Take Back America 2008 Conference Part 1
Promoted -- GreyHawk.
Notes from Take Back American 2008 Conference
March 17-19, Washington DC
I apologize for, first, coming to this conference at the very last minute and thus rather unprepared, and second for not being the world’s best note taker, and third, for not being able to clean up my notes and get this posted yesterday, the first day. I am at the conference now, and one good thing the conference organizers, The Institute for America’s Future, did was to make sure the conference rooms and public areas of the hotel are blanketed with a wireless connection.
I must also mention that the staff at Press Registration were very gracious, and admitted me as a representative of epluribusmedia.org even though their deadline for press registration was a week past. Somehow, I just had not taken note of this conference, which is one of the most important gatherings of political progressives each year, before. Fortunately, WashingtonPost.com had a good story on Take Back American 2008 on Sunday, the day before the conference started. I also would like to note the rapid and helpful response of Cho and others at epluribusmedia.org when I contacted Cho by email on Sunday afternoon inquiring about the possibility of representing epluribusmedia.org.
Before I get to the panel, I will give a few general impressions. I was hoping to find a general sense of urgency from conference attendees about the general financial crises that have engulfed the U.S. since last summer, and are now seriously impacting the real economy. I found that sense of urgency only among a very small number of people. A worryingly large number of attendees still seem to focused almost exclusively on their particular area of concern, whether it be the environment, health care, or militarism. There is also a bit of a sense of weariness, as one panelist noted in a Q and A session, we have been spending a lot of time and effort the past seven years fighting the encroachments and outrages of the conservative movement in general and the Bush Administration in particular.
However, one significant event at the Conference occurred when Jack Layton, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, called for a re-writing of NAFTA during his speech before the Conference luncheon. Layton is a current member of Parliament, representing the area of for Toronto. Provincial New Democratic Parties currently form the government in the province of Manitoba, and have previously formed government in British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and in the Yukon Territory. Layton’s call for reconsidering NAFTA is important because, in response to recent statements by Obama and Clinton, free-traders in the U.S. have insisted that there are no calls from U.S. trading partners for renegotiating NAFTA.
Debt and Debacle: America in the Global Economy
Naomi Klein is author of Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which details how the economic doctrine of selfishness was created and spread by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman and the conservative movement. Following are some of her remarks I was able to capture with my lousy note taking.
The conservative movement was able to equate free markets with freedom itself. They were able to sell the idea that individual liberty absolutely depended on free markets. And in selling the idea of the ownership society, they got people to believe that we have transcended class: everyone can own a part of market.
But there were a number of contradictions. Paul Bremer imposed radical free markets in Iraq, and that country has never been able to get back to levels of service or production of before the war. The most successful free market society today is China, and they passed over the democracy phase entirely.
It is in Latin America that we are seeing real alternatives to Milton Friedman’s neo-liberal economics that are working. [Note: do not confuse neo-liberal economics with political liberalism]
Right now, the idea of the ownership society presents the biggest crisis for the right, with the mortgage crisis there are now mass evictions from the ownership society. I’m not sure how this will play out: when the tech dot com bubble burst, there were mass layoffs, but we did not see any movement by these unemployed professionals and white-collar workers toward solidarity with unemployed and underemployed workers. What they did instead was check the financial markets to see how their stock was doing.
So I’m worried about what is going to happen as we begin to see mass evictions of people and families from their homes. What is going to be the response from progressives? There really is no coordinated response to this, which can lead to very bad consequences, because the far right -- the racist right -- is filling the vacuum. They are successfully misleading many people into blaming the symptoms they see every day on immigrants. We as progressives have not been confident enough pointing out failures the neo-liberal policies and making bold proposals for alternatives.
In summary, the disaster capitalists have held reign for 35 years, and now we are starting to see the beginning of widespread resistance, now it is time for disaster populism.
The moderator, Rob Johnson of ImpactArtist Management, noted that one of the results of neo-liberalism and the explosive growth of financial markets is that three quarters of the bankers and financiers who ever existed in U.S. history are alive today.
Sirota has written Hostile Takeover : How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--and how We Take It Back in which he observes that the real political divide in the U.S. is not between the Democrats and the Republicans, or the left and the right, but between the People Party and the Money Party. The Republican Party is controlled almost entirely by the Money Party, but so is a large part of the Democratic Party. Sirota has spent the past year “hanging out” with various grass roots groups that are beginning to emerge as a reaction against the corporatist takeover of our government, politics, culture, and society. Most notably, he spent a lot of time with the Minutemen and other groups attempting to close off illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border. His observations will be in a book coming out in a month or two, The Uprising : An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. Following are some of his remarks I was able to capture with my rather unsatisfactory note taking.
Make no mistake, there is a lot of anger out there. The discontent is so deep and so strong, that there is an uprising that has begun. The question now is: In which direction is the anger going to be channeled?
A poll last year show that 67% of Republicans -- not just all people, but Republicans -- oppose the direction these global trade agreements are going. Another poll shows that over 70% of all Americans are uncomfortable with the trends of foreign investment, buying more US assets, and the U.S. becoming more dependent on overseas lenders.
But, what we have to note is that in the polls, similar numbers oppose immigration and support extreme xenophobic policies. There is a rapid, massive growth in very serious nationalistic sentiment. There is a growing sense that does not like so much of our resources being spent overseas.
And this is being directed by the conservatives and Republicans. The Right has mastered the art of finding a scapegoat that has very little power, or very little power to fight back against being scapegoated.
Now, I don’t think most of these people are racists, in the classic sense if being racist. They don’t think they’re racists. I would classify them as being more xenophobic than being classic racists. What they are mostly responding is a sense of helplessness, of powerlessness. I talked to one guy on the border, for example, who said that he had come to helkp patrol the border because he wanted to do something and he really so nowhere else he could lend his shoulder to the wheel. So, I think much of the unrest, the backlash, the growing uprising, comes from feeling of powerlessness, and a real frustration with feeling like their voice is not being heard.
However, we can hope to at least get a time out on existing trade policies, because we are starting to see is a split on the right, with the racists and the xenophobes beginning to turn against the corporatist right. This presents an opportunity for us, but there is also a split developing on the progressive side, which I will talk about later.
So there is starting to be a shift, and there is a consensus emerging for a time out on trade policies. There are a number of proposals that more or less mean a reconsideration of the free trade agreements. In the Senate, Sherrod Brown and Byron Dorgan have introduced legislation that would require the government to report on the domestic effects of each trade pact every five years. In the Peru deal, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison proposed that the trade pactr empower third parties, such as consumer groups and environmental groups, with same powers corporations. That would help these groups do the same for green rights, labor rights that the corporations have done for their own interests.
In the U.S. we don’t talk any more about tariffs, it has become a very bad word. But the same principle as tariffs is being discussed -- all the candidates have been talking about preferential tax treatment, which is not much different than tariffs. Obama has proposed giving preferential tax treatment to companies that stay neutral in union elections. The companies that don’t get the preferential tax treatment are in effect paying tariffs.
The fact is that the United States, in fact, every industrialized economy, was built on use of tariffs and protectionism. Now we are starting to see the return to those principles under the guise of other names.
I said I would talk about a split I see happening among progressives. Our side faces major split -- where our organizational strength and our fund raising strength is not unified around these trade issues and many other economic issues. We are asking many of our major donors to endorse an economic agenda is not in their own best interests. Tom Friedman of all people has seen this and celebrated it, the breaking away from the progressive movement of the wealthy and professional classes. How do you sustain a movement that is largely funded by wealth which that movement questions how that wealth was created. This has the potential to prevent us from going from an uprising to a true economic movement.
Sarita Gupta is the National Field Director of Jobs with Justice (JWJ), a national campaign for workers' rights and economic justice that consists of over 40 local coalitions in cities across the United States.
This has been an objective of Neo-lib globalization: deregulation is designed to concentrate power in fewer corporate hands.
A permanent middle class is being created by pitting blue collar workers and now even white collar workers in the global north against the unemployed poor of the global south. Around the world, 175 million migrants have been displaced by the economic dislocation caused by neo-liberalism and globalization.
In the U.S. labor laws are driven by corporations and their stated needs. The result has been a concerted war on workers and their rights, especially the past seven years under Bush. The National Labor Relations Board has basically taken away bargaining rights, for example by their decision last year to reclassify nurses and other occupations as supervisors.
The displaced and the left behind have created grass roots organizations to defend their rights as best they can. However, these grass roots organizations were not making the connection between the problems they confronted and the larger economic forces unleashed by economic neo-liberalism and .
But then, in 199, came the Battle in Seattle, the protests against World Trade Organization meeting. It marked the emergence of a U.S. grassroots global justice movement.
Global social movements came together to form a world social forum – first was held in 2001 in Brazil. These forums bring together trade unions, indigenous peoples movements, women’s rights organizations, environmental groups to bridge the gap between the global north and the global south. The world social forum connects grass roots in the global south with grass roots in global north.
In India, for example, we had call-center workers in India meet with members of the US union Communications Workers of America, and other American who have lost their jobs because of corporate outsourcing and globalization. For the first time, they were able to meet each other and begin to understand what effects they shared and what effects they had on each other.
We have begun an Asian floor wage campaign. The garment industry has basically finished restructuring and has landed in Asia. That’s where it is located. That’s where people produce items for sale in the Wal-Marts of the world.
We had a U.S. social forum just a few months ago, with over 12,000 attendees in Atlanta, GA, but not surprisingly it was not covered in the corporate controlled news media.
Questions and Answers
Q – What law could be passed that would be most important.
Rob Johnson (moderator) - Outlaw private schools. Force wealthy to deal with public schools. Hedge funds – require asset size restrictions, universal reporting, crack down on executive compensation
Q - Why haven’t we seen more building of these movements?
N K – The Bush years have dramatically derailed us away from building these movements. We have been so focused on getting them out of office, rather than building grassroots movements, we have abandoned the coalitions we were in the process of building. I feel we’re moving backwards because so much of our energy is going toward electoral fights.
D S – There is a growing sense that the system is unjust, but we have had 35 years of the conservatives telling people that if you’re not a millionaire, it’s your own fault. The result is the social connective tissue has deteriorated. We must show that collective interest is in our self interest. The Right has done extremely well in connecting the self-interests of their donors and supporters with their policies. We have a long way to go.
S G – The only time people hear from us is during elections. What are the social connections that used to exist? How do we rebuild them?
N K - Progressives are terrified have being accused of class warfare. But that’s exactly what it is. Look at just this past weekend – you’ve got Bear Stears billionaires being bailed out, while millions are losing their homes.
Q – Why has not the spread of gambling become more an issue for progressives?
D S - Gambling is spreading rapidly because we lost the tax debate in a spectacular way, and states and localities are desperate for sources of revenue. The good news is that we are starting to win the tax debate – in Montana there was a big campaign by conservatives and Republicans to cut the taxes paid by mining companies. But the way we won by that debate was by proposing and alternative tax cut rebate of the same amount to everybody in Montana. So, the bad news is that we’re still talking about tax cuts.
Q – Why have we not seen more opposition to neo-liberal economics and globalization coming from a Congress now controlled by Democrats?
N K – The fact is that the neo-lib agenda is bi-partisan and trans-national. It has supporters in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Goldman Sachs is making a lot of policy for the Democratic Party, and that is probably not the best for a progressive agenda.
Tony Wikrent's Part 2 of Conference Notes are here The Era of Small Government is Over: Take Back America Conference Part 2