Friday, January 31, 2020

What are we fighting for? What are we fighting against?

There is no shortage of food in the world today. Contrary to the the alarmists within the environment movement, study after study shows that global food production has consistently outstripped population growth, and that there is more than enough food to feed everyone. Despite that fact, the most commonly proposed solution to world hunger is new technology to increase food production. If there is already enough food to feed the world then that shows that the food crisis is not a technical problem — it is a social and political problem. Market economics and not technology has always been the main limiting factor to food production. We should be why, when so much food is available, are over hundreds of millions of people hungry and malnourished? We should be asking why do children die of hunger every day? Why can’t the global food industry feed the hungry?

The answer is a simple one. The global food industry is not organised to feed the hungry; it exists to make profits for agribusinesses. The enormous power exerted by the largest food corporations allows them to control the cost of their supplies purchased from farmers while at the same time keeping prices of food to the general public at high enough levels to ensure large profits. Fertile farmland that could be used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows cash-crops for export. The result has been that many countries which were once self-sufficient in food are using vital foreign currency reserves to now import much of their food.  Millions of people now must depend on food that’s grown thousands of miles away because their homeland agriculture has been transformed to meet the needs of agribusiness corporations. The shift towards more industrial agriculture such as soya and palm oil to produce ethanol for example has driven millions of people off the land and into unemployment and poverty in the immense slums that now surround many of the world’s cities. And it has also been at the cost of of poisoning water, polluting the land and exhausting the soil. Commercial farming continues not necessarily because it is more productive, but because it delivers profits and profit is what counts, not peoples hunger or the detrimental impact on the planet.

Karl Marx wrote that despite its support for technical improvements, “the capitalist system works against a rational agriculture … a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system.”

Today, the capitalist system puts profit ahead of human needs and has driven millions off the land,  and condemned almost a billion people to hunger and malnutrition. To feed the world’s population we must sweep away capitalism. It is capitalism, the laws of the market, that is killing so many people in the world. Malnutrition and hunger constantly threaten the working people of our world – unless the production and distribution of food is taken out of the hands of the capitalists and politicians. The burning question of food for the people is now clearly defined: Will the people eat – or will the food barons be allowed to accumulate profits as usual because the bosses of the food industry will not produce food except for profit? There is no other way. All production decisions are made by a tiny handful of capitalists, not in the interests of humanity, but purely for profit.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Making a quick Billion

Elon Musk’s fortune swelled by £1.75 billion in the span of an hour Wednesday after shares of Tesla Inc. soared in extended trading on stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and increased production of its crossover SUV.

 The firm’s market value is now above £76.19 billion, and if it stays above that threshold for an extended period, Musk will be eligible to unlock the first chunk of a long-term compensation award that could net him more than £ 38.10 billion.£175-billion-to-his-fortune-in-60-minutes/ar-BBZsDMF?ocid=spartandhp

Climate Change and Gender Violence

Attempts to repair environmental degradation and adapt to climate breakdown, particularly in poorer countries, are failing, and resources are being wasted because they do not take gender inequality and the effects on women and girls into account. Climate breakdown and the global crisis of environmental degradation are increasing violence against women and girls, while gender-based exploitation is in turn hampering our ability to tackle the crises, a major report has concluded.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) carried out what is understood to be the biggest and most comprehensive study yet of the issue, taking two years and involving more than 1,000 sources of research.

“We found gender-based violence to be pervasive, and there is enough clear evidence to suggest that climate change is increasing gender-based violence,” said Cate Owren, a lead author of the report. “As environmental degradation and stress on ecosystems increases, that in turn creates scarcity and stress for people, and the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases. Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive but least talked-about barriers that face us in conservation and climate work,” said Owern. “We need to take the blinders off, and pay this concerted attention.”

Six in 10 respondents to a survey by IUCN, with more than 300 responses from organisations around the world, said they had observed gender-based violence among female environmental rights defenders, environmental migrants and refugees, and in areas where environmental crimes and environmental degradation were taking place. More than 80 case studies clearly showing such links were uncovered as part of the research.

Gender-based violence includes domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage and child marriage, as well as other forms of the exploitation of women. The report found human trafficking rises in areas where the natural environment is under stress, and links between gender-based violence and environmental crimes such as wildlife poaching and illegal resource extraction. There have also been numerous examples of gender-based violence directed against environmental defenders and activists, who try to stop the destruction or degradation of their land, natural resources and communities. Sexual violence is used to suppress them, undermine their status within the community and discourage others from coming forward.

Owren found abundant examples of the close links between gender-based violence and the exploitation of women and girls, and the competition for resources engendered by the impacts of global heating and our destruction of the natural environment. For instance, sexual abuse was found in the illegal fishing industry in south-east Asia, and in eastern and southern Africa fishermen reportedly refused to sell fish to women if they did not engage in sex. The illegal logging and charcoal trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo is linked to sexual exploitation, and in Colombia and Peru illegal mines are strongly associated with an increase in sex trafficking.

Global warming puts pressure on resources, as extreme weather, including heatwaves, droughts, floods and fiercer storms, grows more frequent and devastating. In most parts of the world, women are already disadvantaged and lack land rights and legal rights, so are vulnerable to exploitation. When the additional stresses caused by the climate crises bite, they are the first to be targeted. For instance, in some communities, young girls are married off as early as possible when the family faces hardship exacerbated by the climate. Globally, about 12 million more young girls are thought to have been married off after increasing natural disasters, and weather related disasters have been shown to increase sexual trafficking by 20-30%. Women and girls are also burdened with tasks such as drawing water and finding firewood, which are becoming more scarce in many areas under the ecological impact of our scramble for resources, and which expose them to further dangers of violence.

Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general of the IUCN, said: “Environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security. This study shows that the damage humanity is inflicting on nature is also fuelling violence against women around the world – a link that has so far been largely overlooked.”

The report also provided a timely reminder that “concerted action to tackle inequality can unlock new opportunities for climate action and women’s empowerment”, added Mary Robinson, chair of The Elders. “We need to recognise the unequal effects of the climate crisis on women, but also that women’s participation brings with it creative and sustainable solutions to both the climate emergency and social injustices. Tackling climate change and environmental degradation without the full inclusion of women will not succeed: gender equality is a prerequisite to the collective effort needed to address the climate emergency.”

The Misery of the Migrants in Mexico

At the first anniversary of a scheme officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), under which migrants seeking asylum in the United States are sent to Mexico to wait as their cases wind their way through US courts 80% of asylum seekers sent to Mexico to await US court hearings report being victims of violence, according a survey by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In one month – September – three-quarters of asylum seekers seen by MSF physicians in Nuevo Laredo reported having been kidnapped for ransom, according to the figures released on Wednesday.

Some 44% of MSF patients also reported having been victims of violence in the week leading up to their consultations.
“The US continues to send asylum seekers back into danger and into the hands of the cartels that control the migration routes in Mexico,” said Sergio Martín, MSF general coordinator in Mexico. “The Mexican government lacks the ability to provide the most minimum of conditions for thousands of people who are being sent to its territory,” he said. Migrants are at risk along the entire border, “but mainly in places like Nuevo Laredo, where there is serious violence – and migrants are ‘merchandise’ for organised crime,” Martín said. Nuevo Laredo is considered so insecure that the US government has issued a Level 4: “Do not travel” alert to its citizens for the city and surrounding state of Tamaulipas – the same as war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
More than 57,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers have been sent to wait in cities along the border – many of which have been plagued by drug-war violence for years.
Migrants – who stand out because of their appearance and accents – are routinely targeted for abduction outside migration offices and bus terminals, and held until relatives back home wire ransom payments to the kidnappers.
The Cartel del Noreste – an offshoot of the blood thirsty Zetas cartel – “operates a sophisticated kidnapping business that targets asylum seekers – many of whom are women and children – who enter the city,” said Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the Strauss Center at the University of Texas. “The kidnappers charge several thousand dollars for each kidnapped asylum seeker and operate with almost complete impunity.”

Another war?

France is to dispatch war frigates to the eastern Mediterranean as a standoff with Turkey over regional energy reserves intensifies  as the feud over exploration rights has deepened following the discovery of natural gas deposits in waters around Cyprus. Ignoring Turkish anger at not being included, the Greek Cypriot government has been commissioning international energy companies, including the French multinational Total and Italy's Eni, to explore allocated blocs off the island for underwater resources. Turkey has been sending its own drill ships to the region's disputed waters in retaliation. Turkey has called for a fair and equal distribution of the energy resources discovered off Cyprus, insisting that they are attempting to exclude and alienate Turkey by striking their own deal without the consideration of both the major regional player and the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Therefore, it stresses that the drilling activities that Turkey is carrying out are legal and within territorial waters.

Greece’s defence minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, recently went as far as to warn that armed forces were “examining all scenarios, even that of military engagement” in the face of heightened aggression from Ankara. Rejecting Turkish demands that Greece demilitarise 16 Aegean islands, he accused Turkey of displaying unusually provocative behaviour.  It follows a dramatic surge in recent months in the number of violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets. 

Macron pledged France would strengthen its alliance with Greece, accusing Turkey of not only exacerbating regional tensions but failing to stick to its promised course of action in war-torn Libya.
“I want to express my concerns with regard to the behaviour of Turkey at the moment … we have seen during these last days Turkish warships accompanied by Syrian mercenaries arrive on Libyan soil."
A maritime border agreement between Turkey and Libya’s U.N.-backed government is “unacceptable,” violates international law and flouts the sovereign rights of other countries,  Luigi Di Maio, the foreign minister of Italy,  said. Turkey says the deal grants its economic rights to a large swath of the east Mediterranean sea and prevents any energy-related projects from moving forward without its consent. Egypt has denounced the Turkey-Libya deal as infringing on waters where they claim economic rights. Officials from Libya’s rival government based in the east of the country have also rejected the agreement.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE also seek to cooperate with Greece against Turkey.
Greece, Cyprus, and Israel agreed to build a pipeline harnessing the reserves of natural gas off the southern shores of the island. This pipeline names EastMed, which is estimated to produce a profit of $9 billion over eighteen 18 of the reserve’s exploitation, would be supplying gas from the Eastern Mediterranean region all the way to countries in Europe.
Another regional war for natural resources?

The Pension Gap

Minority ethnic pensioners were, on average, 24% – or £3,350 a year – worse off than other people their age.

A minority ethnic woman is 51% less than that of a typical white older man, according to a report that highlights “large inequalities” in UK retirement incomes.

The pension income inequality was a particular issue for Asian ethnic groups – where the gap was 30% – and for the “black African, Caribbean or black British” groups, where the figure was just under 27%.

The ethnicity gap was driven by several factors, including lower average earnings, variable employment rates and the greater likelihood of minority ethnic workers being self-employed. Part of the problem was that there was an annual state pension income gap of about £600 for ethnic minorities, they added. For example, DWP data showed that while 98% of white pensioner households received the state pension, it was 85% for Asian pensioner households.

“Our report highlights large inequalities, which will become starker as the growing ethnic minority population reaches retirement age,” said Gregg McClymont, director of policy at The People’s Pension.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Why the War?

Some 9.4 million Afghans are in need of basic food and housing this year, up from 6.5 million in 2019.

The United Nations is seeking $730 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan this year, an increase on 2019 as poverty surges in a country worn down by war and drought, the U.N.'s deputy special representative for Afghanistan said.

"Afghanistan remains the world's deadliest conflict, and on top of the lingering effects of the drought in 2018, coupled with growing poverty, the need is up," Toby Lanzer, the U.N.'s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, told Reuters.

The Down-side to the Gig Economy

Far from providing flexible jobs for complex modern lives, gig economy companies, such as Uber and Deliveroo, increasingly trap workers in a precarious existence where they need to devote ever-more time to the platform in order to remain financially stable, a new report from digital thinktank Doteveryone says.

The problems identified by the thinktank fall into three categories: a lack of financial security, a loss of dignity at work, and the inability to progress in a career or train to leave it.

Workers highlight that the low rates of pay mean flexibility is often moot because the only way to earn enough to live is to work longer than full-time. “If you want to get the money you’ve got to be available seven days a week,” said a London-based handyman.

Working for any of the platforms carries hidden costs, the report details. 

One Uber driver says: “I do 60 hours, I make £750. But then you have to deduct expenses, around £150 on fuel. I can take out £600 but then you pay insurance, VAT for cars. It’s been four weeks where I’ve made no more than £400. You’re just managing your expenses and taking £150-£200 home.”

“I did in the beginning write emails – long emails – pointing out ways the platform could work better for workers,” the report quotes a 22-year-old courier for a delivery platform as saying. “But I realised that they don’t care about that. If you make any issues for them, they’ll just fire you or find a way to stop giving you work.”

Wasted knowledge plays into the third problem: an inability to see a way out of the flexible life. “I don’t know what comes next as I can’t keep working gigs as I can’t get a new car when this one dies,” said a 42-year-old driver from Stoke-on-Trent. “And I don’t have time to research alternative careers or go to the gym – sometimes I’m sitting here waiting for a job for an hour and a half!”

Afghan War - Did you think it was over?

The US dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than any other year since the Pentagon began keeping a tally.

According to new figures released by US central command, US warplanes dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions on Afghanistan, a nearly eightfold increase from 2015.

According to UN data, the US accounted for half the 1,149 civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces in Afghanistan over the first three-quarters of 2019.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for 1,207 civilian deaths.
“This is the US military mistakenly thinking that they’re somehow going to change the political dynamics by dropping more ordnance on Afghanistan,” said Laurel Miller, former US acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is now director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia programme. “The argument that is made in favor what they’re doing is that this will somehow change the political dynamics and in a way that makes the Taliban more likely to come to favorable terms at the peace table, but I have no expectation that this is going to have that kind of effect. It also poses the considerable risk of of blowback in the sense that inevitably this increase in use of air power results in an increase in civilian casualties.”
“The US side is very explicitly hoping to use the ramped-up strikes to gain leverage in the ongoing talks with the Taliban,” said Frances Brown, who was director for democracy in Barack Obama’s national security council and is now a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The Taliban side is also using their own ramped-up violence to gain leverage; as a consequence, we saw record levels of overall violence in the third quarter of 2019, as both sides thought they were heading toward a preliminary agreement,” Brown said. “The problem here is that the Trump administration lacks the clear political negotiating strategy,” she added. “The US special envoy made some hard-fought progress over the course of 2019, only to have the rug yanked out from under him by the president, with no apparent rationale. The talks restarted a few weeks ago, but the US has now undermined its own hand.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Kerala's Human Chain

In a protest which coincided with India’s Republic Day, people in the Indian state of Kerala formed a human chain Sunday that, according to organisers, stretched for 620 kilometres (385 miles) and included as many as seven million people in the latest act of protest against a controversial citizenship law.

Demonstrators in Kerala, a state in India’s south, read from the constitution’s preamble, which defines the country as a “secular democratic republic” and swore oaths to uphold it as part of the protest.

America's Wealth Test

The U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for one of Trump’s hardline immigration policies, allowing his administration to implement a rule denying legal permanent residency to certain immigrants deemed likely to require government assistance in the future.

On a 5-4 vote, it granted the administration’s request to lift a lower court’s injunction that had blocked the so-called public charge policy while litigation over its legality continues. The court’s five conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and two justices appointed by Trump, carried the day. The court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the administration’s request.

The rule  allows immigrants to be declared a 'public charge' and denied green cards even if they are employed

The rule has been criticized by immigrant rights advocates as a “wealth test” that would disproportionately keep out non-white immigrants. At issue is which immigrants will be granted legal permanent residency, known as a “green card.” Under Trump’s policy, immigration officers would consider factors such as age, educational level and English proficiency to decide whether an immigrant would likely become a “public charge” who would receive government benefits such as the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.  Critics have said the rule would disproportionately bar low-income people from developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia from permanent residency.

Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action, said the court’s decision would negatively impact millions of the most vulnerable—with “lasting consequences on women, children, and the elderly.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. “America shouldn’t have a wealth test for admission. It’s a place where millions of people are descendants of immigrants who came w nothing & made a life. The American Dream isn’t a private club with a cover charge—it’s the possibility of remaking your future.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision will further marginalize immigrant communities and will inevitably create a socioeconomic hierarchy in our immigration system,” said Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) government affairs director Robert McCaw. “The Trump administration’s policy could quite literally kill people by making them too afraid to seek life-saving medical care, and the Supreme Court seems to agree such a cruel system is acceptable.”

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Grenfell Pass-the-Buck Blame Game

Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, said almost all of the organisations responsible for the refurbishment were engaged in “a merry-go-round of buck-passing”, taking positions that contain “no trace of any acceptance of any responsibility”. In every case, it seemed to be someone else’s fault, he said.

The company that made the cladding panels used on Grenfell Tower knew in 2011 they were “not suitable for use on building facades” and performed worse in fire tests than declared on safety certificates, a public inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Arconic knew the fire performance of its Reynobond polyethylene-filled panels was below the minimum required for facades in Europe, but the panels went on to be used on Grenfell with the knowledge of the multibillion-dollar US conglomerate.

The main contractor, Rydon, revealed that Claude Wehrle, an Arconic official, had explained in internal emails in 2011 that the fire rating of the panels had dropped to class E from class B and so were “unsuitable for use on building facades” in Europe. But, he said, “we can still work with regulators who are not as restrictive”.

In another email in 2015, Wehrle admitted that Reynobond PE was “dangerous on facades and everything should be transferred to (FR) fire-resistant as a matter of urgency”. He added: “This opinion is technical and anti-commercial, it seems.”

Rydon, the main contractor, who said: “Arconic continued to use the [class B] certificate to promote sales of Reynobond and did so specifically in the case of Grenfell Tower.”

Officials knew using its insulation alongside aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, as happened at Grenfell, could be dangerous.

“We cannot seem to find or design a suitable barrier in which we have enough confidence that it can be used behind a standard ACM panel which we know will melt and allow fire into the cavity…Or do we take the view that our product realistically shouldn’t be used behind most cladding panels because in the event of a fire it would burn?” In the same year, the company decided to enter the “lucrative” high-rise market and it was sold for use on Grenfell nevertheless.
An expert report commissioned by the inquiry on the architecture of the refurbishment has also concluded: “It is probable that Celotex was marketing a product for use on the exterior walls of buildings 18 metres in height that they knew to be non-compliant.”

Karim Mussilhy, who lost his uncle,  said: "It shows they don’t care and wanted to maximise the amount of money they could make. Ultimately, people have died because of their actions.”