The Amazon

‘Development’ deal to ‘protect’ (=destroy) Amazon

The US and Brazil announced an agreement to promote private-sector development in the Amazon rainforest. US officials said a $100 million fund will be established to “protect biodiversity” by supporting businesses in hard-to-reach areas of the forest. As if to drive home how cynical all this is, just days later Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in his address to the UN General Assembly unabashedly asserted his right to go on destroying the Amazon, saying it is a “fallacy” to describe the Amazon as the heritage of humanity and a “misconception” that its forests are the lungs of the world. (Image via Veganist)

The Andes

Delays in Peruvian climate change lawsuit

A lawsuit brought by a Peruvian farmer and mountain guide against a European utility over the imminently threatening impacts of climate change in the high Andes has been stalled for months in the evidentiary stage, partiially due to the lack of an inter-governmental legal assistance agreement between Germany and Peru. Earlier this year, the Higher Regional Court of Hamm, in North Rhine-Westphalia, made a request to the government of Peru to be allowed to inspect the alpine lakes that are the subject of the lawsuit. This is expected to take at least one year to arrange. Meanwhile, signs mount of the glaciers above the lakes becoming destabilized by warming, portending a regional disaster. (Photo via GermanWatch)

North America

Kentucky: unpaid miners block rail line

For over a week now, some 100 laid-off miners and their families have occupied a railroad track in Kentucky’s Harlan County, blocking a train loaded with coal that the workers dug out of the earth but never got paid for. The miners want their jobs back, if possible—but first of all, they want their wages for the work they already did. Blackjewel LLC abruptly shut down all its mines and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Partway through a shift, workers were told the bad news and sent home. The miners never got their last paycheck. And their second-to-last paycheck, already deposited, disappeared from their bank accounts. The miners also never received any paper notice of their layoff, which proved a bureaucratic obstacle when they filed for unemployment. Another major Kentucky coal producer, Cambrian Coal LLC, also plans to sell off its assets in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case that could impact hundreds of coal miners in Eastern Kentucky. (Photo: Megan Roark-Halcomb via Labor Notes)

Africa

Land defender slain in Democratic Republic of Congo

A Congolese environmental and human rights activist was killed by a security guard of the Canadian palm-oil company Feronia Inc, near the company’s Boteka plantation in Eqauteur province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The killing follows months of intimidation directed at local communities that have filed a grievance against the company for its occupation of their lands. Joël Imbangola Lunea operated a motor-boat to transport people and goods between local villages. He was also a community leader and member of the NGO Information & Support Network of the DRC (RIAO-RDC), and was involved in mediating land disputes. He was killed when his boat, filled with passengers and luggage, was approached by a security guard who accused him of transporting stolen palm oil from the plantation. He was beaten and finally strangled to death, his body thrown into the Moboyo River. (Photo of Lunea at mediation session via RIAO-RDC)

Central Asia

Uighurs as pawns in the Great Game

In a perverse spectacle, the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, makes a great show of feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China’s “re-education camps.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century,” and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. It is hard to fault the Ughurs for being heartened by this international attention, but it is clear that they are being exploited for propaganda purposes. (Photo: Mvslim.com)

The Amazon

‘Silk Road’ to Peruvian Amazon?

Peru is to sign a memorandum of understanding to join China’s Belt & Road international infrastructure initiative, Beijing’s ambassador to Lima said. The announcement coincided with a Beijing summit to promote the initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, where Peru’s trade minister stated that a revision of Lima’s Free Trade Agreement with China will be implemented next year. These announcements come amid growing environmentalist concern over the Hidrovía Amazónica, a Chinese-backed mega-project aimed at further opening Peru’s eastern rainforests to resource exploitation. (Photo: Segundo Enfoque)

North Africa

Lavalin-Libya sleaze at issue in Trudeau turpitude

Canadian opposition parties are crying foul after an investigation into the corruption scandal rocking the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was shut down by a parliamentary committee dominated by his ruling Liberals. The affair concerns Quebec-based construction giant SNC-Lavalin's apparent attempts to secure leniency from the Trudeau government in various criminal investigations it faces. Obstruction of justice charges were stayed earlier this year against Lavalin executive Sami Bebawi, on the ostensible basis that too much time had elapsed since the offense under investigation—which involved alleged bribes to the Moammar Qaddafi regime to secure construction contracts in Libya in 2011. The company is best known within Canada for controversial mega-projects under contruction from British Columbia to Labrador. (Photo: BC Hydro via Journal of Commerice)

Central Asia

Podcast: Tibet and the struggle for cyberspace

In Episode 28 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with trepidation Google’s plans to develop a censored search engine for China, and thereby be allowed back through the Great Firewall to access the world's largest market. But the next and more sinister step is imposing China's draconian standards for control of information on all Internet users, worldwide. Harbingers of this are already seen in Facebook's censorship of the Tibetan struggle, and of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, as well as initiatives to suppress footage of Israeli war crimes. While protesting such moves is imperative, the potential for such abuses in inherent to the technology—and this, ultimately, is a deeper and more complex problem that also demands a thoroughgoing critique. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: Students for a Free Tibet)

Watching the Shadows

Podcast: fascism and the digital dystopia II

In Episode 25 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg protests that he has now been deprived of phone and Internet access by Verizon for more than two months, and discusses the greater social implications of this dilemma. Donald Trump, who is a fascist by any reasonable definition, has now shut down the federal government and is threatening to declare a national emergency in order to build his border wall. Lack of other net access at this critical moment has forced Weinberg to use a cell phone in order to have any voice as a writer and activist—while cellular technology is itself inherently abetting the descent into fascism. Not only does it create a totalizing propaganda environment, but it is degrading our attention spans, literacy and critical thinking skills. It also creates a totalizing surveillance environment that can ultimately be exploited by government as well as private interests. But we accept it in the name of "convenience" and the illusion of consumer "choice," and few even recognize technological "progress" (note: propaganda word) as something that needs to be resisted. This emerging dystopia combines the worst aspects of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: we are complicit in the extinguishing of our own freedom because we have been conditioned. Weinberg calls for practical action to slow (at least) the totalizing aspect of this dystopia: keeping alive space for the print world and the meat world, and demanding that Verizon and other service providers maintain landline infrastructure. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: IBEW)

Central Asia

US companies profit from Uighur forced labor?

A top US sportswear company announced that it has dropped a Chinese supplier over concerns that its products were made by forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang. Reports have mounted that the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs believed to be held in a fast-expanding system of detention camps are being put to forced labor for Chinese commercial interests. An Associated Press investigation tracked recent shipments from one such detention-camp factory, run by privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, to Badger Sportswear of North Carolina. After long denying that the camps exist, Chinese authorities now say they are "vocational training centers" aimed at reducing "extremism." (Photo via Bitter Winter)

Europe

Car industry behind Hungary’s ‘slave law’

In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orba''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment. (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)

New York City

Podcast: Verizon delenda est

In Episode 22 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants in anguish about how he has been deprived of phone and Internet access by Verizon's cynical design to let its copper network deteriorate and impose the transition to cellular, fiber and wireless on consumers against their will. There is no reason to believe this outage will be temporary. The illusions of freedom of choice and communications convenience has left the CounterVortex editor and main ranter with no choice and no ability to communicate—or to produce the journalism he needs to daily produce to make a living. Weinberg contends that his right to work—guaranteed by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—is being violated with impunity. Verizon is in violation of international law, as well as New York state law. Weinberg calls upon the New York Public Service Commission to enforce the law on Verizon. He also calls upon the New York Public Utility Law Project to reach out to metro-area consumers similarly left without land-line service, and organize a class-action lawsuit against Verizon. Much more ambitiously, he calls for a public expropriation of Verizon, and the redirection of its technology, infrastructure and capital toward serving the social good rather than private profit. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: IBEW)