Watch Out: Your Money Is Being Used to Destroy the World!

Credit: Bigstock

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 3 2019 – Perhaps the most direct way to introduce this tough issue is what the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated just one week ahead of the 5 June World Environment Day, which focuses this year on air pollution, caused chiefly by the use of fossil fuels both in transport, industry and even household cooking, heating, etc.

“Subsidising fossil fuels means spending taxpayers’ money to “boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals: to destroy the world,” the UN chief warned, adding that “We need to tax pollution, not people.” “End subsidies for fossil fuels.”

 

4.7 trillion dollars in global subsidies?

“Subsidising fossil fuels means spending taxpayers’ money to “boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals: to destroy the world,”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

A corporation that knows much about money –the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that, globally, subsidies remained large at 4.7 trillion dollars (6.3 percent of global GDP) in 2015 and were projected at 5.2 trillion dollars (6.5 percent of GDP) in 2017.

Its 2 May 2019 Working Paper Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large, updates estimates of fossil fuel subsidies, defined as fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices (i.e., prices warranted by supply costs, environmental costs, and revenue considerations), for 191 countries.

“The largest subsidisers in 2015 were China (1.4 trillion dollars), United States (649 billions), Russia (551 billions), European Union (289 billions), and India (209 billion dollars),” it reports.

And it adds that “about three quarters of global subsidies are due to domestic factors—energy pricing reform thus remains largely in countries own national interest—while coal and petroleum together account for 85 percent of global subsidies.”

For its part, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that the value of global fossil-fuel consumption subsidies in 2017 is estimated at more than 300 billion dollars, higher than the estimate for 2016, which was around 270 billions.

The Energy Agency also alerts that “higher oil prices led to a partial rebound in total subsidy value in 2017, but the 12% rise in subsidies was considerably less than the 25% rise in oil price.”

The IEA provides this breakdown:

  •  In 2016, subsidies to electricity had overtaken those to oil, but in 2017 oil returned as the most heavily subsidised energy carrier.
  • Oil subsidies accounted for 45% of the total, or nearly 137 billion dollars, covering an estimated 11% of global oil consumption.
  • Natural gas subsidies were also significant, amounting to around 57 billion dollars, affecting the price paid for 23% of gas consumption.
  • Coal subsides are relatively small, at 2 billion dollars in 2017.

 

The UK, Europe’s champion

Meantime, Sam Morgan on 15 January 2019 reported in EURACTIV.com that “the United Kingdom spends the most in the EU on subsidising fossil fuels, according to a new report by the European Commission, which also found that EU-wide payments have failed to decrease despite the bloc’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

“In 2016, the UK pumped more than 12 billion euro into fossil fuel support, closely followed by Germany, France, Italy and Spain. However, those countries actually then spent more on renewable energies like wind and solar than on coal, gas and oil.”

All in all, “fossil fuels enjoyed an estimated 55 billion euro in public funding across the EU, with the energy sector the biggest recipient, followed by the residential sector, industry and transport.”

 

Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

 

The air we breath

In addition to diverting such huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to sustain major causes of greenhouse gas emissions –at the very cost of devoting them to public health, education and vital social services– there is the dramatic fact that air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world.

New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution, the world top specialised body reported ahead of the 5 June World Environment Day.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”

 

Key findings

On this, the World Health Organization provides the following data:

  • The highest ambient air pollution levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific.
  • Africa and some of the Western Pacific region have a serious lack of air pollution data. For Africa, the database now contains PM measurements for more than twice as many cities as previous versions, however data was identified for only 8 of 47 countries in the region.
  • Europe has the highest number of places reporting data.
  • In general, ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific. In cities of high-income countries in Europe, air pollution has been shown to lower average life expectancy by anywhere between 2 and 24 months, depending on pollution levels.

Add to all the above that UN Environment reports that 92 per cent of people worldwide do not breathe clean air, that air pollution costs the global economy 5 trillion dollars every year in welfare costs, and that ground-level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crop yields by 26 per cent by 2030.

 

Death

WHO also estimates that:

  • Around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.
  • Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period, it explains.
  • More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
  • Around 3 billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution.
  • Air pollution is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases, causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.

 

Around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia

 

Now, where does air pollution come from?

Regarding the major causes of air pollution, the United Nations reports that

  • Household – The main source of household air pollution is the indoor burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass-based fuels to cook, heat and light homes. Around 3.8 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution each year, the vast majority of them in the developing world.
  • Industry – In many countries, energy production is a leading source of air pollution. Coal-burning power plants are a major contributor, while diesel generators are a growing concern in off-grid areas.
  • Transport – The global transport sector accounts for almost one-quarter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and this proportion is rising. Transport emissions have been linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths.
  • Agriculture – There are two major sources of air pollution from agriculture: livestock, which produces methane and ammonia, and the burning of agricultural waste. Around 24 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide comes from agriculture, forestry and other land-use.
  • Waste – Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and black carbon into the atmosphere. Globally, an estimated 40 percent of waste is openly burned.
  • Other sources – Not all air pollution comes from human activity. Volcanic eruptions, dust storms and other natural processes also cause problems. Sand and dust storms are particularly concerning.

This scary information does not mean that taxpayers should stop contributing—everybody should continue doing it, sure.

But what about voting for those politicians who can hopefully show real, honest commitment to put an end to this mad practice of using public money to fund death?

 

Baher Kamal is Director and Editor of Human Wrongs Watch, where this article was originally published.

 

Exploitation and Acculturation

Minik, New York 1897.

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jun 3 2019 – There are several means to make profitable use of other human beings, an endeavour that tends to turn others into tools by depriving them of their roots and self-respect. This happened in concentration – and work camps, where individuals were reduced to mere numbers.

Another form of objectification of fellow human beings has been to gain money by exhibiting them to paying audiences. The fate of Ota Benga is an example of this. He was a Mbuti man who in 1904, together with other “primitive people”, was exhibited at the Lousiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and later in the Monkey House at Bronx´s Zoo in New York. Ota Benga had by the missionary Samuel Phillips Verner been purchased from slave-traders in the Belgian Congo, while Verner was searching for “exotic Africans” to be exhibited in St. Louis.

After newspapers had exposed the mistreatment of Mr. Benga, he was after six years released from the zoo. A supervisor of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn arranged to have Benga´s filed teeth capped while providing him with basic education and ”decent” clothes. Benga planned to return to his Congolese home, though when the outbreak of World War I ended cross-Atlantic passenger traffic, Benga did at the age of 32 build a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol.1 By the beginning of the last century, Benga´s tragic fate was far from unique, people like him were brought from other continents to be exhibited at museums, circuses, and fairs. During the last decades, several books and movies have paid attention to some of these unfortunate individuals.

One example is the French film Black Venus from 2010. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche it tells the true story of Sara Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman from South Africa who in the early 19th century was exhibited in several European countries. At that time, as well as after her death when her skeleton and a painted plaster model of her naked body until 1974 were exhibited at Musée de l´Homme in Paris, Ms. Baartman has figured in novels, poems, and artworks. She suffered from steatopygia, abnormally big buttocks, as well as protruding genitals. When she was exposed naked, both alive and as a plaster model, Sara was presented as a representative of the ”abnormality” and ”hypersexuality” of the ”black race”, an outcome of its ”unique physique”. Ms. Baartman died from ”inflammation” at the age of 25. 2

Another representative of abused indigenous people is Minik, who seven years old together with his father Qisuk and four other Inghuits, in 1897 by the US explorer Robert Peary were brought from the village of Uummannaq in northern Greenland to New York, to be exhibited at shows and at the American Museum of Natural History. However, all of them soon died of tuberculosis, except for one man who succeeded to return to Greenland and Minik who was forced to remain in New York.

Minik suffered from his father´s death and pleaded for a proper Inghuit burial. For the benefit of Minik, the museum staff staged a fake burial. Unknown to Minik the coffin had been filled with stones, while his father´s corpse was de-fleshed, his skeleton mounted and publicly displayed together with painted, plaster models. Through his classmates, Minik found out that his father´s skeleton was exposed together with casts of his and his father´s naked bodies. The press got hold of the story and after almost ten years in New York, Minik was brought back to Uummannaq. He had by then forgotten his mother language and much of Inghuit culture and skills. In spite of being welcomed by his people, reintegrated in their culture and becoming a skilled hunter, Minik never felt at home. In 1916 he returned to New York, where he after a few months died of pneumonia.3

Minik had been kept in New York under the pretext of acculturation, a process of social, psychological and cultural change through which a dominant society incorporates individuals from a differing culture. Forced assimilation remains a common violation of minority rights.

A Danish movie, premiering the same year as Black Venus – The Experiment by Lousie Friedberg – deals with the perils of acculturation. In 1951, with the intention of transforming them into “small Danes” by adapting them to “modern” society, Danish colonial authorities removed twenty-two, six to eight years old Inuit children from their parents. The children were “relocated” to Denmark and the movie follows their fate as they lose their original language and culture, while suffering the trauma of being separated from their families. More than half of them died before reaching adulthood.

There are several examples of such tragedies, disguised as benevolent efforts to secure a bright future for “native” children, one was the Canadian Indian residential school system, a network of boarding schools administered by Christain churches. During its hundred years of existence (1869 to mid-1960s) 30 percent of Canada´s indigenous children, around 150,000 individuals, were separated from their parents and placed in residential schools. Due to incomplete historical records, the number of school-related deaths remains unknown, though estimates range from 3,200 upwards of 6,000. 4

Acculturation has occurred in the other direction as well. Children and youngsters captured during raids by Native American warriors quite often received the name of a deceased member of their captor´s tribe, receiving his/her social status while becoming a member of the deceased person´s family. White settlers became astonished to find that “rescued” captives often preferred to return to their captors. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin observed:

    … when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, though ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them, to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them. 5

Captivity Narratives soon became a sub-genre of American biographies, novels and movies. The phenomenon of settlers preferring to remain with their captors is as old as the first encounters between Westerners and Indigenous people.6 In his magnificent eye-witness account of Hernán Cortés´s conquest of México, the Spanish soldier Bernal Díaz del Castillo described a meeting between the priest Jerónimo de Aguilar and the former sailor Gonzalo Guerrero.

Eight years before the arrival of Western warriors these two men had been shipwrecked on the Mayan coast of México. Other members of their crew were almost immediately ritually sacrificed, while de Aguilar and Guerrero escaped. After being re-captured, they were instead of being sacrificed turned into slaves. de Aguilar kept his faith and remained a slave, while Guerrero became a ”war leader” in the service of Nachan Can, Lord of Chactemal and married his daughter, Zazil. When Cortés heard about the two Spaniards he paid ransom for them. His Mayan owner freed de Aguilar, who joined the Spanish troops, becoming their translator. When he arrived among the Spaniards, de Aguilar told Cortés that he had failed to persuade Guerrero to join him. Guerreo, who was not a slave, had answered his friend:

    Brother Aguilar, I am married and have three children, and they look on me as a Cacique [lord] here, and a captain in time of war. Go, and God´s blessing be with you. But my face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What would the Spaniards say about me if they saw me like this? And look how handsome these children of mine are. 7

Cortés soon learned that Guerrero led Mayan warriors in attacks on Spanish troops and he eventually died fighting his former compatriots. Guerrero´s story is proof of the fact that you are at home where you feel you belong and that no one can force such a feeling upon you.

1 Newkirk, Pamela (2015). Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga. New York: Amistad.
2 Crais, Clifton and Pamela Scully (2009) Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. It was common that indigenous individuals, brought from isolated areas to big cites in the US and Europe, died from contagious diseaes.
3 Cruchaudet, Chloé (2008). Groënland Manhattan. Paris: Delcourt.
4 Réaume, Denise G. and Patrick Macklem (1994) Education for Subordination: Redressing the Adverse Effects of Residential Schooling. Toronto: University of Toronto.
5 Isaacson, Walter (2005) A Benjamin Franklin Reader. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 157.
6 Turner III, Frederick W. (1977) The Portable North American Indian Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, pp. 310-311.
7 Díaz, Bernal (1965) The Conquest of New Spain. Harmondsworth; Penguin Classics. p. 65

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

Modi Cruises with Ease as Prime Minister of India for a Second Term

Siva Sivapragasam is Executive Editor, Toronto-based ”Monsoon Journal”

By Siva Sivapragasam
TORONTO, Jun 3 2019 – The boy who sold tea at railway platforms for a living has become the Prime Minister of world’s largest democracy for the second time. Narendra Dhamodaradas Modi, incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the BJP secured a second chance to be the Prime Minister at Indian elections which took place recently. The election was perhaps the largest held in any part of the world with 39 days of polling and involving as many as 900 million voters.

Narendra Dhamodaradas Modi

As the counting was nearing its end, it was crystal clear that Modi’s BJP and its allies were heading for a landslide victory and expected to have a clear majority in the Lok Sabha

Modi expressed confidence that the BJP victory was the common man’s victory. In his victory speech, he remarked that the win was “a guarantee of a bright future for the common people of this country. I want to bow my head before the 1.3 billion people of this country. This election was fought by the people. If anyone has won, it is India. We dedicate this victory to the people of India.”

Economic issues such as unemployment, price rise, poverty, wages and salaries, GST and demonetization seem to have not mattered much to the voters during this election. Bread-and-butter concerns seem to have counted for less than they did a few months ago, with priorities shifting from specifics such as unemployment to ‘Vikas’.

Modi was raised in a small town in northern Gujarat, and he completed an M.A. degree in political science from Gujarat University in Ahmadabad. During his time as head of the Gujarat government, Modi established a formidable reputation as an able administrator, and he was given credit for the rapid growth of the state’s economy.

The Congress party’s rule before Modi took over in 2014 was looked upon as a decade of decay. Modi’s criticism of the Congress rule was based on the corruption scandals, rise in prices, a weak foreign policy and family politics.

These allegations combined and contributed to the downfall of the Congress Party. It was Modi’s mix of economic efficiency and hardline nationalism that mesmerized the voters in India in 2014 with a “Modi Wave” when they were looking for a change of leadership and Government.

Modi enjoyed massive support among India’s middle classes and business community who credit him with turning Gujarat into an economic powerhouse.

In the recent elections too, Modi campaigned as a passionate Hindu placing security of India as a top priority. Modi spent Saturday night and Sunday morning, the last day of the election, praying at a Hindu shrine and meditating in a remote Himalayan cave.

Despite economic woes and unfulfilled economy reforms, Indians have assumed Modi is better equipped to fix these problems than any other available alternative. Thus, a vote to BJP became more of a vote to Modi. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked his reason for selecting Nehru as India’s first Prime Minister – “India is safe in Nehru’s hands”. India in her millions have echoed in chorus, “India is safe in Modi’s hands”.

At the elections this time Modi styled himself as a ‘chowkidar’ (or watchman) taking care of the country’s interests Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism, the security of India and the absence of a strong Opposition leadership coupled with a weakened Congress Party seem to have been the factors for the BJP victory.

The Opposition’s efforts to pin down the government on issues like demonetization, GST or the Rafale purchase seemed to have made no impression on the electorate, which backed his second-term campaign.

The voters were determined to support a party that would offer stability to the country and placed their faith in a strong leader like Modi. It is to the credit of Modi that he ended the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty politics to get the country’s top political job.

Although the BJP was able to obtain a landslide win in Northern India the party could not score enough seats in the Southern states where the Congress and regional parties beat the BJP. The Congress-led UDF notched up impressive numbers at the expense of the Left in Kerala, winning 19 of the 20 seats, while the DMK-led coalition demolished the AIADMK-BJP alliance in Tamil Nadu, winning 37 out of 39.

The Modi mantra for the elections was based on unity, integrity and security of India and these slogans paid him considerable dividends in the elections. He re-echoed this chorus at the oath taking ceremony when he remarked “Our Government will leave no stone unturned to safeguard India’s unity and integrity. National security is our priority.”

There is no doubt that these slogans will continue to be used by Modi to maintain the popularity of his government in the future. The election victory indicates that Modi’s political leadership has been accepted by the people of India.

“One thing we know for sure is that Modi remains incredibly popular despite everything that’s happened in the last five years,” says Milan Vaishnav, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The World Has Lost Its Compass

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 3 2019 – The terrible feeling I had on waking up and seeing the Italian voting results at the recent European elections was that my country was suddenly full of strangers. How could the majority of Italians reconfirm a government which has been the most inefficient in history, quarrelling on everything every single day and looking with total indifference to the looming problem of how to establish the next budget without clashing with the European Union or squeezing Italian citizens? Its irresponsible debate on the Italian finances has now led to a spread (difference of value) of 290 points with the Germans.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

What is more, the results have rewarded Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has spent a grand total of 17 days in nearly a year in his office (not of a marginal ministry … should it now be abolished?) and all the rest in an electoral campaign? Well, Italians doubled his votes, from 17% to 34%, while halving those of messy government partners the 5 Star Movement (whose leader Luigi Di Maio came to the post of Deputy Prime Minister with the only a job on his CV that of steward at the Naples football stadium). What has Salvini done concretely, beside blocking ports to immigrants, displaying rosaries, bible and crucifix in rallies, and mimicking Mussolini’s body language?

Then, of course, you realize that Salvini is not alone, and that probably my generation, which is based on the values enshrined in the Constitution (solidarity, social justice, equity, peace and international cooperation) is unable to understand today’s times. On October 31, 2017, Corriere del Trentino published an interview in which I claimed that we needed populists in government in Europe as soon as possible, so it would soon become evident that while their denunciations are correct, they would have no answer to the problems. And when the interviewer observed that the next elections to come were the Italian elections, I replied that as an Italian I was sad, but as a European I was happy, because the Italian populists would fail miserably.

Well, under normal logic, they have failed. The chaotic government has realised few points of its programme, and Italy is the European country close to 0% growth. But the majority of the Italian population has seen things otherwise … so this opens up a crucial question.

Those who are fighting for democracy (look at Poland and Hungary with the progressive elimination of checks and balances, courts, media, teaching system, etc.); for transparency and accountability (think of US President Donald Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax declarations); for social justice (today just 80 billionaires own as much as 2.3 billion people), peace (the arms race reached an unprecedented 1.7 trillion dollars in 2018), and so on, do they really understand why we are becoming a minority in many countries and globally?

Looking at Trump’s very probable re-election, at Marine Le Pen’s gains over Emmanuel Macron in France, are we sure that we understand the new politics, and that we can provide a valid answer? The question is all the more important because the tide is impressive. In the wings behind those in power (the Trumps, Orbans, Kaczynskis, Erdogans, Putins, Salvinis, Bolsonaros, Dutertes and so on) are those in waiting (like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Jussi Halla-aho and so on).

Of course, all those respond to different realities. If we call the new wave nationalists, we should then add Narendra Modi, Shinz? Abe, Xi Jinping and the very large majority of the world’s citizens.

But, at least in Europe, they call themselves sovereigntists. This makes it easier to understand them, as they basically share a number of points: a) nationalism, tinged with racism); b) xenophobia, within which they include minorities and LBGTs); c) use of moral superiority to depict the adversary as an enemy of the people, whom they represent; d) fight against any international treaty and structure, which they claim have taken away the sovereignty of their country; and e) echoing Trump: my country first. So, the fight is not between left and right, it is between those who are for their nation and those who are associated with globalisation.

This, by the way, is a gross manipulation. Nations are the basis on which we build international relations and are the basis for our identity. Nationalism is an extremism built on a legitimate concept. And the principles on which United Nations, for instance, was built was the concept of development, which is exactly the opposite of globalisation; the concept and strategy for eliminating national sovereignty to make the maximum use of free flow of capitals and investments and support the transnational system. Development was a concept based on the idea that, in the end, everybody taking part in it was going to be more: globalisation on the idea that, in the end, everybody would have more.

A world in which the cost of advertising per capita surpass that of education, and the financial system reaches volumes 40 times superior to those of production of good and services, is a world clearly against the concept of development. To have fiscal paradises with at least 40 trillion dollars, whose taxes – if paid to nations – would be more than the total cost of all long-term programmes of the United Nations, clearly does not fit with sovereigntism.

And let us also remember that before the economic crisis of 2008, created by a corrupt banking system, there were no sovereigntist parties in sight anywhere, except for that of Le Pen in France. Yet, the new political system has hardly fought against the dramatic power of finance: Trump’s first year of government had a cabinet with the largest participation of bankers in American history (later replaced by military figures).

But we have no space here for a conceptual debate. Just let us call the attention to the fact that voters seem to have reached a point where they disregard the most basic element of political action: do not trust those who have lied to you, regardless of any political inclination. I will take just three examples: Italy, Great Britain and Lithuania.

As already said, Italy is now in recession, with no growth in sight. The government has already tried to ignore the limit imposed by the European Commission that deficits should not surpass 3% of the budget deficit. This was in fact imposed by the Council of Ministers. It is worth recalling that the Council, formed by governments, is the body which takes the decisions, which are left to the European Commission to implement. The European Parliament was created to introduce the much-needed principle of checks and balances. But politicians from every side conveniently presented unpopular measures and law that they approved in the Council’s meeting as coming from the Commission.

Salvini and Di Maio have already had to make an ignominious retreat and cut the deficit of the Italian budget after trying to force the Commission to accept an unbalanced budget. Now Salvini claims that, siding with the other European sovereigntists, he will force the Commission to change the rules, to accept the next Italian budget, which ignores not economics but mathematics.

There was a recent TV debate between the recently appointed Deputy Minister of the Economy Laura Castelli, a young business administration graduate, and Carlo Padoan, a respected economist, university professor, member of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the World Bank. When Castelli said that she would not fear it if the spread between Italy and Germany continued growing because that had no impact on the real economy and the growth of interest on the enormous Italian debt, a startled Padoan tried to correct her. After a while, the moderator tried to change the subject, observing that Padoan was a world authority on the subject. Castelli’s answer was emblematic of the distrust of the New Politicians with the elites: Why? Because he has studied more, does that mean he knows more than me?

Well, it seems Italians trust Castelli more than Padoan. After the elections, Salvini announced that he is going to allocate 30 billion euro for tax reductions, a clear gift to the northern Italy’s business sector. That means find at least 80 billion euro of income for the next budget. This is clearly impossible, without an increase in taxes and a serious cut in current expenses. As usual, education, research and health will be affected, unless the European Union agrees that the 3% rule be put aside.

Well, here is an easy prediction: Salvini will find out that his fellow travelling companions, the sovereigntists of Austria, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, not to forget Germany, will not agree to put their money to save the Italian budget. Will that show Italians that living in mythologies instead of realities is not helpful?

Salvini won on the fear of immigration. Well, according to the United Nations, the Italian population has been in decline since 2015. Last year, it lost 160,000 people, and projections say it will lose 1.8 million people by 2025. Italy now has 5 million foreigners, which includes 500,000 students, Italians born of foreign parents. There are an estimated 670,000 illegal foreigners, against whom Salvini took no real action: his winning electoral card was to close ports to immigrants. Yet, under the previous government, immigration was as low as 119,000 people in 2017 and 20,120 at mid-September 2018. Immigrants make up 7.5% of the total Italian population, which was estimated at 59.9 million (of which 71.8% urban) in 2018. According to the official statistics, Italy has 1,673 deaths per day and 1.353 births … and 22% are 65 or over, with only 13.5% under 15.

African and Arab immigrants account for 1.5% of the Italian population, and 2.5% are Europeans. Yet, according to a poll, Italians think that immigrants make up between 15 and 25% of the population. And they believe that the large majority are Muslim, when they are orthodox.

Clearly, without immigration, the Italian economy and the pension system are not viable. But this is unacceptable to say … and it does not help to say that in Japan, the country where identity and culture are defended as untouchable, the aging population and loss of productivity has obliged Abe to accept 230,000 immigrants this year.

The second example is Great Britain, home of the mother of parliaments, considered a politically civilised country. Well, everybody knows the Brexit saga. But what is impressive is that in the recent European elections Nigel Farage won more votes than the Conservative and Labour parties together. He created the Brexit Party just six months ago. He was fundamental in forcing the famous Brexit referendum in 2016. That referendum was based on much clearly false information, and Farage admitted so after winning. Among them, one made by Farage was that 76 million Turks were joining Europe and would invade Great Britain: Turkey has no chance of joining the European Union. Boris Johnson claimed that every week Great Britain was giving the European Union 350 million euro, which should go instead to reinforcing the country’s National Health Service: another figure that was so false he is being brought to court. The British gave Farage 31.6% of the votes (Labour 14.1% and Conservatives 9.1%) and Boris Johnson is in pole position to be the next Prime Minister. Of course, there are many explanations for that, but all exclude any consideration of the eligibility of proven liars.

The third example is Lithuania, which had general elections just before the European elections. Lithuania had 3.7 million people at the end of the Soviet Union. By 2018 this was down to 2 million because of steady emigration, especially by young people. The Farmers and Greens Union party brandished the anti-immigration flag and won easily. Last year, the “invasion” was in fact of 54.000 people, of whom 69% were returning Lithuanians. Of the real immigrants, all basically from Eastern and Central Europe, the Arab-Africans were a grand total of 208, of whom 120 have already left the country. As an excuse for the Lithuanians, we can say that they have a history of invasions, repression and resistance, and identity is a strong feeling, like elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe.

By the way, eastern Germany is the heartland of the extreme Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) and it has few immigrants, unlike western Germany where the AfD did poorly). But, from any logical viewpoint, it is hard to believe that feelings and not reality could play such primary role. Of course, there are many difficult questions. Look at Ukraine, where 73% of the voters elected an untested comedian, Volodymyr Zelenksy. That shows that feelings are in fact reality. But then why in the United States, cradle of feminism, were 43% of Trump’s voters women, who elected a clear champion of misogyny and a well-known womaniser?

In other words, reality is no longer a factor in elections. Other factors like feelings are more important. And while we have no space to present a serious analysis of this, let us just offer some considerations on which to reflect.

1) Historians agree that greed and fear are probably the most important elements of change. If that is so, let us remember that with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and ideologies declared dead, the winners introduced globalisation as the route for which there were no alternatives (TINA, Margaret Thatcher). This was embedded in the so-called Washington Consensus, which reduced the role of the State as much as possible to give free way to the movement of capital. Social costs were considered unproductive, then came elimination of the difference between deposit banks and investment banks (Clinton 1999), which gave birth to the finance that we now suffer from. Among other changes for unregulated greed, let us not forget Tony Blair’s Third Way, an acceptance of globalisation from the left, to give to it a human face and make it less damaging. The result has been a separation of the European left from its base, and the progressive disappearance of a value-based debate, which put humans at its centre, in favour of the new values: competition, individual success, wealth as the basis of social relations, markets as the centre of the international relations.

2) That was accompanied by a decline of multilateralism, peace and international cooperation. The United States was the main engine for the creation of the United Nations, with an engagement to provide its headquarters and pay 25% of the budget. But, in 1981, Ronald Reagan took a distance, declaring that his country could not accept having one vote like others, and it would not accept binding resolutions from a majority of smaller countries. And then Trump came with the last straw, with the ‘America First’ campaign, which means in fact ‘America Alone’, preaching that the United States had no friends or allies to limit its action. This was the final act against multilateralism.

3) In 2008, a world economic crisis spread worldwide from the US banking system, creating a wave of fear, unemployment, reduction in salaries, loss of jobs and precarity that the political system was largely unable to address because its global dimension went beyond national capacity of response, accompanied by a sharp decline in political competence. This was accompanied by a rise in corruption, as politics became short-term and directed towards administrative problems, without any ideological framework.

4) Trump has created a ripple situation, with the New Right (or Alternative Right, as Steve Bannon calls it), free from the moral and ethical considerations that emerged from the Second World War. The New Right can conduct politics based on greed, and much more fear, using immigrants and minorities as the enemy to fight, for defending national identities and histories. This narrative has created new divides: rural against urban, elite the enemy of real people, any international agreement as a straitjacket of the nation, recovery of a glorious past as the basis for the future. Trump has legitimised behaviour previously considered unacceptable, and during his very probable second term he will change even more the world that we have created from the ruins of the Second World War.

5) Internet has gone wrong. Instead of being the new instrument for horizontal communication and sharing, it has become a creator of fragmented and virtual worlds, where people group along partisan lines, no longer exchange views and ideas. It is an arena for insults and hate, run by false identities with fake news, and where citizens are sold as consumers by a number of logarithms, based on maximisation of profit. It has created the largest fortunes in human history, multibillionaires who do not feel accountable to social values and interests. This has helped to create the loss of quality in the political debate, and the use of feelings and guts, instead of political rationality. Trump has 60 million followers on Twitter, more than all American media combined. They do not buy newspapers, and believe whatever Trump says. This will lead to his re-election, unless some serious blunder occurs, but with the bar of tolerance being raised continuously.

Let us stop here. There are, of course, many more points of reflections. But whatever reflection we make, let us remember that political ideas come and go in history. Certainly, sovereigntism is not as structured as communism or fascism. It was normal for politicians to write books. Now, Trump even brags that he does not read them, to avoid having his ideas influenced. The New Right is basically content free, although expert in mobilising people’s feelings. So, this wave will also finish.

The question is: will humankind be able to create a values-based political system again? And, before that happens, will the New Right with its extreme nationalism lead to wars and blood? Looking at the mobilisation on climate change, led by a young girl from Sweden, a winning card in the European elections, there are reasons for hope (but now climate change has become a left-wing issue).

We face a dramatic risk: if we fail, once the mythology of sovereigntism collapses in the face of an unsolved dramatic reality, people who have lost hope and trust in politics will tend to look for the way out of chaos in a Man of Providence, as Pope Pius XI called Benito Mussolini.

Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development.. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

An Escalating War on Reproductive Rights

A demonstrator in Buenos Aires wears a T-shirt with the slogan “my body, my rights,” one of the slogans of the so-called green tide – the colour adopted by the movement for the legalisation of abortion, which is beginning to spread to other Latin American countries. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 3 2019 – Abortion has long been a contentious issue across the world, and the debate is only heating up, prompting women to stand up and speak out for their reproductive rights.

In response to increasingly restrictive policies, civil society is taking action to help protect abortion rights.

“The failure of states to guarantee reproductive rights is a clear violation of human rights,” said President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) Nancy Northup.

“The centre is committed to using the power of law to ensure that women and girls…are guaranteed access to sexual and reproductive health rights and services,” she added.

Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher Margaret Wurth echoed similar sentiments, stating: “No rape survivor should be forced into motherhood without the chance to consider a safe and legal abortion.”

Girls, Not Mothers

Latin American countries have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. For instance, Nicaragua has a complete ban on abortion while Guatemala has an exception only when a girl or woman’s life is at risk.

Though the risk of maternal mortality increases when pregnancies occur in girls younger than 14, still many girls are forced to give birth.

According to CRR, over 2,200 girls between the age of 10 and 14 gave birth in 2018 in Guatemala.

In Nicaragua, eight of 10 sexual violence survivors are girls under 13 and the country has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America with 28 percent of women giving birth before the age of 18.

Fatima was only 12 years old when she became pregnant after being raped by a man in her community in Guatemala. Though the pregnancy was risky, health care providers never offered her a legal abortion.

After more than a year of abuse by her priest, Lucia became pregnant at the age of 13 in Nicaragua.

Fatima and Lucia are now young women and two of four women who have brought their cases to the United Nations Human Rights Committee with the support of organisations such as CRR and Planned Parenthood Global in order to seek justice and demand access to safe and legal abortion.

“Too many young girls in Latin America, and around the world, have been put in situations that threaten their rights and put their lives at risk because they are not able to access abortion care,” said head of Planned Parenthood Global Leana Wen.

“Forcing young girls to continue a pregnancy no matter their circumstances or wants, is not only cruel, but will have devastating impacts for them, their families, and their communities,” she added.

People around the world have since showed solidarity the four women, posting #NinasNoMadres—they are girls, not mothers.

U.S. regresses

Access to abortion has also become a point of contention in the United States as a total of 27 bans have been enacted across 12 states so far in 2019.

Most recently, Louisiana signed a bill banning abortions once a heartbeat is detectable, known as a “heartbeat bill.”

A foetal heartbeat can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, often before many women know they’re even pregnant. The legislation does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

If the bill becomes law, any doctor who performs an abortion could face imprisonment for one to 10 years and/or a fine ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 dollars. 

Missouri has passed a similar bill with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and the loss of a doctor’s professional license.

Missouri’s last and only abortion clinic was expected to close on Friday, but a judge granted a restraining order that temporarily allowed the clinic to continue. If the clinic had closed, Missouri would have been the first state in 45 years without access to abortion.

While abortion is still legal at the federal level, such moves threaten safe, accessible and affordable abortion care across the country.

“We are very concerned that several U.S. states have passed laws severely restricting access to safe abortion for women, including by imposing criminal penalties on the women themselves and on abortion service providers,” said UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

“We are calling on the United States and all other countries to ensure that women have access to safe abortions. At an absolute minimum, in cases of rape, incest and foetal anomaly, there needs to be safe access to abortions,” she added.

Not only does a complete ban on abortion drive women and girls to seek unsafe “back street” methods of termination, but a study found that women and girls are also more likely to experience short-term anxiety and loss of self-esteem, economic insecurity and poverty, and continued exposure to intimate partner violence.

But there is hope yet.

Organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal have filed lawsuits to help protect abortion rights in the U.S.

And the UN can play a role globally too.

In 2001, a 17-year-old Peruvian girl know only as K.L. was denied an abortion after being diagnosed as having a foetus with anencephaly at 14 weeks.

The refusal had serious mental and physical consequences on her health as she was forced to continue her pregnancy and her baby, once born, only survived four days.

Working with human rights lawyers, K.L. filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, which concluded that Peru violated international human rights law and its actions constituted “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

It was the first time a UN Committee held a country accountable for failing to ensure access to safe, legal abortion.

The committee also ordered financial compensation to K.L, who finally received it a decade later in 2015.

“In seeing justice delivered in K.L.’s case—watching it go from A to Z—we are part of an inspiring historic moment,” said Lilian Sepúlveda who directs CRR’s global legal programme and was one of the attorneys involved in the case.

“We are witnessing the results of advocates’ dedicated perseverance and the power of the UN and other international bodies to ensure our basic human rights to dignity, health, and freedom from ill-treatment,” she added.

Such efforts are more urgent than ever to ensure access to justice as well as safety and health for women and girls.

Limited Knowledge of Plant Biosecurity Increases Biological Threats

Plant Biosecurity ‘Champions’ with facilitators in Brisbane this week for Crawford Fund Master Class in Communication after 4 weeks of biosecurity placements around the Australia.

By Caley Pigliucci
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 3 2019 – The plant-life on the Pacific Islands is currently under threat as protections against diseases and pests are left in the hands of under-trained personnel with limited facilities.

Talei Fidow-Moors, the Principal Quarantine Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Samoa, warned in a statement to IPS of an “increased potential of introducing regulated pests and diseases that pose a serious threat to agriculture, livelihood and fragile ecosystems.”

Plant biosecurity aims at protecting plants from these diseases and pests that non-native species bring into a region. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls biosecurity an “essential of sustainable agricultural development.”

Despite its importance, over a five-week training course with the Pacific Plant Biosecurity Partnership (PPBP) that finished on May 31, biosecurity ‘champions’ from countries across the Pacific Islands noted biological threats largely due to a lack in knowledge of biosecurity, which the training program attempted to begin to address.

IPS spoke with three biosecurity ‘champions’ from Kiribati, Samoa, and Vanuatu who were in training with the PPBP to increase biosecurity provisions.

Each representative identified a lack in knowledge as the main obstacle on the Pacific Islands that has thwarted attempts to achieve biosecurity aims.

The Pacific Islands have been experiencing an on-going increase in trade and tourism, but with this increase comes an increase in potential pests and diseases crossing the borders. These pests and diseases pose a serious threat to natural plant-life on the islands.

Tekataake Oromita, a representative from the Biosecurity and Plant Health Section of the Agriculture and Livestock Division of Kiribati told IPS that plant biosecurity is the “first line of defence against biological threat,” but one that often gets swept under the rug.

For Oromita, the main issue is in “the lack of appropriate facilities and specialised people in the Biosecurity field.”

Without proper training and facilities, the importing of diseases and pests becomes all too easy.

Sylvie Boulekouran, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (MALFFB) in Vanuatu, told IPS that she worries that, “due to staff limited knowledge on inspection and early detection of weed seeds, imported machineries tend to enter the country without proper inspection.”

Boulekouran identified coconut rhinoceros beetles as a significant threat to biosecurity in Vanuatu.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vanuatu states that at least 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas and lists copra (dried kernels from coconuts) as the main cash crop of the region.

Coconut rhinoceros beetles cause damage to the palm trees that produce that cash-crop, and if not controlled, this could have severe effects for rural populations, and for the country’s economy as a whole.

She told IPS of her concern that combating coconut rhinoceros beetles and weeds proves difficult when “biosecurity Vanuatu plant health staff have limited skills and knowledge to carry out diagnostics and identification of pests intercepted at the Vanuatu borders.”

Not only are diagnostics difficult with limited training, but also with limited facilities.

Currently in Vanuatu, there are no facilities for identifying threats. Samples are sent to neighbouring countries like New Zealand, making the interception of pests and diseases time-consuming, and they often fail to do so quickly enough.

Oromita sees similar issues at the border of Kiribati.

She told IPS she would like to see “robust import conditions [that] will ensure that imported commodities are free from pest and diseases and enhance safe trade.”

She added that there is a need for “establishing and incorporate[ing] changes at borders to facilitate effective biosecurity inspection and identification of infested consignments.”

Adding to limited training and limited facilities is the major difficulty facing all three countries: climate change.

Climate change has been a constant difficulty for maintaining biosecurity in the region. In Samoa, increases in tropical cyclones and rising sea levels have added to food insecurity.

In Kiribati, Oromita noted that climate change makes plants even “more vulnerable to the impact of pest and diseases, hence threatening food security and the environment.”

With the forces of climate change bearing down on their countries, the representatives see a need to push for more training in identification of biosecurity threats, and more facilities with which to identify.

The representatives from the Pacific Islands all believe in the need for a conversation to take place at a global level about plant biosecurity.

Oromita said to IPS that at “an international level it would be helpful if we all take Biosecurity as [a] serious matter, whether we are making policies or providing financial grants.”

When asked by IPS what international bodies, like the United Nations, can be doing to help, Fidow-Moores replied: “The UN and its citizens can motivate countries of the world and people from all walks of life, providing everyone with a deeper understanding of nature, society, a better quality of life and a sustainable and healthy environment for present and future generations.”

But the representatives are not without hope.

While each biosecurity representative sees the difficulties in increasing provisions, they all return to their countries after the training session with optimistic minds.

Fidow-Moores told IPS: “It is a challenge which I believe is worth attempting to overcome, so as to exert positive changes for our small island nation.”