Focal Points Blog

Poland: Land of Junk Contracts

Trade unionist Slawomir Rakowiecki says “Poland is an indisputable leader of the so-called junk contracts.” (Photo: John Feffer)

Trade unionist Slawomir Rakowiecki says “Poland is an indisputable leader of the so-called junk contracts.” (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The Poles call them umowa śmieciowa or “junk contracts.” If you’re young and lucky enough to have a job in Poland these days, it’s likely to be short-term and come without benefits. Ten percent of young people (up to the age of 25) are working in the black market, and another 25 percent have part-time or short-term work. Of the rest, most have job contracts that provide little in the way of security.

Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate in Poland has averaged around 30 percent over the last 17 years. Though it’s dropped to around 23 percent in August, young people are happy to get any kind of job. A huge number have simply given up and taken advantage of the freedom to travel throughout the EU. More than two million Poles, many of them young, have left the country for better opportunities abroad.

Slawomir Rakowiecki has been a long-time trade unionist in Poland, part of the first generation of Solidarity activists. He has been involved in the union in Warsaw and at the provincial level (Mazowsze), and his focus has been the transportation sector. A nationwide railway strike last year and several other actions have boosted the unions‘ profile in this sector.
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So, Islamic State, You Want to Rule a Caliphate

The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

In an invaluable article at the Barcelona Centre for World Affairs site titled How Long Will ISIS Last Economically?, Eckart Woertz delves into the Islamic State’s finances.

SIS is not a mere terror organization, but an insurgency that follows a classic “Clear, Hold, Build” strategy. The aim is state building as the very name ISIS suggests. However, holding territory implies provision of services to the governed population such as food, energy and water and possibly health and education. The longer it holds territory, ISIS needs to worry about much more than just funding military operations. It now rules over roughly 8 million people. It does not assume a veneer of statehood for nothing; at its home base in Al Raqqa it has interfered in school curriculums, repaired roads and launched a consumer protection authority for food standards.

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Israel’s Continuing Lack of Interest in Becoming a World Citizen

 Authorizing settlements in East Jerusalem only adds to Israel’s isolation.  (Photo: Jill Granberg / Flickr Commons)

Authorizing settlements in East Jerusalem only adds to Israel’s isolation.
(Photo: Jill Granberg / Flickr Commons)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is implementing the construction of more than 1,000 new settlement apartments in East Jerusalem. In the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren reports that it’s “a move certain to ignite international outrage as well as to exacerbate fissures in Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition.”

The announcement, along with a parallel push for new roads and other infrastructure projects in the occupied West Bank, came amid escalating protests and violence by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem that many see as the stirrings of a third intifada, or uprising.

Right-wing Israeli ministers have been pressuring Mr. Netanyahu to speed construction in what most of the world considers illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but moderates in the government have said this would only deepen Israel’s isolation.

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Wanna-Be’s Doing the Islamic State’s Bidding

U.S. airstrike on Kobbani or Islamic State truck or suicide bomb? (Photo: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann / Flickr Commons)

U.S. airstrike on Kobbani or Islamic State truck or suicide bomb? (Photo: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann / Flickr Commons)

In the New York Times, James Kirkpatrick writes that a “series of episodes over just the last four weeks is raising new fears about the capacity of the extremists who call themselves the Islamic State to catalyze so-called lone-wolf attacks, conceived and carried out by individuals or small groups around the Western world who may have little or no connection to the Islamic State.” These include:

… Australian authorities arrest a ring of 12 accused of plotting daring murders, including a public beheading.

In Canada, a gunman assaults the Parliament building and kills a soldier guarding a war memorial, and a motorist strikes two soldiers, killing one — in both cases, perpetrators with tenuous links to Islamist extremism.

And in New York City, a man wielding a hatchet attacks four police officers in Queens, slashing one in the head and another in the arm.

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Overcoming the Barriers to Educating Roma Children

Roma children are ill served by Romanian schools that are biased and punish them. (Photo: Nicolas Marschall / Flickr Commons)

Roma children are ill served by Romanian schools that are biased and punish them. (Photo: Nicolas Marschall / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

They are called the decret generation. During the Communist era in Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu issued Decree 770 in 1967 making abortion and contraception illegal except under certain circumstances. The Communist leader wanted to radically increase the population of the country. People with money or political influence found a way around the regulations. But those who did not expect or could not support their new babies often dropped them off at the nearest orphanage.

That was the fate of Vasile Mathe, a soft-spoken man who works as a school mediator in a small Transylvanian town outside of Campia Turzii.

“Until I was three years old, I was raised by a lady working in the maternity ward,” he told me in an interview in Cluj where we sat in a café with his friend and translator Dan Iepure. “She wanted to adopt me. But it was impossible because my mother wouldn’t agree to the adoption. We had to wait until I was 10 years old. So, I was sent to an orphanage because of this disagreement with my mother. I ended up staying there until I was 19 years old.”
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Ayatollah Khomeini May Have Been Savage, But He Drew the Line at Nukes

To Ayatollah Khomeini, nuclear and chemical weapons were haram (forbidden). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

To Ayatollah Khomeini, nuclear and chemical weapons were haram (forbidden). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Iranian politicians sometimes refer to the United States as the Great Satan. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution, used the term iblis (a devil in Islam) to characterize the United States. But to many Americans, Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, was a demon himself. Not only did he preside over the hostage crisis, he executed thousands of political prisoners not long after he assumed power, and he empowered terrorist acts by Hezbollah.

But when it came to state-sponsored violence, the Supreme Leader definitely had his limits. In his book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Book, 2014), Gareth Porter wrote about Khomeini’s reservations about chemical and nuclear weapons. In a recent article for Foreign Policy titled When the Ayatollah Said No to Nukes, he expanded on that.
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Disarmament, Not Hypersonic Weapons, Is the True Alternative to Nuclear Weapons

It’s not as if Russia and China aren’t developing hypersonic weapons, too. (Photo: Lockheed)

It’s not as if Russia and China aren’t developing hypersonic weapons, too. (Photo: Lockheed)

Not long ago, I wrote a post titled Missile Defense Isn’t the Only Weapons System That Undermines Nuclear Deterrence. I was referring to U.S. development of hypersonic missiles, which, at five to 10 times the speed of sound, aren’t quite as fast as ballistic missiles (often mounted with nuclear warheads). As Mark Gubrud writes at the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists:

In the US, hypersonic missiles have been billed as a method for quickly delivering conventional warheads when time is of the essence; one example often given is attacking a terrorist stronghold promptly when intelligence indicates the opportunity to kill a high-value target.

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Is the Islamic State Capable of Nuclear Terrorism?

Al Qaeda once attempted to procure material for a nuclear bomb. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons

Al Qaeda once attempted to procure material for a nuclear bomb. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

After 9/11, many feared that Al Qaeda would get its hands on nuclear weapons. Such fears were stoked by the far right, especially the books of journalist Paul Williams with their provocative titles: Osama’s Revenge: The Next 9/11 and The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime, And the Coming Apocalypse. (Yes, I read them at the time; ate them up even.)

In fact, Al Qaeda had made attempts to obtain nuclear materials. In 2007 at the New Yorker, Steve Coll asked: Can the United States be made safe from nuclear terrorism?
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Lack of Leadership by Washington and Moscow Undermines Treaties and Norms

Hopes that the New START Treaty will lead to disarmament and nonproliferation have yet to be realized. (Photo: Eric Bridiers / Flick Commons)

Hopes that the New START Treaty will lead to disarmament and nonproliferation have yet to be realized. (Photo: Eric Bridiers / Flick Commons)

In a blog post at Arms Control Now, Greg Thielmann writes about how the numbers of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia deploys have actually increased in the last six months, in advance of the deadline for rollback imposed by the New START Treaty.

The 1970 NPT is the keystone of international efforts to control and reverse the international nuclear weapons threat. But many countries have long questioned the bona fides of Russia and the United States in implementing the treaty’s NPT Article VI disarmament obligation, a skepticism that is especially evident at the deliberations of the NPT review conference every five years.

The Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference “affirm[ed] the need for the nuclear-weapon States to reduce and eliminate all types of their nuclear weapons and encourage[ed], in particular, those States with the largest nuclear arsenals to lead efforts in this regard.” But instead of putting on the brakes as they head around the bend toward next spring’s NPT review conference, Moscow and Washington appear to be leaning on the nuclear weapons throttle. Ignoring their commitment in the Final Document “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament” puts these countries on a diplomatic collision course at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

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East Central Europe Slow to View Roma as Consumers

Istvan Forgacs works with the National Democratic Institute on Roma issues. (Photo: John Feffer)

Istvan Forgacs works with the National Democratic Institute on Roma issues. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

As the history of segregation in the United State demonstrates, the business community can be just as racist as anyone else – even if undercut their profits to refuse to serve minorities. Gradually, however, the business community began to see minorities as consumers and thus vital to their bottom line. Hollywood, for instance, realized the potential of African American audiences in the early 1970s, a trend that later took off with Spike Lee and his successors, and the movie industry is now waking up to the reality of Latino filmgoers. In the early 1990s, writer David Rieff pointed out in a famous Harpers essay entitled “Multiculturalism’s Silent Partner” that corporations were fast off the mark to embrace multiculturalism as a marketing strategy. Music companies, fast food restaurants, clothing designers, political parties: virtually every national brand has targeted the “minority demographic” as a way to acquire an edge in the marketplace of products and ideas.
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