Syria: Internal violence and the West’s external players

[Amid heavily distorted and censored news accounts of events in Syria–overwhelmingly crafted to support one of the opposing sides–this report explores the maneuverings between the Arab League and NATO, which have not found their way into US/EU media, for the most part.  This tells an important part of the story.  Another part is the ongoing and shifting relations between Syria’s Assad regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah–their closest allies–and that story is similarly untold.  Finally, the views of Syrian rebels who are largely unorganized and have no affiliation with or allegience to external forces, are not heard in the media which serves Assad, nor in the media which serves the GCC and NATO. — Frontlines ed.]

January 31, 2012

What is the GCC up to in Syria?
By Pepe Escobar

So the Arab League has a new draft United Nations Security Council resolution to “solve” the Syrian saga. [ 1]

World public opinion may be fooled into believing this is an altruistic Arab solution to an Arab problem. Not really.

First of all this is a draft resolution of NATOGCC – that symbiosis between selected North Atlantic Treaty Organization members and selected petromonarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council. By now, after their “success” in blasting regime change into Libya, NATOGCC should be well known as the axis between the European poodles of the Pentagon and the six monarchies that compose the GCC, also known as Gulf Counter-revolution Club.

This draft UN resolution goes one step beyond a so-called Arab League transition plan laid out over a week ago. Now the spin is of a “political roadmap” that essentially means President Bashar al-Assad voluntarily stepping out, his vice president installed in power for a transition, the formation of a national unity government, and free and fair elections with international supervision.

According to the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, “The president will delegate his first vice president the full power to work with the national unity government to enable it to perform its task in the transitional period.”

Sounds very civilized – except that it masquerades the real agenda of UN-imposed regime change. A quick look at the draft resolution also reveals a two-week deadline for Assad to get out of Dodge; if not, expect hell, “in consultation” with the Arab League.

“Arab” League is now a fiction; what’s really in charge is the Arab Gulf league, or GCC league; in practice, the House of Saud. Even aspiring regional superpower Qatar plays second fiddle. And everyone else, they are just extras. Continue reading

Greek puppet/”minister of economics” signed onto IMF “austerity” plan without reading it

Minister Manolis Chrysochoidis. Photo by Flickr user Piazza del Popolo (CC BY 2.0).

Minister Manolis Chrysochoidis. Photo by Flickr user Piazza del Popolo (CC BY 2.0).

Shock and awe awaited Greek citizens on Monday January 23, 2012, when Louka Katseli, former minister of labour and social security (2010) and minister of economy, competitiveness and shipping (2009), revealed that she had had only three hours to read the IMF memorandum tackling the country’s debt crisis.

Michalis Chrysochoidis, current minister for development, competitiveness and shipping and former minister of citizen protection, admitted on a morning television show interview [el] that he signed the IMF memorandum without having read it at all, arguing that “simply, he had other obligations during that time, as he was fighting against crime”:

Minister Manolis Chrysochoidis. Photo by Flickr user Piazza del Popolo (CC BY 2.0).

News spread quickly on the web reacting to the remarks, including extremely negative comments and derogatory insults from netizens, expressing their disdain for the political system, and mocking the minister’s excuse.

Within one to two hours, the case became a world trending topic via the Twitter hashtag #de_diavasa_to_mnimonio_giati (I didn’t read the memorandum because…):

Uruguay: Landless Peasants with 80 Families Occupy and Take Over Farm in Northern Uruguay

Written by MercoPress PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The landless peasants’ movement has reached Uruguay: the self called “shaggy” ones, with eighty families, have taken over a 400 hectares farm in the extreme north of the country Artigas, and have been occupying the land since.

“We have been through seven years of Broad Front government and very few peasants or paid farm hands have had access to a plot of land”, said Jorge Rodas president of the Union of Sugar Workers from Artigas, (UTAA).

The union was originally founded in the sixties by the Uruguayan urban guerrilla leader Raul Sendic and whose organization now as a political party belongs to the ruling catch-all Broad Front coalition which extends from the conservative Christian Democrats to Communists, Socialists, anarchists, Trotskyites and obviously the former guerrilla, whose current leader was elected in 2009 president of the country, Jose Mujica.

The idea of the ‘shaggies”, very similar to the MST, landless movement in Brazil and who have introduced the 80 families, is to remain for some time to send “a strong message to the government and the people of Uruguay”.

Rodas said that the organization keeps growing in number and is targeting farms minimally exploited or belonging to absentee landlords. “This is to tell government that if we have the strength to occupy private land, we will continue growing in the number of people who support us and are joining our movement” Continue reading

Apple hit by boycott call over worker abuses in China

US writers attack conditions at Foxconn plant and call for consumers to act

in New York

The Observer, Saturday 28 January 2012

[Employees work on the Apple assembly line at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen in southern China. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty]

Employees work on the Apple assembly line at the Foxconn plant

Employees work on the Apple assembly line at the Foxconn plant

Apple, the computer giant whose sleek products have become a mainstay of modern life, is dealing with a public relations disaster and the threat of calls for a boycott of its iPhones and iPads.

The company’s public image took a dive after revelations about working conditions in the factories of some of its network of Chinese suppliers. The allegations, reported at length in the New York Times, build on previous concerns about abuses at firms that Apple uses to make its bestselling computers and phones. Now the dreaded word “boycott” has started to appear in media coverage of its activities.

“Should consumers boycott Apple?” asked a column in the Los Angeles Times as it recounted details of the bad PR fallout.

The influential Daily Beast and Newsweek technology writer Dan Lyons wrote a scathing piece. “It’s barbaric,” he said, before saying to his readership: “Ultimately the blame lies not with Apple and other electronics companies – but with us, the consumers. And ultimately we are the ones who must demand change.”

Forbes magazine columnist Peter Cohan also got in on the act. “If you add up all the workers who have died to build your iPhone or iPad, the number is shockingly high,” he began an article that also toyed with the idea of a boycott in its headline.

The New York Times’s revelations, which centred on the Foxconn plant in southern China that has repeatedly been the subject of accusations of worker mistreatment, have caused a major stir in the US. Although such allegations have been made before in numerous news outlets, and in a controversial one-man show by playwright Mike Daisey, this time they have struck a chord. Continue reading

1/28/12–Oakland police arresting about 100 Occupy Oakland protesters

CBS News, January 28, 2012

[Police move in on Occupy Oakland protesters on Oak Street and 12th Street as tear gas gets blown back on them in Oakland, Calif. on Jan. 28, 2012. An unlawful assembly was declared as occupiers planned to take over an undisclosed building. (Bay Area News Group,AP Photo/The Tribune)]

OAKLAND, Calif. – Oakland officials say police are in the process of arresting about 100 Occupy protesters for failing to disperse.

Police Sgt. Christopher Bolton says the arrests come after Occupy Oakland protesters marched through downtown Oakland a little before 8 p.m. Saturday, with some of the protesters entering a YMCA building in the city’s downtown.

The arrests Saturday night come after 19 people were arrested in Occupy Oakland protests during the day.

Police used tear gas and “flash” grenades Saturday to break up hundreds of Occupy protesters after some demonstrators started throwing rocks and flares at officers and tearing down fencing.

Three officers were hurt and 19 people were arrested, the Oakland Police Department said in a release. No details on the officers’ injuries were released.

Police said the group started assembling at a downtown plaza Saturday morning, with demonstrators threatening to take over the vacant Henry Kaiser Convention Center. The group then marched through the streets, disrupting traffic. Continue reading

Interview with “China Labor Watch” activist

January 26, 2012

Questions for Li Qiang of China Labor Watch

Li Qiang.

Li Qiang, 39, is the founder of China Labor Watch, a nonprofit group in New York City that seeks to improve labor conditions in China. In the late 1990s, while studying law in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, he began supporting striking workers and taxi drivers. Later, he moved south, to China’s biggest factory zones near Shenzhen. He worked at several electronics, toy and shoe factories, where he investigated labor conditions, and tried to expose what he saw as unjust and inhumane conditions.

Now, Mr. Li works from a small office near the Empire State Building, employing a team in China that sneaks into factories, smuggles out photographs and publishes reports of illegal or abhorrent labor conditions at suppliers to some of the world’s biggest corporations. David Barboza, the Shanghai bureau chief of The New York Times, interviewed Mr. Li after doing the reporting reflected in his article, “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad,” written with Charles Duhigg.

Q. For years, labor rights groups like yours have described sweatshops and how factories serving global companies have abused and mistreated workers. What is the situation today?
A. They’ve improved a lot, but labor conditions are still poor. One reason is the local economy is directly related to the well-being of the factories. So the local government regulators don’t want to enforce a high labor standard and force the factories away.
Q. But many big factories are audited by independent firms, hired by multinational corporations. Hasn’t that improved working conditions in China?
A. Every year, 30,000 factories in China are audited. But there’s corruption in the auditing process. The factories need to pass an audit, but fixed factory costs are high, so the factory bosses bribe auditors, that is less costly. If a factory has 500 workers, to improve standards you might need to pay each worker another $20 a month. But 500 workers times $20 times 12 months is $120,000 a year. It’s much cheaper to bribe auditors.

For the international companies that had an audit done, they get what they consider to be an advertisement, or certification that they comply with all the standards. But this isn’t a true reflection of what is happening. Last year, we investigated 100 factories in China. And we found that only about 10 percent of the factories can pass the their own the international labor standards of their clients — the multinational corporations.

Q. What are some of the key problems you see when you visit the factories? What are they doing wrong?
A. The pay is the biggest issue. Based on our investigation, most workers have signed a labor contract so there is some improvement. But then the factories conceal their treatment of the workers, like they’ve shortened the lunch break from one hour to 40 minutes, so the workers lose one day a month.

Another trick for factories to lower the payment is a system called “overall working hour system.” As we know, the normal working hours are 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If workers work overtime on weekdays, the overtime wage should be 1.5 times the original salary. If they work on the weekends, the wage should be 2 times the original salary. What the factories do is to let the workers work 6.7 hours a day, 6 days a week. So when the workers work on Saturday, they only get the original salary rather than the 2 times salary required by law. And often, they don’t only get paid with the original salary when overtime for working on Saturdays or Sundays, when you should pay double salary to them. This is the way the factories reduce the salary and increase productivity.

Q. What is your impression of Foxconn, which has some of the world’s biggest factories and is China’s biggest export machine?
A. Foxconn is not good. But if we compare all industries, electronics, textile, toys, Foxconn is one of the best. The biggest problem for Foxconn is the workers are working under a lot of pressure. They’re standing 10 to 11 hours a day. Foxconn treats the workers like they are machines.

They think about how many products they can produce, not about giving the workers a rest. But in the electronics industry all the companies are the same.

They say they’ve increased salaries, but Foxconn doesn’t say the workers have to produce more products per hour. So they have to work even harder. And the worst thing is that Foxconn is the biggest company in the industry. So they set the standard in the industry. And the working intensity has already been audited by the multinational companies, thus meeting the standards set by Foxconn’s clients.

Obama Blew a Kiss to Apple

by Jeff Ballinger, Workers Rights Consortium

President Barack Obama blew a kiss to Apple in the State of the Union speech, praising the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder, the late Steve Jobs, as the cameras panned to his widow in the audience.

Obama’s timing couldn’t be weirder. In the last month, Apple has released a damning audit which found that almost 100 of Apple’s supplier factories force more than half their workers to exceed a 60-hour week. The company announced responsibility for aluminum dust explosions in Chinese supplier factories that killed four workers and injured 77. Hundreds more in China have been injured cleaning iPad screens with a chemical that causes nerve damage.

Apple was just subjected to a “This American Life” radio special reporting on its abysmal factory conditions in China (Jon Stewart gigged ‘em on the issue, too). Last weekend a front-page New York Times story asked why the company offshored all of its manufacturing, mostly to China. (The answer is found in the what its executives call “flexibility.” Tens of thousands of workers there live in factory dorms on-site, where, the Times reports, they are woken in the middle of the night and forced onto 12-hour shifts when Apple decides a product needs tweaking.)

In the face of all this bad press, the tech darling’s response has been to reveal its supplier factories and to announce a partnership with the Fair Labor Association to do stepped-up factory inspections. The FLA is the partly corporate-funded group that until now only monitored apparel factories, and which Nike helped establish after its own scandals in the ’90s.

In sum, Apple is now doing what Nike has been doing for nearly 15 years: the apology-plus-transparency formula, straight out of the manuals offered by “reputation management” consultants.

This was certainly enough for most mainstream media and even some activists. Some were a bit more dubious but still pinned their hopes for stemming the abuses on the chimera of “consumer pressure.”  For those who may believe that rich-country consumer pressure should not be so summarily dismissed, I believe that it’s useful to turn to Jeffrey Swartz, until mid-2011 the CEO of Timberland, who says that consumers don’t care at all about workers’ rights.  In a late-2009 article he wrote, “With regard to human rights, the consumer expectation today is somewhere in the neighborhood of, don’t do anything horrible or despicable… if the issue doesn’t matter much to the consumer population, there’s not a big incentive for the consumer-minded CEOs to act, proactively.”  In a 2008 interview he mused about his desire to “seduce consumers to care” so that Timberland’s CSR report was not mere “corporate cologne”. Continue reading