Sunday, November 19, 2017


Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that El Salvador should apply a moratorium on laws that punish women with harsh jail terms for having an abortion while it reviews cases of those already incarcerated. Women are being imprisoned for the crime of "aggravated homicide" due to what he described as obstetric emergencies.

"I am appalled that as a result of El Salvador's absolute prohibition on abortion, women are being punished for apparent miscarriages and other obstetric emergencies, accused and convicted of having induced termination of pregnancy," he said.

Since 1997, the Central American country has had one of the most severe laws targeting women and people who assist with abortions.  The local Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion puts at 27 cases in which exclusively poor women have been sentenced to jail terms of six to 35 years.

World Toilet Day

 Arne Panesar, who heads the department for sustainable sanitary provisions at the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) explained:
 "The mayor of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, for instance, said that now only 1 percent of the city's 16 million inhabitants are without toilets." But if you look at where the waste goes, things are not as rosy as the mayor paints them. Of those 16 million people, only 1 or 2 percent have securely managed sanitary provisions. That means that waste ends up in containers where it cannot be treated. The other 98 percent simply flows out of the system. Thus, human waste is simply spilled out into the street in some neighborhoods, or into streams in others. That, of course, does not aid the health of the population.

"Six in 10 people around the world live without sustainable sanitary systems,” Panesar said. "That means roughly 4.5 billion people. Furthermore, 2.1 billion have no access to safe drinking water.”

Almost 1,000 children die preventable deaths each day. Many parasites and diseases such as cholera, typhus and polio are able to spread unimpeded because of a lack of secure sanitation systems. Beyond India, a number of African countries also have problems providing citizens with sanitation systems.

McDonalds Resistance

Strike action at McDonald’s is to spread to outlets across the country in the coming months, following the lead of workers at two restaurants in the south of England.
Dossiers on claims made by staff, ranging from the company’s alleged failure to provide protective equipment for workers using grills to allegations about management mishandling sexual assault claims, are being compiled by trade unionists. 
“We are looking at moving [the strikes] right across the country so we are planning very carefully how that will be done and how workers can take part,” said Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union, one of Britain’s oldest trade unions.
Branches in the north-east and north-west of England, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales are expected to be involved in the next stage of attempts to build up a union structure at the company. About 40 staff went on strike in September at two restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford, south-east London, after a ballot in favour of industrial action amid concerns over low wages and the use of zero-hours contracts.
The fast-food chain has been one of the biggest users of zero-hours contracts in Britain.

Cambodia becomes a Dictatorship

Cambodians thought that their country would slowly become more democratic. But that hope was buried.  The Cambodian Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) ahead of the elections in 2018. Only the CNRP could have competed with the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party), which has been in power for more than three decades. The CPP knows it can’t survive a new popularity test. The CNRP almost won the elections of 2013. It made more progress with the local elections in June. It’s evident to prevent a defeat, it has started the final assault on the opposition. The CNRP is now dissolved and the party’s president Kem Sokha is in prison. Half of the 55 members of parliament have fled the country. Human rights groups condemned the dissolution of the CNRP and asked the West to act. “The international community cannot stand idly, it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

 Hun Sen is the world’s longest-serving prime minister. “I could easily continue for another 10 years,” the 65-year-old Hun Sen told reporters.

Nobody dares protest since the government stepped up the crackdown on democracy. Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic has been murdered. The gunman is behind bars. “That’s not the real killer,” Phauk Se, his mother, says in a timid voice. “If the government really wanted, they would have found the real culprit.”

No Cambodian believes that the killer acted alone. But nobody dares to express their suspicion. “Who has the real power? There is only one party who can organize such a murder,” says Kem Rithisith, the brother of Kem Ley, without naming it. “There was a second finger on the trigger, and everyone knows whose finger that was.”

at the market of Takeo, Kem Ley's hometown, a woman says “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We want change.” 

Mu Sochua the vice-president of the CNRP,  fled Cambodia after she was tipped off about her impending arrest.
“The dissolution of the CNRP is a big miscalculation of Hun Sen. The discontent will only continue to rise. Until now the CNRP has channeled this peacefully. But soon people might take their anger to the streets.” She continued, It needs only one spark to start violent protests, like Tunisia and the Arab Spring. I’m very afraid of violence. Hun Sen will do anything to stay in power. If people would dare to protest, the tanks will be waiting. Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It’s a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful. The CNRP is more than a party. We don’t care about the political game. We want democracy in Cambodia, that’s our real job.”
 Lawmaker Kimsour says "The CPP is afraid – of losing power. We are witnessing the death of democracy in Cambodia. Hun Sen is showing his true face. He is a dictator now. We are counting on the West. Only economic sanctions can help us.
The Cambodian economy strongly depends on tourism and the garment industry. If the factories stop producing, 700,000 workers will lose their jobs. Hun Sun would have a major crisis on his hands. China has proved in recent years that it has the will and the money to back up Phnom Penh. 
“But that’s not guaranteed,” says Ou Chanrath, who lost his job as a lawmaker because of the courts decree. “The Chinese are still dependent on the West. The garment factories are Chinese, but the exports go to the West. When sanctions hit Cambodia, they will pack their bags.”

'REMEMBERING WHAT? ( London public meeting 21/11)


'REMEMBERING WHAT? - Reflections on
Remembrance Day'

Tuesday, 21 November - 8:00pm

Venue: Committee Room,
 Chiswick Town Hall,
 Heathfield Terrace
London W4 4JN
Speaker: John Critchfield

Child Labour

The 4th Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate. Children were notably absent from the event. Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, said representatives. Unless something changes, the goal set by the international community, that child labour in all its forms is to be eradicated by 2025, will not be met.

The conference recognised that child labour is mostly concentrated in agriculture and is growing. While the general numbers for child labour dwindled from 162 million to 152 million since 2013, in rural areas the number grew: from 98 to 108 million. 71 percent of child labour is concentrated in agriculture, and 42 percent of that work is hazardous and is carried out in informal and family enterprises.

Bernd Seiffert, focal point on child labour, gender, equity and rural employment at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) explained, “We heard a lot in this conference about the role played by child labour in global supply chains. But the majority of boys and girls work for the local value chains, in the production of food.”

2014 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi said “We know that children are used because they are the cheapest labour force. But I ask how much longer we are going to keep coming to these conferences to go over the same things again. The next meeting should be held only if it is to celebrate achievements,” he said.

“We understand that children who work have no other option and that we should not criminalise but protect them and make sure that the conditions in which they perform tasks do not put them at risk or prevent their education,” said Anne Jacob, of the Germany-based Kindernothilfe, “it is outrageous that the problem of child labour should be addressed without listening to children. After talking with them, we understood that there is no global solution to this issue, but that the structural causes can only be resolved locally, depending on the economic, cultural and social circumstances of each place.”

Virginia Gamba, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, explained that “modern armed conflicts use children as if they were disposable materials. Children are no longer in the periphery of conflicts but at the centre.”

Saturday, November 18, 2017

American Working Conditions

A Gallup report from 2014 estimated that the average full-time worker in the United States works 47 hours a week, one of the highest figures in the world, and significantly higher than the rates in Western Europe.  In practice, employees in some countries, like Germany and Sweden, work closer to 35 hours a week.

Vacation time varies from country to country, but Americans seem to get the short end of the stick, with most companies offering around two weeks of paid leave a year. In Sweden workers get five weeks of paid vacation a year. And what little vacation time Americans do receive, they don't always take advantage of. The average US employee who receives paid vacation only actually takes 54% of the allotted time each year. 
The United States doesn't guarantee any paid leave to new parents, instead leaving it up to individual employers. The result is new parents take far less time off after having a child than other parents around the world. In Finland, for example, expecting mothers can start their leave seven weeks before having a child, and can continue for 16 weeks after the birth. Men in Finland are offered eight weeks of paid leave.
Americans have a reputation for being chained to their desks. A 2015 survey found that only one in five Americans actually spends their lunch break away from their desks, with most eating their midday meal while they continue to work. 
On top of that, millions of Americans are skipping lunch altogether to continue working. Meanwhile, in France, Spain, Greece, and other countries, lunch breaks can last an hour or more -- and rarely take place within the office.
Even outside of lunchtime hours, American workers rarely step outside for a break. In Sweden, workers often enjoy a daily breather called fika -- an extended coffee break during which employees can gather and socialize. Many offices offer two breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
One of the worst American work practices is the tendency to send and answer emails after work hours have ended.  France took extreme measures, enacting a measure earlier this year that allows employees to ignore work-related emails sent after working hours. The same goes for weekend emails.

The system cheaters

We all know that gaping loopholes exist in the international tax set up, with wide variations between tax regimes in different countries and many low-tax or no-tax havens.  These can be exploited by those with enough money to pay the very expensive tax planners, accountants and lawyers who feed off this. It means that the rich and powerful pay far less tax than they should, and one result of that is there is far less available to help feed the poor of the world.  This system of global tax evasion exacerbates inequality and deprives governments of resources that could be used to benefit the public.

An estimated $8.7 trillion—10 percent of world’s GDP—is currently stashed offshore, almost all of it belonging to the richest 0.1% of households. According to a 2016 study, the United States alone loses $111 billion in taxes each year due to this practice. 

That billions of dollars in wealth is stowed away in the Caribbean and elsewhere while every day families struggle to feed themselves is an injustice. But it is the system.

Many workers believe their antagonists are working people of colour and immigrants, rather than the wealthy capitalists who control their lives. Many members of the working-class tend to believe welfare benefit recipients are cheating the system—especially if they happen to be non-white and foreign.   By stoking racism and xenophobia the wealthy and powerful are able to protect their interests by redirecting anger towards the 'outsiders'. There are free riders in our economic system—people who have never known a hard day’s work and who enjoy its benefits who leech off the system, designed to cater to their every whim. They are the capitalist class and they must be overthrown.

Being a 'Hundy'

About 5% of Americans are millionaires. Most of them — about 95%, according to an estimate by WealthEngine — have between $1 million and $5 million. And many think that's just not enough.
Billionaires "view $100 million as the starting point for real money," Richard Kirshenbaum, the New York Observer columnist who wrote the book "Isn't That Rich? Life Among the 1%," told Town & Country. "They call it a hundy. Like, 'Oh, they made it, they have a hundy.'" The estimate isn't his own but came from several billionaires he has interviewed. WeathEngine estimates that 0.09% of America's millionaires are worth more than $100 million.
Norman Vanamee in Town & Country magazine consulted experts to estimate the "happiness number" for a hypothetical, wealthy, non-working couple in their 40s with two teenage kids in an expensive private school in New York City. They live in a parkside Fifth Avenue apartment, buy art, take private jets, donate to charity, and have a household staff — a chef, a driver, and a housekeeper — plus two vacation homes. They're also setting aside $25 million for each child to inherit.
An analyst from US Trust cited in the Town & Country report estimated the hypothetical couple would need to have a net worth of $190 million to sustain this lifestyle.
Here are some of the costs considered in the estimate:
  • Real estate: $18 million apartment on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park, $2 million for furniture and decor, $20 million for a weekend home in the Hamptons and a vacation spot in the Caribbean.
  • Education: $1.7 million a child for a "no-expense-spared educational strategy," which includes private school and tutors, music lessons, sports, trips abroad, and four-year Ivy League tuition.
  • Philanthropy: $25,000 annually to sit on the board of a New York City museum, plus $15,000 a table at annual charity events.
  • Staff: $190,000 annually for a driver, a chef, and a housekeeper.
  • Art: $20 million to $100 million apiece in a seven- or eight-piece collection, or about $1 million annually.
  • Health and beauty: $150,000 annually for wardrobe, grooming, trainers, and cosmetic procedures.
Other experts peg the happiness number at about $100 million.

India's Inequality

 Lucas Chancel and Piketty (2017), in ‘Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?, offer a rich and unique description of evolution of income inequality in terms of income shares and incomes in the bottom 50%, the middle 40% and top 10% (as well as top 1%, 0.1%, and 0.001%), combining household survey data, tax returns and other specialised surveys.
Some of the principal findings are: 
one, the share of national income accruing to the top 1% income earners is now at its highest level since the launch of the Indian Income Tax Act in 1922. The top 1% of earners captured less than 21% of total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. 
Two, over the 1951-1980 period, the bottom 50% captured 28% of total growth and incomes of this group grew faster than the average, while the top 0.1% incomes decreased. 
Three, over the 1980-2014 period, the situation was reversed; the top 0.1% of earners captured a higher share of total growth than the bottom 50% (12% v. 11%), while the top 1% received a higher share of total growth than the middle 40% (29% v. 23%).
According to Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2017, the number of millionaires in India is expected to reach 3,72,000 while the total household income is likely to grow by 7.5% annually to touch $7.1 trillion by 2022. Since 2000, wealth in India has grown at 9.2% per annum, faster than the global average of 6% even after taking into account population growth of 2.2% annually. However, not everyone has shared the rapid growth of wealth.
 Research, based on the India Human Development Survey 2005-12, points to a rise in income inequality. A high Gini coefficient of per capita income distribution, a widely used measure of income inequality, in 2005 became higher in 2012. The share of the bottom 50% fell while those of the top 5% and top 1% rose. The gap between the share of the top 1% and the bottom 50% narrowed considerably.
More glaring is the disparity in ratios of per capita income of the top 1% and bottom 50%. The ratio shot up from 27 in 2005 to 39 in 2012. Far more glaring is the disparity in the highest incomes in these percentiles. The ratio of highest income in the top 1% to that of the bottom 50% nearly doubled, from a high of 175 to 346.
 Inequality measured in terms of share of income of the top 10% increased poverty sharply but only in the more affluent States. Somewhat surprisingly, higher cereal prices did not have a significant positive effect on poverty. Similar results are obtained if the share of the top 10% is replaced with the Gini coefficient as a measure of inequality.

The divide in Spain

The latest data on poverty recently released by Eurostat showed that Spain is one of the countries where poverty has risen the most since 2008 (third in line after Greece and Cyprus). Despite the fact that poverty in the EU has decreased 0.3% since 2008, in Spain there has been a worrying 4.1% rise. According to Eurostat, the percentage of people at risk of poverty in our country stands at 22.3%.
The data from the EAPN (The European Anti-Poverty Network) is alarming: nearly 6.4% of the Spanish population (over 2.9 million people) are living in severe poverty, given that income per household, per consumption unit, is less than 342 euros a month.
In Spain, there are currently 428,000 millionaires with over 1 million dollars compared with 370.000 in 2016. This 15.7% rise in the number of wealthy people in Spain will continue until 2022 when it estimates there will be 506,000 dollar millionaires. That’s an increase of 18%.

Italy's Poverty

The total number of the Italian young people between 18 and 34 years of age live at the threshold of poverty and social exclusion, according to the result of a study presented today in this capital by the Catholic help organization Caritas.

'Previous Future' is the title of the report that shows that 10.4 percent of the young people in this country are in a state of abject poverty, compared to the 1.9 percent recorded ten years ago.

The text reads that even more alarming is the situation of 12.5 percent of the minors, which are affected by abject poverty, 1.6 percent more than in 2015, the equivalent to 1,292,000 children. However, that rate decreased from 4.8 to 3.9 percent among people over 65 years of age.

Catholic charity Caritas Italiana  raised the alarm about poverty among young people in Italy. In a new report, it said poverty in Italy tends to increase the younger people are, with children worst off than their parents and grandchildren poorer than their grandparents. The charity, which provides meals and shelters for the homeless, among other things, said many breadwinners under 34 are poor, Italy has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Europe and record numbers young are NEETS - people who are not in employment, education or training. 

 Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, secretary-general of the Italian Episcopal Conference, warned against assuming that poverty was limited to immigrants, urging Italian society to open its eyes to “extraordinary and extraordinarily negative poverty... a poverty not just of material means, but the even greater poverty of not being able to plan your own future and create your own alternatives to a life of dependence”.

Hong Kong Poverty

The divide between the rich and poor in Hong Kong has hit a record high. Hong Kong is now the second most "unequal" city in terms of income and wealth, behind New York.
The number of Hong Kong people living in poverty continued to rise, hitting a record high last year. One in five people lives below the poverty line, the latest official figures reveal.
The government reported that Hong Kong’s poverty rate reached 19.9 percent in 2016, meaning there were 1.35 million people living below the poverty line, up about 7,000 people from 2015.
The city’s poverty line is drawn at half the median monthly household income according to household size. For 2016, it was HK$4,000 (US$512) for one person, HK$9,000 for a two-person household and HK$15,000 for a three-person household.
Sham Shui Po in Kowloon remained the poorest district with 24.6 percent of residents falling below the poverty line. This was followed by Kwun Tong – 24.3 percent – and Kwai Tsing, with a poverty rate of 24.1 percent.
“In view of rapid population aging under which the number of retired elderly persons will continue to increase, coupled with the fact that the poverty line only takes into account income but not assets, there would be little room for significant improvement in the poverty figures,” the government said.

Councils' New Schemes

Councils are on course to spend more than £1bn on commercial property this year, investing more in shopping centres, country clubs, hotels, offices and other assets than in building council houses. The £1bn councils are on track to spend could produce more than 8,000 new council homes

Town halls in England and Wales spent £758m buying up commercial property in the first eight months of this year, according to property market data from Savills, but are only building 1,730 council houses a year, government figures for 2016-17 show. About 77,000 households in England and Wales are living in temporary accommodation and 1.2 million are on council waiting lists.

Coventry city council decided last month to buy Coombe Abbey hotel in a multimillion-pound deal, prompting protests from locals that it was doing so while making wider cuts. The local authority has no council housing despite rising homelessness, with more than 600 households in priority need. 

Kingston council in Surrey spent £54m buying two office buildings and a business park in the last year, but only invested in one new council house, a former school caretaker’s cottage. The borough has 9,524 households on an ever-lengthening waiting list.

A solar farm, and a shopping centre, cinema and bowling alley complex due for completion in 2020, in which Barnsley council invested £70m this year.

Spelthorne council in Surrey has spent more than £400m in the past 14 months on office buildings including the Sunbury-on-Thames campus of BP, and the headquarters of the contactless payment software company Verifone, located outside the borough. The council said it made the latest purchase because “the withdrawal of funding for local authorities means that many councils are having to find new ways to fund services”. There is no council housing in the borough and it has warned of “very long” waiting times for housing and said many people will not be housed.
The boom in commercial property investment dwarfs the amount spent on homes partly because central government restricts how much councils can borrow against their existing housing assets. However, the Treasury offers cheap loans that can be spent on commercial property. Councils have been using them in an attempt to create new income streams to fill budget holes left by cuts.

Martin Tett, the Local Government Association housing spokesman, said “As a nation, we need to build more than 300,000 homes a year, and we’re currently building roughly half that,” he said. “The last time this country hit that number, in the 1970s, councils built more than 40% of new homes.”

Cop23 Finishes in Bonn

The future of humanity and life itself is at stake. Climate change is the most important issue currently facing us.  The 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23), the United Nation’s annual international gathering on climate change, has been taking place in Bonn and has now ended but you wouldn't have noticed it by reading the media headlines. If there is no slowing down and eventual reversal of emissions levels, there is absolutely no hope to mitigate a global disaster. The world subsidises fossil fuels to the tune of $500 trillion per year, according to John Sweeney, emeritus professor of geography, Maynooth University 

Chief Ninawa Huni Kui, president of the Federation of the Huni Kui, an indigenous Amazonian tribe, explained, “They’re not talking about Mother Earth here in this conference of parties. They’re talking about business, money, capital, carbon credits and fracking, and supposedly offsetting pollution.” Chief Ninawa continued, “We are sad when we see that the governments and corporations are setting the table to get down to auctioning off the animals, buying and selling the plants, buying and selling the water, buying and selling the very air that we breathe.”

The Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) -- a continental coalition of civil society organisations -- says "In general, Africa has not gotten what it wanted at this Cop23," he says. "Because the discussions that matter to us, things that matter to us have been relegated to the background and all that we're hearing is what the developed countries want, and that is not in the interest of Africa...Africa has not contributed to this problem, yet it's bearing the consequences in a great way, in a massive way and we don't have the luxury to adapt to the climate change consequences, as well as we don't even have the means to do any mitigation," he warns.

Benefit balls-up

Mistakes in under-paying benefits claims could cost up to half a billion pounds to put right, the BBC has learned. The errors identified by the Department for Work and Pensions affect the main sickness benefit, the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
ESA is paid to about 2.5 million people.  Labour introduced ESA in 2008, to replace incapacity benefit.  They claimed the change would move a million people off sickness benefit and save the Treasury £7bn. The coalition embraced the benefit with open arms, again hoping to save money by moving people off incapacity benefit and onto ESA faster than planned. Little has changed. Back in 2006/07, 2.7 million people were receiving the main sickness benefit at a cost of £12bn. In this financial year, ministers estimate 2.4 million people will get ESA - at a cost of £15bn. For claimants, the changes have meant undergoing health assessments to prove their illnesses, which some say has created stress and anxiety. Mistakes began in 2011 when the government started moving benefits recipients onto ESA - which is paid to those with long-term health conditions that are not going to improve.
Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said the problem was on a scale of "historic proportions". He said: "I'm still gobsmacked at the size and the nature and the extent and the coverage of people that have been wrongly impoverished by the department getting it wrong."


SUBJECT:   Publications: Centenary of the Russian Revolution

Over the course of the past 100 years, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has argued against the view that the October 1917 Revolution in Russia was a positive chapter in the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism. On the contrary, it saw it as a disaster for the cause of socialism, which distorted its aims and retarded its development. The Party has marked the occasion with two publications, intended “to help our fellow workers see this episode in history from the socialist perspective.”

The book Centenary of the Russian Revolution traces the response of the Party, from its first reactions to the Revolution to the demise of the Soviet Union and its empire over seventy years later, in the form of a series of articles which originally appeared its journal, the Socialist Standard, between 1905 and 1990 (paperback 231 pages, price £8 including P&P).

Why the Russian Revolution Wasn't a Socialist Revolution is a reprint of Russian Menshevik Julius Martov’s pamphlet 'The State and the Socialist Revolution', which presents the authors' critical views on the nature of the 1917 revolution and the politics of Leninism from a Marxist perspective. It also contains an introduction by the Socialist Party, a review from the Socialist Standard in 1940 and additional original material (97 pages, price £3.50 including P&P).

Both are available from the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN (cheques payable to ‘The Socialist Party of Great Britain’) or online at

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Bible


A new lengthy 5000 word article in one of Israel's top newspapers,  Haaretz ,compares accounts in the Bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables.
 "Despite feverish searching with Scripture in one hand and cutting-edge technology in the other, evidence backing the Bible remains elusive." It goes on: "No evidence of the events described in the Book of Genesis has ever been found. No city walls have been found at Jericho, from the appropriate era, that could have been toppled by Joshua or otherwise. The stone palace uncovered at the foot of Temple Mount in Jerusalem could attest that King David had been there; or it might belong to another era entirely, depending who you ask."
Visitors to Washington, D.C. will now be able to add the Museum of the Bible to their sightseeing list. The museum, which cost $500 million to build. Its purpose is, “to invite all people to engage with the history, narrative and impact of the Bible.” There are three other similar such institutions:
1. Creation Museum: Located in Kentucky
2. Ark Encounter: Also in Kentucky.
3. Holy Land Experience: An Orlando attraction 
The mounting evidence against the Bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the holy book at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, a Pew Research Center report in April found. About 36 percent of Christians said the Bible should not be taken literally, while 40 percent say it is the word of God. In all, only 24 percent of Americans said the holy book was "the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word." 
 Meanwhile, about half of Americans -- a proportion largely unchanged over the years -- fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally," the poll said. "From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years."

Bushmen and Success

The Ju/’hoansi people of the Kalahari have always been fiercely egalitarian. They hate inequality or showing off, and shun formal leadership institutions. It’s what made them part of the most successful, sustainable civilisation in human history.

A Canadian anthropologist, Richard B Lee, conducted a series of simple economic input-output analyses of the Ju/’hoansi as they went about their daily lives, he found not only did they make a good living from hunting and gathering, but they did so on the basis of only 15 hours’ work per week. On the strength of this, anthropologists redubbed hunter-gatherers “the original affluent society”. The Ju/’hoansi’s affluence was based on their unyielding confidence in the providence of their environments and their skills at exploiting this. Ju/’hoansi still make use of well over 150 different plant species and have the knowledge to hunt and trap pretty much any animal they choose to. As a result, they only ever worked to meet their immediate needs, did not store surpluses, and never harvested more than they could eat in the short term.

The broader Bushmen population (referred to collectively as Khoisan) are far older than we had ever imagined, and have been hunting and gathering continuously in southern Africa for well over 150,000 years. If the success of a civilisation is judged by its endurance over time, this means the Khoisan are by far the most successful, stable and sustainable civilisation in human history. 

For the Ju/’hoansi, that fundamental axiom of modern economics, “the problem of scarcity”, simply did not apply. Where this holds that it is human nature to have infinite wants and limited means, the Ju/’hoansi had few wants that were simply met. This was possible because, above all, they were – and still are – “fiercely egalitarian” . They could not abide inequality or showing off, and had no formalised leadership institutions. Men and women enjoyed equal decision-making powers, children played largely non-competitive games in mixed age groups, and the elderly, while treated with great affection, were not afforded any special privileges. This, in turn, meant that no-one bothered to accumulate wealth or influence, and never over-exploited their marginal environment. The fact that hunter-gatherers such as the Ju/’hoansi enjoyed lives of “primitive affluence” suggests our current preoccupation with productivity and growth is not an indelible part of our “natures”

There is no question this dynamic proved effective. Over and above their extraordinary longevity, genomic evidence reveals that not only were the Khoisan the most populous human population on the planet until a little over 20,000 years ago, they also remain the most genetically diverse. This tells us that over their long history, Khoisan populations have suffered far fewer of the catastrophic population bottlenecks that are the result of famine, war, and disease as other human populations elsewhere. Their success was based on the fact they mastered the art of making a good living where they were. 

How did a society like the Ju/’hoansi with no formalised leaders maintain this egalitarianism? The answer is unequivocal: it was  born of self-interest. In the case of small-scale hunter-gatherer societies, the sum of individual self-interests ultimately ensured the most equitable “distribution of the necessaries of life”, and in doing so created the most sustainable economic model in modern Homo sapiens history.

How this worked is best exemplified in the customary “insulting” of a hunter’s meat. While a spectacular kill was always a cause for celebration, the hunter responsible would not be praised – instead, he was insulted. Regardless of the size or condition of the carcass, those due a share of the meat would complain that the kill was trifling, that it was barely worth the effort of carrying it back to camp, or that there wouldn’t be enough meat to go around. For his part, the hunter was expected to be almost apologetic when he presented the carcass. Everyone knew the difference between a scrawny kill and a good one, of course, but nonetheless continued to pass insults even while they were busy filling their bellies with meat— the most highly prized of all foods. Half a century ago, a Ju/’hoan man provided Lee with a particularly eloquent explanation of why they did this:
“When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man – and thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this ... so we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way, we cool his heart and make him gentle.”
This behaviour was not limited to hunting. Similar insults were meted out to anyone who assumed airs and graces, encountered a windfall or got too big for their leather sandals. Everyone in Ju/’hoan communities scrutinised everybody else all the time — something easily done when all social life was conducted in public spaces. They took careful note of what others ate, owned, received as gifts, and whether or not they were sufficiently generous in return. The net result was that everyone went to considerable lengths to avoid being singled out for selfishness or self-importance – so much so, indeed, that good hunters usually hunted less often than poor ones, even if they enjoyed it. Unsurprisingly, this created an atmosphere that was generally harmonious, co-operative, and in which even those with the natural charisma and character to lead did so only with great circumspection.

Insuring the Planet

After a year when powerful hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires have racked up hundreds of billions of dollars in damage in countries from the United States to Bangladesh, you might think their leaders would be looking desperately to the U.N. climate talks for new ways to cover those costs. Some environmentalists have suggested a range of ideas to raise cash – from a tiny tax on each stock trade and other financial transactions, to a levy on airplane flights. But richer countries, so far, have blocked action in moving ahead on any of them at the conference this week in Bonn.

Sven Harmeling, CARE International’s climate change advocacy coordinator says “there’s no real move to discuss the financial instruments we need,” he said. “They’re not even willing to start the discussion.”

Instead, countries are looking to a single solution to fill the gap: insurance policies.

Slow-moving crises, such as sea level rise, are nearly impossible to insure. Insurance payouts can provide effective help for big, sudden disasters – a powerful hurricane or flood – but aren’t so effective at helping out with the increasing drumbeat of smaller but accumulating everyday losses. And what happens when disasters come so frequently, and at such cost, that they are no longer insurable? That’s a worry, experts working on loss and damage issues say.

Even the United States this year has been slammed by hurricane damage, flooding and runaway forest fires. The costs of Hurricane Harvey alone could reach as much as $190 billion, U.S. agencies estimate.

 There’s the longstanding fear among rich countries that moving ahead on dealing with loss and damage will end up with them being held financially liable for the costs of damage around the world driven largely by their own use of fossil fuels over decades. But lobbying by powerful industries against taxes on things like fossil fuel use and financial transactions also are playing a role, said Harjeet Singh, who leads climate policy work for aid agency ActionAid. “These are the same vested interested that have got us to a stage where the only planet where we can live is becoming uninhabitable for many,” he said. “We’re moving towards a very dangerous world if we continue to serve the interests of the same lobbies.” 

Failure to find answers will have consequences for rich countries as well as poor –and not just from worsening disaster losses. If poor families can no longer survive, they will move, he warned, adding to migration pressures around the world.  “With some support, they can stay where they are, with some finance and instruments to help them recover. Trust me, the majority of people do not want to move,” Singh said.

Targeting the vulnerable

The poorest and most vulnerable in society will be hardest hit by Government changes to tax, social security and public spending reforms. Disabled people, the elderly and lone parents will suffer financial losses far greater than the general population under reforms introduced in recent years. Women will also suffer an annual loss more than double that of men, and black households will face a loss of income more than double that of white families, the research shows.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which published the report, warned of a “bleak future” for those most in need, and has urged the Government to “come clean”.

The report carried out a “cumulative impact assessment” of the impact that changes to all tax, social security and public spending reforms from 2010 to 2017 will have on people by 2022.

It shows that families with a disabled adult will see a £2,500 reduction of income per year, compared with £1,000 for non-disabled households. Those with both a disabled adult and a disabled child will face a £5,500 reduction of income per year — five times that of non-disabled families.
Black households will face a 5 per cent loss of income, more than double the loss for white households, while women will suffer a £940 annual loss — a figure more than two times higher than the losses for men.
The biggest average losses by age group, across men and women, are experienced by the 65-74 age group, with average losses of around £1,450 per year, and the 35-44 age group, with average losses of around £1,250 per year.
Lone parents will also struggle with a 15 per cent loss of income, compared with losses for all other family groups which stand at between 0 and 8 per cent.
 David Isaac, chair of the commission, said: “The Government can’t claim to be working for everyone if its policies actually make the most disadvantaged people in society financially worse off.
Beatrice Barleon, policy manager for learning disability charity Mencap, said: “The EHRCs report offers concrete evidence supporting the warnings already raised by the disability sector; that due to a succession of cuts and reforms to disability benefits and changes to tax credits, disabled people and their families are the biggest losers from the austerity agenda. The Government has repeatedly argued that they want to protect the most vulnerable in society, yet this report shows the opposite is in action. With some families with disabled members losing up to £5,500; disabled households are getting pushed into poverty at the same time as available social care support has been slashed year on year.” 
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This report makes for grim but unsurprising reading – disabled people have been saying for many years that they are increasingly struggling to get by. The report is clear evidence that the government’s reforms have been having a massive negative effect, driving disabled people deeper into poverty when they already don’t have enough money to live on. We’re acutely struck by the report’s conclusion that the reforms will continue to cause ‘particularly adverse impacts on disabled families. This can’t go on."
 Young Women's Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said: “Young women are having the rug pulled from under them as incomes fall and prices rise. They are working hard to be financially independent but for too many the reality is insecure work, low pay and debt. Today's report shows that this is only set to get worse without action."