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Consensus and dialogue rare in divided nation as barricades are enforced and fires smoulder around Caracas.
Chris Arsenault Last updated: 25 Feb 2014 05:27
Demonstrators say they will not remove roadblocks until public safety improves [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
|Caracas, Venezuela – Opposition activists have erected roadblocks across parts of the capital Caracas, halting transportation in an attempt to escalate the ongoing political standoff.
Demonstrators manning barricades in a suburb in eastern Caracas said on Monday they would not end the blockade until safety improved in one of the most violent countries in Latin America.
“We are protecting ourselves from the military and [armed pro-government] collectives who might try and come here,” said a student covering his face beside piles of rubbish and logs at a blocked intersection.
“I have been robbed many times.”
He spoke to Al Jazeera requesting anonymity.
The death toll from the unrest beginning in early February rose to 13, the government announced on Monday.
In Caracas’s business district, more than 1,000 pro-government motorcycle drivers massed outside the presidential palace, criticising what they consider an opposition plot to destabilise the country and topple the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro.
“The opposition are the ones who are causing problems, not us,” Gusmarly Morillo, the wife of a motorcycle taxi driver, told Al Jazeera as she waited to enter the grounds of Miraflores Palace.
“They [opposition partisans] think we are criminals just because we are poor and live in a slum.”
Lighting rod for anger
Motorcycles are the vehicle of choice for members of pro-government collectives – groups which sometimes use force in what they consider defence of the socialist revolution.
The collectives have become a lightening rod for opposition anger recently.
They are dubbed “shock troops” or “paramilitaries” by government critics who accuse them of attacking student protesters and terrorising middle class areas at the government’s behest.
But Katiuska Aponte, vice president of the Bolivarian Motorcycle Association, said those accusations are unfounded.
“The motorcyclists aren’t all collective members; they’re just workers trying to make a living to feed their families,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Part of the question of insecurity is coming from groups bent on destabilising the country. They are trying to delegitimise our government. We are here protesting on two wheels in favour of our elected president and in favour of peace.”
Poor communities on the hills around Caracas form the backbone of government support in the capital.
Opposition politicians, including defeated presidential contender Henrique Capriles, have pledged to do more to appeal to lower-class voters.
They want to shake the opposition’s image as representatives of a privileged elites.
But supermarket staff in upscale eastern Caracas did not seem impressed by the roadblocks.
“For us, people who work here but don’t live here, the blockades are a big problem because we can’t get to work easily,” Franklin Moran told Al Jazeera as he and a group of supermarket employees in uniforms watched students guard a barricade.
“If the protests were more symbolic and less disruptive, we would be more likely to support them.”
Students at another blockade nearby claimed they understood the concerns of Caracas’ poor.
“The opposition doesn’t want to take away the missions [centres providing social services] from the poor,” Brian Rubeiro, an opposition protester manning a barricade, told Al Jazeera.
“We want the social programmes, but there needs to be accountability and less corruption.”
Question of collectives
Oil prices rose ten-fold during the socialist period, and the opposition believes much of the massive cash infusion into South America’s largest oil exporter has been squandered.
“In the end, we are all Venezuelans and we want a prosperous future and peace,” Rubeiro said.
Maduro called for a peace dialogue to take place on Wednesday, but students said that could not solve the crisis unless the government starts disarming collectives as a show of good faith.
Capriles refuses to attend talks until Leopoldo Lopez, another opposition politician, is released from jail and the “repression” ends.
There was at least one rare moment of consensus in the deeply divided country on Monday.
Protesters blocking the road near Altamira Square in Caracas let through a group of motorcycle drivers heading to a pro-government rally after the two sides had a discussion.
“Forty Chavistas on motorbikes came through on the way to the demonstration,” Gustavo Ortega, a marketing student and demonstrator, told Al Jazeera.
“We negotiated and let them pass through; it’s the first time I have seen something like this.”
Moments of consensus and dialogue are rare, however, as barricades are enforced and fires smoulder around the city.
International journalists make a stand in solidarity with imprisoned Al Jazeera staff.
Jessica Hatcher Last updated: 04 Feb 2014 19:31
Gagged by the flag: East Africa journalists protest against Egypt’s crackdown on journalists [Phil Moore]
Nairobi, Kenya – “Journalists are never supposed to become the story,” wrote Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste in a letter that was smuggled out of Tora Prison in Cairo, where he is currently being detained. “Apart from the print reporter’s byline or the broadcaster’s sign-off, we are supposed to remain in the background as witnesses to, or agents for, the news; never as its subject.”
At 10am on February 4 in Greste’s home city, Nairobi, co-workers, rival broadcasters, photographers and journalists made no apology for breaking this rule by staging a peaceful protest in solidarity with him.
Almost a hundred people, many wearing Greste’s face on T-shirts and carrying banners and placards, marched to the Egyptian embassy and planted themselves outside its gates. They stayed there for three hours, overlooked by the baking sun and several divisions of the Kenyan police. Meanwhile, a parallel social media campaign went viraland reached millions. “What if all journalists were gagged?”tweeted Channel Four News’ International Editor, Lindsey Hilsum. Like many, Hilsum posted an accompanyingpicture of her with her mouth taped up.
“The whole worldwide campaign has gone beyond what we had imagined,” said Peter’s brother, Andrew Greste. “Our view is that we have to keep going to continue to build pressure on the Egyptian government until they release them. This is what Peter also wants.”
Egypt’s secret police arrested the award-winning Australian journalist Greste and two of his Egyptian colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, in Cairo on December 29.
“It’s almost 40 days now since their incarceration began,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Mohamed Adow, addressing the media outside the Egyptian embassy in Nairobi. “We believe they’ve done no wrong. They’ve just been doing their work in the best way they could.” The United Nations, international rights bodies, and media personalities have all called on the Egyptian government to release the journalists, Adow said.
Journalism does not equal terrorism
At the embassy gates, broadcaster and head of the regional Foreign Correspondents’ Association, Robyn Kriel, read aloud from an open letter to Greste: “Those of us who are journalists stand as you. ‘We are all Peter Greste’ is one of the slogans we are bearing aloft. Others among us stand here today for the tenets of truth, freedom of the press, and democracy. Journalism does not equal terrorism; you have committed no crime… We respect and applaud your honesty and bravery, and we say, as one, that this is our battle, too.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists confirms that at least ten journalists are currently incarcerated in Egypt. “There’s more likely around twenty to twenty-five actually in prison at the moment, one of the largest crackdowns on journalists we have seen in a long time,” said Tom Rhodes, the organisation’s East Africa representative. Rhodes said that press freedom in Egypt today is in some ways no better, and in some maybe worse, than under longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, ousted in the 2011 uprising.
Last week, Egyptian prosecutors announced their intention to place criminal charges on 20 people working for the Al Jazeera network. Rhodes said that the CPJ fears that a crackdown on an international media organisation at such an unprecedented level bodes even worse for the treatment of local journalists.
“It’s so tragic, especially when you consider the struggle and the blood, sweat and tears that the Egyptian people undertook to develop these freedoms – such as press freedom,” said Rhodes. “And now that space is being diminished once again. When we’re sitting here fighting for the release of our friend Peter Greste, we’re really sitting here trying to fight for the freedom of the country as well.”
Boniface Mwangi, an award-winning documentary photographer and one of Kenya’s most prolific young activists, turned out in support of his friend and fellow journalist. But like most of the protesters here, he also has a vested interest in fighting for a free press. “So far, this has happened in Egypt. But who knows where Kenya’s going to go? I’m not just here for Peter, I’m here for myself.”
While the inexperienced yet determined picket waited in the driveway of the Egyptian embassy, two representatives from the protest group went inside to meet the deputy ambassador and deliver their open letter to Greste. The deputy ambassador said that the embassy would notify the Egyptian state of their concerns but emphasised that the state cannot intervene in the Egyptian courts – as is the case around the world. Robyn Kriel, chairperson of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa, relayed the consulate’s message to the waiting crowds. “We mean business,” she said.
Photographer Phil Moore is shooting a series of photographs depicting members of the press and public gagged by an Egyptian flag. “As journalists, it’s imperative that we have the right to work freely and so when our colleagues are detained, it’s essential that we remind the world what that detention means. In this case, the flag represents the silencing of journalists in Egypt, and I hope that by documenting people’s disdain, these images will in some way help to maintain a spotlight on the Egyptian crackdown.”
According to Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Adow, the network has not yet been supplied with any information by the Egyptian government, and nor have they been formally notified of any charges against Greste and his colleagues.
“If he’s not released, we’ll be back,” was the message left behind by protesters after they packed up their placards. A determined Robyn Kriel concluded: “We are not going to rest until we see Greste.”
Follow Jessica Hatcher on Twitter: @jessiehatcher
Editor’s note: The Egyptian prosecutor has accused Al Jazeera of producing “false news” in the country. We have collated all of the TV reports produced by Al Jazeera teams from the field between July 2013 and the arrest of our journalists. We make no apologies for telling all sides of the story, and we stand by our journalism. Judge for yourself on our special coverage page: Journalism under fire: Where is the “false news”?
To take part in the viral social media campaign, tweet a photo of yourself using the hashtag: #freeAJstaff
Journalists are never supposed to become the story. Apart from the print reporter’s byline or the broadcaster’s sign-off, we are supposed to remain in the background as witnesses to or agents for the news: never as its subject.
That’s why I find all the attention following our incarceration all very unsettling. This isn’t to suggest I am ungrateful. All of us who were arrested in the interior ministry’s sweep of Al Jazeera’s staff on December 29 are hugely encouraged by and grateful for the overwhelming show of support from across the globe. From the letter signed by 46 of the region’s most respected and influential foreign correspondents calling for our immediate release; to the petition from Australian colleagues; the letter writing and online campaigns and family press conferences – all of it has been both humbling and empowering.
We know we are not alone.
But what is galling is that we are into our fourth week behind bars for what I consider to be some pretty mundane reporting.
I’ve produced work in the past that has involved lots of detailed investigation, considerable risk, and not a small amount of sweat, that I wished the authorities would have been even a little bit offended by. Yet too often it has slipped out with infuriatingly little response.
This assignment to Cairo had been relatively routine – an opportunity to get to know Egyptian politics a little better. But, with only three weeks on the ground, hardly time to do anything other than tread water. So when a squad of plainclothes agents forced their way into my room, I was at first genuinely confused and later even a little annoyed that it wasn’t for some more significant slight.
This is not a trivial point. The fact that we were arrested for what seems to be a set of relatively uncontroversial stories tells us a lot about what counts as “normal” and what is dangerous in post-revolutionary Egypt.
‘A routine body of reporting’
Of course, the allegations we are facing suggest anything but normal journalistic endeavours. The state has accused three of us – myself, and producers Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed – of collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood to use unlicensed equipment to broadcast information we knew to be false to defame and destabilise Egypt. Fahmy and Baher are further accused of being MB members. It’s a rap sheet that would be comically absurd if it wasn’t so deadly serious.
I’m keen to see what “evidence” the investigators have concocted to prove the allegations. But to date we have not been formally charged with any crime. We are merely in detention to give them time to assemble their case so the prosecutor can decide if it is strong enough to take to court. Under Egypt’s judicial system, we won’t get to see the file until charges are formally laid.
So, all we have is what we did – a routine body of reporting on the political drama unfolding around us, and what it might mean for Egypt. The fact that this has put us behind bars is especially alarming given the historical moment Egypt now finds itself in.
The current interim government emerged after widespread street protests and pressure from the military pushed Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, from power. In the eyes of Morsi’s Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, it was a military coup; to the government’s supporters, it was a popular overthrow – with a little help from the military – of an administration that had broken its promises on moderation; created widespread discontent; cracked down on dissent, and was dragging Egypt towards a closed-minded theocracy.
To defend the revolution, Egyptians have just passed a fiercely liberal constitution that, among other things, explicitly defends… freedom of speech. Article 11 even expressly protects journalists from imprisonment for crimes committed through publishing or broadcast.
‘No desire to see Egypt struggle’
But what constitutes a breach of the law in this case seems to be relative, where anything too far beyond the bounds of normally accepted limits becomes a threat. It isn’t that we pushed those limits. After more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent, I know what is safe ground. And we didn’t stray anywhere near that edge.
But the state here seems to see itself in an existential struggle that pits the forces of good, open, free society against the Islamist “terrorists” still struggling to seize control. In that environment, “normal” has shifted so far from the more widely accepted “middle” that our work suddenly appeared to be threatening.
We were not alone in our reporting, but our arrest has served as a chilling warning to others of where the middle is here.
In this “new normal”, secular activists – including some of my prison neighbours – have been imprisoned at least three times, first for opposing the now fallen autocrat Hosni Mubarak; then for protesting at the excesses of the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood administration and now for what they say is draconian overreach by the current government. Campaigners putting up “no” posters for the recent constitutional referendum are also in prison, as is anyone caught taking part in Muslim Brotherhood organised protests (the Brotherhood is now deemed to be a “terrorist organisation”). In this “new normal”, an independant agency reckons some 21,000 were arrested in the five months since Morsi’s ousting on June 30, while 2,665 people had been killed and almost 16,000 injured in the same period. And, of course, among the detained are journalists, including ourselves, accused of supporting terrorism and undermining the state.
Let me be clear: I have no desire to weaken Egypt nor in any way see it struggle. Nor do I have any interest in supporting any group, the Muslim Brotherhood or otherwise. But then our arrest doesn’t seem to be about our work at all. It seems to be about staking out what the government here considers to be normal and acceptable. Anyone who applauds the state is seen as safe and deserving of liberty. Anything else is a threat that needs to be crushed.
|The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to eliminate “all terrorist groups” from Anbar province as a security source conceded the government had lost control of the town of Fallujah to al-Qaeda linked fighters.
Maliki, speaking on state television on Saturday, said his government would end “fitna”, or disunity, in the province and would “not back down until we end all terrorist groups and save our people in Anbar”.
His comments came after a senior Iraqi security official told the AFP news agency that the government had lost control of Fallujah to fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Videos showed ISIL fighters in control of the main Fallujah highway, and officials and witnesses inside the town told the Reuters news agency that ISIL was in control of nothern and northeastern parts of the town.
The ISIL has been tightening its grip in the Sunni-dominated desert province, near the Syrian border, in recent months in its effort to create an Islamic state across the Iraqi-Syrian borders.
In Ramadi, the other main city in Anbar, local tribesmen and the Iraqi security forces have worked together to counter the ISIL.
But in Fallujah, the Iraqi army has been prevented from entering by local Sunni tribesmen who, despite not supporting al-Qaeda fighters, are opposed to the Shia dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Imran Khan, Al Jazeera’s Iraq correspondent, said: “The Iraqi army is on the outskirts of the town, negotiating with tribal leaders to go and fight the ISIL. They need cooperation from the leaders to go in and root out the militants.
“The military had a base just outside, from where they were shelling the city. They have withdrawn from that base and the tribal leaders have moved in, claiming a victory, but it isn’t clear yet from the army if it was rather a tactical withdrawal.”
More than 100 people were killed on Friday during fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi, one of the worst days since violence flared when Iraqi police broke up a Sunni protest camp in Anbar on Monday.
The escalating tension shows the civil war in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are battling President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Shia Iran, is spilling over to other countries such as Iraq, threatening delicate sectarian balances.
Mohamed Adel (right) and Ahmed Maher (left) were sentenced with protesting without permission [Reuters]
|A Cairo court has sentenced three leading activists to three years in prison for organising an illegal protest, the latest move in a widening crackdown on critics of the interim government.Two of the three activists, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, are leading members of the April 6 movement. The third is Ahmed Douma, a longtime activist who has been arrested under each of Egypt’s three post-revolutionary governments.
The court on Sunday also handed down fines of 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,200).
The defendants were charged with organising a protest last month outside Abdeen Court in downtown Cairo. Maher was at the court to turn himself in on charges connected with another illegal protest, also in November, outside the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.
A restrictive law approved last month requires demonstrators to seek advance approval from the interior ministry.
The defendants were also charged with obstructing traffic, “thuggery,” and damaging private property: Security forces and protesters briefly scuffled with batons and plastic furniture from a nearby cafe. Officers said the defendants attacked them first. April 6 has denied this, and called the charges “political.”
Douma was arrested at his home several days after Maher turned himself in. Adel remained free until early Thursday morning, when he was detained during a raid on a local human rights organisation.
Thousands of people have been arrested since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July, most of them supporters of the president and his Muslim Brotherhood. But the crackdown has recently widened to include liberal and secular activists.
Morsi supporters protested outside the court where the deposed president faced the initial charges [EPA]
|Egypt’s deposed President Mohamed Morsi will stand trial on charges of “conspiring with foreign groups” to commit “terrorist acts.”Morsi, toppled by the military in July and already on trial for alleged involvement in the killings of opposition protesters, was also accused on Wednesday of divulging “secrets of defence to foreign countries” and “funding terrorism for militant training to fulfil the goals of the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood”, according to a prosecutor document seen by Al Jazeera sources.
Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered Morsi and 35 co-accused to stand trial on charges including conspiring with foreign organisations to commit terrorist acts in Egypt and divulging military secrets to a foreign state.
In a statement, the prosecutor said that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had committed acts of violence and terrorism in Egypt and prepared a “terrorist plan” that included an alliance with the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Some defendants, including Essam Haddad, Morsi’s second in command when president, were also accused of betraying state secrets to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The prosecution also alleged Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a surge of attacks on soldiers and police following Morsi’s overthrow, centred mostly in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
Prosecutors say the intention of the attacks was to “bring back the deposed president and to bring Egypt back into the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip”.
Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Cairo, said the charges were tantamount to a series of very serious treason charges, which carry the death penalty in Egypt.
“I suspect a lot of Morsi’s supporters will see these as outlandish charges designed to try to sideline the opposition once and for all,” he said.
Mohamed Al Damaty, the spokesman of Morsi’s defence team told Al Jazeera that they had not seen the court documents relating to the case.
“We did not receive the court documents to this case,” he said.
“We don’t know further details and there is a gag order on this case by the prosecutor banning media from publishing its details for what they call endangering national security. No date for the trial has been set yet.”
The trial appears to stem from an investigation into prison breaks during a 2011 uprising against strongman Hosni Mubarak, when Morsi and other prisoners escaped, AFP reports.
Prosecutors have alleged the jailbreaks were carried out by Palestinian and Lebanese armed groups, who had members imprisoned under Mubarak.
Al Jazeera sources said that prosecutor copy labelled the trial as the “biggest case in Egypt’s history of conspiring against Egypt.”
According to the text, the Muslim Brotherhood had been involved in smuggling weapons and allowing its members to enter Gaza through tunnels in the Sinai to receive training from factions of Hezbollah and Iranians.
It also said members had received training on communication and dealing with media through communication with the West through Qatar and Turkey.
Devyani Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed over an alleged visa fraud [Facebook]
|The simmering tension between New Delhi and Washington over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York has escalated into a major row with the boycott of a visiting US Congressional delegation by India’s political leaders.India has also asked all US diplomats stationed in India to turn in their identity cards. Police barricades outside the US embassy in New Delhi have been removed and access for US diplomatic staff to airports curtailed. More retaliatory measures are expected, reports said.
On Tuesday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and federal home minister Sushilkumar Shinde refused to meet the visiting delegation in protest against the “despicable and barbaric” treatment meted to the arrested diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York.
The five-member delegation to New Delhi, facing a general boycott, is led by Congressman George Holding, representative for North Carolina’s 13th congressional district, who serves on the foreign affairs committee and judiciary committee. The four other Congressmen are Pete Olson, David Schweikert, Robert Woodall and Madeliene Bordallo.
News of Khobragade being lodged in a prison cell in the company of drug addicts and being subject to a strip search have angered India’s mandarins and political bosses. The diplomat was also subject to a DNA swab.
The spat between the United States and India strikes a discordant note at a time when relationship between the two countries is otherwise on a high, especially in the last one decade which has seen unprecedented cooperation in various areas of civilian and defence sectors.
Reacting to the Khobragade’s incarceration, India’s national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon described the treatment as “despicable and barbaric.”
Media reports quoting Indian government sources said New Delhi is considering “reciprocal steps” later on Tuesday so as to “convey a clear message that this treatment of the diplomat is unacceptable.”
On Monday, speaker of the lower house (Lok Sabha) of India’s parliament Meira Kumar declined to meet the visiting US congressional delegation.
Handcuffed in public
The Indian diplomat, aged 39, was arrested on Thursday as she was dropping her daughter to school. She was handcuffed in public and later freed on bail worth $250,000.
US police accuse Khobragade of lying in her visa application for the purposes of recruiting an Indian national who was employed as housekeeper at her home and was paid less than $ 4 an hour, which is lower than US minimum wages.
Her father Uttam Khobragade, a former IAS officer, was quoted by the NDTV news channel as saying, “My daughter is brave, but I’m worried. There’s more than what meets the eye.”
After her arrest, India’s foreign secretary Sujatha Singh summoned the US envoy in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, and protested over the “unacceptable treatment” meted out to Khobragade, a senior consular officer.
The US has defended its actions saying its Marshals followed standard procedures. Countering India’s stand that the arrest flouted the Vienna convention governing diplomatic immunity, the US said diplomats enjoyed immunity from their courts only in the exercise of their consular functions.
“We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India,” said Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman. “Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended.”
India has said even if a diplomat is arrested for a purported serious crime, all courtesies must be extended to the diplomat and not be treated like a common criminal.
Today’s technology, tomorrow’s trash?
As a UN report warns of the hazards of electronic waste, we ask if the world is ready to tackle technology trash.
Inside Story Last updated: 16 Dec 2013 11:24
|The number of electronic and electrical gadgets being dumped around the world is set to soar, raising concerns about the impact on the environment and human health.
Rapid advances in technology are giving rise to what is being described as a buy-it-and-bin-it generation. People are throwing away everything from TVs to toys, computers to cameras, and mobile phones to motorised toothbrushes.
Now, a new UN study is forecasting that the amount of global e-waste, as it is called, will rise by one-third by 2017.
The report says 48.9 million metric tons of e-waste was produced last year. That is expected to rise by 33 percent by 2017 bringing total global e-waste to 65.4 million tons.
That is enough to fill a line of 40-ton trucks that, end-to-end, would stretch three-quarters of the way around the world.
The largest producers are the US and China. They generated 10 million tons and 11.1 million tons respectively last year.
Each American is said to be responsible for an average 29.8kg of hi-tech trash a year that is almost six times higher than China’s per capita figure of 5.4kg.
“There are laws in Europe, quite strong laws, about the rules what we can export or what we cannot export yet we see these laws are disregarded often and we see the evidence in places like Ghana, Nigeria, India and China where we can go to the dump sites and see computers from Europe openly being broken down illegally,” explains Julian Newman, the campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK.
The UN study has been carried out by StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem), a coalition of UN organisations, industry, governments, NGOs and science bodies.
“Some countries are moving towards safe recycling and reuse of e-waste. But it’s feared the increasing demand for electronics, will overwhelm existing facilities. This could see millions of tonnes of waste dumped into landfills,” Ruediger Kuehr, the executive secretary of StEP told Al Jazeera.
The report warns that e-waste is being dumped illegally in developing countries. It says the garbage contains toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which can seep into landfills, contaminating the ground, water and air.
The study adds that devices are often dismantled in dangerous conditions, harming the health of those involved.
StEP is calling for better monitoring of e-waste exports, and more effective rules for the treatment of electrical junk.
So why is today’s technology destined to become tomorrow’s trash? And what is being done to tackle the growing global crisis of e-waste?
Inside Story presenter Sohail Rahman discusses with guests: Sami Uz Zaman, a consultant for Global Environmental Management Services, an environmental court judge, and an industrial research scientist in Pakistan; Julian Newman, the campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK; and Akshat Ghiya, the co-founder and director of Karma Recycling, specialising in electronic waste in India.
While much has been said about the benefits of Bernanke’s wealth effect to the asset-owning “10%”, just as much has been said about the ever deteriorating plight of the remaining debt-owning 90%, who are forced to resort to labor to provide for their families, and more specifically how their living condition has deteriorated over not only the past five years, since the start of the Fed’s great experiment, but over the past several decades as well. However, in the case of America’s “servant” class, Al Jazeera finds that their plight is now worse than it has been at any time over the past century, going back all the way to 1910!
According to Al Jazeera, “at least one class of American workers is having a much harder time today than a decade ago, than during the Great Depression and than a century ago: servants. The reason for this, surprisingly enough, is outsourcing. Let me explain. Prosperous American families have adopted the same approach to wages for servants as big successful companies, hiring freelance outside contractors for all sorts of functions from child care and handyman chores to gardening and cleaning work to reduce costs. Instead of the live-in servants, who were common in the prosperous households of America before World War II, better off families now outsource the family cook, maid and nanny. It is part of a global problem in developed countries that is getting more attention worldwide than in the U.S.”
The reality is that the modern servant is also known as the minimum-wage burger flipper, whose recent weeks have been spent in valiant, if very much futile, strikes in an attempt to increase the minimum wage their are paid. Futile, because recall that in its first “national hiring day” McDonalds hired 62,000 workers…. and turned down 938,000! Such is the sad reality of the unskilled modern day worker at the bottom the labor pyramid.
Unfortunately, we anticipate many more strikes in the future of America’s disenfranchised poorest, especially once they realize that their conditions are worse even than compared to live in servants from the turn of the century.
Al Jazeera crunches the numbers:
Consider the family cook. Many family cooks now work at family restaurants and fast food joints. This means that instead of having to meet a weekly payroll, families can hire a cook only as needed.
A household cook typically earned $10 a week in 1910, century-old books on the etiquette of hiring servants show. That is $235 per week in today’s money, while the federal minimum wage for 40 hours now comes to $290 a week.
At first blush that looks like a real raise of $55 a week, or nearly a 25-percent increase in pay. But in fact, the 2013 minimum wage cook is much worse off than the 1910 cook. Here’s why:
- The 1910 cook earned tax-free pay, while 2013 cook pays 7.65 percent of his income in Social Security taxes as well as income taxes on more than a third of his pay, assuming full-time work every week of the year. For a single person, that’s about $29 of that $55 raise deducted for taxes.
- Unless he can walk to work, today’s outsourced family cook must cover commuting costs. A monthly transit pass costs $75 in Los Angeles, $95 in Atlanta and $122 in New York City, so bus fare alone runs $17 to $25 a week, eating up a third to almost half of the seeming increase in pay, making the apparent raise pretty much vanish.
- The 1910 cook got room and board, while the 2013 cook must provide his own living space and food.
More than half of fast food workers are on some form of welfare, labor economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois reported in October after analyzing government economic statistics.
Data on domestic workers is scant because Congress excludes them from both regular data gathering by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and laws giving workers rights to rest periods and collective bargaining.
Nevertheless, what we do know is troubling. These days 60 percent of domestic workers spend half of their income just on housing and a fifth run out of food some time each month.
A German study found that in New York City domestic workers pay ranges broadly, from an illegal $1.43 to $40 an hour, with a quarter of workers earning less than the legal minimum wage. The U.S. median pay for domestic servants was estimated at $10 an hour.
We are falling backwards in America, back to the Gilded Age conditions a century and more ago when a few fortunate souls grew fabulously rich while a quarter of families had to take in paying boarders to make ends meet. Only back then, elites gave their servants a better deal.
Thorstein Veblen, in his classic 1899 book “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” observed that “the need of vicarious leisure, or conspicuous consumption of service, is a dominant incentive to the keeping of servants.” Nowadays, servants are just as important to elites, except that they are conspicuous in their competition to avoid paying servants decent wages.
But… but… how is that possible if the stock market is at all time highs and the wealth is US households just rose by $1.9 trillion in one short quarter. Oh wait, what they meant is “some” households.
And, of course if all else fails, America’s “free” servants, stuck in miserable lives working minimum wage jobs for corporations where the only focus in on shareholder returns and cutting overhead, can volunteer to return to a state of “semi-slavery” (while keeping the iPhones and apps of course, both paid on credit) and become live-in servants for America’s financial oligarchy and the like. We hear the numerous apartments of Wall Street’s CEOs have quite spacious servants’ quarters.