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Change, Cost and Compassion — Selling Medicare For All

By Brad Bannon

Republicans have been as quiet as church mice on healthcare reform since the latest version of what I call “Trump(Doesn’t)Care” crashed and burned in the Senate. President Trump will try to kill ObamaCare by executive fiat while the president’s addled allies in Congress bumble their way into their next half-baked scheme to produce tax cuts for the rich and misery for working families.

Democratic initiative trumps GOP inertia. No one could accuse Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of being asleep at the switch while Trump golfs and Senate Majority Leader Mitch O’Connell enjoys his summer vacation. Sanders is using the summer congressional work session to work at building support for his universal health proposal, Medicare for All.

The GOP is great at killing laws but bad at giving birth to them. The late great Democratic Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, used to say, “A jackass can kick a barn down but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

A hidden winner in the battle between ObamaCare and TrumpCare has been Medicare for All. Since the bitter cage match between Affordable Care Act and the efforts to repeal and replace it erupted, support for universal healthcare has exploded.

Last March an Associated Press national survey indicated that there was roughly an even split (52 percent agree while 47 percent disagree) between Americans who believed that the federal government had a responsibility to provide healthcare coverage to everyone and people who didn’t think the feds had that obligation.

In a new AP poll, support for universal coverage had increased so much there is now a large majority (62 percent to 37 percent) of Americans who believe the federal government has the responsibility to guarantee health insurance for all Americans.

Democrats would lose a great chance to fundamentally reform the broken healthcare system and the party’s establishment if we aren’t bold. Here are the best arguments progressives must make to provide Medicare for all.

First, the need for fundamental change. The healthcare system, like a lot of other systems in the United States, is a mess. Is it any wonder that only 1 in 4 (27 percent-Gallup Poll) Americans think the country is headed in the right direction?

Trump rode the wave of anger and hostility towards the status quo into the White House. But TrumpCare hurts the people who supported Trump. A bold remedy for fundamental change in the ailing healthcare system would help position the Democratic Party as the party of change and reform and help win back working families who jumped ship in 2016 to support the GOP presidential candidate.

The U.S. spends more money per capita for healthcare than any country in the world and gets little in return. Inflationary medical costs are jobs killers. Millions of Americans are in danger of bankruptcy to pay for medical care for serious injuries and infirmities. Meanwhile insurance companies are reaping enormous profits and their CEOs are paid exorbitant salaries.

The second argument for Medicare for All is the need to reduce costs. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that U.S. spending for healthcare in 2016 was $9,024 per person. The average spending for all developed nations was only $3,620.

According to OECD, the average life expectancy for Americans has increased by nine years since 1960. In Japan, life expectancy has risen by fifteen years. The average increase for developed nations is eleven. The mortality rate for American men without a high school education — the Trump base — has decreased.

The best way to lower healthcare costs is to take private insurance companies and their highly paid CEOs out of the equation. In 2015, Cigna CEO David Cordani made $49 million and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolino made nearly $28 million. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is responsible for Medicare, makes $199,700 per year.

Economist Thomas Frank recently pointed out in the New York Times that Medicare administrative costs are only 2 percent. Administrative costs for private insurance companies are about 6 times higher.

Lastly, there is the argument for compassion. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”

Even if ObamaCare survives, there still will be 26 million Americans who do not have health insurance coverage. If some version of TrumpCare replaces the Affordable Care Act, another 15 to 26 million people will join the ranks of the uninsured. Neither program adequately addresses the problems millions of other Americans have in paying rising premiums for coverage.

TrumpCare is hard hearted and mean spirited. Republicans didn’t plan to fail, they just failed to plan for a reasonable alternative to ACA for people who need coverage.

The GOP wants to cut Medicare. We should build on Medicare as a foundation to build a better system. The Sanders’ Medicare for All plan is the best way to fundamentally clean up the mess. We already have universal coverage for the seniors and the disabled. Even though Medicare is socialism for seniors, anytime the GOP tries to get rid of it, the effort crashes in flames.

Medicare is a popular program with a long track record of success. The Kaiser family Foundation asked Americans how they felt about giving all Americans access to Medicare and found that a large majority (57 percent to 38 percent) people favored the idea.

The blood feud between Republicans and Democrats over healthcare reform this year in Congress is just a skirmish; not the decisive battle in the health reform war. The path to real healthcare reform is a long and winding road that doesn’t end at the intersection of ObamaCare and TrumpCare.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. (There is no relation to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon). He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics. Contact him at brad@bannoncr.com

Leo W Gerard: Workers Need Better Trade Deals, Not More Talk

President Donald Trump, author of “The Art of the Deal,” said this week that China is giving American workers and companies a crummy one. He promised to do something about it.

This occurred within days of his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, demanding “fair, free and reciprocal” trade in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats offered a seven-point plan to give workers what they called “A Better Deal on Trade and Jobs.”

American workers want all of these proposals achieved. They’ve heard this stuff before and supported it then.  That includes ending tax breaks for corporations that offshore jobs – something that never happened. It includes the promise to confront China over its steel and aluminum overcapacity – a pledge followed by delay. Talk is cheap. Jobs are not. The factory anchoring a community’s tax base is not. America’s industrial strength in times of uncertainty is not. All the talk is useless unless workers get some action.

President Trump is expected to announce within days the launch of an investigation into China forcing American corporations to transfer technology to the Asian giant’s companies as a price of doing business there. The technology transfer boosts China’s goal of becoming the leading manufacturer within a decade in high-tech areas such as semiconductors, robots, and artificial intelligence. In addition to seizing American research and know-how, Beijing advantages its technology companies by granting them government cash.

This is the kind of unfair competition that Secretary Ross talks about in his Wall Street Journal op-ed.Under so-called free trade rules, governments aren’t supposed to subsidize industry or demand that foreign investors fork over research.

These kinds of violations, not just with China but with other trading partners as well, have occurred for decades now. And the upshot for American workers is lost jobs and stagnant wages.

More than 5 million American manufacturing jobs disappeared between 1997 and 2014. Most of these vanished, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), because of growing U.S. trade deficits with countries like Mexico and China that had negotiated trade and investment deals with the United States.

The United States’ massive trade deficit with China alone accounted for 3.4 million jobs lost between 2001 and 2015, with 2.6 million of those in manufacturing, according to EPI research.

While offshoring manufacturing has often padded corporate profits, it has suppressed wages in the United States and in trading partner countries like Mexico. United Technologies (UT) is a good example.

UT moved to Mexico this year its Electronic Controls unit, which manufactures microprocessors for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. UT did this even though its 700 American workers had produced consistent profits for UT at a factory in Huntington, Ind. UT also moved a big chunk of its profitable Carrier HVAC manufacturing from Indianapolis to Mexico this year. UT’s stock price rose, so the already-rich who have cash to invest, made out.

They did it on the backs of workers in the United States and Mexico, however. The move to Mexico rendered jobless more than 1,000 skilled American workers. Studies show that if they’re lucky enough to land new employment, the pay will be substantially less.

Mexican workers gained the jobs, but the pay they’re getting is little better than before NAFTA. More than half of Mexicans still live below the poverty line, a figure no different than before NAFTA. The New York Times cited this case: “For 10 years, Jorge Augustín Martínez has driven a forklift for Prolec, a joint venture with General Electric that makes transformers. A father of two, he earns about $100 for a six-day workweek.”

Mexican wages have remained stagnant for a decade.

In the United States, wages have been flat for longer – several decades.

This as corporate profits rise, the stock market skyrockets and CEO pay surges limitlessly.

Trade deals worked great for the already-rich, CEOs and corporations. They’ve crushed workers.

So it’s encouraging that both President Trump and the Democrats are talking about solutions.

The president is right. American corporations shouldn’t have to transfer technology to China to operate there. The United States doesn’t require that of Chinese companies manufacturing here. No such demand was made of Foxconn when it agreed to build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin last week – though it is true that Wisconsin Republicans plan to force the state’s taxpayers to contribute $3 billion toward the plant, nearly a third of the total cost.

And the Democrats are right about every point in their “Better Deal” plan. Workers need an independent trade cop they can turn to for quick results to combat trade violations before they cost Americans jobs. Corporations like UT and Rexnord should be penalized when they offshore and when they seek government contracts. Corporations that restore jobs to the United States should be rewarded.

So do it. And don’t procrastinate like the administration is doing on its investigation of the national security threat posed to the United States by steel and aluminum overproduction in China. The report in that case originally promised for June 30 now has been indefinitely delayed. Each day’s wait means more American workers without jobs as illegally subsidized, grossly underpriced Chinese steel and aluminum floods the international market.

America’s highly skilled, dedicated steel and aluminum workers perform their jobs faithfully every day with the expectation that their government will enforce international trade regulations. They also expect their government to support their right to join together and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. As right-wingers have eroded workers’ bargaining rights over the past half century, unions have declined, and with them, workers’ ability to secure raises. This is true in Mexico too, where there are virtually no legitimate, worker-run unions.

Timothy A. Wise, a research fellow at Tufts University, put it this way to the New York Times: “Mexico is seeing exactly the same phenomenon as in the United States. Workers have declining bargaining power on both sides of the border.”

To ensure there are no more crummy trade deals, workers must be at the table when these pacts are negotiated. To get better wages, workers in all the countries involved in these deals – from China to Mexico to the United States – must be able to form real, worker-controlled labor organizations to bargain with corporations.

Leo W Gerard: Don’t Dawdle on Economic and National Security

The future of the American steel and aluminum industries is not a matter for dithering.

Steel worker takes a sample from oven

Each mill and smelter that remains operating is too vital. Each is too crucial to the economic viability of a corporation, a community, and thousands of workers and their families. Each also is too essential to national security, which relies on American-produced metals for critical infrastructure, from bridge construction to the electrical grid, and for munitions, from fighter jets to bullet-proof vests.

There is no more time for waiting. International trade law must be enforced now. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump pledged his support to workers and these industries. And he followed through by launching within three months of taking office as president special investigations into the effects of steel and aluminum imports on national security. Such inquiries may take as long as a year to conclude, but the administration expedited the process. Until it didn’t. Now steel and aluminum corporations, their communities and their workers are being told to wait. It’s a delay that could kill more American mills and smelters.

The nation lost nine aluminum smelters over the past six years, leaving only five in the entire country, and most of them are now operating at reduced levels. Beginning in January 2015, steel companies laid off 14,000 workers as they closed mills and sections of mills. For example, Allegheny Technologies shuttered a plant that made grain oriented electrical steel in 2016, leaving only one U.S. company, AK Steel, now producing this component critical to electricity transmission.

As mills and smelters disappear, the military is further restricted in its ability to secure domestically produced essential metals in time of crisis.

The primary culprit in this scary scenario is overcapacity and overproduction in China, which overwhelms the world market with illegally subsidized, grossly underpriced aluminum and steel.

China has promised repeatedly to solve this problem. On Thursday it pledged again, this time contending it wanted to work globally to deal with the issue of aluminum overcapacity – a problem Beijing created. Over the past six years, using massive government subsidies, China quickly ramped up capacity to become the largest aluminum producer in the world.

China can’t be trusted on this because it never keeps its promises. It has never cut its steelmaking capacity after announcing again and again that it would. In negotiations last week, Trump cabinet members could not even get a specific commitment out of China to do it. There’s no evidence China will stop overproducing steel or aluminum now. Waiting is useless. And destructive to American manufacturing.

The American steel and aluminum industries have fought back, filing and winning dozens of trade cases against imports of specific products. But the resulting tariffs and other penalties imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) didn’t solve the problem. Instead of paying U.S. tariffs, China shipped its government-supported excess of these products to other countries, artificially suppressing world prices and warping what is supposed to be a free market.

Also, this traditional process for seeking relief from unfair trade takes too long. More than a year may elapse before companies and workers get a final decision. And that will be for just one product, like aluminum extrusions, aluminum foil, welded stainless steel pressure pipe or corrosion-resistant steel, to name a tiny number of cases from recent years.

That’s part of what made the special investigations into steel and aluminum imports so attractive. If the U.S. Commerce Department determined under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that imports of steel and aluminum jeopardized national security, then the president could impose penalties broadly to ensure the country could meet its own needs. The effort might also spur allies to join the United States in finally pressuring China sufficiently to actually reduce capacity.

Although Section 232 allows for nine months of investigation, after which the President would have three months to determine a remedy, the administration promised quick action when it announced the inquiries in April. The steel report was to be completed by June 30, with a speedy decision by the president after that.

That suggested the administration understood this was urgent.

But June 30 came and went. Now there’s an official delay. The administration told the Wall Street Journal that the steel investigation is on hold until after health care reform, tax changes and infrastructure spending are accomplished.  “We don’t want to do it at this moment,” the president said Tuesday of the steel case.

That’s devastating. Especially because steel imports have jumped 22 percent since Jan. 1, placing additional pressure on the American industry.

The delay occurs as efforts are made by a new company to reopen at least one potline at an aluminum smelter in New Madrid, Mo., that the now-bankrupt Noranda company idled last year. Postponing the Section 232 decision makes for uncertainty for these investors.

It also occurs as a Chinese company is trying to buy Aleris, an Ohio-based manufacturer that supplies aluminum for use in vital infrastructure and military applications. That Asian firm, China Zhongwang, is accused of dodging tariffs and is under civil and criminal investigation for possible smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department.

Maybe the Aleris smelters would keep operating if China Zhongwang bought them, but at what risk to national security?

The delay occurs as companies that buy steel fear monger that tariffs or quotas would raise prices.

An expert, Stephen Koplan, chairman of the U.S. ITC under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says that’s hogwash. “Predictions of disaster were wrong 15 years ago when I chaired the ITC, and they are wrong again today,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper this week.

When President George W. Bush imposed tariffs and quotas on steel imports under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, there was no price shock afterward, according to a study by the nonpartisan U.S. ITC.  Here is what Koplan, who also served as an attorney at the Small Business Administration, wrote:

“Downstream industries were not devastated by higher steel prices. Nor was the U.S. economy thrown into depression. The U.S. steel industry, however, earned a much-needed relief as the result of action taken by the president that allowed it to restructure and reinvest for the long term. In other words, the Section 201 measures worked as intended.

“We are facing similar challenges again today. . .Now, however, U.S. national security is at great risk if firm action is not taken immediately. The U.S. primary aluminum industry is on the verge of disappearing entirely, and the U.S. steel industry is not far behind.”

AK Steel Corp. CEO Roger Newport agreed with Koplan’s assessment that this is not a time for dawdling, telling the Commerce Department in his testimony on the steel case:

“High-end electrical steel is an incredibly difficult product to manufacture, as it requires a significant amount of dedicated, capital equipment and a sophisticated, well-trained workforce. Therefore, if AK Steel were to exit the market, there would be no operational electrical steel manufacturing equipment in the United States, the specialized labor and related expertise in operations would be lost, and many of AK Steel’s talented operators and researchers would either relocate to other businesses, industries and/or foreign countries, or become unemployed.”

Workers’ and companies’ economic security is at risk. The nation’s security is at risk. Resolution of these cases should be speeded, not delayed.

Leo W Gerard: “Do No Harm” Still Hurts

Photo of locked gate at closed steel mill by Getty Images.

Promises were made.

And workers believed candidate Donald Trump when he pledged to stop corporations from exporting American factories. Workers cast votes based on Trump swearing he would end the trade cheating that kills American jobs.

This week, though, workers got bad news from Washington, D.C. President Trump proposed virtually eliminating funding for a Labor Department bureau that helps prevent U.S. workers from having to compete with forced and child labor overseas. In addition, the administration issued only vague objectives for renegotiating the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

When NAFTA has cost at least 900,000 Americans their jobs, vague is unacceptable. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his first rule in negotiations for a new NAFTA would be to “do no harm.” That’s not good enough. That’s the status quo, and promises were made. The first rule should be to “do substantial good.”

Substantial good would start with clear, firm goals for renegotiating NAFTA. That would include returning those 900,000 jobs to the United States. That would include restoring the jobs the United States continues to lose, like the 350 that disappeared this year when Rexnord closed its Indianapolis ball bearing factory and moved production to Mexico. And like the 632 jobs at Carrier in Indianapolis that will begin vanishing this week when the first layoff notices are issued because the heating and air conditioning manufacturer shifted some production to Mexico.

In Monterrey, where both Rexnord and Carrier moved jobs, the minimum wage is $3.90 a day. Not an hour. It’s $3.90 a day. There is no way for American workers to compete with that. What they were looking for from the NAFTA renegotiation goals is some help.

Instead, they got pabulum. Yes, there’s a whole section on labor, and it says the labor provisions should be in the main document, not in a side agreement. But the fuzzy language doesn’t provide much hope for workers like those who just lost their jobs at Carrier and Rexnord.

It says, for example, that NAFTA countries should have laws regarding minimum wage, hours of work and occupational health and safety. That’s great. But Mexico has a minimum wage. It’s one so low that, as former presidential candidate Ross Perot would say, it sucks American factories right across Rio Grande.

The NAFTA negotiation targets don’t say that the minimum wage should be a living wage or specify how it would be policed to prevent forced and child labor.

Within the U.S. Department of Labor, there’s a section called the Bureau of International Labor Affairs that monitors compliance with labor provisions in international trade agreements and pays for programs to reduce child and forced labor internationally. The intent is to prevent American manufacturing workers earning family-supporting wages from competing with third world children paid with bread and blankets.

The administration has, however, said it wants to gut that program, cutting its funding by 80 percent. In addition to workers, American food and clothing corporations have objected. Nate Herman, a senior vice president for the American Apparel and Footwear Association, told the Washington Post that without the bureau’s efforts, “you’re saying, basically, that it’s okay for forced labor and child labor to run rampant, which undercuts our own labor force.”

Without specific protections in NAFTA and without even the Bureau of International Labor Affairs programs, U.S. workers are subjected to a no-win competition with exploited foreign workers. The Americans end up unemployed, like those at Carrier and Rexnord. The foreign workers continue to be abused.

Promises were made to American workers. They need to be kept. Big league, not halfway.

For example, the solution to Carrier, owned by United Technologies, moving out of Indiana was a half measure.

United Technologies spared about 700 jobs at the Indianapolis Carrier plant only after Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of the state, handed the corporation $7 million. None of the 700 jobs at the other United Technologies plant in Indiana was saved. All of those went to Mexico.

That’s not what Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail. At a rally in Indianapolis last spring, he pledged: “Here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to call me, and they are going to say, ‘Mr. President, Carrier has decided to stay in Indiana . . . One hundred percent. It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent. 100 percent.”

But then, it was President-elect Trump who called Carrier. And it wasn’t 100 percent. It wasn’t even 80 percent. And, to make matters worse, United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes said that the millions he’d promised to invest in the plant would be spent on automation, further reducing jobs.

This is, according to the Trump administration, Made in America Week. It began at the White House Monday with a showcase of products produced in every American state, from fire trucks to door hinges. But to really revive American manufacturing, the administration must keep its campaign promises. And that means strong language in a renegotiated NAFTA and strong enforcement of other international trade deals and trade laws.

“No harm” is not enough for the administration that promised to cure the injury that international trade inflicted on workers.

Brad Bannon: 4 Reasons Why Democrats Should Support Medicare For All

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) call for Democrats to campaign on and fight for a national single-payer health insurance program is just the remedy the doctor ordered for her party.

Here are the four reasons for Democrats to push the envelope on health care reform.

Medicare for all is good policy

ObamaCare provided health insurance to nearly 20 million Americanswho didn’t have it, but the law still leaves 26 million out in the cold. If TrumpCare replaces ObamaCare 22 million people will be unprotected by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Medicare for all means just that. Everybody would be covered.

The only way to lower healthcare costs is to take private insurance companies and their highly paid CEOs out of the equation. Economist Robert Frank recently pointed out in the New York Times that Medicare’s administrative costs are only 2 percent of its total cost.

Administrative costs for private insurance companies are about 6 times higher.

Medicare for all is good politics

Democrats must push aggressively on issues where we have a big advantage. A survey conducted in June by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal indicates that the biggest advantage Democrats have over Republicans is on health care. Americans think Democrats do a better job on healthcare than Republicans by a margin of 43 percent to 26 percent.

President Andrew Johnson once said Washington is 12 square miles surrounded by reality.

The conventional wisdom in the swampland is that Medicare for all is a health hazard for Democrats. But a national survey last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found American supported the expansion of government run healthcare.

So, what are Democrats afraid of anyway?

A Fight for Medicare for all Demonstrates Democratic Determination

Trump won because he sounded and acted like a bull in a china shop which is what angry voters wanted. In contrast, Democrats walk on eggshells and don’t sound angry enough to shake things up in Washington. A push for universal health insurance is a great way for Democrats to prove that they’re not intimidated by D.C. conventional wisdom and a tough fight.

Leadership means Dems need more than blind opposition to Trump.

Republicans including Trump win with all sorts of push the envelope issue stands. During the campaign last year Trump and most successful GOP candidates pushed for repeal of ACA, even though few voters wanted to destroy Obamacare.

A poll conducted for National Public Radio last month showed that only a quarter of the public favored repeal while everybody else either wanted to fix Obamacare or even extend it.

Taking unpopular stands on issues demonstrates leadership and boldness to Americans who are frustrated with the status quo. The good news for Dems is that Medicare for all is more than twice popular than Trumpcare.

Medicare for all is easy to explain

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) was chairman of the committee that took the lead in the consideration of President Bill Clinton’s healthcare proposal. When he first saw the plan with more than a thousand pages Clinton submitted to Congress, he told his aide Lawrence O’Donnell that he could reform the healthcare system simply by deleting 3 words “65 and older” from the legislation that created Medicare health plan for seniors.

You can’t sell legislation that you can’t explain.

Medicare for all would be a lot easier to explain to the public than either Clinton’s or Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The Clinton and Obama proposals were incredibly complex. The bill the Clintons sent to Congress in 1993 clocked in more than 1,000 pages. The final version of the Affordable Care Act was 906 pages long.

In the fight for Clintoncare and Obamacare, the devil was in the details. Presidents Clinton and Obama both had a problem building support for health care reform because both proposals were so complex and difficult to explain. The lesson Dems need to take from past health initiatives is the KISS principle, keep it simple, stupid.

None of this will be easy but Dems need to get it done.

Truman proposed a health insurance program for seniors in 1945 and again in 1949. Medicare did not become law until Lyndon Johnson pushed Congress to enact it in 1965. LBJ had a big Democratic majority in Congress. Right now, Democrats are a minority in Congress.

The fierce battles over ObamaCare and Trump demonstrate that any health reform fight will be long, tough and polarizing. So, if Democrats take the time and trouble to fight, they might as well just go for the gold.

A big push for single payer health care insurance would take years but it is an opportunity Democrats can’t afford to miss and a responsibility the party can’t ignore.


Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. Campaigns and Elections magazine called him a mover and shaker in the political consulting industry. He hosts and contributes to the nationally syndicated progressive talk show, “The Leslie Marshall Show.” Bannon is also a political analyst for CLTV, the cable news station of the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com. Contact him at brad@bannoncr.com.

Leo W Gerard: American Workers Seek Enforcement, Not Protection

American workers have made a simple request of politicians for decades: stop the trade violations that kill American manufacturers and jobs.

Art by dzejdi, Getty Images

American factories and workers are willing to compete. They are able to compete. But the playing field must be level. American workers and employers can’t win when their rival is not a company but a country. U.S. manufacturers and unions have filed untold numbers of cases against trade law violators, and they almost always win. As a result, the United States now has 28 separate tariffs on a variety of Chinese steel products, and in January it filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization about China’s aluminum policies.

But China and other countries continue to violate and circumvent the rules. So now, President Donald Trump is contemplating invoking a section of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to ensure America can produce its own steel and aluminum for national security. Badmouthing this effort as protectionism are importers and 1 percenters. They’ve tried to characterize American workers and their employers as crybabies seeking protection. But no one is asking for protection.  American workers and manufacturers want trade law enforcement to establish fair competition and ensure national security interests.

Those who have been screaming “protectionism” like banshees since Trump announced that his administration would investigate whether to impose tariffs or restrictions on imports of aluminum and steel for national security contend free trade enriches all countries involved. But what they don’t say is who gets that money. In the United States, it has all gone to the already filthy rich.

Sure, the price of paper and furniture is cheaper at Walmart, but that’s pretty meaningless to the North Carolina furniture builders who lost their jobs when their factories moved to China and the Maine paper workers who lost their jobs when their mills closed because of underpriced, government-subsidized Chinese imports.

And it’s not just individuals. Free trade has devastated hundreds and hundreds of small American towns that depended on that now-closed factory or mill to employ the populace and pay municipal taxes.

Workers at the Century Aluminum Co. plant in Hawesville, Ky., know that well. They’ve watched their region deteriorate as the nearby Whirlpool factory moved to Mexico, costing 1,100 workers their jobs. Cheap unfairly traded Russian imports put a local steel mill out of business. Underpriced Chinese imports closed down the area’s furniture factories. And a glut of subsidized Chinese aluminum on the international market shuttered an Alcoa smelter in nearby Indiana last year, costing 600 workers their jobs.

Still threatened is the Century Aluminum smelter, the last left in the United States that makes the specialty metal needed to protect soldiers in Army Humvees from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Twice over the past five years, Century has issued notices to its workers in Hawesville that it would close permanently. Luckily for the town of 1,000 residents, Century has been able to reverse course on both occasions. Still, it has furloughed more than 300 workers and scrapped unused machinery for cash. It is one of only five smelters still operating in the United States, just two of which are running at full capacity. That is down from 23 smelters 24 years ago.

Sometimes a town that loses a major employer gets a new one. But all too often it’s just not enough. When Ormet Corp. closed its smelter in Hannibal, Ohio, in 2013, more than 600 workers lost their jobs. Now a power plant is planned. But it will employ only about 20.

American aluminum and steel workers are highly skilled. The plants where they work – or once worked – are efficient and emit far less pollution than their Chinese counterparts. All things being equal, they should be able to compete. But all things aren’t equal.

Many foreign competitors receive aid from their governments that is banned under trade rules they agreed to abide by. This includes free loans from state-owned banks, free land from local governments and state-subsidized raw materials.

Because of such blatant and outrageous trade law violations, U.S. Steel last year asked the government to stop all imports of Chinese steel. In its petition, U.S. Steel described in detail Chinese officials stealing trade secrets and Chinese companies engaging in a practice called trans-shipping, which is sending steel through a third country where it is falsely marked as originating to illegally duck tariffs.

U.S. Steel was one of five companies, including a specialty steel firm and an aluminum corporation, that the Chinese government cyber attacked. The U.S. government has criminally charged five Chinese military officials with economic espionage for breaking into U.S. Steel computers and swiping information on company strategies.

Soon after the Chinese cyber-attack, one of the country’s largest steel firms, Baosteel, used U.S. Steel trade secrets to produce specialty metal for the car industry, then exported some of it to the United States, in direct competition with U.S. Steel.

This pattern of cheating certainly has not stopped. Within recent days, it was announced that a Chinese state-owned bank was giving a $2.9 billion bailout to the largest aluminum producer in the world, China Hongqiao, which is staggering after allegations of fraud.

Such government-subsidized Chinese aluminum and steel flooding the international market and depressing prices kills American jobs. Bob Prusak, president of Magnitude 7 Metals, put it this way, “My company just purchased an aluminum producer that was in bankruptcy. We’re trying to restart that facility. It is impossible for us to do that if other companies receive seemingly endless subsidies or benefits from markets protected through tariff and non-tariff barriers.”

That aluminum smelter is in New Madrid, Mo., and was owned by Noranda. At one point, Noranda employed 900 workers there. Its closure last year threatens to destroy the town of 3,000, located in what is already among the poorest parts of the state.

Enforcement of international trade law – not protectionism – could help Magnitude 7 Metals restore those jobs and save the area from devastation. Enforcement would help ensure that the United States can produce the specialty aluminum that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said is essential for production of F-35 fighter jets. Enforcement would help ensure that the United States can continue to produce the steel used in transformers crucial to electrical transmission. Only one domestic steel mill remains capable of forging that steel.

No American aluminum smelter or steel mill can remain in business just supplying the military. It must operate in a viable commercial environment. For that to happen, international trade rules must be enforced. A good first step in that direction would be imposing Trade Expansion Act penalties that are as strong as American defense must be.

Leo W Gerard: Veto The Cold-Hearted Health Care Bill

Donald Trump is right. The House health insurance bill is “mean, mean, mean,” as he put it last week. He correctly called the measure that would strip health insurance from 23 million Americans “a son of a bitch.”

The proposal is not at all what Donald Trump promised Americans. He said that under his administration, no one would lose coverage. He said everybody would be insured. And the insurance he provided would be a “lot less expensive.”

Senate Democrats spent every day this week pointing this out and demanding that Senate Republicans end their furtive, star-chamber scheming and expose their health insurance proposal to public scrutiny. That unveiling is supposed to happen today.

Republicans have kept their plan under wraps because, like the House measure, it is a son of a bitch. Among other serious problems, it would restore caps on coverage so that if a young couple’s baby is born with serious heart problems, as comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s was, they’d be bankrupted and future treatment for the infant jeopardized. Donald Trump has warned Senate Republicans, though. Even if the GOP thinks it was fun to rebuff Democrats’ pleas for a public process, they really should pay attention to the President. He’s got veto power.

Republicans spent the past six years condemning the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which passed in 2010 after Senate Democrats accepted 160 Republican amendments, held 110 bipartisan public hearings and conducted 25 consecutive days of public floor debate. Despite all of that, Republicans contend the ACA is the worst thing since Hitler. That is what they assert about a law that increased the number of insured Americans by 20 million, prohibited discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions and eliminated the annual and lifetime caps that insurers used to cut off coverage for sick infants and people with cancer.

The entire cavalry of Republican candidates for the GOP nomination for President promised to repeal the ACA, but Donald Trump went further. He pledged to replace it with a big league better bill.

In May 2015, he announced on Twitter: “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.”

In September 2015, he said of his health insurance plans on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

In another 60 Minutes interview, this one with Lesley Stahl last November, he said, “And it’ll be great health care for much less money. So it’ll be better health care, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination.”

In January, he told the Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He explained, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

But then, the House Republicans betrayed him. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure they passed, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid. It said people with pre-existing conditions and some older Americans would face “extremely high premiums.”

Extremely high is an understatement. Here is an example from the CBO report: A 64-year-old with a $26,500 income pays $1,700 for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but would be forced to cough up more than half of his or her income – $16,000 – for insurance under the House Republican plan. Overall, premiums would increase 20 percent in the first year. And insurers could charge older people five times the rate they bill younger Americans.

House Republicans said states could permit insurers to squirm out of federal minimum coverage requirements, and in states where that occurred, the CBO said some consumers would be hit with thousands of dollars in increased costs for maternity care, mental health treatment and substance abuse services.

In the first year, the House GOP plan would rob insurance from 14 million Americans.

So much for covering everyone with “great health care at much less money.”

It’s true that President Trump held a party for House Republicans in the Rose Garden after they narrowly passed their bill. But it seems like he did not become aware until later just how horrific the measure is, how signing it into law would make him look like a rank politician, a swamp dweller who spouts promises he has no intention of keeping.

By last week when President Trump met with 15 Senate Republicans about their efforts to pass a health insurance bill, he no longer was reveling in the House measure. He called it “cold-hearted.”  He asked the senators to be more “generous,” to put “additional money” into their version.

Senators told reporters that President Trump wanted them to pass a bill that is not viewed as an attack on low-income Americans and provides larger tax credits to enable people to buy insurance.

Now that sounds a little more like the Donald Trump who repeatedly promised his health insurance replacement bill would cover everyone at a lower cost. Still, those goals remain amorphous.

The House bill is stunningly unpopular, almost as detested as Congress itself. President Trump seems to grasp the enormity of that problem. But even his calling it a “son of a bitch” doesn’t seem to have been enough to persuade senators that he’s serious about getting legislation that achieves his promises to leave Medicaid intact, cover everyone and lower costs.

Republican senators deciding the fate of millions of Americans must hear from Donald Trump that passing a health insurance bill that doesn’t fulfill his campaign promises is, shall we say, a cancer on the Presidency.

A veto threat would get their attention.

Even if the GOP thinks it was fun to rebuff Democrats’ pleas for a public process, they really should pay attention to the President who called the House health insurance bill “a son of a bitch.” After all, he’s got veto power.

Letter To Editor: March For Universal Healthcare

Submitted by Tim Butterworth, Chesterfield, NH.

The GOP has failed to find an improvement to the ACA. The Democrats aren’t even trying. It’s time for the American people to rise up and demand universal health care, and US labor should lead them.

Labor has fought for health care in the past. It’s essential for workers, but we spend so much time negotiating for the insurance companies we don’t have time left for wages. Workplace insurance ties workers to their jobs. It has hamstrung industry and makes us less competitive, tying up twice as much of our economy as most other nations. It was a winning issue in the past, and we could be a leader in fixing the current mess too.

Half of our healthcare is public now – medicare, medicaid, VA and military families, all the politicians and federal, state and municipal office workers, and the uninsured who access the emergency rooms are getting publicly-funded health care. Wrap it all in a bundle, a single plan, call it Americare, and let all people buy into it at a rate based on their income. See how many stick with their private insurance companies then, with their 15-20% administration fees and millionaire CEO’s.

Universal healthcare. It’s a simple idea: when you’re sick, you get care. Call it the “public option” for a transition away from private insurance, or medicare for all. Our two parties are failing. Labor should march into the vacuum.


(Here’s another take on this:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/28/trumpcare-popular-universal-healthcare)


 

Brad Bannon: Trump Trolling of Comey — Not Presidential

Why does President Donald Trump attack James Comey so often and so bitterly?

Last week, the president resumed his attack against the FBI director he fired. The continuation of the attacks on Comey indicate that the president sees his former FBI director as a threat to his survival in the White House.

Trump’s new tweet suggested Comey and the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, were too friendly for an impartial investigation into the charge that his former national security adviser lied about his relationship with Russian officials.

The testimony clearly had an impact on Mueller too.

Only six days after Comey’s dramatic testimony, The Washington Post and other media outlets reported that the special prosecutor was investigating attempts by Donald Trump to obstruct justice.

 Why was Comey’s testimony so compelling for the public and important to Mueller?

His testimony was matter of fact, unassuming and detailed. The dramatic content and the presentation made his testimony compelling.

His testimony certainly didn’t lift the fog off the Russian/Trump affair that envelops the credibility of the chief executive.

Comey laid it all on the line and went as far to say that the president lied and wanted to obstruct the probe.

After a veteran prosecutor and a law enforcement official who has served presidents of both parties calls the president of the United States a liar; a political tornado and a legal inquiry will follow.

The committee hearing also signaled to Mueller that there might be a bipartisan political opening for his probe.

I’m sure that the special prosecutor saw that some Republicans failed to defend the president against the accusations during Comey’s testimony.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made no effort to defend the president and the chairman asked Comey a series of questions that set up his criticism of the president.

My guess is the president flipped out when Burr egged his witness on instead of challenging the testimony of the fired FBI director — especially since Trump, on the advice of counsel, could not express his frustration with a tweetstorm.

Burr’s behavior is just one sign of Republican concerns about Trump’s behavior. At least some GOP members of Congress are more concerned about their own political hides than the fate of the scandal plagued president.

The public is inclined to support the special prosecutor if he aggressively investigates the president and his cronies for illegal collusion with the Russians and an attempt to obstruct justice in the case.

Most Americans believe Trump fired his FBI director to obstruct justice in the Russian collusion investigation.

A poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News indicates a clear majority of people think the president fired Comey to protect himself instead of doing what’s best for the country.

The outcome of a court case might be murky, but it’s clear we already have a winner in the court of public opinion.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. (He is not related Trump adviser Stephen Bannon.) Campaigns and Elections magazine called him a mover and shaker in the political consulting industry. He hosts and contributes to the nationally syndicated progressive talk show, “The Leslie Marshall Show.” Bannon is also a political analyst for CLTV, the cable news station of the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com. Contact him at brad@bannoncr.com.

Leo W Gerard: Subjugation in Steel

Image of USW member at EVRAZ North America by Steven Dietz

One cost of freedom is steel. To remain independent, America must maintain its own vibrant steel industry.

Steel is essential to make munitions, armor plate, aircraft carriers, submarines and fighter jets, as well as the roads and bridges on which these armaments are transported, the electrical grid that powers the factories where they are produced, the municipal water systems that supply manufacturers, even the computers that aid industrial innovation.

If America imports that steel, it becomes a vassal to the producing countries. It would be victim to the whims of countries that certainly don’t have America’s interests in mind when they act. In the case of China, the attempt to subjugate is deliberate. Beijing intentionally overproduces, repeatedly promises to cut back while it actually increases capacity, then exports its excess, state-subsidized steel at below-market costs. This slashes the international price, which, in turn, bankrupts steelmakers in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Spain and elsewhere. Then, China dominates.

To his credit, President Donald Trump has said America can’t be great without the ability to make its own steel. He ordered the Commerce Department to investigate the extent to which steel imports threaten national security. Commerce officials are scheduled to brief Senate committees on the inquiry today. That’s because they’re being second guessed by a handful of federal officials, exporters and corporations whose only concern is profit, not patriotism. To protect national security, American steel and family-supporting jobs, the administration must stand strong against foreign unfair trade in steel that kills American jobs and creates American dependency.

Imports already take more than a quarter of the U.S. steel market. They rose in May by 2.6 percent, seizing a 27 percent market share. That is dangerous. America can’t rely on unfairly traded foreign steel as it tries to expand manufacturing jobs or when it faces foreign threats. Defense needs are the basis of the administration inquiry, called a Section 232 investigation under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

National security relies on dependable, modern transportation and utility systems as well as armaments. To produce defense materials, factories need supplies to arrive routinely and electricity to flow consistently. Steel is just as crucial for roads, bridges, airports and utilities as it is for armor plate.

Some importers are pressuring Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross not to recommend imposing limits or tariffs on steel imports, asserting that the only consideration should be price. They contend that if China, South Korea, Japan and Turkey subsidize their steel production, which lowers the cost of exports, then American builders should benefit – no matter how much that damages national security or destroys steelworkers’ family-supporting jobs. Their preoccupation with profit at their country’s expense should disqualify them from consideration.

To be clear, American steel companies and my union, the United Steelworkers, have tried repeatedly to resolve the problem of trade cheating through normal channels – filing trade enforcement cases against the violators. But the United States has refused to take currency manipulation by countries like China into account. And every time an American company wins an enforcement case against a trade law violator and tariffs are imposed on a particular type of steel import, China and other cheaters begin subsidizing a different type of steel and exporting that.

American companies  have won dozens of cases – welded stainless steel pressure pipe, rebar, line pipe, oil country tubular goods, wire rod, corrosion-resistant steel, hot-rolled steel, cold-rolled steel, cut-to-length plate, grain-oriented electrical steel. But in every case, countries like China and South Korea find a way to circumvent the rulings by subsidizing some new steel product and exporting that or by trans-shipping – sending the product to another country first to make it look like the steel originated there to evade the tariffs.

American steel producers and steelworkers can compete successfully against any counterpart in the world, but they can’t win a contest against a country.

The USW and American producers are looking for a broader solution now, something that will prevent cheating and circumvention across-the-board. And they have good reason to believe they can count on Commerce Secretary Ross. This is a guy who knows the industry and has a track record of saving steel mills and jobs.

At the turn of the century, as recession and the Asian financial crisis pushed more than 30 U.S. steel companies into bankruptcy, Secretary Ross bought a half dozen failing steel firms and restored them to solvency.

Because of his experience, Secretary Ross can be trusted to know the difference between China and Canada. American steelworkers and steel producers aren’t looking for blatant protectionism. American firms and Canadian companies have relationships in which steel from Canton, Ohio, may travel to St. Catherines, Ontario, where it is converted into engine blocks that are then shipped back across the border to Detroit, Mich., for installation in cars. Canada doesn’t illegally subsidize its steel industry or manipulate its currency. Only countries like China, Russia, South Korea and others that flagrantly violate international trade rules should be subject to the Section 232 sanctions.

Secretary Ross experienced the hell of 30 steel bankruptcies. He knows just how bad it can be for workers, companies and the country. With President Trump at his back, Secretary Ross now is key to ensuring American steel doesn’t descend back into that hell and that America remains steel independent.

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