Rebuilding America. Is Bill Clinton Up for the Fight?

The US and the economy were for the first time a big focus at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting last week in New York City. Hallelujah! The former President hinted at an effort to get the unemployed back to work and retrained for the new and emerging jobs. Of course, Tom Friedman from the New York Times showed up with a lofty panel of experts, and there were sessions on new market-based solutions, worldwide manufacturing and clean tech. Admittedly, there was a discussion on “Robust Job Creation in the United States.” The former President did address the issues of small business, manufacturing and clean energy. There was a panel where players such as Wal-Mart, Timberlake and others discussed the in overhauling their operations to reduce carbon emissions and create jobs. And there was the tireless work of Laurene Powell Jobs together with her co-founder Carlos Watson at College Track that has been working for over a decade to change the lives of under privileged youth by keeping them in school and preparing them for college.
So why not have Bill Clinton turn his full attention to rebuilding America? Obama’s not doing it so what the heck? Call it whatever you want to, but just do it. Bring together all of the Laurene Powell Jobs with those like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Mark put his money where it mattered – the City of Newark, New Jersey’s inner city public schools, a place close to my heart. Consider the results, if the Clinton Global Initiative took a year or two to turn their full force to rebuild this country, not some third world country. We need the likes of Clinton to mobilize, incentivize and give us comfort as the Tea Party rains empty sound and fury rhetoric down on our heads. Who better? To heck with those who do not believe it is politically expedient!.
Bill Clinton gets it because if the US is broken, it will derail all of his global initiatives and we would not want that. If we can’t get it done in Congress (and we cannot), then we must forge new public/private partnerships. The former President hinted at an effort, like the WPA (Works Progress Administration), in which people went back to work to rebuild the infrastructure of this country. In fact, the WPA was the largest agency of the New Deal employing and feeding millions. Who knows why the White House isn’t using an Executive Order to start such a public works program instead of fighting about extending unemployment benefits.
I like my fellow blogger Yotta Point believe that there is work to be done on the domestic front that could leverage the infrastructure of a CGI-like effort. It will take a village to start the hard work of rebuilding this country, and it must be done brick by brick. Indeed we are falling behind the world in terms of education, math and science, and qualified job applicants for the next generation of jobs. The call to action is to make this happen. Instead of being one of the many threads at the annual convening of CGI – this could become the sole focus, or at least an independent focus, to repair America for the next few years. We might make it happen if Clinton and his mighty Foundation marshal their forces to rebuild this country’s economy, and heal the social fabric. Instead of rage rallies and tea, the best and brightest could come together for public discourse, and problem solving in CGI-like forums. CNN and the other broadcasters cannot do, and there are few other outlets capable of something of this magnitude.
Mr. Clinton, we need your global initiative to become local. After all, we’ve got Madame Secretary watching over the world from the State Department for the next few years. The people of this country are in big trouble. Help us think globally and act locally.
Note: originally posted on the Huffington Post, “Clinton’s Global Initiative Gets Local.”

China’s American Enablers

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
China argues that some American companies will suffer if China stops subsidizing manufacturing and adjusts their currency to market levels. They’re right. The fight over Chinese violations of trade rules is also another story about Wall Street and big, monopolistic corporations vs Main Street and American workers.
A China Daily story says China’s huge export surplus is being “misread.” The Chinese government says that US companies — the ones who close US factories, lay off workers, devastate communities and throw the costs onto the government — are also beneficiaries of China’s government subsidies. From the story,

China’s large trade surplus is often used by the United States to argue why China should allow its currency to rise.
Yet most US officials ignore a very important fact: a majority of China’s exports to the US are produced by US-funded companies and huge profits go back into American pockets. . . .
“China’s cheap labor helps foreign companies cut wage costs and increase their profits. Ironically, the rising profits go into foreign bosses’ pockets and China is left to take the blame for the trade imbalance,” said Tan Yaling, an expert at the China Institute for Financial Derivatives at Peking University.

This story is correct. SOME Americans do benefit from closing our factories. Actually, “benefit” might even be the wrong word here. SOME Americans are getting fabulously wealthy from these policies, beyond anything seen before in history, with the rest of us falling further and further behind as a result. Wal-Mart, for example, with their stores full of Chinese goods, has for decades been wiping out regional and local retailers and lowering the local wage and tax base.
So yes, SOME Americans are doing very well, thank you, from these policies. They gain a quick buck today, the rest of us pay the costs later. In Wall Street’s War Against The Real Economy & We, The People, I wrote,

Over and over again we see the consequences of conservative economics and Wall Street domination: Short-term profits for a very few with devastating long-term consequences for the rest of us.

Wall Street firms have been making vast fortunes from this game,

The private equity company-buyout game works like this: buy a company, borrow against the company name and assets and put the proceeds straight into your pocket, sell off assets, outsource jobs, lay people off, cut pay and benefits for the rest, close facilities and factories, externalize costs onto the community, cheapen whatever the company makes or does, run up the debt some more, squeeze money out and pocket it and then sell. Hopefully you make off with the pension fund in the process.

They have been backed by American conservatives who have have long argued in favor of these “free market” and “free trade” scam that, close US factories, instead importing goods subsidized by China’s government. A few get fabulously wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. To persuade people to support this nonsense they say that adjusting China’s currency to market rates would “punish” consumers. Typical of this line is this from the Heritage Foundation a couple of years ago, China’s Undervalued Currency Benefits Americans,

To the extent that the renminbi is undervalued … the benefit goes to U.S. consumers and businesses, which pay lower prices for Chinese goods imported into the United States.
. . . U.S. consumers have the most to lose by congressional efforts to force revaluation of the renminbi. Chinese goods in the U.S. are cheap because the renminbi is cheap. Revaluation will weaken the purchasing power of the American consumers, mostly from the middle and lower economic strata, who depend on Chinese products to maintain their standard of life.

So here we are at a crossroads. April 15 the President has to officially declare that China is manipulating its currency and impose tariffs that will start to bring back factories and jobs to America. There is going to be tremendous pressure from the usual suspects to do the wrong thing, but the wrong thing has been going on long enough.

Wal-Mart Operating A Private Spy Network?

Fired Wal-Mart worker claims surveillance ops: report|Business News|Reuters.com,

As part of the surveillance, the retailer last year had a long-haired employee infiltrate an anti-Wal-Mart group to determine if it planned protests at the company’s annual meeting, according to Bruce Gabbard, the fired security worker, the Journal said.
The company also deployed cutting-edge monitoring systems made by a supplier to the Defense Department that allowed it to capture and record the actions of anyone connected to its global computer network, the Journal said.

So we have to worry about more than just Bush…
Watch your backs.

We The People, Through Our Government

In the post Conservative Capitalism Vs. Liberal Socialism, John Hawkins responds to my earlier post about sick pay. He writes,

It is not the job of a company to provide benefits for society or health care or sick days or anything else. It’s the job of a company to make a profit for its owners and in the process of doing so, it will create things like jobs, taxes, health care for workers, value for its customers, and other such things that are beneficial to society.

And I agree with him 100%. I’ll go even further. Wal-Mart is not “bad” because it pays low wages or skimps on providing health care. If they did that, Target could charge lower prices and customer might go to Target instead. They’re just doing their job, as WE, the people, through our government, define it through our laws.
So whose job IS it to provide for higher wages and health care? It is OUR job – the people – through OUR laws and regulations. WE are the ones who have dropped the ball on higher wages and health care. WE tell companies what to do – or the system doesn’t work. If WE, through our government, require ALL companies to pay higher wages and provide health care that levels the playing field for Wal-Mart’s competition with Target.
Here is where I differ with Hawkins. Hawkins writes,

…the government shouldn’t get involved with things like what sort of health care a company is providing, sick days, or the minimum wage…

This is the standard Libertarian view – keep the people (government) out of the decisions. But I say that is exactly where the people, through our government SHOULD get involved! We need to keep that playing field level. Companies MUST work to provide the highest profits. Therefore WE must set a playing field that provides the greatest benefit to US from this system. WE must level that playing field on which the companies compete. We MUST tell them to pay higher wages or the system doesn’t benefit us. WE have fallen down on the job, not the companies, by not doing OUR part, through our government, which is to set the minimum wages and benefits at a level that is high enough. And that is why wealth is concentrating at the top and the rest of us are working longer hours for fewer benefits.
Hawkins writes that people can always quit and get a better job elsewhere. But there is a problem with that approach, and we have seen the problem play itself out over and over throughout history. There are more people in the world than jobs, so without our intervention wages would necessarily sink to the lowest level to sustain the necessary employees – and the rest starve. Of course, in a consumer economy the companies would be drying up long before that because the consumers won’t have money to spend. We have learned from history that if we, acting through our government, “stay out of it,” it is a formula for worldwide poverty – a race to the bottom. Historically it is the periods of greatest involvement that have been the periods of greatest economic growth. This is because in a consumer economy policies that provide greater disposable income to the consumers grow the economy. Duh!
The system that Hawkins admires is ENTIRELY a creation of government – of us. We defined what a corporation IS. We give the owners limited liability so they can take risks without losing everything. (Imagine if buying a share of stock meant that you could become a defendant in a lawsuit.) We set up the infrastructure of the internet, and the roads, etc. upon which the companies conduct commerce… And now we need to give ourselves a raise and health care, and maybe longer vacations and shorter workweeks.