Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Enough has been Enough

 


The  latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.

If such a high rate of resignations were occurring at a time when jobs were plentiful, it might be seen as a sign of a booming economy where workers have their pick of offers. But the same labor report showed that job openings have also declined.

 A new Harris Poll of people with employment found that more than half of workers want to leave their jobs. Many cite uncaring employers and a lack of scheduling flexibility as reasons for wanting to quit. In other words, millions of American workers have simply had enough.

Jack Kelly, senior contributor to Forbes.com, a pro-corporate news outlet, has defined the trend as, “a sort of workers’ revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff.”  Kelly goes on to say, “The quitters are making a powerful, positive and self-affirming statement saying that they won’t take the abusive behavior any longer.”

There is now also a growing willingness by unionized workers to go on strike.  Actual strikes or calls for such are coming so thick and fast that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has dubbed the situation “an unofficial general strike.”

Workers are flexing their power and corporate America is worried.

Union representation remains extremely low across the United States—the result of decades of concerted corporate-led efforts to undermine the bargaining power of workers. Today only about 12 percent of workers are in a union.

Workers have more leverage when acting as a collective bargaining unit than as individuals. Take Nabisco workers who went on strike in five states this summer. Mondelez International, Nabisco’s parent company, saw record profits during the pandemic with surging sales of its snack foods. So flush was the company with cash that it compensated its CEO with a whopping $16.8 million annual pay and spent $1.5 billion on stock buybacks earlier this year. Meanwhile, the average worker salary was an appallingly low $31,000 a year. Many Nabisco jobs were sent across the border to Mexico, where the company was able to further drive down labor costs.

After weeks on the picket line, striking Nabisco workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, returned to work having won modest retroactive raises of 2.25 percent, $5,000 bonuses and increased employer contributions to their retirement plans. The company, which reported a 12 percent increase in revenue earlier this year, can well afford this and more.

Another example of how union organizing made a concrete difference to working conditions is a new contract that 7,000 drug store workers at Rite Aid and CVS stores in Los Angeles just ratified. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 negotiated a nearly 10 percent pay raise for workers as well as improved benefits and safety standards.

 Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures

Why Record Numbers of Workers Are Quitting and Striking (pressenza.com)



The Failing Food Industry

 


Among the many industries that are blamed for being damaging to the health of people and the planet is the food processing corporations. 

The foods we consume are a major driver of global heating, contributing similar amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as the UK energy system. Meat and dairy are responsible for more than three-quarters of this impact. Without meaningful reductions in meat and dairy intake, there is little chance of meeting emissions reduction targets, both at national and international levels. From a climate crisis perspective, the Climate Change Committee – the body tasked with monitoring and providing advice on greenhouse gas emissions – recommends a 20% reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy in support of the government’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. However, the committee’s own report admits that this level of reduction might be too low, and an independent scientific analysis suggested that beef, lamb and pork intake would have to decline by 89%, poultry intake by 66% and dairy intake by 61% for the UK’s food emissions to be in line with limiting global heating to under 2C.

The public health case for reducing meat consumption is similarly strong – tens of thousands of avoidable deaths from cardiovascular diseases and cancers have been linked to red and processed meat consumption in the UK. Yet, despite this public and environmental health emergency, policymakers appear unwilling to take meaningful steps that would help create a healthier, more sustainable food system. Recommended targets and policies continue to be woefully inadequate. The actual recommendation of the Eatwell Guide is even more misleading. Its target value of 70g a day would mean having a serving of red and processed meat five times a week would be totally fine, much in contrast to the current scientific understanding. A comprehensive review of the scientific literature on healthy eating suggested limiting red and processed meat intake to below one serving a week (14g a day), five times below the current recommendation. Updating national dietary guidelines to reflect the latest scientific evidence would therefore be a critical first step for reducing the 30,000 annual deaths associated with red and processed meat consumption in the UK.

Intensive industrial-style livestock farming has featured in numerous criticisms of the global food system. At least eight types of bird flu, all of which can kill humans, are circulating around the world’s factory farms – and they could be worse than Covid-19.

 Scientific evidence from the £150bn-a-year poultry and livestock industries shows that stressful, crowded conditions of factory farming drive the emergence and spread of many infectious diseases, and act as an “epidemiological bridge” between wildlife and human infections. UN bodies, academics and epidemiologists recognise the link between the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses and increasingly intensive poultry farming.

Rob Wallace, an American virologist argues that the new strains of flu emerging are adapting to industrial poultry production. With more than 20 billion chickens and nearly 700 million pigs being farmed at any one time, Wallace says the chances of new flu strains and variants emerging and spilling over to humans are high.

 Sam Sheppard, a biologist at Bath University, says overuse of antibiotics, overcrowding and the genetic similarity between animals provide ideal conditions for many bacteria, viruses and other pathogens to merge, mutate, spread and then jump into humans.

Marius Gilbert, an epidemiologist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, and others have shown how bird flu is linked to the rapid intensification of poultry farming, which is now making bird flu viruses more dangerous.

Michael Greger, author of the book Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, argues that there have been three eras of human disease: first, when we started to domesticate animals about 10,000 years ago and were infected with their diseases, such as measles and chickenpox; then in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Industrial Revolution led to epidemics of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer; and now, because of the agricultural intensification that is leading to zoonotic, or animal-borne, diseases such as bird flu, salmonella, Mers, Nipah and Covid-19.

“In evolutionary terms, rearing poultry, cattle and pigs in high-intensity, crowded, confined, entirely unnatural conditions may be the most profound alteration of the human-animal relationship in 10,000 years,” he says “We are seeing an unprecedented explosion in outbreaks of new bird flu viruses, which historically have presented the greatest pandemic risk and certainly have the potential to be worse than Covid.”

Since African Swine Fever (ASF) was confirmed in the Americas more than two months ago, the deadly pig disease is now on six continents. The virus is an almost certain death sentence for pigs. The US pork industry – worth $23bn (£17bn) a year – is in a panic, Latin America is on alert, and pork producers in the Dominican Republic and Haiti are haunted by memories of the US-funded eradication of their entire pork population when ASF last hit more than 40 years ago.

Enough chewing the fat, UK politicians: we must stop eating so much red meat | Marco Springmann | The Guardian

Factory farms of disease: how industrial chicken production is breeding the next pandemic | Global health | The Guardian

The US has a silent pig pandemic on its doorstep once again | African Swine Fever | The Guardian

Cost of Living to Rise

 British households will be £1,000 worse off next year from a cost of living squeeze created by rising energy prices and shortages of workers and supplies caused by Covid and Brexit, the thinktank Resolution Foundation said. 

It warned that higher levels of inflation would weigh down workers’ earnings next year, contributing to a hit to the average household income in Britain at a time when the government is cutting benefits and raising taxes. Average household disposable income, after adjusting for inflation, would be about 2% lower by the end of 2022.

“Higher inflation reduces the amount of goods and services that households are able to afford, eroding the real value of incomes,” the Foundation explained.

 On top of the inflation, many households would also have to reckon with cuts to universal credit, while workers and businesses must budget for planned national insurance tax increases.

 A “cost of living crunch” was brewing from the combined impact of inflation, tax rises and cuts, the thinktank said: “Together with a £13bn raid on household incomes from increases in NICs [National Insurance contributions], and sharp cuts to universal credit, there will be major headwinds to families’ spending power in the coming months.”

British households will be £1,000 worse off next year, thinktank warns | Household bills | The Guardian

Monday, October 18, 2021

Farewell Colin Powell

This blog will weep no crocodile tears over the death of Colin Powell. 

Powell knowingly duped many into believing the conspiracy that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction and that an armed invasion was required to disarm Iraq. As a veteran of the Vietnam War where one of his roles was to apply damage control limitation to the events of the My Lai massacre of innocent peasants, Powell was skilled at the strategy being practised of destroying a village to save the village. 

Powell served as the convenient camouflage for the US and UK policy of regime change and well before the actual invasion was launched the justifications presented by him at the United Nations had been shown to be false and misleading. There was no mistaken or misinterpreted intelligence. 

Colin Powell deliberately deceived the United Nations and his only regret was that he was later found out to be lying. 

He actively and directly contributed to the death and suffering of millions and is one of those politicians largely responsible for the tragic consequences that our fellow workers are still experiencing today in the region.

This blog does not mourn his passing in the slightest. 

Money goes to money

 


The statistics keep on coming showing the increasing disparity of wealth accumulated by the mega-rich at a time when most people are experiencing increased hardship due to the Covid pandemic. 

A new report released by Americans for Tax Fairness  (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) reveal the 70% surge of wealth among America's richest individuals since March of 2020 has resulted in approximately 130 new billionaires.

There are now 745 people with "10-figure bank accounts" compared to the 614 that existed when the pandemic first hit.

Those 745 billionaires now hold $5 trillion in collective wealth, having added $2.1 trillion since Covid-19 struck.

The $5 trillion in collective wealth, which the groups note is "two-thirds more than the $3 trillion in wealth held by the bottom 50% of U.S. households."

The new analysis notes, explains that most of these huge billionaires’ gains will go untaxed under current rules and will disappear entirely for tax purposes when they’re passed onto the next generation. 

 Good news for billionaires but over the past 19 months almost 89 million Americans have lost jobs, over 44.9 million have been sickened by the virus, and over 724,000 have died from it. 

ATF executive director Frank Clemente, said, "This growth of billionaire wealth is unfathomable, immoral, and indefensible in good times let alone during a pandemic when so many have struggled with unemployment, illness, and death." 

'Indefensible': US Billionaires Became $2.1 Trillion Richer in 19 Months of Pandemic (commondreams.org)

How long will it be before all those critical voices understand that it is not the tax rules that are at fault but capitalism itself? 


Hunger in the World

 According to the report jointly released by Food Price for Nutrition, Tufts University and the World Food Program the burden of diseases is increasing worldwide due to lack of healthy food. Many people are deprived of nutritious food due to unaffordable food. 300 million people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, do not have enough money to eat nutritious food. A report released by Oxfam on the Hunger Virus Multiplex expressed concern about the global problem of hunger, with around 11 people dying of starvation every minute worldwide.

The report estimates the price of a meal plate in 168 countries and found that the cheapest original dish costs 0. 0.71.  This dish does not include the cost of cooking.  However, this plate does not meet the nutritional needs of the diet.  If protein-rich red meat is included in this plate, its price will increase by 0 1.03.  Similarly, the price of this plate will increase by 1. 1.07 when chicken is included and by 30 1.30 if fish is included.

The report says the international poverty line standard is 1. 1.90 per day but poor families cannot afford to spend that much on meals.  In a quarter of countries where food is not very cheap, the price of a cheap plate is about 6 percent or more of the average daily income.  Eating cooked food increases the price by 20 percent.  If meat is included in the diet, the price increases by 10 percent.  In such a situation, people do not have the ability to buy healthy food.

A recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021” estimates that 81.1 million people will face starvation in 2020.  In other words, every tenth person in the world is hungry. 

 Another report jointly released on July 12 by the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Program and the World Health Organization explains 3 billion people worldwide are deprived of food due to inflation, poverty and unavailability of healthy food, economic inequality.  The report says that the problem of malnutrition among five-year-olds in Africa and Asia has become very serious. More than half of the world’s hunger victims live in Asia. 

 India is ranked 101st in the recently released Global Hunger Index for 116 countries. Pakistan 92nd, Bangladesh 76th and Nepal equal 76th. 

 The situation is similar with regard to the sex ratio of infants, weight and obesity of infants.
  Only 15 countries in the index are worse off than India.  These include Papua New Guinea (102), Afghanistan (103), Nigeria (103), Congo (105), Mozambique (106), Sierra Leone (106), Timor-Leste (108), Haiti (109), Liberia (110).  ) Are included.  Madagascar (111), Democratic Republic of the Congo (112), Chad (113), Central African Republic (114), Yemen (115) and Somalia are ranked 116th.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

A Change in Food Policy?


 A letter addressed to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Chargé d'Affaires ad interim to the United Nations agencies in Rome Jennifer Harhigh signed by nearly 70 groups including ActionAid USA, the National Family Farm Coalition, and Oxfam America is urging the Biden administration's approach to international food and agricultural policy to break "with the U.S. government's historical alignment with corporate agribusiness and neoliberal, unregulated trade orthodoxy."

"For too long," they wrote, "our constituencies' needs and interests have been unrepresented, unsupported, and undermined by the U.S. government in these policy-making spaces, as the U.S. government has promoted a policy agenda that reflects the narrow interests of the corporate agribusiness sector."

The UN Declaration on Rights Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas emphasizes in Article 15.4, when it states, “ Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to determine their own food and agriculture systems, recognized by many States and regions as the right to food sovereignty. This includes the right to participate in decision-making processes on food and agriculture policy and the right to healthy and adequate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods that respect their cultures.”

Peasant Agroecology, which is fundamental to ensuring food sovereignty in our territories, is now recognized at the FAO as central to the fight against global warming.

The promoters of the capitalist world order realize that food sovereignty is an idea that impinges on their financial interests. They prefer a world of monoculture and homogenous tastes, where food can be mass-produced using cheap labour in faraway factories, disregarding its ecological, human and social impacts. They prefer economies of scale to robust local economies. They choose a global-free market (based on speculation and cut-throat competition) over solidarity economies that require more robust territorial markets (local peasant markets) and active participation of local food producers. They prefer to have land banks where industrial-scale contract farming would replace small-holder producers. They inject our soil with agro-toxics for better short-term yields, ignoring the irreversible damage to soil health. Their trawlers will again crawl the oceans and rivers, netting fishes for a global market while the coastal communities starve. They will continue to try to hijack indigenous peasant seeds through patents and seed treaties. The trade agreements they craft will again aim to bring down tariffs that protect our local economies.

None of this is new to us. Corporations want to control our lives, whether they’re agribusiness, technology, or big pharma—getting bigger, getting more control, and having too much influence over legislation. They really don’t care about how they make their profits, only how much they make. Those condemned to the peripheries of our societies by a cruel and all-devouring capitalist system have no choice but to fight back. 

Opinion | Food Sovereignty: A Manifesto for the Future of Our Planet | La Via Campesina (commondreams.org)

Coalition Urges Biden to Make 'Transformative Change' in Approach to Global Food and Agriculture (commondreams.org)

Solidarity


 More than 100 staff in Clarks’ Shoes main distribution centre in Street, Somerset, where the brand was founded have been on strike for two weeks, having been told they must sign new contracts or risk losing their jobs without redundancy pay. The firm is seeking to cut their wages by almost 15% from the average of £11.16 an hour to £9.50 an hour by using controversial fire and rehire tactics.  They also face cuts to sick pay and reduced redundancy packages as well as the scrapping of paid breaks. 

Clarks – which was taken over by a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, LionRock Capital, in March – closed its last UK shoemaking plant in 2006. But the company's headquarters and main distribution centre are still in Street.

Many staff fear they will not be able to keep up with their rent or mortgage payments if their pay is cut. Many in the town appear to be turning against Clarks. The workers have been inundated with messages of solidarity, with postal staff refusing to cross their picket line and food donations arriving daily.  Delegations of council workers, firefighters and train drivers have joined the picket lines. 

Dave Chapple, secretary of Mendip Trades Council, said: “Is this really the future for work in this country: no more collective bargaining negotiations, just industrial dictatorship?”

The strike comes as concern grows about employers’ use of fire and rehire. At least 28 firms, including British Gas and British Airways, have been accused since the start of the pandemic of threatening to sack workers who do not accept new contractsA poll for the TUC this year found one in ten 10 workers – three million people – had experienced the tactic.

The UK Incitement of Indonesia's Slaughter

In response to British plans to create an independent state of Malaysia out of its colonial possessions, Indonesia’s left-leaning President Sukarno launched “Konfrontasi”, or Confrontation, an undeclared war that included military incursions over the border into East Malaysia. Sukarno, like many Indonesians, including the PKI, believed the creation of a Malaysian federation was unwarranted regional interference by the British to maintain their colonial dominance. The British were forced to dedicate huge military and intelligence resources to help the emergent Malaysia counter these Konfrontasi intrusions. British policy was to bring an end to the conflict. But the UK’s objectives did not end there.

Like its US and Australian allies, Britain feared a communist Indonesia. The PKI had three million members and was close to Mao’s China. In Washington, the fall of the Indonesia “domino” into the communist camp was seen as a greater threat than the potential loss of Vietnam.

Sukarno’s non-aligned nationalism, anti-colonialism and growing ties to China were viewed as a threat, one that would be lessened if the president and his foreign minister Subandrio were removed from their posts and the PKI’s influence in Indonesia diminished – most plausibly through the actions of the largely anti-communist Indonesian army. In mid-1965 the opportunity arrived. A secret leftwing group, later called the “30 September movement”, coalesced in Indonesia, convinced, with some justification, that the army was planning to overthrow Sukarno and suppress the PKI.

 It is estimated that at least 500,000 people (some estimates go to three million) linked to the Indonesia Communist party (PKI) were eliminated between 1965 and 1966 in one of the most brutal massacres of the post-war 20th century. The campaign of mass murder, now known to have been orchestrated by the Indonesian army, was later described by the CIA as one of the worst mass murders of the century.

Recently declassified Foreign Office documents show British officials secretly deployed black propaganda in the 1960s to urge prominent Indonesians,  including army generals, to “cut out” the “communist cancer”. As the massacres started in October 1965 British officials called for “the PKI and all communist organisations” to “be eliminated”. The nation, they warned, would be in danger “as long as the communist leaders are at large and their rank and file are allowed to go unpunished”.  In 1965 specialist propagandists from the Foreign Office’s information research department (IRD) were sent to Singapore to produce black propaganda to undermine Sukarno’s regime. It produced a newsletter purporting to be produced by Indonesian émigrés and targeted at prominent and influential individuals, including army generals. It also operated a radio station broadcasting into Indonesia.

The propaganda advised that “procrastination and half-hearted measures can only lead to… our ultimate and complete destruction”. Over the following weeks, massacres of alleged PKI members, few if any with any involvement in the attempted coup, and other leftists spread across the archipelago. There can be little doubt that British diplomats became aware of what was happening. Not only could GCHQ intercept and read Indonesian government communications, but its Chai Keng monitoring station in Singapore enabled the British to trace the progress of army units involved in suppressing the PKI.

It was policy  “to conceal the fact that the butcheries have taken place with the encouragement of the generals”, in the hope that the generals “will do us better than the old gang”.

The then “coordinator of political warfare”, a Foreign Office propaganda specialist called Norman Reddaway, considered the downfall of Sukarno to be one of Britain’s greatest propaganda victories. In a letter written years later he said “the discrediting of Sukarno was quickly successful. His Confrontasi was costing us about £250,000,000 a year. It was countered and abolished at minimal cost by IRD research and techniques in six months.”

The outcome of the turmoil was a brutal and corrupt 32-year military dictatorship whose legacy shapes Indonesia to this day.

Revealed: how UK spies incited mass murder of Indonesia’s communists | Indonesia | The Guardian



Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Paris Algerian Massacre

 

"HERE WE DROWN ALGERIANS"

60 years ago around 30,000 Algerians had taken to the streets of Paris in a peaceful protest against a curfew, and calling for independence nearly seven years into the war against French rule in North Africa. In 1961, tensions were running high and on 5 October the Parisian authorities banned all Algerians from leaving their homes between 20:00 and 05:30. The march was called in protest at the curfew

The police killed hundreds of protesters and dozens of others were thrown into the River Seine. It is now believed that between 200 and 300 Algerians were killed that day. A total of 110 bodies washed up on the banks of the River Seine over the following days and weeks . Some were killed then dumped, while others were injured, thrown into the cold waters and left to drown.

The youngest victim was Fatima Beda. She was 15.

14,000 Algerians arrested during the operation. Thousands were illegally deported to Algeria where they were detained in internment camps despite being French citizens.


The campaign waged against Algerians in Paris was unofficially called the "ratonnade", meaning "rat-hunting".


The French government of the day censored the news, destroyed many of the archives and prevented journalists from investigating the story. Contemporary news bulletins reported three deaths, which included a French national. It was not covered in the international press. French left-wing parties, who were in opposition at the time, have also come in for criticism for not condemning the massacre. They have been seen as complicit in the cover-up.


 The racist nature of the operation cannot be ignored - every person who looked Algerian was targeted. Moroccans had to put up the sign "Moroccan" on their doors to avoid being harassed by repeated police raids. Portuguese, Spanish and Italian immigrant workers with curly hair and dark complexions complained about systematic stop and searches as they were mistaken for Algerians by the police.

The Paris police chief at the time, Maurice Papon, had a notorious reputation. He had served in Constantine in eastern Algeria where he supervised the repression and torture of Algerian political prisoners in 1956. He was later convicted in French courts of overseeing the deportation of 1,600 Jews to Nazi concentration camps in Germany during World War Two when he was a senior security official under the Vichy government.


No-one was tried as the massacre was subject to the general amnesty granted for crimes committed during the Algerian War.

Palm Oil or People

 The global palm oil market is dominated by Indonesia and Malaysia, which together produce more than 80 percent of the world’s supply. In Latin America, though, Guatemala is second only to Colombia – and it is the world’s sixth top producer. Oil palm plantations have nearly doubled in area over the past decade.

Last year, Guatemala produced some 880,000 tonnes of crude palm oil. Roughly 80 percent of it is exported, mainly to Mexico, a few European countries, and other Central American nations. Palm oil and its derived ingredients are commonly found in processed foods, cosmetics, and cleaning products.

Oil palm in Guatemala is concentrated in the north, northeast, and the Pacific slope region. Plantations cover more than 1,800sq km (695sq miles), nearly 2.5 percent of the country’s arable land. 

In the Izabal department, where Chinebal is located, they cover nine percent of arable land.

The indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community of Chinebal are involved in an escalating land struggle in this remote area of eastern Guatemala. Community members accuse a Guatemalan company of planting oil palm on their traditional lands, and they have built homes to reclaim the disputed tract – spurring an eviction notice, several police operations and  violence.

The established village of Chinebal sits in the foothills of the Sierra de las Minas mountain range, 280km (174 miles) northeast of Guatemala City.

 “All of this was lands our grandparents farmed,” Juan Perez, Chinebal’s auxiliary mayor, said of the disputed land, which stretches a few square kilometres. “This piece of land belongs to us.”

NaturAceites, one of Guatemala’s top palm companies, claims ownership of the land under dispute and had planted it with oil palm. Maya Q’eqchi’ residents claim it historically belongs to Chinebal.

With no land to farm or build a home, some Chinebal residents moved onto the contested land, clearing parts of the plantation. Close to 100 families now live there growing maize and other subsistence crops.

“The expansion of [oil] palm is dispossessing communities of their lands,” said Marcelo Sabuc, the national coordinator of CCDA, a rural development and land rights movement organisation. “It is also causing environmental destruction.”

 Police operations have struck fear in many community members. 


Friday, October 15, 2021

Dynastic Wealth Swells

 Abundant liquidity, soaring stock markets and accommodating tax policies have been favourable for the growing dynastic wealth of the world’s 25 richest families who are now worth $1.7 trillion, a 22% increase from a year ago. 

The Waltons of Arkansas, who own nearly half of retailer Walmart Inc., top the list for the fourth year running with a net worth of $238.2 billion. Their fortune grew by $23 billion in the past 12 months, despite the family selling $6 billion worth of stock since February. 





Austerity Kills


Austerity cuts to the NHS, public health and social care have killed tens of thousands more people in England than expected, according to the largest study of its kind by the University of York.

Researchers who analysed the joint impact of cuts to healthcare, public health and social care since 2010 found that even in just the following four years the spending squeeze was linked with 57,550 more deaths than would have been expected. The findings, worse than previously thought.

The research also found that a slowdown in life expectancy improvement coincided with the government’s sharp cuts to health and social care funding after David Cameron came to power a decade ago.

“Restrictions on the growth in health and social care expenditure during ‘austerity’ have been associated with tens of thousands more deaths than would have been observed had pre-austerity expenditure growth been sustained,” said Prof Karl Claxton of the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York. “Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the slowdown in the rate of improvement in life expectancy in England and Wales since 2010 is attributable to spending constraints in the healthcare and social care sectors.”

Researchers said real social care spending rose by 2.2% per capita of the population between 2001-02 and 2009-10, but fell by 1.57% between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The loss of social care funding caused 23,662 additional deaths, according to the findings. Real healthcare spend per capita rose by 3.82% between 2001-02 and 2009-10, but only by 0.41% between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The cuts to healthcare spending between 2010-11 and 2014-15 led to 33,888 extra deaths, the researchers calculated. In total, the study suggested the constraints on health and social care spending during this period of austerity have been associated with 57,550 more deaths up to 2014 than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-2010 levels.

David Finch, an assistant director of healthy lives at the Health Foundation thinktank, said the study showed why ministers must put now health at the “front and centre” of their levelling-up agenda.

Even before Covid, he said, there was “an extremely concerning pattern of stalling life expectancy, particularly in the poorest areas of the country”. The pandemic had “since laid bare the tragic consequences of underlying poor health”, he said.

Separate research by Imperial College London, published in the Lancet Public Health journal, found life expectancy in many communities in England was falling even before the pandemic. While life expectancy rose in most places during the first decade of the millennium, from 2010 in some areas it started to decline. By 2014 that deterioration had accelerated, researchers discovered, with life expectancy falling for women in almost one in five communities (18.7%), and for men in one in nine places (11.5%).

Austerity in England linked to more than 50,000 extra deaths in five years | Public sector cuts | The Guardian

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Captives of Coca-Cola

 


In July 2018 the attention of The New York Times and then Esquire magazine was somehow drawn to a mountain town in southern Mexico and the truly remarkable amount of Coca-Cola drunk by its residents. The British Broadcasting Corporation has produced a documentary on the same topic.

The town is San Cristobal, in the Central Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest and southernmost state. A third of its quarter-million or so residents are of Mayan descent. Their average per capita daily consumption of ‘the friendliest drink on earth’ is a gallon – the whole of a two-liter bottle and most of a second, delivered to numerous local convenience stores from a bottling plant on the town’s outskirts.

Health impacts

Coca-Cola was first marketed in 1886. The name refers to two of the original ingredients – coca leaves, which are the source of cocaine, and kola nuts, which contain caffeine. Both are addictive. Since 1904 the coca leaves used have been not fresh but ‘spent’ – left over after the cocaine extraction process is complete. However, despite claims to the contrary, they still contain traces of cocaine. 

This daily dose of Coca-Cola taken by residents of San Cristobal contains a whole pound of sugar. So it should be no surprise that each year over 3,000 of them die of diabetes. It’s an unpleasant way to die. Typical symptoms are frequent urination, hunger and thirst (despite eating and drinking), fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, recurrent infections, tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands or feet, sunken eyes, rapid breathing, headache, muscle aches, dehydration, nausea, stomach pain and cramping, vomiting, cerebral edema, and coma. 

Besides diabetes, excessive sugar causes obesity, tooth decay, and fatty liver disease and increases the risk of strokes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Researchers who estimated the burden of disease associated with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in 2010 found such consumption responsible for 184,000 deaths a year — 133,000 from diabetes, 45,000 from heart disease, 6,500 from cancer.[1] 

These deaths were concentrated in high-income (24%) and especially medium-income (71%) countries. SSBs accounted for the highest proportion of all deaths – 12% — in Mexico, rising to 30% in Mexicans under the age of 45. In 2014 Mexico overtook the United States in per capita SSB consumption. In that year Mexicans drank on average 106 liters of Coca-Cola, Americans 99.5.

Sugar, moreover, is not the only harmful ingredient in Coca-Cola. There is also caffeine, which raises blood pressure and can cause dehydration as well as urinary and respiratory problems. There is phosphoric acid, which like sugar causes tooth decay, slows down digestion, may produce kidney failure or kidney stones, and impedes the absorption of calcium by the bones, leading to osteoporosis. Finally, the caramel used to color the drink is carcinogenic. 

Why do they drink so much Coca-Cola?

Observers talk about ‘addiction’ to Coca-Cola, and it does contain three addictive substances – cocaine, caffeine, and sugar. It is also said that Coca-Cola has become an integral part of the local culture in Chiapas. Many indigenous people believe that Coca-Cola can heal the sick. The BBC documentary features a ‘healer’ sacrificing a chicken to ‘Goddess Maria’ together with an offering of Coca-Cola. 

However, framing the problem in terms of addiction or ‘culture’ gives the impression that it might be solved with the aid of therapy and health education. This is not the case. The residents of San Cristobal have no real choice. Even those fully aware of the ham done to their health by imbibing huge quantities of Coca-Cola have no better alternative. After all, they need to drink water and Coca-Cola does at least contain clean water, drawn from a deep unpolluted aquifer. 

Is clean water available from any other source? Consider possible alternatives.

The town has no wastewater treatment facilities. Untreated sewage goes straight into the waterways. This is the water that comes, now and then, from the faucet, contaminated by E. Coli and other pathogens:

“Symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infection vary for each person, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Some people may have a fever, which usually is not very high (less than 101˚F/38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5 to 7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.”[2]

What about the water trucks that occasionally pass through your neighborhood? I have information specifically about trucked water in San Cristobal, but here is an assessment of trucked water in Mexico City:

Trucked water is often higher in quality than the city’s notorious tap water, but its quality does vary significantly. Many suppliers simply provide filtered tap water in steel trucks — and others may bring water of such poor quality that it is unsafe to drink.[3]

The situation in poverty-stricken San Cristobal is presumably worse than in the capital.

If water from the faucet and trucked water are not safe options, then why not buy not Coca-Cola but bottled water drawn from the aquifer? And/or other drinks known to contain clean water — milk, fruit juice, beer? 

This would indeed be a sensible thing to do. But Esquire remarks, without further explanation, that bottled water is ‘hard to find.’ So, perhaps, are other clean-water drinks. Perhaps Coca-Cola is the only clean-water drink that is at all widely available in this town? 

In order to show why this may be so, I must go into the commercial aspect of the production and distribution of Coca-Cola in San Cristobal. 

The commercial aspect

The Coca-Cola Company is a US-based multinational corporation. It produces not Coca-Cola but a syrup or paste concentrate that has to be diluted with water to make Coca-Cola. it sells the concentrate to bottling companies that make the Coca-Cola, bottle it, and sell it in various regions of the world to which they have bought exclusive rights.[4] The bottling company that owns the rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola in Mexico as well as nine other Latin American countries is FEMSA (a Spanish acronym for Mexican Economic Promotions). FEMSA is a Mexico-based multinational beverage and retail company. It is FEMSA that owns and operates the bottling plant in San Cristobal. It also owns retail chains, including OXXO, Mexico’s largest chain of convenience stores.

Here again I have no information specific to San Cristobal, but a plausible reason why bottled water is ‘hard to find’ would be FEMSA’s ownership of the town’s retail stores. If one and the same company were to own the retail stores and the Coca-Cola bottling plant, it would hardly allow its stores to display drinks that would compete with Coca-Cola.

In accordance with an old agreement between FEMSA and the Mexican federal government, the company pays for the water it takes from the aquifer at a very low rate – about 10 cents for every 260 gallons, which comes to $120 per day or $44,000 per year. Even this very modest payment goes to the federal not the local government and cannot be used for local needs. FEMSA offered to build a sewage treatment plant to provide 500 families with clean drinking water, but this token measure was abandoned when the company realized that it would not stop local protests.

Why would the Mexican government allow this situation to continue? It may be recalled that Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico in 2000—2006, was a former chief executive of the Coca-Cola Company in Mexico. This fact suggests the political clout of the Coca-Cola business in Mexico.

A clean-water monopoly

Propagandists for capitalism like to dwell on the wide choice that ‘the market economy’ gives consumers. They forget to mention that this is true only of a competitive market and that most markets are no longer competitive. They are either oligopolistic, with a few big companies that conspire to limit consumer choice, or monopolistic, with a single company in a position to dictate terms to its customers. 

In a place like San Cristobal, a vital human need – clean water – has been turned into a commodity monopolized by a single supplier. This supplier exploits its monopoly position to compel residents to buy clean water from itself and mixed with other substances that destroy their health and doom many of them to an early and miserable death. 

End of the story?

Climate change has brought a sharp and persistent reduction in rainfall to the Central Highlands of Chiapas State. Both surface and deep water sources are undergoing rapid depletion. If this continues for very long, the region will no longer be able to support a large population and most of the people of San Cristobal will join the swelling stream of environmental refugees. At a certain point, whether due to exhaustion of the aquifer or to the falling number of consumers, the making, bottling, and selling of Coca-Cola will cease to be a commercially viable operation. The managers of the plant will depart, well satisfied with the splendid job they have done for the shareholders of FEMSA. 

And so the story will end. Unless?

Notes

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4550496/

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/ecoli-symptoms.html

[3]

https://www.koshland-science-museum.org/water/html/en/Distribution/Water-Trucks-in-Mexico.html

[4] A comrade was shown round a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. When he entered the refrigerated room where the concentrate was stored, the stench was so overwhelming that he had to get out immediately. He felt that otherwise he would collapse. 


Stephen Shenfield