Category Archives: Governance

Hollande cracks down on striking French workers


France’s neoliberal SINO [socialist in name only] president continued his crackdown on striking workers who had called nationwide actions to protest “reforms” rammed through by his government in the interests of corporateers and banksters.

From Agence France-Presse:

The French government fought back Friday in a bitter labour dispute with unions, sweeping away blockades at fuel depots after President Francois Hollande vowed to “stand firm” over the reform that sparked the industrial action.

A defiant Hollande said he would not give in to the unions’ demands to withdraw the measures that the Socialist government hope will free up France’s famously rigid labour market.

“I will stand firm because I think it is a good reform,” the president told reporters

>snip<

Police cleared all 15 blockades around the country, leaving only one depot still shut by a strike.

Don’t believe the IMF; it’s as neoliberal as ever


Yep, all that recent rhetoric about a “new and improved” IMF, an institution more congenial to people rather than banksters and neoliberal doctrine, is just a load of hogwash.

That’s the finding of a new study from University of Cambridge researchers who dove beneath the superficial rhetoric to find the same old beast lurking in the shallows.

From the University of Cambridge:

A new study, the largest of its kind, has systematically examined International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies over the past three decades. It found that – despite claims to have reformed their practices following the global financial crisis – the IMF has in fact ramped up the number of conditions imposed on borrower nations to pre-crisis levels.

The crisis revived a flagging IMF in 2009, and the organisation has since approved some of its largest loans to countries in economic trouble. At the same time, IMF rhetoric changed dramatically. The ‘structural adjustment programs’ of austerity and privatisation were seemingly replaced with talk of the perils of inequality and the importance of social protection.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology collected archival material on the IMF’s lending operations and identified all policy conditions in loan agreements between 1985 and 2014 – extracting 55,465 conditions across 131 countries in total.

They found that structural adjustment conditions increased by 61% between 2008 and 2014, and reached a level similar to the pre-crisis period.

The authors of the study, which used newly-available data and is published today [open access] in the Review of International Political Economy, say their findings show that the IMF has surreptitiously returned to the practices it claims it has abandoned: encroaching on the policy space of elected governments by enforcing free market reforms as conditions of lending. This is despite the IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde rejecting concerns over the return of structural adjustment: “We do not do that anymore”*.

“The IMF has publicly acknowledged their objectives to include creating breathing space for borrowing countries, and economic stability combined with social protection,” said lead author Alexander Kentikelenis. “Yet, we show the IMF has in fact increased its push for market-oriented reforms in recent years – reforms that can be detrimental to vital public services in borrowing countries.”

Although the IMF claims its programs can “create policy space” for governments, structural adjustment conditions can reduce this space as they are often aimed at an economy’s underlying structure: privatising state-owned enterprises and deregulating labour markets, for example.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

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Zika worries lead docs to ask Brazil Olympics halt


First, from United Press International:

A group of 150 health experts released a letter calling for the summer Olympic games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro over fears of Zika virus exposure.

The scientists, doctors and medical ethicists said, in a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the new findings about Zika’s link to birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome should be the catalyst to move or postpone the games to safeguard everyone involved. The group said it is not asking for the games, scheduled to begin in August, to be canceled.
Signatories include leading health specialists from around the globe.

Rather than describe the contents, here’s the letter itself, posted at Rio Olympics Later [where you’ll also find the complete list of signatories]:

Open Letter to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization [WHO]

We are writing to express our concern about the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. WHO’s declaration of Zika as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” coupled with new scientific findings that underscore the seriousness of that problem, call for the Rio 2016 Games to be postponed and/or moved to another location—but not cancelled—in the name of public health.

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed, but cancelled, and other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola.

Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games. We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should “Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission”. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.

Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before. An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great. It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.

In our view, several new scientific findings require WHO to reconsider its advice on the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For example:

  • That the Brazilian viral strain causes microcephaly and probably Guillain-Barré syndrome. Further, because human, animal and in vitro studies demonstrate that the virus is neurotrophic and causes cell death, it is biologically plausible that there are other as yet undiscovered neurological injuries, as exist for similar viruses (e.g. dengue).
  • That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, 8 and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly.
  • That Rio de Janeiro is highly affected by Zika. Brazil’s government reports Rio de Janeiro state has the second-highest number of probable Zika cases in the country (32,000) and the fourth-highest incidence rate (195 per 100,000), demonstrating active transmission.
  • That despite Rio’s new mosquito-killing program, the transmission of mosquito-borne disease has gone up rather than down. While Zika is a new epidemic and lacks historical data, using dengue fever as a proxy, cases in Rio from January thru April 2016 are up 320% and 1150% over the same periods in 2015 and 2014, respectively. In the specific neighborhood of the Olympic Park (Barra da Tijuca) there have been more dengue cases in just the first quarter of 2016 than in all of 2015.
  • That Rio’s health system is so severely weakened as to make a last-minute push against Zika impossible. Recently Rio’s state government declared a health sector emergency, and Rio’s city government cut funding against mosquito-borne disease by 20%.13 While the virus is the infectious agent of Zika, its real cause is Rio’s poor social conditions and sanitation—factors that lack a quick fix, and that are not helped when shrinking health resources are diverted to the Games.
  • That it is possible to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, from Rio. Actually that mosquito was totally eradicated from Brazil in the 1950s, but came back after control efforts lapsed. Thus holding the Games, in the presence of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, is a choice and not necessary.
  • That one cannot count on nature for defence. While lower mosquito activity during Rio’s winter months reduces the individual risk to travelers of infection, that is partly offset when travelers who became infected return home during the northern hemisphere’s summer months and peak mosquito activity, which increases the public health risk that local mosquitos acquire and spread the virus—meaning that both seasons are relevant to the epidemic’s course. Also, infection can spread through blood donations and transfusions, particularly in poor countries that lack screening for Zika.

The rest, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Spooky news: Here’s lookin’ at you kid


Two items of note in the world of spooky panoptical perception, including a nasty bit of corporate spyware that targets your kids.

First, from the Intercept, news of a bill that would give the FBI the right to look at your email data and more, all without a warrant or even eventual disclosure to the target of their snooping:

A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs—most commonly information about the name, address, and call information associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of its provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

And then there’s this, a little corporate cyber-pedophilia — except this time it isn’t your child’s body they’re lusting for, but her thoughts.

From the Guardian:

In a promotional video for Amazon’s Echo virtual assistant device, a young girl no older than 12 asks excitedly: “Is it for me?”. The voice-controlled speaker can search the web for information, answer questions and even tell kids’ jokes. “It’s for everyone,” enthuses her on-screen dad.

Except that it isn’t. An investigation by the Guardian has found that despite Amazon marketing the Echo to families with young children, the device is likely to contravene the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), set up to regulate the collection and use of personal information from anyone younger than 13.

Along with Google, Apple and others promoting voice-activated artificial intelligence systems to young children, the company could now face multimillion-dollar fines.

“This is part of the initial wave of marketing to children using the internet of things,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group that helped write the law. “It is exactly why the law was enacted in the first place, to protect young people from pervasive data collection.”

Quote of the day: On the looting of Europe’s South


From Pal Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary oif the Treasury under Ronald Reagan and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, writing in Counterpunch:

Greece is being destroyed by the EU that it so foolishly joined and trusted.  The same thing is happening to Portugal and is also underway in Spain and Italy.  The looting has already devoured Ireland and Latvia (and a number of Latin American countries) and is underway in Ukraine.

The current newspaper headlines reporting an agreement being reached between the IMF and Germany about writing down the Greek debt to a level that could be serviced are false.  No “creditor” has yet agreed to write off one cent of the debt.  All that the IMF has been given by so-called “creditors” is unspecific “pledges” of an unspecified amount of debt writedown two years from now.

The newspaper headlines are nothing but fluff that provide cover for the IMF to succumb to presssure and violate its own rules. The cover lets the IMF say that a (future unspecified) debt writedown will enable Greece to service the remainder of its debt and, therefore, the IMF can lend Greece the money to pay the private banks.

In other words, the IMF is now another lawless Western institution whose charter means no more than the US Constitution or the word of the US government in Washington.

Climate change fuels dramatic rise in forest fires


From The Conversation, a new open access journal which allows article reproduction under a Creative Commons license [Bravo! — esnl], a very important article from University of California, Merced, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Anthony LeRoy Westerling:

Dramatic images of out-of-control wildfires in western North American forests have appeared on our television and computer screens with increasing regularity in recent decades, while costs of fire suppression have soared. In 2015, federal spending on suppression exceeded US$2 billion, just 15 years after first exceeding $1 billion. Something has been changing our fire seasons.

There are competing explanations for why wildfires have been increasing, particularly in our forests. I’ve been studying the science of climate and wildfires for more than 15 years and the take-home message from our research is that, while our management of the landscape can influence wildfire in many different ways, it is a warming climate that is drying out western U.S. forests and leading to more, larger wildfires and a longer wildfire season.

A look at the latest data

Ten years ago, several colleagues and I set out to see if we could quantify the changes in wildfire, particularly in mountain forests of the western U.S. We wanted to see if climate might be causing some of the increase in wildfire.

In our paper, we concluded that wildfire had indeed increased substantially in western U.S. forests beginning in the 1980s. We also found that most of this increase was from fires burning primarily in mid-elevation northern U.S. Rocky Mountain forests in years with an early snowmelt.

Our latest research shows that wildfire activity in western U.S. forests has continued to increase, decade by decade, since the 1980s.

We looked at federally managed forests in the Sierra Nevada, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and northern and southern Rockies. Over the decade through 2012, large fires (fires greater than 1,000 acres or 400 hectares) were 556 percent more frequent than in the 1970s and early 1980s. And the area affected increased even more dramatically: the forest area burned in large fires between 2003 and 2012 was more than 1,200 percent greater than in the period between 1973 and 1982.

BLOG Fires suppression

New “hot spots” for forest wildfire have also emerged.

The area burned in the northern U.S. Rockies has increased by 3,000 percent, accounting for half of the increase in the western U.S. But fire activity has recently accelerated in Southwest and Pacific Northwest forests as well. The area of burned forest in the Southwest increased over 1,200 percent, and in the Northwest by nearly 5,000 percent.

The only forest area where we could not robustly detect an increase in large fires and burned area was in coastal southern California. There, the largest fires are human-ignited, take place in the fall (driven by Santa Ana winds) and burn primarily in chaparral or shrubland. The small number of forest fires in southern California, combined with high variability from year to year, meant we could not detect trends there, nor attribute them to specific causes.

At the same time, the number of large fires in the West and the area they affect have been increasing in drier, lower elevation grass and shrublands, although to a much lesser extent. For example, the area burned in nonforest vegetation in lands managed by several federal agencies (the Forest Service, Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs) has been increasing about 65 percent per decade as compared to the 1970s average, for the past three decades.

Longer seasons

The sharp increase in the amount of land being burned in recent decades across all vegetation types is not just due to more wildfires.

In fact, the total number of reported wildfire ignitions does not appear to have gone up. However, the number of large (greater than 1,000 acres or 400 hectares) wildfires has been growing since the 1980s, and the area burned in these fires has grown even more. Wildfires, in other words, are growing in size.

The length of the fire season has also grown throughout the last four decades, with large fires igniting earlier in the spring and later in the autumn than previously, and burning for longer. In the period between 2003 and 2012, the average burn time for individual fires was 52 days. In the 1973-1982 period, it was just six days.

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . .

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Massive protests over labor law sweep France


We begin with a video report from euronews:

France: Strike raises stakes in showdown over labour reforms

Program notes:

With pumps at more than 4,000 petrol stations in France now partially or fully dry, the showdown between the government and the hardline CGT union over contested labour reforms intensified on Thursday.

Nationwide blockades and rallies, travel disruption and a strike at the country’s nuclear power plants are putting more pressure on Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls who insists the law won’t be withdrawn.

From Sputnik, raw footage of confrontations today in Paris between activists and police:

French Protest Against Labor Reform

Program notes:

France’s trade unions took to the streets of Paris once again to voice their opposition to French labor reform. Almost 19,000 French nationals have participated in a nationwide rally in Paris. The protest turned violent as police clashed with mask-wearing young demonstrators.

The reason for the massive action is a set of labor “reforms” imposed by the socialist-in-name-only government of French President François Hollande

BBC News summarizes the main point of the government’s new rules:

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

The Deutsche Presse-Agentur covers the government’s response to the strike:

[Prime Minister Manuel] Valls said there could be some changes to labour legislation, which is aimed at easing employment regulations on issues such as dismissal practices and negotiating rules. But he rejected the possibility of entirely withdrawing the reforms as national strikes drew out fuel blockages and disrupted traffic across France.

“I am always open when some aspect should be improved, but on the main lines of the text, particularly article 2, there is no question of touching it,” said Valls on broadcaster BFM-TV. “We cannot cede to a desire to make the government fold by blocking the economy.”

Article 2 of the legislation changes the labour code to give working hours agreements at company-level greater clout than those made by unions at industry-level.

French President Francois Hollande, in Japan for the G7 summit, was quoted by French media voicing his support for Valls’ position.

Members of the umbrella CGT union, one of the seven unions that called for the nationwide strike, have called for a complete withdrawal of the legislation. Secretary General Philippe Martinez called for Hollande to live up to promises he made while a candidate.

From France 24, an interview with a representative of the union organizing the massive job action:

France Labour Law strike chaos: “We want more social rights for the workers”

Program note:

Benjamin Amar, member of the General Confederation of Labour, CGT – Val de Marne, came to the studio to explain his organization reaction while the strikes and demonstrations continue in the country.

Lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading