• Filling in the Blanks

    Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian leaves nothing unsaid at POLAHS State of the School address

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    In four minutes and some change, Harbor Commission member Dave Arian spoke clearly and directly about a new place the Port of Los Angeles High School finds itself. The former head of the ILWU International and Local 13 began his remarks by cracking a joke.

    “I’m a little different from the other speakers,” he remarked during the State of the School address May 6. “Not too many people ask me how to get into POLAHS. They just ask me how to get into longshoring.”

    Before Arian spoke, Principal Tom Scotti and Councilman Joe Buscaino both joked about how parents peppered them with questions and petitions, at restaurants or at their offices, for help in getting into the highly touted school.

    To be sure, Scotti laid out the school’s successes and the milestones they—the teachers, students, community and board of trustees—were able to reach in 10 years.

    In fact, three alumni and a current student of the school spoke about the impact the school has had on their lives, and Scotti was able to cite statistics indicating the areas in which the school surpassed both the state and the school district in narrowing the student achievement gap between that of white and Asian American students and that of black and Hispanic students.

    Arian served as a counterpoint, and was blunt.

    “I’ve never been a big supporter of charter schools,” he said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of the public schools system. I’ve never been fully won over by the charter concept. And I’m still not.”

    Arian said he recognized that new examples need to be set about how to educate young people.

    Scotti, who had been with the school since its beginning when temporary classes were held on Cabrillo Beach, spoke about how in a pro-labor and pro-public school community, POLAHS was viewed with skepticism and had much to prove to naysayers.

    Scotti’s remarks covered all of the bases. He joked about the emerging, multi-generational student body made up of children of varying class grades from the same family.

    He also spoke about the coming shift to Common Core and his desire to build on the school’s strengths and to guide student achievement along four pathways of success: maritime industry, environmental studies, digital media and geographical systems.

    Scotti noted that these pathways would help students aiming to enroll at universities and would also put them on the front doorstep to getting a credential that could lead to an above-minimum wage job right out of high school. He even alluded to changes that still needed to be decided upon by the board of trustees at next month’s meeting.

    And, Scotti said it all with hardly a mention of the activism that forced the changes in the first place.

    Arian was the only one to address directly the campus turmoil that occurred seven months previously—a period that saw Scotti’s resignation, student demonstrations and board meetings packed with upset parents, students and teachers, and ultimately Scotti’s return.

    Arian cast the campus struggle on a national scale and what it portends for the future.

    “In this last year, the struggle that took place is the kind of struggle that we should exemplify in America,” Arian said. “Where teachers, students and the community rose up and said ‘No. We don’t like what’s going on. We want to go a different way.’”

    Arian didn’t weigh in on either the board of trustees or the community side of the conflict, but rather on the necessity that there be a process by which all stakeholders in the school can have a voice and affect change.

    “It’s either that or Baltimore,” said Arian, referring to the recent social upheaval in the Eastern seaport town. “That’s our choice today because these kids [at POLAHS] are becoming a part of something that’s possible…That community in Baltimore was not given that opportunity in America.

    “When we look at POLAHS, and what POLAHS has begun to do—not only in San Pedro, but in Wilmington and other areas—these kids were given an option to struggle within the system against the system for a better system, rather than destroy it because they have no connection to it.”

    Arian was also the only one to note that the teachers have unionized, something that many local opponents of charter schools didn’t imagine happening 10 years ago.

    “When it came time to struggle, some of the teachers came to me knowing that I had organizing experience,” Arian said. “I did everything I could to help them organize and get into a union…It’s not just about a contract. It’s about improving the condition of the environment of your profession.”

    POLAHS Board of Trustee President Jayme Wilson—the other locus of community ire aside from the school’s former chief executive Jim Cross—was noticeably absent from the proceedings.

    Wilson has guided the board through this evolution. That has included the hiring of an auditing firm; initiating discussion on how to change the board’s bylaws to make it more inclusive of the parents and community members, and setting up systems and processes that conform to the California Public Records Act. And, he has done so despite vociferous calls for him to step down by parents and students over the past several months.

    Wilson did not respond to Random Lengths News requests for comment.

     

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  • Connecting the Dots

    Between the Waterfront, Minimum Wage, Homelessness, Free Trade

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
     
    So, one day, this guy walks into the newspaper’s lobby to check out our used books for sale and says off-handedly, “I love reading your newspaper. It’s so quirky.”

    I stopped what I was doing at my desk and pondered his comment, fixated on his choice of words. Being in the “word” business, I tend to take what people say both seriously and with a grain of salt. English is such an imprecise language, particularly in terms of verbal communication.

    I thanked him for the perceived compliment. My newspaper has gotten far worse compliments from some local conservatives over the past 35 years. He bought a book and left happy.

    If quirky means unique, then I think he gets that what we are doing here is different from what the corporate media feeds the public every day.

    If putting the news in some context or perspective that allows readers to sort out the chaos of infotainment, political punditry and uber-conservative slant that is so often pawned off as “fair and balanced,” then I feel we have done our service to humanity, if not our community.

    Take the battle lines that have been drawn in the debates over raising the minimum wage, homelessness, waterfront development and free trade in Los Angeles and beyond. In one shape or form, these are all connected to local and global economics. Looking back we can see how past free trade agreements have decimated domestic jobs markets and stagnated wages while enhancing other sectors such as the high-tech and import industries.

    The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are prime examples of globalization’s effects. There are many around here who still remember the canneries, shipbuilding, fishing and manufacturing industries that were lost to overseas competition.

    What few in the Harbor Area seem to remember is that there was a collective job loss of 30,000 jobs during the course of a decade. That’s half of the local job base and there hasn’t been a full recovery of those well-paid middle class jobs since.

    They called it Reaganomics, trickle-down economic theory that included tax cuts for the wealthy and banking deregulations that collapsed the savings and loan associations. The communities of the Harbor Area were devastated and continue to see the residual effects years later, while virtually nothing has replaced those 30,000 jobs.

    In the interim, with the addition of the USS Iowa, Crafted, the Arts District and other cultural amenities, local civic leaders have pushed to turn Pedro into a tourist destination. This, as the long-awaited Bridge to Breakwater promenade and the redevelopment of Ports O’Call Village is completed.

    The Port of Los Angeles has shouldered much of this responsibility with little help from the rest of the city. Just recently, at the urging of the neighborhood councils and executed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the relevant city departments hosted an invitation- only summit meeting to discuss a possible collaboration on redeveloping this waterfront. The neighborhood councils were not invited. Sadly, the same kind of thinking that got us into this decline is the same kind civic leaders are proposing to get us out.

    The challenge of course, is how to invest in something other than low-wage service jobs or industries that can and will be eventually shipped overseas with a new Trans Pacific Trade Agreement.

    Two of the best candidates along this spectrum are AltaSea, the proposed marine research collaborative being planned at the foot of 22nd Street in San Pedro, and the new biotech research facility at Harbor-UCLA county hospital just up the 110 Freeway in the Harbor Gateway. Both hold significant promise for creating better and sustainable jobs while suggesting spin-off businesses related to their core mission.

    Even PortTech, the futuristic thinking creation of the local chamber of commerce and the Port of LA, seems to be on the path forward along with the creation of POLA High School and the partial relocation of Marymount College to this area. However, none of this is as futuristic as Virgin Galactic, that is taking over some of Boeing’s Long Beach Airport manufacturing facilities and is advertising job openings for hybrid propulsion specialists and information technology support technicians right now.

    My fear is that it will take another decade to create even 10,000 new middle class jobs, which merely amounts to a third of what was lost. Even if we add up all of the good ideas listed above, the global trade industry is racing to automate the good paying jobs we have now out of existence. The future can be seen, I’m told, in ports like Hamburg, Germany, where entire terminals are run by a handful of workers, not teams of longshoremen.

    Raising the minimum wage or eventually supplying housing to the homeless as a part of some bigger development plan either here or citywide is actually an admission that our past economic theories were more like failures than a cure in our pursuit of a sustainable economic future.

    Obviously, the billions in profits made from overseas investments never seemed to “trickle down” or back to those who could most benefit from a few thousand dollars. Tourist dollars only go so far in supporting enough better jobs and aren’t recession proof.

    Unfortunately, what we need now is a bigger and bolder vision with a billion dollar budget-–not more excuses as to why what needs to happen can’t get done.

    It’s as if the same 12 people are recycling the same two answers for the same three problems over the past 20 years—tourism and gentrification. It is far past the time for the leadership of this city and community to connect the dots.

     

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  • Angels Gate Examines Human Trafficking

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Although Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves 150 years ago, modern forms of slavery are thriving throughout the world. The housekeeper, the quiet young girl working in the nail salon or the teenage boy standing on the street corner could all be victims of human trafficking. Perpetrators profit from the control and exploitation of other human beings.

     
    Inspired by their plight, tenth-grader Deandra Blade examined his relationship to freedom and containment, dominance and submission, and power within life in his first work of art. The result was a representation of the Emancipation Proclamation.

     
    “The theme I was going for was the feeling of entrapment,” Blade said. “It started out as a tribute to the Americas and the Emancipation Proclamation just appeared…. I was thinking about the way some African-Americans feel entrapped.”

     
    Blade was part of a group of students at Angels Gate Continuation High School who were asked to examine those themes during an intensive 18-week art program. The culmination of the program is Hidden in Plain Site: Creative Referendums to Human Trafficking, a powerful exhibition in the main gallery at Angels Gate Cultural Center.

     
    There are a half–dozen eye-catching 3-foot by 5-foot, brightly colored acrylic paintings on canvas in the main gallery at Angels Gate Cultural Center.

     
    The personal creations portray the lives of the young students who came to reveal their own familiarity with the topic of human trafficking. All but one of the student artists had no previous art training, but they have all produced highly individual, strikingly intimate works.

     
    Funded by a grant from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, artists Jerri Allyn and Inez S. Bush worked with a group of 15 at-risk students. They were asked where they feel dominated, then researched and wrote essays about the subject.

     
    “Three-quarters of the students admitted to feeling enslaved by addiction, three-quarters said they had an older sibling that they felt dominated by, and we discussed the potential for being vulnerable to trafficking in their own lives,” Allyn said. “During the course of the class, two students revealed that they believe they may have people in their lives who are victims of trafficking, confirming the ubiquitous nature of this issue.”

     
    Walking into the main gallery at Angels Gate, the vibrant canvas paintings block traffic in the gallery. The hanging of the art was deliberate and intended to obstruct movement—reflecting the loss of freedom suffered by trafficking victims.

     
    The work of Christopher Alvarez is among the first visitors encounter when they enter the gallery.  The theme of his painting is the bondage of drug addiction.

     
    “People who are in jail are used for forced labor against their will, to make money off them. That is a form of human bondage,” Alvarez said.

     
    A senior, he served a brief stint in jail. The red, black and green flag used in the background represents Rastafarian beliefs. The Rastafari way of life encompasses the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression and sensual pleasures.

     
    “I am showing freedom through confinement, and confinement through freedom. It is the paradoxical nature, where he finds freedom through a drug that really limits your options,” said Alvarez who is pursuing a career in film.

     
    A wild figure with bloodshot eyes is depicted in the foreground of his painting, representing the “average pothead.” It is not coincidental that the figure is wearing a jump suit that reads, “L.A. County Jail.”

     
    A group of professional artists worked on their own representations of forced labor. Their art installations were placed in and around two cargo containers on the grounds of Angels Gate— representing one method of transportation used to smuggle workers.

     
    Professional artists Allyn, Melissa Crandall, Katelyn Dorroh, Leah Laird, Christine Palma, Leah Solo, April Williams and Erich Wise featured their works in the cargo container installation.
    Solo considers the real cost in the manufacturing of  toys such as Barbie dolls, which are assembled using child labor. Viewers are invited to use the objects to meditate on “enslavement” in this interactive installation.

     
    Williams takes on the subject of the glorified “cool pimp,” who has worked his way into American pop culture by enslaving young girls into prostitution. Her charcoal series of a girl disappearing from vision, while the pimp lurks behind her, is beautiful and ominous at the same time.

     
    Inspired by a model United Nations program, Hidden in Plain Sight: Creative Referendums to Human Trafficking will run through June 6 at several venues throughout San Pedro.
    The full schedule of programming at Angels Gate Cultural Center is as follows:

    May 16
    1 p.m. Tour cargo containers and youth exhibits with artist team. Bring lunch and picnic on the bluff.
    2:30 p.m. Art is Action: Conversation about human trafficking with participants
    Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through June 6
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 519-0936; angelsgateart.org
    Venue: Angels Gate Cultural Center, 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro

     

    photography by Slobodan Dimitrov

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  • 62 Teams Compete at the West Coast BBQ Classic

    LONG BEACH — Meat, whether it’s beef, pork or fowl rubbed with savory seasonings then roasted over an open fire… those transformed fats and proteins recalls a certain something that’s been with us since our hunter-gathering past. It’s primal but it’s also communal.

    Every region in the world has its own tradition for preparing and cooking meat. Some of them will be represented at this year’s West Coast BBQ Classic this Saturday on May 9, from 11a.m. to 6 p.m.. (more…)

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  • RL NEWS Briefs: May 1, 2015

    Boyd Put on Administrative Leave
    SAN PEDRO — Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka issued as statement after a federal grand jury indicted the chief of police for the Port of Los Angeles on corruption and tax charges.
    “In light of Thursday’s announcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles Port Police Chief Ronald Boyd is being put on administrative leave until further notice,” Seroka said. “Deputy Chief of Port Police Thomas Gazsi will assume Boyd’s responsibilities. The city and Port of Los Angeles will fully cooperate in the investigation of this matter.”
    The corruption charges in the indictment relate to a scheme in which Chief Ronald Jerome Boyd stood to financially benefit from the development of a social networking program that would become the official smartphone app for the Port and would then be marketed to other law enforcement agencies.
    Boyd, 57, of Torrance, who in January was named as chief of public safety and emergency management at the port, was charged in a 16-count indictment returned by a grand jury. The indictment accuses Boyd of corruption, lying to FBI agents, failing to file federal corporate tax returns for a private security company he created and tax evasion.
    At the center of the case are four “honest services” wire fraud charges that accuse Boyd of executing “a scheme to defraud the citizens of the City of Los Angeles and the Harbor Department for the City of Los Angeles of their right to the honest services of defendant Boyd by means of bribery and kickbacks, materially false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, and the concealment of material facts.” The corruption scheme centers on a program called Portwatch, which was developed to provide information to the public and to allow citizens to report criminal activity at the port.
    In 2011, Boyd and two business partners formed BDB Digital Communications, a company that entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with the unnamed company developing Portwatch. The parties involved with BDB intended to generate revenues by marketing and selling a similar app – called Metrowatch – to other government agencies. “Under the terms of this agreement, defendant Boyd would receive approximately 13.33 percent of all gross revenues generated by the sale of the Metrowatch application throughout the United States,” according to the indictment.
    The revenue-sharing agreement was contingent upon Boyd’s assistance in securing the Portwatch contract for the unnamed company. Over the course of a year, beginning in October 2011, Boyd took steps to benefit the unnamed company with respect to the Portwatch contract. The indictment alleges that his actions included hosting a private meeting with the unnamed company for the purpose of disclosing confidential information, meeting with Los Angeles officials that included the city attorney and the mayor, editing the scope of work for the Portwatch contractso that he could personally monitor the Portwatch app’s development, and urging the Port to expedite a press release to announce the implementation of the Portwatch app.
    The indictment goes on to allege that Boyd, who was interviewed by special agents with the FBI last October, lied to the investigators when he denied having any financial interest in Metrowatch. The indictment alleges that Boyd falsely stated that BDB was created to sell body armor, and that he was unaware of the revenue-sharing agreement between the unnamed company and BDB. In relation to these alleged misrepresentations, Boyd faces three counts of making false statements.
    Counts 8 through 16 of the indictment allege tax violations. Boyd is specifically charged with four counts of failing to file tax returns for the years 2008 through 2011 for his security business, At Close Range. He is also charged with five counts of tax evasion for the tax years 2007 through 2011 for failing to report income that was “substantially greater than the amount stated on the return,” according to the indictment.
    An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
    If he is convicted of all 16 counts in the indictment, Boyd would face a statutory maximum sentence of 124 years in federal prison.
    Boyd is expected to surrender to federal authorities next week on a date to be determined.

    Suspected Kidnappers of Baby Eliza Plead Not Guilty
    LONG BEACH — On April 30, Giselangelique Rene D’Milian, Anthony Ray McCall and Todd Boudreaux, who are suspected and charged with the kidnapping and murder of 3-month-old Eliza de la Cruz, pleaded not guilty to felony charges.
    The next court date for all three suspects is a preliminary hearing on June 17.
    On March 25, the Long Beach Police Department made four arrests in connection with the January 2015 kidnapping and murder of a 3-week-old baby Eliza.
    D’Milian, 47 and a resident of Thousand Oaks, was arrested in Corona. D’Milian is suspected of developing the kidnapping plot to produce two babies after lying to her married boyfriend that she was pregnant with his twins. She was booked for murder, kidnapping, attempted murder and conspiracy. She is being held in Long Beach City Jail. Her original bail amount was $1 million and has been changed to no bail;
    Anthony Ray McCall, 29 and a resident of Oceanside, was arrested in Oceanside. He was booked for murder, kidnapping, attempted murder and conspiracy. He is being held in Long Beach City Jail. His original bail amount was $1 million and has now changed to no bail;
    Todd Damon Boudreaux, 43 and a resident of Fontana, was arrested in Fontana. He was booked for accessory after the fact. He is being held in Long Beach City Jail. His original bail amount was $20,000 and has now changed to no bail.
    A bail review hearing for McCall and Boudreaux will take place May 5.
    Charisse Nicole Shelton, 29 and a resident of Corona, was arrested in Corona. She was booked for accessory after the fact and is also being held in Long Beach City Jail. Her original bail amount was $20,000 and has increased to $1 million. Shelton is D’Milian’s daughter.
    The kidnapping occurred Jan. 3, when Long Beach police were dispatched to a shooting in the 100 block of West 51st Street, where three adults sustained gunshot wounds and a 3-week-old baby was kidnapped. The following day, the baby was found dead in a trash dumpster in Imperial Beach.

    Port Industry Leaders Examine Trade Trends for 2015 And Beyond
    LONG BEACH — On April 29, Experts from across the goods movement industry spoke at the 11th annual “Pulse of the Ports: Peak Season Forecast,” hosted by the Port of Long Beach.
    The event drew 600 people to the Long Beach Convention Center’s Pacific Ballroom to hear how current trends will affect trade throughout the rest of the year.
    While the unique and highly anticipated annual event explores the cargo forecast, this year’s session also discussed the recent challenges of cargo movement and how the supply chain is evolving to cope with demands for higher efficiency and improved reliability.
    Speakers at the event identified improvements in the U.S. economy, slowing growth in the Asian economy and long-term trends in shipping as forces that shape the flow of cargo through the San Pedro Bay ports.
    Walter Kemmsies, chief economist for Moffatt & Nichol, titled his talk “Outlook – lots of moving parts” due to the mixed bag of forces that will shape trade this year. While the economy is not fully recovered, he said it’s been on the upswing and that will likely continue and will fuel increases in imports. Meanwhile export growth will be challenged due to a strong U.S. dollar and the increasing efficiency of overseas agriculture and other sectors.
    Kemmsies noted that while the global economic outlook is for slow growth at best, global markets are becoming more stable, which in the long run will fuel increase trade through U.S. ports.
    Other panelists recounted challenges impacting the industry, such as equipment shortages and congestion. Increased transparency, improved coordination among stakeholders, and supply chain optimization were among the key goals listed for 2015 and beyond.
    Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Mario Cordero echoed a sentiment expressed by many of the panelists when he predicted that most of the volume redirected during the recent labor negotiations would return to West Coast ports.
    An archived webcast of the event and speaker information are available at www.polb.com/pulseports.

    Woman Sentenced for Running Wheelchair Scam
    HAWTHORNE — Adeline Ekwebelem, 51, was sentenced, April 29, to 78 months in federal prison.
    Ekwebelem, of Hawthorne, ran a company that submitted more than $7 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare – primarily for power wheelchairs that were not needed by patients. Her actions caused the government health insurance program to lose almost $3.5 million.
    Ekwebelem, 51, was also ordered the defendant to pay $3.45 million in restitution to the Medicare program.
    Following a seven-day trial this past September, a federal jury found Ekwebelem guilty of 16 counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud and payment of illegal kickbacks.
    The evidence presented at the trial showed that Ekwebelem’s Gardena-based durable medical equipment supply company, Adelco Medical Distributors, Inc., billed Medicare for medically unnecessary durable medical equipment – primarily power wheelchairs – for beneficiaries often recruited off the street. As part of the scheme, which ran from January 2007 through December 2011, Ekwebelem illegally paid kickbacks to “marketers” who recruited those beneficiaries and then paid kickbacks to a handful of complicit doctors in exchange for fraudulent prescriptions for durable medical equipment.
    Those doctors included Dr. Charles Okoye, who was sentenced to two years in federal prison after he pled guilty to conspiring with Ekwebelem to commit health care fraud, and Dr. Uche Chukwudi, who fled a month before trial and remains a fugitive. Three of Adelco’s marketers – Romie Tucker, Cindy Santana and Maritza Hernandez – have also received sentences of up to two years in prison for their roles in the scheme.
    As the evidence at trial showed, Ekwebelem did more than cause substantial losses to Medicare – she also caused harm to Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare will only pay for one wheelchair every five years. On at least one occasion, Ekwebelem submitted a fraudulent claim to Medicare for a power wheelchair that she did not even let the beneficiary keep, which later prevented the beneficiary from getting a wheelchair when it was actually needed.

    Nation’s Ports Win Funding
    WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nation’s ports will receive an additional $36 million in funding next year as a result of an amendment championed by Rep. Janice Hahn that the U.S. House of Representatives passed April 29 during consideration of the energy and water appropriations bill.
    Almost 30 years ago Congress established the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to pay for dredging and other maintenance needs for federally maintained commercial and recreational ports and harbors. Shippers pay a tax on goods they import through our ports, providing about $1.6 billion of “Harbor Maintenance Tax” revenue every year, enough to cover the cost of keeping the ports and harbors they rely on in good working order. However, most of that funding never makes it back to the ports. Each year Congress appropriates only a fraction of the Harbor Maintenance Tax receipts, leaving $9 billion behind in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
    As a result, ports across the nation are being denied the crucial funding they need to dredge and are filling with silt. In fact, the full depth and width of our ports are available less than 35 percent of the time, meaning ships are forced to carry less cargo or wait for high tide to safely come into harbor. This costs the American economy billions of dollars each year.
    This past year, Hahn led a successful effort to set annual targets for harbor maintenance appropriations increases leading toward full usage of the Trust Fund by 2025. These targets were passed into law as part of the Water Resource and Reform Development Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (passing 412 to 4 in the House).
    However, the Energy and Water appropriations bill proposed for Fiscal Year 2016 would have funded the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund below the 2016 Water Resource and Reform Development Act target level. Hahn spearheaded an effort to make sure the target would be met and together with Rep. Bill Huizenga introduced an amendment increasing funding by $36 million to meet the target for 2016.
    Video of Hahn speaking in support of increased harbor maintenance funding during the debate on her amendment can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55Y8juvAWMU&feature=youtu.be

    Possible Locations for New Bixby Knolls Post Office Announced
    LONG BEACH — The U.S. Postal Service has come up with a list of possible sites for the new Bixby Knolls Post Office:
    A) 3838 Atlantic Avenue
    B) 4121 Atlantic Avenue (current Trader Joe’s location)
    C) 4250 Long Beach Blvd. (Trader Joe’s new location)
    D) 4462-4470 Atlantic Avenue @ 45th St. (shop space next to Marshall’s)
    Depending on the location chosen, the new post office would be scheduled to open in either September of this year (options A and D) or March of 2016 (options B and C).
    Anyone wishing to comment on any of these possibilities has 30 days to send written comments to:
    Dean Cameron
    Facilities Implementation
    1300 Evans Avenue, Suite 200
    San Francisco, CA 94188-8200

    Rancho Los Alamitos Honors Ottos with Cottonwood Award
    LONG BEACH — Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation will present its prestigious Cottonwood Award to Doug Otto and Freda Hinsche Otto at the fourth annual Cottonwood Award Luncheon on May 14, 2015.
    The award will be presented by this ast year’s recipients, former California Gov. George Deukmejian and Gloria Deukmejian. The Cottonwood Award is presented to individuals who have shown outstanding leadership in valuing and protecting the cultural resources of the region. Previous award winners include LA County Supervisor Don Knabe and Julie Knabe and former Long Beach Mayor, Beverly O’Neill.
    The Rancho will also be paying special tribute to the Port of Long Beach and the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association for their extraordinary contributions to the preservation and advancement of the educational mission of Rancho Los Alamitos, and their support of projects throughout the city.

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  • Chief of Los Angeles Port Police Named in Federal Corruption Case

    LOS ANGELES – On April 30, a federal grand jury indicted the Port of Los Angeles chief of police on corruption and tax charges.

    The corruption charges in the indictment relate to a scheme in which Chief Ronald Jerome Boyd stood to financially benefit from the development of a social networking program that would become the official smartphone app for the Port and would then be marketed to other law enforcement agencies.

    Boyd, 57, of Torrance, who in January was named as chief of public safety and emergency management at the port, was charged in a 16-count indictment returned by a grand jury. The indictment accuses Boyd of corruption, lying to FBI agents, failing to file federal corporate tax returns for a private security company he created and tax evasion.

    At the center of the case are four “honest services” wire fraud charges that accuse Boyd of executing “a scheme to defraud the citizens of the City of Los Angeles and the Harbor Department for the City of Los Angeles of their right to the honest services of defendant Boyd by means of bribery and kickbacks, materially false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, and the concealment of material facts.” The corruption scheme centers on a program called Portwatch, which was developed to provide information to the public and to allow citizens to report criminal activity at the port.

    In 2011, Boyd and two business partners formed BDB Digital Communications, a company that entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with the unnamed company developing Portwatch. The parties involved with BDB intended to generate revenues by marketing and selling a similar app – called Metrowatch – to other government agencies. “Under the terms of this agreement, defendant Boyd would receive approximately 13.33 percent of all gross revenues generated by the sale of the Metrowatch application throughout the United States,” according to the indictment.

    The revenue-sharing agreement was contingent upon Boyd’s assistance in securing the Portwatch contract for the unnamed company. Over the course of a year, beginning in October 2011, Boyd took steps to benefit the unnamed company with respect to the Portwatch contract. The indictment alleges that his actions included hosting a private meeting with the unnamed company for the purpose of disclosing confidential information, meeting with Los Angeles officials that included the city attorney and the mayor, editing the scope of work for the Portwatch contractso that he could personally monitor the Portwatch app’s development, and urging the Port to expedite a press release to announce the implementation of the Portwatch app.

    The indictment goes on to allege that Boyd, who was interviewed by special agents with the FBI last October, lied to the investigators when he denied having any financial interest in Metrowatch. The indictment alleges that Boyd falsely stated that BDB was created to sell body armor, and that he was unaware of the revenue-sharing agreement between the unnamed company and BDB. In relation to these alleged misrepresentations, Boyd faces three counts of making false statements.

    Counts 8 through 16 of the indictment allege tax violations. Boyd is specifically charged with four counts of failing to file tax returns for the years 2008 through 2011 for his security business, At Close Range. He is also charged with five counts of tax evasion for the tax years 2007 through 2011 for failing to report income that was “substantially greater than the amount stated on the return,” according to the indictment.

    An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

    If he is convicted of all 16 counts in the indictment, Boyd would face a statutory maximum sentence of 124 years in federal prison.

    Boyd is expected to surrender to federal authorities next week on a date to be determined.

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  • Robles’ First Action: Approve Zone Change

    Labor Makes Noise for Stadium Jobs

    By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter

    Normally a zoning change is a simple routine city council action—unless it has something to do with possibly building a stadium for the National Football League. Then, it turns into a major media event with boisterous representatives of organized labor crowding into the council chambers.

    On April 21, the Carson City Council considered approving a zoning overlay that would allow for a 75,000-seat football stadium to be built on a former toxic waste dump. Hundreds of stadium supporters—some in labor union shirts, some in Los Angeles Raiders jerseys—crowded noisily into the council chambers, along with several TV news crews.

    Petitioners, who were paid to collect more than 15,000 signatures, had swarmed the city for weeks. The effort was to put the zoning change to a vote just in case the council refused. Carson2gether, a group of more than a dozen labor unions, was behind the petition drive. The group had funding from the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

    Two agenda items pertained to clearing the way to build a professional football stadium. The first one concerned the certification of sufficiency of signatures on an initiative. The new city clerk and former mayor, Jim Dear, wheeled in carts loaded with boxes that he said contained enough valid signatures to put the zoning change on the ballot. He said the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder had indeed validated a sufficient number of signatures on the 300-page petition.

    The three sitting council members—Albert Robles, Lula Davis-Holmes and Mayor Pro Tem Elito Santarina—voted unanimously to approve that item.

    Next the council called for public comment and watched presentations about how much money a new stadium would make. Albert Robles—sworn in as mayor a few hours earlier—said public comments would be limited to one minute each, except “anybody out there with a Super Bowl ring, you get two minutes.” That remark was directed to Michael Haynes, who played for the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII and spoke in favor of the stadium.

    Nineteen persons spoke vehemently in favor of the stadium. Mike Hannan of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Trades Council discussed how much money a new stadium would likely make. Various speakers argued the stadium would create 17,000 construction jobs, 9,000 permanent jobs and produce $9 million in continued business revenue every year.

    John Acosta of the American Federation of Musicians boasted how entertainer Bruno Mars and other superstars were waiting to headline concerts at the yet-to-be-built site. Several other labor representatives made comments about bringing the “Los Angeles Raiders” back, hysterically cheering about how “we need” football and “we need” a Super Bowl.

    One speaker harped on how the planned stadium would create a “world-class tailgating experience,” apparently unaware of the fact that, when the nearby StubHub Center was built in the early 2000s, irate residents forced a ban on tailgating.

    Harry Dew, a lone opponent at the meeting who spoke of the stadium plan, said he was furious about the proposal to build the stadium.

    “Carson is my home,” he said. “This’ll take away my home.”

    He left as another meeting attendee shouted an obscenity.

    Shortly before 9 p.m. the council voted unanimously to amend the city’s general plan and create a stadium overlay on a parcel along Del Amo Boulevard and the 405 Freeway. The action approved the building of a professional stadium and “other permitted uses” within Carson. It eliminated residential uses from the site, a stumbling block in past attempts to develop the former brownfield.

    Up the 405 Freeway, a few miles north of Carson, Inglewood is courting the St. Louis Rams of the National Football Conference, who were the LA Rams from 1946 to 1994. That city may be on the verge of bringing them to a new stadium proposed for the old Hollywood Park site.

    Whether the NFL will allow two American Football Conference teams in the same division in the same city, while an NFC team plays in the same coverage area, is an issue no one has yet addressed. Both the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers play in the West Division of the AFC.

     

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  • Port Truckers Strike Again

    Green Fleet Bows to Pressure in Advance

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Truckers at four major companies in the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex went out on an indefinite strike on April 27.

    A last-minute agreement with a fifth company, Green Fleet Systems, averted its inclusion in the strike.

    “We had no choice but to go on strike again because my company is continuing to violate the law,” said Humberto Canales, a driver with Pacer Cartage. “The courts have ruled that I am an employee and that their illegal deductions from my paycheck must stop. But they keep fighting me so I am fighting back.”

    “We are here to make sure that these companies stop their lawless behavior,” added Hector Flores, a driver with Long Beach-based Intermodal Bridge Transport. “They cannot keep engaging in wage theft…We demand re-classification to employees. We know what we are doing is right and we are not going to stop striking until these companies stop breaking the law.”

    “Six hundred thousand working men and women in Los Angeles stand behind the port drivers fighting to stop wage theft and the ability to have a voice on the job,” said Rusty Hicks, executive secretary and treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “Our ports are the economic engine for our region. Our drivers deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

    Pacer is owned by XPO Logistics, as is Harbor Rail Transport, another company being struck, along with Carson-based Pacific 9 Transportation, or Pac-9, and Intermodal Bridge Transport.

    “These are some of the biggest companies that serve the ports of LA/Long Beach,” Teamster spokeswoman Barbara Maynard said.

    The companies have also been flashpoints for wage-theft litigation. The industry as a whole faces an annual liability of $850 million in California alone, according to an estimate from the National Employment Law Project. Legal actions filed so far are only the tip of the iceberg, but are intimately connected with the strike.

    In March 2014, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, or DLSE, found seven Pacer drivers in San Diego to be illegally misclassified employees and awarded them a combined total of $2.2 million. Pacer appealed, but a tentative superior court ruling upheld the ruling. Pacer Cartage also faces a class action lawsuit alleging willful misclassification of about 662 drivers, with estimated liability amounts to over $5 million. The company’s continued intransigence and lawbreaking are root causes of the strike. These are echoed in the actions of the other companies involved.

    Ambulatory strikes—picketing when company trucks arrive at other locations, and continuing until they leave—were ongoing as far away as the Inland Empire and the U.S.-Mexico border. There, drivers picketed Pacer Cartage trucks bringing cargo to Toyota’s Otay Mesa facility to transfer them to Toyota Mexico’s manufacturing plants. Officials at both ports downplayed the impact of the April 27 strike on overall operations. This is due, in part, to some terminal operators avoiding ambulatory strikes by refusing service from the struck companies.

    “Cargo continued to move through the port today without delay,” Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.

    But a press advisory the next day from Justice for Port Truck Drivers explained something different.

    “Few terminal operators were allowing struck companies to pick up and drop off containers, mitigating impact on port operations—but causing major disruption to the operation of the trucking companies and their retail clients whose cargo was left sitting on the docks.”

    Retail clients impacted reportedly included WalMart, Toyota, Costco, Target, General Electric, Forever 21, Louis Vuitton, CVS, Procter and Gamble, Macy’s, Family Dollar and JC Penny.

    The groundwork for the current wave of wage theft litigation was laid in the fall of 2012, when the

    , or LAANE, hosted a legal workshop that resulted in hundreds of wage and hour claims being filed with the DLSE. Individual and class action lawsuits followed.

    In August 2013, Green Fleet drivers, facing retaliation for their claims and union organizing efforts, went out on strike. Three months later, in November, drivers at Pac 9 and American Logistics International, joined the Green Fleet drivers in their second strike. Drivers from other companies later joined in as well. In April 2013, drivers at Total Transportation Services Inc., or TTSI, struck alongside drivers from Green Fleet and Pac 9.

    Then, in November, 2014, Green Fleet entered into “confidential discussions” with the Teamsters on the verge of a threatened strike, which began with drivers from Pac 9 and TTSI, later joined by drivers from Pacer, Harbor Rail Transport, QTS Inc., LACA Express and WinWin Logistics. By the end of a relatively brief strike, all the companies were involved in discussions with the Teamsters. But most of those discussions have failed to bear fruit, resulting in the current strike.

    However, Green Fleet is a notable exception. Along with the Teamsters Port Division, they issued the following joint statement:

    “We are pleased to announce that Green Fleet Systems, LLC, and the Teamsters Union have entered into a comprehensive labor peace agreement designed to ensure that Green Fleet’s drivers have an opportunity to exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act and, if they choose, to select an exclusive representative for purpose of collective bargaining. This agreement also allows for the orderly conduct of business and insures that Green Fleet’s loyal customers will continue to receive their deliveries timely and without interruption.”

    Notably not being struck this time is TTSI. There are rumors of a settlement in the works, but no official comments as of press time. The drivers have also launched a national petition asking Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia to ban law-breaking for profit from the ports.

    “As stewards of our nation’s two largest port complexes, where roughly 40 percent of our country’s imported goods land on our shores, I call on you to end the port trucking industry’s profiting from lawbreaking,” the petition reads, in part. “Wage theft has enabled port trucking companies to get away with preventing their drivers from qualifying for ANY assistance that everyday Americans rely on.”

    When asked how long the strike would last, Maynard said it was up to the drivers, but added, “It’s really up to these companies to say, ‘Yes we’re willing to follow the law,’ and only when that happens is this really going to end.”

     

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  • Supernaw Heads to City Hall

    District 4 Councilman-elect Daryl Supernaw thanked his constituents during the special election April 14. Photo by Diana Lejins

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

     Now that the April 14 Long Beach special election has taken place, a new representative will be ushered into the seat that Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell has vacated. Daryl Supernaw will join the Long Beach City Council May 5.

    “Right now, we are focused on our transition into office,” said Supernaw in an email. “From the date of the election I had nine days to officially assume office.” In a normal cycle April election, not a special election, the elected official has up to 90 days to take office.

    Supernaw picked up much of the same areas as O’Donnell did in 2012—an election in which Supernaw ran against O’Donnell. This time around, Supernaw garnered 51.67 percent to Herlinda Chico’s 43.71 percent and Richard Lindemann’s 4.62 percent of the vote.

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    East Side Versus West Side Story

    While District 4 is diverse, there is a clear social, economic and ethnic divide between the east side and the west side of the district. Voting precincts east of the traffic circle have more affluent constituents, who are more likely to show up to vote and are predominantly more concerned with quality of life issues, such as street repair and noise pollution. Voters west of the traffic circle, where there are large Cambodian and Latino populations, are more concerned with issues such as poverty, affordable housing and public safety.

    It came as no surprise that the vote also had clear geographic, social, economic and ethnic divisions. There are 17 precincts, which include 14 polling places and three areas where constituents vote by mail. Eight out of the 17 precincts are in the east side of the district, where O’Donnell previously had a stronghold. The majority in those precincts, which include one of the vote-by-mail areas, voted for Supernaw. In contrast, more votes went to Chico in seven of the 17 precincts in the west side of the district. Two small precincts on the west side—each with seven voters—were mail-in votes. The majority of those votes went to Supernaw.

    A Bit of Perspective

    Chico and Supernaw ran for office in 2012, but O’Donnell, who was termed out, ran for re-election as a write-in candidate. Chico withdrew from the race and Supernaw stuck it out. Though Supernaw won the primary, O’Donnell won the election as a write-in candidate.

    Not having to run against an eight-year incumbent also made a difference, Supernaw said. Being a lifelong District 4 resident worked to Supernaw’s advantage. He is well known for his involvement in the community, most notably for having led the Los Altos/Atherton corridor neighborhood group that successfully convinced local officials to allocate sums for a project that covered an Atherton open ditch.

    Also, in 2012, O’Donnell had the support of both political parties and labor unions.

    “I was based on keeping partisan politics out of this and still am,” he said. “I did not list any endorsements. I opted not to do that.”

    Chico, who has endorsed unions, the majority of the city council and local Democratic clubs, campaigned heavily in the west side and garnered most of that area’s votes.

    Supernaw said he also advocated for the west side over the years, and plans to continue doing so. “We need to put more resources into where the challenges are,” he said.

    Moving Forward

    Supernaw said he sees potential for economic development in District 4 and throughout the city. He believes Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s revitalized economic development department is a step forward. He would like to include corporate partnerships, such as naming rights, as a form of revenue stream.

    “It gets others involved and just a lot of name recognition,” Supernaw said. “Long Beach seems to have a lot of untapped potential.”

    But economic development is only one of several issues Supernaw will have to tackle when he takes office.

    “The biggest issue is the council district budget,” Supernaw said. “I have to assess the projects already in the pipeline and determine what can be completed and what needs to be cut.”

    The council will also be making decisions on issues such as the construction of a new civic center, the arts council and community meetings.

    One other discussion he’ll have to take a stand on concerns the Long Beach airport. Recent news that JetBlue is seeking to provide international flights to and from Long Beach sparked concerns of new lawsuits and the reopening of an established ordinance that brought some measure of peace between the airport and its surrounding residents.

    JetBlue officials have stated they have no interest in changing the city’s strict noise ordinance, but other situations may arise. Other airlines may want to do the same and that may result in a very litigious battle.

    In February, the council voted to halt discussions about international flights until the council member got elected.

    Supernaw, whose wife was on the original HUSH (Homes Under Stress and Hazard) group that got the noise ordinance in the first place, said the council should rely on the advice of staff members who are knowledgeable about the airport’s history, City Prosecutor Douglas Haubert and Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais.

    “I would like to defer to our experts,” he said. “What I am hearing now is that there are some issues. There are some inherent threats with bringing the international flights forward.”

    This time around there is no involvement from his family or himself in the groups that have come out against the international terminal.

    “Further, airport meetings within the district will be held under the auspices of the fourth Council District office and hosted by me,” he said.

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  • Obama’s TPP

    A Secret Deal That Protects Special Interests

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    President Barack Obama turned heads when he appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball on April 21.

    Obama leveled harsh criticism of his critics on trade policy, both on two upcoming trade deals—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact, or TTIP—and on the framework for approving them, (“fast track,” rebranded as “trade promotion authority,” or TPA). This would apply to all trade agreements as far forward as 2021. Fast track means that Congress can only vote up or down on trade agreements in a very limited time window and would give enormous power to one or two presidents.

    “I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues,” Obama told Hardball host Chris Matthews, speaking of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), an outspoken opponent of the trade deals and the fast track mechanism itself. “But she’s wrong on this.”

    Obama called the TPP “the most progressive trade deal in our history…When you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.”

    There’s just one problem: Unless you’re a member of Congress, you can’t dig into the facts—a slight detail that Warren herself pointed out.

    “The Obama Admin says I’m wrong—we shouldn’t worry about TPP. So why can’t the American people read the deal?” she tweeted the next day.

    Warren linked to a blog post, “You Can’t Read This,” where she warned: “Don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.” The reason? “Here’s the real answer people have given me: ‘We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.’”

    That same day, Warren also went on the Rachel Maddow Show to explain more fully.

    “Senators can go and read it; people in the House of Representatives can read it, but we’re not allowed to talk about it,” she explained. “The president says that he wants the American people to judge the bill based on the facts, but to do that he’s got to make the deal public. Otherwise, the American people can’t judge it on the facts; he won’t put the facts out there…. The press should be able to see this; people should be able to dig into it. If it’s a great deal for families, like the president says, or a great deal for workers, then put it out there, and let ’em see it, before we have to grease the skids.”

    Maddow then asked about a White House promise to put the agreement online before a vote.

    “They’re asking us now to grease the skids, so we give up any chance to be able to amend it, any chance to block it, any chance to slow it down,” Warren responded. “Give that up, and then you’ll be able to see the deal on the other side. I just don’t think that’s reasonable.”

    In fact, some details of the deal are known, though perhaps not in final form, thanks to a series of major document leaks facilitated by Wikileaks. The most recent and most damaging release, the “Investment Chapter,” was picked up by the New York Times. On March 26, it reported the remarks of Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat.

    “This is really troubling,” Schumer told reporters. “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”

    Schumer is considered a top Wall Street ally among Senate Democrats—yet here he is sounding more like Warren on this.

    We also have the record of past deals, whose costs in lost jobs and massive trade imbalances were vastly under-anticipated. Plus, there is the continuity of those corporate leaders, lawyers and lobbyists empowered to craft these deals behind closed doors, as well as the intellectual and economic history of trade theory and practice that has brought us to the current situation. All these factors point in the same direction: that those negotiating the TPP have every right to fear making it known to the American people.

    Warren cut to the most salient point with her next argument:

    “There’s one fact the American people can see and that’s how the negotiation process worked,” Warren said. “These negotiations have been going on for a long time and there are 28 different working groups for it. Eighty-five percent of the people in those working groups are senior executives in various industries that are going to be affected, or they are lobbyists for those industries. They’re the ones who helped shape the deal. They’re the ones who have helped determine what that deal is going to look like on the other side. And, my view is when the process is rigged, the outcome is likely to be rigged.”

    Notably absent from these negotiations are senior labor leaders, environmentalists or consumer protection advocates. They are all locked out and are justifiably critical.

    On Hardball, Obama also claimed TPP had “unprecedented labor standards, unprecedented environmental standards,” and “fixes a lot of the problems that you had in things like NAFTA.”

    But according to whom? There were no labor or environmental leaders involved in crafting those standards and none will be able to read a word of them until after fast track is approved. Only then is TPP expected to move forward.

    An obvious parallel is labor. Would any labor leader go ask his members to vote on a contract that no labor representatives were involved in negotiating? Much less, would he or she recommend that they approve it?

    The closest labor leaders have gotten is giving testimony to Congress, as AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka did last week, telling senators, “We were told by the [United States Trade Representative] general counsel that murdering a trade unionist doesn’t violate these standards, that perpetuating violence against a trade unionist doesn’t violate these agreements.”

    They’ve also been heard in support of protest rallies, as when hundreds protested this past December when TPP negotiators met in Washington, D.C.

    “The voices of millions of working, middle-class Americans cannot be ignored,” Hoffa said, in a prepared press statement from Public Citizen. “They are tired of being the casualties of bad trade deals that send good-paying jobs overseas. The Teamsters Union will continue to fight against fast track authorization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership—American workers cannot pay the price of another bad trade deal.”

    George Kohl, senior director of Communications Workers of America, echoed Hoffa in that same press release.

    “We believe in trade,” Kohl said. “We are fighting against old trade policy that literally guarantees corporate profits at the expense of working families in all nations.”

    Public Citizen presented opposition that came from environmentalists as well, represented by Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program.

    “We can’t let negotiators secretly shape trade pacts behind closed doors that will open up the floodgates for fracking, make environmental safeguards vulnerable to polluter attacks and worsen climate disruption,” Solomon said. “We’re raising our voices to say ‘no’ to fast tracking a flawed trans-pacific partnership, and ‘yes’ to protecting our families and communities.”

    In addition to his criticism, Trumka has also been outspoken about what labor wants instead.

    “We know what we’re looking for in these agreements,” Trumka said at a March 25 event with the Center for American Progress. “We want trade agreements to contribute to democratic global economic governance and to promote good jobs, full employment and rising wages. A key element, of course, is strong labor rights protections so that every worker in every country can exercise fundamental human rights on the job — without fear. So we are looking for every trade agreement to require nations to adopt, maintain and enforce the core labor rights — as agreed by the International Labor Organization — and as set out in the ILO core conventions and their related jurisprudence. These include freedom of association and the right to organize, and bans on child labor, forced labor and discrimination in employment.”

    Reporting on Trumka’s speech, progressive news magazine In These Times added, “Leaked portions of the TPP and TTIP have not included any mention of these rights.”

    This is hardly surprising. While earlier trade agreements really did focus on reducing tariffs—the traditional definition of “free trade”—since the 1970s, the focus has shifted to reducing so-called “non-tariff” barriers, including health, environmental and labor laws and regulations. A January report from the Congressional Research Service laid out this history:

    “For roughly the first 150 years of the United States, Congress exercised its authority over foreign trade by setting tariff rates on all imported products,” the report stated.

    However, following the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff, which only worsened the Great Depression, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 “authorized the president to enter into reciprocal trade agreements that reduced tariffs within pre-approved levels.”

    The most recent trade agreement signed under this system was the “Kennedy Round” of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), “the last round in which tariff reduction was the primary focus of trade negotiations” [Italics in original].

    There were two non-tariff provisions as well: one related to customs valuation, the other to anti-dumping provisions. The presence of these agreements lead to a prolonged debate, not only about those provisions, but about the whole trade negotiation process. While many wanted to require implementing legislation to be treated like any other congressional business, others objected — ironically, in light of how things now stand. They said that doing so “would defeat a major purpose for delegating trade agreements authority to the president in the first place: to reduce the special interest pressures inherent in trade policymaking.”

    This was the logic that prevailed when fast track was first approved in 1974. But rather than eliminating special interest pressure, the fast track process has greatly favored the most powerful special interests that are now directly involved in writing so-called “trade agreements.” These are no longer even primarily about trade.

    “[T]his is not a trade agreement,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote on his New York Times blog. “It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments. Those are the issues that need to be argued.”

    Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, added even more telling detail on his Beat the Press blog, the oldest economics blog on the Internet.

    “The formal trade barriers between the parties to these deals are already low, which means there is not much room to lower them further,” Baker said. “These deals are mostly about putting in place a business-friendly structure of regulation. Some of this business-friendly regulation involves increasing barriers in the form of stronger and longer patent and copyright protection.” (Yes, that is “protection,” as in protectionism.)

    And, MSNBC host Chris Hayes summarized the irony in a tweet:

    “Amazing to hear an ostensible free trade deal sold in the zero-sum language of mercantilism.”

    Mercantilism was the dominant trade ideology prior to the 19th century. Wikipedia says it “promoted governmental regulation of a nation’s economy for the purpose of augmenting state power at the expense of rival national powers. It is the economic counterpart of political absolutism.”

    In the era of Citizen’s United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions to corporate contributions in political fundraising, it’s really no surprise to see it making a return. What’s surprising—and disturbing—is to see Obama continue to argue for it, when only a small handful of other Democrats support him in doing so.

     

     

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