Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Future King

Tom Bower, in Rebel Prince,  writes, “presides at the centre of a court with no place for democracy or dissenting views … like some feudal lord”.

Bower concludes that the prince’s legacy has been “tarnished by his addiction to luxury, his financial mismanagement, his disloyalty to professional supporters, and the torrid relationships with his family”. 

He expresses concern that Charles, when king, “will act alone, without any restraining adviser. For committed monarchists, that independence is alarming. They can only hope for the best.”

Charles’ army of employees – Bowers claims that he has more than 120 staff – include three footmen to escort visitors to his office, “each responsible for a short segment of corridor”; four valets to help him change his clothes up to five times a day; four gardeners who “lie flat, nose down on a trailer” to hand pluck weeds, because of the prince’s hatred of pesticides; and “retired Indian servicemen … deployed to prowl through the undergrowth at night with torches and handpick slugs from the plants of leaves”.

Bower claims that access to Charles was sold “to raise money for his many charities and to indulge in ostentatious luxury”, with Turkish billionaire Cem Uzan allegedly paying £200,000 for his wife to sit next to the prince at a dinner in 2000, and American oil tycoon Armand Hammer spending approximately £40m over several years on Charles’ charities and personal expenses, in an attempt to rehabilitate his own public image.

Families need homes

Almost 30,000 single-parent families were made homeless last year. The statistics,  also show the number of households in temporary accommodation has risen by nearly two-thirds since 2010.
Shelter said government figures also reveal that nearly three-quarters of homeless households in England are lone parent families. Shelter said lone parents were bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, by juggling part-time work and childcare.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "Of the thousands of families battling with the grim reality of homelessness, the vast majority are single parents." Their limited incomes make it hard for them to contend with high private rents and welfare cuts, she added.
Dalia Ben-Galim, policy director at charity Gingerbread, said more and more single parents were reaching out to the charity for advice and support when facing eviction and homelessness.
"The vast majority of single parents are working. But with a perfect storm of rising living costs, stagnating wages and changes to the benefit system eroding an essential safety net for families, single parents are hard hit and struggling to keep a roof above their children's heads."
78,930 households were in temporary accommodation, up 64% since the start of the decade. The figure was also 4% higher than last year, when there were 75,740.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: "Temporary accommodation is often cramped, unsuitable and sometimes even dangerous. It can have a devastating impact on people's lives and mental health, and it's no place for anyone to call home."

War and Hunger

"Wars and conflicts are driving hunger in a way we've never seen before," says David Beasley, head of World Food Program. Beasley explained that the number of hungry people across the globe is rapidly growing because "people won't stop shooting at each other."

 Largely due to armed conflicts, there has been "a staggering and stomach-churning 55 percent increase" in the number of acutely hungry people worldwide over the past two years. While conflict "is the primary reason for most of the world's cases of acute food insecurity," an agency statement noted that "climate disasters—mainly drought—were also major triggers of food crises in 23 countries, two-thirds of them in Africa." An estimated 39 million people experienced acute food insecurity because of the global climate crisis.

The number of acutely hungry people—meaning they could soon die without food—rose to 124 million. Beasley pointed out that 60 percent of the 815 million chronically hungry people—those who do not know where they will get their next meal—live in areas experiencing armed conflicts
"Conflict leads to food insecurity. And food insecurity can also stoke instability and tension which trigger violence," he explained. "The link between hunger and conflict is as strong as it is destructive...In the five core countries of the Sahel—Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania—acute malnutrition has risen 30 percent in the past five years."

 WFP's Global Report on Food Crises found that "conflict continued to be the main driver of acute food insecurity in 18 countries—15 of them in Africa or the Middle East."

"The consequences of conflict and climate change are stark: millions of more people severely, even desperately, hungry. The fighting must stop now and the world must come together to avert these crises often happening right in front of our eyes," Beasley said.

Australia can accept immigrants

The University of Technology Sydney professor Jock Collins has studied Australia’s migration trends for four decades. 

He told the Guardian that 28% of Australia’s population was born overseas; of OECD nations only Luxembourg and Switzerland have higher proportions. 

Previously, Collins argues, debates about migration have been closely linked to economic downturns. Recessions in the early 80s, and then again in the start of the 90s, sparked widespread questioning of the size and nature of Australia’s immigration program.

“Now, economically, we are in this long-running boom, the argument is more about the social and environmental impact, instead of ‘they’re taking our jobs’, it’s about congestion and overcrowding, infrastructure and housing prices,” he says. "... I think the thing about the current debate, it becomes disturbing when you attack a particular ethnic group – ‘Chinese immigrants are destroying the housing market’, or talk about so-called ‘African gangs’."

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on earth, and the vast majority of immigrants settle in cities, overwhelming Melbourne and Sydney.
“But one thing I’ve found that’s interesting: there is a massive appetite in the bush for refugees and also for migration more broadly. I studied attitudes towards new immigrants to rural and regional, expecting to see some evidence of, to put it crudely, ‘redneck Australia’. But I found the opposite, the warmth of the welcome was overwhelming, towards both permanent migrants and humanitarian entrants.
“I think this can be a ‘win-win’ situation if it is well managed. Australia can maintain its large migration levels, even increase its humanitarian program, but you can diffuse the urban congestion and address the house price issue, as well as addressing population decline and economic stagnation in rural and regional areas.”

Quote of the Day - the Banksters

“The banking royal commission has presented evidence of: fraud, bribery, failure to verify customer income, not assessing expenses, false documentation, failure of internal controls, failure to report misconduct to Asic [Australian Securities and Investments Commission], and systemic problems.”

Friday, March 23, 2018

Wealth of the Church

In 2016, the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany collected a record-breaking €6.1 billion ($7.5 billion) and €5.5 billion ($6.8 billion) in church tax, respectively.
The right for churches to collect a de-facto membership fee in the form of a tax dates back to 1919, when the Weimar Republic introduced the measure to counter the financial aftermath of the separation of church and state.
The rate is currently set at 9 percent of one's income for members above a minimum income threshold. The money helps keep parishes, church employees, daycares and other properties afloat.
And as the Finance Ministry handles the tax for them — neither church has the necessary infrastructure for such a massive undertaking — it also receives a neat 3 percent of the total, which added up to €348 million in 2016.
The two churches own at least 830,000 hectares  (8,300 square kilometers or 3,200 square miles) of land, according to an estimation by church critic Carsten Frerk, whose number is often cited by German media. 
The churches themselves have disclosed tens of thousands of buildings that they each hold in addition to at least 14,100 Protestant and 10,800 Catholic churches. When examining buildings related to the churches' roles in healthcare, education and charitable work, the Catholic Church has at least 66,000 additional holdings and the Protestant Church a further 50,000. They also lease an undisclosed number of properties to home owners and businesses nationwide.
Moreover, they receive state funds to compensate for property losses dating back to the early 1800s when Napoleon upended the Holy Roman Empire. According to broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, this amounted to nearly €500 million in 2017 and comes from tax payers whether they belong to a church or not.

Extinctions looming

The actions of mankind could lead to the extinction of half of African birds and mammals by the end of 2100, a UN-backed study conducted by 550 experts from around the world has said. The reports found a significant lack of progress on various UN biodiversity plans, including the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its biodiversity targets, which were agreed by parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity at their meeting in Aichi, Japan in 2010.  

"If we continue the way we are ... the sixth mass extinction, the first one ever caused by humans, will continue," the summit's chair Robert  Watson said.

It also found 42% of land-based animal and plant species in Europe and Central Asia have declined in the last decade.

Among the list of the biggest threats to food and water security were pollution, climate change, and deforestation.

In Africa, 500,000 square km of land is already estimated to have been degraded by overexploitation of natural resources, erosion, salinization and pollution.

 In the European Union, only 7 percent of marine species and 9 percent of marine habitat types show a ‘favourable conservation status’. 66 percent of habitat types' assessments show an ‘unfavourable conservation status’, with the others categorised as 'unknown'.

In the Americas, species are about 31 percent smaller than was the case at the time of European settlement. With the growing effects of climate change added to the other drivers, this loss is projected to reach 40 percent by 2050.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


More than 800 million people need to travel and queue for at least 30 minutes to access safe supplies of water. Collecting water raises the risks of disease. Children are often the victims, with close to 289,000 dying each year from diarrhoeal illnesses related to poor sanitation.

Eritrea, only 19% of the population have basic access to water. It is followed by Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, all of which have rates of between 37% and 40%. 

In Niger, only 41% of the poorest people have access to water, while 72% of its wealthiest do. In neighbouring Mali, 45% of the poor have access to water, compared to 93% of the rich.

“Inequality in access to water is growing primarily as a result of a lack of political will,” said Lisa Schechtman, the director of policy and advocacy for WaterAid.

Jonathan Farr, WaterAid’s senior policy analyst said, “Those marginalised by age, gender, class, caste or disability, or living in a slum or remote rural community, are hardest to reach and will continue to suffer as long as governments do not prioritise and fund access to water for all, and while disproportionate use of water by industry and agriculture continues.”

The UN earlier this week forecast that 5 billion people could face shortages for at least one month a year by 2050.

Climate Change is hurting

The past three years have been the hottest on record, the United Nations said, contributing to climate-related disasters such as Arctic warmth and water shortages in South Africa. Floods affected farmers in Asian countries in particuar, with heavy rains in May 2017 causing extreme flooding and landslides in south-western areas of Sri Lanka. The impact of floods on crop production further hurt food security conditions in the country

"The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off — with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods,"  said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas"Australia and Argentina suffered extreme heatwaves, whilst drought continued in Kenya and Somalia, and the South African city of Cape Town struggled with acute water shortages," he continued. Over the past quarter of a century, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased from 360 parts per million to more than 400 parts per million, the report found. "They will remain above that level for generations to come, committing our planet to a warmer future, with more weather, climate and water extremes," Taalas said.

Global sea surface temperatures in 2017 were the third warmest on record, contributing to the melting of the polar ice sheets, mostly in Greenland and to a lesser extent Antarctica, and significant coral bleaching in Australia's Great Barrier Reef

The North Atlantic hurricane season, major monsoon floods in India and severe drought in parts of east Africa made 2017 the most expensive year yet for severe weather and climate events. "Fuelled by warm sea-surface temperatures, the North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States, and eradicated decades of development gains in small islands in the Caribbean such as Dominica," Taalas wrote. Reinsurer Munich Re assessed the total disaster losses from weather and climate-related events in 2017 to be $320 billion (€260 billion), the largest annual total on record. 

The overall risk of heat-related illness or death has been increasing steadily since 1980, with about 30 pecent of people now living in conditions that deliver potentially deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year, according to the World Health Organization.

Climate change hits vulnerable nations particularly hard, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which said that an increase of 1 degree Celsius in temperature would significantly slash economic growth rates in many low-income countries. In 2016, weather-related disasters displaced 23.5 million people. In Somalia alone, drought and food insecurity saw 892 000 displacements from November 2016 to December 2017, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Autocracies are on the rise

 According to a new study by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation democracy is "under pressure" and that repression and polarization within societies are on the rise.

"More and more people are living not only in less equal, but also in more repressive environments," the foundation says.

According to the foundation, some 3.3 billion people in the world currently live in autocratic regimes, with 4.2 billion living in democracies. In 2003, only 2.3 billion lived in non-democratic countries. Also, the number of autocracies among the 129 nations probed in the report rose from 55 two years ago to 58 today. Conflicts between various social groups have been on the rise "clearly and continuously" in recent years, according to the report. However, many governments are no longer offering solutions for the growing tensions in their respective societies. Regimes in an increasing number of countries are undercutting institutions meant to provide checks and balances on their power, the researchers say.

However, "it is by no means just autocrats who have been tightening the screw of repression." "Governments in democracies have also increasingly been trying to govern with a hard hand," the report said.

 "Many rulers are trying to cement their leadership by repressive measures," said the head of the Bertelsmann Foundation Aart de Geus.  

Rulers in "defective democracies" such as Turkey and Hungary often pledge to fight corruption during election campaigns, but eventually fail to implement policies. "Leaving aside the lip service, most autocrats think little of fighting corruption and abuse of power, and instead secure essential support by giving away official posts or public contracts," the report says. "The large majority of autocracies are not efficient or professional systems; they are generally characterized by corruption, kleptocracy, and arbitrary decisions," the researchers added.

"Eliminating the threat"

US border agent Lonnie Swartz is accused of shooting dead a stone-throwing teenager on the Mexican side of the border. Swartz's attorney, said his client "did what he had to do,"  in response to a barrage of rocks that were being thrown from the Mexican side of the border. One allegedly rock hit a US police dog, while another reportedly hit the foot of a US Border Patrol agent. The defense attorney said his client's use of deadly force was lawful claiming that agents are not required to seek cover or retreat when under attack. Chapman told the court that the agents are trained to "eliminate the threat."

Border agent Lonnie Swartz "calmly and deliberately" walked up to the border fence and fired 16 rounds in little more than 30 seconds on October 10, 2012. Swartz shot 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, hitting him 10 times — eight shots from behind and twice in the head. Swartz needed to reload his pistol to fire all 16 rounds. Swartz, who was charged in 2015 and pleaded not guilty.

Assistant US Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said, Swartz "became the judge, the jury and the executioner" when he emptied his cartridge into Elena Rodriguez. " and she added  that Swartz "cannot use his badge as a shield against a murder charge," she added.

Sleepless Nights

Johann Rupert, the multi-billionaire owner of luxury jewellery company Cartier, speaking at the Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit in Monaco, told his fellow elite that he can’t sleep at the thought of the social upheaval he thinks is imminent.

According to Bloomberg, Johann Rupert told the conference to bear in mind that when the poor rise up, the middle classes won’t want to buy luxury goods for fear of exposing their wealth.

He said he had been reading about changes in labour technology, as well as recent Oxfam figures suggesting the top 1 per cent of the global population now owns more wealth than the other 99 per cent.

 Johann Rupert told the conference to bear in mind that when the poor rise up, the middle classes won’t want to buy luxury goods for fear of exposing their wealth.

South African Rupert has amassed a fortune of around $7.5 billion from brands including Cartier, Chloe and Vacheron Constantin.

Ahed Tamimi Jailed

Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager who was filmed slapping Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank will serve eight months in prison as part of a plea deal reached with Israeli military prosecutors.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett suggested at the time that the women involved "should finish their lives in prison."

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin's Likud party, even suggested the Tamimi family "may not be a real family" and accused them of conducting propaganda against Israel by dressing children up in Western clothes 

"There is no justice under occupation and this is an illegitimate court," Tamimi told reporters at the military court. Tamimi's case drew international attention to Israel's military court system used to try Palestinians in the West Bank, while Jewish settlers in the West Bank face Israeli civilian courts. Each year hundreds of Palestinian youths are rounded up, interrogated and held in military detention. Conviction rates are near 100 percent after many reach plea deals.

"Plea bargains are the norm in Israel's military justice system, which is characterized by prolonged pretrial detention, abuse of kids and sham trials. Hundreds of Palestinian children remained locked up with little attention to their cases," said Sarah Leah Wilson, the executive director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch. 

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem said military courts "are not, nor can they ever be, neutral arbiters. They constitute one of the main apparatuses of the occupation Israel uses to oppress the Palestinian population and quell any sign of resistance to its continued control over the Occupied Territories."

The $ cost of the US wars

March marked the 15th anniversary of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

According to estimates by the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the war on terror has cost Americans a staggering $5.6 trillion since 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.
$5.6 trillion. 

This figure includes not just the Pentagon’s war fund, but also future obligations such as social services for an ever-growing number of post-9/11 veterans.

It’s hard for most of us to even begin to grasp such an enormous number.

It means Americans spend $32 million per hour, according to a counter by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Put another way: Since 2001, every American taxpayer has spent almost $24,000 on the wars — equal to the average down payment on a house, a new Honda Accord, or a year at a public university.

The cost and toll on human lives and the misery it has caused is perhaps incalculable.

Defend your pension

Getting rid of the triple-lock will reduce pension pots for the poorest and the young, say TUC, Age UK and Centre for Ageing Better. The triple lock guarantees that the basic state pension will rise annually by either a minimum of 2.5 percent, the rate of inflation, or average earnings growth – whichever one of the three is the largest. Before it was brought in, state pensions rose in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which was consistently lower than 2.5 percent.

The number of pensioners living in poverty in 2050 could be 700,000 higher if the triple lock for the state pension is scrapped, a new report has warned. The research – carried out by the Pensions Policy Institute – estimates that getting rid of the triple lock could lead to nearly 3.5 million older people facing poverty in 2050, compared to 2.8 million if it remains in place.

The report says that scrapping the triple lock would force low earners to put an extra £540 a year into their pension to avoid hardship in retirement. 

 Young people would bear the brunt of this change. Getting rid of the triple lock would double the amount a low-paid young worker needs to save to avoid poverty in old age. Women would also be hard hit. They currently account for nearly two-thirds of those in poverty over the age 65. The weekly retirement income of a low-paid woman would drop by 7 percent, on average, if the triple lock was abolished.

 Getting rid of the triple lock would reduce the income of a mid-earner pensioner by £1,000 (5 percent) a year. Reduce the income of the poorest pensioners by £800 (7 percent) a year. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The UK already has the least generous state pension in the developed world. Getting rid of the triple lock would increase pensioner poverty and hit the poorest hardest. Today’s report shows that scrapping the lock will hurt young and old alike. A race to the bottom on pensions helps no-one.”

Age UK’s Charity Director Caroline Abrahams said: “This very thorough analysis from the PPI shows just how important the triple lock will be in reducing pensioner poverty in the future, enabling low-income workers to save enough for a decent retirement income whilst helping to protect the income of those already retired. Many people are surprised to learn that the average state pension is only just over £7,000 per year – less than half the annual salary of a full time working adult on the minimum wage of £7.50 an hour. Yet millions of older people are heavily reliant on this relatively modest sum, a situation that is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Age UK’s Charity Director Caroline Abrahams said: “This very thorough analysis from the PPI shows just how important the triple lock will be in reducing pensioner poverty in the future, enabling low-income workers to save enough for a decent retirement income whilst helping to protect the income of those already retired.

“Many people are surprised to learn that the average state pension is only just over £7,000 per year – less than half the annual salary of a full time working adult on the minimum wage of £7.50 an hour. Yet millions of older people are heavily reliant on this relatively modest sum, a situation that is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Claire Turner, Director of Evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: "If you rely only on the state pension any reduction in your weekly income is going to hit hard. This report shows the importance of uprating pensions to ensure fewer people will live their lives in poverty now and in the future. It also serves as a wake-up call for anyone assuming the state pension will provide a comfortable income in retirement. Such people will find themselves much less well off than anticipated."

'Practical Ways for Spreading the Case for Socialism' (public meeting Brighton 25/3)

'Practical Ways for Spreading the Case for Socialism' 

Sunday, 25 March - 7:00pm - 9:00pm

Venue: The Victory Pub (upstairs), 6 Duke St, Brighton BN1 1AH
Directions: About ten minutes walk from Brighton rail station

Making a profit out of destitution and desperation

Those on the lowest incomes pay the most to borrow money even where they are borrowing for essentials. This is compared to those on higher incomes who can generally borrow at lower rates for luxuries like holidays and high-end consumer goods.

But those on the lowest incomes are much less likely to borrow on credit cards or get personal loans for new cars. Instead, they turn to alternative lenders such as payday lenders, rent-to-own and home collected or doorstep lenders. And often this is to pay for basic items such as school uniforms, nappies, white goods and sometimes even food, and to tide them over between jobs. Or when their wages are lower than expected due to zero hour contracts and casual work.

These alternative lenders typically charge far higher rates of interest than mainstream lenders. For example, in 2016 the charity Church Action on Poverty highlighted the cost of buying a fridge freezer from BrightHouse, a large weekly payment retailer with shops on many local high streets. The total cost was £1,326, which included the purchase price of £478.33, interest of £658.74 and various warranty and delivery charges. The exact same fridge freezer, bought through Fair For You, a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, would have cost a total of £583.68 (including the purchase price £373.99 and interest £120.38).

 200,000 people took out a rent-to-own product in 2016 and 400,000 had outstanding rent-to-own debt at the end of 2016. The home-collected credit market is larger, with 700,000 people taking out a home-collected credit loan in 2016 and 1.6 million people with outstanding debt on these products at the end of 2016. So it is clear that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people on low incomes are paying dearly for access to credit. 

Research also highlights that many people in the UK, both in and out of work, are on very low incomes which vary week to week. This makes it very difficult to make ends meet and is one of the main reasons why people turn to credit. It is therefore important to tackle these fundamental problems of poverty and precarity, as well as the issue of high-cost credit.

Sport and Politics

Boris Johnson  predicted Vladimir Putin will revel in the World Cup in Russia this summer in the same way that Adolf Hitler did in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.


Golden Payday

Tesla shareholders have approved a huge pay deal for its chief executive, Elon Musk, worth an estimated $2.6bn (£1.85bn). It is believed to be the biggest share-based pay deal in US corporate history.
Big shareholders had said they would back the proposal, but prominent advisory groups argued it was too generous.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Australian unions gear up for a fight

 Sally McManus, the Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary,  has called for a return to industry-level bargaining to help unions win pay rises and organise workers in industries such as childcare. She outlined the key demand of the Change the Rules campaign: “equal rights” for all workers including casuals, labour hire and gig economy workers.
McManus said the enterprise bargaining system is “so restrictive, excessively regulated and is smothering wage growth”.
The enterprise bargaining system in place since 1993 requires unions to bargain workplace by workplace for pay deals. Even Labor’s Fair Work Act does not allow protected industrial action for uniform conditions across an industry. McManus said workers needed to be able to bargain with the “real decision-makers” who set wages, including companies at the top of supply chains and governments who control funding for community services.
Workers needed “much more freedom to bargain”, she said, including a system that allows negotiation “across a sector or industry should they choose to do so”.
She argued in some industries, such as childcare, it was not practical to bargain for separate pay deals. “The only way for those workers to have the power they need is to band together beyond a small childcare centre.”
McManus also said bargaining should occur “without restrictions” such as bans on clauses that protect jobs by preventing contracting-out or requiring companies to hire apprentices.
She said the union movement was independent and would “campaign for what we think is right and do so regardless of who’s in government”. Asked if unions should consider breaking industrial laws to win pay rises, McManus did not rule it out. She said the ACTU would focus on changing the law but she believed that “working people have a right to withdraw their labour as a last resort”.
McManus suggested bargaining changes would help unions recruit members, blaming declining density on rules governing their access to workplaces and employers who sought to exclude unions or refuse to strike union collective agreements. McManus called for gig economy and labour hire workers to get the same minimum conditions as employees, including access to unfair dismissal and collective bargaining, and a right for casuals to convert to permanent employment.

Childrens well-being

Healthy children develop in remarkably similar ways, no matter where they live, according to a study that confounds prevailing beliefs on childhood development.

The report, which studied thousands of healthy children, said: “Our study advances the understanding of early childhood development by showing that many milestones in numerous domains are similarly attained across sexes and countries. We found that the attainment of almost all milestones is similar in the first year when environmental and cultural influences might have the smallest effect.”

“With irrefutable evidence that children in low- and middle-income countries can be expected to develop optimally as long as basic needs for nutrition, safety and stimulation are met, policy makers and political leaders can now turn their attention to making it happen.”

We suspect that it will be another case of politicians ignoring the science

Religious Decline

Religion was “moribund”, Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.” According to Bullivant, many young Europeans “will have been baptised and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. It just washes straight off them.” He continued, “The new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide. In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed” he said.
The survey of 16- to 29-year-olds found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, with 91% of that age group saying they have no religious affiliation. Between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.
The most religious country is Poland, where 17% of young adults define themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.
In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, fewer than the 10% who categorise themselves as Catholic. Young Muslims, at 6%, are on the brink of overtaking those who consider themselves part of the country’s established church. The figures for the UK were partly explained by high immigration, he added. “One in five Catholics in the UK were not born in the UK. “And we know the Muslim birthrate is higher than the general population, and they have much higher religious retention rates.”
In Ireland, there has been a significant decline in religiosity over the past 30 years, “but compared to anywhere else in western Europe, it still looks pretty religious”, Bullivant said.
In the Czech Republic, 70% said they never went to church or any other place of worship, and 80% said they never pray. In the UK, France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, between 56% and 60% said they never go to church, and between 63% and 66% said they never pray.
Among those identifying as Catholic, there was wide variation in levels of commitment. More than 80% of young Poles say they are Catholic, with about half going to mass at least once a week. In Lithuania, where 70% of young adults say they are Catholic, only 5% go to mass weekly.

Mega-city Dhaka

According to UN Habitat, Dhaka is the world’s most crowded city. With more than 44,500 people sharing each square kilometre of space, and more migrating in from rural areas every day, the capital is literally bursting at the seams. The economic opportunities conferred by globalisation, as well as climate-induced disasters in rural and coastal areas, have driven millions to seek better fortune in the capital, putting a strain on resources.

Overpopulation is usually defined as the state of having more people in one place that can live there comfortably, or more than the resources available can cater for. By that measure, Dhaka is a textbook example.

“There are cities bigger in size than Dhaka in the world,” says Prof Nurun Nabi, project director at the department of population sciences at the University of Dhaka . “But if you talk in terms of the characteristics and nature of the city, Dhaka is the fastest growing megacity in the world, in terms of population size...We can see a huge avalanche coming towards the city from the rural areas,” says Nabi. “People are pouring, pouring, pouring in. Do we have the housing infrastructure to accommodate them? Where are the facilities for poor people to live?”

Cities can be densely populated without being overpopulated. Singapore, a small island, has a high population density – about 10,200 per sq km – but few people would call it overpopulated. The city has grown upwards to accommodate its residents in high-rises, some with rooftop “sky-gardens” and running tracks.

Overpopulation happens when a city grows faster than it can be managed. To live in Dhaka is to suffer, to varying degrees. The poor are crammed into sprawling shantytowns, where communicable diseases fester and fires sporadically raze homes. Slum-dwellers make up around 40% of the population. The middle and upper classes spend much of their time stuck in interminable traffic jams. The capital regularly tops “least liveable cities” rankings. This year it sat behind Lagos, Nigeria, and the capitals of war-ravaged Libya and Syria.

Dense urban populations,  Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser writes, bring benefits such as social and creative movements as well as scourges like disease and congestion. “Almost all of these problems can be solved by competent governments with enough money,” he writes. In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar successfully fought traffic by introducing a daytime ban on the driving of carts in the city. Baghdad and Kaifeng, China, meanwhile, were renowned for their waterworks. “These places didn’t have wealth, but they did have a competent public sector,” writes Glaeser.

In Dhaka, management of the city falls to a chaotic mix of competing bodies. “The lack of coordination between government agencies that provide services is one of the major obstacles,” says Nabi.

Cheating Claimants

"Tens of thousands of people, most of whom have severely limiting disabilities and illnesses, have been underpaid by thousands of pounds each, while the department for several years failed to get a proper grip on the problem, "said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office. "The department has now committed to fixing this error by April 2019, but not everyone will be repaid all the money they have missed out on."
The National Audit Office said the mistakes began as far back as 2011, that officials became aware of them in 2013 but only started properly to address the issue last year. The DWP says a court judgment means it has to backdate payments only until October 2014, a decision the National Audit Office says will mean up to £150m will not have to be reimbursed.
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, hit out at the "shoddy administration" at the Department for Work and Pensions which left vulnerable people out of pocket.
"The NAO's report shows the Department for Work and Pensions was unacceptably slow to act on early signs something was wrong," she said.
Daphne Hall, who advises claimants on their welfare rights, said the DWP had clearly failed to follow its own guidance.
"As a result some of the most severely disabled people have lost out on thousands of pounds that they will never get back," she told the BBC.
We wonder if this tardiness by the State would have occurred if over-payment had been the case or if fraud by claimants was involved