Mexico’s “Harvest of Shame” fills American tables


Click to enlargeLA Times/Don Bartletti
Half the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. come from Mexico

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers arrive year-round by the ton, with peel-off stickers proclaiming “Product of Mexico.”

Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers.

American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.

Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.

Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.

Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.

Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

The farm laborers are mostly indigenous people from Mexico’s poorest regions. Bused hundreds of miles to vast agricultural complexes, they work six days a week for the equivalent of $8 to $12 a day.

The squalid camps where they live, sometimes sleeping on scraps of cardboard on concrete floors, are operated by the same agribusinesses that employ advanced growing techniques and sanitary measures in their fields and greenhouses.

The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark.


One of ~100,000 Mexican children under 14 who pick crops…He is 9 years old.

The comparison with Edward R Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” about migrant labor on US farms in 1960 is appropriate. Some of the poor buggers in that documentary probably were the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers of folks revealed in this series of articles.

This is the kind of long-form journalism still popular outside the United States. Sometimes, I feel our Establishment deliberately encourages Americans to develop the attention span of a cricket. It would be an injustice for me to use my usual editor’s X-Acto knife on the wealth of information inside these articles. Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti are to be congratulated much for their work undercover – and cold-call walk-ins. I hope the journalism craft recognizes their work appropriately.

Please, please, RTFA. There’s a link above to this the first in the series.

Here are the links to:

Part 2: A raid exposes brutal conditions at Bioparques, one of Mexico’s biggest tomato exporters, which was a Wal-Mart supplier. But the effort to hold the grower accountable is looking more like a tale of impunity.

Part 3: The company store is supposed to be a lifeline for migrant farm laborers. But inflated prices drive people deep into debt. Many go home penniless, obliged to work off their debts at the next harvest.

Part 4: About 100,000 children under 14 pick crops for pay at small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, where child labor is illegal. Some of the produce they harvest reaches American consumers, helping to power an export boom.

Thanks, Mike

Kudos for finding us one of the best pieces of American journalism in quite a while

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Pic of the Day


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Toby Melville

One of Reuters’ environment pictures of the year. A graveyard is seen underwater in the village of Moorland in south west England, February 7, 2014.

But, don’t worry. Dick Cheney says climate change isn’t anymore likely to occur than the United States torturing people.

Cartoon of the Day


Click to enlarge

One of the few times John McCain displays integrity is about torture. With good reason, of course. Wish he could find the same experience somewhere in his gold-plated heart to find solidarity with people who work for a living.

As for his criminal peers in the CIA, retired pricks like Bush and Cheney – these are the kind of evil thugs who would have willinglky sold out the American Revolution for a guaranteed spot in the Colonial government.

Especially if the Brits had discovered oil that early.

App turns iPhones, Android phones into burner phones

Despite what you might think from watching “Law and Order,” it’s not only crooks who want disposable phone numbers.

There are all kinds of reasons people don’t want to give out their number, in part accounting for the popularity of cheap cellphones, often called “burners.”

But it’s not really the cellphone most people want to replace. It’s just the number.

So one startup has built its business around letting people use their cellphone with multiple “burner” phone numbers.

Ad Hoc labs, a nine-person, Los Angeles-based startup, created Burner, an iOS and Android app that lets people get one or more temporary numbers. The app is free to download, but customers pay for more than a minimal amount of use or for more than one burner number.

And it’s built a pretty good business, with Burner frequently ranking near the top of the best-grossing apps in the utilities section of Apple’s App Store…

Soon, the company is adding a few new tricks, most notably the ability to send picture and video messages. Prior versions could make calls and send text messages, but not handle multimedia messages…

Burner is also extending its usual free trial period, giving new iOS users a year of limited use. It’s not giving a ton of minutes or texts for free, but CEO Greg Cohn said it is enough for casual use and for a more serious user to see the value of the paid service.

Now – could you use something like this?

I don’t need anything like this – right now. But, there have been occasions in my past when having a disposable, untraceable phone number was handy. Sure, snoops with legal power can eventually trace when and where the number was used. They can subpoena the carrier. Useful to an extent – and slow.

This still sounds like something that would piss off the FBI, maybe lazy local police departments, maybe even the NSA. Reason enough for me to post this wee article.

Death from malaria has been diminished by half

Global efforts have halved the number of people dying from malaria – a tremendous achievement, the World Health Organization says…It says between 2001 and 2013, 4.3 million deaths were averted, 3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa.

Each year, more people are being reached with life-saving malaria interventions, the WHO says.

In 2004, 3% of those at risk had access to mosquito nets, but now 50% do.

There has been a scaling up of diagnostic testing, and more people now are able to receive medicines to treat the parasitic infection, which is spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes.

An increasing number of countries are moving towards malaria elimination.

In 2013, two countries – Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka – reported zero indigenous cases for the first time, and 11 others (Argentina, Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Oman, Paraguay, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) succeeded in maintaining zero cases.

In Africa, where 90% of all malaria deaths occur, infections have decreased significantly.

Here, the number of people infected has fallen by a quarter – from 173 million in 2000 to 128 million in 2013. This is despite a 43% increase in the African population living in malaria transmission areas.

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan said: “These tremendous achievements are the result of improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing.”

But she added: “We must not be complacent. Most malaria-endemic countries are still far from achieving universal coverage with life-saving malaria interventions.”

Based on current trends, 64 countries are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of reversing the incidence of malaria by the end of this year.

One portion of my personal efforts to get Americans to think beyond their family, their community, is the larger community that is our world. Just as we are affected by the loss of young people who may have grown up in the poverty and illness afflicting life that we see around us – there is an even larger community outside the comparative wealth of this nation that fights the same negatives to stay alive – times 10 or 100.

As a species we all lose every time we suffer a young death from disease or war. Someone who might have grown up to discover a way to a better, longer life for us all – never had a chance to achieve any contribution to humanity. We’re all moved to a new place of potential achievement by the simple opportunity of life extended to those who would have missed that chance a decade ago, a century ago.

We have to realize the human family really is a global family.

Researchers set new record in solar energy efficiency

UNSW’s solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

The world-beating efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States…

“We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry,” said Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project.

The 40% efficiency milestone is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers spanning four decades. These include the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20% efficiency in 1989, with the new result doubling this performance.

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia,” Professor Martin Green said…

A key part of the prototype’s design is the use of a custom optical bandpass filter to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells on towers and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could.

Such filters reflect particular wavelengths of light while transmitting others.

When the whole paper is published we will see and hear a lot more about the process. Proof-of-concept is already established. Prototype and pilot plant demonstrations are next.

And, then, if all continues apace, we start to be able to acquire greater output with fewer dollars invested in solar power. Hopefully, at the individual home level as well as commercial solar farms.

Thanks, Mike

China holds a Memorial Day for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre


Click for the story

If there is anything I truly hate it is war.

I’ve experienced some small participation in wars. I have had dear friends more directly affected over longer periods. Now gone. One who survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – made it through the sewers of Warsaw, through the countryside eventually to the Soviet Union. After healing physically, she went back to Poland to fight in the underground against the Germans.

I asked her once why she kept her Polish name from the Underground instead of returning to her Jewish family name. She told me that all of that life died with her husband and her daughters in a German death camp. Who she became after that was a different person.

My closest friend most of my life was the most decorated soldier in WW2 from our home state in New England. He was awarded every medal except the Congressional Medal of Honor and he was nominated for that. Surviving injuries at the Battle of the Bulge he was severely wounded at the liberation of the Buchenwald Death Camp – and had sixteen months in a veterans’ hospital to reflect upon how he got there.

They’re both gone, now. Someone like me has to remember.

It doesn’t matter where or when my thoughts are stirred to recall. I’ve written about Nanjing before; but, tonight I happened to switch over to CCTV America just as the ceremonies at the Memorial Site in Nanjing were wrapping up.

I sat and watched the last half-hour of the live telecast. I cried some for 300,000 civilians slaughtered by Japanese soldiers over a few weeks starting on December 13, 1937. I won’t forget Nanjing. China won’t forget Nanjing.

Feds won’t stop Native Americans from growing, selling pot on tribal land

Opening the door for what could be a lucrative and controversial new industry on some Native American reservations, the Justice Department on Thursday will tell U.S. attorneys to not prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on the sovereign lands, even in states that ban the practice.

The new guidance, released in a memorandum, will be implemented on a case-by-case basis and tribes must still follow federal guidelines, said Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota and the chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues…

The policy comes on the heels of the 2013 Justice Department decision to stop most federal marijuana prosecutions in states that have legalized the possession or sale of pot. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have all moved to legalize the drug, though the D.C. law may be scaled back by Congress.

Some tribes see marijuana sales as a potential source of revenue, similar to cigarette sales and casino gambling, which have brought a financial boon to reservations across the country. Others, including the Yakama Reservation in Washington state, remain strongly opposed to the sale or use of marijuana on their lands…

Even though Indian nations are recognized as sovereign, Anglo governments, white folks in general have such a long history of telling First Nation folks how to run their lives – there is no doubt that states still backwards enough to have restrictive laws on marijuana will try to continue that restriction on crops and sales on tribal lands.

From my perspective in a so-called tricultural state like New Mexico? Hey, it serves more good than selling fireworks. I have neighbors who make the short trek to the nearest Pueblo on the weekend to fill-up their pickup on cheaper gasoline. I imagine there will be folks doing the same in some states to stockup on weed.

Just watch out for The Man on the way home.

Thanks, Mike