Monday, February 28, 2011

Western multinational corporations lobbied against collective bargaining rights in China, and failed: Betraying western values abroad

Guest Post by Nomadic Joe

China Blues: Capitalism, Corporations and Human Rights

Western corporations and economists regularly promote the idea that trade with China has had, and will have, a civilizing effect on the institutions there. As adjunct scholar Stuart Anderson writes:

“U.S. corporations act as a liberalizing force, helping to strengthen the private sector, establishing alternative centers of power, and creating subtle but important pressures for democratic reforms. They also tend to raise wages and labor standards in the countries in which they operate.”

Regardless of the merits of the statement, Anderson as a former director at the Cato Institute is hardly an unbiased scholar. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. by Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the oil conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc.

James A. Dorn, the vice president for academic affairs, editor of the Cato Journal, and director of Cato's annual monetary conference, observed:

Western companies have already had an impact on China's civil society. They have increased business standards and demanded a legal infrastructure. Continued economic liberalization is sure to raise business standards further and help cultivate an institutional infrastructure based on the rule of law. The changes will occur first in the non-state sector (especially in the southern coastal provinces) and then spread throughout China as competition and openness become the norm.

Progress is a pleasant idea. Moreover it is a nice favor for us to bring our profound concepts to the Chinese. However, given my suspicious mind, I couldn’t help wondering if there could be another side to it.

It is no great secret that corporations have been attracted to China mainly because of its nearly unlimited supply of cheap labor. In effect, labor becomes a national commodity and China plays a key role in setting global wage norms. As an article for the Institute for Policy Studies explains:

It is the linchpin of what Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen Roach has called “global labor arbitrage in which corporations move from one labor market to another to take advantage of cheaper labor. The result is a global “race to the bottom” in which workers and their communities are put into competition with each other to see who can provide the lowest-cost labor and the most corporate-friendly conditions. According to Roach, this global labor arbitrage is also now acting as “a powerful structural depressant on traditional sources of job creation in high-wage countries such as the United States.

That much has been understood for quite some time and it has led to CEOs decrying the fact that American workers are too demanding and require a higher wage than their Chinese counterparts. They argue that the excessive demanded organized labor has made the United States an undesirable place to do business.

Still, it seemed interesting that so many powerful groups would rise up against one particular reform bill.

Complicity, Campaigns, Collaboration and Corruption: Strategies and Responses to European Corporations and Lobbyists in China’, Globalization Monitor, published in 2010 exposed a slightly different, slightly sinister aspect.

Despite the professed concern for human rights in China, Western transnational corporations have been more than willing to relocate production. Moreover, they have actively used both their economic and political clout to work against proposed improvements to the Chinese labor laws. So while preaching the benefits of Western corporate involvement in China, EU and US corporations have been freely attempting to influence Chinese legislation.

Given recent events in Wisconsin, the methods are strikingly familiar.

A 2010 report from the Hong Kong-based NGO Globalization Monitor revealed how lobbying tactics have been adapted to Chinese circumstances and the concept of guanxi (connections or personal ties). Developing the personal touch with government agencies is of crucial importance, building trust and offering favours, which often crosses the line into full-blown corruption.

The American Chamber of Commerce (ACC) and the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC) have played a key role in lobby efforts. When the Chinese government sought to review its labor laws in 2006, primarily to introduce the right of workers to have contractual agreements, the two coalitions lobbied against any improvements in labor protections.

Acting through the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, Wal-Mart and other corporations, including Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel were squarely against the Draft Contract law.

US based corporations have repeatedly argued that they are raising human and labor rights standards abroad. For example, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong asserts among its “universal principles that American business plays an important role as a catalyst for positive social change by promoting human welfare and guaranteeing to uphold the dignity of the worker and set positive examples for their remuneration, treatment, health and safety.”

But US based corporations are trying to block legislation designed to improve the remuneration, treatment, health and safety, and other standards of Chinese workers.

Dr. Keyong Wu, an expert for the British Chambers of Commerce, stated:

Business is attracted to China not only because of its labour costs but also because of its efficiency. If regulation starts to affect that and flexibility, then companies could turn to India, Pakistan and South-East Asia.

A subtle threat for Chinese authorities? When international unions howled at the lobbying, the resultant media attention forced the European Chamber of Commerce to backtrack somewhat.

In a detailed report “Behind the Great Wall of ChinaGlobal Labor Strategies, a newly formed non-profit organization, undertook a closer examination into both the law and the corporations’ objections. Not surprisingly, they found that the protections found in the law under discussion were the very ones that would have made a real impact on the rights of workers.

For example, foreign corporations would prefer to maintain the present system which has created a large underclass of worker with no rights.

Access to labor rights and benefits—however limited—depends on the existence of a written labor contract signed individually or collectively by workers and companies.

Another provision of the law would have allowed workers greater ease in changing jobs. Before the law, an employer could penalize workers if their bosses determined that the worker had access to proprietary knowledge; secret information specific to the corporation, such as, chemical formulas and processes.

The problem, of course, is that the employer was free to decided what was and what was not “propriety.”

Among other provisions in the bill that the coalitions protested against included

  • Limited probationary period
  • Payment for training
  • Severance payments
  • A pathway from temporary to permanent work
  • A fair system for lay-off
And finally, there was one other interesting point of contention: The right of collective bargaining. The new law provides for negotiations over workplace policies and procedures, layoffs, health and safety,and firings with a union or an “employee representative.” Foreign corporations demanded unilateral authority, not negotiation.

The US-China Business Council writes, “It is not feasible to state that an employer’s regulations and policies shall be void if they are not adopted through negotiation with the trade union. . . . Requiring the consent of the trade union before such changes can be made is overly burdensome and may prevent important company policies from being implemented in a timely manner. . . Final authority and responsibility for company policies should rest in the hands of the employer.”

However, China’s legislature rejected the pleas and the threats from foreign investors and their lobbies and passed the new labor law in June of 2007 Still, the unions and independent observers agree that, due to the lobbying, the final laws were watered-down. In the end, regardless of the legislation on the books, the core problem will be enforcement and implementation.

Said Ellen David Friedman, a U.S. labor organizer who's worked with developing trade union groups in China, "U.S. corporations have used their considerable power and influence there to weaken the labor laws that are being proposed. They are in essence acknowledging that what they have liked about doing business in China is the very, very cheap labor and the low level of enforcement."

Since the law was approved, however, Chinese authorities seem intent on enforcing the protections. Surveys by Western chambers of commerce of executives show growing disenchantment in the last year and a sense that doing business in China is growing harder.

Along with the labor laws, China has also filed more than a dozen trade cases to limit imports, imposed a series of “buy Chinese” measures and limited exports of some minerals to force multinationals to move factories to China.

The multi-national executives have decided that the Chinese government was not so easy to intimidate. The executives are beginning to worry Chinese policy makers are becoming increasingly convinced that, given the shocks in the banking systems in the West in comparison to the expanding Chinese economy, Western policies of free trade and open markets do not work as well as previously thought, and that new industrial policies are worth trying. A New York Times article, regarding the concerns of foreign investors in China, states:

“They say, ‘Don’t show us broken models; we’re looking for a completely different way,’ and you see a much greater willingness to experiment with completely untested policies,” said a senior executive at a multinational who insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation by Chinese regulators.

If China rejects this way of conducting business, the corporations have only themselves to blame. While preaching human rights and the glory of capitalism, the corporations, the executives and the lobbying groups have proved themselves betrayers of their own Western values. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the ability to organise trade unions as a fundamental human right, while item 2(a) of the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work defines the “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” as an essential right of all workers.


Please re-tweet:

Weekly Roundup, February 21-27, 2011

By Blueberry Tart

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Part 2: FOX News’ Silent Partner, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal

Nomadic Joe's guest post on Prince Al-Waleed portrays a complex man who uses his wealth charitably as well as to gain influence. His laudable charitable endeavors include improving the lot of disabled children in Eritrea and of women in Saudi Arabia, and supporting tsunami relief efforts. He also made a generous donation to the George H.W. Bush scholarship fund at Phillips Andover Academy and a major gift to Harvard University. Then there is the campaign to pay blood money to families of suicide bombers who attack Israelis. Hmm, that doesn’t sound very noble, does it? On its face, this is remarkably similar to Saddam Hussein paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers – action which was roundly and deservedly condemned across the world. However, the Prince’s practice of rewarding the families of suicide bombers has been met with silence regarding this inconvenient truth. This post suggests that the Prince is astute and strategic in many ways, including public relations. Perhaps he has outfoxed FOX; as part-owner, he has an effective inroad to potentially neutralize criticism from a news outlet that is often Islamophobic, but that certainly supports much of the Big Oil agenda that he also represents. A complex and strategic man, it seems.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Scott Walker, the Koch Brothers’ Tool

graphic by flyinureye, with H/T to sunnyjane

Kathleen helps expose Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as the tool of the Koch Brothers. Frankly, he seems almost like a cartoon-caricature (as flyinureye so cleverly shows, above). This post includes the now infamous recording of Walker’s (punked) telephone call with “David Koch,” in which they chat amiably about tactics to bust the union protests taking place in Wisconsin. These include planting agents provacateurs to stir up trouble in the crowd and trying to trick the Democratic Senators into returning so that they could obtain the quorum. (Ironically, this type of trickery played out a few days later in the Assembly, as reported below.) What I found funny was how much Walker talked – the guy portraying Koch hardly had to say anything because Walker couldn’t shut up. He was so full of himself, bragging about how smart he was, with his dirty tricks to try to stop the unions and the Democrats. Hopefully, people will be disgusted by his underhanded, undemocratic politics. But make no mistake: he is in the vanguard in the next stage of battle for America’s political soul.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Maddie’s Mom’s Wonderful Adventure

RFK Jr with cruise attendees (from cruise website)

Maddie’s Mom has done it! She had posted several comments over the past few months about this “progressive cruise” she was planning to go on. Now, we get to share! The cruise was with leading progressives, including Robert Kennedy, Jr, Alan Grayson, Hal Sparks, Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder and others. She regales us with tales of her wonderful experience, enjoying their good company, engaging conversation, wisdom, wit and humor, and tantalizing us (at least those of us who have been buried for months under piles of snow) with beautiful photos of Caribbean isles. Oooooh, how enticing! Our hats are off to MM for her gumption in doing this, and many thanks for letting us share a bit of this great experience, along with much beauty and fun. Wow!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Economic Indicators: the Foundation of America’s Political Discontent

Patrick's post explores economic roots of political anxiety in the U.S. He reviews a German bank’s study of economic trends, focusing on what is happening in the U.S. In the big picture, some economic indicators are stabilizing, but the unemployment rate continues to threaten our recovery and thus presents fertile ground for political upheaval. Unemployment is both the result and (now) a cause of economic stagnation. Not only is the unemployment rate stuck above 9%, but the long-term unemployment rate is almost double that of any prior recession since 1950; this sets the stage for discontent and potential political exploitation of the situation. Another graph shows that high unemployment dampens wage increases. The huge amount of commercial mortgage debt about to come due appears to be another ticking time bomb for the economy. Patrick points out that President Obama did not create these problems; he inherited them and has made progress in stabilizing the economy. However, progress is slow; many people are impatient, and some are desperate, to see more progress. Solutions are urgently needed, but further large-scale government spending is not likely amidst the political gridlock that often dominates Washington. This “continues to open the path for political pied pipers” like Sarah Palin, who, regardless of having no solutions whatsoever, could tap into the country’s fears and discontent.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Right-Wing Attack on Unions

Patrick’s next post covers the Republicans’ increasingly brazen effort to destroy labor unions. Joe Biden, in an impassioned 2007 speech, pointed out that the reason we have a strong middle class is because of unions, and reminded us that Republicans are always ready to make any event into an opportunity to weaken the hard-earned gains of labor. Next, the post covers the travesty that took place this week in the Wisconsin state legislature, when Republicans staged a sneak vote on the controversial bill to strip public worker unions’ collective bargaining rights and to sell public energy infrastructure in a no-bid process. The Repubs announced the vote without prior warning and held it open for only about 20 seconds. The footage shows some of the Republicans who were obviously forewarned that this was the strategy, literally diving to vote as soon as the vote was opened, while the Dems, unaware of the trick, rushed to try to vote within the few seconds that the vote was open. We can only hope that Americans will see this and reject such vile, anti-democratic shenanigans. The events in Wisconsin this week make clear that the new governor is a union-busting tool of the Koch Brothers.

Revisiting a Turning Point: Jimmy Carter’s 1979 Speech

Nomadic Joe goes back in time to 1979, when Jimmy Carter was President and Iran was experiencing major unrest and upheaval. America’s long-time ally, the Shah, was deposed; during the turmoil, Iran’s oil production declined and oil and gas prices rose sharply. U.S. citizens were taken hostage and Carter ordered a boycott of Iranian goods in response, contributing to further oil price increases and fomenting anger in the U.S., directed at both Iran and Carter. Against this backdrop, Carter delivered a serious speech acknowledging that Americans’ faith in government was undermined by the traumas of assassination and scandal. He called on Americans to rebuild our faith in each other and to rededicate ourselves to a common purpose, instead of pursuing a path of materialism, fragmentation and self-interest. Although the immediate reaction to his speech was very positive, Republicans soon successfully re-characterized it as an expression of gloom and doom, which contrasted sharply with the “sunny optimisim” of Ronald Reagan and his portrayal of America as the “shining city on a hill.” The rest is history.

Some Comments and Links:

Stoppalin46: I don't know if anyone is following the story of the hacked HBgray emails released by Anonymous, but they contain plans by the right to do precisely what is happening at MF. It's also interesting that the division at MF is orchestrated by the same individual actors that caused the breakup of Palingates. The plan is to divide and conquer…with a mission to stir up shit within the progressive community.

TruthSeeker: Boy, this whole Bailey book leakage situation sure smells of a palinesque strategy: Palin likes to discredit everybody in order to spread confusion (and make herself look good, since she is an empty shell and has nothing positive nor constructive to contribute to society)...My deepest disappointment is that it seems no author will broach Wild Ride & Babygate. This too, among her many other offensive actions, is a despicable part of Palin’s legacy – why ignore it?

Karenw729: FOX News: Bringing You All The Lies That Are Fit To Print.

Wooljunkie: Game Theory might be at the bottom of this leak business…Game Theory works to predict the probability of how successful a certain strategy might work. I think this letter sent out from this so called PROFESSIONAL LAW CORPORATION is nothing but a strategy to feel out the players…The deliberate strategy to sabotage the opponent is also psychological ploy to force Joe McGinniss, and others, to say something in retaliation that will show their hand. The result is a game change. I hope Joe M. does nothing and says nothing. All he needs to do is wait until his book comes out. The book will say it all. Then the blogs will follow. Then Sarah Palin will be done in, at long last.

465janedoeseeker: has Palindora's box just been opened??????? [And later] I have been thinking about the republican positions on abortion, homosexuality, and unions, and how similar they are to Hitler's positions on these things…Sure hope I'm wrong on this one, but I do see a lot of similarities.

Wesinoregon: I think it will be over soon. With this damage no one is going to ask her to speak again. She will become toxic and too controversial. Some hard core groups maybe, but not mainstream groups. She is EXPOSED.

mrs. doubtpalin: What's happening in WI has reawakened us and it's time to move on and support all the efforts to overcome the influence of Fox/Koch/wingnuts/TPs and ensure that liberal/progressive ideals and women's rights are protected and thrive.

HelenNPN: The strategy: muddy the waters, make no official response, sit tight and hopefully it will all blow over in a week or two. Continue to enjoy favors and patronage from Palin & cronies as usual.

JCos: If Walker prefers a state without unions, worker benefits, rights, protection - perhaps he should run for office in China.

BfromC: [Bailey] could certainly spare us all the references to God, prayer and his faith. It just illustrates perfectly how people cloak themselves in their hypocritical Christian faith, while proceeding with all the dirty deeds necessary to advance themselves.

Conscious at last! AREN'T THOSE WORKERS DEMONSTRATING IN WISCONSIN TERRIFIC?? Their actions are essential for maintaining a decent life for working class and middle class folks. Let's support them. Let's also support ourselves by making intelligent decisions about our own limited resources…let's not waste our energy being afraid of the right wing, the Tea Baggers, or even a Palin presidency. Let's just do all of what we already do and more to shine the light on their nonsense.

Samantha had an excellent long comment; here is part: Protests from our side die down quicker, are squelched by police, and are not covered by maintream media. Remember the anti-war protests? The police were out in force and the media portrayed them as dangerous traitors. Remember the anti-globalism protests? The unions were cornered by police into a tiny protest zone, and harrassed. Meanwhile, the teabagger movement was covered daily by the MSM, and portrayed as some kind of patriotic uprising, not a band of kooks and racists who were funded by the GOP and marching against their own interests. So you've got to look at that and see we have no media on our side and it's fundamental to our problems.

There are certain things your need on your side to be a free country. You need a free press. You need organized labor. You need public schools. You need freedom for women. You need a secular infrastructure free of the dominance of religion. You need a police workforce which is locally organized and funded, not funded or influenced by any kind of dept of homeland security. You need a military which serves to protect our foreign interests but plays no role in the internal culture.

Cheeriogirl alerted us to the comment by Home Depot's founder, who said that retailers who did not actively support Republicans should be shot. How do you spell BOYCOTT HOME DEPOT?

Aview999 linked to Andrew Sullivan on the Bailey Book. [This turned out to be one of several AS posts.] Aview also pointed this out from Wikipedia: “Trade unions were abolished, as well as collective bargaining and the right to strike. ”Economy of Nazi Germany"

Sallyngarland,tx linked to twitter/blogsofwar, which has tweets about unrest around the world.

newsOne and BfromC linked to Lawrence O’Donnell’s report on the Bailey memoir.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right! - Sunday Video - UPDATE: 100.000 people protested in Madison against Gov. Scott Walker

The following video was picked up from the Political Carnival who posted it yesterday.

Give hugs people -- not angry words. Let's all chill out a little.

Here is a link to the creator of the video's you tube channel . Enjoy

This is an open post so feel free to discuss what is on your mind or just mingle with each other.



Over 100.000 people gathered together in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday in order to protest against the Governor Scott Walker:

As Politicususa notes, this huge protest was ignored by the media. Mass protests against right-wingers who are out of control are apparently not as sexy as the gatherings of the teabaggers. Politicususa comments:

All three cable networks share something else in common besides their decision to ignore today’s rallies. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News along with most other forms of media have decided that liberal protests aren’t newsworthy. They believe that the ratings and the money are in the right, not the left. The three cable networks are corporate owned and only for the purpose of profit. They don’t care about journalism or their obligation to inform the public.

This is all about dollars, and the outdated notion that the most profitable way to run a cable news outlet is to be like Fox News, which is why CNN keeps hiring more and more right wingers and has hopped into bed with the Tea Party Express.

Crooks & Liars about the coverage on CNN:

While protesters gather on their state capitals across the country to show their support for the workers in Wisconsin, CNN thought they'd take some time out letting us all know that their astroturf tea party Republican re-branding effort just turned two.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two Roads Diverged: Jimmy Carter’s Speech - July 15, 1979

Guest Post By Nomadic Joe

The recent stunning images of revolution in the Islamic world is reminiscent of the Iranian revolution of 1978. Protests throughout Iran had led to the dethroning of the Shah of Iran and in his place, Ayatollah Khomeini- a fundamentalist cleric- became the leader of the nation.
The revolution had thrown oil production into decline and, this, in turn, had driven up prices. 
To make up for this loss, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations boosted their respective production; however, the cartel had also announced that a series of oil price increases would accompany this increase. Gasoline prices skyrocketed and the perception of a shortage had led to widespread panic. Beginning in California and spreading eastward, the panic soon turned to anger from the American public and this hostility was primarily directed at the Carter administration. One of reason for this was Carter’s decision to cut all imports of Iranian goods, following the seizure of American hostages when students raided the American embassy in Tehran.

Carter's approval rating had dropped to 25%, lower than Richard Nixon's during the Watergate scandal. Following an exhausting summit in Tokyo, the one thing President Carter desired most was a break. He had planned to travel to Hawaii for a vacation. However, his chief of staff took a look at the poll numbers and warned him that his chances of re-election would be in serious doubt unless he took some action immediately.
Reluctantly, he cancelled his vacation and retreated to Camp David to begin working on a speech to the nation regarding the energy crisis. His heart was conflicted. His other speeches had had limited effect and he had begun to feel that the public had simply stopped listening. He now felt that a new approach was necessary.

Casting aside his previous plans- much to the concern of his staff- Carter privately invited dozens of prominent Americans to Camp David- members of Congress, governors, labor leaders, academics and clergy- to speak their minds about the present state of the nation. Carter sat on the floor and took notes while citizens from all walks of life shared their opinions with the leader of the country. 
What Carter heard was not flattery but valid, honest criticism of his leadership. For Carter, this “domestic summit” was enlightening and the things he had learned directly from the voters offered him a new direction for the nation. 
The speech was given on a Sunday evening of July 15, 1979. Millions of Americans watched as Carter gave what was to be his most important speech. I recall the speech and looking back on the online video copies of it now, it is faintly embarrassing. Carter was not at all a smooth speaker and in some ways, his corniness was part of his appeal. In the years following Watergate, the public had grown intensely frustrated with career politicians and yearned for an outsider. Compared to Carter’s successor, Jimmy Carter’s manner of public speaking was unnatural, his gestures forced and awkward. As one of his speech writers, Hendrik Hertzberg, remarked, “[it] was more like a sermon than a political speech. It had the themes of confession, redemption, and sacrifice. He was bringing the American people into this spiritual process that he had been through, and presenting them with an opportunity for redemption as well as redeeming himself."

The President's Speech
Though he never used the word, it became known as Carter's "malaise" speech. That, then, is the background of the speech and here are some excerpts.

We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

These changes did not happen overnight. They've come upon us gradually over the last generation, years that were filled with shocks and tragedy.

We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the Presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate.

These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed.

The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.
What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don't like it, and neither do I. What can we do?
First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.
We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

And Afterward
Surprisingly perhaps, his poll numbers went up 11 percent the day after the speech. That glow was short-lived, however. Carter didn't help himself by clumsily conducting a shakeup of his government in the week following the speech. That decision, too, came directly from the opinions he had collected about the loyalty of his staff. This ill-timed house-cleaning of his cabinet, so late in his term, suggested that things were in a state of collapse. His vice-president, Walter Mondale recalls, “ the message the American people got was that we were falling apart."
The Republican side clearly saw an opportunity. Ronald Reagan offered a vision of America without limit whose glory lay before it. A little more than a year later, Ronald Reagan defeated Carter by offering Americans a vision that was as optimistic as Carter's was pessimistic. Americans have always been a positive people and Reagan, whatever his true record, made Americans feel good about themselves. The Neo-Conservative movement adroitly used the phrase “a crisis of confidence” to mean “weakness.” Re-reading the text of the speech shows this was not quite what Carter was actually referring to. However, the label stuck tight and that is what historians now use to define the Carter years.

Admittedly, Reagan was, unlike Carter, a master of rhetoric and the smooth delivery. His old style patriotism was a political masterpiece, delivered by the idealized grandfather.

No doubt Reagan spoke from the heart, but his real gift was a canny knack for telling Americans what most of them wanted to hear. As a candidate for the White House, Reagan did not call on Americans to tighten their belts, make do, or settle for less. He saw no need for sacrifice or self-denial. He rejected as false Carter’s dichotomy between quantity and quality. Above all, he assured his countrymen that they could have more.

But as Basevich also points out, there is a cost to unlimited demand A life without restrictions or sacrifice necessarily requires an ability to control the resources that underpin it. As an political policy, this, unfortunately, demanded an imperial approach. If Mubarak tortured his own people, denied them free elections and squashed any and all dissent, then at least, he was “ours.” He was, we assumed (incorrectly)- somebody we could rely on. If the strong man approach did not work, then the use of force was always available. This, however, requires an expensive modern military, ready to secure our resources, under the guise of protecting our “national interests.”

In a excellent article regarding the speech, author and history teacher at Ohio University Kevin Mattson observes:

The other way to understand the speech is to see it as a turning point. The age of conservatism....has been framed not by Carter’s tones of humility but celebratory nationalism. In fact, the game plan was laid by Ronald Reagan’s direct retort to Carter, made when announcing his candidacy just three months after Carter’s speech. Reagan explained, “I find no national malaise. I find nothing wrong with the American people.” Instead America stood as a “shining city on a hill,” a term he used persistently throughout the campaign.
Where did this talk of positive thinking take us? Well, triumphant confidence can become dangerous. It can lead Americans to questionable ambitions overseas, to think of themselves as leading the world and unwilling to scrutinize their own values or ask any questions about themselves.
Carter’s speech reminds us that a leader can ask something of the American people and can tell citizens they have grown too comfortable in their ways and must face some uncomfortable truths about the perils of their way of life. It shows that a leader can speak boldly to the American people about their problems and can in fact re-energize the civic bonds between leader and citizens. The “malaise speech,” as it’s unfortunately titled, didn’t necessarily show exactly how we would get off our reliance on fossil fuels today. But it did suggest that we would become better – not just environmentally but morally – if we did.

So much of what Carter warned the American people about has now come to pass and so much of it is related to our dependence on petroleum. This, in turn, drives an economy designed, for the most part- to support a way of life we did not actually need and could not afford. The attitude throughout the last decade of the last century was: Too much was not nearly enough. And there may not be anything wrong with that if it had been a reward for our hard work but instead, it has all been constructed on a false sense of entitlement.

Unlike the social movements of the 1960s whose goals were diversity and a sharing of the American pie, The Tea Party movement appears to advocate a defense of the entitlements that certain citizens have come to expect. This essentially selfish philosophy, fully financed by corporations, and regaled by the bellowing voice of Murdoch, has become “The New Patriotism.”

As another blogger has astutely pointed out:

I think Reagan's ultimate legacy will be that we now have a generation of people that have been raised to believe that the government can provide all sorts of services (police and fire departments, schools, hospitals, national defense, health care, etc) and no one has to pay a dime for it. We have a generation of adults who believe they shouldn't have to make a single sacrifice in order to benefit from all the services that the government offers. In fact, some believe that their taxes should be cut even further or eliminated all together.

This makes getting out of the current mess altogether more difficult. Politicians who propose raising taxes and/or cutting government services have a hard time getting elected and those in power who do so usually don't get re-elected.

The testing of the soul of America seems to be in full swing, as much now as it was when Carter made that speech on a summer night more than thirty years ago.