Grapes, berries and robots: Is Silicon Valley coming for farm workers jobs?

September 22nd, 2022


The ag-tech revolution has accelerated in recent years, resulting in robots that are capable of picking strawberries with 95% accuracy. PHOTO/Mario Tama/Getty Images
VIDEO/Tortuga AG Tech/Youtube

The global ag-tech revolution has sped up in recent years, spurring a debate on how it will affect the workforceSupported by

The robots have arrived in California’s fields. This summer, a self-driving tractor was spotted working rows of vines in Napa valley. Described as resembling a “souped-up golf cart”, the tractor runs on an electric battery and can be operated remotely with an app.

Farther south, strawberry harvesting robots have been picking fruit. Complete with wheels, clipper-tipped arms and a catchment tray, its maker claims the machine can pick almost as many berries as a human with 95% accuracy.

Did you go berry picking this summer? We bet you didn’t pick as much as this robot — called the “R2D2 of the strawberry industry” — which can pick up to 800 berries every hour! ? (Robot and video by @TortugaAgTech)— (@codeorg) August 23, 2022

The global ag-tech revolution has accelerated in recent years as the climate crisis puts a strain on farmers and crops, and the pandemic continues to disrupt the workforce on which the industry depends. In California, where much of this technology is being developed and tested, that’s raised complex questions for the state’s farm workers.

Not all workers view automation as a bad thing, advocates say, because it has the potential to alleviate difficult aspects of the job. But they also fear the rush to automate is being done without their input, and in a way that privileges farm owners, tech developers and investors without considering the consequences for workers.

It’s a debate that comes as California farm workers are already fighting for more rights and protections. In August, the United Farm Workers, the largest farm workers’ union in the US, completed a 24-day, 335-mile march to the capital in Sacramento, demanding the governor, Gavin Newsom, sign a bill that would make it easier to unionize without fear and intimidation from employers. (Newsom, who owns a vineyard, has yet to sign the bill despite pressure from the White House this week.)

“It’s the same issue with automation in any industry, is it going to replace jobs? And, if so, is it replacing jobs with higher paid wages?” said Maria Cadenas, the executive director of the nonprofit Santa Cruz Community Ventures, an organisation that provides financial support and programs to low-income families in the Monterey Bay area.

“We’re looking at systems that were not designed to have shared wealth distribution, we’re looking at systems that were designed to continue to extract and build wealth toward the owners.”

The Guardian for more

Noam Chomsky – the 5 filters of the mass media machine

September 22nd, 2022

According to American linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky, media operate through 5 filters: ownership, advertising, the media elite, flak and the common enemy.

Al Jazeera & Youtube for more

Sabra and Shatila: Jewish nurse recounts horrors of Palestinian massacres

September 22nd, 2022


Forty years after the massacre, Ellen Seigel discusses treating the wounded, Israeli complicity and US indifference

“There were beds on the streets because there were so many wounded. There were arms and legs, missing from people. There were young men that were blinded from the shrapnel from the bombings.”

These are the words of Ellen Siegel, a Jewish American nurse who was treating victims at the site of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in September 1982.

Siegel began her nursing career in the 1960s, an era in US history almost synonymous with social change. The Black liberation movement, the outrage at the Vietnam War, and organising for women’s rights had all helped shape Siegel’s worldview, before her career took her to the Gaza Hospital, an 11-story medical centre that overlooked the Sabra and Shatila camps for Palestinian refugees in the west of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.

Siegel found herself in the middle of one of the worst massacres of Palestinians in history, when a right-wing Lebanese militia killed hundreds in the two adjoining refugee camps, as Israeli troops watched on.

‘They started to massacre people, but in the most horrendous way with axes and knives’

– Ellen Siegel

On the 40th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Siegel recounted how she and other nurses struggled to take care of the hundreds of wounded Palestinians, how she herself was nearly executed, and how justice continues to remain elusive despite the magnitude of the atrocity.

“When I got to Beirut, I was shocked. It was one of the saddest scenes I had ever seen,” Siegel told Middle East Eye, recalling the time from her home in Washington DC.

Israel launched an attack on Beirut on 15 September – breaking a weeks-long ceasefire that saw members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation leave the city – and sealed it off so no one else could leave.

Then on 16 September, the Phalange, a right-wing Christian Lebanese militia group, entered the Sabra and Shatila camps in response to the assassination of Lebanon’s Christian president, Bachir Gemayel. They killed as many as 3,500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.

“The Phalange came in and started to kill people. They started to massacre people, but in the most horrendous way with axes and knives. Some of these pictures, some of these stories, are just horrendous,” she said.

But Siegel says the Phalange wasn’t operating in isolation.

“The Israelis shot flares into the air. One of the other physicians and myself, we went to the top floor of the hospital during this time, and we saw flares going up in the air and lighting up neighbourhoods of the camp followed by gunfire,” Seigel said.

“What was happening is that [the flares] lit the way for the Phalange to go door to door and kill people.”

Siegel and an international group of nurses worked tirelessly over the next several days to treat the wounded Palestinians.

Middle East Eye for more

How Putin pumped money into Russia’s army for more than two decades, and what came of it

September 21st, 2022


Putin at military exercises in Crimea in January 2020. PHOTO/

Vladimir Putin has spent more than $1.1 trillion on the armed forces in his 21 years in power. Since 2014, Russia has had one of the world’s most militarized state budgets

Many thanks to Kevin Rothrock for his help in translating and editing this article.

It’s March 2018. President Putin delivers his annual address to Russia’s Federal Assembly, two and a half weeks before the nation’s presidential election. In the Grand Manezh building, built in 1817 to celebrate the Russian Empire’s victory over the Napoleonic army, the nation’s entire elite has gathered: top officials and members of the security forces, lawmakers, heads of state-owned companies, propagandists, priests, businessmen, and many others.

Journalists (myself among them) do not have access to the room where Putin reads his speech, so we listen from the press center. For about an hour (for what seems to be the 20th time), he drones on about advancing Russia’s economic and social policies. When it seems that the matter has come to an end, the Kremlin’s press office informs journalists that they can request comments from deputies, senators, governors, and ministers exiting the grand hall. Without waiting for Putin to finish, we go where they say. And we wait again. Five minutes pass, then ten. But the speech doesn’t end.

Suddenly, strange hissing noises start coming from behind the wall, followed by thunderous applause. The journalists frantically take out their phones and switch on the broadcast. It turns out that Putin has not finished his speech; instead, he has finally reached “the main point” of his address. For the next 50 minutes, he details the new weapons that, he says, have been under development in Russia since 2002. They are “unparalleled in the world” and “invulnerable to the enemy.” The president introduces the hypersonic “Kinzhal” missile, the “Sarmat” complex with a heavy intercontinental missile (“virtually without range limitations”), the “Avangard” missile complex with a hypersonic gliding wing unit, unmanned underwater vehicles, and laser combat systems.

Putin interrupts his own speech periodically with “animations” on big screens showing Russian missiles flying towards the U.S. The audience applauds enthusiastically, sometimes in standing ovations.

Faridaily for more

Ecuador’s recurrent cycle of violence over Indigenous Rights

September 21st, 2022


Indigenous woman in popular protest against the economic and environmental policies of President Guillermo Lasso, in Ambato, Ecuador, June 23, 2022 PHOTO/Shutterstock

Ecuador needs to address the root causes that brought so many protesters onto the streets.

The June anti-government protests in Ecuador and their images of violence and police abuse evoked a sad sense of déjà vu that recalled protests from 2015, 2019, and 2020. But this time authorities should demonstrate that they are serious about addressing structural problems, ensuring accountability for abuses by security forces, and preventing waves of looting and vandalism.

On June 30, government authorities and Indigenous leaders reached an agreement after several days of unrest to stop protests that began on June 13. Indigenous organizations led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, known by its Spanish acronym CONAIE, had called for protests in response to what they deemed the government’s lack of will to address their demands.

Among other measures, Indigenous groups have asked the authorities to guarantee Indigenous peoples’ collective rights; to intervene to lower the prices of food and other essential goods; ensure Indigenous people’s access to health, education, and employment; and repair the social and environmental impacts of mining and oil extraction in Indigenous territories.

These are long-standing debts. Although Ecuador’s constitution and international law recognize Indigenous peoples’ rights—including to prior consultation on mining and oil projects affecting their territories—United Nations experts have found “persistent gaps” in enforcement. Indigenous communities are typically located in rural areas, where the percentage of people living in poverty is double that of people in urban areas. Poverty contributes to the lack of access to basic services, including health care. According to government statistics, half as many people in rural areas are adequately employed—earning at least minimum wage—compared with urban areas.

It is critical for authorities, in the longer term, to show a genuine commitment to prioritizing Indigenous rights, including by ensuring that communities have a voice in the protection of their rights and land. They should also ensure prompt, thorough, and impartial criminal investigations of police implicated in excessive force and crimes committed by others in the context of the protests. Between pardons and cases that languished until the statute of limitations closed them, prosecutions of both sides after past demonstrations have proved inadequate.

Foreign Policy in Focus for more

There are barely any Muslims on popular TV series, a new study says

September 21st, 2022


Archie Panjabi at the Emmy Awards in 2010. Panjabi, a non-Muslim actress, played a Muslim character in the 2018 British limited series Next of Kin, a show discussed in a new study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. PHOTO/Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Muslims make up 25% of the global population and Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world — but Muslims only comprise 1% of characters shown on popular televisions series in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

Those are just two of the findings in a new report issued Wednesday by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Researchers investigated 200 top-rated television shows from 2018 and 2019 that aired in these four countries, and surveyed 8,885 characters with speaking roles.

Apart from the numbers deficit, the majority of the Muslim characters were depicted as adult Middle Eastern or North African [MENA] men, despite the fact that Muslims are the most racially and ethnically diverse religious group in the world. These characters were also linked to violent acts and behavior. Over 30% of the 98 Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence, while nearly 40% were targets of such attacks. Less than one-third were portrayed as native English speakers, underscoring depictions of Muslims as “foreigners.”

NPR for more

British army’s white phosphorus habit revealed

September 20th, 2022


British troops fire mortars in Kenya. Shells can contain white phosphorus. PHOTO/MOD

British soldiers on training exercises in Kenya have used white phosphorus on 15 occasions since 2017, Declassified has found.

White phosphorus can cause horrific burns to human skin and multiple organ failure, with Russia facing criticism from the UK for allegedly firing it in Ukraine this April.

The British army claims its own use of white phosphorus in Kenya, which first emerged that same month, does not breach international law.

They insist UK troops never fire it at civilian targets, saving it for illumination or smoke screening purposes.

However, Britain uses the controversial munition at Archers Post, a vast area of communal land in Kenya that is frequented by farmers, children and elephants.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) does not draw up specific safety plans for warning Kenyan civilians that white phosphorus mortars are about to be deployed, Declassified has found.

Instead the army relies on standard safety plans for live fire exercises, claiming “white phosphorus munitions have no other defining characteristics that would change this.”

Nearby schools are briefed on the dangers of unexploded ordnance, including white phosphorus rounds, and leaflets are handed out to local villagers. 

Although British troops claim to clear firing ranges of “all persons and wildlife” prior to training exercises, no specific assessment is made of the environmental impact of firing white phosphorus in Kenya.

The new details were revealed in a Freedom of Information response from the MOD, after defence minister James Heappey MP refused to answer a parliamentary question about the scale of white phosphorus use in Kenya.

Declassified UK for more

Controversial Cape Town taxi association distances itself from bus attacks

September 20th, 2022


A week ago, the City of Cape Town said it had impounded 19 amaphela taxis and two minibus taxis for operating without a valid permit or contravening permits. Hours after the vehicles were impounded, four Golden Arrow buses and one service delivery truck belonging to the city were attacked.

Coordinated mayhem dominates the roads in townships such as Nyanga, Guguletu, Crossroads and Phillipi East on the Cape Flats, where residents depend on unlicensed sedan taxis known as “amaphela”, a Xhosa word for cockroach. 

Despite being suspected by authorities and residents of being responsible for numerous violent attacks on “competing” means of public transport, amaphela drivers maintain their innocence, saying they too are “scared” when they hear of the torching of buses, a crime that is not uncommon in the Western Cape or other provinces.  

“Honestly, I cannot tell you the number of amaphela, it is a lot. Even the members of Amaphela, it’s a lot. But most of us do not have permits. Although the city granted us permits, it is a challenge getting it,” said Amaphele Taxi Association general secretary Richard Ndlebe. 

Nyanga agreed to discuss allegations of violence levelled at the association. The meeting took place at the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) meeting rooms at the Nyanga taxi rank. Cata, of which Amaphela is a branch, has been involved in violent turf wars in the province. 

The Amaphela Taxi Association was previously known as the Kiki Murray Taxi Association. 

Outside, a strong easterly wind carries rain over the township, forcing residents to use local transport to travel from their homes to the taxi rank, from where a minibus taxi or bus will take them to work in the city.

With limited transport opportunities available, amaphela taxis — the majority of which are Toyota Avanzas — stand ready to fill the gap. For R10 a trip, amaphela ferry passengers to various locations in the township. They seldom cover long distances.  

Inside the meeting room, taxi routes are meticulously outlined on pieces of A2-paper covering the walls, a stark contrast to the mayhem motorists experience — and the fear passengers have to endure — when unlicensed taxis openly disobey traffic regulations. 

Mail & Guardian for more

The ‘New’ India

September 20th, 2022


The Babri Masjid in Ayodhya (left), which was demolished by Hindutva activists in 1992. The Supreme Court of India (right) granted permission in November 2019, to build a Ram Mandir on that site. PHOTOS/Scroll

A Political-Economic Diagnosis

The preamble to the Constitution of India affirms the solemn resolve of its people to found a ‘socialist, secular, democratic republic’.footnote1 Today, on the 75th anniversary of the country’s Independence, it is plainly neither socialist nor secular—nor, one could well argue, democratic. Indeed, contrary to journalistic wisdom, India has never been ‘socialist’, unless one confuses the term with statism. The concept of secularism is contested, but if we use the political theorist Rajeev Bhargava’s thoughtful interpretation of it as entailing a ‘principled distance’ between religion and the state, then it certainly does not exist in India any more, going by the practice and utterings of its current leaders.footnote2 India’s democratic institutions have been on the decline for decades, but this has accelerated so much in the last few years that Sweden’s V-Dem Institute has authoritatively described it as an electoral autocracy.footnote3 In a negative sense this helps to define some key aspects of the ‘new’ India.

What follows will reflect on broad trends in India’s political economy over the last few decades. The aim is not to provide a detailed blow-by-blow account, nor an exhaustive or quantitative analysis of what has happened in this vast heterogeneous country. Instead I want to paint a broad-brush picture of the obstacles to India’s economic development and the respects in which these represent failures on the part of its state. I go on to analyse India’s ‘governance effectiveness’ in terms of three factors: public resources, state capacity and the centralized federal structure, with the concomitant weakness of regional and local government. I then examine the performance of the private economy, focusing first on the aborted structural transition that lies behind India’s politically explosive failure to create productive jobs for its bulging youth population and the general weakening of the bargaining power of labour, before going on to explore the ways in which the inequalities and concentrations of the Indian economy foster a conclave economy and a crony-oligarchic capitalism of an increasingly Latin American kind. Finally, I discuss how this is legitimated through a mixture of limited welfare measures for the poor and a majoritarian nationalism that sustains itself by stifling the democratic process.

1. obstacles

New Left Reviewfor more

Barbara Ehrenreich (1941 – 2022)

September 19th, 2022

VIDEO/Washington College/Youtube

VIDEO/Demcracy Now/Youtube

On Barbara Ehrenreich


Look at yourself, she always asks the reader; what do you see there?

A funeral scene, 1976: “When we emerged as radicals,” the eulogist observes, “there wasn’t much of a left tradition to plug into. There was a scattering of individuals and small groups . . . but they were generally dogmatic and pretty much uninterested in some of the things that were of most concern to us.” What was of concern? “We talked about ‘alienation,’ about people realizing their full potential; they said that the issue was wages. We were obsessed with the direct and personal experience of oppression (especially in the women’s movement), they said we were being ‘subjectivist.’ . . . Over here were our concerns—very humanistic and idealistic. Over there (from our point of view) was Marxism, like some kind of well-preserved but indigestible lump which only academics or sectarians would even try to swallow.”

The language—“alienation,” “direct and personal experience,” “humanistic and idealistic”— carbon-dates the event even if you don’t know the year: this is the discourse of the New Left. The speaker was Barbara Ehrenreich, and the occasion the funeral for the former metalworker, Marxist theorist, and Monthly Review editor Harry Braverman, author of the 1974 landmark account of the deskilling of work, Labor and Monopoly Capital. For Ehrenreich, whose own work had received crucial support from Braverman, the late theorist represented a precious, narrow bridge across a generational divide. “So you can begin to see the importance of Harry’s book to so many people of my political generation. It is, on the one hand, an intensely humanistic book. It’s a book written with vast respect for the everyday experience of working people—not as ‘production factors’ or commodities of some sort—but as human beings . . . So I could not help feeling, as I read it, that the book is in some ways a vindication of the concerns of the ‘new left’.” At the same time, Ehrenreich emphasized, Braverman did not merely pander to New Left predilections. “If Harry vindicates some of our concerns and questions, he also makes it clear that the way to understanding is not going to be found (as we sometimes liked to think) in consciousness raising, or revelation, or even in immediacy of personal experience,” she warned. “The book is written with grace, but it makes it clear that the road to understanding is arduous; that it winds through history; that it is open only to those who have the patience for systematic and materialistic thinking. And that’s not an easy lesson.”

n + 1 for more