Archive for March, 2009

Fair Trade Mixer

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Learn about fair trade and meet with local business leaders who support a socially responsible business model.

The “Fair Trade Mixer” is an informational gathering for the local socially-minded community to network, socialize and learn more about fair trade principles. Chicago Fair Trade will introduce Fair Trade Principles, followed by a panel of socially minded businesses to share their thoughts on social responsibility in the business world and its impact.

Where & When
Thursday, April 2nd from 6-8pm
Uncommon Ground
1401 W. Devon Avenue

Queen of Peace Fair Trade Bazaar

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Fair Earth is exhibiting this weekend at the Fair Trade Bazaar at Queen of Peace High School

For more details, please see this brochure.

Women can lead the way to recovery

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Fair Earth

Monday, March 9, 2009

This year, National Women’s History Month falls during a time of enormous turbulence and fear. The global economic meltdown is drastically reshaping our financial landscape and altering the way we live.

Although the economy has dominated our consciousness, debates and airwaves for months, little attention is being paid to the fact that women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of this crisis. Equally ignored is the fact that women have the solutions to get us out of it.

Consider the facts:

In California, women make up 68 percent of minimum- wage workers, making them especially vulnerable.

In the United States, the subprime mortgage crisis is taking a higher toll on women: 32 percent of women borrowers hold sub-prime mortgages, compared with 24 percent of men.

Worldwide, the poor, the majority of whom are women and children, are shouldering the burden as developing countries battle inflation, soaring prices for food and a slowdown in markets for exports. Amidst this grim outlook, there is good news. President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a strong first step, and the federal stimulus package will begin to stem the tide of cuts to social service programs in California. As labor secretary, Hilda Solis understands the issues that low-wage workers face, and the president’s budget prioritizes crucial areas like health care, education, the environment and reducing income disparities.

Yet as lawmakers and economists attempt to find a way to stop the downward spiral and rebuild the economy, investing in women and women-led solutions must be central to any plan. Women are capable of forging lasting change, starting with their families, then transforming entire communities and beyond. We know that when women are economically secure, families are economically secure and, ultimately, so are communities and nations.

That’s the perspective that drives the work of the Women’s Foundation of California, the Global Fund for Women and the more than 130 women’s funds from around the world that comprise the Women’s Funding Network. Women’s funds invest in solutions created by and in partnership with women who are pushed to the margins. We see women as experts and solution-builders who can lead whole communities to security, not as victims or passive recipients.

We invest in women like Diana Spatz, a former welfare recipient and UC Berkeley graduate who founded LIFETIME in Alameda County, a grassroots organization that helps women earn college degrees while raising their families on public assistance. We invest in organizations like Mujeres Constructoras, a women’s rights organization that, in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua, played a key role in rebuilding homes for single women and their families. Women who dared to learn skills like carpentry, electrical wiring, and welding were able to make a difference in their community while gaining economic independence.

It’s clear that we must invest in the ingenuity and strength of women. We already know what some of the solutions are:

Give women equal pay for equal work - an act that would cut poverty in half. Women still make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men - and for women of color, the numbers are even worse.
Put money in the hands of low-income people - food stamps return $1.73 into the economy for every dollar invested, more than any other measure.

Educate and train women to move into quality jobs created by the stimulus package, rebuilding our infrastructure and greening the economy.

Invest in education and health care now to ensure that we have the human capital to sustain a healthy economy.

Engage women directly in the policymaking process as advocates and elected officials.

These are a few measures that will help not just women and families - especially low-wage workers and low-income families - but all communities. Now more than ever, we must invest in women and their potential as agents of social and economic change.

Chris Grumm is president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network,  Judy Patrick is president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California, and Kavita Ramdas is president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

Some words of brilliance from Chinua Achebe

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

…. who just happens to be one of my favorite authors, and one of Africa’s most distinguished writers.
Fair Earth

Following is a conversation between Ikem and Beatrice (BB), two character’s in Achebe’s book Anthills of the Savannah.

“Ikem: ‘One of the things you told me was that my attitude to women was too respectful.’

Beatrice: ‘I didn’t.’

‘You bloody well did.  And you were damn right.  You charged me with assigning to women the role of a fire-brigade after the house has caught fire and been virtually consumed.  Your charge has forced me to sit down and contemplate the nature of oppression - how flexible it must learn to be, how many faces it must learn to wear if it is to succeed again and again.’

He dug his hand into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper and carefully unfolded it on his knee. ‘I wrote this strange love-letter last night.  May I read it?” I nodded.

“The original oppression of Woman was based on crude denigration.  She caused Man to fall, so she became a scapegoat.  No, not a scapegoat which might be blameless but a culprit richly deserving of whatever suffering Man chose thereafter to heap on her.  That is Woman in the Book of Genesis.  Out here, our ancestors, without the benefit of hearing about the Old Testament, made the very same story differing only in local color.  At first the Sky was very close to the Earth.  But every evening Woman cut off a piece of the Sky to put in her soup pot, or in another version, she repeatedly banged the top end of her pestle carelessly against the Sky whenever she pounded millet or, as in yet another rendering—so prodigious is Man’s inventiveness, she wiped her kitchen hands in the Sky’s face.  Whatever the detail of Woman’s provocation, the Sky moved away in anger, and God with it.

‘Well, that kind of candid chauvinism might be ok for the rugged taste of the Old Testament.  The New Testament required a more enlightened, more refined, more loving even, strategy—ostensibly that is.  So the idea cam to Man to turn his spouse into the very Mother of God, to pick her up from right under his foot where she’d been since Creation and carry her reverently to a nice, corner pedestal.  Up there, her feet completely off the ground, she will be just as irrelevant to the practical decisions of running the world as she was in her bad old days.  The only difference is that now Man will suffer no guilt feelings; he can sit back and congratulate himself on his generosity and gentlemanliness.

‘Meanwhile, our ancestors out here, unaware of the New Testament, were working out independently a parallel subterfuge of their own.  Nneka, they said.  Mother is supreme.  Let us keep her in reserve until the ultimate crisis arrives and the waist is broken and hung over the fire, and the palm bears its fruit at the tail of its leaf.  Then, as the world crashes around Man’s ears, Woman in her supremacy will descend and sweep the shards together.

‘Do I make sense?’

‘As always.  Go on.’

‘Thank-you, BB.  I owe that insight to you.  I can’t tell you what the new role for Woman will be.  I don’t know.  I should never have presumed to know.  You have to tell us.  We never asked you before.  And perhaps because you’ve never been asked you may not have thought about it; you may not have the answer handy.  But in that case everybody had better know who is now holding up the action.’

‘That’s very kind of you!’

‘That was the first part of this love-letter, the part I owe specifically to you.  Here’s the rest.

‘The women are, of course, the biggest single group of oppressed people in the world and, if we are to believe the Book of Genesis, the very oldest.  But they are not the only ones.  There are others - rural peasants in every land, the urban poor in industrialized countries, black people everywhere including their own continent, ethnic and religious minorities and castes in all countries.   The most obvious practical difficulty is the magnitude and heterogeneity of the problem.  There is no universal conglomerate of the oppressed.  Free people may be alike everywhere in their freedom but the oppressed inhabit each their own peculiar hell.  The present orthodoxies of deliverance are futile to the extent that they fail to recognize this.  You know my stand on that. Every genuine artists feels it in his bone.  The simplistic remedies touted by all manner of salesmen (including some who call themselves artists) will always fail because of man’s stubborn antibody called surprise.  Man will surprise by his capacity for nobility as well as for villainy.  No system can change that.  It is built into the core of man’s free spirit.

‘The sweeping, majestic visions of people rising victorious like a tidal wave against their oppressors and transforming their world with theories and slogans into a new heaven and a new earth of brotherhood, justice and freedom are at best grand illusions.  The rising, conquering tide, yes; but the millennium afterwards, no!  New oppressors will have been readying themselves secretly in the undertow long before the tidal wave got really going.

‘Experience and intelligence warn us that man’s progress in freedom will be piecemeal, slow and undramatic.  Revolution may be necessary for taking a society out of an intractable stretch of quagmire but it does not confer freedom and may indeed hinder it.

‘Bloody reformist? That’s a term of abuse it would be redundant to remind you I have had more than my fair share of invoking against others across the years.  But I ask myself: beyond the pleasant glow that javelin of an epithet certainly brings to the heart of the righteous hurler what serious benefit can it offer to the solution of our problems?  And I don’t see any.

‘Reform may be a dirty word then but it begins to look more and more like the most promising route to success in the real world.  I limit myself to most promising rather than only for the simple reason that all certitude must now be suspect.

‘Society is an extension of the individual.  The most we can hope to do with a problematic individual psyche is to re-form it.  No responsible psychoanalyst would aim to do more, for to do more, to overthrow the psyche itself, would be to un-leash insanity.  No.  We can only hope to rearrange some details in the periphery of the human personality.  Any disturbance of its core is an irresponsible invitation to disaster.  Even a one-day-old baby does not make itself available for your root-and-branch psychological engineering, for it comes trailing clouds of immortality.  What immortality?  Its baggage of irreducible inheritance of genes.  That is immortality.

‘It has to be the same with society.  You re-form it around what it is, its core of reality; not around an intellectual abstraction.

‘None of this is a valid excuse for political inactivity or apathy.  Indeed to understand it is an absolute necessity for meaningful action, the knowledge of it being the only protective inoculation we can have against false hopes and virulent epidemics of gullibility.

‘In the vocabulary of certain racial theorists contradictions are given the status of some deadly disease to which their opponents alone can succumb.  But contradictions are the very stuff of life.  If there had been a little dash of contradiction among the Gadarene swine some of them might have been saved from drowning.

‘Contradictions if well understood and managed can spark off the fires of invention.  Orthodox whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity.

‘I didn’t owe this insight to you, BB.  I drank it in from my mother’s breast.  All I’ve ever needed since was confirmation. “Do I contradict myself?” asked Walt Whitman. “Very well, I contradict myself,” he sang defiantly. “I am large, I contain multitudes.”  Every artist contains multitudes.  Graham Greene is a Roman Catholic, a partisan of Rome, if you like.  Why then does he write so compulsively about bad, doubtful and doubting priests?  Because a genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.

‘Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners.  In the grand finale of things there will be a mansion also for them where they will be received and lodged in comfort by the single-minded demigods of their devotion.  But it will not be in the complex and paradoxical cavern of Mother Idoto.’

He tossed the handwritten paper across to me, saying ‘I must go,’ and beginning to put his shoes back on.  I stared at the paper, at the writing - elegant but at the same time, immensely powerful.  He got up.  I got up too and walked up to him.  Impulsively he circled me in his embrace.  I looked up at him and he began to kiss me.  Everything inside me was dissolving; my knees were giving way under me; I was trembling violently and I seemed to be struggling for air.

‘I think you better go,’ I managed to say.  He released me slowly and I sank into a chair.

‘Yes, I’d better be going.’

And he was gone, not for now as I and perhaps he too thought, but for ever.  The storm had died down without our having been aware of it.  All that was left of it now were tired twitches of intermittent lightning and the occasional, satiated hiccup of distant thunder.”

Green America’s latest Editorial Rethinks the GDP

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

The following article is from Green America’s editorial series which examines at the fatal design flaws in our economic system, looking to the green economy to provide insight and better solutions. The article responds to the drastic drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which was reported last month, and examines the effectiveness of using GDP as an evaluative guide in our current economic crunch as opposed to other indicators which give value to environmental preservation, quality, and societal well-being.

Fair Earth

Rethinking the GDP

February 26, 2009

When the Commerce Department announced the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for the fourth quarter of 2008 at the end of January, they revealed a historical context for our economic slide – the 3.8% GDP shrinkage at the end of 2008 is the fastest pace for an economic slowdown in a quarter of a century.

Consumer spending, stated the Commerce Department, has fallen sharply, with big-ticket spending plunging even faster, falling off by 22% for the 2008 fourth quarter.

But what if the GDP – measuring the market value of a country’s economic output – isn’t the best indicator of societal well-being?

“GDP growth is mostly a measure of growth in consumption, which is the driving cause of environmental decline,” writes Positive Futures Network chair David Korten in his new book, Agenda for a New Economy. “Human health and well-being depend on a great many things that do have market value: food, housing, transportation, education, health care, and many other essentials of a healthy life. These, however, are means, not ends, and their real value is a function of how they contribute to improving human and natural health and vitality.”

Because the GDP measures quantity of consumption only, rather than quality of that consumption (and its costs to society or the environment), relying on such a measurement suggests an underlying assumption that material growth and wealth accumulation are the greatest goods. In actuality, the GDP remains largely silent on societal well-being.

For example, the GDP counts economic activity that produces horrific pollution alongside the economic activity required to clean up that pollution – as if there were no difference for society between the two.

As Korten points out, a rising GDP can occur alongside simultaneous social upheaval: “[The GDP] can be rising in the face of disintegrating families and a vanishing middle class, increasing prison populations, rising unemployment, the disruption of community, collapsing environmental systems, the hollowing out of domestic manufacturing capabilities, failing schools, growing trade deficits, and costly but senseless foreign wars.”

Instead of relying on the GDP as our primary economic measurement, Korten recommends adding extra-financial indicators to the GDP, as 150 other countries have already done. The Human Development Index (HDI), conceived by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, replaces a country’s GDP with a collection of measurements that examine the overall well-being of its people by looking at statistics on health, education, and standard-of-living.

Shifting from the GDP and its emphasis on growth to something like the HDI and its emphasis on environmental and social well-being would require a vast retooling of the role of business—particularly big business—in our society. Instead of focusing solely on growing their bottom lines to the detriment of our collective social and ecological well-being, companies would have to operate in ways that support the life expectancy and life satisfaction of their workers, customers, and communities. They would have to operate in ecologically efficient ways that restore, rather than destroy, the environment.

And for those companies that do harm instead?

Dr. Neva Goodwin, an economist at Tufts University, suggests we revive the practice of revoking their charters. “In the 19th century, it was understood that a corporate charter was given to allow a group of people to do something that was in the interest of society,” says Dr. Goodwin. “Corporate charters were sometimes given for limited periods of time, and if the producer wasn’t living up to their part of the bargain, the charter could be taken away.”

Another solution is to levy severe taxes on corporations that do harm, such as violating environmental rules, while giving tax breaks and incentives to corporations advancing the greater good, and contributing to an increased HDI.

Finally, regulations to reduce corporate influence in politics could help enact laws that push big business further toward ensuring that they operate in the interest of society rather than in the interest of their bottom lines.

The better path for our society is to turn away from of the GDP-focused model of relentless economic growth—which comes at a steep cost to human health and well-being, and to the environment—and toward a renewed emphasis on real wealth.

–Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

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