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Expand The Debate: Jill Stein VS Obama On Stopping The Outsourcing Of American Jobs

by on Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 11:26 am EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Labor, Politics, Trade Policy

During a time when tens of millions of Americans find themselves unemployed, and hundreds of thousands of American jobs continue to move to low-cost labor countries, there is perhaps no single issue more important to America’s economic viability than outsourcing. 

Obama, as a Presidential candidate in 2008, was consistent in naming what plagued the country’s job crisis: Free Trade deals.  

In 2008, candidate Obama pledged to rewrite NAFTA and explained the problems of Free Trade:

About NAFTA, Sen. Obama said in a Democratic primary forum in 2007: “I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.”

About free trade, Sen. Obama said at the same 2007 forum: “… people don’t want a cheaper T-shirt if they’re losing a job in the process. They would rather have the job and pay a little bit more for a T-shirt. And I think that’s something that all Americans could agree to.

As a Senator in 2005, Obama voted against Bush’s Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), citing the following as his reasons:

“There are real problems in the agreement itself. It does less to protect labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address enforcement of basic environmental standards in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic…

“So far, almost all of our energy and almost all of these trade agreements are about making life easier for the winners of globalization, while we do nothing as life gets harder for American workers.”

But then Obama was elected President and, despite his promises, made no efforts whatsoever to renegotiate NAFTA. Instead he pushed through THREE job-killing ‘Free Trade’ deals of his own — the kinds he always criticized. The Korean ‘Free Trade’ Deal alone is expected to cost 159,00 American jobs. These agreements were opposed by a major majority of Congressional Democrats, and Obama could only get these NAFTA equivalent deals passed with the help of the Tea Party GOP Freshmen in Congress.

The days of Obama assigning blame to ‘Free Trade’ agreements for the outsourcing of American jobs are long gone. In the Hofstra Presidential Debate, Obama blamed tax loopholes that provide incentive for corporations to outsource. Fair point, but keep in mind that he made this same argument repeatedly as a Candidate in 2008, and did absolutely NOTHING as President to push any bills through Congress to address this offshoring tax incentive.

So it was refreshing to hear Jill Stein speak to this issue in Democracy Now’s ‘Expand The Debate’ series:

So, if the question is how to stop the outsourcing of our jobs, it is very clear we need to stop expanding the Free Trade Agreements that send our jobs overseas, and which also undermine wages here at home by effectively threatening workers that if they don’t drop their wages and their benefits that their jobs are gone.

We saw the first Free Trade Agreement NAFTA enacted under Bill Clinton, a Democrat. We saw it carried out under George Bush. But then we saw Barack Obama expand three Free Trade Agreements, and is now negotiating a secret Free Trade Agreement — the Trans Pacific Partnership — that will continue to offshore jobs, undermine wages, and as well, this time compromise American sovereignty with an international corporate board that can rule on our laws and regulations and say whether or not they pass muster. 

This is an absolute outrage against American sovereignty, democracy, and our economy. We need to turn the Free Trade Agreements into Fair Trade Agreements.

And again, the Green New Deal will create the community-based jobs we need here supporting small businesses, worker cooperatives, public services, and public works to put people back to work right now for less than the cost of the first stimulus package.

When you actually assess Obama’s statements on trade, while factoring in his record as President, it is clear that he will continue to push job-killing ‘Free Trade’ Agreements — as will, of course, Mitt Romney. Jill Stein, conversely, intends to actually confront this most pressing crisis.

WATCH (Jill Stein starts at the 2:55 mark): 

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Measuring Meritocracy: Upward Mobility In U.S. Is Lower Than In Canada & In Most Of Europe

by on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm EDT in Economy, Politics

To measure meritocracy within a nation’s economic system, economists tend to compare the relative incomes across generations.

An economic system that truly emphasizes meritocracy ensures that the income of a person’s parents have no bearing on his or her ability to succeed.

In a piece in The Economist, entitled “Like Father, Not Like Son,” it is revealed that an individual’s success in the U.S. is more dependent upon his/her “parents’ position on the income ladder” than in Canada and in most all of Europe:

Individual families’ fortunes over time can now be tracked by statistical surveys. This allows economists to measure how much parents’ position has influenced their adult children’s relative income or education. The resulting coefficient, the inelegantly named “inter-generational elasticity of income”, is today’s main measure of social mobility. The higher the coefficient, the less mobility there has been.

This technique shows Scandinavian societies to be very mobile. Only around 20% of parents’ relative wealth (or poverty) is passed on to their kids. China, in contrast, is fairly immobile: 60% of income differences persist between generations. The big surprise is the United States, where parental income explains around half of the differences in adult children’s income, much more than in Canada, and more than in any European country except Italy and Britain. According to this measure, social mobility in America now is lower than in most of Europe.

So, those in pursuit of the “American Dream” might want to relocate to our northern American neighbor, Canada, where that dream apparently still exists. 

Fair Trade Comes Home: Fair Food Program Works To End Exploitation Of U.S. Farmworkers

by on Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm EDT in Economy, Labor, Politics, Trade Policy

Most coffee and chocolate aficionados are generally well-versed on the Fair Trade movement, which organized to offer producers in developing countries better trade deals than would normally be offered to them by large corporate purchasers. 

Today’s massive food conglomerates routinely leverage their purchasing power to negotiate prices so low as to all but ensure farmworkers suffer dire working conditions and sub-poverty wages.

In contrast, Fair trade agreements pay these farms a premium for their products, while contractually obligating them to provide better working conditions and wages to their employees (including the rights to organize), and to promote superior environmental standards. 

Yet, within the very borders of the United States, many farm workers continue to suffer from similar exploitation and deplorable working conditions. These mostly-migrant workers often have limited English-proficiency and questionable citizenship status, making them powerless to bargain for better conditions, or even to seek recourse when their employers violate federal and state labor laws. 

The National Center For Farmworker Health found that 72% of all farmworkers in America were foreign born, earned between $12,500 – $14,999 per year on average, and 92% of them received no employer-provided health insurance — despite physically-demanding, high-risk work conditions.

Meet the Fair Food Program (FFP)

Driven by the same human-rights concerns as the Fair Trade movement, FFP activists pressure large ‘market-influencing’ purchasers of agricultural products to sign Fair Food Agreements that improve wages and working conditions of farmworkers in America.  

The organization spearheading this effort is The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) — an organized tomato farmworker group based in Immokalee, Florida. The group describes itself as “a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida.”

The Florida agricultural industry has a long well-documented record of human-rights abuses, including nine cases prosecuted for slave-labor in the past 15 years alone. 

CIW organized in 1993 to overcome the industry’s exploitation, and their efforts have proven to be highly successful. Over ninety percent of the Florida tomato farming industry now participates in the Fair Food Program. And as Florida FFP tomatoes begin to ring synonymous with fair labor practices the movement has the potential to spread into other farming industries and states.

Consider the marketing advantages that ‘Fair Trade’-designated coffees enjoy in the billion dollar U.S. coffee industry, where millions of American consumers expect to buy nothing less than Fair Trade. This demand has lured many coffee roasters and coffee shops alike to make the extra effort and expend additional monies to offer Fair Trade selections.

The major grocers and restaurant chains who sign CIW’s Fair Food Agreement commit to purchase all their Florida tomatoes exclusively from farms that participate in FFP, which in turn gives holdout Florida tomato farms incentive to join as well. 

There are 7 major elements to the Fair Food Program

  • A pay increase supported by the price premium Participating Buyers pay for their tomatoes;
  • Compliance with the Code of Conduct, including zero tolerance for forced labor and systemic child labor;
  • Worker-to-worker education sessions conducted by the CIW on the farms and on company time to insure workers understand their new rights and responsibilities;
  • A worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism leading to complaint investigation, corrective action plans, and, if necessary, suspension of a farm’s Participating Grower status, and thereby its ability to sell to Participating Buyers;
  • A system of Health and Safety volunteers on every farm to give workers a structured voice in the shape of their work environment;
  • Specific and concrete changes in harvesting operations to improve workers’ wages and working conditions, including an end to the age-old practice of forced overfilling of picking buckets (a practice which effectively denied workers pay for up to 10% of the tomatoes harvested), shade in the fields, and time clocks to record and count all compensable hours accurately.
  • Ongoing auditing of the farms to insure compliance with each element of the FFP.

Some of the methods CIW employs to pressure large retailers and restaurant chains into joining the program include: letter-writing campaigns, massive boycotts, highly-visible store and restaurant protests (not just in Florida, but across the country), and by educating the public about the heinous working conditions of farmworkers in the tomato industry. The group enjoys tremendous support from students, religious groups, labor groups, and community organizations across the United States. 

Last week, following a 6-year-long campaign, CIW finally convinced Chipotle Mexican Grill, which operates under the “Food with Integrity” slogan, to sign the Fair Food Agreement, agreeing to pay a pennies-per-pound premium to help raise tomato workers’ wages across the state of Florida. With over 1,200 restaurants and $2.3 billion in revenues, this chain’s signature is a major victory for the FFP movement.

CIW member Nely Rodriguez explains how having powerful corporations like Chipotle as FFP members helps to end farmworker abuse:

“… [I]f there are any human rights violations in Florida’s fields, against women being sexually assaulted, for example, Chipotle now has the responsibility to hold the grower to the code of conduct, and stop the misconduct. There are now market consequences for abuse.” [...]

Chipotle joins ten other major corporations who similarly concluded that indirectly profiting from inhumane labor conditions is just not good business:

Yum Brands [includes Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC] (2005), McDonald’s (2007), Burger King (2008), Subway (2008), Whole Foods Market (2008), Bon Appetit Management Company (2009), Compass Group (2009), Aramark (2010), Sodexo (2010), Trader Joe’s (2012), and Chipotle (2012) are participating in the Fair Food Program.

All eleven companies have agreed to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to shift their Florida tomato purchases to growers who comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct.

Edits: Per Claire Comiskey (from Interfaith Action in Immokalee — which works closely with CIW), the following errors have been corrected: 1. CIW engaged in a 6-year-long campaign with Chipotle (article previously described as ’9-year-long campaign’). 2. The nine cases prosecuted for slave labor in the past 15 years occurred within the Florida agricultural industry (article previously reported within the Florida tomato industry).

The Most Unforgivable Of Bush’s Legacies: The Privatization Of The Public Sector

by on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm EDT in Economy, Politics

Perhaps the most harmful of all of George W. Bush’s legacies — and there were many — was the gains he made in transforming our public sector into a private one that enriches itself off taxpayer dollars. After his unparalleled successes on this front, the conservative movement has once again made privatization the central component of its [...]

Stagecraft: Our Presidential Contest Has Devolved Into Little More Than A Fake Wrestling Match

by on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Politics

For those on the Left, one of the most frustrating aspects of this Presidential election has been following the narratives of both establishment parties, each aligned with the other in their complimentary fictions, as they deceive the American voters into believing there is an actual choice to be made here.  Beyond the rhetorical divide, the [...]

TRADE DEALS: Obama’s Freudian Slip: I Want To See Us Export More JOBS, … Ah, More Products

by on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 12:53 am EDT in Economy, Labor, Politics, Trade Policy

Sometimes hidden truths have a way of boomeranging back at the most inopportune times … Now Obama claims to have accidentally channeled his opponent on that slip, but what is Obama’s true record on crafting the kinds of trade deals that would increase the number of jobs here at home? Economist Ian Fletcher, in his Huffington [...]

President Obama’s Appearance on 60 Minutes: The Good And The Bad

by on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Middle East, Politics

President Obama and Governor Romney both appeared on 60 Minutes last night in what is being billed as an indirect debate between the two candidates. They interviewed separately, but both used it as an opportunity to level some attacks at one another and to defend themselves against the other’s talking points. Here are some of the [...]

Why Is Louisiana The Prison Capital Of The World? Police Profit By Keeping Private Prisons Full

by on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm EDT in Economy, Justice System, Politics

The $182 million private prison industry in Louisiana thrives from a system rife with conflicts of interest, not unlike the kinds found in the most corrupt third world countries. According to a scathing article this Sunday in The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the very people entrusted to enforce the law in the state have deep financial ties to the for-profit prisons, which house [...]

The Year Of The Co-op: New Survey Reveals Americans View Co-ops More Favorably Than For-Profit Businesses

by on Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm EDT in Economy, Labor, Occupy Wall Street, Politics

On October 31, 2011, the United Nations proclaimed 2012 to be “The International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).” The world body uses this annual designation to help bring attention to what it believes are some of the world’s most critical issues. On its IYC website, it praises the cooperative model for its contributions towards ending world poverty, and encourages [...]

The Unemployment Rate Drops From 8.2% To 8.1%, Helping To Obscure The Jobless Recovery

by on Friday, May 4, 2012 at 12:18 pm EDT in Economy, Politics

The Labor Department released its employment numbers today, and in keeping with the recent trend, the results appear positive, down slightly from the previous month’s results. With a net gain of 115,000 jobs, the unemployment rate dropped from 8.2% to 8.1%. But behind those numbers lurks a far gloomier picture. That 115,000 net gain is due, in part, to the government [...]