the G20’s Hamburg meeting

July 10th, 2017

Donald Trump declared that the G20 meeting in Hamburg, had been a “wonderful success”. Few agreed, often referring to the event as “G19 plus one”. Here is a typical example.

“The most striking impression that comes from the G20 … is that not only is there is no central US leadership role, but there is profound questioning of western values, from democracy itself to simple freedom of the press,” said James Stavridis, a former US commander of Nato. “What we see today is beginning to look like the world after the first world war about 100 years ago, in which none of the leading nations pulled together and we in the US rejected the idea of the League of Nations.”

Demetri Sevastopulo and Stefan Wagstyl, “G20 allies learn to work with, and around, Donald Trump“, Financial Times, 10 July 2017 (gated paywall).

HIV/AIDS in South Africa

July 10th, 2017

Despite massive expenditure, South Africa has been unable to control its HIV epidemic.

Ten years ago, [with more than 11 per cent of the population infected by HIV,] South Africa unveiled a long-term plan to tackle its HIV problem. ….

Today HIV prevalence is about 12 per cent, partly reflecting the fact that those with the disease are living longer thanks to better treatment. ….

[But the plan is in trouble.] Even as it aims to reduce a persistently high level of new HIV infections to 100,000 a year by 2022, from 270,000 last year, many civil society groups say that South Africa is falling behind the latest thinking on HIV prevention …. ….

With just over half of the HIV-infected population of 7m taking ARVs [antiretrovirals], South Africa already runs the largest such programme in the world. ….

Clinicians speak of an urgent need to break a “cycle of HIV transmission” from older men to younger women by focusing on the prevention of infection. They estimate hundreds of new cases appear every day and, of the 270,000 people infected last year, 100,000 were young women and girls. ….

[The programme] has come under fire from activists for failing to press the government to follow a World Health Organization recommendation by decriminalising sex workers, which is one of the highest-risk groups. This move would make it easier for them to have access to anti-HIV drugs and stop police taking condoms away from them.

Joseph Cotterill, “South Africa reaches a make-or-break point over HIV“, Financial Times, 6 July 2017 (gated paywall).

good news for social pensioners in Fiji

July 9th, 2017

The government has increased the Social Pension Scheme allocation from fourteen million dollars to thirty seven million dollars.

Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Mereseini Vuniwaqa says …

”We are really grateful that the government has considered as being one of the increases and it’s a notable increase from $50 to $100 [about 50 US dollars] per pensioner so I’m sure there will be a lot of happy pensioners out there come 1st August.”

All persons under the Social Pension Scheme will now receive $100 and the eligibility age has been lowered [from 68] to 65 years.

Sainiani Boila, “Pension scheme allocation increases to $37m“, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, 6 July 2017.

The Social Pension Scheme is means-tested assistance that targets older persons with no other source of income. The pension is small, but much better than the previous benefit of 50 Fijan dollars a month. The budgeted amount is sufficient to provide pensions to more than 30,000 older persons.


on sin and hypocrisy

July 6th, 2017

Here are excerpts from a powerful column by Dutch writer Ian Buruma that was published more than seven years ago. Click on the link to read the full essay.

In more traditional days, not so very long ago, when God reigned supreme and most people still turned to their priests (or ministers, rabbis, etc.) for moral guidance, sexual behavior was often dictated by power. Christians may have believed in sin. The values espoused by the Church were paid their due deference.

But hypocrisy gave privileged people, including priests, a certain leeway. Wealthy men had mistresses, professors had affairs with students, and even the lowly village priest, a man of social and spiritual power, if not of great wealth, often enjoyed the sexual favors of a woman conveniently at hand to take care of his domestic needs. ….

[It is] no longer all right for men to have mistresses, teachers to have affairs with students, or priests to enjoy the favors of their chambermaids. People became less tolerant of hypocrisy. In a way, the social transformations of the 1960’s and 1970’s brought about a new form of puritanism. Especially in the US, a man can lose his job for making an “inappropriate” sexual remark, marriages collapse because of a one-night stand, and any form of sex with children is an absolute taboo. ….

Catholics have tended to be more tolerant of hypocrisy than Protestants. The rise of Protestantism was in part a protest against this. Strict Protestants make a virtue out of brutal frankness, because they believe they have a direct pipeline to God. Catholics confess to their priests, not to God himself. Sins can be dealt with, as long as proper ceremony is observed. This explains why the Vatican chooses to describe the pedophiliac transgression of its clergy as sins rather than crimes.

Ian Buruma, “Holy Abuse“, Project Syndicate, 31 March 2010.

Ian Buruma (born 1951) lives in the United States. He is Editor of The New York Review of Books, teaches at Bard College and is author of many books, including Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (Princeton University Press, 2010).


Hong Kong changes leaders

July 6th, 2017

… but not policies. Plans for a universal pension, in particular, will not be implemented, nor even debated, by the Legislative Council.

A long-forgotten peace resumed in the Legislative Council on Wednesday as the city’s new leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attended her first question-and-answer session ….

While radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was again ousted from the chamber as he protested against Lam for not implementing a universal pension scheme, lawmakers from both sides agreed the meeting was more constructive and peaceful than those attended by Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying. ….

But not all people were happy.

“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung feared the [pan-democrat] camp would become more passive – or even be dismantled.

Jeffie Lam and Kimmy Chung, “Peace returns to Hong Kong’s legislature as new leader Carrie Lam attends first session – but how long will honeymoon last?“, South China Morning Post, 6 July 2017.

Donald Trump abandons his followers

June 13th, 2017

NY Times columnist David Leonhardt writes that Donald Trump “cares more about ‘winning’ than any coherent philosophy”, so is quickly abandoning promises he made during the campaign.

The biggest priority for today’s Congressional Republicans is shrinking the size of government so they can cut taxes for the wealthy.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, managed to win the presidency on an agenda that promised robust government programs in health care, retirement and other areas.

Something was going to have to give, and it’s long been clear that the something would be Trump’s campaign promises. Trump doesn’t actually care much about the working class and has quickly abandoned his earlier commitments.

David Leonhardt, “Opinion Today“, New York Times daily email, 12 June 2017.

deaths of despair in the USA

June 11th, 2017

After a century of decreases, the overall death rate for American adults aged 25-44 years rose 8.2 percent between 2010 and 2015. The disturbing trend seems to have continued in 2016.

The opioid epidemic that has ravaged life expectancy among economically stressed white Americans is taking a rising toll among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, driving up the overall rate of death among Americans in the prime of their lives.

Since the beginning of this decade, death rates have risen among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in virtually every racial and ethnic group and almost all states, according to a Washington Post analysis. ….

The [death] rate is adjusted for the nation’s changing age profile, and every five-year age group [25-29, 30-34, etc.] … showed an increase in mortality.

Preliminary data from the first half of 2016 suggests that the trend is continuing ….

One clear distinction remains: education level. The only 25-44 group whose death rate is not climbing is people with four-year college degrees. ….

The jump in death rates has been driven in large measure by drug overdoses and alcohol abuse ….

Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating, “Drug crisis is pushing up death rates for almost all groups of Americans“, Washington Post, 9 June 2017.

See also this earlier TdJ blog.

Jeffrey Sachs on Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord

June 11th, 2017

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs provides his opinion on Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement on climate change. There is nothing unexpected in the column, but the points he makes are concise and well drafted, easy to read and to share. Read the rest of this entry »

Amazon battles Walmart

June 10th, 2017

The competition is different than you might expect, folks. There is a strong focus on finance, in addition to ecommerce.

The dominant US ecommerce company [Amazon] has been dabbling in lending for nearly six years, and has made $3bn in loans to some of the small businesses that sell through its online platform.

Now Amazon is substantially expanding its offer of instant loans and considering whether to provide other bank-like services. ….

The Seattle-based juggernaut also this week stepped up its battle with the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. Targeting the lower income customers that have long been Walmart’s bread and butter, Amazon said it would offer substantial discounts on its Prime membership programme to US shoppers who are on public assistance. ….

Over the short term, both initiatives sound like great news for consumers and small businesses. Amazon’s move into banking has already created new borrowing opportunities for businesses that had struggled to get bank loans. And its offer to low-income customers will give them more equal access to the benefits of the digital economy.

Brooke Masters, “Amazon’s quiet domination merits greater scrutiny“, Financial Times, 10 June 2017 (gated paywall).

Walmart Financial Services provides credit cards and other bank-like services, including cash transfers to Mexico and other countries, in addition to transfers within the United States and Canada.

Bernie Sanders on Republicans and Donald Trump

June 9th, 2017

FT columnist Simon Kuper has tea in Dublin with Mr Sanders. The interview will appear in tomorrow’s weekend edition of the Financial Times. The paper is printed on pink paper, if you search for it in a newsstand.

If you are a subscriber, you can read the article online, at the link below. Alternatively, free registration allows you to download three free columns each month. This should be one of them. Read the rest of this entry »