Friday, June 18, 2021
The tobacco industry survives and thrives. It adapts to legislative and regulatory attempts to hinder the sale, promotion, and use of its products.
The number of smokers has increased from 0·99 billion in 1990 to 1·14 billion in 2019, who consumed 7·41 trillion cigarette-equivalents of tobacco in 2019.
5·96 million (77·5%) of 7·69 million smoking-attributable deaths in 2019 occurred in low-income and middle-income countries and that 66 (93%) of 71 countries that had significant increases in such deaths were low-income and middle-income countries.
WHO reported that although global tobacco cultivation decreased by 15·7% between 2012 and 2018, it increased by 3·4% in Africa. The number of adult users of tobacco in Africa increased from 64 million in 2000 to 73 million in 2018.
Cigarette taxes could be set high enough to crush the tobacco industry, but no governments will go that far. They rely on this revenue for deficit reduction and for things other than curbing smoking.
The vaunted 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the US state attorneys general and the tobacco industry, ostensibly to recover medical costs for disease caused by smoking, epitomises government addiction to tobacco money. States have spent only 3% of the annual payments to them from the industry to fight smoking, which in some instances is less than before the Master Settlement Agreement.
Increases in tobacco taxation might have reduced sales to the poorest consumers, but US cigarette manufacturers are still making huge profits and tobacco stocks remain a healthy investment.
In contrast to the trillions of dollars allocated by US Congress to address COVID-19, no major funding has ever been approved to fight smoking and its promotion.
The number of displaced people has doubled in the last decade.
The number of people leaving their homes due to persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations has increased to 82.4 million, according to the Global Trends report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The vast majority of refugees around the world are hosted by countries that are low- and middle-income nations. The world's least developed countries host 27% of the world's refugees.
At the end of last year, there were 20.7 million refugees under the UNHCR mandate, 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, and 3.9 million Venezuelans who fled their homes.
Turkey hosts the highest with 3.7 million refugees. Colombia was second with more than 1.7 million, including Venezuelans displaced abroad. Germany hosted the third-largest number with nearly 1.5 million.
A further 48 million people were displaced within their own country while there are 4.1 million asylum-seekers.
The UN estimates that almost 1 million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Furthermore, 42% of displaced persons are girls and boys under the age of 18. Many of them are at risk of remaining in exile for years to come, some potentially for the rest of their lives.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, more than 160 countries closed their borders while 99 countries made no exception for people who had sought international protection. Only 34,400 applications for resettlement were accepted — the lowest figure in 20 years.
Thursday, June 17, 2021
At least 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought since 2000.
Changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate breakdown is a key driver of drought, but the report also identifies the inefficient use of water resources and the degradation of land under intensive agriculture and poor farming practices as playing a role. Deforestation, the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, overgrazing and over-extraction of water for farming are also major problems, it says.
Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, said: “Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought is a major factor in land degradation and the decline of yields for major crops.”
Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a co-author of the report, pointed to the Danube in Europe, where recurring drought in recent years has affected transport, tourism, industry and energy generation.
The report, entitled Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Special Report on Drought 2021,
“We need to have a modernised view of drought,” he said. “We need to look at how to manage resources such as rivers and large watersheds.”
Boris Johnson secretly met Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the country’s prime minister, and his senior officials to discuss a free trade deal with the Gulf states and agreed to “further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation”.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), said:
“If Britain is truly seeking a free trade deal with a regime that holds political prisoners as hostages, tortures children and throws even mild critics in jail, it is imperative that human rights issues are at the core of any future trade relationship.”
Reprieve, the campaign group against the death penalty, pointed to the cases of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa – two men that have been facing execution since at least 2017 for what they “confessed” under torture. In a joint report coinciding with the visit, Reprieve and Bird said: “Between 2011 and 2020, Bahrain has sentenced at least 51 people to death. Between 2001 and 2010, the decade before the Arab spring, the number executed was seven.” They claimed that per head of the population, Bahrain’s record was not substantially better than Iran’s.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven said:
“I am dismayed but unfortunately not surprised that the prime minister rolled out the red carpet and put trade over torture with his meeting with the crown prince today. Even the official press release fails to mention human rights abuses.”
“Energy imbalance” refers to the difference between how much of the Sun’s “radiative energy” is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and surface, compared to how much “thermal infrared radiation” bounces back into space. “A positive energy imbalance means the Earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up,” Nasa said
Scientists from Nasa, the US space agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), reported in a new study that Earth’s “energy imbalance approximately doubled” from 2005 to 2019. The increase was described as “alarming”. The Earth is trapping nearly twice as much heat as it did in 2005, according to new research, described as an “unprecedented” increase amid the climate crisis.
The study found that this doubling is the result, in part, by an increase in greenhouse gases and water vapor, as well as decreases in clouds and ice.
Unless the rate of heat uptake slows, greater shifts in climate should be expected.
The world is in perpetual motion,
Flux of change never rests: Whatever is
For a moment, will no longer be. This
Natural algorithm of creation
Generates broad oceans and continents,
Flora and fauna, births and extinctions,
Tribes and empires, settlements and migrations,
Societies and their discontents.
Those who declare themselves for radical change
Have such aspirations well grounded,
Who speaks otherwise shall be confounded;
Where the old’s conserved, the new must impinge.
No matter how distant the prospect seems,
Time can realise what the present dreams.
June 17 is the UN-designated day related to turning degraded land into healthy.
In many countries, a drought will bring hunger and the need for migration to working people, but when the Western states of the USA suffer a serious drought, its inhabitants need to be told that there is a water shortage.
“Not everybody in California understands how bad this drought is…and how bad it could be,” said State Water Resources Water Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus when the report was first released. “There are communities in danger of running out of water all over the state.”
“This is a real emergency that requires a real emergency response,” argues Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “If Southern California does not step up and conserve its water, and if the drought continues on its epic course, there is nothing more that our water managers can do for us. Water availability in Southern California would be drastically reduced. With those reductions, we should expect skyrocketing water, food and energy prices, as well as the demise of agriculture.”
Groundwater, which is being treated as an endless and bountiful resource, maybe making up for recent water loss, but for how long remains to be seen. Without significant rainfall, groundwater will not be replenished.
America's largest reservoir is at an all-time low. Lake Mead has the potential to hold an impressive 26.12 million acre-feet of water when it's full. However, as of June 14, 2021, the reservoir held roughly 9 million acre-feet of water, about 36% of its full capacity after the region experienced over two decades of drought.
According to Silver Spoon Oligarchs: How America's 50 Largest Inherited-Wealth Dynasties Accelerate Inequality, a new report out Wednesday from the Institute for Policy Studies, the country's 50 wealthiest familie from 1983 to 2020 had amassed $1.2 trillion in assets. By comparison, the bottom half of all U.S. households—an estimated 65 million families—shared a combined total wealth of just twice that, at $2.5 trillion.
The fortunes of dynastic families increased at 10 times the rate of ordinary families.
For the 27 families that were on both the Forbes 400 list in 1983 and the Forbes Billion-Dollar Dynasties list in 2020 their combined assets have grown by 1,007% over those 37 years. This is an increase from $80.2 billion to $903.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. In contrast, between 1989 and 2019, the wealth of the typical family in the U.S. increased by just 93 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The five wealthiest dynastic families in the U.S. have seen their wealth increase by a median 2,484% from 1983 to 2020.
In 1983, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his children were worth just $2.15 billion (or $5.6 billion in 2020 dollars). By the end of 2020, Walton's descendants had a combined net worth of over $247 billion, an inflation-adjusted increase of 4,320%.
The Mars candy dynasty has seen its wealth increase 3,517% over the past 37 years, from $2.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $94 billion by 2020. The family has also spent large sums on public policy advocacy to change tax laws.
Cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder and her descendants have seen their wealth grow from just $1.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $40 billion in 2020. This is a growth rate of 2,465%.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
As in many of the mega-cities around the world Karachi in Pakistan is "re-developing" its slum areas. Pakistan’s supreme court backed the bulldozing of hundreds of homes, legalising the eviction of thousands who live along narrow waterways – nullahs – that criss-cross Karachi. At least 8,000 houses are being knocked down along the nullahs. The work, which began in February, is in response to the 2020 Karachi floods that saw choked up nullahs overflow and swamp the city along with improvements to Karachi’s water and sewage systems which are being financed by the World Bank.
When this exercise is completed (before this year’s monsoon, according to the plan), at least 100,000 people would perhaps have been rendered homeless. As many as 21,000 children would be out of school and without a home.
Architect and urban planner Arif Hasan says the government had no “proper plan”.
“They are not doing it merely to stop the flood but to make long roads along the nullahs connecting the Lyari expressway with the northern bypass, displace poor and benefit the rich.”
A French think-tank REN21's report Renewables 2021 Global Status Report (pdf) says that fossil fuels accounted for 80.3% of energy consumption in 2009, compared with 80.2% in 2019. Over that period, "modern renewables" only grew from 8.7% to 11.2%.
Many of us were brought up under the dark threat of nuclear war mushroom clouds. After the fall of the Soviet Union regime, many thought that the ominous possibility of an atomic war holocaust had passed. How wrong they all were, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
The world’s nine nuclear armed states may have downsized their military arsenals, but made up for their loss by increasing the number of weapons on high operational alert. As a result, the world is increasingly within striking distance of nuclear weapons—either by accident or by design.
The nine countries collectively possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021, a decrease from the 13, 400 that these states possessed at the beginning of 2020 since some of these weapons have gone into “retirement”.
Despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3,825, from 3,720 last year. 2,000 of these—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the US—were kept in a state of high operational alert ready for a strike.
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
An expedition involving 300 scientists from 20 countries led by Markus Rex said that the researchers had found that Arctic ice is retreating faster than ever before. The international expedition to the North Pole warned that the point could have already been reached at which irreversible global warming is triggered.
The expedition returned to Germany after 389 days drifting through the Arctic, bringing home devastating proof of a dying Arctic Ocean and warnings of ice-free summers in just decades. The ice was only half as thick and temperatures measured 10 degrees higher than during the Fram expedition undertaken by explorers and scientists Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen in the 1890s. Because of the smaller sea ice surface, the ocean was able to absorb more heat in the summer, in turn meaning that ice sheet formation in the autumn was slower than usual.
Rex said scientists found that the Arctic Ocean ice had retreated “faster in the spring of 2020 than since the beginning of records” and that “the spread of the sea ice in the summer was only half as large as decades ago.”
Monday, June 14, 2021
The UN General-Secretary Guterres said he was concerned that the richest nations have pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy since the pandemic, despite their promises of a green recovery. He warned that, "It’s now clear we are coming to a point of no return."
If the G-7 meeting is any indication of what we can expect at COP-26 later this year, we are all in for a tragic disappointment.
Oxfam’s head of inequality policy, Max Lawson, said:
“Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. We don’t need to wait for history to judge this summit a colossal failure, it is plain for all to see.”
Greenpeace UK’s executive director, John Sauven, said:
“Despite the green soundbites, Boris Johnson has simply reheated old promises and peppered his plan with hypocrisy, rather than taking real action to tackle the climate and nature emergency.”
In the American political process, the financial sector spent a record sum of nearly $3 billion on campaign contributions and lobbying during the 2019-2020 election cycle.
Wall Street has one goal: to maximize profits and uses the power of its wealth as leverage over the electoral and legislative processes. The wealthy have their own priorities, which are typically opposed to the needs of most Americans. The wealthy seek policies that make them richer, creating a cycle of political and economic inequality.
For Wall Street, spending massive sums on lobbying and campaign contributions is a highly calculated decision. Wall Street wants to derail financial regulation and keep low tax rates. It needs friendly legislators to do it, and it has something they want: money. Wall Street's priorities have become Congress' priorities.
Israel portrays itself as a small state simply acting in self-defence, in reality, it is carrying out a decades-long military occupation, denying Palestinian refugees the right to return and continuing to displace hundreds of families. It has one of the strongest militaries in the world, aided and abetted by the backing of international powers.
Approved export licences for arms sales from the UK to Israel cover components for small arms, ammunition, night-sight technology and intelligence. Recent research revealed that British-made military components and hardware were used by Israeli forces during last month’s airstrikes on Gaza, in spite of government claims about Britain’s tough arms export controls. The Israeli F-35 warplanes that are used to bomb the densely populated territory have component parts from a host of UK suppliers, including BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, Selex, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce. According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, between 2016 and 2020, the UK issued single individual export licences for arms sales to Israel to a value of £400m. This is a significant increase from the £67m in licences from 2011 to 2015.
The UK also imports Israeli-made weapons. For example, in 2016, Israel’s major arms producer, Elbit, in conjunction with Thales UK, completed delivery on most of the 54 Watchkeeper drones as part of an £800m contract. Between 2018 and 2020 the British Ministry of Defence bought £46m worth of military equipment from Elbit. Such weapons are marketed as “battle-tested” – demonstrating the ways that day-to-day violence against Palestinians spurs a profitable industry with international reach.
Last month in Leicester, campaigners occupied the rooftop of UAV Tactical Systems, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems. Elbit Systems UK has nine production sites and offices in the country. The Leicester facility manufactures the Hermes drone that has been used by Israel’s military in Gaza. Campaigners managed to disrupt production for several days before another protest started against an Elbit factory in Oldham.
British-based organisations such as War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade have called for an end to military exports to Israel and a review of UK arms sales.
Sunday, June 13, 2021
Women of colour are almost twice as likely to be on zero-hour contracts as white men and almost one and a half times more likely than white women. About one in six zero-hours contract workers are BAME, though BAME workers make up only one in nine workers overall.
The Trades Union Congress and the equality organisation Race on the Agenda (Rota) warned that far from providing greater flexibility, zero-hours contracts were trapping women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in low pay and insecure work, leaving them struggling to pay bills and plan their lives. The report described zero-hours contracts as “the most egregious example of one-sided flexibility at work”, handing the employer total control over their workers’ hours.
40% of BAME workers on insecure contracts said they faced the threat of losing their shifts if they turned down work, compared with 25% of insecure white workers. The findings “puncture the myth that zero-hours workers like the arrangement”
Half of BAME insecure workers have been allocated a shift at less than a day’s notice, and almost half of BAME insecure workers have had shifts cancelled with less than a day’s notice.
The report warns that this instability means many people’s incomes are subject to the whims of managers, which makes it hard for workers to plan their lives, look after their children and keep medical appointments.
The report reveals significant disparities along the lines of gender and race. For instance, 2.5% of white men were on zero-hours contracts in the last three months of 2020, compared with 4.1% of BME men. The highest proportions were found among BME women, at 4.5%, compared with 3.2% of white women.
Maurice Mcleod, the CEO of Rota, said: “People from marginalised communities are already most likely to find themselves on these types of contracts, and this is further embedding inequality into our society. Ignoring the impact of structural workplace racism on our society will see inequality grow and moves us even further away from the equal, thriving society we all want to live in.”
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This is what structural racism at work looks like – BAME workers getting trapped in jobs with the worst pay and the worst conditions, struggling to pay the bills and feed their families. Enough is enough. Ministers must challenge the systemic discrimination that holds BME workers back by banning zero-hours contracts and ending the scourge of insecure work. And they must introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting without delay.”