Category Archives: Wealth

Map of the day: Western Hemisphere happiness


From Views of the World, the always informative blog of British geographer Benjamin Henning, a look at how the nations of the Western Hemisphere fare on the Happy Planet Index [click on the image to enlarge]:

From the blog post, where you can find the full map, which is based on a remapping of the world to show the nations resized to match their relative populations:

March, 20th is the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, recognising ‘the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world’. Bhutan is credited as the first country to have implemented the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an official measure for the state of a nation, introduced in 1972. After the global financial crash in 2008, ideas about giving the ‘spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of [people] and natural environment’ more prominence over mere economic development are reflected more and more in international efforts towards a sustainable future.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI), developed by the New Economics Foundation, takes a rather radical approach on this issue. It aims to measure well-being and happiness by taking a universal and long-term approach to understanding, how efficiently people in a country are using their environmental resources to live long and happy lives.

This cartogram maps the results of the 2016 Happy Planet Index from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram shows the world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score:

The indicators that are used for calculating the HPI score cover life-satisfaction, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and the ecological footprint. As argued in the report, ‘GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country.’ This explains why consumption patterns are seen as more important for well-being than production. It also acknowledges that inequalities in well-being and life expectancy are important factors in the overall happiness of the population in a country.

When taking these notions into account, the rich industrialised countries score much worse in achieving sustainable well-being for all. Of the 140 countries included in the HPI, Luxembourg is the most extreme example for a wealthy nation scoring very badly – it does well on life expectancy and well-being, and also has low inequality, but sustains this lifestyle with the largest ecological footprint per capita of any country in the world. It would require more than nine planets to sustain this way of life if every person on Earth lived the same way, showing that the standard of living comes at a high cost to the environment.

Among the positive stories is Costa Rica, which is also highlighted on the map. The country has persistently scored highest in all HPI releases (the 2016 edition is the third, after 2009 and 2012). More of a surprise might be the high score for Mexico (second), which is credited to massive efforts at improving health and environmental sustainability. Despite challenges with tackling inequality, well-being is perceived higher than in the wealthier northern neighbour, the United States. Quite a few Central and South American nations, as well as some Asian and Pacific countries do better than many wealthy nations. However, the African continent shows that at the bottom end extreme poverty can be a limiting factor in achieving sustainable well-being.

Headline of the day: The want freedom. . .to die


Yep the Koch brothers’ pals in Congress really do want to kill the poor, and the quickest way to do that is cut them off from things like emergency rooms and maternity care.

From the New York Times:

Consensus Eludes G.O.P. With Health Vote Looming

  • The hard-line Freedom Caucus met with President Trump but failed to reach a consensus on changes to the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  • They are pressing to eliminate federal requirements that health insurance plans provide basic benefits like maternity care, emergency services and wellness visits.

UPDATE: But it’s even worse. . .

More on what the Zealots want to cut from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

House Republicans, looking for a deal to secure their health care legislation, may scrap one of the Affordable Care Act’s most important consumer protections: requiring individual health insurers to cover ten essential health benefits.

The benefits are:

  • Pediatric services, including oral and dental care
  • Pregnancy, maternity and newborn care
  • Outpatient care
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Prescription drugs
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Laboratory services
  • Rehabilitative services
  • Prevention services and chronic disease management

Without the mandatory coverage of essential benefits, the health law’s limits on out-of-pocket spending would be “essentially meaningless” because it applies only to those essential services, according to a blog post on Thursday by Timothy Jost, an Emeritus law professor at Washington and Lee University.

The health law’s ban on annual and lifetime coverage limits also applies only to essential benefits, meaning they too would be eliminated under the still-evolving GOP bill.

Abby Martin dissects Steve Bannon: It ain’t pretty


There’s little doubt that Steve Bannon is the brains behind President Pussygrabber.

And if Donald Trump is an infantile personality, easily distracted by the latest shiny thing to enter his field of vision, Steve Bannon is another breed of cat altogether, a man with a plan.

And what Bannon plans, Martin shows in this edition of The Empire Files, is a return to the 1950s, when the white man’s word was law, both on the street and in the home, and women, minorities, and others not gifted with testicles and melanin deficiencies could be expected to know their places.

Oh, and he also wants a war with China.

Corrupt, cunning, and vicious, Bannon has fueled the rise of a reign of misfits, and we’ve only seen the beginning.

From teleSUR English:

Empire Files: Abby Martin Exposes Steve Bannon

Program notes:

Steve Bannon has been propelled over the last year from fringe media outlier to top propagandist of the U.S. Empire as Trump’s Chief Strategist.

From his Wall Street roots and apocalyptic film career to his cultivation of alt-right bigots at Breitbart News, Abby Martin exposes Bannon’s true character in this explosive documentary.

Dissection of Bannon’s ideology of “economic nationalism” and desire to “Make America Great Again” reveals the danger of his hand in Trump’s agenda.

Quote of the day: The secret of Trump’s budget


From Michael Paarlberg, lecturer in government at Georgetown University, writing in the Guardian:

Trump’s budget isn’t about saving money – he’s said so himself, that military spending is “more important” than a balanced budget. And it isn’t about rebuilding a “depleted” military for a country that already spends more on defense than the next twelve countries combined. Trump’s plan is about catering to his base. Not the fabled white working class, who will soon lose their WIC, heating subsidies, and job training. No, his real base, those golfing buddies and board members at companies like Lockheed, who want lower taxes and access to the government spigot, and want poor people to pay for it all.

It’s also about disciplining the deep state. Notably, the agencies facing the sharpest cuts are not the most expensive but those Trump has suspected of disloyalty: the EPA, state department and the USDA, all of which Trump’s transition team sought to muzzle and requested lists of names of employees working on programs he opposes.

Taken as a whole, Trump’s proposal points to an increasingly paranoid strongman who sees budgets as tools to reward friends and punish enemies, the military as a personal ornament, and poor Americans as piggy banks for his boondoggles and vanity projects.

Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.

Quote of the day: Bernie Sanders on Trump


From and extended interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Guardian:

The bad news, the very bad news is that we have a president who is a pathological liar. I say that not in a partisan way because I have many conservative friends who I disagree with on every issue who are not liars, they believe what they believe. But Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that.

He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy. One of the concerns that I have is not just his reactionary economic program of tax breaks to billionaires and devastating cuts to programs that impact the middle class, working families, lower-income people, children, the elderly, the poor, but also his efforts to undermine American democracy in the sense of making wild attacks against the media, that virtually everything that mainstream media says is a lie. And we have reached the stage where a United States congressman named Lamar Smith from Texas – and I’m paraphrasing him but you can look up the quote – said ‘Well, if you want to know the truth the only way you can really get the truth in America is directly from the president.”

And you have a president who has called a judge nominated by George W Bush a “so-called” judge because he issued an opinion differing with the president. He has come up with wild accusations about three to five million illegal people voting in the election which is an attack on every election official in the United States of America and basically suggesting to the American people that the elections do not reflect reality, that the elections are fraudulent.

So what you have is a president who says that what you read and see is fraudulent, that judges are not real judges if they offer an opinion different than him, and that elections are not based on real vote counts but are also fraudulent. You have all that and more going on, which leads to only one conclusion: and that is that the only person in America who stands for the American people, the only person in America who is telling the truth, the only person in America who gets it right is the President of the United States, Donald Trump. And that is unprecedented in American history.

If Trump’s a fascist, he’s a different sort


Mike Davis is one of our favorite authors, a self-described environmental Marxist, an activist, a MacArthur fellow, and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.

We’ve read many if not most of his books, valuing them for his perceptive analysis of the modern condition.

In The Great God Trump and the White Working Class, an essay posted at Jacobin, he raises the question on many minds these days: Is Donald Trump a fascist?

In it he evokes a comparison with another American demagogue, the late Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long, The Kingfish, a populist of a very different sort than Agent Orange:

“Huey Long, had he lived,” wrote John Gunther in Inside U.S.A. in 1947, “might very well have brought Fascism to America.” Is Trump giving good ole’boy fascism a second chance?

Like Gunther’s Long, he’s also “an engaging monster,” as well as “a lying demagogue, a prodigious self-seeker, vulgar, loose a master of political abuse.” Likewise he has

made every promise to the underpossessed,” appearing “a savior, a disinterested messiah.

But the great Kingfish actually made good on most of his pledges to the plain folk of Louisiana. He did bring them “cargo” in the form of public services and entitlements. He built hospitals and public housing, abolished the poll tax, and made textbooks free. Trump and his billionaire cabinet, on the other hand, are more likely to reduce access to health care, increase voter suppression, and privatize public education. “Fascism,” if that’s our future lot, will not “come in disguised as socialism,” as Gunther predicted (and Sinclair Lewis before him), but as a neo-Roman orgy of greed.