Why Are Rates of Suicide Soaring Across the Planet?


The figures of both attempted suicides and committed suicides are increasing.

A friend recently asked to meet for coffee. ‘I’ve had some more bad news,’ his text said. A ‘fifty something’ year old friend had taken his own life the day before. Jack had hanged himself from a tree in a public park on the outskirts of London; it was his fourth attempt. He had four children. This was the second, middle-aged, male friend to have committed suicide within six months.

Their stories are far from unique. Suicide occurs everywhere in the world to people of all age groups, from 15 to 70 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that almost one million people commit suicide every year, with 20 times that number attempting it, and the numbers are rising. Methods vary from country to country: in the USA, where firearms litter the streets, 60% of people shoot themselves; in India and other Asian countries, as well as South Africa, taking poison, particularly drinking pesticides, is the most popular choice. In Hong Kong, China and urban Taiwan, WHO records that a new method, “charcoal-burning suicide” has been recorded. Drowning, jumping from a height, slashing wrists and hanging (the most popular form in Britain, the Balkans and Eastern European countries) are some of the other ways desperate human beings decide to end their lives.

Stigma and Under-reporting of Suicides

According to WHO, 1.5% of worldwide deaths were caused by suicide in 2012, making it the third highest cause of death in the World, and this is just those deaths which have been confirmed as suicide. WHO admits that the availability and quality of data is poor, with only 60 Member States providing statistics “that can be used directly to estimate suicide rates.” Many suicides, they say, “are hidden among other causes of death, such as single car, single driver road traffic accidents, un-witnessed drowning’s and other undetermined deaths.” These are just some of the many factors that make accurately assessing the numbers who take their own lives problematic. In countries where social attitudes, or religious dogma, shroud suicide in a stigma of guilt (Sub-Saharan Africa, where suicide is rarely if ever discussed or admitted, for instance), suicide may be hidden and go un-reported; so too in countries where suicide is still regarded as a criminal act: Hungary for example, where attempted suicide carries a prison sentence of five years, or Japan where it is illegal to commit suicide. North Korea, where relatives of a person committing suicide are penalised; Ireland, where self-harm is not generally regarded as a form of attempted suicide; Singapore, where suicide remains illegal and attempted suicide can result in imprisonment; or Russia, where the rate of teenage suicides is three times the world average and where those attempting suicide can be committed to a psychiatric hospital. All of which are pretty strong reasons for hiding suicide attempts and concealing suicide as the cause of death, as well as deterring people from discussing suicidal thoughts.

Whatever the precise number of total deaths by suicide – and all the indications are that it is a good deal higher than WHO says – what is clear is that suicide is a major social issue. The figures of both attempted suicides and committed suicides are increasing; it needs to be openly discussed, the causes understood and more support provided. In the last 45 years, WHO state that suicide rates have increased by 60%, and unless something marvellous happens that drastically changes the environment in which we are living, they predict that by 2020 the rate of death will have doubled – from one suicide every 40 seconds, to someone, somewhere in the world taking his/her life every 20 seconds!

Rates of suicide and gender ratios vary from country to country and region to region, but overwhelmingly men are more at risk than women. WHO found that 75% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with 30% of all suicides occurring in China and India where suicide was only de-criminalised in 2014. Eastern European countries, such as Lithuania and the Russian Federation, recorded the highest numbers of suicides, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Central and South America (Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia) the lowest. And although suicide rates worldwide have traditionally been highest amongst elderly men, young people – that’s 15-29 – year olds, are now the group at the greatest risk in a third of all countries. Suicide, WHO states, is the “leading cause of death in this age group after transport and other accidents and assault for males,” with very little gender difference – “9.5% in males and 8.2% in females.”

Throughout western societies around three times the number of men die by suicide than women, and over 50s are particularly vulnerable. In Britain men account for 80% of all suicide cases (with an average of 13 men a day killing themselves), 40-44 year olds are particularly at risk here. In “low- and middle-income countries”, WHO records, “the male-to-female ratio is much lower [than more developed countries] at 1.5 men to each woman.” Surprisingly, in the USA, where four times the number of men die from suicide than women, according to The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, women are more likely to attempt it. The statistical gender gap in western societies may in small part be caused, The Samaritans think, by the different suicide methods used by men and women. Leading to the fact that in some cases “the intent cannot be determined (or assumed) as easily [with women] as in methods more common to males.” This may result, they say, “in more under-reporting of suicidal deaths in females.“

The Causes of Suicide

The specific reasons why people commit suicide are many and varied; ‘mental health issues’ is the umbrella term often cited as the cause. According to researchers at Glasgow University 90% of suicide cases suffer from some form of mental illness. It is an ambiguous phrase though, that explains little, and comforts the bereaved less. It would seem obvious that if someone kills themselves, they are not feeling mentally or emotionally ‘intact’, or ‘good’. ‘I struggled for so long’, ‘I couldn’t cope anymore’, ‘life seemed meaningless’, ‘I felt tremendous anxiety’, and so on, are phrases common to many of us, including those people contemplating, attempting or committing suicide. Perhaps understandably depression is usually mentioned as a cause, but this of course does not mean everyone suffering from depression is at risk of suicide!

The WHO makes clear that whilst suicide rates vary enormously from country to country, differences, “influenced by the cultural, social, religious and economic environments in which people live and sometimes want to stop living..…the pressures of life, that cause extreme emotional distress” and sometimes lead to suicide, “are similar everywhere.”

It is these ‘pressures of life’, that need to be properly understood, what they are, where they come from, the impact they have, and how we can change the structure of society to free humanity from them. Why do we have such damaging ‘pressures of life’? We should not be living in a world that produces such detrimental forces. Something in our world society is terribly wrong when a million or so people kill themselves every year, and where suicide is the second highest cause of death amongst under 20 year olds.

I am not a psychologist, but commonsense would suggest that the ‘sense of self’ must be at the heart of the issue, the volatile central cause. If that ‘sense of self’ is positive, if one feels connected to ‘life’, has structure, purpose and self-belief, feels liked, loved even, then suicide would seem unlikely. If, however, the image of self is negative, of a ‘failure’, unable to ‘fit in’, feeling lost, lacking direction and experiencing social and emotional withdrawal, a fragile sense of self and increasing vulnerability are, it would seem, likely.

Then there are the practical problems we all face of earning a living and paying the rent/mortgage; the more subtle issues – pressures of ‘succeeding’ – economically, socially, in a career, and in ‘love’. The inability – real or perceived – to meet these ‘pressures of life’ creating worry and anxiety – perhaps leading to alcohol or substance abuse – which strengthens social isolation, reinforces the image of failure, weakening self-belief/confidence and strengthening self-loathing. And all this in a world where weakness, particularly in men, is frowned upon; where sensitivity, uncertainty and fragility are to be overcome – ‘toughen up’ is the message, spoken directly or indirectly.

We have little understanding of who and what we are, so we create images, cling to ideological constructs that move us further and further away from our true nature. The ideal image of what it means to be a human being, particularly a man, has become increasingly narrow. Men, especially under 40 year olds, must be decisive, strong and ambitious. Any flowery beliefs – philosophical or religious for example – should be eradicated, or at least hidden, certainly not mentioned in public. Any admission of self-doubt and signs of vulnerability should be completely avoided, and a macho, no-nonsense approach to life adopted and expressed.

Broadly speaking this has become the stereotype of what it is to be a man in the 21st century, and conformity to the pattern is insisted on – via education, peer pressure and the corporate media. Women, particularly young women are expected to meet a similarly, if slightly less constricting, formulated ideal. Both are extremely restrictive, unhealthy images that fit into a worldwide system of societal uniformity, built by, and in the interests of, multinationals (who own everything), facilitated by corporate governments (who lack principles), which is sucking the richness, and diversity out of life. Everyone is expected to want the same things, to wear the same clothes, believe the same propaganda, aspire to the same ideals and behave the same. Every country, city, town and village is seen as a marketplace, every person a consumer to be exploited fully, sucked dry and discarded.

Competition and conformity have infiltrated every area of worldwide society, from education to health care. Everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, to be bought at the lowest price and sold at the highest, financial profit is the overwhelming motive that drives and distorts action. Materialistic values promoting individual success, greed and selfishness saturate the world; ‘values’ that divide and separate humanity, leading to social tension, conflict and illness. Ideals, which are not values in any real sense of the word, which have both fashioned the divisive political-economic landscape in which we live (which has failed the masses and poisoned the planet), and been strengthened by it. Together with the economic system of market fundamentalism which so ardently promotes them, these ‘values’ form, I believe, the basic ingredients in the interwoven set of social factors that cause a great deal of the ‘mental health issues’, which lead those most vulnerable members of our society to commit suicide. Men, women and children who simply cannot cope with the ‘pressures of life’ anymore, who feel the collective and individual pain of life acutely, are disposed towards introspection and find the world too noisy, its values too crude, its demands of ‘strength’ not weakness, ‘success’ not failure, ‘confidence’ not doubt, impossible to meet. And why should they have to meet them, why do these ‘pressures of life’ exist at all?

It is time to build an altogether different, healthier model, a new way of living in which true perennial values of goodness, shape the systems that govern the societies in which we live, and not the corrosive, ideologically reductive corporate weapons of ubiquitous living which are sucking the beauty, diversity and joy out of life. Values of compassion, selflessness, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; we need, as Arundhati Roy puts it, “to redefine the meaning of modernity, to redefine the meaning of happiness,” for we have exchanged happiness for pleasure, replaced love with desire, unity with division, cooperation with competition, and have created a divided society, where conflict rages, internationally, regionally, communally and individually.

Graham Peebles is director of the Create Trust. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org

Deadly food poisoning is lurking

A new highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant bug has arrived

A frightening new Scientific American report details the growing threat of shigella across the United States

Deadly food poisoning is lurking: A new highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant bug has arrived
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanThe kinds of bacteria that can cause food poisoning lurk all around us. These germs can be especially easy to pick up when traveling internationally as well as in places, such as children’s day cares, which are hard to keep clean. The infections usually clear up on their own but sometimes require hospitalizations and hefty doses of antibiotics to expunge. Unfortunately, the bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.

The latest bad news came in April when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak of Shigella sonnei that has become resistant to ciprofloxacin—one of the last remaining medications in pill form that can kill the germ. Since then a Scientific American investigation shows the worrisome strain is still circulating in the U.S. a year after it first emerged.

Shigella bacteria typically cause about 500,000 diarrheal illnesses and 40 deaths in the U.S. every year. Children who are malnourished and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of developing severe cases. Symptoms include diarrhea that is sometimes bloody, fever and abdominal pain, and typically last about a week.

The bacteria occur naturally in the U.S. but, heretofore, people typically caught ciprofloxacin-resistant strains while traveling internationally. In the current outbreak, however, many people who became sick had not recently been out of the country, which proves that the multidrug-resistant bug has now established a firm domestic presence.

The CDC has confirmed 275 cases of ciprofloxacin-resistant shigella across the country from May 2014 to May 2015, according to data obtained exclusively byScientific American (see chart below). Although these figures appear small, they almost certainly represent but a tiny fraction of the true number of ciprofloxacin-resistant cases. Shigella infections are supposed to be reported to the CDC but a lot of people who get sick do not go to the doctor. And those who do are sometimes not tested for the presence of shigella, let alone drug resistance.

Vulnerable populations are some of the hardest hit in this outbreak, including cases linked to a day care center, homeless people in San Francisco and HIV-positive individuals in Philadelphia. As few as 10 shigella germs can cause an infection—making the bacteria virtually undetectable as it quickly spreads in contaminated food and water or from person to person.

Other drugs that the pathogen has overcome in the past include ampicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline. Anna Bowen, a medical officer in the CDC’s Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch and lead author of the April study, says the CDC has identified some cases in this outbreak that were resistant to all of the oral treatment options currently available. The next line of defense is a broader-spectrum, more expensive antibiotic that must be administered via injection or an intravenous line.

Whereas labs can test for ciprofloxacin resistance, there are currently no standardized tests to identify if a shigella infection is resistant to azithromycin, which is the go-to drug for children. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ciprofloxacin only for adults.) “Almost no clinical labs are doing this sort of testing,” Bowen says, “and so patients are being treated kind of blindly since the providers don’t know if azithromycin is an appropriate choice or not.”

Lag time in reporting is another issue. San Francisco, for example, is tracking nearly two times the number of cases that the CDC counts as confirmed for the city—228 cases versus 119. Cora Hoover, director of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, says they have slightly different case definitions because as the city agency on the ground investigating this outbreak they want assurance all possible patients are identified; also it takes so long to confirm a case. Public health officials normally follow up with each patient, and lab tests can take weeks.

It can take around a month to confirm a case of shigellosis is both antibiotic-resistant and part of the same outbreak, though it varies. Generally, once a doctor identifies a shigella infection, he or she reports it to the city or state public health agency and sends a stool sample to the lab to confirm the diagnosis. The lab grows or “cultures” the bacteria and reports its findings back to the doctor and agency in about a week. The health agency then reports the case to the CDC, which tests a selection of cases for antibiotic resistance via the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System and its national laboratory network, PulseNet. Results from PulseNet’s genetic testing of sample cases can be complete within a couple of weeks.

By the time the full picture of a single case is confirmed, the patient is usually better. Caroline Johnson, director of the Division of Disease Control at Public Health for the City of Philadelphia, says her division usually suspects that a case is part of an outbreak but does not know for sure until the full results are in.

Peter Gerner-Smidt, chief of the CDC’s Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch and PulseNet, says labs will gradually move away from having to culture bacteria to identify them. As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more accessible, state labs will eventually be able to get that information by determining the whole DNA sequence of each sample. This approach will hopefully reveal antibiotic-resistance more quickly, he says, but it will likely take years before these tests are widely used.

Because of the increasing threat of multidrug-resistant shigella, the CDC and other health agencies recommend doctors only prescribe antibiotics for severe cases. Shigellosis can actually clear up on its own with proper hydration and rest. Preventionis therefore the best weapon for controlling resistant shigella, Bowen says, particularly because the U.S. cannot regulate antibiotic overuse in other countries, but it still affects patients here.

“Problems with antibiotic resistance anywhere are problems with antibiotic resistance everywhere,” she says. “There are no borders when it comes to antibiotic resistance, and we have all got to be vigilant.”





Porn and video game addiction leading to ‘masculinity crisis’, says Stanford psychologist

 A leading psychologist has warned that young men’s brains are being ‘digitally rewired’ by unprecedented use of video games and pornography

A leading psychologist has warned that young men are facing a crisis of masculinity due to excessive use of video games and pornography.

Psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University Phillip Zimbardo has made the warnings, which form a major part of his latest book, Man (Dis)Connected.

In an interview on the BBC World Service’s Weekend programme, Zimbardo spoke about the results of his study, an in-depth look into the lives of 20,000 young men and their relationships with video games and pornography.

He said: “Our focus is on young men who play video games to excess, and do it in social isolation – they are alone in their room.”

“Now, with freely available pornography, which is unique in history, they are combining playing video games, and as a break, watching on average, two hours of pornography a week.”

Zimbardo says there is a “crisis” amongst young men, a high number of whom are experiencing a “new form of addiction” to excessive use of pornography and video games.

Zimbardo gave a TED talk in 2011 outlining the problems facing young men’s social development and academic achievement, which he puts down to excessive use of porn, video games and the internet.

He cited the example of a mother he met while conducting the study whose son does not see the problem in playing video games for up to 15 hours a day.

Zimbardo said: “For me, ‘excess’ is not the number of hours, it’s a psychological change in mindset.”

Giving an example of the mindset of a gaming and pornography-addicted young man, he says: “When I’m in class, I’ll wish I was playing World of Warcraft. When I’m with a girl, I’ll wish I was watching pornography, because I’ll never get rejected.”

Zimbardo claims that this relatively new phenomenon is affecting the minds of young men.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02qyfc7/playerCiting the research he and his team conducted for the book, he says: “It begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward centre of the brain, and produces a kind of excitement and addiction.”

“What I’m saying is – boys’ brains are becoming digitally rewired.”

He also mentioned the growing problem of a disputed phenomenon called ‘porn-induced erectile dysfunction’, or PIED: “Young boys who should be virile are now having a problem getting an erection.”

“You have this paradox – they’re watching exciting videos that should be turning them on, and they can’t get turned on.”

An article from Psychology Today, however, argues that there are no demonstrable scientific links between porn consumption and erectile dysfunction.

In his opinion, the solution is to accept that the problem is serious – parents must become aware of the number of hours a child is spending alone in their room playing games and watching porn at the expense of other activities.

He also blamed negative images of men in the American media, which show men as being “slobs, undesirable, only wanting to get laid and being inadequate in doing that.”

He also called for better sex education in schools – which should focus not only on biology and safety, but also on emotions, physical contact and romantic relationships.

The pressing issue of male mental health is now a much more prominent concern than it once was. Last year saw the first Male Psychology Conference at University College London, intended to encourage the British Psychological Society to introduce a male specialist section, to sit alongside its female equivalent.

Zimbardo believes that excessive, solitary use of video games and porn is seriously stunting boys’ social development

The charity Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM, was started in 2006 and has gained a high profile in recent years, for its efforts to encourage men to discuss mental health problems and bring down the male suicide rate.

Phillip Zimbardo is famous for the 1971 Stanford prison experiment, in which 24 students were asked to play the roles of ‘guards’ and ‘prisoners’ in a mock prison at Standford University. Intended to last for two weeks, the experiment was abandoned after six days, after the previously normal ‘guards’ became extremely sadistic and the ‘prisoners’ became submissive and depressed.

The experiment is believed to demonstrate the extreme impressionability and obedience of people when they are presented with a supporting ideology and power.



Illinois Supreme Court strikes down state pension cuts


By Alexander Fangmann
11 May 2015

On Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that struck down the 2013 law cutting pension and retirement benefits for state workers, public university and community college workers, and teachers outside of Chicago.

The court’s decision makes clear the essentially illegal and criminal character of the drive by state and local officials to slash public employee pensions. The court case, however, in no way settles the question. The financial elite in this state, like their counterparts throughout the country and the rest of the world, views the pension benefits and social programs established through decades of social struggle as rightfully theirs, and will stop at nothing in their goal of reducing workers to penury.

The Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz’s decision that the law—known as Senate Bill 1—is a violation of the Illinois Constitution, Article XXIII, Section 5, which states that pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

Further, the Supreme Court rejected the argument put forward by Democratic Party Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, that the state’s “police powers” allowed pension benefits to be cut in order to preserve government services, which would otherwise have to be cut in order for the state to make required payments to the under-funded pension funds.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote that economic fluctuations were anticipated at the time the constitutional provision was added. “The law was clear that the promised benefits would therefore have to be paid and that the responsibility for providing the state’s share of the necessary funding fell squarely on the legislature’s shoulders.”

The decision noted that the “General Assembly could also have sought additional tax revenue.” It criticized the legislature for allowing a 2011 temporary income tax increase to lapse at the beginning of this year, bringing the regressive tax back down to 3.75 percent from 5 percent and leaving an additional $1.6 billion deficit.

Indeed, the pension emergency that both the Democrats and Republicans have invoked to slash benefits is largely an engineered crisis. The entire reason for the existence of the so-called “unfunded pension liability” of approximately $100 billion is that state legislators have for years refused to make adequate payments to the pension systems, preferring instead to use that money to fund other programs.

In addition, the pension funding formulas deliberately overestimated the returns on pension fund investments in order to further reduce the necessary state contributions. Karmeier alluded to this in the decision, noting that the crisis is one for which “the General Assembly itself is largely responsible.”

In the wake of the decision, both Democrats and Republicans are working feverishly to craft even more devastating attacks on retirement benefits than those in the law that was struck down. Even prior to the decision, Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and those in the General Assembly, have been working closely with newly-elected Republican Governor Bruce Rauner—a close friend of Emanuel’s—using him as cover to introduce billions of dollars worth of cuts to a host of state agencies and social programs.

Rauner in the past has advocated eliminating all public pensions and moving workers to 401(k) style retirement plans. His proposed state budget for next year anticipated cutting state pension payments by an estimated $2.2 billion. This would be accomplished through the introduction of a distinction between current benefits and future benefits as a way of getting around the constitutional protection. Under Rauner’s proposal, all benefits currently earned by workers would be protected, but any future benefits would fall under the reduced Tier 2 pensions currently in place for newly hired workers.

Acknowledging that this would likely run afoul of the recent court decision, Rauner has proposed a constitutional amendment that would solidify the distinction between current and future benefits, arguing that, “Nobody, frankly, knows whether they’re going to have a job in the future.” However, a constitutional amendment would open the door to the elimination of retirement benefits by erasing the pension protection clause altogether—the eventual goal of the ruling elite. If the amendment were accomplished through the mechanism of a constitutional convention, it would open up the door for a reactionary rewriting of the entire document beyond the pension provision.

It is now likely that next year’s state budget will go substantially further than the bloodbath envisioned in Rauner’s proposal. Beyond the cuts to pensions, Rauner’s budget incorporated spending cuts of $4.18 billion, including $1 billion from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, $400 million from higher education, and $22 million from the Department of Public Health, among other programs. Additionally, in March House Speaker Madigan made a deal with Rauner in which the legislature agreed to let the governor cut spending for the current year by $300 million and freeze $26 million in programs ranging from mental health and autism to burials for the indigent.

Among other proposals Rauner has floated is an extension of the sales tax to cover services and amending state law to allow municipalities and other state government entities to declare bankruptcy in order to annul constitutionally protected pension benefits, following the precedent set in the Detroit bankruptcy case by Judge Steven Rhodes. These measures are now substantially more likely to get a hearing, even though the latter would not help the state avoid its own pension shortfall.

The court’s decision, while not directly impacting the cuts to Chicago’s pension systems, which are the subject of a separate lawsuit, will likely mean they will also be reversed by the courts. Emanuel claims that his plan, which raised employee contributions from municipal employees and Chicago-area laborers by 29 percent and reduced annual increases to pensions, does not fall afoul of the decision because the cuts were “negotiated with labor,” in other words, with the union leaders, rather than being made unilaterally.

Following the decision, the unions did their utmost to continue to fan illusions in the ability of workers to redress their grievances within the confines of the current political set-up. Having supported former Democratic Governor Pat Quinn—who signed the pension cut bill and was among the most prominent voices calling for pension cuts—for reelection, the unions did nothing to mobilize Illinois workers against benefit cuts, urging them to place all their faith in the courts. Following the most recent decision, they have pledged to work closely with the legislature to find ways to cut pensions without falling afoul of the constitution.



Record number of internally displaced people globally in 2014


By Niles Williamson
7 May 2015

According to a report issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) on Wednesday, a record 38 million people in 60 countries were displaced by ongoing conflicts from their homes within the borders of their own country through the end of 2014. They comprise the vast majority of the more than 50 million classified as refugees.

The report, “Global Overview 2015,” notes that the number of people internally displaced is equivalent to the combined populations of New York City, London and Beijing. The report marks the third straight year in which the IDMC has tallied a record number of internally displaced people.

The report blames rising wealth inequality for increasing conflict around the globe as marginalized religious, ethnic and tribal minorities seek independence and control over territory. They single out Islamic jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Boko Haram and Al Shabaab whose actions and the response by Western imperialism have caused millions to flee their homes.

11 million people were newly displaced as the result of violent conflict in the course of 2014, with an average of 30,000 people fleeing their homes every day. Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria account for 60 percent of new displacements.

Iraq showed the greatest new dislocation with 2.2 million people escaping from areas seized by ISIS. The Islamic fundamentalist organization launched an offensive in June last year in which it seized control of large swathes of northwestern Iraq including the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit. The United States responded by launching a new air campaign in Iraq and dispatching thousands of special forces which are assisting the Iraqi military in a counterassault.

A total of at least 3.2 million people are currently internally displaced in Iraq, a legacy of the American invasion and occupation of the country between 2003 and 2011.

In neighboring Syria, where the US and its allies have stoked a civil war against President Bashar al-Assad, at least 1.1 million people were forced out of their homes last year. In total, 35 percent of Syria’s population, approximately 7.6 million people, have been displaced by ongoing fighting in the country’s four-year-old civil war. It is estimated that at least 30 percent of the housing stock registered in the 2014 census has been damaged or destroyed, making return for many impossible.

US imperialism and its allies bear the responsibility for the unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as they have flooded the country with weaponry and provided military training to so-called moderate rebel forces, which include Islamist fighters now aligned with ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, fighting in South Sudan’s ongoing civil war displaced at least 1.3 million people last year, 11 percent of the country’s total population. Competing factions of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army have been fighting for control over the northeastern provinces which contain key oil fields since the end of 2013.

In the DRC at least a million people were displaced by fighting in the country’s eastern provinces. People fled in the aftermath of a series of massacres carried out by the rebel Allied Democratic Forces in the city of Beni that killed several hundred.

Nearly one million people were displaced in Nigeria last year where the Islamic fundamentalist organization Boko Haram has been involved in an insurgency since 2009. Suicide attacks and other assaults by Boko Haram killed more than 10,000 people throughout northern Nigeria in 2014.

Ukraine was the only European country in which a significant number of people were newly displaced by fighting last year. More than 646,000 people were forced from their homes as a result of fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces backed by the United States and Germany and pro-Russia separatists.

The conflict began after the US and Germany backed a fascist-led coup which ousted pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych. The new pro-Western regime launched a bloody offensive which sought to suppress pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region opposed to the new government.

What the report makes clear is that every continent is affected by the growing numbers of people displaced due to ongoing armed conflicts.

There were at least 436,500 newly displaced people in North and South America in 2014, making a cumulative total of 7 million people. In Mexico more than 281,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the drug cartels and gang violence. More than 500,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are currently displaced as the result of organized crime and gang violence.

Colombia accounted for 90 percent of the Americas’ total displaced population. The 6,044,200 people counted as displaced in Colombia account for 12 percent of the country’s total population. In addition to gang violence, many in Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala have been displaced by illegal and legal logging operations and cultivation of crops such as cocoa, poppies for opium, marijuana and palm oil.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 10 million of the world’s internally displaced peoples, and at least 4.5 million people newly displaced in 2014. The insurgency in Somalia headed by the Islamic jihadist group Al Shabaab has contributed to the more than 1 million displaced people in that country. Displaced people in Somalia suffer from the highest rate of severe malnutrition in the impoverished country.

At least 3.8 million people were newly displaced in the Middle East and North Africa in 2014, bringing the total to 11.9 million. In just the last four years alone, 7.8 million people have been forced out of their homes. The number of people forced to flee their homes in Libya, destabilized by a US-NATO air assault in 2011, increased more than six-fold from 2013 to 400,000. The Middle East and North Africa now account for 31 percent of the world’s internally displaced people, up from just 14 percent in 2011.

South Asia accounted for 1.4 million new displacements with a total of 4.1 million displaced by violence. In Pakistan the number of displaced people grew from 746,700 to 1.9 million. The US has carried out years of drone attacks and backs military operations against an Islamic insurgency in the country’s northwestern FATA region. In neighboring Afghanistan, which has been subjected to continuous US military operations since 2001, the number of displaced people grew by more than 170,000 to 805,400.

In Southeast Asia, 95 percent of the 855,000 displaced people are in Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines. While the region saw 134,086 new displacements in 2014, it was the only region that experienced a decline in the overall total, mainly in Burma and the Philippines.



US-backed Saudi forces dropped cluster bombs on Yemeni villages


By Thomas Gaist
5 May 2015

War planes of the US-backed, Saudi-led Arab war coalition dropped illegal cluster munitions on several groups of villages in northern Yemen, a report released this week by Human Rights Watch found.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) found remnants of BLU 108 canisters, fired from a CBU 105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, in the al-Safraa area of Yemen’s Sadaa province. Evidence of extensive cluster bomb use was discovered on a plateau less than one kilometer away from “four to six village clusters,” inhabited by thousands of people each, HRW found. The alleged use of illegal weapons was corroborated by video footage, photographs and analysis of satellite imagery.

“These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members—and the supplier, the US—are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians,” according to HRW arms director Steve Goose.

“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” he said.

The Sensor Fuzed cluster weapon system works by spreading four submunitions across a target area, each of which then automatically identifies and locks onto a potential target such as a vehicle or structure.

The bomblets themselves are geared to explode above ground for maximum effect. They are tailored to generate a downward explosive force that covers the target and surrounding area in hot shrapnel and flames. The US government has transferred the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE in recent years. The weapons were manufactured by an American firm, Textron Systems Corporation.

Cluster munitions have been banned by an international treaty called the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed in 2008 in Dublin by more than 100 governments. Saudi Arabia, the US and the recently deposed US- and Saudi-backed Yemen government were among the small number of governments that refused to sign the agreement.

In comments to AFP Sunday, Pentagon officials defended sale of cluster bombs on the grounds that all states purchasing cluster weapons are required to sign agreements not to use the weapons in areas “where civilians are known to be present.”

The Sensor Fuzed Weapons used against villagers in northern Yemen were first deployed by the US military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Incendiary and chemical weapons such as white phosphorus, which was dropped on civilian areas indiscriminately during the 2004 US punitive assault against the population of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and napalm, widely used in US imperialism’s war against Vietnam, are typically deployed using cluster systems.

Thousands of tons of cluster munitions were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos by the US Air Force and Navy during the 1960s and 1970s. The US dropped some 260 million bomblets on Laos between 1964 and 1973; some 80 million are estimated to have not exploded, remaining dispersed across the land. Civilians and especially children are regularly killed by explosives left over from the US war, including cluster bombs and mines, themselves frequently deployed via cluster systems.

US forces also dropped thousands of cluster bombs, including a total of more than 200,000 submunitions, during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. During and after the 2003 “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the US-led assault deployed more than 2 million submunitions against targets inside Iraq. The NATO powers also used the illegal weapons during the bombing of Yugoslavia by the Clinton administration at the end of the 1990s.

Many cluster munitions carry a cache of hundreds and even thousands of smaller submunitions, which in many cases do not explode immediately and become effective land mines.

Cluster weapons often combine both “anti-personnel” bomblets (designed to kill and maim individual human targets) with “anti-armor” ones (designed to destroy tanks and armored vehicles). The widespread pattern of small explosions that the submunitions produce has earned the weapons the military nicknames of “popcorn” and “fire crackers.”

Cluster munitions were first deployed on a large scale during the Second World War, by both the Nazi regime and the “democratic” imperialist powers. Nazi forces used the so-called “butterfly bomb,” named for the shape of the container after it had released its submunitions, against both civilian and military targets. Cluster-type systems were used by the US and allied imperialist governments to blanket urban areas in Germany and Japan with flammable explosions, a tactic geared to produce massive firestorms.

Israel and the US are top producers of cluster bombs worldwide. As many as 30 countries may have received cluster munitions from the US. According to some estimates, Israel used as many as 4 million submunitions against Lebanon during the 1978 invasion and the protracted occupation that followed.

There are signs that the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies are further escalating their savage military actions against Yemen.

Saudi Arabia had vowed a ceasefire and political deal to end the war on April 21, but strikes by the coalition began again the very next day, and it has since greatly intensified its bombing runs against cities and towns across the country. New contingents of ground troops trained by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are reported to be in Yemen, where they are engaging in combat with the Houthis. The deployments may be the opening phase of a Saudi ground invasion.

Large areas of the country have already been laid waste by the fighting on the ground between militant groups and weeks of heavy bombing by the Saudi-led alliance. At least 1,200 have been killed and 5,000 wounded by the bombing campaign, according to World Health Organization statistics. Aid groups state that the real death toll may be much higher, but conditions on the ground make it impossible to get an accurate count at present.

Saudi planes have carried out 70 percent of strikes against Yemen, according to a spokesman for the Saudi coalition. In this, the Saudis have received extensive and growing support from the US military, which has surveilled targets, providing logistical support in coordination with the Saudi-led coalition, in addition to providing billions of dollars worth of up-to-date US-made military hardware.

The Obama administration is working closely with sections of the Saudi, Gulf and Iranian elites in an effort to forge a comprehensive political settlement that will restabilize US imperialism’s hegemonic position in the Middle East. Yemen’s population is being treated as a bargaining chip in this process, with all parties seeking to utilize the growing bloodbath to strengthen their positions against rivals in the regional and global arenas.



Low Wages Cost U.S. Taxpayers $153 Billion A Year


When thousands of low-wage workers across the country protest low pay on Wednesday, they won’t only be fighting for the millions of workers who flip our burgers, stock our grocery shelves and take care of our kids. They’ll be fighting for a monumental shift in the American economy that could save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Poverty wages cost U.S. taxpayers about $153 billion each year, according to a recent report from the University of California, Berkeley. That’s because, when families depend on low-wage jobs to survive, they’re forced to rely on government programs like Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet.

The Berkeley report looks at how much states and the federal government are spending on programs like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The report found that the federal government spends about $127.8 billion per year, and states collectively spend about $25 billion per year, on public assistance programs for working families.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is stalled at a paltry $7.25 an hour. A parent working full-time at that rate over the course of the year won’t bring in enough moneyto live above the poverty line for a family of two, which means leaning on government assistance.

So when a company like McDonald’s, for instance, pays a worker the minimum wage, you, the taypayer, end up subsidizing her pay. A 2013 analysis from the National Employment Law Project found that the 10 largest fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.8 billion per year.

Infographic by Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post

More than half of fast-food workers rely on public assistance, in fact. But that’s not the only sector desperate for a raise. The Berkeley report also found that child-care and home-care workers also rely on public assistance to get by.

On April 15, workers across the U.S. are planning to protest for better pay and union representation for low-wage workers. The protests are being organized by Fight for 15,a national labor movement fighting to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Here’s a look at what percentage of low-wage workers across the following fields rely on public assistance:

share of workers

Many low-wage employers, from Walmart to McDonald’s, have announced pay raises in recent months, but workers say it isn’t enough. For example, McDonald’s plan to raise wages by 10 percent will only affect a small percentage of the company’s workers. Most McDonald’s workers are employed by franchisees, and the company has said it can’t control how those workers are paid.