Friday, March 28, 2014

NAFTA is 20


I was thrilled this week when Guy Cecil and Michael Bennet got on board and gave the Shenna Bellows campaign the DSCC's big thumbs up. Hopefully, that will be the beginning of the end for fake moderate Susan Collins in Maine. So, RIGHT ON GUY CECIL and RIGHT ON Michael Bennet. I will refrain from any gratuitously nasty statements about the two of them for at least… well, I hope forever. Next up: South Dakota prairie populist Rick Weiland. I know that may be a tough one for Guy and Mike to swallow but they need to get over the ego trip and do it for the Democrats and, more important, do it for South Dakota and for the American people. The Democrats need to keep this South Dakota Senate seat blue to keep Harry Reid Majority Leader instead of that damn Beltway turtle.

And, OK, I know it's a big tent party and Cecil and Bennet have a right to their conservative beliefs-- even if this are termed "moderate" inside-the-Beltway-- but Weiland is far from a radical and can't we all agree that what he wants to do for ordinary American working families is dead-center among Democrats in the Senate?

He's been traveling across South Dakota for the last 10 months talking about getting ‘big money’ out of politics and taking our country back. Yesterday, he reminded his supporters that he's "visited over 325 of our towns, talking to people in their kitchens, living rooms, cafes, post offices, banks, and businesses.  I’ve walked the neighborhoods and the main streets talking with voters about how big money has turned our government against us. And he warned them about the plutocrats in the GOP who are ready to deploy hundreds of millions of dollars to take over and wreck our democratic system.
All you have to do is turn your gaze to Las Vegas to see how one person-- one billionaire-- is trying to buy buy the next president of the United States. Sheldon Adelson, who spent 100 million dollars on the 2012 elections, is interviewing candidates. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich, all potential Republican Presidential candidates, have traveled there to see if Sheldon thinks they are qualified to be President. It has been dubbed the Sheldon Adelson Primary.

They are there to kiss Sheldon's ring and ask for his blessing to run for President. Our political process has now devolved to the point where presidential candidates have to trot out to Las Vegas and apply to a Vegas Kingpin to be president.

This is not how our government is supposed to work. Billionaires are not supposed to pick the next President - the people are. How can anyone say unlimited campaign contributions don't influence elected officials? Have you seen Presidential candidates beating down your door and asking for your support? Then again, we don't have a billion dollars to buy a politician.

This is why I have a constitutional amendment on the back of my business card that would overturn Citizen's United and bring sanity back to our campaigns. It is straightforward: "So that the votes of all, rather than the wealth of the few, shall direct the course of this Republic, Congress shall have the power to limit the raising and spending of money with respect to federal elections…"

We will never get a government “of, for and by the people” as long as billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson can spend 100 million dollars electing the president of their choosing.
And what does that mean, not having a government “of, for and by the people?" Billionaires are celebrating the 20th anniversary of NAFTA. Normal Americans aren't. It worked for them, but not for the rest of us. Yesterday, the AFL-CIO released a report about what we should have learned from the NAFTA debacle. But we haven't learned much and are rushing headlong into something even worse, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. How will we look at the NAFTA experience and make sure not to replicate it on new trade agreements? These are the lessons of NAFTA:
It’s a flawed model that promotes the economic interests of a very few and at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.

While the overall volume of trade within North America due to NAFTA has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant in all three countries.

Productivity has increased, but workers’ share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates.

NAFTA pushed small Mexican farmers off their lands, increasing the flow of desperate undocumented migrants.

It exacerbated inequality in all three countries.

And the NAFTA labor side agreement has failed to accomplish its most basic mandate: to ensure compliance with fundamental labor rights and enforcement of national labor laws.

The NAFTA architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protections allowed companies to move labor intensive components of their operations to locations with weak laws and lax enforcement. This incentivized local, state and federal authorities to artificially maintain low labor costs by ignoring-- or in some cases actively interfering with-- such fundamental rights as the rights to organize, strike and be free from discrimination.  This dynamic undermined organizing and bargaining efforts even in areas with relatively robust labor laws. Today, it is commonplace for employers to threaten to move south-- whether to South Carolina or Tijuana-- if workers do not agree to cuts in wages and benefits.

Multinationals are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the rules set down in NAFTA-- everything from prohibitions on local input requirements to new ways to challenge regulations, including the investor-to-state dispute settlement process. NAFTA guarantees that foreign investors get enhanced opportunities to fight laws and policies they don’t like that go far beyond the democratic processes available to citizens and domestic businesses.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other forthcoming trade agreements do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past 20 years. Instead of facilitating corporate actions that exploit workers, pollute the environment and poison consumers, trade deals must move away from this flawed model toward a system that builds sustainable, inclusive development, fosters social mobility, ensures corporate accountability and encourages rather than hinders innovative social policy.

Trade is not an end in itself, but a means to enhance living standards and promote shared prosperity. Unfortunately, the legacy of NAFTA and the flawed U.S. trade policy it both shaped and reflects has been stagnant wages, declining social standards and increased inequality.
That's why we were pushing the DSCC so hard on Shenna Bellows and why we're pushing them so hard on Rick Weiland. Policy is only as good as the people who set it. The Shedlon Adelsons and Koch brothers of the world have bought and are buying all the senators they need to pass more crap trade treaties. They own Susan Collins and they're salivating to get a shameless puppet like Mike Rounds into the Senate. We need men and women-- like Shenna and Rick-- who will stand with the people's senators, Elizabeth Warren, Brian Schatz, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, a couple of others. A few hours ago, I asked Rick if NAFTA is an issue that resonates with voters in South Dakota. This was his reply:
If you are a big fan of the $5 minimum wage then you're a big fan of big money, and of the NAFTA agreement big money wants to make the prototype for US trade with the entire world.

NAFTA is great at driving American wages down toward an international minimum, like Mexico's $5 minimum wage for example, $5 per DAY!

It's also great at exporting American jobs, eviscerating American labor, and exploding America's trade deficit, all things beloved by big money.

But for the rest of us, who have to feed our kids and try to keep our heads up while our homes are sold out from under us because our jobs went overseas, NAFTA is an unmitigated disaster. In my opinion it is an equally unmitigated ethical disgrace.

The moguls who hand their kids the keys to new Mercedes, then send them off for Spring Break in Cancun using the NAFTA based profits they reap from putting us out of work should be embarrassed to look in the mirror. My wish for them is that they should someday be forced to tell their own kids that their opportunity for a college education just got sent to Tijuana along with their job. Once they have done that, if they still support NAFTA, they will at least have earned the right to do so.
If you'd like to help Shenna and Rick, you can do that here.

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