Sunday, August 11, 2013
McDonald's in New York's Times Square, in midsummer. The fast food store heaves with native New Yorkers and tourists, including a table of Filipino nuns and a troupe of burlesque actors. The staff, remarkably unstressed, offer only accommodating smiles. But behind the scenes the atmosphere is anything but relaxed. McDonald's, along with dozens of profitable Wall Street-listed fast food and retail chains, is being rocked by unprecedented workforce- and consumer-led protests over wages and conditions. Since last year, when Walmart faced the first co-ordinated strikes in its history over pay and conditions, similar protests have been spreading through America's low-wage workforce. Earlier this month thousands of fast food workers in cities including New York, Chicago and Detroit took to the streets, many wearing red "Fight for 15" T-shirts – a reference to the popular call for a $15 (£9.70) hourly wage, almost double the current minimum. With more protests planned for the autumn, America's most marginalised, vulnerable and exploited workforce is on the march. "We're frustrated and we're angry," says Alex Mack, 33, a worker at Wendy's in Chicago. "I make $8.25 an hour and it's impossible to live on. I'm a father, a husband. I'm always robbing Peter to pay Paul, shorting one bill to pay another." But Mack is optimistic that the strike action will be successful. "If we stick together, it's not impossible," he says. The one-day protests struck not only McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC but also more expensive retail stores such as Nike, Macy's and Victoria's Secret. Last month McDonald's made headlines after it published a guide budget for employees living on the minimum wage – a gesture that backfired after the firm's own calculations showed survival on what it paid was only possible with a second job or if you live without a food budget or heating. "The McDonald's wage – like any minimum wage – is basically a starvation wage," says John Mason, a professor of politics at William Paterson University in New Jersey. "It effectively places you at 30% below the official poverty budget." Though the US stock market is reaching historic highs, the share of the population in work is near a three-decade low. More than half the 162,000 new jobs recorded in July's jobs report were in low-wage industries. It's a situation, say economists, in which unemployment appears to be falling, but the reality is that the jobs being created are either part-time and offer no benefits or are so poorly paid they require an additional job or government assistance. The middle class is being not so much squeezed as suffocated. "The five largest employers in the US, including Walmart and McDonald's, all pay minimum wage, or close to it," says Mason. "They only succeed in this strategy because they're massively subsidised by the government through food stamps and Medicare." When the US emerged from recession in the early 90s, members of Generation X were locked angrily into "McJobs". Now those same jobs are filled with older, better-educated workers, many trying to support families. It's those workers in "poverty-wage" employment who are pressing for reform, says Jonathan Westin, director of Fast Food Forward. "Many have been pushed out of well-paying jobs and found themselves in the fast food industry struggling to get by," he says. "It's not teenagers working for pocket money, it's mothers and fathers." Westin's group began organising in New York late last year. The early walkouts attracted dozens of workers. Now the rallies number thousands of protesters. "The fast food industry has been dismissive of the plight of their workers and their demands for a living wage," he says. And they don't buy the industry's claim that wage levels are set by individual franchises. "They claim no responsibility for the wages that keep millions of workers in poverty, but we know they maximise profits by controlling franchises as strictly as possible." While the White House, economists and Congress (which is considering a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years) appear supportive, their proposals fall well short of demands. "These are multibillion-dollar companies, yet we're understaffed and underpaid," says Shenita Simon-Toussant, a shift supervisor at a KFC in Brooklyn, who gets $8.25 an hour. "I have a husband in part-time work and three children, and it's impossible to survive on. We need a living wage." The restaurant and retail industries say theirs are low-margin businesses. A typical McDonald's franchise earns around six cents on the dollar; the combined profit of major US retailers, restaurant chains and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 index is smaller than the profits of Apple alone. A $15 minimum hourly wage, it is claimed, could lead to businesses closing and fewer jobs. Some industry groups warn the protests could lead to further automation and consequent loss of jobs. Yet a recent study suggests the cost to consumers if the wage demands were met would be only 20 cents per item. For companies, the pressure to ensure corporate profit has typically outweighed the demands of labour, says Professor Arne Kalleberg, author of Good Jobs, Bad Jobs. These are not union-sponsored protests, he points out, but socially organised protests. "Frustration has been building for a long time," he says, "and this is spontaneous, non-union activity by people who are increasingly frustrated by the system, and it's catching on." In Times Square, retired schoolteacher Patricia Murray says she believes the change in the profile of fast food workers will ultimately force the hand of the low-wage employers. "Lack of education and the need to survive forced people to accept this pay and conditions, but I think it could be changing," she says. The fast food and retail strikes are not the only sign of developing protest. In Chicago, public sector unions are battling mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's former chief of staff, over proposals to cut pensions and benefits while offering generous tax breaks to developers of a new sports stadium. "Folks at the bottom are not seeing the benefit of huge corporate profits and the rising stock market," says Westin. "They see the price of everything going up except their wages. Until we make these jobs living wage jobs, the economy will not be fully recovered." Westin sees a connection to the Occupy movement. "Occupy helped raise the issue of inequality and inspired a whole movement for protest. But this is a more direct action approach. We're taking these strikes all over the country. People have to take to the streets to be heard. That's what we see and that's why this is going all over the country." While strikers have already been successful in winning incremental wage increases, they're a long way from turning minimum wage "McJobs" into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family, especially if consumers won't tolerate higher prices. Forty years ago the largest employers in the US were unionised companies such as General Electric and US Steel, paying more than the median household income. Now, when minimum wage companies are the largest employers, studies suggest four out of five Americans will experience poverty or near poverty in their working lives. Even relatively privileged workers are caught "in the scissors" between low-wage employment and student debt, points out Mason. "It means they can't get married, can't buy a car or a house, and this is giving oxygen to anarchist-types coming out of Occupy." Shenita Simon-Toussant still plans to go to work at KFC with a smile, "because that's the persona of all fast food restaurants. You can't go in there frowning. But I'm angry. There's going to be a domino effect and you're going to be hearing a lot more from us."
The Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain has stepped up its crackdown on citizen journalists ahead of a major opposition rally in the country, reports say. On August 7, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa banned protests in the capital, Manama, ahead of the August 14 celebrations of the country’s independence from the United Kingdom. The opposition is planning to hold a major protest on the same day. The Manama regime has warned that any protests would face the “force of the law.” Sources say regime agents have confiscated computers, cameras, phones and every other electronic item that bloggers use to cover Bahraini people’s protests for the outside world. On Saturday, US human rights activist, Erin Kilbride was deported from the tiny Persian Gulf sheikdom for posting what Bahraini authorities called “radical” articles on social media websites. The US woman was “using Twitter and a number of websites to publish articles on Bahrain that were deemed to incite hatred against the government and members of the royal family,” Bahrain's Ministry of State for Communications said. The Bahraini uprising began in mid-February 2011. The Al Khalifa regime promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Scores of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses. The protesters say they will continue demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically elected government is met.
Tel Hazor in northern Israel has long been a treasure trove for archeologists, but a recent discovery of part of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian sphinx has been a most unexpected find. Inexplicably buried far from Egypt, the paws of a sphinx statue, resting on its base, have been unearthed with an inscription in hieroglyphs naming King Mycerinus. The pharaoh ruled in 2500 BC and oversaw the construction of one of the three Giza pyramids, where he was enshrined. "Once in a lifetime you find something like this," says Amnon Ben-Tor, the director of the excavation and a professor at Hebrew University, which sponsors the archeological digging. "This is of extreme importance from many points of view, since it is the only sphinx of this king known in the world -- even in Egypt. It is also the only monumental piece of Egyptian sculpture found anywhere in the Levant," he said, referring to the region spanning the east of the Mediterranean Sea.Ben-Tor says the sphinx was deliberately broken, as were about 10 other Egyptian statues that had been previously found there. When cities fell, he said, most statues had their heads and hands cut off."This is what happened to this one here. He lost his hands," Ben-Tor said. The full sphinx is estimated to have been a meter tall, weighing half a ton. The team will continue to search for the rest of its body on the archeological site covering 200 acres -- even if it takes 600 years, the length of time Ben-Tor expects for the site to be fully excavated. As for the biggest question of all -- how the sphinx got to Tel Hazor -- it will likely remain a mystery. "Maybe this was a gift which the Egyptian king sent to the local king of Hazor. Maybe. To prove it? Impossible," Ben-Tor said. Tel Hazor was the capital of the city of Canaan 4,000 years ago, its population reaching 20,000. Located on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon, the city prospered. Excavations first began in the 1950s, and it is now recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. During most of the year, this remote part of Israel is quiet. But every summer, archeologists, students and volunteers descend on Tel Hazor to uncover how the ancients lived. The site has become important for biblical archeology, which aims to illuminate events in the Bible.There is no shortage of artifacts here, with discoveries seemingly made daily, including clay pots and bowls. But the real goal is to use them to understand civilizations. "The documents we found at Hazor tell us about the people, tell us about their names, about their culture, about their cult, about marriages, about divorces, about economies," Ben-Tor says. "All these things we learned from out at Hazor. We did not just find mute stones. We have to make these stones speak. And that's what we do." But experts and volunteers say part of the rewards of working on the excavation is getting to know a different group of people -- those still living. Shlomit Bechar, a doctoral candidate in archeology at Hebrew University, serves as a supervisor of volunteers over the summer. "There's also a story behind every find. A human story. Not just ancient humans, but also the volunteers that we have in the area," she said. Coming here is considered an experience of a lifetime, even though the work is hard and there is no pay. One of the volunteers, Robin Jenkins, is not an archeologist but has been coming to Tel Hazor from Canada for 10 years. He is a self-described archeology junkie on a "workcation." "You get to meet people from all over the world," he said. "Israel's a great country. This site is really interesting. Every year something new comes up."
Former US Ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill says Saudi Arabia is sponsoring violence in Iraq and represents the biggest challenge to the Iraqi government. In secret US cables dating back to 2009, talking about Iraq’s relationship with its neighbors, Hill said, “Saudi Arabia constitutes the biggest challenge and the problem is more complex in relation to the Iraqi politicians who are trying to form a stable and independent government.” He also stressed that Riyadh funds al-Qaeda attacks in Iraq. The cables showed that “Saudi Arabia was sponsoring sectarian incitement and allowed elders issue fatwas (decrees) enticing to kill followers of other sects.” Hill also pointed out in his message that “intelligence sources reported that Saudi Arabia is based in the effort to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”Iraq has seen a surge in violence since the beginning of this year. More than 60 people were killed and some 200 others wounded in a wave of bomb attacks across Iraq on Saturday, mostly in the capital Baghdad. Iraqi authorities said nine blasts have rocked mostly Shia neighborhoods as people were celebrating Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The United Nations said on August 1 that a total of 1,057 Iraqis were killed and another 2,326 were wounded in acts of terrorism and violence in the month of July, making it the country’s deadliest month since 2008. More than 4,000 people have died in terrorist attacks in Iraq so far in 2013, with Baghdad province being the worst hit.
A teacher has been expelled from Bahrain for allegedly posting anti-regime messages on Twitter and other internet sites. The Bahraini government decried the US citizen, who they claim has links to Hezbollah, for ‘inciting hatred’ towards the royal family.
"She has published a number of articles for online media, including Lebanon's Hezbollah-linked As-Safir newspaper and the illegal Bahrain Center for Human Rights Newsletter, among others," said the statement by the ministry. The subject matter that Kilbride posted was "deemed to incite hatred against the government and members of the Royal family," added the Ministry of State for Communications.The statement also informed that a Kilbride’s landlord had told authorities that the US citizen had a Hezbollah flag in her apartment. At the beginning of August the Bahraini authorities outlawed all websites with links to Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and a number of other groups. The deportation of Kilbride is the latest in a series of crackdowns on dissent in the Gulf country where protests against the monarchy have raged since 2011. Earlier this month Bahrain’s King Hamad signed a decree effectively prohibiting opposition protests in the country’s capital, Manama. The decree will "ban organizing protests, rallies, gatherings or sit-ins in Manama, with the exception of sit-ins outside [offices of] international organizations" in the capital held with written police authorization, according to Bahraini state news. The move comes ahead of a major opposition rally on August 14, amid calls from the Shiite-led protesters for the ouster of the government. In response, authorities have warned that demonstrators would meet with the “force of the law” and be severely punished. Anti-government demonstrations calling for more freedoms for Bahrain’s Shiite majority have become an almost daily occurrence. They protest the heavy handed tactics employed by the Sunni minority rulers to crackdown on dissent in the Gulf kingdom. Since the protest movement emerged over two years ago the International Federation for Human Rights estimates that around 80 people have been killed. Several Bahrain-based human rights groups have appealed to international organizations to come and observe the August 14 protests in view of what they describe as a “rapidly deteriorating” human rights situation in the country. Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth fleet, has come under sharp criticism from international human rights organizations. Middle East and North Africa Director for Amnesty International Philip Luther said that there are fears these “draconian measures will be used in an attempt to legitimize state violence.”
indiatimes.comIndia on Sunday said it wants the Pakistan government to take responsibility for killing of five of its soldiers on the LoC and asserted that all issues will be factored in "objectively" in dealing with the neighbouring country. Noting that Pakistan government will remain responsible for any such incidents, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said India has done a "lot more" to contribute to the peace process and insisted that the neighbouring country must take responsibility for the LoC incident. "The responsibility must rest with the government. Our meeting point is the civilian elected government of Pakistan, not the Pakistan Army or any other agency," he said. Referring to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's statement on killing of five Indian soldiers, Khurshid rued that there was no indication of acceptance of responsibility for the attack. "One element is that the regret about what has happened, which has certainly been mentioned. But, there is no indication of acceptance of responsibility. "Whether I can expect or not, we have said that we expect responsibility. That hasn't happened, one. Two, the other concern of what we have been expecting...culpability for what happened in Mumbai. There in no indication of that. And, finally, the statement doesn't take into account, the outreach and the extra mile that India has periodically gone to overcome great difficulties posed," Khurshid told Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate programme of CNN-IBN. Asked whether he was looking forward for a meeting between Prime Ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month, Khurshid did not give a direct reply. "If Prime Minister of our country takes a position, it is fair that we let our Prime Minister take a position," he said. Asked whether the attack was an attempt to derail the talks between the two countries, he said there may be such possibility but added that it does not take the responsibility away from Pakistan government for the incident.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon will arrive in Islamabad Tuesday for a two-day visit, the state media reported Saturday. During his stay, Ban will discuss steps for polio eradication and promotion of education, especially women education, with Pakistani leaders, Xinhua cited Radio Pakistan as saying. According to the World Heath Organisation, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan remained polio-endemic in 2013. The UN secretary general is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, prime minister and speaker of the National Assembly among others. Ban will also take part in the country's Independence Day celebrations Aug 14.
By ANIPakistan has now violated the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) for the third time in 72-hours, the latest being in Mendhar Sector on Sunday. According to reports, there has been heavy firing from the Pakistani side on the forward areas in Balakot, Mendhar Sector, since 11 a.m. This has been the second ceasefire violation by Pakistan along the LoC today. According to reports, Pakistan had earlier targeted two posts of the Border and Security Force (BSF) in which one of its personnel was injured this morning. The injured BSF personnel has been shifted to Jammu Medical college. More details are awaited regarding the Mendhar Sector violation. Pakistan violated the cease-fire late between late Friday night and Saturday morning, when the troops opened fire on several points near the Indian army's Durga post in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch District around midnight, forcing the Indian Army to retaliate. Additionally, on August 6 Pakistani Specialist Forces ambushed six Indian soldiers in Poonch District of Jammu and Kashmir. Relations between the two countries have been tense in the past week and there have been questions raised over whether talks between India and Pakistan will go on. Defence Minister A.K. Antony, on August 8, made a fresh statement in the Lok Sabha where he accepted and acknowledged after being briefed by the Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh, that Specialist Forces of the Pakistan Army were involved in the ambushed attack on six Indian Army soldiers on Tuesday morning in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch District, leading to the death of five of them. "It is now clear that Specialist Forces of the Pakistan Army were involved in the attack. Those in Pakistan, who are responsible for this tragedy, should not go unpunished. Our restraint should not be taken for granted," said Antony. Antony said that his earlier statement to both Houses of Parliament were made on the basis of facts available to him then, and that now, he was making a fresh and amended statement based on the feedback provided to him by General Bikram Singh after the latter's visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday. He also warned that attacks such as this would have consequences not only on the Line of Control (LoC), but also naturally on the (future) relationship with Pakistan. He said that the Indian Government would not stand by the wayside and allow the sanctity of the LoC to be violated time and again.
http://www.nydailynews.com/The top U.S. and coalition commander in Afghanistan stressed Saturday that the signing of a stalled bilateral security agreement between America and Afghanistan was a priority. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who commands the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, told the Associated Press it was important to sign the deal, which has been stalled since June by President Hamid Karzai.Afghanistan and the United States have been negotiating the agreement, which would allow the presence of foreign troops beyond the end of 2014. Although no numbers have been announced yet, it is believed they would be about 9,000 troops from the U.S. and 6,000 from its allies. There are currently about 100,000 troops from 48 countries in Afghanistan, including 66,000 Americans.
http://www.pajhwok.com/Violence against women has increased in northern Takhar province, where 180 cases were registered over the past four months, compared to 100 incidents during the same period last year, an official says. Takhar Women’s Affairs director Razm Ara Hawash told Pajhwok Afghan News during an interview that her department was deeply concerned about the increasing incidents of violence against the gender. The incidents registered included self-immolation, runaway from homes, beating, forced marriages and others, she said. Hawash said 16 women were murdered last year and four killed over the past four months. Earlier this year, a man shot dead his wife in Taluqan, the provincial capital, and another three women were found mysteriously dead elsewhere in the province. Similarly, an 18-year-old girl was found dead in Ghar district, six months after she had allegedly been forced to marry an imam, who had already two wives. Her killers are still at large, according to local residents. However, Hawash said the provincial women’s affairs department was satisfied with the progress being made by the judiciary, security organs and the media in dealing with incidents of violence against women and investigating them. Takhar police spokesman Abdul Khalil Aseer said most individuals involved in incidents of violence against women had been detained and referred to the judiciary. Last year, there were 4,500 incidents of violence against women and girls across the country, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Hawash also mentioned some this year’s vocational courses for women aimed at improving their skills. She said the women who participated in literacy courses had been able to lead their lives on their own.
Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfandyar Wali Khan has expressed concern over law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, saying lawlessness and terrorism was on the rise in the province, Geo News reported. Speaking to media in Charsadda here Saturday, Asfandyar said lawlessness and terror activities were on the rise as compared to the past. He said the KP government should resign on moral grounds after D.I Khan jailbreak.
Opposition leader Khurshid Shah has said that Islam is being defamed by terrorists who have nothing to do with ideology and practice of universal laws of Islam. While talking to the media on Saturday, he said that the government has only concern with hike in taxes and prices. The Opposition would protest against the silence of the government in the next session of the National Assembly, said PPP leader. He said that he would like to appeal the masses to defend themselves without having any expectation from the government as it has nothing to do with their rights of life and property; rather its motto is to collect funds in the name of so called progress and prosperity. He said that likely All Parties Conference on terrorism postponed due to stubborn attitude of Imran Khan. Commenting on MQM’s secret communication with the PML-N and the PPP, he said it should avoid riding two horses at the same. Politics is a serious matter not a child play. Furthering his statement, he said that the people who are shedding blood of innocent people for their vested interests are not actually Muslim. He concluded that the entire nation from Karachi to Khyber should stand in face of terrorism by shunning away their fear.
The Baloch HalFootball mad Abdul Basit, 15, dreamt of becoming Pakistan’s Lionel Messi but his ambitions died in a bomb attack that killed him and up to seven others at a four-a-side match in Karachi. It was the latest assault on sport in a country that has hosted no top-level international matches since militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in the eastern city of Lahore in March 2009. Thousands of fans gathered to watch the final of one of many tournaments held during the fasting month of Ramazan in Lyari, the most dangerous neighbourhood of Pakistan’s biggest city. Lyari has overcome a notorious reputation for gang violence that has killed hundreds of people over the past 15 years and miserable facilities to produce the country’s best football players. The half-turf, half-road play area doesn’t bother burgeoning talent in the area who play for pride and a few trophies: there is no prize money in this desperately poor slum. Their life-long dream is matching the likes of Maradona, Messi, Pele and Ronaldo — household names in an area historically ruled by the Pakistan People’s Party of the Bhutto dynasty. The neck and neck match between Baba Ladla 99 and Baba Ladla 92 — both named after a local gangster — finished 7-7 at around 2 am on Wednesday, when many people are still awake in Ramazan. A penalty shoot out handed BL 99 the game but minutes after the crowd erupted in joy, a deafening bomb exploded near the car of the chief guest, provincial minister Javed Nagori. Nagori survived, but Basit and five other young football fans were among the eight whom match organisers said were killed. Life had never been easy for Basit. He was forced to leave school early and worked in a car mechanics, some 500 metres from the site of the attack that killed him. “It’s sad to lose a die-hard fan like Basit,” said former Pakistan international, Aurangzeb Shahmir, who played in the 2003 Asia Cup and who attended the match with his young son. “He lived in my area and was mad about Messi. He wanted to meet the Argentinian players once in his life — but that can never happen now,” Shahmir told AFP. Fans Mohammad Khalil, 15, Jamshed Ahmed, 15, Mohammad Ibrahim, 22 and Shah Waliullah, 22 were also among the dead — most of them wearing the yellow and blue kit of Brazil, the most popular team in Lyari. Shahmir feared the blast will badly affect the game and its fans, already reeling from daily violence in Karachi. “These blasts will hurt football and fans in Lyari for months to come,” he said. Once a hub for producing football and boxing talent, Lyari has suffered badly from gang warfare between drug mafia. Despite several police and military operations, criminals thrive in Lyari, where the mainstream political parties deny accusations that they have de facto armed wings fuelling the violence. The majority of the population come from Balochistan, the oil and gas-rich southwestern province that is one of the most deprived parts of Pakistan, suffering from sectarian and separatist unrest. Football has long given solace to Lyari inhabitants, but former FIFA referee Ahmed Jan says violence is hurting the game. “Football is dying,” said Jan. “It died, maybe, for the last time on Tuesday. If the government fails to maintain law and order soon then I’m afraid this most sports loving part of the city will not be there on the sporting map.” The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) condemned the attack. “Its tragic to note that eight football fans were killed in Lyari. Who knows whether there were potential players among them,” said Naveed Haider, marketing director at PFF. He expressed hope that the qualifiers for the Under-16 Asian Football Confederation, scheduled in Karachi in October, will not be affected. Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates will compete in the event. Naveed added eight of a 16-man squad touring China for next week’s South Asian Youth Games are from Lyari.