Friday, August 30, 2013

1142. New Census Numbers Show Recession Effects on Families


By Sam Roberts, The New YorkTimes, August 27, 2013


The portion of American households made up of married couples with children under 18 fell to 20 percent from 40 percent from 1970 to 2012, the Census Bureau said Tuesday as it detailed other fundamental changes in family life.

The share of people living alone, meanwhile, rose 10 percentage points, to 27 percent.
The analysis also found that the recession profoundly affected American families from 2005 to 2011, resulting in a 15 percent decline in homeownership among households with children and a 33 percent increase in households where at least one parent was unemployed.
The recession also saw more mothers enter the work force and an increasing dependence on food stamps.
The number of households with an unemployed parent soared by 148 percent in Nevada and by more than 50 percent in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey and North Carolina in those years.
“During the recession, economic well-being worsened for families with children,” said Jamie Lewis, a demographer in the bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch who helped write the analysis. “Even after the recession officially ended in 2009, these measures remained worse than before it began.”
The severity of the decline often depended on whether the parents were married. Nine percent of married families were living below the poverty line and receiving food stamps. The proportion among single-mother households was four times greater.
In another shift that might be recession related, a higher percentage of adults ages 25 to 34 lived in their parents’ home in 2012 than in the early 2000s. The share among men increased to 16 percent from 13 percent; among women, it rose to 10 percent from 8 percent.
Among people 18 to 24, women were more likely to be living with a spouse or an unmarried partner. Eleven percent of women and 6 percent of men in that age group were married; another 12 percent of women and 8 percent of men were cohabiting.
Of the nation’s 115 million households, 56 million were married couples and 32 million were people living alone (12 million of whom were 65 or older). Married couples made up 48.6 percent of households, compared with barely short of 50 percent as recently as 2010.
The analysis, drawn from the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey, found the proportion of women ages 65 to 74 living alone had halved, though only 45 percent of women in that age group lived with their spouse, compared with 72 percent of men.
Divorce rates may have been accountable for a sharp rise in the share of men ages 15 to 64 living alone, to 34 percent, from 23 percent in 1970.
The census found stark differences in family structure by race and ethnicity. Married couples made up 81 percent of Asian, 80 percent of non-Hispanic white, 62 percent of Hispanic and 44 percent of black family groups.
Twenty-eight percent of children over all live with one parent — 55 percent of black children, 31 percent of Hispanic, 21 percent of white and 13 percent of Asian. Still, 64 percent of all 74 million children lived with married parents — a decline from 69 percent just a decade ago.
“Over the last half-century, the trend in the U.S. has been toward smaller households, fewer family and married-couple households with children, and more people living alone,” said Jonathan Vespa, another co-author of the report. “Many of these trends reflect a rising age at first marriage and older adults who can live in their own home for longer.”
“A family postponed is not necessarily a family forgone,” he said.
Sixty-six percent of households in 2012 were family households — two or more people related by birth, marriage or adoption — compared with 81 percent in 1970. Among cohabiting couples with children, 51 percent lived only with the biological children of both partners.
The census survey found 605,000 same-sex couple households, married and unmarried, of whom 321,000 were female and 284,000 were male. Same-sex couples were more likely than opposite-sex married couples to both be college graduates (31 percent) and more likely to be of different races (12 percent).

1141. Cuba’s “All-Terrain” Doctors Arrive in Brazil


By Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times, August 28, 2013
Cuban medical brigades work in 58 countries. Photo: Raquel Perez
This past weekend, Brazil welcomed the first 400 of a contingent of 4,000 Cuban medical doctors, hired to provide health services to populations living in the remotest and poorest areas of the Latin American giant.
Brazil’s doctors association opposes the measure, but the administration of Dilma Rouseff considers it a matter of public interest and a social issue of the highest priority.
Sectors of the country’s opposition accuse Brasilia and Havana of subjecting Cuban doctors to “slave labor”, pointing to the fact the Cuban government takes a considerable part of their earnings.
In any event, a number of volunteers have reported that salaries will be higher than in other missions. It is said they will be around US $1,600 a month, a considerable sum of money in a country where meeting a family’s basic needs is estimated at US $100.
The claim that these contracts subject Cuban health professionals to slave-like work conditions will be difficult to defend indeed, considering that the entire operation has been approved by the UN’s Pan-American Health Organization and the fact that, since January of this year, Cuba has been allowing medical doctors to travel abroad with their families and to work in whatever clinic they choose.
Brazil’s Federal Medical Council declared that the arrival of Cuba’s medical brigades “exposes the health of the population to danger.” However, a mere thousand of Brazil’s medical professionals agreed to work in some of the hundreds of rural areas that have never seen a doctor. To claim that the sick people living in these regions would be better off without medical services than under the care of Cuba’s physicians seems like an absurd thing to say.
Brazil’s association of medical doctors affirms that their colleagues from the island lack the needed training. However, Cuba’s medical brigade is made up of “all-roaders” willing to settle in the most inhospitable areas, capable of working with a minimum of resources, trained to organize preventive health campaigns and very experienced in clinical diagnoses – an indispensable skill in places lacking in equipment and laboratories.
Different medical associations around Latin America began to object to these contracts as soon as Cuba got in the way of their corporate interests by sending its first health brigades to a number of countries in the region.
Tensions were exacerbated by the creation of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), an institution which provides free medical training to thousands of young people from the region, so they may return to their communities as fully qualified professionals.
Every year, thousands of young people graduate from Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine and return to their countries as fully-trained medical professionals. Photo: Raquel Perez
Operacion Milagro (“Operation Miracle”), which gave thousands of people in the region back their sight without charging them a cent and thus deprived ophthalmologists, who charged US $2,000 for a 15-minute surgical procedure, of a pretty penny, caused similar tensions.
In many countries around the region, medical associations go out of their way to prevent those who graduate from Cuban medical schools from validating their degrees. Little by little, however, they have had to step aside. During his visit to Cuba, Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica told us that most Cuban medical degrees are already recognized in his country. There is still some resistance in a number of specialties, the ones in which doctors make the most money (the most expensive for patients), he added somewhat bitterly.
Brazil’s medical associations and opposition accuse President Rouseff of hiring Cuban medical brigades because of ideological reasons. The Ministry of Health replies that most of the island’s health professionals will work in Brazil’s north and north-eastern regions, precisely in those places where no Brazilian or foreign doctors who qualified to take part in the program were willing to practice, despite salaries offered of around US $13,500 a month.
In fact, beyond any possible political sympathies, the Brazilian government really had no choice – its plans of extending medical coverage to all corners of the country require 54 thousand doctors. This week, Brazil welcomed 244 professionals from Portugal, Spain, Argentina and Uruguay, but these opted to work only in cities.
Cuba is the only country capable of providing Brazil, with very short notice, a contingent of thousands of medical doctors willing to work in the neediest areas. This is a luxury it can afford because it has nearly 80 doctors – one per every 150 inhabitants, the highest ratio is the world.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1140. Extreme Weather, More Extreme Greenhouse Gas Emissions Beckon Urgent Activism


By Patrick Bond, Links, August 28, 2013
Melting ice sheet


The northern hemisphere summer has just peaked and though the torrid heat is now ebbing, it is evident the climate crisis is far more severe than most scientists had anticipated. The latest report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a notoriously conservative research agency – will be debated in Stockholm next month, but no one can deny its projections: “widespread melting of land ice, extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinctions.”

Even worse is coming, for a giant Arctic Ocean "belch" of 50 billion tonnes of methane is inexorably escaping from seabed permafrost, according to scientists writing in the journal Nature. North Pole ice is now, at maximum summer heat, only 40 per cent as thick as it was just 40 years ago, a crisis only partially represented in the vivid image of a temporary "lake" that submerged the pole area last month.

The damage that will unfold after the burp, according to leading researchers from Cambridge and Erasmus Universities, could cost $60 trillion, about a year’s world economic output. Global warming will speed up by 15-35 years as a result.
With these revelations, it is impossible to mask the self-destructive greed of fossil-fuel firms and their carbon-addicted customers. The ruling crew in the United States, Russia and Canada will enthusiastically let oil companies exploit the soon-to-be ice-free Arctic summers with intensified drilling, joined by unprecedented bunker-fuel-burning in the newly opening shipping lanes.

Heat blowback in the US, China and Durban
But the extreme weather that necessarily results has just hit China, whose world-record CO2 emissions – mainly a result of producing junk purchased by wealthier countries which have outsourced their industrial emissions to East Asia – generate as a byproduct not only thick layers of smog in the main cities. There were also scores of heat-related deaths earlier this month. Shanghai suffered 10 straight days above 38C, with temperatures in some places high enough to use a sidewalk to fry eggs and prawns.

In the second-biggest greenhouse gas emitter (and biggest historically), the western United States is suffering a brutal drought, so severe that 86 per cent of New Mexico’s water supply evaporated, extreme wildfires broke out – this week, for example, scorching Yosemite Park’s legendary redwoods and threatening San Francisco’s water supply – while California’s Death Valley temperatures soared to 50C.

The effects are highly uneven, with environmental-justice research now proving that as climate change hits US cities, the wealthy turn up the air conditioner while the poor – and especially black and Latino people – suffer in "heat islands". Likewise, poor people in the Himalayan mountains died in their thousands as a result of last month’s floods.

In Alaska, a source of enormous oil extraction, record temperatures in the 30s left thousands of fish dead. The effect of global warming on the oceans is to push marine life towards the poles by seven kilometres each year, as numerous species attempt to find cooler waters.

The impact here in South Africa, from East London to Durban, was a disaster for the local fishing industry last month, as billions of sardines which annually swim to shore stayed away due to warmer waters.

Can shipping survive the climate chaos it causes?
And here along the Indian Ocean, more local climate damage comes from – and is also visited upon – the shipping industry. In the world’s largest coal export site, South Africa’s Richards Bay harbour, an idiot captain of the China-bound MV Smart (sic) tried to exit the port in 10-metre swells on August 20 with a load of nearly 150,000 tonnes of coal and 1700 tonnes of oil. He promptly split the huge ship in half on a sandbank.

This followed by hours the strategic offshore sinking of a Nigeria-bound cargo ship, Kiani Satu, which had run aground a week earlier, further down the coast, close to a nature reserve and marine protected area. As plans were made to extract 300 tonnes of oil from the boat, more than 15 tonnes spilled, requiring the cleaning of more than 200 oil-coated seabirds.

The maniacs whose ships now rest at the bottom of the Indian Ocean can identify with the fly-by-night owners of the MT Phoenix, after that ship’s willful self-destruction off the Durban north coast holiday resorts exactly two years ago. Taxpayers spent $4 million pumping out 400 tonnes of oil and then towing the Phoenix out deeper to sink. A few weeks ago, that salvage operation’s contested audit resulted in the implosion of the South African Maritime Safety Authority.

These are just some surface-level indications that our shipping industry is utterly ill prepared for the rise of both overall sea levels and the "monster waves" which accompany climate change. The Columbia University Earth Institute now projects “sea-level rise of as much as six feet globally instead of two to three feet” by 2100, with higher amounts (three metres) possible if further ice sheets crack from their foundations.

As Susan Casey, wrote in her book, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, “Given that 60 per cent of the world’s population lives within 30 miles of a coastline, wave science is suddenly vital science, and the experts are keenly aware that there are levees, oil rigs, shorelines, ships and millions of lives at stake.”

Her experts need to visit South Africa, because ours are apparently asleep at the wheel, as they now plan an extreme makeover of Durban’s harbour. The shipping mania that made China such a successful exporter – and wiped out so much of South Africa’s manufacturing industry – has generated vessels that can carry more than 10,000 containers (which in turn require 5800 trucks to unload), known as "super post-Panamax". They are so named because the Panama Canal’s current limits allow only half that load, hence a $5.25 billion dig will deepen and widen the canal by 2015, with a $40 billion Chinese-funded competitor canal being considered in nearby Nicaragua.

Most ports around the world are following suit, including here where $25 billion is anticipated from national, provincial and municipal subsidies and loans for South Durban’s port/petrochemical complex – the origin of our status as the most polluted African suburb south of Nigeria. The project is mainly managed by Transnet, a huge (but hot-to-privatise) transport state-owned agency, and is the second main priority in the the African National Congress government's National Development Plan, which claims that from handling 2.5 million containers in 2012, Durban’s productivity will soar to 20 million containers annually by 2040 – though these figures certainly don’t jell with the industry’s much more conservative projections of demand.

More examples of state planning hubris: Transnet’s $2.3 billion doubling of the Durban-Johannesburg oil pipeline is still not complete, but already massive corruption is suspected in the collusion-suffused construction industry, given that early costings were half the price. And notwithstanding their "aerotropolis" fantasies, Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and the speedy Johannesburg-Pretoria-airport Gautrain are both operating at a tiny fraction of the capacity that had been anticipated by state planners. The 2010 Soccer World Cup sports stadiums are such blatant white elephants that even arrogant local soccer boss Danny Jordaan felt compelled to apologise.

Climate denialists from Durban to Deutschland
One reason they breed is that climate is not being factored into any of these carbon-intensive white elephants, as I have learned by fruitlessly offering formal Environmental Impact Analysis objections. As a result of a critique I offered last November, Transnet’s consultants finally considered prospects that sea-level rise and intense storms might disrupt the Durban port’s new berth expansion.

But Transnet’s study on sea-level rise by Christopher Everatt and John Zietsman of ZAA Engineering Projects in Cape Town is as climate-denialist as the consultancy report last year by the South African Council on Scientific and Industrial Research’s Roy Van Ballegooyen. I do understand that – like the dreaded AIDS-denialism of a decade ago – the allegation of climate-denialism is a strong insult these days. But what else would you call a November 2012 report (mainly by Everatt) that cites five studies to claim we will suffer only a maximum 0.6 metre maximum sea-level rise this century, but based on data from 1997, 2004, 2006 and 2008 reports. Five years old information is, in this field, ridiculously outdated.

In South Africa, de facto climate denialists are now led by a South African Communist Party leader: minister of trade and industry Rob Davies. Last week, Davies pushed through cabinet approval to build yet another coal-fired power plant plus permission to frack the extremely water-sensitive Karoo, “Land of the Great Thirst” in the original inhabitants’ San language.

Awful precedents Davies tactfully avoided mentioning include the massive environmental damage and the corruption, labour-relations and socio-ecological crises at South Africa’s main coal-fired powerplant construction site, Eskom’s $10 billion Medupi generator which at 4800 megawatts will be the world’s third largest. Medupi was meant to be generating power in 2011, but due to ongoing conflict, may finally be finished only in mid-2014.
Eskom’s main beneficiary, also unmentioned by Davies, is BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining house, a firm at the centre of South Africa’s crony-capitalist nexus dating to apartheid days. Eskom now subsidises this Australian company with $1.1 billion annually by gifting it the world’s cheapest electricity.

Another de facto climate denialist is the German development aid minister, Dirk Niebel, an opponent of Ecuadoran civil society’s plan to save the Yasuni National Park from oil exploitation. According to Niebel, “Refraining from oil drilling alone is not going to help in forest preservation.” Of course not, but it could have been a vital step for Germany to make a downpayment on its huge climate debt to the victims of extreme weather.

The Yasuni campaign to “leave the oil under the soil” is excellent, and while there, deep in the Amazon on the Peruvian border two years ago, I witnessed the Oilwatch network mobilising to expand the idea (even to Durban where oil prospecting recently began offshore). Oilwatch generated a "Yasunization" strategy for other fossil fuels, also promoted by the Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade scholar-activist network based in Barcelona. Network leaders Joan Martinez-Alier and Nnimmo Bassey are also heartbroken at Yasuni’s apparent demise.

The government of Rafael Correa – trained in the US as an economist – always had the intention to sell Yasuni into the global carbon markets, a self-defeating strategy given the markets’ tendency to both fraud and regular crashing; carbon prices today only about a quarter of what they were two years ago.

So now, because the erratic Correa doesn’t have his hands on the cash yet, in part because he failed to address world civil society to put pressure on governments, Ecuador’s PetroAmazonas and China’s PetroOriental will go ahead and drill. A fresh campaign has been launched to halt the extraction, starting with one letter after another from Accion Ecologica, the eco-feminist lobby that initiated the project, joined by the eloquent leader of the Confederaci√≥n de Nacionalidades Ind√≠genas del Ecuador, Carlos Perez Guartambel.

Climate activist counter-power gathers
Yasuni is a critical place to draw the line, for it is probably the world’s most biodiverse site. But there are other vulnerable points of counter-power, too, as across the world, many more defenders of nature come forward against rapacious fossil-fuel industry attacks.
South Africa has not been particularly climate-conscious, because the thousands of recent social protests are mainly directed against a state and capitalists which deny immediate needs, from municipal services to wages. Still, in Johannesburg, the Anglo American Corporation and Vedanta coal-fired power plant witnessed a protest of 1000 community and environmental activists last month.

Surprisingly, a Pew Research Centre poll found that 48 per cent of South Africans worry "global climate change" is a "major threat", followed by "China’s power and influence" (40 per cent) and "international financial instability" (34 per cent). Across the world, 54 per cent of people Pew asked cited climate change as a major threat, the highest of any answer (in second place, 52 per cent said "international financial stability"). Only 40 per cent of the US populace agreed, putting it at seventh place.

Yet even in the belly of the beast, more people seem to be mobilising, and there are growing connectivities in the spirit that what happens in Yasuni is terribly important to the First Nations activists of western Canada (one of the finest blog sites to make these links is http://climate-connections.org/).

For example, fossil fuel projects have been fought hard in recent weeks by forces as diverse as Idaho’s Nez Perce Native Americans, Idle No More and Wild Idaho Rising Tide; by Nebraska farmers; by activists from the filthy oil city of Houston who are contesting a new coal terminal; and in Utah where not only have conservationists sued to halt drilling of an 800,000-acre tar sands field stretching into Colorado and Wyoming, but 50 activists physically blocked tar sand mining and construction at two sites last month.

350.org’s Bill McKibben recently mentioned the "Summerheat" rebirth of US climate activism, “from the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, where a tar-sands pipeline is proposed, to the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington, where a big oil port is planned, from Utah’s Colorado Plateau, where the first US tar-sands mine has been proposed, to the coal-fired power plant at Brayton Point on the Massachusetts coast and the fracking wells of rural Ohio”.

The growing movement has had results, says McKibben, in part through civil disobedience: “In the last few years, it has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of US institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas.”

This is encouraging partly because summertime is a lull when it comes to challenging power in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, our political winter was mostly spent wondering whether the crucial Congress of South African Trade Unions would remain aligned to the government or split in half. The more enlightened wing would logically move towards environmental, community and social struggles, leaving behind the likes of Rob Davies, just as US progressives (should) have shed any last illusions about slick Barack Obama.

But not far from Durban, 100 years ago next month, Mahatma Gandhi began preparing a non-violent mass assault on a white-owned coal mine in support of both Indian women’s right to cross a regional border and workers’ wage demands. The idea known as satyagraha (truth force) went from theory to practice, as militant passive defiance gained concessions that, 80 years later, helped free South Africa from apartheid. This time, there’s no 80-year window; we all have to rise to the challenge as fast as do the thermometer and the greenhouse gas emissions.

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society and authored Politics of Climate Justice (UKZN Press, 2012).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

1139. Two Different Demographic Crises: Some Reflections

By Saral Sarkar, August 26, 2013

The New York Times article "Germany: Too Few People?" by Daley and Kulish. August 8, 2013, evoked in my mind several thoughts and old memories:

One of the most serious problems of the life of humankind on the earth, the population problem, is also the easiest to understand. The first time I became aware of the problem of exponential population growth I was just about nine years old. It occurred to me that my parents were just two persons. Then they produced six children, and in twelve years our family became 8 persons strong. I thought it cannot go on like this. After all, my father’s income was limited. I expressed my worry to my brother, who was only a year and a half older than I. He said I was talking nonsense. We were standing on the banks of a pond when I started the conversation.”Look at the pond”, my brother said, “when it rains, hundreds of thousands of raindrops fall in it. What happens? Nothing.” He was right, I thought, although I was not quite satisfied.

I could not pursue the topic then. But I never forgot this conversation. Later, as a grown up person going to college, I came to learn about the population theory of Malthus. Our lecturer in political economy criticized it: A human being, we were told, is not born only with a stomach, he is also born with two hands. He can produce the things he needs. 

In retrospect, I think my ten and a half years old brother had actually understood the problem better than our college lecturer. It is true, in a pond in Bengal nothing ever happens that is special. In the summer months the water level sinks due to evaporation. But in the following rainy season a lot of water falls into it from the sky. The pond is again full. There is always water in it. My brother had intuitively understood the principle of steady state, of a dynamic, i.e. cyclical, steady state. 

In contrast, the picture of a human born with two hands made me remember a frightening but happy-end fairy tale I had read in my childhood: A demon had descended upon a village and he said he would destroy everything. The villagers despaired. Then a little girl went to the demon and beseeched him to spare whatever was still standing. The demon said, he would accede to her request, but only under one condition, namely, the girl must continuously give him enough work to do. Otherwise he must resume destroying things, because he cannot stop working. The deal was done. The demon stopped destroying and the girl gave him one meaningful work after another: build a good house for every family in the village, build a good school building, build a good road, build good furniture for everybody etc. etc. etc. The demon did everything. But soon the girl ran out of good ideas. The danger loomed that the demon would again begin destroying. Then the girl hit upon an idea. She gave the demon one of her curly hairs and asked him to straighten it. The demon said that was too little work for him. But the girl insisted. The demon began his work. He pulled it and pressed it between his fingers again and again, but to no avail. The hair won’t get straightened. The demon was thus kept working for ever. The village was saved.

The problem of this fairy tale village is very much like the problem of today’s German economy. My childhood worry about the growth of our family was a miniature replica of today’s worry about the growing world population. And with his picture of the pond where nothing really changes except the water level my brother anticipated the steady state ideal of ecologists. Only, 68 years ago, my brother did not know, nor did I, that there were things like torrential rain followed by devastating floods and years-long drought due to meager rainfall.

Over the decades, Germany’s accumulated industrial capital has assumed a demonic size. The demon wants to work continuously, do something – constructive or destructive, does not matter. It does not matter whether a house is built or demolished, the companies doing the work make profit. The most unbearable thing is machines lying idle. But this demon still needs laborers – despite all progress in labor productivity. And here a serious, frightening problem has come up: German women are producing too few children. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s laborers.

It is a demographic crisis of a sort that is difficult for most people to understand. Haven’t we been hearing for several decades now that the world is overpopulated? Haven’t the governments in many countries been trying to reduce the rate of births? Hasn’t the first report to the Club of Rome (1972) warned us of the unwelcome consequences of welcoming the birth of many children?

If it were just a problem of finding laborers, that would be very easy to solve. Laborers can be imported from many countries where there is an excess of young people crying for jobs. In fact, in the 1960s, Germany and most other industrialized countries of Europe solved their problem of labor shortage in this way. But they soon realized to their dismay that the easy solution they had found had a sour note. They wanted to import laborers, but human beings came. Human beings can supply labor, but they can also be a nuisance. The imported laborers soon settled down where their newly found good jobs were; later, their wives and children followed; they married and produced children. The governments and the native people of the host countries (most of them, at any rate) did not like this development. They would have liked an arrangement  in which the imported laborers would work for nine months and then go home for three months and come again for nine months and so on. In the beginning that was the arrangement in Switzerland. But the bosses of the economy did not like this arrangement. And of course, their wish prevailed. Soon there were too many of these immigrants.

When, in the mid 1970s, a recession set in in the industrialized countries of Europe, the governments of the host countries tried to get rid of as many of the immigrant laborers as possible. In West Germany, where the great majority of the immigrant laborers were Turks, Chancellor Kohl offered them a premium for leaving Germany of their own accord. But to no avail. 

What troubled the Christian European countries most was that the immigrant laborers were mostly Muslims. When Kohl made his above mentioned offer in the early 1980s, he said in a conversation with Margaret Thatcher, the reason for his initiative was that the Turks had a very different culture, that it was so very difficult to integrate them. 

Already in the early 1980s, I could observe xenophobia in Germany. One could read graffiti like “Turks go home”. Black and brown people were often attacked on the streets. There were two cases of arson of houses inhabited by Turks. Several persons were killed in these events. In the 1990s Neo-Nazis attacked foreigners from all poor countries including those coming from Poland. Their slogan: “Germany for Germans, foreigners get out”. Similar xenophobic incidents have been taking place in almost all European countries. There is a fear in some countries, e.g. in Belgium and the Netherlands, that the locals will soon become a minority in their own country. Asylum laws have been tightened. The situation became worse after 9/11.

The point I want to make here is that Germany’s labor shortage problem cannot any more be solved easily by importing foreign laborers from poor countries. The government is willing to allow highly skilled ones to immigrate, for a limited period. But the hundreds of thousands of young and unskilled foreigners who want to come here (or to some other rich European country) to work and earn money are neither getting a visa nor asylum. There is firstly the fear of the country being swamped with foreigners. Secondly, there is also the fear of trouble from xenophobic mobs.

For the leaders of Germany, there are only three possible solutions to this urgent problem: (1) let all the unemployed people of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Eastern Europe work in Germany, which is already largely possible under the terms of the EU treaties; (2) somehow motivate German women to produce more children; (3) accept a stagnating economy.

The first solution requires one to assume that the said countries will never recover from recession and stagnation, that they would not need the labor of about half of their young population in future. Given the prevailing economic ideology, that is difficult to assume. Moreover, the German economy simply cannot offer opportunities to so many unemployed and unskilled Southern and Eastern Europeans. Of course, many middle-aged women from Eastern Europe are working in Germany as unskilled low-wage nurses caring for the growing number of highly aged Germans. But soon the Eastern European populations will also be aging. In this context, Daley and Kulish mention Latvia and Bulgaria, the populations of which are diminishing faster than that of Germany. As for energetic young people, already now, many Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians with qualification, skill and entrepreneurial ability needed for working in modern industries are feeling compelled to migrate or migrate back to the Latin American countries; the Portuguese even to Angola and Mozambique. The rest without sufficient qualification or skill would rather live off their national welfare benefits and reside in Hotel Mama than try their luck in Germany. For even German workers at comparable rungs of the labor hierarchy-ladder cannot live off the low wages they get and hence have to apply for supplementary welfare benefits. 

The second solution has little chance of success. Modernity and emancipation have had the effect of reducing the desire to have children. Also the prevailing neoliberal capitalism makes it hard to combine motherhood with a fulltime job, because it severely saps the energy of all workers, especially women workers. And many of those women who want to have a child simply cannot find a man willing to start a family with them. Total lack of job security simply discourages men from bearing responsibility. In comparison to the rest of Europe stuck in an endless economic crisis, Germany is an island of prosperity and low unemployment. One can therefore imagine how difficult it is in the other countries to decide to start a family with a plan to have two children. 

The third solution, accepting a stagnating economy, is an anathema to most people – not only in Germany, but in the whole world. Unfortunately for such people, however, that is the only realistic, I even think inevitable, solution to the demographic crisis of the sort we are here talking about. In rich developed countries, where the demographic transition has already taken place – in Germany it was in 1972 –, it is not likely that the population will grow again. Statistics quoted by Daley and Kulish show that it is shrinking and will shrink further, while it would simultaneously be aging. It may at the most be kept from shrinking – through desired and/or undesired immigration from countries suffering from overpopulation. But given the fear of being swamped by poor black, brown and yellow foreigners, given the fear of the country losing its white Christian identity, more rigorous laws and rules will be put into effect for preventing immigration. 

It is convincing to argue that for the rich industrialized countries a stagnating economy – better still, a shrinking economy – is a good solution to their demographic crisis because it also constitutes a contribution to solving the world’s ecological and resource crises. So, downscale the economy deliberately (if it is not being downscaled by the current economic crisis) in order to adjust it to the demographic reality. The white European peoples experiencing the demographic crisis will not die out. Their women, in spite of being modern and emancipated, do want to become mother – on average of two children – as the examples of France and some Scandinavian countries show. At some point of the now ongoing decline the birth rates will again rise – probably with the coming of a more humane social system, an eco-socialist one. That would bring about a steady-state population. So there is no need to worry on that score.

But there are reasons to worry about the demographic crisis in the less developed countries, which is of the opposite kind. In many of these countries, the population is bursting at the seams. There are too many young people desperately trying to find a job, and too few new jobs can be created. In India, the population is growing at the rate of 18 million every year. The Prime Minister says India’s economy must create every year 8 to 10 million new jobs in order to integrate the young people in the work force. For some time, in the years in which the Indian economy was booming, growing at the annual rate of 8 to 9 per cent, its bosses welcomed the population growth as a guaranteed source of cheap labor. They even called it India’s “demographic dividend”. But despite this dividend, India’s economic growth rate has recently been falling. The inexorable logic of limits to growth cannot be defied after all.

For reasons stated above, advanced industrialized countries are by all means preventing large-scale immigration of cheap surplus laborers from the less developed countries. Even the huge resource-rich Russia, the population of which is also shrinking at an alarming rate, is closing its doors to laborers from Central Asia. Therefore, also for the overpopulated less developed countries there is no easy solution to their demographic crisis. If they do not want to see that their citizens die of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea or the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, they must now seriously begin the work of downsizing their population.

1138. Cuba Government Set to Exit Restaurant Business


By Marc Frank, Reuters, August 26, 2013
State-run restaurants often provide a poor dinning experience
More than 20 state restaurants in Cuba are about to become employee-run cooperatives as Raul Castro's communist government continues its retreat from running just about everything on the Caribbean island.
The restaurants will become cooperatives in October, with hundreds more likely to follow if the experiment succeeds.
All aspects of the business from buying the food to splitting the profits will be decided by the employees, not from on high in the government. A similar process is already under way in other sectors from construction and transportation to farmers' markets and light manufacturing.
The restaurants are the first to be ceded by the state since communist authorities took over all eateries in 1968.
Until 5 years ago, visitors venturing from their hotels had basically one option: state-run eateries, often with a reputation for poor quality.
Today, there are close to 2,000 private restaurants as local entrepreneurs take advantage of market-oriented reforms initiated by President Raul Castro, who took over for his ailing older brother Fidel in 2008.
"The government is hoping that cooperative owners, with pride in their establishments and motivated by profits, will offer much better service and higher quality goods to customers, both to tourists and fellow Cubans," said Richard Feinberg, a nonresident senior fellow of the Washington-based Brookings Institution and author of a number of studies on Cuba's economic reforms.
Some of the restaurants slated to become coops are off the beaten track and cater to a mainly Cuban clientele using the local peso currency.
Others - for example La Casona de 17 and La Divina Pastora, both in Havana - operate in a dollar equivalent, called the convertible peso or CUC, and serve mainly tourists.
The Divina Pastora, nestled under Moro Castle at the narrow entrance to the Bay of Havana, sits on some of the city's most valuable real estate, owned by the military-run Gaviota tourism corporation.
La Casona de 17 is part of the tourism ministry's entertainment and restaurant chain, Palmares, which operates upscale establishments across the island.
"We are a pilot project, but in the future I think all Palmares restaurants will become cooperatives," said Marylin Herrera, 25, as she waited on tables at La Casona de 17, located in the busy Vedado district in the city center.
Herrera said it would be quite a challenge for the 50-odd workers to run the restaurant, which they will lease from the state, but looked forward to having "much more flexibility in how we operate and what we offer."
A DIFFICULT BUSINESS CLIMATE
Castro, speaking at a Communist Party congress in 2011 where a sweeping plan to revamp the Soviet-style economy was approved, outlined efforts to create a "non-state" sector of private and cooperative businesses.
"The growth of the non-public sector of the economy ... will allow the state to focus on raising the efficiency of the basic means of production ... while relieving itself from those management activities that are not strategic for the country," he said.
Castro has already taken steps to deregulate small private businesses in the retail service sector. Thousands of smaller state shops and taxis have been leased to individual employees, and fallow state lands have been leased to would-be small farmers in search of improved production and efficiency.
"We are in an experimental phase with a group of cooperatives in certain sectors of the economy. This allows us to follow each project, learning as we go along before they become generalized," Grisell Trista Albasu, a member of the Communist Party commission charged with implementing the reform plan for state businesses, told official media last week.
The cooperatives function independently of state entities and businesses, set prices according to the market in most cases, and receive better tax treatment than individually owned businesses, according to a decree published in December.
The law allows for an unlimited number of members and use of contracted employees on a three-month basis.
While it is difficult to find any local experts who oppose the state getting out of secondary economic activity such as the restaurant business, it is relatively easy to find critics of the process.
In the case of cooperatives, which are supposedly being formed on a voluntary basis, the vast majority to date have been the result of decisions made at the highest level of government and imposed on the employees, who must accept their fate or be laid off.
"This was not a spontaneous process ... at least in the vast majority of cases," a Cuban economist said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.
The cooperatives "face a difficult business environment where a decrepit infrastructure, obsolete equipment and banking practices, high taxes and restrictions on trade will make success difficult," he said.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

1137. UN Climate Change Report Draft Warns of 3 Foot Sea Level Rise By 2100


By James Gerken, The Huffington Post, August 19, 2013
An artist's image of what is to come
A leaked draft of the U.N.'s next major climate change report warns that global sea levels could rise more than three feet by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions continue unabated, The New York Times reported Monday.
The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) report is also more confident that human activities, like the burning of fossil fuels, are the chief cause of the atmospheric warming seen since the 1950s. The report's authors say it is at least 95 percent likely that humans are behind this warming, according to an initial report from Reuters last Friday.
This confidence is reflected in the study's language. It's "extremely likely" that humans caused "more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010," the Times quoted from the draft report.
The IPCC outlines several sea level rise scenarios for the end of the century, based on efforts to limit emissions in the coming decades. The most optimistic emissions reductions could bring only a 10-inch rise, explains the Times, on top of the eight inches seen in the last century. If emissions continue at a runaway pace, sea levels could rise "at least 21 inches by 2100 and might rise a bit more than three feet."
The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's 2012 State of the Climate report, released earlier this month, showed global greenhouse gas emissions reached a new record high in 2011, and estimates suggest the record was broken again in 2012.
"It's good to see that the IPCC has moved in the right direction this time by at least trying to account for the key contribution to sea level rise from melting ice sheets," director of Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Center Michael Mann told The Huffington Post in an emailed statement, explaining that it was ignored in the previous IPCC report from 2007.
"However, the projections they provide are still overly conservative, with an upper limit of roughly one meter by 2100, when there is published work that suggests the possibility of as much as two meters (six feet) sea level rise by 2100," he added.
"This fits a pattern of the IPCC tending to err on the side of conservative, in part--I believe---because of fear of being attacked by the climate change denial machine."
Describing the IPCC's projections, Climate Progress' Joe Romm wrote on Sunday, "Like every IPCC report, it is an instantly out-of-date snapshot that lowballs future warming because it continues to ignore large parts of the recent literature and omit what it can’t model."
A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that with only 15.75 inches of sea level rise by mid-century, losses due to flooding in 136 of the world's coastal cities may approach $1 trillion annually, reported Climate Central.
IPCC spokesman Jonathan Lynn cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the leaked drafts, but told the BBC on Monday, "We are not trying to keep it secret." He said, "After the report is finished we are going to publish all the comments and response so that people can track the process."
Reuters' breakdown of the IPCC draft also draws attention to the apparent slowdown in warming observed since 1998, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions. Romm contends the slowdown "turns out to be only true if one looks narrowly at surface air temperatures, where only a small fraction of warming ends up."
The Times emphasizes the international scientific panel's further confidence in the future effects of unchecked emissions and notes, the experts "largely dismiss a recent slowdown in the pace of warming, which is often cited by climate change contrarians, as probably related to short-term factors."
The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report is set to be released in four parts between September 2013 and November 2014.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

1136. Poetry: Mary Oliver's August

By Mary Oliver, American Primitive, 1983



August

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body 

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is 
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves, there is
this happy tongue.