Thursday, February 19, 2009

The People Be Damned

Paul Craig Roberts has captured the moment. Americans are losing their jobs to offshore outsourcing and imported replacement workers as a direct result of the "free trade" ideology embraced by political, media and corporate elites. Courageous individuals (such as Senators Grassley and Sanders) who seek justice for American workers are opposed by the overwhelming power of corporate money and organized lobbies. PCR's piece is lengthy but readers will be rewarded with gems like this: "The 'free market' shills on the payroll of the U.S. Chamber, NAM, and in economics departments and think tanks that are recipients of grants from transnational corporations are whores aligned with elites who are destroying the American work force." This sordid situation leaves many of us with the belief that nothing has changed with the election of Barack Obama...


February 18, 2009

The People Be Damned

President of Special Interests


The Bush/Obama bailout/stimulus plans are not going to work. Both are schemes hatched by a clique of financial insiders. The schemes will redistribute income and wealth from American taxpayers to the shyster banksters, who have destroyed American jobs, ruined the retirement plans of tens of millions of Americans, and worsened the situation of millions of people worldwide who naively trusted American financial institutions. The ongoing theft has simply been recast. Instead of using fraudulent financial instruments, the banksters are using government policy.

Michael Hudson captures the nature of the heist in CounterPunch (February 12):

“When it comes to cleaning up the Greenspan Bubble legacy by writing down homeowner mortgage debt, the Treasury proposal offers homeowners $50 billion – just [half of one percent] of the $10 trillion Wall Street bailout to date, and less than half the amount given to AIG to pay its hedge fund speculators on their derivative gambles. The Treasury has handed out $25 billion to each and every big bank, so just two of these banks alone got as much as the reported one-quarter of all homeowners in America suffering from Negative Equity on their homes and in need of mortgage renegotiation. Yet today’s economic shrinkage cannot be reversed without a recovery in consumer demand. The economy has lost the “virtual wealth” in higher-priced homes and the stock market, and must rely on after-tax earnings. But I see little concern for wage earners in the Treasury plan. Without debt relief, consumer spending and business investment will not recover.”

The big money men cannot conceive of anyone’s suffering except the mega-rich. If billions are not at stake, what is the problem? How can a family losing its house bring down the economy?

There was a time in America when the interests of elites were connected to those of ordinary Americans. Henry Ford said that he paid his workers good wages so they could buy his cars.

Today American corporations pay foreign workers low wages so CEOs can pay themselves multi-million dollar “performance” bonuses.

Congress has had a parade of CEOs, ranging from Bill Gates of MIcrosoft and IBM brass on down the line, to testify that they desperately need more H-1B work visas for foreign employees as they cannot find enough American software engineers and IT workers to grow their businesses. Yet, all the companies who sing this song have established records of replacing American employees with H-1B workers who are paid less.

Just the other day Microsoft, IBM, Texas Instruments, Sprint Nextel, Intel, Motorola, and scores of other corporations announced thousands of layoffs of the qualified American engineers who “are in short supply.”

IBM has offered to help to relocate its “redundant” but “scarce” American engineers to its operations in India, China, Brazil, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Russia, South Africa, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates at the salaries prevailing in those countries.

On January 28, USA Today reported: “In 2007, the last full year for which detailed employment numbers are available, 121,000 of IBM's 387,000 workers [31%] were in the U.S. Meanwhile, staffing in India has jumped from just 9,000 workers in 2003 to 74,000 workers in 2007.”

In order to penetrate and to serve foreign markets, US corporations need overseas operations. There is nothing unusual or unpatriotic about this. However, many US companies use foreign labor to manufacture abroad the products that they sell in American markets. If Henry Ford had used Indian, Chinese, or Mexican workers to manufacture his cars, Indians, Chinese and Mexicans could possibly have purchased Fords, but not Americans.

Senators Charles Grassley and Bernie Sanders offered an amendment to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bill that would prevent companies receiving bailout money from discharging American employees and replacing them with foreigners on H-1B visas.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, no longer an American institution, and immigration advocates, such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association, immediately went to work to defeat or to water down the amendments. Senator Grassley’s attempt to prevent American corporations from replacing American workers with foreigners on H-1B work visas in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression was met with outrage from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization concerned solely with the multi-million dollar bonuses paid to American CEOs for reducing labor costs by offshoring American jobs or by replacing American employees with foreign guest workers.

On January 23 Senator Grassley wrote to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

“I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan. As you know, I want to make sure employers recruit qualified American workers first before hiring foreign guest workers. For example, I cosponsored legislation to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to give priority to American workers and to crack down on unscrupulous employers who deprive qualified Americans of high-skilled jobs. Fraud and abuse is rampant in these programs, and we need more transparency to protect the integrity of our immigration system.

“Last year, Microsoft was here on Capitol Hill advocating for more H-1B visas. The purpose of the H-1B visa program is to assist companies in their employment needs where there is not a sufficient American workforce to meet their technology expertise requirements. However, H-1B and other work visa programs were never intended to replace qualified American workers. Certainly, these work visa programs were never intended to allow a company to retain foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American workers, when that company cuts jobs during an economic downturn.

“It is imperative that in implementing its layoff plan, Microsoft ensures that American workers have priority in keeping their jobs over foreign workers on visa programs.

“My point is that during a layoff, companies should not be retaining H-1B or other work visa program employees over qualified American workers. Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American workforce. I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention. Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.”

Senator Grassley is rightly concerned that recession layoffs will shield increased jobs offshoring and use of H-1B workers. On February 13, Pravda reported that “America has begun the initial steps to final outsourcing of its last dominant industry”--oil/gas and oil/gas services. Pravda reports that “as with other formerly dominant industries, such as light manufacturing, IT, textiles,” recession is “used as the knife to finally do in the workers.”

According to Pravda,

“IT is a prime example. The companies used the bust to lay off hundreds of thousands of tech workers around the US and Britain, citing low profits or debt. The public as a whole accepted this, as part of the economic landscape and protests were few, especially with a prospect of the situation turning around. However, shortly after the turn around in the economy, it became very clear that there would be no turn around in the IT employment industry. Not only were companies outsourcing everything they could, under the cover of the recession, they had shipped in tens of thousands of H-1B work visaed workers who were paid on the cheap.”

It is rare to find US Representatives and Senators, such as Grassley, who will take a stand against powerful special interests. Some do so inadvertently, forgetting that patriotism is no longer a characteristic of the American business elite. Hoping to stimulate American rather than foreign businesses, the House version of the economic stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, required that funds provided by the bill cannot be used to purchase foreign-made iron, steel, and textiles.

The Senate provision was more sweeping, mandating that all manufactured goods purchased with stimulus money be American-made.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Caterpillar, General Electric, other transnational corporations, and editorial writers whose newspapers are dependent on corporate advertising set out to defeat the buy American requirement. As far as these anti-American organizations are concerned, the stimulus bill has nothing to do with American jobs or the American economy. It only has to do with the special interest appetites that have the political power to rip off the American taxpayers. [see Manufacturing & Technology News, February 4, 2009]

Senator John McCain is their man. “Protectionism” exclaimed the man the Republicans wanted as president. McCain said the buy American provision would cause a second Great Depression. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said that buying abroad was “economic patriotism.”

The American economic elite are hiding their treason to the American people behind “free trade.”

I want to say this as clearly as it can be said. The offshoring of American jobs is the anthesis of free trade. Free trade is based on comparative advantage. Jobs offshoring is an activity in pursuit of lowest factor cost--an activity that David Ricardo, the originator of the free trade theory, described as the betrayal of one’s own country in pursuit of “absolute advantage.”

The “free market” shills on the payroll of the U.S. Chamber, NAM, and in economics departments and think tanks that are recipients of grants from transnational corporations are whores aligned with elites who are destroying the American work force.

Obama has appointed to his National Economic Council blatant apologists for the offshoring of American jobs.

Possibly Obama loves the country that elevated him to its highest office. But his administration is populated with people whose loyalty does not extend beyond elites to the American people.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama Supports Outsourcing American Jobs

Ron Hira, college professor, author, scholar and IEEE-USA leader has published a devastating critique of Barack Obama's selection of pro-outsourcing advocates to high positions within his administration. As I cautioned people months ago, Barack Obama does not believe in the sort of change many of us seek: Obama is not the agent of "change we can believe in".

Opinion: The Obama administration promotes outsourcing

Ron Hira

We know from a recent EE Times survey that offshoring is the No. 1 career concern for EEs. The Obama Administration has been in office just a few weeks now, but we already know how it will address the offshoring of engineering jobs.

It will promote it.

EE Times, the Wall Street Journal and InformationWeek all recently published important stories on IBM's layoffs and the company's links to offshoring. IBM is now using the euphemism, "resourced actioned" to describe layoffs. The most remarkable aspect of the story was IBM's ability to take the Fifth Amendment on questions about the geographic distribution of layoffs, and even refusing to publicly state the number of U.S. workers it has.

Here's what the Journal published on Jan 27: "IBM Chairman Samuel Palmisano told workers in an e-mail last week that worldwide employment topped 400,000 at the end of 2008, up from 386,000 at the end of 2007. He didn't break out U.S. employment, and IBM spokesmen declined to do so."

IBM's unwillingness to publicly disclose its massive offshoring operations is no surprise, especially as it lobbies Congress and the Obama Administration for billions in taxpayer handouts as part of the economic stimulus package now being debated by Congress. What is remarkable is that the company is able to get away with it in the current job market with this President and this Congress.

InformationWeek reported on a new initiative by IBM, called Project Match, which is supposed to connect displaced U.S. workers with job openings in low-cost countries like India. But the catch here is, of course, that U.S. workers would be paid Indian salaries. How many U.S. workers can take those jobs and still hope to retire back in the U.S.? The answer is none.

So, where is President Obama, the politician who campaigned against outsourcing? The EE Times story that detailed the stealth layoffs and reactions of IBM workers, appeared on the same day that the President was chumming around with IBM's CEO Palmisano. Here's what President Obama said about why he invited to the White House Palmisano and nine other CEOs who are offshoring jobs:

"They make things, they hire people," the President said of the meeting participants. "They are on the front lines in seeing the enormous problems in the economy right now. Their ideas and their concerns have helped to shape our recovery package in order to get this economy back on track."

Can President Obama really be this naive? Or is it simply that he doesn't believe offshoring matters?

There is clear evidence that the latter is the case. On the very same day he was meeting with "CEOs [who] outsource American jobs"--a phrase he repeatedly and derisively used during his campaign, he named McKinsey's & Co.'s Diana Farrell to his National Economic Council, the inner circle of economic advisors in the White House. Farrell has done more to promote outsourcing than nearly anyone else in America.

Farrell was the lead author of the infamous "Offshoring: Is it a Win-Win Game?" Now she'll be operating at the highest levels of the Obama administration. Her phony "study" did more damage than any other in the debate over offshoring. And her propaganda was used to mislead the American public about the true impact of offshoring.

Moreover, Farrell's firm made millions of dollars consulting with companies, advising them to accelerate their offshoring. And she publicly made the rounds to convince policymakers and the public that offshoring was good for them and the country. It's also no coincidence that the IBM and Nasscom, the Indian IT outsourcing industry association, were major McKinsey clients. They benefited from McKinsey's lobbying as well as its consulting services.

This week (Feb. 3), President Obama nominated Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to be the next Commerce Secretary. Gregg is a staunch proponent of outsourcing and expanding the H-1B visa program, destroying even more job opportunities for American engineers.

During the campaign, then-Senator Obama pledged to put American workers ahead of corporate profits. Now we know that this was simply a bad joke. A joke that all of us, except the CEOs, will pay dearly for in the years ahead.

The larger issue though is why President Obama can get away with these inexcusable and hypocritical actions? It's really quite simple: American workers have no real representation in Washington. While unions, like Alliance@IBM are doing yeoman's work on labor issues, it's simply not enough because their ranks, and therefore their resources, are too small.

Think about it for a moment: Who represents American engineers' interests in Washington? Sam Palmisano? Diana Farrell? President Obama? Do you think the President even raised the issue of offshoring with Palmisano?

Professional societies like IEEE are global institutions and are unwilling to do what's necessary to lobby on behalf of its U.S. members. I know, I've been active in IEEE's policy activities for years.

It's time for each individual to do his or her part if real change on jobs is to be achieved. Our leaders, politicians, university presidents and CEOs have little or no interest in helping engineers. You must help yourself, and that means becoming politically active. The offshoring of U.S. jobs isn't a partisan issue; both Democratic and Republican politicians are actively working against your career interests.

The first step is to begin communicating with your elected representatives about your interests and concerns. It's as simple as writing an e-mail. Then begin to organize and communicate in larger numbers through your local institutions, whether it is a professional society like IEEE or your place of worship.

This is not a time to mourn, it's time to take action.

—Ron Hira is an assistant professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of "Outsourcing America"

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