Wednesday, May 23, 2018

More stick than carrot

Benefit sanctions are largely ineffective and in some cases push people into poverty and crime, a major study has found. The research found little evidence that benefit sanctions enhance people’s motivation to prepare for or enter paid work and, by contrast, routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial and health outcomes. Some people are pushed into destitution, survival crime and ill health as a result of welfare conditionality.

The study reveals that the mandatory training and support is often too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work.

 Professor Peter Dwyer, from the University of York’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work, said the review revealed that in the majority of cases, welfare conditionality didn’t work as intended. Mr Dwyer accused successive governments of using welfare conditionality and the “carrot and stick” it implies to promote positive behaviour change.

“Our review has shown it is out of kilter, with the idea of sanctioning people to the fore. It is more stick, very little carrot and much of the support is ineffective,” he added.

Typically, if conditions are not met, benefits are docked for four weeks, which can mean a loss of £300 for a claimant over the age of 25 – but a sanction can last for three months, or even a year.

Yemen Continues UNabated

 Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man. Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. 
Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN
The Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive  weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE.  What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.
Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governoratewhich notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen, i.e. an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.” MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7thwhich struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.
“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”
Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”
Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”
The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever an have committed no crime but are being punished with death.
From here

Bitter Tea

Women working on tea plantations in northeast India earn a "pitiful" $2 a day and live in "appalling" conditions with almost no toilets, according to a report released on Tuesday by the British charity Traidcraft Exchange. Workers in the tea-growing state of Assam were paid 137 rupees ($2) a day, far below the minimum wage of 250 rupees. More than half are women. Assam is the largest producer of tea in India and its estates supply top brands including Britain's Twinings and Tetley. Assam's tea industry has faced accusations in the past of exploitative work conditions, leading to labour disputes that have forced some plantations to shut. Estate owners often cite the benefits they are legally required to provide, which include housing, toilets, health facilities and subsidised food, to justify low wages. But workers said repeated requests for repairs and better food supplies - often insufficient, stale or contaminated - were largely ignored.
"The women who pick the tea we drink live in appalling conditions and are paid pitifully low wages by tea estates in Assam," said Fiona Gooch, a policy adviser for Traidcraft Exchange. Workers live in decrepit houses with leaky roofs. They have little or no access to sanitation facilities and most have to defecate in the bushes outside, the report said.
Stephen Ekka of PAJHRA, an Assam-based charity fighting for tea workers' rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "In the global supply chain of tea business, the condition of workers is not taken into consideration." 
"We register complaints to the management, they note it down, but that remains in the register, they give no importance," the report quotes an unnamed woman worker as saying. Others complained the lack of medicines and medical staff within plantations forced them to opt for expensive hospitals outside.
Nick Kightley of the British-based Ethical Trading Initiative said authorities must urgently meet the workers' basic needs.
"Without that, workers may be forced into excessive overtime or bonded labour ... This is simply unacceptable," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

'Populism vs the Real Class Struggle' (Manchester, 26/5)

'Populism vs the Real Class Struggle' 

Saturday, 26 May - 2:00pm

Venue: Friends Meeting House, 
6 Mount Street, 
Manchester, M2 5NS

Populism makes a distinction between 'the people' and 'the elite'. This talk will raise the question of how valid this is, by focusing on how these concepts of people and elite are defined by populists. 
Does it correspond to the division in society between the capitalist class and the working class? And do populists propose to put an end to this distinction? Their views will be contrasted with the Socialist Party's goal of a class-free society.

The lies to justify a war

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has claimed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is carrying out “assassination operations in the heart of Europe.” The claim has bewildered security experts and Iranian exiles, who say they are not aware of any evidence for the allegation.

Asked about Pompeo’s statement, the state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said: “He has information and access to information that I do not. I am not able to comment on that in particular but I can tell the secretary has assured me that there is a basis for that point in his speech and he stands firmly behind that.”

Iraj Mesdaghi, a Sweden-based Iranian political activist who spent a decade in jail in Iran from 1981 to 1991, questioned Pompeo’s claim.
“It’s unlikely to be true,” said Mesdaghi, a researcher on human rights abuses in Iran who has closely monitored IRGC activities in Europe. “There is no evidence to back the claim that currently they are carrying out such operations in Europe.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army - No Salvation

The Socialist Party is well aware of the fact that brutality leads to more brutality. We wrote in a Socialist Standard article to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
 "The Myanmar army, the Tatmadaw, who had never really yielded their power to the civilian government, engaged in the brutal repression of dissent, pushing some Rohingya to call for an armed uprising to stop the oppression. The problem, therefore, became exacerbated by the arrival on the scene of armed groups such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) – who launched violent attacks against Burma's military. In October 2016, hundreds of fighters attacked border posts which prompted a massive army crackdown, with troops accused of rape and indiscriminate killings. In August 2017 attacks on police posts across the north of the state killed 12 members of the security forces and the fully to be expected backlash was swift. ARSA naturally style themselves as 'freedom fighters' yet some analysts such as the International Crisis Group describe them as jihadists financed, recruited and trained by private individuals in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who have campaigned to enhance ARSA’s religious legitimacy further by obtaining fatwas from senior clerics in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere. The stated aim of ARSA is to secure the rights of the Rohingya as citizens within Burma, however its choice of violent resistance may well have set back that cause. It has fuelled the regime's claims that the Rohingya are not peaceful, and that they are foreign interloper, not truly deserving of national recognition and must be expelled."
Indeed the cautionary warning proved only too appropriate because Amnesty International now reveals that ARSA were complicit in the massacre of a village of Hindus. Amnesty says interviews it conducted with refugees in Bangladesh and in Rakhine state confirmed that mass killings which took place in a cluster of villages in northern Maungdaw Township. Around a hundred Hindu villagers were murdered. The report The report details how Arsa members on 26 August, 2017 attacked the Hindu village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik. Amnesty said the bodies of 45 people from the village were unearthed in four mass graves in late September. The remains of the other victims, as well as 46 from the neighbouring village of Ye Bauk Kyar, have not been found.
"In this brutal and senseless act, members of Arsa captured scores of Hindu women, men and children and terrorised them before slaughtering them outside their own villages." said the report.
One woman from the village described how: "They slaughtered the men. We were told not to look at them … They had knives. They also had some spades and iron rods. … We hid ourselves in the shrubs there and were able to see a little … My uncle, my father, my brother - they were all slaughtered."
These atrocities have provided the Myanmar government with a propaganda victory.
 Amnesty International explains, "It's hard to ignore the sheer brutality of Arsa's actions, which have left an indelible impression on the survivors we've spoken to. Accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar's security forces in northern Rakhine State."

What Population Explosion?

China is planning to abandon all policies restricting the number of children people can have, according to a report. Bloomberg News quoted government sources as saying the new policy would be dubbed “independent fertility”, and that the change could come as soon as this year, or by 2019 at the latest. There was no official confirmation from China’s National Health Commission

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 before it was relaxed to two children in 2016. Critics claim China’s birth rate was already falling anyway in line with other developing countries, and that all the policy did was encourage alarming rates of female infanticide and other abuses.  In Hong Kong and Taiwan, where the policy was never implemented, fertility rates are among some of the lowest in the world.

China owes much of its recent economic boom to a demographic bonus, with a young population providing cheap labour, but that balance has now shifted. The State Council has said around a quarter of China’s population will be 60 or older by 2030, up from 13.3 per cent in 2010, and an ageing society is putting a burden on pensions and services.   

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) told The Independent he didn’t think the new policy would have much impact either. “People are not having children in China because they cannot afford them. That’s not going to change whether you have a one-child policy, a two-child policy or a 200-child policy. Where the one-child policy did have an impact was on the rights of individuals who were poor and couldn’t just pay [the fine for having more children],” said Prof Tsang.

Fact of the Day

Air pollution is the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, obesity and heart disease.

 Air pollution is making people ill, shortening lives and damaging our environment.

Monday, May 21, 2018



Same old story, same old greed. Directors too busy stuffing their
mouths with gold to show any concern for their workforce or their
pensioners”. Frank Field – Commons Select Committee chairman.

Directors work so very hard,
Much harder than the rest of us;
Our laziness means we are barred
From luxuries that are a 'plus'.
Just twenty-four hours in the day,
How is it they achieve so much?
Who needs a workforce some would say,
When they're a striking pain as such.
Consider when they're not at work,
Just how much real wealth is produced;
And when at work they only shirk,
That's why their pay has been reduced.

So when strikes close a company down,
It makes more profit than before;
As the Directors merely frown,
And then by magic make much more! (1)
Then their remuneration boards,
(With each of them in a key post)
Vote to increase their unearned hoards,
So they can boast they earn the most.
That's how they pay themselves so well,
Who else could con us like they do;
The whole sting has a nasty smell,
But still we look up to “the few”.

Who kid us that we’re just a bind,
And surplus to the bosses needs;
They only pay us to be kind,
It's just for us that their heart bleeds!
So when they give themselves more shares,
And bonuses of extra pay;
It's right that they they are millionaires,
And self-awards are quite okay.
So plebs don't get hung up about,
Such rising inequality;
You've still a fraction more than nowt,
In thanks for your complicity.

(1) During a period where executive pay leapt
by 300%, production increased by a mere 27%.

© Richard Layton

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hitler is Dead

"We can stop all the conspiracy theories about Hitler," Charlier said. "He did not flee to Argentina in a submarine; he is not in a hidden base in Antarctica or on the dark side of the moon."

A team of French pathologists was recently allowed to inspect a set of teeth kept in Moscow that were recovered in Berlin in early May 1945 — the first time that Russian authorities had allowed anyone to examine the remains in over 70 years. And the researchers' conclusions are unambiguous.

"The teeth are authentic — there is no possible doubt," lead pathologist Philippe Charlier declared. "Our study proves that Hitler died in 1945."

"Hitler's teeth were so bad — and uniquely bad — that his teeth alone made it possible to identify his corpse," the forensic pathologist Mark Benecke wrote in an online article. He adds that tooth decay and gum disease were probably the reasons for the Führer's notoriously bad breath.

The new findings should, (but probably won't,) put an end to crackpot notions that the Nazi leader somehow escaped the destruction of the final days of World War II.

The Soviets knew for sure that Hitler was dead, Stalin ordered the news suppressed so as to sow uncertainty and allow him to spread rumors that the Western Allies had secretly helped Hitler escape.

"It was a deceitful charade, a weird attempt to disguise the fact that his body had been found," Rzhevskaya wrote in her memoirs, which appeared in Russian in 1965 but were only published in English this March. "Hitler was no longer an emblem of the war, he became an emblem of the kind of peace that was to follow." The Russians called the disinformation campaign "Operation Myth." When combined with the real fact that prominent Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele had, in fact, fled to South America, Stalin's deception was the genesis of conspiracy theories that Hitler had somehow survived World War II.
"Stalin's strategy, quite evidently, was to associate the west with Nazism by pretending that the

British or Americans must be hiding him," the historian Anthony Beevor wrote in his book Berlin — The Downfall: 1945.

Mental well-being is a political question

 It is inconvenient to hear but psychological distress is political. Studies have shown an association between the implementation of austerity policies and increasing mental health needs. Austerity after the recent recession hit the poorest hardest. Families with the lowest incomes got poorer and deprived areas saw the greatest funding cuts at the level of local government. Resources used to support community living and social support for isolated groups, such as the Sure Start centres for young families, were cut. Benefits reform has led to increased mistrust and shame that has contributed to split and beleaguered communities.  

 Psychological distress (often categorised as “mental disorders” and other terms we, as psychologists, are not always comfortable with) is not distributed equally across society. People lower down the socio-economic ladder suffer more mental distress than those higher up, with the gradient particularly pronounced for women. Inequality is also associated with poorer wellbeing for those at the sharp end. Debt and having a poor-quality job – such as those with zero-hour contracts or where there is little control or reward to be had – are risk factors for experiencing mental illness. 

Multiple studies have shown a link between low socio-economic position and increased rates of depression and anxietyUnemployment is associated with a higher risk of suicide. Similarly, poor quality or overcrowded housing is linked to poorer mental health in adults and is worse for children’s educational and health outcomes. Living in a neighbourhood blighted by violence or with a high crime rate is associated with trauma. Those experiencing oppression through living in communities in which there are high levels of racial inequality and discrimination are more likely to feel distressed.

Take the current housing crisis. Young people are spending more on rent with less hope than ever of meeting society’s expectations of home ownership. People may feel insecure, less in control of their lives or even unsafe in their current accommodation. If someone feeling like this went to their GP or to a mental health service, their response to these life experiences may be interpreted as “symptoms” of a mental health problem. Struggling to sleep and ruminating on thoughts of failure are commonly associated with depression. Antidepressants or CBT to cope with anxiety may or may not be offered and may or may not temporarily help the individual. But it is not going to change their situation or prevent others from ending up in the same place.

 If we don’t examine the wider context of why and how someone develops their distress, the problem can end up being situated inside the person. It is a person’s brain that is the problem and not these wider factors. This individualisation of psychological distress not only puts the onus for recovery squarely on the individual’s shoulders, but it shifts the focus away from the societal, cultural and political factors which contribute to people being in these positions in the first place. Tackling poverty, inequality, poor housing and deprivation is much harder than treating an individual’s depression or designing policies to increase access to mental health services. To do anything differently suddenly makes “mental health” deeply political and that is what many would like to avoid. But to quote the World Health Organisation: “Why treat people only to send them back to the conditions that made them sick in the first place?”

Thinking about mental health as something that starts and stops with the individual is never going to lead to a healthier and more connected society. We need to see the bigger picture, to consider how things like social disadvantage and inequality tug at the very fabric of what makes society functional. 

The government’s recent proposals for child and adolescent mental healthith its narrow focus on the role that schools and colleges can play, the government’s proposal is actually a huge diversion away from the real issues, which we would argue is rising poverty and poor educational policies. And we are not the only ones to think so – last week a joint report from the Education and Health and Social Care Select Committees found that “it lacks any ambition and fails to consider how to prevent child and adolescent mental ill health in the first place”heir report also revealed that the connection between social disadvantage and youth mental health was not part of the brief that the researchers, providing the evidence to underpin the proposals, were given.

From here

Collective Guilt

 Israel says it is forced to control access to Gaza for security reasons, although the UN sees the blockade as collective punishment.

A poll conducted this month found 83% of Jewish Israelis believed the army’s open-fire policy was justified. Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman called Hamas a “bunch of cannibals”.

 Israel has killed more than 110 people and thousands of others have been shot, mostly in the legs, according to health officials.

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli human rights group run by military veterans, said most of Israeli Jewish society had “sadly enough, bought into the talking points of the government. It was really devastating to see the response of mainstream Israel, so to speak, on this,” he said. Voices of outrage have been largely muted and sidelined. Small protests across the country condemning the army’s use of live fire have barely reached the low hundreds. “There was a voice of dissent. It’s a minority, but it’s there,” Shaul said. “There is a voice and we are proud of it, but we are a minority.”

Italy's turn to the right

The far-right Lega leader, Matteo Salvini and the Five Star leader, Luigi di Maio, unveiled a joint policy document containing plans to build more detention centres to accelerate the deportation of an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants and review migrant rescue missions at sea after they arrive on Italy’s shores. 

The agreement also calls for “unregistered” Roma camps to be shut down.

The document calls for Muslim imams to be registered with the state. Unauthorised mosques will face “immediate” closure while proposals for the construction of new ones and their funding will be scrutinised.

In a Facebook video last week, Salvini told supporters he would rid the country of “delinquents” and dismantle the previous administration’s “€50bn [£44bn] migration reception” policy.

Mamadou Sall, president of Florence’s Senegalese association, explained, “We contribute over €20bn a year to the state – if it wasn’t for immigrants, pensions wouldn’t be paid,” he said. “They told me: ‘We’re not voting for the League because we’re racist, but because we’ll be able to retire early.’ They’ve been fooled. The proposed flat tax will also backfire – the poor will pay more and the rich will pay nothing.”

Adnan Husein, from Ghana said, “They say they don’t want migrants, but over history so many Italians have migrated, especially to America, because they had to,” he added. “I understand that it wasn’t easy for them, either. Whether a person is white or black, we are all equal, all afraid and all trying to survive.”

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Racial Divide

The wealth gap between white and black Americans is widening: Black families now have 10 times less wealth than whites. 

Homeownership among white Americans is more than 30 percentage points higher than among black Americans. African-Americans and Latinos were far more likely to be denied conventional mortgages than whites, even when income, loan size and other factors were taken into account.

The fact that so many more whites own their homes is one of the reasons why white median family net worth is nearly ten times that of African-American families.

The Australian alliance with the US

Australia has aligned with the United States as one of only two countries to vote against an independent investigation into the recent killing of 60 Palestinians in Gaza.
The United Nations human rights council held a special meeting on Friday night to discuss the “deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory”.
Twenty-nine countries, an overwhelming majority, voted to urgently set up an “independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate recent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law there. 
Oxfam’s chief executive, Dr Helen Szoke, said Australia, through its role on the council, had an “unprecedented opportunity to progress human rights”. She urged it to take its role seriously. When Australia took up its seat on the council, it promised to act in a principled manner and uphold human rights,” Szoke said. “Voting against a motion to launch an independent investigation into the killings in Gaza and to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of civilian protests, flies in the face of Australia’s commitment."
The Human Rights Watch Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said the federal government’s opposition was “shameful”.
“This was a chance to put principle before politics and Australia blew it,” she said. “This was not about targeting Israel but targeting human rights violations. When security forces opened fire on protesters who pose no imminent threat, they must be held to account.”

Let Them Eat Wedding Cake

Unionize and Organize

It's time to support and promote labor unions. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century workers literally fought and died at the hands of mercenary detectives trying to establish their right to organize for better wages and working conditions.

Yet for the past 30 years and more, the history of labor has been one of steady decline. Membership in private unions has dropped by more than half since the early 1980's, and it's still sliding to this day. As union membership has declined, so too have the pay and benefits for which they once advocated. Even in manufacturing, construction and transportation, once the biggest powerhouses of organized labor, unions have steadily lost members year after year. Meanwhile, wages and working conditions have deteriorated, while income inequality has soared.

Wage stagnation in the United States is now well documented in both statistics and lived experience. Gains to the Dow Jones Average and GDP have enriched those who make their money from investment income, but have translated poorly into more dollars-per-hour for people who make their money off of wages.

"Some huge amount of the productivity gains over the last 30 years in the United States have gone to executives and stockholders, and not to workers," said Professor Robert Korstad with Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. "That's because workers in major industries where automation has taken place didn't have strong unions that could bargain for them and demand a certain percentage of the productivity gains that have been realized by the employers." He continued. "I think this relationship between unions and greater wage inequality is pretty clear, at least on the downside."

 The only force that drives wages higher is scarcity. Employers hire workers as cheaply as possible, raising that price only when competing firms start to outbid them. But just waiting for unemployment to plummet is a pretty lousy way of getting a raise. So unions create a secondary form of upward pressure based on bargaining power. They work to ensure that as an employer gets richer, it shares some of that wealth with its workers. If scarcity raises wages based on what an employer has to pay, labor bargaining is best understood as a way of raising wages based on what an employer can afford to pay.

 Automation, in particular, has disrupted many industries once thought a bedrock of safe, middle class lifestyles, and artificial intelligence will extend that process into fields ranging from construction and transportation to journalism and even law. 

 A map of states by Gini coefficient tracks almost exactly with the states that have the lowest level of union participation nationwide. The same is true of states with the lowest per capita incomes. The decline of unionization may not be the entire story but, in economics, when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably has something to do with soaring inequality.

Right-to-work laws are a particularly ugly part of this story and, ironically, do more to prove this point than almost any other modern development. A cornerstone of the right wing's anti-labor movement, right-to-work laws have decimated union membership in states across the south and Midwest. Right-to-work laws kill unions by creating a deliberate free-rider problem. The federal government requires unions to bargain for all employees, regardless of membership, so historically unions have been allowed to collect dues from those nonmembers the government requires them to represent. Under right to work, the state prevents a union from collecting nonmember dues while still requiring it to bargain on those workers' behalf. Eligible for the benefits of union membership but freed from the costs, workers drop out en masse and starve unions of resources. This leads directly to declining wages, "cheaper labor" in the sanitized speech of right-to-work advocates. Right-to-work advocates specifically say that by killing unions they reduce local wages. In doing so they implicitly acknowledge the role unions play in raising standards of living for people who have jobs. 
Right to work starts a race to the bottom. While some jobs may appear in Georgia, they've vanished from New York, and the ones created almost always pay less than the ones destroyed. The net effect is to make workers overall a little bit poorer and a little worse off than they were before, and to further erode take-home pay as a share of national profits.

Sheer complacency

Sir Mick Davis, one of British Jewry’s most senior and respected figures, a former chair of the Jewish Leadership Council who also chaired then Prime Minister David Cameron’s Holocaust Memorial Commission, accused Israel and others of showing “sheer complacency” in letting the situation in Gaza get so desperate, asking: 
“What of empathy for the innocents among the dead? Has that become a taboo?...Has it become taboo among Israel’s friends to ask what this stagnant situation, and what the absence of even a language of peace, let alone a vision of it, is doing to our own morality and the moral well-being of our youth?...What will we become if we are constantly asking Israel’s advocates to adopt positions so far removed from the reality the world can see?” 

This week more than 750 British Jews signed an open letter criticising the Board of Deputies for its one-sided statement on the border killings, failing to criticise or even question Israel’s use of live fire on unarmed protesters.

What Women's Rights?

Saudi authorities have arrested seven prominent women’s rights advocates. The detainees rounded up since 15 May include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan, women who have long opposed the driving ban.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It appears the only ‘crime’ these activists committed was wanting women to drive before Mohammed bin Salman did,” she said.

Saudi activists say social change will only be cosmetic without dismantling the kingdom’s guardianship system.

 Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said: 
“This is an extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian authorities’ endless harassment of women’s rights defenders is entirely unjustifiable. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has presented himself as a ‘reformer’, but his promises of reform seem entirely superficial as the repression of human rights activists continues unabated." She continued, "Saudi Arabia cannot continue to publicly proclaim support for women’s rights and other reforms, while targeting women human rights defenders and activists for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. We are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all activists who may still be detained solely for their human rights work.”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Suffering Americans

The United Way’s ALICE project released a study showing, “Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone.”

These numbers include both the 16.1 million families living at or below the federal poverty line (currently $24,600 for a family of four) and the 34.7 million families the United Way calls ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This means people who earn too much to qualify for federal poverty programs but are still unable to cover their monthly expenses nationwide - 43% of Americans cannot afford basic needs.

The severity of the problem varies by state. California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the highest number of struggling families, at 49 percent. By contrast, North Dakota has the lowest, at 32 percent. 

The financially struggling families represent “… the nation’s child care workers, home health aides, office assistants and store clerks, who work low-paying jobs and have little savings. … Some 66% of jobs in the US pay less than $20 an hour.”

More low-wage jobs may decrease the unemployment rate, but employment doesn’t mean families can pay their bills.  Stephanie Hoopes, a founding author of the study, explained this frustration, explaining that “the rate of inflation in the past 10 years has been about 9 percent, but the cost of living for ALICE families has risen by nearly twice that.” As a result, she explained, “There’s a sense of frustration or even anger because people are being told that they’re doing better but they aren’t.”

According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance, the top 1 percent of wealthy Americans now holds 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 33.7 percent in 2007. The bottom 90 percent of Americans had only 22.8 percent of the nation’s total wealth in 2017, down from 28.5 percent in 2007.