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“The Left Is So Wrong On Trade”: Playing A 78 rpm Record In The Age Of Digital Downloads

The left’s success in denying President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ugly to behold. The case put forth by a showboating Sen. Elizabeth Warren — that Obama cannot be trusted to make a deal in the interests of American workers — is almost worse than wrong. It is irrelevant.

The Senate Democrats who turned on Obama are playing a 78 rpm record in the age of digital downloads.

Did you hear their ally, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, the day after the Senate vote? He denounced TPP for being “patterned after CAFTA and NAFTA.” That’s not so, but never mind.

There’s this skip on the vinyl record that the North American Free Trade Agreement destroyed American manufacturing. To see how wrong that is, simply walk through any Walmart or Target and look for all those “made in Mexico” labels. You won’t find many. But you’ll see “made in China” everywhere.

Many of the jobs that did go to Mexico would have otherwise left for low-wage Asian countries. Even Mexico lost manufacturing work to China.

And what can you say about the close-to-insane obsession with CAFTA? The partners in the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement — five mostly impoverished Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic — had a combined economy equal to that of New Haven, Connecticut.

(By the way, less than 10 percent of the AFL-CIO’s membership is now in manufacturing.)

It’s undeniable that American manufacturing workers have suffered terrible job losses. We could never compete with pennies-an-hour wages. Those low-skilled jobs are not coming back. But we have other things to sell in the global marketplace.

In Washington state, for example, exports of everything from apples to airplanes have soared 40 percent over four years, to total nearly $91 billion in 2014, according to The Seattle Times. About 2 in 5 jobs there are now tied to trade.

Small wonder that Sen. Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat from neighboring Oregon, has strongly supported fast-track authority.

Some liberals oddly complain that American efforts to strengthen intellectual property laws in trade deals protect the profits of U.S. entertainment and tech companies. What’s wrong with that? Should the fruits of America’s creativity (that’s labor, too) be open to plundering and piracy?

One of TPP’s main goals is to help the higher-wage partners compete with China. (The 12 countries taking part include the likes of Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and New Zealand.) In any case, Congress would get to vote the finished product up or down, so it isn’t as if the public wouldn’t get a say.

But then we have Warren stating with a straight face that handing negotiating authority to Obama would “give Republicans the very tool they need to dismantle Dodd-Frank.”

Huh? Obama swatted down the remark as wild, hypothetical speculation, noting he engaged in a “massive” fight with Wall Street to get the reforms passed. “And then I sign a provision that would unravel it?” he told political writer Matt Bai.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Warren insisted. Yes, in a twisted way, the hard left’s fixation over big corporations has joined the right’s determination to undermine Obama at every pass.

Trade agreements have a thousand moving parts. The U.S. can’t negotiate with the other countries if various domestic interests are pouncing on the details. That’s why every president has been given fast-track authority over the past 80 years or so.

Except Obama.

It sure is hard to be an intelligent leader in this country.

 

By: Froma Harrop, Loeb Award Finalist for Economic Commentary in 2004 and 2011, Scripps Howard Award Finalist for Commentary in 2010; The National Memo, May 14, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Fast Track Authority, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

“Exposing Republican Intransigence”: John Boehner Rejects Obama’s Offer To Cut Social Security

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) preemptively rejected President Barack Obama’s upcoming budget proposal Friday, slamming the president’s offer to cut Social Security as “only modest entitlement savings.”

President Obama’s budget plan, which he will send to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, will reportedly seek $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through a combination of new revenues and spending cuts. The most controversial cut is the move to the chained consumer price index (“chained CPI”) for Social Security, which would significantly reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries. President Obama has long suggested that he could support the measure, which would cut federal spending by about $130 billion over the next decade, only if Republicans agree to raise new tax revenues.

To many of the president’s liberal allies, such a proposal has been a non-starter. When he floated the idea in late 2012, many House Democrats warned that they would rather go over the “fiscal cliff” than accept the cut. Similarly, in an exclusive interview with The National Memo in March, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka vowed that America’s largest labor federation would oppose any budget deal that included chained CPI, saying the index is “another example of how Washington creates fancy-sounding phrases to mask stupid policies that only work for the rich.”

The public seems to stand with Trumka; recent polling suggests that Americans strongly oppose any Social Security cuts.

The budget reportedly includes several other cuts, such as $400 billion in health care savings (including additional means-testing for Medicare,) and $200 billion in cuts to farm subsidies, federal employee retirement programs, and unemployment compensation. Obama’s budget also aims to raise $600 billion in new revenues, including an increased cigarette tax, which would be used to finance the president’s proposal for universal pre-K.

“While this is not the president’s ideal deficit-reduction plan, and there are particular proposals in this plan like the CPI change that were key Republican requests and not the president’s preferred approach, this is a compromise proposal built on common ground, and the president felt it was important to make it clear that the offer still stands,” a senior Obama administration official told The Hill.

Obama’s offer to meet in the middle has already failed to move House Republicans, however. Not waiting for the full proposal to be released, House Speaker John Boehner quickly released a statement Friday blasting Obama’s plan.

“Despite talk about so-called balance, the president’s last offer was significantly skewed in favor of higher taxes and included only modest entitlement savings,” Boehner said. “In the end, the president got his tax hikes on the wealthy with no corresponding spending cuts. At some point we need to solve our spending problem, and what the president has offered would leave us with a budget that never balances.”

“If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner added.

Although Boehner’s statement still completely ignores the $2.5 trillion in deficit reductions to which the White House has agreed since 2010, it does at least acknowledge that Obama is offering “entitlement savings” — even if Boehner rejects the compromise out of hand. This is a modest step in the right direction, considering that until this budget, Republicans have consistently denied that Obama has offered them anything at all.

In the end, that subtle shift may end up as the most significant result of Obama’s budget deal. Although the proposal has no real chance of becoming law — as evidenced by Boehner’s immediate rejection — making a highly publicized compromise offer will further expose the Republicans’ intransigence.

In March, President Obama reportedly offered congressional Republicans a choice: accept a deal that raised revenue in exchange for chained CPI and means-testing of Medicare, or walk away with no budget deal at all. In April, it appears that Boehner has made his decision.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, April 5, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Social Security | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Incompetent Managers”: Vulture Capitalism Ate Your Twinkies

What happens when vulture capitalism ruins a great American company?

The vultures blame the workers.

The vultures blame the union.

And vapid media outlets report the lie as “news.”

That’s what’s happening with the meltdown of Hostess Brands Inc.

Americans are being told that they won’t get their Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos because the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union ran the company into the ground.

But the union and the 5,600 Hostess workers represented by the union did not create the crisis that led the company’s incompetent managers to announce plans to shutter it.

The BCTGM workers did not ask for more pay.

The BCTGM workers did not ask for more benefits.

The BCTGM workers did not ask for better pensions.

The union and its members had a long history of working with the company to try to keep it viable. They had made wage and benefit concessions to keep the company viable. They adjusted to new technologies, new demands.

They took deep layoffs—20 percent of the workforce—and kept showing up for work even as plants were closed.

They kept working even as the company stopped making payment to their pension fund more than a year ago.

The workers did not squeeze the filling out of Hostess.

Hostess was smashed by vulture capitalists—“a management team that,” in the words of economist Dean Baker, “shows little competence and is rapidly stuffing its pockets at the company’s expense.”

Even as the company struggled, the ten top Hostes executives pocketed increasingly lavish compensation packages. The Hostess CEO who demanded some of the deepest cuts from workers engineered a 300 percent increase in his compensation package.

“Wall Street investors first came onto the scene with Hostess about a decade ago, purchasing the company and then loading it with debt. All the while, its executives talked of investments in new equipment, new research and new delivery trucks, but those improvements never materialized,” explains AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

“Instead, the executives planned to give themselves bonuses and demanded pay cuts and benefit cuts from the workers, who haven’t had a raise in eight years,” said the AFL-CIO head. “In 2011, Hostess earned profits of more than $2.5 billion but ended the year with a loss of $341 million as it struggled to pay the interest on $1 billion in debt. This year, the company sought bankruptcy protection, the second time in eight years. Still, the CEO who brought on the latest bankruptcy got a raise while Hostess demanded that its workers accept a 30 percent pay and benefits cut.”

When BCTGM workers struck Hostess, they did not do so casually.

They were challenging Bain-style abuses by a private-equity group—Ripplewood Holdings—that had proven its incompetence and yet continued to demand more money from the workers.

“When a highly respected financial consultant, hired by Hostess, determined earlier this year that the company’s business plan to exit bankruptcy was guaranteed to fail because it left the company with unsustainable debt levels, our members knew that the massive wage and benefit concessions the company was demanding would go straight to Wall Street investors and not back into the company,” recalled BCTGM president Frank Hunt, who described why the union struck Hostess rather than accept a demand from management for more pay and benefit cuts.

“Our members decided they were not going to take any more abuse from a company they have given so much to for so many years,” Hunt explained. “They decided that they were not going to agree to another round of outrageous wage and benefit cuts and give up their pension only to see yet another management team fail and Wall Street vulture capitalists and ‘restructuring specialists’ walk away with untold millions of dollars.”

On November 6, American voters rejected Mitt Romney and Bain Capitalism.

But that didn’t end the abusive business practices that made Romney rich. They’re still wrecking American companies, like Hostess.

Instead of blaming workers, we should be holding the incompetent managers to account and cheering on any and every effort to rescue Hostess from the clutches of the vulture capitalists.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, November 18, 2012

November 21, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Vision Of Optimism And Equal Opportunity: What It Means To Be A Democrat

I’m glad I waited for President Obama’s heralded budget speech Wednesday before criticizing it (such a novel idea); there was much to praise in it and little to challenge. The best news: Obama laid out the kind of sweeping “story” of American democracy, and the bold vision of how we grow together, that I thought was too much to ask for even yesterday. He even talked about the scariest fact of American inequality: The dangerous hold the top 1 percent of Americans has on wealth, income and (he didn’t say this) politics. He pushed back on the cruel GOP deficit plan, made his toughest case yet for tax hikes on the richest, and stayed away from the worst ideas floated by his own deficit commission. The devil will be in the deficit-cutting details, and frankly, there weren’t a whole lot of them in the speech. But the president came out fighting with firmness, and with a rhetoric of social justice and equality, that I haven’t seen enough of these last two years.

Obama acknowledged our American history as “rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.” But he quickly identified “another thread running throughout our history”:

A belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries. Each of us has benefited from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

So far, so good. It got even better when Obama took direct aim at Paul Ryan’s cruel and ludicrous budget plan. He laid out its many cuts, and concluded:

These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

Then he attacked the Gilded Age social inequality and tax cuts that have helped create our troubles:

Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Indulge me here, because this is how Democrats should be talking, and rarely do:

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

This is who we are. This is the America I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

That’s the president I voted for.

On the meat of the president’s plan to cut the deficit: He deserves credit for rejecting Medicare vouchers, for turning aside specific talk about Social Security (even though it has nothing to do with the federal deficit, the privatizers and Obama’s friends on his deficit commission wanted it thrown on the table in a grand bargain that can only be bad news for Democrats and working people; Obama seemed not to be willing to do that); for promising that reforms and innovations already part of the Affordable Care Act will bring down the costs of Medicare and Medicaid; and for saying we need bigger defense cuts than so far proposed.

(Small point: I liked the way Obama trashed Ryan without mentioning him — you don’t fight down — but I wish he’d been a tiny bit more confrontational on exactly what Ryan’s “Medicare vouchers” would do; if seniors could afford insurance at all, which is debatable, they’d certainly be at the mercy of privatized “death panels” refusing care over its costs. I say that because I’m sure some GOP prevaricator will bring back the “death panel” lie now that Obama has committed to curbing costs in Medicare. I hope I’m wrong.)

My quibbles? I’m still concerned that Obama has agreed to freeze the 12 percent of the budget that goes to “discretionary spending.” And I’m assuming that freeze includes the cuts made this week. I don’t like his promise of $3 in spending cuts for every dollar raised in revenue via tax hikes. In a statement, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised the speech but added: “President Obama does not yet have the balance right between spending cuts and new revenue.” I also never like it when Obama undermines himself by saying things like:

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.

I know, I know, he thinks it makes him sound reasonable to independents; I worry he sounds weak to Republicans. If Obama thinks the plan he laid out is as far to the left as Ryan’s plan is to the right, and that the answer is to meet in the glorious middle, we’re all in trouble.

But for today, I’ll take him at his word. After the speech, pundits called it the opening salvo of the Obama 2012 reelection campaign, as though there was something wrong with that. If these are the founding principles of the president’s 2012 campaign, Democrats and the country will be better off than we’ve been in a while. 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Independents, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Social Security, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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