Monday, June 26, 2017

Indian Inequality

Does it matter whether some individual rising above the $1.90 poverty line achieves a new income level of $2.15 or of $5.50? 

Government statistics show that the share of the population below the national poverty line fell from 45 per cent in 1993 to 37 per cent in 2004 and further to 22 per cent by 2011. Since the country’s economy was growing fast during this period, it seemed easy to connect the two things and claim that it was national economic growth that had caused the observed rapid reduction in poverty. India’s poverty line at the time of writing is still among some of the lowest in the world, set at a level lower even than the one applied by some of the least-developed countries. The claim, however, about rapid poverty reduction has been advanced on the basis of this penurious definition. If one were to work, instead, with the median developing country poverty line of $3.10/day—a more appropriate standard, given India’s present circumstances—the extent of poverty reduction is decidedly smaller. Between 1993 and 2009, a period of rapid national growth, the share of the population below the $3.10 poverty line fell by less than half as much as the share below the low national poverty level. The total number of $3.10-poor people increased over the same period. Among all countries, India has the largest number of $3.10-poor people. Nearly 60 per cent of the country’s population, and more than 70 per cent of rural India, were poor by this definition in 2015.

For many who depend upon agriculture, the vicissitudes of the seasons add another source of risk and fluctuation. No particular month’s income (or expenditure) provides an accurate reflection of such a family’s usual circumstances. If calculations of monthly expenditures are made right after the harvest, then one gets one set of poverty numbers, but if these calculations are made, instead, in the months of the monsoon, the hardest time of the year, when money and food supplies are both running low and there are many diseases, then a much larger number of households will be found in poverty. India, together with other developing countries, has a large number of people who experience wide fluctuations in their economic circumstances. Many among them cycle in and out of poverty, never quite escaping its clutches. The numbers of these people are not separately counted by official agencies, and because their existence is not recognized, no particular assistance has been provided. Smaller-scale studies have helped cover this important gap in poverty knowledge. Undertaken in different parts of India, these studies show that between 55 and 88 per cent of all households had experienced poverty for the entire year or for shorter periods. These numbers are much larger than the official poverty estimate, and in many ways, they more accurately reflect the everyday lives of poorer people.

Between one-third and one-half of all poor people were not born to poverty, the results show; these people have become poor within their lifetimes.  Focus on the aggregate number, upon quantity rather than quality, has led to two kinds of tunnel vision. Officials assess poverty in terms of the share of the poor in the total population. But neither do they pay heed to how many people actually escaped poverty or how many fell into poverty nor are they usually concerned with how high above the poverty line different individuals have ascended. Official statistics do not help distinguish between the number of poverty escapes that were of a marginal kind (a rise from $1.90 to $2.15) and how many others moved far beyond the zone of poverty (say, to the $5.50 level). In the official count, every escape from poverty is totted up as a success, even those that are marginal and temporary.

To end inequality, contact:
257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086
Tel: 2425-0208 (ISD: 091, STD: 033)

The Gaza Strip Prison

The blockade dictates the day-to-day reality for people in Gaza, where Israel controls the borders, airspace, and waters. Gaza's isolation has devastated its economy, impoverished much of the Strip's two million people, and left them without adequate electricity, water and health services. 
Poverty contributes to poor health, and poor health leads to poverty - it's a vicious cycle. In Gaza, poverty is rife. At 41.1 percent, the unemployment rate is the highest in the world (youth unemployment is just shy of 64 percent), over a fifth of the population lives in "deep poverty", and 80 percent of the population depends on international aid, primarily for food assistance.
The executive director, Dr Adnan al-Wahaidi, Ard el Insan (AEI), a local NGO, says cases of acute malnutrition with signs of severe wasting among young children in Gaza are increasing.But the real public health concern is chronic malnutrition, characterised by stunting and rickets, says Wahaidi, who has seen rates increase by about 50 percent over the past decade among children aged five years and younger, rising from nine percent to 13.4 percent of the population.  Chronic malnutrition during formative years can lead to irreversible consequences and side effects that will affect the body's physiological systems, including the immune system, as well as cognitive achievements and physical development.
Gaza is witnessing other worrying trends - rising rates in younger age groups of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 1 diabetes, and cancers. He says obesity among children is rising sharply as more families rely on cheap, high-caloric foods because they cannot afford basic, nutrient-rich foods.
The blockade and three Israeli military assaults have had a profound toll on mental health in Gaza, too.
Substance abuse, suicide, domestic violence, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) have increased among adults, as have bed-wetting, low academic achievement, nightmares, fear and anxiety among children, according to Dr Sami Oweida, a psychiatric consultant at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP). He also notes a rise in somatoform disorders - a form of mental illness in which a patient complains of physical ailments, including pain and fatigue that have no apparent physical cause. According to a recent study published in PLOS ONE, a multidisciplinary research journal, Palestinians suffer the highest rates of mental disorders among all Eastern Mediterranean countries. The study attributes this to 50 years of occupation and exposure to related political violence. Dr Oweida says that work the GCMHP undertakes at their centre, coupled with outreach and capacity-building work with local partners, cannot keep pace with the demand. "Any effective therapy is pointless because of the blockade - that is the root cause. The high levels of unemployment, especially among men, the traditional head of the family who can't protect the family and secure its basic needs - that creates anger and frustration ... and is often expressed through violence in the home," he told Al Jazeera. "People see no reason for optimism - they are trapped in a large prison. There is no horizon, no political solutions. The people anticipate a new military assault, it is always on their minds. There are constant reminders of provocation, through drones, sirens, destroyed buildings ... It creates high levels of anxiety in everyone. Nothing will help, except ending the blockade and giving dignity back to the people." 
Life for the people of Gaza has become characterised by soaring unemployment, acute fuel shortages, electricity supply for a couple of hours a day, a crippled water and sanitation system, prison-like movement restrictions, and the ever-looming threat of full-scale Israeli aggression on the horizon. Given the current local and international political landscape, conditions seem likely to deteriorate further, compounding adverse conditions for health and pushing a basic and fragile health system ever closer to collapse.
Following the shutdown of the Strip's only power plant after it ran out of fuel, Gaza's 14 public hospitals and 16 health facilities now "face partial or complete closure of essential services", according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Gaza's hospitals, operating on a limited reserve of emergency fuel, donated most recently by the United Nations, have partially closed a number of services to cope with the fuel shortage. With Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) unwilling to supply more electricity or fuel, Gaza's hospitals and health clinics will be forced to stop critical services - this will be immediately life-threatening for newborns in critical care, patients in intensive care units (ICU), and hundreds of haemodialysis patients. It could also compromise refrigerated blood and vaccine stocks.
United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories Robert Piper expressed urgent concern about steps by the PA and Israeli authorities to further reduce energy supplies to Gaza, warning that if implemented, the situation would become catastrophic. "A further increase in the length of blackouts is likely to lead to a total collapse of basic services, including critical functions in the health, water and sanitation sectors," he said.
According to a 2016 WHO report, "nearly 50 percent of Gaza Strip's medical equipment is outdated and the average wait for spare parts is approximately six months"

Hammam Alyazji - 35 - marketing specialist, explains, "There is no future here, no work and no life. We don't have even the most basic necessities in life, which many people do not even think about, such as electricity.Freedom of movement, electricity, and open borders are a luxury to us. I think in the past 10 years, Gaza has been pushed back by 50 years. The energy of the youth is going to waste."

The question is when

Emerging markets such as China are showing the same signs that their economies are overheating as the US and the UK demonstrated before the financial crisis of 2007-08, according to the annual report of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).
Claudio Borio, the head of the BIS monetary and economic department, said a new recession could come “with a vengeance” and “the end may come to resemble more closely a financial boom gone wrong”.
The BIS, which is sometimes known as the central bank for central banks and counts Bank of England Governor Mark Carney among its members, warned of trouble ahead for the world economy. It predicted that central banks would be forced to raise interest rates after years of record lows in order to combat inflation which will “smother” growth. The group also warned about the threat poised by rising debt in countries like China and the rise in protectionism such as in the USA.
Chinese corporate debt has almost doubled since 2007, now reaching 166 per cent of GDP, while household debt rose to 44 per cent of GDP last year. Moody's cut China's credit rating for the first time since 1989 from A1 to Aa3 which could potentially raise the cost of borrowing for the Chinese government. The BIS’s credit-to-GDP gap indicator also showed debt, which is seen as an “early warning indicator” for a country’s banking system, is rising far faster than growth in other Asian economies such as Thailand and Hong Kong. 

Capitalism - Putting a price on everything

Deloitte Access Economics calculated that the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is worth A$56bn (£33bn; $42bn), a value 12 times greater than the Sydney Opera House.

 The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a charity dedicated to protecting the World Heritage-listed natural feature commented,  "the Great Barrier Reef is justifiably considered priceless and irreplaceable."

Mass coral bleaching in consecutive years damaged two-thirds of the reef, according to surveys.

LSD - A new way of thinking - Turn on and tune in

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not the keeper of some Marxian "Holy Grail". Many of the ideas that are central to our position are in fact shared by others . We address our case to the working class of the world as a whole, rather than any particular interest group or the left-wing's supposed "advanced” sections.

How do we move from just protest and resistance to actually figuring out how we actually reorganise society is a central question to be talked about. The word “revolution” gets thrown around so much, we really have to be clear on what we mean when we talk about a revolution and to be equally clear on the means to strive for revolution. We need a clear vision for how to go about achieving a new society.

Too often people are stuck in a reactive phase because there is so much urgent immediate events happening has to be addressed, but now a lot more people are the question about "How do we actually move beyond defensive struggles and really start figuring out what we're fighting for and what sort of strategy is required to get there?" We definitely need more discussion on that. We cannot permit populist political campaigns to keep on polarising people according to nationality, gender or sexual orientation, nor skin colour. 

Our debates should focus on the strengths of the workers' movements but also their limitations so that we can challenge capitalism and win political power to make the decisions and not just be on the outside looking in, simply protesting.

 It is exciting to see, even in the midst of all the tragedies, that people are finding creative ways to come together and fight. There is much resilience in working class and it helps to remember that we always have to keep resisting.  We should create mass popular social movements which maintain a balance of autonomy and unity so that we can grow in a non-hierarchical way, guided by an agreed set of socialist principles.

The Lothian Socialist Discussion group, just like LSD, is aimed at expanding your consciousness – your class consciousness.  

Wednesday, 28 June  
7:30pm - 9:00pm
The Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh,
17 West Montgomery Place, 
Edinburgh EH7 5HA

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Grenfell Tower & Working Class Lives

According to reports victims of the Grenfell Tower fire will be rehoused in a development where some apartments sell for £8.5 million.

It takes the destruction of where people live for them to have the opportunity to live in far superior homes.

In a sane world there would only one standard -- the best that we could possibly make.

A world where we produce the best goods and services because they are needed -- not for profit.

New Zealand's Inequality

Low levels of reduced income mobility in New Zealand mean people in rich families tended stay rich and those in poor families stay poor. The rising cost of houses had kept many people out of home ownership between 2001 and 2013. The worst affected age group was 30 to 44.

 Derek Gill, principal economist at NZIER said, "The data tells us that our current level of income inequality is actually the same as it was in the 1930s and 1940s."

World Socialist Party (New Zealand)
P.O. Box 1929
Auckland, NI
New Zealand

Quote of the Day

“I am personally shocked about how technology is used as a tyrant in the workplace. Tracking people going to the toilet. Tracking the work they do … All of that feels Dickensian in its failure to respect workers as human beings. They are just commodities. There is something really sickening about it.” -  Frances O'Grady, TUC

Fairly traded or fairly treated?

Sainsbury’s executives met farmers from some of Africa’s biggest tea-growing co-operatives in a hotel in Nairobi last month where the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade products precipitated the greatest crisis in the scheme’s 25-year history by telling the 13 major tea groups and their 228,000 co-operative members that it intended to drop the globally known Fairtrade mark for their produce, and replace it with the phrase “fairly traded”. Iit is now feared that bananas, sugar, chocolate and dozens of other Fairtrade lines sold in the company’s 2,100 stores will eventually be withdrawn from Fairtrade as the company rolls out its own ethical trading scheme.

In place of the strict rules devised by farmers’ groups working with independent development experts to guarantee consumers that small-scale farmers are being rewarded with decent pay and bonuses, the £23bn-a-year retailer said it planned to set up its own in-house certification scheme, set new ethical standards and introduce a different way to pay the groups. The farmers at the meeting with Sainsbury’s, mostly from Malawi, Rwanda, and Kenya, were nonplussed. “Why change a system that has worked well for 25 years for both poor farmers and large supermarkets?” asked one. Had not the supermarket reaped tens of millions of pounds’ profit and huge moral kudos by pioneering Fairtrade and inviting customers to pay a bit more for their produce?
 Sainsbury’s is just one of many large food and drink companies rethinking their supply chains, looking to cut costs and devising their own environmental and labour policies. Because Sainsbury’s is so important for Fairtrade, the company’s move could be the beginning of the end of the scheme, and lead to lower social and labour standards, more hardship in developing countries and deep confusion among consumers, say some development and ethical trading groups.
“This move by Sainsbury’s represents a tip in the balance back to the powerful retailers,” says Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate, the highly successful ethical trading company part-owned by tens of thousands of cocoa farmers in Ghana.
To add to the woes of the Fairtrade brand, it was revealed last week that Tesco will move all its own-label coffee from Fairtrade to another ethical certification scheme, the Rainforest Alliance and it follows a similar announcement by the retailer earlier this year that it will do the same with its own-brand tea.
The fractious Nairobi meeting made clear the despair felt by small farmers at the global trading system, in which supermarkets and shippers make big profits from importing raw produce from developing countries but barely anything goes to the farmers.  Oxfam, Cafod, Christian Aid, the Women’s Institute and several major ethical trading and co-operative groups together representing millions of consumers, urged it to rethink its plans.
“We feel that our rights are being taken away from us, this feels like colonialism,” said one man at the meeting. 
“We want to be partners and friends. You want to control me," said another.
 Sales of Fairtrade products are said to be slipping and the company feels it is not getting value for the £60m which it says it has “invested” in ethical trading since 1994. Although it sells nearly £200m of Fairtrade produce a year, overall company profits dropped 8% last year and in a fierce retail environment it now wants more credit for investing in poor farmers. 
Mike Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation explained, “Sainsbury’s call it a pilot scheme, but it’s over no defined period. Where is the detail? Who will administer it? Does it have enough staff? This is unacceptable and we must draw a line. The suspicion must be that they are trying to save costs. The question is why have they changed for what may be an inferior scheme?”

The Growing Housing Crisis

Low wages, freezes to benefits and rising costs of renting could cause more than 1 million households ( including 375,000 with at least one person in work) to become homeless by 2020. It estimates that 211,000 households in which no one works because of disability could be forced to go.

The study by the homelessness charity Shelter shows that rising numbers of families on low incomes are not only unable to afford to buy their own home but are also struggling to pay even the lowest available rents in the private sector, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness.

The Shelter report highlights how a crisis of affordability and provision is gripping millions with no option but to look for homes in the private rented sector due to a shortage of social housing.
Shelter says that in 83% of areas of England, people in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and the cheapest rents, and that this will rise as austerity bites and the lack of properties tilts the balance more in favour of landlords.
Shelter says landlords are becoming choosier about who they rent out properties to, with many refusing to take those in receipt of benefits. Delays in payment have made them more reluctant to take on people they cannot rely on to pay up promptly.
Other factors make it near-impossible for many on low incomes to find the money to start a private tenancy. “The upfront cost of private renting prohibits low-income households from accessing the private rented sector and means that many are forced to borrow, starting a tenancy in debt,” says Shelter.

Yemen's cholera spreads

Once again the British government prefers to turn a blind eye to the realities of its support for a belligerent Saudi Arabia.
 Yemen is now facing the worst cholera outbreak anywhere in the world, the United Nations has warned. A statement by Unicef and the World Health Organization says the number of suspected cholera cases in the war-torn country has exceeded 200,000.
So far more than 1,300 people have died - one-quarter of them children - with the death toll expected to rise.
"We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world," the statement says. "In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every governorate of this war-torn country."
It says there are an estimated 5,000 new cases every day. Hospitals are overcrowded and severe food shortages have led to widespread malnutrition, making Yemenis - especially children - even more vulnerable to cholera.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Co-ops and the Unions

Seward Community Food Co-op workers have now voted by an overwhelming count to unionize, becoming the last food retail co-op in Minneapolis to do so.

Workers lost their voice,” said Gina Montenaro, 37, a Seward cashier. “When Seward expanded, it became more corporate.” 

Cashier Bea Cooper, 23, read a statement accusing Seward managers of “unequal and unfair application of discipline, discrimination and harassment in the workplace” and “intimidation through various means, including one-on-one meetings.”

Amy Swenson, 41, who works on samples offered at the stores, said in an interview that since she began the organizing effort, she has been disciplined several times. She said that hasn’t deterred her. “It’s made me more fired up,” she said.

Food co-ops in Minneapolis have seen a recent surge in unionization. Linden Hills Co-op and East Side Food Co-op, each with about 85 eligible employees, were unionized this year by Local 653, and the Wedge Community Co-op, which has about 160 employees, was unionized in 2015 by UFCW Local 1189.

When Whole Foods of Duluth, Minnesota, (no relation to Whole Foods Market, the anti-union, anti-co-op) began their drive, the management resisted. Quoting from an AFL-CIO newsletter: “All efforts to ask Whole Foods board and management to recognize the union or at least stay neutral … were met with ‘that’s against our belief system’ from them,” said UFCW organizer Abraham Wangnoo. 

Cooperatives exist within a market system, their interests are to compete with other companies and expand their market share. Advocating cooperatives is akin to allowing small groups of slaves on a small number of plantations to self-manage themselves. It makes life better for some, but it doesn’t end the system of exploitation. Using the term “wage slavery” socialists mean that workers under capitalism are not ‘slaves’ to a particular boss, but through the system of wages they are compelled to work for bosses as a class in order to survive. It is whysocialists believe that an end to capitalism requires a struggle for the abolition of the wage system. 

The World Burns

Record high temperatures are gripping much of the globe and more hot weather are to come. This implies more drought, more food insecurity, more famine and more massive human displacements. it is feared that advancing drought and deserts, growing water scarcity and decreasing food security may provoke a huge ‘tsunami” of climate refugees and migrants.

High May and June temperatures have broken records in parts of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported, adding that the heat-waves have arrived unusually early.

Average global surface temperatures over land and sea are the second highest on record for the first five months of 2017, according to analyses by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting Copernicus Climate Change Service.

In Portugal, extremely high temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius contributed to the severity of the devastating, fast-moving weekend wildfires that ripped through the country’s forested Pedrógão Grande region, some 150 kilometres (95 miles) north-east of Lisbon, leaving dozens dead and more injured.
Portugal is not the only European country experiencing the effects of the extreme weather, as neighbouring Spain – which had its warmest spring in over 50 years – and France, have seen record-breaking temperatures. France is expected to continue see afternoon temperatures more than 10 degrees above the average for this time of year.
Meantime in Spain, spring (from 1 March to 31 May 2017) has been extremely warm, with an average temperature of 15.4 ° C, which is 1.7 ° C above the average of this term (reference period 1981-2010), the UN specialised body informs. Many other parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, also witnessed above average temperatures into the low to mid 30°s.
The US is also experiencing record or near-record heat, WMO reported. In parts of the desert southwest and into California, temperatures have hovered near a blistering 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).
Media reports on 20 June suggested that some plane traffic was halted in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport in Arizona because it was too hot to fly. The flight cancellations came amidst of one of the hottest days in the past 30 years of record keeping in the US state.
Near record-to-record heat has also been reported in the desert South West US and into California, with highs near 120°F (49°C) in places. More than 29 million Californians were under an excessive heat warning or advisory at the weekend. Phoenix recorded 118°C (47.8°C) on 19 June. A number of flights to Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport were reportedly cancelled because it was too hot to fly.
And the so-called Death Valley National Park, California, issued warnings to visitors to expect high temperatures of 100°F to over 120°F (38°C to over 49°C). Death Valley holds the world record for the highest temperature, 56.7°C recorded in 1913.
Temperature in United Arab Emirates topped 50°C on 17 May, while in the centre of Iran’s Kuzestan province in the South-East of the country, neighbouring Iraq, temperatures reached 50°C on 15 June, said the UN specialised agency.
The heat-wave in Morocco peaked on 17 May, when there was a new reported record of 42.9°C Larach Station in northern Morocco.
The high June temperatures follow above average temperatures in parts of the world at the end of May. The town of Turbat in South-Western Pakistan reported a temperature of 54°C. 
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), alerted that by 2025 –that’s in less than 8 years from today– 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on 20 June signed with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) an agreement to deepen cooperation to respond to climate variability and climate change, “represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies, natural ecosystems and food security.”

Qatar Scabbing Threat

In advance of the 16-day strike by some British Airways cabin crew based at Heathrow, the Unite union reveals the strike-breaking tactics of BA is to draft in nine Airbus A320 and A321 jets from Qatar Airways and their crews to cover for the Mixed Fleet strike, which is planned for 1-16 July.

The Gulf air-carrier has plenty of spare aircraft, because its short-haul routes to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other destinations have been grounded as part of a geo-political row.

Humanity is my family and the world my home

Armed Forces Day takes place to-day, with the national event in Liverpool one of more than a record 300 across the country,  as a chance for people to show their support for those connected with the armed forces.
Well, members of the Socialist Party will not be expressing any support for Britain's military. Patriotism and nationalism are artificial restrictions of mankind’s sympathy and mutual help; as obstacles to the expansion of the human mind; as impediments to the needful and helpful development of human unity and co-operation; as bonds that bound people to slavery; as incentives that set brothers and sisters at each other's throats.
Like religion, militarism has its vestments, its ceremonies, its sacred emblems, its sacred hymns and inspired music; all of which are called in support of the class interests of our masters. The problem of war, militarism, and armaments is just one of the many which must arise as long as there is private property and production for sale instead of common property and production for use.
Those who own the world and its instruments of production compete against each other in buying raw materials and in selling finished products. This competition is not just economic; political means too are used. The competing owners, in groups, have at their disposal armed forces. To protect and further their interests is why these forces exist. The economic conditions of capitalism make them necessary. Any group of owners which controlled no armed forces would be in a sorry state. Not only would it be unable to keep others off its own wealth but it would also be unable to take and hold sources of raw materials or to erect tariff barriers to keep others out of a market or to control ports and trade routes around the world. In other words it would soon go under. The owners thus compete by political and economic means for sources of raw materials, markets and trade routes. When other political means fail all that is left is brute force—the organised, scientific killing and destruction that is war.
Not only must groups of owners have armed forces but they are always under pressure to equip them with the most destructive weapons. For in their struggles might is right. So resources are devoted to research into nuclear physics, biochemistry, and space, to develop ever more destructive weapons. Men and women are enticed and recruited into the armed forces and trained to kill, wound and destroy.
Militarism is the inevitable outcome of commerce, of the buying and selling that goes with the private ownership of the world’s resources. To abolish militarism we must abolish commerce. To abolish commerce we must replace private property by common property. Only then will the resources of the world be able to provide the plenty they are capable of, instead of being wasted on such things as armies.

'To The Advocates of Militarism'
    Compel them to come in, for there shall be
    A feast well-spread, to suit the taste of all-
    Ruin and pain and untold misery;
    The downward trend, the devastating fall,
    From every higher impulse; robes to wear
    Woven of fraud, hypocrisy and lies.
    Compel them to come in that all may share
    This wolfish feast of bloodstained infamies.
    Not yours the chains of slavery to break;
    You heed no woman's sorrows, no man's groans,
    No flag of freedom in the breeze unfurled.
    Your passion is destruction, you would make
    A world-wide graveyard full of dead men's bones.
    Whence reeks a stench that sickens all the world.
  F. J. Webb (1916)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Blood Money

To deter refugees from reaching its shores, Australia has a policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Unauthorised boat arrivals are sent to Australian-run camps on Nauru or Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, without the prospect of resettlement in Australia. Last week, the Australian Government settled a class action brought on behalf of 1950 people who have been detained on Manus Island by agreeing to pay AUD$70 million, likely the largest human rights settlement in Australian history. But money cannot make good their suffering. The UN, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and others have detailed the disgraceful human cost of this policy.

 Arbitrary and indefinite detention has caused detainees severe mental anguish and suffering, which has been compounded by an insufficient medical care and unsafe living arrangements. The full extent of this tragedy is beyond enumeration here, but includes high rates of self-harm and suicide attempts, including by children; sexual and physical abuse of adults and children by guards and other detainees; the murder of Reza Berati on Manus Island in 2014; the death of Hamid Kehazaei by sepsis following delayed medical transfer from Manus Island in 2014; and the self-immolation of two detainees on Nauru in 2016. Amnesty International's 2016 conclusion that “the Australian Government has set up a deliberate system of abuse” is plain.

The Australian Government asserts—without evidence—that this policy is the only effective strategy to protect the nation's borders from “illegal” and potentially dangerous arrivals, and to prevent further deaths at sea. The claim that the lives of these men, women, and children are the cost of national security or somehow serve an altruistic purpose is perverse.

In April, 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants reported that Australia must immediately close the camps, swiftly process all outstanding claims on the Australian mainland, and implement a rights-based approach to migration. 

From The Lancet

The Food Revolution

Every ninth person on the planet suffers from hunger. The situation is so dire in some countries that 20 million people are at acute risk of death by starvation. How is this possible at a time of a global food surplus? FAO head José Graziano da Silva related how "People still think that famine is caused by lack of food." He continued. "Since the Green Revolution in the 1960s, we produce more than enough food," Graziano da Silva says, "enough for 10 billion people and more."

The fact that the global population is growing doesn't necessarily have to mean more people suffering from hunger. The world produces enough food for 10 or even 12 billion people, but a third of it is lost during harvest, transport or storage -- and much of it is ultimately thrown away by end consumers. In Germany alone, 28 million tons of foodstuffs are wasted every year. 

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly set itself the goal of "zero hunger," part of the package of Sustainable Development Goals passed that year.  The zero-hunger goal has recently been slipping further into the future rather than getting ever closer. 

In Somalia famine is spreading.  The situation is similarly dire in South Sudan, Yemen, and northeastern Nigeria. Twenty million people are at acute risk of death by starvation in these four countries and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien says that "we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN."

 800 million in the world are facing hunger today. How is it possible that humanity is unable to get this most existential and shameful problem of all under control?

 Combatting famine is not one of the stated goals of the G-20 plan. Its main focus is that of stopping migration. 

Somalia is no stranger to famine. It was only six years ago that the last record drought gripped the country, with 260,000 perishing from hunger. Today, the UN estimates that almost 7 million people -- more than half of the population -- need help. 

The region of Somaliland in the country's north declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but it has not been globally recognized as an autonomous republic.  Somaliland has long been seen as an African success story. But the government there does not have the means to handle a famine of the magnitude of this one. "We have six ambulances for a million people in our area of responsibility and no money to buy fuel or pay drivers," says Ali, the doctor. The fact that Somaliland hasn't been recognized internationally has meant that it receives little aid. Suffering has spread as a result. 

Somaliland's economy is almost entirely based on traditional animal husbandry, and when times are good, the region exports up to 4 million goats, sheep, camels and head of cattle per year to Arab countries and 75 percent of the government's budget comes from taxes on these exports. 

Shukri Bandare, Somaliland's environment minister and member of the National Drought Committee, explained, "We must free ourselves from animal husbandry," Bandare says. She tries to sound optimistic, even as she constantly uses the word "must." "We must expand our fisheries industry and change our diet." Somaliland, she points out, has petroleum reserves and the port of Berbera. "We must diversify our income." 

In South Sudan, the United Nations declared a famine -- the highest of five hunger warning levels -- in parts of the country, in which a civil war broke out in 2013. Corrupt, militaristic elites have discovered hunger as a weapon of war, with two men bearing most of the responsibility: Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. The two represent the country's largest ethnic groups, with President Kiir belonging to the Dinkas and his former deputy Machar hailing from the Nuers. Following independence in 2011, they launched a struggle for power that has been defined by ethnic rivalries. The fighting has made it extremely difficult for aid workers to reach the population.

Fully 5.5 million people, almost half of the country's population, are suffering from hunger, not a product of the climate, but of war -- and this despite the fact that the country is rich in natural resources. Nobody should face starvation there. But the aid organizations aren't just helping those suffering from hunger, they are also extending the war, says Jok Madut Jok, director of the Sudd Institute, an independent think tank in the capital of Juba. Jok used to be a development aid worker himself and has written several books about Sudan. "If you provide food to the population, you're also feeding the armed forces," he says. Much of the food supplies, he says, are either diverted to the army or distributed to families whose relatives are fighting in the conflict. "Emergency aid saves lives, but at the same time it impedes the finding of political solutions for the causes of suffering," Jok Madut Jok says, giving voice to the eternal aid dilemma. He argues that aid for South Sudan should be completely suspended. "Then our elites would be forced to come up with their own solutions."

Many aid workers are infuriated by such suggestions, particularly given that they often put their own lives at risk to help. Indeed, more than 100 aid workers have lost their lives in the last three-and-a-half years in South Sudan. "We're not going to let people suffer just so we have an argument for negotiations with local authorities," says the employee of one aid organization. "We have to act, we have no choice," says the aid worker. "That is the humanitarian imperative."

All of the hunger crises are caused by humans themselves. But what about the less visible part of the 800 million total: All those people facing hunger despite living in countries that haven't been beset by war or climate-related phenomena?

In Haiti they are facing a different form of hunger than the kind present in Somaliland and South Sudan: a chronic, day-to-day shortage of food. Every second Haitian is undernourished and the small Caribbean country, with its almost 11 million residents, was listed in 4th place on the 2016 Global Hunger Index. "We should eat enough," an aid worker begins, "and the food should be clean." In Haiti, unclean means contaminated with cholera bacteria.  If Haiti is known for anything, then it is for the armies of aid organizations that are active in the country. Some of them have been here for decades. climate change is a factor, bringing storms and sudden, unpredictable rainy periods. A drought in the northern part of the country and flooding in the south. The sea level is rising, creating salt deposits in the soil. Plus, forests are logged illegally to produce charcoal, which leads to landslides. All of that contributes to a situation in which farmers have great difficulty cultivating their fields. The result is that Haiti is dependent on food imports, which has likewise weakened its agricultural sector. The country's most important economic sector is agriculture and corruption consumes a large portion of state revenues. There is also a significant amount of wasted effort because some aid projects lack coordination or are of questionable utility in the first place.

"It is very disappointing," says Graziano da Silva, "that we cannot get together and find solutions for these political issues." Graziano da Silvva says the number of people suffering from hunger is likely to continue climbing. He says donor countries that fund organizations such as the FAO, are displaying "symptoms of fatigue."

On average, the world's poor spend 70 percent of their money on food. If prices rise for rice, wheat or corn, people quickly find themselves in a life-threatening situation. They are the victims of a global game that others play to enrich themselves: speculation on the commodities markets. For decades, the food trade was rather unspectacular. Farmers sold their harvests at a set price on the futures markets; futures are contracts for future sales or purchases of commodities. The system allowed farmers to hedge their risks while futures traders pumped money into the markets and buyers could purchase goods at any time. They were credit transactions that adhered to the rules of supply and demand.
But then, the financial industry discovered the market and in the 1990s, lobbyists were able to gain access to the foodstuffs markets. Since then, banks have also been allowed to invest heavily in commodities. But because large positions on single commodities were too risky, banks like Goldman Sachs invented so-called index funds, which bundle futures for things like corn or oil. Large investors and pensions funds were eager to take advantage of the offer. The result was that investors seeking to earn money on the commodities markets triggered additional price fluctuations, the consequences of which were made plain in 2010, when rapidly rising prices between the summer and winter of that year pushed fully 44 million people around the world under the poverty line. The world's hungry are left at the mercy of the speculators.  

Food should be produced where it is eaten. The decisive factor is not increasing productivity at all costs -- it's producing the food where it is needed. This works best in small rural structures. In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, for example, Arab and Chinese companies produce food for export even as the local population starves. 

If there is any country out there that is well-positioned to feed its hungry, India is the one. Its economy is growing faster than that of almost any other country, and it will replace Germany as the world's fourth largest economy within five years. In recent decades, the country has also managed to double its food production and has become a net exporter of rice and beef. India has a functioning government and a growing middle class. But India is also home to more undernourished people than any other country in the world: 195 million. Almost 40 percent of children under five are underdeveloped because they haven't received the nourishment they need -- numbers that are difficult to accept, and difficult to understand. And the situation isn't likely to improve any time soon, with the population of India set to rise to 1.7 billion by 2050 and global warming beginning to make its presence known in the country. 

The problems India has with feeding its population are rooted both in distribution shortcomings and in inequality. Members of lower castes suffer from hunger more often than those from higher castes and daughters are often worse off than sons. "Never in the history of humanity has a country created so much prosperity while achieving so little social justice," says Jean Drèze, one of the country's best-known economists. "The Indian elite are interested in a mission to Mars," says Drèze, "but not in the issue of hunger in the country." It isn't, he says, due to a shortage of resources, but the product of a lack of political will.

For as long as capitalism continues "zero hunger" will remain little more than a dream. We need to change the way in which we produce food. The agricultural industry is responsible for much of the species loss, environmental pollution and water shortages that plague our planet. Intensive use of pesticides and other pollutants, chemical fertilizers and heavy machinery endanger soil, water and wildlife. Industrial farming is the source of around one-third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. And that doesn't include the energy necessary for food transport and cooling. Modern technologies like green genetic engineering could be useful in helping to adjust food production to climate change. In the long term, we will need plants that can thrive despite droughts or salty soil. One way of getting there, though it is controversial, is through genetic engineering.

Adapted from here