Working Life Jonathan Tasini's Ruminations on Work, The Economy, and Politics Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:22:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rana Plaza: Two Years Later, Remembering 1,138 Deaths Caused By Greed & The Glorious “Free Market” Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:22:32 +0000

Two years ago, Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,138 garment workers and injuring 2,400 others; many of the injured live today with physical problems that make it hard for them to work, not to mention the grief many of them live with because of loved ones killed in the disaster.

This was murder, plain and simple. The deaths of the 1,138 must be remembered because they were victims of greed, the greed that is the linchpin of the economic system around the world, including the U.S., that places profits before the lives of people.

A few days ago, I wrote about the refusal of many of the billionaires at the top of the garment industry to pay up what they had committed to paying for enhanced monitoring of safety conditions in these horrendous factories.

Remember, people work for slave wages in these factories but that doesn’t seem to be enough for those who profit from that labor–if thousands die, oh well, that’s just tough luck.

And we need to remember Rana Plaza because of a simple fact: this happens every day. People are sacrificed for greed and the glory of the “free market” all around the world. Rana Plaza became a global story because of the huge number of worked who died in just a few minutes. But, most of those deaths are never seen, certainly not by people in the U.S, though it happens in the U.S. as well, as I wrote in this piece about the deaths of 28 miners in an explosion in 2010 at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

Here are two pieces worth watching. Take the time and remember.

This is a short BBC documentary. What is astounding is the footage of the factory taken the day before–and knowing that specific workers who were interviewed 24 hours before the collapse about their fears about the safety of the factory would be crushed to death.

This is a shorter, a bit rougher but graphic video of the disaster (warning: you might find some of the images of people killed in the collapse upsetting):


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Now Two Companies Can Continue Consumer-Gouging On Their Own Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:38:16 +0000 Only in the United States of America could there be any possibility, on contemplation, to let two huge companies combine their horrendous, price-gouging service. But, alas for them, it ain’t happening.

A marriage isn’t happening:

Comcast is planning to abandon its $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable fter the deal encountered intense regulatory scrutiny over whether it was anticompetitive and in the public interest, people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

The merger would have united the country’s two largest cable operators and reshaped video and broadband markets. Some lawmakers, public advocacy groups and media and technology companies had rallied against the merger, saying it would invest too much power and market share in one company. The combined company would have controlled just under 30 percent of the pay television subscribers and 35 to 50 percent of the nation’s broadband Internet service, depending on how regulators define the market.

This is something to celebrate. But, wait a minute: the terrible service and outrageous prices (thanks to legalized monopolies being given the big bear hug) will continue.

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On TPP, Warren Shows Backbone, Fires Back At Obama; Watch Bernie Sanders, Too Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:18:59 +0000

Good for Elizabeth Warren. In a respectful but “I’m not backing down manner,” she’s firing back at the president’s nonsense about TPP. And in her own words on her blog.

Take this truth:

The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.

If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.

Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it.

Essentially, in nice language, she’s saying the president is hiding the truth:

When giant corporations get to see the details and the American people don’t, we all lose. Let’s level the playing field: No vote on fast-tracking trade until the public can read the TPP deal.We’ve all seen the tricks and traps that corporations hide in the fine print of contracts. We’ve all seen the provisions they slip into legislation to rig the game in their favor. Now just imagine what they have done working behind closed doors with TPP.

We can’t keep the American people in the dark.[emphasis added]

It’s frankly nothing new that the president is not telling the truth on the topic–he’s already gotten Four Pinocchios on claims about jobs.Here are the White House’ 10 biggest lies on TPP.

Keep it up, Senator Warren.

Also, this afternoon, Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor to attack the TPP, starting with criticism of the coverage of the TPP deal by the traditional media.

“We hear the same rhetoric…and yet every single time the rhtoeric around thes e past trade agreements has been proven to be dead wrong.”

Also, Sanders wrote a letter today to US Trade Representative Michael Froman asking some pointed questions:

Before we even consider relinquishing Congress’s Constitutional authority “to regulate commerce with foreign nations” to the executive branch, I would like you to respond to the following questions.
1)    The minimum wage in Vietnam is roughly 56 cents an hour.  It has been reported that Malaysia uses modern-day slave labor in its electronics industry. If the TPP goes into effect, do you have an estimate as to how many jobs in this country will be lost as American corporations move to Vietnam and Malaysia where they can pay workers less than $1 an hour?2)    Right now, the TPP includes what is called an Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which would allow foreign investors the right to use international tribunals as a forum for seeking compensation for laws and regulations that impact their ability to profit from investments. For example, under an ISDS provision of an agreement, a French firm is suing Egypt under an international tribunal for raising its minimum wage. Uruguay and Australia are both being sued for imposing requirements on how tobacco products are packaged. Eli Lilly is suing Canada for $500 million for “violating its obligations to foreign investors under the North American Free Trade Agreement by allowing its courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs.” Transcanada is considering suing the U.S. under an international tribunal for refusing to approve the Keystone Pipeline. Quebec is being sued under an international tribunal for banning fracking.  After the TPP goes into effect, could a Federal, state, or local government be forced to pay compensation to a foreign company if an international tribunal rules that this company was prevented from earning an expected future profit due to environmental, labor, or consumer laws or regulations?

3)    I have been told that the TPP would force the U.S. government to waive “Buy American” procurement rules for countries that are in the TPP.  It is my understanding that under the TPP the U.S. government could not choose to buy American products over Vietnamese or Malaysian products that are made without meeting prevailing wage requirements.  Is this true, and if so, how many Americans will lose their jobs as a result?

4)    It has been reported that 100% of Vietnamese seafood imports contained antibiotics that are not approved in the U.S.  As you know, seafood imports are a common source of pathogens. Have any studies been done to determine what kind of health hazards the American people will be exposed to by the importation of these products if the TPP is implemented?

5)    Today, many millions of people living in the Asia-Pacific region benefit from access to life-saving medications at affordable prices.  Unfortunately, what is known about the current TPP draft text suggests that the agreement would threaten this access because the pharmaceutical companies could delay the time in which generic drugs could be put on the market.  Doctors without Borders has said that “the TPP has the potential to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines.” How many people will lose access to life-saving drugs for cancer and HIV if the TPP goes into effect?

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$357 Billion: The Clock Ticks Wed, 22 Apr 2015 18:49:45 +0000 Just a moment to pause and update everyone: going back to 1968, workers have lost more than $357 billion because of the robbery due to the stagnant minimum wage. Here’s the clock.

Did you ever wonder what the minimum wage would be worth if it kept its value going back to 1968? Well, it would over $20-an-hour. And thanks to our friends at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, we can watch the loss tick by literally every second, counting the dollars lost by workers since 1968 because of the sinking value of the minimum wage.

This clock shows how “many dollars America’s minimum wage workers have lost since July 24, 2009 if the minimum wage had instead been raised to its 1968 level and then kept pace with inflation since then,” CEPR says (and if you’re reading this after it was posted, the clock will keep ticking and likely be above $358 billion…and more):


And every minutes, hour, day that goes by, the robbery continues.

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$23 Billion in Profits=No Taxes Tue, 21 Apr 2015 18:34:53 +0000 Oh, this is left over from Tax Day–not that 15 companies would even know what Tax Day means. Cuz, even if they rake it in, they don’t pay taxes. How special.

The folks at Citizens for Tax Justice tell us:

As a group, the 15 companies paid no federal income tax on $23 billion in profits in 2014, and they paid almost no federal income tax on $107 billion in profits over the past five years. All but two received federal tax rebates in 2014, and almost all paid exceedingly low rates over five years.

A few details:

  • Broadcaster CBS Corporation enjoyed $1.8 billion in U.S. profits last year, and received a federal income tax rebate of $235 million.
  • Doll-maker Mattel, which has paid zero federal income taxes over the past five years, received a tax rebate of $46 million in 2014.
  • The financial services corporation Prudential avoided all federal income taxes on its $3.5 billion in U.S. profits in 2014.
  • Ryder System, which provides truck rentals and services, paid a negative 0.3 percent federal income tax rate in 2014 and over the past five years a negative 0.5 percent rate.
  • California-based utility PG&E had negative tax rates both in 2014 and over the five-year period.

Nice for them.

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Rana Plaza: 1,138 Deaths and 2 Years Later, Companies Still Dodging Paying Up Mon, 20 Apr 2015 21:11:19 +0000

This Friday will mark the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza mass murder of 1,138 garment workers. I use the word “murder” because the collapse of the eight-story building that housed sweatshop garment factories wasn’t some astonishing surprise. It happened because international garment companies–like Benetton, Primark, Matalan, and Mango –exploited people for huge profits, not caring a whit about their conditions in slave-like conditions half way around the globe; those companies happily pocketed billions of dollars in profits and signed deals year after year with sleazy contractors who operated unsafe, dangerous factories.

After a huge outcry following the collapse, an accord was signed between labor rights advocates, international union representatives and NGOs, on the one hand, and garment companies, on the other hand, calling for payments by the companies to upgrade safety and set up a monitoring scheme to try to prevent future Rana Plaza-like mass murders.

But, even just paying a pittance apparently seems beyond the moral compass of these companies who are stiffing the accord’s budget.

To recount, on April 24th 2013, Rana Plaza collapsed, killing the 1,138 workers, injuring more than 2,400 others and leaving thousands of families devastated by both the loss of their loved ones and the loss of income that kept people barely alive; 291 of the dead were buried in a mass grave because they could not be identified.

Horrendously, workers had seen cracks in the building the day before the collapse. As the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights found:

On Wednesday morning, April 24, 2013 at 8:00 a.m., 3,639 workers refused to enter the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building because there were large and dangerous cracks in the factory walls.  The owner, Sohel Rana, brought paid gang members to beat the women and men workers, hitting them with sticks to force them to go into the factory.  Managers of the five factories housed in Rana Plaza also told the frightened workers that if they did not return to work, there would be no money to pay them for the month of April, which meant that there would be no food for them and their children.  They were forced to go in to work at 8:00 a.m.At 8:45 a.m. the electricity went out and the factories’ five generators kicked on.  Almost immeditately the workers felt the eight-story building begin to move, and heard a loud explosion as the building collapsed, pancaking downward, killing 1,137 workers.

Eighty percent of the workers were young women, 18, 19, 20 years of age.  Their standard shift was 13 to 14 ½ hours, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:30 p.m., toiling 90 to 100 hours a week with just two days off a month.

Young “helpers” earned 12 cents an hour, while “junior operators” took home 22 cents an hour, $10.56 a week, and senior sewers received 24 cents an hour and $12.48 a week.

Understand, if the international companies like Benetton cared, this could have been prevented. As the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights points out:

For the last 25 years, garments have been sewn across the developing world, by workers—many of them children and teenagers —— who are forced to work long hours for starvation wages, with no rights or justice, and when they return home, it is usually to a miserable hovel.  Yet, the U.S. garment industry is a powerful $350 billion operation!

In fact, just a few months earlier, in December 2012, a fire at the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh killed 112 workers–and subsequently documents found in the burned out factory proved that Wal-Mart suppliers operated there.

In the aftermath of the Rana collapse, the building owner and a handful of others were arrested but not a single executive of the real culprits–the big international clothing labels who operate at the top of the garment clothing food chain–have been held accountable.

All these bastards had to do was cough up a little money. The Accord had six key components:

 1.  A five year legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions to ensure a safe working environment in the Bangladeshi RMG industry
2.  An independent inspection program supported by brands in which workers and trade unions are involved
3.  Public disclosure of all factories, inspection reports and corrective action plans (CAP)
4.  A commitment by signatory brands to ensure sufficient funds are available for remediation and to maintain sourcing relationships
5. Democratically elected health and safety committees in all factories to identify and act on health and safety risks
6.  Worker empowerment through an extensive training program, complaints mechanism and right to refuse unsafe work.

But, instead, the companies are essentially starving the Accord’s mission:

About a dozen clothing companies linked to the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh – which collapsed killing more than 1,100 people – have yet to pay a penny into a fund for victims, campaigners claim.Pressure is mounting this week on the firms, the majority in Europe or the US, as next Friday marks the second anniversary of the tragedy in which 1,138 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured. The eight-storey complex in Dhaka, which housed several clothing factories, collapsed in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

Amid claims and concerns of a sweatshop culture in Bangladesh – in which workers apparently had virtually no rights and health and safety was largely absent – the tragedy highlighted the human cost of cheap clothing.

While some companies linked to the factory complex, including Primark, were quick to pay millions towards compensation for victims and their families, many have yet to make any contribution.

Of particular despicable behavior is Benetton. Luciano Benetton, the company founder, is worth 2.9 billion, according to Forbes ; his son now runs the company. Benetton is skimping:

Others, such as Benetton, have confirmed their donation after two years. The Italian clothing giant announced last week it would donate $1.1 m (£736,000) towards the fund, following a previous donation of $500,000 the company made before the current fund was set up. Yet this is far short of the $5m that campaigners claimed it should pay because of its size and ability to contribute.

And it had very extensive ties there:

The company, which on the day of the tragedy denied that garment factories in the Dhaka building were suppliers to Benetton Group, has admitted that “a one-time order was completed and shipped out by one of the manufacturers involved several weeks prior to the incident”.The illegally constructed, eight-storey building collapsed last Wednesday leaving at least 382 people killed.

However, documents found in the Rana Plaza rubble and photographed by the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) and Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) fand passed onto the International Labor Rights Forum, indicate Benetton had a protracted relationship with New Wave Style Limited.[emphasis added]

The international labor movement is upping the pressure on Benetton:

UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings said: “We are deeply disappointed with Benetton’s contribution. This is a token step and we appeal to them to do better. We will continue our efforts for Benetton to increase their contribution.“They have been ill-advised by their hired consultants to take the low road. This is about people’s lives and is not a time for discount policies.

“Primark, who also sourced from Rana Plaza, has paid $7.3 million in compensation but Benetton fails to see the victims as people who need the compassion and care that their brand espouses.”

In the absence of murder charges against those at the top of the garment industry chain–those billionaires like Benetton–who pocket huge profits and never pay the price for deaths of their slaves, they have to be squeezed, and squeezed hard, to at least pay this pittance in reparations.

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The Fast Track Truth: Wyden-Hatch-Ryan Bill Is Nothing New (Primary Wyden Anyone?) Fri, 17 Apr 2015 18:31:57 +0000 It is not enough to simply say the deal on “fast track” is a bad one. We need to understand, in the details, why what is being sold as a new “improved” fast track is just utter nonsense.

The best source for this is Global Trade Watch, which has really been the most important progressive group fighting so-called “free trade” for decades (unlike groups like Campaign for America’s Future which simply builds lists and raises money off the work Global Trade Watch has done).

GTW has a great analysis of the lies being pushed by the president, Ron Wyden, Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan. So, first thing to understand: Wyden has partnered up with some of the most right-wing, “free market”, anti-government forces the Congress has to offer–and the deal is so bad they could not come up with a single Democrat in the House to co-sponsor the deal.

Wyden needs a primary opponent now; with the caveat that I’d like to see who that person is, I’ll contribute money to a progressive candidate’s campaign to defeat this pig.

To the deal itself. The big point that GTW makes is simple:

The Hatch Fast Track bill introduced today would revive the controversial Fast Track procedures to which nearly all U.S. House of Representatives Democrats and a sizable bloc of House Republicans already have announced opposition.Most of the text of the Hatch Fast Track bill replicates word-for-word the text of the 2014 Fast Track bill, which itself replicated much of the 2002 Fast Track bill.

The bill explicitly grandfathers in Fast Track coverage for the almost-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and would extend Fast Track procedures for three to six years. The bill would delegate away Congress’ constitutional trade authority, even after the Obama administration dismissed bipartisan and bicameral demands that the TPP include enforceable currency manipulation disciplines.

[emphasis added]

This is in stark contrast to the bullshit Wyden is trying to push that what he negotiated was this great leap forward.

The fundamental nature of so-called “fast-track” is that it ties the hands of our elected officials–the people we vote for–to exercise their constitutional duties. And this turd does not change anything.

To jump to the end of the analysis, there is an important point to counter the bullshit from the president and his Congressional minions on fast track. They run around saying, “oh woe is me/us, we really need fast track because with it, we can’t close out trade deals and bring the wonderful benefits of “free trade” to the masses”…Aside from the putrid nature of the deals themselves, it’s a lie, as GTW points out:

 ·   Both Democratic and GOP presidents have struggled to convince Congress to delegate its constitutional trade authority via the Nixon-era Fast Track scheme. Fast Track has been in effect for only five years (2002-2007) of the 21 years since passage of NAFTA and the agreement that created the WTO.  ·  A two-year effort by President Bill Clinton to obtain Fast Track trade authority during his second term in office was voted down on the House floor in 1998 when 171 Democrats were joined by 71 GOP members who bucked then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Clinton did not have Fast Track for six of his eight years in office, but still implemented more than a hundred trade agreements.

·   President George W. Bush spent two years and extraordinary political capital to obtain the 2002-2007 Fast Track grant, which passed a Republican-controlled House by one vote, and expired in 2007. Bush’s efforts to obtain a new grant of Fast Track authority never gained sufficient support to move towards floor votes before he left office.

Fast track is an anomaly. Do not buy the bullshit that is critical to getting these deals done.

The basic badness of this deal:

 ·  Empower the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for a trade pact, determine an agreement’s contents through the negotiating process, and then sign and enter into an agreement – all before Congress voted to approve a trade pact’s contents, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ negotiating objectives;  ·   Authorize the executive branch to write legislation containing any terms the White House decides are “necessary or appropriate” to implement the pact. Such legislation would not be subject to normal congressional committee review and markup, meaning this and future administrations could include in a Fast-Tracked trade bill whatever terms it desired;

·   Require votes in both chambers within 90 days, forbidding any amendments and limiting debate to 20 hours, whether or not Congress’ negotiating objectives were met.

·   Instead of establishing a new “exit ramp,” the bill literally replicates the same impossible conditions from past Fast Track bills that make the “procedural disapproval” mechanism to remove an agreement from Fast Track unusable. A resolution to do so must be approved by both the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees and then be passed by both chambers within 60 days. (Sec. 6(b)(1-2)) The bill’s only new feature in this respect is a new “consultation and compliance” procedure that would only be usable after an agreement was already signed and entered into, at which point changes to the pact could be made only if all other negotiating parties agreed to reopen negotiations and then agreed to the changes (likely after extracting further concessions from the United States). (Sec. 6(b)(3-4)) That process would require approval by 60 Senators to take a pact off of Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority “no” vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement. In contrast, the 1988 Fast Track empowered either the House Ways and Means or the Senate Finance committees to vote by simple majority to remove a pact from Fast Track consideration, with no additional floor votes required. And, such a disapproval action was authorized before a president could sign and enter into a trade agreement. (19 USC 2903(c)(2)(B))

This is lipstick on a pig. And Wyden, looking to make the deal and make it look pretty, is the one applying the “bi-partisan” lipstick.

Wyden and his Hatch-Ryan co-conspirators make much of a new “human rights provision”. GTW (I included material related to currency manipulation because it’s in the context of “nothing is new”:

 ·     Today’s bill includes a new negotiating objective related to human rights: “to promote respect for internationally recognized human rights.” (Sec. 2(a)(11)) But since the bill does not alter the fundamental Fast Track process, the president still would be able to unilaterally pick countries with serious human rights abuses as trade negotiating partners, initiate negotiations with them, conclude negotiations, and sign and enter into the trade agreement with the governments committing the abuses, with no opportunity for Congress to require the president to do otherwise.  ·     In addition to the Fast Track procedure applying whether or not objectives are met, some of the Hatch bill negotiating objectives advertised as “new” are in fact identical to what was in the 2014 bill and were referenced in the 2002 Fast Track. For example, the 2002 Fast Track included currency measures: “seek to establish consultative mechanisms among parties to trade agreements to examine the trade consequences of significant and unanticipated currency movements and to scrutinize whether a foreign government engaged in a pattern of manipulating its currency to promote a competitive advantage in international trade.” (19 USC 3802(c)(12)) The so-called “new” text in the Hatch bill repeats word-for-word what was in the 2014 Fast Track bill: “The principal negotiating objective of the United States with respect to currency practices is that parties to a trade agreement with the United States avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other parties to the agreement, such as through cooperative mechanisms, enforceable rules, reporting, monitoring, transparency, or other means, as appropriate.” (Sec. 2(b)(11)) Even if Congress had the power to ensure that this negotiating objective was met, the language of this negotiating objective itself does not require enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation to be included in the TPP or other deals obtaining Fast Track treatment. Despite the requests from bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress that enforceable currency manipulation disciplines be included in the TPP, the Hatch negotiating objective lists “enforceable rules” as just one approach among several non-binding options for the TPP and other Fast Tracked deals.

·    The bill’s negotiating objectives regarding labor and the environment replicate those of the 2014 fast Track bill, which in turn memorialize the provisions of the “May 10, 2007” deal that, according to recent government reports, have proven ineffective. (Sec. 2(b)(10)) While the May 10 provisions went beyond the 2002 Fast Track objectives regarding labor, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in November 2014 found broad labor rights violations across five surveyed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partner countries, regardless of whether or not the FTA includes the labor provisions of the May 10 deal. [emphasis added]

History, folks: this is the same garbage foisted on us via NAFTA. Labor rights or human rights are never part of the core parts of the agreements. In NAFTA, they were UNENFORCEABLE side agreements. Now, it’s a negotiating “objective.” Please wipe my ass with side agreements and “objectives” because that’s about what they are worth.

Now, we’ve already seen the deep secrecy hiding the negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership, with leaks being the only way the public gets to know about the details. This piece of turd ups the secrecy to new heights:


The Hatch bill would simply formalize the past practices of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. The bill would formally designate trade agreements as falling under the national security-related clearance system, requiring USTR to create guidelines that would bar access to any draft trade pact text for congressional staff without security clearances. The other “transparency” provisions in the Hatch bill would simply return to the status quo level of transparency under the Clinton and Bush administrations before the Obama administration’s anomalous steps backwards. For instance, during NAFTA negotiations, members of Congress had open access to the full draft composite NAFTA texts with a new version placed into a secure reading room in the U.S. Capitol after each round of negotiations. In the summer of 2013, the Obama administration finally responded to growing pressure by members of Congress for access to draft composite Trans-Pacific Partnership texts by bringing requested specific chapters to members’ offices for review when a member asked for such access, but forbade members’ staff (even those with security clearance) from being present or notes from being taken. Returning to the same degree of congressional access provided by the Bush administration while continuing to exclude public and press access to draft trade pact texts is hardly worth applauding. (Sec. 4(a)(3))    As for public transparency, the Hatch bill actually fails even to reach the openness of the Bush administration. During negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas under that administration, USTR released the draft composite negotiating text of the agreement on the USTR website for anyone to read. The Hatch bill includes no such requirement for the draft texts of Fast Tracked trade agreements to be released to the public. A close read of a new provision requiring USTR to post a trade agreement text on its website 60 days before signing reveals that this timing would be 30 days after the agreement was initialed and the text locked, meaning the text would only become public after it was too late for the public or Congress to demand changes. (Sec. 6(a)(1)) [emphasis added]

Need I say more than the observation that the Obama Administration is behind something that is more secretive than the Bush Administration?

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Fast Track/TPP SellOut: Ron Wyden May Have Cut The Deal–And For A Repeat Dumb Idea Thu, 16 Apr 2015 18:16:44 +0000

There are a ton of bad ideas out there in the world of economic policy–mostly, those are dumb ideas having to do with the complete comfort with class warfare, from “trickle down” to “CEOs are job creators” to so-called “Free trade.” It is one of the great astonishing things that, despite the fact that all this shit fails, it just keeps coming back, back, back and no amount of Chipolte burrito-chugging will change this short of a revolution (see: Fight for $15).

Which brings me to the apparent sell-out apparently being cut by Sen. Ron Wyden who apparently has cut a deal on “fast track”…and the fig-leaf for this is a failed, failed program that really just masks the hurt workers feel.

So, taking anything Politico writes with a grain of salt, the deal may be done:

Senior lawmakers appeared to be close to reaching an agreement Wednesday night over a bipartisan trade promotion authority bill that has already ignited a fierce fight between President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.Two Republicans — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan — have been in negotiations for months to strike a deal with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has faced intense pressure from labor and progressive groups to walk away from the talks.


“Consensus has been reached to move forward with a Finance Committee hearing on congressional trade priorities,” Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for Hatch’s office, said. “Discussions regarding bipartisan, bicameral legislation to renew trade promotion authority continue.”Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told POLITICO he expected the Finance Committee to vote next Tuesday on the “fast track” bill, which would allow Obama to submit trade agreements to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments.

“I think they’re that close,” he said Wednesday afternoon, holding his finger and thumb barely apart.

What I think is extremely important in this fight is to understand how Democrats are cutting a deal for something that is really phony. Here is the point:

Meanwhile, Trade Adjustment Assistance appears a key final snag in the negotiation. Many Republicans question the value of the program, but it often moves in conjunction with trade agreements to bolster Democratic support for the deals.Talks over the issue appear to be mainly between Wyden and Ryan, who is said to be pushing for a lower level of funding than union groups feel is needed to run an adequate program.

And from Sen. Debbie Stabenow:

“The bottom line for us is there will be no TPA if there’s not a strong TAA,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters Wednesday evening.

This is really dumb. Understand first what “Trade Adjustment Assistance” is. There is the official view from the Department of Labor:

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.

My answer: it’s bullshit. It doesn’t work. It never has. It’s a cruel lie to people. It’s something politicians, including well-meaning Democrats who don’t want to change the economic system, can say, “see, we did a little, you can get retrained and, presto, you’ll be just fine.”Retraining is phony in an economy that is creating underpaying jobs, with skimpy benefits at best. Using words like “growth” and “opportunity” are kind of akin to saying “free trade”…misleading about what the realities are.

Retraining usually doesn’t work for the above reason AND not enough money is put towards the actual programs AND, more important, companies don’t care about giving people comparable jobs.

Retraining was part of the sales job to sell NAFTA that was used by Bill Clinton and Robert Reich (Reich, of course, was pimping the now entirely discredited idea that all would be fine because everyone would become–LOL–a “symbolic analyst”). And that failed, as well.

That any meaningful retraining can be done as part of wholesale economic transition, without real money and without a complete rethinking of wages and jobs, was also discredited in the wake of the defense industry transition, the post Cold War era unwinding which cost a couple of million highly-skilled, high-wage people their jobs. As Laura Powers and Ann Markusen wrote in 1999 in “A Just Transition? Lessons From Defense Worker Adjustment in the 1990s” most of the displaced workers ended up at lower-paying jobs, and:

“a sizable minority has experienced a drop in earnings of 50% or more.”

Of course, one view of this is: tough luck. Economies change. Creative destruction. There are costs to bear.Another view, if we had a different, more humane and moral view of the economy, is that workers should not pay the price for economic decisions made because of the desire of some politicians to let corporations make more money, or simply corporations doing what they do. These things don’t happen like natural phenomena like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

In the United Kingdom, for example, as part of the thinking around shutting down the coal industry, a coalition has been built calling for One Million Climate Jobs with an underlying principle that any coal industry worker hired to one of these jobs would be guaranteed at least the same wage s/he earns in the coal industry.

It’s entirely doable, whether we are talking about trade-related hits on jobs or climate change-related transitions–we find plenty of money to bail out banks and fight immoral wars. And, lest we forget, money earned flows back into the economy so ensuring people keep the same wages, if you don’t like the morality of it, is a very smart thing to do economically.

So, when you hear Wyden et al sing the praises of the deal he and others have apparently cut because, they say, isn’t it wonderful that some workers will be retrained, it’s bullshit.

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TPP Chuckle: The White House Desperation Is Almost Funny Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:40:27 +0000 The Trans Pacific Partnership is no laughing matter. It’s a fast track to lower wages, environmental disasters and the undermining of democracy. But, hell, I think maybe the president has a sense of humor on all this. Or, on a serious note, he’s unintentionally showing how weak support is for TPP and the odious “fast track” legislation. Which  is it?

You be the judge. Presumably, to show what great support there is for his trade agenda, the president and his minions rolled out–drum roll, please–a list of mayors who back TPP, fast track and his overall trade agenda.

Twenty. 20. TWENTY…

The White House mouthpiece for this good piece of news is Jerry Abramson, the White House’ recent newly-minted Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, who was once mayor of Louisville. Jerry has some happy talk:

That’s why American mayors from all over the United States are actively voicing their support for this element of Middle Class Economics.

Really, Jerry: In a country, which, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, has 1,401 mayors ruling over cities with more than 30,000 people, you could find TWENTY mayors to be listed publicly supporting this fantastic agenda? From fourteen states? Jerry, quick civics lesson: there are, in case you didn’t check, 50 states, so you are stretching your rhetorical bandwidth here when you claim mayor “from all over the United States” are pimping for TPP/fast track.Now, you just know that if there was a long list–and maybe there is (can we see it please?)–of the huge numbers of mayors backing this pile of TPP-fast track crap, it would be happily promoted. Kind of a shock and awe to blow away the opposition.


TWENTY. Really?

It made me laugh. And feel a tinge of sympathy for the president (sort of).

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“The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd” Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:19:14 +0000 Pearls of wisdom. Not the economics–because it is absurd, the reality not of “free market” competition but the reality of cronyism, corruption and greed. But, Dan Price saw the immorality of paying people shit and did something about it: he cut his pay and is raising everyone’s wages.

A caveat: I am naturally hesitant to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly, especially someone who gets some uncritical free media without too much inquiry. But, until I see otherwise, Price gets a free ride and a tip of the cap for this:

The idea began percolating, said Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, after he read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives.His idea bubbled into reality on Monday afternoon, when Mr. Price surprised his 120-person staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000.

“Is anyone else freaking out right now?” Mr. Price asked after the clapping and whooping died down into a few moments of stunned silence. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s a costly one. Mr. Price, who started the Seattle-based credit-card payment processing firm in 2004 at the age of 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year.

The paychecks of about 70 employees will grow, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries, according to Ryan Pirkle, a company spokesman. The average salary at Gravity is $48,000 year.[emphasis added]

What he came to understand:

“The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” said Mr. Price, who said his main extravagances were snowboarding and picking up the bar bill. He drives a 12-year-old Audi, which he received in a barter for service from the local dealer.[emphasis added]

The reaction from his workers:

Hayley Vogt, a 24-year-old communications coordinator at Gravity who earns $45,000, said, “I’m completely blown away right now.” She said she has worried about covering rent increases and a recent emergency room bill.


Phillip Akhavan, 29, earns $43,000 working on the company’s merchant relations team. “My jaw just dropped,” he said. “This is going to make a difference to everyone around me.”

A note: to be sure, Price is going to still be a very wealthy man–he has a company which is still making a lot of money.But…he did this. And as far as I can tell it comes from an honest place, an honest morality.

The fact that this even gets some buzz is a sign of how corrupt CEOs truly are, grabbing millions of dollars for themselves and leaving most of their workers to pick up crumbs. The only slight disagreement I’d have with Price is on his view of the “market” for CEO pay.

There is no “market” in the sense that normal people would understand. It’s a corrupt, closed system of cronyism. I’ve written about this many times over the years and had the good fortune, when writing my book “The Audacity of Greed” back in 2009, 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 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 though the real money is in the pensions and deferred pay. It’s a scam.It is interesting that Price’s decision comes on the eve what will be huge national demonstrations to raise wages to a minimum of $15-an-hour.

But, good for him.

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Jerking Around Workers: Schneiderman Thinking It May Not Be Legal Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:53:25 +0000

Leave it to the managers and executives trying to squeeze the life out of workers to come up with the newest twist in brutal behavior, using the wondrous world of technology (you know, the thing that will save us all and make work even happier…not!) to make it all happen. Essentially, it goes like this: forget a work schedule you know in advance…the Great Wizard behind the work curtain may only decide to bestow upon you, the servant worker, the luck of some work just a few hours before you have to show up for the job.

Except it might be illegal. At least in New York.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman smells a rat:

The office of the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is investigating 13 large retailers over whether increasingly unpredictable and on-call work schedules adopted by some employers in the retail sector violate New York labor laws.“Our office has received reports that a growing number of employers, particularly in the retail industry, require their hourly workers to work what are sometimes known as “on call shifts” — that is, requiring their employees to call in to work just a few hours in advance, or the night before, to determine whether the worker needs to appear for work that day or the next,” Mr. Schneiderman’s office said in the letters, sent Friday to Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Target, J. Crew, Sears, TJX and seven other retailers.

“If the employee is told that his or her services are not needed, the employee will receive no pay for that day,” the letters said. “For many workers, that is too little time to make arrangements for family needs, let alone to find an alternative source of income to compensate for the lost pay.”

Here is Schneideman’s full letter, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. And The Journal gives more details:

Mr. Schneiderman is asking the retailers to provide information about how they schedule employees, including whether they use software from vendors such as Kronos and Workplace Systems to schedule labor hours, or penalize employees who don’t follow on-call procedures. He is also seeking any analysis the firms have conducted about the impact of the scheduling policies on workers’ well-being. They were told to submit the materials by May 4.While Mr. Schneiderman’s office is only gathering information at the moment, the requests could be a prelude to a lawsuit filed under the New York law requiring that workers be paid if they are sent home from a scheduled shift.

Schedule instability has emerged as a public policy issue in recent months, highlighted in hourly workers’ campaigns for higher wages. A report last year by researchers at the University of Chicago examined the prevalence of unpredictable schedules among young adults, and found that 41% receive their schedules a week or less in advance, and half have no input into the timing of their hours.[emphasis added]

Sue away, Eric.This is just another way to abuse workers. It’s “just-in-time” workers, which, just like the Japanese-inspired manufacturing theory rolled out decades ago, sees workers no different than spare parts–only show up when needed, and only in the most cost efficient way.

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Slowdown: Paychecks Still Thin Fri, 03 Apr 2015 16:58:20 +0000 This is just a repeated point–repeated because it’s just so obvious, though it seems to escape the grey cells of transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”) and other analysts.

There’s a slowdown in job creation:

The labor market’s yearlong streak of robust monthly job creation was broken on Friday with the Labor Department’s report that employers added just 126,000 workers in March, a marked slowdown in hiring that echoed earlier signs of a winter pall on the economy.

Which comes from a slower economy…ok, sure, the weather is a factor. But, duh, even have jobs but aren’t getting paid enough money to pay the bills, don’t you think that will have a great impact on the economy longer-term and account for the reality of an economy that is sick at its core.

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NYTimes Rush To Judgement Thu, 02 Apr 2015 22:13:34 +0000 I’ve been irritated by this before but was moved to write and send–probably pointlessly to the tower of silence on 8th Avenue–the following to the Times’ Public Editor:

In calling for Senator Robert Menendez to step down, the Times makes a mockery of the notion of “innocent until proven guilty”, crossing the line of opinionated fairness by effectively buying one side of the story, which is what an indictment is. It is the government’s view of the facts. In the editorial, the Times has acted as the jury—and one that didn’t bother to give the other side a chance to present a different view of the facts before calling the accused a “disgraced politician”. “Disgraced” because…of the filing of an indictment? Plenty of people have subsequently been found not guilty—wrongly accused—when a government’s case is found to be specious and without foundation; it is, after all, easy for the government to obtain an indictment.

I noted this concern previously on Twitter when the Times also editorialized on Jan 22nd, “Speaker Sheldon Silver Should Resign From New York Assembly” (In fairness, the text of that editorial was less explicit then the headline). Similar to Menendez, Silver deserved to make his case in court—and not be bum-rushed out of office. In both cases, as was true in the Sen.Ted Stevens case, subsequent exoneration does not usually repair the political damage.

For what it’s worth, I am no fan of Senator Menendez. I think he should be sent packing by voters for a whole host of policy positions (the most prominent being his anachronistic hostility to the Cuban government). And Silver, as Speaker, ran the Assembly in a dysfunctional fashion (which does not presume legally corrupt acts) and the state would be better off if voters had dispatched him years ago. But, that’s up to the voters in a democracy. I think Times readers deserve to know what the standard is for the presumption of innocence, and whether that standard should preclude a call to leave office before the facts are proven.

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Secret Offshore Accounts: Companies Dodging $600 Billion In Taxes Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:23:41 +0000

Thirteen days away, tick tock, tick tock…everyone is getting ready to write those checks to the IRS for the money they owe on income earned–you know, the ones that fund highways, education, health care and, grumble, war.

Except for corporations, of course. It’s the same old story–dodge, dodge, dodge a fair share of taxes. $600 billion.

I’ve previously written about the stashing of trillions of dollars overseas to avoid taxes. This year, the update from Citizens for Tax Justice:

It’s been well documented that major U.S. multinational corporations are stockpiling profits offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. Congressional hearings over the past few years have raised awareness of tax avoidance strategies of major technology corporations such as Apple and Microsoft, but, as this report shows, a diverse array of companies are using offshore tax havens, including the pharmaceutical giant Amgen, the apparel manufacturer Nike, the supermarket chain Safeway, the financial firm American Express, banking giants Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and even more obscure companies such as Advanced Micro Devices and Group 1 Automotive.All told, American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion of “permanently reinvested” profits offshore. In their latest annual financial reports, twenty-eight of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less in countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.[emphasis in original]


Hundreds of Other Fortune 500 Corporations Don’t Disclose Tax Rates They’d Pay if They Repatriated Their ProfitsAt the end of 2014, 304 Fortune 500 companies collectively held a whopping $2.15 trillion offshore. (A full list of these 304 corporations is published as an appendix to this paper.)

Clearly, the 28 companies that report the U.S. tax rate they would pay if they repatriated their profits are not alone in shifting their profits to low-tax havens—they’re only alone in disclosing it.  The vast majority of these companies — 247 out of 304 —decline to disclose the U.S. tax rate they would pay if these offshore profits were repatriated. (57 corporations, including the 28 companies shown on this page, disclose this information. A full list of the 57 companies is published as an appendix to this paper.) The non-disclosing companies collectively hold $1.56 trillion in unrepatriated offshore profits at the end of 2014.

Accounting standards require publicly held companies to disclose the U.S. tax they would pay upon repatriation of their offshore profits — but these standards also provide a gaping loophole allowing companies to assert that calculating this tax liability is “not practicable.”  Almost all of the 247 non-disclosing companies use this loophole to avoid disclosing their likely tax rates upon repatriation — even though these companies almost certainly have the capacity to estimate these liabilities.[emphasis in original]


The limited disclosures made by a handful of Fortune 500 corporations show that corporations are brazenly using tax havens to avoid taxes on significant profits. But the scope of this tax avoidance is likely much larger, since the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies with offshore cash refuse to disclose how much tax they would pay on repatriating their offshore profits.[emphasis added]

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BREAKING: Clintons Donate Millions From Legal Bribery, Declare Support FOR Street Revolution Wed, 01 Apr 2015 12:47:23 +0000 You got it…April Fool’s

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Wages Matter Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:06:54 +0000 More about this later…many discussions about jobs at the UN but the question that always comes up in my mind: what do those jobs pay? There is a company right there in Bentonville that is happy to create lots of jobs even if people remain in poverty working for Wal-Mart wages.

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