Neoliberalism flouts the human suffering it creates

Bangladesh Tazreen (A.M. Ahad:AP) Nov 25 2014

This Bangladeshi woman is at the protest outside the Tazreen Fashions factory in Savar, outside Dhaka, demanding compensation for the beloved family member she lost. We aren’t told who it was. It could have been a child since many of the 117 victims were child workers. Many victims too charred for identification were dumped in a mass grave & DNA forensics were not done–leaving many families to grieve without resolution.

Neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, is indifferent to the human suffering it creates & that’s why it’s gotta go. It isn’t suited for human society. Giving it the boot won’t be easy but the quicker we do it the sooner we can begin to build a world fit for human beings to live & love in. That’s the bottom line.

Sweatshops are one of the odious features of the system but homelessness, mass starvation, contaminated food & water, global warming, forced immigration, plunder are all of a piece. We need to get our act together & clean this mess up.

(Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP)

Rally to commemorate second anniversary of Tazreen fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangladesh garment (A.M. Ahad:AP) Nov 25 2014

In an industrial catastrophe reminiscent of the famous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City (where 146 garment workers burned to death), a fire incinerated the 8-floor Tazreen Fashions factory on November 24th 2012 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, burning to death 117 people & injuring 200 others. The bodies of 52 victims were charred beyond recognition & wrapped in cloth were dumped & buried in a mass grave. Bangladesh, with about 4,500 garment factories, is the world’s second biggest garment exporter after China, with clothing making up 80% of its $24 billion annual exports to several countries including the US & Europe. The Tazreen factory which opened in 2009 employed about 1,700 people.

Tazreen made clothing for many US & European retailers (as well as the US Marines). Walmart (& it’s Sam’s Club subsidiary) & Sears immediately tried to distance themselves from the disaster & claimed Tazreen produced their clothing without their authorization. In fact, documents photographed by a Bangladeshi labor organizer after the fire showed that five of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to Walmart apparel. More importantly, officials who attended a meeting on factory safety held in Bangladesh in 2011 (after a series of garment factory fires) claimed the Walmart official present played a key role in blocking reforms to have retailers pay more for apparel to help finance electrical & fire safety. According to the minutes of the meeting made available to The New York Times, Walmart’s director of ethical sourcing said, “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.” And in a sweatshop economy he’s absolutely right.

The Bangladesh government claimed sabotage & arson as the cause of the fire but this was only a cover for the manufacturers since fire officials report 700 people had died in garment factory fires since 2006 & Tazreen was later proven to be an electrical fire. Factory conditions remain wretched, with overcrowding, locked fire doors, & no enforcement of safety laws. There have been other factory fires since with more deaths & in April 2013, Rana Plaza, an 8-story garment manufactory collapsed killing 1,100 workers & injuring 2,000 more in an extremely gruesome industrial accident where many were buried in the debris.

When retailers whose clothing was manufactured at Tazreen met in May 2013 to discuss compensation payments, Walmart & Sears did not see fit to show up because they are completely devoid of social conscience. They’re like psycho-corps.The Bangladesh garment manufacturer’s association offered a measly $1,250 compensation to each family of those who died (approximately two years pay). We don’t know if those injured even received an offer. Unfortunately the offer was more for show because today, on the second anniversary of the conflagration, relatives of those who died protested outside the factory demanding unpaid compensation.

At the time of the fire, thousands of Bangladeshi workers hit the streets in protest, closing down over 200 factories, blocking major highways, throwing stones at factories, & smashing vehicles. They demanded justice for those killed & injured & improved safety. They continue to fight but the odds against them are enormous–the entire edifice of sweatshop economics, including retailers, their own & other governments, manufacturers associations, & a compromised labor leadership.

Sweatshops are a fixture of neoliberal economics & the battle against them won’t be won without international solidarity. That mission should not be left to garment workers alone & students in the plundering countries. It should not just change our shopping habits but should transform our whole way of operating in the world since we’re the ones benefiting from the super-exploitation of sweatshops.

Our fullest solidarity with the garment workers of Bangladesh.

(Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP)

Grief and anger drive social transformation

Mexican families Nov 23 2014

This scuffle is riot cops in the Zócalo, Mexico City, surrounding relatives of the 43 disappeared student teachers who are leading protests against the government. Never underestimate the power of the primary emotions like grief & fury in driving social transformation & social revolution against tyranny. When what is most precious is taken, it’s not that there is nothing left to lose but that there is nothing left to fear. That grief will settle in the bones & become the marrow of revolution. When combined with uncompromising analysis of who is enemy & who is ally in the cacophony of social struggle, no military arsenal will be able to withstand its force.

The effete who think social change is correct exegesis of Marx & Engels or updating them with obscurantist disputations on the dialectic have missed the point. And will regrettably miss the revolution.

(Photo by Marco Ugarte/AP)

Solidarity rally with disappeared Mexican student teachers in Los Angeles

LA solidarity with MX  Nov 22 2014 (Francine Orr:LA Times)

This is Rosalio Mendiola protesting the disappearance of the 43 students at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. The vigil was held the same time as Obama’s speech on immigration. Because neoliberalism is the barbaric phase of capitalism, instituting its policies & practices has been a wrenching process devastating the lives of millions–especially those who resist it.

Only a few examples in Mexico would be teachers (particularly in the state of Oaxaca) & miners (in Sonora) who resisted neoliberal incursions & to escape assassination had to flee to the US as undocumented immigrants. That fighting spirit is an enormous asset to US workers & to the immigration movement here, especially when counterposed to the sniveling subservience of US labor leaders. But it is a loss for Mexican working people who watched some of their best activists flee for their lives.

Undocumented immigrants have been under massive, sustained attack throughout the Obama regime. He sweet talks at the same time he deports hundreds of thousands & dumps their kids in the broken foster care system. But in the past several years, immigrants have been among the most active democracy fighters in the US, despite their vulnerability to deportation. When the history of that movement is written, it would be so interesting to find out the role played by people like the Oaxaca teachers & Sonora miners. Because surely when the history of social transformation in the US is written, the immigration rights movement will play a central role.

(Photo by Francine Orr/LA Times)

Hundreds of thousands rally in Mexico over disappeared student teachers

Zocalo (Mario Guzman:EPA) Nov 22 2014

This is the Zócalo in Mexico City–the main plaza in the city, one of the biggest in the world, & the political venue of hundreds of national protests. It holds about 100,000 people. This is Thursday, November 20th, a National Day of Action in Mexico against the massacre of 43 student teachers in the state of Guerrero. Reportedly, protesters are not only students but also teachers, thousands of other union workers, & outraged Mexicans. Such actions took place all over Mexico.

In ironic symmetry, Obama was giving his speech on immigration (so-called) “reform.” Even US networks didn’t want to broadcast this once-vaunted orator as he blithered on & figured viewers would rather watch banal sitcoms. But US immigration policy has everything to do with the disappearance of those young people. The US & Mexican governments have formed a criminal confederacy against the people of Mexico & immigrants from Central America. The Mexican military is occupying its own country bankrolled by the Pentagon to deter immigration, facilitate the transformation of Mexico into a narco-state & a neoliberal dystopia. Thousands of students, working people, & activists who have stood up to this cabal–often led by teachers–have been disappeared or murdered.

The political movement emerging in the Zócalo is vital to social transformation around the world because it is in what the US government considers its back yard & is a showcase for neoliberal policies beginning with agriculture (which dispossessed farmers & farm workers & created massive immigration to the US); NAFTA, with its sweatshops on the US border; & presently the privatization of PEMEX (the state-owned oil company) turning Mexico into a series of catastrophic oil spills. Strengthening the movement in Mexico through solidarity helps weaken the stranglehold of the malignant confederacy which now tyrannizes the Mexican people & the immigrants making their way from US plunders in Central America.

Our sincere sympathies with the families who have lost a beloved to this conflict & our strongest solidarity with their movement.

(Photo by Mario Guzman/EPA)

Save the Children just another corporate front group for neoliberalism

Someone has asked me to post about Save the Children giving their Global Legacy Award to war criminal Tony Blair–awash in the blood of Iraqi & Afghani children. Will it suffice to say they can stick their organization & the award where the sun don’t shine?

The leadership of Save the Children is entirely corporate–insurance companies, investment firms, pharmaceuticals, & the ubiquitous Coca Cola. They are clearly not an improvement on the Nobel Peace Prize committee that selects the likes of Henry Kissinger & Barack Obama. It’s all of a piece with neoliberal power-broking: “you scratch my ass, I’ll scratch yours.”

What’s important is that through these corporate front groups the ruling elite attempts to co-opt & preempt social justice. They do the exact same thing with human rights groups (like Human Rights Watch). A troubling variation on this theme is their co-optation of long-time civil rights groups like the NAACP & the National Organization for Women as well as immigrant rights groups by throwing substantial amounts of hush money at them.

The big bucks assure the ruling elite these organizations will operate within narrow parameters of political defiance, tied to the Democratic Party & electoral politics, & steadfast against independent political action (like the Civil Rights Movement). The big bucks assure that at a certain point what is left of political resistance to injustice becomes indistinguishable from outright groveling.

So it’s just swell Save the Children exposed themselves in this unseemly way. Maybe people will start vetting the trustees & boards of directors before dishing out money to save neoliberalism’s image.

Was Operation Ethnic Cleansing in Gaza genocide or ethnic cleansing?

Gazan girl Nov 21 2014

There’s apparently a fair amount of controversy about the distinction between ethnic cleansing & genocide & when you look at Operation Ethnic Cleansing in Gaza you can sure see why. According to those who parse these things, genocide is intent on mass extermination of a particular ethnic or religious group. Ethnic cleansing includes trying to destroy the entire culture of a group as well through taking out homes, social centers, farms, monuments, places of worship, infrastructure along with forced migration & population transfers. That means in ethnic cleansing they give some of the targeted group a chance to run for it before they mow them down. That also means Operation Ethnic Cleansing was both a genocide & an ethnic cleansing because Israel & Egypt had the borders sealed up tighter than a drum & there was no place for Palestinians to flee from carpet bombing.

So Israel was on a mission–not just to take out Hamas rocket nests or destroy the smuggling tunnels transporting vital needs like medicine & foods banned by the embargo–but to destroy homes & mosques. That would explain the destruction of 161 mosques in Gaza & (according to the UN) 100,000 homes, leaving 600,000 Palestinians homeless. But here’s where parsing gets confusing: what is it when Israel bombs hospitals & ambulances & targets small children?

These legal definitions only matter because they’re used to sidestep condemning Israel or holding them accountable with sanctions for the destruction of Gaza, the murder of 2,200 unarmed people & the injuries to 11,000 people, including debilitating shrapnel damage to children, amputation, & disfigurement.

In the midst of all this there are those who survived & the children who cannot be protected from the terror of ethnic cleansing/genocide. This is 9-year-old Yarra Ziada from the Shujayea neighborhood in Gaza City, an area especially targeted by Israeli bombers. The photographer asked several children to talk about their loss. They’re not old enough to elaborate distinctions; they only know the terror of fleeing bombers.The kids told the reporter what they missed from before the bombing. This child, sitting in the rubble of her bedroom, said she misses her games & red dress & is afraid the bombings will start again. Other children said they missed their dolls, teddy bears, posters, computers, books, clothes, playstations, & kites.

According to Oxfam, given the current state of progress it may take 50 years to rebuild Gaza. Actually, Israel has no intention of letting Gaza get rebuilt. The continuing Israeli embargo of Gaza is ethnic cleansing by other means than bombs. Or is it genocide?

Building the cultural & economic boycott of Israel is absolutely vital to Palestinian justice & solidarity. Gaza is entering the winter season with thousands living in rubble. Those who have means should consider contributions to relief agencies; some may even want to consider a drive for dolls & teddy bears which are not frivolous but have always played an important role in the lives of children. We need to find out from those agencies in Gaza what it is they most need.

Boycott all Israeli products (barcode beginning 729)! Demand “No military aid to Israel!”

(Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills)

Obama’s immigration scam

Honduran woman looking for son (John Moore:Getty Images) Nov 21 2014

Who really knows at this point what will come out of Obama’s executive order tonight on immigration? A presidential executive order has the full force of law but can be challenged & struck down & this one certainly will be by the loud-mouthed Republicans acting out their part as bad guys in the shell game of two-party politics.

Obama’s order is not an amnesty like the US granted to about 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986. It is also not “sweeping immigration reform” as it is being called in media. The Obama regime has set all-time records for the number of deportations & thousands of them are ruthless–grabbing people in workplace dragnets, holding them in substandard, crowded detention centers, busting up families, putting thousands of kids in foster care, & dumping people across the border

Under Obama’s sketchy proposal (& in immigration the devil really is hiding in the details), about 4.5 million of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants will be allowed to remain in the country temporarily without the threat of deportation. They will be allowed to legally work but the restriction is they were resident in the US for at least 5 years & their kids were born here.

The proposal appears to be basically the same offered a few years ago to the “dreamer” generation, that is, those who came here as young children with their parents. It’s now being extended to their parents–& the problems are the same. It’s temporary with no indication of just how long that is. Is it a couple years, a few decades, until reactionary congressmen get a court to strike it down, or until Obama’s term ends? You also have to register with the government so when that temporary provision runs out, immigration knows just where to pick you up.

One should not be dismissive–completely. This proposal will certainly be a monkey off a lot of people’s backs, a respite from being hunted like animals by immigration authorities & deported. But it is not immigration reform & it is not immigration rights & it is not to be trusted. It remains to be seen whether it will mean significantly fewer deportations.

This grieving woman is 61-year-old Blanca Lydia Valenzuela from Honduras. She is the face of US immigration policy. She is at a shelter for undocumented immigrants in Tenosique, a town in southern Mexico. She comes to Mexico twice a year to search for her son Manuel Hernandez Valenzuela who disappeared while crossing Mexico to the US in 2003. He had been working in New Orleans for three years but got deported back to Honduras.

Though it is now legal under Mexican law for immigrants from Central America to travel through the country, in fact Mexican police & military function as the southern flank of US immigration policy. They are certainly implicated in paramilitary & gang violence against immigrants which includes robbery, extortion, rape, assault, disappearance, murder, dismemberment, & burial in mass graves. Thousands have gone missing. Every year caravans of mothers from Central American countries tour with Mexican human rights groups hoping for a clue about where their children are. Senora Valenzuela will most likely never hear from her son again.

Immigration is a human right! Full amnesty for all! Open the borders!

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

If you’re going to speak for Jesus, act like Jesus!

You can tell a lot about political commitments of the unstated kind when people express commiserations about the Har Nof synagogue in West Jerusalem attacked by two Palestinians but don’t say boo about the 161 mosques destroyed in Gaza during Operation Ethnic Cleansing, or the mosque torched last week in the West Bank near Ramallah, or the sustained military assaults & denial of Palestinian access to Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem.

That judgement regrettably includes Pope Francis who condemned the attack on Har Nof but has yet to say a word about Gaza or Al-Aqsa. When it comes to justice, you just can’t have it both ways. You can’t denounce a violent act by one side & remain mute on a system of apartheid & ethnic cleansing. If you’re going to speak for Jesus then for heaven’s sake act like Jesus who drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip.

Arsenic in the food supply

You can run but you cannot hide from capitalism. They got it all sewed up, especially the food & water supply. Five international conglomerates now control all the world’s food–which explains why most vegetables & fruits grown today taste like raw potatoes.

Several weeks ago for health reasons & as part of going vegan, I divested my diet of all sugars & grains except rice & quinoa. I was feeling mighty smug at my success in overcoming cravings & losing weight until I read the entire rice supply, including brown & organic rice, is contaminated with arsenic & they don’t know where it’s coming from. If you wash it before eating, only 30% of the arsenic is removed.

Arsenic contamination of groundwater affects millions of people around the world. Several years ago, it caused a massive epidemic of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh. It is used in industry & agriculture in insecticides & as a feed additive to poultry & swine. So if you’re eating chicken with your rice, you’re getting a double whammy of the stuff.

Arsenic is a carcinogen & the way the FDA & other health agencies around the world deal with it’s ubiquity is to parse out just how much is legal which has nothing to do with what is safe.
Some times you just can’t look at these things too carefully; you have to eat something. But it may mean the mono-diet approach to nutrition is problematic. Capitalism is going to take us out, one way or the other. Navigating the system is like a minefield. But if you want to stick around to see if it get’s its comeuppance you have to choose wisely.

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