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Democratic Platform Committee Members’ Conflicts of Interest

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Tom Vilsack (right) and Joe Biden (left) at An America Built to Last event at Iowa State University on March 1, 2012, in Ames, IA, where they spoke about the role of manufacturing in America.

BRANKO MARCETIC, branko.95.m at gmail.com, @BMarchetich
Marcetic is author of the recently released book Yesterday’s Man: the Case Against Joe Biden. He just wrote the piece “The People Who Will Draft the Democratic Platform Have a Conflict of Interest Problem” for In These Times.

Marcetic writes: “Several of the [platform drafting] committee’s members, announced last month by DNC Chair Tom Perez, have corporate ties. Delaware State University President Tony Allen, for instance, worked for years as a speechwriter and special assistant to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, before moving into the world of banking.

“Allen first joined MBNA, the credit card company that infamously served as Biden’s all-time top donor and pushed for his 2005 bankruptcy bill, assailed by bankruptcy judges around the country for the onerous restrictions it placed on households trying to expunge their debts, including one who called it ‘the most poorly written piece of legislation that I or anyone else has ever seen.’ Allen worked at MBNA from 2004 through 2006, just as the bankruptcy bill was being ushered to passage. At the same time, the company was paying Biden’s son, Hunter, a $100,000-a-year retainer, criticized as an attempt to curry favor with Biden as he shepherded the bill through Congress.

“After Bank of America acquired MBNA in 2006, Allen left the latter for the former, where he stayed for the next eleven years. He spent much of that time working on ‘corporate reputation,’ which, according to his university bio, involved ‘reputation analysis’ and ‘developing programming to influential media elites, national social justice advocates, academics and elected officials.’ Such tasks were no doubt a tough-job at the scandal-plagued bank, which in that period paid out multiple settlements over racist predatory lending, signing up 1.4 million customers to expensive credit card programs they never authorized, and pushing homeowners into foreclosure.”

Another one of the several members of the committee that Marcetic examines is Tom Vilsack. “Days after stepping down as agriculture secretary, Vilsack spun through the revolving door to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, where he now earns nearly $1 million as the top executive at its parent organization, Dairy Management Inc. The powerful Council boasts a who’s who of big agriculture and even pharmaceuticals as members, and last year, Vilsack urged Democratic candidates not to criticize or target agricultural monopolies, citing the potential of job losses. Vilsack was also a major booster of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. …

“[Sen. Tammy] Duckworth’s husband draws a salary from VAE Inc. and Foxhole Technology Inc.” — two military contractors — “to the tune of millions of government dollars per year.”

“Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, also on Biden’s VP shortlist with a particularly influential role as the chair of the drafting committee, likewise has potential financial conflicts. Bottoms’ husband, Derek Bottoms, is vice president of employment practices and associate relations at Home Depot, a company he’s been with for 18 years, and one with a dreadful record on workers’ rights.”

Lack of Union Jobs “Obliterated an Emergent Black Middle Class”

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WILLIAM LAZONICK, william.lazonick at gmail.com
Lazonick is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and president of the Academic-Industry Research Network.

He co-authored a new paper: “How the Disappearance of Unionized Jobs Obliterated an Emergent Black Middle Class” for the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

See summary blog post: “The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the deep-rooted racial divide that infects American society. According to APM Research Lab, the Covid-19 mortality rate for blacks has been 61.6 per 100,000 compared with 28.2 per 100,000 for Latinos, and 26.2 per 100,000 for whites. It’s another abhorrent statistic to add to the highly disproportionate number of African Americans who are poor, unemployed, and incarcerated.

“The longer life-expectancy of white men compared with black men in the United States has narrowed in recent years, but that is because of a significant drop in longevity of white working-class males, who, even before the pandemic, were succumbing to ‘deaths of despair.’ The fact is that blacks are doing terribly in a nation wracked by extreme economic inequality, which is dragging down the whole working class, irrespective of race or ethnicity. In a nation that once advertised itself as the land of upward socioeconomic mobility through equal employment opportunity, intergenerational downward mobility has become the norm.

“As a new generation has taken to the streets with demands for social transformation, we need to look back a half century to a time when the quest for equal employment opportunity gave rise to an African American blue-collar middle class. During the 1960s and 1970s, blacks with no more than high-school educations gained significant access to well-paid unionized employment opportunities, epitomized by semi-skilled operative jobs in the automobile industry, to which they previously had limited access. Anti-discrimination laws under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with oversight by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) supported this upward mobility for blacks in the context of a growing demand for blue-collar labor in the United States.

“From the late 1970s, however, the impact of global competition and the offshoring of manufacturing combined with the financialization of the corporation to decimate these stable and well-paid blue-collar jobs. Under the seniority provisions of the increasingly beleaguered industrial unions, blacks tended to be last hired and first fired. As U.S.-based blue-collar jobs were permanently lost, U.S. business corporations and government agencies failed to make sufficient investments in the education and skills of the U.S. labor force to usher in a new era of upward socioeconomic mobility. This organizational failure left blacks most vulnerable to downward mobility.

“Central to this corporate failure was a transformation of corporate resource allocation from ‘retain-and-reinvest’ to ‘downsize-and-distribute.’ Instead of retaining corporate profits and reinvesting in the productive capabilities of employees, major business corporations became increasingly focused on downsizing their labor forces and distributing profits to shareholders in the form of cash dividends and stock buybacks. Legitimizing massive distributions to shareholders was the flawed and pernicious ideology that a company should be run to ‘maximize shareholder value.’ Eventually, the downward socioeconomic mobility experienced by blacks would also extend to devastating loss of well-paid and stable employment for whites who lacked the higher education now needed to enter the American middle class. By the twenty-first century, general downward mobility had become a defining characteristic of American society, irrespective of race, ethnicity, or gender.”