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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.


Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing

Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination for Governor in 1958 was partly an upstate revolt against the continued domination of party affairs by the Nassau Republican organization. Rockefeller was a man who always had bigger fish to fry, and throughout his almost 15 years as governor, he often went out of his way not to step on the toes of the touchy Nassau GOP. That’s why Nassau is the only large New York county without a state office building. Respect the turf.

Just before taking office, Rockefeller announced that State Senator William Hults would be Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but not until the end of the 1959 legislative session, so that Glen Cove, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and a sliver of Hempstead wouldn’t lose their Senate representation until 1960.


Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’

The Nassau County district attorney’s (DA) office makes a cameo appearance in Empty Mansions, an incredible book about Huguette Clark (1906-2011), the Manhattan-raised heiress whose generosity and eccentricities were legendary.

Now that Ryan Murphy, a creator of television’s “Glee,” has optioned Empty Mansions’ film rights, I imagine a scrum of top actresses are vying to play Clark.


Food Fight: Fare Must Be Fair

Maybe all of us wear clothing or use electronics or a hundred other things manufactured in conditions we wouldn’t tolerate for our children or in our communities. We choose not to live hidden away in caves, and for important items for which there are few obvious alternatives we can put our heads down and plow through our day and make another small compromise with the world.

Most of us don’t want someone to die or endure suffering for our pleasure. Many of us draw our own lines regarding non-critical products. Most readers would not knowingly purchase “conflict diamonds,” which have helped fund murderous civil wars in Africa.

How about slavery tomatoes?

This is not a joke, or an exaggeration. Since 1997, law enforcement officials have prosecuted at least seven major slavery cases involving workers in Florida tomato fields. These cases freed more than 1,000 men and women who had been sold to crew bosses and forced to work against their will, sometimes held in chains and locked into shacks at night. While a few low-paid field managers have been jailed, field owners strolled away without being charged. Most slavery situations go unreported, unnoticed, unknown.

Though “free trade” has led to increased imports from cheaper Mexican greenhouses in the winter, the vast majority of the tomatoes we buy between May and December come from Florida. The biggest Florida packers ship $600 million worth of tomatoes to restaurant and grocery chains each year.

The epicenter of the Florida tomato industry is the unincorporated community of Immokalee, in Collier County off the Gulf. It was here that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was founded. Calling itself a “community-based worker organization,” CIW is organized around a philosophy of public education and development of local leaders. Though CIW is made up mostly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs across Florida, it’s Fair Food campaign has captured the imagination and the support of a broad range of Americans.

CIW has worked peacefully and effectively to modernize working conditions in many harvest and packing operations. In April, CIW was credited with inspiring the first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking, which brought together private sector, government, religious and academic leaders to discuss what can be done to end a scourge in which tens of millions of human beings are trapped. Many are children forced into hard labor or sex trafficking.

The Fair Food program requires an additional penny in wages for each pound of Florida tomatoes picked. That small amount can mean a raise of 60 percent to some workers.

It burns me that so little media coverage was given to the CIW protest in Union Square, Manhattan, last week. Hundreds of actual farm workers came to New York complete with bands, street singers and street theater, educating locals and tourists about conditions in many of the Florida tomato fields. But also, they were educating those attending Wendy’s annual stockholders meeting.

Wendy’s is the last holdout among the biggest fast-food chains to sign onto the Fair Food program. Since 2005, Burger King, Chipotle Grill, McDonald’s, Subway and Taco Bell have signed. So have Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and some of the largest grocery and food service chains.

Some retailers have argued that their job is to keep their restaurants clean and shiny, to keep the dollar value menu as large as possible and to not worry about where the ingredients come from. Certainly their own employees are not beaten by goons or enslaved, and their responsibility ends there. This doesn’t concern anyone outside the sun-baked Florida fields.

Or does it?