Thursday, September 24, 2020

Australia's Banksters

 Australia's Westpac bank has negotiated to pay a record A$1.3bn (£0.7bn; $0.9bn) fine for the nation's biggest breach of money laundering laws.

Last year, Australia's financial crime watchdog said the bank had failed to adequately report over 19 million international transactions.  It will be the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history.

Some payments were potentially linked to child exploitation, officials said. Concerns about child exploitation came after the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac)  identified payments made to suspected operators in the Phillipines. Australian media has since linked the bank to individual cases, including an alleged paedophile's suspected use of Westpac's transfer system to pay for child sex overseas.
In Australia, Westpac's competitor Commonwealth Bank paid an A$700m fine for similar breaches in 2018 involving 53,000 suspect transactions. The nation's banking sector was last year also the subject of a royal commission - Australia's highest form of public inquiry - that exposed widespread wrongdoing in the industry.

China's Mega-rich

 The richest person is China is a bottled water tycoon, Zhong Shanshan who founded Nongfu Spring in 1996 in the Zhejiang province on China's Eastern coast, knocking Alibaba founder Jack Ma from his mantle. Zhong's Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise controlling stake in the firm saw his overall wealth jump as much as $20bn by August.

 Shanshan is now in top spot with wealth of $58.7bn (£46.2bn).  He is also now Asia's second-richest person behind India's Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire behind Reliance Industries.  He ranks 17th overall on its list of the world's top 500 richest people.

New Audio Talks Uploaded

How they solved the homeless problem (for a while) pt.1

How they solved the homeless problem (for a while) pt.2

How they solved the homeless problem (for a while) pt.3

FAQ Food and politics

FAQ Fetishing the word socialism pt.1

FAQ Fetishing the word socialism pt.2

FAQ Would there be laws

Who was J Posadas pt.1

Who was J Posadas pt.2

Dangerous Women - Marge Piercy

FAQ What we think of charities

The Palm Oil Industry

 An Associated Press investigation found  in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia – an invisible workforce consisting of millions of laborers from some of the poorest corners of Asia, many of them enduring various forms of exploitation, with the most serious abuses including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape. Together, the two countries produce about 85 percent of the world’s estimated $65 billion palm oil supply  which its way into the supply chains of the planet’s most iconic food and cosmetics companies like Unilever, L’Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble.

Palm oil is virtually impossible to avoid. Often disguised on labels as an ingredient listed by more than 200 names, it can be found in roughly half the products on supermarket shelves and in most cosmetic brands. It’s in paints, plywood, pesticides and pills. It’s also present in animal feed, biofuels and even hand sanitizer. A half-century ago, palm oil was just another commodity that thrived in the tropics. Many Western countries relied on their own crops like soybean and corn for cooking, until major retailers discovered the cheap oil from Southeast Asia had almost magical qualities. It had a long shelf life, remained nearly solid at room temperature and didn’t smoke up kitchens, even when used for deep-frying. When researchers started warning that trans fats like those found in margarine posed serious health risks, demand for palm oil soared even higher. Just about every part of the fruit is used in manufacturing, from the outer flesh to the inner kernel, and the versatility of the oil itself and its derivatives seem endless. It helps keep oily substances from separating and turns instant noodles into steaming cups of soup, just by adding hot water. It’s used in baby formula, non-dairy creamers and supplements and is listed on the labels of everything from Jif Natural peanut butter to Kit-Kat candy bars. Often hidden amid a list of scientific names on labels, it’s equally useful in a host of cleansers and makeup products. It bubbles in shampoo, foams in Colgate toothpaste, moisturizes Dove soap and helps keep lipstick from melting. But the convenience comes with a cost: For workers, harvesting the fruit can be brutal.

Crops like rapeseed, sesame and corn require a lot more land while producing far less oil. Malaysia and Indonesia started ramping up commercial production in the 1960s and ’70s, supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which saw palm oil as an engine for economic growth in the developing world. Today, following advances in transportation and capabilities in refining, the two countries have a near-monopoly on the global supply, even as production expands across Africa and Latin America, where a litany of labor abuses also have been reported. China and India have become major customers, and the crop now is being eyed as a potential energy source for power plants, ships and airplanes, which would create even more demand.

“If the whole Western world would stop using palm oil, I don’t think that would make any difference,” said Gerrit van Duijn, a former refineries manager at Unilever, one of the world’s largest palm oil buyers for food and personal care products. The trees take only three or four years to mature and then bear fruit year-round for up to three decades. But most companies can’t maintain the pace of expansion without outside funding. Every 10,000 acres of new planting requires up to $50 million, van Duijn estimates.

AP interviewed  current and former workers from two dozen palm oil companies who came from eight countries and labored on plantations across wide swaths of Malaysia and Indonesia. Almost all had complaints about their treatment, with some saying they were cheated, threatened, held against their will or forced to work off unsurmountable debts. Others said they were regularly harassed by authorities, swept up in raids and detained in government facilities.

They included members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya minority, who fled ethnic cleansing in their homeland only to be sold into the palm oil industry. Fishermen who escaped years of slavery on boats also described coming ashore in search of help, but instead ending up being trafficked onto plantations -- sometimes with police involvement.

Though labor issues have largely been ignored, the punishing effects of palm oil on the environment have been decried for years. Still, giant Western financial institutions like Deutsche Bank, BNY Mellon, Citigroup, HSBC and the Vanguard Group have continued to help fuel a crop that has exploded globally, soaring from just 5 million tons in 1999 to 72 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. alone has seen a 900 percent spike in demand during that same time.

Sometimes they invest directly but, increasingly, third parties are used like Malaysia-based Maybank, one of the world’s biggest palm oil financiers, which not only provides capital to growers but, in some cases, processes the plantations’ payrolls. Financial crimes experts say that in an industry rife with a history of problems, banks should flag arbitrary and inconsistent wage deductions as potential indicators of forced labor. 

“This has been the industry’s hidden secret for decades,” said Gemma Tillack of the U.S.-based Rainforest Action Network, which has exposed labor abuses on palm oil plantations. “The buck stops with the banks. It is their funding that makes this system of exploitation possible.”

 As global demand for palm oil surges, plantations are struggling to find enough laborers, frequently relying on brokers who prey on the most at-risk people. Many foreign workers end up fleeced by a syndicate of recruiters and corrupt officials and often are unable to speak the local language, rendering them especially susceptible to trafficking and other abuses. They sometimes pay up to $5,000 just to get their jobs, an amount that could take years to earn in their home countries, often showing up for work already crushed by debt. Many have their passports seized by company officials to keep them from running away, which the United Nations recognizes as a potential flag of forced labor. Countless others remain off the books and are especially scared of speaking out. They include migrants working without documentation and children who AP reporters witnessed squatting in the fields like crabs, picking up loose fruit alongside their parents. Many women also work for free or on a day-to-day basis, earning the equivalent of as little as $2 a day, sometimes for decades.

The uneven jungle terrain is rough and sometimes flooded. The palms themselves serve as a wind barrier, creating sauna-like conditions, and harvesters need incredible strength to hoist long poles with sickles into the towering trees. Each day, they must balance the tool while carefully slicing down spiky fruit bunches heavy enough to maim or kill, tending hundreds of trees over expanses that can stretch beyond 10 football fields. Those who fail to meet impossibly high quotas can see their wages reduced, sometimes forcing entire families into the fields to make the daily number.

“I work as a helper with my husband to pick up loose fruit. I do not get paid,” said Yuliana, who labors on a plantation owned by London Sumatra, which has a history of labor issues and is owned by one of the world’s largest instant-noodle makers.

Female workers from other companies who said they were sexually harassed and even raped in the fields, including some minors. Workers also complained about a lack of access to medical care or clean water, sometimes collecting rain runoff to wash the residue from their bodies after spraying dangerous pesticides or scattering fertilizer.

While previous media reports have mostly focused on a single company or plantation, the AP investigation is the most comprehensive dive into labor abuses industrywide. It found widespread problems on plantations big and small, including some that meet certification standards set by the global Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an association that promotes ethical production -- including the treatment of workers -- and whose members include growers, buyers, traders and environmental watchdogs. Some of the same companies that display the RSPO’s green palm logo signifying its seal of approval are accused of continuing to grab land from indigenous people and destroying virgin rainforests that are home to orangutans and other critically endangered species. They contribute to climate change by cutting down trees, draining carbon-rich peatlands and using illegal slash-and-burn clearing that routinely blankets parts of Southeast Asia in a thick haze. 

While some companies, such as Ikea, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever, directly confirmed the use of palm oil or its derivatives in their products, others refused to say or provided minimal information, sometimes even when “palm oil” was clearly listed on labels. Others said it was difficult to know if their products contained the ingredient because, in items such as cosmetics and cleaning supplies, some names listed on labels could instead be derived from coconut oil or a synthetic form.

“I understand why companies are struggling because palm oil has such a bad reputation,” said said Didier Bergeret, director of social sustainability at the Consumer Goods Forum, a global industry group. “Even if it’s sustainable, they don’t feel like talking about it whatsoever.” 

Malaysia and Indonesia have long touted the golden crop as vital to alleviating poverty, saying small-time farmers are able to grow their own palm oil and large industrial estates provide much-needed jobs to workers from poor areas. 

Soes Hindharno, spokesman for the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, told the AP that many Indonesian workers who cross over to Malaysia illegally to work on plantations “are easily intimidated, their wages are cut or they are threatened with reporting and deportation.” Some have their passports seized by their employers, he said. 

The workers AP interviewed came from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Cambodia, along with Myanmar, which represents the newest army of exploited laborers. Among the latter are stateless Rohingya Muslims. Decades of oppression and outbreaks of violence have sent nearly a million Rohingya fleeing Myanmar in the last five years. Sayed was among those who escaped by boat -- only to be held hostage, he said, and tortured by human traffickers in a jungle camp in Thailand. After his relatives paid a ransom, Sayed said he was sent to Muslim-majority Malaysia, where thousands of Rohingya have sought refuge. He heard about a job paying workers without permits the equivalent of $14 a day, so he jumped into the back of a truck with eight other men and watched for hours as the busy highways narrowed to a dirt mountain track surrounded by an endless green carpet of palm oil trees. Once on the plantation, Sayed said he lived in an isolated lean-to, dependent on his boss to bring what little rice and dried fish he was given to eat. He said he escaped after working a month and was later arrested, spending a year and a half in an immigration detention center, where guards beat him.

“There is no justice,” he said. “People here say, ‘This is not your country, we will do whatever we want.’”

Rights groups confirmed being double-trafficked is not uncommon, especially five to 10 years ago, when recruiters and human traffickers would wait along the coast for runaway fishermen. Last year in Malaysia, another Cambodian man who said he spent five years enslaved at sea and four more on plantations was among those who surfaced. Instead of being repatriated as a victim of human trafficking, rights groups said he was jailed for months for being in the country illegally. 

“We gave our sweat and blood for palm oil,” Ko Htwe said. “We were forced to work and were abused.” When Americans and Europeans see palm oil is listed as an ingredient in their snacks, he said, they should know “it’s the same as consuming our sweat and blood.” 

Asian banks are by far the most robust financiers of the plantations, but Western lenders and investment companies have poured almost $12 billion into palm oil plantations in the last five years alone, allowing for the razing and replanting of ever-expanding tracts of land, according to Forest and Finance, a database run by six nonprofit organizations that track money flowing to palm oil companies. The U.S institutions BNY Mellon, Charles Schwab Corp., Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Citigroup Inc., along with Europe’s HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Prudential, together account for $3.5 billion of that, according to the data. Other contributors include U.S. state pensions and teachers’ unions, including CalPERS, California’s massive public employees fund, and insurance companies such as State Farm, meaning that even conscientious consumers many unwittingly be supporting the industry just by visiting ATMs, mortgaging homes, insuring cars or investing in 401K retirement accounts. Bank of America, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, CalPERS and State Farm responded by noting their policies vowing to support sustainability practices in the palm oil industry, with many also incorporating human rights into their guidelines. JPMorgan Chase declined comment, and BNY Mellon, Citigroup and Prudential did not respond. Charles Schwab called its investment “small.” Malaysia’s biggest bank, Malayan Banking Berhad. More commonly known as Maybank, it has provided almost $4 billion in financing to Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry between 2015 and 2020, or about 10 percent of all loans and underwriting services, according to Forests and Finance. Maybank has some of the loosest social and environmental assessment policies in the industry, its shareholders include institutions such as the Vanguard Group, BlackRock and State Street Corp. 

The biggest gains for banks affiliated with palm oil come from big-ticket financial services, such as corporate loans. But some of the same institutions also offer banking services for workers, handling payrolls and installing ATM machines inside plantations.

“And this is where banks, such as Maybank, may find themselves at the heart of a forced-labor problem,” said Duncan Jepson, managing director of the global anti-trafficking nonprofit group Liberty Shared. “Financial institutions have ethical and contractual obligations to all their clients, as set out in the customer charters. In this case, that means both the palm oil company and its workers.” Jepson said abnormal paycheck deductions are commonplace industry-wide, which should trigger investigations by the banks’ risk management teams into possible money-laundering. 

FGV Holdings, which employs nearly 30,000 foreign workers and manages about 1 million acres, has a 50/50 joint-venture with American consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Company. FGV Holdings has been under fire for labor abuses and was sanctioned by the RSPO certification group two years ago. The U.S. State Department has long linked the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia to exploitation and trafficking. And a 2018 report released by the Consumer Goods Forum found indicators of forced labor on estates in both countries -- essentially putting the network’s 400 CEOs on alert. Its members include palm oil customers like Nestle, General Mills Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company and Johnson & Johnson.

Deciding For Ourselves



There is never a right time to criticize the Democratic Party. Always there is the threat from the right. Anyone with even a hint of a progressive agenda in their politics are told they are a destabilizing element and will frighten off the moderate Republicans. It is the long-running debate on ‘lesser-evilism’. Trump or Biden? Nevertheless who will stuff the pockets of Wall St with money? Both of them. Who will finance the armaments industry? Both of them. Who will side with the employers? Both of them. Who will end the misery of working people. Neither of them. For Trump and Biden - read capitalism.

It is hard to believe that real change is possible and it is easier to think that the system can be reformed if only politicians were principled, that justice can overcome evil, and that freedom can prevail. Socialists hold that revolutionary change is indeed possible but it takes each and every one of us to be committed, to be informed, to be educated and to be actively involved. Our task does not begin and end on election days. We cannot rest our hopes on a political savior to rescue us. As Eugene Debs reminded his voters:

 “I would not be a Moses to lead you into the Promised Land, because if I could lead you into it, someone else could lead you out of it

Despite what is taught in school and the propaganda that is peddled by the compliant media which promotes the illusion that we have a democratic republic, a presidential election is not a populist election for a representative. Rather, it’s a gathering of shareholders to select the next CEO. We live under a plutocracy or oligarchy, a system of government in which officials represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen.

The system is rigged. The American electorate has been fed with billions of dollars’ worth of political advertisements aimed at persuading them that:

1) their votes count and

2) electing the right candidate will fix everything that is wrong with the country.

 Yet they are given only two viable choices for president,  which comes down voting for the lesser of the two evils. We are fooled into believing that there’s a difference between the Republicans and Democrats, when in fact, the two parties are practically the same, both parties are bought and paid for by the corporate elite, who care about their own power

The decision on election day will not alleviate the suffering of the American people. Things will remain unchanged. No matter who wins the presidential election on November 3, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people. “We, the people” will continue in misery while the corporations will continue to call the shots. Stop supporting and defending the insanity of the capitalist system. When faced with the prospect of voting for the lesser of two evils, many simply compromise their principles and overlook the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

America's Weapon Sales


The United States has been the world’s leading producer of major weapons systems and the leader in global arms sales for the past several decades.

Many of these sales have taken place in the globe’s most volatile region, the Middle East, than in any other region of the world.  The so-called peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which were brokered by the United States, were business deals designed to expand U.S. arms sales in the Persian Gulf.  The Trump administration has made arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Middle East countries the focus of its foreign policy in the region. No sooner had the ink dried on these agreements than disputes emerged over whether Israel had agreed to permit the sale of U.S. F-35 fighter aircraft—the most expensive weapons system in the U.S. arsenal and the most sophisticated jet fighter in the world—to the United Arab Emirates.  Until now, no Arab country had been allowed access to this aircraft.

U.S. arms sales generally have contributed to tensions in some of the world’s most sensitive arenas.  Saudi Arabia’s misuse of U.S.-supplied fighter aircraft in Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian nightmare, has contributed to the rising civilian death toll there.  For the past five years, the United States has earned billions of dollars in sales to the Saudis, whose coalition has considerable responsibility for many of the deaths of more than 127,000 Yemenis, including more than 15,000 civilians. In 2016, the Department of State’s legal office concluded, in fact, that U.S. officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners.  

The Trump administration is currently taking on a great risk in proposing seven large weapons packages to Taiwan. The weapons would represent one of the largest sales to Taiwan, and would include long-range missiles—Boeing’s AGM-84H—that would allow Taiwanese fighter aircraft—Lockheed Martin’s F-16—to hit distant targets in China.  Last year’s sale of 66 F-16s for $8 billion represented one of the largest arms packages to Taiwan in history.

Miami's Wealth Divide

 Miami-Dade county has the second-biggest gap between rich and poor of all large metro areas in the US, according to a 2019 report – only the New York metropolitan area is more unequal.

 The county’s 33109 zip code – which comprises Fisher Island’s 216 acres and its 800 residences – is the richest not just in the county but in the entire US, according to a Bloomberg analysis from last year. 

Zip code 33034, which covers parts of the rural but quickly developing cities of Homestead and Florida City, plus some unincorporated areas, is the county’s poorest, according to a Miami Herald analysis. For the 23,000 people in its 280 sq miles, the per-capita income is $10,608.

"I’m a Trumper,” said 93-year-old doctor Irwin Potash, speaking from quarantine in his $1.6m condo on Fisher Island, a private island in Florida with a golf course, two marinas and 17 tennis courts that’s just a seven-minute ferry ride from South Beach. If Irwin Potash gets sick, the University of Miami has a health center on Fisher Island. “You can even get a helicopter,” he said.

Forty miles south-west of Potash, in the agricultural community of Homestead, Antonia, a field worker , emigrated from Mexico 30 years ago and is now a citizen. She pools enough to afford a $1,500-a-month apartment where she lives with her daughter, her daughter’s husband and two granddaughters. “I’m voting for Biden,” she said in Spanish, and she thinks her fellow agricultural workers will, too. “We feel rejection and discrimination from the current president,” she said.

Ceylon Tea Workers

 Palani is one of about 500,000 workers in the Sri Lankan tea industry. Like most of them, she descends from Tamils who were brought to British Ceylon from the Indian mainland in the 1820s. Tea cultivation was introduced to Sri Lanka by the British after coffee cultivation had failed. To get the industry going, plantation owners needed lots of manual labor, and people from India's southern Tamil regions were recruited into an indentured labor system that tied workers to plantations. Although slavery was outlawed in the British Empire, these workers were unpaid and completely at the will of plantation owners. They arrived indebted and had to pay for their own transportation, until this rule was changed in 1922. Workers lived in crowded shacks, without sanitation, running water, medical facilities or schools for their children. Working conditions were very harsh, with long hours and heavy quotas. When Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, the tea workers were legally designated as "temporary immigrants" and were denied citizenship. In the 1980s, after more than 200 years living in Sri Lanka, the descendants of Indian Tamil indentured servants were granted Sri Lankan citizenship rights. However, they continue to be among the most marginalized and impoverished people in the country. There are few people advocating for the plantation workers, and their living wage remains below €5 a day.

Sri Lanka currently produces around 300 million kilograms of tea annually. It is the fourth-largest tea producer in the world, behind China, India and Kenya. But tea workers remain mired in poverty. Tens of thousands of plantation workers throughout Sri Lanka have united in recent years to demand a minimum wage of 1,000 rupees a day (about €5).  The "1000 Movement" is one of the largest mobilizations of Sri Lankan workers.  The last agreement between workers and owners was in October 2018. Companies refused the demand for 1,000 rupees daily. A wage increase from 500 to 700 rupees was tentatively agreed to, although the agreement still needs to be signed by the tea companies. However, taking into account attendance and productivity incentives, the old wage was actually 730 rupees, say workers. These incentives were removed under the new 750 rupees agreement, resulting in an actual increase in wages of only 20 rupees (about 10 cents). 

To earn a daily wage of 700 Sri Lankan rupees (€3.50, $4.15), Palani has to collect a minimum of 18 kilograms (40 pounds) of tea leaves.

TV Misrepresentation

 The study from USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project, titled Change the Narrative, Change the World: How immigrant representation on television moves audiences to action, examined depictions of 129 immigrant characters from 97 episodes of 59 scripted narrative TV shows that aired between August 2018 and July 2019 – a time in which several shows, including Orange is the New Black, Madam Secretary and The Conners responded to an increase in deportations and viewer awareness of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) with immigration-based storylines.

The new study assessing the portrayal of immigrants on American television found  a continued over-emphasis of criminality for immigrant characters as well as an over-proportionate focus on those who are undocumented.

One-fourth (22%) of immigrant characters on TV were associated with criminality, and 11% with incarceration down from  2018 but still out of step with real-world numbers. Studies by the Cato Institute and the Marshall Project in 2018 found that immigrants, regardless of documentation status, commit less crime than native-born Americans.

 Of TV characters with an identified immigration status, 63% were undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers, compared to only 24% of American immigrants at large.

Socialist Sonnet 1

 The Tory Party, (in)famously being the traditional hangers and floggers of British politics, promotes strict adherence to every jot and tittle of the law on pain of dire consequence. Suddenly, having become the rabid dogs slavering for Brexit, law has become something that can be cavalierly discarded, when it suits them.

This poem is for them.

Socialist Sonnet 1

It’s when lawmakers become lawbreakers

The centre cannot hold, the slouching beast,

Held in check by jurist’s pen, is released,

Exposing the word of the lie speakers.


Should the first amongst equals set aside

Even one law for convenience sake,

A signal’s been given and no mistake,

Society’s tethers are being untied.


If one can choose, then let all, and dispense

With bothersome rules, shred statutes, commit

Commitments to bonfires of trust, admit

Being deceitful, careless of consequence.


Listen, there’s the sound, so the acute say,

Of soiled Magna Carta being flushed away.



The Displaced Peoples Crises

An estimated 50.8 million individuals were living as internally displaced people (IDPs) by the end of 2019. Many millions more are likely to be forced from their homes in the coming months due to extreme weather and ongoing violence, the report warns.

 Millions of more people were uprooted from their homes by conflict, violence and natural disasters in the first six months of this year, research has found.

Nearly 15m new internal displacements were recorded in more than 120 countries between January and June by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Cyclones, floods, bushfires and locust infestations – among other natural disasters – accounted for the vast majority, or 9.8m displacements. In terms of numbers alone, Cyclone Amphan accounted for the largest single displacement event in the first half of 2020, triggering 3.3m pre-emptive evacuations in India and Bangladesh. A number of countries in east Africa suffered major floods and a locust infestation that further destabilised regional food security, while in Australia, catastrophic bushfires led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

Conflict and violence, primarily in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burkina Faso, accounted for another 4.8m displacements. Renewed activity by the Syrian military in Idlib in the first three months of the year triggered the most significant displacement in the country since war broke out in 2011, with some 1.5m new displacements by the end of June, according to the report. An additional 1.4m displacements were recorded in DRC and another 419,000 in Burkina Faso, where fighting among criminal gangs, jihadists and local militias has plunged much of the nation into crisis.

“Compounding this is the Covid-19 pandemic, which has reduced access to healthcare and increased economic hardship and protection risks for displaced communities.” Many of those living in areas exposed to disasters expressed reluctance to leave their homes for fear of contracting Covid-19 in evacuation centres, the report claims.

Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council warned that many millions more people could face displacement in coming months as weather systems intensify, and that IDP figures are likely to rise significantly by the end of the year.

“We expect even more people to be displaced in the second half of the year compared to the first, because many of the weather-related hazards like tropical storms and monsoon rains are still to come,” he said. “It’s clear that many governments cannot shoulder the burden of such high numbers of displaced people alone. They don’t have the resources of wealthier countries to provide these social safety nets. This is why we are calling for action by the G20, that are now spending trillions on their own economies, to support the most vulnerable.”

False Promises

 Back  in 2019, 181 CEOs of the Business Roundtable issued a statement promised to deliver more corporate responsibility to communities. Some optimists declared it was the beginning of the end to the primacy of the share-holder.

But a study (pdf)  by the Test of Corporate Purpose (TCP) initiative showed that amid 2020's disastrous public health, economic, social, and environmental challenges—the coronavirus pandemic, massive unemployment and worsening inequality, persistent police violence and racial injustice, and intensified climate crisis—"stakeholder capitalism" has failed to follow through to do more to benefit workers and communities, continuing to "put profits ahead of people" instead. 

TCP's study, which was conducted with KKS Advisors and supported by the Ford Foundation, summarized it this way: "The interests of stockholders and other stakeholders will not always align." Their analysis showed that U.S. companies that signed the BRT statement "performed no better than their non-signatory counterparts through the 2020 crises."

Researchers pointed to stock buybacks, political spending, tax evasion, and unchecked pollution as additional examples of practices reflecting the continued prioritization of shareholder interests despite pledges to pursue "inclusive prosperity" for all stakeholders. 

In the words of the report's authors, many companies still "campaign for one world while publicly proclaiming a vision of another."

The report noted that only a handful of the signatories to the BRT statement even submitted it to their companies for approval, which is why some scholars have argued that the promises made by proponents of "stakeholder capitalism" are a public relations gimmick that will not improve social welfare. 

According to the New York Times reporter Peter Goodman, "The study enhances doubts that corporations can be depended upon to moderate their quest for profits to pursue solutions to challenges like climate change, racial injustice, and economic inequality." 

 Marjorie Kelly, executive vice president of The Democracy Collaborative, argued that the study noted: "Given the enormous influence major corporations have over the trajectory of policy and regulation, no analysis of corporate purpose and its alignment with a stakeholder primacy model would be complete without incorporating an evaluation of companies' lobbying and political spending activities," which often contradict the information coming from marketing departments. "Any talk of corporations being responsive to a broad spectrum of stakeholders is just that—talk—as long as stakeholders don't have power," said Kelly. "And power means ownership."

Economists Emily Kawano, former director of the Center for Popular Economics, and Julie Matthaei, co-founder of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, argued that profit-maximization is intrinsic to capitalism and the privately owned corporations that characterize it, so even the "stakeholder" variety is incapable of balancing moneymaking with competing objectives like greater equality and sustainability.

New Zealanders, What to do with your vote


Rather than opt for either  prime minister, Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party, or the opposition leader, Judith Collins from the National Party, the World Socialist Party (New Zealand) proposes you spoil your ballot paper. Each side calls your attention to the shocking lies now being disseminated by the other. Each will tell you that a vote for the other is a vote for catastrophe. 

Unlike the usual election statements, this is addressed to those who do not a vote as well as to those who do. Its object is to gain, not your vote, but your understanding.

Members of the World Socialist Party on principle will go to the polling booth to ‘spoil’ their ballot paperThis is in fact a long, noble and meaningful practice by those of us who simply wish to reject ‘what’s on offer’ and to say 'a plague on all your houses.' whilst registering the importance of the vote itself, and in that regard this makes perfect sense. It is somewhat frustrating therefore that this practice is not given more attention in the media. 

Since a World Socialist Party candidate is not running, you should write the word 'World Socialism' across your ballot paper, your vote is spoiled but at any rate you have not signified that you are a willing supporter of capitalism.

We will be chastised about not voting. There will be pressure brought to bear upon those of us who are cynical enough about politicians and governments that we will advocate abstention or in the case of the Socialist Party propose spoiling one’s ballot paper by writing “world socialism” across it. In the media the message will be  “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain”, or “it is your duty to vote”, or “Whatever you do, just make sure you get out there and vote”. We will be lectured on the virtues of voting for the lesser evil. We have been there over and over again.  Don’t play the game, don’t be forced into a false and hypocritical “choice”. 

In the contest between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber, our advice is to spoil the ballot paper and abstain from voting for either. If you cannot vote now for what you want, it is folly to vote for what you do not want. The vote, like the razor, is an instrument for a purpose. If you cannot for the moment use it to your advantage, it is madness to cut your throat. And by voting for your enemies, for traitors and charlatans, you are surely cutting your throat.

Call us naive and idealists if you wish but the WSPNZ is organised for world socialism and the global class struggle. That should be the message we have to send and we shouldn't be distracted by squabbles within the capitalist class that doesn't benefit us as a class. 

California - No Sanctuary State

 California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has sent hundreds of people to Ice at the end of their prison sentences. Even though the law doesn’t require the transfers, and Newsom positions himself as a leader in the resistance to Donald Trump’s xenophobia, the Democratic governor continues to funnel immigrants into the president’s deportation machine.

In his inaugural speech in January 2019, Gavin Newsom said he would stand up to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, fight family separation and ensure California remains a “sanctuary for all”. But despite the state’s high-profile “sanctuary” law, intended to limit local law enforcement collaboration with Ice, CDCR has a close working relationship with federal immigration authorities. 

When the governor ordered the expedited release of thousands of prisoners due to Covid, at least 78 people were sent from prisons to Ice. In the first three months of the crisis in northern California, state prisons and jails were the number one source of new Ice detentions (94 people, representing 59% of immigration arrests in the region), according to a study by advocacy group Centro Legal de la Raza.

Some prisoners aren’t aware that they are facing transfers until they happen.

When his release date came on 6 August and his sister was waiting on the other side of the barbed-wire fence to take him home, California prison guards did not let them reunite. Instead, officers handed the 41-year-old over to a private security contractor who shackled his hands, waist and legs, put him in a van and drove off. After 22 years in prison, Kao Saelee, was placed into US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) custody and flown 2,000 miles to an Ice jail in Louisiana. He is now facing deportation to Laos, a country his family fled as refugees when he was two years old.

 In 2018 and 2019, he worked as an incarcerated firefighter, battling the kinds of blazes that are currently devastating huge swaths of the western US. California has for decades deployed thousands of incarcerated people to respond to wildfires, paying $2 to $5 a day for the grueling work, whether clearing brush or saving lives and property.

“I paid my debt to society, and I think I should have a chance to be with my family,” Saelee told the Guardian in a recent call from the Pine Prairie Ice jail. “What is the point of sending somebody back to a country where they don’t have no family?"

Saelee was born in Laos in 1979, the oldest of four. His parents were farmers and his family is of Mien descent, an ethnic minority that sided with the US during the Vietnam war and faced subsequent persecution. After fleeing to a refugee camp in Thailand, his family ended up in California in 1987.

“His story is similar to that of a lot of south-east Asian refugee youth who got resettled in neighborhoods in California that had really high rates of violence, poverty and incarceration,” said Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), who is representing Saelee.

Ice issues “detainers” for people in state custody eligible for deportation, which could include undocumented residents, as well as longtime Californians and refugees with green cards who could be deported due to their criminal record. CDCR complies with Ice requests, meaning the state proactively informs the agency about the release dates for prisoners with detainers – and facilitates the transfers.

While the state has no legal obligation to respond to Ice’s requests, Newsom has said this is standard protocol. When asked about the criticisms of this practice, he recently responded that “it’s been done historically” and was “appropriate”.

State data from January through May of this year suggests that CDCR released more than 500 people to Ice custody, according to the Asian Law Caucus. And the state has not backed away from this practice in the wake of mass Covid outbreaks within CDCR, which have claimed 60 lives so far.

Newsom’s policy risks shipping Covid from state prisons to Ice jails, and in some cases, to other nations, advocates said. Ice has been a key domestic and global spreader of the virus, regularly deporting sick detainees.