Exploited at every turn: The lives of Italy’s Chinese prostitutes

August 20th, 2019


Milan, Prato, Rome and Venice, Italy –Wearing a knee-length winter coat, Xiaoyan* waits for her next client near the main train station in Venice. Clinging to her bag, she looks like any other bundled-up passer-by in the evening cold.

But the 45-year-old Chinese woman from the Zhejiang province, on the country’s eastern coast, has been working as a prostitute for the past three years.

She arrived in Italy in 2007 and, like many of her compatriots, initially found work in small clothes and footwear businesses.

With an estimated 300,000 Chinese nationals, Italy hosts the largest diaspora community in the European Union

Xiaoyan is gaunt but has a delicate appearance, with shoulder-length black hair and a short fringe. Shelivedin Civitanova Marche, a central city, before heading north.

“I used to work in small Chinese-run footwear enterprises, making around 1,000 euros ($1,123) a month,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. 

“Shifts were non-stop. I hardly slept. When orders arrived, I even worked up to 24 hours. I could not cope with that any longer. I wasn’t able to keep the pace any more.”

In China, Xiaoyan was a stay-at-home mother, looking after her two children. But her family needed money, so she left.

People of rural origin in China have reported being denied basic rights and benefits. A household registration system known as hukou determines citizens’ access to education and social welfare. Leaving the village becomes the only way forruralmigrants to secure a better future.

After a challenging trip financed with loans from relatives and friends for a tourist visa, Xiaoyan eventually reached Italy.

“Labourers slept inside the [premises],” she said. “Our Chinese boss provided food and lodging, I never left the factory during those years.”

Hours upon hours of bad posture saw a doctor diagnose her with chronic body pain.

Sex work has also impacted her mental and physical health.

Al Jazeera for more

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

August 20th, 2019

VIDEO/John Oliver/You Tube

Producing energy from pig and poultry waste in Brazil

August 20th, 2019


Romário Schaefer, 65, stands between the biodigester buried in the ground on the right and the blue tank holding whey that is mixed with the manure of the pigs he fattens in a row of pig pens (top left) to produce biogas, in the southern Brazilian municipality of Entre Rios do Oeste. In the background is his brick factory, which saves about 6,500 dollars a month in electricity by using biogas. PHOTO/Mario Osava/IPS

Romário Schaefer is fattening up 3,300 pigs that he receives when they weigh around 22 kg and returns when they reach 130 to 160 kg – a huge increase in meat and profits for their owner, a local meat-processing plant in this city in Brazil.

Schaefer is not interested in the pork meat business. What he wants is the manure, which he uses to produce biogas and electricity that fuel his brick-making factory.

“I’m not a farmer,” he says as he shows us around his Stein Ceramics company in the middle of a 38-hectare rural property on the outskirts of Entre Rios do Oeste, a farming town of 4,400 people in western Paraná, one of three states in Brazil’s southern region, on the border with Paraguay.

He is explaining the difference between himself and neighbouring pig farmers who produce biogas and sell it to the Mini-Thermoelectric Plant inaugurated on Jul. 24 to generate energy that serves the Entre Rios municipal government and all of its facilities in the town itself and the rest of the municipality.

For them it is a new agricultural product, and has been recognised as such in Paraná for commercial and tax purposes. But for Schaefer it’s an input for his factory, which makes bricks.

Animal waste, which pollutes the soil and rivers, is becoming an important by-product in southwestern Brazil, where pig and poultry farming has expanded widely in recent decades.

The Haacke farm, in the municipality of Santa Helena, south of Entre Rios, uses the waste produced by its tens of thousands of hens and hundreds of cattle to produce biogas, electricity and biomethane.

Its biomethane, a fuel derived from the refining of biogas which is employed as a substitute for natural gas, is used in vehicles at the giant Itaipú hydroelectric plant shared by Brazil and Paraguay on the Paraná River, which forms part of the border between the two countries.

In Mariscal Cándido Rondon, a few kilometres to the north, the Kohler family, pioneers in the use of biogas on their large farm, took on another role in the chain of this energy which is more than just clean – it actually cleans the environment.

Inter Press Service for more

Trump’s worldwide war on abortion

August 19th, 2019


Abortion rights campaigners attend a rally against new restrictions on abortion passed in eight states, including Alabama and Georgia, in New York City, May 21, 2019 PHOTO/Jeenah Moon/Reuters

“Population control”, as defined by the Collins English Dictionary, is “a policy of attempting to limit the growth in numbers of a population, esp[ecially] in poor or densely populated parts of the world, by programmes of contraception or sterilisation”.

The current “pro-life” regime of United States President Donald Trump, of course, is no fan of such programmes. But it is all about controlling human populations and behaviour worldwide in accordance with unhinged religio-imperialist visions – many of them especially damaging to the poor.

In 2017, for example, the Trump administration dramatically discontinued financial support for that diabolically radical outfit known as the United Nations Population Fund, which is allegedly attempting to overthrow civilisation by promoting abortion and other evils.

That same year hosted the unveiling of the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy, which cuts US government funding to foreign NGOs considered to be involved in abortion work. 

A vastly more punishing version of the so-called “global gag rule” that has been regularly implemented by Republican presidents since 1984, the policy now also applies to organisations that work across a range of health issues. In short, this means that an NGO dealing with HIV/Aids, cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, gender-based violence, and so on cannot receive US funds for these activities if it also chooses to inform patients about the existence of abortion as a possible method of family planning.

So much for “protecting life” – not that such a noble concept would ever really be expected of a government that specialises in slaughtering people around the world. 

More reasons to gag

In April, a Foreign Policy exclusive reported that the Trump administration had “pressured Germany into watering down a United Nations resolution aimed at preventing rape in conflict situations, forcing it to remove language on sexual and reproductive health that key Trump administration officials say normalizes sexual activity and condones abortion”.

All that is missing on the international scene, it seems, is Andrew Bremberg, Trump’s nominee for US ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Among his sacred beliefs is that rape victims should not be permitted to abort.

Now, two years after the launch of the new-and-improved global gag rule, Trump is bringing it home with the US’s very own domestic gag rule, which will prohibit health clinics that receive funds from the federal Title X family planning programme from referring women for abortions and otherwise assisting them in the pursuit of their constitutional rights.

As the New York Times notes, Title X “serves about 4 million women a year, and many low-income women also get basic health care from the clinics”.

So while the anti-abortion campaign constitutes an obvious assault on women everywhere, it is a particularly brutal assault on the poor. After all, both in the US and abroad, females in higher socioeconomic echelons will often have the means to procure a safe abortion, regardless of the obstacles erected.

‘Women will die’

Consider the recent finding that 75 percent of abortion patients in the US are “poor or near-poor”. In the present milieu of obscene economic stratification, forcing poor women to shoulder the gigantic financial responsibility of unwanted offspring pretty much amounts to a conscious perpetuation of poverty – a vicious cycle that also disproportionately affects poor women of colour, such being the reality of race-class divides in US “democracy”.

Anyway, it all works out fine for a capitalist system that thrives on keeping poor people poor.

What to do, then, if you are a poor woman in Alabama, where in May the State Senate voted to criminalise abortion even in cases of rape or incest and prescribed up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform the procedure?

In a Guardian dispatch on the pernicious effects of US abortion bans on the “most vulnerable”, the president of Planned Parenthood Southeast Staci Fox is quoted as stressing that, denied legal abortions, females in rural areas are likely to endeavour to terminate their pregnancies themselves: “The outcome of that is clear: women will die.”

Al Jazeera for more

The forgotten part of memory

August 19th, 2019


IMAGE/Sam Falconer

Memories make us who we are. They shape our understanding of the world and help us to predict what’s coming. For more than a century, researchers have been working to understand how memories are formed and then fixed for recall in the days, weeks or even years that follow. But those scientists might have been looking at only half the picture. To understand how we remember, we must also understand how, and why, we forget.

Until about ten years ago, most researchers thought that forgetting was a passive process in which memories, unused, decay over time like a photograph left in the sunlight. But then a handful of researchers who were investigating memory began to bump up against findings that seemed to contradict that decades-old assumption. They began to put forward the radical idea that the brain is built to forget.

A growing body of work, cultivated in the past decade, suggests that the loss of memories is not a passive process. Rather, forgetting seems to be an active mechanism that is constantly at work in the brain. In some — perhaps even all — animals, the brain’s standard state is not to remember, but to forget. And a better understanding of that state could lead to breakthroughs in treatments for conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even Alzheimer’s disease.

“What is memory without forgetting?” asks Oliver Hardt, a cognitive psychologist studying the neurobiology of memory at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “It’s impossible,” he says. “To have proper memory function, you have to have forgetting.”

Biology of forgetting

Different types of memory are created and stored in varying ways, and in various areas of the brain. Researchers are still pinpointing the details, but they know that autobiographical memories — those of events experienced personally — begin to take lasting form in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, in the hours and days that follow the event. Neurons communicate with each other through synapses — junctions between these cells that include a tiny gap across which chemical messengers can be sent. Each neuron can be connected to thousands of others in this way. Through a process known as synaptic plasticity, neurons constantly produce new proteins to remodel parts of the synapse, such as the receptors for these chemicals, which enables the neurons to selectively strengthen their connections with one another. This creates a network of cells that, together, encode a memory. The more often a memory is recalled, the stronger its neural network becomes. Over time, and through consistent recall, the memory becomes encoded in both the hippocampus and the cortex. Eventually, it exists independently in the cortex, where it is put away for long-term storage.

Neuroscientists often refer to this physical representation of a memory as an engram. They think that each engram has a number of synaptic connections, sometimes even in several areas of the brain, and that each neuron and synapse can be involved in multiple engrams.

Nature for more

Rattling the nuclear cage: India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and the US

August 19th, 2019


PHOTO/Leslie Groves, Manhattan Project director, with a map of Japan – Public Domain

We like our anniversaries in blocks of 50 or 100 – at a push we’ll tolerate a 25. The 100th anniversary of the Somme (2016), the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (2015). Next year, we’ll remember the end of the Second World War, the first – and so far the only – nuclear war in history.

This week marks only the 74th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It doesn’t fit in to our journalistic scorecards and “timelines”. Over the past few days, I’ve had to look hard to find a headline about the two Japanese cities.

But, especially in the Middle East and what we like to call southeast Asia, we should be remembering these gruesome anniversaries every month. Hiroshima was atomic-bombed 74 years ago on Tuesday, Nagasaki 74 years ago on Friday. Given the extent of the casualty figures, you’d think they’d be unforgettable. But we don’t quite know (nor ever will) what they were.

The bombing of the two cities, we are told, left between 129,000 and 226,000 dead. The first US statistics suggested only 66,000 dead in Hiroshima, 39,000 in Nagasaki. But in later years, the Hiroshima authorities estimated their dead alone at 202,118 – taking account of those who later died of radiation sickness, rather than just the incinerated corpses and human shadows left in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.

In the Middle East, where Aleppo and Mosul and Raqqa count the dead from conventional bombs – American, Russian, Syrian – in the tens of thousands, you might think the 1945 statistics would leave the folk who live there pretty cold. But the book of crises unfolding in the region – by the chapter, almost every month – is of critical importance to every soul who lives between the Mediterranean and India.

For India itself is a nuclear power. So is Pakistan. And so, of course, is Israel. None of them have signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT). All are threatening war, over Kashmir, or over Iran, the only nation under threat which has not (yet) got nuclear weapons.

Counterpunch for more

Weekend Edition

August 16th, 2019

Trump possessed .. and his cult followers

August 16th, 2019


PHOTO/Happy Atheist Forum/Duck Duck Go

Trump is a soul possessed …

possessed and consumed by a 2020 election victory

victory is only possible by continuing to stir his base with lies

lies that are small, medium, big, humongous, nasty, outrageous

outrageous are his manners, style, tweets, fraternity and friends

friends and fraternity, the rich have benefited a lot with his policies

policies that have not benefited to most of his common supporters

supporters whose votes are crucial for him to keep the White House

White House makes him the world’s most powerful man … yes

yes, he uses his position to enrich himself and his-family

his-family is involved in businesses in India, Indonesia … and China

China tariffs causing great misery to poor and his white admirers

admirers are under the spell of their cult leader Donald Trump

Trump has nothing for them except big promises & patriotic piss

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

When Chomsky met Foucault: How the thinkers debated the ‘ideal society’

August 16th, 2019


In 1971, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault met at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands for their first and only debate. Produced by the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation as a part of their International Philosophers Project, the programme featured discussions with eminent thinkers on the topic of ‘human nature and ideal society’. In recent years, their debate – the fourth and final of the series – has been somewhat overshadowed by events surrounding it. Namely, it’s rumoured that the programme’s host, the Dutch philosopher Fons Elders, paid Foucault for his appearance in hashish, and repeatedly encouraged him to put on a bright red wig to spice up the proceedings.

However, the debate itself – seen here excerpted and translated by the YouTube channel Philosophy Overdose – has appeal beyond the pleasures of watching the provocative Foucault spar with the professorial Chomsky. With the Vietnam War near its height, Chomsky and Foucault agree that contemporary power structures need to be attacked and dismantled. However, while Chomsky advocates for a system of ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ rooted in justice, sympathy and human creativity, Foucault argues that these concepts are products of the same bourgeois system that needs replacing. Probing age-old philosophical questions as well as the politics of the moment, the interview offers a revealing glimpse of the divergent styles, attitudes and outlooks of two enduringly influential thinkers.

Aeon for more

In protest: The sci-fi contribution to Arabic resistance literature

August 16th, 2019


She says: when are we gonna meet?
I say: after a year and a war
She says: when does the war end?
I say: the time we meet

—Mahmoud Darwish

They made it plain to everyone, however, and above all to the king himself, that although he had plenty of troops, he did not have many men.


I would happily claim to be the first in the folds of Arabic science fiction to write Palestinian resistance literature (adab al-muqawama, ??? ???????), but, alas, the Egyptians beat me to it. Muhammad Naguib Matter, for example, who was an engineer by vocation and a science-fiction writer by passion, penned “A Weapon Fashioned of Waste” long before I even began to write.1 (The story begins with Palestinian resistance fighters learning to trick the pheromone-sniffing Israeli missiles by using urine trails, after which the Palestinians devise their own phosphorous bombs, also extracted from urine.)2 Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s Jonathan’s Promise (2015) and The Last Dreamer (2009) also stand in the resistance genre. (The first text is about an upside-down world where Arabs live in the diaspora and the United States decides to give them a homeland of their own. The second is a fantasy series in which Che Guevara is resurrected from the grave, cloned by Chinese geneticists, and sent to Iraq to give the United States some hell. He later makes it to occupied Palestine to do the same but is apprehended and killed by the Israelis.)

One of the earliest works of Arabic science fiction, the 1962 Algerian novel Qui Se Souvient De La Mer (Who Remembers the Sea) by Mohammad Dib, was also part of the resistance-literature genre and was written in the heyday of the struggle for national independence.3 (Instead of speaking explicitly about the French occupation, Dib has alien robots ransack his homeland up against a few bands of brave men armed with handguns. Nonetheless, the human protagonists win in the end.) Sadly, since Qui Se Souvient De La Mer, nothing was written in the resistance or military science-fiction genres, in Algeria or elsewhere, until 2001 when Hosam El-Zembely published the dystopian novella America 2030. (In it, the United States degenerates politically and ignites a nuclear war as a team of operatives tries desperately to destroy a secret weapon, tipping the balance of terror.4 And this was written before September 11—only for Egyptian and most Arabic science fiction to quietly forget the very real attacks against Arabs and Muslims since then.)

It is almost a truism now that the history of Arabic science-fiction writing is characterized by fits and starts.5 Tragically and inexplicably, the same seems to hold true of Arabic resistance literature. I get this from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, having spoken with the resident expert on resistance literature, Egyptian author Al-Sayyid Nejm.6 Almost from his first uttered word, he explained that the category itself is new to Arabic literature, insisting that Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani was the one who coined the term. Previously, it only existed in residual form, under the labels adab al-hamasa (??? ???????) and al-harakat (???????)—the literature of agitation and of movements.7 The same goes for war literature, he added, on which he is also an expert. What is more, neither resistance nor war literature are parts of higher education, at least in Egypt.

There are no specialized courses in either resistance or war literature in Egypt. Books and stories and poetry on the topic are taught, but in generic courses about classical and contemporary Arabic literature, the contemporary Arabic novel, Arabic literature in translation, and so on. Even the 1973 October War, one of our few victories, has not received the literary and critical attention it deserves. This has prompted critics to describe the genre of war stories as almost a foreign entity that has entered our midst undetected.8 How could this be, when almost the whole Arab world struggled for its independence against foreign colonizers? When a frontline nation like Egypt fought so many wars and not just against Israel? After all, the 1956 Suez War was over the nationalization of the canal, primarily in the face of the British and French empires. If you go to an Egyptian bookstore, you will find the same telltale pattern of malign neglect. It will be hard to find anything written by Egyptians on the topic, whether fiction or nonfiction. I say this having just attended the fiftieth Cairo International Book Fair. I did not find anything of Nejm’s there either, except at one solitary (non-Egyptian) bookshop that had an overly expensive book about him.

Monthly Review Online for more