Archive for the ‘Capitalism’ Category

I took Friday out of the office after a long weekend of outreach. A recommendation here that I had yet to scratch off my Mexico City bucket-list was the Diego Rivera Mural Museum. It’s located on Alameda Park near the Palacio Bellas Artes –the Mexican Kennedy Center. Without doing any other research, I went to find it. I don’t know what I was expecting upon paying my 19 Pesos for entrance, but it wasn’t this.

Diego Rivera's Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park

Considering that Rivera was such a prolific artist working in many styles over many years, you’d expect between all of his paintings and collections scattered across the city to run into a few duds… Well, this is certainly not one of them. The museum was built to house this one mural after the hotel where it was originally painted collapsed in an earthquake. The curators thoughtfully supply large wicker chairs with cushions where you can sit and stare as long as you like, as well as an interpretive key to help guide you through the expansive cast of characters from Mexican history.

Detail of the right side of a Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park

Yet another stunning and blatant critique of Mexico’s complex and fractured history from Rivera. There is simultaneously so much pride and shame and pain in this piece. The chairs are a thoughtful addition because it takes a few long moments to let it all soak in.

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There has been some terrible news out of America’s prisons in the past few days. Yesterday, a prison riot in Mexico near Monterrey resulted in 20 deaths, the latest in a string of prison riots in the country (31 deaths in Altimara, Tamaulipas in January, another 20 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas in October of 2011 to cover just the past six-months). In Honduras, an indescribable tragedy occurred last week when 358 prisoners, at latest count, burned alive in a fire. Most had not been convicted of any crime.

Although we have more effective facilities in terms of control –better systems, I suppose, to prevent the destructive chaos of riots and fires– the United States ought take the longest and hardest look at itself following these grievous and preventable outrages. The state and federal governments of the United States incarcerate  far more of their own citizens than any other industrialized country in the world –a large percentage for non-violent drug crimes.

I am grateful for Chris Hayes reporting on this silent population that we too often discount in our minds as being undeserving of our attention. How dare we, or any other government authority, shutter people away in such great numbers and with so little recourse?

I highly recommend watching his excellent reporting here.

I get a lot of petitions from Change.org and I’m not sure how effective they are but I appreciate the role the play in bringing issues to my attention. It’s not as if I didn’t know that toy-makers make stupid toys for girls, but this one hit a little close to home as LEGOs were some of my favorite toys growing up.

This is a LadyFig, apparently. I'm sure she is brushing her hair before she goes to present at an international conference on human rights.

After 4 years of marketing research, LEGO has come to the conclusion that girls want LadyFigs, a pink Barbielicious product line for girls, so 5 year-olds can imagine themselves at the café, lounging at the pool with drinks, brushing their hair in front of a vanity mirror, singing in a club, or shopping with their girlfriends. As LEGO CEO Jorgan Vig Knudstorp puts it, “We want to reach the other 50% of the world’s population.”

From the Change.org petition letter.

My brother and I had an ongoing cast of LEGO characters. They were all space explorers and all male, but only because it wasn’t possible for a LEGOnian to wear both a space helmet and one of those pop-on hair-dos that indicated femaleness –an incarnation of an issue that I continue to confront.

Space... man? Who cares?

To be fair, my brother was much better at constructing spaceships and bases but he was also almost three-years older than me and now, as an adult, is an aerospace engineer at NASA. I like to think I contributed a great deal to the plot of the crew’s adventures and to character development. Our spacemen had occupations such as chemist and engineer and I don’t recall ever feeling that a vanity or jacuzzi was missing from our expeditions.

Click here to sign the petition to tell LEGO that these “girls” toys are dumb and offensive.

For most of my adult life I haven’t owned a TV. I don’t play video games unless I’m on vacation at my brother and sister-in-law’s and I get most of the media I need from the Internet, renting the occasional DVD, and bumming off someone else’s TV in a pinch. Then, last year when I was a live-in nanny in Massachusetts,  I had a TV in my room. With cable. After about a week of quietly and awkwardly sharing the space, I got bold and turned it on. And loved it. I hated it a little, too, I guess (Jersey Shore made me feel depressed), but it was mostly a great time. Top Chef Masters!

One thing I was really surprised to learn that I had missed out on during my break from TV was the greening of the oil companies’ images. I was surprised to hear, for example, all the happy reports from Gulf residents who found that BP had kept all of its promises after the massive spill and left the Gulf Coast better than ever.


Or that Exxon Mobile has done so much for green energy research.


This one was especially hard to handle, given the film “Gasland” and so many independent reports of water contamination due to fracking.


From Bloomberg News this past July:

July 30 (Bloomberg) — Exxon Mobil Corp., the biggest U.S. oil producer, spent more on Washington lobbying during the first half of the year than all clean-energy companies combined, researcher New Energy Finance Ltd. said.

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, spent $14.9 million lobbying in the six months, 23 percent more than the $12.1 million laid out by companies that make solar panels or wind turbines to generate electricity, London-based New Energy Finance said today in a note to clients. Oil and gas companies spent a total of $82.2 million on Washington lobbyists, according to the report.

Congress is debating legislation that would promote renewable power, limit carbon dioxide emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and expand drilling for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. President Barack Obama signed a law earlier this year that allocates more than $60 billion to promote clean energy.

Read the rest of the article here. The most recent clean energy expenditures I could find for Exxon Mobile were from 2008. They totaled 1% of the company’s budget.

These commercials are the contemporary, highly polished version of the 1950’s doctors trying to get us to smoke Camels.


Except their product is killing everything, not just lungs and people.

I had some catching up to do on Occupy Wall Street this week. Why did I not know much about this thousands strong anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street movement sweeping the country? Here is a bit of what I’ve learned and a bit of what I think.

This is my fault and it is also the fault of the media which has consistently under-reported progressive activism. Despite that the largest anti-war protests in world history swept the globe in 2002-3, the media largely sat out the anti-war outcry and focused instead on the much more entertaining political drumbeat to war in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. There was no reason to expect the brilliant work of Billionaires for Bush, the efforts of Code Pink, or the grassroots firestorm in Wisconsin, just to name a few, to be any different.

But Occupy Wall Street does feel different and not because the media is paying attention to it (they largely aren’t). It feels different because it really feels like there are a lot of people out there who are out of options, for whom If not this, then what? is a legitimate question. I think the lull and distraction of entertainment is wearing off and the frustration has itched to the point of sparking action. One thing I’ve consistently read about this protests is that there are lots of young people, college students and recent graduates especially, in attendance who don’t have jobs and do have tons of debt. Looking at any press, however, it seems like there are a range of people with many ages and backgrounds represented. It would seem from the photographs that there are a range of people who feel that for them the economy is a failure.

The little bit of history I’ve read on the protests indicate that they started “as a call to arms from anti-consumerist magazine AdBusters” which is the same anti-consumerist magazine that got me to stop eating meat over eight-years ago (true story). The popular criticism in the media is that the protesters are not organized and demands are not clear. There is a fascinating and super educational report on Up with Chris Hayes on the organization and aims of Occupy Wall Street (it is the first segment on this clip). The movement is 14-days old and complaints are multitudinous and complex, so I think a little disorganization can be forgiven so far.

I agree that our economic system, focused on power and wealth accumulation rather than poverty reduction and shared prosperity, is a failure.

So, what’s going on down there? There’s lots of chanting, drumming, marching –standard street-protest stuff. There’s also apparently an amazing nightly General Assembly (which you will learn about if you watch the report linked above from Chris Hayes) where opinions are heard and decisions are made in a fascinating display of direct democracy. There are some confrontations with the police, like today where apparently 700 protesters were arrested. Protesters have also been attacked with pepper spray even though the movement has consistently been peaceful. They’ve been getting a lot of outside donations and support, especially food.

In other big news, big unions like the Transport Workers Union in New York, teachers unions, health-care unions, and progressive groups like MoveOn.org are just now joining up, so it seems like we can expect this to get a lot bigger in the coming weeks which is sort of exciting, though I also feel wary and nervous for the participants. At my most un-cynical core, I wish them all the best and hope their progressive, inclusive, anti-corporate message grows and resonates and sparks positive change.

I snagged these pictures off the comments thread of the Huffington Post article and would love to credit them:

Some of the crowd on day 14 of the protests. Photographer unknown.

 

Amen to this man's message from day 14 of the protests. Photographer unknown.

Me on the issues: Gun Control? Pro. If I were to make a list of things I would like my government to do, Make it harder for us to kill each other would be pretty near the top. Pro-Gun people will scoff at this. There is the, “What if someone breaks into your house?” argument and the argument that guns prevent crime. Not in Mexico, they don’t. Guns are super sad, I don’t believe my Constitution gives me the right to one, and I feel compelled to live the way I want to live, not how I imagine society forcing me to live. I don’t want to shoot people or other things. I’d prefer that people and other things not be shot.

Naturally, I like to imagine that people who disagree with me don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and are probably a little crazy. But then the educated side of my brain says no, it’s important to listen to other points of view and weigh their merit, consider context, motivation, and objective, etc… Write an essay about it. Yawn.

This clip from “The Daily Show,” however, really makes the crazy just pop. A quote, to get into it: “Barack Obama has been good to the NRA, but if you want to take away [NRA CEO] Wayne LaPierre’s preconceived narrative, you’ll have to pry it from his cold dead hands.”

"The Daily Show" September 29th, 2011.

In just a few short weeks, on October 1st, foreign guest workers with the H2B Visa program in the United States are scheduled to get a federally mandated pay raise. Predictably, industry is pushing back, claiming that paying more for labor is simply untenable.

“They’ve been getting away with underpaying these workers for years,” said Art Read, general counsel for the advocacy group Friends of Farm Workers, who was involved in the lawsuit that forced the Labor Department to redraw its rules. “If you’ve gotten used to being able to have a very cheap workforce, having to compete with market wages is maybe something you don’t want to do.”

Read says that in the case of Maryland seafood workers, for instance, the wage will probably rise from about $7.25 per hour now to about $9.24 after the new rule goes into effect. The former rate is the same as the federal minimum wage, while the latter rate, incidentally, roughly matches the living wage rate for Maryland, as defined by the state.

H2-B guest workers are some of the more vulnerable workers in the seafood industry, according to Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, a workers’ rights law center based in Mexico. She says many workers end up earning less than minimum wage because they get paid by the pound of seafood handled, and many of them are afraid to report workplace abuses because they aren’t U.S. citizens and can work only for the employers listed on their visas.

Micah-Jones says that the low wages paid to guest workers help drag down wages for everyone, including American workers, and that the wage raises are long overdue.”

Read the whole article here: Lobbying Group Launches ‘Defense Fund’ to Fight Raises for Guest Workers