Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ending starvation as a weapon of war

Wars dramatically worsen starvation, and about two-thirds of the 815 million chronically hungry people around the world live in conflict areas, according to U.N. food agencies. 

Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, in particular, have erected "systematic obstruction and road blocks" to aid efforts, said Jan Egeland, former U.N. Under Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator and now secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. In Yemen, years of conflict have left roughly a quarter of its 28 million people severely short of food and at risk of starvation. Another 6.5 million people in Syria and 5.3 million in South Sudan, both torn by conflict, also have uncertain access to enough food.

A United Nations vote condemning starvation as a means of warfare is historic but will be useless. The 15-member Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Thursday that threatens sanctions on countries that obstruct efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to avert food shortages and potential famine. The resolution will remain a piece of paper. The resolution recognises the impact of conflict on food supplies and the need to protect agricultural livelihoods, said Dominique Burgeon, director of the emergency and rehabilitation division at the Food and Agriculture Organization. Enforcement is critical, said Megan Doherty, senior director at Mercy Corps.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Pay Sick Leave !

People with no paid sick leave benefits are more likely to experience food insecurity and require welfare services. Currently, only seven states mandate that employers provide paid sick leave benefits and nearly one-third of all workers in the United States lack these protections.

"Numerous studies have shown the negative effects lack of paid sick leave has on society, but this is the first time a direct correlation has been observed between the absence of these benefits and the incidence of poverty," said Patricia Stoddard Dare, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Cleveland State. "This adds to the growing body of evidence that paid sick leave is a key factor in health care affordability and economic security."

Studies published in two academic, peer-reviewed journals, Social Work in Health Care and the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, utilized data collected from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey to assess the effect of no paid sick leave on two key indicators of poverty, income and the need to utilize welfare services. 

On top of being three times more likely to live below the poverty line, working adults between the ages of 18 and 64 were also nearly 1.5 times more likely to receive income support from state and county welfare programs and nearly 1.4 times more likely to receive food stamps.

"Paid sick leave benefits serve as a structural mechanism for preventing working families from becoming the working poor," says LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., associate professor of FAU's Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work. "Given the public investments made in welfare, food stamps and other social services, mandating paid sick leave is a clear policy lever for reducing the need for these services among millions of individuals nationally."

'Where do we go from here? (Brighton 27/5)

Brighton Discussion Group

Sunday, 27 May - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Venue: The Victory Pub (upstairs), 
6 Duke St,
Brighton BN1 1AH

The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands by its analysis that we should use Parliament, not to try to reform capitalism but for the purpose of abolishing capitalism and that at the same time, the working class will also be organising itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going. The Socialist Party's case is for the primacy of political action. Another principle held by the SPGB is the need for the majority to understand and support the socialist transformation of society.

Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Parliament and local councils, to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental, can and will be used to co-ordinate the immediate measures to transform society when socialism is established. Far better, is it not, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise to win a majority in parliament, not to form a government, but to end capitalism and dismantle the state.

The Socialist Party say that the capitalist’s legitimacy comes from their ‘democratic’ rule, so we believe that the capitalist’s legitimacy can be totally be broken by taking a majority in Parliament. But “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The owning class has a supreme weapon within its grasp: political power, – control of the army, navy, air and police forces.

That power is conferred upon the representatives of the owners at election times and they, recognising its importance, spend large amounts of wealth and much time and effort to secure it. In countries like Britain the workers form the bulk of the voters; a situation the employers are compelled to face and deal with. Hence the incessant stream of opinion-forming influences which stems from their ownership and control of press, radio, schools to influence the workers to the view that capitalism is the best of all possible social forms. And that only political groups who accept this view are worthy of workers votes. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible. Therefore, the first, most important battle is to continue the destruction of capitalism’s legitimacy in the minds of our fellow class members. That is, to drive the development of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing that should be destroyed. They must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule.

The Socialist Party view its function to be to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. The abolition of capitalism MUST entail organisation without leaders or leadership. The act of abolition of capitalist society requires a primary prerequisite and that's knowledge on the part of the individual as to what it is that is responsible for his or her enslavement. Without that knowledge s/he can only blunder and make mistakes that leave their class just where they were in the beginning, still enslaved. That knowledge must precede intelligent action. And intelligent action in this instance means an intelligent organisation (a lack of unity of ideas and purpose always ends in defeat even for the non-socialist and non-revolutionary groups and parties.) The working class must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control. We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party, a mass party that has yet to emerge, not a small educational and propagandist group such as the SPGB . This future party will neutralise the state and its repressive forces and there is no question of forming a government and "taking office", and then it will proceed to take over the means of production for which the working class has also organised themselves to do at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed (workers councils or whatever) to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the state-free society of common ownership that socialism will be.

 The members of the Socialist Party are labelled pure and simple parliamentarians but “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The real revolution in social relations will be made in our lives and by ourselves, not Parliament. What really matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised, to take over and run industry and society. Electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society.

Tough at the Top?

What do you do if your business suffers a 2 per cent fall in underlying profits, a 1 per cent fall in revenues, and the expectation that the coming year isn’t going to be much better? The share price started at 438.6p. It finished it at 227.5p.  

BT chose to sack 13,000 of its employees.

However, if you are its CEO you award yourself a 2.5 per cent pay rise and add in a £1.3m special bonus to that near seven-figure salary he got paid.

Gavin Patterson ended the 12 months covered by the just-released annual report with £2.3m in his pocket before tax, nearly £1m more than in the previous year. Patterson’s overall package is in a year during which the share price fell by nearly half. 

Companies Response to Pay Hardships

The latest study, released by PwC on Tuesday, found that a quarter of U.S. workers said financial worries caused them health problems. Forty percent said finances distracted them at work and 15 percent said these problems made them miss work.

“They are starting to see that a 401(k) is not enough. Employees say: I have present-day needs I have to take care of before I can take care of retirement,” said Chris Whitlow, chief executive officer of Edukate, a workplace financial provider.

A study released in May by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health found that 90 percent of the 162 companies they follow now include financial advice programs, such as debt management and budgeting. About three-quarters offer some form of stress management training. Many companies are even providing discounted services for everything from car-buying to pet insurance or access to mortgage brokers or tax preparation services.

Walmart allows employees to get a pay advance, so they did not have to use expensive payday loans.

The Irish Abortion Referendum

The Socialist Party has in the past commented on abortion and here is a couple of extracts'
"Clearly there are very real medical and ethical problems involved in the question of abortion and ultimately it is for the individuals themselves to decide. However, these problems are exacerbated because of the nature of the society in which we live. In a sane world, probably no one would opt for abortion as a method of contraception. The fact that women are forced to do so in present society says something about that society and the conflicting pressures to which people are subjected; for example the cost and responsibility of parenthood, the ambivalent attitude towards contraception advice for young people and the lack of resources that are devoted to researching and developing new, safer and more effective alternatives to present methods of contraception."

"Abortion is a very serious issue and should not be viewed as an extension of the means of contraception. Today, these latter means are generally readily available. This writer feels that, where a sexually-active couple wants to avoid what is a traumatic experience, especially for the female partner, then there is a responsibility to avail of suitable means of contraception. Ultimately, this is simply respect for the female participant in the sex act and this respect should be a fundamental aspect of sex education. Unfortunately, many of those who support the so-called “pro-life” stance are bitterly opposed to sex education beyond the most vague biological facts. As we have already observed, they are the same people who have fought a bitter rearguard action against the easy availability of contraceptive devices. As far as their opposition to abortion is concerned, most of the religious “pro-lifers” are less concerned about human life and more concerned with religious strictures...Socialists can respect the views of people motivated by the idea of protecting all forms of human life out of regard for the supremacy of humanity. That after all is what Socialism is about. Unfortunately, most of those within the so-called pro-life organisation are concerned more with the strictures of religious leaders and less with genuine concern for human beings."
As we said in our pamphlet on women "ultimately it is for the individuals themselves to decide", this blogger personally believes that a meaningful choice, therefore, expects the law to permit abortions so a woman can indeed choose for herself.

Slaughter in Tamil Nadu

Protests against the proposed expansion of Sterlite copper smelting plant, a mining subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta Resources, has been happening for the past 100 days in Tuticorin. Police opened fire on a planned protest on Tuesday against the expansion of a copper smelter which, activists said, was already polluting air and water for local residents and fisheries, taking the death toll among demonstrators against a major mining operation up to 13.

In the wake of the violence, the high court in the state capital Chennai ordered Sterlite Copper, to halt its proposed expansion in Thoothukudi. But the court order represents only a temporary stay of action; it requires Vedanta to carry out a public consultation over its plan to double the smelter’s capacity, and for the local agency to make a new hearing on environmental impacts public.

The plant, one of India's biggest, had already been shut for more than 50 days and will remain closed until at least 6 June because the local pollution regulator has said the facility is not complying with environmental rules.  In March 2013, hundreds of people suffered breathing difficulty, nausea and throat infection following a gas leak from the plant. Though the plant was ordered to shut down following allegations of violating pollution control norms, the National Green Tribunal had ultimately allowed it to be reopened. The same year in another case spearheaded by MDMK chief Vaiko, the Supreme Court had slapped a 100 crore fine on the plant for polluting over the years.

When the protesters gathered in front of the collector office on May 22, 2018 the police resorted to violence. Civilians including women and children were brutally attacked by the hundreds of policemen who were deployed on the spot. In what appears to be a planned operation, tear gas was first used to disperse the crowd and they were herded into an open ground and then shot at. The Jallianwallabagh style operation was carried out using sophisticated weapons. Chilling videos of policemen in t-shirts, standing on top of the vans and aiming at the protesters to take a precise shot emerged in the media. Soon the media were also pressurized by the state to stop covering the police atrocities. Most of the media switched its narrative to “police taking actions to control the rioters”. Thousands of men, women and children gathered just months before, peacefully for their livelihood. They suddenly became rioters in the eyes of the state and its media.

TamilNadu has been seeing an increased number of police atrocities in recent years.  Be it the protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear power plant or ONGC oil exploration the state has responded to genuine people demands with mass state violence. The people in the Cauvery Delta region in TamilNadu have been protesting against the proposed methane extraction project. The Centre has responded with the deployment of around 2000 para-military forces in the region to quell the protests. Even lighting a candle in memory of the massacred Eelam Tamils is a crime.

Who gave the order to shoot at the peaceful protesters is still not known. Several times the question was raised to the police officers and none of them gave any reply to the question. The people’s protests were neither against the ruling government nor against any political party. Yet the state machinery has exposed itself as being a mere tool to the corporate looting.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

How to Commit Genocide

Umit Kurt,  a Harvard scholar, in a detailed paper on the slaughter of the Armenians of Antep in southern Turkey in 1915, which appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Genocide Researchsuggests a genocidal government must have the local support of every branch of respectable society: tax officials, judges, magistrates, junior police officers, clergymen, lawyers, bankers and, most painfully, the neighbours of the victims.

He concentrates on the dispossession, rape, and murder of just 20,000 of the one and a half million Armenian Christians slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks in the first holocaust of the 20th century. It not only details the series of carefully prepared deportations from Antep and the pathetic hopes of those who were temporarily spared – a story tragically familiar to so many stories of the Jewish ghettoes of Eastern Europe – but lists the property and possessions which the city authorities and peasants sought to loot from those they sent to their deaths.

The local perpetrators thus seized farms, pistachio groves, orchards, vineyards, coffee houses, shops, watermills, church property, schools and a library. Officially this was called “expropriation” or “confiscation”, but as Umit Kurt points out, “huge numbers of people were bound together in a circle of profit that was at the same time a circle of complicity”. One of the most powerful of Kurt’s arguments is that a central government cannot succeed in exterminating a minority of its people without the support of their fellow citizens: the Ottomans needed the Muslims of Antep to carry out the deportation orders in 1915 – rewarded with the property of those they were helping to liquidate – just as the local people needed the central authority to legitimise what we would today call war crimes.

He draws no parallels between the Armenian holocaust – a phrase the Israelis themselves use of the Armenians – and the Jewish holocaust nor the current genocidal outrages in the modern Middle East. But no one can read Umit Kurt’s words without being reminded of the armies of ghosts who haunt later history; the collaborators of Nazi-occupied France, of the Polish collaborators of the Nazis in Warsaw and Krakow and of the tens of thousands of Sunni Muslim civilians who allowed Isis to enslave Yazidi women and destroy the Christians of Nineveh. These victims, too, found themselves dispossessed by their neighbours, their homes looted and their property sold off by the officials who should have protected them as they faced their own extermination.

The growing economic power of the Ottoman Armenians in the decades before the genocide and “the Muslim community’s envy and resentment played a central role in the hatemongering atmosphere”. 

So, too, did repeated Ottoman claims that the Armenians were helping Turkey’s enemies – the same “stab in the back” betrayal routine which Hitler used to rally the Nazis against communists and Jews in the Weimar Republic. In the Middle East today, it is the “infidels” – the “Crusader” (ie pro-Western) Christians – who have been fleeing for their lives for supposedly betraying Islam.

 War criminals need their people to complete their projects or – to use an old German expression – “to help to give the wheel a push.”

Abridged from here

Philanthrocapitalism’ - corporate hypocrisy?

More and more wealthy CEOs are pledging to give away parts of their fortunes – often to help fix problems their companies caused.

It is easy to think of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg as some kind of hero – a once regular kid whose genius made him one of the richest men in the world, and who decided to use that wealth for the benefit of others by setting up a charity foundation. The image he projects is of altruism untainted by self-interest. A quick scratch of the surface reveals that the structure of Zuckerberg’s charity enterprise is informed by much more than good-hearted altruism. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, though, is not a not-for-profit charitable foundation, but a limited liability company. This legal status has significant practical implications, especially when it comes to tax. As a company, the Initiative can do much more than charitable activity: its legal status gives it rights to invest in other companies, and to make political donations. Effectively the company does not restrict Zuckerberg’s decision-making as to what he wants to do with his money; he is very much the boss. Zuckerberg can control the company’s investments as he sees fit, while accruing significant commercial, tax and political benefits.  Journalist  Jesse Eisinger explained Zuckerberg simply “moved money from one pocket to the other” while being “likely never to pay any taxes on it”.

What was known as The Giving Pledge, is a philanthropy campaign initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in 2010. The campaign targets billionaires around the world, encouraging them to give away the majority of their wealth. There is nothing in the pledge that specifies what exactly the donations will be used for, or even whether they are to be made now or willed after death; it is just a general commitment to using private wealth for ostensibly public good. It is not legally binding either, but a moral commitment. There is a long list of people and families who have made the pledge. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are there, and so are some 174 others, including household names such as Richard and Joan Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Barron Hilton and David Rockefeller. It would seem that many of the world’s richest people simply want to give their money away to good causes. 

 Human geographers Iain Hay and Samantha Muller wrote in a 2014 paper, suggest that this “golden age of philanthropy” has been “diverting attention and resources away from the failings of contemporary manifestations of capitalism”, and may also be serving as a substitute for public spending withdrawn by the state.  They say what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class. In the CEO society, the exercise of social responsibilities is no longer debated in terms of whether corporations should or shouldn’t be responsible for more than their own business interests. Instead, it is about how philanthropy can be used to reinforce a politico-economic system that enables such a small number of people to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth.  The reliance on billionaire businesspeople’s charity to support public projects is a part of what has been called “philanthrocapitalism”.  This resolves the apparent antinomy between charity (traditionally focused on giving) and capitalism (based on the pursuit of economic self-interest). As historian Mikkel Thorup explains, philanthrocapitalism rests on the claim that “capitalist mechanisms are superior to all others (especially the state) when it comes to not only creating economic but also human progress, and that the market and market actors are or should be made the prime creators of the good society”. Philanthropy serves to legitimise capitalism, as well as to extend it further and further into all domains of social, cultural and political activity.  It involves the inculcation of neo-liberal values personified by the billionaire CEOs. Philanthropy is recast in the same terms in which a CEO would consider a business venture. Charitable giving is translated into a business model that employs market-based solutions characterised by efficiency and quantified costs and benefits. Philanthrocapitalism takes the application of management discourses and practices from business corporations and adapts them to charitable work. The focus is on entrepreneurship, market-based approaches and performance metrics. The process is funded by super-rich businesspeople and managed by those experienced in business. The result, at a practical level, is that philanthropy is undertaken by CEOs in a manner similar to how they would run businesses.

 Garry Jenkins, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, escribes how charity foundations now involves becoming “increasingly directive, controlling, metric-focused and business-oriented with respect to their interactions with grantee public charities, in an attempt to demonstrate that the work of the foundation is ‘strategic’ and ‘accountable’” - a CEO style to “save the world through business thinking and market methods”, as Jenkins puts it.

 Accepting fair trade policies and closing sweatshops may be good for the world, but is potentially disastrous for a firm’s immediate financial success.  Exploitative labour practices or corporate malpractice are swept under the carpet as companies publicise tax-efficient contributions to good causes. Such contributions may be a relatively small price to pay compared with changing fundamental operational practices. Likewise, giving to charity is a prime opportunity for CEOs to be seen to be doing good without having to sacrifice their commitment to making profit at any social cost. Charitable activity permits CEOs to be philanthropic rather than economically progressive or politically democratic. At the personal level, CEOs can take advantage of promoting their individual charity to distract from other, less savoury activities; as an executive, they can cash in on the capital gains that can be made from introducing high-profile charity strategies. The image of the powerful autocrat is, to this effect, transformed into a potentially positive figure, a forward-thinking political leader who can guide their country on the correct market path in the face of “irrational” opposition. Charity becomes a conduit for CEOs to fund these “good” authoritarians.

In 2000 the Institute for Policy Studies in the US reported, after comparing corporate revenues with gross domestic product (GDP), that 51 of the largest economies in the world were corporations, and 49 were national economies. The world’s 10 biggest corporations having revenues that exceed the total combined revenues of the 180 least wealthy nations.  The biggest corporations were General Motors, Walmart and Ford, each of which was larger economically than Poland, Norway and South Africa. As the heads of these corporations, CEOs are now quasi-politicians. One only has to think of the increasing power of the World Economic Forum, whose annual meeting in Davos in Switzerland sees corporate CEOs and senior politicians getting together with the ostensible goal of “improving the world”, a now time-honoured ritual that symbolises the global power and agency of CEOs.

A 2017 report by Oxfam states: “When corporations increasingly work for the rich, the benefits of economic growth are denied to those who need them most. In pursuit of delivering high returns to those at the top, corporations are driven to squeeze their workers and producers ever harder – and to avoid paying taxes which would benefit everyone, and the poorest people in particular.”

Wealth redistribution is placed in the hands of the wealthy, and social responsibility in the hands of those who have exploited society for personal gain.

Full article here

Modern Slavery

Human trafficking for labour exploitation is on the rise, according to the latest report by the Council of Europe.
The victims are often undocumented immigrants, and all vulnerable groups living in precarious economic conditions are at risk.
What seems a job opportunity can turn into a living hell: the victims often depend on their traffickers for work and housing.
They work in a wide range of services, like food production, the restaurant industry, personal care, and construction sites.
They are often forced to work under threat but rarely denounce their conditions for fear of deportation or retaliation.
The association as-Surya in Belgium helps victims of human trafficking by offering shelter.
“Because of this amplification of illegal immigration there are more and more different people of foreign origin exploited here. And then the economic crisis increased the need to have workers available to work for practically nothing," said Christian Meulders.
Frederic Kurz, a prosecutor in Liege, explains how hard it is to get successful prosecutions and convictions for traffickers .
"Their first words will rarely explain all that they have lived because they have post traumatic stress. The difficulty is that the lawyers of the traffickers in court will tell us: you see the victim is not credible, She or he made a statement and then changed stories," explained Kurz.
Who can fix the problem - politicians. Who controls the politicians directly or indirectly - the capitalists. Who is benefitting from slavery - the capitalists.

'The Media and Capitalism' (Public Meeting London 26/5)

'The Media and Capitalism' 

Saturday, 26 May  
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Venue: Quaker Meeting House, 
20 Nigel Playfair Avenue, 
London W6 9JY
Speaker: Stephen Harper

Abusing Kids

Fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, tens of thousands of children come to the United States each year and are detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

The report (pdf) from the ACLU and University of Chicago Law School says detained children have faced "physical and psychological abuse, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, isolation from family members, extended periods of detention, and denial of access to legal and medical services."

The amount of children who have come forward about various forms of abuse suggests that such treatment by U.S. officials is commonplace. The report notes that:
  • 1. a quarter of kids reported physical abuse, including sexual assault and beatings by CBP agents;
  • 2. more than half reported verbal abuse such death threats, and denial of necessary medical care, including cases that led to children requiring hospitalization; and
  • 3. 80 percent reported inadequate food and water.
"Beyond the misconduct detailed," the report points out that these "documents are shocking for the independent reason that they do not contain any evidence of disciplinary action or other meaningful accountability for abusive CBP officials," in spite of the fact that DHS has multiple internal oversight agencies.

"The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government's complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable," said ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney Mitra Ebadolahi. "These documents provide a glimpse into a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness."

This was during the Obama administration, not Trump's.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Suffering and not benefiting

The stock market has been on a boom in recent years and many corporations are reporting strong profits.
Four in 10 Americans are unable to cover an unexpected expense of $400 or more without resorting to borrowing money or selling some of their possessions, a Federal Reserve annual economic survey has found.
At the same time, in 2017 one in five Americans knew someone who was addicted to opioids or painkillers.
“Even with the improvement in financial outlook, however, 40% of Americans still say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing or selling something,” said Federal Reserve Board governor Lael Brainard in a statement.

Supping with the devil

America's largest corporations continue their unprecedented stock buyback spree in the wake of President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion tax cut, and new government data published on Tuesday showed that U.S. banks are also smashing records thanks to the GOP tax law, raking in $56 billion in net profits during the first quarter of 2018—an all-time high.

America's most profitable corporations are posting obscene profits and using that cash to reward wealthy shareholders through stock buybacks while investing little to nothing in workers, despite their lofty promises.

According to a CNN analysis published on Sunday, "S&P 500 companies showered Wall Street with at least $178 billion of stock buybacks during the first three months of 2018." As Common Dreams reportedearlier this month, major corporations are on track to send $1 trillion to rich investors through buybacks and dividend increases by the end of the year.

Most Americans, meanwhile, have said they are seeing very few noticeable benefits from the massive tax cuts and—according to a new study by United Way—nearly half of the U.S. population is still struggling to afford basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare.

The pending retiree crisis

In America, 56% of all low-income households face the risk of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living once they stop working. For middle-income households, the figure is 54%, but for high-income households, it's only 41%. In other words, fewer than half of all middle- and low-income households will be able to maintain their lifestyles in retirement, but nearly two-thirds of high-income households will.

Lower-income workers find it harder to work later in life, possibly because their options tend more toward physical work rather than desk jobs. That problem is compounded by an increase in Social Security's normal retirement age to 67 (for those born in 1962 or later) from 65 (for those born in 1939 or earlier). The change means that workers taking retirement at age 65 will either have to wait before receiving their full Social Security benefits, or accept a lower monthly benefit at 65. The change places an added burden on lower-income people because their life expectancy is shorter on average than wealthier retirees. 

"Just as the wealth and income gap between the well-to-do and working people is growing," the Boston College's authoritative Center for Retirement Research blog  observes, "so too is retirement inequality."

Defined contribution retirement plans such as 401(k) plans, have supplanted traditional defined benefit pensions for millions of workers, especially in the private sector. 
Because d

More than two-thirds of households in the top 20% of earners had a 401(k) plan, but only 4% of the bottom fifth on the income ladder did. "The bottom 60% of working-age families receive 17% of total income, but hold 7% of retirement account balances," she observed. "Meanwhile, the top 20% receive 63% of income and hold 74% of retirement account balances."
efined contribution plans require workers to set aside part of their income for the future, it's a bigger burden on low- and moderate-income families, which have less disposable income than their affluent colleagues. They're also more likely to see their household finances upended by divorce, layoffs and unexpected medical bills.

Income inequality is no myth, and neither is the retirement crisis.

Global Inequality

The first ever World Inequality Report was published recently by the leading economists who created the World Wealth and Income Database.

The report finds that the top 10% of a nation’s earners took home:

37% in Europe;
41% in China;
46% in Russia; 
47% in US-Canada and
55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India. 
In the Middle East, the world’s most unequal region according to estimates, the top 10% capture 61% of the national income.

 Furthermore, from 1980 to 2016, the richest 1% acquired 27% of the world’s income whilst, by contrast, the bottom 50% accounted for only 12% of the world’s income. The report proves that there has been rising inequality since the 1980s (measured by the top 10% share of income distribution).

The poorest sector of the global population has experienced an increase in prosperity due to high growth in Asia (particularly in China and India). However, despite the increased prosperity, the top 1% richest individuals in the world continued to capture twice as much growth as the bottom 50% of individuals since the 1980s. Income growth for the middle 'class' has been slow which leads the segment being squeezed in the US and Western Europe.

Economic inequality is largely driven by the unequal ownership of capital, which can be either privately or publicly owned. The report shows that since 1980 the world has experienced a transfer from public to private wealth in nearly all countries (i.e. individuals, and not the government, are in control of the nation’s wealth). As a result, the government is limited in its ability to tackle the issue of wealth inequality as the balance between private and public wealth is a crucial determinant of the level of inequality experienced by a nation.

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