Archive for December, 2011

The Rebirth of Social Darwinism

by Robert Reich

What kind of society, exactly, do modern US Republicans want? I’ve been listening to US Republican candidates in an effort to discern an overall philosophy, a broadly-shared vision, an ideal picture of America.

They say they want a smaller government but that can’t be it. Most seek a larger national defense and more muscular homeland security. Almost all want to widen the government’s powers of search and surveillance inside the United States – eradicating possible terrorists, expunging undocumented immigrants, “securing” the nation’s borders. They want stiffer criminal sentences, including broader application of the death penalty. Many also want government to intrude on the most intimate aspects of private life.

They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, laws against child labor, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.

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What Future for ‘This Great Movement of Ours’?

by Martin Upchurch

Trade unions in Britain are at a watershed. This month’s public sector strike on November 30th, involves 3 million workers from 27 different unions. It follows the largest ever trade union organised demonstration held in March and the public sector strike of three quarters of a million workers in June. This wave of strikes and protests must be viewed from a wider perspective. The student demonstrations late last year, followed by the Arab Spring and then the Occupy Movement have given  union members confidence to take the plunge and vote to strike. Protest has returned.  In 2010, the number of strikes in Britain were the lowest since records begun, now the masses are taking part.

But do the strikes also mark a major change in the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party? In the post War period trade unions swam with the stream for thirty years. Full employment provided the opportunity for unions to expand their membership, notably in the public sector and among women. When membership peaked in 1979 at nearly 13 million, governments were willing to do business with the unions. Concessions were made to expand the welfare state so long as trade union leaders held back the wage demands of their rank-and-file.

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Gender and Climate Change: Durban Explores the Intersection

by Rebecca Lefton

Most people do not think of climate change as a gender issue. But experts at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban, South Africa are trying to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact that a changing climate has on women. Women are responsible for collecting water that is becoming increasingly scarce, and they are needing to travel farther distances to reach clean water supplies. Women are primarily responsible for putting food on the table, but food prices are rising and as climate change worsens agricultural productivity. And women are often the most vulnerable in war and regional conflicts, which will be exacerbated by resource scarcity.

A discussion held  in Durban focused on these impacts. The panel featured the Honorable Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addressing climate resilience, Robinson stressed the importance of focusing on health and burden impacts of climate change. One of the keys is access to reproductive health for women.

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Let’s Knock Down the Three Pillars of Sustainable Development

Let’s knock down the three pillars of sustainable development!  This wholly misleading picture, promoted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, is still around.  The 2012 Rio conference is an opportunity to replace it with a very different picture.  The “three pillars” obscure the real relationship between the economic, the social, and the environmental.  They are not equals.  “The environment” is the physical reality all life depends on.  “The social” is about one of the species within the environment, our own, organising itself.  “The economic” is in turn one sub-set of the social.  Each is nested within the next: economic within social within environmental.

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Solving Climate Change Will Help Temper Rising Health Care Costs

by Lauren Simenauer

Delegates from 194 parties are meeting in Durban, South Africa, for the annual U.N. Conference of Parties, or COP, climate change conference. Among topics being addressed is the reduction of carbon emissions worldwide, clean energy funding in lower-income nations, and the future of the Kyoto Protocol. One lesser-discussed issue that diplomats will address is the growing body of science about the impacts of climate change on global health.

The National Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, identified six natural disaster events thought to be exacerbated by climate change. Those events include ozone air pollution, heat waves, the spread of infectious disease, river flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires. Tragically, extreme weather ravaged Durban itself just days before international delegates arrived. Torrential rains caused severe flooding that destroyed 700 homes and resulted in the deaths of 10 people. But beyond the immediate effects, all these disasters have wide-reaching consequences for national health, and a study published in Health Affairs magazine estimated that health costs incurred from the tragedies exceeded $14 billion from 2000 to 2009.

In the national debate on health care, it is imperative that the international community and our lawmakers at home not ignore the value of preventing the damage that climate change will cause to both the environment and human health.

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