As China gets tough on pollution, will its economy suffer?

LEO YAO thought he had nothing to fear from the environment ministry. Before, when its inspectors visited his cutlery factory, he says, they generated “loud thunder, little rain”. After warning him to clean up, they would, at worst, impose a negligible fine. Not so this time. In August dozens of inspectors swarmed over his workshop in Tianjin, just east of Beijing, and ordered production to be halted. His doors remain shut today. If he wants to go on making knives and forks, he has been told that he must move to more modern facilities in a less populated area.

Mr Yao’s company, which at its peak employed 80 people, is just one minor casualty in China’s sweeping campaign to reduce pollution. For years the government has vowed to go green, yet made little progress. It has flinched at reining in dirty industries, wary of the mass job losses that seemed likely to ensue. But in the past few months it has taken a harder line and pressed on with pollution controls, hitting coalminers,…Continue reading

Business and finance

Pakistan reacts after US suspends military aid, says fight against terrorism will suffer

Islamabad: Expressing its unhappiness over Donald Trump administration’s decision to freezing most security aid and the delivery of military equipment for failing to rein in terror groups, Pakistan on Friday said “arbitrary deadlines and unilateral pronouncements” are “counterproductive” in addressing common threats.

Pakistan Foreign Office said, “We are engaged with the US Administration on the issue of security cooperation and await further details. Impact of the US’ decision on pursuit of common objectives is also likely to emerge more clearly in due course of time”.

At the same time, the statement made it clear that “arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats”.

Islamabad’s reaction comes after the US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announced that the US will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan.

The freeze will be enforced “until the Pakistani Government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network”, Nauert said.

However, she also made it clear that Pakistan’s failure to take action against Jamaat-ud-Dawaa leader Hafiz Saeed was not a factor in the action.

The State Department spokesperson at a news briefing in Washington announced the US move to cut off aid, days after President Donald Trump made an scathing attack on Pakistan for giving nothing to America but “lies and deceit” in return for USD 33 billion aid and accused Islamabad of providing “safe haven” to terrorists.

Nauert said that if Pakistan took decisive action against terrorists, it “has the ability to get this money back in the future”.

“We have been clear with Pakistan what they need to do… A lot of this would fall under some of the private diplomatic conversations that the US government is having with Pakistan, so a lot of that stuff I’m not going to be able to share because that would give away information to people we don’t want to have that information.”

Nauert added that Pakistan had been given adequate notice to shut down the terrorist networks.

She recalled Trump’s speech in August in which he warned Pakistan against giving sanctuary to terrorists.

“It has been more than four months since the President’s speech, and despite a sustained high-level engagement by this administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack US and allied personnel,” she said.

In his first tweet of the New Year, Trump said that the US had given Pakistan $ 33 billion in aid over 15 years and accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists while making “fools” of US leaders with lies and deceit.

“No more,” he said, of Washington’s aid to Pakistan.

In another action against Islmabad, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed Pakistan on a “special watch list for severe violations of religious freedom”.

The US depends on Pakistan for ferrying supplies to its troops in landlocked Afghanistan.

The announcement by the US led to some protests in the country, including in Chaman, one of the two main crossings on the border with Afghanistan where people chanted anti-US slogans.

Pakistan, it said, believes that its cooperation with the US in fighting terrorism directly serves America’s national security interests as well as the larger interests of international community, as it helped decimate Al-Qaeda and fight other groups who took advantage of ungoverned spaces, a long porous border and posed a common threat to peace.

Through a series of major counter-terrorism operations, Pakistan cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organised terrorist presence leading to significant improvement in security in Pakistan, the statement said.

“Pakistan’s efforts towards peace are awaiting reciprocal actions from the Afghan side in terms of clearance of vast stretches of ungoverned spaces on that side, bilateral border management, repatriation of Afghan Refugees, controlling poppy cultivation, drug trafficking and initiating Afghan-led and owned political reconciliation in Afghanistan,” it said.

The FO also said that working towards enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence.

Highlighting the new threat of Daesh (IS), Pakistan said “emergence of new and more deadly groups such as Daesh in Afghanistan call for enhancing international cooperation.”

Asserting that Pakistan fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources which has cost over USD 120 billion in 15 years, the FO said, “We are determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region”.  

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North Korean women suffer discrimination, rape, malnutrition: UN

GENEVA: North Korean women are deprived of education and job opportunities and are often subjected to violence at home and sexual assault in the workplace, a United Nations human rights panel said on Monday.

After a regular review of Pyongyang`s record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.

North Korean women are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in tertiary education, the judiciary, security and police forces and leadership and managerial positions “in all non-traditional areas of work”, the panel of experts said.

Domestic violence is prevalent and there is “very limited awareness” about the issue and a lack of legal services, psycho-social support and shelters available to victims, it said.

North Korea told the panel on Nov. 8 that it was working to uphold women`s rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers over its nuclear and missile programmes were taking a toll on vulnerable mothers and children.

The panel said economic sanctions had a disproportionate impact on women.

North Korean women suffer “high levels of malnutrition”, with 28 percent of pregnant or lactating women affected, it said.

The report also found that penalties for rape in North Korea are not commensurate with the severity of the crime, which often goes unpunished. Legal changes in 2012 lowered the penalties for some forms of rape, including the rape of children, rape by a work supervisor and repeated rape.

The revised legal code had led to “reducing the punishment for forcing a woman in a subordinate position to have sexual intercourse from four years to three years”, the report said.

Women trafficked abroad and then returned to North Korea, “are reportedly sent to labour training camps or prisons, accused of ‘illegal border crossing’, and may be exposed to further violations of their human rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions,” it said.

North Korean women living in China can transmit their nationality to their children, but many are believed not to register them “for fear of being forcibly repatriated”, it said.

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“We Didn’t Have to Suffer Like That”: Inside a Texas Prison During Hurricane Harvey

In late August, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the southeast Texas coast bringing with it extreme winds and dropping more than four feet of rain across Houston and the surrounding area. The catastrophic flooding caused thousands to evacuate, including many state prisoners who were moved to drier and safer facilities elsewhere in the state. But the 3,000 men inside Stiles Unit, a Texas state prison near Beaumont, were forced to ride out the storm. Conditions quickly became unbearable.

“Us inmates knew we were in trouble when breakfast consisting of 2 boiled eggs and a piece of cornbread were delivered to our cells,” David Hartvikson wrote. “With no way of flushing our toilets because of no water the feces and urine built up and the smell was horrible in the cell.”

Hartvikson is 55 years old and serving a 20-year sentence at Stiles for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Several weeks after the storm, he wrote Sloan Rucker, a Texas woman who advocates for better treatment of prison inmates and is his pen pal. Mother Jones obtained the letter and confirmed his identity by checking the Texas Department of Criminal Justice offender database and matching it with a grievance complaint Hartvikson filed to TDCJ in October. Hartvikson describes increasingly desperate circumstances in the prison with inadequate food, overflowing toilets, and a lack of drinkable water.

“We did not have to suffer like that,” he wrote.

Legal experts agree. “The courts have made clear that prisoners are constitutionally entitled to be housed in conditions of reasonable safety,” David Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project says. The conditions Hartvikson allege are anything but reasonable or safe.

The Category 4 storm made landfall in Rockport, a small town on the Gulf Coast on Friday, August 25. The next day, the storm slammed into Beaumont, a city of 118,000 located 85 miles east of Houston.  Four prisons are there—three of them state facilities and one federal—and the town was hit hard by Harvey. Its water pressure system failed leaving residents with little access clean water. They were told to boil their water starting on September 1. The notice was lifted eight days later.

After the storm, the Houston Chronicle reported that Clifton Cloer, another inmate at the Stiles Unit, told his wife that the facility had flooded and that the water was up to his knees. Conditions at the prison began to deteriorate in the pre-dawn hours on Monday, August 28. “The water at the prison was shut off without notice,” Hartvikson writes in his four-page letter, “and the ceilings in our cells started leaking, causing dirty water to pool up on our floors.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied those reports, saying that the prison had been inspected, and there was no water in any of the state facilities. “I spoke with offenders and given the situation they were in good spirits,” TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said. But Hartvikson’s allegations echo Cloer’s.

Unable to flush the toilets, the smell quickly became unbearable, he notes, “They left us locked in an 8 by 12 foot cell for several days with feces and urine piling up in our toilets.” Hartvikson alleges that the prison did not provide enough portable toilets; he says only two were provided for his cell block of 450 people.

“Why weren’t arrangements for food, water, toilets, and things of that nature made for the inmates in the days leading up to the storm?” Hartvikson writes.

Supplies dwindled throughout the week. Hartvikson says he and his fellow inmates were only given four bottles of water, or 48 ounces of water, between August 27 and August 31—the Mayo Clinic suggests that men require at least 124 ounces of fluid a day. Hartvikson also says their meals shrunk drastically. “Some of are [sic] meals during that time were just 1 peanut butter sandwich.”

Jason Clark, a spokesman for TDCJ, refutes the claims that conditions were poor during Hurricane Harvey. “I visited all 3 state facilities in Beaumont during the storm and the allegations are not accurate,” he said in a statement to Mother Jones. Clark says that in addition to thousands of gallon water tankers on-site, 270,000 water bottles were delivered and “offenders had access to food, water, and toilets.”

By Tuesday, August 29, nearly 6,000 inmates from five other Texas state prisons had been evacuated, including three prisons that had been evacuated in May and June, when the Brazos River flooded after heavy rainfall. Inmates finally returned to their facilities after two weeks.

This isn’t the first time incarcerated people in Texas have alleged dismal conditions during hurricanes. In 2008, as Hurricane Ike barreled towards Galveston, the county jail decided not to evacuate the 1,000 people being held at the facility. The city’s mayor had issued an mandatory evacuation and the National Weather Service warned that anyone who stayed behind was facing “certain death.” During the storm, detainees said they could hear air conditioning units banging against the building. Water seeped into their sleeping quarters and caused ceiling tiles to fall off. Once the storm passed, detainees and inmates dealt with a dire sanitation situation and a food and water shortage. Four days after the storm, officials from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards visited the facility and determined that conditions were satisfactory.

“Prisons and jails need to have contingency plans for these kinds of emergencies,” Fathi says, “including workable evacuation plans.”

During Harvey, the flooding was so widespread that many correctional officers were either stuck at work or unable to make the commute. “If you look at any of the maps from the flooding,” Lance Lowry, the head of the Texas prison guard union told Democracy Now, “you can clearly see that the roadways going in and out of the majority of the facilities were severely flooded.” Not only were some inmates not evacuated, many prisons were dealing with staffing shortages which can be dangerous.

From Hartvikson’s perspective, staffers at the prison were well taken care of during the storm. “Arrangements were made for all staff and guards, but nothing for the inmates,” he said. He believes the storm points to a bigger problem:”Once again we inmates our [sic] no better then [sic] hogs in the eyes of the TDCJ staff.”

Crime and Justice – Mother Jones