Friday, March 26, 2010

The Pornography Of American Trade Policy And The Bipartisan Destruction Of The Middle Class


You already know one of these assholes; the other is more dangerous

Trade policy is about the unsexiest thing anyone can talk about... right? The other day I was arguing with a very wonky Democratic official and even he-- though eager for a boost for his congressional campaign-- started yawning in my face when I tried equating Bill Clinton's trade policies with the economic well-being of our country. And he's from a city whose working families have been absolutely pulverized by the job-destroying Republican trade policies that Bush I failed to get through Congress but that Clinton-- with the strong arm, thuggish tactics of henchman Rahm Emanuel-- managed to push through for them, a majority of Democrats voting "no." Among those supporting President Clinton's closely contested bill were notorious Clinton haters like Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Tom DeLay (R-TX), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), John Boehner (R-OH), Wally Herger (R-CA), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Duke Cunningham (R-CA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Bill Young (R-FL), Mike Castle (R-DE), Fred Upton (R-MI), Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN), Dave Dreier (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Buck McKeon (R-CA), John Kasich (R-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

If you're from Ohio, a state whose economy is nearly prostate from trade policy caused job losses, you may have noted the last two names on the list, the favored Republican nominees for governor and senator this year. In fact, that very last name, Rob Portman, graduated from pushing crappy trade policies in Congress to actually devising and implementing them in his post-Congressional career as a lobbyist and Bush's Trade Representative. Friday was the anniversary of Portman's ill-starred appointment as Trade Rep and the occasion was marked by working people in Ohio with the sorrow it merits.
Cincinnati AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Doug Sizemore said Bush chose Portman for a reason and that his record in the House show he “betrayed Ohio workers time and time again.”

“Portman voted repeatedly to fast-track international trade agreements and also voted against helping workers who lost their jobs due to outsourcing,” Sizemore said. “Portman also supported NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and still thinks it created jobs. I can tell you there are 50,000 Ohio workers who would disagree with him on that.

“This anniversary is important because as we weather this recession, we can’t forget how we got here,” he said. “Portman’s job killing trade policies were a recipe for disaster five years ago, and they are not the way out of this crisis ... and we can’t afford to have him represent our voice in the Senate.”

Ohio Conference on Fair Trade Director Karen Hanson blasted Portman and said the number regarding trade and loss of jobs speaks for his work.

“it’s unthinkable for Portman to receive anything but failing marks for his record as Bush’s U.S. trade representative,” Hanson said.

She claimed 17,000 Ohio workers had their jobs shipped overseas on his watch and the U.S. trade deficit rose nearly 6.5 percent “slowing economic growth and impeding job creation.” She also claimed the trade imbalance with China eclipsed $200 billion for the first time in U.S. history.

“These are just statistical numbers and they don’t begin to reveal all the collateral damage to Ohio families and communities by this decimation of our manufacturing base in this state,” Hanson said. “Ohio workers, businesses and middle class families deserve better than Portman’s agenda in Washington.”

Joe Logan, director of Agricultural Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council and agricultural co-chair for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, criticized Portman for his policies affecting agriculture.

He cited wheat exports declined to 20 percent of the global export market in 2009 from 45.7 percent in 1980, with corn declining to 10.6 percent from 19.6 percent and soybeans dropping to 30 percent from 60 percent during the same period.

“Traditionally the U.S. agriculture has been a very robust net exporter of agricultural commodities and agricultural products,” Logan said. “Exports and trade continues to be a very important to the agricultural economy here in Ohio and across the country.

“We have gone from being a very robust net exporter of food to a near-break-even point,” Logan said. “We are on the cusp of being a net food importer for the first time since 1959.”

As it happens, today (another Friday) is also a big day for Portman's prospective Democratic opponent, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (more on her progressive stance on trade policy below). To celebrate a remarkable grassroots victory against the state party machine this week (she defeated her primary opponent Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher's surreptitious request for a eleventh-hour state party endorsement with the help of supporters who sent more than 57,000 email messages to members of the state party's executive committee), she is conducting an all-day money bomb today at Stop by and help her out with a contribution to help give her get-out-the-vote operations a boost. Her people-powered campaign is built on small-dollar contributions from progressives across Ohio and the nation, and with the tremendous support she is building she is fending off the big-dollar contributions and massive campaign spending of her corporatist Democrat rival.

Portman's campaign called the anniversary a "distraction," although they did note that his presumed opponent, Lee Fisher, has a record that is just as bad as Portman's. I can't say that Fisher is that bad but... well, Clinton was an improvement over Bush I. Just don't tell that to the millions of American workers who's jobs were lost because of the bipartisan corporate trade policies both pursued. Then again, that might be why the one Ohio Senate candidate who does not support these catastrophic trade policies, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, is climbing the polls and why the other two stagnate.

In fact "Trade" is the #2 issue mentioned on Jennifer's campaign website, right after "Jobs." Her way of looking at Trade policy rejects the catastrophic approach that Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton took:
"Free trade" resulting from U.S. trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA has resulted in huge trade deficits for the U.S., hurting our middle class workers who have lost jobs to outsourcing while corporations have scoured the world for the cheapest labor in countries with the fewest health, safety and environmental regulations. These agreements have enabled foreign countries to ship what their low-wage workers produce to the United States while blocking many U.S. products from entering their countries, all while we have bound ourselves to decisions of the World Trade Organization that hinder a fair trade balance.

Agreements for "free trade" should be re-examined and where warranted replaced with intelligent trade pacts that prevent foreign predatory practices such as: 1) demanding patented or trade secret protected technology in order to operate in that country or 2) abiding by foreign Value Added Tax (VAT) agreements that unjustifiably subsidize foreign exports to us, but simultaneously penalize our exports to those countries. At the same time, it must be profitable to manufacture in America.

The tax structure for industries vital to strategic American interests, such as steel, transportation and cement should be revisited. Out-of-control trade deficits place foreign companies in a position to purchase our best companies, such as in industries like publishing, autos, movies, steel, electronics and clothing, impacting national security and living standards in the United States.

We must take great care that we maintain ownership of vital strategic American interests. We must take great care not to drain our long term wealth as a nation for short term interests.

Talking with her about trade policy and reading what she's written about it reminded me of the brilliant way it was explained by Thom Hartmann in The Threshold. After explaining how Reagan's quest to improve the profitability of transnational corporations, like his former employers at GE, reversed the steady gains the American middle class had been making since the Great Republican Depression half a century before, Hartmann lit into more contemporary history:
George H.W. Bush, initially decrying Reagan's economic worldview as "voodoo economics," embraced it, as did Bill Clinton, who really kicked the door down on tariffs and "protectionism" by signing the United States up for the full GATT, the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), all benefiting the transnational corporations that had come to dominate political contributions for both the Republican and Democratic parties by the 1980s. Their campaign contributions, in turn, benefited the 537 elected members of the House, Senate, and the executive branch of government (president and vice president).

For the first time in its history, our country's smaller and medium-size industries stood essentially naked and defenseless against those of other fully developed nations, most of which were still holding in place tariffs, R&D supports, and intense support of the commons infrastructure, including free higher education and free health care. While today both China and India have import tariffs that run as high as 20 to 30 percent on manufactured goods (to protect their domestic industries and markets), we've dropped our tariffs from a 1973 average of 12 percent to today's average of around 2 percent.

The result was just what Alexander Hamilton feared: the rapid unraveling of the American middle class as the nation bled its industrial base into the gutter of cheap-labor countries.

As wealth dramatically increases in the top 1 percent of America and the middle class shrinks, the working poor become even poorer. Between the election of George W. Bush and 2007, the four hundred richest individuals in America (virtually all associated with transnational corporations) saw their wealth increase from $1.0 trillion to $1.6 trillion-- an increase of $600 billion. During the same time the real income of the average wage earner fell by between $2,000 and $4,000... The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots has, in the past, brought civilization to a threshold of cultural, economic, and political change-- and often that's violent, painful, or even democracy-ending.

And, no, the GOP and Fox News hadn't yet launched the teabagger movement when Hartmann wrote those words.

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