Nearly 14 million Americans live in neighborhoods of extreme poverty


By Evan Blake
24 August 2015

A report released earlier this month found that the number of Americans living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty, where more than 40 percent of the population is at or below the federal poverty line, has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million.

The report highlights the reality of deepening poverty and social misery since the Wall Street crash of October 2008, exposing the mass media’s lies that there has been any sort of economic recovery during that time.

The report, “Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy,” written by Paul Jargowsky of the Century Foundation, emphasizes that the years of the Bush presidency saw a marked increase in the overall spread and concentration of poverty, which only accelerated under Obama after the financial collapse of 2008.

Significantly, the data reveals that the total population of high-poverty neighborhoods encompasses all races, affecting the working class as a whole. Of those living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty, 5 million are black, 4.3 million are Hispanic and 3.5 million are non-Hispanic white.

However, the report also highlights the racial disparities that exist within this most impoverished section of the working class, noting that over one quarter of the black poor lives in a neighborhood of extreme poverty, compared to nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor and one in 13 of the white poor.

Using data from the US Censuses for 1990 and 2000 and from the annual American Community Survey (ACS), the study found that poverty became more concentrated in nearly every major American city, while disproportionately impacting children as well as poor African-Americans and Hispanics.

While the 1990s saw a decline in the number of extreme poverty census tracts, since 2000 this slight improvement has been totally erased. Today there are 4,412 high-poverty census tracts, a 76 percent increase over figures from 2000. Furthermore, the number of “borderline” neighborhoods, those with poverty rates in the range of 20 to 40 percent, actually increased during the 1990s and spiked by 55 percent since 2000, reaching 17,391 in 2013.

Geographically, the Midwest region saw the greatest increase in the number of people living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, with a rise of 7.8 percent since 2000. Some of the urban centers of this region, long identified with historic struggles of the working class, now ravaged by decades of deindustrialization, rank among those with the highest levels of concentrated poverty, including Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Toledo and Akron.

In Detroit, the number of high-poverty census tracts more than tripled since 2000, from 51 to 184. Whereas high concentrations of poverty had previously been largely confined to Detroit’s city limits, by 2013 similar figures were found throughout most inner-ring suburbs just outside the central city, including Dearborn, Southfield, Warren and Redford Township. The city ranked in the top 10 for each racial category, with 57.6 percent of all black poor, 51.1 percent of all white poor and 33 percent of all Hispanic poor residing in areas of extreme poverty.

Although concentration of poverty is popularly associated with the largest metropolitan areas, the report found that small to mid-size metropolitan areas with 250,000 to 1 million persons experienced the greatest increases in concentrated poverty. Among the most dramatic transformations seen in a city this size took place in Syracuse, New York, where “the number of high-poverty tracts more than doubled, rising from twelve to thirty,” according to the report.

The report points to the rapid growth of suburbanization, starting around 1970, as a major factor that initially led to the growth of concentrated poverty in the central cities of metropolitan areas. “In virtually all metropolitan areas, suburban rings grew much faster than was needed to accommodate metropolitan population growth, so that the central cities and inner-ring suburbs saw massive population declines,” the report notes.

More recently, gentrification in the central cities has caused property values, rents and taxes to skyrocket, forcing many poor residents to move from the central cities into decaying inner-ring suburbs. The report cites Ferguson, Missouri as a prime example of this type of impoverished inner-ring suburb, noting, “Three out of ten neighborhoods in Ferguson now have poverty rates of more than 40 percent.”

While the report focuses on discriminatory zoning ordinances and other legal aspects as the driving force behind the growth in concentrated extreme poverty, the real source of this phenomenon lies in the nature of globalized production under capitalism.

Since the 1970s and increasingly since the 2008 economic crash, American corporations have shifted production from their historic centers in cities like Detroit and St. Louis to low-wage countries, enabling them to secure an increased rate of profit.

Real unemployment levels have steadily increased in the US, so that today the labor force participation rate is a mere 62.6 percent, the lowest level since 1977, before tens of millions of women entered the labor force. Among men, that figure is currently 69 percent, its lowest level ever since records began in 1948.

The growth of thousands of neighborhoods of extreme poverty across the US, often touted as the wealthiest country in the world, is one expression of the irrational and outmoded nature of capitalism. Concurrent with the decimation of former centers of industrial manufacturing, there has been a steady increase in the growth of the financial sector of the economy, whose inherent instability is presently leading to new convulsions in the markets.

Rio’s Olympic preparations under the spotlight

By Adam Talbot On August 21, 2015

Post image for Rio’s Olympic preparations under the spotlightIn the run-up to the Rio Olympics people have been forced from their homes and killed in the streets, while the environment has been permanently damaged.

Photo: violent eviction of the Vila Autódromo communtiy (by Kátia Carvalho).

In August 2016, Rio de Janeiro will host the 31st summer Olympic Games. Preparations have been underway for the past six years. With one year to go, it is time to look at how these preparations are shaping up compared to recent mega-events, which, as a rule, often serve to ensure the continued dominance of neoliberal capitalism.

Evictions in the ‘State of Exception’

The Olympics create a state of exception, similar to Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism, which capitalists are able to exploit. For the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, a state of exception refers to a “threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism” wherein the conventional process of governance is temporarily circumvented. Importantly, a state of exception can only be declared by the state. As Carl Schmitt put it back in the 1920s: “the exception reveals most clearly the essence of the state’s sovereignty.”

The imminent arrival of the Olympic circus provides a justification for governments to enforce new undemocratic laws and disregard planning legislation. In this state of exception, developers and civic elites systematically mislead governments to their own ends. Essentially, the Olympic Games are not about sport; they are about real estate development. While the overriding goals of the Olympic movement are presented as peace through games, the Olympics ultimately serve the real estate and construction sector in bid cities and constitute a healthy, untaxed profit for the IOC.

At previous mega-events, the state of exception has manifested itself in various ways. At the Brazilian World Cup in 2014, the so-called “Budweiser law” reversed government legislation banning the sale of alcohol in stadiums at the behest of the event sponsor. Perhaps more worryingly, the state of exception also frequently erodes civil liberties.

In Australia, for example, the powers available to police to detain people in Australian sporting arenas was greatly enhanced in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics, and these powers continued to be used after the event. The state of exception in Rio has been used to justify not only the pacification of favelas, but also the wholesale removal of entire communities.

Vila Autódromo has been targeted for removal (and the community has resisted) for over twenty years. Now, with the state of exception induced by the impending mega-event, the removal of Vila Autódromo is being pursued ferociously by the city, given its location next to the Olympic Park.

In recent years, the city has attempted to avoid negative headlines by offering increasing amounts of compensation to residents, resulting in the first ever market-value compensation for favela housing. However, this is still executed in an underhand way, with residents approached individually, unable to know whether they’re being offered more or less than their neighbors. Many residents did not want to leave but felt they had no choice. Nevertheless, the sums of money provided in compensation mark a major achievement for activists in the face of the Olympic machine.

Many residents took these offers and left the community, but a determined few remained. As the opening ceremony draws nearer, however, the authorities seem to have changed their approach to a much more repressive policy of forced evictions. Dubbed “lightning evictions”, this is not confined to Vila Autódromo: forced evictions have also taken place in Morro da Providência, Favela do Metrô, and Santa Marta.

It appears that no warning was given to residents, who were in some cases unable to save some of their belongings, with the military police and municipal guard overseeing evictions. Where resistance was encountered, as in Vila Autódromo, the municipal guard responded with rubber bullets, pepper spray and police batons.

A judicial intervention suspended the evictions in the community and various activists from existing movements and organizations have bolstered the numbers resisting the evictions. Their struggle goes on, but based on evidence from previous Olympic cities, unfortunately, it will likely be in vain.

Repressive pacification of favelas

The Olympics are now characterized by repressive policing strategies and the removal of undesirable populations within the state of exception. Michel Foucault describes surveillance using the metaphor of the panopticon: a prison where each prisoner may be being watched at any time, but they do not know if they are being observed at any given moment.

This individualized surveillance forces people to self-regulate their behavior and can be seen clearly at Olympic events with huge investments in CCTV and in stadia designed so each individual spectator can be easily identified. For many years, particularly since 9/11, the threat of a terrorist attack on the Games has been used to justify spiraling security budgets.

At the first summer Games since the attacks, Athens 2004, the Greek government was pressured by NATO — and particularly by the US government — into spending US$1.5 billion on security. These inflated budgets allow the security industry to invest in the most advanced hardware available, which remains post-Games. The latest developments in security equipment, including military grade technologies, are then used to intimidate activists seeking to make political statements about the Games.

Undoubtedly, some of the security equipment used to quell protests in Athens recently is part of their Olympic legacy. The questions of social control raised by activists are routinely marginalized, with security fears cited incessantly.

Rio’s favelas have for a long time been strongly associated with drug gangs and criminal activity. To have such (perceived) hotbeds of criminality — areas where the safety of spectators could not be assured — so close to the Olympics and World Cup was considered untenable. Hence, the pacification program was launched, a collaboration between federal, state and city government, with the “laudable aim” of permanently removing criminal gangs from Rio’s periphery.

In essence, pacification entails the occupation of favela communities by BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais – Police Special Operations Battalion) followed by the establishment of a UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – Police Pacifying Unit). These units then police the communities, with UPP Social, recently re-branded as Rio+Social due to its woeful reputation, providing services to these communities.

The Brazilian police responsible for administering this program have a well-deserved reputation for brutality dating from the years of military rule (1964-1985). The mentality of the police lumps favela dwellers with the drugs gangs targeted by the UPPs, tarnishing all as the “enemy within”. This is borne out by the statistics: in Rio de Janeiro alone, the state police were responsible for 362 killings in the first half of 2013. Favela’s undergoing pacification are essentially urban warzones, yet families continue to live in these communities through this process, with children as young as ten killed by police.

Investment has not always followed the UPP, and where it has, services have been provided by the market as opposed to state provision, meaning residents are often unable to afford to continue living in the favela. The state is absent from favelas and with the market barely regulated, residents are priced out and forced to leave, with nowhere else for them to go.

As such, the pacification program aims to incorporate land into the city and improve its value, leaving the population excluded and homeless. Therefore, pacification can be seen as part of a deliberate policy of gentrification, removing the poor from Rio de Janeiro and seizing their homes for profit. Similar processes of gentrification have occurred, albeit less violently, in almost all recent Olympic host cities.

Serious about sustainability?

In 1999 the IOC adopted environmental sustainability as the third pillar of the Olympic movement. Alongside this, claims are frequently made about the ability of sport to contribute to social development. These claims serve to ensure the support for the Olympic venture within the host cities, despite warnings about the nature of delivery affecting outcomes.

The potential benefits of sport, while genuine, should be approached critically, as social benefits are dependent on a plethora of factors and should not be taken for granted. It is a regular occurrence that marginalized populations are pushed further towards the periphery of society by Olympic events, as seen, in the case of Rio de Janeiro, in the pacification policy and evictions in Vila Autódromo.

Yet the evidence from previous games seems to suggest organizers of mega-events simply pay lip service to environmental and social issues, dropping their apparent principles the moment they become costly and inconvenient. This contributes to the feel-good, mythical rhetoric of ‘Olympic values’ and allows sponsors to enhance their social and environmental credentials.

No Olympic games has ever been, or will ever be, genuinely positive for the environment. The massive construction projects and the flying of athletes, media and spectators around the globe, among other issues, serve to ensure this. The question for Olympic organizers is never “how can we be good to the environment?”, but is rather “how much environmental damage can we avoid?”. This question then becomes interpreted as how much damage a host city can afford to avoid. This invariably results in commitments made for the environment being dropped when deadlines loom large and budgets spiral out of control.

In Rio de Janeiro, the organizing committee promised to clean up Guanabara Bay, where sailing events are planned to take place during the games. However, the state of the bay has regularly made international headlines due to the disgusting nature of the water, which has been described by sailors as an open sewer. The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro admitted in 2014 that the environmental commitments made during the bidding process would not be reached.

Not only are the promises to make improvements dropped at the first sign of a bill, the Olympics also actively damage the environment. For example, the natural wetlands of Eagleridge Bluffs on the outskirts of Vancouver were destroyed to make way for a new highway to Whistler, where the mountain events would take place.

Environmental destruction in preparation for the Olympics has been increased by the return of golf to the Olympic games for the first time since 1904. The construction of golf courses is intensely environmentally damaging, due to deforestation, large-scale use of chemicals, the destruction of natural habitats and large-scale water usage.

This is particular pertinent in Rio de Janeiro, as Brazil faced its most severe drought for decades in early 2015. While the problems were most keenly felt in São Paulo, steps were taken in Rio to cut down on water usage, but the irrigation of the golf course continued, suggesting that plush greens are prioritized over hydrated citizens.

A different role for the mass media

The role of the mass media is crucial for celebrating capitalism in disseminating the imagery of the spectacle across the nation and wider world. The Olympic Games, according to the IOC, are watched by over 4 billion people, making it one of the world’s largest media events. This global reach provides a platform for the spreading of neoliberal capitalist doctrine, through the spectacular imagery of the Games.

The mass media organizations often act as overt or covert promoters of the bid, providing value in kind donations and censoring critical journalism. Even when journalism critical of mega-events is published, it is then condemned.

In the context of the recent shift to hosting mega-events outside the first world, particularly in the BRICS nations, the Western media has tended to become more critical of event preparations. The majority of criticisms in the lead-up to these events comes from external, Western sources. It has been suggested that this is due to reluctance from Western audiences to cede power and credibility to emerging nations.

A similar trend was observed in media coverage of the 1996 Cricket World Cup in South Asia, suggesting government attempts to present positive images of nations are hampered by existing stereotypes and criticisms. As such, critical journalism will be more likely at the Rio Olympics than at similar events in the Global North, although this coverage will not necessarily criticize the Olympics directly, instead focusing on organizational inefficiencies or poverty in an attempt to maintain the cultural dominance of the West.

The Rio Olympic games will undoubtedly be a spectacular festival of sport. But the production of this spectacle has transformed Rio de Janeiro, turning it into an even more divided city with expanded zones of exclusion in which the poor are no longer welcome. Residents have been physically and economically forced from their homes, they have seen their friends killed in the streets, and their environment has been permanently damaged. In response, residents have protested — and will continue to protest — even though they have had only small and symbolic victories so far.

As the Olympic machine rumbles on, the concerns of Rio’s residents will likely be drowned out by the cheers.

Adam Talbot is a PhD researcher in the School of Sport and Service Management at the University of Brighton. He tweets at @AdamTalbotSport.This article has benefited greatly from reports produced by, a key source for news on the restructuring of the Olympic city.

Can activists reverse Obama’s disastrous Arctic drilling decision?

Obama’s Climate Action Plan reassured us he was tackling climate change. Then came the opening of the Arctic


“When the people lead the leaders will follow”: Can activists reverse Obama's disastrous Arctic drilling decision?

(Credit: AP/Don Ryan)

President Obama’s historic Climate Action Plan, which was announced on Aug. 3, focuses on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants 32 percent over the next 15 years, promising real leadership heading into the U.N.’s Climate Summit in Paris this December. And then on Aug. 17 the president permitted Shell Oil to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

It’s hard to understand the logic by which this administration aims to reduce carbon outputs while encouraging massive new inputs from oil development, not only in the newly opened waters of the Arctic Ocean (opened by sea ice loss linked to fossil-fuel-fired climate change) but also along the crowded Atlantic seaboard. These are two high-risk enterprises; in the case of the Arctic, there’s a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill in the future according to a study by the Department of Interior, which is nonetheless permitting Shell’s drilling.  And, of course, a BP type disaster along the populous Atlantic seaboard, with its diverse ocean economy, is something no one wants to contemplate — although we’ll have to if present plans for exploratory acoustic surveying, leasing and drilling continue to move forward.

The contradiction between reducing greenhouse gas emissions while seeking new carbon energy offshore hasn’t gone unnoticed by the world’s other major greenhouse gas emitter, China.  Four days after the president’s Aug. 3 announcement the deputy editor of the China Daily U.S. edition, which translates China’s official policy and news perspectives into English, wrote a biting column charging the U.S. with “hypocrisy” over carbon emissions, citing its planned new offshore drilling and insisting that if China commits to carbon reduction (in Paris) it won’t be because of U.S. leadership but because of its own air pollution.

A study based on the president’s EPA draft climate plan from last year indicates that while the regulations for coal-fired power plants would reduce greenhouse gases by some 2 billion tons a year, there could be upward of 60 billion tons of greenhouse gases released from the drilling and burning of all the industry-estimated offshore petroleum to be leased starting in 2017.

At the same time, a report in the journal Science states that the only way to avoid catastrophic climate impacts associated with projected warming above 2 degrees Celsius is to leave at least 80 percent of known coal reserves and 30 percent of known oil reserves in the ground and under the seabed. That’s what California has chosen to do since the first Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969.  When I asked Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel why the administration was not going to offer federal leasing for already known reserves off California and the West Coast she more or less admitted the whole process was political, stating, “If the states don’t want it, it’s more likely you’ll concentrate where they do.”

Still, whatever some pro-oil governors in the Southeast may want (drilling is now being proposed from Delaware to Florida), we should be concentrating on what a competitive U.S. economy actually needs to move forward. Any new offshore oil finds will guarantee continued fossil fuel use, a formula for disaster; but if meaningful climate agreements come into effect after Paris, it could also mean hundreds of billions of dollars in stranded assets (unused oil reserves) for the energy companies and a more disruptive transition from coal and oil, the energy systems of the 16th and 19th centuries, to the clean energy revolution that will define this century. So what will it take to focus on a real and practical energy policy?

 At the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio, where initial plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions led to the failed Kyoto protocols, I witnessed a march by 30,000 local residents and global environmentalists behind a banner carried by Buddhist monks with cellphones that read:  “When the people lead the leaders will follow.”

Today, citizen activists are mobilizing against offshore oil, from the bridge-hanging and paddle-waving Kayaktivists of Seattle and Portland, Oregon, who targeted Shell’s Arctic drilling this summer, to concerned coastal residents up and down the East Coast where some 60 towns and cities have passed resolutions opposing any new acoustic surveying and drilling, to a growing Sea Party Coalition that plans to make offshore drilling a major issue — the Keystone Pipeline of the seas — in primary states and presidential debates during the 2016 election season.

This movement should not be confused with NIMBYs or, more accurately, NOBOs (Not on My Bay or Ocean).  While vehemently anti-oil pollution, the Sea Partiers are also pro-jobs and green power, advocating for the emerging clean energy sector including solar, hydro and on- and offshore wind where appropriately situated.  After all, no wind spill ever destroyed a beach or a bayou or in any way damaged the blue in our red, white and blue.

David Helvarg is an author and executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group.  His latest book is “Saved by the Sea – Hope, Heartbreak and Wonder in the Blue World.”

Need for food assistance rising in US


By Shannon Jones
20 August 2015

Demand is rising at US food banks despite a falling official unemployment rate and claims of an economic recovery.

According to a report in the Associated Press, the Feeding America food bank network expects to give away 4 billion pounds of food this year, twice the amount they gave away one decade ago. Feeding America distributed 3.8 billion pounds in 2014.

The decline in the unemployment rate obscures the fact that many people have dropped out of the work force and others are struggling to make ends meet with part-time work on poverty-level wages. The hunger crisis has been compounded by drastic cuts in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. Both Republicans and Democrats have joined together to slash billions from SNAP over the last two years.

According to the US Department of Labor, wages and salaries only increased by 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2015. It followed a tiny 0.7 percent increase in the first quarter.

Food banks all across the United States report rising demand. According to a report by CBS , Sacramento Food Bank gave out more than 11 million pounds of food to the local community in 2014, almost double the amount from the year before. “The numbers have gone up dramatically in the last few years,” spokesman Kelly Siefkin said. “We have been increased just in probably the last couple of years probably three-fold.”

The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger reports that a survey of its 700 food providers found that nine out of 10 either ran out of food or had to provide less to clients during the past year. It reported that one out of four people in the area faced a time where they did not know where to find the next meal. “That’s startling,” said Tom Mahon, the group’s communication director. “It just reinforced to us that we really can’t rely solely on food pantries and soup kitchens, and other charitable organizations, to bring an end to hunger in our region.”

In a press release, the coalition says it found 58 percent of the surveyed feeding programs see more people now than a year ago, while another 34 percent report a steady demand. Mahon says less than five percent report a drop in need.

Jim Conwell, communications director for the Illinois Hunger Coalition, told the WSWS, “What we have seen in Cook County (greater Chicago) is that need is not going down by any significant level. We reached a high in 2012-2013 and it has not receded. That is troubling to us.

“I think it is important for people to know that while things may appear to be better, the recession has not ended for the most vulnerable. A return to work is not necessarily a return to stability.

“The economic recovery hasn’t affected all families. Even those who have returned to work may not be working full-time or earning enough to make ends meet. The people we are seeing are making difficult choices between having food and paying for other necessities. Even a household that has a job, or multiple jobs, is making difficult choices in order to survive.

“We know anecdotally that the SNAP cuts were another big setback for struggling households.

“Children are being disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Overall one in six or one in seven face food insecurity while for children it is one in five. Child hunger is devastating for the individual child as well as the community.”

According to information supplied to the WSWS by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which serves residents of both Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Detroit, Michigan, July was the busiest month in 16 years.

Colleen Crain, Capuchin’s PR director, said, “5,100 families were served in July. We do not know if this is because of a larger demand or our new shoppers’ choice format.

“Our Capuchin Community Services’ food pantry numbers are up for 2015. Typically 1,400-1,600 individuals would be served in one month. Since February, those numbers are consistently up by approximately 300 per month with 1,800-1,900 people being served.”

She noted that the organization’s hot meal service always sees an increase in the summer months due to children being out of school and hence not receiving free or subsidized meals. “However, our executive director has noted that he has seen many new faces since May,” she added.

A report, Baby Boomers and Beyond: Facing Hunger after 50, released this year by Feeding America, documents the struggles of older workers who seek charitable food assistance. According to the report, 13 million adults aged 50 and over use the Feeding America network. Each year 60 percent of client households say they face a trade-off between food and utilities and 63 percent say they face a trade-off between food and receiving medical care. The rate of household food insecurity among client households with a member aged 50 and older is 81 percent.

In an effort to deal with food insecurity, 77 percent of client households resort to buying cheap, unhealthy food, while 29 percent report selling or pawning personal property.

Two-thirds of respondents ages 50 to 64 had not been employed in the past year. 73 percent indicated poor health and disability as the reason. 28 percent reported searching for work in the past four weeks. Another 67 percent said they lived in a household with an annual income of less than $20,000.

The Tianjin explosions and the discrediting of capitalism


15 August 2015

The official death toll from the massive explosions that devastated a substantial area of the port of Tianjin on Thursday night has reached 57. The number of fatalities is expected to rise significantly, as hospitals try to save critically injured patients among the more than 700 being treated across the Chinese city of 14 million people.

The information filtering out as to the cause of the disaster has triggered open recriminations against the regime of the Stalinist Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Reports indicate that a warehouse operated by Rui Hai International Logistics, a company started in 2011, was storing up to 700 tonnes of highly dangerous sodium cyanide and unspecified quantities of calcium carbide. Containers holding these substances will explode when heated. The fire-fighting crews sent to combat a blaze at the warehouse were not told about the chemicals. At least 21 emergency workers died in the blasts that followed.

Hundreds of port workers were sleeping barely 600 metres away in overcrowded dormitories. Some 90,000 people live within a five kilometre radius of the warehouse. If the explosions had taken place during the day, when the streets and buildings surrounding the docks were bustling with human traffic, the carnage would have been far worse.

The CCP government in Beijing is nervous over the public reaction to the Tianjin explosions, which have demonstrated again the consequences of the unchecked capitalist development over which it has presided for more than 35 years. According to official reports, Rui Hai International Logistics was storing deadly chemicals without the knowledge of, or intervention by, any authorities. The company’s owners and management are being hunted down and arrested. They will more than likely face execution or draconian prison sentences after highly public trials, in an effort to deflect any scrutiny of the broader issues posed by the disaster.

The claim that “no-one knew” about the chemicals has been greeted with disbelief and anger. The popular outrage, expressed on social media and in comments to online news reports, has only been heightened by the fact that this flagrant and criminal indifference to public safety took place in Tianjin.

Tianjin’s port is the tenth largest in the world and the seventh largest in China. It receives the largest number of imported cars of any Chinese port, as well as massive quantities of iron ore, coal, oil and other natural resources needed to supply the industrial complexes and power plants of northern China.

The city itself is China’s fourth largest and, due to its strategic and economic importance as the transport, industrial and technical hub for the capital Beijing, is under the direct political administration of the Housing Ministry of the central CCP government.

In the regime’s propaganda, Tianjin, along with Beijing and the adjoining Heibei province, will be developed into the world’s greatest continuous “mega-city” by 2020, with a population of 130 million people who will purportedly be able to enjoy the best jobs and highest incomes in China.

Thursday’s explosions have sheeted home the social reality: whether in Tianjin or a remote village, the well-being of the Chinese working class is subordinated by the regime to the immediate requirements of transnational and national corporations, and the accumulation of profit for the capitalist elite who own them.

Since the CCP initiated the restoration of capitalist relations in 1979, it has utilised its military and police apparatus to brutally repress all opposition by workers to ruthless exploitation and facilitate China’s transformation into the centre of global low-wage manufacturing.

Substandard safety practices are the norm, not the exception. Andy Furlong, director of policy at the Institution Chemical Engineers in London, told theGuardian: “The view expressed to us very recently by Chinese experts was that in the field of chemical storage their technologies are outdated, some of the equipment they use is primitive, safety management is poor and employee training is not up to scratch.”

Similar comments could be made regarding every sector of the economy and the human cost is staggering.

In 2014, 68,061 Chinese workers were killed in workplace “accidents”—more than 185 per day—and hundreds of thousands more injured. In just the last 24 hours, a gas explosion in a coal mine in Guizhou province has killed 13 miners. In Shaanxi province, 64 miners and their families have been buried alive inside poorly built dormitories by a landslide triggered by a deluge of rain.

According to state media, some 1,600 people, mainly better paid professionals, die at their place of employment each day from the phenomenon known asguolaosi, or extreme overwork.

The air, soil and water systems are thoroughly contaminated in most urban centres due to unchecked industrial operations and development, to the extent that it is estimated that more than 4,400 people die each day—1.6 million per year—from the effects of pollution.

Scandals have wracked food safety, with contaminated milk powder sickening more than 300,000 people and killing six babies in 2008. The capsize of a ferry on the Yangtze River in June, killing more than 400 people, was only the most high profile of regular transport disasters that are generally linked to safety violations.

All the CCP’s promises that the Chinese masses would ultimately benefit from rampant capitalist development over the past 36 years are in tatters. The regime’s legitimacy is already under question, rocked by the slowing economy, a stock market collapse, a slump in property prices, environmental crises, endemic official corruption and ever widening social inequality. The CCP’s rule, along with the capitalist market itself, will be further discredited by the Tianjin disaster.

The political fall-out from the Tianjin explosions is being watched no less anxiously by transnational corporations and banks, as well as by governments around the world. Any disruption to the corporate profits extracted from the Chinese masses by the development of large-scale social unrest will deepen the economic slump internationally and potentially trigger panic in financial markets. For global capitalism, in other words, any effort to change the conditions in China that give rise to disasters such as the Tianjin explosions would be a catastrophe.

That fact underscores the historic bankruptcy of the profit system and the urgency of forging the unity of the Chinese and international working class, in the common political struggle to end capitalism and establish a world planned socialist economy.

James Cogan

Chicago Public Schools announces hundreds of teacher layoffs, spending and pension cuts


By Kristina Betinis
14 August 2015

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released its 2015-2016 budget Monday, including $200 million in spending cuts and 479 additional teacher layoffs. In June, the district announced 1,400 layoffs.

Despite the cuts and layoffs, the district still has a $480 million operating budget gap. Republican governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner has offered to advance $500 million to help fill the gap, dependent on additional CPS “reforms”, including an end to district contributions to teacher pensions. But these funds are by no means guaranteed. Based on the current operating deficit, it is likely additional cuts will be announced. A $676 million pension payment is due this school year.

In line with Rauner’s request, CPS announced the end of pension “pick up” August 4, telling teachers to shoulder their own pension contributions. This will create a significant cut to teacher take-home pay—an estimated 7 percent. The district had “picked up” 7 percent of teacher pension contributions, an agreement made in 1981, in exchange for lower pay raises in subsequent years.

About 21 percent of the $200 million budget cut is expected to negatively affect the more than 50,000 special education students in the district, through a change in the funding formula giving principals a lump sum for special needs students, rather than a guaranteed number of staff.

In recent days, the newly appointed Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool has made a series of public statements on what the city will demand from teachers in what is to be a multiyear contract negotiation. Claypool was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July to head the district after the resignation of his predecessor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who stepped down in the midst of a federal corruption investigation involving more than $20 million in CPS contracts. Before being appointed to head CPS, Claypool oversaw the Chicago Transit Authority and supervised the Chicago Park District, where he became known for cutting operating costs.

Claypool also announced the end of an informal agreement the district had with the Chicago Teachers Union to work on a one-year agreement. The length of the contract now under negotiation has not been disclosed.

Earlier this week, CPS also proposed to phase out contributions to the pensions of non-union office employees, other district employees and non-union support staff by 2018, and eliminate pension contributions for new hires. This cut is supposed to save about $21 million in those three years, affecting 2,100 workers, excluding principals and assistant principals.

CPS teachers have been without a contract since June 30 and the district still has more than 1,400 teaching vacancies to fill before the start of the school year in early September. The board of education is set to vote on the annual budget August 26.

As Republican Governor Bruce Rauner proceeds with his offensive against the public sector, the Chicago Teachers Union is seeking to more closely align itself with Democratic mayor of Chicago and former Obama administration official Rahm Emanuel.

CTU president Karen Lewis spoke to Chicago magazine August 4 to absolve Emanuel of responsibility for the education “reform” policies his administration—working together with the White House—has made notorious, including school closures and mass layoffs of teachers and staff.

In speaking of the 2012 teacher contract negotiations and the public education policies that led to the first teachers strike in the city in 25 years, Lewis fully accepted the official claim that there is no money to fund basic social services in order to cover for Emanuel and peddle the lie that there is no money:

“I think part of the problem we had last time is that Rahm had an agenda that was pushed by other people, including [Gov. Bruce] Rauner that I don’t know if Rahm even truly believed in. A lot of it was kind of like, ‘Put the union in their place and dah dah dah.’ The elephant in the room is the budget and not having any money. So then it becomes a matter of what your priorities are, what your vision is. And I think we have yet to see that, but I think [Rahm’s] thinking about it.”

In September 2012, 30,000 Chicago teachers went on strike to oppose school “reforms” that included closures and layoffs, expanded use of standardized tests to erode teacher seniority, and fewer restrictions on firing. The strike, which placed teachers in a political standoff with the education policies of the Obama administration just ahead of the 2012 presidential election, was shut down after only one week by the CTU, who conceded to all of Emanuel’s essential demands in a three-year contract, paving the way for the closure of 50 public schools and the layoffs of thousands in 2013.

As the WSWS reported when he was elected, Emanuel both campaigned on education “reform” and opened his first term with similar plans for schools and city operations. Lewis’s comments highlight the role of the CTU in preventing teachers and other workers from making a break from the Democrats, as they now work to advance the bipartisan assault on essential public services in the state.

Not only does money exist for schools, monopolized by Chicago’s many multimillionaires and billionaires, the financial aristocracy is taking windfall profits in the form of interest payments being made by the cash-strapped city on municipal bonds, including CPS bonds now at junk status.

Matt Fabian of Municipal Market Analytics told the Chicago Tribune in July, “The situation in the city will compromise the ability to keep quality schools, to keep the streets clean. But for investors who can stomach the ups and downs that are probably coming for Chicago, (the bonds) give an attractive amount of income.”

The series of city credit rating downgrades by Moody’s and Fitch signaled to investors higher bond yields and interest rates. Unlike distressed corporate debt, distressed municipal debt is guaranteed by the citizens who can be made to weather cuts and tax hikes in order to make payments. Relieving the debt burden usually takes place through debt restructuring or bankruptcy of one or more city agencies.

The Tribune also reported that the $347 million in tax-exempt bonds Chicago sold in July “offered investors yields of up to 5.69 percent—almost unheard of for tax-backed debt issued by a city.”

Those who invested in Chicago’s bonds earned up to 50 percent more than those who invested in Philadelphia bonds issued in July, the Tribune notes.

The credit downgrades mean Chicago will pay something like $150 million more in interest payments based on restructuring pensions or raising property taxes, or both.

The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here

The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected

BY August 5, 2015


Walruses, like these in Alaska, are being forced ashore in record numbers. Corey Accardo/NOAA/AP 

Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardianbriefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains. Puerto Rico is under its strictest water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide.

Eric Rignot, a climate scientist at NASA and the University of California-Irvine and a co-author on Hansen’s study, said their new research doesn’t necessarily change the worst-case scenario on sea-level rise, it just makes it much more pressing to think about and discuss, especially among world leaders. In particular, says Rignot, the new research shows a two-degree Celsius rise in global temperature — the previously agreed upon “safe” level of climate change — “would be a catastrophe for sea-level rise.”

Hansen’s new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be. Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy. Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”

Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound. Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate. Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still “unclear” whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.

And yet, these aren’t even the most disturbing changes happening to the Earth’s biosphere that climate scientists are discovering this year. For that, you have to look not at the rising sea levels but to what is actually happening within the oceans themselves.

Water temperatures this year in the North Pacific have never been this high for this long over such a large area — and it is already having a profound effect on marine life.

Eighty-year-old Roger Thomas runs whale-watching trips out of San Francisco. On an excursion earlier this year, Thomas spotted 25 humpbacks and three blue whales. During a survey on July 4th, federal officials spotted 115 whales in a single hour near the Farallon Islands — enough to issue a boating warning. Humpbacks are occasionally seen offshore in California, but rarely so close to the coast or in such numbers. Why are they coming so close to shore? Exceptionally warm water has concentrated the krill and anchovies they feed on into a narrow band of relatively cool coastal water. The whales are having a heyday. “It’s unbelievable,” Thomas told a local paper. “Whales are all over
the place.”

Last fall, in northern Alaska, in the same part of the Arctic where Shell is planning to drill for oil, federal scientists discovered 35,000 walruses congregating on a single beach. It was the largest-ever documented “haul out” of walruses, and a sign that sea ice, their favored habitat, is becoming harder and harder to find.

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