Flotsam & Jetsam
Everyone Loves Children — Well, Almost Everyone. Sanctioning the Deaths of Children. French Fried over McFattened Kids. Priming the Political Pumps. Don't Trade on Us, and much more…
November 22, 2002

Peace activists Gen Morita, Yumi Kikuchi and their youngsters. Credit: Gar Smith / The-Edge
Everyone Loves Children — Well, Almost Everyone
EARTH — The 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the world’s most widely endorsed human rights treaty. Most Americans, however, are unfamiliar with the law.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan summarized the goals of the CRC as follows: “to protect children and to diminish their suffering; to promote the fullest development of their human potential and to make the aware of their needs, their rights and to opportunities.”

The hope of the CRC’s signatories was that world leaders “would always put the best interests of children first — in good times or bad, in peace or in war, in prosperity or economic distress.”

Only two countries stand alone in their refusal to ratify the CRC — Somalia and the United States of America.

Sanctioning the Deaths of Children
EARTH — In May 2002, 60 heads of state and 1,800 delegates met at United Nations headquarters in New York City to assess the world’s progress in meeting the seven goals of the CRC. The face that looked out at the delegates during the meeting from posters and banners that lined First Avenue was that of a young Kurdish refugee girl from Iraq.

In an article in Z Magazine, Claudia Lefko noted the irony of choosing an Iraqi girl as the “poster child” for the conference. “The United Nations, the organization that focused the world’s attention on children… is the very one enforcing a brutal sanctions policy that is, by its own estimates, resulting in the deaths of 5,000 children under the age of five every month. More than a half a million children have died over the last decade. And using its influence to ensure that sanctions remain in place, is the United States.”

In 1990, before the Gulf War the mortality for children under the age of five in Iraq was 50 per 1,000 children. By 2000, the number had nearly tripled to 130 deaths per 1,000. No country on Earth has suffered a greater decline in children’s well being than Iraq. According to UNICEF’s figures, in the single decade following the Gulf War, the well being of Iraqi children has plummeted by 160 percent.

Paragraph 41, xxvii of the outcome document from the UN Special Session on Children commits the UN and world leaders to assess “the impact of sanctions on children and take urgent and effective measures in accordance with international law with a view to alleviating the negative impact of economic sanctions on women and children.”

“We have well-documented evidence that children in Iraq are suffering and dying by the hundreds every day… to warrant action,” Lefko writes. “We cannot have another war in that country. Everyone — children, parents, grandparents — has suffered more than enough.”

It All Comes Out in the Wash
INDIA — For the past 107 years, the residents of Mumbai (Bombay) have celebrated the festival of anantha chathurdashi by crafting huge statues of the elephant god Ganesh and parading them through the city’s streets. Eventually the elaborate statues are dragged to the seashore and thrown into the ocean.

The ancient ritual may be ending, however. Environmentalists have observed that the annual immersions are usually followed by massive die-offs of fish whose asphyxiated bodies wash ashore. The problem is caused when the chrome and paint used to adorn the surface of the plaster of Paris statues washes off into the water.

The solution? Instead of tossing the massive idols into the sea, celebrants are being encouraged to build reusable Ganesh statues that can be buried in the ground.

French Fried over McFattened Kids
FRANCE — The US headquarters of the globe-girdling McDonald’s empire was sent into a snit recently after McDonald’s France ran a full-page ad in Femme Actuelle magazine that asked the question, “McDonald’s — is it causing obesity in children?”

In the past ten years, French parents have looked on in horror as 16 percent of les petits have ballooned into shapes that could best be described as trés gros. After consulting with a team of independent nutritionists, the French branch of McDs issued a caveat that parents should only expose their little ones to fast-food binges “once a week” and, one nutritionist added, they should avoid deep-fried Chicken McNuggets altogether.

McD’s Chicago office issued an indignant declaration that the “strongly disagreed” with their French frères. Chicago insisted that Happy Meals are “considered an ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ source of more than nine nutrients by the FDA.” Moreover, “McDonald’s food can be and is part of a healthy diet.” (This ringing endorsement of cheeseburgers as health food, however, carried a critical qualification. Fast food wouldn’t harm you as long as you also practiced “sound nutrition principles of balance, variety and moderation.”)

Priming the Political Pumps
INDIA — According to a recent exposé in the Indian magazine The Week, political patronage in India frequently comes in the form of a gas pump. After the BJP party ascended to power, it quietly handed out thousands of kerosene dealerships, gas station licenses and LPG distributorships to financial contributors, party favorites, family members and friends.

Among the 3,358 individuals blessed with contracts to run these profitable state-run energy operations were the daughter of the governor of Himachal Pradesh, the nephew of a BJP minister, the wife of a party chief in Punjab, and the sister-in-law of a Tribal Affairs Minister.

When the press got wind of the contracts (and the “black money premiums” reportedly paid to secure some of the contracts), one BJP supporter explained that “Congress always rewarded its people in this way” and insisted that the petrol pump allotments were “one of the legitimate spoils of electoral victory.” Nonetheless, under mounting public pressure, BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been forced to cancel thousands of the suspect dealerships.

Don’t Trade on Us
US — In an unguarded moment during trade discussions with members of the European Union, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick warned the Council of Foreign Relations against any attempts to include environmental protections in global “free-trade” negotiations.

“If Europe keeps pushing thins in the environmental area,” Zoellick fumed, “we’re not going to be able to move forward on this thing.” The EU delegates had wanted to clarify how multilateral environment agreement would be handled under the World Trade Organization. “If it were only a European view, I would say environment should trump trade rules,” EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy confided.

Dear Pentagon: Bombing Pollutes for Generations
UNITED NATIONS — The 1999 NATO bombing of factories and industrial sites in Yugoslavia has created lasting environmental damage and damaging health effects according to a report released by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. The AP notes that the revelations raise serious questions about attacking targets “in possible future conflicts such as Iraq.”

“Precision targeting may be intended to minimize civilian damage, but the choice of targets may still violate the international laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions,” states lawyer and report co-author Nicole Deller.

Sriram Gopal, a scientist and the report’s main author stated that the NATO bombings “released large quantities of contaminants such as mercury” in addition to petrochemical smoke, polychlorinated biphenyls and dichloroethane. “Collateral damage” can no longer be measured just in terms of civilian casualties, Gopal observed. It is essential to pay attention to “long-term harm to the environment.”

“It is essential not to succumb to the idea that the damage on the ground is also precise and limited,” the IEER concluded. “The health and environmental consequences of ‘precision bombing’ can affect unborn generations far into the future.” IEER also warned that these concerns “should not be dismissed out of hand because countries are ruled by ruthless dictators.”

The KAZ: An Electric-powered ‘Muscle Car’
JAPAN — Researchers from Keio University and the Japan Science and Technology Corporation have built a 600-horsepower electric vehicle that reached a top-speed of 193 mph (311 kph) during a weeklong test drive in Italy.

The Keio Advanced Zero-Emission (KAZ) vehicle runs on 16 wheels and 84 lithium-ion batteries. The $4 million KAZ, which was designed by Italy’s IDEA Institute, can run 186 miles (300 km) on a single charge.

A breathless Keio University Professor Hiroshi Shimizu told Electric Vehicle Today [http://eintoday.com] that when the KAZ hit its top speed, “it was so fast that our photographer couldn’t take the picture.”

The KAZ is being developed to serve as a bus, a truck or a passenger car. Toyota, Nissan and DaimlerChrysler have all expressed interest.

Water baron Kailash Soni surveys his liquid assests — India's Sheonath River. Credit: Jitender Gupta / Outlook
Buy Me a River
INDIA — Water privatization reached a new level this summer when Indian entrepreneur Kailash Soni succeeded in “buying” a 23.6 km stretch of the Sheonath River. Soni’s Radius Water Limited is poised to make millions by guaranteeing neighboring industries of “a constant water supply.”

But, as India’s Outlook magazine notes, not everyone is pleased. Villagers living along the Sheonath have used the river as a commons for thousands of years. “Now the farmers and fishermen can only access the river at Soni’s pleasure. A fact the villagers find hard to understand.”

Activist and Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh insists that “water is a natural resource, a community resource and not a tradable commodity.” But with India’s water tables falling three feet each year, Singh says, “Water now sells at the rate of milk.”

Thanks to Soni’s chutzpah, the water privatization dam has burst and a flood of new water-baron wannabees is now clamoring to seize rivers in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The US multinational Bechtel (whose privatization schemes in Bolivia triggered a string of deadly riots) is now trying sink its pipes into India’s water resources.

We’ve Been Down that Road Before
MEXICO — President Vicente Fox plans to impose a massive energy/tourism complex in a region occupied by Maya Indians with the assistance of a $4 billion pledge from Washington’s Inter-American Development Bank. The only problem is no one bothered to consult the local residents who are supposed to “benefit” from the Puebla-Panama project.

On the 510th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas, indigenous demonstrators rose in rebellion across Mexico and Central America. In Mexico, 1,000 Maya Indians protested the Puebla-Panama plan by barricading the Pan-American Highway. “They want to build six-lane highways,” one native farmer told Reuters. “They will destroy our lands and make us poorer.”

In Chiapas, masked Zapatista sympathizers blocked roads and demanded that the army leave their territory. In Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua, indigenous people protested a US-backed free-trade pact with demonstrations outside offices of the World Bank and IADB. In El Salvador, thousands of poor farmers, laborers and students closed major transit routes.

In Guatemala, where hundreds of stranded truckers pounded their horns, peasant leader Felix Mendez responded by picking up a bullhorn. “You only have to wait a couple of hours,” Mendez told the truckers, “We’ve been suffering for hundreds of years.”

Himal Outrage: Coke and Pepsi on the Rocks
INDIA — In one of the worst public relations disasters on record, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and several other soda companies found themselves hauled into court and hit with heavy fines for painting 140 ads on a series of million-year-old sacred rocks high in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu-Manali Rohtang pass.

Readers across India were scandalized in mid-August when the Sunday Express ran a series of stories on “The Rape of the Rock” that showed photos of the sacred rocks defaced with commercial ads. The Express revealed that there were, on average, “four to five ads painted on the rocks for every 1 km.”

“These mountain facades have a huge ecosystem,” Punjab University Geology Professor Ashok Sahni explained. “There is moss that grows on these rocks, then there are innumerable species of microorganism. All that is completely destroyed when the rock surface is painted.” Sahni insisted that “citizens have the right to access nature without this kind of pollution. The rock surface here has geological evidence dating back to 45 million years.”

The cola companies’ hirelings compounded the problem by trying to erase the damning evidence by painting over the incriminating ads and, in several cases, trying to remove the embarrassing ads by taking saws to the ancient rocks. A government inspection team determined that 48 protected sites had been damaged “irreversibly.”

After a panel from India’s Supreme Court visited the site, the two US-based multinational beverage giants were ordered to pay 50 million rupees ($1,037,344). The Himachal Pradesh government was also fined 10 million rupees for giving Coke and Pepsi permission to use the monuments as billboards. With evident self-satisfaction, The Indian Express pronounced the ruling “one of the speediest decisions taken by the Supreme Court on an environmental issue.”

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