Crystals are now part of a billion dollar industry. They are in demand by many New Age followers and others who believe in their power, usually healing power. But most of the crystals commercially available to us come from one of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar, which is rich in several of those which are in demand. The miners, without whom those crystals would not end up in the hands or homes of those who believe in them, live in dire and abject poverty. A writer for The Guardian shadowed them for a period of time to have a better understanding of not only how much they are exploited, but also of the harsh conditions they end up having no choice to live under. And a picture of this situation would be remiss in not mentioning that child labor is part of this system. One way to encapsulate the problem would be to say that a piece of quartz which may well sell for say a $1000 was perhaps bought for something like at most $10. The beneficiaries of this difference are the big corporations which act as middlemen. And according to the Guardian’s expose there is little evidence that the corporations making up the industry are willing to make changes. We know about blood diamonds, we know about the exploitation of many in several industries, we ought to know about the exploitation behind our use of crystals. The consumers who buy and use crystals, certainly those I know, think of themselves as conscious, as people with integrity who believe in human rights. They may now be faced with a reality as to whether their values are real or merely given lip service and also with a decision along with the rest of us—to continue and be blind to the consequences of these facts, or to take action that will work toward ending the exploitation and the dire poverty of the miners.
Hope on Death Row
A friend began corresponding with a death row inmate in Alabama and shared the he belonged to an organization called Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty. I was intrigued by the organization’s title and was not familiar with it, so I googled them. They are a group began in 1989 founded and run by death row inmates. They even publish Wings of Hope, which circulates among death row, the prison and links them also with the outside world. Given the restrictions in any penal institution and particularly on death row, running an organization and publishing a bulletin is nothing short of impressive.
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty is linked to the Equal Justice Initiative, a group led by activist Bryan Stevenson, and to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which inspires the creation of similar organizations in other states such as Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina.
These men, and women, on death row whom we think of as the worst of the worst, whether or not one believes in the death penalty and I am strongly opposed, are fallible like all of us, but they are also capable of not only hope despite their seemingly hopeless circumstances but also of fighting to do something worthwhile. Their spirit soars beyond prison bars reminding us that they—as all of us—are certainly more that their worst deed.
Slave Labor and Supply Chains
Something The UN describes modern slavery as the condition of people whose work “is performed involuntarily and under the menace of penalty.” Modern slaves can be forced to work through threats of violence, through withholding of identification, through threats to family members, and also through subtler means like financial pressure or limiting movements. All told according to a recent report by the Walk Free Initiative, in 2018 there were 40.3 million people living in these conditions, mainly women. When Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, as the last stronghold it made slavery illegal throughout the world. One problem is how difficult it is to track down the offenses. It is part of countries with shady human rights certainly, but it is everywhere, including the US. Of these 40 plus million there are at least 16 who are part of the supply chain, meaning the people who work on the things we buy. Even if slave conditions are outlawed within manufacturing, it is difficult to enforce, to make sure products are entirely made by slave free labor. The fashion and the tech industries are two of the worst culprits. With fashion for example, we want cheap clothes, and cheap clothes can only come with cheap labor. Some businesses are onboard, yet because products can have many parts which come from many different countries it is often difficult to know if slave working conditions were involved. Another aspect of the tragedy is that so many of those who are forced to work and/or live under these conditions are not aware they are being exploited. There are no easy answers, but one hope lies in education: Educating people about their rights, and promoting human rights education among vulnerable populations such as those of migrant workers or those likely to be in underage marriages.
If and when we can, let’s contribute to that education.
Healthy Eating Instead of Weight Loss
The Guardian The number of Americans who are sick is greater than those who are healthy. More than 100 million adults have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. 122 million have cardiovascular disease (2300 deaths each day) and 3 out of 4 adults are overweight or obese. This of course comes with corresponding costs. For example cardio vascular disease cost $351 billion a year in terms of health care costs and lost productivity, diabetes costs $327 billion while the overall cost of obesity is said to be $1.72 trillion (yes with a t). Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Dan Glickman former US Secretary of Agriculture argued in a NYT Op-Ed that better nutrition is the answer, that what we eat –or don’t—is largely responsible for the large proportion of Americans being sick and correspondingly for a large proportion of health care costs. They talk about how little our culture pays attention to nutrition and suggest remedies. One suggestion is a program of medically tailored meals for the sickest patients. This alone could save $9000 per patient per year. Also such an approach of better focus on food and nutrition could be sustainable and environment friendly.
Weight loss consumes so much of our time, energy and resources, why not switch our focus to health. Why not place our attention, our very time, energy and resources, on healthy eating instead. Weight loss affects our appearance, and healthy eating is more substantive. Somehow I can’t help wonder if that switch wouldn’t help us in other ways, perhaps move away from the superficiality of our culture and towards its more meaningful aspects. If we did, if we could, just think of the benefits— to our health, well being, sense of joy and purpose, not to speak of how a focus on health instead of weight would work towards a society with better health care delivery. And should we ever get past the
A Belief In Government
For decades now, mainly since Ronald Reagan declared that government was the problem, trust in government and public institutions has declined. Currently 21% of Republicans or Republican leaning independents feel they can trust the government while 14% of Democrats do. And sadly in a partisan era more Democrats than Republicans trusted government during the Obama administration. The labels attached to each party’s underlying philosophy, for example that Democrats see government as an answer to social problems, obviously contribute to the partisanship behind trust in government. That’s why what’s going on in California is certainly worth notice. The state government is using its power to compensate, make up for, offset or contradict the laws and actions of the current administration. We’ve heard about the law making Uber and Lyft drivers employees instead of contractors, and also of a statewide rent control law meant to protect tenants against the kind of rent increases that could render them homeless. There is also a law not yet signed by the governor making medical abortions (that is the 2 pills combo) available to those who want or need it on all state universities. Chris Lehane, a former political advisor to Bill Clinton, calls this a renaissance in the belief in government. The administration is of course trying to challenge California’s resistance. But the trend may well go beyond their failure or victor, the idea that government can pass constructive laws to better the lives of its citizens may be positioned to make a comeback, suggesting we revisit the idea that government is the problem as well as the role of government in general.
Piketty Redux: Property and Social Justice
It’s In case Readers of these pieces will be familiar with Thomas Piketty the French economist who a few years ago wrote Capital in the Twenty First Century and whose impact is reflected in our emphasis upon inequality. He has now written a kind of sequel Capital and Ideology which some say will do for politics what the Capital book did for economics. The 1200 page book which was just published in France will be available in English next March but Piketty has already given interviews and spoken of his new ideas. He says he wanted to redress what he perceived as a weakness in Capital where he only dealt with the West. In this one he deals with the whole world. In the first part of the book he makes clear how the idea of property including slave ownership had political and ideological ramifications. The second part addresses recipes for how he sees the problems that lay behind the inequalities we have today. Some are quite radical, he asks for example that we give up on the idea of property as being essentially sacred, an idea upon which capitalism and modern economies are built. He also suggests that wealth could be borrowed, in other words we could own it temporarily for certain periods of time. He also suggests that all young people be given an inheritance before they start their adult life not after, in certain ways hoping to level the playing field. One headline I saw said Piketty wanted to do away with billionaires leading me to believe that in today’s US some of these ideas are already talked about. Whether they’re radical or not, whether they can actually be implemented or not may not be the crux of this book’s importance. It may be that like the other one it forces us to grapple with issues crucial to social justice.
To Ponder On
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world”