Sweatshop industry waging public relations campaign for respectability

The sweatshop industry isn’t going down without a fight. To counter the harrowing images & news from Bangladesh & Cambodian garment factories, they’ve launched a public relations campaign. They’ve thrown down the gauntlet & are going to fight their way back from damnation to respectability. The first volley came in a Los Angeles Times series by a reporter named Kenneth R. Weiss. Our man Weiss holds many journalist awards–which says nothing about his talents but plenty about the state of US journalism. Suitably, he holds a bachelor’s degree in folklore & probably a minor in active imagination. He was given a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to fabricate fairy tales on sweatshop workers in Bangladesh.

In the banal journalistic style so popular today, Weiss picks out a single Bangladeshi woman to give testimony to the emancipating affects of sweatshop work on her life. He probably had to bribe her with a couple free meals since sweatshop wages aren’t enough to buy food.

Weiss does make an obligatory reference to “horrific industrial accidents & accusations of labor abuses” but says the picture of sweatshop labor “gets more complicated” when you account for the lack of options for women “in this poor, traditional Muslim society.” So our man makes the case for sweatshops as part of women’s liberation & gets to throw in an Islamophobic swipe as well.

More important than knowing your opponents in politics is knowing your allies because the phony ones line up to position themselves for a more bitter betrayal. Weiss quotes Sajeda Amin as an authority on how sweatshops have created greater independence for women in Bangladesh. Amin is a sociologist from Bangladesh working for the Population Council in New York & has a whole list of impressive credentials–particularly from the eugenics movement. She has a special interest in young women since she wants them all sterilized to address overpopulation & poverty. Sustainable wages are no part of her equations.

Then Weiss drags out Charles Kernaghan, the director of Global Labor & Human Rights & a frequent spokesperson on Democracy Now about sweatshops. Hopefully Kernaghan is misquoted when he reportedly said ‘It’s fantastic they have this common industry to put women to work.’ Sweatshops are just barely a step above outright slavery & Kernaghan considers them “fantastic” rather than deplorable?

We would be wise to ignore these pathetic fools & apologists for exploitation & listen to the voices of sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, & elsewhere around the world since sweatshop manufacturing is the wave of the future under neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism. They tell a different story, filled with violence. We must respond to the mythology being stitched in media newsrooms & eugenics think tanks with the truth about sweatshop workers & their increasing strikes & struggles for economic & political justice.

Weiss is also preparing a series on overpopulation, hunger, & women’s rights & is being treated as an authority. He’s no longer receiving a wage from the LA Times but there’s no need to wonder who his paymaster is now. He hit the double jackpot for media jackasses & is likely collecting checks from both the sweatshop & eugenics industries. Shame on his sorry ass!

This photo of a sweatshop in Bangladesh accompanied the article by Weiss. Please note how spiffy & clean it looks & how well-dressed the sewers. It probably cost Walmart a bundle to stage that tableau.

(Photo via Pulitzer Center)

Hucksterism & shysterism in US politics aint Irish

Irish Central.com, the sister website of two Irish-American newspapers, bills itself as the website for the “global Irish diaspora,” whatever the hell that is. It’s been a long time since Tipperarry for most of us but now we can claim to be part of a diaspora. I feel like a refugee already & my family has been around these parts for 100 years. Wait till the German side of my family catches on to all this; we’ll be laying claims to Westphalia.

Sometimes the site has useful news; other times it’s making foolish boasts about Obama’s Irish roots as the great-great-great grandson of a carpenter from County Offaly or B. Clinton’s Irish heritage as the great grandson of immigrants from County Fermanagh. One of their newspapers actually named Clinton Irish American of the Year in 1996 & inducted him into the Irish America Hall of Fame in 2011. Are they that desperate for heroes or do they just like sucking up to power?

Today they’re reporting about the scandals surrounding Al Sharpton. They’re aghast & simply nonplussed that such an unsavory fellow with a long rap sheet of fraudulent misconduct, including mob connections & being an FBI informant, would have his own MSNBC show. Worse than that, his virtues are extolled publicly by both NYC mayor de Blasio & Obama.

This isn’t the first time Irish Central has displayed a credulity indistinguishable from idiocy. They broke the hard news in 2009 that billionaires Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, David Rockefeller Jr., George Soros, & several others were meeting secretly. Have they ever known them to scheme publicly? In the same year, they reported rock star Bono snubbed George Bush by dodging a hug from him. Bono wasn’t snubbing Bush, for heaven’s sake; he was trying to get to his ass so he could kiss it. Irish Central has got to get its stories straight.

The successes of Al Sharpton are no mystery at all if you pull your nose out of a phony Irish history of leprechauns & green beer & look US politics straight in the eyes. Sharpton is from the same political tradition as Clinton & Obama–& that aint Irish! It’s called hucksterism & shysterism.

(Photo of Sharpton from Irish Central.com)

The perils for Central Americans immigrating through Mexico

Maybe it’s the dirgeful music in this video that evokes such sadness, maybe it’s actually seeing the danger of hopping on & off moving trains, but it’s more likely seeing these young immigrants from Central America trying to mask their terror & tears as they explain why they’re taking this immensely hazardous trek through Mexico to the US border to find work. They have spouses, children, & other family members dependent for survival on their successfully getting across the border. Thousands of minor children are among those traveling. Their lives are endangered every mile of the way as a result of US & Mexican immigration policies which are nothing less than barbaric & racist as hell.

Immigrants, typically starting their trip in Chiapas, MX, have to hop on & off at least ten or fifteen freight trains during the 1,500 mile trip. The trains are called El tren de la muerte (The train of death) or La Bestia (The Beast) because so many immigrants who fall asleep riding the top are jolted off & lose limbs or are decapitated. The crime statistics are harrowing: 80% will be assaulted or robbed; 60% of the women will be raped; according to Mexico’s human rights commission, thousands will be disappeared in mass kidnappings; hundreds will be found in mass graves & others will never be found.

While the train companies & the Mexican government show such unspeakable & criminal contempt for human life, thousands of poor Mexican families & immigrant & human rights groups provide food, shelter, clothes, medicine, alerts about danger, & emotional support along the way. Many of them may well have family who made the same trip; most just know the full meaning of human respect & solidarity.

This governmental treachery is repeated around the world, affecting the lives & well-being of millions of people. Immigration is a human right! Open the damn borders!

(Photo of 29-year-old Honduran man is from video)

Cow fighting in Switzerland: another silly human sport

Anyone who admires cows will at first be quite indignant at this story. Every spring in Switzerland, cows & heifers from the Herens breed (Eringer in German) are made to fight one another in cow fighting contests. Unlike the barbarisms of bull-fighting, it is cow against cow, not human against bull to the death, but it still attempts to turn one of nature’s most docile & peace-loving animals into fighting machines.

They say the Herens girls are a feisty breed, more aggressive than an Angus or a Holstein or all the other breeds, but when it comes to aggression that sure isn’t saying much. To a cow, feisty means stomping hooves, bellowing & mooing, a little pushing & shoving, maybe a some head-butting & locking horns–& drooling, lots of drooling. These days, the Herens are bred specially for cow combat rather than milk & meat since the winner is crowned queen, garnishes a fancy cowbell & big bucks at market. (Now we know where beauty contests came from.)

The Herens are big girls but apparently have no killer instinct at all & are completely easy-going toward humans–except against the cow fighting officials who use cattle prods to induce them to exhibit some of that feisty. Those guys, called rabatteurs, apparently have to worry about a stampede from bovines reluctant to hurt one another or to engage in even mock warfare. One cow-fight enthusiast likened them to the Monty Python soccer game between German & Greek philosophers: lots of rumination, very little action.

An anthropologist from the University of Geneva studied cow fighting & concluded the competitions were used to resolve conflicts between people. That might be giving them more dignity than they deserve. But even an animal rights group that showed up to protest thought the cows, showing more aggression toward officials than each other, got the upper hand.

Humans can learn a lot from our bovine sisters: the next time military recruiters come calling, start mooing & pawing the ground & making like there’ll be a stampede.

(Photo by Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone)

Homeless in Shanghai, China

Homeless in Shanghai, China: There’s an entire bible of aphorisms on how to judge the character of a society. The touchstones include the treatment of women, animals, & the weakest (defined as children, elderly, & those with disabilities). Malcolm X, Gandhi, Einstein, Mark Twain, Dostoyevsky, & umpteen others have all weighed in; no less a bonehead than deceased US vice-president Hubert Humphrey made his own pithy contribution. Chances are if a society is abusing any of these groups, there’s a whole raft of policies it can be damned for, making the pithiness nothing more than pieties. One would hope the few extant socialist societies would measure well on these standards against capitalism in its barbaric phase. But China, in particular, appears to be racing neoliberalism to the bottom.

Since the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the country has been engaged in what is called the most massive urbanization in human history involving the relocation (& often forcible dispossession of lands) of millions of rural residents to find work in the cities. This is a wrenching dislocation since an estimated 61 million children live apart from their parents in rural China while their parents stream into urban factories looking for work. China plans to create 400 new cities by 2020 to cope with this urban growth. (Whether they’ll be affordable is another question.) Part of urban development schemes in the major cities is also a building boom of skyscrapers–a building boom involving the forcible eviction in the past decade of an estimated 4 million people from old tenements to make room for luxury high-rises.

Estimates of homelessness in any country are completely unreliable not just because it is difficult to assess but because governments have a vested interest in lowballing the problem. That would be especially true of a country purporting to be socialist. Then there are those with right-wing agendas who want to exaggerate the problem. One source claims China had 2.41 million homeless adults & 179,000 homeless children in 2011. Another source claims 200 million adults, & 4 million children. Neither seems at all credible but even the lesser estimate is completely unacceptable in any society. In a society claiming to be socialist, it’s a travesty.

Many attribute most of the homelessness to the hukou system instituted in 1958, an abomination if there ever was one. Hukou is a system of residency permits & a method of social control registering people in their birth provinces, limiting their social benefits to that province, & restricting rural to urban migration within China. In essence, it’s an internal passport system which creates discrimination against rural Chinese. Those who migrate to cities are not eligible for basic welfare & social service programs, including public education. But they are subject to super-exploitation by employers in the same way as undocumented immigrants in Europe & the US.

Hukou is absolutely implicated in the level of homelessness in Chinese cities. But so are the forcible evictions of urban residents to make room for skyscrapers–especially as there is no mention of massive public housing projects. The Chinese government also has a different standard for poverty than the World Bank figure of US $1.25 a day. China is shamefully even stingier with a poverty line of US $1.00 a day. The Economist magazine did its best to parse that figure, claiming it has purchasing power of $1.83 in the US but no matter how you shake those pennies, it’s all chump change. While we’re at it, we should mention the wages in relation to rents: in Shanghai, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment goes from US $525 to US $960. At the Chinese poverty rate, you won’t soon see housing & starvation is a very likely possibility.

For those who think this too harsh on China, who want to blither on about the difficulties of development, please explain why China is lending the US trillions for war rather than investing millions in public housing?

(Photo of homeless in Shanghai by Greg Girard in “Phantom Shanghai”–taken some time between 2000 & 2007)

Afghanistan elections & Islamophobia

Human Rights Watch (HRW) posted this photo from Most Popular on Twitter on their own FB wall, headlining it “Courageous women queuing to vote in Afghanistan despite great risks.” The original tweeter said “They have more courage than I can ever hope to have.”

We always love to admire courage but we’re not getting where the courage is in lining up to vote in Afghanistan. Do they expect a siege on the election booths by the Taliban? The greater danger in Afghanistan is US-NATO occupation & the US certainly won’t be bombing the poll booths since they likely rigged the elections. They’re trying to get the government to sign that security agreement to keep US troops in the country & let them run hog wild without Afghanistan jurisdiction. They repeatedly threatened to pull out all US troops if Karzai didn’t sign it; now he’s nearly out of office & the troops & bombers are still there. But that was always a certainty: Karzai knew it; Obama & the Pentagon knew it; even we knew it.

The discussion on the HRW wall was the usual mix of Islamophobia & ignorant “bravos” but the comments from an Indian fellow stood out. He started with “Come on Middle East, come on educated muslims, come out & throw the Taliban, the Shariah Laws & the extremist muslims away into the gutter,” & went downhill from there. We don’t know much about the Indian elections except they’re the longest ones in recorded history & prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is called a fascist by the most reputable people. Modi has association with anti-Muslim violence in India & with whipping up religious conflict for electoral gain.

Islamophobia can certainly be ridiculed but it creates a political climate where idiocy & intolerance prevail. HRW certainly knew posting that photo would evoke such a clamor & in doing so they are part of the problem rather than fulfilling their stated mission of standing against persecution. Of course their stated mission is often at odds with their role, especially in Afghanistan where they do not oppose US-NATO occupation but only suggest some rules for making colonial oppression & bombing more humane.

US out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq! (And we might add, “Cut the crap HRW!”)

(Photo from AFP)

Oppressed peoples reclaim their own names & shuck oppressor’s misnomers

One of the peculiar features of colonialism & oppression is dispossessing people of their proper names. Often colonial forces simply changed the tribal names of people but they always invented entire catalogs of insulting epithets. The peculiarity is understanding whether this demeaning originated in some psychological device in the oppressor to justify oppression or whether it is a conscious device of social hatred & social control. And it isn’t just with ethnic groups: you see it with women (we have our own catalog of epithets to ward off), with LGBTI people, & others.

This name-changing thing is a common feature of oppression–from oppressed castes in India to Native Americans, Blacks, & Latinos in the Americas. And if we knew enough about Africa, we would probably find it prevails there too. (We don’t glory in our ignorance; it is very hard to find sufficient texts in US libraries on almost any country or region of Africa. The precious few texts available are most often pickled in racism & white supremacy–& oddly are often only in the juvenile section of the library.)

There are dozens of names for Blacks in the US alone. Excluding the repugnant epithets, the proper name has changed at least four or five times since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The Term “African-American” so in vogue now seems to be an attempt to break with the association of “Black” with Black power. As a Black co-worker once explained, “They think if they keep changing our names we’ll be fooled into thinking things are changing & stepping in the right direction when they aren’t.” Almost every single history on Native Americans is prefaced with an explanation of the name that text will use. And people, even those who are not disrespectful, are still confused over whether Hispanic is the correct term, or is it Latino?

That would explain why so many groups organizing against oppression reclaim their historic names & shuck the colonizers labels. Women are doing the same thing (though that slut thing might be a regression & concession to the oppessor’s language more than a reclaiming). Reclaiming their own names is part of reclaiming their dignity & it behooves the rest of us to learn their proper names & not just refer to them with the ethnic equivalent of “hey you.” They should not all be simply lumped together as “Indigenous”; they have names. In North America, the colonizer’s misnomer is Ojibway–the tribe calls itself Anishinaabe; the colonizer’s misnomer is Comanche–the tribe calls itself Numinu

This chart includes just a few US tribes but this process is being repeated throughout the Americas & throughout the world. Reclaiming proper names is asserting dignity & demanding respect & that’s an essential part of social transformation.

(Chart from http://blog.nrcprograms.org/american-indian-tribes-names/)

Central American immigrants endangered in Mexico

One of the most significant developments in immigration rights in several countries is that immigrants themselves are fed up to their eyeballs with racist injustice & have begun to fight on their own behalf. They are among the toughest people on the planet, given what they have to go through–& their entry into political action is one of the most promising things to come down the pike in a long time.

This 46-year-old Honduran man named Norman Saul Varela is here holding his prosthetic leg. He lost his own limb in 2005 while riding the train called “La bestia de muerta” (“the train of death) through Mexico north toward the US border. Hundreds of Central American immigrants lose limbs, are injured, murdered, assaulted, kidnapped, disappeared, raped, & robbed riding those trains. Many end up in mass graves.

If you want to know why 50,000 Mexican soldiers deployed in the militarization of the country can’t put a stop to this violence, the answer is they are likely involved through paramilitary squads serving as the southern flank of US immigration policy. They’ve certainly proven no use in stopping drug trafficking, which has increased substantially since the massive military deployments.

Senor Varela is in Mexico City to ask the Mexican Senate to stop government persecution of Central Americans & protect them from “criminal gangs”. The Senate legislated a few years ago that it is legal for Central American immigrants to transit Mexico. The problem is they haven’t made it safe. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that people forced to hop on & off moving trains & ride on top of moving trains are in grave danger. And it doesn’t take a genius or big bucks to provide safe transit–like passenger trains. But the Senate has to call off the military, reign in the paramilitary squads, & stop federal cops from searching buses & trucks traveling north for immigrants. And it has to expel all US military, civilian, & covert operatives from Mexico because the violence against immigrants has the distinct whiff of “la migra” (US border patrol) written all over it.

Our fullest solidarity with Senor Varela & his fellow immigrants. Immigration is a human right! Open the borders!

(Photo by Marco Ugarte/AP)

Forcible evictions of Roma in Madrid to commemorate International Roma Day

City officials of Madrid, Spain must have taken sensitivity training since they waited till the day after UN-designated International Roma Day on April 8th to evict & raze the homes of Roma residents in the shanty settlement of El Gallinero on the outskirts of Madrid. Madrid’s urban planners have designs on the property & apparently got an obliging judiciary to issue a court order for eviction.

This isn’t the first time city bulldozers had a go at the settlement. Last June, cops surrounded the area & moved demolition crews in; several homes were destroyed & 34 people were left homeless. Soon after the cops & bulldozers left, residents started building new shanties since they have no place else to go. The government claims it offered one-way tickets to residents to return to their own countries. What these bureaucrats need to get through their thick skulls is that Spain is their country–even though discrimination means the poverty rate in El Gallinero is 93%.

El Gallinero is a settlement of cardboard & tin huts without running water or sewage in an area prone to flooding. Residents survive, just barely, by selling scrap metal & begging.

Since April 8th was International Roma Day, we ought to remind Madrid officials that an estimated two million Roma were killed by Germany’s Third Reich; that up until 1980 Roma women were force sterilized in Czechoslovakia to stop Roma from “breeding”; that Norway only stopped sterilization of Roma in 1977; that Roma are persecuted, segregated, thrown out of settlements in several European countries, & forcibly deported–most notoriously & ruthlessly in France by the so-called socialist government.

But Madrid officials know all that. They not only want Roma settlements for gentrification schemes but they want to use Roma, as they use undocumented immigrants, to scapegoat for the neoliberal policies reducing the rest of the populations in those countries to penurious austerity.

Here Mariana Marin, her daughter, Rebeca, & daughter-in-law Alina Holban sit among Marin’s belongings after their home was demolished in belated commemoration of International Roma Day.

(Photo by Susana Vera/Reuters)

African immigrants in Germany under siege

The remarkable 1974 German film titled, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
is about a young Moroccan immigrant who meets a dowdy middle-aged cleaning woman when he is taunted into asking her to dance in a bar where she has sought refuge from rain. The signature moment in the film is when his ridicule melts into nothingness as she asks him about himself & the humanity of both merges. The rest of the film is taken up with the ferocious discrimination they faced as a couple–not primarily due to their age difference but to his nationality.

It was evident from that film that racism against immigrants was rampant in Germany even before immigration became a central issue in US politics. There certainly is no glory in outpacing the US on that question but a considerable amount of shame. There are now an estimated one million African immigrants in Germany, distinguished as either North African or Sub-Saharan, which is code describing either Arabic or Black ethnicity. Some immigration agencies estimate there are now between 7 & 8 million undocumented African immigrants living throughout the European Union (EU) countries–at least two-thirds of them from North Africa since EU immigration policy toward Black Africans is so violent, attempting to keep them isolated in squalid refugee camps on Mediterranean islands or massively deport them.

European regimes are torn on the issue of immigration in the same way as the US regime. On the one hand, these countries rely on the cheap, exploitable labor of foreign workers for any number of jobs–& “illegal” status makes them super-exploitable. But on the other hand, whipping up anti-immigrant fervor among working people is a marvelously effective weapon for divide & conquer.

This young immigrant is being dragged away from a confrontation where riot cops in Berlin surrounded & tried to dismantle a makeshift refugee camp. The report says “violence broke out” between refugees who had accepted a deal by the city to leave the camp & move to a renovated hostel & refugees who insisted on staying. The confrontation was likely less between skepticism & credulity about authorities & their promises than it was another instance of ‘violence breaking out’ when riot cops attack protestors.

Immigration is a human right!

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)