A.Loewenstein Online Newsletter

NOVANEWS 


It’s official; Australian government happy for Serco to do what it pleases

Posted: 25 May 2011

 

The glories of unaccountable privatisation in action (via New Matilda): 

Not only is the $1 billion contract awarded to detention centre operator Serco beyond the reach of public scrutiny, but Senate Estimates hearings today revealed that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship collects scant data on breaches and has limited knowledge and oversight of staff training levels.
In what was a stellar confirmation of the Greens’ reputation as Senate watchdogs, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young doggedly pressed DIAC assistant secretary Fiona Lynch-Magor over allegations that Serco has been posting untrained and inexperienced guards to Australia’s overcrowded detention centres, with surprising results.
When asked by Hanson-Young, the DIAC official was unable to list the number of times Serco had breached the “management and service” provision of the contract, relating to detention centre operations, because the contract “doesn’t record specific breaches per incident”, instead measuring Serco’s performance under a “series of abatements that apply to certain metrics”.
The abatements, issued as retrospective fines, have been occurring on Lynch-Magor’s admission “since the beginning of the contract”, but are “not recorded in a recordable number”. “Systemic” breaches trigger “continuous failure” under the contract, which has a multiplier effect on the abatement issued.
Senator Hanson-Young appeared increasingly frustrated with Lynch-Magor’s answers, which became more circuitous as the questioning continued. When asked whether a failure to train staff properly could be considered a breach, she replied that Serco was “required to undertake all the training we require them to do”, and listed Certificate 2 requirements for centre chefs and guards.
Lynch-Magor told the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that DIAC had requested Serco prove their staff were properly trained “earlier this week”, and had received an immediate response. When Senator Hanson-Young asked the number of staff who “were asked to leave”, she was told that wasn’t information the department usually requested from Serco.
“So the department doesn’t know how many untrained staff have been on the ground… as of earlier this week?” the Senator replied.

And more evidence this week of a culture in the Immigration Department which rather likes a system whereby private companies can allegedly take responsibility for vulnerable people and yet still stuff it up:

BARBARA MILLER: The report commissioned by the Department of Immigration found refugees were paying through the roof for accommodation that was in some cases wholly inadequate. The accommodation provider, Resolve FM, a subcontractor of Navitas, has been put on notice.
The findings came as no surprise to Sister Diana Santleben. She was one of a number of community members who raised allegations that refugees were being exploited and mistreated. Sister Diana says she constantly hears of and witnesses such cases.
DIANA SANTLEBEN: Daily, daily. I mean I have taken hundreds of tonnes of Navitas issue furniture to a rubbish tip and sourced from the people of Newcastle thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth in replacement furniture, all at our own expense.
You know I’m a pensioner, and we’ve done it voluntarily. Basically we’ve done Navitas’s job for them voluntarily for the past five years so that the refugees did not endure having no beds, for example, because the beds they were given only lasted a week or two.
BARBARA MILLER: Do you think this report goes far enough?
DIANA SANTLEBEN: No, no, no. The report basically is into Resolve FM and Resolve FM were a sub-contractor for Navitas. The report did not under its guidelines study the work of Navitas really.
BARBARA MILLER: So what do you think should happen?
DIANA SANTLEBEN: Well my personal opinion, if I had my way I would just dismiss Navitas.

AIPAC faithful hate Palestinians and believe in fairy tales

Posted: 25 May 2011

 

Max Blumenthal paints the bleak picture: 

On May 22, thousands of supporters of America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, converged on Washington for the group’s annual conference. For two days they watched Democratic and Republican congressional leaders pledge their undivided loyalty to the state of Israel, and by extension, to AIPAC’s legislative agenda. Speeches by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted the conference, with Obama attempting to clarify his statement demanding that 1967 borders be the “starting point” for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
I interviewed several AIPAC delegates in the streets outside the conference. While few, if any, were able to demonstrate any degree of sophistication in the understanding of the Israel-Palestine crisis, they had been briefed inside on how to respond to critics. No one I spoke to would concede that Israel occupied any part of Palestinian territory; none would concede that Israel had committed acts of indiscriminate violence or that it had transferred Palestinians by force; one interviewee could not distinguish Palestine from Pakistan. With considerable wealth and negligible knowledge — few had spent much time inside Israel — the delegates were easily melded by the cadre of neoconservative and Israeli “experts” appearing in AIPAC’s briefing sessions.
As the day wore on, many delegates waded into confrontations with members of Code Pink and Palestine solidarity demonstrators who had set up a protest camp across the street. With conflict intensifying on the sidewalk, Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin invited AIPAC delegates to express themselves from the protest stage. There, their most visceral feelings and deeply held views about Israel-Palestine crisis were revealed. See it for yourself.

Chinese prisoners forced to earn web game credits

Posted: 25 May 2011

A surreal environment in a country where human rights campaigning is an issue largely seen as a Western plot to undermine Beijing: 

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.
Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.
“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”
Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.
But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real.
“If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.
It is known as “gold farming”, the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games’ makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

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