Archive for December, 2010

29
Dec
10

Corporations To Boycott (Part I)

While we’re increasingly aware that the majority of products in stores are the results of sweatshop labor or other unethical practices, we tend to be not aware of which corporations are responsible. To help combat this, below I’ve listed some major corporations and a couple descriptions of their more heinous crimes.

 

Nestle:

While you probably wouldn’t associate a company whose logo is a nest of baby birds with anything but sunshine and joy, Nestle will probably make the top ten of anyone’s list of evil corporations. Among Nestle’s major crimes are:

  • Marketing infant formula to developing nations, despite the fact that many water sources (water being used in the preparation of the formula) in the third world are polluted or otherwise unfit for drinking. Many third world women are either illiterate or unable to read the language the formula instructions are written in, leading to babies essentially being fed toxic formula. Nestle has been aware of this since the late 70s but continues to aggressively market it’s products to the world world, even in the face of the 1981 World Health Organization regulations on infant formula advertising. Even with formula that is properly prepared, non-breastfed infants are at a much higher risk of disease.
  • In addition to marketing infant formula to the third world, Nestle has also begun to “freely” offer it’s infant formula in some maternity wards and hospitals. Once new mothers start their babies on the formula, the lactation process in interrupted and the babies must continue to use formula, even after they leave the hospital (and the formula, no longer free, must be bought).
  • Buying dairy products from farms seized and controlled by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, despite the country being under international sanctions.
  • Contributing to the deforestation of Borneo in order to attain palm oil, used in a number of Nestle products.

Now Nestle is by no means limited to the baby formula market- and has a vast array of subsidiary companies and brands, ranging from Wonka candy to L’Oreal cosmetics. Fortunately, Nestle has a habit of boldly displaying it’s logo on it’s various products, so it’s not especially difficult to figure which products not to buy.

 

Coca-Cola:

Like Nestle, Coca-Cola is one of the corporations you’d never suspect. Among their long list of crimes are:

  • The creation of a subsidiary company (“Fanta”) in order to continue selling products to Germany during WWII. Allow me to say that again, just to make sure you get it. Coca-Cola, an American company, created a subsidiary so they could continue to sell carbonated drinks to the Nazis, during the second world war! Forgetting the fact that Coca-cola advertised itself as a patriotic company and the choice soft-drink of American soldiers and then turned around and built manufacturing plants in country America was at war with, they sold to the Nazis. Even before the second world war it was common knowledge that Fascism wasn’t the greatest thing in the world.
  • A large amount of water is used in the creation of a number of Coke products. In Kerala, India, a Coca-cola bottling plant used so much water that a miniature drought was created, devastating the lives of the local farmers. The plant was eventually shut down, but it still demonstrates the companies lack of concern for the impact the manufacturing of it’s product has on the environment and locals.
  • In both Gautemala and Colombia, union leaders have been murdered by paramilitary groups- contracted by Coca-Cola– for attempting to improve deplorable conditions of the manufacturing plants there. Similar anti-union oppression has occurred in Turkey, China, and El Salvador.

While again like Nestle, Coca-Cola profits from a wide range of brands and products, it’s much more difficult to find out which. Some Coca-Cola products include: Dasani bottled water, Snapple, Heineken, Bacardi, Dr Pepper, Minute Maid, Powerade, and many others. You can see a full list here.

 

Monsanto:

Monsanto is the closest thing we have to James Bond villain’s empire. It’s a massive biotechnological agricultural corporation- in simpler terms, they study, manufacture, and sell genetically engineered crops, hormone growth treatments for animals, and herbicides. Most prominent in their long list of crimes and unethical activities are:

  • The creation of terminator seeds- seeds that have been genetically modified so that after producing a crop, the seeds that crop produces will be sterile (farmers will be unable to use those seeds to plant more crops). Essentially what this means is that farmers must continually buy seeds from Monsanto in order to grow crops. This isn’t so much monopolization as it is enslavement.
  • Monsanto’s animal growth hormones have been alleged to be linked to a number of a verities of cancer.
  • In Anniston, Alabama, Monsanto was documented to have knowingly disposed of mercury and PCB for forty years into creeks serving as the local drinking supply. Monsanto has similarly dumped toxic waste in landfills in Britain.
  • Monsanto was one of the creators of Agent Orange, a defoliation product used during the Vietnam War with horrific effects on both the Vietnamese people and US veterans.
  • In an attempt to escape investigation of the impact it’s genetically manufactured cotton had on the local Indonesian environment, Monsanto bribed a high level Indonesian official.
  • In France, Monsanto was found guilty of falsely advertising it’s herbicide Roundup as being biodegradable- however one of the chemicals used in the herbicide extremely bad for the environment.
  • Monsanto has both a very large and powerful lobbying group and a number of American public officials are former Monsanto employees, including (but not limited to): Michael Taylor- former Monsanto Lobbyist and now senior adviser to the FDA commission on food safety (if you look up “Conflict of Interest” in the dictionary, you’ll find this cited as an example), Donald Rumsfeld (former Secretary of Defense), Linda Fisher- assistant administrator for the EPA, and Clarence Thomas- a justice of the Supreme Court.

In short, Monsanto doesn’t even pretend to be anything but evil.

 

So what’s to be done?

 

While, as the title of the post suggests, boycotting products from these companies is ideal- stemming profits to these companies will give more ethical companies a chance to compete, and if nothing else makes a good ethical statement. Another good move is simply spreading the word- the majority of corporations build of a facade of PR so they can engage in immoral activities behind the mask of decency. The more the public is made aware of the actions of these corporations and Capitalism’s amoral nature, the more likely they will be to take action.

 

As with most lists, this post is by no means exhaustive and will be continued in the future- any comments or suggestions are welcome.

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23
Dec
10

A Few Thoughts On The Homeless

Despite being largely a mire of polemic and melodramatic prophecies about an impending Republican police state, the liberal, progressive site AlterNet does occasionally produce some good articles. I just recently found one about new legislation passed in San Fransisco targeting the homeless.

The article’s been linked here.

Now it reminded me of a lecture activist Shane Claiborne gave at my college- he discussed an occurrence in Philadelphia when a similar law was enacting, unfairly targeting the homeless. Indeed, we can probably all think of some time when we’ve heard about something like this.

Now of course such laws are never called “anti-homeless” or anything along those lines and more often than not are simply disguised as anti-loitering laws. The reality, unfortunately, is that law enforcement may be selective about who they fine for “loitering” or “obstructing” the sidewalks or “panhandling”. Is a man in a business suit, asking you for some spare change, just as likely as an unkempt man wearing four jackets? Is a woman in high-heels just as likely to be told to “move along” as a woman with plastic-bags taped to her feet? I think not. Nevertheless, legislation is constantly being introduced for the specific purpose of persecuting the homeless, ranging to anything from fines (exactly how fining the poorest of the poor is supposed to work I can’t say) to imprisonment (as if living in abject poverty wasn’t punish in and of itself).

 

Why? Why are we so bent on attacking the most broken members of society?

 

Perhaps the reason we so despise the homeless is because we’re afraid of them and what they represent. They’re the products of our manipulative and exploitative social system, and a grim reminder that any of us could have the same fate. The homeless don’t respect the illusions of total prosperity we insulate ourselves with. When we categorize our worlds into neat areas and neighborhood based on class, the rich and middle class can live warm, fuzzy lives of blissful ignorance until some unruly schizophrenic shuffles down the sidewalk clutching a battered backpack and muttering something about George Lucas stealing his thoughts. Then the homeless person turns into a stark, in-your-face reminder of poverty, disease, and pain. I’d go even so far as to say that the homeless are dark reflections of our own lives- that we’re not all that different from the homeless. A friend once sent me a comedy routine in which the speaker says “We’re not supposed to give money to the homeless because they’re just gonna spend it on drugs and alcohol. But wait- that’s what I’m gonna spend it on…”. What’s the real difference between a homeless person living in a cardboard box downing cheap booze and a billionaire living in a mansion drowning his sorrows in rare wine?

 

So what’s the solution?

 

Going back to the comedian I referenced just a minute ago, his routine went on to recount “He [the guy a homeless person had asked for money from] said ‘Why don’t you get a job, you bum?’ People always say that to homeless guys- ‘Get a job!’ like it’s always that easy. This homeless guy was wearing his underwear outside his pants. I’m guessing his resume aint all up-to-date. I’m predicting some problems during the interview process…”. Clearly the problem isn’t going to be solved by simply telling the homeless to get jobs and houses and integrate into society. Besides, more often than not it’s society that’s responsible for the creation of the homeless in the first place- these people don’t simply materialize. You take a person, throw him into a Capitalist world where he has to face-off against his peers for jobs and opportunities, there’s a chance he might not make it. Is there really any point in taking the homeless and forcing them back into a world that will either chew them up and spit them back out or cause them to displace others? It’s our way of living as a whole- competition instead of cooperation.

 

And in the meanwhile, how should we treat the homeless? They aren’t where they are because of laziness or choice, and they aren’t animals without need for human compassion and help. We need to resist the temptation to separate ourselves from them or bring in laws to harass the homeless into inconveniencing someone else’s city. Who knows if luck will turn and you or I will end up in the same position as them?

21
Dec
10

It’s [Not] A Wonderful Life

The holidays are here, and whether you participate in them willingly or have them thrust upon you, there’s really no escaping it. The constant blaring of Christmas music (seriously people, do you really think that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is such a great song that we can hear it for the thirty-seventh time without going berserk?), the milling crowds of shoppers who’d rather stand in-line for half an hour than just use eBay, the pundits debating (yet again) whether or not there’s a war on Christmas and who’s winning it. And then there’s It’s a Wonderful Life– perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie of all time and the subject of tonight’s post.

 

For those of you who may not have seen the film, allow me to summarize. The film opens up in the vast expanse of space as one angel (named Joseph) tells another angel, (named Clarence) that he’ll be sent to earth to keep a man named George Bailey from killing himself. Clarence is shown the progression of George’s life, in which George repeatedly sacrifices himself for the protection and well-being of others- from leaping into a frozen lake to save his younger brother’s life (causing George to become deaf in one ear as a result), to giving up his dreams of seeing the world to take care of his father’s business, to giving up his and his wife’s honeymoon savings to help local townsfolk. Now despite his hard work and selflessness, nothing really much goes right for George, his trouble’s climaxing when Mr. Potter (a slumlord and the main antagonist in the story) takes advantage of George’s absent-minded uncle and then attempts to sue George’s company for fraud. George, no longer able to take the pressure, drinks heavily, prays tearfully, and then resolves the only solution left to him is to kill himself (getting his family a decent life-insurance payment). Now just before George hurls himself off a bridge into the roaring water below him, Clarence (in human form), appears in the water below, calling for help. George, forgetting suicide (for the moment), leaps in to save Clarence who, after being dragged to safety, reveals he threw himself into the water to keep George from killing himself. Clarence proceeds to show George what life would be like for the town if George had never been born (and it’s not a pretty place), convincing George that his life is worth living. George returns home to find that the townsfolk, having heard of his plight, have rallied together to raise the cash George needed to deposit (prior to Mr. Potter ripping them off).

 

Now despite sounding like one of the most heartwarming stories ever told, It’s a Wonderful Life actually contains some seriously dark truths about our lives and morals depressing enough to have us all want to leap off of bridges.

 

I. Hard Work Does Not Pay Off

One of the myths that Capitalism is built on is that if you work hard enough, you’ll eventually become wealthy (laziness equals poverty). Now we have George Bailey, who has worked hard all of his life, and he’s no wealthier at the beginning of the film than he is at the end. Indeed, he struggles to make ends meet, and Potter ripping him off quite nearly bankrupts him. It’s makes for a very different message, even if the truth is depressing- the moral being “If you work really hard, you might- just might– be able to pay the heating bill on time. How magical would that be?”.

 

II. Honesty, Charity, And Selflessness Will Kill You

George is as close as you get to the physical manifestation of kindness. The guy never takes anything for himself (though he desperately wants to), and is repeatedly shown giving up his dreams of traveling the world to help others out, from chucking out his honeymoon savings to the needy to keeping a pharmacist from accidentally poisoning a kid (getting slapped around at first- the pharmacist’s a mean drunk). What does George get? Near-poverty, nerve-wracking stress, major depressive disorder, and he never travels out of the country. Again, it’s the perfect example of the Capitalist society we live in. Greed, not charity, is rewarded. Deceit, not honesty, selfishness, not self-sacrifice. These are the qualities you need to get ahead in a world where profit comes before people. Mr. Potter is in all ways the complete and utter opposite of George, and he’s the wealthiest and most powerful man in town. The observation here- you better hope morality will build you a mansion in heaven, because it’s not going to get **** on earth.

 

III. Evil Goes Unpunished

The moment you see Potter swipe the $8,000 from Uncle Billy, you’re just waiting for the climax of the film where George, wrapped in an American flag and surfing on a wave of fire, pummels Potter to death with a cinder block. Sadly, it never happens. In fact, nothing happens to Potter. He just get’s away. With 8,000 dollars. Just like that. No prison time, no public shaming, no sternly worded letter- Potter just becomes eight-k richer and that’s the end of it. It’d be like if OJ Simpson got found ‘not guilty’ or if Wall Street got a 700 billion dollar bailout or Nazi scientists got out of war-crimes trials for helping the US against the Soviets… oh wait, that all happened. The moral here is “You know the people without souls? The one’s who are constantly screwing the world over for their own benefit with no regard for the pain, misery, and death they cause? Yeah, they’re gonna keep on doing that.”

 

Like I said, it’s a depressing film- but it’s about Capitalism, so what else can we expect?

19
Dec
10

Films For Communists

In a world where the bearded-Russian “Communist” stereotype is the antagonist in every film made before 1990, I thought it might be time to list a few films where Marxists are (for once) portrayed in good light. Below is a list of mainstream films that deserve to be seen by any Communist:

 

Shadowlands (1993): Despite having only a fleeting reference to Communism near the beginning of the film, it’s refreshing to see a Marxist portrayed with being in the process of torturing some American soldiers or preparing to launch nuclear warheads.

The Edukators/ Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei: While I don’t recall Communism ever being directly addressed in this German film, the movie deals with the various issues and struggles of fighting Capitalism in this era. The film opens with the main characters handing out tracts on sweatshop labor, and follows them as they escalate their responses to social injustice (breaking up the “action” sequences with lively discussions on activism and sequences depicting some of the ills they’re trying to fight against). Again, while Marxism is never directly discussed, it is evident that this is a far-left film.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): While I don’t believe there are any explicit uses of the terms “Communist” or “Marxist”, the film takes place during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, in a remote part of the country where a Fascist captain is attempting to destroy the “Red” resistance hiding in the nearby mountains. The film is a fairy-tale and never becomes especially political, however the Communist rebels are shown in a very sympathetic light.

Battle in Seattle (2007): Though the film doesn’t deal with Marxism, it does (excellently) show different perspectives on social activism, from a black bloc Anarchist (embracing violence as a means of protest) to a group of non-violent protesters, to a riot policeman, to a simple bystander, to a news crew, to the mayor of Seattle. If nothing else, it’s a discussion starter not merely for Communists, but for anyone.

Defiance (2008): Set during the holocaust, this film follows the story of the Bielski brothers and their followers, a group of Belorussian Jews who formed a resistance to the Nazi occupation of their country. Throughout the film, the Bielski partisans interact with the Soviet resistance, and while the Soviets are portrayed as being generally arrogant and unhelpful, the film does show them (1) fighting the Nazis (a part of Communist history too often forgotten) and (2) makes reference the official Communist policy of ending antisemitism. In addition to this, it is suggested that one of the members of the Bielski group is an active Socialist, and the partisans adopt a communal form of a living.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Now you’d probably think the last place you’d find Communist-sympathies would be in a James Bond film- after all, the man spent a good 80% of his career foiling Soviet plots (the other 20% being unbelievably picky about his drinks- seriously, how will he even know if it’s been shaken or stirred?). Despite this, Quantum of Solace actually is about as left-wing as Bond’s ever been, as the film deals with politics used by the West to dominate third-world countries. In Haiti, there’s a brief discussion between the two villains about how raising the minimum wage angered foreign corporations, and the Quantum’s plot (the “quantum” being the cabal of tuxedoed bad-guys) is to control the majority of drinking water in Bolivia (a clear reference to the attempt to privatize drinking water in Bolivia back in 1999).

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008): I’m a bit at a loss to describe this two-and-a-half hour film detailing the roots, rise, and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction). While certainly sympathetic to the causes of the characters in the films, the story does not shy away from showing the faults of the RAF- honesty that I believe only serves to strengthen the film’s credibility, even with the left-wing slant. While the previous film’s I’ve mentioned have tended to shy away from explicitly dealing with Marxism, this is made up for (and then some) by The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which constantly brings up the issues of politics, economics, revolution, and culture. While it’s an exhausting film to watch (again, nearly three-hours packed with conflict, history, and so on.), it’s well worth seeing.

Che (2008): In all honesty I was slightly disappointed by Che. For being nearly five-hours long (divided into two episodes), the film really didn’t say much about the justification for the actions of perhaps the most iconic Communist of all time. While the film did artfully chronicle Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution, and his expedition to Bolivia, the film leaves out Che’s actions in Cuba after the revolution (baring a sequence of Che’s trip to the United Nations) and his time in Africa. While the film definitely is sympathetic to Guevara, the film really only deals with Guevara- and not the ideals he fought for. It almost feels like I watched the beginning and the end of a documentary on the man. Even so, it’s still a decent film.

The Trotsky (2009): While the film technically doesn’t deal with Communism, considering the main character believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, themes of revolution, unionization, and rebellion are hard to get away from. Again, while the film centers on the issue of youth rebellion (apathy vs boredom), the movie is inundated in Marxist slogans, philosophy, and art. Leon Bronstein (the protagonist), constantly quotes Trotsky and other prominent Marxists. Throughout the film, pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein (yes, he was a Socialist), Lenin, and other revolutionaries can be seen on posters and paintings and t-shirts. Now while I am tempted to go on, I’ll save this film for a more in-depth review later- suffice it say for now that The Trotsky is a great movie for Marxists.

 

Please note that this list is by no means complete- any suggestions are welcomed and I hope to have full reviews of these films out soon.