Wednesday, September 29, 2010

College for all: its disappointments

Is it wise for the vast majority of high school students to plan to attend college? No, say experts in the fall issue of American Eductor, a professional quarterly published by the American Federation of Teachers.

For one thing, fewer than half of high school seniors who seek a bachelor’s degree succeed in their goal.
“We must find a way of being honest with our youth without crushing their dreams,” say the experts in a long critique of what they call the “college-for-all movement.”

They charge the movement with “idealizing” the four-year bachelor of arts (BA) degree by promoting false assumptions, chiefly that a BA guarantees higher earnings and that higher earnings guarantee better jobs. Consequently, many students do not consider non-BA options, plentifully offered by community colleges and even regular colleges with certificates and applied associate (AA) degrees that can lead to well paying and satisfying careers.

“We all know that many people with jobs that require a BA (e.g., teachers social workers, etc.) are paid less than some people with jobs that require an AA (e.g., computer specialists, engineering technicians, mechanics, heating/air conditioning repairers, dental and medical assistants, insurance appraisers, and funeral directors,” write the authors of one article, James E. Rosenbaum, Jennifer L. Stephan, and Janet E. Rosenbaum.

“As a nation, “ writes Chris Myers Asch in another article, “we need young people to become skilled carpenters, electricians, lab technicians, nurse practitioners, and drill sergeants. By pushing college to the exclusion of other options, we indulge in what might be called the inadvertent bigotry of inappropriate expectations.”

For practical guidance to hundreds of different jobs, order the Bureau of Labor Statistics' “Occupational Outlook Handbook” at http://www.bls.OCO.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Sssshhh! China is a Communist Country

The greatest innovation of China’s Communist Party is building a hybrid market economy, a pragmatic and profitable blend of capitalism and socialism that keeps the Party’s own dominant role “off the front stage of public life in China and out of sight of the rest of the world.” In his fascinating new book, “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.” Richard McGregor describes how the Party achieved this remarkable success in organized duplicity.

As a journalist in the People’s Republic for more than a decade, he observes: “Foreigners in China can be forgiven for thinking they are not in a Communist state.” Yet a Communist state it is indeed.

“Like communism in its heyday elsewhere,” he writes, “the Party in China has eradicated or emasculated political rivals; eliminated the autonomy of the courts and press; restricted religion and civil society; denigrated rival versions of nationhood; centralized political power; established extensive networks of security police; and dispatched dissidents to labor camps.”

Nowadays, the Party has deliberately relaxed its hold on the daily lives of ordinary people, the better to keep “a lock hold on the state and three pillars of its survival strategy: control of personnel, propaganda, and the People’s Liberation Army.” Vladimir Lenin, who devised the prototype, would recognize it immediately in the People’s Republic, McGregor shows, because the necessary Leninist institutional and behavior patterns have endured, “generally masked or dressed up in other guises.”

Foreigners have helped. Before, during, and after his historic trip to China in 1972, Richard Nixon made sure that “Communist” did not embarrass him with his base at home. Mao Zedong was simply the Chairman, not the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. The State Department’s record of the trip, including the speeches, toasts, and press conferences did not mention the word “Communist” even once.

Although most Westerners are well informed about the growth of China’s economy, they know much less about the Party’s powerful role in that economy. At all major state enterprises, for example. Party meetings are held regularly before board meetings, which leave personnel matters in the hands of the Party.

One day in November 2004 the Central Organization Department announced without warning that the top executives of three big state-owned telecom companies had been reshuffled. McGregor makes this striking comparison: “It was the equivalent of the CEO of AT&T being moved without notice to head its domestic U.S. competitor, Verizon, to run Sprint, at a time when the three companies are locked in a bruising battle on pricing and industry standards….The deliberate element of surprise…serves the Party’s purposes perfectly, by reminding them who’s boss.”

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Viewing the trade deficit with China as a form of subversion

Entitled “Chinese Water Torture: Subversion Through Development,” the Heritage Foundation in 1992 published a lecture on how open trade would open up the Peoples Republic of China and bring the downfall of its Communist regime.

Because the Heritage paper was so certain about how “subversive” trade can be, I saved it. I found it only the other day.

The author, Andrew B. Brick, then Heritage’s Senior Policy Analyst for Chinese studies, first delivered the lecture at Florida State University on January 22, 1992, He described how his strategy would work – using outside influences such as trade to “open up a Communist society” would create “political grievances that undermine the extant regime.”

Eighteen-plus years seems like enough time to assess the consequence of Brick’s formula, especially because the United States followed it in a bipartisan way supported by people who had never read his lecture.

The biggest clue for an assessment is found in the U.S. Commerce Department data on U.S. merchandise trade. All last year the United States

-- Imported $296,373,900,000,000 in goods from China
-- Exported $ 69,496,700,000,000 in goods to China, a deficit of $226,877,300,000,000, compared to $18,309,000,000,000 the year when Brick was delivering his lecture.

The U.S. trade deficit since 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, has caused direct pain especially to American workers. Between 2001 and 2008, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the deficit with China caused a loss of 2,400,000 U.S. jobs.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are putting pressure (i.e., getting down on their knees) for China to stop manipulating its currency in a way that bolsters China’s trade advantage and puts a dent in the U.S. GNP. Moreover, Washington has repeatedly declined to name China a currency manipulator out of fear that China would take retaliatory action.

So who is applying Chinese water torture against whom? Who is subverting whom?

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Obama ‘weak, cautious’ on trade

In an article titled “Obama’s Big Failure,” Susan Ariel Aaronson, associate research professor of George Washington University, criticizes the President’s trade policy as “cautious and vague.”

“Because they have not put forward an alternative model,” she writes in International Economy magazine, “by default, Obama Administration officials have accepted the Bush paradigm for trade liberalization.”

Dr. Aaronson identifies the chief mark of this “timidity” as going along with the Bush switch of trade negotiations from the multilateral forum to the bilateral and regional, which pursue “preferential” rather than free trade agreements. This reorientation “undermines both the effectiveness of the World Trade Organization and its fundamental principle of most favored nation (nondiscrimination among nations).”

“The result has been a mish-mash of global trade governance,” she points out, as the various preferential agreements include differences in some key rules. She strongly recommends returning the focus of trade policy to the WTO.

To gain public support for such a move (and trade generally, I would add), Dr. Aaronson urges policymakers to publicize the links between trade and employment., with the UN International Labor Organization having a role in this assessment.

Dr. Aaronson latest book is “Trade Imbalance: the Struggle to Weigh Human Rights in Trade Policy Making.”

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Blaming us, the victims, for our crippling trade deficit

“Economic growth slowed by trade gap” was a page one headline in the August 27 Washington Post. The article so irked me that I sounded off in a letter to the editor the same day. Here’s what I wrote.

Yes, our nation’s huge trade deficits are continuing to take their toll. I’m delighted that, at long last, the Washington Post is awakened to a grim reality of economic life.

But you repeat an old mistake. Although you put the blame on several factors, the only one you mention is “overconsumption.” You think, for example, that we, the consumers, are the villains for our trade deficit with China. Really.

Have you ever tried to buy anything made in the U.S.A.? If so, you see how we have been deprived of choice – by a trading system credited, wrongly, for increasing consumer choice.

The continuing total merchandise trade deficit – nearly $50,000,000,000 for June alone -- is basically a mechanism to redistribute the wealth and income of the American middle class to further enrich the upper 10 percent of Americans and Asians. Your story failed to mention that the deficit with China was $26,200,000,000 for June alone.

What is really an overlooked “factor” in this tragedy? Take a look at corporations based in the U.S., American and foreign, and examine the volume of their intra-firm trade – that is, trade between two arms of the same company, also called related-party trade. As the Census Bureau reported on May 12, last year related-party trade accounted for $740,500,000,000 in U.S. goods imports – nearly 48 percent.

* * *
As I expected, the free-trade-obsessed Post did not print my letter.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

New GM CEO praises unions

On his second day in his new job, Daniel Akerson, CEO of General Motors, sent a Labor Day message to GM’s 80,000 employees in the United States and Canada. After wishing them a happy holiday weekend, he wrote:

“I also ask that we pause for a moment of reflection on what this day means as we celebrate on what this day means as we celebrate labor’s contribution labor’s many contributions here and around the world.

“Of course, labor’s role in building up this nation and others is well recognized and rightly so. And coming from a union family, I know on a very personal level the good things that unions can do.
“I met recently with UAW President Bob King and Vice President-GM Department Joe Ashton at Solidarity House [UAW headquarters], and we agreed that, while we will not always see eye to eye on everything, GM will succeed to the extent that management and labor work together. I believe very deeply in that.”

(Akerson's note was an internal communication. The text was published later in Automotive News.)

GM and the UAW are scheduled to negotiate a contract that expires in September next year. King has said the UAW expect to win back some of the concessions it made as part of the GM governmental bailout last year.

Akerson, who holds a master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics, has spent much of his career as an executive in communications multinationals. In July 2009, he was named to the GM board of directives as a representative of the U.S. Treasury, which owns a majority stake in GM.

In an address last month, newly elected UAW president King outlined the major changes the union is making to become a “21st century UAW.” See HRFW’s “A union’s ‘make-over’ for 21st century globalization" of August 11.

In what is probably a unique combination outside the building trades, Akerson comes from a union family, and King is the son of a former Ford management official.
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Friday, September 03, 2010

European Corporate Hypocrisy in the United States

Some leading European corporations that embrace worker rights at home violate those rights aggressively in their U.S. operations, Human Rights Watch charged in a report issued September 2.

The failure to “walk their talk” is documented in the 128-page report titled “A Strange Case: Violations of Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States by European Multinational Corporations.”

Among the violations cited in the report are:

-- forcing workers into ‘captive audience’ meetings to hear anti-union harangues while prohibiting pro-union voices.
-- threatening dire consequences if workers form unions.
-- threatening to permanent replace workers who exercise the right to strike.
-- spying on union organizers.
-- even firing workers who support organizing efforts at companies.

Companies cited include Germany-based Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA and Deutsche Post's DHL, UK-based Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets and G4S Wackenhut security, France-based Sodexo food services and Saint-Gobain industrial equipment, Norway-based Kongsberg Automotive, and the Dutch firm Gamma Holding.

Violations found in these companies “call into question the efficacy of corporate social responsibility mechanisms, “ the report states, and makes a series of recommendations to all parties involved: European multinationals operating in the U.S., the U.S. government, the European Commission, European governments, and the OECD.
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