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Trade War and the Nationalist Exchange: Trudeau Trails Trump

By Maximilian C. Forte | Zero Anthropology | June 1, 2018

“These tariffs are totally unacceptable. For 150 years, Canada has been America’s most steadfast ally. Canadians have served alongside Americans in two world wars and in Korea. From the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan, we have fought and died together. Canadian personnel are serving alongside Americans at this very moment. We are partners in NORAD, NATO, and around the world. We came to America’s aid after 9/11—as Americans have come to our aid in the past. We are fighting together against Daesh in Northern Iraq…. That Canada could be considered a national security threat to the United States is inconceivable…. these tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States, and in particular, to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside American comrades-in-arms”—Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, May 31, 2018

So we now see the launch of a trade war between the US versus Canada, Mexico, and the EU. Focusing on the place of residence of the writer, Canada, one can argue that this trade war is very good news, if one knows how to read this development properly. Justin Trudeau’s visible anger is a testament to the good news: his anger is that he is now required to perform in the role of an economic nationalist, something for which he was not trained. All of his apprenticeship under globalist mentors—such as the Center for American Progress, the Aga Khan and George Soros—only prepared him to play a supporting role as part of a now wounded and cornered neoliberal elite. Trudeau was only meant to be a builder of “team spirit” in service of the technocrats who facilitated neoliberal globalization. He was there to cheer “Canadians” (whatever that word means now) that they were becoming like everyone from everywhere: they were a bit of everything, and nothing in particular. Trudeau thus pranced at the front of gay pride parades, pushed legislation on transgender pronouns, introduced a gender quota for his cabinet, a gender budget, sorted out cabinet ministers according to skin colour and headwear, welcomed everyone to an open Canada, and chided citizens for saying “mankind” instead of “peoplekind,” because the latter is “more inclusive”. And what does he have to show for his efforts? He is now the one to speak of illegal border crossers who should stay away, and imposes counter-tariffs.

Trudeau opened his remarks on the national security front—a big mistake. It was a big mistake for two reasons. One reason, of lesser importance than the next, is that it shows the literalism that is at the heart of moral narcissism and virtue signalling—that you take your opponent’s statements to be literally true, at face value, and no contextualization is necessary. Trudeau thus took great offense at the suggestion that Canada somehow undermined US national security—as if our purpose as a sovereign nation-state was to always serve the Americans better. President Trump, however, is merely using the available tools—he does not think that Canada literally threatens US national security, but he has to invoke that notion because it permits him to use a particular instrument—and that’s all. Back in March, if one was paying attention, one of the arguments Trump used to defend US steel and aluminum industries is that they were vital to US national security and its weapons industries. The Trump administration cited Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. I predicted this would be the justification in 2016, when the media floated arguments dismissing the prospect of Trump’s protectionism, insisting he would need Congressional approval. Others instead advanced the murky argument that the “deep state” would prevent him. Some tried to cover their lack of insight by saying Trump invoked “a rarely used law”. The constant refrain—inexplicably maintained despite its obvious contradiction—was that Trump was a threat and yet Trump would also have no real power. Almost all instantly forgot the meaning of executive power, and how it has increased under the imperial presidency. President Trump proved he could take such action, especially when the action is declared an “emergency” and a “threat to national security”. The only “mystery” here was why Trump suddenly decided to return to a nationalist posture, after a full year of reversals that favoured the continuation of neoliberal globalization. Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser and former president of Goldman Sachs, promptly resigned from the administration after Trump announced the tariffs. Some thus saw economic nationalists regaining the upper hand in the Trump administration. It could be that Trump is now reconciled to the realization that his family’s business empire will never become properly transnational, and is even having to pull back from simply experimenting with being international. Trump family fortunes have returned home to roost—that is one possible explanation, and it’s a side issue for now. What we do know, even so soon, is that there is in fact some evidence that jobs are returning to the US steel industry, thanks primarily to Trump’s protective tariffs.

The second reason it was a mistake for Trudeau to use national security as an entry point is that it now opens a valid question for Canadians: what good is our alliance with the US? Why are we in all those wars? Why are we always tagging along with the Yanks? What were we doing in Afghanistan? It’s not like Toronto was attacked on 9/11. Why should we be members of NATO and NORAD? All of it really does not count for anything in the end. Trump has played Trudeau, repeatedly, and is now forcing Trudeau to substantively and effectively call into question Canada’s subservient role as an upholder of American empire. This is an example of the indirectly, quietly subversive outcomes of Trump’s “America First” program, as I argued in “What Happened to the American Empire?

As for virtue signalling, Trump can do that too. With an absolutely phony earnestness, which neither Trudeau nor anyone else correctly read, Trump would pretend to be enchanted with his Canadian guest, lavishing warmth and praise on him… and look, here’s my daughter, she’s so charmed by you too! All smiles, handshakes, and exuberant lyrics, and it was all deliberately calculated bullsh*t, like you would expect of an expert dealer. Meanwhile, Trump does not forget who his adversaries are, and quietly and indirectly at first—and now loudly and directly—he set about destabilizing Trudeau’s Canada. First there was the mysterious push of illegal border crossers toward Canada, with the US amply admitting Nigerians on visas when their only intention is to enter the US to cross into Canada illegally. Trudeau said Canada would remain open and welcoming, in a direct rebuke aimed at Trump, and now Trump would make him pay for his words—and he has, in spades. More on that in a future article. Then Trump imposed tariffs on Canadian dairy products, softwood lumber, newsprint, massively crushing tariffs on Bombardier passenger planes, and then the renegotiation of NAFTA itself, with the threat of simply tearing up the deal.

Where has Trudeau’s leadership been in all of this? With less people than California, the US market matters a lot more to Canada than vice versa. How has Trudeau prepared Canadians for possible job losses, perhaps in the tens of thousands, as a result of an abrupt trade shock? How will social services suffer in provinces most affected by a diminished export market? Today the Canadian media like to boast that Canada will hit Florida orange juice, so—hint, hint—good luck winning Florida in the next elections. They should be thinking about Canadian elections instead, rather than taking the attitude that only the US will suffer, or that it will suffer more than Canada. But that is what we get: instead of a plan, a program, just amateur cockiness.

How has Trudeau’s government coordinated with local and national industries to realign production to domestic suppliers and domestic consumption in the event of a trade war? Where are the “innovative” and “smart” plans now? Canadian ruling elites have been funding the training of a generation of students to think in globalist terms, and shun nationalism—when what they should have been teaching students is not just to start loving nationalism, but to love their nation. What nation is that, you ask? Writing from Quebec, but as someone raised in Ontario, my very strong impression is that it is Anglo-Canada in particular that has the real identity crisis—that is, not having an identity. We can forget about Aboriginal peoples planting the seeds of a new Canadian creolization, as I argued elsewhere; instead, Aboriginals are being effectively put back in their cultural ghettos, shielded by a paranoia over phony “cultural appropriation,” thus sequestered, contained, and removed from the Canadian conversation. Instead the model we have in Canada sounds like it was imported from Amazon.com: everyone in their appropriate box, and every box on its appropriate shelf.

“We’ll see what happens”. “Maybe this will be big, maybe it won’t. Who knows?” However, it is still worth raising the possibility that if the trade war continues, and lasts, it’s Canada that might not last. The Trump transfer of costs will have achieved its maximum effect. Part of that Trump transfer is that Canadians are being taught—forced—to become nationalist Trumps in their own right, or lose. Let’s see what happens.

A final thought: having lived for a few years in Cape Breton, one of Canada’s long-standing and primary centres in the production of steel, I saw first hand the degree of economic destruction and social devastation wrought on Canadian production by foreign competition, among many other factors. Real leadership would seek to maximize the benefits of protection that (counter)tariffs now offer us, a chance to make sure not all of Canada experiences the kind of econocide witnessed by Cape Breton.

June 1, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment

Trump at One Year: His Fate May Hang on What He Does Next About Immigration

By James George JATRAS | Strategic Culture Foundation | 19.01.2018

When in 2016 Donald Trump mugged the bipartisan political establishment in the United States, there were three issues that put him beyond the pale:

  • Restructuring America’s trade relations to favor American workers and producers, not international corporations keen to dump their costly domestic employees and relocate abroad, sending in their products tariff-free; and
  • Stopping the migration invasion of the US, symbolized above all by building The Wall on the Mexican border – and making Mexico pay for it.

As Trump’s first year in office comes to a close, where do we stand?

War and Foreign Policy

The neoconservatives who have made a disaster of American policy for almost three decades are exultant that Trump is dancing to their tune. In the Middle East, “America First” has turned into “Israel and Saudi Arabia First” and a vendetta against Iran. While Trump has taken credit for the possible outbreak of peace between the two Koreas, that is a byproduct of the intransigence and bluster coming from Washington – which may resume as soon as the Olympics are over.

With respect to Russia, the picture is dreary and the trend worrisome. The absurdly named “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” passed last year with a bipartisan, veto-proof supermajority, stripped Trump of his constitutional authority to make policy toward Russia. A new round of legislatively mandated sanctions designed to block any possible outreach to Moscow by criminalizing contact with any Russian within screaming distance of the Kremlin is imminent. Early hopes of US-Russia cooperation in Syria against jihad terrorist have given way to a continued (illegal) US military presence east of the Euphrates, talk of a “New Syrian Army” (recycled Daesh and al-Qaeda terrorists, with a push to turn the CIA aid spigot back on), plausible Russian suggestions of a US hand in a drone attack on Russian personnel, and back to square one with “Assad must go!” Providing lethal weapons to Ukraine – which could entail American advisers on the ground near the conflict line in the Donbas – moves us closer to military confrontation.

All that said, there is a school of thought that says Trump is in so precarious a position vis-à-vis a Deep State working overtime to remove him (and if pushed too hard, might just “JFK” him), that he has no choice but to adopt a “rope-a-dope” strategy. Patrick Armstrong thinks that Trump is purposely undermining the imperial order bit by bit by degrading the narcissistic notion of US global “leadership.” This means Trump’s seeming to go along with his ubiquitous adversaries’ bellicose agenda to the Nth degree but in the process making the US less and less relevant.

Korea may be an example: bluster and threaten, so the panicked South reached out to the North. Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: the US is no longer the mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and we defund the Palestinian Authority and the UN to boot. Threaten to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal: nervous Europeans distance themselves from Washington and cozy up to Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, which may in turn lead to a diminished US enthusiasm for defending “disloyal” NATO allies. Double down on the failed Afghanistan non-strategy: blame Pakistan and cut off their money. Impose economic and financial sanctions with reckless abandon: an alternative international finance system is in the works.

In any case, among Trump’s three populist heresies from the bipartisan Swamp’s agenda, this is the least well articulated and least important to his base in Flyover Country, many of whom reflexively if ignorantly respond positively to anything that sounds “tough” and militaristic (“Support our troops!” – so how about we stop getting them killed and crippled in unnecessary missions?). Whatever Trump thinks he’s doing, as long as he doesn’t stumble us into a war somewhere like Korea, Iran, Ukraine, or Syria, things are still better than if Hillary had won.

  • Verdict after one year: Let’s call it a wash. But there’s still reason to worry.

Trade

Not much can be said about trade at this time. Maybe that’s good. There are solid America First people in the administration, such as U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Peter Navarro, who heads the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, backed up by speechwriter Stephen Miller, the main nationalist-populist left in the Trump inner circle. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is generally counted in this camp. Perhaps a low decibel level means quiet progress.

Or not. The trade nationalists are at daggers drawn with the globalists and generals: National Economic Council chief Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. The former two are ideological free traders and advocates for global corporations and banks. The latter favor the tried-and-failed decades-long policy of buying geopolitical and strategic advantage by taking it out of the hide of American workers and producers: we give our satellites like Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc., etc., free, non-reciprocal access to our domestic market, they hand over their sovereignty. What a deal!

Who will come out on top is unclear. Pulling out of TPP was a positive sign. What Trump does about NAFTA will be a critical, which is why the usual suspects are in full-throated hysteria over his threat to insist Canada and Mexico renegotiate it or to pull the US out. With respect to the 800-pound gorilla of America’s trade woes, an America First pitch to China ought to be getting us out of Korea and the South China Sea while rebalancing our enormously one-sided trade relationship. Unfortunately, the globalists and generals would rather do the opposite: keep sacrificing Americans’ economic well-being in an effort to “contain” China strategically.

Trade won’t matter much in the November elections amid happy-news perceptions of improved job creation, stock market record highs (though how much of that represents real economic growth and how much a ballooning investment bubble is open to debate), and higher consumer confidence. But over the long term, if this opportunity is lost to put Americans’ interests ahead of those of transnational corporations it might not come again.

  • Verdict after one year: It could go either way.

Immigration

Of the three Trumpish heresies from bipartisan orthodoxy, this is the most important. While for the establishment it ranks with foreign policy and is closely tied to it (“Invade the world, invite the world”), for Trump’s base it is head and shoulders above the other two. If not for his pledge to build The Wall and make Mexico pay for it, Trump never would have been the Republican nominee and won the presidency.

For the past week the American media and political class have been in a tizzy over precisely what scatological term Trump may have used in a closed-door White House meeting over DACA (“Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals,” Obama’s so-called “Dreamers”) and immigration policy generally, including funds to build The Wall. (There evidently is some question of whether the second syllable was “hole” or “house.”) Is this the worst word ever uttered in a non-public meeting in the Oval Office? At least nobody claims Trump said whatever it was he said like Lyndon Johnson, perched on the presidential throne.

Trump’s real offense was less the word itself than its implication that certain Countries ABCD are horrible places to live, while other Countries WXYZ are quite the opposite. And since Countries ABCD are pretty much full of black and brown people, and Countries WXYZ are almost exclusively the abodes of white and yellow people, he’s a racist for noticing the difference. Hence, the media and Trump’s critics’ frenzied repetition of the R-word word, as though it were a sort of magical incantation that at some point will cause him to crumble into dust.

There are over seven and a half billion people inhabiting this orb of woe. Probably somewhere in the range of 90 percent of them would dramatically improve their lives if they left where they are and moved to the United States. Aside from the clear benefit to the Democratic Party in welcoming spanking new voters, how does it profit the American nation to import mobs of impoverished and uneducated people to drag down wages, especially in low-paying job categories, and to consume a disproportionate share of public benefits?

Keep in mind too that because a very high proportion of migrants in this category would be considered “minorities” under US law, they and their progeny would immediately qualify upon arrival for affirmative action status in hiring and education. What kind of idiot country imports foreigners and then discriminates in their favor against the natives? For what purpose – to offset historical wrongs to which the newcomers were never victim?

Conversely, the President’s defenders suggest that what’s really needed is to switch from a country-of-origin and family-reunification basis for our immigration system to a merit-based system. Let’s take only the best and the brightest, from whatever place they hail.

A supposed merit-based system is a bad idea too. First off – let’s show a little altruism here – it would make the plight of the horrible countries worse. I am not generally a fan of Pope Francis with respect to his views on migration, but he has a point when he says, like Pope John Paul II before him, that a “brain drain” from Third World countries robs them of much of their best talent and hope for improving their own homelands.

However, to note that is not to suggest that importing cherry-picked high-achievers into the US is such a blessing for us. Just as we don’t need a migrant underclass, neither do we need an imported overlord class taking the best jobs from American kids who have busted their hump getting through school and in many cases gone heavily into debt.

This is a particular problem in high-tech and IT, where massive companies with near-monopoly market control – and consequently almost total obsequy from the bipartisan political class – demand the importation of ever more foreign talent, particular in STEM fields. This is despite serious uncertainty as to whether there are enough jobs even for Americans trained in those disciplines.

A special area of concern is pushback against the Trump Administration’s modest effort to trim the much-abused H-1B program for supposedly “temporary” workers, a transgression against both the left’s multiculturalism and corporate plutocrats’ demand for cheap, docile indentured labor. There exists a kind of reverse-nativism, according to which America needs a vital “transfusion of fresh blood” from lots and lots of bright, energetic foreigners. You see, American-born people are just too lazy and stupid to succeed on their own and deserve to be replaced. If you or your offspring lose out to an “insourced” immigrant or H-1B via-holder, maybe one who can trump you on an affirmative action preference, too bad for you.

Here’s a suggestion. Let’s nix both imported underclass and overclass and have a long (if not permanent) immigration timeout like we had from the end of the first Great Wave of immigration in the mid-1920s until the current wave was set off by the 1965 immigration act. For almost half a century, those who entered in that previous wave (such as all four of this writer’s Spartan grandparents) and their progeny had time to assimilate and become Americans. Unless and until those who arrived in the past few decades have likewise Americanized (are we allowed to say that?) to the extent possible – and the millions now here illegally have been repatriated – entry should be cut down to the absolute minimum. That should be not much more than spousal visas, and those should be strictly scrutinized for fraud.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s language, whatever it was, will translate into good policy. In the wake of “S-Gate,” he’s in a strong position. Republicans can move a clean federal government funding bill and dare the Democrats to block it and shut down the government of the whole country because it doesn’t save the “Dreamers.” But never underestimate the potential for panic among Congressional Republicans and their ability to throw away a winning hand.

That’s where the risk for Trump is. If he falls for a chump’s deal on immigration, where he yields on DACA in exchange for promises and gestures the way Ronald Reagan got suckered on the last big amnesty in 1986, his base – which indeed wouldn’t care if he gunned down someone in the middle of 5th Avenue – might not be so forgiving. They can overlook a lot, but not that. And if his base stays home this November, we’re looking at a Democratic Congress, impeachment, and President Mike Pence.

  • Verdict after one year: Trump’s rough talk and the hateful reaction to it increase the chances he will stand his ground. But it still could go either way. This is the one to watch.

January 19, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

‘Free trade’ has come to mean powerful interests get whatever they want

By Yves Engler · August 8, 2017

“Free trade” has become a euphemism for “whatever power wants,” no matter how tangentially tied to transferring goods across international borders.

In an extreme example, Ottawa recently said its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act since accurately labelling two wines might undermine a half-century long, illegal, military occupation.

Of little connection to international trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement — and subsequent FTAs — has granted foreign corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in secret tribunals for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. Over 75 cases have been brought before the Investor State Dispute Settlement section of NAFTA, which has resulted in tens of millions of dollars paid to companies impacted by Ottawa banning the export of toxic PCB wastes or the import of suspected neurotoxin gasoline additive MMT.

Strengthening this dynamic, Canada’s “free trade” deal with the European Union (CETA) empowers companies to sue municipalities if they expand public services. For instance, a municipality unhappy with private water delivery could face a suit if they tried to remunicipalize (or de-privatize) this service.

CETA, TPP, WTO and other self-described “free trade” agreements also extend patent and copyright protections (monopolies), which stifle competition, a pillar of free trade ideology. CETA’s increased patent protections are expected to drive up already high Canadian pharmaceutical drug costs by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year. Negotiations to “modernize NAFTA” could end up granting big pharma perks that would effectively block Canada’s ability to set up universal pharmacare. Similarly, the yet to be signed TPP strengthens patents and would increase the length of copyright in Canada from 50 to 70 years after the death of an author.

It is little exaggeration to say politicians have come to employ the term “free trade” to mean “whatever powerful corporations want.” But, the Trudeau Liberals recently broadened the term’s definition even further. In a move to make “free trade” mean “whatever powerful interests want,” they announced that Canada’s FTA with Israel supercedes this country’s Food and Drugs Act.

After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.”

In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

In other words, the government is publicly proclaiming that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this is little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, CIJA and Israeli officials, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Trade and Investment Research Project director Scott Sinclair. “This trade-related rationale does not stand up to scrutiny,” Sinclair writes. “The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labelled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA [Canada–Israel FTA] that prevents this. The decision to reverse the CFIA’s ruling was political. The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure.”

In another commentary on the government “backtracking under pressure,” Peter Larson points out that CIFTA grants Israel an important concession that seeks to sidestep Canada’s commitments under international law. The agreement says, “unless otherwise specified, ‘territory’ means with respect to Israel the territory where its customs laws are applied,” but omits “in accordance with international law,” which is in many of Canada’s other free trade agreements. This omission seeks to allow goods produced on land occupied in contravention of the 4th Geneva Convention and Statute of Rome to benefit from CIFTA.

David Kattenburg and his lawyer Dmitri Lascaris will be challenging CFIA’s decision in court. On Monday they filed an appeal of the wine labelling and released a statement to the media.

The Council of Canadians and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have recently added their voices to those criticizing CFIA’s decision. The NDP’s trade critic has yet to comment.

Kattenburg and Lascaris’ court challenge offers NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Jagmeet Singh a good opportunity to express their opposition to defining “free trade” as “whatever power wants.”

August 9, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 1 Comment

Under NAFTA, Diabetes Became Leading Cause of Death in Mexico

teleSUR | April 8, 2017

Diabetes has become the leading cause of death in Mexico, according to a new study released by the World Health Organization, WHO.

The United Nations agency claims diabetes rates in the Latin American country began surging just over two decades ago, around the time the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, came into force.

An estimated 80,000 people die each year in Mexico from diabetes, WHO also reports, adding that nearly 14 percent of adults there suffer from the disease.

“Diabetes is one of the biggest problems in the health system in Mexico,” Dr. Carlos Aguilar Salinas told NPR during a recent interview.

“It’s the first cause of death. It’s the first cause of disability. It’s the main cost for the health system.”

Why has diabetes become such an issue in Mexico after NAFTA? The answer is simple: cheap imported junk food.

Since its 1994 inception, NAFTA has allowed U.S. and Canadian restaurants and processed food manufacturers to sell products at rates much lower than their Mexican counterparts. This creates a situation where fastfood chains like McDonald’s and processed food brands like Nabisco are able to dominate the country’s market, given that their products are more financially accessible.

And in a country with rising poverty, inequality and food insecurity, cheap imported junk food is often the only nutritional option.

In 2015, WHO reported that Mexico is the leading consumer of junk food in Latin America — the average person there consumes 450 pounds of ultra-processed foods and sugary beverages each year.

The organization also reported that until recently, Mexico was the largest per capita consumer of soda in the world, with the average person drinking 36 gallons each year. The U.S., Argentina and Chile are now the leading consumers of soda.

“Diabetes used to be a disease of the rich,” WHO’s Mexico chief Dr. Gerry Eijkemans also told NPR during a recent interview.

“In Western Europe and the U.S., it was really the people who had the money who were obese, and now it’s actually the opposite.”

Nearly 60 percent of Latin Americans are overweight, according to a UN report.

April 10, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 2 Comments

President Trump: Nationalist Capitalism, An Alternative to Globalization

By James Petras :: 01.27.2017

Introduction: During his inaugural speech, President Trump clearly and forcefully outlined the strategic political-economic policies he will pursue over the next four years. Anti-Trump journalist, editorialists, academics and experts, who appear in the Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have repeatedly distorted and lied about the President’s program as well as his critique of existing and past policies.

We will begin by seriously discussing President Trump’s critique of the contemporary political economy and proceed to elaborate on his alternatives and its weaknesses.

President Trump’s Critique of the Ruling Class

The centerpiece of Trump’s critique of the current ruling elite is the negative impact of its form of globalization on US production, trade and fiscal imbalances and on the labor market. Trump cites the fact that US industrial capitalism has drastically shifted the locus of its investments, innovations and profits overseas as an example of globalization’s negative effects. For two decades many politicians and pundits have bemoaned the loss of well-paid jobs and stable local industries as part of their campaign rhetoric or in public meetings, but none have taken any effective action against these most harmful aspects of globalization. Trump denounced them as “all talk and no action” while promising to end the empty speeches and implement major changes.

President Trump targeted importers who bring in cheap products from overseas manufacturers for the American market undermining US producers and workers. His economic strategy of prioritizing US industries is an implicit critique of the shift from productive capital to financial and speculative capital under the previous four administrations. His inaugural address attacking the elites who abandon the ‘rust belt’ for Wall Street is matched by his promise to the working class: “Hear these words! You will never be ignored again.” Trump’s own words portray the ruling class ‘as pigs at the trough’ (Financial Times, 1/23/2017, p. 11)

Trump’s Political-Economic Critique

President Trump emphasizes market negotiations with overseas partners and adversaries. He has repeatedly criticized the mass media and politicians’ mindless promotion of free markets and aggressive militarism as undermining the nation’s capacity to negotiate profitable deals.

President Trump’s immigration policy is closely related to his strategic ‘America First’ labor policy. Massive inflows of immigrant labor have been used to undermine US workers’ wages, labor rights and stable employment. This was first documented in the meat packing industry, followed by textile, poultry and construction industries. Trump’s proposal is to limit immigration to allow US workers to shift the balance of power between capital and labor and strengthen the power of organized labor to negotiate wages, conditions and benefits. Trump’s critique of mass immigration is based on the fact that skilled American workers have been available for employment in the same sectors if wages were raised and work conditions were improved to permit dignified, stable living standards for their families.

President Trump’s Political Critique

Trump points to trade agreements, which have led to huge deficits, and concludes that US negotiators have been failures. He argues that previous US presidents have signed multi-lateral agreements, to secure military alliances and bases, at the expense of negotiating job-creating economic pacts. His presidency promises to change the equation: He wants to tear up or renegotiate unfavorable economic treaties while reducing US overseas military commitments and demands NATO allies shoulder more of their own defense budgets. Immediately upon taking office Trump canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and convoked a meeting with Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA.

Trump’s agenda has featured plans for hundred-billion dollar infrastructure projects, including building controversial oil and gas pipelines from Canada to the US Gulf. It is clear that these pipelines violate existing treaties with indigenous people and threaten ecological mayhem. However, by prioritizing the use of American-made construction material and insisting on hiring only US workers, his controversial policies will form the basis for developing well-paid American jobs.

The emphasis on investment and jobs in the US is a complete break with the previous Administration, where President Obama focused on waging multiple wars in the Middle East, increasing public debt and the trade deficit.

Trump’s inaugural address issued a stern promise: “The American carnage stops right now and stops right here!” This resonated with a huge sector of the working class and was spoken before an assemblage of the very architects of four decades of job-destroying globalization. ‘Carnage’ carried a double meaning: Widespread carnage resulted from Obama and other administrations’ destruction of domestic jobs resulting in decay and bankruptcy of rural, small town and urban communities. This domestic carnage was the other side of the coin of their policies of conducting endless overseas wars spreading carnage to three continents. The last fifteen years of political leadership spread domestic carnage by allowing the epidemic of drug addiction (mostly related to uncontrolled synthetic opiate prescriptions) to kill hundreds of thousands of mostly young American’s and destroy the lives of millions. Trump promised to finally address this ‘carnage’ of wasted lives. Unfortunately, he did not hold ‘Big Pharma’ and the medical community responsible for its role in spreading drug addiction into the deepest corners of the economically devastated rural America. Trump criticized previous elected officials for authorizing huge military subsidies to ‘allies’ while making it clear that his critique did not include US military procurement policies and would not contradict his promise to ‘reinforce old alliances’ (NATO).

Truth and Lies: Garbage Journalists and Arm Chair Militarists

Among the most outrageous example of the mass media’s hysteria about Trump’s New Economy is the systematic and vitriolic series of fabrications designed to obscure the grim national reality that Trump has promised to address. We will discuss and compare the accounts published by ‘garbage journalists (GJ’s)’ and present a more accurate version of the situation.

The respectable garbage journalists of the Financial Times claim that Trump wants to ‘destroy world trade’. In fact, Trumps has repeatedly stated his intention to increase international trade. What Trump proposes is to increase US world trade from the inside, rather than from overseas. He seeks to re-negotiate the terms of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements to secure greater reciprocity with trading partners. Under Obama, the US was more aggressive in imposing trade tariffs that any other country in the OECD.

Garbage journalists label Trump as a ‘protectionist’, confusing his policies to re-industrialize the economy with autarky. Trump will promote exports and imports, retain an open economy, while increasing the role of the US as a producer and exporter. The US will become more selective in its imports. Trump will favor the growth of manufacturing exporters and increase imports of primary commodities and advanced technology while reducing the import of automobiles, steel and household consumer products.

Trump’s opposition to ‘globalization’ has been conflated by the garbage journalists of the Washington Post as a dire threat to the ‘the post-Second World War economic order’. In fact, vast changes have already rendered the old order obsolete and attempts to retain it have led to crises, wars and more decay. Trump has recognized the obsolete nature of the old economic order and stated that change is necessary.

The Obsolete Old Order and the Dubious New Economy

At the end of the Second World War, most of Western Europe and Japan resorted to highly restrictive ‘protectionist’ industrial and monetary policies to rebuild their economies. Only after a period of prolonged recovery did Germany and Japan carefully and selectively liberalize their economic policies.

In recent decades, Russia was drastically transformed from a powerful collectivist economy to a capitalist vassal-gangster oligarchy and more recently to a reconstituted mixed economy and strong central state. China has been transformed from a collectivist economy, isolated from world trade, into the world’s second most powerful economy, displacing the US as Asia and Latin America’s largest trading partner.

Once controlling 50% of world trade, the US share is now less than 20%. This decline is partly due to the dismantling of its industrial economy when its manufacturers moved their factories abroad.

Despite the transformation of the world order, recent US presidents have failed to recognize the need to re-organize the American political economy. Instead of recognizing, adapting and accepting shifts in power and market relations, they sought to intensify previous patterns of dominance through war, military intervention and bloody destructive ‘regime changes’ – thus devastating, rather than creating markets for US goods. Instead of recognizing China’s immense economic power and seeking to re-negotiate trade and co-operative agreements, they have stupidly excluded China from regional and international trade pacts, to the extent of crudely bullying their junior Asian trade partners, and launching a policy of military encirclement and provocation in the South China Seas. While Trump recognized these changes and the need to renegotiate economic ties, his cabinet appointees seek to extend Obama’s militarist policies of confrontation.

Under the previous administrations, Washington ignored Russia’s resurrection, recovery and growth as a regional and world power. When reality finally took root, previous US administrations increased their meddling among the Soviet Union’s former allies and set up military bases and war exercises on Russia’s borders. Instead of deepening trade and investment with Russia, Washington spent billions on sanctions and military spending – especially fomenting the violent putchist regime in Ukraine. Obama’s policies promoting the violent seizure of power in Ukraine, Syria and Libya were motivated by his desire to overthrow governments friendly to Russia – devastating those countries and ultimately strengthening Russia’s will to consolidate and defend its borders and to form new strategic alliances.

Early in his campaign, Trump recognized the new world realities and proposed to change the substance, symbols, rhetoric and relations with adversaries and allies – adding up to a New Economy.

First and foremost, Trump looked at the disastrous wars in the Middle East and recognized the limits of US military power: The US could not engage in multiple, open-ended wars of conquest and occupation in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia without paying major domestic costs.

Secondly, Trump recognized that Russia was not a strategic military threat to the United States. Furthermore, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin was willing to cooperate with the US to defeat a mutual enemy – ISIS and its terrorist networks. Russia was also keen to re-open its markets to the US investors, who were also anxious to return after years of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry imposed sanctions. Trump, the realist, proposes to end sanctions and restore favorable market relations.

Thirdly, it is clear to Trump that the US wars in the Middle East imposed enormous costs with minimal benefits for the US economy. He wants to increase market relations with the regional economic and military powers, like Turkey, Israel and the Gulf monarchies. Trump is not interested in Palestine, Yemen, Syria or the Kurds – which do not offer much investment and trade opportunities. He ignores the enormous regional economic and military power of Iran. Nevertheless Trump has proposed to re-negotiate the recent six-nation agreement with Iran in order to improve the US side of the bargain. His hostile campaign rhetoric against Tehran may have been designed to placate Israel and its powerful domestic ‘Israel-Firsters’ fifth column. This certainly came into conflict with his ‘America First’ pronouncements. It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will retain a ’show’ of submission to the Zionist project of an expansionist Israel while proceeding to include Iran as a part of his regional market agenda.

The Garbage Journalists claim that Trump has adopted a new bellicose stance toward China and threatens to launch a ‘protectionist agenda’, which will ultimately push the trans-Pacific countries closer to Beijing. On the contrary, Trump appears intent on renegotiating and increasing trade via bilateral agreements.

Trump will most probably maintain, but not expand, Obama’s military encirclement of China’s maritime boundaries which threaten its vital shipping routes. Nevertheless, unlike Obama, Trump will re-negotiate economic and trade relations with Beijing – viewing China as a major economic power and not a developing nation intent on protecting its ‘infant industries’. Trump’s realism reflects the new economic order: China is a mature, highly competitive, world economic power, which has been out-competing the US, in part by retaining its own state subsidies and incentives from its earlier economic phase. This has led to significant imbalances. Trump, the realist, recognizes that China offers great opportunities for trade and investment if the US can secure reciprocal agreements, which lead to a more favorable balance of trade.

Trump does not want to launch a ‘trade war’ with China, but he needs to restore the US as a major ‘exporter’ nation in order to implement his domestic economic agenda. The negotiations with the Chinese will be very difficult because the US importer-elite are against the Trump agenda and side with the Beijing’s formidable export-oriented ruling class.

Moreover, because Wall Street’s banking elite is pleading with Beijing to enter China’s financial markets, the financial sector is an unwilling and unstable ally to Trump’s pro-industrial policies.

Conclusion

Trump is not a ‘protectionist’, nor is he opposed to ‘free-trade’. These charges by the garbage journalists are baseless. Trump does not oppose US economic imperialist policies abroad. However, Trump is a market realist who recognizes that military conquest is costly and, in the contemporary world context, a losing economic proposition for the US. He recognizes that the US must turn from a predominant finance and import economy to a manufacturing and export economy.

Trump views Russia as a potential economic partner and military ally in ending the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, and especially in defeating the terrorist threat of ISIS. He sees China as a powerful economic competitor, which has been taking advantage of outmoded trade privileges and wants to re-negotiate trade pacts in line with the current balance of economic power.

Trump is a capitalist-nationalist, a market-imperialist and political realist, who is willing to trample on women’s rights, climate change legislation, indigenous treaties and immigrant rights. His cabinet appointments and his Republican colleagues in Congress are motivated by a militarist ideology closer to the Obama-Clinton doctrine than to Trumps new ‘America First’ agenda. He has surrounded his Cabinet with military imperialists, territorial expansionists and delusional fanatics.

Who will win out in the short or long term remains to be seen. What is clear is that the liberals, Democratic Party hacks and advocates of Little Mussolini black shirted street thugs will be on the side of the imperialists and will find plenty of allies among and around the Trump regime.

January 28, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Day Vladimir Putin Passed NAFTA

By Rob Urie | CounterPunch | November 4, 2016

The U.S. is entering a dangerous political phase where a distant and cloistered political class threatens the use of state power to legitimize itself in the face of declining popular support and serial military calamities of its own making. In 2001 the George W. Bush administration used the opaque and as yet not fully explained events of 9/11 to claim legitimacy as faux protector of the American people as it launched catastrophic wars that destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan and unleashed ongoing chaos across the Middle East.

With uber-hawk and unindicted co-conspirator Hillary Clinton favored to win election under a cloud of suspicion for pay-to-play practices as Secretary of State and in widely declining economic circumstances an imperative to change the subject will assert itself the day after election day. Having demonstrated a propensity for wanton slaughter in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and the streets of major American cities (1994 ‘Crime’ bill), Mrs. Clinton is already busy stoking a new Cold War with Russia to cover her own activities.

The neo-con choice of Russia as menace-of-opportunity joins a long history of defining American politics through negation. In the original (‘classic?’) Cold War national identity served as an envelop-of-convenience for conciliatory economic policies within the U.S. and repressive and opportunistic policies abroad. Since the 1970s selective (class based) economic liberalization has cut labor and the poor adrift as a self-serving ruling class has gorged itself at the public trough through bailouts, privatizations and special privileges.

The Cold War was always largely a business enterprise— the communist boogeyman was used by the U.S. to overthrow democratically elected governments and install business-friendly regimes that would answer to U.S. (corporate) interests. Its resurrection is to reassert a national ‘envelop’ as cover for economic interests now ‘freed’ to treat a growing portion of the domestic population as imperial subjects. Growing resistance suggests a need for more convincing misdirection if the status quo is to be maintained.

Ongoing neo-con claims that Russia invaded Ukraine are to cover the U.S. role in facilitating a coup against the popularly elected government there and depend on American ignorance of the longstanding Russian naval base at Sevastopol for plausibility. Furthermore, against explicit promises not to do so, since the early 1990s the U.S. (through NATO) has built military bases in Eastern Europe surrounding Russia. This as the U.S. embarks on a multi-decade program to ‘upgrade’ its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Surrounding Russia with NATO (U.S.) military bases is generally analogous to the Russians building military bases on the Mexican and Canadian borders with the U.S., only without the historical precedent of sequential, devastating land invasions that the Russians have faced. What cloistered neo-cons in the U.S., led by Hillary Clinton, call military ‘strength’ is a perpetual upping of the ante where each step is ‘rational’ in some political-economistic sense while the broader enterprise risks collective suicide.

As strategy, doing so leaves either capitulation or full scale confrontation as likely responses. A ‘third-way’ was tried when American economists were sent to post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s to ‘help’ with privatization of the Russian economy. The result was a bifurcated economy where 99% of Russians were deeply immiserated while select ‘oligarchs,’ were made stupendously rich. Luckily for the economists, enough Russians died from privation during their ‘experiment’ to leave few witnesses to the fiasco.

For cynical Americans raised on Cold War propaganda, the idea of Western academics scamming gullible Russians with long-discredited capitalist ideology might be good for a laugh were these same people not the ‘brain trust’ behind the bi-partisan governing consensus in the U.S. in 2016. The economics used to loot Russia were absolutely conventional, the very same used by Bill Clinton to ‘liberate’ Wall Street from social accountability, to liberate the American working class from gainful employment and to ‘free’ the American poor from burdensome food and rent money.

The Russian reaction to being immiserated was to turn away from the American-style economic liberalization that remains the Democrats’ core economic program in the U.S. The seeming inability of the American political class to learn from its mistakes proceeds from the assumption that current outcomes are mistakes in any sense recognizable to it. Highly cloistered class divisions leave it impervious to the negative consequences of its economic policies much as it is to those of its foreign policies.

Following passage of NAFTA economic competition was used to explain the engineered immiseration of the American working class. But without commensurability of circumstances the idea of a global labor market makes little sense. The implausibility of displaced auto workers in Detroit packing up their families and possessions to live for $10 per day in southeastern China illustrates the conundrum. ‘Capital,’ connected capitalists with extensive social resources, can build factories abroad. But without a standing army to repatriate profits, that scheme has never worked very well.

Conversely, with the racial repression that followed the nominal end of slavery in the U.S., at what point did American Blacks receive the market wage that no longer suppressed wages more broadly? Notice the formulation: Blacks whose wages were held down through systematic racial repression (Black codes, convict leasing, Jim Crow and now mass incarceration) acted in a ‘market’ sense to lower the wages of wage-dependent Whites. This is the ‘market’ explanation of race relations in a market economy when the (liberal) premise of market-driven outcomes is applied.

It is this latter point— that rigged economic institutions produce rigged outcomes, that liberal Democrats try to explain away with identity politics. NAFTA, like the TPP that follows, is designed to shift economic power from labor to capital. It is also designed to exploit residual imperial relations to divide labor along engineered lines of division. In the U.S. the state created and enforced racial repression to serve economic interests. This is the residual of imperial relations that to which NAFTA was added.

By siding with existing economic power Western liberals chose the paradox that by destroying the institutions that make markets ‘free’ like labor unions and collective bargaining (see Adam Smith on manufacturer combines suppressing wages) economic outcomes can still be claimed to be ‘market’ based. In a general sense in the case of Russia, the Russian people wanted none of it once it became clear that American intentions were collaborative looting of the Russian economy.

Americans have a longer history of market mythology to wade through. If slaves produce goods that have economic value then demand for wage labor is reduced relative to the goods produced and the difference accrues to capitalists. If NAFTA ‘frees’ capitalists to produce goods in Mexico or China under neo-colonial conditions (see Foxxcon suicide nets) a similar process takes place. This sleight-of-hand works by tautologically defining all labor, including slave labor, as freely undertaken.

It is hardly accidental that Barack Obama, and soon most probably Hillary Clinton, frame corporate-power enhancing agreements like the TPP in terms of geopolitical competition. Much as Democrats use Republicans (and vice-versa) as foils, the U.S. powers-that-be need a Russian ‘strongman’ and Chinese economic ‘connivance’ to sell trade deals and foreign entanglements to an already hard-pressed American working class. Here the relation of economic interests to geopolitics re-enters.

Like her husband before her, Hillary Clinton has committed to the economically paradoxical position of increasing social spending and balancing the Federal budget. Bill Clinton addressed this paradox by reneging on his promise to increase social spending. In terms of factual possibility, balancing the budget has always been a canard used by Republicans (and national Democrats) to cut social spending. There is no fact-based reason why a balanced budget is either necessary or virtuous.

The political-economic position that this leaves Mrs. Clinton in is that her major benefactors on Wall Street and in executive suites want policies that weaken the position of labor and immiserate the bottom 90% or so of the population. And the pressure relief value of increased social spending will be ‘off-the-table’ much like it has been under Barack Obama and Bill Clinton so as to balance the budget. Even if neo-Keynesian pleaders get through to her the response will be ‘public-private partnerships,’ privatization and tax cuts that benefit the wealthy.

The political problem for the establishment is that the polity is in various stages of open revolt. In the long-held American tradition of dividing to conquer, Mrs. Clinton has drawn battle lines in a class war by dismissing the most economically put-upon half of the polity as ‘deplorables,’ as racist hicks who lack the vocabularies and table manners to properly earn their keep. That these same people had jobs until the Clintons sent them to Mexico and earned their keep until Wall Street cut their pay to nothing helps clarify precisely who it is that is deplorable.

Russia re-enters as the mythical boogeyman, a/k/a convenient foil, for the remote and calcified ruling class to pin its own misdeeds on. Julian Assange has now clarified that, Clinton ‘team’ assertions to the contrary, Russia is not the source of the Wikileaks revelations that will serve as fodder for ongoing investigations if Mrs. Clinton wins election. A crisis of legitimacy is all but guaranteed. If ‘things’ begin to unwind as circumstances suggest they might, expect the war drums to beat louder.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

November 5, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Negroponte’s Crimes

By Branko Marcetic | Jacobin | August 16, 2016

Among the right-wingers that have jumped the Republican ship and thrown their support behind Hillary Clinton in the last few months, you’ll find neoconservatives and warmongers who have vocally supported just about every heinous US foreign policy venture under the sun, from the Iraq War to Libya to torture. But though their cheerleading may have been valuable in the push for these actions, few can claim direct responsibility in the making of these disasters.

Not so for John Negroponte, the former career diplomat who served under four Republican presidents and one Democrat and whose support for Clinton was announced last week.

The endorsements of Clinton by right-wing hall-of-famers like Negroponte have not come about entirely out of nowhere. It’s true that many elements of Clinton’s foreign policy appeal to the interventionist and neocon wing of the Republican Party.

Nonetheless, as Politico reported last week, the Clinton campaign has been actively courting leading lights of the GOP, culminating in last week’s launch of “Together for America,” a site touting the growing list of high-profile Republicans and independents backing Clinton.

This is a curious development, given that in the very first Democratic debate of 2015, Clinton proclaimed that the enemies she was most proud of making throughout her career were “the Republicans,” a line that drew both raucous cheers from the crowd and a broad smile from the candidate herself.

Given her stated animosity toward Republicans, seeking out the support of someone like Negroponte presumably must be very valuable for Clinton. But who exactly is Negroponte, and why has Clinton prized the endorsement of someone like him?

Reagan’s Man in Tegucigalpa

The son of a Greek shipping magnate, Negroponte cut his diplomatic teeth in Vietnam, where he served under future Clinton mentor and war criminal Henry Kissinger (another luminary whom Clinton’s campaign is now reportedly wooing for an endorsement) during the Paris peace talks.

While Kissinger helped Nixon to win in 1968 by secretly scuttling peace negotiations with North Vietnam, once in power, both wanted eventually to get the United States out of the war, mostly out of concern for how a continuing quagmire would hurt Nixon politically. Negroponte challenged him about a concession in the peace agreement that allowed the North Vietnamese to station troops in the South after US withdrawal.

“Do you want us to stay there forever?” Kissinger asked the young Negroponte. The United States’ years of bloodletting in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos apparently wasn’t enough for Negroponte.

Negroponte worked for several years in a number of less prominent diplomatic positions, owing, at least in one observer’s view, to being “exiled” by Kissinger because of his break with the secretary of state over Vietnam.

Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 gave Negroponte his big break.

Under Reagan, Latin American politics took a hard right turn, which his administration enabled by sending aid, arms, and, in the case of Grenada, troops to assist right-wing governments and forces — nearly all of which aided in scores of human rights atrocities.

In 1981, Reagan made Negroponte the US ambassador to Honduras. Negroponte had held earlier posts in Greece and Ecuador; Honduras was the big leagues.

In 1980, neighboring El Salvador had plunged into civil war between leftist guerillas and a quasi-fascist, US-backed military government and its right-wing paramilitary forces that included death squads. A year earlier, its other neighbor, Nicaragua, had seen its US-backed dictator deposed and replaced by the socialist Sandinista government.

The Sandinistas were opposed by a coalition of brutally violent counterrevolutionaries that included former members of the National Guard, ex-soldiers, Conservative Party members, and disgruntled peasants and farmers. They were known as the Contras, later of Iran-Contra fame.

In both countries, the Reagan administration threw in with the right-wing torturers and murderers.

The action was principally in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but Negroponte had not been relegated to some insignificant backwater. Honduras was central to the Reagan administration’s efforts to halt the spread of leftist rule in Central America, serving as the home base for its covert war against the Left in the region. Honduras had one of the largest US embassies in Latin America, hosted thousands of American troops, and eventually housed the biggest CIA station in the entire world.

Although Honduras had a civilian government — its first in more than a century — the military remained powerful, and General Gustavo Alvarez, the chief of the armed forces, held considerable sway. Under Alvarez, Honduras became the training ground and headquarters for the Contras and other right-wing forces, who were then sent to wreak havoc in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

It was also where budding members of Honduran death squads received their schooling, including the notorious Battalion 3-16, responsible for the disappearance of at least 184 people, mostly leftists, and the torture of many more.

All of this was done with the support of the United States and its man on the ground, Negroponte.

US military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $200 million between 1980 and 1985, and the Reagan administration paid top Honduran military brass for their assistance. Repressive forces, including Battalion 3-16, were trained by the CIA and FBI, and the United States provided the money to hire Argentinian counterinsurgency officers — involved in their own US-backed, horrific, decade-long “Dirty War” against leftists — to provide further instruction.

The “coercive techniques” they learned were partly taken from CIA interrogation manuals that advocated using threats of violence and disruption of “patterns of time, space and sensory perception” against prisoners.

With this training in their back pocket, these US-backed Honduran forces proceeded to cut a swath of brutality across the country and its neighbors. Within Honduras, hundreds of people suspected of being subversives were kidnapped, tortured, disappeared, or all three. All of it was known, and quietly approved, by Negroponte.

The torture endured by prisoners covered just about the entire spectrum of depravity, including suffocation, beatings, sleep deprivation, electrocution of the genitals, rape, and the threat of rape toward family members. In one case, military forces used rope to tear off a man’s testicles before killing him.

People were picked up off the street and thrown into unmarked vans. Some victims were completely innocent, such as a union organizer who was befriended and betrayed by a battalion member who knowingly turned him over to security forces under false charges.

Military forces barged into homes, ransacked them, and arrested the occupants if they found Marxist literature. And the Contras, who Ronald Reagan called the “moral equals of our Founding Fathers,” were possibly even worse.

Negroponte played a key role in covering up all of this. As the ambassador, Negroponte’s job was to ensure that the abuses committed by Honduran forces remained unknown to US lawmakers and the general public so they could continue unabated.

Had Congress caught wind of the atrocities, the government would have had to shut off the flow of tens of millions of dollars of military aid to the country, which, under the Foreign Assistance Act, is prohibited to governments engaging in human rights violations. This was the last thing Negroponte and the Reagan administration wanted. They were bent on defeating the leftists, and if that required turning a blind eye to widespread torture, rape, and murder, so be it.

The Reagan administration’s grand strategy was enabled by a steady stream of obfuscation from the Honduran embassy and Negroponte himself.

In one 1983 cable to Thomas Enders, an assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Negroponte chided the State Department for talking openly about the Contra presence in Honduras. “Since when, in open channel messages, do we refer to United States support for Honduran based exiles as Department does in para four reftel?” he wrote.

At the time, the Reagan administration’s support for the Contras was still secret; Negroponte likely did not want references to them to appear in state documents that were subject to open records requests.

In another, this one from 1984, he advised the secretary of state on how Washington agencies could help suppress wider knowledge of the actions of the Contras in Honduras, who had “obviously overdone things” and needed “to lower [their] profile to the absolute minimum.”

Publicly, Negroponte consistently whitewashed this “overdoing.” He wrote to the Economist in 1982 that “it is simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras.”

A year later, he wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times acknowledging that while there had been “arbitrary arrests” and “some disappearances,” there was “no indication that the infrequent human rights violations that do occur are part of deliberate government policy.”

As late as 2001, he continued to insist on this point, telling the Senate at his confirmation hearing to be Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations: “I have never seen any convincing substantiation that [Battalion 3-16] were involved in death squad-type activities.”

Consequently, the annual human rights reports produced for Congress by the Honduran embassy under Negroponte’s watch were sanitized to the point of parody, as these excerpts from the 1983 edition illustrate: “There are no political prisoners in Honduras”; habeas corpus “appears to be standard practice”; “access to prisoners is generally not a problem for relatives, attorneys, consular officers or international humanitarian organizations”; “sanctity of the home is guaranteed by the Constitution and generally observed.”

Noting the obvious absurdity and transparent lies of the report, one embassy officer joked at the time, “What is this, the human rights report for Norway?”

Suppressing the Evidence

Of course, Negroponte knew very well that conditions in the country were the very opposite of how he portrayed them. It was virtually impossible for him not to.

The Honduran press put out hundreds of stories about military abuses, victims’ families protested in the streets, and both they and Honduran officials pleaded with US officials for intervention — including with Negroponte himself. As soon as Negroponte took over, Jack Binns, his predecessor, personally briefed him on the atrocities he’d learned of — and unlike Negroponte, had made noise about with higher-ups.

The ambassador stayed up to date on the latest barbarities. In 1982, when the embassy press spokesman informed Negroponte that the Honduras military had kidnapped and was busy torturing a prominent journalist and his wife, Negroponte intervened on their behalf — not out of a concern for human rights, but because of the potential damage the US program would suffer if word of the incident got out. The prisoners were released and allowed to leave to the United States on the condition they never spoke about their experience.

The episode was left out of that year’s originally damning embassy report, which high-ranking officials at the embassy cleansed of all references to Honduran abuses.

As a 1997 report by the CIA inspector general made clear, the embassy under Negroponte regularly suppressed inconvenient information about the Honduran military. In 1984–85, several reports “were identified as ‘politically sensitive’ by the Embassy, which requested either their non-publication or restricted dissemination.”

In 1983, read the report, “unspecified individuals at the Embassy did not want information concerning human rights abuses during [a Honduran military operation] to be disseminated because it was viewed as an internal Honduran matter.”

The report outlined how Negroponte personally “was sensitive to political ramifications that might have resulted” from reports on the Olancho Operation, which resulted in the death — possibly an execution — of an American priest. It also documented his concern that “over-emphasis would create an unwarranted human rights problem for Honduras.” It was all part of Negroponte’s aim “to manage the perception of Honduras,” as one officer quoted in the report put it.

In fact, embassy cables that were declassified many years later as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Washington Post show that Negroponte did much more than just suppress damaging information. Despite the Sandinistas’ repeatedly stated willingness to enter negotiations with the Contras to reach a settlement, the Honduran ambassador consistently argued against them, calling negotiations a “Trojan horse” that would help consolidate the Sandinista revolution.

The Contadora Process, the peace negotiations initiated by several Latin American states in 1983, would lead to “effectively shutting down our special project,” he warned. Rather than take the Sandinistas up on their offer to end the torture and bloodshed that US-backed forces were responsible for, Negroponte pushed hard to keep them going.

Straying far from the typical duties of an ambassador, Negroponte appeared at times to direct US support of the Contras. In one cable he suggested publicizing US contact with anti-Sandinista forces and stepping up action in Nicaragua’s southern front in order to counter the idea that “all of this is emanating from Honduras.”

In another, he furnished the State Department with detailed information about Sandinista military movements on the Honduran and Nicaraguan border. Speaking with Honduran president Roberto Suazo Córdova in April 1982, Negroponte “urged that strongest possible pre-emptive measure be taken” to prevent revolutionary violence from “taking on unmanageable proportions later on” — a tacit encouragement of the abuses already being committed by the Honduran military.

Negroponte’s enabling of rights violations in the country was exposed thanks to the declassification of secret documents many years after the fact, as well as a fourteen-month-long investigation by the Baltimore Sun in 1995. But what should have been a scandal only boosted Negroponte’s status in Washington.

A Diplomat’s Diplomat

Among his later career highlights, Negroponte was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1989 by George H. W. Bush, in which position he helped facilitate the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (Unsurprisingly, he’s also a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.)

He went on to serve in a number of different posts in the second Bush administration, including as the first ever director of national intelligence and as the first post-Saddam ambassador to Iraq. Despite faint stirrings of criticism about his past, he was easily confirmed to each position.

In establishment circles, he’s simply a “diplomat’s diplomat,” a venerated elder statesman whose hand in terrible human rights abuses is as relevant as his shoe size. As his wife put it in 2004 to the critics still taking him to task for the carnage he licensed in Central America: “Haven’t you moved on?”

Perhaps people have moved on, which is why Clinton now feels it safe to seek out and publicize Negroponte’s praise for her “leadership qualities.”

It’s hard not to see in the publicizing of the endorsement a less-than-subtle hint of what a Clinton administration foreign policy would look like, however — one that ruthlessly prioritizes US strategic and political interests at the expense of peace, human rights, and the lives of poor people in foreign countries.

Say what you will about Clinton’s shifting political beliefs over the course of this election and her entire career, but she’s been fairly consistent on foreign policy, pushing the kind of unapologetically interventionist approach that made her the darling of hawks long before Trump came along.

And like Negroponte, she has both her own dubious history in Honduras and has backed both NAFTA and the TPP (at least until she — maybe — changed her mind about the latter). On these issues, they’re kindred political spirits.

Clinton’s embrace of Negroponte’s support could be viewed as simply part of the tried-and-true process of padding one’s resume with endorsements from respected establishment figures. Some would say Negroponte’s support doesn’t really matter — that it’s just pageantry, not remotely a sign of her future foreign policy intentions.

Even if we grant this, however, seeking and embracing the support of a man who actively facilitated years of stomach-churning atrocities is particularly unseemly — as Democrats and Clinton herself have argued in the recent past. The party has smugly — and justifiably — pilloried Trump for his praise of authoritarian rulers like Putin and Saddam Hussein.

“Donald Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds,” read a Clinton campaign statement last month, which also criticized Trump for approvingly citing Saddam’s dismissal of legal formalities like reading people their rights. “Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as Commander-in-Chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks.”

Compliment brutal dictators and Clinton will slam you. But actually help them carry out their abuses, as John Negroponte did, and her campaign will seek and proudly tout your support.

August 26, 2016 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Hillary Double-Talking on Trade Deals?

By JP Sottile | Consortium News | August 1, 2016

Did perennial Clinton rainmaker and current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe let the cat out of the bag? The “cat” is the widely-held suspicion that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton isn’t really opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The “bag” is the campaign narrative that frames her election year reversal on the controversial trade accord as the outcome of an honest re-examination of a deal that she once hailed as “the gold standard in trade agreements.”

Just to add to the confusion, Hillary Clinton failed to declare her opposition to the TPP in her historic acceptance speech. Instead, she asked assembled Democrats to join her if they “believe that we should say ‘no’ to unfair trade deals” and “stand up to China.”

It was an understandable omission given the grievances of Bernie loyalists poised to pounce on her every misstep. By avoiding the minefield completely she disappointed union leaders and deferred the issue until she debates Donald Trump.

Until then, she — and notable surrogates like economist Joseph Stiglitz — will try to convince a trade-weary public that she’s truly committed to renegotiating the increasingly unpopular deal. She’ll also be beating-back the ghost of trade deals past.

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams claims Hillary assured him during the primary that she’s also committed to reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Like the TPP, she was for it before she was against it. And like Hillary’s campaign promise to tweak NAFTA, McAuliffe suggested in an interview with Politico that – if she wins the White House – Clinton would make a few tweaks in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and then support it.

These caveats fit into a long pattern of trade policy triangulation that raises the question: Is this policy reversal truly a switch or just another bait and switch? There is good reason for the buyer to beware.

“Once the election’s over, and we sit down on trade, people understand a couple things we want to fix on it but going forward we got to build a global economy,” McAuliffe said.

Trading Places

NAFTA is America’s most notorious trade deal. Although It was negotiated by the first Bush Administration, it was Bill Clinton who closed the deal. At the end of his first year in office he guided NAFTA through the House and Senate by offsetting Democratic resistance with significant Republican majorities. Its ratification fit perfectly with the “centrist” mission of the Clinton-led “New Democrat” movement incubated by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) during the preceding decade.

From its inception in 1985, the DLC triangulated against the Democratic Party’s “liberal” moniker that the GOP so effectively turned into an epithet after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. The historic loss of “liberal” former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988 set the table for the DLC’s corporately-minded “New” Democrats. The election of DLC star Bill Clinton in 1992 was the turning point.

With the DLC’s best salesman and former chairman in the Oval Office, the Democratic Party was open for business. His wheeling-dealing economic team opened a whole new avenue for Wall Street to influence U.S. government policies. The Democrats were no longer a political roadblock.

Even if these New Democrats weren’t completely trading places with the GOP, Team Clinton was certainly willing to triangulate against Democrats’ traditional constituencies … particularly on trade.

The biggest signal of Clinton’s brand new deal was Al Gore’s smug dismissal of Ross Perot’s NAFTA warning on Larry King’s CNN show about the trade deal causing a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs going to Mexico. In dismissing Perot’s worries, Gore fired the starting gun for the go-go globalization of the 1990s.

The Morning NAFTA

For the first decade of NAFTA, Perot’s “sucking sound” seemed to go in reverse. As Sonali Kolhatkar detailed on TruthDig, big U.S. agribusinesses flooded Mexico with cheap, subsidized corn and seven other market-crushing products. That tidal wave put small Mexican farmers out of work. Ironically, they flooded back across the border to work in — surprise! — Big Ag’s burgeoning factory farming operations in states like Iowa, North Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas. Go figure.

According to a 2014 assessment by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mexico is still waiting for the promise of NAFTA’s economic leveling effect to be fulfilled. It’s actually lost ground on economic growth and GDP per person. And the poverty rate remains essentially unchanged.

But NAFTA did offer another low wage alternative to manufacturing in the United States. That helps keep retail prices low enough to match the eroding purchasing power of American consumers, which suffers because their wages are, like Mexican workers, flat or declining. The one thing that hasn’t suffered? Corporate profits and the executive compensation it is predicated upon. Again, go figure.

Where Credit Is Due

Although NAFTA is the usual target of anti-trade fervor, it simply doesn’t compare with the transformative impact of Bill Clinton’s biggest “trade deal” — securing Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China. Repeated approval of Chinese access to U.S. markets set off a wave of job losses in America’s industrial heartland. It stoked corporate profits and consumer debt. And it ushered in the often-lamented era of the big box store.

Rising retail titans like Arkansas-based Walmart rushed into China’s incredibly favorable labor market. The cheap products they made turned the 1990s into a decade of plenty. Big box stores were stocked with cheap plastic stuff and consumers gobbled up the bargains with one or more of the credit cards they’d been given during an unprecedented era of ubiquitous consumer credit.

A study by Demos published in 2003 found that during Bill Clinton’s tenure the “average American family experienced a 53 percent increase in credit card debt, from $2,697 to $4,126.” Low-income families experienced a “184 percent rise in their debt.” And, despite the rise in income inequality during his presidency, even “high-income families had 28 percent more credit card debt in 2001 than they did in 1989.”

Demos also found a sharp rise in credit card direct mail solicitations from 1.52 billion in 1993 to a staggering 5 billion in 2001. Monthly minimums where lowered from 5 percent to 2 percent, thus making it easier to carry debt. And the consumer credit industry “tripled the amount of credit it offered customers from $777 billion to almost $3 trillion” by the time Clinton left office. It was a bill of sale first written by Bill Clinton on the campaign trail in 1992.

Promises, Promises

When Bill Clinton ran for president, the Cold War was over; the Savings and Loan scandal had exploded; the economy was mired in a sharp recession; and incumbent President George H.W. Bush couldn’t do a damn thing right. He seemed bored by people’s “pain.” He looked woefully out of touch in a grocery check-out line. And he’d broken the infamous “no new taxes” pledge that helped him defeat “Taxachusetts” Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988.

With Reaganomics on the ropes, Team Clinton scored repeatedly with their “It’s the Economy, Stupid” campaign. But Clinton also exploited another weakness — the Bush Administration’s quick embrace of the Chinese Government after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. That embrace was sealed with a discomfiting handshake by Bush’s national security advisor Brent Scowcroft.

Shortly thereafter, President Bush renewed China’s “Most Favored Nation” trade status, which, among other things, lowered tariffs on Chinese imports into the U.S. He was widely criticized, often from within his own party, for cutting a deal with a regime some called “The Butchers of Beijing.”

In the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton exploited Poppy’s “kowtowing” to great effect. Clinton accused Bush of “indifference toward democracy” in China. And Clinton famously said Bush was willing to “coddle dictators.” On March 9, 1992, Clinton proclaimed, “I do not believe we should extend ‘Most Favored Nation’ status to China unless they make significant progress in human rights, arms proliferation and fair trade.”

Of course, that all changed after he took office. On March 28, 1993, the cagey President announced he’d cut a deal with a Congress to extend a waiver that effectively approved MFN while deferring human rights-related conditions to the following year. Clinton even outlined other concerns, including China’s “$18 billion trade surplus” with the U.S.

But all those concerns, along with his campaign pledge, where jettisoned on March 27, 1994 when Clinton made the economy-changing decision to “de-link” China’s MFN status from human rights. That decision buried Tiananmen Square in the crowded graveyard of America’s often-trumpeted “advocacy” for human rights around the globe.

It also unleashed American corporations to dive headlong into China’s vast, cheap pool of low-wage labor. By the time Clinton made his state visit to China in the summer of 1998, MFN was becoming a footnote to the amazing story of China’s skyrocketing industrial output. Facing charges of hypocrisy on human rights, Clinton countered, “I’m going because I think it’s the right thing to do for our country.”

That may be a debatable point. What’s not in doubt is that it, like MFN, was the right thing to do for the bottom line of American business. And it was specifically beneficial for an emerging retail behemoth that had a long, close relationship with the Clintons.

The Power Greeter

Alice Walton likes Hillary Clinton. That’s a fairly safe assumption given the $353,400 check she cut for the Hillary Victory Fund during a mad dash of pre-election year fundraising at the end of 2015. And she also kicked in another $25,000 into the “Ready for Hillary” SuperPAC. Those big donations are, like the estimated $130 billion net worth of Walton family, a legacy handed-down from Walmart founder Sam Walton.

That legacy dates back to Bill’s time as Governor — when the Walton family began a long history of financial support of the Clintons, according to Bloomberg. It made sense given Walmart’s supersized role in Arkansas.

It also made good political sense that, as Michael Barbaro of the New York Times reported back in 2007, Hillary was brought onto Walmart’s Board of Directors back in 1986 at the behest of Walton’s wife Helen. That effort to add a woman to the boardroom turned into a six-year stint that cemented the long relationship between Arkansas’ most famous corporation and its most famous political family.

As Brian Ross of ABC News reported in the lead-up to her 2008 run, Hillary notably left that glass ceiling-shattering appointment out of her biography. She basically “de-linked” herself from a stridently anti-union company that was also a notoriously thrifty spender on employee wages and benefits. The ABC report also referenced a 1992 report showing her trumpeting Walmart’s “Buy America” campaign in spite of Walmart’s reliance on children working in sweatshops in places like Bangladesh. That’s a practice Walmart continued into the 1990s.

It came to a head in 1996 when All-American “sweetheart” Kathie Lee Gifford got embroiled in a child labor scandal in Honduras. Coincidentally, that scandal broke the same year Walmart entered China “through a joint-venture agreement.” And that was just two years after Bill Clinton “de-linked” human rights from MFN.

It was also the same year that he successfully renewed MFN with an overwhelming vote of support by the House of Representatives. The timing couldn’t have been better for Walmart. They’d auspiciously formed their international division in 1993 and were poised to profit off Bill’s broken promise to “not coddle dictators.”

But, as with all things Clinton, there really isn’t a “smoking gun” linking Bill’s MFN reversal with Walmart’s amazing good fortune in China. There is just the lingering miasma of happy coincidences. Bill Clinton’s crowning coincidence before exiting the Oval Office was Congressional approval of his proposal to give China permanent Most Favored Nation trading status in 2000.

The New Normal

On Oct. 10, 2000, he signed the U.S.–China Relations Act of 2000 into law. Most Favored Nation status officially became Normal Trade Relations. Also in that year, the $18 billion trade deficit he decried in 1993 ballooned to $83 billion. Meanwhile, Walmart rode low-cost Chinese manufacturing to the top of the retail heap. Walmart’s massive workforce is now the third largest in the world behind the U.S. Defense Department and, ironically, China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Amazingly, the U.S. trade deficit with China more than tripled to $263 billion in the eight years after Clinton secured “Normal” trade relations in 2000. Meanwhile, Walmart’s infamous low-wage practices at home were subsidized annually to the tune of “an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing,” according to 2015 report in Forbes.

Also amazingly, the Clintons’ wealth skyrocketed to $111 million in the years after Bill left office. Hillary spent those years in and out of “public service” and the former President turned the Clinton Foundation into a $439 million powerhouse by 2014.

While the Foundation’s philanthropy is demonstrable, criticisms of it as a de facto slush fund remain. But the link between political promises and trade policy persisted. This time it was Hillary running for president. The trade deal was with war-torn Colombia. And the campaign trail leads back to the Clinton Foundation.

Rinse, Repeat

There is a strange symmetry between China’s MFN status, the TPP imbroglio and a notable “flip-flop” on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement by first-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2008. Then like now, she was competing against a movement candidate in newcomer Barack Obama. And then like now, she struggled to protect her “left” flank on economic issues.

At issue in 2008 was a sweeping deal negotiated by the second Bush Administration with the U.S.-supported, civil war-wracked narco-state of Colombia. Obama “vowed” to oppose the deal. To keep pace with her high-octane opponent, Hillary repeatedly reassured labor leaders of her opposition to the deal.

The rub was two-fold. Not only did she have a decidedly pro-free trade voting record as a senator. But both her free-trading husband and her chief campaign strategist were on record supporting the deal. She ditched her Colombia-linked strategist and matched Obama’s anti-deal stance. But, just like China’s MFN before it, the trade agreement with Colombia eventually became a “big win” for a Democratic President who was for it before he was against it.

This time it was a flip-flopping President Obama. With the help of his flip-flopping former foe and then-current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he scored a trade deal trifecta on Oct. 12, 2011. That’s when Congress approved the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) and separate deals with both South Korea and Panama. Obama called the trio of trade deals “a major win for American workers and businesses.” Alas, it turned out that there was a lot more change on trade than reason to hope Obama or Hillary would keep their promises.

Mining The Depths

Meet billionaire mining magnate Frank Giustra. According to the New York Times, the financial power-player’s global interests have included philanthropy and a $45 million stake in a deal to sell strategic uranium mines in Central Asia and the United States to the Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom. Strangely enough, those two interests — charity and strategic resources — fit together nicely. That’s because the uranium deal required U.S. agencies — including the State Department — to sign-off before it was approved.

The eight-year process for the uranium deal required approval by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment of which the State Department is a member. That approval finally came in 2010 when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and while the Clinton Foundation was continuing to collect millions of dollars from related investors.

Throughout, Giustra’s wheeling and dealing continued with his close friend and private jet-setting partner Bill Clinton, who gave a $500,000 speech to a Russian investment bank that gave the stock a buy rating.

Since 2005, Giustra has lavished the Clinton Foundation with repeated donations, adding up to in excess of $100 million. Yet, putting Bill Clinton’s oddly remunerative, but not uncommon $500,000 speech in Moscow aside, there still is no smoking gun linking then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the actual approval of the deal. Once again we just have that miasma of happy coincidences.

More troubling, though, is the coincidence that her husband’s friend Frank Giustra did benefit from the Colombia Free Trade Agreement deal’s “extreme” protections for foreign investors and special rights for corporations engaged in “resource extraction,” according to an eye-opening exposé by David Sirota, Matthew Cunningham-Cook and Andrew Perez of the International Business Times.

At issue is a company formerly known as Pacific Rubiales, an oil company founded by (you guessed it) Frank Giustra. The State Department repeatedly fielded accusations of workers’ rights and human rights abuses, particularly related to a strike targeting Pacific Rubiales in 2011. Strangely, the State Department not only ignored these accusations, but actually praised the Colombian government’s stellar progress on human rights. Was this Hillary Clinton’s “de-linking” MFN moment?

Maybe it’s worse. It looks like there’s a little smoke coming out of this gun. As Sirota, Cunningham-Cook and Perez reported:

“At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire.”

Those “commercial ties” include the “Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership” which its snazzy website calls a “pioneering an innovative approach to poverty alleviation” that “generates both social impact and financial returns by addressing existing market gaps in developing countries’ supply or distribution chains.”

Really, doesn’t that “pioneering approach” sound a lot like the long-term project of the Democratic Leadership Committee?

The “pioneering” privatization of “poverty alleviation” was a big part of then-President Bill Clinton’s famous “welfare reform bill” of 1996. Profitable privatized prisons grew to match the skyrocketing demand created by infamous “crime bill” of 1994. The “financial returns” flowed as the prison “market gap” was closed. And like neoliberal trade policy, deregulation of Wall Street and the media, it’s all symptomatic of the Clinton-led move of the party toward the corporate-friendly “center.”

As Frank Giustra said in a 2006 profile of Bill Clinton for The New Yorker, “All of my chips, almost, are on Bill Clinton. He’s a brand, a worldwide brand, and he can do things and ask for things that no one else can.” Based on a Giustra’s latest venture in Colombia — a big financial play in the Gran Colombia Gold Corporation — he’s still reaping the “free trade” rewards of his bank-shot bet on Hillary Clinton.

In fact, he’s not just going for the gold … but some silver, too.

Big Box Democrats

Back in 1992, the phenomenal Clinton political machine successfully sold the “new,” improved Democratic Party to Reaganomics-starved political consumers. He felt their pain. He also changed his party and opened the door to the big-box consumerism. Now that same sharp messaging machine is repackaging Hillary’s free-trading past, pulling Bill’s mixed political record from the shelves, and hard-selling her latter-day transformation on trade and economic policies.

The question is: Will suspicious voters buy her “Come to Bernie” moment as a wholesale conversion on the road to the White House? Disgruntled and disaffected voters have to buy into the idea that she’s truly changed on trade and is not, as Terry McAuliffe implied, simply repeating a well-worn pattern of bait and switch.

Simply put, she’s got a long, demonstrable history of supporting trade agreements. And by one account she specifically “pushed” the Trans-Pacific Partnership 45 times. But that was then and this now. And now she’s got a disillusioned cadre of #BernieOrBusters to her left and a new army of anti-trade Trumpsters to her right. That’s left her stuck in the “centrist” middle with the corporate donors, financiers and loyalists who’ve been shopping in the supermarket of political influence ever since the Clintons transformed the Democrats into the party of Big Box-style democracy.

August 2, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Trade Agreements Have Exacerbated a Humanitarian Crisis in Central America

By Manuel Perez-Rocha | IPS | June 29, 2016

U.S. trade negotiators continue to claim that free trade agreements help to support security, but in reality, they exacerbate the root causes of instability in the Mesoamerican region, IPS’s Manuel Perez-Rocha said in a speech at the AFL-CIO conference on U.S. trade policy.

“Real security encompasses economic, human, financial, and political security,” he said.

Today the Northern triangle of Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world. In Mexico alone, there are more than 27,000 people reported missing on top of the 100,000 killed in the so-called war on drugs, Perez-Rocha said.

He explained that the origins of this crisis are rooted in structural adjustment policies that the IMF and the World Bank imposed on Central America to pave the way for free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Instead of bringing prosperity, [NAFTA] took away domestic protections from Mexico’s food production, leading to greater food insecurity and the widespread loss of our agricultural livelihoods,” he said.

Perez-Rocha said the abandonment of national production of food to favor imports, brought on by NAFTA, has meant the fall of production, employment, and income and the increase of inequality, poverty, and migration. He said this abandonment of the countryside by the government propelled the vacuum that has become occupied by organized crime.

“NAFTA is responsible,” he said. “for the increase of violence and public insecurity in the countryside and in all of Mexico.”

Ten years later, CAFTA was imposed in Central America, ushering in what Perez-Rocha called “the deterioration of economic conditions for working people and major new threats to the environment.”

Perez-Rocha offered one of the most egregious examples in the case of the Pacific Rim mining company which is demanding millions of dollars from El Salvador for protecting its environment.

“This is a deep humanitarian crisis that should be recognized as such,” he said. He quoted U.S. Vice President Biden as saying ‘confronting these challenges requires nothing less than systematic change, which we in the United States have a direct interest in helping to bring about.’

However, the proposal in the Alliance for Prosperity Plan does not address the roots of the crisis, Perez-Rocha said.

“The goal of the alliance, as we see it,” Perez-Rocha said, “is to attract foreign direct investment for the exploitation of natural resources.”

The alliance and agreements like the TPP, on top of the destruction already brought on by NAFTA and CAFTA, will only mean an acceleration of the race to the bottom for the region’s working families, further dislocation and displacement, and regional insecurity, he said.


Read Manuel Perez-Rocha’s full essay on page 43 [PDF).

July 5, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill Clinton’s War on the Poor (AKA The Hillary Plan)

By Joshua Frank | CounterPunch | February 19, 2016

So, how did America’s poor fare under Bill Clinton’s White House reign? Better than George W. Bush — at least that seems to be the common belief among Democratic voters today, especially those lining up behind Madam Hillary. However, the economy under Clinton in the 1990s may not have been as robust and healthy as many would like to believe.

As economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst explains in Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, Clintonomics was not all it was cracked up to be. “The distribution of wealth in the US became more skewed than it had at any time in the previous forty years,” he argues. “No question, an increasing number of US jobs began to be outsourced at an unprecedented rate as well.”

“Unlike Clinton, Bush is unabashed in his efforts to mobilize the power of government to serve the wealthy,” he continues. “But we should be careful not to make too much of such differences in the public stances of these two figures, as against the outcomes that prevail during their terms of office … the ratio of wages for the average worker to the pay of the average CEO rising astronomically from 113-to-1 in 1991 under Bush-1 to 449-to-1 when Clinton left office in 2001.”

Pollin points out that while Clinton’s tax policy reversed some of the regressive taxation that occurred under Ronald Reagan, it certainly did not reverse the brunt of it. And, as Pollin contends, “The fact is that, insofar as the end of the Cold War yielded any peace dividend under Clinton, it took the form of an overall decrease in the size of the federal government rather than an increase in federal support for the programs supposedly cherished by Clinton, such as better education, improved training, or poverty alleviation.”

Was Clintontime even a boom-era after all? Pollin doesn’t think so. “Under the full eight years of Clinton’s presidency, even with the bubble ratcheting up both business investment and consumption by the rich average real wages remained at a level 10 percent below that of the Nixon-Ford peak period, even though productivity in the economy was 50 percent higher under Clinton than under Nixon and Ford. The poverty rate through Clinton’s term was only slightly better than the dismal performance attained during the Reagan-Bush years.”

Bargaining power for low-wage workers during the 1990s decreased tremendously as well. Wall Street scion Alan Greenspan in fact did not want the unemployment rate to drop below 6 percent because he feared that inflation would skyrocket. Greenspan also did not want workers to increase their bargaining power, which could possibly benefit their organizing strength in the work place. The majority of workers during Clintontime were not happy with their occupations. As Pollin writes, “Wage gains for average workers during the Clinton boom remained historically weak, especially in relationship to the ascent of productivity. These facts provide the basis for the poll findings reported in Business Week at the end of 1999 that substantial majorities of US citizens expressed acute dissatisfaction with various features of their economic situation.”

Pollin also shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the most significant economic initiative under Clinton, more than doubled from $9.3 billion to $26.8 billion during Clinton’s two terms. But food stamps “dropped by $8.5 billion reflecting a large increase in the percentage of households who are not receiving food assistance even though their income level is low enough for them to qualify. Under the Clinton Administration, the decline in the number of people receiving food stamps — 9.8 million — was 17% greater than the decline in the number of people officially defined as impoverished and was accompanied by a dramatic increase in the pressure on private soup kitchens and food pantries.

“And while the EITC does correct some of the failings of the old welfare system, it has created new, and equally serious, problems. Moving poor and unskilled women from welfare onto the labor market exerts a downward pressure on wages, and the national minimum wage itself is too low to allow even a full-time worker to keep just herself and only one child above the official poverty line.”

Poverty did decline under Clinton by almost 4 percentage points. Yet, as Pollin explains, in the prosperity of the 1990s, this small drop back to 1974 levels is reprehensible: “Per capita GDP in 2000 was 70% higher than it was in 1974, productivity was 61% higher, and the stock market was up 603%.”

Clinton’s presidency did see a stop in wage decline from 1993 to 1996, however. And in the next three years wages rose sharply. But “the real wage gains were also, in turn, largely a result of the stock market bubble. The Clinton economy of the late 1990s, whose successes were so heavily dependent on the stock market, offers little guidance as to what such an alternative path to sustained improvements in real wages might be.

“Moreover, conditions under Clinton worsened among those officially counted as poor. This is documented through data on the so called ‘poverty gap,’ which measures the amount of money needed to bring all poor people exactly up to the official poverty line. The poverty gap rose from $1,538 to $1,620 from 1993-99 (measured in 2001 dollars).”

Pollin continues, “Because workers had experienced the ‘heightened sense of job insecurity’ under most of Clinton’s tenure, when wages did finally start to rise significantly in 1997, this was from an extremely low base. Moreover, the injection of increased spending under Clinton that produced low unemployment came from the stock market bubble, which, as has now become transparently clear, was unsustainable. In the 1960s, the catalyst driving the economy to full employment was government spending on the Vietnam war — that is, a source of economic stimulus that was also unsustainable and even more undesirable than the 1990s market bubble.

“The central challenge for an employment-targeted policy in the US today would therefore be to identify alternative sources of job expansion that do not require waging war or destabilizing the financial system. The Bush-2 plan for huge military spending increases obviously does not qualify any more than the Vietnam War as a desirable source of job expansion.”

In other words, even though jobs were plentiful in the 1990s, poverty was widespread and, in fact, increasing. All this before the effects of NAFTA and welfare reform reared their ugly heads. But this was all by design. Clinton, et al., knew exactly what it was they were doing. No question Hillary’s neoliberal agenda will follow suit.

February 21, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Failing to Deliver: Manufacturing Wages Aren’t What They Used to Be

By Deirdre Fulton | Common Dreams | November 21, 2014

Though nine out of ten Americans perceive blue-collar jobs as “good jobs” and policymakers tout the benefits of expanding the country’s manufacturing base, the truth is that factory wages now rank in the bottom half of those for all jobs in the U.S., according to a new study from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The report, Manufacturing Low Pay: Declining Wages in the Jobs That Built America’s Middle Class (pdf), reveals that while the manufacturing sector has experienced a rebound in recent years, in fact “the quality of too many of the returning jobs is low and fails to live up to workers’ and the overall public’s expectations.”

“Manufacturing jobs are… highly sought after by our federal and state policymakers,” write co-authors Catherine Ruckelshaus and Sarah Leberstein, “lauded as ‘advanced industries’ that generate investments, create a high number of direct and indirect jobs, enhance worker skills, and generate additional economic activity in related industries.”

But “while the manufacturing sector has been resurging in the last few years, growing by 4.3 percent between 2010 and 2012, the jobs that are returning are not the ones that were lost: wages are lower, the jobs are increasingly temporary, and the promised benefits have yet to be realized,” they write.

Specifically, the study finds that:

  • More than 600,000 manufacturing workers make just $9.60 per hour or less and more than 1.5 million manufacturing workers—one out of every four—make $11.91 or less;
  • Real wages for manufacturing workers declined by 4.4 percent from 2003 to 2013—almost three times faster than for workers as a whole.
  • In the largest segment of the manufacturing base—automotive—wages have declined even faster. Real wages for auto parts workers, who now account for three of every four autoworker jobs, fell by nearly 14 percent from 2003 to 2013—three times faster than for manufacturing as a whole, and nine times faster than the decline for all occupations.
  • In particular, new jobs in the auto industry pay less than the jobs that were lost. New hires in auto earn less than $10 an hour.
  • Heavy reliance on temporary workers hides even bigger declines in manufacturing wages. About 14 percent of auto parts workers are employed by staffing agencies today. Wages for these workers are lower than for direct-hire parts workers and are not included in the official industry-specific wage data cited above.

“What will these jobs look like in 10 years if these trends continue?” the report asks. “If the wage trends continue, manufacturing jobs will not deliver on the promise of creating livable jobs with positive economic revivals in communities and families.”

Writing at the Campaign for America’s Future blog, Dave Johnson blames globalization and so-called free-trade pacts for exacerbating—if not directly causing—the issues raised in NELP’s report.

“American factory jobs used to provide reasonable pay and benefits—largely because of unions and democracy. So how do you make manufacturing jobs more ‘efficient?’ You can move the factory to a country that doesn’t allow unions. Our country used to recognize this game and ‘protected’ the good wages and benefits that democracy provided people with tariffs that raised to price of goods made in places that allowed exploitation of working people. Solution: ‘free trade’ that pits our democracy against thugocracies with few or no protections for people or the environment.

Free trade’ worked—to force unemployment up and wages down. We lost more than 6 million manufacturing jobs and 60,000-plus factories between 2000 (the year before China entered the World Trade Organization) and 2010.

With approval of the corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership on the horizon, NELP’s findings are a wake-up call, writes Scott Martelle for the LA Times.

“We as a nation need to press the federal government to rethink trade policies, especially as it pushes for ever more deals to make it easier to ship goods and jobs around the world,” he says. “The looming Trans-Pacific Partnership (look at it as NAFTA for the Pacific Rim) might be good for global manufacturers and American consumers, but those consumers are also American workers. Driving down retail prices while also driving down family incomes is the wrong spiral for community stability and a steady or improving standard of living.

Martelle continues: “A century ago, Henry Ford figured out that if he wanted a mass market capable of buying his cars—cheaper to make with his moving assembly line—then he needed to pay higher wages. He understood the connection between wages paid and products bought. These days, the focus seems to be more on wages squeezed. And that’s no way to preserve, or strengthen, a middle class capable of driving a vibrant consumer economy.”

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , | Leave a comment