Saturday, June 30, 2018

Socialist Standard No. 1367 July 2018

US Poorest City

For the second consecutive year, an annual report has named a town in southern Illinois as the “poorest” in America.
Centreville, Illinois, is tucked between an airport, rail lines and interstates in the Metro East. For the second time in as many years, 24/7 Wall St. has named it the poorest town in America. It took the top spot from Macon, Mississippi, in 2017.
The report used Census data to measure median income, average home value, percentage of population with at least a bachelor's degree, and how much of the town’s population is living below the poverty line. In Centreville, more than half of the residents, 50.1 percent, were living below the line.
“For a family of three, it’s about $19,000 a year,” she said. “There’s actually a significant percentage of people living in poverty who are working.”

Right-wing and Islamist

Between 2013 and 2017, researchers from the Jena Institute and the London Institute for Strategic Dialogue examined more than 10,000 pieces of Islamist and right-wing extremist Facebook content, as well as more than one million German Twitter contributions. An analysis of found right-wing extremists and Islamists share fundamental similarities. The racism of the far-right and religious beliefs of the Islamists result in similar viewpoints.

The mobilization and radicalization strategies of the two groups were similar, but anti-Muslim contributions, by comparison, were "more radical and more widespread." Islamism and right-wing extremism meet ideologically in anti-Semitism, in conspiracy myths and in the goal of homogeneous societies, the study found. The respective beliefs are therefore racist in the right wing and religiously founded among the Islamists. It found the two groups relied on eacho ther to foster the sense of an enemy and to give credibility to their extremist narratives.

"Extreme rights and Islamists reject freedom, pluralism, and liberalism," said study author Maik Fielitz.

Friday, June 29, 2018


British intelligence agencies were involved in the torture and kidnap of terrorism suspects after 9/11 revealing links to torture and rendition were much more widespread than previously reported.
The reports say the overseas agency MI6 and the domestic service MI5 were involved in hundreds of torture cases and scores of rendition cases. The committee says the agencies were aware “at an early point” of the mistreatment of detainees by the US and others. There were two cases in which UK personnel were “party to mistreatment administered by others”. 
 UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite knowledge or suspicion of mistreatment. UK personnel received intelligence from liaison services which had been obtained from detainees who knew they had been mistreated – or with no indication as to how the detainee had been treated but where we consider they should have suspected mistreatment. The report says those at headquarters were aware of reports of mistreatment by the US but did not take them seriously.
“That the US, and others, were mistreating detainees is beyond doubt, as is the fact that the agencies and defence intelligence were aware of this at an early point,” the report says.
The chair of the committee, Dominic Grieve, said because it had been denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister, the committee had reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end. Had the inquiry continued, the committee would have called the then home secretary David Blunkett and Straw to explain what they understood to be the situation at the time and why a briefing was not requested.
The reports say evidence of the direct involvement of MI6 officers and a British military officer in the mistreatment of detainees at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan was withheld from the intelligence committee in the past. This involved sleep deprivation, starvation and the use of stress positions. The committee said it had wanted to interview the MI6 officers involved but said: “The government has denied us access to those individuals.”

A United Nations Inspection

The United Nations has launched an investigation into poverty and human rights in the UK which will examine the impact of the austerity policies of Theresa May and David Cameron over the past eight years.
The inquiry will be led by Prof Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who angered the Donald Trump administration when he concluded after a similar visit to the US that the White House’s contempt for the poor was driving “cruel policies”.
“The UK has gone through a period of pretty deep budget cuts first under the coalition and then the Conservatives and I am interested to see what the outcome of that has been,” Alston told the Guardian. “I am also interested to look at what seems to be a renewed debate on all sides about the need to increase spending at least for some of the key programmes...In the UK, things are at a different place where there is no great budget surplus to be mobilised. Welfare cuts have taken place but there is now an interesting debate on whether they have gone too far and what measures need to be taken to shore up the NHS and other programmes.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies this month found that people with longstanding mental health problems in the UK were more than twice as likely to be in poverty as those without a longstanding health problem.
Torsten Bell, the director of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, said, “Twenty years ago, poverty in Britain was concentrated among pensioners and workless households,” he said. “Now poverty has moved into the workplace with more than half of the children growing up in poverty in working households.”

Poor Food

Experts say children exposed to fast food on the way home from school are more likely to eat unhealthily. One in three children is now overweight or obese by the age of 11. And children from poorer areas are more than twice as likely to be overweight.

Deprived areas such as Blackpool and parts of Manchester and Liverpool have five times more fast food outlets than affluent areas. The data compared levels of deprivation with numbers of takeaways such as chip shops, burger bars and pizza places.

The Public Health England (PHE) wants local authorities to refuse applications from new takeaways. Research in Cambridge indicating people living closest to the largest number of fast food outlets were more than twice as likely to be obese.

Prof Russell Viner, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Kids are coming out of school hungry and finding themselves surrounded by cheap chicken shops, chip shops and other types of tempting junk food.

"This food is tasty and cheap - it's easy to blame the individual, but humans, particularly children, will find it hard to resist tempting food. Children from wealthy backgrounds will not be surrounded by junk food in this way. We need to see concerted action at a local level to help create healthier environments for families and ensure all children have the best possible start in life."

PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said: "Local authorities have the power to help support people in making healthier choices. They need to question whether these fast food hotspots are compatible with their work to help families and young children live healthier lives."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Real Migrant Problem

Official statistics show population growth has slowed to its lowest in a decade following a 12 per cent drop in the number of immigrants in the year after the referendum.
There was a 43 per cent decrease in the number of people immigrating to look for work over the last year, with the fall in the number of EU jobseekers particularly stark.
Data published on Thursday shows there were an estimated 66,040,229 people living in the country at the end of June last year - a 0.6 per cent rise on a year earlier - marking the lowest growth rate since mid-2004.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which released the figures, said the EU referendum was likely to be one of the key drivers of the changes.
Leaders in the health and social care sector have also mounted concerns about its capacity to recruit and retain care staff from other EU countries after Brexit, warning that without the “major contribution” made by foreign workers, more elderly and disabled people will be driven into institutional care settings and away from independent living. 
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told The Independent: “Social care is a fundamental public service on which millions of older people and disabled adults depend to live their lives. It is above all a 'people business', but it is proving difficult to attract enough high quality staff who want to engage in this demanding, albeit rewarding, work. Every day there are an estimated 90,000 vacancies in the social care workforce, and in some parts of the country especially a major contribution is made by care staff who have come here from abroad, both from within the EU and also far beyond it."
Phillip Connolly, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, echoed her concerns, saying: “These sectors are largely made up of people from overseas, but more and more of these people have been deterred from coming following the Brexit referendum.
Chai Patel, policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), claimed the UK was becoming a “less welcoming” place for migrants, and warned that this would be a “very serious” problem for public services and Britain’s economic future.
“Immigrants pay more into public services than they take out, so if you’ve got fewer migrants coming in then you’ve got an issue with filling public sector jobs – particularly in the NHS – which is obviously disastrous,” he said. “This kind of decline is not something that the government can just reverse by changing a policy. Once you become somewhere that’s not attractive, you can’t just turn on the tap again and say now we want more immigrants when you need people to fill NHS jobs and pick up the rotting fruit in the fields. You get stuck in the spiral of not being able to get the people you need. Given that this decline is happening before we’ve actually changed any laws, it shows people are making the choice to leave or fewer people are making the choice to come here, and that’s not something this government can choose to reverse when it’s convenient.”

Creating Child Poverty

In order to receive financial support in the year after the two-child policy was introduced in April 2017. Tens of thousands of low-income families have also lost child benefits under the measure, which limits tax credits to two children.  Charities have accused the government of “snatching away” financial support from struggling families
An exemption for women is made if they can prove any subsequent children were the result of an assault. In total, 190 women had to prove their child was conceived as a result of rape in order to receive financial support. The rape clause meant mothers were having to disclose rape in order to put food on the table.
 73,530 families – amounting to about 200,000 children – have lost entitlement to child allowances in tax credits or universal credit since the policy was introduced.
There were 2,820 households claiming exemption from the policy, of which 190 were affected by the rape clause.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said the figures showed the policy was “already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay. An estimated one in six children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact,” she said. “It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth.”
Jamie Grier, director of development at Turn2us said, in a time of high rents and low wages we need to see support extended to families who need financial help, not snatched away.” 

Cost of Care

The world economy faces a looming “care crisis” across the planet, according to a UN report calling for governments and companies worldwide to spend at least an extra $7tn (£5.3tn) on care by 2030. Making the case for spending on support for children, old people and the neediest in society to double by the end of the next decade, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned demographic changes alone mean the current path for care funding falls far short of requirements.

Failure would lead to gaps in coverage, while women – already responsible for more than three-quarters of the time spent on unpaid care work, looking after children or elderly relatives.

Rising birth rates and increased life expectancy mean there will be about 200 million extra people on the planet needing care by 2030, with as many as 2.3 billion forecast to need some form of support from governments, the private sector or friends and family, the ILO said. The bulk of the increase will come from African nations, although there are also rising needs in many major economies, including the UK. 
Having ran macroeconomic forecasts for 45 countries’ spending needs, the ILO said the shifting demographic picture meant investment in care would need to rise from about 8.7% of GDP at present to 14.9% of projected world economic output by the end of the next decade. In cash terms, that would mean an increase of about $4tn to lift spending levels on care to about $14.9tn by 2030.
The ILO said its projections showed the UK would need to care for an additional 1 million people by 2030, with the total number of children and older people needing assistance forecast to rise to about 16 million from 15 million in 2015. It also warned against the use of zero hours contracts in Britain’s care sector for hitting workers’ living standards and undermining the quality of care they can provide.
Across the world, the social pressure to perform unpaid care work remains the main barrier preventing women from getting into and staying and progressing in the labour force. As many as 606 million working-age women in 2018 said they were not able to take a job because of unpaid care work, versus just 41 million men.
Laura Addati, lead author of the ILO report, said rising levels of employment for women in many countries was leading the demand for extra care workers and higher levels of funding.
“If not addressed properly, current deficits in care work and its quality will create a severe and unsustainable global care crisis and further increase gender inequalities in the world of work,” she said.

The Yemeni Tragedy

The Saudi and UAE-led operation to retake the rebel-held port city of Hodeidah, which could jeopardize the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, represents more than the latest tragic chapter in Yemen’s civil war.

The US, UK, and France have all greenlit arms sales, refueling missions, and special forces guidance to the coalition with few, if any, conditions. The operation in Hodeidah is no different, where French special forces are already on the ground and the US is providing intelligence and aerial refueling to assist the coalition. Since the beginning of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, the results of American, French, and British arms and support have led to the bombing of funeralsweddingsmarketshospitalsschools and other public spaces populated by civilians. The latest bombing of a wedding party (because there have been more than one) killed twenty, including the bride herself.

The frequency with which non-combatants, civilian production capacity, and food supply chains continue to be struck appear deliberate. To assume these attacks are anything but calculated is to stretch the bounds of reasonableness: within the first day of operations in Hodeidah, a Doctors Without Borders treatment facility suffered a coalition missile strike even though the GPS coordinates of the facility had been provided twelve times and the roof had clear markings to distinguish the building for medical purposes. Such missile strikes are as indiscriminate for their attacks on civilians as they are precise in the striking of non-military use infrastructure. These strikes may very well amount to war crimes; war crimes made possible by American, British, and French munitions.

Western officials may at times express concern and beseech the coalition to show restraint, but in the end arms continue to flow and political acquiescence persists, as recently demonstrated by the American and British rejection of a UN security council resolution calling for an end to hostilities in Hodeidah. With Western support, Yemeni suffering is made easy.  The abundance of warnings about the damage of ongoing bombing in Yemen and the Hodeidah operation - by the UN, aid organizations, and even half-heartedly by the same Western countries who support the coalition’s mission - is so widespread, but it does not seem to matter.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, justified the Syrian strikes by noting “we have done it because we believe it was the right thing to do” and, yet, since the beginning of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have increased 500 percent. The windfall from arms sales and wishful thinking about regional dynamics matters significantly more than Yemeni lives.

Big Pharma - Big Profits

 Trump said that drug companies would soon announce “massive drops” in prescription drug prices in response to his administration’s plan for bringing down pharmaceutical costs.
“That’s going to be a fantastic thing,” said Trump.
Not a single drug maker has announced a significant voluntary decrease in drug prices. Drug makers have continued to raise prices during Trump’s tenure and show no signs of changing course.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was more realistic about the prospect of voluntary price reductions. “We’re, of course, not counting on just voluntary reductions in price. It would be nice if that happens..."
Pharmaceutical stocks have soared because investors see no serious threats to their profit margins.

Defend Your Unions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a blow to worker rights, ruling 5-4 that public sector unions cannot collect so-called "fair share" fees that help unions represent all workers, including non-unionized ones. The Janus decision could lead to weaker unions, lower wages for government workers, and poorer public services. The case takes its name for Mark Janus, the federal employee who argues that, as a non-member, being forced to pay the “fair share” dues (less than what a member pays) of the union that negotiates his contract violates his free speech rights because he disagrees with the political positions his union takes. This is despite the fact that fair share dues cannot be spent on a union’s political activity.  The Janus decision has nothing to do with protecting the free speech rights of individual employees. Existing law already had safeguards protecting the rights of non-members, and non-members can and do opt-out of contributing to the cost of political activities of public-sector unions (which are largely lobbying efforts to secure greater funding for popular public services). The sole intention of the shadowy right-wing groups behind the Janus case is to further weaken unions. 

The Trump administration frequently claims to be on the side of the little guy, but it is building a strong track record of harming workers and working families. The Trump administration has aggressively rolled back a 2016 rule strengthening overtime protections for low- and middle-income workers, and took steps to gut regulations that protect restaurant workers from having their tips taken by their employers.  
The real beneficiaries of the Janus decision are far-right, anti-union groups and their billionaire paymasters. We desperately need stronger public- and private-sector unions in the US, not weaker ones.

Among the labor leaders criticizing the decision was Lily Eskelsen GarcĂ­a, president of teh National Education Association (NEA), who called it "a blatant slap in the face for educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and all public servants who make our communities strong and safe. We are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires, all at the expense of working people. Those behind this case know that unions amplify workers' voices and transform their words into powerful and collective action....“We are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires, all at the expense of working people. Today’s radical decision by the Supreme Court is a blatant slap in the face for educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers and all public servants who make our communities strong and safe… Unions will continue to be the best vehicle on the path to the middle class.” 

According to Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at the Economic Policy Institute, the impact of the ruling is that "workers who wish to join in union will be forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources. This will lead to reduced power—at the bargaining table and in the political process. It will have profound implications for not just the 6.8 million state and local government workers covered by a union contract, but all 17.3 million state and local government workers and indeed for every working person throughout the country."

AFSCME stressed that the case should serve as "a rallying point" for workers and union members nationwide. "America needs unions now more than ever," said Lee Saunders, president, of the union. "We are more resolved than ever to fight like hell to win for our members and the communities they care so much about."

The decision ushers in “right to work” style conditions for public employees in states across the nation. These anti-union measures originated in the Jim Crow South as a means of undermining unions who were organizing black and white workers together in the same shop. Predictably, Koch brothers groups–such as Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the State Policy Network–cheered the ruling.

The case involves the obscure technical issue of agency fees. In over 20 states, even if public sector workers do not want to be represented by a union, they must pay agency or “fair share fees” to cover the cost of their representation. These fees were ruled fair and constitutional in 1977 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Abood decision, to prevent a “free rider” problem and because unions are legally required to represent all workers in a bargaining unit. The fees fund the unions’ collective bargaining process and other services they provide to state workers; they cannot be used for political action. Justice Alito wrote that the free rider problem was not a “compelling state interest.”

Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers had previously stressed this point. “Rarely is there a situation where a next-generation Supreme Court overrules or changes precedent of a unanimously decided opinion. This is a completely ideological movement to end unions as we know it and to redefine the First Amendment as a weapon against people."

“This is probably the most relentlessly anti-democratic and specifically anti-worker court since the ‘Lochner Era’ of the late 19th and early 20th century,” University of Wisconsin Law Professor Joel Rogers told the Center for Media and Democracy.
“But Janus shows it’s arguably worse, since it doesn’t even respect freedom of contract. This Court doesn’t stand for the ‘rule of law,’ which means putting constraints on the arbitrary and abusive use of power. It’s ‘let’s concoct a legal justification for giving abuse a free rein,'” said Rogers. (The 1905 Lochner case held that limits on the work day or work week violated the Constitution.)

“This is a concerted, corporate-funded effort to get rid of public employee unions–to stop them from advocating for higher minimum wages, affordable healthcare or a right to paid sick leave, to stop them winning wages and benefits that force private sector employers to raise their own wages, and to stop them from insisting on a level of public services–schools, libraries, transportation and more–that we all have a right to just by dint of being citizens,” said Gordon Lafer, a professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center.

Indian Workers Still Exploited

International efforts to make it easier for garment workers in India to speak out against sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions and abuses are failing, campaigners said. The U.S.-based certifying agency Social Accountability International (SAI) and Britain's Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) - an alliance of unions, firms and charities - are not enforcing procedures they set up to protect workers, they said.

"The organisations are violating the rules of the mechanisms they created by not taking time bound action against complaints that come up," said S. James Vi
ctor, director of Serene Secular Social Service Society, which works to empower garment workers.  "They are far removed from ground reality. The fact is that every day a worker continues to face workplace harassment in the spinning mills and garment factories of Tamil Nadu."

Forced labour, sexual harassment and repression of unions are not being properly addressed, Dutch advocacy groups India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) said. 

Trade union president Mody said that workers' committees set up to handle complaints internally do not work. "It is only on paper," she said. "We have at least 10 written complaints of sexual harassment pending before the Tamil Nadu government," she added, referring to cases brought by workers in SAI-certified factories.

ICN and the UK-based Homeworkers Worldwide rights group also said their complaints to the ETI about forced labour were investigated slowly, workers were not consulted about the grievances and no remediation plan was made to address them.

Many of the 1,500 mills in Tamil Nadu state - the largest hub in India's $40 billion-a-year textile and garment industry - operate informally with poor regulation and few formal grievance mechanisms for workers, most of whom are women, campaigners say.

"Workers are being victimised, harassed and managements are literally going after them for raising any complaint," said Sujata Mody of the Garment and Fashion Workers Union, which has about 3,000 active members. "The issue could be about a toilet break, sick leave or sexual harassment. No complaint is tolerated or redressed." 

Following reports that girls as young as 14 were lured from rural areas to work long hours in mills and factories without contracts, and often held capture in company-run hostels, global rights groups have tried to improve accountability.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Refugee Future

The lack of resettlement places globally feeds the smuggling industry and pushes desperate people to embark on dangerous journeys,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.
1.4 million refugees will need resettlement in 2019, according to new figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but the number of places available do not match needs. The Norwegian Refugee Council calls for rich and mid-income countries to increase the number of people they admit for resettlement.
“The shocking lack of compassion and willingness among many rich and mid-income countries to take their share of responsibility and provide refugees with resettlement has resulted in a large and dangerous back-log,” he added. 
  • The total number of displaced people globally continues to increase and has reached 68.5 million. Of these, 28.5 million are refugees and asylum seekers, while 40 million are displaced within their own borders. 
  • Three countries, Turkey, Bangladesh and Uganda, hosted more than half of all new refugees last year.  
  • In 2019, 1.4 million refugees will need resettlement. 
  • Less than 1% of the world’s refugees are ever resettled.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


The Westminster Abbey service on 22/6/18 to celebrate the
70th Anniversary of the Windrush Generation was entirely
unconnected with the government's recent Windrush Scandal.
The Windrush Generation came,
To gentle Albion;
Then came ashore and were abused,
And then were sat upon.
The Windrush Generation came,
And in this Babylon;
Had rooms at B&B’s refused, (1)
And then were spat upon.
The Windrush Generation came,
And settled hereupon;
In rubbish jobs and were misused,
And then were rat upon.
The Windrush Generation came,
And the Home Office con;
Meant all of them were then accused,
And then were shat upon.
(1) “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”.
© Richard Layton

NHS is in bad health

 An independent analysis produced for the BBC says the NHS was a "below-average" performer on preventing deaths from heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
We run a health system with very scarce resources in terms of staff and equipment and achieve poor outcomes in some vital areas like cancer survival," said Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank. 
Think tanks looked at performance on the 12 most common causes of death. It found the NHS performed worse than average on eight of them.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Paying the price to be British

Campaigners have called for urgent action to reduce Home Office fees as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration launches an inquiry into the charges.
David Bolt issued a call for evidence as he started work on an inspection of the Home Office’s charging for asylum, immigration, nationality and customs services. Bolt said it would look at the rationale for the fees, including the amounts charged. Bolt’s inspection will “look at the rationale and authority for particular charges, including the amounts charged” and whether the services are being provided “efficiently and effectively”.
Fees for immigration and nationality applications have steadily risen since 2010 under the “hostile environment” policy, including in the latest round of changes in April. Figures released to the BBC showed the Home Office made £800m in revenue from fees in six years.
Among the charges are the £3,250 levy for indefinite leave for an adult dependent relative and £1,330 for an adult naturalisation application. The Home Office made profits of up to 800% on some immigration applications from families. The cost to the Home Office of processing a naturalisation application is £372.
In 2011, the fee for adult naturalisation was £700, while the registration fee for an adult has gone from £500 seven years ago to £1,206. The cost of a settlement visa for a dependent relative has risen from £585 in 2008-09 to £3,250 in 2017-18, an increase of 450%. Naturalisation for non-British overseas territory citizens costs £1,330, compared with £906 in 2014-15. Nationality registration for adults has gone up from £823 in 2014-15 to £1,206.
Registration fees for children have caused particular unease. Registration is the process where someone who has an existing right to British citizenship applies to obtain it. It costs £1,012 to register under-18s, up from £500 in 2011. In 2014, discounts for a second or additional child were scrapped. 
Jan Doerfel, an immigration lawyer, said: “The ongoing narrative and myth is that migrants are a drain on the system and don’t pay their way. In fact, migrants have been paying disproportionate fees for many years, as the Home Office are charging migrants fees that greatly exceed what it costs them to actually process applications. It also needs to be borne in mind that many migrants working in the UK will have paid taxes for many years, whilst at the same time, would have been barred from having access to public funds to which they have effectively been contributing.”