Saturday, 17 June 2017

Weekend Update 17/06/17 An American Silly-Con Outrage!

“In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“The industry was in effect trading exposure in U.S. workers for exposure in women overseas.”

Today, an American outrage. 21st century capitalism, American silly-con valley, chipmaker style. Putting US women first. Shame about those ignorant Asian women though. Still they’re not really human are they? Not made in God’s image and likeness, like us? Mere expendable peons, to be exploited, like Belgian King Leopold’s slave Africans, in 19th century Congo.

Time for a long overdue ethics course at the American Semiconductor Industry Association. Asian women are human beings just like American women. Other than avarice, profit for themselves at any human cost, what were the US chipmakers thinking? With all their unethical millions and billions, do they even sleep at night? 

Below, fresh fertile plains for the American Tort Bar.

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

Dante Alighieri

American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem. Then They Outsourced It

Twenty-five years ago, U.S. tech companies pledged to stop using chemicals that caused miscarriages and birth defects. They failed to ensure that their Asian suppliers did the same.
by Cam Simpson  15 June 2017, 10:00 GMT+1

Results in epidemiology often are equivocal, and money can cloud science (see: tobacco companies vs. cancer researchers). Clear-cut cases are rare. Yet just such a case showed up one day in 1984 in the office of Harris Pastides, a recently appointed associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

A graduate student named James Stewart, who was working his way through school as a health and safety officer at Digital Equipment Corp., told Pastides there had been a number of miscarriages at the company’s semiconductor plant in nearby Hudson, Mass. Women, especially of childbearing age, filled an estimated 68 percent of the U.S. tech industry’s production jobs, and Stewart knew something few outsiders did: Making computer chips involved hundreds of chemicals. The women on the production line worked in so-called cleanrooms and wore protective suits, but that was for the chips’ protection, not theirs. The women were exposed to, and in some cases directly touched, chemicals that included reproductive toxins, mutagens, and carcinogens. Reproductive dangers are among the most serious concerns in occupational health, because workers’ unborn children can suffer birth defects or childhood diseases, and also because reproductive issues can be sentinels for disorders, especially cancer, that don’t show up in the workers themselves until long after exposure.

Digital Equipment agreed to pay for a study, and Pastides, an expert in disease clusters, designed and conducted it. Data collection was finished in late 1986, and the results were shocking: Women at the plant had miscarriages at twice the expected rate. In November, the company disclosed the findings to employees and the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, and then went public. Pastides and his colleagues were heralded as heroes by some and vilified by others, especially in the industry.

SIA, representing International Business Machines Corp., Intel Corp., and about a dozen other top technology companies, established a task force, and its experts flew to Windsor Locks, Conn., to meet Pastides at a hotel near Bradley International Airport. It was Super Bowl Sunday, January 1987. “That was a day I remember being at a tribunal,” Pastides says. The atmosphere “bordered on hostility. I remember being shellshocked.” Soon after the meeting the panel formally concluded that the study contained “significant deficiencies,” according to internal SIA records. Nevertheless, facing public pressure, SIA’s member companies agreed to fund more research.

Scientists from the University of California at Davis designed one of the biggest worker-health studies in history, involving 14 SIA companies, 42 plants, and 50,000 employees. IBM opted out, hiring Johns Hopkins University to study its plants, because IBM executives said their facilities were safer than the others, recalls Adolfo Correa, one of the lead Johns Hopkins scientists.

In epidemiology, follow-up studies usually get bigger and tougher, and for that reason they often contradict one another. But by December 1992, something rare had happened. All three studies—all paid for by the industry—showed similar results: roughly a doubling of the rate of miscarriages for thousands of potentially exposed women. This time the industry reacted quickly. SIA pointed to a family of toxic chemicals widely used in chipmaking as the likely cause and declared that its companies would accelerate efforts to phase them out. IBM went further: It pledged to rid its global chip production of them by 1995.

Pastides felt vindicated. More than that, he considered the entire episode one of the greatest successes in public-health history, as do others. Despite industry skepticism, three scientific studies led to changes that helped generations of women. “That’s almost a fairy tale in public health,” Pastides says.

Two decades later, the ending to the story looks like a different kind of tale. As semiconductor production shifted to less expensive countries, the industry’s promised fixes do not appear to have made the same journey, at least not in full. Confidential data reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek show that thousands of women and their unborn children continued to face potential exposure to the same toxins until at least 2015. Some are probably still being exposed today. Separate evidence shows the same reproductive-health effects also persisted across the decades.

The risks are exacerbated by secrecy—the industry may be using toxins that still haven’t been disclosed. This is the price paid by generations of women making the devices at the heart of the global economy.

In 2010 a South Korean physician named Kim Myoung-hee left her assistant professorship at a medical school to head a small research institute in Seoul. For Kim, who’s also an epidemiologist, it was a chance to spend more time on the public-health research she’d embraced as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard five years earlier.

In her new post, a series of cancer cases in South Korea’s microelectronics industry drew her interest, including one particular episode that had caught the public eye: Two young women working side-by-side at the same Samsung Electronics workstation and using the same chemicals contracted the same aggressive form of leukemia. The disease kills only 3 out of every 100,000 South Koreans each year, but these young co-workers died within eight months of each other. And their disease was among those most clearly tied to carcinogens. Activists discovered more cases at Samsung and other microelectronics companies, mostly among young women. Industry executives denied any link.

Kim began compiling and analyzing occupational-health studies about semiconductor workers worldwide, a body of work that had drawn little attention in South Korea despite the industry’s importance there. She found 40 different works published by 2010, and virtually every one mentioned exposure to toxic chemicals. “I had no idea that this is a chemical industry, not the electronics industry,” she says.

Physics drives the design of microchips, but their production is mostly about chemistry. In a basic sense, chemicals and light combine to photographically print circuits onto silicon wafers. Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel and a major figure in the creation of the modern chip in 1960, is a chemist. He worked closely on the printing process with a physicist named Jay Last. “We were putting into industrial production a lot of really nasty chemicals,” Last said in an interview he did with Moore for an oral history project of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. “There was just no knowledge of these things, and we were pouring stuff down into the city sewer system.”
More. Sadly, much, much more.

“The assumption that animals (Asian women)  are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”  

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

In EUSSR news, it’s still the corrupt, dodgy, Europe as unreformed as usual, doing the same old usual fudge.

“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
H. L. Mencken.
Fri Jun 16, 2017 | 12:23pm BST

Spain says Eurogroup may block Greek loan if officials not granted immunity

The Eurogroup of finance ministers may block an 8.5-billion-euro (7.44 billion pounds) loan to Greece if it does not grant immunity to privatisation agency officials from Spain, Italy and Slovakia, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Friday.

In 2015, a Greek prosecutor charged three officials at the country's privatisation agency with embezzlement for withholding interest payments and breach of duty in relation to a sale and lease-back deal of 28 state-owned buildings. The case is still pending.

"If there's not a definitive solution for the situation of these three experts, the Eurogroup will block the payment," de Guindos said in Luxemburg.

Greece would do "whatever necessary" to immediately settle the legal case, a Greek government official said.
European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said he was confident the problem would be resolved and that he would continue to discuss the issue with Spain during his visit to Madrid next week.

Fri Jun 16, 2017 | 5:31pm BST

Exclusive - U.S. funds balk in rescue of Italy's Monte dei Paschi: sources

Two U.S. private equity funds have quit talks to buy a mountain of bad loans from ailing Italian lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI), sources said on Friday, dealing a blow to plans to secure a state bailout for the bank.

Fortress (FIG.N) and Elliott were negotiating to buy some of the 26 billion euros (22.75 billion pounds) in bonds that Monte dei Paschi, Italy's fourth largest bank and the world's oldest, must sell to private investors as a condition of the bailout.

Fortress and Elliott had backed out of the talks in a dispute over sale terms, said three sources familiar with the matter. The loans have a face value of 26 billion euros but the bank, brought low by years of poor lending and mismanagement, is looking to sell them for around a fifth of that.

The funds' withdrawal not only threatens the government's efforts to save Monte dei Paschi, it could also complicate a separate and already-shaky plan by Rome to bail out two smaller troubled lenders, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca.

Italy's banking shares fell on the news of the funds' withdrawal, with the sector index .FTIT8300 hitting a session low, down 1.7 percent. It closed down 0.5 percent.

If Fortress and Elliott do not come back to the negotiating table, Monte dei Paschi and the two regional banks have only one willing investor to turn to: Italian banking industry bailout fund Atlante, set up a year ago with Rome's backing.

Atlante is considering whether to press on as sole buyer of Monte dei Paschi's bad loans, the sources said. It has 1.7 billion euros in cash but has already committed to use 450 million euros to buy bad loans of the Veneto-based banks.

Atlante declined to comment.

Italy is scrambling to find private investors to help fund its 6.4 billion euros plan to bail out the two smaller regional lenders by the end of this month to avert them being wound down.

Rome is even considering suspending a bond payment due by Veneto Banca on June 21, in order to prevent the plan being held hostage by a potential legal dispute.

If Veneto Banca makes the payment, it could anger other bondholders who risk large losses under bailout rules. But if the bank does not pay back the bond, it could trigger a default.

Fri Jun 16, 2017 | 5:10pm BST

Germany threatens retaliation if U.S. sanctions harm its firms

Germany threatened on Friday to retaliate against the United States if new sanctions on Russia being proposed by the U.S. Senate end up penalising German firms.

The Senate bill, approved on Thursday by a margin of 98-2, includes new sanctions against Russia and Iran. Crucially, it foresees punitive measures against entities that provide material support to Russia in building energy export pipelines.

Berlin fears that could pave the way for fines against German and European firms involved in Nord Stream 2, a project to build a pipeline carrying Russian gas across the Baltic.

Among the European companies involved in the project are German oil and gas group Wintershall, German energy trading firm Uniper, Royal Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman described the Senate bill, which must be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Donald Trump before it becomes law, as "a peculiar move".

"If the EU cannot resolve a small problem the size of Greece, what is the point of Europe?"

Romano Prodi, former President of the European Commission, former Italy Prime Minister.

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