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Sharing Week Connects Dutch Sharers through National Event

Shareable Magazine - October 13, 2014 - 06:47

Sharing Week is in full-swing in the Netherlands. Running until October 15th, with events throughout the country, primarily at Seats2meet coworking locations, it’s an opportunity to celebrate sharing, discuss challenges and opportunities, and envision sharing’s bright future. This is the second Sharing Week, which comes hot on the heels of the first one held in June.

Categories: Economics

Richard Gould: Learning From Ancient Human Cultures

Chris Martenson - October 12, 2014 - 09:17

Richard Gould is a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Brown University (where I was his student) and one of the foremost experts on hunter-gatherer societies. In the 1960s, he and his wife spent years living with the aborigines in Australia's Western Desert, observing first-hand their way of life. Through study of these people and many others around the world, his work focused on understanding how human culture and behavior adapts to environmental stress, risk and uncertainty.

We've invited him to this week's podcast to discuss what insights ancient cultures may be able to offer in terms of "natural human behavior" that may fit well within our specie's blueprint.

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Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 10/12 - First Ebola Case Contracted In Dallas, A Roundabout Way to a Higher Credit Score

Chris Martenson - October 12, 2014 - 07:44
  • You Know It’s a Tough Market When Bernanke Can’t Refinance
  • Officials Admit a ‘Defeat’ by Ebola in Sierra Leone
  • Dallas Hospital Worker Diagnosed With Ebola, First to Catch Deadly Virus in U.S.
  • In Lending Circles, a Roundabout Way to a Higher Credit Score
  • No Smoke, No Mirrors: The Dutch Pension Plan
  • When The Snows Fail
  • Fish unable to rapidly adapt to ocean acidification
  • 35 Hurt as Strong Typhoon Batters Japan

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Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 10/11 - Unsustainable Trends About To Collide, Will The Real Inflation Rate Please Stand Up?

Chris Martenson - October 11, 2014 - 09:33
  • Ready or not: Three unsustainable trends are about to collide
  • The Market Cycle’s Slippery Slope
  • 10 New Insights into Sleep: Discover What The Latest Psych Research Has Taught Us
  • Will The Real Inflation Rate Please Stand Up?
  • Cold fusion reactor verified by third-party researchers, seems to have 1 million times the energy density of gasoline
  • Here's why shale oil stocks are tanking
  • The Amish Farmers Reinventing Organic Agriculture
  • U.S. Edges Closer To Energy Independence

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Categories: Economics

Understanding Asset Bubbles - Crash Course Chapter 17

Chris Martenson - October 10, 2014 - 16:21

Through the long sweep of history, the bursting of asset bubbles has nearly always been traumatic.  Social, political and economic upheavals have a bad habit of following asset bubbles, while wealth destruction is a guaranteed feature.

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Categories: Economics

Want to Build an Economy that Works for Everybody? Next Week, We’re All About It

Photo by Lemonhead / Flickr.

For more than a decade, we at YES! Magazine have written regularly about something we call the “new economy.” Readers will recognize the worker-owned cooperatives, local food initiatives, and alternative ways of measuring wealth that have been hallmarks of our reporting on this topic. But if someone cornered you in the bulk foods aisle and demanded to know what, exactly, the new economy is, what would you tell them?

New Economy Week will have plenty going on offline as well.

The answer, it turns out, is up for debate. Even among the thinkers and organizers most invested in the term “new economy”—Gar Alperovitz and Chuck Collins come to mind—vigorous debates and conversations are going on all the time about what it is, where it should focus, and how to make it spread.

To focus that discussion, the New Economy Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports more than 100 member groups, has set next week aside as the second annual “New Economy Week.”

Monday through Friday, the days will be packed with online panels, local events, and writings. The coalition has picked five juicy questions about new economy issues and sent them to its members to see what they think. We’ll be curating their responses each day from Monday to Friday. You can find links to all five days here (we'll be updating the page with articles and links daily).

And New Economy Week will have plenty going on offline as well. The activities range from multi-day conferences such as “Who Owns Vermont?”—which will explore alternative ownership models in that state—to more intimate gatherings like happy hours celebrating October—our “national cooperative month”—in San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, several hundred inventors, entrepreneurs, activists, and organizers will gather in Detroit for the “New Work New Culture” conference to discuss topics like the financing of community-owned projects, the way cooperatives are portrayed in the media, and the role of local food production.

“We’re hoping that people will become inspired and empowered,” said Mike Sandmel, the New Economy Coalition’s manager of coalition engagement, “not just to oppose our unjust and unsustainable economy, but to take part in building something better.”

Mary Hansen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Mary has a hard time staying in one place but is also known to write, edit, and be a die-hard Steelers fan. She is an online reporting intern at YES!

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Categories: Economics

New Economy Week: Topics of Conversation

From cooperatives to public banks and everything in between, new economy solutions have been a hallmark of YES! coverage. But, what is the new economy exactly? The answer is up for debate, and, as a part of New Economy Week, we will be diving right into the middle of it.

Our friends at the New Economy Coalitions sent five pivotal questions about new economy issues to their members, and we at YES! will be posting the conversations from Monday to Friday, from October 13-17.

Day 1: The new economy isn’t new

Let’s get this out of the way at the start: There’s nothing really new in the “new economy.” Ideas like cooperative economics, ecological justice, horizontal democracy, and the commons are ideas with a rich history—especially in the places most deeply affected by pollution, poverty, and racism. Those who have suffered the most at the hands of an unfair economy are the most experienced at imagining and building alternative futures. How can we honor that as we build a broad-based social movement to transform our economy?


Day 2: Expanding how we think about what’s possible

In the late 1970s, U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often repeated the phrase “There is no alternative”—meaning that deregulated capitalism was the only possible way of doing things. It’s an idea that still carries a lot of weight today, stifling the popular imagination. The good news is that it’s just not true: there are many alternatives. Local groups and social movements have been building alternatives to capitalism for centuries. How can we change the mainstream narrative about what’s possible?


Day 3: Building a movement that can win

Let’s be real. Those who have benefited from the concentration of wealth and power aren’t going to give up their power willingly. Fresh ideas for an alternative economy aren’t going anywhere without a social movement powerful enough to deliver real change despite opposition. The good news is that this movement is emerging. Our ideas and projects are resonating with people and even beginning to beat back industries that funnel wealth into the hands of a powerful few. But we can’t be content working at the margins. How do we build the kind of power we need to transform the economy?


Day 4: Combating climate change without leaving anyone behind

Powerful interests divide communities by presenting a false choice between good jobs and a healthy environment. But the new economy rejects the idea that there isn’t enough to go around. The climate science is clear: we have to move quickly to a renewable energy economy. But we have to also move in the right direction by making sure that those people who have been employed and exploited by polluting industries are not left behind. How do we transition to an economy powered by renewable energy without leaving behind these workers, their families, and everyone who depends on them?


Day 5: The new economy is close to home

Our current economy is undermining our aspirations for a democratic society and it seems unlikely that national governments are going to turn it around any time soon. But there are many examples of bold action emerging from local and regional contexts. From Richmond, Calif., to Jackson, Miss., people are organizing to build local power and are seeing major victories that could point the way to a new economy. How do we support and encourage work on the local level?

This project is a collaboration between the New Economy Coalition and YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.

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Categories: Economics

Water for Survival

Chris Martenson - October 10, 2014 - 07:57

A brief summary of how to get water and ensure that it is safe to drink during an emergency situation or survival event.

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Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 10/10 - Energy Stocks Take A Plunge, The Cosmic History Of Earth's Water

Chris Martenson - October 10, 2014 - 06:19
  • Wall St. Closes Sharply Lower, With Energy Stocks Leading the Plunge
  • Sluggish Global Outlook Ripples in Markets
  • Chinese Authorities Make Arrests in Attempt to Prevent Pro-Democracy Campaigns on Mainland
  • Jim Grant: Gold is the anti-debt monetary asset
  • With Ebola’s Arrival at Nebraska Center, It’s No Longer a Drill
  • Wal-Mart cuts health benefits for 30,000 part-timers
  • Tiny Gasoline Drips Can Create Big Problems
  • The Cosmic History Of Earth's Water

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Categories: Economics

5 Urban Gardening Secrets To Grow Food In Any City

Chris Martenson - October 9, 2014 - 16:41

If you are limited on space due to living in densely populated urban and city environments, here are 5 ways to help you along your path to food production and increased resilience.

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Categories: Economics

Solidarity Economy Organizing in the Wake of Mike Brown

Shareable Magazine - October 9, 2014 - 11:06

Since early August, the tragic killing of Mike Brown has caught fire in the news. It’s no surprise that mainstream media has limited the conversation to this one isolated incident. But it leaves a crucial void of voices for change that are working to solve the economic inequalities that create racial injustice in the first place.

Categories: Economics

Off the Cuff: Volatility With A Vengeance

Chris Martenson - October 9, 2014 - 10:23

In this week's Off the Cuff podcast, Chris and Charles Hugh Smith discuss:

  • What Is Market Volatility Telling Us?
    • Sign of a top, or preparing for another leg up?
  • Have Capital Flows Changed the Story?
    • Is too much money entering the US for the markets to correct?
  • Where Is Gold Heading From Here?
    • Long-awaited bullish signals are appearing
  • Society's Happiness Drought
    • Why do we have so much, yet feel so unsatisfied?

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Categories: Economics

When Poverty Was the Enemy, Not the Poor

Photo courtesy of LBJ Presidential Library.

It has been 50 years since America launched the War on Poverty. The Economic Opportunity Act and legislation to outlaw racial discrimination were the centerpieces of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s vision to create a Great Society.

These programs helped get a generation of families jobs. We had to find ways to get all sides working together.

Today, rather than a war on poverty, we seem to have a war on the poor. Wealth inequality is growing. State support for education is withering. Social safety-net programs are under attack in Congress. Many Americans believe that if people are poor, it’s their own fault. The only “solution” for poverty that many people advocate is allowing companies to create jobs offering wages too low to support a family.

Although it is now widely—and inaccurately—portrayed as a costly welfare program, the War on Poverty was not a failure. If not for government anti-poverty programs since 1967, the nation’s poverty rate would have been 15 percentage points higher in 2012, according to a study published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

For the many Americans committed to fighting economic injustice, the War on Poverty offers some valuable lessons. It showed what can work—and what is still working. It can even work in some of America’s poorest places, such as the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky where Johnson traveled in 1964 to launch his “war” from the front porch of a poor laborer’s cabin.

As a young adult, Robert Shaffer accompanied his father to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and was inspired to action by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Shaffer went home to New Jersey and started organizing poor people to push for economic justice.

His work soon attracted the attention of the new Office of Economic Opportunity (the OEO). But Shaffer wanted to work on the front lines, not in some Washington cubicle. He had read Harry M. Caudill’s 1962 book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, which chronicled the poverty, economic injustice, and “desperation of the spirit” in an Eastern Kentucky controlled by coal companies and absentee landowners. Shaffer told federal officials, “I’ll take the job if you’ll send me to Kentucky.”

The Economic Opportunity Act required the “maximum feasible participation of the poor” in decisions about the use of federal development money. But many state and local politicians and business leaders in Kentucky saw that kind of power-sharing as a threat, and they ignored the requirement. In one example, the federal government took back a major grant from the eight-county Cumberland Valley Community Action Agency because it refused to give poor people a voice. The OEO sent Shaffer to Kentucky as a special technical assistant to reorganize the agency so funding could be restored.

“Those who lost control of the grant funds resented the new agencies,” said Shaffer, now 84 and living in Berea, Ky. “Those people weren’t used to somebody else having money to work with that they didn’t control. Sometimes it was a pretty hostile environment.”

It was about giving poor people a voice in decisions affecting their lives.

Later, with federal money and diverse local leadership, Cumberland Valley and other community-action agencies in Kentucky achieved notable successes. They leveraged social services to create businesses, taught job skills to poor people, and created small construction firms and manufacturing companies owned by their workers. Among those companies’ products: handmade crafts, upholstered furniture for Sears Roebuck & Co., and high-end dresses for Laura Ashley, Inc.

“Before long, products being produced in some of the poorest counties in the nation were being sold in fine stores in New York City, Dallas, Chicago,” Shaffer said. Unfortunately, many of those companies later went under after free-trade agreements sent manufacturing jobs overseas to low-wage countries.

“There’s a difference between welfare and economic opportunity,” Shaffer said. “And, to me, that’s the exciting thing about what we experienced here. We were using social services for economic development and ownership.”

Shaffer worked closely with Hollis West, one of most successful community action agency leaders in Eastern Kentucky. He was also one of the most controversial because of his confrontations with the bosses who controlled the poor mountain counties. At their behest, Gov. Louie B. Nunn tried to get West fired.

“These programs helped get a generation of families jobs,” said West, now 83 and living in Lexington, Ky. “We just had to find ways to get all sides working together.”

Their experiences showed them anti-poverty programs work best when poor people are involved in policy decisions. “You’re never going to change the culture of Appalachia until you have a legitimate organization of the poor and their allies,” Shaffer said. “The majority of the people in the mountains are just as capable as anyone else if they have the same education and economic opportunities as anyone else.”

Johnson’s passion for ending poverty was not shared by his successor, Richard Nixon. By the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration had killed or neutered many War on Poverty programs.

Shaffer said he and other special technical assistants from around the country were called back to Washington in 1971. The OEO was then headed by Donald Rumsfeld, who, as Secretary of Defense three decades later, would oversee the war in Iraq. “They said, ‘You’ve been doing a wonderful job, you’ve accomplished a lot of good things … but we cannot expand the program so we’re going to terminate it,’” Shaffer said.

But one organization that Shaffer and West were instrumental in creating in 1968 survived. Originally called Job Start, it is now Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp., based in London, Ky. It grew under the leadership of Thomas Miller, who moved Kentucky Highlands into the venture capital business in 1972. The mission has expanded even more under Jerry Rickett, the director since 1989. Kentucky Highlands says it has helped create more than 18,000 jobs in the region since 1968 by providing more than $275 million in public and private financing to more than 625 businesses. The result: $2.1 billion in wages and salaries and $400 million in tax revenues.

Today, rather than a war on poverty, we seem to have a war on the poor.

“You’ve got to have a job if you want to overcome poverty,” Rickett said. “That’s what this company has always been about.”

The coal industry, which for more than a century created an almost colonial economy in the mountains, has been cutting jobs for three decades. Decades of state government efforts to attract large corporate employers from outside the region have resulted in few jobs that pay more than minimum wage. It has largely been a top-down effort.

But Kentucky Highlands focuses on home-grown entrepreneurship: training people who have the aptitude and helping them get capital to start and grow businesses. The capital comes from government grants and loans, private foundations, and, increasingly, banks and other private investors.

Kentucky Highlands also partners with dozens of other organizations on projects. A recent focus has been building about 25 energy-efficient houses a year for low- and moderate-income families and helping with a state initiative to expand broadband infrastructure so people can take advantage of information-economy jobs. Kentucky ranks 46th nationally in broadband coverage with 23 percent of the state’s residents, primarily in Eastern Kentucky’s mountains, having no online access.

After leaving Kentucky highlands in 1981, Miller went on to work in economic and community development in San Francisco, Tennessee, New York, and Africa. But when it came time to retire, he moved to Berea, where he continues to advocate for more effective Appalachian development strategies. Kentucky Highlands is doing the right things, he said, but it will never be big enough.

In the 1990s, the Clinton-era Empowerment Zone program brought Eastern Kentucky $40 million in tax breaks and loans, some of which still fund a $13 million revolving loan fund that Kentucky Highlands says has leveraged $120 million in private investment.

Miller thinks a new, massive infusion of investment capital is needed, an Eastern Kentucky Venture Fund of at least $250 million organized by successful business leaders from across Kentucky. The region also needs more trained entrepreneurs who know how to use that money to grow and diversify the economy.

“There are no silver bullets,” Miller said. “It’s probably a 50-year strategy, at best, and the first 10 years aren’t going to be pretty. But we know that this investment strategy works in Eastern Kentucky, that betting on the people here is the thing to do.”

Without the programs, there weren’t very many jobs. It helped them be able to take care of their families and meet needs.

Like other parts of the Central Appalachian coalfields, Eastern Kentucky remains one of America’s poorest places, with high unemployment, drug abuse, and other social problems that grow out of joblessness. But substantial progress has been made—in living conditions, educational attainment, health care, and infrastructure. And what set that progress in motion was the War on Poverty.

“Dad worked in the coal mines and did other jobs. He was a very hard worker, but he didn’t have an education,” said Darlene Sharp, 61, who was a teenager with six brothers and sisters when the War on Poverty came to Knox County. Her father managed buildings that housed the new educational programs, and her mother got a job at one of the factories West helped create. “A lot of people worked there,” she said. “I’m sure that every one of them was people who had no employment before. Without the programs, there weren’t very many jobs. It helped them be able to take care of their families and meet needs. I know it helped my family.”

At its core, the War on Poverty was not about a handout, but a hand up. It was about creating economic opportunity and giving poor people the skills and support they needed to take advantage of it. And it was about giving poor people a voice in decisions affecting their lives. A half-century ago, Americans made a commitment to fight a war on poverty, and we could do it again. Creating a society that is more fair, just, and prosperous for everyone is a fight worth winning.

Tom Eblen wrote this article for The End of Poverty, the Fall 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Tom is the metro/state columnist for the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader. Reach him at

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Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 10/9 - The Future Of Food, The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century

Chris Martenson - October 9, 2014 - 07:42
  • Incomes and Outcomes: The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century
  • Everyone Agrees: CEOs Should Be Paid Less
  • This illustration shows just how precious gold is
  • David Morgan's Secret to Being Grateful, Even at $17 Silver
  • Robin Bromby in The Australian: Shanghai gold surprise in store
  • Microdocumentary: 4 Major Boom And Bust Cycles Explained
  • Charts Reveal U.S. Economy Undergoing a Massive Structural Change
  • IEA Reverses Its Stance On Rebound Effects
  • Alaskan Natives' Company Found Defrauded
  • Energy, Diminishing Returns and the Future of Food
  • Acid damage to coral reefs could cost $1 trillion

Join the conversation »

Categories: Economics

Bangladeshi Workers Organize to Protect Their Most Valuable Export: Themselves

This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.

Pakhi Begum left Bangladesh for Dubai to work as a maid, only to find that her recruiter had sold her into domestic servitude. Photo courtesy of UN Women.

“Mariah” is a small woman with an unexpectedly intense stare. All of us in the hotel conference room crane our necks to see her as she rises to address the table of advocates and NGO representatives gathered for a meeting on safe migration.

She declares her story: She has just returned from Jordan, where she had been working as a domestic worker. To get there, she had sold her land—she needed every penny she could scrounge.

In Bangladesh, a population greater than Russia’s lives in a country smaller than the state of Illinois.

When she arrived in Jordan, Mariah soon discovered that she would be forced to work in “five different houses, for five different wives.” She slept only three hours a night and was beaten when she finally worked up the courage to ask for her salary.

Eventually her desperate husband was able to reach a local NGO and start the process for her rescue.

While Mariah is free, she has nothing to show for her work, and the NGO interpreter next to me pointedly notes she is lucky that her husband accepted her back, implying sexual abuse at the hands of the employer family.

I am here as part of a delegation of labor rights advocates organized through the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center to exchange ideas around human trafficking, migration, and union organizing in Bangladesh. In the evolving global economy, migrants facing virtual indentured servitude abroad—and coming home to debt and social isolation—feels like the new normal.

Next to Mariah at the table is “Akhtar,” who trembles as he tells the group that his wife has been missing for five months. Tears fill his eyes as he shares his futile efforts to go through the recruiting agency that sent her overseas. He spreads out papers: contracts, identity documents, and correspondence, creased and discolored—like he has been carrying them around in the hopes of meeting someone who can intervene.

I watch from the other side of the room as he points and explains each paper to the two government officials who had spoken earlier—the same government officials whose pitiless advice following Mariah’s story had been, “people should know the name of the agency they are giving money to, and memorize the phone number of the embassy.” I feel a flicker of hope as they study the documents while we watch, but it’s hard to tell what the outcome here will be. Several days after this meeting I learned that the even the Bangladeshi embassies in countries where migrant Bangladeshis work are not able to properly respond to workers in crisis.

In Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, more than 157 million people live on about 57,000 square miles of land. That’s a population greater than Russia’s living in a country smaller than the state of Illinois. We heard over and over again that Bangladesh’s prime economic resource is its abundance of people—and indeed, alongside agriculture and garment manufacturing, “labor exporting” is a pillar of the economy. In 2013, more than $13 billion was sent home from Bangladeshi migrants working overseas.

The national government officials we met with seemed at once detached from the suffering of migrant workers yet proud of the quality of their “exports.” On the local level, where officials and NGOs seem to work collaboratively to educate Bangladeshis about safe migration, we saw a more complicated picture. Labor migration is a rare viable option to support a family in a poor country like Bangladesh, but these small local partnerships are not reaching enough of the population. Because of these gaps, potential migrants might still take risks in desperation, like working with dalals (middlemen) who cheat them with few consequences.

But the dalals are not the only problem. The Bangladeshi government has yet to effectively regulate even the “registered” recruiting agencies, which charge enormous and erratic fees. And even as they are quick to point to unscrupulous middlemen as rogue actors, these agencies often contract dalals to find them potential migrants. Bangladeshi recruiters told us that they have to bid for the contracts from the receiving countries, which hold all of the bargaining power, and the costs are passed on to the migrant. Migrants sell property and borrow huge sums in order to pay the fees to migrate—only to have no guarantee that they will actually be paid fairly, if at all, when they arrive.

Advocates in Bangladesh are pushing for lower, fixed fees based on destination country, but acknowledge that the best outcome for migrant workers would be a “zero-fee” system implemented on a global level.

In the Unites States, where migrant and domestic workers are excluded from many of the federal protections extended to other workers, labor rights activists are also pushing for such a system.

The “stars” of the worker movement

At the Technical Training Center in Mirpur, one of 42 centers in the country that teach more than 30 trades, we tiptoe into ongoing classes for domestic workers. In Bangladesh, outgoing domestic workers are required to have 21 days of training before they depart. Most of that time is spent learning practical skills like using household appliances. Through an innovative partnership with the Bangladeshi Migrant Women Workers Association (BOMSA)—a group founded by returned female migrants—domestic workers also get three days of “know your rights” training.

This movement is being led by an army of young women organizers.

The first room we enter is hot, the lights are off, and two ceiling fans whir above us, working diligently to cool the room. Twenty-five women sit in neat rows on mats on the floor. Two desks are situated at the front of the room, though they are not being used by the two teachers—organizers from BOMSA, who are pacing energetically as they question the students about what they’ve learned so far. “Where are you going?” they ask the students for our benefit. Ten are going to Dubai, six to Lebanon, five to Jordan, and two each to Qatar and Oman.

The teachers review some tips for self-preservation, encouraging the women to surreptitiously carry a phone number for BOMSA and to record their passport numbers. Some women will hide the numbers on an Arabic prayer card, while others will sew them into the hem of their clothing. It’s hard to fathom that this level of concealment would be necessary for someone going on a government-sponsored work visa, but one returning worker told me that it’s not uncommon for employers in the Gulf to require the newly arrived domestic worker to immediately shower, and then search and confiscate all her documents while she bathes.

Finding creative ways to hide these lifelines is just one part of the “technical training” offered by the training centers. Other advice included opening two bank accounts (one for yourself and one that your family at home can access) and learning some “shaming” words and gestures in Arabic to thwart aggressive husbands who may try to cross boundaries. Our interpreter and Solidarity Center staffer, Liya, works hard to keep up with the energetic, almost shouting, teachers who lead the students in repetitions of these phrases.

Moving into the next room, a much bigger crowd of women have already taken their seats on the mats. The room is a rainbow of brightly colored cotton and silk set against a spartan model kitchen and living room. Our BOMSA teacher squeezes past the crowd, gets to the podium, and asks the students to recite the rights of migrants. They hold one finger up: “I have the right to a job.” They hold a second finger up: “I have the right to be paid.” A third finger, “I have the right to be free from harassment.” Fourth: “I have the right to contact my family.” All five fingers go up: “I have the right to safely return to my family.”

At this point, I expected their fingers to form into a fist, a sign of power. But instead, they wiggled their fingers and used the imagery of a star. A star: an acknowledgment that these women are driving the economy, that they’re stars and heroes for taking this risk of migration in order to help themselves, their families, and their country.

Paradoxically, I learned later that the reason the training center was so crowded compared to other regional centers was because many women wanted to take their training secretly, or at least privately, in a different city far from their villages because they were ashamed of being migrant domestic workers. As important as they are to the economy, not just in Bangladesh but globally too, domestic workers are still facing marginalization and a lack of respect for their contributions.

Back in the BOMSA office for a lunch break of rice and vegetables, I immediately spot a poster proclaiming: “DOMESTIC WORKERS ARE WORKERS!” and urging support for International Labor Organization Convention 189.

The convention, passed in 2011 and since ratified by 14 countries and counting, was historic: it was the first convention to specifically address the widespread labor exploitation of domestic workers—including migrants as well as natives. Domestic workers, including members of an AFL-CIO delegation from the United States, were present and active in the discussions, reports, and voting that led up to Convention 189′s passage. In the time leading up to the convention, domestic worker organizing groups from across the globe formed into the International Domestic Workers Federation. The IDWF has the potential to restore power and pride in domestic work and to amplify community organizing as a tool in places like Bangladesh.

While Bangladesh has not signed on to Convention 189, there is an IDWF-affiliated national domestic workers association working to push for ratification. And the Solidarity Center, BOMSA, and other local organizations are working overtime to educate potential migrants about safe migration and labor rights. Our delegation observed everything from courtyard meetings of 15 people to an event in an open-air market with more than 100 people. The groups are filling a critical information and services gap, yet they are struggling to keep their doors open.

While our group was there, we met with workers from many sectors—garment manufacturing, construction, domestic work, technology—who all shared similar challenges related to poverty, fraud, debt, discrimination, and abuse—whether at the hands of the factory owner, the dalal, the recruitment agency, or the household employer.

Legislation, education, organizing

It has been four months since I returned to DC from Bangladesh, but I can see the faces of the women I met just as clearly as ever.

As a social worker turned organizer on the issues facing domestic workers here in the United States, I’ve noticed that my work hasn’t changed as much as I thought it would. Cultivating identity, power, and self-determination are steps not only to healing, but also to justice in the workplace.

The incredible, growing union movement in the Bangladeshi garment sector that sprung up after the horrific tragedy at Rana Plaza is one example of what can be achieved when anger and devastation are channeled into organizing. That movement is being led by an army of young women organizers. There is so much potential to create change, but a labyrinthine global system of recruiters, subcontractors, and employers is complicating the pathway to decent work.

Beyond organizing and services on the ground in Bangladesh, government action is sorely needed. The United States has a supportive role to play here: from including stronger labor rights as a condition of trade and development assistance to supporting the government of Bangladesh as it negotiates agreements with destination countries to level the playing field for Bangladeshi workers, who remain among the most vulnerable in Asia.

On the global level, a commitment to banning recruitment fees charged to workers and guaranteed inclusion of all workers, including migrants, in fundamental labor rights protection is a starting point to make a dent in this kind of exploitation.

We Went Behind the Scenes of the Global Economy to Bring Back Workers' Stories

The United States can set an example by expanding federal-level protections for domestic workers who were cut out of the New Deal, and by finally passing legislation that would ensure transparency and monitoring of foreign labor recruiters who bring workers to the United States. Like in Bangladesh, domestic workers on temporary visas in the United States face exceptional risk. These workers include women working for diplomats and international officials at the U.N. and World Bank, but also young people who come on J-1 visas as au pairs to provide essential domestic work to American families yet are virtually invisible in the eyes of the U.S. government.

There’s an inkling of change on the way, but making it real will require a global culture shift beyond legislation. Last year’s Senate immigration bill included strong provisions on transparency and monitoring for workers on temporary visas. But the au pair recruitment and placement agencies are aggressively lobbying lawmakers to remove au pairs from the protections should a new bill be introduced this year. As other sectors of organized domestic work gain bills of rights and wage increases through worker organizing, we’ve witnessed an urgency to keep this invisible sector of domestic work underpaid, isolated, and poorly regulated so it can remain a source of cheap child care, and increasingly, eldercare.

From Bangladesh to Qatar to the United States, legislation protecting migrant domestic workers is sorely needed. But in the lack of legislative action, education and organizing within migrant domestic worker communities—and the public—appears to be the best hope to put the brakes on this downward spiral.

Tiffany Williams wrote this article for Foreign Policy in Focus, where it originally appeared. Tiffany is a senior staffer for the Global Economy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies and the coordinator of the Beyond Survival Campaign at the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

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Categories: Economics

New eBook Details Seoul’s Sharing City Project

Shareable Magazine - October 8, 2014 - 08:56

With its official, city-wide commitment to the sharing economy, Seoul's metropolitan government has emerged as a leader in the global sharing movement. Recently, Creative Commons Korea released an ebook detailing many of the Sharing City, Seoul projects, at both the community- and municipal-level, that form this new sharing mega-city.

Categories: Economics

15 Participatory Budgeting Projects that Give Power to the People

Shareable Magazine - October 8, 2014 - 08:17

To create vibrant communities, people need to share in the decisions that affect them. This is true for neighborhoods, cities, and beyond.

Participatory budgeting, in which people decide together how a portion of a government's (or organization's) budget is spent, is a proven way to give decision-making power to the people. It enables citizens to play an active role in shaping their community and creates more transparent governments.

Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 10/8 - German Recession Fears Grow, China Economy To Continue Slowdown

Chris Martenson - October 8, 2014 - 06:44
  • Retirees go to court against city for health care
  • Pennsylvania: Health Costs Imposed on Teachers
  • L.A.-area restaurants adding healthcare surcharge to cover workers
  • Wal-Mart to End Health Insurance for Some Part-Time Employees
  • French finance minister says not in EU's powers to reject budget
  • German recession fears grow with latest industry data
  • Japanese data suggest recession may be near
  • China economy to continue slowdown into ’16 – World Bank
  • IMF says economic growth may never return to pre-crisis levels
  • Dutch Central Bank Warns ECB Over Policy Risks

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Categories: Economics

How to Control Deer Damage on Fruit and Nut Trees

Chris Martenson - October 8, 2014 - 05:42

If you are planning a food forest, an orchard, or just a few fruit trees, it is a good idea to observe your site for evidence of deer. My wife & I live in a semi-rural area just outside of a small town. We have farms and single family homes around us. I really didn’t think much about the deer when I originally planted (50) fruit and nut trees out in my pasture. I knew they could be a problem, but I thought with the busy road and my neighbors around me, they would not be interested. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that!

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Categories: Economics

The Schizophrenia Tormenting Our Society & Economy

Chris Martenson - October 7, 2014 - 18:51

What can popular television programs tell us about the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) of our culture and economy? 

It’s an interesting question, as all mass media both responds to and shapes our interpretations and explanations of changing times. It’s also an important question, as mass media trends crystallize and express new ways of understanding our era.

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Categories: Economics