Saturday, October 21, 2017

NYC Cabs

The medallion system regulates the yellow taxis serving New York City: since 1937, each vehicle has needed a medallion in order to legally operate. Few taxi drivers own theirs; most lease them, paying around $100 for one 12-hour shift. The limited number of medallions issued by the city made each one highly valuable; individual medallion sale prices went from $50,000 in the late 1970s to over $1m by 2014. For many taxi drivers, owning a medallion meant success. Homes would be purchased. Children would be sent to universities. Then Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps arrived. Ride-hail cars saturated the market, and an exodus of drivers from yellow taxis made medallion values drop precipitously.
Today, there are more than 13,000 yellow medallion taxis in New York, split among about 40,000 drivers – some own their own medallions and cars, but most do not; many drivers work for a fleet, like the characters from Taxi, and pay to rent each car on a daily or weekly basis. The job is not easy: the standard shift is 12 hours, and with the cost of leasing a car and filling the gas tank, a bad day means taking a loss. For every moment spent without a paying passenger, the driver loses money. Occasionally, passengers are abusive or violent; nationwide, taxi drivers are over 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than anyone else.
Uber officially arrived in New York in 2011; by 2015, Uber cars outnumbered taxis – and took away millions of rides. Taxi drivers, noticing the drop in passengers, began to leave the business behind: many transitioned towards driving for Uber, for other ride-hailing services like Lyft, Juno or Via – or for all of them at once. Now, fleets struggle to find enough drivers, and empty yellow taxis sit dormant in garages throughout the city. Uber are exploiting the drivers,” he said. When a passenger lodged a complaint against him, Uber suspended his account – and Qurashi was unable to defend himself against the passenger’s claims.“I didn’t have power or anything. It was customers’ rights, not workers’ rights.”
Taxi drivers who want to organize can join the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA), an organization that claims 18,000 members and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. But taxi drivers are independent contractors and are not protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The NYTWA can coordinate protests and strikes but has no collective bargaining rights.
“I wish we were more united, and able to fight. There’s no union for us.” 

Robots and Capitalism

An interesting observation on the Commondreams website by Jim Hightower.

"To be clear, it’s not robots that are taking our jobs, but corporate profiteers. They’re creating a robot economy in order to displace you and me with inexpensive machines that don’t demand higher wages or health care, don’t take sick days or vacations, and don’t organize unions, file lawsuits, or vote for pro-worker politicians.

Robots are not our enemy – the corporate bosses, bankers, and BSers who own robots are the ones doing this to us, and now is the time for all of us whom they’re about to discard to rebel against their socially destructive greed."

Tough when you get old

About 15 million people have no pension savings and face a bleak future in retirement. 31% of UK adults have no private pension provision and will have to rely entirely on the state in their retirement. The full state pension is £159.55 per week, but that is only available to individuals who have a complete record of national insurance contributions.

Even among those with a company pension, the survey reveals few people will benefit from a generous “final salary” arrangement, which is based on their income just before retirement. The FCA found that only 16% of working people have a final salary pension, while 41% will have to depend on a “defined contribution” (DC) pension, where the payouts will depend on the vagaries of the stock market. Most people with DC pensions state that they have relatively little in their pension pot. Around two-fifths have less than £5,000 

The God of Profit

Pollution is deadly. So why does the environment continue to be abused and neglected?

Always the refrain "It's terrible. Something needs to be done!" Ans as another report revels the continuing damage to the world and its people, there is another chorus of indignant "It's terrible. Something needs to be done!"
 If things are so bad, why isn't it being fixed?
The simple answer is that our planet and its peoples are being sacrificed to the God of Profit. In the end, it's very much about money and healthy returns to the corporations even at the cost of our health. The root cause of most environmental problems is this economic system's need to accumulate capital, to always expand to compete with other businesses. We are victims sacrificed at the altar of profits, whether it is for the investors in the fossil fuel industry, the automobile industry, the chemical industry, or the food industry. Politicians and governments around the globe serve the God of Profit. 
It is time you and i began to become heretics and started to rebel against this religion of capitalism and its priests in parliaments.

Quotes of the Day

Simoqi disdained any kind of religious practice now – though he was proud to be a Yazidi. “Religion is politics,” Simoqi said.

“I didn’t go to mosque in Gaza because they use mosques as a way to control people. On Fridays, they talk politics, not religion,” Qaddas said. “They’re using Islam for their own interests. If someone is really Muslim, you serve and help others. You don’t kill lots of other Muslims.”

Al-Kahldy, a Shia Iraqi who’d also fled ISIS, nodded. “People need humanity, not religion.” He explains, “When I came to Germany, I thought Muslims were the best people. This is what our society taught. We’re the chosen people. Everyone else is an infidel,” al-Kahldy said. But the people who had helped him most as a refugee – finding a place to live outside the shelters, learning German, facing his trauma, making friends – were all non-believers. Al-Kahldy became an atheist in Germany. “Look what’s happening to Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Every day we’re waking up and praying, ‘Ya Allah,’ and there’s no answer. Germans aren’t praying, but they have freedom and choice and they’re not Muslims.” 

Hakim Zade lived in Iran for 18 years after fleeing the Taliban. But in 2013, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps visited him one night and asked the former military doctor to go fight in Syria, “I said, ‘I’m a Muslim, but I left Afghanistan because I’m tired of fighting. I don’t want to fight. This is not my war,’” Zade said. Under pressure from Iranian authorities, he returned to Kabul, only to be threatened by the Taliban, so the family left for Europe.

Yara Aldebeyat, a 23-year-old from Hama, Syria, wore a black tank top with matching eyeliner, snacking on chocolate despite the Ramadan fast. “I’m Muslim, but sometimes I wear a cross necklace in the ‘Arab Street,’” she said, referring to a street in Berlin that has become a hub for Arab businesses. “Otherwise Arabs are telling me, ‘Sister, why do you dress like this? Are you fasting or not?’ Some of them are Lebanese, Palestinian, not even refugees, and they think they can tell me what to do.” Syrians have brought their divides over religion with them to Germany, she said. “The liberal, secular people are still fighting the sectarian and religious people. The pressure we feel is not so much between Germans and Syrians as it is between Syrians,” Aldebeyat said.

27-year-old Avin Alyusuf felt more pressure from Germans than back home in Syria’s Qamishli, where she says she hadn’t even thought about whether or why her friends wore hijabs. When she arrived in Germany, a friend who’d arrived six years earlier advised her to take off her hijab. “I felt really uncomfortable wearing it. I was pregnant and we didn’t have papers, and people looked at me like an alien,” said Alyusuf, who is Kurdish and now living in Cologne. “Religion is something private and personal here. No one asks if you’re Christian or Muslim. But if you put on a hijab, it’s like you’re saying, ‘I’m Muslim.’” Alyusuf didn’t have a religious leader that she trusted in Germany, so she turned to the Internet, researching different opinions for a year before she decided to remove her headscarf. “When I took it off, I felt fine, like I could be anyone,” Alyusuf said. 

 29-year-old Syrian archaeologist Jabbar Abdullah felt afraid when a spate of sexual assaults in the city on New Year’s Eve 2015 prompted backlash against migrants. “Sometimes I feel the whole world is against me, even though I know that’s not true. I hear the media and feel the whole world is talking about it, that refugees are harassers and criminals,” Abdullah said.
He rarely goes to mosque in Germany; he didn’t like that someone would always ask his name and whether he was a refugee. “You feel immediately like you’re just a number. Then they try to convert you, to make sure you’re part of their sect or confession or religion,” he said. “You’re a project. You’re not a person.”
“I want to go to mosque like I go to a cafe – like a normal person, anonymous, with no one asking where I’m from or what I am,” Abdullah said. “That’s how I want to talk about Syrians, too: not Syrians as Muslims, Syrians as refugees, but Syrians as Syrians. Syrians as people.”

Aussie Inequality

Australia is among countries with the highest growth in income inequality in the world over the past 30 years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s director of fiscal affairs, has told an audience at the launch of the IMF’s latest Fiscal Monitor that Australia’s income inequality growth has been similar to the US, South Africa, India, China, Spain and the UK since the 1980s.

IMF staff had used the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s income distribution database, Eurostat, and the World Bank’s Povcalnet data, among other sources, to calculate that income inequality had increased in nearly half of the world’s countries in the past three decades, and Australia had experienced a “large increase” in that time.

“Most people around the world live in countries where inequality has increased,” he said.

Real incomes for the top quintile of households grew by more than 40% between 2004 and 2014, while those for the lowest quintile only grew by about 25%.

The Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, when asked about his views on inequality at a charity lunch in Sydney, said it had grown “quite a lot” in the 1980s and 1990s and had risen “a little bit” recently, but it was important to make a distinction between income and wealth inequality. Wealth inequality has become more pronounced particularly in the last five or six years because there’s been big gains in asset prices,” Lowe said. “So the people who own assets, which are usually wealthy people, have seen their wealth go up.” He said income inequality had increased slightly in recent years, but wealth inequality was more pronounced because of rising asset prices."

Friday, October 20, 2017

Nature and Nurture

The question of whether human behavior is driven by innate biological forces or the product of our learning and environment has been a popular discussion at cocktail parties and scientific conferences for many years. To many people, the longevity of this debate suggests that we haven’t actually learned that much. In reality, however, a tremendous number of scientific advances have drastically improved our level of understanding.

Part 1: Nature Versus Nurture
The origins of nature versus nurture debate date back for thousands of years and across many cultures. The Greek philosopher Galen theorized that personality traits were the result of a person’s relative concentrations of four bodily fluids, or humours, namely blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The actual term nature-nurture comes from Sir Francis Galton's 1874 publication of English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture, in which he argued that intelligence and character traits came from hereditary factors (this was well before the modern science of genetics). His beliefs were in clear opposition to earlier scholars such as philosopher John Locke, who is well known for the theory that children are born a “blank slate” with their traits developing completely from experience and learning.
Fast forwarding to the 20th century, this debate continued in pretty much the same terms. For most of the 1900s, the two dominant schools of thought when it came to human behavior and psychiatric symptoms were behaviorism, which emphasized the importance of learning principles in shaping behavior, and psychoanalysis, which developed from the ideas of Sigmund Freud and focused on the ways that unconscious sexual and aggressive drives were channeled through various defense mechanisms. Despite the fact that these two perspectives were often in fierce opposition to each other, both shared the view that the environment and a person’s unique experiences, i.e. nurture, were the prevailing forces in development. 
Part 2: Nature and Nurture
From about the 1970s to the end of the 20th century, a noticeable shift occurred as direct knowledge of the brain and genetics started to swing the pendulum back to an increased appreciation of nature as a critical influence on a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 and the entire decade was designated as the “Decade of the Brain.” Neuroscience research exploded and many new psychiatric medications emerged and were used much more commonly than ever before.
Also during this time, the type of research design that had the most direct relevance to nature-nurture questions become popular. This was the twin study, which enabled researchers to calculate directly the degree to which a variable of interest (intelligence, height, anxiety level, etc.) could be attributed to genetic versus environmental factors. In doing this, a repeated finding when it came to behavioral variables was that both genetic and environmental influences were important, often at close to a 50/50 split in terms of magnitude.
These types of studies, combined with others, made it increasingly difficult to argue for the overwhelming supremacy of either nature or nurture as the primary driver of behavioral traits and disorders. Yet while many experts would now have to acknowledge the importance of both nature and nurture, the two worlds were generally treated as being quite independent. For example, terms such as “endogenous depression” were employed to differentiate people who had depressive symptoms from what were presumed to be more autonomously operating biological factors from those whose depression resulted from “psychological” causes, with different treatments being recommended based on that determination. Looking back, what appears now as the fatal flaw in this perspective was the assumption that if something was brain-based or “biological” then it, therefore, implied a kind of automatic wiring of the brain that was generally driven by genes and beyond the reach of environmental factors.
Part 3: Nature Is Nurture (and vice versa)
Today, most scientists who carefully examine the ever-expanding research base have come to appreciate that the nature and nurture domains are hopelessly interwoven with one another. Genes have an influence on the environments we experience. At the same time, a person’s environment and experience can directly change the level at which certain genes are expressed (a rapidly evolving area of research called epigenetics), which in turn alters both the physical structure and activity of the brain.
Given this modern understanding, the question of nature versus nurture ceases even to make sense in many ways. As an example, consider the developmental pathway a 10-year-old boy might have taken to eventually presenting to a mental health professional for high levels of aggressive behavior. He may have inherited a genetically-based temperamental predisposition to being aggressive. As a young child, that tendency to become irritable and angry would then often evoke more negative responses in other people such as parents, who may themselves struggle with controlling their own anger. These interactions begin to snowball, affecting his schoolwork and friendships and, through epigenetic mechanisms, all of these experiences cause this child’s brain to grow differently.   
 Yet there is also a hopeful message in this example, as an appreciation of these complicated interacting genetic and environmental factors give us many places in this cycle to intervene to stop this progression and even change the direction of the momentum. Now, we understand that not only are medications biological treatments but also things like psychotherapyparenting guidance, mindfulness practices, exercise, and good eating habits.
When the families of children ask whether or not their child’s struggles are behavioral or psychological, the best answer these days is “yes.”
For further reading 

"a hell on earth"

Nearly 340,000 Rohingya children are living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh camps where they lack enough food, clean water and health care, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said on Friday.
Up to 12,000 more children join them every week, fleeing violence or hunger in Myanmar, often still traumatised by atrocities they witnessed. In all, almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have left northern Rakhine state since 25 August when the UN says the Myanmar army began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” 
“This isn’t going to be a short-term, it isn’t going to end anytime soon,” Simon Ingram, the report’s author and a Unicef official, told a news briefing. “So it is absolutely critical that the borders remain open and that protection for children is given and equally that children born in Bangladesh have their birth registered.” Most Rohingya are stateless in Myanmar and many fled without papers, he said, adding of the newborns in Bangladesh: “Without an identity they have no chance of ever assimilating into any society effectively.”
Safe drinking water and toilets are in “desperately short supply” in the chaotic, teeming camps and settlements, Ingram said after spending two weeks in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
“In a sense it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” he said. One in five Rohingya children under the age of five is estimated to be acutely malnourished, requiring medical attention, he said. “There is a very, very severe risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases, diarrhoea and quite conceivably cholera in the longer-term,” he added.
“We repeat the call for the need for protection of all children in Rakhine state, this is an absolute fundamental requirement. The atrocities against children and civilians must end,” Ingram said. “We just must keep putting it on the record, we cannot keep silent.”

Oxbridge classism

Four-fifths of students accepted at Oxbridge between 2010 and 2015 had parents with top professional and managerial jobs, and the numbers have been edging upwards.Nationally about 31% of people are in the top two social income groups. These are people who work in managerial and professional occupations, such as lawyers and doctors. The data reveals these top two social classes cleaned up in terms of places, with their share of offers rising from 79% to 81% between 2010 and 2015.
A regional bias, with more offers made to Home Counties pupils than the whole of northern England.
 David Lammy MP said he was "appalled to discover" Oxbridge is actually moving backwards in terms of elitism. He said of the universities "In reality many Oxbridge colleges are still fiefdoms of entrenched privilege, the last bastions of the old school tie."
Less than 1% of the adult population graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, but the two universities have produced most of our prime ministers, the majority of our senior judges and civil servants, and many people in the media.
 "Oxbridge take over £800m a year from the taxpayer - paid for by people in every city, town and village. Whole swathes of the country - especially our seaside towns and the 'left behind' former industrial heartlands across the North and the Midlands are basically invisible. If Oxbridge can't improve, then there is no reason why the taxpayer should continue to give them so much money." Lammy explained.

1917 Triptych (poem)

The poem published below is from Dave Alton, a non-member and the present resident poet at the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield, which was submitted for publication in the Socialist Standard whose editors thoughtfully passed it on to ourselves to use. Dave explains,  the poem:
"resulted in my seeing parallels with the role Lenin played in relation to what Marx was advocating with that St. Paul played in establishing the Church in the name of a man he'd never met and, from the subsequent history of that Church, hardly understood. I am, of course, making ideological comparisons, not religious ones. Also, I am taking poetic liberties to reflect on the point that the Russian Revolution and its subsequent actions became and remains to a large extent what many (most?) people associate with the word socialism."

1917 Triptych

Damascene railcar fetched out Saul
From Switzerland to Petrograd,
Salvation being sent, sealed and barred,
By one cousin for another’s fall,
Toppling the bi-headed eagle
To cries of “Peace!” and “Land!” and “Bread!”.
Alighting Paul, his Red vanguard
Were prepared to assume it all.

Infallibility’s blinding!
Worse, while dazzled by it, there seems
Only one way, and it’s binding
On all followers, writ in reams
By the Evangelist finding
His word became the pearl that gleams.

As palace gates buckled and burst
The Evangelist glanced sideways,
Catching the peasants’ urgent gaze
And wondered, “Is this revolt cursed?”
A rude vision, not quite rehearsed:
Crusts of bread, slices of land play
For those not looking passed a haze
Of rhetoric, unlike the immersed.

Arora roared, the palace fell,
A once bright vision darkly gazed
Into ascendency of hell:
What notions built, history razed.
His apostles denied the fall
While their packed pyre of the damned blazed.

St. Petersburg to Petrograd,
Huge stride proclaimed and yet so short
A step it proved. In the Red fort
The Evangelist declared glad
Tidings, good news, his vision had
Been realised, bringing comfort
And joy to the world. He held court,
While, in their cells, heretics bled.

Blinded by his revelation,
The Evangelist’s disciples
Took his word to every nation,
And even where his principles
Sowed division, his oration
Echoed through doctrine’s articles.

Dave Alton

Expensive Child-care

The cost of childcare for young children in England has risen up to seven times faster than wages since 2008, TUC research shows.
childcare costs for parents with a one-year-old have soared by almost half (48%) over a period when their wages have fallen after adjusting for inflation, (rising by 12% in cash terms.)
The difference in the rate of increase was greatest in London, where childcare costs rose 7.4 times faster than pay between 2008 and 2016, and the East Midlands, where they rose seven times quicker. The smallest increase was in the east of England (35%), which saw childcare costs rise 2.9 times faster than wages since 2008.
Unlike parents with older children who have not started school, most of the 950,000 working parents with one-year-olds do not get any state help, meaning the costs are eating into their family budgets.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The cost of childcare is spiralling but wages aren’t keeping pace. Parents are spending more and more of their salaries on childcare, and the picture is even worse for single parents.
“Nearly a million working parents with one-year-old kids have eye-watering childcare bills. There is a real gap in childcare support for one-year-olds until government assistance kicks in at age two.
The union found that a single parent working full-time with a one-year-old in nursery for 21 hours a week spent more than a fifth (21%) of their wages on childcare last year. Where one parent was working full-time and the other part-time the figure was 14%, and for two parents working full-time it was 11%.
A single parent working full-time with a one-year-old child in nursery for 40 hours a week spent two-fifths (40%) of their salary on childcare last year.
 In each case the percentage was up on the equivalent 2008 figure.
 The Family and Childcare Trust (FCT), chief executive, Ellen Broomé explained: “For too many parents high childcare costs mean that it does not pay to work. Low-income families claiming universal credit typically take home just £1.96 per hour after childcare costs have been paid, and some get even less than this."
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), blamed the increase in costs on the government’s policy to extend “free” childcare for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours “without adequate investment”. She said: “Nurseries are left with a shortfall which can only be passed on to parents in the form of higher fees for paid-for hours.” 

“Socially Dead”

What an indictment of present-day society that we discard our elderly to the scrap-heap.

Today in France there are more than 300,000 older people who are “socially dead”. This terrible statistic was quoted yesterday by the Little Brothers of the Poor when they presented a study of the over-60s, undertaken by the CSA (Consumer Science Analytics) Institute. 

The break-down of social ties, and of relationships with a partner, family, neighbours or communities: a grim catalogue to which is sometimes added physical isolation imprisoning seniors in the house. 

Alain Villez, President of the Little Brothers of the Poor in France, who believes that the question of social isolation, highlighted by the high number of deaths in older people during the heatwave of 2003, should be taken more seriously.

More than one in ten of the over-60s feels lonely “every day or often”. And, according to this report, this feeling and this loneliness particularly affects the over-85s. Those questioned explained that they have no-one to rely upon on a daily basis. This isolation often results in going out less frequently and of doing fewer activities: 78% do none. And yet, 74% would like to do more activities if accessible.

To grow old in one’s own home with help for day-to-day living: this was the hope expressed by 84% of the elderly, as opposed to 3% who envisaged living in residential care with medical supervision.

Our Polluted Planet

 Study finds toxic air, water, soils and workplaces kill at least 9 million people every year. The study warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”. The report was produced by more than 40 researchers from governments and universities across the globe and was funded by the UN, the EU and the US.

 The true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants is poorly understood. This is because scientists are still discovering links between pollution and ill health, such as the connection between air pollution and dementia, diabetes and kidney disease. Furthermore, lack of data on many toxic metals and chemicals could not be included in the new analysis.  The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. Low-income and rapidly industrialising countries are worst affected, suffering 92% of pollution-related deaths, with Somalia suffering the highest rate of pollution deaths. India, where both traditional and modern pollution are severe, has by far the largest number of pollution deaths at 2.5m. China is second with 1.8m and Russia and the US are also in the top 10.

The US and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths from “modern” forms of pollution, ie fossil fuel-related air pollution and chemical pollution. In terms of workplace-pollution related deaths, the UK, Japan and Germany all appear in the top 10. 

“Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, said: “We are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry.” For example, he said, air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050. The scale of deaths from pollution had surprised the researchers and that two other “real shockers” stood out. First was how quickly modern pollution deaths were rising, while “traditional” pollution deaths – from contaminated water and wood cooking fires – were falling as development work bears fruit. Secondly, "we hadn’t really got our minds around how much pollution is not counted in the present tally,” he said. “The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million.

The researchers estimated the welfare losses from pollution at $4.6 trillion a year, equivalent to more than 6% of global GDP. “Those costs are so massive they can drag down the economy of countries that are trying to get ahead,” said Landrigan. “We always hear ‘we can’t afford to clean up pollution’ – I say we can’t afford not to clean it up.”

The commission report combined data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and elsewhere and found air pollution was the biggest killer, leading to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other illnesses. Outdoor air pollution, largely from vehicles and industry, caused 4.5m deaths a year and indoor air pollution, from wood and dung stoves, caused 2.9m. The next biggest killer was pollution of water, often with sewage, which is linked to 1.8m deaths as a result of gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections. Workplace pollution, including exposure to toxins, carcinogens and secondhand tobacco smoke, resulted in 800,000 deaths from diseases including pneumoconiosis in coal workers and bladder cancer in dye workers. Lead pollution, the one metal for which some data is available, was linked to 500,000 deaths a year.

“This is an immensely important piece of work highlighting the impact that environmental pollution has on death and disease,” said Dr Maria Neira, the WHO director of public health and the environment. “This is an unacceptable loss of lives and human development potential.”

The editor-in-chief of the Lancet, Dr Richard Horton, and the executive editor, Dr Pamela Das, said: “No country is unaffected by pollution. Human activities, including industrialisation, urbanisation, and globalisation, are all drivers of pollution. We hope the commission findings will persuade leaders at the national, state, provincial and city levels to make pollution a priority. Current and future generations deserve a pollution-free world.”

Landrigan said his biggest concern was the unknown impact of the hundreds of industrial chemicals and pesticides already widely dispersed around the world: “I worry we have created a situation where people are exposed to chemicals that are eroding intelligence or impairing reproduction or weakening their immune system, but we have not yet been smart enough to make the connection between the exposure and the outcome, because it is subtle.” On Wednesday, a horrific plunge in the abundance of vital insects was reported, with pesticides a possible cause.
“Pollution has not received nearly as much attention as climate change, or Aids or malaria – it is the most underrated health problem in the world,” he said.

Bangladesh Poverty

Around 10 per cent of rich Bangladeshis hold 38 per cent of the country's total income while some 10 per cent of the poor owns only one per cent of total income, according to a new survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).

The survey shows inequality in income between the rich and the poor has widened.

The 10 per cent extreme poor people of the country earned two per cent of the country's total income six years ago and it has now reduced to 1.1 per cent.

The top 10 per cent rich people earn 38.16 per cent of total income which was 35.84 per cent six years ago,

Top 30 per cent people, in terms of income, earn two-thirds of the country's total income.

 2016 also showed the country's poverty rate has come down to 24.3 per cent although it is still high in rural area with 26.4 per cent while 18.9 per cent in urban area. In 2010, the poverty rate at national level in the country was 31.5 percent with high poverty rate at the rural level having 35.2 per cent while 21.3 per cent at the urban level.

2016 showed that the extreme poverty rate came down to 12.9 per cent at the national level with highest 14.9 per cent at the rural level while the lowest 7.6 per cent at the urban level. In 2010, the extreme poverty rate was 17.6 per cent at the national level with the highest 21.1 per cent at the rural level and the lowest 7.7 per cent at the urban level.

Brazil Re-Defines Slavery

Victims of slave labour in Brazil are less likely to be rescued following a government decree that changes the country's definition of slavery and weakens the hand of inspectors, campaigners and human rights officials say.

In Brazil, forced labour has been defined as a form of modern-day slavery. This includes debt bondage, degrading work conditions, and long work hours that pose a risk to a worker's health or life, and violate their dignity. A decree issued by Brazil's labour ministry is a major setback in combatting slave labour because it changes the circumstances under which slavery is defined, limiting it to a victim's freedom of movement. Campaigners say changes to Brazil's anti-slavery law are politically motivated ahead of a vote - expected within days - over the fate of President Michel Temer.
Temer faces a vote in the lower house of Congress on whether to allow a trial against him on charges of obstruction of justice and organised crime in relation to a corruption case.
Campaigners suspect bargaining with powerful agricultural lobbyists and landowners, along with interested lawmakers. "This new decree is directly involved with Temer's efforts to save his neck from the guillotine .. the changes were issued at the moment when Temer needs their votes," Sakamoto said.

"Before, if a worker is sleeping with the pigs, has no water, and doesn't receive a wage, the labour inspector says this is slave labour, even though the worker can leave the farm," said Leonardo Sakamoto, a trustee of the U.N. Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which helps victims of slavery. "But today with this decree, this isn't slavery any more."

Rights groups estimate hundreds of thousands of people work in slave-like conditions on farms, sugar cane plantations and cattle ranches across Brazil's remote and jungle areas, as well as in urban factories and construction sites.

"The violation of (human) dignity is the main point that characterises the Brazilian definition of slavery," said Dominican friar Xavier Plassat, who heads the Pastoral Land Commission anti-slavery campaign."This isn't only a question of the violation of freedom but of negating dignity through degrading conditions and an exhaustive work day.

Adilson Carvalho, who heads the national commission for the eradication of slave labour at Brazil's ministry of human rights, said it was not consulted about the changes. "We're very concerned about the continuity of policies to combat slave labour," Carvalho told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 
Brazil has about 2,000 labour inspectors who raid locations where slave labour is suspected, and more than 50,000 victims of forced labour have been freed in the past two decades.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Thursday the new government decree "runs the risk of interrupting" the progress made by Brazil on fighting slave labour.

Under the new decree, labour inspectors will now be required to include a police report as evidence. Renato Bignami, an inspector with the ministry of labour, said the new rules heralded "extremely negative" changes.

Federal and labour prosecutors have issued a joint recommendation to the government, saying the decree is illegal. They said if the government does not revoke the measure, prosecutors would mount a legal challenge. Legal uncertainty surrounding the new rules has led labour inspectors to postpone inspections in about a dozen of Brazil's 26 states, Sakamoto said.

Gummy Bear Exploitation

Confectioner Haribo, makers of such things as Gummy Bears, has come under intense criticism after a documentary discovered cruel conditions in the manufacture of a key ingredient in Brazil. Pigs also suffer in the making of gelatin. The documentary examined both the health and production issues of Haribo products, which are sold all over the world, and found failures of oversight in the production of carnauba wax and animal gelatin that left some of Brazil's poorest workers, and pigs in industrial farms in Germany, suffering in horrific conditions.

Carnauba wax, which is applied to gummy bears to make them glossy and prevent them from sticking together, is gleaned from the leaves of carnauba palm trees, which only grow in Brazil's northeastern states of Piaui, Ceara, Maranhao, Bahia, and Rio Grande do Norte - among the country's poorest regions. The wax, some €100-million ($118 million) worth, is exported from the region to many countries around the world, chiefly the United States, Japan, and Germany.

Haribo was sourcing its carnauba wax from plantations where workers earning 40 Real ($12) a day have to cut the leaves down with hooked blades tied to long poles, are forced to sleep outside or in trucks, have no access to toilets, and have to drink unfiltered water straight from nearby rivers. Some of the workers are also underage. The conditions on the plantations are so poor that the Brazilian police occasionally carry out raids to free the workers. A Brazilian Labor Ministry official said there had been an increasing number of complaints about the carnauba wax industry and that authorities had found many people working in conditions "that could be described as slavery."

"The workers are treated as objects, worse than animals," he said.

Other footage recorded of farms which provide pig skin for meat producer Westfleisch, which processes it for Haribo's gelatin supplier Gelita showed pigs with open sores and abscesses living in indoor pens on their own excrement and in some cases among their own dead. Some pigs were also deprived of drinking water. Veterinarians interviewed on the program said that the conditions clearly violated Germany's animal protection laws. 

UK Tax Haven

Britain is the “country of choice for every kleptocrat, crook and despot in the world”, Margaret Hodge, a former chair of the public accounts committee and Labour MP, has said.

She told MPs that UK corporate structures were being used for a wide range of crimes, including tax evasion and bribery.  “We have become the safe haven for dirty money. We are allowing money laundering and tax avoidance to take place on an industrial scale. Our corporate rules and our weak regulatory framework are a gift to villains.” She added, “I feel deep shame and embarrassment that we in the UK are not just complicit, but central to the success of these despicable practices.” 

Human Pet Food or Solidarity Food

Prosecutors in Brazil’s biggest city have opened an inquiry into a controversial plan to feed poorer citizens and schoolchildren with a flour made out of food close to its sell-by date that critics have described as “human pet food”. Farinata comes in the form of a flour or as pellets

João Doria, the multi-millionaire conservative mayor of São Paulo, and the city’s Catholic cardinal, Dom Odilo Scherer, have said that the product, called farinata (farinha is flour in Portuguese), will help alleviate hunger at no cost to the city’s government.

Prosecutors have demanded more information about the nutritional content of the new food and what testing, if any, has been done after concerns were raised by the Regional Council of Nutritionists and other bodies.

“There is an uncertainly over the nutritional value of this food,” José Bonilha, a São Paulo state prosecutor, told the Guardian. “What were the tests and the documents that authorised the announcement of its introduction?”

Doria, former host of Brazil’s version of The Apprentice, touted as a possible candidate for next year’s presidential elections described farinata as “solidarity food” and said it was “made to combat hunger and also supplement people’s alimentation”.
“I am offended when people say it is pet food,” Cardinal Scherer. “The concern is to recall food from restaurants that is ready for use and for it to be safely put on the table of those who are hungry rather than thrown away.”
“It is not food, it is an ultra-processed product,” said Marly Cardoso, a professor of public health and nutrition at the Federal University of São Paulo. “You don’t know what is in it...Is city hall trying to resolve the problems of these companies who are looking for a use for this food that they can’t sell?” she said. 
Vivian Zollar, a nutritionist and member of Regional Council of Nutritionists for São Paulo and Minas Gerais states said she was worried about plans reported in local media to give farinata to schoolchildren because the council had not been able to confirm that the product had undergone the safety and nutritional tests legally required for school meals.
“We need to know if this product is safe, if it has conditions to be offered,” she said. “Without this information it is very difficult to be sure.”