Excerpts from newspapers that may be of use for our readers.

Cutbacks can ruin children’s lives

NYT, 6/15 — Consider the… comment from… the chief of the Natamos Unified School District in Sacramento County, Calif.:

“We made the decision to close our eight elementary school libraries with a heavy heart, but our budget situation is so dire that we had no choice. We’ve also cut all of our health aides, eliminated busing, shortened our school year by five days, increased K-3 class sizes to 30 to 1, and issued layoff notices to about 30 percent of our teachers, classified staff and administration.”

Similar decisions, potentially devastating to the lives of individuals and families and poisonous to the effort to rebuild the economy, are being made by state and local officials from one coast to the other….

When you put people out of work, you cripple the quality of life of their entire families. When you start dismantling the public schools and driving teachers from the classrooms, you damage — and in many instances cripple — the lifetime prospects of untold numbers of pupils.

Profiteers devastate, we pay later

GW, 7/2 — Capitalism has always had a neat trick of pushing inconvenient costs into the future…. BP and the other oil giants’… long-term costs to the global environment do not appear on their balance sheets or the price we pay at the pump.

Get real: if you think energy costs are out of control now, I can’t wait to hear how you explain to your kids the global warming surcharge they will be asked to pay on your behalf in the not-too-distant future. 

New taxes aiming at the poor

NYT, 6/22 — There are visions… of raising hundreds of millions more by way of a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sweetened drinks. There is also an eternal desire in Albany to get the people who can least afford it to feed their money into video slot machines at local racetracks.

The official line is that taxes on tobacco and soda are principally health measures; the extra revenue for the state is but a pleasant side benefit. Sure it is….

It is so much easier to raise money by taxing you for doing things you shouldn’t be doing in the first place — and then assuring you that it’s for your own good.

It is also so much easier because… those most likely to be taxed are poor people. Almost by definition, they wield the least political power.

US hires murderers, saves 11%

GW, 7/2 — The Obama administration has awarded $220m in new contracts to the military contractor formerly known as Blackwater to provide security in Afghanistan. This is despite accusations against the company of murder and indiscriminate killings of civilians in Iraq and investigations into alleged corruption….

Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, defended the new contracts by saying the company, which changed its name to Xe Services as part of an image makeover, has “shaped up their act….

“Unfortunately, there are few companies that provide that kind of security.” Panetta said Xe Services had underbid rivals by $26m.

White House ‘transparency’ a joke

NYT, 6/25 — Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its “outsized influence” in the capital….

But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history….”

Some lobbyists say that they routinely get e-mail messages from White House staff members’ personal accounts rather than from their official White House accounts, which can become subject to public review….

And while Mr. Obama has imposed restrictions on hiring lobbyists for government posts, the administration has used waivers and recusals more than two dozen times to appoint lobbyists to political positions….

“It makes a great sound bite for the White House to demonize us lobbyists, but at the end of the day, they’re still going to call us.”

To end oil spills, end profit system, 6/18 — Obama said, “A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe — that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken. That obviously was not the case on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why.”

He already knows why! It’s the same ideological… assumption that the unfettered pursuit of multinational corporation profits would somehow serve the public good. In every area of federal governance, the story is the same — the mammoth corporations, through their lobbyists and campaign contributions, end up controlling the government agencies ostensibly regulating the activities of the military-industrial, health, financial and communications complexes. Why be surprised that the oil conglomerates are also in bed with their pretend Washington regulators?....

The war that needs to be fought and won is against corporate dominance of every important aspect of our political culture.

Depression — and workers will pay

NYT, Paul Krugman, 6/28 — We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression…. The cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will… be immense….

After all, unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly….

In the face of this grim picture, you might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of…. Talking points form the collected speeches of Herbert Hoover, up to and including the claim that raising taxes and cutting spending will actually expand the economy, by improving business confidence….

It is… the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times.

And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.


Excerpts from newspapers that may be of use for our readers.

World ignores big oil Nigeria crimes

NYT, 6/17 — Nigeria — Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land. The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years… The oil pours out nearly every week…. leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago… that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell… was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab…. The fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea…. Soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who were demonstrating last month….

“The pipeline failure rate in Nigeria is many times that found elsewhere in the world”… even Shell acknowledged…. On the beach at Ibeno, the fishermen were glum… “We don’t have an international media to cover us… Whatever cry we cry is not heard outside of here.”

BP ordered workers: lie, drill, 5/15 — Corporations can get away with murder… and make billions doing it…. Those financial penalties are so minor that BP routinely scrimps on safety, says oil worker safety advocate Chuck Hamel. In Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, BP oil workers have told Hamel they are expected to routinely falsify drilling rigs’ safety tests.

The reason? Because conducting a safety test… means shutting down the rig. And shutting down means oil doesn’t flow for a few minutes. So, says Hamel, in order to make more money for BP, the world’s fourth-biggest corporation, these workers were told to routinely falsify their own safety reports and carry on drilling.

Hunger is caused by profit system

GW, 6/4 — The conditions that create hunger and famine around the world have followed a pattern for centuries – and still do today…. During the great hunger around 1 million Irish people died and a further 1 million were forced into emigration for want of food. Yet, throughout the period, 1845-52, Ireland exported large amounts of food to England….

The root cause of hunger and famine is rarely crop failure alone. It is about who controls and benefits from the land and its resources. About 1 billion people, or one in six of the global population, go hungry, even though more food is being produced than ever… We have, in other words, a food system that is failing…. Water… is increasingly scarce, and… soil… is being eroded and degraded….

And… the value of the food chain has been captured at each point, from seed to field to factory to shop, by powerful transnational corporations…. Meanwhile, all but the most intensive and large-scale farmers are being driven off the land, many of the poorest forced into migration.

‘Economy up’: jobless in despair

NYT, 6/8 — Unemployment is crushing families and stifling the prospects of young people. Given that reality, President Obama’s take on the May numbers seemed oddly out of touch. “This report,” he said, “is a sign that our economy is getting stronger by the day.”

The economy is sick, and all efforts to revive it that do not directly confront the staggering levels of joblessness are doomed…. Entire communities are going under. A remarkable article in The Times last week detailed what has happened in Memphis, where a majority of the residents are black. It said the city epitomizes “how rising unemployment and growing foreclosures in the recession have combined to destroy black wealth and income and erase two decades of slow progress.”…. Inner-city neighborhoods, where joblessness is off the charts, are becoming islands of despair.

China working class stirs, strikes

NYT, 6/15 — Workers who returned to their jobs on Sunday and Monday at a Honda auto parts factory here in southern China were threatening to go back on strike this week if the company did not improve its offer of wage increases.

The threat… suggested that labor unrest at the factory was not over and that workers would not easily yield to pressure…. The threat of another walkout indicated that labor unrest continued to stir in China despite… government efforts to censor reports of strikes and protests….

Honda has had at least three strikes in the last month, at times crippling its production in China. It has responded by offering higher salaries, but those concessions seem to have emboldened workers at other factories.


Elite schools train top U.S. elitists, 6/1 – I don’t think President Obama should have nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court…. I’m against her because she went to Harvard.

Do you realize that if she is confirmed, everybody on the Supreme Court will be a product of either Harvard or Yale? All nine of them.

That’s ridiculous. I know, they’re both supposed to be really good schools but, really, they’re not that good. To those who think they are I have but two words: George Bush. He graduated from Yale and got an MBA from Harvard…. Obama went to Harvard and the three presidents before him all went to Yale. They think you shouldn’t… (get a leading position) unless you know the secret Yale-Harvard handshake.


Democracy in action: 40-year lie

NYT, 6/14 – Nearly 40 years after British troops opened fire on protestors in Northern Ireland—sparking decades of bitter sectarian violence—a British government inquiry has finally rendered a credible verdict… Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced: “What happened on ‘Bloody Sunday’ was both unjustified and unjustifiable.”…. The inquiry determined that… the 14 people killed and 13 people wounded were unarmed.

That should discredit once and for all an earlier whitewash investigation that, weeks after ‘Bloody Sunday,’ exonerated the soldiers, saying they were fired upon first…. The findings are understandably drudging up raw emotions on all sides. With the 1998 Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland has come a long way on a very difficult path toward peace. The hard truth of this inquiry and Mr. Cameron’s ringing apology should help move that process and the cause of peace forward.


Crisis reveals poisons of capitalism

GW, 6/4 – For the last two years we have been living through the third great capitalist crisis of modern times; and it is not over yet... Markets, we have discovered (or rediscovered), do not always know better than governments. Private greed does not procure public benefits. The lords of creation in the hedge funds and investment banks are not wealth creators. They are wealth destroyers.

The self-regulating market of neoliberal economic theory is a phantom, whose pursuit led to a shameful increase in inequality and eventually to a catastrophic fall in employment and output. The untamed capitalism of the last 30 years has not been driven by “rational economic actors”: the rational economic actor is another phantom. It has been driven by stampeding herds of electronic gamblers. It is not only monstrously unjust, it is also unsustainable….

Yet… in Washington, London, and the capitals of the eurozone, the hunt is on for a tarted up version of business as usual, radical enough to seem new, but conservative enough to keep the old show on the road. Tougher regulation, banking reforms, quantitative easing and even bank nationalizations have been the order of the day; some still are.

The one certainty is that the human race can’t continue indefinitely on our present path. Sooner or later the crisis-haunted capitalist merry-go-round will have to stop…. Tinkering is not enough.


Who will get Afghan mineral $?

NYT 6/16 – To the Editor: Re “U.S. Identifies Mineral Riches in Afghanistan” (front page, June 14): Beware of claims that newfound mineral riches will be a quick fix for Afghanistan’s problems. Oil-producing countries are famously afflicted by the “resource curse” of authoritarianism, corruption, and impoverished underclasses….

(Foreign) corporate resource grabs in developing counties have led to civil conflict, coups and appalling exploitation. Afghanistan is already notoriously corrupt… Abundant minerals could simply throw fuel on the fire.


‘Free-market’ book a bit careless

NYT, 6/13 – Matt Ridley’s new book, “The Rational Optimist,”… argues for markets as the dominant source of human progress…. He has the disturbing tic of using the word “even” when he mentions Africa. Gains from exchange, he writes, “will enable the Chinese and the Indians and even the Africans to live as prosperously as Americans now do.” And “even Nigerians are twice as rich” as they were 50 years ago, thanks to global progress….

Nor does Ridley grapple with why so many people doubt market-based progress… Ridley is tone-deaf to the 20th century traumas that were huge setbacks for the gospel of progress. “Despite the wars,” he writes, “in the half-century to 1950, the longevity, wealth and health of Europeans improved faster than ever before” – a true statement that surely misses the point.

Ridley also fails to really address inequality and uncertainty. The free market… gave Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers $60,000 a day (in 2007)… while one billion other people survived on a dollar a day.


Many stressed out by electronics

NYT, 6/7 – While most Americans say devices like smartphones, cellphones and personal computers have made their lives better and their jobs easier, some say they have been intrusive, increased their levels of stress and made it difficult to concentrate, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

Younger people are particularly affected: almost 30 percent of those under 45 said the use of these devices made it harder to focus while less than 10 percent of older users agreed…. While mobile devices and PCs have eased stress for some, just about as many said the devices had heightened the amounts of stress they felt….

People seem to find it hard to shut down after work…. The people who are most computer-dependent tend to be better educated and more affluent.


New career: Setting up muslims

NYT, 6/16 – Four Muslim converts from Newburgh, NY, were charged last year with planning to bomb Bronx synagogues and shoot down military planes…. On Monday, the trial of the men was indefinitely postponed…. An investigator’s report suggested that the men… were incapable of carrying out a co0mplex attack without the informer, a fast-talker who was on the government payroll…. The men were so ill-equipped to plan an attack that none had a driver’s license or a car.

Infiltrators—civilian informers and government agents—have played a part in more than 30 terrorism investigations since… Sept. 11, 2001…. Defense lawyers in the Newburgh case refer to the informant… as an agent provocateur who earned his keep by scouring mosques for easy targets… He attended to every detail, they said, including assembling weapons when the defendants should not follow his instructions.

The prosecutors… said the investigation was “exemplary law enforcement work”…. Still civil liberties lawyers say… information has emerged in court cases about informants who have flattered and deceived Muslim men in one community after another.


Polls know how to shape answers

NYT, 6/9 – National surveys released during the last eight months have been interpreted as showing that fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is real, human-caused and threatening to people.

But a closer look at these polls and a new survey by my Political Psychology Research Group show just the opposite: huge majorities of Americans still believe the earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it.

In one survey… respondents were asked if they thought that the earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent answered affirmatively. And 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred….

Questions in other polls that sought to tap respondents’ personal beliefs about the existence and causes of warming violated two of the cardinal rules of good survey question design: ask about only one thing at a time, and choose language that makes it easy for respondents to understand and answer each question…. When survey other than ours has asked simple and direct questions, they have produced results similar to ours.



Excerpts from newspapers that may be of use for our readers. Abbreviations: NYT=New York Times, GW=Guardian Weekly, LAT=Los Angeles Times

Big oil always big gangsters

NYT, 5/29 — To the Editor: Anyone scandalized by Big Oil’s influence within the government should read “Oil!,” by Upton Sinclair, published in 1927. The book is a fictional expose of unscrupulous business and political practices during the early days of oil exploration and production in California.

Drilling technology may have evolved since then, but Sinclair shows that conflicts of interests, regulators in thrall to industry, “rapacious corporate scoundrels...” sweetheart deals, lease
giveaways, bribery, fraud and the like are nothing new. They have permeated the oil industry since before the days of the Teapot Dome affair in the Harding administration.

Sinclair could have written the book yesterday. What is scandalous is not that such practices exist, but that they have been allowed to persist virtually unchanged for a century.

No visas for the exploited

NYT, 5/23 — Our housing industry, our service industry, our gardening, landscape industry, you name it — it’s been dependent for decades on Mexican labor. None of those people qualify for an employment-based visa. So when the hate mongers say, “Why can’t they wait in line? Why can’t they get a visa?”— there aren’t any visas to get! There’s no line to wait in!

Reds in UAW showed the way

NYT, 5/29 — Striking at a vital plant to achieve an auto-industry domino effect was a tactic first used to good effect in the United States by the United Automobile Workers

The U.A.W. has repeatedly held strikes at crucial parts factories to shut down many assembly plants quickly....In going on strike at a China transmission factory, workers here have Honda by the jugular.

Transmission factories are the most expensive auto plants of all to build...The factory here supplies four Honda plants in China, all of which have been shut down.

Automakers tend to put transmission factories only in the most politically stable and strike-free countries, because  a shutdown for even a day is costly. Until now, China was seen as a safe bet.

But...workers here say now they are operating more by consensus. [Still] there has been no sign that the Chinese authorities are ready to let a cohesive group of labor activists emerge to lead a national independent union.

Summer job? Youth at end of line

NYT, 6/1 — This year is shaping up to be even worse than last for the millions of high school and college students looking for summer jobs.

State and local governments, traditionally among the biggest seasonal employers, are knee-deep in the budget woes....Private employers are also reluctant to hire until the economy shows more solid signs of recovery.

Students seeking summer jobs, generally 16 to 24 years old, are at the end of the job line, behind the jobless baby boomers who are competing with new college graduates who, in turn, are trying to elbow out undergraduates and high school students.

With so many people competing for so few jobs, unemployed youth “are the silent victims of the economy...”

Rich nations cause global misery

GW, 5/21 — The wealthy nations are plundering not only their own resources. The environmental disasters caused by the oil industry in Ecuador and Nigeria are not driven by Ecuadorian or Nigerian demand, but by the thirst for oil in richer nations. Deforestation in Indonesia is driven by the rich world’s demand for palm oil and timber, in Brazil by our hunger for timber and animal feed.

So we find that far from cutting emissions since 1990, as the last government claimed, it has increased them. Wealth wrecks the environment.

“...Capitalism has absorbed the greens.” Instead of seeking to protect the natural world...environmentalists now work on “sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level which the world’s rich people feel is their right.”

[But] “the economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon...growth in order to function...”

System has no future for workers

NYT, 5/29 — ...Powerful companies do not have the best interests of the American people in mind when they are closing in on profits that ancient kingdoms could only envy. BP’s profits are counted in the billions annually....You don’t want to know what people will do for that kind of money.

There is nothing new to us about this. Haven’t we just seen how the giant financial firms almost destroyed the American economy? Wasn’t it just a few weeks before the hideous Deepwater Horizon disaster that a devastating mine explosion in West Virginia — at a mine run by a company with its own hideous safety record — killed 29 coal miners and ripped the heart out of yet another hard-working local community?

The idea of relying on the assurances of these corporate predators that they are looking out for the safety of their workers and the health of surrounding communities and the environment is beyond absurd.       

The oil companies and other giant corporations have a stranglehold on American policies and behavior, and are choking off the prospects of a viable social and economic future for working people and their families.

Breaking promise of child care


NYT, 5/24 — When President Clinton signed into the law that changes he declared would end welfare as we know it,”he vowed that those losing government checks would gain enough support to enable their transition to the workplace.

          “We will protect the guarantees of health care, nutrition and child care, all of which are critical to helping families move from welfare to work,” Mr. Clinton pledged in a radio address that year. Now...states are rolling back child care.

          “You can’t expect a family with young children to get on their feet and get jobs without child care.”

          Yet long before the recession assailed state budgets, subsidized child care was not reaching the vast majority of families in need.

          In 2000, only one in seven children whose families met federal eligibility requirements received aid....“For a single mom, it’s a lottery in many states whether she gets child care or not.”


These ‘entrepreneurs’ really jobless


NYT, 6/2 — Last year was fabulous one for entrepreneurs, at least according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity....So why all this entrepreneurship last year?

          In a word, unemployment. Booted off company payrolls, millions of Americans had no choice but to try selling themselves. Another term for “entrepreneur” is “self-employed.”

          Self-employment among those 55 to 64 rose to nearly two million, 5% higher than in 2008. Among people over 65, the ranks of the self-employed swelled 29%. Many older people who had expected to retire discovered their 401(k)’s had shrunk and their homes were worthless. So they became “entrepreneurs,” too....Most were worse off than they were before.


Fascists can’t be sure of troops!


NYT, 5/24 — After two months in central Bangkok, anti-government Thai protesters known as the res shirts were arriving home to an increasingly hardened, divided and angry society.

          “I think the red shirt movement has gotten stronger....The shooting actually makes the red movement grow. There are still no winners or losers. But more will happen. I don’t know what it will be.”

          The protesters were demanding that the government step down, but their broader call was for what they called fairness and equality.

          On the day Udon Thani burned, Lt. Col. Kositpong Min-ake of the army said, he was unable to stop the protesters without using an unacceptable level of force. “They are not my enemy,” her said. “Whatever the color of their shirt, they are not my enemy.”


Democracy in action


GW, 5/21 — Britain’s largest trade union claimed it was the victim of a “landmark attack” on the right to strike after the high court on Monday blocked 20 days of walkouts by British Airways cabin crew. Mr. Justice McCombe granted the third injunction against a major transport strike in six months.


BP to workers: Shut up and drill


NYT, 5/27 — Workers from the rig...said that hours before the explosion, gases were leaking through the cement....these leaks were the likely cause of the explosion.

          Andrew Gowers, a spokesman for BP, said that there was no industry standard for the casing to be in deepwater wells...

          “BP engineers evaluate various factors for each well to determine the most appropriate casing strategy,” he said.

          BP’s decision was “without a doubt a riskier way to go,”....the chief mechanic testified Wednesday that he witnessed a “skirmish”on the rig between a BP well site leader and crew members.... “Well, this is how it’s going to be,” the BP official said.


Excerpts from newspapers that may be of use for our readers. Abbreviations: NYT=New York Times, GW=Guardian Weekly, LAT=Los Angeles Times

US profits: 40% money-juggling

NYT, 4/26 — …The finance sector’s share of domestic corporate profits, never higher than 16 percent until 1986, hit 41 percent in the last decade….

Something is fundamentally amiss in a financial culture that thrives on “products” that create nothing and produce nothing except new ways to make bigger bets and stack the deck in favor of the house. “At least in an actual casino, the damage is contained to gamblers,” wrote the financial journalist Roger Lowenstein in The Times Magazine last month. This catastrophe cost the economy eight million jobs.

US imports oil, exports spills

NYT, 5/2 — Whether this spill turns out to be the result of a freakish accident or a cascade of negligence, the likely political outcome will be a moratorium on offshore drilling….

Moratoriums have a moral problem, though. All oil comes from someone’s backyard, and… we end up getting people to drill for us in Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria….

Nigeria [for one] has suffered spills equivalent to that of the Exxon Valdez every year since 1969….

Effectively, we’ve been importing oil and exporting spills to villages and waterways all over the world.

NY firing thousands but no cops

NYT, 5/6 — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, anticipating deep financial cuts from Albany, plans to cut the number of city teachers by 6,700….

Mr. Bloomberg also intends… to reduce the city’s work force by about 5,000 other workers…. And he is prepared, officials say, to take the budget knife to a host of programs that many residents have come to treasure, closing as many as 75 senior centers, as well as day care centers and programs for children.

One area… will be spared, however… Mr. Bloomberg has decided that the police force… cannot absorb any more cuts.

Can they regulate their regulator?

NYT, 4/24 — To the editor:…. Every American should understand that the challenge we’re dealing with in the Senate is not whether Congress can regulate Wall Street, but to what degree Wall Street regulates Congress.

TV stuffs bad food into kids

NYT, 4/20 — Children ages 2 to 7 see an average of 12 televised food ads a day, or 4,400 a year, and children 8 to 12 see an average of 21 a day — more than 7,600 a year. For teenagers, the numbers are 17 a day, or more than 6,000 a year. Fully half of all ad time on children’s shows is for food…. There were no ads for fruits or vegetables….

Researchers found that for each additional hour of television viewing, the children consumed an additional 167 calories, especially the calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods frequently advertised on television.

Bosses love the power to deport

NYT, 4/22 — Many American workers know how a bad economy can chain them to a bad job or a bad boss. But what if you’re an immigrant guest worker and that boss holds your visa and can get rid of you with one phone call to the feds? What if he just threatened to call? Which would you choose — to be exploited or deported? To suffer silently here or in destitution back home?

There are laws to prevent such exploitation, but they often fail in the real world, which is rife with examples of abuses….

For too long the deck has been stacked against non-citizen workers. While the country has drastically ramped up the arrest, prosecution and deportation of tens of thousands of undocumented workers, it has done little to deal with unscrupulous employers who like their work force cheap, easily intimidated and disposable.

When one group of workers is powerless, all workers suffer.

Slave trade led to Africa poverty

Harvard Magazine, Feb. — In a chapter that assesses the impact of the slave trade on modern Africa, Harvard assistant professor of economics Nathan Nunn…. Concludes that the contemporary nations that, historically, lost the highest proportion of their populations to slavery are economically the worst off today. In fact, he computes that per-capita annual income in Africa — $1,834, on average — would be between $2,679 and $5,158 if the slave trade had never occurred.


Excerpts from newspapers that may be of use for our readers. Abbreviations: NYT=New York Times, GW=Guardian Weekly, LAT=Los Angeles Times

Safety ‘a distant second’ to profit

NYT, 4/11 — “Every place I’ve ever worked, safety has been a distant second to production,” said Billy Brannon, 30, of Harlan, Ky., who has been a miner for nine years. ”If you take 30 minutes out of the day doing it right, that takes a lot out of the tonnage of the mine….”

Fines remain so low that they are mere rounding errors on the bottom lines of the big energy companies that own mines….

And once the inspectors arrive, operators can employ a variety of delaying tactics so they can clean up glaring violations….

“It’s always been a game of cat and mouse….”

Making routine methane checks, hanging ventilation curtains and shoveling dangerous accumulations of coal dust — all required under federal rules — take time away from production….

Miners say that despite ubiquitous “safety first” slogans, they face relentless pressure to run more coal….

Last Monday morning, a federal inspector visited the Upper Big Branch mine…. took air readings in two locations that showed no methane….

Then he left…. That afternoon the mine blew up.

Jobs kill 170 non-miners daily

NYT, 4/20 — To the editor: You’re right that the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia show the need for stronger oversight… But this is part of a bigger story.

Each day, on average, an estimated 177 workers die from work-related causes — 13 from traumatic injuries, 164 from occupational diseases. Each of these deaths is as heartbreaking and unnecessary as those in West Virginia. But they usually happen one by one, rarely getting much media attention.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is charged with ensuring that workplaces are safe, healthful and “free of recognized hazards.” But like the mine safety agency, OSHA has been understaffed, underfinanced and lacking in enforcement power.

Psychologist’s tell-all on priests

NYT, 4/10 — Leslie Lothstein has seen them all: priests sexually active with adult men, others with adult women, others with adolescents, others with children….

“It was a surprise for me to see how many psychopaths I met in the priesthood,” Dr. Lothstein said. “Glib, callous, could say anything to you and be charming….”

“I treated priests who had two children. I treated priests who got women pregnant and got them abortions.

“I said to one of them, ‘Why didn’t you just use a condom?’ And he said, ‘Because birth control is against the law of the church.’”

Bush or Obama, civilians get shot

GW, 4/16 — …Recent revelations through WikiLeaks about the killing of civilians by US helicopters in Iraq have highlighted the opportunities for misuse in targeting from the air….

According to Pakistani official statistics… during 2009, of the 44 Predator drone attacks… only five targets were correctly indentified; the result was over 700 civilian casualties….

The assumption that trust should be extended to a [US] government that has involved itself in many unlawful practices since the start of the war on terror is too much to ask. Whatever goodwill the US government had after 9/11 was destroyed by the way in which it prosecuted its wars. Further, the hope that came with the election of Obama has faded as his policies have indicated nothing more than a reconfiguration of the basic tenet of the Bush Doctrine, that the US’s national security interests supersede any consideration of due process or the rule of law. The only difference — witness the rising civilian body count from drone attacks — is that the Obama doctrine is even more deadly.

Dump lethal junk on Africa, Asia

NYT, 4/15 — Much of the debate over the handling of electronic refuse arises from the metals like lead and mercury that are used to make electronic devices. Most discarded equipment is either ported to landfills or sold into a murky global market, where it often ends up in vast and unregulated harvesting and smelting operations in poor corners of Africa and Asia. In either case, the disposal poses significant environmental and health risks.

Trust in US gov’t at all-time low, 4/2 — A recent CBS News/New York Times poll confirmed what most of us already know: Trust in government is at an all-time low. According to the survey, nearly seven in 10 Americans feel they don’t have much say in what government does, and nearly four in five think our government is run by a few powerful interests….

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that only one out of five Americans trust government to do what’s right most of the time. They don’t believe they have any power to affect public policy.


Jobless rate: worse for young

NYT, 4/17 — The global recession… was particularly hard on young people, whose unemployment rates rose much faster than those of adults….

“There are currently nearly 15 million youth unemployed in the [rich countries] about four million more than at the end of 2007….”

In the United States, the rate rose to 19.1 percent, from 11.1 percent….

For most people, the study said, the effects of youthful unemployment are temporary….

“But for disadvantaged youth lacking basic education, a failure in their first experience on the labor market is often difficult to make up and may expose them to long-lasting scarring effects.”

Japan can’t cure capitalist evils

NYT, 4/22 — Disclosure in October that almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty in 2007 stunned the nation….

Many Japanese, who cling to the popular myth that their nation is uniformly middle class, were further shocked to see that Japan’s poverty rate, at 15.7 percent, was close to the… figure of 17.1 percent in the United States, whose glaring social inequalities have long been viewed with scorn and pity here….

Years of deregulation of the labor market and competition with low-wage China have brought a proliferation of… low-paying jobs in Japan, economists say….

One in seven children lives in poverty….

The poor will not be able to pay for cram schools an other expenses to enable their children to compete in Japan’s high-pressure education system, consigning them to a permanent cycle of low-wage work.

“We are at risk of creating a chronic underclass.”

Food ads drag down child health

NYT, 4/20 — Last month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, gave a grade of F to 95 of 128 food and entertainment companies for their policies — or lack thereof — on marketing to children. This despite the… initiative… in which 16 major food and restaurant companies, representing about 80 percent of television food advertising expenditures, announced they would not market foods to children under 12 if they did not meet the companies’ own nutritional standards.

Unfortunately, there’s the rub. What a company like Kellogg’s regards as an acceptable amount of sugar in a serving of breakfast cereal may not be what a nutrition-wise parent would choose.

Less tax income? Fire teachers!

NYT, 4/21 — School districts around the country, forced to resort to drastic money-saving measures, are warning hundreds of thousands of teachers that their jobs may be eliminated in June….

In addition to teacher layoffs, districts are planning to close schools, cut programs, enlarge classes and shorten the school day, week or year to save money….

Some of the deepest cuts are in Los Angeles, where Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines sent notices to 5,200… employees last month, telling them that they were losing their jobs….

“I don’t see this being over in the year 2014-15,” Mr. Cortines added.

World capitalism keeps Africa poor

GW, 4/9 — More than $1.5 trillion may have flowed out of Africa illegally over the past four decades, most of it to western financial institutions…..

“This massive flow of illicit money out of Africa is facilitated by a global shadow financial system comprising tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake foundations, trade mis-pricing and money-laundering techniques.”

Capital loss has a devastating effect on development and attempts to alleviate poverty….

The report adds: “Developing countries lose at least $10 through illegal flight capital for every $1 they receive in external assistance.”

How US enriches human culture

NYT, 4/11 — “Bite Me,” Christopher Moore’s third novel about young San Francisco vampires, enters the hardcover fiction list at No. 5, one spot ahead of Seth Grahame-Smith’s supernatural history, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”