Saturday, August 31, 2019

Social Services on the Brink of Collapse

Social care services in some areas of England are so fragile that they face complete collapse next year unless the government commits substantial extra investment in next week’s one-year spending review, Age UK has warned.

“Growing levels of desperation described by those individuals, families and professionals on the sharp end bear testament to a system working at full pelt, stretched to its limit and still failing people left, right and centre,” the report said.

It also highlighted fears that the market for residential care in many areas was failing, with half of councils witnessing the closure of domestic home care providers in their area in the past year, and a third seeing residential care homes shut down.

Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said the report painted a “frightening” picture of what might happen to social care unless the government intervened decisively to lift massive pressure on local authority social care budgets.

“When you strip out the complexity the story is really very simple: demand is going up but funding and supply are going down, leaving increasing numbers of older people to fend for themselves, rely on loved ones if that’s an option for them, or pay through the nose via a hefty stealth tax without which many care homes would not stay afloat,” Abrahams said.

“Things are so bad in some places that it is becoming impossible to source care, however much money you have. Certainly, the idea that there will always be a care home or home care agency able to help you in your neighbourhood is increasingly out of date.”
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said in June that the system was adrift “in a sea of inertia” as Brexit dominated ministers’ energy and attention.

A cross-party Lords committee including two former chancellors called in July for an immediate £8bn investment to tackle the long-neglected “national scandal” of social care that had left more than a million vulnerable older people without proper support.
The Health Foundation thinktank said the English social care system needed £1bn from next week’s spending round to stabilise it financially and prevent collapse, although this would be a sticking plaster and not the long-term plan that is required.

Helping the Rich

More than 5,500 households with an annual income of over £80,000 have been given help-to-buy loans in the past year compared with 4,142 households earning less than £30,000, the government’s own figures have revealed. 

Well over 2,000 of the richest households who were awarded taxpayer-funded loans, allowing them to buy new-build houses with only a small deposit, had incomes in excess of £100,000.

Whitehall figures now show that average renting households, with an income of £27,000, are missing out and a mere 0.2% of England’s private renting households used help to buy in 2018-19.
Shelter, the housing charity, which analysed data from the English Housing Survey, said it shows the policy has done little for the large majority of private renters looking for a stable home.
“Help to buy is often touted by the government as a major success, when in truth it’s a major failure,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of the campaigning charity. “It’s a policy that boosts the bank balances of big developers but has nothing to offer the average renter. At the crux of this crisis is the desperate shortage of genuinely affordable social homes,” said Neate. “In fact, 3m more social homes are needed in the coming years. This is where the new government should be taking decisive action, and where the greatest opportunity to help trapped renters lies.

With a friend like Trump, American workers need no enemies.

When it comes to wooing workers, Trump convinced millions of American workers that he is their true friend, fighting hard for them, even though he and his appointees have taken one anti-worker action after another—dozens of them. In reality, not so much courting workers but using the courts against them.

Trump has effectively scrapped the “fiduciary” rule that required Wall Street firms to act in the best interests of workers and retirees in handling their 401(k)s—a move that could cost many workers tens of thousands of dollars. 

Trump erased a rule that extended overtime pay to millions more workers, a move that will deprive many workers of thousands of dollars per year. While Trump boasted that he is the best friend of miners, his Labor Department pushed to relax rules for safety inspections in coal mines, but was stopped by a federal circuit court. Trump has made it easier to award federal contracts to companies that are repeat violators of wage laws, sexual harassment laws, racial discrimination laws or laws protecting workers right to unionize.

Trump has reversed a ban on a toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, that causes acute reactions in farmworkers and does neurological damage to children. He has greatly relaxed requirements for employers to report workplace injuries, making it harder for workers to know how dangerous their workplace is and what hazards need correcting. His administration is hurting gay, lesbian and bisexual workers by urging the Supreme Court to rule that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t cover them, which would give employers a green light to fire them. His administration has rolled back rules that sought to prevent payday lenders from preying on financially strapped workers.

Trump has repeatedly pummeled federal employees—he precipitated a 35-day government shutdown that left many dedicated federal workers desperate, without paychecks. He ordered a pay freeze for federal workers, only to have Congress reverse that move. His administration has also maneuvered in myriad ways to weaken federal employee unions.

Trump’s Labor Department is even allowing many employers who violate minimum wage, overtime and other wage laws to avoid any penalty by volunteering to investigate themselves. In a blow to workers of color and women, the Trump administration scrapped a rule that let the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collect pay data from large corporations so it could obtain insights into possible pay discrimination by gender and race.

Trump’s appointees have eased safety requirements for oil and gas drilling workers. His Administration has even relaxed child labor rules, allowing 16-and 17-year-olds who work in nursing homes and hospitals to operate power-driven patient lifts without supervision— even though thousands of experienced adult health-care workers get injured each year moving and lifting patients.

Trump has done next to nothing to make good on his campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure—a promise that had excited many workers. Nor has he lifted a finger to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in a decade, the longest stretch without such an increase since Congress first enacted the federal minimum wage more than 80 years ago. Nor has Trump done anything to enact a paid sick days law or to increase the earned income tax credit. But, of course, he pushed repeatedly to gut the Affordable Care Act, a move that would jeopardize millions of workers and their families by leaving many more Americans without health coverage.

The list goes on and on.

Trump’s appointees to the federal courts and federal agencies have moved aggressively to undercut workers and unions. Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, cast the deciding vote in the Epic Systems case, which went far to gut workers’ ability to enforce their rights against wage theft, sexual harassment or racial discrimination. That ruling gives companies the court’s blessing to prohibit workers from bringing class action lawsuits and instead lets employers require workers to resolve their grievances through closed-door arbitrations, which, according to numerous studies, greatly favor employers. Gorsuch also delivered the deciding vote in the 5-4 Janus v. AFSCME case—the most important anti-union decision in decades. In that 2018 decision, the court’s conservative majority ruled that teachers, police officers and other government workers can’t be required to pay any fees or dues to the unions that bargain for them.

Trump’s National Labor Relations Board has also moved to weaken unions and undercut workers’ ability to band together. By making it far harder to define companies like McDonald’s as joint employers, the NLRB has made it far more difficult for workers employed by subcontractors and franchised companies to unionize. Trump’s NLRB appointees have said gig economy workers like Uber and Lyft drivers should be considered independent contractors and not employees, thus blocking any possibility for them to unionize under federal law. And now Trump’s NLRB appointees seem intent on stripping graduate student workers at private universities of their right to unionize and bargain collectively.

Nor has Trump hidden his disdain for unions and union leaders.

 Last September, he attacked—and insulted—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a tweet, writing “some of the things he said on television]were so against the working men and women of our country and the success of the U.S. itself, that is easy to see why unions are doing so poorly.”

 In another anti-union tweet, Trump absurdly blamed Dave Green, the president of the UAW local in Lordstown, Ohio, for the closing of G.M.’s huge auto assembly plant there, even though no one worked harder than Green to keep that plant open. 

In yet another tweet Trump savaged Chuck Jones, the president of a steelworkers local in Indianapolis. Jones had criticized Trump for not making good on his promise to save all the jobs at a Carrier plant there after Carrier announced plans to move the Indianapolis operations to Mexico. Trump wrote that Jones “has done a terrible job representing workers. 

Taken from here

“Evo, Murderer!, Evo, Murderer!”

The SOYMB blog has previously exposed Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, as a champion of corporate interests, hence his low profile in the US hit list of foreign leaders. 

This article highlights that his ecology credentials are not as genuine as he claims them to be.

"...In a strongly worded statement, the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) declared both Evo Morales and Jair Bolsonaro “personas non gratas”: “We, indigenous peoples, hold the governments of Jair Bolsonaro and Evo Morales responsible for the disappearance and physical, environmental, and cultural genocide currently present in the Amazon.” Further, the statement condemns the policies of both governments, which “only aims to benefit the interests of powerful economic groups that seek to convert the Amazon into land plots for agricultural megaprojects, mines, dams, and energy projects.”..."

"...While international attention and ire has focused on the burning of the Brazilian Amazon and responsibility of the ultra-rightwing government of Jair Bolsonaro, across the border in eastern Bolivia, equally devastating wild fires in the past three weeks have destroyed nearly 1 million hectares. Response by the ideologically leftwing government of Evo Morales has been forced, instead, largely due to domestic pressure by Bolivians that increasingly view the response as not only as too little too late, but also directly blame Morales’ pro-development policies for ongoing destruction of the Amazon..."

"...Morales’ waited until Sunday morning, only hours before national protests were held in cities across the country, to announce that Bolivia would accept international aid, reversing his previous position...At a public rally Monday, Morales ridiculed the protests of environmentalists as the “electoral nuisance of small groups”..."

"...Indigenous leaders and civil society organizations point to government policies for encouraging deforestation and forest fires. In July, one month before the start of the forest fires, Evo Morales issued a presidential order (Supreme Decree 3973) further loosing restrictions for land clearing fires in the Bolivian Amazon from 5 to 20 hectares, modification to a 2015 law permitting land clearance. Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN and director of the Foundation Solon, points out that deforestations rates have spiked in recent years, more than tripling this year from 295 thousand hectares in 2016, while 420 thousand hectares were lost last year. Under current regulations, the fine for illegal land clearing is as little as $6.60 per hectare, while the estimated cost for seeding the reforestation of one hectare is $1,000..."

"...Evo Morales has carefully cultivated his image on the world stage as an indigenous defender of the “Pachamama (Mother Earth)”, but his domestic policies belie another reality...In the same manner as Bolsonaro, Bolivia’s Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera accuses detractors of Amazonian development as engaging in paternalist “ecological imperialism”..."

"...Morales demonstrated where his interests lie by attending the annual meeting of the regional ranchers’ federation of Beni in the Amazonian city of Trinidad. At the meeting, federation president Abdon Nacif denounced calls to repeal the controversial Decree 3973, stating that prohibiting forest clearing would harm regional development. Earlier this year, the Morales announced alongside private business leaders in Santa Cruz the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the Bolivian Amazon by an additional 250 thousand hectares, largely destined for the cultivation of transgenic soya. Starting this month, Bolivia will export as much as 200 thousand tons of beef to China’s growing consumer market. Only last week Morales’ boasted that businessmen tell him they earn more now with his leftist party than during previous neoliberal governments..."

"...Evo Morales has defended land clearance permits by justifying the importance of using fires (chaqueos) for rural subsistence, “small families that don’t use chaqueo, what are they going to live on?”. However, members of indigenous communities see this condonation as an affront to their livelihood and methods of cultivation. “For us, this is something disastrous. We have planted mahogany, chestnut, many trees and are repopulating the forest. Now as consequence, everything we have worked to create is going to be stripped down and burned. Practically, this decree is sweeping away everything we have created”, said Lidia Anti from the Communal Organization of Amazonian Women of the Beni..."

"...According to the director of Foundation TIERRA, Gonzalo Colque, the fire zones in the Chiquitania directly correspond with expansion areas of the agricultural frontier and colonization. The government has accelerated land donations in the region, waving the requirements of regulatory process. Between 2011 and 2018, 7 million hectares have been titled in the region. According to official figures, the majority (57 percent) of new land titles in the Chiquitania have gone to medium and large property holders, while only 28 percent have benefited small property holders. “Those that have received land are not agricultural workers. They don’t live there, and many have deforested without management practices. This is dangerous. The beneficiaries are members of the ruling party who do not live from agriculture but instead have fattened up to later sell the land to industrial agriculture”, maintains Colque…"

"...Sunday’s rally for international aid in Santa Cruz transformed into an impressive and large protest as thousands flooded the city’s central plaza into the evening. Demands for the repeal of Decree 3973 were ubiquitous and chants for justice reverberated across the crowd. “Evo, Murderer!, Evo, Murderer!”..."

Smoke and Mirrors

Cigarette giant,  Philip Morris International (PMI) calls for never-smokers to stay away from cigarettes, for smokers to quit, and for those smokers who do not quit to change to better alternatives. PMI is now navigating consumers away from cigarettes and towards its own e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products, although serious concerns about the safety of the smoke-free alternatives are mounting.  

Yet, controversial marketing strategies targeting young people and ongoing forceful rebranding of cigarettes in low-income countries indicate an unprecedented degree of corporate hypocrisy.

The tobacco industry is notorious for misleading consumers and the general public about the addictiveness of nicotine and the harmful effects of tobacco smoking. PMI no longer denies that tobacco smoking causes life-threatening cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, but it justifies with an unbearable lightness the role it has in fuelling the enormous disease burden that is directly related to smoking.  In 2015 alone, smoking caused more than one in ten deaths worldwide and killed more than 6 million people, resulting in a global loss of nearly 150 million disability-adjusted life-years. 

The business continues, PMI says, because fully informed consumers make personal choices to start smoking regardless of the health risks, and as long as there is a demand for cigarettes, PMI will supply them. With sales of more than 740 billion cigarettes each year, 90% of revenue stemming from cigarette sales, rising sales and expanding market share in developing countries, aggressive lobbying, and relentless efforts to curtail controls and restrictions on smoking put in place to protect the public, never has there been so duplicitous or nonsensical a corporate manoeuvre as PMI's campaign in promoting a smoke-free future while whitewashing its role in subverting global tobacco control efforts.

Blaming others—the consumer, health advocates, authorities, other tobacco companies—is a recurring theme. Claiming to be clearing the way for change is hypocritical for a company that refuses to end its cigarette production until it makes enough money from smoke-free products or as long as other tobacco companies exist to fill the market gap. 

PMI continues to thrive on a global addiction to tobacco. It is a tragedy that profits trumps good health  when it comes to taking corporate responsibility.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Towards tipping point

Cristiana Paşca Palmer, the executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said the destruction of the world’s biggest rainforest was a grim reminder that a fresh approach needed to stabilise the climate and prevent ecosystems from declining to a point of no return, with dire consequences for humanity.

“The Amazon fires make the point that we face a very serious crisis,” she told the Guardian. “But it is not just the Amazon. We’re also concerned with what’s happening in other forests and ecosystems, and with the broader and rapid degradation of nature. The risk is we are moving towards the tipping points that scientists talk about that could produce cascading collapses of natural systems.”

The collapse of pollinator populations and growing awareness of human dependence on forests and other ecosystems has started to make an impact.

“We need to address the root causes,” she said. “Even if the amount involved in extinguishing fires in rainforests was a billion or 500 million dollars, we won’t see an improvement unless more profound structural changes are taking place. We need a transformation in the way we consume and produce.”
“This is not just about biodiversity conservation, it’s about finance and trade and changing the model of development. We need to put biodiversity and natural capital at the centre of the economic paradigm.”

Requiem for the Planet (3)

A mysterious kidney disease that has killed thousands of sugarcane workers and other tropical laborers is a sign of the growing public health threat posed by climate change, warns a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Chronic kidney disease of undetermined causes (CKDu) is now the second leading cause of death in both Nicaragua and El Salvador, afflicting mostly working-age men who labor in hot, humid conditions. Scientists are still studying the disease’s causes, but a growing body of evidence points to heat stress and dehydration as key factors in its development.
Heat stress is what is pushing this epidemic over the threshold,” said Dr. Cecilia Sorensen, a researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and lead author of the New England Journal of Medicine article.
While CKDu’s correlation with temperature and climate conditions may be unusually strong, it is one of numerous maladies that occur more frequently during times of extreme heat. Heart attacks and other cardiovascular ailments, adverse birth outcomes and mental health problems have all been shown to happen more often during heat waves, said Sorensen, the author of the New England Journal of Medicine article.
She describes CKDu as a “sentinel disease” for a future shaped by climate change, and urges health professionals and health agencies to begin planning not only for more CKDu but for the broader public health consequences of extreme heat.
The fact that all these things are emerging suggests that things are going to get worse before they get better,” Johnson said.
The emergence of CKDu as an international public health threat was first reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in its 2011 Island of the Widows investigation. The project found that the disease was devastating farmworkers along a stretch of Central America’s Pacific Coast that spans six countries and nearly 700 miles, while wealthy nations imported high quantities of sugar from the region and resisted pleas to fund research into the ailment.

A 2012 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity examined a similar malady affecting farmworkers in Sri Lanka and India, widely believed to be part of the same lethal phenomenon.
Yet the evidence does not explain why CKDu occurs among some laborers in hot, tropical areas and not others, leading many scientists to believe that exposure to a toxin, such as a pesticide or heavy metal, may also be contributing to the disease.
In addition, researchers believe that they are finding CKDu in a growing number of countries beyond Central America and South Asia. Data on these cases is sparse, but reports indicate that CKDu may be afflicting workers in Mexico, Egypt, Sudan and even in the United States among farmworkers in California and Texas.
Leading CKDu researcher Dr. Richard Johnsonsays the common factor among the affected areas is extreme heat and humidity. Johnson says that even more than rising temperatures, the intense heatwaves associated with climate change place workers at risk when they occur.
The epidemic seems to rise in correlation with heatwaves and higher temperatures,” Johnson said.