(Euronews: 0726 PT, May 11, 2011) Syrian tanks are reported to be shelling Homs, one of the country's biggest cities. Loud explosions were heard in the residential neighbourhood of Bab Amro. Syrian security forces are continuing their crackdown on anti-government protests. It's thought hundreds of people have been killed and thousands arrested after protests which began in Daraa in March.
The Syrian government says it is pursuing armed gangs of terrorists while a state news agency has reported that two soldiers have been killed in clashes in Homs and Deraa.
(Al Jazeera English: 0722 PT, May 11, 2011) Various weapons are available on Lebanon's black market, and arms trading is reportedly on the rise since the unrest in Syria began. Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from Beirut.
(Mosaic Video Alert: March 15, 2011) The BBC reports on pro-democracy protests in Syria in which hundreds of Syrians took to the streets of the capital Damascus, chanting slogans and demanding political reforms. Protestors marched from the Hamadiyah Market to the area of Hariqa calling for freedom. This unprecedented mobilization in Syria was organized on Facebook. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of protestors gathered in response to a call made by youth groups on Facebook. Dubai TV reports that demonstrators called for an end to internal Palestinian division between Fatah and Hamas. They chanted slogans demanding national unity and appealed to both Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Every time I visit a coffee village I hear the same question: why is the price of coffee to us farmers so low? Why is there no relation between the costs of production and a reasonable (if any) profit and the price we get for our beans? These questions apply to 99% of the coffee in the world, fortunately not ours. But here is the answer, from my perch atop a waterfall in northern Peru:
In New York City, half an earth away from the coffeelands, a room full of overcaffeinated young men (who’d probably never heard of Yirgacheffe or Atsabe) are shouting themselves hoarse bidding down the lifeblood of rural coffee farmers. In the middle of this room is the circular trading floor of the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT), known to its denizens as “The Ring.” Here, investment houses, banks, financial speculators and large coffee companies bid on the future price of coffee. For the companies, the goal is to insure a future supply at a known price – a necessary planning tool for a business based on an agricultural commodity. But for the rest of the frenzied traders the point is to make a profit on the “float” between what they pay for coffee futures and what they hope to sell them for later. For two centuries, coffee had been a dull commodity, traded on a somnambulant market. Yet somewhere in the last decade, it had morphed from a morning brew into a raging speculative commodity on the trading floor.
In this wired world, these Lords of the Ring are supplied with up-to-the-minute financial, political, meteorological and other data from an army of consultants. An early frost in Brazil? The flowers necessary for the budding coffee fruit to develop could wither and die, shrinking the coming harvest. Supply down, price up; bid two cents more for March deliveries. A rumored peace deal in Colombia? Easier deliveries in three months; hold off and let the price drop. The rumors and intelligence are translated into Buy and Sell orders, little slips of paper carried across the floor by the Runners, the traders-in-training. Their street clothes covered in tunics carrying the colors of their houses, the Runners grab the slips from the phone and computer banks owned by the Lords and race them down to their warriors in the Ring, who scream out their offers to buy for a penny more or sell for a penny less. These players make the prices rise and fall in an incestuous system unrelated to the true cost of growing and processing the crop, and with no consideration at all for the needs of the growers to feed their families and keep their kids in school. As one trader told me:
“Traders are not guys with moral fiber when it comes to the conditions of the farmer’s lives. We’re seeing money and we’re making money."
It always amazes (and angers) me that when the market price determined by the Lords of the Ring goes up, roasters and retailers are quick to raise their prices to the consumer. “We have to charge the replacement value of the coffee” one broker told me. But when the world prices go down, these same brokers and buyers never drop their prices.
To me, Fair Trade is not just a formula to keep the price at a level sufficient for the farmers to rely on to improve their lives, it is a deeper commitment to social change that challenges the basic assumptions about the market and the human relations that lie beneath the surface.
While I sat above that waterfall, the market price dropped below 60 cents per pound - the price it costs a farmer to grow and harvest the coffee. From that day forward, each pound produced would drive the farmer who grew it deeper into debt and bewildered despair. For half a decade to come, farm families would suffer malnutrition and infant mortality would soar. At the same time, corporate profits were about to rise to historic heights, as the Lords of the Ring made their killing.
For this week's Global Pulse episode, Bonus Battle, host Erin Coker asks whether France's new bonus restrictions are workable. Share your thoughts and watch this episode below!
A leader whose extravagant lifestyle once earned him the moniker "President Bling-Bling," Nicolas Sarkozy has adopted a tough stance against financial excess in recent weeks. Following national furor over banking giant BNP Paribas' partial use of government bailout funds to finance a one billion euro bonus payout, new rules require French banks to spread bonus payments over three years, with one-third of bonuses to be paid in stocks. If a trader's investments lose money, the trader also loses the bonus.
The French president has since taken his bonus battle to the international stage, calling for broad global measures to curb traders' compensation, including a fixed international limit on bonuses. Sarkozy even threatened to walk out of the G-20 summit if leaders fail to reach an agreement on bonuses.
European Commission President José Barroso told Bloomberg television that citizens "are horrified" by banks' use of government funds to pay bonuses, and that international bonus restrictions could "restore credibility to the financial system."
Although American and British leaders agree on the need for financial regulation, they have balked at the idea of bonus caps. President Obama is "reluctant to set individual compensation levels." It is looking like Sarkozy may compromise on the caps, as long as the larger package is put in place.
Debates over bank bonuses are also raging outside of the political sphere. Earlier this year, American and British outrage over executive bonuses spurred demonstrations from Wall Street to London. However, as the global economy shows signs of recovery, some experts have questioned the need to quell bonuses.
"I don't think, ultimately, people really care that much about banker bonuses," writes Daniel Indiviglio in a recent Atlantic Monthly article. "The only reason they do now is because there was a financial crisis. Once things get better, most of that anger dissipates." He adds: "The bonus culture isn’t what caused the financial crisis, it was a culmination of factors."
The Washington DC-based Institute for Policy Studies hailed the Sarkozy decision, arguing that European government action "will open up opportunities in Washington for real change to an executive compensation system that now threatens our economy and our democracy."
But even some French supporters are doubtful that the global financial world will embrace the measures. "Sarkozy's idea is a good one," Nicolas Bouchard, a 32-year-old Paris-based corporate attorney told Global Pulse in an email. "But it is a difficult one to carry out in a global system. Paris is a small financial center in comparison with Wall Street or London."
One self-described French "utopist" offered another way that Sarkozy could display support for the end of economic excess. In an email to Global Pulse, Alexandre Carpentier, 28, challenged summit attendees to forgo luxury hotels in favor of more modest accommodations.
"It would help the local economy, there would be less rioting and people would be proud of their leaders," the Paris-based competition lawyer explained.
A bit of a stretch? Probably. But a reminder that in a world recovering from financial fallout, public scrutiny is on political leaders as much as it is on banks -- particularly a president trying to distance himself from a "bling-bling" image.
Do you have a health care story? Visit Link TV's Real Conversations webcam site and tell us about it.
Health care reform is the hottest topic in U.S. news media this summer. One question that arises in this debate is whether the government should spend the money to overhaul the old system, or use the money to pay off federal deficits?
As one of the 47 million uninsured Americans, I think that the health care system in the U.S. is terrible. I earn barely enough to cover my expenses, and at the end of the month, I am left with very little extra cash to spend on something as important and necessary as health insurance.
I looked into buying insurance, and since I’m very healthy with no prior medical conditions, I expected to see insurance premiums of $50 - $85 a month. I was shocked to find that the lowest premiums started at $150 - $200, excluding dental or vision!! There was no way I could afford those prices.
Fortunately, I live in San Francisco, a very conscious and progressive city, where two years ago the City and County introduced a program called "Healthy San Francisco." This program covers primary care for all city residents, and the pay structure is based on income. I have now been with this program for one year and, although it doesn’t include major medical care, I’m happy.
But I began to wonder what would happen if I broke my leg. Would I be able to afford the hospital bills, or would they bankrupt me? A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation [PDF link] found that: "Every week, thousands of Americans file for bankruptcy related to medical costs [and] 42% of adults report having problems accessing health care due to cost." I definitely favor a system of health care that benefits everyone, especially those that cannot afford it. After all, the rich will always be able to afford health care whether it is universal or not.
Here’s a cartoon that says it all.
How do other developed countries manage their citizens’ health care? PBS Frontline’s "Sick Around the World" website describes how five of the world’s developed nations go about taking care of their sick.
A completely socialized health care system might not work in the U.S., but universal care with regulated options that are based on fair-market values just might work. While providing access to all, it will create motivation for insurers and providers to offer the best service they can.
In this week's Global Pulse episode, Health Care: America and the World, host John Hamilton asks for your health care stories. Share your thoughts at Link's Real Conversations site!