— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for January, 2014

Obama’s State of the Union 2014

‘Watch PBS NewsHour coverage of President Obama’s 5th State of the Union. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks will join Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill for the address to Congress, and the Republican response (28 Jan 2014)’.

About ‎China, President Obama said that “For the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest, America is”. And on ‎Afghanistan he stated the following: “While our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country”. Turning to more pressing affairs and Syria, the POTUS said that “[i]n Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks”. Then turning eastward, Barrack Obama declared that “We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away. But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb”.

In the Washington Post, Robert Costa and Paul Kane report that the “official Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the House GOP’s highest-ranking woman, who asserted that Obama was making it tougher for a lot of Americans. “Right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap,” she said”. Costa and Kane remark further that “[o]n health care, McMorris Rodgers said Republicans will continue to fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act [aka Obamacare], and she knocked the administration for the rocky rollout of the president’s signature law”.[1]

Continuing Costa and Kane state that “McMorris Rodgers spoke from a quiet room inside the Capitol, where she sat on a gold couch with an American flag, triangularly folded, displayed on a shelf behind her. Her manner was relaxed, her style straightforward and scripted. Over the past week, aides to McMorris Rodgers and other House GOP leaders have been busy promoting her, using her prominent perch as part of a counteroffensive to Democrats, who have aggressively criticized the party’s approach to women’s issues”.[2]

[1] Robert Costa and Paul Kane, “Flurry of GOP responses to State of the Union address reflects party’s ideological rivalries” The Washington Post (28 Jan 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/multiple-gop-responses-to-state-of-the-union-are-they-a-sign-of-party-division/2014/01/28/0d1c68c0-883b-11e3-916e-e01534b1e132_story.html.

[2] Robert Costa and Paul Kane, “Flurry of GOP responses to State of the Union address reflects party’s”.

U.S. Congress’ Secret Decision: Arms for Syria’s Opposition

From Washington, Reuters‘ Mark Hosenball reports that “l]ight arms supplied by the United States are flowing to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according U.S. and European security officials. The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets. The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft, the officials said. The weapons deliveries have been funded by the U.S. Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said”.[1]

A former senior CIA analyst and sometime foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, Bruce Riedel explained that the “Syrian war is a stalemate. The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides’ external allies . . . are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future”.[2]  For his part, Reuters‘ Hosenball provides some more detail, saying that “[b]oth U.S. and European officials said that ‘moderate’ rebels had recently consolidated their positions in the Syrian south, where they are pushing out elements linked to al-Qaeda. More militant factions remain dominant in the north and east. Another recent development favorable to more moderate factions is that Kurdish groups that had been providing weapons and other aid financed by donors in the Gulf state of Qatar indiscriminately to both moderate and religious extremist rebel factions had greatly reduced their involvement in the arms traffic, one of the officials said. A White House spokeswoman had no comment. Other U.S. agencies did not respond to requests for comment [either]. As for ‘non-lethal’ aid like communications and transportation equipment, the United States hopes to resume deliveries to moderate groups in Syria soon, a U.S. official said on Monday [, 27 Jan 2014]. The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria in December [2013] after reports that Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in hostile hands . . . Non-lethal aid was resumed to civilian groups in that region in late December”.[3]

[1] Mark Hosenball, ” Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels ” Reuters (27 Jan 2014). http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/27/us-usa-syria-rebels-idUSBREA0Q1S320140127?utm_content=bufferb958c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

[2] Mark Hosenball, ” Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels “.

[3] Mark Hosenball, ” Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels “.

The Daily Conversation: 60 Years of Climate Change or Global Warming

‘This visualization shows the last 60 years of rising temperatures on earth. Since our records began 133 years ago, the 10 warmest years, with the exception of 1998, have all come since the year 2000. So it’s no doubt our planet is changing and thanks to NASA, these changes are being monitored and people have a better understanding of our earth like never before. As a matter of fact, 2014 is set to be a huge year for climate research as NASA plans to launch 5 new missions to help us better understand our planet explained in this short video (23 Jan 2014)’.

As reported by CNN: ‘ NASA announced an ambitious slate of launches Wednesday ], 22 Jan 2014] aimed at putting new eyes on the Earth and its atmosphere in 2014. A total of five missions — three satellites and two instruments that will be mounted on the International Space Station — are scheduled to go into orbit between February and November, the U.S. space agency said. They’ll measure carbon dioxide in the air, water in the soil, rainfall, cloud layers and ocean winds, providing “immediately useful” readings that will help improve both short-term weather forecasts and and long-term climate projections, said Michael Freilich, the director of NASA’s Earth Science Division’.[1]

[1] “NASA putting new eyes on Earth in 2014” CNN (23 Jan 2014). http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/22/tech/innovation/nasa-satellite-launches/.

New York Times’ Executive Editor Jill Abramson Talks

New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson declared the following: “I would say [the Obama White House] is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term”.[1]

[1] Dylan Byers, “Jill Abramson: ‘This is the most secretive White House I have ever dealt with'” Politico (23 Jan 2014). http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/01/jill-abramson-this-is-the-most-secretive-white-house-181742.html.

ISIS Threatens Turkey: Geneva II

The Turkish news agency Doğan Haber Ajansı released a report recently stating that ‘[a]uthorities have issued a bomb warning in Istanbul, Ankara and the southern province of Hatay, following a tip off that an al-Qaeda linked group was preparing to organize a suicide attack, Doğan News Agency reported on Jan. 21. Turkish intelligence reached information that 20 militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were planning attacks to disrupt this week’s Geneva II peace talks, the report said. The militants were particularly planning to target hotels and meeting rooms where members of the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army stay were staying or holding meetings. Intelligence units have informed the Police Department and the Gendarmerie General Command to take extraordinary security measures’.[1]

The Doğan Haber Ajansı got hold of an official document which detailed this threat issued by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) or ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-’Irāq wa-sh-Shām (or the Arabic acronym Dā’ish): the Turkish security forces have “determined that 20 ISIL [or ISIS] members were planning to organize suicide attacks in our country [Turkey]. Hotels in Hatay are considered among the primary targets. Besides Hatay, big hotels and meeting centers in Ankara and Istanbul are also [among the targets]. The suicide bombers have a list of names that were determined as primary targets”.[2]

[1] “Turkish authorities issue suicide attack warning amid Syria talks, after tip on al-Qaeda linked group” Doğan Haber Ajansı. (21 Jan 2014). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-authorities-issue-suicide-attack-warning-amid-syria-talks-after-tip-on-al-qaeda-linked-group.aspx?pageID=238&nID=61350&NewsCatID=341.

[2] “Turkish authorities issue suicide attack warning amid Syria talks, after tip on al-Qaeda linked group”.

The Clinton Years, or the 1990s: Crash Course US History #45

The vlogbrother ‘John Green teaches [us] about the United States as it was in the 1990s . . .  the old-school Republican George H.W. Bush had lost the 1992 presidential election to a young upstart Democrat from Arkansas named Bill Clinton. Clinton was a bit of a dark horse candidate, having survived a sex scandal during the election, but a third party run by Ross Perot split the vote, and Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. John will teach [us] about Clinton’s foreign policy agenda, which included NATO action in the Balkans and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. He’ll also cover some of the domestic successes and failures of the Clinton years, including the failed attempt at healthcare reform, the pretty terrible record on GLBTQ issues, Welfare reform, which got mixed reviews, and the happier issues like the huge improvements in the economy. Also computers. Cheap, effective, readily available computers came along in the 1990s and they kind of changed the world, culminating in this video, which is the end of the internet (23 Jan 2014)’.

Climate Change and Solar Activity: Trends and Expectations

The Toronto-based freelance science writer Colin Schultz writes that the “numbers have been crunched and the results are in: 2013 did not buck the trend of climate change. Last year sailed to the number four slot of the world’s hottest years on record, the 37th year of above-average temperatures in a row. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ‘The year 2013 ties with 2003 as the fourth warmest year globally since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F)’. That’s a small increase, sure, but it’s part of a much longer background trend of increasing global temperatures, which scientists have been watching for decades. The warming anomaly of 2013 was actually a bit stronger when narrowed down to temperatures over land: ‘The 2013 global average land surface temperature was 0.99°C (1.78°F) above the 20th century average of 8.5°C (47.3°F)’, says NOAA. The ocean is a huge energy sink, so it’s harder to heat up the air over the water. The 2013 over-land temperature was also the fourth highest on record”.[1]

Schultz then adss that “NASA pegged 2013 as the seventh hottest year. ‘The agencies use different methods for analyzing temperature data, resulting in different rankings, but the numbers behind the rankings are within fractions of a degree of one another’, said Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climatologist. ‘This difference is, really, pretty irrelevant in a 133-year record. It’s definitely getting hotter'”.[ii]  This increase in global temperatures appears to be offset by another trend that sees solar activity drop. As explained by the BBC’s science reporter Rebecca Morelle: ” right now the Sun should be awash with activity [, but is instead going through a lull]. It has reached its solar maximum, the point in its 11-year cycle where activity is at a peak. This giant ball of plasma should be peppered with sunspots, exploding with flares and spewing out huge clouds of charged particles into space in the form of coronal mass ejections. But apart from the odd event, like some recent solar flares, it has been very quiet. And this damp squib of a maximum follows a solar minimum – the period when the Sun’s activity troughs – that was longer and lower than scientists expected”.[3]  Dr Lucie Green, from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, explains that ” It’s completely taken me and many other solar scientists by surprise . . . It could mean a very, very inactive star, it would feel like the Sun is asleep… a very dormant ball of gas at the centre of our Solar System”.[4]  Morelle then explains that “[t]his, though, would certainly not be the first time this has happened. During the latter half of the 17th Century, the Sun went through an extremely quiet phase – a period called the Maunder Minimum. Historical records reveal that sunspots virtually disappeared during this time”.[5]

In 1998, John E. Beckman and Terence J. Mahoney, attached to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, pointed out that “The possible absence of sunspots for some 70 years in the 17th century was first pointed out by [F. W. G.] Spörer (1887) using the extensive compilation of data by [R.] Wolf (1856, 1868). Spörer’s work was summarized by [E. W.] Maunder (1890, 1894), who commented, following [A. M.] Clerke (1894), that this dearth of sunspots apparently coincided with an absence of terrestrial aurorae. We now know that aurorae are caused by sub-atomic particles emitted by the Sun during releases of magnetic energy which often accompany sunspots. To supplement Spörer’s use of Wolf’s data, Maunder quotes the editor of Philosophical Transactions describing the observation of a sunspot in 1671 by [director of the Observatoire de Paris, G. D.] Cassini in Paris with the comment that it was the first seen for many years. Much later, Maunder (1922) found a note by [John] Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, describing a sunspot seen at Greenwich in 1684, in which Flamsteed says that it is the first he had seen since 1674. Flamsteed made several other references to this spot and to his solar observations in general in his correspondence, the definitive edition of which is now nearing completion (Flamsteed 1995). Maunder also took evidence from [W.] Herschel (1801), who had referred to [Jérôme Lefrançois de] Lalande’s (1792) L’Astronomie in which detailed evidence relating to the absence of sunspots in the latter part of the 17th, and early 18th century was cited”.[6]  Beckman and Mahoney then continue that “[J. A.] Eddy’s arguments [in a 1976 Science article] for a lull in solar magnetic activity during the Maunder Minimum, one of the main reasons why his ideas caught the imagination is more contentious. He claimed that the Maunder Minimum coincided in time with an era of colder weather, and that by implication the absence of magnetic activity was accompanied by a net fall in the total radiative output of the Sun. An implicit corollary is that in the intervening period the radiative output has been increasing, with a consequent warming of the Earth. This basic idea has been taken up by a section of the solar physics community, and a good recent summary of the evidence for the proposition that solar variability is an agent, if not the main agent, of the perceived recent climate change associated with global warming, is given in [D. V.] Hoyt & [K. H.] Schatten [‘s The Role of the Sun in Climate Change, published by the OUP in] (1997)”.[7]  But climate change effected by a solar lull is manifested in colder temperatures, quite unlike the current trend of Global Warming. Nevertheless, Dr Green is determined saying that “[t]here is a very strong hint that the Sun is acting in the same way now as it did in the run-up to the Maunder Minimum”.[8]  Sharing Green’s conviction, Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics, from the University of Reading, goes even further, boldly proclaiming that “[i]t’s an unusually rapid decline [in solar activity]. We estimate that within about 40 years or so there is a 10% to 20% – nearer 20% – probability that we’ll be back in Maunder Minimum conditions”.[9]  But as pointed out by BBC’s Morelle, the “era of solar inactivity in the 17th Century coincided with a period of bitterly cold winters in Europe. Londoners enjoyed frost fairs on the Thames after it froze over, snow cover across the continent increased, the Baltic Sea iced over – the conditions were so harsh, some describe it as a mini-Ice Age”.[10]

At the beginning of the 21st century, humanity now seems faced with two different trajectories: a global trend of increasing temperatures offset by a mini-Ice Age. Professor Lockwood explains that this whole conundrum is a “very active research topic at the present time, but we do think there is a mechanism in Europe where we should expect more cold winters when solar activity is low”.[11]  Morelle adds that Professor Lockwood “believes this local effect happens because the amount of ultraviolet light radiating from the Sun dips when solar activity is low. This means that less UV radiation hits the stratosphere – the layer of air that sits high above the Earth. And this in turn feeds into the jet stream – the fast-flowing air current in the upper atmosphere that can drive the weather. The results of this are dominantly felt above Europe, says Prof Lockwood”.  Hence, a local mini-Ice Age freezing in a climate sea of Global Warming. The BBC concludes that “[i]n a recent report by the UN’s climate panel, scientists concluded that they were 95% certain that humans were the ‘dominant cause’ of global warming since the 1950s, and if greenhouse gases continue to rise at their current rate, then the global mean temperature could rise by as much as 4.8C. And while some have argued that ebbs and flows in the Sun’s activity are driving the climate – overriding the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that solar variation only makes a small contribution to the Earth’s climate. Prof Lockwood says that while UV light varies with solar activity, other forms of radiation from the Sun that penetrate the troposphere (the lower layer of air that sits above the Earth) do not change that much”.[12]

[1] Colin Schultz, “2013 Continues 37-Year Warm Streak” Smithsonian (22 Jan 2014). http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/yep-global-warming-still-thing-2013-adds-37-year-warm-streak-180949457/.

[2] Colin Schultz, “2013 Continues 37-Year Warm Streak”.

[3] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?” BBC News (22 Jan 2014). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25743806.

[4] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[5] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[6] John E. Beckman and Terence J. Mahoney, “The Maunder Minimum and Climate Change: Have Historical Records Aided Current Research?” Library and Information Services in Astronomy (1998). http://www.solarstorms.org/SunLikeStars.html.

[7] John E. Beckman and Terence J. Mahoney, “The Maunder Minimum and Climate Change”.

[8] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[9] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[10] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[11] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[12] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

Geneva II or the Long Road to Damascus

The timely release of a “huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the ‘systematic killing’ of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers” prior to the start of the Geneva 2 Conference was apparently meant to set the tone, if not to intimidate Assad’s delegation outright.[1]  The Guardian‘s Ian Black states that the “defector [who secured the ‘ huge cache of evidence ‘], who for security reasons is identified only as Caesar, was a photographer with the Syrian military police. He smuggled the images out of the country on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by the Gulf state of Qatar. Qatar, which has financed and armed rebel groups, has called for the overthrow of Assad and demanded his prosecution. The 31-page report, which was commissioned by a leading firm of London solicitors acting for Qatar, is being made available to the UN, governments and human rights groups”, adding insightfully that its “publication appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week’s UN-organised Geneva II peace conference, which is designed to negotiate a way out of the Syrian crisis by creating a transitional government”.[2]

The veracity of the photographic evidence could not really be satisfactorily proven and the report was prepared for Carter-Ruck and Co.Solicitors of London, a firm which specialises in media and international law as well as in commercial litigation. The firm declares on its website that ‘Carter-Ruck’s clients are drawn from all over the world. Many are high profile individuals, including heads of state, heads of government and other senior politicians and diplomats, leading business people and celebrities and other prominent figures in the fields of entertainment, media and sport. The firm also represents sovereign states, government ministries, regulatory bodies, academic institutions, charities, multinational corporations and companies of every size. Media clients encompass the whole industry, including newspaper, magazine and book publishers, broadcasting organisations and online publishers’.[3]  In this case Qatari money paid for Carter-Ruck’s services in the propaganda war against Bash al-Assad. Still, the Guardian‘s Jonathan Freedland manages to write that the “source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [, in other words, a man known only as Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [and] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try)”.[4]

Nevertheless, as reported by the Azeri-Press Agency (APA), ‘[a]ddressing the Geneva-2 Peace Conference, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the Turkish government of betraying Syria and supporting terrorists in Syria. According to him, if Syria ha[d] a neighboring ally, bloodshed would have never happened in this country: “At the time when Syria was in need of help, it [received a] blow [from] its neighbors, or these countries kept silence. [The] Erdogan government is to blame for all this. This government let terrorists enter its territories and is training them for fighting in Syria”. Walid Muallem also blamed some [other] participating countries in financing terrorists: “Some countries trying to change the regional situation are financing Wahhabis. But it can not stop the bloodshed in Syria”’.[v]  Iran’s Press TV, for its part, adds that ‘Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has expressed regret that some countries attending the meeting have the blood of Syrian people on their hands. Muallem also said, the terrorists are killing civilians under the slogan of Syria revolution. He emphasized that those who claim to represent Syrian people must stop acting as a puppet at the hand of foreign powers. The Syrian top diplomat also urged international community to stop pouring of arms into Syria. Muallem blamed some Syrian neighbors for what he called backstabbing Syria, warning that terrorism will not remain in Syria and will spread across the region. He also criticized the US for boasting of being a democracy but speaking with the language of terror and aggression’.

[1] Ian Black, “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees” The Guardian (21 Jan 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/20/evidence-industrial-scale-killing-syria-war-crimes.

[2] Ian Black, “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees”.

[3] ” Our Clients” Carter-Ruck. http://www.carter-ruck.com/Our%20Clients/.

[4] Jonathan Freedland, “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” The Guardian  (21 Jan 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1.

[5] “Walid Muallem: “The Turkish government has betrayed Syria and is financing terrorists”” APA (22 Jan 2014). http://en.apa.az/news/205958.

Inequality Rising: 46% of Global Wealth owned by 86 Individuals

The UK-based USA TODAY journalist Kim Hjelmgaard reports that the “British charity Oxfam has concluded that the combined wealth of the world’s 85 richest people is equivalent to that owned by the bottom half — in wealth terms — of the world’s population”.[1]  Getting down to specifics, Hjelmgaard indicates that “the 1% richest people on the planet are rich to the tune of $110 trillion” according to the Oxfam report Working for the Few. The report, released on 17 January 2013, was authored by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Head of Research, Oxfam GB, and Nicholas Galasso, Research and Policy Advisor, Oxfam America.

Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva do not mince their words: the “past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people. This global phenomenon has led to a situation where one percent of the world’s families own almost half (46 percent) of the world’s wealth. The bottom half of the world’s population owns less than the richest 85 people in the world In the past year, 210 people have become billionaires, joining a select group of 1,426 individuals with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion. Corporate profits, chief executive officer (CEO) salaries, and stock exchanges are breaking new records daily, with no signs of slowing down. At the time of writing, the Dow Jones industrial average reached the highest mark in its 117-year history. The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half”.[2]  In this way, Oxfam gives credence to the phrase “the 99%” that was launched by the Occupy movement in 2011 — the slogan seems to go back to a Tumblr blog launched in support of the Occupy movement by the activist known only as “Chris”, as revealed by Mother Jones.[3]  The Tumblr blog ‘We Are the 99 Percent’ is still going strong today — well, more or less.[4]  And now Oxfam has made it public that the 1% trope is actually a worldwide reality . . .

Posted 14 October 2013

The authors Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva continue that “[t]his trend may seem surprising in light of the recent global financial crisis. Yet, while the crisis caused a momentary dip in the share of global wealth held by the rich, they have already gained it back, and more. In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer. The Great Recession did not change the trend in concentration of income: the share of US national income going to the top decile stands at 50.4 percent – its highest since World War I. Had the share of income going to the richest one percent stayed the same as in 1980, the rest of America would have an additional $6,000 dollars at their disposal in 2012. Global elites are increasingly becoming richer. Yet the vast majority of people around the world have been excluded from this prosperity. For instance, while stocks and corporate profits soar to new heights, wages as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) have stagnated. To give an indication of the scale of wealth concentration, the combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the European Union (EU) between 2008 and 2010 (€217bn compared with €200bn). Furthermore, post-recovery austerity policies are hitting poor people hard, while making the rich even richer. Austerity is also having an unprecedented impact on the middle classes. Rich people are pulling further away from everyone else in terms of wealth in many countries. The World Top Incomes Database covers 26 countries, with information on the share of pre-tax income going to the richest one percent since the 1980s. In all but two countries (Colombia and the Netherlands), the share of income of the richest percentile increased – and in Colombia, it stayed at around 20 percent. The richest one percent of people in China, Portugal, and the US have more than doubled their share of national income since 1980, and the situation is getting worse. Even in more egalitarian countries such as Sweden and Norway, the share of income going to the richest one percent has increased by more than 50 percent”.[5]

Taking the bull by the horns, Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva argue that “[m]arkets are not autonomous, spontaneous phenomena operating according to their own natural laws. In reality, markets are social constructions whose rules are set by institutions and regulated by governments that should be accountable to the participants and citizens. When there is growth and diminishing inequality, the rules governing markets are working [for] the middle classes and the poorest sections of society. However, when only the rich are gaining, the rules start bending towards their interests exclusively. Oxfam has spent 70 years working to fight poverty and injustice in more than 90 countries. Oxfam has fought against unsustainable debt and against tax havens. Through these experiences, Oxfam has witnessed first-hand how the wealthiest individuals and groups capture political institutions for their aggrandizement at the expense of the rest of society. Today’s unprecedented levels of economic inequality tell us that left unchecked, representative institutions will decay further, and the power disparity between the haves and have-nots may become entrenched and immutable. Strong quantitative data support Oxfam’s concerns regarding rising wealth concentration and unequal political representation. A recent study presents compelling statistical evidence that the preferences of wealthy Americans are represented in their government, compared with those of the middle classes. By contrast, the preferences of the poorest people demonstrate statistical impact on the voting patterns of their elected officials. If this trend continues, public policies will most likely reproduce the conditions that are worsening economic inequality and political marginalization. How do the rules governing national economies become subservient to elite interests? This is a problem inherent to the nature of politics. As we have seen, the influence of wealthy groups leads to imbalanced political rights and representation. The outcomes include the capture of legislative and regulatory decision-making functions by those powerful groups”.[6]

And, making the discourse personal and personable, to the Oxfam report Working for the Few singles out “Mexico’s Carlos Slim [, who] moves in and out of the world’s richest person spot, possessing a net worth estimated at $73bn. The enormity of his wealth derives from establishing an almost complete monopoly over fixed line, mobile, and broadband communications services in Mexico. Slim is the CEO and Chairman of América Móvil, which controls nearly 80 percent of fixed line services and 70 percent of mobile services in the country. A recent OECD review on telecommunications policy and regulation in Mexico concluded that the monopoly over the sector has had a significant negative effect on the economy, and a sustained welfare cost to citizens who have had to pay inflated prices for telecommunications”.[7]  The Oxfam report concludes pessimistically that “[w]ealth begets wealth, and once the political and institutional system is rigged in favor of an elite, the consolidation of their privileges cascades down through different mechanisms. This ‘privilege cascade’ affects elements that otherwise should be conducive to fair opportunities and protection for all members of society. What, by some measure, looks and sounds meritocratic is a result of rules that are biased in favor of the elite. Good quality education and other public services overwhelmingly benefit the few, providing them with more opportunities for development”.[8]

[1] Kim Hjelmgaard, “World’s 85 richest own 46% of global wealth” USA Today (20 Jan 2014). http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/20/davos-2014-oxfam-85-richest-people-half-world/4655337/.

[2] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality” Oxfam (17 Jan 2014). http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/working-for-the-few-economic-inequality.

[3] Adam Weinstein, “‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Creators Revealed” Mother Jones (07 Oct 2011). http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/we-are-the-99-percent-creators.

[5] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[6] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[7] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[8] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

Resistance Report Week in Review [#17] Jan. 18. 2014

‘All of the Resistance Report segments from the previous week, rolled into one big show (18 Jan 2014)’.