Sunday, December 21, 2014

Workers of The World - 21

0 comments
Peasants, workers and indigenous people of Peru

 Indigenous Peruvian farmworker Maxima Acuña de Chaupe withstood violent eviction attempts, beatings, and a legal battle to protect her land from being turned into an open-pit gold mine

For over three years, indigenous Peruvian farmworker Maxima Acuña de Chaupe has refused to allow a U.S.-based multinational corporation to turn her land into an open-pit gold mine, withstanding multiple violent eviction attempts by corporate and state agents.
On Wednesday, Acuña de Chaupe finally saw victory when a Peruvian appeals court struck down a lawsuit levied by the Yanacocha mine—which is 51 percent owned by Colorado's Newmont Mining Corporation—that had sought to expel and imprison the family for "invading" their own land.
The ruling is an important win in a case that has become a rallying point for local resistance to multinational plunder.

In 1994, Acuña de Chaupe and her family built their home in Tragadero Grande in the region of Cajamarca next to the Blue Lagoon of Celendin. This lake was sought after for the building of the open-pit Conga gold mining project—an extension of the one at Yanacocha.
This mine is widely opposed by peasant, worker, and indigenous peoples in the region, who have protested its resource extraction, exploitation, displacement, and environmental harm with with mass marches and general strikes.
When Yanacocha sought to buy Acuña de Chaupe's land in 2011, she refused, in a bid to protect the environment and her family's home.

"I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure," Acuña de Chaupe told New Internationalist Magazine two years ago. "From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals!" "Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?"

What ensued, according to Acuña de Chaupe, was a corporate intimidation campaign, orchestrated by the mining company with the aid of private security and the Peruvian state. Acuña de Chaupe says she and her family have faced at least three violent eviction attempts by the company, aided by Peruvian police and soldiers. One beating left Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious and landed her son in the hospital.
The plight of Acuña de Chaupe and her family sparked outrage and support from regional and international organizations, including the Women's Movement of Peru and World March of Women. At the recent People's Summit in Lima, Peru, climate justice advocates held a large rally in solidarity with Acuña de Chaupe.

When Acuña de Chaupe refused to give in, Yanacocha sued her and her family on charges they were illegally occupying their own land. In August, a judge sentenced four members of her family to "to two years and eight months of suspended imprisonment for not vacating the land," Telesur reports. "The judge also ordered the family to pay close to US$2,000 in penalties."

Wednesday's ruling, however, tosses out all of these sentences.

"I want to thank the judges of the court of justice of Cajamarca for being impartial and applying justice and for not permitting that we the farmworkers suffer at the hands of Yanacocha," Acuña de Chaupe declared following her acquittal. "I pray to God to take care of them. During the four years this process has lasted, many authorities tortured me, defamed me, and persecuted me. But here we have good authorities."

from here + 4 minute video link




(Mis)Understanding Capitalism

0 comments



Reason Number 13,336 Why Capitalism Will Be The Death Of Us.

0 comments

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria – the “superbugs” – if left unchecked, could result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050. New drugs to fight the superbugs are desperately needed. But a panel advising President Obama warned in September that “there isn’t a sufficiently robust pipeline of new drugs to replace the ones rendered ineffective by antibiotic resistance.”

The problem, it appears, is that “Antibiotics generally provide low returns on investment, so they are not a highly attractive area for research and development.”

Aha! “Low returns on investment”! What could be simpler to understand? Is it not a concept worth killing and dying for? Just as millions of Americans died in the 20th century so corporations could optimize profits by not protecting the public from tobacco, lead, and asbestos.

Corporations are programmed to optimize profits without regard for the society in which they operate, in much the same way that cancer cells are programmed to proliferate without regard for the health of their host.

from here by William Blum

Breaking the chain

0 comments
The whole meat industry system is built around producing cheap meat and it means that fewer and fewer low-income families, even in the developed world, have access to high-quality meat.  

Undocumented workers, many from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, formed a perfect corporate workforce: thankful for their pay cheques, willing to endure harsh working conditions, unlikely to unionise or even complain. “They don’t ask for breaks. They don’t ask for raises,” one worker at the Hormel plant in Fremont told me. “They just work harder and harder, because they need to work.”

In modern meat-packing plants, the rate of production is set by a chain conveyor system. The chain determines everything about how a day in the plant goes, and workers often talk about it as if it were a living thing, something to be feared.

In 2006 and 2007, when the American mortgage crisis began to peak and then stock markets crashed worldwide, the freedom to run faster production lines positioned Hormel to capitalise on demand the economic downturn created for budget-friendly meat like Spam without significantly increasing its workforce or raising wages to match the elevated output. The industry has been stretched to the breaking point by the drive for cheaper and cheaper meat. And Hormel, in particular, with its runaway demand for Spam and no government regulation to slow things down, has pushed its lines to breakneck speeds.Consider this:
 In 2002, Hormel’s production lines were running at 900 pigs per hour; by 2007, they were running 1,350 pigs per hour. That’s a 50% increase in five years, but the number of workers on the line increased by only about 15%. So, obviously, everyone is working harder, working faster, and mistakes occur, like the incident involving Maria Lopez.

Statistically, people who work at any meat-packing plant for five years have a nearly 50-50 chance of suffering a serious injury. And an extensive study of packing-house workers conducted by the University of Iowa in 2008 suggested that the number of injuries may be significantly under-reported. The study found that the large numbers of undocumented workers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America are almost half as likely to report an injury or job-related illness as their white counterparts.

Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads would go sliding along the belt. Workers sliced off the ears, clipped the snouts, chiselled the cheek meat. They scooped out the eyes, carved out the tongues, and scraped the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. The last worker harvested the brains by inserting the metal nozzle of a 90lb-per-square-inch compressed-air hose into the opening at the back of each skull, tripping a trigger that blasted the pig’s brains into a pink slurry. (The brains were sold in Asia as a thickener for stir-fry.) But each burst of air was also aerosolising small amounts of porcine brain tissue, which workers were unknowingly inhaling. The workers’ immune systems produced antibodies to destroy the foreign cells, but because porcine and human neurological cells are so similar, the antibodies didn’t recognise when the foreign cells had been eliminated – and began destroying the healthy human neural tissue of the workers. In the end, the plant experienced what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified as an “epidemic of neuropathy”, involving about two dozen employees, nearly all of them Hispanic, including several who sustained permanent brain, spine and nerve damage. Once the cause was clear, the machines were shut off. But after they filed workers’ compensation claims, many say they were fired for not having legal immigration status; some received compensation.

The speed of pork production is not only affecting the health and safety of workers on the line; now lines are moving so fast that the safety of consumers is being placed at risk. Inspectors have discovered pig carcasses with lesions from tuberculosis, septic arthritis (with bloody fluid pouring from joints) and smears from faecal matter and intestinal contents. But the plants were never shut down. The chain never stopped. The US Department of Agriculture’s inspector general warned that these “recurring, severe violations may jeopardise public health” but concluded that because they do not face substantial consequences for repeated food safety violations, “the plants have little incentive to improve their slaughter processes”. Despite the report, the agriculture department is not only advocating continuing a self-inspection pilot project, but now is proceeding along a path towards implementing it across the US. The government is arguing that the results of the programme are sufficiently encouraging that the US should expand it to more than 600 pork processing plants across America. Food safety advocates are asking the obvious question: in what sane universe do you make America’s worst violators into the new model?

In 2012, one of the participating Canadian packing houses was involved in the largest meat recall in the country’s history, more than 12m pounds of beef in all, after 18 people were sickened by E coli from meat processed at that plant. That same year, the US Food Safety and Inspection Service visited the participating plants in Australia and, according to internal communications, found repeated contamination of meat by faecal and intestinal matter. In November 2013, the European commission published its own audit of Australian meat from those plants being exported to Europe and concluded that the privatised meat inspection system was not in compliance with EU food safety regulations. In New Zealand, an exposé found that company-employed inspectors were less likely to report problems than their government counterparts –and even threatened government inspectors when they attempted to slow or stop production because of food safety violations. One government inspector reported “seeing copious amounts of faecal and other contamination being missed by the company inspectors”. When asked the reason, he responded bluntly: “It’s the speed of the chain.”

Because the speed of the chain determines everything about production – from the farms to the factories to the grocery counter – it gives new meaning to the Communist Manifesto slogan  “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.”




For immigration

0 comments

Does immigration exacerbate inequality? The assumption that less immigration equals less inequality is fundamentally flawed. Katy Long in her new book, 'The Huddled Masses: Immigration and Inequality', presents evidence indicating that freedom of movement can play a vital role in combating poverty and opening up opportunities for both immigrants and a state’s native population. She argues that a restrictive migration policy in a country like the UK would only serve to entrench divisions between citizens across both economic and social spheres.

Although their policy proposals vary, Cameron, Farage, and Miliband seem agreed on one fundamental, that mass immigration exacerbates inequality. ‘Ordinary, hard-working people of this country’ do not benefit from mass migration, instead they lose wages, jobs, opportunities that were previously theirs. UKIP’s is partly a result of a campaign that insisted immigrants keep Britons poor. For if the problem is inequality, and ‘uncontrolled, mass immigration displaces British workers, forces people onto benefits, and suppresses wages for the low-paid’, then surely the equation is simple. Less immigration equals less inequality. It is a simple seductive story.

Kat Long, however shows that this assumption is mistaken. There is in fact overwhelming empirical evidence that enabling freedom of movement for labour opens up opportunities, not just for immigrants and foreigners, but for the poor here too.

The World Bank has estimated that up to 50 per cent of a person’s income is determined by only one variable – their country of citizenship. And in a world where only 3 per cent of us are international migrants, our country of citizenship is overwhelmingly an accident of birth. Migration offers an obvious means to overcome these arbitrary inequalities of birth: the United Nations Development Programme determined in 2009 that migrants who moved from a low-income to a high-income country saw, on average, a 15-fold increase in income, a doubling of education enrollment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality numbers.

There is now a process of creating an immigration system that – supposedly bent on protecting “our” poor from “those” migrants – is in fact fast turning legal migration into a privilege accessible only to corporations or those with personal wealth. These new migration policies are not just cynical but regressive: they often harm the very citizens they are ostensibly designed to protect. The continued relevance of nation-states isn’t to be found in an appeal to patriotic nostalgia: it’s to be found in the working of institutions and services – schools, hospitals, transport – that make citizenship something tangible. Yet in insisting that immigration exacerbates inequality, we are ignoring the vital contributions that migrants – including the low-skilled and low-waged – make to these institutions continued functioning and who are only too often the human face of our health, social care and education systems.

For instance, new minimum income requirements mean 47 per cent of the British public – and 60 per cent of women – now fail to meet the minimum income required in order to sponsor a foreign relative into the country. Since July 2012, anyone wanting to sponsor their non-EEA spouse’s visa for the UK must show that their annual income exceed £18,600 (rising to £22,400 for a spouse and a child, with an additional £2,400 asked for every further child). These are you’re your average families, many of whom work in public sector jobs. While this is a policy ostensibly aimed at keeping poor migrants out, researchers from Middlesex University have concluded that this policy not only risks creating a tier of second-class citizens, but it may in fact end up costing the UK taxpayer up to £850 million in the next decade. This is because UK citizens who have been left coping as single parents while their partners wait in immigration limbo are unable to take-up full-time employment and are forced to rely upon state benefits.

Another example of migration law entrenching division is the growth of the billion-dollar Migration Industry. At first glance it might seem less obvious why the industry – populated by such multinational conglomerates as G4S and Serco – also disadvantages poor citizens. After all, new detention centres and border patrols help to employ thousands of citizens, often for low wages and in geographically marginalised areas where job opportunities are scarce. As researchers found in March 2014, when interviewing locals in Weymouth about the opening of new detention centre the Verne, ‘‘everyone ‘knows someone who knows someone’ who will work at the Verne… it’s all about jobs”. Yet these jobs are low-paid and precarious: these workers do not share in the profits of the migration industry. Trade unions have consistently produced evidence that employees of companies like G4S and state border agencies like the United Kingdom Border Agency  are often poorly trained, constrained by unresponsive management structures that deliberately foster cultures of hostility. This means the migration industry does not protect Western workers from poverty as much as it entrenches them in it, taking advantage of immobility in socially marginalised and geographically isolated communities in pursuit of more profit.

Survival Crime

0 comments
Shoplifting has soared in the past year as people battle austerity cuts. There were more than 21,000 extra thefts from stores across England and Wales, a rise of near 7% per cent, figures reveal. In the year up to last June there 321,014 shoplifting crimes. The worst hit area was London with 37,680 thefts. The all-party Parliamentary group on food poverty and hunger revealed it had heard evidence from police officers about the rise of ‘survival crime’.
 PC Helen Priestley, of Devon and Cornwall Police, told the inquiry: “We are concerned that although there has been a reduction in almost every type of crime shoplifting has seen a 16 per cent rise across the county.”

Nicky Gjorven, a duty sergeant at Northumbria Police, warned: “It’s now your essentials rather than your alcohol and sweets that were stolen in the past.”

The Citizens Advice Bureau spokeswoman Julia Hannaford said: “One of the reasons for shoplifting is levels of usemployment, benefits being cut and coping with the cost of living. It suggests criminality is poverty-related.”

Blackpool foodbank boss Chris Phillips said essentials like food and clothes were stolen. “We are not saying it is right,” he added. “But sometimes people do not have a choice. They have to feed their families.”

The Failure of Philanthropy

0 comments
After 10 years and an investment of $1 billion, none of the projects funded under the Gates Foundation’s  Grand Challenges program has yet made a significant contribution to saving lives and improving health in the developing world, according to thisarticle in the Seattle Times.

Launched with fanfare a decade ago, the original Grand Challenges program mobilized leading scientists to tackle some of the toughest problems in global health. Gates handed out nearly half a billion dollars in grants to 45 “dream teams” of researchers working on everything from tuberculosis drugs and new vaccine strategies to advanced mosquito repellents and bananas genetically engineered to boost nutrition. Not only did he underestimate some of the scientific hurdles, Gates said. He and his team also failed to adequately consider what it would take to implement new technologies in countries where millions of people lack access to basic necessities such as clean water and medical care.

So in 2008 he introduced a program of small, highly focused grants called Grand Challenges Explorations. With headline-grabbing goals like condoms that feel good and waste-to-energy toilets, the explorations initiative has probably garnered more media attention than anything else the giant philanthropy has undertaken. But none of those projects has yet borne fruit, either.

“Was the program actually a success?” asked Nobel Prize-winning biologist Harold Varmus, who served on the founding board. “We don’t know.”

Among Bill Gates’ favorite projects is an effort to eliminate Dengue fever by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria that block disease transmission. Another is a spinoff biotech working on a probiotic to cure cholera. But critics say projects like those demonstrate the foundation’s continuing emphasis on technological fixes, rather than on the social and political roots of poverty and disease.

Dr. David McCoy, a public-health expert at Queen Mary University, London, said “It’s in looking constantly for new solutions, rather than tackling the barriers to existing solutions.” The toll of many diseases could be lowered simply by strengthening health systems in developing countries, he said. Instead, programs like Grand Challenges — heavily promoted by the Gates Foundation’s PR machine — divert the global community’s attention from such needs, McCoy argues.

There exits a disconnect between laboratory science and the field. An effort to develop vaccines that don’t need refrigeration yielded good ideas, but it didn’t make sense to commercialize the technology because the entire vaccine-distribution system in Africa is built around the use of refrigeration.
Several Gates-funded, high-tech toilets were installed in the Indian city of Raichur last year, at a cost of about $8,000 each, residents refused to use them. Many of the other toilet prototypes funded through Grand Challenges are so complex, with solar panels and combustion chambers, they would never prove practical. Jason Kass, founder of Toilets for People, a company that sells simple, composting toilets to nonprofits in the developing world, explained in the  New York Times that “Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet…If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything, it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work. ”


Artificial Scarcity

0 comments
Our lives are driven by fear. Fear leads us to political apathy regarding our power. Exploitative capitalism leave us feeling hopeless. Our nature is presented in dualities.  Are we competitive or cooperative? Generous or greedy? Violent or peaceful? A common theme among religion has been that human beings are “born into sin” and heavily influenced by “evil forces” to do harmful things. Human beings are not capable of co-existing in harmony without the threat of a supreme being bringing down divine retribution.

Are we really drawn toward conflict? Must we compete with one another to survive? Peter Kropotkin in his classic Mutual Aid observed “Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution?”

There is ample evidence that we are drawn to cooperation.

“Caring about others is part of our mammalian heritage, and humans take this ability to a high level,” explains neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt. “Helping other people seems to be our default approach, in the sense that we’re more likely to do it when we don’t have time to think a situation through before acting. After a conflict, we and other primates-including our famously aggressive relatives, the chimpanzees-have many ways to reconcile and repair relationships.”

So, if we are truly inclined to cooperate with one another, why is there so much division and turmoil in the world? The answer is to be found in the mechanisms of capitalism, its creation of artificial scarcity as a means to maintain hierarchies. It is no secret that capitalism thrives off exploitation. It needs a large majority of people to be completely reliant on their labor power. It needs private property to be accessible to only a few, so that they may utilize it as a social relationship where the rented majority can labor and create value. It needs capital to be accessible to only a few, so that they may regenerate and reinvest said capital in a perpetual manner. And it needs a considerable population of the impoverished and unemployed – “a reserve army of labor,” as Marx put it – in order to create a “demand” for labor and thus make such exploitative positions “competitive” to those who need to partake in them to merely survive. It needs these things in order to stay intact – something that is desirable to the 85 richest people in the world who own more than half of the world’s entire population (3.6 billion people)

But wealth accumulation through alienation and exploitation is not enough in itself. The system also needs to create scarcity where it does not already exist. Even Marx admitted that capitalism has given us the productive capacity to provide all that is needed for the global population. In other words, capitalism has proven that scarcity does not exist. And, over the years, technology has confirmed this. But, in order for capitalism to survive, scarcity must exist, even if through artificial means. Maintaining scarcity is necessary for wealth enhancement. It is not enough that accumulation flows to a very small section of the population, but more so that a considerable portion of the population is faced with the inherent struggles related to inaccessibility. For example, if millions of people are unable to access basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare, the commodification of those needs becomes all the more effective. On the flip side, the mere presence of accessibility – or wealth – which is enjoyed by the elite becomes all the more valuable because it is highly sought after. In this sense, it is not the accumulation of personal wealth that creates advantageous positions on the socioeconomic ladder; it’s the impoverishment of the majority. Allowing human beings access to basic necessities would essentially destroy the allure (and thus, power) of wealth and the coercive nature of forced participation. This effect is maintained through artificial scarcity – the coordinated withholding of basic needs from the majority. 

A crucial part of this process is commodification – the “transformation of goods and services, as well as ideas or other entities that normally may not be considered goods, into commodities” that can be bought, sold, used and discarded. The most important transformation is that of the working-class majority who, without the means to sustain on their own, are left with a choice between (1) laboring to create wealth for a small minority and accepting whatever “wages” are provided, or (2) starving. When society commodifies the bare necessities of life, they are commodifying human beings, whose labor can be bought and sold. Underneath the pseudo-philosophical rationalizations for capitalism is a defense of wage slavery. For, if your labor is for sale, then you are for sale.

We are for sale, and we sell ourselves everyday – in the hopes of acquiring a wage that allows us to eat, sleep, and feed our families. In the United States, the 46 million people living in poverty haven’t been so lucky. The 2.5 million who have defaulted on their student loans have been discarded. The 49 million who suffer from food insecurity have lost hope. The 3.5 million homeless are mocked by 18.6 million vacant homes. And the 22 million who are unemployed or underemployed have been deemed “unfit commodities” and relegated to the reserve army of labor.

In Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin offers a glimpse into this world not constructed on labor, profit, and artificial scarcity:

“It is easy to foresee a time, by no means remote, when a rationally organized economy could ‘automatically manufacture small ‘packaged’ factories without human labor; parts could be produced with so little effort that most maintenance tasks would be reduced to the simple act of removing a defective unit from a machine and replacing it by another-a job no more difficult than pulling out and putting in a tray. Machines would make and repair most of the machines required to maintain such a highly industrialized economy. Such a technology, oriented entirely toward human needs and freed from all consideration of profit and loss, would eliminate the pain of want and toil-the penalty, inflicted in the form of denial, suffering and inhumanity, exacted by a society based on scarcity and labor.”


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Leaked: Secret Deal To Steal Our Privacy

0 comments
A new leak exposes US attempts to boost mega-corporations by undermining privacy rights and internet freedoms through the top-secret TISA trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Associated Whistleblowing Press published a new leak revealing US attempts to undermine privacy rights, net neutrality and internet freedoms through top-secret negotiations over the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Even a quick glance at the leaked document is already extremely revealing. At the top of its front page, in capital letters, the word CONFIDENTIAL is highlighted — and further down the full extent of the treaty’s secret nature is revealed: “Declassify on five years from entry into force of the TISA agreement.”

A full reading and understanding of the text, however, not only explains these harsh terms, but makes them necessary. Because what government would tell its citizens, explicitly, that they are opening the door for mega-corporations to take control of their public services? What company would clearly inform its customers that their private data will be handed over to foreign entities without any restrictions? In the case of TISA, when the players involved include the US, the EU and more than twenty other countries — together making up almost 70% of the world services market — the answers are painfully obvious.
As Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (a global federation of unions that represents over 200 million workers, and one of the most active voices against TISA) puts it: “the leaked documents confirm our worst fears: that TISA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth.” These interests, of course, are directly opposed to those of most of the world population.

Where did TISA come from?

To understand the nature of the treaty, we have to go back to 2001, when the Doha rounds of the World Trade Organization intended to tear down all barriers and limitations to global commerce. After the failure of these negotiations and other similar treaties — such as ALCA — the global powers began the process of signing bilateral and multilateral treaties to achieve their goals. The objective is always the same: to open up all possible services to international competition on a minimally regulated market.
The global financial crisis of 2008, however, forced a drastic change of plans, and there were even a couple of important voices that timidly spoke out against the deregulatory trend they believed had sparked the crisis. At this point, the big fish behind this trend of market liberalization — the United States, Canada, the European Union and Switzerland — conceded, if only for a while.
But now that the smoke has cleared these same countries and the powerful business lobbies behind them — who actually call themselves ‘Really Good Friends of Services’ and who claim that there is no connection between market deregulation and the global financial crisis — are planning to bypass public concerns through secrecy and completely liberalize up to 70% of all services worldwide, even those related to our personal privacy.

“The end of privacy as we know it”

All of this is why, for now, the little information we have about TISA has come to us through a set of carefully leaked documents. The first time the public caught a glimpse of what was happening between negotiators in Geneva was thanks to Wikileaks, who published a chapter on finance last June, revealing that these global powers were well on their way to achieve their plans for further deregulation by the time public concern had diminished.
The new documents — technically referred to as the United States’ Proposal of New Provisions Applicable to All Services and the Annex of Professional Services — shed a whole new light on the scope of the treaty: legal services, private education, veterinary care, taxation services and even bookkeeping are all on the table, as well as technical services such as internet providers, electronic transactions, digital signatures and Big Data flow.

This last point, relating to the movement of information, is particularly serious. Article X.4 states that “no party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in conduct of the service supplier’s business.” According to lawyer Josep Jover, an expert in intellectual property, this spells “the end of privacy as we know it,” as “the consumer becomes fuel for the services provider.”

On this issue, Rosa Pavanelli is once again crystal clear: “Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individual rights … Negotiating provisions that potentially circumvent privacy laws in the interests of corporate profits is a scandal. The TISA negotiators have now lost the confidence of the public and can only regain it with the immediate release of all documents.”

Now that we know that this is probably just wishful thinking, we can only hope that the leaks keep on coming — and the public resistance to this highly secretive trade deal keeps on growing.



Australia's New Migration Bill Strengthens Anti-Immigrant Measures

0 comments
This week's passing into law of Australia’s Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act, which comes on the heels of a year of tightened border controls and refugee intake policy changes, could chill regional cooperation. Experts say it reflects global trends of treating migration as a security problem, and acknowledge that might be an important avenue for Southeast Asian regional policy development.

Since September 2013 Australia has run Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), a military-led initiative the government describes as an effort to “to combat people-smuggling and protect Australia's borders”. Navy ships intercept boats carrying asylum seekers, who are then detained in off-shore processing centres, the conditions of which have been criticized repeatedly, including by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Only one boat has made it to shore in 2014, to resounding cheers of “success” by the government, and condemnation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said OSB was “leading to a chain of human rights violations”.   

In November 2014 Australia reduced its resettlement quota from Indonesia from 600 to 450 and said no refugees registered (with UNHCR) after 1 July 2014 would be eligible for resettlement, sparking criticism from Indonesia, which cited the country’s own current refugee bottleneck (it is host to around 10,000 refugees, who experience notoriously long waits).  
Australia portrayed the move as an export of its domestic success, “designed to reduce the burden, created by people smugglers, of asylum seekers entering Indonesia”. But critics say it “puts into serious question the humanitarian rationale for Australia’s resettlement programme.”

Anne Hammerstad, a lecturer at the UK’s University of Kent said that while the regional dialogue may need to allow focus on migration as a security issue, that discussion alone won’t erode the global construal of migrants as a threat. For Hammerstad, that task is broader – and involves restoring public understanding that migration has been a human behavior throughout history.

“The question is how to get to a point where societies receiving migrants feel that the balance is OK,” she said. Calling the current global migration situation “a bit like a perfect storm”, she explained: “We have refugee receiving countries feeling like their economy is not very solid, coupled with large-scale humanitarian crises and record level migration.”

The current debate, she says, includes a “knee-jerk reaction that migration is unnatural and that the people who migrate are there to abuse your system and take advantage, rather than people who want to prosper in a different place than their home. It’s a lack of empathy in public discourse.

full article here


What did Australia's new migration law do?
The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act changed the way Australia manages and processes asylum seekers by amending five domestic laws: the Maritime Powers Act of 2013, the Migration Act of 1958, the Migration Regulations of 1994, the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946, and the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act of 1977. Much of the bill’s focus was on eliminating references to international law, a tactic Immigration Minister Scott Morrison touted when he introduced the legislation in parliament.
Expanding Australia’s reach, limiting its obligations
For example, the Act removes from the Maritime Powers Act of 2013 the phrase “In accordance with international law, the exercise of powers is limited in places outside Australia,” and adds “Failure to consider international obligations etc. does not invalidate authorization” and “Failure to consider international obligations etc. does not invalidate exercise of powers.”  Putting on paper the Australian Navy’s practice of hauling intercepted boats back to their origin in, for example, Sri Lanka, the bill explains: “To avoid any doubt… a vessel, aircraft or person may be taken (or caused to be taken) to a destination under section… whether or not Australia has an agreement or arrangement with any other country relating to the vessel or aircraft (or the persons in it)… and irrespective of the international obligations or domestic law of any other country.”  
Diluting checks on deportation
The Act even foresaw objections, namely a separate piece of proposed legislation that would amend the Migration Act of 1958 to define Australia’s non-refoulement obligations in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Australia ratified in 1980), and the Convention Against Torture (which Australia ratified in 1989).
Pre-empting its impact, in a section entitled Amendments if this Act commences after the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Act 2014, the MMPLAB read: “It is irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations in respect of an unlawful non-citizen... [And] an officer’s duty to remove as soon as reasonably practicable an unlawful non-citizen under section 198 [of the Migration Act, which outlines removal procedures for unlawful citizens] arises irrespective of whether there has been an assessment, according to law, of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations in respect of the non-citizen.” As one Australian legal researcher explained: “This is saying that Australia is now entitled to return an asylum seeker to a country where they have been, or know they may be, tortured or persecuted.” 



Swiss 'Environmental' Anti-Immigration Plan Is Defeated

0 comments
"Fake ecologists, real fascists. Ecopop No!"


“Fake ecologists, real fascists. Ecopop No!”


A purportedly pro-environment campaign to keep out immigrants has been defeated in Switzerland.
The campaign was initiated by  Ecologie et population — usually abbreviated as Ecopop — which describes itself as “the only environmental organization in Switzerland, which focuses on population growth.” In 2012 it gathered enough signatures to force a binding national referendum on a two-part proposal: to limit annual immigration to 0.2% of the country’s total population, and to devote 10% of Swiss foreign aid to population reduction programs in Third World countries.
In an interview with the BBC, a spokesman for Ecopop explained that both proposals aimed at the same goal: “For Switzerland the key source of the fast growth of population is immigration, hence we have to limit that. If however you look at poor countries the source of the population growth is clearly fertility.”

The Green Party, which called for a no vote, accused Ecopop of scapegoating immigrants for problems they didn’t cause and promoting neo-colonial policies towards poor countries: “It is not our role to say you are having too many children, when in fact we are causing 80% of the environmental pollution.

In the referendum vote, held November 30, voters rejected the Ecopop proposal by a decisive 3-to-1 margin.
That’s an important victory, but the fight is far from over. The right-wing Swiss Peoples Party (SVP), which has more seats in the federal assembly than any other party, also favors strict limits on immigration, and is not averse to using environmental arguments to promote them.
For an idea of where this might lead, look across the border in France, where this week the virulently anti-immigrant National Front launched a movement called New Ecology to campaign for “patriotic” environmental policies including opposition to a global climate agreement and support for France’s nuclear industry. Campaigns such as Ecopop’s strengthen such groups by lending green cover to their racist policies.

from here

For the Socialist Party's stance on overpopulation see this article




Spoiled Food

0 comments
Our food system isn’t working. Obesity is spreading globally and diet-related illnesses are the biggest killers in most higher-income countries. Harsh agricultural methods degrade our lands and both cause climate change and suffer from its consequences.  The UK food system uses roughly eight calories of energy to produce every one calorie of energy from food. The UK food system employs approximately 11% of the UK labour force, but most of them are in the least paid jobs, with salaries of less than half the UK average. We all eat food. But how much does each of us know about what our whole food system really looks like and how it’s changing?

Advocates of the UK's food system will point to the sheer volume of products available as evidence that choice exists and that consumers can vote through spending. But most of these products are owned by the ten or so behemoths (Pepsico, Kraft, Nestle etc.) that dominate the supermarket shelves. The "choice" between different brands is what these multinationals are heralding here—the choice between Doritos and Cheetos, Robinsons and Rubicon—but real alternatives just don't exist. 

"We're fed the story of empowered consumers shaping the markets for the better, that through their purchasing power, product selection, and preference for environmentally friendly goods they can shape the world," says Stephen Devlin, an environmental economist at the NewEconomics Foundation (NEF) "The reality is it's just not that convenient, especially when it comes to food. If anything they're probably the disempowered half of the producer-consumer relationship."

The annual number of people given emergency parcels from food banks last year was almost a million.

"People are struggling to afford food, but that's a reason to change the system, not perpetuate it," says Devlin. "The whole point of the system was to make food cheap and it did that pretty well for quite a long time, with food prices falling pretty consistently in the decades after the war. But if your objective is to eradicate hunger, constantly trying to reduce the price of food won't work. We've basically proven that with the food system we have."

The issue isn't really expensive food, the issue is poverty. The obsession with rock-bottom prices has failed to eradicate hunger in the UK, or the rest of the world. If anything it's contributing to the problem by proliferating dangerous practices—the use of fertilizers, fossil fuels, battery farming, wage poverty—and jeopardizing the environment. The modern agricultural methods utilized are unprecedented in the natural history of the world; the widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, the sheer stress soil goes through in churning out such phenomenal yields, and the huge carbon emissions built up across the supply chain are all contributing to climate change. So much of what we eat will travel an intercontinental web of laboratories, farms, factories, and supermarkets before hitting our plates.

"Climate change and the food system are totally intertwined. It's almost a unanimous opinion amongst commentators and analysts that the way we produce food is hugely detrimental to the environment." explained Devlin. “But that's not all it is. It's just failing on so many other levels as well. Diet related illnesses are ruining us at the moment—obesity, heart disease, diabetes, various cancers—so much of it is about how we eat and that's determined by the food system. The health impact is completely unsustainable."

Nor do the potential risks of genetically modified crops, increased exposure to fraud and disease, and wages for producers suppressed by a chain of middlemen get factored in too much. The "sophisticated" system thrives on consumer ignorance, with many people having a warped perception of how food is produced. Labels rarely offer more detail than the standard traffic lights and percentages on the packets, let alone factory conditions and wider environmental impact. More than one in three 16- to 23-year-olds didn't know bacon came from pigs, according to a survey.

Resistance to change is strengthened by the highly concentrated agricultural land ownership (0.25% of the population own all 17 million hectares.) 

"We can categorically classify it as unsustainable. I'm a big believer in the idea that the power lies with communities, at the grassroots," says Devlin. "That's ultimately where most of the change comes from in order for it to be sustainable and democratic. The problem is the current system puts up a lot of boundaries to that kind of community action…”

A successful food system is one that delivers well being, social justice and environmental stewardship yet within capitalism the distribution of working hours – with most people either overworked or underemployed – forces households to seek time-efficiencies, opting for fast food and ready meals, forces many to compromise on the quality and healthfulness of what they eat and so propping up companies that provide these products.


Race and Inequality

0 comments
 The Great Recession hit American families hard across the board, but it turns out that certain households haven’t recovered as well as others. According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, the wealth inequality in America has widened significantly along racial and ethnic lines since the country began recovering from the Great Recession, and blacks and Hispanics have been hit the hardest.

The poverty rate for black Americans age 18-64 in 2012 was 27%. The rate for white Americans that age was 9.7%, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality reports. Both numbers have risen over the past decade. For black children the poverty rate is 33% — the highest rate of any group of children in the country

$629: The median weekly earnings for a black full-time wage or salary worker in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that to $802 for a white worker. The New York Times reports both numbers have climbed since 1980, but the gap between the two has widened.

$98,305 is the average wealth for black families in 2010. Investopedia defines wealth as "total market value of all [one's] physical and intangible assets," making it a strong indicator of whether a family gets richer or poorer as time passes. The average wealth of white families in that same year was a staggering $631,530. The wealth gap between white and black Americans has widened steadily for at least the past decade.

In 2013, the median wealth of white households was 13 times that of black households. In 2013, the median black household had a wealth of $11,000, compared to $19,200 in 2007.

$33,321 is the median household income for black families in 2012, down from $37,558 in 2007. Compare that to $57,009 for white families in 2012 — a nearly $24,000 gap that hasn't just remained constant, it's actually widened since the early 1970s.

$27,808 is the average amount of student debt for a black college graduate in the class of 2012. The average white student graduated with $19,613, or roughly $8,000 less.

The unemployment rate for black college graduates in 2013 was 13.4%, a number that's been climbing since 2007. That's more than twice the unemployment rate for white grads in 2013, which stood at 5.6%.

Nearly a 100 people murdered by registered members of online white supremacist network Stormfront in the past five years, as of April.

It is 21 times more likely a black male age 15-19 was to be killed by police than a white male the same age between 2010 and 2012

4,347 per 100,000 of black men were incarcerated in 2010. The number for white men that same year was 678 per 100,000.

Madison’s  Young, Gifted and Black Coalition mounted a series of large, peaceful protests over the past few weeks. “We will NOT support the status quo. We will NOT continue to support prison labor and low wages,” they say in their post. “Corporations are making millions off of government subsidies for employees on government assistance,” the organizers argue. 

The current white-to-Hispanic median wealth ratio has reached its highest point since 2001. The study shows that the median white household has 10.3 times the wealth of the median Hispanic household. That number is drastically higher than at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007, when white households had 8.2 times the wealth of Hispanic households. From 2010-2013, the median wealth of Hispanics decreased from $16,000 to $13,700. During the same time frame, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households actually increased by 2.4 percent, rising from $138,600 to $141,900.

While white households have recovered better than both black and Hispanic households, there is still one common trend throughout every group – everyone’s median wealth is still below its pre-recession level.

Who are in the middle?

0 comments
Early this year Hillary Clinton made headlines when, in response to a question about her personal fortune, she claimed her family was “dead broke” when they left the White House. That statement followed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide casting those making $500,000 a year as merely upper middle class. More recently Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s reckoned being a millionaire does not constitute living high above the ranks of ordinary people. The data suggest otherwise. Lew was usually paid between $700,000 and $800,000 a year as New York University’s vice president, while also receiving a $440,000 mortgage subsidy. Lew also earned $300,000 a year from Citigroup, with a “guaranteed incentive and retention award of not less than $1 million.” Lew was given a $940,000 bonus from Citigroup in the same week the bank received a $300 billion bailout from the federal government.

According to IRS data, 99 percent of American households make less than $388,000 a year, and 95 percent make less than $167,000 a year. The true middle in terms of income—that is, the cutoff to be in the top 50 percent of earners—is roughly $35,000 a year.

Of course, there remains a bit of a debate about what constitutes “rich” in America. A recent New York Times poll showed 27 percent of Americans believe a family of four can be considered “rich” if its annual income is between $100,000 and $200,000, while another 20 percent say “rich” is defined as making between $200,000 and $300,000 a year. Two-thirds of the country told the pollsters that making more than $300,000 means a household is wealthy.

A recent study found Americans grossly underestimate the divide between CEO and average worker pay. Such misperseptions were recently spotlighted by comedian Chris Rock in an interview with New York magazine. Of inequality, he said: “People don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.”

Everyone knows about wealth inequality. Everyone knows about poverty. To end global poverty, we have to end global capitalism. There are a host of people’s movements across the world who are trying to battle poverty. But with little success. The Arab Spring was a vast anti-poverty protest – a revolution for “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice” (aish, hurriya, adala igtimaiyya) as the slogan went.. Bread or ‘aish, in the Arabic of Egypt, refers to life. The call for bread is a call for life. What produces poverty? Not the lack of property titles, or the lack of high growth rates or the lack of twenty-first century infrastructure. What produces poverty is a system of social production for private gain — in other words, capitalism.

In capitalism not only accounting but the actual impetus of markets favors accumulation and profit making. Not only pharmaceutical companies but even hospitals are generally seeking market share and profit. Those without money get short shift. Those with money, should be separated from them, if possible. Those who own, whether the pharmaceutical companies or the hospitals or medical practices, should benefit. Profit above all sounds like rhetorical excess but in fact it is only a little wrong. Profit always operates, always pressures, and what is gained that isn’t actually profitable is gained only by virtue of fighting hard against profit making pressures. Ironically, everyone knows this.

Capitalist contradictions - crises emerge - and then get sorted out before the next crisis comes. These crises do not bring capitalism to its knees, do not inaugurate a new order. The agent for the transformation, even in the twenty-first century, remains the working class. This is the class that has no capital. It is more realistic to believe that a socialist alternative, rather than charity or World Bank policies, will make poverty history.



Friday, December 19, 2014

Argentina - Mining Corporations Vs Democracy

0 comments
The past 26th November the people of the Argentinean province of Chubut, in Patagonia, were witnesses to yet another example of the limits of democracy when it comes to affecting the interests of transnational corporations. That province has been in the vanguard of the struggle against mega mining since 2003, when Esquel, located in one of the most beautiful spots of the Andes, became the first Argentinean city in passing a resolution rejecting new mining projects. A few years before, the Canadian transnational company Meridian Gold had located an area rich in gold at some ten kilometers from the city, which promised juicy profits. As is often the case, the project and negotiations with local and provincial authorities advanced in secret, until one of the communities of the mapuche people reported that the company was working in their ancestral land without their consent. After that denunciation, in October 2002 the neighbors of Esquel started to self-organize. Echoing the assemblies’ movement that had mushroomed in the country as part of the 2001 rebellion, a participatory, non-hierarchical Self-Organized Neighbors’ Assembly Against the Mine (Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados por el No a la Mina) became their main organizational structure.

Following a successful campaign and massive demonstrations, the city council agreed on calling a popular consultation. Against the politicians of the main political parties, who campaigned in favor of Meridian Gold, and despite several cases of intimidation of anti-mining campaigners, the result of the consultation, held in March 2003, was overwhelming. 81% of the citizens of Esquel decided they were just fine without a company destroying their mountains and poisoning their waters. Soon after that, other smaller cities in the area, including Trevelín, Lago Puelo and Epuyén, organized their own consultations and decided to ban mega mining. Anti-mining assemblies also sprang in cities on the Atlantic coast of the Patagonian provinces and in the northern Andean region and in other provinces, which came together in the Union of Citizens’ Assemblies (Unión de Asambleas Ciudadanas, UAC), a nationwide environmental and anti-mining coalition. As a result of these early struggles, in 2003 the province of Chubut passed a law banning some types of mega mining. Despite this, transnational corporations kept on exploring the land for new promising sources of benefits and investing tons of money in promoting their projects in the area, which somehow seem to always find enthusiastic governors.

In this scenario, the June 2013 meeting of the UAC, which was held in Chubut’s biggest city on the Atlantic (Comodoro Rivadavia), decided to campaign for a province-wide popular consultation, banning all types of mega mining projects for good.  The province’s constitution, amended twenty years ago, includes mechanisms of semi-direct democracy. If a citizen’s initiative manages to get the support of 3% of the voters, then the provincial congress is forced to discuss it (after which, of course, it can formally approve or dismiss it). Thus, the UAC set to the cities, towns and villages of the province to collect signatures for the new law. After a few months, having found massive popular support, they surpassed the 3% minimum and in last April they formally presented the law to the congress. It was the first time this constitutional right was used in the province.

The bill was scheduled to be treated on 26th November. Of course, anti-mining campaigners were well aware that congressmen could vote against it. As a matter of fact, the provincial government –now in the hands of the peronist Martín Buzzi, an ally of Argentina’s president Cristina Kirchner– has his own majority in the congress and is very much pro-mining. As the debate was expected to be long and heated, anti-mining campaigners camped outside the congress. The severe police repression they faced was an indication that things were not going to go smoothly for them.

What happened in the end was even worse than the worst scenario they had imagined. The provincial congress did not reject the proposed law. Instead, in a tight 15/12 vote, the congressmen of the majority used the opportunity to pass another law, totally different from the one proposed by the campaigners, that was not previously known or under consideration. Basically, the new bill suspends new mining projects for four months, during which the provincial government is mandated to facilitate a wide debate on an issue that –it was argued– still needs “serious” consideration (even if the province has been intensely discussing it since 2002). After the four months of debates are over, the new bill instructs the governor to call for a popular consultation on mining, and to take its result as mandatory. This would sound as good news for anti-mining campaigners, who had the idea to do that in the first place. But the tricky bill that was passed demanded that the popular consultation was not held in the province altogether, but dividing it by “zones”, so that if one zone wants to have mines it can have them, while regions that oppose, don’t. That was precisely the strategy of mining corporations for the province. Since some areas –like Esquel and other Andean towns– are (for the time being) considered lost, the best way to go about popular resistance is to try in others. The new bill not only enables that, but in fact also cancels the validity of the 2003 provincial law that had partially banned some types of mega mining. It is the perfect dream for companies.

In fact, in the past years both the governor and the businessmen have been pushing together to promote silver, uranium and lead mining projects in the central plateau of the province, an area of scattered and impoverished little villages where transnational corporations have been running “corporate social responsibility” initiatives for a decade, hoping to win the hearts and minds of the inhabitants. It is not sure, but quite possible, that the combination of this kind of bribery and the forms of intimidation already used in the Andean towns may win pro-miners some local victories. And although it may sound “democratic” to let each community chose, in reality it is not. As campaigners have argued, the provincial courses of water run through the central plateau. Any contamination there will affect the whole province. If the corporations get away with it, it would mean that a village of 300 people will have the right to decide on the water that use 200.000.

As if this political move was not scandalous enough, the peronist congressman Gustavo Muñiz, who voted against the popular initiative and for the new unexpected law, was caught in a rather infuriating photograph taken during the session. As the bill was under debate, the photo shows him chatting on his mobile phone with Gastón Berardi, local executive officer of the Canadian mining corporation Yamana Gold. The image is clear enough as to read what they were saying. While Berardi was indicating a needed change in the fourth article of the new bill so as to make “zoning” clearer, the congressman replied that he needed not worry as the governor would interpret it correctly upon implementation. The photograph went immediately viral throughout the country, forcing the main national newspapers –initially little inclined to report on this matter– to run stories about it. Muñiz had to publicly admit that he was taking “suggestions” from a company at the very moment a law was being debated in congress. (He seems to have been less keen on chatting with campaigners or normal folks.) No wonder that the spokespeople of the anti-mining movements denounced that, in Chubut, congressmen answer to foreign corporations and not to the people.

Meanwhile, as the journalist Darío Aranda reported, the President of the Mining Chamber of Chubut, Néstor Alvarez, declared that he was happy with the new law, which, for him “opens up a new perspective” for the advance of mining in the province.

As this story unfolds, it seems that the last word was still not heard. Anti-mining movements in the province are strong and determined and it would not be surprising that the scandal returns as a backlash against the winning party. Several voices, including the Catholic Church and La Campora –the youth branch of the kirchneristas– have already demanded a government veto against the new law. Esquel, Rawson and other provincial cities have already organized massive demonstrations against politicians and their corrupt behavior. Campaigners already knew it, but Muñiz’s awkward photo made it blatantly clear for everyone else in the country. Corporations pose a serious threat not only to the environment, but also to democracy.

from here

The System Is Broken

0 comments
Citing their role as experts "in the belly of the beast,” hundreds of New York public defenders walked off their jobs and staged a die-in to protest racial inequality in a so-called justice system that has repeatedly failed many of their clients and, most recently, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who was one of their clients. The demonstration, organized by the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, was part of #ThisStopsToday's 11 Days of Action, with a similar march in Philadelphia. The New York event brought over 200 attorneys streaming out of Brooklyn's criminal court building  chanting “I can’t breathe” and holding "Black Lives Matter" signs. Marchers said inequities and inherent conflicts of interest that work against their often black and brown clients are "something that we've been battling for decades."

Attorneys cited  "countless people being assaulted by police officers who get off scot-free” and "people of color (doing) jail time for offenses like hopping turnstiles while officers who kill unarmed men do not even see the inside of central bookings.” They held the  die-in even as the city was reportedly negotiating to settle a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought by Garner's family, and as the head of the NYPD union was making vague threats against "our enemies" - evidently including Mayor de Blasio - who think changes need to be made to New York's police department. After lying in the street, marchers eventually wound back to the courthouse, where they chanted “I can’t breathe” 11 times, the number of times Garner pleaded with the cops holding him. The event was originally planned for inside the courthouse, to send the message the system needs to be reformed from the inside out, but court officials barred it. So much for justice being blind,  demonstrators noted: “It says a lot about the system and whose side (it's) on...We are experts on the system, and we know the system is broken."

 























from here


What's Happening In Ukraine?

0 comments
The corporate takeover of Ukrainian agriculture
Access the Full Report
Oakland, CA – Today, on the heels of Ukraine’s new cabinet appointments, the Oakland Institute (OI) is releasing a new brief detailing western agribusiness investments in the country.

The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture
 exposes the extent of western investment and engagement in Ukraine’s agricultural sector. It examines investments by agribusiness giants including Cargill, DuPont, Monsanto and more in all aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain since 2010.
In July 2014, OI released a report detailing lesser-known aspects of Ukraine’s political crisis. The report, Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict, detailed the austerity package offered by the IMF as a condition of the possible EU trade deal. In addition, OI reported on hidden clauses in the EU trade deal that would open Ukraine up to the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops.
This brief comes just days after the government of Ukraine announced its new cabinet appointments. The news has spurred controversy, as three of the most important cabinet appointments were offered to foreign-born individuals who were offered Ukrainian citizenship hours before their appointments.1 The Minister of Finance portfolio was awarded to Natalie Jaresko, an American-born and educated businesswoman who has resided in Ukraine since the mid-1990s. Her roles while in Ukraine have involved overseeing the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), a private equity fund established by the US Congress and USAID to invest in Ukraine’s economic development. Jaresko went on to co-found and become the CEO of Horizon Capital, an umbrella investment group that administered WNISEF and two other European-American economic investment projects. News reports note that one of Jaresko’s first priorities as Minister of Finance will be to negotiate a multi-billion dollar deal with the IMF.2
“This report raises serious questions about the direction of Ukraine’s economic and agricultural future,” said Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute. “We must ask ourselves: what impact will these investments have on the 7 million local farmers, especially with the expected lifting of the moratorium on land sales in 2016? And how will these deals affect Ukraine’s ability to control its own food supply and manage its economy in a way that will benefit the Ukrainian people?”

from here


The corporate takeover of Ukrainian agriculture

Access the Full Report
Oakland, CA – Today, on the heels of Ukraine’s new cabinet appointments, the Oakland Institute (OI) is releasing a new brief detailing western agribusiness investments in the country.

The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture
 exposes the extent of western investment and engagement in Ukraine’s agricultural sector. It examines investments by agribusiness giants including Cargill, DuPont, Monsanto and more in all aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain since 2010.
In July 2014, OI released a report detailing lesser-known aspects of Ukraine’s political crisis. The report, Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict, detailed the austerity package offered by the IMF as a condition of the possible EU trade deal. In addition, OI reported on hidden clauses in the EU trade deal that would open Ukraine up to the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops.
This brief comes just days after the government of Ukraine announced its new cabinet appointments. The news has spurred controversy, as three of the most important cabinet appointments were offered to foreign-born individuals who were offered Ukrainian citizenship hours before their appointments.1 The Minister of Finance portfolio was awarded to Natalie Jaresko, an American-born and educated businesswoman who has resided in Ukraine since the mid-1990s. Her roles while in Ukraine have involved overseeing the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), a private equity fund established by the US Congress and USAID to invest in Ukraine’s economic development. Jaresko went on to co-found and become the CEO of Horizon Capital, an umbrella investment group that administered WNISEF and two other European-American economic investment projects. News reports note that one of Jaresko’s first priorities as Minister of Finance will be to negotiate a multi-billion dollar deal with the IMF.2
“This report raises serious questions about the direction of Ukraine’s economic and agricultural future,” said Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute. “We must ask ourselves: what impact will these investments have on the 7 million local farmers, especially with the expected lifting of the moratorium on land sales in 2016? And how will these deals affect Ukraine’s ability to control its own food supply and manage its economy in a way that will benefit the Ukrainian people?”
- See more at: http://farmlandgrab.org/post/view/24332#sthash.PQ3PRGDs.dpuf
 

Professor Sen looks East

0 comments

 The bel esprit of welfare economics studying, earning and living since mid-fifties in the West, now puts a project for the people here Look East for Democracy.1 No getting on your nerves please, as he has already declared in his Autobiography:

What was at stake, it seemed to me, in political toleration was not just the liberal political arguments that had so clearly emerged in post-Enlightenment Europe and America, but also the traditional values of tolerance of plurality which had been championed over the centuries in many different cultures - not least in India. Indeed, as Ashoka had put it in the third century B.C.: ‘For he who does reverence to his own sect while disparaging the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own, with intent to enhance the splendour of his own sect, in reality by such conduct inflicts the severest injury on his own sect..’ To see political tolerance merely as a "Western liberal" inclination seemed to me to be a serious mistake.

The Argumentative Indian elaborates on the theme. While urging people to go back in history and reason for themselves the meaning of modern democracy, Prof. Sen says, Silence is an enemy of social justice and adds a word of advice Argumentative tradition is our heritage, but its effectiveness lies in how we use it. In addition, it has a from time immemorial tag by the politician Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.2

Maybe, Mr. Bhattacharjee, once information minister, is destitute of the historical information that Prof. Sens tradition heritage results from the Rigveda that counts from time memorial in that its composition by the Aryan tribes got going subsequently with their invasion through North-West India c1500 BC.

However, the Argumentative is conspicuous in silence about the most decisive fact that the history of all hitherto class societies including the ones evolved in India is the history of class struggle

CLICK READ MORE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

Australia jettisons humanitarianism

0 comments
Australia’s Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act passed into law this week. Australia is now no longer obliged to adhere to the UN Refugee Convention – a treaty Australia was instrumental in constructing and implementing after the Second World War. The Act removes from the Maritime Powers Act of 2013 the phrase “In accordance with international law, the exercise of powers is limited in places outside Australia,” and adds “Failure to consider international obligations etc. does not invalidate authorization” and “Failure to consider international obligations etc. does not invalidate exercise of powers.”  Putting on paper the Australian Navy’s practice of hauling intercepted boats back to their origin in, for example, Sri Lanka, the bill explains: “To avoid any doubt… a vessel, aircraft or person may be taken (or caused to be taken) to a destination under section… whether or not Australia has an agreement or arrangement with any other country relating to the vessel or aircraft (or the persons in it)… and irrespective of the international obligations or domestic law of any other country.” 

Pre-empting its impact, in a section entitled Amendments if this Act commences after the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Act 2014, the MMPLAB read: “It is irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations in respect of an unlawful non-citizen... [And] an officer’s duty to remove as soon as reasonably practicable an unlawful non-citizen under section 198 [of the Migration Act, which outlines removal procedures for unlawful citizens] arises irrespective of whether there has been an assessment, according to law, of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations in respect of the non-citizen.” As one Australian legal researcher explained: “This is saying that Australia is now entitled to return an asylum seeker to a country where they have been, or know they may be, tortured or persecuted.”

 Experts say it reflects global trends of treating migration as a security problem. Anne Hammerstad, a lecturer at the UK’s University of Kent, told IRIN: “Part of the problem is that the whole migration topic has become securitized.” She argued that attitudes on migration have shifted - to the detriment of refugees - from humanitarian empathy to national security.

Since September 2013 Australia has run Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), a military-led initiative the government describes as an effort to “to combat people-smuggling and protect Australia's borders”. Navy ships intercept boats carrying asylum seekers, who are then detained in off-shore processing centres, the conditions of which have been criticized repeatedly, including by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).


Boats may, indeed, have stopped arriving in Australia, but asylum seekers in Southeast Asia have not stopped undertaking perilous journeys. According to UNHCR data released in November, around 54,000 people (all but 1,000 departing from Bangladesh and Myanmar) have undertaken irregular maritime journeys in the region in 2014. These numbers are up from previous years, showing a 15 percent increase from 2013, and triple the number of departures from 2012.

Race and genetics

1 comments
Which species is more diverse, humans or chimps? Most of us would be tempted to answer 'humans'. Unless you're a primatologist or you work at a zoo, you would likely have trouble telling one chimp apart from another, not to mention distinguishing between West African and Central African chimpanzees. By contrast, we can easily spot differences among humans - if asked to guess whether someone was from China, Pakistan, or Kenya, few of us would have any trouble getting the answer correct. By the measure of genes though, humans are amazingly uniform. Humans are genetically less diverse than chimps, and both chimps and humans are much less diverse than a common species of fruit fly. Given our species' long history of racial conflict, our genetic uniformity may come as a surprise. Not too long ago people in polite company would debate whether different human races really all belonged to one species. Our DNA tells us that our genetic differences don't even come close to matching the variety found within a single, apparently monotonous fruit fly species. The bottom line is this: although fruit flies and gorillas may look largely the same to us, they beat us hands down in genetic diversity.

CLICK READ MORE FOR FULL ARTICLE

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Forest People

0 comments
 Forests are an important link in the food chain. Forested landscapes provide food, fuel and fodder. More than 1 billion people rely on forest products for food or income, and as much as 20 percent of rural people’s income comes from the environment. Rural people in the tropics have a long tradition of managing their forests or partly forested landscapes, and 40 percent of the world’s food production comes from such smallholder agricultural systems.

Children living in areas of Africa with heavy tree cover tend to have more nutritious diets. Boosting production of such energy-rich crops as rice, maize and wheat is often seen as essential to achieving global food security, but if this comes at the expense of forests, this might actually undermine nutritional security.

“Our research shows that children in Africa living in communities surrounded by forest cover have higher dietary diversity and more fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Amy Ickowitz, an economist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “In these areas, dietary diversity increases with tree cover, suggesting that in heavily treed areas, children have healthier diets.” 

Dercy Teles de Carvalho Cunha is a rubber-tapper and president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri from the state of Acre in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, with a lifelong love of the forest from which she earns her livelihood – and she is deeply confounded by what her government and policymakers around the world call “the green economy.”

“The primary impact of green economy projects is the loss of all rights that people have as citizens,” says Teles de Carvalho Cunha in a report released last week by a group of Brazilian NGOs. “They lose all control of their lands, they can no longer practice traditional agriculture, and they can no longer engage in their everyday activities.” Referring to a state-run programme called the “Bolsa Verde” that pays forest dwellers a small monthly stipend in exchange for a commitment not to damage the forest through subsistence activities, Teles de Carvalho Cunha says, “Now people just receive small grants to watch the forest, unable to do anything. This essentially strips their lives of meaning.” The Rural Workers Union of Xapuri is the union made famous in Brazil when its founder, Chico Mendes, was murdered in 1988 for defending the forest against loggers and ranchers.

Brazil has become a leader in fighting deforestation through a mix of  public and private sector actions, Acre has become known for market-based climate policies such as Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes, that seek to harmonise economic development and environmental preservation. Acre has put into place policies favouring sustainable rural production and taxes and credits to support rural livelihoods. In 2010, the state began implementing a system of forest conservation incentives that proponents say have “begun to pay off abundantly”.

In 2010, California – the world’s eighth largest economy – signed an agreement with Acre, and Chiapas, whereby REDD and PES projects in the two tropical forest provinces would supply carbon offset credits to California to help the state’s polluters meet emission reduction targets.

California policymakers have been meeting with officials from Acre, and from Chiapas, for several years, with hopes of making a partnership work, but the agreement has yet to attain the status of law. Attempts by the government of Chiapas to implement a version of REDD in 2011, shortly after the agreement with California was signed, met strong resistance in that famously rebellious Mexican state, leading organisations there to send a series of letters to CARB and California Governor Jerry Brown asking them to cease and desist. Groups in Acre, too, sent an open letter to California officials in 2013, denouncing the effort as “neocolonial,”:  “Once again,” the letter read, “the former colonial powers are seeking to invest in an activity that represents the ‘theft’ of yet another ‘raw material’ from the territories of the peoples of the South: the ‘carbon reserves’ in their forests.” This view appears to be backed up now by a  new report on the Green Economy  from the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. The 26-page summary of a much larger set of findings to be published in 2015 describes Acre as a state suffering extreme inequality, deepened by a lack of information about green economy projects, which results in communities being coerced to accept “top-down” proposals as substitutes for a lack of public policies to address basic needs.

Numerous testimonies taken in indigenous, peasant farmer and rubber-tapper communities show how private REDD projects and public PES projects have deepened territorial conflicts, affected communities’ ability to sustain their livelihoods, and violated international human rights conventions. Testimonies from Acre raise concerns that such economic incentives can deepen existing inequalities. The Bolsa Verde programme is a case in point: according to Teles de Carvalho Cunha, the payments are paltry, the enforcement criminalises already-impoverished peasants, and the whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

A related impact of purely economic incentives is to undermine traditional approaches to forest management and to alienate forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. “We don’t see land as income,” one anonymous indigenous informant to the Acre report said. “Our bond with the land is sacred because it is where we come from and where we will return.” Another indigenous leader from Acre, Ninawa Huni Kui of the Huni Kui Federation, appeared at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru this month to explain his people’s opposition to REDD for having divided and co-opted indigenous leaders; preventing communities from practicing traditional livelihood activities; and violating the Huni Kui’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consents as guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

One of the REDD projects is the Purus Project, the first private environmental services incentive project registered with Acre’s Institute on Climate Change (Instituto de Mudanças Climáticas, IMC), in June 2012. The project, designed to conserve 35,000 hectares of forest, is jointly run by the U.S.-based Carbonfund.org Foundation and a Brazilian company called Carbon Securities. The project is certified by the two leading REDD certifiers, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Standard (CCBS). But despite meeting apparently high standards for social and environmental credibility, field research detected “the community’s lack of understanding of the project, as well as divisions in the community and an escalation of conflicts.” One rubber tapper who makes his living within the project area told researchers, “I want someone to explain to me what carbon is, because all I know is that this carbon isn’t any good to us. It’s no use to us. They’re removing it from here to take it to the U.S… They will sell it there and walk all over us. And us? What are we going to do? They’re going to make money, but we won’t?”

A second project called the Russas/Valparaiso project, seems to suffer similar discrepancies between what proponents describe and what local communities experience, characterised by researchers as “fears regarding land use, uncertainty about the future, suspicion about land ownership issues, and threats of expulsion.”

Concerns like criminalising subsistence livelihoods and asserting private control over community forest resources, whether these resources be timber or CO2, is more than a misstep of a poorly implemented policy – it violates human rights conventions that Brazil has ratified, as well as national policies such as Brazil’s National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities.

The report’s conclusion sums up its findings: “In the territories they have historically occupied, forest peoples are excluded from decisions about their own future or—of even greater concern – they are considered obstacles to development and progress. As such, green economy policies can also be described as a way of integrating them into the dominant system of production and consumption. Yet, perhaps what is needed is the exact opposite – sociocultural diversity and guaranteeing the rights of the peoples are, by far, the best and most sustainable way of slowing down and confronting not only climate change, but also the entire crisis of civilization that is threatening the human life on the planet.”