Washington D.C. Is Latest To Raise Minimum Wage

Union organizers, students, and supporters for a $15 an hour wage march in Pittsburgh in April. Washington, D.C., is the latest city to move toward the wage increase.

Union organizers, students, and supporters for a $15 an hour wage march in Pittsburgh in April. Washington, D.C., is the latest city to move toward the wage increase. Keith Srakocic/AP hide caption

toggle caption Keith Srakocic/AP

Washington, D.C., will be the next major city to implement a $15 minimum wage rate following a unanimous vote by its city council Tuesday.

In a victory for local and national labor unions, Washington joins the ranks of cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle in raising wages for primarily lower-income workers in restaurants, retail and other service industries.

The District’s current hourly minimum wage is $10.50, and was scheduled to go up to $11.50 next month under a law enacted in 2014.

But local advocates for a higher minimum wage were invigorated by the national “Fight for $15” movement. They had been gearing up to collect signatures for a November ballot initiative, but that effort will be dropped.

The District Council’s vote has to be ratified next month, a move considered only a formality. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she will sign the legislation. “I see how much it costs to live in Washington, D.C., and that cost is only going up,” said Bowser, according to the Associated Press. “Even at $15, it’s tough to be able to afford to live in Washington, D.C.”

The higher wage would go into effect gradually, reaching $15 by 2020. Future hikes would be tied to inflation.

Critics of the increase warned that the move will ultimately harm lower-wage workers by stifling job growth. And House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “I think it will do more harm than good, because what it does is it prices entry-level jobs away from people.”

As NPR member station WAMU reports, the District’s pending minimum wage hike won’t include tipped restaurant workers. They currently earn $2.77 an hour which will rise to $5 in 2020. One advocacy group for restaurant workers is still demanding the $15 hourly hike.

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Influential GOP Congressman Wants To Replace Key Bank Regulations

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, shown here at a hearing in March, claims many of the provisions in Dodd-Frank have hurt the economy.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, shown here at a hearing in March, claims many of the provisions in Dodd-Frank have hurt the economy. Jacquelyn Martin/wld hide caption

toggle caption Jacquelyn Martin/wld

The influential head of the House Financial Services Committee wants to do away with most of the Wall Street regulations passed by Congress in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, would allow banks that keep more capital on their books than they currently do to be exempt from most of the new rules. The change would include the Democrats’ signature legislation, the Dodd-Frank Act.

“Simply put, Dodd-Frank has failed. It’s time for a new legislative paradigm in banking and capital markets. It’s time to offer all Americans opportunities to raise their standards of living and achieve financial independence,” Hensarling said in prepared remarks to the Economic Club of New York.

The proposals are something of a long shot, as long as Democrats control the White House. Even if Donald Trump is elected president in November, Democrats in the Senate are likely to filibuster any attempt to repeal Dodd-Frank.

Still, by proposing the new rules and meeting with Trump in New York to discuss them, Hensarling is planting a flag on the regulatory battlefield in a way that could intensify the bitter political debates already raging this year.

Trump has repeatedly called for doing away with Dodd-Frank, but hasn’t said what he would replace it with. Democrat Bernie Sanders has complained that Dodd-Frank didn’t go far enough and has often advocated breaking up the biggest banks, while Hillary Clinton wants to retain the legislation but expand some of its powers.

In his remarks, Hensarling made clear he sees Dodd-Frank largely as a disaster, claiming it has reduced liquidity in the bond market, stifled entrepreneurship and hurt overall economic growth.

“Instead of lifting our economy as Dodd-Frank’s supporters claimed it would, it has made us less prosperous,” he said.

The legislation proposed by Hensarling, which will be introduced in the House later this month, takes aim at some of the most important parts of Dodd-Frank.

They include the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a team of regulators empowered to designate banks as “too big to fail” and then assert control over them when they are in trouble.

Hensarling notes that “this ‘super-group’ of regulators can exert ultimate functional control over almost any large financial firm in our economy, and do so with utter disregard for due process. This is not the rule of law; it is the rule of rulers, and it’s an anathema to a free and democratic society.”

He would significantly reduce the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new federal agency empowered to protect consumers from financial-sector abuses. He would also do away with the Volcker rule, which bars banks from using taxpayer-insured deposits to invest in the markets.

And he would allow big financial firms to escape many of the new federal and global bank regulations, if they agree to improve their leverage ratio, i.e., the amount of capital they hold in relation to their total assets, to 10 percent.

“The Republican plan does not ‘force’ any bank to raise a dime of new capital. Rather, it allows banks to opt into a regime that replaces Dodd-Frank’s suffocating regulatory complexity and control with market discipline,” he said.

Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, a group that advocates for financial market reform, criticized the proposal:

“That means that, after losses of just 10 cents on the dollar, taxpayers will have to bail out Wall Street again. In 2008, the capital shortfall was at least double 10%, and the only reason that the losses weren’t greater was because taxpayers bailed out Wall Street’s biggest banks to end the panic.”

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called Hensarling’s proposals a “wet kiss for the Wall Street banks,” during a Senate Banking Committee hearing:

“It’s clear that Congressman Hensarling and his fellow Republicans think the poor Wall Street banks have suffered too much under the new rules, and it’s time for them to return to the good old days before the 2008 crisis when these banks could run wild.”

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the proposals display “the collective amnesia of many in Congress and on Wall Street about how devastating the financial crisis was for an entire generation of working and middle-class Americans.”

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This Is How Much Celebrities Get Paid To Endorse Soda And Unhealthy Food

Beyonce inked a $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi in 2012.

Beyonce inked a $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi in 2012. Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

Imagine getting paid an estimated $6 million for your involvement in this three-word jingle: “I’m Lovin’ It.” Yep, Justin Timberlake inked a lucrative deal with McDonald’s. (Guess you could say he wants you to “buy buy buy.“)

Or how about earning an estimated $50 million to promote Pepsi products?That’s the endorsement deal mega-star Beyonce signed up for back in 2012.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics describes the lucrative endorsement deals of 65 music celebrities — including Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Timberlake and other stars popular with teens and young adults. These celebrities promoted 57 different food and beverage brands (see chart), ranging from soda to energy drinks to pizza, Pop Tarts and candy.

“We found the vast majority of food and beverage products were unhealthy,” says researcher Marie Bragg of New York University.

Her study didn’t analyze how endorsements influence consumption, but she points to one anecdote that represents the potential influence of celebrities. It involves the rapper Pitbull’s endorsement of Dr. Pepper.

“When Dr. Pepper asked Pitbull to endorse, they got 4.6 million advertising impressions and sales went up 1.7 percent [among Latinos] – despite declining sales in the overall soft drink category,” Bragg told us.

As we’ve reported, musicians can influence the thinking — and perhaps the habits — of their young fans. A study published last year found that teens and young adults who reported enjoying hit songs that referenced brands of alcohol (think Ke$ha and her bottle of Jack) were more likely to drink compared to those who didn’t like these songs.

When it comes to food and non-alcoholic beverage choices, the influence of TV advertising has been well-documented. As the Institute of Medicine concluded almost 10 years ago, “television advertising influences children to prefer and request high-calorie and low-nutrient foods and beverages.”

The food industry has pledged to cut back on marketing unhealthful foods to children aged 12 and under. More than a dozen of the largest food companies — including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Kellogg — have joined this self-policing effort, called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

Now, there’s pressure on the industry from some public health advocates to cut back on advertising directed at teenagers. Experts point to rising obesity rates among teenagers, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.

“Given that we have a childhood and teen obesity problem in the country, [these endorsements of unhealthy foods] are sending the wrong message to young people, and likely contributing to poor dietary habits,” author Marie Bragg told us.

Though her study did not assess the link to dietary habits, she says, “we do know that exposure to food ads leads young people to overeat products that they see.”

The industry says there’s not strong evidence that teens are swayed by the products that they see or hear endorsed in the media. And Elaine Kolish of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative says it’s unlikely that the industry would expand it efforts to include teenagers.

“We think that as a society, we’ve made a judgement not to treat teens like toddlers. We give them more rights and responsibilities,” says Kolish.

“We focus on the under-12 group because those children are the ones who need special protections,” Kolish told us.

There are optimists who point to some progress in promoting more healthful foods. For instance, the Partnership for a Healthier America — a group that works with companies that want to make commitments to health — has launched a fruit and vegetable advertising campaign. They have celebrity endorsements from Cam Newton, Kristen Bell, Jessica Alba, Stephan Curry and others.

“We are absolutely taking a play from a playbook that works,” Drew Nannis, chief marketing officer of the partnership, told us. Since celebrity ads are shown to be effective, it makes sense to use them to promote fruits and veggies, Nannis says.

Now, of course, the fruit and vegetable campaign won’t have nearly as big of an advertising budget as Pepsi or McDonald’s, so will it have an impact? Nannis says he is encouraged by recent survey data: It found that 7 out of 10 people who had seen or heard of the campaign reported eating more fruits and vegetables afterwards.

What’s certain is this: Celebrity-backed food is here to stay. Even Oprah is poised to get in on the branded-food bandwagon.

A search of the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database shows Oprah has applied to trademark a range of food products — from Oprah pancakes and popcorn to pizza, to name just a few on the list.

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U.S. Lawmakers Scrutinize China's Bid To Buy Agrichemical Giant Syngenta

A farmer handles a bag of Syngenta's bean seeds on a farm near Johannesburg, South Africa.

A farmer handles a bag of Syngenta’s bean seeds on a farm near Johannesburg, South Africa. Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation corn and soybean farmer. He and his dad run a small farm about 30 miles from Topeka, Kan.

For more than a decade they’ve been using seeds and chemicals from Syngenta. The Swiss company is a leader in pesticides and genetically modified seeds.

Recently, Brunkow got a call from his seed dealer to tell him a Chinese state-owned company called China National Chemical Corporation, or ChemChina, has made a $43 billion bid to buy Syngenta.

“It was a little disconcerting to hear it the first time,” Brunkow says, “just the idea of a foreign-owned company, especially a Chinese-owned company, coming in.” But his seed dealer has urged him not to worry.

The sale is part of a push by China to secure food supply for its population of 1.4 billion people, says Thilo Hanemann, an economist with the Rhodium Group, a research organization. China’s agricultural productivity is low, and much of its scarce arable land is heavily polluted. Hanemann says China has not been very successful in nurturing its own genetically modified seed technology, so buying Syngenta will help.

“It’s about tapping into the institutional expertise that lies within a company like Syngenta,” he says.

The sale, however, is being held up while the U.S. government scrutinizes whether it is a threat to national security. See, although Syngenta is a Swiss company, it does more than a quarter of its business in the U.S. And a sale of this size and involving American agriculture has prompted a review by the Treasury Department’s Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States.

“China is doing whatever it can to advance its interests legally and illegally,” says Michael Wessel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which monitors China for Congress.

That’s why, he says, CFIUS is bringing in the Department of Agriculture to study the impact of this takeover on U.S. food security, and the Department of Defense is investigating whether any of Syngenta’s facilities in the U.S. are close to military bases.

Plus, Syngenta owns a number of agrichemcial facilities in the U.S., Wessel notes, and some of them make chemicals that are on the Department of Homeland security’s list of hazardous substances.

Syngenta’s chief operating officer Davor Pisk says his company and ChemChina have voluntarily handed over pertinent information for these reviews.

For his part, Glenn Brunkow — the Kansas farmer — says he’s read and thought about the Syngenta deal a lot. He’s says he’s less apprehensive now that a full review is being done.

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U.S. Workers Are Skeptical, But China Says It Will Restrain Steel Output

Steel stacked up at a steel products market on Monday in Yichang, Hubei Province, China.

Steel stacked up at a steel products market on Monday in Yichang, Hubei Province, China. VCG/VCG via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Say you are one of the roughly 15,000 American steel workers who have been laid off — or received notice of coming layoffs — in the past year.

You and your boss would cheer any reduction in China’s massive steelmaking capacity. Chinese steel has been flooding global markets and hurting profits for U.S. companies.

But on Tuesday, after U.S. and Chinese officials announced plans to reduce Chinese steel production capacity, the applause from American workers and companies was, shall we say, restrained.

“I would love to believe it will lead to something, but I won’t until we see evidence” that China has actually cut production, said Holly Hart, legislative director for the United Steelworkers.

And Thomas Gibson, CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, issued a statement saying companies in this country “welcome the new commitments by Chinese leaders to adopt measures to strictly contain steel capacity expansion, reduce net steel capacity, eliminate outdated steel capacity, and dispose of ‘zombie enterprises’ through restructuring, bankruptcy and liquidation.”

Then he added: “But these commitments will only be meaningful if they lead to real results.”

Such skepticism stems from the futility of past efforts to trim China’s huge production at a time of weak global demand for steel.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Tuesday at the end of talks held in Beijing that China has agreed “to actively and appropriately” shut down unneeded steel mills through “a range of efforts, including restructuring and bankruptcy.”

In April, officials for major steel-producing countries met in Brussels for talks hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The parties tried to reach a comprehensive multilateral agreement to cut global steel production, but China was uncooperative.

The OECD, a forum for countries to work out economic issues, says only 67.5 percent of the steel produced last year was actually being used, down from 70.9 percent in 2014. In other words, mountains of metal are piling up around the world, hurting prices and leading to steel worker layoffs in this country and elsewhere.

Now the U.S. Treasury says China will participate in the OECD Steel Committee meeting, scheduled for Sept. 8-9, to discuss creating a “global steel forum” to help tamp down excess production.

Lew was at the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic dialogue, a platform that allows the world’s two economic giants to discuss differences. Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s President Xi Jinping also attended.

At Tuesday’s closing ceremony, Lew said that although the talks “cannot resolve our concerns, they do represent progress.”

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Chicago zoo's baby camel 'Alexander Camelton' a social media star

A month-old Bactrian camel named Alexander Camelton at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo has become a social media star.

The gangly brown camel has Twitter abuzz over his name, a play on Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States and the inspiration for the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

“We’ve been very surprised with the reaction we’ve gotten on social media,” Lincoln Park Zoological Manager Dan Boehm said on Tuesday.

Boehm described Alexander Camelton, the first Bactrian camel born at the zoo since 1998, as very precocious and said he was adjusting very well.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and stars in “Hamilton,” posted an emoji of a camel and a blushing face on Twitter in recognition of baby Camelton.

Other social media users had fun with the camel’s name.

“It’s going to be really awkward when Alexander Camelton dies in a duel with Aaron Brrrr the Penguin,” tweeted Mike Sager (@msager) on Monday, referring to Aaron Burr, who mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel 1804.

“Soon all the zoo animals will have ‘Hamilton’ names. Alexander Camelton. Salamander Hamilton. Alexander Lambilton. Lin-Manuel the Panda,” tweeted Fusion Senior Editor Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono).

(Reporting By Amy Tennery)

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