GM to slash 14,700 jobs in North America

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General Motors
By TOM KRISHER and ROB GILLIES, Associated Press Writers

General Motors will lay off 14,700 factory and white-collar workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it restructures to cut costs and focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles.
The reduction includes 8,100 white-collar workers, some of whom will take buyouts and others who will be laid off. Most of the affected factories build cars that won’t be sold in the U.S. after next year. They could close or they could get different vehicles to build. They will be part of contract talks with the United Auto Workers union next year.
Plants without products include assembly plants in Detroit; Lordstown, Ohio; and Oshawa, Ontario. Also affected are transmission factories in Warren, Michigan, as well as Baltimore.
About 6,000 factory workers could lose jobs in the U.S. and Canada, although some could transfer to truck plants.
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General Motors is closing a Canadian plant at the cost of about 2,500 jobs, but that is apparently just a piece of a much broader, company-wide restructuring that will be announced as early as Monday.

A person briefed on the matter told The Associated Press that the plant being shuttered in Canada is just the beginning as GM prepares for the next economic downturn, shifting trade agreements under the Trump administration, and potential tariffs on imported automobiles.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement hasn’t been made public.
In the fall, the Detroit automaker offered buyouts to 18,000 white collar workers, but it has yet to say how many accepted, or if it’s close to meeting the staff reduction goals it set to better withstand leaner times.
The Monday closure of GM’s plant in Oshawa, Ontario, was confirmed late Sunday by an official familiar with the decision. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly ahead of the announcement.
GM needs to reshape the company as it shifts its focus to lower emitting hybrid vehicles, technology that is not at the forefront at the Canadian plant.
Too many GM factories are devoted to making slow-selling cars and the company can no longer afford to keep them all operating without making some tough decisions. But the political atmosphere might limit realistic choices for the Detroit automaker.

Industry analysts are already plotting out possible targets for GM, including its sprawling Lordstown plant in northeastern Ohio. The car produced there is also is built in Mexico. The once-bustling factory already has lost two of its three shifts and 3,000 union jobs since the beginning of last year.
But moving that car, the Chevrolet Cruze, south of the border brings the risk of provoking a backlash from President Donald Trump. And GM also isn’t sure whether he’ll make good on threats to impose 25 percent tariffs on vehicles imported from Canada and Mexico.
What’s more, the Cruze plant just outside Youngtown is in a Democratic and labor stronghold, where Trump won over a surprising number of voters two years ago by reaching out to what he called America’s “forgotten men and women.”
At a rally near the plant last summer, Trump talked about passing by big factories whose jobs “have left Ohio,” then told people not to sell their homes because the jobs are “coming back. They’re all coming back.”
Altogether, GM has five car factories with plenty of unused capacity in Kansas City, Kansas; Lordstown; and Detroit-Hamtramck, Lansing, and Orion Township, Michigan.

GM opened its factory in Oshawa, near Toronto, in 1953. The plant is used to make the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala sedans as well as the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks.
A GM spokesman declined to comment. GM had been expected to close plants because of struggling sales.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, said in a prepared statement that it does not have complete details of Monday’s announcement, but it has been informed that there is no product allocated to the Oshawa plant past December 2019.
“Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement,” the union said in a statement on its website.
“Unifor is scheduled to hold a discussion with General Motors (Monday) and will provide further comment following the meeting.”
Oshawa Mayor John Henry said he had not spoken to anyone from GM. Jennifer French, who represents Oshawa in the provincial legislature, said she finds the news “gravely concerning.”
“If GM Canada is indeed turning its back on 100 years of industry and community — abandoning workers and families in Oshawa — then this is a callous decision that must be fought,” she said in a statement.

By TOM KRISHER and ROB GILLIES/Associated Press

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Is the Air Coming Out of Housing Bubble 2.0?

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Peter Schiff put it pretty bluntly in a podcast last week. We don’t have a booming economy. We have bubbles. And it looks like the air is starting to come out of some of those bubbles. We see signs of trouble, particularly in interest rate-sensitive sectors such as real estate. As just one example, home sales in California have hit the lowest level in a decade. And it’s not just California. We’re seeing declines in many of the “most splendid housing bubbles” in America. Even more troubling is that we’re seeing these tremors and interest rates aren’t historically high.

Yet.

But they are rising quickly. According to an article in Wolf Street, they may soon hit 6% and that could be the real tipping point.

Mortgage rates have eclipsed the 5% level. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment rose to 5.17% for the latest reporting week. That marks the highest rate since September 2009.

The next stop is 6%. As Wolf Street notes, that was the mortgage rate in December 2008.

Of course, rising rates are by design. The Federal Reserve has nudged the rate upward, and it is also shedding Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Here’s the impact we’ve seen since the beginning of the year, according to Wolf Street.

  • The 30-year mortgage interest rate has risen 95 basis points, or nearly 1 percentage point (from 4.22% to 5.17%).
  • The 10-year Treasury yield has risen 71 basis points (from 2.46% to 3.17%)
  • The spread between the two has widened from 176 basis points on at the beginning of January to 200 basis points now.

In other words, mortgage rates are climbing faster than the 10-year Treasury yield, now that the Fed has begun the shed mortgage-backed securities. This is expected. It’s part of the QE unwind – it’s part of the Fed exiting the mortgage market and pulling its support out from under it.”

Keep in mind, 6% is still historically low.

Here’s another disturbing piece of the puzzle. Home prices have risen precipitously and have eclipsed levels seen just prior to the housing bust. Average home prices nationwide have surged 11.5% above the crazy peak of housing bubble number one. In a nutshell, we’re looking at housing bubble 2.0.

As Wolf Street notes, even at relatively modest 5% mortgage rates, we’re seeing an impact on the housing market with significant pressure building on the margin, “with some potential buyers being locked out and others scared off as they’re finding today’s inflated home prices don’t mix well with even slighter higher mortgage rates: What was barely affordable for them, with a good amount of stretching, has become unaffordable.”

Wolf Street predicts the real pain will kick in as the mortgage rate approaches 6%. And that is likely less than a year away at the current rate.

Six percent will block enough potential buyers from buying at current prices to where sellers will have serious trouble selling their homes unless prices drop enough. The cure for this market will be lower prices – even if it means rising defaults and considerable problems among mortgage lenders, particularly the non-bank lenders (the “shadow banks”) that have very aggressively moved into the mortgage market over the last few years. Quicken Loans has now become the largest mortgage lender in the US, ahead of Wells Fargo. These shadow banks are less regulated and have taken more risks than the banks. The Fed is already worried about them but worrying is all it can do since it doesn’t regulate them.”

This is just one sector of the economy, but it’s indicative of what’s going on more broadly. While the mainstream touts the “economic boom,” there is underlying rot that rising rates are about to expose. As Peter said, the housing market is a leading indicator of the impact of rising interest rates.

If the US economy is really going to stay strong and if interest rates are going to keep rising, how is it possible that the economy can continue to stay strong with high interest rates when the economy, or the strength of the economy, is predicated on debt?”

by SchiffGold

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Republican Tax Cuts Were a Political Failure. What Does That Mean for a Party That Agrees on Little Else? The GOP needs a new theory of government.

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When Republicans passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December of last year, they expected it to be the centerpiece of their midterm campaign. “This was a promise made. This is a promise kept,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said at a news conference celebrating the bill’s passage. “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Judging by last week’s midterm results, Republicans may need to update their résumés.

The tax law permanently cut corporate tax rates and reduced individual income taxes through the middle of the next decade while increasing the deficit by more than $1 trillion. Republicans initially talked it up, tying it to a wave of corporate bonuses for workers. But the party quickly abandoned that argument in congressional races across the country. Polls found support dwindling, even among Republicans, while the already strong opposition increased among Democrats. A Gallup survey found that a majority of Americans said they saw no increase in their take-home pay.

On election day, voters confirmed their feelings. Not only did they hand control of the House to Democrats, many of whom had run against the law, but exit polls conducted by NBC News showed that 45 percent of voters said the tax law had no impact at all on their household finances, while 22 percent said they had been hurt by it. Just 28 percent said it helped.

There are reasons for these feelings: Although the tax cuts have provided a boost to the economy, they have performed more like a short-term, deficit-financed stimulus than a permanent reorientation toward economic growth and higher wages. Republican claims that the law would prove deficit neutral have not come true. And while it is possible to defend most of the individual components of the tax bill—even Obama administration economists argued for a somewhat lower corporate tax rate—it is more difficult to defend soaring deficits, or the decision to treat individual rate cuts as temporary in order to game congressional budget scoring rules.

Yet even if you believe the law on balance was good, or at least good enough, policy, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it was an abject failure as a political gambit—that it failed to connect with a majority of Americans. This presents something of a problem for a party that is united by few other issues and has focused on tax cuts to the exclusion of the rest of a domestic policy agenda. What does the party of tax cuts do when tax cuts no longer sell?

For the moment, at least, the answer turns out to be: Push for more tax cuts.

Even as polling shows that voters were largely indifferent to last year’s tax bill, Republicans have touted dubious follow-ups. House Republicans passed a second round of tax reductions that made the law’s individual rate cuts permanent. As expected, the Senate ignored the bill, but if it passed, it would have increased the original law’s already considerable impact on the deficit. President Donald Trump spent the weeks before the election advertising a new middle-class tax cut that was no more real than the fake Trump steaks he touted on the campaign trail. The Republican Party became enthralled by fantasy tax cuts that would never become law, even as the ones they had already passed were leading them to electoral defeat.

The GOP’s devotion to tax cutting, imaginary or otherwise, is especially notable given that the midterm elections were largely fought on substantive policy grounds. Although Trump’s character and temperament undoubtedly influenced the election, voters were focused on pocketbook issues—jobs, the economy, education, and health care.

Health care, in particular, dominated many races, with Democrats charging that Republicans didn’t support Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions regulations while GOP candidates insisted that they did. In some cases, their claims were defensible in a narrow technical sense, since most Republicans voted for Obamacare repeal bills that kept some but not all of the health law’s pre-existing conditions rules. Even still, their answers were designed to obscure more than to reveal. Republicans obfuscated about their health care ideas because, following the failure of last year’s repeal bill, they don’t really have any.

Yet as it turned out, health care was what voters cared about. CNN’s exit polls found that it was the single most important issue in the election, with 41 percent listing it as their top concern. Health care voters preferred Democrats by a wide margin. It is more than a little ironic that the health law that cost Democrats the House in 2010 probably helped Republicans lose their House majority in 2018.

When the tax law passed year, a senior White House aide contrasted Republicans with Democrats, telling The Daily Beast, “Taxes are our issue. Health care is theirs.” Republicans have almost entirely ceded that policy ground.

To become a vital force in American governance, and to compete in elections that revolve around anything other than immigration or support for the president, Republicans will need to develop clear, easy-to-articulate positions on the array of domestic policy issues that matter most to voters—particularly health care, education, and entitlements—and actually talk about them during campaigns, even, perhaps especially, when the temptation to focus on culture war issues arises.

For Republicans, that will probably mean focusing on reforms that make government programs work more efficiently rather than on new benefits and new programs. It will mean abandoning the current GOP conception of deficit-financed tax cuts as costless handouts to voters in favor of an understanding that taxes are a price we pay for government.

But smart white papers and clever talking points alone won’t be enough. The GOP needs more than a suite of new policy ideas; it needs a general theory of government—an animating idea about what the state is for, what it should do, and how, exactly, it should fund all of those things.

Because if Republicans don’t make an effort, Democrats will. They already are. Not only are the party’s likely 2020 presidential contenders rallying around Medicare for All, whatever that turns out to mean, but they are rolling out big-picture plans to expand a slew of benefits and programs. Republicans have united around opposition to these programs, but have yet to figure out what they stand for instead, which amounts to a defense of the status quo.

Since the Reagan administration, the Republican Party has been in the business of selling tax cuts, but the political effectiveness of that approach now appears to be waning. Which means that McConnell may have inadvertently been right: To compete in today’s most salient political arguments, Republicans will indeed need to find another line of work.

By Peter Suderman/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Fascists Are Coming for Your Social Security and Medicare

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The billionaire fascists are coming for your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And they’re openly bragging about it.

Right after Trump’s election, back in December of 2016, Newt Gingrich openly bragged at the Heritage Foundation that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress were going to “break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model.” That “model,” of course, created what we today refer to as “the middle class.”

This week Mitch McConnell confirmed Gingrich’s prophecy, using the huge deficits created by Trump’s billionaire tax cuts as an excuse to destroy “entitlement” programs.

“I think it would be safe to say that the single biggest disappointment of my time in Congress has been our failure to address the entitlement issue, and it’s a shame, because now the Democrats are promising Medicare for All,” McConnell told Bloomberg. He added, “[W]e’re talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.”

These programs, along with free public education and progressive taxation, are the core drivers and maintainers of the American middle class. History shows that without a strong middle class, democracy itself collapses, and fascism is the next step down a long and terrible road.

Ever since the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have been working overtime to kneecap institutions that support the American middle class. And, as any working-class family can tell you, the GOP has had some substantial successes, particularly in shifting both income and political power away from voters and toward billionaires and transnational corporations.

More from Thom Hartmann @ Common Dreams

Posted by Libergirl

You Don’t Have to Screw People Over to Survive How Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is healing people and the planet—one label at a time.

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Photo Credit: Westin Dodger, Wikimedia

“You don’t have to fuck people over to survive” are wise words I once heard radical comic book artist Seth Tobocman chant, repeatedly. It’s also the title of one of his books. Those words have stayed with me, and I’m a bit surprised more people don’t echo that sentiment.

But one man—and his family business—does.

Dr. Bronner’s.

You might have seen Dr. Bronner’s soap for sale at your local health food store. The labels are legendary, and plenty of look-alikes have popped up, but only Dr. Bronner’s has the All One! manifesto written in tiny font on the label.

This manifesto—principles of uniting humanity—is the reason for the soap. In other words, the soap is used to sell the label, not the other way around.

“We view our commerce, Dr. Bronner’s soap company, solely in terms of promoting Dr. Bronner’s vision of a peaceful, united world across religious and ethnic divides,” says David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s and the family’s fifth-generation soap maker. His grandfather was Dr. Emil Bronner, whose manifesto is on the label.

In keeping with his grandfather’s ethos, the company caps salary at 5:1, meaning the highest-paid people in the company cannot make more than five times the lowest-paid employee.

To them, All One! means all the people who touch all of the ingredients in all of Dr. Bronner’s products are respected, throughout the supply chain, from farm to market. Dr. Bronner’s treats all with dignity, and strives to ensure they aren’t exploited.

In modern commodity markets, says David, workers and farmers have no visibility. The conditions they work in and the destructive environments they are subjected to are hidden. Children could be picking the coconuts that are used in your coconut oil, but the way the commodity market works, you’d never know it, he says. Coconut oil brokers, he adds, are exploitative. Those exploitative conditions exist in every prospect of the commodities used in everyday products.

Dr. Bronner’s practices what they preach, striving to be truly fair trade across their business and supply chain—fair in their own supply chain, to their own workers, and to the farmers and their suppliers.

Each ingredient of every product has a cool story, says David. From their olive oil procured in both Israel and from the West Bank of Palestine, the family and company stay aligned with their principles across religious, ethnic, and political walls. David stresses the company is not anti-Israel—founder Dr. Bronner’s parents were killed at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt—but does not support Israeli expansionist policy. He calls the Israeli military occupation “B.S.” that prevents many Palestinian businesses from entering the same markets Israel has the benefit of accessing. Through their olive oil partnerships with Canaan Fair Trade in Palestine and Ecogreen in Israel, they are fostering peace and “Growing hope in the Holy Land.”

Beyond the Middle East, the California-based Dr. Bronner’s is dedicated to the causes they support and believe in, including fair trade, drug policy reform, fair wages, hemp and regenerative fiber, and sustainable, organic cannabis.

They procure coconut oil with relief agencies in Sri Lanka, palm oil from farmers in Ghana. They support the Fair World Project. They’re planning for a new regenerative organic certification—one that will identify products adhering to the best practices for soil health, fair labor, and animal welfare, all into one certification. A “truly holistic certification,” David calls it. After all, “‘Organic’ doesn’t have a fair labor component.”

There’s no reason to make products and their producers “go to hell and back” just to get a product to market, he says.

From salary caps to Samoan coconut farmers, that’s a lot of global good to finance. Dr. Bronner’s soap might scare consumers with the price tag at first—$10-$15+ for a 32-ounce bottle of liquid soap. “It’s not a premium, but people will pay more,” says David, when they know the company is treating its employees and its supply chain fairly. And consumers do, often exhibiting a brand loyalty tradition that has gone on for decades. What’s remarkable is that Dr. Bronner’s has done it without advertising—you might have noticed you’ve never seen or heard a television commercial or website banner ad or radio ad for Dr. Bronner’s soap. That’s because they don’t generally use traditional advertisements—though their political activism has made media waves and their advertorials have caused some controversy.

Beyond the All-One! message, David has another message he wants people to understand: “You can succeed doing the right thing. You don’t have to screw over your workers.”

“It’s really important,” he adds, “to demonstrate you can do the right thing and succeed.”

So you really don’t have to fuck people over to survive. In fact, following Bronner’s lead, you can prosper, pay fair wages, facilitate fair trade, and call for doing the right thing politically, like ending the drug war.

Perhaps someone should tell that to Jeff Bezos. Or whatever billionaire seems to be pushing your community back into the Dark Ages.

By Valerie Vande Panne / Independent Media Institute

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Report: Russian trolls stoked NFL anthem controversy with more than 12K mostly pro-Trump tweets

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Much of the online discord around NFL player protests was planted by Russian Twitter trolls supporting President Donald Trump’s agenda. (Getty)

Much of the online ire in the wake of a Donald Trump rant against NFL players kneeling during the national anthem was provided courtesy of Russian Twitter trolls, the Wall Street Journal reports.

At a 2017 rally in Huntsville, Alabama, President Trump railed against players protesting social justice issues during the national anthem, urging NFL owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.”

NFL protest tweets spiked after Trump speech

That rally took place on Sept. 22. According to the WSJ, 24 Twitter accounts tweeted “VIDEO: Trump SHREDS NFL Anthem Protesters!” on Sept. 23 almost simultaneously.

Thousands of tweets criticizing player protests followed in the ensuing days. Overall, from 2014 through 2018, more than 12,000 tweets from 491 accounts linked to the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency were sent, with most of them critical of protests, according to a Clemson study cited in the WSJ report.

Study: 87 percent of tweets critical of protest message

The study concluded that 87 percent of those tweets had a conservative-leaning message often labeling protesting players as unpatriotic or criticizing the NFL for its handling of the situation. The accounts cited in the report have been shut down by Twitter after a congressional investigation established their link to Internet Research Agency.

“You want to reach your average American, which is clearly their goal?” Clemson associate professor Darren Linvill asked. “Then talk about football.”

Clemson researchers believe that other accounts linked to Internet Research Agency have surfaced to fan the flames of other controversial sports topics like Colin Kaepernick’s Nike campaign and the U.S. Open tennis final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

By Jason Owens/YahooSports

Posted by The NON-Conformist

It’s Official: 2018 Federal Deficit Largest Since 2012 The federal government spent $790 billion more than it taxed during fiscal year 2018. The deficit is about to get worse. Much worse.

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The federal government finished the 2018 fiscal year—it ended on September 30—a whopping $779 billion in the red, the largest annual budget deficit since 2012.

The current fiscal year is likely to see an even larger deficit, potentially in excess of $1 trillion.

The Treasury Department’s final data for the 2018 fiscal year, released Monday, shows that the deficit was driven by a combination of higher spending and additional borrowing. The latter was necessary to finance the former, of course, though last year’s tax cuts contributed to the widening gap between how much money the federal government takes in and how much it spends.

Tax revenues were flat during 2018 and corporate tax collections fell by $76 billion, Treasury reported.

On it’s own, the fact that American companies were able to keep $76 billion out of the government’s hands is cause for celebration. Those funds will certainly be put to more productive uses because they won’t be funneled to Washington. Trump’s corporate tax cuts brought the United States in line with the rest of the world, thereby increasing U.S. competitiveness in a global market.

But tax cuts without spending cuts are a recipe for disaster. While the Treasury’s data for fiscal year 2018 looks backwards, the trajectory for the future is the bigger story.

The $779 billion deficit for fiscal year 2018 was up 17 percent from the $666 billion deficit recorded in fiscal year 2017. The data show that the deficit is growing faster than the economy as a whole. In 2017, the federal deficit was equal to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), but grew to 3.9 percent of GDP in 2018.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, current policies have the United States on course for a $2 trillion deficit before the end of the next decade.

“It’s an unsustainable fiscal course that will lead us to debt overtaking the size of the entire economy in as soon as a decade, and not long after topping all-time highs as a share of the economy not seen since World War II,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for balancing the budget, in a statement.

Driven by old-age entitlements and surfing on a wave of retiring boomers, the federal government will continue to pile on more debt unless serious structural reforms are undertaken. A new analysis from longtime congressional budget aide Brian Riedl, now a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free market think tank, shows that Social Security and Medicare will run a $100 trillion deficit over the next 30 years. With the country already facing a national debt of more than $20 trillion, massive annual deficits in future years are likely to drive-up the cost of borrowing and cause America’s already astronomical debt to grow at a faster pace, he warns.

That this latest increase in the deficit happened during a period when Republicans had full control of the federal government reveals that they were never very serious about balancing the budget. Even now, they refuse to recognize the problem. Democrats, meanwhile, are promising to spend even more on entitlements, if and when they return to power.

Almost nothing about the current state of affairs in Washington suggests that policy makers are prepared to deal with this looming catastrophe. Today’s news is a reminder that the reckoning is coming, regardless of whether our elected officials are ready for it.

By Eric Boehm/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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