Unions Take NAFTA Wage Fight to Mexican Senate

The head of Canada’s biggest private-sector union headed to Mexico’s Senate on Friday, promising to fight at the NAFTA trade pact talks for improved Mexican wages and free collective bargaining as a way of benefiting workers across North America.

The issue of tougher labor standards has emerged as a key sticking point in the talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, and has brought disparate groups of workers from across the region closer to U.S. populists.

“There will not be an agreement” until the Mexican team agrees to free collective bargaining, the elimination of so-called yellow unions that are dominated by employers, and fair wages for Mexican workers, Unifor President Jerry Dias said.

The event held in a side chamber of the Senate was organized by the umbrella organization Better Without Free Trade Agreements, which represents dozens of social organizations and unions.

Dias argued that low wages have not only hurt Mexican workers but have also prompted manufacturing jobs in Canada and the United States to leave for Mexico.

By including much tougher labor standards in an updated NAFTA, the issue could be dealt with head on, he said. “When you start talking about low wages, we can deal with that under the dispute mechanism as an unfair subsidy.”

The fifth round of talks NAFTA is being held in the upscale Camino Real hotel in Mexico City.

“What Mexico offers in this negotiation and to the rest of the world is cheap labor. That’s what Mexico puts on the table and how it presents itself as an attractive place for investments,” Senator Mario Delgado of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution told Reuters.

“It is a shame and it is unsustainable for Mexico. … Our salary policy is putting at risk the existence of the treaty,” said Delgado.

Mexican business leaders argue that integrating Mexico into North American supply chains has made the entire region more competitive. Recent studies have shown, however, that wages in Mexico have experienced significant downward pressure.

Given Mexico’s higher inflation rates, wages are now lower there in real terms than when NAFTA took effect, according to a report published in August by credit rating agency Moody’s.

While formally employed workers earn significantly more, the statutory minimum wage is a mere 80 pesos ($4.23) a day.

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US Senate Candidate Moore’s Wife Says ‘He Will Not Step Down’

The wife of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama said on Friday her husband would not end his campaign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, dismissing reports about his past behavior toward some women as political attacks.

“He will not step down,” Kayla Moore said at a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery. “He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama.”

The former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice’s campaign has been in turmoil since the Washington Post published a story last week detailing the accounts of three women who claim Moore pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

More women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the accusations.

Before the allegations came to light, Moore was heavily favored to defeat Democrat Doug Jones in the special election next month.

Two polls this week showed Moore now trailing Jones. Fox News released a poll on Thursday putting Jones ahead with 50 percent to 42 percent for Moore.

But Moore’s embattled candidacy also got a boost on Thursday, when the Alabama Republican Party said it would continue to support him, putting it at odds with Republican leaders in Washington who want him to withdraw.

Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Friday told reporters she would vote for Moore, emphasizing the importance of keeping Republican control of the U.S. Senate.

Asked whether she believed the women accusing Moore of sexual improprieties or unwanted romantic overtures, Ivey said, “the timing is a little curious but at the same time I have no reason to disbelieve them.”

The White House has said President Donald Trump finds the allegations troubling and believes Moore should step aside if they are true.

White House legislative director Marc Short on Friday said Trump previously backed Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, in the primary contest and that Moore’s explanations “so far have not been satisfactory.”

“At this point, we believe it is up to the people of Alabama to make a decision,” Short told CNN. “The president chose a different candidate.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, several women went public with accusations that Trump had in the past made unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate personal remarks about them.

Trump denied the accusations, accused rival Democrats and the media of a smear campaign, and went on to be elected president.

Kayla Moore noted that the Washington Post endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in last year’s election, accusing it of being part of a concerted effort to push back against anti-establishment conservative candidates.

“All of the very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us,” she said.

The Post’s editorial board, which endorsed Clinton, works separately from the reporters and editors who work on news stories, as is common at most newspapers.

 

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Pentagon: Raytheon Gets OK for $10.5B Patriot Sale to Poland

The U.S. State Department approved a possible $10.5 billion sale of Raytheon Co’s Patriot missile defense system to Poland, the Pentagon said on Friday. NATO member Poland has sped up efforts to overhaul its military following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and in response to Moscow’s renewed military and political assertiveness in the region.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in March that Poland expected to sign a deal with Raytheon to buy the Patriot missile defense system by the end of the year.

Patriot missile defense interceptors are designed to detect, track and engage unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles.

Support services part of deal

The proposed sale includes 208 Patriot Advanced Capabilty-3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement missiles, 16 M903 launching stations, four AN/MPQ-65 radars, four control stations, spares, software and associated equipment.

In addition, Poland is authorized to buy U.S. government and contractor technical, engineering and logistics support services as well as range and test programs for a total estimated potential program cost of up to $10.5 billion.

A Raytheon representative said “it is Raytheon’s experience that the estimated cost notified could be larger than the final negotiated contract amount,” signaling that the final price could be lower as negotiations on a final amount proceed.

Raytheon added that it “will work closely with the U.S. and Polish governments to ensure Poland is able to procure Patriot at a mutually agreeable price.”

NATO allies have same system

The Pentagon said the sale will take place in two phases.

If a deal is finalized, it would allow Poland to conduct air and missile defense operations with NATO allies the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Greece, which currently have the Patriot system, a U.S. State Department official said.

The contract still requires approval from the U.S. Congress, because it involves a purchase of advanced military technology for which special permission must be obtained.

Poland, which had said it was planning to spend around $7.6 billion on the whole project, said the negotiations are not over.

“This does not mean that this amount ($10.5 billion) is the final value of the LOA (Letter of Offer and Acceptance),” the Polish Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding it has a “good track record” in negotiating similar offers.

Lawmakers can block sale

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which implements foreign arms sales, said it had delivered notification to Congress on Tuesday.

U.S. lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale, but that rarely happens.

In addition to Raytheon, the prime contractors will be Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman.

 

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White House Seeks $44B in Hurricane Aid From Congress

The White House on Friday said it had asked Congress for $44 billion in supplemental disaster assistance to help those affected by the recent hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The request was far short of what some government officials have said is needed, with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello asking for $94.4 billion to rebuild the U.S. territory’s infrastructure. Texas was seeking $61 billion and Florida had asked for $27 billion.

“This request does not come close to what local officials say is needed,” Democratic U.S. Representative Nita Lowey of New York, whose state has strong ties to Puerto Rico, said in a statement.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan that the $44 billion “does not represent the final request” for assistance for the victims, especially in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where needs were still being assessed.

He said it takes 60 days to produce initial recovery cost estimates after a major hurricane and can take up to 90 days to prepare reliable estimates.

“At this time, the administration is requesting an additional fiscal year 2018 funding in the amount of $44 billion and the necessary authorities to address ongoing recovery efforts,” Mulvaney said in the letter.

Ryan said in a statement that the House of Representatives would review the request and “work with the administration and members from affected states to help the victims get the resources they need to recover and rebuild.”

Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, which was also affected by a recent storm, called the supplemental request “one more step toward helping states and communities recover from the destruction.”

However, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, dismissed the latest request as “wholly inadequate” for his state, the Dallas Morning News reported.

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How Much Is a Life Worth, Ask Activists Fighting Slavery?

From $7 for a Rohingya refugee to $750 for a North Korean “slave wife,” human rights activists have voiced concerns that it is becoming increasingly easy to enslave another human being as the cost plummets.

The average modern-day slave is sold for $90-100 compared to the equivalent of $40,000 some 200 years ago, said Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at Britain’s University of Nottingham.

“There has been a collapse in the price of slaves over the last 50 years,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference in London, which focuses on women’s empowerment and modern slavery.

‘Beasts of burden’

Pointing to a photo of boys hauling rocks in Nepal “like beasts of burden,” he said their parents would have sold them for $5-$10. Children are so cheap that if they get injured or fall in a ravine their slave master abandons them, Bales said.

“They understand it’s less expensive to acquire a new child than to call a doctor,” he added.

Bales attributed the fall in price to the population explosion which had “glutted the world with potentially enslavable people.”

40 million people trapped

Worldwide, about 40 million people were estimated to be trapped as slaves in 2016, mostly women and girls, in forced labor, sexual exploitation and forced marriages, with global trafficking estimated to raise $150 billion in profits a year.

North Korean defector Jihyun Park told how she was trafficked to China where she was sold for 5000 yuan ($750) to an alcoholic, violent farmer.

“He said I’ve paid for you so you must work. I spent six years as his slave,” Park said.

Thousands of North Korean women are believed to have been trafficked as wives and sex workers inside China where the one-child policy has skewed the gender ratio.

Natural disasters force issue

 In Bangladesh, Asif Saleh, of development agency BRAC, said Rohingya refugee women fleeing Myanmar and arriving in Bangladesh were being sold for as little as 5 pounds ($6.60).

Aid agencies say traffickers often exploit crises to prey on vulnerable people separated from their families and communities.

Nepalese nun and kung fu teacher Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, who helps families displaced by the country’s 2015 earthquake, told the conference that people were selling their daughters, sisters and mothers to traffickers after the disaster in order to rebuild their homes.

“Some men just see girls as a bunch of money,” she said.

In northern Kenya’s pastoralist region, lawyer Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan said child brides as young as nine were sold for eight cows or eight camels — worth about $800.

“Girls become commodities and they have no voice, no one asks what the girl wants,” said Adan, who uses football to help tackle child marriage and female genital mutilation.

But it is not just rich countries where girls are sold off.

Sarah, forced into prostitution as a child in Britain, said the gang who groomed her said she would have to have sex every day until she had paid off a “debt” of 75,000 pounds.

“They told me I belonged to them and until my debt was cleared I had to work for them,” she said.

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Experts: Puerto Rico May Struggle for More Than a Decade

Puerto Rico could face more than a decade of further economic stagnation and a steep drop in population as a result of Hurricane Maria, experts say.

The stark estimates were presented this wee to members of a federal control board overseeing finances of a U.S. territory that is already in the 11th year of a recession.

“The situation is dire to say the least, with destroyed infrastructure, lack of power and water, and an accelerated pace of migration,” economist Heidie Calero said.

She estimated that the hurricane caused $115 billion in damage, even without counting business losses.

“We believe that is very conservative,” she said.

The administration of Governor Ricardo Rossello said earlier in the week that it was seeking $94 billion in federal aid for an island where power generation remains at 40 percent and where nearly 10 percent of people are still without water almost two months after the storm. More than 20 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remain completely without power.

So far, Congress has approved nearly $5 billion in aid for Puerto Rico.

Twin shocks

Economist Juan Lara told board members that the local economy could contract anywhere between 8 percent and 15 percent in fiscal 2018, depending on the restoration of power, with overall revenues falling by 30 percent.

“We are undergoing both a demand and supply shock,” he said, saying that 5,000 businesses could close permanently, representing 10 percent of membership of the island’s National Retail Federation.

Businesses that have reopened have been forced to reduce their hours or depend on costly generators.

“We need electric power to be back and to be reliable,” Lara said. “We need roads to be cleared. We need supermarkets to be able to replenish their inventories. … We need to restore basic operating infrastructure.”

Lack of power remains the biggest obstacle, with the island’s electric company struggling to maintain the 50 percent power generation it had reached Wednesday just as a major blackout occurred for the second time in a week.

Rossello has said the company will reach 80 percent generation by end of November and 95 percent by mid-December, goals that many have called ambitious. In contrast, the U.S. Corps of Engineers has said it expects 75 percent generation by end of January.

More migration

Before Hurricane Maria hit, Puerto Rico was trying to restructure a portion of its $73 billion public debt load amid a deep economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of nearly half a million people in the past decade. That migration will only accelerate because of post-hurricane conditions, with an estimated population of 2.8 million people by 2030, compared with the current 3.4 million, said economist Jose Villamil.

“What Maria has done in some ways is to exacerbate that situation, made it more intense,” he said.

The drop in population, coupled with a majority of young, talented people leaving, will hit Puerto Rico’s economy even harder, experts said.

Two more meetings remain as the board continues to gather information to revise a fiscal plan to adjust for the hurricane’s impact. It is unclear how much money, if any, will be set aside in the plan to pay off the island’s debt load.

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Probe Finds Ongoing Radioactive Leaks at Illinois Nuclear Plants

Radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after the discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, an investigation by a government watchdog group found.

Since 2007, there have been at least 35 reported leaks, spills or other accidental releases in Illinois of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power production and a carcinogen at high levels, a Better Government Association review of federal and state records shows.

No fines were issued for the accidents, all of which were self-reported by the company.

The most recent leak of 35,000 gallons (132,000 liters) occurred over two weeks in May and June at Exelon’s Braidwood plant, southwest of Chicago. The same facility was the focus of a community panic in the mid-2000s after a series of accidents stirred debate over the safety of aging nuclear plants.

A 2014 incident at Exelon’s Dresden facility in Grundy County involved the release of about 500,000 gallons (1,900,000 liters) of highly radioactive water. Contamination was later found in the plant’s sewer lines and miles away in the Morris, Illinois, sewage treatment plant.

Another leak was discovered in 2007 at the Quad Cities plant in Cordova. It took eight months to plug and led to groundwater radiation readings up to 375 times of that allowed under federal safe drinking water standards.

Exelon had threatened to close the Quad Cities plant, but relented last year after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed bailout legislation authorizing big rate hikes.

Representatives of Exelon and its government overseers — the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — say the leaks posed no public danger and did not contaminate drinking water. Exelon said to prevent leaks it has spent $100 million over the last decade on upgrades at all of its U.S. plants.

Michael Pacilio, chief operating officer of the power generating arm of Exelon, said no one in or around the plants was harmed by radioactivity from the leaks, which he described as minor compared with everyday exposures.

“We live in a radioactive world,” Pacilio said.

Critics say that’s little cause for relief.

“Best that we can tell, that’s more luck than skill,” said David Lochbaum, an analyst with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. “Leaks aren’t supposed to happen. Workers and the public could be harmed. There is a hazard there.”

Among the 61 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., more than half have reactors that are at or near the end of their originally expected lifespans — including the Dresden and Quad Cities plants.

Industry watchdogs and government whistleblowers contend oversight is compromised by a cozy relationship between companies and the NRC.

Government regulators concede they must balance the safety needs of aging plants, which require more maintenance, versus ordering cost-prohibitive upgrades at facilities that inherently are just a slip-up away from catastrophe.

No player in the nuclear industry is bigger than Exelon, the Chicago-based energy company that last year reported $31 billion in revenue and operates 14 nuclear plants in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Five of the six Illinois plants reported leaks over the last decade, records show. Clinton, in DeWitt County, had no leaks and Byron, in Ogle County, reported only one that contained low levels of radioactivity.

The accidents included in the BGA analysis are separate from government-approved releases into large bodies of water. The state allows Exelon to discharge controlled amounts of tritium into rivers and lakes, where radioactive material gets diluted.

Other releases of tritium, however, can be illegal and subject to fines and government lawsuits — though no accidents from the past decade resulted in either. Government officials say small amounts of tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen and a potential marker for more dangerous nuclear contaminants — are not harmful to humans but exposure to higher levels may increase the risk of cancer.

At least seven of the 35 documented accidents since 2007 involved contamination of groundwater. Other contamination was found in sewers and other water systems where it isn’t supposed to be.

The recent leaks echo the controversy in 2006 when it was revealed that leaks at Braidwood over many years spilled 6 million gallons (23 million liters) of radioactive water, some of which found its way onto private properties and at least one private drinking well.

At the time, Exelon and state regulators assured the public radioactivity levels in the private well were far below limits deemed a danger. Neighbors of the Braidwood plant were skeptical then and remain so.

“The NRC gets all its numbers from the nuclear plant. How can NRC trust the numbers?” asked Monica Mack, who lives in Braceville near the Braidwood plant.

The BGA investigation also found:

– Of the 35 documented incidents, 27 occurred at Dresden. Following the big 2014 leak, which emanated from an aboveground storage tank, Exelon asked a state inspector whether the public would have access to the incident report under open records laws, a state report showed.

– An NRC report on the 2007 Quad Cities leak noted radiation levels went “well beyond that seen anywhere else in the industry” and that plant staff estimated the leak had been active for years before it was discovered.

– In 2010, Exelon’s Marseilles generating plant in LaSalle County reported a spill from a storage tank, initially estimated at more than 150 gallons (570 liters) but later classified as “unknown.” Groundwater tritium tests later showed levels 59 times the EPA’s drinking water limit. Exelon said no tritium left the plant’s boundaries, but records show plant workers continued to monitor a body of highly contaminated groundwater sitting on plant property at least five years after the accident.

– In 2009, Dresden reported another hole in a storage tank led to a leak of as much as 272,000 gallons (1 million liters) of radioactive water. Onsite groundwater testing showed levels of tritium 160 times higher than allowed under federal standards for drinking water.

 

This story was provided to The Associated Press by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Better Government Association of Chicago: www.bettergov.org

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Голова МЗС Німеччини заявив про різні погляди Заходу і Росії щодо миротворців для Донбасу

Міністр закордонних справ Німеччини Зіґмар Ґабріель заявив, що Німеччина і Франція мають відмінне від Росії уявлення щодо ймовірної миротворчої місії ООН для окупованої частини українського Донбасу.

Але, сказав він, перебуваючи з візитом у Мінську в Білорусі, хоча ці погляди досі такі далекі одне від одного, «було б небажано закрити таке вікно можливості».

За його словами, важливо «спробувати піти назустріч одне одному і визначити загальні умови» запровадження такої місії ООН. Ця місія, вважає німецький міністр, повинна мати чіткий мандат і спільно з місією Організації з безпеки і співпраці в Європі контролювати припинення вогню цілодобово – не «пару годин на день», але також і вночі, коли, за його словами, й відбуваються головні порушення.

Росія, яка подала до Ради безпеки ООН пропозицію щодо сил ООН на Донбасі, домагається, щоб ці сили дислокувалися тільки поблизу лінії контакту в місцях, де працюють спостерігачі ОБСЄ, і мали за завдання тільки охорону цих спостерігачів. Україна і її західні союзники відкинули такі обмеження і наполягають, що ці сили повинні працювати на всій окупованій території Донбасу, включно з неконтрольованою нині ділянкою українсько-російського кордону, і мати широкий миротворчий мандат. Такої позиції, зокрема, дотримуються Німеччина і Франція, що є учасниками так званого «нормандського формату» переговорів про врегулювання в регіоні, а також США.

Росія не згодна з цим, обіцяючи накласти вето на такий варіант і твердячи, що в такому разі підтримувані й підбурювані нею окуповані території Донбасу будуть «ізольовані», тобто втратять можливість безконтрольного пересування озброєнь і живої сили з Росії для ведення гібридної війни проти України. У Києві й на Заході натомість заявляють, що пропозиція Росії означала б ізоляцію окупованої частини Донбасу від вільної території України і законсервувала б становище з російською гібридною агресією в регіоні.

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