Hidden Data, Racist Assumptions, False Claims, Payola - Huffington Post Believes NGO Malarky

BAN Attempts to Conceal Hong Kong locations
Another journalist appears as "collateral damage". Basel Action Network's snowballing racist depictions of African Geek hubs as "Primitive Orphan Shantytown" and Hong Kong Technicians as "Rice Paddy Child Laborers" caught another well meaning reporter.

BAN's sly, seductive "white savior" siren actually succeeded in getting Huffington Post to directly link to a petition to POTUS Barack Obama to create an executive order banning us from trading with emerging markets, where people buy and fix repairable electronics.

It was a classic bait and switch. BAN shows a port, then doesn't show ANYTHING positive about the country.  They take the reporters to a hand picked operation which looks a little ugly, and most importantly, has foreign-looking people doing hand disassembly.  The juxtaposition of brown faces and old tech strums their guilty banjo tune.

Photos posted in June by Huffington Post Tech Editor Damon Beres are a little unclear, however, in how the depict the actual locations in Hong Kong which actually received the material.  Many of the actual GPS locations have been obscured by BAN.  The Huffington Post photos definitely show brown people and definitely show old tech gadgets being recycled "by hand"... and typically of the caring, liberal journalists BAN targets, Beres seems outraged enough not to seek the standard second opinion which makes for standard journalism.  No one who imports or works on stuff is interviewed to defend themselves, or to offer photojournalists a tour inside some of the ACTUAL savvy, sexy, bright and good-news operations that splendidly demonstrate the best recycling waste hierarchy.  Upgrade.  Reduce, Reuse, Repair.

Beres declares BAN's thesis somewhat factishly:
Currently, a legal loophole allows organizations used by the government to export electronic waste ― like discarded smartphones, computers, televisions and monitors ― to other countries, where they’re dismantled by workers in unsafe conditions.
There is nothing in the article indicating any investigation of the claim.  There's no interview with any counterpoint, and certainly no interview with the importing company in Hong Kong.  I have previously called out MIT Sensability Lab for lending MIT's gravitas to the small NGO in Seattle. We showed Beres a response from MIT claiming NO data and NO knowledge of ANY claim made by BAN - about child labor, rice paddies, primitives, illegality, etc. - whatsoever.

Folks at Michigan State, MIT Senseability Lab, Blacksmith Institute, etc. take BAN's thesis and describe it, and BAN sends those to reporters as if it's peer reviewed research.  Google 80% waste export figure.  Complete and utter fiction, reported for 10 years based on a shell game of credible names repeating a number that doesn't exist.

What also bugs me is that even the "worst" photos just show manual disassembly by non-white people.  Like the photos of guys with hammers separating aluminum from copper in Agbogbloshie, it seems to represent prima facia evidence that something is wrong when brown people separate metals. That's a racist appeal to the thesis, in my book.  What are they disassembling - Hong Kong stuff or imported stuff?  What percentages of each? How much is there, is it a significant percentage of the "crisis"?  Does 2 tons per day of printers really show a world crisis?  My plant in Middlebury Vermont manages  more stuff than is shown in Hong Kong.

But the damage is done by implicit racist association of brown skin and "toxic" electronics.  The same electronics in your kids bedroom are made to seem exotic and poisonous, and all the more so to people who know nothing about technology.  That's the frustration with Damon Beres - as Tech Editor, he should really know better than to accept "ju ju" depictions of risks of manual disassembly.

Can you guess the country, nationality, and "e-waste" fate from the photo to the left?  Compare it to the photo in Beres' June Huffington Post article.  Which is OECD?  Who is Primitive?  Where's the "child labor" claimed by NGO?

NOW HEAR THIS.  I have obtained data OBSCURED by MIT or BAN in the Hong Kong printer scrap shipments!  BAN has made a vague statement that the data points  were obscured to somehow assist enforcement... but then trashed Hong Kong Environmental Department a month later for somehow allowing a location to become the "next" Agbogbloshie or Guiyu.

The "bait and switch" was done on Carlo Ratti and Damon Beres.  I would hope the days are numbered when BAN can declare a place with 7 million people, like Hong Kong, as a port of receipt and then obscure the coordinates and hand-pick which operation they bring the photojournalist to.  Tema isn't Agbogbloshie.  Hong Kong isn't Guiyu.  And Eco Park isn't what BAN brought the camers to.

BAN has obscured data, implying that the data tracks their e-waste to the "primitive" facility shown in the Huffington Post photos.  BUT I HAVE DATA SHOWING LOADS THEY TRACK ARRIVING AT ECOPARK!  This data comes from inside sources at BAN's Seattle HQ and was NOT provided by MIT Sensable City Lab through our request for MIT's data (Carlo Ratti claims not to have the data we used to track the load to the Eco Park).

BERES and Huffington Post do have photos of a printer scrapyard.  Perhaps some printers did wind up there.  BUT WE HAVE DATA showing that SOME of the loads were tracked to the STATE OF THE ART FACILITY at Hong Kong's Eco Park, and that THOSE data points have been obscured by BAN and/or MIT!  As has the financial arrangement with the Recycling Company which funded BAN and whose loads were NOT TRACKED.

Some of the data that was obscured last month on BAN's claim that "enforcement" was required is now accessible on the MoniTour application.  The screenshot below shows an LCD arriving at the permitted, state of the art ECO PARK, and then to an inner city location Tuen Mun, as described in our June blog.  Why that data was ever obscured is now subject to some serious questions.


Is BAN partially funded by a competitor of one of the licensed facilities at the Eco Park? Definitely, that is known, and the same competitor is also now disclosed as a funder of PBS.  Did that influence the reporter?  Probably not, but the purpose of bringing the reporter to the ugliest place possible is clear.  Equally clear is the obligation of the reporter to ask someone else where ELSE the "e-waste" might have gone in Hong Kong, and to ask why BAN obscured that data for 2 months.

From the Eco Park, this LCD can be tracked to an apartment in Fui Sha Wai in Hong Kong New Territories.  Hardly "cowboy land".  And export for repair is NOT "e-waste" or illegal under the Basel Convention (nor is recycling).  Where else DIDN'T Basel Action Network take journalists?  THAT is the pattern - not taking CBS 60 Minutes to the SKD Factories in Foshan (where the monitors they circle by helicopter went), and not taking PBS to Accra's Tech Sector shops like Chendiba Enterprises.   This is the pattern.

This is potentially criminal behavior, and should certainly give pause to Huffington Post decision to provide links to the petition.  I absolutely believe that this shows BAN has purposefully obscured GPS data showing scrap arriving at this Hong Kong R2 Certified recycler, which has import permits and contracts with original equipment manufacturers to provide recycled plastic content for new electronics being manufactured in Shenzhen.  You know, the place where Mike Daisy told Ira Glass that he saw schoolchildren being escorted in child labor camps by machine gun, basically.

Now Damon Beres is not likely a racist. I'm sure he's not. I don't tend to ever describe people as racists.  But there are assumptions, profiles, fears and insecurities which crop up when people see photos of brown people doing stuff, and false data to leverage and increase those perceptions, for the financial benefit of white people, or the fame and "exoticness" of photojournalists, does arguably reflect a racist economy.  When black African TV repairmen go to PRISON based on a white guy's absurd "ghoulish" descriptions of Agbogbloshie (thousands of orphans? hundreds of sea containers of e-waste?), and journalists get Pelly and Polk awards for breaking the story, and its all based on fake fictious and retracted numbers, yeah I will call that racism.

Damon Beres Huffington Post article in June does show brown people disassembling electronics in Hong Kong.  Jim Puckett says they are of the place where the electronics were tracked. What conclusions we are to draw from that is left to Basel Action Network.   There are no photos of USA recyclers to compare the scrap to (my photo above is Mexican women trained in an R2 certified recycling facility in Vermont).  Beres article shows photos of TIRES!!!!   (Oh my GOD!  Tires in Hong Kong!!!)  What the photo of forklift tires at a scrap yard in Hong Kong (which is richer than the USA per capita) is supposed to show in the Huffington Post article is a little unclear.  But you could send the reporter through an R2 factory in the USA and find photos of oil drums and tires and batteries and accidental breakage, and if you purposefully didn't bring the photographer to see the NICE parts of the facility, and then said it was all somehow typical of the race/geography/language/creed of the facility owner... yeah I will call that racism.

BAN has the data now, including ECOPARK coordinates now obscured at the Senseable City web page.  MIT claims to be unable to release it.  I won't say exactly how I obtained the data from BAN, I will invite them to state that they did NOT track any scrap to Hong Kong's state of the art ECO PARK (then I'll provide it).  I can say it was an inside source in Seattle, not Cambridge or MIT.  They will ignore this because they know it's true, and won't want to explain why they "obscured" GPS data showing proper, legal recycling imports.

Again, maybe they found some illegal work too, but they definitely have GPS data showing stuff arriving where it's permitted to arrive and being processed legally, and they have definitely obscured that data point.

Now, Damon Beres was very forthright in responding to my tweets and emails and my request for editorial retraction or insertion of counterclaims.  But as of this AM, has done nothing about it.  I provided MIT correspondence to him, he took from it that I am personally in the business and therefore perhaps have a conflict of interest.  FAIR ENOUGH BUT THEN STATE THAT IN THE ARTICLE.   Because everyone in the industry following this story knows that BAN is almost completely funded by USA shredding companies who are competing directly with the Hong Kong Eco Park company, and if conflict of interest is part of this discussion I welcome that discussion wholeheartedly.

Berees joins Scott Pelley, Michelle Rey, Peter Essick, Cahal Milmo, Raphael Rowe (BBC), and others who get tricked by the planned obsolescence, big shred, non-profit payola scandal.

1) BAN tells you the port of import in a country BAN says is suspect.
2) BAN brings you to the ugliest place it can find in that country - Agbogbloshie, Guiyu, etc.
3) BAN lets you photograph brown people there
4) BAN gets a link to its website, its petitions, etc.

BUT the "e-waste" didn't go there.  Got it?  CBS 60 Minutes, watch it again and again, and there are NO COMPUTER MONITORS in Guiyu.  The stacks of computer monitors CBS shows in Hong Kong definitely, absolutely, did NOT go to the place BAN led them to.  But the imagery of the place BAN did lead them to pulls the guilty heartstrings and gets BAN money.

The journalists are the victims here, in a way.  But they also need to be interviewing people like Joe Benson, the importers, who can give them tours of the ACTUAL facilities which import the stuff, rather than take the word of an organization PAID handsomely by the competitors of that facility.

Agbogbloshie (BBC link) is a real place.  Loads tracked to the Tema Port outside Accra in Ghana do NOT go to Agbogbloshie.   

Guiyu is a real place, and its ugly.  The monitors in Hong Kong (CBS link) did NOT go to Guiyu.  
Given that those two locations were false leads, BAN's decision to "obscure" data points in Hong Kong should raise suspicion of any reporter.  And now we have proof that BAN has obscured MIT Sensable City lab data showing loads they tracked arriving at the ECO PARK revealed by this blog in May and June.

At the time I didn't have the data showing it went there, I only had copies of the Purchase Order showing it was supposed to go there.  Now I have proof that BAN found some of the material DID go there and BAN is now HIDING that information from journalists.

Huffington Post has now been given direct evidence of fraud in BAN's story, but the link to BAN's website remains.  Huffington Post does NOT have MIT's word for it.  Huffington Post does NOT have the GPS coordinates (if it does, follow them to the EcoPark and one LCD monitor to a place where it has been repaired and is in use at/near/in a Hong Kong restaurant).

Let me boil this down.
  • Asians and Africans and Latin Americans have had cars and televisions and VCRs and all kinds of electric gadgets for more than half a century.
  • Poorer nations tend to use manufactured goods three to four times longer than rich nations.  Same dynamic inside OECD,  Poverty is linked to car repair, clothing reuse, electronics fixing.
  • Even if poor nations use electronics for 10-15 years rather than 3-5 years, they do, eventually, generate city trash with "e-waste" or "e-scrap" in it.
  • There are tire piles in China and Africa, just like there are tire piles in Europe and America.        
  • Taking a picture of a tire pile or TV pile in Africa doesn't mean recyclers in the OECD are secretly and illegally dumping our waste there.
  • Posing children in front of piles of garbage (often quite small ones) is a marketing technique designed to get money to the western NGO.  Not one dime is shared with the kids in the photos.
  • Calling African and Chinese technicians "Primitives" and making vague and false claims of "child labor" and "thousands of orphans pawing through junk" is just racist.  "Pawing"?  For God's sake.  "Witches brew", "skeletal", "hideous"?  This is 1930s language used by Nazis to portray Jews, for gods sake.  Completely inappropriate description of SKD refurbishing factories, African Tech Sector, etc.
  • When you get wound up and want to avoid using a recycler who employs these "primitive" practices and "child labor"? GUESS WHAT?
  • ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the recyclers "recommended" by this racist, false claim making NGO  have PAID the NGO to be listed, actually entered into a CONTRACT to pay the NGO!
  • When recyclers stopped making CASH payments to the Seattle NGO, their companies were dropped from the NGO recommended list.

CBS, NPR, BBC, Economist, Guardian, Interpol, UK Environmental Agency, dozens of respectable journalists and environmental enforcement organizations have been DUPED by racists, Afrophobic, Asia phobic, bigoted assumptions about Geeks of Color.  The journalists aren't consciously racist, they are just being manipulated by the same ignorance of emerging markets exposed by TED Talk's Hans Rosling.   They see stacks of CRT monitors in Hong Kong, you bring them to a chip harvesting scrapyard (downstream from textile mill effluent) and they are so busy subconsciously reacting to poor brown skinned people that they NEVER BOTHER TO LOOK for the CRTs.  They are reacting to the "scrap boys" burning wires in Accra, and never notice that NO SEA CONTAINER has ever been unloaded there, that you couldn't even access that site with 5 containers per month, let alone the 500 sea container per month you describe in the article based on BAN's "testimony".

TEN YEARS of documenting this stuff.  This is hideous.  Wake up, journalists and legislators.  This is a massive con game.  Arresting Africa technicians like Hurricane Joe Benson should have been the last straw.

Reckless Warhorse Dishes: The "Africans Must be Taught to Repair"

war·horse  ˈwôrˌhôrs (noun) (in historical contexts) a large, powerful horse ridden in battle.
    • informala soldier, politician, or sports player who has fought many campaigns or contests.
    • informala musical, theatrical, or literary work that has been heard or performed repeatedly.
      "that old warhorse Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.”"

I've got a messy blog here (apology for posting before editing, this is take 2).  I should write it up as a real article, though.  It parallels conversations I've had over beers with many colleagues in the ICT world over the decades.  And maybe it explains why I left multi-million dollar UN and WTO and IMF funded "AID Projects" and enjoy private investment outside the #charitableindustrialcomplex.  And the reason I should write it up more professionally is that it appears "WASTE AID" and "RECYCLING DEVELOPMENT AID" is about to go down the same learning curve, without a helmet as they rush to be first to submit projects for funding.

Inexperience, Bad People Management, Lack of Accounting Skills, Spotty Customer Service, Sub Par (food) Quality.  Let's compare the "5 frequent reasons" that restaurants in the USA and EU fail with the explanations offered by the Aid for Africa complex.  Does a 60% failure rate prove Africa's incapable? Or does Africa's enormous and steady growth demonstrate an unhealthy attraction of Western Aid workers to projects lacking business fundamentals?

"Reckless" Korean War warhorse honored by medal and statue @ National Museum of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia

The myth is that "nothing is getting better".  I call this the "restaurant crisis".

The logic of AID and Enforcement in Africa seems built on "failure needs more help".  If 60% of new USA restaurants fail in the first year, and 80% fail in 5 years, then Governments should fund professional Restaurant Aid Workers to save Restaurateurs.  Charity needs to save the failing restaurants.  Compare that to the free market, which invests based on past success.

And beeeliiiiiieeevvee me, I could get you some restaurant worker photos that would send you skeedaddling from emerging market restaurants to burn wires in Agbogbloshie in a heartbeat (and genuine "child labor" to boot).   Maybe even some with FIRE pictures for the photojournalists.

If you have seen Awal M. Basit (2nd left) burn wire, you know this amount of gasoline flame is "shiny object for reporter"

Lessons from ICT Battlefield (Information Communications Technology) 

I ran across an ICT blog yesterday which brought me back to that battlefield. The tone is a bit "warhorsey", and I can relate to that. I started out, after Mass DEP, in the ICT realm.  The idea (like World Computer Exchange) was to take surplus computers and use them to develop school tech rooms and internet cafes in Africa.  Millions of WTO and UNGAID dollars were going to these countries to "connect them to the web", and thousands of western Aid Workers, volunteers, etc., were carpetbagging to Africa to play a positive role, and earn a living, saving Africa from darkness.  (Fair Trade Recycling's 2016 EWaste Trading program is derivative).

Stereotype Souveniers: What Pokemon Go Tells us about Poverty Porn

SOUVENIERS! (snobbish for souvenirs)

If you are going to spend money and time to fly someplace, you want a "souvenier".  You want something of value that represents the fruit of your hunting and foraging.  It's probably evolved, like necklaces made of feathers or teeth of wild beasts we've conquered.

Pokemon Go gives people exotic looking cartoons when they walk about outside (or let's not kid ourselves, I'm sure people are driving as much as they are walking).  It's like a gold star or sticker on your 1st Grade homework assignment.

And if you are going to fly to an "exotic" place like Africa, or have recently, I'd challenge you to go back through your "chips of film" and see what you took photos of.  How many were people you know?  Of those people you don't know, what were you taking pictures of them doing?

If you have a time machine, and can go back to the 1960s and 70s in the Ozarks, people wanted pictures of "Hillbillies".  They had read about them, seen comics about them, and having made the trek and spent the vacation hours and bucks, they wanted pictures of hillbillies, dammit.

And before you could spell "cultural appropriation", underemployed actors from Chicago, St. Louis and "Hollywood" came and erected Vaudeville shows in Branson to meet demand...

Ozark hillbilly cultural appropriation?  Agbogbloshie's predecessors

Pikachus, Agbogbloshies, Child Labor, Elephants, Buddhist Monks.  If there is something like a flame or a sunset or something to add color to the photo, it's more post-worthy.  Among Pikachus, the cartoon colors are part of the attraction.

We don't need to be snobby about it.  It's too easy to juxtapose the tourist and the brown child and infer racism, tsk-tsk.  To be honest, if I deep sea dive, I sure want a photo of a lionfish or octopus, but if there's nothing but bare dusty sand I'll take a picture of a lost shoe.  We want to validate our steps, and it's natural, and there's genuinely good things to say about caring about wherever we go.

Another photojournalist portrays muddy Agbogbloshie.

Our Agbogbloshie gangleader Awal Muhammed Basit has arrived back to homeland capital Tamale this week, where he called Techician Kamaldeen Abdusalaam of Chendiba Enterprises.  They are both in their early 20s.  What they know about Western photographers is that if Awal shows how to remove screws, it attracts far fewer shots and film than if he sets a fire.  If Agence Presse (Montreal) is there, Awal quadruples the amount of lighter fluid for the fires.

Photography just can't become the basis of public policy if we don't understand what attracts our gaze.  We are all fish, pursuing fireworks and other shiny objects, or emotional ones.  Making up fake statistics about shiny fires can result in African TV repairpeople going to jail, and that should burn our eyebrows off.

Making a documentary about Mike Anane's propaganda to evict slum dwellers in Accra for an urban development, enlisting Western journalists with BAN.org's false claims of "80% recently dumped from your recycling program" is the worst form of journalism.  Trying to validate it because you feel like a sucker for flying down there isn't worthy of a trophy. #EwasteRepublic got credit just for leavening the fake story with some truth, taking pictures of normal African lives to go along with the 10 or 25 guys who burn wires in Ghana's version of the Baldknobber Show.

LaPresse hopefully paid Awal (left in Manchester United jersey) enough to compensate for the extremely extra amount of gasoline or lighter fluid he's using. The wires themselves don't emit enough "high flame" for photographers.  A tire with gasoline adds a little extra zest, more photojournalist "points".

The Baldknobbers - before the cartoon stereotype cultural appropriation - were an actual "thing".  It was a hooded vigilante group in Taney County Missouri, which would have quickly gone into the dustbin of history (along with the "anti-BaldKnobbers" which is actually a historical "thing" too) except for a 1919 Film about the "Shepherd of the Hills", which helped bring Ozarks Exoticness to USA City Theaters.  And the book by great uncle Elmo Ingenthron.

The truckdriver terrorism in #Nice06 is playing non-stop.  What I see is that crowds came to Nice to see the Bastille Day fireworks.  And an asshole in a truck killed about 85 people (out of several hundred thousands), effectively inserting himself into the shiny objects, potentially driving public policy, Scott Adams (blog) says, by causing a reaction to elect a "strongman" father figure.

The similarity between the redneck Ozark baldknobber masks and the traditional African Bamileke or Mankon masks I saw in Cameroon is probably appreciated by an incredibly small audience.  I'm enjoying the comparison.

Common Stereotypes - Defending and Embracing Working Roots

On vacation, at the Mediterranean.

When we went out for beer at the beach with a couple of my wife's cousins (people who were at our wedding here in southern France 26 years ago), I found myself trying to simplify my thoughts so that my French vocabulary would be less of a struggle.  My French isn't too bad "for an American truck driver".  But I admit I don't try as hard as I used to.  My wife and kids speak exclusively in French, but most of my vocabulary is now about reminding teenagers to clean up a mess in the kitchen.  It's not very philosophical stuff.

Anyway, when you're my age and you come to visit inlaws in France once a year, you wind up retelling and re-asking and re-recounting a lot of the same stuff anyway.  And one of the "small talk" topics is always whether I fit a stereotype of "American" based on the French news.

Picking The Wrong #ewaste "Underdogs" Part I

Happy 4th of July (from France).  Everyone here is talking about "underdogs" - though without a solid French translation. Different translations convey different assumptions.  Opprime is "oppressed", perdants is "losers". Sous-estime is "underestimated" (which works after the unexpected victory, in hindsight).

When Iceland beat England in the Euro Cup, and Wales beat Belgium, it was a surprise.  When Leicester City - facing elimination from the Premier League a year earlier - won the entire British Isles championship, the French sportscaster seemed to be missing a handle for the story.

Could 2016 be the Year of the Underdog?   One long-running theme of this Good Point: Ethical E-Waste Blog is our critical look at how #photojournalism can create, leverage, or ignore underdogs.  The audience of mankind is highly evolved to nurture the young and oppressed (what I call the Steve Pinker "nurture" instinct), which causes us to support scrappy underdogs vs. big corporations. Mass media is not an umpire - it's a player in the game.  Media controls who's perceived as worthy of nurture, and who's perceived as "imperialist" or "bully".  We nurture the oppressed, we root for the underdogs.  And when it's an obscure, technical, or foreign story, we depend on the media to tell us who the bullys and who the underdogs are.

Here's a kind of derivative take.  Mass media can create a "loser" who "wins" the underdog blessing. Being an underdog is a blessing of "moral currency". We see this in everyday society, people exaggerating their "rags to riches" history, the tourists' propensity to validate their "close encounter" with poverty.  And I need of course little excuse to repost the greatest comedic clip of all time, BBC's "The Four Yorkshiremen" sketch (pre-Monty Python's "Finally 1948" show).

So on July 4, Superpower USA reflects back on the scrappy 1776 Minutemen who overcame the King of England, the United Kingdom's rule.  Like Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo and Princess Leiah, a handful of colonies "against all odds" threw off the yoke of the 1700's greatest superpower, Great Britain.  Iceland, Bernie Sanders, Wales, Leicester City, and George Washington, the lovable underdogs.

The underdog card...