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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Devil's Bargain

By: JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

The Devil's Bargain: Sweatshops and the American Scheme
Posted January 2, 2008 | 05:04 PM (EST)

"They hit you...They hit you in the head...To make you work faster."
--Nicaraguan Factory Worker

The so-called season of giving is officially behind us. Even in these sluggish economic times, Americans still managed to spend more than $50 billion in gift-giving. Now that all the gifts have been opened, all that is left is for us to enjoy them.

Yet I can't help but wonder whether our pleasure would be dimmed were we to truly understand what is involved in bringing these gifts--at the bargain prices Americans love--to our homes?

Writing for the Texas Observer, Josh Rosenblatt notes in "Buy Some Stuff, Enslave Somebody" that "the expanding global economy demands that corporations seek out the cheapest possible labor to maximize profit, and stimulate growth and innovation. With free trade has come an explosion of global inequality that has left more than 2.8 billion people living on less than $2 a day."

This inequality makes it possible for Americans to buy more and more while paying less and less. But as the National Labor Committee (NLC), an organization that investigates and exposes human and labor rights abuses committed by U.S. companies producing goods in the developing world, points out, "The people who stitch together our jeans and assemble our CD-players are mostly young women in Central America, Mexico, Bangladesh, China and other poor nations, many working 12 to 14-hour days for pennies an hour."

Some in the business world insist that the business sector's efforts to tap into the vast pool of willing and cheap labor in poorer countries are all about free market economics. However, critics such as the NLC consider the resulting dehumanization of this new global workforce to be the overwhelming moral crisis of the 21st century.

Unfortunately, this remains a moral crisis largely ignored by the American people--except, of course, for the occasional media blitz when a celebrity is found to be peddling wares manufactured in sweatshop conditions. For instance, who could forget the media circus surrounding talk-show personality Kathie Lee Gifford's tearful 1996 confession that her clothing line, which was being sold in Wal-Mart stores across America, was indeed being produced in Honduran sweatshops that employed young girls and pregnant women to sew garments for 20 hours per day in extreme heat for only 31 cents an hour?

Chain retailers like Wal-Mart that sell low-cost goods manufactured overseas by workers who are allegedly paid less than the minimum wage, forced to work long hours, not given overtime pay and even beaten in order to keep them working grueling shifts have become easy targets for human rights groups. The company that once urged consumers to "Buy American" is currently the largest importer of goods made in China, which is one of the world's worst labor abusers. Yet Wal-Mart was not the first company to take advantage of cheap global labor in order to achieve a bigger bottom line, nor will it be the last to do so. Furthermore, mega-retailers are not solely to blame.

We, the American consumer, have perfected the art of indulgence and avoidance. As Rosenblatt observes, "We in the wealthy West, living and dining off the fruits of their labor, can honestly say we are unaware of the devil's bargain we bought into. Or that if we do know, the problem is simply too great to comprehend and beyond our means to do anything about, save changing our lifestyles entirely. Best, in other words, not to think about it."

However, we must think about it. And in thinking about it, at some point we must realize that there is a moral dimension to our buying habits. As long as we are willing to buy, buy, buy at lower and lower prices without a care for how those goods were produced or where they came from, corporations will continue to seek out cheap labor, which invariably goes hand in hand with inhumane working conditions.

Thus, change must start with you. For starters, you can check out the National Labor Committee's website, www.nlcnet.org, for a list of companies with questionable ties to sweatshops and cheap labor. If you're not willing to stop doing business with those companies, then you can at least urge them to change their practices.

Savitri Durkee and William Talen, leaders of the Church of Stop Shopping, star in a documentary making its way across the country, What Would Jesus Buy? They believe now is a good time to urge companies which have given into pressure on climate concerns by becoming more environmentally friendly to recognize human rights concerns by committing to carry goods manufactured in worker-protected environments.

You should also encourage your local church or synagogue to take a moral stand against sweatshop labor. Christ advocated for the poor and urged his followers to reach out to the less fortunate. Christian organizations that claim to emulate Christ should speak out against slave labor. If only large Christian ministries would take a stand and urge their parishioners to boycott large chains that foster inhumane labor practices and working conditions, it could go a long way toward changing conditions around the world.

Finally, the next time you head out the door in search of another great deal, remember that your bargain could be coming at someone else's expense. For instance, here's what a report on a Korean-owned factory had to say about its working conditions:

Toilets and canteens were unsanitary. Some managers screamed at workers or pressured those who complained to resign. And many women, who comprise 88% of the plant's workers, said they were denied time off for doctors' appointments. One pregnant worker who had a note from her doctor about a high-risk pregnancy was not allowed to leave until five hours after she complained of pain. She lost the baby.

-Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

*taken from WWW.AXISOFJUSTICE.ORG

How the Iraq war's $2 trillion cost to U.S. could have been spent

How the Iraq war's $2 trillion cost to U.S. could have been spent

Jan 21, 2008 04:30 AM

CRAIG AND MARC KIELBURGER

In war, things are rarely what they seem.

Back in 2003, in the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon adamantly insisted that the war would be a relatively cheap one. Roughly $50 billion is all it would take to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, it said.

We now know this turned out to be the first of many miscalculations. Approaching its fifth year, the war in Iraq has cost American taxpayers nearly $500 billion, according to the non-partisan U.S.-based research group National Priorities Project. That number is growing every day.

But it's still not even close to the true cost of the war. As the invasion's price tag balloons, economists and analysts are examining the entire financial burden of the Iraq campaign, including indirect expenses that Americans will be paying long after the troops come home. What they've come up with is staggering. Calculations by Harvard's Linda Bilmes and Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz remain most prominent. They determined that, once you factor in things like medical costs for injured troops, higher oil prices and replenishing the military, the war will cost America upwards of $2 trillion. That doesn't include any of the costs incurred by Iraq, or America's coalition partners.

"Would the American people have had a different attitude toward going to war had they known the total cost?" Bilmes and Stiglitz ask in their report. "We might have conducted the war in a manner different from the way we did."

It's hard to comprehend just how much money $2 trillion is. Even Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world, would marvel at this amount. But, once you begin to look at what that money could buy, the worldwide impact of fighting this largely unpopular war becomes clear.

Consider that, according to sources like Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs, the Worldwatch Institute, and the United Nations, with that same money the world could:

Eliminate extreme poverty around the world (cost $135 billion in the first year, rising to $195 billion by 2015.)

Achieve universal literacy (cost $5 billion a year.)

Immunize every child in the world against deadly diseases (cost $1.3 billion a year.)

Ensure developing countries have enough money to fight the AIDS epidemic (cost $15 billion per year.)

In other words, for a cost of $156.3 billion this year alone – less than a tenth of the total Iraq war budget – we could lift entire countries out of poverty, teach every person in the world to read and write, significantly reduce child mortality, while making huge leaps in the battle against AIDS, saving millions of lives.

Then the remaining money could be put toward the $40 billion to $60 billion annually that the World Bank says is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, established by world leaders in 2000, to tackle everything from gender inequality to environmental sustainability.

The implications of this cannot be underestimated. It means that a better and more just world is far from within reach, if we are willing to shift our priorities.

If America and other nations were to spend as much on peace as they do on war, that would help root out the poverty, hopelessness and anti-Western sentiment that can fuel terrorism – exactly what the Iraq war was supposed to do.

So as candidates spend much of this year vying to be the next U.S. president, what better way to repair its image abroad, tarnished by years of war, than by becoming a leader in global development? It may be too late to turn back the clock to the past and rethink going to war, but it's not too late for the U.S. and other developed countries to invest in the future.

-Craig and Marc Kielburger are children's rights activists and co-founded Free The Children, which is active in the developing world. Online: Craig and Marc Kielburger discuss global issues every Monday in the World & Comment section. Take part in the discussion online at thestar.com/globalvoices.-

*taken from WWW.AXISOFJUSTICE.ORG

Jim Goodnow's "Yellow Rose" Bus Destroyed by Suspicious Fire

Jim Goodnow and his bus, the Yellow Rose, both have suffered a terrible tragedy.
Jim, who was at Camp Casey with Cindy Sheehan in August of 2005, got the Yellow Rose shortly thereafter and has been a fixture at actions around the country ever since. In recent months, Jim has been providing transportation to Iraq Veterans Against the War for their various tours and other activities. Last night, Jim escaped a fire of suspicious origins that destroyed the bus. Luckily Jim is all right.
This message was passed on by Bill Perry, a vet and anti-war activist.
The "Yellow Rose" bus, was totaled by fire, around 9:30 pm, Friday night, 1/11/08
This bus, often mired in controversy since the IVAW "Dirty South" tour that left Philly in June, and had Active Duty BBQ's @ Ft Meade, Ft Jackson, Camp Lejeune, Ft Benning, and other Southern Military Posts ( Including an IVAW benefit by Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, and AudioSlave, in Virginia ) as well as backdrop for many a Demonstration, and Ft Drum, NY, organizing parties, has finally died.
Goto www.axisofjustice.org to see a photo that shows the huge "Don't Attack Iran" and "Impeach Bush" logos, that let everybody on the highway know just how the occupants felt about the state of the state.
Owner~Operator~Driver (and Veteran) Jim Goodnow pulled into a South Jersey Truck Stop, to catch a 3 or 4 hour nap. Jim saw, in retrospect, some suspicious activity outside the bus, and about 20 minutes later, the entire engine compartment, and back of the bus was engulfed in flames.
Mr. Goodnow speculates that the cause could have been anything from ARSON, to ATTEMPTED MURDER. He plans to notify the ATF Arson Squad on Saturday morning.
Stay tuned....
Be Well, RAISE HELL !
Bill Perry
Delaware Valley Veterans For America
Disabled American Veteran, VVAW, VFP, VFW, VVA
A fund has been set up and is tax deductible.
Checks can be made out to: Veterans For Peace, Chapter 106 (please spell this out) Put in memo line: BUS FUND
Mail to:
Bernie Jezercak
1804 Tree LIne Drive
Carrollton, TX 75007

*taken from WWW.AXISOFJUSTICE.ORG

The Nightwatchman answers questions posed by Jade of AFI

JADE: There was a time when artists like Bob Dylan had a massive impact on social awareness, but, for various reasons, music as a cultural force has been on the wane for years. RATM also uses music as a political and social platform, do you believe music still has a capacity to reach the hearts and minds of its listeners?

TOM: I believe that music has more than just the capacity to reach the hearts and minds of its listeners, music has the capacity and should be played to change the world. I know that it was artists like The Clash and Public Enemy that changed my world and inspired me to not only rock, but also to pursue political activism and introduced to me a set of ideas that went well beyond stereotypical rock fodder. I think the energy exchange between a righteous band and their righteous fans is something to contend with.


JADE: I don't know if you remember this but Davey was emailing with you one time and I told him to challenge you on my behalf to a shred-off. You said that I shouldn't be too hasty because you came up as a metal shredder. How important was that to your development into the guitarist you are now?

TOM: It was very important. My journey from the guitar player neophyte to the cat you see digitally enshrined in Guitar Hero 3, was a long and odd one. I began liking heavy metal bands but was frustrated that I couldn't play complex music like Led Zeppelin. Punk rock like The Clash and Sex Pistols made me actually pick up the guitar and vow to throw away the rule book. The more that I played the more I became attracted to guitar players with technical abilities from Randy Rhodes, Al DiMeoloa from Alan Holdsworth to Steve Vai, shredders of that nature who put in the countless hours of preparation to hone their craft. I soon found myself practicing eight hours a day while balancing an ivy-league education and was driven with a zealot-like commitment to improving as  a musician. Even though I started playing guitar late at age 17, it was that obsessive compulsive practice regimen that helped me get the technical expertise to play and to shred. It was not, however, until the early days of Rage Against the Machine where I was able to turn that technical ability into music that anybody would want to listen to. By once again throwing out the rule book and concentrating on the eccentricities in my playing and in song writing and weird sound and texture making I was able to create my own style on the guitar. I still think it would be folly for you to challenge me to a shred-off because I still got all those chops.

JADE: Also, it seems shredding/soloing has had a big resurgence with the new generation of bands, does it warm your heart or do you think it's unnecessary flash?

TOM: Guitar shredding is a dubious endeavor but I've always appreciated a good solo whether its in jazz, country, classical music or rock n' roll. Unfortunately most guitar solos in rock n' roll aren't so good. There's a new crop of swift fingered metalians who are certainly putting in their hours practicing and God bless them for it.

JADE: Who's your favorite Tom?

TOM: I'm guessing by the question that you mean who is my favorite historic person by the name of Tom. I would choose Thomas Paine, one of the instigators of the American Revolution and one of the few founding fathers who was opposed to slavery and against aristocratic privilege. Thomas Paine was kind of the Che Guevara of his day and was not satisfied with just one revolution as he headed off to France to be a part of the French Revolution as well. Thomas Paine is kick ass.

JADE: I went to a party at your house and noticed you had quite a bit of sports paraphernalia? What teams do you follow? Are any of them breaking your heart?

TOM: As a long time Chicago Cubs fan I can only assume this question is a cruel joke. My teams are the woe-begotten Chicago Cubs who have not won a world championship in exactly one hundred years and the St Louis Rams who mercifully have won a Super bowl in my lifetime. I was able to attend it by canceling a Rage Against the Machine show in Belgium. I used to be a Lakers fan but I have soured on that team because they make me and other fans fell bad.

JADE: People have talked about the idea of fragmentation in today's music, how there used to be a style of music called "rock", where bands like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin fused country, blues, pop, soul, even classical to write songs, but now music has been increasingly pushed into narrower and narrower niches and there are few acts that can hope to even aspire to the longevity and popularity enjoyed by the monster bands of those days. As a songwriter who has blended funk, metal, punk, and hip hop together, do you think that this is a problem with the direction current music is going?

TOM: I'm not sure that I agree that there is one direction that music is going. As someone who has blended different styles of music together in my own bands, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, I've never felt constrained by musical trendiness. As I'm currently pursuing folk music as The Nightwatchman, I continue to look for different avenues of creativity and expression which ring true. I think that in any genre of music the cream rises to the top. For example, seventeen years ago there were hundreds of punk-funk bands but only one band was good enough to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then there were an ungodly number of horrific rap-rock bands and I don't think it's immodest to say that Rage Against the Machine has weathered that storm pretty well. Then there was a ska explosion and only No Doubt's head stayed up. Prog-metal, only Tool is left. Industrial-metal, Nine Inch Nails remains. Grunge, Pearl Jam is still making very good and interesting records. I think at any given time it makes more sense to look at the true artists that exist in any given genre who have the ability to grow rather than the wannabes.

JADE: This is an extremely stock question that you've probably answered a million times, but people are always interested in it. Who are your guitar heroes/influences? Are there any new or up-and-coming guitar players that've caught your eye?

TOM: My guitar heroes are many and varied. It began with the likes of Ace Frehley and Jimmy Page, then warped into Joe Strummer and Andy Gill of Gang of Four, then the shredding floodgates opened with Randy Rhodes and Steve Vai. Later, my principle guitar influences for some time were people who didn't play guitar. Terminator X of Public Enemy, Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, Dr. Dre's production, the textures and rhythms of Crystal Method and the barnyard noises of cows, sheep and ducks have all clearly had a sonic impact on my playing.

JADE: You've always been able to come up with very unique sounds in your guitar work, especially for your solos, is it ever a burden to have to come up with so many new and interesteing techniques or is pushing the envelope in this way still as exciting as ever?

TOM: I never really looked at it as a burden to come up with new guitar sounds. After a while it just became how I hear music and it wasn't a matter of "oh, I need to come up with a crazy sound". It was more a matter of, I hear the guitar making the sound of a breaking glass window rather than hear the guitar playing recycled Chuck Berry riffs. For me now the most exciting thing musically is writing, recording and performing Nightwatchman songs where there are very few guitar pyrotechnics and the emphasis is on the starkness and mood that is conveyed which is hopefully just as impactful music.

JADE: Who do you think is a better level boss, you in Guitar Hero III or King Koopa from Super Mario Bros?

TOM: I'm afraid, young man, you are speaking a language I do not understand. While a digital version of me appears in the video game Guitar Hero 3, I am not much of a video game player myself and the term "Boss" and "King Koopa" I'm afraid to admit, are unfamiliar to me.

*taken from www.myspace.com/thenightwatchman
I will post a variety of musical, political, and cultural tidbits here from time to time for your information and enjoyment. Altogether now....PUSH! Tom Morello