Neoliberal carnage in India

As a result of colonial occupation, the Indian economy has peculiarities which left-wing & right-wing economic historians explain quite differently. The right-wing ones have a harder go of it since capitalism works as little on paper as it does in reality. The introduction of neoliberal economic policies in the 1980s is credited with making India the 8th largest economy in the world, according to one method for measuring a country’s economy, & 3rd largest economy using another standard. This only means capitalism has no idea how the hell it works. But the one thing neoliberal policies have made entirely clear is that it doesn’t work for the majority of people. It doesn’t work at all for working people & it’s proven a disaster for the environment & human health.

The rivers (including the Ganges considered sacred to Hindus) which millions of people depend on for livelihoods are black & choked with domestic & industrial waste; plant & animal life are endangered; human health is imperiled with all manner of infections & respiratory diseases; farmlands are made toxic & produce poisonous vegetables. One Indian environmentalist called the country “an environmental basket-case, marked by polluted skies, dead rivers, falling water-tables, ever-increasing amounts of untreated wastes, disappearing forests.”

Many claim this situation is due to governmental inefficiencies, corruption, & inadequate regulations. That would go without saying since many of the industrial barons are directly part of the political establishment or act through political parties on the take. But it is also the very nature of neoliberal economic policies which contaminate everything in the interests of private profit & leave only carnage in their wake. This is not particular to India.

There are several industries in India that illustrate this state of affairs but perhaps none so egregiously as the leather tanning industry in Kanpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh & one of the largest industrial cities in India with 2.5 million residents. Kanpur has over 300 tanneries, making it India’s leading leather exporter with more than 90% for the US & European markets.

Tannery chimneys belch out a steady toxic potpourri of chemicals & particulates, giving a huge number of Kanpur residents some form of respiratory ailment. With no safety equipment for tannery workers (including children), a toxicology study found they had double the morbidity of others from exposure to carcinogenic & toxic chemicals used in the tanning process & leather dust which has high levels of chrominum which is highly toxic to humans.

It’s estimated only 20% of the poisonous water efflux from tanneries is treated. That’s likely a generous estimate. According to the report of one environmental group, the only treatment plant doesn’t function & contaminated efflux is discharged directly into local sewers, into farmlands used for agricultural purposes, & directly into the Ganges River.

The neoliberal carnage doesn’t end there. Local farmers are developing serious skin conditions; child workers are exhibiting developmental issues; workers are suffering from blindness, neurological issues, digestive problems, skin & respiratory diseases including tuberculosis, their children are born with mental & physical disabilities; residents of Kanpur are developing the same health problems.

Piling carnage upon carnage, the tanneries simply discard leather trimmings on the banks of the Ganges where children play or they dump them at a site on the outskirts of the city to be burned, dried, & re-used as fertilizer & chicken feed.

India has an active environmental movement comprised not only of scientists & student activists but of those people directly affected by the ruthless profiteering at their expense, including farmers, small town residents, antinuclear votaries. Many have likely been educated in political environmentalism by the Bhopal justice movement begun when a US corporation (Union Carbide, now Dow Chemical) tried to walk away from a 1984 accident that left human & environmental disaster in its wake. They await justice which has been repeatedly thwarted in US & Indian courts.

This tannery worker is standing barefoot in an area used for collecting dyes & toxic efflux from tanneries. Nothing speaks so cogently to neoliberalism’s complete disregard for human health & contempt for human life.

(Photo by Sean Gallagher, 2013)

Pope John Paul II & Pinochet

Pope Francis just gave right-wingers their very own patron saint in heaven when he canonized deceased pope John Paul II. Now when they justify their barbarisms by appealing to God, they mean business. What’s inexplicable is why the Vatican chose to canonize John XXIII (the pope who introduced Aggiornamento & the spirit of change within the church), along with John Paul II, who reversed Aggiornamento & hung out with dictators like Pinochet, the Chilean general who completely merits the epithet of “butcher”.

John Paul’s encounters with Pinochet weren’t episodic or accidental diplomatic events. He visited him in Chile & intervened with the British government to release Pinochet when he was briefly detained there in 1998. In their appeal on behalf of Pinochet, the Vatican, under John Paul II, called for “national reconciliation everywhere, including Chile”. This is the language of diplomacy & collusion to let the mass murder, disappearances, & torture of hundreds of thousands go unpunished.

Before John Paul visited Chile in 1987, then under Pinochet’s reign of terror, he called the regime “dictatorial”, which the New York Times called “unusually strong language.” We’ve seen referees at ball games denounced in harsher language. At the same time he called for journalists & democracy activists to pray for the restoration of democracy & for free elections but there is no recorded papal objection to the reign of terror.

Of course, Pope Francis, touted as the people’s pope, has unanswered questions about his own role under the Argentine dictatorship. In fact, there are a number of popes (some who were canonized) who should be held to historical account for their collusion with tyranny. Getting the papal scepter or a halo on your head does not exempt you from the demands of justice. There is no reconciliation without the full accounting that justice demands.

It is without question the majority of Catholics around the world do not agree with the Vatican associating with dictators. We need to take off our rose-colored glasses when reading media accounts about Pope Francis & start judging him by who he hangs out with & who he chooses to canonize.

The is photo of John Paul II & Pinochet in Chile.

(Photographer not identified)

Population Control & the eugenics movement

Call it the evangelist in me (though I prefer to call it the investigative feminist), but I’m beginning to see eugenics groups out & about more frequently on FB–masked as usual in the garb of humanitarian concern for young women & reproductive rights. I am also noting what appear to be links between sweatshop manufacturers & the eugenics movement; there have long been links between anti-immigration groups & the eugenics movement. Does it surprise anyone that many of the personnel involved are also Zionists & operate with all those hats?

This past week, I outed The Girl Effect. Today. I’m going after Population Connection Action Fund (PCAF) since I was presented with a Care2 petition initiated by them. Ostensibly, the petition is for good cause: advocating for abortion in US population control programs in El Salvador where abortion is illegal.

PCAF was founded in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich, Charles Remington, & some English cricketeer to promote zero population growth. In fact, that was it’s original name. Both Ehrlich (at Stanford) & Remington (at Yale) studied bugs & aren’t well-suited for the study of human beings since many of the alarmist predictions Ehrlich & his wife Anne made in their book “The Population Bomb” never came to pass–though there is considerable evidence of overpopulation among ants. Could it be he got his data mixed up? Until he croaked, Remington was also a leading figure in anti-immigration groups, as is Anne Ehrlich today.

The regrettable political fact is that while feminism is hibernating these days these eugenics groups are taking center stage. But signing on with their dishonest campaigns is no way to defend women’s reproductive rights. What’s that old adage about lying down with dirty dogs & getting up with fleas!? But fleas aren’t the worst of it.

It may appear one is separating wheat from chaff in signing petitions or supporting groups even though they are fronts for eugenics–since after all, they’re engaged in doing good deeds. One can live with fleas but not so much with knowing you lent your support to groups whose goal is the ethnic cleansing of black & brown people. Disassociation should not be too much to ask.

(Photo is Population Connection Action Fund logo)

Commemoration of 1974 Portuguese revolution

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the 1974 revolution that restored democracy in Portugal. Without going into the complexities of that revolution, a dictatorship that had ruled since the 1930s was swept away along with their secret police in what is touted as a bloodless revolution. Civil liberties & political freedoms were introduced, including freedom of speech, the right to vote, labor rights, universal health care, & pension rights. Political prisoners were released & Portuguese colonies in Africa & East Timor were immediately given independence. It was a momentous revolution & the carnation became its symbol.

Now the question must be asked: what distinguishes the fascist dictatorship from the EU-IMF austerity program? With the notable exception of colonies, they’re really quite hard to tell apart. Next time, there may have to be a scuffle or two. The gains of 1974 have not been decisively reversed & the evidence of that is massive opposition by working people to neoliberal plunder.

This man with a carnation is participating in a ceremony marking the anniversary.

(Photo by Francisco Seco/AP)

Grieving & defiance in Bangladesh

This is a portrait of grief & not just grief, but resistance to exploitation. These are people who lost beloved family members when Rana Plaza collapsed one year ago killing 1,138 garment workers. They did not gather yesterday at the site of the collapse just to mourn but to demand change.

Many think they’re fighting a losing battle against superior political & social forces including the Bangladesh government, international retailers like Walmart, & trigger-happy riot cops. Many think they’d better stick to weeping since opposing sweatshop capitalism is a utopian pipe dream. Color those many clueless!

Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How much more so then can these men, women, & children joined in international solidarity numbering in the millions? Together we can not just end sweatshop manufacturing but we can make this world suitable for human beings to live & love in.

(Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP)

Filipino antiwar movement a beacon for antiwar activists around the world

Filipino antiwar activists are now holding almost daily protests against Obama’s visit starting next Monday & against the military agreement between the US & Philippine governments that would turn their country into a launching pad for war.

Once again, those who claim there’s no purpose to antiwar protest because the movement is too small & too weak need to imitate the intrepid spirit of these activists who don’t let size get in the way of commitment.

(Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP)

Alarming pattern of Roma persecution in Europe

There is a distinct & alarming pattern emerging throughout Europe of extreme persecution of Roma. In one European country after another, including Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, France, England, Denmark, Spain, Romania, & Serbia, riot cops have been breaking up Roma caravan sites & settlements, forcibly evicting residents, & bulldozing homes many have occupied for decades. There has long been considerable discrimination against Romani in every sphere of life including housing, segregated education, denial of social services & health care, massive unemployment; they endure racist harassment (including by the cops), racially motivated crimes, & attitudes which consider them lazy, thieving, dirty freeloaders. But something new is emerging & it is directly related to neoliberal policies, particularly urban development projects bankrolled by European banks, & enforced by the European Union (EU) & IMF austerity programs. It is the same ruthless gentrification process as that displacing people in Manila, Rio de Janeiro, Dhaka, Mumbai, Los Angeles.

Roma often established settlements on public lands, making them formally illegal. But they have lived there for decades, often without sewage, plumbing, or electric power, & were never required by officials to regularize tenancy or the buildings they constructed. Neoliberalism is changing all that. In the last decade, municipalities began transferring title of the land to private investors for urban development projects which prioritize infrastructure projects over housing. The European Investment Bank (EIB) imposing the IMF austerity programs bankrolls multi-million dollar urban development projects like luxury malls & roads & bridges to facilitate plunder & when an EIB project comes up against a Roma community, they bulldoze it.

Roma political & rights groups denounce forcible evictions for violating human rights & international law, even calling them ethnic cleansing since thousands are made homeless, including elderly, infirm, disabled, & children. In a recent case of eviction in Eforie, Romania, Roma were offered temporary asylum in a filthy abandoned school house; in Serbia & Romania, they’ve been offered shipping containers as housing, as if they were nothing but dry goods & hardware. Mostly, they’re just bounced to the street.

Undocumented immigrants & Roma have long been used as political scapegoats, with racism the common denominator. Governments orchestrate injustice & blame it on those who own & control nothing. Under fascism, this led to the persecution & murder of one million Roma, six million Jews, & an unestimated number of people with disabilities, homosexuals, socialists, communists, liberals.

The persecution of Roma under the banner of urban development is a call to arms. The ass you save will be your own.

This is a photo of Roma in Eforie, Romania at the abandoned schoolhouse they occupied after the city recently bulldozed their settlement.

(Photo by Antonin Kratochvil/Wall Street Journal)

Shell Petroleum plunder in the Niger Delta

Earth Day in Nigeria 2014: Even the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (from April to July 2010) pales in comparison to the destruction Shell Petroleum has wrought in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. And not just massive environmental destruction, but neoliberal plunder & political corruption so colossal it is nothing less than a dystopic hell. It requires a revolution. There is no other possible amelioration.

Nigeria is a major oil producer & 80% of government revenues come from oil exports. But after 58 years of oil exploration in Nigeria, the government neither meters nor monitors the volume of oil production by Shell & other oil companies, has no functioning regulatory agencies, & doesn’t have a clue what is produced & loaded on to oil tankers. After greasing the palms of corrupt government officials, the oil companies simply loot thousands of barrels a day. That would explain why Nigeria has to import most of its fuel, ostensibly due to lack of refining facilities. In one of the barbarities of neoliberal plunder, the IMF insisted in 2012, despite massive popular resistance, that the government reduce the fuel subsidy to Nigerians–70% of whom live on $2.00 a day.

Shell blames the massive environmental blight of farm lands & rivers in the area on illegal siphoning & sabotage of crude oil bunkers by Nigerian pirates, militant groups, & criminal groups. Surprisingly, they haven’t yet accused al-Qaeda. Shell officials claim that their flyovers have spotted unknown persons tapping pipelines & installing valves to waiting barges & trucks. An always compliant media denounces these unidentified pirates for killing their own economy, sabotaging their government, threatening the very foundations of Nigeria’s petroleum industry. Beware such screeching & howling in the media.

Shell has a long history of collaboration with the Nigerian government in employing deadly force & repression against opposition to their presence in the Niger Delta. In a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Nigerian politicians & military officials are exposed as the culprits in the of majority of oil thefts. They commandeer & control access to barges & tankers to help oil companies loot. The diplomatic cable reads: “The military wants to remain in the Niger Delta because they profit enormously from money charged for escorting illegally bunkered crude & from money extorted in the name of providing security on the roads.”

Many belief socialism is utopian & only works on paper, but capitalism doesn’t even work on paper. And in real life, it’s becoming a living hell. The immense natural resources of Nigeria which could provide a decent life for all are instead ruthlessly plundered, leaving the population impoverished. Neoliberalism is the barbaric phase of capitalism & exploitation & plunder is the name of its game.

This photo is by noted Nigerian photographer, George Osodi, who comes from the Niger Delta region & has long documented the unspeakable environmental destruction.

Child labor in Bangladesh sweatshops

This iconic photo is from a sweatshop worker’s strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh in June 2010. Police used tear gas, truncheons, & water cannons against mostly women & child workers demanding back pay & an immediate increase in monthly wages. At that time, garment workers had no minimum wage standard & were paid below the World Bank poverty standard of $1.25 a day–when they were paid. In US dollars they received $21.45 a month; in Bangladesh taka that is 1662.50 & in Euros about €17. No matter which currency you use it all comes out to chump change.

There had been labor conflict for several weeks prior to this strike but on this day workers erected barricades, pelted cops with rocks, & attacked cars. Police described the fighting as the worst yet seen & may explain why riot cops now show up at labor protests with rubber bullets. They might want to brace themselves for the labor tsunami erupting among sweatshop workers in Bangladesh & elsewhere.

This photo is posted for those apologists who want to let the Bangladesh government off the hook for it’s culpability protecting sweatshop manufacturing. May the struggles of sweatshop workers around the world inspire us in the historic task of socially transforming labor & ridding this beautiful planet of all exploitation. May these child workers of Dhaka lead the way in ending the abomination of child labor.

(Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

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