Towards a Resilient Global Economy

If I had to pick a single word to describe the global economy today, it would be fragile.  Policy makers and business leaders have actively built a system that destroys the environment in order to produce profits in the short term — by distributing goods and services across a global supply chain that is designed to minimize costs and maximize financial returns — while relying on structures that are profoundly susceptible to disruption.

This is done by dodging societal responsibility through a shadow network of tax havens (building up debt in the nations of the world and increasing wealth inequality); avoiding environmental protections by choosing to operate in countries where government officials can be bought on the black market (damaging the ecological commons on which all life depends); and creating deregulated zones where worker’s rights are minimal or non-existent (sowing the seeds of upheaval by keeping large numbers of people in a state of desperation).

All of this is done to extract as much monetary wealth as possible for investors who don’t care about the suffering they cause to those around them, as I described in How will the 99% deal with 70 Million Psychopaths? earlier this year.  This economic system has been built up gradually over the last few centuries.  Yet it is not built to last.  It is prone to manipulation by financial managers and can be destabilized to the point of collapse and ruin, as we saw in 2008 when speculative finance wreaked havoc upon the nations of the world…

…We need a global economy that is resilient against environmental change, political upheaval, and the various network effects of multiply connected systems.  And yet our politicians all-too-often focus on simplistic solutions like deregulation or cutting taxes, ignoring the immense complexity of the world as it really is and making the situation more dire by increasing our vulnerability to systemic risk with these actions.  We need robust infrastructure (e.g. roads, courts, hospitals, schools, etc.) and a social capacity for handling complexity that is nuanced, subtle, and riddled with surprises.  This means we need our citizenry and our institutions to be capable of managing the unknown (and often unknowable) linkages between diverse and evolving patterns of activity.

I realize that this is a tall order.  In a time when authoritarian ideology is on the rise, partly due to the fact that many people feel anxious and insecure about the accelerating changes unfolding around them, it seems unlikely that enough people will take on the challenging task of learning to think in evolutionary and dynamic terms about social, economic, political, and natural systems.  And yet this is what these times call for us to do.

To read more of this excellent analysis by Joe Brewer of the Cognitive Policy Works about what is necessary to repair our  economy from the destruction done by the 1%, please click here

Take it from this business owner: Tax cuts for rich don’t help

If anyone tells you that ending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent would hurt job creation, tell them to talk with me

In 1993, we lost much of our business as a result of the supposedly job-creating NAFTA trade agreement as large brands sought out the cheapest labor costs they could in Mexico.

We decided to stick it out and keep good jobs right here in North Carolina. We invested in new technologies that reduced our energy and waste costs. We found new markets for our t-shirts. (and they have been very successful with this approach).

You’d think the economic meltdown and large budget deficit would have shown that giving tax breaks for the best-off Americans makes them richer – it doesn’t pay for itself, it doesn’t trickle down and it doesn’t create jobs, at least not in America.

I know firsthand that investment is the key to keeping my business healthy. I know that the taxes I pay allow the government to reinvest in teachers, roads, clean water and other infrastructure and services that my business depends on to succeed.

As a small business owner, taking money from the budgets of families struggling to make ends meet and giving it to the most prosperous families won’t help my business or our economy. Instead it will continue us down the path of subsidizing the already well off instead of making the investments in our economy and our people that truly strengthen our nation and our homegrown jobs.

To read this entire article, written by a successful small businessman who recognizes the conservatives’ economic plan as a bunch of hooey, please click here.

The Taxes on the Farmer Feeds Us All

I was watching Rock Center on TV when it hit me.  The segment was about the problems that they are having in the farming sector in Alabama.  Now that illegal immigrants have fled, there is nobody to work the fields and do this back-breaking work, a fields are rotting away.  Reporter Kate Snow spent time looking at the human side of this story about immigration policy, and the temporary use of prisoners to harvest these crops.  But because of the reluctance/fear of calling out ALEC or any Koch Brothers actions in the conservative MSM (1), Ms. Snow’s segment fell far short of its informative potential.

Alabama cucumber farmer Jerry Danford grows cucumbers which are sold to pickle companies.  By the time his crop is pickled, processed, and reaches retail stores, it historically generates about $20 million annually in retail pickle sales. Danford accused Alabama politicians of not even bothering to interview farmers like himself who would be affected by the proposed immigration legislation when it was up for consideration.

Danford, a lifelong republican, is angry at republican lawmakers in Montgomery who passed perhaps the most severe immigration law in the United States. He’s angry with the leaders that supported the legislation for what he sees as a political move that hurts not only farmers like himself, but the economy of the entire state of Alabama.

Since the signing of Alabama’s immigration bill this past summer, Danford has watched many of the illegal immigrant workers he depends on to harvest his crop simply pack up and leave. He worries that come spring harvest–when a provision of the immigration law will be in effect requiring that employers check the immigration status of all workers – he will not have any workers to work his fields.  The immigrants’ crew chief says that he will not recruit Mexicans to work in Alabama in the future because they risk being fined, incarcerated, and deported

“I would like for these lawmakers to go out and get me a pool of labor,” says Danford. (2)

After the commercial break, Ms.Snow spoke with Alabama Governor Bentley about Danford’s concerns.  Bentley noted that there would be a short-term “adjustment” to the new labor force, but this strict immigration law will reduce Alabama’s unemployment rate, which, at 10%, is quite high.  Bentley acknowledges that illegal farm workers will leave the state (that is the intent of the law), but he is convinced that unemployed legal residents will replace them on farms like Jerry Danford’s.  And Alabamians will not have to break the unenforced Federal law any longer to run their farms.

Indeed Alabama has set up a web site to try and attract local workers to working on farms.  Reports Ms. Snow “On several visits to Alabama, we did find some native Alabamians willing to work in the fields.”  However, since then, all of the American workers had quit. (3)

Danford says that the governor is wrong.  Based, he says, on his lifetime of experience with local workers, “the people that you could get locally, they wouldn’t — regardless of what you offered them, within reason — they wouldn’t put in the long hours. It’d take probably three (of them) to do what two of the immigrant workers do,” he says.  “They’d want to be on break all the time, going to the bathroom, going to get a drink, or, you know, something. They just don’t have the initiative to work, just plain and simple.”  He goes on to say that local workers will show up for a day and then quit, assuming that they apply at all. (4) 

But what if he paid a higher hourly wage?  The going rate now is $10 an hour. “The [pickle] company wouldn’t buy it from you then,” he says.  “They’d turn to suppliers in other states where labor is cheaper — states that allow undocumented immigrants to continue working under the radar.” (5)

So what does the future hold for farmers like Jerry Danford?  Certainly less labor-intensive crops, but people and companies all the way up the supply chain from his fields to the retail stores that sell $20 million of pickles are all affected by Alabama’s new immigration control act.

And, it is notable that Snow reports that a new forecast from the University of Alabama estimates the law will cost the state economy at least $40 million in lost revenue overall.  (6)

Faced with rotting crops and angry farmers in this bad economy, the State of Alabama has stepped in and is providing prisoners to harvest the fields—as a short term solution.  For now it is a “short term” solution because as Think Progress reports that in Georgia where they had already tried this plan, “the probationers picking cucumbers couldn’t keep up with their Latino counterparts and had all quit by afternoon”. (7)

Personally, I am disgusted that “state Rep. Scott Beason who sponsored the Alabama immigration law refused a challenge to pick tomatoes just like the illegal immigrants who he thought could be replaced. (8)

Tomato farmer Leroy Smith, second from left, talks with State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, in Steele, Ala. Only a few of Smith’s field workers showed up for work after Alabama’s new
immigration law took effect recently. (9)


And that’s what Kate Snow and Rock Center reported – the middle of this story. To understand the entire story in context requires that we see how this all came about.  After all, this is a blog about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The starting point of this story is the new immigration bill which Mr. Danford identified as the source of this problem.  Where did this bill come from?  This did not originate in the Alabama legislature.  This began in ALEC as model legislation 7K3 – The Immigration Law Enforcement Act.  This was approved by the full ALEC Board of Directors in June 2008, (10), and supplemented with model legislation 7K5, the infamous No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act (the almost word-for-word precedent to Arizona’s SB1070 Act). (11)

Alabama is one of 18 states implementing strict immigration laws.  While the U.S. Attorney General is taking the states (starting with So. Carolina) which have implemented their own immigration laws to court on constitutional grounds, these new laws are being enforced.  And who is going to take a shot at a fine, jail, and deportation when they can work elsewhere.

And in this manner the corporate members of ALEC who wanted strict immigration laws paid their money to ALEC and received their model legislation.

But there is the very important second issue in the Rock Center segment–prisoners being used for the harvesting of these crops.  I worry if this a sign of things to come, or is it just temporary as currently claimed?

This, in turn, takes us to the issue of prison privatization, a key goal of ALEC since 1994 due to the presence of CCA, Wackenhut (predecessor to GEO), and the ever-present Jerry Watson of the American Bail Coalition. (12)

But ALEC is far too professional to use only its own members to investigate opportunities and devise strategies.  As key members of the Koch Brothers’ “Cabal, they have access to excellent think tanks and research institutes.  One of those institutes was also founded by Paul Weyrich (founder of ALEC)—the Heritage Foundation.  As far back as 1988 the Heritage Foundation was studying prison privatization after CCA tried to privatize the entire prison system of Tennessee in 1985.  (Interestingly, the Heritage Foundation study concluded that they could not say if privatization would save a State any money.) (13)

Another Cabal member, The Heartland Institute entered the immigration policy conversation in 2008.  “The right to migrate is a key human liberty that ought to be subject to limits only as a last resort. But the failure of institutions in the U.S. to assimilate new immigrants is real, and it makes unlimited immigration a threat to our own freedom. Both sides in the debate have ‘freedom arguments’ on their side.” (14)

While the Heritage Foundation could not say for certain that prison privatization would save the States any money, the NY Times has concluded that it does not. (15)

“The largest private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, have spent millions of dollars trying to convince federal and state legislators that privatization saves taxpayer money without sacrificing tight security and adequate conditions for prisoners. However, the evidence supporting this claim has been mixed at best. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that promised cost savings “have simply not materialized.” When cost savings are reported, they are often mitigated by private prisons’ tendency to refuse high-cost inmates.

“Even if cost savings were substantial, prison privatization is intrinsically incompatible with the supposed goals of the U.S. prison system. Private prisons have few incentives to pursue meaningful rehabilitation or reduce recidivism rates. In fact, they have a vested interest in the continuation of the United States’ incomparably high incarceration rates.

“In order to ensure a steady flow of inmates, and thus a steady flow of profits, private prison corporations lobby for “tough on crime” laws that lock up petty offenders for long periods of time and do little to curb crime rates. They have historically enjoyed close ties with state legislators through conferences hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which advocates harsh sentencing laws. At the conferences, corporations write “model bills” with legislators that have contributed to the escalation of mass incarceration.”  (16)

Envision prisoners in Alabama working outside doing back-breaking work that other Americans do not want to do.  Brings back memories of slave labor in the southern states for good reason.  Witness the article “Arizona Brings Back Slavery for Latinos”.  The embedded video from Cuentame spells the situation out very neatly:  “First, the state passes a harsh immigration law. Then, it detains large numbers of immigrants. Third, private prisons (LCS, CCA, GEO) receive fresh inmates. And finally, the artificially created labor shortage is supplied by the new inmates. Does this sound like modern-day slavery to anyone? (17)

That is also the ACLU’s stand.  “The imprisonment of human beings at record levels is both a moral failure and an economic one — especially at a time when more and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when state governments confront enormous fiscal crises.”  But it does not stand in the way of reality..  “Mass incarceration provides a gigantic windfall for one special interest group — the private prison industry — even as current incarceration levels harm the country as a whole. While the nation’s unprecedented rate of imprisonment deprives individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards”. (18)

I say “it does not stand in the way of reality” because ALEC and the Heritage Foundation set out to accomplish two goals, and brought them both to fruition – despite any opposition.  They created an industry and then created the infrastructure and manpower to fit.  Do you really think that this is a temporary measure, or is this the way it’s going to be—all around the country?  Do prisoners have human rights or do they forfeit them at the entrance to the prison? And just think, because of the conservative MSM, you are among the few who truly understand the problem.

Which makes you among the few who know what needs to be done to stop it.  Our group, The Voter’s Legislative Transparency Project is trying to set up a bus tour to travel around the country, stopping in as many cities as time permits, to hold full day teach-ins to assemblies wherever we stop.  Let people know about ALEC and the rest of the Koch Cabal, and show how they have been manipulating our country since 1973.  Teaching people to evaluate their candidates to see who is going to honor his/her oath of office, and who is going to be beholden to ALEC or to the Tea Party or even to…Grover Norquist?

[Note:  The title of this article, Taxes on the Farmer Feed Us All is from an 1897 song, reissued by Ry Cooder on his album Into the Purple Valley.  If you are interested, you can hear it performed by clicking here

(2), (3), (4), (5). (6)
(7), (8)
(9)  by Dave Martin, AP


Voter registration down among Hispanics, blacks

The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters.

In the 2008 election, robust turnout among black and Latino voters is credited with putting Obama over the top in key swing states, including Virginia and New Mexico.

Voter rolls typically shrink in non-presidential election years and registrations among whites fell at roughly the same rate, but this is the first time in nearly four decades that the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly.

That figure fell 5 percent across the country, to about 11 million, according to the Census Bureau. But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher: just over 28 percent in New Mexico, for example, and about 10 percent in Florida.

For blacks, whose registration numbers are down 7 percent nationwide, and Hispanics, the large decrease is attributed to the ailing economy, which forced many Americans to move in search of work or because of other financial upheaval.

For more on this disheartening trend, please click here

Monica Embrey (Greenpeace) at Occupy Duke