Brazil farmers say GMO corn no longer resistant to pests

Genetically modified corn seeds are no longer protecting Brazilian farmers from voracious tropical bugs, increasing costs as producers turn to pesticides, a farm group said on Monday. Producers want four major manufacturers of so-called BT corn seeds to reimburse them for the cost of spraying up to three coats of pesticides this year, said Ricardo Tomczyk, president of Aprosoja farm lobby in Mato Grosso state. Experts in the United States have also warned about corn production prospects because of a growing bug resistance to genetically modified corn. Researchers in Iowa found significant damage from rootworms in corn fields last year.

— source reuters.com

The bait and switch of public-private partnerships

This being the age of public relations, the genteel term “public-private partnership” is used instead of corporate plunder. A “partnership” such deals may be, but it isn’t the public who gets the benefits.

We’ll be hearing more about so-called “public-private partnerships” in coming weeks because the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, is promoting these as the basis for a promised $1 trillion in new infrastructure investments. But the new administration has also promised cuts to public spending. How to square this circle? It’s not difficult to discern when we recall the main policy of the Trump administration is to hand out massive tax cuts to big business and the wealthy, and provide them with subsidies.

Public-private partnerships are one of the surest ways of shoveling money into the gaping maws of corporate wallets, used, with varying names, by neoliberal governments around the world, particularly in Europe and North America. The result has been disastrous — public services and infrastructure maintenance is consistently more expensive after privatization. Cuts to wages for workers who remain on the job and increased use of low-wage subcontractors are additional features of these privatizations.

The rationale for these partnerships is, similar to other neoliberal prescriptions, ideological — the private sector is supposedly always more efficient than government. A private company’s profit incentive will supposedly see to it that costs are kept under control, thereby saving money for taxpayers and transferring risk to the contractor. In the real world, however, this works much differently. A government signs a long-term contract with a private enterprise to build and/or maintain infrastructure, under which the costs are borne by the contractor but the revenue goes to the contractor as well.

The contractor, of course, expects a profit from the arrangement. The government doesn’t — and thus corporate expectation of profits requires that revenues be increased and expenses must be cut. Less services and fewer employees means more profit for the contractor, and because the contractor is a private enterprise there’s no longer public accountability.

Public-private partnerships are nothing more than a variation on straightforward schemes to sell off public assets below cost, with working people having to pay more for reduced quality of service. A survey of these partnerships across Europe and North America will demonstrate this clearly, but first a quick look at the Trump administration’s plans.

Corporate subsidies, not $1 trillion in new spending

The use of the word “plans” is rather loose here. No more than the barest outline of a plan has been articulated. The only direct mention of his intentions to jump-start investment in infrastructure is found in President Trump’s campaign web site. In full, it states the plan “Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over ten years. It is revenue neutral.” The administration’s official White House web site’s sole mention of infrastructure is an announcement approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines without environmental reviews, and an intention to expedite environmental reviews for “high priority infrastructure projects.”

Wilbur Ross, an investment banker who buys companies and then takes away pensions and medical benefits so he can flip his companies for a big short-term profit, and who is President Trump’s pick for commerce secretary, along with a conservative economics professor, Peter Navarro, have recommended the Trump administration allocate $137 billion in tax credits for private investors who underwrite infrastructure projects. The two estimate that over 10 years the credits could spur $1 trillion in investment. So the new administration won’t actually spend $1 trillion to fix the country’s badly decaying infrastructure; it hopes to encourage private capital to do so through tax cuts.

There is a catch here — private capital is only going to invest if a steady profit can be extracted. Writing in the New Republic, David Dayen put this plainly:

“Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees. So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.”

The Trump plan appears to go beyond even the ordinary terms of public-private partnerships because it would transfer money to developers with no guarantee at all that net new investments are made, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. The EPI report asks several questions:

“[I]t appears to be a plan to give tax credits to private financiers and developers, period. The lack of details here are daunting and incredibly important. For starters, we don’t know if the tax credit would be restricted to new investment, or if investors in already existing [public-private partnerships] are eligible for the credit. If private investors in already existing PPP arrangements are eligible, how do we ensure these tax credits actually induce net new investments rather than just transferring taxpayer largesse on operators of already-existing projects? Who decides which projects need to be built? How will the Trump administration provide needed infrastructure investments that are unlikely to be profitable for private providers (such as building lead-free water pipes in Flint, MI)? If we assume tax credits will be restricted (on paper, anyhow) to just new investment, how do we know the money is not just providing a windfall to already planned projects rather than inducing a net increase in how much infrastructure investment occurs?”

Critiques of this scheme can readily be found on the Right as well. For example, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office and economic adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, told The Associated Press, “I don’t think that is a model that is going be viewed as successful or that you can use it for all of the infrastructure needs that the U.S. has.”

Corporations plunder, people pay in Britain

Britain’s version of public-private partnerships are called “private finance initiatives.” A scheme concocted by the Conservative Party and enthusiastically adopted by the New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the results are disastrous. A 2015 report in The Independent reveals that the British government owes more than £222 billion to banks and businesses as a result of private finance initiatives. Jonathan Owen reports:

“The startling figure – described by experts as a ‘financial disaster’ – has been calculated as part of an Independent on Sunday analysis of Treasury data on more than 720 PFIs. The analysis has been verified by the National Audit Office. The headline debt is based on ‘unitary charges’ which start this month and will continue for 35 years. They include fees for services rendered, such as maintenance and cleaning, as well as the repayment of loans underwritten by banks and investment companies.

Responding to the findings, [British Trades Union Congress] General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Crippling PFI debts are exacerbating the funding crisis across our public services, most obviously in our National Health Service.’ ”

Under private finance initiatives, a consortium of private-sector banks and construction firms finance, own, operate and lease the formerly public property back to the U.K. taxpayer over a period of 30 to 35 years. By no means do taxpayers receive value for these deals — and the total cost will likely rise far above the initial £222 billion cost. According to The Independent:

“The system has yielded assets valued at £56.5bn. But Britain will pay more than five times that amount under the terms of the PFIs used to create them, and in some cases be left with nothing to show for it, because the PFI agreed to is effectively a leasing agreement. Some £88bn has already been spent, and even if the projected cost between now and 2049/50 does not change, the total PFI bill will be in excess of £310bn. This is more than four times the budget deficit used to justify austerity cuts to government budgets and local services.”

The private firms can even flip their contracts for a faster payday. Four companies given 25-year contracts to build and maintain schools doubled their money by selling their shares in the schemes less than five years into the deals for a composite profit of £300 million. Clearly, these contracts were given at well below reasonable cost.

One of the most prominent privatization disasters was a £30 billion deal for Metronet to upgrade and maintain London’s subway system. The company failed, leaving taxpayers with a £2 billion bill because Transport for London, the government entity responsible for overseeing the subway, guaranteed 95 percent of the debt the private companies had taken out. Then there is the example of England’s water systems, directly sold off. The largest, Thames Water, was acquired by a consortium led by the Australian bank Macquarie Group. This has been disastrous for rate payers but most profitable to the bank. An Open University study found that, in four of the five years studied, the consortium took out more money from the company than it made in post-tax profits, while fees increased and service declined.

As for the original sale itself, the water companies were sold on the cheap. Although details of the business can be discussed by “stakeholders,” the authors conclude, the privatization itself remains outside political debate, placing a “ring-fence” around the issues surrounding the privatization, such as the “politics of packaging and selling households as a captive revenue stream.” The public has no choice when the water provider is a monopoly and thus no say in rates.

Incredibly, Prime Minister Theresa May and the Tories intend to sell off more public services to Macquarie-led consortiums.

Corporations plunder, people pay across Europe

Privatization of water systems has not gone better in continental Europe. Cities in Germany and France, including Paris, have taken back their water after selling systems to corporations. The city of Paris’ contracts with Veolia Environment and Suez Environment, expired in 2010; during the preceding 25 years water prices there had doubled, after accounting for inflation, according to a paper prepared by David Hall, a University of Greenwich researcher. Despite the costs of taking back the water system, the city saved €35 million in the first year and was able to reduce water charges by eight percent. Higher prices and reduced services have been the norm for privatized systems across France, according to Professor Hall’s study.

German cities have also “re-municipalized” basic utilities. One example is the German city of Bergkamen (population about 50,000), which reversed its privatization of energy, water and other services. As a result of returning those to the public sector, the city now earns €3 million a year from the municipal companies set up to provide services, while reducing costs by as much as 30 percent.

Water is big business. Suez and Veolia both reported profits of more than €400 million for 2015. Not unrelated to this is the increasing prominence of bottled water. Bottled water is dominated by three of the world’s biggest companies: Coca-Cola (Dasani), PepsiCo (Aquafina) and Nestlé (Poland Springs, Deer Park, Arrowhead and others). So it’s perhaps not surprising that Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe infamously issued a video in which he declared the idea that water is a human right “extreme” and that water should instead have a “market value.”

One privatization that has not been reversed, however, is Goldman Sachs’ takeover of Denmark’s state-owned energy company Dong Energy. Despite strong popular opposition, the Danish government sold an 18 percent share in Dong Energy to Goldman Sachs in 2014 while giving the investment bank a veto over strategic decisions, essentially handing it control. The bank was also given the right to sell back its shares for a guaranteed profit. Goldman Sachs has turned a huge profit already — two years after buying its share, Dong began selling shares on the stock market, and initial trading established a value for the company twice as high as it was valued for purposes of selling the shares to Goldman. In other words, Goldman’s shares doubled in value in just two years — a $1.7 billion gain.

Danes have paid for this partial privatization in other ways as well. Taking advantage of the control granted it, Goldman demanded lower payments to Danish subcontractors and replaced some subcontractors who refused to use lower-paid workers.

Corporations plunder, people pay in Canada

Canada’s version of public-private partnerships has followed the same script. A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives flatly declared that

“In every single project approved so far as a P3 in Ontario, the costs would have been lower through traditional procurement if they had not inflated by these calculations of the value of ‘risk.’ The calculations of risk could just as well have been pulled out of thin air — and they are not small amounts.”

Not that Ontario is alone here. Among the examples the Centre provides are a hospital, Brampton Civic, that cost the public $200 million more than if it had been publicly financed and built directly by Ontario; the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia that will cost taxpayers $220 million more than if it had been financed and operated publicly; bailouts of the companies operating the city of Ottawa’s recreational arenas; and a Université de Québec à Montréal project that doubled the cost to $400 million.

A separate study by University of Toronto researchers of 28 Ontario public-private partnerships found they cost an average of 16 percent more than conventional contracts.

Corporations plunder, people pay in the United States

In the United States, a long-time goal of the Republican Party has been to privatize the Postal Service. To facilitate this, a congressional bill signed into law in 2006 required the Postal Service to pre-fund its pension costs for the next 75 years in only 10 years. This is unheard of; certainly no private business would or could do such a thing. This preposterous requirement saddled the Postal Service with a $16 billion deficit. The goal here is to weaken the post office in order to manufacture a case that the government is incapable of running it.

The city of Chicago has found that there are many bad consequences of public-private partnerships beyond the monetary. In 2008, Chicago gave a 75-year lease on its parking meters to Morgan Stanley for $1 billion. Shortly afterward, the city’s inspector general concluded the value of the meter lease was $2 billion. Parking rates skyrocketed, and the terms of the lease protecting Morgan Stanley’s investment created new annual costs for the city, according to a Next City report.

That report noted that plans for express bus lanes, protected bike lanes and street changes to enhance pedestrian safety are complicated by the fact that each of these projects requires removing metered parking spaces. Removing meters requires the city to make penalty payments to Morgan Stanley. Even removals for street repairs requires compensation; the Next City report notes that the city lost a $61 million lawsuit filed by the investment bank because of street closures.

Nor have water systems been exempt from privatization schemes. A study by Food & Water Watch found that:

Investor-owned utilities typically charge 33 percent more for water and 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities.
After privatization, water rates increase at about three times the rate of inflation, with an average increase of 18 percent every other year.
Corporate profits, dividends and income taxes can add 20 to 30 percent to operation and maintenance costs.

Pure ideology drives these privatization schemes. The Federal Reserve poured $4.1 trillion into buying bonds, which did little more than inflate a stock-market bubble, while the investment needs to rebuild U.S. water systems, schools and dams, plus cleaning up Superfund sites and eliminating student debt, are less at a combined $3.4 trillion. What if that Federal Reserve money had gone to those instead?

“Public investment to create private profit”

Given its billionaire leadership, the Trump administration’s plans for public-private partnerships will not lead to better results, and may well be even worse. Michael Hudson recently summarized what is likely coming in this way:

“Mr. Trump wants to turn the U.S. economy into the kind of real estate development that has made him so rich in New York. It will make his fellow developers rich, and it will make the banks that finance this infrastructure rich, but the people are going to have to pay for it in a much higher cost for transportation, much higher cost for all the infrastructure that he’s proposing. So I think you could call Trump’s plan ‘public investment to create private profit.’ That’s really his plan in a summary, it looks to me.”

This makes no sense as public policy. But it is consistent with the desire of capitalists to continually extract higher profits from any and all human activity. Similar to governments handing over their sovereignty to multi-national corporations in so-called “free trade” deals that facilitate the movement of production to locales with ever lower wages and weaker laws, public-private partnerships represent a plundering of the public sector for private profit, and government surrender of public goods. All this is a reflection of the imbalance of power in capitalist countries.

This is “the market” in action — and the market is nothing more than the aggregate interests of the most powerful industrialists and financiers. It also reflects that as capitalist markets mature and capital runs out of places into which to expand, ongoing competitive pressures will drive corporate leaderships to reduce expenses (particularly wages) and move into new lines of business. Taking over what had been the public sector is one way of achieving this, especially if public goods can be bought below fair market value and guarantees of profits extracted.

The ruthless logic of capitalism is that a commodity goes to those who can pay the most, regardless of whether it is something essential to human life.

— source systemicdisorder.wordpress.com

Obama presidential center in Chicago could cost $1.5 billion

Earlier this month former US president Barack Obama spoke in Chicago about his plans to build his presidential center on the city’s impoverished South Side. Astonishingly, when the center is completed by 2021, the accumulated cost of building Obama’s monument to his political legacy could exceed $1 billion dollars. According to NBC Chicago, Obama’s library architects indicate the total project could require up to $1.5 billion, more than three times the amount raised by George W. Bush for his presidential center. Bill Clinton by contrast was only able to raise a meager $164 million. In total, the 13 presidential centers aimed at sanitizing the imperialist legacy of the American presidency cost the public more than $64 million each year.

— source wsws.org

“Ryancare” Dead on Arrival

The new American Health Care Act has been unveiled, and critics are calling it more flawed even than the Obamacare it was meant to replace. Dubbed “Ryancare” or “Trumpcare” (over the objection of White House staff), the Republican health care bill is under attack from left and right, with even conservative leaders calling it “Obamacare Lite”, “bad policy”, a “warmed-over substitute,” and “dead on arrival.”

The problem for both administrations is that they have been trying to fund a bloated, inefficient, and overpriced medical system with scarce taxpayer funds, without capping its costs. US healthcare costs in 2016 averaged $10,345 per person, for a total of $3.35 trillion dollars, a full 18 percent of the entire economy, twice as much as in other industrialized countries.

Ross Perot, who ran for president in 1992, had the right idea: he said all we have to do is to look at other countries that have better health care at lower cost and copy them.

So which industrialized countries do it better than the US? The answer is, all of them. They all not only provide healthcare for the entire population at about half the cost, but they get better health outcomes than in the US. Their citizens have longer lifespans, fewer infant mortalities and less chronic disease.

President Trump, who is all about getting the most bang for the buck, should love that.

Hard to Argue with Success

The secret to the success of these more efficient systems is that they control medical costs. According to T. R. Reid in The Healing of America, they follow one of three models: the “Bismarck model” established in Germany, in which health providers and insurers are private but insurers are not allowed to make a profit; the “Beveridge model” adopted in Britain, where most healthcare providers work as government employees and the government acts as the single payer for all health services; and the Canadian model, a single-payer system in which the healthcare providers are mostly private.

A single government payer can negotiate much lower drug prices – about half what we pay in the US – and lower hospital prices. Single-payer is also much easier to administer. Cutting out the paperwork can save 30 percent on the cost of insurance. According to a May 2016 post by Physicians for a National Health Program:

Per capita, the U.S. spends three times as much for health care as the U.K., whose taxpayer-funded National Health Service provides health care to citizens without additional charges or co-pays. In 2013, U.S. taxpayers footed the bill for 64.3 percent of U.S. health care — about $1.9 trillion. Yet in the U.S. nearly 30 million of our citizens still lack any form of insurance coverage.

The for-profit U.S. health care system is corrupt, dysfunctional and deadly. In Canada, only 1.5 percent of health care costs are devoted to administration of its single-payer system. In the U.S., 31 percent of health care expenditures flow to the private insurance industry. Americans pay far more for prescription drugs. Last year, CNN reported, Americans paid nearly 10 times as much for prescription Nexium as it cost in the Netherlands.

Single payer, or Medicare for All, is the system proposed in 2016 by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. It is also the system endorsed by Donald Trump in his book The America We Deserve. Mr. Trump confirmed his admiration for that approach in January 2015, when he said on David Letterman:

A friend of mine was in Scotland recently. He got very, very sick. They took him by ambulance and he was there for four days. He was really in trouble, and they released him and he said, ‘Where do I pay?’ And they said, ‘There’s no charge.’ Not only that, he said it was like great doctors, great care. I mean we could have a great system in this country.

Contrary to the claims of its opponents, the single-payer plan of Bernie Sanders would not have been unaffordable. Rather, according to research by University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor Gerald Friedman, it would have generated substantial savings for the government:

Under the single-payer system envisioned by “The Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act” (H.R. 676), the U.S. could save $592 billion – $476 billion by eliminating administrative waste associated with the private insurance industry and $116 billion by reducing drug prices . . . .

According to OECD health data, in 2013 the British were getting their healthcare for $3,364 per capita annually; the Germans for $4,920; the French for $4,361; and the Japanese for $3,713. The tab for Americans was $9,086, at least double the others. With single-payer at the OECD average of $3,661 and a population of 322 million, we should be able to cover all our healthcare for under $1.2 trillion annually – well under half what we are paying now.

The Problem Is Not Just the High Cost of Insurance

That is true in theory; but governments at all levels in the US already spend $1.6 trillion for healthcare, which goes mainly to Medicare and Medicaid and covers only 17 percent of the population. Where is the discrepancy?

For one thing, Medicare and Medicaid are more expensive than they need to be, because the US government has been prevented from negotiating drug and hospital costs. In January, a bill put forth by Sen. Sanders to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada was voted down. Sanders is now planning to introduce a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, for which he is hoping for the support of the president. Trump indicated throughout his presidential campaign that he would support negotiating drug prices; and in January, he said that the pharmaceutical industry is “getting away with murder” because of what it charges the government. As observed by Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, in February 2017:

. . . [B]ig pharmaceutical companies, for-profit hospitals and health insurers are allowed to jack up their profit margins at will. . . . Simply giving everyone access to Big Pharma’s overpriced drugs, and corporate hospitals’ profit-at-any-cost tests and treatment, will result in little more than soaring healthcare costs, with uninsured and insured alike remaining sick or becoming even sicker.

Besides the unnecessarily high cost of drugs, the US medical system is prone to over-diagnosing and over-treating. The Congressional Budget Office says that up to 30 percent of the health care in the US is unnecessary. We use more medical technology then in other countries, including more expensive diagnostic equipment. The equipment must be used in order to recoup its costs. Unnecessary testing and treatment can create new health problems, requiring yet more treatment, further driving up medical bills.

Drug companies are driven by profit, and their market is sickness – a market they have little incentive to shrink. There is not much profit to be extracted from quick, effective cures. The money is in the drugs that have to be taken for 30 years, killing us slowly. And they are killing us. Pharmaceutical drugs taken as prescribed are the fourth leading cause of US deaths, after heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The US is the only industrialized country besides New Zealand that allows drug companies to advertise pharmaceuticals. Big Pharma spends more on lobbying than any other US industry, and it spends more than $5 billion a year on advertising. Lured by drug advertising, Americans are popping pills they don’t need, with side effects that are creating problems where none existed before. Americans compose only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume fully 50 percent of Big Pharma’s drugs and 80 percent of the world’s pain pills. We not only take more drugs (measured in grams of active ingredient) than people in most other countries, but we have the highest use of new prescription drugs, which have a 1 in 5 chance of causing serious adverse reactions after they have been approved.

The US death toll from prescription drugs taken as prescribed is now 128,000 per year. As Jon Rappaport observes, with those results Big Pharma should be under criminal investigation. But the legal drug industry has grown too powerful for that. According to Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, writing in 2002:

The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has [become] a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, [using] its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.

It’s Just Good Business

US healthcare costs are projected to grow at 6 percent a year over the next decade. The result could be to bankrupt not only millions of consumers but the entire federal government.

Obamacare has not worked, and Ryancare is not likely to work. As demonstrated in many other industrialized countries, single-payer delivers better health care at half the cost that Americans are paying now.

Winston Churchill is said to have quipped, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.” We need to try a thrifty version of Medicare for all, with negotiated prices for drugs, hospitals and diagnostic equipment.

— source ellenbrown.com

U.S.-Backed “Relentless War” in Yemen Causing Widespread Threat of Starvation

The United Nations has warned that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. Nearly 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Last month, the U.N. declared a famine in parts of South Sudan. Earlier this week, aid officials said they’re in a race against time to prevent a famine brought on by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war and blockade. Almost 19 million people in Yemen, two-thirds of the total population, are in need of assistance, and more than 7 million are facing starvation.

Last month, the U.N. declared a famine in parts of South Sudan, but O’Brien said the biggest crisis is in Yemen. Earlier this week, aid officials said they’re in a race against time to prevent a famine brought on by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war and blockade. Almost 19 million people in Yemen, two-thirds of the total population, are in need of assistance, and more than 7 million are facing starvation—an increase of 3 million since January. The executive director of the World Food Programme said her agency had just three months’ worth of food stored and that officials were only able to provide hungry Yemenis with about a third of the rations they need. This all comes as the Trump administration is seeking billions of dollars in cuts in funding to the United Nations.

Joel Charny talking:

Stephen O’Brien described it very well. In four countries, because of conflict—only in one case, Somalia, do we have drought, which is also driving the deprivation. But in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northern Nigeria, millions of people are on the—are on the brink of famine, largely because of the disruption of food production, the inability of aid agencies to get in, and just ongoing conflict, which is making life a misery for millions of people.

It’s been a relentless war, with violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudis and the coalition that they’re a part of, as well as by the Houthis that are resisting the Saudi assault. And from the beginning of the bombing—I mean, I vividly remember, when the bombing first started, in—within the space of a couple weeks, the warehouses and office buildings of three or four nongovernmental organizations working in Yemen were hit by the Saudi assault. And what’s happened, Yemen imports 90 percent of its food even in normal times, so this is not so much a disruption of food production, but it’s a disruption of commerce due to the bombing, due to the blockade, due to the movement of the national bank from Sana’a down to Aden. And taken all together, it’s just creating an impossible situation in a country that’s completely dependent on food imports for its survival.

At this point, really the only solution is some kind of agreement between the parties to the conflict—the Saudis and their allies and the Houthis. And over the last year, 18 months, several times we’ve been close to seeing an agreement that would at least produce a ceasefire or end some of the relentless bombing that’s been going on. Yet, every time, the agreement breaks down. And, I mean, this is a case where if the war continues, people will die from famine. I don’t think there’s any question about that. We just have to find a way for the war to end. And right now, there’s just a complete lack of diplomatic effort to try and solve this situation. And I think, as a humanitarian representing the Norwegian Refugee Council, we can do what we can, you know, in the face of this conflict, but the fundamental solution is an agreement between the parties that will stop the war, open up commerce, you know, have the port be open, and allow, therefore, the aid machinery from the World Food Programme and nongovernmental organizations like NRC to function.

it needs to be stressed that this is not something that, you know, started on January 20th. Humanitarian agencies in Washington, you know, myself and my colleagues, we’ve been pointing out, dating back well into the last year of the Obama administration, that, you know, the bombing campaign was leading to an untenable humanitarian situation, and the U.S. support of that bombing campaign was highly problematic from a humanitarian standpoint. So, you know, this is something that the U.S. has been driving for some time. And again, as with many things right now, it has to be seen within the context of the war or the proxy war between, you know, the Saudis and Iran for control and supremacy in the Middle East. The Houthis are perceived as an Iranian proxy. Many dispute that, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is an ongoing war that seems unable to be resolved. And we need—and again, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the U.S. Perhaps it can come from the U.N. under the leadership of their new secretary-general, António Guterres. But we need a diplomatic initiative as it relates to Yemen to avert the famine.

United Nations budget will come out tomorrow, but the report is that there will be a 50 percent cut across the board in Trump’s budget for 2018. Now, the U.S. is a very significant supporter of the humanitarian arms of the United Nations, as well as the U.N. across the board. But in the context of 20 million people being on the brink of famine, you’re proposing to cut funding for the high commissioner for refugees, the U.N. refugee agency; for the World Food Programmme, that Ertharin Cousin represents; and for UNICEF. And those three agencies are, on the U.N.’s behalf, on the front line of responding to the situations that we’re talking about. So, to call this ill-timed is an incredible understatement. I mean, to—and the other rumor, Amy, is that, you know, there are going to be devastating cuts to the U.S.’s own humanitarian funding through agencies like the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the refugee bureau at the State Department. So, we’re anxiously awaiting the release of the Trump budget tomorrow, but it—we’re obviously quite concerned that, in the context of the massive need that we’re facing and the normal U.S. leadership that we see in responding to famine situations, these cuts, not just for the U.N. but also for domestic—you know, for our international response agencies in the U.S. government, will be devastating.

South Sudan is a place where, you know, there was so much hope in 2011, when the country was founded, after years of support from around the world, including from the United States. And basically, the leaders of South Sudan decided that they would rather fight over ultimate control than govern their country in a way that worked for all their people. So, South Sudan is a classic example of another famine or food shortage that’s driven purely by conflict in this—with an ethnic dimension, but also a political dimension, unresolved political conflicts within the South Sudanese ruling class that date all the way back to the ’90s, that were covered up during the independence struggle but have since emerged.

And again, in South Sudan, we face just immense logistical difficulties in reaching people, like the woman you just showed. And we have to overcome obstacles from the government itself. We have to overcome logistical difficulties. We have to make sure that we can work safely in the midst of conflict. And South Sudan has oil. South Sudan has relatively fertile soil to feed itself. And the issue is just the inability of the authorities, and working with the—with outside aid agencies, to come together to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan. And it is a desperate situation. Of the four—of the four countries that we’re discussing, South Sudan is the one place where a famine has officially been declared in one part of the country, affecting 100,000 people.

Somalia is the one place, I think, where a rapid response actually can make a difference, because the—although there is conflict in Somalia, the famine threat this time, the severe drought, is mainly in parts of the country that are reachable by the government, as weak as it is, and reachable by the international aid community. So if we’re able to mobilize quickly—and this is what everyone’s saying right now—if we’re able to mobilize food and cash quickly, we can—we can overcome the situation of Somalia, in Somalia, if we get—if we get moving.

In Nigeria, it’s a question of—you know, Boko Haram is disrupting areas in the northern part of the country. There’s been a response by the Nigerian government that has, you know, led to people being driven into camps and away from their homes. And because of the conflict there, food production has been disrupted. It’s very difficult to reach people. And again, from the perspective of an outside agency like Norwegian Refugee Council, the key in northern Nigeria is either to reach some kind of peace agreement or at least a way to prosecute the war that doesn’t disrupt life in villages and doesn’t harm people who are so vulnerable.

as people have pointed out, four of the six countries in the ban are currently in conflict, in which the U.S. is involved. And our view on the ban is very simple. The people in these countries and, indeed, refugees worldwide are among the most vulnerable in the world. They are vetted before they come to the United States. And it’s just an absolute priority, from our standpoint, that the U.S. remain open to the most vulnerable refugees and that we have an immigration program from these countries that allows people to reunify with their families, to study in the U.S. and so on. So, you know, this contrast between assaulting—you know, having wars going on, yet not being able to be a safe haven, is obviously a clear and worrying contrast.
____

Joel Charny
director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.

— source democracynow.org

100 Years After Bolshevik Revolution and US Red Scare, California May Lift Ban on Communists in Govt

A century after the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917 spurred the United States to implement its Red Scare policies — where fears of communist espionage and overthrow propelled the country to build up anti-communist hysteria — the state of California at least may finally be rolling back some of those laws.

Lawmakers in the state assembly narrowly approved Monday repealing a law enacted during the second Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s that banned communists from holding jobs in government. The bill must now pass through the Senate.

The Communist Party USA, founded in 1919, has an estimated membership of 5,000 nationwide.

— source telesurtv.net