The Politics of Asbestos: Banned in EU, But Not China, Russia, Brazil or US

Deadly Asbestos

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the international asbestos industry and its aggressive penetration of developing countries following the EU’s decision to ban it in 1998. The first study linking asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma was published in 1964. Asbestos also causes a chronic (eventually fatal) lung condition known as asbestosis. Sadly, as with smoking and lead poisoning, it took decades of sustained organizing to get western governments to acknowledge the fatal health consequences of asbestos exposure. The US enacted a “partial ban” on asbestos in 1989.*

Because mesothelioma can result from a brief single exposure to asbestos fibers, EPA rules regarding asbestos removal from old buildings are far more stringent. In fact, an entire industry has evolved around asbestos removal.**

The filmmakers focus primarily on the Belgian asbestos manufacturer Etex-Eternit (aka Everest) and its expansion into India in the 1990s. India has been a primary industry target of the industry, owing to its lax regulation of asbestos manufacture, use and disposal.

Asbestos sheets are sold widely in India for use as walls and roofs in makeshift shacks. Over 100,000 Indians develop asbestosis annually.

India has more than 50 asbestos manufacturing plants. Filmmakers visit an asbestos factory Everest built in 1995 and sold to an Indian family in 2002. In addition to filming a 600,000 square meter asbestos waste dump, they also visit a makeshift clinic treating thousands of local residents for asbestos-related problems. They also talk with Indian lawyers and activists who are bringing a lawsuit against Everest in Belgium.

The film concludes by looking at World Health Organization efforts to institute a global ban on asbestos. Brazil, China, and Russia, which still mine asbestos, continue to vociferously block the ban.

Last year, the Trump EPA approved new rules that soften regulations against asbestos use in the US.  In response, one Russian asbestos manufacturer now proudly displays features Trump’s image on all their products.


* History of EPA asbestos regulation

  • 1989 Partial Ban on the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of some asbestos-containing products. EPA also banned new uses of asbestos which prevent new asbestos products from entering the marketplace after August 25, 1989. These uses remain banned. The April 2019 final rule does not provide a way for these uses to return to the marketplace.
  • April 2019 Final Rule to ensure that asbestos products that are no longer on the market cannot return to commerce without the Agency evaluating them and putting in place any necessary restrictions or prohibiting use. The uses covered under this rule were not already prohibited under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and could have returned to the market at any time.
  • Risk evaluation of asbestos under TSCA. EPA is reviewing a handful of very limited, still ongoing uses of asbestos. The evaluation of the risks associated with ongoing uses of asbestos is required under TSCA section 6. If EPA finds unreasonable risk, the Agency will take prompt action to address those risks.

** See https://www.epa.gov/asbestos

 

 

 

Why Germany Resists the Transition to Electric Vehicles

Running on Empty: Will Germany’s Car Industry Survive?

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the resistance of Germany’s government and auto industry to the transition to electric vehicles.

Germany car industry, the world’s largest, contributes 2% to global carbon emissions. Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, their government pledged to produce one million electric vehicles by next year. Without a single major electric vehicle manufacturer, clearly they won’t meet this goal.

The filmmakers contrast Germany with Norway, where 77% of new vehicles are electric. And China, which will ban the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles after 2027.

Due its failure to transition to electric vehicles (EVs), industry analysts predict the German car industry has only a 50-50 chance of surviving. Many key auto designers are emigrating to other countries where they can work on developing EVs. Moreover without a domestic EV market, environmentally conscious drivers will buy imported EVs instead of Germany’s old fashioned gas guzzlers.

 

Al Jazeera’s Take on China

The China Complex: The Big Picture – Part 1

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This two-part documentary traces historical and cultural linkages to China’s current authoritarian style of government. It features commentary by a range of Chinese experts on whether China’s policy of “stability at all costs” is good or bad for the Chinese economy and people.

In my view the series’s key weakness of is its failure to examine the dilemma China faces in suppressing violent dissent (eg the Tibetan, Uygher and Hong Kong separatist movements) that is aided and abetted by foreign powers (mainly the CIA). There is a vague mention at the end of Part 2 about the foreign powers behind the Hong Kong protests putting China in a “lose-lose” situation (ie they potentially lose political control if they do nothing vs losing face internationally if they crack down on violent protestors).

The second major weakness is the documentary’s failure to explore the role of China’s unique monetary system in its unprecedented economic growth. At present it’s the only global power in which the government issues most of the nation’s money by spending it directly into the economy (aka sovereign money). In other countries, private banks create the vast majority of money in circulation when they issue loans.*

The most pro-China of the commentators attributes China’s economic miracle to their “stability at all cost” (ie repression of dissidents and “hooligans”). I don’t believe this is true. Freedom from the massive public and private debt that plague most industrialized nations has made for much more rapid (public and private) infrastructure development in China.

Aside from these weaknesses, the documentary provides valuable insight into Chinese history and culture, topics rarely taught in western schools. Part 1 covers the period from the inauguration of dynastic rule by Yu the Great in 2070 BC to the 1989 Tienanmen Square protest. Most westerners are unaware that China was a major international power from the 4th – 18th century AD, with a vast trading empire and cultural influence extending well beyond its borders. Its subjects enjoyed prosperity equal to that to that of Europe prior to their colonization by England and other European power.


*In the US, UK and New Zealand, for example, government only creates 2-3% of money in circulation. 97-98% is created out of thin air (as credit) when banks issue loans. Even governments borrow from banks to pay for spending that exceeds tax revenue (the main source of government debt). See The Battle for Public Control of Money

 

The E-Waste Scandal and Modern Economic Colonialism

Electronics Recycling: The Global Challenge

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

Electronics Recycling is about the latest version of economic colonialism – paying third world countries to dispose of toxic first world products. At present the industrial North pays for third world workers to risk a myriad of toxic exposures to recycle discarded cellphones, computers, printers and other electronic devices.

Theoretically it’s illegal under the UN Basel Convention (1989) to ship e-waste to international destinations. Sadly there’s no way to enforce the ban. Many first world recyclers exploit a loophole that permits international shipping of operational devices for secondhand use. Many don’t work though. In 2016, 19% of electronic devices shipped to Lagos (Nigeria) were defunct.

Many third world countries are reluctant to ban e-waste altogether due to the livelihood it provides approximately 15 million informal e-waste workers. Instead they advocate for laws setting high enough e-waste charges to enable “informal” workers to go professional and adopt processes that enable them to recycle dangerous components without endangering their health.

China, Japan and Korea all have excellent laws (and training programs) to this end.

The filmmakers would like to see more industrialized countries pass laws similar to the EU regulation making manufacturers (instead of taxpayers) responsible for recycling discarded electronic devices. They would also like to see more first world consumers resist the compulsion to upgrade to a new cellphone every year.

 

Al Jazeera vs Blackwater Founder Erik Prince

Erik Prince Acknowledges 2016 Trump Tower Meeting for First Time

Al Jazeera (2019)

Interview

This is a most revealing interview/debate in which Al Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan confronts Blackwater founder Erik Prince over his current proposal to replace 50,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan with 8,000 private military contractors – from Prince’s Hong Kong-based company Frontier Services Group.

In response to highly specific confrontations concerning Blackwater’s fraudulent billing and war crimes, Prince literally oozes sociopathy. In addition to blaming the US State Department for Blackwater’s well-documented war crimes, he blames a Blackwater contractor’s 2018 murder conviction on a Washington DC jury (DC has a majority Black population).

In 2012, Blackwater paid a $7.5 million settlement to resolve other criminal charges, including billing fraud

Prince has compared his proposed Afghanistan project to the notorious British East Indian Company that colonized India and Southeast Asia. When reminded that Ashraf Ghani, the current president of Afghanistan, opposes his proposal, Prince smugly assures Hasan that Ghani faces defeat at the next election.

When asked about his current contract with China’s government to build a training camp in Xinjiang (to help Beijing crack down on minority Uighers), Prince asserts his company is merely providing construction services and security training for overseas-bound Chinese officials. A recent article in the Guardian suggests otherwise: Blackwater’s Erik Prince to Build China Training Camp

Hasan also asks Prince about lying to the US Congressional Intelligence Committee about his involvement in a 2016 Trump campaign meeting with a Russian oligarch. Prince admits to the meeting but denies lying about it. When Hasan confronts him with the hearing transcript, Prince contends the transcriber got it wrong.

The interview can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at the Al Jazeera website: Erik Prince Acknowledges Trump Tower Meeting For First Time

 

Hidden History: The US Wars Against Japan, Korea and Vietnam

The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia

By James Bradley

Back Bay Books (2015)

Book Review

This book details numerous myths about the origin of the US wars against Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Bradley begins by revealing how the Roosevelt administration was hoodwinked by the overt fascist Chiang Kai-Shek and Christian missionaries into believing China was ripe for wholesale conversion to Christianity and US-style capitalism. Deceived by Chiang’s promises to wage war against Japan,  Roosevelt poured billions into the civil war Chiang was waging with Mao Se Tung. FDR also created an illegal covert mercenary Air Force for Chiang, a major motivator in the Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbor.

Had FDR listened to advisors who understood the strong support Mao enjoyed from China’s rural peasants, he never would have supported Chiang – or been forced to open a second front (against Japan) the US was totally unprepared for.

In addition to his greater popularity and military strength, Mao was also genuinely interested in establishing a trade relationship with the US.

According to Bradley, the civil war Mao won in 1949 was actually a war of liberation from European colonial powers, just like Kim Sung Il’s war of liberation in Korea and Ho Chi Minh’s war of liberation in Vietnam. Owing to the total ignorance of Asian society and culture, advisors in the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administration mistakenly viewed these wars of independence as part of a global communist conspiracy and military aggression the only possible response.

The China Mirage traces the  history of each of these conflicts (Japan, China, Korea and Vietnam) in a clear and compelling way, starting with the massive fortune Roosevelt’s grandfather amassed via the opium smuggling the US and UK forced on China via two opium wars.

For me the most interesting part of the book concerns the US oil/steel embargo that supposedly triggered the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. According to Bradley, Roosevelt opposed the embargo. It was surreptitiously enacted by members of his administration while he was at a secret meeting in Canada with Winston Churchill.

Hidden History: Exposing the Roots of the Korean Conflict

Imposed Divide: Exposing the Roots of the Korean Conflict

RT (2018)

Film Review

This documentary dispels many myths promoted by Western media about the real purpose of US sanctions against North Korea. Predictably the real purpose of North Korean sanctions isn’t to end the North’s nuclear program but, as in Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Syria etc., to cause sufficient civilian misery to bring about regime change – either through popular uprising or a military coup.

The film begins by describing Korea’s historical division along the 38th parallel. During World War II, the entire Korean peninsula was occupied by Japan. When the latter surrendered on August 14, 1945, Soviet troops accepted their surrender north of the parallel and US troops in the South.

While Soviet troops withdrew, US troops continued its occupation of South Korea,  installing a series of puppet dictators to brutally suppress any dissent through surveillance, arrest, torture and assassination. Under US pressure, in 1948 the UN issued a declaration of two separate states – the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea in the south.

In 1950, North Korea attempted to reunify Korea by invading and “liberating.” the south. They were welcomed and supported by resistance fighters opposed to US occupation. With the help of UN forces, by 1953 the Americans drove North Korean troops north of the 38th parallel. They abandoned their plan to invade the North when Communist Chinese troops entered the Korean War on the side of the North Vietnamese. Instead the US unleashed a massive carpet bombing campaign that destroyed all major North Korean towns and killed 20% of their population.

After a July 1953 truce restored the original North/South boundary, the US maintained a permanent military presence (ie occupation)* in South Korea. A growing number of South Korean civilians have joined the movement protesting continued US occupation. South Korea’s National Security Act, which criminalizes praise of North Korea, criticism of the US and all human rights campaigns and protests, is equally unpopular.

This documentary also explodes Western myths about the origin of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The latter was the North’s response to a 1958 US decision to install tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. They were removed in 1991 as part of President Bush Senior’s decision to eliminate America’s total arsenal of short range nuclear weapons.

In 1994 President Clinton signed an agreement to build North Korea a light water nuclear reactor in return for their commitment to end their nuclear weapons program. His Republican congress refused to ratify the treaty.