Thursday, February 21, 2019

The cost of austerity

Austerity policies from the Treasury have resulted in slower growth in every year since 2010 and left each household £300 a month worse off as a result, a thinktank has said.

The New Economics Foundation said the cumulative effect of tax, public spending and welfare adjustments on growth by the end of the 2018-19 financial year would be to leave the average household £3,629 a year worse off – the equivalent of £1,495 per person.

Alfie Stirling, head of economics at the NEF, said work by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies made it possible to isolate the effects of austerity.

“At this time of year there is often renewed speculation over whether the chancellor will meet his year-end deficit targets by March. But for nine years, the elephant in the room has largely been missed: the sheer scale of economic damage that these targets have contributed to in the first place.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Germany maintains its arms ban on Saudis

Germany has rejected a plea by the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Der Spiegel reported that London had privately lobbied Berlin to exempt major European defence projects like Eurofighter or Tornado jets from the embargo. Both aircraft contain German components. An export ban has therefore had a knock-on effect on other European companies involved in building the aircraft. Hunt had warned in his letter that Riyadh was already seeking compensation from Britain’s BAE Systems over the German ban, Der Spiegel said.

One rule for Iran, another for Saudi Arabia

While the US is enforcing stringent sanctions on Iran to halt whatever ambitions it may or not have in developing nuclear weapons, America apparently has been complicit is providing Saudi Arabia with the know-how and facilities to develop such weapons.

On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed that, based on the testimony of “multiple” whistleblowers, the Trump Administration has been attempting to rush through a transfer of “highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology” to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without Congressional approval in violation of federal law. 

Before the Committee’s revelation , we knew that since 2017, the Trump Administration has been in negotiations with the kingdom over a “123 agreement” which would allow American corporations such as Westinghouse to transfer technology to the Saudis for the construction of two nuclear power plants. These agreements are permitted under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, subject to Congressional approval. These uses of nuclear power aren’t what’s most troubling. It’s the possibility that the Saudis will build a bomb.  According to Vox, “some skeptics think the whole energy argument coming out of Riyadh is merely a cover for its military ambitions.”

Enriched to 4%, uranium can power a nuclear reactor.  Enriched to 90%, uranium can be used to make a nuclear bomb.  Along with reactors, the Saudis want the tech that will enable them to enrich uranium.  Never mind that the Saudis would find it far cheaper to purchase nuclear fuel from outside the country.  Further, Saudi Arabia refuses to permit “UN inspectors to look anywhere in the country for signs that the Saudis might be working on a bomb….”

Trading in Death (2)

The global arms trade is experiencing its greatest boom since the Cold War, fueled by horrific wars in the Middle East and revitalized power rivalries among China, Russia and the United States. In their most recent report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed a 44 percent increase in arms sales from 2002 to 2017. The United States is the world’s biggest arms exporter by far, holding 34 percent of total market share — a 58 percent lead on Russia, its closest competitor. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. arms sales to foreign governments increased 33 percent, in part due to the Trump administration’s diminished legal restraints on supplying foreign militias. The State Department’s updated Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Policy Implementation Plan was released in November 2018 and detailed loosened restrictions on the sale of drones and other weapons, new financing options for countries who can’t afford U.S. weaponry, and aims to put pressure on diplomats to put arms deals at the forefront of their mission. Rachel Stohl, an arms trade expert with the Stimson Center, described the updated policy, saying, “If you read between the lines, it could be a green light for the U.S. to sell more with less restraint.”  Despite brokering more arms deals than any administration since World War II,  Obama did enforce holds on arms exports to some countries deemed guilty of human rights abuses, including Bahrain, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. All of these holds were lifted shortly after the Trump administration took power.

The Project on Government Oversight released a detailed analysis of the defense sector, revealing 645 instances of federal employees working for the 20 largest Pentagon contractors in fiscal year 2016, the latest year with complete data. Of the 645 instances of former public servants transitioning to work for private defense corporations, 90 percent were hired to work as lobbyists, where they seek to influence public policy to benefit their private employers.

After the resignation of Gen. James Mattis, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan filled the post as interim head of the Defense Department. Before joining the Trump administration, Shanahan spent three decades working for Boeing — a blatant conflict of interest for the person responsible for overseeing federal contracts with private defense contractors. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, called Shanahan “a living, breathing product of the military-industrial complex,” and asserted that “this revolving door keeps the national security elite very small, and very wealthy, and increasing its wealth as it goes up the chain.”

Heather Wilson, who has been secretary of the Air Force since 2017. In 2015, Lockheed Martin paid a $4.7 million settlement to the Department of Justice after the revelation it had used taxpayer funds to hire lobbyists for a $2.4 billion contract. One of the lobbyists was former New Mexico Representative Wilson, ranked as one of the “most corrupt members of Congress” by the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Wilson was later confirmed as Air Force secretary in the Senate by a 76-22 vote.

Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army, worked as vice president of government relations for Raytheon before joining the Trump administration in 2017. The Hill recognized Esper as one of Washington’s most powerful corporate lobbyists in 2015 and 2016, where he fought to influence acquisition policy and other areas of defense bills. Esper’s undersecretary, Ryan McCarthy, is a former Lockheed executive.

A glaring example of the arms industry’s influence on State Department policy is demonstrated by a September 20, 2018, report from The Wall Street Journal. According to the report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was convinced to continue support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen for the sake of a $2 billion arms deal with U.S.-based defense contractor Raytheon. The State Department’s legislative affairs staff, who influenced Pompeo’s decision, is led by Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner, a former Raytheon lobbyist.

Under  Barack Obama, arms exports doubled compared to President George W. Bush, reaching more than $200 billion in total approved deals (approved deals don’t represent actualized contracts, as deals can take years to be ordered and completed). The rapid increase in exports was part of a broader strategy to replace U.S. soldiers with surrogates in allied countries, as well as to placate allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Trump resisted calls to punish the Saudi prince on the grounds that punitive action would jeopardize lucrative arms deals with the kingdom. Trump’s claims vastly overstated the amount of jobs and money to be lost if the U.S. withdrew support for Saudi military adventurism. Research from Brown University shows domestic investment in education and health care creates more than twice as many jobs as military spending. Trump’s argument that we have to provide Saudi Arabia or the UAE with bombs that land on school buses, hospitals and weddings in order to preserve jobs is unconscionable and demonstrates a warped sense of priorities  to maintain what accumulates to a total of less than 0.5 percent of U.S. jobs

After Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, defense companies enjoyed an immediate boost to their stock. This is because demand in the arms trade surges alongside geopolitical instability. Heightened volatility encourages higher arms sales, and the dissemination of weapons to despotic regimes increases volatility, creating a vicious cycle

Forgotten About

Suffering in Silence" study by the Care International nongovernmental organization. The study presents the humanitarian crises that "received the least media coverage" in 2018. Care evaluated more than 1 million online articles in English, German and French published between the beginning of January and the end of November 2018. The study examines the frequency with which crises affecting at least 1 million people were mentioned in online media. (Television and radio reports or content produced for social media platforms were not included.)
Here are the five most underreported crises in 2018:
Burning cars, street barricades, deaths: The violent protests against the government have recently brought Haiti back into the global limelight. The 2018 food crisis in the country — exacerbated by a late harvest in the wake of a drought at the start of the year — received much less attention.
The World Hunger Index 2018 ranks the Caribbean state, which has been repeatedly hit by natural disasters and depends heavily on foreign aid, 113 out of 119 countries. According to the report published by Germany's Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide, the politically unstable country has the "highest level of hunger in the Western hemisphere." According to the index, the food situation is "very serious." Between October 2018 and February 2019 more than 386,000 Haitians fell into the emergency food category, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative. The World Food Program states that half of the Haitian population is currently malnourished.
"Unlike the 2010 earthquake, the 2018 food crisis in the Caribbean state hardly occurred in international news," the study said, noting that only 503 online articles reported on this particular crisis.
Ethiopia, too, faced food shortages in 2018. More than 80 percent of the population makes a living by farming, a source of livelihood threatened time and again by droughts. Last year saw rain again after two dry years — in some regions, it was not enough rain, while others were flooded, which also destroyed harvests.
More than 8 million people depended on food aid, the government said. The United Nations determined that 3.5 million people are "moderately malnourished," and 350,000 are "severely malnourished."
Ethiopia is listed twice in the Care study: Only 986 online articles reported about the food situation, and there were also few reports about the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. According to the UN, about 1 million Ethiopians fled the Gedeo and West Guji regions between April and July due to ethnic violence — more internally displaced people than in any other country worldwide.
Last year, a series of destructive weather events wreaked havoc on the Southeast African island state. Madagascar is severely affected by climate change: The of El Nino climate phenomenon dried up the island's rice, corn and manioc fields and the tropical storms Ava and Eliakim forced more than 70,000 people to flee their homes. According to UN figures, the number of people threatened by hunger in the south of the country rose to 1.3 million because the poor weather conditions meant little grain could be produced.
Outbreaks of disease, including measles and the plague, also shook Madagascar, just months after a plague epidemic claimed more than 200 lives in 2017. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 6,500 measles cases were recorded in the capital, Antananarivo, by the end of December 2018. The low vaccination rate was the main driver of the outbreak.
Democratic Republic of Congo
There is a "vicious circle of violence, disease and malnutrition" in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Care study. In 2018, 12.8 million people were threatened by hunger, 4.3 million children were malnourished, the country saw 500 new Ebola cases — 280 of which, according to the WHO, were lethal — and almost 765,000 people fled to neighboring states to escape militia violence, especially in the DRC's eastern provinces.
An above-average number of minors are also affected by the ongoing unrest. The DRC is one of the countries where children suffer most from armed conflict, according to a recent study by Save the Children and the Peace Research Institute Oslo.
Rape as a weapon of war also continued in the DRC. The UN estimates a total of more than 200,000 rape victims in the former Belgian colony. Doctors without Borders treated 2,600 victims of sexual violence in the city of Kananga from May 2017 to September last year, 80 percent of whom said they were raped by armed men.
Even if the Nobel Peace Prize went to Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege last year, garnering more attention in the media for the problem of sexual violence in the DRC, the crises in the country are among the least noticed worldwide in 2018, Care says.
The Philippines
On September 14, 2018, the world watched as Hurricane Florence hit the US east coast in North Carolina. At the same time, about 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) away, an even stronger storm moved towards the Philippine island of Luzon. At 200 kilometers per hour, the strongest tropical cyclone of the year hit the island in the early morning hours of September 15. More than 3.8 million people were affected, 82 people were killed and 130 injured in the disaster — but according to Care, relatively little was heard about typhoon Mangkhut, which was followed just a month later by typhoon Yutu.
The Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters in all of Asia, including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions: About 20 tropical storms hit the Western Pacific island state every year. According to the World Bank, the storms claim an average of 1,000 lives annually. But according to the Care study, the disastrous Mangkhut and Yutu typhoons are the country's 2018 invisible crises.

Trading in Death

The International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex 2019) in Abu Dhabi is the Middle East’s biggest arms fair. 
It’s a celebration of militarism and weaponry. Missiles, rifles, tanks, helicopters and warships are on display for anyone that can afford them. More than 100,000 people will attend this week, including representatives from all of the world’s biggest arms companies and military delegates from 57 nations. Among those looking to do business is the UK government, which has sent a team of civil servants to support UK arms company reps in doing as much business as possible. Particularly with the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, they will pull out all stops to cement sales. The Department for International Trade employs more than 150 civil servants and military personnel for the sole purpose of promoting arms sales. This week several of them are in Abu Dhabi for Idex, but next week they could be anywhere, desperately chasing ever-more lucrative deals.
There is no way of knowing what kind of deals will be discussed, or the kind of weaponry that might be sold as a result. We don’t know how these weapons will be used, or who they will be used against. But the results could be devastating. There is no shortage of UK arms in the Middle East. With rising military budgets, it is an important region for the arms trade. In 2017 it accounted for more than two-thirds of all UK arms sales.
It’s been eight years since the Arab spring uprisings. UK-made weapons were implicated in the violence, particularly in Libya where UK contractors were upgrading Gaddafi’s tanks on the eve of the uprising, and Egypt where UK-made teargas was turned on protesters. No lessons were learned, and there has been a significant increase in arms sales to many of the regimes. Since the uprisings began, and, despite the atrocities that have taken place, the UK has licensed a further £200m worth of arms to Egypt, and £100m worth to Bahrain. The sales include rifles, ammunition, armoured vehicles and a host of other deadly weaponry.
The impact of UK arms sales is most strongly felt in Yemen, where UK-made fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the ongoing war. For almost four years now the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has used them to inflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 60,000 people have been killed, and yet the arms sales continue unabated. Last week a House of Lords committee chaired by a former Conservative cabinet member told the government that these arms sales are illegal. Mohammed bin Salman, was welcomed to Buckingham Palace and Downing Street. Prince Mohammed was hailed by Theresa May and her ministers as a force for liberalism, but not a word was said about the people being bombed in Yemen, or those tortured, abused and executed by his regime.
We are forever being told how “rigorous” and “robust” export controls supposedly are, but it’s simply not true.

Climate Change to War

The most volatile region in the world is about to be plunged into further chaos because of climate change, academics and international officials warned.  The Planetary Security Initiative is a conference sponsored by the Dutch government and several international organisations to address climate change and associated crises.
Participants spoke of the urgent need of making governments and the public more aware of the need to manage water and other natural resources. “We need to weave climate change more systematically into our analysis of what’s happening in the region,” said Elizabeth Sellwood, an official of the UN’s environment arm.

Food scarcity and water shortages will add to the flood of displaced people, sparking wars and providing opportunities for extremist groups, they said.

These developments will mean 7 to 10 million people in the Middle East and North Africa will be forced to leave their ancestral or temporary homes over the next decade, a UN development official predicted.
“Food and fuel insecurity can very quickly lead to unrest,” said Jamal Saghir, a professor at McGill University in Montreal. “It’s likely that such shocks will happen again. Such crises might trigger violent crisis and increase public support for extremist groups offering viable alternatives,” he told attendees at the conference. “Terrorist organisations like Isis also capitalise on climate change to get new members. They find impoverished farmers to take advantage of – they are offered food, salaries, and other advantages.”
The troubles are far from over, with warmer temperatures leading to less water, for example along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that nourish Iraq.
“In Iraq, what is projected is the reduction of rainfall or snow in the headwaters,” said Nadim Farjallah, a professor specialising in climate change issues at the American University of Beirut. “The Middle East has all the problems now and all it needs is a spark. We already have all the tinder there.”
Adding to the complications, the Middle East region imports 65 per cent of its grain, with the numbers increasing, making governments and populations even more vulnerable to market shifts or climatic changes in other regions. “The region is completely dependent on the sustainable management of agriculture in other parts of the world for its food security,” said Johan Schaar, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The UN and other development agencies are nibbling at the edges of the looming crisis. They’ve established a fund to find water solutions for Egypt, where the bulk of its nearly 100 million population live along the Nile. Kishan Khoday, a UN official focused on Middle East issues, described an initiative to bring solar energy to Somalia and manage underground water resources. A  handful of governments – including those of Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco – have begun to address the issue of climate change. The preamble to Tunisia’s landmark 2014 constitution stresses “the preservation of a healthy environment that guarantees the sustainability of our natural resources”. In Jordan and Gaza, international officials have launched efforts to find sustainable sources of agricultural water. 
But in the end, many at the conference were sceptical that either policymakers or populations had a sense of the looming threat and the waves of crises still ahead. For the most part, governments are blithely ignoring the issue, especially those wealthy Arabian peninsula states dependent on the export of oil and gas. “Between the talk and the walk there’s a major discourse that needs to be addressed,” said Mr Saghir. “I don’t think the political will is there.”
“We’re looking at a situation of rising scarcity due to climate change and people on the move being the new normal,” said Tessa Terpstra, the Netherlands’ envoy for water matters in the Middle East.