Hillary Clinton was widely quoted telling a handful of Iowans on April 14: “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all — even if it takes a constitutional amendment.” The Washington Post identified this statement as “one of several pillars of her 2016 presidential campaign.” CBS based its headline for this Clinton story on the quote that this pillar represented one of “four big fights that I think we have to take on.” Her communications director, elaborating on the transcript of Clinton’s spare comments on the subject, added “It’s something she’s really concerned about.”
It is safe to assume that after months crafting the four policy pillars of her candidacy, and the way the message itself was tightly controlled from Iowa, that Clinton’s particular phrasing for her “unaccountable money” pillar was precisely as intended by her campaign team.
The Post’s headline writers and others converted Clinton’s hypothetical statement, “if it takes a constitutional amendment,” into a far more definite “support for a constitutional amendment,” as if Clinton is expected to propose or endorse a constitutional amendment during her campaign.
Slate‘s dog-whistle headline, relying on nothing more than the above quote in the Post, transformed her statement even further: “Hillary Clinton Hints at Support for Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United.” The Post, and presumably Clinton in Iowa, said nothing at all about Citizens United, let alone support for any “amendment to overturn” it. What Clinton did say is closer to the opposite of either of those two concepts.
Clinton’s statement “supports” not getting all or any part of interested money out of politics, which is what people advocating an “Amendment to Overturn Citizens United” think they are supporting. Clinton is speaking solely about “unaccountable money.” Such money can become fully “accountable” without being exluded from the pay to play system of US politics. Clinton is simply advocating its disclosure.
Under her proposal the embarrassing flood of money into US politics, anticipated to explode even further in her own campaign, will not be stanched. It would be accounted for by disclosing its provenance, which is now often left undisclosed by use of 527‘s and other IRS conduits. She considerately wants Americans to know who is buying the power to operate their erstwhile democracy against their every interest. There is no assurance that such disclosure would have any significant impact on the pervasive corruption of U.S. politics.
Under systemic corrupion, disclosure actually can help circumvent one of the few remaining inconveniences to plutocrats. Plutocrats who feel their “freedom of speech” constrained by new $5 million contribution limits per person per election cycle jointly endoresed by Congress and the Supreme Court can spend as much as they want on “independent” electioneering provided, so the cover story goes, they do not “coordinate” their expenditures with the campaigns. But to buy influence the candidate needs to know who is paying them off. By bridging this inconvenient gap in the system, formal disclosure required for everyone by law is a perfect solution for legalized coordination. Accordingly, disclosure is the reform that Democrats and their allies are selling to their supporters, and the reform the plutocrat justices of the Roberts Court also promote with no fear of significantly upsetting the corrupt political system they maintain.
Where corruption is systemic, Clinton’s proposition that actual “accountability” is even possible, other than in the sense of mere disclosure, is itself highly dubious. When the system requires all competitors to be on the take, disclosure alone fails to create any effective new options for making politicians actually accountable to voters. In this system where the Supreme Court legalizes corruption and the mass media collects a toll to mediate their messages, only the proxies of plutocrats are on offer to voters.
As a lawyer, Clinton must already understand that no constitutional amendment is required to accommodate a legislative remedy for her “unaccountable money” pillar. Laws under the existing Constitution can require all the additional disclosure that she could possibly want. Disclosure requirements for campaign contributions have existed in federal law since the Progressive Era’s Publicity of Political Contributions Act of 1910, 36 Stat. 822. The constitutionality of such disclosure laws has never been doubted.
In Ex Parte Curtis (1882) (8-1) the Supreme Court ruled, without even bothering to argue the point, that the power of Congress to prohibit political corruption outweighs any asserted First Amendment interest in allowing political donations. If the First Amendment argument made by the petitioner in Curtis, and dismissed by the government’s brief as unworthy of serious attention, albeit accepted by a lone dissenter, could not legalize money in politics against a total ban, then certainly requirements that political investments merely be disclosed could have raised no conceivable objection before the Nixon Court reversed the Curtis rule without mentioning it nearly a century later.
The Supreme Court held disclosure laws to be constitutional in Burroughs v. United States (1934) (9-0) when it upheld the strengthened disclosure requirements of the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act. As that Court explained, disclosure requirements are “calculated to discourage the making and use of contributions for purposes of corruption.” This most conservative of any Supreme Court majority prior to the current Roberts 5 resoundingly rejected the very idea that disclosure requirements might be constitutionally invalid, calling the “proposition so startling as to arrest attention.” Quoting from another deeply conservative Gilded Age Court lineup in Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651 (1884), the 1934 Court explained that “government … must have the power to protect the elections on which its existence depends from violence and corruption … the two great natural and historical enemies of all republics.”
Later in United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 625 (1954) the Supreme Court again expressly approved mandatory disclosure of political investments connected with some actual speech in the context of lobbying. See also National Association of Manufacturers v Taylor (D.C. Cir. 2009) (upholding lobbying disclosure under Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007). Chief Justice Warren held in Harriss that,
the voice of the people may all too easily be drowned out by the voice of special interest groups seeking favored treatment while masquerading as proponents of the public weal. This is the evil which the Lobbying Act was designed to help prevent… Congress… is not constitutionally forbidden to require the disclosure of lobbying activities. To do so would be to deny Congress in large measure the power of self-protection.
Since the outset of the current era of systemic corruption of politics the Supreme Court responsible for making that corruption systemic has nevertheless, without reservation, reaffirmed the same principles. Disclosure was endorsed by Buckley v Valeo (1976), the judicial mother lode for legalizing systemic corruption, and again by Citizens United (2010), the bete noir of all professional activists working the campaign finance silo. When the Roberts Court overturned aggregate limits for political investors in McCutcheon (2014) , Justice Roberts lauded this “less restrictive alternative” which also “given the Internet, … offers much more robust protections against corruption” than ever.
Though the constitutionality of disclosure laws has for a century been of little or no demonstrable utility in preventing the current systemic levels of political corruption, it is nevertheless regularly trotted out in this manner as a cure-all by politicians and other operatives of this corrupt system. Clinton has built her “unaccountable money” pillar on this well-worn tradition, and nothing more. Current disclosure laws are certainly inadequate. But this is because Congress is now too mired in systemic corruption, and the FEC too deadlocked, to enact even tepid and marginal reforms necessary to make disclosure even potentially more effective.
Clinton surely knows the Supreme Court’s historic, consistent, and virtually unanimous, rulings make clear that there is no need for a constitutional amendment to require full disclosure of currently “unaccountable” or “dark” money. She must have spent some tiny fraction of what has been projected to be an over $2 billion campaign to do some elementary initial research and strategy development about one of her expensive campaign’s four basic policy pillars – which she offers as her reason for running. Her issues team must have advised her to use the hypothetical “if” when mentioning an amendment because they know that an amendment is not necessary to accomplish the limited Clinton disclosure agenda. Hypothetical mention of an amendment does help obfuscate the limited nature of her agenda. Besides, mentioning the Constitution makes her proposal sound more important. Amendment advocacy, however hypothetical in the case of the “unaccountable money” pillar, does help distract constituents’ political energies to futile pursuits, while also deflecting responsibility to others. This is the strategy that has worked for Democrats on the corruption issue.
The rush to enlist Clinton in their cause by the Democrats’ professional activist allies who have committed themselves to an amendment approach suggests that they either do not know, or do not care, that no amendment is necessary to achieve the mostly useless “accountability” for money in politics that Clinton supports. Clinging to their futile amendment approach such activists mistakenly insist there is “no question that an amendment will be needed.” They do not know or care that it would be a counter-productive waste of time to confirm, by constitutional amendment, the validity of general powers of Congress which have never been seriously questioned on constitutional grounds and only recently exalted by the defender of plutocracy himself, Chief Justice Roberts. Presumably at the behest of such mistaken activists, Bernie Sanders has proposed an amendment that does include such a provision that risks not just wasteful but also counterproductive results.
Given the uninformed quality of the constitutional amendments that have been proposed on this subject by Democrats and their professional activist allies, one can easily imagine that an amendment for this purpose, although unnecessary, could well do more harm than good. The close parsing by a hostile Roberts Court of any particular new constitutional text on this subject could be turned on its head to reduce Congress’ current unrestricted authority to mandate all the disclosure of money in politics they may desire.
Clinton’s mention of the amendment should be no surprise. The constitutional amendment idea has been used as a theatrical prop to give cover to Democrats who are mired in the corrupt system as deeply as Republicans. Republicans embrace plutocracy as some surreal 21st century manifestation of the founders concept of “freedom of speech,” a notion formed long before there was a mass broadcast media to be bought for the political propaganda of marketing specialists. Accepting the Republican’s game, Democrats misleadingly propagate the idea that a constitutional amendment is the sole means by which they could limit money in politics. The resulting stalemate from this diversion absolves Democrats’ failure to advance far more effective and available legislative measures. By such deceit about their support for a futile amendment, a majority of Senate Democrats in the 113th Congress were empowered to vote on behalf of Wall Street in December 2014 to increase, by an order of magnitude, the money that plutocrats can give to buy political parties. Democratic support for the “CRomnibus” Act betrayed the notion that Democrats’ professed commitment to “campaign finance reform” meant that they would seek laws mandating less, not considerably more, money in politics. But the betrayal met with little, if any, protest from their activist allies who keep their eyes safely diverted to the futile amendment approach that would not even have stopped Congress from increasing money in politics as they did in 2014 even if it had been adopted.
Amendment advocacy has served to divert attention from corrupt Democrats for five years. The eventual, and inevitable, collapse, on September 11, 2014, of the Democrats anti-”Citizens United” constitutional amendment theatrics caused those professional activists who got the memo to pivot to a new advertising slogan for 2015. Their new advertising campaign promotes disclosure of “Dark Money,” while attempting to make that slogan sound even worse than their “Citizens United” soundbite. This latest piecemeal fad by non-profit fundraisers for what is actually a much reduced new demand ignores Justice Elena Kagan’s koanic axiom: “Simple disclosure fails to prevent shady dealing…. So the State remains afflicted with corruption.” But it serves Clinton’s straddle between disclosure and amendment.
The recent solicitations from political non-profits have reduced expectations so far as to ask that you send them money to help eliminate Dark Money electioneering by government contractors. This is a reform Obama could accomplish on his own, as a matter of seeing that the law are executed, and should have long ago when the subject first arose in 2011. The activists scrambled on board after the New York Times recently approved this approach. This reform would, they say, “unmask major corporate political donors with a simple executive order.” Of all the plutocrats and their corporate agents who make political investments, this reform would only reach the subset of government contractors. Instead of demanding mere disclosure of political investments from government contractors, activists should at the very least demand policies for this subset that would totally abolish political kickbacks from the procurement system. Their demand should be for strengthening and robust enforcement of — while disqualifying any federal contractor that “directly or indirectly … make[s] any contribution …to any person for any political purpose or use” in violation of — 2 U.S. Code § 441c (“Contributions by government contractors”). Demanding mere disclosure in this context, as it usually does, serves to divert attention from more meaningful reform.
Even this anti-corruption best-practice no-brainer for disclosure, let alone disqualifying firms with a history of conflict of interest electioneering expenditures, has been too much for a Democratic President. Obama uses highly contingent and distancing language whenever he mentions money in politics, such as his statement (emphasis added) about: the “need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight on the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
The multiple italicized contingencies Obama employed indicate that he understood an amendment to be little more than political theatrics. By mentioning Citizens United, not Buckley, and Super-PACs instead of the whole corrupt system, he slices and dices the problem into its manageable but piecemeal soundbites. As a former constitutional law lecturer and record-setting fundraiser, Obama must know that the independent corporate electioneering legalized by Citizens United had very little to do with Super-Pacs, which are overwhelmingly funded by a handful of rich individuals and their non-profit proxies, with very little (only 12%) coming from for-profit corporations. Moreover Super-Pacs already have adequate spotlights on them from a largely outraged public. If in any event the “amendment process” is expected by him to “fall short,” then exactly what is the “change” that Pres. Obama believes can be obtained by “pressure” that might arise from this failure?
Failure due to misdirection usually depletes energy, causes frustration, and alienates voters, which only relieves the “pressure” on politicians. But Obama presumably knows that. His latest tepid statement, sounding like a bystander to the process of policy making, was that he would “love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.” This could mean almost anything while committing Obama to nothing. One suspects that Obama’s “love” will not give birth to any effective strategy; nor will Clinton.
By mentioning a constitutional amendment without endorsing anything specific Clinton is doing little more than what Obama and his party has done. In formulating her disclosure pillar, Clinton adopted similar language to, while cleverly promising considerably less than, the commitment made in the 2012 Democratic Party platform: “We support campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary.” The rubric of “campaign finance reform” could include disclosure of “unaccountable” money as one tactic. But that would need to be accompanied by a more comprehensive legislative package to accomplish any actual “reform.”
By mentioning a constitutional amendment in this context, although the inadequacy of disclosure laws has nothing to do with the text of the Constitution, Clinton not only blows the dog-whistle for those diverted to that futile approach by professional activists for the past five years, but also prepares a convenient exit for herself from even the truncated “dark money” issue. As one commenter observed, she can “endorse the concept without too many expectations about personally making an amendment happen.” A president has no formal role in adopting an amendment so it serves to shift responsibility for the issue away from her, as it has done for Obama.
Clinton should be asked to disclose her legislative plan, since in fact no amendment is necessary, whether to force disclosures of money in politics, or to enact far more robust prohibitions than any amount of disclosure could possibly accomplish. It is those other, strategic legislative solutions for banning money from politics, such as strengthened conflict of interest recusal rules, and Exceptions Clause or Eleventh Amendment jurisdiction-stripping, that Clinton, along with the Democratic Party, can be safely expected to avoid at all costs.
Democrats using effective strategy to get money out of politics would be even less likely than landing a gyrocopter on the White House lawn by a “showman patriot” would dramatize the issue effectively in the complicit mass media. The Wall Street masters would not consent to any effective strategy to restrain their plutocracy.
Rob Hager is a public interest litigator who filed an amicus brief in the Montana sequel to Citizens United and has worked as an international consultant on anti-corruption policy and legislation.
Over the past few decades, insurgent mass movements reflecting political discontent with the domestic economy and imperialist foreign policy have emerged to challenge the leadership and policies of the Democratic Party (DP). There are good reasons for this: The Democratic Party in power in Congress and the White House presided over (1) the deepening of inequality between labor and capital; (2) the decline of real wages; (3) the approval of repressive legislation; (4) the reduction of trade union membership by two-thirds; (5) deepening inequality between the races, (6) a trillion dollar (and counting) bailout of the banks and Wall Street; (7) mortgage foreclosure against millions of homeowners; (8) endless ‘police state’ abuses by federal and local police; (9) deregulation of the financial system and (10) the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs and service employment.
Over the same period, the Democratic Party has supported wars and invasions against Indo-China, Panama, Grenada, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia and scores of ‘clandestine’ military operations – including the recent and current proxy-wars in Georgia and Ukraine.
Popular movements have emerged and mass public opinion has expressed hostility toward both major parties. Hence, the third parties struck a responsive note among the electorate to which the Democratic Party leadership felt threatened by a possible defection by wage and salaried voters, especially to supporting Ralph Nader.
Yet in the end, nothing came of the discontent. Despite large-scale and deeply felt anger and popular outbursts of protests, including the million-strong street demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2002-2003, the Democratic Party continued to dominate the ‘progressive’ electorate or relegated it to demoralized abstention.
This essay addresses the following questions:
(1) Why have mass movements and genuinely disaffected progressive voters and activists been unable to break with the Democratic Party, despite its consistently abominable record on foreign and domestic policy.
(2) How was the pro-Wall Street, pro-imperialist Democratic Party able to retain the support of an electorate, which overwhelmingly polls in favor of health care reform via a national, single-payer health plan, a living minimum wage, the end to police-state surveillance and against serial wars and invasions?
From Protest to Political Hostages
American mass movements have been successful in mobilizing hundreds of thousands in opposition to Washington’s support of the South African apartheid regime, Central American dictators, wars in the Middle East and racist legislation. Progressives have educated and organized millions to oppose Wall Street and the Democratic Party’s more recent bailout of banks.
Without fail every time mass movements and the popular electorate have opted for independent social action outside of the Democratic Party, a ‘dissident’ politician has emerged from within the Party mouthing many of the criticisms and demands of the social movements and the critical electorate.
These Democrat ‘dissidents’ organize ‘grass roots’ campaigns in popular venues, soliciting small scale contributions and making promises to put an end to ‘Big Money and Big Business’ domination of the electoral process.
Such Democrat ‘dissidents’ round up millions of votes and hundreds of delegates to the Democratic Convention and then…they inevitably lose to the Party machine and meekly submit…reasserting their loyalty to the ‘greater good’ against the ‘greater evil’.
The radical rhetoric used during the campaign is consciously designed to obscure the ‘dissidents’ fundamental loyalty to the Democratic Party, its military machine, its billionaire fundraisers and its Wall Street economic policy strategists.
The pre-ordained primary campaign defeat of the Democrat ‘dissidents’ is not the real issue here: The essential political consequence is that the “dissidents” channel mass social disaffection back into the Democratic Party thereby undermining any independent political initiative capable of breaking the duopoly stranglehold. In animal husbandry, they are like the handsome goat who tricks the flock into entering the big slaughter-pen of their social and political aspirations.
By endorsing the crowned Party nominee, these ‘dissidents’ discredit the very critical ideas and social programs they claimed to promote. They demoralize and depoliticize important segments of the electorate. They demobilize and disorient the social activists who had worked for the social transformation promised by their campaign program.
Most important, by reorienting the peace and justice movements and the neighborhood and anti-racism community organizations into Democratic Party electoral politics, they empty the streets, neighborhoods and workplaces of effective activists.
A brief survey of presidential campaigns over the past thirty-five years confirms this analysis.
Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Hustle: 1984 and 1988
Jesse Jackson was an important leader-activist in the civil rights movement. Based in Chicago, he helped organize tens of thousands of Afro-Americans and develop ties with other minorities, white progressives and trade unions.
Jackson opposed President Reagan’s assault on the trade unions, especially the firing of thousands of air controllers. Jackson’s opposition to Apartheid South Africa and Reagan’s invasion of Grenada and the escalation of military spending gained him credibility in the peace movement.
Millions looked to Jesse Jackson for political leadership and a new political direction. He negotiated with the bosses of the Democratic Party for his entry into the primaries. The deal was that he would compete with the traditional politicians, but immediately submit to the leadership if he lost the nomination.
Jackson mobilized hundreds of thousands of activists from the northern ghettos to the Ivy League college campuses and from the textile factories of North Carolina to the cotton fields of Mississippi. He rolled out the rhetoric about social justice, raising the minimum wage, a single payer (Medicare for All) national health plan and a massive transfer of public funds from the Pentagon to domestic social programs.
He secured an impressive 18% of the vote in the 1984 Democratic primaries. Upon defeat, he immediately capitulated and endorsed the Wall Street Cold Warrior Walter Mondale. He campaigned for Mondale with the promise that the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ would influence the campaign and subsequent Mondale presidency. Nothing of the sort happened. Mondale lost. Reagan was re-elected. The ‘rainbow coalition’ was as ephemeral as its namesake.
Four years later, a recycled Jesse Jackson trotted out the same rhetoric, the ‘grass roots’ organizing, the ghetto gab, the poverty hustle and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow coalition with white and black togetherness… to the amusement of the party bosses and corporate funders.
It was ‘All hands on deck’: The street movements shifted from concrete local struggles to door-to-door voter registration for the Democrats. Trade union locals were attracted to Jackson’s ‘save American jobs’ rhetoric. Middle class progressives were attracted to Jackson’s promise to cut the military budget.
Jackson received a substantial 29% of the Democratic primary vote. Michael Dukakis won the nomination and, as promised, Jesse Jackson endorsed the party’s choice and instructed all the civil rights, social justice and peace activists and anti-Wall Streeters to work for his election. Dukakis was resoundingly defeated by George Bush Sr. in the 1988 election.
At the end of the ‘rainbow’ and over a demoralized and de-politicized peace movement, the Bush Administration led the US into the First Gulf War. The wreckage from the popular movements- turned- electoral machines offered little resistance.
Confused by Jackson’s double discourse, the disaffected masses fractured. Four years later, the few pieces were picked up by Wall Street flunky “Bill” Clinton. Once in office and after tooting his victorious saxophone, President ‘Slick Willy’ proceeded to decimate welfare programs, roll back the Glass-Steagell Laws and deregulate the banks, launch a merciless ninety day war to break up Yugoslavia and maintain ten years of bombs and starvation sanctions against Iraq – causing the deaths of 500,000 children and many more adults.
Cowboy Dennis Kucinich and the 2004 Primaries: Keeping Progressive Livestock in the Democratic Party Corral
Just when disgust at the consequences of Clinton’s rotten policies and peccadilloes and George Bush, Jr’s grotesque wars were beginning to unite the disaffected, Dennis Kucinich popped up ‘from nowhere’ to launch a white working class version of the Jesse Jackson ‘Rainbow Coalition’ in the Democratic Party primaries of 2004. Saving a lot of money on placards, he re-cycled the same slogans about a national health system, minimum wage boost, higher taxes for the rich, anti-Wall Street rhetoric and public ownership of utilities – from the Jacksonites.
Since there was still a substantial strong anti-war movement, he called for the impeachment of President Bush (Jr.) for lying to the American people about Iraq. He criticized Congressional Democrats for supporting the fabricated pretexts to invade Iraq and called for the withdrawal of US troops from the Middle East.
His presidential primary campaign within the Democratic Party attracted a small army of disaffected voters and contributors who otherwise would have bolted from the party for the Greens and their candidate, Ralph Nader. In the Democratic Party Convention, Dennis (looking more like ‘Alfred E. Newman’ than any righteous working class leader) petered out with nary a mumble. He lost the nomination to the uber-militarist and upper class hero, John Kerry, without even a floor-fight or speech. He endorsed the obnoxious crown prince of the Democratic bosses, Kerry, an ardent pro-war, member of the billionaire class and defender of the US Constitution-shredding Patriot Act.
Kucinich managed to corral the anti-war and anti-Wall Street Democrats into submission, seriously undermining the anti-Bush mass movements, especially the anti-war activists, and the rising tide of Americans who openly favored the Single Payer National Health program – an extension of Medicare for All.
Kucinich ran again in 2008 but he was already damaged goods. His ‘belly crawl’ performance at the 2004 Democratic Convention had alienated most of his backers. But even more important in relegating Dennis to the dustbin was the emergence of a new, slicker and infinitely more persuasive con-man: Barack Obama, the Hawaii-raised, Ivy-league polished and Chicago-crowned chameleon of many colors, cadences and clichés, who burst on the scene playing every instrument in the band!
Barack Obama: The Ultimate Progressive Rabble Rouser and Master of Deceit
Barack Obama’s con-job far surpassed any previous effort by Jackson or Kucinich. His mind-boggling ascension on rhetorical bubbles left rival Hillary Clinton, long used to the cant of ‘Slick Willie’, literally pop-eyed and slack jawed. During the 2008 primary he embraced the progressive demands of the anti-war movement, promising to end the Iraq war, bring home the troops from Afghanistan and close the US torture camp at Guantanamo Bay. He promised to finally develop a national health plan (hinting broadly at a Medicare-for-All model) and regulate Wall Street’s unbridled swindles and speculation.
Easily seeing through his fluffy rhetoric, the Democratic Party’s Wall Street backers secured hundreds of millions from billionaires with which to finance a real ‘grass roots movement in style’ defeating an astonished Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and swamping the mega-millionaire Republican candidate ‘Mitt’ Romney in the general election.
The Zelig-like Obama adopted the Baptist minister’s deep and musical cadences in front of black audiences while savaging and disowning his militant black religious mentor from his Chicago ‘community-organizing’ days, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who had condemned the war in Iraq in frank Biblical terms and alienated his Chicago Zionist financial backers and Israel-centric inner council. No longer useful, the good Reverend was effectively ‘thrown under the bus’ – an object lesson on introducing Ivy League graduates into mass community struggles and enabling their ambitions.
In office, Obama allocated a trillion dollars to bailout Wall Street while letting two million American householders sink under mortgage debt and foreclosures.
He expanded on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and went on to launch new wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen. He supported the violent coups against popularly elected governments (‘regime changes’) in Honduras, Ukraine and Egypt.
The re-cycled and bamboozled anti-war leaders, who backed his candidacy and lies, were discredited, the remaining “movement” fractured.
Initially upward of 80% of US public opinion expressed support for the anti-Wall Street ‘Occupy Movement’ but they had no mass-based political organization to sustain the struggle after many of their leaders swam and ultimately sank, tied to the lies of Obama.
Under Obama more American blacks have been murdered by police with complete impunity; more abortion providers assassinated and clinics bombed than under any white Republican president. As for ‘humanitarian intervention’: In Libya, tens of thousands of ethnic sub-Saharan Africans (contract workers and Libyan citizens) died in the post-Kaddafi ethnic cleansing of Libya by the racist warlords unleashed by Obama’s air assault.
The bewitched progressives were befuddled by the Ivy League’s ‘black’ president and didn’t notice that social inequalities had deepened at an alarming rate. As for access to health care, the American people were forced to ‘buy private insurance plans’ (many of which were worthless), meanwhile deductibles and co-pays skyrocketed forcing all but the well-salaried to forego necessary medical care. The notion that ‘access to health insurance’ was equivalent to having effective health care has been one of the biggest shams of the Obama era: Life expectancy for large segments of the low income rural and small town Americans has dropped – an unimaginable development in previous eras.
During Obama’s Presidency, the political climate turned rabid right-wing and the progressives turned tail and ran. Right wing extremists swept the Republican Party and then seized control of the Congress and the Senate.
After seven years of failures, frustration and futility under Obama, progressives found themselves without a movement or prospects. Over 92% of US private sector workers were unorganized and faced continued decline in their standard of living. Black, Chicano and Asian neighborhoods were subject to large-scale, brutal police raids and the extra-judicial killing of minority youth, the homeless, mentally ill and the poor continued with impunity. Over 2 million immigrant workers were incarcerated and expelled. Tens of thousands of young immigrant and refugee mothers and their children were held in private prison camps.
The Republicans promised to extend Obama’s reactionary agenda without the smiling blackface mask. They assured greater tax handouts to Wall Street, with none of the embarrassing rhetorical flourishes, and more wars, without the sanctimonious ‘humanitarian’ cant.
Against this expanding panorama of social deterioration and war-weariness, (a backdrop, which would normally open up the possibility for alternative politics…), Bernie appeared. Bernie Sanders was to incarnate the Fourth Coming of the progressive Democratic primary campaigner-messiah and scupper any real movement to the left.
Bernie Sanders: After the Black Con-Artist Bring out the Jewish House Radical!
By 2015, US society was deeply polarized. After seven years of Wall Street pillage, under Democratic President Obama, the mass of working people were looking for an alternative. On the horizon there was only more of the same promised from the rabid right which ran the Republican Party. Massive voter abstention had propelled the Republicans to power in ‘both Houses’ in the elections of 2010, 2012 and 2014. Terror-mongering, the so-called Global War on Terror, no longer cut any ice with a population terrified of losing their miserable jobs or getting bankrupted by an illness in the family. The Pentagon resorted to paying unemployed actors to stage ‘spontaneous’ displays of patriotism at huge sporting events – dressing up as veterans and running about on the fields with huge flags. There has been a big drop in healthy young Americans willing to ‘sign up’ and fight in overseas wars despite the continued prospect of being mired in poverty-wage jobs in the so-called ‘recovered domestic economy’. The mass of disaffected working people were not flocking to the Democratic Party’s plutocrat-of-choice, Hilary Clinton, the war monger, Wall Street favorite and pro-Israel candidate par excellence. The stage was now set for mass voter abstention and a resounding electoral defeat for a deflated Democratic Party with a disgusted electorate. As a presidential candidate Hillary would have to fight tooth and nail to meet the challenge of even the most marginal lunatic candidate from the increasingly bizarre Republican Party – because the Democrat’s disaffected voter base would stay home.
Behold! A raspy rabble rouser, a ‘democratic socialist’, floated in on a cloud of self-righteousness, conjuring up the illusion of a movement with promises of ‘profound (and even profounder) changes’.
Like Jackson and Kucinich before him, Sanders launched right into The Rant: Against Wall Street, for a National Health Plan and a reduction of military spending (but not too much…). He added a few new planks about cancelling student debt, lowering tuition, ending the cap on the social security tax and greater regulation of Wall Street.
Early polls have given Sanders 25% of the Democratic preferences.
Bernie assured his worried Democratic Party handlers that should Madame Clinton win the primaries, Bernie (and his followers) would immediately and unconditionally support the Party’s war mongering, Wall Street candidate of choice.
What are we to make of his promises and his radical program, if from one day to the other he can easily make a 180 degree turn to support the most discredited dregs of the Democratic Party – those largely responsible for the country’s social and economic decline?
The whole history of Democratic Party ‘progressives’ is one of deceit, hypocrisy and betrayal of millions of workers, minorities and other oppressed and excluded groups.
They rant and rave, till the votes are counted and then they dissolve their electoral organization and push their supporters into the Party electoral campaign!
They do not continue the struggle outside of the corrupt party – they simply go belly up, ‘graciously conceding defeat’ and wagging their tails hoping for a reward (like some inconsequential, toothless position within the administration) if the Democrats win.
After every one of the ‘radicals’ defeats, their supporters are left adrift. Indeed, they are worse off than before because their movements had been diverted into the Democratic primaries and away from the communities. The historical record is clear: After Jesse Jackson lost, the Rainbow Coalition fell apart; civil rights movements were weakened; police violence against blacks continued and even worsened.
After Kucinich ran and lost, his grassroots supporters within the trade unions had no mechanism to block the relocation of auto, steel and textile plants overseas.
After Obama conned progressive Americans, the peace and justice movement virtually disappeared. The church, trade union, neighborhood alliances who celebrated Barack Obama’s ‘historic victory’ have in reality experienced historical retreats. The only things “historic” about Obama’s terms in office have been (1) the trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street, (2) the number of simultaneous wars waged by the Pentagon, (3) the millions of people of color slaughtered in Libya, Syria, and Yemen (4) the thousands of minorities killed in cities, big and small of the USA (5) and the tens of thousands lost to premature deaths in economically devastated rural and small town America.
The current “Bernie” Sanders road-show is just recycling the past, right down to the same rhetorical and inconsequential promises of his predecessors.
Some of his gullible followers claim that he is important for “raising issues” – when in fact he will just raise them and then demoralize their advocates.
Other pundits claim he is ‘challenging’ the Democratic Party ‘from the Left’ when in fact he is doing everything possible to prevent millions of disaffected ex-Democratic voters, mostly workers and minorities, from rejecting the Democrats and joining or forming alternative political movements.
The key to understanding why millions of Americans, fed up with 30 years of declining living and health standards, deepening inequalities and perpetual wars, do not form an ‘alternative party’ is that they have been repeatedly conned and corralled in the Democratic Party by the “house radicals”.
Jackson, Kucinich, Obama, and Sanders promised radical changes in the primaries and then have gone on to hand their supporters, mostly disaffected workers, over to the Party oligarchs, abandoning them without their past social movements or future hope: like cast-off condoms. Is there any wonder why so many abstain!
Nuclear’s greatest hope may be the ‘Clean Power Plan’
Another month, another premature nuclear plant retirement.
About two weeks ago, Entergy finally threw in the towel on the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Scriba, N.Y., a move that came as a surprise to exactly no one who has been paying attention to the merchant nuclear business in the U.S. the past few years. FitzPatrick joined the long-troubled Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Mass., which Entergy gave up on in October, and Vermont Yankee, which it shut down in late 2014.
Since the end of 2012, the U.S. has lost an astonishing eight nuclear reactors to premature retirements: Kewaunee, San Onofre (2), Crystal River, and Vermont Yankee (all now shut down); FitzPatrick (retiring in late 2016); and Pilgrim and Oyster Creek (both retiring in 2019, well ahead of their planned lifetimes).
Several other reactors are on life support. Exelon’s R. E. Ginna plant in Ontario, N.Y., has been fighting to secure a rate support agreement that would keep it running a few more years, while the company’s Quad Cities and Byron plants got a reprieve after they unexpectedly cleared PJM auctions this fall. Industry observers see anywhere from five to 10 other plants as being at risk of premature retirement.
What’s remarkable about this trend is how it’s come about not from government pressure or mandates as in Germany or Japan—where nuclear is also in retreat—but from pure market pressures. In mid-2013, I wrote a post asking, “Is Cheap Gas Killing Nuclear Power?” Two years later, I’m prepared to answer that question in the affirmative.
In the case of Pilgrim, FitzPatrick, and Vermont Yankee, Entergy specifically named wholesale power prices driven to record low levels by cheap shale gas as one factor in its decisions. As my colleague Kennedy Maize has noted, observers now strongly suspect that Entergy is planning to exit the merchant nuclear business altogether—because it’s clearly become a big money-loser.
If you look at the list of retired and most at-risk plants, one common element jumps out immediately. Most of them exist in deregulated markets where power prices are largely set by the price of natural gas: ISO-New England (Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim), New York ISO (FitzPatrick and Ginna), and PJM (Oyster Creek, Byron, and Quad Cities). The other two plants, San Onofre and Crystal River, operated in more regulated markets, and while both were retired because of mechanical defects that were too expensive to repair, competition from gas-fired generation factored into both decisions to some degree.
Since 2012, when the problems for merchant nuclear really began, natural gas spot prices have stayed below $4/MMBtu except for a brief period last year, when a bitterly cold winter led to low stocks that pushed things up for a few months.
Since then, prices have fallen consistently, flirting with sub-$2 levels this fall. With gas in storage hitting a record high at the end of this year’s injection season, a repeat of 2014 seems unlikely. Meanwhile, gas production hit another record high in August at 81.3 Bcf/day. None of this, according to Energy Information Administration projections, seems likely to change in the short term, as production stubbornly continues climbing ahead of demand growth.
Where is nuclear still viable? That’s best answered by looking at the three states where a total of five nuclear plants are under construction: Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The common denominator there is clear. All three projects are being built in tightly regulated markets where the utility building them enjoys a government-sanctioned monopoly and the ability to recover costs in advance of operation.
The problem for nuclear is that momentum in the electricity markets over the past couple of decades has been toward flexibility and competition and away from monopolies and subsidies.
At the state level, attempts by Exelon and others to secure changes in the law to provide greater support for nuclear have been given the cold shoulder, while solar advocates are prying open previously closed markets like the Carolinas and Florida. Despite the challenges for merchant nuclear plants, no states are even considering an exit from problematic wholesale power markets, and independent system operators like PJM have shown no interest in rigging the game for nuclear either.
At the federal level, the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, which provided enormous support for renewable generation, appear on their way out one way or another. The odds that the current Congress might pass some sort of nuclear production credit (an idea I mentioned in my 2013 post) would seem to be close to zero.
Nuclear’s greatest hope may be the Clean Power Plan (CPP)—which was revised in its final form to give more credit to nuclear generation—but that is far from a done deal. Even if the Democrats retain control of the White House in 2016, control of Congress is another matter, and the Supreme Court could still throw out or handicap the CPP on a variety of grounds.
Cheap gas is not going away. Greater state-level regulatory support seems highly unlikely. Even if the CPP survives in its current form, it won’t substantially change the economics of merchant nuclear.
The impending loss of nuclear generation presents a problem for a variety of reasons. Loss of generation diversity is never a good thing, and the loss of low-carbon electricity will complicate efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the solution remains elusive.
—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
for trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now — I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin — Leonard Cohen
Many think they now see through the Democrats’ complicity with the Bush administration’s illegal wars and unconstitutional actions. If they think this is new, they don’t know that half of it.
Exactly twenty years ago today, on July 13, 1987, I witnessed the Democratic Party establishment covering up — and therefore helping — the subversion of the U.S. Constitution. It was actually on national TV, but few seemed to care.
The Iran-Contra hearings were going on. I watched them almost in their entirety, had just graduated from college and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I spent time with my dad, who’d just been diagnosed with a severe heart condition and we watched much of the hearings together.
For a while, I was admiring of the co-chairs of the Iran-Contra committee, the Democrats Sen. Daniel Inouye and Rep. Lee Hamilton — who would go on to co-head the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Commission.
But, following events closely, it became clear Inouye and Hamilton were covering things up things. This became glaring on July 13, 1987 when the following exchange took place as Rep. Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Texas questioned Oliver North:
REP. BROOKS: Colonel North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned, at one time, to work on plans for the “<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuity_of_government> continuity of government ” in the event of a major disaster?
BRENDAN SULLIVAN (North’s lawyer): Mr. Chairman?
SEN. INOUYE: I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area so may I request that you not touch on that, sir?
REP. BROOKS: I was particularly concerned, Mr. Chairman, because I read in Miami papers, and several others, that there had been a plan developed by that same agency, a contingency plan in the event of emergency, that would suspend the American constitution. And I was deeply concerned about it and wondered if that was the area in which he had worked. I believe that it was and I wanted to get his confirmation.
SEN. INOUYE; May I most respectfully request that that matter not be touched upon at this stage. If we wish to get into this, I’m certain arrangements can be made for an executive session. [Text is here and video is here].
And go into executive session they would. I expected a firestorm about this. It never happened. The media were largely silent, the Chicago Tribune the next day was rare in having a page one story (which I of course didn’t see till years later) leading with:
Members of the Iran-contra congressional panels Monday questioned Lt. Col. Oliver North about his alleged involvement in a highly secret government plan that reportedly included suspension of the Constitution in times of national crisis.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Iran, immediately cut off discussion of the plan, saying it touched on a “highly sensitive and classified area.”
The reference by Rep. Jack Brooks (D., Tex.,) to the plan followed comments Friday by chief Senate committee counsel Arthur Liman that the late CIA Director William Casey was attempting to promote “a CIA outside of the CIA” to carry out covert policy.
And the committee did go into executive session at various points. In his questioning, Brooks was referring to a few articles like the Miami Herald piece of July 5, 1987 by Alfonso Chardy, which I didn’t find until much later:
Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional Cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.
Investigators believe that the advisers’ activities extended well beyond the secret arms sales to Iran and aid to the contras now under investigation.
Lt. Col. Oliver North, for example, helped draw up a controversial plan to suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad. [Text is here].
You might have watched the hearings but not remember any of this — that’s probably because most of the media wrote pieces like the liberal Mary McGrory in the Washington Post quoting Inouye shortly thereafter: “We have a job to remind people of the Constitution and what it stands for.”
In fact, just a few days after the Brooks-Inouye exchange, much of Congress went on to Philadelphia for the 200th Anniversary of the Constitution that they were in the process of undermining. ABC reported on July 16:
Two hundred years ago today in Philadelphia the Constitutional convention designed what we now call the Congress of the United States. And for the occasion a delegation from Congress rode a special train to Philadelphia for a ceremony in the same room where the Constitution was written.
The ABC piece quoted Lee Hamilton: “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. I do not see how your attitude can be reconciled with the Constitution of the United States.”
If the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are dead, their death did not just happen during one administration or by one political party. It was indicated on national TV by a few brave representatives like Jack Brooks and Henry Gonzalez, written about by some independently minded journalists. And the establishment of both the Democratic and Republican parties with the big media outlets covered it up — while celebrating the Constitution they were killing.
Many of SAM HUSSEINI’s writings are at husseini.org.
The movement that is emerging under the banner Black Lives Matter is not yet one year old, but it will be dead before it reaches the age of two if the Democratic Party has anything to say about it. The movement’s greatest challenge will be to survive the impending mass mobilization of Black Democratic officeholders and operatives in a $5 billion presidential election season.
The current Black-led grassroots campaign is, in very important ways, even more vulnerable to Democratic cooptation and dismantlement than was the white-led Occupy Wall Street movement, which succumbed to a combination of Democratic infiltration and repression – on top of its own contradictions – in the early months of 2012. Although its slogans remained imprinted in the minds of much of the “99%,” by the time the November election rolled around, Occupy had long been a spent force, swept from the streets and encampments by mainly Democratic mayors acting on orders from their Party leader and president, Barack Obama.
The Democratic Party poses a far greater institutional threat to the Black Lives Matter movement, by virtue of the fact that the Party permeates every aspect of African American civil society. Not only are virtually all Black elected officials Democrats, but all the major civic organizations – the NAACP, the Urban League, most Black local churches and labor organizations, fraternities and sororities, not to mention Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-Push Coalition and “King Rat” Al Sharpton’s National Action Network – are annexes of the Democratic Party.
Put another way: the nascent Black-led movement for social transformation poses a grave threat to the Democratic Party’s chock-hold on Black politics. Therefore, the movement is inevitably on a collision course with the Democratic Party, although this may not yet be clear to many activists.
As I said at the closing plenary of the recent Left Forum gathering in New York City, the Democratic Party sits atop the Black polity “like a grotesque Sumo wrestler,” squeezing out the Black radical tradition. The Black Lives Matter movement consciously draws on this authentic – and still deeply honored – radical tradition, seeking to put it into practice under 21st century conditions.
In both its resistance to a criminal justice system designed to contain, criminalize and crush Blacks as a people, and its broader demand for social and economic transformation and global peace, the nascent Black-led movement picks up where a previous mass movement left off, two generations ago. The Sixties liberation movements were shut down through a combination of government repression and the rise of a class of Black office-holders and aspiring corporate collaborators whose interests lay in joining the existing order, not transforming it. Their political vehicle was, and remains, the Democratic Party – the organization through which this “Black Misleadership Class” became embedded in local and national power structures. As a loyal and key component of the ruling political duopoly, these Black Democratic politicians and power brokers have facilitated the exponential growth of the Black Mass Incarceration State in all its genocidal aspects, and greased the wheels of gentrification that is dispersing Black populations to the four winds, limiting the geography of effective Black political self-determination.
Malcolm X anticipated the rise of such a class, in the early Sixties, well before passage of the Voting Rights Act. His verbal assaults on the “Big Six” – the NAACP, Urban League, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and A Philip Randolph – warned against Blacks becoming too close to the white power structure: specifically, the Kennedys and the Democratic Party. Malcolm advocated an independent Black politics:
“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”
Under the political hegemony of the misleaders, the Black polity slumbered, fitfully, for more than 40 years.
As appendages of the Democratic Party, the Black political class has gone from coffee with too much cream, to being the Kahlúa, the coffee liqueur, in the milk. (Or, more like a thin, chocolaty syrup in a foamy, homogenized corporate concoction.)
The mission of the movement is to challenge the legitimacy of the Black Mass Incarceration State, the machinery that killed Michael Brown and thousands of others, imprisons and permanently stigmatizes millions, and makes the entire Black community fair game for every atrocity imaginable at the hands of armed occupiers, the police. This direct confrontation with the State also explicitly rejects the rule of the classes that the police and military protect.
Black America is by far the most radical population group in the United States. History has made us so. The Black radical tradition, which encompasses the whole Left spectrum, is quite sufficient to inform the Black Lives Matter Movement – and to teach something to non-Black allies.
Most importantly, it must be understood that the political battlefield of the movement is largely delineated by a Black internal politics that has for two generations been warped and turned against itself by the deep infestation of the Democratic Party. Blacks in the U.S. cannot move forward, cannot resist the mass incarceration regime, cannot forge truly effective alliances with other groups in the U.S., or join the struggling peoples of the world, except to the extent that they break the internal stranglehold of the Democratic Party and its operatives in Black civil society. These are the lessons of Ferguson and, especially, Baltimore.
To succeed, the Black Lives Matter Movement must transform the politics of Black America. By definition, that means declaring war on the Democratic Party, and forcing Black politicians and activists to choose between the Party and the people’s struggle. The Democrats understand the logic, and have mounted a systematic cooption-repression response that will intensify as the election season – and Black cities – heat up.
As usual, the Democrats will try to make Black people more angry at the terminally racist Republican Party than at the police and local administration of their (typically) Democrat-run city. Hillary Clinton is already making noises of empathy with Blacks suffering under the urban police state. However, the Black Lives Matter movement has no institutional stake in the victory of either party, but is, in fact, locked in mortal political struggle with other Black people in the Democratic Party. These Black Democrats will insist on a truce, a cessation of agitation against national or local Democrats, until after the election. As with the Occupy movement, this will be accompanied by intensified police pressures against activists. At the end of the process, the Black Lives Matter movement is meant to go the way of Occupy, lost in the electoral Mardis Gras – killed by Democrats, not Republicans.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
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.
Time to end the failed experiment with rigged corporate trade and put in place fair trade for the people and planet before profits
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.