Walmart’s Death Grip in USA


Walmart’s Death Grip on Groceries Is Making Life Worse for Millions of People (Hard Times USA)

Stacy Mitchell , ALTERNET

Walmart’s growing control of our food system has been to intensify the rural and urban poverty that drives unhealthy food choices.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

March 26, 2013  |

This article was published in partnership with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

When Michelle Obama visited a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, a few weeks ago to praise the company’s efforts to sell healthier food, she did not say why she chose a store in Springfield of all cities. But, in ways that Obama surely did not intend, it was a fitting choice. This Midwestern city provides a chilling look at where Walmart wants to take our food system.

Springfield is one of nearly 40 metro areas where Walmart now captures about half or more of consumer spending on groceries, according to Metro Market Studies.  Springfield area residents spend just over $1 billion on groceries each year, and one of every two of those dollars flows into a Walmart cash register.  The chain has 20 stores in the area and shows no signs of slowing its growth. Its latest proposal, a store just south of the city’s downtown, has provoked widespread protest.  Opponents say Walmart already has an overbearing presence in the region and argue that this new store would undermine nearby grocery stores, including a 63-year-old family-owned business which still provides delivery for its elderly customers. A few days before the First Lady’s visit, the City Council voted 5-4 to approve what will be Walmart’s 21st store in the community.

As Springfield goes, so goes the rest of the country, if Walmart has its way. Nationally, the retailer’s share of the grocery market now stands at 25 percent. That’s up from 4 percent just 16 years ago.  Walmart’s tightening grip on the food system is unprecedented in U.S. history.  Even A&P — often referred to as the Walmart of its day — accounted for only about 12 percent of grocery sales at its height in the 1940s.  Its market share was kept in check in part by the federal government, which won an antitrust case against A&P in 1946.  The contrast to today’s casual acceptance of Walmart’s market power could not be more stark.

Having gained more say over our food supply than Monsanto, Kraft, or Tyson, Walmart has been working overtime to present itself as a benevolent king. It has upped its donations to food pantries, reduced sodium and sugars in some of its store-brand products, and recast its relentless expansion as a solution to “food deserts.” In 2011, it pledged to build 275-300 stores “in or near” low-income communities lacking grocery stores. The Springfield store Obama visited is one of 86 such stores Walmart has since opened.  Situated half a mile from the southwestern corner of a census tract identified as underserved by the USDA, the store qualifies as “near” a food desert. Other grocery stores are likewise perched on the edge of this tract.  Although Walmart has made food deserts the vanguard of its PR strategy in urban areas, most of the stores the chain has built or proposed in cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. are in fact just blocks from established supermarkets, many unionized or locally owned.  As it pushes into cities, Walmart’s primary aim is not to fill gaps but to grab market share.

***

The real effect of Walmart’s takeover of our food system has been to intensify the rural and urban poverty that drives unhealthy food choices.  Poverty has a strong negative effect on diet, regardless of whether there is a grocery store in the neighborhood or not, a major 15-year study published in 2011 in the Archives of Internal Medicine found. Access to fresh food cannot change the bottom-line reality that cheap, calorie-dense processed foods and fast food are financially logical choices for far too many American households.  And their numbers are growing right alongside Walmart.  Like Midas in reverse, Walmart extracts wealth and pushes down incomes in every community it touches, from the rural areas that produce food for its shelves to the neighborhoods that host its stores.

Walmart has made it harder for farmers and food workers to earn a living. Its rapid rise as a grocer triggered a wave of mergers among food companies, which, by combining forces, hoped to become big enough to supply Walmart without getting crushed in the process. Today, food processing is more concentrated than ever.  Four meatpackers slaughter 85 percent of the nation’s beef.  One dairy company handles 40 percent of our milk, including 70 percent of the milk produced in New England.  With fewer buyers, farmers are struggling to get a fair price. Between 1995 and 2009, farmers saw their share of each consumer dollar spent on beef fall from 59 to 42 cents. Their cut of the consumer milk dollar likewise fell from 44 to 36 cents.  For pork, it fell from 45 to 25 cents and, for apples, from 29 to 19 cents.

Onto this grim reality, Walmart has grafted a much-publicized initiative to sell more locally grown fruits and vegetables.  Clambering aboard the “buy local” trend undoubtedly helps Walmart’s marketing, but, as Missouri-based National Public Radio journalist Abbie Fentress Swanson reported in February, “there’s little evidence of small farmers benefiting, at least in the Midwest.”  Walmart, which defines “local” as grown in the same state, has increased its sales of local produce mainly by relying on large industrial growers. Small farmers, meanwhile, have fewer opportunities to reach consumers, as independent grocers and smaller chains shrink and disappear.

Food production workers are being squeezed too. The average slaughterhouse wage has fallen 9 percent since 1999.  Forced unpaid labor at food processing plants is on the rise.  Last year, a Louisiana seafood plant that supplies Walmart was convicted of forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions for less than minimum wage. Some workers reported peeling and boiling crawfish in shifts that spanned 24 hours.

The tragic irony is that many food-producing regions, with their local economies dismantled and poverty on the rise, are now themselves lacking grocery stores. The USDA has designated large swaths of the farm belt, including many agricultural areas near Springfield, as food deserts.

***

One might imagine that squeezing farmers and food workers would yield lower prices for consumers.  But that hasn’t been the case.  Grocery prices have been rising.  There are multiple reasons for this, but corporate concentration is at least partly to blame.  For most foods, the spread between what consumers pay and how much farmers receive has been widening.  Food processors and big retailers are pocketing the difference.  Even as Walmart touts lower prices than its competitors, the company’s reorganization of our food system has had the effect of raising grocery prices overall.

As Walmart stores multiply, fewer families can afford to eat well.  The company claims it stores bring economic development and employment, but the empirical evidence indicates otherwise.  A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Urban Economics examined about 3,000 Walmart store openings nationally and found that each store caused a net decline of about 150 jobs (as competing retailers downsized and closed) and lowered total wages paid to retail workers.  Otherresearch by the economic consulting firm Civic Economics has found that, when locally owned businesses are replaced by big-box stores, dollars that once circulated in the community, supporting other businesses and jobs, instead leak out.  These shifts may explain the findings of another study, published in Social Science Quarterly in 2006, which cut straight to the bottom line: neighborhoods where Walmart opens end up with higher poverty rates and more food-stamp usage than places where the retailer does not expand.

This year, Walmart plans to open between 220 and 240 stores in the U.S., as it marches steadily on in its quest to further control the grocery market.  Policymakers at every level, from city councilors to federal antitrust regulators, should be standing in its way.  Very few are.  Growing numbers of people, though, are drawing the line, from the Walmart employees who have led a string of remarkable strikes against the company, to the coalition of small business, labor, and community groups that recently forced Walmart to step back from its plans to unroll stores across New York City.

Back in Springfield, as Michelle Obama was delivering her remarks, framed by a seductive backdrop of oranges and lemons, a citizens group called Stand Up to Walmart was also at work, launching a referendum drive to overturn the City Council’s vote and block Walmart from gaining any more ground in the city.

 

Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where she directs an initiative on independent business. She is the author of Big-Box Swindle and also produces a popular monthly newsletter, the Hometown Advantage Bulletin.Catch her recent TEDx Talk: Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Economy.

Chernobyl, not Peristroika, Caused Soviet Union Collapse: Gorbachev


DiaNuke

Editor’s Note: Journalist Alla Yaroshinskaya’s article based on declassified documents, contradicting Mr. Gorbachev’s claims here that there was no cover-up in Chernobyl, can be accessed here.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail GorbachevMikhail Gorbachev was the last head of state of the Soviet Union, and helped bring about a peaceful end to the Cold War, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Courtesy: Project Syndicate

The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 26 years ago this month, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was an historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed.

The very morning of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear station on April 26, 1986, the Politburo met to discuss the situation, and then organized a government commission to deal with the consequences. The commission was to control the situation, and to ensure that serious measures were taken, particularly in regard to people’s health in the disaster zone. Moreover, the Academy of Science established a group of leading scientists, who were immediately dispatched to the Chernobyl region.

The Politburo did not immediately have appropriate and complete information that would have reflected the situation after the explosion. Nevertheless, it was the general consensus of the Politburo that we should openly deliver the information upon receiving it. This would be in the spirit of the Glasnost policy that was by then already established in the Soviet Union.

Thus, claims that the Politburo engaged in concealment of information about the disaster is far from the truth. One reason I believe that there was no deliberate deception is that, when the governmental commission visited the scene right after the disaster and stayed overnight in Polesie, near Chernobyl, its members all had dinner with regular food and water, and they moved about without respirators, like everybody else who worked there. If the local administration or the scientists knew the real impact of the disaster, they would not have risked doing this.

In fact, nobody knew the truth, and that is why all our attempts to receive full information about the extent of the catastrophe were in vain. We initially believed that the main impact of the explosion would be in Ukraine, but Belarus, to the northwest, was hit even worse, and then Poland and Sweden suffered the consequences.

Of course, the world first learned of the Chernobyl disaster from Swedish scientists, creating the impression that we were hiding something. But in truth we had nothing to hide, as we simply had no information for a day and a half. Only a few days later, we learned that what happened was not a simple accident, but a genuine nuclear catastrophe – an explosion of a Chernobyl’s fourth reactor.

Although the first report on Chernobyl appeared in Pravda on April 28, the situation was far from clear. For example, when the reactor blew up, the fire was immediately put out with water, which only worsened the situation as nuclear particles began spreading through the atmosphere. Meanwhile we were still able to take measures in helping people within the disaster zone; they were evacuated, and more than 200 medical organizations were involved in testing the population for radiation poisoning.

There was a serious danger that the contents of the nuclear reactor would seep into the soil, and then leak into the Dnepr river, thus endangering the population of Kiev and other cities along the riverbanks. Therefore, we started the job of protecting the river banks, initiating a total deactivation of the Chernobyl plant. The resources of a huge country were mobilized to control the devastation, including work to prepare the sarcophagus that would encase the fourth reactor.

The Chernobyl disaster, more than anything else, opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue. It made absolutely clear how important it was to continue the policy of glasnost, and I must say that I started to think about time in terms of pre-Chernobyl and post-Chernobyl.

The price of the Chernobyl catastrophe was overwhelming, not only in human terms, but also economically. Even today, the legacy of Chernobyl affects the economies of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Some even suggest that the economic price for the USSR was so high that it stopped the arms race, as I could not keep building arms while paying to clean up Chernobyl.

This is wrong. My declaration of January 15, 1986, is well known around the world. I addressed arms reduction, including nuclear arms, and I proposed that by the year 2000 no country should have atomic weapons. I personally felt a moral responsibility to end the arms race. But Chernobyl opened my eyes like nothing else: it showed the horrible consequences of nuclear power, even when it is used for non-military purposes. One could now imagine much more clearly what might happen if a nuclear bomb exploded. According to scientific experts, one SS-18 rocket could contain a hundred Chernobyls.

Unfortunately, the problem of nuclear arms is still very serious today. Countries that have them – the members of the so-called “nuclear club” – are in no hurry to get rid of them. On the contrary, they continue to refine their arsenals, while countries without nuclear weapons want them, believing that the nuclear club’s monopoly is a threat to the world peace.The twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe reminds us that we should not forget the horrible lesson taught to the world in 1986. We should do everything in our power to make all nuclear facilities safe and secure. We should also start seriously working on the production of the alternative sources of energy.

The fact that world leaders now increasingly talk about this imperative suggests that the lesson of Chernobyl is finally being understood.

 

Vedanta-Sterlite – Dangerous by Design #CSR #Humanrightsviolations


 Nityanand Jayaraman

MARCH 28, 2013
 at kafila.org

Guest Post by  NITYANAND JAYARAMAN 

Tuticorin Oct 2010 298

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory.  Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

On 23 March, 2013, a toxic gas leak from Vedanta-subsidary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi spread panic and discomfort for several kilometres around the plant. The leak once again highlighted the increased potential for major catastrophes due to an atmosphere of collusion between regulators and polluters. The company, which was shut down for maintenance, resumed operations in the early hours of 23 March. Within hours, people in the nearby areas complained of suffocation and eye and nose irritation. A 35-year old Bihari contract labourer, who was working at Sterlite’s thermal power plant nearly a kilometre away, reportedly succumbed to the effects of the toxic gas. Irate residents rallied to the District Collector’s office demanding permanent closure of the offending factory.

The District Collector suggested that sulphur dioxide may have been the culprit. But anyone who knows the history of this plant would lay the blame not on this gas or that, but squarely on pliant regulators, and perhaps the judiciary.

The 1200 tonne per day (tpd) copper smelter was constructed in two phases – both with dubious legality – with active support of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the chairperson of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC). In September 2004, when SCMC visited Thoothukudi, it found that Sterlite had constructed a 900 tonne per day copper smelter complex without obtaining an Envirnomental Clearance from the MoEF. Neither did the plant have the mandatory Consents to Establish under Air and Water Acts.

Citing poor pollution management, the SCMC recommended that clearance should not be given. It ordered the TNPCB to verify the illegal constructions and take action. Contrary to recommendations, clearance was given a day after of the Committee’s visit to Sterlite. TNPCB inspected and confirmed the illegal constructions, but did nothing more.

On 7 April, 2005, a director at the MoEF wrote to the chairperson of TNPCB urging her to grant a Consent to Operate to Sterlite. “The directions issued by SCMC in this regard has (sic) been discussed with Chairman, SCMC, who has desired that TNPCB may now decide regarding granting consent for expansion to M/s Sterlite Industries India Ltd (SIIL) Tuticorin, Tamilnadu,” she wrote. The Air and Water Acts do not have any provision for legalising units constructed without a valid Consent to Establish. TNPCB obliged and issued a consent on 19 April 2005.

Sterlite went on to expand its capacity to 1200 tpd. To get its licenses, Sterlite exaggerated the extent of land in its possession. In 2007, Sterlite submitted an Environment Impact Assessment report that suggested that it had greened 26 hectares of its 102.5 hectare plant site. It claimed that it had sufficient lands – about 176 ha — in its possession to accommodate the expanded capacity and the resultant pollution (solid waste, air emission and effluents). It promised to plant 43 hectares with pollution-abating trees. Subsequent inspection reports by the TNPCB even state that the company had greened 25 percent of its 176 hectare land holding.

On 28 September 2010, the Madras High Court ordered closure of the copper plant. One key grounds for closure was the industry’s failure to comply with the condition requiring the development of a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory. TNPCB was chided for arbitrarily reducing the greenbelt requirement from 250 metres to 25 metres in response to Sterlite’s lament about high land costs associated with the wider belt.

The Madras High Court had rightly held that the failure to comply with greenbelt requirements was a crippling lapse. Indeed, had a thick belt existed, the effects of the recent gas leak would not have reached the city.
When Sterlite was shut down by the High Court, the factory was running without valid licenses under Air and Water Acts. Two days later, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order and unwittingly authorised the unlicensed operation of a disputed facility.

In May 2011, Sterlite’s non-compliance of greenbelt requirements and its land fraud came to light in a report submitted by NEERI to the Supreme Court. Against a requirement of 176 hectares for the 1200 tonne plant, Sterlite had only 102.5 hectares, the report found. Also, less than 13 hectares – as against 43 hectares – had been greened.

Since October 2010, Sterlite has functioned on leave granted by the Supreme Court. During the apex court’s watch, at least 8 hazardous incidents were recorded where 3 workers were killed, four more injured. Several hundred people in the vicinity of the plant have been gassed.

Under the circumstances, faith in the rule of law is not an easy belief system to sustain.

UPDATE

Thoothukudi Gears up For Major Showdown with Sterlite

27 March, 2013. Thoothukudi – Residents of the coastal Tamilnadu town of Thoothukudi are gearing up for a major showdown with Sterlite on 28 March, less than a week after a massive gas leak injured hundreds of people for kilometres around the company’s controversial copper smelter. Numerous groups, cutting across political lines, will march from the city to Sterlite’s gates demanding its permanent closure. In the 20 years that it has functioned, Sterlite has been blamed for numerous mishaps, deaths and injuries. It has been closed twice by the Madras High Court, including in September 2010 when the High Court shut it down through its final order arguing that the company had violated siting setbacks, pollution norms and licence conditions.Tomorrow’s rally is gathering massive support as the Tamil Nadu Federation of Merchants led by Vellian, and the Esakkimuthu Conch Divers Association have said they will participate in the strike. The call for the strike was originally given by Vaiko, a political leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who said that this was an issue that transcended politics, and that the residents are united in their desire to rid their city of Sterlite’s Bhopal-like factory. Other prominent Thoothukudi-based workers organisations too have committed their support to the strike. The Anna Bus Stand Taxi Drivers Association, and the Anna Bus Stand Auto Drivers Welfare Association with nearly 200 auto drivers as members have said they will boycott work and join the residents demanding closure of Sterlite. Many more organisations and political parties are expected to join.“We are very angry. We have seen numerous such agitations start and then stop. We want an end to this nonsense. Sterlite must be shut down,” said 55 year old M. Shanmugavelu, Presidents of the Auto workers Association.

34-year old M. Kishorekumar, who is the president of Taxi Drivers Association clarifies that they are not opposed to industries. “We want good industries to come to Thoothukudi, to Tamil Nadu. But Sterlite is not good for us. It is a dangerous factory. We have to think about our futures too,” he says. “My 11-year old son suffered because of the gas leak. It is now three days since the leak, and he is still complaining of head ache, eye and throat irritation, a bitter taste in his mouth and has no appetite. I have had to take him to hospital for three days. He has to go to school with all this because it is examination time,” Kishorekumar says.

List of Hazardous Incidents at Sterlite Industries between October 2010 and March 2013 during the time the plant has run on leave granted by Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Compiled by Nityanand Jayaraman, based on reports by Sterlite workers

Total: 3 dead; several injured in 8 incidents

Date

Incident

Number Dead/Injured

8.3.2013

Amalan, 30, sustained serious injuries after an electrical fire broke out at Motor Control Room of Phosphoric Acid Plant.

1 injured

18.3.2013

Swaminathan, 50, killed after falling into Phosphoric Acid tank. Due to the poor light conditions, the worker tripped on the scaffolding and fell 15 metres into an open and empty tank.

1 dead

23.3.2013

Massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, causes suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas.

1 dead; several injured

23.8.2011

One North Indian worker, sourced by labour contractor Lohit, and employed by Mahesh Engineering was injured while working in the Phosphoric Acid Plant. Workers, who said very little information was available about his condition and what actually happened. He is reported to have had 5 stitches.

1 injured

17.8.2011

A white gas (suspected to be Sulphur Dioxide) escaped for about 45 minutes at ground level throwing a scare among Sterlite workers, after a power outage caused a shutdown of the Copper smelter and sulphuric acid plant at around 10 a.m. today (17 August, 2011). The wind was blowing from East to West and carried the smoke away from the highway and the Milavittan village.

13.8.2011

Thangapandi, a 32-year old contract worker, engaged by OEG Ltd to work in Sterlite’s copper smelter factory sustained first degree burns due to an electrical accident. Thangapandi is a resident of Pandarampatti.

1 injured

31.5.2011

Amalanathan, a 28-year old crane maintenance mechanic, was electrocuted and killed in Vedanta-subsidiary Sterlite Copper’s premises today. According to workers, Amalanathan died on the spot at around 11.30 a.m. As of 3.30 p.m., the police had not yet registered a First Information Report. According to a Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) party worker, it was only after the communist unions and MDMK intervened by staging a road blockade did the Police even enter the scene. Amalanathan, who was married barely 3 months ago, is a resident of a locality called 3rd Mile, near Sterlite.

1 dead

3.3.2011

Ratheesh, a young contract employee from Sterlite, sustained 30 to 35 percent burn injuries on chest and hand. He was admitted to Apollo Hospital, Madurai, and underwent treatment until 24.3.2011. Inpatient Number: 205688. Referred by Dr. Vanitha Stephen, Tuticorin.

1 injured

 

Nityanand is a Chennai-based writer and environmental activist.

Jharkhand – Tribal and Cultural Activist Jiten Marandi released from jail #goodnews


RANCHI, March 29, 2013, The Hindu

Jiten Marandi, cultural activist and one of the secretaries of Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners was released from Birsa jail in Hotwar in Ranchi on Thursday.

He was accused with 19 others in 2008 in the October 26, 2007 massacre at Chilkari in which 19 persons, including Anup Marandi, son of the former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, were kille. While the Jharkhand High Court acquitted him in December 2011 of the death sentence given to him by a Sessions Court, he had to remain in jail as the government invoked the Jharkhand Crime Control Act (2002) against him.

“Jiten was falsely accused in all cases because he had taken active part in resistance movements going on in Jharkhand. He had to stay in jail for five years because the authorities had filed these politically-motivated cases.

“He would have got released even sooner but he chose to not appeal against the government’s order which remained in force for two years,” said Sushanto Mukherjee, Marxist Coordination Committee central committee member, who received Mr. Marandi after his release from Birsa jail in Hotwar.

 

Chhattisgarh: Tribal girls reveal tales of violence, sexual abuse #Vaw #WTFnews


Chhattisgarh, Updated Mar 28, 2013

New Delhi: Last week, the government passed the much awaited Anti-rape Bill. The Bill promises to tackle sexual crime. But will it really make a difference, especially in the remote corners of this country. An IBN7 investigation exposed how young tribal girls are being sexually abused in government-run homes and schools in Chhattisgarh.

Minor girls studying in the State-run Ashrams meant to provide education and boarding facilities for poor tribals in Chhattisgarh are being sexually assaulted, pushed into prostitution by their own teachers.

Girls face violence and sexual abuse and admit on camera that they were raped and abused by hostel officials. In January 2013, medical tests confirmed 11 girls were sexually abused at Jhaliamari Kanya Ashram.

The ashram came under scanner after death of a 12-year-old in 2012. The Official cause of the 12-year-old girl’s death was given as jaundice. However, on a hidden camera the government hospital doctor admitted the girl underwent a pregnancy test.

Meanwhile, a 17-year-old girl alleged that she was being forced into sex racket by her own hostel warden Anita Thakur. After public outrage the police filed an FIR and arrested Anita.

In 2006, Chief Minister Raman Singh announced the Aadarsh Ashram and Chatravas Yojna – opening 2600 hostels to house and educate children from Tribal and other backward classes. The central government poured several crores into the project. But in January 2013, medical tests confirmed that 11 girls at the Jhaliamari Kanya Ashram had been sexually abused.

Singh sadi, “I have ordered that a fast track court in the district decides on this case.”

The Jhaliamari Ashram came under the scanner after the death of a 12-year-old in August 2012. Eight people were arrested – including a teacher, security guard and hostel warden at the ashram. Swastha Adhikari, Narharpur DOC, Dr Prashant Singh had said, “Water had accumulated in her stomach and she died of jaundice and severe anemia.”

On hidden camera, the same doctor admitted the girl was given a pregnancy test but did not test positive.

Her family admits receiving threats to stay silent. The mother of the 12-year-old who survived the abuse said, “He used to drink and come, he sexually assaulted my daughter, what he did to my child was wrong.”

The parents now want their children back but the administration has sent them to other government hostels. “They have told us that the girls will stay on in the hostels, we have been asked not to worry. If this has happened to other girls, it could happen to our children. We are scared,” said one of the parent.

Equally shocking is how the sexual abuse went unnoticed for four years, even though Ashram guidelines say the girls must have weekly health check-ups. The district collector, too, refused to meet us.

In violation of an order by state government, since 2009 there have been no monitoring or inspection at the local level. As a result poor, Adivasi girls had to pay the price for sheer callousness and negligence of the district administration.

After living in a state of terror for nearly seven years, two girls from the North Bastar region of Chhattisgarh gathered the courage to speak up. They recall the horror of how they were pushed into prostitution by their hostel warden Anita Thakur. The girls also said that many more were abused but are scared to speak up.

“I was told I had to work with other girls, when I went into the room, madam closed the door behind me,” said one of the victims.

In 2006, a 17-year-old girl forced into a sex racket allegedly by her own hostel warden. The girl was in class seven then, the trauma forcing her to leave school, sending her into depression for three years. Today she has regained the strength to speak out.

“There were a lot of girls like me, they had given statements earlier. But now they are afraid to speak up,” said the victim.

Her father who has three other daughters says he blames himself. “I have four daughters, I just wanted them to have an education, I should never have put them in the ashram, I could not imagine this would happen,” he said.

Shockingly, the Chhattisgarh government actually gave Anita the best hostel warden award in January 2013. The Balod collector could not explain how the alleged sex racket run by Anita at the Amatola Ashram, went undetected for seven years. Balod Collector Amit Kumar Khalko said, “We had not recommended Anita Thakur’s name for any award. This incident is from 2006, I am sure there was a probe into it at that time too.”

Even the Chief Minister gave no answers. “I cannot give you any answers in this regard,” said Singh.

But the girl was not the only student exploited at the Ashram. The investigation has accessed seven affidavits, given by students of the Amatola Ashram, clearly stating how the warden forced them into a sex racket. Another victim recalls when she was just 13, she was brutalised repeatedly in 2006. “I was called into a room, the warden closed the curtains. I was raped but I could not understand what was happening, I was very young at that time. They have ruined the lives of so many girls like me. How long will this go on for,” she asks.

Activists working on the issue in Chhattisgarh are demanding justice. Activist Ranjeet Markam said, “We demand a CBI probe into the sexual assault of our children we demand justice.”

The sexual abuse and violence faced by these girls, going undetected for years, raises serious questions about Chhattisgarh’s tribal hostel program.

 

Narendra Modi’s strange bedfellows in Washington DC


March 29, 2013

Guest post by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED, kafila.org

PTI photoPTI photo

The headline on Zee News at 5:09pm today read: “America opens its gates for ‘very dynamic’ Narendra Modi.”

The Business Standard in an article posted a few minutes earlier, at 4:57pm, wrote: “After UK, now US softens stand on Modi.”
Indeed three members of the US Congress, along with a few US business leaders, did meet with the Gujarat Chief Minister today in Gujarat. But should we infer any shift in US policy towards Narendra Modi?

In short, no.

From 2009 to 2011, I worked in the US House of Representatives as a senior foreign policy aide where I often organized the overseas trips for a member of Congress. The Congressional calendar is divided broadly in two categories: days when there are votes on the House floor and recess days—which members of Congress can spend in their home districts, or at political fundraisers in other parts of the US, or in countries they deem relevant to their legislative work and/or constituents. Each of these trips have to be approved by the House, especially where public funds are used.

When a member of the US Congress travels abroad, he/she travels as an official of the United States and carries a US diplomatic passport. But does this person represent the views of the United States? Most often not.

Consider this: in June 2011, (now former) Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, made a highly controversial and criticized trip to Syria where he met with met with disgraced Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The US State Department distanced itself from Kucinich by saying that “(Kucinich) did not ask to be accompanied on his meetings, nor has he given us a debrief, nor was he carrying any administration messages.”

The State Department was, in effect, re-iterating a point that both Democratic and Republic administrations have long held: we the State Department set foreign policy, not members of the US House of Representatives.

In fact members of the US Congress do not even have to follow US policy while traveling broad. In 2009, for example, two members of the US Congress visited war torn Gaza to survey the damage caused by the US funded Israeli blockade. Their visit went against the US government’s policy of not sending any of its officials to Hamas ruled Gaza.

But here again is the point: members of Congress are free to do as they like, within the House Ethics parameters and US law, because they do not represent the ruling administration.

Let us then examine the delegation who met Modi, led by Congressman Aaron Schock (Republic-Illinois), Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis(Republican—Wyoming) and Congresswoman Cathy M Rodgers (Republican—Washington state).

If the US is signaling a change in its policy towards Modi, it would send a representative of the Obama administration—likely a State Department official—to meet with Modi, not three junior Republican members of the House of Representatives, a body that plays third fiddle in the hierarchy of US foreign policy behind the Administration and the US Senate.

The visit by the junior lawmakers should not be read for something it is not: a sign that the US government has changed its views on Modi. Ultimately if the US is to grant a visa to Modi, this policy shift would have to come from the White House itself, in accordance with a rethinking of how theInternational Religious Freedom Act of 1998 can be re-examined to permit Modi’s entry. As of yet, the White House has not given any indication of a shift in its policy.

That said, the visit and Schock and his group remains significant because it shows that more US lawmakers are willing to meet with Modi, despite the US State Department’s ban on Modi for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Schock’s visit is also interesting for another reason: it shows the strange bedfellows Modi supporters are making in the US, many of whom are far right of centre.

When Modi won a third term, it was Schock who stood up on the House Floor to praise Modi. But today Modi might not want to be seen too close to him: Schock faces a House Ethics Investigation for misuse of funds. According to his home state paper, the Chicago Tribune, a Congressional investigatory panel voted 6-0 to investigate Schock on the grounds that “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Schock violated federal law, House rules and standards of conduct.” At the heart of the issue is whether Schock solicited donations of over $5,000 for his political action committee in violation of US campaign laws.

Schock is not the only scandal prone member of Congress to support Modi. In the last Congress, the most vocal supporter of Modi was disgraced Congressman Joe Walsh (Republican—Illinois).

Walsh’s two years in Congress were marked by revelations that he owes $117,000 USD in child support. Likewise his policy positions earned him criticism from even his own support base. Walsh is skeptical of global warming, for example, and has said the science on the issue is “not definitive.” When asked about securing America’s borders, Walsh said the US should install medieval style moats with alligators at the US-Mexico border. When a Chicago mosque was shot at in August 2012 with a pellet gun, Walsh stood at a spot just 15 miles away from the mosque and said radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week.”

Last year, Walsh wrote a letter to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant Modi a visa for his work in “establishing Gujarat as the most business-friendly state in India.” He added in the letter that “(Modi) is widely believed to be a serious contender for the 2014 election for Indian Prime Minister.” (The State Department responded by saying there was no change in official US policy towards Modi.)

Supporting Walsh was the Indian Americans For Freedom, a group whose goal is “individual liberty, free enterprise, freedom from bureaucrat ‘babus.’” On the top of the website the IAFF lists its two inspirations as Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy and the website includes a collection of videos, including one entitled “Joe Walsh will always tell you the Truth. Radical Islam is a threat to All!!” One of the videos on their website makes an allegation that Tammy Duckworth, a disabled US war veteran who eventually defeated Walsh in the election, is a supporter of the US terror listed group HAMAS.

But those who think Walsh was defeated because of his support of Modi are being too generous to Modi’s opponents. It was Walsh’s own incompetence, coupled with the videos of him yelling at his own female voters, that convinced his own base to turn on him.

Indeed after Walsh’s loss, even supporters of Walsh tried to save face. Dr. Bharat Berai (who recently met with Modi as part of a Jewish delegation)said, “Walsh’s opposition was against radicals in the Islamic community. His loss in the election has nothing to do with his stand on Chief Minister Modi’s visa.”

What is fascinating about today’s meeting with Modi is that the Congressional delegation was joined by the National Indian American Public Policy Institute, a group whose founder’s page is a direct copy and paste from the Indian Americans for Freedom (IAFF). The National Indian American Public Policy Institute might be different from the IAFF, the group that accused Walsh’s challenger of being a HAMAS supporter, but from the looks of the two websites, there appears to be overlap in the organizations’ leadership.

Either way, neither of these groups seemed skilled in policy advocacy or effective messaging.

So what then does today’s meeting with Modi mean? It is too early to tell. Will other, more respected (and more ranking) members of Congress also follow suit, especially from Obama’s Democratic party? If so, then perhaps we could be witnessing a strong push on the US State Department to lift the US visa ban on Modi.

As of now, Modi’s supporter in the US have attracted mostly fringe elements of the US political establishment.

Which begs the question: if Modi’s supporters in the US want to reshape Modi’s image, why then align with a candidate like Walsh who represents all the qualities—intolerancemisogynyfiscal irresponsibility—that Modi is trying to distance himself from?

(Zahir Janmohamed is a writer in Ahmedabad. He is @ZahirJ on Twitter.)

 

FBI Pursuing Real- Time Gmail Spying Powers as “Top Priority” for 2013 #privacy


For now, law enforcement has trouble monitoring Gmail communications in real time

Image courtesy Google

Despite the pervasiveness of law enforcement surveillance of digital communication, the FBI still has a difficult time monitoring Gmail, Google Voice, and Dropbox in real time. But that may change soon, because the bureau says it has made gaining more powers to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage a “top priority” this year.

Last week, during a talk for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann discussed some of the pressing surveillance and national security issues facing the bureau. He gave a few updates on the FBI’s efforts to address what it calls the “going dark” problem—how the rise in popularity of email and social networks has stifled its ability to monitor communications as they are being transmitted. It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story.

That’s because a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks. But it doesn’t cover email, cloud services, or online chat providers like Skype. Weissmann said that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time surveillance of everything from Dropbox and online games (“the chat feature in Scrabble”) to Gmail and Google Voice. “Those communications are being used for criminal conversations,” he said.

While it is true that CALEA can only be used to compel Internet and phone providers to build in surveillance capabilities into their networks, the feds do have some existing powers to request surveillance of other services. Authorities can use a “Title III” order under the “Wiretap Act” to ask email and online chat providers furnish the government with “technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception.” However, the FBI claims this is not sufficient because mandating that providers help with “technical assistance” is not the same thing as forcing them to “effectuate” a wiretap. In 2011, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni—Weissmann’s predecessor—stated that Title III orders did not provide the bureau with an “effective lever” to “encourage providers” to set up live surveillance quickly and efficiently. In other words, the FBI believes it doesn’t have enough power under current legislation to strong-arm companies into providing real-time wiretaps of communications.

Because Gmail is sent between a user’s computer and Google’s servers using SSL encryption, for instance, the FBI can’t intercept it as it is flowing across networks and relies on the company to provide it with access. Google spokesman Chris Gaither hinted that it is already possible for the company to set up live surveillance under some circumstances. “CALEA doesn’t apply to Gmail but an order under the Wiretap Act may,” Gaither told me in an email. “At some point we may expand our transparency report to cover this topic in more depth, but until then I’m not able to provide additional information.”

Either way, the FBI is not happy with the current arrangement and is on a crusade for more surveillance authority. According to Weissmann, the bureau is working with “members of intelligence community” to craft a proposal for new Internet spy powers as “a top priority this year.” Citing security concerns, he declined to reveal any specifics. “It’s a very hard thing to talk about publicly,” he said, though acknowledged that “it’s something that there should be a public debate about.”

 

#India -129 People Jailed for Protesting Against Kalpakkam Reactor #WTFnews


29 March, 2013 — In a bid to intimidate fenceline communities living around the Kalpakkam nuclear reactors, the Tamil Nadu Police has jailed 129 people of the 650 that were detained in wedding halls yesterday. Those detained were protesting to highlight that the nuclear complex in Kalpakkam was all threat and risk to the local community with no benefits either in the form of jobs or electricity.

A peaceful protest involving more than 1000 people was broken up by the police. Nearly 650 people peacefully boarded buses to court arrest. Given the peaceful nature of the protest, and the cooperation extended by the people to the police, those detained would normally have been released by evening. However, the Police invited a magistrate to the wedding hall where 129 people were detained, and filed two separate cases against them — one case naming 27 people (mostly leaders and organisers); and another naming 102 people.

Prominent among those arrested are leaders of the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The  police has slapped the following charges against the villagers:
Section 143 IPC: Punishment for Unlawful Assembly
Section 147 IPC: Punishment for rioting
Section 148 IPC: Rioting, armed with deadly weapons
Section 158 IPC: Whoever is engaged, or hired, or offers or attempts to be hired or engaged, to do or assist in doing any of the acts specified in section 141, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.

or to go armed. or to go armed.– and whoever, being so engaged or hired as aforesaid, goes armed, or engages or offers to go armed, with any deadly weapon or with anything which used as a weapon of offence is likely to cause death, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 353 IPC: Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty.– Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person being a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant, or with intent to prevent or deter that person from discharging his duty as such public servant, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to be done by such person to the lawful discharge of his duty as such public servant, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

All above sections are to be read with Section 7(1)(A) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1953:
“with intent to cause any person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such person has a right to do or to abstain from doing, obstructs or uses violence to or intimidates such person or any member of his family or person in his employ, or loiters at or near a place where such person or member or employed person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, or persistently follows him from place to place, or interferes with any property owned or used by him or deprives him of or hinders him in the use thereof, or. . .”

 

#India -Do you know incentive and target based health services can be coercive ? #Vaw


Permanent sterilization-incentive based and target based health services: a glimpse from Rajasthan

– Leena Uppal

My elder sister in law was the one who suggested that I should go for female sterilization, if I get lucky I may win a motor cycle in the lottery….. 

The Ration Unit and Fair Price Shops in Bundi District of Rajasthan have been given instructions by the State Health Department to meet the target of at least two sterilizations before 30th March. There is also an incentive attached. The dealer s with the maximum cases will be certified and rewarded.  Targets are distributed further to the fair price dealers because the health department workers could not meet their family planning targets, which focus heavily on sterilization….. (Source: local newspaper, Rajasthan Patrika, 22.03.2013).

In a family planning camp held in a Community Health Centre (CHC) in Raipur Block of Pali district of Rajasthan on 22.03.2013, though the district collector announced various prizes including motorcycles, Colour TVs and home appliances to be distributed to ‘lottery winners’ among couples who opted for permanent sterilization as well as targets of village health providers to motivate women for sterilization; this camp did not see much of a turnover. The service providers shared that this could be because of Holi (a festival of colours in India) and during Holi people in the villages were busy.

Women present in the camp at Raipur were going under the knife without fully understanding the risks, precautions, consequences and their rights as claimants in case of failures, as nothing was explained o them or read out to them from the consent forms on which they gave their thumb impressions.

There are national guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that have a detailed description of the contents of medical history, Personal characteristics and reproductive history, menstrual history, obstetrics history, contraceptive history that is to be recorded in detail before female sterilization is done, however, this has not yet been built into the MIS system of the facilities. The only records that were maintained were the social-demographic profile and the consent form of the acceptors.

Follow up instructions, discharge cards, monitory incentive to sterilization acceptors were not given to the women before they left the facility. The families of women arranged their own transport to get back homes after the camp concluded at 3:00 pm on 22.03.2013.

Family planning should be regarded as a matter of choice and rights by both the service providers and the community. But this is not at all the case of what is being recorded and reported. While the National Population Policy has seen no place for targets, rural women continue to be seen as family planning targets and family planning camps as best models to meet these targets. This approach is problematic as there is no equal precedence given to post operative care and follow-up.

The government must audit and ensure strict compliance to the quality assurance mechanisms that have been established. There is an urgent need to understand both population issues and health service delivery within in the perspective of ‘women’s rights’ and justice, by the service provide

Dalits stopped from performing Holi puja in Haryana village #WTFnews


Holi Festival of Colors, Utah 2010 - Chalk Exp...

 

 

PTI Mar 28, 2013,TNN

ROHTAK: Schedule Caste (SC) families were stoppped from performing Holi pooja and assaulted allegedly by the members of upper caste at Jahangirpur village of Jhajjar district of Haryana. Police have started investigation into the matter but no case was registered in this regard even after two days of the incident.

The SC families have threatened to leave the village if the accused are not arrested by the police after registering a criminal case against them. A sizable number of people of Schedule Caste today met Jhajjar district police chief, Anil Dhawan, at his office and demanded registration of criminal case against the accused, alleging that they had been living in a state of trauma since the incident while the accused were roaming openly in the village.

 

 

They also urged deployment of sufficient number of police personnel at the village to avoid any untoward incident. While interacting with mediapersons here, Brahma Nand, a man belonging to SC, said they had been performing Holi pooja separately from the upper caste for several years to avoid any untoward incident during the festival. However, “the people of the upper caste not only misbehaved with women of our families by using derogatory languages but also prevented them from performing Holi pooja on Tuesday. The women and children were also manhandled when they resisted the act,” alleged Brahma Nand. Poonam, a woman, said they would have to leave the village if action was not taken against the accused in this regard.

The police authorities should ensure the safety and security of the SC families in the village, she added.

Anil Dhawan told that the case was being probed as people of upper caste also suffered injuries in the clash.

They had also met him and demanded a fair investigation into the matter.

“Statements of people of both the parties are being recorded to ascertain the facts. No one found guilty in the probe will be spared,” said the SP, adding the case would be registered after the preliminary investigation. He said police personnel were sent to the village immediately after getting the information about violence between the groups.

 

 

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