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Froma Harrop - WIll Americans pay more for American-made?

Wow, this T-shirt costs only $8. Great color. Problem is, your finger could punch a hole through it. In most Americans' shopping experience, colors change and styles come and go, but there's one constant: low quality and a sweatshop-country label.
Lot's been said lately about a flickering comeback in American apparel manufacturing. Walmart vows to raise its meager buying of American-made products by $50 billion over the next 10 years. American clothing names — New Balance and L.L. Bean, for instance — now proudly advertise some of their wares as domestically produced.
Could an industry devastated by cheap imports come back? Americans are allegedly clamoring for more "made in USA" stuff. A poll shows almost half saying they'd pay an extra $5 to $20 for what's now a $50 sweater if the garment were made here.
But some skeptics doubt that consumers will act on these feelings. One is Marvin Greenberg, who spent many painful years in the garment business. As he sees it, consumers willing to pay more for better- and American-made clothes will remain a definite minority. The vast shopping public demands basement-scraping prices on two-for-one deals. Patriotism ends at the cash register. He's seen it happen.
"Back in the '60s, there was a union protest in Fall River (Mass.) about saving jobs, stopping imports," Greenberg recalls. "People carrying signs were wearing imported clothes."
Fall River's nickname is Spindle City, and it was there that Greenberg took over his father's sweater factory. He made products for the Garland label and then ran its manufacturing operations in Fall River, Brockton, Mass., Warrenton, Ga., and Beaufort, S.C. He contracted with small manufacturers throughout the South.
Then imports killed them. "I look around at all the empty factories here, down South," he says. "They're not coming back."
What about the supposedly revived interest in quality?
"My contention is most shoppers don't know quality," Greenberg says. "They know style. They know logos."
Greenberg recounts how he once tried to sell sturdy T-shirts. He looked for and found the finest cotton yarn in Belmont, N.C.
A competitor in New Hampshire was making T-shirts for Ralph Lauren with cheaper yarn but getting more money for them because of the logo. "Same guy makes for Ralph Lauren and J.C. Penney," Greenberg sighs, "and the only difference is the horse."
One suspects that some of these buy-American programs are mainly marketing ploys. You hear Walmart executives declaring their desire to help the struggling blue-collar workers who shop in their stores. But it was Walmart that urged its U.S. suppliers to move their factories to low-wage countries in the first place.
On the other hand, there seems to be a significant and growing market for higher-quality, locally produced goods, even if they cost more. Whole Foods is now a national presence. People will pay more for Apple's products. (Despite its aggressively American image, Apple manufactures most of its gear in low-wage countries. But Apple has started making more here.)
Advanced computers have enabled Americans to produce things with fewer workers. That's an advantage for domestic companies and the employees running their machines — though making apparel remains more labor-intensive than other kinds of manufacturing.
The good news is that companies such as Airtex Design Group in Minneapolis are indeed shifting some operations back to this country. The less-good news is that the industry has been so shrunk that Airtex struggles to find the old cutting and sewing skills that used to be plentiful, even as pay for them has risen.
Sad that the best place these days to find middle-class clothes made in America is on eBay. Things can change, right?

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Monday, 02 December 2013 09:32

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Jim Hightower - Celebrate agriCULTURE, not agriBUSINESS

In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grass-roots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been elected in a landslide. The 51 to 44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as ... well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was — ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic agricultural economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small — but politically powerful — world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University, but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the preeminence of middleman food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

"Agriculture is no longer a way of life," he infamously barked at them. "It's a business." He callously instructed farmers to "get big or get out" — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomerated, industrialized, globalized, and heavily subsidized corporate-run food economy. "Adapt," he warned farmers, "or die." The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, "releases people to do something useful in our society."

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, freethinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting Twinkieization of America's food. They were sickened that nature's own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers. "The central problem with modern industrial agriculture ... (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul," said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Ore. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The "good food" rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.
This transformative grass-roots movement rebuts old Earl's insistence that agriculture is nothing but a business. It most certainly is a business, but it's a good business — literally producing goodness — because it's "a way of life" for enterprising, very hardworking people who practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. These farmers don't want to be massive or make a killing; they want to farm and make delicious, healthy food products that help enrich the whole community.

This spirit was summed up in one simple word by a sustainable farmer in Ohio, who was asked what he'd be if he wasn't a farmer. He replied: "Disappointed." To farmers like these, food embodies our full "culture" — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into "agriculture" and is essential to its organic meaning.

Although agriculture has forestalled the total takeover of our food by crass agribusiness, the corporate powers and their political hirelings continue to press for the elimination of the food rebels and ultimately to impose the Butzian vision of complete corporatization. This is one of the most important populist struggles occurring in our society. It's literally a fight for control of our dinner, and it certainly deserves a major focus as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner this year.

To find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets and other resources in your area for everything from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey, visit LocalHarvest.org.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Pat Buchanan - Let Obama play the Iran hand

When, after the massacres at Newtown and the Washington Navy Yard, Republicans refused to outlaw the AR-15 rifle or require background checks for gun purchasers, we were told the party had committed suicide by defying 90 percent of the nation.

When Republicans rejected amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, we were told the GOP had just forfeited its future.

When House Republicans refused to fund Obamacare, the government was shut down and the Tea Party was blamed, word went forth: The GOP has destroyed its brand. Republicans face a wipeout in 2014. It will take a generation to remove this mark of Cain.

Eight weeks later, Obama's approval is below 40 percent. Most Americans find him untrustworthy. And the GOP is favored to hold the seats it has in the House while making gains in the Senate.

For this reversal of fortunes, Republicans can thank the rollout of Obamacare — the website that does not work, the revelation that, contrary to Obama's promise, millions are losing health care plans that they liked, and the reports of soaring premiums and sinking benefits.

Democrats, however, might take comfort in the old maxim: If you don't like the weather here, just wait a while. For, egged on by Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli Lobby AIPAC, the neocons are anticipating the return of Congress to start work on new sanctions on Iran. Should they succeed, they just might abort the Geneva talks or even torpedo the six-month deal with Iran.

While shaking a fist in the face of the Ayatollah will rally the Republican base, it does not appear to be a formula for winning the nation. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll from Tuesday, by 44-22 Americans approve of the deal NATO, Russia and China cut with Tehran to freeze its nuclear program. While two-thirds do not trust Iran when it says its program is not designed to build nuclear weapons, fully 65 percent believe "the United States should not become involved in any military action in the Middle East unless America is directly threatened." Only 21 percent disagree.

This is the nation that rose up last summer and told Obama it did not want to get involved in Syria's civil war, and told Congress to deny Obama the authority to order air strikes — red line or no red line.

Even if the Iran deal collapses, 80 percent of Americans would favor a return to the sanctions regime and negotiations. Only 20 percent would support military action against Iran.
In summary, while Americans do not trust Iran, they do not want war with Iran. They want to test Iran. On this issue, Obama is in sync with his countrymen.

Why, looking at these numbers, would Republicans return to Washington with a full-metal-jacket ,"axis-of-evil" attitude, with John McCain becoming again the face of the party?

Why would Republicans return to Washington and throw away the winning hand that is Obamacare? It is ravaging the president's reputation for competence and his credibility, and calling into question the core philosophy of the Democratic Party — that Big Government is America's salvation.

Why would Republicans return to the bellicosity that cost the party both Houses in 2006 and the White House in 2008?

That 20 percent of the nation which favors war with Iran, in the event of a deal collapse or breakdown in the talks, is already in the GOP corral. If Republicans seek to broaden their base, why abandon Obamacare, where a majority agrees with them, for an issue, renewed hostility to Iran, where a majority disagrees? Would it not be playing into Obama's hand to allow him to assume the role of statesman, who, with "all options on the table," is willing to negotiate with an enemy rather than take us to war with him? Did not Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan all go this same route?

If Bibi, AIPAC, the neocons and their congressional allies should sabotage the negotiations or scuttle the existing or future deal with Iran, maneuvering us into a another war in the Middle East that America does not want, how do they think this will sit with the voters in 2016? If Iran is deceiving us and is hell-bent on breaking out of this deal and making a dash to a bomb, we will know about it months if not years before Iran ever tests a device, let alone builds a bomb, miniaturizes it and marries it to a delivery system. We would have more than enough notice to abort any test and neutralize Iran's nuclear program. And the nation would unite behind action, were it seen that Iran had lied to us to buy time to build and test a bomb.

But if the Republican Party leads Congress in imposing new sanctions, and the Iranians walk out, and the NATO-Russia-China coalition breaks up, and a chance for peace in the Persian Gulf seems to have been thrown away, the GOP will pay the price. And rightly so.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 November 2013 11:09

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Froma Harrop - The greatness of Obamacare

During the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, it's been hard to defend the law, much less to call it "great." But great it is — for the American economy and for the American people, rich ones included.

The program has already succeeded in one of its key backbreaking missions: to curb the exploding costs of health care. The president's Council of Economic Advisers issued a report this month containing lots of good news on that front. Since Obamacare was passed in 2010, the growth in health care spending has slowed to the lowest rate on record for any three-year period since 1965. "If half the recent slowdown in spending can be sustained," the report says, "health care spending a decade from now will be about $1,400 per person lower than if growth returned to its 2000-2007 trend."

The authors further note that the benefit will go to workers in the form of fatter paychecks and to taxpayers as federal and state governments cut projected spending on health care. Another plus would be more jobs as employers feel less burdened by the cost of covering their workers.

What about the recession? One may reasonably ask whether the economic downturn was responsible for cutting the growth rates of medical spending. Yes, but not by much, the authors respond. They note that the slowdown has persisted well beyond the end of the recession. Very importantly, it also applied to Medicare, a government program whose elderly beneficiaries are more insulated from a weak job market. And the growth in prices for health services (different from total spending) has eased significantly.

Here's how the health care reforms did it:

— They reduced the overpayments to private insurers' Medicare Advantage plans and the price increases for providers.

— They're promoting new payment models, whereby medical providers are being financially rewarded for giving good care in an efficient manner. Under the old setup, providers could enhance their incomes by pumping up the volume of visits, tests and other services.
The reforms encourage the growth of "accountable care organizations." The more efficiently these groups of medical providers operate the more money they get to keep.

— Hospitals with high readmission rates are penalized. This is also a quality issue for Medicare beneficiaries, who are often discharged with inadequate planning for post-hospital care. Under a perverse set of incentives, hospitals were making more money when elderly patients returned. The taxpayers, of course, picked up the bills.

— Changes in Medicare should spill over into the private sector, generating even more savings. Medicare's payment structure is often the starting point in negotiations between private insurers and medical providers.

What about the rich? All this conservative talk about Obamacare's "redistributing" wealth to the less well-off ignores this reality: Every time medical spending rises, so do the taxes (of those who pay income tax) and the premiums for those who buy their own coverage. I mean, who do you think has been paying for all those uninsured people showing up at expensive hospital emergency rooms for free care?

For those worried about federal deficits, here are some encouraging numbers, courtesy of the Affordable Care Act: The Congressional Budget Office recently cut its projected Medicare and Medicaid spending in 2020 by $147 billion. It expects the reforms overall to reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion from 2013 to 2022.

All this great stuff has been obscured by the bungled launch of the federal government's HealthCare.gov website. Once it is up and running, the conversation should turn in a more positive direction. Those who read the advisers' report won't have to wait that long. Google "Council of Economic Advisers" for a copy.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Bob Meade - Racism

The president, a man of color, was elected twice, to the highest office of the most prosperous and powerful nation the world has ever known. In each election, he received enormous support from white people.

Oprah Winfrey, a woman of color, created an empire that provides her earnings of $300 million a year. She has amassed a total net worth of $2.9 billion, to a great extent because of her skills and abilities and the respect and admiration she earned from her mostly white female audiences.

Two people of color. One became the president of our country and the other became a household name while building a communications and entertainment empire. Both achieved their positions of stature, in part, because of the backing and support of the country's white population.

If a person achieves a large measure of success, it is not because of the color of their skin, it is often because of their vision, intelligence, daring, work ethic, tenacity, and so on. Businesses succeed and businesses fail . . . every single day. Great athletes win and lose . . . every single day. Students ace and disgrace . . . every single day. Some scale the mountain peak and others fall off the cliff . . . every single day. And, those yeas and nays are not because of the color of their skin . . . it is because of their skills and abilities.

Oprah Winfrey recently told a British interviewer that the president's detractors may be so because of the color of his skin. She didn't offer an opinion that he might be an inept manager. Nor did she opine that he may be deceitful, or cunningly adept at creating divisions among the people. No, his failures, or the divisions among the people, are because of the color of his skin.

The mere mention of racism creates a tension between the races that may not have existed before the statement was made. Why? Because it immediately demands one side defend itself lest they be branded as a racist. How does one prove they don't have racist thoughts or intentions?

Our system of laws requires that the government, or the one making a charge of wrong-doing by another, must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the allegation of wrong-doing. The one charged with wrong-doing has a right to challenge the veracity of the charges made against him or her. For Miss Winfrey, or anyone, to in any way imply a charge of racism, they should be required to name names and offer proof, and be prepared for legal rebuttal by the person so charged.

During World War II, there was a slogan, "Loose lips sink ships". Today, the "loose lips" make unfounded charges of racism and those charges are creating unnecessary divisions and animosity among the people; sinking our society with incivility as an alibi for failure.

Over the last few years, our country has become more divided than at any time in my lifetime. When President Obama was elected, most people hoped that his election would continue our country's progress on the road to ever improving race relations. It was an opportunity to show people of color that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. so famously said, people would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

What has happened though, is that too many people use the color of the president's skin as a shield against legitimate criticism. The president himself, and many of his senior advisors and supporters, have hurled invectives and used "street talk" to demonize any opposition. Some of the disrespect from street talk, and sloganeering such as "Bin Laden's dead, General Motors is alive." appears to have even incited rioters in the middle east who, when our embassy in Cairo was under siege, were chanting, "We are one and a half billion Bin Ladens."

Racism exists . . . in all nations and in all peoples, and every effort should be made to minimize and, hopefully, eliminate it. Racism by the Nazis resulted in over six million Jews being murdered. Europe is again growing in anti-Semitism and the influx of middle-eastern immigrants is imposing an unwanted multi-cultural problem that could well be called racism. The middle east is rife with intolerance and racism against all who are not Muslim. We hear and read of Christian Churches being burned to the ground in Egypt and of Christians fleeing across borders to avoid being murdered. Israel is under constant siege as some Muslim leaders have expressed their desire to wipe Israel off the map and drive the Jews into the sea. They view the United States as the great satan. And Iran progresses towards becoming a nuclear power.

Think of that deeply ingrained racism described above and then ask yourself, can you justify calling someone a racist because of a disagreement over policy or performance?

Wake up before it's too late.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Monday, 25 November 2013 07:45

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