Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Well, what did you expect?
Toys R Us announced yesterday that it would be closing 182 stores and laying off 3,800 workers: ["Toys R Us to close Kids R Us, Imaginarium businesses"]. Well, gee, what did you expect? This goes to the heart of everything I talk about concerning American trade policy. Manufacturers who close plants in America and move them to Mexico or China are essentially stealing their own markets from themselves. If you aren't working - or earning better than normal wages - you don't have money for toys or special kids clothes, etc. If these people aren't shopping at the stores, the stores will go out of business.
Don't be surprised if you hear more of this type of bad news coming from the retail sector. Both Target and Wal-Mart have already warned about lower than expected Christmas revs. Gee, I wonder why? The free trade cultists have ignored this part of the trade problem and instead, gleefully obsessed over the supposed lower prices that imports offer consumers. But if you are a consumer without a job, you can't consume! It really is that simple.

NAFTA at 10
Speaking of trade, yesterday was the tenth anniversary of NAFTA passing the House of Representatives. Two presidential candidates noted the anniversary as part of their media emails:
Dennis Kucinich: "For a decade, we have been subjected to a grand experiment called NAFTA. When that agreement was signed in 1993, it was enthusiastically supported by big business, Republicans, and all too many Democrats -- including then-Governor Howard Dean, who even attended a NAFTA signing ceremony. Now it is clear that this experiment has failed. We've lost close to 3 million manufacturing jobs since July 2000. Over one half a million of these are directly attributable to NAFTA. Our trade deficit grew to $418 billion last year and continues to climb. And, because of the WATT [sic], corporations have been granted unprecedented powers to sue the government in closed trade courts anytime laws designed to protect workers or the environment are deemed to infringe on corporate 'rights.'
Kucinich also created a link where people could talk about their NAFTA experiences ["http://www.kucinich.us/nafta/"] and attacked Dick Gephardt for backing GATT/WTO.
Dick Gephardt: "For more than twenty-five years, I have worked to promote trade policies that grow our economy, raise worker standards, and open up markets for American products. I have never left the side of the American worker in any of these battles and in turn led the fight against a series of bad trade agreements including NAFTA and the China trade deal because I not only believed these agreements were bad for American workers and their families, but were also detrimental to workers in Mexico, China and throughout the world.
"Today as we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the passage of the NAFTA trade agreement we learn that we have lost nearly 900,000 American jobs, 13,000 jobs in South Carolina alone, as a direct result of NAFTA. These are not only manufacturing job losses, they are high tech jobs which were expected to be the promising jobs of the 21st century. As I predicted, these trade agreements have resulted in a race to the bottom where corporations in every sector of our economy move around the globe looking for the cheapest available labor, abandoning American workers and manipulating workers abroad.
"Unlike the other candidates in this race, my opposition to NAFTA, Fast Track, and the China trade deal were not born of political convenience, but of moral necessity. I am the only candidate in this race who voted against NAFTA. Senators Kerry and Lieberman both voted for NAFTA and Governor Dean supported NAFTA, Fast Track, and permanent trade relations with China. Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Edwards all voted for the recent China trade deal that has sent thousands of South Carolina textile jobs overseas. All of my opponents are now saying that if elected president, they would never support a trade agreement that jeopardized American workers, but where were they when American workers really needed their support.
"I believe that free trade and open markets create good jobs for American workers, but I have traveled to countries like China, Thailand and Indonesia, where the most sophisticated, high-tech labor is now done for a few dollars a day. Workers should receive a living wage and be treated with dignity everywhere around the world which is why I have proposed an international minimum wage, different for every country, but with the universal goal of raising standards and wages around the globe.
"My entire campaign is focused on preserving good paying jobs in this country and creating additional jobs to get the more than 3 million Americans who have suffered under the Bush economy back to work again."
The NAFTA fight was probably one of the most exciting battles that I have ever been involved in with unfortunate end results for Americans. Over one million decent wage, low skill jobs lost according to the last numbers I saw in the New York Times. It was amazing to the see the propaganda and lies that were being promoted by the proponents and the wholesale buying of votes by then-President Clinton and his big business buddies [One of the most heinous vote buying examples I know of was done by Clinton when he bought the vote of Mass. Rep. Gerry Studds in exchange for $1.2 billion in money for the fisheries of Massachusetts, money that was immediately gutted from the budget by the Republican Congress. Essentially, Studds sold his vote for nothing and left the Congress right afterwards. Also, check out the "Selling of Free Trade" by John MacArthur for a really good overview behind the scenes from the NAFTA fight].
I believe that NAFTA vote was one of those moments in history where things started to change.
It was also the death of the last modern populist movement our nation had: Jerry Brown's insurgent, almost successful campaign for the Democratic nomination for president [before the insiders and the late Paul Tsongas jumped in and derailed it], Ross Perot co-opting most of Brown's best talking points and attracting almost 20 million voters, and Clinton eventually winning the presidency by tricking voters with his lite-populism that Dick Morris described as triangulation [or strangulation, as I describe it] of the body politic.
After NAFTA, things started to change around our country. The most noticeable was when the big corporations that control talk radio started to change their formats from serious talk to "hot talk" formats. Almost simultaneously, programmers across the nation decided that less intelligent, lighter talk formats and programming were needed to sooth the savage beast, if you will. In Boston, long-time talk hosts like Jerry Williams and Gene Burns - hosts who would have serious discussions about the issues of the day - were dumped and replaced by pinheads and rightwing psychos like Jeff Katz and Two Chicks Dishing [both now thankfully gone] and to a lesser extent Howie Carr, who would ridicule the poor and entertain topics like supermarket gripes and who do you want to see naked on TV. At the same time, the politicians began to run roughshod over everything. Without the watchdogs who was to stop them?
Our nation hasn't been the same since. Look around you. Isn't it strange that your friends and neighbors are more concerned about the lives of celebrities than the plant closing down the street? It isn't funny that people are more concerned about the death of a pretty pregnant woman from California or a young, sexually active intern than the social problems in their hometowns? And we wonder why a lot of young people - and their parents too - are clueless to the world around them. People feel powerless and beaten now and the television is nice distraction from the realities around them, an opiate to the senses that will keep you from figuring out anything and that's exactly how big businesses want it.