Entries in Alex Bogusky (134)
The collapse and fire in that Cambodian factory last week makes me feel like I'm stuck in some sort of unending loop. Like we're all somehow doomed to play out the same scenario over and over like in the movie Groundhog Day. I mean we're still finding bodies in the Bangladesh factory collapse. And it's not like we had even come to grips with suicides and unsafe conditions in the Foxconn factories that make the iPhone. Before that, weren't we still getting over learning about lead paint in toys from China? Oh, And not long before that we had the tragic news that our running shoes were being made by little kids.
Each time we were assured that this was an anomaly and that it would all be cleaned up so we could go back to feeling good about our $5 t-shirts. Well, after ten years of trying to manage factories that are half a world away, it's safe to say it's not working. Now the big brands are scrambling to come to some policy or accord that can ease our minds. Walmart, Target, GAP, and more are all considering some label that will allow us to stop being such worrywarts and get back to shopping.
So what's the app?
Somewhere between lead-painted toys and the nets being installed under the windows at Foxconn to catch suicidal workers, I started to think about this app. Some way that I could scan to find out if children were put to work to make my pants. Maybe take a picture and make sure that nobody was exploited to make my running shoes. Search to know that some river wasn't treated like an open sewer to make my iPhone case. That a dirty coal power plant didn't rain down mercury into the rivers and ocean and the tuna fish my kids eat. That excessive CO2 wasn't used to ship something around the world three times to produce it.
When I figured out this already existed, and I'd been ignoring it, I felt like a fool.
Made In America. That's the brand that guarantees the stuff we buy is made to the standards in safe and clean manufacturing that we believe in. And actually, you don't need a fancy app. You don't even need to scan anything. Just remember to check the label. Oh, and it has this additional benefit of creating middle class jobs. The kind we need more of right now.
Me and most of my generation was sold on and fully bought into the outsourcing idea. And the campaign to buy American fell on deaf ears. Keep your money in the economy, they said. "How about I buy something cheaper and imported, and I keep the money in my pocket?" I said back. It breaks my heart to realize how wrong we got it. And how far down this road we had to get to realize that making things is bigger than just finding the cheapest labor on the face of the earth.
Many people say it is too late. It's never too late. It's hard to even give this sort of fatalistic whining the justification of a response but here goes: Let me take on the arguments one by one.
1) "American-made stuff is too expensive."
It's certainly true that American-made goods are often more expensive. But in some cases there is actually no difference. That being said, even in cases when it is more expensive, isn't it worth looking a little closer at the real "costs"? I've been on this kick long enough to realize there is a reason that American-made goods are so coveted in other countries. We make solid, long-lasting products. We've gotten used to disposable goods, but if something last three times as long and costs twice as much it's actually a better value. That may not appeal to everybody, but as my friends father used to tell him, "We're too poor to by crap."
Additionally, what are the hidden cost of buying that 5 dollar t-shirt? One hidden cost is that we send more jobs overseas. You might not know anybody that works in manufacturing but maybe you know a barber. Manufacturing jobs that leave take with them the jobs that would have supported that worker. The barber, the insurance salesman, the car dealer, the clerk at the shoe store, etc. You lose half of an additional job for every factory job that goes abroad. That's one and a half jobs. Because of this, bringing those factory jobs back provides a bigger boost to the economy than any other kind of job.
If we forget the quality and the American jobs, we are still left with the question of exploitation. Essentially, how much would you pay to know that the goods you buy were not created in unsafe conditions by workers unfairly compensated? For many, the answer is that we would prefer to pay more. And the dirty truth is that by the time the factories and wages in Bangledesh, Cambodia, and even China are up to our standards it won't be any cheaper to make things abroad. The system only works if people are exploited. The system only works if we accept the idea that as long as it's cheap we really don't care who pays.
Finally, there's the hidden cost to the environment that overseas production creates. There is no environmental oversight and so factories can and do pour toxins straight into the rivers and the air. Pretty soon those pollutants are everybody's problem because they don't stay where they're dumped. Coal power has fouled the air quality in China but it has an effect on all of us. As emissions pour into the atmosphere untreated and unscrubbed it not only carries CO2 that warms our entire planet but it's also the reason you don't want to eat too much fish anymore. Yep, that mercury in fish is predominately from coal and those emissions are predominately from China. It goes up and comes back down as rain into the rivers and oceans where fish can't help but ingest it.
2) "It's a global marketplace and labor shifts to the cheapest place it can be found."
The argument goes on to say that this is good news, too, because America doesn't want to be part of making things anymore. We will think of things and other people will make them. This certainly is the path we've been on and if you can get one of those "thinking up things" jobs then this might work out, at least to a point. I'd be more confident in this plan if America led the world in high school math and science scores. Or really in any scores. But based on our education system and all those people moving into the job world, I think we're going to need some "making" jobs, too.
We can look around right now and see that this plan makes money for the top 1% and it produces McJobs for the rest. Literally. It's now estimated that 1 in 8 Americans has worked at McDonald's.
The wealthiest Americans can certainly survive the shift of all the middle class jobs to other countries so they've been selling this idea hard for a long time. But back here on planet reality, the loss of the making jobs has stripped out the middle class and created an America where the gap between the classes is the largest it's been since 1929. So even if you're rich and you have a great "thinking up" job you would be wise to remember we all rely on the middle class to keep the economy humming. Otherwise, you might find yourself poor overnight and leaping out of a Wall street window.
We can also look at an example of what happens when you DON'T treat labor as a commodity. Germany has protected, and invested in their domestic manufacturing during the same period we embraced NAFTA and shifted manufacturing to the lowest bidder. Today, Germany is the world's second largest exporter behind China with a population less than 1/3 of the US. Providing lots of good "thinking up" jobs as well as good middle class jobs. They've proven that manufacturing has an important and vibrant place in a first world economy.
3) "We've lost the know how."
This argument states we've gone so long down this road we can't go back. This one is hardly worth the time, but it's also easy to just cite some examples. Many consumer goods are no longer made here. But the idea that these are too complicated is silly. The truth is that if you want something really complicated made you make it here. Need a Jet engine or some aerospace components? Chances are you'll be shopping for a manufacturer in the US. With less complicated consumer electronics much of it is made in China. But in 2002, every Apple product was still made here and Google just announced they will be making their Google glasses here. Need an example in the more mundane world of cut and sew? American Apparel should suffice.
My wife is used to my going on about some issue or another, but she's rock solid and hard to rattle. She listened to me but in her heart of hearts she believed that most of the things she bought were made here. Then one day she went into her closet to look through the tags on her clothes just to make double sure. At first she was surprised to find that a lot of the tags she first turned over were from exotic locations. Her money had gone, almost exclusively, to support labor practices and environmental policies that were either lax or non-existent. Angry that this fashion industry she loves and is built on being cute was anything but cute in reality. She wasn't willing to give up on the idea of cuteness without a fight. So she did something completely out of character for this incredibly shy person. She started a style blog dedicated to finding American-made fashion and showing how you can rock it every day. It's called Mrs. American Made and the kids and I have been recruited as photographers. We gripe a bit about it when it's picture time and there's a foot of snow on the ground, but the truth is we are super proud and a year later her closet is proof we can all make a difference.
Top reason to use the Made in America "app"
A. To be patriotic.
B. To rebuild the American economy and create jobs.
C. To keep toxins and pollutants out of our water and air.
D. To guarantee nobody died making my stuff.
E. All of the above.
Oh, and if you absolutley need an app to do anything (you know who you are), try this.
For almost two years the cottage that has housed FearLess has faithfully kept us warm and dry and although I try not to get attached to inanimate objects the truth is that I feel some affection for the old place. I've been looking for a new home for the odd projects I get myself into and so I would often worry about what would happen next with the cottage. I don't own it, a lovely local man does, so this attitude that it's my responsibility to make sure something wonderful continues to happen in the cottage is misplaced. But the place has gotten under my skin and for now I'm a caretaker of sorts.
FearLess isn't really a place. But we call this place the FearLess Cottage. What's evolved here has been important to me. And some of the most important moments have been time working to further the mission of Al Gore's Alliance. The rebranding of the cause The Climate Reality Project, and the creation of events like 24 Hours of Reality have meant a lot personally and arguably for the cause. The link between extreme weather and climate change was thrust into the consciousness of the press and the public first during 24 Hours of Reality.
You can always count on Monsanto to have huge balls. On their path to global dominance they do things that would make good fiction. Their history of bad mistakes seems to have galvanized them into an organization that is immune to safety concerns from concerned humans. And when faced with such concerns they only work that much harder to destroy any resistance that they encounter.
Recently, the link to Monsanto's GMO corn and the collapse of the bee population has been beginning to make headlines. In Poland their genetically modified corn seed has been banned with its devastating effects on the bee population sited as a main reason.
Not good for business.
April 9, 1947, was a day when the sky over the town of Woodward, Oklahoma, was full of dark clouds. It wasn't unusual for April, so nobody was much concerned. As the skies opened up, most people went inside to get out of the rain. It was so dark that there wasn't much to see. Then suddenly there was that sound. Off in the distance, but coming. The sound that is most often described as the sound of a freight train. Families in this part of the world have storm cellars and those who could make it ran toward them. But for many the storm moved too fast and there wasn't time. This storm was moving 45 miles an hour as it swept toward toward a tiny white house. There was only time for the family to get under the kitchen table. A man wrapped himself over his wife and two girls to try to keep the family together. A second later the roof was ripped off and that little house was never to be seen again. And as the walls began to fall in on them, something miraculous happened. The kind of miraculous thing that only happens inside a tornado. The two walls caught each other just as they were about to come down on that table and that family, eyes clenched shut and praying, underneath.
General Motors announced last week that it would stop providing contributions to the Heartland Institute. A "think tank" which has recently been in the news after stolen documents revealed a plan to put curriculums in public schools debating the science of climate change. They are also famous for their work for the tobacco companies to confuse the science around second hand smoke; opposing bans on public smoking; opposing automotive fuel economy standards; opposing renewable energy and more.
GM CEO and Chairman Dan Akerson said he believes in climate change and promised to review the connections that GM's foundation has with Heartland. He made his comments after a flurry of public pressure and petitions asked several companies including GM to rethink their contributions to the group.
There is a long standing rumor that one morning on his daily commute advertising genius, David Ogilvy, saw a homeless man holding a sign and in a burst of inspiration David came up with a better sign. The next day David replaced the man's old sign with the new one and that man went on to become Donald Trump. Okay, I made up the Donald bit but the man is said to have increased is earnings substantially.
An alert reader of this blog turned us onto this short video that suggests we are suffering from a newly discovered phenomenon. Information Overload. I love the idea of National Day of Unplugging but the notion that we are overloaded with data is hardly new. At the turn of the last century, so many people were suffering from a new nervous condition brought on from too much information that many Americans turned to elixirs to calm our nerves. The daily newspaper was a fairly new phenomenon as was the 24 hour news cycle. Large cities had several newspapers each and keeping up with all that news became an addiction. As people drank up the news and drank up elixirs to calm their nerves they started liking both. Their favorite elixir was a little tonic startup called Coca-Cola.
This Friday at sunset begins the National Day of Unplugging and it ends 24 hours later on Saturday evening. The irony that we need Facebook and the internet as a place to pledge that we will "unplug" is not lost on me but I have decided to put that aside. For now, I'm just happy to see that even the generation that grew up on a constant diet of distraction is at least considering taking a break now and then. If you feel the need to take the pledge for a Digital Sabbath go to National-day-of-unplugging or Sabbath Manifesto.
A wonderful new film and project from our friend Kim Johnson and Douglas Gayeton. The Lexicon of Sustainability works to use words to frame our issues and opportunities in a ways we can feel and understand. I added the phrase "dirty weather" to the lexicon. Weather that's made more odd or extreme because of the climate change caused by burning dirty fossil fuels. What will you add?
Check out the project here: www.lexiconofsustainability.com
You might have seen some of the news about the documents that have "leaked" out of the Heartland Institute. They were actually stolen by a climate scientist posing as a member of the Heartland Board. Heartland is upset that somebody got their memos and is threatening to sue anybody who posts the memos. Which they say are fake. Fake yet stolen memos. Very curious. Anyway, it is one of the first looks at the inside workings of the "think tanks" that work to create climate change denial, showing what we have long suspected. They are paid by oil and coal interests to produce their misleading "scientific like" reports.
The most recent leak outlined a plan to develop a new curriculum for K-12 that would teach climate change denial. I guess when you're brainstorming at Heartland about what's next, it's not bad enough that you're jeopardizing our children's future by insisting we stay on the path of carbon intensive energy — because the alternative might be less profitable for their clients, the most profitable companies on earth — now they feel we need to lie to our children about it as well.