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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Price of Apple

From by James Kwak

Friday 20 January 2012
by: James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario | Op-Ed
Last week, This American Life ran a story about the Chinese factories that produce Apple products (and a lot of the other electronic devices that fill our lives). It featured Mike Daisey, a writer and performer who traveled to Shenzhen, China, to visit the enormous factories (more than 400,000 people work at Foxconn’s, according to the story*) where electronic products are churned out using huge amounts of manual labor.
I’m sure that most of us already realized, on an intellectual level, that the stuff we buy is made by people overseas who, in general, have much less than we do and work harder than we do, under tougher working conditions. It’s harder to ignore, however, listening to Daisey talk about the long shifts (up to thirty-four hours, apparently), the crippling injuries due to repetitive stress or hazardous chemicals, the crammed dormitories, and the authoritarian rules. At one point an interviewee produces a document, produced by the Labor Relations Board (with the name of the Board on it): it’s a list of “troublemakers” who should be fired at once.
The question that Ira Glass asks at the end is how we should feel about all of this. Although Apple is at the center of the story—at one point Daisey shows his iPad to a man whose hand was destroyed by a machine that makes the iPad, and he called it a “thing of magic”—they seem to do a reasonable job of policing their suppliers and insisting on improvements to working conditions, at least compared to other companies. But still the number of violations doesn’t go down from year to year.
Glass quotes Paul Krugman talking about how sweatshops (in Indonesia, I think), though brutal, were still better than the alternative for the people working in them, and how they contributed to economic development. He also interviews Nicholas Kristof, who agrees that working in these factories is often better than working in rice paddies—especially for young women, who can earn more money and thereby improve their bargaining power. But is that enough? Daisey doesn’t think so.
I have a MacBook Pro and an iPad (and an LG phone, and a Samsung monitor, . . .). While I think OS X is far better than Windows (or Linux if, like me, you’re not a power user), I would gladly switch back if I had confidence that my computer’s manufacturer was an appreciably, demonstrably better employer than Foxconn. And I would pay more, too, just like I pay more for free-range eggs and organic food (which I buy for the environmental impact, not the health benefits). But while there are certification programs that provide some confidence that your coffee isn’t the product of imperial exploitation, I’m not aware of such programs for electronics. Maybe there are already, and I just don’t know about them.
Given that anyone buying Apple products is already paying a hefty price premium, you would think at least some of us would rather pay that premium for better labor protections.
* The TAL staff fact-checked everything they could fact-check in the story, and found only one small error (having to do with the size of the cafeterias).

Here is the This American Life story:

Catholic Leaders Challenge Gingrich and Santorum on Divisive Rhetoric Around Race and Poverty

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are being called out for their bigotry and racism. We don't need such regressive thinkers and believers in our government now, or ever!!!! The nation needs to go forward, not backward.

From on 1-19-12

More than 40 national Catholic leaders and prominent theologians at universities across the country released a strongly worded open letter today urging “our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”
In the lead up to Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich has frequently blasted President Obama as a “food stamp president” and implied that some African Americans are more content to collect welfare benefits than work. Rick Santorum attracted scrutiny for telling Iowa voters he doesn’t want “to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
The open letter reminds the two presidential candidates, vying for Christian conservative voters, that U.S. Catholic bishops have called racism an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans.
The full text of the statement and signatories follow.
An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum
As Catholic leaders who recognize that the moral scandals of racism and poverty remain a blemish on the American soul, we challenge our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail. Mr. Gingrich has frequently attacked President Obama as a “food stamp president” and claimed that African Americans are content to collect welfare benefits rather than pursue employment. Campaigning in Iowa, Mr. Santorum remarked: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Labeling our nation’s first African-American president with a title that evokes the past myth of “welfare queens” and inflaming other racist caricatures is irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders.
Some presidential candidates now courting “values voters” seem to have forgotten that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn. We remind Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum that Catholic bishops describe racism as an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans. At a time when nearly 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty, charities and the free market alone can’t address the urgent needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. And while jobseekers outnumber job openings 4-to-1, suggesting that the unemployed would rather collect benefits than work is misleading and insulting.
As the South Carolina primary approaches, we urge Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum and all presidential candidates to reject the politics of racial division, refrain from offensive rhetoric and unite behind an agenda that promotes racial and economic justice.
Francis X. DoyleAssociate General Secretary
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (retired)
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Institute Leadership Team:Sisters Patricia McDermott, RSM (President) Eileen Campbell, RSM Anne Curtis, RSM Mary Pat Gavin, RSM Deborah Troillett, RSM
Sister Pat Farrell, OSFPresident
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Rev. Bryan N. MassingaleAssociate Professor of Theology
Marquette University
Rev. Clete KileyDirector for Immigration Policy
Rev. Anthony J. Pogorelc,  M.Div., Ph.D.The Catholic University of America
Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J.University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice
Boston College
Sr. Patricia J. Chappell, SNDdeNExecutive Director, Pax Christi USA
Marie DennisCo-President, Pax Christi International
Rev. John F. Kavanaugh S.J.Professor of Philosophy
St. Louis University
Rev. Jim Keenan, S.J.Founders Professor in Theology
Boston College
Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.Senior Fellow
Woodstock Theological Center
Georgetown University
Sister Mary Ellen HowardExecutive Director
Cabrini Clinic, Detroit
Rev. James E. Hug, S.J.President
Center of Concern
Sister Simone CampbellExecutive Director
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Steven SchneckDirector
Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America
Sister Karen M. Donahue, RSMJustice Team
Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community
Sister Mary Ann HinsdaleAssoc. Prof. of Theology
Boston College
Tom AllioCleveland Diocesan Social Action Director (retired)
M. Shawn CopelandAssociate Professor of Theology
Boston College
Sister Maria Riley, OPSenior Advisor
Center of Concern
Todd WhitmoreAssociate Professor
Department of Theology
University of Notre Dame
Terrence W. TilleyAvery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology
Theology Department
Fordham University, Bronx, NY
Michael E. LeeAssociate Professor
Theology Department
Fordham University, Bronx, NY
Paul LakelandAloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies
Director, Center for Catholic Studies Fairfield University
Lisa Sowle CahillMonan Professor of Theology
Boston College
Eric LeCompteBoard Member
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Tobias WinrightAssociate Professor of Theological Ethics
Saint Louis University
Christopher PramukAssistant Professor of Theology
Xavier University, Cincinnati
John SniegockiAssociate Professor of Christian Ethics
Xavier University, Cincinnati
Kathleen Maas WeigertCarolyn Farrell, BVM Professor of Women and Leadership
Loyola University, Chicago
Daniel K. FinnProfessor of Theology and Economics
St. John’s University, Minnesota
Gerald J. BeyerAssociate Professor of Christian Social Ethics
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia
Jeannine Hill FletcherAssociate Professor of Theology
Faculty Director
Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice
Fordham University, Bronx, NY
Sister Mary Ann HinsdaleAssoc. Prof. of Theology
Boston College
John InglisProfessor and Chair
Department of Philosophy
University of Dayton
Anthony B. SmithAssociate Professor
Department of Religious Studies
University of Dayton
David O’BrienUniversity Professor of Faith and Culture
University of Dayton
William L. PortierMary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology
University of Dayton
Alex MikulichResearch Fellow
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University, New Orleans
Susan M. WeisharMigration Specialist
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University
Kristin HeyerAssociate Professor
Religious Studies
Santa Clara University
James SaltExecutive Director
Catholics United
Vincent MillerProfessor of Religious Studies
University of Dayton
Nancy DallavalleAssociate Professor and Chair
Department of Religious Studies
Fairfield University