US Defense Secretary to Visit Israel, Germany, NATO Headquarters, UK

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Israel, Germany, NATO headquarters in Belgium and Britain starting on Saturday, the Pentagon said in a statement.“Secretary Austin will meet with his counterparts and other senior officials to discuss the importance of international defense relationships and reinforce the United States’ commitment to deterrence and defense, burden sharing, and enduring trans-Atlantic security,” said the statement released on Thursday.

your ad here

Ramsey Clark, Former US Attorney General, Saddam Hussein’s Lawyer, Dies at 93

Ramsey Clark, who promoted civil rights as America’s top law enforcement official in the 1960s but later helped defend Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic in court, has died at 93. The liberal figure and former attorney general died April 9 at his home in New York City, a niece, Sharon Welch, told U.S. media. No cause of death was given. His political arc was extraordinary. While serving under President Lyndon Johnson, Clark’s Justice Department prosecuted popular author and pediatrician Benjamin Spock for helping Vietnam War protesters evade the draft. But he also filed the first school desegregation and voting rights suits in the northern U.S. states.  Within years of leaving government in 1969, he had become a stunningly direct critic of U.S. foreign policy, which he called “genocidal,” and of military spending, which he termed “certifiably insane.” Defender of the unpopular  He became a defender of unpopular figures and causes, including Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-Yugoslav president accused of war crimes, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther jailed in Pennsylvania for killing a policeman. Everyone, however unpopular, deserved a proper defense, he insisted. Clark was mourned Saturday by figures ranging from Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, who tweeted that he was “an indefatigable defender of Palestinian & human rights,” to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who said Clark had “denounced the great injustices committed by his country worldwide.” Despite Clark’s criticism of U.S. policies, President Jimmy Carter turned to him to attempt to negotiate the release of the 53 American hostages held in Tehran in 1979.  Though his effort failed, Clark later returned to Iran on his own and said the continuing hostage taking was “understandable.” He urged the U.S. to apologize to Iran for misdeeds, drawing a warning from a furious Carter that he could be prosecuted for violating a travel ban. Clark met with communist officials in Hanoi during the Vietnam War and blasted U.S. conduct there. He sued the U.S. government for bombing Libya after a 1986 terror attack in Berlin, and he opposed the U.S. wars with Iraq. Landmark rights law In 1990, then head of Amnesty USA John Healey called Clark “one of the most respected advocates for human rights in the world today.” The late civil rights leader Roy Wilkins once called Clark “the first powerful white man I had ever seen who took poor black people seriously.” Born in Dallas in 1927, Clark joined the Marine Corps in 1945 and served as a courier in Europe, where he witnessed the devastation wrought by the war. Returning to the U.S., he earned a law degree from the University of Chicago. His father had been a Supreme Court justice who resigned to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest. In 1961, Ramsey Clark went to work for Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department, gaining a reputation as an efficient administrator, and in 1967 was named by Johnson, a fellow Texan, to head the department. He was involved in drafting the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968; he also ordered an end to federal executions. Clark later ran twice for the U.S. Senate from New York. “Thank God I didn’t win,” he later said. “Frankly, I would have been bored.” 

your ad here

Amazon Workers Appear to Reject Unionization Push in Alabama

An unofficial vote tally shows a push to unionize an Amazon.com Inc. facility in the U.S. state of Alabama losing by more than a 2-to-1 margin. While Friday’s reported results haven’t been finalized and could be challenged, they dealt a bitter blow to the U.S. labor movement’s efforts to reverse decades of sharp declines in the private sector. At issue was whether 5,800 Amazon workers would join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Voting was done by mail in February and March. The outcome is seen as having far-reaching implications, not just for workers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, Alabama, but also for the company as a whole and the growing U.S. e-commerce sector that has fended off most labor organizing. Amazon hailed the outcome FILE – An employee collects items ordered by Amazon.com customers in a warehouse in San Francisco, Calif., Dec. 20, 2017.Sharp divisions over whether to unionizeOpinion among Amazon workers was far from uniform. While some decried working conditions, others said they are satisfied with the status quo. “I’m not against unions,” explained J.C. Thompson, who has worked at the Amazon facility in Bessemer since April last year, less than a week after it opened. “I’ve been in unions, and I think they can do good things. I just don’t think we need it here.” While acknowledging that everyone’s experience is different, he said he is treated fairly at Amazon and is impressed with the package of benefits the company provides him. He also values the direct communication he said workers have with Amazon managers. “My dad used to tell me, ‘You’ve either got a seat at the table, or you’re being eaten for dinner,’” Thompson said, “And I feel like I’ve got a seat at the table here. Not that I’m some superstar worker or anything, but when I message a manager, I always get a response back. Every time.” Thompson said he worried that if a union came in, he’d lose his ability to advocate for himself and to reach out to management without having to go through the union first. “Everything they say they want from a union, we’ve already got by working directly with Amazon,” he said. FILE – A worker gathers items for delivery from the warehouse floor at Amazon’s distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 22, 2013.Amazon provided essential supportAnother Amazon worker, Carla Johnson, agreed. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after beginning her job at the Bessemer facility and said Amazon has provided her with essential support throughout the process. “They’ve been so wonderful, I just don’t see what some of those voting for unionization are seeing,” she said. “I guess if you’re going to the bathroom or talking so much you don’t get your work done, then you’ll get fired, but that’s the case at any workplace.” “I work hard here, and I think I’ll be rewarded for that,” she added. “I don’t want a union to get in the way if they’re prioritizing people with seniority.” ‘They don’t care about us’ While Amazon touts higher wages and more generous benefit packages than those offered by many other service industry employers, worker Dale Richardson told VOA last month he voted to unionize. “They treat us like we’re just a number — like we’re nobodies,” he said. “I’ve been there for almost a year now, doing the best work I can do, and nobody — no manager — asks me about my goals. They don’t care about us.” Richardson pointed to Amazon ending worker hazard pay in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he has seen coworkers reprimanded for talking during their shift and fired for taking too long for bathroom breaks. “They give us two 30-minute breaks over a 10 or 11-hour shift, but it can sometimes take 10 minutes of that break to walk across the facility,” he said, noting the massive fulfillment center is the size of 16 football fields. “It’s not uncommon to walk all the way to the bathroom on your floor to find that it’s not working, or that it’s closed for cleaning. Now you have to walk to another floor’s bathroom, most of your break is used up and you might get fired if you don’t get back in time. It’s a lot of stress.” Also, last-minute shift changes are not uncommon, according to Richardson, who hoped joining RWDSU would improve conditions for workers. “If they can help us get a little more job security, so they can’t fire us whenever they want,” he said, “and help organize us and represent us to advocate for equal opportunities for promotions and pay increases — that’s why I’m voting to unionize.” Direct dialogue is essentialAmazon didn’t address Richardson’s specific complaints, but spokesperson Owen Torres emphasized communication between managers and their employees.Direct dialogue is essential to our work environment in which we encourage associates to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team with the goal of quickly improving the work environment and challenging leadership assumptions,” he said.A unique moment For months, Bessemer has been ground zero for one of the most closely watched unionization efforts in decades. During the voting period, RWDSU and Amazon jockeyed to persuade undecided workers. Amazon insists it does right by its workers in Alabama – and everywhere else. “We opened this site in March and since that time have created more than 6,000 full-time jobs in Bessemer, with starting pay of $15.30 per hour, including full health care, vision and dental insurance, 50% 401(k) match [for retirement savings] from the first day on the job,” the company said in a statement provided to VOA. Amazon said it provides “safe, innovative, inclusive environments, with training, continuing education, and long-term career growth.” Such statements don’t impress RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. Nor does Amazon’s backing for a national $15 hourly minimum wage, up from $7.25 currently. “Society is celebrating essential workers like the ones who work at Amazon,” Appelbaum told VOA. “But then we’re also going to cut their hazard pay? That doesn’t make sense, and I think Americans understand we need to celebrate them by rewarding and supporting them.” Appelbaum added, “We’re in a unique moment in history, and I think that’s why people across the country and around the world are watching how we do.” Without specifically mentioning Amazon, in late February President Joe Biden urged “workers in Alabama” to exercise their right to organize and “make your voice heard.” “Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, but especially Black and brown workers,” Biden said in a video posted to Twitter. Casting labor unions as a promoter of racial justice resonated with Jennifer Bates, one of many people of color working at the Bessemer fulfillment center. “You have a workplace where 85% of the employees are Black, and you literally see policemen in the parking lot with their lights on when you arrive,” she said. “What kind of message does that send? It feels like a prison. We’re working for the richest man in the world [Amazon founder Jeff Bezos]. You can’t give us hazard pay? You can’t provide more opportunities for raises so we can afford to live in safer housing?” 2014 vote failed This wasn’t the first push for collective bargaining at Amazon. In 2014, machinists at a warehouse in Delaware voted more than 3-to-1 against unionization.The Bessemer effort now had bipartisan backing in Washington, a rarity for union efforts. Writing in USA Today recently, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said, “Amazon has waged a war against working class values” and that “workers are right to suspect that its management doesn’t have their best interests in mind.” “Unions haven’t seen this kind of support in many decades,” said Natasha Zaretsky, professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She said America’s unions were at their strongest in the 1940s and ’50s, when 33% of workers were unionized, many in the steel and automobile factories of the time. Today, that number has dropped to 12% as jobs have shifted from manufacturing to the service industry. It’s no accident that Bessemer stood at the precipice of what labor organizers hoped would be a watershed moment for unionizing in America, according to Zaretsky. “African American workers have a rich history of unionizing here that goes all the way back to Reconstruction [after the U.S. Civil War] in the 19th century,” she said.FILE – People hold a banner at the Amazon facility as members of a congressional delegation arrive to show their support for workers who will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, March 5, 2021.Dispute on tactics During the voting period, Applebaum said Amazon resorted to strong-arm tactics to influence workers. “They put anti-union materials in the bathrooms, and they hold mandatory meetings where they tell workers why unions are bad for them and how it could cause Amazon facilities to close,” he said. “We set up outside the facility to talk to employees when they leave work, but then Amazon asked the county to change the cadence of the traffic lights so they wouldn’t be stopped there anymore. This isn’t normal.” For its part, Amazon said workers had to know what is at stake. “If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important all associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon,” the company said in a statement. “We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire.”An earlier version of this article appeared on March 14, 2021.

your ad here

US Issues New Guidelines for Government Interactions with Taiwanese Counterparts

The State Department has issued new guidelines for U.S. government interactions with its Taiwanese counterparts to encourage closer contacts and deepen the unofficial relationship between the two democracies, amid increasing Chinese aggression in the region.”The guidance underscores Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner that is also a force for good in the international community,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a Friday statement. The statement spoke only in general terms about the guidelines, which were circulated among government departments but not released to the public. Taiwan hailed the announcement. “We welcome the encouragement. Look forward to using new opportunities to work together to deepen the relationship,” said Taiwan’s envoy to the U.S., Bi-khim Hsiao in a tweet.We welcome the encouragement. Look forward to using new opportunities to work together to deepen the relationship. https://t.co/RqVMCDNlPF— Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (@bikhim) April 9, 2021There is growing cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan in areas of global health, economics, and regional security.  Last month, Washington and Taipei signed an agreement on coast guard cooperation. The State Department sees the guidelines as consistent with America’s “one China” policy, maintaining that liberalizing contacts with Taiwan is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and other existing policy statements known as the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances.  The 1979 U.S.-China Joint Communique switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. Relations between the U.S. and Taiwan have been governed by the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in April 1979, under which the U.S. provides defense equipment to Taiwan. The U.S. had said its long-held “One China” policy is “distinct” from Beijing’s “One China” principle.  The U.S. has never endorsed the Chinese Communist Party’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. The new guidelines come as the U.S. Congress introduces major legislation to counter China’s expanding global influence.  The proposed bipartisan “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” holds that there should be no restrictions on U.S. officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts.

your ad here

Amazon Appears to Have Defeated Unionization Push in Alabama

An unofficial vote tally shows a push to unionize an Amazon.com Inc. facility in the U.S. state of Alabama losing by more than a 2-to-1 margin. While Friday’s reported results haven’t been finalized and could be challenged, they dealt a bitter blow to the U.S. labor movement’s efforts to reverse decades of sharp declines in the private sector. At issue was whether 5,800 Amazon workers would join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Voting was done by mail in February and March. The outcome is seen as having far-reaching implications, not just for workers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, Alabama, but also for the company as a whole and the growing U.S. e-commerce sector that has fended off most labor organizing. FILE – An employee collects items ordered by Amazon.com customers in a warehouse in San Francisco, Calif., Dec. 20, 2017.Sharp divisions over whether to unionizeOpinion among Amazon workers was far from uniform. While some decried working conditions, others said they are satisfied with the status quo. “I’m not against unions,” explained J.C. Thompson, who has worked at the Amazon facility in Bessemer since April last year, less than a week after it opened. “I’ve been in unions, and I think they can do good things. I just don’t think we need it here.” While acknowledging that everyone’s experience is different, he said he is treated fairly at Amazon and is impressed with the package of benefits the company provides him. He also values the direct communication he said workers have with Amazon managers. “My dad used to tell me, ‘You’ve either got a seat at the table, or you’re being eaten for dinner,’” Thompson said, “And I feel like I’ve got a seat at the table here. Not that I’m some superstar worker or anything, but when I message a manager, I always get a response back. Every time.” Thompson said he worried that if a union came in, he’d lose his ability to advocate for himself and to reach out to management without having to go through the union first. “Everything they say they want from a union, we’ve already got by working directly with Amazon,” he said. FILE – A worker gathers items for delivery from the warehouse floor at Amazon’s distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 22, 2013.Amazon provided essential supportAnother Amazon worker, Carla Johnson, agreed. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after beginning her job at the Bessemer facility and said Amazon has provided her with essential support throughout the process. “They’ve been so wonderful, I just don’t see what some of those voting for unionization are seeing,” she said. “I guess if you’re going to the bathroom or talking so much you don’t get your work done, then you’ll get fired, but that’s the case at any workplace.” “I work hard here, and I think I’ll be rewarded for that,” she added. “I don’t want a union to get in the way if they’re prioritizing people with seniority.” ‘They don’t care about us’ While Amazon touts higher wages and more generous benefit packages than those offered by many other service industry employers, worker Dale Richardson told VOA last month he voted to unionize. “They treat us like we’re just a number — like we’re nobodies,” he said. “I’ve been there for almost a year now, doing the best work I can do, and nobody — no manager — asks me about my goals. They don’t care about us.” Richardson pointed to Amazon ending worker hazard pay in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he has seen coworkers reprimanded for talking during their shift and fired for taking too long for bathroom breaks. “They give us two 30-minute breaks over a 10 or 11-hour shift, but it can sometimes take 10 minutes of that break to walk across the facility,” he said, noting the massive fulfillment center is the size of 16 football fields. “It’s not uncommon to walk all the way to the bathroom on your floor to find that it’s not working, or that it’s closed for cleaning. Now you have to walk to another floor’s bathroom, most of your break is used up and you might get fired if you don’t get back in time. It’s a lot of stress.” Also, last-minute shift changes are not uncommon, according to Richardson, who hoped joining RWDSU would improve conditions for workers. “If they can help us get a little more job security, so they can’t fire us whenever they want,” he said, “and help organize us and represent us to advocate for equal opportunities for promotions and pay increases — that’s why I’m voting to unionize.” Direct dialogue is essentialAmazon didn’t address Richardson’s specific complaints, but spokesperson Owen Torres emphasized communication between managers and their employees.Direct dialogue is essential to our work environment in which we encourage associates to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team with the goal of quickly improving the work environment and challenging leadership assumptions,” he said.A unique moment For months, Bessemer has been ground zero for one of the most closely watched unionization efforts in decades. During the voting period, RWDSU and Amazon jockeyed to persuade undecided workers. Amazon insists it does right by its workers in Alabama – and everywhere else. “We opened this site in March and since that time have created more than 6,000 full-time jobs in Bessemer, with starting pay of $15.30 per hour, including full health care, vision and dental insurance, 50% 401(k) match [for retirement savings] from the first day on the job,” the company said in a statement provided to VOA. Amazon said it provides “safe, innovative, inclusive environments, with training, continuing education, and long-term career growth.” Such statements don’t impress RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. Nor does Amazon’s backing for a national $15 hourly minimum wage, up from $7.25 currently. “Society is celebrating essential workers like the ones who work at Amazon,” Appelbaum told VOA. “But then we’re also going to cut their hazard pay? That doesn’t make sense, and I think Americans understand we need to celebrate them by rewarding and supporting them.” Appelbaum added, “We’re in a unique moment in history, and I think that’s why people across the country and around the world are watching how we do.” Without specifically mentioning Amazon, in late February President Joe Biden urged “workers in Alabama” to exercise their right to organize and “make your voice heard.” “Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, but especially Black and brown workers,” Biden said in a video posted to Twitter. Casting labor unions as a promoter of racial justice resonated with Jennifer Bates, one of many people of color working at the Bessemer fulfillment center. “You have a workplace where 85% of the employees are Black, and you literally see policemen in the parking lot with their lights on when you arrive,” she said. “What kind of message does that send? It feels like a prison. We’re working for the richest man in the world [Amazon founder Jeff Bezos]. You can’t give us hazard pay? You can’t provide more opportunities for raises so we can afford to live in safer housing?” 2014 vote failed This wasn’t the first push for collective bargaining at Amazon. In 2014, machinists at a warehouse in Delaware voted more than 3-to-1 against unionization.The Bessemer effort now had bipartisan backing in Washington, a rarity for union efforts. Writing in USA Today recently, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said, “Amazon has waged a war against working class values” and that “workers are right to suspect that its management doesn’t have their best interests in mind.” “Unions haven’t seen this kind of support in many decades,” said Natasha Zaretsky, professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She said America’s unions were at their strongest in the 1940s and ’50s, when 33% of workers were unionized, many in the steel and automobile factories of the time. Today, that number has dropped to 12% as jobs have shifted from manufacturing to the service industry. It’s no accident that Bessemer stood at the precipice of what labor organizers hoped would be a watershed moment for unionizing in America, according to Zaretsky. “African American workers have a rich history of unionizing here that goes all the way back to Reconstruction [after the U.S. Civil War] in the 19th century,” she said.FILE – People hold a banner at the Amazon facility as members of a congressional delegation arrive to show their support for workers who will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, March 5, 2021.Dispute on tactics During the voting period, Applebaum said Amazon resorted to strong-arm tactics to influence workers. “They put anti-union materials in the bathrooms, and they hold mandatory meetings where they tell workers why unions are bad for them and how it could cause Amazon facilities to close,” he said. “We set up outside the facility to talk to employees when they leave work, but then Amazon asked the county to change the cadence of the traffic lights so they wouldn’t be stopped there anymore. This isn’t normal.” For its part, Amazon said workers had to know what is at stake. “If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important all associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon,” the company said in a statement. “We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire.”An earlier version of this article appeared on March 14, 2021.

your ad here

Minnesota Mosque Shows Faith in COVID Vaccines 

Mosques in the Midwestern U.S. state of Minnesota are urging worshippers, including people from the East African diaspora, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Leaders of the faith say receiving a vaccine is a religious duty because it saves lives. For VOA, Siyad Salah has more in this report narrated by Carol Guensburg.   Camera: Siyad Salah   
 

your ad here

Pulmonary Expert Testifies Lack of Oxygen Caused Floyd’s Death

At the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer facing murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd, a witness testified Thursday that a lack of oxygen killed Floyd. On Friday, the jury will hear from the county’s medical examiner. Esha Sarai has more.

your ad here

US Suicides Dropped Last Year, Defying Pandemic Expectations

The number of U.S. suicides fell nearly 6% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic — the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.Death certificates are still coming in, and the count could rise. But officials expect a substantial decline will endure, despite worries that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.It is hard to say exactly why suicide deaths dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and national disasters, some experts suggested.”There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”An increase in the availability of telehealth services and other efforts to turn around the nation’s suicide problem may have also contributed, she said.U.S. suicides steadily rose from the early 2000s until 2018, when the national suicide rate hit its highest level since 1941. The rate finally fell slightly in 2019. Experts credited increased mental health screenings and other suicide prevention efforts.The number fell further last year to below 45,000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a recent report. It was the lowest number of U.S. suicide deaths since 2015.Many worried that such progress might end when COVID-19 arrived.Mental health issues roseThe pandemic sparked a wave of business closures. Millions of people were forced to stay at home, many of them alone. In surveys, more Americans reported depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol use. Adding to that dangerous mix, firearm purchases rose 85% in March 2020.But the spring of last year actually saw the year’s most dramatic decline in suicide numbers, said the CDC’s Farida Ahmad, the lead author of a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which described the decline.Suicide had been the nation’s 10th leading cause of death but dropped to 11th in 2020. That was mainly due to the arrival of COVID-19, which killed at least 345,000 Americans and became the nation’s No. 3 killer. But the decline in suicide deaths also contributed to the drop in the ranking.The CDC has not yet reported national suicide rates for 2020, nor has it provided a breakdown of suicides by state, age or race, and ethnicity.Moutier is anxious to see more data. For example, while overall suicides decreased last year, it is possible that suicides by youths and young adults did not, she said.She is optimistic the recent declines will mark the beginning of a lasting trend. But she also worries there may be a delayed effect on the mental health of many people as they get past the pandemic’s initial threats but sink into grieving the people and things they lost.”There’s sort of an evolution of mental health distress,” she said. “It’s possible we will see the whole mental health ramifications of this pandemic” later.

your ad here