Obama’s Asia Trip: Hear What’s At Stake For Workers

I discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what President Obama’s trip to Asia could mean for American workers on “The Sunday Show with Philip Maldari” Sunday morning, on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, Calif.

Listen to the full show here:

With me on the show was Tim Shorrock, a journalist raised in Japan and Korea who’s been writing about Asia and trade; and “War! What Is It Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots,” with Ian Morris, Prof. of Classics and History, Stanford University.

Across the board now people are seeing what these trade deals have done to the country – more than 50,000 factories lost, millions of jobs gone, the ability to buy things marked “Made In America” all but obliterated. It is undeniable. I’ve previously written about the recent New York Times editorial on this, which indicates how even the elites are feeling it.

The trade deficit is the number to use to understand the damage done by these trade agreements, of which NAFTA is a symbol.

Imagine $500 billion of orders coming in to American businesses located inside America, in one year – that’s way more than the 2009 Recovery Act “stimulus” was. Then imagine that every year. That is what the current trade deficit represents

So now all the promises made about what these trade deals would bring us have fallen flat. All the propaganda can’t keep us from seeing what these trade deals have done to our economy and our middle class.

Why Would Obama Push A Trade Deal That Would Cut Pay Of 90% Of Workers?

President Obama is in Asia, partly to “reassure” partner countries that the U.S. is a strong ally and partly to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both are to counter China’s growing influence. While TPP is being sold as a “strategic” countermeasure to China, like other so-called “trade” agreements TPP does not help American workers; it hurts them.

Obama In Asia Pushing TPP

President Obama is in Japan as part of his “pivot to Asia” tour of Pacific countries. He is also visiting South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. The trip is meant to demonstrate U.S. diplomatic and economic efforts toward Pacific nations to counterbalance China’s increasing influence in the region. Part of this effort is a big push to get TPP negotiations back on track and completed.

TPP is a massive “trade” treaty between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. “Trade” is in quotes because only five of the treaty’s 29 chapters actually deal with trade. Others set rules on investment, set limits on the ability of governments to regulate corporations, restrict a government’s ability to spend its own tax dollars on goods made in that country (such as “Buy America” procurement policies) and other things well beyond the usual scope of what would be considered a trade agreement. This leads many to claim that the treaty is really about limiting the ability of governments to reign in the giant corporations. (For those not familiar with TPP, read all about it in ourfuture.org’s TPP section.)

Most Workers Likely To Lose

The treaty is being negotiated in secret with lots of corporate involvement and not much involvement by stakeholders like labor, environmental, human rights, consumer and other groups that would be affected. But even though it is secret we know from leaks that TPP as currently negotiated appears to be designed to benefit a few giant corporate interests, while potentially driving the nail into the coffin of America’s middle class.

Since NAFTA our “trade” agreements have gotten a bad reputation with the public. People have come to realize that these “free trade” agreements are causing companies to close American factories and open factories in countries with low wages and that allow companies to pollute. Pitting American workers against low-wage workers has encouraged employers to cut wages and benefits for those who are able to keep their jobs.

A September 2013 study, “Gains from Trade? The Net Effect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on U.S. Wages,” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), looked at the effect of past trade agreements and estimated what TPP would do if enacted. The study estimated that the TPP would force wages down (even more) for almost all U.S. workers.

The CEPR study estimated that U.S. economic gains would be only 0.13 percent of gross domestic product by 2025. In exchange for these small gains, according to the study, “… most workers are likely to lose—the exceptions being some of the bottom quarter or so whose earnings are determined by the minimum wage; and those with the highest wages who are more protected from international competition.”

Any workers who don’t lose would not win as a result of the “trade” parts of the treaty. “Rather, many top incomes will rise as a result of TPP expansion of the terms and enforcement of copyrights and patents.” So everybody loses except those who own copyrights and patents.

In “‘Trade’ Deal Would Mean a Pay Cut for 90% of U.S. Workers,” Public Citizen’s Eyes on Trade blog explains just who would lose,

[CEPR’s] Rosnick shows that if we assume that trade has contributed just 15% of the recent rise in inequality (a still conservative estimate), then the TPP would mean wage losses for all but the richest 10% of U.S. workers. So if you’re making less than $87,000 per year (the current 90th percentile wage), the TPP would mean a pay cut.

But “everybody losing on wages” is not a bad thing for giant corporations; it’s a good thing. As much as they can squeeze down labor costs, that boosts their bottom line. And they are exactly who is pushing for this treaty.

Enormous, Humongous Trade Deficits

The United States used to try to have balanced trade, often with a surplus. This means we were selling more to the world than we were buying. More money coming in than going our made us comparatively “rich.” But since the free trade agenda that came along in the late 1970s, which was accelerated by the Reagan administration, we have been running continuing trade deficits. Then when we opened up trade with China, the deficit skyrocketed.

Now this trade deficit has reached enormous proportions, more than $700 billion before the recession. (It actually fell last year to $471.5 billion in 2013, from $534.7 billion in 2012.) Our trade deficit with China alone was over $318 billion last year.

In summary: the free-trade legacy so far.

  • Trillions of dollars lost. We have an ongoing trade deficit bleeding money from our economy.
  • Stagnant or falling wages for most of us. Pitting Americans against low-wage workers has forced US wages down.
  • Millions of good-paying jobs lost. Most of these workers are getting paid much less now, if they can find work.
  • Tens of thousands of factories closed, moved out of the country. This costs us our ability to make a living as a country.
  • Entire industries lost. As we lose the factories and supply chains, entire industries disappear.
  • Devastation of entire regions of the country. Nothing has come along to replace manufacturing in much of the country. Go take a look at Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Lorain, Eria and so many other areas.
  • Massive increase in income and wealth inequality. A few billionaires do great when labor costs decline and profits rise.
  • Destruction of the middle class and maybe even our democracy. Just look around you.

Democracy Or Oligarchy?

The public “gets it” that these trade deals have really, really hurt regular, working Americans and TPP would continue free trade’s devastation of the middle class. There is a revolt going on in both parties in the Congress. House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have reaffirmed that they don’t agree with the current process and course of TPP. Tea party conservatives and progressives oppose TPP. Even many American corporations oppose the current TPP!

The public “gets it.” Take a look at the Trade and Manufacturing section of the Populist Majority poll-aggregation website.

  • “95% favor goods manufactured in America.”
  • “73% favor offering companies a tax break for every job they bring from overseas to the US.” But current law gives tax breaks and deferrals for jobs, factories and profit centers shipped out of the country. Republicans are obstructing efforts to change this.
  • 84% of the public “support a concerted plan to make sure that economic, tax, education and trade policies in this country work together to help support manufacturing.” But that would be “government action” and “picking winners and losers” so it is opposed in the Congress.
  • “60% say the US needs to “get tough” with countries like China in order to halt unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation, which will keep undermining our economy.”
  • “65% consider outsourcing, rather than a potential shortage of skilled workers, as the reason for a lack of new manufacturing jobs.”
  • “56% believe trade agreements that allow corporations to sue governments, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should be rejected.”

Democracy would say hold off on TPP. But a few giant, multinational corporations and the billionaires behind them want it. So in our corporate-dominated political system, it’s full speed ahead for TPP.

Trading Our Economy For National Security Fears?

The history of this is that many in government believe that America’s national security interests are served by letting the big corporations cut these trade deals with countries like China and Japan, because security arrangements should have a priority over economic concerns. So they have worked to strengthen South Korea, Japan and even China at the expense of our own economy. This was a Cold War strategy. Now they are using China as a bogeyman to push the TPP, saying we need it to counter China’s influence. Get all of these countries into this agreement and we’ll be stronger than China.

This way of seeing the TPP as a way to strengthen these strategic partners allows those countries to extract concessions in the treaty negotiations that the giant corporations like, but that hurt our own country’s economy. State Department and various National Security interests give this a go-ahead; they say this is good because it will elevate those countries. Meanwhile, our factories close, our own industries suffer.

Of course, even as this argument is used we do nothing about our massive trade deficit with China, we allow them to manipulate their currency and exploit workers.

The reality at this point is that it is now in the security interest of America to rebuild our own middle class, rebuild our infrastructure and competitive position, rebuild our education and research institutions, rebuild our own democracy. Real security comes from having a strong economy and a strong middle class.

We can do trade right. We can elevate the people and economies of other countries without exploiting working people around the world and destroying our own middle class.

Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing wrote Thursday that “A Good Trade Deal Is Well Worth the Wait“:

[L]ost in this rush to secure a pact is what the TPP (and every other trade agreement) should actually accomplish: A more balanced U.S. trade account that ultimately benefits the American middle class, which recent reports show could use some help right about now. Unfortunately, America’s track record on trade policy has pushed our trade deficits in the wrong direction and weakened the middle class. And despite the Obama administration bromides that this will be a “21st century trade agreement,” it’s hardly certain that the TPP will be any different, at least when it comes to deterring currency manipulation.

With that in mind, I say a good trade deal is well worth the wait and effort.

We’ve already seen what’s happened when trade policy is inexpertly wielded as a tool of foreign diplomacy. Consider the debacle of permanent normalized trade relations with China in 2000. In exchange for the promises of a more open Chinese society, a Republican Congress and a Democratic president removed the threat of annual review of tariffs on Chinese imports. This resulted in none of the hoped-for democratic reforms (if anything, China has used its funding stream courtesy of our burgeoning trade imbalance to become more belligerent) and ;massive job loss in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

But while China and Japan couldn’t be more different in terms of domestic governance, they share a remarkable similarity in international economic policy: Both regularly distort their currency exchange rates to push their trading surpluses with the U.S. high and keep them higher. Despite that fact, no U.S. action has been taken against China or Japan for manipulating their currency. And though there is much secrecy around the details of the TPP proposal (of which Japan is a potential party and is, as the world’s third largest national economy, the most important negotiator aside from the U.S.), a rule barring currency manipulation has most certainly not been discussed.

We can do so much better. Our government can negotiate for the American people instead of against them, as they have done. Step back, take a breath, wait … Get the giant corporations out of the front seats of the process and go back and make NAFTA work for us and Mexican working people and farmers. Make trade work for the American people and Chinese working people.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Democrats Who Move Right Lose Elections – There Is No “Center”

Mainstream Democratic campaign consultants and pollsters typically tell candidates they should “move to the right” and campaign to the “center” with positions that are “between” the “left” and the “right.” This is the way, they say, to “attract swing voters” who would be “scared off” by a candidate who takes populist positions that favor the interests of the 99 percent over the interests of the 1 percent.

Polling and experience show that exactly the opposite might be true.

This week Lynn Vavrek writes at the New York Times Upshot blog, in “The Myth of Swing Voters in Midterm Elections“:

There just aren’t that many swing voters. … Ultimately voters tend to come home to their favored party. There are relatively few voters who cross back and forth between the parties during a campaign or even between elections.

Looking at the Democrat loss in the 2010 election, this is the key:

The results clearly show that voters in 2010 did not abandon the Democrats for the other side, but they did forsake the party in another important way: Many stayed home.

Again: In 2010 “swing” voters did not “shift” toward Republicans. What happened was that Democrats stayed home.

2011 Pew Poll: Independents Aren’t ‘Centrists’

Who are the “independent” voters? In 2011 The Washington Post’s “The Fix” looked at a Pew Research Center poll. In the post, “The misunderstood independent,” Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza wrote (emphasis added)

In politics, it’s often tempting to put independents somewhere in the middle of Republicans and Democrats, politically. They identify somewhere in between the two, so they must be moderates, right?

A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that’s not so true anymore. Independents, in fact, are a fast-growing and increasingly diverse group that both parties are going to need to study and understand in the years ahead.

. . . Pew identifies three different kinds of independents. Libertarians and Disaffecteds are 21 percent of registered voters and lean towards Republicans; Post-Moderns are 14 percent and lean towards Democrats.

A look at their views on issues shows those three groups can often be among the most extreme on a given topic.

Disaffecteds, for example, believe in helping the needy more than most Democrats. Libertarians side with business more than even the solidly Republican Staunch Conservatives. And Post-Moderns accept homosexuality more than most Democrats. The three independents groups are also less religious, on the whole, than either Republicans or most Democrats.

In other words, polling shows that many “independents” are to the left of Democrats and many others are to the right of Republicans. They are not “in the middle” or “between” but rather are more likely to stay home and not vote for candidates who move “to the middle.” Those independents to the right of Republicans are not going to vote for Democrats no matter how far “to the right” the Democratic candidate goes.

2010 PPP Poll: The Independents Who Stayed Home

In 2010 Greg Sargent wrote at the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog, “Progressives and centrists battle over meaning of indy vote” (emphasis added):

Independents are not a monolith, and what really happened is that indys who backed Obama in 2008 stayed home, because they were unsatisfied with Obama’s half-baked reform agenda, while McCain-supporting indys turned out in big numbers.

. . . The key finding: PPP asked independents who did vote in 2010 who they had supported in 2008. The results: Fifty one percent of independents who voted this time supported McCain last time, versus only 42 percent who backed Obama last time. In 2008, Obama won indies by eight percent.

That means the complexion of indies who turned out this time is far different from last time around, argues Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. His case: Dem-leaning indys stayed home this time while GOP-leaning ones came out — proof, he insists, that the Dems’ primary problem is they failed to inspire indys who are inclined to support them.

“The dumbest thing Democrats could do right now is listen to those like Third Way who urge Democrats to repeat their mistake by caving to Republicans and corporations instead of fighting boldly for popular progressive reforms and reminding Americans why they were inspired in 2008,” Green says.

March Florida Special Election

In the March special election in Florida’s 13th District, the Republican candidate strongly embraced the values of “the base” while the Democratic candidate took “centrist” positions, even embracing austerity and cuts to Social Security – in Florida. In Did Dems Have A Reason To Show Up And Vote In Florida House Race? I wrote about what happened, but in summary, R’s voted and Dems stayed home.

The Republican won by about 3,400 votes out of about 183,000 votes cast. Turnout was 58 percent in precincts Romney won in 2012, and 48.5 percent in precincts Obama won in 2012. There were 49,000 fewer people who voted in this election than in the 2010 general mid-term election (down 21 percent), and 158,500 fewer than in the 2012 Presidential (down 46 percent). So it was the failure to get Democratic voters to show up that lost them the election.

The Republicans ran “the furthest right a GOP candidate had run in the area” in 60 years. Meanwhile the Democrat tried to “reach across the aisle” to bring in “centrist” and “moderate” voters, and emphasized “cutting wasteful government spending” and “introducing performance metrics to hold government accountable for waste and abuse and creating the right fiscal environment for businesses to create jobs.”

Again, the Republican campaigned to the right, the Democrat campaigned “in the middle.” The result: Republicans showed up to vote, Democrats stayed home.

What The Heck Do “Centrist” And “The Middle” Even Mean?

Think about the words we use to describe voters and policy positions. “Left,” “right,” “between,” “center” and “swing” force the brain to visualize policy positions as endpoints on a straight line. The visualization forces people to imagine a “centrist” that is someone who holds positions that are somewhere “in the middle” and “between” the policy positions that are these endpoints. There is a bulk of voters who are imagined to “swing” from the positions on these endpoints, who are looking for politicians who don’t go “too far” in any policy direction. Politicians can “attract” these “swing” voters by taking positions that are “between” the endpoints.

But polling and experience tell us:

1) There are very few actual “independent voters.” Instead there are lots of voters who agree with the left or agree with the right, but are further to the left or right and so do not register as Democrats or Republicans.

2) There is no “swing voter” block “between” the parties. There are different groups of voters who decide to vote or stay home. No conservative “independent” who is to the right of the Republican party will vote for any Democrat, no matter how far right they move. All that moving to the right accomplishes is to cause many Democratic “base” voters to hold their noses if they do vote, and possibly just stay away from the polls.

Karl Rove got this. He understood that you can get the right-wing voters roused up to come to the polls by moving Republican politicians to the right. Instead of “moving to the center” he got Bush and the Republicans to stand up for conservative principles and refuse to compromise, and the result was that more of “the base” enthusiastically showed up at the polls.

Conclusion: You Have To Deliver For And Campaign To Your Base Or They Don’t Show Up

Here is what is very important to understand about the “swing” vote: Few voters “switch.” That is the wrong lesson. There are not voters who “swing,” there are left voters and right voters who either show up and vote or do not show up and vote.

The lesson to learn: You have to deliver for and campaign to YOUR “base” voters or they don’t show up and vote for you. If Democrats don’t give regular, working people –- the Democratic base -– a reason to vote, then many of them won’t.

To learn what the American voter wants, please visit Populist Majority, Exposing the gulf between American opinion and conventional wisdom.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Elites Discover So-Called “Free-Trade” Is Killing Economy, Middle Class

The New York Times editorial board finally gets it right about trade in its Sunday editorial, “This Time, Get Global Trade Right.” Some excerpts:

Many Americans have watched their neighbors lose good-paying jobs as their employers sent their livelihoods to China. Over the last 20 years, the United States has lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs.

People in the Midwest, the “rust belt” and elsewhere noticed this a long time ago as people were laid off, “the plant” closed, the downtowns slowly boarded up and the rest of us felt pressure on wages and working hours. How many towns — entire regions of the country — are like this now? Have you even seen Detroit?

“This page has long argued that removing barriers to trade benefits the economy and consumers, and some of those gains can be used to help the minority of people who lose their jobs because of increased imports,” the editors write. “But those gains have not been as widespread as we hoped, and they have not been adequate to assist those who were harmed.”

So acknowledging that our trade deals have hurt the country, they say maybe we could try to do it right with coming agreements. They write:

If done right, these agreements could improve the ground rules of global trade, as even critics of Nafta like Representative Sander Levin, Democrat of Michigan, have argued. They could reduce abuses like sweatshop labor, currency manipulation and the senseless destruction of forests. They could weaken protectionism against American goods and services in countries like Japan, which have sheltered such industries as agriculture and automobiles.

They write that one problem is that these agreements are negotiated of, by and for the giant corporations:

One of the biggest fears of lawmakers and public interest groups is that only a few insiders know what is in these trade agreements, particularly the Pacific pact.

The Obama administration has revealed so few details about the negotiations, even to members of Congress and their staffs, that it is impossible to fully analyze the Pacific partnership. Negotiators have argued that it’s impossible to conduct trade talks in public because opponents to the deal would try to derail them.

But the administration’s rationale for secrecy seems to apply only to the public. Big corporations are playing an active role in shaping the American position because they are on industry advisory committees to the United States trade representative, Michael Froman. By contrast, public interest groups have seats on only a handful of committees that negotiators do not consult closely.

The current trade-negotiation process is a system designed to rig the game for the giant multinationals against everyone else:

That lopsided influence is dangerous, because companies are using trade agreements to get special benefits that they would find much more difficult to get through the standard legislative process. For example, draft chapters from the Pacific agreement that have been leaked in recent months reveal that most countries involved in the talks, except the United States, do not want the agreement to include enforceable environmental standards. Business interests in the United States, which would benefit from weaker rules by placing their operations in countries with lower protections, have aligned themselves with the position of foreign governments. Another chapter, on intellectual property, is said to contain language favorable to the pharmaceutical industry that could make it harder for poor people in countries like Peru to get generic medicines.

These trade agreements place corporate rights over national sovereignty:

Another big issue is whether these trade agreements will give investors unnecessary power to sue foreign governments over policies they dislike, including health and environmental regulations. Philip Morris, for example, is trying to overturn Australian rules that require cigarette packs to be sold only in plain packaging. If these treaties are written too loosely, big banks could use them to challenge new financial regulations or, perhaps, block European lawmakers from enacting a financial-transaction tax.

And they’re asking, like the rest of us are asking, why in the world won’t they do something about currency?

It’s easy to point the finger at Nafta and other trade agreements for job losses, but there is a far bigger culprit: currency manipulation. A 2012 paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the American trade deficit has increased by up to $500 billion a year and the country has lost up to five million jobs because China, South Korea, Malaysia and other countries have boosted their exports by suppressing the value of their currency.

What So-Called “Free Trade” Agreements Did To The Economy

A trade deficit means that we buy more from the rest of the world than we sell to it. This means that jobs making and doing things here migrate to there. Before the mid-70s the United States ran generally balanced trade, with a bias toward surplus. Look at this chart to see what happened, beginning in the ’80s, and then … wham.

Now we have an enormous, humongous, ongoing trade deficit that over the years has added up to trillions and trillions of dollars drained from our economy. We have lost millions and millions of jobs as tens of thousands of factories closed. We have lost entire industries. We are losing our entire middle class to the resulting wage stagnation and inequality.

Here is what happened when the trade deficit took off. First, look at this chart of the “decoupling” of wages with productivity. In other words, as productivity goes up, what happens to the share of those gains that go to labor:

In case you don’t see the correlation, this chart shows both the trade deficit and labor’s share of the benefits of our economy:

Most people understand the damage that so-called “free trade” has done to the economy, much of our country and the middle class. Millions of people have outright lost their jobs because of corporate CEOs who conclude, “It’s cheaper to manufacture where they pay 50 cents an hour and let us pollute all we want.”

Many others have felt the resulting job fear: “If I so much as hint that I want a raise or weekends off they’ll move my job to China, too.” Entire regions have lost their economic base as factories and entire industries closed and moved.

But We Globalized And Expanded Trade

The basic pro-free-trade argument is that all trade is good and these agreements increase trade. NAFTA negotiator Carla Hills, defending NAFTA, says, “our trade with Mexico and Canada has soared 400 percent, and our investment is up fivefold.”

Of course, this is like proudly telling people that the Broncos scored 8 points in the 2014 Super Bowl*. (Hint: the Seahawks scored 43 points.)

Yes, trade is up and exports are up, but imports are up even more, which costs us jobs, factories and industries. What happened was NAFTA “expanded” trade against American workers and our economy, costing about a million jobs and increasing our trade deficit 480 percent. And don’t even ask what happened with our China trade. (Hint: our 2013 trade deficit with China was 318.4 billion dollars.)

How Would The N.Y. Times Fix Trade?

The Times editorial says we should “press countries to stop manipulating their currencies” and “the president also needs to make clear to America’s trading partners that they need to adhere to enforceable labor and environmental regulations.”

OK, but why would the giant multinationals participate? The point of the free-trade regime up to now has been to accomplish the opposite: to free the giants from the pesky laws and regulations imposed by governments, especially from labor and environmental regulations. The negotiations have been a rigged game designed to transfer the wealth of entire nations to a few billionaires (including Chinese billionaires) and giant, multinational corporations. It worked.

Meanwhile … In The L.A. Times

Meanwhile in the Los Angeles Times, representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have written an op-ed, “Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” talk about NAFTA as a “model for additional agreements, and its deeply flawed approach has resulted in the outsourcing of jobs, downward pressure on wages and a meteoric rise in income inequality,” and ask us not to “blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.”

In 1993, before NAFTA, the U.S. had a $2.5-billion trade surplus with Mexico and a $29-billion deficit with Canada. By 2012, that had exploded into a combined NAFTA trade deficit of $181 billion. Since NAFTA, more than 845,000 U.S. workers in the manufacturing sector — and this is likely an undercount — have been certified under just one narrow program for trade adjustment assistance. They qualified because they lost their jobs due to increased imports from Canada and Mexico, or the relocation of factories to those nations.

The recent Korea free trade agreement followed the NAFTA model and the results have already proven terrible for American workers:

Obama said it would support “70,000 American jobs from increased goods exports alone.” In reality, U.S. monthly exports to South Korea fell 11% in the pact’s first two years, imports rose and the U.S. trade deficit exploded by 47%. This led to a net loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in this pact’s first two years.

They conclude:

There are many things we can do to enhance our competitiveness with China and in the global economy.

We can invest in our own infrastructure, manufacturing and job training. We can work harder to address issues like currency manipulation, unfair subsidies for state-owned enterprises in other nations and global labor protections. We can enter deals that increase U.S. exports while doing right by our workers and our priorities, and we can address the real foreign policy challenges in Asia with appropriate policies instead of through a commercial agreement that could weaken the United States and its allies.

What we should not do is blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.

No New Trade Agreements, Instead Fix The Ones We Have

Of course, as we reach consensus that we got trade wrong, and realize how these “NAFTA-style” agreements have done so much damage to our economy and middle class, doesn’t this mean it is time to back up and renegotiate NAFTA and others?

*P.S. The 2014 Super Bowl started at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Nullification, The Bundy Ranch And Right-Wing Lawlessness

Does the right get a free pass to ignore laws? Is armed intimidation the way we decide which laws should be followed? Is conservative media whipping up the conditions for another Oklahoma City bombing? These questions are popping up with more and more frequency in light of recent events.

Armed Militia At Bundy Ranch

Flag-waving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy refuses to pay cattle-grazing fees like other ranchers do, or even get a grazing permit, because he “doesn’t recognize the federal government.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), following years of federal court rulings, finally starts removing Bundy’s cattle from public land. The state’s Republican governor and Republican senator accuse the government of “intimidation” for enforcing the court’s rulings.

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5 of the Worst Cities to Be a Renter Unless You’re Fabulously Wealthy

I have this up over at AlterNet: 5 of the Worst Cities to Be a Renter Unless You’re Fabulously Wealthy,

The housing market is supposedly recovering, yet the homeownership rate is dropping. Meanwhile rents in urban areas were already high but now are absolutely skyrocketing. What’s going on? As millions lost their homes many of the houses were and are being bought up by large investors. And what do these investors want? They want rent and lots of it. According to a NY Times report, In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class, “In December, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan declared ‘the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.’ ”

Click through to read the rest.

More Yahoo Trouble

Recently in the post Avoid Yahoo I wrote about how Yahoo treats their customers. (Hint: terribly.)

I’m just trying to gain access to a control panel for a domain registered at Yahoo years ago. Yahoo “lost” the info about how to access it. This is done through Yahoo Small Business.

Emails get nowhere, and they ask you to call. But a call involves a promised wait of at least half an hour. I tried and gave up several times, including at 1am on a Saturday morning and again Sunday at that time.

So I gave up because of time, and am trying again. I have been holding 45 minutes so far.

Here’s the thing. THEY don’t know why I am calling, they just know that one of their “Small Business” customers needs help. 45 minute wait time SO FAR with no end in sight.

I’ll keep you posted, but obviously never, ever, ever do any kind of business with this company.

Update – been on hold for an hour now…

Update – 1 hour 7 min, reached a support rep. I ended up having to PAY YAHOO to get access to the control panel for this already-owned domain.

CEO Pay Soars As Worker Pay Stagnates

How’s your job going – if you even have one? The odds are very, very high that you haven’t seen a raise in a long time. Or maybe you were laid off and found a new job at half your old pay. They say this is the “new normal.”

Meanwhile, CEO pay just keeps climbing and climbing and climbing (and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing). This inequality is destabilizing our economy.

Soaring CEO Pay

The AFL-CIO has released this year’s 2014 Executive PayWatch at www.PayWatch.org, a “comprehensive searchable online database tracking the excessive pay of CEOs of the nation’s largest companies.”

PayWatch.org offers workers the unique ability to compare their own pay to the pay of top executives. According to Executive PayWatch data, U.S. CEOs pocketed, on average, $11.7 million in 2013, compared to the average worker who earned $35,293. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker. (CEO pay was 774 times the minimum wage.)

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Avoid Yahoo

m4s0n501

Avoid Yahoo. I just have to say it. I’m helping someone try to get access to a domain they registered at Yahoo a few years ago, still registered there but they “lost” the info about how to access it to change things…

Yahoo is “saving money.” Like so many tech companies they pretty much offer no custmer support. It’s terrible. They have automated everything and you just can’t get anything done.

Called, I get “your estimated wait time is over 30 minutes.”

Right.

So people, avoid Yahoo. Don’t do anything with that company. Seriously.

Tell Your Member of Congress To Vote For The ‘Better Off Budget’

Tell your member of Congress (MOC) to vote for the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) “Better Off Budget’ (BOB). Click to call.

This week the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the “Ryan”/Republican corporate/conservative budget and the CPC “Better Off Budget.” This is a chance to offer the country a real and visible contrast that clearly shows off the advantages of a progressive approach to our economy over a conservative/corporate approach to our economy.

Please call and write your member of Congress and ask him or her to vote for the “Better Off Budget” from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

CLICK TO CALL

The “Ryan” Republican Corporate/Conservative Budget

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Republican corporate/conservative budget favors the interests of the wealthiest few Americans and their giant multinational corporations at the expense of American-based manufacturers and other companies, America’s middle class working people and the poor. It actually takes heath care and protections away from millions of people, transforms Medicare towards a complicated voucher system for the profit of insurance companies and drastically cuts the “safety net” that now enables millions of poor and unemployed Americans to get by, (even as Republicans obstruct increases in the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits for millions.)

  • The Republican budget cuts taxes on the wealthy and corporations. (Millionaires get an average tax cut of $200,000)
  • The Republican budget cuts $5.1 trillion from things government does to make our lives better.
  • The Republican budget keeps and expands loopholes in corporate taxes that encourage companies to move jobs and factories out of the country.
  • The Republican budget repeals the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), leaving millions with no insurance or possibility of getting insurance.
  • The Republican budget cuts Pell Grants for attending college by more than $125 billion over the next decade.
  • The Republican budget makes deep cuts to Medicaid, converts the program to a block grant administered at the state level, and repeals the Medicaid expansion.
  • The Republican budget cuts Food Stamps (SNAP) by at least $135 billion and converts the program to a block grant.
  • The Republican budget cuts domestic programs substantially – nearing 20 percent in some cases – for total cuts of $791 billion over a decade.
  • The Republican budget increases military spending by $483 billion.

According to Joshua Smith at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) the Republican budget “would decrease GDP by 0.9 percent and decrease nonfarm payrolls by 1.1 million jobs in fiscal year 2015… The following fiscal year, when Ryan’s cuts to discretionary spending kick in … [it] would decrease GDP by 2.5 percent and cost 3.0 million jobs.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus “Better Off Budget”

The CPC “Better Off Budget” translates progressive values into a national budget that puts people to work, invests in our infrastructure and economy to drive our future prosperity, assists and provides greater opportunity for the less fortunate, protects our environment, drives down future budget deficits and demonstrates how a progressive approach actually addresses and fixes a number of our pressing national problems.

Here are some of the things this budget would do for the country if passed:

  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” increases employment by 4.6 million jobs in 2015 – 9 million by 2017 – and boosts gross domestic product (GDP) by 3.8 percent.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” increases taxes on the wealthiest by restoring Clinton tax rates for households making over $250,000 and implements new brackets for those making over $1 million.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” cuts out corporate tax loopholes that encourage companies to move jobs out of the country.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” ends subsidies provided to oil, gas and coal companies.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” enacts a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) on various financial market transactions to protect markets from excessive speculation and rigged high-speed trading.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” adds a public option and expanding payment reforms to Obamacare, and allows states to transition to single-payer health care systems.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” addresses the climate change crisis by enacting a price on carbon pollution while “holding low-income families harmless” – meaning paying back what they are taxed.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” restores food stamp – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – benefits and restores unemployment insurance.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” creates jobs in our building and construction industries with funds to repair and modernize roads, bridges, water and other infrastructure.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” includes a direct-hire Public Works and Education program that will hire physicians, students, construction and community workers, and an education program boost to hire more teachers and improve schools.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” enhances federal programs targeted at creating equity and improving outcomes for women, people of color, and their families.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” provides assistance to states to allow them to hire and rehire public employees such as police, firefighters and health care workers.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” invests in clean and renewable energy, which creates middle-class jobs, boosts the economy, and cuts pollution.

But wait, there’s more!

  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” implements comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” funds public financing of campaigns to curb special interest influence in politics.
  • The CPC “Better Off Budget” endorses “Scrapping the Cap” – it would require high-income individuals to contribute payroll taxes at the same rate as people earning less than $100,000 a year – and expanding Social Security benefits separately from the federal budget process.

What The Public Wants

Here’s the thing: The CPC “Better Off Budget” respects what the American people want Washington to do. Take a look at the website Populist Majority to see what the polls show. It also fixes a number of America’s serious problems, like jobs and infrastructure, addresses climate change, and gets to work on helping people out of poverty. At the same time the public really does not like the things that are in this Republican budget.

If enough Democrats support the CPC “Better Off Budget,” the public will have the opportunity to see that we have real and different choices in the Fall elections.

Please call and write your member of Congress and ask him or her to vote for the “Better Off Budget” from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

CLICK TO CALL

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Good Lord, Republicans STILL Pretending There Is An “IRS Scandal”

It has become a “truth” on the right that the IRS “targets” conservative “political” groups. Here is what is going on.

Sea Of Smear Ads From Anonymous Donors

Who is providing the sea of anonymous money behind the nasty smear-campaign ads in local, state and national elections? You might (not) be surprised to find out that these ads are from “social welfare” organizations! These organizations don’t have to disclose their donors because they are tax-exempt nonprofits that, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), “must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.”

That’s right, your community, state and nation elections are being flooded with nasty, political, smear-campaign ads from organizations that claim to “further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and have no involvement with political campaigns.

Social Welfare Organizations

Here are the technical details. A 501(c)(4) charity is a group that does not have to disclose its donors to the public. The law says these groups must operate “exclusively” as “social welfare” organizations and not political organizations. They “must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.” (Disclosure: The Campaign for America’s Future operates as a 501(c)(4) organization; its sister organization, the Institute for America’s Future, is a 501(c)(3) organization.)

But government agencies have to “interpret” laws when it comes to their own day-to-day operating rules, and there are grey areas between activities that could be seen as “social welfare” and activities that could be seen as electoral politics. Is voter-registration a general social welfare activity or a political activity? Is issuing a well-researched policy paper on the effect of a higher minimum wage on poverty a social welfare activity or a political lobbying activity?

So years ago the IRS decided that these social welfare groups could spend “up to 49%” of their efforts in politically related activity.

“Congressman Bob Bobson Eats Babies” Is Not A Political Ad?

Obviously these groups are not supposed to be running campaign ads. But a smear ad appearing a week before an election that says “your member of Congress Bob Bobson eats babies” but not “vote against Bob Bobson for eating babies” has been “interpreted” to be a social welfare activity and not a political ad.

Because of this huge, vast, gaping loophole a number of (mostly Republican) political election campaign-related organizations that wanted to hide their donors figured out they could become “social welfare” organizations to run these campaign ads. Then “the Republican majority” on the Supreme Court as E.J. Dionne calls them, allowed billionaires and corporations (even foreign-owned corporations) to put unlimited sums of money into politics. This opened the floodgates of influence-buying – the more money you put into politics, the more tax breaks, contracts, subsidies, monopoly protection, etc. you get back – and a race was on.

Keeping Campaign Donors Secret

Corporations and billionaires that wanted to keep their influence-buying secret could put money into these “social welfare” organizations (and the people running these organizations could make themselves a fortune), so there was a flood of applications to the IRS to start conservative, tax-exempt, “social welfare” nonprofit organizations.

At the same time, Senate Republicans also filibustered the DISCLOSE Act that would let the public know who was funding all of these smear ads.

The Phony IRS “Scandal”

Republicans charge that the IRS is “targeting” conservative “political” groups when they look to see if “social welfare” groups are actually illegally engaging in election-related politics. It has become a “truth” on the right that “the government” is “harassing” conservatives for their politics. They say the IRS is “intimidating” them by looking into “their political activities.”

This all feeds into the Republican/Fox News/Wall Street Journal/talk radio/blog “scandal machine.” For example, the Wall Street Journal today has this “story” today, “GOP Report on IRS: Only Tea Party Groups Received ‘Systematic Scrutiny’.” The party issues a “report” and the conservative media machine blasts the “findings” around the wingnutosphere, and the “outrage” ensues.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have been holding hearings intended to drive this idea of IRS “harassment” out to their followers. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has his Oversight and Government Reform Committee holding televised (FOX) “hearings” that haul people before them to be yelled at by various Republicans. One person, threatened by Republicans with prosecution and jail, was advised by her attorney to assert her Fifth Amendment rights, so Republicans made her appear for hours, repeating again and again that she was “pleading the Fifth.” Now Republicans plan to vote to hold her in “contempt” for asserting her constitutional rights, and have even created a logo advertising the contempt vote:

Here’s The Thing

The IRS is required by law to look at all applicants to see if they are engaged in impermissible political activity. If they are engaged primarily in political activity, they are neither “charities” nor “social welfare” organizations and, by law, are not supposed to receive special tax status allowing them to keep their donors secret. That alone should tell you that something is fishy with the corporate/conservative accusation that the IRS is “targeting” conservative “political” groups. The IRS is required by law to see if groups are “political.”

This is really about Republicans trying to stop the IRS from policing the big right-wing political groups that are using special tax status to mask their donors. This is an intimidation tactic; it’s an attempt to keep the IRS from seeing if these groups are engaged in political campaign activity and shut down the ones that are, all in an effort to mask their billionaire/corporate and foreign corporate donors.

See also:

The Latest Lie: IRS Targeted Conservatives

The Latest Lie: “IRS Targeting Was Broader Than Thought”

The IRS “Scandal” Was A Set-Up

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary