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4 Things You Probably Know About Poverty That Bill and Melinda Gates Don’t.

Only four factors or realities?

To fix global poverty, you first need to acknowledge where it comes from.

Bill and  

Melinda Gates just released their annual letter, “Our Big Bet for the Future,” with their thoughts on the current state of global poverty and the suite of projects they are funding to tackle it.

While their hopeful tone and a good deal of what they are proposing is excellent, the story they tell about poverty obscures far more than it reveals. These are not “big bets,” but rather small technical fixes that can’t solve the real, underlying problems.

This matters, because the Gates have an incredible amount of power to go with their wealth. What they say carries tremendous weight with policymakers and affects what millions of people think. If their story is accepted, we all get tricked into accepting relatively small actions as solutions to big problems.

SamDCruz via Shutterstock

Their basic story goes like this: we can break the cycle of poverty—the big bet—by introducing new elements into the mix, like mobile banking, more vaccines, and different agricultural technologies.

They say that by taking actions like this, extreme poverty can actually be eradicated by 2030. But they leave out anything to do with why it exists in the first place, and who and what causes it, and so end up ignoring the things that matter most to actually breaking the cycle of poverty.

Here are four of those things that you probably know, that it seems Bill and Melinda Gates don’t.

Poverty Fact #1: Poverty is made by people. It is not just part of nature

Greece provides a clear and present example of this. Under EU-imposed austerity put in place in hopes of stabilizing the economy—which, among other things, slashed spending on social services, laid off tens of thousands of government workers, raised taxes across the board and and cut the minimum wage—unemployment shot up from 8% in 2008 to 28% in 2014, while wages plummeted.

A humanitarian catastrophe followed, with hospital closures, lack of medicines, and widespread homelessness.

Now 44% of Greeks live below the poverty line, up from 20% in 2008. Even middle class citizens have been forced to resort to soup kitchens.

Similar stories can be told about Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, England, and even the United States. No one is under the illusion that any of this is a natural phenomenon, which is why people are starting to vote for dramatic change.

Sam DCruz via Shutterstock

The Greek experience isn’t uncommon; it’s just that it has until recently been uncommon in the West. People across the global South have been on the receiving end of such policies for decades. In the past it was called “structural adjustment” and was spearheaded by the IMF and World Bank, with devastating consequences.

Bill and Melinda argued that, through aggressively pro-business measures like privatizing essential services and structuring economies so that debtors are paid off before the population is taken care of, they could kick start economies. Today, we call that agenda “austerity.” The effects are the same.

Richard Cavalleri via Shutterstock

Poverty doesn’t just exist; it is created. So when the Gates treat it like a naturally occurring problem—by leaving out any mention of what’s causing the problems in the first place and instead focusing exclusively on new technical interventions and big bets for the future—they’re telling a story without any of the main characters present.

It would be like a football coach saying that understanding what helped the team win or lose last week, or the ongoing fitness of the players doesn’t matter; we just need better technology and a bigger crowd of supporters this week. In other words, it helps makes small technical interventions sound adequate when they are not.

Poverty Fact #2: History matters

In order to understand the causes of poverty we have to understand history. Before the 1500s, there was no discernible difference between the West and the rest of the world in terms of human development. (Not true. In the Orient and China, the poorer classes enjoyed far better educational systems and health institutions)

The impoverishment of the global South began first with the plunder of Latin America, followed by the Atlantic slave trade, then the British colonization of Asia and the European scramble for Africa. This architecture of wealth extraction was essential to Western development.

Later, neoliberal policies—like the deregulation of capital markets, privatization of essential services, elimination of social and environmental protections, and a constant downward pressure on both corporate taxation and workers wages—were imposed across the global South, mostly by way of western-supported dictators and the structural adjustment we mentioned above.

This turned into the biggest single cause of poverty in the 20th century, because it created both the incentives and the systems required—like tax havens—for wealth and power to be centralized in the hands of the elite.

Today, the process of wealth extraction continues in the form of tax evasion, land grabs, debt service, and trade agreements rigged in the interests of the rich, a reverse flow of wealth that vastly outstrips the aid (the epitome of a small, technical fix) that trickles in the other direction.

Gil.K via Shutterstock

It is no surprise, then, that the fortunes of rich countries and poor countries continue to diverge. Or that the richest 1% have managed to accumulate more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined.

By leaving this history out of their grand story of poverty, Mr. and Mrs. Gates are either saying it isn’t true, or it doesn’t matter.

Poverty Fact #3: The “good news” story is premised on false accounting

The “good news” narrative that the Gates rely on asserts that humanity is making remarkable progress against global poverty. People who hold this view insist that aggregate wealth is a legitimate proxy for well-being. Thus, because global GDP has grown an astonishing 635% since 1980, we have never been better off overall.

Close on the heels of this come claims that the number of people in extreme poverty is declining so dramatically that we should all believe that it will soon—i.e. by 2030—be eradicated.

The World Bank, the governments of wealthy countries, and the UN Millennium Campaign all agree on this narrative. Relax, they tell us. The world is getting better, thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid.

Yavuz Sariyildiz via Shutterstock

It is a comforting story but unfortunately it is just not true. For a start, it all rests on The World Bank’s $1.25-a-day poverty line, which is insultingly low. The UN body UNCTAD has pointed out that anyone living on less than $5 a day is unable to achieve “a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing”: the inalienable right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you use that figure, a soul-scorching 5.1 billion people, or 80% of humanity, are living in those conditions today.

Poverty Fact #4: Power matters

All of this is about politics and power. It’s a well-established truth that those with the money make the rules, usually in ways that serve their own interests. This is why 93 cents of every $1 made since the 2008 crash has gone to the 1%.

The Gates want us to believe that it’s possible to solve poverty without challenging the forms of power that caused it in the first place. It sounds nice, especially for rich people, but it’s a fairy tale. Solving poverty will require a fundamental reorganization of power away from the oligarchy and toward real, meaningful democracy. Any plan to end poverty that doesn’t put this front and center isn’t really a plan at all.

By relying on cherry-picked evidence, the Gates promote a rosy picture of recent progress in order to make the case for more of the same into the future.

In other words, they want us to accept that more unregulated neoliberal capitalism is the answer. No need for better, more representative politics, more sustainable economic models, or constraints on corporate control of national and international governance.

There are plenty of alternatives. A movement is underway to create genuinely new economic thinking—one that is based in the rigorous sciences of human social systems and complexity research. It has been quietly taking form for decades in various academic departments. Groups like the Santa Fe Institute and Institute for New Economic Thinking have vigilantly explored the need to incorporate real human nature with a grounding in systems thinking to create effective social policies.

We might have had to settle for small technical fixes 30 years ago. In 2015, we certainly don’t. So much more is now known about the structural causes of poverty that it is possible to get at the real roots of the problem.

Doing so will require that a lot more people know the facts about poverty creation, something we hope Bill and Melinda Gates also learn as they continue to grapple with this thorny problem along with the rest of us.

[Top photo: Don Mammoser via Shutterstock]

 

Bill Gates Foundation sells shares in Israeli prison contractor G4S

The Bill Gates Foundation appears to have responded to activist pressure over its investment in Israeli prison contractor G4S by selling some, if not all, of its shares in the company.

Stock exchange filings published yesterday show that the foundation’s stake has dropped below the 3 percent threshold above which holdings must be declared.

It is not known how many shares, if any, the Gates Foundation continues to hold, although that should become clear in the next few months when more detailed filings will be published.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation purchased a 3.17 percent stake in G4S for £110 million ($184 million) in June 2013, a move opposed by Palestinian and international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) groups due to the role that G4S plays in helping Israel run its prison system.

G4S has a contract with the Israeli Prison Service to supply and run security and management systems at six prisons where Palestinian political prisoners, including children, are routinely tortured.

In April, protests were held at the at Gates Foundation offices in London, Johannesburg and Seattle. A petition signed by more than 14,000 people called on the the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S because of its role in Israel’s prison service.

A statement signed by more than twenty Palestinian organizations and 130 international groups argued that its holdings in G4S meant that the Gates Foundation “is legitimizing and profiting from Israel’s use of torture and mass incarceration.”

“Pressure is starting to work”

“We are glad the pressure on the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S is starting to work. We urge the foundation to sell any remaining shares it still holds and release a public statement pledging not to invest in corporations profiting from Israel’s military occupation,” said Rafeef Ziadah, a campaigner with the British anti-poverty group War on Want and the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

G4S has already lost contracts worth millions of dollars. Trade unions, universities and other public bodies in Europe and South Africa have canceled many contracts with G4S over concerns about the firm’s role in Israel’s prison system.

Protests will take place outside the G4S shareholders meeting next Thursday (5 June), as they have the previous two years.

Gavan Kelly, advocacy director at Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support and advocacy organization, said that the ongoing hunger strikes by Palestinian political prisoners underlined why the Gates Foundation’s investment appeared so outrageous.

“More than 125 Palestinian prisoners remain on hunger strike after more than 35 days to protest their detention without trial. It’s clear that G4S’s involvement in Israel’s prison system is incompatible with the Gates Foundation’s stated commitment to human rights and equality,” he said.

Harsh punishment

According to Addameer, more than 125 Palestinian prisoners went on hunger strike on 24 April to protest being held under administrative detention, a form of detention without trial where prisoners are not allowed to see the “evidence” held against them.

Visiting restrictions make it difficult to get exact figures but it is thought that the hunger strikes have since escalated and may now involve up to two hundred prisoners. The hunger strikes have now reached a critical moment as many prisoners have now gone 35 days without food.

More than 40 hunger strikers were yesterday transferred to a hospital due to their deteriorating health. Israel has responded to the continuation of the hunger strikes with harsh punishments, including isolating the hunger strikers from the rest of the prison population, the denial of family visits for four months, daily searches and beatings and restrictions on access to legal counsel.

A video from Addameer details the role that G4S plays in Israel’s abhorrent prison system:

Is polio next to be eradicated? What disease was wipe-out anyway?

Melinda Gates spoke on TED (Technology, Education, and Design) and claimed that polio is 90% eradicated (kind of less than 2,000 cases last year).  She was apprehensive that the generous donors might be witnessing “polio fatigue”, and might be reluctant perusing donations after two decades of containing polio.

In India, a single case of polio generated the vaccination of 2 million kids in the region.  Ethiopia is witnessing a significant drop in infantile mortality rate because remote communities are training specialized nurses for vaccinating and delivering pregnant women.

Diseases like malaria, diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, cholera, polio, and countless others banal diseases that have vaccines, or can be treated with antibiotics, are still rampant and killing everyday thousands of babies and adults in under-developed States, particularly, kids under 5 years of age.

For example, Cholera is back in force and threatening to spread in many neighboring States to Zimbabwe.  Mugabe of Zimbabwe refuses to step down as President and his State is suffering great famine, miseries, and the plague.  Thousands of people have contracted cholera and over 7,000 have already succumbed.   Cholera cannot be controlled; it could not be through the ages and current progress is not at a par with that plague.  Why?  Cholera has the capacity to mutate: an element of AND code new functions for the benefit of the bacteria, modifying its genome and increasing its adaptation to treatments or new antibiotics.

So far, medical research has not mapped out all the means of transmissions of Cholera.  It is possible that home pets, cats and dogs, carrying flea might be transmitters of the epidemic.  What is known is that older generations of antibiotics such as streptomycin, chloramohenicol, and tetracycline are increasingly inefficient against the bacteria of cholera.  The antibiotic based on fluoroquinolone might be of more effectiveness.

The best angle to analyze the topic of transmissible diseases to divide the diseases in three categories.  The first category represents the diseases that have effective and cheap vaccines and antibioticsThe second category represents disease that require costly vaccines, expensive treatments, and common surgeries but can effectively cure.  The third category is reserved for diseases that have no cures but can be contained for several years until progress is achieved like AIDS and a few other cancerous cases.

For the third category, funds are allocated to the under-developed States, simply because the rich States need guinea pigs to experiment with treatments that are traumatic in their own communities.

The first category is the most promising for decreasing drastically the casualties at an affordable cost.  Basically, the vaccines and the prior generations of antibiotics have already covered the expense of experimentation, and have been a cash cow for many decades.  The main expense would be to train local nurses in remote communities, and university students in medicine, to administer vaccines and inexpensive antibiotics that are still effective.

The second category is not as urgent for the under-developed States as the funding and the structural organizations for eradicating the diseases in the first category.  There has been a mobilization in 1994 for creating a world bank for medicament and vaccines and a few States invested funds in that bank but there was lack of active pursuit for the long term.  All the health related branches in the UN such as UNICEF, OMS, PAM, FUND, Red Cross, and Red Crescent have been working on the field for many decades, but diseases are gaining the upper hand.

The scarcity of resources allocated to fighting disease in the under-developed States need to be restructured.  Priority should be given to diseases in category #1, before attacking effectively diseases in category number two.  At least, trained nurses and medical students would be ready to tackle more complex treatments.

You may read my article https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/the-under-developed-countries-are-plagued-with-common-diseases-any-resolutions/

Note 1:  A short history on Cholera or plague.

Bubonic plague has a long history, through the ages, to devastating more than a third of a population as it hits.  Cholera lands suddenly, kills for a short period and then disappear for no known reasons.  The best remedy was to flee as quickly, as far away as is possible and not to return any time soon.

The Jews in Judea were decimated during David.  The troops of the Assyrian Monarch Sanhareeb, putting siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC, suffered the plague. Greece and Athens in 430 BC was devastated by cholera as Sparta was laying siege to Athens. Ancient Rome was plagued.  Cholera hit Byzantium during Justinian for one century and traveled around the Mediterranean basin; Pope Pelage II succumbed to cholera in 590.

In 1346, the Mogul troops, laying siege to Caffa in Crimea, were plagued and they catapulted infested bodies over the rampart of Caffa.  The Genoa defenders fled Caffa and transmitted the plague to all Europe; Spain, Marseille, Paris, England are contaminated and then Russia ten years later. France lost over a third of its population and Spain as many if not worse.

Cholera crashed London in 1665.   The English monarch and his family had to pay a long visit to the French Monarch.  The plague subsided when fire engulfed the better parts of the poorer quarters of London in 1666.

The last time, before Zimbabwe, that cholera expressed its virulence was in 1894 in south east China.

History accounts shows that cholera was carried by the Mogul troops arriving from Mongolia and Central Asia. As they sweep into relatively humid regions then plague settles in during summertime. India, Iran, Iraq, and Syria suffered plague during the Mogul successive invasions. I cannot but figure out a few hypotheses.

Note 2:  Alexandre Yersin, a French physician and bacteriologist, discovered in 1894 that Cholera is a bacteria but he failed to come up with a curative serum. Yersin still believed that rodents (rats) are the main culprit for transmitting this disease.  Only in 1898 did Paul-Louis Simond confirmed that cholera is transmitted by flea that quit dead rats to other greener pastures by sucking blood elsewhere.  Rats are infected with cholera but they are not affected or transmit it because they rarely bite humans.  Once a man is afflicted with cholera then the main transmitter of the epidemics are men.

Cholera infects people but does not bloom in dry arid regions.  Cholera is virulent in humid regions and during the hot seasons. Could it be because people sweat profusely? Especially because people failed to wash or take bathes in older days?  Or is it that since sweat excretes most of the salt in the body then cholera has an ideal medium of less salty body fluids to flourish and concentrate during the ripe seasons?


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2020
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