Monday, June 21, 2021

What Pro-Life Really Means

19 percent of US households had medical debt in 2017, according to a US Census Bureau report released in April, and the median amount owed was $2,000 for those who were fully insured and $3,000 for those who were not.

9 percent of people with health insurance reported they had declared bankruptcy due to medical bills at some point, with 2 percent doing so in the last year. This equates to some 530,000 people filing for bankruptcy in the US every year.

Infant loss in the US is not uncommon: each year, more than 21,000 children die before their first birthday, and birth defects, preterm birth, maternal pregnancy complications, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and injuries such as suffocation are the main causes, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 24,000 babies are stillborn each year – dying after 20 weeks’ gestation, according to the CDC. People of colour are disproportionately affected by both tragedies – the infant mortality rate and the stillbirth rate for Black Americans is more than double that of white Americans.

In the US, there is no paid leave provision for parents following the death of a child. India has offered women who experience miscarriage or stillbirth up to six weeks of paid leave since 1961.  New Zealand had become the second country to guarantee mothers and their partners three paid days off from work after a miscarriage or stillbirth. 

The cruel financial cost of losing a child in the US | US & Canada | Al Jazeera

Sunday, June 20, 2021

COP26

 Patricia Espinosa, who leads the UN on climate policy, told the Observer that progress had not been made on honouring past commitments to find $100bn (£72.5bn) a year to help developing countries invest in green technologies.

“We’re still very far away from being fully confident of having a full success at Cop26,” she said.  Espinosa expressed disappointment, saying: “Regarding finance, I’d have really hoped for a clearer signal on how and when we will be able to see the commitment to mobilise the $100bn fulfilled.”

At the G7, there was a lack of detail about precisely how much money wealthier nations would be willing to give to cut emissions and take costly steps necessary to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

“This is one condition to be able to have a good basis to have a successful Cop26,” Espinosa said. “It is essential. We cannot afford a lack of success. Cop26 should be able to give some sense of hope to the world. There isn’t much time. We are already in the second half of June.”

Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts, and a former UN climate envoy explained, “The G7 failed to lead when it didn’t agree how to fulfil the $100bn promise. Their apparent strategy of brinkmanship is wrong-headed. Many around the world are already at the brink.” 

Libya's Detention Camps

  A network of centers run by Libya’s Department for Combating Illegal Immigration, or DCIM,  is supported by the European Union as a bulwark against mainly African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Human rights groups and U.N. agencies say abuse also takes place in the official DCIM-run facilities.

“Sexual violence and exploitation are rife in several detention centers (for migrants) across the country,” said Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights. 

The U.N. refugee agency has documented hundreds of cases of women raped while in either DCIM detention or traffickers’ prisons, with some even being impregnated by guards and giving birth during detention, said Vincent Cochetel, the agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean. 

At least two of the girls attempted to kill themselves in late May following alleged beatings and attempted rapes, according to local rights group Libyan Crime Watch and U.N. agencies.

When Libyan security forces rescued her earlier this year, the young Somali woman thought it would be the end of her suffering. For more than two years, she had been imprisoned and sexually abused by human traffickers notorious for extorting, torturing and assaulting migrants like her trying to reach Europe. Instead, the 17-year-old said, the sexual assaults against her have continued, only now by guards atthe Shara al-Zawiya detention center,  the government-run center in the Libyan capital Tripoli where they are being kept. 

“While it is not the first time I suffer from sexual attacks, this is more painful as it was by the people who should protect us,” the 17-year-old said, speaking to The Associated Press by a smuggled mobile phone. “You have to offer something in return to go to the bathroom, to call family or to avoid beating,” she said. “It’s like we are being held by traffickers.” 

Nearly 13,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libyan shores from the start of the year up to June 12, a record number. Most are then placed in DCIM-run centers. At some of the 29 DCIM-run centers around the country, rights groups have documented a lack of basic hygiene, health care, food and water as well as beatings and torture. DCIM receives support, supplies and training, including on human rights, through the EU’s 4.9 billion-euro Trust Fund for Africa.

“The guns are silent, a cease-fire is in place ... but human rights violations are continuing unabated,” said Suki Nagra, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Libya.

Libyan guards accused of sexually assaulting minors (apnews.com)

Saturday, June 19, 2021

America - the Unequal Nation

 In 'The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America', Shawn Rochester offers a statistical breakdown of the economic figures which shed light on slavery's legacy and the debilitating laws enacted during the grim Jim Crow era and the wealth gaps that have widened even more in recent decades.

"Around $50 trillion of economic resources and labor has not been paid to Black people since slavery..."

By the end of 2020, the homeownership rate for Black families stood around 44%, compared with 75% for white families.

A typical middle-class Black household a wealth amount of approximately $13,024 compared to a staggering average of $149,703.

In 1968, a typical middle-class black household had $6,674 in wealth compared with $70,786 for the typical middle-class white household, according to data adjusted for inflation. 

In 2016, the typical middle-class black household had $13,024 in wealth versus $149,703 for the median white household, an even larger gap in percentage terms.

Black households had $8,762 in cash or equivalent liquid assets, compared with $49,529 for white households in 2016.

The real reason why Juneteenth is a point of contention for the GOP - Alternet.org

Solidarity


 Women in Istanbul took to the streets on Saturday to protest Turkish President Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, effective July 1.  Conservatives in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party)  claim the convention actually encourages violence by undermining Turkey’s traditional family structures. Protesters gathered on the streets of Istanbul on Saturday to voice their anger. Melek Ondas of the Women's Council association was quoted by AFP as saying that women came from 70 provinces to the rally in Istanbul.

"We believe in the strength of our organizations. And whether the decision is overturned or not, we will continue our struggle in every way possible," Ondas told AFP.

The convention targets violence against women and domestic violence. The convention requires signatory states to investigate allegations of violence and prosecute those responsible. Additionally, signatories agree to promote gender equality through legislation and education. Turkey was the convention’s first signatory in 2011, lending it the name of its commercial capital. Since then the convention has been signed by 45 countries, along with the European Union.

In Turkey, at least 300 women were murdered in Turkey last year. In May alone, 17 cases of confirmed femicides were reported and another 20 suspected cases were reported.

“These murders often go unpunished,” said Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar from Carnegie Europe. This is why the Istanbul Convention was such a “crucial reassurance” for Turkish women.

Turkey: Women rally ahead of rights treaty official exit | News | DW | 19.06.2021

Every cloud has a silver lining...for some

 


Covid vaccines will substantially benefit a number of pharmaceutical companies.

 The global market for vaccines is worth $70bn (£50bn) this year. Pfizer and Moderna, which are charging $30-plus per person for the required two shots in Europe and the US, will take the lion’s share.

Pfizer and Moderna stand to make tens of billions of dollars from their Covid-19 vaccines this year and next, given G7 governments’ pledge to vaccinate the entire world by the end of 2022.

Pfizer predicted it would make $26bn from its jab in 2021, a third of annual revenue. This was based on orders received by mid-April, so is likely to be an underestimate. Analysts at Morgan Stanley led by David Risinger raised their estimates for Pfizer to $33bn in 2021 and $32bn in 2022, halving to $16.5bn in 2023 and $8.2bn in 2024. Barclays analyst Carter Gould predicts even higher revenues for Pfizer this year – $38bn, falling to about $17bn in 2022, $8.5bn in 2023 and $6.3bn in 2024.

Moderna expects it to generate revenue of $19.2bn, as it aims to produce 1bn doses this year, and up to 3bn doses next year. Barclays analyst Gena Wang forecast slightly higher sales of $19.6bn, falling to $12.2bn in 2022 and about $11bn in each of the following two years. Morgan Stanley analysts have pencilled in $13.5bn next year, falling to $12.5bn in 2023 and 2024.

Johnson & Johnson, which charges the US government $10 per dose for its single-jab vaccine, is likely to generate $6.6bn in revenue this year, according to calculations made by Barclays in March, followed by $1.2bn in 2022 and $383m in 2023.

For AstraZeneca, which charges between $4.30 and $10 for two doses, Barclays forecasts $5.2bn in sales in 2021, falling to $2.3bn and $475m in the next two years.

Other Covid vaccines that could bring in billions of dollars for their makers include the CoronaVac jab developed by China’s Sinovac and the Russian Sputnik V. Nasdaq-listed Sinovac has built factories capable of producing 2 billion doses a year and reported a fourfold increase in sales to $328m between October and December.

  A Novavax report of 90% efficacy after trials in the US and Mexico sent its shares soaring last week. Its chief executive, Stan Erck, talked of “the potential for several billion dollars in revenue in the next 12 months”. Barclays forecasts $7.7bn revenues for Novavax in 2021, falling to $1.8bn and $538m in the next two years.

Covid jabs for billions of humans will earn their makers billions of dollars | Pharmaceuticals industry | The Guardian

Welcome to Socialism - Real Socialism

 


Friday, June 18, 2021

The Cancer Industry

 The tobacco industry survives and thrives. It adapts to legislative and regulatory attempts to hinder the sale, promotion, and use of its products.

The number of smokers has increased from 0·99 billion in 1990 to 1·14 billion in 2019, who consumed 7·41 trillion cigarette-equivalents of tobacco in 2019. 

5·96 million (77·5%) of 7·69 million smoking-attributable deaths in 2019 occurred in low-income and middle-income countries and that 66 (93%) of 71 countries that had significant increases in such deaths were low-income and middle-income countries.

WHO reported that although global tobacco cultivation decreased by 15·7% between 2012 and 2018, it increased by 3·4% in Africa. The number of adult users of tobacco in Africa increased from 64 million in 2000 to 73 million in 2018.

 Cigarette taxes could be set high enough to crush the tobacco industry, but no governments will go that far. They rely on this revenue for deficit reduction and for things other than curbing smoking.

The vaunted 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the US state attorneys general and the tobacco industry, ostensibly to recover medical costs for disease caused by smoking, epitomises government addiction to tobacco money. States have spent only 3% of the annual payments to them from the industry to fight smoking, which in some instances is less than before the Master Settlement Agreement.

 Increases in tobacco taxation might have reduced sales to the poorest consumers, but US cigarette manufacturers are still making huge profits and tobacco stocks remain a healthy investment.

In contrast to the trillions of dollars allocated by US Congress to address COVID-19, no major funding has ever been approved to fight smoking and its promotion.

Seeking Sanctuary

 The number of displaced people has doubled in the last decade.

The number of people leaving their homes due to persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations has increased to 82.4 million, according to the Global Trends report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

The vast majority of refugees around the world are hosted by countries that are low- and middle-income nations. The world's least developed countries host 27% of the world's refugees.

At the end of last year, there were 20.7 million refugees under the UNHCR mandate, 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, and 3.9 million Venezuelans who fled their homes.

Turkey hosts the highest with 3.7 million refugees. Colombia was second with more than 1.7 million, including Venezuelans displaced abroad. Germany hosted the third-largest number with nearly 1.5 million.

A further 48 million people were displaced within their own country while there are 4.1 million asylum-seekers.

The UN estimates that almost 1 million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Furthermore, 42% of displaced persons are girls and boys under the age of 18. Many of them are at risk of remaining in exile for years to come, some potentially for the rest of their lives.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, more than 160 countries closed their borders while 99 countries made no exception for people who had sought international protection. Only 34,400 applications for resettlement were accepted — the lowest figure in 20 years. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Even more bad news for our planet

 At least 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought since 2000.

Changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate breakdown is a key driver of drought, but the report also identifies the inefficient use of water resources and the degradation of land under intensive agriculture and poor farming practices as playing a role. Deforestation, the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, overgrazing and over-extraction of water for farming are also major problems, it says.

Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, said: “Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought is a major factor in land degradation and the decline of yields for major crops.”

Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a co-author of the report,  pointed to the Danube in Europe, where recurring drought in recent years has affected transport, tourism, industry and energy generation. 

The report, entitled Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Special Report on Drought 2021

“We need to have a modernised view of drought,” he said. “We need to look at how to manage resources such as rivers and large watersheds.”

‘The next pandemic’: drought is a hidden global crisis, UN says | Drought | The Guardian

Business Before Human Rights

 Boris Johnson secretly met Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the country’s prime minister, and his senior officials to discuss a free trade deal with the Gulf states and agreed to “further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation”.

 Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), said: 

“If Britain is truly seeking a free trade deal with a regime that holds political prisoners as hostages, tortures children and throws even mild critics in jail, it is imperative that human rights issues are at the core of any future trade relationship.”

Reprieve, the campaign group against the death penalty, pointed to the cases of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa – two men that have been facing execution since at least 2017 for what they “confessed” under torture. In a joint report coinciding with the visit, Reprieve and Bird said: “Between 2011 and 2020, Bahrain has sentenced at least 51 people to death. Between 2001 and 2010, the decade before the Arab spring, the number executed was seven.” They claimed that per head of the population, Bahrain’s record was not substantially better than Iran’s.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven said:

 “I am dismayed but unfortunately not surprised that the prime minister rolled out the red carpet and put trade over torture with his meeting with the crown prince today. Even the official press release fails to mention human rights abuses.”

Boris Johnson criticised for meeting Bahrain’s crown prince | Human rights | The Guardian

More bad news for our planet

 


“Energy imbalance” refers to the difference between how much of the Sun’s “radiative energy” is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and surface, compared to how much “thermal infrared radiation” bounces back into space. “A positive energy imbalance means the Earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up,” Nasa said

Scientists from Nasa, the US space agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), reported in a new study that Earth’s “energy imbalance approximately doubled” from 2005 to 2019. The increase was described as “alarming”. The Earth is trapping nearly twice as much heat as it did in 2005, according to new research, described as an “unprecedented” increase amid the climate crisis.

The study found that this doubling is the result, in part, by an increase in greenhouse gases and water vapor, as well as decreases in clouds and ice.

 Unless the rate of heat uptake slows, greater shifts in climate should be expected.

Earth is trapping ‘unprecedented’ amount of heat, Nasa says | Climate change | The Guardian

Socialist Sonnet No. 38

 Progressive

 

The world is in perpetual motion,

Flux of change never rests: Whatever is

For a moment, will no longer be. This

Natural algorithm of creation

Generates broad oceans and continents,

Flora and fauna, births and extinctions,

Tribes and empires, settlements and migrations,

Societies and their discontents.

Those who declare themselves for radical change

Have such aspirations well grounded,

Who speaks otherwise shall be confounded;

Where the old’s conserved, the new must impinge.

No matter how distant the prospect seems,

Time can realise what the present dreams.

 

D. A.

 

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought

 


June 17 is the UN-designated day related to turning degraded land into healthy.

In many countries, a drought will bring hunger and the need for migration to working people, but when the Western states of the USA suffer a serious drought, its inhabitants need to be told that there is a water shortage.

“Not everybody in California understands how bad this drought is…and how bad it could be,” said State Water Resources Water Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus when the report was first released.  “There are communities in danger of running out of water all over the state.”

“This is a real emergency that requires a real emergency response,” argues Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “If Southern California does not step up and conserve its water, and if the drought continues on its epic course, there is nothing more that our water managers can do for us. Water availability in Southern California would be drastically reduced. With those reductions, we should expect skyrocketing water, food and energy prices, as well as the demise of agriculture.”

Groundwater, which is being treated as an endless and bountiful resource, maybe making up for recent water loss, but for how long remains to be seen.  Without significant rainfall, groundwater will not be replenished.

 America's largest reservoir is at an all-time low. Lake Mead has the potential to hold an impressive 26.12 million acre-feet of water when it's full. However, as of June 14, 2021, the reservoir held roughly 9 million acre-feet of water, about 36% of its full capacity after the region experienced over two decades of drought.

A study by University of California researchers that reported that the state has issued far more water rights than there is water to supply them.

 In Oregonfederal authorities announced that there would be no further release of water from the reserves in the Klamath Basin for irrigation schemes downstream. Protesters affiliated with right-wing People’s Rights Network are threatening to unilaterally opening the sluice gates of a reservoir. 

The protesters claim to represent the interests of farmers, they have been disavowed by agricultural leaders, including Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the protesters were “idiots who have no business being here”, who were using the crisis as “a soapbox to push their agenda”.

America's Dynastic Wealth

 


According to Silver Spoon Oligarchs: How America's 50 Largest Inherited-Wealth Dynasties Accelerate Inequality, a new report out Wednesday from the Institute for Policy Studies, the country's 50 wealthiest familie from 1983 to 2020 had amassed $1.2 trillion in assets. By comparison, the bottom half of all U.S. households—an estimated 65 million families—shared a combined total wealth of just twice that, at $2.5 trillion.

The fortunes of dynastic families increased at 10 times the rate of ordinary families. 

For the 27 families that were on both the Forbes 400 list in 1983 and the Forbes Billion-Dollar Dynasties list in 2020 their combined assets have grown by 1,007% over those 37 years. This is an increase from $80.2 billion to $903.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. In contrast, between 1989 and 2019, the wealth of the typical family in the U.S. increased by just 93 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The five wealthiest dynastic families in the U.S. have seen their wealth increase by a median 2,484% from 1983 to 2020.

In 1983, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his children were worth just $2.15 billion (or $5.6 billion in 2020 dollars). By the end of 2020, Walton's descendants had a combined net worth of over $247 billion, an inflation-adjusted increase of 4,320%.

The Mars candy dynasty has seen its wealth increase 3,517% over the past 37 years, from $2.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $94 billion by 2020. The family has also spent large sums on public policy advocacy to change tax laws.

Cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder and her descendants have seen their wealth grow from just $1.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $40 billion in 2020. This is a growth rate of 2,465%.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the top 10 families on the Forbes dynasty list have had a median growth in their net worth of 25%, researchers found. The amount of wealth held by the nation's 660 billionaires, who have seen their combined fortunes balloon by more than $1.1 trillion amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the report, the children and grandchildren of some corporate executives—"who may be up to seven generations removed from the original source of their family's wealth"—tend to "focus less on creating new wealth and more on preserving existing systems that extract ongoing rents from consumers and the real economy."

"America's dynastic families, both old and new, are deploying a range of wealth preservation strategies to further concentrate wealth and power—power that is deployed to influence democratic institutions, depress civic imagination, and rig the rules to further entrench inequality," the authors wrote. "This tax avoidance means less support for the infrastructure we all rely on to preserve our health, safety, and quality of life."

Dynastically wealthy families wield a great deal of political power and use it to further their interests. Some dynastic families spend millions lobbying for favorable tax, labor, and trade policies. Several have corporate political action committees that give millions to candidates and campaigns. Many family members give to candidates and PACs; several serve on policy advisory boards; and a few have served in government themselves, including as governors, cabinet members, and even vice president.

Dynastic families exploit their philanthropic power too, through charities and foundations. The top 50 families have set up more than 248 foundations between them, housing more than $51 billion in assets. While many move much-needed revenues to broader public interest charities, others fund groups working to reduce taxes on the wealthy and roll back regulations that constrain corporate profits. Some funnel millions to donor-advised funds, which can fund dark-money political advocacy. And in a few cases, family members have used them to compensate themselves.

"Members of the Busch, Mars, Koch and Walton families have together spent more than $120 million over the past 10 years lobbying for taxation, labor, and trade policies favorable to their interests and investments," according to IPS.

Dynastically wealthy families "have gained massive and unaccountable financial, political, and philanthropic power... while giving relatively little back to the society that has enabled their fortunes." 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Slum Clearance? Or Gentrification?

 As in many of the mega-cities around the world Karachi in Pakistan is "re-developing" its slum areas. Pakistan’s supreme court backed the bulldozing of hundreds of homes, legalising the eviction of thousands who live along narrow waterways – nullahs – that criss-cross Karachi. At least 8,000 houses are being knocked down along the nullahs. The work, which began in February, is in response to the 2020 Karachi floods that saw choked up nullahs overflow and swamp the city along with improvements to Karachi’s water and sewage systems which are being financed by the World Bank.

When this exercise is completed (before this year’s monsoon, according to the plan), at least 100,000 people would perhaps have been rendered homeless. As many as 21,000 children would be out of school and without a home.

Architect and urban planner Arif Hasan says the government had no “proper plan”.

 “They are not doing it merely to stop the flood but to make long roads along the nullahs connecting the Lyari expressway with the northern bypass, displace poor and benefit the rich.” 

‘Where should we go?’: thousands left homeless as Karachi clears waterways | Global development | The Guardian

socialism defined

 


Renewable Progress

 


A French think-tank REN21's report Renewables 2021 Global Status Report (pdf) says that fossil fuels accounted for 80.3% of energy consumption in 2009, compared with 80.2% in 2019. Over that period, "modern renewables" only grew from 8.7% to 11.2%.

The 2019 breakdown in the renewables category—based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA)—was: 1% biofuels for transport; 2.4% wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and ocean power; 3.6% hydropower; and 4.2% biomass, solar, and geothermal heat.

"We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past 10 years have mostly been empty words," said REN21 executive director Rana Adib. "The share of fossil fuels in final energy consumption has not moved by an inch," Adib added. "Phasing them out and making renewables the new norm are the strongest actions we can take."

"2020 could have been a game-changer," the think tank noted in a statement (pdf). "Economies worldwide were ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Primary energy demand fell by 4%." However, Group of 20 (G20) countries, "the planet's biggest polluters, barely met or even missed their unambitious renewable energy targets." 

The statement added, the new report "shows that we are nowhere near the necessary paradigm shift towards a clean, healthier, and more equitable energy future."

"Unfortunately the harsh lesson from the pandemic is that most governments did not use the unique opportunity to further curtail carbon pollution and break the resistance of the fossil fuel incumbents," said Stephan Singer, a senior adviser at Climate Action Network International. "What counts for them is corporate profit—neither the climate nor people's health."

The climate advocacy group 350.org declared that "rich governments are doing the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they need to do" and emphasized the need to not only invest in renewables but also urgently end the use of fossil fuels.

Share of Fossil Fuels in Global Energy Mix 'Has Not Moved by an Inch' in a Decade | Common Dreams News

Shadow of Armageddon

 

Many of us were brought up under the dark threat of nuclear war mushroom clouds. After the fall of the Soviet Union regime, many thought that the ominous possibility of an atomic war holocaust had passed. How wrong they all were, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The world’s nine nuclear armed states may have downsized their military arsenals, but made up for their loss by increasing the number of weapons on high operational alert. As a result, the world is increasingly within striking distance of nuclear weapons—either by accident or by design.

 The nine countries collectively possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021,  a decrease from the 13, 400 that these states possessed at the beginning of 2020 since some of these weapons have gone into “retirement”.

Despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3,825, from 3,720 last year.  2,000 of these—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the US—were kept in a state of high operational alert ready for a strike.

The US and Russia continued to reduce their overall nuclear weapon inventories by dismantling retired warheads in 2020, both are estimated to have had around 50 more nuclear warheads in operational deployment at the start of 2021 than a year earlier. Russia also increased its overall military nuclear stockpile by around 180 warheads, mainly due to deployment of more multi-warhead land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

The  International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), warned that nuclear-armed states spent $72.6 billion on their nuclear weapons – even as the pandemic spread in 2020, an increase of $1.4 billion from 2019. Its report, Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending, shows how during the pandemic, which had devastating health and economic consequences last year, governments were increasingly channeling tax money to defence contractors, which in turn increased the amounts to lobbyists and think tanks to encourage a continued increase of spending.

Out of the $72.6 billion that countries spent on nuclear weapons in 2020 globally, $27.7 billion went to less than a dozen defence contractors to build nuclear weapons, which in turn spent $117 million lobbying and upwards of $10 million funding most major think tanks writing about nuclear weapons.

“The climate and Covid emergencies are showing us what we really need for our security and safety as human beings, and it’s not nuclear weapons,” said Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. “The UN system is struggling because its efforts to build cooperative peace and security are constantly undermined and strangled by aggressive nation states. Most people can see we need cooperation and sharing to solve global challenges, from vaccines to sustainable resources,” she told IPS.  A minority of governments with nuclear dependencies and militaristic economies create the most dangers for everyone, said Dr Johnson. “With their aggressive posturing, new types of weapons and corrupt selling practices they arm rivals, feed insecurity and wars, and undermine international security, law and human rights, she warned.

Professor M. V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security, and Director, Liu Institute for Global Issues, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, told IPS the report documents the power of the political control wielded by companies involved in nuclear weapons production and maintenance is. These companies profit enormously from their involvement in making these weapons of mass destruction and use a share of these profits to lobby for and shape the decision-making process in ways that further their profits, and loosen any semblance of democracy in this sphere, he said.

Global spending on nuclear weapons:

    • United States: $37.4 billion
    • China: $10.1 billion
    • Russia: $8 billion
    • United Kingdom: $6.2 billion
    • France: $5.7 billion
    • India: $2.4 billion
    • Pakistan: $1 billion
    • North Korea: $667 million

The top 5 companies profiting from nuclear weapon contracts were:

    • Northrop Grumman ($13.6 billion)
    • General Dynamics ($10.8 billion)
    • Lockheed Martin ($2 billion)
    • Raytheon Technologies ($449.5 million)
    • Draper ($342 million)


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Disappearing Arctic Ice

 An expedition involving 300 scientists from 20 countries led by Markus Rex said that the researchers had found that Arctic ice is retreating faster than ever before. The international expedition to the North Pole warned that the point could have already been reached at which irreversible global warming is triggered.

The expedition returned to Germany after 389 days drifting through the Arctic, bringing home devastating proof of a dying Arctic Ocean and warnings of ice-free summers in just decades. The ice was only half as thick and temperatures measured 10 degrees higher than during the Fram expedition undertaken by explorers and scientists Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen in the 1890s. Because of the smaller sea ice surface, the ocean was able to absorb more heat in the summer, in turn meaning that ice sheet formation in the autumn was slower than usual.

Rex said scientists found that the Arctic Ocean ice had retreated “faster in the spring of 2020 than since the beginning of records” and that “the spread of the sea ice in the summer was only half as large as decades ago.”

“The disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic is one of the first landmines in this minefield, one of the tipping points that we set off first when we push warming too far,” he said. “And one can essentially ask if we haven’t already stepped on this mine and already set off the beginning of the explosion.”

Global warming may have already passed irreversible tipping point | Climate News | Al Jazeera

Monday, June 14, 2021

G-7 and the Green Failure


The UN General-Secretary Guterres said he was concerned that the richest nations have pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy since the pandemic, despite their promises of a green recovery. He warned that, "It’s now clear we are coming to a point of no return."

If the G-7 meeting is any indication of what we can expect at COP-26 later this year, we are all in for a tragic disappointment. 

Oxfam’s head of inequality policy, Max Lawson, said: 

“Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. We don’t need to wait for history to judge this summit a colossal failure, it is plain for all to see.”

Greenpeace UK’s executive director, John Sauven, said: 

“Despite the green soundbites, Boris Johnson has simply reheated old promises and peppered his plan with hypocrisy, rather than taking real action to tackle the climate and nature emergency.”

Johnson defends G7 deal amid criticism of final communique | G7 | The Guardian

Who pays the piper calls the tune

  


I
n the American political process, the financial sector spent a record sum of nearly $3 billion on campaign contributions and lobbying during the 2019-2020 election cycle.

Wall Street has one goal: to maximize profits and uses the power of its wealth as leverage over the electoral and legislative processes. The wealthy have their own priorities, which are typically opposed to the needs of most Americans. The wealthy seek policies that make them richer, creating a cycle of political and economic inequality.

For Wall Street, spending massive sums on lobbying and campaign contributions is a highly calculated decision. Wall Street wants to derail financial regulation and keep low tax rates. It needs friendly legislators to do it, and it has something they want: money. Wall Street's priorities have become Congress' priorities. 

The financial sector’s political spending skyrocketed by 50 percent between the 2015-2016 and 2019-2020 election cycles, culminating in $2.9 billion spent in the past year, according to a recently released report from Americans for Financial Reform. The highest spender on Wall Street, Blackstone CEO Steven Schwarzman, spent more than $33 million alone on campaign contributions during the last election cycle.

With individual donations and PAC contributions, corporations and Wall Street donate to win influence. It is also the third-highest industry spender on lobbying activities, with nearly $1 billion on lobbying in 2019-2020.

During the past two decades, around 90 percent of House elections were won by the candidate in the race who spent the most money.

 91 percent of Americans believing it is important to regulate financial services. Over two-thirds of Americans support a wealth tax on billionaires, 75 percent of Americans support eliminating the disparity between the tax rate for earned and unearned income, and 70 percent of the public wants to increase corporate taxes by eliminating deductions. Yet none of these policies have become law. Instead of prioritizing economic justice, over the past several decades, Congress has passed tax cuts for the wealthy and bailed out Wall Street.

Between 2007-2009, six out of the eight corporations that spent the most money on lobbying saw a seven percentage point decline in their tax rate compared to the 0.2 percent decline the median spending company received. 

Political scientists Jacob Hacker and Nathan Loewentheil write that these large corporations saved an “estimated $11 billion — which, if entirely due to lobbying, would indicate a return on investment of over 2,000 percent.” 

Opinion | Wall Street’s $3 Billion Bargain Basement Purchase of the US Political Process | Elisa McCartin (commondreams.org)

The UK-Israel Alliance

Israel portrays itself as a small state simply acting in self-defence, in reality, it is carrying out a decades-long military occupation, denying Palestinian refugees the right to return and continuing to displace hundreds of families. It has one of the strongest militaries in the world, aided and abetted by the backing of international powers. 

Approved export licences for arms sales from the UK to Israel cover components for small arms, ammunition, night-sight technology and intelligence. Recent research revealed that British-made military components and hardware were used by Israeli forces during last month’s airstrikes on Gaza, in spite of government claims about Britain’s tough arms export controls. The Israeli F-35 warplanes that are used to bomb the densely populated territory have component parts from a host of UK suppliers, including BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, Selex, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce. According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, between 2016 and 2020, the UK issued single individual export licences for arms sales to Israel to a value of £400m. This is a significant increase from the £67m in licences from 2011 to 2015.

The UK also imports Israeli-made weapons. For example, in 2016, Israel’s major arms producer, Elbit, in conjunction with Thales UK, completed delivery on most of the 54 Watchkeeper drones as part of an £800m contract. Between 2018 and 2020 the British Ministry of Defence bought £46m worth of military equipment from Elbit. Such weapons are marketed as “battle-tested” – demonstrating the ways that day-to-day violence against Palestinians spurs a profitable industry with international reach.

Last month in Leicester, campaigners occupied the rooftop of UAV Tactical Systems, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems. Elbit Systems UK has nine production sites and offices in the country. The Leicester facility manufactures the Hermes drone that has been used by Israel’s military in Gaza. Campaigners managed to disrupt production for several days before another protest started against an Elbit factory in Oldham.

British-based organisations such as War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade have called for an end to military exports to Israel and a review of UK arms sales. 


Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Gig Economy Con-Trick

 


Women of colour are almost twice as likely to be on zero-hour contracts as white men and almost one and a half times more likely than white women. About one in six zero-hours contract workers are BAME, though BAME workers make up only one in nine workers overall.

 The Trades Union Congress and the equality organisation Race on the Agenda (Rota) warned that far from providing greater flexibility, zero-hours contracts were trapping women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in low pay and insecure work, leaving them struggling to pay bills and plan their lives. The report described zero-hours contracts as “the most egregious example of one-sided flexibility at work”, handing the employer total control over their workers’ hours.

40% of BAME workers on insecure contracts said they faced the threat of losing their shifts if they turned down work, compared with 25% of insecure white workers. The findings “puncture the myth that zero-hours workers like the arrangement”

Half of BAME insecure workers have been allocated a shift at less than a day’s notice, and almost half of BAME insecure workers have had shifts cancelled with less than a day’s notice.

The report warns that this instability means many people’s incomes are subject to the whims of managers, which makes it hard for workers to plan their lives, look after their children and keep medical appointments.

The report reveals significant disparities along the lines of gender and race. For instance, 2.5% of white men were on zero-hours contracts in the last three months of 2020, compared with 4.1% of BME men. The highest proportions were found among BME women, at 4.5%, compared with 3.2% of white women.

Maurice Mcleod, the CEO of Rota, said: “People from marginalised communities are already most likely to find themselves on these types of contracts, and this is further embedding inequality into our society. Ignoring the impact of structural workplace racism on our society will see inequality grow and moves us even further away from the equal, thriving society we all want to live in.”

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This is what structural racism at work looks like – BAME workers getting trapped in jobs with the worst pay and the worst conditions, struggling to pay the bills and feed their families. Enough is enough. Ministers must challenge the systemic discrimination that holds BME workers back by banning zero-hours contracts and ending the scourge of insecure work. And they must introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting without delay.”

Zero-hours contracts ‘trapping women of colour on low pay‘ | Zero-hours contracts | The Guardian