Two events occurred in the U.S. Congress this week that together speak volumes about the continued bankruptcy of our entire political class and also demonstrate, incidentally, that our deservedly maligned national legislature is not dysfunctional at all when it comes to producing yet more favors for the 1%.
First, Obama won passage of his trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that will provide new profit opportunities for the few and additional job losses for the many. These treaties are mistakenly called ‘free trade’ pacts in an act of ideological branding that further serves the ruling business elite when in fact they actually increase trade barriers in the form of patent and copyright protections for U.S. pharmaceutical other companies. They are also called ‘pacts’ rather than ‘treaties’, which is what they are for all intents and purposes. But treaties require a 2/3 vote of Congress, and our leading pols, as always when facing a problematic legal speed bump preventing juicy new benefits for the rich, promptly dismantled it.
The NY Times carried a minor story, read by few and ignored by all who matter, about the next round of job losses that this ‘free-trade’ pact will generate, this time among the tiny remnant of textile workers still producing specialty fabrics in a South Carolina factory. As anyone knows who wears clothes today, textile work long ago shifted to the sweatshops of China, Vietnam and Honduras thanks to many other ‘free-trade’ pacts that brought us cheap T-shirts and mass-produced ‘designer’ goods.
There is a particular irony in this development for me as I recall, as a reporter covering Capitol Hill in the early 1980s, an angry exchange in a Senate committee hearing between the old liberal warhorse from Ohio, Howard Metzenbaum, and an arrogant neo-Dixiecrat named Fritz Hollings of South Carolina. The two seemed to dislike each other heartily, and Hollings was ragging Metz by bragging about how his state had ‘pulled all those textile factories from up north’ down to his, not mentioning that the lack of labor unions was a principal motive. Metzenbaum sputtered and turned red in the face, but he was helpless in the face of the economic forces turning his (and my) home state into the Rust Belt. Industry had free rein to play off the states against one another and extort the best, tax-freest deal to be had, and so it went—the factories left the industrial north and headed to the Reaganite South and West.
But alas for Fritz Hollings and his happy non-union Carolinian workforce, that wasn’t good enough. If South Carolina workers were docile and cheap, wouldn’t a billion Communist Chinese be even cheaper, and needless to say, yet more docile by far? ‘Free-trade’ pacts globalized the whole process and returned the impoverished Palmettos to their previous de-industrialized state.
But I digress. Meanwhile, also in the U.S. Congress the Obama ‘Jobs Bill’ went down to ignominious defeat as could have been predicted by anyone paying attention. The silver lining is that Obama’s nefarious plan to undermine Social Security by removing its tax base is also postponed—though no doubt it will be back soon as part of the next legislative consensus between the two parties determined to impoverish us all.
With the two parties in joyful cahoots in this way, the 99% are left to own our, party-free devices. Today, the Occupy Wall Street movement adjourns to Times Square, and it will be interesting to watch the reactions of the assembled Nebraskans and other puzzled visitors at the idea of resistance to corporate looting.