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Trump’s New Immigration Crackdown Has Private Prison Investors Salivating

By Lee Fang. This article was first published on The Intercept.

Geo Group, one of the largest private prison corporations in the world, hailed President Donald Trump’s newly-announced immigration plans on a call with investors Wednesday and said that even more business could be on the way if a Republican congressional proposal to expand the incarceration of certain immigrants make it into law.

“With the respect to detention services, in support of border security, we would continue to be the largest provider of detention services to the three largest government agencies, that is ICE, the Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service,” George Zoley, the chief executive of the company, boasted.

“With this increased and expanded approach to border security the first agency that will need additional capacity is ICE,” Zoley said, referring to the administration’s broad immigration orders.

The Trump administration’s announcement on Tuesday that it will end so-called “catch-and-release” policies — effectively requiring longer detention times for certain undocumented immigrants arrested at the border — could bring in new business for the firm. “I believe ICE has been visiting various facilities to expand its capacity,” Zoley noted. Undocumented immigrants arrested in other parts of the country will likely be detained in Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities; the firm manages 26 federal prison centers

Responding to a question from Deutsche Bank analyst Kevin McVeigh about whether demand from government might require the firm to build out additional detention capacity, Zoley raised the prospect of “Kate’s Law,” legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would impose a mandatory five-year minimum sentence for aliens who illegally re-enter the country.

“If that passes, that creates certain additional bed capacity that we haven’t contemplated yet,” Zoley said, noting that federal officials may be “doing their planning work” to prepare for the proposal. The bill is named after Kate Steinle, who was accidentally shot in San Francisco by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a mentally ill individual who had re-entered the country after being previously deported.

Geo Group isn’t the only company celebrating the Trump/GOP immigration agenda. CoreCivic, the private prison firm formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, announced on its earning call earlier this month that the firm expects new business. “When coupled with the above average rate of crossings along the southwest border, these executive orders appear likely to significantly increase the need for safe, humane, and appropriate detention bed capacity that we have available,” CoreCivc chief Damon Hininger noted.

In addition, contractors that serve law enforcement say they are expecting a flood of new border security contracts. Unisys, L-3 Technologies, CACI International, and Motorola Solutions have mentioned in recent weeks that they view border security as a growth area.

“In general, we feel bullish that our focus is increasingly the focus of the new administration,” said Peter Altabef, the chief executive of Unisys Corporation, on a call with financials analysts last earlier this month. “So clearly on things such as border security, which is our largest client in the federal government, I would say we’ve become increasingly bullish about that,” he added.

Andy Teich, the president and chief executive of FLIR Systems, which makes specializes cameras used on the U.S.-Mexico border, said on a call with investors last week that he feels “pretty good” about Trump’s southern border security initiatives. “Border Patrol likes us. We’ve got a very good reputation and track record with CBP. And I think no matter what ends up going on, if there’s more money being spent on the border, it’s reasonable to think that thermal imaging and FLIR will be a part of that,” he added.

As we previously reported, Geo Group was one of the first large publicly-traded firms to make significant campaign contributions to the Trump election effort last year. The firm gave $50,000 to a pro-Trump Super PAC and $45,000 to the Trump campaign via its joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee. CoreCivic also donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration, recent filings show.

The political investments have paid off. The stocks for both companies have rebounded substantially. After reports last year that the Obama administration might end most federal government contracting with private prison firms led to record lows, the stock price for both Geo Group and CoreCivc are again reaching new heights.

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Israel’s shadowy role in Guatemala’s dirty war

By Gabriel Schivone. The Electronic Intifada

Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s Dirty War that left more than 200,000 dead has not been met with justice. William Gularte Reuters

Last year was a busy one for Guatemala’s criminal justice system.

January 2016 saw the arrests of 18 former military officers for their alleged part in the country’s dirty war of the 1980s. In February last year, two ex-soldiers were convicted in an unprecedented wartime sexual slavery case from the same era.

Such legal proceedings represent further openings in the judicial system following the 2013 trial and conviction of former head of state General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court very quickly annulled the trial (finally restarted in March after fitful stops and starts, but currently stalled again), a global precedent has been set for holding national leaders accountable in the country where their crimes took place.

And in November, a Guatemalan judge allowed a separate case against Ríos Montt to proceed. The case relates to the 1982 massacre in the village of Dos Erres.

Ríos Montt was president from 1982 to 1983, a period marked by intense state violence against the indigenous Mayan peoples. The violence included the destruction of entire villages, resulting in mass displacement.

Mayans were repeatedly targeted during the period of repression that lasted from 1954 – when the US engineered a military coup – to 1996. More than 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala during that period, 83 percent of whom were Mayans.

The crimes committed by the Guatemalan state were carried out with foreign – particularly US – assistance. One key party to these crimes has so far eluded any mention inside the courts: Israel.

Proxy for US

From the 1980s to today, Israel’s extensive military role in Guatemala remains an open secret that is well-documented but receives scant criticism.

Discussing the military coup which installed him as president in 1982, Ríos Montt told an ABC News reporter that his regime takeover went so smoothly “because many of our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” In Israel, the press reported that 300 Israeli advisers were on the ground training Ríos Montt’s soldiers.

One Israeli adviser in Guatemala at the time, Lieutenant Colonel Amatzia Shuali, said: “I don’t care what the Gentiles do with the arms. The main thing is that the Jews profit,” as recounted in Dangerous Liaison by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn.

Some years earlier, when Congressional restrictions under the Carter administration limited US military aid to Guatemala due to human rights violations, Israeli economic and military technology leaders saw a golden opportunity to enter the market.

Yaakov Meridor, then an Israeli minister of economy, indicated in the early 1980s that Israel wished to be a proxy for the US in countries where it had decided not to openly sell weapons. Meridor said: “We will say to the Americans: Don’t compete with us in Taiwan; don’t compete with us in South Africa; don’t compete with us in the Caribbean or in other places where you cannot sell arms directly. Let us do it … Israel will be your intermediary.”

The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather program attempted to explain the source of Israel’s global expertise by noting in 1983 that the advanced weaponry and methods Israel peddled in Guatemala had been successfully “tried and tested on the West Bank and Gaza, designed simply to beat the guerrilla.”

Israel’s selling points for its weapons relied not only on their use in the occupied West Bank and Gaza but also in the wider region. Journalist George Black reported that Guatemalan military circles admired the Israeli army’s performance during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Their overseas admiration was so unabashed that rightists in Guatemala “spoke openly of the ‘Palestinianization’ of the nation’s rebellious Mayan Indians,” according to Black.

Military cooperation between Israel and Guatemala has been traced back to the 1960s. By the time of Ríos Montt’s rule, Israel had become Guatemala’s main provider of weapons, military training, surveillance technology and other vital assistance in the state’s war on urban leftists and rural indigenous Mayans.

In turn, many Guatemalans suffered the results of this special relationship and have connected Israel to their national tragedy.

Man of integrity?

One of the most haunting massacres committed during this period was the destruction of the El Petén district village named Dos Erres. Ríos Montt’s Israeli-trained soldiers burned Dos Erres to the ground. First, however, its inhabitants were shot. Those who survived the initial attack on the village had their skulls smashed with sledgehammers. The bodies of the dead were stuffed down the village well.

During a court-ordered exhumation in the village, investigators working for the 1999 UN Truth Commission cited the following in their forensics report: “All the ballistic evidence recovered corresponded to bullet fragments from firearms and pods of Galil rifles, made in Israel.”

Then US President Ronald Reagan – whose administration would later be implicated in the “Iran-Contra” scandal for running guns to Iran through Israel, in part to fund a paramilitary force aiming to topple Nicaragua’s Marxist government – visited Ríos Montt just days before the massacre.

Reagan praised Ríos Montt as “a man of great personal integrity” who “wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” Reagan also assured the Guatemalan president that “the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency.” At one point in their conversation, Reagan is reported to have embraced Ríos Montt and told the Guatemalan president he was getting “a bum rap” on human rights.

In November 2016, however, judge Claudette Dominguez accepted the Guatemalan attorney general’s request to prosecute Ríos Montt as intellectual author of the Dos Erres massacre, pressing him with charges of aggravated homicide, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Among the 18 arrested this year was Benedicto Lucas García, former army chief of staff under his brother Romeo Lucas García’s military presidency. Benedicto, who was seen by some of his soldiers as an innovator of torture techniques for use on children, described “the Israeli soldier [as] a model and an example to us.”

In 1981, Benedicto headed the inauguration ceremony of an Israeli-designed and financed electronics school in Guatemala. Its purpose was to train the Guatemalan military on using so-called counterinsurgency technologies. Benedicto lauded the school’s establishment as a “positive step” in advancing the Guatemalan regime to world-class military efficiency “thanks to [Israel’s] advice and transfer of electronic technology.”

In its inaugural year alone, the school enabled the regime’s secret police, known as the G-2, to raid some 30 safe houses of the Revolutionary Organization of People in Arms (ORPA).

The G-2 coordinated the assassination, “disappearance” and torture of opponents to the Guatemalan government.

While Guatemalan governments frequently changed hands – through both coups and elections – during the 1980s, Israel remained Guatemala’s main source of weapons and military advice.

Belligerence at the border

The Israeli military-security complex casts a long, intercontinental shadow over Guatemalans who are still fleeing the consequences of the dirty war.

In some areas along the US-Mexico border, such as in Texas, the numbers of migrants hailing today from Central America (but only from the countries combusted by US intervention – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) – has begun to outpace the number coming from Mexico.

According to information provided to this author by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office in Arizona, many Guatemalans who have perished while crossing these desert borderlands originated from among the indigenous Mayan areas hit hardest by the 1980s genocide: El Quiché, Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango.

Southern Arizona has also seen a spike in undocumented Guatemalan migration. US firms and institutions have been collaborating with Israeli security companies to up-armor Southern Arizona’s border zone.

The Israeli weapons firm Elbit won a major government contract to provide 52 surveillance towers in Southern Arizona’s desert borderlands, beginning with the pilot program of seven towers currently placed among the hills and valleys surrounding Nogales, a border town split by the wall.

More towers are slated to surround the Tohono O’odham Nation, the second largest Native American reservation in the US. Already the number of federal forces occupying permanent positions on Tohono O’odham lands is the largest in US history.

Alan Bersin, a senior figure in the US Department of Homeland Security, described Guatemala’s border with Chiapas, Mexico, as “now our southern border” in 2012. That “southern border” was heavily militarized during Barack Obama’s eight years as US president.

We can safely expect that militarization to continue during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric during the presidential election campaign suggests it is likely to be intensified.

During the dirty war, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled over this border into Southern Mexico. Today, Israel assists the Mexican authorities in Chiapas with “counterinsurgency” activities largely targeting the indigenous Maya community.

Though media reporting on Guatemala’s connection with Israel has dissipated, Israel’s enterprising efforts in the country have never diminished. Today, Israel’s presence in Guatemala is especially pronounced in the private security industry which proliferated in the years following the so-called Guatemalan peace process of the mid-1990s.

Ohad Steinhart, an Israeli, relocated to Guatemala at this opportune moment, originally working as a weapons instructor. Roughly two years after his 1994 move to Guatemala, he founded his own security firm, Decision Ejecutiva.

Steinhart’s modest 300-employee company is small compared with the colossal Golan Group, Israel’s largest and oldest private security conglomerate in Guatemala.

Founded by ex-Israeli special forces officers, the Golan Group has also trained Department of Homeland Security immigration agents along the US-Mexico border. The Golan Group has employed thousands of agents in Guatemala, some of whom have been involved in repressing environmental and land rights protests against mining operations by Canadian firms. The company was named in a 2014 lawsuit by six Guatemalan farmers and a student who were all shot at close range by security agents during a protest the previous year.

Guatemala’s use of Israeli military trainers and advisers, just as in the 1980s, continues. Israeli advisers have, in recent years, been assisting the current “remilitarization” of Guatemala. Journalist Dawn Paley has reported that Israeli military trainers have shown up once again at an active military base in Coban, which is the site of mass graves from the 1980s. The remains of several hundred people have so far been uncovered there.

The mass graves at Coban serve as the legal basis for the January arrests of 14 former military officers. This past June a Guatemalan judge ruled that the evidence is sufficient for eight of those arrested to stand trial. Future arrests and trials are likely to follow.

Scholars Milton H. Jamail and Margo Gutierrez documented the Israeli arms trade in Central America, notably in Guatemala, in their 1986 book It’s No Secret: Israel’s Military Involvement in Latin America. They worded the title that way because the bulk of the information in the book came from mainstream media sources.

For now, Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s dirty wars passes largely without comment. But Guatemalans know better than most that the long road to accountability begins with acknowledgment.

Yet it is unclear how long it will be before we hear of Israeli officials being called to Guatemala to be tried for the shadowy part they played in the country’s darkest hours.

Gabriel Schivone is writing a book on US policy towards Guatemala.

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Trump Can Prove He’s Not a Putin Puppet by Blowing Up the World

By Norman Solomon

Four weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that “nothing he has done since the inauguration allays fears that he is in effect a Putin puppet.” The liberal pundit concluded with a matter-of-fact reference to “the Trump-Putin axis.”

Such lines of attack have become routine, citing and stoking fears that the president of the United States is a Kremlin stooge. The meme is on the march -- and where it will end, nobody knows.

Actually, it could end with a global nuclear holocaust.

The incessant goading and denunciations of Trump as a Kremlin flunky are escalating massive pressure on him to prove otherwise. Exculpatory behavior would involve setting aside possibilities for detente and, instead, confronting Russia -- rhetorically and militarily.

Hostile behavior toward Russia is what much of the U.S. media and political establishment have been fervently seeking. It’s also the kind of behavior that could drag us all over the brink into thermonuclear destruction.

But c’mon, why worry about that?

For countless media commentators and partisan Democrats including many avowed progressives -- as well as for some Republican hawks aligned with the likes of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- the benefits of tarring Trump as a Russian tool are just too alluring to resist.

To be clear: For a vast number of reasons, the Trump administration is repugnant. And the new president’s flagrant violations of the U.S. Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses are solid grounds for impeaching him. I’m glad to be involved with a nationwide petition campaign -- which already has 890,000 signers -- urging Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. We should go after Trump for well-grounded reasons based on solid facts.

At the same time, we should refuse to be stampeded by the nonstop drumbeats from partisan talking points and mainline media outlets -- as well as “the intelligence community.” It wasn’t mere happenstance when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, openly lied at a Senate committee hearing in early 2013, replying “No sir” to a pivotal question from Sen. Ron Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” The lie was exposed three months later when Edward Snowden made possible the release of key NSA documents.

Yet now we’re supposed to assume straight-arrow authoritative honesty can be found in a flimsy 25-page report "assessing Russian activities and intentions," issued in early January under the logo of Clapper’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That report has been critiqued and demolished by one astute analyst after another.

As investigative journalist Gareth Porter noted, “In fact, the intelligence community had not even obtained evidence that Russia was behind the publication by WikiLeaks of the e-mails [of the] Democratic National Committee, much less that it had done so with the intention of electing Trump. Clapper had testified before Congress in mid-November and again in December that the intelligence community did not know who had provided the e-mails to WikiLeaks and when they were provided.”

More broadly and profoundly, many cogent analyses have emerged to assess the proliferating anti-Russia meme and its poisonous effects. For instance: “Why We Must Oppose the Kremlin-Baiting Against Trump” by Stephen F. Cohen at The Nation; “The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook” by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept; and “The Did-You-Talk-to-Russians Witch Hunt” by Robert Parry at ConsortiumNews.

The frenzy to vilify Russia and put the kibosh on the potential for detente is now undermining open democratic discourse about U.S. foreign policy -- while defaming advocates of better U.S.-Russia relations in ways that would have made Joe McCarthy proud. So, President Trump’s expressions of interest in improving relations with Russia -- among his few lucid and constructive statements about anything -- are routinely spun and smeared as corroborations of the meme that he’s in cahoots with the Russian government.

Many organizations that call themselves progressive are culpable. One of the largest, MoveOn, blasted out an email alert on February 10 with a one-sentence petition calling for a congressional investigation of Trump -- flatly declaring that he has “ties to the Russian government.”

Consider these words from President Trump at his February 16 news conference:

*  “Look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal. Now, I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough -- the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.”

*  “They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

*  “By the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that. Now tomorrow, you’ll say ‘Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.’ It’s not terrible. It’s good.”

Rather than being applauded and supported, such talk from Trump is routinely depicted as further indication that -- in Krugman’s words -- Trump “is in effect a Putin puppet.”

And how could President Trump effectively allay fears and accusations that he’s a Kremlin flunky? How could he win cheers from mainstream newsrooms and big-megaphone pundits and CIA headquarters? He could get in a groove of decisively denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin. He could move U.S. military forces into more confrontational stances and menacing maneuvers toward Russia.

Such brinkmanship would occur while each country has upward of 4,000 nuclear warheads deployed or stockpiled for potential use. Some are attached to missiles on “hair-trigger alert” -- which, the Union of Concerned Scientists explains, “is a U.S. military policy that enables the rapid launch of nuclear weapons. Missiles on hair-trigger alert are maintained in a ready-for-launch status, staffed by around-the-clock launch crews, and can be airborne in as few as 10 minutes.”

Those who keep goading and baiting President Trump as a puppet of Russia’s government are making nuclear war more likely. If tensions with the Kremlin keep escalating, what is the foreseeable endgame? Do we really want to push the U.S. government into potentially catastrophic brinkmanship with the world’s other nuclear superpower?

____________________

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

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At site of 1936 sit-down strike: UAW Members Resisting Honeywell Lockout, Now in 8th Month

By Frank Hammer.

“You brought a breath of fresh air!” That’s how two UAW Local 9 officers summed up the impact of solidarity activists who converged on South Bend, IN on January 5, 2017 to show support for Honeywell workers locked out of their jobs for over 8 months.  More than a dozen UAW autoworkers, retirees and allies drove from Chicago and Detroit despite snow gusts and sub-freezing temperatures to bring encouragement and donations to the 320-member local.

The Local 9 members at a Honeywell Aerospace factory in South Bend, Indiana and the 42 workers at their sister plant in Green Island, NY (members of UAW Local 1508) have been locked out since May 9, 2016 over a contract dispute.  They make braking systems and wheels for commercial and military aircraft, including the Boeing 737, the Boeing B-52, and Lockheed Martin F-35. The average wage was $21.83 per hour.

The dispute is not over their wages.  It’s Honeywell that’s demanding deep concessions in their new 5-year contract, including the elimination of cost-of-living increases and pensions for new workers, cuts in overtime pay, subcontracting out work, restricting representation rights, and more.

Workers rejected Honeywell’s demands by a 90% margin two days before the lockout, and again by 70% on November 23, 2016, even though unemployment benefits were running out.  The locked out workers draw $200/week payments from the Union’s strike fund (and health insurance), plus donations flowing in from a variety of sources including community groups and other union locals which is keeping their food pantry stocked.  Some have found other employment; many have seen their savings depleted.  Six days before the December holidays Honeywell demanded another vote on the identical (modified) proposal presented in November, but local leaders Todd Treder and Bryan Rodgers told Honeywell via a UAW representative, “no dice.”

“They want to bust our union”

In an interview with Treder and Rodgers on the day of the solidarity action, the local reps said the number one objection by the membership was not monetary, but instead about union seniority and other quality of work life rights won over decades of negotiations.  They were even willing to make some concessions on increased co-pays and deductibles in their health care, but the company insists on the right to unilaterally change health coverage, premiums and deductibles.

According to Treder, Vice President and spokesperson for the Local, “3 weeks before the previous contract was set to expire, the company made their proposal by presenting our 2011 contract, with lots of red lines across all the contract language they wanted taken out.  It’s clear to our membership; they want to bust our union.  The company knew full well what it was doing.”  The November vote occurred on nearly the same day that, 80 years ago, workers staged a successful 8-day sit-down strike that forced the then-Bendix Corporation to recognize their UAW local.  , The South Bend plant occupation was a precursor to the 44-day sit-down strike initiated on December 30, 1936 at GM factories in Flint, Michigan.

Honeywell ‘s history with lockouts

Honeywell was prepared to play hardball. Long before the contract vote, they began outsourcing work and shuttling in replacement workers hired by Strom Engineering who followed UAW members around, attempting to learn their jobs.  Strom Engineering markets itself as providing temporary workers – otherwise known as scabs – “to ensure consistent production in the event of a labor disruption.”

“The steps followed by Honeywell,” Rodgers said, “follow a very definite script of not one but two other lockouts waged in 2011 and 2015 against United Steelworkers Local 7-669 at a Honeywell uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill.”  Treder added, “The lockouts there lasted 8 and 13 months.  When Metropolis plant manager Dean Palmer was reassigned to South Bend months before our contract was set to expire, we knew something was up.”  Rodgers said, “The tactic backfired, and unified the local.”

Honeywell says it needs to rein in costs because the aviation industry has hit some “turbulence.”  Yet industry sources report new multi-billion dollar contracts for hundreds of new aircraft, including India’s Spice Jet airlines.  Honeywell International is highly profitable; its stock price quadrupled over the past ten years to $115 per share. CEO David Cote was paid $34.5 million in 2015 and cashed in another $36 million in stock options.  He is in line for a $168 million pension when he retires in March.  The company had record profits of $4.77 billion in 2015.

In a “dear colleague” letter to the locked out workers after the second contract rejection, Honeywell executives expressed “extreme disappointment” with the South Bend Local.  “Our offer is fair, reasonable and consistent with what other U.S. unions within Honeywell have already approved, including another UAW local in Michigan and your colleagues in Green Island (UAW Local 1508, which voted to ratify the company’s offer, but failed to offset the large no vote in South Bend).  We worked hard to provide the union with our best offer and it will not get richer.”

Then-Indiana Governor Pence undermines locked out workers

According to labor journalist Mike Elk, “While President-Elect Donald Trump has tweeted out denunciations of defense contractors for cost overruns associated with producing F-35s, he has yet to call out  Honeywell for asking the Department of Defense for reimbursements from the cost overruns of the cost of hiring and training scab replacement workers, who make brakes for the F-35 and F-18.

“In fact, his Vice President-elect Mike Pence, as the Governor of Indiana, attempted to block the workers from receiving unemployment benefits. Although workers locked out from their jobs in union disputes, are entitled to unemployment benefits, Pence personally intervened to slow down the process of Indiana resident receiving the benefits; thus delaying the workers from receiving benefits for nearly two months.”

“Return to Our Roots”

UAW officials have lent support to the locked-out workers, facilitating donations received by the local, and filing unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB (which is dragging its feet).  Last year they helped with rallies in South Bend and in Albany, NY – where they protested a government decision to award Honeywell an $18.3 million contract for brakes for the Navy’s F/A-18 plane.  However, when the local leaders arranged the second ratification vote in November (with no recommendation),  UAW officials advocated a “yes” vote.  The UAW website has been mum on the lockout since.

The Autoworker Caravan, in conjunction with UAW Local 9 and St. Joseph Valley Project/Jobs with Justice (Indiana), will hold a “Return to Our Roots” solidarity rally in South Bend on Saturday, February 11, 2017 to mark the 80th Anniversary of the UAW Flint Sit-down strike. Unionists and allies are urged to support the courageous Honeywell workers, and to join in!

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Trump is right to criticize NAFTA—but he’s totally wrong about why it’s bad for America

By Jeff Faux. This article was first published on Quartz.

Donald Trump’s promise to renegotiate or tear-up the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement was a major reason why he won the support of working class voters in the Midwestern states that were crucial to his election. It’s also a trap.

As US president-elect, Trump quickly scored some points with his Rust Belt constituency after claiming to get the Carrier and Ford corporations to reduce the number of jobs they are sending to Mexico. He also clearly exaggerated the effect of his personal persuasiveness: Carrier was moved by a $7 million tax break from the state of Indiana and Ford might well have made its decision before Trump intervened. In any event, as the Wall Street Journal reports, other companies, such as Rexnord, Caterpillar, and Nucor continue to send jobs south of the border. Renegotiating NAFTA is therefore the first real test of Trump’s pledge to create good new jobs by negotiating better trade deals.

Will he deliver on this pledge? No. But the reason is not, as the conventional economic wisdom has it, because outsourcing work to low-wage countries is the inevitable result of immutable global forces that no president can reverse. The problem for American workers is not international trade, per se. America has been a trading nation since its beginning. The problem is, rather, the radical new rules for trade imposed by NAFTA—and copied in the myriad trade deals signed by the US ever since—that shifted the benefits of expanding trade to investors and the costs to workers.

A dramatic realignment of economic class interests

Trump is right that the 1994 agreement with Mexico and Canada displaced US jobs—some 850,000, most of which were in manufacturing. But he is wrong in his claim that American workers lost out to Mexican workers because US negotiators were outsmarted. The interests of workers were never a priority for either American or Mexican negotiators.

NAFTA was the first important trade agreement that reflected the dramatic realignment of economic class interests across national borders. The globalization of corporate finance, production, and marketing has disconnected the interests of investors and workers throughout the world. As Jorge Castañeda, who later became Mexico’s foreign minister, observed in his book The Mexican Shock, NAFTA was not a deal between competing national interests. It was “an agreement for the rich and powerful in the United States, Mexico and Canada, an agreement effectively excluding ordinary people in all three societies.”

If NAFTA had been just a “free-trade” accord, it could have been written on a few pages. Instead, it was more than a thousand pages of complex rules that gave corporate investors—who dominated all sides of the bargaining table—privileged access to the US market for goods produced in Mexico where wages are low and regulations weak. The agreement also contained an array of extraordinary protections for investors, including secret dispute settlement panels with the power to override national labor and environmental regulations deemed to threaten profits. US employers’ ability to shift, and threaten to shift, production to Mexico severely undercut the bargaining power of their American workers.

As a result of NAFTA, Mexican workers gained industrial jobs. In the auto industry, for example, employment in Mexico grew 620,000 between 1999 and 2016, while the US lost 360,000 jobs. Yet Mexican wages and working conditions remained suppressed. Although they produce for the same market, workers in the Mexican auto parts industry make 12% of the wages of US auto parts workers. Mexico’s labor costs, meanwhile, are now 40% below China’s, and its 2014 poverty rate was higher than it was when NAFTA began 20 years earlier. The massive surge in illegal immigration from Mexico to the US in the two decades after NAFTA was evidence of the failure of NAFTA to bring its promised prosperity and opportunity to the majority of that country’s workers.

In both the US and Mexico, the gap between worker productivity and worker compensation widened relentlessly. Mexican manufacturing workers productivity rose 80% between 1994 and 2011, while their real wages actually fell about 20%—pulling down US wages, which rose less than half of the gain in worker productivity. The result was an upward redistribution of income from labor to capital in both countries.

Trade agreements are a major cause of this widening gap, although other factors, such as the decline of labor unions and labor market de-regulation, have also played a role. But the currently fashionable idea that US workers are losing ground because they are not educating themselves to keep up with new technology is wrong. This idea is inconsistent with the continuous rise in their productivity, as well as the stagnation in the real wages of young college graduates, whose real wages have not risen since 2000.

What Trump should do—but won’t

For Trump to live up to his promise, he would need to negotiate a rebalanced agreement—one with enforceable labor standards and protections equaling those given to investors—so that workers’ wages on both sides of the border could once again rise with their productivity.

Donald Trump will not do this. He and the Republican-led US Congress are dedicated to the de-regulation, not re-regulation, of labor markets. Trump’s economic advisers come from the same pool of financial interests that negotiated NAFTA for their own benefit 25 years ago. The current Mexican policy elite—whose own increased wealth also depends on low-wage labor—shares their perspective.

Neither will Trump tear up NAFTA. NAFTA was a flawed agreement, but after two decades there are simply too many cross-border business relationships at risk—especially in border states important to Republicans—for him to simply dissolve it. Moreover, pulling out of the agreement would end the cooperation Trump needs from Mexico to police the border, wall or no wall.

As he has on other issues, Trump has trapped himself with his own bombast. His administration’s chaos and confusion is already eroding his popular support. It will likely erode further as it becomes clear that his tax, budget, and health care proposals will redistribute income further up the economic ladder. Thus, it will become even more important for him to keep the loyalty of the Midwestern working class, for whom NAFTA became a major symbol for their populist rage. So, Trump will be forced to re-negotiate NAFTA in a way that appears to change the agreement without actually changing the way it undercuts his supporters’ wages and living standards.

This would be a delicate political task for any negotiator. But after over a year of relentless criticism of NAFTA, Trump appears to have no serious idea of how he would change it.

Mexico’s bargaining chip

Although unclear about his bargaining goals, Trump is clear about his bargaining strategy: bluster, insults, and threats. His style already scuttled a scheduled January meeting with Mexican president Peña Nieto, who would not—as no Mexican leader could—agree to discuss his country paying for Trump’s Wall.

On paper, Mexico’s bargaining position is weak. Because of NAFTA, 80% of its exports now go to the US. Pre-NAFTA Mexico was self-sufficient in essential staples like corn and gasoline; today it has become increasingly dependent on US suppliers. Moreover, time should be on Trump’s side. Uncertainty among investors about Mexico’s future access to the US market (link in Spanish) has already slowed growth to a crawl. A falling peso has raised the price of gasoline, setting off large anti-government demonstrations around the country. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s popularity has fallen to 12% and he has less than two years left in his term.

But Peña Nieto’s weakness also gives him a bargaining chip. The political assumption of the original NAFTA was that closer integration with the US would, as one American negotiator blurted out to me in 1993, would “keep the Mexican Left out of power.”

Today, Trump’s rhetoric has inflamed a Mexican electorate already alienated by increasing inequality, corruption, and the spread of criminal violence. The left nationalist, Manuel Lopez Obrador, a fierce critic of US influence in Mexico, is ahead in the polls for Mexico’s 2018 presidential election. Forcing onerous concessions on Mexico at this point could ignite a political explosion and result in a Mexican government that would be a nightmare for the business interests represented both Trump’s and Pena Nieto’s negotiators.

The erratic and belligerent Trump might, of course, drive US-Mexican relations over a cliff. But he prides himself as a deal-maker, not a deal-breaker. So the most likely outcome is a modestly revised NAFTA that: 1) Trump can boast fulfills his pledge 2) Peña Nieto can use to claim that he stood up to the bullying gringo 3) doesn’t threaten the low-wage strategy for both countries that NAFTA represents.

Revisions might include weakening NAFTA’s dispute settlement courts, raising the minimum required North American content for duty-free goods, and reducing the obstacles to cross-border trade for small businesses on both sides of the border.

Changes like this could marginally improve the agreement, and would be acceptable to the Canadians, who have been told by Trump that he is not going after them. But from the point of view of workers in the American industrial states who voted for Trump, the new NAFTA is likely to be little different from of the old one. The low-wage strategy underlying NAFTA that keeps their jobs drifting south and US and Mexican workers’ pay below their productivity will continue.

But you can bet that Trump will assure them that it is the greatest trade deal the world has ever seen.

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