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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.

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.

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.

Leo W Gerard: Trump Offers Fool’s Gold to Fund Infrastructure

Image from USW / Getty

Donald Trump surrounds himself in gold. The signs on Trump buildings shimmer in it. His penthouse in New York is gilded in it.

He claims now to have found the alchemy to conjure $1 trillion in infrastructure gold. He plans to put up a mere $200 billion in federal funds and stir it together with $800 billion in private investment and state dollars.

That is fool’s gold. A falsely-funded infrastructure program is a massive broken promise. America needs real improvements to roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, water systems and railways. That requires a commitment of real tax dollars, not the relinquishment of America’s public assets to profit-seeking private Wall Street entities. Americans should not be charged twice for maintenance of the public good, once through tax breaks to investors and again in outrageous tolls and fees the investors charge.

On Wednesday, standing on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Trump reiterated the pledge he made repeatedly on the campaign trail to put $1 trillion into infrastructure. He said “restoring America” is a promise that Washington, D.C., has broken. “It has not been kept, but we are going to keep it,” he said.

“Taxpayers deserve the best results for their investment,” he said, “and I will be sure that is what they get.” But the plan to turn over public assets to private corporations for tax-supported investment is gold only for the 1 percent who can afford to invest.

The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that to raise the private funds, Trump planned to give massive tax breaks of 82 percent of equity to investors that help pay for infrastructure repair. For citizens, that’s a crappy deal – giving Wall Street control over public assets in addition to being forced to fork over the taxes that rich investors will not pay.

That financial alchemy creates poison, not gold.

In addition, there is no profit in many types of infrastructure that need repair, like schools and hospitals. A corporation can’t collect tolls from children entering their elementary school each morning.

Despite Trump’s promise in Cincinnati that he would take care of rural areas, there’s no profit in many crucial infrastructure projects in such regions. Investors won’t pay for a highway needed to connect two isolated towns in West Virginia.

And the profit in some projects is highly questionable. Several corporations that have bought or built toll roads have filed for bankruptcy. This includes highways in Texas, California, Indiana and Alabama.

In other cases, the profits reaped are outrageous. After Chicago sold its 36,000 parking meters to Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street bank doubled the parking rates and charged the city tens of millions annually for meters Chicago took out of service for street repairs, mass transit stops and safety. A city inspector general report on the deal says Chicago under-priced the meters by nearly $1 billion when former Mayor Richard M. Daley signed the 75-year contract in 2008. The bank is expected to make back its $1.15 billion investment by 2020, giving it 60 more years to rake in pure profit on the backs of Chicago taxpayers who paid to install the meters and who feed them daily.

That’s gold for Morgan Stanley, grief for taxpayers.

Another part of Trump’s financing plan is to shift infrastructure costs to states and towns. This also cheats too many citizens. Sure, some places high on the hog like Silicon Valley might be able to afford that. But too many will be left out.

That’s because large numbers of cities and states are facing fiscal crises. Chicago sold its parking meters to fill a budget shortfall. In Oklahoma, where there’s a $900 million budget gap, schools are so underfunded that 96 of the state’s 513 districts have reduced the school week to four days and another 44 may be forced to do that in the fall. The state has shuttered rural hospitals, overcrowded its prisons and limited state troopers to 100 miles of driving a day.

In Kansas, with a $1.1 billion budget deficit, the state Supreme Court just ordered the legislature to properly pay for its schools. The court said Kansas’ under-funding meant inadequate education in basic reading and math for students in one fourth of its public schools. The state shortchanged half of the state’s black students and a third of its Hispanic pupils.

Illinois hasn’t had a budget for two years. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times. It has accrued $14.5 billion in unpaid bills. As a result, more than 1,500 public university and community college workers have been laid off and untold numbers of social service agencies have closed or severely curtailed services.

Other states, including Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, face massive pension shortfalls after years of failing to properly pay into the funds.

These places aren’t going to be able to jump up and take on the federal government’s responsibility to invest in infrastructure.

Even the $200 billion that the Trump administration is saying the federal government will provide is in question. It’s in the budget Trump submitted to Congress, but also in that budget is $206 billion in cuts to existing infrastructure programs, including those conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Army Corps of Engineers. That’s the very Corps of Engineers that would pay for the river lock and dam projects that Trump complained Wednesday in Cincinnati were grossly underfunded, causing costly breakdowns.

That kind of budgeting is bad alchemy. That’s not $1 trillion in infrastructure gold.

Trump said Wednesday, “We will build because our people want to build and because we need them to build. We will build because our prosperity demands it. We will build because that is how we make America great again.”

That sounds wonderful. But to build, projects must be properly paid for. And so far, the Trump administration has offered only pyrite.

Leo W Gerard: Workers Want A Green Economy, Not A Black Environment

The BlueGreen Alliance

To justify withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, President Trump said during his press conference yesterday, “I was elected to represent the city of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

From terrible experience, Pittsburghers know about pollution.

Before Pittsburgh’s renaissance, the streetlights Downtown frequently glowed at noon to illuminate sidewalks through the darkness of smoke and soot belched from mills. White collar office workers changed grimy shirts midday. To the west 130 miles, the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned – several times.

Pollution sickened and killed. It triggered asthma and aggravated emphysema. In Donora, just south of Pittsburgh, an air inversion in 1948 trapped smog in the Monongahela River valley.  Poisonous steel mill and zinc plant emissions mixed with fog and formed a yellow earth-bound cloud so dense that driving was impossible. Within days, 20 people were dead. Within a month, another 50 of the town’s 14,000 residents succumbed.

Some viewed pollution as a blessing, a harbinger of jobs. Air that tasted of sulfur signified paychecks. For most, though, pollution was a curse. It meant scrubbing the grime off stoops daily. It meant children wheezing and gasping for air. It meant early death.

The preventable deaths are why my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), has fought against pollution for decades, long before scientists conclusively linked it to global climate change. That connection made combatting pollution even more urgent. It crystalized our obligation to save the planet for posterity. Signing the Paris Climate Accord last year committed the United States to preserving what we all share, the water and the air, for our children and their children. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement moves the United States, and the world, back in time to rivers so toxic they burn and air so noxious it poisons. Trump’s retreat makes America deadly again.

Don’t get me wrong. The USW supports job creation. But the union believes clean air pays; clear water provides work. Engineers design smokestack scrubbers, skilled mechanics construct them and still other workers install them. Additional workers install insulation and solar panels. Untold thousands labor to make the steel and other parts for wind turbine blades, towers and nacelles, fabricate the structures and erect them. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord diminishes these jobs and dispatches the innovators and manufacturers of clean technologies overseas where countries that continue to participate in the climate change agreement will nurture and grow them.

Eleven years ago, the USW joined with the Sierra Cub to form the BlueGreen Alliance because USW members believe Americans deserve both a clean environment and good jobs. The USW believes Americans must have both. Or, in the end, they will have neither.

The Alliance, which now includes more than a dozen unions and environmental groups, has collaborated with industry leaders to find solutions to climate change in ways that create high -quality jobs.

It’s an easy sell to many corporate leaders. Shortly after the election last fall, hundreds of companies and investors, including the likes of Nike and Starbucks, signed a letter asking Trump to abandon his campaign rhetoric about withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

In April, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including giants Google, BP and Shell, also wrote Trump urging against reneging on nation’s climate commitment. They said that because the agreement requires action by all countries, it reduces the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies that comply with environmental regulations.

More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Trump that disavowing the accord would injure U.S. business, the economy and the environment. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Trump that if he turned his back on the accord, Musk would resign from two White House advisory boards.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, also urged Trump to keep the United States’ commitments under the 195-nation pact, rather than joining Syria as an outlier. Syria and Nicaragua are the only non-signatory countries, but Nicaragua declined to sign because its leaders felt the accord was not strong enough.

The streetlights never switch on at noon in Pittsburgh anymore. The Cuyahoga River now supports fish that live only in clean water. Donora’s sole reminder of those dark days in October of 1948 is a Smog Museum.

But the United States remains the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. It has an obligation to lead the world in combating climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility.

Leo W Gerard: Trump’s Budget Slashes Opportunity

A few hundred billion cut here, a few hundred billion slashed there, and the Trump budget proposal released this week adds up to real crushed opportunity.

Image From Getty Images

The spending plan slices a pound of flesh from everyone, well, everyone who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire. For the rich, it promises massive tax breaks.

There are cuts to worker safety programs, veterans’ programs, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, vocational training, public education, environmental protection, health research and more. So much more. The list is shockingly long.

Each incision is painful. But what’s worse is the collective result: the annihilation of opportunity. The rich can buy opportunity. The rest cannot. What was always special about America was its guarantee of opportunity to everyone. All who worked hard and pulled themselves up by their  bootstraps could earn their own picket-fenced home. This budget terminates the goal of opportunity for all. It declares that the people of the United States no longer will help provide boots to those who lost jobs because of NAFTA, the residents of economically depressed regions, the children of single mothers, the sufferers of chronic diseases, the victims of natural disasters. No bootstraps for them. Just for the rich who hire servants to pull the straps on their fancy $1,500 Gucci footwear.

The minimum-wage servant class doesn’t have a prayer under this budget. Trump condemns them to a perpetual prison of poverty. His budget denies them, and even their children, the chance to rise. It treats no better the precarious middle class and workers whose jobs are threatened by imports. It even screws veterans.

Achieving the American Dream depends on a good education, and the Trump budget would extinguish that possibility for tens of millions. The breadth and depth of the cuts to public education are gobsmacking. They’ll enable billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to use the money instead to subsidize private school tuition for the Gucci class.

While DeVos helps the already-rich attend pricey private schools, she and Trump would cut $345.9 billion from public education, training, employment and social services. That includes $71.5 billion from public elementary, secondary and vocational education. They’d take $11.4  billion from education for disadvantaged children and $13.9 billion from special-needs children.

They’d withdraw $183.3 billion from higher education including $33 billion from financial assistance. They say to kids who failed to be born to wealthy parents – too bad for you, no low-interest student loans for brilliant poor students and far fewer grants for the talented who could cure cancer if only they could afford college tuition.

Many of these aspiring students can’t turn to their parents for help because they’ve lost jobs as manufacturers like Rexnord and Carrier closed American factories and shipped jobs to Mexico or China. Trump and DeVos would also decimate help for the parents to get back on their feet, eliminating $25.2 billion for training and employment.

If the parents’ unemployment insurance runs out as they search for new jobs and their cars are repossessed, mass transit may not be an option for commuting to new positions. Trump would cut it by $41.6 billion.

If a furloughed worker in North Dakota or Minnesota or Pennsylvania can’t afford to pay the heating bill, Trump’s government would no longer help. He would eliminate entirely the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, ending aid that can mean the difference between life and freezing to death for 6 million vulnerable Americans.

If laid-off workers ultimately also lose their homes to foreclosure, Trump is unsympathetic. He’d cut $77.2 billion from housing assistance. His advice: take your bootless feet and live in the street.

And don’t expect any government cheese once there. Trump would carve $193.6 billion out of food stamps. He doesn’t even spare infants, with an $11.1 billion smack to the program that feeds pregnant women and their babies. School kids can’t expect food either. Trump and DeVos say too bad for them if they can’t hear their teachers over their growling stomachs. Trump takes nearly 21 percent away from the Agriculture Department, which subsidizes school lunches for low-income kids.

Trump also stiffs families that lose their health insurance because they can’t afford COBRA premiums after a job loss or can’t find new employment before their COBRA eligibility expires. Trump slashes $627 billion from Medicaid, and that’s on top of draconian cuts in his so-called health plan that would cost 14 million Americans their insurance coverage next year and 23 million over 10 years. Trump says: no health care for the down and out.

For the residents of West Virginia glens with closed coal mines, and the citizens of shuttered mill towns in Western Pennsylvania and the in habitants of Michigan municipalities struck down by offshored auto manufacturing jobs, Trump would purge $41.3 billion from the community development program that provides both jobs and otherwise unaffordable crucial municipal improvements.

The unemployed or under-employed who hoped for jobs in Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure program receive no reprieve in this proposed spending plan. It removes $97.2 billion from airports, $123.4 billion from ground transportation and $16.3 billion from water transportation projects.

Trump is mulling sending thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, and for some young people with few options, that service is attractive because it comes with good medical and education benefits. But the Trump budget diminishes that chance at success as well, ripping $154.1 billion from veterans’ services including $94.4 billion from hospital and medical care and $511 million from veterans’ education and training.

For young people who thought the AmeriCorps program might be an employment substitute for the military, no luck. Trump’s spending plan abolishes that service program.

Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget redefines America.  No longer the land of opportunity, it would be a place of welfare for the rich in the form of million-dollar tax breaks and subsidies for exclusive private schools. For the rest, hope would be extinguished. For them, Trump’s budget would convert America the beautiful into America the hellish hole.

Leo W Gerard: Stop China’s Stealth Invasion

A country claiming the greatest military on earth can’t be without some things. Steel is an obvious one.

Image from Getty Images

In the age of drones, aluminum is another. Aluminum is essential for flying machines like the F-35 joint strike fighter and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, for armor plating on army vehicles and naval vessels and for countless infrastructure projects including bridges and roads.

Obviously, then, for the United States to retain top ranking, it must protect its aluminum industry. That industry, though, is under a two-pronged stealth attack from China. For more than a decade, the Chinese have ramped up their own aluminum production and dumped the excess on the world market, depressing prices and bankrupting Western producers. Now, a corrupt Chinese company that is under investigation by three U.S. agencies is trying to buy an American aluminum firm. To ensure national security, that must be stopped. America can’t be beholden to China for aluminum.

In 2000, China produced only 11 percent of the world’s aluminum. Now it’s more than 50 percent. Just between 2010 and 2015, China doubled production, even as demand for aluminum within the country slowed. Chinese companies continued to ramp up because they received massive government subsidies, including cheap power, loans and raw materials. That kept Chinese workers employed but created stockpiles of aluminum. So China exported the excess, overwhelming the world market and driving down prices.

This shattered the U.S. industry. In 2000, 23 aluminum smelters operated in the United States. Now there are only five, with just two at full capacity. Thousands of American aluminum workers lost their good, family-supporting jobs in just the past three years.

Aluminum producers filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Commerce about the illegal subsidies and about Chinese companies dumping products in the United States at prices below production costs. And in 2011, the department penalized Chinese extrusion producers, including one called China Zhongwang, with tariffs as high as 374.15 percent.

With that added cost, China Zhongwang’s U.S. sales plunged. Zhongwang, the world’s second-largest producer of aluminum extrusions, then schemed to dodge the sanctions, leading to criminal and civil investigations of possible smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud. The Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department are all scrutinizing Zhongwang.

Zhongwang and associates are accused of shipping nearly 1 million tons of aluminum to Mexico with the intent of then sending it across the border tariff-free under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as if it had been manufactured in Mexico. Shortly after the aluminum trade association discovered this massive stash, amounting to 6 percent of the world’s aluminum inventory, much of it was whisked away to Vietnam, another country notorious for involvement in what is called transshipment, that is, concealing commodities’ country of origin to evade tariffs.

In addition, the U.S. Aluminum Extruders Council accused Zhongwang and companion companies of another plot to skirt tariffs. Firms associated with Liu Zhongtian, a Chinese billionaire who controls Zhongwang, shipped thousands of tons of pallets made of aluminum extrusions to a factory in a Philadelphia suburb.

These “pallets,” which weighed more than three times American-made aluminum pallets, escaped tariffs specific to extrusions because, supposedly, they were pallets. Pallets, typically though, are designed to be light to reduce shipping costs.

Company officials contended the heavyweight pallets made from extrusions were to be sold as pallets, not dismantled or melted for other uses. Shortly after the Wall Street Journal began asking questions about them, though, they disappeared. Just like the $2 billion worth of aluminum in Mexico.

The Commerce Department wasn’t fooled by this sleight of hand. In November, it announced that the pallets were an attempt to circumvent the 2011 tariffs on extrusions.

Even while Zhongwang remains under investigation, it announced plans to buy American aluminum company Aleris for $2.3 billion from a private equity firm. Aleris, with 14 plants around the world, makes rolled aluminum for a variety of industries, including aerospace and automotive, and significantly, armor plate for the U.S. military.

The U.S. military cannot be dependent on a Chinese-owned company to outfit American armored vehicles or meet other critical needs. In November, a dozen U.S. senators asked Obama’s treasury secretary to block the deal because it would “directly undermine our national security, including by jeopardizing the U.S. manufacturing base for sensitive technologies.” My union, the United Steelworkers (USW), which has 950 members employed at Aleris, also has repeatedly protested the proposed sale, including in a letter sent last week to new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

It would be far too easy for Zhongwang to appropriate Aleris’ trade secrets, then run the company into the ground, further cementing China’s illegally-subsidized domination of the world aluminum market. Zhongwang could also exploit Aleris operations to circumvent U.S. tariffs. Based on past performance, that would be no surprise.

The U.S. government has taken important steps toward protecting the crucial American aluminum industry. Before he left office in January, former President Obama launched a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization against the Chinese government over its subsidies to the aluminum industry.

In March, the Commerce Department began investigating complaints that Beijing illegally subsidized aluminum foil shipped to the United States by 230 Chinese companies.

Last month, the Trump administration initiated an inquiry into the effect of aluminum imports on U.S. national security, which could lead to tariffs or import restrictions. But it’s not Canada or some other allied country causing the problem. It’s China.

And just last week, the Senate confirmed Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative. He has railed against America’s comatose response to abusive Chinese trade practices that have bankrupted American industries and killed American jobs. That includes dirty tricks like creating pallets out of extrusions and transshipping from Mexico and Vietnam.

Lighthizer assured the Senate he intended to firmly enforce trade law. That’s good because he must stop China’s stealth invasion before it overcomes the entire U.S. aluminum industry.

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