The Short Run

Cora Books, Poulod Borojerdi, Amy Gluckman, Robert Sierakowski, James Woolman

This article is from the March/April 2004 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

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This article is from the March/April 2004 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

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Obey Your Television

You may already suspect that the television possesses near-supernatural powers of control—now there's proof. New Batman toys developed by Mattel will move, light up, and make noises at key moments in the Batman cartoon show slated to air this fall on Kids' WB! and the Cartoon Network. Infinitesimal light changes on the TV screen will activate the toys in line with the show's story developments. The toy company is using similar technology to link the actions of a toy dog to a new Barbie DVD. —JW

Brand Name Baby

Apparently, thousands of U.S. parents are willing to turn their children into walking advertisements. In 2000, 353 U.S. families chose to name their daughters Lexus, a.k.a. a Japanese luxury automobile. And 298 girls and 273 boys were named Armani, after the Italian fashion house. Proud parents named hundreds of other babies Chanel, Infiniti, Dior, Cartier, Loreal, and even Timberland. "We live in an era of the power of the brand name," baby-naming expert Pamela Satran explained to the Wall Street Journal in December. "People are conscious of marketing, where 10 years ago they might not have known what marketing was." —RS

School of Marketing

A is for apple. B is for boy. C is for commercialism. That's the lesson many cash-strapped public schools are teaching their students. One school district in Texas is getting paid millions of dollars to display a Dr. Pepper billboard on a school. High school football fields around the country are looking more like pro stadiums, plastered with ads and corporate logos. Even the classic yellow school bus is turning into a moving commercial, with ads pasted on its sides. "Many districts are engaged in this because of the dire straits they're in," Dan Fuller of the National School Board Association told CNN. Ironically, this new marketing opportunity gives the corporate sector yet another reason to oppose necessary increases in public school funding. —RS

Charity for Adam Smith?

The British Department for International Development gave the UK-based Adam Smith Institute £7.7 million (about $12.7 million) in grants last year, more than it gave to many African countries, including Liberia and Somalia. In Liberia, 80% of the population lives in poverty, and in Somalia the average life expectancy is 47 years. The Adam Smith Institute, whose director claims to have coined the term "privatization," is located in a posh London neighborhood; it says its mission is to "extend competition and markets, and roll back big government, high taxes, and intrusive regulation." When Tony Blair's New Labor government gives more aid to these free marketeers down the block than to the people of Somalia, it's pretty clear where its priorities lie. —PB

In Chains

Female chain gangs have been introduced in Maricopa County, Arizona. According to Reuters, 15 women were chained together at 6 a.m. one day last fall and taken to a local cemetery to bury the bodies of nameless Native Americans who had died overnight on the streets. The chain gangs are a pet project of new county sheriff Joe Arpaio, who boasts that he "got meal costs down to 40 cents a day per inmate. It costs $1.15 a day to feed the department's dogs." Amnesty International has denounced chain gangs as "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of international standards on the treatment of prisoners," but Arpaio seems pleased with the gruesome twist in his new policy: the incarcerated burying the homeless. —PB

Playing to Win

Do you dream of escaping your cubicle, making some smart investments, and becoming a millionaire? Then Cashflow, a new board game in which players pursue imaginary investments, may be for you. Players navigate rat (!) figurines around the board; the roll of the dice guides them through acquisitions, loan payments, and unexpected financial setbacks. Cashflow's creator, Robert T. Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money—That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!, claims that the game encourages financial discipline and money savvy. Of course, financial discipline and money savvy probably start with refusing to spend $195—Cashflow's retail price—on a board game. —CB

Wedded Bliss?

George W. Bush wants to spend about $1.5 billion dollars to help poor families uphold "the sanctity of marriage." The money will fund, among other things, advertisements supporting marriage and the promotion of public couples as role models. The "Healthy Marriage" program is getting a healthy dose of funds at a time when job creation is poor and state social programs are shaved to the bone. Real marriage insurance for low-income couples? How about a living-wage job, health coverage, and a paid vacation! —CB

Oops, Forgot to Test the Drugs

The Bush administration wants to stop local governments from importing lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. U.S. officials have raised questions about the safety of the Canadian imports. But though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened thousands of packages for inspection, it hasn't actually tested a single pill, the New York Times reported in January. Nor can the agency point to even one patient who's been injured by an imported prescription. Asked whether any of the medicines the agency has inspected are unsafe, the FDA's commissioner offered this helpful reply: "We just don't know, because it's so hard to tell." The administration may not know how to assess whether the drug shipments from Canada are safe for consumers, but one thing they know for sure: the imported drugs would be hazardous to pharmaceutical industry profits. —CB

A Lasting Legacy

By 2050, over one million plant and animal species will have become extinct due to global warming, concludes a new study conducted by leading biologists on four continents, published in Nature. That figure represents a quarter of all plant and animal species on earth. As the international leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the United States is the single largest cause; Bush administration environmental policy has halted even the minimal steps earlier administrations had taken to address the problem. One researcher noted that "President Bush risks having the biggest impact on wildlife since the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs." There's a lasting presidential legacy. —PB

Banking on Death

Texas is considering a macabre plan, floated by former U.S. Senator (now UBS Investment Bank executive) Phil Gramm, to fund its teacher retirement system by taking out life insurance policies on retired teachers and other school employees. The circuitous proposal calls for UBS to sell bonds, use the proceeds to buy annuities, and use the annuity income to pay the life insurance premiums. When teachers die, the insurance payouts would be used both to support the teacher retirement system and to pay back the bondholders. State officials claim the scheme could generate $700 million over 12 to 15 years, the Los Angeles Times reported in January. Raising that kind of money without producing or selling a single usable good or service—just by waiting for people to die—that's capitalism at its best! —AG

Trying (Again) to Hold Exxon Accountable

In late January, a federal judge in Anchorage imposed a $4.5 billion judgment for punitive damages on the ExxonMobil corporation for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. This was Judge H. Russel Holland's third attempt to impose punitive damages on Exxon; two earlier judgments had been reversed on appeal. According to the judge, the Valdez leaked 11 million gallons of crude oil into the region's primary fishing resource, disrupting "the lives (and livelihoods) of thousands of claimants and their families for years." Unfortunately for those claimants, whose fate now moves back to the U.S. Appeals Court, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has strengthened the hand of corporate wrong-doers in lawsuits such as this one. —CB