Late in 2014, I made this new award: the Real Neat Blog Award. There are so many bloggers whose blogs deserve more attention. So, I will try to do something about that 🙂
It is the first award that I ever made. I did some computer graphics years ago, before I started blogging; but my computer drawing had become rusty 🙂
The ‘rules’ of the Real Neat Blog Award are: (feel free not to act upon them if you don’t have time; or don’t accept awards; etc.):
1. Put the award logo on your blog.
2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.
4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs; and asking them seven questions.
5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)
My seven questions are:
1. Where do most visits to your blog come from?
2. What is your favourite sport?
3. What has been a special moment for you so far in 2020?
4. What is your favourite quote?
5. What was your favourite class when still at school?
6. Anything you had wished to have learned earlier?
7. What musical instrument have you tried to play?
My nominees are:
9. Meera daesil
12. Just Thoughts
This 17 January 2020 NASA video from the USA says about itself:
The local impacts of the Australian bushfires have been devastating to property and life in Australia while producing extreme air quality impacts throughout the region. As smoke from the massive fires has interacted with the global weather, the transport of smoke plumes around the globe has accelerated through deep vertical transport into the upper troposphere and even the lowermost stratosphere, leading to long-range transport around the globe. The smoke from these bushfires will travel across the Southern Ocean completing a global circumnavigation back around to Australia and is particularly pronounced across the southern Pacific Ocean out to South America.
By John Mackay in Australia:
18 January 2020
Health experts continue to issue warnings about the negative effects of the high levels of air pollution. Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Tony Bartone warned in a press release early this month that the duration and intensity of smoke exposure presents “a new and possibly fatal health risk that most of us have never faced before.”
The denser smoke haze and longer periods that people inhale it, Bartone said, means “there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face developing serious illness.” The AMA also stressed that respiratory health may not be the only health issue, predicting the mental health burden from the disaster on the community will be considerable.
The high level of smoke haze is unprecedented. Over the New Year period, air quality in Canberra, the national capital, reached 23 times the level considered hazardous and the worst rating to date in the city.
Canberra was registered as the worst polluted city in the world, beating Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina, Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India. The highest rating recorded was 5,185 on New Year’s Day, more than 25 times above the minimum hazard level of 200.
A few days before these high levels were reached, an elderly woman died after going into respiratory distress as she disembarked from a plane onto the tarmac at Canberra airport.
At its peak the poor air quality forced most of Canberra to shut down, including many businesses, shopping centres, the city’s museums and public galleries. Postal deliveries were cancelled. Canberra Hospital closed some medical and diagnostic procedures due to smoke impacting on the facility and equipment, such as medical resonance imaging (MRI) machines.
At Batemans Bay, 150 kms from Canberra, where hundreds of houses were incinerated on the New South Wales south coast, the concentration of smoke particles was nearly double that of Canberra.
In Sydney, Dr Tim Senior a General Practitioner who works at a medical clinic in the western suburb of Campbelltown, located not far from serious fires to the city’s south-west, told the ABC: “The smoke has hung around and there’s not been any relief.” We’re seeing more people coming in with respiratory symptoms—mainly coughing and a bit short of breath”
He also described how many people attending his clinic were suffering chest pain, sore eyes, runny noses and sore throats. However, it is not only patients with pre-existing conditions that have been affected. Dr Senior stated: “Some people who don’t have a history of asthma are feeling short of breath and [are] actually having to try using inhalers for the first time.”
When asked about how other communities are coping with the effects of poor air quality the doctor said: “I know it’s much, much worse for people I have spoken to down on the [NSW] south coast, where the capacity for [health] services to see people and handle their health problems has been really limited.” He continued: “It’s putting pressure on the healthcare system across a really broad area of Australia”.
The fine particulates from smoke from wildfires has been known to contain a mix of chemicals that are a concern to public health, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fine particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds.
While some facemasks—such as P2 or N95—have been recommended as possibly helpful for those with existing lung disease, they have significant limitations in being able to provide complete protection and can make breathing more difficult.
A study published last year in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine revealed that inexpensive facemasks provided only limited protection against air pollution in Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities, due to poor facial fit. Masks that provide more comprehensive protection are bulky and more expensive.
Sotiris Vardoulakis, a professor of global health at the Australian National University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): “[T]he general message is we need to minimise exposure and there are different ways of doing that. On days with high air pollution, it’s better to spend more time indoors.”
Dr David Caldicott, a consultant emergency physician at the Calvary hospital in Canberra, told the media that there have been increased emergency admissions by elderly patients, asthmatics and those with other respiratory problems.
“The psychiatric element associated with the potential threat of fire,” Caldicott added, “is something that’s often forgotten when people are focusing on respiratory disease.” He also warned that staying indoors for extended periods can have a negative impact on mental health.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has raised concerns about the high levels of air pollution on mothers and their unborn children. College president Dr Vijay Roach told the ABC: “Exposure to air pollution in pregnancy has been linked to increased rates of preterm birth, decreased birth weight, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and gestational diabetes.”
Health experts are uncertain when the real extent of the effect of smoke exposure will present in the population.
Professor Bin Jalaludin from the Centre of Air Pollution, Energy and Health Policy research at the University of New South Wales told the Sydney Morning Herald: “What we’re finding now is that air pollution tends to affect all parts of the body… There is increasing evidence around air pollution and neurological conditions, for example Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.”
In September last year, the AMA, in line with similar positions taken by both the American and the British Medical Associations, declared climate change a “health emergency.” It pointed to the “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future.” In 2015, the World Health Organisation stated that the evidence is “overwhelming” that climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.
Dr Allison Hempenenstall of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine recently told the Guardian newspaper that there was “a united strong voice” demanding government action. “[W]e need to push for governmental change, prioritising climate change policy which is something that the government isn’t doing at present… the health implications of climate change are only going to be fixed by addressing climate change itself.”
Consecutive Liberal and Labor governments have done little to address climate change and deliberately disregarded the warnings of more severe weather events. The parties of big business will continue to ignore the scientific evidence and demands by health experts to address climate change, for the same political reasons in order to defend the profit system.
The author also recommends:
Australia: Toxic air from bushfires rated a “public health emergency”
[23 December 2019]
The World Socialist Web Site recently interviewed Dr Luba Volkova, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, about Australia’s bushfire crisis: here.
This 10 January 2020 video shows wintering Bewick’s swans drinking from a puddle in Flevoland province in the Netherlands.
Wim Thijsen made this video.
This 17 December 2019 Yahoo Finance video from the USA says about itself:
By Gabriel Black in the USA:
Amid poverty wages and tax cuts for the rich
JPMorgan Chase records the biggest profit of any bank in US history
18 January 2020
JPMorgan Chase, the most valuable private bank in the world, made $36.4 billion in 2019, the biggest annual profit of any bank in American history. The news, reported Tuesday, sent the company’s stock up by 2 percent. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the company took in $8.5 billion, also a record, making it the tenth-largest publicly traded company in the world, with a market cap of $437 billion.
News of these record gains came as the six largest US banks revealed that they saved a combined $32 billion last year from President Donald Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cut. The tax windfall was up from 2018 for all but one of the banks. JPMorgan’s tax cut went from $3.7 billion in 2018 to $5 billion last year.
At Wednesday’s signing ceremony for the phase one trade deal with China, attended by an array of corporate executives, Trump turned to Mary Erdoes, a top executive at JPMorgan Chase. Calling the bank’s earnings report “incredible”, he joked, “Will you say, ‘Thank you, Mr. President’, at least?”
The tax cuts for the corporations and the rich, enacted with only token opposition from the Democrats, are only one factor in the surge in profits over the past year. When stocks plunged at the end of 2018, Trump stepped up his demand that the Federal Reserve reverse its policy of gradually raising interest rates to more normal levels, following years of near-zero rates in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Acting as the mouthpiece of Wall Street, he demanded that the Fed begin cutting rates once again in order to pump more cash into the financial markets.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell dutifully complied, cutting interest rates three times in 2018 and assuring the markets that he had no intention of raising them again any time soon. Then, beginning in the late fall, the Fed began pumping tens of billions of dollars a week into the so-called “repo” overnight loan market, resuming the money-printing operation known as “quantitative easing”.
This de facto guarantee of unlimited public funds to backstop stock prices has produced record highs on all of the major US indexes, sending billions more into the private coffers of the rich and the super-rich.
These measures are a continuation and intensification of policies carried out on a bipartisan basis for four decades to redistribute wealth from the working class to the corporations and the financial elite. They have effected a fundamental restructuring of class relations in America, drastically lowering the social position of the working class. Decent-paying, secure jobs have been wiped out and largely replaced by poverty-wage, part-time, temporary and contingent employment—the so-called “gig” economy exemplified by corporations such as Amazon and Uber.
This decades-long ruling class offensive was accelerated in response to the 2008 financial crisis. President Barack Obama oversaw the channeling of trillions of dollars to the banks and financial markets in order to pay off the debts of the bankers and speculators, whose reckless and criminal activities had led to the crisis, and make them richer than ever. At the same time, he imposed a restructuring of the auto industry based on a 50 percent across-the-board pay cut for new-hires and an expansion of temporary and part-time labor.
Meanwhile, state, local and federal government programs have been dramatically slashed. Education, housing, Medicaid and food stamps have been particularly hard hit. This process has been accelerated under Trump, along with the removal of occupational safety and environmental regulations, with no opposition from the Democrats, who represent sections of the financial elite and wealthy upper-middle class.
The devastating human cost of the plundering of society by the corporate-financial oligarchy is registered in declining life expectancy, rising mortality and record suicide and drug addiction rates. A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that 53 million people in the US—44 percent of all workers—“earn barely enough to live on”. The study found that the median pay of this group was $10.22 per hour, around $18,000 a year. Thirty seven percent of those making $10 an hour have children. More than half are the primary earners or “contribute substantially” to family income.
Similarly, a Reuters report from 2018 found that the average income of the bottom 40 percent of workers in the United States was $11,600.
A recent study by Trust for America’s Health found that in 2017 “more than 152,000 Americans died from alcohol- and drug-induced fatalities and suicide.” This was the highest number ever recorded and more than double the figure for 1999. Among those in their 20s and early 30s, the prime working life age, drug deaths have increased more than 400 percent in the last 20 years.
At the other pole of society, the Dow Jones Industrial index is now double what it was at its peak in 2007, prior to the implosion of the financial system. Between March 2009 and today, the Dow has risen from 6,500 to over 29,000.
This 18 January 2020 video from the USA is called Dow Soaring Means ABSOLUTELY Nothing.
The stock market, buttressed by central bank and government policy, has become the central instrument for funneling wealth from the bottom of society to the top. As a result, the top 10 percent of society now owns about 70 percent of all wealth, whereas the bottom 50 percent has, effectively, nothing.
In the midst of this orgy of wealth accumulation at the very top of society, every demand of workers for jobs, decent pay, education, housing, health care and pensions is met with the universal response: “There is no money.” Hundreds of thousands of teachers have struck over the past two years to demand the restoration of funds cut from the public schools and substantial increases in pay and benefits. None of their demands have been met. The same applies to auto workers who struck for 40 days last fall to demand an end to two-tier pay systems and the defense of jobs.
JPMorgan’s $36.4 billion profit in 2019 is more than half the education budget of the US federal government.
Meanwhile, Americans are deeper in debt to JPMorgan and the other banks than at any time in history. Collective consumer debt in the United States approached $14 trillion last year. Credit card debt has surpassed $1 trillion for the first time. Auto debt is at $1.3 trillion and mortgage debt is now $9.4 trillion. Student loan debt has increased the fastest, surging from $500 billion in 2006 to $1.6 trillion today.
These are the conditions, rooted in the historical bankruptcy and crisis of the capitalist system, that have sparked a global upsurge in the class struggle and the growth of anti-capitalist and pro-socialist sentiment. The past year has seen a dramatic expansion of working-class struggle that is only a glimpse of what is to come. India, Hong Kong, Mexico, the United States, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, Iraq, France, Chile and Brazil are only some of the places where mass struggles have erupted.
What is becoming increasingly clear to hundreds of millions of people around the world is that the social problems confronting humanity in the 21st century—poverty, debt, disease, global warming, war, fascism, the assault on democratic rights—cannot be solved so long as this parasitic and oligarchical financial elite continues to rule. The turn is to the American and international working class—to unite, take power and seize control of the wealth which it produces to ensure peace, prosperity and equality for all people.
This 24 July 2019 video from Britain says about itself
Firefighters launch Grenfell: Never Again campaign
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is calling for urgent action on a range of fire and building safety issues to prevent another Grenfell, launching a campaign with the Daily Mirror. On the second anniversary of the tragedy, action to prevent a similar fire has been wholly insufficient, with little to nothing being done to tackle the structural issues that led to the tragedy.
The “Grenfell: Never Again” campaign aims to pressure government to take decisive action to tackle the underlying risks which caused the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower. You can sign the petition here.
1. Remove flammable cladding from all tower blocks and public buildings. There are still 328 residential and public buildings using the same cladding as that on the Grenfell Tower, and at least 1,700 with other potentially combustible claddings, including hospitals, care homes and schools as well as high rises.
2. Retrofit sprinklers in high rises and schools, wherever a risk assessment deems them necessary. Coroners’ reports have called for sprinkler systems to be fitted, but so far only 32 out of 837 council tower blocks over 30m tall have sprinklers.
3. Ensure tenants are given a real voice in the running and upkeep of their buildings. Grenfell tenants say their concerns about materials used in the refurbishment were ignored by Kensington and Chelsea council. Tenants’ right should be strengthened and democratically-elected groups given a direct say.
4. Reverse the cuts to firefighter numbers and Fire Safety Officers. In 2016-17, the government spent £1,013m on fire services. But in 2019-20, it will only spend £858m. Every single fire authority has seen the amount it receives in central government funding cut in the last three years.
5. Create a new independent national body to oversee standards and best practices in fire and rescue services across the country. There is no national body to oversee fire and rescue service and fire policy. This means standards vary across authorities and lessons are not being learned. Minimum standards should be set for response times and crewing levels.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“The second anniversary of Grenfell must be a moment of both heartfelt reflection and determined action. We have seen 72 lives tragically lost, in a wholly preventable blaze, all while desperately under-resourced firefighters risked their own lives to save others. Firefighters and control room staff never want to see a fire like that again, and are calling on the government to take immediate action.
“In the time since the fire, the government’s facile approach has utterly failed all those involved that night and the thousands of people who are at risk across the country. After two years, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has delivered no answers and we are no closer to tackling any of the underlying causes of the tragedy.
“As things stand, we risk sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life. We demand urgent action from government to ensure that the events of Grenfell Tower can never happen again.”
The campaign, launched today with the Daily Mirror, has backing from Grenfell campaign group Justice4Grenfell; Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London; and John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary.
Firefighters will join tonight’s monthly Grenfell Silent Walk and will march alongside community activists in the solidarity march tomorrow. The FBU is a core participant in the ongoing Grenfell inquiry.
From daily News Line in Britain:
Fire service cut to the bone! Kick Tories out before another deadly fire breaks out
18th January 2020
THE INCREASE in the time between a 999 call and fire engines arriving on to the scene of a fire has increased. This is despite the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warning that in a fire seconds mean the ‘difference between life and death’.
Firefighters take 2 minutes 42 seconds longer to respond to a primary fire, compared with 1994/5.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘In a fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death, so these figures are incredibly alarming. Services have been cut to the bone, and it’s obvious that with fewer firefighters and scarcer resources, firefighters are taking longer to get to fires, putting lives and businesses at risk.’
Over a decade of Tory cuts, during which PM Johnson was Mayor of London, has devastated the fire service. Johnson shut 10 fire stations, axed 552 firefighters’ jobs and took 27 fire engines out of service!
Meanwhile, the 999 call centres are being merged. The FBU has already issued a safety-critical notice after Surrey and West Sussex control rooms were merged. More than 9,000 extra calls per year are to be handled by just four staff, a 79% increase in incidents.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published their annual report on Wednesday and it was shocking.
The report, while describing a service hacked, slashed and starved of resources, had the cheek to turn its fire against the union itself, alleging the FBU had ‘undue influence’ on the fire service.
The FBU defiantly hit back: ‘We utterly refute any suggestion that the FBU have “undue influence” on our service. We are the democratically elected representatives of professional firefighters. They know best about their service and should have a strong voice in how it is run.’
And the HMICFRS are not the only ones to attack the firefighters. A leaked report by the chairman of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, Martin Moore-Bick, blamed the London Fire Brigade (LFB) itself for the deaths.
However, the truth is that, if the May government had legislated to make the type of cladding that was used in Grenfell illegal, as was demanded of it, there would not have been a fire at all!
The inquiry is steering the blame for the Grenfell fire away from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council, the government, the cladding company Arconic, the refurbishment company Rydon, and the Tenants Management Organisation (TMO).
Yesterday, we found out that the inquiry is to have connections with the cladding industry itself. Benita Mehra, a civil engineer, and past president of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) has been appointed by PM Johnson to the Grenfell Tower inquiry panel to take part in the Inquiry’s second phase.
It is a fact that Mehra’s WES received funding linked to US firm Arconic, which supplied the cladding that helped spread the Grenfell Tower fire. Arconic supplied the flammable cladding panels and Rydon did the refurbishment.
These links should bar Mehra from the inquiry. A refusal to do so will be the proof that the much-praised inquiry is biased in favour of the cladding industry, and that its findings, especially its condemnations of the FBU, cannot be taken seriously.
It is the Tory RBKC council, the Tenants Management Organisation who put the cladding up, private companies Arconic and Rydon, and the Tory government that are responsible for the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower fire. Their deaths are not the responsibility of the brave firefighters, who did their duty and did save many lives.
Rydon and its management team have not faced court corporate manslaughter charges. In fact, Rydon has been awarded further local government contracts. Maidstone borough council has awarded Rydon a contract to build a £9.5m complex at the Kent Medical Campus.
Instead, FBU heroes have been shamefully targeted. Rydon, Arconic, RBKC, the TMO and the Tory government must face justice for the Grenfell Tower atrocity. Otherwise, mass deaths from preventable fires will become the rule.
What is required is a workers government that will make fire safety in workers’ homes its top priority.
This 12 January 2020 video says about itself:
The Most Endangered Animal In The World | Prairie Bandit | Real Wild
Their habitat once stretched across the Prairies. But when humans wiped out the one thing they eat, the black-footed ferret disappeared. The only native North American ferret, this mysterious animal became the most endangered species in the world.
By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:
Friday, January 17, 2020
Left-wing? You may be on police extremism list
The Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP) document has categories including white supremacist and nationalist groups, left-wing and “associated single-issue groups”, animal rights groups, and environmental campaigns.
The left-wing and environmental groups listed include the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Greenpeace.
CPB general secretary Rob Griffiths told the Star that it is “not surprising” that the party is included on the extremism watch list.
He said: “The primary function of Britain’s intelligence services is to protect the capitalist status quo and the ruling class, so it is no surprise that CPB should be listed as it is an organisation which wants to replace capitalism with socialism.
“The biggest threat to democratic rights in Britain has always come from the capitalist state — and this confirms that any turn towards authoritarianism must be opposed by the widest range of democratic organisation.
“We have one of the most secretive secret services in the world and this document also urgently confirms that we need to try and bring our intelligence services under some form of genuine democratic scrutiny.”
Mr Griffiths also referred to the infiltration of “perfectly legal and legitimate campaigning organisations” by undercover police officers for decades — which is currently subject to the Pitchford inquiry.
CND general secretary Kate Hudson questioned why the organisation was on the counter-terror list, noting that it has a history of more than 60 years of peaceful protest and an “open, democratic structure and policy process.”
She continued: “We have no secrets and act in the public interest. It is nuclear bombs that terrorise people, not our campaign, which works to eradicate weapons of mass destruction.
“This is massive state overreach and threatens our right to political engagement and peaceful protest.”
Andrew Smith of CAAT said that the “appalling” document sends the message that people who “care about social justice or oppose war, arms sales, discrimination or conflict then you can be included alongside white nationalists and neo-nazi hate groups.”
“It is yet another shameful attempt to repress dissent. This further discredits the fundamentally flawed Prevent scheme. It is long past time for police and government to stop criminalising democratic protest,” he added.
Extinction Rebellion called the literature and posters “crude, divisive and dangerous”.
It added: “The guidance document makes it clear that not all the signs and symbols are of counterterrorism interest. However, if that’s the case, why include them in a counter-terrorism document?
“The chilling effect is to leave people feeling under scrutiny, watched and pressurised, feeling ‘othered’, ashamed or afraid to be open about the things they care about such as the environment and the world around us.”
Clare Collier of human-rights organisation Liberty said the counter-terror agenda is “one of the greatest threats to free speech in the UK.”
The latest leak comes after more than 100 academics, campaigners, and community organisers signed a joint statement released by human rights charity Cage calling for the abolition of the Home Office’s Prevent anti-extremism strategy, which primarily targets Muslims.
Cage research director Dr Asim Qureshi said: “Ongoing calls for ‘more security and surveillance’ only lead to circular discussions, and policies that exacerbate fracture and distrust. We must break this impasse.”