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Forum Post: Why voters hate Democrats and Republicans alike: It's the economy, stupid!

Posted 9 months ago on Jan. 9, 2014, 12:27 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Why voters hate Democrats and Republicans alike: It's the economy, stupid!

http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/here-s-why-voters-hate-democrats-and-republicans-alike-191958196.html

By Rick Newman21 hours agoThe Exchange

Americans enter 2014 with a profoundly negative view of their government, expressing little hope that elected officials can or will solve the nation’s biggest problems, a new poll finds. Half say America’s system of democracy needs either “a lot of changes” or a complete overhaul, according to the new poll, conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Just 1 in 20 says it works well and needs no changes.

The nation’s two dominant political parties seem to be waging a bizarre war of attrition, with each trying to alienate the fewest number of voters.

They’re both losing.

A landmark new Gallup poll shows 42% of Americans now consider themselves political independents beholden to neither Democrats nor Republicans. That’s a record high. Republicans seem to have lost the most, with just 25% identifying with the GOP — down from 34% in 2004, when President George W. Bush won a second term in the White House. Democrats have nothing to celebrate, however, with their share falling from 36% in 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected president, to 31% today.

It’s well-known that Americans are fed up with all the pointless spitball fights in Washington. But their disgust with politicians is fundamentally an economic problem, with most national leaders unable to press or even articulate rational solutions to a persistently weak economy and falling living standards for many.

What Americans want

Americans have been clear in telling their elected officials what they want. In poll after poll, people say a weak economy and lack of good jobs are the most pressing problems in the U.S. today. Here’s what Congress has done about it during the past few years: raise taxes, cut government spending, shut down the government, and threaten twice to default on U.S. debt, spooking financial markets. There’s been some minor progress on scaling back the $17 trillion national debt, but most economists will tell you that does little or nothing to help the economy in the short run, though it can help a few years down the road.

Obamacare, the sweeping health-reform law that passed in 2010, is cited as a source of salvation by Democrats who support it and as a disaster by Republicans who oppose it. It’s neither, and the extremist positions taken by both sides help explain why voters are thumbing their noses in both directions. Obamacare will help some people and impose costs on others, in the end probably having an impact that ranks somewhere between -3 and +3 on a scale that ranges from -10 to +10.

The economy needs a lot more help, meanwhile, than praising Obamacare or repealing it will ever provide. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke channeled many people’s frustrations with politicians when he said during a recent speech that “excessively tight near-term fiscal policies have likely been counterproductive.” In plain English, he’s saying Congress has been hurting the economy, not helping it.

Retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates is more outspoken in his new memoir, describing Congress as “uncivil, incompetent … micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.” Once they’re out of government and able to speak freely, Bernanke and other economic officials may express views similar to those of Gates, since Congress has flubbed economic matters at least as badly as national-security ones.

The partisan nonsense will probably continue throughout 2014, right up to the midterm elections in November. There will be several important issues before Congress on which Americans want sensible action — which they probably won’t get. More than two-thirds of Americans, for instance, say they favor a modest increase in the minimum wage, from $7.25 an hour to perhaps $8.50 or $9. A majority also supports immigration reform, which business groups say would aid startups and perhaps create jobs. Other issues with bipartisan support that would help the economy include streamlining the tax code, scaling back regulations on small businesses and investing more in public infrastructure. Odds Congress will act on them this year: slim to none.

The biggest mystery may be why neither party seems interested in moving to the center and pursuing sensible policies independents favor. (One big reason: vast amounts of political donations that flow to congressional committee chairmen and the like, essentially locking the status quo in place). Here's one safe prediction, though: As the elections approach, the rhetoric will move to the center, since both parties need some of those independent swing voters in order to win. Then we’ll go right back to partisan warfare, with even more voters, perhaps, defecting from the traditional parties by this time next year.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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[-] 5 points by LeoYo (5909) 9 months ago

Now We Know: JPMorgan Chase Is Worse Than Enron

Saturday, 11 January 2014 09:12 By Richard Eskow, Campaign for America's Future | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21155-now-we-know-jpmorgan-chase-is-worse-than-enron

It's beginning to look as if JPMorgan Chase has had a hand in every major banking scandal of the last decade. In fact, it's the Zelig of Wall Street crime. Take a snapshot of any major bank fraud and chances are you’ll see JPMorgan Chase staring out at you from the frame.

Foreclosure fraud, investor fraud, cheating customers, market manipulation, LIBOR … and now, the coup de grâce to JPM’s tattered reputation: a $2 billion fine for closing its eyes and covering up as Bernie Madoff literally bilked widows and orphans, along with a lot of other families and charities. (Here's a list of investors.)

Does Jamie Dimon, the bank’s CEO, still think people don’t say enough nice things about him? Do his friends?

More importantly, how does the largest bank in the country (measured in assets) get away with being worse than Enron? That one’s easy: By being the largest bank in the country.

Guilty as Sin

JPMorgan Chase was hit with a “deferred prosecution agreement” for criminal behavior in this latest settlement, which basically means they won’t be prosecuted as long as they honor the agreement and keep admitting to their own wrongdoing. As the New York Times notes, this kind of arrangement is “nearly unheard-of for a giant American bank,” is “typically employed only when misconduct is extreme,” and “underscores the magnitude of the case against JPMorgan.”

According to publicly available information, the case against JPMorgan Chase is extremely damning. Even after highly suspicious facts came to light about the Madoff operation, JPM continued to package and sell Madoff-fed funds to its customers. It failed to report him to the authorities even after concluding that he was engaged in massive fraud.

No wonder JPM tried to block investigators from probing its handling of the Madoff account. According to Newsweek, the Justice Department even shielded the bank from obstruction charges.

Worse Than Enron

There’s no question about it: JPMorgan Chase is worse than Enron. It’s true that Enron’s energy market manipulations were horrible. Enron executives and employees deprived people of their life savings, drove up the price of a vital public utility, and concealed their crimes with all the wiliness of history’s worst master conspirators.

But JPMorgan Chase did everything Enron did – and much, much more. Consider:

A few weeks ago JPM paid $13 billion to settle well-documented charges of massive and widespread foreclosure fraud. Although that was the largest fine paid by a corporation in American history, there’s a compelling argument that it should have been larger – as much as 22 times larger.

JPM paid $296.9 million for lying to investors about the payment status – and hence, the investment quality – of its mortgage-backed securities.

JPM paid more than a third of a billion dollars to settle charges that it bilked customers by charging them for credit monitoring services it never provided.

JPM agreed to pay between $1.8 billion and $4.5 billion, depending on how you tally the cost, for illegally foreclosing on American families and throwing them out of their homes.

JPM paid another $56 million for cheating active-duty service members and their families, and for illegally foreclosing on them as well.

JPM paid $228 million for rigging the bidding for 93 municipal bond transactions in 31 states. (You know those cities that supposedly can’t honor their pension agreements with retired workers? That’s the kind of client they cheated here.)

JPM paid $410 million to settle charges related to its rigging of electricity prices, which is what Enron did.

JPM has paid multiple fines and settlements over the “London whale” case, in which traders sought to manipulate market prices, engaged in unlawful “reckless conduct” (while CEO Dimon bragged about the bank’s risk management and “fortress balance sheet”), then unlawfully concealed their behavior. There is no evidence that any investigation sought to determine how high the cover-up went. We do know that Dimon told investors the case was “a tempest in a teapot” after privately being told that losses were running in the billions.

JPM paid $1.2 billion for colluding with credit card companies and other institutions to rig merchants’ credit prices.

JPM has paid two major fines for illegally investing with customers’ money.

Den of Thieves

All in all, JPMorgan Chase has paid $20 billion in fines in the last year alone. But none of these fines were personally charged to the executives who committed the crimes. Instead, they were paid by shareholders – some of whom were also bilked by the executives in question.

What’s more, most (if not all) of these fines are tax-deductible. That means that taxpayers will take a hit for JPM’s criminality. Even the Enron guys didn’t think of that.

Do some good people work at JPMorgan Chase? Of course. I have a couple friends there myself, and they’re honorable people. But they’re living in a nest of fraudsters. Either CEO Dimon thinks that’s just fine, or he’s not competent enough to clean the place out and should be fired forthwith.

It's Who You Know …

How does the JPM Gang get away with all of this fraud? One simple answer is: Access. Political access. Even Bernie Madoff had it. The Madoff family was heavily involved in SIFMA, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group with deep Washington DC connections. (Madoff’s brother Peter was honored by SIFMA in 2006.)

Dimon’s DC connections, of course, are the stuff of legend. They extend to members of both parties. Until scandal completely scarred the bank’s reputation, Dimon was routinely referred to as “the President’s favorite banker.” And as a high-powered Wall Street lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder undoubtedly crossed paths with Dimon many times.

Our leaders insist that those personal connections carry no weight in their decision-making process. People are free to form their own opinions about that. The argument is also made, as the Attorney General did in a rare moment of candor, that some banks can’t be indicted because that would put them in danger – which, in turn, would pose a systemic risk to the global economy.

And yet nobody in the Administration is claiming that this is a problem, much less proposing solutions. Solutions are available: the breakup of systemically risky institutions or the indictment of individuals and not of institutions.

Unfortunately, nobody in the government seems very interested in solutions. They just keep making these deals, even when the malefactors involved are much, much worse than Enron.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 4 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

James Inhofe interrupts Senate unemployment debate to blame climate change on God

Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma on Wednesday used debate over extending unemployment insurance to claim that climate change was really a harmless act of God.

“It is a little bit humorous to me that we are talking about extending unemployment benefits in the midst of one of the most intense cold fronts in American history,” he said on the Senate floor. “I saw one newscaster yesterday who said: If you are under 40, you have not seen this stuff before. It has to make everyone question — and I am going to tie this together — whether global warming was ever real.”

Inhofe accused the Obama administration of enacting costly environmental regulations based on flawed climate science. He claimed overregulation was to blame for the high rates of unemployment.

“That is what makes global warming so important to mention as we debate the extension of unemployment benefits. If we want to improve our employment figures, what we need to do is stop the onslaught of environmental regulations that have come out during this Obama presidency.” http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/01/09/james-inhofe-interrupts-senate-unemployment-debate-to-blame-climate-change-on-god/

[-] 4 points by DKAtoday (24945) from Coon Rapids, MN 9 months ago

James Inhofe interrupts Senate unemployment debate to blame climate change on God

Was Bitchelle there to proclaim - Your preaching to the choir? Amen.

[-] 3 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

That's just insane. It's just insane.

[-] 3 points by DKAtoday (24945) from Coon Rapids, MN 9 months ago

Yes it is - and so are they - don't forget to toss in insane Rubio or Boner or Bitch Mc or or or

[-] 1 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

Yep.

[-] 4 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

60 Minutes Benghazi Witness Even Less Credible Than Previously Imagined

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/01/07/60-minutes-benghazi-witness-even-less-credible/197466

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[-] 4 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

The Roots of the Tea Party

How conservatives came to dominate U.S. politics. Only by understanding the sources of conservative political power can we hope to advance progressive interests. Two recent books by two distinguished scholars seek to illuminate the topic—that is, to explain the failures of the liberal-labor alliance during and after the New Deal, and the persistent power of conservative, even reactionary, forces. For sociologist G. William Domhoff, author of The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy: Corporate Dominance from the Great Depression to the Great Recession, the culprit was, and is, big business. For historian-cumpolitical scientist Ira Katznelson, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, the key factor was, and is, the power wielded in Congress by Southern representatives.

Domhoff sets out to destroy a myth he believes historians have created: that a liberal-labor alliance dominated domestic policy-making for a four-decade stretch, during the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society. As Domhoff tells it, while the early New Deal years may have offered brighter prospects for the liberal-labor coalition than subsequent years, even then corporate leaders from such companies as GE, U.S. Steel and Eastman Kodak greatly influenced policy-making. During World War II, they formed the Committee for Economic Development (CED), which Domhoff says dominated economic policy formation until the early 1970s, after which corporate liberals allied with reactionary executives of the later CEO cabal, the Business Roundtable, to promote neoliberalism. He maintains that before the switch to more reactionary policies, the moderate corporate executives shaped Social Security, labor policy, industrial relations, monetary and fiscal policy (forms of conservative Keynesianism), environmental protection (the EPA under Nixon), occupational safety (OSHA) and, of course, economic deregulation to their own advantage— while gaining the consent of those they dominated.

Domhoff may think that he is telling a new story that shreds governing myths, but for two decades historians have been telling the same story—a tale of an America turning increasingly conservative after the “Roosevelt revolution”—without relying upon the hidden hand of the CED. http://inthesetimes.com/article/15990/the_roots_of_the_tea_party/

[-] 4 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

Eighty-Six Percent of Americans Think the Government Should Fight Poverty

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced a “War on Poverty,” a majority of Americans believe that persistent economic hardship is the result of a broken economy, not of personal or government failures. They broadly agree that the government has a responsibility to use its resources to fight poverty, and should pursue a target of reducing it by half over the next decade.

Those are the conclusions of a public opinion survey published Tuesday by the Center for American Progress. The report assessed perceptions of poverty in general, as well as opinions of the War on Poverty in retrospect and of policy proposals on the table now. As lawmakers move to cut benefits and refuse to consider serious investments in the economy, in education and in healthcare, the survey is another reminder that those are precisely the investments people want the government to make.

News of falling unemployment, a rising stock market and an end to the recession hasn’t shaken the public’s perception that a vast proportion of Americans can’t meet their basic needs. In fact, Americans see poverty as being far more widely spread than the government does. Asked what percentage of their fellow Americans were living in poverty, the average guess was 39 percent—a sharp rise from the official estimate of 15 percent. Poverty is also a common personal experience, with more than half of respondents reporting that they knew someone who was poor.

When it comes to equality of opportunity, a majority of Americans don’t believe that poor Americans face a level playing field. And when forced to choose between core arguments about the roots of American poverty—that it stems from a flawed economic system, or from personal failings—nearly two-thirds agreed with the structural argument.

At the heart of opposition to safety net programs is the idea that poor Americans are undeserving of assistance, and that they are poor because they are lazy. It turns out that very few Americans polled by CAP support this core principle. Nearly 80 percent agreed that “most people living in poverty are decent people who are working hard to make ends meet in a difficult economy,” including 66 percent of white conservatives and libertarians. The poll showed nearly equal agreement across race and party lines on the point that a shortage of jobs with good wages is the primary reason for poverty in America, and that the poor receive unfair criticism. http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/01/08-6

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 9 months ago

Washington's Millionaire Boyz Club

Saturday, 11 January 2014 11:59 By Michael Winship, Moyers & Company | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21159-washingtons-millionaire-boyz-club

Over the holidays, I was watching that old Marilyn Monroe comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire” on Turner Classic Movies (okay, I have no life). This week, a new report suggests (to me, at least) that if Hollywood were to produce a remake of that 1953 film, the variety of now politically incorrect tactics Ms. Monroe and her friends deploy to land a well-to-do partner could be reduced to one: start dating a member of Congress.

An analysis of personal financial disclosure data by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reveals that “for the first time in history” a majority of senators and representatives are millionaires:

“Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 -- an increase from last year when it was $966,000. In addition, at least one of the members elected since then, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is a millionaire, according to forms she filed as a candidate. (There is currently one vacancy in Congress.)”

This is up from the previous year, when approximately 48 percent of the members had a median net worth of at least a million, and represents, according to the Center, “a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code.”

According to the Center’s executive director Sheila Krumholz, "Despite the fact that polls show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall, there's been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington. Of course, it's undeniable that in our electoral system, candidates need access to wealth to run financially viable campaigns, and the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with."

Yes, indeed. Her comments come as the Center also reports that candidates’ campaign committees already have raised $446 million for the 2014 midterm elections with incumbents raking in more than ten times the amount of their challengers. The midterms already are shaping up as the most expensive ever, coming in the wake of the 2012 elections’ orgy of splurging, much of it in hefty checks from anonymous big spenders whose wallets have been freed by Citizens United and other court decisions.

When it comes to the personal billfolds of Congressional incumbents, overall, Democrats slightly edge out Republicans with a medium net worth just a few thousand above the million mark (in the Senate, GOP members do a little better than Dems; in the House, it’s the opposite).

Returning to the top spot after a year in the number two position is the powerful and publicity-obsessed Republican House member Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, scourge of the IRS and car alarm magnate, whose average net worth in 2012 was $464 million. He took back the #1 title from Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas, whose wife Linda is the daughter of Clear Channel Communications Chairman Lowry Mays.

As for their most popular investments, 74 members reported owning shares in defense contractor and appliance maker General Electric, which shelled out $4.6 million in campaign contributions during the 2012 election cycle and spent more than $21 million on lobbying in 2012. Second on the list was Wells Fargo – 58 members have shares. Its 2012 campaign contributions were almost $3.8 million, lobbying was another $6.8 million. Other top ten stock picks include Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Apple, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, IBM, Cisco Systems and AT&T, each of which makes sure to throw campaign cash at those members who help grease the skids. Would that there was such a stimulus program for the rest of us!

However, the Center notes, “real estate was the most popular investment for members of Congress. Their investments in real estate in 2012 were valued at between $442.2 million and $1.4 billion.”

So it’s like they say in the real estate business about making money: it’s all about location, location, location. Especially if your location is Capitol Hill.

(You can read the complete list of members, their assets and favorite investments here: http://bit.ly/1gl3JyX)

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 9 months ago
[-] 3 points by GirlFriday (17435) 9 months ago

Marco Rubio's Laughable Speech on GOP Ideas to End Poverty

Rubio calls marriage "the greatest tool" we have to lift families out of poverty. In doing so, he reiterates the thinking of a generation of politicians who've turned what they think is a lever into a hammer. The welfare reform of the 1990s, wistfully recalled by Rubio more than once in his address yesterday, sought to use welfare to incentivize marriage; just this week a study by The Ohio State University reported that single mothers who marry young and later divorce are worse off, economically, than single mothers who never marry. Researchers speculated that's because the "pool of potential partners" available to young women in poverty "does not include many men with good prospects", and suggested that programs encouraging women to delay childbirth and prevent unwanted pregnancies would be a better use of government resources.

Rubio spent a fair amount of time lauding the ability of local governments to figure out the most effective solutions to poverty, but one place he and his Republican colleagues are dead-set against allowing state and local lawmakers free rein is when it comes to spending government money to delay childbirth and prevent unwanted pregnancies.

It's the "shift all the money to the states" part of Rubio's speech that will probably get the most attention, even if it's not quite the bombshell he'd like you to believe. Rubio hawked the idea with an entirely unselfconscious reference to how that approach "worked" in the 90s – it was that structural shift that "ended welfare as we know it". There is nothing inherently wrong with federal block grants. Perhaps Rubio's proposal (he says he's working on actual legislation) will reveal innovations that are impossible at the federal level. That structural shift doesn't bother me so much as Rubio's contention that it "worked".

It "worked" only in the sense that it got Clinton re-elected and saddled Democrats with the idea that being "tough on entitlements" was a hallmark of moderation. In doing so, it set the stage to make today's GOP proposals seem more palatable, though they come limned in subtle condemnations of the underserving poor. So, yes, I guess by Rubio's logic, welfare reform can be said to have worked. By the judgment of millions of poor families, not so much.

Since the federal program "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" became the block-granted "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" (Tanf) in 1996, extreme poverty in the US has gotten worse: it rose more than 13% between 1996 and 2009, from 2.7 million to 3 million people. The Tanf "caseload" has gotten a lot lighter (by 60%, in fact), but not because there are fewer families living in poverty; it's because families that live in poverty either cycle out of Tanf (benefits are capped at five years) or aren't eligible for it, often due to " sanctions" for not adhering to program requirements. Those families legislated out of Tanf are often the most vulnerable: those with undiagnosed or untreated disabilities, physical or mental, those enduring domestic abuse or struggling with a learning disability. http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/marco-rubios-laughable-speech-gop-ideas-end-poverty

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 9 months ago

More than half in Congress are millionaires

Analysis says House Democrats more flush than Republicans; in Senate, it's the opposite

http://news.yahoo.com/more-than-half-in-congress-are-millionaires-201537390.html

By Chris Moody, Yahoo News22 hours ago

Lawmakers with a net worth below $1 million are now a minority in Congress, an analysis of congressional financial disclosure data finds.

A new study conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics discovered that for the first time, more than half those in the House and Senate are millionaires. The study examined disclosures filed last year, the most recent available, and found that 268 have an average net worth above the threshold. Lawmakers are required to make ranges of their financial assets public each year.

In the House, the study found that Democrats on average were wealthier than Republicans. In the Senate, the opposite was true.

Some of the most interesting findings in the CRP analysis:

“The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 -- an increase from last year when it was $966,000.”

“Congressional Democrats had a median net worth of $1.04 million.”

.CONGRESS GETTING RICH.Play video http://news.yahoo.com/video/congress-getting-rich-090959882.html

“Congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million.”

“The median net worth for all House members was $896,000 -- that's up from $856,000 in 2011.”

“The median net worth for all senators increased to $2.7 million from $2.5 million.”

“Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011's $2.4 million), compared to Senate Republicans, at $2.9 million (an increase from $2.5 million).”

“Congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million.”

“The median net worth for all House members was $896,000 -- that's up from $856,000 in 2011.”

“The median net worth for all senators increased to $2.7 million from $2.5 million.”

“Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011's $2.4 million), compared to Senate Republicans, at $2.9 million (an increase from $2.5 million).”

“Congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million.”

“The median net worth for all House members was $896,000 -- that's up from $856,000 in 2011.”

“The median net worth for all senators increased to $2.7 million from $2.5 million.”

“Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011's $2.4 million), compared to Senate Republicans, at $2.9 million (an increase from $2.5 million).”

For more, see all of the CRP data, the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group's methodology and a list of the wealthiest lawmakers in Washington.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 9 months ago

NAFTA at 20: State of the North American Farmer

Friday, 10 January 2014 11:36 By Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Foreign Policy in Focus | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21146-nafta-at-20-state-of-the-north-american-farmer

Foreign Policy In Focus is partnering with Mexico’s La Jornada del campo magazine, where an earlier version of this commentary appeared, to publish a series of pieces examining the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years since its implementation. This is the second in the series.

One of the clearest stories to emerge in the two decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented is the devastation wreaked on the Mexican countryside by dramatic increases in imports of cheap U.S. corn.

But while Mexican farmers, especially small-scale farmers, undoubtedly lost from the deal, that doesn’t mean that U.S. farmers have won. Prices for agricultural goods have been on a roller coaster of extreme price volatility — caused by unfair agriculture policies and recklessly unregulated speculation on commodity markets, as well as by increasing droughts and other climate chaos. Each time prices take their terrifying ride back down, more small- and medium-scale farmers are forced into bankruptcy, concentrating land ownership and agricultural production into ever fewer hands.

Corporate Consolidation

It’s hard to separate the impacts of NAFTA from another big change in U.S. farm policy: the 1996 Farm Bill. That legislation set in place a shift from supply management and regulated markets to a policy of “get big or get out.” Farmers were encouraged to increase production with the promise of expanded export markets — including to Mexico. But almost immediately, commodity prices dropped like a stone, and Congress turned to “emergency” payments — later codified as farm subsidies — to clean up the mess and keep rural economies afloat.

Then, as new demand for biofuels increased the demand for corn, and as investors turned away from failing mortgage markets to speculate on grains, energy, and other commodities, prices soared. It wasn’t only the prices of farm goods that rose, however. Prices also increased for land, fuel, fertilizers, and other petrochemical-based agrochemicals. As a result, net farm incomes became much more erratic.

In many ways, the family farmers who had been the backbone of U.S. rural economies really did either get big or get out, leaving a sector marked by inequality and corporate concentration. Over the last 20 years, there has been a marked shift in the size of U.S. farms, with the numbers of very small farms and very large farms increasing dramatically. The increase in the number of small farms is due to several factors, including urban dwellers returning to the land (almost all of whom rely on off-farm jobs to support themselves), and the growth in specialty crops for local farmers’ markets. According to USDA researchers Robert Hoppe, James MacDonald, and Penni Korb, the number of farms in the middle — small operations that are commercially viable on their own — dropped by 40 percent, from half of total farms in 1982 to less than a third in 2007.

During this process of farm consolidation, corporations involved in agriculture and food production also consolidated. Mary Hendrickson at the University of Missouri has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors. Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.

Trade Agreements

Enter the free trade agreements. As corporations consolidated in the United States, they grew even larger by taking advantage of provisions in NAFTA that let them operate across borders. For example, U.S.-based corporations can grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico, and then bring their products back to the United States for slaughter and sale. Efforts to label these meats under Country of Origin Labeling laws have been vigorously opposed by the Mexican and Canadian governments. As a result of these advantages to large-scale growers, independent hog and poultry producers in the United States have virtually disappeared. Meanwhile the factory farms contribute to growing environmental devastation in all three countries.

Over time, the U.S. public has gained a growing appreciation of the need to change food and farm policies to ensure healthier foods and more stable rural economies. But policymakers in Congress and the Obama administration continue to support the same failed policies. They advocate for more free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These are largely cut and pasted from NAFTA, but with a twist: they add dangerous new provisions that would limit any remaining restrictions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), permit questionable food additives, and pave the way for even more questionable emerging technologies. A “new” U.S. Farm Bill currently being negotiated shifts the emphasis from commodity support to crop insurance, while locking in place advantages for even bigger farms and corporations. And it perpetuates the same willful ignorance of the devastating impacts of droughts and flooding caused by climate change.

The wild ride of prices under the NAFTA roller coaster has left us a food system that is dominated by fewer and bigger corporations. In many communities across the country, people are opting out of the existing Big Food system to rebuild smaller, healthier options that are rooted in local economies and nurture connections between farmers and consumers. Whether those experiences can scale up from local experiences to national agriculture, and whether they can change policy, is a big question — one made harder by the overwhelming dominance of corporate interests. But rebuilding the system from the ground up, and considering how to make fairer links to farmers in Mexico and elsewhere, is really the only path forward.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by WSmith (1838) from Cornelius, OR 9 months ago

Still missing from the stats that Americans are turned off to politics: the reason: relentless and pervasive 1%-Owned & biased MSM which informs them.

In addition: Since the 2012 election, Clear Channel (Bain Capital), CBS, and others, have flipped Progressive Radio Stations to either 24/7 Sports or RW Hate-Lie programing.

There is a concerted effort under way to stifle alternative outlets and information/coverage by MSM, in coordination with voter suppression laws, and flooding MSM with empty (bread & circus, Dancing w/One Direction) or conducive (gun & bible, barefoot & pregnant, individual & maverick, CM & religion & government failure news) Programing.

It's old RW strategy, with much better technology. Made desperate by waning popular opinion for the GOP. They did it with Raygun's popularity, Bush's wars, now they're trying flat-out censorship, discouragement and fraud.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 9 months ago

There’s been some minor progress on scaling back the $17 trillion national debt, but most economists will tell you that does little or nothing to help the economy in the short run, though it can help a few years down the road.

I understood, they scaled back the yearly deficit (the amount of debt increase) NOT the debt.

Am I wrong?

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6614) from St Louis, MO 9 months ago

Republican voter identification falls to new low point as Independent voters surge:

http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/18408-republican-voter-identification-falls-to-new-low-point-as-independent-voters-surge

"Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008. . ."

[-] 1 points by WSmith (1838) from Cornelius, OR 9 months ago

Thanks to 1%-Owned & biased MSM, and the 24/365/Every City Hate-Wing Radio.

Americans are awash with RW, Anti-Democracy, Anti-American Propaganda, and are subsequently among the most ignorant ~ least informed ~ least politically engaged, with the lowest Voter Turnout ~ people on earth.

The 1% Power Elite have us tagged as the new production workers for products serving the new millions and billions of consumers in China and India. Making us a nation of stupid, disorganized, fearful, disengaged, unicorn chasers is exactly how they want us.

[-] 0 points by WSmith (1838) from Cornelius, OR 9 months ago

The Bottom Line here is that the Power Elites HATE Democracy & Government and are doing all they can (which is quite a lot since they own the MSM that informs us) to make Americans HATE Democracy & Government, too!

Is it any wonder We have the lowest Voter Turnout & and McDonalds is our favorite food!

[-] -1 points by NotRockefellerTheOtherFella (38) 9 months ago

Down with ALL DemoCRAPs, RepubliCONs and Libe(R/D)tarians. They will not solve our problems, they are our problems.

[-] 1 points by WSmith (1838) from Cornelius, OR 9 months ago

It's easy to trash & blame those who you don't like. BUT coming up with better people and ideas is a lot harder.

Please share with us your grand alternatives.

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