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Forum Post: Obama's Aversion to Income Inequality Doesn't Extend to TPP

Posted 6 years ago on Jan. 31, 2014, 3:41 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Obama's Aversion to Income Inequality Doesn't Extend to TPP

Friday, 31 January 2014 11:09 By Natalie Yoon and William C Anderson, Truthout | Opinion


In his State of the Union address, President Obama touted his dedication to fight income inequality, yet his administration is working to fast-track a trade agreement predicted to cut pay for 90 percent of American workers.

January 2014 marks the 20-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement. After 20 years of the US population suffering economic exploitation at the hands of transnational corporations and bought-off politicians, President Obama is carrying on the free trade torch - and lighting a wildfire. As his administration negotiates a massive new free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), President Obama is set to become an unprecedented champion of corporate globalization. The 12-country TPP will bring on a swath of new handouts to transnational corporations, including weakened environmental regulations, internet policing (remember SOPA?), higher medicine prices and even a clause that gives foreign corporations the power to sue governments for laws that interfere with profit. The effects on working families will be far-reaching: according to a recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 90 percent of American workers will see a decrease in real wages if the TPP is passed.

And yet, Obama continues to parade his so-called commitment to reducing income inequality. In his 2014 State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama agreed that "average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled." He then proceeded to present his "concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class." Yet when one looks at the specifics of some of these proposals, such as putting the TPP on the fast track, the extreme contradictions are undeniable. Obama cannot stand with working families and also live out his global "free" "trade" fantasy.

On January 31, 2014, dozens of organizations across North America are taking it to the streets to protest the TPP and corporate globalization under the banner "20 Years is Enough! No New NAFTAs." After 20 years of this failed experiment, the results are in: "Free trade" makes the poor poorer and the rich richer. Since 1994, the share of national income collected by the richest 10 percent has risen by 24 percent, while the top 1%'s share has shot up by 58 percent. There's a wealth of research that all concludes that trade has been a contributor to the widening income gap in the United States (the only contention is to what degree).

Neoliberal trade agreements have resulted in a net loss of 1 million American jobs during the past 20 years. But as Lori Wallach points out, the typical focus on the number of jobs lost from NAFTA and similar trade pacts misses the bigger picture: the decreased quality of jobs available for the 63 percent of American workers without a college degree. Displaced manufacturing workers have had no choice but to find work in the low-wage and union-hostile service sector. Increased competition for these jobs has maintained a downward push on wages while disempowering unions.

And don't be mistaken - jobs leaving for Mexico do not mean economic booms south of the border, either. The deeper integration of the two economies has meant more privatization, incentives to keep wages extremely low, attacks on indigenous rights and devastation for rural communities that have been forced off their land. It's clear from the huge influx of migration north during the past 20 years that these policies have not brought along the development that free trade theorists anticipated.

For a more thorough analysis of NAFTA's impact on workers across North America, check out last week's Workers' Scorecard on NAFTA.

It's no surprise that Obama campaigned on a fair trade platform in 2008, promising to renegotiate NAFTA to represent the needs of labor and the environment. He quickly abandoned that promise and swung the pendulum far to the other side. After deciding that "NAFTA isn't so bad after all," he then solidified his pro-corporate trade stance when he launched negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2010. Despite the devastating impacts of the cruel NAFTA experiment, the TPP is meant to take the most harmful elements of this model and expand them across the Pacific to encompass 40 percent of the global economy. The administration clearly hopes the American people won't notice - the TPP has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy in which even Congress did not have access to the negotiation texts until just six months ago.

Progressives are faced with a choice. The Obama administration has carried out historically unprecedented levels of deportations, prosecutions for espionage and drone strikes. Will the left let him get away with the TPP? Every major political movement in this country faces a setback if the TPP is passed. And with heavyweight intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky calling the bill a "neoliberal assault" that would further "maximize profit and domination" for transnational corporations, many are beginning to pay attention.

Thanks to the movement consisting of a wide range of progressive organizations, a wrench has been thrown into the radical corporate agenda. To complete a trade agreement this wide in scope, the president has stated he plans to "bypass Congress where necessary." That means he needs to fast-track the agreement through both chambers with limited debate and no amendments. To get approval to do this, he needs Congress to pass the fast-track bill (also known as Trade Promotion Authority) and sign away their power to participate in the shaping of the TPP. Fast track is controversial and looks like it might not get through - and that's where progressives are focusing energy.

On January 27, more than 550 civil society organizations signed on to a letter opposing Fast Track for the TPP and are coordinating efforts to demonstrate united resistance. They already have convinced 151 House Democrats to tell the president that they will not support fast-tracking trade agreements. As the pressure continues to grow, it looks like people power may be able to kill Obama's biggest corporate handout.

Obama will continue to spit promises about working for income equality, but it is time Americans see through the rhetoric. After 20 years, it's time to abandon the "free trade" experiment and put power back in the hands of working families. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called NAFTA "only the first in a series of trade agreements that have undermined millions of middle-class American jobs and weakened our democratic structures. So it is ironic that this year the supporters of that failed model are bringing forward a fast-track trade promotion bill to bring us more of the same: more trade deals that strengthen corporate power and CEO profits while putting downward pressure on wages and opportunities for the rest of us."

Today, the message "20 Years is Enough! No New NAFTAs" will be shouted by many across the United States. If President Obama honestly cared about income inequality, he would have heard their cries a long time ago. Twenty years of exploitative free trade agreements is enough. Enough union-busting. Enough forced migration. Enough environmental disasters. Enough of the growing gap between rich and poor. It's time for a new era of fair trade that serves the people.

Copyright, Truthout.



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 6 years ago

The Crime of the Century

Friday, 31 January 2014 10:58 By Peter G Cohen, Truthout | Op-Ed


Well-being cannot be measured by the Gross Domestic Product. It cannot be improved by continuous economic growth, no matter what the majority of economists may say. No amount of profits from the sale of nuclear reactors abroad will preserve our genes, which took billions of years to develop. Sharing, preserving and replacing the natural living systems that we humans have damaged or destroyed is far more important to life than growing the bottom line.

In developing the Gaia theory of Earth, James Lovelock examined the surface conditions and temperatures of the planets. They were determined by their distance from the sun, with one exception, the Earth. Without life, Earth would be a very different place. It would be barren and hot and have no oxygen. Life - all life - has created its own atmosphere, its mostly liquid water - neither frozen nor boiled away. It is the abundance of Life, especially the forests, that makes our planet livable.

But that is not good enough for us. Clever humans have roofed and paved and poured concrete with little regard for nature. We have cut the forests since we learned how to plant grain in fields. We have thrown our garbage in the nearest river and believed that the vastness of the ocean would absorb all the waste we threw into it. And now these unthinking abuses, vastly expanded by our clever chemicals and powerful machines, have gone beyond nature's ability to absorb or correct. The result of our growth obsession is that we are ruining the atmosphere, killing ocean life and extinguishing thousands of species - possibly even our own.

What Can We Do?

If we care a whit for our children and their children, we must do what we can to leave them a habitable Earth, rather than a polluted desert. Right now, we must stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible. That energy must be replaced with wind, solar and other renewables as polluting energy systems are shut down. The International Panel on Climate Change, using the work of thousands of world scientists, has determined that global warming is happening even faster than predicted. If we delay, greenhouse gases will accumulate still further, and the destruction wrought by floods, fires, heat waves, tornadoes and droughts will increase beyond our control.

Nuclear reactors are not the answer. We already have thousands of tons of dangerous, life-threatening nuclear waste that we still don't know how to dispose of. Reactors require a continuous flow of cooling water, which is returned to rivers and lakes heated and radiated. The cumulative effect is to waste our vital water supply and increase diffused radiation. The uncontrolled disaster of Fukushima is a high-speed example of what reactors do in the long run.

The coal, oil and gas corporations want to continue their blasting, drilling and fracking - without regard for the damage they are doing to human life and the natural systems on which life depends. They have spent hundreds of millions denying science, spreading confusion about global warming and corrupting many in the Congress and government - all to protect their profits! This is the Crime of the Century! Thousands of people are dying from the climatic events across our nation - not to mention the death and destruction wrought by climate events abroad.

We urgently need to elect candidates pledged to shut down fossil fuels and convert our nation to sustainable, green energy now! This is not a matter of party or belief; it is essential to passing on the gift of a livable world to our children! We must not vote for anyone who has not taken this pledge. If the parties won't do it, it is up to us.

Green energy is also essential to our economic well-being. When a fire, flood or tornado destroys a house, a business or a job, it often takes years to recover. The billions lost to climatic events are an irreplaceable drag on our economy. Changing to sustainable green energy will require investment and create jobs. We have tried the privatization route; it has failed. We need government to order cutbacks on our greenhouse gases and plan for as smooth a transition as feasible to green energy. We also need to build a modern, hardened transmission system across the nation to bring the electricity generated by wind and solar from where it is generated to where it is needed to run our homes and businesses. That too means more jobs.

Is our society, our democracy capable of guiding us through this century of suffering into a more secure and more natural way of life? Can we create a climate that encourages long-term livability? Are we determined to accomplish this, or will we allow the Robber Barons of fossil fuels to lead us into a wilderness of changing climate that humans have never known?

©2014 Peter G Cohen

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 6 years ago

Elizabeth Warren: "It Hurts... It Just Makes Me Madder Than Hell"

Friday, 31 January 2014 11:35 By Michael Lux, Daily Kos | Op-Ed


President Obama gave a terrific State of the Union speech last night. His message was broadly progressive in a wide variety of ways, really focused on economic issues which will help low and middle income families, which was great to see. I was especially delighted by his announcement of a new executive order raising the minimum wage for workers who work for federal contractors, which is an issue that the organization I chair, American Family Voices (AFV), has helped champion. This is long overdue, but I am so happy the President has made this decision. It will improve those millions of low wage workers’ lives, it will improve the way government operates, and it will boost the economy because those workers will have more spending money.

Because everyone else in the political world will be writing about the SOTU today, I am going to write about another political leader, Elizabeth Warren, who I think is creating a new kind of progressive politics that will have a major impact on American politics for years to come.

Most politicians spend most of their speeches telling people all about themselves: the bills they want to sponsor, how effective they are, how courageous they are in standing up to somebody or another. It gets old pretty fast. But some political leaders follow a different path, wherein they turn from talking about “me” and instead talk about “we”. They believe in building a movement that will change things rather than just bragging about themselves and furthering their own careers, and because of that they do actually start changing things.

That’s what Elizabeth Warren does; that is who she is. Long before she became a Senator or public official, she was a fierce advocate for consumers and working families who had been chewed up and spit out by the financial (and political) system. She came up out of the movement of activists who wanted to help rebuild the middle class, and make it easier for young and poor people to climb the ladder into that middle class. And she still believes in that movement.

That passion for advocacy was on full display last week at an event in New York that AFV proudly hosted. This was the first big event Warren has spoken at outside of MA or DC since her election, so we were excited she agreed to come to New York for us. But we wanted to do an event that wasn’t just about helping one organization. We wanted an event that would help strengthen the entire progressive cause. Our co-hosts included a wide array of national and New York community organizations, online groups, unions, and issue advocates, and we were delighted to have them all involved. It was the breadth and depth and diversity of the progressive world fully on display, and the crowd was rocking: a sold-out, overflow-seating, people hanging from the rafters, boisterous, excited audience thrilled to be there. Other speakers included our MC Rashad Robinson from Color of Change, New York City Public Advocate Tish James, The Nation magazine’s publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, and NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. With a great band playing early and late, it was a progressive party done up the way it should be.

As you can see from the video below of the highlights of her speech, Warren gave an incredibly powerful and passionate speech, focused on the progressive movement and helping middle and low income Americans who are getting squeezed economically by the powers that be. She begins by talking about winning our battles together by building a movement, and she ends by showing her commitment to the issues and for struggling working families that gets the crowd on their feet in response. In her incredibly powerful closing, Elizabeth shows as much emotion as I have ever seen her show in a public speech, as she talks about how much it hurts her to think and talk about the people she has met who are being crushed by the economic forces they are facing. But, she says, it also “makes me madder than hell”. And then she talks about how “our time has come” and “we have found our voice”. It is powerful stuff.

The kind of politics Elizabeth Warren represents is at its heart a moral kind of politics. She doesn’t worry about party politics, as she has always taken on the powers-that-be of both political parties. She doesn’t shy away from a tough fight, instead she has always been willing to push for what is right no matter how powerful the lobbyists on the other side are. And it was fitting that the event we did with her was in a church, because the politics she preaches are deeply moral - the politics not of right and left, but of right and wrong.

She has become an icon for an important new kind of politics, a political movement focused less on the size of government than on, as she talks about in her speech, which side is our government on, everyday people or the rich and powerful. Her willingness to hold both big business and government officials accountable when the playing field is tilted in favor of wealthy special interests is something that has been all too rare in modern American politics, and it is the reason so many people are responding to her the way the crowd in that New York City church was.

And it isn’t just activists who are responding: she is remarkably effective, especially for a first year Senator. It is clear that her calls for tougher Wall Street prosecution drove the bigger, tougher settlements JP Morgan and other bankers have had to agree to in the last year. Larry Summers would be the Fed Chair if it wasn’t for her. Her speech on Social Security was a major factor in taking discussion of Social Security cuts off the table for the time being. And her passionate pursuit of a higher minimum wage have helped create the atmosphere that led to President Obama’s executive order and focus on the issue in his SOTU.

What AFV is seeking to build is a broad national movement around this brand of politics. We want to help Elizabeth Warren and other progressive allies take on the powers that be and fight the good fight for the American people no matter who is on the other side. When she said that “our time has come”, I believe she was right, but only if we join her in the battle. When she said “we have found our voice”, she wasn’t talking about her being the voice of progressives, she was saying we all have to find our voice and join this movement. Join is in that fight by signing up on our website, and enjoy watching Elizabeth Warren at her best. Watch to the end, it is amazing.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 6 years ago

Hillary Vs. the 99%

Friday, 31 January 2014 09:58 By Michael I Niman, Artvoice | News Analysis


On the Looming Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Just over two years after the inception of Occupy Wall Street, and one year after the corporate media wrote it off as dead, an unabashed progressive, Bill de Blasio, took the movement’s rhetoric and mobilized the 99 percent to give him a landslide victory over four decades of class war against poor and working New Yorkers. Mayor de Blasio’s progressive campaign rhetoric could have come from the Occupy movement’s “human microphone,” and no amount of Koch brothers funded attack ads could derail the zeitgeist that drove de Blasio and a strong contingent of progressive city council members (including at least one Occupy veteran) to victory. This election foretells a changing political tide that promises to swell thousands of miles beyond New York, ultimately forcing the Democratic Party to rethink who its masters are.

Media pundits were quick to write off de Blasio’s victory as an anomaly, citing New York City as a liberal bastion. But that overlooks the last five mayoral elections there, four of which were won by Republicans (Giuliani and Bloomberg), with the fifth won by a Republican turned independent (Bloomberg again), adding up to 20 years of conservative rule.

The reality in New York City is much more complex. The current class war against poor, working-, and middle-class Americans began in New York around 45 years ago, at a time when New York led the country in providing quality-of-life services to its population, including free higher education, rent-controlled and subsidized housing, free museums, and comprehensive cheap public transportation. Its politics were dominated by strong unions, in the private as well as public sectors. This all changed in the late 1970s as corporate forces laid the groundwork for the so-called “Reagan Revolution.”

The suburbanization trends of the 1960s, subsidized by federally funded highways, took its toll on New York, which lost one million mostly middle-class residents, leaving the city, by the mid-1970s, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Federal economic help from the Republican White House was tied to making New York a laboratory for corporate privatization and government austerity programs. A century-old tradition of free higher education was over as public schools and housing budgets were slashed. This was the run-up to the Reagan Revolution, leading to three decades of tax cuts for the rich intentionally engineered to decimate government budgets, even during times of prosperity, and force the austerity experiment on a national scale.

Working Americans suffered for decades, watching their share of the pie shrink as a new gilded age enriched an oligarchy that more and more came to dominate political discussions and debates through its domination of the corporate media. References to social class disappeared from the American lexicon just as class-based social exploitation once again emerged as a determining factor in the American experience.

Then along came the Occupy movement, at just the moment when an as-yet relatively uncensored social media environment came to dominate youth culture. The 99 percent meme summed economics up in four syllables, and, for the first time since the 1960s, discussions of social class broke through the corporate media and took center stage.

At the same time, trustifarian hipsters were colonizing large swaths of Brooklyn, while Russian billionaires were driving Manhattan real estate prices into uncharted territory. Also entering uncharted terrain were the numbers of New Yorkers, many who had lived in the city for generations, who were homeless. Over 21 percent of the city, 1.7 million people, were and are living below the federal poverty line. This includes just under one third of all children in the city. At the other end of the spectrum, recent Census documents show that the wealthiest five percent of Manhattan residents earn over 80 times the mean income of the poorest 20 percent of the population. There is money in New York, but it’s being hoarded by the beneficiaries of a generation’s worth of tax cuts, while the average New Yorker can’t makes ends meet.

The thing about an urban economy that condemns most folks to lives of economic stress is that it creates one hell of a class-conscious electorate. That de Blasio won really shouldn’t be a surprise. That he won with three quarters of the vote, however, is pretty impressive in American politics. At this point, even if de Blasio transformed, as so many politicians who talk a good line to get elected do, into another Obama, or even a Bloomberg, the message of his landslide election—of the viability of a candidacy centered on fighting inequality—will be politically transformative on a national level. The writing is on the wall. If you want to win elections, do the math. As young people age into the voting population, the emerging electorate is more diverse, more socially liberal, and more class-conscious.

Republican politics will likely continue to be dominated by wingnuts seemingly genetically engineered from the DNA of Satan and Zippie the Pinhead. Hell, the supposedly sane wing of the party thought Chris Christie was their best shot at winning middle-of-the-road voters. There just aren’t any visible Republican politicians who seem qualified to operate an elevator without either robbing its inhabitants or crashing it into the basement floor. The party is split between two factions: shills for various corporate interests, and throwbacks to the dark ages.

Democrats are demographically poised to win national elections—if they can deliver coherent populists who can connect with a diverse, economically exploited populace, a.k.a. the American people. This is a big if. Big business and finance has funded the Democrats along with the Republicans, hedging their bets. And since the Clinton era, Democrats generally have served their corporate masters dutifully, with rare exceptions such as Paul Wellstone, and now Elizabeth Warren and de Blasio. Just like the Republicans are duking it out between the Taliban and oil factions, fighting for the soul of their party, the Democrats too have an internal battle looming. This one’s between the new populists, folks like Warren and de Blasio, and the corporate toadies, better known as the Democratic Leadership Council, or the Clintons.

The DLC, also known as the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, came into being during the Reagan presidency to fight against social justice initiatives, instead supporting neo-liberal trade policies such as NAFTA and a Reagan-lite economic agenda. They’ve dutifully served their corporate masters by keeping the left wing of the party at bay while squeezing in a quasi-Republican Clinton presidency as a placeholder between the Bushes. In doing so, however, they drove progressives right out of the party, either to third parties or straight to political disgust and disengagement, in the process stripping the party of what little soul it had while assuring a Republican presidential victory in 2000.

Their candidate for president in 2016 will likely be Hillary Clinton. And the effect of such a candidacy would be to drive the new generation of progressives out of the party, effectively taking control of the party, but ceding control of national politics to a Republican economic agenda, stewarded either by themselves or by the real Republicans. The difference between them and the Republicans is that they don’t smell too rank, taking a more electable 1980s approach to social issues, rather than the 1950s approach apparently preferred by Republicans.

They still might not be electable, since both progressives and Republicans want to see change. And for the majority of Americans suffering under economic apartheid, so what if Hillary won? There’s just not enough there to get you out to vote on a rainy day. Hillary Clinton is a former director of Wal-Mart, for god’s sake. And she was a director at precisely the time when they were gobbling up small American towns and doubling down on sourcing their goods to the worst sweatshops on earth.

The conventional wisdom in the corporate press is that Hillary will be unbeatable in the Democratic primary, so why even bother having a primary? And it’s time for a woman president, who, according to a largely white male punditry, has to be Hillary, even if her DLC economic policies continue the feminization of poverty in America. Time magazine’s David Von Drehle, in writing last week’s cover story, cites an anonymous but allegedly existent “veteran Democratic strategist” saying, “I think if another woman ran against Hillary, she would bring down the wrath of women around the country.” Really?

Von Drehle goes on to claim that his Deep Throat was “echoing a widespread view inside the party that Clinton earned another shot at history when she surrendered gracefully to Barack Obama.” But in reality there was nothing graceful about the 2008 presidential race. The “first woman” vs. “first black” president tropes took center stage in the media’s horse race election coverage, obscuring the politics of both Clinton and Obama, when in essence both represented remarkably status quo milestones in history. Why can’t the first woman president be a true economic populist? How about a Third Wave feminist with appeal to poor and working-class women? How about a woman who doesn’t earn $200,000 a pop to speak at Goldman Sachs meetings?

If any such women are thinking about running, Time’s Von Drehle warns, “One widespread forecast holds that Clinton is poised for a cakewalk of historic proportions.” Really? Perhaps Von Drehle’s sage needs to factor the de Blasio landslide into his forecast.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.