trees such as conifers grown commercially for timber.

"Wildlife is going down - woodland birds, woodland butterflies, woodland plants are all going in the wrong direction for woodlands as a whole," Chris Reid, lead author of the report by the Woodland Trust, told BBC News. "This is down to factors such as pollution, invasive species, deer browsing and fragmentation - woods chopped up into small parcels. All of these need to be tackled."

Ancient woodlands continue to be lost and damaged by house building, new road and railways, the report says.

The Committee on Climate Change, the government's independent adviser on tackling climate change, has called for the planting of more trees and woodlands if the UK is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It recommends increasing UK woodland cover from its current level of 13% of total land cover to at least 17%, and possibly to 19% by 2050.

UK woodlands 'at crisis point' amid wildlife decline - BBC News