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Tens of thousands of people in Chile have taken part in demonstrations against the country's controversial privatized pension system.
Demonstrators called on the socialist government of Michelle Bachelet to scrap the the system, which is managed by private funds.
Critics say the system benefits the rich but leaves poorer Chileans with a pension below the minimum wage.
The system was introduced in 1981 under General Augusto Pinochet's rule.
Protest organizers said a total of more than 2 million people had joined marches in most Chilean cities, and that 800,000 people took part in Santiago alone.
Chilean police put the number of demonstrators in the capital at 50,000.
Chile's private pension system, known as AFP (Pension Fund Administrators), was once praised by pro-market politicians and economists across the world.
But critics say it benefits the administrators and the wealthy, but leaves poorer Chileans with a final pension of less than $400 a month.
In her first government, Ms Bachelet reformed AFP and reduced the commission private management companies are allowed to charge.
In Unprecedented Move, U.S. Fails to Show Up for Human Rights Hearing
WASHINGTON — In a surprise move, the U.S. government today refused to attend a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The human rights body, which is part of the Organization of American States, was scheduled this morning to question U.S. officials on the effects of several of President Trump’s executive orders, including orders on the Muslim ban, immigration enforcement and detention, and the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, is appearing before the commission this morning along with representatives of other advocacy organizations.
“Today’s no-show is a new low,” said Dakwar. “The Trump administration’s decision is an unprecedented show of disrespect to the international community that will alienate democratic allies. Refusing to engage with the commission is an isolationist policy that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them. This is another worrying sign that the Trump administration is not only launching an assault on human rights at home but is also trying to undermine international bodies charged with holding abusive governments accountable.”
This photo, taken today by the ACLU, shows the empty chairs where the U.S. representatives were to have sat during the hearing:
The commission, which was created in 1959, has played a historic role in fighting barbaric military dictatorships in the Americas and countering other human rights abuses.
This morning’s hearing goes from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. A second hearing from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will focus on policies that hamper access to asylum for migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly from Central America. A webcast is here: http://original.livestream.com/CIDH1ENG
ACLU’s written testimony is available here:
Ontario to give its citizens a universal basic income of $1,320
Gabriel SamuelsA Canadian province is to run a pilot project aimed at providing every citizen a minimum basic income of $1,320 (£773) a month.
The provincial government of Ontario confirmed it is holding public consultations on the $25m (£15m) project over the next two months, which could replace social assistance payments administered by the province for people aged 18 to 65.
People with disabilities will receive $500 (£292) more under the scheme, and individuals who earn less than $22,000 (£13,000) a year after tax will have their incomes topped up to reach that threshold.
The pilot report was submitted by Conservative ex-senator Hugh Segal, who suggested the project should be tested on three distinct sites: in the north, south and among the indigenous community of Ontario.
Areas with high levels of poverty and food insecurity should be chosen for the test project, Mr Segal recommended.
“It is in fact the precinct of rational people when looking to encourage work and community engagement and give people a floor beneath which they’re not allowed to fall,” he said.
“We can do this for seniors without having to add any more bureaucrats or civil servants, we respect their freedom to choose, we give them the money, they decide what’s important. Why would we treat other poor people differently?
Trade deal agreement signed between EU and Canada
“What Ontario is doing is saying let’s have a pilot project, let’s calculate the costs, let’s calculate the positive and the nudge effects behaviourally.”
Mr Segal confirmed that participation in the project, which is due to launch in spring 2017, will be voluntary and promised “no one would be financially worse off as a result of the pilot”.
One in five children live in poverty in Canada, according to Unicef, and a recent poll of some 1,500 Canadians found two-thirds of those polled were open to the idea of basic income.
A similar project was tested in Dauphin, Manitoba, between 1974 and 1979, with families below the poverty line receiving over $3,000 (£1,757) a month. Over 1,000 citizens were said to have benefited from the scheme.
Japan’s atomic power establishment is in shock following a court ruling that found the state and the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant liable for failing to take preventive measures against the tsunami that crippled the facility.
The reason for the shock is the ruling has wide-ranging implications for Japan’s entire nuclear power industry and the efforts to restart reactors throughout the country.
Judges in the Maebashi District Court in Gunma prefecture ruled that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the government were aware of the earthquake and tsunami risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant prior to the 2011 triple reactor meltdown, but failed to take preventative measures.
The decision was welcomed by the 137 Fukushima citizens who filed the lawsuit in 2014. What needs to be remembered is a further 28 civil and criminal lawsuits in 18 prefectures across Japan are pending. They involve more than 10,000 citizens and include a shareholder claim seeking compensation of 5.5 trillion yen (US$49 billion).
Tepco is already a de facto bankrupt, has been effectively nationalized and now faces the unprecedented challenges of how to remove three melted reactors at the Fukushima plant.
Six years after the disaster it still faces unanswered questions about the precise causes of the accident, questions that have generated public opposition to Tepco restarting reactors at another plant in Kashiwazki-kariwa in Niigata prefecture, on the opposite coastline to Fukushima.
In the court ruling, the judges found that science-based evidence of major risks to the nuclear plant was “foreseen” but ignored and not acted upon by Japan’s government and Tepco.
The evidence included a 2002 government assessment that concluded there was a 20% risk of a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan within 30 years. This includes the sea bed area off the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Further, the plaintiffs cited a 2008 internal Tepco report ‘Tsunami Measures Unavoidable’ which included the likelihood of a potential 15.7 meter tsunami hitting the Fukushima nuclear site.
The court ruled that if the government had used its regulatory powers to make Tepco take countermeasures, such as installing seawalls, against such an event, the nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
While the judges in Gunma prefecture have concluded that ignoring evidence of risk can have devastating consequences, that does not seem to be the approach of the nuclear utilities or the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).
Over the last four years, the NRA has demonstrated a tendency to ignore evidence of risks to nuclear plants that have made applications to restart reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster, and to bend to the demands of the nuclear power companies and the government.
A total of 26 reactors have applied for NRA review, of which seven have passed and four more will likely be approved this year.
In each case, the NRA has failed to apply a robust approach to assessing risks. It has chose to screen out seismic faults that threaten nuclear plants, failed to follow recommendations from international safety guidelines, and accepted selective evidence on volcanic risks.
In the case of the three forty-year old reactors at Takahama and Mihama, the NRA approved the reactors, while granting the utility an exemption from demonstrating that the reactors primary circuit can meet the 2013 post Fukushima revised safety guidelines, until a later date.
All of these safety issues have the potential when things go wrong, to lead to severe accidents, including reactor core meltdown.
The Gunma court judgement will play a significant role in challenging Japan’s current approach to nuclear safety regulation.
District courts have issued injunctions against reactor restarts in Fukui prefecture, and in a historic ruling in March 2016 a court in Shiga prefecture ordered the immediate shutdown of the Takahama 3 and 4 reactors.
An appeal court is scheduled to rule on the above in the coming weeks and while it is anticipated that the reactor owner Kansai Electric will likely win, the prospects of further legal action remains.
Next month, for example, the former deputy chair of the NRA, Kunihiko Shimazaki will testify in a lawsuit against the operation of the Ohi reactors owned by Kansai Electric in western Japan.
Shimazeki, emeritus professor of seismology at Tokyo University and the only seismologist to have been an NRA commissioner, has challenged the formulas used by the regulator in computing the scale of earthquakes, which he believes underestimates potential seismic impact by factor of 3.5.
Last July the NRA dismissed Professor Shimazeki’s evidence.
Six years after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, only 3 of Japan’s reactors are currently operating out of the 54 available in 2011.
For any business that runs the risk of its principal cash-generating asset being shut down at any point and for an extended period through legal challenges, the future does not look bright — unless you are granted approval to disregard the evidence.
The utilities are hemorrhaging money and therefore run the risk of following the same path as Tepco prior to 2011 in prioritizing cost savings over safety.
Such an approach directly led to the bankruptcy of Tepco, one the worlds largest power companies, and liabilities of at least 21 trillion yen.
The nuclear industry and current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe understand that to allow robust evidence of safety risks, in particular seismic, to determine the future of operation of reactors would mean the end of nuclear power in Japan.
Citizens from Fukushima with their lawyers and now supported by the judges, have moved Japan one step closer to that eventual scenario.
Senior nuclear specialist, Greenpeace Germany. He has worked on nuclear issues worldwide for more than three decades, including since 1991 on Japan’s nuclear policy.
“It hurts to see everything gone. It hurts to be pushed back. This is treaty land. ... And here we are — unarmed — facing an army in our own land.”
“Mother Nature – militarized, fenced-in, poisoned – demands that we take action”
-Berta Cáceres 1971-2016
One year ago on 2 March 2016, armed men broke into Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres’ home in the middle of the night and shot her dead. Cáceres had dedicated several years to trying to halt the construction of a hydroelectric dam on her community’s land in Intibucá, western Honduras, which threatened a vital and sacred water source for the indigenous Lenca people. Dam construction is one of the main causes of violence against activists in Honduras.
Less than a year before her death she had delivered a moving address to a packed auditorium as she was presented with the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for exceptional bravery in environmental activism. Dedicating her award to:“the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources.”
Tragically, not even the international limelight could save her. Two of those charged with Berta’s murder were trained by the United States in Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC). One of them, Army Major Mariano Diaz, was the chief of army intelligence at the time of Berta's murder. He had been a direct commander of a third suspect, Henry Javier Hernandez, a former special forces sniper who has admitted to being at Berta’s home when she was murdered. The 7 charged included an executive of the hydroelectric dam company that Berta opposed.
Since the 2009 coup –Obama’s very first - that ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, a succession of right-wing governments have made mining, agribusiness and energy projects a cornerstone of the country’s economic growth strategy. In 2011, a government-hosted conference proclaimed the country ‘Open for Business’.
From the capital Tegucigalpa, the US embassy has been promoting ramped-up investment in Honduras’ extractive industries, with mining giant Electrum already planning a US$1 billion investment. The country’s hydro and agribusiness sectors are also seeing cash injections from US-backed development banks, such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the US Congress has agreed a huge US$750 million aid package for Central America, with Honduras taking a large chunk.
Sandwiched between Guatemala and Nicaragua on the Caribbean coast, Honduras is blanketed in forest and rich in valuable minerals. But the proceeds of this natural wealth are enjoyed by a very small section of society. Honduras has the highest levels of inequality in the whole of Latin America, with around six out of ten households in rural areas living in extreme poverty, on less than US$2.50 per day.
Nowhere on earth are you more likely to be killed for protesting the theft of land and destruction of the natural world than in Honduras. According to Global Witness research, 123 land and environmental activists have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup, with countless others threatened, attacked or imprisoned.
Berta Cáceres was one of dozens of people Global Witness interviewed during a two-year investigation into the political and economic forces behind this killing spree. Among the interviewees it was rare that someone hadn’t lost loved ones, friends, colleagues, or hadn’t themselves been intimidated or attacked, allowing well-connected Hondurans to push through their business deals at huge cost to whole communities and the environment.
. Although the government theoretically has the power and resources to protect activists, in practice a lack of political will, endemic corruption and undue influence from elites means it fails to do so.According to rights groups, more than 90 per cent of killings and abuses against Honduran human rights defenders remain unsolved.
In October 2016, Tomas Gómez survived an attempt on his life. He was Berta’s right-hand man and successor as leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH). Shortly after the attack he told us:
“It’s difficult to reconcile yourself to the fact it may be your last day, your last moment, you know? But my spirits are up again.... We keep on going. Despite everything, we keep on going.”
Cynical and Cruel.
There is no other reasonable way to describe ICE's horrific action here. No, they aren't "just doing their job." To do this in front of a 13 year old child is cynical and cruel, and anybody responsible for this action should be summarily fired. But it won't happen under the new order."-
-Attorney Eric Kirk
HIGHLAND PARK, LOS ANGELES-
While being dropped off at school with her sisters, 13-year-old Fatima Avelica recorded her undocumented father being picked up by agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had been in the country for 20 years with four children, two of whom are grown.
The ICE officials, who wore police jackets, took the 48-year-old father into custody as he dropped his girls off at school in Highland Park on Tuesday.
"It's really hard what we're going through," Avelica-Gonzalez's daughter Brenda Avelica said. "I never thought we'd actually go through something like this. It's terrible to feel and see your family being broken apart."
Executive director of the Highland Park charter school Academia Avance, Ricardo Mireles, brought together about two dozen people to support the family.
"I think the impacts are going to come in terms of, 'Hey, how do we pay the rent? And how do we move forward?'" Mireles said. "We want to be able to find resources to help this family go through this process."
Mireles said the girls' father had a nearly decade-old DUI conviction and an incident 20 years ago where the father said he bought a car with an incorrect registration sticker, unbeknownst to him. Both were reasons given for the deportation.
An attorney for the family was attempting to file paperwork for a U-visa, which would allow Avelica-Gonzalez to remain in the country.
ICE released this statement about the incident:
Officers with one of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Los Angeles-based Fugitive Operations teams took Mr. Avelica into custody Tuesday morning. Mr. Avelica was targeted for arrest because relevant databases indicate he has multiple prior criminal convictions, including a DUI in 2009, as well an outstanding order of removal dating back to 2014. After conducting surveillance to confirm his identity, the officers arrested Mr. Avelica during a vehicle stop in the 3200 block of Pasadena Avenue, approximately a half mile from the charter school described in the related social media post. No one else was detained during the vehicle stop. Mr. Avelica remains in ICE custody at this time.
In Southern California, in one of the first major roundups during the Trump administration, officers detained 161 people with a wide range of felony and misdemeanor convictions, and 10 who had no criminal history at all.
“Before, we used to be told, ‘You can’t arrest those people,’ and we’d be disciplined for being insubordinate if we did,” said a 10-year veteran of the agency who took part in the operation. “Now those people are priorities again.
White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Tuesday that the president wanted to
“take the shackles off” of agents, an expression the officers themselves used time and again in interviews to describe their newfound freedom.
“Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders,” the unions representing ICE and Border Patrol agents said in a joint statement after President Trump issued the executive orders on immigration late last month.
A whirlwind of activity has overtaken ICE headquarters in Washington in recent weeks, with employees attending back-to-back meetings about how to quickly carry out President Trump’s plans. “Some people are like: ‘This is great. Let’s give them all the tools they need,’” said a senior staff member at headquarters, who joined the department under the administration of George W. Bush.
But, the official added, “other people are a little bit more hesitant and fearful about how quickly things are moving.”
Two officials in Washington said that the shift — and the new enthusiasm that has come with it — seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.
ICE has more than 20,000 employees, spread across 400 offices in the United States and 46 foreign countries, and the Trump administration has called for the hiring of 10,000 more. ICE officers see themselves as protecting the country and enforcing its laws.
All Illegal immigrants are criminals in the eyes of an immigration Agent. These Agents are just doing the job they were hired to do.
A supervisor in Northern California described a typical operation, with teams of at least five members rising before dawn, meeting as early as 4 a.m. to make arrests before their targets depart for work.