Progressives Should Focus On Russia

Too many on the “left” say progressives should not be focusing on the Russian interference in our democracy. They say it is just an excuse to allow the failure of Clinton and Democratic leadership to offer the public good policies that help people instead of just helping corporations and the rich slide. Some even say it is just old 1950s-style “red-baiting.”

Criticism of Russia is not related to previous pre-1990s criticisms of communism or socialism. Russia is not that. Today it is a kletocracy run by one guy and a bunch of oligarchs, sort of the perfect Koch/Thiel/Trump/corporate state that Republicans are trying to bring about here.

They Did It

The Trump campaign did do this and the Republican Party is running cover for it, just so they can continue to loot us with tax cuts for the rich and taking away the things our government does to make our lives better.

Its better for progressives if the spectrum of power goes from the left to centrist Dems, instead of from centrist Dems to the far right as it does now. Using Russia to get lots of Rs out of power and move that spectrum left only helps us obtain an environment in which Medicare-for-All, free college and university, allowing everyone to vote, restoring taxation and regulation on corporations, breaking up monopolies, bringing racial and gender justice, ending privatization, finally fighting climate change and all the other things needed to heal the country and planet are possible to achieve.

We need the public to understand that conservative/Republican/corporate rule is anti-democracy and not legitimate. Focusing on Russia helps us get there.

The Russia Story Isn’t Going Away

It’s not like the Russia story is going to drop from the news, allowing other things to be discussed. So ride the wave instead of fighting the tide.

The Russia story actually gives us an opportunity to talk about good policies instead of policies that hurt the country, by tying that discussion to Russian efforts to hurt us. All the talk about Russia gives us the opportunity to tie Republican anti-government policies to the ways Russia hoped to benefit from their interference in our democracy. Russia helped put them there in an effort to hurt the country and Republican policies hurt the country.

The Russia story delegitimizes Republicans by exposing their lack of legitimacy. (Along with voter suppression, gerrymandering and other ways they are not legitimately in power.) The more they and their policies are delegitimized the more progressive policies fill the vacuum.

Note how Medicare-for-All is being widely discussed, even while the Russia story dominates.

All the talk about Russian interference in democracy offers us a chance to remind people of what democracy means. erference in our democracy.

Impeachment Is Not Enough

The problem with impeachment is it doesn’t really solve our problem. The problem we have goes so far beyond just Trump and into flaws in the the design of our system.

George Washington established rule by “norms” when he declined to run again for President, saying we are not a nation of kings. So it became a norm that presidents hand over power. In the years since we developed a system of democratic norms instead of laws that can be enforced, with systemic mechanisms to ensure enforcement.

So now we have a president who has no interest in norms or rule of law, and we have no laws and no systemic mechanisms to do anything about it. He and his cronies are destroying our system of democracy and rule of law.

These clowns got into office illegitimately and we have no mechanisms to stop the destruction of all the “public structures” We the People own and treasure, from our public land to our public schools to our public infrastructure to our system of checks and balances to our democracy itself.

They got into office illegitimately using a corporate-and-billionaire-financed propaganda machine (and possibly non-US “dark money” funding sources) spewing lies at us 24/7/365 for decades, massive voter suppression, possible election-rigging, the electoral college designed around maintaining slave states, lies (“I will drain the swamp”) and all the other things they have done.

And beyond the presidency we have the gerrymandering lock, states populated by cows but with two senators, and other ways they maintain a grip on power when they can’t get the votes.

All impeachment does is move the incompetent, loathsome Trump out of the way, after he signs the things they want and they are through with his usefulness. But the entire fraudulent crowd will still maintain illegitimate power.

What we need is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that can sweep away all the corruption, illegitimacy and lies and find ways to restore democracy and return Power To The People.

An Innovative Solution To Corporate Taxation

While we’re talking about taxes…

Over the weekend The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow interviewed economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, to talk about “A New Way to Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share.”

The idea is, as Baker wrote last week in the LA Times, Instead of taxes, make corporations give the government stock,

If the tax reformers are serious, and I hope they are, here’s one simple way to largely eliminate the gaming opportunities that have made these people rich.

Instead of traditional taxes, the government could require corporations to turn over a portion of their stock, say 25%, in the form of non-voting shares. The government would benefit from any dividends or share buybacks but would have no voice in running the company.

This system would eliminate almost all opportunities for gaming since a company would not be able to deny the government its share of profits unless it also withheld profits from its other shareholders. And we would not call that “tax avoidance” but outright theft – the sort of thing that gets people sent to jail.

This government (We the People) share of corporations would replace taxation, because the government would collect dividends or the value of the share would increase along with the profits (formerly taxable) of the corporation. The government and corporate tax-accounting bureaucracies would be unnecessary. Our democracy would receive revenue so it can do things to make our economy and lives better.

Why should the government (We the People) have a share of corporations? People generally do not understand what a corporation really is, and this common misunderstanding works to be benefit of those who make money off of them.

Corporations are entirely creations of government. They don’t exist without government. A corporation is a package of laws designed to accomplish a public purpose.

Individuals do not generally have the kind of capital available to accomplish large-scale projects like building a series of factories to make cars or airplanes. It’s also risky to sink so much of one person’t holdings into something like that so those with sufficient resources might not do it.

So government (We the people) created corporations to enable pooling of capital and reduction of individual risk. We (through our government) grant these entities the right to enter into contracts, write checks, hire people, borrow money, file lawsuits, etc. as if they were a “person.”

A common misconception is that shareholders “own” corporations. They do not, but shareholders do elect the Board of Directors, which hires people to manage the corporation according to the Board’s instructions.

People tend to think of and talk about corporations as sentient entities. But corporations do not think or decide or act or anything else. The managers of the corporation do that. For example, “Wells Fargo” did not “decide” to commit fraud against their customers, the corporation’s executives — people — did that.

Another common misconception is that corporations are required by law to do whatever they can to make profits for the shareholders. In fact this is a relatively recent concept that flourished as people’s understanding of the purpose of corporations diminished. In fact government does much to limit what corporations can do while seeking profits. They cannot (aren’t supposed to) kill or injure people to increase profits, cannot poison the air and water, cannot commit fraud, etc.

So the idea that government should keep their hands off of corporations and not hold some percent of them for the benefit of We the People is really preposterous. This thinking misunderstands what a corporation is, how and why it exists and what its purpose is.

The goal of Baker’s idea is to create a system where corporations are paying their share to We the People, without all of the incentives to come up with schemes to avoid taxes. Baker’s idea accomplishes that goal. Baker suggests that government hold 25% of corporate shares, but the tax rate has already dropped from 52% to 46% under Reagan to 35% today, and the corporate share of the overall tax burden has fallen from 32% to only 10%. SO perhaps a higher share would be appropriate for restoring revenue and democracy.

(See Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth for a deeper dive into what and why a corporation is.)

Corporate Tax Cuts Are Really Just Tax Cuts For The Rich

Republicans are proposing a huge, huge cut in corporate tax rates. They are also proposing to let giant, multinational corporations keep much of the taxes they already owe on profits they are keeping in “offshore” tax havens.

Lower tax rates mean higher after-tax profits, which increases the value of stock holdings.

Who owns corporate stock, and therefore receives the benefits of these tax cuts?

Do We All Benefit From Corporate Stock?

Lets look at just who owns corporate stock.

Republicans like to pretend that all of us are invested in the stock market, if not by directly owning stocks, then through “our” retirement plans. This is usually written by and believed by upper-level, comfortable people that actually do have retirement plans.

But 45% of Americans have no money for retirement at all. Only 44% of Americans put anything into a 401K if their company offers one — and this number includes workers with only $100 in the plan. Only 18% of Americans are putting money in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), ehich may or may not hold stocks. Only 4% of private-sector workers have only a “defined benefit” plan, usually called a pension.

So much for “our” retirement plans. Aside from retirement plans, a 2016 Gallup survey found that only 52% of Americans own any stocks at all – down from 65% in 2007.

So Who Does Own Stock?

Here is a chart of who owns corporate stock (and therefore pays those taxes.)

As of 2007, the top 1 percent owned 50.9 percent of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets. The top 10 percent owned 90.3 percent. Things have only concentrated upward since 2007.

How much have things concentrated upwards since then? 20 Americans now hold as much wealth as half of all Americans put together and “the 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the population.”

People talk about an “upper class” that holds most of the wealth in our society now. Maybe the thinking on this needs to change from a “class” of people to just a few people.

It is these few people who are the beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts. As tax rates drop the value of their stock holdings rises. The rest of us lose our ability to have good schools, roads, health care, courts, scientific research and all the rest of the things our government tries to do to make our lives better.

This is who we are talking about when we talk about corporate tax rates. It’s not anonymous, nameless corporation, it is people — just a few people.

United Incident Shows Why We Need To Re-Regulate Corporations

In a democracy, We the People are in charge. We are the boss of the corporations. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Apparently, that isn’t so much the way it is anymore. The United States used to regulate corporations to protect people from concentrated power. Now concentrated power has taken over our government, which fights the people for the benefit of corporate profits.

Or, to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith and a Soviet joke: In democracy, We the People regulate corporation. In deregulated America is other way around.

The Face Of Deregulation

This is literally the face of deregulation of corporations:

This is what can happen to you now in the United States if you get in the way of something a corporation wants:

We’ve all seen the videos. A guy gets beaten and dragged from his paid seat on a United Airlines flight because, in essence, he was interfering with corporate profits just by being in the seat. The airplane was full, the corporation decided it could make more money by moving some employees to another town, and a passenger was in the way.

Airline Deregulation

Airlines used to be regulated in the U.S. as a public utility that served citizens. They competed with each other by offering better service.

Then in 1978, airlines were deregulated and passengers were considered consumers instead of citizens. The airlines argued that more competition would bring benefits. Instead, as time passed, airlines did what corporations tend to do.

They consolidated, reducing competition. They reduced and reduced and reduced service to reduce costs. They cut employee wages and benefits. They changed routes to “hubs” for their convenience, causing passengers to have to wait hours in crowded airports. And they write contracts that said you can’t use their (essential) service without signing away every right you have.

Since deregulation, airlines intentionally overbook many flights. They scrunch as many people into smaller and smaller seats just inches from the next, and sell you more legroom. Instead of serving food, they sell it. They charge you if you travel a suitcase. They charge you to bring a travel bag on the plane.

Soon, they will put a large spike in the seat and charge you to shorten it.

And you can’t do anything about it. You can’t even complain without risking being considered “disruptive” and dragged from the airplane and jailed. And be careful how you dress.

Not Just Airlines

It’s not just airlines. All kinds of corporate deregulation have been harming We the People. There used to be regulations requiring broadcast media to act in the public interest in exchange for use of publicly-owned broadcast frequencies. Now, obviously, there isn’t.

Pollution rules are being deregulated. Pesticides that harm children are being deregulated. The list is long.

“Arbitration clauses” are now used in all kinds of contracts and agreements to keep you from being able to take corporations to court. “Tort reform” laws also restrict access to courts when people are harmed by corporations.

You get the idea.

“Burdensome” Regulations

Corporations complain that regulations are “burdensome.” They complain that regulations cost them money.

Of course, regulations that stop corporations from polluting streams place a “burden” on them to properly dispose of waste. Of course it costs money to require them to not just dump waste into rivers, streams, and the air we breath.

Carmakers used to complain that rules requiring seat belts in cars were a “burden.” Tobacco companies used to complain that stopping them from selling cigarettes to kids “cost money.” So far, government regulation has protected us from these abuses-for-profit. But for how long?

Who Is Our Country FOR?

Americans have lost our understanding of the meaning of democracy and of the powers democracy brings us and duties it places on us. We have become consumers instead of citizens and we think that markets should make decisions for us instead of our votes.

In a democracy, We the People are supposed to be in charge. In a democracy, our government by definition exists to serve us, protect us, and do things for us that make our lives better.

A democracy regulates corporations to protect people from concentrated power. If we let concentrated power make decisions for us, we end up getting dragged off of airplanes because the corporation decided the seat we paid for would make them a bit more profit.

Corporations should be regulated to serve the public interest. Why else would We the People want to allow these things called corporations to exist at all?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

The ‘Lower The Tax Rate To Attract Businesses’ Competitiveness Scam

Now that Republicans are running Congress and the executive branch, they’re planning to “reform” (cut) corporate taxes (again). This time they using the subterfuge of “this will make companies more competitive.” What does that mean? Of course, under Republicans, it really means one and only one thing: cutting taxes on the rich — rich people.

The top corporate tax rate used to be 52 percent. Under President Ronald Reagan it was 46 percent. Then Congress “reformed” corporate taxes and dropped the rate to just 35 percent. (Except for giant, multinational corporations. They were handed a “deferral” break that cut their taxes to zero.)

Corporations used to shoulder 32 percent of the total tax burden. Now they shoulder only 10 percent of the burden — a drop of two-thirds. The difference has been made up from cuts to infrastructure, schools, health care, scientific research and all the things our government does to make our lives better — and to help our economy prosper over the long term.

That’s the trade-off when taxes are cut. It means our government has to cut the things it does to make all of our lives better.

Who Gets That Money?

As corporate taxes were cut (thereby making it harder for the government to do things that make our lives better), where did that money go instead? It obviously didn’t go toward higher wages or shorter working hours or other things that might have made the tradeoff somewhat worth it for regular people, at least in the short term. No, time has shown us here it went: straight to a few at the top.

Politifact said it was true when Bernie Sanders, in Madison, claims top 0.1% of Americans have almost as much wealth as bottom 90%. Joshua Holland explains how it happened, writing at The Nation in 2015 in 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans,

The concentration of wealth at the top isn’t the result of some sort of organic process. The top one-10th of 1 percent of American households controlled about 7 percent of the nation’s wealth in the mid-1970s. By 2000, their share had grown to about 15 percent, and today it’s well over 20 percent. Those at the very top didn’t become three times as smart or lucky or good-looking in the intervening years. They’ve benefited from changes in things like trade policy, the tax code, and collective-bargaining rules — all policy changes they’ve used their wealth to champion.

That is where the money goes when corporate taxes (and rules and regulations and the bargaining power of regular people) are cut. It goes to a few actual, living people instead of toward the betterment of all of us and our economy.

Corporations Don’t “Do” Things. They Don’t “Make Decisions” or “Talk”

Over the last few decades a constant barrage of corporate/conservative propaganda has misinformed public understand of what corporations are, and why we have them. People have come to think of corporations as sentient beings that “do things,” like make decisions and speak. But corporations are things, like chairs and hammers. (Actually, they are more like wills or sales contracts.)

Corporations are things — legal contracts — that people use to get certain things done, for themselves.

These days corporations have also become things that are used to obscure or mask what certain people do. A corporation doesn’t “decide” to pollute a river or cheat a customer or hide profits in the Cayman Islands. And Bob in accounting or Alicia in marketing don’t decide to do that, either. But “the corporations” get the blame while really a few people who manage the corporation do things, and they do those things for their own, personal gain.

This is the important thing to understand. People make decisions and personally benefit; corporations do not.

When we cut taxes on corporations we are actually cutting taxes on a few people. And not just people, but very, very rich people.

The “Competitive” Argument

This time around the Republicans are trying to bamboozle everyone by claiming that we “need” to cut taxes on corporations so they will be more “competitive.” (As if our corporations are not already making the highest profits in history.)

Gayle Trotter captures the company line at the Washington Examiner, in Trump’s corporate tax plan will make America competitive again,

Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent will help, not only to keep businesses here, but also bring jobs and innovation back home by reducing wacky incentives for United States companies to migrate offshore in tax-driven “inversion” deals.

This is legislation-by-extortion. This argument has giant corporations threatening to renounce their U.S. citizenship, and harm our country by killing American jobs, etc., unless we give them (the executives who make the decisions — and the threats) more money. This argument also threatens American entrepreneurs who want to start companies here, with its appeal to giant foreign companies to move here and serve those markets instead.

The argument also ignores what really makes a country “competitive.” That is the infrastructure, education, scientific research, court system and other things well-funded governments do to fertilize the soil from which companies can grow and prosper. Cutting corporate taxes cuts a government’s ability to nurture that soil — for the sake of a short term gain for a few executives who are making these extortion threats.

Switzerland Got Wise to the Con

A week ago Switzerland had a vote on lowering their corporate tax rate, “to attract businesses,” but the voters got wise to the con, with 60 percent of them voting to reject the extortion argument, as AFP reports,

The proposal would have leveled the tax rate for domestic and foreign firms while creating new deductions for innovation as well as research and development, tailored to attract global companies…

The left-wing Socialist Party (PS) called the government’s plan a “scam” that would have forced ordinary taxpayers to fill inevitable revenue shortfalls.

The referendum had “shown the red card to arrogance,” the party said in a statement, claiming the days of giving sweetheart deals to powerful corporations were “no longer tolerated.”

“Dollars Go to Support the Communities That Help to Make Their Businesses Thrive”

In April, 2015, the Main Street Alliance pushed back against these extortion threats, issuing a statement that SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS JOIN OTHERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY, PLEDGE TO REMAIN AMERICAN BUSINESSES,

With Tax Season in full swing, business owners and working families across the country are standing together, proud to live, work, and support the United States and their local communities. Small business owners across the country know that their tax dollars go to support the communities that help to make their businesses thrive. Investments in our schools, public infrastructure, safety, and much more depend on everyone paying their fair share of taxes.

Good for them. And good for people like the voters in Switzerland who did not fall for this “competitiveness” bamboozlement.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

This Isn’t Just Trump. This Is Who the Republicans Are.

So far President Trump has signed very few bills. One lets coal companies dump waste into streams. The other lets oil companies bribe foreign dictators in secret. And he is moving to block a Labor Department “fiduciary rule” that requires financial advisors to act in the best interests of their clients when advising on retirement accounts.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t just Trump doing this. The Republican House and Senate passed those two bills, and the Republicans have been fighting that fiduciary rule tooth and nail.

It’s not just Trump, Republicans as a party are using Trump to engage in a general assault on protections from corruption, pollution, corporate fraud and financial scams.

This is who they are.

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Andy ‘Women Are Meat’ Puzder’s Troubles Grow — But Wait, There’s More

Donald Trump didn’t really appoint Walter White, the guy from Breaking Bad, to run the DEA, but his nomination of fast-food CEO Andrew “women are meat” Puzder to be Labor Secretary sure comes close.

Puzder “Fails Every Test of a Labor Secretary”

In December, Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute wrote of Puzder’s nomination, Andrew Puzder fails every test for a Labor Secretary

He’s opposed to the new overtime rule that gave the right to time and a half pay to millions of salaried employees earning less than $47,476 a year. Wal-Mart has already raised its managers’ pay, as did about half of all big retailers, even before the rule was supposed to take effect on December 1. But Puzder wants to kill it so he can keep working low-paid employees without paying them a dime extra for their overtime hours.

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What’s Going On With Infrastructure?

At the beginning of the Obama administration Democrats had control of the Congress and passed the “stimulus.” Unfortunately only a third of that was for infrastructure work. Then Republicans in Congress obstructed every proposal since then to fix up our country’s infrastructure. Now the idea of maybe fixing some of our crumbling infrastructure seems to be back on the table.

What is the right way to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure, and how should it be “paid for”?

Election Proposals

Infrastructure was one of the few actual policies that received any discussion at all during the election campaign – and it didn’t receive much.

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Trump Declares TPP Still Dead. So Now What?

President Trump formally withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Though TPP was killed by a long progressive fight that resulted in it not having the votes to pass Congress, of course, he took credit for killing it himself.

TPP was another “trade” deal written in secret using a process dominated by corporate interests. As David Dayen, writing in The Nation Tuesday, put it,

The public recognized that free-trade deals aren’t about free trade anymore—tariffs are currently so low it would be hard to get them meaningfully lower—but about guaranteeing corporate profits through eliminating regulations and enforcing patents. Another deal written in secret, with lobbyists whispering in negotiators’ ears, gave nobody confidence that this would change. Secret enforcement tribunals were a prime target for criticism, because they protect corporate and investor profits and enable financial speculation. No such platform exists for workers if their rights are violated.

This rigged trade process and its results brought us Trump, and here we are.

So now that that’s over, how should our country trade with the world?

Do We Even Need “Trade Deals”?

“Trade” used to be about countries that grow bananas and “developed” countries exchanging bananas for cars and toasters. The banana regions had a “comparative advantage” because the climate favored banana-growing, the developed countries’ advantage was a completed manufacturing ecosystem. Unfortunately “comparative advantage” today means companies moving their production to places that allow them to pollute and exploit workers to “lower their costs.” (The costs of pollution and exploitation are then instead borne by working people and the planet.)

It is a common misconception that we need to have a trade deal with a country before American companies can export to that country. This is partly due to misleading arguments used to sell corporate-favoring trade agreements, like saying, “Ninety-five percent of America’s potential customers live overseas, so closing ourselves off to trade is not a solution.”

Not having a trade agreement doesn’t “close ourselves off to trade.” American businesses trade with the rest of the world and the rest of the world trades with us regardless of trade deals. But without trade deals countries can set tariffs and barriers according to their own country’s needs and goals.

“Protectionism”

In places where people have a say, people say they want good wages and environmental protections (and public education and health care and infrastructure and parks and science and other things people vote for in democracies). These protections mean that working people and the environment receive a larger share of the economic pie. The economic pie is also larger as a result of that investment in public education and infrastructure and the rest, so the “investor” class does better, too. To pay for these investment those who do better are taxed more.

In non-democracies and other places where people don’t have a say people aren’t paid well, the environment is not protected and a few people at the top end up with a larger share of the smaller economic pie.

So a democracy might want a tariff to remove the price advantage of goods made at “less cost” in countries without those protections. With a balancing tariff those goods won’t undermine democray’s good wages and protections, and undermine the tax base along with them. These tariffs and barriers might be called a “democracy tax,” with the revenues used for investment to make the goods made in the democracy more competitive worldwide.

Business and “investor” interests want to pay lower wages and environmental protection costs, so they encourage countries to pass “free trade” deals that prevent governments from imposing tariffs and barriers in the future. They call the idea of democracy taxes and other decision-making by governments to protect national interests “protectionism.”

“Free trade” deals set aside each country’s political decision-making in favor of “more trade” — thereby placing business interests above national sovereignty. Governments are prevented from acting to “protect” a country’s interests and businesses are free to seek the lowest costs, regardless of what happens to countries and the people in them and the environment.

“Opening New Markets” – To Monopolization

When corporate interests advocate for free trade deals they also claim the deals will “establish new markets.” Again, this falsely implies they can’t already export without establishing a trade deal. This language also makes it seem as though those countries don’t already have companies and industries in those markets. What they really want is a deal that blocks governments from using tariffs and barriers “protecting” their developing or strategic industries from being overtaken and knocked out by established or subsidized competitors from other countries. This “opens markets” to outside competition from giant corporations.

With open trade the largest multinational corporations are able to sweep into other countries — “new markets” — and buy up or knock out existing, smaller businesses. The larger companies use economies of scale, established supply chains, superior access to credit, and other advantages of bigness to become even bigger. The resulting “efficiencies” mean that people are laid off wages and benefits are cut and systems are set up to push profits to the “investors” in the corporation.

People Caught On

So American voters finally caught on to the gimmicks used to sell “free trade.” Or, better put, the damage from from free trade finally caught up to most of us. People rose up and demanded a change, and change is upon us. With TPP out of the way, and “free trade” on hold for the time being it is time to re-evaluate what We the People want from our trade deals and economy.

Stan Sorcher writes, in Restoring Trust After Our “Free Trade” Charade Ends,

Our failed “neoliberal” approach has been to manage globalization through trade deals, written by and for the interests of global companies. The neoliberal vision is a fully integrated global economy, where national identities are blurred, shareholder interests have top priority, public interests are devalued, and gains go almost entirely to investors.

… In this neoliberal vision, markets will solve all our problems, government is bad, and power and influence should favor those who already have plenty of both.

It’s time for a change. But what will the new trade regime look like?

Proposals For A New Trade Regime

Trade doesn’t have to mean a race to the economic bottom resulting in massive worldwide inequality. The benefits of a modern, globalized world are clear. Jared Bernstein, wrote last year that trade deals,

… provide necessary rules of the road by which countries deal with trade logistics, barriers, cross-border investments and conflicts, and, in this sense, they can smooth the path of globalization in useful ways. But they can also be captured by partisan or corporate interests and thereby used to channel the benefits of trade to a favored group. This has certainly been the case in the United States, and it is why many of us who are committed globalists opposed the TPP.

A new approach is needed. The question is how do we manage globalization and trade for the benefit of all of us instead of using it to set all of us against each other?

Plenty of groups and interests are already weighing in. Lori Wallach and Jared Bernstein, writing in The American Prospect last year, in The New Rules of the Road: A Progressive Approach to Globalization, (click through for specifics),

The new rules must prioritize the economic needs of low- and middle-income families while preserving the democratic, accountable policymaking processes that are essential to creating and maintaining the environmental, consumer, labor, and human-rights policies on which we all rely.
[. . .] A more transparent process with opportunities for meaningful engagement, accountability, and oversight by the public and Congress—rather than the current regime that privileges the commercial interests that have long captured these negotiations—is needed.

The AFL-CIO recently posted, 6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People, which can be applied more generally to new trade negotiations, (click through for details),

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

The Sierra Club has issued a discussion paper, A New Climate-Friendly Approach To Trade, with ideas that

“start from a simple premise that marks a fundamental departure from the status quo: Trade and investment should be treated as tools for advancing public interest objectives—not ends in and of themselves.1 Agreements between countries should encourage trade and investment that support a more stable climate, healthy communities, and good jobs, while discouraging trade and investment that undermine these goals. This means, for example, incentivizing investments in renewable energy but not in fossil fuels,2 lowering barriers to the spread of green technology, and using taxes on highemissions trade to support increased climate protection and climate-friendly job growth.”

The Coalition for a Prosperous America offers 13 21st Century Trade Agreement Principles. Among these: Balanced Trade, reciprocity, stop currency manipulation, allow “Buy America” procurement, enforceable provisions, and more.

Many ideas being discussed seem to involve a “small-ball” approach, reacting to the existing trade regime instead of reimagining the possibilities. Current discussions revolve around things like getting rid of rules favoring investors over governments, or including enforceable labor and environmental standards. And, of course that is all needed. But so is a reimagining.

Obviously the first goal of a new trade policy should be to lift prosperity and improve people’s lives on all sides of trade borders — not just for a few at the expense of the many, but generally. This means the interest of all economic and trade “stakeholders” — labor, consumers, human rights, LGBTQ+, environmental, health, etc. and their governments, along with investors and businesses — need to be involved in the process.

It can be done. For example, imagine a “trade deal” that prohibits companies from threatening workers with having their jobs moved to another country. Hmm… By imagining the unimaginable all kinds of new possibilities begin to open up.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Oxfam: Ten Multinational Corporations Control Most Food Brands

Take a look at Oxfam’s report, “Behind the Brands: Food justice and the ‘Big 10’ food and beverage companies.”

A Food System In Crisis

The Behind the Brands report explains, “For more than 100 years, the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies have relied on cheap land and labor to produce inexpensive products and huge profits. But these profits have often come at the cost of the environment and local communities around the world, and have contributed to a food system in crisis.”

Explaining the campaign, the report says, “Oxfam’s campaign focuses on 10 of the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies – Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – and aims to increase the transparency and accountability of the ‘Big 10’ throughout the food supply chain.”

“Big Ten” Infographic

The report includes a great infographic showing how just ten multinational conglomerates control almost all of the food and beverage “brands” we all recognize. These ten companies “collectively generate revenues of more than $1.1bn a day.”

These ten companies are:
● Associated British Foods (ABF)
● Coca-Cola
● Danone
● General Mills
● Kellogg
● Mars
● Mondelez International (previously known as Kraft)
● Nestle
● PepsiCo
● Unilever

The Campaign

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands website explains the campaign:

Behind the Brands is part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign to help create a world where everyone has enough to eat. Right now, nearly one in eight people on earth go to bed hungry. Sadly, the majority of these people are farmers or farm workers supplying the very food system that is failing them. Yet there is enough food for everyone. That’s an outrage – but we can be the generation that ends this crazy situation.

While the food system is complex and its problems multi-faceted, we know that the world’s largest food and beverage companies have enormous influence. Their policies drive how food is produced, the way resources are used and the extent to which the benefits trickle down to the marginalised millions at the bottom of their supply chains.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign aims to provide people who buy and enjoy these products with the information they need to hold the Big 10 to account for what happens in their supply chains. In putting together a scorecard based entirely on publicly available information on company policies, we posed the question “what are they doing to clean up their supply chains”?

Visit Oxfam’s Behind the Brands website for more.
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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.