why do people watch awards shows?

Why do people watch award shows? Seriously, what is the appeal? Ideas, conjecture and idle speculation welcome.

petition in support of seized dogs in brampton

There's now a petition in support of the people and dogs I blogged about here.

Please take a minute to sign it.

the shushing of shuffling feet

I have some questions.

Why do so many apparently able-bodied, ambulatory young women drag their feet when they walk?

Has it become a "thing" to walk this way? A generational badge, like upspeak?

Is there something about Ugg-style footwear that compels the wearer to drag, rather than lift, her feet?

Are more young people dragging their feet than ever before, or have I suddenly grown super-sensitive to the sound of shuffling feet?

I would like to ask why so many women under the age of 30 want to spend upwards of $300 to wear what amounts to a uniform, but I already know the answer to that. I didn't do it when I was that age - in fact, I was decidedly uniform-free, including all the "alternative" looks that have a way of becoming one more uniform. I didn't do it, but I do understand it.

But the feet, the feet! Why the shuffling, dragging, scuffling, flagging feet? Pick them up! For chrissakes, WALK!

bsl madness in brampton, your help is needed

From the Brampton Guardian:
Rambo wasn't hurting anyone.

No one had complained about the young dog, he hadn't escaped 75-year-old Maria Gaspar's Vodden Street yard, and he had never bitten anyone.

But Rambo and his sister, Brittany, are on death row at the City of Brampton's Animal Shelter right now while their owners are embroiled in a battle to get their beloved pets back before they are euthanized. The deadline - Feb. 5.

Both dogs were seized from separate homes on Jan. 13 by city animal control officials who said they believed the dogs to be pitbulls.

Their owners say that's not true, and both say they have proof from veterinarians tracing their backgrounds as boxers/American bulldogs.

The city's veterinarian has a conflicting opinion, according to a letter sent to the Branco family, who own Brittany.

Gaspar is heartbroken. The senior citizen can't understand why Rambo was seized. She said the confusing part is, the city has licensed Rambo as a boxer/American bulldog cross for the past two years. His vaccination certificate from North Town Veterinary Hospital classifies his breed as a boxer cross. And, no one who has seen the dog has ever thought he was a pitbull, according to the distraught Gaspar.

The city told Gaspar that no one had complained about Rambo. He had not escaped the back yard. If anything, he made passersby laugh the way he would jump up onto the roof of his dog house to look over the fence, she said.

But it was that quirky little habit that led to him being removed from his home and held by the city under threat of euthanasia.

A passing animal control officer spotted Rambo on his perch in December, looking over the six-foot fence, and told Maria Gaspar she had to move the doghouse because Rambo could escape. Gaspar agreed, but then the issue of Rambo's breed came up. She was told to get a letter from her veterinarian attesting to the dog's breed, and to have him neutered. Gaspar said she got the required letter, and an estimate for neutering, and gave both to the city.

In response, the city sent a letter telling Gaspar there is no completed certificate from a veterinarian, and that "Rambo has been confirmed to be a pitbull by his parentage as well as the characteristics as defined in the City of Brampton Dog By-law..."

The bylaw defines a pitbull as a pitbull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire bull terrier, American pitbull terrier, or "a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those dogs."

"It's not, it's not pitbull," said Gaspar emphatically, struggling for the English words to describe her upset. She can't talk about Rambo without crying.

"This problem is like a son problem," she said, emphasizing how important Rambo is to her. "Now, I no have dog, I no have money, I no have nothing... It's not fair."

They can't fight the city because her family doesn't have any money for a lawyer, she said, but Rui Branco is taking on the fight for both dogs. [More here.]

This is what breed-specific legislation leads to: the loving companion of a senior citizen, a dog who has done no wrong, removed from its home without due process and murdered. Because someone says the dog appears to be a certain breed. And the citizen, a taxpayer, has to fund this murderous madness!

This is why Ontario's dog laws make no sense. Imagine if this were your dog. It was almost my dog.

I hope you will take a moment to email the City of Brampton about this injustice: animal.services@brampton.ca. Please send a quick note of protest to try and help save these dogs, if not for the dogs themselves (who have done nothing to a death sentence!), for the people who love them.

I especially urge residents of Peel Region (Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon) to write.


cbc, you may quote me for free

The Canadian progressive blogosphere is freaking out over a new CBC policy, explained here by Cory Doctorow.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has signed up with iCopyright, the American copyright bounty hunters used by the Associated Press, to offer ridiculous licenses for the quotation of CBC articles on the web (these are the same jokers who sell you a "license" to quote 5 words from the AP).

iCopyright offers "licenses" to use taxpayer-funded CBC articles on terms that read like a bizarre joke. You have to pay by the month to include the article on your website (apparently no partial quotation is offered, only the whole thing, which makes traditional Internet commentary very difficult!). And you have to agree not to criticize the CBC, the subject of the article, or its author. Thanks for fostering a dialogue, CBC!

It's bizarre, for sure, especially when one considers that CBC is a taxpayer-funded corporation.

But a commenter on Doctorow's Boing Boing blog has the right idea.
So folks just stop quoting CBC articles, stop linking to them, and they disappear from net culture. Other sites get the attention.

This smells like something that will be withdrawn in short order, if not voluntarily, then perhaps in court. There's a Facebook group opposing the move, and a letter to CBC is probably a good idea.

herbert on zinn: "that he was considered radical says way more about this society than it does about him"

Bob Herbert has a beautiful remembrance of Howard Zinn: "A Radical Treasure".
Think of what this country would have been like if those ordinary people had never bothered to fight and sometimes die for what they believed in. Mr. Zinn refers to them as "the people who have given this country whatever liberty and democracy we have."

Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we’re living through now, it’s fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don’t even notice it. (There’s a restaurant chain called "Hooters," for crying out loud.)

I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

Mr. Zinn was often taken to task for peeling back the rosy veneer of much of American history to reveal sordid realities that had remained hidden for too long. When writing about Andrew Jackson in his most famous book, "A People's History of the United States," published in 1980, Mr. Zinn said:

"If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people — not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians."

Radical? Hardly.

Mr. Zinn would protest peacefully for important issues he believed in — against racial segregation, for example, or against the war in Vietnam — and at times he was beaten and arrested for doing so. He was a man of exceptionally strong character who worked hard as a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and his experience of the unmitigated horror of warfare served as the foundation for his lifelong quest for peaceful solutions to conflict.

. . .

He was a treasure and an inspiration. That he was considered radical says way more about this society than it does about him.

Thank you, Bob Herbert! Read it here.

brief thoughts on the passing of j d salinger

I wasn't able to digest the death of the great writer J. D. Salinger, as I was mourning my hero Howard Zinn.

I love Catcher in the Rye, and Franny and Zooey, and Seymour Glass. All live very vividly in my memory. Salinger's passing reminds me that it's time to re-read Catcher for the however-many-th time.

I would also use the occasion of mentioning Catcher to plug Rule of the Bone, by Russell Banks. Bone is Holden for another generation. He is the grandson of Huck Finn and the son of Holden Caulfield.

I acknowledge Salinger and his brief, enormous contribution to our literature. But I can't say I'll miss him, or that his passing is a loss. How can we miss someone we haven't seen in 50 years? Perhaps Salinger's decision to cease contributing to our literary wealth and withdraw from the public was a loss. But with that choice, he became as least as famous for being unknown and unseen than for his justly famous book. For many people, Salinger's reclusive life in New Hampshire became a commentary on publishing, fame, celebrity, America, what have you. But whether that was his intention, we can never know.

All I can say about J. D. Salinger is that I hope he was content. I hope he felt his choice was a positive one.

Seeing his youthful photo in the obituaries, contrasted by the senior but still vigorous Howard Zinn, I couldn't help but compare what they gave the world, and find Salinger lacking. That's unfair of me, no doubt, but by contrast with Zinn, Salinger's reclusivity seems like an egotistical indulgence.

zerbisias on super bowl ad double standard, nnaf on better use for your money

If you read only one piece on this year's Super Bowl advertising hypocrisy, make it Antonia Zerbisias.

I read this on Facebook, copied with permission:
Pro-choice people have better use for their money!

By now most of you have probably heard about the anti-choice ad CBS plans to run during the Super Bowl. Multiple media sources have reported that the segment will cost sponsors Focus on the Family $2.5 million.

Here at NYAAF, we have been wondering: what kind of non-profit has an extra $2.5 million lying around to spread misinformation to sports fans? How, we wonder, was such an expense justified to their individual supporters and their board?

While extra cash lying around has never been our problem, neither has irresponsible spending. Our pledge to our supporters remains true: %100 of your tax-deductible donations go directly to helping women obtain abortions they need but cannot afford. Our board is %100 volunteer and our personal donations as board members cover all overhead costs.

In light of the high profile madness stirring around what will air on TV next weekend, we thought we'd reach out to you now and ask you to join us in a fundraising campaign. Because we know PRO-CHOICE PEOPLE HAVE BETTER USE FOR THEIR MONEY. Instead of $2.5 million on a Super Bowl ad, consider donating $25 or $250 to help break down barriers in women's access to abortion.

Help us take this campaign viral! Make a donation today and make post it to your wall or change your status to say: "$2.5 million on a Super Bowl ad? Pro-choice people have better use for their money!"

I'm about to donate myself.

National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF)


hypocrisy, thy name is harper

In yet another classic Friday afternoon news dump, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed another five Senators, tipping the balance of power in the Senate to the Conservatives. And supposedly this is needed because - caution! watch for exploding heads! - the Opposition is obstructing the passage of anti-crime legislation!

Ontario MPP and Senate appointee Bob Runciman said:
For too long, the Ignatieff Liberals have abused their majority in the Senate by obstructing law-and-order bills that are urgently needed and strongly supported by Canadians. Today, this abuse comes to an end.

Holy cow! Did he really say that?? Obstructing law-and-order bills, Bob? You don't mean the very bills that were killed when your leader suspended Parliament, do you?

Hypocrisy the First of Stephen Senate-Reform Harper appointing yet more Senators is a raindrop in the ocean of Stephen Suspend-Parliament Harper accusing the Liberals of obstructing bills!

Second Wave, anyone? Keep it up!

battle of the letters, war resister edition

There's been a big run of anti- war resisters letters in some local Nanaimo newspapers, focusing on Cliff Cornell, who was recently released from military prison, and who wants to return to Canada. The letters were clearly orchestrated - they all used the same language, made the same fatuous points, and omitted the same relevant facts.

This week the same paper ran several letters in support of Cliff, including one of mine.
Letter writer Ken Bennett (Disgraced U.S. soldier a deserter, not 'resister', Letters, Jan. 21) calls Cliff Cornell a coward, but claims that the Americans who came to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam "had principles and stood against going to war."

How can the same not be said of Cliff Cornell? Like Vietnam, the U.S. war in Iraq is a war of aggression against a civilian population. Cornell, Rodney Watson (currently living in sanctuary in Vancouver) and others like them said "no" to this. They knew the people of Iraq are no threat to Americans and refused to participate.

Perhaps Bennett does not realize that tens of thousands of Americans who came to Canada during the Vietnam era were also war deserters, including CBC radio host Andy Barrie, an outspoken supporter of Iraq War resisters. If the Vietnam deserters "had principles and stood against going to war", surely their current counterparts do as well.

Laura Kaminker
Mississauga, ON

Letter writer Ken Bennett (Disgraced U.S. soldier a deserter, not 'resister', Letters, Jan. 21) should get his facts straight before adding insult to the injury that Cliff Cornell has endured.

First, Cornell did not run away, he honoured his responsibilities - his duty to international law and the Nuremburg Principles to refuse to participate in an illegal war like that in Iraq.

Second, Canada welcomed both volunteers and conscripts from the U.S. military who refused to fight in Vietnam, so welcoming Iraq War resisters is consistent with our tradition.

Finally, Canada refused to send troops to Iraq and Parliament has twice voted to let U.S. Iraq War resisters stay.

If we had a government that respected the will of Parliament, Cornell would still be living and working on Gabriola Island with all his supporters.

It is an insult to Canadian tradition and democracy that Cornell was deported to U.S. jail for standing with Canadians against the illegal Iraq War.

We must welcome him back and pass Bill C-440, to let all U.S. Iraq War resisters apply for permanent residence.

Jesse McLaren

Letter writer Ken Bennett (Disgraced U.S. soldier a deserter, not 'resister', Letters, Jan. 21) must have forgotten that Canada would not send a single soldier into combat in Iraq in 2003 because George W. Bush's illegal war was not authorized by the United Nations.

Bennett also must have missed the news that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

Cliff Cornell and other war resisters came to the same conclusion that Canada and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper did - the Iraq war was "absolutely an error."

Cornell has faced eight years of poverty and harassment, a deportation and 11 hard months in jail for saying no to the war in Iraq.

He is one brave soldier standing up to a deceitful president and an immoral war not worthy of any soldier's blood. Cornell is the embodiment of principle and courage against all odds.

David Fox

supreme court makes it official: omar khadr's rights are being violated every single day

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the constitutional rights of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr have been violated, and continue to be violated every day that he is imprisoned in the US concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay.

Although the Supreme Court said it has no jurisdiction to order the Harper Government to repatriate Khadr, there is now even more unambiguous and powerful evidence that the Harper Government violates the human rights of Canadian citizens, specifically those who are brown and/or Muslim.

daily dose of imagery on shooting people

Very interesting Daily Dose of Imagery today. I recommend scrolling down to read the whole post.

Link good on 29 January 2010 only.

the last doctor of last resort: esquire story on dr. warren hern

A few months after Dr. George Tiller was assassinated, Esquire did a long feature on Dr. Warren Hern, now thought to be the last doctor in the US to perform "last resort" abortions. I missed it at the time, so perhaps you did, too.
The young couple flew into Wichita bearing, in the lovely swell of the wife's belly, a burden of grief. They came from a religious tradition where large families are celebrated, and they wanted this baby, and it was very late in her pregnancy. But the doctors recommended abortion. They said that with her complications, there were only two men skilled enough to pull it off. One was George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who specialized in late abortions.

They arrived in Wichita on Sunday, May 31. As they drove to their hotel, a Holiday Inn just two blocks from the Reformation Lutheran Church, they saw television cameras. They wondered what was going on, a passing curiosity quickly forgotten.

But when they got to their room, the phone was ringing. Her father was on the line. "There was some doctor who was shot who does abortions," he said.

They turned on CNN. Dr. Tiller had just been killed, shot in the head as he passed out church leaflets. In their shock, they mixed up the clinic and the church: We were supposed to be there. What if it had happened while we were there? What if he couldn't complete the procedure?

Now there is only one doctor left.

Full story here. Many thanks to M Yass for sending.

ellsburg on zinn: we were arrested because we were disturbing the war

Deep down, I'm in mourning for Howard Zinn. It feels like a personal loss to me.

Zinn lived a long life, and by any measure an incredibly full one, and apparently did not suffer a physically bad death. So his death is not a tragedy. But still, my heart feels so heavy with his passing. There's probably only one famous person - in the "famous people I have never met but whose lives have affected me so profoundly" category - whose death will pain me more.

Another hero for peace and justice, Daniel Ellsberg, shares a memory of Zinn on TruthDig. If you know Howard Zinn only as a historian and a writer, a kind of elder statesperson of the left, here's a story from his younger days, and not unique one, either.
...Twenty-seven years later, I can remember some of what he said. "On May Day in Washington, thousands of us were arrested for disturbing the peace. But there is no peace. We were really arrested because we were disturbing the war."

He said, "If Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had been walking the streets of Georgetown yesterday, they would have been arrested. Arrested for being young."

At the end of his comments, he said: "I want to speak now to some of the members of this audience, the plainclothes policemen among us, the military intelligence agents who are assigned to do surveillance. You are taking the part of secret police, spying on your fellow Americans. You should not be doing what you are doing. You should rethink it, and stop. You do not have to carry out orders that go against the grain of what it means to be an American."

Those last weren't his exact words, but that was the spirit of them. He was to pay for that comment the next day, when we were sitting side by side in a blockade of the Federal Building in Boston. We had a circle of people all the way around the building, shoulder to shoulder, so no one could get in or out except by stepping over us. Behind us were crowds of people with posters who were supporting us but who hadn't chosen to risk arrest. In front of us, keeping us from getting any closer to the main entrance to the building, was a line of policemen, with a large formation of police behind them. All the police had large plastic masks tilted back on their heads and they were carrying long black clubs, about four feet long, like large baseball bats. Later the lawyers told us that city police regulations outlawed the use of batons that long.

But at first the relations with the police were almost friendly. We sat down impudently at the very feet of the policemen who were guarding the entrance, filling in the line that disappeared around the sides until someone came from the rear of the building and announced over a bullhorn, "The blockade is complete. We've surrounded the building!" There was a cheer from the crowd behind us, and more people joined us in sitting until the circle was two or three deep.

We expected them to start arresting us, but for a while the police did nothing. They could have manhandled a passage through the line and kept it open for employees to go in or out, but for some reason they didn’t. We thought maybe they really sympathized with our protest, and this was their way of joining in. As the morning wore on, people took apples and crackers and bottles of water out of their pockets and packs and shared them around, and they always offered some to the police standing in front of us. The police always refused, but they seemed to appreciate the offer.

Then one of the officers came over to Howard and said, "You're Professor Zinn, aren't you?" Howard said yes, and the officer reached down and shook his hand enthusiastically. He said, "I heard you lecture at the Police Academy. A lot of us here did. That was a wonderful lecture.” Howard had been asked to speak to them about the role of dissent and civil disobedience in American history. Several other policemen came over to pay their respects to Howard and thank him for his lecture. The mood seemed quite a bit different from Washington.

Then a line of employees emerged from the building, wearing coats and ties or dresses. Their arms were raised and they were holding cards in their raised hands. As they circled past us, they held out the cards so we could see what they were: ID cards, showing they were federal employees. They were making the peace sign with their other hands, they were circling around the building to show solidarity with what we were doing. Their spokesman said over a bullhorn, "We want this war to be over, too! Thank you for what you are doing! Keep it up." Photographers, including police, were scrambling to take pictures of them, and some of them held up their ID cards so they would get in the picture. It was the high point of the day.

A little while after the employees had gone back inside the building, there was a sudden shift in the mood of the police. An order had been passed. The bloc of police in the center of the square got into tight formation and lowered their plastic helmets. The police standing right in front of us, over us, straightened up, adjusted their uniforms and lowered their masks. Apparently the time had come to start arrests. The supporters who didn’t want to be arrested fell back.

But there was no arrest warning. There was a whistle, and the line of police began inching forward, black batons raised upright. They were going to walk through us or over us, push us back. The man in front of us, who had been talking to Howard about his lecture a little earlier, muttered to us under his breath, "Leave! Now! Quick, get up." He was warning, not menacing us.

Howard and I looked at each other. We'd come expecting to get arrested. It didn't seem right to just get up and move because someone told us to, without arresting us. We stayed where we were. No one else left either. Boots were touching our shoes. The voice over our heads whispered intensely, "Move! Please. For God's sake, move!" Knees in uniform pressed our knees. I saw a club coming down. I put my hands over my head, fists clenched, and a four-foot baton hit my wrist, hard. Another one hit my shoulder.

I rolled over, keeping my arms over my head, got up and moved back a few yards. Howard was being hauled off by several policemen. One had Howard's arms pinned behind him, another had jerked his head back by the hair. Someone had ripped his shirt in two, there was blood on his bare chest. A moment before he had been sitting next to me, and I waited for someone to do the same to me, but no one did. I didn’t see anyone else getting arrested. But no one was sitting anymore, the line had been broken, disintegrated. Those who had been sitting hadn't moved very far, they were standing like me a few yards back, looking around, holding themselves where they’d been clubbed. The police had stopped moving. They stood in a line, helmets still down, slapping their batons against their hands. Their adrenaline was still up, but they were standing in place.

Blood was running down my hand, covering the back of my hand. I was wearing a heavy watch, and it had taken the force of the blow. The baton had smashed the crystal and driven pieces of glass into my wrist. Blood was dripping off my fingers. ...


heys update: blogging + persistence = satisfaction, but clearly not the norm

Update of this earlier post.

Heys called: "We are going to give you a replacement bag. We very rarely do this, because what happened to your backpack is not covered under the warranty, it is normal wear and tear. But since you bought it at ShopHeys-dot-com, and since you are a good Heys customer, we will replace your backpack. You may come pick it up anytime during normal business hours."

So when it finally became clear that I was not going to go away quietly, the company came to their senses and did what they should have done in the first place.

Obviously they had no intentions of honouring their warranty and were simply going to blame the problem on the customer.

Can this be considered good customer service? I'll leave that to your judgement.

heys bad customer service follow-up: don't buy from heys

Follow up on this post.

+ + + +

To Whom It May Concern:

Regarding the issue below, I brought my backpack to Heys and was shocked to learn that your company does not stand by its warranties. In addition, customer service was rude and dismissive.

You may wish to read the details here on my blog. [link]

I hope someone from Heys will be able to rectify this situation.

Laura Kaminker
Mississauga, ON

+ + + +

Hi Laura,

Thank you for your email.

Here at Heys International, we pride ourselves in our customer service and we feel that your interpretation of the conversation you had with our customer service representatives is not accurate. We value our customers and treat all customers - whether warranty repair or not - with respect and do our best to help them out and often go above and beyond what other luggage companies would do.

For the record, we have sold tens of thousands of ePac backpacks and have not had such a problem with the mesh pockets, - therefore the issue is not with the material of side mesh pockets, as all our backpacks use the same material for their side mesh pockets. It seems more likely your issue was caused by either some object that was placed inside the pockets that tore a hole through it, or by some exterior outside object that it came into contact with..

We encourage you to research our product reviews online, below is a sample of ePac reviews. [links]

We are confident in our products and in our level of customer service, nevertheless, as stated above, we always try to do our best for our customers and so we are willing to offer you a 50% discount towards another backpack from our website at http://shop.heys.ca and also giving you your first backpack back to you and repair as best possible your existing backpack. Please note, this discount is a onetime offer and is being offered to you as a gesture of our goodwill and in best trying to get you another backpack in a cost effective manner.

Please inform us of your decision so we can further assist you and provide you with the proper information to move forward.

If you have any questions or further concerns, please feel free to contact us.


CSR Team
Heys International Ltd.
[address, website, phone number]

+ + + +


This is a very unfortunate response.

Whether or not you have had problems with the mesh on thousands of backpacks, or hundreds, or only one, is irrelevant. There is a problem with the mesh on my backpack, and I didn't cause it, and you are not standing by your warranty.

Your offer of 50% off another purchase does not address the problem; it merely offers an incentive to spend yet more money on Heys products. I purchased a defective backpack, and the company won't honour its warranty. Why would I want to buy yet more products from the same company?

You might pride yourself in customer service, but in reality your customer service is very poor. I have made four purchases from Heys - one backpack and three travel jewelry cases. Now I will never buy another Heys product. Yet apparently, you believe it is more important to insist that the holes in the mesh are my fault than to retain my business. That is not "above and beyond what other luggage companies would do". It is short-sighted and foolish.

In my earlier email, I sent you a blog post in which I complained about Heys' customer service. Several readers have already commented on that post, saying that now they, too, will not buy Heys' products. I asked them to reserve judgment until I received a reply to my email. Of course I will be sharing this reply.

You may be interested to know that if you Google "heys customer service," "heys warranty" and several other combinations, my blog post comes up right after your company's website.

Replacing the mesh on the backpack, or if that's not possible, replacing the backpack, would be more profitable for Heys in the long run. The company is foolish to not realize that.


Laura Kaminker

+ + + +

(Final update here.)


howard zinn, 1922-2010

Howard Zinn, thank you for all you gave us.

You gave me history. You gave me hope.

Thank you.

You will be missed, always.

belatedly celebrating king: "there's something wrong with that press!"

I get really annoyed at the way Martin Luther King, Jr. is portrayed and celebrated in the US, how his message has been dumbed-down and sanitized for mass consumption. This is typical of US society, which vilifies, demonizes and sometimes criminalizes people working to make the country more egalitarian, then later puts their image on a postage stamp. King has a lot of company there, from abolitionists to early feminists and probably current environmental activists.

King is especially subject to this treatment, since through King's image the US can congratulate itself on desegregating, which is falsely equated with equality and justice. And because King advocated non-violence, the media can dish him out as a public pacifier, conveniently omitting the rest of the phrase: disobedience.

Here's a quote you won't hear on CNN.
Been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They applauded our total movement; they've applauded me.

America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, "We can't do it this way."

They applauded us in the sit-in movement--we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama.

Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, "Be non-violent toward Bull Connor"; when I was saying, "Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark."

There's something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, "Be non-violent toward Jim Clark," but will curse and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children." There's something wrong with that press!

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., April 30, 1967, at Ebenezer Baptist Church [Found here on FAIR]

Here's a quote from myself, on the eve of a certain fraudulent inauguration in 2005.
King was not just a brilliant orator and an organizer of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest. He was a revolutionary. He understood - and acted on - the connections between human rights, poverty, segregation and war. He steadfastly opposed US involvement in Vietnam. He knew that justice must come hand in hand with jobs, and that democracy on paper is not good enough.

King was persecuted by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which went after him with a fervor unrivaled for actual criminal conspirators. And Hoover was able to act with impunity, because he was blackmailing the President. He had so much dirt on Kennedy - including that one of his many girlfriends had turned out to be a Soviet spy - that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was helpless to stop the wiretapping, surveillance and, yes, death threats.

For more about the life and legacy of the great Reverend King, I highly recommend the two massive books known as "the King books": Taylor Branch's Pulitzer Prize- winning Parting the Waters and Pillar Of Fire. (They are the first two books of a planned trilogy; I eagerly await the third.) They are absolutely fascinating histories of the American civil rights movement, told through the prism of a biography of King.

These books are both epic in scope and rich in the details that make history vibrantly alive. Among its many eye-openers, these books will demolish your image of Kennedy as "the civil rights president", not because the author has an ax to grind against Kennedy, but because he cares about historical accuracy, as opposed to myth.

JFK did everything he could to ignore the entire civil rights movement, since championing it would cost him the precious Southern vote. As civil rights workers were attacked with bombs, shotguns and bullwhips, and an entire population lived in daily terror, the Kennedy Department of Justice turned their backs, interested only in appeasing the white Dixiecrat vote. JFK was dragged kicking and screaming into the civil rights era, and only because he could no longer count on the press to keep a lid on what was boiling over south of the Mason Dixon line.

If you haven't truly imagined what life was like for African-Americans living under Jim Crow, these books are endlessly revealing. You will come away filled with admiration and wonder at the moral (and physical) courage of ordinary citizens challenged to find their greatness against impossible odds.

In addition, I personally came away with disgust that such conditions were allowed to thrive in the United States well into the second half of the 20th Century. King is now hailed as a hero, but let's not forget he was denounced from the floor of the US Senate as the most dangerous man alive.

I still highly recommend these amazing books, although I got stalled halfway through the third. It was dense to the point of unreadable. But I intend to tackle it one day.


haikus against harper: poetry in action

Sometimes poetry says it best. Haikus Against Harper:
Mother Earth rebuffed.
Criticism banished too.
Decency denied.
-- TSL @ Halifax, NS

Summer, blossoms bloom,
Winter, parliament prorogued,
Spring, Stephen must . . . Fall
-- ABC @ Halifax, NS

Afghan detainees
Innocent people tortured
Stop the lying now!
-- JN @ Chelsea, NS

Arrogance pays not
Soon the piper will be paid
Harper is prorogued
-- CG @ Halifax, NS

Try your hand at writing your own! For instructions on how to submit a haiku to Haikus Against Harper, go here.

Thanks to Christine B for sending!

shockingly bad customer service from heys

Before I started grad school in September, I treated myself to a beautiful new backpack, specially designed to hold a laptop and with good ergonomics. It's this one, in red.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that both mesh side pockets had ripped. These are the pockets generally used for carrying an umbrella and a water bottle, and there were holes in the bottom of each. I contacted Heys, and was told that this was probably covered under the warranty, and I could either bring the pack in or send it in.

It happens that Heys has its corporate headquarters in Mississauga, making things that much easier.

After some delay, I took the pack in yesterday and was very surprised at the poor service - or rather, no service - I received.

When we walked into the building, there were two people seated at a front desk. A man was on the phone and a woman spoke to us. We showed her the problem and she immediately said, "This isn't covered by the warranty. It's normal wear-and-tear."

I was very surprised. "Is the material such low quality that it's expected to rip after only five months?"

She said, no, it wasn't poor quality material, but this was considered "normal wear and tear" and is not covered.

I persisted, and she said she would ask the other person, who was now finishing up his phone call.

He took one quick look and said, "Not covered. Normal wear and tear."

I kept trying, expressing surprise at their very poor customer service.

He said, "The warranty covers manufacturers' defects, such as a broken zipper. This is normal wear and tear. How do we know what you did to this bag? Perhaps you put it down on something, and it got caught and ripped."

Me: You're trying to tell me this is my fault?

Snotty Customer Service Rep: I didn't say it was your fault. But you could have caused it.

Me: It has holes on both sides. What are the chances that I could put down a bag on something and have it rip symmetrically on both sides?

SCSR: I really couldn't say what the chances are. But I don't know what you put in there, how much weight it was holding. It ripped through normal wear and tear.

Me: Very few things could fit in those pockets. I carry an umbrella and a water bottle - exactly what the company says those pockets are used for.

SCSR: We really don't know that.

Me: I thought this was a good company that stands behind its products.

SCSR: This is normal wear and tear. We can't help you.

Me: So it's normal for a product purchased in August to have holes in it by January?

SCSR: No, it's not normal, but it's not covered under the warranty.

Me: I'm really shocked at what bad customer service this is.

SCSR: [smirk]

This went on for a while, until the first person said she would ask someone else. She took the bag and went into the offices. I knew what was coming next.

She emerged with the bag and said, "I was told that even though this is not covered under the warranty, we will have the bag inspected, and perhaps they will be able to sew the holes. The stitching will show, but that's the best we can do."

Of course, it's not the best they can do. The mesh could be removed and replaced. Since both side pockets ripped on my bag, chances are that these pockets are ripping on many similar bags. Heys should replace the mesh on any affected bag, and use stronger material in future production.

And they should stand by their products for more than five months!

I'm sending this post to Heys, and will post again with their response.

"apathetic no more" at the mark

When Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, I wrote a post about Canadians' political disengagement, and submitted it to The Mark. By the time they got back to me with an edit, the anti-prorogation movement was going strong. I've never been so happy to see a story grow old.

After last Saturday's protests, I wrote an update: Apathetic No More.

Please click and read, and feel free to post comments here or there.


must-watch tv: global 16:9 on u.s. war resisters in canada

Last night, Global's "16:9" show included a segment on US war resisters in Canada. It is absolutely brilliant.

Please watch! And please circulate.


family of killed toronto construction worker faces deportation. can we help them? UPDATED

I heard about this yesterday during the Toronto anti-prorogue protest, and I can't stop thinking about it. There must be something we can do to help this family.

On Christmas Eve, 2009, four construction workers were killed in Toronto, when the scaffolding they were standing on collapsed. A fifth worker survived with very serious injuries. All five were migrant workers and their working conditions were unsafe.

Bad enough, eh? No, it gets much, much worse.

The family of one of the four deceased workers are refugee claimants from Israel. They are Orthodox Christians, and came to Canada so their two daughters would not be forced to serve in the Israeli "Defense" Forces. The girls are 7 and 14 years old.

Now the family may be deported. They have a refugee hearing next month, and they cannot afford a lawyer.
On New Year's Eve, Cherniakova got a letter from the Immigration and Refugee Board, telling her she has a hearing Feb. 23. Cherniakova, who speaks little English, knows if things don't go well in the Victoria St. hearing room, she and her two girls may very well be uprooted.

This, she said, would mean Korostin's dream of a future in Canada for his girls would be snuffed out.

Korostin always put his girls first, and left Israel in part because he worried about them doing mandatory military service once they completed high school, she said.

He also thought Canada would be a better fit for his family, who are Orthodox Christian and originally from the tiny community of Guzar, Uzbekistan, which is predominantly Muslim.

They decided to move here three years ago from Israel after a visit from friends who had moved to Canada. "They said, 'If you're Muslim, Christian or Jewish, you can find your place in Canada,'" Cherniakova recalled, through a Russian language interpreter. "You will be respected for who you are as a human being.'"

I'd like to help them. Perhaps we can raise money for their representation, through a ChipIn? I've met some refugee lawyers through the war resister campaign. Maybe they can help. Let me know if you have any ideas - or, more importantly, if you have any time and interest in getting involved.

Update. I contacted a refugee lawyer I've met through the War Resisters Support Campaign. I had seen her posting on Facebook about the construction accident, in relation to the poor workplace safety standards that migrant workers are so often subjected to. She's with Parkdale Community Legal Services, and I asked her if there is anything Parkdale can do.

She gave me quite a bit of information about what might be done on the family's behalf, but said that the family would have to contact Parkdale. Parkdale can probably represent them through Legal Aid, but they (the family) would have to foot the bill for the Humanitarian and Compassionate application.

I then contacted the Star reporter who wrote the story, quoted from the lawyer's email, and asked if he would pass on this information to the family. I also suggested that if they are internet savvy, they might try raising money through ChipIn.

The reporter wrote back to say he would pass along the information through an interpreter, and he said several lawyers have volunteered to represent the family pro bono.

There's no guarantee of anything, of course, but at least there is hope.

harper gets smacked in more than 60 cities

If you liked launching shoes at Bush, you'll love smacking Stephen Harper.

Mr Harper got a big smack yesterday, as thousands of Canadians expressed their displeasure with his prorogation of Parliament. Plans are already in the works to keep the movement alive with a second wave of action. You can stay informed through the Facebook group CAPP: A second wave of actions and through No Prorogue.

There's very decent coverage in the Globe and Mail, Star, CTV, Global, CBC.

Of course crowd numbers are under-estimated, but that's always the case. And I do mean always. I think it's best not to get too caught up in crowd counts. People cared enough to take to the streets in January in 60 Canadian towns and cities, and another handful of locations around the world, and everyone watching TV or picking up their newspaper or clicking on news sites can plainly see that crowds were both significant in size and spread throughout Canada. That's what counts.

Everyone in the activist community is saying the same thing: none of us have ever seen anything this big spring up this fast. This is truly a people's movement, bubbling up from the grassroots, both multi-partisan and non-partisan.

Apparently wingnut marching orders of the day are to spam comments on all news stories about the protests, claiming turnout was low and declaring it a failure. Sadly for them, and happily for us, we saw otherwise with our own eyes. As did the media, and, you can be sure, the Conservatives.

Two beautiful photos from the Daily Dose of Imagery, here and here.


happy democracy day!

Wherever you are, enjoy the day! Rallies in:
Antigonish, NS
Dallas, TX
Duncan, BC
Grande Prairie, AB
Halifax, NS
Huntsville, ON
Inverness, NS
Kamloops, BC
Lethbridge, AB
London, ON
London, UK
Maple Ridge, BC
Nanaimo, BC
New York City
North Bay, ON
Orillia, ON
Owen Sound
Parry Sound, ON
Prince Albert, SK
Prince George, BC
Prince Rupert
Saint John, NB
San Francisco, CA
Sault Ste. Marie
Smithers, BC
Smithers, BC
St. John’s, NL
Sydney, NS
Terrace, BC
Thunder Bay
Waterloo Region
Wolfville, NS

For information about your location, click here, look for the city, click again.


blog for choice 2010

Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

I'm taking a year off from Blog For Choice. Instead of writing, I'll refer you to April Reign, who reminds us that in order to control their lives, women must control their bodies.

And to the National Network of Abortion Funds, which reminds us that in order to control their bodies, many women need assistance. A donation to N-NAF is a meaningful way to celebrate Roe v Wade Day.

Trust Women!

zerbisias: canadians have had it, and we'll show up to prove it

The great Antonia Z:
It was Woody Allen who said that 80 per cent of success is showing up.

Is that why Conservative critics and the corporate media are so focused on numbers?

How many Canadians care about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cynical and contemptuous prorogation of Parliament last month?

Click and read!

war resisters event in mississauga: report

The war resisters event last night in Mississauga was excellent. After brief talks by war resisters Chuck Wiley and Kimberly Rivera, we watched "War Resisters Speak Out". The one-hour film was created from a past Campaign event, in which CBC radio host Andy Barrie - who came to Canada after deserting from the Vietnam War - interviewed a dozen Iraq War resisters who are seeking refuge in Canada. The movie is an amazing organizing tool - moving, informative, compelling.

After the film, Campaign organizer Michelle Robidoux gave a little update on our political situation, then I chaired a question-and-answer discussion between the audience and the resisters.

It was a great discussion, with many attendees making the undeniable connection between the increasing militarism in Canada and the government's refusal to allow US war resisters to stay here.

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the evening for me came as we were leaving: two people who attended told me they wanted to plan their own event in Waterloo. They are university students who learned about this issue for the first time, and now feel compelled to act.

The only minor disappointment was the turnout was low, only about 20 people. On the other hand, most people were new to this issue, and a lot of education and awareness-raising was taking place. That's more important than numbers.

The Mississauga News was there. Here's their story:
No going home for them

Chuck Wiley wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day and still has trouble choosing his own clothing.

Kimberly Rivera’s home is packed up in boxes, knowing her family’s stay in Toronto could soon come to an end.

Both are American war resisters who spoke last night at the Central Library during an intimate film screening and discussion about the uncertain future of military service men and women who went AWOL and fled to Canada.

“Coming to Canada was the first decision my husband and I ever agreed upon,” said Rivera, who grew up in Mesquite, Texas, a suburb east of Dallas. She headed for Canada in 2007 after being deployed in Iraq. She couldn't reconcile herself with the damage the war there was doing to civilian families.

“I realized that I wasn’t protecting anything in Iraq, I was just making it worse.”

Both Wiley, a Chief Petty Officer in the navy, and Army Specialist Rivera changed their positions on the war during their time in Iraq.

Meanwhile, both have been denied refugee status in Canada and fear they will soon be deported back to America, where they will serve jail time and be tarnished with a criminal record for life.

“I had to do it the way I did (coming to Canada), to get the story out,” said Wiley, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “If I had sat quietly in the United States and chosen to take a sentence, then it wouldn’t have changed anything.” [More here.]

gaza freedom march wrap-up from codepink and why it matters

I got an email a while back from CODEPINK, copied below. It's an excellent wrap-up of their involvement in the Gaza Freedom March, but beyond that, it's a beautiful articulation of the many reasons actions like this are important, and how they help to create change.

I have no doubt that the Gaza Freedom March was - and will continue to be - important in ways we will never know, part of the communal chain-reaction that will help a people achieve independence and self-determination.

In 2004, while waiting for our applications to Canada to be approved, I spent the summer working with a get-out-the-vote campaign to elect John Kerry. I didn't do this because I loved John Kerry, and in fact had a very difficult time deciding whether or not to vote for him. (I ultimately did vote Democrat that year, the only time in the decade I would do so.) But at that time, I felt strongly that progressives and liberals and ordinary non-wingnut folks needed to make a huge showing at the polls, to try to override the fraud and theft we knew was coming. I felt certain that the election would be stolen. But I also felt I had to be part of the resistance, and this seemed the likeliest route at the time.

Anyway, I was inviting everyone I knew to join voter registration drives and work phone banks. I invited a work acquaintance who I knew was progressive. He said, "Will I see results? I only like to participate in actions where I see tangible results."

I told him "results" were not always easy to measure, that activism was cumulative, that change is created through many paths, often invisible to the activists themselves. He scoffed at me, and ended the conversation.

In some ways, I've been trying to answer him ever since.

The 1,362 people from the Gaza Freedom March are just returning home, full of stories about a wild week in Cairo, in the Egyptian border towns of Al Arish and Rafah, in Gaza for those who got inside, and in the West Bank and Erez crossing for those who went to Israel. And people like you, all around the world, people, held solidarity actions that focused world attention on the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.

It was a rough week for many--battling Egyptian police on the streets, getting rebuffed by our own embassies, joining the hunger strike, debating the Egyptian offer of allowing only 100 people into Gaza. Through it all, however, we can be proud of our many accomplishments:

By focusing worldwide attention on the siege, we lifted the spirits of the isolated people of Gaza. "For us, a population of 1.6 million being imprisoned and starved, the gratitude we express to you, the Gaza freedom marchers, is immense. Thank you all from the depth of our hearts!" - Mohammed Omer, Gaza

We put the spotlight on the negative role Egypt is playing in maintaining the siege and we put pressure on the highest levels of the Egyptian government. "Your presence in Egypt was like an earthquake," said Suzanne, an Egyptian student. "You did more good politically by protesting in Egypt than you could have ever done in Gaza." Check out the hundreds of press hits on the march from dailies around the world!

We forced the Egyptian government to make a concession by letting 100 delegates into Gaza. That delegation took in tens of thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid, allowed Palestinians to see long-lost family members, recorded stories they will disseminate broadly, and put up a stunning mosaic memorial, created by muralist Kathleen Crocetti, in a central location in Gaza City in the name of the international community.

View the photos of the Women's Contingent in action and the whole Gaza Freedom March and solidarity actions from photographers around the world!

We signed on to a lawsuit against the Egyptian government for building a wall to block off the tunnels that have become the commercial lifeline for the people in Gaza.

We reinvigorated our own determination to keep struggling to lift the siege! A new international network formed that can coordinate future work and, initiated by the South African delegation, the Gaza Freedom March committee and various members drafted the Cairo Declaration that outlines a program for moving forward. View and sign on to the Declaration here.

There's a reason I keep these quotes on the sidebar of this blog. The words inspire me every day.
You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result.

Mohandas Gandhi

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead


quick personal note of the usual variety

Between schoolwork and the event I've been planning, plus my usual campaign duties, blogging has had to take a back seat. I have a long list of topics to write about, and it really irks me when I can't get to any of them!

I think I've been posting something like this every few days. How boring.

Plus, guess what, we have to find a new weekend dogwalker. No crazy drama or disappearances this time, she's just moving on. The wonderful Dharma Seeker will be filling in until we find someone new. But responding to emails and interviewing takes time, and time is in short supply.

war resister event in mississauga tonight; mp kennedy calls for debate on bill

If you are in Mississauga or Oakville or thereabouts, please join us for a special event. It's very special to me, because it's the first activism I've planned in Mississauga. I've been co-organizing it with a great activist from the Mississauga Coalition for Peace and Justice, who I met through IS.

We'll be screening "War Resisters Speak Out," a movie featuring a dozen US war resisters inteviewed by CBC radio host Andy Barrie, followed by a discussion with two people who are in the film. See below for details.

Similar events are being planned all over Canada in support of Bill C-440, the private member's bill that would allow US war resisters to stay in Canada. Opposition bills survive prorogation, and this one has the support of all three opposition parties. Obviously the bill has been stalled because of Harper's political machinations, but if passed, C-440 would give the weight of law to the two motions the House of Commons already passed in support of US war resisters - which the Harper Government ignored.

Yesterday, MP Gerard Kennedy, sponsor of Bill C-440, renewed his call for a full Parliamentary debate.
A campaign to halt the deportation of war resisters from Canada has grown from the jailing of an American army deserter who spent three years on Gabriola Island.

Toronto Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy wants Canadians to tell their MPs to stop deporting all American Iraq war resisters, until his private member's bill is debated in the House of Commons.

The bill is to allow immigrants to stay if they come here because they disagree with their government's reasons for going to war.

Bill C-440 was slated to be debated early in the next session of Parliament, but all work in the House has been pushed back by Prime Minister Harper's proroguing of Parliament.

Cliff Cornell walked away from his post with the U.S. Army and ultimately spent three years as a grocery clerk on Gabriola before his residency application was blocked and the Conservative government ordered him deported.

That deportation order came despite a vote to allow war resisters to stay in Canada, which got the support of a majority of Parliament through all three Opposition parties.

Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney, a Conservative, could not be reached for comment.

There are an estimated 250 war resisters in Canada. Kennedy wants voters to send MPs the message to stop the deportation orders against them.

Cornell, who left Canada before his deportation took effect last year, returned to Fort Stewart, Ga., to face the music. He was sentenced to a year in prison for desertion.

He got an early prison release on Saturday. His sentence was reduced by a month, thanks to a letter-writing campaign spearheaded by Gabriolans who knew him from the Village Market grocery store.

Canada has a tradition of supporting war resisters who left the U.S. to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war, and Kennedy said today's situation is similar, with the U.S. employing what some consider a "poverty draft," by promising poor people with few job prospects work in the military.

Cornell, who is travelling this week to his adopted family in Mountain Home, Ark., said he was lured by a $5,000 signing bonus and a job, and the promise he would not have to go to war. Two years later news came that his 39th Artillery Regiment was about to ship out for Iraq.

A majority of Canadians opposed the Iraq war and Kennedy hopes that opposition translates into support for the fight to change the immigration law to protect people like Cornell.

"We'd like Canadians to say: 'Is this fair?' Should someone with a crisis of conscience, who turns to Canada when they're compelled to do something against their conscience, shouldn't we stop deporting these people until my bill is debated?"

"WAR RESISTERS SPEAK OUT": Film Screening and Discussion

WHEN: Tonight, Thursday, January 21, 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: Mississauga Central Library, 301 Burnhamthorpe Road West (next to Square One), Room CL-3

Co-sponsored by the War Resisters Support Campaign and the Mississauga Coalition for Peace and Justice

For more information, email me or resistersmississauga-at-gmail-dot-com (which is also me).


stephen harper gets a taste of things to come

Stephen Harper's visit to Toronto today was overshadowed by a little cloud.... a cloud that will soon develop into a mighty storm. From the Globe and Mail (that's my friend NCF in the photo!):
Canada's convalescing economy may have topped Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda Wednesday, but anti-prorogation anger ended up hijacking his Toronto road show.

About 35 protesters from students to seniors picketed Mr. Harper's afternoon visit to the C.D. Howe Institute, chanting “Stop the prorogation, listen to the nation!”

It's just a taste of what's to come on Saturday, when thousands are expected to gather at rallies across Canada to protest the shutdown of Parliament, said Walied Khogali, who helped organize the demonstration.

“We just want to send a clear message that we are watching and we do care, and our MPs are accountable to us, not to any specific political party or to any elite,” said the 25-year-old university student.

That "25-year-old university student" is organizing the rally in my very own Mississauga, and he's doing an amazing job.

See you all Saturday!


harpers: the human cost of a $2 sweatshirt

In this previous post, I posted two quotes found in Ken Silverstein's brilliant article in last month's Harper's: "Shopping for Sweat: the human cost of the two-dollar t-shirt". That's not hyperbole, by the way. T-shirts that retail at $40 are produced for $2 or less, and that includes door-to-door shipping from the other side of the globe.

The story is only available online by subscription, but if you want to read it, email me for the text. It's a must-read for anyone interested in labour issues. And anyone interested in poverty, and building a just world. And anyone who wears clothes.

Writing from Cambodia, Silverstein posed as a clothing company rep to gain access to garment factories not usually granted to media. Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is how, in response to pressure from the largely student-driven anti-sweatshop movement, oversight, inspection and international standards have given rise to an oversight industry, but workers' wages remain well below poverty level. Another candidate for most disturbing revelation: the persistent wealthy Western response, typified by Nicholas Kristof, that these deplorable conditions are good enough - for those people.

Silverstein did an interview about the story on NPR; go here and follow links.

But first, read these excerpts from Shopping for Sweat: the human cost of the two-dollar t-shirt, by Ken Silverstein.
In 1999, Cambodia signed a bilateral trade agreement that allowed it to export a quota of textile products to the United States under highly favorable terms. In exchange, Cambodia agreed to improve labor conditions and submit to factory inspections by the International Labor Organization (ILO); if better conditions were documented, the country’s quota would be raised. American unions lobbied heavily for the deal. For the first time, the United States would predicate trade on labor rights, not merely as a talking point but as part of an enforceable agreement. It set the stage for Cambodia to become a major garment exporter and allowed it to build a reputation as a “sweat-free” country.

Even after 2005, when global textile quotas were phased out and the U.S.–Cambodian trade agreement lapsed as a result, the garment industry continued to grow. It is currently the country’s largest sector, employing 350,000 workers, most of them young women. Apparel accounts for three quarters of export earnings, with about 60 percent of that output going to the United States. Many of the biggest apparel brands and buyers source from Cambodia, among them Walmart, Nike, Adidas, Target, Gap, Sears, Eddie Bauer, and Puma. Although there is no longer an enforcement mechanism in place, the ILO continues to monitor factories, and Cambodia has maintained its status as a model apparel producer.... And yet despite Cambodia’s friendly reputation, its workers have not seriously benefited from the trade deal, in terms of either wages or labor standards.

. . . .

...pay for apparel workers in Cambodia has stagnated, according to a 2008 survey, at 33 cents an hour, lower than anywhere but Bangladesh. Directly above Cambodia were Pakistan (37 cents an hour), Vietnam (38 cents), and Sri Lanka (43 cents). China, with wages between 55 and 80 cents per hour in inland areas, was the ninth cheapest. Labor unions are abundant, but most are funded and controlled by employers or by the government, and independent activists have been fired, suspended, sued, and otherwise targeted for repression. In 2004, even before the trade deal with the United States expired, a well-known apparel union leader and founder of the main opposition party was shot and killed in central Phnom Penh. Two other independent unionists were murdered after that, in 2004 and 2007. . . . .

The monthly minimum wage at apparel plants (which, like many Cambodian businesses, typically pay workers in U.S. dollars) was $45 in 2000, and nine years later it was $56; during that same period, inflation has cut the buying power of a dollar by 37 percent.

. . . .

In October 2008, a Phnom Penh newspaper reported that foraging for food was “an increasingly popular weekend pursuit for garment workers feeling the pinch due to the spiraling cost of goods.” To survive, workers scavenged the fields near their factories for wild vegetables, snails, and crabs.

. . . .

In 1999, Reebok, Nike, and three other brands founded the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which describes itself as “a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sweatshop conditions in factories worldwide” and claims to have “helped improve the lives of thousands of workers around the globe.” FLA “affiliates” are required to establish rigorous codes of conduct, to submit their plants to inspection by “third-party monitors,” and to correct any abuses or shortcomings uncovered. Since then, an entire monitoring industry has emerged: a profusion of auditing firms, consulting companies, NGOs, and multilateral organizations that apparel makers pay handsomely to develop monitoring tools, offer expert advice, and write up countless glossy reports. For workers at apparel plants, though, the benefits have proved elusive. A recent academic study — whose lead author, Richard M. Locke, is the deputy dean of MIT’s business school — reviewed Nike’s own data and found that conditions had “stagnated or deteriorated” at 78 percent of the company’s supplier factories between 1998 and 2005.

Which is not to say that monitoring is inherently useless. When factory inspections are genuinely independent, unannounced, and thorough, they can uncover serious abuses. But one gets what one pays for, as the old saying goes; and since the apparel companies’ dues pay for the monitoring firms that inspect their plants, they tend to get the lax policing that they want.

Very quickly it became clear that the FLA’s main role was to offer image enhancement for its member firms, and so several labor unions and civil-society groups dropped out. Although a number of universities and NGOs do still sit on the board, the association’s main goal is clearly P.R. rather than social justice.

. . . .

I interviewed several dozen apparel workers — none were comfortable having their names published — from three factories, in their neighborhoods or at their homes. All were young women who had come to Phnom Penh from the provinces in order to support their families, and all worked at plants producing for major Western brands, including Levi’s, Adidas, and Puma. None had ever received a pay increase, notwithstanding hikes in the national minimum wage. They all worked overtime, if they could get it, often an extra twenty hours a week, because otherwise they didn’t make enough money to live on. There had been some small improvements in working conditions. Factories tended to be better cooled or ventilated. It was no longer common for pregnancy to lead to firing. At one plant, bathroom passes had recently been abolished. But there were still problems, especially in the aftermath of the global crisis. Besides the widespread layoffs, employees were being told they needed to work faster to keep output up.

Among those I spoke with were ten workers from Chu Hsing, a Taiwanese plant that makes Levi’s jeans. They all lived in a neighboring shanty, which clings to the banks of the Mekong River. We sat in a courtyard, surrounded by a jumble of shacks with corrugated tin roofs and walls of either palm fronds and wood or rough concrete. Large clay pots of water sat outside each home, and charcoal burned in a large metal grill that served as a communal kitchen.

One woman, twenty-three, showed me the tiny shack she shared with two other employees. The mats they slept on were rolled up in the corner of the white-tiled room, which was otherwise furnished with an electric griddle, a TV on a wood desk, and a metal rack on which they hung their clothing. The woman, who worked in the plant’s measurement section, had never been to the heart of Phnom Penh in the four years since she’d moved to the city, even though it was just thirty minutes away by bus. “My rent is $20 a month, I pay $3 a month for utilities, and $1 a day for food,” she said. “If I spent a day in the city all my money would be gone.” She’d seen labor monitors come to Chu Hsing—she wasn’t sure if they were from the ILO or a private company hired by the plant—but to her knowledge they’d never spoken with workers in their homes. Management had prepped employees on talking to monitors. “My boss told me if I wanted a higher salary I should convince the buyers that it was a good factory and they should buy more products,” she said.

At a second shantytown in the Dangkor neighborhood, I spoke with a group of women who worked for Grand Twins International, another Taiwanese-owned firm, which produces clothing for H&M. One worker said that management had instituted a production-quota system a year earlier. “If you don’t meet the quota you get warned, and if you get several warnings you can be fired,” she said. Two employees she knew had been dismissed for failing to meet production goals. She’d come to Phnom Penh nine years earlier; returning to her province was not an option, she said, as “only rich people can afford to tell their daughters to stay at home.” But her living conditions were worse, and she was sending less money home, than when she first moved to the city.

On the way back to town, I stopped on Norodom Boulevard at the Adidas Summer Sales store, where signs in the windows announced steep discounts. It looked like a store in an American strip mall and had prices to match. A pair of sneakers cost $40; a girl’s T-shirt was $32, and a pair of shorts was going for $30. The combined cost came to about two months’ pay on an apparel worker’s salary.

. . . .

...Like Kim at Kie & Kie, Chang needed additional information, but he said that GW could offer a rate of about $2 per piece, which would include shipping. Not bad for a T-shirt that would probably retail at trendy stores for around $30 or $40.

Before I left, Chang took me to a separate room and proudly showed me racks of plaid jumpers and white tops made for Parker, the Texas-based company that provides uniforms for private-school kids. since 1931, said the label. But it turns out that Parker shifted production to Cambodia more than a year ago.66. Parker’s website doesn’t mention that it makes its uniforms in Cambodia. “We design and manufacture in-house,” it says.

. . . .

The current crisis has caused even a few mainstream analysts to question the conventional wisdom about global trade. “What we call ‘free trade’ should be called ‘debt-financed trade,’” says Richard Duncan, chief economist at Blackhorse Asset Management in Singapore. “The whole world expanded industrial capacity in order to satisfy American demand for their products, which the United States bought on credit. We ended up with huge American trade deficits and the accumulation, during the past four years, of more dollars held overseas than had been built up in all prior history. That the bubble had to pop was obvious.” Duncan said that only the ability of the United States to run a $10 trillion deficit over the next five years will prevent a global depression. But in the long term, trade imbalances have to be corrected by increasing consumption in the Third World.

Duncan’s suggestion is simple: a “trickle-up” strategy, whereby wages rise — in Asia, beginning at a $5-per-day minimum, slightly above starting pay in southern China and more than twice the current rate in Bangladesh. Then, Duncan says, the wage could be raised by $1 each year for ten years. Imposing such a scheme would be quite simple to implement, he points out. The United States and the European Union could slap steep tariffs on imports manufactured by workers earning less than the minimum.

“If you sell a pair of tennis shoes for $101 instead of $100, no consumer in Chicago will notice the difference, but it will totally transform villages in Vietnam,” he said. “This is not a moral argument. We are currently on government life-support, but that’s not sustainable. We are going to have an international depression if we don’t figure out a way to create new sources of global demand—in which case, all those apparel companies are going to go out of business anyway.”


sweatshops are good enough for them

Two quotes.
Before Barack Obama and his team act on their talk about ‘labor standards,’ I’d like to offer them a tour of the vast garbage dump here in Phnom Penh. The miasma of toxic stink leaves you gasping, breezes batter you with filth, and even the rats look forlorn. . . . Many families actually live in shacks on this smoking garbage. [For families living in the dump,] a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty. . . . The central challenge in the poorest countries, is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, 2009

If the children employed in these mills would, otherwise, be living in decent homes, going to school, eating sufficient and wholesome food, getting some sort of moral, mental and manual training, then, without question, mill-work for children deserves to be decried as a flagrant social evil. As a matter of fact, however, the alternative presented to these particular children is to live in dilapidated houses, wear wretched clothing and eat food which is inadequate in quantity and abominable in quality.

Julia Magruder, novelist, 1907

Both observations are quoted by Ken Silverstein in last month's Harper's, in "Shopping for Sweat: the human cost of a two-dollar t-shirt".

Silverstein writes: "Kristof’s speakers’ bureau, American Program Bureau, says his typical fee is approximately $30,000 for an hour, during which he offers 'a compassionate glimpse' into global poverty and gives a 'voice to the voiceless.'"

Excerpts from this stellar article coming soon.

gabriolans want cliff back, and so do we

Take a quick moment to vote: Should war resister Cliff Cornell be allowed to return to Canada?

Nanaimo Daily News:
Gabriola Island peace activist Jean McLaren can't wait to get the party started.

McLaren and others on the island started a letter-writing campaign to convince U.S. authorities to release army deserter Cliff Cornell from prison last year after the 28-year-old man, a former grocery clerk at the Village Food Market, was jailed in the U.S.

Cornell was released from an American prison Saturday, one month before the end of his year-long jail sentence.

He said that it was the support and letters from the people of Gabriola that helped persuade American officials to release him early. He said that he wants to return to Gabriola Island.

"We all wrote to him and to the American authorities," said Gabriola's Ann Buttrick, who found out Cornell was going to be released when she received a letter from him recently. "I very much want to try to come back to Canada. The support I got has been really overwhelming," Cornell said. McLaren and others on Gabriola plan to welcome him back with open arms.

In 2008, Cornell said that he joined the U.S. Army in 2002 because he needed a job and because "slick" recruiters" promised him he wouldn't have to fight in the Iraq war.

He spent about two years at an Army complex in Georgia before finding out his regiment was about to ship out for Iraq.

Cornell deserted and headed to Canada, ending up on Gabriola, where he spent three years working at the market, forging strong bonds with residents there.

"Everybody on Gabriola knew him and liked him," said Buttrick. "I thought he was a nice, quiet, pleasant kid." More.

toronto democracy rally: schedule for final week: volunteers needed

From Canadians against Proroguing Parliament (Toronto):

Less than one week remains before Canadians against Proroguing Parliament (Toronto) hosts its city-wide rally and march on Saturday, January 23 at 1:00pm at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto. Check out the final outreach calendar. We could use your help every day this week, or whenever you have time to volunteer.


4pm to 6pm
Leafleting and donation collection
Yonge-Dundas Square

* Help us distribute leaflets about the rally to passers-by, and to collect donations.


4pm to 6pm
Leafleting and donation collection
Yonge-Dundas Square

* Help us distribute leaflets about the rally to passers-by, and to collect donations.


4pm to 6pm
Leafleting and donation collection
Yonge-Dundas Square

* Help us distribute leaflets about the rally to passers-by, and to collect donations.

6pm to 7pm
Poster run

Meet at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, Suite 207

* Help us put up posters around Toronto. All materials provided. Just bring yourself.

7pm to 9pm
Banner-painting and placard-assembly party
Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, Room TBA

* Free food and refreshments will be provided. Help us paint the lead banner and assemble 500 placards to be distributed at the rally and march. All painting materials provided. Media will likely be present.


4pm to 6pm
Leafleting and donation collection
Yonge-Dundas Square

* Help us distribute leaflets about the rally to passers-by, and to collect donations.


4pm to 6pm
Leafleting and donation collection
Yonge-Dundas Square

* Help us distribute leaflets about the rally to passers-by, and to collect donations.

6pm to 8pm
Last organizing meeting before rally
Sidney Smith Building, Room TBA, 100 St. George Street, University of Toronto

* Help us make all final preparations for the rally and march.


Volunteers transport materials to rally site
Meet at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, Suite 207

* Volunteers will load all rally materials - including banners, placards, megaphones, etc. - into a truck to be transported to the rally site. The same volunteers should help load all rally materials into the truck at the end of the rally.

Marshals' meeting at rally site
Yonge-Dundas Square
At the stage

* We still need marshals. If you can volunteer, please e-mail cpa@web.ca.

Rally and march
Yonge-Dundas Square
* NO to Prorogation! YES to Democracy!

* * * *

If you can't join us this week, there are still lots of other ways to help!

Download promotional materials.
Everything is available online - posters, leaflets, stickers, petitions, Facebook profile pics, etc.: http://groups.google.com/group/capp-outreach/files. Let us know where you can distribute them.

Provide free photocopying or printing.
Do you have access to a photocopier or heavy-duty printer? Can you do any free photocopying or printing (no amount is too small or too large)? Also let us know if your workplace, community group, local library, trade union or student union, place of worship, etc. can be a pick-up location for printed materials. If yes, e-mail noproroguetoronto@gmail.com to let us know your address and dates/times when materials may be picked up.

Put up posters/distribute leaflets on your own time.
All printed materials are available at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, Suite 207, 2nd floor, seven days a week from 8:00am to 10:00pm. Distribute materials on busy street corners, at TTC entrances/exits, and in large apartment buildings. Just let us know where you've distributed materials so we know what parts of Toronto have been covered. E-mail noproroguetoronto@gmail.com.

Donate funds.
Canadians against Proroguing Parliament (Toronto) is a grassroots, non-partisan movement of ordinary Canadians. We urgently need your financial support to build and organize an effective rally that engages the public and gets its message across to MPs.

Donate online at http://noprorogue.ca/toronto/. Look for the "Donate Now" box. Cheques and/or money orders should be made payable to "Shilo Davis" or "Justin Arjoon" (CAPP in memo area) and mailed to CAPP Toronto, 67 Griffiths Drive, Ajax ON L1T 3J8.

Promote the event online.
Feel free to forward this e-mail to family, friends, co-workers and/or anyone who cares about democracy in Canada. You can also join our Facebook group, where this movement got started: http://bit.ly/findusonfacebook. Or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates on your cell phone or online: http://twitter.com/NoProrogueTO.

Thank you in advance for whatever support you can offer. We look forward to seeing you on January 23, if not sooner!

For more information, e-mail noproroguetoronto@gmail.com.

The Toronto rally is organized by Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (Toronto), a grassroots, non-partisan movement of ordinary Canadians that emerged in response to Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament. All are welcome to join us.

http://noprorogue.ca/ | noproroguetoronto@gmail.com | http://twitter.comrorogueTO/


capp = 200,000 and rising

ding ding ding ding ding (That's a bell ringing, donchaknow.)

The Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook group has now passed 200,000 members. I am confident that all those and more will be in the streets on January 23.

I hope many other towns and cities will do what Toronto is doing: no politicians will speak. Let one elected official speak, and there'll be a whole line waiting to respond, and guess who the media will focus on. Toronto will be a people's rally.

But every organizing committee in every one of the dozens of towns will discuss and debate and talk and wrangle, and they'll come to a consensus, and decide for themselves what shape and form their action will take. What's that called again? Wait, wait, don't tell me...

If you know someone who's unimpressed or undecided, NoProrogue.ca has a wonderfully concise explanation of Why You Should Care About Prorogation.
On December 30th Stephen Harper announced that he will be Proroguing Parliament and suspending democracy until March 3. This is the second time he has done this in under two years.

Proroguing means:

1. All 37 bills being debated in Parliament are thrown in the trash. Discussion on bills starts from scratch in March, wasting months of hard work by all parties. These bills included new crime legislation, limits on credit card insurance rates, etc.

2. Committees investigating accusations of torture of Afghan detainees stop working

3. Discussions and decisions about the pension crisis affecting Canada’s seniors stops

4. Questions about Canada’s inaction at the Copenhagen climate-change summit are silenced. Opportunities to move forward with Canada’s plan for sustainable development are stalled for over a month.

5. Your MPs cannot raise your concerns in Ottawa

If they're still unsure, tell them the illustrious Prime Minister himself must agree with us.
When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.

Stephen Harper, April 18, 2005

cliff cornell's first moments of freedom... and some lovely u.s. bumperstickers

From our friends at Quaker House.

now for what's really important: how many canadians were killed in haiti?

We've seen this all our lives, and as far as I can tell, it's a practice followed by media all over the globe. But every time I see it, my skin crawls. This morning on CBC: "Canadian death toll in Haiti rises to 8".

In the pre-internet era, I might have thought local-death-toll reportage was a USian thing. "Earthquake in India, 50,000 dead, including 3 Americans! Five New Yorkers trapped in Mumbai airport!" But now that we can easily see media from everywhere, I know that everywhere does it.

I've watched less than five minutes of TV news in the last few months, but I did catch a few seconds of Canadians who were recently evacuated from Haiti being interviewed from Montreal. They were describing waiting at the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, listening to the screams and cries of Haitian survivors outside the gates. These Canadians knew how lucky they were, and I don't begrudge them their rescue. But that gate - separating the rescued from the trapped - is a symbol of so much that's wrong with the world. And "8 Canadians killed in Haitian earthquake" is another symbol of it.

At bottom, it comes down to this. The deaths of "our" people are more noteworthy than the deaths of "their" people, because we are more important than them. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands - those are mere statistics. But one Canadian that can be interviewed at an airport is a human-interest story.

haiti needs grants, not loans: stop them before they shock again

If you've read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, while you were reading about frantic earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti, or watching images of fortunate Canadians being evacuated, like me, you may have wondered if Haiti is in for another disaster, of the capitalist kind.

Here's Naomi Klein in an interview with Amy Goodman.
...crises are often used now as the pretext for pushing through policies that you cannot push through under times of stability. Countries in periods of extreme crisis are desperate for any kind of aid, any kind of money, and are not in a position to negotiate fairly the terms of that exchange.

And I just want to pause for a second and read you something, which is pretty extraordinary. ... This went up a few hours ago, three hours ago, I believe, on the Heritage Foundation website.

"Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the image of the United States in the region." And then goes on.

Now, I don't know whether things are improving or not, because it took the Heritage Foundation thirteen days before they issued thirty-two free market solutions for Hurricane Katrina. We put that document up on our website, as well. It was close down the housing projects, turn the Gulf Coast into a tax-free free enterprise zone, get rid of the labor laws that forces contractors to pay a living wage. Yeah, so it took them thirteen days before they did that in the case of Katrina. In the case of Haiti, they didn't even wait twenty-four hours.

Now, why I say I don't know whether it's improving or not is that two hours ago they took this down. So somebody told them that it wasn't couth. And then they put up something that was much more delicate. Fortunately, the investigative reporters at Democracy Now! managed to find that earlier document in a Google cache. But what you'll find now is a much gentler "Things to Remember While Helping Haiti." And buried down there, it says, "Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue."

But the point is, we need to make sure that the aid that goes to Haiti is, one, grants, not loans. This is absolutely crucial. This is an already heavily indebted country. This is a disaster that, as Amy said, on the one hand is nature, is, you know, an earthquake; on the other hand is ... is worsened by the poverty that our governments have been so complicit in deepening. Crises, natural disasters are so much worse in countries like Haiti, because you have soil erosion because the poverty means people are building in very, very precarious ways, so houses just slide down because they are built in places where they shouldn't be built. All of this is interconnected.

But we have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy, which is part natural, part unnatural, must, under no circumstances, be used to, one, further indebt Haiti, and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interests of our corporations. And this is not a conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.

Richard Kim, writing in The Nation, spells it out further.
So what can activists do in addition to donating to a charity? One long-term objective is to get the IMF to forgive all $265 million of Haiti's debt (that's the $165 million outstanding, plus the $100 million issued this week). In the short term, Haiti's IMF loans could be restructured to come from the IMF's rapid credit facility, which doesn't impose conditions like keeping wages and inflation down.

Indeed, debt relief is essential to Haiti's future. It recently had about $1.2 billion in debt canceled, but it still owes about $891 million, all of which was lent to the country from 2004 onward. $429 million of that debt is held by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to whom Haiti is scheduled to make $10 million in payments next year.

Obviously, that's money better spent on saving Haitian lives and rebuilding the country in the months ahead; the cancellation of the entire sum would free up precious capital. The US controls about 30 percent of the bank's shares; Latin American and Caribbean countries hold just over 50 percent. Notably, the IDB's loans come from its fund for special operations (i.e. the IDB's donor nations and funds from loans that have been paid back), not from IDB's bonds. Hence, the total amount could be forgiven without impacting the IDB's triple-A credit rating.

Finally, although the Obama administration temporarily halted deportations to Haiti, it hasn't granted Haitians temporary protected status (TPS), which would save them from being deported back to the scene of a disaster for as long as 18 months, allow them to work in the US and, crucially, send money back to relatives in Haiti. In the past, TPS has been given to countries like Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998 after Hurrican Mitch, but it has never been extended to Haitians, even after the 2008 storms, presumably because immigrations officials fear a mass exodus from Haiti.

But decency, as well as fairness, should trump those fears now. As Sunita Patel, an attorney with CCR, told me, "We have granted TPS to El Salavador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan following natural disasters. To apply different rules here would fly in the face of the administration's efforts to build good will abroad."

(UPDATE: It has just been announced that the Obama administration has granted Temporary Protected Status to Haiti. This is a great relief to Haitians in the US and a victory for those who pressured the administration to do so.)

A lot of good articles and info are being posted on the Facebook group No Shock Doctrine for Haiti.

I also refer you again to an article I posted earlier, putting Haiti's oft-mentioned chronic poverty in historical perspective: "Our Role In Haiti's Plight," by Peter Hallward, from The Guardian.