In the USA..United Surveillance America
September 29, 2013
Qaeda Plot Leak Has Undermined U.S. Intelligence
By ERIC SCHMITT and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
WASHINGTON — As the nation’s spy agencies assess the fallout from disclosures about their surveillance programs, some government analysts and senior officials have made a startling finding: the impact of a leaked terrorist plot by Al Qaeda in August has caused more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.
Since news reports in early August revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, analysts have detected a sharp drop in the terrorists’ use of a major communications channel that the authorities were monitoring. Since August, senior American officials have been scrambling to find new ways to surveil the electronic messages and conversations of Al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives.
“The switches weren’t turned off, but there has been a real decrease in quality” of communications, said one United States official, who like others quoted spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence programs.
The drop in message traffic after the communication intercepts contrasts with what analysts describe as a far more muted impact on counterterrorism efforts from the disclosures by Mr. Snowden of the broad capabilities of N.S.A. surveillance programs. Instead of terrorists moving away from electronic communications after those disclosures, analysts have detected terrorists mainly talking about the information that Mr. Snowden has disclosed.
Senior American officials say that Mr. Snowden’s disclosures have had a broader impact on national security in general, including counterterrorism efforts. This includes fears that Russia and China now have more technical details about the N.S.A. surveillance programs. Diplomatic ties have also been damaged, and among the results was the decision by Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, to postpone a state visit to the United States in protest over revelations that the agency spied on her, her top aides and Brazil’s largest company, the oil giant Petrobras.
The communication intercepts between Mr. Zawahri and Mr. Wuhayshi revealed what American intelligence officials and lawmakers have described as one of the most serious plots against American and other Western interests since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It prompted the closing of 19 United States Embassies and consulates for a week, when the authorities ultimately concluded that the plot focused on the embassy in Yemen.
McClatchy Newspapers first reported on the conversations between Mr. Zawahri and Mr. Wuhayshi on Aug. 4. Two days before that, The New York Times agreed to withhold the identities of the Qaeda leaders after senior American intelligence officials said the information could jeopardize their operations. After the government became aware of the McClatchy article, it dropped its objections to The Times’s publishing the same information, and the newspaper did so on Aug. 5.
In recent months, senior administration officials — including the director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr. — have drawn attention to the damage that Mr. Snowden’s revelations have done, though most have been addressing the impact on national security more broadly, not just the effect on counterterrorism.
“We have seen, in response to the Snowden leaks, Al Qaeda and affiliated groups seeking to change their tactics, looking to see what they can learn from what is in the press and seek to change how they communicate to avoid detection,” Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a security conference in Aspen, Colo., in July.
American counterterrorism officials say they believe the disclosure about the Qaeda plot has had a significant impact because it was a specific event that signaled to terrorists that a main communication network that the group’s leaders were using was being monitored. The sharpest decline in messaging has been among the Qaeda operatives in Yemen, officials said. The disclosures from Mr. Snowden have not had such specificity about terrorist communications networks that the government is monitoring, they said.
“It was something that was immediate, direct and involved specific people on specific communications about specific events,” one senior American official said of the exchange between the Qaeda leaders. “The Snowden stuff is layered and layered, and it will take a lot of time to understand it. There wasn’t a sudden drop-off from it. A lot of these guys think that they are not impacted by it, and it is difficult stuff for them to understand.”
Other senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials offer a dissenting view, saying that it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the impact of the messages between the Qaeda leaders from Mr. Snowden’s overall disclosures, and that the decline is more likely a combination of the two.
“The bad guys are just not going to talk operational planning electronically,” said one senior counterterrorism official. Moreover, that official and others say, it could take months or years to fully assess the impact of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures on counterterrorism efforts.
Over the past decade, the N.S.A. has invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, according to documents provided by Mr. Snowden.
The government’s greatest fear concerning its counterterrorism operations is that over the next several months, the level of intercepted communications will continue to fall as terrorists most likely find new ways to communicate with one another, one senior American official said. It will likely take the government some time to break into that method and monitor communications.
One way the terrorists may try to communicate, the official said, is strictly through couriers, who would carry paper notes or computer flash drives. If that happens, the official said, terrorists will find it very difficult to communicate as couriers take significant time to move messages.
“The problem for Al Qaeda is they cannot function without cellphones,” said one former senior administration official. “They know we listen to them, but they use them anyhow. You can’t run a sophisticated organization without communications in this world. They know all this, but to operate they have to go on.”
A senior intelligence official put it this way: “They are agile, we are agile. When we see a change in behavior, our guys are changing right along with it, or we’re already seeing it and adapting to it. Our capabilities are changing in hours and days, versus weeks and months like we used to.”
To be sure, Qaeda leaders and their top lieutenants use other secure electronic communications as well as old-fashioned means — like couriers, as Bin Laden did — that pose major challenges to American intelligence services.
In the past few months, the Global Islamic Media Front, the propaganda arm of Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups, has released new software that allows users to encrypt communications for instant-messaging and cellphones. Officials say these new programs may pose fresh challenges for N.S.A. code breakers.
Jihadists have been working on camouflaging their communications through encryption software for years.
Al Qaeda’s use of advanced encryption technology dates to 2007, when the Global Islamic Media Front released the Asrar al-Mujahedeen, or so-called “Mujahedeen Secrets,” software. An updated version, Mujahedeen Secrets 2, was released in January 2008, and has been revised at least twice, most recently in May 2012, analysts said.
The program was popularized in the first issue of Inspire, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s quarterly online magazine, in a July 2010 post entitled “How to Use Asrar al-Mujahedeen: Sending and Receiving Encrypted Messages.”
Since then, each issue of Inspire has offered a how-to section on encrypting communications, recommending MS2 as the main encryption tool.
Shortly after Mr. Snowden leaked documents about the secret N.S.A. surveillance programs, chat rooms and Web sites used by jihadis and prospective recruits advised users how to avoid N.S.A. detection, from telling them to avoid using Skype to recommending specific online software programs like MS2 to keep spies from tracking their computers’ physical locations.
A few months ago, the Global Islamic Media Front issued new software that relies on the MS2’s “Asrar al-Dardashah, or “Secrets of Chatting,” which allows users to encrypt conversations over instant-messaging software like Paltalk, Google Chat, Yahoo and MSN, according to Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, a New York security consulting firm that tracks militant Web sites.
In early September, the Global Islamic Media Front said it had released an encryption program for messages and files on mobile phones running the Android and Symbian operating systems.
According to the group, the software can encrypt text messages and files and send them by e-mail or between cellphones with different operating systems. The software also lets users securely check e-mail and prevents users from receiving nonencrypted messages, the group claimed.
US government on verge of shutdown as House votes to delay health law
Resolution passed Sunday, makes funding government until December contingent upon one-year delay of healthcare reforms
Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Sunday 29 September 2013 17.30 BST
The US government is on the precipice of a historic shutdown that would result in hundreds of thousands of federal workers being placed on unpaid leave, after House Republicans refused to pass a budget unless it involved a delay to Barack Obama's signature healthcare reforms.
Democratic leaders declined to convene the Senate on Sunday, standing firm against what they described as the extortion tactics of their Republican opponents who they accused of holding the government to ransom for ideological reasons.
The resolution passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in the early hours of Sunday morning makes funding the government until the middle of December contingent upon a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act. It also strips the new healthcare law, which is due to come into force on Tuesday, of a key tax on medical devices.
Senate Democrats and the White House have said they will block any budget resolution that is tied to the healthcare law – known as Obamacare – which was passed three years ago and upheld by the US supreme court last year.
Undermining the healthcare reforms – the flagship legislative achievement of Obama's presidency – has been a priority for the conservative wing of the Republican party for years and the spectre of government shutdowns has been used in the past.
However there was a growing sense on Capitol Hill on Sunday that House Republicans were prepared to see through their threat of a shutdown, which would begin at 12.01am ET on Tuesday, even though polls show they would be blamed for a maneuver that could damage the party during next year's midterm elections.
"Republicans in Congress had the opportunity to pass a routine, simple continuing resolution that keeps the government running for a few more weeks," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "But instead, Republicans decided they would rather make an ideological point by demanding the sabotage of the healthcare law."
Harry Reid, the Senate leader who on Saturday said he would refuse to bow to "Tea Party anarchists", showed no interest in negotiating with Republicans over the stalemate. He was criticised by leading Republicans for failing to invite the Senate to debate the House resolution, less than 36 hours from the budget deadline.
Instead, the Senate was expected to wait until Monday before stripping the Republican motion of its references to Obamacare and, for the second time in a week, returning a "clean" bill to the House that would fund federal departments, without also impeding the introduction of mandatory healthcare for Americans who are uninsured.
If there is time, the House would then have just a few hours to either vote to fund the government, free of any measures that would impede the introduction Obamacare, or trigger the first American government shutdown in 17 years.
Asked if he thought a shutdown was now inevitable, Richard Durbin, the second most senior Democrat in the Senate, replied: "I'm afraid I do."
Durbin told CBS's Face the Nation that he was open to negotiating over the tax on medical devices, "but not with a gun to my head, not with the prospect of shutting down the government".
Senior Republicans took to the Sunday morning talk shows to defend their stance, claiming that it was Democrats who were forcing a shutdown by refusing to compromise over the controversial healthcare reforms.
Congresswoman Cathy McManus Rogers, chair of the House Republican conference, said Reid was acting irresponsibly by refusing to hold a session of the Senate. "They're the ones threatening a government shutdown by not being here," she said.
Ted Cruz, the Republican senator spearheading the congressional campaign to undo Obama's healthcare reforms, turned the debate on its head by accusing Democrats of holding "political brute force" for refusing to delay or unravel the healthcare law.
"If we have a shutdown, it will be because Harry Reid holds that absolutist position and essentially holds the American people hostage," Cruz, who this week gave a 21-hour speech to draw attention to his campaign, said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"So far, majority leader Harry Reid has essentially told the House of Representatives and the American people, 'go jump in a lake'," Cruz added. "He says: 'I'm not willing to compromise, I'm not willing to even talk.' His position is, 100% of Obamacare must be funded in all instances. Other than that, he's going to shut the government down."
The impact of any federal shutdown would depend upon how long it lasts. Under contingency arrangements, essential services such as law enforcement, will be kept alive, although hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be placed on unpaid leave.
Social security and Medicare benefits would continue, and air traffic controllers would remain in place to ensure airports function. However museums, national parks and landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Washington Monument, would be closed.
The military's 1.4 million personnel active duty would remain in post, but their paychecks would be delayed. About half of the Defense Department's civilian employees – about 800,000 people – would be furloughed, meaning they would be suspended from work without pay.
Federal courts would continue to function as usual for around a fortnight, after which the judiciary would have to start shelving work that is not considered essential.
The gridlock over the government budget could be just the prelude to an even more serious showdown expected in mid-October over the government debt ceiling.
Republicans are threatening to refuse to lift the ceiling unless Obamacare is reined back, which could mean the US Treasury would be forced to default on its debt payments.
Republicans vote to postpone Barack Obama's healthcare plans
Harry Reid says Senate will reject GOP attempt to delay health reforms – setting stage for federal government shutdown
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 29 September 2013 11.41 BST
US Republicans have voted to postpone Barack Obama's heathcare reforms, setting up a high-stakes clash with Democrats that could spark the first American government shutdown in 17 years.
With less than 48 hours to go until existing federal government spending authority expires on Monday night, House Republicans passed a continuing budget resolution until December, but only if Obamacare – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – is delayed for a year and stripped of a key tax on medical devices.
But even before the vote took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, Democrats said they would reject the plan – and the White House issued a statement saying Obama would veto it should it ever reach his desk.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, issued a statement on Saturday saying his chamber would not accept the House Republicans' plan, and any attempt to delay the healthcare law would be pointless.
House Republicans also plan to pass separate legislation ensuring that American troops continue to receive pay during any ensuing shutdown, exempting a politically sensitive area of federal government from the consequences of their standoff with Obama.
The Senate has already rejected one House attempt to link spending authorisation to Obamacare, but with the majority Republican caucus seemingly united in its desire for a showdown over Obamacare the spending resolution has been passed back a second time to the Senate.
Obama has accused Republicans of holding the US economy to ransom and has upped his rhetoric in recent days to make it clear he would also veto any resolution that involved Obamacare.
The House speaker, John Boehner, refused to speak to reporters after his meeting with Republicans on Saturday afternoon, although he is expected to begin outlining the plan on the floor of the House.
The last time the US government was deprived of funding in this way was under the presidency of Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1996, when he clashed with the Republican speaker Newt Gringrich.
Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, passed after the American civil war in 1870, the federal government is forbidden from incurring costs that have not been explicitly authorised by Congress.
Only staff involved in "emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property" are exempt, which in practice means many "essential workers" deemed vital to security and law enforcement.
But hundreds of thousands of other federal employes will be "furloughed" or told to stay at home from Tuesday morning if Congress cannot find a way around the growing impasse. Social security and other benefit payments may also be delayed.
In a speech on Friday, Obama warned that military personnel on active duty could see their pay disrupted but the Republican plan to exempt armed forces removes one area of leverage that might have forced conservatives to back down.
Cruz: Killing Obamacare for one year is ‘the essence of a compromise’
By David Edwards
Sunday, September 29, 2013 11:33 EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Sunday asserted that the Republican threat to shutdown the government if President Barack Obama’s health care reform law was not delayed for at least one year was the “essence of a compromise.”
During an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory noted that Cruz had “not engaged in a debate on how to change the law.”
“What you’ve gone out and said is, let’s kill the law altogether, let’s defund it,” Gregory observed.
“The premise of your question is wrong,” Cruz insisted. “It is the Democrats who have taken the absolutist position. Look, I’ve engaged — I’d like to repeal every word of the law, but that wasn’t my position even in this fight. But my position in this fight is we should defund it, which is different from repeal.”
“And even now, what the House of Representatives has done is a step removed from defunding, it’s delaying it,” he added. “Now, that’s the essence of a compromise… On the other side, what have the Democrats compromised on? Zero. Nothing.”
Gregory pointed out Cruz had spent the entire summer campaigning against Obamacare and gave a marathon 21-hour speech on the Senate floor, but ended up with less senators supporting his effort than he started with.
“You haven’t moved anyone,” the NBC host said.
September 30, 2013
Justice Department Poised to File Lawsuit Over Voter ID Law
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is expected to sue North Carolina on Monday over its restrictive new voting law, further escalating the Obama administration’s efforts to restore a stronger federal role in protecting minority voters after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, according to a person familiar with the department’s plans.
The lawsuit, which had been anticipated, will ask a federal court to block North Carolina from enforcing four disputed provisions of its voting law, including a strict photo identification requirement. The lawsuit will also seek to reimpose a requirement that North Carolina obtain “preclearance” from the federal government before making changes to its election rules.
The court challenge will join similar efforts by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Texas over that state’s redistricting plan and voter photo ID law. Those lawsuits are seeking to return Texas to federal “preclearance” oversight.
In June, all five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices voted to do away with a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required North Carolina, Texas and six other states with histories of discrimination, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing their election procedures. All four Democratic-appointed justices dissented.
Since that ruling, Republican-controlled states have rushed to impose new limits on voting. Republicans say the restrictions are necessary to combat voter fraud.
There is no evidence of significant in-person impersonation fraud, the type ID laws can prevent. Democrats say the restrictions are intended to discourage groups that tend to support Democrats, like students, poor people and minorities.
North Carolina’s law cut back on early-voting days, eliminated the ability of people to register to vote on the same day as casting an early ballot, and prohibited the counting of provisional ballots cast by eligible voters who went to the wrong precinct.
It also requires voters to present photo identification to cast ballots, but does not allow student IDs, public-employee IDs or photo IDs issued by public assistance agencies. Black voters in North Carolina are disproportionately likely to lack identification issued by the State Department of Motor Vehicles, according to state data.
All four provisions are being challenged by the Justice Department, the person familiar with the plans said.
Other provisions of the law, like banning paid voter registrations, are not being challenged by the department.
When signing the bill into law last month, Gov. Pat McCrory portrayed the steps as popular measures that would bring the state into alignment with rules in many other jurisdictions.
“North Carolinians overwhelmingly support a common-sense law that requires voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot,” Mr. McCrory, a Republican, said in a statement at the time. “I am proud to sign this legislation into law. Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID, and we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote.”
The Supreme Court ruling in June left intact other parts of the Voting Rights Act, including a provision that bars discriminatory voting rules anywhere — whether or not the disparate impact was intentional — and another provision that allows a court, in cases in which a state is found to have intentionally discriminated, to impose federal preclearance requirements on future changes.
Election law specialists expressed caution. Richard H. Pildes, a New York University law professor, said the Justice Department faced a complex legal challenge, “particularly when some of these changes, such as reducing early voting, involve measures that make voting more convenient but don’t restrict direct access to the ballot box.”
Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the department would “have a hard time proving constitutional or Voting Rights Act violations against North Carolina,” adding that proving intentional racial discrimination is difficult and “even though many minority voters are Democrats, discrimination against Democrats cannot be the basis for these voting claims.”
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has repeatedly promised “aggressive” action to protect voting rights. In a speech this month, he called the June Supreme Court ruling “deeply flawed” and said the Justice Department would “not allow the court’s action to be interpreted as ‘open season’ for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”
September 29, 2013
A Wave of Sewing Jobs as Orders Pile Up at U.S. Factories
By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
MINNEAPOLIS — It was past quitting time at a new textile factory here, but that was not the only reason the work floor looked so desolate. Under the high ceilings, the fluorescent lights still bright, there were just 15 or so industrial sewing machines in a sprawling space meant for triple that amount.
The issue wasn’t poor demand for the curtains, pillows and other textiles being produced at the factory. Quite the opposite. The owner, the Airtex Design Group, had shifted an increasing amount of its production here from China because customers had been asking for more American-made goods.
The issue was finding workers.
“The sad truth is, we put ads in the paper and not many people show up,” said Mike Miller, Airtex’s chief executive.
The American textile and apparel industries, like manufacturing as a whole, are experiencing a nascent turnaround as apparel and textile companies demand higher quality, more reliable scheduling and fewer safety problems than they encounter overseas. Accidents like the factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year, which killed more than 1,000 workers, have reinforced the push for domestic production.
But because the industries were decimated over the last two decades — 77 percent of the American work force has been lost since 1990 as companies moved jobs abroad — manufacturers are now scrambling to find workers to fill the specialized jobs that have not been taken over by machines.
Wages for cut-and-sew jobs, the core of the apparel industry’s remaining work force, have been rising fast — increasing 13.2 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis from 2007 to 2012, while overall private sector pay rose just 1.4 percent. Companies here in Minnesota are so hungry for workers that they posted five job openings for every student in a new training program in industrial sewing, a full month before the training was even completed.
“It withered away and nobody noticed,” Jen Guarino, a former chief executive of the leather-goods maker J. W. Hulme, said of the skilled sewing work force. “Businesses stopped investing in training; they stopped investing in equipment.”
Like manufacturers in many parts of the country, those in Minnesota are wrestling with how to attract a new generation of factory workers while also protecting their bottom lines in an industry where pennies per garment can make or break a business. The backbone of the new wave of manufacturing in the United States has been automation, but some tasks still require human hands.
Nationally, manufacturers have created recruitment centers that use touch screens and other interactive technology to promote the benefits of textile and apparel work.
Here, they are recruiting at high schools, papering churches and community centers with job postings, and running ads in Hmong, Somali and Spanish-language newspapers. And in a moment of near desperation last year — after several companies worried about turning down orders because they did not have the manpower to handle them — Minnesota manufacturers hatched their grandest rescue effort of all: a program to create a skilled work force from scratch.
Run by a coalition of manufacturers, a nonprofit organization and a technical college, the program runs for six months, two or three nights a week, and teaches novices how to be industrial sewers, from handling a sewing machine to working with vinyl and canvas.
Eighteen students, ranging from a 22-year-old taking a break from college to a 60-year-old former janitor who had been out of work for three months, enrolled in the inaugural session that ended in June. The $3,695 tuition was covered by charities and the city of Minneapolis, though students will largely be expected to pay for future courses themselves.
After the course, the companies, which pay to belong to the coalition, sponsored students for a three-week rotation on their factory floors and a two-week internship at minimum wage. Then the free-for-all began as the members competed to hire those graduates who decide to pursue a career in industrial sewing.
“We need to think practically about getting skilled labor,” said Ms. Guarino, a founder of the training effort, known as the Makers Coalition. “The growth is there but we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t have a pool to draw from.”
Last year, there were about 142,000 people employed as sewing machine operators in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, which had almost 1.75 million workers last year — and where the unemployment rate as of July was 4.9 percent — only 860 were employed in 2012 as machine sewers..
Airtex had room for 50 of them. “We are looking for new sewers every day,” said Mr. Miller, the Airtex executive.
Wooing Immigrant Workers
Airtex’s roots in Minneapolis date to 1918, when Mr. Miller’s grandfather started the Sam Miller Bag Company, specializing in potato and feed bags. In the 1980s, Susan Shields founded a baggage company, and the two combined in 2000 as the Airtex Design Group, producing home textiles for companies like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware.
Soon after the merger, the company began producing in China, first in the Dongguan area, then Wuxi and Shanghai. Today, it still employs about 100 Chinese workers through a partner factory in Dongguan, but production there is no longer the bargain it once was, said Ms. Shields, Airtex’s president.
Initially Airtex paid $3 an hour on average for its Chinese workers; now, it pays about $11.80 an hour, including benefits and housing.
Its American factory-floor workers make about $9 to $17 an hour, though Airtex estimates benefits add another 30 percent to those figures.
As costs were rising in China, Airtex was also getting a new message from some of its clients: They wanted more American-made products.
Health care clients wanted medical slings and other sensitive medical products made domestically to ensure quality. Retailers did not want to pay overseas freight costs to import bulky items like pillows, and they wanted more flexibility in turning around designs quickly. As Airtex considered production in Vietnam and elsewhere, it became concerned about safety and quality issues — and increasingly interested in the American alternative.
“The opportunity for domestic business right now is unbelievable,” Ms. Shields said. “Either we start to bring it back here, more of it, or we start going to places that are marginally unsafe.”
But the lack of workers here in Minnesota made shifting business back home frustrating.
It had gotten to the point where new business sometimes felt like a headache, not an opportunity. As Mr. Miller was headed to Chicago for a sales pitch in February, for instance, he was more worried than excited about landing a new contract.
“What concerns me is, if I get it,” he said, “where are we going to find the people?”
In the various waves of American textile production, dating to the 1800s, the problem of an available and willing work force solved itself.
Little capital was required — the boss just needed sewing equipment and people willing to work. That made it an attractive business for newly arrived immigrants with a few dollars to their name and, often, some background in garment work. Typically, the mostly male factory owners would recruit female workers from their old countries for the grunt work.
From the 1840s until the Civil War, it was new arrivals from Ireland and Germany. From the 1880s through the 1920s, it was Russian Jews and Italians, who would buy newly mass-produced Singer sewing machines and often set up shops in their tenement apartments with wives, daughters and tenants making up the initial work force, said Daniel Katz, provost of the National Labor College and author of a book about the garment industry.
Puerto Ricans, who were given citizenship on the eve of American entry into World War I, and black migrants from the South rounded out the work force until the 1960s, when Chinese and Dominican laborers took over, Mr. Katz said.
In San Francisco and New York, a small number of Chinese women came to the United States despite the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 barring Chinese laborers, making up a base of garment workers. After 1965, when immigration restrictions eased and Chinese were allowed to join family members, greater numbers of women came and that pool of workers grew.
“It was pretty well known that basically the day after you landed, you’d be taken to a factory by a relative to learn how to use an industrial sewing machine,” said Katie Quan, associate chair of the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley. In Los Angeles, Latinos made up much of the work force. And in the Carolinas, Hmong immigrants filled textile manufacturing jobs well into the 1990s, halting — or at least delaying — the migration of jobs overseas, said Rachel Willis, an American studies professor at the University of North Carolina.
Now, here in Minnesota, immigrants are once again being seen as the new hope.
Wanted: English and Math
Last fall, Lifetrack, a nonprofit group in St. Paul that helps immigrants, people on welfare and those with disabilities, began screening clients for possible admission to the sewing training program. Inside a gray-green room in a building on the edge of a four-lane road, people gathered around three tables: Burmese women at one of them, Ethiopian men at another, and at the back of the room an African-American woman, then 61, and a white man, 60, both born in America.
The first task was for students to test their English and math proficiency. Language skills are essential so workers can communicate with their bosses, but math skills are just as important in textile work because sewing requires precise measurements. As the students worked on the proficiency tests, Tatjana Hutnyak, Lifetrack’s director of business development, went over the basics.
Starting wages: $12 and $16 an hour. Transportation: The college, Dunwoody College of Technology, is on a bus line, but if students interview with a company not on a bus line, Lifetrack will help them get there. After passing career-readiness tests, students could qualify for the course, which would give them a certificate in industrial sewing — and, ideally, a job.
“They want to have a career rather than packaging, assembling, cleaning jobs,” said a Lifetrack manager, Dagim Gemeda, explaining why clients were interested in the sewing certification.
The Burmese women had come to Minnesota after spending time in refugee camps in Thailand. Paw Done had done piece work, sewing at home while she watched her children. The others had little sewing experience.
The Ethiopian men, who ranged in age from 21 to 42, had been in this country several years. A couple were students, one was a former custodian who had moved from another state to be close to his college-bound son, and a fourth, Abdulhakim Tahiro, had been laid off from his job at an airport car rental kiosk.
“It’s good, for my level it’s good,” Mr. Tahiro said of the starting wages.
Mr. Tahiro and Ms. Done enrolled in the course that started last January, when about half of the class were immigrants. Another student in the course, Patricia Ramon, 56, was an entrepreneur in Mexico with sewing experience. Ms. Ramon already had a job as a sewer at J. W. Hulme, but quit to take the course with the goal of obtaining certification. She wanted proof, she said, that she had technical skills.
“I am not like an old-time seamstress,” Ms. Ramon said. She expects to sew as a career, and said that making $16 an hour with health insurance would be enough to live on.
The students who were not immigrants often had difficult work histories or other problems. One of them was Lawrence Corbesia, the man sitting at the back table during the screening session. He was a former machine operator and custodial worker who had been looking for work for three months.
Another was Edward Johnson, 44, who was homeless when the course started. After food service and call-center jobs, he went to prison for felony assault, and had a tough time finding a job when he got out in 2009. He moved to Wisconsin to pick fruit, moved back to Minneapolis because he hated picking fruit, and was living on the streets and selling watercolor paintings when a homeless-center counselor hooked him up with the sewing program.
Until now, the only sewing experience Mr. Johnson had was sewing on buttons — a punishment meted out by his mother when he misbehaved. To save money, Mr. Johnson walked the 45 minutes to and from the college.
The program was overwhelming at first, he said, “so frustrating that sometimes I’d go home crying.” But he spent days at the library, watching YouTube videos on sewing techniques and studying terms used by the industry. By the end, it had gotten easier, he said, making pajamas, tote bags and aprons.
So many people are on government assistance, he said. “I’d rather learn a trade and go to work — and work,” he said.
For Edward Johnson, 44, a criminal record made it hard for him to get a job. He turned to an industrial sewing program after enduring bouts of homelessness and unemployment.
A Long-Term Solution
Manufacturers elsewhere are also trying to build a new labor pool.
In a former glove factory in Conover, N.C., the Manufacturing Solutions Center has touch screens showing the technologies that textile manufacturers use today, while new machines spool out printed fabric. In Pennsylvania, a work force investment board has started a program with plant tours, YouTube videos of workers and a Web site promising that “contrary to popular opinion, many good jobs in manufacturing are still available.”
Other industry groups have created a curriculum for high schools on manufacturing, including Manufacturing Day, with factory tours for school groups.
Still the difficulty attracting young people frustrates Debra Kerrigan, a dean at Dunwoody overseeing the Minnesota program.
“I think it’s just the idea of, ‘Oh, I’m a sewer,’ that doesn’t thrill the average young individual today,” she said. “Skills for a lot of different industries are coming back now, machinists and automotive workers and sewers. I think if you have a skill when the economy gets bad, you’re more likely to succeed than someone who doesn’t.”
Compared with the other courses Dunwoody offers — graphic design, Web programming, robotics — sewing can seem a little old school, students say. But Elizabeth Huber, 22, who took a break from the University of Minnesota to take the sewing course, said that can also be a selling point.
“I like getting back to making things, to touching and manipulating materials rather than just pushing buttons or tweeting all day,” she said.
As the sewing course drew to a close, members of the Makers Coalition were jostling for the 18 graduates. Don Boothroyd at Kellé, a firm that makes dance costumes, hoped to snag 10 of them. J. W. Hulme wanted five, and was considering covering a student’s tuition for another course exchange for a contract promising that the student would work at Hulme for one year. Airtex hoped for five to 10 students.
But only nine students completed the course — many dropped out for personal reasons, or decided they just weren’t interested in the work — and eight got jobs. The coalition is now revamping the curriculum to focus more on hands-on work and machine maintenance.
Airtex decided it could not afford to wait for the coalition’s training program to work out its kinks. So, as the course proceeded, Airtex redoubled its efforts to find people who had some background in sewing. Mr. Miller and Ms. Shields offered a bonus to existing employees who brought in friends. They hosted an open house for prospective workers, and tried to think of groups they had not approached before — like a nonprofit that works with people with disabilities.
“I had a guy driving me to the airport the other day,” Mr. Miller said, “and he mentioned he knows a lot of people in the Cambodian community and I should call his pastor.”
Finally, Airtex decided it had to pay for training itself, even if that meant the company was less profitable for a while. It trains workers for a few hours a week, with a technical-college instructor and existing employees instructing new ones on topics like ergonomics and handling tricky materials. Airtex has since made 10 new hires for floor jobs, none of whom were highly experienced.
“The reality is, if we want good workers we know we have to train them and bring them in ourselves,” Ms. Shields said.
The factory floor now seems less barren because there are 25 sewing stations (there is still room for another 25). And most significantly, the additional workers mean the company can take on new work: Airtex has tripled its capacity, and is now making about 70 percent of its products in the United States.
BP again fighting $11 billion fine from Gulf oil spill in court
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Sunday, September 29, 2013 18:53 EDT
BP’s lawyers will fight attempts to fine the oil giant up to $18 billion (£11.1bn) over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, when a new trial opens in New Orleans on Monday.
The latest legal battle revolves around the company’s efforts to cap its runaway well, and the amount of oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day spill.
The trial, expected to last a month, could add up to $18 billion in financial penalties to BP’s bill for the disaster – five times the $3.5 billion originally set aside for fines. That is on top of the $42.4 billion the company has spent to date on cleanup, claims, and fines.
BP is also fighting a second battle to limit payouts to thousands of individuals and businesses in the Gulf who lost livelihoods because of the spill.
The company has already outspent the $7.8 billion it set aside for the uncapped settlement, and recently took out newspaper ads saying the system was being abused.
Monday’s outcome hinges on what the court decides about whether BP did everything it could to cap the well. The court will then turn to the dispute over how much oil escaped into the Gulf.
The trial is the second of three phases being heard by US district judge Carl Barbier.
The first phase, which wound up in April, was to apportion blame for the events leading up to the fatal blowout of the well among BP and its partners, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co.
The blowout killed 11 men and polluted vast swathes of ocean and beach and devastated wildlife and industry in five Gulf states.
On Monday the government, joined now by BP’s former partners on the well, will argue that the company deliberately underestimated the size of the spill, and wasted time trying to plug the well with debris, when the flow was too strong.
The argument will be critical to the final tally of BP’s legal bills.
Under the Clean Water Act, BP could be fined $1,100 for each barrel of oil that escaped into the Gulf, rising to $4,300 a barrel if the company is found to be guilty of gross negligence.
“I think BP has an uphill battle establishing that their efforts to cap the well were successful because of the sheer length of time involved,” said Blaine Lecesne, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, who has been following the trial.
“We all recall those images of those futile efforts: one device after another everything from injecting debris into the well to the top hat to finally what actually worked which was this custom built device to cap the well.”
However, BP lawyers can claim the company did its best given the complexity of the event – a blownout well on the ocean floor a mile below the surface, Lecesne said.
BP in pre-trial motions argued that the federal government reviewed and approved of its various plans to cap the well at every juncture, and that other oil companies also agreed with its strategy.
The court will then spend about three weeks hearing from technical experts about how much oil ultimately escaped into the Gulf.
The federal government estimates 4.2 million barrels of oil entered the Gulf in those 87 days. BP says it was 2.45 million, and that the government used untested methods to reach its figure. “United States experts employ unproven methods that require significant assumptions and extrapolations in lieu of … available data and other evidence,” company lawyers said in a finding.
The judge is not expected to give his ruling until next year.
Even once those fines are set under the Clean Water Act, BP could still be hit with high bills for environmental restoration to the Gulf. Research published last week in the PloS scientific journal found that it could take months for the deep ocean near the well site to recover.
“There is a lot at stake,” said David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society conservation group. “There is enough at stake here to really begin rebuilding America’s wetlands. There is enough at stake here to really offer the kind of reparations that the Gulf coast deserves.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013