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Mon Dec 24, 2012, 01:13 PM

Chinese forced labor camp worker puts haunting note pleading for help into box of Kmart decorations

This amazing story was on the front page of the Oregonian newspaper this morning. It gives me the chills thinking about this desperate person basically working as a slave taking the risk to ask for help from the person who happens to wind up with that particular box of Halloween decorations in the United States ...

http://www.oregonlive.com/happy-valley/index.ssf/2012/12/halloween_decorations_carry_ha.html

The letter came in a box of Halloween decorations purchased at Kmart, but for a year Julie Keith never knew. It gathered dust in her storage, a haunting plea for help hidden among artificial skeletons, tombstones and spider webs.

Keith, a 42-year-old vehicle donation manager at a southeast Portland Goodwill, at one point considered donating the unopened $29.99 Kmart graveyard kit. It was one of those accumulated items you never need and easily forget. But on a Sunday afternoon in October, Keith pulled the orange and black box from storage. She intended to decorate her home in Damascus for her daughter's fifth birthday, just days before Halloween.

She ripped open the box and threw aside the cellophane.

That's when Keith found it. Scribbled onto paper and folded into eighths, the letter was tucked between two Styrofoam headstones.


54 replies, 7547 views

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Reply Chinese forced labor camp worker puts haunting note pleading for help into box of Kmart decorations (Original post)
Arugula Latte Dec 2012 OP
limpyhobbler Dec 2012 #1
Arugula Latte Dec 2012 #2
RZM Dec 2012 #3
NewJeffCT Dec 2012 #4
Arkansas Granny Dec 2012 #6
adieu Dec 2012 #7
humblebum Dec 2012 #54
arikara Dec 2012 #8
Shampoobra Dec 2012 #10
derby378 Dec 2012 #11
slampoet Dec 2012 #15
Nanjing to Seoul Dec 2012 #19
NewJeffCT Dec 2012 #31
JDPriestly Dec 2012 #16
DonCoquixote Dec 2012 #17
Nanjing to Seoul Dec 2012 #20
tarheelsunc Dec 2012 #22
Nanjing to Seoul Dec 2012 #25
Democracyinkind Dec 2012 #26
Nanjing to Seoul Dec 2012 #27
DonCoquixote Dec 2012 #30
Democracyinkind Dec 2012 #37
Marengo Dec 2012 #47
obamanut2012 Dec 2012 #44
Quantess Dec 2012 #49
roguevalley Dec 2012 #28
malaise Dec 2012 #32
KittyWampus Dec 2012 #35
laundry_queen Dec 2012 #39
Fire Walk With Me Dec 2012 #5
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #9
ReRe Dec 2012 #12
riverbendviewgal Dec 2012 #13
agent46 Dec 2012 #14
Nanjing to Seoul Dec 2012 #18
KittyWampus Dec 2012 #36
Democracyinkind Dec 2012 #38
saidsimplesimon Dec 2012 #21
WinkyDink Dec 2012 #48
Liberal_in_LA Dec 2012 #23
Beams1969 Dec 2012 #24
XemaSab Dec 2012 #33
obamanut2012 Dec 2012 #45
JI7 Dec 2012 #29
raouldukelives Dec 2012 #34
DiverDave Dec 2012 #40
Le Taz Hot Dec 2012 #41
truebluegreen Dec 2012 #42
obamanut2012 Dec 2012 #46
obamanut2012 Dec 2012 #43
Sunlei Dec 2012 #50
WCGreen Dec 2012 #53
sulphurdunn Dec 2012 #51
grahamhgreen Dec 2012 #52

Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 01:24 PM

1. oh my...

I wonder will the note-writer be in a lot of trouble.

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #1)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 01:26 PM

2. Yes, that is a big concern.

S/he wrote it more than a year ago ... I wonder if that person wakes up every day wondering if that will be the day when s/he is hauled off by authorities to suffer an even worse fate.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 01:34 PM

3. I'd file this one under 'possibly true'

 

If this is investigated further, we might find out for sure. But I don't see enough here to take it to the bank.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 01:40 PM

4. A lot of English for a labor camp worker

I have no doubts that a lot of factory workers in China labor under horrific conditions, but I'm guessing a lot of them would struggle to write that much in Chinese - let alone English.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 02:10 PM

6. Not only a lot of English, but, for the most part,

with decent grammar and spelling. Not impossible, I suppose, but unlikely.

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Response to Arkansas Granny (Reply #6)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 02:53 PM

7. Could have asked someone to write it for the person

who stuffed it into the box.

It could just be a conspiratorial attempt to make a stab into the Chinese Communist Party (CCPG) by some of the more intellectual group among the populace. Hence, the value of the claim could be questioned.

Nevertheless, I think the statement will suffice to put off enough people, possibly, that there will be greater demands on better working conditions.

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Response to Arkansas Granny (Reply #6)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:57 PM

54. It is not unlike a communist government to jail intellectuals. Quite common really.

 

We shouldn't be surprised in the least and are only fooling ourselves if thought otherwise.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 02:53 PM

8. According to the article, the letter is being taken seriously

this isn't just a labour camp but one that the government sends dissidents to be "re-educated". I would think that a bi-lingual Chinese person can wind up in such a camp just as easily as one who can't speak English, perhaps even more likely that the person would be educated.

Regardless, its heartbreaking.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:07 PM

10. In China, a "a labor camp worker" can be a doctor, a scientist, or even a language professor

Labor camps are prisons, not career choices.

http://www.oregonlive.com/happy-valley/index.ssf/2012/12/halloween_decorations_carry_ha.html

China's re-education through labor is a system of punishment that allows for detention without trial. Various reports allege followers of the banned spiritual group, Falun Gong, are sent to the reform camps claims supported in the letter but the facts are difficult to confirm.

...

If truly created in a forced labor camp, the Halloween graveyard kit from Kmart's "Totally Ghoul" product line could bring a blow to the U.S. chain of discount stores.

Title 19, section 1307 of U.S. Code generally prohibits the importation of all items "mined, produced or manufactured" in any foreign country by convict labor, forced labor and/or indentured labor.

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Response to Shampoobra (Reply #10)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:14 PM

11. The note mentioned "Falun Gong"

Practitioners of Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa) have long suffered persecution from Chinese authorities, including imprisonment, torture, and the occasional death. I take this sort of thing very seriously.

We should take a wide look at this, as well. The note was found among Halloween decorations from K-Mart. However, a lot of us get our Halloween decorations, including animatronics, from chains such as Spirit Halloween, Cow Halloween, and Halloween USA that import a lot of their stuff from China as well. How many of those floating zombies and jumping spiders were produced under similar wretched labor conditions?

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:37 PM

15. Wow. That is a wonderfully ignorant view.

Just because people are poor doesn't mean they can't write in their own language or the language of others.

China contains the Second largest amount of English speakers in the world, English was also the second official language in Hong Kong under the British.

Maybe you should read more.

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Response to slampoet (Reply #15)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:54 PM

19. And I live in China. And you have no idea what you're talking about

 

Yes. . .here in China, poverty means much fewer, practically zero, opportunities.

Hong Kong (香港)is an SAR. They have their own government, law, economics and system.

Shenyang is in Jilin, in 东北, near Heilongjiang.

It is not a "wonderfully ignorant" view. It's pretty much accurate. I've lived here for six years.

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Response to slampoet (Reply #15)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 09:29 PM

31. umm, geez

my wife is from mainland China, I've been to China several times and also have a lot of relatives in China. I know dozens of Chinese well, including many who went to top schools here in the US and/or top schools in China and are working in very high level positions here in the US - business executives, stem cell research scientists, engineers, doctors, college professors, etc. Unless they came here when they were very young, some of the English words used in that letter are not typical uses of the English language by Chinese.

Also, Hong Kong is a special area of China where citizens of mainland China need special approval just to enter Hong Kong. They also speak Cantonese in Hong Kong, while mainland China speaks Mandarin.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:44 PM

16. Lots of Chinese students study in the US. Some may not fit in too well when they go back to China.

I don't know whether to believe this or not.

But human rights organizations could check it out.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:45 PM

17. Hate to break it to ya, but

Most the of English spoken in this world is not in the US, Canada, or the UK, it is in asia, where India alone has about 600 million speakers, and China has several million. They also have better grammar than their Anglocentric counterparts.

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Response to DonCoquixote (Reply #17)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:57 PM

20. Again. . .no! I teach A level, AS level, IGSCE and taught AP here before

 

Grammar sucks, syntax sucks, spelling is absolutely miserable.

So, it's not really wrong. Again, six years of experience living and teaching in China here. I'm still here married to a Chinese national.

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Response to Nanjing to Seoul (Reply #20)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 04:21 PM

22. You've been in China 6 years and you still have that view?

I don't see how it's so hard to believe that 1 person out of a forced labor camp out of who knows how many (hundreds, thousands?) can have decent English abilities. And plus, if this is a dissident camp, it would be EVEN MORE likely people there have an above average outside education, which would most likely be acquired from knowing English well as that kind of information is nearly impossible to find in Chinese. Chances are, if you talk to 100 random Chinese citizens, at least one of them will speak great English, and that's probably an extremely conservative estimate. My wife is from a small, poor village in Sichuan and she's not even the only English speaker from there. In a major city like Shenyang, the prevalence of English would be much higher. All it takes is one person with good English skills to write this letter. And I have no doubt at all that at least one person at that camp (and probably several more) could do it.

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Response to tarheelsunc (Reply #22)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 04:50 PM

25. Live here, meet factory workers here. . .then you will understand my apprehension to believe

 

100%.

As I said in other posts, that is normal paper here in China. I have stacks of paper like that. But the writing it too good for a typical factory worker. I would accept the person having help writing it. Also, the use of the word "practitioner" seems too advanced.

Here in China. . .if you are using your hands to make a living, you don't have an education. It's that simple.

I live in Nanjing. Are you kidding about the GREAT English speakers? You're kidding, right? My wife is from Lizhuang, a small farming village near Danyang in Zhenjiang. Chances are you will get 100 people that will practice their English by saying hello and laughing when you say "hi" back to them. Or will say 听不懂 if you speak English to them.

Yes, I've been here for six years. And I still have that view point. Unless you can prove to me I am wrong, it will not change.

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Response to Nanjing to Seoul (Reply #25)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 04:56 PM

26. How dense are you? read the article - it's a forced labor camp, not some foxconish factory

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Response to Democracyinkind (Reply #26)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 05:20 PM

27. We do the same thing. Chain Gangs, military sentences at hard labor.

 

Not condoning, but until we have clean hands again, we need to stop, as a nation, being hypocrites.

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Response to Nanjing to Seoul (Reply #27)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 09:01 PM

30. here is why I disagree with you here

Granted, the private prison industry, inspired by China is working to make prison labor more profitable, however, in China, having the large forced labor pool is worked into the business model. Part of why WalMart has so many cheap goods is because China can bring up a huge pool of people to work for low wages. Yes, the US is trying that, but seeing as how the US Prison system is corrupted with both gang influence and corporate prison companies, they will not succeed as well. Sad is it is, the fact that the prison gangs are very organized might be the saving grace, and I say this as a former employee of the Department of corrections that saw firsthand that these gangs are a "well-regulated militia" complete with internationally organized business plans that make some Fortune 500 companies look like a pizza joint.

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Response to Nanjing to Seoul (Reply #27)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 03:40 AM

37. China=USA? You're fucking delusional, buddy.

Hey, I'm the first to admit that we're a pretty fucked up country - I know about private prisons and even public ones like Angola.

Still miles away from forced labor camps in China.
False equivalency bullshit.

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Response to Nanjing to Seoul (Reply #25)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 10:06 AM

47. I share your apprehension, but...

The laogai isn't just for nong min or factory workers.

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Response to DonCoquixote (Reply #17)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 08:19 AM

44. Not true

And, I know this for a fact, from teaching.

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Response to DonCoquixote (Reply #17)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:00 PM

49. Chinese and English are vastly different languages

and it is very difficult to transition from Chinese to English, and vice versa.
Grammar is generally pretty bad, which is to be expected. I am impressed that so many Chinese speakers speak English as well as they do! However, your assessment is a little too rosy. There are native Chinese speakers who have lived in San Francisco for several years who don't speak english all that well.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 08:09 PM

28. many educated people work in hell in china. I wouldn't discount this on language.

they go there thinking its legit and end up like this.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 10:04 PM

32. Ding ding

Beyond suspicious

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #4)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:17 AM

35. Who do you think the labor camp workers are? Illiterates? Or political prisoners?

My father did volunteer birdwatching for quite a few years in China and was amazed at how well some people in the sticks where he was going were able to speak. And that was in the 80's.

Edit- he still gets Christmas cards from one gentleman.

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Response to KittyWampus (Reply #35)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 03:58 AM

39. No kidding.

IN my class at university, there are at least 8-10 Chinese students, and having been in groups with them, and having seen their written work, this letter could've been written by any one of them - even those mistakes are consistent with how they speak. Just because one or 2 people post here that THEY don't think it's like what they've heard doesn't mean that's not how some speak English. I'm fluent in French and I can name 3 different public figures here in Canada whose french accents and manner of speaking in English are totally different from one another - despite all having Quebec French as their first language. Heck, the English varies even within my family (french is my extended family's first language). You cannot read this letter and say, "nope, not from a Chinese speaker." Ridiculous assumption.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 01:42 PM

5. I wonder if this is a Bain company. K&R

 

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 02:57 PM

9. kr

 

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:30 PM

12. message in a bottle...

...from someone in duress in a Chinese slave-worker camp. Most-favored-nation trading status. Does the House vote on that anymore, or is a foregone conclusion now? Maybe we had to give them permanent trading status when we started borrowing all that money from them for all our unfunded wars and tax-breaks for the rich? I guess it doesn't matter what the answer is, as it seems powerless to do anything about it. My head hurts on Christmas Eve. Just more bad news...

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:30 PM

13. Oh my....

I wonder what will happen of it....

K & R

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:32 PM

14. On the other hand

Among a large group of peasant laborers, there's bound to be at least someone who had some education. Brilliant minds are found everywhere in the world, even among the impoverished and enslaved. In China, someone with knowledge of English like that would be well known among his/her peers. They respect education as a cultural value. Nothing takes place in a vacuum. Maybe he/she was put up to it by a number of others.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:51 PM

18. That looks like the standard style of paper found here in any Chinese stationery store

 

However, I'm a little weary. I teach geography and economics here in Nanjing. That English is surprisingly good for a factory worker in Shenyang, where there are few foreigners and even less opportunity.

But this sounds about right.

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Response to Nanjing to Seoul (Reply #18)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:20 AM

36. it's a forced labor camp not a factory.

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Response to KittyWampus (Reply #36)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 03:45 AM

38. you're the third person to point out the difference to him...

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 04:18 PM

21. Falungong refererence, I'm not into the philosophy. I detest all

suggestions that violent revolution is the way to peace. It isn't, and I'm never going to support it.

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Response to saidsimplesimon (Reply #21)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 10:14 AM

48. It just might be 'the way" to egalite, fraternite, and liberte, however.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 04:23 PM

23. k&r

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 04:49 PM

24. While I don't doubt horrible conditions exist in China

and other places throughout the world, I have to question the origin of this note.

As an ESL teacher who has had many Chinese students, most from well-to-do and well-educated families, the lack of certain types of mistakes (e.g., verb tense/usage and near-perfect article use), as well as the placement of other "mistakes," seem not in line with what Chinese students often do. I won't go through them, as it wouldn't make much point, but the letter seems doubtful to me for anyone but an extremely well-educated person. If it is an educated person who is being forced to work, one would assume s/he would find a more efficient route to get word out. It seems too much a risk to put into a box of decorations. It is possible, but having read hundreds of essays written under the relative minimal pressure of an ESL class, I sense other things going on here.

Anyway, my two cents.

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Response to Beams1969 (Reply #24)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 10:15 PM

33. I grew up on "China Hill" in Oakland

Subject/verb and numbers in English take a LOOOOOONG time for ESL students from China to master.

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Response to Beams1969 (Reply #24)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 08:21 AM

45. Agreed

Also from my experience.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 08:14 PM

29. what the Letter says happens is True, whether or not it was really written by a worker

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:04 AM

34. One thing is for sure. It won't be changing anytime soon.

We have a lot of people in this country and around the world more than happy to see people live and with a little luck, be born into forced labor to turn a profit. You can generally recognize them by the term " Financial Planner" or "Investor".

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 07:14 AM

40. If true, and I believe it,

I fear for who wrote that.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 07:52 AM

41. So many in this thread have completely missed the point.

Whether or not the letter is authentic, the POINT is that our low-priced crap from China IS made from slave labor, whether it's in a factory camp or prison camp. So, the next time you buy some piece of crap made in China, know that YOU are contributing to that person's slavery.

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Response to Le Taz Hot (Reply #41)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 08:00 AM

42. Thank you for saying that.

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Response to Le Taz Hot (Reply #41)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 08:23 AM

46. We already know that

I don't mean that snarky. I mean we already know how horrific it is, and how so many US industries have been destroyed by outsourcing.

Having something that is a hoax does NOT help educate people. It does the opposite.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 08:17 AM

43. Hoax

For many reasons, most of which posters gave already stated.

I will add: prisoners don't have access to paper and writing utensils, and are heavily monitored.

Even university-educated Chinese can rarely write like that. And, yes, I do know that for a fact.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:10 PM

50. same thing happed to some chinese people I knew years ago, remember Formosa?

This is just like what the south did for 80 years right after the slaves were free. They got them into prisons on 'fake charges' made a felony laws like not having a job- with years of hard time.

South had decades of cheap throw-away labor leased to work in mines, factories, farms and anywhere a company wanted prisoners to work to death. Americans were re-enslaved, worked to death similar to China.

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #50)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:43 PM

53. How many of US call centers are using prison labor here...

that is one of the reasons the private prisons came into being, to take advantage of a steady flow of prisons because of the war on drugs.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:32 PM

51. Sticking a note in a box

of Halloween decorations is only a little less desperate than corking a note in a bottle and dropping it in the middle of the ocean. If that's actually how the message came to the US, it tips the scales heavily to the side of authenticity, whatever the motive.

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Response to Arugula Latte (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2012, 12:36 PM

52. Well, this shouldn't be too hard to look into, don't the costly trade agreements have

mechanisms for investigation?

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