You Can’t Have Healthy Businesses Without Strong Government

As much as conservatives want to pretend otherwise, you can’t have strong, healthy, prospering businesses without a big, strong government. The kinds of businesses that don’t want a big, strong government are exactly the kinds of businesses that We, the People don’t want.

Government Provides The Soil For Businesses To Thrive

Government creates the “public structures” that support smaller, innovative business. Government defines the playing field for business, right down to defining and regulating the money itself. Government creates the laws that define what business even is, and the police and courts to enforce that law. Government provides the infrastructure that is the soil in which businesses thrive — or whither and die. Government educates the employees and innovators. Government negotiates the trade agreements that let businesses sell outside our country, and is supposed to protect our businesses from being undercut by those in other countries.

Government keeps larger, ultra-wealthy businesses from dominating, monopolizing and destroying the newer, innovative, disruptive, creative businesses that rise up out of We, the People.

But government can only do those things for us when it is big and strong. And that is why the very people and businesses — and countries — that want to dominate, monopolize, cheat, scam and take everything for themselves at the expense of the rest of us don’t want our government to be big and strong enough to stop them.

Government Protects

Imagine this, though it might be difficult: some people are greedy and want more for themselves, at the expense of the rest of us. Yes, this is shocking, but true!

Government protects us from those who would take advantage and take too much. Government does this both domestically and internationally. At home it protects us from criminals and exploiters. Government also protects us from physical and economic threats from other countries. As I discussed last week in Why Can’t Apple Make Your IPhone In America? we as a country face an updated, economic-attack version of these threats to our national security,

China sees itself as a country, and we no longer do. China competes with us as a country. But our businesses see themselves as GLOBALIZED, not as part of a country.

So since we – at least our businesses – no longer see themselves as part of a country we are not responding to this competition. We are not mobilizing to fight back.

In fact, China has essentially recruited our own business leaders to fight against our own government.

Government Keeps The System Going

Our “system” generally works when it is in balance; consumers with jobs and money are customers for our businesses. When customers are coming in the door, companies hire more people to serve them. However, in a system the things that each individual wants to do can be bad if too many of them do those things at the same time.

An example of an unbalanced system: if every driver decided to drive on the same road at the same time no one would be able to move. This is where government is absolutely necessary to regulate the larger system and make sure it maintains balance.

Am economy example: all businesses want to reduce costs, and one way to do this is to cut the number of employees they have, increase the workload of the rest and do what they can to cut their pay and benefits. This is an example of something that each player in a system does that might be “good” for that individual player, but is really bad for the larger system if they all do it. When too many business reduce costs by cutting employees or paying less, the system collapses from lack of demand. Government is needed to keep businesses from laying off too many people or cutting pay. Sometimes government does this by stepping in and hiring people (or just giving them money like unemployment benefits), or buying things, thereby creating demand, causing businesses to hire. (See Actually, “The Rich” Don’t “Create Jobs,” We Do.)

Another example: When a business becomes powerful it uses that power to monopolize, to keep competition from being able to compete. Pretty soon there are just a few large businesses that can charge whatever they want. Without strong government to keep this from happening the system breaks down.

Taxes

Taxes are the payback We, the People receive from our investment in creating the public structures that protect and empower us and enable our business to thrive. Taxes pay for the protections, courts, infrastructure, education and all the rest of the system that creates the prosperity and redistributes that prosperity to all of us, thereby balancing the system.

These diagrams are from Tax Cuts Are Theft, (please click through for more.)

The American Social Contract is supposed to work like this:

virtual_cycle
A beneficial cycle: We invest in infrastructure and public structures that create the conditions for enterprise to form and prosper. We prepare the ground for business to thrive. When enterprise prospers we share the bounty, with good wages and benefits for the people who work in the businesses and taxes that provide for the general welfare and for reinvestment in the infrastructure and public structures that keep the system going.

We fought hard to develop this system and it worked for us. We, the People fought and built our government to empower and protect us providing social services for the general welfare. We, through our government built up infrastructure and public structures like courts, laws, schools, roads, bridges. That investment creates the conditions that enable commerce to prosper – the bounty of democracy. In return we ask those who benefit most from the enterprise we enabled to share the return on our investment with all of us – through good wages, benefits and taxes.

But the “Reagan Revolution” broke the contract. Since Reagan the system is working like this:

virtual_cycle_diverted

Since the Reagan Revolution with its tax cuts for the rich, its anti-government policies, and its deregulation of the big corporations our democracy is increasingly defunded (and that was the plan), infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are falling behind, factories and supply chains are being dismantled, those still at work are working longer hours for fewer benefits and falling wages, our pensions are gone, wealth and income are increasing concentrating at the very top, our country is declining.

All Of Us Or Just A Few Of Us?

“We, the People” are the first three words of our Constitution. The writers of the Constitution were making a point, and to drive that point home they also made those three words the only words you can see from any distance:

“We, the People” was the point. This country exists for We, the People not for just a few people. We had fought a war to free ourselves from a system that was of, by and for a few wealthy and powerful people who controlled the levers of power, and we said, “Never again!” We designed a new system that was supposed to ensure that all of us prosper instead of a few people at the expense of the rest of us.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This Constitution is supposed to be for our benefit — all of us. The economy is supposed to be for the benefit of all of us. For our general welfare, not for just a few. And to protect us from the wealthy and powerful, government has to be big and strong.

When Government Is Weak

Conservatives, funded by the already-wealthy — the 1% and their giant corporations — say we need less government, smaller government, government out of their way. They say they want our government to be small enough that they can “drown it in a bathtub.”

Think about what they are saying when they say they want less government: they want less decision-making by We, the People. They want less protection of our general welfare. They want less infrastructure for our smaller businesses to thrive in. They want less enforcement of laws that protect our wages, safety, environment and rules against scamming, scheming, and defrauding us. That is what “less government” means in a country where the government is We, the People…

When government is strong we have more enforcement of a level playing field for all of us, more education for all of us, more security for all of us, more protection of our environment, more infrastructure so our own startup businesses can flourish and compete, more parks, more promotion of the general welfare.

And when government is weak we end up with a very few greedy, ruthless billionaires and their giant corporations controlling the economy, stifling competition, scamming and defrauding us, and consuming the environment and resources for their own short-term profit.

What Government Does For Us And Our Smaller Businesses

Protect:

  • Law.
  • Police.
  • Courts.
  • International agreements.
  • National Security.
  • Regulate and balance business activity.

Enable and empower:

  • Education.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Define and regulate money.
  • Redistribute – keep the top from having too much and the rest of us from having too little money, power, etc.

Invent and innovate:

  • Public universities.
  • Scientific research, esp. basic research for our businesses to apply.

Sustain:

  • Protect the environment and resources from those who would use them up for their own profit.
  • Fight monopolies so new businesses can innovate and compete.

Help me fill in this list. Leave a comment.

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

Democracy Improves Lives In China – And Here, Too

Democracy properly applied brings widespread prosperity because when people have a say what they say is give everyone good wages, benefits and a share of the pie. They say reinvest some of the profits in infrastructure and education to keep the good times rolling. Last but not least they demand equal enforcement of the rule of law. Undercut those things and what you get is … well, you get what we see happening all around us today…

Democracy Improves Lives

Here is a surprise that isn’t a surprise in the WSJ today: Democracy Improves Lives of People in China,

A little bit of democracy has gone a long way to improving people’s lives in China.
Such is the conclusion arrived at by four economists who recently published the results of an investigation into the economic effects of China’s village elections.
Studying elections from 1982 through 2005, the quartet found villages that elected their leaders spent 27% more, on average, on “public goods” such as schools, tree plantings and irrigation canals than villages that didn’t hold elections. Elected officials also helped vastly reduce the gap between rich and poor.
Why the gains? Largely because elected leaders pay attention to their constituents as a way to assure their re-election. “The increase in leader incentives is an important driver” of change, write Monica Martinez-Bravo of Johns Hopkins University, Gerard Padro i Miquel of the London School of Economics, Nancy Qian of Yale University and Yang Yao of Peking University, in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. [emphasis added, in order to add emphasis]

Prosperity Is Fruit Of Democracy

This is not a surprise. When people have a say, they say they want better. And when We, the People are were in charge, we got it. Because Americans had a say we built up a country with good schools, good infrastructure, good courts, and we made rules that said workers had to be safe, get a minimum wage, overtime, weekends… we protected the environment, we set up Social Security. We took care of each other. This made us prosperous. A share of the prosperity for the 99% was the fruit of democracy.

Unions Enforce Democracy

Before unions came along to enforce the idea of democracy we didn’t get the share of the prosperity that democracy promised, after unions we did. Before unions we had 12 (or more)-hour workdays, seven days a week. Before unions we had low pay. Before unions we had no benefits. Before unions we certainly didn’t get vacations. Before unions we could be fired for no reason. Before unions a wealthy few were able use their wealth to pay off influence legislators and keep the rules bent in their favor. Unions organized and forced changes that brought a larger share of the pie to We, the People.
Unions enforce the concept of democracy. Yes, We, the People were supposed to be in charge. Yes, the economy was supposed to be for our benefit. Why else would We, the People allow corporations to exist in the first place? It was unions that gave people the power to enforce that idea. People organized together and demanded that We, the People get a share of the pie, and the results grew the pie. Unions are why we have had a middle class.

Our Prosperity Made Us A Big Market

That prosperity meant that we had a very big market that the rest of the world wanted to sell to. This market power gave us leverage. We protected that market by refusing to let in goods made by exploited workers without applying a tariff. This tariff kept the price of imported goods from undercutting the prices of goods made here by people who have a say, and said they were going to get a share of the pie. The tariffs helped pay for good schools and good infrastructure that gave our companies a competitive advantage in the world, even where people were paid less.

“Free” Trade Undermines Democracy

But for decades the democracy experiment has run the other way. Our “free” trade agreements have undercut our democracy. We allowed goods made by exploited workers to come in and undercut the good wages that we were receiving because we had a say. The exploited workers elsewhere were used as a hammer over our heads: “Accept lower wages and cuts in benefits or we will move your job out of the country.” From Democracy V. Plutocracy, Unions Vs. Servitude,

Workers in countries like China where people have no say have low wages, terrible working conditions, long hours, and are told to shut up and take it or they won[t have any job at all. They are given no choice.
Increasingly workers here have their wages, hours, benefits, dignity cut and are told to shut up and take it or their jobs will be moved to China. Because we are pitted against exploited workers in countries where people have no say, we have no choice.

And the result was that our share of the pie got smaller and smaller. The concentrated wealth has been used to undermine our democracy, and we are in a downward spiral — a “race to the bottom.”

Decades Of “Free” Trade Has Made Us Poor

Corporate conservatives like Speaker Boehner like to say “We’re broke“:

House Speaker John Boehner isn’t going to step in to stop proposed cuts for a low-income heating program.
Asked specifically about why now is time to be cutting LIHEAP and other key programs to help poorer Americans, the Ohio Republican said, “Everything is on the table. We’re broke. Let’s be honest with ourselves.”

If, as they claim, “we’re broke,” then how did we get that way? By undercutting our democracy with “free trade” agreements, that led to terrible trade deficits. The Trade Deficit Keeps Draining Money From Our Economy,

Another month and another terrible trade deficit report. Why is it that DC elites who profess to care so much about deficits say so little about our worst deficit? The trade deficit drains money from our economy, lowers our wages and forces us into an ever-lower standard of living.
…Here is the formula since Reagan:
1) We open our borders to imported goods made in places where people don’t have a say, so they don’t have good wages or environmental protections. We send our factories over there and import “cheap goods” into the country.
2) This sends dollars over there, and they don’t buy back from us (that would be actual trade), so they accumulate the dollars as they drain our economy.
3) Then we borrow those dollars back to fund the tax cuts for the rich. Our rich get richer, the rest of us get poorer, while they gain more and more power over us. The tax cuts force us to cut back and cut back on schools and infrastructure and other things that make us competitive
4) Meanwhile the imports from over there are used to break the unions and drive wages and benefits down over here.
5) Bob’s your uncle, here we are where we are today.

The economic result of decades of these trade agreements demonstrates that when we let in products made where people don’t have a say it undercuts our own economy. We opened the borders and let the big companies move the jobs, factories and industries over the border of our democracy, to places where workers don’t have a say, so they are exploited. And the result was the big corporations were able to come back and cut our pay, and get rid of our pensions, and tell us, “take it, shut up, or we will move your job, too.” We allowed the 1%ers to make the benefits of democracy into a competitive disadvantage! From Free Trade Or Democracy, Can’t Have Both,

How often do you come across arguments that “globalization” and “free trade” mean that America’s workers have to accept that the days of good-paying jobs and US-based manufacturing are over? We hear that countries like China are more “competitive.” We hear that “trade” means that because it’s cheaper to make things over there we all benefit from lower-cost goods that we import.
How often do you hear that we need to cut wages and benefits, work longer hours, get rid of overtime and sick pay? They say we should shed unions, get rid of environmental and safety regulations, gut government services, and especially, especially, especially we should cut taxes.
What they are saying is that we need to shed our democracy, to be more competitive.

The 1%ers Say Jobs Solution Is Be “Business-Friendly”

With our wages and benefits cut out from under us and our working hours lengthened the corporate conservatives demand more, saying we need to be more “business-friendly” to compete with countries like China. They oppose the minimum wage. They oppose pensions. The oppose health care benefits. They oppose unions. They say we have to cut taxes on the rich and corporations or they will leave, taking their jobs elsewhere. “Business friendly” means giving the 1%ers everything they want.
In fact, China Is Very “Business-Friendly”. So was the South, before the Civil War.
But it remains a fact, where democracy flourishes prosperity follows. Where democracy is weak, so is the economy for regular people. And when regular people are not doing well there isn’t much of a “market.” Democracy is the only economics that works.
Join me at the June 18-20 “Take Back the American Dream” conference.
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

Labor’s Fight Is OUR Fight

Unions have been fighting the 1% vs 99% fight for more than 100 years. Now the rest of us are learning that this fight is also OUR fight.
The story of organized labor has been a story of working people banding together to confront concentrated wealth and power. Unions have been fighting to get decent wages, benefits, better working conditions, on-the-job safety and respect. Now, as the Reagan Revolution comes home to roost, taking apart the middle class, the rest of us are learning that this is our fight, too.
The story of America is a similar story to that of organized labor. The story of America is a story of We, the People banding together to fight the concentrated wealth and power of the British aristocracy. Our Declaration of Independence laid it out: we were fighting for a government that derives its powers from the consent of us, the people governed, not government by a wealthy aristocracy telling us what to do and making us work for their profit instead of for the betterment of all of us. It was the 99% vs the 1% then, and it is the 99% vs the 1% now.
We, the People
Democracy is when We, the People decide things together — collectively — for the common good of all of us. Our country originated from the idea of We, the People banding together to watch out for and protect each other, so we can all rise together for the common good, or “general welfare.” Collectively we make decisions, and the result of this collective action is decisions that work for all of us instead of just a few of us. This is the founding idea of our country.
Unions Protect The Interests Of Working People
The same is true for unions. Unions work to bring We-the-People democracy to the workplace. Like the old story about how it is harder to break a bundle of sticks than the same sticks one stick at a time, unions are organizations of working people, banding together so their collective power can confront the power of concentrated wealth. By banding together in solidarity, working people are able to say, “No, you can’t do that!,” and bargain for a better life for all of us.
Organized Labor Sets The Standard
The benefits that unions win don’t just go to the union members, they become the standard. When labor won the fight for an 8-hour day and 40-hour workweek with overtime pay, that became the standard. When labor fought for minimum wages, that became the standard, when labor fought for workplace safety, that became the standard. Labor’s fight is a fight to set the standard for the rest of us.
Labor stands up to the 1%, and uses their organized power (bundle of sticks) to win better pay, benefits and working conditions for the 99%.

“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”
— Molly Ivins.

Eroded Rights
Working people banding together to bargain with management — “collective” bargaining — is a fundamental right in the United States, but this right has eroded along with the rest of our democracy. For many years, the mechanisms of government that were supposed to enforce these rights were “captured” and instead were working against the rights of working people. Bob Borosage explains, in, The Forgotten Leading Actor In The American Dream Story,

Globalization gave manufacturers a large club in negotiations—concessions or jobs get shipped abroad. And often the reality was concessions AND jobs got shipped abroad. Corporations perfected techniques, often against the law, to crush organizing drives, and stymie new contracts for the few that succeeded. The National Labor Relations Board, stacked with corporate lobbyists under Republican presidents, turned a blind eye to systematic violations of the law.
So now union workers are down to about 7 percent of the private workforce. Virtually the only growing unions are public employees— teachers, nurses, cops. Not surprisingly, conservative Republican governors, led by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, used the budget squeeze caused by the Great Recession to go after these unions, combining layoffs with efforts to eviscerate the right of public employees to organize and negotiate.

The Fight Is On

“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Dorian Warren, at Salon in America’s last hope: A strong labor movement, writes,

The fate of the labor movement is the fate of American democracy. Without a strong countervailing force like organized labor, corporations and wealthy elites advancing their own interests are able to exert undue influence over the political system, as we’ve seen in every major policy debate of recent years.
Yet the American labor movement is in crisis and is the weakest it’s been in 100 years. That truism has been a progressive mantra since the Clinton administration. However, union density has continued to decline from roughly 16 percent in 1995 to 11.8 percent of all workers and just 6.9 percent of workers in the private sector. Unionized workers in the public sector now make up the majority of the labor movement for the first time in history, which is precisely why — a la Wisconsin and 14 other states — they have been targeted by the right for all out destruction.
… Contrary to the intent of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which made it national policy to encourage and promote collective bargaining, the NLRA now provides incentives for employers to break the law routinely and ignore any compulsion to negotiate collective agreements. When there is little outrage for the daily violations of workers’ liberty (employers fire workers illegally in 1 in 3 union campaigns for attempting to exercise freedom of association), our democracy is in peril.

Restore The Middle Class
Unions brought us a middle class, and now that the power of organized labor has eroded we find ourselves in a fight to keep the middle class. Borosage again,

We emerged from World War II with unions headed towards representing about 30% of the workforce. Fierce struggles with companies were needed to ensure that workers got a fair share of the rewards of their work. Unions were strong enough that non-union employers had to compete for good workers by offering comparable wages. Unions enforced the 40-hour week, overtime pay, paid vacations, health care and pensions, and family wages. Strong unions limited excesses in corporate boardrooms, a countervailing power beyond the letter of the contract. As profits and productivity rose, wages rose as well.
When unions were weakened and reduced, all that changed. Productivity and profits continued to rise, but wages did not. The ratio of CEO pay to the average worker pay went from 40 to 1 to more than 350 to 1. CEOs were given multimillion-dollar pay incentives to cook their books and merge and purge their companies. Unions were not strong enough to police the excess. America let multinationals define its trade and manufacturing strategy, hemorrhaging good jobs to mercantilist nations like China.
The result was the wealthiest few captured literally all the rewards of growth. And 90% of America struggled to stay afloat with stagnant wages, rising prices and growing debt.

Support Bargaining Rights For Labor
We all need to understand that labor’s fight is our fight. Now that labor is under attack across the country, we need to understand that we are also under attack. As labor loses rights and power, all of our pay and benefits fall back. We need to support the rights of working people to organize into unions and bargain collectively, to fight our fight, the 99% vs the 1%. This battle right now is the whole ball game.

“To a right-winger, unions are awful. Why do right-wingers hate unions? Because collective bargaining is the power that a worker has against the corporation. Right-wingers hate that.”
— Janeane Garofalo

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.

Politicians Increasingly Dancing With Billionaires Who Brung ‘Em

Our politicians are doing and saying increasingly incomprehensible things. The separation from regular people is unbelievable. But in politics you “dance with the one that brung ya,” and these things become comprehensible and believable when you look at who is bringing them to the dance.

The Supreme Court, in its conservative-movement-created wisdom, has ruled that billionaires and corporations — even subsidiaries of foreign corporations — can spend unlimited amounts in our elections. This has led to the super Pacs, where just a few billionaires and companies now dominate the elections and the things the candidates say and the policies they promote. And it is most of that money is used to run negative ads that run down candidates and destroy the public’s faith in government and democracy.
Serving The Billionaires Not The People
This new election-funding system has our candidates trolling for billionaire and corporate dollars instead of coming up with policies and positions that serve the people. Did you think Republicans were talking about billionaires as “job creators” because it would get them votes? No, it is because vain, wealthy, greedy billionaires like to be described that way, and those politicians are trying to get them to loosen their wallets. Even if they lose the election they are looking for rewards — lucrative jobs — later.
Even if they aren’t trolling for billionaire bucks, they still dare not offend. These super PACs are in the business of running nasty, negative ads, and lots of them. Politicians want them on their side and not on the other side. So they are much, much less likely to oppose policies that favor the billionaires and their big corporations.
Did you think the country needs an oil pipeline that runs from our northern border all the way across the country to Gulf Coast ports, to help Canadian oil companies sell to China? No, this is about politicians getting big checks from oil companies.
President Obama OK’d a super PAC. A week later he comes out with a proposal to cut corporate taxes from 35% to 25%. Coincidence? And Obama’s tax-reform plans pale in comparison to what billionaire-and-corporate-backed Republicans are proposing. Both parties are proposing rewriting the tax codes to favor the billionaires and their giant corporations.
When you hear about anything being done for the giant corporations, look at this chart to see who we are really talking about. Corporate wealth is also personal wealth. When you hear about corporations doing well, think about this chart:
wealth2
The top 1% also own 50.9% of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets. The top 10% own 90.3%.
Some recent stories:
Nat Journal: One-Fourth of All Super PAC Donations Last Month Came From Just Five People,

An analysis of January’s campaign-disclosure filings reveals that 25 percent of all the money raised for the presidential race that month came from just five donors.

WaPo: “Overall, 23 people have directed about $54 million to super PACs this cycle.”
Just 23 people… brung ‘em to the dance.
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.

We, The People Have To Say, “No You Can’t Do That”

In Will We Choose A Chinese Future, David Sirota asks the core question: “Do we accept an economic competition that asks us to emulate China?” THIS is the choice that the “job creators” are demanding that we make when they say we need to be more “business friendly.” THIS is what they are asking us to do to ourselves when they say that less government, less regulation, lower taxes, anti-union “right-to-work” laws, and the rest of the corporate-conservative litany is what will restore the economy and “create jobs.”
We, the People have to say, “No, you can’t do that.”
It’s Not Low Wages, It’s Low Democracy
The reason so many factories have moved to China is not just price, it is because they do things a democracy cannot allow. Steve Jobs famously said, “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” because over there they make people live in dormatories at the factory and can roust them at midnight and make them work 12-14 hour days, seven days a week, using toxic chemicals. Richard Eslow lays it out in, Hell Is Cheaper: China, Apple, And The Economics Of Horror,

Companies like Apple don’t outsource to China because the workforce is better-educated or more highly motivated. They don’t even outsource just because the labor is cheaper there. They outsource because employers who defraud their workers can make products more cheaply, and those who ignore their safety can produce them more quickly. [...] It’s possible that Steve Jobs and other outsourcing executives really think that “those jobs aren’t coming back” because they expect it will always be impossible to underbid the Chinese – because they don’t believe Chinese workers will ever be protected by law.
That’s the inexorable logic of the unrestrained and unregulated market. If things don’t change, there will be no stopping the outflow of employment from the safe and the stable to the cheated, the endangered, and the abused. Bad ethics drives out good ethics.

Jobs is saying that those jobs and companies and factories are not coming back because over there the workers can be forced to do those things, because they don’t have a say. They don’t have We, the People democracy like we do, so they can’t do anything about it. And our trade agreements allow our companies to close our factories here and force our workers to compete with that.
We can’t ever be “business-friendly” ENOUGH. We have to do something else. We have to understand that We, the People — the 99% — are in a real fight here to keep our democracy, or we will lose what is left of it.
We, the People have to say, “No, you can’t do that.” We have to say it to the companies that move jobs to China, where people have no say and are exploited. And we have to say that goods made by people with no say cannot be brought into our country without a strong tariff. We should use the funds brought in by that tariff to subsidize goods made here so they can compete in world markets. Otherwise we are making democracy into a competitive disadvantage. And if countries like China don’t like it, they can give their people a say, pay them decent wages, and protect their environment. That would be a race to the top instead of the current race to the bottom.
The Climate Change Denial Industry
Oil and coal companies are funding a “denial industry” to keep us from doing what needs to be done to rescue the planet’s climate. They make billions upon billions from pumping carbon into the air, and block efforts to cut back their polluting. Modeled after the tobacco denial industry and its “doubt is our product” strategy, they fight efforts to move us to green energy sources. They even direct their propaganda to attack electric cars and high-speed rail.
We, the People have to say, “No, you can’t do that.”
The Too-Big Banks
It’s the same story with the biggest banks. They pushed debt on us. They used their power to gut regulations and then took huge risks that crashed the economy. They demanded taxpayer money to rescue them without even cutting back the huge salaries and bonuses. And then they funded propaganda that blamed us, the poor, the government, public employees, unions — anyone but themselves. And they used their vast power and wealth to block investigations and accountability, forcing “settlements” that make their shareholders and their employees and their customers pay.
We, the People have to say, “No, you can’t do that.”
Other Examples
There are many, many other examples of wealthy, powerful interests – “the 1%” – using their wealth and power to make us do things that benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of us. And as this continues life for “the 99%” gets harder and bleaker and we fall further and further behind.
In all of these example We, the People have to say, “No, you can’t do that.”
That’s What Government Is
Government is We, the People banding together to watch out for and take care of each other. Government is We, the People saying to the wealthy and powerful, “No, you can’t do that.”
When the1%ers demand “less government” they are using their power and propaganda to force us into a position where we are less able to say to them, “No, you can’t do that.”
We, the People have to say, “No, you can’t do that.” Until we do, they will do that, and that, and that.
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.

China Is Very “Business-Friendly”

China is very, very “business-friendly.” Corporate conservatives lecture us that we should be more “business-friendly,” in order to “compete” with China. They say we need to cut wages and benefits, work longer hours, get rid of overtime and sick pay — even lunch breaks. They say we should shed unions, get rid of environmental and safety regulations, gut government services, and especially, especially, especially we should cut taxes. But America can never be “business-friendly” enough to compete with China, and here is why.
Workers In Dormatories, 12 To A Room, Rousted At Midnight
China is very, very “business friendly.” Recent stories about Apple’s manufacturing contractors have started to reveal just how “business-friendly” China is. Recently the NY Times’ Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher exposed the conditions of workers at Apple’s Chinese suppliers, in How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. They describe how China’s massive government subsidies and exploitation of workers mean, as Steve Jobs told President Obama, “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”

One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. … New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Right. No American plant can roust workers out of nearby dorms at midnight to force them onto a 12-hour shift. And the corporate conservatives criticize America for this, not China, saying we are not “business-friendly” enough to compete. This is because we are a place where We, the People still have at least some say in how things are done. (Don’t we?) Later in the story,

The first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones.

“Business-friendly” = living 12 to a room in dorms, rousted out of bed at midnight for 12-hour shifts, working in a plant paid for by the government, using a neurotoxin cleaner that harms people but enables more production for companies like Apple.
Forced Labor Is The Real “Business-Friendly”
Arun Gupta at AlterNet, in iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think, writes,

Researchers with the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) say that legions of vocational and university students, some as young as 16, are forced to take months’-long “internships” in Foxconn’s mainland China factories assembling Apple products. The details of the internship program paint a far more disturbing picture than the Times does of how Foxconn, “the Chinese hell factory,” treats its workers, relying on public humiliation, military discipline, forced labor and physical abuse as management tools to hold down costs and extract maximum profits for Apple.
… Foxconn and Apple depend on tax breaks, repression of labor, subsidies and Chinese government aid, including housing, infrastructure, transportation and recruitment, to fatten their corporate treasuries. As the students function as seasonal employees to meet increased demand for new product rollouts, Apple is directly dependent on forced labor.
… The use of hundreds of thousands of students is one way in which China’s state regulates labor in the interests of Foxconn and Apple. Other measures include banning independent unions and enforcing a household registration system that denies migrants social services and many political rights once they leave their home region, ensuring they can be easily exploited. In Shenzhen about 85 percent of the 14 million residents are migrants. Migrants work on average 286 hours a month and earn less than 60 percent of what urban workers make. Half of migrants are owed back wages and only one in 10 has health insurance. They are socially marginalized, live in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions, perform the most dangerous and deadly jobs, and are more vulnerable to crime.

Please read the entire AlterNet piece, iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think. These things are not “costs” that we can compete with by lowering our wages, these things are something else.
Not JUST Low Taxes — Massive Government Subsidies
These stories also describe how the Chinese government massively subsidizes these operations, assists their low-wage labor-recruitment schemes, and looks the other way at violations of labor and trade policies. The Chinese government is very “business-friendly.” They hand money to businesses so they are much more able to “compete.” They are so friendly to business that they even own many businesses.
Trade Secret Theft
Another area where China has very “business-friendly” policies is when their own businesses steal from non-Chinese businesses. This NY Times story, U.S. to Share Cautionary Tale of Trade Secret Theft With Chinese Official details just one case of the “unbelievably endemic” problem of Chinese theft of “intellectual property” — the trade secrets that keep businesses competitive. In this case China’s Sinovel sole the software that ran an American company’s products, and immediately cancelled their orders for those products because they could now make them in China:

Last March, China’s Sinovel, the world’s second largest wind turbine manufacturer, abruptly refused shipments of American Superconductor’s wind turbine electrical systems and control software. The blow was devastating; Sinovel provided more than 70 percent of the firm’s revenues.
… Last summer, evidence emerged that Sinovel had promised $1.5 million to Dejan Karabasevic, a Serbian employee of American Superconductor in Austria.

If you steal the ideas, processes, techniques, expertise, plans, designs, software and the other things that give companies a competitive edge, then you don’t have to pay them and you can just make the things yourself. When you get in bed with a very “business-friendly” country, you might find that they are more friendly to their own businesses. Because they consider themselves to be a country with a national strategy, not a self-balancing, self-regulating “market.”
Trade Deficit Drains Our Economy
As a result of our ideological blindness, refusing to understand China’s game, we have a massive trade deficit with them. This means hundreds of billions of dollars are drained from our economy, year after year. And to make up for this we borrow from them in order to keep buying from them. But this does not cause their currency to strengthen in the “markets” because China loves this game the way it is going, and intervenes against the markets to keep their currency low. And so it continues, year after year. We believe in “markets” they believe in rigging markets so they come out ahead…
Markets Can’t “Compete” With This
Corporate conservatives tell us we need to be more “business-friendly” to “compete” with China. But at the same time Steve Jobs was being a realist when he said “the jobs are never coming back” because he understood that the current political climate, controlled by a wealthy few who benefit from China’s “business-friendly” policies will not let us fight this. Why should these companies bring jobs back here, when over there they can roust thousands from dorms at midnight and make them use toxic chemicals for 12 hours a day for very low pay to make iPhone screens that he can sell at fantastically high prices? Why should they, unless We, the People tell them they can’t do that to people, and that we won’t let them profit from it?
As long as we continue to think that this is about “markets” competing, we will lose. China sees itself as a nation, and they have a national strategy to continue to be so “business-friendly” that our businesses can’t compete. Our leaders and corporations may have “moved on” past this quaint nation thing but China has not.
We, The People Need To Act To Fix This
As long as we continue to send our companies out there alone against national economic strategies that engage entire national systems utilizing the resources of nations, our companies will lose. But the executives at those companies are currently getting very rich now from these schemes, so what happens in the future is not their problem. Maybe the companies they manage won’t be around later, but that is not their problem. Others are concerned, but are forced to play the game because no one can compete with national systems like China’s.
When everyone is in a position where something isn’t their problem, or where they can’t do anything about it on their own, it means this is a larger problem, and this is where government — We, the People — needs to get involved. It is our problem but we have been convinced that we — government — shouldn’t interfere, or “protect” our industries, because “the markets” don’t like “government” — We, the People — butting in. This is a very convenient viewpoint for few who are geting very, very wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
We Need A Plan
In U.S. must end China’s rulers’ free pass at Politico, AAM’s Scott Paul writes, Read it, read it, read it!)

We shouldn’t fear China’s citizens. But we should be worried about the actions of its authoritarian — and, yes, still communist — regime that tightly controls the People’s Republic. And we should be downright terrified by some of our own leaders’ attitudes toward China.
… China is not merely the key U.S. supplier of cheap toys, clothing and electronics: Its government is also one of our foreign financiers. China achieved this status by defying the free market and its international obligations toward more open trade and investment.
[. . .] History didn’t do in the Soviet Union. A sustained and aggressive strategy did. China engaged our business and political elites — and seduced them into believing these policies were no longer necessary.
… There has been no strategy, no effort to prevail economically.
… No one is suggesting that China is an enemy and we should just update our Cold War strategies. No one can accurately define what China’s intentions are in terms of foreign policy or defense. But on the economic front, the lessons of the past are instructive: We need a plan.

We need a plan. We need to understand that China is not competing with us in “markets’ they are competing with us as a nation. We need a national economic/industrial strategy that understands the urgent need to fight as a country to win the industries of the future.
It’s not just price, it is things a democracy cannot allow. We can’t ever be “business-friendly” ENOUGH. We have to do something else. We have to understand that We, the People — the 99% — are in a real fight here to keep our democracy, or we will lose what is left of it.
Democracy Is The Best Economics
When people have a say they demand good wages, benefits, reasonable working conditions, a clean environment, workplace safety and dignity on the job. We need more of that, not less of that. We must demand that goods made in places where people who do not have a say do not have a competitive advantage over goods made in places where people do have a say. And we must demand that those places give their people a say.
As long as we let democracy be a competitive disadvantage, We, the People will lose.
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.

Democracy V. Plutocracy, Unions V. Servitude

Servitude: “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life”
Democracy: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”
Plutocracy: government by the wealthy
Labor union: an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions
You may have seen the recent flurry of stories about how hi-tech products are made in China. The stories focus on Apple, but it isn’t just Apple. These stories of exploited Chinese workers are also the story of how and why we — 99% of us, anyway — are all feeling such a squeeze here, because we are suffering the disappearance of our middle class. Our choice is democracy or servitude.

Working In China

A collection of excerpts from the Charles Duhigg and David Barboza story, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad and the Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher story, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work both from the NY Times:
Rousted from dorms at midnight, told to work:

Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”

Banners on the walls warned the 120,000 employees: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”

(How close is that to the very definition of servitude?)
Long shifts, legs swollen from standing:

Shifts ran 24 hours a day, and the factory was always bright. At any moment, there were thousands of workers standing on assembly lines or sitting in backless chairs, crouching next to large machinery, or jogging between loading bays. Some workers’ legs swelled so much they waddled. “It’s hard to stand all day,” said Zhao Sheng, a plant worker.

Write confessions if late:

Mr. Lai was soon spending 12 hours a day, six days a week inside the factory, according to his paychecks. Employees who arrived late were sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotations. There were “continuous shifts,” when workers were told to work two stretches in a row, according to interviews.

Injuries from speed-up toxics:

Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.
Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.

American companies forcing Asian suppliers to squeeze workers:

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

The Results For The 1%

A series of recent newspaper headlines tells the story of how China’s working conditions benefit the 1% here.
NYT: Apple’s Profit Soars‎
CBS Moneywatch: Apple shares close at record high
SF Chronicle: Apple CEO’s Stock Awards Lift Compensation to $378 Million
ZDNet: Apple: made in China, untaxed profits kept offshore. We don’t even get to tax the profits from moving our jobs to China, to use for schools, roads, police, etc.

The Results For The 99%

Headlines like these show how things are going better and better for the 1%. But what happened to our middle-class prosperity? We allowed companies to move jobs and factories across the borders of democracy to places where workers are exploited, calling that “trade.” This enabled the breaking of unions and the weakening of our democracy.
The threat is in the air: “Shut up and take the wage cuts or we will move your job to China.” How is that threat used on us? Here is an example: We have heard the stories of Mitt Romney’s company Bain Capital, and how it “earned” its millions. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is the story of what happened when a Bain-owned company “came to town”:

The new owner, American Pad & Paper, owned in turn by Bain Capital, told all 258 union workers they were fired, in a cost-cutting move. Security guards hustled them out of the building. They would be able to reapply for their jobs, at lesser wages and benefits, but not all would be rehired.

Workers in countries like China where people have no say have low wages, terrible working conditions, long hours, and are told to shut up and take it or they won[t have any job at all. They are given no choice.
Increasingly workers here have their wages, hours, benefits, dignity cut and are told to shut up and take it or their jobs will be moved to China. Because we are pitted against exploited workers in countries where people have no say, we have no choice.
The unions are weakened, the government doesn’t enforce or weakly enforces labor laws and regulations, age, gender or race discrimination laws, worker safety laws, so workers are placed in a terrible squeeze. Workers who try to organize unions are isolated, moved, smeared, fired, humiliated, whatever it takes.
This quote by Steve Jobs is from How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work,

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.
Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.
Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

Democracy Brought Us Prosperity

We used to be a democracy, where everyone used to have a say in things. Because we had a say we built up a country with good schools, good infrastructure, good courts, and we made rules that said workers had to be safe, get a minimum wage, overtime, weekends… we protected the environment, we set up Social Security. We took care of each other. This made us prosperous. A share of the prosperity for the 99% was the fruit of democracy.
China, on the other hand, is not a democracy, and workers in China don’t really have a say. So they don’t make much money, they don’t have good working conditions, the environment isn’t protected, etc.

We Used To Protect Democracy

We used to protect our democracy. We used to put a tariff on goods coming in if they were made by people who didn’t have the ability to speak up and better their condition. We’d let the goods in but we would use a tariff to strengthen our country, our infrastructure, our schools – our democracy. This brought us prosperity.
For some reason, we started letting our companies move our factories over there, forcing our workers to compete with workers who have no say. We got tricked, by people who call that “trade,” and said it would be good for us. (Like cutting taxes for the wealthy “job creators” is good for us.)
We opened the borders and let the big companies move the jobs, factories and industries over the border of our democracy, to places where workers don’t have a say, so they are exploited. And the result was the big corporations were able to come back and cut our pay, and get rid of our pensions, and tell us, “take it, shut up, or we will move your job, too.” We made the wages and working and conditions and environmental protections prosperity that democracy brings into a cost. We turned ourselves into a cost. We made democracy a competitive disadvantage.

Plutocrats Say Shed Benefits Of Democracy

Plutocrats say we need to shed the benefits of democracy and become more like China if we want to compete. They say get rid of regulations, employee protections, environmental protections, good wages, benefits like pensions and time off, etc… They say that We, the People (government) “get in the way of doing business.” They say the taxes that pay for good infrastructure and schools and police and courts and services like Social Security and care for the disabled and health care for children “take money out of the economy” but they mean these take some of the money that they have been taking from the economy.

Democracy Is The Best Economics

Look at the primary target of the corporate/conservatives: unions. That should tell you something. This is a power confrontation. This is the power of the 1% overcoming the power of the 99%.
Democracy is the power of the 99% to make the decisions, and to build structures that protect us from exploitation by the wealthy and powerful. This confrontation is the story of the origin of our country — how We, the People confronted the power and corruption of the British aristocracy, overcame that power, and built a country of, by and for the people.
Democracy and the taxes it enabled us to ask from the wealthiest is what enabled us to build the infrastructure and schools and everything that enabled our prosperity. The regulations of democracy are what enable our smaller businesses to compete with the giants. The shared prosperity — redistribution of wealth — is what enabled the middle class to grow, and turned us into the most prosperous country and largest market in the world.

Unions

Unions are about building up the power of groups of people, to confront and overcome the advantages of wealth and the power wealth brings to a few. When a union is strong enough to be able to confront the power of big corporations the result is that the 99% get a share of the pie. When unions are strong we all get better wages and better working conditions and a say in how we are treated, whether we are in unions or not. The benefits flow to the rest of the economy.
It would be nice if our system worked well enough that we didn’t need to organize unions on top of the structure of laws and regulations, but it is just the fact of life that the wealthy and powerful and their corporations have throughout our history been able to exert tremendous influence over legislative bodies, again and again. So to fight that working people organize and build these organized unions of people, and leverage that power of the group to demand wages and benefits and weekends and a share of the prosperity. The story of the power confrontation between unions of working people (99%) and the large corporations (1%) is the story of how we built a middle class that brought us the prosperity we enjoyed.
It is not just a coincidence that the weakening of the unions coincides with the decline of the middle class. It is not just a coincidence that the current rise of the plutocrats brings in a swarm of anti-union legislation. It is not just a coincidence that the times when our democracy is strongest we all do so much better. And now, when our demcoracy has been weakened by the money and power of the 1% and their corporations, the rest of us are so much worse off.

Not US v. China

This is not about US workers and markets vs China. Working people in all countries are at risk when their countries trade with countries where workers are exploited. China’s huge trade imbalance is threatening the world’s economy. The loss of manufacturing to countries that exploit workers is threatening workers in many countries.
The US market is still large, and the US can still demand that imported goods be made according to better standards for workers. The rest of the world can also demand that China’s workers be brought up to international standards. And we can certainly hold companies like Apple accountable, and demand that they only buy from suppliers that treat and pay workers according to international standards, because allowing companies to cheat, exploit workers and commit fraud drives the good companies out of business.
This is not about taking jobs back from Chinese workers! This is about demanding they be paid fairly and given a say in their workplaces! This is about not exploiting people there or here!
Trade can be an upward spiral, rather than a lever for exploitation of the 99% by the 1%. If Chinese workers are given a say and paid fairly then they can buy things we make and we can keep buying things they make.
Unions = Democracy = Middle Class = Shared Prosperity
Jon Stewart explains:

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.

What Next In The Fight Over Who Our Economy Is For?

Who is our economy for, anyway? In the United States We, the People are supposedly in charge and our country and economy are supposed to be managed for the public good. But that isn’t how things have been working out, is it?
Let’s take a quick look at America over the last few decades.
We used to have a social contract. We invested in top-notch infrastructure (like the interstate highway system) and education (the best universities and research), and then tax the resulting gains at very high rates, to recirculate those gains for the benefit of all of us.
Broken Social Contract
Then the contract was broken. Starting in the 1970s a cabal of wealthy businessmen and conservative ideologues organized and funded an attack on We, the People government, manipulating public opinion and our political system, gutting the regulations and trade rules that protected us and our way of life, privatizing — selling off things We, the People own — and killing the tax-and-invest cycle so they could keep the gains from all of that prior investment for themselves.
Blanket Of Propaganda
To provide cover for the operation these agents of the 1% spread a thick blanket of propaganda, using every technique in the modern marketing book. They divided us by race, religion, gender, sexual preference, even pitting people who like quiche and lattes against those who like beer and sausage. To cripple potential opposition they infiltrated and fractured key institutions, and turned the public against the news media. They developed a professional career-path system that rewards those who play along with the corruption and destruction and punishes those who do not. To cripple dissent they used ridicule, shame and intimidation.
Destructive Choices Come Home To Roost
Since then things have steadily fallen apart. The infrastructure is crumbling. Unemployment is extreme. The country has very high debt. The trade deficit is extreme. Half of us are poor or nearly poor. Inequality is at the highest levels.
Bailouts For The 1%, Sell-Outs For The 99%
When things hit the fan it became clear that our country is no longer run for the good of We, the People. When it came down to it, a few got special treatment, the rest of us got … uh, less-than-special-treatment. (And weren’t even kissed.)
When the financial crisis occurred Congress was told they literally had only hours to come up with hundreds of billions to bail out the too-big-to-fail banks, and they did – with almost no conditions. We know now that the Federal Reserve also stepped up, providing trillions to the big banks, even hundreds of millions to bankers’ spouses! State and local governments, institutions and smaller businesses? The unemployed and millions facing foreclosure? Not so much.
Plutocracy Not Democracy
They provided assistance for the giant financial institutions of the 1%. Instead of providing assistance to the 99& — We, the People — our government instead cut the things We, the People do for each other. It was made clear that this country is now a plutocracy, not a democracy.
System Of Control Breaking Down
It is clear where we are. But it is also clear that the system of control is breaking down. The elections of 2006 and 2008 shook the foundations. Democracy tried to reassert control. The behind-the-scenes system of lobbyists writing legislation that passes under cover of “studies” from corporate-front think tanks, telling us this is for our own good, propelled by a flurry of corporate-funded op-eds, stopped working. After the bailouts for banks / sell out for the rest of us, people started figuring things out. In response the 5-4 Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision, flooding the system with corporate money.
Instead of stealth takeover masked by propaganda we now see blatant grabs of wealth and raw power poorly disguised. Now the control is in our faces every day. Even constant filibusters of acts that might help We, the People were no longer enough to keep a lid on. So now it is shutdowns, hostage-taking, refusal to follow laws, refusal to prosecute, threats to take down the government and/or the economy. Now more visible methods of suppression are in use — batons, tasers and pepper spray.
Waking Up
Everyone has been frustrated, discouraged, betrayed, scared and angry but without a focus for action. Then came the Occupy movement, people actually showing up and showing how! It resonated. People responded, and the conversation of the country was pulled out of the propaganda fog, at least for a while.
Stephen Lerner, interviewed by Sarah Jaffe for AlterNet, discusses where we go from here, saying, “[I]t’s an exciting feeling to see something a lot of people spent a lifetime hoping for –this kind of dramatic increase in activity that targets financial capital, those who really control the country.” On Occupy Wall Street, Lerner says,

Everybody knows they’re getting zapped by banks, and what’s so good about Occupy is that it’s put that front and center. The fact that they were in Wall Street, I think everybody forgets. It was not Occupy a park somewhere, it was the fact that it was in the middle of the financial district. And I think on an intuitive level, people all over the political spectrum understand that those guys are at the center of how the economy is organized in a way that doesn’t work for most people.

On Wall Street’s position in our economy,

I don’t think people are mad at somebody who invented a product or founded a company. It’s that people see that Wall Street is not productive. Their wealth and their riches, they do not come through any normal means — they come through cheating and gambling and ripping us off, which I think troubles us in a different kind of way.

On today,

I don’t think anybody should view a sort of holiday or winter lull in activity as a sign of anything. As people have said, movements ebb and flow, and whenever we look back, spring is the time that things take off again. It’s really important that people not say “Oh, everything was front page news and now it’s not.” People instead should be stepping back, saying, “In three months we did more than anybody imagined we could do, now it’s time to step back and figure out the next stage.”

What Next?
Now comes the long slog of organizing people into focused action to take back our country from the 1%. Van Jones has been laying the groundwork, joining with MoveOn.org and other organizations to organize the Rebuild the Dream movement, and its Contract for the American Dream. Please visit and get involved.
Here is Van Jones at Netroots Nation, talking about the American Dream movement:

Organized labor is fighting, too, with new tactics and getting more people involved. They are focusing on labor’s role in creating a middle class in America. The recent Take Back the Capitol demonstrations are a case in point. In conjunction with many local and national organizations SEIU brought unemployed people to the DC to occupy the offices of 99 legislators, asking for jobs programs and extensions of unemployment benefits. They also marched on “K Street” – the symbolic center of lobbying activity.
Here is AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, Take Back the American Dream conference in October, calling for “a massive, militant movement”:

Trumka told the audience that the right wing is “banking on an upside-down America for its path to political power.” Trumka said that now is the time for “a mighty movement for jobs and a just economy,” adding, “We won’t stop fighting, shoving and kicking until everyone is back at work.”
Here is Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, talking about labor support for Occupy Wall street, and holding Wall Street accountable:

Here is Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen discussing the fight for the middle class on The Ed Show.

See the pics in this post, showing labor’s involvement at the November 2 Occupy Oakland actions:

Up To Us
What happens next is up to us. Don’t be discouraged. “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
THIS is what democracy looks like. Here are Wisconsin protesters chanting: “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like!”

For those of us who can’t get enough, here is 13 minutes of THIS is what democracy looks like!

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.

For 2012 Let’s Restore Our “Industrial Commons”

David Brancaccio’s Marketplace story Tuesday, Decline of Kodak offers lessons for U.S. business traced the decline of Kodak and the loss of Rochester, NY’s good, middle-class jobs to Kodak’s failure to tend its “industrial commons.” This is a national problem. For 2012 let’s resolve to restore our industrial commons and bring manufacturing back to the U.S.
Kodak on Marketplace
Listen to Tuesday’s Marketplace story, Decline of Kodak offers lessons for U.S. business.
Click to listen.
Story summary: Kodak didn’t tend its “industrial commons,” the local concentration of expertise in making the things that go into a camera.

You make your money by selling cameras. And you now needed to make components. You needed to make lenses; you needed to make shutters — all kinds of things that the skills for which no longer existed in Rochester.

This is what we have done in our country, too. We have been dismantling our “industrial commons.” By sending manufacturing out of the country we have been taking apart the supply chains and abandoning the expertise and skills and culture that go with it.
Other Warnings
Last year former Intel CEO Andy Grove sounded a warning about this problem. In How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late. Grove wrote that we are not just losing jobs to China, we are losing the “chain of experience” that enables new companies and industries to form and to create new jobs and argues for a national economic strategy to preserve our manufacturing and technology base. He lays out a plan: “rebuild our industrial commons,”

The first task is to rebuild our industrial commons. We should develop a system of financial incentives: Levy an extra tax on the product of offshored labor. (If the result is a trade war, treat it like other wars—fight to win.) Keep that money separate. Deposit it in the coffers of what we might call the Scaling Bank of the U.S. and make these sums available to companies that will scale their American operations. Such a system would be a daily reminder that while pursuing our company goals, all of us in business have a responsibility to maintain the industrial base on which we depend and the society whose adaptability—and stability—we may have taken for granted.

We Gave It Away
Many American manufacturers made a deal with China to lower their manufacturing costs. Here is how it worked: Americans (used to) have a say in how this country was run, and said they want good wages, benefits, job safety, clean air, etc. These are the fruits of democracy, but to some they are an impediment to quick profits. So executives at the big multinational companies wanted a way around the borders of democracy and its demands, and pushed for “trade” deals that would let them move manufacturing to places where people had no say, in order to force American unions to make concessions. They got their deals and packed up our factories, moved them to places like China and then brought the manufactured goods back here to sell.
We lost 50,000 factories to China just in the ‘W’ Bush years, and our trade deficit soared, and now we as a country are paying the price. Making (and growing) things is how a country earns its living. It is how we bring in the income with which to buy things others make and grow. Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers said it clearly,

“You don’t create real wealth by flipping coupons or hamburgers, you create it by taking real things and turning them into things of value. And those things of value are turned into other things of value and all of a sudden you have a wind turbine with thousands of parts made here. You can’t have a clean economy without good jobs and can’t have good jobs without a clean economy.”

We just gave it away, and justified the loss by saying that better things will replace it. The result has been ever-increasing trade deficits that brought us a huge debt that makes us poorer. Our debt is not because of government spending, it is because we have given away our ability to make a loving!
An Ideology To Justify
In the process the 1%’ers who did this to us developed an ideology around hating America and democracy. To justify outsourcing our jobs and factories they said Americans had grown lazy and wanted handouts. They said that the huge profits reaped by a few from selling off our manufacturing infrastructure meant they were “producers” and that democracy was “statism” and “collectivism” that enabled the “parasites” to “steal” from them. They declared that “taxes are theft” that “punish” the “successful” and the “job creators.” They stopped funding infrastructure and education and law enforcement, denegrating these as “government spending,” and declared that the wealthy few have a “right to rise” and saying the rest of us are “imbeciles.”
They moved our “industrial commons” out of the country, closing the factories and thereby dismantling the supply chains and the “chain of experience” that enable us to innovate and compete. They let China capture the lead in emerging green manufacturing technologies that will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. They even let China extort proprietary technologies, in exchange for short-term profits.
They rode the tiger and now the tiger is coming back to bite us.
Riding The Tiger
Richard Eskow reminded me of an old Chinese saying, “He who rides the tiger cannot dismount.” American manufacturers rode the Chinese tiger to short-term profits, and now they cannot dismount. They “partnered” with China to get around the borders of democracy and the good wages and benefits democracy demands. But now the tiger wants more. The tiger wants to eat them up.
Riding the tiger: Forbes: Currency Manipulation is NOT the Biggest Chinese Threat,

China’s hidden threats are a multi-headed info-tech “Hydra,” the parts of which are interrelated:

  • Intellectual property rights violations (or lack of enforcement in China) allowing open theft of proprietary designs, etc.
  • Theft of private-sector technology (which has been going on for years) accelerating Chinese development cycles
  • Growing number of cyber-attacks, accessing highly confidential US government information, costing the US private sector billions of dollars in IT disruption.
  • Growing military/technology stolen secrets (e.g., stealth fighter plane designs, acquisition of downed stealth-helicopter parts from the bin Laden attack, electronic technology & software from US companies in China, etc.)

Riding the tiger: NYT: Chinese Rules Said to Threaten Proprietary Information,

China is expected to issue regulations on Saturday requiring technology companies to disclose proprietary information like data-encryption keys and underlying software code to sell a range of security-related digital technology products to government agencies, American industry officials said on Friday.

Riding the tiger: Fiscal Times: Stealing America: China’s Busy Cyber-Spies,

Economic and industrial spying by China appears to be more pervasive and egregious than ever, costing America billions of dollars each year, according to a new report by a U.S. government agency. And the report raises an important question: If stolen trade and technology secrets help fuel China’s breakneck growth, then is more espionage required to feed the growing beast?

The Chamber of Commerce rides the tiger: WSJ today: China Hackers Hit U.S. Chamber: Attacks Breached Computer System of Business-Lobbying Group; Emails Stolen,

A group of hackers in China breached the computer defenses of America’s top business-lobbying group and gained access to everything stored on its systems, including information about its three million members, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The break-in at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the boldest known infiltrations in what has become a regular confrontation between U.S. companies and Chinese hackers.

They rode the tiger. But now the tiger wants more. The tiger wants to eat them up.
Let’s Resolve To Rebuild American Manufacturing
Let’s resolve to rebuild American manufacturing, starting in 2012. Manufacturing is the backbone of a prosperous economy. Let’s resolve to bring back good jobs that pay good wages and unpin a middle-class lifestyle. Let’s resolve to balance trade with the rest of the world so we can fight our debt problems. Let’s resolve to start fighting to win the lead in the Green manufacturing revolution.
Don’t let the “free traders” exploit workers in countries where they do not have a say to force concessions from Americans in unions. Don’t let the oil and coal companies create false “scandals” like Solyndra to block government from investing in green alternatives. Don’t let the 1% make democracy a competitive disadvantage — democracy is the only economics that works!
Last week President Obama appointed Commerce Secretary John Bryson and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling to co-chair a new White House Office of Manufacturing Policy. The new Office of Manufacturing Policy will have cabinet-level status, reflecting the importance of the manufacturing sector to our economy. It will coordinate the efforts of different government agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce and the Transportation Department.
This is a positive step if there ever was one. Let’s resolve to develop and execute a national manufacturing strategy. (please click through)
It is time to restore our national “industrial commons.”
Frank Sobatka explains:

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.

Plutocratic Government Tries To Beat Down #Occupy

m4s0n501

In Oakland peaceful #Occupy demonstrators were camping out in front of city hall. The city launched a police raid to clear out the camp, using tear gas, flash-bank grenades, rubber bullets and beating people with batons. An Iraq war vet was hit in the head by either a rubber bullet or tear gas canister and critically injured. These days this is the typical government response to non-Tea-Party “protesters.” Let’s look at how the Occupiers and protests would be treated if we were a functioning democracy — a government of by and for We, the People — instead of a dysfunctional plutocracy serving the biggest corporations and the billionaires behind them.
Citizens?
The first thing to understand about every single person involved in the #occupy movement is that they are citizens and human beings. Even the ones with beards. Alas, even the drummers. (What do you call a drummer who breaks up with his girlfriend? Homeless. What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted.)
The people involved in the #occupy movement are upset that our country has abandoned democracy in favor of plutocracy. They are upset that every decision made in Washington is based on the wishes of the top 1%. They are upset that we do not have a reasonable health care system, no reasonable pension system, or child care system, or other benefits that people in democracies around the world receive. They are upset that most of the benefits of our economy instead go to a very few at the top. They are upset that a huge amount of our money goes to pay for a military machines that costs more than all other countries spend on military combined. They are upset that there is a “Super Committee” meeting in secret to decide how much money to take out of the economy to pay for the bailouts and other costs of the fiasco caused by Wall Street and the big banks.
So with their government ignoring their majority demands they have finally decided to voice their protests publicly. For doing this they have been met with smears, derision, and police attacks.
Police Ordered To Attack
Just as in countries like Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iran, the instinctive response of our plutocratic government and Wall Street-backed power structures has been to see those people who have shown up at these protests as somehow suspect, possibly even as an enemy, and to attack them. FOX News and the entire corporate/conservative media machine regularly attacks them. And the police are ordered to attack them.
This is not “protesters vs police.” People who work in law enforcement are part of the 99%, just like us. They have families to feed, bills to pay, and have to do what they’re told.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Source: http://twitpic.com/6s2g4a

And this is what they were ordered to do, to people who were exercising their legitimate rights:



American citizens were treated as criminals and attacked just for speaking out about the injustice of Wall Street getting a huge bailout after they caused this mess, and now the rest of us are told to sacrifice to pay for it.
John Stewart on The Daily Show reacts to the Oakland attack:

If We Were A Democracy Instead Of A Plutocracy
The occupy movement clashes with federal, state and local governments the way they currently work. We really have an opportunity here to come back to an understanding of democracy and the role of government, and who government should serve. Currently government is really set up to serve the top few, and facilitate bigger businesses, and understands the people in their communities as consumers and corporate employees, and not as citizens.
So imagine how it cold be different, if we had a government designed to serve the people rather than keep them in their place. In a country with a true democratic culture the local governments would be serving these people and honoring their right to dissent and protest. They would instinctively be showing up at protests like this and offering to help with any sanitation problems, etc, setting up public toilets, and other services. They would even be offering tents. If there are security problems in the occupy camps a city would be posting police in the encampment to help the people there, with a clear mission to serve them. They certainly would not be seeing them as the enemy, and attacking them.
Imagine Real Democracy and its Implications
The #occupy movement opens up the space to imagine what the country could be if we really did have a democracy with a first instinct of serving the people, instead of serving only the wealthy and their big corporations.
Imagine a government of, by and for the people and the things that regular people want and need. Imagine everyone entitled to a free education through college? Imagine a transportation system that helps us all get around — mass transit and high-speed rail systems instead of just roads and highways for those who can afford cars, with plutocratic pay lanes so those with more money can get around.
Imagine a people outraged at special passes through airport security for those with first-class tickets.
Imagine advertisers having to get people’s permission before they are allowed to interrupt their attention. Imagine the things we would have if We, the People were in charge.
Imagine a modern, maintained infrastructure, good schools, and a guarantee of a job working on those for any9one who needed work.
Imagine a government that enforced laws even when the top few violated them, enforced job discrimination laws, enforced anti-trust laws… or a government that protected citizens from corporate fraud, fees, scams, etc.
Occupiers Are People Too
These occupiers are “the people’ just as much as any other people in the community and government should exist to serve them just as much as any other group.
Alas, even the drummers.
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.

People Distrust Government — Conservative Mission Accomplished

The corporate/conservative plan for decades has been to turn people against government and democracy. Because when people stop accepting the idea of We, the People making decisions, guess who gets to make the decisions instead? Last month a retiring GOP staffer explained how it works, this month a new poll show how well it works.
Distrust
NY Times today: New Poll Finds a Deep Distrust of Government,

Not only do 89 percent of Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing, but 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track and 84 percent disapprove of Congress — warnings for Democrats and Republicans alike.
… A remarkable sense of pessimism and skepticism was apparent in question after question in the survey, which found that Congressional approval has reached a new low at 9 percent.

The Gameplan
At the beginning of September a Republican Senate staffer retired, and wrote a widely-read “confession” that laid bare the conservative gameplan: turn people against government and democracy. In Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, retiring Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote,

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
[. . .] A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

Please read the whole piece. This Republican, writing from the inside, explains that they are doing it on purpose. They are making the government dysfunctional on purpose. They are making people hate government on purpose. They are working to turn people against democracy and put themselves and their corporate sponsors in power in its place.
#occupy Brings Signs Of Hope
There are signs of hope in the poll. Even with a dearth of media coverage (compare to the well-funded, billionaire-backed Tea Party!!!) the #occupywallstreet movement has changed the national conversation. From the NYTimes article,

Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans.
With nearly all Americans remaining fearful that the economy is stagnating or deteriorating further, two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country. Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich. Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.
[. . .] With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, income inequality remains a palpable issue for Americans. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats, two-thirds of independents and just over one-third of all Republicans say that the distribution of wealth in the country should be more equitable, even as a majority of Republicans said they think it is fair.

There is hope. The public is not stupid, and can at least sense what is going on.
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.

Shutdown And Hostage-Taking — It Is NOT Both Sides Doing It

One side says, “Never mind the deal we just agreed to, cut this or we’ll shut down the government” and the other side says, “This isn’t fair, and it hurts people. We can’t keep agreeing to pay these ransoms, this has to stop!” Is this “both sides squabbling?” Is this “Congress can’t get its act together?” Or is this a group of hostage-takers using media obfuscation of what is going on as cover for a radical strategy to turn people against government and democracy, while the “other side” tries to stop them?
So here we are, another fight looms over shutting down the government. This time the Republicans have taken disaster relief hostage and are using it as a lever to demand we cut even more of what We, the People do for each other, so that the big corporations and the wealthiest 1% can have even more wealth and power. Many in the media are reporting this as “both sides squabbling” but this is not what is happening.
Democracy depends on the public being informed so that they can hold their representatives accountable. So the media has a responsibility to correctly identify, in clear terms, just who is doing what. “Both sides do it” tells people not to bother to vote, that government and democracy don’t work, that you should just tune ou and leave it to the plutocrats to run things. Stop it!
“Blame Both Sides” Reporting
The Chicago Sun-Times, in Government on brink of shutdown again blames “Congress”, calls it “bickering” and “posturing” and blames “Congress.”
More “blame both sides” reporting is found in today’s Progressive Breakfast, hiliting this NYTimes story, Flood Victims Getting Fed Up With Congress says the current hostage-taking is “a dispute between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency,”

“Neither side wants the other side to get credit for doing anything good,” Mr. Golembeski said. “Elections are coming up.”

Neither side wants the other to get credit. Nice.

“Members of Congress are playing with people’s lives, not just their own political careers,” said Martin J. Bonifanti, chief of the Lake Winola volunteer fire company. “While they are rattling on among themselves down there in Washington, people are suffering.”

Dear NY Times, “members of COngress” are not doing this. ONE PARTY is doing this. The story offers nothing to counter the quote.

“Members of Congress are intelligent, but they have no common sense,” Ms. Swithers said. “They fight too much. They should be put in a corner and take a timeout and start working together as a team. I’m so sick of hearing Republicans this and Democrats that.”

Dear NY Times, This fight is not “Republicans this and Democrats that” it is Republicans taking disaster relief hostage and using the suffering of the people you quote as a lever to gut programs like green energy.
Norman Ornstein writes about this problem, in What ‘The Washington Post’ Doesn’t Understand About the Looming Government Shutdown,

One of the biggest problems of reporting on our dysfunctional politics has been the reflexive tendency in “mainstream” media to balance, via what is increasingly false equivalence. A glaring example was a front-page, above-the-fold story in Saturday’s Washington Post by Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman, titled (in the print edition, though not on the web), “Gloom Grows as Congress Feuds.” The story was about the looming showdown, and possible government shutdown, over disaster relief funding. The piece makes sure to include a comment from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blaming Democrats, ends with a comment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blaming Republicans, and includes a comment from an independent analyst blaming both.

If you reflexively “blame both” you are not informing the public and you are not serving democracy. There are people who will want to vote for the ones who are trying to help We, the People watch out for and take care of each other. And there are people who will want to vote for the ones who have a strategy in play to eliminate government so that the biggest corporations and wealthiest few can use their wealth and power to have their way. But our media are not letting the public know who is doing what.
Blaming “Both Sides” Is An Anti-Government Strategy
In Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, retiring Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains why Republicans try to make government dysfunctional while pushing the “both sides do it” narrative. They do it on purpose as a strategy to make people hate government and democracy,

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
[. . .] A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

They do this on purpose, to turn people against government, and then when people are disgusted and looking the other way they can just grab the loot — your savings, your retirement, your wages, your common wealth, your rights.
What Can We Do?
There is a session titled Taking Back the Media: Embracing New Media and Using it to Our Advantage at the Take Back The American Dream conference next week. Nicole Sandler, Timothy Karr, Sam Seder and Cliff Schecter will be speaking about how to overcome the corporate-media lock on information.
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.