Category Archives: politics

I Support Net Neutrality!

Come and join me in this fight! Your freedom depends on it. Seriously. Read this excellent article written by my friend Hannah Fischer-Lauder – I am so happy to share it with you here, it’s just published on Impakter:

NET NEUTRALITY WAR: TRUMP WHITE HOUSE VS. SILICON VALLEY

by HANNAH FISCHER-LAUDER

On November 21, the new head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Mr Ajit Pai, detonated a bomb on the Internet, announcing his plan to do away with net neutrality.

Why a bomb?

It’s very simple: eliminating net neutrality is a direct threat to consumers, start-ups and small businesses. A threat to all of us. It is the end of an open Internet. Anyone who cannot pay for access will be penalized.

IN THE PHOTO:  Internet user with a laptop. PHOTO CREDIT:  GLENN CARSTENS-PETERS on UNSPLASH

DOES MR PAI CARE?

No, despite the avalanche of pro-net neutrality comments that flooded the FCC website when it called for comments (as it must, by law), he disregarded what real people had to say to him. I write “real people” because the FCC website got so messed up – hackers even attacked it in May –  that, in the end, there were 22 million plus comments, most of them from bots.

Bots, fake comments on a government website? Yes, it’s not a joke. NY Attorney General Schneiderman on 21 November, in an open letter to the FCC Chairman, told him that in his estimation, hundreds of thousands of Americans’ identities were stolen and used in spam campaigns to support repealing net neutrality.

But there’s more.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Be sure to go to the end of the article, it gives you tips (and links) on what you can do to help in the fight against the FCC planned repeal of net neutrality regulations. And there’s a lot you can do, sign petitions, write letters, share online. 

Mr. Pai has scheduled the FCC vote on repeal for December 14. There is no time to lose!

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Cocaine: The Hidden Cost – Environmental Destruction

This is the second of a two-part article investigating cocaine, just published on Impakter. Part One surveyed the cost in human terms, focusing on Colombia, the world’s top coca producer (see here). Part Two investigates the environmental destruction caused by cocaine and also takes a look at Peru.

Uncle Sam’s fumigation program in Colombia has added a grim dimension to the environmental devastation that is, in any case, inherent to coca production when it is made illegal. When coca fields are mechanically torn up by the army or the police, farmers are pushed deeper and deeper into the jungle to clear more areas to grow coca along with the food needed for their own sustenance.

IN THE PHOTO: RAINFOREST PHOTO SOURCE: ANAHI MARTINEZ ON UNSPLASH

But when coca fields are sprayed with potent herbicides, fumigation turns the fertile earth into a desert, threatening local farmers’ health. In fact, for decades, Colombia has been the only government in the world that has allowed aerial herbicide spraying of coca, hurting its own population. But it did so at the bidding of the United States that ended up paying US$ 2 billion for the spraying.

An extraordinary cost to the American taxpayers with zero results in terms of reduced cocaine supplies.

It had, however, very measurable results in terms of environmental destruction of Colombia’s rainforests – precious not just for Colombia but for the whole world, as they act as major carbon sinks, playing a key role in stabilizing global climate.

To read the rest, click here. I feel very strongly about the conclusion of the article: The solution, in my opinion, is not yet another “war on drugs” to try and limit cocaine supplies (it never works) but treatment to limit demand. Addicts are not children to be punished, they are people who need our help. Your views?

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Filed under Economics, Health, politics, Sociology

Migration, Conflicts and Climate Change: What the Pope Said and How the US reacted

On Monday morning 16 October, I rushed to FAO, the opening ceremony for World Food Day was to be graced by Pope Francis who had agreed to deliver the keynote address: the theme was migration…Here is the article I immediately wrote for Impakter (it was published yesterday):

MIGRATION, CONFLICTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE: A NEW TURN?

World Food Day held yesterday at UN-FAO headquarters in Rome was full of surprises. An event organized since 1979 by FAO every year on October 16 to celebrate the founding of the organization in 1945, World Food Day is the occasion to draw the international community’s attention to a pressing issue in agriculture and rural development. This rarely excites the world’s attention, but this year’s theme was particularly well chosen: The focus was on what is undoubtedly the number one problem of our times, migration.

IN THE PHOTO: HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS GREETING FAO STAFF DURING THE WORLD FOOD DAY CEREMONY, FAO HEADQUARTERS (ATRIUM).PHOTO CREDIT: ©FAO/CRISTIANO MINICHIELLO.

The numbers are staggering: UN figures show there are roughly 244 million international migrants – that’s more than the whole population of Brazil –  while 763 million are migrants within their own country. Taking the two numbers together, that’s about one billion people, as much as India.

As the video FAO made for the occasion shows, the problem with migration is the lack of choice. And the solution to the migration crisis, is investment in the rural sector to give people a livelihood, so that they are not forced to migrate. Why the rural sector? Because that is where the problem starts, 75% of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas.

In 2015 alone, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict worldwide, and more than 19 million people were internally displaced because of natural disasters – many triggered by climate change.

First, Pope Francis is different from other Popes in that he attends more readily UN events. He has come before to FAO and gave a notable address to the ICN2.  Food security is clearly one of his major concerns.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here. You will also find there the video of the Pope’s speech (very interesting, worth seeing, it’s only 20 minutes) and I report on the remarkable position taken by the US Secretary of Agriculture: Since the Trump administration announced last week that the US was pulling out of UNESCO, everybody in Rome feared the worst. But the worst, surprisingly given Trump’s track record, didn’t happen. See what happened and rejoice!

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Filed under climate change, politics, United Nations

GLOBAL HUNGER IS ON THE RISE AGAIN: DOES ANYONE CARE?

Impakter magazine just published my latest article – I wrote this while attending the CFS (Committee on World Food Security) that runs from 9 to 13 October: It’s the biggest UN meeting on food issues, opened to the private sector and civil society – the latter totaling some 380 million people, farmers, women, youth, consumers – who are given a chance to bypass their own government and make their voice directly heard at the UN! In fact, no other UN meeting compares with the CFS and what they are discussing this week really does matter…Here’s the beginning of the article:



GLOBAL HUNGER IS ON THE RISE AGAIN: DOES ANYONE CARE?

When the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) opened its 44th session in Rome on October 9, it wasn’t just another chatty UN meeting. It came with the disturbing news that global hunger was on the rise again. This was a shock. Since 2000, we had all grown complacent, every year brought the good news that hunger was slowing even though world population continued to grow, it looked like the scourge of famine was at last a thing of the past.  From a high 926 million in 2005, global hunger hit a low of 777 million people in 2014.

Hunger: 815 million people were affected in 2016 – up from 777 million in 2014

But now we need to revise this cheerful view. According to the best estimates of five major UN agencies, FAO, World Food Programme, IFAD, UNICEF and World Health Organization, the trend has reversed, 815 million people were affected in 2016, slightly more than one in ten persons, as reported in the newly released UN document “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”.

FIGURE 1: THE NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED PEOPLE HAS BEEN ON THE RISE SINCE 2014, REACHING AN ESTIMATED 815 MILLION IN 2016. CREDIT: FAO-CFS

Undernourishment and malnutrition is clearly on the rise again. Worse, for the first time this century, outright famine was declared in South Sudan on 20 February 2017, and three more countries, Yemen, Somalia and Northern Nigeria are at serious risk, unless international aid comes to the rescue.

Unfortunately, the usual delays caused by donor fatigue have been recently compounded by the fear that the United States might choose to withdraw from the international community, with Donald Trump announcing plans in March to slash the US foreign aid budget by 31 percent. This would directly hit UN agencies, the World Bank and other international institutions, in particular WFP as it proposed to eliminate most US international food assistance.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Besides the threat of famine and what to do about it, other issues are also discussed, like obesity.

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Cocaine: The Hidden Cost

My latest article, just published on Impakter:

A TRAIL OF BLOOD (PART ONE)

This is the first of a two-part article investigating cocaine. Part One surveys the cost in human terms, focusing on Colombia, the world’s top coca producer, while Part Two investigates the environmental destruction caused by cocaine.

On August 10, President Trump told reporters he was getting ready to “declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency”, in response to a chilling report from the White House commission on the opioid crisis, that said “142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose”, a death toll “equal to September 11th every three weeks”. Trump promised “a lot” would be done to stop drug flows into the US and ensuring young people never use drugs but he didn’t mention access to treatment. And it is not clear exactly how he would proceed, particularly now that natural disasters wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma demand attention.

So far, Congress has done little except pass the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law by President Obama in 2016. It added US$ 1 billion over two years for drug treatment and disbursement has just started.  Yet Trump talks up the role of the border wall and law enforcement while his proposed budget and congressional efforts to take down Obamacare are going in the wrong direction, preventing access to insurance to pay for treatment.

At state level, the move away from a criminal justice fix to the drug problem has been patchy at best. One reporter from Vox found that at least fifteen states followed Kentucky’s example of tightening penalties for low-level drug offenders, increasing mass incarceration rather than offering treatment.

Yet treatment is key.

The rest of the world, if not the US, has moved on past the obvious failure of the “War on Drugs” to focus on non-military, non-police, non-legal measures as possible solutions. That’s where improved access to treatment comes in. It is part of the UN Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goal 3, specifically target 3.5 which reads: “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol .”

Unfortunately, even within the United Nations, the political discourse is largely focused on other issues, like eradicating poverty as evidenced by the latest “outcome report” of the high-level “political forum” (10-19 July 2017), a ministerial meeting that reviews progress on the SDGs every year. Only one sentence addressed the drug problem: “We reiterate the need to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.” Surely stronger statements are required, more needs to be done.

Yet the US-waged “War on Drugs”, started some 60 years ago, and costing an estimated US$ one trillion should have taught us a lesson. It began when President Lyndon Johnson first proposed a toughening of penalties for drug trafficking in 1968; it ballooned with President Nixon in 1971, coming to Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Whatever improvement America was able to achieve at home, it quickly vanished: Since 2009 there are more deaths from drug poisoning every year in the US than from firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and murders, said a recent US DEA report.

Meanwhile, in the Andean countries, the war left a devastating legacy, clearly traceable to US aerial fumigation programs to stop coca cultivation and anti-narcotics policing that quickly spiraled into full-scale civil war, particularly ferocious in Colombia, pitting Marxist-inspired guerillas against the central government. The war in Colombia lasted until 2016 when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARCs) agreed to a peace deal with the government, but not before there were some 200,000 dead and five million people forced out of their home.

The lesson from History is clear:  fighting drug trafficking through military or police means solves nothing.

The US is the World’s Largest Cocaine User

The latest report (March 2017) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy on global cocaine trafficking confirms that the US is the largest cocaine user, consuming one third of world production.

Cocaine is known as a “rich man’s drug”, though one form, “crack cocaine” (smoked, not snorted) being much cheaper, is widely used in inner cities and by black communities, ensuring that the drug is prevalent in all social strata.

Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in both Europe and the United States behind marijuana. More people use cocaine than heroin, and the number of cocaine users keeps rising (26 percent more in 2015 compared to the previous year, according to the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health).

The street value of cocaine gives an idea of its importance as a recreational drug.  One calculation, often cited, is based on a model developed in 2005 by the UN drug agency (UNODC) which estimated that the US cocaine market exceeds some US$70 billion in street value per year. This is likely to be a conservative estimate but still true today considering that cocaine prices have been (slightly) dropping over the past decade.

US$70 billion spent on cocaine is a lot, as much as Americans spend on playing the lottery, more than on books, video games, movies and sporting events combined (2015 data) – none of which have the devastating impact on health that cocaine has, particularly from chronic use.

PHOTO CREDIT: HÄGGSTRÖM, MIKAEL (2014). “MEDICAL GALLERY OF MIKAEL HÄGGSTRÖM 2014“. WIKIJOURNAL OF MEDICINE 

Coca Production on the Increase

Increased drug supplies mean more deaths: cocaine-related deaths in the United States have increased by about 60 percent since 2010, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What makes the situation increasingly dangerous, is that production of cocaine in Colombia is higher than ever: according to the UN, it reached 866 metric tons in 2016, a 34 percent increase over 2015 when the war was still on-going. And that’s 200 million tons more than the average annual production of cocaine a decade ago (it stood around 650 million tons).

But some believe the UN data is too conservative.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

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Filed under Economics, Health, politics, Sociology, Uncategorized

The American Dream is Dead, Long Live the American Dream!

My latest article on Impakter that I wanted to share with you:

THE AMERICAN DREAM IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE AMERICAN DREAM!

BOOK REVIEWS: REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM: THE 10 PRINCIPLES OF CONCENTRATION OF WEALTH AND POWERBY NOAM CHOMSKY, PUBLISHED BY SEVEN STORIES PRESS (MARCH 2017); THE VANISHING MIDDLE CLASS: PREJUDICE AND POWER IN A DUAL ECONOMY BY PETER TEMIN, PUBLISHED BY MIT PRESS (MARCH 2017)

In a raft of bestselling books this year, our thinking elite has announced the demise of the middle class and the “American Dream”. At the heart of that “dream” is the idea that every generation, through hard work, would come out better off than the previous one. Of course, the 2008 Great Recession put a serious dent in the notion and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 pointed the finger at income inequality (it’s the One Percent!). In 2014, French economist Thomas Piketty’s magnum opus, Capital in the 21st Century, provided definitive scientific confirmation to every man’s perception that middle class income had been stagnant for decades, that the ultrarich was getting richer at the expense of everyone else.

Two important books from MIT luminaries addressing this issue came out in the same month (March 2017): Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream and Peter Temin’s The Vanishing Middle Class. They both caused waves, loudly proclaiming that the American Dream is dead.

But can we really declare the American Dream dead? Both authors make suggestions though perhaps neither offer definitive solutions. That might require something more than a new set of policies and some people are beginning to talk about it. Recently New York Times journalist David Brooks suggested in an Op-Ed that “Trump is not just a parenthesis.” He is “the farcical culmination of a lot of dying old orders — demographic, political, even moral — and what comes after will be a reaction against rather than a continuing from.”

A lot of “dying orders” and one of them is the American Dream. It is essentially what kept the lights on in the “city on the hill”, the beacon that famously attracted the tired, poor and huddled masses to America – to paraphrase the American poet Emma Lazarus.

REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM

At the outset, it is striking how different Noam Chomsky’s Requiem is from all the other books he has written. It is far more accessible than the academic fare he has accustomed us to. Chomsky has taught at MIT for fifty years and he is one of America’s foremost thinkers, the most famous voice of dissent on the left. He is also an innovative linguist, credited with revolutionizing the field and as a political philosopher, the author of several seminal books, notably 9/11: Was There an Alternative?   considered the most influential post 9/11 book both at home and abroad.

The reason for Requiem’s greater accessibility probably derives from the fact that it is, bottom line, a movie tie-in. Based on the documentary of the same name released in April 2015, it encapsulates and builds on the main ideas presented in the film.

To read the rest, including about Peter Temin’s book and a possible solution suggested by Courtney E.Martin in a famous TED talk, click here 

Enjoy! These books are seriously good summer reading…

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Filed under Book review, Economics, non-fiction, politics, Sociology, Uncategorized

The Collapse of Democracy in Poland: Another Exit from the EU?

My latest article on Impakter magazine:
Democracy in Poland is under threat ever since the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power in 2015. If it collapses, it could lead to another Brexit episode with Poland forced out of the EU. Or choosing to leave.   

The villain in the story? For many, it is Jaroslav Kasczynski, the strongman who leads the party. He is a strange man who (so far) has refused to enter the government, he is a simple Member of Parliament yet he effectively pulls the reins. The current President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, is said to be in his pocket, and the Prime Minister too.  And a key player in taking over the judicial system, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro is at his beck and call.

Who exactly is Jaroslav Kasczynski?


Born in 1949, unmarried and a Warsaw resident, he is a lawyer and the co-founder in 2001 of PiS, along with his identical twin brother, Lech, also a lawyer.  The PiS came first to power from 2005 to 2007 and it distinguished itself with fighting the remnants of Communism in the country and with having tense relations with Russia and Germany: In short, a clear nationalist agenda was already emerging.

Jaroslav’s brother was Mayor of Warsaw from 2002 to 2005 and then President of Poland until his death in 2010. Jaroslav, as the sole survivor of the so-called “terrible twins” that ruled Poland tried to succeed his brother as President but lost out to the incumbent.

Lech’s death in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, left Jaroslav convinced it was murder. A believer in conspiracy theories, he blames the Civic Platform leaders who governed after his brother’s death, in particular Donald Tusk, then Prime Minister, today President of the European Council. Others he has taken aim at are Tusk’s chief of staff at the time, Tomasz Arabski and the former foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski.

So, people say, that is why he is attacking the judiciary. But that’s too simple a theory.

The PiS Grab for Power

It is a fact that the PiS is trying to take over control of the judiciary and in its first year in power it had packed the Constitutional Court, politicized the appointment of prosecutors and abolished court consent for state access to private internet accounts – a direct threat to people’s privacy.

But it didn’t stop with the judicial system. It worked on another front too.

To read the rest, click here.

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Filed under European Union, politics, Uncategorized