Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's The Trade, Stupid !

  First Published in DelawareLiberal Blog by ProgressivePopulist on March 25, 2014

One of my favorite investigative reporters, David Cay Johnston observes that our foreign trade deals in the last couple of decades figure in a big way in  the systemic weakness of our domestic economy.  Particularly hard hit by really bad trade deals are the non-college educated in the workforce.
Here's how that seems to work.  While the economy overall is somewhat positively impacted by our trade agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO, the evidence in the manufacturing and family farm sectors we all know is quite the contrary.  The loss and exporting of manufacturing jobs has impacted 100 million U.S. workers and 170,000 family farms,  which are by and large non-college educated and include a significant share of minority persons.
These are people who were at the heart of our middle class, the drivers of the consumer economy in the U.S.A.  If they are not among the 5 million left unemployed with the manufacturing jobs eliminated  or exported via NAFTA and the WTO by 2010, they are suffering from the wage gap and income inequality we are experiencing today.  Half of those jobs went to China.
And speaking of income inequality, the immigration debate raging today would be much less a factor in the national conversation if it were not for the impact of NAFTA on our neighbor to the south, Mexico.  In 1992, just before NAFTA, we had 3.9 million undocumented within our borders, mostly from Mexico.  By 2011 they numbered 11.1 million.  It is impossible to not correlate the impact of NAFTA on this increase, starting in 1994.  The NAFTA agreement  in Mexico resulted in 2.5 million small/tenant farmers being dislocated by corporate farming (Monsanto?) and either driven to the tar paper shanty towns outside of Mexico City or across our border  through 2005.
I was heartened by Bill Clinton's observation at the African conference he keynoted in Wilmington a few days back.  Remember, he was a huge cheerleader for the NAFTA agreement.  He said that it is important when we are dealing with African nations that any deal we set up with them take into account that the farming populace there not be dislocated from their source of family income from the land.  I've always admired his intellect and am very happy that he learned from our mistakes and unintended consequences on the citizens whose governments make trade deals.
Then of course we also have to account for the impact of these agreements on our trade deficits, which were mostly surpluses before these pacts with counties such as Canada, China, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.  By 2013 the trade deficit accounted for 3% of our GDP, at around $500 million.
The recent, much applauded decline in the trade deficit increases is accounted for almost entirely by the petroleum industry.  Examples of bad trad deals?  How many  U.S. cars were purchased last year in South Korea?  Around 15,000.   And S. Korean cars sold in the U.S.A.?  1.3 million !  Clearly this new trade deal isn't working to our benefit.
It is time to ask, why do  smart Americans make such stupid  trade deals?   Unintended consequences?  Maybe.  Or maybe the corporate and multinational lobby is so damned persuasive (Think $$$$$ persuasive) compared to fair trade, labor such brilliant analysts as Public Citizen that the deck is stacked against us non-corporate citizens.  With new trade agreements pending such as TPP, It is time to learn from past mistakes and make damned sure our congressional representatives robustly research and debate the contents of old trade deals and new trade proposals alike and vote to rebuild our manufacturing base and middle class.  These are the job creators, not the 1%.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This Annexation Is An Outrage: Let's Go To War

Reprinted with permission from DelawareLiberal by ProgressivePopulist on 3/20/2014

Oh, wait.  They're talking about Crimea, not Texas.  Nor Hawaii, or Midway, American Samoa, Wake Island and half dozen other pacific islands we annexed, from what I can see, without money changing hands.  And there are a dozen other annexations the good old U.S. of A. pulled off where we actually paid the owner while we held a gun to their head.  Such as Puerto Rico and Guam, not to mention the Panama Canal zone.
The neo-cons, some holding positions within this administration's State Department are rattling their sabres.  Or should I say, the sabres held by the great unwashed's sons and daughters they're eager to send off to blast and be blasted.  And John McCain just can't wait to mix it up with Russia.
As usual, many in America suffer historical amnesia about our own empire building and are eager to hold us up as the model of rectitude in the realm of nation-building. Fortunately, our President once again is the voice of rationality in the Crimean crisis, advocating diplomacy over a display of shock and awe.  He's opposed by a bunch who argue that we need to act tough, not necessarily act smart and calmly. And he does not seem eager to restart the cold war.
I lived through the cold war, beginning, middle and end.  And paranoia is not a happy place to be.  I remember the drills teaching us to crouch under our little school desks with the storage tops, as if that would shield us from radiation.  And the storage of survival items and canned goods in our basements, as if that would protect us from the Soviet invaders.  And the crude propaganda films about the superiority of capitalism over communism.  And the televised  McCarthy hearings that even my Republican father thought were an outrage.
I don't want to go there again, nor do I want that for my grand and great grandchildren.  I don't want this major distraction intended to make us forget about our own economic crisis for most in this economy or the pathetic dysfunction of our body politic.
Maybe it is time to let go of the behavior of competing nations trying to mimic our big stick diplomacy and concentrate on cleaning up our own act, unless our safety as a people is actually threatened.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chaos in Venezuela: Why Should We Care?

Published in DelawareLiberal by blogger ProgressivePopulist on  March 13, 2014

I've been trying to follow recent events in Venezuela.  Here's my take, informed by the work of activist Tom Hayden of Peace Exchange, Chris Gilbert, professor at Universidad de Venezuela and Rory Carroll, a reporter for the Guardian and Observer Latin America, based in Caracas for six years  until recently.
Venezuela lost their leader of the Bolivarian Revolution,  Hugo Chavez, to cancer close to a year ago.  His coalition elected, by a tight margin, President  Nicolas Maduro, ten months ago.  Observers estimate him with about a  56% popular majority. He inherited an economic disaster in the making, despite Venezuela being awash in petro-income and oil reserves beyond the wildest of imaginations.
Now the inflation rate is 56%.  The currency now almost worthless in the exchange market.  The government owes billions, in spite of its oil wealth.  Power supplies have recently been cut in cities, the infrastructure is peeling and cracking, being basically unattended.  Shortages of bread, meat, toilet paper and basics in the markets.   Crime is off the charts.  The Bolivarian revolution has been basically mismanaged.  Lots of bravado.  Good deeds with the poor.  But neglect of the engines that drive the economy.
Maduro's response: continue feeding the poor which is certainly a wise and good thing.  But he's also harnessed and gagged the state owned media and intimidated the private media.  The work visas of CNN's journalists have been revoked and at least one private T.V. Channel has been shut down.  And he has jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Maduro has devised a strategy to form alliances with democratically inclined opposition figures to mutually attempt to stifle the pro-fascist right of the opposition. But he must protect and build also his middle class with economic reforms that right the economy without degrading the course of Venezuela's social services improvement and hopefully avoiding the prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank.  It would appear their oil wealth gives them a leg up in avoiding dependence on their solutions.
The result of Venezuela's mismanagement?  Street actions by mostly middle class students with violent suppression by paramilitary and national guard units.  They have shot and killed a highly visible celebrity and injured many.  Some in Venezuela believe elements of the opposition have been counseled by the U.S. White House.  Some of the opposition were aided in failed campaigns by U.S. political consultants.  Though there's no proof, at least yet, many there believe the CIA are stirring things up with the opposition.
Why should we care ?  First, they are neighbors.  We share a continent with them.  We trade with them.  They are our 4th largest oil supplier, right behind Mexico's imports, accounting for about 10% of our oil imports.  This will be important until we can wean ourselves off carbon based energy and become energy independent. And, Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution have been a bellwether for political/social reform in the Americas. We should care about the democratization of this region and the shift away from undemocratic,  totalitarian regimes in that area of our world.  Yes, democracy is destabilizing compared to dealing with autocratic, authoritarian rule we've been accustomed to with our neighbors to the south.  And sometimes democratically elected leaders become autocratic when leaders encounter disagreement and resistant.  But,  I thought we supported messy democracy over the alternative.  At least, we say we do.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Code Pink Co-Founder Brutalized in Egypt

First Posted on DelawareLiberal on 3/5/2014 by ProgressivePopulist

Medea Benjamin, the indomitable co-founder of the women's activist group Code Pink has reported that en-route to a women's conference in Gaza, she was physically attacked at an airport in Egypt while en-route.
While arranging her connecting flight to travel to an international conference in Palestine, she was apparently detained by five "officials" of the Egyptian government.  Why five officials?  Who knows.  She's a physically tiny 60'ish aged person, probably barely weighing a hundred pounds.  But in the course of the detention and interrogation in an airport jail, she was thrown to the ground and man-handled, resulting in a dislocated shoulder and broken arm.  This is a non-violent peacemaker who has learned well the art of passive resistance resulting from organizing hundreds of peaceful protests over the last couple of decades.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Medea at anti-war events.  She's rational, calm but a vocal lioness in a lambs body.  You might have seen her on C-Span in the gallery of innumerable congressional hearings, leading shockingly peaceful but vocal protests to the absurd theater going on in those hearings.
Code Pink, if your not familiar with them, is a highly effective cadre of women advocating peace and social justice with local groups in many major and not so major cities around the U.S.  I organized with this wonderful group in Houston and Texas, especially in Veteran's For Peace events.  They speak with clarity and intelligence and shock you with the fairy-like outfits which brilliantly draw attention to their message of peace and justice.
She reports that she's been given pain killers by an MD who was on her flight from the U.S. and now is on her way to Istanbul for treatment.  She may not make it to the Gaza conference, or at least, not on time.  But the U.S. will be well represented there by Col. Ann Wright, of both Code Pink and Veterans For Peace, her good friend and another American patriot with whom I've also protested and shared experiences with  in our attempts at peacemaking.
Medea reports that Ann Wright, herself retired from both the military and the State Department, made contact with the State Department in Egypt for intervention and help  in Medea's behalf.  After hours of waiting at the airport, they were a no show.  It is anybody's guess why they did not respond.
Here is wishing for a good recovery for Medea and  best wishes others who might have been inexplicably detained at the Egyptian airport, serving as non-violent peacemakers and advocates for justice in Palestine.  It remains to be sorted out as to the motives with the Egyptian authorities in their brutal treatment of American travelers.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine: Geopolitical Chess

First published in DelawareLiberal on 3/3/2014 by ProgressivePopulist
Some sentimentalists have been characterizing the Ukraine crisis as a popular revNot so fast.  This situation requires some careful analysis, not platitudes.  Hear that CNN and mainstream media?   Probably not.
I'm reading as much non-mainstream press as I can to wrap my head around this very complex situation and to try to understand our role therein.  I'm sharing some of the thinking of two journalists:  Pepe Escobar of Asian Times and Brendon O'neill of Spiked.
I think through them I'm better understanding what is really going on here. Escobar explains that some of the chess game going on here is the contract Russia has with Crimea, a semi-autonomous, self governing region tied to Ukraine.  That contract allows the Russian Black Sea fleet port services until 2042.  Guess where one of the destinations of that port is?  Syria.
NATO would love to get the Russian fleet outta there for Syria reasons as well as the balance of naval and supply power vis a vis Russia.  Escobar thinks the Obama administration has adopted the neo-con strategy regarding Ukraine, fearing their alliance drift toward Russia and away from Germany, France and the EU.
Escobar points out that the Budapest Agreement requires that U.S./Russia/Ukraine and Britain meet to resolve any issues troubling their relationship.  See any of that happening yet?  I don't think so.
He points out Ukraine has had a major financial crisis developing; for example, its currency has devalued by 20% in 2014.  Any signs of an EU bailout?  Nope.  EU is pretty broke with their own money problems.    Ukraine needs $30 billion to get it through 2014, according to Escobar;  Russia has so far pledged half that, $15 billion.  But, now, with the regime change, who knows if that will come through. The U.S.?  1 billion.  EU, nothing so far.
Then there's pipeline politics again.  Russia supplies a huge part of Europe.  Guess where major pipeline routes to Europe are?   Yup.   Ukraine.  And to make things even more complicated, Ukraine's industry depends heavily on Russian markets.
O'Neill observes that what has happened in recent weeks is regime change, not revolution.  He equates the impotence of the protest movement there to our Occupy movement, hardly a game changer. Old parties have formed an interim government through Parliament after Yanukovich's ouster.  Not new, revolutionary entities.
He also points out the pesky fact that Yanukovich was democratically elected in 2010 and as recently as 2012 his party received a major victory again with the Parliamentary elections.   He has evolved into an anti-democratic tyrant, no doubt.  But the regime change too is anti-democratic but vocally supported by the Obama and Merkel administrations.   In fact, both for months have verbally supported the opposition movement, comprised of a complex set of alliances which include groups Russia characterizes as Fascists and anti-semites.  Yes, and a healthy dose of radical Muslim groups as well.  Our diplomats visited the protestors, but apparently not Yanukovich to try to moderate him.   And our media, especially Fox and CNN pretty much in unison.   Complicated, isn't it?
In these recent events, we have rightly accused Putin of meddling.  But how would you characterize our comportment in trying to move Ukraine toward the EU?  And our right wing's call to renew the cold war?
Solutions?  Obama is rightly using the bully pulpit to try to back Putin down.  There are sanction options being explored, such as targeting Russian Kleptocrats who are directly fueling the Ukraine conflict to hit them in their wallets.  The G8 cancellation was a very good move along with cancellation of other trade meetings.  But direct talks, via the Budapest agreement are vitally needed.  Where is Kerry Going this week? Kiev, not Moscow.
The worst idea proposed by the crazies on the right?  Acceleration and renewal of missile defense sites, including with Poland?  That kind of confrontation is absurd.  We have many other both defense and offense options without that program.  We don't need McCain and his little buddy from S. Carolina  out in the media confusing the issue and undermining President Obama's diplomacy work to deescalate this tinder box.