August 08, 2013
By Sharon Cohen
Terrance Wise has two jobs in Kansas City — one at a burger joint, a second at a pizza restaurant — but he says his paychecks aren’t enough to buy shoes for his three daughters and insure his 15-year-old car. So he decided to draw attention to his plight: He walked off work in protest.
Wise was among a few thousand fast-food workers in seven cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, who took to the streets last week, carrying “Strike” and “Supersize Our Wages” signs in front of McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and other restaurants. They demanded better pay, the right to unionize and a more than doubling of the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $15.
“We work hard for companies that are making millions,” the 34-year-old Wise says, adding that he lost his home last year, unable to make mortgage payments despite working about 50-hour weeks at Pizza Hut and Burger King. “We’re not asking for the world. We want to make enough to make a decent living. We deserve better. If they respect us and pay us and treat us right, it’ll lift up the whole economy.”
These one-day protests, which also took place in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Flint, Mich., come amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to raise the federal minimum wage, which was last increased in 2009. Most of the proposals, though, seek a more modest rise than those urged by fast-food workers. President Barack Obama wants to boost the hourly wage to $9. And in July, more than 100 economists signed a petition supporting a bill sponsored by a Florida congressman that would hike it to $10.50 an hour.
The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage could lead to businesses closing and fewer jobs. It also notes the cost of living varies greatly around the country and many states have higher minimum wages than the federal rate. (Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
The Employment Policies Institute, which receives some funding from the industry, ran a full-page ad last week in USA Today, warning of another potential consequence: It showed the uniform of a fast-food worker with an iPad face, saying the wage increase could result in employees being replaced with automation, such as touch-screen ordering.
So at a time when the economy is growing steadily but slowly and about 11.5 million people are unemployed — nearly double the level before the Great Recession — how likely is it Congress will increase the minimum wage? And have these protests done any good?
The answers depend on whom you ask.
“They’re very effective,” says U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “They’ve brought attention to appalling conditions with workers putting in very long hours ... and not making enough money to survive. This I think is scandal. .. We believe it’s essential to be paid livable wages. We know the companies can afford it. These are highly profitable businesses. It would be good not just for the family budget but for the national budget.”
Ellison’s caucus launched a national “Raise Up America” campaign this summer that has partnered with fast-food workers and others in low-wage industries to highlight the call for better salaries. The congressman says he’s not deterred by likely resistance in the GOP-dominated House.
“Remember, things that don’t look possible become possible if people advocate for them,” he says, adding that in 1955 someone was probably saying “they’re never going to end segregation. ... Sometimes these things catch on. I think the thing to do is keep on pushing, keep on talking. ... That’s how we win.”
But others are more skeptical and think if there is a winner, it’s unions. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial support and staff to help train organizers for this campaign.
These protests show unions “still can appeal to and speak for workers who are on the fringes of the workforce — the less skilled, the part-timers and the immigrant workers,” Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote in an email.
These still are hard times, people are happy to be employed and the political climate in the House is not conducive for an increase, he adds. “The demonstrations are street theater and the rehabilitation of the image of American unions, but it’s not going to drive new minimum wage policy,” he wrote.
Scott DeFife, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association, calls the protests a campaign “to disparage the industry,” which he says operates on a tight profit margin. Doubling wages, he says, “would definitely have an impact on the creation of new jobs.” He says it would be especially harmful for young people, for whom the jobless rate in some communities is already in the double digits.
Some fast food companies responded to the protests by saying they respect the rights of their workers.
And some who walked out used the media spotlight to talk openly about their financial struggles.
Kareem Sparks, a 30-year-old father of two boys, 6 and 12, was laid off in 2011 from a $17.50-an-hour city job in New York. His unemployment benefits ran out and he turned to food pantries. Five months ago, he found work at McDonald’s.
“I’m grateful they gave me an opportunity to feed my family and put food on the table, but it’s not enough,” he says. Sparks supplements his income with a second job as a security guard, earning about $8 an hour. Together, he says, he brings home about $1,000-$1,100 every two weeks and needs food stamps to survive.
“It’s horrible to know when I pick up my (McDonalds) check, it’s going to be less than $200,” he says. “You spend all your money in one store and go to sleep broke. It’s not fair. ... Some people get their checks and don't come back to work.”
The average hourly salary for fast-food workers was $9.00 in May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average age for these workers is 29 years old; for women, it’s 32, according to the bureau. The restaurant association says its own analysis of Census data found that slightly more than 25 percent of fast-food workers are heads of households.
Both sides in the fight over the minimum wage cite numerous studies to buttress their arguments about whether a raise would be harmful.
The petition signed by the economists says that for decades, research has “found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments.” The economists also note that minimum-wage workers employed full time for the entire year earn $15,080, almost 20 percent below the poverty level for a family of three.
But Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, cites another study that he says found raising the minimum wage was counterproductive — with more people losing than gaining because hours were reduced and jobs were cut.
Tessie Harrell, one of the workers in the middle of this academic debate, walked off her job in protest last week.
As a Burger King manager in Milwaukee, Harrell, 34, has to stretch her $8.25 hourly salary to support five children (a sixth lives on her own). They live in a two-bedroom apartment. Her mother helped out financially and with child care, but she has since moved to a nursing home.
“It’s not like we’re teens working for a pair of shoes or a cell phone,” Harrell says. “We’re grown adults who can’t find better jobs.”
She would like to see something come from the protests, a wage improvement, even if it's not $15 an hour.
“I hope it works,” she says. “We’re just trying to survive and build a life for our children.”
August 08, 2013
By AYA BATRAWY
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military-backed interim leadership proclaimed Wednesday that a crackdown against two protest sites is inevitable, saying that nearly two weeks of foreign diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve its standoff with the Muslim Brotherhood have failed.
The government's statements strongly suggested that Egypt's sharp polarization may spiral into even more bloodshed as thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood figure, camp out at two main Cairo intersections and hold daily protests outside security buildings.
At stake is stability in the Arab world's most populous country. Already more than 250 people have been killed in violence since the military ousted Morsi last month, including at least 130 Brotherhood supporters in two major clashes between security forces and backers of the deposed president.
"The decision agreed on by all to clear the sit-ins is final and irreversible," Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said on state television, reading a statement issued by the Egyptian Cabinet.
In response, top Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohammed el-Beltagy said the protesters are determined to keep up the sit-ins.
"What we care about is for there to be clear talks about our position against the military coup and the importance of returning legitimacy," el-Beltagy told The Associated Press at the main protest site in the capital's Nasr City neighborhood. He said the Cabinet's statement makes "clear that they lack vision with regard to the political scene."
A joint statement released late Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
"We remain concerned and troubled that government and opposition leaders have not yet found a way to break a dangerous stalemate and agree to implement tangible confidence building measures," the statement said.
"The Egyptian government bears a special responsibility to begin this process to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens," it said. "Now is not the time to assess blame, but to take steps that can help initiate a dialogue and move the transition forward."
It is unclear what the government's crackdown on the sit-ins would entail or when it would begin, but it appeared unlikely to start until next week. The Cabinet statement said the government was keen not to take action during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends Wednesday to be followed by four days of Eid celebrations.
For his part, the prime minister said the government seeks stability and rule of law in the face of "hard circumstances". He said Egypt must start a new chapter, "without settling scores, without bias against any side."
A flurry of diplomatic visits by envoys from the United States, the European Union and Arab Gulf states ended in deadlock. By Wednesday, all had departed Cairo with no guarantees of compromise from the government or the Brotherhood.
Some of the visits by foreign diplomats were made at the request of those in power, such as Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who wanted to find peaceful ways to resolve the dispute. But emotions in Egypt are high, and many have pushed for a strong hand in quashing the protests.
Widespread anger with the Brotherhood and Morsi is what sparked millions to take to the streets and demand his ouster just days before the military forced him out of power July 3. Later on, hundreds of thousands rallied to answer a call by the country's army chief to give him a mandate to stop "potential terrorism" by Morsi supporters.
The Brotherhood is demanding Morsi's reinstatement as Egypt's first freely elected president, and many of the pro-Morsi protesters say that the sit-ins are their last bargaining chip to press for the release of detained leaders and for guarantees that they will have a significant role in politics.
The prime minister said the Cabinet "had hoped to solve this crisis during this period without the intervention of security forces," but that the sit-ins have not been peaceful and that the protesters have frightened citizens, blocked roads, attacked government buildings and threatened security.
Sixteen prominent Egyptian rights groups said Wednesday in a joint statement that they strongly condemn "rhetoric employed by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, which includes clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains." The groups, which include the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said sectarian rhetoric has been used against Christians and that police have been negligent in protecting these citizens.
"The government's patience is running out," the prime minister said. "Therefore, the Cabinet warns against breaking the limits of peace and that the use of weapons in the face of policemen or citizens will be met with utmost firmness and strength."
Still, it remained uncertain whether authorities would resort to a level of force that could leave scores more dead, including women and children, and invite world condemnation.
In the past week, authorities have outlined plans to break up the sit-ins using more restrained measures, such as putting up cordons to block people who leave from returning.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has condemned the deliberate use of children in Egypt who are "put at risk as potential witnesses to or victims of violence." The Brotherhood says it cannot control whether families choose to stay camped out.
A statement from interim President Adly Mansour's office said foreign diplomatic efforts to ease tensions did not succeed, despite the full support of the Egyptian government.
"The state of Egypt appreciates the efforts of friendly nations and understands the reasons why they did not achieve their desired objectives, and holds the Muslim Brotherhood fully responsible for the failure of these efforts."
Remarks by U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to reporters in Cairo demanding the release of top Islamist leaders appeared to inflame an already volatile situation. After meeting Egyptian officials and Brotherhood leaders on Tuesday, the two warned that Egypt would be making a "huge mistake" if it did not release what they described as "political prisoners." They also called Morsi's ouster a coup.
The McCain-Graham visit was carried out at U.S. President Barack Obama's request, but the administration has avoided calling Morsi's ouster a coup because it would trigger a suspension of an annual $1.3 billion U.S. military aid package to Egypt. The aid package has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Middle East since Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Mansour, a Supreme Constitutional Court judge who was installed as Egypt's interim president by the military, rejected the senators' message, calling it "unacceptable interference in internal politics."
Jen Psaki, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, distanced the administration from the two Republican senators' remarks, emphasizing that it was Deputy Secretary of State William Burns who was representing the U.S. government in Egypt.
"While we certainly welcome different points of views ... our agenda and goals were conveyed through Deputy Secretary Burns," Psaki said.
Egyptian prosecutors widened the scope of some cases against Brotherhood figures on Wednesday, announcing that former lawmaker el-Beltagy and three others will now face criminal charges for the kidnapping of a policeman by pro-Morsi protesters during a march. Police say their colleague was taken to the main sit-in in Nasr City and beaten before being released last week.
El-Beltagy is wanted by police and was already facing charges of inciting violence. The sit-ins have given him and other top wanted figures cover from authorities who are unable to reach them amid the thousands of protesters. The protest camps are guarded by men wielding sticks and rocks who check the identification cards of visitors.
Morsi has been held at secret locations since his ouster, though Egyptian authorities have allowed the EU's Ashton and a group of African statesmen to visit him. He faces accusations of conspiring with the militant Palestinian Hamas group during his escape from prison under Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The new Egyptian leadership also pushed ahead Wednesday with a roadmap for transition, outlining the parameters of the committee that would review changes to the 2012 constitution drafted by a majority Islamist panel under Morsi. The new 50-member panel includes quotas, such as three Christians, at least four people under the age of 40, two Islamist party figures, members of the arts community and union members.
The political turmoil has been exploited by militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, who have carried out daily attacks on the police and military, killing more than 20 security officials and 12 civilians.
On Wednesday, Egypt's military spokesman said 60 Islamic militants have been killed and 103 arrested in the peninsula as part of the army's operations there over the past month. It was not possible to independently verify the figures.
August 08, 2013
By George E. Curry
Although Tunisia, Egypt and other troubled hotspots in the region have been shaken by popular uprisings, Morocco has been able to avoid turmoil by expanding the rights of its citizens and giving them more say in their future, Jesse Jackson said in a speech here Tuesday.
In the speech, the longtime civil rights leader praised this northern African country slightly larger than California that borders the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Western Sahara.
“This region has seen the Arab Spring uprisings all around: Tunisia, Egypt, wars in Libya, and Syria. Many acted with unpreparedness and without defined instructions and a foundation to build a unified, democratic future,” Jackson said in a speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in this capital city.
“Morocco has responded with wisdom and achieved excellent results: it met the Arab Spring uprising by expanding democracy – a new Constitution, a renewed commitment to human rights, a commitment to economic growth and social unification,” Jackson said. “That’s why Morocco today is stable, your democracy is maturing, and you are building institutions to govern your future political, economic and social life.”
Jackson said Morocco, a country of 32.6 million, of whom 99 percent are Muslim, is a “great untold story.”
He explained, “The media often focuses on what’s wrong in the world and threatening conflicts in this region, sometimes deservedly so. Egypt’s uprising and second uprising, wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The media covers violence and bloodshed and war every day. But I submit that peaceful, non-violent resolution of conflicts, sustained economic growth – these are the waves of the future that also deserve media coverage.”
Morocco enjoys strong ties to the United States, becoming the first nation to recognize U.S. independence in 1777.
The country describes itself as a constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and a social monarchy. According to news accounts, in response to Arab Spring unrest throughout the region in early 2011, King Mohammed VI introduced a series of changes that included constitutional reforms and early elections.
At various stops during his 5-day visit to Morocco, Jackson described the king as “a young, global-minded and wise leader.”
Despite the establishment of the National Council on Human Rights by King Mohammed VI, more than a dozen human rights activists complained of continued human rights violations in a private meeting Monday with Jesse Jackson.
They alleged the use of police violence to quell peaceful demonstrations, official corruption, lack of transparency, prison abuse, delays in fully implementing the new constitution and failure to assure freedom of expression.
An even larger issue facing Morocco is the longstanding dispute over Western Sahara, with the country claiming about two-thirds of the area as its Southern Provinces and the Algerian-backed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is pushing for an independent state, at war with Morocco over the territory after it was vacated by Spanish colonists and Mauritanian occupiers.
The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991 with the expectation that a referendum would be held to help settle the matter. But the referendum never materialized and the UN is still struggling to negotiate a settlement.
The dispute began more than four decades ago, yet Jesse Jackson remains optimistic.
“When differences and conflicts arise, reasonable people can work it out peacefully, and not fight it out with violence,” Jackson said in his speech. “If Blacks and Whites in South Africa could work it out; if East and West Germany could work it could, then surely Morocco and Algeria can work it out.”
Using examples from the period of slavery through the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed Black youth killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., Jackson talked about the U.S. still struggling to perfect its democracy.
“From those places, today the son of a Kenyan father is now the U.S. president, the single most powerful man in the world, accompanied by 42 African-American members of the U.S. Congress, a member of the U.S. Senate and Supreme Court, and thousands of mayors, state legislators and local elected officials,” Jackson said.
He urged Moroccans not to underestimate the power of one individual to bring about sweeping change, citing the cases of the young Chinese student who risked his life at Tiananmen Square by bravely standing in front of a column of military tanks, Rosa Parks’ decision to challenge segregated seating on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, Dr. Martin Luther King’s lifelong struggle for equality and the self-martyred man in Tunisia who ignited the Arab Spring.
“The value of democracy is appealing and healing – often poetic,” Jackson stated. “It raises a high chin bar for human relationships – between the governor and the governed, and between each other. Its strength lies in its resiliency – it bends but does not break.
“[It’s] the yardstick that challenges traditions of tribe and race, and gender and religion. In a real democracy, everybody is somebody. All are included and none are excluded. A minority of one matters in a democracy.”
August 08, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Gun violence is the leading cause of death among Black children and teens, according to a new report by the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit, child advocacy group.
The report titled, “Protect Children, Not Guns 2013,” painted a grim picture of the national gun violence epidemic that is the second-leading cause of death among all children ages 1-19. Only car accidents claim the lives of more children and teenagers than guns.
According to the report, White children were nearly three times more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a gun. In stark contrast, “Black children and teens were twice as likely to be killed by a gun than to be killed in a car accident.” Examining the most recent data available, the CDF study reported that 18,270 children and teens were killed or injured by guns in 2010.
“Children and teens in America are 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in other high-income countries,” stated the CDF report.
Despite the claims of pro-gun advocates, having a gun in the home does not make kids safer. In some cases, those homes are even more dangerous, because guns are present.
“A gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher,” stated the report.
The CDF report continued: “More than half of youth who committed suicide with a gun obtained the gun from their home, usually a parent’s gun.”
In the last 50 years, White children and teenagers accounted for 53 percent of the gun deaths, and Black children and teenagers accounted for 36 percent.
Yet, looking at the gun deaths in 2010 alone, 45 percent of gun deaths and 46 percent of gun injuries were among Black children and teens, according to the report, even though they account for only 15 percent of all children and teens living in the United States. Nearly 2,700 children died from gun violence that year.
The CDF report also challenged the perceived power of the National Rifle Association, a group founded in 1871 that promotes gun ownership, marksmanship and self-defense training in the United States. According to the report, the NRA represents a small segment of all gun owners, which may show why the National Rifle Association’s hard-line stance on gun control policies often contradicts that of most gun owners.
The report said that the NRA claims nearly 5 million members, but somewhere between 52 million and 68 million adults living in the United States own the roughly 310 million guns in circulation. That means that the NRA represents less than 10 percent of all adult gun owners in the United States.
In the wake of last December 14 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six school staff, even a majority of NRA members (74 percent) were in favor of expanded background checks, at time when NRA leadership fiercely opposed any bills that would do so.
The report offered a number of solutions to address the gun violence that children and teens face growing up in America, including universal background checks that cover sales on the Internet and at gun shows, limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, boycotting products that glamorize violence and “supporting non-violent conflict resolution in our homes, schools, congregations and communities.”
Writing in the report, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), implored parents, families, friends, mentors and community stakeholders to pressure Congress to support common sense gun safety and gun violence prevention measures for the nation, including consumer safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws.
“Parents, remove guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play. Boycott products that glamorize violence,” wrote Edelman.
Edelman continued: “The overwhelming majority of Americans agree we can and must do better. Polls show the vast majority of Americans, gun owners and non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats support universal background checks as a first step to making America safer for our children and for all of us. Together we can—and must—do better right now. So many children’s lives depend on it.”