Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The speculation game

I recently watched The Colbert Report. On this particular episode, Stephen Colbert had Laurie Garret on, who is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The topic of the day: rising food prices. I'm sure we've all noticed that going to the grocery store has become increasingly expensive in the past few years and Laurie spoke about why this was happening.  I don't know about you guys but I had no idea what was going on globally causing the increase until I watched her interview.

Ms. Garret mentioned many reasons why food prices have increased:

  • Fires and floods (Pakistan, anyone?) wiped out crops
  • Foot & mouth disease is currently being battled in 14 countries, reducing amount of meat allowable for export
  • Gas prices have increased, increasing transportation costs for food
  • Speculation
It was this last reason that I was most interested in (as none of us can control natural disasters). Speculation? What is that? Speculation is the process by which investors around the world agree to buy X amount of a commodity at a later date. As I understand it, this is a problem because of the nature of supply and demand. Let's reach back far into our brains to the mandatory high school economics class we all had to take. Remember anything? When the supply of an item is low yet demand is high, the price goes up. The speculators reduce the supply of an item by buying it, putting it out of commission for say three months while demand increases, causing prices to increase. The problem is that this process is largely unregulated. Lobbyists (funded by large companies) and the companies themselves have thus far prevented regulation from being passed to regulate the whole process.

Both Ms. Barret and a special report published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) cite high food prices as inciting factors in riots across the world. According to the IATP, developing nations across the world are now consuming less food, with 43% of people polled in these countries stating that they have cut back on food purchases. The undernourished demographic has increased because of this and continues to grow.

Think about it, if food is expensive and thus a nuisance to buy for us, think about the poor in developing countries. Not only do those people have to pay outrageous prices, there may not even be enough to go around as their governments cannot import enough. The effects of the rising prices go beyond nutrition to political unrest and unnecessary deaths caused by riots.

Once again, big business is holding the 'little' people down. And yet again, the solution is the same: regulate! Boy do I feel like a broken record writing these posts but really people, I know this is America, the land of the free and free enterprise but is it really a free life we're leading when businesses who do not have our interests at heart are underhandedly, secretively dealing to do what's best for them, not for us? I feel the answer is no.way.


Reflections on Global Food Crisis

- A

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fast is not fab

I think we can all agree that sweatshops are bad. Working people long hard hours while paying them little and forcing them to work in uncomfortable conditions is deplorable. How lucky are we that we live in the United States where we don't have to deal with this issue, right? Wrong. Today, in continuation of my retail series, I'll be talking about Forever21, the 'fast fashion' giant that has garnered criticism of the treatment of its workers.

The garment production industry is big business in California. Forever21 has been accused of (and documented through interviews with employees) running sweatshops in the state. According to 39th & Broadway, Forever21 employs Mexican immigrant labor because it is cheap. With this comes the sub par conditions in which they are working: no running water, no bathroom, rats, and cockroaches. Apparently paying them very little and abusing their workforce in the United States is not even, oh no. Forever21 employs millions of employees around the world, like India, where the labor is even cheaper and the ethical violations even greater.

As we all know, Forever21 constantly updates its offerings; in the world of 'fast fashion', you've got to be the quickest, with the newest, shiniest thing, and Forever21 certainly delivers. The result of this is their workforce is forced to work overtime, unpaid! Workers may even have to take work home, again, unpaid! Forever21 is the bad guy here, but the store is really a symptom of a greater problem: our insatiable appetite for new things fast.

Like many retailers, Forever21 can certainly afford to pay their workers better and provide more comfortable working conditions, but as is always with corporate greed, the goal is to minimize spending, which starts at the bottom: the workers. The pyramid below illustrates this well.

Again, unionizing is very important and the documentary Made in L.A. follows three women who fought for years to get Forever21 to change their labor practices. Has anything changed? Forever21 would like to say yes but there is still a long way to go. Change is not going to come out of the goodness of their heart as it is a business, it has no heart. Change has to be demanded and I choose to not shop there until significant progress is made.

Additional Resources:

- A

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Be Green

One goal that I decided to set for myself ever since I bought a car last year, and consequently increased my carbon footprint, is to try and live green to my best ability. I have researched the issue and started going regularly to a local Farmers Market to obtain delicious produce and support local farmers. I also started recycling everything that could be recycled. Before becoming hard-core environmentalist, however, there are a few simple actions that can be taken toward becoming green. I have listed the ones I am currently working on, but these are definitely not the only ones. 

To reduce paper use, take no receipts when possible, especially at gas stations.

No bottled water. I mean, seriously.  Bottled water is in many cases no better than what we can access from the tap and the plastic bottles it comes in are a huge hit on sustainability and being green. A couple of easy-achieved alternatives to bottled water are purifiers (which could be recycled) and reusable bottles that could be refilled for the road, work, etc. 

As a follow-up to point #2, no Styrofoam cups please. Bring your own coffee mug to work and help save the planet. 

Another easy way to avoid plastic products is to bring your own utensils from home instead of using plastic ones at work.  

Choose a reusable bag when shopping please! Keep a couple in your car so you can never forget to bring it along (I’ve heard that excuse before). Also, if you must use a plastic bag in the store (e.g., for fresh vegetables), keep it and bring it back next time you shop and re-use it. 

Reduce your use of paper towels and opt for cloth towels that can easily be washed with a regular load of laundry without taking any extra water. 

If you use a lot of sandwich plastic bags regularly, you might want to consider containers instead that could be washed and re-used. 

This is just a basic list of small actions anyone can easily take toward the road to becoming green. If you have other suggestions or something that you do, please do not be shy and share them with us!

-          Krasi

Monday, March 21, 2011

Feel good time

Krasi recently wrote a post about volunteering and organizations in Houston that one can volunteer at. Well today I would like to follow up and add to that list. All of these organizations are wonderful and add to the community through the variety of missions. While in college, I was involved in an organization that required members to complete a certain amount of volunteer hours. This came out to about an hour a week. While volunteering in any way (sporadically, one time event, regularly) is wonderful, I found that becoming a 'regular' at an organization took the experience to another level. If I was tutoring children in an under-served area, those kids became my friends and I looked forward to seeing them as they did me. While packing food for the under-nourished, I became grateful for what I had and was in awe at how much people gave (unfortunately, many people still go hungry). While I don't volunteer as regularly as I used to (it's on my list for 2011!) I can't stress enough the importance of giving of yourself and your time. Not only will the people you're helping benefit but you'll also gain experience, perspective, and even new friends!

Now on to the list of Houston organizations that can use your help!

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center

Houston Food Bank

Harris County Citizen Corps

Memorial Hermann

Interfaith Ministries

Boys & Girls Club

Do you guys volunteer? What are your favorite organizations to volunteer for?

- A

Friday, March 18, 2011

Human Trafficking Update

This past week I came across a couple of new developments in the field of anti-human trafficking and decided to share them with you. Please encourage anyone who might be interested in the issue to review this educational information. It’s never too late to become a modern day abolitionist! 

 First, Free the Slaves has joined hands with CNN in a yearlong reporting initiative which will emphasize cases of modern-day slavery. The initiative is called CNN Freedom Project and the videos featured in the first week of the project are available on Free the Slaves homepage

Second, an email from Children at Risk informed me that Volume 2, Issue 1 of the Journal of Applied Research on Children (JARC) focuses solely on the issue of human trafficking as it relates to children and stresses the importance of spreading awareness, becoming involved in the fight, and eventually eliminating the horrible practice. Children at Risk is a non-partisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of poor public policies affecting children.

-          Krasi

Monday, March 14, 2011

Breaking Story Tonight: More Stuff* to be Afraid of

As a person who tries to always be aware of local, national, and global issues, I do my best to regularly follow the news reports, and from various news sources at that. One particular aspect of TV reporting, however, has bugged me for a while and with the recent wave of unrest and protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, and the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, I can’t help but mention it. I am certainly glad to live in a time when I am able to find out about these events and observe them as they evolve, as gruesome and disastrous as they are. However, what I am not really a fan of is the major component on which a strong emphasis seems to be placed (some TV channels are worse offenders than others) and which among common people is referred to as FEAR. 

Yes, people in the impacted regions are suffering and they certainly need assistance, but who cares about all that? The main point is that something bad is happening somewhere and we as innocent people must be afraid.  When the emphasis is on destruction and fear, without the proper knowledge and with a lack of critical thinking, many can become victims to this fear. I believe that what is even scarier than a delusional dictator taking over or an impending nuclear disaster is all the people in fear of these two. Especially if these individuals have not been educated on all the aspects of the issue.  I believe that most people possess the necessary mental capacity to learn and understand detailed information on any problem. Most, though, are never given that chance. What many news reporters seem to be concerned about is showing horrendous videos and focusing on the fear of what would happen to us if that atrocious event somehow made it to our back yard. If history has taught us anything, it is the fact that when fear is the main guiding factor, irrational actions and hate could be the result. With ignorance and fear, hate and violence become a certainty. Is that what journalism is nowadays? A vessel to transport fear to regular people and a competition to determine who will show the most shocking videos and who will use more synonyms for destruction, devastation, and danger within an hour of broadcasting?

Moreover, the news about one issue people must worry about and fear (a gone-nuts dictator threatening world peace) can only be displaced by another one (a nuclear reactor explosion in Japan or even worse, a possible earthquake that causes the nuclear plants in California to explode) that must induce even greater fear. Seriously? Natural disasters and man-caused disasters will always happen, whether we want them or not. It’s about time people educate themselves on how to deal with these instead of spending their lives building up fear and even worse, acting on it. 

With all the thoughts about fear, I am reminded of the children's book The Tale of Despereaux. The little mouse with the big ears was taught a very important lesson: With so many things to be afraid of, all he needed to do is to learn about them and be scared to his best ability and run in fear from anything or anyone different and thus dangerous. Instead, however, he just wanted to be brave, curious, and able to learn. I know, weeee-iiiird! So much easier to be afraid and scurry than to be brave and educated (read: are you kidding me?!). Going back to a previous post on books and reading, I sure hope kids out there read such books, grasp the meaning, and grow up to be open-minded and not afraid to learn and ask questions without blindly embracing fear as the only viable option.

-          Krasi

*Could be anything, and I mean ANYTHING.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wally world

My series on retailers begins with the most villainized: Walmart! Walmart is the largest retailer in the world, operating nearly 9,000 stores worldwide (source). Why has Walmart become so villainized? Many many reasons which is why I'm splitting the information into two separate posts. Today we'll talk about Walmart's unethical practices within the United States.

Walmart, like many large corporations, frowns upon unions. All employees must sign away their rights to join a union. What does this mean? Should you be mistreated, poorly paid, and ignored, who do you turn to? Walmart has been slammed with numerous lawsuits. Just to name a few: gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, and racial discrimination. What Walmart, and many large corporations, know is that should these unhappy employees become organized (i.e. unionize), they become a force to be reckoned with. They would then have to increase wages and engage in fair practices and who wants that, right? Walmart is notorious for their union busting tactics. If they catch wind of anything they will exert pressure on individuals to prevent them from organizing.

What kind of pressure? It all begins when the Labor Relations teams come into the stores, holding meetings where they berate unions, presenting only one side of the issue. Team members leave scared and confused about unions, only having heard one opinion. Union activists are banned from stores so they never do get to hear the benefits of unionizing.

Other underhanded tactics include management eavesdropping on employees, threatening employees with pay cuts, benefit loss, or even job loss should they organize. According to Human Rights Watch,

"Wal-Mart’s relentless anti-union drumbeat creates a climate of fear at its US stores. Many workers are convinced that they will suffer dire consequences if they form a union, in part because they do not hear pro-union views. Many are also afraid that if they defy their powerful employer by organizing, they could face retaliation, even firing. Human Rights Watch found that Wal-Mart heightens this fear with its arsenal of unlawful anti-union tactics. Wal-Mart has sent managers to eavesdrop on employees. According to former workers and managers at one store, it has even ordered the repositioning of surveillance cameras to monitor union supporters. It has told workers they will lose benefits if they organize. The company has discriminatorily banned talk about unions and prohibited union flyer distribution, while allowing discussion of other issues and circulation of non-union materials. It has disciplined union supporters for policy violations that it has let slide for union opponents. And it has illegally fired workers for their union activity." Source
Why is this so important? It's important because Walmart has taken away the voice of their employees. They cannot get together and raise concern over how they're treated. Walmart loves to tout that they create tons of jobs in the United States. While they are, no doubt, a large employer, many of their employees are kept just under the requirements for benefits. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UCFW), only 52% of Walmart's workforce has insurance and for those that do, it is extremely costly. Add to that the low amount they are paid in the first place and you have a significant number of their workforce who is on welfare. According to UCFW, Walmart employees are utilizing billions of dollars in benefits a year to subsidize health care that they are not receiving from Walmart. That's money out of the taxpayers' pockets.

Yes we can all argue that the people that are working at Walmart have a choice and if they pursued a better education then they wouldn't be working at Walmart. What about the small towns where Walmart is the largest employer? What about those people who can't go to college either because of financial concerns or they're just not cut out for it? Are we willing to say that these people 'deserve' to be treated this way? Maybe those are harsh words but is that not what we're indirectly saying when we don't stand up for them? Should they not, at the very least, have the right to stand up and be heard?

So what can we do? As I've said before (and sure I'll say again many many times) our money is the most powerful tool we hold. Every time we buy something, we are casting a vote. If you choose to stop shopping at Walmart, you're letting them know that this behavior is not ok.

Let's go one step further. Business is business. While Walmart has made steps as of late to remedy some of their issues, they will not willingly become as ethical as you or I would like. The only way they will do that is if they have to, i.e. laws. There are many movements active right now regarding changing labor laws so that corporations cannot do all the things Walmart is accused of. While I believe in the goodness of people, business is all about the bottom line so we shouldn't expect Walmart (or any other business) to change because they want to 'be good'; we have to force change or it won't happen.




Human Rights Watch

- A

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day (IWD) everyone! Did you know that it is the 100th anniversary of the holiday? It was first observed in 1911 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Denmark. More than one million people attended various events that first year. (source)

I'll be celebrating today by thanking my mother for being an amazing woman and being mindful of the fact that I am so.darn.lucky to have been born into a family and lived in a country that afforded me opportunities that the majority of women in the world do not have.

Check out how people all around the world are celebrating!

Additional Resources:

Women Watch

International Women's Day

United Nations

Amnesty International

How will you be celebrating IWD?

- A

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's no sweatshop, but it's close enough

Most people would readily agree that child trafficking, child labor and child exploitation/abuse are crimes that must be eradicated and the offenders punished. I certainly feel anger and frustration each time I read about or come across a case of one of the above and will do my best to fight such activities. However, my anger buds were recently awakened by the accidental encounter with a practice that is just as bad as the ones mentioned and that incurs, I believe, as much damage. I am referring to and shifting your attention to the evidently popular show Toddlers&Tiaras. Yep, that’s the one. The title sounds innocent enough and I certainly have nothing against talent shows; when 90% of the emphasis, however, is placed on outward appearance and beauty, I become quite irritated to say the least. 

I rarely have the urge to reach through my TV screen and shake someone real bad but trust me, while watching an episode of Toddlers&Tiaras, I could not help but cringe and jump and shake a fist in irritation and anger. I cannot even believe I actually lasted through the whole show, but these are the sacrifices we all have to make in the pursuit of justice. As of now, I still haven’t decided if the overly involved and psycho parents or the overly made-up and confused toddlers is what scared me the most, but I am leaning toward choosing the parents. 

Watching two, three- and four-year old children worry about their appearance is as torturous to me as watching them starve to death. Maybe I am overreacting, but judging by what I saw, I am seriously convinced that these girls had no carefree childhood and by the looks of it, most will grow up to be horrible, demanding, and spoiled adults who care for what’s not important while ignoring the vital. And I thought My Super Sweet 16 was outrageous! In a society in which consumerism, materialism, and the high value placed on outward appearances have been shown to create a generation of no values and ignorance, seeing that even the youngest are not exempt from these is utterly disheartening and maddening. 

Further readings: the trilogy Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

-          - Krasi

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why you be hatin?

Most of my friends know of my disdain for Walmart. I try not to mention it because as the majority of people shop at Walmart, saying you hate it makes for awkward moments at parties.

Me: ''Oooh those plates are cute, where'd you get them?' 
'Thanks! They were a great deal! I got them from Walmart'

*Rearing head back* 'What?! You know that they have major ethical violations all around the world, including the United States?! Those plates were probably made by some poor kid who didn't even get paid!'

*Blank look on face* 'Oh. OK. I'm sorry?'                                      

See what I mean? I've gotten a little less intense as I do think it's unfair to attack people for shopping at certain places because most people don't know what they're buying. Sure, I like to get a good deal as much as anyone (OK probably more than anyone); just ask my friends. I don't, however, want to do it in a way that encourages bad behavior on the part of major corporations.

I've talked about this before and I'm now starting regular feature wherein I'll pick a store or brand and evaluate them from an ethical standpoint. My goal is to educate myself and hopefully enlighten you dear readers as to the options we all have to 1) look cute 2) buy cute things 3) waste money stimulate the economy 3) help support honest business practices that help the impoverished around the world rather than oppress them.

My question to you is: are there any brands or companies you would like to see reviewed? Let me know and I'll definitely try to do some digging to see what I find!


Thursday, March 3, 2011


Day 30 and I'm done!!!!!! I had two variations on this outfit today. I wore the scarf version out but I still can't decide which one I like more.

So I went shopping today but didn't buy anything because I'm still not allowed about a steel will ;). OK OK, if I'm going to be honest, I slipped up and purchased two items in Raleigh. What can I say? Dillard's was having an amazing sale! Believe me when I say I saved big and only purchased two items. One of the items you see above: the scarf. Tres lovely, no? I wish I could say I feel guilty but I don't mwahahaha!!! Look at me flaunting my disregard of the rules...classic sociopath behavior. Uh oh. First the talking clothes and now this. Either I need to talk to someone or I need to stop reading my DSM-IV for fun.

- A

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

29 is so fine

Day 29..woo hoo! February was a difficult month to do this challenge. First, my brain cells were depleted due to focus on other things. Second, weather here in Texas can't make up its mind.

Look at my last picture there. Even subconsciously, I'm counting down the day to go (as indicated by my finger).

- A