Number 574 April 7, 2015

This Week: Tidbits from the News

"Quote" of the Week: "Avoiding Potential Criticism"
The Beijing Declaration Turns 20
"The Gap Widens Between Washington and Allies"
Inequality and Perplexing Miracles


This is a short editor's note, due to space limitations in the paper edition. I'll have more to say in #575, I imagine.

Be well,



"Quote" of the Week: "Avoiding Potential Criticism"

A very revealing comment appeared in a March 20th New York Times article headlined, "More U.S. Troops Seen Staying in Afghanistan." Later on this decision was to be announced publicly, but this article was based largely on the anonymous "officials" so beloved by the Times.

The comment that I found remarkable enough to make my "Quote" of the Week was this one:

"Some of the American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified deliberations over troop strength, said there might not be a public announcement on troop numbers to avoid potential criticism that Mr. Obama is backing away from his pledge to end the war in Afghanistan before he leaves office."

If we've really gotten to the point where our political leadership can "avoid potential criticism" simply because they fail to alert the media as to what they are doing, then journalism must surely dead. I'm just surprised that the New York Times is so willing to admit it.


The Beijing Declaration Turns 20

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented a report to the General Assembly on the global status of women on March 9. The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. That document, produced at the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995, is thought by some to be "the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women's rights." Those words are from the group that was created by the UN General Assembly to promote the goals in the document: UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

In countries outside of the U.S. this major report received wide coverage. Here in the U.S., the only major newspaper to cover it at all was the New York Times, and the Times relegated what should have been a front-page story to page four of that day's edition.

The Times story chose to focus on the issue of violence against women: "U.N. Reveals 'Alarmingly High' Levels of Violence Against Women" was the headline. That's certainly a major issue, as the Times report reveals: "Despite the gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against women and girls worldwide 'persists at alarmingly high levels.'" According to the report, the Times added, "About 35 percent of women worldwide—more than one in three—said they had experienced physical violence in their lifetime [and] one in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex."

This startling reality certainly merited the front page all by itself, but the report offered much more than that, focusing on what they call "areas of concern" such as: Women and poverty; Education and training of women; Women and health; Women and armed conflict; Women and the economy; Women in power and decision-making; Human rights of women; Women and the media; Women and the environment; and "The girl child."

"Key Messages" About the Status of Women Worldwide

For each Area of Concern the UN report included a number of "Key Messages." Since they remain largely unreported in this country, I'll summarize just a few of them here.

Poverty: "There is evidence that women are more likely than men to live in poverty... The lack of data on women's poverty continues to be a major challenge. More and better data is needed to facilitate multidimensional and gender responsive assessments of poverty."

Education: "There has been significant progress towards closing the gender gaps in primary enrolment; however there is great variation in progress in achieving gender parity in secondary education across regions."

Health: "Women's life expectancy has increased globally over the last 20 years from 67 to 73 years between 1990 and 2012. [However,] Globally, in 2013, there were an estimated 289,000 maternal deaths... Maternal deaths, which are largely preventable, are linked to the low status of women and to inadequate health-care services..."

Armed Conflict: "Women's full and equal participation in all matters related to peace and security is vital to achieving and sustaining peace, however women remain under-represented in the structures of the security sector, particularly in decision-making and leadership positions."

Economy: "Due to pervasive occupational segregation, women are overrepresented in low paid jobs, have less access to social protection, and are paid on average less than men for work of equal value. Women's employment outcomes are further limited by the disproportionate share of unpaid care work that they perform."

Power and Decision-making: "Despite the steady increase in women's political representation and participation in parliaments, women remain significantly under-represented at the highest levels of political participation as well as across the public and private sectors. The persistence of discrimination, gender bias, and the threat of violence, harassment and intimidation in political institutions contribute to the low levels of women's political participation."

Human Rights: "Despite progress in reforming laws, discrimination against women in the law remains pervasive in several areas, particularly in the area of family law. Accelerating progress will require the universal ratification and full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); removal of remaining discrimination in the law and strengthened efforts to ensure that women enjoy their rights in practice, including by ensuring women are empowered to claim their rights."

(It's interesting to note that there are only eight states that have not ratified CEDAW: The United States is one of them. The others are Iran, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga, and the Catholic Church (the Holy See is a sort-of "state" in the UN system.)

Media: "Women's participation, access and representation in media and ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) has improved, however data for monitoring global and regional trends in gender dimensions of media remains limited. The existing gaps in policies and regulations that govern media and ICTs as well as the persistence of negative and stereotypical portrayals of women and girls in the media, continues to pose a significant risk for women and girls to new and emerging forms of online threats and abuse."

Environment: "Women's dependence on and unequal access to land, water and other resources and productive assets, compounded by limited mobility and decision-making power in many contexts, also mean that they are disproportionately affected by climate change."

The Girl Child: "While there has been progress to realize girls' rights, efforts are often fragmented and inconsistent and fail to recognize girl's specific experiences across policy areas."

There's much more worth knowing in the report. A 60-page summary—The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Turns 20—or the full document which it summarizes, can be viewed online HERE.


"The Gap Widens Between Washington and Allies"

Back in January (NN #569), I said that "the U.S. is seeing its unquestioned economic dominance begin to falter," adding, "The current system of international financial institutions, which was set up after World War II and which has been dominated by the United States (the pillars of which are the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) has performed so poorly that new international financial institutions are popping up right and left."

One of the banks that I mentioned was popping up is a China-led challenge to the World Bank known as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Voice of America reported on March 25th that "The AIIB has been seen as a significant and possibly historic setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence in the Asia Pacific region to balance China's growing financial clout and assertiveness."

The World Socialist Website reported last week that "The AIIB is viewed as a threat to US interests in two major aspects. Firstly, it undermines the economic control that the US and its ally, Japan, exert through their domination of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank. Secondly, key infrastructure projects, such as roads, rail ports and airports, financed by Chinese capital, could enhance Beijing's military capacities in the region."

Avoiding—or at least countering—the rapid rise of China "is what President Obama's 'Pivot to Asia' is all about," according to the Australian newspaper The Age. And the same motivation is what's driving Washington's push for the secretive corporate governance plan known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

I noted back in January that "India will be the second largest bank shareholder [of the AIIB] though Kuwait, Qatar, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Nepal, Oman, and all the countries of the Association of Southeast Asia, except Indonesia are involved." I don't know that Washington is too concerned about the relatively weak countries on this list, but the U.S. definitely doesn't want its wealthy friends to team up with China, as the New York Times reported in October: "American officials have lobbied against the development bank with unexpected determination and engaged in a vigorous campaign to persuade important allies to shun the project." You know, "important allies" like Britain, for instance, or France, or Germany...

It was on March 12th that the news broke that Britain had applied to join the AIIB as a founding member. Then, five days later, Italy, France and Germany agreed to join, leading the London-based business news company Progressive Media to report that the "gap widens between Washington and allies." And, after they had promised the U.S. that they would stay out, both South Korea and Australia changed their minds and signed on to the AIIB in late March.

It would appear that the U.S.-dominated international financial structure is falling apart more rapidly than I think anyone expected. The media tends to portray the decay as evidence of the failure of President Obama's foreign policy, but don't be fooled. There is a mega-shift going on in the architecture of geopolitical power, and no U.S. president can stop it, no matter how skilled he or she may be at wielding diplomatic, economic, or military power. Keep that in mind as the endless campaign for U.S. president grinds on, and every candidate takes their turn assuring us that the U.S. is still the leader of the pack.


Inequality and Perplexing Miracles

On March 3rd the New York Times ran a story headlined "While India Is Booming, Mothers Go Hungry." The story reported that "A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the world's poorest countries." How can this be? wonders the Times. Indeed, "The poor health of children in India, even after decades of robust economic growth, is one of the world's most perplexing public health issues."

It's not that perplexing, as we can see if we skip ahead four weeks to a Times article of March 31st, headlined "How Income Inequality Can Be Bad for Your Health." That story reported that "New evidence suggests that living in a community with high income inequality also seems to be bad for your health."

The Times quoted Bridget Catlin, the co-director of a project called the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. That project conducted the inequality study for counties in the U.S., and found that "It's not just the level of income in a community that matters—it's also how income is distributed." There are lots of things that affect mortality rates, but the fact is that "for every increment that a community became more unequal, the proportion of residents dying before the age of 75 went up," according to the study. S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at Harvard, "who has studied the phenomenon," says that "Inequality effects, over and above average income, are pretty well established." And it's not just in U.S. counties, but "existing literature suggests there are relationships between income inequality and life expectancy among countries in the world."

India, for example. Despite "decades of robust economic growth," the March 3rd article reported that the "poor health of young Indian women" is "an important factor" in the high rates of infant mortality in that country. "The reasons for Indian mothers' relatively poor health are many," says the Times, "including a culture that discriminates against them. Sex differences in education, employment outside the home, and infant mortality are all greater in India than in Africa."

Shortly before these two stories appeared, The Atlantic Magazine ran a story called "The Miracle of Minneapolis," which came to the conclusion that Minneapolis is a "Miracle" because our overall economic indicators—median household income, college-graduation rate, poverty rate, affordable housing, young-adult employment rates, and so forth—are very good. The key word there is "overall." As it turns out, the "Miracle" only applies to white people. The disparities are so great, in fact, that a few years ago the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a story about Census data on Minnesota with the headline "A Great State to Live in—For Whites." (I reported on this back in July 2010, in NN #458.)

The existence of these appalling disparities is well-known. The day after The Atlantic tooted the Minneapolis horn the Washington Post published a blog entry entitled "If Minneapolis is so great, why is it so bad for African Americans?" That post reported that a recent study "analyzed the black-white gap in census indicators such as household income, homeownership and educational attainment. It ranked Minnesota as the worst state for financial inequality."

And local educator Mike Spangenberg said on his blog "Question the Premise" that "Minnesota was recently named the second-worst state in the country for Black people to live. [Editor's Note: We're better than Wisconsin!] Minnesota has the worst educational inequity for Latino students in the country; Minnesota ranks dead last in the country in graduating Native American students." The list could go on.

All of these three anecdotes—about poor women in India, about inequality and mortality, and about the Whites-Only Miracle of Minneapolis—illustrate a truth that people with privilege have a hard time grasping. And that truth is this: How much wealth a society has is far, far less important than what a society does with the wealth it has. Were journalists to keep this simple truth in mind, they would be much less likely to be "perplexed" if a country's growth fails to benefit its people. And we'd be less likely to read articles telling us that a city that is among the worst in the country in terms of racial disparities is a "miracle."