Environmental and health catastrophes in India from tannery industry

This woman named Saida is a tannery worker in the Indian city of Kanpur. She is one of many tannery workers, farmers, & local residents suffering serious skin conditions caused by contact with toxic chemicals used in leather manufacturing. Her small home is just steps away from the Ganges where tannery water is dumped. “That is the water we drink,” she said. “Because it is such a bad environment, this is why all the diseases are here.”

All the other diseases she refers to are respiratory (including tuberculosis), neurological, digestive, dermatological, severe mental & physical disabilities in newborns, blindness, cancer, & numerous other life-threatening illnesses.

Recognition that neoliberal policies are incompatible with human health & well-being is wide-spread. All that’s left is an understanding of how to rid this beautiful planet of its scourge. Our strength resides in numbers, in commmitment, & an understanding that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

(Photo by Sean Gallagher, 2013)

Undocumented immigrants in state of Georgia oppose segregation in education

Nothing will give you a massive headache faster than trying to unravel the chicaneries & congressional misfortunes of the US DREAM Act giving conditional residence to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children with their parents. And when you add Obama’s election year stunt of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), you’re working toward a nervous breakdown.

The DREAM Act has never made it out of congress; DACA is a con game. It’s a deferred deportation program where you register your name & address with the federal government so they know where to pick you up when the deference ends. It gives all immigration agencies “prosecutorial discretion” toward those who came to the US as kids but doesn’t define the limits of that discretion–which means these agencies can continue to go hog-wild, just as several states have. Arizona, Texas, & other states have taken discretion to mean non-compliance & continue to deny driver’s licenses, financial assistance for college, food stamps, & other public benefits like Medicaid to the undocumented.

A striking & promising development in many countries, including the US, is that undocumented immigrants are risking deportation by public opposition to denial of immigration rights. In 2010, the Georgia Board of Regents governing universities in the state ruled that undocumented immigrants were barred from the top five public universities & would be required to pay out-of-state tuition at all other schools. Out-of-state tuition is three or four times in-state tuition, which is hefty to begin with. One of the lesser-recognized advantages of educational segregation is that it narrows the competition, which is the nature of higher education under capitalism. It makes the privileged look real smart when you eliminate thousands of people.

Undocumented students in Georgia didn’t take all this sitting down & crying in their beer. They’ve had repeated protests since 2010 & when you consider that “prosecutorial discretion” thing, you understand how courageous their political opposition really is.

This protest of undocumented immigrants (on Monday, the 28th) is at the University of Georgia in Athens, one of the schools denying access to the undocumented. The bully-boy police chief is going after Alejandro Galeana Salinas, who seems to be standing his ground without flinching. Notice the cop in the background who is not taking selfies but recording the participants for the future exercise of “prosecutorial discretion.”

(Photo by AJ Reynolds/Athens Banner-Herald)

Filipino antiwar movement burns Obama effigy to protest his war mongering

 

Filipino antiwar activists gave Obama the royal bum’s rush during his state visit Monday to sign a military agreement giving the US access to Philippine bases for ten years. Even though the agreement is part of a more bellicose stance toward China in the region, Obama claimed in mind-numbing rhetoric that his foreign policy is more cautious than previous administrations.

Let’s see now: when Obama entered office the US had two major wars; now under his tenure, it has Iraq & Afghanistan; frequent drone sorties in Yemen, Somalia, & Pakistan; military interference in Libya & Syria; new troop deployments in Mexico, Uganda, Guatemala, Australia, & now the Philippines.

The Filipino antiwar movement is known for militancy, not subtlety. They responded to his rhetoric by burning his effigy. Their placards read “Obama you are not welcome,” “Ban the bases; US troops out now,” “No to US meddling in Asia,” “No to US plunder, intervention, & war,” “US warships out now.”

Our fullest respect & solidarity with the Filipinio antiwar movement.

(Photo by Aaron Favila/AP)

Clooney no marital catch; neither is Alamuddin

Let me wade into the treacherous waters of celebrity gossip to disagree with media reports that Amal Alamuddin must be a very special woman to snag George Clooney. On the contrary! They both appear to be bums. There’s a reason why the guy has a stuffed dossier of former girlfriends. The assumption is he dumped them; odds are better that they dumped him.

Clooney is intentionally mis-identified in media as progressive when he episodically suspends womanizing for brief forays into international war-mongering against Sudan. Likewise, though lauded in media as a human rights lawyer, her credentials are no more impressive. Her clients as a lawyer with a New York corporate law firm included Enron & Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that helped Enron cook the books.

Other than Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, her clientele is not impressive at all from a human rights perspective: corrupt Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko; Kofi Annan, now the chair of The Elders who actively oppose the BDS movement; & most despicably, Hamad Al Khalifa, the king of Bahrain during his violent assaults on the democracy movement in 2011.

She works for a London law firm now involved in “criminal justice, public law, immigration, employment, human rights, & civil liberties work.” That doesn’t say which side of the aisle they work.

No one would dispute the good looks of either one; they’ll likely have good-looking kids. Hopefully the kids won’t absorb the stench from war-mongering & covering for bloody dictators.

(Photo from Forbes)

Racism & the processing of e-waste

When you examine the history of racism you realize what a historical oddity it is & how grotesque. It didn’t always exist but was invented to justify the Atlantic slave trade since by then slavery was long discredited. Slavery emerged in the ancient world as a way of handling prisoners of war. It wasn’t a humane institution but it was never based on the superiority of skin color. They’ve traced the ideology of racism/white supremacy back to the German universities where it was first elaborated. It must have seemed nuts at first. But now that white supremacy is ensconced as a controlling paradigm of class society, it’s taken on a gestalt where people think this crap is part of human nature, that it’s always existed, that it’s an immutable part of human society. That’s the very intention of the fabrication: to make us think opposing it is fighting a losing battle. And elite universities operating as ideology factories are always pumping out new versions of it, from social Darwinism to evolutionary psychology–more properly called evo psycho because since the Civil Rights Movement only psychos would peddle this stuff to the unwary.

White supremacy is one of the most pernicious but effective weapons of class rule & justifies barbarisms of all kinds. It’s chiefly used in war but new purposes are invented all the time & its malignancies have proven quite adaptive. Since neoliberal economic policies consider waste management a drain on profits they’ve handed it over to private companies. Also guided by the profit principle, they dump mountains of waste wherever they can, like on Native American reservations, next to slums, in the oceans, in countries with no environmental controls or where officials can be bribed or who are as corrupt as the US Congress & don’t need to be bribed.

There are no reliable estimates of the tonnage of trash generated yearly. In the US, estimates of household trash go from 250,000 to 530,000 tons per year. There are no available estimates of industrial waste which likely rivals or even dwarfs household trash. Extrapolating from the US, which is only 4% of world population, annual production of household garbage is at least 4 trillion tons.

Sustainable manufacturing also competes with profits so electrical appliances & electronic devices are given short life spans with prohibitive repair costs. Electronic waste is now estimated globally at 50 million tons yearly. Processing e-waste, which contains lead, mercury, cadmium, & arsenic, is expensive so private waste companies simply ship it out to places like Agbogbloshie, Ghana (a suburb of Accra & the world’s largest e-dump) where millions of tons of e-waste are processed every year. It is broken down by hand by uninformed & unprotected workers, including children. The processing emits toxic chemicals into the air, land, & water, & exposes workers to toxins known to harm the reproductive system, the nervous system & the brain. All for US $3 to $4 a day. Does it get more cynical & debased than that!?

The Basel Convention of 1992 is an international agreement preventing plundering countries from dumping hazardous waste in the plundered, poorer nations. The US has never ratified the convention because it has no intention of being restrained. Many countries, like the UK & Japan, have ratified it but continue to illegally dump e-waste. International law is reduced to busy work with the redeemable value of toilet paper.

India is another main destination for e-waste. But unlike Ghana, India is a very rich country though it has massive levels of poverty. No one can understand how the economic wealth of a country is determined according to capitalist economists but a simple-minded way is perhaps the most telling: as of 2012, India had 158,000 millionaires (according to Credit Suisse which projects that will increase to 242,000 by 2017) & 61 billionaires (per Forbes magazine). India is estimated to have 237,000 of the richest people in the world (per Credit Suisse). So it’s rich all right; it’s just that they have too many big-time thieves.

It doesn’t report where those thieves have made their fortunes but it’s safe to assume it has been at the expense of the environment, human health, immigrants, & the poor. Some of those guys are making a bundle off the poor picking through toxic materials for recyclables.

India has combative workers; it also has an active environmental movement. They may not present a political challenge to the predictions of Credit Suisse any time soon but just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, so also is social transformation not a quick walk in the park. But it’s coming.

This photo is a small girl in Sangrampur, a small town in Maharashtra state, India, where residents process e-waste. Notice she is standing barefoot in piles of toxic e-waste & exposed to lead, mercury, & other toxic chemicals. May the robber barons who endanger her health be damned to hell!

(Photo by Sean Gallagher, 2013)

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)