Saturday, December 31, 2022
Socialist Sonnet No. 92
Facing the New Year
Janus standing on the threshold, his rear
View taking in the past fifty two weeks,
When prices rose again to higher peaks
As wages fell. It begins to appear
Food banks are for many possessed by fear
Of impoverishment. Meanwhile, war still seeks
Pyrrhic victories for psychotic freaks
Posing as helmsmen, claiming they can steer
Their ships of state to port in some promised land,
That capital’s already colonised,
Drained and reduced to destitution.
The climate’s taken more than it can stand,
While socialism remains unrealised.
Janus looks for New Year resolution.
Corporate Charity Giving
Coca-Cola announced that it would donate the equivalent of a meal to charity for every person who visits its Christmas truck tour in the UK this year. It's only at the very end of its announcement that the world's richest beverage company explains it will give a maximum of just £25,000 to the charity Fairshare, which redistributes surplus food to the hungry.
According to Fairshare, £25,000 is enough to supply 100,000 meals. But the donation amounts to less than 0.01% of the £259.9m profit Coca-Cola made in the UK—the equivalent of a millionaire donating three £30 turkeys to charity. By contrast, Coca-Cola handed £440m in dividends to shareholders in 2021, dipping into its reserves to do so.
BAE Systems, also among the 30 biggest companies in the UK,donated £150,000 to food banks last Christmas—just 0.007% of its £2.3bn profit for 2021. The arms manufacturer said it gave £11m overall to charity in 2021. By comparison, it handed out £1.1bn to shareholders in dividends and share buybacks.
British Gas owner Centrica—among the top 100 largest UK companies—also gave £250,000 to food bank operator Trussell Trust last Christmas. The donation was equivalent to 0.03% of its profits in 2021—which stood at £948m, double what it made the previous year. The charity says the number of people using food banks rose by 40% between April and September this year.
For the last two years, staff working at Jaguar Land Rover have donated £5,000 of their own money to charity and tens of thousands of grocery items to food banks—but, asked if the company itself had contributed, a spokesperson told openDemocracy they were only aware of the donations given by employees.
"These companies' charitable giving is too small even to call it reputation washing. This seems more like the corporate equivalent of using a drop of spit to clean something off the side of your mouth," said Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network.
Amazon, meanwhile—one of the world's richest companies—donated an estimated £256,000 to charity in the UK last Christmas.
The company said it gave £120,000, split between 120 local charities nominated by employees: £50,000 to children's charity Barnardo's, £25,000 each to homeless charity Depaul and family support charity Home-Start, and £10,000 to rapper Stormzy's #MerkyFoundation.
Amazon UK also said it also donated £500 to "every local food bank" near its 24 warehouses. openDemocracy estimates this could amount to a £26,000 donation given there are 52 food banks run by the Trussell Trust within five miles of Amazon's 24 sites.
Amazon UK Services, the warehouse and logistics arm of its business, made profits of £204m before tax in the UK last year, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The corporation's Christmas donations in the UK would amount to 0.13% of this income.
But Amazon's total profits in the UK were likely much higher than this figure. The company reported that revenue for all its business in the UK—including retail and cloud computing services not included in the £204m figure—was £23.2bn in 2021. It would not reveal how much profit it made from this.
Amazon paid no corporation tax in the UK that year, thanks to the "super-deduction" scheme for businesses that invest in infrastructure that was introduced the same year by the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak, according to research from the Fair Tax Foundation.
"Big businesses like to pretend that, left to their own devices, they will do the right thing. These figures show clearly how hollow those claims are," said Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now.
Opinion | Corporations Are the Modern-Day Scrooges | Common Dreams
Protecting Big Pharma Profits
An analysis, conducted by the healthcare research company 3 Axis Advisors, said that Big Pharma corporations including Pfizer, AstraZeneca PLC, and Sanofi SA are set to raise the list prices—which do not include any rebates—on over 350 drugs early in January.
The pharmaceutical giants plan to raise U.S. prices for hundreds of drugs next month in anticipation of the Biden administration's Inflation Reduction Act, which will allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of certain drugs starting in 2026.
Pharma Giants to Hike 350+ US Drug Prices in the New Year: Analysis (commondreams.org)
Friday, December 30, 2022
2023 - More hardship to come
The Resolution Foundation is forecasting a slump in disposable incomes of 3.8% in 2023 – or £880 per household – after a 3.3% fall in 2022.
Soaring gas bills and planned tax rises squeeze disposable incomes will send living standards tumbling for the second year running.
Higher mortgage costs as fixed-rate loans come to an end and new deals are negotiated will add to the financial burden already felt by millions of households reeling from the worst fall in living standards in a century. Mortgage payments will increase by £3,000 a year for about 2 million homeowners forced to refinance their loans in 2023. A knock-on rise in average rents will also hit millions of private tenants.
Torsten Bell, the chief executive of the independent thinktank, said: “From a cost-of-living perspective, 2022 was a truly horrendous year – far worse than any year in the pandemic or financial crisis.” He said 2023, "...looks set to be a groundhog year for many families whose incomes look set to fall by just as much as they did in 2022”.
Although inflation seems to have peaked, the prices of essential items will continue to rise, adding to bills that have in many cases doubled since last year. Household energy spending will jump by a record £900 to an average £2,450 in 2023, up from £1,550 this year.
Families on the lowest incomes will get some protection from the cost of living crisis after the government raised the national living wage and benefit levels by about 10%.
However, Bell said: “This will be swamped by shrinking pay packets, a record £900 rise in energy bills, tax bills for the typical household rising by £1,000, and millions seeing four-digit increases in their mortgage bills.”
A separate study by accounting firm PwC and credit app TotallyMoney found that 8.9 million adults were under severe financial stress after they reported needing to use overdraft facilities to cover everyday spending, such as groceries.
Record levels of unsecured debt and rising interest rates amid the cost of living crisis were the chief reasons families were struggling and may find it difficult to keep up with repayments on their borrowing in 2023. The study estimated that unsecured debt, such as personal loans, now stands at more than £400bn, or a record high of £16,200 for each UK household.
Isabelle Jenkins, leader of financial services at PwC UK, said: “Unaffordable lending and borrowing can cause real harm to individuals and society, and vulnerable consumers can be disproportionately affected.”
‘Groundhog year’: UK disposable incomes to fall by 3.8% in 2023 | UK cost of living crisis | The Guardian
Thursday, December 29, 2022
Work Until You Drop
Despite the objections, resistance and protests many countries around the world are raising the official retirement age to receive government-provided pension benefits.
The primary reason for raising the official retirement age is the rapidly rising costs of national old-age pension programs, which are mainly the result of two powerful global demographic trends: population ageing and increased human longevity. The age structures of populations worldwide are becoming older than ever before. Over the past half-century, for example, the median age of the world’s population has increased by 10 years, i.e., from 20 years in 1970 to 30 years in 2020. Many countries have attained median ages in 2020 well above 35 years, such as France at 41 years, South Korea at 43 years, Italy at 46 years and Japan at 48 years.
The median ages of populations are expected to continue rising over the coming decades. The median age for the world, for example, is expected to reach close to 40 years by 2070. Also in some countries, including China, Italy, Japan and South Korea, the median ages of their populations by 2070 are projected to be 55 years or older.
he pace of changes in the population age structures of China and South Korea are particularly noteworthy. In 1970 their populations had a median age of 18 years, i.e., half of their populations were children. By 2070 the median ages of China’s and South Korea’s populations are expected to triple to 55 and 61 years, respectively, with the proportion of children declining to 12 and 10 percent, respectively.
Many countries will see their elderly population increase rapidly, reaching about one-third of their total populations by midcentury. In addition, by 2070 the proportion aged 65 years and older in some countries, such as China, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Spain, are expected to be approximately 40 percent.
In addition to markedly older population age structures, life expectancies have increased significantly during the recent past with both men and women living longer than ever before. For example, over the past fifty years the world’s life expectancy at birth increased by 16 years, i.e., from 56 in 1970 to 72 in 2020.
The gains in life expectancies at birth for some countries were even more impressive, with increases of more than 20 years during the past five decades. Again, the gains in life expectancy achieved by China and South Korea are particularly noteworthy. China’s life expectancy at birth increased by 21 years, i.e., from 57 years in 1970 to 78 years in 2020, and South Korea’s increased by 22 years, i.e., from about 62 years in 1970 to 84 years in 2020.
Moreover, the life expectancies of the elderly have also increased over the recent past. At age 65, for example, the world’s average life expectancy increased by four years, from 13 years in 1970 to 17 years in 2020. And in many developed countries, including Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, life expectancies at age 65 years have reached 20 years or more.
Some of the largest gains in life expectancies at age 65 years have been in East Asia. For example, gains in China, South Korea and Japan were 7, 8 and 9 years, respectively, resulting in life expectancies at age 65 of 18, 22 and 23 years, respectively. In other words, people in those countries on average can expect to live to ages 83, 87 and 88 years, respectively.
Despite the recent setbacks in life expectancies due to deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancies of the elderly are expected to continue rising throughout the remainder of the 21st century. For example, by 2070 the world is projected to have an average life expectancy at age 65 of 21 years. Also, many developed countries by that time are expected to have life expectancies at age 65 of 25 years or more, i.e., people surviving on average to age 90.
Even with the ageing of populations and increases in human longevity, official retirement ages in order to receive government pension benefits have remained largely unchanged at relatively low levels, typically below 65 years. For example, the official retirement age in France and South Korea is 62 years and in Brazil and Russia the retirement age is also 62 for men, 57 years for women.
China, for example, recognizing its rapidly ageing population, shrinking labor force and its national pension’s expected insolvency by 2035, has said that over the next five years it would gradually delay the legal retirement ages, which have been unchanged for more than 70 years.
China took an initial step several months ago to raise its current retirement age, which is 60 for men and 55 for white-collar women workers and 50 for blue-collar women workers. In one of its eastern provinces people were permitted to start voluntarily applying for delayed retirement.
Also, the French government, remarking “vivre plus longtemps, travailler plus longtemps”, has proposed that beginning in 2023 the minimum retirement age to receive a full pension be gradually increased from today’s 62 to 65 by 2031. Although previous proposals were shelved due to nationwide strikes, the French government has said that without those proposed changes a decrease in the size of pensions would be needed.
One OECD country, the United States, was among the earliest in legislating an increase in the official retirement age to 67 years to receive full benefits, which is above the current average age for OECD countries. Also, seven OECD countries have introduced linkages between life expectancy and retirement age.
In addition to being unpopular among the general public, raising the official retirement age is an issue that governments are not eager to address. Typically, government officials remain silent on the issue and postpone making decisions regarding projected financial shortfalls in national retirement programs.
In the United States, for example, the Social Security Board of Trustees in its 2022 annual report concluded that if no changes are made, the program will not be able to meet its financial responsibilities by 2035. Although various political statements have been made by government officials, the U.S. Congress has yet to propose the needed legislation to address Social Security’s projected insolvency in a dozen years.
In general, the three major options available to governments to address pension insolvency are: reduce benefits, increase taxes and raise retirement age. Reducing benefits, however, would create financial difficulties for many of the elderly. Increasing taxes is also unlikely to be well received by today’s workers and business communities. Consequently, raising the retirement age may be the least objectionable option to address projected pension insolvencies.
The consequences of the demographic realities of older population age structures and increasing longevity are unavoidable. In particular, those consequences include: decreasing numbers in the labor force per retired person: increasing proportions in old age who are living longer; and rising costs for old age retirement benefits that threaten the solvency of the national programs.
In sum, raising the retirement age addresses many of the consequences of those seismic demographic changes as well as expands the size of the labor force, provides additional years for workers to save for retirement, and deals with the projected insolvencies of government pension programs.
The world is facing the worst hunger crisis in modern history. Globally, as many as 60 million children under five could be acutely malnourished by the end of 2022, according to the World Food Programme. The WFP estimates the number of people facing, or at risk of, acute food insecurity has increased to 345 million in 82 countries from 135 million in 53 countries pre-pandemic.
Enabling this crisis is a deadly cocktail of four factors: conflict, climate change, COVID-19, and the cost-of-living crisis, fuelled by the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine.
The number of people facing severe levels of hunger has surged by almost 57% to 25.3 million from 16.1 million since 2019 in the 8 worst affected countries amid an unprecedented global hunger crisis with increasing pockets of famine-like conditions, according to Save the Children.
Afghanistan, Central African Republic, DRC, Haiti, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen had the highest numbers of people facing emergency and catastrophic levels of hunger and malnutrition, between 2019 and 2022.
The country with the highest number of people facing severe levels of hunger was Afghanistan where this number increased to 6.6 million in 2022 from 2.5 million in 2019.
Yemen has the second largest number of people experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity, including acute malnutrition, with this number increasing from 3.6 million to 6 million, an increase of 66% in the past two years.
DRC was ranked third in terms of numbers of people facing severe levels of hunger, with 4.1 million, followed by Sudan and South Sudan with about 2.3 million each, Somalia with 1.3 million and Central African Republic with about 652,000.
New Analysis: The number of people facing extreme hunger is up more than 50% in 3 years with Afghanistan worst hit - World | ReliefWeb
Remember the Rohingya
At one time the plight and suffering of the Rohingya were headline news. Now other events around the world have relegated their continuing misery to mere passing mentions in the media. More than a million Rohingya Muslims are crowded into squalid refugee camps in southern Bangladesh after having fled ethnic cleansing and other violence and repression in Rakhine state, Myanmar, which is ruled by a military dictatorship. Since 2020, thousands of Rohingya have fled the camps by sea.
Tun Khin, a Rohingya activist and refugee who now heads the Burmese Rohingya Organization U.K. said, "These people are facing genocide in Burma. It is a hopeless situation for them in Bangladesh, there is no dignity of life there."
The rescue of hundreds of Rohingya refugees by fishers and local authorities in Indonesia's Aceh province was praised Tuesday as "an act of humanity" by United Nations officials, while relatives of around 180 Rohingya on another vessel that's been missing for weeks feared that all aboard had perished. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that "Indonesia has helped to save 472 people in the past six weeks from four boats, showing its commitment and respect of basic humanitarian principles for people who face persecution and conflict."
"UNHCR urges other states to follow this example. Many others did not act despite numerous pleas and appeals for help," the Geneva-based agency added. "States in the region must fulfil their legal obligations by saving people on boats in distress to avoid further misery and deaths."
Residents of Ladong, a fishing village in Aceh, rushed to help 58 Malaysia-bound Rohingya men who arrived Sunday in a rickety wooden boat, many of them severely dehydrated and starving. The following day, 174 more starving Rohingya men, women, and children, were helped ashore after more than a month at sea.
Babar Baloch, the UNHCR regional spokesperson in Bangkok, stated that 26 people had died aboard the rescued vessel, which left Bangladesh a month ago.
"We were raising alarm about this boat in early December because we had information that it was in the regional waters at least at the end of November," he said. "After its engine failure and it was drifting in the sea, there were reports of this boat being spotted close to Indian waters and we approached and asked them as well and we were also in touch with authorities in Sri Lanka," Baloch continued. According to the BBC, the Indian navy appears to have towed the boat into Indonesian waters after giving its desperate passengers some food and water. The boat drifted for another six days before it was allowed to land. Baloch stressed that "countries and states in the region have international obligations to help desperate people."
'A Sigh of Relief' as Hundreds of Rohingya Refugees Rescued After Harrowing Sea Journeys (commondreams.org)
Why the rich got richer
“Higher wealth tends to be associated with capture of government and state institutions by the elite,” Francisco Ferreira, director of the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE) said. This, he said, can take different forms in different democratic contexts. But the result is the same. “The bargaining power of the rich increases due to various tools they use such as lobbying,” he said. “Policies end up benefitting the wealthy and that again creates a cycle. But, this time, it’s a political cycle.”
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 131 billionaires more than doubled their net worth during the pandemic.
The world’s richest person, Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault, was worth $159bn on December 27, 2022, up by around $60bn compared with early 2020.
Elon Musk, the planet’s second-wealthiest man, boasted a $139bn fortune — it was less than $50bn before the pandemic.
And India’s Gautam Adani, third on the index, has seen his wealth increase more than tenfold in this period, from approximately $10bn at the start of 2020 to $110bn at the end of 2022.
At the same time, close to 97 million people — more than the population of any European nation — were pushed into extreme poverty in just 2020, earning less than $1.90 a day (the World Bank-defined poverty line).
The global poverty rate is estimated to have gone up from 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent by late 2021.
Now, skyrocketing inflation is affecting real wage growth, eating into the disposable incomes of people around the world.
Billionaires saw their fortunes increase as much in 24 months as they did in 23 years, according to Oxfam’s “Profiting from Pain” report released in May this year. Every 30 hours, while COVID-19 and rising food prices are pushing nearly one million more people into extreme poverty, the global economy is also spawning a new billionaire.
A year into the pandemic, capital markets had risen $14 trillion, with 25 companies — mostly in the technology, electric vehicles and semiconductors segment — accounting for 40 percent of the total gains, according to an analysis of stock performance of 5,000 companies by consulting firm McKinsey.
“The result is that this pandemic period has seen the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since the records began,” Oxfam America’s Director of Economic Justice Nabil Ahmed told Al Jazeera. “And we are still coming to terms about how extraordinary that rise has been.”
143 of 161 countries analysed by Oxfam froze tax rates for the rich during the pandemic, and 11 countries reduced them.
When the pandemic began o save the economy from collapsing, central banks slashed interest rates, thereby lowering borrowing costs and increasing the supply of money. They also pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets with the aim of encouraging companies to invest in the economy. Major central banks have infused more than $11 trillion into the global economy since 2020. These interventions triggered a boom in the value of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments — but the rise in asset prices wasn’t accompanied by an increase in economic production.
“The easy money policy that began after the global financial crisis led to really low to negative interest rates and big liquidity in the financial system,” Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Al Jazeera. “So, in the past 15 years, corporations chose to reinvest the money into buying more financial assets chasing high returns, rather than increasing their production.”
Yannis Dafermos, a senior lecturer in economics at SOAS University of London explains, “Even when inflation has increased, the profit margins of firms have not declined.” Large companies are retaining profits to give dividends to their shareholders rather than increasing wage incomes, even as smaller companies suffer due to a lack of investments by bigger firms, he said.
“Because of the way the global financial system works, there will be a lot of pressure on developing countries to implement austerity measures,” Dafermos said. “That can create more inequalities and for me, this is perhaps more significant because it limits their capacity to provide social protection to the poor.”
According to Oxfam, lower-income countries spent approximately 27 percent of their budgets in repaying their debts – twice the money spent on education and four times that on health.
Why do the rich get richer — even during global crises? | Business and Economy | Al Jazeera
The Sad State of the USA
Radio host Thom Hartmann recently compared economic conditions for two groups of people of equal size in the U.S.: Baby Boomers (average age 67 today) versus Millennials (average age 33 today).
Back when the average Boomer was 33, Boomers held 21.3 percent of the nation's wealth; in contrast, Millennials age 33 today hold only 4.6 percent of the nation's wealth. Prospects for Gen-Z are no better.
Hartmann identifies seven trends that have robbed young people of their fair share of prosperity: It boils down to the so-called "Reagan Revolution," which Republicans (along with some Democrats) have pursued since 1980.
#1. Attack on wages
The attack on wages has three parts: (1) a coordinated offensive against labor unions, (2) passage of "right to work"(aka "right to work for less") laws, and (3) flooding the political system with dark money so the megarich rule and ordinary people have no say.
Right-to-work-for-less laws prevent unions from collecting dues from workers who benefit from collective bargaining but who choose to withhold dues from the union that bargains on their behalf. This weakens unions, which reduces the incentive to join one, which weakens unions further.
Now 27 states have enacted such laws. Hartmann writes, "In every single case, anti-worker right-to-work laws have been passed in states controlled by Republicans at the time of passage."
The attack on unions has succeeded. In 1983, 20 percent of workers were unionized; in 2021 it had dropped by half to 10.3 percent, even though 70 percent of Americans approve of unions.
As a result of these trends, today working people are taking home a 10% smaller share of the nation's economic pie ("the labor share") than they did in 1980. Ten percent may not sound huge, but it represents a transfer of 50 trillion dollars from working families to shareholders and business owners since 1975. Fifty trillion dollars. That's $13,000 per year taken from every single worker in the bottom 90% of the wage-scale, year after year for 40 years.
Young people have been hit especially hard. In 1940, 90 percent of young people could expect to earn more than their parents. For children born in the 1980s, that measure of "absolute income mobility" has fallen to 50%—a major change that has degraded the future for tens of millions of young people.
No wonder working-class parents are angry and resentful as they see themselves precariously treading water, their children falling behind. This is where Trumpism began; then some cynical, privileged Republicans fanned those embers into flames. In 2018, Reuters/Ipsos asked 1,249 Trump voters what "Make American Great Again" meant to them and 2/3rds (63 percent) responded, "A better economy."
#2. Restricting educational opportunity
Republican policies have put higher education out of reach for many children of low-income families and put millions more into crippling debt.
Professor Devin Fergus, now at the University of Missouri, has described the effects of the "Reagan revolution" on student debt. Prior to 1980, states paid 65% of student college costs, the federal government paid another 15%, leaving 20% for students to pay. Thom Hartmann has described how Mr. Reagan and his fellow "revolutionaries" set out to change all that. Students were "too liberal,"Mr. Reagan said, so "America should not subsidize intellectual curiosity."After 40 years of defunding education, 44 million students are now saddled with $1.5 trillion in debt, making it hard or impossible for two generations of young people to create businesses, start families, or buy homes.
#3. Raising the price of a home
In 1950, the average price of a house was 2.2 times the median American family income. Today the median family income is $37,522 and the average house sells forten times that amount—$374,900.
#4. "Financializing" the economy
As early as 2013, Bruce Bartlett, who served as an advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, described how Wall Street firms have grown in proportion to the whole economy. In 1950 the financial services industry represented 2.8% of gross domestic product (GDP); in 1980 that proportion has grown to 4.9% and by 2013 it has reached 8.3 percent. In 1980, wages and salaries in financial services were comparable to other industries. But then compensation in financial services began to rise and, by 2013, people in financial services were taking home 70 percent more than their counterparts elsewhere in the economy. Thus, financialization of the economy "is a major cause of rising income inequality," Bartlett says.
#5. Tolerating monopolies
Competition is supposed to be the life blood of our economic system. As the Hamilton Project explains it, "Competition is the basis of a market economy. It forces businesses to innovate to stay ahead of other firms, to keep prices as low as they can to attract customers, and to pay sufficient wages to avoid losing workers to other firms. When businesses vie for customers, prices fall and economic output increases. When businesses hire workers away from each other, wages rise and workers' standard of living improves. And as unproductive firms are replaced by innovative firms, the economy becomes more efficient."
President Reagan ordered an end to anti-trust enforcement in 1983 and consolidation (contrary to U.S. law) has now affected many parts of the economy—agriculture, banking, insurance, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, internet providers, cable companies, gigantic food corporations, grocers, home mortgages, office supplies. Result: prices spiral upward, wages decline, jobs disappear.
#6. Profiting from disease and disability
In 1960, U.S. health care costs were 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); by 2020, health care had risen to 19.7 percent of GDP. People in the U.S. don't use more health care services than people in other countries; they just pay more for them.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 9% of U.S. adults (23 million people) are carrying medical debt totaling $195 billion. According toForbes magazine, in 2021, one-in-five households (19 percent) "could not pay for medical care when it was needed."How do you think that made them feel?
#7. Handouts for the megarich
If Republicans agree on nothing else, they agree on cutting taxes for the super-rich so their vast accrued wealth can "trickle down"upon the rest of us and (as a side benefit) can starve government so it can't regulate business or provide "socialist"amenities like schools, hospitals, and old-age insurance (social security).
As Thom Hartmann puts it, "Reagan dropped the top income tax on the morbidly rich from 74 percent down to 27 percent and cut corporate tax rates from 50 percent to functionally nothing… The average billionaire pays an income tax of under 3 percent and the majority of the nation's largest corporations pay nothing."
Recent studies show that in the 3-year period 2018-2020, 39 major corporations paid no taxes on $120 billion in profits and 73 others paid an average of only 5.3 percent during the period.
Opinion | 'The System' Is Ruining Our Present and Collective Future | Common Dreams
The Cost of Climate Change
Extreme weather events caused severe human suffering from food insecurity, drought, mass displacements and loss of life. No corner of the globe was spared from the costliest climate impacts in 2022.
A devastating drought has affected more than 36 million people in East Africa, pushing many to the brink of famine. Whilst people in East Africa have been suffering from drought, in West Africa 1.3 million people were displaced by floods which killed more than 600 people in Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali and Niger.
February's Storm Eunice set a new UK wind speed record of 122mph and Hurricane Fiona struck the Caribbean and Canada in September and caused losses valued at more than $3 billion in just a few days. Other events took months to unfold, like the droughts in Brazil and China which lasted all year.
Hurricane Ian struck the US and Cuba in September costing $100 billion and displacing 40,000 people. The drought in Europe heatwave in Europe cost $20 billion while floods in Pakistan killed more than 1,700 people, displaced a further 7 million
The increasing frequency of heatwaves, due to climate change, resulted in an estimated 98 million more people suffering from moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020 compared to the 1981--2010 average.
Many believed it was all over, even WHO thought so, but the Covid-19 pandemic has resurged as a result of China relaxing its restrictions. The United States, India and many other countries are now demanding negative COVID-19 tests from travellers arriving from China.
A statistical model published by healthdata.org predicts that 300,000 people could die from COVID-19 infections by April 2023 and 1.6 million people could die by the end of the year. However, that projection depends on whether COVID transmission can or will be contained with new lockdowns and by the success of vaccination programs.
A prominent epidemiologist, Eric Feigl-Ding, tweeted that the situation was "thermonuclear bad." He predicts "over 60% of China's and 10% of the Earth's population likely infected over the next 90 days. Deaths likely in the millions — plural. This is just the start."
"Infections are steeply on the rise and hospitals are overwhelmed. It's quite [certain] that the situation is spiraling out of control, at least in Beijing and other big cities," said Björn Alpermann, a sinologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany. "The reports that crematoriums are working 24/7 are deeply disturbing."
A senior health official in the eastern city of Qingdao was quoted as saying half a million people are being infected daily. Health authorities in Zhejiang, a coastal province south of Shanghai, said the number of daily infections now exceeded the one million mark.
The Chinese government boasted they won a victory against COVID with their zero-COVID strategy. For some time it looked that way in 2021 and had pursued a zero-COVID policy since the pandemic began. Popular protests and damage to the economy resulted in a policy change.
China no longer publishes daily figures for COVID-19 cases and deaths. China also narrowed the criteria by which COVID-19 fatalities were counted – a move experts said would suppress the number of fatalities attributable to the virus.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
The War in Ethiopia
A war where more than an estimated 600,000 lives have been lost. Tens of thousands of women have been raped. Its victims have borne witness to shocking human rights abuses and a war where civilians have been deliberately targeted. It has lasted two years and is happening today. A population of more than 6 million people, under a government blockade, has been pushed towards mass starvation – with young children dying of acute malnutrition. A war far deadlier than the war in Ukraine, the western media have mostly ignored it suffering an internet blackout. The international community and media decide what conflict and whose lives destroyed by it are worth caring about.
On 4 November 2020, when Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, (a Nobel Peace prize winner), announced a military offensive in the disputed territory of Tigray. Before the war, Tigray was home to 47 hospitals, 224 health centres and 269 functional ambulances; today more than 80% of the hospitals have been damaged or destroyed at the hands of Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, and ambulance services are no more.
Think the war in Ukraine is the world’s deadliest conflict? Think again | Magdalene Abraha | The Guardian
List of Assassinations by the United States (Wikipedia)
Reported comments by US officials about the possibility of a “decapitation strike” against Russia strongly suggest that Washington does not rule out the assassination of President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with TASS news agency published on Tuesday.
The minister noted that some “‘unnamed officials from the Pentagon actually threatened to conduct a ‘decapitation strike’ on the Kremlin…What we are talking about is the threat of the physical elimination of the head of the Russian state,” he said.
The top diplomat went on to warn against such a line of thinking. “If such ideas are actually being nourished by someone, this someone should think very carefully about the possible consequences of such plans.”
Lavrov was apparently referring to a September article by Newsweek, which alleged that US defense officials are considering a number of options to respond against a potential Russian nuclear strike, including “a decapitation strike to kill Putin in the heart of the Kremlin.”
Fears of a possible nuclear conflict have been sparked in the West after Putin said in September that Moscow would use “all means” necessary to defend Russia and its people if its territorial integrity is threatened. However, Moscow has repeatedly stated that it has no plans to deploy atomic weapons, maintaining that a nuclear war should never be fought.
The foreign minister also accused some of America's partners of embracing a confrontational approach in the nuclear sphere. “They seem to have gone completely beyond the bounds of decency,” he said, recalling that former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss “without a shadow of a doubt declared during the election debates that she was quite ready to order a nuclear strike.”
Lavrov also recalled Ukraine’s statements on the matter, saying “I not even mentioning the Kiev regime’s provocations, that go off the chart. [Ukrainian President] Vladimir Zelensky went as far as to demand preventive nuclear strikes by NATO countries on Russia. This is also beyond the bounds of what is acceptable,” he noted.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchers?
It’s been revealed by sources within the US Department of Justice that direct messages sent through Facebook by American users, along with public postings, have been rigorously monitored, and reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) if they express anti-government, anti-authority views, or if they question the legitimacy of the November 2020 presidential election’s outcome.
Under the terms of a secret collaboration agreement with the FBI, a Facebook staffer has, over the past 19 months, been red-flagging content they consider to be “subversive” and immediately transmitting it to the Bureau’s domestic terrorism operational unit, without the FBI having filed a single subpoena – outside the established US legal process, without probable cause, and in breach of the First Amendment, in other words.
Just as shockingly, these intercepted communications were then provided as leads and tips to FBI field offices across the US, which in turn secured subpoenas in order to officially obtain the private conversations that they already possessed, and thus cover up the fact the material had been obtained extra-legally. Facebook invariably complied with these subpoenas, and would send back “gigabytes of data and photos” within an hour, suggesting the content sought was already packaged and awaiting legal confirmation before distribution.
It is uncertain quite how many users were flagged, but it’s abundantly clear a specific type of person was of interest to the FBI - “red-blooded” conservative right-wingers, many of whom supported the right to bear arms. No one connected to Antifa, BLM or any other left-wing group was ever informed on.
It seems not a single Facebook user snitched upon for daring to be possessed of troublesome political opinions was ever arrested, or prosecuted, for their wrongthink, even though some were reportedly subject to covert surveillance and other forms of intrusion and harassment. Their views were consistently found to not translate to criminality or violence - their words were simply brutal condemnations of Biden’s election and presidency, and aggressive calls for protests.
However, once these users’ information reached FBI headquarters, it appears to have been selectively and misleadingly edited, “the most egregious parts highlighted and taken out of context” in order to perk the interest of field offices. Once the same data was sought and accessed by them via subpoena, the conversations “didn’t sound as bad” and none pointed to any “plan or orchestration to carry out any kind of violence.” No one spoke of injuring, let alone killing, anyone.
The entire operation appears to have been a gigantic waste of time but, given the Biden administration’s rhetoric about the January 6 Capitol “insurrection,” it would hardly surprise if the FBI was under intense political pressure to make as many arrests as possible of “right-wing terrorists” in order to make the sensationalist fantasies of White House officials a reality.
During the War on Terror, the FBI was in effect charged with creating a domestic terror threat, and delivered on a grand scale. Almost every major terrorism-related case in the post 9/11 period was effectively entrapment, with informants and undercover agents encouraging often mentally ill people to commit violent acts, helping them sketch mass casualty plans, and even providing the weapons to be used in the plots, which the FBI heroically busts at the last minute.
Luckily for those Facebook users flagged to the FBI, none were the victim of similar sting operations, although in the case of the October 2020 kidnapping plot targeting Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer by militia members, at least 12 individuals involved in the planning were working for the Bureau.
In two separate statements to the New York Post, a Facebook spokesperson seemed to contradict themselves on whether the Justice Department whistleblowers’ claims were accurate. First, they said the allegations were “false because they reflect a misunderstanding of how our systems protect people from harm and how we engage with law enforcement.” An hour later, they got in touch unprompted to say the accusations were “just wrong,” rather than “false.”
Coincidentally, that spokesperson previously worked for Planned Parenthood and “Obama for America.” The latter campaign, to get the then-President re-elected in 2012, not only employed the exact same tactics as Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data without knowledge or consent, but has also admitted it was allowed by Facebook to “do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
For its part, the FBI would neither confirm nor deny the incendiary charges, although that the Bureau maintains a little-known “unclassified/law enforcement sensitive” relationship with Facebook has long-been a matter of record, and a spokesperson did concede that this connection allows for a “quick exchange” of information in an “ongoing dialogue.”
Even more ominously, if we accept that Facebook’s denial it has a subpoena-less agreement for the unfettered sharing of private user data to be truthful, this could imply that the FBI is running an agent –a “confidential human source,” in Bureau parlance– within the social media giant who has unfettered access, whether granted or not, to sensitive, private information on millions of users
Of course, Facebook’s denial could just be a lie – or a literally true but consciously dishonest statement, in that it is aware a senior staffer is passing the FBI information and has approved the arrangement but this is not formal or officially admitted. Such a setup would grant the social media monopoly plausible deniability were questions to arise about misuse of users’ data – as they now have.
There are strong grounds to believe that whether Facebook is fully aware of the staffer’s relationship with the FBI or not, it would approve of the arrangement, and its upper-tier employees assisting US security and intelligence agencies in their work.
The Washington Post recently exposed how the Pentagon is conducting an extensive internal audit of all its psychological warfare operations online, after several fake accounts it was running were identified by researchers.
A fascinating passage in the article noted that, back in Summer 2020, David Agranovich, Facebook’s Director of Global Threat Disruption, who spent six years at the Pentagon then served as Director for Intelligence at the elite White House National Security Council, got in touch with his Pentagon pals directly, to warn them he and his team had identified a number of US military-managed trolls and bots on its network, and “if Facebook could sniff them out, so could US adversaries.”
“His point was, ‘Guys, you got caught. That’s a problem.’”
The obvious meaning of all this, which The Post apparently missed, is that senior Facebook staff consider their platform being weaponized for information warfare purposes to be acceptable if not welcome, as long as it’s US military and intelligence operatives doing it, and they don’t get “burned” - and they are willing to provide American spies with helpful guidance on how to operate in secret more effectively.