Thursday, July 02, 2015

Compare And Contrast - Climate Change Concerns

Many of the U.S.’s loveliest national parks—favorites for tourists, families and recreational athletes—lie along its shores. They attract millions of visitors a year and they are under threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Just ahead of the two-year anniversary of the announcement of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, as well as the heavy summer tourist season, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a study, Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise, compiled by the National Park Service and Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. It looked at 40 parks in the contiguous 48 states considered most threatened and found that more than $40 billion in park infrastructure and historic and cultural assets is at risk of being damaged by rising sea levels. And those comprise only a third of those considered at risk—the study is ongoing and an analysis of an additional 30 parks will be released later this summer.

“National Park Service (NPS) coastal units contain the last remaining large stretches of relatively undeveloped shorelines in the nation,” says the study. “These parks contain a wide range of natural resources, cultural resources and recreational facilities. The parks also contain infrastructure providing access to each unit. Over the next century (and beyond), more NPS resources will be exposed to and threatened by rising ocean waters. Numerous coastal units, particularly low-lying barrier parks, are already dealing with sea-level rise (SLR) threats to resources and assets.”

Most endangered are the low-lying barrier parks on the country’s southeastern Atlantic seacoast. The cost of rebuilding or replacing historic structures such as lighthouses and tourist centers at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina alone is estimated at nearly $1.2 billion—without even factoring in loss of lands and tourist income.
Ten NPS national seashores listed most at risk are popular destinations for millions of Americans including some of its most visited and beloved beach areas.

from here

Bangladesh is the country most at risk from the impacts of climate change, according to the 2013 Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) prepared by international consultancy firm Maplecroft.
Two other countries in South Asia are in the extreme risk category, India being found the 20th most vulnerable among the 193 countries studied, and Pakistan 24th. Of the countries dependent on the Hindu Kush Himalayas, China – at 61st position – is in the high risk category too.
Maplecroft has also calculated climate risks that will be faced by 50 cities around the world over the next 30 years. The study found five cities at “extreme risk”, of which three are in South Asia – Dhaka (in Bangladesh), Mumbai and Kolkata (both in India).

The study also found that Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta, “which encompasses the cities of Guangzhou, Dongguan and Foshan and make up China’s manufacturing heartland, are among the most exposed to physical risks from extreme climate-related events,” according to a Maplecroft spokesperson.
The company has been studying climate impact risks since 2008. This year they found that by 2025, 31% of global economic output will be based in countries facing high or extreme risks. This is a 50% increase on current levels and more than double since the study began six year ago.

Maplecroft’s 2013 Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas shows that 67 countries with an estimated combined output of $44 trillion, will be among the countries under increasing threat from the physical impacts of more frequent and extreme climate-related events, such as severe storms, flooding or drought.
The CCVI shows that economic impacts will be worst in Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Haiti, South Sudan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, Philippines and Ethiopia, in that order.

Maplecroft has developed the index to identify climate-related risks to populations, business and governments over the next 30 years, down to a level of 22 square kilometres. It evaluates three factors: exposure to extreme climate-related events, including sea level rise and future changes in temperature, precipitation and specific humidity; the sensitivity of populations, in terms of health, education, agricultural dependence and available infrastructure; and the adaptive capacity of countries to combat the impacts of climate change, which encompasses research and development, economic factors, resource security and the effectiveness of government.

By 2025, China’s GDP is estimated to treble from current levels to $28 trillion, while India’s is forecast to rise to $5 trillion – totalling nearly 23% of global economic output between them. And these are among the countries in the high and extreme risk categories, respectively.
Cyclone Phailin, which hit India’s east coast this October, caused an estimated $4.15 billion of damage to the agriculture and power sectors alone in the state of Odisha. Up to a million tons of rice were destroyed, while key infrastructure, including roads, ports, railway and telecommunications were severely damaged.
James Allan, Head of Environment at Maplecroft, said, “With global brands investing heavily in vulnerable growth markets to take advantage of the spending power of rising middle class populations, we are seeing increasing business exposure to extreme climate related events on multiple levels, including their operations, supply chains and consumer base. Cyclone Phailin demonstrates the critical need for business to monitor the changing frequency and intensity of climate related events, especially where infrastructure and logistics are weak.”

According to Maplecroft, the ability of highly vulnerable countries to manage the direct impact of extreme events on infrastructure will be a significant factor in mitigating the economic impacts of climate change and may present opportunities for investment. Burt adaptive measures such as building flood defences and greater infrastructure resiliency will need sustained commitment of governments.

from here

Weaponising Water

California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a water “state of emergency.”
Ordinary Californians are bearing the brunt of this disaster. While the governor has imposed restrictions to reduce residential water consumption, businesses in the fields of agriculture and hydraulic fracturing have been largely exempt. Brown’s unwillingness to take on these gargantuan corporate water-wasters lends a sharp political element to an otherwise natural disaster.
There’s another region in the world, however, where access to water isn’t just decided on the whims of politicians dealing with natural disasters. In fact, the very existence of water crises is official state policy for one country: Israel.

Dying of Thirst

Despite its location in a region thought to be perennially dry, the Holy Land actually has ample natural freshwater resources — namely in the form of underwater aquifers and the Jordan River. Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers live in roughly equal proximity to these resources, which theoretically would allow for equal consumption.
Israeli water policy, however, has made this prospect virtually impossible. In fact, there’s a shocking disparity.

A report from the United Nations found that the average Israeli settler consumes 300 liters of water per day — a figure surpassing even the average Californian’s 290. But thanks to Israeli military action and legal restrictions on access, the average Palestinian in the occupied West Bank only gets about 70. And for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who live off the water grid altogether, daily consumption hovers at around 30. That’s just 10 percent of the Israeli figure.
Both figures are well below the minimum 100 liters per day recommended by the World Health Organization. While Israelis are watering their lawns and swimming in Olympic-sized pools, Palestinians a few kilometers away are literally dying of thirst.

Weaponizing Water

This inequality has deep roots — and it’s no accident.
Almost immediately after the creation of Israel in 1948, the fledgling country took comprehensive action to secure control of the region’s water. These policies were ramped up again following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel first assumed control of the Palestinian territories.
That year, the Israeli armed forces issued Military Order 92 — an initiative that put Palestinian water resources under Israel’s military jurisdiction. This was shortly followed by Military Order 158, which required Palestinians to obtain permits from the military in order to build new water infrastructure. If they built new wells, springs, or even rain-collecting containers without Israeli permission, soldiers would confiscate or destroy them, often without prior notification.
These orders, among others, remain on the books to this day. They form the basis for the administration of water access for nearly 4.4 million Palestinians. Although control of water resources is now officially the domain of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, Israeli forces routinely perform operations with the explicit intent of destroying Palestinian water infrastructure.

A Veneer of Legality

Decades of peace negotiations have done little to grant Palestinians sovereign control over their resources.
Even after the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, which were supposed to grant the Palestinians some semblance of political agency in the territories, water access remains limited. In fact, the accords simply codified the unfair distribution of water in the region, imbuing these flagrantly harmful practices with a veneer of legality.
Even in Palestinian-administered portions of the West Bank, Israeli troops regularly demolish rain cisterns, pipelines, and agricultural water structures. The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq has meticulously documented a number of these instances, compiling them in a report examining the extent of the hardship these operations cause to West Bank residents.

One case study detailed the destruction of a farmer’s well in a village east of Jenin. His well, along with five others in the area, was destroyed by the military under the pretext that it had been built without proper authorization by Israel — despite the fact that an Israeli permit is supposedly not needed in the Palestinian-administered Area B of the West Bank, where these villages are located.
These operations showcase the coordination between civil and military channels to restrict Palestinian access to water, a system that’s been startlingly effective in its goal.

Even when Palestinians attempt to go through the “proper” Israeli channels, they’re met with innumerable obstacles. Two regulatory organizations — the Joint Water Commission (JWC) and the Israeli Civil Administration — have created a bureaucratic nightmare for West Bank residents attempting to acquire permits to either build new instillations or repair the region’s floundering infrastructure. Both organizations are capable of vetoing petitions without explanation, creating a system that prevents Palestinians from maintaining consistent and comprehensive water access.
Meanwhile, access is severely curtailed even where Palestinians have permission to pump water. The most striking inequality lies in the division of the Mountain Aquifer, the only underground aquifer that Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to access. Despite being the sole source for the territory, Palestinian extraction is limited to 20 percent of the aquifer’s total capacity. Israel, on the other hand, has access to 80 percent of the aquifer’s water — a stunningly unequal distribution, considering it also has unfettered access to the region’s remaining aquifers and the Jordan River.

A Worsening Crisis

California’s drought has captivated U.S. audiences, sparking concern and calls to action to prevent ecological disaster in the face of natural causes. On the subject of Israel’s deliberate drought, however, media attention has been virtually nonexistent.
This crisis has become the norm for Palestinians for decades now, though its severity continues to increase as water becomes more scarce. The UN estimates that due to Israel’s siege, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by the year 2020. Though the West Bank is relatively well-off in comparison, the water crisis there has resulted in severe economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, a situation that’s not conducive to long-term stability in the region.
This water disparity is emblematic of the power disparity between Israel and Palestine — a gulf that seems wholly unrecognized during regional peace talks.

 from here

Dollars For Doctors - How Industry Money Reaches Physicians

Few days went by last year when New Hampshire nephrologist Ana Stankovic didn't receive a payment from a drug company. All told, 29 different pharmaceutical companies paid her $594,363 in 2014, mostly for promotional speaking and consulting, but also for travel expenses and meals, according to data released Tuesday detailing payments by drug and device companies to U.S. doctors and teaching hospitals.

Stankovic's earnings were certainly high, ranking her about 250th among 606,000 doctors who received payments nationwide last year. What was more remarkable, though, was that she received payments on 242 different days — nearly every workday of last year.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Stankovic declined to comment. On her LinkedIn page, Stankovic lists herself as vice chief of staff at Parkland Medical Center HCA Inc. in Derry, New Hampshire, and as medical director of peritoneal dialysis at DaVita Inc., also in Derry.

That doctors receive big money from the pharmaceutical industry is no surprise. The new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that such interactions are widespread, with not only doctors, but thousands of dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and chiropractors receiving at least one industry payment from August 2013 to December 2014.
What is being seen for the first time now is how ingrained pharmaceutical companies and their sales reps are in the lives of those who write prescriptions for their products. A ProPublica analysis found that 768 doctors received payments on more than half of the days in 2014. More than 14,600 doctors received payments on at least 100 days in 2014.

 "There are physician practices which have very deep relationships with pharmaceutical representatives, where they are a very integral part of the practice," said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who has written about industry relationships with doctors. Kesselheim said that to have such extensive contact with industry reps can indicate that doctors are getting their information about the drugs they prescribe from the companies that make them, and not from impartial sources. "There's good evidence that that affects prescribing practices and physician behavior."

extracted from here

First Class Air Travel

The German airline Lufthansa has installed air humidifiers in the first class of its Airbus A380s. "The humidifier gives a totally different experience," Lufthansa chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr told TheTimes of India last month. "Passengers arrive in a much better shape after a long-haul flight." 

Dry cabin air has been blamed for a number of maladies — though scientific studies on these are limited in scope — including for worsening jet lag and even for making airplane food taste bland. "The humidifiers will cause food to taste better, passengers to sleep better and afford them a greater sense of well-being," a Lufthansa official told the Times of India. The humidity in the air in first class is approximately 25%, compared to the economy cabin, where it's about 20%.

Not a big deal some would comment, but the fact that even the common people's ‘air’ isn't good enough for the rich in first class should tell us something. Air travel as an analogy to growing wealth inequality

As first and business class get luxury — bigger seats, better service and plenty of food and drink — economy is getting worse. Airlines are finding ways to give economy passengers less legroom, and fewer included services like complimentary checked baggage or even a bag of peanuts. Even some things you once thought were basic now cost extra.

The A380 manufacturer’s, Airbus, most recent innovations involves fitting 11 seats in each row of coach seating, which had previously maxed out at 10. And that's up from nine, which was standard in Boeing 777s for two decades, until around 2010. To squeeze in those extra seats, space between seats was decreased and armrests shrunk — and window seats are basically on top of the bottom curve of the cabin. The aircraft manufacturers are the ones doing the design, but it's the wishes of the airline carriers that make for smaller, tighter seats: More seats, more passengers, more money. Seat width started out small, back in the mid-20th century when initial designs were based on Air Force measurements for pilots, offering 17 inches in width. Over the 70s, 80s and 90s, seat width gradually increased to 18.5 inches — but now the trend has reversed as airlines look for ways to fit more passengers on planes, and many planes are back to 17 inches. As for seat pitch (the distance between the same point on two seats and an important factor in legroom), a once common measurement of 34-35 inches is now more often 30-32 inches, and budget airlines sometimes offer only 28. Boeing is working on adding capacity to its 737 narrow-body airplane model, which is used for short-haul flights. “When you’re in the low-cost, low-fare business, you’re always striving for that competitive advantage,” Boeing's chief aircraft salesman John Wojick said.

Meanwhile, recent offers in first and business class on different airlines include lie-flat seats, local and artisan food offerings, entire suites. Etihad's three-room suites, include a closed-off living room, leather seating, a chilled minibar, a 32-inch flat-screen television and a personal butler.

Airbus is presently busy filing patents for standing-room only “seats” for their short-haul flights. The design is meant to fit in even more passengers. The August 2014 issue of IACSIT International Journal of Engineering and Technology found that standing seats could add 21% capacity to flights, and potentially lower airfares by 44%.  "Theoretically, by having more passengers onboard the aircraft, flight ticket price can be lowered since the imposed operational costs can be shared by more passengers per flight," the studystates. "To achieve this, an idea of standing passenger cabin whereby the passengers are transported in the aircraft cabin in their upright position has been proposed to reduce the operational flight costs and hence the charging ticket price to the passengers." 

For passengers with the means to pay a premium, airlines are competing to offer the most desirable amenities. But for everyone else, the airlines' primary concern is how to serve more, not better.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What are you worth


US mental health

In 2011, one in five US adults were estimated to have a mental illness and less than 40% had received mental health services, with 10·8 million reporting an unmet need for mental health care.

Five million American children have mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and other disorders, which are severe enough to cause substantial life impairment, such as inability to live safely at home or attend school. Findings from a government report showed that 7500 paediatric psychiatrists are currently available serving children and adolescents, which is far from the needed estimate of about 20 000. Children with mental problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, low esteem, and suicidal or aggressive behaviours have no adequate central places to turn to for help. No adequate resources nor coordinated action plans exist for parents comfortably accessing mental health services, which could provide desperately needed support in some situations. When mental health problems in children are not well dealt with, the negative effects on growth and development can be profound.

In 2010, an estimated 12·2 million people in the general population in the USA reported using pain relievers non-medically for the first time within the past 12 months.

In the USA, 85% of people in prisons are there because of crimes related to prescription medications, and an additional 458 000 because of a history of substance misuse, being under the influence at the time of arrest, or buying or selling drugs. 356 000 (20%) of individuals in US prisons and jails could have serious mental illnesses, based on data collected from penitentiaries in Maryland and New York. Of those incarcerated, 85% misuse substances; however, only 0·8% with apparent drug disorders receive detoxification treatment and only 0·3% receive maintenance treatment while behind bars.

Austerity Condemned for Causing Child Poverty

The four children commissioners for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland said child poverty rates across the UK were "unacceptably high" and that there had been a failure to protect those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. In a joint report to the United Nations, the commissioners also voiced concern at the impact on children of the Government's plans to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) - which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in UK law - and replace it with a British bill of rights.
"The HRA has been vital in promoting and protecting the rights of children in the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights has had an important role in developing the protection offered to children by the ECHR," it said. "The commissioners are concerned that any amendment or replacement of the HRA is likely to be regressive."

 A week before Chancellor George Osborne delivers a Budget in which he is expected to set out further details of the Government's plans to cut another £12 billion from the welfare bill their report reviewing the past seven years, the commissioners said the Government's "austerity" policies adopted in response to the global financial crisis had resulted in "a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty…The best interests of children were not central to the development of these policies and children's views were not sought."

The report said. "Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families. In some parts of the UK there is insufficient affordable decent housing which has led to poorer children living in inadequate housing and in temporary accommodation." They pointed to a recent forecast from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggesting the number of children living in poverty could more than double from 2.3 million to 4.7 million by 2020. They said they were "deeply concerned" by reports the Government was now planning to scrap the Child Poverty Act which requires ministers to put in place measures to eradicate child poverty. It was also revealed in June that families with more than two children could lose child benefit under Tory plans to slash welfare budget.

The commissioners also highlighted concerns over failures to tackle child abuse, the treatment of young people in the criminal justice system and the provision of mental health services for children and young people which they said were "vastly underfunded".

Scotland's commissioner for children and young people, Tam Baillie, said the Government now needed to re-think its austerity plans for the sake of children across the UK. "It is deeply disturbing that the UK Government, aware of the current and future impact of its cuts, appears to be targeting the most vulnerable people in our society," he said. "The UK Government's austerity measures have condemned 2.3 million children into poverty and that number will increase if further proposed cuts are enacted. For one of the richest countries in the world, this is a policy of choice and it is a disgrace. It is avoidable and unacceptable."

Reporting on the situation in Wales, Ms Holland said: "It is deeply disappointing that I have to present a report to the UN which shows Wales having the highest rate of child poverty in the UK.” She said about 200,000 children in Wales lived in poverty. "Many families are struggling with a combination of low wages and high childcare, housing and heating costs. Wales now has more low-income working families living in poverty than there are non-working ones."

Low Wages? We Need A Complete System Change

To be “poor” in America isn’t an identifying characteristic or a defining trait, like being forgetful or creative or tall.
Being a low-income American comes from being paid a low income.
It seems like a basic point, but it’s one Andy Puzder needs to review. Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., which employs more than 20,000 people and worldwide owns, operates, and franchises more than 3,300 fast food restaurants, including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

In a recent op-ed, Puzder made the specious claim that the social safety net “can lock [people] into poverty.”
He argues that “these programs have the unintended consequence of discouraging work rather than encouraging independence, self-reliance and pride,” and that, because of government assistance, his low-wage employees across the United States are refusing promotions and additional hours “for fear of losing public assistance.”
What Puzder forgets to point out is that it is poverty wages—poverty wages paid by institutions like Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. to many of their 20,000-plus employees— that force families to turn to nutrition and housing assistance, and other government-supplemented work supports, just to get by.

Media Matters reports that a 2013 study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that “the overwhelming majority of fast food employees (89.1 percent) make less than $9 per hour and face significant ‘barriers to upward mobility’ in the profession.”

In a recent interview with Fox News, Puzder doubled down on his flawed thesis.
“We need a different system,” he concluded.
On that point he’s right.

We need a system where people like Savino, a father of two in Brooklyn and a member of the New York Communities for Change, don’t have to work 72 hours a week at a local supermarket for wages that are so low they still struggle to get by.
“Sometimes things are so bad that I have to decide—should I pay rent this month, or should I eat?” said Savino.

We need a system where mothers like Ashely, a Washington, DC resident and a member of Working Families, don’t have to sleep with a young child on the floor because jobs don’t pay enough to cover rent.

We need employers to pay enough money so that people like Darrell, who works in the auto parts industry in Ohio, can bring home more than $272 a week.
“I just want enough to survive,” Darrell said, “and I think that is a reasonable expectation for someone who goes to work and works hard every day.”

We need a system where parents aren’t forced to choose between working more hours for low wages and paying exorbitant child care fees, or staying home with their kids and barely scraping by on government assistance.

We need a system where people are paid enough during their working years to retire peacefully in old age.

We need to change the current system, where people like Puzder make more in one day ($17,192) than one of his minimum wage employees would earn after working full-time for an entire year ($15,130).

This system was created by people like Puzder and political leaders who, like him, blame the very people who are just trying to make ends meet. But we have the power to change how the system works.

from here

We need people to understand that with this kind of thinking they are setting their aspirations way too low. It's not about low wages, disparity in pay levels, cost of housing etc., but about the manner in which the system is set up to work - for the capitalist class. Changing the system so that it works for us all is a different matter. It means we abolish the wages system altogether in favour of a system in which we all have lifelong access to the collective fruits of our labour. Socialism is that system change and we need it now.


Industry-Sponsored Spin

Remember that recent blog post you read about the popularity of genetically modified foods? Or the economics expert on the news who questioned if paying the price of organic food was 'worth it'?

According to a new report, these views were very likely the product of a public relations blitz by Big Food and Big Ag firms, that are actively working to spread misinformation about the safety of industrial agriculture practices and discredit the value of organic food in the face of growing popular demand.
At the same time the sale of organic products has skyrocketed—jumping to more than $35 billion in 2013—the country's largest food and chemical companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to combat this trend. In 2013, Monsanto alone spent $95 million on marketing.
"Rather than respond to changing market demands by shifting the way they do business, many large food and agrochemical companies are using tobacco-style PR tactics to mislead the public and attack the organic food industry to try to win back skeptical consumers," states environmental watchdog Friends of the Earth in a new study published on Tuesday.

The report, Spinning Food: How Food Industry Front Groups and Covert Communications are Shaping the Story of Food (pdf), reveals the methods employed to spread industry propaganda. Tactics include: infiltrating social media sites with seemingly independent platforms, attacking the credibility of scientists and other advocates, partnering with media venues on disguised 'native advertising,' targeting female audiences by co-opting female bloggers and promoting messages that disparage "organic moms" as elitist bullies, and crafting relationships with third party allies who echo carefully crafted talking points.
What's more, these industry-bought voices are finding a platform on some of the largest corporate media outlets.
"In the last four years alone, these companies have set up six new front groups that often appear as independent experts in the media, but are in fact made up of industry or PR professionals that are promoting messages designed to defend industry profits and win critical national policy battles on these issues," the report states. These groups include the U.S. Farmers and Rancher’s Alliance—which is partnered with Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Syngenta—and the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, created by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association.

And while the food industry's use of such campaigns is not new, according to the study, the level of spending in recent years, the increase in the use of front groups, and the deployment of covert social media tactics is "unprecedented."
"This onslaught of industry-sponsored spin is aimed at stemming the growing tide of consumers seeking healthier food produced without GMOs, toxic pesticides or routine antibiotics," said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth.

from here

Tuesday, June 30, 2015



A gay clergyman has been sacked by the C. of E. for
marrying his lover. Unlike secular bodies, the Church
cannot be sued for wrongful dismissal in this respect.

It’s curious how Christian love,
In this Established sect; (1)
Has the whiff of a hypocrite,
In that it has the opposite,
And quite reverse effect.

It was reversed in byegone days.
When slavery was rife;
With Negroes semi-human and,
Through Noah, Ham and God’s own hand, (2)
The lowest form of life.

It was reversed not long ago,
With each unmarried mum;
When working-class unfortunates,
Were classed as mere inadequates,
And treated just like scum.

It was reversed when bastard kids,
Were herded well away;
And hidden from society,
In dutiful propriety,
To morally decay.

It was reversed in the World Wars,
When God was on each side;
And Christian love for all mankind,
(A feature difficult to find)
Lay down and finally died.

A question for the C. of E.,
Why has it for so long;
Got all the things it claimed was right,
(About which it got so uptight)
Invariably so wrong?

(1) A sect is simply a church whose crazy
ideas don’t agree with your own crazy ideas.

(2) The Curse of Ham, the son of Noah who supposedly
sired all Black people according to Biblical interpretation.

© Richard Layton

The Risks Of Recycling For Workers In The Capitalist System

The industries that pride themselves on being friends of the earth are often hostile to workers, according to new research on the safety conditions in recycling plants. Published by the Massachusetts Council for Occupational Safety and Health, National COSH, and other advocacy groups, the analysis of the industry shows that, despite the green sector’s clean, progressive image, workers remain imperiled by old-school industrial hazards. Workers face intense stress, dangerous machinery, and inadequate safeguards, while toiling in strenuous positions amid constant toxic exposures.

Often the sorting of recyclables requires directly handling hazardous materials and improperly disposed waste, such as plastic bags that accumulate and cause potentially deadly clogs in machines. Some cities allow dumping of “mixed” trash, leaving workers to separate metal cans from organic waste, or battery fluid from old meatloaf (cities could prevent such dangers through the slight inconvenience of simply requiring people to separate garbage beforehand).

Though they might lack proper safety training or protective gear, workers might routinely encounter used syringes, glass shards, noxious oil residue, or the odd squirrel.
In MassCOSH’s announcement of the report, former Boston recycling worker Mirna Santizo recalled, “We would find lots of glass, and needles. Sometimes workers are punctured and hurt from the needles. We would find dead animals in the bins and it really stinks.” Research shows composting and recycling workers also suffer “exposures and illnesses associated with inhaling endotoxins” emitted by rotting waste.

According to federal statistics, “The rate of nonfatal injury incidents in [recycling facilities] was 8.5 per 100 workers in 2012. This is much higher than the rate for all industries (3.5 per 100 workers) higher than the average for all waste management and remediation services (5.1 per 100 workers).”

A 2013 survey found seven in ten recycling workers suffered workplace injury or illness, including “musculoskeletal disorders such as injuries to the back and knees (reported by 57 percent of workers), and scrapes and cuts (reported by 43 percent of workers).” Between 2011 and 2013, 17 recycling workers died on the job.

from here

Workers Of The World - 36


Family Farmers - They Really Do Feed The World

In October of last year, World Food Day celebrated ‘Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth’. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s website, the family farming theme was chosen to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers. The aim was to focus world attention on the significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, especially in rural areas.

Family farming should indeed be celebrated because it really does feed the world. This claim is supported by a 2014 report by GRAIN, which revealed that small farms produce most of the world’s food.

Around 56% of Russia ‘s agricultural output comes from family farms which occupy less than 9% of arable land. These farms produce 90% of the country’s potatoes, 83% of its vegetables, 55% of its of milk, 39% of its meat and 22% of its cereals (Russian Federation Federal State Statistics Services figures for 2011).
In Brazil, 84% of farms are small and control 24% of the land, yet they produce: 87% of cassava, 69% of beans, 67% of goat milk, 59% of pork, 58% of cow milk, 50% of chickens, 46% of maize, 38% of coffee, 33.8% of rice and 30% of cattle.
In Cuba, with 27% of the land, small farmers produce: 98% of fruits, 95% of beans, 80% of maize, 75% of pork, 65% of vegetables, 55% of cow milk, 55% of cattle and 35% of rice (Braulio Machin et al, ANAP-Via Campesina, “Revolucion agroecologica, resumen ejectivo”).
In Ukraine, small farmers operate 16% of agricultural land, but provide 55% of agricultural output, including: 97% of potatoes, 97% of honey, 88% of vegetables, 83% of fruits and berries and 80% of milk (State Statistics Service of Ukraine. “Main agricultural characteristics of households in rural areas in 2011″).
Similar impressive figures are available for Chile, Hungary, Belarus, Romania, Kenya, El Salvador and many other countries.

The evidence shows that small peasant/family farms are the bedrock of global food production. The bad news is that they are being squeezed onto less than a quarter of the world’s farmland and such land is under threat. The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the concentration of land into the hands of rich and powerful speculators and corporations.
The report by GRAIN also revealed that small farmers are often much more productive than large corporate farms, despite the latter’s access to various expensive technologies. For example, if all of Kenya’s farms matched the output of its small farms, the nation’s agricultural productivity would double. In Central America, it would nearly triple. In Russia, it would be six fold.

Yet in many places, small farmers are being criminalised, taken to court and even made to disappear when it comes to the struggle for land. They are constantly exposed to systematic expulsion from their land by foreign corporations, some of which are fronted by fraudulent individuals who specialise in corrupt deals and practices to rake in enormous profits to the detriment of small farmers and food production.

Imagine what small farmers could achieve if they had access to more land and could work in a supportive policy environment, rather than under the siege conditions they too often face. For example, the vast majority of farms in Zimbabwe belong to smallholders and their average farm size has increased as a result of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme. Small farmers in the country now produce over 90% of diverse agricultural food crops, while they only provided 60 to 70% of the national food before land redistribution.
Throughout much of the world, however, agricultural land is being taken over by large corporations. GRAIN concludes that, in the last 50 years, 140 million hectares – well more than all the farmland in China – have been taken over for soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane alone.

By definition, peasant agriculture prioritises food production for local and national markets as well as for farmers’ own families. Big agritech corporations take over scarce fertile land and prioritise commodities or export crops for profit and markets far away that cater for the needs of the affluent. This process impoverishes local communities and brings about food insecurity. The concentration of fertile agricultural land in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day and is undermining global food security.

The issue of land ownership was also picked up on by another report last year. A report by the Oakland Institute stated that the first years of the 21st century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale. An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights.
A new generation of institutional investors, including hedge funds, private equity, pension funds and university endowments, is eager to capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class. Financial returns, not food security, are what matter. In the US, for instance, with rising interest from investors and surging land prices, giant pension funds are committing billions to buy agricultural land.

The Oakland Institute argues that the US could experience an unprecedented crisis of retiring farmers over the next 20 years, leading to ample opportunities for these actors to expand their holdings as an estimated 400 million acres changes generational hands.
The corporate consolidation of agriculture is happening as much in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines,Mozambique and not least in Ukraine.

Imperialism and the control of agriculture

Ukraine’s small farms are delivering impressive outputs, despite being squeezed onto just 16% of arable land. But the US-backed toppling of that country’s government may change all that. Indeed, part of the reason behind destabilizing Ukraine and installing a puppet regime was for US agritech concerns like Monsanto to gain access to its agriculture sector, which is what we are now witnessing.
Current ‘aid’ packages, contingent on the plundering of the economy under the guise of ‘austerity reforms’, will have a devastating impact on Ukrainians’ standard of living and increase poverty in the country.
Reforms mandated by the EU-backed loan include agricultural deregulation that is intended to benefit agribusiness corporations. Natural resource and land policy shifts are intended to facilitate the foreign corporate takeover of enormous tracts of land. The EU Association Agreement includes a clause requiring both parties to cooperate to extend the use of biotechnology. Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute states:
“Their (World Bank and IMF) intent is blatant: to open up foreign markets to Western corporations… The high stakes around control of Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute an oft-overlooked critical factor. In recent years, foreign corporations have acquired more than 1.6 million hectares of Ukrainian land.”
Chemical-industrial agriculture and the original ‘green revolution’ has proved extremely lucrative for the oil and chemical industry and has served to maintain and promote US hegemony, not least via the uprooting of indigenous farming practices in favour of cash crop/export-oriented policies, dam building to cater for what became a highly water intensive industry, loans, indebtedness, dependency on the dollar and the corporate control of seeds, etc.

Whether through ‘free trade’ agreements, commodity market price manipulations, loan packages, the co-optation of political leaders or the hijack of strategic policy-making bodies, corporate profits are being secured and food sovereignty surrendered to the US, which has always used agriculture as a tool with which to control countries.
(The GMO issue has to be regarded within such a geopolitical framework too: it has less to do with ‘feeding the world’ and more about controlling it (see this and this)

While celebrating of the role of the family farm in feeding the world, rich speculators and powerful US agritech corporations continue to colonise agriculture and undermine the existence of small farms and global food security.
Choosing to ignore the research, however, much mainstream thinking rests on the fallacious assumption that uprooting small farms and displacing rural populations is a good thing. This assumption stems from an ethnocentric mindset that legitimises the plunder we are witnessing across the globe.
Environmentalist Vandana Shiva sums it up as follows:
“People are perceived as ‘poor’ if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.”
This is an ideology that fuels the myth that the ‘poor’ are poor due to their own fault and must be lifted up by the West and its corporations and billionaire ‘philanthropists’. It is the ideology that attempts to legitimise imperialism and economic colonialism, which causes economic devastation and ecological destruction in the first place. From Africa to India and beyond, the disease is being offered as the cure.

Modern-day slaves or modern-day workers?

The Socialist Party objective is to have more of a shared humanity and it can only be achieved when people everywhere understands and cares.

India’s Adivasis often work in conditions commonly described as ‘modern-day slavery’, but they are not slaves. Their unfreedom is both the fuel and product of modern Indian capitalism.

Who are India’s Adivasis? Put very simply, the term Adivasi—which means original inhabitant—refers to a range of ethnic groups that predominantly inhabit hilly and forested areas across rural India. They are classified by the Indian constitution as belonging to the category of 'scheduled tribes', a designation which reflects the fact that Indian authorities do not recognise Adivasis as being indigenous people, but rather define them as ‘tribal’ according to a specific set of features. These include their dependence on subsistence agriculture and their distinct ethnic and cultural identity, which tends to position them beyond the pale of even the ‘lowest’ rungs of India’s caste system. Constituting roughly eight percent of the country’s population, the Adivasis are vastly overrepresented among the poor in India: according to recent data, almost half of all Adivasis—some 44.7 percent—live below a very meager poverty line of 816 Rupees (£8.32/$12.75) per month for rural households…

… We must begin with poverty if we are to understand why Adivasis so often work under conditions that Walk Free refers to as slavery. Adivasis are overwhelmingly poor, a fact acknowledged in the Global Slavery Index, and it is this poverty that compels Adivasis to turn to labour migration. This is often the first step to working under varying degrees of unfreedom. Let us ask then ask a very basic question: where does that poverty come from?

Speaking broadly there are two causes that stand out: the twin losses of livelihood and land. Firstly, Adivasi poverty stems from the erosion of their agricultural livelihoods. Historically, the core of tribal livelihoods is subsistence cultivation, which is now rarely capable of sustaining a household for a full year. While some aspects of this situation are specific to Adivasi livelihoods, this state of affairs is symptomatic of a larger crisis of small and marginal agriculturalists in the context of neoliberal reform in India. This crisis is most acutely manifest in the quarter of a million farmers who committed suicide in India between 1995 and 2011, due to severe economic distress.

In addition, many Adivasis who have turned to labour migration have been dispossessed of their land due to the construction of the large dams, industrial plants, and mines that are intended to bolster India’s emergence as an economic superpower. Let’s recall the figures for a moment: Adivasis constitute eight percent of India’s population. However, even conservative estimates suggest they also constitute 40 to 50 percent of the 20 to 30 million people who have been dispossessed by large-scale infrastructure and development projects since independence in 1947. Given that policies for resettlement and rehabilitation have been woefully inadequate, the vast majority of those who have been dispossessed have no other choice than labour migration—and whatever work can be found within migration circuits—in order to survive. In other words, the poverty that compels Adivasis to resort to forms of labour that are profoundly unfree is produced by the fundamental workings of Indian capitalism...


The terrorism they don't talk about

In the US six black churches burn down in seven days, three of which have already been named as arson. 

Capitalism - sugar coated

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year, and should be eliminated from people’s diets, medical experts have warned. The global death toll from sugar-laden drinks – ranging from soft drinks to fruit smoothies – has been revealed in a new paper published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal.

Most of the deaths are from people who die from diabetes, estimated at some 133,000 a year. Around 45,000 people die each year from heart disease and another 6,450 from cancer, according to the study - which is the first comprehensive assessment of the global deaths attributable to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

When it comes to the total number of deaths annually, the United States tops the list – with 25,347. But when it comes to the actual death rate, Mexico is top – with 404.5 deaths per million adults. Most of the deaths are concentrated among adults aged 20 to 44 years of age in low and middle income countries, say researchers. Britain has 1,316 deaths a year, with an estimated mortality rate of 30.5 per million adults.

It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet,” commented Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author of the study and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University in Boston. “There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year.”

As the tobacco industry previously did, the British Soft Drinks Association to protect their profits denied any connection with the consumption of their products and bad health leading to death.

SOYMB blog’s comment is that over 3 million children die each year caused by malnutrition, through no faut of their own. Apologists for capitalism are also in denial mode to the fact that the buying and selling system is to blame, too 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Economy Of Exclusion and The Disparate Impact of Climate Change


Mr. Ban, the United Nations secretary general, had brought the leaders of all his major agencies to see Pope Francis, a show of organizational muscle and respect for a meeting between two global institutions that had sometimes shared a bumpy past but now had a mutual interest.
The agenda was poverty, and Francis inveighed against the "economy of exclusion" as he addressed Mr. Ban's delegation at the Apostolic Palace. But in an informal meeting with Mr. Ban and his advisers, Francis shifted the discussion to the environment and how environmental degradation weighed heaviest on the poor.

The encyclical—which has now been formally issued—includes an economic critique of the way in which global capitalism has facilitated both the exploitation of nature and vast inequities among people—even people living in the same countries. That message makes the encyclical a distinctly political document, no matter how forcefully the Vatican insists that it is intended to be a statement of theology and morality, not politics. The Pontiff has raised two issues that are seldom recognized in the heated debates over climate policy: the interrelated nature of the policy decisions we make and the social and economic systems we institutionalize; and the wildly disparate impact of those decisions and systems on those who are "differently situated," as lawyers might put it.

The term "privilege" is usually connected to a descriptor like "white" or "male," but we might also consider what privilege means for other kinds of diversity in the context of global climate change. Similarly, we tend to think of poverty as the absence of money and material goods, but poverty includes many other deficits, including an individual's ability to withstand or recover from incidents of violent weather, to cope with economic changes and job losses linked to climate change, and eventually, the means to move away from newly uninhabitable locations.

A prime example unfolding in the past few days is that of Karachi, Pakistan which can be seen as a clear indicator of future global events in this business and money oriented world system called capitalism:

Over 950 people have perished in just five days. The morgues, already filled to capacity, are piling up with bodies, and in over-crowded hospitals the threat of further deaths hangs in the air.
Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, home to over 23 million people, is gasping in the grip of a dreadful heat wave, the worst the country has experienced since the 1950s, according to the Meteorology Department.

Temperatures rose to 44.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Jun. 20, dropped slightly the following day and then shot back up to 45 degrees on Tuesday, Jun. 23 putting millions in this mega-city at risk of heat stroke. Though the entire southern Sindh Province is affected – recording 1,100 deaths in total – its capital city, Karachi, has been worst hit – particularly due to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, which climatologists say make 45-degree temperatures feel like 50-degree heat. In this scenario, heat becomes trapped, turning the city into a kind of slow-cooking oven.

Already crushed by dismal health indicators, the poor have scant means of avoiding sun exposure, which intensifies their vulnerability.
Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, tells IPS that 50 percent of the dead were picked up from the streets.
Two days into the crisis, with every free space occupied and corpses arriving by the hundreds, the city’s largest morgue, run by the same charity, began burying bodies that had not been claimed.
“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time,” Mohammad Bilal, who heads the Edhi Foundation’s mortuary, tells IPS.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are groaning under the strain of attempting to treat some 40,000 people across the province suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Saeed Quraishy, medical superintendent at Karachi’s largest government-run Civil Hospital, says they have stopped all elective admissions in order to focus solely on emergencies cases.

And as always – as with droughts, floods or any other extreme weather events – the poor are the first to die off in droves.

The crisis is shedding light on several converging issues with which Pakistan has been grappling: energy shortages, the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the fallout from rapid urbanisation.
Though a census has not been carried out since 1998, NGOs say there are hundreds of millions who live and work on the streets, including beggars, hawkers and manual labourers.
More than 62 percent of the population here lives in informal settlements, with a density of nearly 6,000 people per square kilometre. Many of them have no access to basic services like water and electricity, both crucial during times of extreme weather. The ‘kunda’ system, in which power is illegally tapped from the electrical mains, is a popular way around the ‘energy apartheid’. Just this month, the city’s power utility company pulled down 1,500 such illicit ‘connections’.

But even the 46 percent of households across the country that are connected to the national electric grid are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. With Pakistan facing a daily energy shortage of close to 4,000 mega watts, power outages of up to 20 hours a day are not unusual. At such moments, wealthier families can fall back on generators. But for the estimated 91 million people in the country who live on less than two dollars a day, there is no ‘Plan B’ – there is only a battle for survival, which too many in the last week have fought and lost.
For the bottom half of Pakistani society, official notifications on how to beat the heat are simply in one ear and out the other. Taking lukewarm showers, using rehydration salts or staying indoors are not options for families eking out a living on 1.25 dollars or those who live in informal settlements where hundreds of households must share a single tap.

The monsoon rains are still some days away, and until they arrive there is no telling how many more people will be moved from the streets into graves.
Interestingly, while other parts of the province have recorded higher temperatures, the deaths have occurred largely in Karachi due to urban congestion and overcrowding, experts say, with the majority of deaths reported in poor localities like Lyari, Malir and Korangi.
The end may be in sight for now, but as climate change becomes more extreme, incidents like these are only going to increase in magnitude and frequency, according to climatologists like Dr. Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry.

taken from here and here

SOYMB can only repeat once again that the solution to ending the ills and inequalities of capitalism is to democratically seek its abolition in favour of a global system geared to putting people and planet at the top of the agenda.
It's not going to happen any other way.


Child Labour and India

According to the ILO, involves more than 120 million children between the ages of five and 14 around the world.  

 Despite being a vibrant economic zone, Asia Pacific is the region with the largest incidents of child labour, with a reported 18.8 percent of the 650 million working children around the world.  

 Children around the region are found to be working in a broad range of economic sectors, from garment factories in Bangladesh, to sugarcane plantations in Cambodia, and fishing boats in the Philippines. Other sectors include seafood processing, entertainment, mining, scavenging and domestic labour.  

 Many factors influence the prevalence of child labour, with poverty being the root cause of children having to work.

In a bid to overhaul the country’s child labour laws, the Indian government has banned the employment of children below 14 years of age in various commercial ventures, while permitting them to work in family enterprises and on farmlands after school hours and during vacations. The Act defines 64 industries as hazardous, deeming it a criminal offence for children to employed in any of them. While parents or guardians will not face any punishment for the first offence, a maximum fine of about 150 dollars will be levied for the second and subsequent offences. The new amendment will, however, permit kids to work in “non-hazardous” businesses, the entertainment industry (including films, advertisements and TV serials) and sporting events from the 18 occupations and 65 processes specified under the 1986 law.

Indian Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who helms the child rights non-profit organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan, has been calling for a ban on every form of child labour in India for kids up to 14 years of age. Activists fear that the provision allowing children to help out in domestic or family-based occupations will enable families to flout or skirt the new law.

“The new amendment will push millions of innocent children into forced labour and deprive them of education and a normal childhood,” Rakesh Slenger of Bachpan Bachao Andolan told IPS. “The girl child will be particularly disadvantaged as she will be denied education while being stuck with all the household work.” Experts also fear this loophole violates the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India signed and ratified in 1992. The worst off will be kids from marginalized backgrounds who need to equip themselves with an education and job skills in Asia’s third largest economy to brighten their employment prospects. Experts also allege the government is overlooking the fact that even in household enterprises, children still remain vulnerable to exploitation and health hazards, which impacts their education.

The 2011 census puts the number at 4.35 million working children in the 5-14 age bracket. One in every 100 full-time workers in India is under the age of 14, and a third of those child workers are under the age of nine. This augurs ill for a country of 1.25 billion people, 42 percent of whom are children. Already, many kids are at risk of languishing in an endless cycle of poverty – an estimated 23 percent of the population survives on less than 1.25 dollars a day – particularly since the government slashed the budget allocation for the ministry of women and child development by 1.5 billion dollars this year. Activists say this move could deprive millions of marginalised Indian kids the chance to turn their lives around.

Kids in the agriculture sector are made to carry heavy loads and sprinkle harmful pesticides on crops. So-called “family enterprises” are no better, say experts. This includes such industries as matchbox making, carpet weaving and gem polishing. In these sectors, where child labour is in high demand, police raids have highlighted inhumane conditions in which children are made to work for no pay, with scant food and no access to toilets.

India’s beedi (cigarette)-making industry is particularly notorious for employing kids as young as seven years old. While government figures put the total number of workers engaged in this informal industry at 4.4 million, activists claim the real number is nearly double that, totaling roughly 10 million labourers.

According to the social activist, Amod Kanth, founder of Prayaas, a non-profit working for children’s welfare, relaxing legislation on child labour as a means of alleviating poverty is a deeply flawed strategy. “The move will nullify whatever progress the country has made in getting children out of forced labour and into school. As it is government surveys are known to under-report child labour. If child labour is legalised, the situation will spiral out of control.”

Rather than going in for piecemeal amendments to current laws, activists say the government should revamp the flagship 1986 Act itself, which has failed to curb child labour effectively. A new beginning will also pave way for the rehabilitation of millions of children rescued from exploitative industries or households, they say.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee On the Child Labour Amendment Act underscores the fallacy of the government proposing to keep a check on children working in their homes.

“The Ministry is itself providing loopholes by inserting this proviso since it would be very difficult to make out whether children are merely helping their parents or are working to supplement the family income. Further, allowing children to work after school is detrimental to their health, as rest and recreation is important for fullest physical and mental development in the formative years, besides adversely affecting their studies,” states the report.

From here

Fellow Workers

We are witnessing the largest and most rapid escalation ever in the number of people being forced from their homes. According to UNHCR, by the end of 2014, just short of 60 million people were “forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations” In 2014, an average of 42,500 people were displaced every day. Millions of people fled conflict in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as persecution in areas of Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, creating the highest level of displacement since World War II. More than 125,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, all carrying the hope that they will be able to start new lives in Europe. Many more will have arrived by other means using forged documents or will have overstayed on their visas. Those from countries subject to conflict or severe human rights abuses such as Syria and Eritrea have a good chance of being able to remain in the European Union as refugees. But the majority will be classified as irregular migrants who, in theory, can be returned to their home countries.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos called on countries confronted with large numbers of arrivals to take advantage of an emergency clause of the EU Return Directive that allows irregular migrants, including families with children, to be detained in prisons rather than in separate immigration detention facilities, for up to 18 months. The detention of migrants, including children, for longer periods in prison settings would be viewed as a major retrograde step by rights groups, who have long campaigned for an end to immigration detention altogether.

“I think it represents a hardening of attitudes as part of a general concern about trying to manage the big increase in numbers,” Steve Peers, a law professor at the University of Essex, told IRIN. Peers pointed out that the EU Commission also recently published a paper providing guidelines for the use of force on migrants who refuse to be fingerprinted. “To say the least, this is hard to square with the EU’s frequent professions of support for the human rights and decent treatment of migrants.”

Referring to “a crisis of human suffering” at EU borders, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) accused member states of neglecting their humanitarian duty. “Urgent action should be taken to allow asylum-seekers entering through EU’s southern borders to get the assistance and protection they are entitled to according to EU directives.”

An aggressive strategy by the United States to deter thousands of people fleeing violence in Mexico and Central America includes keeping women and children in detention for months while they await asylum hearings. Following a peak in arrivals last year of children and families, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, President Barack Obama’s administration was under pressure to introduce tough measures to stem the flow. The response has included expanding the use of family detention. Lawyers and activists are trying to shut the new facilities down and bring an end to family detention altogether, arguing that it is inhumane to incarcerate children awaiting asylum hearings.
Mayra Cifuentes Cruz, an indigenous Mayan, initially fled Huehuetenango for the United States in December 2013 after being attacked and hounded off her land by a wealthy landowner. Although she told border officials she feared for her life, she was not granted a so-called “credible fear” interview and was deported back to Guatemala. Such interviews are supposed to be used to determine whether an individual has a “credible fear” of persecution or torture back home that would make them eligible to apply for asylum. Most of the women and children fleeing gang and domestic violence in Central America are not evading detection when they are apprehended at the border. “When they arrive they are looking for someone to help them because of the humanitarian nature of their flight,” Greg Chen from the American Immigration Lawyers Association told IRIN

The UK is to build a 9-foot high high-security fence over 2-miles long that was previously used to secure the London Olympics and last year’s NATO summit in Wales, at the lorry terminal in Coquelles, near Calais to deter migrants.

63,000 migrants have arrived in Greece by sea so far this year, overtaking Italy (62,000) for the first time, according to the UN.

Macedonia, a country of just two million inhabitants, has become a major thoroughfare for migrants and asylum-seekers intent on reaching northern Europe and avoiding the deadly sea crossing from Libya to Italy. But the route through Macedonia has many dangers of its own. Following the railway from the Greek border, they must travel on foot for 200 kilometres to the border with Serbia. The hazards along the way include criminal gangs, speeding trains, police beatings, detention and kidnapping.

In the “war on drugs” there is something called the “balloon effect”: squeeze the balloon in one place, and it expands somewhere else. Something similar is happening with efforts to crack down on migration, with an important difference: when the balloon consists of people, they get more desperate the harder you squeeze. So too do border officials and politicians.

The balloon effect puts the supposed success of some migration control operations in a rather different light. For instance, desperate EU politicians have looked to Spain and Australia as models of migration control that have worked – yet these experiments have been successful only in the narrowest sense. Spain’s much-celebrated closure of the maritime route between the Canary Islands and West Africa around 2007 simply shuffled people around. The route itself had only emerged after tough crackdowns in northern Morocco pushed routes south; and as Spain and African states started collaborating on deportations and patrols in the Atlantic, routes shifted again, now towards the Sahara. And voilà – Spain’s problem became Italy’s, then Greece’s, and on it went. As European leaders celebrate 30 years of the Schengen agreement on free movement across the Union this week, they would rather have us forget about this self-interested scramble to make irregular migration someone else’s problem.

Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders has been much praised by hardliners and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called on Europe to adopt similarly harsh measures and simply “stop the boats”. No matter that Australia, like Spain, has depended on poor and powerless neighbours for the success of its draconian offshore policy - a solution simply not available in Europe’s relations with states in North Africa, where there’s no Nauru in sight. And never mind the cruelty and human rights abuses in detention, the pushbacks and even the reported payments to smugglers. Even if taken as a success on its own narrow numerical terms, we should recall that the nationalities that were arriving in Australia now overlap with those arriving in Europe. Some 3,500 Afghans arrived in Australia in 2012-13; after the launch of Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, overall arrival figures dropped dramatically. Meanwhile, the number of Afghans arriving at Europe’s borders shot up from about 9,500 in 2013 to more than 22,000 in 2014. As the CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia told The Guardian in April, “What Australia has done is just displace the issue away from the shores of Australia, by promoting an attitude of deterrence and harsh responses. They have, almost without doubt, made the situation worse for people who have tried to find safety in Europe.”

Different destinations, similar story. Israel – also keen to extol its border control model – completed a fence along its border with Egypt in early 2013, and around the same time, draconian new detention provisions were put in place. As IRIN reported at the time, until then “about 1,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, were reaching Israel every month.” Soon after, that figure was almost zero. Meanwhile, border reinforcements in Saudi Arabia and growing hostility towards foreigners in South Africa have made refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa recoil from those destinations too. During this period, detections of Eritreans at the EU’s external borders shot up, from 2,604 in 2012 to 34,586 in 2014, while the number of Somalis arriving at Europe’s borders more than doubled between 2011 and 2014.

Under US pressure after a record number of unaccompanied Central American children reached the Mexico-US border, Mexico launched “Plan Frontera Sur” (the Southern Border Plan). The initiative has seen security beefed up along the border with Central America's Northern Triangle – including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – but it has also led to a crackdown on migrants and asylum-seekers heading north on buses and trains.  As a result, in the first four months of the year, deportations of Central American migrants from Mexico rose 79 percent compared to the same period last year, while detention of minors almost doubled, according to Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM). The Southern Border Plan is broadly viewed by migrant rights activists as a step in the wrong direction. Claudio Montoya of the Human Rights Commission of the state of Coahuila argues that migrants are less willing to report abuses or go to the hospital with a medical emergency because of fear of being detained or deported, and are more likely to take dangerous routes to avoid detection. “The migrant problem still exists, but it has gone underground. And there is more violence against them.” according to Pedro Pantoja, a Catholic priest who runs a shelter for migrants. 

In short, irregular migration routes are globalising, as most recently seen with the Rohingya boats pushed back and forth in south-east Asia’s seas. As the callous response to the Rohingya’s plight showed, routes have globalised in parallel with a punitive “border security” model that generates ever larger risks for border-crossers without reducing overall numbers. As this security model has been exported from its western heartland, it has simply empowered and fed the security forces, corrupt regimes, defence contractors and human smugglers variously involved in the trade, from Mexico to Turkey to Thailand. A “not in my backyard” approach has occasionally reaped short-term rewards for national governments, yet internationally, this one-eyed approach spells disaster. Instead of an evidence-based policy, we get political point-scoring. With more and more funds poured into migration controls in Europe and elsewhere, and record fatalities at borders, it is time for a rethink. Refugees and migrants have been making the headlines like never before. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, acknowledges that since the Refugee Convention was drafted, global migration patterns have become much more complex and refugees now often travel alongside millions of so-called economic migrants. In an age when neither refugees nor migrants are particularly welcome, the line between the two is increasingly blurred and the terms themselves have become politically loaded. Economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families,” whereas “refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.” The reality is much murkier. People often move for a number of reasons that may include fear of persecution as well as wanting to find better economic opportunities, and they may move more than once, like the Syrians who initially crossed into Turkey or Jordan but are now boarding boats to Greece. Most of the boats now crossing the Mediterranean contain both migrants and refugees, a phenomenon that researchers refer to as “mixed migration”. However, it often serves the interests of politicians to refer to everyone crossing the Mediterranean as illegal migrants who are generally viewed as much less deserving of our sympathy and support than refugees. Only in situations where there are mass movements of refugees – usually as a result of war – and no need or capacity to do individual refugee status determinations, do host governments sometimes make the decision to recognise all new arrivals from that country as “prima facie” refugees. Melissa Phillips, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, has pointed out that such distinctions matter because migrants are generally viewed as much less deserving of our sympathy and support than refugees. “It is time we stopped talking solely about migrants and start to use more technically accurate and relevant labels,” she writes.

Chris Horwood, coordinator of the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat. “If an Eritrean gets refugee status in Sudan and then moves on (as most do) towards Europe, even though they may think of themselves as registered refugees, once they leave Sudan they are migrants/asylum-seekers again.” While failed asylum-seekers may still consider themselves refugees, the state that rejected them now considers them an irregular migrant who must either leave the country or be forced to leave.

The term “forced migrants” is sometimes used, mainly by academics, to acknowledge the many people who migrate unwillingly but don’t fall under the Refugee Convention’s technical definition of a refugee and are therefore not entitled to international protection. This would include people who have abandoned their homes and countries because of drought or some other natural disaster.

Loren Landau at the African Centre for Migration & Society at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg observed “research in southern Africa suggests that people who claim asylum or become refugees are, for the most part, little different in experiences or needs than those who don't.” He added that to say this publicly had become increasingly difficult as it was viewed as giving ammunition to those who would like to place more limits on asylum.

Ruben Andersson, an anthropologist with the London School of Economics and author of “Illegality, Inc.” commented “Our terminology on human movement is in a real muddle.” 

SOYMB describe economic migrants, asylum seekers, refugees as fellow-workers and in the words of Eugene Debs:

“If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare. Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.”

Bill Gates…having your cake and eating it,too


The 2013 study “Oil and Carbon Revisited: Value at Risk from ‘Unburnable' Reserves,” from the giant global bank HSBC explained: 
“The IEA's World Energy Outlook (2012 edition) estimated that in order to have a 50% chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2ºC, only a third of current fossil fuel reserves can be burned before 2050. The balance could be regarded as ‘unburnable'.”
For only a 50% chance of a livable world in 2050 the remaining two-thirds must be wasted (left permanently in the ground).

Bill Gates, what's not good enough seems to be instead too good, too much. He doesn't want merely for those two-thirds to be burnt; he wants even more oil and gas and coal to be discovered; he wants to add yet more to these unburnable reserves. According to Gates fossil fuel divestment alone will not halt climate change and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will continue its investments in like BP.  

He was “rejecting calls from environmental campaign groups for shareholders to dump holdings in oil and gas companies, on the grounds this will have little impact.”

This money that his Foundation is investing props up these companies' stock prices, so that even more oil and gas can be discovered and added to their existing stockpile of unburnable reserves. Exploration, after all, is what a company like BP does: it explores for and develops — sends to market — yet new sources of unburnable oil and gas. If it doesn't explore for yet more oil and gas and coal, then it simply dies. There are all of those sunk costs, which will kill it, even when they stop exploration altogether. If the assets that they've discovered in the past can't be sold, then certainly new such assets can't be sold — but Bill Gates wants his ‘charity' to pay (indirectly) to discover more such ‘assets.' He apparently wants to burn the planet. But, he says he doesn't; so, Gates himself also personally "will invest $2 billion in green energy.”

Sunday, June 28, 2015

California drying up

Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California all share water from the Colorado River, a hugely important water resource that sustains 40 million people in those states, supports 15 percent of the nation’s food supply, and fills two of largest water reserves in the country. The severe shortages of rain and snowfall have hurt California’s $46 billion agricultural industry and helped raise national awareness of the longer-term shortages that are affecting the entire Colorado River basin.

When officials divvied up rights to Colorado River water nearly a century ago, it happened to be a wetter period than usual. The result? The states vastly overestimated the river’s annual flow. Today, the river’s reserves are especially low and states are still claiming the same amount of water from the Colorado River that they always have — which is 1.4 trillion gallons a year more than the river actually produces.

California uses almost one-third of the entire Colorado River flow, having a larger share than any other Colorado River basin state. California gets 16 percent of its surface water — water that comes from snowpack, streams, and rivers — from the Colorado River via two huge aqueducts. The California Aqueduct runs beneath mountains into Riverside County and eventually toward Los Angeles, providing a substantial supply for both L.A. and San Diego. The All-American Canal moves water along the tail-end of the Colorado River near the Mexican border, nourishing one of the state’s most valuable agriculture areas, Imperial County, where a large proportion of the nation’s winter fruits and vegetables are grown. Of the seven basin states, California holds the most senior legal rights to the Colorado, which entitle it to keep drawing water even as Lake Mead runs dry and the rest of the Colorado River states suffer through shortages. That means in the short term, not much that California does will change the situation on the Colorado, unless it were to voluntarily surrender more of its entitlement to the river. But should Colorado River shortages worsen to the point that the states ever renegotiate that division of water, a reduction of California’s Colorado River water rights could have a brutal impact on California’s remaining supplies. Officials in California, like every other state in the region, are now facing a “new normal,”

For all of the warnings people in the West get about taking shorter showers and turning off sprinklers, the fact remains that agriculture uses the most water, by far. Farming and agriculture use more than 70 percent of the water that flows from the Colorado River to the seven river basin states.

Most of California is experiencing “extreme to exceptional drought,” and the crisis has now entered its fourth year. This month, signaling how serious the current situation is, state officials announced the first cutback to farmers’ water rights since 1977, and ordered cities and towns to cut water use by as much as 36 percent. Those who don’t comply with the cuts will face fines, but some farmers are already ignoring the new rules, or challenging them in court. The drought shows no sign of letting up any time soon, and the state’s agricultural industry is suffering. A recent study by U.C. Davis researchers projected that the drought would cost California’s economy $2.7 billion in 2015 alone.

Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops a farmer can grow, especially in a desert. As it happens, many of the crops that use less water entitle farmers to fewer federal subsidies, and so farmers don’t have much of an incentive to switch crops. Though cotton production has dropped steeply in California, since 1995, California farmers have gotten $3 billion in federal subsidies to grow it. On top of subsidies, “Use it or Lose It” clauses in state water laws actually encourage farmers to flood their fields with much more water than they need lest they lose the right to that amount of water in the future.

Calculations by the Pacific Institute indicate that, by eating food grown in California, each American indirectly uses more than 300 gallons of the state’s water each week. Almonds, which require a comparatively huge amount of water to produce, have become the most visible scapegoat for an enormous problem of which they are only one small part. One almond takes almost an entire gallon of water to produce — but so does a tiny slice of cantaloupe, four strawberries, two florets of broccoli, or a fraction of an egg. In fact, some of the biggest “water hogs,” indirectly, are meat and dairy. Cows and chickens and other animals eat a lot of crops, which in turn require a lot of water. So it takes 86 gallons of water to make just 1.75 ounces of beef. Some research has suggested that the country’s meat industries create such a high demand for water-thirsty feed crops, that if every American ate meat one less day a week, it could save as much water as flows through the Colorado River in an entire year.