Nel's New Day

May 18, 2015

TPP Closer to Passing But No Better Deal

“The president has done an excellent job on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership].” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made this statement yesterday on This Week. That alone should tell people that the TPP is very wrong for the country. Those touting the wonders of the proposed trade agreement have refused to address its flaws.

Any legislator who reads the highly secret document in the windowless basement room of the Capitol is first stripped of any electronic devices, told they couldn’t take notes, and then strictly forbidden to tell anyone what they’ve read, on threat of prosecution. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) broke these rules and told members of Congress why they should oppose the proposal.

A major complaint is that the agreement is a “living document,” meaning that the president can change at will after Congress passes the TPP. Sessions is concerned, of course, about what President Obama would do after Congress okays the agreement, but others should be highly concerned about what a GOP president would do to the country through changing the TPP. The first trade representative in the Obama administration, Ambassador Ron Kirk, has said that “if the American people knew what was in this agreement it would never become law.”

President Obama attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her opposition, dismissing her as a “politician.” When the Democrats turned on him for his treatment of her, he softened his approach, but Warren is still speaking about the TPP’s problems.

This morning Warren issued a report of failed trade enforcements, including ones by the current president. He has consistently insisted that the TPP contains robust labor protections and called Warren’s criticisms “dishonest,” “bunk” and “misinformation.” The U.S. consistently fails to enforce any labor protections in trade agreements, according to reports from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) as well as the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State. Since Barack Obama became president, the DOL accepted only five claims for labor violations, and the first-ever labor enforcement case too six years to restart after it was originally filed.

Of the 14 U.S. trade agreements with 20 countries, 11 countries continue to perpetrate child labor, forced labor, or other human rights abuses related to labor. The president called a deal with Colombia a “win-win for workers” in 2011, but 105 union activists have been murdered there in the past four years and 1,337 death threats have been issued since the special “Labor Action Plan” was finalized four years ago.

President Obama has said that he has a commitment to bring “the first-ever labor dispute under a free trade agreement”–in Guatemala. Although the AFL-CIO has pushed for action on violations in Guatemala for over six years, the dispute is unresolved, and the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for union workers. Seventeen labor activists were murdered there in 2013 and 2014, three of them during a dispute over unpaid back wages.

The Obama Administration predicted that the South Korea Free Trade Agreement would create 70,000 jobs and deliver up to $11 billion in exports. While imports have climbed to over $12 billion, the United States exported $1 billion to Korea. The growing good trade deficit with Korea eliminated over 75,000 jobs in the last three years.

The president touts the TPP as involving 40 percent of global GDP. The United States already represents 22 percent, and existing trade agreements with six TPP partners make up 80 percent of the TPP. Japan, with its 1.2 percent tariff has most of the rest.

GDPThe TPP will also not create “an additional 650,000 jobs,” according to Peter Petri of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He said, “We don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.” Because the agreement increases copyright and patent protections, prices for drugs, movies and music will increase here and abroad.

Most of the arguments supporting the TPP cite improved trade, but the agreement backers ignore imports, and thus the rapidly increasing trade deficit. Another favorite argument is “containing China.” Either China can join the TPP because the agreement is a “living document,” or it can import goods into TPP countries with no tariffs without following any TPP regulations.

Robert Reich wrote, “[The TPP is] being sold as a way to boost the U.S. economy, expand exports, and contain China’s widening economic influence, [but] the biggest beneficiaries would be giant American-based global corporations, along with their executives and major shareholders.” He further explains how worker protections are unenforceable, as he discovered when he was Secretary of Labor and asked to implement NAFTA. It also won’t help U.S. exports because it does nothing to prevent other nations from manipulating their currencies to boost exports. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is trying to fix that problem with amendment, but the TPP is a “living document.”

Warren also talked about the danger of trade agreements to the Dodd-Frank Act designed to protect consumers. Major financial institutions have lobbied hard for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union, and strongly support the TPP.

The TPP may keep the Federal Reserve from imposing separate liquidity requirements on foreign banks that force banks to have a certain level of assets they can sell off in case of a crisis. Agreements could also change the Dodd-Frank compliance rules on derivatives that currently protect people from another recession. U.S. banks could reincorporate outside the country to avoid regulations. The TTIP also has a provision to evaluate bank regulations on trade impact instead of financial stability, again avoiding reforms. President Obama might not allow this, but President Jeb Bush would definitely put benefits to banks above those to individuals.

Supporters of TPP consistently declare that U.S. law can’t be changed without congressional action, but trade agreements automatically make laws for anyone dealing with corporations outside the United States. Many companies are moving to other countries to avoid U.S. law. Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate to be repealed; the trade agreement is a much easier route for a GOP president. In addition to Dodd-Frank, environmental and labor regulations can be at risk through the same fast-track process.

Opposition to the TPP comes from legislators such as Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Warren, and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as well as most Democrats in the House. These people are not isolationists; they support workers, the environment, net neutrality, and human rights.

The Apple Corporation is a classic example of the predatory companies that have designed the TPP. Apple’s overseas untaxed cash, now about $157 billion, is expected to be $200 billion within two years. Cheap construction of their products overseas makes enormous profits for the company. A 16 GB iPhone 6 costs about $200 to manufacture, but without an expensive phone contact with a wireless carrier such as Verizon or AT&T, the product sells for at least $650.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has praised Apple for its job creation of over one million jobs in the United States. Apple, however, has 66,000 employees in the U.S., half of them retail store workers. The company pays their full-time retail “specialists” less than $30,000 a year while earning $600,000 profit for each one: employees generate $20 in profits for each $1 they are paid.

Laborers at Chinese factories such as Foxconn suffer from low wages, forced overtime, safety hazards, abuse, and increased production quotas. They worked 15 hours a day for ten weeks without a day off before the iPhone 6 launch in late 2014. These problems and others, such as locked fire exits, are reminiscent of the U.S. a century ago.

According to leaked documents, the TPP drops the tariff, bringing far more profits to Apple, Nike, and other huge corporations while destroying the middle class in the U.S. That’s why McConnell approves of the president’s “excellent job” and pushes for the TPP to pass the Senate this week. TPP will destroy the U.S. ability to set regulations, allow corporations to control U.S. law through international tribunals, further eradicate the middle class, outsource more jobs, and block manufacturing in the United States. And McConnell says that no one in Congress is going home until it passes.

January 19, 2013

Today Is GAD

I have a very close friend who sometimes exclaims “Gad!” when surprised, shocked, or upset by something. Now “GAD” takes on a new meaning: January 19 is “Gun Appreciation Day.” Its website states: “On 01.19.13 go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your ‘Hands off my Guns’ sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama.”

“Guns are Safe and Sexy,” reads one headline on the site. Organizer Larry Ward is so intent to prove that GAD’s backers are not extremists that the white supremacist group  American Third Position (A3P), a political group that describes itself as representing “the unique political interests of white Americans,” has disappeared as one of the sponsors. Another radical sponsor, the Social Security Institute, remains. SSI warns of one-world-government control.

Ward said the idea for GAD came from the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary because of gun protesters outside the NRA’s D.C. office. His office for Political Works that represents Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) libertarian Revolution PAC among others is next door to the NRA. In an initial response to the NRA protesters, he leaned out his window and yelled, “Arm the teachers, arm the principals.”

When people criticized Ward for holding his gun-loving celebration on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day and the president’s inauguration, he claimed that Martin Luther King would have agreed with him. His reason is that if the slaves had been armed they could have stopped slavery. (I won’t even try to work through the illogic in this statement.) About the inauguration, Ward said, “It didn’t necessarily hurt that it was two days before inauguration. I don’t mind poking the bear occasionally.”

Ward has also stated his opposition to a background check, even for people who mentally ill. “We should not, at any point in our country, take away someone’s constitutional right because they’re sick.”

Another Larry, Larry Pratt, feels as strongly as Larry Ward about gun rights. Director of Gun Owners of America, Pratt complained on Fox about the liberal bent of Justice Antonin Scalia who authored the ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller which struck down the city’s ban on handguns and greatly extended individual gun ownership. Pratt seems to be offended that Scalia has said that the government could ban such weapons as “hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes.” Pratt said that the amendment says “shall not be infringed.”

Pratt has also called for the president’s impeachment. This is his message for Congress:

“When are you going to impeach this guy? When are you going to defund his illegal activities? Republicans can’t continue, at least I hope they cannot, continue to be spectators while the country is being torn apart. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will.”

So who are the NRA leaders, the organization that has pushed the nation into being the most heavily armed in the world with a death rate equal to the next 23 nations?

  • Tom Selleck: The Magnum, P.I. star, gun buff, and vocal gun-rights supporter was the top vote-getter in 2008’s board election.
  • Ted Nugent: His statement, “If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” got him a meeting with the Secret Service.
  • Oliver North: The Iran-Contra conspirator and Call of Duty (computer/video game franchise) pitchman said, “I love speaking out for the NRA in large part because it drives the left a little bit nuts.”
  • Marion Hammer: The woman who stood behind Florida’s Stand Your Ground law that killed, among others, Trayvon Martin.
  • Patricia Clark:  The record-holding shooter lives in Newtown (CT), home of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  • Robert K. Brown: The former Special Forces soldier and big-game hunter is also the founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, which was sued in the late 1980s for running want ads for mercenaries and guns for hire.
  • David Keene: The current NRA president and former chairman of the American Conservative Union has a son in prison for ten years after firing at another driver during a road rage incident in 2003.
  • Wayne A. Ross: After Sarah Palin nominated him for Alaska’s attorney general, he was passed over because of his homophobic and sexist comments.
  • Ronnie G. Barrett: The founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing invented the .50 sniper rifle, which can penetrate armor from more than 4,500 feet and is legal for civilian purchase in 49 states.
  • Larry Craig: The former Idaho senator sponsored a  law protecting gun makers from liability in connection with their products being used by criminals in 2005, the year that the NRA spent $1.8 million lobbying Congress.  That was the year before NRA got Congress to pass the law that the Senate had to approve the director of the Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco Agency. AFT has not had a director approved since the law went into effect.
  • Grover Norquist: The president of Americans for Tax Reform that calls upon everyone in Congress to sign a pledge not to ever raise taxes who said after Newtown, “We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.”

Of the entire board, 93 percent are white, and 87 percent are men.

One week after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the NRA blamed—and lamented—the violence in video gaming, trying to convince that this was the cause of gun deaths and not guns.  Less than a month after the shootings, the NRA rleased a shooting app, called “NRA: Practice Range,” billed as an “educational … resource” that “[i]nstills safe and responsible ownership through fun challenges and realistic simulations.” The targets are coffin-shaped, with red bullseyes at head- and heart-level. The free game “NRA: Practice Range” is offered on iTunes and allows would-be snipers to choose a weapon to fire at an indoor gun range, an outdoor range or for skeet shooting practice.

NRA-practice-range

NRA graves

The free guns include a Beretta M-9 handgun, a Colt M-16 assault rifle with 15-round clip or a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun.
Users can upgrade to a MK11 sniper rifle for only 99 cents. Gun manufacturers also sell their firearm brand names to the gaming industry to be used as product promotion.

Apple approved the manufacturer’s recommended age rating of 4 and up for the disturbing game. It’s “the most authentic experience possible,” the gamemakers said, touting its real-life gunshot sounds and arsenal of free weapons.  After even NRA members protested the age, Apple changed its age to at least 12 years of age with an added warning that the game depicts “intense” and “realistic” violence. But the game is still available—free.

Opponents of gun claims constantly claim that only criminals kill people, that all law-abiding gun-owners are responsible. Following NRA wishes, the Chatfield School in Lapeer (MI) hired a 32-year retired sheriff’s deputy as armed guard for the charter school academy of almost 500. On January 14, three days after he was hired, he left his weapon unattended in a student restroom.  

Once again a supposedly responsible gun-owner, this time a patron at the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh (NC) who wanted to sell his 12 gauge shotgun to a private buyer, accidentally fired it, injuring three people including a sheriff’s deputy.  Today’s shooting wasn’t an isolated incident.

As of last Thursday, there have been 1016 gun-related deaths in the United States since December 14, 2012, including the 28 related to the Newton (CT) massacre and the other 15 deaths on the same day.

I say, “Gad!”

July 19, 2012

Romney’s Problems Grow

Mitt Romney’s campaign has two serious dilemmas: the call for his releasing tax returns and the outsourcing done by Bain Capital, Romney’s personal business. To solve the first one, he sent his wife, Ann, to convince the media that he is a truly good person. In an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC, Ms. Romney said:

“You know, you should really look at where Mitt has led his life, and where he’s been financially. He’s a very generous person. We give 10 percent of our income to our church every year. Do you think that is the kind of person that is trying to hide things, or do things? No. He is so good about it.”

When asked why they don’t release the tax forms if there is no problem with them, Ms. Romney continued:

“Because there are so many things that will be open again for more attack… and that’s really, that’s just the answer. And we’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life. And so, the election, again, will not be decided on that. It will be decided on who is gonna turn the economy around and how are jobs gonna come back to America.”

My favorite phrase from her interview is “you people,” the term that smacks of an arrogance in the same way that Michelle Malkin’s comment on Fox and Friends Weekend did when she said,

“Romney types, of course, are the ones who sign the front of the paycheck, and the Obama types are the one who have spent their entire lives signing the back of them.”

Lots of people are betting that Romney’s tax returns would show some shady deals. The first question is how he got between $21 million and $101 million in an IRA that can’t collect more than $30,000 a year. Another questionable activity comes from when he was chairman of Marriott’s audit committee. At that time, a Marriott tax shelter, known as “Son of BOSS,” involved creating paper losses to offset taxes on real income. The Internal Revenue Service challenged the shelter, and Marriott lost in court. Judges called the shelter “fictitious” and a “scheme,” and the company was forced to pay $29 million.

The Republicans who are telling Romney to release the tax returns have found a solution for his second problem, outsourcing. Jonah Goldberg summarized their position: “Outsourcing isn’t evil. Building businesses overseas doesn’t necessarily cost American a thing, and it often creates wealth and value both here and abroad.”

The 170 workers losing their jobs in Freeport (IL) because Bain owns their jobs disagree with Goldberg. In 2006 Bain bought Sensata Technologies, based in Attleboro (MA), and plans to move production to China during the month of this year’s election despite the fact that the business has never lost money. The city council has drafted a resolution that “calls on Mitt Romney to come to Freeport to meet the people directly affected by Bain Capital’s outsourcing and to step in and stop the outsourcing of these jobs from Freeport to China.” Although Romney does not operate Bain, he does have a controlling financial interest.

Robert Reich wrote that the biggest problem with corporations is that they have no concern for the people of the United States. He quoted an Apple executive who told the New York Times, “we don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.” Reich might have added “and showing profits big enough to continually increase our share price.” Apple’s employment of 43,000 people in the United States is dwarfed by their contracts with over 700,000 workers overseas. U.S. workers get six percent of what people pay for an iPhone.

The Republicans who would solve the problem of outsourcing by  lowering salaries in this country and perhaps getting rid of the minimum wage overlook the fact that Chinese workers live in company dormitories where they can be called up to work any time day and night. Apple assembles iPhones in China both because wages are low there and because Apple’s Chinese contractors can quickly mobilize workers from company dorms at almost any hour of the day or night.

Reich also cited another reason for outsourcing as this country not educating young people to do the necessary high tech jobs farmed out to Japan and Germany, in large part because the government does not pay for education. While this country forces young people to ratchet up high student loans, China invests in world-class universities and research centers.

The United States also has substandard transportation and communication systems compared to other countries. Outmoded ports, congested roads, and faulty bridges damage the opportunities for people to have jobs in this nation.

Without support from corporations, this situation will only exacerbate. Without government requiring corporate support, these companies will continue to outsource. All they want are lower taxes and fewer regulations. To get what they want, they buy elections.

Goldberg needs to know the following results of outsourcing:

U.S. multinationals cut their U.S. workforces by 2.9 million in the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Bush tax cuts may have caused the 35 biggest U.S.-based companies to add jobs, but almost three-fourths of these jobs were offshore.

U.S. manufacturing has suffered the biggest blow from offshoring. Working America reported that manufacturing jobs dropped every month for 43 months—the longest stretch since the Great Depression—between August 2000 and February 2004. Between 1998 and 2008, the time that George W. Bush gave corporations big tax cuts to create jobs, the number of manufacturing plants shrank 12.5 percent. The country lost 51,000 plants during those ten years, plants that gave stable, middle-class jobs.

Revenue from the global electronics contract manufacturing industry reached $360 billion in 2011 and is expected to expand to $426 billion by 2015. These companies contract outside firms primarily in third-world countries. Other huge companies, Nike for example, subcontracts all its shoe production to foreign companies.

Private equity firms have upped the competition between corporations by creating the fear that if CEOs don’t run their businesses to maximize short-term profits and share prices that they will be taken over by a company like Bain Capital. Their answer is outsourcing. If they lose the company to a company like Bain, “the standard strategy has been to load up company executives with so much stock and stock options that they don’t hesitate to make difficult decisions such as shedding divisions, closing plants or outsourcing work overseas,” according to Steve Pearlstein, a professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University and a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist.

Three-fourths of the companies surveyed by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business gave labor costs as their reason to relocate offshore, but this is becoming a weaker excuse for taking jobs away from the United States.  The labor cost gap between the U.S. and China has shrunk by almost 50 percent within the last eight years; this gap is project to be just 16 percent by next year. Fuel prices are also rising, increasing the costs of transportation.

The same survey showed that “only 4 percent of large companies had future plans for relocating jobs back to the United States.” No reason was given, but Seth Hanlon thinks that their reluctance is the U.S. tax code that “rewards companies for making investments abroad—and leads to them shifting offices, factories, and jobs abroad even if similar investments in the United States would be more profitable absent tax considerations.”

Tax loopholes and porous rules allow multinational companies to avoid U.S. taxes by reporting much of their profits in tax havens such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. That may be why Romney is fond of these tax havens. Shifting profits into tax havens costs the U.S. Treasury tens of billions of dollars in revenue every year. While President Obama wants a law that benefits companies for keeping jobs in the United States, Romney wants to make U.S. corporations’ overseas profits exempt from U.S. taxes, understandable because this would financially benefit him.

Today, the Senate tried to vote on the Bring Jobs Home Act to end taxes that reward companies that ship jobs overseas and instead provide a tax cut for American businesses that move overseas jobs and business activity back to America. A filibuster killed the bill was killed with a 56-42 vote; it’s the standard Republican position that 60 out of 100 votes are required to pass any Senate bill. The three brave Republican senators voting against the filibuster were Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), and Scott Brown (MA). Therefore the Senate Republican “majority” of 41 men and 3 women have determined that taxpayers must continue to pay for the offshoring of jobs.

According to The Hill, Republicans wouldn’t vote for a bill to bring jobs back to the United States because they wanted to include an amendment repealing the Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV) said, “It’s no surprise Republicans are on the side of corporations making big bucks sending American jobs to China and India. After all, their presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, made a fortune outsourcing jobs, too.”

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