Why the UN is investigating extreme poverty in America, the world’s richest nation

At the heart of Philip Alstons special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if theyre unable to meet basic living standards?

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the worlds richest nation and its president to account for the hardships endured by Americas most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alstons withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.

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United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the worlds leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?

Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality, Alston said in remarks released before the start of the visit. The rapporteur said he intended to focus on the detrimental effects of poverty on the civil and political rights of Americans, given the United States consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Poverty experts are watching the UN tour closely in the hope that it might draw public attention to a largely neglected but critical aspect of US society.

David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, said the visit had the potential to hold a mirror up to the country at a moment when globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor.

The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth, he said.

Grusky added that the US reaction to Alstons visit could go either way. It has the potential to open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.

Alstons findings will be announced in preliminary form in Washington on 15 December, and then presented as a full report to the UN human rights council in Geneva next June. An especially unpredictable element of the fallout will be how Trump himself receives the final report, given the presidents habit of lashing out at anyone perceived to criticize him or his administration.

Trump has also shown open disdain towards the world body. In the course of the 2016 presidential campaign he griped that we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate prices.

On the other hand, observers have been surprised that the White House has honored the invitation to host Alston after the initial offer was extended by Barack Obama. US diplomats on more than one occasion since Trumps inauguration have said they welcomed the UN party.

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Ruby Dee Rudolph in her home in Lowndes County. A recent study suggests that nearly one one in three people in Lowndes County have hookworm, a parasite normally found in poor, developing countries. Photograph: Bob Miller for The Guardian

Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda.

Alston concluded the speech by saying: These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.

The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality.

It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the safety net it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream.

To some extent, Trumps focus on making America great again a political jingo that in itself contains an element of criticism of the state of the nation chimes with the UNs concern about extreme poverty. His call for greater prosperity for white working Americans in declining manufacturing areas that proved so vital to his election victory will be echoed in Alstons visit to the depressed coal-producing state of West Virginia, which backed Trump in 2016 by a resounding 69%.

In many other ways, though, the Trump administration in its first year has taken a radically hostile approach towards communities in need. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to abolish Obamacare in a move that would deprive millions of low-income families of healthcare insurance, was widely criticized for his lackluster response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that has left thousands homeless and without power, and is currently pushing a tax reform that would benefit one group above all others: the super rich.

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A man who lost his home during Hurricane Maria in September sits on a cot at a school turned shelter in Canovanas. Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters

The US poses an especially challenging subject for the UN special rapporteur because unlike all other industrialized nations, it fails to recognize fundamental social and economic rights such as the right to healthcare, a roof over your head or food to keep hunger at bay. The federal government has consistently refused to sign up to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights arguing that these matters are best left to individual states.

Such an emphasis on states rights has spawned a patchwork of provision for low-income families across the country. Republican-controlled states in the Deep South provide relatively little help to those struggling from unemployment and lack of ready cash, while more assistance is likely to be forthcoming in bigger coastal cities.

By contrast, raging house prices and gentrification is fueling a homelessness crisis in liberal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco the first stop next week of the UN tour.

Martha Davis, a law professor specializing in US human rights at Northeastern University, said that such vast regional variations present the UN monitor with a huge opportunity. Unlike other international officials, he has the ability to move freely at both federal and state levels and be equally critical of both.

Theres a lot that Philip Alston can say about basic inequality that goes to the heart of the rights that he is reviewing, Davis said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/01/un-extreme-poverty-america-special-rapporteur

Macron awards US scientists grants to move to France in defiance of Trump

Frances president awards millions of euros to 18 American scientists to relocate in effort to counter Donald Trump on the climate change front

Eighteen climate scientists from the US and elsewhere have hit the jackpot as Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trumps presidential term.

The Make Our Planet Great Again grants a nod to Trumps Make America Great Again campaign slogan are part of Macrons efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. Most of the applicants and 13 of the 18 winners were US-based researchers.

Macrons appeal gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do, said winner Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin. She will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Parmesan described funding challenges for climate science in the US and a feeling that you are having to hide what you do.

Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming and said the Paris accord would hurt US business by requiring a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

We will be there to replace US financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.

If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science, he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.

The research of the winning recipients focuses on pollution, hurricanes and clouds. A new round of the competition will be launched next year, alongside Germany. About 50 projects will be chosen overall, and funded with 60m ($70m) from the state and French research institutes.

Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.

The time frame would cover Trumps current presidential term.

Some French researchers have complained that Macron is showering money on foreign scientists at a time when they have been pleading for more support for domestic higher education.

Macron unveiled the first winners at a startup incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies announced projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

Mondays event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the UN and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.

Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.

The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trumps rejection of the Paris climate accord doesnt matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can pick up the slack to reduce global emissions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/macron-awards-grants-to-us-scientists-to-move-to-france-in-defiance-of-trump

Kim Jong-hyun: Shinee star dies amid an unforgiving K-pop industry

The 27-year-old singer was one of the beautiful, well-drilled entertainers who make K-pop so thrilling and who are often treated miserably by their management companies

The death of Kim Jong-hyun of South Korean boyband Shinee marks, if not definitely the end, then a crushing blow to one of the countrys most enduring pop outfits. With their earnest, keeningly romantic songs, paired with immaculate choreography, Shinee marked the apotheosis of their countrys boyband craft.

While in the west there have only been a handful of successful boybands in recent years, in Korea and Japan where Shinee also had a huge following, leading to a string of Japanese-language albums the appetite for ultra-emotional ballads and energetic dance tracks, performed by impossibly beautiful and well-drilled young men, is apparently insatiable.

K-pop fandom is obsessive, and fans openly rank their favourite members; bands are sometimes created as the result of reality TV competitions, an example being new eight-piece IN2IT, freshly minted from a 27-strong boyband called Boys24 being whittled down. Shinee are part of a generation who have had this fandom weaponised by social media the most tweeted-about celebrities on Twitter worldwide in 2017 were not Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber, but Korean boyband BTS.

To western eyes, some of Shinees aesthetics may seem corny. Anglophone boybands from the Simon Cowell stable, such as One Direction and now Rak-Su and Pretty Much, are less given to synchronised dance moves and more to impetuous boisterousness. Not so Shinee, whose smooth, nimble-shouldered take on hip-hop dance is reminiscent of 1990s US giants such as Backstreet Boys and NSync. Their songs, meanwhile, cleave to pretty safe boyband production staples: predominantly light, fluffy disco-funk tracks, with occasional forays into gnarly pop-rock and gauzy alt-R&B.

But even if their choreography and songcraft has precedent, their fashion sense is absolutely contemporary. Often shaped by designer Ha Sang Beg, sharp-edged dance tracks are met with even sharper tailoring, while more relaxed songs prompt gloriously clashing streetwear.

The band formed in 2008, manufactured by Korean music industry behemoth SM Entertainment, the company behind successes such as girl band Girls Generation, solo singers Kangta and BoA, and, of course, numerous other boybands: TVXQ!, Super Junior, HOT and more.

Even accounting for a recent break, as member Taemin released a solo record, Shinee are a rare case of a band reaching a decade in the business; K- and J-pop can have a ruthless, disposable feel. The managers of Japanese girl band AKB48 whose members number up to 130 and are voted in and out by the public were criticised in 2013 after one member, Minami Minegishi, filmed herself shaving her head in penitence for spending a night with her boyfriend, contravening a no-dating rule for the groups members.

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BTS perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in the US. Photograph: Randy Holmes/Getty Images

Artists in both territories are often signed up to draconian contracts in their early teens, keeping them tied to specific management companies, such as SM Entertainment. They train in a competitive environment alongside other potential stars, with only the best idols making it into the manufactured bands. As well as the aforementioned dating rules, band members diets are closely monitored. In 2012, girl group Nine Muses revealed their paper cup diet, where their meals had to fit inside a tiny paper cup.

After TVXQ! took their management company to court for keeping them in a 13-year contract, a 2008 ruling brought in more standardised contracts and a seven-year limit to their length. But there are arguments that the rules dont go far enough and can be circumvented one agency spokesperson told the Korea Times that only 40% of management agencies use the standardised contracts, leaving musicians open to exploitation.

Even under standard contracts, if a band member wants to leave early, they have to pay the company a fee based on projected profits for the remainder of the contract. Two Chinese members of SM-managed K-pop boy band EXO left the group in 2014, citing wage disputes and brutal work schedules; EXOs band members have been made to perform during illness and dance while recovering from injury. The threat of conscription to the army is another stress even one of the countrys biggest stars, G-Dragon, has been called up and will begin in 2018, knocking a two-year hole in his music career.

The lockstep perfection of Shinees dance routines is undeniably thrilling but there is something troubling about them too, knowing that only the absolute best will be tolerated. Kim Jong-hyuns death is currently being treated as a suicide, after he sent his sister a note via text message. The reasons for his death are not yet clear, but given his history in a Hunger Games-like musical culture where only the strongest survive, one line from it is chilling: Tell me I did well.

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/dec/18/kim-jong-hyun-shinee-star-dies-amid-an-unforgiving-k-pop-industry

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now | James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

Film-maker James Cameron and environmentalist Suzy Amis Cameron writes that to preserve Americas majestic national parks, clean air and water for future generations leaders must be pressed to address foods environmental impact

Our collective minds are stuck on this idea that talking about foods environmental impact risks taking something very intimate away from us. In fact its just the opposite. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. And we can ask our local leaders from city mayors to school district boards to hospital management to help, by widening our food options.

On Monday and Tuesday, the city of Chicago is hosting a summit for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy to discuss climate solutions cities can undertake. Strategies to address and lower foods impact should be front and center.

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of theleading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatlyincreasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods.

So what gives? Why cant we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if were to reach our climate goals.

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The Avatar movie set had plant-based menus. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features

This can start with individual action. Five years ago, our family felt hopeless about climate change, and helpless to make meaningful change. But when we connected the dots on animal agricultures impact on the environment, coupled with the truth about nutrition, we took heart because it gave us something we could actually do.

To create change at the scale needed, this will take more than individual choice we need to get climate leaders on board about the impact of food. Cities and counties have used their buying power to transition fleets from diesel to electric, and we need to do the same with how we purchase food. We have done this in our own community, moving the lunch program of Muse School, in Calabasas, California, and the Avatar movie set to plant-based menus. Scaling up initiatives like these can make a big difference: if the US reduced meat consumption by 50%, its the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road. We think thats damn hopeful.

Decision-makers on all levels can make it easier for us to eat better, by expanding access to food options that are good for our health, affordable, and climate-friendly. Nationwide, cities and school districts have adopted food purchasing policies that include environment, health and fair labor standards. The city of Chicago is a recent adopter of this Good Food Purchasing Program, and so the solutions-focus of the summit is the perfect place to discuss how food can move us toward climate goals. In the same breath that we discuss fossil fuels, we should be talking animal ag, or were missing a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution.

Yes, food is inherently personal. Its the cornerstone of holidays, it fuels high school athletes and long workdays, and it nourishes nursing mothers and growing children. And yes, Americans love meat and cheese. But more than that, we love our majestic national parks, family beach vacations and clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

As individuals, we can make choices on how to better nourish our families, and as citizens, we can encourage local leaders to make choices that will allow us to enjoy our land and natural resources now and in the future.

James Cameron is a film-maker and deep-sea explorer. Suzy Amis Cameron is a founder of Muse School and Plant Power Task Force.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

Mass starvation is humanitys fate if we keep flogging the land to death | George Monbiot

The Earth cannot accommodate our need and greed for food. We must change our diet before its too late, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

Brexit; the crushing of democracy by billionaires; the next financial crash; a rogue US president: none of them keeps me awake at night. This is notbecause I dont care Icare very much. Its only because I have a bigger question onmy mind. Where is all the food going to come from?

By the middle of this century there will be two or three billion more people on Earth. Any one of the issues I am about to list could help precipitate mass starvation. And this is before you consider how they might interact.

The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil. The UNs famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures. Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the worlds croplands.

Now consider water loss. In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India among the worlds critical growing regions levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in south Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by the year 2050. Where willit come from?

The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. These predictions could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4C of warming in the US corn belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.

The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But thats viable only for the most expensive crops.

Then there are the structural factors. Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with fewer than fivehectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the UK has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated intolarge farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor.

While these multiple disasters unfoldon land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global sea grab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more. About 3billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from?

All this would be hard enough. But as peoples incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UKs farmland footprint (the land requiredto meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how exactly do we accommodate it?

Graph from Our World in Data.

The profligacy of livestock farming is astonishing. Already, 36% of the calories grown in the form of grain and pulses and 53% of the protein are used to feed farm animals. Two-thirds of this food is lost in conversion from plant to animal. A graph produced last week by Our World in Data suggests that, on average, you need 0.01m2 of land to produce a gram of protein from beans or peas, but 1m2 to produce it from beefcattle or sheep: a 100-folddifference.

Its true that much of the grazing land occupied by cattle and sheep cannot be used to grow crops. But it would otherwise have sustained wildlife and ecosystems. Instead, marshes are drained, trees are felled and their seedlings grazed out, predators are exterminated, wild herbivores fenced out and other life forms gradually erased as grazing systems intensify. Astonishing places such as the rainforests of Madagascar and Brazil are laid waste to make room for yet more cattle.

Because there is not enough land to meet both need and greed, a global transition to eating animals means snatching food from the mouths of the poor. It also means the ecological cleansing of almost every corner of theplanet.

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I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna lions, elephants, whales and tuna vanishing. Photograph: Douglas Klug/Getty Images

The shift in diets would be impossible to sustain even if there were no growth in the human population. But the greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UNexpects meat consumption to rise by70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.

When I say this keeps me up at night, I mean it. I am plagued by visions of starving people seeking to escape fromgrey wastes, being beaten back byarmed police. I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna lions, elephants, whales and tuna vanishing. And when I wake, I cannot assure myself that it was just anightmare.

Other people have different dreams: the fantasy of a feeding frenzy that neednever end, the fairytale of reconciling continued economic growth witha living world. If humankind spirals into societal collapse, these dreams will be the cause.

There are no easy answers, but the crucial change is a shift from an animal- to a plant-based diet. All else being equal, stopping both meat production and the use of farmland to grow biofuels could provide enough calories for another 4 billion people anddouble the protein available for human consumption. Artificial meat will help:one paper suggests it reduces water useby at least 82% and land useby 99%.

The next green revolution will not be like the last one. It will rely not on flogging the land to death, but on reconsidering how we use it and why. Can we do this, or do we the richer people now consuming the living planet find mass death easier to contemplate than changing our diet?

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/11/mass-starvation-humanity-flogging-land-death-earth-food

India expands payment scheme for Hindus to marry person of Dalit caste

Government is to scrap income ceiling for cash incentive but critics say slow uptake is due to millennia-old prejudice not economics

Indias government has expanded a scheme offering payment incentives to Hindus who marry members of the countrys poorest and most oppressed caste, the Dalits.

A scheme introduced in 2013 offered 250,000 rupees (2,900) to encourage Hindus from higher castes to marry members of the untouchable community, in the hope that it would help to remove the stigma of intercaste marriage and foster greater social cohesion.

To qualify, the annual income of the spouse from the high caste had to be less than 500,000 rupees (5,800).

The government envisaged about 500 such marriages annually, but less than 100 have taken place each year.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment announced it would scrap the income ceiling, and said all couples in which one spouse is from the Dalit caste would receive the cash incentive.

Ancient prejudices against Dalits remain stubbornly entrenched in India. Marriages between the higher castes and Dalits are very rare, with the vast majority of Indians marrying within their own caste. Many Indians will not even eat with a Dalit.

Dalits were traditionally thought to fall outside the four main classes of caste that determined the shape of Hindu lives, from jobs and diets to marriage prospects.

As a result, they were considered impure and banished to the periphery of Indian society, suffering thousands of years of exclusion and extreme poverty that affirmative action programmes over the last 70 years have done little to address.

Officials believe the schemes low success rate so far is also due to a combination of other factors: the income ceiling and also lack of awareness of the scheme. Many Dalits contacted by the Guardian had never heard of it.

Rahul Sonpimple, 28, a sociology PhD student in New Delhi, had no idea about the scheme but said it was a waste of time.

Caste is not to do with money or wealth or materialism. If it were, then a poor Brahmin would happily marry a billionaire Dalit. But he wont, because it is about caste pride, pride in your birth, he said.

John Dayal, secretary general of the All-India Christian Council, said the scheme was fundamentally misconceived because it monetised hatred and attempted to use cash to end a millennia-old system which is rooted not in economics, but in prejudices.

I know of several intercaste marriages but they are all done in secret or under police or court protection, Dayal said. What we need is not cash incentives but a social upheaval to end discrimination against Dalits.

Crimes against Dalits show no sign of abating. The latest statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau show a rise of 5.5% between 2015 and 2016.

Michael Safi contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/06/india-expands-payment-scheme-for-hindus-marry-person-dalit-caste

Introducing Halo Top: the ‘healthy’ ice-cream taking over America

Marketed as the low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar alternative to ice-cream it is now outselling tubs from Ben & Jerrys and Hagen-Dazs

Everyone you love is gone. There is only ice-cream is the darkly humorous sign off used in a recent ad for fast-growing American ice-cream brand Halo Top.

The Black Mirror-style commercial, which ran in US cinemas before films including the horror flick It, features an elderly woman being force-fed ice-cream by a robot in some dystopian future.

It was directed by Mike Diva, who has built a YouTube following with his advertising parodies, and who typifies the offbeat digital marketing aimed at millennials that has helped turn Halo Top into serious competition for bestselling brands such as Magnum, Ben & Jerrys and Hagen-Dazs.

The somewhat noir US TV ad for Halo Top ice-cream.

The Los Angeles-based company was founded at the start of the decade by Justin Woolverton, a former lawyer who suffered hypoglycemic episodes when he indulged his sweet tooth. So he bought a $20 ice-cream maker on Amazon and began trying to create healthier alternatives. It was just something that I was making in my kitchen because I didnt like sugar, he told one interviewer about his Eureka moment.

While most ice-creams are a sugar and fat-laden treat, Halo Top bills itself as a low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar alternative to mainstream brands, with flavours such as mochi green tea and rainbow swirls. Its recipe uses sugar substitute Stevia, which means a scoop of its Vanilla Ice contains 60 calories versus 250 in a similar sized dollop of Hagen-Dazs.

Reports in the US media have begun to question whether Halo Top is really as healthy as the marketing makes out, with some dieticians raising concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners.

Halo Top is now stocked in supermarkets across America, with the company shifting nearly $50m (38m) worth of ice-cream in the US last year. Its sales accelerated in 2016 after GQ writer Shane Snow lived on Halo Top ice-cream for 10 days and the resulting article went viral.

The brands rise has been propelled by social media: it has 590,000 followers on Instagram and more than 700,000 on Facebook.

The social media buzz helped Halo Top chalk up another milestone in the summer when industry data showed its pint pots were outselling Unilevers Ben & Jerrys and Nestls Hagen-Dazs in US grocery stores for the first time. Halo Tops parent company, LA-based Eden Creamery, is seizing the day with one recent report suggesting it is exploring a sale that could value the company at up to $2bn.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/20/introducing-halo-top-the-healthy-ice-cream-taking-over-america

Quebec passes law banning facial coverings in public

The Canadian province is barring public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and obliging citizens to unveil while using public transit or government services

The Canadian province of Quebec has passed a sweeping ban on face coverings barring public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and obliging citizens to unveil when riding public transit or receiving government services ushering in a law believed to be the first of its kind in North America.

The legislation was adopted on Wednesday, capping off two years of work by the provinces Liberal government to address the issue of state neutrality. The resulting law has been condemned by critics who say it deliberately targets Muslim women and will fuel the provinces simmering debate on identity, religion and tolerance.

Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, was defensive as he addressed the new law. We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face, he told reporters. We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. Its as simple as that.

The law was originally meant to ban face coverings for those offering or receiving services from government departments and provincially funded institutions, such as universities.

In August, the legislation was extended to apply to municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities, raising the possibility that women wearing a niqab or burqa in Quebec would not be able to take the metro or ride the city bus. As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered, Stphanie Valle, Quebecs justice minister, said when asked.

The legislation stipulates that exemptions can be made for those who provide spiritual care or religious instruction, as well as those who are forced to cover their faces due to working conditions or occupational hazards.

Amid widespread confusion as to how the new law would be applied and who it would affect, Valle said the province would now work with municipalities, schools and public daycares to establish clear guidelines.

The Liberal government has long argued that the legislation which does not specifically mention the niqab or burqa addresses public safety, noting that it would also apply to masked protesters.

We are not legislating on clothing, Valle said last year. Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes.

Others citing a 2016 survey that suggested that just 3% of Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab have accused the provincial government of targeting Muslim women in order to curry votes in the run-up to next years provincial election.

It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem, said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. We dont have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.

The law comes after two attempts by authorities in Quebec to legislate secularism in the public domain in recent years. A 2010 attempt by the Liberals died on the order paper after two years; a bill by the previous separatist government that sought to ban teachers, doctors and other public workers from wearing highly visible religious symbols failed to pass before an election was called.

On Wednesday the Liberals flexed their majority in the provincial government to pass the legislation, fending off calls from the provinces two main opposition parties to put in place tougher laws to address the issue of secularism and religious accommodation.

I know people would have liked us to go further, Valle told the provinces national assembly. Others think we are going too far. I think a balance has been found.

Many have voiced concerns that the new law targets a segment of the population that is already marginalised and stigmatised. We cant divorce this bill from the larger context in which it falls, said Gardee. According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims increased from 2012 to 2015 by 253%.

Earlier this year, the province was left reeling after six men all of them fathers were shot dead as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City. During the eulogy for the men killed, Imam Hassan Guillet drew a direct line between their murders and the political climate facing Muslims in Canada.

Unfortunately, day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politicians, and certain reporters and certain media, poisoned our atmosphere, he said.

While Quebec politicians said the ban on receiving services while wearing a face covering would enter into effect immediately, implementation of the law is likely to be hindered by the many questions that remain. We dont know how this is going to be applied and how it will be enforced, said Gardee. Its deeply troubling.

The legislation does note that those affected by the law can put in a request for accommodation, but little explanation is given to the criteria or how exactly it would work. The government said it would use the coming months to better outline how these requests should be treated as well as develop guidelines for those working in the public sector.

Legal observers said they expect several advocacy groups to challenge the new law in courts, pitting it against the countrys Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the provincial equivalent.

Gardee said it was an option his organisation would likely be considering in the coming days. We are of that opinion that the state has no business in the wardrobe of the nations, he said. The state should not be coercing women to undress or dress in any particular fashion.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/quebec-passes-law-banning-muslims-from-wearing-face-coverings-in-public

Dyslexia: scientists claim cause of condition may lie in the eyes

In people with the condition, light receptor cells are arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may confuse the brain

French scientists claim they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing mirror images, the co-authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.

Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia, said the studys co-author, Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes.

It offers a relatively simple method of diagnosis, he added, by simply looking into a subjects eyes.

Furthermore, the discovery of a delay (of about 10 thousandths of a second) between the primary image and the mirror image in the opposing hemispheres of the brain, allowed us to develop a method to erase the mirror image that is so confusing for dyslexic people using an LED lamp.

Like being left- or right-handed, human beings also have a dominant eye. As most of us have two eyes, which record slightly different versions of the same image, the brain has to select one of the two, creating a non-symmetry.

Many more people are right-eyed than left, and the dominant eye has more neural connections to the brain than the weaker one. Image signals are captured with rods and cones in the eye the cones being responsible for colour.

The majority of cones, which come in red, green and blue variants, are found in a small spot at the centre of the retina of the eye known as the fovea. But there is a small hole (about 0.1-0.15 millimetres in diameter) with no blue cones.

In the newstudy, Ropars and colleague Albert le Floch spotted a major difference between the arrangement of cones between the eyes of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people enrolled in an experiment.

In non-dyslexic people, the blue cone-free spot in one eye the dominant one, was round and in the other eye unevenly shaped. In dyslexic people, both eyes have the same, round spot, which translates into neither eye being dominant, they found.

The lack of asymmetry might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities, said the studys authors.

Dyslexic people make so-called mirror errors in reading, for example confusing the letters b and d.

For dyslexic students their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene, they added.

The team used an LED lamp, flashing so fast that it is invisible to the naked eye, to cancel one of the images in the brains of dyslexic trial participants while reading. In initial experiments, dyslexic study participants called it the magic lamp, said Ropars, but further tests are required to confirm the technique really works.

About 700 million people worldwide are known to have from dyslexia about one in 10 of the global population.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/dyslexia-scientists-claim-cause-of-condition-may-lie-in-the-eyes

Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown | George Monbiot

The shocking collapse of insect populations hints at a global ecological meltdown, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

Which of these would you name as the worlds most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the worlds cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening. A study published this week in the journal Plos One reveals that flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.

It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left as in the German case to recordings by amateur naturalists.

But anyone of my generation (ie in the second bloom of youth) can see and feel the change. We remember the moth snowstorm that filled the headlight beams of our parents cars on summer nights (memorialised in Michael McCarthys lovely book of that name). Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing or rather, not seeing.

Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes.

Well, I hear you say, we have to feed the world. Yes, but not this way. As a UN report published in March explained, the notion that pesticide use is essential for feeding a growing population is a myth. A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.

To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, heres what we need to do:

1 We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.

2 We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.

3 We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.

4 We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.

5 We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.

Then, at least, nature and people would have some respite from the global onslaught. And, I hope, a chance of getting through the century.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations