Around the World, Social Unrest Starts with Soaring Food Prices

From Alternet:

The climate change-fueled battles over food and resources have already begun.

By> Stefanie Krasnow
May 5, 2014

From 2008 to 2014, insurrectionist activity has sequentially erupted across the globe, from Tunisia and Egypt to Syria and Yemen; from Greece, Spain, Turkey and Brazil to Thailand, Bosnia, Venezuela and the Ukraine.

In every instance, there was a tipping point: in Tunisia, it was Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation; in New York City, it was the Wall Street bailout; in Istanbul, it was a few threatened trees in Gezi Park; in Brazil, it was a 20-cent increase in transit fare. Today, the rest of our world seems poised to erupt, with every nation near and far harboring its own Achilles heel, its own tender nerve of geopolitical vulnerability at risk of getting pricked.

Thanks to corporate media, which conveniently co-opts the restless amnesia of the news cycle to distract attention from ongoing, systemic issues, this global revolutionary fervor has been presented to us as a bunch of sound and fury that rises and falls and amounts to nothing. But beneath what we’ve come to perceive as isolated and distinct events is a shared but neglected root cause of environmental crisis. What most people don’t realize is that outbreaks of social unrest are preceded, usually, by a single pattern — an unholy trinity of drought, low crop yield and soaring food prices.

So what do the Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, Occupy Gezi, and the recent conflicts in the Ukraine, Venezuela, Bosnia and Thailand all have in common? Expensive food… and not much of it.

As Nafeez Ahmed writes for the Guardian:

“The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others. In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa — Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.”

Last year, world food prices were the third highest they’ve ever been. The second-to-worst and worst years for inflated global food costs were 2012 and 2011 respectively.

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One Billion People Still Practise Open Defecation, Endangering Public Health: UN

From Huffington Post:

By Tom Miles

GENEVA, May 8 (Reuters) – One billion people worldwide still practise “open defecation” and they need to be told that this leads to the spread of fatal diseases, U.N. experts said on Thursday at the launch of a study on drinking water and sanitation.

“‘Excreta’, ‘faeces’, ‘poo’, I could even say ‘shit’ maybe, this is the root cause of so many diseases,” said Bruce Gordon, acting coordinator for sanitation and health at the World Health Organization.

Societies that practice open defecation – putting them at risk from cholera, diarrhoea, dysentry, hepatitis A and typhoid – tend to have large income disparities and the world’s highest numbers of deaths of children under 5 years old.

Attempts to improve sanitation among the poorest have long focused on building latrines, but the United Nations says that money literally went down the toilet. Attitudes, not infrastructure, need to change, it said.

“In all honesty the results have been abysmal,” said Rolf Luyendijk, a statistician at the U.N.’s children’s fund UNICEF.

“There are so many latrines that have been abandoned, or were not used, or got used as storage sheds. We may think it’s a good idea but if people are not convinced that it’s a good idea to use a latrine, they have an extra room.”

Many countries have made great progress in tackling open defecation, with Vietnam and Bangladesh – where more than one in three people relieved themselves in the open in 1990 – virtually stamping out the practice entirely by 2012.

The global number has fallen from 1.3 billion in 1990. But one billion people – 90 percent of them living in rural areas – “continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity or privacy”, the U.N. study said.

The practice is still increasing in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria was the worst offender, with 39 million open defecators in 2012 compared to 23 million in 1990.

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How materialism makes us sad

From The Guardian UK:

The more we spend, the less happy we are. Can this explain why affluent politicians insist on taking from the poor?

The Guardian, Tuesday 6 May 2014

Graham Music, a psychotherapist, has written a book called The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality. It confirms, through use of data collected by scientists over the last 40 years, what we have all long suspected from anecdote and our own eyes: the materialistic tend to be unhappy, those with material goods will remain unhappy, and the market feeds on unhappiness. It is an outreach programme for personal and political desolation; and it is, so far, an outstanding success. Peel away the images of the gaudy objects and find instead a condition. Reading Vanity Fair, I deduce, is now mere collusion with the broken.

I have struggled, for instance, to understand why a British cabinet so loaded with the affluent should be blithe in taking from those who have less – the destruction of the educational maintenance allowance, the bedroom tax, the despicable campaign against disabled people and the unemployed, and so on and on. Why would a wealthy Tory MP (I close my eyes, and land, randomly, on Nadhim Zahawi of Stratford-on-Avon) overcharge the public by more than £4,000 to heat his stables and yet languidly vote for austerity measures? (Not his austerity, obviously: austerity is for the already poor).

It was always madness, even as they pushed the “big society”, and when that imploded like a farting balloon painted an entire class as undeserving, which will be the epitaph of this government: to the undeserving, nothing. Others call this the language of “class war”, an effective and duplicitous soundbite designed to terrify. War? Who wants war? No one, of course.

Except it is not class war. Or rather, there is confusion about who, exactly, is the aggressor. A study at Berkeley University, quoted by Music, provides an answer to the question of why wealthy politicians act as they do, although I do not doubt they delude themselves as to their motives: “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behaved … consistently those who were less rich showed more empathy and more of a wish to help others.” This would be an obvious point, except it is daily contradicted by the appalling “skivers versus strivers” rhetoric, a false dichotomy that is also moronic propaganda-by-rhyme.

Tim Kasser, for instance, a psychology professor at Knox College, Illinois, notes that if you love material objects, you are less likely to love people and so, of course, the planet. The connection between the rise of materialism and indifference to the environment is not coincidental; nor is the connection between the rise of materialism and growing inequality, and fear of the stranger, which expresses itself here in a despicable loathing for the Roma, for instance, and there in a fashionable fetish for Ukip. Money is a brutalising agent and a paranoiac drug.

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The New Abolitionism

From The Nation:

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Pope Francis urges governments to redistribute wealth to the poor — maybe even half of it

Wow Gee…  A Pope who actually sounds like he is channeling the words of Jesus instead of the anti-Christ aka Ayn Rand.

From Raw Story:

By Travis Gettys
Friday, May 9, 2014

Pope Francis called on “legitimate redistribution” of wealth by the world’s governments to undo the “economy of exclusion” underlying capitalist society.

The pontiff appealed Friday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies in Rome, warning that wealth inequality promoted a “culture of death” at odds with Catholic teachings.

“An awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands,” Pope Francis said.

These may be “material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones,” Francis said, and he urged the world’s people “to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.”

The Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope has upset American conservatives with his critiques of the unrestrained free market and “trickle-down” economics, which he dismissed as naïve and unsupported by the facts.

“A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis asked U.N. officials to consider the biblical story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, whom he said showed it’s never too late to correct injustice.

In the Luke 19:1-10 account, the diminutive tax collector tells Jesus he will give away half his possessions to the poor to atone for his sins and pay back four times the amount to anyone he’s cheated.

“Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus,” the pope explained. “This same spirit should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity.”

He urged world leaders to make similarly “courageous decisions with immediate results.”

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iO Tillett Wright: Fifty shades of gay

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