Sunday, January 31, 2021

Regimenting Asylum Seekers in Barracks

 The Home Office placed hundreds of asylum seekers in controversial military barracks following fears that better accommodation would "undermine confidence" in the system.  Critics say ministers were “pandering to prejudice” and jeopardising health for “political ends”.

Conditions in two Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites – known as Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, Kent, and Penally Barracks, in Pembrokeshire – since they were were repurposed for housing asylum seekers last September prompted campaigners, lawyers and humanitarian groups to report poor access to healthcare and legal advice, as well as concerns over coronavirus safety.

Bridget Chapman, of local charity Kent Refugee Action Network, said the Home Office’s decision to use “inappropriate and isolated” buildings as asylum seeker accommodation was a “deliberate choice to create a narrative of being deliberately tough on those seeking sanctuary”.  

An official document states that destitute asylum seekers are “not analogous” to British citizens and other permanent residents who are in need of state welfare assistance, and that the “less generous” support provided to this group is “justified by the need to control immigration. Any provision of support over and beyond what is necessary to enable the individuals to meet their housing and subsistence needs could undermine public confidence in the asylum system and hamper wider efforts to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community and amongst other migrant groups.”

Sophie Lucas, solicitor at Duncan Lewis, a law firm that has represented a number of asylum seekers who have subsequently been moved out of the barracks, said the document insinuated that a less generous system for asylum seekers was a “legitimate response” to outcry from extremist groups.

“Instead of attempting to combat bigotry and hostility towards asylum seekers, the Home Office have pandered to prejudice. Penalising an already extremely vulnerable group of people in this way is unlawful,” she said. 

Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “The government implied these cramped and disused barracks were being used as temporary housing because there was no alternative. But this document reveals that Home Office has been jeopardising people’s health for partly political ends – prioritising playing ‘tough’ on migration over the lives of extremely vulnerable people, who’ve been placed in conditions reminiscent of those they were fleeing.”

Naomi Phillips, director of policy and advocacy at British Red Cross, said the sites were “completely inappropriate and inhumane” as housing for refugees, and called for them to be close “urgently”.

Home Office put refugees in barracks after fears better housing would ‘undermine confidence’ in system | The Independent

Britain's Exclusive Education

 Bursaries for poorer children to attend private fee-paying schools have been far too scarce to significantly open up access to them to the less affluent. According to new research on social mobility found that the bursaries could not “account for more than a minor share of the participation” of families with lower incomes.

Bursaries and grants “are relatively low in value and distributed to only one in five of families” outside the top 10% richest families, according to the research by University College London’s institute of education.

Bursary programmes have often been cited in response to criticisms that high fees continue to make the schools the preserve of the rich. The findings challenge the idea that such schemes have made a major dent in the exclusivity of private schools. The team also found a link between middle- and lower-income families with children in private education and housing wealth, suggesting booming house prices have helped them get access to private schooling despite higher fees.

“Though income progressive and related to need, bursaries and grants are relatively low in value and distributed to only one in five of families outside the top decile; they cannot, therefore, account for more than a minor share of the participation of these non-income-rich families,” the team concluded. “However, among homeowners, non-rich families with privately educated children have much greater housing wealth than families with children in state schools.

 Britain remained “distinctive” in the significant social and economic divide between private and state school pupils, describing it as “among the highest in the developed world”. While about 9% of adults have been to an independent school, private schooling remained “a significant pathway through which some families obtain long-term advantages for their children”.

The proportion of pupils helped with financial support has not significantly increased, despite the costs of private schooling rising considerably. By 2018, the average annual basic fee was £14,280 for day schools and £33,684 for boarding schools - a 60% real-terms increase from 2000 and three times the 1980 fees.

 Since 1997, they found that throughout the period, around 15 out of every 100 pupils received direct financial support. The value of financial support was around £4,900 in 2011–2018, little changed from earlier periods and “thus accounting for a smaller fraction of the fees: 35% compared with 57% in the first period”. 

The paper concludes: “The data could not conclusively support claims that the private school sector has widened access for students from low-income families through more generous financial support.”

Private school bursaries 'still too scarce' to tackle inequality | Private schools | The Guardian

Chagos Islanders - Another betrayal

Less than £12,000 of a £40m fund set up to compensate Chagos islanders who were forcibly evicted from their homeland by the British government has reached those living in the UK.

Four years after it was announced, the Foreign Office fund has distributed less than 1% of its budget in direct support to islanders forced from their homes in the Indian Ocean.

The limited Foreign Office funding used so far has been spent on interpretation services for Chagossians, many of whom depend on French creole translation, and modest support for community groups.

Money was also spent on scoping visits to the islands by government officials, with several hundred thousand pounds used for “heritage trips”, granting Chagossians short stays on the islands, often to tend to relatives’ graves. Chagossian charity groups have, however, described this use of the support fund as “disingenuous”.

Chagossian charities have been handing out crisis grants of £50 to families who are struggling to buy food or pay for funeral costs but have expressed frustration that the multi-million pound support fund is not being utilised.

The Conservative MP Henry Smith, whose constituency of Crawley in West Sussex is home to most of Britain’s 3,000-plus Chagossian population, said: “The £40m support fund was announced almost five years ago and it has been tortuous to extract money from it ever’s outrageous that next to none of this funding has actually been utilised. The fact that this sort of funding hasn’t been deployed is another failure of Foreign Office promises over half a century to the Chagossian community.”

Just £12,000 of £40m fund for displaced Chagos islanders has been spent | World news | The Guardian

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Unequal before the law


The founders of the US Constitution accepted social inequality in many spheres, but they did insist on equality in one sphere. All citizens must be equal before the law. That is, the law must apply equally to all. No one must enjoy legal immunity, not even – indeed, especially not — those chosen to govern the country. For otherwise the new republic would have a government of men instead of a government of laws – the fundamental principle cherished by the founders.

No doubt legal equality was always something of a myth. Rarely has effective legal protection been available to non-whites or to strikers, for instance. Nevertheless, until recent decades the powerful could not be sure of immunity. The boss of a big city political machine could be struck down by the courts and end up in jail. But this is no longer so. Legal immunity for the political and corporate elite is now deeply entrenched. 

If the president does it, it cannot be illegal

In his book With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2011), Glenn Greenwald explains how this was achieved. The story begins with Richard Nixon, who first declared that ‘if the president does it, it cannot be illegal.’ A series of presidents established the practice by which each new occupant of the office thwarts any investigation or prosecution of crimes committed by his predecessor — even when this requires breaking campaign promises, as in the case of Obama’s refusal to do anything about the use of torture by the Bush administration. 

Immunity was extended from the political to the corporate elite when plaintiffs sued telecommunications companies for illegally tapping their customers’ telephone conversations and e-mail messages and sharing them with the National Security Agency. Not only were the court actions blocked, but Congress was lobbied and bribed to legalize retroactively what the companies had done. (It is extremely rare for crimes to be legalized retroactively.)

No charges were ever filed against the banks whose abuses led to the financial crisis of 2008 – not even for the fraudulent foreclosures that dispossessed mortgage holders and evicted them from their homes. 

Members of the elite have often been accused of sexually abusing minors. Greenwald does not deal with crimes of this sort. I have commented on the matter twice on my personal website: here and here.

Look to the future?

A favorite rationale is that ‘we should look forward to the future, not dwell on the past.’ As Greenwald points out, consistent application of this rationale would eliminate the whole system of criminal and civil justice, for reacting to what happened in the past is the business of all law enforcement and court procedure. 

Such forgiveness, obviously, is not meant for ordinary people. Indeed,

the lack of accountability for elites goes hand-in-hand with a lack of mercy for everyone else. As our politicians increasingly claim the right to commit crimes with impunity, they impose increasingly severe punishments on ordinary Americans who have broken even minor laws (p. 222).  

Laws have been passed setting ‘mandatory minimum’ sentences for specific crimes, depriving judges of much of their discretion and preventing them from taking due account of mitigating circumstances.

One way to highlight the contrast between ‘the law for the rich’ and ‘the law for the poor’ is to compare cases of similar crimes committed by individuals near the top and the bottom of our society. Take the following pair of cases of unarmed theft:

First case: Richard Lynn Scott

As CEO of the Hospital Corporation of America, Richard Lynn Scott masterminded schemes to defraud Medicare of an estimated $7 billion. Without admitting guilt, he settled all civil claims against him by coughing up $1.7 billion, about a quarter of the amount he had stolen. He was not charged with any crime. 

In 2011 the voters of Florida rewarded Scott for his business acumen by electing him governor. This gave him the power to decide whether to pardon any of the small-time thieves languishing in the state’s jails.

In 2019 Scott was elected to the US Senate.

Second case: Roy Brown

Roy Brown, a homeless black man in Shreveport, Louisiana, walked into a bank, pointed his finger at a teller from inside his jacket, and told her it was a robbery. She handed him three stacks of bills, but he took only a single $100 bill and gave the rest back. Next day he turned himself in to the police and told them that he had needed the money for food and shelter. He pled guilty to first-degree robbery and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

To sum up. Brown stole $100, Scott $7 billion. Brown had mitigating circumstances: he stole much less than he could have; he turned himself in; he needed money for food and shelter. Scott had no mitigating circumstances. Brown was sentenced to 15 years. Scott was never even charged with a crime.

Now let us re-run the second case in our imagination to narrow the gap between the outcomes:

When Brown confessed his crime to the police officer, the response was: ‘Well, that’s no big deal. How much of the $100 do you have left?’ ‘Twenty-five.’ ‘OK, we’ll go and give that back to the bank. They’ll lose 75, but they can afford it.’ The bank manager agreed to write off the loss and no charges were filed. The next year Brown was elected mayor.

This, I remind you, is a daydream. When we reach the point at which it is a plausible outcome, socialism will not be far off.

Hit and run

There are degrees of legal immunity. Only a tiny elite enjoy complete immunity, but a larger group have partial immunity. The police and the courts treat them with special leniency in deference to their high social status. 

Consider the case of Martin Erzinger, who was driving in Colorado in July 2010 when he swerved, hit a bicyclist from behind, and sped away. The bicyclist received serious injuries to the brain, spinal cord, and knee. A few minutes later Erzinger stopped in a parking lot and called an auto assistance service to report damage to his car and ask to be towed. He did not contact police or call an ambulance for the victim.  

‘Hit and run’ is a felony in Colorado, but the district attorney charged Erzinger with a mere misdemeanor, which carries no jail time. He explained that he didn’t want to disrupt Erzinger’s professional work as a hedge fund manager ‘overseeing over $1 billion in assets for ultra-high net worth individuals’ (Greenwald, pp. 101-103). 

When corporate crime gives rise to court proceedings, the severest possible penalty is a fine or damages to be paid by the corporation. A CEO or other corporate officer cannot be penalized as an individual, however great his role in decisions to commit crimes. 

Stephen Shenfield

Unequal before the law | World Socialist Party of the US (

Profits for Big Pharma


Once more Big Pharma faces some bitter criticism. 

 A report, entitled Killer Profits: How Big Pharma Takeovers Destroy Innovation and Harm Patients, notes that "in just 10 years, the number of large, international pharmaceutical companies decreased six-fold, from 60 to only 10."

"Instead of spending on innovation, Big Pharma is hoarding its money for salaries and dividends," the report says, "all while swallowing smaller companies, thus making the marketplace far less competitive." In 2018, 12 of the biggest pharmaceutical companies spent more money on stock buybacks than on research and development

While pharmaceutical executives often attempt to portray such consolidation as a means to increase operational efficiency, the report states that:

"digging a level deeper 'exposes a troubling industry-wide trend of billions of dollars of corporate resources going toward acquiring other pharmaceutical corporations with patent-protected blockbuster drugs instead of putting those resources toward' discovery of new drugs."

Merger and acquisition (M&A) deals are often executed to "boost stock prices," to "stop competitors," and to "acquire an innovative blockbuster drug with an enormous prospective revenue stream." The report calls M&As "just the tip of the iceberg of pharmaceutical companies' anti-competitive, profit-driven behaviors".

"Pharmaceutical companies often claim that lowering the prices of prescription drugs in the United States would devastate innovation. Yet, as prices have skyrocketed over the last few decades, these same companies' investment in research and development have failed to match this same pace. Instead, they've dedicated more and more of their funds to enrich shareholders or to purchase other companies to eliminate competition."

Instead of producing lifesaving drugs for diseases with few or no cures, large pharmaceutical companies often focus on small, incremental changes to existing drugs in order to kill off generic threats to their government-granted monopoly patents.

Big pharmaceutical companies are not responsible for most major breakthroughs in new drugs. Rather, innovation is driven in small firms, which are often spun off of taxpayer-funded academic research. These small labs are then purchased by giant firms after they've assumed the risk needed to develop a blockbuster drug.

The present pandemic is a case at point - a worldwide crisis, that requires a worldwide solution. This is a classic case where there are enormous benefits from collective action and few downsides. This is not a case, like seizing oil or other natural resources, where if the United States gets more, everyone else gets less and vice-versa. Sharing knowledge about vaccines, treatments, and best practices for prevention is costless and the whole world benefits if the pandemic can be contained as quickly as possible. The logical path would have been to open-source all research on treatments and vaccines, both so that progress could be made as quickly as possible, and also intellectual property rights would not be an obstacle to large-scale production throughout the world. This way, the information would be quickly shared so that researchers and public health experts everywhere could benefit. This sort of global cooperation is obviously not on Big Pharma's or capitalism's agenda. Open-source research and international cooperation could call into question the merits of patent monopoly financing of prescription drug research. As a result of capitalism's failures, millions of preventable infections and tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. 

New Report From Rep. Katie Porter Reveals How Big Pharma Pursues 'Killer Profits' at the Expense of Americans' Health | Common Dreams News

Friday, January 29, 2021

Fact of the Day

 In the USA, the bottom 99% last year paid about 7.5% of their total wealth in taxes.

The top 0.001% paid about 3.2%.

'How About a Counter-Argument Based on Fact?': Warren Destroys CNBC Host Over Two-Cent Wealth Tax Criticism | Common Dreams News

Less Russians

 Yet another story of falling populations.

Russia’s population shrank by about half a million last year.

There were 229,700 more deaths between January and November 2020 than in the same period the previous year.

Putin has long called for greater efforts towards population growth. Last year, he blamed the trend on low incomes.

Experts say further causes other than the pandemic are the migration of younger, well-educated people abroad and the low birth rate.

Russia: Population shrinks for first time in 15 years | Russia News | Al Jazeera


 The US immigration detention system is the world’s largest and part of a for-profit prison industry.

“We’ve commodified human displacement,” said David Taylor, who has used drones to take aerial photography and video of 28 privately run Ice detention centers near the US southern border, in California, Arizona and Texas.

While accounts of abuse and exploitation from inside facilities appear in the news media, the detention centers are usually in isolated, underpopulated areas with access to photographers or film crews tightly controlled.

Between 2015 and 2018, as the administration began to ramp up its crackdown on immigrants, the targeted average daily population of detained immigrants grew 50%. Corporations won contracts from ICE worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

'This is literally an industry': drone images give rare look at for-profit Ice detention centers | US immigration | The Guardian

EU won't end poverty

 The European Union is “not fit for purpose” in the task of reducing poverty in Europe and Brexit risks exacerbating the problem, Prof Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special envoy on human rights has said after a two-month investigation. One in five people – more than 92.4 million or 21.1% of the EU population – still experiences poverty, defined as having an income below 60% of national median income. A total of 19.4 million children, representing 23.1%, live in poverty across the bloc.

He said the EU’s “constitutional framework” was driving a race to the bottom in corporation and income tax and salary levels.

A lack of harmonisation on those issues, coupled with the 1997 stability and growth pact that imposes ceilings of 3% a year in national budget deficits and 60% of GDP on public debt, were major constraints on progress, he said. The internal competition to cut taxes and wages as member states sought to attract investment risked being further fuelled by Brexit, said De Schutter, as the UK sought to find a competitive advantage over the 27 member states of the EU.

The EU does not currently have a target for reducing poverty within its 27 member states. The previous target of taking 20 million people out of poverty by 2020 was missed by 8.7m people.

EU 'not fit for purpose' to reduce poverty in Europe, says UN envoy | European Union | The Guardian

Price of food goes up

In the last year, Covid-19 has undone the economic, health and food security of millions, pushing as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. While the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been devastating, the rise in hunger has been one of its most tangible symptoms.

Income losses have translated into less money in people’s pockets to buy food while market and supply disruptions due to movement restrictions have created local shortages and higher prices, especially for perishable food.

Global food prices, as measured by a World Bank food price index, rose 14% last year. 

Covid crisis is fuelling food price rises for world's poorest | Food security | The Guardian

This Land is Your Land

 ‘Life’s pretty tough …you’re lucky if you live through it.’ - Woody Guthrie

At Biden's inauguration Jennifer Lopez started off the festivities off with a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land…but, of course did not sing all the relevant and pertinent verses of the original

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said “No trespassin'”
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me

This article by a biographer goes into more detail about Woody Guthrie and his song.

"...Once you have read the song’s lyrics in their entirety, the title phrase sheds all quasi-Kumbaya resonances and becomes what Guthrie meant it to be: a defiant, deeply radical statement of opposition to capitalist exploitation. The song’s words are critical and fierce, not cosy and reassuring: This land is your land, it declares to its listeners, not the land of the people who, according to market logic, own it, hold the deeds to it, exploit it for profit. Land is not a commodity. Those deeds are fictions, and the owners are, essentially, thieves..."

"... Initially written in 1940 as a retort to Irving Berlin’s jingoistic God Bless America, Guthrie’s song is a scathing condemnation of the very idea that land can be owned, treated as property. In a rarely aired verse of the original lyrics, a sign reading “private property” interrupts the wandering minstrel’s cross-continental stroll. But the disturbance is only momentary, for the singer quickly notes that “on the other side, it didn’t say nothing/That side was made for you and me”. And, in another little-known verse, the singer witnesses starving people lined up at a soup kitchen, leading him to shift the refrain to a question: “Is this land made for you and me?” ..."

Further reading:

Woody Guthrie. Resonant Voice for the Downtrodden: Woolly-Eyed Lefty (

Unfair to workers


One in four workers in the UK lack basic employment protection.

The TUC found that 7.5 million employees have no protection from unfair dismissal because of the law which says workers must be employed for two years to qualify.

Nearly half of hospitality staff and a third of people working in the retail, wholesale and vehicle repair sector have not been in their jobs long enough to qualify for unfair dismissal rights. All employees should have unfair dismissal rights from day one in a job, urged the union.

7.5 million UK workers lack basic employment rights as jobless rate set to rise | The Independent

Privatised Childrens Homes

 The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for financial oversight of England’s privately-run children’s care homes after research showed some of the biggest private equity-owned providers were collectively making hundreds of millions a year in profits. Children’s care provision is increasingly dominated by private providers. Nearly three in four children’s homes and two in five fostering households are provided by private firms or charities

“Providers should … not be making excessive profit from providing placements for children,” said Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People board.

A study published on Friday by the LGA found the six biggest private children’s care providers made £219m in profits last year. Some providers recorded profits of more than 20% of income, it said.  Councils – which have collectively overspent by £3bn on children’s services in the past five years – were concerned that private providers were charging above-inflation rates for placements, the LGA said.

 It also warned that the increasing indebtedness of some of the largest private providers risked triggering a Southern Cross-style financial collapse, potentially leaving vulnerable children without a home. Four of the seven largest provider groups had debt and liability levels that exceeded their assets. The failure of the Southern Cross adult residential home chain in 2011, in part because of its inability to repay heavy loans taken out to finance rapid expansion plans, led to many of its thousands of elderly and vulnerable residents having to be rehoused. In the aftermath of its collapse, regulators were given oversight powers to monitor the financial health of England’s biggest private care providers to try to ensure adult care home markets remained stable. No such oversight exists for children’s care homes.

Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, which represents children’s charities, said: “The largest private care providers made £219m in profit last year, while the councils responsible for children in care struggled to even balance their books. That’s how chronically unsustainable this market is.”

Councils flag concerns about 'excessive profits' at children's homes | Children | The Guardian

Health Inequality

  A study, which surveyed almost 1.4 million adults aged over 55, provides fresh insights into why people of black and south Asian ethnic backgrounds have a greater risk of death from Covid than white people.

It found that for almost all ethnic minority groups, health-related quality of life was worse compared to white British people, with the average health of 60-year-olds belonging to five of the groups – Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Arab, and Gypsy or Irish Traveller – similar to that of an average 80-year-old.

Not only are people from these groups often poorer and more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions, they are also more likely to report worse treatment when visiting their GP surgery, and insufficient support from local services, such as housing and social care.

Study reveals depth of BAME health inequality in England | England | The Guardian

Thursday, January 28, 2021

International Court - 'Hand over the Chagos Islands'

 The UK has once again lost an international court case regards its claim of sovereignty over the Chagos Islands.

A maritime law tribunal of the United Nations has ruled that Britain has no sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. It criticised London for its failure to hand the territory back to Mauritius.

The judges' decision confirms a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and a vote in the UN General Assembly. The panel of judges at the United Nation's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLS) explicitly criticised the UK's failure to hand the territory over to its former colony, Mauritius, by December 2019, as earlier demanded by a near-unanimous vote at the UN's General Assembly.

"The judgement… is clear and unequivocal. Mauritius is sovereign over the Chagos Archipelago," Mauritius's Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth told the BBC.

UN court rules UK has no sovereignty over Chagos islands - BBC News

Biden's Cosmetic Changes


Biden’s executive orders are receiving much attention from the president-friendly media. But what are the real effect of them?

One such presidential order is to phase out the Department of Justice’s contracts with privately managed prisons.

Biden’s private prison executive order fails to scale back incarceration. The federal Bureau of Prisons — which makes up slightly more than 8 percent of the current U.S. penal population — but just 9 percent of the people incarcerated under the Bureau of Prisons are held in a private prison.

Biden has excluded the Department of Homeland Security, and therefore privately run immigration detention centers, from his order. In contrast to the small percentage of private prisons within the Bureau of Prisons, the majority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities are currently under private contracts. Yet there is no indication that the Biden administration will extend the executive order to the Department of Homeland Security. There is so far no indication that the Biden administration will extend the executive order to the Department of Homeland Security, as the order is careful to only refer to “criminal” detention facilities in contrast to ICE’s “civil” detention facilities.

Rather than taking a step toward dismantling mass incarceration, Biden’s private prison executive order shores up the legitimacy of the state to imprison peopleHe could issue a moratorium on U.S. Marshals Service and ICE contracts with local jails and on the United States Department of Agriculture loan program, which finances jail expansion in the name of “community development,” and which together have been driving rural jail expansions. He could halt federal executions and commute the sentence of every person on federal death row. 

Biden could institute broad-based de-carceration by ending pre-trial federal detention and giving clemency to most people incarcerated in federal prisons. He could end federal policing initiatives that target sex workers. And he could champion the repeal of the 1994 Crime Bill, the law that helped build Biden's political career.

The problem of private prisons is not that they are private but that they are prisons. This executive order is simply an act of moving chairs around the deck of the Titanic. When a private prison contract runs outimprisoned people will be transferred to a different federal prison where they will still be subject to inadequate medical care, violence and premature death. 

Governments Breaking International Law

 The right to asylum is coming under increasing attack at Europe’s borders, the UN’s refugee body, UNHCR,  says .

It is alarmed by mounting expulsions and pushbacks of refugees and asylum-seekers and is calling for states to urgently investigate and halt increasing violence against people at Europe’s land and sea borders. The 1951 refugee convention, the European convention on human rights and EU law require states to protect the right of people to seek asylum and governments cannot automatically deny entry or forcibly return or push back people without assessing their need for protection. UNHCR was receiving a “continuous stream of reports of states restricting access to asylum, returning people.”

“Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation. While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, they must also respect human rights. Pushbacks are simply illegal,” said Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection. “The pushbacks are carried out in a violent and apparently systematic way. Boats carrying refugees are being rounded up after they land and then pushed back to sea. Many have reported violence and abuse by state forces. People arriving by land are also being informally detained and forcibly returned to neighbouring countries without any consideration of their international protection needs.”

UNHCR said that the Covid-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to deny the right to asylum or refugee status “The Covid-19 pandemic provides no exception; it is possible to protect against the pandemic and to ensure access to fair and speedy asylum processes,” said Triggs.

Refugee rights 'under attack' at Europe's borders, UN warns | Refugees | The Guardian

Socialist Sonnet No. 18



There’s not one hundred thousand Covid deaths,

But one personal death a hundred thousand times,

With tears the unit of grief. As frost rimes

The season still, so the count of last breaths

Continues unstaunched, with lockdowns unlocked

Only to be locked again and borders

Closed, as if virus observes such orders,

While politicians appear publicly shocked.

Inter-governmental squabbles have started,

Contending for vaccines. Should supplies stall,

A failure for one is a failure for all:

Common weal and common health can’t be parted.


If the free market’s promoted to decide,

What then the cost, how many will have died?


D. A.

$158 million for tax advice

 Leon Black is a very successful financier, co-founder of Apollo Global Management, a group that ranks among the most powerful on Wall Street. The billionaire attributes a sizeable part of his wealth to Jeffrey Epstein, estimating that as much as $2bn in benefits can be traced back to Epstein's financial acumen. Epstein committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial on sex charges committed against underage girls.

Leon Black paid $158m to Epstein over a five-year period ending in 2017 during which the disgraced businessman served as Mr Black’s high-priced adviser on issues ranging from audits by the tax authorities, management of his yacht and private plane and a dispute over the ownership of a sculpture by Pablo Picasso.  They socialised or held meetings at Epstein’s Caribbean island and his other properties in New York, Paris, Florida and New Mexico.

Epstein was convicted in 2008 of soliciting sex from a minor that resulted in a lenient 13-month prison sentence. Rather than ending the business relationship after the conviction, Leon Black employed Epstein as an adviser in 2012. Black described himself as someone who “believes in . . . giving people second chances”. Black thought of Epstein as a 'confirmed bachelor with eclectic tastes'. 

Epstein’s “most valuable” assignment was to design a trust structure that had been designed to allow Mr Black to transfer some assets to his heirs without paying estate or gift tax. One sleight of hand involved a series of loans between Black and some trusts. Epstein said that alone saved Black $600 million. On went the scams  from 2012 to 2017 

report by law firm Dechert, which was hired by Apollo to probe Black’s ties to Epstein said, “It is clear that the compensation paid by Black to Epstein far exceeded any amounts Black paid to his other professional advisors,” despite Epstein’s lack of formal training in law or accounting. .

 “Paying tens of millions to a novice is beyond strange,” a lawyer at a top law firm said. “Maybe there’s some justification, but I’d love to see what it is.”

Black's social relationship with Epstein deteriorated in 2017 over a dispute surrounding money Epstein said he was owed.  

Black stepped down this week as chief executive after an internal power struggle  following the firm’s inquiry into his relationship with Epstein. Black is staying on as chairman in what may prove to be little more than a ceremonial role.

Ignoring the 'right to life'

 Italy failed to protect the “right to life” of more than 200 migrants and refugees who died when the boat they were on capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Human Rights Committee said on Wednesday that Italy “failed to respond promptly to various distress calls from the sinking boat, which was carrying more than 400 adults and children”. It also called on Italian authorities to “proceed with an independent and timely investigation and to prosecute those responsible” for the deaths.

Had the Italian authorities immediately directed its naval ship and coastguard boats after the distress calls, the rescue would have reached the vessel at the latest two hours before it sank.

Italy could have saved 200 drowning migrants: UN committee | Human Rights News | Al Jazeera

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Global Capitalists

 $13,000,000,000 is how much Jeff Bezos added to his net worth in one day last July after the pandemic caused Amazon’s stock price to surge. He could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus in September 2020 and remained just as wealthy as he was pre-pandemic. Bezos’s $13bn (£10bn) pay-day set a record for the largest single-day increase in individual wealth ever recorded.  However, he was far from the only billionaire.

 According to a report by Oxfam, the combined wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has increased by over half a trillion dollars since March 2020.  Enough to vaccinate everyone in the world and ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic, Oxfam’s report, The Inequality Virus, claims.

The richest 660 people in the US have collected a $1.1tn (£800bn) “windfall of wealth” since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies. The report found that the collective wealth of America’s 660 billionaires has risen by 39% since the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 was a pandemic virus in March 2020. The billionaires combined wealth has increased from just under $3tn on 18 March 2020 to $4.1tn, according to Forbes magazine data. The report noted that there had also been “46 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic”, when there were 614.

At $4.1tn, the total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4tn in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million people. The report said that the $1.1tn gain the billionaires have made could be used to pay for all of the relief for working families contained in Biden’s proposed $1.9tn pandemic rescue package, which includes $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, $400-a-week supplements to unemployment benefits and an expanded child tax credit.

The world's 10 richest people made $540bn in a year – we need a greed tax | Rich lists | The Guardian

US billionaires 'have received $1.1tn windfall in Covid pandemic' | The super-rich | The Guardian