Why Fight For Unions? So We Can Fight An Economy Rigged Against Us

The other day I wrote about how FedEx has been pretending that their employees are not employees, which gets around labor standards for things like overtime, family leave and the rest.

This misclassification game is just one way that big companies have been rigging the rules to give themselves an edge, getting around what We the People set down for our democracy.

The result, of course, is even more people paid even less with even worse working conditions. And the bad players get an advantage that drives out the good ones.

Like misclassification, this game-rigging, cheating, edge-seeking, rule-bypassing stuff is everywhere you look. (Rigged trade deals, corporate tax “deferral” and inversions, corporate campaign donations, too-big-to-fail banks, Congressional obstruction, etc. and etc…) This rigging of the game in favor of the ultra-wealthy gets worse and worse.

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Nicole Sandler Radio or Not Show

I was on Nicole Sandler’s Radio or Not show Monday. (You might know Nicole as the person who took over Randi Rhodes’ radio show when Randi wasn’t able to be there.)

Click here and then slide it to 1:38:12. It was a really good segment. We were talking about my recent post on Mitch McConnell’s threat to shut down the government if Obama won’t sign legislation to dismantle the government. Of course, you can also listen to the whole show.

Nicole does a 2 hour show, Mon-Fri, live from 10-noon ET. She is on youtube and 3 audio streams live… Plus a 24/7 tunein channel that carries the show live, and runs the most recent 5 shows back to back. Each morning’s show repeats at 3Pm ET.

The tunein url is http://tunein.com/radio/The-Nicole-Sandler-Show-247-Stream-s229127/, but it’s also accessible from the tunein app or directly from radioornot.com. The podcast is also on itunes (click here), Stitcher or any other podcasting service.

Nicole’s show is always free, but listener supported.

Now It’s Burger King Renouncing US Citizenship – Let’s Eat Somewhere Else

Burger King is the latest company announcing plans to renounce its U.S. citizenship in order to dodge taxes. It plans to buy Tim Hortons and then pretend Tim Hortons bought them so they can claim to be Canadian. (Tim Hortons renounced its own U.S. citizenship in 2009 and moved their headquarters from Ohio to Canada.)

The announcement is prompting calls like this petition you can sign by the Campaign for America’s Future that calls on Burger King’s CEO to keep the restaurant chain American or “I will dine elsewhere.”

Burger King Didn’t Build That By Themselves

Why is Burger King prosperous? Why do people feel safe eating food served at Burger King? Why do people recognize a Burger King when they see one? Why does something called “Burger King” with outlets across the country (and the world) even exist?

  • Consumers believe Burger King’s beef and other offerings are safe to eat because they know our taxpayer-funded government inspectors and regulations make sure of it.
  • Taxpayer-funded government courts and agencies make sure that other fast-food outlets can’t call themselves “Burger King” to trick people into eating there instead.
  • Taxpayer-funded agencies and courts also make sure that other restaurants can’t call their burger a “Whopper.”
  • Burger King’s customers use taxpayer-funded roads when they drive to a local Burger King outlet.
  • Burger King’s workers and managers were educated in taxpayer-funded schools.
  • The money Burger King collects is created and regulated by the taxpayer-funded government, and it is deposited in banks that are regulated by the government to be safe and trustworthy. (And protected by taxpayer-provided police.)
  • Burger King’s ultra-low-wage employees are paid so little that they receive food stamps, Medicaid, earned income tax credits and other taxpayer-funded government safety-net services.
  • The government enables Burger King to be something called a corporation at all. Corporations are entirely government-created entities with special rights, privileges and protections that are granted by the government.

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Austerity Has Made Europe’s Depression Longer Than in ’30s

Europe’s economic depression has now lasted longer than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Meanwhile, America’s “Great Recession” also drags on thanks to cutbacks in government spending since the stimulus.

Europe’s leaders somehow were convinced that austerity – “deficit reduction” through cutbacks in government – would somehow lead them out of their economic doldrums. They believed that taking money out of the economy would help the economy. The result has been terrible. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog calls Europe’s austerity-lengthened depression “one of the biggest catastrophes in economic history.”

To top it off, Europe’s governments are learning that cutting back on spending not only worsens the economic picture, causing terrible unemployment, poverty and human misery, but the worsened economic picture means less revenue coming in, thereby increasing deficits instead of lowering deficits. In other words, austerity cutbacks to fight deficits have instead made deficits worse and hurt people.

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A Simple Plan To Balance Trade And Bring Back All Those Jobs

We have an enormous, humongous and ongoing trade deficit. This means we buy more from other countries than they buy from us and we do this every year.

Trade is supposed to be balanced. Instead we have been running continuing trade deficits since the late 1970s. A trade deficit drains our economy and forces consumers, businesses and government to borrow, just to keep going. This means that jobs, factories, entire industries and literal boatloads of money have been leaving the country – it really adds up because we do this every single year. We have to do something about this.

The “Buffett Plan”

In May’s post, Balancing Trade – Remember The “Buffett Plan” I described the 2003 “Buffett Plan” proposed by Warren Buffett, who was very concerned about the damage done to our economy and unemployment caused by our ongoing trade deficit.

The government could issue “Import Certificates (ICs) to all U.S. exporters in an amount equal to the dollar value of their exports.” The number of import certificates determines the level of trade imbalance or balance that we allow.

A few years later Congress tried to address the problem with legislation designed to balance exports and imports.

Senators Russ Feingold and Byron Dorgan proposed the The Balanced Trade Restoration Act of 2006, similar to Buffett’s plan. The bill warned, “The surging trade deficits could soon create a balance of payments crisis for the United States, which could wreak havoc with the economy of the United States.” The bill didn’t go anywhere.

And then (from the same post) someone else brought up the Buffett Plan:

In a 2011 article, “What Would Buffett Do? — A Plan to Balance Trade, Create Jobs and Restore American Manufacturing,” Bill Parks goes into detail on a similar plan, and suggests a mix of private and public sale of the import certificates. He also suggests that the government could adjust the ratio of exports to imports as needed.

A New Stab At This Simple Plan

At the site Economy In Crisis, Kenneth N. Davis, Jr., Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce writes about the Balanced Trade Restoration Act of 2014. Davis notes that “imports have been the single most damaging blow to our domestic industrial base that we rely on for national security and income as well as for a strong economy and good jobs.”

In the Balanced Trade Restoration Act, Davis has put together a proposal that, while inspired by the original Buffett plan, offers an updated and more specific legislative plan for making it work. Davis writes,

My group, Balanced Trade Associates, believes we have a bold, realistic plan to deal with the import problem. It could eliminate our 700+ billion dollar annual trade deficits within 3 years. Our law would also require 3 years of modest 10% annual reductions in our imports that now run at 2.1 trillion dollars. The answer is our proposed new legislation: “The Balanced Trade Restoration Act.”

With it, the U.S. would restore our practice of maintaining modest annual trade surpluses with the rest of the world. Unlike most competitor nations, we abandoned that sound policy to emphasize globalization in the late 1960’s.

The text of the Balanced Trade Restoration Act of 2014 is included in his post at Economy in Crisis, but put simply, import certificates are issued based on exports, you need a certificate to import:

  • The government would create “a Balanced Trade Import Certificate Program.”
  • The program would issue “import certificates” that act as a license to import “a good with an appraised value that is equal to or less than the face value of the certificate.”
  • Goods cannot be shipped into the country without a certificate issued equal to their import value.
  • The certificates would be issued based on exports. The Commissioner of the program would determine how many such certificates to issue, starting at the current level of imports and tapering down by 10 percent a year for three years.
  • After three years we enter a “Continuous Maintenance of Balanced Trade Period” where certificates are issued equal to the amount we export.
  • Bob’s your uncle; trade is balanced.

It might sound like a lot of paperwork, but actually it’s just an IT/computer problem – setting up a data center with a database of exports, the resulting certificates and issuing certificates for incoming shipments by importers.

Does This Proposal Violate Trade Agreements?

While trade agreements contain measures against import restrictions they also call for balanced trade. This is not an import restriction, it is a balancing measure. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) allows import restrictions in situations of balance-of-payments. Trade not only should be balanced, it must eventually be balanced because the damage done by unbalanced trade to the economies of countries and ultimately to the world’s economy.

A Cap-And-Trade System To Incentivize Exports?

Davis’ plan calls for issuing certificates to “qualified” importers on a fair basis to prevent giants like Walmart from cornering the market. From the proposal: “Certificates shall be issued by the United States Customs and Border Protection to any qualified importer, as determined by the Commissioner. Certificates are non-transferable. The Commissioner shall determine the fee for Certificates such that all costs of administering the Program are paid by the fees.”

My own thinking is that a regulated (to prevent cornering the market) cap-and-trade (transferable certificate) system that allows exporters to sell those certificates to importers for a market price would still be beneficial. Because we import more than we export the certificates would have an added value, creating an incentive to export. It would also subsidize those exports. Corporations respond to incentives and this would create an incentive to export, which would create jobs. Once trade is balanced, those incentives are reduced, so it is self-correcting.

But either way, this can be worked out as the system is set up. Hopefully experts would provide testimony and a consensus decision would be made based on the best way to proceed to help our economy and fight the enormous, humongous trade deficits.

And So, In Conclusion

I end this post as I ended the May post. The Buffett Plan was just one idea for balancing trade. But balance we must. As Buffett warns, these huge trade deficits cannot be sustained. They are draining our economy. There has to be a reckoning. We have not faced that reckoning yet, but it is inescapable. It has to happen. We have to tackle this as a country, with a national plan.

Petition

While we’re talking about balancing trade, the Coalition for a Prosperous America has petition to Congress: Congress should direct the President to pursue Balanced Trade now as the principal trade policy objective.

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, request that Congress adopt balanced trade as the primary national trade goal by adding the following language to future trade-related bills:

“The principal national objective for trade in goods, services and agriculture is to achieve an overall balance of payments over a reasonable period of time, eliminate persistent trade deficits and reverse the accumulation of foreign debt.”

Click through to add you name, please.

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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 and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

GOP Vows To Dismantle Or Shut Down Government If They Win Senate

A Politico story being promoted by the Drudge Report, “McConnell’s plan to shut down Obama,” makes it clear that if Republicans capture the Senate this fall they will, as the Drudge Report puts it, “play chicken” and shut down the government if President Obama vetoes their legislation to dismantle the government.

From the Politico interview, a threat,

“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell said in an interview aboard his campaign bus traveling through Western Kentucky coal country. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

Who does McConnell say would be to blame if the President vetoes bills and Republicans then shut down the government rather than compromise? “McConnell said it would be up to the president to decide whether to veto spending bills that would keep the government open.” (In a related story this week, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) blamed the United States for making them behead an American journalist.)

Dismantle Or Shut Down

Republicans say that if they take the Senate they will pass legislation to dismantle the government. Jim Manley, former aide to Sen. Harry Reid explained in April at the WSJ, “It is very difficult to imagine that House Republicans’ takeaway from such an election would be to search again for moderation.”

Republicans can be expected to:

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Are American Corporations Really Less Competitive Because Of Taxes?

Corporate tax rates used to top out at 52.8 percent. Later rates were lowered to 48 percent and then 46 percent. Then in 1986 corporations complained that this (lowered) rate made them “uncompetitive” and demanded “corporate tax reform.” Because job creators. So the rate was lowered to 35 percent.

Now in 2014 corporations are complaining that this (lowered) rate makes them “uncompetitive” and are demanding “corporate tax reform.” Because job creators – or something. This time they threaten to – or do – renounce their U.S. citizenship, saying it is because of too-high tax rates.

So, here we are again. They want rates lowered even more. But are corporate tax rates really “uncompetitive?” And what does that even mean?

Tax Rates Are Plenty Competitive

At the New York Times’ Dealbook Andrew Ross Sorkin looks at this issue in “Tax Burden in U.S. Not as Heavy as It Looks, Report Says.” Sorkin looks at a paper, “‘Competitiveness’ Has Nothing To Do With it,” by Edward D. Kleinbard. Kleinbard is a professor at the University of Southern California and used to be chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Sorkin quotes Kleinbard:

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Three Charts to Email to Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law — Updated

Problem: Your right-wing brother-in-law is plugged into the FOX-Limbaugh lie machine, and keeps sending you emails about “Obama spending” and “Obama deficits” and how the “stimulus” just made things worse.

Solution: Here are three “reality-based” charts to send to him. These charts show what actually happened.

Spending

Bush_Obama_Spending_2014

Government spending increased dramatically under President Bush. It has not increased much under President Obama. This is just a fact.

Deficits

Bush_Obama_Deficit_2014

Note that this chart starts with Clinton’s last budget year for comparison.

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Perhaps We Need Corporate ‘Loyalty Oaths’

Several American corporations are using a tax loophole scheme called “inversion” to get out of being American corporations obligated to pay American corporate tax rates. They buy or merge with a non-U.S. corporation (usually located in a tax haven), pretend they are a subsidiary to that corporation and renounce their U.S. “citizenship.”

That’s almost the only thing that changes. Their U.S. executives, employees, facilities and customers remain where they are, along with the benefits and protections they get from our courts, education system, military, infrastructure and all the other things we pay for through taxes. They just stop paying various taxes to help pay for those things.

Walgreens announced today that they will not “invert” and become a non-U.S. corporation. (And their stock tumbled as the bailed-out “patriots” on Wall Street heard the news.) Walgreens’ decision follows the collection of more than 160,000 signatures on a “Tell Walgreens to stay in the USA!” petition organized by a coalition of progressive organizations demanding that Walgreens remain a U.S. corporation.

But that announcement is just one victory in what has to be a continuing campaign to make sure corporations honor their obligations to America and pay their share of the cost for the things that enable them to prosper in America.

Corporate Desertion

At The Daily Beast Monday, Jonathan Alter wrote about this “corporate desertion.” In “The United States Needs Corporate ‘Loyalty Oaths’,” Alter writes that “…it’s time for red-blooded Americans to take matters into our own hands. My answer is to make every corporation sign something.” Alter suggests “… a “non-desertion agreement” with the John Hancock of every board member and CEO in the United States.”

If boards thought for even a second about the long-term interests of their companies, they would summon their lawyers and sign. It’s protection against the risks of resurgent nationalism that could strip them of the many advantages (indirect government subsidies, easy access to American markets) that they currently enjoy.

Alter points out that the president can just do this today with an executive order for corporations that receive federal contracts:

“The president should issue an executive order that says any company that wants to keep its federal contracts must sign a new-fangled NDA. It’s reasonable to expect most federal contractors to be American companies. Obama has already used that leverage to raise the minimum wage for companies doing business with the government and, in a little-noticed move, to force government contractors to pay their suppliers on time.

This executive order would get the attention of major corporations, most of which receive federal contracts.”

The Benefits And Protections Corporations Get

Corporations themselves are not the problem. There is nothing inherently wrong with them, as long as we understand what they are and are not. A corporation is just a tool – a way to get something done. A corporation really is just a legal contract – entirely a creation of government (We the People) – a legal form of business organization that allows multiple investors to aggregate funds in order to accomplish projects that would otherwise be difficult to get done, except by governments. (It takes a huge investment to build a factory, buy the equipment and supplies, and hire the people required to make automobiles, trains, or other goods. The corporate form of a business enables this aggregation of funds from multiple investors.)

Where our relationship with corporations goes wrong is in our understanding of what they are and what they are for. They are neither good nor bad, they can’t be; they are not sentient entities that have morals or “decide to do things.” A corporation is just a contract between investors. A chair or hammer can’t decide things, and neither can a corporation. It is the people who manage the corporations that decide to do things, not the corporation.

Alter writes of the advantages that corporations currently enjoy. They are granted these advantages and benefits because we – through our government – have decided to let groups of investors have them. We did this in order to better accomplish those things that we want to get done. So corporations get many benefits and protections, including (but not limited to):

  • Corporations can raise and concentrate money. Corporations can add new investors, issue stock and borrow. Also the corporation’s stock can be traded, providing liquidity.
  • Corporations provide limited liability. The personal assets of the shareholders of a corporation are protected from the corporations debts and liabilities. A shareholder doesn’t have to come up with money to cover what the company might owe from borrowing or from a legal penalty or fine. Shareholders also are not criminally liable for the things the corporation might do.
  • Corporations get special tax treatment. They pay lower tax rates than other kinds of “persons.” They get all kinds of tax deductions, subsidies, exclusions, etc. that regular persons do not. A huge benefit and protection shareholders of corporations get is something called the “capital gains tax rate.” When one of these owners of corporate stock sells the stock the profits from that sale are not taxed at the same rate as the income of working people. That sale is called a “capital gain.” (That tax rate just went from 15 percent to 20 percent as part of President Obama’s budget compromise.) The reason that the wealthiest people get most of their income from capital gains is because the capital gains tax rate is lower – and the reason the capital gains tax rate is lower is because the wealthiest people get most of their income from capital gains. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
  • Corporations can own property in their own name, including shares of other corporations. Even though they are not “people” we let them “own” things. This enables a certain level of “hidden” ownership of things.
  • Corporations live forever. They survive aside from the lives of the shareholders.

For The Benefit Of We The People?

We the People allow the corporate form to exist and grant these benefits and advantages to corporations because it enables the aggregation of funds from multiple investors to help accomplish those things we believe these corporations can do for us. We the People grant them special benefits, such as tax breaks, and in exchange we are supposed to get certain things back from this deal, beginning with well-made goods and high-quality services, good-paying jobs with benefits, and most importantly a share of the proceeds – taxes – to use to run our society, maintain and improve our infrastructure, educate ourselves, and all the other things We the People established our government for. In other words, this is supposed to be about making our lives better.

Why else would We the People make laws that allow this business form and grant these advantages and benefits to these corporations, unless it was for the benefit of We the People?

We the People create the fertile ground – education, infrastructure, courts, police and military protection, customers, etc. – for these corporations to thrive and We the People are supposed to reap the harvest.

We Get In Trouble When We Misunderstand What Corporations Are For

These advantages and benefits are supposedly granted in order to advance our – We the People’s – interests in getting certain things done and providing us with certain benefits, period. It is when we misunderstand what a corporation is that trouble begins.

One example of this trouble is that many people mistakenly believe that shareholders “own” a corporation. In fact, shareholders only have a contractual agreement related to the value of the stock. A corporation has no “owners.” It is just a contract, an understanding, a piece of paper.

Another example of the trouble that can occur from misunderstanding what a corporation is comes from the mistaken belief that the purpose of a corporation is to make money – and that there is a corresponding rule that they are required to “maximize shareholder value.” In fact, a corporation exists to allow investors to pool funds to accomplish certain tasks that benefit us. Their purpose is to better enable the accomplishment of those tasks.

Just Who Are We Talking About?

Unfortunately, public understanding of corporations has migrated from the original purpose of this form of business organization. Why is this? The answer might come from understanding who benefits from owning shares in corporations. This chart from the 2011 post “Nine Pictures Of The Extreme Income/Wealth Gap” explains who we are really talking about when we talk about corporations today:

The top 1 percent own 50.9 percent of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets. The top 10 percent own 90.3 percent. The bottom 50 percent of us own 0.5 percent. That’s one half of one percent.

So Here We Are

We have drifted very far from our understanding of the relationship that is supposed to exist between We the People, our government, and the businesses that our government allow to exist. Why would we pass laws that set up corporations and grant them special benefits, except to make our lives better? How have we allowed these legal constructs called corporations (and the people behind them) to gain so much power that they can tell us what to do, and tell us they are going to just leave the country if we don’t let them have their way?

If We the People are not benefiting from the existence of these things called corporations, maybe it is time for We the People to put a stop to the special advantages and benefits they get. Why should the 1 percent enjoy limited liability, special tax breaks, use of courts, and police and military protection if We the People are not getting well-made goods and high-quality services, well-paying jobs with good benefits, good schools and the rest of the things called for in the original bargain that created corporations in the first place?

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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 and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Very Important (Short) Video For Understanding How Money Works

This is the great Richard Eskow interviewing economist Stephanie Kelton for his radio/internet/video/podcast show The Zero Hour. (Click here for The Zero Hour’s YouTube channel.)

This video helps you understand that the country is not “broke” but has PLENTY of money to hire people, fix infrastructure, etc., just like how we had enough money for two wars and then trillions to bail out the banks. PS It’s called “Modern Monetary Theory.”

From her website: Stephanie Kelton, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the top-ranked blog New Economic Perspectives and a member of the TopWonks network of the nation’s best thinkers. Her book, The State, The Market and The Euro (2001) predicted the debt crisis in the Eurozone, and her subsequent work correctly predicted that: (1) Quantitative Easing (QE) wouldn’t lead to high inflation; (2) government deficits wouldn’t cause a spike in U.S. interest rates; (3) the S&P downgrade wouldn’t cause investors to flee Treasuries; (4) the U.S. would not experience a European-style debt crisis.

If you want more, Stephanie Kelton has also participated in a number of Virtually Speaking episodes.

Backed By China? House Republicans Block Critical ‘Make It In America’ Bill

Last week one more example of Republican obstruction occurred – blockage of an important “Make It In America” bill – and one more time not a single corporate media outlet reported it.

The House Republican leadership last Tuesday blocked a bill to secure for American companies critical minerals used in the production of energy-efficient products, renewable energy systems, electronics and other technologies. The result is companies – and the Defense Department – continue to be forced to turn to China to make or obtain critical electronics components.

The China Problem

Put simply, China undermined most of the world’s other sources of these strategic minerals by such practices as underpricing, putting them out of business. Once an industry leaves a country it becomes enormously difficult to start it up again. The supply chain is gone. The expertise is gone. The educators are gone – and so on. And, of course, with the industry goes the jobs and the ability for a country to make a living in the world. A huge investment is required to rebuild all of this.

Now China is the main source (90 percent) for many critical minerals used in electronics manufacturing. China is using that 90 percent advantage to force other industries to come to China. China has been using export controls and other restrictions to drive up the price of manufacturing outside of China. If you simply cannot make or obtain certain critical electronics products anywhere else you either get them from China or go out of business. And yes, that includes our military.

The Bill

The Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act of 2014 (H.R. 1022) from Rep. Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.) was written “to assure the long-term, secure, and sustainable supply of energy-critical elements to satisfy the national security, economic well-being, and industrial production needs of the United States.” It would have increased exploration, research and development, and other national means to secure these critical minerals by coordinating the actions of federal agencies to:

  1. promote an adequate and stable supply of energy critical elements,
  2. identify energy-critical elements and establish early warning systems for supply problems,
  3. establish a mechanism for the coordination and evaluation of federal programs with energy-critical element needs, and
  4. encourage private enterprise in the development of an economically sound and stable domestic energy-critical elements supply chain.

This bill is one part of the overall Make It In America series of bills from House and Senate Democrats.

The Vote

A majority of the House voted for the bill, but House leadership set it up for failure by requiring a two-thirds vote to pass. It was voted on “under suspension of the rules” requiring the two-thirds instead of the normal majority.

The reason? Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth objected to our government helping American companies compete with China. They said that the American government securing necessary materials for American companies to manufacture is “interference with the free market.”

To some there apparently is no national interest, only “market” interests.

Of course, it is not a “free market” because China subsidizes its companies and uses strategic chokepoints like this to take over entire industries. China sees itself as a country with a national interest. Conservatives say we should not.

Heritage argued that government “interference in a functioning market is self-defeating.” In other words, let China have the business.

It really is time to find out if Heritage Action and Club for Growth receive funding from China as part of China’s national strategy to capture the world’s strategic industries. China would be foolish not to. But, on the other hand, maybe China doesn’t have to.

This is important stuff. Really important. You should help spread the word that this happened.

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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 and/or for the Progress Breakfast.