Monday, November 26, 2012

TRIANGLE vs TAZREEN: A Tale of Two Fires

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames. 146 workers died in the fire, from smoke inhalation, and from jumping or falling to their death. Here are a few useful factoids worth noting:
  • The Triangle Shirtwaist company occupied top three floors of the 10 story building.
  • Immigrant workers worked 9 hours a day during the week and 7 hours on Saturdays, earning between $7.00 and $12.00 per week.
  • The oldest victim was Providenza Panno, age 48.
  • The youngest victim was 11 year old Mary Goldstein.

101 years later, on November 25th, 2012, the Tazreen Fashion factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh went up in flames. At least 111 workers died in the fire, from smoke inhalation, and from trying to escape via the staircases in the building.  Here are a few useful factoids worth noting:
  • The building was 9 stories high, with most of the workers on the first five floors. The top three floors were under construction and unoccupied.
  • Although most workers were gone for the day, more than 600 were working overtime.
  • Workers were paid approximately $37.00 per month, the government mandated wage....which is about $9.25 per week.
  • The factory had a history of safety violations and had previously been coded “orange,” a warning grade, by Wal-Mart.

One would think that impact of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire would have a greater impact on American work and safety ethic. And I supposed that government regulation within the United States insures that sweatshops are few and far between. They are not gone here…we all know this….but they are no longer standard parts of the working landscape. Outside the US, however is another story completely.

The American appetite for mass produced brand-name-luxury-goods-at-on sale-prices sends scouts out looking for the next cheap labor pool. I defy you to find mass produced clothing made in the US. It was just a few months ago that Ralph Lauren was taken to task for producing the hideously ugly Olympic uniforms overseas. But I stray from the point. 

One can argue this demand employs millions of workers worldwide. But does having a job in a slave factory at slave wages make having any job okay? As an “advanced” society, what exactly do we owe those workers? 

A lot of people will say we owe them nothing. They working conditions should be monitored by their own government, not ours…and that is correct. However, if the contract holder is an American firm or retail chain, do we not have an obligation to make certain the workers are treated fairly and paid a decent wage. BUT…is our idea of “fair” and our idea of “decent wage” a uniform standard?

Does any of this bother you? It sure as hell bothers me. For the record and to be PERFECTLY clear, I will not set one single foot inside a Wal-Mart. Their idea of ethics and my idea of ethics are diametrically opposed. I try to shop locally whenever possible. And when I do shop, especially for soft goods like towels and clothing, there are some countries I will NOT support. China is first on that list. And there is a method to the madness.

The criteria is “how good a trading partner is the country on the label, and what do I know about their human rights record?” The corollary becomes, “Is this manufacturer known for being human rights cognizant?” This is like being kosher. You know what you’re supposed to eat and not eat. Reading food labels is a way of life, so it’s not exactly a quantum leap to read clothing labels. This is my private little revolt, but at least I am cognizant of what I am buying and where my very hard earned dollars are going. 

The workers of Bangladesh and other places where clothing is contracted deserve a whole lot more than sweatshop conditions and a $1.00 an hour wage. They have the right to clean and safe factory floors with ample exits and safety training. As long as they are an integral part of our consumer chain, they should be able to have hopes and expectations just like American workers. If you insist on off-shoring your contracts, at least act like a responsible citizen abroad. 

Orange carding the factory is not enough. Telling the brokers you will not contract to a substandard manufacturing facility is a non-negotiable point. Explaining to your shareholders that ethics are more important than profit will be a challenge, but it can and must be done. 

Tell your customers. People want to feel good about what they buy. Up the ethical standard…and then advertise the hell out of it. Raise the bar. Set the example. Do what’s right for everyone. 

Do what’s right for everyone….and there will be no more Triangle Shirtwaist or Tazreen Fashion fires. 

The Wifely Person's Tip O'the Week
Have ethical issues with a company's trading practices?
Vote with your feet and your wallet.
Someone else actually wants your business.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No Settlements, No Jews, No Peace

You might have heard that Target Corp headquarters had a little incident on Friday. Seems someone called in a report of what sounded like gunshots being fired on the 10th floor. In the scheme of things, security did everything right. There was confirmation that something that sounded like shots was heard by multiple people, and then then announcement that everybody should close their office doors, barricade themselves in, then wait for the all clear.

Well, like most modern businesses, few people actually have doors, so employees, including my daughter-in-law, hustled into conference rooms and barricaded those doors. Again, this was the safe thing to do and no one will argue the wisdom of being safe rather than sorry even though the sounds turned out to be a worker using some sort of pneumatic tool (think nail gun) near an air vent and yes, it sounded pretty much like gunfire.

I was blissfully unaware of any of this when my daughter-in-law called to tell me she was okay. “Is there some reason you wouldn’t be okay?” I asked cautiously. She told me what happened, adding she thought it was odd that I hadn’t tried to call her. We laughed the relieved-it-was-all-a-big-nothing laugh, and then I said, “Let’s play a game.” 

"Okay." I suspect she knew where I was going.

“What if," I asked, "you lived in Tel Aviv?” 

“I’m ahead of you; I already thought about that. This would’ve been part of my reality.”

That lockdown was about 3 hours. Israeli civilians have been under a non-stop rocket barrage for several years. In 2011, over 680 missiles and rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. In 2012, thousands have been fired….more than 100 today, November 18th, alone. These missiles and rockets are not aimed military targets; they are aimed at schools and parks and apartment buildings. But until the past week, Israel’s response has largely been silent.

No other nation on the planet would be expected, requested, demanded to stand silently by while they are under attack. Did the British just stand around during the Blitz with all the lights on waiting for more? Did Paris just throw open the gates to the Germans and welcome them with, "Entrez, mon gars! We'll just conveniently line up so you can shoot us!"  Why is Israel expected to do nothing?

There are those who claim settlements are the obstacles to peace, but let’s just be clear about that particular fiction:
·         In 1948 there were NO settlements and NO peace
·         In 1967 there were NO settlements and NO peace
·        In Gaza today, there are NO settlements, not a single Jew, and there is NO peace.

As long as the Palestinian charter states Israel is an illegal entity and teaches its children that the destruction of Israel is their primary goal, Israel will continue to question Palestinian commitment to the peace process.

According to the NY Times:
The onslaught continued despite talks in Cairo that President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt said Saturday night could soon result in a cease-fire. Mr. Netanyahu said he would consider a comprehensive cease-fire if the launchings from Gaza stopped.

There has been no let up to the missile and rocket launching, no indication that Hamas is going to stop lobbing bombs at Israel. In fact, the Hamas propaganda machine today announced that they “missed” suicide bombings and that they would resume them.

And what exactly do they think is going to happen?

Let’s be real clear about a few item:
1.   Jerusalem and the country around it has been the heart and soul of Judaism for almost 3000 years. Text references in Torah, Tanach, Talmud and other contemporaneous text describe Israel as a nation and Jewish homeland.
2.    Archeological evidence supports the existence both the first and second Temples.
3.    Even during periods of exile, there were Jews who remained in the land.
4.   Israel and Judea the twin Jewish states were ruled at varying times by Egypt, the Hellenes, the Persians, the Romans, the Caliphates, varying Crusaders, the Ottomans, and the British. At no time did Jews abandon the land.
5.    By the time of the British Mandate in 1947, large tracts of land had been purchased (as in bought and paid for) by Jews and Jewish organizations returning to the land they called home. Farms and settlements were established on those tracts.
6.   Even the name isn’t Palestinian – “Herodotus wrote in c. 450 BCE in The Histories of a 'district of Syria, called Palaistinê" (whence Palaestina, from which Palestine is derived)” He went on to describe the population as predominately Jewish.
7.   Palestinians as a recognizable ethnic group did not exist until the 1834 Arab Peasants Revolt against conscription in the Egyptian army.

Let me also be perfectly clear: the Israeli government is not blameless in the ongoing  violence. They’ve have their share of the responsibility and they have brought some of this down on their own heads. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

If Hamas was serious about wanting a solution for the Palestinians, it would be part of the peace process. However, if Hamas is going to continue to launch rockets and missiles into Israel…especially from locations with the bounds of hospitals, schools, and other human shield locations, they must be equally prepared for the consequences. Israel has the absolutely right to defend its populations, Arab, Christian, Baha'i,  and Jew alike, from attacks originating in Gaza. To do anything less would be gross dereliction of duty.

See the tiny speck of red? That's Israel

Oh wait. I forgot. We're talking about Jews living in their own country under their own flag.  Here's an idea. Let's build a wall around Israel and call it a ghetto. Then the rest of the world would be happy to support that plan.

Either way, we're gonna live in our own country, under our own flag, in the place we've called home for 3000 years. Get used to it. And every Jew in the world will retain the right to finally go home. To our own country. Under our own flag. 

We already did the crematorium thing once. We're not doing it again. Got it?

The Wifely Person's Tip O'the Week
Jews have survived as a unique people for some 3000 years.
Don't expect that to change. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

And Now, Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Life....

Well, campers, color war is finally over and yes, the blue team won. The winners will go to their new or renewed offices and the losers will go wherever they want..except 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and that's just fine with me. 

From the "Things I Just Don't Quite Get file:  

1: Power companies from non-Sandy areas sent trucks and crew to Long Island to help repair the power grid. LIPA (that thing we used to call LILCO) initially sent them away. Turns out, the unions didn't want strangers helping. Huh? Are these people challenged in a new and unusual way? No wonder people are rising up all over the island.

2: The Minnesota Republican party didn't quite grok the idea that since most everybody in the state knew they were bankrupt and facing eviction from their offices for non-payment of rent, this might be viewed as a fiscal credibility issue.3: Most of the Romney campaigns aids found their campaign issued credit cards turned off at the moment the man conceded defeat, leaving some of them stranded.  Draw your own conclusions,  but that was not a nice thing to do to people, a lot of them kids, who worked their asses off for that man.  But, as my mother would say, "Class will out."

While we’re on the subject of a complete lack of class, I would turn you attention to a little teapot with a tempest called Mendota Heights.

My little city is just that, a little teapot of town: quaint, charming, idiosyncratic, fiscally conservative, …did I mention little? It has a lovely little city hall, a lovely little city council, a lovely little planning commission, and some lovely little parks. The town pretty much runs itself because we have professional city manager and  city council that pretty much works and plays well with others. Two years ago, Sandra Krebsbach was elected mayor by a sweeping margin of 36 votes. She, of course, ran again this year.  Her opponent was an affable gent named Ultan Duggan who has a penchant for writing his committee reports in verse. And unlike the mayor, he seems to actually listen to all sorts of people in our town ... not just the ones in his own claque. 

Mayor Krebsbach's qualifications, or rather the lack thereof, are not in question here; her understanding of the democratic process is.

Madam Mayor, when asked for election night feedback by that august media outlet, The Mendota Heights Patch, said:

I think it’s a campaign that didn’t need to happen. Normally the mayor is not challenged, the city’s been doing well. And Mr. Duggan was in a safe spot, he’s in the middle of a four-year term [on the city council], and I think he just wanted it.

Excuse me?  

Opposition happens to be part of the process. I don’t know about all you voters out there, but this voter found Madame Mayor’s statement to be particularly offensive. Kinda goes with her performance as mayor, which is more noblesse oblige than actually working toward the common good. I would encourage my readers from around the world to take a moment to write to Mayor Krebsbach about how the democratic process works....even in America. Please; feel free to send her an explanation on how one runs for and gets elected to office. Seems she thinks she's exempt from opposition. 

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, winter is a'coming. Now that the election is over, there were things to get around to doing... like hauling in the ladder to change top hat  flood bulbs in the kitchen. Spartacus also replaced the flaming heating element in the oven all by herself. This required advanced use of email to secure a new element, picking it up at the appliance part store, as well as advance use of hex-head screwdriver. There were no electrocutions and the oven works fine, thank you very much. I have also mastered how to remove goo from the rear end of a ceramic towel bar holder that separated from the wall. Clean and now drying, it will be re-installed on the morrow with the appropriate amount of new goo carefully smeared with a putty knife I already owned and didn't have to buy.. And yes, the snow blower is ready to go. 

The real highlight of the week was the trip over to Eclipse Music in West Saint Paul to see Misha's new Ibanez AFJ85 hollow body with a vintage sunburst finish before it was shipped to Milwaukee. When Grandpa Sieg heard he was trying to put together enough for a new guitar, he decided this was something he wanted do. And so he did. And this is it: 
It's good to hang out in a music store when you're a kid. When you go back to order a real working musician's guitar, the guy that humored you back then is all smiles when he hears the kid turned pro. It was a cool moment. 

 "If you're going to be carpenter, you need a good hammer."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Erev Elections: Get Out There And Vote

Here’s the straight skinny:

There are two candidates:

One candidate believes in civic responsibility, civil discourse, and a government that fulfills its mission when it holds an umbrella over its citizenry when bad stuff falls from the sky. The same guy believes the planet is fragile and needs protection from human endeavor. The same guy who believes education and innovation go hand in hand. The same guy who believes a woman has the right to equal pay for equal work AND that women are smart enough to know how to manage their own bodies.

The other candidate thinks 47% of We, The People,  are freeloaders. The same guy who thinks civil rights aren’t for everyone. The same guy who wants to repeal legislation that protects in environment from overuse and abuse. The same who wants to turn health care over to competitive insurance companies. This is the same guy who thinks women should not be in control of their own bodily functions.

I don’t know about you…but I don’t think there’s much of a choice here.

·I believe I know what to do with my own body.

·I believe civil rights are for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or level of personal wealth.

·I believe the planet needs to be protected and given the opportunity to heal from the abuse we have heaped upon it.

·I believe if you want to live you, you need to be paying your fair share of taxes.

But whether you agree with me or not………….

it's your civic duty.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain for the next four years.