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The State of the Earth and the Reaction of France and the Western World to Terrorist Attacks

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (about 2.2million cu.km, 10% of the total ice mass of Antarctica) has begun to collapse and may already have passed the point of no return. If all the ice in it will melt, sea levels will rise by about 4.6 m, and this may happen within the next few hundred years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, flooding large coastal areas, coastal cities and even some cities far inland, such as Washington D.C. For details see here:

http://time.com/96173/antarctic-glacier-loss-is-unstoppable-study-says/

Overfishing, effects of climate change such as acidification, pollution particularly by plastics, etc., threaten the health of our oceans. Effects will be on the world’s food supply, air quality, climate stability, etc. The Global Oceans Commission has outlined a “rescue package” including a limit to gas and oil exploration, capping subsidies for commercial fishing, and creating MPAs, marine protected areas. For details see here:

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/06/24-2

What is largely responsible for all the mess? Our present economic system, in other words neoliberal capitalism with its overexploitation and little consideration of environmental impacts. See here:

“That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth”

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/16/was-easy-just-60-years-neoliberal-capitalism-has-nearly-broken-planet-earth

However, why worry about all this, humans apparently cannot wait and are trying to speed things up even more.

Consider the recent attacks by some Muslim fanatics on the French satirical magazine Charlie and the reaction of Western governments to it. It seems that the proper reaction of the French government would have been to play things down and not up. But it did exactly the opposite, it played things up thus demonstrating “strength” to the electorate (President Hollande’s ratings went up by about 15%!!) and demonstrated to potential terrorists how to successfully challenge the west. It seems that the reaction was exactly what the terrorists wanted. Things were made even worse by millions of copies of the magazine with a cartoon of Mohammed on the front page distributed in various languages, causing uproar among muslims in many if not all countries (see attacks in Niger, planned attacks in Belgium, and the reaction of governments of various Muslim countries). Even the Pope, in strong terms, objected to the obvious insults against the Prophet and indeed any religion. – We are seeing, it seems to me, an ever increasing disregard for the rights of others, of the future of mankind, all in the name of short-term gains for the few who own the riches, and the political class which is trying to hold on to power whatever the long-term costs.

Hundreds of Professors of Stanford University sign an open letter urging the University to fully divest fossil fuels

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

About 300 professors of Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, including two Noble prize winners (physics and chemistry) and a winner of the Field medal (mathematics) signed an open letter to the President and Board of their University urging them to fully divest fossil fuels. “The letter notes that in order to stay beneath the scientifically designated 2-degree warming threshold, beyond which we face cataclysmic climate disruption, scientific consensus says we must cap fossil fuel emissions at 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Current fossil fuel companies claim holdings sufficient to produce 2795 gigatons.” Similar letters were earlier signed by 226 members of Harvard University, and members of the University of California, Berkeley.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/12/something-momentous-happening-hundreds-stanford-professors-call-full-fossil-fuel

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/interactive/2015/jan/11/stanford-fossil-fuel-divestment-letterHundreds of professors of Stanford University sign letter to urge

The end of the university?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

This is what Terry Eagleton, the noted Catholic-Marxist literary critic, has to say about the university today in an interview in Times Higher Education http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/interview-terry-eagleton/2017733.fullarticle

“What I would say about the university today,” he says, “is that we’re living through an absolutely historic moment – namely the effective end of universities as centres of humane critique, an almost complete capitulation to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.”

He sums it up in a nutshell!

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a Pending Disaster

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

There are worrying trends towards an ever increasing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few. The negotiations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) point in the same direction. Here are excerpts from a relevant article in Commondreams, January 7, 2015, by Robert Reich, one of the USA’s leading experts on the economy, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who has served in three US administrations. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century.
Full article here: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/01/07/why-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement-pending-disaster

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a Pending Disaster

“For three decades, free trade worked. It was a win-win-win.
But in more recent decades the choice has become far more complicated and the payoff from trade agreements more skewed to those at the top.

Tariffs are already low. Negotiations now involve such things as intellectual property, financial regulations, labor laws, and rules for health, safety, and the environment.

It’s no longer free trade versus protectionism. Big corporations and Wall Street want some of both.

They want more international protection when it comes to their intellectual property and other assets. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that secure and extend their patents, trademarks, and copyrights abroad, and protect their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans.

But they want less protection of consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment, because these interfere with their profits. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that allow them to override these protections.

Not surprisingly for a deal that’s been drafted mostly by corporate and Wall Street lobbyists, the TPP provides exactly this mix.

What’s been leaked about it so far reveals, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry gets stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs. That will be a good deal for Big Pharma but not necessarily for the inhabitants of developing nations who won’t get certain life-saving drugs at a cost they can afford.

The TPP also gives global corporations an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets.

Even better for global companies, the tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits found to result from a nation’s regulations. Philip Morris is using a similar provision against Uruguay (the provision appears in a bilateral trade treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland), claiming that Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations unfairly diminish the company’s profits.

Anyone believing the TPP is good for Americans take note: The foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations could just as easily challenge any U.S. government regulation they claim unfairly diminishes their profits – say, a regulation protecting American consumers from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, investors from fraudulent securities or predatory lending, workers from unsafe working conditions, taxpayers from another bailout of Wall Street, or the environment from toxic emissions.

The administration says the trade deal will boost U.S. exports in the fast-growing Pacific basin where the United States faces growing economic competition from China. The TPP is part of Obama’s strategy to contain China’s economic and strategic prowess.

Fine. But the deal will also allow American corporations to outsource even more jobs abroad.

In other words, the TPP is a Trojan horse in a global race to the bottom, giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.

At a time when corporate profits are at record highs and the real median wage is lower than it’s been in four decades, most Americans need protection – not from international trade but from the political power of large corporations and Wall Street.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is the wrong remedy to the wrong problem. Any way you look at it, it’s just plain wrong.

Two ways to mislead the public

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Australian media are highly concentrated, two thirds of the printed media are controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Cop. (of America’s Fox News fame), about one quarter by Fairfax. TV channels and radio also are heavily biased towards the political right, balanced to a small degree by the public broadcasters ABC and SBS. Murdoch media are almost ridiculously one-sided, favouring the Abbott government (Liberals/Nationals coalition). For example, it is almost impossible to find scientifically correct information on climate change in The Australian and The Daily/Sunday Telegraph, two of Murdoch’s principal newspapers, but a lot on the views of so-called climate change sceptics/deniers, such as Lord Monckton, which reflects the views expressed by the prime minister and various ministers. The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Fairfax’s main newspapers, gives more balanced views, which means that it publishes some excellent articles on economics, current political events, the science of climate change, etc., but also the views of right-wing ideologues.

The way how regular contributors to the Daily Telegraph, such as Piet Akermann (formerly a Vice-President of Fox News in the USA), and Amanda Devine, both climate sceptics, present their “information”, is straightforward, they ridicule the science of climate change as “socialism in disguise”, and propagate political issues from the angle of extreme right-wing economics, i.e., measures that favour the rich at the expense of the poorer. – The Abbott government acknowledged the contribution made by these right-wing commentators to its winning the election, by inviting them to a tête-à-tête soon after their election victory, and by doing its best to reduce the influence of ABC and SBS by cutting their funding and threatening direct interference in their political direction.

But there is another – more indirect and seemingly more persuasive – way, such as that taken by Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax). An example in the Sydney Morning Herald January 1, 2015: “It’s high time to put aside bad news and focus on the good”. He points out that average household wealth in Australia is now close to $ one million, that Australia has “one of the world’s most stable, transparent and sophisticated financial sectors”, the “eigth largest share-market in the world despite having the 53rd largest population”, and among large economies with more than 10 million people, the third or fourth highest per capita income. My comment: All this, and the fact that the previous Labor government left a budget in much better shape than that of most other advanced economies, shows that the government’s claim that we are in an emergency situation and urgently require severe cuts to various welfare programs, foreign aid etc., is a lie. Nevertheless, Paul Sheehan goes on to make a comparison with Europe and Angela Merkel: “…..Angela Merkel…..likes to offer a set of basic facts to those constantly calling on government to do more, and thus spend more, in the name of fairness….Europe has 7 per cent of the world’s population. It produces 25% of the worlds economic output. But it represents 50 per cent of the world’s spending on social welfare. – In other word’s, Europe is on an unsustainable path, already reflected in high unemployment rates, stagnant growth, pervasive youth unemployment and demographic decline.”… Sheehan then continues that Australians do not “want to heed Merkel’s warnings.” They are “not willing to halt the growth in social spending….Australians are clearly willing to rip off their grandchildren,……”

In toto, Sheehan justifies the present government’s attempts to introduce budget measures that harm the less well off, although he does not mention specific ones (no unemployment benefits for a certain period, introduction of fees for seeing a doctor even for the poor, deregulation of university fees, etc.etc.). He does not mention that the rich are already heavily favoured by capital gains discounts, negative gearing, and other rules. He does not mention that the government’s could easily bring the budget back to surplus if the richer would be only slightly more heavily (but not only nominally) burdened, and he also forgot to mention that the government did not follow up on the rule introduced by the previous Labour government to cut down on tax avoidance schemes by large multinational companies which would have earned the government about $600 million. Last not least, he forgot to mention that Merkel’s comments refer to a much higher “starting point”: in Germany education from Kindergarden (preschool) to University is free, Germany does not send refugees including (until recently) children to camps on small islands overseas (Nauru, Manus Island) or to Cambodia, which has no facilities to absorb large numbers of refugees, but spends enormous funds to accommodate them decently, etc.

Perhaps even the poor would be willing to accept cuts in order not to rip off their offspring, if the rich would be asked to do the same. One should not forget, eminent economists have shown that an increase in inequality reduces economic performance!

World events and economics from a socialdemocratic perspective

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

With this post I wish to draw attention to a blog by Professor John Qiggin. Professor John Qiggin is an economist in the School of Economics and the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland, and a member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government. You will find interesting discussions on current world and particularly Australian political events in his blog. Among other topics, he argues that nuclear energy is not viable (in Australia) and that we need more efficient energy use and development of renewable energies: http://johnquiggin.com/2014/12/15/tell-em-theyre-dreaming/

http://johnquiggin.com/

Destructive changes to shareholder rights

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Josh Frydenberg, a former Federal Court Judge, has blasted as “destructive” the Abbott government’s intention to remove rules that force companies to hold extraordinary meetings of shareholders if requested by at least 100 shareholders. Reasons given by the government are to remove red tape, supposedly “abused” by unions, environmental and advocacy groups such as GetUp! which stand up for labour standards and protest against logging and the abuse of poker machines, etc. (SMH 31 December 2014).

Another step in concentrating economic and political power in the hands of a small elite.

Big business, the rights of the poor and the Abbott government

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

A company run by some of the very rich and influential in Australia has bought up government-owned housing and sold it shortly afterwards for about twice the price. Elderly tenants were offered cash settlements and told to leave. Some did not accept the cash but fight it out in the courts, on the basis that they had guarantees protecting them from eviction. At about the same time or somewhat earlier the government cut the funds to several bodies that previously had given legal help to such tenants, by $250 million.

Reference: Sydney Morning Herald, December 27-28, 2014

Hockey lets corporate tax avoiders off hook

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, the prime minister and treasurer, had repeatedly announced (recently at the G20 meeting in Brisbane) that they would cut down on tax avoidance by large multinational companies. It now turns out that this was all cheap propaganda.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald 17.12.14., the government now announced that it would not proceed with legislating a package to combat tax minimisation introduced by the former Labor government under Julia Gillard, which would have brought in Aust.$ 600 million. Also according to that newspaper, “one of the loudest opponents of the plan to abolish deductions was liberal party donor Paul Ramsay…..”. At the same time, the treasury announced that job cuts to the public sector would be more severe (thousands more) than forecast, and the OECD “slams Australian budget as unsustainable”.

Any doubts left what this government stands for and that the budget lacks all fairness?

Climate change policy and media control under the Abbott government. Two quotes from the Sydney Morning Herald, November 29-30, 2014

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

1)Title page:
Exclusive Fears of political interference.
Plan to control ABC”
“The government would gain new powers to set out what it expects from the ABC under a recommendation of the confidential Lewis Review, raising fears of political interference in the national broadcaster”

2) Ross Gittins in “Parko signs off with a look at challenges”
“One of Tony Abbott’s first acts on becoming Prime Minister was to sack the secretary of the Treasury, Dr. Martin Parkinson. Parkinson’s crime was to believe – as did the government he had been serving – that we need to take effective action against climate change.
Abbott also sacked Parkinson’s obvious successor at Treasury, Blair Comley, for the same crime. It was a disgraceful, vindictive way to treat loyal and proficient public servants.”

See my previous posts on the same topics.