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Saturday, January 24, 2009

MORAL BANKRUPTCY IN THE NAME OF COMPASSION 

RANDOM JACK. DISSEMINATE FREELY.

A RESPONSE TO NICOLAS KRISTOF’S DEFENSE OF SWEATSHOP LABOR

By Jack Random


“Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.”

Nicolas Kristof, NY Times, “Where Sweatshops are a Dream,” January 14, 2009.


Nicolas Kristof’s support of sweatshops in a recent Times commentary smacks of the same moral compromise that has historically been employed to justify a vast array of exploitations, indignities and inhuman treatment of the common laborer by the ruling elite.

Beneath the reputation of the Times and the writer, himself, echoes of past rationalizations of apartheid, slavery and even genocide are masked but distinct.

It was once accepted in polite company for a gentleperson to suggest that tribal Africans abducted from their homes and villages were better off as slaves in America than they would have been as free men and women in Africa.

It was once common for the defenders of South African apartheid to argue with shocking conviction that native blacks owed a debt of eternal gratitude to the white ruling elite for lifting that nation out of dire poverty.

It was white liberal legislators who perpetrated the greatest act of cultural genocide in American history with the Dawes General Allotment Act resulting in the Oklahoma Land Rush and the decimation of tribal communities. Further, I have heard liberal minded and otherwise thoughtful beings suggest that the slaughter of the buffalo and the policies of extermination were essentially inconsequential because the indigenous peoples would have died in any case owing to the white man’s disease.

They were wrong then and Nicolas Kristof is wrong now.

In Kristof’s world, “sweatshop” becomes a euphemism for slave labor and yes the slave would tell the master he or she preferred slavery to starvation but the greater truth is there is always a better way.

Developing micro-economies has shown great promise and success in third world nations without the indignity of slave labor. A garden based subsistence with a bartering economy is infinitely preferable to slave labor. Direct aid for government subsidies to create art and crafts colonies, green communities and other experiments in sustainable living is preferable and ultimately less costly than corporate exploitation.

Never mind the rape of the land, the loss of natural resources, the environmental degradation and toxic pools of waste left behind, anyone who cannot think beyond a rationalization of labor exploitation as a model for developing economies is both morally and intellectually challenged. It is the kind of foggy thinking we grew accustomed to in the days of Clinton (all those deliberations over the term “genocide” to justify action in Kosovo and inaction in Rwanda).

A nation welcomes a labor exploitation model only because its leaders are corrupt and seek personal gain. Take away corruption and no nation on earth would accede to such an indignity imposed on its people in the name of hope. Better to be isolated from the world than to volunteer as its perpetual victim.

Nations throughout Latin America have already rejected the exploitation model served up by the Neocon brain trusts of the Bush administration (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc.). They learned that it is a deception and a trap. Far from rescuing the people from poverty, it is a self-perpetuating form of permanent poverty. It is a road to debt and a scheme of the master nations to enslave the underdeveloped world.

It is frankly shocking that a voice known for its compassion and worldview should stoop so low as to justify global exploitation at its most basic level.

Come out with it then. Say it clearly and without compromise: There is no principle or moral ground that cannot be sacrificed to expediency.

Jazz.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Beatlick Travel #9: Revolutionary Grounds 

Inaugural Day, Tucson AZ

The transition to warm Tucson has been great, the cold nights gone for the season hopefully, although it has rained here for the last two days and there’s a quiver of a wet chill in the air. I sit and write here now at the Revolutionary Grounds Coffeehouse and Bookstore on 4th Ave. The shelves hold titles like “The Marxism of Guevara,” “Emiliano Zapata,” “The Urban Homestead,” “ The Anarchist Cookbook,” and “dominKNITrix.” The store hosts groups from poets to knitters to moveon.org. There are brochures for Independent Booksellers: Doing Our Part to Keep America Interesting (www.indiebound.org).

It was here Beatlick Joe and I came on inaugural day to watch an especially installed television for the proceedings. “Anna” a social services student was first one in with a bottle of champagne chilling in her cooler. We got there about 9 a.m. The coffeehouse owner joined us with sparkling cider soon and a roving reporter from the Arizona Daily Star came in and interviewed our growing ranks.

I feel like the earth has shifted under my feet – we were not kind to Bush there in the coffeehouse as we enthusiastically hooted him out of office. One young man at Anna’s table wore a black t-shirt with white lettering: 1/20/09 …end of an error…

It was a really memorable social scene and we all enjoyed the camaraderie as we collectively stood up as President Obama was sworn in. We bonded there in a fun and unique fashion over the high hopes and champagne. I had three glasses. I haven’t been so gleeful that early in the morning since I took the 9 a.m. tour of the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam.

Tucson has provided a great urban campsite. We are parked in a well-established neighborhood amidst the 4th Ave. Historical Business District. We buy groceries and fresh water at the co-op. In the mornings we get coffee at one of the cafes in exchange for bathroom privileges. There’s the Epic Coffeehouse, the Chocolate Iguana, Revolutionary Grounds, of course, and the Metro Market. They have the best bathroom, plus lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, the cheapest bagels, and the only café I have found with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Love it!

We also collect what we call our gray water, not drinking water but washing water, from the local bathrooms. We discreetly enter with our jugs in our designer recycling tote bags. Slowly our little ban reveals itself – where’s the best place to keep the candle altar, the cookstove, the water bucket.

Moving around in the bus is like a dance. You have to move five things to get to one thing – every time! We are quite content in the van on a rainy day. We have a crank radio, DVDs that we can play with portable deep-cell batteries that are rechargeable.

Ever so often we pop for a hotel room or campground so we can wash up and recharge the batteries, they take over 12 hours to recharge. I even recharged my phone on one yesterday, plus watched a movie, and still have juice. We have one box dedicated to CDs, DVDs and one box for dictionaries and books. So we’re getting there.

The worst thing that has happened: One night as Joe was crawling into the bed, in the dark, I reached out for something and the smallest, tiniest little corner of my not even long fingernail caught his eyeball. It was a nauseating experience, I missed the cornea by about one-fourth of an inch. It was bloody for five days. Horrible experience.

So that was the initiation. Movements have to be slow and measured – the way my mother used to operate.

Happy Trails
Indian Country next, into the wild!

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Beatlick Travel #7-8: Along the San Pedro 

Beatlick Travel Report #7
A Slash in Mother Earth

I want to say something about the Lavender Pit in Bisbee to balance some of my glowing remarks about the town. It was great, but the reason for the town isn’t, or wasn’t. Mining operations are shut down now but Phelps-Dodge can start the copper mine up again at any minute if the price is right.

As one enters Bisbee east you can’t miss the awful yawl of the enormous pit, now fenced off and offered up as a “Scenic Overlook.” Deep, deep down at the bottom of this pit lies a liquid a color I find hard to describe beyond the word “bloody.” It is a slash so deep into Mother Earth, a color of blood so emphatic, that marks the last scrape of the blade in that mine. And if you ever had any doubts about what we do to the earth and how we rob it of its bounties with no regard to renewal, just look at the fresh leeching wound called Lavender Pit in Bisbee.

We pulled out of that town and headed for a string of ghost towns Beatlick Joe has been researching for years. We drove about forty miles over to Sierra Vista to stock up at Wal-Mart and then headed to the old Charleston Highway. There we set up for a few days of rustic camping along the San Pedro River.

Most locals told us “there’s nothing left there now” when we inquired about Charleston, the old ghost town. We headed north on foot up the San Pedro River about a mile past the bridge looking for the site. A fellow hiker had suggested we look for trees downed by beavers and a huge cottonwood tree in the middle of a big dry wash and climb to a ridge above the river.

We followed as he mentioned but found an even more spectacular entrance to the old town. After we passed evidence of chucked backpacks by Mexicans crossing the border illegally we walked just a bit farther and both Joe and I spied some stairs along the riverbank. They were so old and indistinguishable at first but those straight lines suggested something man made. So it was there we found the true entrance to old Charleston.

Next day we walked to the south of the river. It’s a beautiful walk here but it was so cold at night. I can only imagine the poor souls who are trekking through this river and up these trails trying to get to America. Mexico is approximately twenty miles downriver from where we camped. The backpack we saw had a toothbrush, toothpaste, and Ace bandages in it.

And we are encountering plenty of Border Patrol. I had wondered about this aspect of our journey, would we be encountering surly agents of Homeland Security all along our path as we head to San Diego?

But all the guards we have met were fresh faced young men, kind, friendly, and to tell the truth I guess a little bit bored as the make their patrol. The young man we encountered in Old Hachita, that vast windy emptiness, drives around 12 hours a day in his truck. I told him it looked like a lonely job. He shrugged good naturedly and said he listened to football games on the radio.

Later in the month when we asked the border patrol if we were nearing Keller Road and the Presidio Terrenate by the San Pedro River, an old fort from the 1770s, he didn’t know a thing about it. As it turned out we were within a quarter of a mile of the place and this young guard didn’t even have a clue it was out there.

So they all seem fresh-faced, earnest, and to tell the truth a little fresh on the job. It’s obvious plenty of money has been thrown at these guys as evidenced by their pristinely new and expensive equipment by way of trucks and all terrain vehicles.

Beatlick Travel Report #8

So we followed the San Pedro River exploring one old mining town after another. The days have been beautiful but the nights were cold. You don’t feel much like you’re living a dream when you are cold at night. We are sleeping under two down comforters and have a battery of appliances for heat. Sometimes I just make a little fireplace with a bunch of fat candles at night, then I have a Coleman stadium heater, a little heater that runs off of a canister. We aren’t sleeping uptop yet, there’s another bed up there, we use the fold out bed below. Then I take a blanket and tuck it in along the ceiling and our bed is like a little couchette on a European train. I get all that heated up and we go to bed really warm and cozy. It’s when we have to get up to pee about four or five in the morning that it gets tough.

After that I usually can’t go back to sleep so I just wait. I keep the stove by the bed so I can just turn it on to start the coffee and not get out of the warm covers. We drink the coffee and watch our breath freeze in the morning air as we wait for the hot Arizona sun. Once it does come over the mountain tops it will warm the van within thirty minutes.

We keep our crank radio in the bed and really enjoy listening to it at night. I heard so many weather reports about Tucson being in the forties at night that I finally insisted we go there. Joe didn’t really want to hit any big cities but now that we are here we love it. And we are warm all night!

Happy Trails

Beatlick Pamela

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Beatlick Travel #6: Open Mic in Bisbee 

Beatlick Travel Report #6

It takes a lot of adjectives to describe the Old Historic Bisbee mining town in Southeastern Arizona. The labyrinth of roads, sidewalks and roundabout that create Bisbee were a total turnoff when we first tried to drive into town. But once we found our urban campsite in a parking lot in front of Saint John’s Episcopalian Church, we hit the streets and the charm of the district unfolded.

Bisbee cleaves to the Mule Mountains with terraced landscaping and stairways bustling up the sides of the hills like so many stays in a dance hall girl’s corset. The Copper Queen Lode put the town on the international financial map in the 1880s. The Stock Exchange Bar and Brewery still holds the only stock exchange board existing at the time between Chicago and San Francisco.

The old miner shacks troop down the mountain sides in a Byzantine hodgepodge. Each street follows the lay of the mountain edges as best it can. The slopes are steep, the churches are plentiful, so are the bars, with a great public library. Arresting vintage clothing, an unbelievable milliner’s shop, artists galore up and down every little byway and alley in every charmingly scruffy old building, are augmented with some genuine characters sitting on the benches and in the coffeehouses.

Open mic every Thursday was at the Stock Exchange Bar. I only got first names, but the event was hosted by drummer David. One guitarist was named Mike, from north of the Bay Area originally. We got there early and waited as folks came in carrying equipment and instruments. The sign up sheet was passed around.

The concept was the loosely formed band played a few songs then offered to back up anyone who wanted to come up, either another musician or spoken word folks such as ourselves. Well what grew to be about a six piece ensemble turned out to be a kick ass band. I just can’t find a better word for this group of guys who were so generous with their time and talent.

“Catdaddy” was on the sign up sheet, a most innocuous looking kind of guy, we had watched him earlier as he unceremoniously helped lug in the sound equipment. But when he got up to play he smoked the crowd with his “Mojo Working” and “Standing on Shaky Ground” I started to believe I was standing on shaky ground too. The Beatlicks had to follow “Catdaddy!”

But it was as I say a generous group of people. At the bar was a splash of what appeared to be second tier hairdressers and wardrobe staff clad “a la Euro trash” and sipping on beers and Cosmopolitans. Along the shuffle board table was the Paris Hilton lookalike (western-style) and her smaller entourage. At the table closest to the stage was our group, the folks who grew up with Bill Haley and the Comets.

The bartender was a phenomenal one. Dressed in vintage clothing with long hair she would flip around, our put up, or put in a hat, she danced on the dance floor, made small talk as she poured out the suds, and was absolutely charming even when the crowd swelled. Great lady with a lot of personality, I didn’t catch her name.

The old town is full of characters like the Buffalo Bill Cody clone, reeking of Pachouli and offering walking tours, and “Food Not Bombs” Bob who feeds the hungry at 4 p.m. every Sunday afternoon in Goar Park. He says the organization feeds people in over 200 cities around the world. We enjoyed his beans and rice, salad, and loaves of bread.

They were all great folks and when you see all the locals greet each other it’s with genuine affection, their eyes light up when they great each other. Their camaraderie gives the onlooker a sense of the bond that must have existed between townfolks back in the old hardscrabble days when the mine was first founded. We stayed a week.

Happy Trails!

Beatlick Pamela

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Beatlick Travel #5: Urban Camping in AZ 

Beatlick Travel Report #5 2009 Series

Third day out of Las Cruces, on a Monday, we woke up to snow so we curtailed our plans to linger any longer at the Old Hachita ghost town. We headed for Douglas, AZ , less than 30 miles away, and hit the Visitors Center before noon. I was surprised to find out we were only 15 blocks from the border of Mexico. Across the border lies Aqua Prieta, Sonoma.

The ladies at the Visitors Center claimed this border town has not been subjected to violence. I’m too intimidated to go to Juarez now for dental work because of the violence there. But “PR” says all is peaceful and calm over there and shopping opportunities abound. We declined shopping in order to explore our opportunities for “urban camping.”

We found our urban campsite in the city’s downtown parking lot behind the grand old Gadsden Hotel. From there I took a two-mile stroll east of the Pan American Highway encountering modest homes with charming yard art and quite a few elegant old homes closed and falling into decay. There was an enormous fountain, just beautiful, that reminded me of the grand fountain of Catalan Plaza in Barcelona.

I liked it there, looked a little like the Ninth Ward in New Orleans BK (before Katrina). The town was small and unintimidating, slow traffic, my kind of place. We passed the night in the parking lot outside the hotel and went in for breakfast the next morning. It’s an historical building with original Tiffany windows and is quite enjoyable to just look at. Lots of old furnishings give a visitor the genuine effect of the era. That made a good segue for us as we paid for breakfast, left a generous tip for some generous supplies of coffee, and headed to the old mining town of Bisbee, once the financial hub between Chicago and San Francisco.

Happy Trails!

Beatlick Pamela

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