Foxconn’s Wisconsin Plant Bad for Wetlands and Workers; Another Demonstration of the Race to the Bottom


Image result for foxconn nets installed

Foxconn: Worker-friendly enough to install anti-suicide nets


So, last week it was announced that Foxconn, which builds stuff for Apple when its employees aren’t killing themselves in China, was opening a plant right in Wisconsin’s 1st District, home of Paul Ryan. This was sort of a win for Trump, who is bringing back manufacturing, etc, and presented as a very good thing for Wisconsin workers.

This is a $10 billion investment, and it could actually go higher if you listen to the President.

President Donald Trump, who has suggested the deal would not have happened without his efforts, said he was told by Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou that the investment could be larger than $10 billion.

“He told me off the record, he thinks he may go to $30 billion,” Trump said at a small business event at the White House on Tuesday of Foxconn’s investment.

“I promised I wouldn’t tell,” Trump said to laughter.

Now, based on track record, this conversation almost certainly didn’t happen. We don’t expect Donald Trump to tell the truth. But still, $10 billion is a lot, and there could be thousands of jobs, both in the plant and in the auxiliary trades.

(There is also a great little part in Reuters: “Trump praised Foxconn chairman Terry Gou at a White House event, asserting: ‘If I didn’t get elected, he definitely wouldn’t be spending $10 billion … This is a great day for America.'” That’s…not praising Gou.)

Now, to be sure, there have been some caveats. For example, a lot of that $10 billion could be spent on automation. Gou wants to have 1 million robots “working” for his factories over the next decade. It will be looking for “automation savvy workers”, which doesn’t always mean the people in Janesville who lost jobs. With retraining, it might. And if Wisconsin invests in such programs, it could create jobs for the state.

But that means money, and all this Foxconn largesse doesn’t come cheap. For example, the state is giving Foxconn $3 billion in tax breaks. And there is some more. As the Journal-Sentinal puts it:

In return for building an industrial campus that could employ as many as 10,000 people in Wisconsin, Foxconn Technology Group almost surely will expect subsidies, tax breaks, job retraining promises, infrastructure improvements and other government incentives.

And it will expect them on a scale that by traditional standards would be staggering.

“They do this everywhere they go,” said Einar Tangen, a Beijing-based Chinese economic expert, echoing the views of many Asian experts. “They extract everything they can.”

They’re not kidding, either. One of the provisions in the bill to lure Foxconn in is fewer protections for the wetlands.

Environmental groups, including Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said the state’s proposal rolls back protections for wetlands, which act as natural filters for drinking water and wildlife habitats, and protect against flooding…

The draft bill allows Foxconn to discharge dredged or fill material into some wetlands without state permits. The legislation also would allow Foxconn to connect artificial bodies of water with natural waterways without state permits.

This is not great. But it is a perfect encapsulation of the Trump/Ryan/Walker anti-worker and anti-environmental plan.

Let’s review what we have here. A decimated industrial workforce building a factory for high-tech workers who don’t, at all, have to come from the area. They can move there from anywhere (and a recent theme of the President has been people moving to Wisconsin). An anti-environmental race to the bottom where workers move from state to state depending on which lowers restrictions enough to get medium-to-low paying jobs. This is another theme of Trump, who emphasized as much in a lunatic pre-inauguration press conference.

You can do anywhere — you’ve got a lot of states at play; a lot of competition. So it’s not like, oh, gee, I’m taking the competition away. You’ve got a lot of places you can move. And I don’t care, as along as it’s within the United States, the borders of the United States.

The theme is to let the states fight it out. Who can remove the most protection for workers? Who can remove the most environmental regulations? Who can destroy unions the fastest? Who can dive to the bottom of the barrel? This is what Walker has done to Wisconsin, and it is the quintessence of the Republican jobs plan.

It’s to create some jobs, yeah, but to remove any power workers might have. To make them fight over scraps. To have states compete against each other to be “pro-business”. You want us to keep our factory here? Well then get rid of child labor laws.

It isn’t a coincidence this is being built in Wisconsin. Walker has made it the petri dish of right-wing jobs’ programs, in which the workers are reduced to disposable numbers and any idea of duty to the community is laughably archaic. He loves overturning regulations in order to attract “jobs”, because that’s how people get turned into capital. And that is his driving motivation.

It’s Trump’s, too. All his talk of the white working class was, like everything else, a lie. The plant will be good for people in the short-term, maybe. And the environmentalists will be painted as inhibiting jobs, anti-worker, etc. It’s part of the long-running war to separate the two groups, a false choice proposed by greedy management. This is the new America. Looks a lot like the old one.


Monday Quick Hits: Robots, Water, and Keystone



“So I says to Mabel, I says…”


Did everyone have a good weekend? I had a great weekend. Lots of family, and lots of toast to Trump’s and Ryan’s failure to devastate the lives of millions of people. But this victory is, I think, just a pause. The battle will be to pressure Republicans, who seem to be a bit nervous about ruining the lives of their constituents, to make positive changes to the ACA, rather than repeal it.

Admittedly, they’re in a bind. The Times reported some anecdotes about people in GOP districts shocked that their reps would even think about such a thing, and might not vote Republican again. But then, there are also lots of GOP voters who, having been told that Obamacare was basically the forward thrust of creeping Bolshevism, are mad that it wasn’t repealed. So they are caught in a dilemma, namely: how do we do the things we’ve been saying we were going to do now that people have learned exactly what it is?

So now the question for Democrats is: how much should they work with Republicans? They are, thankfully, not eager to make some kind of “grand bargain” in order to help out the Republicans. The goal should be to fix Obamacare, working where you can to lower costs and make sure that insurance companies stay in. The talk of the “death spiral”, always exaggerated, is made possible by the threat of repeal. With that out of the way, for now at least, it could be possible to woo nervous Republicans to fix the bill at the margins, essentially working around Paul Ryan. That’s why the continued pressure from the outside is the only way to heighten their fear, and maybe force their hand to do the right and sensible thing and fix Obamacare.

Or, you could be like the President, who seems eager to watch the whole thing spiral out of control.

The “do not worry” is an especially nice touch.  He’s got a plan!

-Re/Code had a little story today about how PwC estimates, offhand, that the US could lose 40% of its jobs over the next 15 years thanks to automation. While there would of course be jobs created by automation (engineer, repair, etc) most of these will be high-skill jobs for people with advanced education. This is more than an unemployment trend; even if PwC’s numbers aren’t strictly accurate, this is economic devastation. This is something that can fundamentally alter society.

Massive unemployment of that sort needs to be ameliorated with something like a Universal Basic Income, or, failing that, an effort to create new work around infrastructure, tourism, or more. But there needs to be a collective effort grouped around the ideas that 1) the common good actually exists; and 2) that self-government is a good thing.

This isn’t something private markets can fix alone; indeed, it is the private market that will be at fault. There needs to be collective action to help the less educated and more vulnerable people in the new economy–the same ones who have been hurt for decades by market forces. That many of these are your stereotypical Trump voters (though they will be joined by millions of white collar types as well) represents an opportunity to convince them that the government is not the enemy, and that, in fact, this kind of intervention is the heart of the American experiment.

Of course, we’re debating whether or not it is ok if people just, you know, die because they don’t have employer-based insurance, so consensus on this seems a long way off.

-But we do have an answer on Keystone! That answer, of course, is “yes”. Trump signed off on Keystone on Friday, saying in a signing ceremony that:

It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North American and energy independence.  This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families — and very significantly — reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America.

It’s important to note, in the interest of being strictly accurate, that none of this is true. And it is just weird to talk about reducing “our dependence on foreign oil” right before you introduce the President of TransCanada, above and beyond the fact that this isn’t how the oil markets work. The sludge pumped over the largest underground aquifer isn’t going to be shuttled to your car. It goes into the global markets. I honestly don’t know if Trump understands this. I also wonder how he would reconcile the “lower costs” with the fact that, while Keystone was blocked, gas prices plummeted.

It is also good to note that this isn’t a done deal. As the TransCanada President reminded the United States President, they face resistance and lawsuits in Nebraska, where people don’t want a Canadian pipeline bringing dangerous material across their lands and into their water. That led to this exchange.

Trump: So we put a lot of people to work, a lot of great workers to work, and they did appreciate it.  And they appreciated it, Russ, very much at the polls, as you probably noticed.  And so we’re very happy about it.

So the bottom line — Keystone finished.  They’re going to start construction when?

MR. GIRLING:  Well, we’ve got some work to do in Nebraska to get our permits there —


MR. GIRLING:  — so we’re looking forward to working through that local —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll call Nebraska.  (Laughter.)  You know why?  Nebraska has a great governor.  They have a great governor.

MR. GIRLING:  We’ve been working there for some time, and I do believe that we’ll get through that process.  But obviously have to engage with local landowners, communities.  So we’ll be reaching out to those over the coming months to get the other necessary permits that we need, and then we’d look forward to start construction.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  I’m sure Nebraska will be good.  Peter is a fantastic governor who’s done a great job, and I’ll call him today.

Remember that the head of an oil company is talking about working with local communities and landowners, and the President of the US is saying he’ll call the governor to get it done. That’s a true populist man of the people right there.

Chicago freight, the new Panama Canal, and The Dominance of Trade


Ships passing through the Panama Canal. We needed a bigger canal, for bigger ships. Hell, dig up the whole country!

After years of delays, mismanagement, disaster, and an economic downturn, the expanded Panama Canal (which saw much worse during its initial construction) is set to open on Sunday. This is a deeper and wider lane for the enormous freighters that have accompanied Asia’s economic rise: the massive sun-blotting  container ships, quarter-mile long, and capable of carrying tens of thousands of tons.

This is extremely important for trade, in a value-neutral sense, because it means that the giant ships, which couldn’t fit in the narrower and shallower original canal, will be able to bypass the West Coast and go directly to New York and other East Coast ports. The ramifications of this quickly trickle down.

Crain’s, the business paper out of Chicago which is not exactly a Sanders-ite rag, talked about the potential impact on this railroad hub. Ships that couldn’t fit the canal would be loaded on trains heading to Chicago, and thence to the east, following the same path that allowed Chicago to be the focal point of empire. Now, though, these ships can get through, which will have a potentially huge impact on Chicago’s economy. About 5% of the Chicago economy is based on railroad freight (Great Lakes shipping is another matter). If Chicago can be bypassed, that’s a lot of jobs that will disappear, thanks to a canal built half a world away.

Of course, no one seems really certain, and anyway, the impact might not be felt for years. Certainly, as the Journal reported, New York isn’t ready for these monster ships: the Bayonne Bridge isn’t tall enough, and it won’t be ready for at least another year.

That’s not to mention that the Canal itself has the hallmarks of a disaster, as epically reported by the Times. The locks are barely wide enough to handle the largest ships, and are almost exactly as long as the ships plus the two tugboats needed to maneuver them. There won’t be any room for error, which given the swirling currents when fresh water meets the ocean, could be a disaster. The tugboat union certainly thinks so. Panama awarded the contract to a rock-bottom bidder, who came in billions below the next-lowest, and it has shown. (The article almost makes you sympathetic with Bechtel, which is a hell of a thing to be.) The concrete has been leaky, and there might not be enough water.


Image from NYTimes. The new locks are 1400 feet. The Neo-Panamax ships are 1200. Tugboats are about 100 each. Snug!

And oh yeah, about that water: it mostly comes from a vast, manmade lake which provides most of Panama their drinking water. The Panamanian canal administrator has literally scolded the nation for drinking too much water, and lowering the levels, making it harder for the ships to pass through.

That seems to me to be the perfect image of the subservience to trade, of its dominance in our lives. A suspiciously rich and powerful bureaucrat, who awarded life-and-death jobs to a shoddy but connected international conglomerate, complaining about its citizens drinking too much water, and not allowing these enormous, inhumanly-scaled ships to pass through a gash cut through a continent, while two great cities thousands of miles away scramble to reconfigure an economy and raise bridges to let them pass, as workers in the cities the goods pass through lose their livelihood, and workers where the goods are made are beaten and starved and robbed.

We make these enormous ships. We dig through continents and connect oceans. We raise bridges. To say that we can’t do anything about the inequity and iniquity of global trade is to give in the free market superstition, the only truly global religion.