Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

The New Hillary

By Andrew Levine | CounterPunch | April 24, 2015

In the years before he ran for President in 1968, Richard Nixon’s publicists promoted a New Nixon. It was the same old Tricky Dicky with the rough edges smoothed away.

The old Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election to John Kennedy in 1960; then Pat Brown defeated him in 1962, when he ran for the Governorship of California. The hope after that was, as Nixon himself put it, that the press would no longer “have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Nixon had always had trouble with the press.

But this was not to be. You just can’t keep a good scoundrel down.

The Vietnam War was a bipartisan concoction, from its inception to its ignominious end, but, before 1968, liberal Democrats – JFK and Lyndon Johnson, leading figures in their administrations, and Democratic Senators and Representatives — were the ones leading the way. Vietnam was not just an anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese proxy war; it was a liberal’s war.

Republicans were culpable too, and Nixon was hardly an exponent of peace. But neither he nor the party whose ticket he led had yet taken on the now familiar more-bellicose-than-thou persona of the post-Vietnam GOP.

The more unpopular the war became, the happier Republicans were that Lyndon Johnson, not one of their own, was taking the blame. Democrats were still widely considered the more warlike of the two parties. How could they not be – having brought the United States into the First and Second World Wars and into Korea?  Vietnam was their thing.

But then, as now, the Democratic Party was where the liberals were, most of them anyway; and so, the part of the anti-war movement that was electorally inclined, the less radical part, gravitated into their ranks, effectively dividing the party into pro- and anti-war camps.

There were Republican liberals too back then, but a cultural divide already separated the anti-war movement from the GOP; and, with only a few exceptions, Republican liberals and moderates were no more peace-friendly than LBJ. The prospect of turning the GOP into an anti-war party never occurred.

As the 1968 election approached, Nixon said that he had a secret plan for ending the war. He was lying, of course; but, at the time, his claim was not implausible; hadn’t Eisenhower said much the same about Korea, and he was telling the truth.

There were even a few anti-war liberals who voted for Nixon to punish the Democrats, and many more who considered doing so.

The Democrats who led the way in Vietnam, LBJ and the cohort he inherited from Kennedy, were decent enough on domestic policy. By today’s standards, they were outstanding.

Nixon wasn’t bad either. Unlike today’s Republicans and Democrats, but like Eisenhower, he had no interest in dismantling New Deal and Fair Deal advances.

And for getting affirmative action going, for launching various “black capitalism” programs, for floating the prospect of a negative income tax and genuine national health insurance, for breathing life into the environmental movement, for pumping money into scientific research and infrastructure development, and much else, his presidency puts Barack Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s to shame.

Between Nixon and what we can expect from Bill Clinton’s even more retrograde wife, there is no comparison at all.

To get his presidential aspirations back on track, there was therefore no need for him to take a liberal or “populist” turn. This was not what the New Nixon was about.

It was about how he presented himself, his public persona. His publicists understood that that had to be changed – fast.

But, you cannot change a public persona without bringing politics in; not if you are running for President. There must be at least the appearance of substantive change.

And so what made the New Nixon new was his adoption of a more statesmanlike veneer.

The New Nixon was, or was made to seem, more thoughtful than the Old. His anti-Communism was toned down a notch — to appear less paranoid and crass. And, under Henry Kissinger’s tutelage, he learned how to present himself before the world as a geopolitical strategist of uncommon insight.

Of the Old Nixon, people would say: “would you buy a used car from that man?” The New Nixon was less flagrantly sleazy.

The mean-spirited, internally tormented figure voters rejected twice was made over to seem avuncular and wise, an Eisenhower in the rough.

As it turned out, the makeover was not entirely smoke and mirrors. Nixon’s personality was what his detractors knew it to be; there was no changing that. But there was some reality behind the statesman-like veneer that his handlers had him project.

No one would have expected the Old Nixon to lead the opening towards China or to advance détente with the USSR; no one thought he had it in him.

Once in office, it became clear that the man was not as void of vision or as incapable of deep thinking as everyone had believed.

It also became clear that there was more villainy in him than even his most ardent detractors had imagined.

* * *

With her campaign for the presidency in 2016 now officially underway, we are witnessing the roll-out of a New Hillary.

The parallels with Nixon’s makeover are striking.

Clinton’s presidential plans had been thwarted by a more glamorous opponent, just as Nixon’s had been; and she too has always had trouble with the press.

And the New Hillary, like the New Nixon, will be very much like the Old.

There are other uncanny parallels: Barack Obama, the rival who did the Old Hillary in, was, at the time, heralded as the next JFK, the man who defeated Nixon forty-eight years before. Even Caroline Kennedy was on board with that.

For a moment too, there was hope, as they vacated the White House, that, in the new century, we wouldn’t have Clintons to kick around anymore.

Of course, there was never any chance of that – not with Bill being, as the quip went, the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral; and not with Hillary being parachuted into New York state to be its Senator.

That arrangement also conjures up memories of the sixties – of Jack’s brother Bobby, RFK. When Johnson wanted him out of Washington, he too was parachuted into New York to become its Senator.

Massachusetts would have been more appropriate, but brother Teddy was already a Massachusetts Senator, and two Kennedys in the Senate from the same state would be unseemly.

More important to RFK and his minions, adding on to the Kennedy power base in Massachusetts would have been a waste or time and effort. New York was a different story.

Hillary was even less a New Yorker than Kennedy was. She was an Illinois girl, born and bred, who went to college and Law School in New England and then spent her adult life in Arkansas and Washington DC. New York City was just a great place to visit; the rest of the state might as well have been on the dark side of the moon.

This is not the only reason why the parallel with RFK is not exact.

Robert Kennedy had at least been his brother’s Attorney General, and also his closest advisor and most trusted friend. He knew about, and participated in, JFK’s intrigues and assignations; he knew about his brother’s poor health. He was the keeper of the family’s skeletons.

While his brother was alive, the whole world knew that when RFK spoke, he was speaking for the President. He was the Kennedy administration’s unchallenged and unchallengeable consigliere. When need be, he was also the enforcer of his brother’s will.

And he was his brother’s heir apparent. As such, RFK was a power to be reckoned with – not just for his hold over the Democratic Party but, more importantly, over the popular imagination.

With Hillary, there was nothing like that.   She did play a role in her husband’s administration – a comparatively minor and not very successful one. It was she, for example, who, more than anyone, set the cause of health care reform back a generation.

Though hardly a Queen of Camelot, her role was more or less like Jackie’s. She and her husband had arrived at a modus vivendi — based on necessity, not trust.

When she spoke, it was with her own voice, not his; and she would be the last, not the first, to know about his intrigues and assignations.

Hillary’s only qualification for the office she sought in New York was that she had been a First Lady, an official wife.

Because she was the wife of a philandering husband, she sometimes did get her way. Aggrieved wives often do, especially when their husbands are in the national spotlight and hanging on by the skins of their teeth. The last thing Bill needed was political embarrassment on Hillary’s account.

But she was never the voice of the Clinton administration, and she was never her husband’s administration’s consigliere.

By the time Robert Kennedy was assassinated, the hopes of a generation were riding on his shoulders. No hopes ride on Hillary’s; none ever have and none ever will.

Therefore, it wasn’t just within “the great right-wing conspiracy” Hillary spoke of that, for all the wrong reasons, people looked forward to seeing the back of her. There were many who shared this hope – for reasons that are eminently sound.

But, as it had been with Nixon, those who hoped hoped in vain. She never really retired from public view.

Her operatives think that a makeover now will get her back on track for winning the office she believes her due.

One wonders how much the Nixon precedent figures in their thinking. It is unclear what, if anything, his makeover had to do with it, but a made over Nixon did finally gain the office that he too believed his due.

For this, the country paid dearly; and Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile and much of the rest of the world suffered egregiously.

We can expect outcomes similarly horrendous, if and when the New Hillary calls the shots. This is yet another parallel waiting to happen.

* * *

Old Hillary cannot be made over in quite the way that Old Nixon was. After her tenure as Secretary of State, promoting her diplomatic prowess is out of the question.

Future historians will fault her handling of America’s affairs almost everywhere the empire’s talons reached – not just in the Muslim world. But her clueless fumbling during the Arab Spring is sure to receive special attention.

On this, her Republican detractors are on to something.

But if the past is any guide, to drive the point home, they will focus only on her role in Libya in 2011 and in the months that followed.

She does indeed have much to answer for about that. So do Obama and his other humanitarian interveners. They brought Libya to ruin. The consequences of their clueless bumbling are still unfolding.

Thanks to Secretary Clinton and her posse, Libya became a failed state. In the Mediterranean today, off the Libyan coast, refugees and asylum seekers are drowning because of what Clinton and the people around her helped bring about.

But the Republican way is to tell only part of the story, and to tell it in ways that mainly reflect their own disingenuousness. Where the Clintons are concerned, this is how it has been since Day One.

Therefore expect Republicans to focus narrowly, if not exclusively, on the deaths of American diplomats (or whatever they were) in the consulate in Benghazi.

This was indeed a disaster, but their concerns are disingenuous because they know, as well as anyone, that the Benghazi consulate was, as the Iranians would say, “a nest of spies” that neither Clinton nor anyone else in the Obama administration can talk about honestly.

It was the same with the famous “missile gap” that JFK would bring up every chance he got when he ran against Nixon. There was no such thing, and Kennedy knew it. He also knew that Nixon couldn’t say this without compromising what he – and his boss, President Eisenhower — took to be the national interest.

This time, the shoe will be on the other party’s foot.

Still, the fact remains: Clinton was in way over her head when the Arab Spring erupted, and almost everything she did was wrong. If only for that, she should never be allowed anywhere near the corridors of power again.

Just as surely as Republicans will make the attack on the Benghazi consulate the issue, Democrats will do their best to make Clinton’s failures at the State Department a non-issue.

They will probably succeed too – well enough to fool most liberals.

But, to that end, the less they say about her diplomacy, the better for them. This is why Clinton’s makeover, unlike Nixon’s, will have little, if anything, to do with foreign affairs.

It will be about her likeability instead.

The Old Hillary was imperious; she exuded a sense of entitlement. The New Hillary is downright personable.

When New Hillary campaigns, instead of just flying in and out of major venues for mega-rallies or hobnobs with plutocrats, she will now sometimes also chat one-on-one with (carefully selected) “ordinary” people. She will brandish the common touch.

She will also take what media pundits call a “populist” line, doing her best to appeal to voters who would prefer Elizabeth Warren – or anybody to Hillary’s left.

These changes run together – “populist,” “popular.” Some well-remunerated marketing genius in Hillary’s employ must think that the two are one and the same, or that the target audience can be duped into thinking that they are.

It will be a hard sell, but the sales campaign will probably succeed with the target audience. Everybody knows that what candidates say bears almost no relation to what they will do – think, for example, of Obama’s “I will close Guantanamo” — but the will to believe becomes indomitable around election time.

Who is in the audience that Hillary’s hucksters are targeting? Apparently, it is social liberals – people who would vote for her, or any Democrat, over any imaginable Republican anyway, but who may, from sheer disgust or learned indifference, not vote at all.

In other words, they are preaching to the choir. This might seem a waste of time and effort; it usually is. But with a Hillary Clinton presidency looming, the choir cannot be counted on to show up at the church. They must be made to want to sing.

Hillary’s hucksters understand this; they know that their first order of business is to remind the Democratic “base,” the social liberal part of it, what makes Democrats worth supporting.

There are too few Democrats on Hillary’s right on economic policy issues to worry about, in any case; and her team is evidently counting on Republicans scaring off most “swing voters.”  This happened in 2012, and it is likely to happen again in 2016.

And so the idea is to emphasize Hillary’s social liberalism – in the hope of getting potential voters enthused.

Her handlers have an even more compelling reason too: there is no other way to provide her with a more leftish patina that would not upset the donor class.

* * *

As a rule, advertisers like to appeal to the kinds of consumers known in the days when Nixon was starting his makeover, and when Hillary was still a Goldwater Girl, as “the Pepsi Generation,”

The Pepsi Generation was “with it,” whatever “it” was; and they felt good about themselves and about their world. Optimism was in the air they breathed.

The name lingers – it was a triumph of advertising genius – and the idea behind it continues to guide marketing campaigns.

But, in an age of increasing social insecurity, what works for selling soft drinks is no longer directly transferable to advertising campaigns aimed at selling candidates to voters.

Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” was its last hurrah.

Since then, a succession of Reaganite (neoliberal, aggressively imperialist) Presidents – Reagan himself, the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – have superintended such a profound diminution in voters’ expectations that it is no longer possible be with it and perky, or even mildly optimistic, in political contexts.

The one brief exception was America’s – and the world’s – brief Obamamania phase. In retrospect, the predictable shattering of the illusions that sprouted up around Obama’s candidacy in 2008 only accelerated the long term, increasingly pessimistic trend.

But even if optimism no longer sells candidates, being with it still counts for something – or so Hillary’s hucksters believe.

If their campaign launch video — featuring single moms, a multi-racial family and a gay couple about to be married — is any indication, Hillary’s minions seem to have decided to cede the religious Right to Ted Cruz or whichever wing-nut strikes the fancy of America’s most benighted, and to appeal instead to voters who are already on board, but who may not turn out for Hillary even so.

She is plainly not a candidate to get the juices flowing the way Obama did once upon a time; she is way too uncool.

But social liberalism is cool – cool enough, Team Hillary hopes, to bring the faithful out on Election Day.

In the Golden Age of the Pepsi Generation, Democrats aspiring to become their party’s nominee would be courting labor leaders and appealing to rank-and-file workers.

But Hillary and the people around her see no percentage in that; not when the union movement is a pale shadow of its former self, a casualty of the neoliberal age; and not when the leaders of what is left of it are as eager as their predecessors were to do Democrats yeoman service.

In the old days, there was at least a quid pro quo. Democrats did the labor movement favors too.

When Obama ran the first time, this tradition had not yet entirely died out. Candidate Obama was not about to come out against Taft Hartley, but he did endorse the Employee Free Choice Act. Had it been enacted, union organizing would have become easier. Obama said that he would make it a priority.

Needless to say, no one has heard anything from him about it since.

And now, true to form, most labor leaders are falling into place — behind Hillary. Her people see no need to chat them up; they have — or think they have — nowhere else to go.

Count on them instead to give their all while expecting nothing in return — beyond keeping the Republicans at bay. They no longer even ask.

* * *

Is pandering to later-day Pepsi Generation types, while ignoring workers and other traditional Democratic constituencies, a good strategy?

Not as a rule, especially in general elections. But, this time, it hardly matters because it is as plain as can be that the Republican candidate in 2016 will be whacky enough to scare off all but the most reactionary voters. The Democrat, whoever she is, will win no matter what strategy she deploys.

Meanwhile, the Clinton makeover strategy is a good one insofar as its point is to ward off competitors in Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Were any candidate to advance even modestly “populist” economic proposals in a way that seems that they mean it, the full weight of the donor class would come down upon them. This is not something Hillary would do in any case; it goes against her nature.

Therefore the only thing she can do, when she and her advisors find it expedient to take a more liberal or populist turn, is display support for costless (to capitalists) social issues. When, like gay marriage, those issues enjoy widespread support in nearly all sectors of the population outside the religious Right, proclaiming support is a no-brainer.

No surprise, then, that the Clinton campaign led with this gambit. Her handlers have positioned her well.

Even so, a real populist could defeat Hillary-style “populism,” provided word gets out to voters in the early caucus and primary states in time to build what the first President Bush called “the big Mo.” Even in today’s America, this could happen without billionaire backing.

This is why I am inclined to support the candidacy of Jim Webb.

If he plays his cards right, later-day Pepsi Generation types could become the ones with nowhere else to go, while the kinds of voters who made the New and Fair Deals possible, and who propelled the Great Society forward, putting the Democratic party on the side of racial and economic justice, could come back into the fold – not grudgingly, but enthusiastically.

Webb could turn the New Nixon’s Southern Strategy around, bringing not just “white ethnics” but also white Southerners back onto the right side of a class war that never ended – though it looked like it had because, in recent decades, one side, the wrong one, has been consistently getting its way.

Jimmy Carter, the best and the most underrated American President in a very long time, kept the Southern Strategy more or less at bay through the latter half of the seventies. He did it just by being a Southerner and being there.

But Carter ceded too much power to Cold War liberals like Zbigniew Brzezinski and to economists intent on reviving old nostrums that the New Deal once seemed to have laid to rest.

He even let Henry Kissinger talk him into letting the Shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment, unleashing a chain of events that has diminished his reputation to this day.

Had Carter made peace with the Iranian Revolution, the United States and the world might have been spared Ronald Reagan; and we might not now, three and a half decades later, be facing the prospect of a war with Iran.

Carter’s instincts were decent, except when it came to deciding whose advice to trust. This cost him dearly. And, by diminishing his power, it rendered him all but useless for holding back the Republican tide in the South.

Bill Clinton, for all his efforts to come on as a Bubba to the good old boys while remaining presentable to donors in Manhattan and Beverly Hills, never made a dent in what the New Nixon got going. It wasn’t just the good old boys who saw through him, working people did too.

Hillary was not the only albatross around his neck. There was also his unctuous and transparent phoniness. It is as if he took the Eddie Haskell character on “Leave It to Beaver” for a role model.

He did indeed have Southern roots, but his heart was where the money was, and where the sleaze balls who had it congregated.

In the run up to the 2008 election, John Edwards seemed just the one to turn the Southern Strategy around — until the Obama steamroller and his own horn dog disposition did him in. Like Carter, Edwards was a bona fide Southern liberal, not a poseur like Hillary’s better half.

His strategy was to outflank Hillary from the left. Her other rivals, Joe Biden excepted, had the same idea. But Edwards could appeal to white Southerners, as they could not. In 2008, he might even have been able to do what Al Gore, eight years earlier, could not: pry away a few Southern states, along with their Electoral College votes, from the solidly Republican South.

But even had he turned out to be more like he (briefly) seemed to be, his candidacy would have been more like Elizabeth Warren’s might be, were she to run, than like Jim Webb’s.

Like Warren and Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, Edwards was a zero on foreign policy and on military affairs – the areas where, even with money talking as loudly as it does, Presidents can actually make a difference.

These are Webb’s strong points. He has consistently opposed America’s Middle Eastern wars. And, knowing what war is about, he is no fan of gunboat diplomacy or military brinksmanship. He despises chicken hawks and the wars they foist on the people he cares about. In these respects, he is the true anti-Clinton.

* * *

The main thing, though, is that, contrary to what the hucksters selling Hillary seem to believe, the stars are now lining up right for moving social liberal considerations off dead-center and bringing working class issues back in.

This is because even the voters Team Hillary is targeting, functional equivalents of yesterday’s Pepsi Generation, are discovering that working class issues are their issues too.

This is happening all over the developed world.

It is more visible overseas than it is here because it is easier to gain a purchase on what voters are thinking in democracies that are less undemocratic than ours. The UK is a case in point.

There, as almost everywhere else, big money is much less a factor in determining electoral outcomes than it is in the United States, and the political culture is not quite as bent out of shape by the prevailing party system.

For this reason, Team Hillary would be well advised to take a close look at next month’s parliamentary elections.

Less than eight months ago, the Scottish National Party (SNP) suffered a significant defeat in a referendum on Scottish independence, its signature issue. Now, mainly at Labor’s expense, it is poised to become the third largest party in the British parliament.

Because neither the Conservatives nor Labor are likely to win a majority of seats in their own right, the SNP will wield tremendous influence in the next Parliament; it may even enter the government as Labor’s junior partner.

The reason for its sudden change of fortune is plain: voters are fed up with neoliberal austerity politics; and voting for the SNP is the best way to make this sentiment known.

The SNP is the most left leaning, most Social Democratic, of any of the larger political parties in Great Britain. If it were less intent on breaking up the country it may soon help govern, and if it fielded candidates throughout the entire UK, it might even be able to win outright.

There is a lesson in the SNP’s rise that has implications for the 2016 electoral season already unfolding in the United States.

In all developed countries, including our own, voters are less inclined than they used to be to think that it is acceptable, or even necessary, that only a tiny fraction of the population benefits as productive capacities expand at a dizzying rate, and while everyone else becomes, in varying degrees, worse off – the greatest burdens falling on those who are already the least well off of all.

Try as neoliberal ideologues might, it is a lot harder than it was just a few years ago to convince the general public that this is how it must be.

Voters everywhere are way ahead of the political leaders of their respective countries.

Hillary’s single moms and biracial families, and her gay couples, don’t speak to these concerns, though they are of great importance to people who fall under those descriptions and to others who do not, but care about those who do.

Even if her sales force gets her to declare support for a few Elizabeth Warren – Bernie Sanders type reforms, it will make hardly any difference; and not just because everybody knows that, were she to become President, whatever she says now will be yesterday’s lunch.

It will make hardly any difference because the realization is dawning that tinkering here and there is, at best, a palliative, not a solution. There is something rotten in the system itself, and more and more people are beginning to realize it.

No Democrat, including Webb, is likely to propose anything that would seriously address this rot.

But a Democrat can address one of the fundamental conditions of its possibility: the Democratic Party’s malign neglect of the working class and of the white, rural population in so-called “red” states, the South especially.

This is what a Webb candidacy could do. It is unlikely that anyone else with any chance at all of winning the Democratic nomination could do it nearly as well.

And it is certain that, no matter how “populist” the New Hillary’s guise, she will not – and probably cannot – do it at all.

* * *

There is a good chance that Hillary understands this, but doesn’t care – because it is the average donor, not the average citizen, that she aims to please.

That has always been the Clinton way. But the times are changing – more quickly and more profoundly than Hillary Clinton’s makeover team imagines.

The New Hillary is nevertheless likely to win the nomination and, if she does, she will win the race for the presidency, just as the New Nixon did.

She and her people ought to reflect on all the harm that came out of that; all the murder and mayhem, and all the devastation.

They might also reflect on Nixon’s fate. Theirs could be even worse.

April 24, 2015 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception, Economics, Militarism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ascent of Hillary, the $.2.5 Billion “People’s” Candidate

Hillary-Clinton-300x190

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | April 15, 2015

Hillary Clinton just announced that she’s running for president. However, this commentary is not really about her. It’s about a nation of more than 300 million people in which politics has become the sole property and domain of the rich. The rich decided some time ago that Hillary Clinton would be the virtually unchallenged presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. The 48 percent of Americans that express an affinity with the Democratic Party have not yet chosen Clinton. There has been no primary election in any state. But, that does not matter because the selection process that counts occurs in the boardrooms and mansions and private clubs and getaways of the rich. Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill, have spent virtually their entire adult lives on the millionaires’ campaign circuit, the rich man’s primary. In the process of pleasing the rich, they have become rich, themselves.

Hillary hopes to spend two and a half billion dollars of – mostly – rich people’s money in the 2016 campaign. Wealthy people will be just as generous with the Republican candidate. The outcome on Election Day is absolutely certain: the rich man’s candidate will definitely win, and the people will lose – because they have no candidate in the major parties.

The people are not even in the game; the contest is over before the Democratic Party’s formal selection process even begins. And, when primary season does arrive, it will only be a formality. The menu has already been printed, and Hillary will be the main course for Democrats next year.

Democratic voters can say “Yes” to Hillary, but they can’t say “No,” because the party machinery and the rich men who pay for that machinery will crucify and expel any Democrat who seriously challenges her from the Left.

The Democratic Party’s apologists like to call it a big tent with room for Blacks and browns and gays and labor and peace-loving people. But it’s actually a huge trap designed to contain and politically neutralize the folks who might otherwise turn against the rich. The Party has always been a scam, but at least in the old days it put on a populist show to fool the rank and file into believing that they could actually influence the party’s direction. However, Wall Street is determined that there will be no serious Democratic deviation from the corporate agenda set by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton would represent the third Clinton presidency – which, for Wall Street, is just as good as the two George Bush presidencies. Maybe better, because labor and Blacks and that fuzzy cohort called liberals will all think they won the election, when nothing could be farther from the truth. Rank and file Democrats will see the fait accompli of Hillary’s nomination as a sign of unity among Democrats, when in fact it is the triumph of filthy rich campaign contributors. The rich have shown great solidarity in uniting behind a Democratic presidential candidate. Later on, they will unite around a Republican candidate, too. After that, it won’t matter who wins.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Deception | , , | Leave a comment

Money Buys Influence in US for Fugitive Ecuadorean Bankers

teleSUR | December 18, 2014

Family members of Ecuador’s fugitive Isaias brothers appear to have received preferential treatment in the U.S. thanks to political donations to the Democratic Party, The New York Times revealed Tuesday.

Estefania Isaias — the daughter of Roberto Isaias, one of two brothers wanted in Ecuador for bank fraud — had been barred from entering the United States after committing immigration fraud. That ban was lifted thanks to the intervention of high-ranking officials in the U.S. State Department. The lifting of the ban was made possible thanks to the assistance of Robert Menendez, a Democratic Senator.

The New York Times investigation reveals that the office of Menendez lobbied extensively in support of Estefania Isaias, even reaching out to Cheryl Mills, Hilary Clinton’s chief of staff while Clinton was she was U.S. secretary of state. He succeeded in getting Ms. Isaias into the United States and wrote to her to tell her the news a mere day after the Isaias family gave a donation to the Democratic Party.

Estefania’s sister Maria also faced a ban on entering the United States and Menendez’s office once again worked to intervene in her favor — also after receiving a donation from the Isaias family.

A spokesperson for Menendez told the Times that his office’s advocacy in the case of Ms. Isaias was routine. However, Linda Jewell, former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador, told the Times, “Such close and detailed involvement by a congressional office in an individual visa case would be quite unusual, especially for an applicant who is not a constituent of the member of Congress.”

The U.S. newspaper reported that the family donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns, which were often followed by favorable decisions by the U.S. government.

The Isaias brothers, Roberto and William, were found guilty in absentia for a fraud worth US$400 million. They were sentenced to eight years in prison. The Isaias brothers have been living in the United States, fugitives from Ecuadorean justice. The government of Ecuador has requested their extradition but the U.S. government has denied the request.

Ecuador claims that the political donations made by the family is buying them protection in the U.S. However, The New York Times also reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is currently working to have the Isaias brothers deported.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Senator Menendez for his support of the Isaias brothers. The senator is suspected of attempting to influence immigration officials in exchange for donations from the fugitive brothers.

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Rides the $15 Wave

By Shamus Cooke | Worker’s Action | May 13, 2014

It seems that Seattle has officially passed the $15 baton to San Francisco, and they’re running with it. On May 5th San Francisco had its first public organizing meeting to prepare for a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15. The Labor movement and broader community organizations were well represented, and with them all the potential to achieve a great victory.

The San Francisco $15 proposal is stronger than the Seattle mayor’s version: the time line to get to $15 is shorter, and there are fewer exceptions.

San Francisco companies with more than 100 employees would have until 2016 to raise wages to $15 an hour, but they must lift wages to $13 an hour by next January. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees have until 2017 to raise wages to $15 an hour, but must raise them to $13 an hour by 2015 and $14 by 2016.

Polling has already indicated overwhelming support (59 percent) for the initiative.

The process that San Francisco is using also has other advantages over Seattle’s. The unions and community groups are working as a united front in San Francisco, whereas in Seattle there was constant tension between the socialist city council member Kshama Sawant and her $15 Now group of supporters versus the unions: Sawant wanted a strong version of $15 and several of the unions just wanted a deal, seemingly more interested in working with the mayor towards “consensus” between the unions and the corporations.

In San Francisco “consensus” was thankfully blown to pieces. The ballot initiative process goes over the head of the City Hall corporate politicians, destroying the consensus that San Francisco mayor was desperately seeking between the Chamber of Commerce — representing the giant corporations — and the unions. This has infuriated the 1%.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

“The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said it was ‘outraged by the preemptive minimum wage ballot measure’ designed by SEIU and its allies.”

This is exactly the kind of outrage that should warm the heart of all working people.

The ballot initiative is also superior because it opens up the doors to wider participation of various community groups, who can mobilize their members to collect signatures, organize rallies, etc., instead of simply having four or five union reps cut a backroom, watered-down deal with the mayor and corporations.

Which begs the question: why don’t unions and community groups work together on inspiring ballot initiatives more often? Half the states in the country and many municipalities have the legal authority to evoke this brand of direct democracy, yet it’s rarely done.

The answer is, sadly, that this weapon is rarely used in an inspirational way because of the “partnership” between unions and the Democratic Party. The Democrats are adversaries of anything potentially harmful to the big corporations, which any economic measure that inspires working people will inevitably be.

This is why — as Obama’s presidency proved yet again — the Democratic Party is where hope goes to die.

Which makes the events in San Francisco all the more important: the $15 dollar initiative is an example of the unions making a big break, in practice, from the Democrats, which hopefully others around the nation will follow.

And follow they must, since it would be suicide for the national labor movement to sit idly as the fight for $15 snowballs. Union and community groups should be working together across the country for similar ballot initiatives wherever possible.

For those states without ballot initiatives, $15 can still be used as a rallying cry and a mobilizing force for change. Wherever the Democratic Party blocks this process, unions should come together and form a labor party. Working people are tired of excuses.

The fight for $15 also gives a boost to organizing new workers into unions as well. For example, Wal-Mart workers would love to make $15 an hour and the labor movement has been trying in vain to organize them for years. The slogan “$15 and a union” would resonate far better with Wal-Mart workers than anything the unions have yet put forth.

There are also many other unions that have already-organized workers who don’t make $15, and now they can have the confidence to demand $15 at the bargaining table, knowing full well that the broader community will come to their aid.

The $15 demand is especially important because it’s the first time in decades that the labor movement is going on the offensive. This is crucial. Three decades of playing defense — and playing it poorly — has had a demoralizing effect on the entire working class. A big offensive victory opens the doors wide to new possibilities and new horizons. It boosts confidence. One year ago $15 seemed like a fantasy; in five years we’ll hopefully be looking back at $15 with nostalgia, having achieved many other offensive victories.

The possibilities for unions and community groups to organize around $15 are endless. And if other unions don’t follow the example of the San Francisco unions and community groups, they’ll be acting as willing participants to the ongoing corporate onslaught. Not fighting back is no longer an option.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at portland@workerscompass.org

May 14, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , | Leave a comment

Boeing Union Workers Forced Into Massive Concessions

By Jack Rasmus | January 5, 2014

This past weekend, more than 30,000 union workers at Boeing Corp. in Seattle, were forced to accept deep concessions in their union contract, gutting their pensions, future healthcare benefits, wages, and other benefits. Their contract with Boeing had not even expired but they were forced into concessions nonetheless. Nor was the company, Boeing, in any financial distress. It had registered record profits in consecutive years, and had in November 2013 bought back $10 billion in stock from its shareholders and paid another $2 billion in dividends to the same. Nevertheless Boeing demanded concessions, having received communication from Union (IAM) International leadership beforehand of their willingness to grant the same. The combination of Union International leadership pressure, countless Democratic Party politicians, and the Company’s new offensive, proved too much for local workers to resist. The new concessions will effectively end workers’ defined benefit pensions, cutting retirement benefits to the bone, and allow the company to end its healthcare insurance benefits by 2018 in accordance with the Obama new health care plan. Wages for new hired workers are projected to decline to levels of minimum wage or less over the next 11 years of the new contract term.

This kind of attack on pensions and healthcare–or what this writer calls the ‘social wage’ was predicted in this writer’s article, ‘Concession Bargaining at the Crossroads’ two years ago in 2011. That article is reproduced here in its original draft form once again.

CONCESSION BARGAINING AT THE CROSSROADS

“The history of collective bargaining since the Second World War has consisted of several stages or phases. The first phase was roughly from 1947 to 1979. During it collective bargaining was expanded both in terms of its ‘scope’ and its ‘magnitude’. Scope refers to new areas of bargaining, such as cost of living adjustments, supplemental unemployment benefits, pensions and health care benefits, union and worker rights, etc. Magnitude refers to increasing the dollar value of wages and benefits. Up to 1979 both expanded.

In contrast, from the mid-1970s to 2007, concession bargaining became the growing practice. But it was concession bargaining focused on giving back ‘magnitude’ gains of the previous decades, not necessarily the scope of bargaining. Workers in the private sector gave ground on wages and benefits in a decades-long attempt to protect their jobs.

First Stages of Concession Bargaining

Among the first to feel the effects were workers in the construction sector, starting in the 1970s. Employers formed early in the decade the ‘Construction Industry Users Roundtable’. Its strategy was to undermine the then powerful building trades unions by a new tactic: the ‘double breasted operation’. This simply put was a way to undermine the construction unions by setting up parallel, non-union companies. The unions ignored the threat more or less, since the double breasted operations were set up in the suburbs and outlying regions. The urban bastion of unionization in construction wasn’t immediately impacted. Employers progressively then moved jobs and work to the non-union operations. The loss of jobs in the unionized operations eventually forced workers and unions to start granting concessions in an attempt to prevent their work shifting to the non-union companies. Concessions soon expanded. Saving jobs in exchange for givebacks on wages and benefits eventually became the norm.

In the late 1970s the strategy of forcing workers to give up wage and benefit gains to keep their jobs leap-frogged into the manufacturing sector. The pilot and defining event was the Chrysler bailout of 1979. It worked so well the model was planned for application to manufacturing in general. By then the Construction Industry Users Roundtable’ had expanded into what is now known as perhaps the most formidable and effective Big Business organization today—the Business Roundtable. Big manufacturing and service companies joined with the Construction employers. The construction industry union-busting model was transported to other sectors of the economy.

The tactic of double breasted operations took on a new form. Alternative union-free operations were set up. But not across town, as in construction. It was now across borders. The manufacturing analog of the double breasted operation was the runaway shop, as manufacturers moved operations offshore.

In these they were aided by the most pro-business President since Coolidge—Ronald Reagan and a compliant Congress. Manufacturers were provided generous economic incentives to set up offshore. Tax incentives were generously granted. Deregulation was introduced. Then in 1988 and 1993 ‘free trade’ agreements were established with Canada and Mexico to facilitate the movement of US capital to those countries to set up operations. Free ‘trade’ is not just about export-import of goods and services; it is even more about negotiating favorable conditions for US foreign direct investment in those countries. Tax [breaks] for investing offshore plus free trade plus deregulation devastated jobs in the US beginning in the early 1980s, and continuing ever since. Under pressure of losing jobs, workers in manufacturing began the long, dead-end road toward concession bargaining in an attempt to save their jobs. But it didn’t. More than 10 million jobs have been off-shored ever since.

The pressure to grant wage concessions intensified in the 1990s. In addition to the threat of job loss, now escalating double-digit annual increases in health care costs provided a second hammer. That ushered in what was called ‘maintenance of benefits bargaining’. Now desperate to maintain their health care coverage, workers gave up more wages in exchange for keeping health benefits. But that too did not last long.

Health care cost shifting accelerated by 2000 and into the next decade. To assist in paying for rising health care premiums and costs, the federal government permitted companies to drag surplus funds from workers’ defined benefit pension plans to cover rising health costs. Up to 20% of health cost increases were subsidized in this manner. But that represented giving up wages—i.e. concessions—in order to maintain benefits as well. Only this time it was workers’ ‘deferred wages’ that went into their pension funds instead of their immediate paychecks. But a wage is a wage, whether immediate or deferred. And concessions on nominal (immediate) and deferred wages became the increasing rule by the late 1990s.

This evolving concession bargaining since the late 1970s into the last decade represents the second phase of the history of collective bargaining in the US. The first, as noted above, was the phase during which collective bargaining expanded both in terms of ‘scope’ and ‘magnitude’—that is, in terms of new areas of bargaining added to negotiations as well as in terms of advances in wages and benefits. The second phase of bargaining in the US, from the late 1970s to around 2000, represents the first stage of concession bargaining.

Stage Two: From ‘Magnitude’ to ‘Scope’ Concession Bargaining

This first stage of concession bargaining (1975-2000) began to change for the worse in the past decade, shifting to a new stage during which workers and their unions have been forced to grant concessions not only in terms of magnitude or levels of wages and benefits, but now in terms of scope and entire areas of bargaining as well. Defined benefit pensions were abandoned for 401k personal pension plans at an accelerating rate. Not only were pensions increasingly privatized, but the de-collectivization of health insurance plans also accelerated under George W. Bush with the introduction of what were called ‘health savings accounts’—the analog on the health benefits side to 401ks on the pensions side.

Employer provided health insurance benefits were now dropped in growing numbers altogether. Or they were dumped onto the union, as in the Auto Industry, in the form of VEBAs (voluntary employment benefit agreements). Employers removed in effect any negotiating over companies paying for health care for workers from union collective bargaining agreements. In a similar fashion, once widespread Cost of Living clauses in collective bargaining agreements were stripped from union contracts. Ditto for supplemental unemployment benefits (SUBs). More and more companies simply discontinued unilaterally retirees health care coverage from bargaining, aided now by court decisions that ruled such were not bona fide subjects of bargaining any longer. Union rights were increasingly circumscribed in agreements, as management rights clauses were expanded. In other words, concession bargaining was no longer simply about ‘magnitudes’—i.e. how much wages or benefits would be reduced in order to keep jobs or the companies from moving offshore or from being outsourced and reduced to mere skeleton crews. Not entire key areas of union contracts were being ‘conceded’ and thus wiped out, removed from the very subject of bargaining altogether.

Stage Three: Concession Bargaining Extends to the Public Sector

In the past two years this second phase of concession bargaining—i.e. cutting levels of wages and benefits and giving up entire areas of bargaining—is now being applied to public sector workers as well, in a vicious attack now unfolding throughout the country. Politicians of both political parties, public sector employers, and wealthy billionaires and millionaires who pay for the elections of these same politicians, are in the process of imposing concession bargaining on public workers.

Furthermore, concession bargaining is occurring in an especially compressed form. Both magnitude and scope are occurring simultaneously and in a matter of just a few years instead of the few decades in which it was deepened in the private sector of the economy. The entire process is effectively ‘telescoped’ and thus taking place is a particularly intense form. All across the country today, in state after state, politicians are declaring bargaining over pensions and health care no longer will be the practice. They are unilaterally discontinuing defined benefit pensions and replacing them with 401k plans. They are moving to eliminate union and agency shop agreements with the open shop, placing ‘caps’ on wage negotiations, and in general attempting to return to the days of ‘civil service’ rules and regulations in lieu of bona fide collective bargaining.

Stage Four: Concession Bargaining’s New Target: ‘Social Wage’ Reduction

Concession bargaining is morphing still further, however. It is now moving from the level of taking back money wages and benefits at the ‘shop-floor level’—both in the private and public sectors—to the level of ‘social wage’ concession bargaining.

The ‘social wage’ is money wages that workers give up in exchange for pay they will receive at a later date. Social wages are thus deferred wages. Social wages are most notably Social Security and Medicare taxes that workers pay in the form of payroll taxes, in order to receive the wage paid upon retirement in the form of social security pension and medicare health care benefits. The focus since the 2010 midterm elections in the US is now on austerity—a codeword for cutting so-called ‘entitlements’ like social security and medicare. But social security and medicare represent wages paid by workers in the past for claims in the future. Not content with concessions from current wage and benefits, Corporate America—the rulers behind the throne of Congress and the Presidency and Courts—now want reductions in the ‘social wage’ as well. Why? So they can maintain their historic tax cuts enacted over the past three decades and not have to pay the costs of the bailouts and economic crisis [as well as the wars for Israel – Aletho News] that they themselves caused.

The dimensions of the Great American Tax Shift of the past three decades, still on-going and expanding under Obama and the Democrats (and about to expand further still) are the subject of another analysis. But briefly, a tip of the iceberg view is: In the 1960s corporations paid 30% of total federal tax revenues; today they contribute 6.6%. In the 1960s the top income brackets paid 45% of total federal tax revenues; today the effective top bracket tax paid by the wealthiest individuals is only 16%.

The latest phase of concession bargaining now emerging in the past year—concessions giving back the ‘social wage’—is historic. It represents concession bargaining over workers’ income that is shifting to the political level on a grand scale. It is ‘grande scale concession bargaining’. Not content with concessions in money and benefits at the shop level in the private sector, not even content with extending that in intensified form today to the public worker sector, corporate interests now demand concession bargaining over social wages at the political level.

What’s especially onerous about the new concession bargaining is that politicians are making the decisions. Workers don’t even have the option of voting on the concessions, or striking in opposition, as they might when undertaken in cases of earlier concession bargaining at the shop level. They now have virtually no say in the process short of taking to the streets to have their voices heard—which appears increasingly as the only alternative. Moreover, the dollar value of the concessions being, and about to be, offered are now also immensely greater. As the recent debt ceiling debate illustrates clearly, the coming attack on Medicare represents social wage concessions approaching half a trillion dollars. Concessions involving social security retirement that will soon follow in 2012 will amount to a like amount, at minimum, with even more Medicare cuts. In just a few short years, several times the value of total givebacks in concessions in wages and benefits at the shop level since 1979 may occur. It is a massive transfer and shift of income from working and middle class America to the wealthiest households and their corporations.

Behind the facade of Washington politics are the same corporate interests, however. Only now instead of directing their managers at the bargaining table, they now direct their political managers by means of their immense, and growing, campaign contributions and billion dollar lobbying efforts.

Occasionally an example slips through the veil of confusion about who’s behind it all. The veil drops revealing the ‘Wizards of Oz’ pulling the levers and the curtains. Witness the notorious relationship between Wisconsin governor, Walker, and the billionaire Koch brothers. But there are ‘Koch brothers’ lurking everywhere behind the veil, in Ohio, in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Georgia, and even California. They are driving the fundamental strategy, directing the elected politicians in exchange for campaign contributions and day to day lobbying largesse.

The Empty Legacy of Concession Bargaining

What concession bargaining has proven over the past three decades—whether at the political level or the shop floor level—is that concessions only result in demands for more concessions.

Concessions in the private sector over the past three decades haven’t saved jobs. What they have achieved is a stagnation and decline in the income for 100 million families that is choking off consumer spending and economic growth and therefore economic recovery. The second phase, concession bargaining in the public sector, will now add to this consumption decline. And the now emerging third phase, expanding concession bargaining to the level of social wages, about to begin with the direct attack on social security and medicare will not ‘save’ those programs any more than concession bargaining in the past ‘saved jobs’.

Concession bargaining will only result in a deepening crisis in those programs and lead, inevitably in turn, to more demands by corporate interests for still further cuts (i.e. concessions) in those programs. Calls by politicians for ‘shared sacrifices’ are really concession bargaining by another name: to reduce the social wage represented by social security and medicare.

Nothing positive whatsoever has come from concession bargaining the past three decades in the private sector. Good jobs have continued to disappear by the tens of millions. Wages and earnings for the 100 million non-supervisory workers in the US have stagnated and fallen. Giving up wages to ‘maintain health and retirement benefits’ have fared no better. Pensions have nearly disappeared and employer provided health care coverage has declined by the millions of companies, and will not last out the current decade. Nor will anything beneficial come from the intensification of concession bargaining now penetrating the public sector. Union leaders will give up wages and benefits, but that will not stop the millions that are slated for layoffs in the public sector over the next few years—at minimum 500,000 in the year ahead alone! The extension of concession bargaining to the public sector, now accelerating at a pace far worse than that which previously occurred in the private sector, will produce the same results—only now telescoped into a much shorter time period. Not least, nothing positive will come from granting concessions over social wages—i.e. agreeing to reduce social security and medicare benefits. Those programs will not be ‘saved’ by concessions. They will be destroyed by them.

The only way to stop concession bargaining in any of its forms, including the most virulent now attacking the ‘social wage’, is to refuse any and all concessions. ‘No cuts and No Concessions’ is the only effective bargaining demand.

And just as, at the shop floor, when union leaders cave in to employer demands for concessions, they should be thrown out and replaced with leaders who will refuse to do so and stand firm—so too should any politician who agrees to concessions from social security and medicare be thrown out. Indeed, any politician who fails to actively resist such concessions should be thrown out. Not in the next election. But by immediate recall.

Finally, any political party that allows its elected to members to agree to concessions in social security and medicare, or whose elected members stand by silently while the fight to defend the social wage takes place, should be replaced by another political party whose members consider the social wage ‘non-negotiable’.

Unfortunately, it appears the political party—the Democrats—who introduced and once championed social security and medicare are now becoming participants in its destruction. Not only President Obama, but Senate leader Harry Reid and House leader Nancy Pelosi, have all publicly indicated this past summer they are prepared to concede and to cut medicare before year end 2011 in some form. Next it will be social security retirement. And medicare again.

But once starting down that road of initial concessions, it will only lead to further concessions—as the history of concession bargaining at the shop floor over the last three decades sadly shows.

If that happens, and the leadership of the Democratic Party abandon social security and medicare to concession bargaining, as it appears they will, the only answer to stopping concession bargaining is to create a new party of labor, every member of which must solemnly pledge to expand the social wage, to defend and expand social security and medicare, to stand firm on the question of concession bargaining. There can be no ‘Bi-Partisan’ compromise. It is time to raise the flag, with the motto boldly proclaiming across it: ‘No Concessions! No Retreat!.

Jack Rasmus, August 7, 2011

January 6, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Corruption, Economics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NAFTA at 20: State of the North American Worker

Twenty years since its passage, NAFTA has displaced workers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, depressed wages, weakened unions, and set the terms of the neoliberal global economy.

By Jeff Faux | Foreign Policy in Focus | December 13, 2013

Foreign Policy In Focus is partnering with Mexico’s La Jornada del campo magazine, where an earlier version of this commentary appeared, to publish a series of pieces examining the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years since its implementation. This is the first in the series.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was the door through which American workers were shoved into the neoliberal global labor market.

By establishing the principle that U.S. corporations could relocate production elsewhere and sell their products back into the United States, NAFTA undercut the bargaining power of American workers, which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II. The result has been 20 years of stagnant wages and the upward redistribution of income, wealth, and political power.

A Template for Neoliberal Globalization

NAFTA impacted U.S. workers in four principal ways.

First, it caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as companies moved their production to Mexico, where labor was cheaper. Most of these losses came in California, Texas, Michigan, and other states where manufacturing is concentrated (and where many immigrants from Mexico go). To be sure, there were some job gains along the border in the service and retail sectors resulting from increased trucking activity. But these gains are small in relation to the losses, and have generally come in lower paying occupations. The vast majority of workers who lost jobs from NAFTA, therefore, suffered a permanent loss of income.

Second, NAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. As soon as NAFTA became law, corporate managers began telling their workers that their companies intended to move to Mexico unless the workers lowered the cost of their labor. In the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with unions, some companies even started loading machinery into trucks that they said were bound for Mexico. The same threats were used to fight union organizing efforts. The message was: “If you vote to form a union, we will move south of the border.” With NAFTA, corporations also could more easily blackmail local governments into giving them tax breaks and other subsidies, which of course ultimately meant higher taxes on employees and other taxpayers.

Third, NAFTA drove several million Mexican workers and their families out of the agriculture and small business sectors, which could not compete with the flood of products—often subsidized—from U.S. producers. This dislocation was a major cause of the dramatic increase of undocumented workers in the United States, putting further downward pressure on North American wages, particularly in already lower-paying labor markets.

Fourth, and ultimately most importantly, NAFTA created a template for the rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefits would flow to capital and the costs to labor. Among other things, NAFTA granted corporations extraordinary protections against national labor laws that might threaten profits, set up special courts—chosen from rosters of pro-business experts—to judge corporate suits against governments, and at the same time effectively denied legal status to workers and unions to defend themselves in these new cross-border jurisdictions.

The U.S. governing class—in alliance with the financial elites of its trading partners—applied the NAFTA principles to the World Trade Organization, to the policies of the World Bank and IMF, and to the deal under which employers of China’s huge supply of low-wage workers were allowed access to U.S. markets in exchange for allowing American multinational corporations to invest there. The NAFTA doctrine of socialism for capital and free markets for labor also drove U.S. policy in the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-95, the Asian financial crash of 1997, and the global financial meltdown of 2008. In each case, the U.S. government organized the rescue of banks and corporate investors while letting the workers fend for themselves.

A Watershed in U.S. Politics

In U.S. politics, the passage of NAFTA under President Bill Clinton signaled that the elites of the Democratic Party—the “progressive” major party—had accepted the reactionary economic ideology of Ronald Reagan.

A “North American Accord” was first proposed by the Republican Reagan in 1979, a year before he was elected president. A decade later, his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush, negotiated the final agreement with Mexico and Canada.

At the time, the Democrats who controlled Congress would not approve the agreement. And when Democrat Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, it was widely assumed that the political pendulum would swing back from the right, and that therefore NAFTA would never pass. But Clinton surrounded himself with economic advisers from Wall Street and in his first year pushed the approval of NAFTA through the Congress.

Despite the rhetoric, the central goal of NAFTA was not “expanding trade.” After all, the United States, Mexico, and Canada had been trading goods and services with each other for three centuries. NAFTA’s central purpose was to free American corporations from U.S. laws protecting workers and the environment. Moreover, it paved the way for the rest of the neoliberal agenda in the United States: the privatization of public services, the deregulation of finance, and the destruction of the independent trade union movement.

The inevitable result was to undercut the living standards of workers all across North America: Wages and benefits have fallen behind worker productivity in all three countries. Moreover, despite declining wages in the United States, the gap between the typical American and typical Mexican worker in manufacturing remains the same. Even after adjusting for differences in living costs, Mexican workers continue to make about 30 percent of the wages that workers make in the United States. Thus, NAFTA is both symbol and substance of the global “race to the bottom.”

Creating a New Template

Here in North America there are two alternative political strategies for change.

One is repeal: NAFTA gives each nation the right to opt out of the agreement. The problem is that by now the three countries’ economies and populations have become so integrated that dis-integration could cause widespread dislocation, unemployment, and a substantial drop in living standards.

The other option is to build a cross-border political movement to rewrite NAFTA in a way that gives ordinary citizens rights and labor protections at least equal to the current privileges of corporate investors. For example, all three NAFTA nations should adopt similar high standards for the protection of free trade unions, collective bargaining, and health and safety—and their citizens should have the right to sue other countries for violations.

This would obviously not be easy. But a foundation has already been laid by the growing collaboration among immigrant, trade unionist, human rights, and other activist organizations in all three counties.

If such a movement could succeed in drawing up a new continent-wide social contract, North American economic integration—instead of being a blueprint for worker exploitation—might just become a model for bringing social justice to the global economy.

Jeff Faux is the founder, and now Distinguished Fellow, of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC. His latest book is The Servant Economy.

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Environmentalism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The People Can Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Time to end the failed experiment with rigged corporate trade and put in place fair trade for the people and planet before profits

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers | The People’s Voice | November 14, 2013

Momentum is growing in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Yesterday, the TPP was dealt two blows. Each could be lethal but the TPP, and its Atlantic counterpart, called TAFTA, are not dead yet. It is time for the movement of movements that formed to oppose the TPP to stand in solidarity, defeat these agreements and end the era of rigged corporate trade.

Yesterday’s first blow came from Wikileaks, showing once again that when government works in secret with big corporations, exposure by whistle blowers is critical to changing the corrupt direction of government and the economy.  Wikileaks published the full text of the intellectual property chapter; the leaked document included the positions of all the parties.  It will take time for all the corporate rigging in this lengthy document to be understood, but already it is evident that Internet freedom will be curtailed, access to health care will become more expensive and access to information will be undermined.

This is not the first leak of TPP text. Previous leaks are consistent with the Wikileaks leak – enhanced corporate power that puts profits before the needs of the people and the protection of the planet.  The Wikileaks release shows that the United States is by far the most aggressive advocate for trans-national corporate interests, often isolated in pushing for harmful policies.

The second blow came from members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  In recent days, several letters were sent to President Obama opposing Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.  Fast Track undermines Congress’ responsibility under the Commerce Clause to regulate trade between nations by allowing the president to sign the agreement before Congress even sees it. The letters made public on November 13th demonstrate broad bi-partisan opposition to Fast Track with 179 Members signing at least one of the three letters.

A letter spearheaded by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) garnered the support of three-quarters of House Democrats with 151 Members telling President Obama they oppose Fast Track, writing:

We will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.

Important leaders of the Democratic Party signed the letter including 18 out of 21 Ranking Members who would chair committees if the Democrats were in the majority.  This means that to pursue Fast Track authority, President Obama will need to challenge three-quarters of his own party.

But, that is not all. In another letter, organized by Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and signed by 12 of the 16 Democratic Party members of the Ways and Means Committee, which is primarily responsible for Fast Track legislation, members expressed opposition to Fast Track unless it was radically different from previous grants of authority. The letter says it “cannot just be an extension of earlier trade promotion authorities. Any new proposed TPA must . . . ensure Congress plays a more meaningful role in the negotiating process.”

And, the opposition is bi-partisan. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) drafted a letter signed by 23 Republicans.  The Republican letter emphasized that Congress has the “exclusive authority to set the terms of trade.” Further, “The Founders established this clear check and balance to prevent the president from unilaterally negotiating with foreign nations and imposing trade policies that Congress would deem to be against the national interest.” They write that they refuse to “cede our constitutional authority to the executive” through Fast Track.

These are just the latest problems in the quest for Fast Track, indeed a bill has yet to be introduced.  The previous US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk,  said in 2012: “We’ve got to have it.” He wanted the authority by the end of 2012.  In April, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) promised Obama Fast Track by June of 2013.  The broad bi-partisan opposition announced this week shows that winning Fast Track has very little support in Congress.  In fact, the letters may be the death knell for such legislation.

The Wikileaks documents show there is a lot of division among the negotiating nations with important disagreements on key aspects of the text. Without Fast Track to guarantee passage of the TPP, these nations will be even less likely to agree to demands by the U.S.  Further, Asian countries are negotiating their own competing agreement, which does not include the United States but, unlike the TPP, does include China.

Latin American countries are also speaking out against the TPP. Earlier this year, Rodrigo Contreras, Chile’s lead TPP negotiator quit to warn people of the dangers of the TPP – highlighting how big financial institutions will dominate their governments and how the TPP “will become a threat for our countries: It will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.” And, recently the Parliament of Peru passed a resolution “requesting that the government open a ‘public, political, and technical debate’ on the binding rules being negotiated in the TPP.”

In the United States, cities and counties are beginning to pass TPP Free Zones, saying they will not obey the TPP if it becomes law.  These local governments are concerned with provisions that would not allow them to give preference to buying local, buying U.S. made goods or other provisions that undermine their sovereignty.

In addition to opposition in the U.S. government and foreign governments, a mass citizen uprising is developing against the TPP.  There have been large protests in many of the countries involved in the negotiations as well as in the United States. The night before the Wikileaks documents were released, 13 cities did visibility protests opposing the TPP in light shows.  In September we joined with activists in Washington, DC in a series of protests, including covering the office building of the US Trade Representative in banners to expose their secret trade agreement. Protests are scheduled for Salt Lake City, UT on November 19th where lead negotiators from 12 countries will hold meetings. A global day of protest is planned for December 3 against not only the TPP but also the WTO and all toxic trade agreements.

The TPP is running into resistance in Congress, local governments and among Pacific nations in Asia and Latin America; and by people who oppose the agreement all over the world. This is part of a growing movement of movements – all of the movements impacted by corporate trade; e.g. labor, environmental, Internet freedom, health care, food sovereignty, immigrants’ rights, banking regulation – are joining together to defeat it.

The people are winning. Fourteen trade agreements have been stopped in the last 14 years and as Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce wrote this week “the WTO has not concluded a single new multilateral trade agreement since it was created in 1995.” Mass protest against rigged corporate trade agreements can end the experiment in trade that puts profits ahead of the people and planet.

We are on the verge of defeating Fast Track. It is important that we keep the pressure on Congress. Neither the TPP nor TAFTA will become law if people learn what is in them and Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibility to review their impact. Denying the President Fast Track is the essential step to defeat both of these agreements.

Once we defeat Fast Track and prevent TPP and TAFTA from becoming law, we need to remain in solidarity and work to transform trade so it becomes “fair” trade that puts the necessities of the people and the protection of the planet first. The people will have firmly established that they will not tolerate rigged corporate trade deals. If corporations want to see trade between nations, they need a new approach – transparent, participatory and fair – with new goals of serving the people and planet.

To get involved in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership visit Flush the TPP.

Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC, co-direct Its Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC.Their twitters are @KBZeese and MFlowers8.

November 14, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barack Obama, enemy of equality

By Charles Davis | False Dichotomy | November 5, 2013

According to the president of the United States, “we’re all created equal and every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

Of course, Barack Obama, like other US politicians, does not actually believe we, the people of Earth, are all created equal. That’s clear enough from his exclusion of non-Americans when he describes who “deserves” equal treatment before the law. As a conservative nationalist, Obama believes some nationalities are more entitled to legal protections than others. Born in America, he might deign to give you a trial; born in Pakistan, he won’t even bother identifying the remains left in the wake of a Predator drone.

But Obama wasn’t talking about state-sanctioned murder. Instead, in a blog  for the Huffington Post, he was condemning the continued, legal discrimination on the part of employers against LGBT employees.

“It’s offensive,” an Obama staffer presumably wrote. “It’s wrong. And it needs to stop because, in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fire-able offense.”

This is a great bit of rhetoric that’s ready to be slapped on a photo of a happy gay couple and shared 83,000 times on Facebook. It’s also incredibly disingenuous.

Barack Obama, right now, without needing to convince any bad mean stupid Republicans in Congress, could sign an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation. He could have done that yesterday. He doesn’t need legislation: he could have ended that discrimination instead of blogging, instantly providing greater job security to the tens of thousands of people working right now for the private contractors who effectively provide government services any more.

But he didn’t because Obama and the Democratic Party run a neat little scam, whereby they set themselves up as 0.05 percent more progressive than the GOP — for which they expect accolades and tribute — and then rely on the public’s ignorance of process to explain away why they’re not actually doing anything to make things even 0.05 percent better. In this case, John Boehner and his gang of angry white homophobes in the House get blamed for setting back Progress; discrimination against LGBT people continues; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee then sends out a mailer with that happy gay couple meme on it asking if you will please donate to help defeat the forces of darkness.

And then they laugh and they laugh and they laugh.

November 5, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Deception, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Stockpiling inmates

By Charles Davis | False Dichotomy | May 31, 2013

I was unaware that Sarah Palin was still a meme, but the Democratic Party is apparently still using her to raise money and build their email lists. Apparently, because who cares enough to look it up, the former Alaska governor said the US government is “stockpiling bullets” to use against the public. And so a petition has been launched by the Democratic Governors Association to demand an apology because that is important:

Accusing our government of actively stockpiling weapons to use against its own people is not only offensive and wrong — it’s downright dangerous. For Sarah Palin to insinuate that the United States is similar to the tyrannical governments in Syria and Iran who do carry out those types of atrocities is completely reprehensible.

Good on the governors for looping Iran into the mix, rather than a Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. President Hillary  may have to bomb them someday, so it’s important to lay the groundwork now. Sarah Palin and Iran: Bad. Got it.

Of course, the unfortunate thing is that the US government is “actively stockpiling weapons to use against its own people” (no one cares about it using them against other people). You don’t end up with 2.3 million Americans in prison cells by asking them nicely. You force them in at the point of a gun. The FBI alone gets over $8 billion a year to do this. Federal prisons get over $8 billion to keep them there.

Is that the same as the sort of political repression that goes on in Syria or Iran? No, it’s different. The people getting shot in the streets by security forces are usually Black or Latino. And no one has anywhere near the size prison population that America does.

(via @FireTomFriedman)

June 1, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s State of the Corporate Union

By Glen Ford | Black Agenda Report | February 13, 2013

It was an impassioned performance by a cynical politician who offers little but corporate tax incentives and continued austerity. Barack Obama peppered his State of the Union address with up-tempo buzzwords about illusory “progress,” but the president’s substantive message was that he is determined to complete the austerity bargain he struck with the Republicans in 2011. Thus, it is a sign of “progress” that “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances” – meaning, he will collaborate with the GOP in cutting almost $2 trillion more.

The big cuts will come from those programs that enjoy overwhelming support among Americans. He claims to be with them in spirit while opposing them in practice. “Those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.” His reasoning is identical to the Republicans, who say these programs must be bled, or die.

Obama created the model to gut entitlements through his Simpson/Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission, appointed well before the GOP took control of the House. Now he pretends that the cuts have been forced upon him, but that he will acquiesce in the spirit of compromise. “On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”

He constructs a phony trade-off for children, the poor and the elderly. “Why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair?” he asks, rhetorically. The cuts must come, but in return Obama will revise the tax code “that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.”

This is the double-whammy. Austerity in people’s programs is traded for tax breaks for corporations that will, in totally discredited theory, bring back the jobs they had outsourced overseas.But don’t complain, says Obama. “None of us will get 100 percent of what we want.” And most of us will get the shaft.

Obama’s jobs program is almost entirely a corporate tax incentive scheme, to bribe corporations to send home the jobs they sent offshore, where they have also hidden tens of trillions from taxation – a subject not deemed worthy of mention in a national discussion of shared sacrifice and patriotic obligations.

The military-industrial complex will make “America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing,”says the president. Fifteen manufacturing “hubs” will be built around businesses that “partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.” You can bet there are huge corporate subsidies involved, through negative taxation.

Obama will repair America’s infrastructure through a “Fix-It-First” program that nobody has ever heard of before, and has no price tag – which means it doesn’t exist in anything more than rhetorical form. And his “Partnership to Rebuild America” proposal to upgrade private infrastructure – oil and gas pipelines, ports and the power grid – almost certainly involves corporate subsidies, or else why wouldn’t the private sector be repairing its own properties, already?

Those business incentives just keep on coming. All one need to qualify is say the word “jobs” – but don’t you dare say “public works.” The Corporate-Subsidizer-In-Chief says: “Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods.” Obama says he will “partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.” How will that get done? By offering “new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.” Obama can do a passable Al Green, but when it comes to public policy in 2013, he sings only one song: tax schemes for business.And he stole that tune from the GOP.

Obama’s Black boosters will no doubt point to the president’s concern for the “hardest hit” to conclude that he is now open to targeted aid to the those communities that have been most devastated. Not so. He is simply open to aiding corporations under any and all circumstances. His administration failed to spend almost all of $7.6 billion set aside by Congress for a Hardest Hit Fund, to aid communities hurt worst by the housing collapse. Hard-hit people don’t get special attention from this administration; well-off corporations do.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011. He must have thought no one was listening, because he didn’t mention the subject for the next four years. Now, in 2013, he promises to fight for a $9.00 minimum – 50 cents an hour less. And he didn’t even apologize to the nation, Tuesday night, for reneging during his first term.

“Race to the Top,” Obama’s signature program to privatize education through withholding of funds to states that fail to establish an alternative charter system and transform teachers into temporary workers, is set for a great corporate leap forward. States that craft their curriculum to suit corporate priorities will get additional funding; those that do not, will be punished. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.” Obama is an education gangster, hired muscle for the corporate class.

It is fitting that Obama, who has made it possible for all of us to experience the First Black U.S. Presidency, will enhance the experience of choosing between corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans: “I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.”

We discovered during the presidential debates that there was very little that separated the two contenders. The Republican and Democratic experts should have no problem finding a mutual electoral comfort zone.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

February 14, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , | 2 Comments

Obama’s Historic Assault on Social Security

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | December 19, 2012

President Obama and his Republican partners in austerity have choreographed a kind of bi-partisan ballet, in which the dancers reach out to each other in slow motion, their fingers almost touching, teasing the audience. These cheap and transparent theatrics are designed to transmit a soap opera-like sense of drama: “Can the two parties come to a compromise for the sake of the country?” But, the fact is, Obama and the Republicans reached most of their grand bargain more than a year ago, when they slashed $1.7 trillion out of domestic spending over a decade. As liberal Obamite Robert Kuttner, of Demos, points out, there’s very little left to cut except Medicare and Social Security.

Social Security has always been Obama’s Great White Whale; he’s conspired with Republicans and right-wing Democrats to harpoon the mother of all New Deal programs since the very start of his presidency. But Social Security is not an easy mark. George Bush found that out in his second term, when he suffered his worst domestic defeat in attempting to privatize the program.

It would take a Black Democrat, fresh from a near-landslide election, to put Social Security on the chopping block, as Obama did in January of 2009. But before he could move in for the kill, Obama and his allies had to convince the public that Social Security is a major contributor to the federal budget deficit – which is a lie. Social Security runs on its own stream of revenues that go into the Social Security Trust Fund, totally separate from general taxation and debt. However, by endless repetition of the Big Lie – that Social Security adds to the federal deficit – Obama and other corporate Democrats and Republicans succeeded in maneuvering the program into the austerity debate, where it does not belong.

At this point it must be said that Obama’s insistence on making Social Security a budget deficit issue shows that he has always intended to make drastic cuts to the program. One of the reasons Social Security has long been thought of as “untouchable” is because President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal Democrats purposely insulated it from the conventional budget process. However, President Obama has largely neutered Social Security’s traditional congressional defenders, who know perfectly well what their president is up to, but will not directly oppose him. That’s why we at Black Agenda Report call Obama “the more effective evil”; he can accomplish what Republicans only dream about.

Obama’s scheme to cripple Social Security is to change the way inflation is measured, resulting in a drastic scale-back in cost-of-living increases in recipients. According to Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the cuts would amount to 3 percent over 10 years, 6 percent over 20 years, and 9 percent over 30 years. In dollar terms, Black Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison says retirees would lose $6,000 in the first 15 years of cuts and $16,000 over 25 years.

And that’s just the beginning. Once the untouchability of Social Security has been breached, it becomes just another social program to be carved up on austerity chopping blocks. President Obama’s true legacy will be to have begun the destruction of the crown jewel of what’s left of the nation’s social safety net.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

December 20, 2012 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception | , , , , | 1 Comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 968 other followers