Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Quote of the Day

 "Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."

 Arundhati Roy, April 2020

Sri Lanka's Health Crisis

 Sri Lanka’s financial crisis, its worst since independence, is swiftly becoming an alarming health crisis.

Sri Lanka imports more than 80% of its medical supplies. Now almost 200 medical items are in shortage, including 76 essential, life-saving drugs, from blood-thinners for heart attack and stroke patients to antibiotics, rabies vaccines and cancer chemotherapy drugs. Essential surgical equipment and anaesthesia is running out so fast that the decision was made this week for only emergency surgeries, mostly heart and cancer patients, to go ahead. Cancer drugs, which are notoriously expensive to import, have been particularly badly hit by shortages in recent weeks, and the responsibility to source them has fallen on the heads of oncologists themselves. They have been putting out global appeals for donations, and writing letters to private supporters, organisations and governments, to ensure cancer treatments are not delayed. All routine surgeries – anything from hernias to swollen appendixes – have been put on hold. Some government hospitals have been instructed to only admit emergency patients. 

“Ultimately, people are definitely going to die,” said a doctor in Colombo. She described how the hospital was so low on certain drugs they had to instruct families of patients to go out to pharmacies and try to buy it themselves. The doctor said the shortages were getting worse. “I’m worried about pregnant mothers because soon I don’t know whether we will have enough drugs to perform cesarian sections,” she said.

Dr Buddhika Somawardana, an oncologist at Colombo’s largest cancer hospital, described the “great stress” he and other doctors were under as essential cancer drugs began to run out over a month ago or stopped being available at all.

“One of the drugs we give patients undergoing chemotherapy, which boosts their blood count so they aren’t liable to serious infections, is not available any more,” he said. Somawardana said the crisis was placing a huge “financial and psychological burden” on cancer patients, who were having to source and pay vast sums for their own medicines to continue their treatment, previously free and easily accessibly in hospitals under Sri Lanka’s lauded universal healthcare system.

Ruvaiz Haniffa, a doctor in Colombo, expressed his frustration that doctors had “seen this coming as early as January” but little had been done by authorities to set up backup plans to ensure no medicines ran short, even as the country’s foreign reserves began to deplete to worryingly low levels.

“We are facing great ethical dilemmas as doctors,” said Haniffa. “We used to have a very efficient health system. But at the moment, it has become ineffective. More people will die, which is not acceptable.”

He said his patients were being forced to find their own drugs and pay prices over 40% higher, if they could find them at all.

Haniffa said he feared for the long-term impacts on the life expectancy of Sri Lankans. “With the kidney disease and the diabetes and the hypertension we are not treating now, it causes long term damage,” he said. “So in five years, we will see strokes go up, heart attacks go up, neurological problems go up, cancers go up.”

‘People are going to die’: crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of medicine | Sri Lanka | The Guardian

Israel's Chemical Warfare

 An Israeli airstrike on an agrochemical warehouse during last year’s war in Gaza amounted to the “indirect deploying of chemical weapons”, according to a report analysing the attack and its impact.

Incendiary artillery shells fired by the Israel hit the large Khudair Pharmaceutical and Agricultural Tools warehouse in the north of the Gaza Strip on 15 May last year, setting fire to hundreds of tonnes of pesticides, fertilisers, plastics and nylons. The strike created a toxic plume, which engulfed an area of 5.7 sq km and has left local residents struggling with health issues, including reports of miscarriages.

Legal experts concluded that while conventional weapons were used in the bombing, “the shelling of the warehouse, with knowledge of the presence of toxic chemicals stored therein, is tantamount to chemical weapons through indirect means. Such acts are clearly prohibited … and prosecutable under the Rome Statute of the international criminal court”.

The strike on the Khudair warehouse was the first in a series of attacks deliberately targeting Gaza’s economic and industrial infrastructure, with half a dozen other factories and warehouses systematically bombed.

Impact of Israeli strike in Gaza akin to chemical weapons, NGO report finds | Israel | The Guardian

Monday, May 30, 2022

No Quick Eco-Fix


The UK’s top scientists working on carbon capture technologies do not believe they will be developed and scaled up in time to reach net zero and limit global heating to 1.5C.

Experts speaking at a Greenhouse Gas Removal Hub event in London warned that these techniques, including direct air capture, biofuels, biochar, afforestation and advanced weathering, are not a silver bullet and should make up just a fraction of the efforts to decarbonise. Of 114 scientists in the audience, 57% said they were “not confident” the UK would meet the 2030 goals in the net zero strategy of 5m tonnes of engineered greenhouse gas removal, and 30,000 hectares a year of tree planting; 25% said they were quite confident, and 11% said there was no chance.

Gideon Henderson, the chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said: “GGR [greenhouse gas removal] is hard and expensive. And we cannot afford to see it as a surrogate to compensate for continued emissions in sectors that can be decarbonised. It is not an excuse not to decarbonise, so we must drive down emissions anyway.” Henderson said afforestation is the “poster child” of GGR, because “everyone seems to love it, and it’s nice to have more trees”. However, he said trees “are not a panacea” because of the amount of land they need, which is taken out of food production, which then causes tensions with food security. There is also a tension between woodland, which has more biodiversity benefits but is slower growing, and forests, which grow quickly and lock in more carbon sooner.

Prof Mark Taylor, the deputy director of energy innovation at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said: “People see it as having the biggest market, there’s been funding from American companies – it feels like a silver bullet, there are lots of people who like it. Ministers like it because they think: ‘Oh, that sounds easy, you can take it out the air and that’s it.’ And that’s the thing that gets investment..."

Storing carbon in soil is a popular method, according to Henderson there are concerns over how long the carbon can be stored in the soil and how it is measured. If the soil begins to release carbon again shortly after it is stored, this could cause problems, especially if it is not being measured effectively and counted in net zero targets. He explained: “I think that if we see significant financial resources coming into this area to incentivise storing soil carbon without being able to measure it, and being sure of its permanence, there’s a risk of continued emission from storage which isn’t permanent or sufficiently well measured.”

The idea of a machine that can suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stick it permanently in rocks is a very attractive one, and it is perhaps unsurprising that this is the most popular technology for scientists trying to solve this problem.

But it is currently a very energy intensive process. Taylor explained: “We need to use energy to extract the CO2, the pure stream CO2 from the solid, so what we’re looking for an integration that can drive down the costs of DAC, and particularly drive down the cost of extracting the CO2 and the energy costs of extracting the CO2. Because at the moment, there’s no point in capturing CO2 from the air and then using natural gas to run a heat process to extract a pure CO2 stream.”

Greenhouse gas removal ‘not a silver bullet to achieve net zero’ | Carbon capture and storage (CCS) | The Guardian

Who Pays for War - the World's Poor

 The war in Ukraine is pushing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 further out of reach

Jeroen Kwakkenbos, EU aid expert at Oxfam said, "The war in Ukraine poses a risk to future aid budgets. Aid is already being pulled from countries like Syria to fund the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Europe.”

“We are left with the bizarre situation where European countries could become the largest recipients of their own aid. Instead of cherry-picking humanitarian crises, donor governments need to boost aid budgets to meet the challenges of today.”

“Over 350 million vaccine doses came from hoarded stocks, some of which, were donated far too close to their expiry date. Many more were donated without essential equipment such as syringes making them almost useless. Including these ‘donations’ in aid budgets inflates aid. It is merely donors patting themselves on the back for a job that may have cost lives,” he noted.

Daniel D. Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations at the University of Pretoria explained,  “The impact of the war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on Africa. If it continues it is likely to lead to hunger, increased poverty and serious debt crises across the continent,” he added.

“If the Western countries really wanted African support for the war in Ukraine, they should have taken steps to shield Africa and other parts of the Global South from the impacts of a European war. Instead, they are redirecting aid that could have gone to Africa to Ukraine and are cutting their aid budgets”.

“This means that at the end of the day, the Western states are making African states pay for a conflict in Europe that suits their political agendas.”

UN “Deeply Troubled” by Impending Cuts on Development Aid by Rich Nations | Inter Press Service (ipsnews.net)

Join the Unions

 The tally of unionized Starbucks locations is continuing to grow.  The Starbucks Workers United union campaign continues to produce astounding election wins week after week.  260 stores have petitioned for National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections: The union has won 77 NLRB elections, (87%) most by overwhelming margins, including in places where union victories are rare, including in Mesa, Arizona; Boone, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Knoxville, Tennessee; Augusta, Georgia; and Overland Park, Kansas.and has lost only nine elections. 

By the union's count, there are now 100 stores across the nation that have unionized, that milestone being achieved after successful votes at two stores in Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks.

Starbuck workers in Greenville, South Carolina, once known as being “among the most relentlessly anti-union cities in the nation,” by The New York Times, voted eight to one to become the first unionized store in the state. For the past two years, South Carolina has been the least unionized state in the country, and  union density in 2021 was just 1.7 percent. Greenville is even more anti-union than the rest of South Carolina. The metropolitan area has only seven employers with any union workers. Local employers brag about it. “In 2021, the private sector unionization rate for the Greenville area was only 0.3%. The Greenville Metropolitan Statistical Area is the least unionized Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States…There have been no reported work stoppages reported in the past ten years.”




Starbucks Workers United Wins in US’s Most Anti-Union City (truthout.org)


Organizers Herald 100th Win as Starbucks Unionization Wave Continues (commondreams.org)

Antiziganism in Germany

 German lawyer Mehmet Daimagüler has long examined the historical legacies of racism and discrimination in Germany and their influence on present state institutions.  In May, Daimagüler became Germany's first commissioner on antiziganism, or discrimination against Sinti and Roma. 

"What was suppressed was that the perpetrators were not just Nazis," Daimagüler said. "They were also Germans. Our grandparents had their grandparents murdered — or murdered them themselves. That's why, even after 1945, everything was done so that the perpetrators from that time remained clean. That's why the dead were criminalized. And that narrative, about the inherent criminality of Sinti and Roma people, is an echo from back then."

The stereotype still influences the work of police, prosecutors and judges, Daimagüler said.

Sinti and Roma who have had negative experiences with the police are often less likely to report crimes committed against them. "Many of them have little trust in the police or the public prosecutor — and justifiably so," Daimagüler said. "And it's exactly these invisible cases that politics should, and must, pay more attention to."

He said sensationalist media attempted to increase their readership through so-called investigative articles intended to stoke fear and outrage.

"They take frightening crimes committed by individuals and use them to draw conclusions about the behavior of an entire community," Daimagüler said. The reports "like to claim that the cause of such criminal behavior must be cultural and an alleged inability to accept rules." Such articles demonstrate "a fundamental lack of respect for the craft of journalism" and "irresponsible sensationalism just for the sake of ratings," Daimagüler said.

He added that Roma who arrive to Germany as refugees are frequently treated with even more suspicion.

"...At the moment, Roma people who are fleeing Ukraine are being selected at train stations — I am using that word deliberately — and being treated worse than other people."

Discrimination against Roma ′is an echo from back then′ | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 28.05.2022

Oil to escape windfall tax?


Oil giants BP and Shell are on course to make a combined profit of about £40bn this year from the rocketing price of petrol and gas.

North Sea oil and gas companies that already benefit from huge tax breaks could use fresh rules to slash how much they pay under a new windfall tax announced by Rishi Sunak as part of his £15bn cost of living package, according to a thinktank. The chancellor risks raising a fraction of the £5bn he expects from the complex scheme – which allows the cost of new investments to be offset against profits – should oil and gas companies take the opportunity to dramatically reduce their contribution to the exchequer, said the thinktank Common Wealth.

Research carried out with the New Economics Foundation, which found that the government had handed firms operating in British waters tax breaks worth about £3.1bn in 2019-20 and £2.5bn in 2020. Most of the funds were directed to shareholders in share buy-back schemes. The Treasury has not calculated how much of the £5bn in extra tax could be lost if North Sea operators claim extra investment allowances over the next three years.

Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, said Sunak’s “11th hour” 25% windfall tax on oil and gas company profits allowed them to carry on “with business as usual” and direct most of their profits to shareholders.

“It’s bad enough that the chancellor waited until the 11th hour to tax big oil and gas, when Liberal Democrats first called for a windfall tax last October. Now it looks like it may not even raise what he said it will. That’s more levy lite than windfall tax.” She accused the chancellor of “going soft on huge companies making a killing out of a crisis”.

Loophole could let North Sea oil and gas giants slash UK windfall tax bill | Oil and gas companies | The Guardian

Protect Peat

 Peatlands cover around 12% of the land in the UK and store an estimated 3 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to all the forests in the UK, Germany and France put together. An estimated 80% of the UK's peatlands are in a damaged and deteriorating condition because of present and past land management activities including drainage, peat cutting, and fire, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

UK peatlands are already releasing almost 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 each year - equivalent to the average emissions of around 660,000 UK households - more than all the households of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds combined.

These emissions are likely to increase with further peatland deterioration as the climate changes,

The government last year introduced a ban on burning peat deeper than 40cm in some protected areas of England. Some shooting estates in England burn deep peat moorland in protected areas despite a government ban, say the RSPB and Greenpeace.

England's deep peat soils support rare ecosystems and store huge amounts of carbon. Peatland vegetation has traditionally been burnt to create and maintain habitats to raise grouse for shooting. A traditional practice on shooting estates, burning clears the way for the new green shoots grouse like to eat, but also releases stored carbon into the atmosphere.

The RSPB and Greenpeace are calling for a blanket ban on burning on all peat.

"Intensive and damaging land management practices such as burning continue to harm and further threaten these vital carbon and nature-rich ecosystems", said Dr Patrick Thompson, a senior policy officer at RSPB UK.

"Why on earth is the government allowing grouse moor owners to turn swathes of national parks and protected sites into charred wasteland for the private gain of a few landowners?" asked Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK.

Peat soil fires: Campaigners say England's 'rainforests' illegally burned - BBC News

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Truth (short story)

 A Short Story from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

It sometimes seems to me that most of my life has been spent in conflict with other human beings, and I have recently come to the conclusion that this is not a desirable situation, in fact it can be acutely uncomfortable and so lonely that I once forswore the battle and went around for at least a month wearing a beatific smile on my face and dodging anything I perceived to be potentially controversial. Eventually of course I came to my senses and relapsed into being the argumentative, intolerant woman I really am.

I don’t think it’s genetic. It first happened when I discovered that there was something very wrong with the world. I think the seeds were sown early when my father talked about politics, but there was a time too, when at school I realised that some adults were so stupid that I was tempted to spend as much time as possible disagreeing with what they said. It all began when our class was asked to write an essay called “My likes and dislikes”. My essay was contentious enough but there was a girl in my class called Dorcas (her real name and how could anyone forget a name like that?) who wrote that she disliked lessons at school in general and nearly all the teachers, though fortunately for her she didn’t name names. My essay was read aloud to the class and the listeners either sneered or smiled indulgently but when Dorcas’s essay was read (as an example of how not to write) I was overcome with admiration for her. A mouselike girl, she sat at the back of the class and I had seldom given her a moment’s thought but when I heard her essay I glanced at her and noticed she wore a halo round her head. She was so forceful in what she had to say that I reeled under the power of it, as did the teachers only for different reasons. Poor Dorcas, she was castigated. Oh, so she didn’t like school, they said. So who did she think she was daring to undermine the work of so many good people who strove each day to knock some sense into her thick head? So this was gratitude-people were endeavouring to educate her and yet she had the nerve to say she didn’t like them, didn’t like school. What impertinence. And so on . . . Dorcas who had appeared to be relatively serene while her essay was being read went suddenly white and squirmed, then slumped back in her seat looking utterly dejected. My contempt for adults in general began thus. They didn’t want the truth. They preferred sycophantic little toads.

From that day my conviction grew that people, on the whole, do prefer other people to be nice and agreeable. It makes life so much easier when there is no confrontation. This way we can withdraw into our own little world of safety, secure in the knowledge that we are right. We must be, no-one else disagrees with us. I sometimes think that the biggest compliment we can pay another person is to tell them what we think of as the truth. As long as we don’t overdo it. We all know that truth is not necessarily objective, but there comes a time when to say to someone that “No, I do not share your adoration of the Royal Family”, or “Yes, I am aware of what the suffragettes did for me but I don’t want the vote, thank you”, is recognising that they are worthy of your honesty, and, if it makes them unhappy then you were also made unhappy in the first place listening to their crap beliefs.

Being a socialist always means seeing things from a different perspective, and it also means, if we are forthright, that we must at some time or other upset other people. My family are always telling me that confrontation is often pointless, but while agreeing with them one day, I’m off the next day confronting somebody else.

So I don’t find it at all easy to be nice, and, anyway, when was life ever easy for socialists? We see a world organised in such a way that it offends us and we seek to change it. In the process we challenge other people and so they feel like the teachers who hated Dorcas’s truth. I think of Dorcas from time to time and hope she didn’t draw her head back into her shell after the verbal whacking she got from the fearers of truth. I hope she’s still out there somewhere trying to tell the truth, and I hope it isn’t as painful for here as it sometimes is for me. What about you?

Heather Ball

British Racism

 A Home Office commissioned paper that officials have repeatedly tried to suppress over the past year reveals the origins of the Windrush scandal lay in 30 years of racist immigration legislation designed to reduce the UK’s non-white population,

The 52-page analysis by an unnamed historian describes how “the British Empire depended on racist ideology in order to function”.  It concludes that the origins of the “deep-rooted racism of the Windrush scandal” lie in the fact that “during the period 1950-1981, every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation was designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK”.

The report states, “Major immigration legislation in 1962, 1968 and 1971 was designed to reduce the proportion of people living in the United Kingdom who did not have white skin.”

The unnamed Home Office historian writes: “The British Empire depended on racist ideology in order to function, which in turn produced legislation aimed at keeping racial and ethnic groups apart … From the beginning, concern about Commonwealth immigration was about skin colour.” In the 1950s, British officials shared a “basic assumption that ‘coloured immigrants’, as they were referred to, were not good for British society,” the report states.

The document summarises decades of “dysfunctional relationships between Britain’s institutions and Black and minority ethnic people”, and concludes: “The politics of Britain’s borders, which have been administered for more than a century by the Home Office, are now inextricably connected with race and with Britain’s colonial history.”

The report also cites a letter from the prime minister of the Federation of the West Indies, Sir Grantley Adams, to the Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan. Sir Grantley protested that “Britain has begun to take steps which are no different in kind to the basis on which the system of apartheid in South Africa is based” by introducing the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act.

Windrush scandal caused by ‘30 years of racist immigration laws’ – report | Windrush scandal | The Guardian

Three Voices (poem)

 From the May 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

To discuss their various plans 
Said FORTUNE: “I’ve smiled upon the rich 
And with them shaken hands.
To them I've whispered POVERTY
Will help us to exploit
The poor and dejected
And to their hopes put flight”.

Said POVERTY: “My worthy friend,
I knew you wouldn’t falter
At the throne of riches bending knee,
Ignoring poor man’s altar.
’Tis on its slab their hopes will die 
Ambitious souls will perish.
All their dreams we’ll sacrifice 
The dream that they most cherish.
For their freedom is but a symbol,
And for all their vain endeavour,
The poor will still be rich man’s slave 
The chains they’ll never sever.”
Said FORTUNE: ‘You’re my dearest friend, 
And constant too, I’m sure.”
So FORTUNE smiled upon the rich 
While POVERTY cursed the poor.

When SOCIALISM heard of this 
He thus addressed the poor:
“I cannot cure all life’s ills
But I can make them by far fewer.
Workers must set their aim 
And hope for a better future 
Will burn with a brighter flame.” 
John L. Preece

America's Gun Cult

Rejecting the idea that Congress should legislate to restrict easy access to guns, Republicans echo the words of Trump that it is necessary to militarized schools with armed security, andarmed teachers. Schools are to be turned into fortresses.

Politicians bought and paid for by NRA campaign funding, actively obstruct any introduction of gun safety laws. They do not question why an 18-year-old cannot buy alcohol yet legally can buy an assault rifle. It has been over 20 years since the Columbine mass shooting and very little has changed. In recent days we have had gun massacres at Buffalo and Uvalde as evidence that lessons are not being learned and deliberately are ignored

The problem in the United States is not Trump. It is the total acquiescence to the capitalist brainwashing of American individualism and American exceptionalism. As long as capitalism exists, we, the working people, will have no say in our society is run. 

Maternity Deaths in Latin America

 In Latin America maternal mortality remains a major problem.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), states that “maternal mortality is unacceptably high” and that they are “mostly preventable” deaths, which especially affect pregnant women in rural areas.

These levels, the agency adds, will delay reaching target 3.1 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. Brazil missed the target of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015, from 1990 levels. It was moving in that direction. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) per 100,000 live births in the country fell from 143 to 60, a 58 percent drop but COVID-19 and the government’s response to it caused a setback of at least two decades in Brazil’s maternal mortality rate.

“Inadequate prenatal and obstetric care,” largely due to inadequate medical training in these areas, is the cause of the tragedy in Brazil, said physician and epidemiologist Daphne Rattner, a professor at the University of Brasilia and president of the Network for the Humanization of Childbirth.

“Hypertensive syndrome is the main cause of death in Brazil, while in the world it is hemorrhage. In other words, there is some failure in a simple diagnosis like hypertension and in managing it during pregnancy and childbirth,” she said in an interview with IPS from Brasilia.

Of the 38,919 maternal deaths between 1996 and 2018 in Brazil, 8,186 were due to hypertension and 5,160 to hemorrhage, according to a Health Ministry report. These are direct obstetric causes, which accounted for just over two-thirds of the deaths. The rest had indirect causes, pre-existing conditions that complicate childbirth, such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

An excess of cesarean sections is another factor in mortality. It is “an epidemic” of 1.6 million operations per year, the Health Ministry acknowledges. This is equivalent to about 56 percent of the total number of deliveries. The proportion reaches 85 percent in private hospitals and stands at 40 percent in public services, well above the 10 percent rate recommended by the WHO.

“They don’t practice obstetrics, they practice surgery, they don’t know how to provide clinical care, and the result is more maternal deaths,” Rattner lamented.

COVID and Discrimination Aggravated Maternal Mortality in Latin America | Inter Press Service (ipsnews.net)

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Tree (short story)

 A Short Story from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time there was a garden. In this garden was a tree. Once the tree had been useful and small plants had been able to grow tall in its shade. Now it had grown too large, too ugly and too dangerous. The owners of the garden, who were many, were unhappy. Complaints could often be heard against the effects of the tree; its leaves falling in the autumn created a messy nuisance and its great hulk blocked out the sun preventing small flowers from growing. Also the tree had thin spines on its trunk that often injured small children who happened to fall against it. Something had to be done. So the owners of the garden called in the gardeners.

The first gardener was a large man with a red face. He was old and dressed in a suit of heavy green tweed. The owners of the garden gathered round and he spoke to them; “This tree is very old,” he said, “it was planted by our ancestors many years ago. An excellent specimen of its type. It gives fine fruit year after year. Without it the garden would become a jungle rank with weeds. There is nothing wrong with this tree.” Now much that the first gardener said was true. It was true that the tree was old and that it was a very large and, at least from a distance, good looking tree, And it did produce fruit regularly each year. Yet the fruit, although large and tasty, was nutritionally worthless and went rotten easily. Further who could know what the garden would be like without the tree? Many of the owners remained doubtful of what the gardener had said. So they called in another one.

The second gardener was as different from the first as can he. He was young and good looking although his ears were rather too large. He was very enthusiastic and had a wide smile on his face. “I think I have the solution to all your worries,” he declared, “all that is needed is a few subtle alterations which I shall undertake for you.” The owners of the garden were quite happy and let the gardener get on with his “alterations”. These did not take long, and before dawn the next day these were complete. At first no—one could see very much different—the tree was still there and seemed no different. Yet on closer inspection things had changed. On each of the vicious thorns a tiny rubber ball had been placed and around the tree above head height nearly invisible nets had been erected to catch falling leaves. For a while this worked well. Children playing near the tree were safe from harm and there was no more mess from decaying leaves. Yet after a while things began to change. The rubber balls rotted in the wet weather arid eventually fell off. The nets tore in the high winds and finally were ripped away completely away. Before long things were as bad as before. The people were disheartened and called in a third gardener.

The next gardener was something different again. You could see from his piercing blue eyes and his spiky little beard that he meant business. The sunlight gleamed on the bald dome of his head, as he announced; “Comrades, drastic times call for drastic action. I know what must be done with this evil and appalling plant. We shall deal with it vigorously.” Although the man announced the formation of an “anti—tree movement” very few people were interested and he had failed to mention exactly what his plans were. That night be carried them out regardless and in the morning the owners of the garden were faced with the result. “Behold the People’s Tree”. This time there was no doubt that something major had been done. The tree had been painted a bright and shining pink, Its trunk had been shaved of the offending spikes and its branches drastically pruned. Some of the people were aghast at the new appearance of the tree for it was very offensive to look at and the surgery had caused it to give out a foul and possibly dangerous as well. Others were very happy for the new tree had none of the drawbacks of the old. Most, however, did not care one way or the other. Again for a while everything was fine, and everyone grew used to the appearance of the tree. Before long however the tree began to change back. Its thorns grew back but now twice as many, and overhead the branches multiplied. Soon it was worse than before for the tree had began to grow and was now undermining the foundations of the house where the owners lived. The owners of the garden despaired of gardeners and began to doubt that there was a solution to their problems.

Then one of the owners of the garden stood up. He was nothing special, of no particular height, neither old or young and undistinguished in appearance. “I think I know the problem and can think of the solution. The tree must go. We must dig it up, roots as well and dispose of it. But everyone must help to make a proper job of it.” The owners of the garden argued and debated but eventually they came to the conclusion that, yes, the tree must go. The people worked at the job for many a long hour, cutting and hacking away the branches, sawing down the great trunk, then digging out the roots and filling in the hole. Eventually the task was completed. Now the garden looked brighter than it ever had before, its flowers larger, the grass greener. And because it was no longer blighted by the existence of the tree everyone cared for it better. No-one missed the tree once it had gone.


End Air Pollution to Save Lives


A new study published by researchers from the University of Wisconsin (UW) in the journal GeoHealth on Monday, notes that, by eliminating air pollution resulting from energy-related activities in the U.S., more than 53,000 premature deaths could be avoided on an annual basis. 

Researchers found that reducing the amount of air-based pollutants would have a profound impact on public health in the immediate term — and that it would also have long-term positive effects when it comes to transitioning away from unsustainable energy sources and addressing the climate crisis as a whole.

A reduction in pollutants would also likely benefit groups of people who are more susceptible than others to these types of pollutants, an EPA report stated.

“These groups include children, pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with pre-existing heart and lung disease,” the EPA said, as well as people “in low socioeconomic neighborhoods and communities [that] may be more vulnerable to air pollution.”

A study from last year, for example, found that 74 million lives could be saved by the end of this century if energy-based air pollution was eliminated by the year 2050.

Eliminating Air Pollution Could Save More Than 53,000 Lives Per Year, Study Says (truthout.org)

"The Monster"

 Local Colombians  call it "The Monster." El Cerrejon is the biggest open-cast coal mine in Latin America, and one of the biggest in the world. It is owned by the Swiss company Glencore. It sprawls across more than 69,000 hectares, an area the size of 100 soccer fields, and gulps down 30 million liters of water every day in the barren semi-desert of Colombia's second-poorest department, La Guajira. In return, it assuages the global hunger for coal by producing 30 million tonnes of it per year.

Dulcy Cotes, one of the almost 700,000 indigenous Wayuu people, who live in Venezuela and north-eastern Colombia and a prominent member of the organization Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu [Force of Wayuu Women], explains, "The transnational companies are suffocating us with their greed for profit."

The mine employs thousands of people, in a region where there are almost no other jobs and every second person lives in poverty.

Dulcy Cotes describes the back-breaking work they are made to do in the mine. "The people who are employed there work 12 hours at a stretch: the early shift from 6am till 6pm, or the night shift from 6pm to 6am They get sick from this, and from all the coal dust. It's maximum exploitation. If they fall ill and demand compensation, they have to sue for it; the company never pays of its own accord."

Human rights lawyer Rosa Maria Mateus Parra describes El Cerrejón's unpleasant story. Its grim chapters bear titles like: exploitation, expropriation, forced resettlement, expulsion, destruction, irreparable environmental damage. Furthermore, in recent years the childhood mortality rate has risen sharply. 

Around 5,000 Wayuu children have died of starvation and thirst in the region around the mine. This horrifying figure even prompted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to get involved.

"It's caused by the shortage of water, because rivers and streams are contaminated, or have dried up," Mateus Parra explains. "And the lack of food, because coal is now mined where indigenous communities grew their vegetables. Those children who survive have skin rashes and respiratory diseases because of the fine particle pollution. We've proved all of this in court."

"The provincial government of La Guajira is among the most corrupt in the country. And what we see coming out of Bogota is a political line that, in relation to economic and business interests, is one thing above all: subservient! No one examines it too closely when a company like Cerrejon Coal boasts that it is protecting fauna and flora and implementing reforestation, even though the reality is completely different." Mateus Parra says.

Stefan Ofteringer works in Colombia for Misereor, the aid organization of the Catholic Church, says, "On the one hand, there is this massive destruction. Then there is the huge quantity of fine particle pollution, both from mining and from the transportation of coal. And the earth tremors, and the noise from the daily blasting. Germany's Garzweiler mine [an open-cast lignite mine, one of the biggest in the country] is child's play in comparison."

Germany′s dirty Colombian coal | Latin America | DW | 26.05.2022

Thursday, May 26, 2022

CEO hit it rich, again


The rewards for chief executives who run S&P 500 companies soared 17.1% last year, to a median $14.5 million.  

It is in stark contrast with the 4.4% increase in wages and benefits netted by private-sector workers through 2021. The raises for many rank-and-file workers also failed to keep up with inflation, which reached 7% at the end of last year.

 At half the companies in this year’s pay survey, it would take the worker at the middle of the company’s pay scale at least 186 years to make what their CEO did last year.

Expedia Group’s, valued at $296.2 million and JPMorgan Chase’s $84.4 million, boards gave particularly big grants of stock or stock options to recently appointed CEOs . JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, whose compensation package valued at $84.4 million was the fifth-highest in the AP survey. That was up 166.7% from a year earlier, and most of it came from an award of stock options valued at $52.6 million. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, who ranks No. 4 in the AP’s pay survey this year with a package valued at $98.7 million. Just $3 million of that is salary. The vast majority came from a grant of restricted stock, valued at $82.3 million.

Consider Marry Barra, CEO of General Motors. Her industry was particularly hard hit by the shortage of computer chips, which snarled auto production. Even so, GM’s board highlighted how the company still delivered record earnings before interest, taxes and some other items. The automaker also accelerated development of its electric vehicles. Those are two of the factors that influence Barra’s pay, and her compensation climbed 25.4% to $29.1 million.

“I would hope that the corporation making record profits would recognize that the workers doing the work are the ones generating the revenue,” said Dave Green, a hot metal driver at a GM facility in Bedford, Indiana. “We’re just trying to get by.”

CEO pay rose 17% in 2021 as profits soared; workers trailed | AP News