Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Vaccine Disparities

  A handful of wealthy nations are on track to deliver vaccines to all adults who want them in the coming months, while dozens of the world’s poorest countries have not inoculated a single person. As it stands, 30 countries have not received a single vaccine dose.

Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s access to medicine program said right now , “it’s not even clear the goal is to vaccinate the world”.

The disparity has been called “vaccine apartheid”.

Many have  called for the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to share technical know-how in an effort to speed the global vaccination project beyond existing vaccine supply. Many see a bigger fight in patent laws, and are drawing on experience advocating for greater access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV.

“There’s no question poorer countries are having a hard time affording doses,” said Dr Howard Markel, a pandemic historian at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Even if they were at wholesale or cost there are a lot of different markups.”

“This is a classic case where you have an industry that has a very direct stake in protecting itself, and there’s very little understanding among the public how much is at issue,” said Dean Baker, an economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Activists argue pharmaceutical companies should share production know-how, and be appropriately compensated. One part of this fight centers on a provision of international trade law called the Trips agreement, or more formally, the agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. Put in force in 1995, Trips requires all member states to recognize 20-year monopoly patents for pharmaceuticals, including vaccines.

“What Trips was about was imposing US-European style copyright on the whole world,” said Baker. “Most developing countries had very little idea what they were dealing with.”

Annual or booster Covid-19 shots appear increasingly likely – in part driven by the possibility variants could emerge in populations without vaccine access – and as pharmaceutical companies eye future profits.

Coronavirus: how wealthy nations are creating a ‘vaccine apartheid’ | Coronavirus | The Guardian

Cream for the fat cats

 The boss of gambling website Bet365, Denise Coates, was paid nearly half a billion pounds in salary and dividends last year, as the latest in a string of record-breaking awards took her total pay since 2016 to nearly £1.3bn.

Bet365 revealed that its highest-paid director, understood to be Coates as chief executive, received £421m – or £48,000 every hour of every day -  throughout the 12-month period. In its accounts, the company said its pay arrangements were “appropriate and fair”.

Bet365 also paid a dividend of £95m, signalling a separate windfall of around £45m for Coates, who owns more than half of the business.

 Together with Peter and her brother John – ranked 16th in last year’s Sunday Times rich list with a fortune of £7bn.

The Scottish National party MP Ronnie Cowan, a vocal advocate of tougher gambling regulation, added: “When the industry is creating so much harm in the community, when it is the most deprived areas that see the most damage and when the industry is in denial in regard to the damage it does, then salaries of this magnitude will always draw criticism.”

Bet365 boss’s £421m pay for 2020 takes earnings over £1bn in four years | Executive pay and bonuses | The Guardian

Losing our forests


According to data from the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch the rate at which the world’s forests are being destroyed increased sharply last year, with at least 42,000 sq km of tree cover lost in key tropical regions.

The loss was well above the average for the last 20 years, with 2020 the third worst year for forest destruction since 2002 when comparable monitoring began.

The losses were particularly severe in humid tropical primary forests, such as the Amazon, the Congo and south-east Asia. These forests are vital as carbon sinks in the regulating the global climate, as well as for their irreplaceable ecosystems. Losses from this type of forest alone amounted to 4.2m hectares (10.4m acres). Brazil’s forested areas fared the worst, with 1.7m hectares destroyed, an increase of about a quarter on the previous year. Altogether, 12.2m hectares of tree cover were lost in the tropics in 2020, an increase of 12% on 2019, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). 

Destruction of world's forests increased sharply in 2020 | Trees and forests | The Guardian

Our Outlook is Bleak and Stark


 Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA),  one of the world’s leading energy economist, warned most of the world’s biggest economies have long-term goals of reaching net zero by mid-century, but few have the policies required to meet those goals. Economies are rapidly gearing up for a return to fossil fuel use instead of forging a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

IEA’s latest figures show global coal use was about 4% higher in the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period in 2019, the clearest indication yet of a potentially disastrous rebound in the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels, following last year’s lockdowns around the world when emissions plummeted.

“We are not on track for a green recovery, just the opposite. We have seen global emissions higher in December 2020 than in December 2019. As long as countries do not put the right energy policies in place, the economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021. We will make the job of reaching net zero harder.”

 In regards to nationally determined contribution (NDC), plans for cutting emissions strongly in the next 10 years, Birol explained, “NDCs should be ambitious, credible, accountable and backed with credible energy policies. The US’s current NDC is not ambitious enough, and not in line with the US leading an international climate campaign.”

“It will not be possible to reach our climate goals if SUV sales continue at these rates,” he said. “We must either change the technology, to electric vehicles, or change tax policies to provide financial disincentives to consumers to go for the SUV option.” In the UK  greenhouse gas emissions from cars had declined by only 1% since 2011, largely as a result of the widespread switch to SUVs

 A small group taking a large proportion of flights, while many people do not fly at all frequent flyers cause most of the climate damage resulting from aviation’s emissions. In the US, 12% of people took 66% of all flights, while in France 2% of people took half of the flights, the report says. In China 5% of households took 40% of flights and in India just 1% of households took 45% of all the flights. It was already known that 10% of people in England took more than half of all international flights in 2018. A global study reported by the Guardian in November found that frequent-flying “super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. Almost 90% of the world’s population did not fly at all that year.

Prominent scientists and lawyers have said the UK government ignores the Paris climate agreement when deciding on major infrastructure projects. The experts – including the former Nasa scientist Jim Hansen, the former UK government chief scientist Sir David King and the economist Prof Jeffrey Sachs – have written to ministers and the supreme court about a recent ruling that the government need not take the UK’s obligations under the treaty into account when setting policy.

Urgent policies needed to steer countries to net zero, says IEA chief | Greenhouse gas emissions | The Guardian

Elite minority of frequent flyers 'cause most of aviation's climate damage' | Air transport | The Guardian

UK criticised for ignoring Paris climate goals in infrastructure decisions | Climate change | The Guardian

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 21st century farming – the future of food tech

Paddy Shannon, 22nd January 2021

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Learn to think in school

 Finland was recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news and it is where critical thinking has become a core, cross-subject component of the school national curriculum. The curriculum was devised by the Finnish government after 2014, when the country was first targeted with fake news stories by its Russian neighbour, and the government realised it had moved into the post-fact age.

Students learn how easy it is to lie with statistics. In art, they see how an image’s meaning can be manipulated. In history, they analyse notable propaganda campaigns, while Finnish language teachers show the many ways in which words can be used to confuse, mislead and deceive.

Kari Kivinen, head teacher, points out you can start when children are very young, “Fairytales work well. Take the wily fox who always cheats the other animals with his sly words. That’s not a bad metaphor for a certain kind of politician, is it?”

He wants his pupils to ask questions such as: who produced this information, and why? Where was it published? What does it really say? Who is it aimed at? What is it based on? Is there evidence for it, or is this just someone’s opinion? Is it verifiable elsewhere?

“The goal is active, responsible citizens and voters,” Kivinen said. “Thinking critically, fact-checking, interpreting and evaluating all the information you receive, wherever it appears, is crucial. We’ve made it a core part of what we teach, across all subjects.”

Fake news, Kivinen said, is not a great term, especially for children. Far more useful are three distinct categories: misinformation, or “mistakes”; disinformation, or “lies” and “hoaxes”, which are false and spread deliberately to deceive; and mal-information, or “gossip”, which may perhaps be correct but is intended to harm.

“Even quite young children can grasp this,” he said. “They love being detectives. If you also get them questioning real-life journalists and politicians about what matters to them, run mock debates and real school elections, ask them to write accurate and fake reports on them…democracy, and the threats to it, start to mean something.”

Priya, 16, said education was “the best way to fight it. The problem is, anyone can publish anything. There’s not much a government can do when they’re faced with big multinationals like Google or Facebook, and if it does too much it’s censorship. So yes, education is what’s most effective.”

How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools | Finland | The Guardian

From the Horses Mouth - Green Capitalism Won't Work


Tariq Fancy was responsible for sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, and its environmental, social and governance (ESG) corporate policies across the investment giant’s portfolio. He was part of the effort to turn Wall Street “green”. His informed conclusion: “This is definitely not going to work.”

“I have looked inside the machine and I can tell you business does not have this,” Tariq explains. “Not because these are bad people but because they run for-profit machines that will operate exactly as you would expect them to do.” 

BlackRock manages about $7tn in assets and, with one of Wall Street’s biggest voices sounding the alarm about the need to deal with the climate crisis, a business leader  that has given many people, including investors, activists and academics, hope that after years of backing polluters, Wall Street was finally stepping up to confront the climate crisis.

But for Fancy, a former investment banker who has direct experience, such an aspiration contain a fundamental flaw: the climate crisis can never be solved by today’s free markets.

“It’s not because they are evil, it’s because the system is built to extract profits,” he said.

Investors have a fiduciary duty to maximise returns to their clients and as long as there is money to be made in activities that contribute to global warming, no amount of rhetoric about the need for sustainable investing will change that. 

“In many cases it’s cheaper and easier to market yourself as green rather than do the long tail work of actually improving your sustainability profile. That’s expensive and if there is no penalty from the government, in the form of a carbon tax or anything else, then this market failure is going to persist.”

The amount of money that poured into sustainable investment through vehicles like exchange traded funds (ETFs) hit record levels last year. It’s a trend Fancy believes could continue for years and still have zero impact on climate change because “there is no connection between the two things”.

Moving money to green investments doesn’t mean polluters will no longer find backers. The argument is similar to that of divestment, another strategy Fancy says doesn’t work. “If you sell your stock in a company that has a high emissions footprint, it doesn’t matter. The company still exists, the only difference is that you don’t own them. The company is going to keep on going the way they were and there are 20 hedge funds who will buy that stock overnight. The market is the market."

He points out, “I don’t think the public realizes we are not talking about stopping climate change. We are literally talking about selling assets so we don’t get caught up in the damage when it hits.” Business knows this, Fancy said.

A survey of 250 senior executives supports Fancy’s point. About 64% of the executives surveyed in a recent poll commissioned by British lender Standard Chartered said they “believe the economics of operating as a net-zero [carbon emissions] organization do not stack up for their company”. 

Under the current system the costs, says Fancy, are simply too high and the benefits of conducting business as usual are too great. A 2019 Morgan Stanley study found that getting to net zero by 2050 will cost $50tn.

Tariq Fancy is no socialist and trusts government intervention in the free market by carbon taxing will be a solution. Such faith in the capitalist system is not shared by ourselves.

Green investing 'is definitely not going to work’, says ex-BlackRock executive | Investing | The Guardian

This Unequal World

 “We face the spectre of a divided world and a lost decade for development,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said.

The inability of developing nations to spend on post COVID-19 recovery and resilience has placed the world on the “the verge of a debt crisis”. He said that developing nations needed access to liquidity to allow them to sufficiently respond to the pandemic and invest in recovery.

128 million people have fallen into extreme poverty over the last year.

While the world’s rich nations have benefited from an unprecedented $18 trillion of emergency support measures, setting the stage for economic recovery post COVID-19, many developing nations could not invest in recovery and resilience. In fact many have spent 580 times less per capita on their COVID-19 response, in comparison to richer nations, because they do not have the money to do so. One third of emerging market economies where at high risk for fiscal crisis while six countries had already defaulted on loan payments. Guterres said the situation was even worse for least-developed and low-income countries.

"...that will put the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement completely out of reach,” Guterres warned.

 The stark reality of lack of funding among developing nations was clearly evident in the access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“Many developed countries are on the brink of mass vaccination drives. In developing countries this could take months, if not years, further delaying a global recovery,” Guterres said.

Jamaican Prime Minister Holness said, “an uneven and inequitable vaccination programme will lead to an uneven global recovery and sadly a re-inforcement of poverty”.

Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said COVID-19 has worsened debt dynamics for many developing countries.

As well as restrictions on export opportunities and lowering commodity prices, “The collapse of export receipts from tourism has prompted balance of payment difficulties for many developing countries, especially island economies from the Caribbean to the Pacific to the India Ocean,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

Finance for trading dried up for ‘several’ low-income nations as foreign banks cut existing credit lines or refused to endorse letters of credit unless guaranteed by others.

“Without trade finance countries cannot import the basic necessities, they can only do it by paying cash in advance,” she said.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), admitted that “prospects for recovery are dangerously diverging”. 

President of the World Bank Group David Malpass said the world faced devastating challenges, especially for the poorest countries. 

“For countries with unsustainable debt we are looking for solutions that meet both the near-term liquidity challenges and the longer-term sustainability challenges,” Malpass said, explaining that solutions for both time frames was critical in helping people get access to resources for health, education and climate.

President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Akinwumi A. Adesina said the COVID-19 pandemic “has devastated Africa’s accounts” 

“We need global solidarity on vaccine access for Africa. We also need global solidarity on debt for Africa,” Adesina said.

Developing Countries COVID-19 Debt Crisis Could Put SDGs & Climate Agreement Completely Out of Reach | Inter Press Service (

Whatever happened to the Tory nation of house-owners?

 Low-paid key workers would not be able to afford to buy the average priced home in 98% of Great Britain. Years of rising prices have put homeownership out of reach of many key workers, who have also experienced pay freezes and had to channel their wages into paying high private rents, rather than being able to save for a deposit.

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Raising a deposit is just one half of the equation; you must also be able to afford the monthly repayments, and a 95% mortgage comes with a higher interest rate.”

The Guardian’s analysis, which was based on the sums needed for a 90% mortgage, found that a nurse on the median wage of £33,920 a year would not be able to raise a big enough mortgage to buy the median-priced property in almost three-quarters of local authorities nationwide. A nurse with a partner on the average wage would be locked out of the market in more than a fifth of areas.

 The median salary for a senior care worker in the UK stood at £21,243 in 2020. Based on these earnings, with a 10% deposit to put down, a senior care worker would be able to afford the average priced property in just six council areas in Great Britain, locking them out of 98% of areas. If this individual applied for a joint mortgage with a partner on the average UK salary of £31,461, the couple would be unable to afford the average property in four-in-10 local authorities across Britain.

A postal worker with a partner on the average wage would be priced out in more than one-third of local authorities. A postal worker earning the median income of £24,028 would be able to secure a mortgage on the average-priced home in just 13 local authorities

Bus drivers, even within a couple, they are unable to afford the average property in 31% of local authorities. A bus driver on a single wage of £27,191 would be priced out of nine-out-of-10 council areas.

  While a teacher could not afford a mortgage in 60% of areas across Britain. A secondary school teacher earning £40,881 – would be unable to afford a typical property in almost a fifth of council areas.

Covid frontline workers priced out of homeowning in 98% of Great Britain | UK news | The Guardian

Land to the Landless: Land to the Tillers

Most land does not belong to those who toil on it.

According to National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data, 60% of the country’s population has right over only 5% of land; whereas 10% of the population has control over 55% of the land. 

The 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census shows that 56% of households in rural India do not own any agricultural land. The NSSO 2013 revealed that top 7.18% of households own more than 46.71% of the land.

 By the end of 2019, at least 690 million people went hungry. Now millions more of people continue to suffer acute food insecurity as they face the consequences of the pandemic. Lockdown policies and quarantines have affected all stages of food supply, resulting in a steep rise in food prices and widespread food insecurity.

 As of October 2020, a staggering seven million people have died of hunger. Pandemic-related hunger also led to the deaths of 10,000 more children each month over the first year of the health crisis. 

Landlessness has been exacerbated by large-scale land deals and acquisitions – land grabs led by corporations have dispossessed and displaced farmers from the land they till. Millions of hectares of land planted with staples, grains, and other food crops, as well as indigenous lands, and public lands were land grabbed and converted into plantations, extractive mining projects, and farms devoted to export cash crops. 

Governments have become willing accomplices in these land grabs through public-private partnerships that take away land, water, and other natural resources from the people. Profits keep pouring into the pockets of the few as the majority of peasants and their families endure worsening landlessness and land grabs amid a pandemic. 

Land to the tillers for genuine food system change | Countercurrents

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism


An anti-semitism definition as an alternative to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The Jerusalem Declaration On Antisemitism | JDA


Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).


A. General

1) It is racist to essentialize (treat a character trait as inherent) or to make sweeping negative generalizations about a given population. What is true of racism in general is true of antisemitism in particular.

2) What is particular in classic antisemitism is the idea that Jews are linked to the forces of evil. This stands at the core of many anti-Jewish fantasies, such as the idea of a Jewish conspiracy in which “the Jews” possess hidden power that they use to promote their own collective agenda at the expense of other people. This linkage between Jews and evil continues in the present: in the fantasy that “the Jews” control governments with a “hidden hand,” that they own the banks, control the media, act as “a state within a state,” and are responsible for spreading disease (such as Covid-19). All these features can be instrumentalized by different (and even antagonistic) political causes.

3) Antisemitism can be manifested in words, visual images, and deeds. Examples of antisemitic words include utterances that all Jews are wealthy, inherently stingy, or unpatriotic. In antisemitic caricatures, Jews are often depicted as grotesque, with big noses and associated with wealth. Examples of antisemitic deeds are: assaulting someone because she or he is Jewish, attacking a synagogue, daubing swastikas on Jewish graves, or refusing to hire or promote people because they are Jewish.

4) Antisemitism can be direct or indirect, explicit or coded. For example, “The Rothschilds control the world” is a coded statement about the alleged power of “the Jews” over banks and international finance. Similarly, portraying Israel as the ultimate evil or grossly exaggerating its actual influence can be a coded way of racializing and stigmatizing Jews. In many cases, identifying coded speech is a matter of context and judgement, taking account of these guidelines.

5) Denying or minimizing the Holocaust by claiming that the deliberate Nazi genocide of the Jews did not take place, or that there were no extermination camps or gas chambers, or that the number of victims was a fraction of the actual total, is antisemitic.

B. Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are antisemitic

6) Applying the symbols, images and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism (see guidelines 2 and 3) to the State of Israel.

7) Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating Jews, simply because they are Jewish, as agents of Israel.

8) Requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, at a political meeting).

9) Assuming that non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.

10) Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.

C. Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic

(whether or not one approves of the view or action)

11. Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.

12. Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.

13. Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, the role Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a state, it influences events in the world. It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination. In general, the same norms of debate that apply to other states and to other conflicts over national self-determination apply in the case of Israel and Palestine. Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.

14. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.

15. Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.

Vraie Loi Climat (or "Real Climate Law")


110 000 people took to the streets in several cities across France marching for a "real climate law" instead of what they describe as Macron's smokescreen reforms.

The French parliament are due to start a debate on a climate change bill. The draft law is the result of the initiative of 150 randomly selected individuals in what was a 'citizens assembly', the Citizens' Convention for Climate,  which discussed and eventually agreed propositions on how to fight global warming.

But critics say the draft legislation,  "Climate and Resilience", has excluded some of the citizen's assembly's far-reaching recommendations, despite a promise by French President Emmanuel Macron, to implement them "without any filters"  either applying them directly or submitting them unchanged to parliament. But many of the measures proposed by the Citizens Climate Convention were watered down before being sent to parliament.

They say the bill is not sufficiently ambitious enough to limit the country's carbon emissions and reach a goal set at the Paris Agreement to limit the rise of global temperatures. They have described it as a "pseudo" climate change bill.

More than a dozen lawmakers initially elected with Macron's La République En Marche (LREM) party have quit over what they see is the president's perceived lack of commitment on environmental and social issues.

“His commitment is skin deep,” said Jennifer De Temmerman, an MP and former LREM member. “It’s all communication, smoke and mirrors. He lectures others, but in reality, his actions in France don’t pass muster.” She explained, “We were expecting a grand bill, a landmark piece of legislation, and it falls very short of our expectations. On transport, we’re only banning flights that are shorter than two-and-a-half hours, that’s almost nothing. And on advertising, we’re encouraging greenwashing by allowing fossil fuel companies to promote their green products.”

France’s High Council on Climate, a body set up to advise on climate policy, said the measures won’t “fill the gaps in France’s transition to low carbon” and will only deliver “between a half and two-thirds of the cuts needed between 2019 and its 40 percent target for 2030”.

It’s crunch time for Macron’s climate bet – POLITICO

These events didn’t make the headlines in UK news, we can only wonder why.

But socialists fully understand that one point is clear, well-intentioned initiatives such as citizen’s assemblies simply have their recommendations ignored if they doen’t fit in with capitalism’s plans.

Money goes to Money


The Trickle-Down Theory

The Institute for Policy Studies shows that the U.S. federal minimum wage would currently be just over $44 an hour—more than six times higher than the current wage floor—if it had increased at the same rate as Wall Street employee bonuses between 1985 and 2020.

During that 35-year period, the federal wage floor remained largely stagnant while the average Wall Street bonus soared by 1,217%.

 The $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, leaving minimum wage workers worse off today than they were more than a decade ago due to rising costs of living.

"While low-wage workers are still waiting for a raise in the minimum wage, Wall Street employees enjoyed a 10% bump in their bonuses in the first year of the pandemic," noted Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at IPS and the author of the new analysis. "Since 1985, the average Wall Street bonus has increased from $13,970 to $184,000 in 2020." Anderson added. "These bonuses come on top of salary and other forms of compensation. The average salary (with bonuses) for all securities industry employees in New York City was $406,700 in 2019. At the very top end, CEOs of the top five U.S. investment banks hauled in an average of $27.9 million in total compensation in 2019." 

Congress has left the federal minimum wage at a starvation level, Anderson pointed out, federal regulators have refused to implement Wall Street pay restrictions mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, allowing financiers to accumulate large bonuses as low-wage workers struggled to get by on stagnant pay. "These two failures speak volumes about who has influence in Washington—and who does not," Anderson wrote.

The Cost of Privatised Pension Systems

 Financial corporations started administering the pensions of Argentinians in 1993 and of Bolivians in 1996. Argentina and Bolivia are among only 30 countries (of the world’s 192) that experimented with privatization of their pension systems. Today, the majority of these countries are reversing the privatization of pensions.  Private insurance corporations are suing Argentina and Bolivia for loss of potential profits as a result of the reversal of privatization of their pension programs. If Argentina and Bolivia lose the disputes, it means that impoverished citizens and elderly pensioners will have to compensate wealthy financial corporations. These cases affect the lives of millions of Argentinians and Bolivians.

Pension policy is not about securing profits for private insurance corporations. Pension systems exist to provide income security in old age—to ensure that older persons retire with adequate pensions.

 Pension privatization failed because of  inadequacies in the private pension system:

    • Coverage rates decreased or stagnated under private pension systems.1
    • Pension benefits deteriorated, making private pensions very unpopular.2
    • Old-age poverty worsened due to low pensions.
    • Gender and income inequality increased.3
    • Private systems were expensive: The high transition costs of privatization created large fiscal pressures.4
    • Private pension administrators incurred high administrative costs and extracted excessive profits through these extraordinary administrative fees.5
    • Financial and demographic risks were transferred to individuals; pensioners had to suffer the loss of benefits when these risks occurred, such as during the global financial crisis.
    • Social dialogue severely deteriorated.
    1 In Argentina, coverage rates for men fell from 46% (in 1993, prior to the reform) to 35% (in 2002) and for women to only 31%; in Bolivia, they stagnated.
    2 In Bolivia, after privatization, the replacement rate fell to 20% of the average salary during working life; this is far below ILO international standards.
    3 In Bolivia, the proportion of elderly women receiving a contributory pension fell from 23.7% in 1995 to 12.8% in 2007 as a result of privatization.
    4 In Argentina, initial estimations put the cost at 0.2% of GDP; later the World Bank increased the cost estimate to 3.6% of GDP, 18 times the original estimate; in Bolivia, the actual transition costs of the reform were 2.5 times the initial projections.
    5 In Argentina, administration costs jumped from 6.6% of contributions in 1990 before privatization to 50.8% in 2002; in Bolivia, from 8.6% in 1992 to 18.1% in 2002 after privatization.

Escaping real justice yet again


Big Pharma once more exposed itself as an industry filled by socio-paths who will overlook unnecessary deaths if they make sufficient profit and yet escape the full consequences of their criminal behaviour. 

A French court has fined, Servier,  one of the country’s biggest pharmaceutical firms €2.7m (£2.3m) after finding it guilty of deception and manslaughter over a pill linked to the deaths of up to 2,000 people and thousands more left with debilitating cardiovascular problems. Its former executive Jean-Philippe Seta was sentenced to a suspended jail sentence of four years. Magistrates accused Servier of having “knowingly concealed the medication’s true characteristics” from the 1970s and hidden medical studies unfavourable to the product, perpetrating a long-term fraud.

The French medicines agency, accused of failing to act quickly enough on warnings about the drug, was fined €303,000. The scandal, forced the resignation of the head of France’s public health agency and sparked outrage about the lobbying power of French pharmaceutical companies.

 Servier is accused of covering up fatal side-effects of the widely prescribed drug Mediator, an amphetamine derivative licensed as a diabetes treatment, but was widely prescribed as an appetite suppressant to help people lose weight.

“Despite knowing of the risks incurred for many years, … they [Servier] never took the necessary measures and thus were guilty of deceit,” said the president of the criminal court, Sylvie Daunis.

As many as 5 million people took the drug between 1976 and November 2009 when it was withdrawn in France, long after it was banned in Spain and Italy. It was never authourised in the UK or US.

French pharma firm found guilty over medical scandal in which up to 2,000 died | France | The Guardian

Sanders Scolds the Rich


Bernie Sanders has pointed to the statistics that show the wealth inequality in the United States.

"Over the past 40 years there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and working families to the very wealthiest people in America," he explains.

 The top 1% now own more wealth than the bottom 92%, and the 50 wealthiest Americans own more wealth than the bottom half of American society – 165 million people. 

The two richest people in America, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, now own more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans combined.

While millions of Americans have lost their jobs and incomes during the pandemic, over the past year 650 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by $1.3tn.

In 1978, the top 0.1% owned about 7% of the nation’s wealth. In 2019, the latest year of data available, they own nearly 20%.

"...If income inequality had not skyrocketed over the past four decades and had simply stayed static, the average worker in America would be earning $42,000 more in income each year. Instead, as corporate chief executives now make over 300 times more than their average employees, the average American worker now earns $32 a week less than he or she did 48 years ago – after adjusting for inflation. In other words, despite huge increases in technology and productivity, ordinary workers are actually losing ground..."

Sadly, Sanders' solutions is merely to raise the destitution-level minimum wage to poverty-level $15 an hour and to raise the taxes on an elite who are skilled in the many ways of tax-evasion.

Can we protect trees?


Rising imports in wealthy countries of coffee, cocoa and other products are a "growing threat" to forests in tropical regions according to a new study by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto. This study looked at the global deforestation picture over the years between 2001 and 2015 using high-resolution forest maps and a global supply chain models.

Consumer behaviour in the rich nations is responsible for the loss of almost 4 trees per person per year, while consumers in India and China are responsible for the loss of around one tree per person per year. In the Amazon, central Africa, Indonesia and parts of Asia, growing numbers of trees have been cut down in recent decades so farmers can grow commodity crops like soybeans, and graze cattle for beef.

Tropical forests are home to between 50-90% of all terrestrial plants and animals. Among the world's forests, trees growing in tropical areas are said to be the most valuable in protecting species and limiting global heating. They are also critical for the climate, soaking up and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

Cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to forests in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana, in Tanzania it's the demand for sesame seeds among Japanese consumers that's a key driver. Demand in China is responsible for deforestation in Northern Laos as land is cleared for rubber plantations.

"This figure shows that the consumption of developed countries and the G7 in particular is destroying the world's forests, the planet's lung, and their biodiversity," said Adeline Favrel, from France Nature Environment, who was not involved with the study. "Our consumption is not destroying our forests, but the forests of other countries, particularly the tropical forest, which is the richest in terms of biodiversity. The main culprits are our consumption of wood, meat, palm oil and soya."

Climate change: Consumer pose 'growing threat' to tropical forests - BBC News