A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
"Free trade" is just jingoism. It means nothing. Free trade is just a mantra created by the multi-national corporations and their friends in politics to describe an opportunity to ship American jobs overseas. Trade agreement after trade agreement is unfair to our country. ... we have to create rules that are fair, rules that lift us up rather than push us down. -- U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D - North Dakota)
Anyone looking for a champion of the American "little guy" should take a hard look at Senator Byron L. Dorgan. The third-term senator from North Dakota has come out swinging as he promotes his truth-telling new book, Take this Job and Ship It -- How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America. With chapter titles like "Exporting Misery" and "A Star-Spangled Rut," the book pinpoints where U.S. economic policy has gone wrong and addresses what can be done now to make things better. In "Take This Job," the senator has taken a stand against corporate greed and for hard-working Americans -- a position that could return the Democratic Party to its roots. We applaud Senator Dorgan's scathing critique of U.S. economic policy that ignores the hard working men and women of our nation, and his work to restore the Democratic Party's compact with America's working people.
How refreshing to know that there is still a fresh wind of populism blowing out of the plains states.
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BuzzFlash: Senator, the state of the American worker is in crisis. Your new book, details the problems. Could you explain what sort of obstacles and challenges the American worker faces today?
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: First of all, from the subtitle, corporate greed and brain-dead politics both contribute to what’s happening to the American worker. Corporations want to treat workers like wrenches -- use them up and throw them away. They want to ship jobs overseas, pay 20 cents an hour, basically ignore the issues of the safe workplace and child labor laws and all the other issues. This is all about fattening their bottom line, fattening their treasury. The brain-dead politics is the political system -- not everyone, but most Republicans and a few Democrats -- who want to cuddle up to big business and are carrying the wood here. For the workers being burned at the stake, we’ve got these politicians carrying the wood. I decided to write a book to see if I can’t light a fuse around the country to say what’s going on is nuts. It’s going to take apart that which we built for a century. It’s going to take apart the middle class and the expanding opportunities for our families.
BuzzFlash: You bring up the controversial subject of free trade. We have to understand that we are living in a global economy, but you say that free trade has to be fair. What do you mean, free trade has to be fair?
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: "Free trade" is just jingoism. It means nothing. Free trade is just a mantra created by the multi-national corporations and their friends in politics to describe an opportunity to ship American jobs overseas. Trade agreement after trade agreement is unfair to our country. Our trade agreements have been soft-headed foreign policy in most cases, and it pulls the rug out from under and undermines American workers. I believe we’re not going to retreat on the global economy, but that we have to create rules that are fair, rules that lift us up rather than push us down.
And "fair trade" means just what it says. When we do a trade agreement with another country, we should insist on fairness. We should insist that our bilateral trade be fair to both countries. It is not now. It’s not with Korea, not with Japan, not with China, not with Europe, not with Mexico -- and I’m just sick and tired of it. We’ve got all these cheerleaders standing by, watching what is going to be quite clearly the shrinking of America’s middle class, the injuring of our economy and American families, and nobody seems to care much. That’s why I wrote the book.
BuzzFlash: In relation to free trade, you bring up the fact that we actually sacrifice sovereignty in some of the cases, a topic which doesn’t come up in the mainstream press very often. I think even many of our BuzzFlash readers don’t realize it. But you give the example of a NAFTA provision that Carla Hills negotiated when working in a Republican administration.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Absolutely. This whole notion of a world trade organization -- WTO -- that’s a separate form of government. And it does trade off American sovereignty to a secret organization -- most of their deliberations are in secret. They’re not a part of our democratic process. What we have done here is not terribly unusual. It’s part of the global economy, and part of the way our corporations see their being able to produce where it’s cheap and sell back in our marketplace. But when we talk about "free trade," I want to tell you about what happens on trade agreements, and why the "free trade" description is just nonsense.
We have a $200 billion trade deficit with China right now. It’s unbelievably large -- $700 billion a year total trade deficit, $2 billion a day. But with China, it’s $200 billion. So with a country with whom we had a $200 billion trade deficit, we now have a trade agreement on automobile trade. On automobile trade, the Chinese are going to begin to send their first cars to the United States next year. The China cars are coming, and they’re building a China automobile export market to send cheap cars here. In the Chery company -- that’s one letter away from Chevy -- they’ll be sending us their cute, cute cars and others. When they hit our shores, we will impose a two-and-half percent tariff on Chinese cars sold in America. By contrast, our agreement with China is that they can impose a 25% tariff on the American cars we sell in China. Now that’s unbelievably ignorant for our country to have negotiated something with a country with whom we have a large deficit, and to say: You know what? You can charge a tariff that is ten times higher than the tariff we will charge. It’s the kind of thing that sells out American workers and puts us at a severe disadvantage. And it’s why, whenever I hear about this free trade stuff, it’s all baloney. This is soft-headed foreign policy. It’s corporate greed, and it’s brain-dead politics.
BuzzFlash: To get back to Carla Hills and the sovereignty issue, a Canadian company challenged the State of California's regulation banning the gasoline additive MBTE. The so-called "free trade" laws have a provision saying that corporations can sue governments over environmental regulations that could, in your words, "disadvantage" their ability to sell products across borders.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: That’s right. It’s under Chapter 11 of NAFTA. It really does undermine our own sovereignty with respect to pollution, contaminants, and so on. It gives others the ability to take our American government to court because we’re trying to protect our citizens with thoughtful regulations. A lot of people don’t understand what’s going on here. But trading away American sovereignty in circumstances where you give major corporations and other countries in the world the opportunity to dumb down our standards, and hurt the American worker, and hurt the American people at the same time -- it makes no sense to me.
BuzzFlash: A lot of elected officials, including some Democrats, have been afraid of taking on free trade -- that it would smack of the dreaded word in Washington known as populism -- although you point out this is changing, and more are coming around to your perspective. How do you react to that?
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Well, there is another dirty word -- "protectionism " -- and these words have been deliberately abused. But my sense is that most of the American people are now starting to understand the consequences of what’s happening in our country. They see downward pressure on wages, downward pressure on healthcare benefits, fewer return of benefits available to them. They see four million jobs have been shipped overseas. They see mainstream economists like Alan Blinder saying there are 42 to 56 million additional jobs that could be outsourced. He said not all of them will be outsourced, but even those that stay will be competing with others around the world who will work for less.
The American people, I think, are understanding this is a pretty serious problem. They understand that most politicians don’t want to take it on. Part of it is that they want to cuddle up to big business. They want to be seen as pro-business. Well, what if being pro-business is being opposed to the basic interests of our country? These businesses don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore, they don’t consider themselves American. Their goal is to produce in China, sell in America, and run the income through the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes. I think the litmus test here is that that’s not what America is about, and it’s not what’s going to build our country. It’s going to tear our country down.
Let me just say, I understand there’s some risk here. We need to find a foreign home to half of what we produce in an agricultural state. But I also believe that if we don’t start speaking out, as I do in Take This Job and Ship It, whether it’s for family farmers or American workers, there aren’t going to be jobs and opportunities left in this country.
BuzzFlash: What is the status of the family farm in your state of North Dakota?
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: The family farm is in deep trouble. We signed our farmers up to have to compete with a sanctioned monopoly in Canada -- the Canadian Wheat Board -- which would be illegal in this country -- a monopoly trading company that trades Canadian wheat. I’ve got stories in the book about driving to the Canadian border, and being unable to get even 150-200 bushels of U.S. Durham wheat into Canada. And all the while, eighteen-wheelers from Canada were hauling Durham wheat into our country, depressing America’s prices, and doing it at secret prices, by the way.
BuzzFlash: So the fair trade issue and free trade agreements, as they’re called, affect the farmers in your state.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Absolutely. The fair trade is especially a big issue with farmers because the fact is they are injured by bad trade agreements.
BuzzFlash: This is not just a book about problems. You mention some heroes.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Yes.
BuzzFlash: Can you talk about one or two of them?
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Let me talk about Bob Naegele. Bob Naegele owned a company called RollerBlade -- inline skates. The company did very, very well, and Bob sold it and moved to Florida. Six months later, he sent Christmas cards to all the employees that worked for RollerBlade. As they opened their Christmas cards, there was a check along with the card. He gave an amount of money equal to the number of months workers worked at RollerBlade. And some of it was twenty and twenty-five thousand dollars. And he said, “The tax is prepaid -- I prepaid the taxes on this.” What he said to the workers was essentially this: “I sold this company. I made a lot of money. But this company was you. You made the product. You worked on the lines. You helped make this company successful, and I wanted to share some of my good fortune with you. And here’s the check.” That’s an unbelievable thing to have done at a time when so many corporate executives believe that workers are like tools or wrenches. You use them up, throw them away, and don’t even give it a second thought.
BuzzFlash: You have plenty of excellent examples in this great book about displaced workers and what troubles they’re facing because of outsourcing in particular. You do an excellent examination of the issue in here. But the book is also about solutions. Let’s take one example of a potential solution that you bring up in the book. There was a furniture company in Pennsylvania called the Pennsylvania House furniture company. They took timber from Pennsylvania and made it into finely crafted furniture and sold it as part of the American Heritage type of furniture. Yet when it was acquired by La-Z-Boy Company, they moved the jobs overseas to China and exported the wood from Pennsylvania to China. They still marketed the image that this was Pennsylvania furniture, but the workers who had been there for many years were out of their jobs in America. How would we prevent something like that?
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Pennsylvania House furniture was top-of-the-line furniture made by American craftsmen -- really high-end furniture. Now they ship the Pennsylvania wood to China and ship the furniture back here to sell.
Before I talk about how you prevent this kind of job loss, the other story in the book is about the craftsmen. When the last piece of Pennsylvania House furniture came off the assembly line, the craftsmen who were building it turned it over, and they all signed it, saying this is the last piece of Pennsylvania House furniture that’s going to be made with American hands. We’re going to sign it. Some lucky customer needs to get this piece of furniture. It was the pride in their work, you know? Somebody out there doesn't know it, but they bought a unique piece of furniture. It has the signature of all these workers on it because they cared about their jobs.
I have not tracked exactly where in China its produced now. But if I tracked it down, we'd find that it’s produced by people making thirty-forty cents an hour, working seven days a week. I’m sure that’s the case. And I believe, as a country, we have a right to decide what is fair competition relative to that. La-Z-Boy decided to ship that to China because they can fatten their profits by doing that. I think it's wrong to decide you’re going to ask craftsmen in Pennsylvania to compete against twenty or thirty-cent labor in China.
In cases like that, we have a right to, number one, impose a tariff in order to even things up. And number two, we ought to shut down the tax break that La-Z-Boy got for shipping the jobs to China. It’s unbelievably ignorant to me that our country continues to give a tax break when we export jobs. It gives tax breaks to companies that export the jobs.
I’ve tried four times in the Senate to close down that tax loophole. Failed all four times. Frankly, the last time, I decided, if I can’t win this vote in the United States Senate, I’m going to write a book. That’s one of the main motivations for me -- to write a book to expose all of this.
BuzzFlash: Thank you so much, Senator. This is a wonderful book, and we highly recommend it to our readers. It’s an important topic that is not often discussed in the mainstream media. This affects workers and small farmers across the entire country. You did a great service to the nation by writing the book.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan: Thank you very much.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Interview Conducted by Mark Karlin.
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Take this Job and Ship It -- How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America, by Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a BuzzFlash premium. [Number 26 on The New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers List.]