Thursday, November 5, 2015
Los Angeles Times
Release of Pacific trade agreement sets stage for huge battle before Congress vote
By Don Lee
Details of the sweeping Pacific Rim trade agreement reached last month were released early Thursday, setting the stage for what is certain to be a period of intense scrutinizing, spinning and selling before the contentious deal comes up for a final vote in Congress as soon as early next year.
The text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership lists thousands of tariff items that will go to zero or be reduced, including such sensitive products as rice, dairy and sugar. And, in 30 chapters, the agreement spells out uniform rules on intellectual property, labor rights, the environment and other areas of international commerce that the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam and seven other nations have agreed to adopt.
Among them, the section on intellectual property confirms that American pharmaceutical companies, while they did not get the 12 years of data protection for certain drugs that they had sought, still ended up with provisions that will require partner countries to begin enforcing new rules that could slow generic producers from offering copycat versions by five years, and for some biotech drugs by eight years with additional market protections.
Groups including Doctors Without Borders had protested that such patent protections would cause critical delays and severe restrictions to access generic medicines, including cancer therapies, for patients and their families — especially in the developing world.
Under the chapter on labor rights, member countries agreed to give workers the right to collective bargaining and to effectively abolish child labor — rules that the U.S. had meant to target such nations as Vietnam.
The Communist-led country has emerged as a low-cost alternative to China in manufacturing, and many analysts estimate that the developing economy is likely to be proportionately the biggest beneficiary of the Pacific accord with additional market openings in such industries as textiles and foods.
The AFL-CIO and other labor rights groups have warned that cheap labor costs and inadequate enforcement of worker protections in Vietnam and Malaysia would be costly to American industries and jobs.
Michael Froman, President Obama’s chief trade official, said Thursday that “with this agreement, we have an opportunity not only to promote growth but to shape the framework in which that growth takes place.” Through the accord, he said in announcing the release of the text, “hundreds of millions of workers will have their basic labor rights recognized and gain tools to protect those rights.”
The Pacific trade agreement, concluded a month ago in Atlanta after many rounds of negotiations over several years, would be the largest regional trade pact in the world, encompassing countries in the Americas and Asia that constitute 40% of the global economy.
Since early in the talks, many congressional Democrats, organized labor and consumer groups have criticized the lack of transparency in the deal-making process as well as the pact itself, pitting President Obama against some of his party’s traditionally most loyal allies.
For Obama, the trade pact is a potentially legacy-making endeavor. The president has argued that the agreement would be good for the American economy as Asia is the world’s fastest growing region, as well as for the nation’s security interests in a part of the world that is orbiting increasingly around a rising China.
During the more than five years of negotiations, bits and pieces of the working texts have been leaked, but now with the publication of the document, a clearer and fuller picture of some of the most controversial sections comes into view — and with it a high-stakes battle that many parties have been girding for over the last few weeks.
Most congressional Republicans are behind the agreement, although some will be reluctant to hand their nemesis, the president, such a major victory at the end of his term. Obama’s biggest challenge will be persuading fellow Democrats. Among their biggest concerns was that the agreement does not contain provisions prohibiting countries from manipulating their currency exchange rates to gain an edge in trade.
In an attempt to appease some of them, the Obama administration, in a separate action from the Treasury Department, said Thursday that the U.S. and the other Trans-Pacific Partnership countries agreed to commit to high standards of currency practices. The declaration, which is not part of the Pacific trade pact, calls for greater transparency and the establishment of a forum to address currency issues.
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Farmers fear no Friant-Kern water
By David Castellon
After a miserable dry winter last year, strong storms on Monday and Tuesday that brought heavy rain were a welcome change to farmers across California.
These storms dropped an estimated six to 12 inches of much-needed snow on the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which prior to that had zero or trace amounts of snowpack, along with one to three inches in the lower foothills.
And here in the Valley, nearly two-thirds of an inch of rain was measured at the Visalia Municipal Airport, while Tulare had slightly less, .51 inches. Fresno had more rain, nearly an inch, according to WeatherAg, a Visalia-based forecasting service for the agricultural industry.
On top of that there is a slight chance for scattered showers in the Valley on Monday, while a stronger chance exists for a wetter storm hitting the region mid-month, said Scott Borgioli, a meteorologist and WeatherAg’s owner.
It’s a promising start to the Valley’s rainy season, which usually begins around now, but it’s no guarantee that a wet winter will come, despite predictions from forecasters that a wetter-than-normal winter in likely for Central and Southern California.
Even if that wetter weather comes, Glen Martin is worried about getting water for his citrus groves in the Terra Bella and Success Valley areas of southeast Tulare County.
Like many farmers along eastern Tulare County, he depends on surface water delivered via the Friant-Kern Canal to irrigate his groves. But for the past two years, he and other farms depending on that water have gotten none allocated through the system due, in part, to low water levels in Fresno County’s Millerton Lake because of the state’s four-year drought.
In addition, a large portion of what little water the lake has been delivered to water rights holders — known as “exchange contractors” — in the Los Banos area who haven’t received water they’re contractually entitled to receive from the San Joaquin Delta. Water levels also have been low there because of requirements that some of that water be redirected for environmental reasons.
The zero water allocations in the Friant system was unprecedented since the Friant-Kern Canal began operating in the early 1950s, and farmers in Terra Bella and some nearby areas are being particularly hard hit because they don’t have wells while others, like Martin, have limited water in their wells.
Things have gotten so bad that Martin has torn mature trees out of large sections of his groves and is focusing what little well water he has on keeping his younger trees alive.
As for his plans for the future, even if the winter is wet, he said of the trees he removed, “I don’t know if I’m going to replace them, because they tell us zero allocation [next year] even if it rains.”
“I don’t know that I’d call it a rumor” that no water will be allocated by the Friant Water Authority next year, said Dan Vink, general manager of the Lower Tule River and Pixley irrigation districts. “I think it’s early speculation of what next year looks like.”
Despite the predictions for a strong El Niño effect — a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that tends to increase winter storm activity in Central and Southern California — expected to occur this winter, he said, “We really see things very conservative right now.”
How water much is allotted to farmers and communities through the Friant system next year could depend on how much water the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation releases through the Delta, Vink said.
“There is concern that even in a normal year type [of rain and snow] they’ll be so conservative in the amount of water they store in northern California to protect the endangered species there, there is some discussion they are going to be very conservative in the amount of water they allocate next year” through the Delta, he explained.
And if that allocation is low enough, then large amounts of water from Millerton Lake could be directed to exchange contractors instead of contractors along the Friant-Kern Canal, which extends south from Fresno County across eastern Tulare County to Kern County.
As such, Vink said, “It’s not a rumor, but it is a concern they have.”
“It shows how out to sync things are that even in a wet year, they are sending up red flags that they might not send out normal allocations.”
“I haven’t heard rumors from my growers, but I’ve heard from other [irrigation district] manager and forecasters wondering what kind of water year it would take” to ensure that the exchange contractors get the water they’re entitled to from the Delta without having to tap into Millerton Lake, said Dale Brogan, manager of the Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District, which gets water through the Friant-Kern Canal.
“I’ve seen all kinds of predictions about what kind of water year it would take. A lot depends on how much [rain and snow] comes and how it comes,” he said.
Heavy storms spread out over the season would be preferred to a few mild storms hitting quick and hard, causing flooding and a lot of rain being “flushed” out as flood release to the ocean rather than being stored and used here, Brogan said.
“Just based on two years of having no water, the fear is very present on everybody’s minds, but everybody is hopeful that El Niño will produce water for everybody’s interests,” he said.
“There’s a good chance the contractors will get all they need,” Brogan said.
“My opinion is, anybody making a bold prediction one way or another, they are probably not worth listening too. Nobody knows,” said Bill Luce, interim general manager of the Friant Water Authority, which oversees distribution of water through the Friant-Kern.
Still, when asked what the odds are for zero water allocations in 2016, he put them at just 20 percent.
“If we get a really significant amount of rain and a good snowpack… I don’t think there will be a problem getting a water supply. It will have to be a very big year,” which long-range weather forecasts give good odds of happening, Luce said.
Imperial Valley Press
IID votes to become GSA, pushes back decision on new divisions
By Edwin Delgado
The Imperial Irrigation District voted to become a groundwater sustainability agency during their board of directors meeting Tuesday.
Legislation passed by the state of California in 2014, the Sustainability Groundwater Management act. That piece of legislation allows local entities to managed groundwater basins within their jurisdictions. In order to become a GSA the entity has to do so by resolution.
There are different groundwater basins within IID’s service area.
On Aug. 11 the Imperial County board of supervisor also voted to become the GSA of the basins within the county. The act allows for multiple agencies to manage basins that overlap in their jurisdictions by adapting a joint plan of how those basins will be managed.
Once the local agencies become a GSA they are responsible for the development and implementation of a sustainability plan.
Some of the directors were a bit concerned that the action could be seen as a challenge to the county to manage some of the basins.
“There have been discussions with the county and they are aware of what we are doing,” IID assistant legal counsel Joanna Smith Hoff said. “The county Counsel is fully aware.”
The next step is for the IID and the county to work cooperatively to create a management plan and enforce it.
“We would need to work together to have a memorandum of understanding with the county to define responsibilities,” Smith said.
The board of directors listened once again to a draft proposal of how to draw the five districts for IID’s board of directors. The proposal was tabled to the next meeting to allow for more time to resolve some of the concerns about how the districts were initially drawn.
One of the big concerns is which cities will cover multiple cities. The map presented Tuesday had Brawley split into two division same with El Centro and the northern portion of Calexico was part of a different district.
Brawley resident John Hernandez spoke about the proposal and said that he would like to see cities stay within the same district.
In 2014 voters approved a measure to require IID to conduct future elections for members of the board of directors by division.
By law all divisions should have an equivalent number of residents in it and meet other criteria such as existing boundaries, race and ethnicity and contiguity.
The proposed boundaries will be reviewed once more and will be brought back to the board on the next meeting on Nov. 18 to be approved.
IID has to submit the map of their new divisions to the county registrar by Dec. 9.
Staff Writer Edwin Delgado may be reached at email@example.com
Imperial Valley Press
County backs sea to sea concept as long term solution for Salton Sea
By Edwin Delgado
The Imperial County board of supervisors voted Tuesday to take a position regarding the sea to sea water transfer concept as a long term solution to deal with the receding shoreline at the Salton Sea.
The plan is to bring approximately 1 million acre-feet of water per year from the Sea of Cortez to the Salton Sea. The board recognized that the proposal is very complex and that it will take several years to make it happen, but ultimately agreed to support the idea of the sea to sea water transfer as a feasible long-term solution.
Although the supervisors support the measure there is still not a finalized plan on the table to take action on.
“The sea to sea concept should be carefully reviewed by the state as a long-term solution,” District 4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley said. “Pushing for this concept as a long-term solution doesn’t sidetrack us from the problems created by the receding exposed playa.”
After finally getting an indication that the state is moving forward with some short and medium term projects at the Salton Sea in recent weeks, the board wants to make sure that the plan doesn’t become a second thought and put pressure to state officials to take a closer look to what the proposal entails.
“We want total restoration of the Salton Sea for the betterment of our community,” District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelley said. “If there is a will there is a possibility.”
Also District 1 Supervisor John Renison said that he has been in touch with Mexican officials and the Cucapá tribe and stated that there is interest to make the project happen.
The portion of the concept south of the border is expected to get done regardless of the actions that are taken here on U.S. soil.
Renison also said that he hopes the Imperial Irrigation District be on the same page with the county regarding the issue.
“I implore the IID to take this to their board for consideration. They need to be on board as well,” Renison said. “This is a good long term solution. This is not a back-burner issue, it’s a front-burner issue.”
A few community members had the opportunity to share their concerns with the board. One resident was worried about the possibility of flooding in case of earthquakes.
Tom Sephton, the president of Sephton Water Technology Inc., who has been working closely with the county and IID in reviewing the possibility of the water transfer said that the pump that would be used would shut down in case of an earthquake or any other occurrence that may require them to do so.
Imperial County Farm Bureau Executive Director Linsey Dale also expressed concerned about whether the water that could get sent from Mexico would be desalinated south of the border since there could be an issue with the desalination standards.
“The plan is to desalinate the water here to make sure is up to the standards we want,” Sephton said. “By doing this we can generate jobs for the benefit of the County.”
Staff Writer Edwin Delgado may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Los Angeles Times
Brown gets touchy over criticism of water tunnel plan
By George Skelton
Gov. Jerry Brown has been getting quite cranky lately when anyone belittles a pet project, especially his proposed water tunnels.
And if he’s crotchety now, wait until next year’s election, when he’ll probably be forced to defend his pricey tunnels and pokey bullet train.
That’s because there’ll be a citizens’ initiative on the ballot that could bury the tunnels and sidetrack the train. The measure would require voter approval of any project with a price tag exceeding $2 billion if it’s to be financed by state revenue bonds. The tunnels probably would be; the train, perhaps.
Last week after tunnel opponents protested on the state Capitol steps — claiming the $15.5-billion project was financially risky and a water grab by San Joaquin Valley corporate farmers and Southern California developers — Brown issued a brief prepared statement unique in its formal acerbity.
The governor began civilly enough: “The delta pipeline is essential to … protecting fish and water quality. Without this fix, San Joaquin farms, Silicon Valley and other vital centers of the California economy will suffer devastating losses in their water supply.”
Opponents strongly disagree, contending that delta fish and water quality would suffer and that there are other, cheaper solutions for the state. But Brown’s opening remark was not offensive. This concluding slap, however, was:
“Claims to the contrary are false, shameful and do a profound disservice to California’s future.”
Very un-gubernatorial. Since when is it shameful and a disservice to democracy to express an opposing viewpoint at the state Capitol?
You might recall that in a speech last spring to local water officials the governor told tunnel opponents to “shut up” unless they’d studied the project — as his administration had — for 1 million hours. “Because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
That million hours, for one opponent, would consume 480 years of normal work weeks.
The water managers laughed, and a Brown spokesman later said the governor was just kidding. But the body language didn’t show that. It portrayed a guy who thinks he’s the smartest one around — maybe because he has been around longer than just about anyone else in the room. But Brown has always been that way, even decades ago when he was the new kid.
In July, you might also remember, Brown spoke at a climate-change conference in Canada and called U.S. politicians who refuse to act against global warming “troglodytes,” or cave dwellers.
But back to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, California’s main water hub. Brown has been trying to build two humongous 40-foot-wide, 35-mile tunnels under the West Coast’s largest estuary. They would siphon fresh water from the Sacramento River before it flows into the delta and pour it into southbound aqueducts.
Brown says this is needed to protect California’s water supply against collapsing levees during a big earthquake, against federal judges who periodically turn off fish-chomping pumps in the current plumbing system and against a rising salty sea in future global warming.
Opponents point out there has never been such a delta earthquake in recorded history. And they argue there are cheaper alternatives that wouldn’t destroy delta farming and salmon reliant on fresh water. They include strengthening delta levees and installing better fish screens on pumps. Plus finally building reservoirs and focusing on local projects: groundwater cleanup, storm water capture, recycling and desalination.
One man who feels strongly about this is wealthy food processor Dean Cortopassi, 78, who has lived his entire life in the delta and loves it. He has spent $4 million of his own money to qualify what he calls the “no blank checks” initiative for the 2016 ballot.
It’s not a referendum on the tunnels, exactly, but could collapse them.
A little civics refresher here: There are two basic types of state bonds. The most common is a general obligation bond, which is paid off through the state general fund with tax money. These bonds must be approved by voters. They’re not involved in the initiative.
The second type is a revenue bond. It is financed with revenue from a project: vehicle tolls or water rates. Voters don’t get a say on these projects because they’re paid for by user fees.
Cortopassi’s proposal would require any revenue bond project exceeding $2 billion to win voter approval. About the only current projects that would be affected are the twin tunnels and possibly the $68-billion bullet train. Voters already have approved $9 billion in general obligation bonds for high-speed rail, but that’s far short of what would be needed to complete the line.
Brown, labor unions and business interests are adamantly opposed to the measure. They contend it would torpedo many infrastructure projects. There could be some, such as dams partly paid for by water users.
Requiring voter approval of huge user-funded projects might be a bad idea. That will require more thought. But the tunnel project was purposely set up to avoid the electorate. Politicians and their appointees are making all the decisions.
And as Cortopassi pointed out to me, delta plumbing provides water for about two-thirds of California’s population.
“I find it a specious argument that users are not taxpayers and taxpayers are not users,” he says. “When do they ever get a chance to say aye or nay? We shouldn’t be leaving that kind of willy-nilly spending up to government agencies.”
You’ll no doubt be hearing more about that from the grumpy governor.
email@example.com, Twitter: @LATimesSkelton
Is ‘organic’ really organic? A deep dive into the dirt
By Jane Wells
On a foggy morning in Napa Valley, California, Tim Cheng is walking through a vineyard surrounded by California’s classic golden hills. He bends down to look at one vine.
“Is the webbing from the mealy bug?” he asks Debby Zygielbaum. She manages soil health for Robert Sinskey Vineyards, an organic winery on Napa’s Silverado Trail. Zygielbaum has been fighting the mealy bug with a blend of pheromone traps and beneficial predators. “When we first got infested, we lost 25 percent of the crop,” she said. “Now you can hardly find them.”
Cheng is an accredited organic certifier, but he doesn’t work directly for the USDA. He is a third-party contractor for California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). There are an estimated 24,000 certified organic farms and other operations in U.S. that need annual audits, and even more outside the country. Meanwhile, there are only about 80 accredited agencies — some for profit, others nonprofit — that are doing the work for the USDA to certify that products from Whole Foods, Walmart, farmers’ markets and elsewhere deserve the government’s organic seal of approval.
It’s big business. The Organic Trade Organization claims total food and non-food organic sales last year topped $39 billion. Organic food now accounts for nearly 5 percent of all food sold in the United States, an amazing milestone considering that it’s more expensive than food that isn’t certified as organic.
Everyone wants in, with many conventional farmers now setting aside a portion of their property to go organic and cash in. “There’s so much competition,” said Garrett Nishimori of San Miguel Produce, which grows conventional and organic greens like kale and chard. “With the recent growing challenges with the drought, we’ve seen costs rise and prices kind of come down.”
Some are worried about how fast the industry is growing, and whether there’s enough oversight. “Sadly, we can’t trust the organic label right now,” said Mischa Popoff, who used to certify organic farms.
What does “organic” mean?
To become certified, a farmer must start with land that hasn’t grown anything conventionally for three years, a transition that can be costly. Farmers are not supposed to use synthetic pesticides or herbicides (though the USDA still allows a few), no genetically modified seeds, and they must meet other standards set out by the government’s National Organic Program.
The farmer has to provide a plan and a paper trail to a third-party certification inspector who also does annual audits. These audits usually consist of going over receipts and other paperwork, and often a check of the farm itself.
Rarely does it mean gathering actual soil samples or testing products for things like pesticide residue.
“We, as an organic certification agency, are required to perform testing (for) chemical residue (in) at least 5 percent of our operations,” said Jake Lewin, president of California Certified Organic Farmers. “We have broad discretion about whether or not we test finished products, whether we test soil or plant tissue.” He said his organization does about 140 “surprise” inspections a year in addition to normal audits.
Lewin said most of the errors he finds are honest accidents by the farmer. “I think it’s really a mistake to make the assumption that the system is full of cheaters, there’s no evidence for that.” However, he said about once every 18 months he recommends that someone lose their organic certification, at least temporarily. “There are always going to be cheaters in any system, whatever it is. We’re out there working to address it.”
Popoff said he never did any surprise inspections during the time he audited about 500 organic operations in the U.S. and Canada. “We never show up like health inspectors do in the restaurant business,” he said. He pointed to a USDA study of hundreds of organic products tested on store shelves five years ago. More than 40 percent came back positive for pesticides, though only a few had residue levels that violated federal standards. “The reason why they found those abysmal results,” Popoff said, “is because we’re not doing the inspections on the front end, we’re not doing them in the field.”
Everyone admits the system depends heavily on farmers being truthful, though growers say they’ve experienced surprise inspections.
“There are things that can be done, like they do testing to make sure there aren’t residues and things, but when it really comes down to it, it’s an honor system,” said Zygielbaum.
“They can do a surprise inspection any time they want,” said Robin Taylor, an organic farmer who co-owns of Suzie’s Farm in San Diego. Taylor said he’s been subjected to a surprise inspection in the past.
Nishimori said he’s had San Miguel Produce’s soil tested. “There’s a lot of audits, there’s a lot of verification,” he said. “I think having that verification is important, but you also have to trust the farmer.”
Who’s paying the certifier?
Farmers pay the inspectors to be certified.
“You’re essentially paying your policing body to certify you,” said Popoff. “You can see if they decertify you, well, they’re not going to get their $3,000 out of you next year, and by the way, that could be $30,000 upfront. It depends on the size of your operation.”
A story in The Wall Street Journal last year said that a USDA review of accredited certifiers found that nearly half failed to uphold at least one standard.
Chenglin Liu, who teaches law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and grew up on a farm in China, said the entire system needs an overhaul. He even goes so far as to suggest the USDA should be in charge of certification instead of third party contractors. “The USDA sends its employees, 8,000 of them, to the meat plant to certify that particular product to the federal standards,” he said. “The U.S. organic market is so big … the government is obligated to take good care of this market and regulate it in a way that is trustworthy. The current system is not up to the job.”
Lewin said his certifiers work hard every day to do a good job, and it is appropriate for farmers to pay the cost of certification. “An organization like CCOF would never trade its reputation or integrity for any single certification, or any group of them, frankly. We have too much at stake.”
Taylor pointed out that third-party inspectors are also subject to inspection by the USDA. “I’ve seen people get thrown out of this certification process before,” he said. “One of my certifiers that was certifying me got thrown out at one point. I never know what they did, but they got thrown out by the USDA.”
What about foreign food?
All foreign food imported to the U.S. as “certified organic” must meet the same standards that domestic growers face. However, foreign certification usually happens in the country of origin by foreign agents. One farmer said off camera that he’d much rather eat food grown non-organically in the U.S. than anything declared organic from China.
“I’ve been to those farms,” he said. “They’re a dump.”
Liu said 100 countries export organic food to the United States, “from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe,” but enforcing penalties on foreign violators is tough.
“Will a foreign judge sentence a farmer who violated a U.S. law in their own judicial system? That’s just not plausible,” he said. He said it’s important for consumers buying organic to look at where a product came from.
Popoff agrees. “If you’re dealing with a domestic product, there’s a much higher likelihood that it’s on the up and up.”
Is the USDA in bed with big agribusiness?
Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, is angry. “We’ve had a full frontal assault by corporate agribusiness that’s decided to invest in organics,” he said last month at the meeting of the National Organics Standards Board, a group appointed by the USDA to develop standards for the industry.
His group, which promotes the “good food movement,” is suing the USDA over the way it forms policy. The institute says the USDA favors large farming operations over small family farmers.
At a board meeting in Vermont, Kastel accused the government of ignoring evidence Cornucopia gathered alleging that some large-scale organic chicken and cattle operations were violating rules. “Not one operation had any chickens outside,” he said of one farm. He took particular aim at Miles McEvoy, head of the USDA’s organic program.
“The majority of farmers are doing it right,” Kastel said. “What our concerns are is the USDA is too friendly with corporate agribusinesses and really not doing a judicious job enforcing the law.”
The USDA said in a statement that while it takes any complaints seriously, it looked into Cornucopia’s allegations of farming violations and found insufficient evidence to conduct an investigation.
The USDA is creating a new database for growers, and the organic standards board plans to remove some synthetic pesticides and herbicides still considered acceptable for organic growers to use.
Board Chairwoman Jean Richardson said the organic market is expanding and facing more challenges: “In the last five or almost 10 years there’s been a radical increase in processed products, and that’s been the biggest challenge for us, because when you start processing foods, you add more ingredients that may not be non-synthetic or pure agricultural.”
She said another challenge is organic grain. Corn and soybean farmers in the U.S. are not growing enough organic feed to meet demand. That means that certified organic meat often comes from animals fed with what is supposed to be organic feed from China or India.
Still, she expresses confidence in “that little green seal” designating a food product as certified organic. “The consumer can absolutely be confident that the product and all of its ingredients has been thoroughly checked right from the carrot coming out of the field, from the product coming out of the processing plant, and getting into the jar of whatever it is that they’ve bought.”
— CNBC’s Alexandra Pournaras, Jill Silvestri and Heidi Chung contributed to this story