Working Life http://www.workinglife.org Jonathan Tasini's Ruminations on Work, The Economy, and Politics Fri, 22 May 2015 17:44:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Inequality Globally At Record Highs: OECD (Alert: POTUS/Chipolte Eaters…This Is Why TPP Is Wrong) http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/22/inequality-globally-at-record-highs-oecd-alert-potuschipolte-eaters-this-is-why-tpp-is-wrong/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/22/inequality-globally-at-record-highs-oecd-alert-potuschipolte-eaters-this-is-why-tpp-is-wrong/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 17:39:20 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9951 Sometimes, you just got to connect the dots–even when the stuff is so obvious and screams out with the truth. In this case, some evidence on why these so-called “free trade” agreements are so destructive, though, I have to say I chuckled when I read that the very forum consisting of the planet’s wealthy countries has discovered, shockingly, that global inequality is at record levels.

This revelation comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which represents 34 countries, including some “emerging” economies but mostly it’s a forum for the rich countries. And what’s a bit hilarious is that you won’t find a single word in the report that underscores why we’re in this mess: the reliance on a bankrupt system called the “free market”.

That it said, the Oracle at the OECD is ringing its hands, probably smelling the pitchforks in the streets, as it recounts some really bad facts in “In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All”:

Over the past three decades, income inequality has risen in most OECD countries, reaching in some cases historical highs. Today, the Gini coefficient – a common measure of income inequality that scores 0 when everybody has identical incomes and 1 when all the income goes to only one person – stands at an average of 0.315 in OECD countries, exceeding 0.4 in the United States and Turkey and approaching 0.5 in Chile and Mexico. In the main emerging economies, income inequality is higher than in the OECD area (Figure 1.1); in some it has increased over the past decade but there are encouraging signs of stabilisation (e.g. China) or even declines in some of them (e.g. Brazil). [emphasis added]

And:

But while the flashy lifestyles and incomes of the top 1% are certainly eye-catching, focusing on them exclusively risks obscuring another area of growing concern in inequality – namely the declining situation of low-income households. This is not a small group. In recent decades, as much as 40% of the population at the lower end of the distribution has benefited little from economic growth in many countries. In some cases, low earners have even seen their incomes fall in real terms (Figure 1.2). Just as with the rise of the 1%, the decline of the 40% raises social and political questions. When such a large group in the population gains so little from economic growth, the social fabric frays and trust in institutions is weakened.

How did this happen? Partly lowers taxes and an obsession about deficits at a time when governments should have been spending more money:

In the initial years of the crisis, income inequality before taxes and benefits increased strongly but out-of-work benefits and other redistribution measures managed to cushion at least partially the rise (Figure 1.4). In the most recent years of weak economic recovery, unemployment persisted and yet governments chose to shift focus to fiscal consolidation, including curtailing unemployment benefits, education and investment. While income inequality before taxes and benefits continued to rise, the cushioning effect of taxes and benefits has become weaker, accelerating the overall upwards trend in
disposable income inequality.
[emphasis added]

Guess what, these geniuses discovered the obvious:

But new research at the OECD, presented in Chapter 2, finds consistent evidence that the long-term rise in inequality of disposable incomes observed in most OECD countries has indeed put a significant brake on long-term growth. Further, it shows that efforts to reduce inequality through redistribution –typically, certain forms of taxes and benefits – do not lead to slower growth (confirming similar results in Ostry et al., 2014). This suggests that redistribution can be part of the solution, but requires a serious discussion on how to promote effective and well-targeted measures that promote a better sharing of the growth outcomes not only for social but also for economic considerations.[emphasis added]

There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo about insecure work, labour market segmentation and skills training–and the reason I refer to it as mumbo-jumbo is that not a word is mentioned about so-called “free trade” and the mess the entire regime has made of peoples’ livelihoods and futures.You can’t throw peoples’ jobs into wage competition around the globe without this happening. It’s obvious. A no-brainer.

No one should be shocked when you pimp for so-called “free trade” like deals such as TPP and, then discover, presto, there’s inequality to be found.

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The Fast Track 13 Traitors: Picture Eye Candy Of Senate Democrats Who Voted To Screw Workers http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/22/the-fast-track-13-traitors-picture-eye-candy-of-senate-democrats-who-voted-to-screw-workers/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/22/the-fast-track-13-traitors-picture-eye-candy-of-senate-democrats-who-voted-to-screw-workers/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 12:55:41 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9949 This is a picture I’d turn into a “Wanted” poster, maybe circulate in every election district in the 13 states represented by these folks. It says it all–thanks to the AFL-CIO.

Pro-Fast Track Senate Democrats

attribution: AFL-CIO

As I wrote yesterday, these 13 Senators voted to let fast track proceed to a debate and, by doing the business of the Chamber of Commerce, they’ve assured ultimate passage in the Senate.

This isn’t some run-of-the-mill piece of legislation.

Fast track–or its other Orwellian counterpart “Trade Promotion Authority”–is a nice-sounding, poll-tested phrase that means fairly simply: do the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce, screw workers, destroy more decent-paying jobs, allow the exploitation of a lot of workers in other countries and, as a side benefit, take away the rights of your elected representatives to have much of a say in how the trade deal looks. Message to  Members of Congress: just swallow the whole load, don’t spit it out.

Each of these people deserves a primary opponent. Just to pick one, first among peers, is Ron Wyden–he’s up for re-election in 2016 and the state, and the country, would be a lot better off with another Jeff Merkley.

Certainly, I am hoping that the AFL-CIO follows through on its threat to withhold money from any Democrat voting for fast track. In my opinion, had the labor movement taken out some of those who voted for CAFTA–which passed by only TWO VOTES in the House including 15 Democrats–we might not be facing the votes we face now on fast-track and the TPP. Not to mention had unions went after the Democrats who took Bill Clinton and Robert Reich’s bribes back during the NAFTA vote, we might have avoided CAFTA as well (I mean “bribes” in the sense that it has been well-documented that Clinton-Reich bought votes with promises of a variety of appropriations and goodies and phony retraining programs to get votes).

To the observation that it’s not fair to use the votes on fast track and/or the Trans Pacific Partnership as a sole test (some call it “purity test), I would answer: at some point, in a Democratic Party debate, in a primary, some votes stand out beyond others and define the very nature of who a person is on the question of class warfare and workers rights. This isn’t the naming of a post office, or a particular level of funding for a program.

If we keep arguing that every elected official gets a pass on the fundamental principles you want a party to stand for, then, at the end of the day, what does the party stand for? You can, then, drive around and eat at Chipolte, take no real stand on whether workers should get hammered again by big corporations–you can simply say, oh, my poll-tested position shows yes, “inequality is a naughty thing” (and, as an aside, slip in, and get a pass without any real examination, your naughty little “mistake” voting for an immoral war).

Some votes matter more than others.

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BREAKING: Fast Track PROCEEDS In Senate, No Thanks To Some Democrats http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/21/breaking-fast-track-proceeds-in-senate-no-thanks-to-some-democrats/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/21/breaking-fast-track-proceeds-in-senate-no-thanks-to-some-democrats/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:12:46 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9944 The Senate has voted to proceed to debating fast track, which essentially ensures its eventual passage. The vote is still taking place but with 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and pass the motion, there are already 62 votes SUPPORTING THE MOTION to proceeding. Final vote 62-38 (Vote specifics in a moment).

To be clear, this was not entirely surprising. Fast track was always going to pass the Senate. As I’ve stated from the outset, the real action will be in the House–or at least the opportunity to potentially defeat fast track will come in the House.

A hold up in the Senate was possible over various issues. For example, some senators–including Maria Cantwell, Heidi Heitkamp and Lindsey Graham–threatened to vote against cloture because they want a chance to vote on extending the life of the Export-Import Bank.

Democratic Traitors who voted to move forward on fast track (when I write “Expected”, these are pro so-called “free trade” votes who you can bet, at the end of the day, will vote both for fast track and for the TPP):

Feinstein (expected)
Wyden (expected)
Warner (expected)
Bennett (expected)
Carper (expected: he was also the only Democrat to support fast track in vote last week)
Kaine (expected)
Nelson (expected)
Coons
McCaskill (expected)
Shaheen
Heitkamp (expected)
Murray (expected)
Cantwell (expected)

From the above, you can see that with the president unifying the party behind him–the Republican Party–he will eventually have enough Democratic votes to pass fast track in the Senate.

Odd people–Republicans–who voted NO (not to proceed), but not because they oppose fast track in principle:

Mike Lee
Jeff Sessions
Richard Shelby
Susan Collins

Mid vote, there was a little gathering IN the well of the Senate with Mitch McConnell talking with Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, quickly joined by, Bill Nelson, Wyden and Lindsey Graham; most of the animated talk went between Graham and McConnell. Bernie Sanders listened in from just outside the circle. I suspect this was over some horse trading about what people wanted votes on and where a deal was cut that brought over some of the holdouts.

This is not particularly surprising. The Senate will eventually pass this and also TPP.

The debate leading up to the cloture vote was brief:

Orrin Hatch tried to call up a series of amendments, mostly to obscure the opposition to fast track proceeding and ram it through to debate. Sherrod Brown objected. Brown suggested that there be discussion about voting on amendments BUT without cloture hanging over their heads. Hatch basically refused and called the vote on cloture.

Post vote: a quorum call was ordered and a gaggle of 12-15 Senators gathered in the well, with Sherrod Brown and Merkley leading a vigorous debate with Hatch and Wyden, Elizabeth Warren listened intently over Merkley’s shoulder with Boxer. The Schum circled like a shark. All of this was presumably over how the debate will proceed in terms of considering amendments.

ON TO THE BATTLE IN THE HOUSE!!!!

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POTUS, Are We “Making This Stuff Up” On TPP When THIS Happens? Are You OK When Americans Get Sick? http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/19/potus-are-we-making-this-stuff-up-on-tpp-when-this-happens-are-you-ok-when-americans-get-sick/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/19/potus-are-we-making-this-stuff-up-on-tpp-when-this-happens-are-you-ok-when-americans-get-sick/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:33:51 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9941

I’ve previously written that the president is a coward, hiding behind Nike and a whole host of other corporate sponsors in his pitch to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership. Probably the lowest he’s gone is accusing people of “making stuff up”, specifically when it comes to the view that, oh, pshaw, the TPP and so-called “free trade” deals will not undermine American regulations.

So, Mr. President, what dismissive comments can you conjure up now, in light of YESTERDAY’S undermining of an important food safety regulation because of the very secretive and corporate-friendly trade deals that TPP is a bad seed of? When Americans eat tainted meat, fall sick and die, what will you say?

Recall what the president said at his little corporate-fest at Nike:

Number four — critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation — food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations.  They’re making this stuff up.  (Applause.)  This is just not true.  No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.  This agreement would make sure our companies aren’t discriminated against in other countries.

Because I strongly believe that the president is smart, it is a sad fact that you have to conclude, when you read the above remarks, that he is either poorly informed or lying. Because this is just outright false.

And the World Trade Organization has just exposed that Nike-event claim that people are “making this stuff up” to be a lie. Yesterday, the WTO ruled that a U.S. law requiring that consumers know where pork and beef come from–where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered–violated trade rules. Congress must now weaken or eliminate that law, known as a country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law.

The WTO, to recap, is the global forum in which trade fights are adjudicated. But, don’t be booking any tickets to take part in that process or, ha, give input: that’s reserved only for a super-secret process, held behind-closed-doors to which access is granted to representatives of governments and corporations but not organizations like Global Trade Watch or other citizens groups.

Bad ruling? Tough luck. You’re fucked.

As Global Trade Watch’s Lori Wallach correctly says:

“Today’s WTO ruling, which effectively orders the U.S. government to stop providing  consumers basic information about where their food comes from, offers a clear example of why so many Americans and members of Congress oppose the Fast Tracking of more so-called ‘trade’ pacts that threaten commonsense consumer safeguards,” said Wallach. “The corporations lobbying to Fast Track the TPP must be groaning right now, as this ruling against a popular consumer protection in the name of ‘free trade’ spotlights exactly why there is unprecedented opposition to more of these deals.”

As Global Trade Watch correctly points out, the COOL requirements are supported by 9 out of 10 Americans.

What has made the president’s claims that people were just “making this stuff up” even more ludicrous is that the COOL decision is not the first one that obliterates a regulation aimed at protecting people:

In response to previous WTO rulings, the United States has rolled back U.S. Clean Air Act regulations on gasoline cleanliness standards successfully challenged by Venezuela and Mexico;  Endangered Species Act rules relating to shrimping techniques that kill sea turtles after a successful challenge by Malaysia and other nations; and altered auto fuel efficiency (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards that were successfully challenged by the European Union.

So, no, Mr. President, we’re not making this stuff up. Come out and debate this, stop hiding behind Nike and other carefully orchestrated events.

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TPP: Insider Says Elizabeth Warren (& Bernie Sanders) Right On Secrecy And How Bad The Deal Is http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/19/tpp-insider-says-elizabeth-warren-bernie-sanders-right-on-secrecy/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/19/tpp-insider-says-elizabeth-warren-bernie-sanders-right-on-secrecy/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 13:59:36 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9937 From inside the belly of the beast on trade comes an illuminating view on the secrecy around the Trans Pacific Partnership. From an insider. Who knows. And he says: Sens. Warren and Sanders, and a whole host of others, are right on the mark about the secrecy and how bad the deal is.

The views come from Michael Wessel whose tagline in this opinion piece describes him as a “cleared liaison to two statutory advisory committees and was a commissioner on the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, as well as the international trade co-chair for the Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign”. To be fair, he’s a lobbyist–take that for what it’s worth. On the other hand, for a couple of decades, he was the right-hand man for House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt. Gephardt, though quite moderate on most issues (and not my cup of tea generally) was very close to labor and quite active on the trade issue, and opposed NAFTA–remember, this was a senior party leader opposing Bill Clinton–primarily because he saw it as driving wages lower and lacking environmental and labor protections (not that I believe that those slapped on “protections” amount to much).

So, Wessel says:

The public criticisms of the TPP have been vague. That’s by design—anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice.

So-called “cleared advisors” like me are prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we’ve lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.

What I can tell you is that the administration is being unfair to those who are raising proper questions about the harms the TPP would do. To the administration, everyone who questions their approach is branded as a protectionist—or worse—dishonest. They broadly criticize organized labor, despite the fact that unions have been the primary force in America pushing for strong rules to promote opportunity and jobs. And they dismiss individuals like me who believe that, first and foremost, a trade agreement should promote the interests of domestic producers and their employees.[emphasis added]

And:

The text of the TPP, like all trade deals, is a closely guarded secret. That fact makes a genuine public debate impossible and should make robust debate behind closed doors all the more essential. But the ability of TPP critics like me to point out the deal’s many failings is limited by the government’s surprising and unprecedented refusal to make revisions to the language in the TPP fully available to cleared advisors.[emphasis added because the whole thing was worth emphasizing]

And:

Advisors are almost flying blind on these questions and others.

Only portions of the text have been provided, to be read under the watchful eye of a USTR official. Access, up until recently, was provided on secure web sites. But the government-run website does not contain the most-up-to-date information for cleared advisors. To get that information, we have to travel to certain government facilities and sign in to read the materials. Even then, the administration determines what we can and cannot review and, often, they provide carefully edited summaries rather than the actual underlying text, which is critical to really understanding the consequences of the agreement.

Other members of Congress have attacked this secrecy. Keith Ellison, for example, said “Maybe there’s some definition of secrecy he knows that I don’t know.”

The president has attacked his critics and has refused to debate critics directly, preferring to hide behind staged appearances at places like Nike–in my view, in a cowardly fashion. It may be that the White House doesn’t want to debate the lies that come up time and again around the TPP.

But, the secrecy of the deal is a fact.

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TPP/Fast Track, Don’t Let YOUR Rep Be Bought By “Burial Insurance” AKA “RETRAINING” http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/18/tppfast-track-dont-let-your-rep-be-bought-by-burial-insurance-aka-retraining/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/18/tppfast-track-dont-let-your-rep-be-bought-by-burial-insurance-aka-retraining/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 19:49:11 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9935 Now it boils down to this: can the White House and its corporate supporters find a sliver of votes in the House to pass fast track and, close on its heels, the Trans Pacific Partnership? To do that end, the president and his allies are going to rely on tried-and-true phony promises conjured up by Bill Clinton and Robert Reich when they squeezed NAFTA through by a handful of votes in 1993–the Clinton-Reich playbook is back on display again.

Today’s false promise: retraining.

Retraining does not work. It’s a fraud–if the criteria is will a person get a job that pays anything near what s/he was paid at the job being obliterated. The programs are designed to sell the fast-track/TPP corporate, middle-class destroying jobs deals, at a piddling cost, and completely hide the erosion of good jobs. They are cruel frauds because they hold out a false promise to millions of workers.

Retraining is NOT a moral economic middle-class jobs program.

It’s burial insurance.

Here is why.

To recap the current state of play, the president has already united the party behind him on both issues–that is, the Republican Party (congrats, Mr. President, on that awesome bi-partisan exercise–deserves a special room, I think, in your presidential library). So, what he needs to do is give something to a handful of members of his own party, particularly in the House (where the real action is on the vote) that each one can point to, partly to avoid a primary challenge, and say: “it was a tough vote, I had many concerns but I voted for the legislation because of the provisions to assist workers who lose their jobs because of TPP/fast track.” As an aside, this will be particularly useful to one multi-millionaire person riding around in a van and eating at Chipolte who is avoiding taking a position on either bill–even though it’s clear that she supports both.

I raise the retraining issue today because this afternoon the Senate will vote on an amendment by Sherrod Brown to the fast track bill that would to increase the Trade Adjustment Assistance program from the $450 million currently in the bill to $575 million. Republicans hate the TAA. And progressive should hate it, too.

First, what is the TAA?:

The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program is a federal program that provides a path for employment growth and opportunity through aid to US workers who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade. The TAA program seeks to provide these trade-affected workers with opportunities to obtain the skills, resources, and support they need to become reemployed. The program benefits and services that are available to individual workers are administered by the states through agreements between the Secretary of Labor and each state Governor. Program eligibility, technical assistance, and oversight are provided by the US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration’s Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance.

The Department of Labor says:

Since the inception of the TAA Program in 1974, nearly 4.8 million workers have been certified trade-affected and eligible to receive TAA benefits and services.
As of December 31, 2013, the TAA Program has served 2,192,910 workers

It is fascinating to read the most recent assessment of the TAA, an assessment by the DOL which, of course, is aimed at shedding the best possible light on TAA because, after all, the point is to make sure the programs continue to get funded. The most fascinating, in a very subtle way–you could miss it–is actually the discussion of the success stories.All of the success stories, with a heavy dose of good, “Mad Men” like positive chatter, talk about finding a new job. Example:

Stephen Haight lost his job after working for the same company for 33 years. He knew he needed to acquire more education and new skills in order to be competitive and find a good job. With the support of his case manager, Stephen enrolled in an Associate’s Degree program in Natural Gas Technology. Upon completion of his program, Stephen not only achieved a 3.9 GPA but started a full-time position the very next day in the field of his training.

Not a single one of the “success stories” speaks about WHAT THE NEW JOB PAYS.Because TAA advocates, going back to Clinton and Reich, never want to admit that people are basically screwed when they lose their jobs to trade–especially in a world where unions are weak and new jobs are Wal-Mart jobs.

Reason #1: The U.S. throws a pittance at retraining and income support. Today the support is even lower and pathetic than it was 15 years ago. Back then:

In FY 1999, the federal government spent $3.4 billion on UI, of which only $2.3 billion was paid to individuals.  Direct government outlays for dislocated worker programs in FY 1999 totaled about $1.4 billion.  Funding for TAA and NAFTA-TAA together added another $414 million. Assuming an average of 1 million workers laid off each year, total federal funding for training and income maintenance (not including UI) amounted to approximately $1,800 per worker – barely enough to cover the costs for enrollment in training, let alone sufficient funds for any kind of serious income support.  The United States spends far less on training and income support than any of the other industrialized countries[emphasis added]

Reason #2: jobs obliterated by so-called “free trade” are good-paying jobs because they are often held by people in unions who had good wages and real pensions. In case anyone didn’t notice, those are not the jobs being created today.Fundamentally, the problem is not a lack of skills.  I’ve written about this issue a lot going back a decade partly to critique the obsession over education. The problem with “retraining,” and, generally, the obsession about getting educated, is that the global economy is based not on competition over skills but competition based on wages. No matter how smart you think you are—and, by the way, those people who say we have the smartest workers in the world should pay attention to the racist sentiments inherent in that idea—there will always be someone who will do your work for less if there is no minimum standard. So, retraining and education, which in the abstract is nice, is the wrong answer to the question of how people will have any kind of economic stability.

Reason #3: Here’s the main point, connecting #1 and #2–no one connects the two. Meaning, training isn’t thought of as training for real jobs that exist AND are part of a large economic policy to create good paying jobs.

To take away from the heat of the moment regarding trade, let me use a parallel example. At the end of the Cold War, the defense industry dumped roughly 1.4 million workers between 1987-1996; a huge number of those workers were highly-skilled, unionized workers. A whole bunch of government programs collectively put $16.5 billion between 1993-1997 into trying to retrain and reemploy these workers–and, remember, these were workers who had a kind of patriotic glow about them since they were at the leading edge of the fight against those big bad Russians. And that amount–$16.5 billion–is a whole lot more than is being suggested be allocated to those people who will be “displaced” by TPP.

And the defense industry transitioned efforts failed. Why? Laura Powers and Ann Markusen dug into this and found basically two reasons:

…the main hallmark of federal transition policy has been acquiescence in wholesale defense industry consolidation and restructuring. This process that has viewed workers largely as impediments to cheaper weapons production. Through their post-Cold War military-industrial policies, the Pentagon and the Clinton Administration have:
l Agressively supported mergers among the nation’s largest defense firms;
l Encouraged firms to seek foreign military markets rather than to diversify at home;[emphasis added]

So, number one, even under a Democratic Administration, workers didn’t matter as much as corporate interests. Surprise!And second:

Second, defense workers who were laid off often did not find the assistance necessary to make satisfactory job and career changes. Local displaced-worker programs, while they varied considerably from place to place, were frequently unprepared — in terms of financial resources or administrative capacity — to serve this population. Although a strong economy in this period helped to keep aggregate unemployment rates low, our research indicates that private sector defense workers did not, on average, experience rapid re-employment at wages comparable or better to those they had received in their former defense-related occupations. We estimate that a majority of the workers displaced from defense-related industries between 1987 and 1997 now work at jobs that pay them less than their former wages and that fail to take advantage of their defense-bred skills. and a sizable minority has experienced a drop in earnings of 50% or more.

Let me underscore this. At a relatively stronger economic time, when unions were stronger, and Wal-Mart was not all the rage, workers who were dumped by the defense industry–the defense industry–still ended up in jobs paying far less.So, let us not be fucking naive and let’s stop lying to workers and playing a phony game: these “retraining programs” are phony. They don’t help people. They cover up the grim reality.

It’s burial insurance.

In a sense, the TAA does give us a great metaphor for the pathetic choice between the two major parties on economics: Republicans hate TAA because they think it’s too expensive and don’t want to help workers because “the free market, the free market”; Democrats are too cowardly to challenge, and/or, they believe in “the free market, the free market”, so they toss a few bones in “burial insurance” so they can claim they care and justify votes that are indefensible.

I do not blame Sherrod Brown for trying to get a little more money for these programs; I’m sure he knows, deep down, that these programs don’t work, and he’s working hard to defeat both fast track and TPP.

However, we should not let Congresscritters justify a vote for either fast track or TPP based on a few crumbs of “burial insurance” included to assuage someone’s conscience or cover up what is really horrendous economic policy.

 

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NOT BREAKING: CEOs Are Still Pigs At The Trough, Ripping Off Shareholders And Workers http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/16/not-breaking-ceos-are-still-pigs-at-the-trough-ripping-off-shareholders-and-workers/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/16/not-breaking-ceos-are-still-pigs-at-the-trough-ripping-off-shareholders-and-workers/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 15:12:26 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9930 Yeah, so, this is decidedly NOT new. CEOs are raking in vast riches yet again, using the usual confidence schemes they’ve used for a few decades. While inequality grows, it’s still really, really good times in the CEO suite.

The greed continues–and escalates:

At public companies with market values of more than $1 billion and that had filed proxies by April 30, the average package for the top 200 best paid chief executives was worth $22.6 million, trumping last year’s average of $20.7 million, and the median was $17.6 million. Those are the highest amounts since Equilar began keeping track in 2006.[emphasis added]

Here is the full list.

The poor CEOs, they are just paupers compared to the hedge fund guys. Aren’t we sad?:

However large, these pay packages do not represent the pinnacle of executive compensation. Hedge fund and private equity firm leaders can make not just tens of millions of dollars a year, but more than $1 billion.The top 25 hedge fund managers took home a combined $11.62 billion last year, according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, or nearly a half-billion dollars each. The top earner, Kenneth C. Griffin, the founder and chief executive of Citadel, brought home $1.3 billion. Private equity chieftains did nearly as well. Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group made $690 million last year, up from $450 million in 2013. (Hedge funds and private equity firms compensate executives through a mix of fees, carried interest and dividends, which are not calculated in Equilar’s study.)

I never thought this whole obsession of forcing companies to disclose CEO pay relative to performance made much sense. Because this has very little to do with performance–it’s a scam, an inside job. So this:

In theory, the momentum to rein in runaway pay continues. Dodd-Frank introduced new say-on-pay measures, allowing shareholders to express their discontent. The Securities and Exchange Commission is developing rules that would require companies to reveal the ratio of the chief executive’s pay to that of average workers. And last month, the S.E.C. proposed requiring companies to disclose how performance affects executive pay.If companies have to report C.E.O. pay that is 1,000 times that of the average worker or justify growing pay in spite of weak results, perhaps shame will kick in.

In the meantime, like an all-you-can-eat buffet for America’s captains of industry, it seems there is no end to how much money executives can devour. For the first time, all 10 of the top-paid C.E.O.s on Equilar’s list received at least $50 million last year.

And while much of the overall compensation came in the form of stock — some of which vests over several years — some chief executives received generous cash bonuses, a form of compensation that does little to incentivize long-term performance.[emphasis added]

A last point I’d make today. These greedy fucks justify this of course with this malarky:

Big pay has its defenders. “What does ‘excessive’ mean?” said Mr. Leider, the compensation consultant who advises companies on pay packages. “What somebody who works on the line considers excessive is different than what someone who has worked in management for 10 years considers excessive.” The defense of these supersize salaries comes down to the idea that the executives, like celebrities, ought to be rewarded for their indispensable contributions. “Movie stars and sports stars get paid a lot for a very unique skill set,” Mr. Leider said. “Some of these C.E.O.s have very unique skill sets.”[emphasis added]

This is a complete myth. CEOs do not have “very unique skill sets”. Most of what they do could be done by hundreds of thousands of people; most good community or union organizers I know could run any organization and any company.The difference is CEOs made a choice to climb the ladder, ingratiating themselves to those above them and ultimately the board of directors which chooses a new CEO–and I suppose ass-kissing and playing golf with the right people and eliminating your internal competitions is a unique skill set.

It’s all about a club. And, then, when it comes to pay, it’s all about that Club taking care of the other members of The Club–and that usually means handing over huge pay and benefits, and the expense of shareholders and certainly workers.

I’ve referenced this before when I’ve written about CEO greed. When I wrote my book “The Audacity of Greed” back in 2009, I had the good fortune to talk with Graef “Bud” Crystal who was once one of the country’s premier compensation consultants—the guy who would be hired by CEOs to come up with compensation packages. He was there in the very first days of what would become a broad scam. He told me back then:

 

 “In 1970, one CEO hired me and said, ‘we don’t have a bonus plan and do we need one?’” recalls Crystal. “I did the study and I went back to the CEO and said ‘yes you do need a bonus plan. But we have a problem area. You are making $150,000-a year and the problem is that the $150,000 is equal to the salary and the bonus to what your competitors are paying so we have to cut your pay to $100,000-a-year and then we can put in a bonus.’” Crystal laughs. “It was like a scene from The Exorcist where ice formed on the windows…he started arguing about the findings and he finally said ‘let me say this to you this way: who do you think is paying your bills anyway?’ I replied, ‘If I recall correctly the checks were drawn on the corporate account, not your personal account so the shareholders are paying me, not you.’ The meeting ended quite quickly.

The point is the whole game is fixed. The CEO stacks his board with cronies, pays them $20,000-per-meeting board fees and, then, makes sure his cronies approve pay packages — the real money is in the pensions and deferred pay.

It’s a scam and has nothing to do with skills or “market competition”.

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz, If You Vote For Fast Track, You Must RESIGN As DNC Chair http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/15/debbie-wasserman-schultz-if-you-vote-for-fast-track-you-must-resign-as-dnc-chair/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/15/debbie-wasserman-schultz-if-you-vote-for-fast-track-you-must-resign-as-dnc-chair/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 16:29:08 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9928

The gloves have to come off when it comes to individual members of Congress who vote for “fast track” and the Trans Pacific Partnership. I’m talking seriously funded primaries in 2016. I’m going to start laying out the case for specific challenges (and a little plan is percolating in my brain) and I know there will be a debate about this.

BUT…a no-brainer has to be this: Debbie Wasserman Schultz cannot vote in favor of “fast track”–which she has declared her support for–and remain head of the Democratic National Committee. Impossible.

This is pretty simple. Yes, when Democrats control the White House, the president is usually the person who decides who the head of the DNC is. And, of course, the president is pushing for “fast track”.

BUT: the head of the DNC is supposed to represent all members of the party and its interests. Not just the president:

As chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, she strongly backs Obama but faces intense pressure from fellow Democrats who fear the results of behind-the-scenes trade negotiations.

Members of the Communications Workers of America made it clear to Wasserman Schultz that her position on fast track was unacceptable during this demonstration at her office:

CWA demonstration at the offices of Debbie Wasserman Schultz

A majority of Democratic Party elected members of Congress in the House and Senate OPPOSE “fast track”.We know that from the most recent cloture vote in the Senate in which 31 out of the 44 Democrats voted NO (for the purposes of the discussion of the DNC chair, I am omitting the two independents–Bernie Sanders and Angus King–who caucus with the Democrats and also were NO votes).

In the House, it’s pretty clear that only a handful–right now probably no more than 20 or so–of the 188 Democrats support “fast track”. Most leading Democrats in the House oppose “fast track”, including senior Democratic leaders like Rosa DeLauro and virtually all the other House Florida Democrats (Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Alan Grayson, Kathy Castor, Corrine Brown and Patrick Murphy have all declared opposition).

The entire labor movement is opposed to “fast track”–and the labor movement supplies tens of millions of dollars to the party, in hard cash and resources (boots on the ground). AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has already made it clear, along with other unions, that no money is coming to candidates and the partyuntil it’s clear where members of Congress end up on fast track and TPP. Trumka would be entirely correct to write to Wasserman Schultz, if she votes for “Fast track” to express no-confidence in her leadership and ask for her resignation and refuse to give money to the party until she does.

This is simple: the chair of the party cannot continue to serve when s/he cannot, and does not, represent the majority of the interests of its members. And, especially, when s/he is in direct opposition to the vast majority of its members on a crucial, defining issue.

Vote for fast track, Rep. Wasserman Schultz. That’s your right. But the next day you need to resign as chair of the DNC.

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Facebook Demanding $15-An-Hour Pay For Contractors, Shows How Behind Democrats Are (Again) http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/13/facebook-demanding-15-an-hour-pay-for-contractors-shows-how-behind-democrats-are-again/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/13/facebook-demanding-15-an-hour-pay-for-contractors-shows-how-behind-democrats-are-again/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 15:03:49 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9926 I’m not here to give too much of a wet-kiss to Facebook, which, to my way of thinking, plays a misleading game about its “social networking” process (i.e., its algorithm requires that you basically have to buy ads to actually move content to your own “Friends”). That said, today, at least it gets credit for pushing at least some pay standards higher–and showing, yet again, how Democrats are pathetically behind the energy in the streets on pay.

Facebook will now require a higher wage for many of its contracted workers$15-an-hour:

The social network announced plans Wednesday to require its U.S. contractors and vendors to pay their employees at least $15 an hour and offer paid time off for sick days and vacation.Facebook will also require contractors to offer a $4,000 “child benefit” for workers that don’t already get parental leave.

The move comes amid a growing push to raise the minimum wage, with fast-food workers and others in low-wage jobs calling for at least $15 an hour.

“Taking these steps is the right thing to do for our business and our community,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, wrote in a blog post.

Sandberg, an outspoken advocate for women in the workforce, said the changes are particularly important for women, since they make up the bulk of minimum-wage workers nationwide. She added that providing benefits contributes to “a happier and ultimately more productive workforce.”

By contrast, the Democratic Party, and the White House, started its own “progressive” legislation on a federal minimum wage at a pathetic $10.10-an-hour, and only upped the offer to $12-an-hour recently–largely, in my view, because the energy in the streets around The Fight For 15 showed where the debate should be.I have argued for a long time that, just based on economics,the minimum wage should be $20-an-hour, and that the $10.10-an-hour was a really bad idea, on economics and politics. That seemed high to a lot of people when politicians and bloggers were pimping for a poverty-level $10.10-an-hour.

Maybe Facebook will actually start a trend–a good one that goes beyond people staring at their phones for hours on end.

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BREAKING: Fast Track Will Be Blocked in Senate, But Action Will Be In House (Liveblog For Vote) http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/12/breaking-fast-track-will-be-blocked-in-senate-but-action-will-be-in-house-liveblog-for-vote/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/12/breaking-fast-track-will-be-blocked-in-senate-but-action-will-be-in-house-liveblog-for-vote/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:03:04 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9922

Let’s be clear: The Senate is not where the action ultimately is going to be when it comes to defeating “Fast Track” and the TPP. It will be in the House. Eventually, in my estimation, “fast track” and TPP will pass the Senate–the Senate has always been much more pro- so-called “free trade.

But, today, “Fast track” is stopped. When the actual vote comes up, I’ll be blogging it.

I think this is probably accurate:

With those votes committed to opposing “fast track” today, the bill will not move forward. But, for people like Wyden, Nelson, Cantwell, Feinstein, Bennet, this is a temporary vote that, IMHO, is just a PR gimmick on their part–they will be votes for “fast track” and TPP at the end of the day.

Pre-vote rhetoric:

Barbara Boxer gave a good floor speech earlier. She recalls voting FOR “Fast track” in 1988 (she was in the House then) and said she then could not try to change NAFTA when it came up for a vote in 1993 (when she had just been elected to the Senate in 1992). She won’t be fooled again, she says.

Orrin Hatch, on the other hand, whined about having to support “Fast track” and TPP even though it includes money for Trade Adjustment Assistance, which he doesn’t like at all (“I wish we didn’t have to pass that”)–TAA is bullshit, by the way, because it’s basically a pittance thrown at workers to retrain some of them for jobs that don’t exist at wages way below what they earn.

Durbin tried to make sense of the alphabet soup of acronyms, mostly for the CSPAN audience–what do all these different bills means?

Senate gavels backs in 2:15 p.m.:

Cory Gardner is the first up, Republican to speak…blah blah…TPP will create jobs…(how do these idiots get elected is always beyond me). Pursue policies to grow economy…blah blah…”made in America” flag waving…

Sherrod Brown: “Even supporters…those cheerleaders…acknowledge there will be winners and losers.” Goes through impact of past deals. “How do you ignore the losers…?” Need strong currency provisions. Provision to prohibit child labor that passed Finance Committee is not part of the current package!

Jeff Merkley, the workers Senator from Oregon: stages of trade, well said, “for those who want to put forward the mirage…that somehow this will increase American production, that is a false promise.”

(by the way caught the little huddle behind Merkley between Bernie, Sherrod and Sheldon Whitehouse).

Orrin Hatch is back…blah blah…not really worth writing this, eh? Oh, and he hates the Trade Assistance program in case you didn’t know.

Voting soon…

VOTES (in the process just picking out ones on the fly). “No” votes are good–opposed to proceeding to the “Fast track” bill.

Elizabeth Warren: thumbs down
Casey voted no.
Schumer just voted NO
ALL NOS ARE FOLLOWING DEMS–(yes, missed a few in the rollcall; will come back around at the end but this puppy is going down…)
Bennett
Blumenthal
Donnelly
Brown
Boxer
Cardin
Cantwell
Murphy
McCaskill
Franken
Coons
Gillibrand
Markey
Angus King
Leahy
Menendez
Manchin
Merkley
Mikulski
Harry Reid
Reed
Hirono
Nelson
Peters
Durbin
Klobauchar
Feinstein
Heinrich
Shaheen
Kaine
Tester
Udall
Warner
AND DRUMROLL…WYDEN

So far only Republicans voting YES…how does that feel POTUS?

Ooopppp, first Democrat…Carper voted yes...

McConnell voted NO but that is just a procedural vote that allows McConnell to bring up the bill again–if you are in the majority you can’t. But, McConnell is shocked, shocked, shocked…

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POTUS, On TPP, Don’t Be A Coward, Come Out & Debate Openly (Elizabeth Warren Fires Back) http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/11/potus-on-tpp-dont-be-a-coward-come-out-debate-openly-elizabeth-warren-fires-back/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/11/potus-on-tpp-dont-be-a-coward-come-out-debate-openly-elizabeth-warren-fires-back/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 15:16:42 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9919 It’s easy enough to have very carefully choreographed appearances, say in front of a controlled crowd at Nike, where you can attack opponents without having to actually engage in a debate. But, the president is a coward: if you want to tear down people and claim they are wrong on such a critical issue, come out and debate people directly.

In his tightly controlled, from-the-throne appearance, the president last week made a whole series of claims–all of which he made without being contested. No questions asked. Nobody to contradict him. He used interviews with transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”), who are clueless when it comes to trade and buy the same nonsense, to attack people who oppose this putrid deal.

But, face people who disagree and who are competent to challenge him directly? Nope. The emperor does not need to do this.

Crazy, unsubstantiated claims were the rule of the day:

First of all, they say that this trade agreement will cost American jobs.  And they’re really basing this on some past experience, looking at what happened in the ‘90s, over the last 20 years, as there was a lot of outsourcing going on.  And you know what, past trade agreements, it’s true, didn’t always reflect our values or didn’t always do enough to protect American workers.  But that’s why we’re designing a different kind of trade dealAnd the truth is that companies that only care about low wages, they’ve already moved.  They don’t need new trade deals to move.  They’ve already outsourced.  They’ve already located in search of low wages.

Really? Based on what information did the president make the–absurd–claim that every company searching for lower wages has already moved?Another claim:

What this trade agreement would do is open the doors to the higher-skill, higher-wage jobs of the future — jobs that we excel at.  It would make sure our manufacturers who are operating at the higher end of the value chain are able to access these growing markets.  And the fact is, over the past few years, our manufacturers have been steadily creating jobs for the first time since the 1990s — under my administration.  After more than a decade away from the top spot, business leaders around the world have declared the United States is the world’s number one place to invest for a third year in a row.

Uh, where did that lie come from? According to the truly left wing magazine, Forbes, the U.S. ranks 18th…behind #1 Denmark. But, perhaps, the president has other figures.OK, come out from behind the curtain and debate that fact.

And his faith in Nike:

Just this morning, as Mark may have mentioned, Nike announced that, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it will make new investments in advanced manufacturing — not overseas, but right here in the United States.  And far more Nike products would be made in the U.S.A.  (Applause.)  And that means thousands of new jobs in manufacturing and engineering and design at Nike facilities across the country, and potentially tens of thousands of new jobs along Nike’s supply chain here at home.  That’s what trade can do.

That’s because that promise is baked into the agreement? Or the president simply chooses to believe Nike–the same company that hides money in offshore accounts in Bermuda? In case no one noticed, corporations always promise shit and very often–surprise!!!–don’t live up those promises. On trade:

Before NAFTA was passed, General Electric promised more than 10,000 new jobs would be created. Instead, GE eliminated 11,675 jobs directly due to increased competition from imports and offshoring under NAFTA. Chrysler promised 4,000 new jobs and it eliminated nearly 18,000 jobs. More recently in March, Caterpillar announced it will move two production lines from Joliet, Illinois to Mexico, costing the community 230 jobs.

Or take something like taxes. Corporations who promised to repatriate money hidden offshore in return for a tax break and create jobs, instead, used it for stock buybacks (to boost share value) and CEO pay.And as for Nike, it was a pretty clever statement by Nike’s Mark Parker:

Over the next decade, that could mean 10,000 new jobs in manufacturing andengineering from Nike and our partners and up to 40,000 jobs across our supply
chain.

“Could mean”? Really? And a decade from now, after Mr. Parker has pocketed tens of millions of dollars more in pay and benefits, what exactly happens if that “aspiration” isn’t fulfilled?And about NAFTA-style agreements, the president says:

Point number two — when you ask folks specifically, what do you oppose about this trade deal, they just say “NAFTA.”  NAFTA was passed 20 years ago.  That was a different agreement.  And in fact, this agreement fixes some of what was wrong with NAFTA by making labor and environmental provisions actually enforceable.

Really? It is true that the president is peddling a line that a lot of people believe–that any of these trade agreements can have enforceable labor and environment provisions. As I pointed out when Obama first ran for office, it is virtually impossible–you can’t even enforce regulations HERE IN THE U.S.Enforcement has always been a farce created to buy a few votes to jam NAFTA through a Democratic Congress. It was a farce accepted by the labor movement, which, weak as it was (and continues to be) felt that it was the best deal it could get in the face of a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and his Labor secretary, Robert Reich who was a full-throated champion of so-called “free trade.”

We need to recognize it as a farce and stop playing rhetorical political gamesmanship.

The problem is not enforcement of NAFTA, or CAFTA or TPP. It is the very conception and framework of the deals.

The most basic problem, hold on to your hats, is that so-called “free trade” agreements have little to do with trade; that is, the reducing of tariffs and eliminating of quotas. You got it—it’s just a marketing phrase, a very effective one, that obscures what most of the so-called “free trade” agreements do.

These deals have created a set of rules whose basic premise is: protect capital and investment. That means, among other wonderful benefits, expand monopoly patent rights on drugs and other goods; expand intellectual property rights (that means the rights not of individual authors but corporations); privatize and deregulate services (because it worked so well in the U.S., huh?); and weaken, cut or “harmonize” food safety laws.

And Elizabeth Warren does have responses today:

THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified.

PLUM LINE: But don’t you get 60 days to review it after the deal is finalized, with the authority to revoke fast track?

WARREN: The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.

PLUM LINE: Doesn’t the current framework allow for the revocation of fast track authority?

WARREN: The whole point about fast track is to grease the skids so that 51 votes will get it through…it takes a majority to get rid of [fast track].

But, if the president is so confident in his positions and concerned that this great gift to the people of the country is so crucial, he should stop attacking–with the very kinds of baseless, personal attacks he rightly criticizes Republicans for engaging in–the vast majority of Democrats in Congress who oppose the deal, and come out from behind his protected bubble and debate this openly.But, he won’t.

Because he loses on the facts.

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The Missing 3 Million http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/08/the-missing-3-million/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/08/the-missing-3-million/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 17:49:28 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9916 I remain in the camp of people who are entirely unimpressed by the economic figures raved about by most pundits, economists and The White House. We all know that pay is not growing. But, there’s another thing to be concerned about: the missing 3.1 million workers.

The rebound fans:

The American job market rebounded in April, the government said on Friday, helping to ease worries that the economy was on the brink of another extended slowdown after a bleak winter in which the overall economy stalled. But the growth in jobs failed to translate, once again, into any significant improvement in pay.

Uh, but wait a minute. What about a whole bunch of people who are off the radar screen? The Economic Policy Institute is hunting for the “missing workers”:

In today’s labor market, the unemployment rate drastically understates the weakness of job opportunities. This is due to the existence of a large pool of “missing workers”—potential workers who, because of weak job opportunities, are neither employed nor actively seeking a job. In other words, these are people who would be either working or looking for work if job opportunities were significantly stronger. Because jobless workers are only counted as unemployed if they are actively seeking work, these “missing workers” are not reflected in the unemployment rate.[emphasis added]

What’s the number today?:

Total missing workers, April 2015: 3,140,000
Unemployment rate if missing workers were looking for work: 7.3%
[emphasis added]

Which would mean the real unemployment rate–and I’m even leaving out the people who would like full-time work but can’t find it (but are counted as “employed”)–is double what the official number tells us.

The charts from EPI:

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POTUS, Would You Let Your Daughters Work 4 Nike in Vietnam? Sanders Says Cancel Your Trip 2 Nike http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/06/potus-would-you-let-your-daughters-work-4-nike-in-vietnam-sanders-says-cancel-your-trip-2-nike/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/06/potus-would-you-let-your-daughters-work-4-nike-in-vietnam-sanders-says-cancel-your-trip-2-nike/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 01:40:42 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9913

At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt for voters to ask politicians the family question: would you ask your children, your spouses, or your parents to face the consequences of a policy decision and put themselves in the very world you advocate for? If you are going to vote for war, would you ask your kids to drop what they are doing (even if they had, in the immortal words of a war criminal Dick Cheney “other priorities” when their number came up) and sign up for the battlefield?

And when it comes to the TPP, and recruiting Nike to pimp for you to pass this pile of crap, one can ask the President: would you ask your daughters to work in a Nike factory in Vietnam?

The obvious answer is “no” and there’s a good reason for that, as my good friends at the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights point out in a detailed report on Nike and Vietnam. Nike has gotten a lot of great PR on “reforming” its sweatshops in Asia, largely for agreeing to publish the names of its contractors. But, as the Institute’s co-director, Barbara Briggs, said to me in an email, including the link to their new report:

While progressive Nike does disclose the names and addresses of the factories they use in Vietnam, they and the Vietnamese government have colluded to make darn sure that NO information is available regarding actual working conditions and wages inside those factories.  Never in all our years of this work—no even in China—have we encountered such a void.

She was being sarcastic about “progressive Nike” by the way.

To the report, entitled, “A Race to the Bottom:TPP & The Quintessential Case of Nike in Vietnam”:

Nike is truly the canary in the coal mine, pointing us to what unfettered “free trade” looks like, and what the world will look like under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).In the year 2014, Nike produced over 365 million pairs of athletic shoes, while at the same time refusing to make a single sneaker in the United States.  Meanwhile, they are making these shoes at a tremendous profit while paying their overseas workers pennies.  In fact, Nike’s largest production center is Vietnam, where more than 330,000 workers, mostly young women, toil in 67 factories making goods for Nike.  Everyone knows that Nike shoes do not  come cheap, selling in the U.S. from $60 to $120 to well past $200.


Wages in Vietnam: 48 to 69 cents an hour 8-hour day, 48-hour work week
More:

For years, Nike has been exploiting the 330,000 Vietnamese workers, mostly young women, who are poorly paid and denied their most fundamental rights.

Basically, Mr. President, you are willing to give the effective blessing to Nike–which is what a company gets from a PR trip by the POTUS–and ignore the fact that young women, many of them not much older than your daughters, work as slaves. Shameful.Which led Bernie Sanders today to call for the president to cancel his trip to Nike (the letter is actually dated today so the press statement below is incorrect):

Citing Nike’s low wages for foreign workers, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) yesterday asked President Obama to cancel a planned meeting on Friday with executives of the athletic shoe maker at its headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.Nike has taken advantage of free-trade agreements – similar to proposed new pact which Obama is touting – to offshore tens of thousands of American jobs to Vietnam and other low-wage countries.

“Nike epitomizes why disastrous unfettered free-trade policies during the past four decades have failed American workers, eroded our manufacturing base and increased income and wealth inequality in this country,” Sanders wrote in a letter he sent to the president yesterday.

As part of a campaign on Capitol Hill for a proposed 12-nation trade agreement, the Obama administration has been traveling the country talking about the pact’s supposed benefits.

Sanders and other opponents of the deal have argued that previous trade agreements cost millions of American jobs and widened the United States’ trade deficit – a pattern likely to be repeated if the largest ever trade deal is approved by Congress.

“It is no secret why Nike is supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This would increase the profits of Nike … but do nothing to encourage Nike to create one manufacturing job in this country. It would simply make Nike more money and increase the compensation packages of its executives,” Sanders wrote.

Since 2001, the U.S. has lost 60,000 factories. When Nike was founded in 1964, just 4 percent of footwear sold in the United States was imported. Today, that number has soared to 98 percent and Nike, like many other shoe companies, produces all of its products overseas.

Sanders said Congress should reject the free-trade agreement and instead develop policies that promote jobs in the United States.

I know from colleagues in Oregon that they will be demonstrating against the TPP and Obama’s visit. Here is a bit on that:

The presidential limousine could drive past a line of protestors Friday outside Nike’s world headquarters.The Oregon Fair Trade Campaign on Monday said it will picket outside Nike’s Washington County campus when the president visits to talk about a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“The TPP model of globalization, epitomized by Nike, is to offshore jobs to countries with horrendous labor and environmental practices,” the group said in a statement Monday. “That’s great for corporate elites who want to sell sweatshop-made goods at a huge mark-up, but it’s awful for Americans looking for good-paying jobs.”

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BREAKING: Obama To Promise TPP Will Cure Cancer, End Obesity–Cuz Korea Deal Obliterates Job Claims http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/06/breaking-obama-to-promise-tpp-will-cure-cancer-end-obesity-cuz-korea-deal-obliterates-job-claims/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/06/breaking-obama-to-promise-tpp-will-cure-cancer-end-obesity-cuz-korea-deal-obliterates-job-claims/#comments Wed, 06 May 2015 15:55:35 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9911

It must be an interesting conversation to behold between the president and his people who are desperately trying to figure out how to prop up this piece of crap called the Trans Pacific Partnership. I really have some sympathy for these guys: how do you make something palatable without telling lies? There’s the list of ten lies/half-truths that just don’t hold water.

Then, there’s the bullshit about the deal not being negotiated in secret, leading one member of Congress to say “We know when we’re being suckered” and another to say, “My chief of staff who has a top secret security clearance can learn more about ISIS or Yemen than about this trade agreement”.

And, now, actual numbers–these are called FACTS–show that a cookie-cutter version of the TPP has cost the U.S. dearly in jobs.

Got it, solution, pesky facts notwithstanding: there’s always a last ditch claim…TPP will, in fact, end cancer and make everyone slim.

Back when the Korean Free Trade Agreement was negotiated, I wrote a lengthy open letter to a labor leader (and friend) about why the deal was bad, emphasizing the nonsense about jobs. Then, last year, when the data came out about the Korean deal impact, I wrote here that the  the president’s promises that the deal with Korea would expand U.S. exports and create U.S. jobs just collapsed in the face of real evidence.

Happy Anniversary, Korea Free Trade Deal…you are as bad a deal now as you were back then, as Global Trade Watch demonstrated yesterday after the release of import data:

U.S. goods exports to Korea have dropped 6 percent, or $2.7 billion, under the Korea FTA’s first three years, while goods imports from Korea have surged 19 percent, or $11.3 billion (comparing the deal’s third year to the year before implementation). As a result, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has swelled 104 percent, or more than $14 billion.  The trade deficit increase equates to the loss of more than 93,000 American jobs in the first three years of the Korea FTA, counting both exports and imports, according to the trade-jobs ratio that the Obama administration used to project gains from the deal.“As if the odds for Fast Track were not already long enough, with most House Democrats and many GOP members stating opposition, today’s unveiling of a job-killing trade deficit
surge under the Korea FTA puts a few more nails in Fast Track’s coffin,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s  Global Trade Watch. “Who’s going to buy the argument about Fast Track and the TPP creating ‘more exports, more jobs’ when Obama’s only major trade deal, used as the TPP template, was sold under that very slogan and yet has done the opposite?”[emphasis added]

So, there’s still cancer and obesity. I have incredible faith in the White House’s ability to explain the connection–facts aren’t necessary, just a little passion.By the way, when the president argues that the TPP will end cancer and cure obesity, expect from the campaign trail the so-called “presumptive nominee” of the Democratic Party issuing a bold statement that, “while the TPP can’t be proven today to cure cancer and end obesity, I look forward to studying the issue closely because it’s so important for middle-class, hard-working Americans to know what I think about the potential, and I will ask my team of 200 people who are always poll-testing the American people to come up with my position, so I can have a conversation from my van with real Americans about the challenges of cancer and obesity.”

On the other hand, if you don’t want to be showered with bullshit, you can always try this.

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Keith Ellison Re TPP: POTUS has “some definition of secrecy he knows that I don’t know” http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/04/keith-ellison-re-tpp-potus-has-some-definition-of-secrecy-he-knows-that-i-dont-know/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/04/keith-ellison-re-tpp-potus-has-some-definition-of-secrecy-he-knows-that-i-dont-know/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 17:30:49 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9906

When it comes down to it, the president has a problem. No one doubts that he is wicked smart. And there’s the rub when it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership: if he was, say, Sarah Palin-level intelligence, you’d say the whoppers coming out of the White House emanate from a dope. But, if whoppers keep coming from a wicked smart man running the show, you have to say he’s lying.

Secrecy is secrecy. No matter how they want to spin it. And it is having a corrosive effect on the ability of the White House to ram through the TPP because, basically, on the subject of TPP secrecy, the Democrats are calling the president a liar…in nice terms. Silver lining: this could end up killing the putrid deal.

Today’s expressions of, uh, the lack of faith in the White House credibility come here:

If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.

And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read.

“It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”

For those out to sink Obama’s free trade push, highlighting the lack of public information is becoming central to their opposition strategy: The White House isn’t even telling Congress what it’s asking for, they say, or what it’s already promised foreign governments.[emphasis added]

Lloyd Doggett:

“The access to information is totally at the whim of Ambassador Froman,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who’s a hard no on fast track but says he’d like to see other ways of promoting international trade. “He likes to make available information that he thinks helps his case, and if it conflicts, then he doesn’t make the information available,” Doggett said.Doggett, like other critics, pointed out that the cover sheets of the trade documents in that basement room are marked only “confidential document” and note they’re able to be transmitted over unsecured email and fax — but for some reason are still restricted to members of Congress.

My chief of staff who has a top secret security clearance can learn more about ISIS or Yemen than about this trade agreement,” Doggett said.

Alan Grayson:

“We know when we’re being suckered,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who said he believes that the USTR quotes percentages instead of absolute values on trade statistics that give an overly positive impression. “It’s not only condescending, it’s misleading.”[emphasis added]

And from Keith Ellison:

“He’s indignant when we say it’s secret,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). “Maybe there’s some definition of secrecy he knows that I don’t know.”[emphasis added]

Truthfully, there are much bigger lies coming from the White House on TPP, as I documented here. Even if this wasn’t done in secret, TPP would be bad for the people.But, the lying about secrecy is costing the president votes. And that’s a good thing.

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Bernie Sanders, Champion of Tax Fairness, often “the lone voice in the Senate” http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/01/bernie-sanders-champion-of-tax-fairness-often-the-lone-voice-in-the-senate/ http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/01/bernie-sanders-champion-of-tax-fairness-often-the-lone-voice-in-the-senate/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 20:22:51 +0000 http://www.workinglife.org/?p=9900

The robbery of our money by the wealthy and corporations and the placing of a heavier tax burden on regular people is one of the key drivers of class warfare in this country. When corporations and the wealthy hide money and/or use gimmicks to avoid paying a fair share of taxes, we all end up paying more–or the basic services of a decent society collapse.

Bernie Sanders “has been the lone voice in the Senate fighting for legislation that would ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share,” according to Citizens Tax Justice, the leading voice for tax justice in the nation.

Here is what CTJ says:

Senator and now presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has one of the strongest records of any elected official when it comes to standing up for tax fairness. In many cases, Sen. Sanders has been the lone voice in the Senate fighting for legislation that would ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share.For example, Sen. Sanders is a long-time champion of legislation that would end offshore tax avoidance by no longer allowing multinational corporations to “defer” (forever) paying taxes on their foreign income. While some other proposals would narrow offshore loopholes, ending deferral would totally eliminate the incentive for companies to shift profits to tax havens because it would require them to pay taxes on these profits regardless of where they are held.

Adding to this, Sen. Sanders has introduced legislation that would return the estate tax exemption levels to the more robust 2009 levels ($3.5 million for individuals). This increase in the estate tax would still mean that only the top 0.3 percent of all estates (as opposed to the just the top 0.1 percent as is the case now) would owe anything in estate taxes.

Looking back, Sen. Sanders has repeatedly fought against regressive tax cuts.  During his time in the House of Representatives, he received a perfect score on the Citizens for Tax Justice “Congressional Tax Report Card” for his repeated votes against the Bush-era tax cut bills, including the 2004 bill that included a repatriation tax holiday for multinational corporations, a bill that many Democrats, like then-Senator Hillary Clinton, voted for. In 2010, Sen. Sanders spoke for nearly nine hours straight in the Senate chamber to make the case against extending the temporary Bush tax cuts.

Looking forward, Sen. Sanders’ early campaign materials indicate that tax fairness will be a major part of his presidential campaign. Sen. Sanders laments that many “major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes” and that “corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries.” With any luck, the addition of Sen. Sanders to the presidential race will serve to bring much needed attention to the egregious inequities in our tax system as well as to his many sensible proposals to correct these same inequities. [emphasis added]

By comparison, CTJ writes:

“Clinton has frequently shown a willingness to take a stand for tax fairness but has never fleshed out a clear agenda on these issues and has occasionally embraced regressive or gimmicky tax policies.”

This post brought to you in celebration of May Day!

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