S. Korea unions threaten strike
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), representing some 550,000 workers in heavy industry, walked out of "reform and restructuring" talks between government officials, bosses, and union officials, protesting the unions non-role in the meetings. Unionists threatened an "all-out fight" in March and April that would include strikes and rallies. KCTU officials charge the government with failure to provide a social security net for the unemployed and to monitor company layoffs of workers. Unemployment in south Korea is at 8 percent, a record high.
"There will be on-off strikes and production losses, but nothing serious," opined Rhee Namuh, head of research for Samsung Securities. Others are not so sure. "The restructuring now taking place is for the chaebols, whose labor unions are well organized, unlike the workers from the small- and medium- sized companies," warned Koh Wonjong, head of research at Nomura Securities. The south Korean government has threatened to crack down on any labor actions. This has seldom deterred south Korean toilers.
Beijing warns U.S. government on `missile shield' over Taiwan
A senior official in Beijing warned Washington that its march toward arming the Taiwanese government with antimissile capabilities and placing the country of 21 million people under the "shield" of Uncle Sam would be "the last straw," which would "certainly lead to serious consequences." Reiterating that Taiwan always has been and will be part of China, the official asked journalists March 5, "Pumping F-16s and missile defense systems into an American state - how would they feel?"
He described a Pentagon assertion that the U.S.-funded military upgrade will not be operational until 2007 as a useless attempt "to pacify China." He charged the U.S. government with selling arms to Taiwan to make money, as well as providing a "pretext to strengthen their military alliance" to maintain domination of the region. There are more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Asia, including 37,000 in the south Korea.
"Look at north Korea," the Chinese official said. "They are a great people, a very proud people, but it is a small country.... [For Washington to] say north Korea is posing such a huge security threat to a superpower.... You expect us to trust that?" The official made clear Beijing's rejection of a proposal made by U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright in a recent trip to China that the U.S. would back off of arming Taiwan and other countries in Asia if China would pressure North Korea to halt its military defense program. "We cannot agree to that kind of linkage," the official said. "Taiwan has nothing to do with this."
Depression in Japan deepens
Tokyo faces a deepening economic crisis. Recession conditions not seen in decades in Japan dealt a crushing blow to imports in January, expanding Tokyo's trade surplus to $6.28 billion - an 87 percent jump compared to January 1998. A country's trade surplus is the measure of all goods exported minus those imported. Japan's rose 33 percent from December 1998 to January 1999. Imports fell 22.1 percent as record unemployment shrunk domestic demand.
Household spending in Japan fell 2.2 percent in 1998, and industrial output fell for eight of the past 12 months. This is driving bosses there to rely more on sales abroad. But exports shrunk 10.6 percent in January. Steel shipped to the United States, for example, fell 25 percent compared to a year earlier. Tokyo's trade surplus "reflects the severity of Japan's depressed domestic demand," said Satoru Ogasawara, a Credit Suisse First Boston economist. "The gap between exports and imports will continue to grow."
Acquittal of U.S. pilot for deaths of 20 in Italy sparks outrage
The acquittal of a U.S. Marines pilot on charges of involuntary manslaughter for flying his plane into a ski-lift cable, killing 20, has sparked outrage in Italy. A military court in North Carolina cleared Cpt. Richard Ashby of the charges in the Feb. 3, 1998, incident. Some Italian politicians have demanded parliament review the NATO base accords under which U.S. forces are stationed there. But Italian defense minister Carlo Scognamiglio insisted the verdict should not harm relations between Washington and Rome.
Visiting U.S. president William Clinton in Washington the day after the March 4 verdict, Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema stated that his government expects those responsible to be punished. "It is not normal for a military aircraft to fly in a valley 300 feet above the ground," he declared. The cable was sliced at 360 feet, when under regulations the plane should have been at least 1,000 feet above the ground. Clinton replied that he was "profoundly regretful and apologetic" about the deaths.
Ecuadoran currency is sliding
The Ecuadoran sucre lost 23 percent of its value in a three- day plunge that began March 2. Rumors of a bank seizure by the government and another looming bank collapse gave foreign investors the jitters. The Ecuadoran government is facing its worst economic crisis in 20 years as oil, one of its principal sources of income, has plummeted in price. Last year, Ecuador's inflation was at 43.4 percent, the highest in Latin America.
Dairy farmers face big price drop
April will usher in the worst one-month drop in milk prices in history, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The floor price farmers receive for milk will plunge to $10.27 per hundred pounds, from $16.27. The largest drop before this was recorded at $2.52, cited an economist for the National Milk Producers Federation. Capitalist economists blame increased production. "We're in a market where a lot of milk is being produced and that's driving the prices down," says economist Chris Nubern. These prices are set each month by the government. Small diary farmers, who face the tightest margins, will feel the biggest sting. Even the March price was below most farmers' cost of production.
School vouchers debate in N.Y.
New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani is pushing to pilot test a school voucher system in one of New York City's 32 community school districts. The voucher program would take public money to fund private schools. Giuliani's proposal was launched during his 1999 State of the City address in January. He said the plan would involve students whose parents fall "at or below the poverty level."
This scheme has drawn opposition from other city officials who say that more money should be allocated to improve public education. School Chancellor Rudy Crew threatened to resign if the measure is passed. Much of the funding would go to religious schools, which stands in violation of the New York State constitution that forbids the use of public funds for these schools, with the exception of student transportation.
Women's prisons: dehumanizing
A March 4 report issued by Amnesty International documents the degrading treatment of inmates who are women across the United States. Prison cops have been sexually harassing and assaulting women behind bars. This includes rape by male guards, or "favors" in exchange for sexual acts. These crimes - the ones that are exposed - largely go unpunished. Police guards in the prisons are known to put inmates "on eyeball." This is a degrading status where prisoners' clothes are replaced with hospital-style paper gowns. They are watched at every moment - in the shower, on the toilet, and anywhere else - often by male cops.
Since 1992, 60 people in Arizona alone were dismissed for sexual misconduct with woman prisoners. Two years ago in Massachusetts, prison police were accused of rousing 112 women from their beds and strip-searching 16 of them in front of the prison staff. The Department of Corrections denied the Amnesty allegations.
- BRIAN TAYLOR
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