‘Food Crisis’ As Low Oil Prices Cost Indian Workers Their Jobs In Saudi Arabia


Laid-off Indian workers queuing for food packets in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Low oil prices have forced the Saudi government to slash spending since last year, putting heavy pressure on the finances of local construction firms which rely on state contracts.

As a result, some companies have been struggling to pay foreign workers and have laid off tens of thousands, leaving many with no money for food let alone for tickets home.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday said over 10,000 Indians in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait were facing a “food crisis” because of economic hardships, while appealing to an estimated 3 millions Indians living in Saudi Arabia for help.

“Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories,” she tweeted on Saturday.

One of the country’s two junior foreign ministers, V.K. Singh, will travel to Saudi Arabia next week.

Swaraj said on Saturday that India’s other junior foreign minister, M.J. Akbar, would take up the issue with the authorities in the two Middle Eastern countries, saying the government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.

“While situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia,” she said in a tweet.

Separately, the Consulate General of India in Jeddah said on its official Twitter feed on Saturday that it had distributed 15,475 kg (34,116 lbs)  of food over the past three days to the Indian community.

It posted pictures of Indian people queuing up to collect the food packets.

The hardships faced by Indian migrants come amid rising protests about working conditions in Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of foreign workers at construction firm Saudi Oger staged a public protest in Jeddah at the weekend to demand seven months of unpaid wages, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News reported. They were dispersed by police after disrupting traffic.

Saudi Oger did not respond to a telephone call and an email seeking comment.

The Saudi government says it investigates any complaints of companies not paying wages and if necessary, obliges them to do so with fines and other penalties.


TV’s Ad Problem: Top Actors Are Grossly Overpaid


The world – a very small part of it, at least – is agog this week as the television behemoths spend untold as-yet unearned dollars trying to entice advertisers to continue ‘business as usual’ – spending obscene billions of dollars to advertise products that, sadly, all too often provide far less than they offer. As do (most of) the television shows they advertise on.

For the second or third year running, both advertisers and show producers – as well as the networks and indies that will air those shows – are bathroom-visiting scared, because more than ever, viewers are able to by-pass traditional commercials as they watch what they want to when they want to, zooming through commercial breaks as they do so.

The ‘industry’ – all the above named working in concert – are toying with a model that would probably so piss off viewers that they’d give up on some shows they’d really like to watch. That model would enable advertisers to sponsor ‘bits’ built into shows, supposedly made to seem to have some relevance to them, to reduce the number of advertising breaks yet still get advertising messages to the madding crowds who, cold drinks and popcorn in reach (or not!), do their best night after night to test the long-term reliability of their couches or lounge chairs.

Amazingly, the potential advertisers and their agencies who are attending lavish, star-studded  presentations and parties in New York City this week seem to be unaware of the concept of almost-ad-free ‘streaming’ as offered by Netflix and others.

That is one of two things that is killing the ‘traditional’ TV role in U.S. society. The other is the totally outrageous sums being offered and paid to principal actors.

I watch a select few shows (most) every week – being able, somehow, to find better things to do with my time.  Many of them are Dick Wolf’s, shows that are, as he said in a recent interview, “intended to be able to go on for [many] years],” without a lot of fine-tuning and window-dressing.

One of Wolf’s most successful-ever shows is Law And & Order/SVU, recently renewed for a 16th year. It’s leading light, Mariska Hargitey, rakes in at least $400,000 for each episode – plus residuals on most if not all previous shows. So, her base pay works out to $8.8 million per year, according to eonline.com! And amazingly, ten actors are paid more on a per-episode or annual basis, with the top TV earner, according to this accounting, being Judge Judy, who pulls down a cool $47 million a year!

I often wonder how Hargitey maintains her sanity as she’s struggled through being held captive, nearly killed (in numerous ways) too many times to count and, perhaps worst of all, having to confront, in her scripts, the worst-imaginable (and sometimes unimaginable) evils of adults who abuse other adults and, the very worst of all, the scum who abuse children.

SVU, as the show is commonly called, has an amazing ability to present, on sadly too many occasions, stories based on something that ‘just happened’ – within a few weeks of an episode’s initial airing.

It is a brilliantly conceived, amazingly well-acted show.

But $400 thousand an episode? Is that really necessary?

If television and its advertisers want to take a serious step toward solving a problem plaguing both of them, they would trim performers’ salaries back to something closer to a ‘reasonable’ level. Say Hargitey was cut to $125 thousand per episode. That’s still something like $4.4 million per year – for roughly half a year of work! Is that really necessary???

Ultimately, advertisers are at fault, because they accept the outrageous rates set by networks and, increasingly, independent channels.

Let’s face it, the public is going to continue to gravitate toward the watch-when-you-want model, both because that fits their lifestyles and because they are sick and tired of being constantly being bombarded by too-loud commercials. (And why that issue has never been addressed by the FCC is a criminal-level mystery!)

Enough is enough!

Finally the ‘Republican Rebels’ Allowed Something Good To Happen In Congress

US-CapitolWith next to no time to spare, Congress this week advanced legislation intended to give the rail transport industry three, and maybe as many as five, much-needed years to complete work on a program intended to make trains safer and reduce accidents. Without this extension, there was a serious risk that most U.S. railroads would have come to a grinding halt  year’s end – by or before midnight on December 31, to be precise.

A New York Times Op-Ed piece on Wednesday, jointly submitted by the chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical Company and the executive chairman of BNSF Railway, described the problem in some detail. The crux of the problem, which could have halted delivery of “most of our food” to wholesalers’ and retailers’ warehouses, “the chlorine that makes the drinking water of 98% of all Americans safe to drink,” and – among other things – a very significant share of all manufactured goods, is that back in 2008 Congress set a too-tight deadline for most railroads to install “positive train control” (P.T.C.) equipment. The Times article noted that as well as insufficient-time complaints by railroads, even the Government Accountability Office acknowledged recently that progress on installation of the new safety equipment has lagged so far behind that, without the Congressional extension, the economy could have taken a $30 billion hit in January alone.

Indirectly, we owe passage of this extension – and of a comprehensive budget bill that avoids assorted other serious impacts on the running of the country and on the economy – to the Republican rebels who have voted against virtually every common-sense legislative proposal that’s come before them over the past couple of years.

Had they not been so successful at disrupting the nation’s governing affairs, now-former House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t have been forced by them to resign. Had he remained  speaker, he wouldn’t have felt as compelled to ‘clean out the barn’, as he put it, of legislative leftovers before his departure, which took place Thursday. (He was replaced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, he only agreed to stand for the position if he received the backing of the several warring factors within the Republican party.)

Questions remain, though, if even three years will be enough time – given both the cost and the effort required – to get all needed P.T.C. equipment in place.

Essentially, what done by that equipment, said by the Times piece to represent “the most significant technological innovation in railroading since the diesel engine replaced the steam engine,” is to integrate and process “extremely precise data from tracks” and the engine in a way that “allows advanced hardware to [quickly and safely] stop a 100-car freight train that is [more than] one mile long, weighs 6,000 tons and travels at 55 miles an hour – in any given location and weather.”

Already, an Association of American Railroads spokesman told The Washington Post, the rail industry has spent “nearly $6 billion” to getting the P.T.C. equipment in place. And though “much progress” has been made, according that spokesman, there’s still a lot that needs to be done.