Sunday, March 3, 2019

When Obama was the target (and still is)

Previously published in
Issue: October 26 - November 1, 2008
By Don Juan Corzo

Houston- “Kill'im!”, “Terrorist!”, “¡Off with his head!”, “Traitor!”
In this year's presidential election these are some of the hateful words heard in the crowds against Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama at his rival's campaign rallies, Republican Senator John McCain.
Senator McCain, and (especially) his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, have stoked a hostile environment against the Illinois senator in the campaign trail in 2008.
"We've seen a malignant anger at McCain-Palin rallies that could turn into real violence," said recently David Gergen, a political expert who was an adviser for former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
The volatile environment has raised fears about the security of Senator Obama, and "true" Americans (like Palin) consider him different from the typical mainstream American for his ethnic background, his populist ideology and his relations with controversial figures like black reverend Jeremiah Wright, an afro-extremist and university professor William Ayers, a former leftist radical.
Opiyo Oloya, an Ugandan activist and political pundit who resides in Canada, warned the public about the tense climate (created less by McCain and mostly by Palin) earlier this year. The rhetoric used in their rallies has tried to paint Obama as a real enemy of the people in their attempt to win the election at all costs.
"The McCain campaign has enforced the opinion that Obama is enemy number one of the country and has to be eliminated, and some extremists may literally consider that a patriotic duty," said Oloya in a radio interview.

Concerns that Senator Obama might be assassinated are not new. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff ordered additional security for the Democrat candidate in early May, 2007. It's the strictest and earliest protection the secret service has given to a presidential candidate since it was implemented as a law after Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968.
According to a spokesperson from DHS, the service was offered following a petition from Obama's office even though at the moment there was no indication of any threat against the Democratic senator. However, DHS confirmed shortly after they received threats from the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
"If that man [Obama] is elected President, he'll be shot for sure," said Ray Larson, one of KKK's leaders in a YouTube video posted in spring, 2008.
But surprisingly Larson has not the first one to suggest or imply the possibility of assassinating the Senator Obama. 

More than rumors
Famous ex-wrestler and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura warned in a radio interview in April 2008 that Obama might be the target of an attempt on his life. 
Ventura, known for his irreverent style, stated that an independent candidate different from the usual type would be a threat to the political "establishment," and his opponents would try to kill him, or at least destroy his image and credibility.
"I say this very seriously: Be careful, Barack Obama," said Ventura.
In the international arena, similarly grim comments have been made. Doris Lessing, British Nobel prize winner in literature (2007) said in an interview with a Swedish newspaper in February, 2008 that "he would probably not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would kill him."
Fidel Castro, Cuba's former leader said on October 11 that is a "pure miracle" that Obama has not been the victim of an attack yet.

Others have criticized these speculations by many as negative or dangerous.
"Suggesting that his life is in danger if he is to win the election in November is done just to divide us," said a Republican analyst.
However, black activists and former presidential candidates like reverends Jesse Jackson (1984 & 1988) and Al Sharpton (2004) received death threats during their campaigns. Also, former secretary of state General Colin Powell abandoned plans to announce his candidacy in the 90s because of fears for his life, according to family and friends.
In early August when Obama was campaigning in Florida, a 22-year-old man was arrested in Miami when authorities found firearms and military gear in his hotel room and his car. Several witnesses revealed they heard him say for several months he would assassinate Obama if elected.
Later during the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, three men were arrested after they were outed by two women who heard them say they had "plans to kill Obama."
During the questioning the authorities discovered they planned to shoot him with a telescopic rifle from a high spot in the stadium or with a gun hidden inside a TV camera.
However, charges were dismissed by federal prosecutor Troy Eid, a Republican, after concluding his office didn't have enough evidence and against the opinion of the FBI.

Real Fear
Lotta Danielsson, an Swiss entrepreneur and public affairs commentator living in Washington D.C. thinks the threat against Obama should be discussed openly.
"To cover your eyes has never been the answer to a controversial topic," said Danielsson.
According to Monica Guzman, another renowned columnist in Seattle, most people that bring up the controversial topic are more concerned about a possible attack than to promote it.  
Other worrying comments have been by accident as happened, for example, with Senator Hillary Clinton during a presser in South Dakota during the primaries. In late May she made a statement in response to political pundits suggesting she should abandon her campaign efforts.
"My husband [Bill Clinton] did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California," said Clinton.
Public opinion and the media considered the comment improper and incendiary. Clinton apologized days later.
Other people have suggested assassinating Obama using tasteless humor as an excuse. 
"And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh, Obama. Well, both, if we could," said Fox News contributor Liz Trotta, regarding Clinton's comment. She was heavily criticized and also apologized shortly after.

"When a public figure emerges who seems to really represent the people and wants real change, it also creates reservations and challenges to the way things have always been in society," said Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg in Houston.
The Rice professor knows United States has really progressed when compared to the events in the past two centuries, but recognizes there are a minority of people who don't want to accept U.S.A. has changed.
"Just like we have decent people in America, also there also are the extreme fanatical types. Just like most Muslims are good people, but we have a minority of them that is extremist and dangerous," explained Klineberg.
The professor added that every president everywhere faces the possibility of being assassinated because it's part of the risks of being a leader of a nation, but in the case of Obama more caution has to be taken because of the change he represents.
"Part of the motivation and expectation for Obama is that many people have the impression that perhaps he is like a mix between Martin Luther King Jr. and President John Kennedy; even for Europeans and people around the world," concluded Klineberg.
◗ An art exhibition titled "The Assassination of Barack Obama" from Yazmany Arboleda, a Latino artist, was open in a New York Gallery in February, but was closed in June by authorities for its controversial subject matter.
◗ When Obama's popularity increased significantly during the primaries in 2008, Online searches for the phrase "Obama assassination" went from 20,000 to 250,000 results.
◗ So far nine U.S. presidents have faced attempts on their lives. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy died as a result.
◗ Two white supremacists from Tennessee and Arkansas plotted to go on a killing spree of African-Americans before assassinating Obama, but were arrested in late October.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Tale of two Koreas

News were reeling about what private conversation went on between North Korea's president Kim Jong Un and South Korea's president Moon Jae In during their meeting in late April.
Official lip reading experts have provided snippets of a leaked transcript of what was discussed. This following sample was the most revealing part of the summit:

-Kim Jong Un: So you finally submit to me, your Supreme Leader in a unified Korea?
-Moon Jae In: Get real. I'm not submitting to you or anyone. We have to get this orange madman off our backs, before we get incinerated. Everyone knows your nuclear facilities got compromised, and damaged.
-Kim: I can destroy America with the strength of my empire, North Korea's great military power.
-Moon: Wake up, numbnuts. You aren't gonna destroy much except my people and your people. China already told you that.
-Kim: But, who else can stop that orange old fool, then? He disrespected our great land's pride when he called me Rocket man and said he had a bigger nuke button than me.
-Moon: You stop running your mouth against America, OK? If a nuclear war breaks out, Americans will not be hurt at all, but millions of us will die in our Korean peninsula.
-Kim: Come on, man. I won't attack South Korea. You are my brothers and sisters. I'll only hit his military bases on your side.
-Moon: You're kidding me? That selfish orange nut doesn't give a shit about a few U.S. soldiers stationed here. You two are the same selfish egocentric fools, but he has far more power, and you know it.
-Kim: All right, North Korea and South Korea can make peace, but who can appease that orange idiot after that?
-Moon: I'll suggest his bully ass should get the Nobel peace prize this year. That should subdue his insecure ego and cap him from attacking your land.

-Kim: Ok, maybe I'll release a couple of our American prisoners to try to look cool with him and his cronies when we meet in May.
-Moon: Good call, young Kim. You're learning to be wiser. Give President Xi JinPing a call. He's going to be the real deal now.
-Kim: Is the Soju finished? Refill, please!
-Moon: More kimchi?

NOTE: This is satirical take on the current U.S.A. - Koreas relations. Any similarity with reality is a coincidence, but can be considered a possibility.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Corporate exploitation of the weak in Taiwan

Labor violations by a corporate giant and its employment agencies continue to afflict blue collar workers in Taiwan while government officials make half-hearted efforts to enforce labor law.

Words and images by Don Juan Corzo
Her name is Asmin Paulito. She was a 30 year old operator in a factory in Taiwan. Her superiors told her she was not free to go wherever you wanted on her days off work. They gave her punishments every time she made mistakes. She complained about unfair rules or illegal fees and her brokers said she was wrong.
I have a roommate whose husband works in another city in Taiwan and she's rarely allowed to stay out overnight to spend time with him,” Paulito said. “Rules like that are abusive.”
This is the experience many foreign workers have reported to Examiner in the course of a yearlong investigation in Siliconware Precision Industries Co., Ltd (SPIL,矽品精密工業股份有限公司), one of the most successful technology companies in Taiwan. Some may not recognize the name of this large semiconductor manufacturer, though major customers include Apple, Intel, AMD and Sandisk.

All overseas foreign workers (OFWs) working in SPIL factories are brought from Philippines. The main violation that pushed some factory workers to complain formally was the new no-exit policy, though they have endured other violations for years in SPIL, according to various worker rights groups in Taiwan.
"The new no-exit policy means foreign workers don't have to leave Taiwan and go back to their country of origin to get their work visa renewed to be hired by the same employer or a different one," said 
Director Lennon Wong (汪英達) of Serve the People Association (SPA, 桃園市群眾服務協會), a human rights organization.
Chunshan facility in Tanzi District, one of the SPIL factories and dormitories locations around Taiwan where foreign workers violations ocurr on a daily basis.
Asmin and three fellow factory workers decided to file formal complaints against SPIL in December when Daisy Sy (施麗絲), a broker representative for the Human Resources Division (HR) announced in December the company would not follow the amended Taiwan labor law that benefits more than 600,000 blue collar foreign workers in Taiwan.
On November 5th last year an amended ruling of the Employment Service Act (勞動基準法) in the Ministry of Labor (MOL,勞動部) cancelled the must-exit policy for migrant workers after finishing their job contracts. The amended law also benefits domestic workers and foreign nationals from other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.
When questioned by Taichung Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB, 臺中市政府勞工局) as to why they were the only ones complaining out of thousands, the four OFWs who filed the formal complaint on January 12th said no one really dared to protest publicly against their employer's illegal rulings before for fear of reprisal by their brokers.
Another reason why many don't want to join the formal complaint is they're afraid that the labor bureau will not really help them,” said complainant Kimberly Carmona. “Most think SPIL will make them leave Taiwan and maybe they can't come back again.”
Like the complainants, many face the prospect of being sent back every month. Besides the possibility of joblessness in Philippines, workers still face greater financial burden if they want to return. The amended law does away with the high cost for OFWs to re-enter Taiwan. Filipino and Taiwanese brokers who process new hires or rehires are losing between NT$50,000 to NT$150,000 per applicant, according to worker rights group Migrante International.
Former SPIL worker Asmin Paulito and SPA Director Lennon Wong (汪英達) were interviewed by Taiwan media during the press conference at the entrance of the Ministry of Labor in Taipei on January 11th regarding the abuses in SPIL dormitories and violation of the new no-exit policy.
We believe theres a division of the money [OFWs] pay the Philippines agencies because the brokers get a portion of the money. Maybe there is a share for the company too. We've asked the Labor Bureau to investigate that too, SPA Director Wong (汪英達) said on January 22nd at an OFW meeting in Tanzi, Taichung. SPA is a non-governmental organization (NGO) involved in fighting foreign worker exploitation and shelters many of them around Taiwan.

SPIL uses the services of three job placement agencies, Mengo Manpower Group (萬國人力集團), Champion Manpower Services (長宏人力集團) and Pan Asia Human Resources (泛亞人力集團 ) in the seven factories it operates in Taichung, Hsinchu and Changhua. Abuses have been reported in MOL and also in the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO, 菲律賓駐台代表處), the consular branch of Philippines in Taiwan. Evidence shows SPIL HR is either contributing to the unfair treatment of the foreign workers or ignoring the way said agencies process and manage the foreign workers.
Our company always obeys and follows the laws and regulation,” SPIL HR Director Grace Chang (張美慧), said in an email response to the allegations of misconduct and abuse within the company. We value our employees’ interests and rights and we never assist or intend to provide opportunity to any and specific agencies to make the monetary income and profits from the foreign workers.”
Director Chang asserted SPIL was still rehiring foreign workers in December and January while contradicting Mengo broker Sy who told several dorm occupants that no one was getting job contract renewals on December 21st. The question still stands why so few foreign workers are being rehired immediately while asking most to return to Philippines first, in order to rehire them.
Newly hired OFWs arrived in Mengo dorm in January despite SPIL Human Resources and agency brokers stating im December they are not rehiring their trained factory foreign workers in an effort to reduce workforce.
SPIL is not OK. The broker and employer have no concern for their employees,” said Assistance-to-Nationals Officer Gina Lin (林秀秀) in MECO Taipei. “Workers are sending me messages from Hsinchu. Most request their names be withheld to save their jobs.”
SPIL's manpower agencies also are supposed to help its OFWs extend their work visas in Taiwan with the implementation of the no-exit policy. Chang stated in her email. “If the company finally decides not to rehire the foreign worker, and the worker intends to stay and continue to work at Taiwan, our company will help to introduce he/she enables to transfer to other company according to the applicable clauses under Foreign Employment Service Act.
Production managers expected us to have our contracts renewed after we signed the forms for rehire,” said complainant Leah Pacday.But the brokers kept those forms and gave new ones to sign with the exit-only option in late December.”
SPIL HR Manager Amber Kao (郭珀華) told Examiner on a phone call in December that HR has its reasons to not rehire employees despite getting positive feedback from the production department. But she didn't explain why SPIL is still hiring many new OFWs in January.
However, Kao and a Champion broker told the complainants on January 3rd in an recorded meeting at SPIL offices, HR would rehire them if they went back to Philippines, contrary to what the no-exit labor law mandates now.
The survey form foreign workers were forced to sign to leave Taiwan with no option to be rehired immediately or to transfer to another employer, but only to return to Philippines to start the hiring process with SPIL again or to quit. 
A production manager said under the condition to anonymity that “it doesn’t make sense to send back operators who are already trained. That's a waste of money and time to bring new workers to teach them the production process.”
Paulito, Carmona and Pacday, three of the four OFWs finished their contracts on January 13th and were granted a 60-day stay by the National Immigration Agency (內政部移民署).
“But the Labor Bureau said they had to further investigate their case, so MOL delayed issuing the official transfer until February 2
nd, SPA's Wong said about the document the women needed to get work with another employer.

Filipino Father Joyalito Tajonera, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Tanzi District and runs two shelters for mainly abused Filipino workers in Taichung, told the Examiner SPIL and its employment agencies have had complaints filed against them before, but workers usually quit their effort to fight for their rights out of intimidation by brokers, and even by coworkers for “rocking the boat.”
OFWs, who are not being rehired, faced conflicts or threats in the past when they complained about dormitory illegal rules or questioned the brokers unfair treatment of workers, Fr. Joy said.
A unidentified SPIL foreign worker cleans the bathroom as punishment for breaking a rule or making a mistake in the dormitory, an employer abuse and a violation according to the Labor Standard Act of MOL.
Some examples of such dorm rules are the cleaning punishment plus fee and the stay-out request, which employees fill out to be able to spend the night out on their days off for personal reasons.
Employees living in the dorm can only stay out three times in one month, without being told why. Other companies like Canon factories in Taiwan have similar requirements from OFWs too, but they are a notice from the employee to the employer about their dorm status on their days off, not a request for permission. Some SPIL workers go for months, even years, without being approved to stay out overnight for no valid reason. Some explanations workers get are “it’s management rules,” “it’s for your safety” or “you came to Taiwan to work.” Workers are also illegally forbidden from riding scooters or motorcycles, the most affordable and common way of transportation in Taiwan for the working class.
Since many Filipino workers placed anonymous complaints through 2016, HR told the brokers all three agencies had to loosen the illegal restriction on the overnight rule with no real relief. Workers can stay out, but they have to call in to report to the office by 11:00 p.m. And they have to be back in the dorm by 5:30 a.m.
It's so useless because workers are not allowed to own or ride scooters, and if you are far from the dorm, there are no public buses to bring you back at that time,” said Paulito. “It's inconvenient to make you go back to the dorm in a taxi so early wherever you are.”
SPA Director Lennon Wong (汪英達shows MOL Director Shiue Jain-Jong (薛鑑忠) and Section Chief Huang Wei-Cheng (黃偉誠) proof about SPIL violations during a in-house meeting with SPA members and OFWs on January 11th.
Despite paying a monthly NT$100 cleaning fee, brokers also give workers punishments like cleaning bathrooms for being late or even for minor mistakes like signing the wrong log. However, former LAB representative Katrina Lin () said in early 2016 such mandates are “illegal” since they are not in the workers' contracts, SPIL official employee rules or Taiwan labor law.

The brokers charge a variety of fees that are supposed to be covered by SPIL according to the OFWs contracts, including lodging, meals and a round trip airfare. There's an additional signed addendum in some workers' contracts that exempts them from those benefits. But according to SPA's Wong, that extra document is invalid when you look at Taiwan labor law guidelines.
The brokers who work with HR tell us if we complain openly they will send us back and will block us from returning to work in Taiwan,' said Joyce Abad, a Filipina operator who quit her job with SPIL in November after dealing with labor abuses for more than two years.

According to Wong and Fr. Joy, MOL and LAB are hesitant to fully crack down on SPIL exploitation because so few OFWs file official complaints and “there's big pressure to close complaint cases” from politicians and big business.

Major brand name Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE, 日月光半導體), SPIL's greatest competitor received approval from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) for its NT$128.7 billion (US$4.04 billion) bid to acquire SPIL in November, a few days after the amended no-exit policy went on effect.
On the surface, one of Taiwan’s biggest acquisition deals ends a corporate rivalry and improves ASE's image from a scandal stemming from a much publicized pollution incident in December, 2013 that partially shut down facilities in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The merger approval appears to bear positively for the world’s largest chip manufacturer from international competition watchdogs and if there aren't serious concerns when the bid is completed this year.

One major difference between ASE and SPIL is the former's agencies currently doesn't apply broker fees and extra charges to its OWFs while the latter has done so excessively for years.

But SPIL is not the only company with its agencies breaking the new no-exit labor policy or abusing OFWs in Taiwan,” said Wong. “There are many small family owned factories and big companies committing these violations along with their manpower agencies.”

 Until government agencies decide to diligently defend the weak and confront injustice from the those in power, people like Filipina Asmin Paulito will be one of the few brave ones standing up for her rights.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Formosa Island's fresh start

Originally published in
on May 21st, 2016
 by Don Juan Corzo
The inauguration of Tsai Ing Wen as Taiwan's first female president on Friday clearly marks a pivotal event in the island nation's history. But it's not just for reasons of gender equality. She shares the same honorable achievement as her South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye as women holding the highest office as democratically elected leaders in Asia.
Park became president in 2013 but unlike Tsai, she seems to maintain a stronger relationship with the U.S. including unequivocal military support against North Korea's threats. President Tsai faces greater challenges since she doesn't receive the same formalized support from the U.S. government against possible hostilities from China.
In an effort to exert its influence over Taiwan, China made headlines in April when it demanded that 45 Taiwanese suspects be deported from Kenya to the mainland to face criminal charges stemming from a fraud case that targeted many Chinese nationals. Taiwan government protested the action by the Chinese authorities citing jurisdiction and sovereignty issues. Many considered the move an effort by Beijing to assert its power over Taiwan despite Tsai's election and DPP landslide seat wins in Parliament last January.
China's network CCTV reported on May 18th that the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon don't support Taiwan's attempt to break away from the mainland as an independent nation, but those assertions weren't confirmed as true by media relations in the U.S. Department of Defense.
“This latest election is further proof of the Taiwanese people's enduring commitment to the ideals of freedom and self-governmentt, principles that are the foundations that both of our nations are built upon,” U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said on Friday in response to a resolution passed in the Foreign Affairs Committee to strengthen relations between U.S. and Taiwan against aggressions from China.
The outgoing Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou established harmonious relations with China's government during his eight  years in office, and many perceived his dealings as an attempt to pave the way for a Taiwan- China reunification. As a member of conservative KuoMinTang, such goal is desired by the party, which was formerly the official government of China before the current communist ruling party took over in 1949.
Tsai represents the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the other major political party in Taiwan, which exhorts a separate, independent Taiwanese identity, and publicly favors total independence, though not officially, as of yet.
Taiwanese and Chinese citizens don't eye to eye in their differences over the island and the mainland political stance, but both agree the relationship between China and Tiawan is complicated at best.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing wasn't pleased to hear Tsai's inaugural speech calling for better relationship between the two countries.The Chinese government was expecting to hear more literal acknowledgement from the new Taiwanese president about following the one China policy drilled in the Chinese citizens' minds. With statements like "From here on out history will no longer divide Taiwan. Instead, it will propel Taiwan forward,"  Tsai made a hopeful message for her people, but refused to give in to China's demands to imply subjugation.
During her speech, the former law professor emphasized strengthening relations and trade with other Asian nations to offset the reliance on China's economy and continue strong business ties with the U.S.
While Tsai's taking the oath of office was witnessed live by hundreds of dignitaries from more than 50 countries in Taipei and it was broadcast or covered across the world,  the Chinese government kept its media outlets from reporting on the historic event and searches online and social media were effectively blocked in mainland.

Despite the tense, complex relationship between the two countries, Tsai says the most important goal in her mind is economic growth as was evident in her speech.
“At this moment, Taiwan’s situation is very difficult, I invite every fellow citizen to carry the future of this country,” Tsai said in her speech.
Domestic matters seem more important than cross-strait relations, but many still see China's ever present large shadow as the Red Elephant in the Formosa Room.