What happens when the class war comes to your little town? That's what I explore in my new column for the San Francisco Chronicle today. You can read it here. Over the last week, we here in the rural state of Montana were the target of an intense onslaught by conservative class warriors, both in the state legislature and at a glitzy international economic summit in Butte - the most unglitzy, hard-scrabble, salt-of-the-earth places in America. And as the column says, you can bet what happened here could happen anywhere.
As Republican legislators threatened to shut down the government over their demands to enact massive new cuts for out-of-state corporations and landowners, captains of global finance came to the Mining City to lay down cover fire for Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D), whose Finance Committee will be deciding whether to push forward with the lobbyist-written trade agenda Democrats across the country campaigned against in the 2006 election. Attacking as "isolationists" those who want our trade policies reformed to include protections for the environment, human rights and wages, CEO after CEO got up to the podium not to talk about Montana's economy, but to demand Congress bend to the will of K Street.
What's most unnerving is how these class warriors don't even try to take the sheen of hypocrisy off their arguments. In the legislature, Republicans say they want to cut taxes for out-of-state corporations and kill Democrats' plans to strengthen tax enforcement on out-of-state wealthy landowners as a way to lower taxes for in-state residents - even though in-state residents are forced to pick up the tab when out-of-staters are allowed to avoid paying what they owe. Republicans also say they are trying to protect taxpayer money, even though the emergency special session their antics forced will cost taxpayers $38,000 per day.
Same kind of nonsense at the conference. When I stood up in front of 2,000 people to ask the $20-million-a-year chairman of the Business Roundtable whether he believed trade deals should include protections for people (labor, human rights, and environment) that are a strong as the protections already included for profits (intellectual property, patents, copyrights), he turned into a blithering ball of incoherent babble.
The behavior is just the local version of what's echoing through Washington. The Hill newspaper reports today that as a courageous group of Democrats works to build consensus for adding labor protections to our trade pacts, "business groups say they will not support an agreement that would allow U.S. labor laws to be challenged" by multinational unions and governments. Yet, the very same business groups have successfully fought for years to include provisions in trade deals that allow U.S. environmental and consumer protection laws to be challenged by multinational corporations and governments - in many cases, forcing states to overturn their laws and pay multinational corporations tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in "compensation." Here's an excerpt from my book Hostile Takeover to explain what I'm talking about:
"At the very same time lawmakers lie about who is actually filing lawsuits and claim they want to stop 'lawsuit abuse,' they are actually granting corporations special privileges to file even more lawsuits. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) quietly established special courts where foreign companies can sue U.S. federal and state governments for compensation when their laws protecting health, labor or environmental standards cut into corporate profits. One company, for instance, sought nearly $1 billion from California (more than one percent of the state's entire budget) as compensation for a state law that prohibited the use of an environmentally hazardous gasoline additive. In all, Big Business has used these special tribunals to force American taxpayers to hand over $1.8 billion."
Go over to the San Francisco Chronicle's site to read the full column - and beware: the war on the middle class could be coming to your town soon.