Clothed in misery

The collapse on April 24 of a Bangladeshi factory complex was the latest, deadliest chapter in the story of miserable labor conditions in the international garment industry. As in previous cases, the dangers to workers had been pointed out in a routine inspection long before the disaster occurred.

These disasters are part of a cyclical system that has governed the textile industry since it moved out of cottages and into mills. We see the same pattern for the last 200 years. Garment manufacturing has flowed from ethnic group to ethnic group, as well as from region to region, from New England to the Middle Atlantic states, from North to South. Each impoverished group, when it began to demand more accountability and a living wage, was discarded and replaced by one more destitute. Manufacturing change flowed quickly to stay ahead of legislative change. Like water, industrial management sought a route of least resistance, eventually flowing out of our shores altogether in the 1990s and flooding many places like Bangladesh.

This cycle has its positive elements, offering an alternative to rural poverty and producing cheap clothing, sometimes for those regions and ethnicities that once were the system’s underclass. There are those manufacturers (most famously, Levi Strauss) who have made a solid effort to serve their workers as well as their investors.

And yet, with unvarying historical predictability, the cycle also involves tremendous suffering: labor riots and persecution of labor organizers; legislative dodges, like the perennial lagging of a country’s minimum wage; child-labor infractions that leave whole populations reaching adulthood without money, education or hope; and the generations of workers who are laid off during downturns and end up with nothing to show for a life of toil. And then there are the catastrophic disasters arising from the interminable squeezing of expenses in favor of profits.

The sad part is that the price of individual garments would not have to go up much — 1 percent to 3 percent, various estimates say — to provide a living wage and safer conditions for all those cutting and stitching what we wear. But that small percent would have to wend its way past the corporate boards and middlemen, subcontracting agents and buyers to reach those who really need it.

It’s well past time for all of us to reflect on this cycle and how cheap it would be to break out of it, if only there were enough public pressure on the apparel industry. The cost for us is minimal; the cost for others is great. Bargain-hunters at Wal-Mart and haute couture customers on Fifth Avenue alike should shame those companies that pass the savings on to us as they pass the suffering on to others we never see.

This is not a remote or distant problem. Take a look at the tag on your shirt. The problem is as close as your skin.

– edited from an op-ed by M. T. Anderson in The New York Times, April 29, 2013
PeaceMeal, July/August 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Study finds frequent newspaper readers are more trusting

PULLMAN, Wash. - A study by Washington State University shows that people who are frequent readers of a daily newspaper tend to be more trusting of others than those who read newspapers less frequently. The effect holds for both residents of small towns and big cities, even though researchers found small town residents are more trusting in general than city dwellers.

The study was conducted by Douglas Hindman, associate professor of communication, and Masahiro Yamamoto, a WSU graduate student and assistant professor of humanities at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. It underscores the importance of newspapers in their communities. By reinforcing feelings of trust, the researchers said, newspapers and other forms of local media can act as agents of positive social change by helping community members work together to tackle issues such as public safety, education and a clean environment.

The research also shows that not all forms of community participation are equal in terms of fostering social trust. As might be expected, social trust is associated with participation in youth-related activities such as parent-teacher groups or youth organizations. Conversely, participation in activities such as political groups, protests or boycotts is associated with lower levels of social trust.

“When political participation includes conflict, as is often the case given the partisan nature of the U.S. political system, the result is sharpened debates, mobilized supporters, challenged inequities and social involvement considered crucial to democratic functioning,” Hindman and Yamamoto wrote in the article. “It does not, however, appear to enhance social trust.” They do suggest that social trust is not the ultimate measure of the value of all forms of social participation.

– edited from WSU News, Thursday, December 8, 2011
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Oilmen big winners in Mideast revolutions

Leslie H. Gelb

The biggest potential losers in the still-roiling revolutions of the Middle East and North Africa are the people themselves. Many are democrats at high risk of being overwhelmed over time by new dictators and organized religious extremists. But the uncontested winners are already quite clear: those who own, sell and bet on oil. In the month of February alone, oil prices have leaped almost 10 percent, even with only tiny dips in supply.

While these revolutions have produced daily thunderclaps worldwide about a new democratic future for the Middle East, power structures remain largely intact. Almost every country in the region looks as if it’s marking time. So far, those who took to the streets succeeded only in ousting their unwanted masters—Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia—and not in really changing the power status quo ante. In Yemen, the established leadership does look shaky. In Libya, where the media proclaimed the rebels as victors early on, it now seems like a standoff with Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

In Tunisia, where it all began, the revolutionaries are awaiting elections. The once banned Islamist party Al-Nahda has just been legalized. In Egypt, the protesters still find themselves in the strong grip of the military. Elections are set for September, and the military, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, can be expected to top the parliamentary polls. In Bahrain, the huge Shiite majority took to the squares and made the Sunni autocracy tremble—only a causeway away from the Saudi Arabian oil jackpot. To date, the revolutions have generated far more drama and hope than real change.

The fighting in Libya has understandably monopolized attention, though its international importance is modest. Its normal output of oil sits at only 1 percent of daily global consumption.

Israel is the biggest strategic loser. The Jewish state has relied on Arab autocracies to subdue the anti-Zionist sentiments of their peoples. And Israel can’t do anything to fix its plight. Times are not at all conducive for new talks with Palestinians.

The United States is also a loser, but it need not be a big one. Washington’s power depends on whether the revolutions peter out or launch new anti-American rulers. Whatever happens, Washington will confront greater anti-Americanism. The fact is that Arabs generally see the United States as the protector of the corrupt autocrats who long ruled them and the savior of the hated Israel. Counterterrorism operations and anti-Iran diplomacy will suffer.

Turkey will be a model for Arab nations lucky enough to democratize. Its foreign policy balances between the United States and the states of Islam and is also now somewhat anti-Israel. Internally, Turkey balances between an Islamic and a secular state. The country has internal stability and a promising economy.

Conventional wisdom holds that Iran has won the lottery, but don’t bet on it. Iranians are Shiites and Persians; the revolutionaries are mostly Sunnis and Arabs. These groups don’t particularly care for one another. Most important, Arab revolutionaries must surely despise Iranian leaders who beat and slaughtered Iran’s freedom fighters a mere two years ago. Iran will gain only if regimes like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, strongly anti-Tehran, weaken and fall.

It’s quite possible that the revolutionary fervor will tire and fade amid economic shortages and other burdens. Or the revolutions could erupt once again, suddenly, and wipe out all the dynasties in their path, forcing profound recalculations of U.S. policy. But two things are certain: the oil barons and traders will get richer, and most people worldwide will scramble against higher oil and food prices and declining economies.

Gelb is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. His article appeared in Newsweek, March 6, 2011, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal. March/April 2011.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Book Review by Ed Frost

Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Penguin Books, 2006)

If you’re looking for a real American hero, there’s somebody even better than Michael Phelps. How about Greg Mortenson? In his book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, Mortenson and co-author David Oliver Relin tell the story of how Mortenson went from international mountain climber to builder of over 70 schools in the remote, mountainous and extremely dangerous areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson didn’t start out to build schools; he started out to climb K2, considered to be the most dangerous climb in the world. While retreating from the mountain, lost in a blizzard and near death, he stumbled into the small Pakistani village of Korphe. While being nursed back to health, Mortenson met the children of Korphe and realized that they had no school. He decided to build them a school as a thank you for saving his life.

The title of the book comes from what Mortenson says is the most important lesson he ever learned in his life. Mortenson says, “Americans think that you have to accomplish everything quickly,” but that most important lesson was to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He learned that in Pakistan the first time you share tea you are a stranger; the second time you share tea you are an honored guest; the third time you share a cup of tea you become family. And in that culture, people are prepared to do anything for family.

Mortenson found that he had more to learn from the people of the village than he could ever hope to teach them. He learned that the relationship is everything.

Mortenson founded the Central Asia Institute and put all of his own resources into building the initial school. His first fund-raising letter to over 500 people netted him only one contribution — from Tom Brokaw. But Mortenson succeeded where so much of the American effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan has failed because he learned to do business their way. He succeeded because he learned, used and respected the culture, values and ways of the people he was helping in contrast to the usual “let me show you the way the West would do it.”

Mortenson’s work has not been without personal danger. In the course of building now over 70 schools, he has endured life threats, kidnaping and a fatwa.

Mortenson has talked with the Pentagon several times about his success, once telling them that for the price of one Tomahawk cruise missile — about $840,000, he could build dozens of schools educating tens of thousands of students over a decade with a balanced, non-extremist education. It is his belief as well as many others that, in the end, the education of those children will do more for their and our security than any level of investment in arms and the military.

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof expertly summed it up this way: “So a lone Montanan staying in the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.”

The best fiction writer couldn’t have come up with a better tale and a more genuine, braver and more committed hero than Greg Mortenson.

Ed Frost served as chairman of World Citizens for Peace 1989-1995.

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2008


Book Review by Ed Frost

Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War

by Bob Drogin (Random House, 2007)

As we enter the sixth year of the Iraq war, we are consumed with the notions of “will it ever end” and “how can we get out?” If only getting out was as easy as getting in.

Author Bob Drogin has written a true-life spy story about how we did get in, a non-fictional account of one of America’s worst intelligence failures. Drogin covers national security and intelligence for the Los Angeles Times. He has served as a foreign correspondent for the Times and has won or shared numerous journalism awards.

Drogin introduces us to an Iraqi defector, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed (not his real name), known as “Curveball” in intelligence circles. Curveball turned himself in to the German intelligence service and remains under their protection.

Many of us remember Secretary of State Colin Powell’s riveting presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February of 2003 — the presentation that sold the nation and the U.N. on the dire need to invade Iraq as a means of national self-defense. Powell’s own words were: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

Powell’s most compelling and detailed testimony dealt with the alleged Iraqi mobile biological weapons factories complete with drawings. The single source for his most alarming allegations — “Curveball.”

Powell, Bush, Cheney and Rice all made a strong case for war based on Curveball’s lies. We now know that his fabrications were never corroborated by any other source. In fact, he had never even been interviewed by U.S. intelligence staff. His allegations were supplied to U.S. intelligence by German intelligence with warnings that the information could not be verified or corroborated and that German intelligence did not believe him.

But as this story goes, it is easy to ignore the warning labels when your sole intent is selling the war.

This book is a fast-paced spy story, a good read. That one man’s unvetted lies could lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of people, the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the virtual destruction of a nation seems as absurd as it is tragic. If only the book were fiction instead of fact.

Ed Frost served as Chairman of World Citizens for Peace, 1989-1995.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2008


Video games for peace

Parents who worry that video and computer games are teaching kids to settle conflicts with blasters and bloodshed can take heart. Now branching out into serious social issues, games are appearing that want to save the world through peace and democracy. Activists hope to tap into their enormous worldwide popularity to reach a new generation used to interacting through computers.

A year ago, the United Nations' World Food Program released an online game in which players must figure out how to feed thousands of people on a fictitious island. A team at Carnegie Mellon University is working on an educational computer game that explores the Mideast conflict: you win by negotiating peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In October, a unit of MTV announced a contest to come up with a video game that fights genocide in Darfur, Sudan. And the University of Southern California is conducting a competition to develop a game that promotes international goodwill toward the United States.

So popular was the U.N.'s game titled Food Force, Yahoo had to step in as a Web host for the game when swarms of Internet users converged on the site and accidentally knocked it off-line. "It's been kind of a surprise for us. It just took off," said Jennifer Parmelee, a spokeswoman for the U.N. food program. The game, which Parmelee said was initially regarded with skepticism within the United Nations, has been downloaded more than 2 million times since its launch.

Stephen Friedman, general manager of an MTV channel shown on college campuses, said his network's contest could help spread awareness of Darfur to young people who are interested in games but don't follow world events. The network has promised a $50,000 prize to the student or team of students that comes up with the best idea.

"Activism needs to be rethought and reinvented with each generation," Friedman said. "This is a generation that lives online. What better way to have an effect?"

Carnegie Mellon's project, called PeaceMaker, is led by an Israeli citizen named Asi Burak, who has sought input from both sides of the conflict for the game. In it, players take a role as an Israeli or Palestinian leader charged with bringing peace to the region. Use too much military force and the region falls into violence, but give too many concessions quickly and a leader risks assassination. "We want to prove that video games can be serious and deal with meaningful issues," said Burak.

To download the U.N.'s Food Force game for Windows or Mac, go to: www.food-force.com The files are large (~200 MB) and take about half-an-hour on a broadband connection. Download is not suitable for dialup.

– edited from The Washington Post, October 2005
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


$100 ticket for bumpersticker

Denise Grier, a nurse at Emory University hospital in Georgia, was driving home from dinner on March 10 when a Dekalb County police officer pulled her over. "When he approached the car, he had his hand on his weapon," she said, "and I was in my nurse's uniform with a stethoscope around my neck."

"You have a lewd decal on your car," the officer said, and Grier immediately thought that one of her kids had put something nasty on her bumper as a joke. "But then he mentioned the Bush sticker," she said, the one that says: "I'm tired of all the BUSHIT."

Grier says she told the officer it wasn't lewd, and that it was clearly a political statement. When he insisted it was lewd, she said, "I'm not going to discuss this any further. Just give me the ticket," which he did. The ticket is for $100. Under "offense" it says: "Lewd decals." Grier has no intention of paying it.

"I am so appalled at the officer's attempt to squash my freedom of speech," Grier said. "It's not just a Democrat/Republican issue. Y'all need to get beyond that. It's my right to speak, and yours."

Gerry Weber, the legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, is representing Grier. "The indicators are that the officer didn't like her views of President Bush and that was the motivating factor," he says. Weber says the ticketing was clearly illegal.

The Dekalb County Police Department would not discuss the facts of the case. "We don't comment on other officers' tickets," says Officer Herschel Grangent, who handles media affairs. "That officer is making his decision on the street. And it's going through legal channels now." Grier has a court date of April 18.

– The Progressive, 27 March 2006
PeaceMeal, March/April 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


girl.gif (11573 bytes)Give a girl child an equal chance

Gender bias exists everywhere. But in the developing world the deplorable status of girls and women reaches shocking levels. From the moment of birth, a little girl receives less food, less attention, less education, less leisure, less status, and less power over her own life than her brothers. She is weaned earlier than her brothers, eats after and less than her brothers, and is taken to a doctor later and in worse condition than her brothers. That is, if she is allowed to live at all. Millions of sex-selective abortions are performed in poor countries annually, virtually always on female fetuses. Millions more are killed at birth --  smothered or drowned -- simply for being born a girl.

Plan USA is a child-centered organization founded in 1937 that works at the grassroots level to achieve lasting improvements in the lives of deprived children in developing countries through a process that unites people across cultures and adds meaning and value to their lives. Child sponsorship is the cornerstone of Plan's work with children and families in 45 developing countries around the world. Individual sponsors make regular donations of $24 each month, which Plan combines with funds from other sponsors to implement programs in the sponsored child's community.

Sponsorship is not a hand-out to a specific child, but is an approach to long-term development that helps an entire community realize its full potential. Each sponsor receives the profile and photograph of a child and has the opportunity to get to know that child and his or her family through the exchange of letters, small gifts, holiday greetings, or even a personal visit.

Sponsorship of a girl child makes an enormous difference in improving her status in school, in society -- even in her own family. The message your sponsorship will send to the girl, her family and her society is powerful and clear: You matter. You're important!

As an alternative to child sponsorship, you can sponsor a particular project -- like clean drinking water, which is urgently needed in many developing countries -- by giving a regular contribution in any amount. Individual donations to ongoing projects are also welcome.

Plan USA is a 501(c)(3) organization and contributions are tax deductible as allowed by law.

For further information, see: www.planusa.org/girlchild, call 800-556-7918,
or write Plan USA, 155 Plan Way, Warwick, RI 02886.

- PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006