Monday, January 21, 2019

Oxfam's Inequality Figures

Once again the growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by an Oxfam report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population.

Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day. The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.

As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61.
Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Matthew Spencer, said: “The way our economies are organised means wealth is increasingly and unfairly concentrated among a privileged few while millions of people are barely subsisting. Women are dying for lack of decent maternity care and children are being denied an education that could be their route out of poverty. No one should be condemned to an earlier grave or a life of illiteracy simply because they were born poor. It doesn’t have to be this way – there is enough wealth in the world to provide everyone with a fair chance in life..." 
In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled. 
Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days.
 The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. Just 1% of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people. 
The poorest 10% of Britons are paying a higher effective tax rate than the richest 10% (49% compared with 34%) once taxes on consumption such as VAT are taken into account.
 The report said many governments were making inequality worse by failing to invest enough in public services. 
It noted that about 10,000 people die for lack of healthcare and there were 262 million children not in school, often because their parents were unable to afford the fees, uniforms or textbooks.
 Between 1980 and 2016 the poorest 50% of humanity only captured 12 cents in every dollar of global income growth. By contrast, the top 1% captured 27 cents of every dollar.

The Mediterranean Watery Grave

The UN refugee agency has said 117 died or were missing after a smuggler’s dinghy sank off Libya on 18 January.

53 others died when another boat capsized in the western Mediterranean a few days earlier.

According to the IOM, at least 2,297 people died at sea or went missing trying to reach Europe in 2018.

What is in a name?

A lot if you are a Greek or Macedonian nationalist.

Previously known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the country has re-named itself  the Republic of North Macedonia, its language will be Macedonian and its people known as Macedonians. In Macedonian, the name is Severna Makedonija.

Greek nationalists believe it erodes their identity. 

60,000 demonstrators in Athens on Sunday say it implies a claim on the Greek province of the same name and chanted, "Macedonia is Greek" and waved Greek flags. 

Present-day Macedonia and northern Greece were part of a Roman province called Macedonia. And both claim the heritage of Alexander the Great two millennia earlier.

Up against the truth

Trump's federal shutdown has exposed an unpleasant truth to many federal employees and government contract workers - they are only one missed paycheck away from financial disaster. Those who are described as middle-class have discovered they’re not immune to the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck.

The end of the month is less than two weeks away, and those furloughed workers will collectively owe more than $400 million in mortgage and rent payments, to say nothing of utility and day-to-day living bills. But this economic insecurity  is not limited to furloughed federal workers, however. According to a report by Forbes Magazine,  78 percent of all US workers are living paycheck to paycheck. One quarter of workers are financially unable to set aside any money for savings after each pay cycle. Three quarters of workers are in debt, and half of those believe they always will be. Four in ten Americans can’t, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Board. Those who don’t have the cash on hand say they’d have to cover it by borrowing or selling something.

Financially speaking, millions of people in the US spend their lives on the wage-slave tread-mill, running fast and getting nowhere. You have no savings to speak of, a wallet full of maxed-out credit cards, but more bills coming in the mail every day, yet you need to eat, need to commute to keep a job, need medicine and have to buy clothes and basic necessities plus the rent or mortgage is due. The Trump shutdown has made even professionals like the air traffic controllers face up to this stark reality.

Because it has been this way since we can remember,  it need not always have to be this way. It is time we remembered that, and acted accordingly.

Adapted from here

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Masters of War

Here's the top ten of the world's biggest defence corporations by sales.
1. Lockheed Martin
The US company reportedly sold arms worth $44.9 billion in 2017, marking an 8.3 percent growth against the year prior. The Bethesda-based arms giant remained the world's number one weapons producer by sales. Lockheed Martin produces various defense systems, from combat ships to hypersonic missiles to fighter jets. The company delivers the F-35 fighter jet, the world's most expensive weapons system, to Pentagon.
2. Boeing
US space and aircraft giant Boeing brought in $26.9 billion in sales. 2017 marked a substantial gap of $18 billion between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
"The fall in Boeing's arms sales can be partially attributed to delays in the delivery of KC-46 tanker aircraft and the end of deliveries of C-17 transport aircraft," according to the SIPRI report.
Arm's sales accounted for only 29 percent of the aircraft manufacturing giant's total in 2017. Last year, Boeing managed to seal a wide range of contracts with the US Government. The corporation signed over 20 deals with a total value of $13.7 billion in September alone
3. Raytheon
This US arms manufacturer is reportedly the world's biggest producer of guided missiles and missile defense systems. In 2017, Raytheon saw a sales increase of two percent compared to 2016. The company reportedly earned $23.9 billion.
Its portfolio includes the Patriot missile system, a combat-tested platform, which is reportedly the backbone of European ballistic missile defense. Raytheon's Patriot system is used in nine countries outside Europe
4. BAE Systems
The British arms producer sold $22.9 billion worth of weapons, demonstrating a 3.3 percent growth against the previous year. The UK remained the largest arms producer in the region in 2017, with total arms sales of $35.7 billion.
5. Northrop Grumman
This US arms-manufacturing corporation brought $22.4 billion in sales in 2017, marking a modest year-on-year growth of 2.4 percent. The aerospace and defense tech firm bought American rocket maker Orbital ATK, with the aim of expanding its business in the space market.
6. General Dynamics
The Virginia-based defense company sold arms worth $19.5 billion, marking a slight decrease from $19.6 billion the previous year. Its M1 Abrams tank has been used in nearly every major US military operation over the past 40 years.
7. Airbus Group
The second largest defense contractor in Europe, Airbus, brought in $11.3 billion in arms sales in 2017. Arms sales are not the key revenue earner for the European aerospace giant accounting for only 15 percent of its $75 billion revenue. Its business is mostly focused on commercial aircraft and space sectors. The Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet, the result of collaboration between the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain, is Airbus's most recognizable military product.
In 2017, French defense corporation Thales demonstrated sales of $9 billion, which is around half of its total 2017 revenue. The company managed to raise weapon sales by nearly seven percent from the previous year. Thales manufactures a wide range of defense products, from armored vehicles to missile defense to navigation equipment.
9. Leonardo
Italian weapon producer brought in $8.9 billion in 2017 arms sales, which makes 68 percent of its total revenue. Leonardo produces helicopters, missiles and drones, as well as equipment for non-military space programs.
10. Almaz-Antey
The Russian weapons supplier entered the top ten of the SIPRI's annual ranking. In 2017, the country's biggest arms company increased sales by 17 percent to $8.6 billion. The company's flagship product, the S-400, a mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system,has managed to lure dozens of foreign military buyers over the last five year.

Is the Moon up for grabs?

Earlier this month, China landed a probe, the Chang'e-4, on the far side of the Moon. The Japanese firm iSpace is planning to build an "Earth-Moon transportation platform" and carry out "polar water exploration" on the Moon. Several companies are expressing an interest in exploring and, possibly, mining its surface for resources including gold, platinum and the rare earth minerals widely used in electronics. Could the Moon become involved in a commercially and politically driven land and resources grab? As technology has developed, exploiting its resources for profit has become a likely prospect. The will to explore and make money is there, with countries seemingly becoming more eager to help companies.
The UN put together an Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967 by countries including the US, the Soviet Union and the UK.  It stated: "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."
Joanne Wheeler, director of space specialist company Alden Advisers, describes the treaty as "the Magna Carta of space". It makes planting a flag on the Moon - as Armstrong and his successors did - "meaningless", as it doesn't confer any "binding rights" to individuals, companies or countries, she adds.
In 1979 the UN produced an Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, better known as the Moon Agreement. This stipulated that they must be used for peaceful purposes, and that the UN must itself be told where and why anyone planned to build a station. The agreement also said that "the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind" and that an international regime should be set up "to govern the exploitation of such resources when such exploitation is about to become feasible". The problem with the Moon Agreement, though, is that only 11 countries have ratified it. France is one, and India is another. The biggest players in space - including China, the US and Russia - have not. Nor has the UK.  

Ms Wheeler says, it's "not so easy" to enforce the rules outlined in treaties.
Prof Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law, agrees that international agreements offer "no guarantees". Enforcement "is a complex mixture of politics, economics and public opinion", she adds. And the existing treaties, denying national ownership of celestial bodies, have faced an extra challenge in recent years. 
In 2015, the US passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, recognising the right of it citizens to own any resources they manage to mine from asteroids. It doesn't apply to the Moon, but the principle might feasibly be extended. Eric Anderson, co-founder of the exploration company Planetary Resources, described the legislation as the "single greatest recognition of property rights in history".
In 2017, Luxembourg passed its own act, providing the same right of ownership to resources found in space. 
"Clearly mining, whether with the intention of returning the materials to Earth or to store or manufacture with them on the Moon, is the very opposite of not doing any harm," says Helen Ntabeni, a lawyer at Naledi Space Law and Policy. She adds that it could be argued the US and Luxembourg have "bullied" their way out of the Outer Space Treaty's stipulations. "I'm quite sceptical that the high moral notions of the world exploring space together as equal nations will be preserved," she says.