Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Our divided society - 50 years of the failure of reformism

Barriers to equality pose threats to democracy in the U.S. as the country remains segregated along racial lines and child poverty worsens. A new report  blames U.S. policymakers and elected officials, saying they’re not doing enough to heed the warning on deepening poverty and inequality as highlighted by the Kerner Commission a half-century ago, and it lists a number of areas where the country has seen “a lack of or reversal of progress.” People of color and those struggling with poverty are confined to poor areas with inadequate housing, underfunded schools and law enforcement that views those residents with suspicion

“Racial and ethnic inequality is growing worse. We’re resegregating our housing and schools again,” former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris of Oklahoma, a co-editor of the new report and last surviving member of the original Kerner Commission created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. “There are few more people who are poor now than was true 50 years ago. Inequality of income is worse.”

The percentage of people living in deep poverty — less than half of the federal poverty level — has increased since 1975. About 46 percent of people living in poverty in 2016 were classified as living in deep poverty — 16 percentage points higher than in 1975.

 The homeownership gap has widened for African-Americans, the report found. Three decades after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 passed, black homeownership rose by almost 6 percentage points. But those gains were wiped out from 2000 to 2015 when black homeownership fell 6 percentage points, the report says.

 Gains to end school segregation were reversed because of a lack of court oversight and housing discrimination. The court oversight allowed school districts to move away from desegregation plans and housing discrimination forced black and Latino families to move into largely minority neighborhoods. In 1988, for example, about 44 percent of black students went to majority-white schools nationally. Only 20 percent of black students do so today, the report says.

  • 22.8 percent of black Americans aged 25 to 29 are college graduates, in comparison to 42.1 percent of white Americans.
  • 21.8 percent: That's the poverty rate among black Americans. While the gap between black and white poverty rates has narrowed since the 1960s—when the black poverty rate sat at 34.7 percent, in comparison to 10 percent for white Americans—the black poverty rate today is still dramatically higher than the poverty rate among white Americans, which sits at 8.8 percent. Similarly, the median household income among black Americans is still dramatically lower than among white Americans ($40,065, as compared to $65,041). The median household wealth of white Americans ($171,000) is approximately 10 times higher than that of black Americans. And, at 7.5 percent, black unemployment in 2017 was actually higher than it was in 1968. Likewise, rates of homeownership among black Americans have barely budged since 1968.
  • 1,730: That's the number of black Americans, per 100,000 in the population, who are currently incarcerated. (By comparison, only 270 white Americans per 100,000 are currently incarcerated.) In America today, a black American is 6.4 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white American. Both white and black Americans have seen a dramatic increases in incarceration rates: In 1968, 604 black Americans and 111 white Americans (both numbers are per 100,000) were incarcerated.
  • 11.4: That's the infant mortality rate, per 1,000 live births, for black infants. This is over twice as high as the infant mortality rate of 4.9 for white infants. Similarly, life expectancy for black Americans (75.5 years) is still almost four years shorter than that of white Americans (79 years).

Neglecting teaching of the poor

In more than half of the states in the U.S., the poorest school districts do not receive funding to address their students' increased needs.

School districts with the highest rates of poverty receive about $1,000 or 7 percent less per student in state and local funding than those with the lowest rates of poverty.  The gap widens when comparing districts serving high populations of students of color and those serving fewer students of color — the former receive about $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student than the latter. These disparities add up. A district with 5,000 students, for instance, loses almost $5 million in funding that could be used to hire more teachers, reduce class size, and implement professional development programs for educators.

In Illinois, for example, the poorest districts received 22 percent less in state and local funding than the lowest-poverty districts.

Schools and school districts that serve large proportions of poor students have historically been shortchanged when it comes to things like access to high-quality teachers, advanced course offerings, early education programs and school counselors – resources that are directly linked to the amount of funding available.

“The funding gaps between high and low poverty districts look even worse when we consider that students in poverty are likely to need additional supports in order to succeed academically,” the report reads. “In other words, simply offering equal funding isn’t enough. Moreover, some states that fund their highest poverty districts equally, or even progressively … are still providing substantially fewer dollars to districts that serve the most students of color than to those that serve the fewest.”

"A Duty of Care"?

GPs are being offered cash payments not to refer patients to hospital, in a move which leading family doctors have criticised as ethically questionable and a risk to health.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Cash incentives based on how many referrals GPs make have no place in the NHS, and frankly it is insulting to suggest otherwise.”

Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association, said: “From a patient perspective it means GPs are paid to not look after them. It’s a serious dereliction of duty, influenced by CCGs trying to balance their books.”

The disclosure by the GP website Pulse about the controversial “profit share” initiatives operated by the four NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) has triggered a row. Critics said the schemes were the latest example of NHS bodies increasingly resorting to the rationing of care to help them operate within their budgets.
NHS Coastal West Sussex CCG has offered to give groups of practices working together in its area 50% of savings made from GPs referring fewer patients for dermatology care, ear, nose and throat treatment in the community, and minor surgery and wound closure.
A freedom of information survey of 181 CCGs by Pulse found that a quarter offered some sort of financial incentive to GPs to cut referrals. Eleven involved a direct incentive to GPs to alter their referral behaviour, four of which involved “profit-sharing” schemes.

Dutch Colonialism

Locking up asylum-seekers

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a  5-3 ruling declaring that asylum seekers—non-citizens—are not entitled to bail hearings and can languish in jail for years. Asylum seekers now face the prospect of lengthy confinement without any hope of bail—will now empower the Trump administration’s aggressive anti-immigrant policing.

The majority’s ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez, written by Justice Samuel Alito, reverses and remands a ruling by the California-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said a non-citizen could not be held for longer than six months without a bail hearing.

 ACLU said the Supreme Court’s decision “will impact the lives of thousands of people, including lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers, and survivors of torture. The government’s practice of locking up immigrants indefinitely, without even a hearing to determine if they pose a risk of flight or danger to the community, as they defend their right to remain in the U.S. is horrific,”
In late 2017, federal immigration authorities held approximately 40,000 asylum seekers in various detention centers around the country, Human Rights First reported. 

As Justice Stephen Breyer dissent noted (which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor signed), the majority’s conclusion was at odds with the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the British Magna Carta. America's founding documents were based on enshrining the right to preserve liberty and obtain one’s day in court.
“The Fifth Amendment says that ‘no person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’ An alien is a ‘person.’ To hold him without bail is to deprive him of bodily ‘liberty.’ And, where there is no bail proceeding, there has been no bail-related ‘process’ at all. The Due Process Clause—itself reflecting the language of the Magna Carta—prevents arbitrary detention. Indeed, ‘freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause from arbitrary governmental action.’”  Breyer summed up by saying what the Court’s majority was doing was unconstitutional and that the legal statutes they cited to build their argument should have been overruled as such, not affirmed.

The Court’s decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez is an affront to our nation’s commitment to liberty and to U.S. human rights treaty obligations that prohibit arbitrary detention,” said Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First. “How can we as a nation, remain a haven for the prosecuted when we lock up asylum seekers—who are in this country legally to escape violence—for prolonged periods of time without access to an immigration court custody hearing?"

Anti-Semitism on the Rise in the USA

Nearly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded last year in the US, the Anti-Defamation League found. Anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in the US last year. The increase marked the largest increase in a single year since the Jewish organization began recording anti-Semitic incidents in 1979.

"It had been trending in the right direction for a long time," ADL chief executive Jonathan A. Greenblatt explained, "And then something changed."

 While the ADL said part of the increase could be pegged to an increase in reporting of incidents at schools, other groups have pointed to rising right-wing extremism.

Yemen's Catastrophe Continues

After three years of conflict the warring parties in Yemen have continued a "destructive pattern of zero-sum politics which has led the country to plunge into more poverty and destruction" said the outgoing UN envoy.  Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that over the past two months, the conflict has escalated in several areas, including in the strategic port city of Aden and the Saudi-Yemen border.

More than one million people have been infected with cholera since April 2017, the UN official noted, adding that diphtheria was on the rise for the first time since 1982. On top of the public health crisis, more than 22 million people need food assistance, including 8.4 million who are on the verge of severe hunger, according to UN figures.

UN aid operations chief John Ging said living conditions in Yemen are "catastrophic. " "People's lives have continued unraveling," said Ging. "Conflict has escalated since November driving an estimated 100,000 people from their homes."

"For nearly three years, Yemen's warring parties have committed war crimes with little fear that other governments will hold them to account," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, last month.

An anomaly among anomalies

Although most of the media headlines in recent days have focused on Europe’s unusually cold weather, the concern is that this is not so much a reassuring return to winters as normal, but rather a displacement of what ought to be happening farther north. At the world’s most northerly land weather station - Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland – recent temperatures have been, at times, warmer than London and Zurich,
An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic is causing blizzards in Europe and forcing scientists to reconsider even their most pessimistic forecasts of climate change. Although it could yet prove to be a freak event, the primary concern is that global warming is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once insulated the frozen north. Seasoned observers have described what is happening as “crazy,” “weird,” and “simply shocking”.
The north pole gets no sunlight until March, but an influx of warm air has pushed temperatures in Siberia up by as much as 35C above historical averages this month. Greenland has already experienced 61 hours above freezing in 2018 - more than three times as many hours as in any previous year.
“This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying – it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “The Arctic has always been regarded as a bellwether because of the vicious circle that amplify human-caused warming in that particular region. And it is sending out a clear warning.”
The cause and significance of this sharp uptick are now under scrutiny. Temperatures often fluctuate in the Arctic due to the strength or weakness of the polar vortex, the circle of winds – including the jetstream – that help to deflect warmer air masses and keep the region cool. But the heat peaks are becoming more frequent and lasting longer – never more so than this year. “In 50 years of Arctic reconstructions, the current warming event is both the most intense and one of the longest-lived warming events ever observed during winter,” said Robert Rohde, lead scientist of Berkeley Earth, a non-profit organisation dedicated to climate science.
The question now is whether this signals a weakening or collapse of the polar vortex, the circle of strong winds that keep the Arctic cold by deflecting other air masses. The vortex depends on the temperature difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, but that gap is shrinking because the pole is warming faster than anywhere on Earth. While average temperatures have increased by about 1C, the warming at the pole – closer to 3C – is melting the ice mass. According to Nasa, Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.2% per decade, leaving more open water and higher temperatures.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The real gun problem

"...they’ve sent us here to die..."

 Mahul, a former fishing village to the east of India’s Mumbai is now home to 30,000 people who were “rehoused" after their slum homes were demolished to make way for infrastructure projects. They live in 72 seven-storey buildings jammed together in the shadow of oil refineries, power stations and fertiliser plants. The air is pungent with the strong smell of chemicals. Sewage overflows into narrow streets. With the nearest government hospital seven miles away, masked patients stand in obedient lines outside homeopathy clinics, coughing.

Mahul is “critically” polluted, according to India’s central pollution control board. A survey by the city’s KEM hospital found that 67.1% of the neighbourhood’s residents complained of breathlessness more than three times a month, 86.6% complained of eye irritations and 84.5% had experienced feeling a choking sensation.
Then there is the poor quality of the water. “At times, the water has a layer of oil on it – several residents have suffered stomach infections,” says Subhash Jadhav, a 52-year-old journalist who developed a skin complaint after being moved to Mahul. “I’ve complained to the BMC on several occasions, but they say they don’t have enough manpower.”
Rishi Agarwal, a Mumbai-based urban planner, believes that the city’s development is crushing its poorest citizens. “It’s part of the larger gentrification, which is rapidly progressing in Mumbai,” he says. “In the past two decades, the government’s intention has been to push the most underprivileged citizens to the outskirts in order to create housing near the centre for more affluent residents. The displaced have been dumped in rehabilitation centres. These places are devoid of basic amenities like ventilation, waste management, and transport links. Mahul, particularly, is absolute hell.” Following a high court order last year, the BMC says it plans to build a health centre and a school, and ensure a contamination-free water supply. Urban planner Agarwal is unimpressed. “The government doesn’t lack resources to build better alternative accommodation,” he says, “it’s just short on compassion for the poor.”
“There are no schools, hospitals, medical shops or means of livelihood here,” says Anita Dhole, a 40-year-old who was relocated to Mahul after her home was demolished when authorities cleared a secure zone around the city’s colonial-era Tansa water pipeline 12 months ago. “But there are smoke-belching chimneys – and a crematorium. It’s the government’s way of telling us that they’ve sent us here to die.”
The city’s civic authority, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), started placing people in Mahul six years ago after the high court called for 10 metres to be cleared either side of the pipeline for health and security reasons. When the BMC started clearing illegal housing, the displaced residents quickly returned to rebuild.
Last September the authorities came up with a new plan: a $45m, 24-mile cycling and jogging track along the length of the Tansa, which runs in two sections: from Mulund in the north-east to Dharavi in the centre, and Ghatkopar in the east to Sion in the south.
The Green Wheels Along Blue Lines cycle and running track would serve a dual purpose: keep the area clear of illegal shacks by opening the space around the pipeline to the public, and provide an environmentally friendly and healthy route across the chaotic and crowded city. Work is due to start in April and be completed in two years. To date 16,000 homes have been cleared along the pipeline, with a further 6,000 slated for demolition. 
Sushila Yadav fears any changes that do come would be too late. She lost her 11-year-old son, Aman, three years after they were moved to Mahul. What started as breathlessness swiftly spiralled into a lung disorder. Now her 20-year-old daughter Komal has similar symptoms. “Before we moved to Mahul, my husband, our four children and I lived in a 50 sq ft shack next to a sewer,” she says. “It was difficult, but at least all of us were alive. Given a chance, I’d leave Mahul and take my children back on the street.”

Public sector charity

The number of public sector workers relying on charity handouts to make ends meet has soared since 2010 as stagnating wages fail to match the rise in living costs.

New figures show police officers, nurses and teachers are receiving charitable grants at a higher rate than ever because they are struggling to pay rent and provide for their children. It comes after years of wage freezes and pay rises below inflation for public sector workers: nurses’ pay has dropped by 14 per cent in real terms, while teachers’ wages in England were worth 12 per cent less in 2015 than they were in 2005.

Turn2us, which helps people in financial hardship to access charitable grants and support services, said that of the 3,278 grants it gave out last year, more than half (50.8 per cent) went to people working in education, health and government or local government, compared to just 24.6 per cent in 2010. A quarter of grants went to people working in health and social care, with 900 people in the sector receiving grants from the charity last year, compared with 413 in 2010. More than half of these (56 per cent) went to nurses. The number of people working in education receiving charity funds increased from 364 to 802, with the vast majority of these (76 per cent) being given to fully qualified teachers.

The figures come after an analysis revealed the number of children of public sector workers who are living in poverty surged by 40 per cent in the same period, with one in seven children whose parents work in jobs such as teaching and nursing now living below the breadline. The research by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) showed that since 2010, an extra 150,000 children have been pushed into poverty, with families where both parents work in the public sector hit hardest by the Government’s pay restrictions and benefit changes.



21/2/18. The death of US evangelist, Billy Graham,
who convinced many that all humans were sinners
by waving the Bible in his hand as if it were a gun.

The Socialist sets out his stall,
To everyone not just a few;
Who claim to have received God's call,
And know by faith alone what's true.

The certain truth that they declare, (1)
That only the devout possess;
And which entitles them at prayer,
To chastise sinners who transgress.

Such prissy views go hand in hand,
With dogma, bigotry and pride; (2)
And foolishness that's often fanned,
Hostility on every side. (3)

Believers are a funny lot,
As often one will tend to find;
They act as if they’ve lost the plot,
And in some ways can act unkind.

Fear seems to be their driving force,
Not love as they sometimes pretend;
With gentle ways becoming coarse,
If they feel thwarted from their end.

Our Socialistic paradigm,
The pious will declare uncouth;
But being human's not a crime,
And that's the first real step to truth!

(1) “There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The
wrong comes when riches possess men”. According to the
Internet, Graham's personal wealth amounted to $25 million.

(2) Tapes from President Nixon's office record that Graham made
anti-Semitic remarks. When exposed 30 years later he apologised.

(3) At the time of the Vietnam War, Graham suggested to
Nixon that the US bomb North Vietnam's dykes which could
have resulted in the death of 1 million North Vietnamese.

© Richard Layton

The Milk of Human Kindness...or Profit?

Formula milk companies are continuing to use aggressive, clandestine and often illegal methods to target mothers in the poorest parts of the world to encourage them to choose powdered milk over breastfeeding, according to a Guardian/Save the Children investigation.
In some of the most deprived areas of the Philippines Nestlé and three other companies were offering doctors, midwives, and local health workers free trips to lavish conferences, meals, tickets to shows and the cinema and even gambling chips, earning their loyalty. This is a clear violation of the Philippine law. At the same time, powerful lobby groups have been working to curtail government legislation regulating formula marketing and promotion, in the Philippines and across the world. The World Health Organisation’s international code explicitly prevents formula companies directly targeting mothers and healthcare professionals, and restricts advertising. Formula promotion is a particular issue in poorer countries because there is a higher risk of pneumonia and diarrhoea for babies, and with a lack of access to healthcare mothers are less informed about the benefits of breastfeeding.  This was drawn up in 1981 after widespread protest against Nestlé’s marketing of formula as better than breastmilk, despite evidence that formula feeding was linked to babies falling ill or dying from poorly sterilised bottles.
Yet despite the industry’s claims it has cleaned up its act, the practices that were globally condemned four decades ago are still evident today across the developing world. The report by Save the Children says companies are systematically violating the milk code, with devastating consequences for infant health and mortality. Leading formula companies spend £36 on marketing for every baby born worldwide. East Asia, with its growing economies and high birth rate, is a key target.
Representatives from Nestlé, Abbott, Mead Johnson and Wyeth (now owned by Nestlé) were described as a constant presence in hospitals in the Philippines, where only 34% of mothers exclusively breastfeed in the first six months. Here, they reportedly hand out “infant nutrition” pamphlets to mothers, which appear to be medical advice but in fact recommend specific formula brands and sometimes have money-off coupons. Hospital staff were also found to be recommending specific formula brands in lists of “essential purchases” handed to new mothers. Targeted advertising on Facebook and partnerships with influential “mummy bloggers” means mothers are being exposed to more unregulated formula promotion than ever before. 
TV advertising campaigns for follow-on milk by brands such as Bonna – which portray the “Bonna kid” as one who is smarter and succeeds in life – convinced them, they said, that bottle feeding is not only as good for the baby’s health as breast milk but will bolster their IQ and future prospects. Store displays of formula were splashed with claims such as “clinically proven to give the IQ + EQ advantage”. For mothers living in poverty, such aspirational marketing is particularly seductive. The barrage of marketing, advertising on TV and social media, and persuasive free gifts ensures that misinformation is rife.
 Jessica Icawat, 24, wept as she recalled the sacrifices she had made to give Trista, her two-year-old daughter, Nestogen, a formula made by Nestlé. Breastfeeding had been hard and she turned to formula because the local community consensus was it is “fine, the same as breast milk”. Stick thin, her cheek and collarbones sticking out, Icawat was visibly malnourished, as was Trista, whose swollen stomach stuck out beneath a faded pink Little Mermaid T-shirt. The average cost of Nestogen is 2,000 pesos (£28) a month but Icawat could afford to spend only 800 pesos. “I didn’t eat just so I could feed the baby,” she said. “There were some days when I didn’t eat anything. And Nestogen is expensive so I could not always give it to my baby when she was hungry, I only gave her half bottles, four times a day.”
“The milk formula companies now take a clandestine approach,” said Dr Amado Parawan, who has spent 20 years working with Save the Children in the Philippines to champion breastfeeding. “On the face of it they have improved. But really they are skirting around the milk code by doing visits and dinners for midwives and doctors outside of office hours, in the evenings.”
Julianne Bores, a GlaxoSmithKline representative who worked alongside formula representatives in hospitals since 2009, described a culture of financial dependency, where if doctors want to go to expensive medical conferences – held mostly in lavish hotels or abroad - they would always ask the milk companies for sponsorship, and were occasionally allowed to bring their spouses. Formula representatives would also pay for “rest and recreation activities” for doctors and their families, such as tickets to Cirque du Soleil, and meals at popular restaurants. Bores was also an observer of the “parenting” and “nutrition” forums for parents held in the hospital canteens by the formula representatives, where samples or branded freebies like umbrellas and feeding bottles would be distributed. All these practices are a violation of Philippine law.
midwife Grace Shelo Almarez admits that before she was given training, she was among the many wined and dined by Nestlé, Mead Johnson, and Wyeth and offered numerous trips to conferences. As recently as October Nestlé offered her a trip to Iloilo, which she declined. “In return for that, if a patient decided to use formula milk, I’d recommend their product and tell them ‘Nestlé is good’ or ‘you should use Nestogen’ and so on. They are very persuasive, they make it sound like their products are very good for the mothers and the babies.”
The Save the Children report shows how global pro-formula campaigning is. In Mexico, where just 31% of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, 50% of mothers said they had been recommended formula by their doctor, while in Chile, 75% of doctors, nurses and midwives in hospitals reported visits from formula representatives.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Why I am striking

Lecturers are on strike again, with the first tranche scheduled to last fourteen days in all.  Cue jokes about academics sat at home not thinking, or troops being sent in to give seminars on the use of Christian symbolism in late period Anglo Saxon poetry.

I am not an academic, nor am I even in their pension scheme, the root of the conflict.  I am a university worker, and I have been standing on the freezing cold February picket line, asking staff and students not to cross it.

I understand that academics have achieved something very difficult.  The Tories have introduced a new law to make it so that public sector workers have to achieve not only a majority of those voting, but a majority of those eligible to strike must vote as well.  (Universities claim to be public sector for this purpose, but have managed to get themselves declared private sector for the purposes of procurement, because a majority of their money comes from fees now).  

The result of this is that instead of the gentlemanly dance of previous university strikes - two days here and there - the difficulty of getting a strike called at all means it has to be decisively disruptive: these are the counter-productive aspects of the Tories trying to regulate strikes out of existence, the pressure valve is gone, and it will make strikes more bitter.

The root cause is an attempt to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension from being a defined benefit scheme, into a defined contribution scheme: throwing all the liabilities of the Universities onto the vagaries of the stock market.  The scheme has already changed from being final salary to being career average related (and employer and employee contributions have both been raised in recent years).

The cause of this is under accounting rules, the scheme must be funded so that if all universities went bankrupt tomorrow, all the liabilities could be met.  This creates a phantom deficit of billions of pounds, despite all universities not being bankrupt, and the scheme currently being able to manage its liabilities.

Make no mistake, universities are far removed from the rarified world of a David Lodge novel: today they are vast DIckensian factories employing thousands of staff and servicing tens of thousands of students each.  As Boris Johnson noted in his recent farcical speech on Brexit, Britain stands a long way up the value chain, not producing raw materials or components, but designs and innovation.  Thousands of foreign, particularly Chinese, students come to the UK to study, bringin in much needed revenue.

When I discuss this matter, friends tell me that academics are lucky to still have defined benefit pensions, or that they themselves have had their pension downgraded.  For me, this makes it all the more important to put a marker in the sand to stop this downgrading of all our deferred salaries.

I understand that what is at stake here is the ability to strike at all, and to have a conscious say in our workplaces: the academics are being attacked as workers, and they recognise their position as workers by calling this strike.  They deserve support and solidarity, even at the cost of 14 days pay, because anything that makes employers think twice about downgrading terms and conditions of their employees is a benefit for all workers, everywhere.

Capitalism draws increasing numbers into the condition of wage slavery, many academics are on the equivalent of zero hours contracts, or have to continually search for funding for their own salaries.  Of course, ending capitalism and abolishing the wages system is the necessary political act, but in the meanwhile the class struggle rumbles on, and we have to engage with the struggle to defend ourselves and pursue the best living standards we can manage under the the labour market.

If we don’t strike, we all lose: and maybe, for all those students who smile wanly, shrug and say they have to go in to lectures, the library or to study, they can learn the lesson that they too will soon be waged workers, who will need solidarity to protect them in their workplaces.


Capitalist America's Shame

Over the past year, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have together accumulated over $64 billion in new wealth. How was their money made? Almost entirely by passively waiting for the stock market to go up. 

U.S. wealth increased by $8.5 trillion in 2017, with the richest 2% getting about $1.15 trillion (details here), which is more than the total cost of Medicaid (federal AND state) and the complete safety net, both mandatory and discretionary, including the low-income programs that make up the social support package derisively referred to as 'welfare.' 

Surprisingly, the richest 1% did not increase their wealth by much in 2017 (although they took nearly $4 trillion in 2016). That means the second half of the richest 2%, Americans with an average net worth of approximately $10 million, outgained the safety net all by themselves in the past year. 

The richest 2-5%, those Americans with an average net worth of about $2.5 million, accumulated enough wealth in 2017 to pay for the safety net FOUR TIMES. 

Food stamps provide about $1.50 per meal for 42 million Americans, mostly children, the elderly, and the disabled, at a cost in 2017 of $64 billion. In the past year, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have together accumulated over $64 billion in new wealth. 

Jeff Bezos has used tax havens and high-priced lobbyists to avoid the taxes owed by his company. Mark Zuckerberg created a 'charitable' foundation, which in reality is a tax-exempt limited liability company, leaving him free to make political donations or sell his holdings, all without paying taxes. But in one year the two of them made enough from their investments to feed most of America's hungry.

The Republicans think the food stamp program is too costly and ridden with fraud. Apparently, $1.50 per meal for children and seniors is too costly for them. As for fraud, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that only 1 penny of every food stamp dollar is used fraudulently. 

American inequality is extreme, perverse, and growing. While over 100 million (2 out of 5) American adults are among the world's richest 10%, up to 50 million (1 out of 5) American adults are among the world's poorest 10%.

Wage Stagnation

Real hourly wages in the USA went up 0.1% from December of 2016 through December of 2017. That’s one-tenth of one percent for a year.

How about January of 2017 through January of 2018? Still just 0.1%.

Overall, wages for people in the top 40% are substantially higher than they were in the 1970s, but wages for the bottom 60% are about where they were 45 years ago.

UN seeks abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland violates women's rights by unduly restricting their access to abortion, a report by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) said. CEDAW is composed of 23 independent human rights experts and oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women by countries that have ratified it, but it does not have powers of enforcement.

"Denial of abortion and criminalisation of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need. And it puts women in horrific situations," the committee's vice-chairwoman, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, said in a statement. "The situation in Northern Ireland constitutes violence against women that may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," she said.

The report recommended changing the law to stop criminal charges being brought against women and girls undergoing abortion or against anyone assisting in the abortion, with a moratorium on the application of existing laws in the interim. It said abortion should be legal at least in cases of rape or incest or where a woman's physical or mental health was threatened, or in cases of severe foetal impairment. Among its other recommendations were ensuring contraception was available, combating gender-based stereotypes regarding women's primary role as mothers, and protecting women from harassment by anti-abortion campaigners.

Hoping for the best, expecting the worse

The world will need sweeping changes over the next 20 years ranging from energy use to food production to achieve climate goals set by almost 200 nations, the new heads of a top environmental think-tank said. Both said "revolutions" were needed to tackle climate change, such as capturing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels or by reforming agriculture, where meat production and fertilisers are big sources of greenhouse gases.

"When Germany is not in a position to phase out coal can we expect that Poland or Indonesia or Vietnam or Turkey ... can phase out coal?" Ottmar Edenhofer, new co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explained.

The  new co-director Johan Rockstrom, a Swedish scientist, said governments were far from achieving the core goal in the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting a rise in global average temperatures to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times. "We have just literally 20 years to either succeed or fail" in the goals of getting the planet on a more sustainable path, Rockstrom said 

Making Millions Stateless

We have witnessed the campaign by the Burmese in Myanmar to exclude the Rohingya. India plans a similar expulsion. Two years ago, Assam, an Indian state bordering Bhutan and Bangladesh, embarked on a vast exercise: to identify every resident who could demonstrate roots in the state before March 1971. And deport anyone who couldn’t. Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, authorities published an unfinished draft of 19 million names minus the names of 14 million other residents. Proving the identities of more than 30 million people – many bearing handwritten records, or none at all – has fallen to Prateek Hajela, a senior civil servant. “We have received around 65 million documents,” he says from his office in Guwahati, the Assam capital. The fate of those who fail to win citizenship is outside his control, he says. “What happens to those people who have applied and are not found to be eligible, I can’t say.”
The Assam chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, said in an interview last month that foreigners would lose constitutional rights. “They will have only one right – human rights as guaranteed by the the UN that include food, shelter and clothing.” The issue of deportation, he said, “will come later”.
The process is sparking anxiety in Assam, warning it might be about to manufacture a teeming population of stateless people. Assam is building a new detention centre to process the “foreigners” it plans to evict in the coming years. Tribunals have already declared about 90,000 people in Assam to be foreigners.  At least 2,000 people are already detained in six facilities across the state.
For centuries until the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, human traffic flowed freely across the territory. In smaller numbers, people have continued crossing in the decades after: Indian security agencies estimate about 15 million Bangladesh citizens work and live in India without authorisation.  Border guards were accused of gunning down nearly 1,000 people in the decade to 2010. A barbed-wire fence, bolstered in parts by floodlights and cameras, has been under construction since the mid-1980s and will eventually stretch more than 3,300km.
Resentment has been most acute in Assam, where it sparked an anti-migrant movement in the 1980s that paralysed the state and eventually won government. It also fuelled one of India’s worst single-day massacres since partition: a frenzied seven-hour pogrom in a clutch of Muslim villages that left at least 1,800 people dead. Assamese complain thousands of migrants have found their way onto voting rolls and take jobs and land from locals.
The prospect of being suddenly arrested as a foreigner and languishing for years in a detention camp is worrying Bengali Muslims in particular. There is enormous fear and apprehension in the community.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Can Industry Mitigate Climate Change?

 Industry's dependence on polluting fossil fuels is at odds with a "revolution" in transport and renewable energy, and could stop the world doing a crucial U-turn on rising emissions of climate-changing gases by 2020, Christiana Figueres, a former U.N. climate chief warned.
"We're definitely not on track with everything to do with heavy industry that continues to depend on intense, high-carbon electricity, and we're not on track with land use," said Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. "So what happens if we don't get there is we increase our risk and increase the exposure to extreme weather events." 
Figueres cautioned against relying on controversial "geoengineering" techniques to try to cool the planet's temperature. So-called "negative emissions" technologies - to suck carbon back out of the atmosphere - could involve capturing gases and storing them underground or fertilising oceans to make them absorb more carbon dioxide. Other techniques being discussed include mimicking the planet-cooling activity of volcanoes by spraying chemicals into the Earth's upper atmosphere.
"Our biosphere, our forests, our whole plant kingdom is the best (carbon) absorption mechanism we have on this planet - it's the safest, it doesn't have any negative impacts and we just have not yet extracted all the benefits," said Figueres. "Before we go to industrial or chemical engineering – the side-effects of which we have no idea, the cost of which we have no idea, I would prefer to first exhaust the possibility of all the technologies we do know."