Biden Continues to Cement a Bloody and Immoral Legacy in Gaza

Original article by JOHN MORLINO republished form Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs U.S. President Joe Biden. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

The president’s level of indifference to the human suffering of Palestinians can only be described as soulless.

With the world’s sensibility already reeling from Israel’s deliberate incineration of dozens of civilians huddled in tents in a purported safe zone in Rafah, the genocidaires doubled down two weeks later by slaughtering nearly 300 Palestinians and wounding 700 more during their U.S.-aided rescue of four Israeli hostages.

Upon receiving word of the blood-drenched June 8 operation, American President Joe Biden celebrated the “safe rescue” of the hostages while wholly ignoring the so-called collateral damage—innocent civilians, most of whom were women and children. That level of indifference can only be described as soulless.

So goes the ongoing reveal of the American president’s true nature.

Nothing he’s ever done measures up to his unconscionable decision to sponsor Israel’s genocide in Palestine, while simultaneously running interference to prevent anyone else from stopping it.

Biden has sculpted his political career by leaning into his persona as an indefatigably decent and compassionate man. Until now (save for the MAGA crowd), you’d have been hard-pressed to find someone on either end of the political spectrum who disagreed with that characterization. Which is why his increasingly heartless response to Israel’s genocide in Palestine can be so difficult to process. Yet, a number of the choices he’s made in recent years offered a preview of what lies beneath his public facade.

Biden telegraphed his approach to foreign policy by choosing Israel apologist Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state and Avril Haines (architect of Barrack Obama’s assassination-themed drone program, and whitewasher of a Senate committee report on the CIA’s torture of detainees) as his director of national intelligence.

In addition to genuflecting to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden’s tenure as president includes his embrace of strongmen Abdel Fattah al-Sissi (Egypt), Narendra Modi (India), and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. MBS). For good measure, he granted the latter legal immunity, sparing bin Salman the indignity of facing any consequences for orchestrating the murder of Saudi journalist, and critic of the crown prince, Jamal Khashoggi.

Closer to home, the man who’s consistently portrayed himself as someone who cares deeply about the well-being of his fellow citizens has solidified his allegiance to the insurance industry by doing everything in his power to prevent Universal Healthcare from becoming a reality in America. Along the way, Biden invited Michael McCabe—the man who advised pollution giant DuPont chemical company on how to circumvent government regulations—to join his Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

But nothing he’s ever done measures up to his unconscionable decision to sponsor Israel’s genocide in Palestine, while simultaneously running interference to prevent anyone else from stopping it. He’s even taken a page out of his political arch-enemy’s playbook by lying through his teeth every chance he gets about what the rest of us can see with our own eyes—repeatedly claiming that Israel isn’t deliberately starving the Palestinian people and that the tens of thousands of civilian casualties, as well as the trauma inflicted upon millions more, are merely a regrettable side effect of Israel’s precision-like effort to nullify Hamas militants.

Donald Trump (whose defining characteristic is his amorality, which is entirely different) can get away with spewing lie after lie without fear of losing the support of his truth-averse loyalists because he’s telling them precisely what they want to hear. Biden, on the other hand, seems to believe his base isn’t bright enough to notice his deceit, or that they just don’t care about his complicity in the ongoing massacre. He’s deluding himself on both counts.

For the moment, the horrors generated by those who preceded him on America’s Mount Rushmore of immoral presidents and their accomplices—namely, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden); Harry Truman (Hiroshima and Nagasaki); Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger (Argentina, Chile, East Timor, Vietnam, Cambodia); and G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney (Afghanistan, Iraq, and the ever-present “War on Terror”)—markedly exceed the number of fatalities associated with Biden’s grotesque support of Israel’s unspeakable actions.

But this condemnation isn’t about numbers. It’s about the most powerful man on the face of the Earth figuratively giving the world the finger while actively participating in a crime that has no equal.

He might as well be piloting Israeli bombers over Palestine, raining fire from the sky.

Original article by JOHN MORLINO republished form Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue ReadingBiden Continues to Cement a Bloody and Immoral Legacy in Gaza

Most People on Earth, Even in Petrostates, Want Quick Fossil Fuel Phaseout: Poll

Original article by EDWARD CARVER republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Campaigners gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom, in January 2024 to protest the issuance of North Sea oil and gas licenses. 
(Photo: Martin Pope/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“There can be no doubt that citizens across the world are saying to their leaders, you have to act and, above all, have to act faster,” a U.N. official said. “This is an issue that almost everyone, everywhere, can agree on.”

A large majority of the global population, including people who live in oil, gas, and coal producing countries, supports a fast transition to clean energy and a phaseout of fossil fuels, a poll released Thursday showed.

Across 77 countries, 72% of those surveyed supported a quick fossil fuel phaseout, while an even higher percentage, 80%, supported stronger climate action in general, according to the poll, called Peoples’ Climate Vote and conducted for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with the University of Oxford and GeoPoll.

“There can be no doubt that citizens across the world are saying to their leaders, you have to act and, above all, have to act faster,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner told The Guardian. “This is an issue that almost everyone, everywhere, can agree on.”

People in most major fossil fuel producing nations support a quick energy transition in their own countries, the poll showed. In the United States, the world’s largest oil and gas producer, 53% supported either a “very” or “somewhat” quick phaseout; in Saudi Arabia, the second largest, 75% did so; and in China and India, the leading coal producers, the figures were 80% and 76%, respectively.

The poll also showed overwhelming support for transnational cooperation, even if it requires setting aside other differences: 86% of those surveyed said want countries to tackle climate change together. Steiner called this a “stunning” level of consensus.

Steiner noted that fossil fuel subsidies distort the market and subvert the public will for change.

“There are very narrow, self-interested agendas that maintain artificially inflated [profits] for fossil fuel-based industries that ultimately are coming at the cost of everyone,” he said.

The poll—the largest standalone public opinion survey on climate change to date, building on a first edition that was run in 2021—clarifies the will of the global public and strengthens the moral case for climate action, commentators said.

“Brilliant to see clear, credible evidence that the overwhelming majority of people across the world—oil rentier economy or not—want to see transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy ‘quickly,'” X user Dave Drabble wrote. “Let’s not let oil and gas interests determine our fate.”

Similarly rejecting the influence of fossil fuel interests, Steiner said, “It is so important we let the people speak for themselves.”

Original article by EDWARD CARVER republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue ReadingMost People on Earth, Even in Petrostates, Want Quick Fossil Fuel Phaseout: Poll

Amid economic hardship and repression, Kenyans reject the Finance Bill 2024

Original article by Nicholas Mwangi republished from peoples dispatch under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.

Police heavily repressed the protests against the Finance Bill 2024 on Tuesday June 18. Photo: Mathare Justice Center

Hundreds were arrested and brutalized in Nairobi by police forces during protests against the government’s finance bill

On Tuesday June 18, the streets of Kenya’s capital were the site of a major showdown, as peaceful protesters advocating for the rejection of the Finance Bill 2024 were met with brutal repression by state forces. According to human rights groups in Kenya, between 300-400 protesters were arrested as they rallied against the punitive tax measures proposed by the government. The protest organized by a wide variety of civil society organizations and left groups was violently disrupted by police forces attempting to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the parliament building, where organizers had planned to launch a sit-in at 2 pm.

Despite the heavy-handed police attacks with water cannons, and tear gas, the protesters persisted throughout the day, ensuring their voices were heard by those in power and not allowing their right enshrined in article 37 of the constitution – “Assembly, demonstration, picketing and petition” to be compromised. This article outlines that every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.”

The tension and public dissent exerted considerable pressure on the government. This was evident as President William Ruto convened an early meeting with members of parliament. The outcome of this meeting saw some “compromises” in the government’s stance on the contentious finance bill. The parliamentary finance committee announced the government’s U-turn at a press briefing on Tuesday, attended by the president and ruling party lawmakers. They announced the decision to withdraw certain proposed taxes, including those on cooking oil, mobile money services, and motor vehicles. The concession was clearly a direct response to the mounting public outcry nationwide.

However, the selective removal of these taxes has done little to appease the masses. Many view it as a strategic move by the government to placate the population while still pushing through other unpopular measures. The finance bill of 2024, in its entirety, remains widely rejected by the masses. The protesters’ message is clear: they demand a complete overhaul of the proposed financial policies, not just a piecemeal reduction of specific taxes.

Ruto’s neoliberal Finance Bill

The Finance Bill 2024, much like its predecessor in 2023, has stirred controversy and discontent across Kenya due to its stringent and, many argue, draconian proposals. This widespread dissatisfaction is deeply rooted within the broader context of an already high cost of living, which will be increased by the proposed new taxes. Beginning last week, Kenyans have voiced their disapproval with the finance bill by taking to social media, where they posted the contacts of Members of Parliament (MPs) and encouraged each other to reach out to their leaders, urging them to reject the bill.

The Finance Bill 2024, officially published by the National Assembly on May 9, 2024, outlines the Government of Kenya’s proposed tax measures for the financial year 2024-2025. Among the numerous changes proposed are significant amendments to Income Tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), and Excise Duty, as well as modifications to the administration of taxes in Kenya. One of the most contentious proposals in the bill is the imposition of a 16% Value Added Tax on financial transactions, and among basic commodities.

Many protested as they believe this will worsen their financial hardships rather than alleviate them. The protests are set to continue, with the third round of Parliament scheduled for June 20th.

The government’s justification for raising taxes, claiming it is necessary for Kenya to live within its means, is hypocritical given its extensive and often unnecessary expenditures. For instance, the government has increased its borrowing target for the fiscal year starting in July to Sh 597 billion, a substantial sum that raises questions about fiscal responsibility. A closer look at government spending reveals significant outlays that contrast sharply with its message.

According to Business Daily, the latest budget control data show a significant rise in travel perks for foreign and local trips, with an increase of Sh 1.62 billion from the Sh 12.4 billion spent in a similar period the previous year. The Parliamentary Service Commission’s spending has also surged by 18.5% to Sh 1.86 billion, and the bill for Members of Parliament (MPs) has grown by 4% to Sh 4 billion. Such figures highlight a pattern of lavish expenditure that stands in stark contradiction to the government’s narrative of financial prudence.

Further, the bill has received backing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), despite widespread public outcry against it. This support from the IMF is not surprising as they did the same last year, and many Kenyans feel that the country has been effectively mortgaged to the institution. Historically, the IMF’s involvement has brought about economic policies and austerity measures that are seen as an attack on the working class and the marginalized peasants alike, often leading to increased economic strain for the average citizen.

Organized resistance poses more serious challenge to government

What distinguishes the current wave of protests from previous ones is the nature of their organization. Unlike past protests that were primarily mobilized by opposition party leader Raila Odinga against the government, these demonstrations have been driven by different organizations and particularly on online platforms, which have successfully translated their digital activism into tangible, on-the-ground action. This movement has seen an unexpectedly high level of participation from “Gen Z” and the middle class, groups that have traditionally been less involved in these demonstrations.

As the protests continue, the Kenyan government will continue to face mounting pressure to address the economic concerns of the masses. In the last two months there have been three major protests organized by grassroots movements among them against state demolitions on the informal settlements of the downtrodden coming to terms with the recent flood crisis that killed many and destroyed properties of unknown value. The fight for total liberation continues.

Nicholas Mwangi is a member of the Ukombozi Library in Kenya.

Original article by Nicholas Mwangi republished from peoples dispatch under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.

Continue ReadingAmid economic hardship and repression, Kenyans reject the Finance Bill 2024

How the UK’s social security system stopped tackling poverty


Sharon Wright, University of Glasgow

The cost of living is the most important issue for many voters this election. It’s no surprise why. In 2022, nearly 4 million people in the UK experienced destitution, meaning they could not meet their basic physical needs such as having enough to eat and staying warm.

The UK’s social security system is failing in its core purpose to prevent poverty. And yet the Conservatives have promised more crackdowns on welfare, with the prime minister linking this with his pledge to lower taxes.

When the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government came to power in 2010, they inherited a social security system in radically better shape than it is now. What happened?

During the previous Labour governments (1997-2010), 2.4 million people were lifted out of poverty, including 700,000 children. This was done during favourable economic conditions, but was also the result of progressive social security measures such as tax credits and child benefits.

Want more election coverage from The Conversation’s academic experts? Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you informed analysis of developments in the campaign and we’ll fact check the claims being made. Sign up for our new, weekly election newsletter, delivered every Friday throughout the campaign and beyond.

People received working-age benefit payments for different needs: jobseeker’s allowance, income support for single parents and incapacity benefit for long-term illness and disability. Housing benefit went directly to landlords to cover claimants’ rent.

Enter the global financial crisis. The Conservative-led government’s response was austerity cuts: cutting back on welfare to tackle the budget deficit.

Lowering the value of benefits is the biggest austerity cut to have affected incomes. In 2010, the government switched from uprating the value of benefits each year in line with the retail price index to using a different measure of inflation, the consumer price index, instead. This is usually lower and effectively makes payments worth less.

This was expected to save the government around £6 billion pounds a year. In 2012, the value of benefits was capped to increase at 1% while inflation was forecast at 5.2%.

Benefit sanctions and caps

In 2012, the government introduced a new system of tougher rules and sanctions on people receiving benefits. Conservative politicians said this would end “the ‘something for nothing’ culture”, but the change has had lasting negative effects.

Benefit sanctions were always part of the system, but became extreme in 2012. If, for example, someone misses one Jobcentre appointment their benefit could be reduced or removed for 28 days.

Woman looking worried and tired sat by window with toddler
Many people receiving benefits have been penalised with sanctions. Bricolage/Shutterstock

Nearly a quarter of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants were sanctioned between 2010 and 2015. Research shows that sanctions have “profoundly negative outcomes”, including on people’s mental health.

Other cuts to incomes followed the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The “bedroom tax” penalised social housing tenants who had “extra” bedrooms. The idea was to reduce renters’ housing benefit so they would downsize to a smaller home. However long-term housing shortages mean that smaller properties are rarely available.

In 2013, the household benefit cap was introduced to limit the maximum amount a family could receive in benefits payments. It had the most impact on families with children and those with high rents.

Universal credit

Universal credit, introduced in 2013, was billed as the biggest shake-up of benefits in 70 years. It promised to make work pay and simplify the system. It replaced separate tax credit, unemployment, lone parent, disability and housing payments with a single payment.

Research from think tank the Resolution Foundation suggests that universal credit provides more support for working people who rent their homes than the previous system. But disabled people who cannot work are likely to be much worse off than under the old system.

There are other problems with universal credit. Unlike under the previous system that gave housing benefit straight to landlords, claimants have to pay their rent from a pot of money provided by the government that is almost certainly too small to cover all their costs.

The first universal credit payment takes around five weeks to arrive, meaning people may fall into rent arrears. A result is that some landlords take legal action to evict those receiving universal credit.

Further cuts

In 2015, the Conservatives abandoned targets set by Labour to reduce child poverty. Then in 2016, new legislation slashed spending again. Benefits were frozen for four years.

The two-child limit was applied to tax credits and universal credit in 2017 to remove income for third or subsequent children. Large families faced increased poverty as a result.

In 2020, the pandemic hit. Universal credit and tax credits were raised by £20 per week, but this ended in late 2021. The cost of living crisis has since widened the gap between benefits and prices.

Today, the value of universal credit falls £890 per month short of the cost of living for single people over 25. This is because of the changes to uprating and the benefit freeze.

In Feburary 2024, charity the Trussell Trust published research showing that over half of people on universal credit had run out of money for food in the previous month.

What can the next government do?

The next UK government must make emergency repairs to social security to halt harrowing declines in health and life expectancy. This should ensure a minimum acceptable standard of living, including restoring the value of benefits such as universal credit to cover the costs of living.

Since 71% of children living in poverty are in working families, employers should be required to pay the real living wage. In-work universal credit also needs to top up wages enough to make work pay.

Repairing the social safety net is an enormous challenge, but public support for it has been on the rise for years. In 2010, many people thought benefit claimants didn’t deserve any help. But from 2015 there has been a growing preference to help people receiving benefits.

Sharon Wright, Professor of Social Policy, University of Glasgow

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingHow the UK’s social security system stopped tackling poverty

Inside Big Oil’s Business as Usual: Failure on Climate and Profits from War

Original article by Stella Levantesi republished from DeSmog.

A new report shows oil majors fall short of meeting Paris Agreement targets while fueling global military conflicts.

Oil majors are not on track to hit Paris Agreement climate targets that limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, a new report reveals.

Eight fossil fuel giants – Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, TotalEnergies, BP, Eni, Equinor, and ConocoPhillips – are on course to use 30 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget for that 1.5°C goal, according to the Big Oil Reality Check report by nonprofit Oil Change International (OCI).

Combined, the oil and gas companies’ extraction plans are consistent with a temperature rise of over 2.4°C, the report found.That level of warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will reduce food security, risk irreversible loss of ecosystems, and increase heat waves, rainfall, and extreme weather events.

“We analyzed the climate promises and plans of the largest eight international oil and gas companies that are owned in North America and Europe. What would it take for an oil and gas producer to align their production with limiting warming to 1.5?” David Tong, global industry campaign manager at OCI and co-author of the report, told DeSmog. 

“If an oil and gas company were serious about transitioning its business model, the first step would be ending all new production and then setting a Paris-aligned phaseout plan,” he added.

‘No New Fossil’ Standard

recent paper by academics at University College London and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, published in Science in May, calls for stopping fossil fuel expansion and building a “No New Fossil” global norm. According to the authors, this would make it “easier to phase down fossil fuels” and achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals.

No new fossil fuel projects would be needed in a 1.5°C world, they wrote, because the “existing fossil fuel capital stock” is sufficient to meet energy demand. The authors also note that preventing new fossil fuel projects is, in general, more feasible than closing existing projects from an economic, political, and legal viewpoint.

In the face of continuing global pressure to stop fossil fuel expansion, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Equinor, Eni, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies have goals to increase oil and gas production within the next three years or beyond, the OCI report finds. While Shell does not quantify a target, the company plans to keep oil production steady while growing gas production in the near future, OCI said.

“None of those companies came anywhere close to alignment [with climate goals],” said Tong. “Six of the eight companies we analyzed have explicit plans to increase their oil and gas production in this critical decade when we need to be cutting our reliance on fossil fuels, cutting oil, gas, and oil production.”

Plateauing oil and expanding gas production, like some of these companies plan to do, is “grossly insufficient” compared with the action that’s needed, Tong added. Even commitments to make businesses more efficient aren’t going to cut it alone, he said.

“It’s like a cigarette company claiming that it will solve lung cancer by producing cigarettes more efficiently,” he noted. “That’s not just not a credible claim. It’s a promise to become a more efficient climate breaker.”

Big Oil and War

According to the OCI report, all the oil majors fail to meet basic criteria for just transition plans for workers and communities where they operate. 

“A number of these companies also face significant ongoing, unresolved allegations of human rights … and Indigenous people’s rights violations,” Tong told me.

A March 2024 investigation, commissioned by OCI and conducted by DataDesk, revealed that ExxonMobil, Chevron, TotalEnergies, BP, Shell, and Eni are “complicit in facilitating the supply of crude oil to Israel.” These findings are particularly noteworthy in the context of “Israel’s mounting evidence of war crimes” against Palestinians in Gaza, the OCI states in its new report. 

Diesel and gasoline for tanks and other military vehicles are supplied by Israel’s refineries, which rely on regular imports of crude oil by these companies and, since October 2023, supplies mainly from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan/Russia, Gabon, and Brazil, the research has found. 

The fossil fuel industry is “fueling war and military conflicts” in many regions of the world, said Svitlana Romanko, a prominent Ukrainian activist and founder and director of Razom We Stand, a Ukrainian organization campaigning to ban all imports of fossil fuels from Russia. 

According to Romanko, the OCI Big Oil Reality Check report “reinforces the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and investing into distributed renewable energy.”

A new analysis by a group of climate experts estimates that the first two years of Russia’s war on Ukraine resulted in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to around 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The estimated global cost of this warming in extreme weather impacts: $32 billion. 

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia earned over 681 billion euros in revenue from fossil fuel exports. European Union countries purchased fossil fuels from Russia for more than 195 billion euros.

Big Oil, as well as Russia, is profiting from the war, Romanko said. After the invasion, BP, Chevron, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies raked in $219 billion, more than double their profits compared to the previous year.

“Most [governments] subsidize fossil fuels, and these subsidies are accounting for trillions of U.S. dollars annually,” Romanko said. “This is a big part of fossil fuel profits, and the more fossil fuels are subsidized, [the] less investments are made available for renewable energies.”

She pointed out that the partnership between TotalEnergies and Russia’s largest private gas producer, Novatek, was also “instrumental” in helping Russia get access to technologies and engineering services to launch Novatek’s Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 projects.

Romanko notes that fossil fuel infrastructure can also constitute a liability for military attacks and quickly become a target.

“Centralized infrastructure endangers energy supply and overall safety of the supply,” she said. In Ukraine, a massive effort to install solar power plants in schools and hospitals helped decentralize this key resource, Romanko explained. “Decentralized energy supply is essential to building true energy independence,” she added. “And this is the future.”

Pressure for Accountability

Some of the eight oil majors in OCI’s report have faced more international and national scrutiny than others. Such pressure can facilitate accountability, but that’s less likely when the fossil fuel company is closely intertwined with the institutional, political, and economic life of its country. 

A BP gas station sign. Credit: Mike Mozart (CC BY 2.0)

“We need to look at what has succeeded in putting so much pressure on companies like Shell and BP,” OCI’s Tong said. 

One factor: when communities in a company’s home country work closely in partnership with communities in fossil fuel-producing countries. Tong said that positive results also happen when campaigners use a range of strategies to expose producers, from nonviolent direct action to op-eds, research, and court action.

“This is particularly challenging with Eni, TotalEnergies, and Equinor in different ways because of the close interactions that each of the companies have with their home states,” he added.

Public, political, and legal pressure for accountability must also be coupled with industry regulation, according to Tong.

“We concluded that there is no evidence that the oil and gas sector will voluntarily transition to renewable energy, or voluntarily act to align their production with what’s needed for the Paris Agreement,” Tong said. Instead, governments must no longer license new production sites. 

The strong right-wing result in the latest EU Parliament elections could also affect Big Oil’s energy transition. 

“The more the links between the state and big polluters are overt, the more people get out in the streets and protest,” Tong said.

What is safe to say is that Big Oil’s business as usual will increase climate change effects.

“Floods, hurricanes, extreme weather events, and the millions of human lives affected and lost – this damage to nature, to human lives and to life on earth will only mount,” Romanko said. “What will be lost in a few more years will also mount if fossil fuel companies are allowed to continue with business as usual.”

Original article by Stella Levantesi republished from DeSmog.

Continue ReadingInside Big Oil’s Business as Usual: Failure on Climate and Profits from War