Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

’Tis the season to be wary. At least that was the message of some 25 demonstrators who gathered at Wal-Mart’s Panorama City store last weekend.

The action came as part of a national effort by religious, labor and ethnic organizations to focus attention on the retail giant’s alleged use of sweatshops. Kicking off the campaign is the “Holiday Season of Conscience,” in which the coalition has undertaken the thankless task of injecting ethics into the consumer frenzy better known as the holidays.

Activists charge that Wal-Mart, despite its heavily marketed “Buy American” policy, aggressively seeks out foreign subcontractors, many of whom pay abysmal wages, utilize child labor and maintain oppressive working conditions. Citing a host of examples — Haitian women who earn 6 cents for every $19.99 101 Dalmatians outfit, Chinese women who are paid $3.44 per 70-hour week to make Kathie Lee handbags — they are demanding that the company publicly disclose where its clothing products are manufactured so that independent investigators can be sent in to monitor conditions.

Wal-Mart has thus far declined to provide the names and locations of factories, while disputing that its subcontractors are running sweatshops. “We have a strict set of vendor standards that they must adhere to,” says spokesman Mike Maher.

Activists acknowledge shoppers are reluctant to pay attention. “It’s a very difficult battle,” said Richard Bunce, program coordinator of Mobilization for the Human Family, a progressive Christian group participating in the campaign. “It can have the appearance of tilting at windmills.”

Part of the problem is that consumers have no reliable list of retailers and manufacturers to check who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. But even if there were, it’s far from certain that consumers would put their money where their morals are.

While emphasizing that they are not calling for a boycott, activists hope to apply enough pressure so that Wal-Mart and other large retailers reveal their subcontractors — and eventually act to ensure livable wages along with decent working conditions.

Better hope Santa’s listening.

—Danny Feingold


Dance With Death

The dance with death continues apace for Jaturun “Jay” Siripongs, the convicted killer whose execution was delayed in November by a U.S. district judge who questioned the grounds for Governor Pete Wilson’s denial of clemency.

At issue was the governor’s instructions, to Siripong’s attorneys, that the clemency petition exclude matters that had already been litigated. This precluded a discussion of Siripongs’ innocence, a stance the former Buddhist monk has steadfastly maintained since his arrest for the 1981 killings of a Garden Grove shop owner and employee. The governor then denied the clemency request, based in part on the failure of Siripongs’ attorneys to raise questions about their client’s guilt.

Last week, after Judge Maxine Chesney was assured by the Attorney General’s Office that Siripongs would be allowed another clemency plea, she lifted the stay. Her action clears the way for prosecutors to set a new execution date — a hearing on the matter is scheduled for Monday, December 14, and the execution will likely be slated for early February. That will give the executioners plenty of time to once again prepare San Quentin’s injection chamber for Siripongs.

For now, Siripongs’ legal team plans to go with the program and file a new clemency plea (outlining his own clemency process and tackling the Siripongs case will likely be one of the first orders of business for incoming Governor Gray Davis). But attorney Linda Schilling says she stands at the ready to file a lawsuit if she suspects that the clemency request is not handled fairly. “We can still go ahead with a lawsuit, if need be,” she says. “The only thing we’re fighting for here is a fair clemency hearing.”

—Sara Catania


Secret Commie Color Wheel

Immigration is anti-American, and communism is anti-American, so if you don’t oppose all immigration, you’re a communist. That’s the wacky message put forth in an anti-immigration, anti–Sierra Club Web site that sprang to life last week.

Last spring, you may recall, Sierra Club members defeated an anti-immigration initiative by a healthy 20 percent margin after several months of mudslinging, the likes of which the venerable environmental group hadn’t seen since it decided to start publishing coffee-table books. That result means the club won’t be spending its substantial lobbying dollars pushing to seal U.S. borders. Immigration opponents vowed to redouble their efforts to make the club see the error of its ways.

This time around, it appears the anti-immigration forces have ditched the election route in favor of this Web site (www. Click on the hammer and sickle to learn about “Sierra Club infiltrators,” also described as “high-immigration extremists.” The “conspirators” include the Political Ecology Group, a San Francisco– based environmental-justice organization; the National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. These groups, the site complains, not only advocate immigrants’ rights, they helped block implementation of Proposition 187. Lenin would be proud.

Click on the keywords “New Arrivals” to learn even more about the border-crashing un-American threats — an animated illustration appears, showing featureless, orange-colored figures flinging themselves over a razor-wired wall scrawled with “Aztlan” and “Viva Raza.” Not only are they illegal and anti-American, but their grammar sucks!

—Sara Catania

LA Weekly