Monday, December 21, 2009

UNICEF stats on child poverty: Not one of them is Cuban

Left I on the News blog, run by Eli Stephens, put up this useful and revealing post on UNICEF’s new report on children and global poverty.

Not one of them is Cuban

UNICEF reports today that 146 million underweight children in the developing world, and that not one of them is Cuban. Indeed, UNICEF reports that Cuba is the only country in all of Latin America and the Caribbean that has eliminated severe child malnutrition.

As a reminder, there are other categories in which Cuba can claim the same distinction:

900 thousand children die every month because of poverty: not one of them is Cuban.

200 million children in the world sleep on the streets today. None of them is Cuban.

250 million children under 13 have to work in order to survive. None of them is Cuban.

More than one million children are forced into prostitution and tens of thousands have been victims of human organ trafficking. None of them is Cuban.

25 thousand children in the world die every day of measles, malaria, diphtheria, pneumonia and malnutrition. None of them is Cuban.

Cuba isn't perfect, or heaven on earth. It is a society which puts people's needs first, and it shows.

By the way, to compare Cuba to another "tropical island," consider today's news from Hawaii:

Public schools in Hawaii are closed most Fridays, rats scurry across bananas in an uninspected market, and there may not be enough money to run a Congressional election.

Nepalese Maoists seize Kathmandu, declare autonomous district government

The Nepalese Maoists, a mass force based on the impoverished majority, played a key role in the movement that overthrew the centuries old feudal monarchy and ushered in a republic. In elections to the constituent assembly, the Maoists won the most seats, securing around 1 million votes more than their nearest rival and around twice the seats. However, the old royal army refused to bey the new government and pro-elite parties conspired to bring the Maoist-led government down in May.

The strength of the Maoists since then appears to have grown, both in political support (with the new government seen as undemocratic and a puppet of the elite, India and the US) but organisationally. The Maoists have been building from the ground up, holding discussions throughout the country. In a show of strength, they shut down much of Kathmandu with mass demonstrations and blockades in November. The government, with little popular legitimacy, was blockaded and had to meet in secret.

(for info on this round of mass protests, read these two Green Left Weekly articles: Nepal: New uprising builds
and Nepal: The struggle for civil supremacy)

Now, they have begun launching "autonomous zones" — be areas with parallel governments and structures based on the oppressed, especially oppressed nationalities.

Maoist-led land seizures by peasants against large landholders have increased, Mike Ely reports.

But most dramatically, in recent days, the Maoists have launched mass demonstrations to seize the capital Kathmandu in order to declare it, too, an autonomous zone — for the Newa people, a national minority. they have declared a parallel government for the district. They intend to repeat this process in other areas in a massive and growing challenge to the central government's authority — which looks increasingly weak.

Mike Ely provides some useful analysis of what is happened here.

Check out this impressive short video of the Maoist night-time torch-lit march through Kathmandu.

The following report appeared in

Red alert: Maoists seize Kathmandu

KATHMANDU: Maoists on Wednesday announced the seizure of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu declaring it an autonomous region, after storming into heavily guarded Durbar Square, in a development that could trigger a new political confrontation.Waving red flags, 5000 militant cadres forced their way into the Durbar Square city centre where their chief Prachanda declared Kathmandu valley as the Newa Autonomous State. The Maoists, who have already announced formation of parallel governments in nine districts and paid little heed to warnings by the Nepali Congress, to desist from such tactics as it may lead to “biggest political and social confrontation”.

Though the Maoist takeover was more of a symbolic nature, their choice of the capital city sent shock-waves in the ruling CPN-UML-led 22-party alliance. Prachanda lit a traditional lamp to declare Kathmandu as Newa Autonomous State by flying a banner that read “Newa Autonomous State” as hundreds of balloons were let off.

A gun salute was also given and the city declared an autonomous state amidst performance of traditional music.

“Our move is not intended to disrupt the peace process or block the constitution making task,” Prachanda proclaimed adding it was to “make people aware about federalism and strengthen the republican system”. The Maoist supremo claimed that “regressive forces were hatching a conspiracy against the republican system and trying to reverse the change”.

Other Maoist leader who spoke on the occasion defended their move to declare various areas as autonomous regions rejected the claim that it would derail the peace process and lead to disintegration of the nation. The party is planning to declare altogether 13 autonomous states in the country by December 18.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tuvalu demands serious climate action, walks-out at Copenhagen

Tuvalu is a small Pacific Island state whose very survival is seriously threatened by rising sea levels.

Tuvalu takes centre stage as talks stall


Tuvalu walks out after being blocked

“Tuvalu has caused quite a stir at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen with the island's representative pleading with delegates to come up with a legally binding agreement, then in an unprecedented move stormed-out, closing the session until the afternoon.

Tuvalu has caused quite a stir at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen with the island's representative pleading with delegates to come up with a legally binding agreement, then in an unprecedented move stormed-out, closing the session until the afternoon.”

SMH: 2010 set to be hottest yet, Australians should prepare for heatwaves

Scientists tip 2010 as hottest yet
December 11, 2009

THE past six months have been Australia's warmest winter-spring period on record and it is likely next year will set global temperature records.

Scientists predict that, whatever the outcome at Copenhagen, Australia must adapt to unprecedented heatwaves ...

Every decade in Australia for the past 70 years had been getting warmer, and this decade has been the globe's warmest so far.

full article

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last decade the hottest on record

Like the climate scientist guy said: “actually frightening”.

Did I mention Hugo Chavez's call for an International To Save All Life on Planet Earth?

Past decade the warmest since records began in 1850
December 9, 2009

THIS year has been the third-hottest on record in Australia, and is ranked as the fifth-warmest globally.

A report by the World Meteorological Organisation, published last night, concluded that the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest since instrumental climate records began in 1850.

In 2009, only the United States and Canada experienced conditions that were cooler than average. ''Given the current figures, large parts of southern Asia and central Africa are likely to have their warmest year on record,'' the report said.

Published as world leaders gathered in Copenhagen to consider climate change, it highlights extreme weather conditions around the globe this year, including three ''exceptional heatwaves'' in Australia, China's worst drought in 50 years and the wettest October in the US in 115 years.

Andy Pitman, co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW, said this year should have been a cool year because of low solar activity and a recent La Nina weather event. ''The fact it ranked in the top 5 since 1850 is actually frightening,'' he said.

This year's heatwaves in NSW, Victoria and South Australia also did not bode well for next year, Professor Pitman said.

Full article:

Secret rich nations’ plan leak sparks Third World fury — Copenhagen being reduced to rubble

In the lead up to the Copenhagen talks, poor nations had expressed their anger and frustration at the rich nations over the rich nations plans to refuse to agree to serious, binding cuts in their emissions and for compensation for poor nations over climate change effects.

Poor nations are bearing the brunt of the already all-too-real effects of climate change, caused overwhelmingly by the industrial development of the rich countries.

The summit barely started before the actions of the rich nations blew it up. Anger of the poor nations has exploded over a leaked text of an agreement worked beforehand by a cabal of rich nations (known as the “circle of commitment” and including Australia) that lets rich nations off the hook and spits in the face of Third World demands.

The greed of the great (First World-based) corporate interests, and the slavish commitment to those interests of rich nation governments, is more than sickening: it is threatening the potential for life on this planet to continue.

This is exactly why I support so wholeheartedly Hugo Chavez’s call for an International to Save the Planet.

* * *

(Taken from

Leaked Document Shows Rich Nations Plan Climate Coup in Copenhagen

December 8, 2009

Developing countries react furiously to leaked draft agreement that would hand more power to rich nations, sideline the UN’s negotiating role and abandon the Kyoto protocol

by John Vidal
The Guardian, December 8, 2009

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as “the circle of commitment” – but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark – has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalized this week.

The agreement, leaked to the Guardian, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol’s principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act.

The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol — the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.

The document was described last night by one senior diplomat as “a very dangerous document for developing countries. It is a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations. It is to be superimposed without discussion on the talks.”

A confidential analysis of the text by developing countries also seen by the Guardian shows deep unease over details of the text. In particular, it is understood to:

* Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;
* Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called “the most vulnerable”;
* Weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance;
* Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.

Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.

“It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process,” said one diplomat, who asked to remain nameless.

Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said: “This is only a draft but it highlights the risk that when the big countries come together, the small ones get hurting. On every count the emission cuts need to be scaled up.

“It allows too many loopholes and does not suggest anything like the 40% cuts that science is saying is needed.”

Hill continued: “It proposes a green fund to be run by a board but the big risk is that it will run by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility [a partnership of 10 agencies including the World Bank and the UN Environment Programme] and not the UN.

“That would be a step backwards, and it tries to put constraints in developing countries when none were negotiated in earlier UN climate talks.”

* * *

The Sydney Morning Herald noted, meanwhile: “Drafted by the Danish Government after talks with the so-called ‘circle of commitment’, including Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the document said global emissions should peak by the end of the next decade but did not include any emissions targets for 2020 or specific proposals for the creation of a green fund to help the most vulnerable ...

“it prompted a furious rebuke to rich nations from China. In a surreal press conference in a cramped room next to the Chinese delegation office, chief negotiator Su Wei claimed he was unaware of the leaked Danish proposal that had hijacked the mood of the convention centre while attacking the European Union, Japan and the US for claiming they were acting on climate change while doing very little.

In a detailed analysis of the flaws of rich nations’ 2020 targets, he said Europe had already done more to limit emissions under the flawed Kyoto Protocol than it proposed to do under a Copenhagen pact, Japan’s proposed 25 per cent cut was meaningless because it had set conditions that would never be met and the US had promised a ‘remarkable and notable’ emissions target but proposed only a provisional 1 per cent cut below 1990 levels.

“‘I’m not very good at English, but I doubt whether just a 1 per cent reduction can be described as remarkable or notable,’ he said.

“He said the $US10 billion annual green fund, that has won wide support at the conference and is included in the draft Danish agreement, worked out to just $2 per person across the planet - not enough to buy a coffee in Copenhagen, or a coffin.

“‘Climate change is a life and death issue,’ he said.”

The key to this, as has been the key for so much of human progress in recent centuries, is the actions of ordinary people. We are many and they are few, and all that.

It is true if you look at how trade union rights and universal suffrage were won, abominations like apartheid defeated, civil rights for a wide range of sectors secured in country after country, etc etc etc.

Therefore, the real action at Copenhagen will be occurring on the streets outside it.

In the lead-up, these two articles have just been posted to Green Left Weekly

Britain: Massive climate protest demands real deal at Copenhagen

Canada: Protests condemn climate crimes

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dave Zirin: Sorry Obama, you can't have Muhammad Ali

Dave Zirin, the best sports writer in the US...

Message to Obama: You Can't Have Muhammad Ali

By Dave Zirin

On November 19th, President Barack Obama wrote a stirring tribute in USA Today to the most famous draft resister in US history, Muhammad Ali. On Tuesday, Obama spoke at West Point, calling for an increase of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, with a speech that recalled the worst shadings of George W. Bush's "war on terror."


[Ali said] "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.”


Barack Obama can have the fawning media, the adoring generals, the RNC, and the liberal apologists on his side.

But he can't have the Champ. Remove that poster from your wall Mr. President. Your Ali privileges have been revoked.

Full article here

Bolivia: Resounding victory for Evo opens path for further change

In an important victory for the process of democratic transformation of Bolivia, South America’s poorest nation, and Latin America in general, Evo Morales was re-elected for his second term as president on December 6 with more than 63% of the vote.

Morales’ party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS — which unites range of predominantly indigenous social movements) looks like it could win a majority in the senate based on exit polls — which would remove the right-wing majority there that has slowed down the process of change.

Below is an article from Granma on December 7. It is followed by an analytical piece from NACLA.

For more information on the process of change in Bolivia, and ongoing news, visit Bolivia Rising.

Resounding Victory for Evo

Granma, December 7

LA PAZ, December 6 — "Today Bolivia has once again shown its democracy, and that change is possible," declared the president elect, Evo Morales, from the Movement to Socialism Party (MAS). He was confirmed in that position with resounding popular support, gaining more than 63% of the votes.

In his address, from the seat of government in the Plaza Muillo in front of thousands of emotional supporters, Morales emphasised that the Bolivian triumph basically constitutes an acknowledgement of the anti-imperialist governments and nations, and was grateful for this opportunity to continue working for equality and the unity of Bolivia.

The leader, who will be as president for the period 2010-2015 on January 22, together with his vice-president, Álvaro García Linera, promised to accelerate the social changes that are taking place in the country, with a possible majority in the upper house of 25 of the 36 senators, according to exit polls.

There was a massive turnout for the elections, with a reported 140,000 votes from abroad. This was the first election under the new constitution promoted by Evo, which declared Bolivia a pluri-national state.

Morales also called on the opposition to work together for Bolivia, in a government that "Comes from the people, for the people."

With Victory, Morales and Social Movements Confront New Challenges in Bolivia

Dec 7 2009
Tanya Kerssen,

Bolivian president Evo Morales and his political party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), won a resounding victory in the presidential elections this past Sunday, December 6.

The nearest challengers, Manfred Reyes Villa and his running mate Leopoldo Fernandez — whose current address is a La Paz prison, where he stands accused of ordering the murder of pro-government peasants — represent an old political and economic order that has used sedition and violence in an effort to obstruct and destabilize the Morales government.

The old order and the new are locked in a struggle for the future of Bolivia. "The social movements are critical for presidents to be able to create a new alternative," declared Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca in the tropical city of Cochabamba in October at a summit of leftist Latin American presidents, including Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Ecuador's Rafael Correa.

At the parallel Social Movements Summit comprised of 700 delegates from 40 countries, Isaac Ávalos, leader of the Bolivian Peasants Federation promised to help "bury the opposition" in the election.

The dialogue between these parallel summits is emblematic of the close association between social movements and the new left governments of Latin America. In Bolivia, a broad-based coalition of movements — with peasants, workers and indigenous groups at the forefront — was instrumental in defining Morales' platform even before he was first elected to the presidency in 2005.

With the support of the social movements, the administration succeeded in meeting three key goals in its first term: government control over the nation's oil and gas resources, the creation of a new constitution to re-found the Bolivian state, and the advance of agrarian reform.

The right-wing opposition, rooted in its control of large landed estates and petro-carbon resources in the eastern lowlands, constitutes the main challenge to transforming property relations and creating a more equitable, democratic society in Bolivia.

The deepening of "21st Century Socialism" during Morales' next five years in office will depend on the sustained strength of the social movements, the government's continued responsiveness to their evolving agenda, and the ability of both to overcome the opposition of the entrenched elites while maintaining democratic legitimacy.

A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows that despite the global recession and destabilizing threats from the right, the government was able to minimize the impact of the economic crisis and increase foreign exchange reserves.

Morales has also expanded social services for the poorest Bolivians through the creation of health and literacy programs and financial support for the elderly, school-aged children and pregnant women. These achievements were made possible by the government takeover of the oil and natural gas industries, which increased government revenue by an impressive 20% of GDP since 2004.

The deepening of government involvement in the economy — one of Morales' key campaign planks — is a remarkable achievement, and one that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

It was, of course, built on the blood and sweat of the social movements, which called for an end to the privatization of public corporations, land and natural resources; the restoration of social protections and government regulation of private capital; and the reassertion of state sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States and the dominant international financial institutions.

In a long turbulent process, the administration succeeded in creating a new constitution — approved in a popular referendum in February 2009 — that seeks to re-found the nation to be more reflective of, and accountable to the country's indigenous majority. The constitution provides indigenous peoples with greater territorial autonomy and recognizes Bolivia's 36 indigenous languages as "official."

The new charter also grants the state greater control over natural resources, establishes access to water as a human right and requires the government to protect biodiversity.

In a country with one of the most unequal land tenure systems in Latin America, deepening the land reform program is a central challenge facing this administration. Since large landholdings are the basis for elite power, land reform is an overtly, sometimes violently, contested issue.

Under the changes introduced to the land reform law in 2006 and approved by congress, land must fulfill a "social and economic function" — regardless of property tax payment — in order to avoid expropriation and re-distribution to poor peasant families.

The land reform process, which according to government figures has titled 26 million hectares and distributed 958,454 hectares since 2006, was further bolstered by a measure approved by voters in 2009 limiting private landholdings to 5,000 hectares (about 12,400 acres) rather than the 10,000 hectares demanded by the landed elite.

As a result of pressure from conservative landowners in the process of drafting the new constitution, however, these reforms will not be retroactive to include currently owned properties. This compromise greatly defuses the radical potential of the legislation.

In another capitulation to the right, language that prohibited the use and production of genetically modified organisms was removed in the final text, a large blow to the peasant movements and environmental NGOs that fought for its inclusion.

The more radical leaders of the social movements are advocating new decrees and legislation to overcome these limitations and deepen the agrarian reform.

Changes in the international context are promising for the Morales government's ability to implement its agenda. The rise of South-South cooperation provides opportunities for greater independence from and negotiating power with the North, especially the United States.

ALBA, the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alternative for the People, is an important iteration of this phenomenon.

Relations with the United States remain estranged ever since the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador in September 2008 for meddling in Bolivian affairs. Though Bolivia has long been dependent on U.S. foreign aid, ALBA's support - and particularly support coming directly from Venezuela - has allowed it to escape Washington's political and economic stranglehold.

Venezuela also helped Bolivia cushion the blow of its suspension from the U.S. Andean Trade Preference agreement, a suspension initiated by President Bush in 2008 and extended by President Obama last June.

Negotiations for the normalization of relations took place at the State Department in Washington last month, but with no final resolution. Morales has expressed his disappointment with the policies of the Obama administration, particularly its decision to establish seven military bases in nearby Colombia. He declared that Latin America is no longer "in the time of kings" and that "we cannot be in the time of American military bases."

One of the poorest countries in Latin America, Bolivia under Evo Morales is in a strong position to transform its economy and to break the historic hegemony of the United States. The strength and character of this transformation will largely hinge on continued dialogue between the government and the social movements that have been at the vanguard of progressive change.

Tanya Kerssen is a master's candidate in Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a contributor to the Center for the Study of the Americas.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oz climate report: 250,000 coastal homes at risk of flooding

The federal government’s own report from November on the threat of climate change, “Climate Change Risks to Australia”, finds disturbing results.

Unfortunately, the government’s response is to seek to introduce an emissions trading scheme that gives hand outs to big business and lets them continue polluting — while increasing the power bills for ordinary people. (See the history of cap and trade below)

The report on the finds including the following points.

* * *

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Up to 250,000 homes around Australia will be inundated by the end of this century. Ports will disappear, airports will be submerged, and up to $63 billion worth of residential property will go.

That's the alarming finding of the most comprehensive climate report card to date.


SARAH CLARKE: By using the latest projections on rising sea levels of up to 1.1 metres by the turn of the century, combined with increasing number of extreme weather events, scientists say no property by the sea is safe.


SARAH CLARKE: The cost of losing these homes by the sea is estimated at between $40 and $63 billion.

And those properties within 110 metres of the soft shorelines don't escape either. This report warns they'll be exposed to flooding, wild wind events, higher storm surges and erosion, all of which put them at risk. And 39,000 homes have been identified.


One hundred and twenty ports are within 200 metres of the Australian coastline, as well as five power stations, three water treatment plants and 1,800 bridges.

Sydney and Brisbane airports are built on low-lying areas and if this report is correct, they'll be more like ports.

* * *

Somewhat serious.

Too serious to be left to the likes of climate denier Tony Abbott, or, for that matter, climate pretender Kevin Rudd — for whom the entire emissions trading bill is just a clever way to seek to split the Liberals, while putting on a face of taking the climate seriously.

Yet more and more people want proper action — even in the blue-ribbon seat of Higgins, as safe Liberal as can be, climate activist and academic Clive Hamilton won more than 35% of the vote running for the Greens.

The media spun this as ringing endorsement for Abbott as new Liberal leader, yet in both Higgins and Bradfield (safe Liberal seats), the Greens outdid Labor’s vote in those seats in 200.7

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The story of stuff

Having posted Annie Leonard’s piece on emission’s trading, I thought it would be worth highlighting her original introductory video the Story of Stuff

This is a very introduction to how the world works — how things get produced, sold, consumed and turned into waste.

The story of cap and trade: a short video on the reality of emissions trading

Some strange, disturbing and frankly ridiculous political games and fights that have dominated Oz politics over the last couple of weeks or so.

The debate in the Liberal Party over climate change and the Rudd government’s emissions trading bill was accurately described by Green Left Weekly’s Simon Butler as a fight between the climate deniers and the climate pretenders.

Therefore I am glad that the first post on my blog is this short video explaining why emissions trading is not serious climate action.

Here is the spiel, followed by the video:

“The Story of Cap & Trade is a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate solution being discussed at Copenhagen and on Capitol Hill.

“Host Annie Leonard introduces the energy traders and Wall Street financiers at the heart of this scheme and reveals the ‘devils in the details’ in current cap and trade proposals: free permits to big polluters, fake offsets and distraction from what’s really required to tackle the climate crisis.

“If you’ve heard about Cap & Trade, but aren’t sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you.”

The Story of Cap & Trade from Story of Stuff Project on Vimeo.

For more information, and to see Leonard’s earlier, great short video The Story of Stuff, click here.