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Archive for February 2008

Fair Trade V. Free Trade

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by Scott TessFree Trade and Fair trade are both market based economic system

Free Trade and Fair trade are both market based economic systems. Both rely on a market place where producers may bring products for sale and consumers may choose just what they want when they want provided they can pay for it. The similarities end there though. Examining who organizes and benefits from each rubric goes a long way to explain the modes of each system.

Free Trade is organized at trade conferences and negotiations, many of which are conducted in secret. That fact is suggestive for reasons that should be obvious. Where these proceedings are more or less open, they are attended by the political elite. Presidents and ambassadors who have varying degrees of accountability to the publics they represent. These proceedings are heavily influenced by the play of power, regardless of the intentions of the participants therein. States with great militaries or strategic resources have great influence over others. One might say diplomacy is practiced, but not democracy. Other loci of Free Trade organization and planning are the secret meetings and judicial proceedings of global organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank. While these organizations have had a great degree of secrecy from their inception, secrecy has become even more important since their meetings attract protest crowds numbering in the thousands. The “Battle in Seattle” is the most significant US example. In these secret meetings corporate and political elites decide how to dismantle tariffs, price supports, social spending, subsidies, and other “barriers to trade.” What is usually unstated is how they decide NOT to dismantle these modes. While all preach the “neoliberal free trade” gospel, the most radical free trade ideology, those that sing the loudest are often the most hypocritical. For instance, the US and to a lesser degree Europe, still maintain many tariffs and subsidies on steel and agricultural products. This fact exposes these proceedings as little more than the imposition of power, not principles.

The organization of the Fair Trade rubric is derived from completely different sources serving different interests. Fair Trade is organized by consumers and producers working through non-profit organizations. Non-profit and stakeholder organizations such as Transfair and Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) establish environmental, labor, and democracy standards which producers may choose to meet to receive the Fair Trade Certified label. The certification provides the producers with minimum price guarantees and help with global marketing. It also allows consumers to choose products made under the conditions just stated and avoid supporting slave labor, child labor, sweatshop labor, and environmental harm. While consumers have a role in the labeling organizations, their most crucial role lye in the decentralized, networked advocacy groups who promote Fair Trade as a consumer option and work to establish Fair Trade purchasing policies in their popular institutions like governments, schools, churches, and social clubs. The multiplicity of networked voluntary associations working to organize Fair Trade demonstrates a far more democratic mode of economic activity.

The resulting values of the Free Trade and Fair Trade rubrics are determined by the organization modes previously noted. Free Trade, organized by the Corporate and Political elite, values ever increasing profits. The profit seeking compulsion will suffer no borders and so must expand world wide, often with the assistance of state violence threatened or realized. Free Trade also values oligarchic political-economic decision-making. Recall that you don’t get a vote, a delegate, or even a representative at secret meetings. Free Trade values investor and corporate rights. NAFTA is mostly an investor’s rights agreement. Unless you are willing to consider GM moving a car from a GM factory in Mexico to a GM factory in the US trade, NAFTA has not and was not designed to increase trade. It simply allowed the previously mentioned action to be conducted with more ease to the detriment of workers in both the US and Mexico since, under the new rules, high paying union jobs in Michigan could be outsourced to union busting countries such as Mexico. Finally, Free Trade values commodification. Commodification is the process of turning something not previously considered in economic terms into another product to be bought and sold under free market conditions. Nothing is sacred. Everything from genes to workers are commodified and therefore subject to the demands of the most powerful players in the market. Traditions and rights have no place here unless they can be put on a t-shirt and sold.

From Fair Trade flows a wholly different set of values. Traditional knowledge and creativity are given an opportunity to flourish in the world market. Human rights such as the right to organize labor unions are part of the Fair Trade rubric. While solidarity at the loci of production is valued, a new kind of solidarity is developed by Fair Trade. Solidarity between the producers and the consumers. Producers and Consumers in the global market under conditions of Free Trade are narrowly concerned only in one’s profit and the other’s price. The Fair Trade rubric develops mutual concern for the interests of both producer and consumer. While the international union movements have encouraged concern between union producers in one country and union consumers in another, the expansion of this global solidarity outside of union circles maybe a novel development in human affairs. Environmental protection and sustainable development as well as democratically organized workplaces are values specific required by Fair Trade Certification. Many Fair Trade producers also contribute to community development. Producers are encouraged to set aside some income for education, transportation, housing, and health care.

The different values realized under Fair Trade conditions and the democratic organizational forms that give rise to these values and are desiderata themselves are the reason Fair Trade sales, like certified organic sales, continue to rise rapidly. The embrace of these values and the global solidarity built outside of the working class labor movments signifies a new era of civilizing tendencies that is both product and accelerant, a positive feedback loop.


Mr. Tess is an organizer with Fair Trade for a Greater Orlando Coalition and the Orlando Area Green Party.


Written by jackofspades83

February 27, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Signing Statements – The Key Implement of the Soft Dictatorship

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Newsletter Newsletter

-Jack O’Spades

Do you remember civics class? Do you recall the notion of the three branches of the American government, and the importance of checks and balances? Let me review for those of you who have forgotten. The legislature (ie. the senate and the congress) draft laws, the judiciary challenges laws that are believed to be unconstitutional, and the executive (ie. the president, vice president, and their cabinet) signs laws into action and enforces them. This is the way our democracy is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, a little known change in the use of an obscure executive practice is threatening the balance of power in the US government. That practice is that of the signing statement, a practice originating with the fifth US president, James Monroe. The signing statement was originally used by the executive as a means of explaining their outlook on a particular law, and how they planned to enforce it. The statement was not recognized as an amendment or addendum to the law it referred to it was merely a statement of opinion.

As such, the signing statement was used infrequently by US presidents with only 75 made until Reagan became president, an average of about 2 per president. At that point the number of signing statements sky rocketed to 247 in the next three administrations, an increase of 325%. Our current president would increase this number to a whopping 107, just in his first term.

The increase coincided with an attempt to change the very nature of the signing statement. The practice has evolved into an attempt to alter laws as passed by the legislature. Although the last four presidents have all abused the signing statement, our current president is on a completely different level. Without a hint of shame, he has turned the signing statement into an unchallengeable line item veto. This has been done without any attempt at concealment at all.

In applying a line item veto in such a manner, the president has in effect captured the other two branches of government. He has claimed the judicial power to declare either part of, or an entire law to be unconstitutional. He also has claimed the ability to add statements onto bills, effectively giving himself the ability to declare powers or establish rules without congressional consent.

The president’s defense has been that the executive has the power to refuse to enforce measures that curtail the constitutional power of the executive branch. This is blatantly absurd, only the judiciary has the ability to declare constitutionality of laws. Otherwise, the executive would be (and currently is) able to override the powers of other branches with impunity by modifying or simply ignoring laws.

So far our president has drafted 157 signing statements, challenging over 1,100 provisions of federal law (see the full list here: He has used the signing statement to nullify a ban against torture, to allow warrantless wiretapping of US citizens, and the ability to hold prisoners without differing to domestic or international law. This is absolutely unacceptable, and such a gross violation of constitutional cannot go unchallenged. Unfortunately, our new democratic congress seems to have adopted the motto, “lie back and take it”. They are unwilling to make the strong statement that needs to be made about this, and this sends a very dangerous precedent.

Future presidents should not have the ability to justify similar behavior on the grounds that it was accepted in this administration. Even if the next president avoids the use of the signing statement , the lack of corrective action could be fatal to our democracy. What is particularly frightening is that the democratic candidates have stated that they will use signing statements if elected (!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } — Whether they will attempt to use them in the same manner as the last four presidents remains to be seen, but their refusal to abandon the practice outright is disturbing to say the least.

The current president obviously will not back down, and he must be punished for this. This is yet another reason that the congress should seriously consider initiating impeachment proceedings. It is important to note that this is not a partisan issue, regardless of party affiliation or political alignment (except for fascists, monarchists, and other dictatorial admirers) this issue is seriously important to every American who even vaguely believes in democracy.

Written by jackofspades83

February 24, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Of Ballots and B.S. Eternal

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by Jack O’Spades

The cable and print news outlets tell me this is an exciting time for politics. While I can’t disagree with that generalization, I certainly don’t buy the implicit message of hope. Yeah, yeah, curious George and Dick “the Dick” Cheney® are about to get the boot, but I’m not spellbound by Obama-mania or Clinton fever. I want someone who will take on the madness of the last four administrations, (not just the last one!) and not someone who will, at best, ‘hold the line’.


Unlike the famous “Colbert Bump”, it seems that an endorsement from this paper may be a political death sentence, sorry Mr. Edwards! We’ll be voting for Obama (note – NOT AN ENDORSEMENT), since he’s still much better than ANY Republican president. That’s right preachers of the Ron Paul, we don’t like your candidate. No amount of angry letters will change the fact that he is xenophobic, libertarian nut job, who probably hates both brown AND black people.


So we’re certainly more cynical and stimulated than normal, hopefully that means that the parts I wrote will be at least interesting drivel. In addition, we have an editorial from one Mr. E. Smith-Jones. A quality piece on president Bush’s grand scheme to save the economy by giving us each about $600. As you can see Mr. Bush’s plan is incredibly complicated, so make sure you’re awake when reading it. If you can’t detect the sarcasm please put down the paper, it’s not for you. Also, consider making toast while you take a bath. Remember, electricity and water are nature’s best friends.


For those of you I haven’t offended away, or who are not taking a bath with a toaster, you may notice a theme in this volume of the press. As the election gets closer, the incidents of voting related shenanigans are on the rise, so we feel compelled to inform you on possible mischief at the polls. This observer would point out that more worrisome than the Clint Curtis style claims of tampered voting machines, is the legal attempt to stamp out votes and potential voters. Not to say that the illegal attempts are negligible, or that Mr. Curtis is insane (I haven’t any input on that allegation, seriously), but the legal attempts are more likely to sway the vote, and to fall under the radar. For more on the subject of legal, vote theft, refer to the book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”, by Mr. Greg Palast.


So stay wary, and know your rights! Particularly if you’re black, brown, and/or poor. If you’ve been convicted of a felony, see the local chapter of ACORN, they have plenty of information on your rights. Their contact information is in the ad section, on the last page.

Everyone should be sure to get in contact with the American Civil Liberties Union (, they are a wealth of information on all of your rights. Enjoy this edition press, folks (!

Written by jackofspades83

February 20, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Too Little, Too Late: Salvaging the Economy and Our Infrastructure

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by E. Smith-Jones

Too little, too late certainly characterizes the handling of the U.S. economy by our political leadership. As of this writing, late January ’08, the Bush administration and Democratic and Republican leaders in the U.S. House had reached an agreement on an economic stimulus plan. According to an Associated Press article, “individual taxpayers would get up to $600 in rebates, working couples $1,200 and those with children an additional $300 per child. In a key concession to Democrats, 35 million families who make at least $3,000 but don’t pay taxes would get $300 rebates. The rebates would phase out gradually for individuals whose adjusted gross income exceeds $75,000 and for couples with incomes above $150,000.”


This plan is a pathetic political ploy masquerading as a serious economic stimulus plan. Both parties should be ashamed of themselves for offering the American people peanuts to palliate the pain of an ailing economy. Although worth around $150 billion, it’s only slightly more than 25 percent of the $576 BILLION (through Fiscal Year 2007) that, according to the Congressional Research Service, has been pissed away on U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and “other counter terrorism operations.” (A PDF of the CRS report, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” updated in November 2007, can be downloaded at .)


Sending each American a $300 to $600 check will do very little to improve this country’s faltering economy, which, depending upon which “expert” and TV talking head you choose to believe, already is mired in a recession or is careening towards one like a toboggan piloted by a meth addict. For instance, December 2007 unemployment edged up to 5 percent (from 4.7 percent in November; around a 6.3 increase in ONE month). The fact that unemployment rose during the all-important Christmas shopping season when normally it decreases because of temporary employment in the retail sector doesn’t bode well for the health of the economy.


There is a school of political thought that says any government handout has to be extended to the middle class in order to be supported by them. Supposedly many middle-class people resent having their hard-earned money given to poor people whom they think are disadvantaged merely because they don’t try hard enough to get ahead. The wisdom of the “if-you-keep-your-nose-to-the-grindstone, you’ll-get-ahead” belief is debatable. Putting that adise, it seems reasonable to wonder if individuals making UP to $75,000 and couples with incomes UP to $150,000 really need and deserve rebate checks from Uncle Sam? Even if they’re hurting, which many of them are because of the mortgage crisis, a one-time check of up to $1,200 is not going to be enough to stave off foreclosure.


These proposed rebates are an example of both parties conniving to buy middle-class votes cheaply–because they think that many voters will sell their allegiance for a relative pittance. They also represent another chronic failing of Washington: addressing the symptoms of a problem, in this case the economy, without dealing with the underlying structural problems that are dragging down that economy, one of which is a lack of serious investment in the infrastructure–roads, bridges, schools, etc.–that are necessary to have a viable economy. (Of course, It’s ironic that the party that is full of supposedly rock-ribbed conservatives who that claims to oppose hand-outs, public assistance and welfare–except for corporations– would be the one to first propose a handout; obviously, the GOP feels pressured to something, practically anything, at this point in an effort to improve its dismal chances in the November election. These rebates also add to the budget deficit; so much for the GOP and so-called conservatives commitment to the values of a balanced budget and fiscal restraint.)


We need a president and a Congress with the foresight to link improving our economic condition with serious steps to do something about our neglected infrastructure. This country’s infrastructure is crumbling. literally, around our heads while our so-called political leaders fiddle away oblivious to everything except maintaining their grips on power and feathering their nests. According to an article at (“How to Fix America’s Crumbling Infrastructure,”

posted Aug. 9, 2005), the American Society of Civil Engineers, “judged the country on 15 infrastructure categories ranging from aviation, drinking water, and hazardous waste to rail, schools, and security. The resulting ‘2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure’ awards the U.S. an overall grade of ‘D’: a step below the cumulative ‘D+’ received in 2001, the last time the ASCE issued the report.”


The ASCE document also offers an analysis of each of the 15 areas, as well as breakdowns of infrastructure quality in each of the 50 states.” (Go to to read the whole article.) The section that covers Florida noted, to cite just a few disturbing statistics, that “18% of Florida’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete” and that “57% of Florida’s schools have at least one inadequate building feature” and “80% of Florida’s schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.” (To read the whole section on Florida, go to


An Aug. 2, 2007 article from the Christian Science Monitor reported that “According to engineers, the nation is spending only about two-thirds as much as it should be to keep dams, levees, highways, and bridges safe. The situation is more urgent now because many such structures were designed 40 or 50 years ago, before Americans were driving weighty SUVs and truckers were lugging tandem loads.”


Infrastructure has been forgotten during the Bush administration, which has been more interested in destroying Iraq to patch it together it incompetently than it has been in rebuilding America. An Aug. 31, 2007 article in The Huffington Post ( noted that “In the wake of the deadly 35W collapse the House Transportation Committee called for a fuel tax hike. More specifically, Congressman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) indicated he would introduce legislation to fund bridge repairs and increase their inspections. According to Oberstar, a 5-cent increase in the gas tax would pay for a three year program that would generate some $8.5 billion a year.” The president dismissed this proposal, saying that “Before we raise taxes, which could effect economic growth, I would urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities.” (You can read the whole article, “The Other Bush Legacy: Our Crumbling Infrastructure, Booming Oil Company Profits” at ) Too bad, nobody in Congress apparently pointed out to the Idiot-in-Chief that if we weren’t doing “nation building” in Iraq we could afford to do it here WITHOUT raising any taxes.

Deteriorating infrastructure can have serious consequences. Exhibit No. 1 is the Aug. 1, 2007 collapse of the I-25 bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., which killed 13 motorists. Infrastructure has been forgotten for too long in this country while money was squandered on the unnecessary and disastrous war and occupation in Iraq. That war has consumed money that could have been used for infrastructure improvement, not to mention education, universal health care, environmental clean-up, etc.


Infrastructure is neither sexy nor exciting and it’s a hard sell because it doesn’t carry the sense of transcendent moral purpose that was offered by a war to overthrow a dictator with (non-existent as it turned out) weapons of mass destruction. As the article at pointed out, “Like most Americans, you probably don’t think about our nation’s infrastructure—the public works that serve as the backbone of our country—until something goes wrong: you find yourself snarled in a traffic jam, or hear a report about a possible contaminate in the water supply, or become frustrated at your plane’s two-hour delay.” Even then you may blame bad luck or incompetence, not a willful failure by our political leaders to spend the money necessary to build and maintain infrastructure properly and to order political priorities in such a way that all of us rather than just the military-industrial complex and big corporations benefit.


Fortunately, doing something about infrastructure can be accomplished at the same time we try to stimulate the economy. The solution is simple and it is one that has worked successfully in this country and others: massive public works projects that would create jobs, boost the economy, and lay the ground work for greater economic prosperity in the future by planting its seeds today.


These federal public works jobs should pay living wages–at least $10 an hour, more in areas with high costs of living. Unemployed and underemployed people could be put to work; doing something productive, which would help them and society.


It’s sad that the Democrats–once seen as the party of working people– haven’t proposed a robust public works program as an alternative to the GOP plan. They seem to forget that one of the greatest Democratic presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, used public works projects and increased government spending to help pull the country out a devastating depression that had produced massive unemployment and homelessness and that threatened to tear apart the social fabric of our nation. They need to take inspiration from the courage of FDR’s convictions and the sweep of his vision for helping those victimized by economic forces that have strained their ability to cope to the breaking point. A massive public works program would improve the quality of life for Americans–driving on crumbling roads and bridges and sending kids to crumbling public schools are indeed quality of life issues– and the tens of billions of dollars spent on public works projects by newly employed people would provide a real shot in the arm to the economy since those people mostly would spend it on the basic necessities of life–rent, food, clothing, gas/transportation, etc.


Public works jobs would help the people who need it the most- people from minority communities and rural areas who usually have higher rates of un- and under- employment and typically earn lower wages. It makes sense to help people who genuinely need help. It doesn’t make sense to reward people who don’t need or deserve help and may not spend their rebate check anyway. In the long-term, of course, if they bank their checks that helps the economy since that money is available for capital investments that can improve productivity/GDP and create jobs. In the short-term, however, rebate checks whether or not they’re spent immediately will do little turn around the economy.


Some will quarrel with the idea of putting people to work through creating public-sector jobs. They will complain about increased government spending and an increase in the size of government. They may even denounce a federal public works program as (horrors!) socialism. At its most simple socialism is a scheme for the sharing of material goods and services. Isn’t it about time that the poorest among us shared in some of the wealth and prosperity of this country? Isn’t it about time they had decent jobs that allowed them to support themselves and their families with some comfort and dignity? A massive federal public works program would help achieve those goals and it would be a helping hand, not a hand-out, since it would be based upon earning the money not just having an address where a rebate check can be received.


Another long-term positive effect would be to increase wages for workers in the lowest-paid jobs, usually unskilled service employment. These workers might be attracted to public works jobs that paid a living wage as opposed to continuing to flip burgers at wages for minimum wage or a dollar or two above it. This in turn would force those employers to increase wages in order to keep and attract workers. Right-wing economists will complain that this would fuel inflation and reduce the number of low-wage service jobs, but those effects will be minimal and offset by the social good that will result from lower-paid workers earning more. If we have to pay a few cents more for a McGarbage burger, so what? Isn’t it worth it, if society benefits from having the lowest paid workers earning a little more and enjoying a little better standard of living? And if the business is there, service industries will continue to hire people, even if they have to pay them more. After all, they will still be making profits, and that’s the name of their game.


Hell likely will freeze over before any of the candidates in either party with a possibility of moving into the White House proposes anything so bold as massive federal public works projects to provide employment, rebuild infrastructure and raise wages, but it’s still important to remember that there other options besides doing nothing or too little. Imagination is an important part of trying to create a better and more just society.


Written by jackofspades83

February 20, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Community Organization Charges Florida With Suppressing Poor Voters

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<!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08inby Jack O’Spades

(Notice of full disclosure: Mr. O’Spades has been the volunteer in charge of Information Technology for Central Florida ACORN.)


It is a drastic understatement to say that Florida is no stranger to election mishaps. Whether through deliberate actions of political and economic interests (*cough* Katherine Harris *cough*), or good ol’ Floridian incompetence, we still continue to set the standard for stupidity in voting. As such, it should come to no surprise that we are on the forefront of new, and innovative ways, to part democracy from voting.


According to community organization ACORN, (or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the state of Florida is shirking its responsibilities under the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the “Motor Voter” Act. This act was passed in 1993 to help facilitate voting by providing voter registration forms in government buildings, such as DMVs, of which gave the bill its nickname. Voter registration forms are also to be made available to the public through government programs to help weed out the vast discrepancy between rich and poor voters. Furthermore, the bill provides safeguards to voters who have moved within the confines of their district or precinct, allowing them to retain the right to vote even if they have not re-registered with their new address.


However, ACORN along with non-partisan groups Project Vote Smart and Demos, a voter awareness and a policy research group respectfully, have sent a notice of potentially pending litigation to both the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Families. These groups point to dwindling numbers of voter registrations made available from entities supposedly ensured with providing voter registrations under the National Voter Registration Act. According to a press release issued by Florida ACORN, the voter registration forms at public assistance agencies have dropped by over 90% within one decade, from 158,836 in 1995-1996 to 13,436 in 2005-2006. At the beginning of the same decade, 6% of all voter registrations were obtained from public assistance agencies, this number had dropped six fold by 2006.


In a telephone interview, Mr. Sterling Ivy of the Florida Department of Elections posited that the allegations made by ACORN are “unfortunate”. He went on to claim that both departments involved are fully complying with the Florida department of elections, as outlined in the National Voter Registration Act. Furthermore, Mr. Ivy claims that while the number of in person registrations are down, there has been a corresponding increase in mailed registrations from public service offices.

However, according to information from the Federal Elections Commission and the US Election Assistance Commission (the latter being a group created by the NVRA to ensure its compliance), mail registrations have also dropped. From 1995-1996, there were 706,163 registrations turned in by mail, being 25.93% of all registrations collected. In 2005-2006, mail registrations dropped to 245,393 or 13.57% of the total collected. The difference is particularly marked in the number of new registrations by mail which, according to information on the Florida Department of Elections site, dropped to 84,045, the lowest turnout in the last 10 years.


It remains to be seen if the lawsuit will go forward, and what the official defense of the Florida state department will be if it does. While the organizations bring the lawsuit forward have brought a compelling argument, it should be noted that the number of voter registrations in general have dropped since a high around 2004.


Also, while the methodology on the number of registrations available in public service offices and the amount turned in from areas covered by the NVRA seems solid, some of the methods used by ACORN could use some more work. They found that out of seven public service offices in the four most populous counties, four of them did not have voter registrations, even after officials there were approached for them. While this is certainly disturbing, it is hardly a compelling sample. The same can be said of the volunteer sample taken of 49 individuals as they exited public service offices.


Regardless of the few statistical maladies of the case, the Florida state department has a lot to answer for. It seems that while the amount of registrations turned in has fallen since the high of 2004, the amount from public service offices has fallen at a disproportionate rate. We here at the Press will keep you informed of ongoing development on this issue!

Written by jackofspades83

February 20, 2008 at 10:58 pm