Posts Tagged ‘global justice’

“Global food prices are at record highs, driven by huge increases in the price of wheat, corn, sugar, dairy and oils. A complex mix of factors simultaneously boosting demand and constraining supply means the recent price surges might be just the beginning”. Below is a list of some of the main factors on the demand and supply side:

DEMAND

  • continuing rapid population growth, especially in so-called developing countries, means rising demand for food (we’re close to reaching 7 billion people on this planet this year, with 9.5 billion predicted by 2050, which will be a 300% increase on 1950s’ figures)
  • rising prosperity, especially in Asia and Brazil: wealthier people eat differently compared to poorer people, and they eat more and are willing and able to pay more for food; meat and dairy consumption has been growing rapidly and dietary pattern developed in Western countries over centuries have shifted in developing countries in decades
  • the arrival of new investors in food commodity markets (including large pension funds), being attracted by higher profits as a result of higher food prices

Supply

  • ever-increasing production of biofuels: a result of peak oil, rising fossil fuel demands from growing economic power houses like China, India and Brazil, climate change concerns, misguided and unsustainable government policies and economic interventions, profiteering by energy companies and other factors that made energy prices shoot up; all have led to a reduction in available areas dedicated to growing food and diverting millions of tons of cereals away from food markets
  • climate impacts, having led to weather related crop destruction over the last few years in main food producing countries like Russia, the US and Australia
  • the so-called Green Revolution that started to deliver increasing outputs since the 1960 is coming to the end of its life cycle
  • urbanisation and pollution are contributing to a growing scarcity of land and water; it is predicted that by 2030, 47% of the world’s population will be living in areas under water stress if current trends aren’t being reversed (and that will not just affect to so-called developing world)
  • government policies, especially restrictions and bans on food exports having negative consequences on food availability

Interesting times ahead, not just for food supply but also for whatever exists as world peace …

Source: SMH

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Source: Scott Carney, Wired Science

A few days before the Indian celebration of Holi, an emaciated man with graying skin, drooping eyes, and rows of purple needle marks on both arms stumbled up to a group of farmers in the sweltering Indian border town of Gorakhpur. The city is the first stop for many thousands of refugees streaming in from Nepal, a country even more perpetually impoverished than India. Over the years endless refugee hardship stories had dulled the farmers’ instincts for sympathy, and junkies were even lower on their list for charity handouts. at first the farmers ignored the man’s request for bus fare. But he persisted. He wasn’t a refugee, he said. He was escaping from a makeshift prison where his captor siphoned off his blood for profit. The farmers shook off their stupor and called the police.

For the last three years the man had been held captive in a brick-and-tin shed just a few minutes’ walk from where the farmers were drinking tea. The marks on his arms weren’t the tell-tale signs of heroin addiction; they came from where his captor, a ruthless modern-day vampire and also a local dairy farmer and respected landowner named Papu Yadhav, punctured his skin with a hollow syringe. He had kept the man captive so he could drain his blood and sell it to blood banks. The man had managed to slip out when Yadhav had forgotten to lock the door behind him.

The emaciated man brought the officers to his prison of the last three years: a hastily constructed shack sandwiched between Papu Yadhav’s concrete home and a cowshed. A brass padlock hung from the iron door’s solid latch. The officers could hear the muffled sounds of humanity through the quarter inch of metal.

They sprung the lock and revealed a medical ward fit for a horror movie. IV drips hung from makeshift poles and patients moaned as if they were recovering from a delirium. Five emaciated men lying on small woven cots could barely lift their heads to acknowledge the visitors. The sticky air inside was far from sterile. The sun beating down on the tin roof above their heads magnified the heat like a tandoor oven. One man stared at the ceiling with glassy eyes as his blood snaked through a tube and slowly drained into a plastic blood bag on the floor. He was too weak to protest.

A crumpled nylon bag next to him held five more pints. Inside were another nineteen empty bags ready for filling. Each had official-looking certification stickers from local blood banks as well as bar codes and a seal from the central regulatory authority.

The room was not unique. Over the next several hours the cops raided five different squats on the dairy farmer’s land. Each scene was as bad as the last, with patients constantly on the verge of death. All told they freed seventeen people. Most were wasting away and had been confined next to hospital-issued blood-draining equipment. In their statements the prisoners said that a lab technician bled them at least two times per week. Some said that they had been captive for two and a half years. The Blood Factory, as it was quickly known in the press, was supplying a sizable percentage of the city’s blood supply and may have been the only thing keeping Gorakhpur’s hospitals fully stocked.

That evening police rushed the men to the local Civil Hospital to recover. The doctors there said that they had never seen anything like it. Hemoglobin supplies oxygen to various parts of the body, and low levels of it can lead to brain damage, organ failure, and death. A healthy adult has between 14 and 18 grams of hemoglobin for every 100 milliliters of blood. The men averaged only 4 grams. Leeched of their vital fluids to the brink of death, all of them were gray and wrinkled from dehydration. “You could pinch their skin and it would just stay there like molded clay,” said B. K. Suman, the on-call doctor who first received the patients from police custody.

Their hemoglobin levels were so low that the doctors were worried about bringing them up too quickly. One told me that they had become physically addicted to blood loss. To survive, the doctors had to give them iron supplements along with a regimen of bloodletting or they could die from too much oxygen in their circulatory systems.

After a few weeks in captivity, the prisoners were too weak from blood loss to even contemplate escape. A few survivors recalled to the police that the original group was much larger, but when Yadhav sensed that a donor was becoming terminally sick, he just put them on a bus out of town so that their deaths would be someone else’s responsibility.

Papu Yadhav kept meticulous ledgers documenting the volume of blood that he sold to local blood banks, hospitals, and individual doctors as well as the hefty sums that came back. The notes made it particularly easy for the police to understand the entire operation. Vishwajeet Srivastav, deputy superintendent of police in Gorakhpur in charge of the case, says that the records showed that Yadhav started as a small commercial venture that only propped up his dairy business. In the beginning, at least, he offered a straight deal to the drug-addled and destitute potential donors that he picked up at Gorakhpur’s bus and train stations.

The $3 he gave for a pint of blood would buy food for several days. It was illegal, but it was also easy money. Yadhav could easily turn over common blood types for $20 quick profit, while rarer groups could fetch up to $150 a pint. It didn’t take long for the situation to deteriorate. As his operation grew, he got tired of trolling the city’s transit points. So Yadhav offered the donors a place to stay. With the men under his roof, it was only a matter of time before he took control of their fates though a mixture of coercion, false promises, and padlocked doors.

The blood business got so big that he needed help. He took on a former lab technician named Jayant Sarkar, who had experience running an underground blood farm in Kolkata before he was chased out of the city in the late 1990s. Together Yadhav and Sarkar grew into one of the main blood suppliers in the region. The business concept was similar to that of Yadhav’s milk farm. The two were so interrelated that he kept the cowsheds and human sheds next to each other to economize on space.

Two months after the initial raid the police rounded up nine men: lab technicians who oversaw collection, secretaries at local blood banks who wanted to line their pockets with extra profits, middlemen who ferried blood around the city, and nurses who tended the herd. Smelling trouble, Sarkar was able to escape the city, but Papu Yadhav was captured near his home and served a total of nine months in jail. After a month at Civil Hospital his former captives migrated back to their homes all across India and Nepal.

It is tempting to view the horrors of Gorakhpur’s blood farm as an isolated incident: the sort of aberration that only happens on the margins of the civilized world and unrelated to the blood supply anywhere else. But the existence of the blood farm suggests a deeper problem with the circulation of human materials in the market. The blood farm could never have existed without eager buyers who were either incurious about the supply or just didn’t care about the source. And once medical personnel were willing to pay money for blood without asking questions, it was almost inevitable that someone would exploit the situation to maximize profit. In fact, the world volunteer blood system is so fragile that a slight hit to the supply could immediately spark the sort of commercial blood piracy that blossomed here.

I arrived in Gorakhpur on the eve of Papu Yadhav’s release hoping to better understand how a city of two million people became so easily dependent on a blood farm. While the excesses in this city stretch the bounds of the ordinary, the situation was by no means unique to India. Perched precariously on the border of India and Nepal, Gorakhpur is a mashup of the chaos and pollution of an industrial boomtown and the endemic poverty of rural India. a single rail line and poorly maintained road connect Gorakhpur to the state capital of Lucknow. still, the city is the central hub for a dense string of villages in what is one of the most densely populated rural areas of the world. Gorakhpur is the only settlement for almost one hundred miles with any sort of urban infrastructure. As such it’s an important outpost for the government’s presence in the region. The city is in the difficult position of providing basic services for a giant swath of the country, and yet simultaneously being a low development priority. It is a city built on a foundation of shortages.

Worst hit are Gorakhpur’s overburdened medical facilities, which are a lifeline to tens of millions of rural farmers and migrant workers. offering subsidized—and in some cases free—care, the hospitals are magnets for the underprivileged. Even the gigantic Baba Ram Das hospital campus with almost a dozen buildings and a fleet of ambulances has lines of rural patients streaming out the front door. The other major hospitals are even more crowded. The glut of patients poses several major challenges, especially in the blood supply. Even procedures as routine as birth drive up the demand—a pregnant woman in need of a cesarean section will need at least two pints of blood on hand in case of complications. The millions of migrants who come to the city’s hospitals are already sick and in no shape to open up their veins. There are simply too few good candidates for blood donation.

It’s a perfect storm for the worst forms of medical malpractice and ethics. There are no opportunities for the comparatively small local population to replenish the stocks of blood through voluntary donations, so hospitals have little choice but to rely on the underground machinations of local blood dealers. A blue-and-white neon sign hanging a five-minute walk from Papu Yadhav’s former blood farm announces Fatima Hospital, one of Gorakhpur’s five blood banks. There, a patchwork of concrete rubble and construction debris lies just inside the hospital’s iron-and-brick gateway, as the hospital is in shambles while undergoing a major renovation. But the blood bank was too important to put off or leave nonfunctional during the renovation. so the Jesuit church that is financing the construction saw to it that the blood bank was finished first. But for now, that means avoiding stray cats, picking my way across piles of rebar and sand, and climbing unfinished stairways to get to the hematology department.

But once I’m inside it’s like being in a different world. The place is packed with state-of-the-art equipment, including a sub-zero refrigerator that can store blood almost indefinitely and shiny new centrifuges that can separate blood into its component parts. The unit is the brainchild of Father Jeejo Antony, who runs the hospital for the local diocese. However, all the high-tech gear in the world won’t help his main problem. He tells me that they barely collect enough blood to meet his own hospital’s needs, let alone the city’s. The problem, he says, is that most people in India won’t give blood voluntarily. He says that many local people here are superstitious and believe that losing bodily fluids will make them weak for the rest of their lives. This is partly why the city began depending on professional donors.

“Papu Yadhav is only a scapegoat. There are many more people behind the blood sales than low-level people like him,” he says when I bring up the case, adding, “There are agents in every nursing home and every hospital. When a doctor requests blood, it gets arranged somehow.”

After showing me around the lab, he leads me to his expansive office downstairs and offers me a cup of spiced chai. When we’re comfortable he tells me that he moved to Gorakhpur from his home state of Kerala to make a difference in people’s lives, but he’s unsure that anything he does with a voluntary blood bank is going to lessen the pressure. In fact, he says other people have come up to replace the Yadhav gang. One week after the police arrested Yadhav, requests for blood at the blood bank spiked 60 percent. But now, a year later, “the demand has fallen off.” There are no new blood banks in the city, and no sudden influx of donors, but blood is coming from somewhere.

Legal blood donation works slightly differently in India than it does elsewhere in the world. since few Indians are willing to donate through pure altruism, patients are expected to provide their own donors to give blood to a blood bank to replace the pints that they will use during surgery. once the patient has received credit for a blood donation through a friend, they can draw a matching unit for their own surgery. In theory this means friends and family must step forward to come to the patient’s aid. But the reality of the system is different. Instead of asking their relations to give blood, most people rely on an informal network of professional donors who hang out in front of hospitals willing to give blood in return for a small fee.

Father Antony says that there is little he can do to stop the blood selling. Hospitals are caught in a double bind between saving the lives of patients on the operating table and potentially exploiting donors. From the clinical perspective, when a patient is dying on the operating table, buying blood seems like the lesser of two evils. He tells me that his hospital is too small to attract semiprofessional donors, but all of the major hospitals in the city have them. a good place to start, he says, would be the same hospital that treated papu Yadhav’s prisoners after their rescue by police.

—–

Dr. O. P. Parikh, director of Gorakhpur’s Civil Hospital, has donated thirteen pints of blood in his life and would like to donate four more before he retires at the end of next year. Yet he says that he is the exception to the rule. The rest of the city is not as giving as he is. Responsible for the overall operation of the hospital, he says that blood supply is a constant problem. “People here are afraid of donating. They don’t want to exchange blood; they just want to buy it.” And at 1,000 rupees, or about $25 for a pint, it isn’t hard to find donors.

Fifty feet outside of Parikh’s door is a string of makeshift tea shops and cigarette sellers who double as blood brokers. After a discreet inquiry with a man with paan stains across his lower teeth, I’m told to meet a man named Chunu, who is the resident professional donor. “Just be sure that you trade it in at the bank. He’s got HIV; the blood isn’t always screened,” the man warns before sending me on my way. Five minutes later I’m in an alley behind the hospital face-to-face with a small, bearded man holding a shawl over his head and ears. I tell him I need a pint of B negative blood as quickly as possible.

“B negative is rare and difficult to find these days,” he says. “You can get it but we need to send for it from Faizabad or Lucknow,” two district capitals about one hundred miles from here. He says he could arrange it for 3,000 rupees, a high figure. I tell Chunu that I will think about it and leave him outside the hospital gate to speak with other customers.

Civil Hospital’s blood bank is a picture of helplessness. The steel refrigerator containing blood packets is close to empty, with only three packets ready for transfusion. The blood bank’s director, K. M. Singh, says, “Yesterday someone came in and asked for blood, but we had to turn them away. I tell them that blood is not for sale; you have to give it to get it. But they went away and came an hour later with a donor. How am I to know if they paid that person?”

Gorakhpur’s five blood banks can only fulfill about half the required demand. Responsible for providing their own blood for operations, patients sometimes don’t even know that they are breaking the law when buying blood.

The maternity ward at Baba Raghav Das Hospital, the city’s largest government medical institution, is a dismal place to bring life into the world. A coat of translucent green paint on the giant bay windows, put there presumably to reduce the glare, bathes the concrete wards in a sickly light. In the cramped ward about fifty women, still wearing the clothes they brought from home, recover from cesarean sections on thin cots. Some have beds, while others are forced to recline on the concrete floor.

There are dozens of newborns in the room, yet oddly none of them seems to be crying. It is as if the place’s cavelike qualities swallow up all the sound. A woman coddling a baby girl adjusts her robe before removing her own catheter and draining a red soupy mixture into a wastebasket below her bed. Despite the conditions, BRD offers these people a rare chance to see a doctor. The wards are just one of the prices they pay for access to medical assistance.

One migrant, Gurya Devi, has traveled more than one hundred miles from a farming village in the neighboring state of Bihar because she feared there might have been complications during labor. A doctor who never told her his name spent a total of five minutes meeting with her. He said that she would need a cesarean section. As a precaution, he said they would need a pint of blood on hand, and could get a donor for 1,400 rupees (about $30). “It was easy,” she says. “We didn’t even have to think about it; the doctor arranged it all.”

The blood could have come from anywhere.

Images: Scott Carney

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist and contributing editor at Wired and the author of The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers. His new book of which the above post is an excerpt is called The Red Market.

Isabel Allende tells tales of passion.

She’s not only a brilliant writer but also an activist, a feminist and a wonderful story teller. It’s a talk that, when you listen to it with your heart, makes you laugh, cry and, at least for a moment, very passionate. Allende easily outshines most of the other TED talks I have listened to so far!

Click here to go to the TED website to listen to the talk.

Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic)

Deepening crisis traps America’s have-nots

The US is drifting from a financial crisis to a deeper and more insidious social crisis. Self-congratulation by the US authorities that they have this time avoided a repeat of the 1930s is premature.

A tale of two shoppers – Louis Vuitton has helped boost the luxury goods stock index by almost 50pc since October, yet Walmart has languished.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph, London

THERE is a telling detail in the US retail chain store data for December. Stephen Lewis from Monument Securities points out that luxury outlets saw an 8.1 per cent rise from a year ago, but discount stores catering to America’s poorer half rose just 1.2 per cent.

Tiffany & Co, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue are booming. Sales of Cadillac cars have jumped 35 per cent, and Porsche’s US sales are up 29 per cent.

Cartier and Louis Vuitton have helped boost the luxury goods stock index by almost 50 per cent since October. Yet Best Buy, Target and Walmart have languished.

Such is the blighted fruit of Federal Reserve policy. The Fed no longer even denies that the purpose of its latest blast of bond purchases, or QE2, is to drive up Wall Street, perhaps because it has so signally failed to achieve its other purpose of driving down borrowing costs.

Yet surely Ben Bernanke’s trickle-down strategy risks corroding America’s ethic of solidarity long before it does much to help America’s poor.

The retail data can be quirky but it fits in with everything else we know. The number of people on food stamps has reached 43.2 million, an all time-high of 14 per cent of the population. Recipients receive debit cards – not stamps – at present worth about $US140 a month under Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

The US Conference of Mayors said visits to soup kitchens are up 24 per cent. There are 643,000 people needing shelter each night.

Jobs data released on Friday was again shocking. The only reason that headline unemployment fell from 9.7 per cent to 9.4 per cent was that so many people dropped out of the system altogether.

The actual number of jobs contracted by 260,000 to 153,690,000. The “labour participation rate” for working-age men over 20 dropped to 73.6 per cent, the lowest since the data series began in 1948. My guess is that this figure exceeds the average for the Great Depression (minus the cruellest year, 1932).

“Corporate America is in a V-shaped recovery,” said Robert Reich, a former labour secretary. “That’s great news for investors whose savings are mainly in stocks and bonds, and for executives and Wall Street traders. But most American workers are trapped in an L-shaped recovery.”

The long-term unemployed (more than six months) have reached 42 per cent of the total, twice the peak of the early 1990s. Nothing like this has been seen since World War II.

The Gini Coefficient used to measure income inequality has risen from the mid-30s to 46.8 over the past 25 years, touching the same extremes reached in the Roaring Twenties just before the slump. It has also been ratcheting up in Britain and Europe.

Raghuram Rajan, the International Monetary Fund’s former chief economist, argues that the subprime debt build-up was an attempt – “whether carefully planned or the path of least resistance” – to disguise stagnating incomes and to buy off the poor.

“The inevitable bill could be postponed into the future. Cynical as it might seem, easy credit has been used throughout history as a palliative by governments that are unable to address the deeper anxieties of the middle class directly,” he said.

Bank failures in the Depression were in part caused by expansion of credit to struggling farmers in response to the US Populist movement.

Extreme inequalities are toxic for societies, but there is also a body of scholarship suggesting that they cause depressions as well by upsetting the economic balance. They create a bias towards asset bubbles and over-investment, while holding down consumption, until the system becomes top-heavy and tips over, as happened in the 1930s.

The switch from brawn to brain in the internet age has obviously pushed up the Gini count, but so has globalisation. Multinationals are exploiting “labour arbitrage” by moving plant to low-wage countries, playing off workers in China and the West against each other. The profit share of corporations is at record highs across in America and Europe.

More subtly, Asia’s mercantilist powers have flooded the world with excess capacity, holding down their currencies to lock in trade surpluses. The effect is to create a black hole in the global system.

Yes, we can still hope that this is a passing phase until rising wages in Asia restore balance to East and West, but what if it proves to be permanent, a structural incompatibility of the Confucian model with our own Ricardian trade doctrine?

There is no easy solution to creeping depression in America and swathes of the Old World. A Keynesian ”New Deal” of borrowing on the bond markets to build roads, bridges, solar farms or nuclear power stations to soak up the army of unemployed is not a credible option in our new age of sovereign debt jitters. The fiscal card is played out.

So we limp on, with very large numbers of people in the West trapped on the wrong side of globalisation, and nobody doing much about it. Would Franklin Roosevelt have tolerated such a lamentable state of affairs, or would he have ripped up and reshaped the global system until it answered the needs of his citizens?

The number is shocking and sobering. It is at least 10 times greater than most estimates cited in the US media, yet it is based on a scientific study of violent Iraqi deaths caused by the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.


Iraq Deaths Estimator

Sign the petition telling Congress that about a million Iraqis have likely been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Help us expose to Congress the true costs of war.

A study, published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, estimated that over 600,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the invasion as of July 2006. Iraqis have continued to be killed since then. The death counter provides a rough daily update of this number based on a rate of increase derived from the Iraq Body Count. (See the complete explanation.)

The estimate that over a million Iraqis have died received independent confirmation from a prestigious British polling agency in September 2007. Opinion Research Business estimated that 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed violently since the US-led invasion.

This devastating human toll demands greater recognition. It eclipses the Rwandan genocide and our leaders are directly responsible. Little wonder they do not publicly cite it. You can use the simple HTML code above to post the counter to your website to help spread the word.

Add your name to the petition telling Congress that about a million Iraqis have likely been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Help us continue this important work with a tax-deductible contribution.

See the list of some folks we know have posted the counter.

Alternate Languages:

If you want to remind visitors to your site of the awful human costs of continued war, you can post the Iraqi Death Estimator on your website. To get the code go to Just Foreign Policy.

from the wtf dept @ techdirt

One refrain we keep hearing against Wikileaks is that the cable releases aren’t really “whistleblowing,” because they’re not really revealing anything. However, it seems like each day there’s another big revelation of rather horrible things being done (and covered up) by the US government. The latest, pointed out by Boing Boing, involves a report from a cable that US-based private security contractor DynCorp, who was hired by the US to train Afghani police, was apparently supplying drugs and young boys for a sort of sex party.

The details are horrifying. The Afghani interior minister apparently went to US officials to warn them that reporters were sniffing around this story, and urged them to try to kill the story. He specifically warned that this would look bad if the connection to DynCorp was made clear (he called them “foreign mentors”). Apparently, US diplomats told him not to worry, and the eventual story was in fact watered down greatly (until now, of course) calling the whole thing a “tribal dance,” rather than a party where young boys wear “scanty women’s clothes” and “dance seductively” before being “auctioned off to the highest bidder” for sex.

Oh, did we mention that DynCorp makes $2 billion per year — 95% of which comes from American taxpayers.

And US government officials are declaring Wikileaks as an organization to shun and not to work with? What about DynCorp? Are their DNS providers pulling the plug? Are their banks shutting down their accounts? Are they being denounced by Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman? No? Why the hell not?