Left: Carbon in atmosphere.
Right: Overall temperature trend.
Left: Carbon in atmosphere.
Right: Overall temperature trend.
The “omnibus” budget for the next year is out. Here are some of the winners and losers.
With a Republican Congress, every budget battle is about ratcheting down the things our government does to make our lives better. Every budget battle is a defensive action, with Democrats fighting to keep things that help the public for another year or two. Republicans fight for tax cuts for the rich and corporations to defund government. Then they can claim that government doesn’t have any money, so we need to cut budgets. (Note that almost all corporate shareholders are largely the same rich people, so corporate tax cuts are really just tax cuts for the rich.)
What We The People Get
This time We the People “get to keep” tax incentives for wind and solar for another five years. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) (for low income people with income from work), Child Tax Credit (CTC) (for people who have children), American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) (for sending kids to college) were actually made permanent. We get to keep providing health care for 9/11 responders who got sick from helping at the World Trade Center site after the 2001 terrorist attack — all of which Republicans tried to strip out.
Making those tax credits permanent is a big win. These help lift 24 million working-class families.
The “Cadillac Tax” that was set up as a disincentive to employers to offer high-quality health insurance coverage is delayed for two years. This means people will be able to get better health insurance with lower co-pays and deductibles. (See the post “What Is This ‘Cadillac Tax’ Health Insurance Thingy?” for details.)
Because of all the tax cuts, the country’s public schools are generally underfunded to the point where teachers are using their own money to buy books for the students and supplies for the classrooms. The budget lets teachers forced to do this at least have a tax deduction from their income.
What We The People Stopped
Republicans were fighting to block the “fiduciary rule” that requires financial advisers to give advice that is in the interest of their clients, instead of tricking their customers just to make money for themselves — or at least disclose to customers if they have a conflict of interest. They didn’t get that rule blocked, so financial advisors cannot continue their fraud-based business model.
Republicans were trying to chip away at the Dodd-Frank bank-regulating rules, so Wall Street can expand its fraud-based business model. They were trying to strip power from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and cut the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to do its job. They didn’t get those.
Republicans Got Tax Cuts To Further Defund Government And Enrich Billionaires
Republicans fought for more corporate tax cuts and got $650 billion, including the “active finance exception” for multinational financial corporations and what Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) calls “the much-abused research credit.” CTJ says these “are nothing but ineffective giveaways to the nation’s wealthiest corporations.” CTJ concludes, “As a whole, this tax package is mostly a lobbyist-wrapped Christmas present for our nation’s biggest corporations.”
Republicans also won tax breaks for special interests including NASCAR, horse racing and film and television productions.
Having won another $650 billion of government defunding while handing $650 billion to big corporations, Republicans will soon come back and complain about “deficits” and demand a new round of cuts in the things our government does for us.
Oil Companies Get The Oil Export Ban Lifted
But Republicans especially fought for lifting the ban on exporting U.S. oil. This was their highest priority.
This is a typical news reports on the budget deal: “By far the biggest win for Republicans, besides the extended tax cuts, is a measure that would lift a four-decade-long ban on exporting crude oil.”
Why is this a “win” for “Republicans?” Because oil companies wanted it, period. The Republican Party is nothing if not always, always in service to oil companies. A political party placed ending the oil export ban as their highest, highest, do-or-die priority. It does nothing for the public, the country, the climate, jobs or anyone or anything else except for the oil companies, and this is what the Republican Party laid itself down to get done.
This puts more oil on world markets, just after the Paris climate talks. The reasons oil companies wanted this so much are:
1) In the short term, this gets some of the glut of oil out of the U.S., thereby raising gas and other prices within the U.S. (This was the real goal of the Keystone pipeline. Canadian oil is already coming into the U.S., the pipeline would take it to Gulf ports so it can be gotten out of the U.S., thereby reducing the glut and raising U.S. gas and other prices.)
2) The Paris climate agreement is a signal that the era of fossil fuel is ending. A lot of the oil that is still in the ground is going to have to stay there. The question is whose oil will have to stay in the ground, and producers are trying to get their oil out of the ground as fast as they can. Producers are now fighting with other producers to dump their oil before they are forced to stop. Saudi Arabia and OPEC are pumping oil as fast as they can. Lifting the U.S. oil export ban lets U.S. producers fight directly with them to get their own oil out of the ground first.
Democrats traded this in exchange for keeping tax incentives for wind and solar for another five years, and some of those other things We the People got to keep for a while longer.
P.S.: This Was Not Cool At All
By the way, the budget bill repeals a law requiring Country Of Origin Labels (COOL) on meats, because a corporate court decided We the People should not be allowed to know where the meat we purchase comes from. This cuts into the profits of giant meat producing corporations that are not U.S.-based.
For background on this see “Corporate Court Overrules U.S. Congress, Public.”
Exxon and other fossil fuel companies may have committed a crime of enormous proportions, and more and more elected officials and others are demanding an investigation.
The charge is that Exxon scientists and management knew since the late 1970s that the company’s product was helping cause our planet to warm “catastrophically,” but management responded by covering this up and disseminating disinformation – joining with other companies to commit an enormous fraud on the public for profit.
For some time, environmentalists have been warning that oil and coal companies were behind a broad campaign to deceive the public and block the government from regulating or taxing carbon pollution. Sites like ExxonSecrets, the Union of Concerned Scientists, SourceWatch and their Coal Issues portal, CoalSwarm and many others have been exposing, warning, documenting and working to get the word out.
Today’s dog-bites-man story is that Jeb! Bush said something really stupid. Again.
Jeb! says Pope Francis should keep his climate views to himself because he’s not a scientist. HuffPo: “Jeb: Pope Shouldn’t Discuss Climate Change Because He’s ‘Not A Scientist'”:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said he disagrees with Pope Francis’ call to fight climate change and thinks the pope should not delve into the issue because he “is not a scientist.”
“He’s not a scientist, he’s a religious leader,” Bush said, according to a video posted by the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge.
But the Pope actually is a scientist. He is a chemical engineer with a Master’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires.
I’m Not A Scientist
Last year it seemed that every Republican in the country was saying “I’m not a scientist,” when asked about climate change. Obviously this deflection phrase was cooked up by well-paid strategists using well-funded focus groups, all likely paid for by the oil and coal companies.
Coral Davenport, writing at the NY Times’ Political Memo, in “Why Republicans Keep Telling Everyone They’re Not Scientists”:
For now, “I’m not a scientist” is what one party adviser calls “a temporary Band-Aid” — a way to avoid being called a climate change denier but also to sidestep a dilemma. The reality of campaigning is that a politician who acknowledges that burning coal and oil contributes to global warming must offer a solution, which most policy experts say should be taxing or regulating carbon pollution and increasing government spending on alternative energy. But those ideas are anathema to influential conservative donors like the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and the advocacy group they support, Americans for Prosperity.
“I’m Not A Scientist” by “PsychoSuperMom“:
But Wait, There’s More!
Just in time for the Pope’s visit Jeb! Bush penned a Tuesday op-ed for Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal titled: “How I’ll Slash the Regulation Tax: As president, I’ll repeal the coal ash rule, the clean water rule, net neutrality, and much more.”
As president, I will repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule extending federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act over millions of acres of private land, its new regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Power Plan, and its new and costly coal-ash standards for power plants. I will also work to repeal the so-called net-neutrality rule forced on the Federal Communications Commission by the White House and the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule that punishes for-profit colleges. That’s for starters.
Why did Bush write this to appear just before the Pope arrived in the US? Seriously, what did he think the Pope was about to say to the country?
The Pope, speaking to Congress:
Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.
[. . .] The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.
Jeb says the Pope should shut up because he isn’t a scientist. He uses the stock phrase without checking if the Pope might actually be a scientist. He sets up the Pope’s appeal to stop worshiping money, bring scammers and polluters under control and elevate people by proposing to unleash money and corporations on the people.
Turns out that ‘W’ was “the smart one.” Jeb! puts the “clown” in “Republican clown show.”
Again and again we hear about corporations doing bad things so they can make more money: polluting, selling contaminated food or otherwise harming people’s health, selling products that injure people or just don’t do what they advertise, tricking and scamming people out of their money, selling banned goods or providing financial services for terrorists or drug cartels, and so many other things that are not good for people or society.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were some entity that was more powerful than these corporations, whose purpose is to protect us, reign these corporations in, make and enforce rules, prosecute offenders and put a stop to this stuff?
This Week: VW
This week we are hearing about Volkswagen (VW). For years the company claimed they were selling “clean diesel” engines, but they were tricking their customers, the public and governments around the world. Their cars are really a public health threat, putting out up to 40 times the legal limit of pollutants that cause asthma and other disease.
VW built a “defeat mechanism” into as many as 11 million cars. This mechanism let the cars pass government tests, even though they were polluting like crazy when driven in the real world. The mechanism made the engine run clean during government tests, then when it detected that the tests were finished it set the engine to start polluting again.
For years these cars have been harming people and until now VW was getting away with (and making big profits from) this. They were finally caught, and we will see whether executives are prosecuted, or if this will be one more case of weak (or corrupted) government issuing a fine that lets a company make its shareholders pay the cost instead of holding the executives that did it accountable.
The Fix For The VW Cars
This is huge. Up to 11 million cars have these “defeat” mechanisms in them. These cars have to be fixed because their emissions can cause people to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases. But fixing this is a big problem.
According to Wired, in “VW Owners Aren’t Going to Like the Fixes for Their Diesels,” there are two choices for fixing these cars – and either choice means the car owners end up losing a lot of what they thought they had paid for.
The first is to update the software so the cars always run in the “test mode” that defeated the emissions tests. But the changes the software made to the engines to get them to operate within the legal emissions limits while being tested will cause the car to either have poor acceleration or poor gas mileage.
The second is to actually fix the problem that causes the engines to pollute. According to Wired, VW would have to add a “urea” tank and the means to inject this into the catalytic converter:
The standard way of making a diesel run cleanly is to use selective catalytic reduction, a chemical process that breaks NOx [mono-nitrogen oxides] down into nitrogen and water. Part of that process includes adding urea to the mix. The super effective system can eliminate 70 to 90 percent of NOx emissions, and is used by other diesel manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. The downside is that it adds complication to the system, and cost — $5,000 to $8,000 per car. And you need to periodically add the urea-based solution to your car to keep it working.
… So it seems the logical way to get those cars to perform like their diesel cousins is to add a urea. VW’s unlikely to embrace that option, because adding hardware to half a million cars would be far more expensive than a computer update. It wouldn’t be any fun for the TDI owner, either. Not only do you have to spend an afternoon with your local dealer, you have to make room for the tank. That could mean sacrificing cargo space or giving up the spare tire.
The cost to VW will be huge, and the customers lose either way. Never mind all the people suffering asthma and lung disease resulting from the pollution these cars were emitting.
VW Not An Isolated Case
The New York Times reports, in “Volkswagen Test Rigging Follows a Long Auto Industry Pattern,” that,
For decades, car companies found ways to rig mileage and emissions testing data. In Europe, some automakers have taped up test cars’ doors and grilles to bolster their aerodynamics. Others have used “superlubricants” to reduce friction in the car’s engine to a degree that would be impossible in real-world driving conditions.
Automakers have even been known to make test vehicles lighter by removing the back seats.
… [In 1973 the EPA] fined Volkswagen $120,000 after finding that the company had installed devices intended specifically to shut down a vehicle’s pollution control systems. In 1974, Chrysler had to recall more than 800,000 cars because similar devices were found in the radiators of its cars.
[. . .] Beyond emissions, the industry has long been contemptuous of regulation. Henry Ford II called airbags “a lot of baloney,” and executives have bristled at rules requiring higher mileage per gallon.
VW might not even be the only company that is scamming government testing labs with “defeat mechanisms’ right now. From the report,
“We call it the tip of the iceberg,” said Jos Dings, the director of Transport and Environment. “We don’t think this will be limited to Volkswagen. If you look at the testing numbers for the other manufacturers, they are just as bad.”
The Times report lists several examples of the auto industry engaging in profit-making by endangering their customers. There was the “unexploded Pinto” problem of gas tanks blowing up. There were 271 deaths from the Ford-Firestone tire scandal. There were the Takata airbags that either don’t work or injure people. There was Chrysler selling as new cars that had been driven for 60,000 miles with the odometers disconnected. Click through, there’s plenty… But no one has been put in jail.
So what VW was caught doing is “not an isolated incident” and, in fact, VW had already been caught doing the same thing in the 1970s.
Not Just Auto Industry
VW is hardly the only company in the auto industry engaged in these practices, and the auto industry is hardly the only industry engaging in this kind of activity.
● Of course, tobacco still kills over 480,000 Americans each year and no one even talks about doing anything about it. Everyone understands this is because of the great wealth and power of the tobacco companies as well as their influence over a certain political party. More than 480,000 terrible, painful deaths each year!
● The “Obamacare” health reform was written the way it was because it was understood from the start that the insurance and pharmaceutical companies had enough power to block anything they didn’t like. So we didn’t get Medicare for All or even a “public option.” These industries had already blocked the administration of President Bill Clinton from reforming the health care system, leading to more decades of deaths, untreated illness and bankruptcies.
● In 2000, The Nation reported, in “The Secret History of Lead,” that the lead industry knew and kept secret for decades that they were poisoning people with lead in gasoline, paint and other products, and instead of doing something about it they protected their profits by covering this up and attacking government efforts to do something.
The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for the asbestos, tobacco, pesticide and nuclear power industries, and other twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle of scientific uncertainty.
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum reported on just one of the societal consequences of this decades-long crime, in “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead.” His investigative report concluded that lead may be “the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.” That whole put-millions-in-prison thing that has ruined so many lives? Oops, it might have been the lead industry’s doing. Are any lead industry executives in jail for that?
● The fossil-fuel industry is notorious for polluting and for causing climate change. The industry has captured an entire political party and has them fight the development of alternative energy sources, taxes on carbon, fuel-saving public transportation initiatives, other energy-saving efforts, etc. The industry funds a climate denial cult that threatens the entire planet.
These are just a few of so many examples.
Big Government Prosecutions Can Make A Difference
Corporations save money by cutting corners. Dumping carbon into the air. Putting lead in gasoline. You name it. They price the potential fines into the product as a cost of doing business. And company shareholders pay those fines. The executives who commit the actual wrongdoing are rarely if ever held accountable themselves.
Many companies can safely assume that the government isn’t even going to catch them or do anything if they do. Government cowed by intense anti-government propaganda. We hear that “government can’t do anything as well as business can,” that “big government threatens us,” and “government takes money out of the economy.” We hear about “burdensome government regulations” that “kill jobs” on a 24/7/365 basis. Government and democracy do not have an advertising budget to counter this relentless propaganda.
Government is underfunded because the propaganda elects corporate-backed anti-government politicians who convince people to allow tax cuts (on the corporations and their owners) paid for by cutting back on government. And especially cutting back on government regulation and enforcement. The result is government enforcement is backing down all the time.
Industry executives revolve through the door into government and then back into plush corporate offices where they collect rewards for protecting their industries. Our “captured” government notoriously refuses to bring corporate criminals to justice. Not one banker, for example, was prosecuted for obvious crimes leading to the 2008 financial crash.
However last week we saw one rare instance of a prosecution of individuals for corporate crime. The people running Peanut Corporation of America, a Georgia peanut company, were prosecuted after a salmonella outbreak that sickened and hospitalized hundreds of people and killed 9 of them. Company executives knew for years their product was made in unsafe ways that were causing contamination — but instead of spending what was needed to fix the problem they covered this up. So the owner was sentenced to 28 years in prison and other executives were sentenced to 20 years.
Thanks to an actual prosecution resulting in prison terms for company executives it is likely that the public will suffer fewer food-safety problems, at least for a while.
Our government supposedly exists to protect We the People from wealthy and powerful interests, including other countries. Our revolution against the wealthy British aristocracy and the King’s corporations testify to this. A government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people” should be big enough, strong enough and funded enough to reign in companies and billionaires, and protect We the People from the kind of corporate misbehavior we saw from Volkswagen — long, long, long before it involves 11 million cars all spewing out serious threats to public health.
While the world warms, the climate deniers are out in force, trying not only to sabotage American efforts to fight climate change but also to undermine international talks.
We are witnessing a spectacle of corruption, and the stakes literally could not be higher. It is an astonishing spectacle. The Republican party is working to sabotage efforts to fight climate change and is doing this because the fossil-fuel industry – and billionaires whose fortunes came from that industry – funds so much of their messaging and campaign infrastructure, and their candidates. This is not ideology; it is flat-out corruption.
A “sneak law” attachment to a “must-pass” bill gives sacred Native American land to a foreign mining company. How did this happen?
Do you remember that “Citibank budget,” where a budget bill to avert an imminent government shutdown suddenly had in it a Citibank-written provision deregulating certain risky financial trades? If Congress voted against the budget, the government would shut down, so Citibank got its way? This is how “sneak laws” get through. Usually We the People don’t get a chance to learn about them in time to do something about it, and this was one example.
Another example of this happened in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. On page 1,103 of the 1,648-page bill is a provision giving more than 2400 acres of land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper, which is part of London-based Rio Tinto and Melbourn-based BHP Billiton, giant mining companies. This was done by Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar.
The area is known as Oak Flat and is land that is sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Yavapai-Apache Nation. They compare it to the sacredness of Mt. Sinai in other religions. In 1886, the federal government removed the tribes and expropriated the land.
Sacred Land Given To A Foreign Corporation In A Sneak Law
America of course has a long and disgraceful history of stealing land from Native Americans – to say the least. But this is the first time that sacred Native American land has been stolen to give to a foreign corporation.
However, this land transfer is unusual even before you consider that the beneficiary is a foreign corporation. This land has been given special protection since at least 1955. Even President Richard Nixon protected it, which is saying something. Five times Arizona Republicans have tried and failed to give this land to this company. Only by sneaking it into this must-pass bill did they succeed.
A New York Times op-ed calls the Oak Flat Apache land grab “an impressive new low in congressional corruption” and points out that:
It belongs to the public, under the multiple-use mandate of the Forest Service, and has had special protections since 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed the area closed to mining — which, like cattle grazing, is otherwise common in national forests — because of its cultural and natural value. President Richard M. Nixon’s Interior Department in 1971 renewed this ban.
Yes, this is “an impressive new low in congressional corruption.”
This Doesn’t Just Grab The Sacred Land, It Destroys It
The method of mining “block cave mining” that is proposed is going to, by design, completely devastate the land. In Truthout’s “The Apache Way: The March to Oak Flat,” Roger Hill explains:
This process involves a series of deep underground detonations, essentially collapsing the mountainous terrain in on itself and extracting the ore and materials from a series of tunnels dug in the earth. This process creates more toxic material than traditional surface mining and produces greater contaminants affecting the groundwater with acid runoff.
Of course neighboring towns are dependent on that groundwater.
This method will leave behind a “7,000-acre, 500-foot-high waste dump of toxic tailings.” Later the cave will collapse, leaving behind destruction the size of five Empire State Buildings.
Leading the fight to stop this are Native Americans themselves. The Apaches are not asking that the land be returned to them, only that it not be mined.
Apaches have begun an occupation of the disputed land. (After a special ceremony in August that is only open to Apaches, you can come and help occupy Oak Flat. Do not bring weapons; Apaches are not deadbeat Tea Party ranchers.)
In June Apaches marched on Washington. Lee Allen at Indian Country News has the story, “Oak Flat Protesters Plan March on Washington to Protest Apache Land Grab“:
“Today we are announcing the next step in our battle for repeal, and that’s a march on Washington,” Nosie said. “Alliances with other tribes, universities, religious groups and outraged citizens continue to grow in groundswell proportion—our support numbers have just gone crazy. The month of June will be a month of protest in the streets and in congressional offices. There comes a time when we need to say enough is enough, and that time has come. We need to hold those in Washington responsible, so the fight’s on, and from this point going forward, wherever it takes us, that’s where we will be.”
… Attendees at the gathering represented a diverse mix of tribal and non-Native supporters. Daniel Jose is an Apache from Peridot who has camped at Oak Flat since the first spiritual gathering in February. “We’re going to fight for our land, and I’ll stay here forever if I have to,” he said.
Starting at Red Rocks earlier this month, and in venues across the country since, the Apache have been linking up with Young on the road, sharing their stories and singing prayer songs to thousands of audience members.
The activists are trying to preserve a stretch of canyon land in Tonto National Forest called Oak Flat, an hour east of Phoenix, where young Apache women like Pike have celebrated coming-of-age ceremonies for generations. “I became a woman at Oak Flat, I had my sunrise dance there, so it’s like my heart is there,” she says.
They are getting some news. The Guardian, “Apache tribe brings battle for Oak Flat to New York’s Times Square“:
Members of the Apache tribe stood chanting in a circle with drums and posters in the center of New York’s Times Square on Friday, to protest against a bill that will hand over land they hold sacred to a foreign mining corporation.
Times Square was the latest stop for activists from the Apache tribe who are travelling across the United States to battle for Oak Flat and to draw attention to a bill introduced by Arizona representative Raúl M Grijalva to repeal the decision to hand the land over to Resolution Copper.
They are also beginning to get some results. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva has introduced a bill to fight this. From Indian Country Today, “Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat Bill Boosted by Historic Preservation Listing“:
Legislation to save an Apache sacred site from destruction by an international mining company got a helping hand recently when the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the land on its 2015 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Almost all of the places that make it onto the list are preserved.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva(D-AZ) introduced the bipartisan Save Oak Flat Act,H.R. 2811, on June 17. Grijalva’s bill would repeal a section of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (NDAA) that authorizes approximately 2,422 acres of land known as Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest in Southeastern Arizona to be transferred to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the giant international mining company Rio Tinto.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently included the land on its 2015 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
What You Can Do
● Write and call your representative in Congress in support of Grijalva’s bill, H.R. 2811.
● Contact people running for office and let them know about this issue. (So far only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has spoken out against this.)
● Visit the Apache Stronghold website for a number of things you can do. Send them money for gas and food.
● Sign the CREDO Action petition, Don’t mine sacred Native American land in Arizona.
● Sign the MoveOn petition, Congress: Don’t give sacred Apache land to a mining company
Drudge and the rest of the Republican chorus are at it again today.
A headline at Drudge Report: Thousands March Through Snow Protesting ‘Global Warming’…
Links to this at the Republican Daily Caller:
The “Gore effect” has struck again, this time forcing thousands of Canadian eco-activists to march through the snow over the weekend, rallying against global warming on a cold Quebec City day.
… But the “Gore effect” may, once again, blunt environmentalists’ message on global warming. The “Gore effect” is when cold weather appears as activists protest global warming. These Canadian groups aren’t the first to be hit by the “Gore effect” this year.
Considering how much of this is funded by oil companies, here’s a link to Conservative Is Not An Ideology – It Is Corruption for your reading pleasure.
Alongside Friday’s good employment data, there is a brouhaha on the Internets over claims that the government’s employment numbers are a “big lie.” Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the Gallup polling company penned “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment,” claiming that “the media” is “cheer-leading” and the White House is “scor[ing] political points” over phony numbers that the government makes up to make things look better than they are.
In fact, the “top line” unemployment number – now 5.7 percent, representing 9 million people, does not factor in people who have given up looking, 6.8 million part-time workers who want to work full-time, 2.2 million “marginally attached” people, people who are grossly underpaid, etc. But everyone knows that, and the government reports that. The “official” number has a specific definition, the “U-6 “alternative measure of labor under-utilization” reports the more accurate 13.5 percent number. So somewhere between 15 and 20 million Americans count as un- or underemployed. But even that doesn’t count those who have given up. It’s still bad out there, but the government’s figures are not being manipulated.
Intentionally High Unemployment
I want to suggest that this high un- and underemployment is intentional. Here is why. Two things that the government could easily do right now would pretty much get rid of unemployment. But our government is blocked from doing those things by extremely wealthy people, who benefit from the low wages, and a desperate and “cowering” reserve army of unemployed status quo.
First, balancing the trade deficit would by itself bring back more than 5 million jobs. This is based only on the 3.1 million lost to the China trade deficit, 1 million lost to NAFTA and 900,000 lost to the Japan trade deficit. We also have trade deficits with Germany, South Korea, and others.
A way to visualize this is to imagine the effect on our economy of $500 billion of new orders coming in to businesses that make and do things inside the U.S. Then another $500 billion next year and every year after that. Our annual trade deficit is $500 billion. Fixing that means $500 billion of new business here, now, and continuing every year from now on. What you are visualizing is the damage this trade regime has done to us since Wall Street and the right’s “free trade” ideology took over.
Second, we have deferred maintaining our infrastructure since the Reagan era started the cycle of tax cuts and spending cutbacks. To bring the country’s infrastructure up to standards (never mind modernizing) we would need to spend $360 billion each year for 10 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card. If you conservatively estimate that each $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 30,000 jobs, $350 billion translates to 350×30,000 = 10.5 million jobs.
So that’s conservatively 15.5 million jobs if we just go back to doing what the country did before the Reagan era. (This gives you a hint at the damage Reagan’s “trickle down” economics, and “free trade” market ideology have done. Look around. The extreme inequality that resulted tells you why it was done.)
Balance trade and fix up our aging infrastructure means at least 15.5 million jobs. (Think about what that would mean for wages, too.)
But That’s Just Catch-Up
But those things are just playing catch-up. It comes close to giving jobs to the unemployed, part-time for economic reasons and “marginally attached” workers. It doesn’t even start to dig into the people who have given up and left the labor market.
We got here by cutting taxes for the rich, gutting government, deferring maintenance, a and letting a few billionaires harvest our public wealth through privatization, etc. We’ll get out of it by fixing the trade deficit, repairing our infrastructure, undoing policy mistakes that have continued since the Reagan era, and ending “trickle down” tax cuts.
How do we take this a step further? The following things would employ tons of people and bring a long-term economic return far above any “cost.”
First, retrofit buildings and homes to be energy-efficient. Start with the basics: plug leaks and drafts, paint roofs white. These simple things could employ tons of people who we call “low skilled.” Take it a step further, and install energy-efficient windows, insulation, modern heating and cooling systems, solar on the roofs, etc. — all made in America, of course — and we will employ millions more. The energy payoff would be enormous, and we would go into the future with a much more efficient economy.
Next, engage in 21st century infrastructure projects like high-speed rail across the country and into Canada and Mexico — just like China is already doing. (See: “New Silk Road.“) We’ll create jobs, and end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Then, modernize our power grid and install wind turbines across the plains states. Again, we end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Requiring American-made supplies boosts the return to our economy.
What about building out national, high-speed, fiber internet? Imagine the innovation that would result.
There is so much we could do to first bring about full employment, and then move our economy into the 21st century. But we are held back by this weird Reagan/Wall Street/conservative ideology that tells us not to believe that We the People deserve a government that spends to make our lives better. That spending boosts us up now, makes our lives better, and more than pays for itself later. But we are kept from dreaming and doing because that return on our investment would go to us, instead of into the pockets of a few billionaires.
The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters and 41 other environmental groups sent a letter to Congress this week, asking them to oppose “fast track” trade promotion authority for upcoming trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). They asked Congress to instead set up an open, transparent trade negotiating system that gives stakeholders, other than just corporate representatives, input in the process.
The letter begins, “As leading U.S. environmental and science organizations, we write to express our strong opposition to ‘fast track’ trade promotion authority, and to urge you to oppose any legislation that would limit the ability of Congress to ensure that trade pacts deliver benefits for communities, workers, public health, and the environment.”
Background On Fast Track, TPP
Currently, trade negotiations are conducted in secret. Corporate representatives are part of the process, and the negotiators come from or expect to go into the corporate world. Stakeholders like environmental, consumer, labor, democracy, human rights, and other groups are excluded from the process.
Once these agreements are finalized, a process known as “fast track” is used to push the agreement through. Fast track asks Congress to forgo the usual process of careful deliberation, and vote within 90 days of Congress and the public first seeing the agreement. Congress also agrees in advance not to amend or filibuster the agreement. This sets up a rushed situation, in which massive corporate PR campaigns can pressure Congress to pass the agreement, and not “kill the whole thing” over problems that they might find. The public does not have time to digest the implications of the agreement and rally opposition, if warranted.
The letter from the environmental groups explains”
“Fast track was originally designed in the 1970s, when trade agreements focused on traditional trade issues such as cutting tariffs and lifting quotas. Today’s trade agreements, however, are about much more than tariffs and quotas and have significant implications for our environment, public health, and global climate.”
TPP is a massive agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries. It has 29 “chapters” – only five of which cover trade issues at all. Other chapters cover things like rules limiting how countries regulate corporations, limiting how countries make laws that might limit corporation profits, and other rules that grant giant multinational corporations special protections from competition.
Instead of this corporate-dominated process, the environmental groups ask for an open, transparent process that delivers benefits for working people, not just for the owners of the largest corporations. From the letter:
“U.S. involvement in trade negotiations should be guided by democracy, transparency, political accountability and must lead to a ‘race to the top’ that provides real protections for communities, workers, and the environment. A new model of trade that delivers benefits for most Americans, promotes broadly shared prosperity, and safeguards the environment and public health is possible.’
Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said, “Trade should be done right — not just fast — to protect our families and neighbors from pollution and climate disruption. Fast-tracking flawed trade pacts is a deal-breaker. With fast track, we would be trading away clean air, clean water, and safe communities.”
Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Congress shouldn’t give a fast lane to trade pacts that don’t protect our public health and climate. These trade bills would give foreign corporations and governments the right to challenge our bedrock protections for clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food and proper chemical safeguards. We shouldn’t trade away our sovereignty. We need trade bills that tackle the 21st-century environmental challenges, not take us backwards.”
Click here to view the letter: sc.org/EnvirosAgainstFastTrack
Signers of this letter include:
The President briefly spoke about trade in his State of the Union speech. He admitted that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype” but then he called for doing more of the same. He called for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — “Fast Track” — to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Here is what President Obama said about trade (from pre-released transcript):
21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.
Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.
1) Exports are good for an economy, but exports and imports must be balanced. While our exports are up, our imports are up even more. This is why we have an enormous, humongous trade deficit. When imports are greater than exports it means jobs, factories and if the imbalance continues eventually the necessary pieces of industry ecosystems are lost. Our trade deficit is enormous and our trade has been out of balance since the 1970s.
Here is Paul Krugman, writing at his blog Monday,
The immediate problem facing much of the world is inadequate demand and the threat of deflation. Would trade liberalization help on that front? No, not at all. True, to the extent that trade becomes easier, world exports would rise, which is a net plus for demand. But world imports would rise by exactly the same amount, which is a net minus. Or to put it a bit differently, trade liberalization would change the composition of world expenditure, with each country spending more on foreign goods and less on its own, but there’s no reason to think it would raise total spending; so this is not a short-term economic boost.
Krugman also points out that current trade tariffs and protections are low, so a “trade” deal doesn’t really remove imposing barriers. He suspects that groups representing the giant multinationals, like the Chamber of Commerce, are really pushing this deal because it rigs the system in their favor and “will yield them a lot of monopoly rents.” Which leads to Obama’s next argument.
2) This idea that “we” should “write the rules” to “level the playing field” is interesting. Yes, China would like to write rules of trade in its favor. But it doesn’t follow from this that we should allow the giant multinational to write the rules in ways that rig the system against everyone but them. And this is exactly what TPP does. TPP is being negotiated in secret with participation of corporate representatives while representatives of labor, consumer, democracy, human rights, women’s, environmental and other “stakeholder” groups are kept away from the table. Only a small part of TPP is about “trade” at all, while parts of it elevate corporate rights above the rights of citizens in democracies to make their own laws. (For example tobacco companies can sue governments for profit-loss from anti-smoking campaigns. Under similar “trade” agreements this is already happening.)
And speaking of rigging the system …
3) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) hardly “protects American workers.” Also known as “Fast Track,” TPA essentially pre-approves trade agreements before anyone even sees them. TPA pre-rigs the approval process by forcing an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed within 90 days of anyone even seeing the agreement for the first time. This means the public doesn’t have time to fully comprehend what is in the agreement and rally opposition if opposition is warranted. Fast Track shifts the public and press focus to “will they kill the whole agreement” rather than on what is actually in the agreement. (This is how they were able to push Wall Street deregulation through the last “Citibank Budget” deal.)
4) There is nothing in past or upcoming trade agreements that will incentivize bringing manufacturing and other jobs back to the US, which the President promised. On the contrary, TPP includes Vietnam which boasts a minimum wage of 30 cents per hour and has a terrible record on labor rights. This tells us what we need to know about the incentives for manufacturers to bring jobs back.
5) One of the biggest factors in American job loss is currency manipulation, but TPP does not address currency manipulation. (TPP is being negotiated in secret but leaks and other indications tell us that there is nothing to address currency manipulation.) Jared Bernstein wrote about this in a January 9 NY Times op-ed, How to Stop Currency Manipulation, saying,
“… there’s one thing the administration can do that will both win over some opponents and address one of the biggest issues in global trade: add a chapter on currency manipulation.
… In a compelling argument for including a chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to restrict currency manipulation, C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that America’s trade deficit “has averaged $200 billion to $500 billion per year higher as a result of the manipulation” by the rest of the world, resulting in the loss of one million to five million jobs.
The loss of 1-5 million jobs to currency manipulation is a lot of jobs, yet this isn’t even in the agreement!
6) The President said that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.” Please see last week’s post What You Need To Know When Obama Talks Trade for a breakdown of what has happened with previous trade agreements. Also see the Public Citizen report, Prosperity Undermined: Fast-Tracked Trade Agreements’ 20-Year Record of Massive U.S. Trade Deficits, American Job Loss and Wage Suppression for a more comprehensive look at what these trade agreements have cost US workers, our manufacturing ecosystem and our economy — just so that a few executives and billionaires can get even wealthier.
Boost Wages Or Trade Agreements — But Not Both
The President wants to address income inequality. But these trade agreements have been a major driver of income inequality. American worker wages have been frozen for decades as workers were threatened with their jobs being moved out of the country. A few at the top have pocketed this wage differential for themselves. Trade deals that pit American workers and the “costs” — higher wages, environmental protections, etc — of democracy against non-democracies where people don’t get good wages and the environment is not protected work against the President’s stated goals.
Josh Bivens writes at the Economic Policy Institute blog, Trade Agreements or Boosting Wages? We Can’t Do Both,
To put it plainly, if policymakers—including the President—are really serious about boosting wage growth for low and moderate-wage Americans, then the push to fast-track TPP and TTIP makes no sense.
… the most staid textbook models argue precisely that for a country like the United States, expanded trade should be expected to (yes) lift overall national incomes, but should redistribute so much from labor to capital owners, so that wages actually fall. …
Also see Obama vs. Obama: The State of the Union’s Self-Defeating Trade Pitch at the Eyes on Trade blog for “a side-by-side analysis of how Obama’s push to Fast Track the TPP contradicts his own State of the Union agenda.”
A Few Other Reactions
At a Wednesday press conference with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and other House Democrats, Rep. Slaughter said, “The president said last night that previous trade deals had not lived up to the hype. That may be the understatement of the century. We will fight this tooth and nail, and I believe we are going to win.”
Also at the press conference, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) said, “Fast track is designed to embed into these so-called free trade agreements a bunch of things that are detrimental to the American public.”
Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) “The Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) advocates a new direction in trade policy focusing upon balanced trade, a comprehensive US competitiveness strategy, and producing more of what we consume here. We oppose Congress ratifying the past, wrongheaded trade strategy which produces trade deficits, job loss, and incentives to offshore manufacturing for re-import into the US.”
Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM): “By ignoring the concerns of industry, workers, and majorities of the House and Senate, he’s not only putting the TPP at risk, he’s putting a whole lot of auto jobs in the US at risk, too.”
Communications Workers of America (CWA):
“…[W]e cannot stand with the President in his alliance with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable to send more U.S. jobs offshore, undermine U.S. communities and weaken U.S. sovereignty under the guise of “free trade.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has much more to do with protecting the investment of multinational corporations and maneuvering around China than lowering trade barriers.
Public opposition to “fast track authority” and the TPP is strong, and growing more vocal everyday. Consumer groups, workers, environmentalists, people of faith, students and more have united to stop this attack on U.S. jobs and communities. Conservatives, who do not believe that nations should relinquish their sovereign power to secret tribunals, also are on board.
Over the past 20 years, millions of U.S. jobs have been lost. The jobs U.S. workers had been promised over those years of course never materialized. In fact, just two trade deals – NAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement — have resulted in the loss of nearly 800,000 jobs. The promoters of the TPP are again promising job gains through growth in U.S. exports. But we can do the math. Any new jobs will be dwarfed by the flood of jobs that go offshore.
My favorite scary but silly right-wing propaganda ever is still “Chevy Volt Runs Out Of Juice In Lincoln Tunnel.”
1) I say silly to contrast with deadly propaganda that tries to start wars, etc., or toxic conservative propaganda that tries to make people hate Muslims, blacks, Hispanic or poor or sick people, public schools, government, Europe (especially France), etc.
2) The Volt’s gas engine kicks in to charge the battery when it runs low — something that is hard to even notice. The car certainly didn’t stop in the tunnel or anything like that.
Second is the scare that “electric cars are a fire hazard.” As compared to cars that have big tanks full of gasoline!
Question: Why does conservative propaganda so often line up with things the generate profits for oil companies, Wall Street, or other billionaires?