Malaysia, Thailand shocked by the typical

Reports of the terrible conditions of human trafficking camps are coming out now:

Malaysian authorities said Monday a cluster of abandoned jungle camps used by human traffickers contained 139 suspected graves as well as barbed-wire pens probably used to cage migrants, shedding more light on a regional trade that preyed on some of Southeast Asia’s most desperate people.

National police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar said forensics experts were exhuming the suspected graves found at 28 vacated camps in the hilly jungle area on the border with Thailand where trafficking syndicates were known to operate.

‘‘It is a very sad scene,’’ Khalid said at a police outpost in the town of Wang Kelian several miles from the camps, one of which appeared large enough to hold about 300 people. ‘‘I am shocked. We never expected this kind of cruelty.’’

And here’s news from Thailand with one of the earlier discovery of these camps:

Police General Aek Angsananont, deputy commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police, told reporters authorities had known about the camp’s existence for a while.

“We heard news about this camp and tried to find it many times but because it was deep jungle, it was very difficult,” he said. He said police believed the deaths were due to “a disagreement within the human trafficking trade.”

Given that this has been going on for years which is why both Thailand and Malaysia were put into Tier 3 (the worst) in the trafficking report by the US State Department,  you should imagine both of these countries reactions like this:

Of course this is not to excuse Myanmar (or Burma)who have treated the Rohingya so badly:

The dramatic surge in boat people leaving western Burma and Bangladesh has its roots in decades of repression and denial of rights to the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority. In 1978, the Burmese army staged a military operation that drove over 250,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh, who forcibly returned many of them soon afterward.

The Rohingya have been denied full citizenship rights because the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law made it almost impossible for Rohingya to prove their claims to citizenship. In 1991, Burmese security forces again violently expelled hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh. In 1995, Bangladesh forcibly returned many Rohingya to Burma, where they have lived predominantly in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships along the border, under restrictive conditions that severely curtail their freedom of movement, ability to seek work, and access to basic social services, and curbs on the right to religion. The Burma government has refused to accept the term “Rohingya” and refers to them as “illegal Bengalis.”

In Bangladesh, there are approximately 30,000 recognized Rohingya refugees in UNHCR-run camps who arrived in Bangladesh before 1993. Since that time, Rohingya have not had any opportunity to lodge claims in Bangladesh for refugee status regardless of their need for international protection. Consequently, another estimated 30,000 who are not recognized refugees live in makeshift sites around these camps near Teknaf in Cox’s Bazaar, and another 250,000 to 300,000 undocumented Rohingya live around the area. Those outside the UNHCR-run camp often face abuse and discrimination from local Bangladesh officials and communities.

It has set up this disaster.


Ireland votes for gay marriage

A referendum to legalize same-sex marriage easily passed in Ireland:

Friday’s referendum saw 62.1 percent of Irish voters saying ‘‘yes’’ to changing the nation’s constitution to allow gay marriage. Outside Dublin Castle, watching the results announcement in the castle’s cobblestoned courtyard, thousands of gay rights activists cheered, hugged and cried at the news.

Ireland is the first country to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries have legalized the practice.

In the US, 60% now support same-sex marriage:

Support for the legality of gay marriages in the U.S. has been a fast-changing trend. Just two decades ago, only 27% of Americans backed gay marriage, while 68% opposed. By 2005, the percentage in favor had increased by 10 points to 37%, and by 2010 it had reached 44%.

The breakdown is: 76% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 37% of Republicans support same-sex marriage–even Republicans are moving quickly, as recently as 2008 only 17% were in support.

This is now mostly settled in much of the Western world and the trend is quickly going in the right direction.

Globalization and inequality

This article actually states some of the obvious problems with ‘Free Trade':

Globalization’s costs have been greater and more enduring than they expected, and government efforts to mitigate the effect on US workers have often proved insufficient.

“I think what we’ve learned is that US labor markets aren’t as flexible and self-correcting as I think we had presumed,” said Gordon Hanson, an economist at the University of California San Diego. “The uneasiness I have about the way we’ve handled globalization is not so much globalization itself. It’s that if you don’t have the right safety net, you’re going to impose an enormous amount of hardship.”

There is also mounting evidence the benefits of globalization have accrued disproportionately to upper-income households, while the costs have fallen heavily on the less affluent, contributing to the rise of economic inequality.

I know that’s hard to believe.

A 2005 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research group that is a strong proponent of trade deals, estimated that embracing trade had added 7.3 percent to America’s economic output — or about $10,000 in annual income for every household in the United States.

But the benefits are not distributed evenly. Trade increases overall prosperity by eliminating less-productive jobs.

In theory, the workers find new jobs. In practice, studies by Hanson and other economists show that in cities like Galesburg, global competition is increasing unemployment and reducing wages.

Josh Bivens, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, estimates that increased globalization, aided by a strong dollar that led to a persistent trade deficit, reduced the annual earnings of the roughly 70 percent of US workers without college degrees by about $1,800.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, said the magnitude of these losses was large enough that increased trade may now be harming the US economy.

“The argument was always that the winners could compensate the losers,” Stiglitz said. “But the winners never do. And that becomes particularly relevant when we have a society with as much inequality as we have today.”

The two numbers ($10,000 in annual income  and without college degrees by about $1,800) seem a bit contradictory until you notice that one is talking about the mean and the other is breaking down the numbers–the rich get much richer and the rest get a bit poorer.

Ah well, those at the bottom just need to be smarter–everyone knows that education is key in the new economy, so they need to make sure to do well and go to college. Oh wait:

The slow death of in-state tuition is a case where declining public investment and selfish institutional interests tend to coincide. National public universities are cutting in-state enrollment in part to make up for state budget cuts. But they also have a strong desire to become more like elite private universities — Stanford, Duke, the Ivy League — that have the freedom to enroll the best and the brightest from around the world and charge whatever prices the market will bear. Budget cuts give them an excuse to become what they wanted to be all along.

This comes from this report which states:

But over the last 20 years, state disinvestment and institutional status-seeking have worked together, hand in hand, to encourage public colleges and universities to adopt the enrollment tactics of their private-college counterparts. For many of these schools, that has meant using their institutional aid dollars strategically in order to lure affluent out-of-state students to their campuses in order to climb up the rankings and increase their revenue. As a result, fewer institutional aid dollars are available to in-state students who come from less privileged backgrounds.

If you go to the charts on page 4 you see that in 1996 34% of institutional aid went to students whose parents were in the lowest income quartile and 16% to students whose parents were in the upper quartile. By 2012 25% of institutional aid went to students whose parents were in the lowest income quartile and 23% to students whose parents were in the upper quartile. And it’s easy to see why universities are doing this:

According to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average state is spending 23 percent less per student on higher education than before the recession. Between 2008 and 2014, 37 states cut funding by 20 percent or more. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reported that public colleges now receive a greater share of their revenue from the tuition students and families pay than from state funding.

They give a couple of extreme examples, such as:

The University of South Carolina, for example, has become extremely aggressive in using non-need-based aid to attract out-of-state students. Since 2000, the share of nonresident freshmen at USC has grown by 23 percentage points to 45 percent.

Scott Verzyl, associate vice president for enrollment management, says that USC has looked to the out-of-state market out of necessity. Since the economic recession hit in 2007, the state has cut its annual appropriation to the university by 50 percent. Now, the state covers only about 10 percent of the school’s funding each year.

Thus even public education is starting to feed into the growing inequality. That’s where Bernie Sanders comes in:

On Tuesday, Sanders will hold a press conference in the nation’s capital at which he will introduce a plan to use a so-called Robin Hood tax on stock transactions to fund tuition at four-year public colleges and universities.

Sanders’ bill sets a 50-cent tax on every “$100 of stock trades on stock sales, and lesser amounts on transactions involving bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments,” the group Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street said Monday in a press release.

A selfie of the Earth and Saturn

It’s time for some more pictures. First, you can never go wrong with Saturn (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute):


And here’s a nice picture taken over the Grand Canyon, sorry about my thumb (Credit: NASA astronaut Terry Virts):


Workers in the US

The Boston Globe has an article about wage theft in the construction industry:

For more than three years, workers doing asbestos removal and demolition jobs for several Woburn companies were paid in cash, resulting in more than $700,000 in unreported wages, federal prosecutors charged in an indictment last week.

Meanwhile, construction workers around the state — particularly immigrants hired by subcontractors — say they sometimes go for weeks without pay. When they do get paid, it can be less than promised, and overtime pay is virtually nonexistent.

Many of them are hired as independent contractors, without the job protections or tax deductions of a traditional employment relationship.

The practice, known as wage theft, “has reached epidemic levels” in Massachusetts, namely in the booming residential construction industry, according to research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

This comes on the heels of yesterday’s article about performers in Faneuil Hall being asked to pay to perform and last week’s NY Times article about nail salons (and it’s also very unhealthy):

Once an indulgence reserved for special occasions, manicures have become a grooming staple for women across the economic spectrum. There are now more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012.

But largely overlooked is the rampant exploitation of those who toil in the industry. The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.

And on Mother’s Day, there’s the great rant by John Oliver on the lack of paid leave for mothers:

Of course, a lot of workers don’t get paid vacation time either and wage theft is systemic across a wide swath of the US economy. It must be the fault of union thugs.

Pay to play

Let’s see what’s happening in Faneuil Hall:

Starting next month, street performers at Faneuil Hall will have to do more than perform — they will also have to pay for the privilege of entertaining the crowd.
In a move that has outraged the popular musicians, acrobats, and other entertainers, Faneuil Hall Marketplace management wants performers to pay fees that run as high as $2,500 annually, saying the charges are needed to offset administration, promotion, and security costs.

Performers learned about the new fees last month, just a week before summer auditions were scheduled to begin. Angry over the late notice, they boycotted the auditions, causing them to be canceled.

Most places pay performers, but when you’re a billion dollar company like Ashkenazy you expect everyone to pay you. And it’s not like the entertainers are a major part of the attraction, oh wait.

Scanning for life

This is pretty impressive:

Four men trapped under as much as 10 feet of bricks, mud and other debris have been rescued in Nepal thanks to a new search-and-rescue technology developed in partnership by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The device called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) uses microwave-radar technology to detect heartbeats of victims trapped in wreckage.

By the way, it’s still a good time to donate to help in Nepal.

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