As the Abramoff lobby scandal continues to rake up the muck in Washington DC, it is worth noting that it is not just North American Indians and Palestinians who have been at the receiving end of Jack’s shennanigans but also many Bangladeshi migrant workers!
One facet of the scandal that has hit the US papers are all the junkets enjoyed by congressmen, and Tom DeLay in particular, to a white-sand paradise called Saipan. But what is Saipan and where the hell is it? Well if you have had labels by Tommy Hilfiger, Gap and Calvin Klein, there is a good chance these clothes with â€œMade in USAâ€ labels came from thereâ€¦.. The Northern Mariana Islands, a Pacific archipelago located about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, were obtained by the USA from Japan after the war. Saipan, the largest of the 14 Marianas, is the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the centre of its $1 billion garment industry.
And thatâ€™s where the paradise bit ends…..Jack ensured through all his lobbying that this out of the way bit of America retained power to control its wage and labour relations. And the result was this:
The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands was a for-profit American labor gulag. Women were flown in from China, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and other underdeveloped countries. They lived 10 or more to a room in workersâ€™ compounds surrounded by fences topped by razor wire. Privacy was sheets suspended between cots. Sanitation was poor. Women queued up at the single bathroom, faucet and shower provided them.
They often worked 70-hour weeks and received no overtime pay. At times, some worked around the clock for two or even three days to meet production quotas. They had little choice. Many workers spent much of their first year paying off the $5,000 to $7,000 they had paid labor recruiters to book their jobs and transportation.
Read the full extract HERE.
Bangladeshi labour contractors, or should i say labour entrepreneurs, were on the make too. The classic trick of taking the migrant workers’ money, placing them in a foreign land without a job operated in Saipan too. In a five year old news report, hundreds of Bangladeshis are said to have been living as illegals, and destitute and unable to come home. I wonder what has happend to them now. (Some were told they were going to Los Angeles and that their work was a train ride away….) Read the San Francisco Chronicle article HERE.
I was saddened to hear the death of Lutfunnessa yesterday â€“ the mother of Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman. I last met Mati Bhai by chance at Singaporeâ€™s Changi airport on 1st December last year. I had gone there from Dhaka to get some prescription medicines for my own ailing mother.
There is a strange but interesting report on The World - an online radio thing co-produced by PRI (supplier of non-commercial audio content) , the BBC World Service, and WGBH ( a Boston public radio outfit) - which was picked up by a blogger called Taggert. The report claims that protectionism within the government-owned Bangladesh film industry or Dhallywood has resulted in “bad, formulaic, and banal movies.” Not only that, the producers cut and paste hard-core porn to liven things up. Wahaay! They get round the ineffective censoring system by bribes etc. The consequences of this protectionism are dire - no one buys these films and the bhadrolok do not patronise cinema halls. That is all fine. However what bothers me about this report by Patrick Cox is the central claim that foreign films are totally banned in cinema theatres in the country. Erm….but they are not!
Or check HERE for the latest foreign film playing in the cineplex at “Bashundhara City.”
And here is a Dhallywood poster on one of these “disreputable” cinema halls (Anarkoli Cinema). No I haven’t seen it. Waiting for the DVD…
Check the treatment meted out to the EU Troika and compare it to the reatment given to the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca ( a former CIA agent of 15 years standing). The EU Troika go to Dhaka and try to speak as constructively as possible. In an earlier post I described how they raised the issue of an independent election commission and the need for politics to become less confrontational. They got snubbed by Khaleda Zia and the Election Commissioner. Indeed the latter pretended to be in hospital….Now when Rocca arrives the first thing she does is say that Bangladesh is not only a “functioning democracy but a shining role model of Muslim democracy.” And what is she primarilly referring to in that phrase: yup the “anti-terrorism efforts” of the Bangladesh government. Bangladesh is a partner in the fight against terror and all that crap. She hits the mark and she is feted. She has said nothing yet about the election commission and its need to be independent. Doesn’t even matter if you are in bed with the fundamentalist Jamaat.
Talking of fundies. Notice all the acres of newsprint given over to the Hamas victory. And the Israeli hawks see this as yet another opportunity to shut down the already mangled peace process. If the Afrikaners in South Africa could sit down with the ANC - why can’t these zionists sit with these fundies? The transition in South Africa showed that a state at war with neighbouring countires, a state facing defiance and violence within the country and a state responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of people can still move on and within a relatively short time become a country that isn’t plagued by terrorism - state terrorism or the “terrorism” of those who are desperate and without hope.
Yikes, according to a new study in the Annals of Oncology and summarised HERE, survivors of the type of cancer I had, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, have a signifcantly increased rate of cardiac and thyroid complications.
Ideally, you should immediately feel sorry pour moi and head on over to my Amazon wish list and buy me a gift. Admittedly the money would be better spent supporting a cancer charity like Cancer Reasearch UK or indeed getting involved in one of their fun runs on April 2nd. These are taking place in the grounds of ten stately homes around the country. Have you noticed that health realted charities in this country have posh patronage and tendencies? The PSP society, for example, has a lot of Daily Telegraph reading, pin-stripe suit and regimental tie wearing types. Lord Seb Coe is one of their mascots…! No wonder I feel at home…I jest of course, and the society actually does a great job and has been invaluable in terms of getting help and information for my dad who suffers from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
The Independent today highlights the “deadly disparities in cancer treatment” in the UK:
Wide disparities in cancer care across the country are resulting in thousands of patients dying sooner than they should, a committee of MPs will say today.
Those of you who read my earlier blog will know that I went through five months of misdiagnoses and delays and I was also given the all clear after two operations! They CT scanned me very late and that is when they realised I had cancer….
I guess Google had Â no choice but to capitulate in China?Â Question is - will they continue to resist the US administration and the demands for search records? Kind of internet racism no? Let the chinese users suffer but users in the US and the west will be defended….well, at least for the mo.
Bizarrely, this blog HERE points out that Google has also caved into German government requests to block a particularly extreme body piercing site. Yup strange world.
So the European Union have sent three wisemen to Dhaka. They are in Bangladesh to educate the various stakeholders there on how to wipe their political bottoms, and to generally poke their noses here and there. Their meeting with the foreign ministry has hit the papers. It went something like this: “Now, children, the Independent Election Commission cannot erm..be controlled by the Prime Ministerâ€™s office” said one of the three Europeans. This must have seemed strange to the assembled Bangladeshi officials. I mean the PM is the top official in the country and why shouldnâ€™t she meddle in the election process? The people gave her the mandate to manipulate things, no? And so it was that Morshed Khan, the Foreign Minister, shot back : “We feel that Election Commission is functioning independently and three elections were held consecutively under the present structure of the electoral process.” To translate for you, he was saying this to the troika: “Oh really good sirs? But it has been ok so far. I am Foreign Minister after all?”
And there is no fooling the three wise men: Commenting on the marginalisation of parliament as the arena of debate, they re-iterated its primary importance over and above confrontational politics in the streets through hartals and demonstrations etc. Great. I am sure everything will be hunky dory from now.
Europe is a big trading partner for Bangladesh. Garments, prawns (over chemicalised for sure) and the like …..and therefore one hopes that Bangladesh takes notes of the concerns expressed by these guys. But don’t hold your breath.
R writes to ask when i find the time to dig out all these things. I suspect being unemployed has something to do with it? I also suspect that a lot of ageing gits like me are populating the blogosphere? And remember for the last three weeks or so I have not been up against it in Dhaka…indeed I have not been in a plane for almost three weeks now. This must be a record? Here is a list of books i have purchased to read over the next three months or so here in cambridge or on those singapore airline flights (at least two left). I will review many of them in the link on your right which reads “Stuff I am consuming.” What’s the point I hear you say? Dunno mate. But if you wish to discuss any of these - you will know where to find me.
Well, it seems that the media in South Africa are still not running with the scandal of the Washington lobbyist Abramoff and his shady links with apartheid spooks and Tony Leon (the leader of the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, pictured above). Wayne Madsen says he has been threatened after he published his exclusive, and the Mail and Guardian in South Africa which made mention of this dirty business on the 20th January in an article by Claudia Braude headlined “A blast from the past” and “United States scandal revives apartheid-era dirty tricks of top Democratic Alliance official” does not feature the article on the web anymore. Spooky or what? And are the ANC too mired in their own scandals to highlight it?
Wayne Madsen has an exclusive on the links between Tony Leon and some nasty apartheid spies. Read it HERE. The entries are Jan21 and Jan22. Tony Leon is the leader of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition to the ANC government. Craig Williamson, a particularly plump nasty responsible for many important killings, and old Tony Leon are best of buddies it looks like. Thanks to D in Joburg for the link. Why haven’t the press in SA run with it yet? Or have they? Lemme know.
A very controversial “elite” police outfit was created in Bangladesh in 2004 ostensibly to do something about the law and order breakdown. It is called the Rapid Action Battalion or RAB. Human Rights lawyers and international organisations have been worried about the number of deaths in custody and/or so-called crossfire incidents resulting out of RAB deployment. Here is a BBC report about it. The Foreign Minister Kim Howells has talked about it in parliament a few days ago. The European Parliament condemned (pdf file) it last year. Human Rights Watch January 2006Â (pdf file) also talks about RAB.
My interest is elsewhere. My interest is in what they wear. They are dressed from head to toe in black. And their headgear is in the best tradition of Ninjas. And my question is why? Take a look at their web site. It is slow loading so you might want to look at a screen shot below instead
Does this remind you of an elite agency or do you feel, at least from the flash banner at the top, that this is a shoot-em up Nintendo game site or some sort of action man site? And the site itself is interactive (Live chat, feedback forms etc) - nothing like it exists for other government agencies in Bangladesh. And you have to ask yourself one thing - “why?” Where did the inspiration come from? Is it just bad concept design by the web agency given the job and an unsophisticated commissioning officer who okayed it? Or is there more to it? Surely the ninja bandana suggests a sustained effort in the aesthetics of this? And not just an unwitting outcome? Does this garb, and all the urban legends, help to depoliticise this creature RAB in the eyes of the citizenry? Certainly the middle classes have swallowed hook, line and sinker the crossfire stories…and in anycase, they say, the criminals would get off scot-free if they were given over to the judiciary…
Bangladesh is not unique. It seems paramilitary or elite forces need to take a beefcake approach to things. Take a gander at these South Koreans….
Today I went to South Africa House, London to collect my signed copy of Imtiaz Cajeeâ€™s book about Ahmed Timol. Timol was the detainee who was dropped from a ten storey building to his death by apartheid police. MH is visiting Cambridge for a few days and he accompanied me. We had an interesting time looking around South Africa House. We were given a tour by MT who like all South African ANC chaps was very hospitable and welcoming. It was very worthwhile looking around. All the apartheid era paraphernalia is still there â€“ a testimony to the moral strength of the new owners of the place. I couldnâ€™t help remembering the last time I was there though â€¦.it was some years ago and I was in the company of a most strikingly beautiful south african woman and so didnâ€™t notice as much as I did this time! That is how progressive I am!