Trade deal details secret, but no secret that we keep losing jobs…

May 10, 2015

Admittedly I know little of how these trade deals, such as NAFTA, work. And I certainly don’t know how the Trans Pacific Partnership President Obama is negotiating is supposed to work — I understand the details are secret.

But I do know the reality: jobs keep being shipped overseas or over the border, where wages are extremely low and working conditions are horrendous. In fact, workers sometimes have no rights at all.

Nonetheless, the president hypes up the trade deal he is negotiating in secret at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike may have its headquarters there but it only employs a few thousand people in the U.S. but millions elsewhere, mostly in Asia.

Nike sneakers are real popular in the ghetto. People have been killed for them.

Too bad we don’t make them here. Then people would have jobs and hopefully would not be killing other people over tennis shoes.

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But let me insert this: It’s not that we don’t have industry here. In fact, after posting this, in my job as a truck driver I was sent to the place I am at now — a paper products plant in Oregon. I’m picking up paper grocery bags (hey good for the environment; biodegradable paper instead of plastic) and while I am waiting, besides writing this, I took a gander of the workers out on the floor busy producing those bags and readying them for shipping. Made in America, jobs for Americans. And of course the raw material is from our own natural resources (maintained in a sustainable way I would hope).

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They say trade protectionism does not work.

All-out protectionism with its extremely high tariffs on incoming goods would present a problem because of course we want to export our own goods overseas. We need a balance. But we need to produce stuff right here in the good old USA. Too much of our society is unproductive.

We could all afford to pay a little more for our shoes, as long as they were of high, long-lasting quality.

We cannot afford to let our own society waste away.

I mean we are not going to employ everyone in Silicon Valley designing games or phone apps. Someone actually has to make and fix things of real utility value. And we all cannot be hedge fund managers or participants either.

I really wonder if the powers that be in either of our major political parties really get that or really care or have the will to go a different direction.

Also, much of our energy and money is going to fight the bogeyman ISIS.

Certainly we need to protect ourselves, but sending out drones all over the world that kill innocent people along with the bad actors and eavesdropping on our citizens like the Gestapo or KGB or Stasi is not improving life here at home. And sending our military into the Middle East to try to deal with the chaos there is not tending to our own society.

For my own part I cannot complain, but I see a society falling apart around me.

Still looking for the leader or leaders who will show us the way out of this morass.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has worked for the Obama administration in the past, and whose politics generally align with the president, is strongly opposing him on the trade deal. She claims it will mean more lost jobs for American workers and that provisions in the agreement could even be detrimental to curbs on Wall Street excesses.

I have not found any detail on the latter charge, but in fact, details on the whole trade agreement proposal seem to be secret.

Our economy depends upon trade. I know this first-hand as a truck driver. Much of what I haul is imports, but I also haul exports (as well as domestic products traveling from point to point within our nation). But I would not want to be competing with workers who earn half or less than what I do and who work under harsh conditions.

Also, I recently read about toxic building material being imported from China. And we know that China manipulates its currency to make its exports more marketable.

If consumers were more savvy much of this could be dealt with through the market place. We should be demanding quality and safety and we should buy American where we can.

The president says that Warren is wrong on her trade deal criticism and charges that she is playing politics. It may well be that she is using the charge in part to drum up support for a presidential run on her part — even though she claims she is not intending to run.

Since details on the trade deal are secret, there is really no way to judge on all of this.

But it is no secret that much of the monied class is quite happy to ship jobs overseas to put labor on the defensive.

The people do have the power to change things if they would just use it, except that they need candidates on their side.

But big money donors have the advantage.

Nonetheless it costs nothing to vote (but of course you need someone you have confidence in to vote for).

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Feeding economic monster endangers workers…

October 31, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It’s not always fun to be an American worker. Often business sees you as bothersome overhead and does anything it can to get rid of you, such as outsourcing or shipping your work overseas.

In the space of a day in my hometown newspaper (online edition) I ran across two disturbing items, the first via a feature that lets me pick up news from other newspapers from around the country (actually not a bad thing and it kind of goes along with the evolving role of newspapers and the move toward online editions I wrote about in my last blog).  An item from the Anderson, S.C. Independent-Mail caught my eye because I once edited the Anderson, Ca. Valley Post and we did a story in conjunction with the Anderson, S.C. paper (but that’s another subject I’ll get to below), and because it had to do with workers being laid off.

To quickly summarize, some 250 workers in that area of South Carolina who had made towels will no longer have jobs because their company sold out to a company out of the neighboring state of Georgia and much of that company’s towel production has been moved to Pakistan (you know, the country that is our ally, but is believed to host Osama bin Laden).

And here in my hometown in Northern California, the forever-changing-ownership downtown hospital, currently called Shasta Regional Hospital, once more has changed hands and the new owner after assuring all one day that no changes would be noticed by the patients announced the next that everyone on the staff is fired, but can apply for whatever jobs are left.

It’s no secret that patients have indeed noticed changes there over the past year or more. Heck I was a cancer patient there several times over the past year. While I have rave reviews for the nursing staff and others there, I can say they are definitely short handed. And the hospital’s effort at housekeeping was, well, not good. My wife had to make my bed several times and they never did clean the bathroom. And over the past several weeks I was told by two different doctors in town that the hospital was cutting back on staff and supplies, I suppose in anticipation of selling out.

So here we have dedicated hard working medical personnel whom so many depend upon (I know the feeling personally as a patient) and they are simply told, you now have no job, but maybe we will have a new opening for you, or maybe not. Also, a union at the hospital claims it is a move to break the union contract – and that seems likely.

As I have blogged before, I am not a union person, having only been a union member for about a year one time and in a passive manner. But I have worked for someone all my life, so I empathize with working people.

The problem in South Carolina for the towel factory workers is that a 102-year-old company sold out to one that only cares about how to make a product in the cheapest manner and nothing about the country in which it operates. Patriotic Americans fight in the Middle East so we can ship our jobs over there!

But the made in America issue gets tricky. Things can be made in America, but by companies based overseas. I don’t see a particular problem with that. Strangely enough, an example of that came to me out of the Anderson, S.C. newspaper, which also had a story about an area employer expanding its workforce by 152. The company hiring the new workers is based in Hong Kong and is actually shifting some of its production from China to South Carolina. The company makes various products, to include chain saws and generators. So, who says our workers are not competitive?

The hospital situation in my home town here in the northern end of California’s Sacramento Valley is the effect of privatization of the health care system (along with poor management). I sometimes feel that health care would be better off in the not-for-profit sector, with some, or possibly many, exceptions, to include individual doctors, as opposed to hospitals. The profit motive does not always provide the best service when it comes to health care (the motive is profit, not care, and sick people are in no condition to shop around and there is not much choice anyway in many cases).

The goal of the health care system should be to provide the best care for the patients, not how much the bandages can be sold for (just look at the markup on your hospital bill).

Back to the issue of American jobs lost to overseas competition: I am aware of the history that suggests that trade barriers is what created or exacerbated the Great Depression. Well, even I don’t think dropping out of the global market is the solution to our current financial crisis or unemployment problem. But I do think there needs to be more of a priority within government to create incentives to expand U.S. jobs and to re-industrialize America. We just need to find a way to become more competitive. I would suggest competing by producing quality. And I would suggest concentrating on programs that get people into paying jobs. Actually I think many of the secondary schools and junior colleges are doing a great job. In some cases the programs they provide need to be better utilized and in many cases those programs may need additional and/or more stable funding.

And back to the health care issue. We do have a second hospital in our city. It is run by Catholic Healthcare West. I believe it is in somewhat better shape than the other one, but it has its own financial challenges. It recently split up its cancer treatment program, in some cases requiring it to transfer patients across town to another facility for radiation treatments. The split may have made financial sense for the hospital, but it is a burden to some patients and some staff at the hospital. I do give the Catholic-run hospital credit for providing stability in their operations for many years, as opposed to the instability of the downtown hospital. And, by the way, one of my doctors suggested to me that our city is big enough to support two hospitals.

I should add, the troubled downtown hospital (Shasta Regional) gained some notoriety from a couple of its former surgeons who performed needless heart surgeries to line their own pockets and the coffers of the hospital with the apparent tacit approval of some of the unscrupulous members of that hospital’s former management. Certainly that was an example of the profit-motive gone awry.

Please don’t conclude that I look at the world as workers vs. management, or the proletariat vs. the capitalists. No, I don’t. In the United States of America we have our brand of ideology that combines elements and various political approaches. But it is based on individual freedom, the ability to choose one’s own destiny, and the ability of the individual to succeed. In some cases the individual succeeds as an employee and in other cases as an employer or even both at the same time. But I think as a nation we may have been forced to stray from providing ourselves with all of that freedom and success in an effort to feed some monster called the “economy”, which has turned out to really be the interests of the greedy. The forces of greed and quick profits have turned us too much away from being the producers of high quality goods and more towards consumers of things made elsewhere.

P.s. That connection between Anderson, Ca., and Anderson, S.C. that I referred to earlier had to do with a severe drought in the Southeast back in the early 1980s (I believe they have been undergoing one this past year or so too). Some farmers in Anderson, Ca. sent donated hay for cattle feed to farmers in Anderson, S.C. , kind of an example of Americans working together, rather than fighting among themselves. United we stand, divided we…..

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Correction: In a previously-posted draft of the exact same blog you have just read I incorrectly wrote that the Catholic-run hospital in my city was a for-profit business. I corrected that in this draft. It is a non-profit, run by Catholic Healthcare West. I regret the error.