Weekly Audit: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Learning to Listen to Farmers

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

At the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at Cape Coast University in Southern Ghana, learning takes place not only in classrooms, but also literally in fields  and farms all over the country. As part of a program to improve agricultural extension services, extension officers are working with professors to find ways to improve food production in their communities. The extensionists, who are already working with farmers, are selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and the University from all over the country to train at the University to help them better  share their skills and knowledge with farmers.

The program was started in the early 1990s after the Ministry of Agriculture found that its' extension workers were not communicating well with farmers, says Dr. Okorley, a  Cape Coast professor. The goal of the program, according to Okorley, is "to improve the knowledge of front line extension staff." Because the educational background of many extension workers is "limited" (many don't have the means to attend college) says Okorley, they "couldn't look at agriculture holistically."

But the university is helping change that problem. Students learn how to engage with farmers and communities by learning better communication skills. And they are trained to properly diagnose problems, as well as come up with solutions.

After attending a year of classes on campus, the students go back to their communities to implement what they've learned in Supervised Enterprise Projects (SEPs). The SEPs give the student-professionals the opportunity to learn that particular technologies, no matter how innovative they might seem in the classroom, don't always "fit" the needs of communities, says Dr. Okorley. The SEPs also help them implement some of the communication skills they've learned in their classes, allowing them to engage more effectively in the communities where they work. Instead of simply telling farmers to use a particular type of seed or a certain brand of pesticide or fertilizer, the extension workers are now learning how to listen to farmers and help them find innovations that best serve their particular needs. "One beauty of the program," according to Dr. Okorley, "is the on-the-ground research and experimentation." He says "it allows the environment to teach what should be done."

They have plans to scale up and improve the program by developing a "technology village" that will allow students to try out different technologies or practices before taking them back to their villages. And they hope to engage women in the program-currently, there are no female professors or students in the program. In addition, they're hoping to incorporate a value chain approach in the curriculum, helping extension workers and farmers alike find innovative ways to add value to and improve the quality of crops.

Listen below to Professor Festus Annor-Frempong discuss how the University is helping improve agriculture in Ghana and to Peter Omega, a former student, talk about his work with farmers in his community.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Also, please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you.

Finding Ways to Put Innovations into Practice

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Madagascar, like many other African nations, “is based on rice,” says Xavier Rakontonjanahary, the Rice Breeding Coordinator at the Centre National de la Recherche Apliquee au Developpement Rural/FOFIFA or the National Center for Rural Development.

As a result, FOFIFA works with farmers, developing different rice varieties for different regions and different conditions. Their approach, according to Xavier, is to not only introduce new varieties of rice or innovations, “but also listen to farmers.”  FOFIFA works with farmers to adapt different technologies and innovations to fit their own needs through extension services and on-farm testing.

“You need innovation,” says Xavier, “but when you talk about application, it’s not always working.” In other words, it’s not just enough to develop an innovation—such as SRI, which increases yields, but is more labor intensive, or F1 rice hybrids, which requires a lot of expensive fertilizers—unless farmers are able to practice it.

And while conservation farming practices, such as minimal tillage and the use of compost, can help prevent erosion and improve soils in Madagascar, Xavier notes that the country, even with funding from the French government and other donors, “can’t be Brazil when it comes to conservation farming.” In Southern Brazil, cover crops, intercropping, and other conservation agriculture practices are used extensively for maize . But “lowland rice in Madagascar is very different than other crops,”  says Xavier. And while rice can be intercropped with wheat or trees in integrated rice and agroforestry projects, not every farmer in Madagascar will be able to use those practices.

“We have enough innovations,” says Xavier, “but they’re not applied” because of constraints, including farmers access to credit or land or markets. Removing those constraints and strengthening farmers’ rights need to be considered, according to Xavier, if you want to improve hunger and poverty.

Stay tuned for more about rice breeding in Senegal when we write from West Africa in a few weeks.

This is a weekly series where we recommend an artist, song, or compilation of songs, from a country in Africa, brought to you by our awesome friends at Awesome Tapes From Africa. Today’s selection is from Ghana:

Ghana has a wealth of regional music variation and the Accra area (Ghana’s capital) is home to some particularly interesting stuff. Ga music, as performed by the Allan Family Culture Troupe, is excellent. These are the rhythms upon which the dzama (or jama) style of hiplife is based. But even without the now ubiquitous presence of these patterns in Ghanaian pop I would hasten to say this music is some of the most vital traditional music in Ghana.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.

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The Challenges Farmers Face

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is holding the third global meeting of the Farmers’ Forum this week in Rome, Italy. The Forum—which brings together more than 70 farmers groups from around the world—is an opportunity for IFAD and other groups to learn firsthand, from farmers, the challenges they face in the field.

On Saturday, the Forum held a workshop to discuss the unique challenges faced by women farmers. Women are the majority of farmers in the world—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where up to 80 percent of farmers are women. In addition to the day-to-day problems faced by women farmers—including the lack of access to credit and land tenure—women also are underrepresented in farmers groups, associations, and unions, making it hard for their voices to be heard.

But by increasing women’s participation and representation in these groups, women and men farmers alike can work together to improve gender awareness, as well as improve their access to loans and agricultural inputs and land tenure.

Participants at the forum are also discussing the importance of increasing agricultural education among youth. Youth make up 60 percent of the population in rural areas and making agriculture an attractive and economically viable option for them in the future will be important for improving food security and livelihoods (See Cultivation a Passion for Agriculture).

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