Politics – 7

Following on from last week’s long blog, I wish to offer a few comments regarding the statement ‘America is great!’

Whilst I have a number of great American friends, I just wonder about the various Administrations.

For decades, there seems to be a given that the police can shoot to kill people, whether it is to do with a violent or non-violent crime, and the victims are primarily Black.  The US police kill more people than most of the world’s police forces combined.  If they have to carry a gun, they should be trained to disable a person in such a way that they can recover fully from being shot.  But, I am sure that technology could come up with solutions to catching criminals without violence.  As far as their justice system is concerned, there needs to be a vast improvement so that the poor who are indicted have just as good a lawyer as the rich and famous.  America also has one of the largest prison system in the world, a good number of which are overcrowded and living in appalling conditions.  As elsewhere, most non-violent crimes should be prosecuted on the basis that they will get a community sentence, and with both violent and non-violent crimes, restorative justice principles should be applied

Although on the face of it, America has a high employment rate, the figures do not show that a significant number are ‘zero-hour’ jobs which are poorly paid and do not come with holiday or health benefits.  Most people will have worked at McDonalds at some time of their lives. The US Government does not have a strategy (nor does the UK) to deal with the loss of jobs due to Artificial Intelligence and other technical innovations which will do away with the need for human operators.

Big companies are getting bigger, pushing the smaller ones out of business and putting pressure on suppliers to reduce their prices, leaving very little profit.  Many of these large businesses hide their money in tax havens and so often do not pay any tax, thus the Government loses a large chunk of income to pay for infrastructure and other services.  And just recently, with tax cuts, has led to businesses and their millionaire owners receiving money they do not need, whereas the bottom of the pile do not benefit.

America now has a President who does not believe in Climate Change and who has appointed a skeptic to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  This has been demonstrated by the emphasis on the coal industry, giving them tax breaks, and is trying hard to allow oil pipelines.  The US is falling behind in reducing pollution which kills many thousands of people each year.

His determination to destroy ‘Obamacare’ is unbelievable – he obviously does not care about the poor getting any healthcare support at a reasonable price.  Many of the healthcare providers are in the business to make a profit and are even eyeing up our NHS.  Many other support programmes are either being undercut or abolished.  This is particularly shown with the programmes to support refugees – they are now treated as criminals, with families being separated, including children from their parents.

When President Trump stopped the issuing of visas to a number of Muslim countries because of his belief that most of the terrorists came from them, when in reality most terrorists were legal Americans.  (9/11 is an exception and so is the bombing of the World Trade towers)  Most ‘terrorist’ attacks in schools, clubs and concerts have been by non-Muslim people.  And they were mainly right wing.

Even freedom of expression is under the spotlight, especially if it involves speaking out against what Donald Trump has tweeted.  Unfortunately, he often gets his facts wrong and does not think through what he does because he never uses scripted notes.  This makes him very undiplomatic in the way he handles diplomacy with other countries – an example of that is the way he has been dealing with North Korea, and the current fiasco with trade tariffs and the harsh woods he had for Canada and Mr Trudeau.

The President also needs to get the transport infrastructure sorted out which is currently very un-coordinated, with rail safety, particularly with regard to level crossings, taken seriously so as to reduce the high number of people killed.  Public transport needs vastly increased and improved so that the ever increasing number of cars are stopped as well as freight, both of which are serious polluters.

Then there is the little matter of the CIA and the US Army, using torture outside the USA, which just shows they have no concern for the dignity of the person, who is innocent until proven guilty.  The new CIA director has sanctioned ‘water-boarding’ and other forms of disgusting torture in the past.

In all this, the American Government needs to get its act together before it can say ‘America is Great’.  In fact he should not say it, because he needs to have an attitude of working together with other Governments in bringing peace and stability in the world, through not trying to ‘take over’ Earth or becoming isolated. At least with Mr Obama, he did try and get on with others.  He was not a perfect president, especially when he made abortion easier, but Mr Trump reversed that.

The President should also be setting a moral stance, especially in the way he treats women, and his need to be centre stage.

Christians serve God before nation, and need to critique all policies to see if they are biblical, and not be blind to negative impact they can have on many people, especially those who are not rich.  Many Christians are blind as to who they vote for – in this case because the President promised stopping Planned Parenthood’s funding, in stead of taking all other issues into account.The rich need to take the initiative and give more of their money (more than the 1% club) to various non-governmental groups which are ethical and do not use animals or ’embryos’ for research.  At the same time the Government through the IRS, need to make sure they are all operating ethically and sustainably, taking good care of their employees and all those in the supply chains, and are very transparent with regard to their price structures, margins and taxes.  This also applies to their owners and the staff.

Why talk about all this, when most countries have elements of all the bad things that America has, the reason being America tends to do things on a grand scale.  Have a look at the country’s debt and its sudden increase in military spending (which is higher than anybody else, including Russia and China.  The President needs to take the lead in making changes for the betterment of society and its people.

PS I wonder what things would be like if Bernie Saunders had become President? Donald Trump only got just over 50% of the vote which has led to a split country.

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Politics – 6

President Donald Trump has used the phrase ‘America is great’ so many times that people believe it, even evangelical Christians. But, the reality is different in many different ways.

There is a lot of information below, which I will comment on in my next blog.

The picture of gun violence by all sources in the USA

2017

Gun violence  and crime incidents are collected/validated from 2,500 sources daily – incidents and their source data are found at the gunviolencearchive.org website.

1: Actual number of deaths and injuries
2: Number of INCIDENTS reported and verified

22,000 Annual Suicides not included on Daily Summary Ledger

Numbers on this table reflect a subset of all information
collected and will not add to 100% of incidents.

http://www.gunviolencearchive.org  http://www.facebook.com/gunviolencearchive

Data Validated: June 04, 2018

http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

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The picture of police shooting people in the USA

Police officers killed 1,129 people in 2017.

More people died from police violence in 2017 than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action around the globe (21). More people died at the hands of police in 2017 than the number of black people who were lynched in the worst year of Jim Crow (161 in 1892). Cops killed more Americans in 2017 than terrorists did (four). They killed more citizens than airplanes (13 deaths worldwide), mass shooters (428 deaths) and Chicago’s “top gang thugs” (675 Chicago homicides).

Yet only 12 officers were charged with a crime related to a shooting death.

An extensive new study from Mapping Police Violence details the data for police violence. The collective tracks police shooting numbers and statistics, maps the incidents and compiles the data in real time. The site uses information from a number of sources, including Killed by Police, Fatal Encounters and the U.S. Police Shootings Database, to break down shootings by race, location, weapons used, and whether or not the victim was armed. It is a valuable tool used by academics, researchers and certain writers at The Root.

Aside from the fact that only 1 percent of the officers who killed someone were charged with a crime in 2017, some of the report’s most interesting facts include the following:

  • Of the 534 killer cops Mapping Police Violence was able to identify, 43 had shot or killed someone before. Twelve had previously shot or killed multiple people.
  • Most of the people killed (718) were suspects in nonviolent offenses, were stopped for traffic violations or had committed no crime at all.
  • 13 percent of people killed by cops were unarmed.
  • Most of the unarmed victims were people of color. Of the 147 unarmed people killed by police, 48 were black and 34 were Hispanic.
  • Black people accounted for 27 percent of the people killed by law enforcement officers. Of the unarmed victims of police violence, blacks made up 37 percent, almost three times their percentage of the U.S. population (13 percent).
  • Of the people who were unarmed and not attacking, but were still killed by cops, 35 percent were black.
  • 95 people were killed when police shot at a moving vehicle, a practice that many say should be banned.
  • 170 of the people killed were armed with a knife. in 117 of those incidents, police shot the person before trying any other method to disarm the person.
  • 20 percent of the people who had a gun when they were killed were not threatening anyone.
  • Law enforcement training spends seven times more hours training officers on the use of firearms than on how to de-escalate situations.

Again, only 12 officers were charged with a crime after killing 1,129 citizens they were sworn to protect and serve. Here’s to another banner year of police getting away with murder.

Can’t you feel America getting great again?

Read more at the 2017 Police Violence Report.

https://www.theroot.com/heres-how-many-people-police-killed-in-2017-1821706614

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Terrorist Killings in America

When President Donald Trump signed his since-revised executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, he claimed it was to protect Americans from “radical Islamic terrorists.”

“We don’t want ‘em here,” Trump told reporters at the Pentagon, where he signed the order in January.

But in the eight months since Trump took office, more Americans have been killed in attacks by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners.

Radical Islamic terrorists inspired or directed by groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda do pose a clear threat to the US. There is no question about that. Before last night’s deadly shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history occurred in June 2016 when an ISIS-inspired man opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 53.

And ISIS-linked militants have killed or injured dozens of people in countries like England, France, and Canada so far this year, including two women killed in a stabbing attack in Marseille, France, and several people injured in a car-ramming attack in Edmonton, Canada, just this weekend.

But here at home, the bigger threat has come from a very different kind of attacker, one with no ties to religion generally or Islamist extremism specifically.

Here are just a few of the attacks that have occurred in 2017:

  • Sunday night, a 64-year-old white man from Nevada opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing more than 50 and wounding more than 200.
  • In August, a 20-year-old white Nazi sympathizer from Ohio sped his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring at least 19 others.
  • In June, a 66-year-old white man from Illinois shot at Republican Congress members during an early morning baseball practice, severely wounding several people including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House of Representatives Majority Whip.
  • In March 2017, a 28-year-old white man from Baltimore traveled to New York City with the explicit aim of killing black men. He stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death and was charged with terrorism by New York state authorities.
  • In May, a 35-year-old white man from Oregon named Jeremy Joseph Christian began harassing Muslim teenagers on a train in Portland, telling them “We need Americans here!” Two men interceded; Christian then stabbed and killed them both.

In fact, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists, according to a study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC.

A June 2017 study by Reveal and the Center for Investigative Reporting found a similar pattern:

Even the “radical Islamic terrorists” are usually US citizens

In Trump’s very first speech to Congress, he claimed that “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

But none of the perpetrators of the major US terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam in the past 15 years have come from the nations on Trump’s travel ban (either the original one or the new, revised version that was released late last month). In fact, the country home to the biggest number of terrorists who have carried out successful attacks inside the US is the US itself.

The San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people was carried out by an American-born US citizen of Pakistani descent and a lawful permanent US resident of Pakistani descent. The Orlando nightclub shooter who murdered 49 people was an American-born US citizen of Afghan descent. The Boston marathon bombers, who identified as ethnic Chechen, came to the US from Kyrgyzstan and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before carrying out attacks that left three dead. Faisal Shahzad, the attempted Times Square bomber, was Pakistani-American. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009, was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents.

And as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has written, the average likelihood of an American being killed in a terrorist attack in which an immigrant participated in any given year is one in 3.6 million — even including the 9/11 deaths. The average American is more likely to die from their own clothing or a toddler with a gun than an immigrant terrorist. But we’re not banning guns and T-shirts from coming into the country.

Adopting extremist views and committing horrendous acts of violence in the name of some “righteous” cause, be it religion or politics or just plain old hatred, isn’t something that only Muslims, or Arabs, or immigrants, or any other group of people do. It’s something humans do.

https://www.vox.com/world/2017/10/2/16396612/las-vegas-mass-shooting-terrorism-islam

 

 

By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years

The Guardian has built the most comprehensive database of US police killing ever published. Compare our findings to those from the UK, Australia, Iceland and beyond

Click here to explore the most detailed map of police killings ever published.

It’s rather difficult to compare data from different time periods, according to different methodologies, across different parts of the world, and still come to definitive conclusions.

But now that we have built The Counted, a definitive record of people killed by police in the US this year, at least there is some accountability in America – even if data from the rest of the world is still catching up.

It is undeniable that police in the US often contend with much more violent situations and more heavily armed individuals than police in other developed democratic societies. Still, looking at our data for the US against admittedly less reliable information on police killings elsewhere paints a dramatic portrait, and one that resonates with protests that have gone global since a killing last year in Ferguson, Missouri: the US is not just some outlier in terms of police violence when compared with countries of similar economic and political standing.

America is the outlier – and this is what a crisis looks like.

Fact: In the first 24 days of 2015, police in the US fatally shot more people than police did in England and Wales, combined, over the past 24 years.

Behind the numbers: According to The Counted, the Guardian’s special project to track every police killing this year, there were 59 fatal police shootings in the US for the days between 1 January and 24 January.

According to data collected by the UK advocacy group Inquest, there have been 55 fatal police shootings – total – in England and Wales from 1990 to 2014.

The US population is roughly six times that of England and Wales. According to the World Bank, the US has a per capita intentional homicide rate five times that of the UK.

Fact: There has been just one fatal shooting by Icelandic police in the country’s 71-year history. The city of Stockton, California – with 25,000 fewer residents than all of Iceland combined – had three fatal encounters in the first five months of 2015.

Behind the numbers: A 2013 police shooting in Iceland drew international attention because it was the first of its kind; there had literally never been a fatal police shooting recorded there before two years ago.

In Stockton, Patrick Wetter, Matautu Nuu and Carl Lao were all fatally shot by police in the 64-day span between 6 January and 4 March. According to US census data from 2013, Stockton has a population of 298,118; World Bank data puts Iceland’s population at 323,764 for the same year.

Iceland’s official intentional homicide rate is so low that it does not register in World Bank data on intentional homicides per 100,000 people. For the US, the rate is five per 100,000.

Fact: Police in the US have shot and killed more people – in every week this year – than are reportedly shot and killed by German police in an entire year.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database

Behind the numbers: The Counted database shows that the first week of 2015 had the fewest fatal police shootings of any this year, with 13.

The German Police University concluded in 2012 that German police had killed six people by gunshot in 2011 and seven in 2012.

According to the German data and the Guardian’s count, more unarmed black men (19) have been fatally shot by US police in 2015 than citizens of any race, armed or unarmed, fatally shot in Germany during all of 2010 and 2011 (15).

The US population is roughly four times that of Germany, and according to the World Bank, the US has a per capita intentional homicide rate five times that of Germany.

Fact: Police in the US fatally shot more people in one month this year than police in Australia officially reported during a span of 19 years.

Behind the numbers: The Counted database shows that police in the US fatally shot 97 people in March 2015, the highest one-month total recorded by the Guardian.

A 2013 study from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) found 94 fatal police shootings for the period between 1992 and 2011.

In Australia, as opposed to the US, all police shootings are subject to national monitoring by law. The US population is nearly 14 times that of Australia, and the US has a per capita intentional homicide rate five times that of Australia.

Fact: Police in Canada average 25 fatal shooting a year. In California, a state just 10% more populous than Canada, police in 2015 have fatally shot nearly three times as many people in just five months.

Behind the numbers: So far in 2015, police in California have fatally shot 72 people, according to the Guardian’s database – the most thorough accounting for officer-involved fatalities ever built in the US.

In Canada, reliable nationwide numbers on police shootings don’t yet exist.

But a journalist for the Independent in Canada did combine data from the provinces that report police killings – and extrapolated that Canadian police kill an average of 25 people by gunshot every year.

The US has an intentional homicide rate two and a half times that of Canada, according to the World Bank.

Fact: Police fired 17 bullets at Antonio Zambrano-Montes, who was “armed” with a rock. That’s nearly three times what police in Finland are reported to have fired during all of 2013.

Behind the numbers: Zambrano-Montes was killed in February by officers responding to reports that he was throwing rocks at cars. The incident was caught on video, with 17 shots fired; according to police, “five or six” struck Zambrano-Montes.

In Finland, according to chief inspector Jukka Salmine, police fired just six bullets in all of 2013.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries

 

Rank Country Employment rate
(%)
Age range Date of information Source    
1  Iceland 86.3 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
2   Switzerland 79.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
3  Sweden 76.2 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
4  New Zealand 75.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
4  United Kingdom 75.6 16–64 2018 Office for National Statistics[2]    
6  China 75.1 15–64 2010 OECD[1]    
7  Denmark 74.9 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
8  Netherlands 74.8 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
9  Germany 74.7 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
10  Norway 74.4 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
11  Japan 74.3 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
12  Canada 72.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
13  Australia 72.4 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
14  Estonia 72.0 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
14  Czech Republic 72.0 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
16  Austria 71.5 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
17  Russia 70.0 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
18  Lithuania 69.4 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
18  United States 69.4 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
20  Finland 69.2 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
21  Latvia 68.7 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
22  Israel 68.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
23  Colombia 67.2 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
24 OECD Average 67.0 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
25  Hungary 66.5 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
26  South Korea 66.1 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
27  Slovenia 65.8 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
28  Luxembourg 65.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
29  Portugal 65.2 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
30  Slovakia 64.9 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
31  Ireland 64.7 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
32  France 64.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
33  Poland 64.5 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
34  Brazil 64.4 15–64 2015 OECD[1]    
35  Belgium 62.3 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
36  Chile 62.2 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
37  Mexico 61.0 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
38  Spain 60.5 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
39  Costa Rica 58.7 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
40  Italy 57.2 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
41  Albania 56.2 15–64 2016 (Q4) INSTAT[4]    
42  India 53.3 15–64 2012 OECD[1]    
43  Greece 52.0 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
44  Turkey 50.6 15–64 2016 OECD[1]    
45  Bosnia and Herzegovina 43.0 15–64 2017 Agency of Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina[5]    
45  South Africa 43.0 15–64 2010 OECD[1]    
47  Kosovo 40.2 15–64 2016 (Q3) Kosovo Agency of Statistics[6]    

 

As one can see from the 2017 figures, the United States is not doing too badly with regard to employment, but there is still 30% unemployment which is a lot of people.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_employment_rate

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Military Spending in 2017

(Stockholm, 2 May 2018) Total world military expenditure rose to $1739 billion in 2017, a marginal increase of 1.1 per cent in real terms from 2016, according to new figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). China’s military expenditure rose again in 2017, continuing an upward trend in spending that has lasted for more than two decades. Russia’s military spending fell for the first time since 1998, while spending by the United States remained constant for the second successive year. The comprehensive annual update of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database is accessible from today at www.sipri.org.

‘Continuing high world military expenditure is a cause for serious concern,’ said Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board. ‘It undermines the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts around the world.’

After 13 consecutive years of increases from 1999 to 2011 and relatively unchanged spending from 2012 to 2016, total global military expenditure rose again in 2017.* Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $230 per person. ‘The increases in world military expenditure in recent years have been largely due to the substantial growth in spending by countries in Asia and Oceania and the Middle East, such as China, India and Saudi Arabia,’ said Dr Nan Tian, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme. ‘At the global level, the weight of military spending is clearly shifting away from the Euro–Atlantic region.’

​​​​​​China leads continued spending increase in Asia and Oceania

Military expenditure in Asia and Oceania rose for the 29th successive year. China, the second largest spender globally, increased its military spending by 5.6 per cent to $228 billion in 2017. China’s spending as a share of world military expenditure has risen from 5.8 per cent in 2008 to 13 per cent in 2017. India spent $63.9 billion on its military in 2017, an increase of 5.5 per cent compared with 2016, while South Korea’s spending, at $39.2 billion, rose by 1.7 per cent between 2016 and 2017. ‘Tensions between China and many of its neighbours continue to drive the growth in military spending in Asia,’ said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI AMEX programme.

​​​​​​Spending falls sharply in Russia, but rises in Central and Western Europe

At $66.3 billion, Russia’s military spending in 2017 was 20 per cent lower than in 2016, the first annual decrease since 1998. ‘Military modernization remains a priority in Russia, but the military budget has been restricted by economic problems that the country has experienced since 2014,’ said Siemon Wezeman.

Driven, in part, by the perception of a growing threat from Russia, military spending in both Central and Western Europe increased in 2017, by 12 and 1.7 per cent, respectively. Many European states are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and, within that framework, have agreed to increase their military spending. Total military spending by all 29 NATO members was $900 billion in 2017, accounting for 52 per cent of world spending.

Higher spending by Saudi Arabia drives increase in the Middle East

Military expenditure in the Middle East rose by 6.2 per cent in 2017.** Spending by Saudi Arabia increased by 9.2 per cent in 2017 following a fall in 2016. With spending of $69.4 billion, Saudi Arabia had the third highest military expenditure in the world in 2017. Iran (19 per cent) and Iraq (22 per cent) also recorded significant increases in military spending in 2017. ‘Despite low oil prices, armed conflict and rivalries throughout the Middle East are driving the rise in military spending in the region,’ said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI AMEX programme. In 2017 military expenditure as a share of GDP (known as the ‘military burden’) was highest in the Middle East, at 5.2 per cent. No other region in the world allocated more than 1.8 per cent of GDP to military spending.

US spending no longer in decline

The United States continues to have the highest military expenditure in the world. In 2017 the USA spent more on its military than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. At $610 billion, US military spending was unchanged between 2016 and 2017. ‘The downward trend in US military spending that started in 2010 has come to an end,’ said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI AMEX programme. ‘US military spending in 2018 is set to rise significantly to support increases in military personnel and the modernization of conventional and nuclear weapons.’

​​​​​​Other notable developments

  • China made the largest absolute increase in spending ($12 billion) in 2017 (in constant 2016 prices), while Russia made the largest decrease (–$13.9 billion).
  • Military expenditure in South America rose by 4.1 per cent in 2017, mainly as a result of notable increases by the two largest spenders in the subregion: Argentina (up by 15 per cent) and Brazil (up by 6.3 per cent).
  • Military spending in Central America and the Caribbean fell by 6.6 per cent in 2017, largely due to lower spending by Mexico (down by 8.1 per cent from 2016).
  • Military expenditure in Africa decreased by 0.5 per cent in 2017, the third consecutive annual decrease since the peak in spending in 2014. Algeria’s military spending fell for the first time in over a decade (down by 5.2 per cent from 2016).
  • Seven of the 10 countries with the highest military burden are in the Middle East: Oman (12 per cent of GDP), Saudi Arabia (10 per cent of GDP), Kuwait (5.8 per cent of GDP), Jordan (4.8 per cent of GDP), Israel (4.7 per cent of GDP), Lebanon (4.5 per cent of GDP) and Bahrain (4.1 per cent of GDP).

 

https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2018/global-military-spending-remains-high-17-trillion

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Human Rights in the USA

 

The strong civil society and democratic institutions of the United States were tested in the first year of the administration of President Donald Trump. Across a range of issues in 2017, the US moved backward on human rights at home and abroad.

Trump has targeted refugees and immigrants, calling them criminals and security threats; emboldened racist politics by equivocating on white nationalism; and consistently championed anti-Muslim ideas and policies. His administration has embraced policies that will roll back access to reproductive health care for women; championed health insurance changes that would leave many more Americans without access to affordable health care; and undermined police accountability for abuse. Trump has also expressed disdain for independent media and for federal courts that have blocked some of his actions. And he has repeatedly coddled autocratic leaders and showed little interest or leadership in pressing for the respect of human rights abroad.

The individuals most likely to suffer abuse in the United States—including members of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are often least able to defend their rights in court or via the political process. Many vulnerable groups endured renewed attacks on their rights during the year. Other longstanding US laws and practices—particularly related to criminal and juvenile justice, immigration, and national security—continued to violate internationally recognized human rights.

A surge in immigration arrests of people living in the United States under the Trump administration is having a devastating impact on long-term immigrants with strong ties to the US.

Harsh Criminal Sentencing

On any given day in the US, there are 2.3 million people in state and federal prisons and jails, the world’s largest reported incarcerated population. Concerns about over-incarceration in prisons—partly due to mandatory minimum sentencing and excessively long sentences—have led some states and the US Congress to propose reforms. At time of writing, a bipartisan proposal for sentencing and corrections reform was gaining momentum in Congress, but the Trump administration had given no indication of support.

Thirty-one US states impose the death penalty. At time of writing, 23 people in eight states had been executed in 2017, all by lethal injection. Debate over lethal injection protocols continued, with several US states continuing to use experimental drug combinations and refusing to disclose their composition.

Racial Disparities, Drug Policy, and Policing

Racial disparities permeate every part of the US criminal justice system, including in the enforcement of drug laws. Black people make up 13 percent of the population and 13 percent of all adults who use drugs, but 27 percent of all drug arrests. Black men are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white men.

Police continue to kill black people in numbers disproportionate to their overall share of the population. Black people are 2.5 times as likely as white to be killed by police. An unarmed black person is five times as likely to be killed by police as an unarmed white person.

The Trump administration has expressed almost unconditional support for the prerogatives of law enforcement officers, scaling back or altogether removing police oversight mechanisms. The US Department of Justice began to discontinue investigations into, and monitoring of, local police departments reported to have patterns and practices of excessive force and constitutional violations.

The administration reversed an order from the Obama administration limiting acquisition of offensive military weaponry by local police departments. In a speech in July, President Trump encouraged officers to use unnecessary force on suspects. Congress introduced the “Back the Blue Act,” which would severely restrict civilians’ rights to sue police officers who unlawfully injure them.

Despite voicing concern over the opioid crisis, the Trump administration signaled an intent to re-escalate the “war on drugs” and de-emphasize bipartisan public health approaches to drug policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded his predecessor’s Smart on Crime initiative, which had prioritized federal prosecutions of individuals accused of high-level drug offenses, reduced racial disparities in federal drug sentencing, and improved re-entry opportunities.

Youth in the Criminal Justice System

Nearly 50,000 youth age 17 and younger are held in juvenile prisons or other confinement facilities on any given day in the US, and approximately 5,000 more are incarcerated in adult jails or prisons. Every year, 200,000 people under 18 have contact with the adult criminal system, with many children tried automatically as adults.

The US continues to sentence children to life in prison without parole, although states increasingly reject its use: as of 2017, 25 states and Washington, DC had banned or did not use the sentence for children.

Poverty and Criminal Justice

Poor defendants throughout the United States are locked up in pretrial detention because they cannot afford to post bail. A 2017 Human Rights Watch report demonstrated that pretrial detention—often resulting from failure to pay bail—coerces people, some innocent, into pleading guilty just to get out of jail. A movement to reduce the use of money bail is growing in the US, with several states implementing, and others considering, reform.

California pressures poor people who cannot pay bail to plead guilty in order to be released from jail. The system of money bail and pretrial detention also results in the unnecessary jailing of innocent people and undermines justice for all.

Many states and counties fund their court systems, including judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, partly or entirely via fees and fines imposed on criminal and traffic defendants. The privatization of misdemeanor probation services by several US states has led to abuses, including fees structured by private probation companies to penalize poor offenders.

Rights of Non-Citizens

One week after his January 20, 2017 inauguration, President Trump issued an executive order to suspend the US refugee program, cut the number of refugees who could be resettled into the US in 2017, and temporarily ban entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. This and later versions of the order banning entry from various countries have been the subject of ongoing federal litigation.

In October, Trump signed an executive order resuming the refugee program but with new screening measures. The annual cap for refugee admissions for 2018 was set at 45,000, the lowest annual limit since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980.

On the back of rhetoric falsely conflating illegal immigration with increased crime, Trump also moved to make all deportable immigrants “priority” targets for deportation, penalize so-called sanctuary cities and states that have limited local police involvement in federal immigration enforcement; expand abusive fast-track deportation procedures and criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses; and increase the prolonged detention of immigrants, despite evidence, documented by Human Rights Watch and others, of abusive conditions in immigration detention.

In August, President Trump repealed a program protecting from deportation immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, putting hundreds of thousands of people who grew up in the US at risk of deportation. President Trump signalled he would support legislation that provided legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. However, in October the White House released a hard-line set of immigration principles and policies—including weakening protections for child migrants and refugees—it considers necessary components of any such legislative deal.

Some cities and states sought to increase protections for immigrants by creating funds for legal services, limiting local law enforcement involvement in federal immigration enforcement, and resisting efforts to defund “sanctuary” cities. Others sought to pass laws punishing such localities.

In December, Human Rights Watch reported on the impact of the Trump administration on immigration policies, profiling dozens of long-term residents with strong family and other ties within the US who were summarily deported. US law rarely allows for individualized hearings that weigh such ties, and most immigrants do not have attorneys to help them fight deportation.

At time of writing, seizures for deportation of undocumented people from the interior without criminal convictions had nearly tripled to 31,888 between the inauguration and the end of September 2017, compared with 11,500 during approximately the same period in 2016.

Right to Health

To date, attempts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—legislation that has greatly expanded access to health care for millions of Americans—have failed. However, the Medicaid program, private insurance subsidies, non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and other key elements of the ACA remained vulnerable to regulatory action by the Trump administration.

The Trump administration’s opioid commission released an interim report endorsing numerous public health approaches, but did not recommend protecting Medicaid, which currently covers drug dependence treatment. The commission endorsed increased access to naloxone, the overdose reversal medication, but did not recommend that it be available over the counter, a potential game-changer in addressing the more than 90 deaths per day from opioid overdose in the US.

The US federal and state governments are taking insufficient action to ensure access to the life-saving medication naloxone to reverse opioid overdose, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths.

Around 1.5 million Americans live in nursing homes, where inappropriate and nonconsensual use of antipsychotic medications—for staff convenience or to discipline residents without a medical purpose—is widespread. To date, government agencies have not taken sufficient steps to end this practice.

Rights of People with Disabilities

The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the ACA, which provides crucial services to people with disabilities, and a proposed rollback of accessibility obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, could undermine the rights of people with disabilities. In July 2017, a man with a psychosocial disability, William Charles Morva, was executed in Virginia, 2017, despite pleas from lawmakers and UN experts to commute his sentence.

A 2017 Ruderman Foundation study found that one-third to one-half of all use of force by police in the US involve people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.

Trump also issued an executive order on “promoting free speech and religious liberty,” which will cut women off from access to reproductive health services. It invites agencies to issue regulations that would allow more employers and insurers to assert “conscience-based objections” to the preventive-care mandate of the ACA, which includes contraception. Religious employers are already exempt, and religious non-profits and certain closely held corporations also have accommodations. Following Trump’s order, the Department of Health and Human Services effectively reversed the contraceptive coverage mandate by expanding exemptions to cover nearly any objecting employer.

Equality Rights

The White House announced in August that it would scrap an equal pay initiative that was to go into effect in 2018. As a result, large employers and federal contractors will not be required to provide disaggregated information about employees’ compensation to civil rights enforcement agencies. It also revoked executive orders that required federal contractors to comply with fair pay measures and a ban on forced arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims. The Department of Education announced its intention to review and change guidelines on campus sexual assault, notably the Obama-era guidance on Title IX of Education Amendments Act of 1972.

Despite these significant assaults on women’s human rights, the picture was not entirely grim. Congress passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes new protections for whistleblowers in military sexual assault cases and requires training on preventing sexual assault. Trump signed into law the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, which aims to increase women’s participation in conflict prevention and security.

New York State’s 2017 law reform on child marriage dramatically reduces the circumstances under which children can marry.

National Security

President Trump made statements during the presidential campaign and once in office supporting the use of torture of detainees and other counterterrorism policies that would amount to violations of US and international law. Trump later backtracked on these proposals saying he would defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was outspoken against torture, on interrogation matters.

In November, the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested judicial authorization to open an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the armed conflict in Afghanistan, including by US personnel in secret detention sites in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

At time of writing, media reported that US forces interrogated detainees in secret prisons run by foreign forces in Yemen. Defense Department officials denied that abuses had occurred when US forces were present, although their statements did not preclude possible US complicity in torture. Following the reports, the Senate Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Mattis demanding an investigation into the matter. Mattis’ response remained classified at time of writing.

Trump promised to keep the US prison at Guantanamo Bay open and send new detainees there. The US continues to hold 31 men at the facility indefinitely without charge, nearly all of whom have been there for more than a decade. The Obama administration failed to release five that it had cleared for release. It claimed the remaining 26 could neither be prosecuted nor released but did not adequately explain the basis for these determinations or allow detainees to meaningfully challenge them.

The US continues to prosecute seven men for terrorist offenses, including the 9/11 attacks on the US, in Guantanamo’s fundamentally flawed military commissions system, which does not meet international fair trial standards. It also is holding three men who have already been convicted by the commissions.

Surveillance

Throughout 2017, the US continued to carry out large-scale warrantless intelligence surveillance programs without transparency or oversight. Authorities used Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to target non-citizens (except lawful permanent residents) outside the country for warrantless communications monitoring and to “incidentally” gather large numbers of communications to or from people in the US.

Section 702 was scheduled to end at the end of 2017 unless Congress renewed it; at time of writing federal appeals courts had differing conclusions about the constitutionality of certain aspects of the law.

US surveillance of global communications under Executive Order 12333 remained shrouded in secrecy, with neither Congress nor the courts providing meaningful oversight. In January, the government disclosed procedures for the National Security Agency (NSA) to share data with domestic law enforcement agencies obtained by surveillance under the order. Documents disclosed to Human Rights Watch during the year revealed a Defense Department policy under the order sanctioning otherwise prohibited forms of monitoring of people inside the United States designated as “homegrown violent extremists.” The Defense Department has not revealed how it designates “extremists” or what types of monitoring may result.

In May 2017, the Trump administration approved a proposal that asks US visa applicants for social media handles and accounts from the past five years as part of its enhanced vetting process. The US also continues to assert broad authority to search electronic devices and copy data at the border without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Freedom of Expression and Assembly

In one of his last acts in office, President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, a soldier who had received a 35-year prison term for disclosing US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks and endured abuse while in custody. However, the US government continued to seek the extradition from Russia of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed the scope of US mass surveillance in 2013.

In June 2017, the Justice Department indicted NSA contractor Reality Winner for allegedly disclosing classified information about possible Russian government interference in the 2016 US election. Under current US law and contrary to international human rights law, Winner will not have a chance to claim that she made her disclosures in the public interest.

President Trump repeatedly criticized journalists and posted comments and videos denigrating them during the year, prompting concerns over the chilling of freedom of speech. In August 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern that “freedom of the press” in the United States was “under attack from the President.”

Two UN experts expressed alarm about state legislative proposals seeking to “criminalize peaceful protests,” and a third described “a militarized, at times violent, escalation of force…” against protesters opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. In August, a woman protesting at a rally held by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, was killed when a man allegedly drove a car into the crowd; the driver was charged with murder.

In July 2017, the US Justice Department served a warrant on a company that hosted a website used to coordinate protests at the inauguration, demanding information that included more than 1.3 million Internet Protocol addresses that could identify site visitors.

Foreign Policy

During his inaugural address, Trump articulated a vision of foreign policy that placed “America First,” vowing to defeat terrorism, strengthen the US military, and embrace diplomacy based on US interests. Some foreign dignitaries invited to the White House early in his presidency included those with poor reputations on human rights, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sought to overhaul the US State Department’s structure by sharply reducing the State Department’s staffing and global role, including by requesting a 29 percent decrease in funding for the State Department and international aid.

In April, the US carried out a targeted military strike on the al Shayrat Syrian airfield in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 civilians. The April strike was not accompanied by a clear strategy for continued engagement in Syria.

During his first foreign trip in May, which began in Saudi Arabia, Trump announced a US$110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, and pledged to address human rights concerns through “gradual reforms.” Secretary Tillerson voiced concern during the same trip about lack of free speech in Iran, while ignoring equally onerous restrictions in Saudi Arabia.

In June, the US Senate voted 53-47 against a proposal that would have banned $510 million in arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its role in the conflict in Yemen; a similar measure garnered only 27 votes in 2016. Also that month, the Trump administration announced it might withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over purported bias against Israel, among other concerns.

In July 2016, the US Congress extended through 2019 its authority to freeze assets and ban visas of Venezuelan officials accused of abuses against anti-government demonstrators. In 2017, the Trump administration imposed additional sanctions on Venezuelan officials, including President Maduro, and economic sanctions that prohibit dealings in new securities that the Venezuelan government and its state oil company issue. President Trump’s August threat to use military force against Venezuela met with widespread criticism in the region.

In August, the State Department announced that it had re-allocated some of Egypt’s US assistance and had frozen additional monies and military assistance, subject to democracy and human rights conditions.

However, joint military exercises that had been on hiatus resumed the next day. After months of review, President Trump announced his administration’s new policy on Afghanistan, calling for more US troops, expanded airstrikes, and looser rules of engagement governing anti-Taliban combat operations. The policy also calls on Pakistan to do more to prevent terrorists from harboring there, and on India to play a more influential regional role.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to an “America First” agenda and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” and referred to Iran as a “rogue nation” and to the Iran nuclear deal as an “embarrassment.”

The US did not publicly support calls at the UNHRC for a commission of inquiry into abuses in Yemen, but was active during negotiations and ultimately joined consensus on a resolution to create an international investigation.

In November, Trump traveled to Asia, visiting China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam while in the region for the ASEAN summit in the Philippines. During the trip, Trump boasted of his good relations with authoritarian leaders and did not publicly comment on core human rights concerns, including the Rohingya crisis.

As the fighting against the extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria continued, the number of US airstrikes and the number of civilian casualties increased significantly with little acknowledgement by the Pentagon. Strikes also resumed in Libya and increased in pace in Somalia. Trump reportedly changed US policy for drone strikes outside conventional war zones to allow attacks on lower-level terrorism suspects in more countries, with less oversight, and greater secrecy. The CIA was reportedly granted authority to carry out covert drone strikes in Afghanistan.

The Trump administration was considering withdrawing from the UNHRC, primarily because of concerns about the body’s membership and its dedicated agenda item on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Although the council’s membership includes some serial rights violators, this has not prevented it from successfully addressing a wide range of human rights issues.

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/united-states

9 things the rest of the world does so much better than America

When it comes to food waste, vacation time and student loans, the U.S. is anything but a beacon for the free world

July 10, 2015 9:15am (UTC)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

America! Land of the free, home of the brave, and the greatest country on the face of the planet, right? A country with seemingly limitless natural resources, and according to many politicians, anointed by God herself to lead the world out of the wilderness and into a bright new age of liberty and justice for all. Too bad the road to that vision is pockmarked with so many potholes, because we haven’t raised enough taxes on people who can afford to pay to fill them.

Americans, maybe more than anyone on Earth, are guilty of the sin of hubris and excessive pride. As the great Greek poets of the ancient world have taught us, hubris can lead to some really bad outcomes.The reality is that a good portion of the rest of the world has far outpaced the United States in things like healthcare. While the U.S. has painstakingly cobbled together a convoluted insurance-friendly monster called Obamacare (remarkable mostly for how much better it is than what we had), the rest of the developed world enjoys one-payer government healthcare that outperforms the U.S. in both cost and quality of care. The proof is in the pudding; they live longer than Americans.

But healthcare is not the only way America lags behind the rest of the world. Here are 11 things other countries do better than us.

  1. Food waste reduction.

In a country as bountiful as the United States, it is remarkable how many people are hungry. Almost 50 million Americans, present to some degree in every single county of the country, live in a food-insecure household. Meanwhile, while children go to bed on empty stomachs, up to 40% of the food supply, more than 20 pounds of food per person per month, is wasted. That’s $165 billion worth of food thrown out. Factor in all the water, energy and land used to produce this waste and it borders on criminal.

France has a better way. This year, national French law banned the disposal of unsold food. Instead, the food must be donated to charity or used as animal feed. Food-related businesses are now required to sign up with a charity and donate unsold food. The food must be in a state ready for consumption (to save the charities the time and money to prepare it). The law also incorporates an education program to inform schools, businesses and the general public about the food waste problem. The goal is to cut food waste in France in half by 2025.

  1. College loans.

The cost of a college education in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years, as any debt-ridden college grad can tell you. A political frenzy of tax-cutting fever has hobbled monetary support for public universities, especially at the state government level, and private college tuition has reached unaffordable heights mostly due to reckless spending and administrative bloat. Caught in this upward spiral are lower- and middle-class students who now leave school with college debt approaching $30,000 on average, crippling their ability to accept lower paying but attractive jobs, relocate, or even move out of their parents’ homes

Most developed countries scratch their heads at the idea that we must burden our children with debt in order to educate them and strengthen the nation. In countries like Germany, Iceland, Brazil, Norway, even Panama, public university tuition is free. Even in the United Kingdom, although education isn’t free, the government allows students to pay loans back based on their income, reducing the pressure of debt and allowing more freedom of choice upon completion of college. Additionally, the UK writes off the debt after 30 years if it has not been paid back. Compare that to the US, where nothing, not even bankruptcy, erases college debt.

  1. Maternity leave.

We hear a lot of wistful nostalgia from the right-wing political establishment about the good ol’ days, when mothers were home taking care of their children and parents were ever-present in their lives. Yet the same politicians gnash their teeth at any hint of government help that would go a long way to realizing their nostalgic dreams. Maternity leave policy in the United States is left entirely to the whims of individual states, and in many cases, to the whims of individual employers. The federal government guarantees only unpaid leave. Meanwhile, the burden of paying bills forces many mothers to get back to work as soon as they are able.

In many other countries, maternity leave is guaranteed and even paid for. Denmark guarantees a full year of paid maternity leave, to be split between mother and father, for all public sector employees. France, Spain, the Netherlands and Austria offer four months fully paid leave. Croatia, a year. Russia, 20 weeks. Serbia, a year. And on it goes.

  1. The rights of the Earth.

The recent Supreme Court decision struck a blow against clean air, allowing coal-fired power plants to emit minimal amounts of mercury and other poisonous pollutants into the atmosphere. The Environmental Protection Agency is in a constant battle against conservatives who are tirelessly working to cripple the agency’s power to limit air, water and ground pollution.

In Ecuador, they have a different perspective. In 2008, Ecuadoreans rewrote their constitution and became the first country to recognize the rights of natureto defend itself against humankind. The constitution recognized nature’s right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.” Citizens have the right, by law, to enforce nature’s rights, and nature itself can be named as the defendant in Ecuador’s court system. Nature is acknowledged not as the property of humans to do with as we please, but as an equal partner in the protection and health of the planet.

  1. Wi-Fi service.

In the United States, as in much of the developed world, Wi-Fi access to the Internet is considered a private service for which we pay to use. And we pay dearly. Not only is Wi-Fi service slower in America, we also pay twice as much or more than our world counterparts. The reason for this is pretty clear. In the U.S., most of our Wi-Fi infrastructure is controlled by a very few monopolistic companies, like Time Warner and Comcast. No competition equals high prices and lousy service.

In the tiny country of Estonia, Wi-Fi access is free to all. In Estonia, you can walk outside for miles and never lose your Internet connection. And 97% of schools have Internet. Compare that to only half the schools in the United States, a country infinitely richer. Ninety-four percent of tax returns in Estonia are done online. Voting can be done online. Doctor’s prescriptions are issued online. Access to information. Banking. All this and more in a country where half the citizens literally had no phones 20 years ago.

  1. Vacation time.

The United States is the only developed nation without any legally required paid holiday or vacation day. Zero. Conservatives have often argued that vacation time reduces productivity, and that in order to remain productive, American workers must outperform and out-work the rest of the world.

Then again, working constantly and productivity are not always linked. The US is the fifth most productive country, lagging behind Switzerland, Singapore, Finland and Germany, all of which mandate paid vacation and holiday time. In the European Union, every single country grants its citizens a minimum of four paid workweeks of vacation time per year. Experts have shown that productivity on the job increases after a prolonged vacation. John Schmitt, a senior economist at Center for Economic Policy Research told the business website 24/7 Wall Street, “paid vacation and holidays don’t appear to have any meaningful impact on macroeconomic outcomes.”

  1. Bike friendliness.

In 2015, 150 cities were ranked for their bicycle-friendliness. Factored in, among other things, were political leadership, facilities, culture, and traffic reduction. The top city in the world for bike friendliness, no surprise, is Amsterdam, where cycling is safe, relaxing and efficient. Other cities ranking high are Copenhagen, Utrecht, Berlin, and Barcelona. Only one city on this top 20 is an American city, Minneapolis, ranked 18th. (At least during the non-frigid months.)

Studies have shown the enormous benefits of a bike-friendly environment. For every dollar spent building a new bike lane, cities save as much as $24, leading to lower health costs, reduced pollution and reduced traffic.

  1. Tipping practices.

The reason that tipping in our culture has evolved is that we simply do not pay our service sector anything approaching a living wage. A hundred years ago, tipping was not common in America. We considered ourselves a classless society, and tipping pointed to a troubling attitude of a servility that was the opposite of the American ideal of class mobility. This changed with Prohibition. With the reduced revenue restaurants suffered from the elimination of alcohol service, tipping was encouraged to help servers make ends meet. The practice took off from there, and restaurant lobbyists went further, uncoupling tipped employees from minimum wage requirements. Since 1991, tipped employees’ federal minimum wage has been frozen at $2.13. In effect, the food industry has shifted the responsibility for paying its employees to consumers.

In most other developed nations, waiters, cab drivers and other service employees, who are paid decent salaries, do not expect to be tipped, and if they do, they are pleased with much less than the typical 15-20% tip Americans fork over to their service providers. In fact, in other countries, tipping can occasionally be considered an insult to an employee, as it is inJapan.

  1. The metric system.

Outside of Burma and Liberia, the United States is the only country in the world not using the metric system. We got close to metrification during the Jimmy Carter years, when Congress mandated a switch to the system. However, the switch was scuttled with the election of Ronald Reagan, who deemed it too expensive and presumably un-American. Meanwhile, in an increasingly globalized economy, the refusal to go metric has begun to affect the U.S. bottom line. In a global economy, businesses expecting to prosper need to be speaking the same language, the universal language of science, medicine and commerce. The metric language.

In 1991, the Mars Climate Orbiter project, a NASA initiative to study weather on Mars, literally went up in smoke. Its orbit was too low, causing it to burn up from the friction in the Martian atmosphere. The reason behind the low orbit was eye-opening. While Lockheed Martin, a NASA subcontractor that helped design the Orbiter, was using American imperial units, the rest of the designers, from partnering countries, were using metrics. Conversion errors were made, and $328 million evaporated.

https://www.salon.com/2015/07/10/11_things_the_rest_of_the_world_does_so_much_better_than_america_partner/

Infrastructure

How does infrastructure in the U.S. compare to that of the rest of the world? It depends on who you ask.

On the last two report cards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, U.S. infrastructure scored a D+. This year’s report urged the government and private sector to increase spending by US$2 trillion within the next 10 years, in order to improve not only the physical infrastructure, but the country’s economy overall.

Meanwhile, the country’s international rank in overall infrastructure quality jumped from 25th to 12th place out of 138 countries, according to the World Economic Forum.

On Feb. 12, the White House revealed its $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild U.S. infrastructure, financed through a combination of federal, local and private sectors. This is a long awaited plan, as the nation’s infrastructure quality continues to suffer.

The quality of infrastructure systems can be measured in different ways – including efficiency, safety and how much money is being invested. As a researcher in risk and resilience of infrastructure systems, I know that infrastructure assessment is far too complex to boil down into one metric. For instance, while the U.S. ranks second in road infrastructure spending, it falls in 60th place for road safety, due to the high rate of deaths from road traffic.

But by many measures, the U.S. falls short of the rest of the world. Two of these characteristics are key to our infrastructure’s future: resilience and sustainability. A new class of solutions is emerging that, with the right funding, can help address these deficiencies.

Resilience

Resilient infrastructures are able to effectively respond to and recover from disruptive events. The U.S. is still in the top 25 percent of countries with the most resilient infrastructure systems. But it falls behind many other developed countries because the country’s infrastructure is aging and increasingly vulnerable to disruptive events.

For example, the nation’s inland waterway infrastructure has not been updated since it was first built in the 1950s. As a result, 70 percent of the 90,580 dams in the U.S. will be over 50 years old by 2025, which is beyond the average lifespan of dams.

Vehicles at a business are surrounded by floodwaters from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

In addition, since the 1980s, weather-related power outages in the U.S. have become as much as 10 times more frequent.

Several European countries – such as Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Finland – are ahead of the U.S. in the FM Global Resilience Index, a data-driven indicator of a country’s ability to respond to and recover from disruptive events. Though these countries are exposed to natural hazards and cyber risks, their infrastructure’s stability and overall high standards allow them to effectively survive disruptive events.

The U.S. infrastructure was built according to high standards 50 years ago, but that’s no longer enough to ensure protection from today’s extreme weather. Such weather events are becoming more frequent and more extreme. That has a severe impact on our infrastructure, as cascading failures through interdependent systems such as transportation, energy and water will ultimately adversely impact our economy and society.

Take 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which was considered a 1,000-year flood event. The unexpectedly strong rainfalls broke records and caused damages equivalent to $15 billion. A better infrastructure that is modernized and well-maintained based on data-driven predictions of such events would have resulted in less impact and faster recovery, saving the society large damages and losses.

As the country’s infrastructure ages, extreme weather events have a greater impact. That means the recovery is slower and less efficient, making the U.S. less resilient than its counterparts.

Sustainability

In terms of sustainability practices designed to reduce impact on human health and the environment, the U.S. does not make it to the top 10, according to RobecoSAM, an investment specialist focused exclusively on sustainability investing.

Average CO₂ emissions per capita in the U.S. are double that of other industrialized countries and more than three times as high as those in France.

The infrastructure in most EU countries facilitates and encourages sustainable practices. For example, railroads are mostly dedicated to commuters, while the bulk of freight moves through waterways, which is considered the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient mode of transportation.

In the U.S., however, 76 percent of commuters drive their own cars, as railroads are mostly reserved for freight and public transit is not efficient compared to other countries. American cities do not show up in the top cities for internal transportation, as do cities such as Madrid, Hong Kong, Seoul and Vienna.

To promote sustainable practices, global initiatives such as the New Climate Economy and the Task Committee on Planning for Sustainable Infrastructure aim to guide governments and businesses toward sustainable decision-making, especially when planning new infrastructure.

Smart infrastructure as a solution

To address challenges of resilience and sustainability, future infrastructure systems will have to embrace cyber-physical technologies and data-driven approaches.

A smart city is a city that is efficient in providing services and managing assets using information and communication technology. For example, in Barcelona, a city park uses sensor technology to collect and transmit real-time data that can inform gardeners on plant needs.

While there is no official benchmark to grade countries in this aspect, a number of American cities, such as Houston and Seattle, are considered among the world’s “smartest” cities, according to economic and environmental factors.

In order to prioritize dam restoration, the dam safety engineering practice is moving toward a data-driven process that would rank the dams based on how important they are to the rest of the waterway system. And last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a call to action to improve road safety by releasing a large database on road fatalities, which researchers can study to answer important questions.

Similarly, worldwide initiatives are seeking smart solutions that integrate communication and information technology to improve the resilience of cities such as 100 Resilient Cities and Smart Resilience.

It’s imperative that we pursue these types of new solutions, so U.S. infrastructure can better and more sustainably withstand future disruptions and deliver better quality of life to citizens, too. Perhaps, by addressing these needs, the U.S. can improve its score on its next report cards.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 28, 2017.

http://theconversation.com/measuring-up-us-infrastructure-against-other-countries-78164

 

 

 

Politics – 5

Russia

As a country, it is full of contradictions.  One sees the growth of private industry and an openness to tourism.  It hosts international sports events.  Yet corruption is rife and the country has a good number of oligarchs, who are very, very rich.  It is very difficult to speak out against President Putin or his friends. Then there is the extreme poverty, especially in the eastern part of Russia.  Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious groups are being targeted, including the forcible closing down of churches.

These days, the Russian Government has been accused of interfering in a number of political events (the recent American election and the EU referendum).  And now there is circus that is the supposed involvement of the Russian FSB (what was the KGB) in the use of a chemical agent in the attack on an ex-Soviet spy and his daughter in Salisbury, a town in the south of England, not too far from Portondown, the UK centre for research into how to deal with chemical and biological ‘agents’.  The UK Government has said it is almost certain that the ‘attack’ on British soil was orchestrated by Russia.  As a consequence the ‘game’ of expulsions has begun.  What makes it different from previous events is the sheer number of countries that have supported the UK in expelling a number of Russian diplomats.

What do we know about the chemical Novichok?

Novichok (Russian: Новичо́к, “newcomer”) is a series of nerve agents the Soviet Union and Russia developed between 1971 and 1993.[a][2][3] Russian scientists who developed the agents claim they are the deadliest nerve agents ever made, with some variants possibly five to eight times more potent than VX,[4][5] and others up to ten times more potent than soman.[6]

They were designed as part of a Soviet program codenamed “FOLIANT”.[7][1] Five Novichok variants are believed to have been weaponised for military use.[8] The most versatile was A-232 (Novichok-5).[9] Novichok agents have never been used on the battlefield.

In 2016 Iranian chemists synthesised five Novichok agents for analysis and produced detailed mass spectral data which was added to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Central Analytical Database.[12][13] Previously there had been no detailed descriptions of their spectral properties in open scientific literature.[14][12]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novichok_agent


Russia’s record with Chemical and Biological Agents

The Soviet Union’s chemical weapons programme was in such disarray in the aftermath of the Cold War that some toxic substances and know-how could have got into the hands of criminals, say people who dealt with the programme at the time.

“Could somebody have smuggled something out?” said Amy Smithson, a biological and chemical weapons expert.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule that possibility out, especially a small amount and particularly in view of how lax the security was at Russian chemical facilities in the early 1990s.”

While nerve agents degrade over time, if the pre-cursor ingredients for the nerve agent were smuggled out back then, stored in proper conditions and mixed recently, they could still be deadly in a small-scale attack, two experts on chemical weapons told Reuters.

Accounts of security deficiencies at weapons facilities indicate that, at least for a period in the 1990s, Moscow was not in firm control of its chemical weapons stockpiles or the people guarding them.

When Russian banking magnate Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary died in 1995 from organ failure after a military-grade poison was found on the telephone receiver of his Moscow office, an employee of a state chemical research institute confessed to having secretly supplied the toxin.

In a closed-door trial, Kivelidi’s business partner was convicted of poisoning Kivelidi over a dispute. At the trial, prosecutors said the business partner had obtained the poison, via several intermediaries, from Leonid Rink, an employee of a state chemical research institute known as GosNIIOKhT.

The same institute, according to Vil Mirzayanov, a Soviet chemical weapons scientist who later turned whistleblower, was part of the state chemical weapons programme and helped develop the “Novichok” family of nerve agents that Britain has said was responsible for poisoning Skripal.

In a statement to investigators after his arrest, viewed by Reuters, Rink said he was in possession of poisons created as part of the chemical weapons programme which he stored in his garage. On more than one occasion, he said, he sold the substances to supplement his income and pay down a debt.

The poison in the Kivelidi case was sold in a deal brokered by an ex-policeman contact of Rink’s. Rink handed over the poison, in an ampoule hidden inside a pen presentation box, in a meeting at Moscow’s Belorussky station, according to his statement.

Rink received a one-year suspended prison sentence for “misuse of powers,” according to Boris Kuznetsov, who was a lawyer for Kivelidi’s business partner during the trial.

Kuznetsov said he believed his client was innocent, and that Kivelidi was poisoned by rogue intelligence officers acting without the knowledge of the Russian president at the time, Boris Yeltsin.

The Soviet chemical weapons programme was a sprawling operation spread across far-flung provincial cities that incorporated the world’s largest chemical arsenal, publicly declared at 40,000 tonnes.

When the Soviet Union ceased to exist, funding dried up, scientists’ salaries were in several months of arrears, staff morale slumped and facilities were left to fend for themselves with little government control or oversight.

According to a 1995 report published by the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington security think-tank, and based on accounts from industry insiders, physical security at the facilities was deficient.

It said railroad entrances to the facilities were padlocked but unguarded, and at some sites chemical weapons were stored in buildings with wooden doors and tiled roofs that an intruder could get into with little difficulty.

Chemical weapons were stored in silos without tamper-proof seals, making it difficult to detect if small quantities were being siphoned off.

A second report by the Stimson Center four years later highlighted the risk of Soviet chemical weapons scientists – who earned a pittance when they were paid at all – being recruited by criminals, terrorists, or rogue states.

“All the ingredients for successful black marketeering are present through the chemical and biological complexes – under- or unemployed, scientists and managers, valuable commodities at far-flung locations, and poor security,” the report said.

SATELLITE STATES

In some cases in the early 1990s, highly toxic chemical agents wound up outside Russian territory, in ex-Soviet facilities in newly-independent states such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

According to Mirzayanov, the former Soviet chemical weapons scientist, the “Novichok” family of nerve agents developed by the GosNIIOKhT institute was tested in Nukus, Uzbekistan.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Mirzayanov, now resident in Princeton, New Jersey, said though he believed the Kremlin was behind the Skripal attack.

The ex-Soviet republics outside Russia that suddenly found themselves hosting ex-Soviet chemical weapons facilities were even less equipped than Moscow to secure them.

U.S. troops who arrived in Uzbekistan after 2001 to establish an air base in the city of Khanabad came across stockpiles of old munitions that had not been accounted for, which turned out to contain chlorine and other chemical compounds, said someone who was present at the time and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

People in the chemical weapons field said security since the 1990s had improved drastically, helped by Western aid, the transfer of weapons stockpiles from neighbouring states to Russia and a stronger Russian state.

Russia’s trade and industry ministry, which oversaw the disposal of chemical weapons stockpiles, said in a statement sent to Reuters that Russia had destroyed 100 percent of the stocks in strict compliance with international commitments, and faster than the United States.

The ministry did not address questions about chemical weapons smuggling in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse.

Ukraine’s state security service, which tracks weapons proliferation, said it had no immediate comment.

The Uzbek foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The state-owned Kazakh nuclear company which operates the Pavlodar Chemical Plant, a former chemical weapons facility, and the Energy Ministry, to which the nuclear company reports, did not reply to questions.

http://news.trust.org/item/20180314181331-8936f/


Vil Mirzayanov, as mentioned above, is supposed to have published the formula for the nerve agent.  If that is true, then anyone could have used it.  The issue is why was Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 attacked with such an agent?  A possible explanation can be found here http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/the-daughter-of-former-russian-spy-sergei-skripal-was-the-real-target-of-the-nerve-agent-attack-relative-claims/news-story/5d7bb94389d882b6a41ee4afc5cc5d01 and here https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/russian-spy-poisoning-skripal-salisbury_uk_5a9fbe18e4b0d4f5b66bcd91


Gwyn Winfield—the editorial director of CBRNe World magazine, a trade publication for those dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive threats—said it’s possible that the Russians continued to develop novichoks in the years after the publication of Mirzayanov’s book. But even then, the British were probably able to reliably gather minute traces with a novichok’s unique chemical signature.

“You’d have to detect the phosphate chain, and they [mass spectrometers] are probably looking at broad families detecting something hazardous in the environment,” Winfield added, referring to a flame phytometry detector that the British Army likely used for chemical identification.

Winfield said it’s also important to note that we don’t yet have any idea what particular novichok variant hit the Skripals and the police officer who responded to them.

When Winfield first heard about the incident, he and other journalists thought it was a fentanyl overdose. “When the Salisbury Hospital shut down, [it was done so for] fentanyl poisoning,” Winfield told The Daily Beast. “That sounded right, that we were looking at two individuals who had overdosed on something.”

Fentanyl wouldn’t be out of the question: Prior to its more recent use in the United States as an opioid, Winfield said the drug has been used for assassination attempts. “It was effective and inefficient, and there was plausible deniability,” he said, pointing out that victims could be thought to have overdosed.

When Prime Minister May came out and said the culprit was novichoks, Winfield said he was surprised, particularly given that Skripal reportedly became aggressive, waved his arms, and pointed to the sky while yelling in Russian, he said. “Those don’t fit into what we know about organophosphate exposures,” Winfield explained—which means that while novichok is being pointed to as the source nerve agent, it’s possible that it was swirled with another drug that produced hallucinogenic qualities that were more similar to a fentanyl poisoning.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/sorry-i-developed-the-weapon-that-poisoned-a-russian-spy


In all the ‘fuss’ about the attempted murder, it is time to put the issue into context.  This involves a couple of people who are the centre of a political ‘crisis’.  But, what about the other more pressing issues that are happening around the world?  For example, the situation in the South China Seas (where China has claimed jurisdiction over large swathes of the area and so is at odds with her neighbours and the USA), or the Yemen (where millions are dying due to lack of food and medicine as bombing continues), or the growth of the drug cartels, human trafficking and the arms trade.  These involve a lot more people and just because some of the ‘issues’ are ‘over there’ does not mean we should treat people any different than we do in the UK, for they all have the potential of developing into wider disputes and much loss of life.  And at a time when relations with Russia over the Ukraine and Syria are at a all-time low, it is not diplomatic to accuse it until definite and corroborated evidence can be presented to them show Mrs May and Mr Johnson calling them ‘names’.

So, I call upon the media, government and the public to stop jumping to conclusions over this affair, and see it in a wider world context.

Politics – 4

Christians in politics

Back in the 1990’s, an organisation called ‘The Movement for Christian Democracy’ was born.  It was brought into being by three MPs, one from each of the main political parties.  It was an attempt to bring together all those who believed in the teachings of the Bible applied to political thought.  I was excited by its breadth and balance.  There was a ‘maturity’ about it not found in the manifestos of the various political parties.  The original attention was not to form a ‘Christian Democratic’ party but to influence Government policy and thinking.  Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, a number of its members believed it was the right time to do just that, so the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA) was born.  A number of other groups were also spawned from it.  Even though the CPA has put forward a number of candidates, it has not garnered many votes.

A good number of MPs have declared in one way or another that they are Christians, including Prime Ministers.  Unfortunately, this often means ‘Christian’ in name only.  They have not based their policy on biblical principles, and even if it is, they do not keep to those principles.  This has been evident in recent events over same-sex marriage, and homosexuality in general, all for political expediency.  To me, that makes you wonder if that individual can be trusted with one’s vote.  I could give a number of examples, but it would not achieve anything.  Now, as a Christian, one should seek to follow the principles outlined in the Bible.  Unlike others, we have a framework to base our thinking and practice.  Our understandings may vary from person to person, hence why MPs can stand for the various Parties and still keep their principles.  These biblical values means to stand up against their Party when a policy falls foul of the Bible; that means fearing God more than the Whip!

So, when are we going to hear of Christians who are prepared to stick up for their biblical principles, have a wholistic and integrated viewpoint and express it in an attitude of Jesus love?

(Having had a look at the various manifestos of the ‘Christian’ parties, I would not vote for them for a number of their policies are similar to those of the English Democrats, a far right party.  Also some of the attitudes that come across in their writings are not very loving.)

Below is a copy of the original ‘Westminster Declaration’ published in a publication of the Movement for Christian Democracy in the 1990s. (Not the one published by the CPA recently.)

HRP – VALUES – THE WESTMINSTER DECLARATION – MCD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politics – 3

Another election has taken place.  The results will not be fair and nothing much will change.  What we need is a different way of voting and Government structure.

When we come to vote, we decide on a number of issues:

  • who we want to represent us in Parliament  (ideally, this would mean that we no longer have political parties; the individuals standing for election need to have lived in the constituency for at least five years and can demonstrate their involvement in the community in a variety of ways)
  • who we want to lead the country (someone who has experience in bringing people together, has verifiable exemplary leadership skills, can speak at least one other ‘useful’ language, has a good working knowledge of all issues (both national and international), has travelled extensively, and is well educated in politics and world affairs)
  • who we want to lead the various Government departments (of which there should only be a maximum of ten, preferably eight) (each potential candidate should have demonstrable experience in the relevant field at senior leadership level of at least ten years, has potential policies to implement, has ‘people skills’ and has suitable qualifications in politics and world affairs)

All candidates should be able to demonstrate that they are people of integrity, have strong mental and physical health to be able to cope with the pressures of the work, and that their family (if married or in a permanent relationship) is wholly committed to the candidate standing and that it will not put a strain on their relationship.

Elections should take place every ten years so that Governments have time to make a real difference with their policies.

Policies should be decided by the Prime Minister/President and the leaders of the various Departments so that there is an integrated approach to all issues.

The ‘Cabinet’ consists of Prime Minister, Department Leaders and the ‘Civil Service’ Chief.  Each year, one of the Department Leaders would be the Prime Minister’s deputy.

I would like to suggest that all current titles are abolished and replaced with the following:

Executive Director (old Prime Minister)

Director – Environment, Transport, Housing

Director – Security (Defence), Justice

Director – Finance (inc Benefits)

Director – Health and Well-Being

Director – Foreign Affairs

Director – Business

Director – Culture, Media and Sport

Director – Lifelong Learning, Knowledge Management, Science

Director – Government Staffing (old Civil Service), Ethics and Legislation

Constituencies become smaller so that MPs can really engage with people and have time to serve on one Scrutiny of Policy Commission for each of the eight areas.

The House of Lords is abolished, the Houses of Parliament becomes a museum and a brand new Parliament building is created with the main auditorium created for 700+ MPs, and equipped with future-proofed technology (both visual and sound based).  Also within the complex, there is an office suite for each MP, their PA, and two researchers; suitable catering facilities; many meeting rooms for small gatherings of up to 50 people; medical facilities for basic healthcare; proper security facilities and control – the building is built so that there is only limited number of access points and can withstand a bomb attack.  All Government Departments are also located in this complex.  The design team for the building will need to consult with MPs, Government Department leaders, staff, security experts etc as what is required and it meets the highest environment standards.  The building should be located on a ‘brownfield’ site in the east of London, to help increase employment in a low job area.

All election candidates to be given a partially-refundable amount of finance for campaigning (but only to those candidates who meet certain criteria – what should they be?).  Donations cannot be given to make sure there is no fraud or potential favours given.

Unfortunately, none of the above will happen unless every member of the public who cares about this country takes hold of the above and writes to their MP and to the Prime Minister.  We would also need a few how profile people to take hold of the vision and get it discussed on the television, radio and the papers as well as on-line.  Anyone up for the challenge?

Any thoughts, suggestions on improving greatly received.

Politics – 2

Every so often the media raises the issue of donations to political parties and yet nothing much is done about this and the subject of expenses. I think it is time to simplify the situation.

I would like to suggest that all political parties are funded purely by its members paying a fixed rate, so everyone is treated equally and no donations are to be accepted to prevent fraud.

All members also would be given one vote to be used for the following purposes:
– to vote for – their party leader
– party secretary
– allocation of funds inc campaigning
– party auditor
– to vote in – manifesto policies
– constitution

This way, political parties will have to listen to their members, otherwise they will put themselves out of ‘business’. If any party goes bust, the members of Parliament would stay in post, but will have to become Independents.

For Independents to stand for election, they will be allowed a fixed amount for campaigning and office expenses.

As regards expenses, the following is to be covered by the Treasury:

MPs should be given a en-suite room in a building built specifically for them and is only available to those whose constituencies are outside the Greater London area. All utility and cleaning costs are met. Meals and other costs whilst staying there are to be met out of their salary.

As regards travel expenses to and from their constituency, they are given a fixed allowance per month as part of their salary, whatever their position. If there is foreign travel required, an allowance is given plus cost of tickets to travel second class.

Also an allowance should be given to pay for staff (a PA and two researchers) and a constituency office with slightly bigger allowance for London constituencies.

Salaries should be based an average pay for a middle manager plus an entertainment allowance (less than they get now).

This would save the Government money and reduce fraud and make it fairer for everybody concerned