“Free Trade” By Any Other Name…

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
“Free trade” by any other name … is still just a scam to pit workers against each other and evade the protections of democracy.
We, the People fought to build this democracy with its laws and institutions and protections. This fight brought us a middle class with weekends off, good wages, worker protections and some degree of protection of our environment. “Free trade” deals let companies move factories across a border to escape those protections and pit exploited workers with few rights and no means of improving their condition against us and the protections we fought for. This scam enriches a few while putting the rest of us in a race to the bottom.
Americans have come to realize just how much this scam is hurting us. Pollsters have found that the public hates what “free trade” treaties like NAFTA and letting China into the World Trade Organization have done to our economy and our jobs. So business and administration bigwigs are “re-branding” the hated words “free trade” into “rules-based trade.” So expect to be hearing less and less about “free trade” and more and more about “rules-based trade.” Don’t be fooled.
This morning’s Progressive Breakfast has the story, (by the way, you can get Progressive Breakfast sent to you every morning. Click the link and sign up at the bottom. It’s free.)

Free Trade R.I.P.
“Corporate leaders bury “free trade” label,” The Wall Street Journal: “They declared support for free trade—rebranded ‘rules-based trade’ after pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff warned that the phrase ‘free trade’ had become toxic with voters.”

As I said, don’t be fooled. If trade agreements do not protect the rights that We, the People fought for, and allow companies to evade the protections brought by democracy — good jobs, good wages, safe and fair working conditions, the right to organize workers, environmental protections and other “costly” things — then our government has no businesses agreeing to them. We can negotiate treaties that open up trade without shooting ourselves in the foot, and giving up our good jobs and wages, in order to enrich an already-wealthy few.
Here is what has been going on. In a classic “playing the ref” move, the Chamber of Commerce has been pitching the idea that the Obama administration is “anti-business” because they don’t give the big, monopolist, multi-national corporations everything they want. “Playing the ref” is a sports term, the idea being that if you complain enough about the calls a referee makes the referee will feel the need to give your team a few breaks in order to appear to be making fair calls.
So the Chamber, by complaining that Obama is “anti-business,” is really trying to get Obama to be even more pro-business. (The same strategy is at work when you hear complaints about the “liberal media.” After so may years of this accusation by right-wingers, newsroom editors are terrified of appearing to be left-leaning, resulting in so many right-leaning news stories.)
The WSJ story, Obama’s Overture to Business Gets Wary Reception From CEOs, shows how well the Chamber is doing at getting the desired results from playing the administration like a fiddle,

A parade of administration officials—including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council head Larry Summers, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee—sought to reassure about 100 corporate leaders gathered at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington that they were eager for business leaders’ ideas to revive the economy.
The administration officials continued, in various ways, the overture to business leaders that President Barack Obama launched himself after the bruising midterm election, in which Democrats criticized U.S. multinationals for failing to hire more Americans. They said business tax rates should be lowered. They declared support for free trade—rebranded “rules-based trade” after pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff warned that the phrase “free trade” had become toxic with voters.
The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.

The best part of the story is that even though the administration is going all out to be more and more and more and more and more “business-friendly,” the CEO crowd wasn’t satisfied at all, and wanted more (and more and more and more).
Let’s see if this sounds familiar. A conservative-aligned group complains that the Obama administration isn’t being fair to them, is asking for too much, is being too partisan, whatever. The Obama administration responds by giving them more of what they want. The conservative-aligned group complains that it isn’t enough. The Obama administration gives more, saying, “No, you’re wrong about me!” The complaints continue, even increase, and eventually the conservatives all blame Obama for the resulting failures of policy.
Hey, they’re going to call you names. Get used to it. It’s what they do.
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The DC/Rest-Of-Us Divide And Its Consequences

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
A CBS poll shows that only 6% of the public is concerned about budget deficits or taxes. The rest of us are more concerned about jobs and the economy, with very good reason. The Washington elite are insulated from the pain the rest of us and are focused on the deficit instead of jobs and the economy. This post looks at the consequences of that divide.
In yesterday’s post, The Six Percenters, Richard (RJ) Eskow’s lays out the extent of the divide between the DC elites and the rest of the country.

Only 6% of Americans think Congress should concentrate on reducing the deficit or changing the tax code, according to the latest CBS News poll. Nearly ten times as many people, 56%, want it to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy. Guess which set of policies is the center of attention in Washington right now?
Pick up any newspaper or turn on any news channel and you’ll hear a lot of talk about the deficit. But creating jobs and spurring economic growth? Nobody’s even discussing it.

Only 6% of the public is concerned about the deficit. The only thing Washington elites are concerned about is the deficit. The rest of us live on the other side of the planet from the people in DC who make the policies. Maybe the other side of the solar system.
You can see how this divide affects policy. There is a “deficit commission” but no jobs commission. There are millions of people needing jobs and millions of jobs that need doing, but Washington won’t “spend,” even on badly-needed infrastructure investment. People over 50 (laid off because they were paid more or their health care was expensive) can’t find jobs but the DC elite discuss raising the retirement age to 70. The deficit commission proposes cutting back the already-meager “safety net” while cutting tax rates for the really rich even more.
And while all of this goes on the rest of the people in the country are worried about jobs, foreclosures, bills, jobs, wages, jobs, and jobs – the things that matter to regular people. And they are feeling the consequences of the DC/rest-of-us divide.
Unemployment
gr-unemployed_07_10-300According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 14.8 million people are just plain-old unemployed. (Of those 6.2 million people have been out of work six months or more.) Another 2.6 million persons were “marginally attached,” meaning unemployed and wanting a job but had not looked in the previous 4 weeks. And another 9.2 million are employed part time but want full-time work.
That is 26.6 million people, 17% of the workforce. Just a stunning number.
On November 30 unemployment benefit extensions expire, unless Congress acts. That means that all state unemployment programs will revert back to no more than 26 weeks of benefits for anyone, no matter their circumstances or the unemployment rate in the state. A Hart Research Associates poll released Nov.15 found that by a majority of 60% to 37%, registered voters support Congress continuing unemployment benefits for workers who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits but still cannot find a job. 63% of independents but only 38% of Republicans support extending benefits. Only 24% of registered voters say that deficits are a reason to cut back unemployment benefits. (Chart source.)
Foreclosures
A record 102,134 homes were seized by banks in September, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

Foreclosure filings, including default and auction notices, rose 3 percent from the prior month to 347,420. One out of every 371 households received a notice.

Fewer homes were seized in October, but only because banks had to stop foreclosures because the records fraud scandal came to light.
One in four home mortgage holders is “underwater,” meaning they owe more than the home is worth.
The Greenlining Institute warns that unless immediate action is taken to stem the tide of foreclosures 10-13 million more foreclosures can be expected over the next four years.
Homelessness
According to 2009 figures gathered by the National Coalition for the Homeless, many gathered pre-recession, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness in a year and on any given night, over 7-800,000 people are homeless. 1.6 million people use transitional housing or emergency shelters.
Food Security/Hunger
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 17 million American families had trouble putting enough food on the table at some point last year. Of those 5.6 million had trouble throughout the year.
This has more than tripled since 2008.
Poverty
According to the Census Bureau,

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008 — the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004. There were 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase.
… As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2009 was $21,954.

Health Care
According to the CDC, 59.1 million Americans were with no health insurance in the 1st quarter of 2010, up 3 million from 2008. 30.4 million of those were without health care for an entire year.
These numbers are from before the Congress cut off COBRA subsidies for the unemployed.
Marriages
AP: Recession Rips at US Marriages, Expands Income Gap,

The recession seems to be socking Americans in the heart as well as the wallet: Marriages have hit an all-time low while pleas for food stamps have reached a record high and the gap between rich and poor has grown to its widest ever.
… In America, marriages fell to a record low in 2009, with just 52 percent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared to 57 percent in 2000.

Income Gap
AP: Recession Rips at US Marriages, Expands Income Gap,

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures.
… At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, the data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.

On each side the divide is so wide you don’t know how things are on the other side.
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Tea Party Delivers Their Messaging on Reality TV. Is this How Propaganda Starts?

The Bristol Palin story is like that of a modern day Cinderella as she debuts before millions of viewers on prime time television. Her mother, former Governor Sarah Palin and her advisors are completely brilliant. Thank you very much Frank and Company. This is a media doctor’s wet dream. Using Bristol as Cinderella, they have successfully reached into the hearts and minds of everyday folks across the country. Think about it. Is there a better way to seep into the mainstream than reality television? This move is one of the most brilliant tactics of twentieth century political messaging. Sarah Palin becomes the archetype of everyone’s mom, and paradoxically her daughter is the modern day rags to riches and success story. Here was a chubby, single mom lifted out of the obscurity of her receptionist job in a strip mall in godforsaken Alaska. It does not get better!
Consider that after the debacle of former Republican leader Tom Delay on the same show, these spin masters were smart. They knew it probably would not have worked out to use Sarah herself. But who could resist her kid? She’s likeable, and works very hard for herself and her adorable child. Bristol is the single mom personified. They even show the footage of the storefront from which she was plucked. Oh my, this is every girl’s cherished dream sans the out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And momma Palin can just stand back, and watch it unfold. Who could accuse her of manipulation? She was just the proud momma. What better image could there be? Not much and it is working. No wonder her daughter has been voted back each and every week by viewer support – not the judges until one of the final evenings when she showed real talent.
There is something going on here, and we didn’t even see it coming. Oh woe is me; I think we have been duped yet again. Somehow, the American public perceives that the Democrats are unfeeling, out of touch with Middle America, and arrogant. How did this happen? We are Middle America! Yet somehow, Sister Palin has her thumb on the pulse. We need to look carefully at the subliminal messaging that is going on, and wonder how and why we could have missed it. Call it what you may, but Sarah Palin and her movement – the Tea Party and their advisors are running circles around us. We are losing the game of public opinion. So it is not proposed that we put the Vice President’s son, Beau Biden on Survivor; but rather that we look hard and long at the messaging and how it is being delivered. Further, we need to embrace what it will take for us to reach back out and connect. This is the teachable moment. May we reach out and own it.
Note, this article appeared earlier in the Huffington Post, “Bristol Goes Dancing and Has a Tea Party.”

Businesses Do Not Create Jobs

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Businesses do not create jobs. In fact, the way our economy is structured the incentive is for businesses to get rid of as many jobs as they can.

Demand Creates Jobs

A job is created when demand for goods or services is greater than the existing ability to provide them. When there is a demand, people will see the need and fill it. Either someone will start filling the demand alone, or form a new business to fill it or an existing provider of the good or service will add employees as needed. (Actually a job can be created by a business, a government, a non-profit organization or just a person doing the job, depending on the nature of the good or service that is required.)

So a demand creates a job. A person who sees that houses on a block need their lawns mowed might go door to door and say they will mow the lawn for $10. When houses start saying “Yes, I need my lawn mowed” a job has been created!

Demand also creates businesses. The person who is filling demand by mowing lawns for people might after a while have a regular circuit of houses that want their lawns mowed every week, and will buy a truck and a new mower and hire someone to help. A business is born!

Businesses Want To Kill Jobs, Not Create Them

Many people wrongly think that businesses create jobs. They see that a job is usually at a business, so they think that therefore the business “created” the job. This thinking leads to wrongheaded ideas like the current one that giving tax cuts to businesses will create jobs, because the businesses will have more money. But an efficiently-run business will already have the right number of employees. When a business sees that more people are coming in the door (demand) than there are employees to serve them, they hire people to serve the customers. When a business sees that not enough people are coming in the door and employees are sitting around reading the newspaper, they lay people off. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

Businesses have more incentives to eliminate jobs than to create them. Businesses in our economy exist to create profits, not jobs. This means the incentive is for a business to create as few jobs as possible at the lowest possible cost. They also constantly strive to reduce the number of people they employ by bringing in machines, outsourcing or finding other ways to reduce the payroll. This is called “cutting costs” which leads to higher profits. The same incentive also pushes the business to pay as little as possible when they do hire. (It also pushes businesses to cut worker safety protections, cut product quality, cut customer service, “externalize” costs by polluting, etc.)

This obviously works against the interests of the larger society, which wants lots of good jobs with good pay. And businesses, while working to cut jobs and pay less, need other businesses to hire lots of people and pay well, because that is what creates the demand that makes all the businesses work.

Government To The Rescue

This is where government comes in. Government is We, the People, working for that larger societal interest. In our current system — when it works — we use government to come up with ways to balance the effects of the profit motive — which pushes for fewer jobs at lower pay — with our larger need for more jobs at higher pay for us, and for the good of all the businesses. We, through our government, create and regulate the “playing field” on which businesses operate. We set minimum wages, limits on working hours, worker safety rules and other rules designed to keep that balance between profit incentive and demand, and that playing field level. (We also provide the infrastructure of roads, schools, courts, etc. that is what makes our businesses competetive with businesses in other countries. The individual interest in paying less taxes for this has to be balanced with the larger interest that we all pay more for this, but that is another post, titled, ”
Tax Cuts Are Theft.”
)

Corrupted

Obviously businesses in our system must be kept from having any ability whatsoever to influence government decision-making in any way, or the system breaks down. When businesses are able to influence government, they will influence government in ways that provide themselves – and only themselves – with more profits, meaning lower costs, meaning fewer jobs at worse pay and not protecting workers, the environment or other businesses. And, they will fight to keep their ability to influence government, using the resulting wealth gains to increase their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government …

Unfortunately this is the system as it is today.

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What’s Next, Impeachment from the Republicans?

So much for making nice Mr. President, the gloves are off as the Republican leadership comes out swinging. These folks don’t want to work with you, or your minions or any of us. Just tune into FOX News at any random moment, and the disdain is visceral. And to be blunt, what’s to keep them from starting impeachment proceedings as a tactic to erode your precious time and focus? Not much, if you listen closely to the Senate Republican leadership, the soon to be Speaker of the House, and all the other hooligans over the last few days, and even on the Sunday morning talk shows. Senator Mitch McConnell’s words sure don’t sound like a lullaby to me. Do not be fooled, it may be more than making sure that Obama is a one-term President. These are fighting words: “The only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto…”
And if that’s not bad enough, there’s dissent and discontent (as usual) among our fellow Democrats. The so-called Blue Dog Democrats are acting out by attempting to distance themselves from the prevailing incumbent-rage by attacking now Speaker Pelosi. Have they no shame? This is self-serving hypocrisy at its worst. Not now kids. Go back to your corner and sing “Kumbaya” to keep from shooting off your big mouths at this fragile time. Enough of your ranks have been lost in this recent election. Stop with the posturing, and the “Anti-Pelosi Caucus.” These types of shenanigans only fuel the fires, and distract us from our goals. Please realize that we are under an unprecedented assault from the rabid Republican leadership. They will attempt to sink the Obama ship at any cost.
Democrats (Blue Dogs, Moderates, and Progressives) hunker down. Put a stop to the malarkey from the newly anointed Republicans. This “lame duck” session is vital. We have barely two months to protect Social Security for the elders, unwind Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and fund many, many programs. Consider that the Congress may be deadlocked for two years with very little emerging from gridlock, and Pelosi’s steam rolling machine has taken heavy artillery hits. If you feel compelled to beat up on someone or something, go after the bad guys. And pray that all attempts to bring impeachment proceedings against Obama are quashed. This would be a travesty filled with hate and racism from which this country might never recover. Don’t let them take our President away.
Note: A version of this article was published earlier today in the Huffington Post.

Tea Party Betrayed: Earmarks

I have been writing about the Tea Party, and asking what they will do if/when the DC Republicans betray them. CAF has set up a page for the Tea Party Getting Played series. This is the latest in the series.
The Tea Party candidates vowed they would be different, would stick to basic principles and not waver, and not back down.
It is safe to say that Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul is one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement. Here is what was on his campaign website, and I want tp put the whole thing here so there is no mistaking what voters were led to believe:

Rand Paul has made a ban on wasteful earmark spending in Washington D.C. one of the key points of his campaign. He has supported Sen. Jim DeMint’s vocal support for an earmark ban and he supports news that House Democrats are even coming around on the idea of a partial ban.
“The Tea Party movement is an effort to get government under control,” Rand said. “I’m running to represent Kentuckians and to dismantle the culture of professional politicians in Washington. Leadership isn’t photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks. That kind of thinking is bankrupting our nation. Senator DeMint understands that and has taken action to stop it.”
Rand’s emphasis on reform has ruffled a lot of establishment feathers, but it is clear that the more regular citizens are getting the message every day as his campaign continues to grow.

That’s a pretty solid, unequivocal statement, isn’t it? That was what Tea Party supports and voters were told. Unequivocal.
Now he is elected. And how is this for equivocating? Rand Paul Suggests He’ll Fight For Earmarks He Earlier Promised To Ban:

Less than a week after his election, Kentucky’s Senator-elect Rand Paul already appears to be making a rapid departure away from one of his campaign promises: an earmark ban that stood as a conservative cornerstone, a position Paul touted to indicate he was serious about tackling the reckless spending practices of Washington.
Here’s what Paul told the Wall Street Journal over the weekend:

In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, he tells me that they are a bad “symbol” of easy spending but that he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork, as long as it’s doled out transparently at the committee level and not parachuted in in the dead of night. “I will advocate for Kentucky’s interests,” he says.

So, here’s the record. While campaigning the new Senator from Kentucky took the Tea Party position against earmarks. But one week after the election he says he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork. From Tea Party hero to DC Insider in a week! What are the Tea Party supports going to do about it?
And that is the question I have been asking: What will Tea Party members do when their politicians betray them? For decades the game on the conservative side was to campaign against abortion, gays and other “culture war” issues, or appeal to raw fear, but then once in office to ignore those issues and always, always reward the big corporations — and, oh, yeah, more tax cuts for the rich. Now it looks like the same thing is happening to the Tea Party supporters as well. So what are they going to do about it?
And on the “liberal” side we’ve seen campaign after campaign promising to do things for the middle class and for labor and for the elderly and for the poor but then once in office reward the big corporations instead. This is a serious question for democracy: what are we going to do about it?
Take a look at the growing list of posts here in the Tea Party Getting Played series.
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The Big Lie

The Big Lie.

It seems to me that the last year or so in America’s political culture has represented the triumph of untruth. And the untruth was propagated by a deliberate, simple and systemic campaign to kill Obama’s presidency in its crib.

How Obama Enables Rush,

President Obama lowered taxes. Why doesn’t the country know that? Rick Perlstein on how Rush Limbaugh helped mislead a nation—and why the Democrats let him get away with it.

Tea Party Betrayed Already?

I have been writing about the Tea Party, and asking what they will do if/when the DC Republicans betray them. CAF has set up a page for the Tea Party Getting Played series. Read the latest in the series: Tea Party Betrayed: Earmarks.
So, how’s that new Tea Party Congress working out for Tea Party supporters who expected that the lobbyists were going to be cleared out, the “too-big-to-fail” Wall Street banks brought under control and laws enforced?
The election was Tuesday, and on Thursday the expected new Chair of the House financial services committee warned regulators to lay of Wall Street, particularly Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, and not enforce the “Volker Rule” in the new Wall Street reform law. That’s right, told them not to enforce the law.
In Financial Times, US regulators warned on new bank legislation, (Matthew Yglesias c/o Brad DeLong)

Spencer Bachus, a potential Republican chairman of the House financial services committee, has fired the first salvo in a battle with regulators – warning them against harming US banks by curbing their trading activity.
. . . Mr Bachus says that a ban on proprietary trading – known as the Volcker rule – … in the new Dodd-Frank financial reform law will “impose substantial costs on the American economy and market participants” with “doubtful” benefits.
. . . The proprietary trading ban, named after Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who proposed it, was opposed by most Republicans when it was passed by Congress in June. It also restricts banks’ investments in hedge funds and private equity firms.

Last week, in Tea Party Members VS Tea Party Wall Street Funders, I pointed out that Tea Party supporters expect their politicians to do something about Wall Street bailouts, lawbreaking and “too-big-to-fail” domination of the economy, but Tea Party candidates were receiving a great deal of funding from that very same Wall Street. This set up a potential conflict between Tea Party supporters and Tea Party politicians.
Now that the election is over, we’re all just waiting for what we think is coming, and asking: What will Tea Party members do when their politicians betray them?
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