Sunday, November 30, 2014

The way forward - with the people

More than half of the world’s population is adversely affected by malnutrition according to FAO. Worldwide, 200 million children suffer from under-nutrition while two billion women and children suffer from anaemia and other types of nutrition deficiencies.

More than 20 years after the first Conference on Nutrition (ICN), held in 1992, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, finally conceded the need for democracy to tackle the problem. The participation of non-State actors in ICN2, evidence shows that encouraging participants enables greater transparency, inclusion and plurality in policy discussion, which leads to a greater sense of ownership and consensus. As such, the preparation for the ICN2 was a first step in building alliances between civil society organisations (CSOs)  and social movements involved in working with food, nutrition, health and agriculture.

Flavio Valente, Secretary-General of FIAN International, an organisation advocating for the right to adequate food. “It is the first time that civil society constituencies have worked with FAO, WHO and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to discuss nutrition.” This gave the opportunity to social movements, “including a vast array of stakeholders such as peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, pastoralists, landless people and urban poor to have their voices heard and be able to discuss with NGOs, academics and nutritionists….This means that governments have already started to listen to our joint demands and proposals, in particular those related to the governance of food and nutrition,” he explained. According to Valente, “things are changing” – civil society organisations have organised around food and nutrition issues, the food sovereignty movement has grown in resistance since the 1980s and societies are now demanding action from their governments in an organised way.

In the heart of the Pijol mountains in the northern Honduran province of Yoro, the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo has a lot to celebrate: famine is no longer a problem for them, and their youngest children were rescued from the grip of child malnutrition. The Tolupan indigenous people in Pueblo Nuevo are no longer suffering from the drought that hit much of the country this year, severely affecting the production of staple crops like beans and maize, as a result of climate change and the global El Niño weather phenomenon. For the last two years, the Tolupan of Pueblo Nuevo have had food reserves that they store in a community warehouse. The “black Junes” are a thing of the past, the villagers told IPS.

“From June to August, things were always really hard, we didn’t have enough food, we had to eat roots. It was a time of subsistence, we always said: black June is on its way,” said the leader of the tribe, 27-year-old Tomás Cruz, a schoolteacher. “But today we can smile and say: black June is gone. Now we have food for our children, who had serious malnutrition problems here .because there wasn’t enough food.”

Pueblo Nuevo’s experience was a success because the tribe understood that they had to change their way of life, implementing good practices in cropping, hygiene and food security. The villagers was key to the community’s transformation. The tribe no longer uses the slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, and they now use organic fertiliser and recycle their garbage. They have a community savings fund where they deposit part of their earnings, which has made it possible to have clean drinking water and provisions. They managed to improve the yield per hectare of beans from 600 to 1,800 kg, and of maize from 900 to 3,000 kg, and now they know that a family of six needs 2,400 to 2,800 kg of maize a year, for example. In Pueblo Nuevo they are also proud that they don’t have to hire themselves out to work, or sell their livestock to ranchers or merchants in the area to eat. “Now they say they’re rich because they no longer have to work for a boss,” Sandro Martínez, the mayor of Victoria, told IPS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Class War

Workers at a tea plantation in eastern India killed the owner during negotiations over a pay dispute. The owner of the Sonali tea estate in West Bengal was dragged out of talks on Saturday, beaten up and stabbed by a crowd. The workers had reportedly not been paid for two or three months. Many workers in India's tea plantations are malnourished and poorly paid.

According to Raja Das, Secretary of Terai Indian Planters’ Association (TIPA) the tea estate had been plagued with a series of issues relating to non-payment of dues. “It had long history of defaulting in payment of statutory dues to workers. According to initial reports the garden did not implement the industry-wide wage settlement, and, denied supplying the promised rations. On top of all, it had failed to pay wages in time,”

 Several incidents of attacks on tea executives by workers have been reported in recent years. In 2012 a tea plantation owner and his wife were burned to death in the neighbouring state of Assam.

WHO said what?

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Margaret Chan recently stated: "Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure? Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay." Dr. Chan  noted that "My budget is highly earmarked, so it is driven by what I call donor interests."

A study in  The Lancet of medical products registered in 2000-11 revealed that "Only four new chemical entities were approved for neglected diseases (three for malaria, one for diarrhoeal disease), accounting for 1% of the 336 new chemical entities approved during the study period."

For women's rights

The Bread of the World Institute is a non-partisan, Christian citizens' movement aimed at educating policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about hunger, shows that discrimination against women is a major cause of persistent hunger and that increasing women’s earning potential by boosting bargaining power, reducing gender inequality in unpaid work, increasing women’s political representation, and eliminating the wage gap between male and female labor could help stem the worldwide epidemic.

According to their new report "Neither women nor men living in poverty have much economic bargaining power—that is, an ability to negotiate favorable economic outcomes for themselves—especially in developing countries, as the vast majority of people do low-paying, low-productivity work," However, it goes on to explain "Even within the constraints of poverty, however, working conditions for men and women are far from equal: women suffer many more forms of discrimination, which worsen the effects of poverty on their lives. Discrimination that establishes and reinforces women’s lower status in society starts within the family and extends through community customs and national laws… Discrimination is why women farmers labor with fewer productive resources than their male counterparts, why women in all sectors of the economy earn less than men, and why girls are pulled out of school to work or to marry… we must identify and adopt policies that help eliminate entrenched and interconnected sexism and racism.""

Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute says "We must not tolerate discrimination against women and instead, demand a comprehensive approach to women’s empowerment that includes applying a gender lens to all programs and policies."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Some people are more equal than others.

Today, the United States has the fourth most uneven income distribution among economically developed nations. According to Forbes, a leading business magazine, the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans has now reached the staggering total of $2.3 trillion. This gives them an average net worth of $5.7 billion–an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.

Other Americans aren’t doing nearly as well. According to the Census Bureau, more than 45 million Americans are living in poverty, which it defines as under $11,490 a year for an individual and under $23,550 for a family of four. Many of them endure lives of hunger, misery, and despair, helped along by a Congress that has slashed billions from government food stamp programs, ended extended unemployment benefits, and refused to raise the minimum wage.

From 1978 to 2013, CEO compensation, inflation-adjusted, grew by 937 percent, while the typical worker’s compensation over that same period grew by only 10 percent. Thus, although the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 20-to-1 in 1965, it stood at 296-to-1 in 2013. 

Americans on middle income, plagued by stagnant income and declining wealth, has also suffered. According to the Federal Reserve, between 2010 and 2013 median income in the United States fell by five percent. Indeed, since 1989, the median net worth of the statistical ‘middle class’–the middle 20 percent of Americans–has dropped by nearly 18 percent.

From 1989 to 2013, the wealthiest three percent of Americans increased their share of the wealth from 44.8 percent to 54.4 percent, while the bottom 90 percent found their share of the wealth dropping from 33.2 percent to 24.7 percent.

The wealthiest Americans have grown richer at the expense of others. In 2005, Larry Ellison ho now is worth $50 billion, and reportedly has 15 or so homes scattered all around the world. Among his yachts are two exceptionally big ones, each over half as long as a football field. bought out PeopleSoft, an 11,000-employee competitor, and then eliminated the jobs of 5,000 of them.
Or consider the four members of the Walton family–owners of Wal-Mart, the country’s biggest private employer–who rank among the top 10 richest Americans, with a combined net worth of $143.7 billion. Most of their full-time workers are paid less than $25,000 a year. Wal-Mart’s cashiers, for example, average $8.48 an hour, and thousands of Wal-Mart workers receive no more than the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). These low wages keep many of the company’s workers mired in poverty and dependent upon government assistance. Indeed, it is estimated that Wal-Mart’s low-wage workers cost American taxpayers $6.2 billion a year in public assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing.

Charles and David Koch, the sons of a wealthy founder of the John Birch Society, as well as the fourth and fifth richest Americans (with $84 billion). Over the years, the Koch brothers have used their vast wealth to champion the abolition of public schools, the postal system, minimum wage laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Bankrolling a broad variety of right-wing groups and foundations, they have zealously opposed legislation providing for environmental protection, health care reform, and limits on campaign contributions. As massive financiers of right-wing election campaigns–including more than $400 million to candidates in 2011-2012 alone–they have been very effective in pulling the Republican Party and American politics rightward.

pt foundations often use them for questionable purposes. Since 2008, the Gates Foundation–funded by Bill Gates (the nation’s wealthiest individual, with $81 billion)–has spent at least $2 billion to undermine public schools by promoting charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing, and other corporate educational initiatives. The Gates Foundation has also played a key role in creating organizations opposing teacher unions and teacher tenure. Meanwhile, the Walton Foundation contributed more than $750 million to these efforts. Both the Gates and Walton Foundations have funded the work of ALEC, the right-wing operation that has successfully promoted the passage of state laws that restrict voting rights, weaken unions, privatize education, harass immigrants, encourage “Stand Your Ground” behavior, and, of course, provide big tax cuts for the rich.

According to Forbes, the top “industry” among the 400 richest Americans is “investments.” Are these stock market and hedge fund speculators really the most valuable members of society?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

our choice

While science and technology have increased the land’s capacity for producing food, it is sobering thought to realize that of the 7 billion people inhabiting the earth, 1 billion are hungry.

Sustainability. That’s the popular word today in discussions of food production and the environment. But for farmers, ‘sustainability’ means not only those practices that are good for managing soil, water, and land, it also means a few things practical to the business side of the farm, such as having enough land and feed to sustain the cattle, or managing the farm to stay profitable and in business, or managing the land in a way that brings opportunities to future generations. At its basic level, sustainability can mean maximizing the land’s potential to produce more forage per acre and more milk per cow. Profitability. Whatever the specific definition of ‘sustainable,’ one thing is for certain: economics drive solutions within capitalism.

We humans face a choice. As populations grow towards crisis levels and earth resources come under near-intolerable pressure, we have to decide how to feed ourselves.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Another Day of Infamy

October 2003, an independent, blue-ribbon commission released its findings from an investigation into an internationally significant 36-year-old attack on a US Navy ship that left more than 200 American sailors killed or wounded.

The commission consists of:

A former ambassador to one of the US’s most important allies
A US Navy rear admiral and former head of the Navy’s legal division
A Marine general, America’s highest ranking recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the former Assistant Commandant of Marines
A US Navy four-star admiral, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest military position in the country), former Chief of Naval Operations, a World War II hero, and the only Naval admiral to have commanded both the Pacific and the Atlantic fleets
The panel is moderated by a former ambassador who served as Chief of Mission in Iraq and Deputy Director of Ronald Reagan's White House Task Force on Terrorism.

The commission findings:

»   That the attack, by a US ally, was a “deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew”
»   That the ally committed “acts of murder against American servicemen and an act of war against the United States”
»   That the attack involved the machine-gunning of stretcher-bearers and life rafts
»   That “the White House deliberately prevented the U.S. Navy from coming to the defense of the [ship]... never before in American naval history has a rescue mission been cancelled when an American ship was under attack”
»   That surviving crew members were later threatened with “court-martial, imprisonment or worse” if they talked to anyone about what had happened to them; and were “abandoned by their own government”
»   That due to the influence of the ally’s “powerful supporters in the United States, the White House deliberately covered up the facts of this attack from the American people”
»   That due to continuing pressure by this lobby, this attack remains “the only serious naval incident that has never been thoroughly investigated by Congress”
»   That “there has been an official cover-up without precedent in American naval history”
»   That “the truth about Israel's attack and subsequent White House cover-up continues to be officially concealed from the American people to the present day and is a national disgrace”
»   That “a danger to the national security exists whenever our elected officials are willing to subordinate American interests to those of any foreign nation...” and that this policy “endangers the safety of Americans and the security of the United States”

In 1967, at the height of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force launched an unprovoked attack on the USS Liberty, a US Navy spy ship that was monitoring the conflict from the safety of international waters in the Mediterranean. Israeli jet fighters hit the vessel with rockets, cannon fire and napalm, before three Israeli torpedo boats moved in to launch a second more devastating attack. Though she did not sink, the Liberty was badly damaged. Thirty-four US servicemen and civilian analysts were killed, another 171 were wounded. The official claim is that the Israeli attack – which lasted two hourswas somehow accidental.

Few Americans realize that a US president chose to sacrifice US interests and US servicemen (specifically, the 25 of the 34 dead who were killed after US rescue missions were recalled) to Israeli interests, and then ordered a cover-up of his actions. The official investigation gave  one week to conduct an investigation that normally would have been allotted a minimum of six months, found the attack to be a case of “mistaken identity.” Its conclusions had been a sham. President Lyndon Johnson and his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, had ordered the court to cover up the fact that all the evidence had indicated clearly that the attack had been intentional.

One of the Israeli pilots Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yiftach Spector explained, "There was a mistake. Mistakes happen. As far as I know, the mistake was of the USS Liberty being there in the first place…" said Spector, "…The fool is one who wanders about in the dark in dangerous places, so they should not come with any complaints."

Or that Israel quibbled for years over what it would pay in compensation to the widows, children, and parents of those it killed and to the United States for the ship it destroyed. (Thirteen years later it grudgingly paid $6 million for a ship valued at $40 million.)

From here