US Diary: Our business elite will sell America to line their own pockets
1. When Americans No Longer Own America -- by Thom Hartmann
The Dubai Ports World deal is waking Americans up to a painful reality: So-called "conservatives" and "flat world" globalists have bankrupted our nation for their own bag of silver, and in the process are selling off America.
Through a combination of the "Fast Track" authority pushed for by Reagan and GHW Bush, sweetheart trade deals involving "most favored nation status" for dictatorships like China, and Clinton pushing us into NAFTA and the WTO (via GATT), we've abandoned the principles of tariff-based trade that built American industry and kept us strong for over 200 years.
The old concept was that if there was a dollar's worth of labor in a pair of shoes made in the USA, and somebody wanted to import shoes from China where there may only be ten cents worth of labor in those shoes, we'd level the playing field for labor by putting a 90-cent import tariff on each pair of shoes. Companies could choose to make their products here or overseas, but the ultimate cost of labor would be the same.
Then came the flat-worlders, led by misguided true believers and promoted by multinational corporations. Do away with those tariffs, they said, because they "restrain trade." Let everything in, and tax nothing. The result has been an explosion of cheap goods coming into our nation, and the loss of millions of good manufacturing jobs and thousands of manufacturing companies. Entire industry sectors have been wiped out.
These policies have kneecapped the American middle class. Our nation's largest employer has gone from being the unionized General Motors to the poverty-wages Wal-Mart. Americans have gone from having a net savings rate around 10 percent in the 1970s to a minus .5 percent in 2005 - meaning that they're going into debt or selling off their assets just to maintain their lifestyle.
At the same time, federal policy has been to do the same thing at a national level. Because our so-called "free trade" policies have left us with an over $700 billion annual trade deficit, other countries are sitting on huge piles of the dollars we gave them to buy their stuff (via Wal-Mart and other "low cost" retailers). But we no longer manufacture anything they want to buy with those dollars.
So instead of buying our manufactured goods, they are doing what we used to do with Third World nations - they are buying us, the USA, chunk by chunk. In particular, they want to buy things in America that will continue to produce profits, and then to take those profits overseas where they're invested to make other nations strong. The "things" they're buying are, by and large, corporations, utilities, and natural resources.
Back in the pre-Reagan days, American companies made profits that were distributed among Americans. They used their profits to build more factories, or diversify into other businesses. The profits stayed in America.
Today, foreigners awash with our consumer dollars are on a two-decades-long buying spree. The UK's BP bought Amoco for $48 billion - now Amoco's profits go to England. Deutsche Telekom bought VoiceStream Wireless, so their profits go to Germany, which is where most of the profits from Random House, Allied Signal, Chrysler, Doubleday, Cyprus Amax's US Coal Mining Operations, GTE/Sylvania, and Westinghouse's Power Generation profits go as well. Ralston Purina's profits go to Switzerland, along with Gerber's; TransAmerica's profits go to The Netherlands, while John Hancock Insurance's profits go to Canada. Even American Bankers Insurance Group is owned now by Fortis AG in Belgium.
Foreign companies are buying up our water systems, our power generating systems, our mines, and our few remaining factories. All because "flat world" so-called "free trade" policies have turned us from a nation of wealthy producers into a nation of indebted consumers, leaving the world awash in dollars that are most easily used to buy off big chunks of America. As www.economyincrisis.com notes, US Government statistics indicate the following percentages of foreign ownership of American industry:
· Sound recording industries - 97%
· Commodity contracts dealing and brokerage - 79%
· Motion picture and sound recording industries - 75%
· Metal ore mining - 65%
· Motion picture and video industries - 64%
· Wineries and distilleries - 64%
· Database, directory, and other publishers - 63%
· Book publishers - 63%
· Cement, concrete, lime, and gypsum product - 62%
· Engine, turbine and power transmission equipment - 57%
· Rubber product - 53%
· Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing - 53%
· Plastics and rubber products manufacturing - 52%
· Plastics product - 51%
· Other insurance related activities - 51%
· Boiler, tank, and shipping container - 50%
· Glass and glass product - 48%
· Coal mining - 48%
· Sugar and confectionery product - 48%
· Nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying - 47%
· Advertising and related services - 41%
· Pharmaceutical and medicine - 40%
· Clay, refractory, and other nonmetallic mineral products - 40%
· Securities brokerage - 38%
· Other general purpose machinery - 37%
· Audio and video equipment mfg and reproducing magnetic and optical media - 36%
· Support activities for mining - 36%
· Soap, cleaning compound, and toilet preparation - 32%
· Chemical manufacturing - 30%
· Industrial machinery - 30%
· Securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities - 30%
· Other food - 29%
· Motor vehicles and parts - 29%
· Machinery manufacturing - 28%
· Other electrical equipment and component - 28%
· Securities and commodity exchanges and other financial investment activities - 27%
· Architectural, engineering, and related services - 26%
· Credit card issuing and other consumer credit - 26%
· Petroleum refineries (including integrated) - 25%
· Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments - 25%
· Petroleum and coal products manufacturing - 25%
· Transportation equipment manufacturing - 25%
· Commercial and service industry machinery - 25%
· Basic chemical - 24%
· Investment banking and securities dealing - 24%
· Semiconductor and other electronic component - 23%
· Paint, coating, and adhesive - 22%
· Printing and related support activities - 21%
· Chemical product and preparation - 20%
· Iron, steel mills, and steel products - 20%
· Agriculture, construction, and mining machinery - 20%
· Publishing industries - 20%
· Medical equipment and supplies - 20%
Thus it shouldn't surprise us that the cons have sold off our ports as well, and will defend it to the bitter end. They truly believe that a "New World Order" with multinational corporations in charge instead of sovereign governments will be the answer to the problem of world instability. And therefore they must do away with quaint things like unions, a healthy middle class, and, ultimately, democracy.
The "security" implications of turning our ports over to the UAE are just the latest nail in what the cons hope will be the coffin of American democracy and the American middle class. Today's conservatives believe in rule by inherited wealth and an internationalist corporate elite, and things like a politically aroused citizenry and a healthy democracy are pesky distractions.
Everything today is driven by profits for multinationals, supported by the lawmaking power of the WTO. Thus, parts for our missiles are now made in China, a country that last year threatened us with nuclear weapons. Our oil comes from a country that birthed a Wahabist movement that ultimately led to 14 Saudi citizens flying jetliners into the World Trade buildings and the Pentagon. Germans now own the Chrysler auto assembly lines that turned out tanks to use against Germany in WWII. And the price of labor in America is being held down by over ten million illegal workers, a situation that was impossible twenty-five years ago when unions were the first bulwark against dilution of the American labor force.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote of King George III in the Declaration of Independence, "He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitutions and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation…" he just as easily could have been writing of the World Trade Organization, which now has the legal authority to force the United States to overturn laws passed at both local, state, and federal levels with dictates devised by tribunals made up of representatives of multinational corporations. If Dubai loses in the American Congress, their next stop will almost certainly be the WTO.
As Simon Romero and Heather Timmons noted in The New York Times on 24 February 2006, "the international shipping business has evolved in recent years to include many more containers with consumer goods, in addition to old-fashioned bulk commodities, and that has helped lift profit margins to 30 percent, from the single digits. These smartly managed foreign operators now manage about 80 percent of port terminals in the United States."
And those 30 percent profits from American port operations now going to Great Britain will probably soon go to the United Arab Emirates, a nation with tight interconnections to both the Bush administration and the Bush family.
Ultimately, it's not about security -- it's about money. In the multinational corporatocracy's "flat world," money trumps the national good, community concerns, labor interests, and the environment. NAFTA, CAFTA, and WTO tribunals can - and regularly do - strike down local and national laws. Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" are replaced by Antonin Scalia's "Rights of Corporate Persons."
Profits even trump the desire for good enough port security to avoid disasters that may lead to war. After all, as Judith Miller wrote in The New York Times on January 30, 1991, quoting a local in Saudi Arabia: "War is good for business."
(Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author of over a dozen books and the host of a nationally syndicated noon-3pm ET daily progressive talk show syndicated by Air America Radio .www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are " What Would Jefferson Do? " and Ultimate Sacrifice.)
2. Graduates versus Oligarchs -- by Paul Krugman
Ben Bernanke's maiden Congressional testimony as chairman of the Federal Reserve was, everyone agrees, superb. He didn't put a foot wrong on monetary or fiscal policy.
But Mr. Bernanke did stumble at one point. Responding to a question from Representative Barney Frank about income inequality, he declared that "the most important factor" in rising inequality "is the rising skill premium, the increased return to education."
That's a fundamental misreading of what's happening to American society. What we're seeing isn't the rise of a fairly broad class of knowledge workers. Instead, we're seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small, privileged elite.
I think of Mr. Bernanke's position, which one hears all the time, as the 80-20 fallacy. It's the notion that the winners in our increasingly unequal society are a fairly large group - that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don't have these skills.
The truth is quite different. Highly educated workers have done better than those with less education, but a college degree has hardly been a ticket to big income gains. The 2006 Economic Report of the President tells us that the real earnings of college graduates actually fell more than 5 percent between 2000 and 2004. Over the longer stretch from 1975 to 2004 the average earnings of college graduates rose, but by less than 1 percent per year.
So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that.
A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.
But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.
Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year.
Why would someone as smart and well informed as Mr. Bernanke get the nature of growing inequality wrong? Because the fallacy he fell into tends to dominate polite discussion about income trends, not because it's true, but because it's comforting. The notion that it's all about returns to education suggests that nobody is to blame for rising inequality, that it's just a case of supply and demand at work. And it also suggests that the way to mitigate inequality is to improve our educational system - and better education is a value to which just about every politician in America pays at least lip service.
The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story.
Should we be worried about the increasingly oligarchic nature of American society? Yes, and not just because a rising economic tide has failed to lift most boats. Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt. There's an arrow of causation that runs from diverging income trends to Jack Abramoff and the K Street project.
And I'm with Alan Greenspan, who - surprisingly, given his libertarian roots - has repeatedly warned that growing inequality poses a threat to "democratic society."
It may take some time before we muster the political will to counter that threat. But the first step toward doing something about inequality is to abandon the 80-20 fallacy. It's time to face up to the fact that rising inequality is driven by the giant income gains of a tiny elite, not the modest gains of college graduates.
3. Ike Saw It Coming -- by Bob Herbert
Early in the documentary film "Why We Fight," Wilton Sekzer, a retired New York City police officer whose son was killed in the World Trade Center attack, describes his personal feelings in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.
"Somebody had to pay for this," he says. "Somebody had to pay for 9/11. ... I wanna see their bodies stacked up for what they did. For taking my son."
Lost in the agony of his grief, Mr. Sekzer wanted revenge. He wanted the government to go after the bad guys, and when the government said the bad guys were in Iraq, he didn't argue.
For most of his life Mr. Sekzer was a patriot straight out of central casting. His view was always "If the bugle calls, you go." When he was 21 he was a gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam. He didn't question his country's motives. He was more than willing to place his trust in the leadership of the nation he loved.
"Why We Fight," a thoughtful, first-rate movie directed by Eugene Jarecki, is largely about how misplaced that trust has become. The central figure in the film is not Mr. Jarecki, but Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican president who had been the supreme Allied commander in Europe in World War II, and who famously warned us at the end of his second term about the profound danger inherent in the rise of the military-industrial complex.
Ike warned us, but we didn't listen. That's the theme the movie explores.
Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to a national television and radio audience in January 1961. "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," he said. He recognized that this development was essential to the defense of the nation. But he warned that "we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications."
"The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist," he said. "We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes." It was as if this president, who understood war as well or better than any American who ever lived, were somehow able to peer into the future and see the tail of the military-industrial complex wagging the dog of American life, with inevitably disastrous consequences.
The endless billions to be reaped from the horrors of war are a perennial incentive to invest in the war machine and to keep those wars a-coming. "His words have unfortunately come true," says Senator John McCain in the film. "He was worried that priorities are set by what benefits corporations as opposed to what benefits the country."
The way you keep the wars coming is to keep the populace in a state of perpetual fear. That allows you to continue the insane feeding of the military-industrial complex at the expense of the rest of the nation's needs. "Before long," said Mr. Jarecki in an interview, "the military ends up so overempowered that the rest of your national life has been allowed to atrophy."
In one of the great deceptive maneuvers in U.S. history, the military-industrial complex (with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as chairman and C.E.O., respectively) took its eye off the real enemy in Afghanistan and launched the pointless but far more remunerative war in Iraq.
If you want to get a chill, just consider the tragic chaos in present-day Iraq (seven G.I.'s were killed on the day I went to see "Why We Fight") and then listen to Susan Eisenhower in the film recalling a quotation attributed to her grandfather: "God help this country when somebody sits at this desk who doesn't know as much about the military as I do."
The military-industrial complex has become so pervasive that it is now, as one of the figures in the movie notes, all but invisible. Its missions and priorities are poorly understood by most Americans, and frequently counter to their interests.
Near the end of the movie, Mr. Sekzer, the New York cop who lost his son on Sept. 11, describes his reaction to President Bush's belated acknowledgment that "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved" in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"What the hell did we go in there for?" Mr. Sekzer asks.
Unable to hide his bitterness, he says: "The government exploited my feelings of patriotism, of a deep desire for revenge for what happened to my son. But I was so insane with wanting to get even, I was willing to believe anything."