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)

New York City

Verizon threatens survival of CounterVortex

CountertVortex editor and main contributor Bill Weinberg (that would be me) is currently without phone service, and only intermittent Internet access, due to a Verizon equipment failure. The last Verizon chat-jockey I spoke with said "it is major cable issue and will need some time to be solved." That basically means they don't intend to fix it. I use DSL and a land-line—going through the old copper wires that Verizon is trying to phase out. If my service is not restored, I will have no means of producing CounterVortex—or the journalism I must write every day to pay the rent. Many people in New York and around the country are in the same position. We urgently must press Verizon to maintain the old copper-wire infrastructure we depend on—which they are required to do by law. (Photo: IBEW)

Watching the Shadows

Amnesty calls on UN to ban ‘killer robots’

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on  the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons. (Photo: Future of Life Institute)

Mexico

Trump announces ‘termination’ of NAFTA

President Trump announced that the US and Mexico have reached an agreement on a new trade deal called the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, which will ultimately terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump called Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto from the White House to announce the new deal. Among a number of changes to NAFTA, both parties agreed to a provision that would require a significant portion of vehicles to be made in high-wage factories, a measure aimed to discourage factory jobs from leaving the US. Trump said he is in communication with Canada about a new trade deal, but is unsure if it will be part of the US-Mexico Trade Agreement. The Trump administration expects the new pact to be signed by the end of November. (Map: CIA)

South Asia

China expands Indian Ocean military footprint

In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. China has also gained access to facilities in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Seychelles and Oman as part of the maritime component of its Silk Road trade and infrastructure initiative. While the Silk Road is an ostensibly civilian project, China has also established its first foreign military base at Djibouti, leading Western wonks to warn that Beijing is seeking a "string of pearls" network of bases across the Indian Ocean.  (Map via CIMSEC)

The Andes

Colombia: will ‘peace’ escalate resource wars?

Colombian authorities are clearly hoping that a return to stability following the peace pact with the FARC rebels will mean more international investment, and especially for the resource sector. But hydro-electric, fracking and mineral projects across the country are already meeting with peasant resistance—prompting state security forces to respond with repression.

Southern Cone

Chileans protest signing of rebooted TPP

Chilean activists protested in Santiago against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests." (Photo: Chile Mejor Sin TPP)

Planet Watch

Arctic oil scramble in offing after GOP tax bill

As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted  to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. Drilling is still years away at best, due to depressed oil prices, a lengthy review process, and likely legal challenges. But oil companies are already arguing over who will have rights to the reserve—while Native Alaskan communities that depend on its critical caribou habitat see impending cultural extermination. (Photo: FWS)

Planet Watch

San Francisco sues fossil fuel companies

San Francisco filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels."

The Andes

Peru: pending law threatens indigenous lands

Indigenous rights advocates in Peru are protesting a law being prepared by the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that would allow the government to abrogate the land titles of indigenous and peasant communities for development projects that are deemed "high-priority." Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, is dubbing Law 1718 the "Law of Dispossession," and calling on Congress to reject it.