Category Archives: The Great Divide

My US Government Final

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My responses during my final exam for my US Government class

Author: Kara Adamo

Advantages of Incumbents vs. Challengers

Congressional incumbents tend to have more money to work with during elections because the house tends to reelect over 90% of its members. Because of this, corporations tend to throw more money at incumbents and their campaigns because they have a higher statistical likelihood of winning. It is an investment game. Those incumbents—reelected and in their debts—are more likely to push agendas that are favorable to said corporations.

The reason reelection is so likely is that on the whole people are more comfortable with what they are used to than with mystery. It’s almost like having a home-field advantage. Also, a previously elected congressman usually represents the predominant ideology of their district. The challenger, then, tends to represent the minority.

 

Steps in How a Bill Becomes a Law

The process of making a bill into a law is a long, logistical nightmare that one could argue is entirely counterproductive and encourages stagnancy in our legislative system.

Bills may be introduced in either the House or the Senate—with the exception, of course, for bills regarding financial matters. Those must be introduced in the House only.

First, members of congress draft a bill. This can also be done by outside groups, but for the most part it is handled by the executive branch. Then, the bill is introduced in the House of Representatives. The speaker of the house sends it to a committee, where it more than likely will die off. If it manages to make it through, it goes to Rules Committee where debate rules are decided upon and its scheduled debate time is set. Once the house begins to debate the bill, amendments may be added and then it goes to a vote. In the event that it passes, it is sent to the Senate.

When a bill is introduced by a Senator, it is sent to a committee and the whole process repeats itself. If the committee votes for the bill, it goes to the Senate floor and is called up by the floor leader who decides when the Senate will consider it. Then something called floor action occurs, where the bill is further debated and amendments are added again. If the senate passes it, it goes back to the house where a conference committee determines whether or not the changes are acceptable. They then work out a compromise with the Senate.

Both houses work together to work out a compromise and both must approve of all of the changes made during the conference committee. Then, after the bill has been beaten around until it is unrecognizable, it is sent to the president who has the ability to sign or veto the bill. If signed, the bill becomes law.

If the president decides to veto the bill, but the house and the senate want to override that veto, they are able to do so with a 2/3 vote.

And we wonder why it takes so long for them to do anything.

 

The Modern Institutional Presidency

Article 2 of the Constitution provides a list of limited formal powers for the president of the United States. It gives the president the power to appoint—with Senate approval—executive department heads, federal judges, and ambassadors. The president has the ability to negotiate treatise and to recognize ambassadors from other countries and remains the top civilian commander of all US forces. While Congress retains the authority to actually declare war, the president is given carte blanche in times of emergency.

These days, the presence of the White House Office and the Executive Office of the Presidency muddles things a bit.  Stifled under layers of bureaucracy, presidents rely on their gatekeeper, the White House Chief of Staff, to keep them in touch with everything.

There is also a media component now that was not necessarily a factor before. While there may be inherent limitations in the offices, there are conflicting public expectations to contend with, as well. Presidents must sell themselves as common Joe’s while simultaneously proving that they are above that very commonality that makes them relatable. They must juggle pragmatism with vision while thwarting attempts by both sides to throw off their policy initiatives. And even if they manage that, the media can and will spin it in another way to enhance ratings.

 

Executive Orders & Executive Privilege

Presidents are able to issue executive orders in order to avoid public debate and opposition because they do not require congressional approval. They generally related to administrative matters and have recently been used to carry out legislative policies and programs. Kennedy, for instance, used an executive order to eliminate racial discrimination in federally funded housing.

They are often used to enforce civil rights and impose sanctions and they are immediately treated as law. They also do not have to cite existing constitutional legislation to show authority thanks to written support in things like the Vestiture Clause, which states that “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

Executive Privilege allows the president and other high-ranking officials to withhold information from congress. It is because of this that executive orders are sometimes pushed in the interest of time constraints and necessity.

 

Judicial Review

Judicial Review is the doctrine that enables the courts to annul legislation they deem unconstitutional. It differs from Judicial Restraint in that it involves their own interpretation of laws and usually their emotions and political agenda factor in. Judicial Restrain, theoretically, involves practice solely based in written law and existing legislation. The ability to deem one of those laws unconstitutional is taken out of the equation. The law is there and so it must be followed. Judicial Activism, on the other hand, involves judicial practices almost exclusively based in political agendas and emotion-based rulings. This becomes controversial in that it can be considered almost undemocratic. It almost gives judges the ability to overturn the will of the people by making laws instead of interpreting them. Still, some people believe that it is a required avenue in many cases because it promotes engaging conversations and progressive concepts like social liberties.

Online Education vs. Conventional Curriculums

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Last semester, a girlfriend of mine needed help writing a paper on the differences between online education vs. conventional curriculum.

I thought about it for a moment or two and then came up with this. I figured I may as well post it on here. It is not fully complete, as it was merely something to get her started, but I thought I made a decent, albeit quick, analysis.

Here it is…

Years ago, when somebody delved into the college realm, their expectations were simple. They would rise early in the morning, scarf down some Ramen, and inhale a cup of coffee on their way to whatever lecture hall or laboratory they were scheduled to sit in on. They would lug their books, ignore their social lives, and try with every ounce of their being, to study during their lunch breaks at their part-time jobs. Their lives were placed on the back-burner, and their time was heavily structured.

While saying you attend college still conjures the same imagery, the fact is we live in a digital age. Like so many other things in life, you can now personalize your college experience. You can make the commute to campus or you can stay at home, in your pajamas, and take classes online. Many classes are even offered as hybrid-courses, offering bits of both and catering to both the traditional method and the perhaps more pragmatic online options. The effectiveness of the approach, of course, relies mainly on the student in question.

In each situation, two things come into play…the location and the communication between the student and the instructor. In both scenarios, feedback is intrinsic and your dedication makes-or-breaks you. When you sit in a physical classroom, you have the luxury of instant feedback and physical textbooks to reference during audible discussions. Help is immediate and hands-on assignments are there to aid kinetic learners. In the digital realm, these things become less available. E-mails take the place of physical presence and hands-on-activities are limited. The response time can vary. Plus, if a student gets booted offline during a timed and scheduled exam, they can run into problems in terms of completion and whether or not they pass. The exams also have to be conducive to their operating system—if the program does not open on a mac, then mac-users must find a windows computer, for example.

On the other hand, the scheduling issues regarding campus-learning are alleviated by the more pragmatic and realistic online alternatives. The flexibility allows mothers, full-time employees, older people, disabled people, and simply young people with other things going with the ability to conveniently continue their education. So, if your job requires you to be available during the day, you can take that same class at night instead of waiting for a better opening simply because of a time-slot issue. This also helps when scheduling classes because they will not conflict with one another.

Another convenience is that, since you are working from your own computer, it is possible to wear whatever you want and maintain your own individuality without the stigmas attached that may affect your relationship with your teacher. They are blinded to your race or walk of life and see only your mind and the effort you are willing to put into the class. It levels the playing field a bit and opens the door to a more honest discussion.

Same-Sex Adoption vs. The State

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This was my second paper for my US Government class. I got an A.

Adoptions by Gay Couples Rise, Despite Barriers

Author: Kara M. Adamo.

In an effort to dissuade the United States from slipping into a totalitarian, fully-federal rule that might undermine the confederates of the time, specific duties and jurisdictions were given to the state and federal governments. The concept worked, for the most part, and up until the 1930s, our government maintained a mainly state-run system. The federal government stepped in during moments of crisis and when it came to general order. There was an infrastructure…a framework within which each state would work and create its own policies. It was a union of states…and given the smaller population of that union and isolated nature of the country at the time, the model worked.

So then you can fast-track into the fall of the economy in the 30s and the subsequent war that followed. It was than that unions developed, well, within the union. The framework tightened and companies that took advantage of so many people in the form of basic sweat shops were held accountable.

Women began working and learning trades in the absence of men who were fighting overseas. So, as a result, when the men returned to a world only resembling the one they remembered, the influx of conflicting states of mind rocked the original foundations from which our country based its society.

Since then, there have been social changes that rock the doctrines many older generations appreciated. We have the civil rights movement, epidemics, numerous wars in which we either won or backed out of, and a number of international policies and relations that have switched, shifted and threatened our nation as a whole. And we have done the same.

In the last twenty years, one of the many things that have managed to rock the boat is the question over gay rights. You have religious people morally conflicted over other people merely wishing to exercise basic human rights, and at the state level, different social groups maintain control over the government.

But when it comes to this particular issue, when you are dealing with not only the legitimacy over a marriage, but the adoption of a child, things get a little messy. It is not just about state acknowledgement and being able to work anywhere you want—it is about whether, across state lines, you are still a family.

The question, then, becomes whether or not the state vs. federal module is still a pragmatic one.

The article retrieved for this paper came from The New York Times. It was published on June 13th, 2011 and was written by Sabrina Tavernise. I chose a previous article for a number of reasons. Namely, and admittedly, it is because the title caught my eye faster than any of the other articles I reviewed from across the nation, including The Washington Post, The Orlando Sentinel, and more recent articles in The Times itself.

The second reason, the one that honestly sold me on it, was that it was published in the past, although the issue itself is still a current one. This was post-proposition 8, and yet I can analyze it with a 2013 point of view…when some policies have changed a bit and at a time when states are exercising the very rights addressed previously. Slowly, gay marriage is becoming a very real, widely acknowledged thing and yet the adoptions addressed in this article are still questioned…still used as arguments against an inevitable change that grants people basic rights.

I found it intriguing, and so I proceeded.

The main conflict between the federal and state levels is addressed in the very first paragraph. The author notes that there is an “uneven legal landscape that can leave their children without the rights and protections extended to children of heterosexual parents.”

There are still two states in which same-sex couples cannot adopt…Utah and Mississippi. In nearly half of the remaining 48, they still face difficulties. This is particularly difficult because same-sex marriage is not legal in those states.

And yet, throughout those remaining 48 states, adoption rates by same-sex couples is skyrocketing.  “The trend line is absolutely straight up,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit organization working to change adoption policy and practice. “It’s now a reality on the ground.”

The fact is, while gay singles are permitted to adopt children, many couples are denied those children in favor of heterosexual couples. This is sometimes even in writing, as in the case of Arizona.

Heads of adoption agencies do, however, see a very real need in front of them. “The reality is we really need foster and adoptive parents, and it doesn’t matter what the relationship is,” said Moira Weir, director of the job and family services department in Hamilton County, Ohio. “If they can provide a safe and loving home for a child, isn’t that what we want?”

The argument, of course, is that heterosexual couples provide just as much of a risk or benefit as gay or lesbian couples. And in liberal, typically blue states, that argument is seen as a valid one.  According to the article, “discrimination still remains and that in some conservative states, adoption agencies that serve gay families function like an “underground railroad.” ”

And, despite the fact that they are not protected at the federal level quite yet, “adoptions are happening anyway, even in places where the law does not give both parents full rights. Matt and Ray Lees, a couple in Worthington, Ohio, said they were selected as parents for a 7-month-old, ahead of several heterosexual couples, in part because they had successfully adopted two older children. ”

And yet, in Ohio, homosexual adoption is illegal. This is because, under Ohio law, you have to be married in order to adopt. Matt and Ray Lees found a loop-hole. “They bind their two legally distinct families together with custody agreements. They do not provide full parental rights, however, because like many states, Ohio does not allow second-parent adoptions by unmarried couples unless the first parent renounces his or her right to the child. They have to maintain two family health insurance policies. ”

And this is where it gets structurally and organizationally sticky. If a family is cohesive on one block, a mile away from a state line, and they take a jog, are they no longer a family if they step over the state line? Are the parents no longer parents—and are the children no longer adopted?

This issue becomes an issue, less of legality, and more of family. And that is why it is important—so intrinsically important—that we find some sort of frame work at the federal level.

The original link to the article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/us/14adoption.html

Raping Easy

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Author: Kara Mae Adamo. 

…ugh, okay, here we go…

I have been doing my best to keep from blogging about any and all election campaigns. I am trying. Aside from my passive-aggressive posts on Facebook and Twitter, I have been keeping it relatively low-key.

I curse and I shake my tiny fist at the computer/television/smart phone/iPad and say mean things to the headlines and, god help me, about the debates and campaign ads.

In honesty, part of the reason I choose not to blog about it is that, frankly, I do not have the energy. I have far more gratifying things to do, like work, exercise, drink wine and study for my Sommelier certification.

Or play Draw Something and pick lint off of my bathroom towels.

But I digress. The reason I have decided to break my try-to-stay-away-from-politics-when-blogging rule is, ironically, very much the same reason I avoid it. The insanity is overwhelming.

Last December, Wisconsin state Representative Roger Rivard made one of those absurd word-vomit moves only politicians seem capable of making. He actually said, and I quote, “Some women rape easy.”

Do not worry, I am not going to take that horrific sentence out of context. That wouldn’t be fair, or even any fun. Especially since, believe it or not, the actual context is far more ridiculous than anything I as a fiction writer could have ever hoped for.

Evidently, Rivard’s father gave him advise regarding premarital sex when he was younger. This is completely acceptable–it is your parents’ job to clarify things for you when you are growing up. That is what parenting is all about.

The advice is sound enough between a clearly only moderately articulate father and his young son. The unfortunate truth is that, every now and then, people are falsely accused of rape. I am not by any means casting the horrible nature of such a thing aside. It is selfish, irresponsible and ruins lives. And Mr. Rivard was right to tell young Roger that it was a possibility, even if his candor was a bit off-color.

Roger Rivard’s father was not a politician. Roger Rivard, on the other hand, is. 

The problem is that Rivard quoted his father in response to a rape case between two 17 year old kids. He is an elected state representative forming and publishing an unfounded opinion about a situation on which he has no first-hand account. This nationally broadcasted opinion publicly discredits a young girl who may actually have been raped. It is a great way to reassure her that, no, the republican party does not have any intention of backing her up. He could just as readily have scorned the act of rape and point out that the defendant had not yet been proven guilty. That would have been unoffensive and realistic. It would have been diplomatic. It would have been his job.

Instead, he chose to say that “Some women rape easy,” which is the absolute worst response I have ever heard of.

Then, this past Wednesday, he repeated himself in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Here is the quote from the article so that you understand I am not altering anything:

“He also told me one thing, ‘If you do (have premarital sex), just remember, consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry,’ ” Rivard said. “Because all of a sudden a young lady gets pregnant and the parents are madder than a wet hen and she’s not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was part of the program.’ All that she has to say or the parents have to say is it was rape because she’s underage. And he just said, ‘Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls,’ he said, ‘they rape so easy.’

“What the whole genesis of it was, it was advice to me, telling me, ‘If you’re going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape.’ So the way he said it was, ‘Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.'”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/wisconsin-republican-some-girls-rape-easy-2012-10#ixzz291lrs9Mr

This comment comes during a time of heated campaign debate, and I think it is a telling self-portrait. It shows the underlying truth of how Rivard sees women and how he would represent them.

It is indicative of a prejudice against women who actually are raped, and it is absolutely disgusting and chauvinistic. It belittles the rape charge by indicating an innate falsehood to an implied majority, rather than a few sparse girl-who-cried-wolf scenarios that while I agree are absolutely horrible, are not always the case. And he is doing it as a part of his pro-life campaign, which I naturally abhor. He is now stripping women not only of their sovereignty over their own bodies but of their credibility as victims in terrifying and horribly wounding circumstances.

On behalf of women everywhere, I find him absolutely offensive.

This pervasive misogynistic outlook seems to be an increasingly popular route to take on the part of the republican party. It is a backwoods viewpoint that women fought tooth-and-nail to abolish decades ago. The idea that women are weak and that we are not to be trusted is a malignant cancer of an idea that does nothing to perpetuate social growth.  It is three steps back at a time when we need to be forward thinkers.

And it is being endorsed by the Christian Right and the rest of the ultra-conservative cultist right-wing-nut-jobs. It is appalling on a level that I find ironic, since it gains resemblance to the Islamic extremism these same people swear they are adamantly against.

So while I do not live in Wisconsin and am not even necessarily an actual democrat, I am outraged and frankly a bit freaked out.

And you should be, too.

So regardless of whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, an Atheist, a Buddhist, etc. please, for the love of your fellow (wo)man, take this into consideration when electing the next movers and shakers.

The Whole Abortion Thing

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Author: Kara Mae Adamo. 


I have a headache today…and it’s not just because of my new glasses.

Santorum, in his most recent stream of verbal idiocy, made a comment regarding prenatal care…and how it is, essentially, unnecessary. His comment, of course, is in reference to Obamacare (a cluster-fuck they have done their damnedest to render completely ineffective because, well, if he doesn’t make strides, it looks like he’s not trying to do anything…but that’s another argument completely.)

The quote went like this:

“One of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing in every insurance policy in America…why? Because it saves money in health care. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society.”

His argument has to do with the fact that, during prenatal testing, the doctors dealing with his wife’s pregnancy recommended abortion because their daughter suffers from Trisomy 18 (a chromosome disorder that often results in stillborns). Now, fortunately young Isabella was not a stillborn, but that really isn’t the point. The point is, Karen Santorum still sought prenatal testing when she was pregnant…because when you are pregnant that’s what you do.

To say that prenatal testing is unnecessary and to argue that it is part of a massive conspiracy to encourage abortions is ridiculous.

And what if it did?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not “pro-abortion”. I could never get one myself. It would absolutely destroy me and I don’t get over things easily enough. I’ve miscarried and it took over a year to shed that guilt from my mind. A purposeful ridding of my hypothetical child would, simply put, be out of the question.

For me.

I am, however, a realist. Just because would never want something done doesn’t mean that I want the government telling me whether or not it’s okay.

That’s the cliché answer for “pro-life” women. Please sit down for this next part, though, as I’m bound to make some waves.

For me, it’s not even about whether or not abortion is murder.

I’m sorry. It’s just not. I don’t know when “life begins.” I am not a scientist and I sure as hell am not a priest.

I am, however, a concerned global citizen.

We, as a populace, have grown too much. We are popping out way too many kids and, thanks to modern science, we are sticking around entirely too long (case in point: the near-depletion of social security funds). According to Jean-François Rischard (former president of the World Bank), we are projected to jump to 8 billion people by 2020. EIGHT BILLION. That’s an almost 2-billion jump in under a decade.

Our planet is already going to hell in a hand basket. We don’t have the space or the resources to contend with that kind of demographic explosion. I know it sounds cruel, but abortion is a form of population control. It sounds cold-hearted (and maybe it is), but facts are facts. Factor in water scarcity, poverty, infectious diseases, fishery depletion, biodiversity losses, deforestation, maritime pollution, and energy/food consumption, and this little traffic jam turns into a big problem. Cereal consumption alone is projected to rise by 30 percent. For those of you who insist on eating rotting, decomposing flesh, the meat consumption will jump by up to 60 percent.

Also, the same party that argues against the cruelty of abortion will dash away at the mere mention of socialized healthcare. I’m sorry, but until we are willing to take care of people that are already here, the argument regarding adding to that number is null. There are too many of us and there is no shortage of orphans out there. They’ll force you to have the kid, but then they’ll argue against the taxes set in place to care for it once it’s inevitably handed over to the state…and the charming, balloon-filled, happy home life that goes with it.

When people say that the unwanted child-fetus could go to a willing adoptive family, it makes me twitch because there are already plenty of children that lack homes, clothing, education and food.

I understand the idea that killing innocent children is not the answer, but let’s face it: we do that all the time.

In the last ten years, I have watched us give the finger to our fellow veto powers at the UN Security Council, strap up, and bomb the ever loving shit out of sovereign nations. We finance child trafficking and turn our noses to child soldier stories. So why, in the comfort of squeaky-clean suburbia, does the issue of murdering children suddenly come up? It’s hypocrisy, pure and simple.

I want my government to stay out of my personal life. Don’t tell me what to smoke, who to fuck and whether or not I should have a baby. Don’t tell me what to say, who to listen to, and please leave me alone about the faith thing. The day a presidential candidate admits to being an atheist is the day I dance a jig on the White House lawn…because the race should not be about faith. Freedom of religion was the entire point, was it not? Don’t get me wrong, I know that poor martyr would never make it to the primaries or might even end up stoned to death , but just the idea is enough to get me excited.

The life at conception argument is just as important to me as the argument over whether or not there is a gay gene…in that I don’t care. It’s not about that. It’s about numbers…just like these arguments are about numbers. Unfortunately, there are mitigating circumstances that lead people to have abortions. They’ll always be there and people will always get them. If you don’t like abortion, don’t get an abortion. But the idea that this is a prime issue in a country where so many other things have gone wrong is completely ridiculous.

As my friend Andrew says, they are flooding our media with insane, unfounded quotes regarding social issues because neither party has a solution for the economic issues we’re all facing…they are upsetting us on purpose: redirecting our focus so that we all talk about gay people marrying more and leave lack-o-cash on the back burner for a bit.

Syria was recently condemned, employment remains a constant headache on the domestic forefront, Egypt is screwed and Sara Palin still thinks it’s okay to drill for oil and simultaneously host a nature show. We have far more important issues on our hands.

The Great Divide and the Coffee Industry

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This is a paper I wrote for my Ethnobotony class in college. The paper was basically a report on “Black Gold”: A Documentary on the Economic Gap Between Ethiopian Co-ops, Coffee Farmers and Large-Scale Multinationals. Most of the research was strictly from the movie (that was the prompt, although a decent amount of it came from other sources because, well, I can’t help myself) Admittedly, I wrote this a while ago…but I felt like posting it anyway because it’s an important aspect of our commercial lives that our society likes to shut out. If you haven’t watched “Black Gold” yet, I sincerely recommend it. You’ll never look at western consumerism the same again.

The American dream has expanded. In addition to the white picket fence, two cars in every driveway, and a 401k in every retirement plan, we have now added to the mix. A part of the ideal existence is the obsessive infatuation with personalizing everything. We personalize the colors of our laptops and ultra thin cameras. We personalize our cars, our cell phones, and our décor. Now, with the advent of having a Starbucks “on every corner,” the personalized latte has taken hold in our society. We spend our lives rushing around at the crack of dawn in order to get to the first café where we can personalize our cup of one of the last legal drugs. In cities like New York, Seattle and London, people have developed an addiction to coffee. According to an Italian barista, “Coffee is the first thing for Italians in the morning—without it we are all miserable”

In fact, aside from petroleum, coffee is the most heavily traded commodity in the world. But, while sipping our frozen coffees while we read the latest issue of some innocuous magazine, the origins of that beverage are often far from our minds. We know that we’re paying between $3 and $5 to add whipped cream and substitute soymilk, so we assume that the coffee market is doing just fine. And it is. Last year, the global market (including all of the middlemen involved in getting that coffee into your Styrofoam cup) reached an unprecedented $140 billion. This does not, however, mean that the market is a fair one.

The International Coffee Agreement (ICA) was a Cold War mechanism designed to maintain stable coffee prices. The idea was to avoid social turmoil that many feared communists might exploit. The Agreement worked between 1975 and 1989. Even though prices still fluctuated, they never fell below the minimum price established by the ICA ($1.20/pound).[1]  At the end of the Cold War, the US abandoned the ICA.[2] This sparked the Agreement’s collapse and, as a result, coffee prices fell drastically. During most of the nineties, coffee prices remained low—usually below the cost of production—and in the last ten years, the price has hit an all-time low.

If you look at the facts, demonstrated in the Sundance Film Documentary, Black Gold, we can see that the cause for this is not a lack of demand. The year after the ICA collapsed; coffee was a $30 billion market. Since then, it has soared up past $80 billion. Globally, an estimated more than 2 million cups of coffee are drank a day. However, the individual co-operatives are not given accurate, up-to-date information on prices, and so they are being taken advantage of.

This is a significant problem for coffee co-operatives and their respective farmers in Ethiopia, which is Africa’s number one producer of coffee. 67% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product is centered around the coffee industry, so when prices are low, they affect every aspect of the country’s economic infrastructure.

Tadesse Meskela manages the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union, representing over 74,000 coffee farmers. Tadesse’s farmers union buys coffee from 101 individual co-operatives spread across southern Ethiopia. According to Meskela, for every Kilo of coffee harvested, bagged and shipped, approximately 80 cups of coffee are brewed. A cup of coffee in the western world costs approximately $2.90. If you multiply that by the 80 cups of coffee each Kilo produces, the amount the multinationals are making off of each Kilo is approximately $232.

When Meskela took the camera crew of Black Gold into the Kilenso Mokonisa co-operative, the difference between today’s market and the farmers’ understanding of that market was made glaringly apparent. He asked how much they thought a cup of coffee costs in the Western World. None of the farmers had any idea what the going price for their product was. Where they live, in Hagere Maram, the price for a cup of coffee is one birr, which translates to $0.12. When told that, in western societies, coffee goes for 25 birr, they were enraged because, for every Kilo of coffee they sell, they are receiving 2 birr while the corporations are turning around and selling that same amount of coffee for 2,000 birr.  It is the private traders who have gotten fat, leaving hard working, impoverished farmers with nothing.  “Our problem is when our coffee ripens and is ready for sale, a man comes to our farm and says to us, ‘I will take your coffee and pay you 0.75 birr ($0.08) for a kilo.’ There’s no negotiation, one person decides to buy our coffee at 0.75 birr ($0.08). We have no up-to-date price information, and one person controls the market. When our coffee is ready, please take it at the right market price.”

The market is controlled by four multinationals: Nestle, Procter and Gamble, Sara Lee, and Kraft Foods. They keep offices in Addis Ababa, where Ethiopia’s Government Coffee Auction takes place. There, coffee collectors and coffee exporters bid on coffee. Their prices are based off of the international coffee price—established at a centralized market in New York City and London. If the price is down by five cents in NYC and London, then those bidding on the coffee will buy it for five cents less in Ethiopia. While this may sound appropriate on the surface, it is important to acknowledge the enormous discrepancy between what those multinationals are making versus what the Co-operatives are making and—even further—what the farmers that are members of said co-ops are making. “It is said ‘coffee is gold,’ and on the radio, they’re always talking about coffee, coffee…we listen to it, but gain nothing,” says one of the farmers from the Kilenso Mokonisa co-operative.

The prices are affecting all of the people in the coffee industry. In the farmers’ corner of the market, things are, by all stretches, difficult. It takes 4 years for coffee trees to grow to their full size and an extra year on top of that before they are able to produce proper beans. They toil all day in the dirt without shoes because their side of the market is down.

After the coffee has been harvested, it goes to sweatshops to be sorted. A cup of coffee usually consists of approximately 50 beans. Every bean must be perfect because if it isn’t, it’ll throw off the aroma and flavor, thus decreasing the blend’s quality. In order to ensure that the quality of each shipment is kept up to par, every single bean must be examined by hand and sorted at the Coffee Export Processing Center in Addis Ababa. Women perform this task for 4 birr (less than $0.50) a day even though they are working full 8-hour shifts.

On top of that, overall employment is down. If the prices were even a little higher, all of the machinists could be full engaged at the co-operatives’ processing plant. The prices, however, are too low and so there aren’t a lot of people working at the plants.

Burte Arba, a coffee farmer from Yirgacheffe, says that, “since the price of coffee has fallen drastically, I have not been getting a fair reward for my years of work. We would soar high above the sky if we got 5 birr ($0.57) for a kilo of coffee. Forget 20 or 10 birr. I say 5 birr would change our lives beyond recognition.”

Alemayhu Abrahim, an Ethiopian school principal, agrees. “The economy of the community is based on coffee production—nothing else. Since the fall of the coffee price, people are not able to survive and the community as a whole does not have any money to help with the development of the school. For as long as the coffee price goes up and down, the school will continue to be affected in very many ways. We can’t even afford to buy blackboards and I doubt if we can pay the salary of our teachers in the near future.”

Once the coffee is bought from the Government Coffee Auction, the coffee buyers upload the coffee from the warehouse. They process it and sell it to their buyers abroad. From there, the buyer distributes the coffee to roasters. The roasters roast the coffee and sell it to the retailers and cafés. By the time the coffee reaches the consumer, it has been through six different links of a middlemen-infested chain. Meskela wants to eliminate 60% of the middlemen that stand in the way of allowing farmers to benefit fairly from their hard work. “Our main aim is to bring more money into the coffee growers pocket…to improve the farmers’ life… I don’t mean ‘better life’ as in having a car, having electricity or a motorbike…at least to feed his family with nutritious food, to have clean water and to have clean clothes, and send his children to school.” Meskela’s union is “ready to look for a better market…to sell the coffee for a better price and return to you [the farmers] the profit.” In return, Meskela is asking the farmers to make sure the coffee is washed properly for their co-operative. They all applauded in response.