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Orlando: The Stucco Gravestone of American Democracy

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American democracy is dead. No not from socialist government, or from terrorist broadsides and the Bush administration. It has been beaten to death by corporations, right out in the open, and you didn’t even pay attention to it as it screamed and kicked and yelled out to you for help. No better an example of American democracy’s slow, tortured death is there than Orlando, the capital of apathetic America.

Recently Jack joined a small contingent of activists from UCF’s Student Labor Action Project and United Students Against Sweatshops in protesting the NBA’s recent deal with sweatshop overlord Russel corporation. We had our demonstration at Amway (*gag*) Stadium during the final game between the Lakers and the Magic. Both because the deal should be a concern of basketball fans, and because unfortunately its one of the only civic spaces left in Orlando that has not been staked out by strip malls and suburbs. Well, not really…

Even though the old arena was built by the city, and of the $480 million for the new one 85% is payed for in Orlando citizens’ tax dollars (upfront costs only, not including the inevitable cost overruns), apparently neither stadium is public property. So one of the last bastions of civic space in Orlando is essentially owned by the Amway corporation, a company whose business plan is essentially a pyramid scheme, and has been successfully sued because of it. Therefore, unlike a public park, you have no right to free speech on the premises. So those who came to protest a disturbing activity related to the NBA could not speak on what by all rights should be public land. Those who attempted to so much as silently hand out fliers were immediately forced off the premises by Orlando cops. This is obviously not conducive to a democratic society.

While students protesting sweatshops were pushed off the premises, Amway founder Rich DeVos has used the same stadium to advance his own bigoted political message. As this publication notes (see by David Zirin, on page for details), the DeVos family is using the funds from the stadium to advance their right-wing politics. Most recently their support for the anti-gay marriage ban, amendment 2, to which they donated $100,000. Why are we allowing a man worth 4.4 billion dollars to use a stadium we’re building for his political and financial gain? If he wants to build a new stadium, to replace one that is barely 20 years old, he shouldn’t rely on us to do so, and then turn around to use the money he should be spending on the arena to fund his bigoted invasion into our bedrooms. At the very least the stadium should be public property, not his.

This shows how uncommitted Orlando residents are to democracy. The very bad idea of spending $1.1 billion on the three venues were opposed by a tiny fragment of motivated residents and professional activists. The plan was predicated on the revenue gathered by tourism and housing taxes, which was understood even then as financially uncertain. With the tourism industry taking a massive hit, the housing industry imploded, and a city government facing a nationwide tend of metropolitan budget shortfalls, the plan reveals the massive mistake that our city government has forced through.

The town halls concerning the venues back in 2006 were lessons in the corporate take over of government. Proponents were almost always members of the developer class or people with occupational ties to the Magic. One of the few organized elements of democracy were the worker’s unions, divided between the proponents in the form of the building trades and the opponents in the form of the fire-fighter’s union. Both unions turned out to be screwed by the deal, with the firefighters who correctly guessed that the venues would ultimately cause budget problems harming them, and the builders who have been screwed by the city backing out on its deal to use unionized labor for building and maintaining the stadium. In the democratic ghetto outside the stadium the students were joined by the latter who handed out fliers decrying the city’s use of independent contractors, who used undocumented immigrants rather than American labor.

One can blame a lot of our ills on our city government, which has been shown to be incompetent and corrupt, many times by our sister (in spirit) publication the Orlando Weekly. From Dyer’s opposition to allowing people to share food with the homeless, to Daisy Lynum’s innumerable business ties favoring friends and relatives (and her tendency to cry racism every time this is pointed out), that conclusion is certainly apt. However the larger conclusion is inescapable, their continued occupation of their positions is our fault.

Granted it is no secret in the political world that Dyer and his cronies are swimming in developer money, the venues deal and the light rail giveaway to the CSX corporation merely very visible tributes to these connections. However, despite enormous political baggage which could sink politicians much far more skilled, Dyer and his compliant city council have barely been challenged. Why?

Unfortunately, Orlando has several major impediments to democratic activism that should have ousted our crooks and cronies in charge. First, about one third of orange county moves within a year, many who elect to stay will more than likely move to an apartment in a new community. This means that they will be less interested in the upkeep of their community and will not participate in even the bare minimum democratic responsibilities that one would expect, like voting for city officials. Unfortunately, their unwillingness to maintain a bare minimum of democratic scruples screws those of us who do live here.

Also, you may have noticed that Orlando is incredibly spread out, suburbanized nightmare. There are few places were Orlando residents will run into each other, outside of their cars, both figuratively and literally. Lack of civic spaces hampers activism, since without a public square , there are few locations were Orlando citizens are confronted with the cultural and political activity that is virtually required of the informed electorate envisioned by our founding fathers. Combine that with summers that turn our fair city into a sulfuric swamp in hell, you have even less likelihood that you can engage with someone outside of their air conditioned personal bastions.

Next throw in the impact of Disney, which unfortunately touches on everything in this city. While Disney employs much of Orlando, it also has a problematic and infectious ideology attached to it. It is consumer capitalism incarnate, encompassing the worst infantilizing characteristics outlined by Benjamin R. Barber in his testament to the subject Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, which Jack recommends. This ideology both directly and indirectly fuels the tenancy to eschew civic governance that is found in anti-tax fanatics on the right, complacent anarchists on the left, and the politically weary in-between.

All these factors are only some of the reason why Orlando is the veritable wet powder keg of activism. Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers as to how to get Orlando residents to stop seeing themselves as consumers and start acting as citizens. However, the only solution to Orlando’s incompetent city government corrupted by anti-democratic developers, is mass action. We at the Telepath hope that we (AND PARTICULARLY YOU) do something about this, and disprove our pessimistic belief that Orlando is the stucco gravestone of American democracy.

Visit us at populistpress.com. Join the Populist Press Partisans and take back our city through force of enlightened action!

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Written by jackofspades83

June 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Spotlight on the Mainstream Maniac Machine

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-Comrade Jack

Today’s enlightened rant is sponsored by Paul Krguman of the New York Times, as seen here. This observer has noticed this trend of madness that has become more and more acceptable in the ever more homogenized American infotainment/media/news(?)/crap sector. However, what this observer missed was how the recent right-wing lunatic murderers of abortion doctor George Tiller and the white supremacist shooting up the holocaust museum, show how right the Department of Homeland security was in a recent report. Jack did notice the report, and at the time and without much attention, believed it to be an over-exaggeration made by a department Jack never liked in the first place (mostly because of its connections with America’s dumbest president). It seems that all the critics of this report have some explaining to do. Jack feel a little humbled, and I’m sure the offended teabaggers and RNC flaks would if they weren’t so deluded by our media’s maniac machine.

Jack doesn’t blame the right wing for being upset by Obama winning the election, he would feel more than a little peeved if old man McCain had won. What he is bothered by is how more than a few folks on the right end of the American political spectrum have given in to what appears to be a media feed madness/temper tantrum. Obama is not the Antichrist, and no one should have to argue against that. A 3% tax hike is not “oppression”, and makes anyone who would claim it look like a douche (as in, try explaining to a Chinese factory worker that you’re being oppressed by a minor tax increase).

Perhaps most disturbing to Jack, is the idea that Obama is a Marxist. To anyone who will, (and they will) claim that Obama is a Marxist, please be prepared to defend your point based on Marxist principle (site actual Marxist theorists or you will be ignored). If you don’t think you can do that, it explains why you are not qualified to offer an opinion on who is or is not a Marxist. Let me clue you in on a basic fact ignored by almost every single person in North America. Government control is not socialism, per se. Socialism is direct democratic control of the economy. As the decisions of the Fed are not democratic, it is not a socialist body. Obama is a social democrat, a capitalist who believes in a social safety net and Keynesian economic theory. End point.

To return from Jack’s ideological rant tangent, what Krugman has shown us is that there is a serious problem in the lunatic right today. Unlike the American lunatic left, which today is mostly pacifistic and narcissistic (see Jack’s last rant), there is a tiny fragment of the right that is not only fanatically crazy, but homicidal at that. It is receiving serious ideological support from a large segment of the media that seems to have completely lost its mind. Jack would like to take this moment to speak to all Americans and ask for people to calm the f*ck down.

Bush nor Obama is the END OF THE WORLD. Put your guns back in their lockers, and try not to treat your fellow Americans like something you just scraped of your shoe.

Orlando May Day March Highlights Immigration Trends

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Orlando, Fl. – Over 100 immigrants, workers, and students gathered on lake Eola in downtown Orlando this May Day to call for changes in United States immigration policy. The focus of the march was to call for an expedited, easier path towards citizenship and to protest what the marchers considered to be discriminatory and harsh measures being taken by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division. Under the hot Floridan sun, the assembled crowd were treated to a host of speakers assembled by organizers from the Farmworker Association of Florida, who spoke to the assembly in a combination of English, Spanish, and Creole.

The speakers ranged from religious figures, union members, immigrants, to community members. Some of the speakers present were farmworker leader Tirso Moreno of the Farmworker Association of Florida, Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Orlando Catholic Diocese, John Barriales of Orlando Peace and Justice, Joyce Hamilton Henry of the Central Florida ACLU, Bill Smiley of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, and Victor Torres of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Topics ranged from the strong desire of immigrant peoples to become an acknowledged and respected part of American society, to the aggressive actions of ICE a branch of the department of Homeland Security formed under former President George W. Bush. Speakers reinforced concerns being echoed nationwide about that department’s indiscriminate arrests based on discriminatory assessments made by officers, workplace raids conducted without warrants, indefinite detention, and extralegal exportation.

An other topic discussed by the speakers was that of a piece of legislation currently being debated in the US legislature known as the DREAM act. The DREAM act would allow a path to citizenship to an estimated 65,000 students who were brought to the US as children, in exchange for two years of higher education or military service. A young lady identified to the crowd as Elizabeth, a potential candidate for such a program, spoke of the hardships she inherits from being brought to the USA, being unable to work while having to pay twice the tuition compared to other Florida residents. She reminded the assembled crowd that, “…we were raised here, we are Americans.”

The march was short and peaceful, around Lake Eola with virtually no interference from law enforcement or counter-protesters, the latter of which was represented by a single sign baring individual who left before the march began. Although a large crowd by the standard of Orlando area activists, it was no comparison to the May Day march three years ago in 2006. Amidst that period of anti-immigrant hysteria, the same organizers were able to galvanize well over 25,000 marchers into the streets, shutting down downtown Orlando for the duration of the event.

Such a grand difference in turnout can be explained by the dramatic change in the executive and legislative branches of US government and in the ever deepening economic recession. The high water mark of the immigration debate of 2006, and a major factor in generating the historic response of the immigrant community, was then House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner proposed legislation that among other provisions would have made undocumented immigration a felony and those assisting undocumented immigrants a subject of prosecution. It is difficult to imagine similar legislation having the same potential for passing in the current legislative climate.

While immigration remains a hot-button issue, there are signs that the fervor over immigration may be dying down. In addition to the change in the makeup of the federal government, the worsening economy has taken a particularly hard toll on undocumented immigrants. The collapse of the housing market and the attendant construction sector has harmed this segment of American society far more harshly than the documented population. According to a recent report from Pew Hispanic Center, (a project of the Pew Research Center) from 2006-2007 the income of non-documented households fell by 7.3%, where as the average for Americans was a decline of 1.3%.

It is difficult to determine at this point the exact drop off in undocumented immigration resulting from the heavy blow to the construction industry, but all indications are that immigration has decreased substantially in recent years as a direct result. The focus being moved away from immigration may turn out to be a blessing to the marchers and their supporters, as their reforms face less impassioned defense from anti-immigration elements no longer galvanized by record high immigration. What is certain is that the future efforts towards reform by those who attended the rally will not be easy task.

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Originally published in the People’s Weekly World.

Written by jackofspades83

May 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Employee Free Choice Act Facing Legislative Resistance

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With a newly democratic congress and executive, the future is looking brighter for leftist and center-left reforms. However, unlike the united front of the Republican majority a scant few years ago, the Democratic majority is no “rubber stamp” legislature. Even the priorities of one of the greatest proponents of Democratic politicians, that of organized labor, are not guaranteed to pass.

Case in point is the Employee Free Choice Act. This piece of legislation is the at the forefront of labor’s efforts, and has been introduced into congressional debate early this March. The act has the potential for greatly increasing the ranks of American unions after thirty years of merciless attacks by business and government agencies meant to aid working people attempting to organize unions.

The Employee Free Choice Act is composed of three coordinated provisions. First, and most controversial, is the “card check” provision. Considered by labor and management to be the most important piece of the bill, the card check provision would allow a union to be formed in a work place if a 50% + 1 majority of workers sign cards stating that they wish to join a union. If the workers decide on the union via the card check, the union is recognized and can immediately go about negotiating a contract.

Business interests have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince legislators that the provision destroys worker’s access to a secret ballot election. Although this argument does not take into account several means of secret ballot access that would remain if EFCA passed, such as a decertification election (outlined in the National Labor Relations Act Section 9(e)), it has proven effective in swaying conservative democrats into opposing the legislation.

Card check is considered vital to labor, since one of the most powerful means of busting unions is in the implementation of the time between the call for a secret election to the actual election. During this time management mobilizes its many advantages, such as the ability to threaten pay reductions and outsourcing, a monopoly over worker’s time on the job, the ability to have one-on-one sessions pressuring workers against unionizing, and many other tactics that they couldn’t implement in a card-check election. With the card check provision, workers could organize without management having time to stop them or even notice their efforts. This frightens management and its allies, and they are doing whatever they can to prevent it.

The other two provisions are mandatory contract arbitration and stricter monetary penalties for breaking labor law. The mandatory contract arbitration states that if after 120 days management and labor are still in disagreement on a contract, the National Labor Relations Board will send a mediator to force an agreement between the two groups. This is considered necessary by labor, since another effective means of defeating organized workers is to simply decline to negotiate a contract. While not as controversial as the card check provision, it is also been used as an effective means of turning legislators against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Upon introduction to the senate the bill seemed to have a relatively clear path to passage. With 40 co-sponsors and an additional 4 democrats signaling support, it was believed that the vote would go down by party lines, with a mixture of support from Democrats ranging from a “yea” vote to a vote for cloture. To pass the bill would need at least 51 to vote “yea”, and an additional 10 to vote for cloture, otherwise the Republican minority and its allies could effectively kill the vote via filibustering (or the unending debate on an issue making it impossible to vote on).

It was initially believed that with Al Franken winning in Minnesota, would stand at 59 to 40 for cloture. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was the only Republican in support of EFCA, and had voted for an earlier version of the bill, would have cast the deciding vote killing the possibility of a filibuster and allowing the bill to pass. Since the introduction of the bill, Specter has since changed his stance towards both voting against the bill and against cloture as well. However, since he will now run as a democrat, he will not want to anger labor. This puts him in a precarious position, and will only increase the already pressure cooker level of lobbying he has had to face from both sides of this issue.

More disturbingly for proponents of the bill is the defection of moderate Democrats including Blanche Lincoln (D-A) who has openly signaled her opposition to the bill. Other moderate democrats have indicated that they want to see some modification of the bill, almost always focusing on the removal of the card check provision. Some of these conservative Democrats include Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Ben Nelson (D-NE). While the bill still has a possibility of passing, there is a high probability that it will be in a reformed version, most likely changing or removing card check.

Recently Thomas Frank of the Wall Street Journal pointed out the composition of the opposition to EFCA in his article entitled EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE IS DEAD…conservative Democrats killed it (I disagree with his title, but his points are valid!) : “[M]aybe it’s just the money. Consider the lineup of lobbyists that retail giant Wal-Mart has assembled to make its case against EFCA. According to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the House and Senate we find that Wal-Mart’s lobbyists include Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti (which employs former presidential candidate John Kerry’s liaison to Congress during the 2004 campaign), a former legislative director for Rahm Emanuel, and a former assistant to Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Wal-Mart has also secured, according lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress, the services of Tony Podesta, of the Podesta Group, one of the hottest lobby shops in Democratic D.C. Mr. Podesta is joined in pushing Wal-Mart’s views on EFCA by a former assistant to Democrat Mark Pryor, the other senator from Arkansas. [FS note: The firm was co-founded with John Podesta, a lead Obama advisor, although he’s no longer listed on the group’s manifest.]

The real standout on Wal-Mart’s labor-issues roster, though, is D+P Creative Strategies, which wears its liberalism as proudly as last week’s tax protestors did their three-cornered hats. According to its Web site, D+P “highlights partnership, shared benefits, and a commitment to advancing social justice goals.” The disclosure form for its Wal-Mart EFCA activities lists a former assistant to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. The bio of its principal, Ingrid Duran, who is also listed as a Wal-Mart lobbyist, declares that the firm’s mission is “to increase the role of corporate, legislative and philanthropic efforts in addressing the concerns of Latinos, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities.”

The future for EFCA is far from over though, and the decision about EFCA is bound to be made within the coming weeks. Business interests have poured millions in defeating this bill, and organized labor has done its best to fight back. For the unions to attain any sort of victory from this battle it will have to marshal community support. The conservative democrats are the key focus, and only a concerted effort of letter writing and phone calls made on behalf of EFCA will allow the bill any means of their support.

Written by jackofspades83

May 20, 2009 at 11:56 am

Brilliant Rebirth: Phoenix Faction Democrats

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Many Americans are fed up with the bi-party tyranny of the Republicans and the Democrats. The democrats are suffering from a plague of idiotic leaders, and wimpy politicians unwilling to provide any substantive resistance to the right wing assault on what little is left of the good in our government institutions. The Republicans aren’t even worth considering other than their sheer contempt for the average American. Many of those not bound by apathy and despair have attempted to mobilize third parties, which have proven to be doomed to fail against the giants.
Its time for Socialists to band together and retake political power we once had long ago. We cannot achieve our goals by acting as radicals, for radicals are by definition a minority. We must strive to become the majority, and to do so we cannot shun the system, we must remake it from the inside. I suggest that we take a page from the Trotskyists in Britain, and revive the strategy of “entryism”. They had attempted to take over one of the major political parties to bring about a democratic socialist state.
Although, the Marxists in Britain failed to take over the Labour party, we must not let that stop us from trying to do the same here. As the famous German socialist Rosa Luxemburg said as she was thrown in prison for resisting the First World War, our choice is between socialism and barbarism. Our parties have opted for the later, one in striving to uphold it as the other refuses to stop them. This choice is now left to us, shall we coincide defeat or fight for our future?
In taking over the Democratic party we will stand both within it, as we stand outside of it. We must not be afraid to declare our socialist and humanitarian values, and our opposition to conservative tendencies in the party. The Democratic party will provide us resources, and the ability to cast our votes within the closed primaries of many states. While our voters card may carry the ‘D’ for Democrat, we will also stand as a united force of socialists and communists. We will have our own meetings, codes, tactics, and strategies. We will not be consumed by the do-nothing alliance that has for too long denied meaningful social change.
At the same time that we are independent of the party, we are also loyal Democrats. Many democrats already have our values, the only thing keeping them from announcing themselves as fellow socialists is the extremely negative connotation the word has in the United States. We reject the cancer of the so-called “real existing socialisms” of the 20th century. Our movement is that of a new era, times have changed, and we must adapt as well.
The first goal of the Phoenix faction after taking power in the democratic party is to push for European-style social programs. As Europe has opted for domestic improvement and peace, America has sacrificed its people for military hegemony that benefits the military and financial elite. Europe may not be the perfectly enlightened socialist state many of us seek, but it is certainly light years ahead of the US. As we catch up to Europe we must also be aware of, and work to end, the divide between the global north and south, and the role of our society in such context.
Its time for Americans to demand peace, universal prosperity, and social programs that lends a helping hand from those who have what they need. We must counter the selfish dogma of the Reaganite 80’s with a message of tolerance, responsibility to your fellow man, and a respect for the international community. Only through socialism can we truly achieve an American democracy that cares for its citizens, and only the great mass of Americans can make that possible.
We should also look to Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution, although not necessarily to Hugo Chavez. While Chavez has brought about some very necessary reforms to Venezuela, he has also become too much of the movement, and has brought about other problems as well. In addition to his bombastic presence, his attempts at questionable reforms to Venezuela’s democratic process are troubling. No socialist movement should rely on one person, no matter how charismatic, for socialism by sheer definition is the movement of the people.
Let us take the good from the Bolivarian revolution, and place community groups at the fore of the movement. For local government should be a participatory democracy, like the Jeffersonian town halls popular in the northeast at the beginning of the American republic. We don’t need to look farther than our own city of Orlando to see the problems caused by officials that are too out of touch with the general public. I say we start our own Jeffersonian revolution and put these incompetent fools out of their jobs as our overlords!
To win the hearts and minds of the American people we must maintain many difficult balancing acts. We must firmly denounce the system of American domestic and foreign oppression, while working within it as well. We must elevate the political discourse, encourage tolerance and unity , while lashing out viciously at the reactionary conservative movement and its elitist overlords. We must encourage peace while being ready to defend our ideals with any means necessary.
I must stress that we use violence as an absolute last resort, and only to defend ourselves from tyranny most foul. Even in these dark times for our republic, there is still hope for peaceful resolution. We must always remember the failure of those that came before us. We must remember the oppression and unjust violence that was used in the name of socialist ideals. May we never replay those heinous deeds, and may we constantly seek to uphold the good that generations of socialists have managed to establish.
Even as the United States slides into decline, there is still a tremendous potential for change. Unlike the “real existing socialisms”, we are blessed with the general prosperity gained from the economic miracle, even if its being taken away from us day by day. We have the foundations for the most just society of all time, all we have to do is lay the masonry. May the phoenix faction lead the way!

Written by jackofspades83

April 22, 2008 at 6:52 pm

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.

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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

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

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf .)

 

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 metropolismag.com (“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 http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=1528 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 http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/page.cfm?id=49)

 

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 (http://huffingtonpost.com) 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 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/raymond-j-learsy/the-other-bush-legacy-ou_b_62612.html ) 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 metropolis.com 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