Wednesday, July 31, 2019

America aiming to break another treaty

Air Force general Charles Brown, commander of Pacific Air Force, said that the United States will be looking at militarizing the Antarctic just as it has the Arctic. Brown called the Arctic "kind of a precursor to the way I look at the Antarctic." He continued, "The capabilities we have in the Arctic are the same capabilities we probably want to have in the Antarctic." 

The Pentagon is already mapping out moves on the Earth's northernmost region, announcing (pdf) this year that it is looking at "enhancing Arctic operations."

"From the security standpoint and the militarizing of the Arctic," U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz said earlier this month, "that is probably the future place for a contentious situation."

Air Force chief scientist Richard Joseph, who this month led a team to visit military installations in Alaska, echoed that message.

"The Arctic region," Joseph said in a statement, "is becoming increasingly important and central to defense of our homeland."

Brown mentioned 2048, which is set to be a key moment for the Antarctic—a region "within increasingly convenient reach"—because it's when the Antarctic Treaty can go under review.

He added that icebreakers were a lacking capability—"Russia has much more than we do." And, because the U.S. military will still need the few it has to operate in the Arctic, "we may need more" to bring them to Antarctica.

For six decades, the Antarctic Treaty has been the cornerstone of governance and has fostered scientific research, promoted international cooperation, ensured non-militarization, suspended territorial claims and strengthened environmental protections.

Socialist Standard No. 1380 August 2019

“Basically we’re fucked.”

Millions of people have fled Central America to escape grinding poverty, institutional collapse and untrammeled violence. But another factor behind the exodus has received less attention: conflicts over natural resources which have been intensified by corporate expansion and climate change. Half a million Hondurans heading north have been apprehended by US and Mexican officials since October 2016. The motives for migration are always complex, but in this region, environmental factors are increasingly important. In Honduras, water politics is stark: every year during the rainy season, countless communities are cut off, lives are lost, and roads, bridges and schools are damaged. It is a cycle of environmental destruction that exacerbates poverty and drives migration as families search for food, water and safety.

Vast swathes of mangrove forests have been destroyed to make way for industrial shrimp (prawn) farms which have proliferated even inside protected reserves. Mangroves are essential to healthy, resilient coastlines. The sturdy trees protect shorelines from storms and floods, and help prevent erosion by stabilizing sediments with their intertwined roots. They are key factors in marine biodiversity, providing food, clean water, shelter and safety for fish and invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters and prawns. Sales figures suggest shrimp farms are expanding: $216m of shrimps were exported last year, a figure expected to rise by up to 20% in 2019.

The industry destroys huge mangrove sites promising development, but actually creates very few jobs – and actually increases poverty by restricting fishing access for locals,” said Dina Morel, director of a local marine conservation organization, known by its acronym Coddeffagolf. According to Morel, shrimp farms are routinely approved in protected areas and environmental violations rarely punished as officials often have vested interests in the profitable industry. Acres and acres of shrimp farms have been built inland in ocean inlets which were once safe havens for tidal waves. But the farms block the natural flow of water, causing high tides and storm surges to immerse beach communities instead.
The consequences of losing this essential ecosystem are clear,” said biologist Víctor Bocanegra. “Environmental vulnerability, food insecurity, poverty and social decomposition, which all leads to forced migration.”
The shrimp industry in southern Honduras dates back to the 1970s, but grew exponentially in the 1990s. As a result, in 2000, seven mangrove forests covering over 150,000 acres were designated protected reserves. Despite this, half the region’s mangroves were destroyed between 2000 and 2010 – largely as a result of fishing concessions sanctioned before the decree, according to research by Coddeffagolf.

No one knows exactly how much of the protected areas remain intact, but satellite images suggest the situation is critical.

Yet, investment in climate mitigation and adaption programmes such as reforestation and flood defences is falling.
Only 0.5% of the central government budget is allocated to environmental protection this year, down from 1.2% in 2010, according to analysis by economist Hugo Pino, a former finance minister and central bank governor.

There is more deforestation than reforestation, that’s evident for everyone to see,” said Nelson Martínez, a grassroots organiser from Guapinol, a nearby community badly damaged by a tidal surge three years ago. “Unless the mangroves are saved, Guapinol will disappear too.” Because of rising sea levels and tidal surges. Between 1998 and 2017, Honduras was the second country or territory most affected by extreme weather events such as floods, storms, droughts and wildfires,

Since a 2009 coup, a profusion of water-guzzling megaprojects – including dams, mines, and African palm plantations – has fuelled social conflicts, state repression and migration.

Pedro Landa from Eric, a Jesuits human rights research organisation, said the lessons from Mitch were never learned. “Since the [2009] coup, the state has been increasingly controlled by mafia politicians with no interest in guaranteeing water supplies or economic development for ordinary people, just for themselves.”

We need a world commonwealth

Another direct action group similar to Extinction Rebellion has sprung up. Reclaim the Power focuses more upon the international aspects of climate movement adding “No Borders, No Nations” to their environmentalist slogans. With the prospect of increasing numbers of climate refugees, RTP campaigns against the governments “hostile environment” in detaining and deporting migrants. The group also widens their political critique to encompass the economic structure of present-day society. 
"We Need to Talk about Capitalism. Climate change and environmental collapse are the products of an economic system based on infinite growth on a planet of finite resources, on colonial plundering and on the many inequalities of a class based system. The fight for climate justice cannot be removed from this social and economic context.”

Many in the environmentalist campaigns talk about the negative essence of the government’s current actions and beliefs. But any government, like all governments, represents the interests of the state; and the state acts as a collective for the interests of society’s owning class (landowners, industrialists and other capitalists). If you are opposed to the destruction of nature as any thinking person would be—you will advocate actions which will make the despoliation impossible, by removing its cause. We accept that most members of such groups as Reclaim the Power and Extinction Rebellion are well motivated and to use that cliché, “they care”. But actions if they are to be effective require more than fine sentiments. It is not enough that behaviour is well motivated: if it is to be effective it must be appropriate. People require to learn just what is involved in keeping people free from poor health and abject lifestyles, and all the other social ills which are celebrated daily by capitalism. If you really care about people you will want to campaign for their enlightenment; in a word, for socialism. This is the only framework within which humans can control their own destiny instead of being dominated by some privileged elite or by the blind economic forces of the market. The technical means already exist to provide every man, woman and child on this planet with proper food, clothing, shelter, health-care and education. What stands in the way is the profit system. So let’s get rid of it and achieve a world without hunger, poverty, pollution, war, oppression or exploitation—a world commonwealth of co-operation, peace and plenty. 

It is capitalism, not overpopulation nor over-consumption that is the cause of present-day pollution, resource depletion and environmental degradation, and, even if population growth were to become a problem in terms of putting pressure on the Earth’s resources, it would only be within the framework of a world of common ownership and democratic control that such a problem could be tackled. As capitalism brings ecological catastrophe, then socialism is the only global approach treating the Earth’s resources as the shared heritage of all humanity would provide any chance of minimising the damage and saving what could be saved. Capitalism is constitutionally incapable of tackling the climate crisis in a rational way since under it production is carried on by profit-seeking enterprises all competing to maximise their profits. Competition forces manufacturers to produce as cheaply as possible, so the best anti-pollution devices are not installed. 

The need for socialist ideas is greater than ever, to urge people to look deeply into the terrible problems of capitalist society, deeper than the slogans and the banners. World capitalism as the dominating system of production and distribution can never be rationally organised in such a way that it serves the needs of the community or its environment. Private ownership, economic exploitation and the distribution of commodities through a marketing system with a view to making profit form the barriers that prevent mankind from making the fullest possible use of its labour, technology and natural resources. This is the nature of the ecology problem. Any attempt to deal with global warming within the framework of capitalist society is bound to fail, since it accepts all the pre-conditions of the problem. The priorities of capitalist society are privileged properly rights and the pursuit of profits.

Is the emotions of the climate campaign to be rejected as futile and irrational? Not in the least. Emotion is an essential part of human experience: it is thanks to our emotions that we can empathise with others and support one another when we unite to achieve a common goal. However, this is not to imagine that releasing our emotions will achieve more than does a more political approach. The reason formal organisations never seem to get anywhere is not because they lack emotion but because they lack understanding.

What we want to change is immense. It’s not just eliminating CO2 emissions, it’s getting rid of the whole structure that creates it in the first place. If we don’t use imagination nothing will change. Without change we will destroy the planet. It’s as simple as that. The way things are organised is neither natural nor inevitable, but created by people. People have a wealth of skill, intelligence. creativity and wisdom. We could be devising ways of using and distributing the earth’s vast resources so that no one starves or lives in abject poverty, making socially useful things that people need — a society which is life-affirming in all its aspects. We can combine those two remarkable human capacities, the emotional and the rational, in order to take things into our own hands and run our own society, our own world, in the interest of all humanity. 

The Price to be British

The length of time that a resident must wait before becoming eligible to apply for British citizenship has almost doubled since 2012, from six years to 10 – pushing thousands of lawful migrants into an increasingly precarious existence.

Fees for a limited leave to remain application are applied per person rather than per household, and status must be renewed every 30 months.  The cost of renewing an application for a resident with limited leave to remain has increased by 238% in five years – from £601 per person in 2014 to £2,033 in January 2019. The £2,033 fee includes a £1,000 contribution to the NHS,  initially touted as a tax on visiting migrants, even though people  have lived here most of our lives and many already pay taxes so it is a double tax. 
 Some families are paying tens of thousands of pounds every two and a half years to stay on track. People who have grown up in the UK are being forced into destitution. If unable to afford to pay the fee, people lose the right to NHS treatment and lawful immigration status.
The process involves detailed paperwork, with forms long and complex. Getting expert legal advice is expensive so often people have to do it on their own. If an application is rejected, you have to save up all over again and reapply. Literally adding years to the process.
In 2015, the supreme court granted those with limited leave to remain the right to study in the UK with full access to home fees – exempting students like her from international charges of up to £26,000. But students must have lived here for half of their lives and have been granted leave to remain more than once to be eligible.

More children - More Poverty

Campaigners have called for the government to scrap the “nasty” two-child limit on benefits after the latest official figures showed that nearly 600,000 children were affected by the controversial policy.
Although the government promoted it as a way to persuade people into work, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics published on Wednesday show those most affected by the limit were working families. Of the 161,000 households affected since the policy was introduced, 59% had at least one adult in work.
The limit means restricts the child allowance in universal credit and tax credits – worth £2,780 a year – is only paid for the first two children in a family. It does not affect children born before April 2017.
Research published earlier this year found nearly all families affected by the limit – which leaves them £53 a week worse off – had cut back on essentials such as food, medication, heating, clothing, as well as after-school clubs. Some parents said they had considered having terminations when they discovered the policy after getting pregnant.
Alison Garnham, of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “Every child deserves a good start in life, but today’s figures are a grim reminder of the human cost of this nasty policy, which says that some children are more deserving than others purely on the basis of their birth order – and which mostly affects working families. In the UK we would never turn a third-born child away from school or hospital. How can it be right to deny the same young children the support they need to enjoy a childhood free from poverty when their family falls on hard times?”
There is concern that the policy will exacerbate a dramatic rise in families with at least three children moving into poverty since 2014 – a nine percentage point increase that is yet to take into account the effect of the two-child policy. According to the CPAG, it will plunge about 300,000 more families into poverty by 2024, by which time 1.8m children will be affected.
In a letter to the Times on Wednesday, 109 social policy academics said the policy was “quite simply one of the most damaging changes to the social security system ever”. It had delivered “unprecedented cuts to the living standards of the poorest children in Britain”.
Just 4% of families received an exemption from the two-child limit, mainly on the basis that the third child was the result of a multiple birth. There were 510 exemptions under the “rape clause” – when the mother proved to officials that the child had been born as a result of rape.

More children - More prosperity

China’s northeastern province of Liaoning is planning to encourage couples to have a third child in a bid to improve dwindling fertility rates and stop its workforce from declining. Liaoning’s provincial government said that revising family planning regulations was one of its major priorities for 2019 after previous adjustments failed to arrest the decline in its population. It has drafted new regulations aimed at improving education, housing and social security and providing more financial support for families choosing to have two children. It will also allow some couples living in “border areas” to have a third child. Liaoning’s birth rate fell to 6.39 per 1,000 people last year, far lower than the national rate of 10.94. Its population also dropped for the second consecutive year in 2018, hit not only by the decline in new births but also by an exodus of young people seeking work in other regions.

China's“one-child policy” restrictions ended in 2016 to allow all couples to have two children as it tried to rebalance its rapidly ageing population. However, experts have called for more radical measures, with birth rates still in decline and China’s health services and pension funds expected to come under increasing strain as the number of elderly people increases. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

“The bigger the farm, the bigger the government check”

More than half of the Trump administration’s $8.4 billion in trade aid payments to U.S. farmers through April was received by the top 10% of recipients, the country’s biggest farmers.

The top 1% of aid recipients received an average of more than $180,000 while the bottom 80% were paid less than $5,000 in aid. 

U.S. farmers have been among the hardest hit in the year-long trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Shipments of soybeans, the most valuable U.S. farm export, to top buyer China sank to a 16-year low in 2018. 

“Farm bailout payments designed to offset the impacts of President Trump’s trade war have overwhelmingly flowed to the largest and most successful farmers,” the Environmental Working Group said said in a statement. “The bigger the farm, the bigger the government check,” it said. 

A USDA spokeswoman said aid payments were made based on a producer’s individual production. “The more acres they farm and bushels per acre they produce - the more assistance they receive,” she said in emailed comments. The department has made changes to its new farm aid and said it would pay farmers according to geographic location rather than by crop. A Reuters analysis of the payment rates posted online showed farmers in the cotton-growing Mississippi Delta states stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of the program.


Afghan and US forces have killed more civilians in Afghanistan in the first half of 2019 than insurgents did, UN figures show. It comes after a report by the UN in April, which reached a similar conclusion for the first three months of 2019.

717 civilians were killed by Afghan and US forces, compared to 531 by the Taliban.

Air strikes, mostly carried out by American warplanes, killed 363 people, including 89 children, in the first six months of the year.

There were 3,812 deaths and injuries in the first six months of 2019.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama),  the toll on civilians remains "shocking and unacceptable," Unama said. 

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said civilians were paying a "terrible price" as a result of air strikes and night raids that appeared meant to pressure the Taliban in negotiations. "Although US military officers in Kabul repeatedly claim to take civilian casualties seriously, they do not conduct adequate investigations to determine accurate numbers or understand targeting errors," she told the BBC, adding that Afghan government investigations were "even worse" 

"The usual claim - that the Taliban hide among civilians - is not an excuse for killing and injuring civilians in such numbers, and in any case is no excuse for what in some cases may amount to war crimes."

The US and the Taliban have been holding peace talks in the Gulf state of Qatar, but the American military is simultaneously carrying out an intense air campaign against the militant group. Fighting continues with daily violence around the country.

Making money from killing

The UK had returned to its position as the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US. British defence orders rose by £5bn to £14bn, making it the biggest year since records began in 1983  with sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and other countries in the Middle East accounting for nearly 80% of that figure. 

Campaign Against Arms Trade said the figures “Exposed the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. The government claims to stand for human rights and democracy, but it is arming and supporting repressive regimes and dictatorships around the world.”

The UK’s share of the global defence export industry to be about 19%, placing it second for the first time since 2014, pushing Russia into third place and ahead of fourth-ranked France. The world leader is the US, which has a share of about 40%.

Fleeing El Salvador

The movement of climate refugees is no longer hypothetical. It is now happening. The scenes at America's southern border have their beginning much further away.

El Salvador, the tiny Central American state and the most densely populated country in the region, is one of the most murderous in the world, plagued by warring gang factions and security forces who shoot to kill. Relentless bloodshed and chronic unemployment have driven wave after wave of migration to the North as Salvadorans seek a better life. 

But in recent years, widespread water shortages are increasingly helping fuel unrest and forced displacement. It also has the region’s lowest water reserves, which are depleting fast thanks to the climate crisis, pollution and unchecked commercial exploitation. According to one study, El Salvador will run out of water within 80 years unless radical action is taken to improve the way the country manages its dwindling water supplies.

Years of drought has prompted water rationing in urban and rural areas across the country. Yet much is wasted: most rainwater is lost due to widespread deforestation and eroded river basins; once in the system, 48% of water is lost through leaks. 90% of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated by untreated sewage, agricultural and industrial waste, according to studies by Marn.Nejapa is a semi-urban municipality on the northern outskirts of El Salvador’s capital. Sources are already running dry: the Nejapa aquifer provides 40% of the water used by the overcrowded capital, but the water level has shrunk by 20% in the past five years alone.

Marginalized communities struggle day to day to get access to enough water. It’s not a question that this could one day cause social conflict – it already is … the whole country is close to crisis,” said Silvia de Larios, former director of ecosystems and wildlife at the ministry of environment and natural resources (known by its Spanish acronym, Marn). There are no clear rules, no sanctions, no monitoring, and big business uses these legal vacuums to exploit water as a product for profit. It’s the poorest who suffer most,” said De Larios.

The water problem is only exacerbated by corporate interests and corruption. A lush forest, known as the lungs of Nejapa, is being chopped down to make way for gated housing developments with private underground wells. Nejapa’s biggest industrial water guzzlers and alleged polluters – the local Coca-Cola bottling company and sugar cane plantations – have been unaffected by rationing. Behind the Coca-Cola factory, murky, foul-smelling water can be seen pumping into a stream.

A network of grassroots groups, environmentalists supported by the Catholic church convinced lawmakers to make history in 2017 by banning metal mining – a major cause of pollution. But politicians have so far refused to create an independent regulatory system, which campaigners argue would put human consumption and sustainability above corporate interests.
Andres McKinley, a water and mining scholar from the Central American University (UCA), said: “This is a huge political issue; we must change who controls water. That’s the war we’re in.”

The cycle of violence begins when the state abandons communities by not providing fundamental human rights like water, education, health and jobs – which end up being the fertile ground in which gangs and violence grows,” said Jeanne Rikkers, a violence prevention expert with the NGO Cristosal But the fix is only ever about the violence, never the root causes. As water become increasingly critical, gangs will likely become involved in community conflicts as the state is absent.”

The Education Gap Widens

Progress in closing the GCSE attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier classmates has come to a standstill, signalling “a major setback for social mobility”, according to a study by the Education Policy Institute thinktank. It estimated that it would take 560 years to close the gap if the recent five-year trend continued.
The most persistently disadvantaged pupils are now almost two years (22.6 months) behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. The government’s own data showed that the average gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students by the end of secondary school went up from 17.9 months in 2017 to 18.1 months last year.
In Rotherham and Blackpool, poorer pupils lagged behind their peers by more than two years on average by the time they finished their GCSEs. 
David Laws, EPI’s executive chairman, said the report showed, “We are now witnessing a major setback for social mobility in our country. Educational inequality on this scale is bad for both social mobility and economic productivity.”
Jo Hutchinson, the report’s author, said: “Rising average pupil attainment has not resulted in more equal outcomes for all, and we must be sceptical of rhetoric about social injustices that is not matched by a credible plan and resources.”

The Martyrs for Nature

More than three eco-defenders were killed across the world every week in 2018, according to the annual toll by the independent watchdog Global Witness, highlighting the continued dangers facing those who stand up to miners, loggers, farmers, poachers and other extractive industries. The group cautioned that its tally of confirmed killings was likely to be an underestimate of the global total because killings still go unreported in many parts of the world

The Philippines has replaced Brazil as the most murderous country in the world for people defending their land and environment, according to research that putting the spotlight on the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. In the Philippines, 30 defenders were killed last year.  A third of the deaths were on the island of Mindanao, which is at the centre of the Duterte administration’s plans to allocate 1.6m hectares of land to industrial plantations. Half of the deaths in the Philippines were related to agribusiness.

For the first time since the annual toll began in 2012, Brazil did not top the list. Campaigners fear last year’s decline in Brazil could be short-lived if a new phase of conflict erupts as a result of President Jair Bolsonaro’s efforts to weaken indigenous territorial rights and protections for nature reserves. Underlining these concerns last week, Emyra Waiãpi, an indigenous leader, was murdered in the Waiãpi indigenous reserve in the state of Amapá ahead of an invasion by dozens of illegal miners.

Global Witness said companies and governments were increasingly using non-lethal tactics to quash dissent, including criminalisation and threats, while killings remain at an alarmingly high level. It is also possible that land-grabbers now have more power to get what they want without resorting to violence, because the agricultural lobby has an increasingly dominant position in politics.

Globally, mining was the sector responsible for the most killings – 43. But the sharpest rise was in murders of people trying to protect water sources, which increased from four to 17. This included conflicts over hydropower in Guatemala, the country that witnessed the sharpest spike in killings, from three to 16, making it the deadliest country per capita, according to Global Witness.

“Overall, there is no sign that the underlying causes of violence are improving. In fact, they look to be worsening. Governments in some of the worst-affected countries, from Brazil to Mexico to India, are prioritising business opportunities for extractives and agricultural companies over the protection of the environment and human rights, setting the stage for more conflict over land. This is being matched with a global crackdown on protest and freedom of expression, from recognised authoritarian regimes like China and Russia to longstanding democracies like the US,” said Alice Harrison, a senior campaigner at Global Witness. “Likewise, the use of courts to criminalise defenders is another weapon of oppression that’s being used in both the global south and north against people who threaten the power and profits of government and big business.”