Friday, November 24, 2017

Football Assets

Paris St-Germain  paid 222m euros ($260m; £200m) for the player, more than doubling the previous record set when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United from Juventus for £89m in August 2016.
Latest data from Fifa, the sport's governing body, show there have been 15,291 international transfers so far in 2017, with total spending on players hitting a record $6bn (£4.58bn). That record figure is a 25% increase on the $4.8bn spent in 2016.
"There are two driving factors behind the soaring spending," says Harry Philp, a football finance expert at London-based Portland Advisers.The first is the emergence of China and the huge transfer fees that they are prepared to pay, and the second is the fees English Premier League clubs can spend thanks to their ever more lucrative TV deals. These factors are driving up the value of the global market."
Chinese clubs spent a whopping $451m on football players last year, an increase of 168%. That made them the fifth biggest spenders in the world after England - where clubs splashed out $1.37bn on global stars - Germany, Italy, and Spain. One of the key objectives fuelling China's transfer drive is to raise the overall standard of football in the country so as to assist the national team in reaching the World Cup for only the second time in their history, following their debut in 2002. Chinese clubs are investing almost exclusively on players coming from Europe, but not necessarily Europeans. Many of those making a playing name for themselves in East Asia are South Americans, and Fifa's data shows Brazilians and Argentines are the most transferred nationalities globally.
"Irrespective of how their national team is doing, Brazil continues with its production line of young players for sale around the world," observes Mr Philp. "It is a socio-economic phenomenon, with football still being a way out of the favelas and a means for a youngster to financially support his extended family." Not only does Brazil produce talented players for export, with their stars now plying their trade in 118 countries, but their total financial accumulated sales value came to $594m in 2016, the most for any playing nation.
There have been accusations that clubs such as Chelsea, and to a less extent Manchester City, are scouring the globe for top young talent to stockpile.
"They are then put out on loan to see how they develop," says Mr Philp. " A small proportion will make it into to the first team, and the rest of the pool of talent can be sold on, usually at profit. This provides revenues for the clubs to then buy one global top star player, and also to assist in compliance with financial fair play. These clubs are trading players, almost running what I would call 'asset-management businesses'."

Yemen - When will it end?

The Saudi military alliance announced on Wednesday a partial lifting of the blockade on Yemen. Aid agencies say it is yet to happen.
"We have not yet had any movement as of now," said Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.

Jan Egeland, a former U.N. aid chief who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, said of the blockade: "In my view this is illegal collective punishment."

"Sending a missile in the direction of Riyadh is really very bad. But those who are suffering from the blockade had nothing to do with this missile," Egeland told reporters. "Even if both the flights and humanitarian shipments will go through now, it is not solving the underlying crisis that a country that needs 90 percent of its goods imported is not getting in commercial food or fuel."

"Yemenis will need more than aid in order to survive the crisis and ward off famine." The International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman, Iolanda Jaquemet, said.

Divine Injustice

In India, the health minister from Assam state said cancer "is divine justice" caused by "past sins of a person".
Himanta Biswa Sarma said that people could also get diseases like cancer "because of the sins of their parents".
"God makes us suffer when we sin. Sometimes we come across young men getting inflicted with cancer or young men meeting with accidents. If you observe the background you will come to know that it's divine justice. Nothing else. We have to suffer that divine justice," The Times of India quoted him as saying.

No end to economic misery

"The UK over the last 10 years has created a lot of jobs, but today real wages are below where they were in 2007. That is not the capitalist system delivering its promise that over a decade or so it will raise all boats, and it is a very fundamental issue." Lord Adair Turner, the former head of the Low Pay Commission

 Workers can expect an unprecedented two lost decades of earnings growth and many more years of austerity as a result of the marked slowdown in the economy announced in Philip Hammond’s budget.  Average earnings are on course to be £1,400 a year lower in 2021 than forecast in 2016. That means the recovery in wages will have failed to materialise and average earnings will be below their 2008 level adjusted for inflation.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said in its traditional post-budget analysis that forecasts slashing productivity, earnings and growth in every year until 2022 made “pretty grim reading”, and predicted that even by the middle of the next decade, Britain’s public finances would still be in the red.

Paul Johnson, the IFS director, said “We are in danger of losing not just one but getting on for two decades of earnings growth. We will all have to get used to the idea that steadily rising living standards may be a thing of the increasingly distant past.” Johnson said that despite the extra cash for the NHS, the government’s main austerity plans were still in place.
“This is not the end of austerity. It is not even nearly the end of austerity. There are still nearly £12bn of welfare cuts to work through the system, while day-to-day public services spending is still due to be 3.6% lower in 2022-23 than it is today,”
  • Despite a spending increase over the next five years, the NHS is facing its tightest funding constraints since the 1980s. Annual spending growth of 4% a year after inflation before the financial crisis has fallen to 1% a year at a time when the NHS is being stretched by an expanding and ageing population.

Assam in anti-migrant campaign

Anti-migrant sentiment has long festered in Assam, home to tens of thousands of people from Bangladesh. Locals say the refugees threaten the state's culture and tradition and are cornering resources, including land. 

A crackdown on illegal migrants in India's Assam state risks depriving millions of Muslim citizens and long-term refugees from Bangladesh of their right to live there, activists said. Officials say they are updating Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the first time in six decades to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants who are overwhelming the state administration.

"Ostensibly, it is to identify foreigners but, in the process, they are targeting Muslims who are Indian citizens and refugees who have lived here for many years but have no proof," said Aman Wadud, a local rights lawyer. "The state has made it very difficult for them, by limiting the type of documents they can submit as proof of citizenship." Wadud said nearly 5 million Muslims, mostly married women, and Bangladeshi refugees who have lived in Assam for decades, risk being left off the register because officials will not recognise the proof of ancestry documents they have submitted. Assam has refused to accept documents validated by village councils, after initially saying they were acceptable. These are often the only documents that rural Muslim women have, as they seldom have birth or school leaving certificates, Wadud said.

Bonn Failure

Over 20,000 people from around the world descended on Bonn for the UN’s COP23 annual climate change conference yet it ended without achieving its goals or even injecting a sense of much needed urgency.

Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old from Fiji, made a passionate call for action at the opening, stating: “The sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. Relocation of people…cries over lost loved ones, dying of hunger and thirst…you may think it will only affect small nations…you are wrong.”

His appeal fell upon the politicians deaf ears. While over 150 heads of state attended COP21 when the Paris Agreement was negotiated, a little over 25 heads of state attended this year’s conference. Of the 100 billion dollars that was promised each year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, developed countries have so far only pledged a little over 10 billion. Less than 10 percent of an already limited amount of climate finance reaches poor communities. This impacts countries such as Ethiopia where drought is drastically affecting livelihoods. Ethiopia needs approximately 7.5 billion dollars a year to switch to clean energy and adapt to climate change, is so far receiving between 100 million and 200 million per year.

As part of the Paris Agreement, donors must give a future estimate of how much and what kind of climate finance is going to be committed in order for countries to plan and prepare. However, developed countries pushed back on the demands, further delaying discussion and action on the issue.

Clare Shakya from the International Institute for Environment and Development also expressed concern that climate finance often does not reach the frontline poorest countries and people. “They get a far lower share than is their fair share,” she said. “There’s some really frustrating elements within the negotiations now that are trying to derail the connections that need to be there.”

“You didn’t see the developed countries coming here prepared to engage seriously on ramping up finance…parties knew there weren’t major political decisions that were going to have to be made as they were facing when they went into Paris,” Union of Concerned Scientist’s Director of Strategy and Policy Alden Meyer told IPS. “It was pretty disappointing for vulnerable countries…that want to see more urgency in terms of mobilizing resources to help them in the wake of devastating hurricanes and typhoons that we have seen this year.”

The pledges made under the Paris Agreement are only one-third of what is required to keep emissions under two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level by 2030. Though countries agreed to examine ways to close that gap next year, the apathy at COP23 does not bode well for the next year of climate discussions.
Merkel left many at the conference disappointed when she did not announce a plan to reduce Germany’s dependence on coal. Approximately 40 percent of the German power sector is reliant on coal and if such dependence continues, the Western European nation will not meet its 2020 emissions reactions targets. the European Union will not be able to reach its goal of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 unless policies are changed and more pledges are made. Poland is hosting COP in 2018. Poland is a heavily coal-dependent economy, with approximately 80 percent of its electricity generation coming from coal.  The Climate Change Performance Index gave the Eastern European country a ranking of 40 and noted that it continues to fight climate legislation.
The United Kingdom and Canada created an international “powering past coal” alliance. Another 25 national and subnational governments joined the alliance including France, Ethiopia, Mexico, and the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon. However, the alliance does not commit signatories to a specific phase-out date. Several big coal countries also did not join the alliance including Germany, Poland, Australia, China, and India.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Living standards to fall

The UK is on course for its longest fall in living standards since records began over 60 years ago, the Resolution Foundation think tank said.
Its post-Budget analysis says the squeeze on incomes is set to last longer than that which followed the post-2008 crash. It says real disposable incomes are now set to fall for 19 successive quarters.
The Foundation said that tax and benefit policies were set to put downward pressure on living standards and upward pressure on inequality, and would take an average of £715 away from the poorest third of households a year, while giving £185 to the richest third.
The think tank was critical of the abolition of Stamp Duty for many first-time buyers. It said the £3bn cost of the Stamp Duty measure broke down to a subsidy of £160,000 per extra homeowner. The Foundation said this meant Chancellor Phillip Hammond could have simply bought people typically priced properties in over a quarter of local authorities, or built around 140,000 homes.

Letting the Gini out of the bottle

A recent article in Nature reveals the results of the largest study on inequality in human history, which found that while degrees of inequality have been high in historical societies, they have never been as high as they are now, and the US currently has one of the highest in history—a world where now the richest one percent hoard half of the world’s wealth. Tim Kohler in a paper published in Science earlier this year found that the rate of mobility in the US fell from 90 percent for children born in 1940, to 50 percent for those born in the 1980s.

The researchers used house size as a proxy for wealth and examined data from 63 archaeological digs to analyze societies from prehistoric times to modern day. They found that societies start off relatively equal, with a Gini coefficient of .17. 

Signs of inequality appear when humans start to domesticate plants and animals. The transition to farming-based societies introduced the concept of land ownership, and the resulting class of landless peasants. 

Land ownership facilitated the accumulation of wealth, as humans began to pass it down from generation to generation. As farming societies grew, from small scale horticultural famers to large scale agricultural societies, the median Gini grew from .27 to .35.

 The highest ever historical Gini score was in the ancient Old World (like Rome) at .59.

 The 2016 United States’ Gini score is about .81

Wealth and Inequality in the Philippines


India's private hospitals

Private healthcare institutions are charging sky-high fees for medical services operate without any accountability in India which lacks appropriate laws to regulate hospitals, diagnostic centers and other healthcare facilities in the private sector.

"These five-star hospitals have no transparency and no regulation whatsoever. This is the new reality in India and we need legislation to prevent patients from being treated like a cash cow," Puneet Bedi, a gynecologist from the premier Apollo Hospital, told DW.

"The decay is deepening with the increasing onslaught of big corporate hospitals, growing pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and the massively expanding clout of medical equipment agencies," said a senior oncologist.

 Two doctors Abhay Shukla and Arun Gadre in their book "Dissenting Diagnosis," gave a chilling insider account of widespread malpractices afflicting the nation's healthcare sector. The book explains that the nexus between corporate hospitals, pharma companies and doctors has increased the risks and costs of healthcare to such an extent that millions of middle-class Indians slide into poverty when they fall sick. 

Cobrapost detailed medical practices spanning three mega-cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and covering 20 major private multi-specialty hospitals. It unearthed a racket of referrals in which these hospitals offer commission ranging between 10 and 30 percent to doctors and smaller hospitals or nursing homes. 

In May this year, medical journal Lancet pointed out that India ranks below much poorer nations such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and even Liberia when it comes to providing healthcare for its masses. On the basis of data from the Global Burden of Disease report, it said that India ranked 154 out of 195 countries in terms of access to healthcare.  India spends less than 2 percent of its GDP on healthcare, which is far less than what is required considering the country's huge 1.2-billion-plus population.

'water off an oligarch’s back'

 Hammond announced that councils would be able to charge 100% extra council tax on properties that have been empty for two or more years. Currently local authorities can charge up to 50%.
“It can’t be right to leave property empty when so many are desperate for a place to live,” the chancellor said in his budget address. 
There are 1,652 empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea, the west London borough which includes Grenfell Tower, according to a leaked list. More than 600 of them have been empty for more than two years, and would be included in the higher tax. 
Under Hammond’s plan, council tax on homes in the borough’s highest band would increase from £2,124 a year to £4,248. The average selling price there is £2.1m, with semidetached homes fetching an average of £6.2m. Some homes in the borough are valued at as much as £85m.
Henry Pryor, a buying agent for luxury property, said the increased tax would have no effect on wealthy buyers. “It would be water off an oligarch’s back,” he said. 
Helen Williams, the chief executive of the charity Empty Homes, said the council tax increase would be little disincentive for those buying properties as investment. “For a very wealthy buyer spending millions, 100% council tax is not really enough of a disincentive,” she said.
The specialist trade magazine Inside Housing suggested there was a strong correlation between high house prices and the number of empty homes. “This will fuel suggestions that the so-called ‘buy to leave’ phenomenon – whereby investors buy properties to leave them empty – is rife in the borough,” the magazine said.
There are more than 200,000 homes in the UK that have been empty for more than six months, according to the latest government data.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Yemen - No Let Up in Suffering

The war in Yemen continues to devastate the civilian population and the Saudi-led coalition's recent decision to tighten Yemen's borders to humanitarian aid will only make an unbearable situation immeasurably worse. 

Medecins Sans Frontieres is struggling to provide lifesaving medical services in Yemen now that the main borders have closed. Earlier this month, flights that once transported medical specialists into the country have been grounded, and ships that brought lifesaving drugs and medical equipment were diverted from the port city of Aden. While the blockade was partially eased, the main routes for aid remain closed, and it is unclear how much access will be granted to humanitarian organizations in the coming weeks.

More than two years of war have unleashed a cascade of deadly consequences across the country, from the unprecedented outbreak of cholera earlier this year to the severe malnutrition stalking the countryside as the cost of basic food soars. Meanwhile, hundreds of health centers have been damaged or destroyed, deprived of essential supplies, or abandoned by health workers who have not received their government salaries for more than a year.

At the northern city of Abs, MSF support the only fully functioning hospital in a rural area. Before the conflict escalated, the hospital was meant to serve about 100,000 people. Today it serves one million. There is no other health care available to people who live perilously close to the front lines, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away. Patients lined the gravel courtyard of Abs Rural Hospital, waiting for treatment in the oppressive heat. All 40 beds in the therapeutic feeding center were filled with malnourished children. I met Fatma, a nine-year-old who lay listless and emaciated in her billowing purple dress. The staff had treated her for severe malnutrition earlier this year, saving her life with a blood transfusion, but she was back with one of the worst cases of malnutrition they had ever seen. We did not know whether she could survive. Other patients came with respiratory infections, snakebites, liver failure, or broken bones. The week before Yemen's borders were closed, the hospital had 980 emergency room visits, doctors performed 110 surgeries, and MSF midwives delivered about 20 babies per day. Yet in the latest escalation of the conflict, the Saudi-led coalition is warning humanitarian organizations to avoid "areas of combat," which would further exclude thousands of people from accessing health care in communities transformed into war zones. Even Abs hospital -- protected under international humanitarian law -- was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition in August 2016, killing 19 people, including an MSF staff member, and injuring 24. The bombing was and remains unjustifiable.

Abs displaced persons is just east of the city, where displaced people have lived for more than two years. There is virtually no health care or infrastructure in the camp, with clean water trucked in every 10 days. While a person needs about 15 liters of water per day, camp residents told me they only receive about two liters.Many lacked basic shelter, draping their sun-bleached clothes over foraged sticks and mud to fashion tents. An elderly man named Khatif lifted his shirt to reveal an untreated hernia, bulging from his abdomen. Two of his grandchildren had died since his family fled to the camp. He didn't know why, and he buried them in a field.  Fuel prices have skyrocketed, which means those in need of medical care can't afford to travel to hospitals. Supplies of certain medicines and drugs are beginning to run low. Medical staff are unable to reach Yemen to provide lifesaving care.

 Many people are unable to access medical care under these circumstances, and millions of people displaced by the war require basic aid.  The MSF has nearly 1,600 staff members across the country, including 82 staff members from abroad, working in 13 hospitals and supporting 18 more. Yet the rising needs far exceed what we can address. While all parties to Yemen's conflict bear some level of responsibility for the current crisis, the Saudi-led coalition's continued blockage of the main aid routes into the country is a particularly punitive measure against defenseless civilians.


There is a new arms race, based this time not on number of weapons but on increasing lethality, says William Potter, director of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

Obama rode into office in 2009 with promises to work toward a nuclear-free world. His vow helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

Obama transformed its main hydrogen bomb into a guided smart weapon. Until recently, the B61 was an old-fashioned gravity bomb, dropped by a plane and free-falling to its target. The Air Force has transformed it into a controllable smart bomb. The new model has adjustable tail fins and a guidance system which lets bomber crews direct it to its target. Recent models of the bomb had already incorporated a unique “dial-down capacity”: The Air Force can adjust the explosion. The bomb can be set to use against enemy troops, with a 0.3 kiloton detonation, a tiny fraction of the Hiroshima bomb, or it can level cities with a 340-kiloton blast with 23 times the force of Hiroshima’s. Similar controls are planned for new cruise missiles. The new B61 is the most expensive bomb ever built. At $20.8 million per bomb, each costs nearly one-third more than its weight in 24 karat gold. The estimated price of the planned total of 480 bombs is almost $10 billion.

Congress also has approved initial funding of $1.8 billion to build a completely new weapon, the “Long Range Stand-Off” cruise missile, at an estimated $17 billion total cost. The cruise missiles, too, will be launched from aircraft. But in contrast to stealth bombers dropping the new B61s directly over land, the cruise missiles will let bombers fly far out of range of enemy air defenses and fire the missiles deep into enemy territory.

Its submarine-launched nuclear missiles five times more accurate, and gave its land-based long-range missiles so many added features that the Air Force in 2012 described them as “basically new.” To deliver these more lethal weapons, military contractors are building fleets of new heavy bombers and submarines.

Trump has embraced Obama's modernization program enthusiastically. Trump has ordered the Defense Department to complete a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal by the end of this year.

William Perry, who served as defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, said recently in a Q&A on YouTube that “the danger of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War.”

Perry told Reuters that both the United States and Russia have upgraded their arsenals in ways that make the use of nuclear weapons likelier. The U.S. upgrade, he said, has occurred almost exclusively behind closed doors. “It is happening without any basic public discussion,” he said. “We’re just doing it.”

 Jon Wolfsthal, a former top advisor to Obama on arms control, said it is possible to have potentially devastating arms race even with a relatively small number of weapons.

In October the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in getting the United Nations General Assembly in July to adopt a nuclear prohibition treaty. The United States, Russia, and other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations.

The U.S. modernization effort is not coming cheap. This year the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program will cost at least $1.25 trillion over 30 years. The amount could grow significantly, as the Pentagon has a history of major cost overruns on large acquisition projects.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START limited each side to what the treaty counts as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads. both Moscow and Washington are on track to meet the 1,550 limit by the treaty’s 2018 deadline. The treaty, however, allows for fudging. Each bomber is counted as a single warhead, no matter how many nuclear bombs it carries or has ready for use. As a result, the real limit for each side is about 2,000.

Under New START, 14 of America’s Ohio Class subs carry 20 Tridents. Each Trident can be loaded with up to 12 warheads. (The United States has four additional Ohio subs that carry only conventional weapons.) The Trident II’s official range is 7,456 miles, nearly one-third the Earth’s circumference. Outside experts say the real range almost certainly is greater. Each of its main type of warhead produces a 475-kiloton blast, almost 32 times that of Hiroshima.

The New START treaty limits the number of warheads and launch vehicles. But it says nothing about the design of the “delivery” methods – land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, hydrogen bombs and cruise missiles. Thus both sides are increasing exponentially the killing power of these weapons, upgrading the delivery vehicles so that they are bigger, more accurate and equipped with dangerous new features – without increasing the number of warheads or vehicles. The United States, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has roughly tripled the “killing power” of its existing ballistic missile force. The U.S. modernization program “has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing.”

Russia is making its own extensive enhancements, including larger missiles and new launch vehicles. He said Russia also is devoting much effort to countering U.S. missile defense systems. Russia is building new ground-based missiles, including a super ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. The Russian missile has room for at least 10 warheads that can be aimed at separate targets. Russian state media has said that the missile could destroy areas as large as Texas or France. Russia’s new ICBMs have room to add additional warheads, in case the New START treaty expires or either side abrogates it. Russia has phased in a more accurate submarine-launched missile, the RSM-56 Bulava. While it is less precise than the new U.S. Tridents, it marks a significant improvement in reliability and accuracy over Russia’s previous sub-based missiles.

A Russian military official in 2015 disclosed a sort of doomsday weapon, taking the idea of a “dirty bomb”. The purported device is an unmanned submarine drone, able to cruise at a fast 56 knots and travel 6,200 miles. The concept of a dirty bomb, never used to date, is that terrorists would spread harmful radioactive material by detonating a conventional explosive such as dynamite. In the case of the Russian drone, a big amount of deadly radioactive material would be dispersed by a nuclear bomb. The bomb would be heavily “salted” with radioactive cobalt, which emits deadly gamma rays for years. The explosion and wind would spread the cobalt for hundreds of miles, making much of the U.S. East Coast uninhabitable. A documentary shown on Russian state TV said the drone is meant to create “areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.” Reif of the Arms Control Association says that even if the concept is only on the drawing board, the device represents “really outlandish thinking” by the Russian government. “It makes no sense strategically,” he said, “and reflects a really egregiously twisted conception about what’s necessary for nuclear deterrence.”

Capitalism is a sure bet

Some 430,000 people in the UK are thought to have a serious gambling problem, up from 280,000 in 2012. Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs)  make up 56% of betting shops’ profit. Since they are constrained by a legal limit of four machines per shop, imposed under the 2005 Gambling Act, bookmakers have opened multiple outlets in the most profitable areas of the country. FOBT players tend to live in neighbourhoods with higher levels of deprivation, unemployment and ethnic diversity according to a 2015 report on the socioeconomic characteristics of machine gamblers for the charity GambleAware. And it found that people who live near a concentration of betting shops are far more likely to become problem gamblers.

In Bradford, one of the most deprived local authorities in Englandone in three people aged 16-64 are not in work and those that do work earn an average weekly income of just £476, well below the average wage in the rest of the region. The city is home to a total of 62 betting shops, and is the sixth most profitable local authority area for the betting industry outside London. Gamblers there lost an estimated £10.6m on FOBTs in 2015/16, according to figures compiled for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

Bradford’s somewhat run-down Victorian shopping district dominated by building societies, banks, charity shops, and, more recently, a growing concentration of betting shops. There are 11 in barely a 250m radius, with the corner of Broadway and Bank Street the epicentre: a William Hill, a Paddy Power, a Ladbrokes and another William Hill are all next to each other.

In its submission to the government consultation, the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, asked for councils to have further planning and licensing powers to prevent the clustering of betting shops. As things stand – despite legislation requiring specific planning permission to turn any premises into a betting shop – planning and licensing laws brought in under the 2005 Gambling Act mainly favour the bookmakers.
Since the beginning of this year, the Planning Inspectorate in England, which acts as the independent adjudicator for planning appeals, has considered five appeals by bookmakers against planning decisions by Rotherham, Lancaster, Lewisham, Greenwich and Doncaster councils. In every appeal, the local authority’s decision to refuse planning permission was overturned. In each case, the inspectorate cited the lack of conclusive evidence that social harm can be caused by betting shops. 
“We have consistently called on bookmakers to stop blighting the most deprived communities with these high-stakes machines but local authorities are hamstrung by a lack of powers,” says Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, the east London borough. Newham has a total of 84 betting shops, including 12 on one street. Since 2008, the council has rejected eight betting shop applications. Each one has been overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.
Richard Dunbar, a Bradford Labour councillor explains, “The government has cut this council’s [Bradford’s] budget in half in the last 10 years. We have less money to do the things we need to do to protect and serve our citizens. Look at the gambling industry’s £13.8bn profit (including £1.8bn just on FOBTs). Then look at a council that’s having to cut services left, right and centre. We’re obviously not going to have as much money to service appeals and go against corporate betting industry giants.”

Vested Interests, science and profits

Researchers say negative health impacts of sucrose could have been combated sooner had research been released.

In 1967, when scientists were arguing over the link between sugar consumption and increased risk of heart disease, researchers now claim that the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) withheld findings that rats that were fed a high-sugar diet had higher levels of triglycerides (a fat found in the blood) than those fed starch. In a move researchers from the University of California at San Francisco have compared to the tobacco industry’s self-preservation tactics, the foundation stopped funding the project.

Cristin Kearns, one of the researchers who analysed ISRF documents, says, “ISRF’s research was designed to cast doubt on the importance of elevated triglycerides in the blood as a heart disease risk factor. It is now commonly accepted that triglycerides are a risk factor, but this was controversial for decades. I think the scientific community would have come to consensus about elevated triglycerides being a risk factor for heart disease much sooner if the research been published.” Kearns says, “ISRF’s primary purpose was, and still is as the Sugar Association and the World Sugar Research Organisation, to sell more sucrose. Our previous paper and this one demonstrate that ISRF’s research program was designed to support its business interests at the expense of the public.”

A year later the foundation funded Project 259, looking into the effects of sucrose consumption in the intestinal tracts of rats. It found a possible link between sugar consumption and increased risk of bladder cancer, and described the findings as “one of the first demonstrations of a biological difference between sucrose and starch fed rats”. But the ISRF terminated the project’s funding before the experiments were finished, despite the study having already lasted 27 months, and requiring only three more months. The study, could possibly have had implications for humans, and indicates how ISRF downplayed sugar’s role in cardiovascular disease due to commercial interests.

. e researchers conclude that the debates we now have on sugar’s effects on our health are potentially rooted in six decades of the sugar industry’s manipulation of scientific evidence.
“ISRF sponsored more than 300 research projects between 1943 and 1972, and its successor organisations continue to fund research,” Kearn says. “I think it’s safe to say the problem is more widespread than what’s outlined in the paper.”

Changing the migrant language

Migrants contribute to the prosperity of countries they work in as well as to development of those they left behind with money sent home, said Louise Arbour, the United Nation's special representative for international migration. But the positives are often lost amid false perceptions and stereotypes that affect national policies - with many wealthy countries focusing on security more than development, she told a conference at the Overseas Development Institute in London.

"It's quite shocking to see how the use of language in a very invidious way has sometimes really poisoned the public debate," said Arbour, who is leading U.N. efforts for a global agreement on safe and orderly migration. "We have to be alive to it... and push back," she said. 

Canadian senator Ratna Omidvar who is a co-chair of a World Economic Forum council on migration said anthropologists, musicians, rappers and poets should be asked to contribute with ideas. "I am tired of the word skilled immigrants which implies everybody else is unskilled. That is not true," she told the conference, suggesting the term "global talent" could be used instead.

Former Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino said Italy needed some 150,000 more migrants a year to cope with an ageing population, declining birthrate and young people's aversion to working in agriculture, construction and social care. "Without migrants these sectors of the economy will simply close," she explained.Yet, undocumented migrants were disparaged as "clandestines" and the political debate ahead of national elections next year was mostly focused on keeping migrants out. 

Migrants working in rich countries sent home almost half a trillion dollars in 2016, helping to lift families out of poverty by providing financial stability, access to education, housing, and healthcare.

South London Branch Meeting (25/11)

Saturday, 25 November 
2:30 pm to 5:30 pm

The Socialist Party of Great Britain Head Office
52 Clapham High Street ·
London SW4 7UN

The Socialist Party is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organising democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate. We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by 'good' leaders but by thinking men and women. Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself.

A real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We don’t vote for leaders to implement this or that decision; we vote to give them a “free hand” to make decisions. Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party. This contrasts with the Socialist Party's concept of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs.

If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many on the Left maintain, then socialism would indeed be impossible since, by its very nature as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just could not be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by the Left. Democracy is not the mere counting of noses; it is the only principle of organisation compatible with a class-free society.

There can be no socialism without socialists.

Tencent Billionaire

The value of China's biggest social network company - Tencent Holdings - has overtaken that of Facebook. Tencent now sits alongside a handful of US companies you are much more likely to have heard of: Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.
The company owns WeChat, an enormously popular messaging app in China, nearly a billion people use it every month, and hit gaming franchises such as League of Legends and Honour of Kings.
It is the first Asian firm to surpass a market value of $500bn (£377bn).
Its chief executive, Ma Huateng, is now worth more than the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, according to Forbes.
The magazine valued him at $48.3bn on Tuesday, making him the world's ninth richest man according to its ranking.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

America's Divide

While underpaid American workers struggle with the basic needs of health and housing, households at the other end are each taking millions of dollars of  wealth, mostly from the surging stock market, tax-free until the stocks are cashed in. 

The average 1% household made nearly $2.6 million in the 12 months to mid-2017. Mostly from the stock market.

The U.S.A. increased its wealth by over $8.5 trillion. The 1% took $3.27 trillion of that (38.3 percent)

Each of 1.26 million households, on average, took nearly $2.6 million. In greater detail, the poor segment of the 1% averaged about $1.44 million for the year, the .1% averaged about $7.2 million, and the .01% (12,600 households) averaged nearly $65 million in just the past year

This is the second year in a row that the average 1% household has taken over $2.5 million of national wealth.

 Since the recession, as the U.S. stock market has more than TRIPLED in value, with about 90 percent of the $18 trillion dollar gain going to the richest 10% of Americans.

 The super-rich are essentially blackmailing Congress into approving a 1%-pleasing tax bill by threatening to withhold their political donations.

Congress is considering a tax bill that would eventually cause many middle- and low-income American families to PAY MORE in income taxes.

 There are two ways a corporate income tax cut can trickle down to workers’ pockets: directly through higher wages or indirectly via lower prices at stores selling the things they buy. Employers say a tax cut would mean that companies pass much of their tax benefits to their employees by paying them more or by cutting prices and increasing the buying power of current workers.  When asked how they’d spend the gains from a tax holiday on the $2.5 trillion that they currently have parked overseas – which is also part of the corporate tax cut plan – most companies indicated they’d pay back debt, repurchase shares or invest in mergers and acquisitions. Pay increases were not high on the agenda. Nor have they been for the past several decades. Since the 1970s worker productivity has increased 74 percent, while average wages have risen only 12 percent. There is no reason to believe that tax cuts would all of a sudden generate greater generosity for workers.

 If the U.S. economy were dominated by small businesses, intense competition would force these companies to lower prices rather than give it to shareholders in the form of dividends. Reduced prices for goods would translate into improved living standards for workers the same way that a wage hike would. But the economy today is dominated by large multinational corporations facing little pressure to reduce prices. So, the gains from a corporate tax cut will remain with the owners of the business – shareholders.

 CEOs also have large incentives to avoid passing the gains from a tax cut to workers: Executive pay is tied to the company’s share price. If they pass the extra money on to shareholders in the form of dividends or stock buybacks, share prices will rise – as will executive pay packages.

The consequence of the $1.5 trillion tax cut then would be continuing stagnant wages, cuts in government programs, higher interest rates and rising inequality. Translation: The rich get richer.

The children of low-income Americans would be hit hardest. The Republican plan excludes 10 million children whose parents work for low wages -- that's about 1 in 7 of all U.S. children in working families. To turn the screws a little more, rich families would benefit more than the poor. According to one source, "a family making $1 million would get 44 times more money from the government than a single mother earning the minimum wage."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were over 60,000 drug overdose deaths last year, and according to the National Institutes of Health there are about 88,000 Americans dying each year from alcohol-related causes. The number of teenagers hospitalized for suicidal tendencies has doubled in the past ten years. 

Around 80 percent of Americans are currently in debt, with a median debt of $70,000More and more Americans cannot afford rent. There are only 12 rural counties in the whole country where a one-bedroom apartment is affordable for minimum-wage workers, based on the 30-percent-of-income standard. Between 2010 and 2016, according to Freddie Mac, the availability of low-income housing declined by over 60 percent. From New York City down to New Orleans and out to San Francisco and up to Seattle, Americans are losing their homes as builders and landlords look for ways to make money off of high-paying customers.