Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Asylum seeker dilemma

Richard Arnold  is a member of the conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU). Since 2009, he has been the mayor of Schwäbisch Gmünd, a city in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg with a population of 60,000.

Germany has stepped up the pace of rejected asylum applicant deportations. 

"...At the moment, we have 213,000 asylum seekers who are obligated to leave the country and many of them who came here four years ago are well integrated. And now, the ones that are already integrated are supposed to leave. No difference is being made between the people. It can't go on like this...
The wrong ones are being deported. The ones being deported are the ones people can reach and they are easy to find because they live normal lives. It affects people who went to school here and who have obtained qualifications. Among them are a number of people who are truly integrated and are paying into state health insurance and pension plans. 
After all, when the influx of refugees began, our municipalities and citizens were strongly urged to do everything possible to integrate the people. Now, the people who fit in our society are to be torn out. The decent ones should not be the losers...the sword of Damocles, i.e. deportation, would not be dangling over their heads. Anyone who has built up prospects and contributed to society should be rewarded for their efforts.

Goodbye UBI

Is the universal basic income (or citizens wage) the miracle reform that reduces social inequalities and relieves millions of people from the threat of poverty? Both right-wing and left-wing thinkers have rallied to the idea of an unconditional income.  The universal basic income is based on the principle of equal opportunity, which characterizes liberal capitalist thinking. This idea differs from the principle of equality founded on the socialist assumption that everyone contributes according to his possibilities and benefits according to his needs.

 There are as many types of universal income as there are people promoting them. They differ mainly by their degree of unconditionality, their amounts, their degree of substitution for social security and their method of financing.

The experimentation of a basic income of €560 per month granted to a population of 2000 unemployed people in Finland is currently very discussed. It has been implemented by a right-wing government made up of three parties, Kesk (center), True Finns (extreme right) and Kok (conservative nationalist), as part of an austerity policy aimed at reducing public spending and containing wages. The main motivation for this initiative is that an unemployed person currently receives a large number of benefits (unemployment, housing, child, etc.) and that a job, in order to reach the level of the unemployment benefits collected by an unemployed person, must correspond to a monthly gross income of €2,300. The goal of granting this basic income is therefore to reduce unemployment spending, to contain wage costs and to reduce the current 9% unemployment. We are far from the promise of a universal income.

The paradox consists in either advocating a high-cost universal basic income, the feasibility of which implies questioning social security and public services and thereby accepting a considerable social regression; or being satisfied with a modest allocation which could be conciliated in whole or in part with the social protection system. In the latter case, the modest amount of the allowance would require the use of complementary jobs to live or survive, thus condemning the beneficiaries to accept precarious and low-paid jobs. Instead of letting people choose whether or not to be employed and enabling them to devote themselves to a chosen occupation, the beneficiaries of a universal basic income would be reduced to accepting any part time job. Such a system, therefore, constitutes a powerful incentive to accept a job and leads to the institutionalization of precarious employment. We are actually far from principles that usually constitute unconditional income. Such a system, even if watered down, entails the risk of lower wages and a subsidy to employers.

Tomorrow's People

Modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance.” People have “learned to fly in the air like birds,” but “we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Scientific and technological advances have been enormous. Thanks to breakthroughs in communications, millions of people globally routinely conduct live, visual conversations with one another. In medicine, replacing damaged or diseased parts of the human body has become commonplace. In biology, scientists have mapped the human genome and are well on their way to understanding the structure of the brain. When it comes to transport, it is relatively easy to jet around the world, while spacecraft are now being designed to take tourists into orbit. Computers have dramatically improved the acquisition of knowledge, the storage of information, and dissemination of it at incredible high speed.

Yet there is a glaring discrepancy between these kinds of advances and the social institutions that can ensure that they are used for the benefit of humanity. Despite very substantial progress in modern medicine, vast numbers of people receive no medical treatment or, at best, inferior medical care. Television’s ability to transmit knowledge, culture, and understanding around the world is employed primarily to distribute mindless, shallow entertainment and peddle commercial products. The ravages of climate change are ignored and instead, corporations roll out plans to further destroy the environment through additional extraction and use of fossil fuel. Stimulating consumer demand through the latest advertising techniques, capitalist corporations churn out a vast number of quickly-discarded throw-away gadgets whose manufacture fills the air, the water, and the soil with dangerous contaminants.  Drawing upon the science of robotics, business is beginning the displacement of millions of workers, condemning them to unemployment and poverty rather than celebrate leisure and shorter working hours. While governments press into service the latest scientific and technological knowledge to spy on the public, as well as to produce new weapons and other high-tech means of destroying millions of lives in war.

Capitalist greed has stunted social impulses.  The real question is whether people can muster the political will to reshape society to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sustainable eating

The 20 countries that eat the least meat

  1. Bangladesh - 4kg of meat per person per year
  2. India - 4.4kg
  3. Burundi - 5.2kg
  4. Sri Lanka - 6.3kg
  5. Rwanda - 6.5kg
  6. Sierra Leone - 7.3kg
  7. Eritrea - 7.7kg
  8. Mozambique - 7.8kg
  9. Gambia - 8.1kg
  10. Malawi - 8.3kg
  11. Ethiopia - 8.5kg
  12. Guinea - 8.6kg
  13. Nigeria - 8.8kg
  14. Tanzania - 9.6kg
  15. Nepal - 9.9kg
  16. Liberia - 10.4kg
  17. Uganda - 11kg
  18. Indonesia - 11.6kg
  19. Togo - 11.7kg
  20. Solomon Islands - 11.9kg
An average UK resident eats 84.2kg of meat each year, putting it 30th on the list, but it will come as no surprise to discover that the biggest guzzlers of animal flesh are our American cousins. A single US resident consumes, on average, 120.2 kilos - 30 times more than those from Bangladesh.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brexit Myths

The vote to leave the EU was not driven by Britain’s white working classes, according to a report.

Faiza Shaheen said: ‘Mainstream Brexit analysis tells us that it was the white working class alone that drove the Brexit vote, concluding that this group’s needs are distinct and that they should take precedence over the needs of other groups.
‘Apart from being untrue, with 59% of the middle class voting for Brexit versus 24% of the working class, this analysis and its conclusions are turning the clock back on progress in our multi-racial community.’

The report said that although white voters were likelier to back Leave in the 2016 referendum if they were poor and Remain if they were rich, some 59% of the middle-classes voted to quit the EU compared with 24% of the working class.
It said that 70 of the 107 most racially diverse parliamentary constituencies voted Remain, while 99 out of the 107 least racially diverse voted Leave.
The report said poor white people have more in common with ethnic minority communities than they do with the white middle classes, who are ‘culturally further apart’.
Runnymede Trust director Omar Khan said: ‘The white working class have more in common with poor ethnic minority communities than they do with the white middle and upper classes.
‘Poor white and BME (black and minority ethnic) people are bound by shared experiences of social deprivation, but there is also more social interaction between them than between the richest and poorest thirds of white people.
‘The label “white working class” isn’t helping the white working class because it is all talk and no action.
‘Rather than offer a desperate and empty form of ethno-nationalism, the best way to raise up this section of society is for central and local government to adopt policies to benefit all working class communities.’

The cost of flesh

The environmental costs of raising animals to eat — in particular, poultry, beef, and pork — are immense. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that animal-food production adds 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per year — that’s 14.5% of all greenhouse gases produced by humans. The industry eats up 30% of the earth's land mass, including 80% of what used to be the Amazon rain forest. 70% of the grain grown in the U.S. is consumed by food animals, and runoff from factory farming has created 230 "dead zones" along the east coast of the U.S. Producing one pound of animal protein requires “12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuels, and 15 times as much water as it does to produce one pound of soy protein,” 

Monday, March 20, 2017


That European nations have existed for more than 300 years.

For thousands of years, the borders between cultures (traditions, customs, languages) in Europe were much more fluid than today. It was not possible to say e. g. "These are the French", "These are the Germans" and "These are the Italians", because the cultures flowed into each other. People also did not feel French, German, Italian, whatever, because that thought only came up in the 18th century. People felt allegiance to their family and their village, not to larger cultural units. 

There were countries, but the countries did not map onto cultures. They were either small kingdoms or large multi-ethnic empires whose monarchs usually acquired territory through inheritance, conquest or marriage, without thought to the culture or language of the people whose rulers they became. There was no patriotic resistance to this practice until the 18th century. For the most part, it wasn't a problem, because the administration was local, in the hands of feudal lords who did speak the local language and knew the local practices.

What changed?

Several factors led to the creation of distinguishable cultural units:
  • Book-printing. It would have been too expensive to print books in the hundreds of languages / dialects spoken in Europe at the time, so printers supported the standardization of languages and the promotion of a few languages over others. Language is both an indicator and a means of creating different cultures, because different languages give access to different information, a different canon of folk tales and literature and so on.
  • The reformation created new cultural distinctions in Europe, because previously most had had the same beliefs, celebrated the same church holidays, used the same religious rituals and so on. It also encouraged people to think for themselves, starting a wave of secular philosophers.
  • States centralized their administration and weakened the feudal lords. This meant a need for a lot more state officials, i. e. career opportunities for those who felt loyal to the state. The introduction of national languages and national education circuits meant that officials, unlike feudal lords previously, could not hope to keep their position if the territory fell to another country. Officials within one country would network, while there was much less contact across the border, furthering cultural differences.
  • Later (this list is not chronological), with the advent of industrialization, which brought schooling to a much larger share of the population, the above affected everyone. (Even in our united EU, it is not simple to have one country's certificate recognized in another.) This contains people within one country's borders and gives them a certain stake in that country's situation. The exposure to the public school system also creates distinguishable cultures, especially when the state uses schools to spread a national narrative.
  • In the 19th century, all European countries introduced national holidays, museums and monuments telling the story of their nation, uniting people by making them feel part of the same history. In most cases, this history was a relatively new invention, first heard at most 100 years ago, even though it described the nation as having existed much earlier (e. g. in France every student learns: "our ancestors the Gauls...").

The idea of nations

German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was the originator of the idea that there are a number of distinguishable cultures in Europe. According to him, just as every human has his own character, formed by his past and his environment, so each people has its own culture and mentality, the Volksgeist, formed by its past, its environment and its livelihood. This was the birth of Cultural Nationalism. (Cultural because Herder did not talk politics at all)

Another German philosopher created Political Nationalism: Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He thought that each nation stands above its individual members and the members have common characteristics because of Volksgeist, distinguishing themselves from members of other nations. According to him, national awareness lay slumbering in the unconsciousness of its members but eventually had to come to the front. After becoming aware, each nation has the ability, through its national will, to decide its destiny by way of political struggle. The highest goal for a nation was the formation of a sovereign nation-state free of foreign influences. Fichte's philosophy created the picture of nationalism as an organic and natural development that each people was entitled to, when the truth is that none of the peoples in Europe's previous thousands of years of history had had a nationalist awakening. His philosophy has been used to justify all later nationalist movements, no matter if they're state nationalist, separatist or integralist in nature.

The aftermath

Fichte's ideas initially had very little traction in Europe, but sooner or later many governments and many people wanting to grab power saw the advantage of promoting the nationalist narrative. 

There's an essay by Stan Verschuuren which really opened my eyes - he narrates not just what I just explained here, but also the further spread of the idea. He winds up telling the entire modern history of Europe, from the 19th century Polish revolts to the German reunification and the Scottish independence movement, through the lens of nationalism, its pre-requirements for success and its motivations. I loved this essay so much that I attempted a translation (originally in Dutch) into English, which you can find at Stan Verschuuren on Nationalism

Welcomed Migrants

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Iran welcomes refugees

Roughly 6 million people were displaced from Afghanistan to neighboring countries amid the Soviet War in 1979. Nearly 40 years later, Tehran still shelters 1 million registered refugees, and another 2 million are thought to be living there, making it the world's fourth-largest refugee population.

Sivanka Dhanapala, head of the office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, "The leadership demonstrated by the Iranian government has been exemplary in hosting refugees and keeping borders open" He went on to say, "In a world where you have multiple bad stories about hosting refugees, I think Iran is really a good news story," he said. "It's a story that's not told often enough."

The U.N. also hailed a 2015 directive from Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei that called on education administrators to allow all Afghan children, documented or not, to attend Iranian schools.
"We've also worked with the government on incorporating refugees into a government-sponsored health insurance scheme which is a ground-breaking development not just for Iran but globally for refugees," 

Friday, March 10, 2017

US Wealth

The top 10 percent of Americans makes just over 20 percent of the nation’s income, but owns 76 percent of its wealth.

Today, just four American families own as much wealth as 40 percent of the entire population.