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June 1 - 15, 2005

Issue #76

  .........................Buffalo's Best Fiend
   

The CyberCloset
A Chance Encounter

by Allan Uthman

 
Monkey Business
A Different Kind of Crusade
by Matt Taibbi
 
Jack Davis vs China
Trade Protectionist Gets His Party Started
by Matt Higgins
 
War on Drugs or Just War?
Plan Colombia Stays Aloft
by John Myers
 

Newsreek
Anonymous Sources Under Fire--Sometimes

by Matt Taibbi

 

Lonely Revolution
Free Buffalo, but Nobody's Buying

by Matt Higgins

 

Are You an Evil Genius?
Take the Quiz
by N. Sorrenti

 

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for Newbies

 
  
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JACK DAVIS vs. CHINA

Trade protectionist gets his party started

By Matt Higgins

On May 17, Akron industrialist Jack Davis stood under a statue of Millard Fillmore outside Buffalo’s city hall and announced the formation of a new political party with the simple appellation, the Save Jobs Party.

Only about a dozen spectators – mostly media – witnessed the press conference. Among the few was a local attorney who, out of a sense of modesty, insisted that his name not be used for this article. He prefers the sobriquet Mr. F.

Because he is an amateur political historian, Mr. F recognized what the local media goon squad did not – a greater historical context for Davis’ party and its national platform.

“See that statue?” Mr. F said, pointing to Fillmore. “That’s Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United States. He was an attorney in Buffalo with a far-ranging reputation. He was a big-time player in the local political scene during his day, just like Davis.”

“Fillmore was a Whig,” I said.

“He was a Whig,” Mr. F countered, “but then he was run out of the party and joined the Know-Nothings.”

“He could really pick ‘em,” I said.

Mr. F looked at me from behind thick black Ray-Bans. “The Whigs drove him out because he was an appeaser on slavery. Naturally he found a home with the Know-Nothings and their platform of strict xenophobia against the micks and krauts.”

“He couldn’t have been that bad,” I said. “They put a statue of him next to city hall – it’s not like he’s Jefferson Davis.”

“There’s a statue of Jefferson Davis in the Capitol. Anyway, Fillmore will always be remembered for opening Japan to American trade using the naval blockade of Commodore Matthew Perry.”

“You know a lot about American history,” I said.

“I don’t think he does, though,” Mr. F said, pointing to Jack Davis.

I had to agree, because if he did he would have chosen a backdrop other than Millard Fillmore. See, the raison d’etre of the Save Jobs Party is animosity to free trade with places like Japan, but especially China, which Davis calls “Red China.”

In fact, Davis hates all free trade. It’s bad for businesses like his company, I Squared R Element, which manufactures heating elements. He has 75 employees, all non-union, and Chinese competition is hurting him.

“This is everybody’s problem,” Davis has said, “not Democrat, Republican or Working Family. People were taught in high school – in economics 101 – that free trade was a good thing. We know that it’s not a good thing.”

FAR EASTMAN

If Davis has a sense of nothing else, at least he has impeccable timing. On the afternoon of his press conference the U.S. Treasury Department got tough with China, issuing threats of retaliation if the Chinese continue to artificially devalue their currency. The heat is on: Democrats and Republicans are calling for steep tariffs to punish the Chinese for pegging the Yuan roughly 8.28 to the dollar, the effect of which is that no matter what happens with the U.S. economy, products from China will always be cheaper than anything made here.

During the past 10 years the Chinese economy has ballooned. The U.S. trade deficit with China is now $125 billion, more than with the entire European Union. To keep the imbalance from affecting their currency, the Chinese have invested in hundreds of billions of dollars in Treasury securities. All of which sounds like a bunch of esoteric economic blather until you look at the effect locally.

Take Eastman Machine, for example: United Auto Workers Local 936 has been on strike since mid-March at the company, which makes fabric cutting machines at its Washington Street facility downtown. The union workers walked out during negotiations over a new contract, citing outsourcing of jobs to China.

Eastman has recently started joint partnerships in China. CEO Robert Stevenson told the House Ways and Means Committee in April that piracy by Chinese competitors has eroded his company’s ability to compete.

“Stevenson doesn’t get it – he can’t compete,” Davis said during an interview outside the old Central Terminal on Buffalo's East Side. “The Chinese steal everything, and what they can’t steal, they copy.”

Stevenson has said Eastman’s Chinese operation is strictly for the Chinese market. But union officials call bullshit, believing that layoffs and downsizing in recent years are just euphemisms for outsourcing.

“Our biggest issue is job security,” said Dominic Russo, 56, of Cheektowaga, an electronic assembler who has worked at Eastman since 1971. “Where does it stop? Do we let [Eastman] keep exporting jobs until there’s no one left here?”

Russo and others have picketed outside the Eastman facility daily from 6am to 6pm. On Friday, May 27, at 5:30pm, the strikers blocked a school bus of scabs from leaving the parking lot for five minutes in what has become a daily ritual. Do it any longer, they say, and Eastman calls the cops.

As the yellow school bus finally rolled out of the lot, Steven Kemna, 55, of Lancaster, a tool and die maker at Eastman since 1982, yelled: “Smelly scabs, go back where you belong – stay there!” The scabs responded by giving the strikers the finger, which enraged Kemna and Russo in a very animated way.

Davis sides with the union in the dispute. “Stevenson sold out,” he said. “He’s not doing what’s good for Buffalo or Erie County.”

JIGSAW POPULISM

Davis has cast himself as the industrialist who refuses to sell out, but in reality his alliance with unions is more a stance of political expediency.

“I don’t want a union shop,” he said, “[but] unions are not the problem. Unions are the only ones organized enough to move ahead [on squelching free trade].”

So the Save Jobs Party has fashioned a national platform that plays perfectly to the likes of the strikers at Eastman. In a nutshell, it takes the following positions:

  • Save American jobs, farms, and industries
  • Cancel membership in the WTO and all free trade agreements
  • Enact tariffs to reduce trade deficits
  • Enforce immigration laws
  • Oppose privatizing social security
  • Direct government to buy American products and services

With a message focused on keeping jobs in America, Davis hopes to garner the union vote in the Democratic Party. And by appealing to business owners with his protectionist platform, Davis thinks he can cause a schism within the Republican Party. In effect, Save Our Jobs hopes to lure disaffected members from both parties and somehow piece them together.

“The Republicans have turned their back on American business owners like me and cater to multinational corporations that invest in China rather than America,” Davis said. “The Democrats have forgotten about American workers and farmers and push deals like NAFTA. Both parties get their money from the elite multinationals that are sending jobs to China.”

Davis admits that in his heart he is an old-fashioned Goldwater Republican. But the Republicans sold him out, beginning with Ronald Reagan. “The Republican Party left me,” he said, “and I know they left a lot of people.”

THE POLITICS OF REVENGE

This is where the tale of the Save Jobs party becomes deeply personal for Davis. It can be traced to 2003, when at a Republican fund-raiser featuring Congressman Tom Reynolds (R-Clarence) and Vice President Dick Cheney, Davis said he was told to “sit down and shut up,” after griping about the effect of free trade on American businesses. He was eventually asked to leave the event.

Davis was angry with the Republicans, to whom he had been signing fat checks for years. He decided to run as a Democrat against Reynolds in 2004, and took to the race like an angry apostate. He spent $1.2 million of his own money and got 44 percent of the vote.

He said he has no regrets, and he learned a lot: some Republicans just wouldn’t vote for a Democrat – even one they agreed with. Also, he couldn’t count on the endorsement of other parties, especially the Independence party, which he thought he had wrapped up until the eleventh hour.

He resolved to start his own party, ensuring him that second line on the ballot the Independence endorsement would have gotten him. That would first require local and state platforms: controlling hydro-electric power at Niagara Falls; studying county services and costs; replacing the county executive with an administrator; restructuring the pay and benefits of county workers; making Medicaid spending match the national average; redrawing state and federal legislative districts; and eliminating or moving some Thruway toll booths.

He’s a manufacturer from Akron with a load of money that he’s willing to spend on politics, but how will Davis change federal legislation on international trade by endorsing candidates for local elected office? Wouldn’t it be better to form some national coalition or found a PAC to spread cash around Washington, D.C.? I mean, what is a county legislator supposed to do about free trade?

Davis acknowledged my question, but sees his best bet as building a grass-roots party, all the while gearing up himself for another run at Reynolds in 2008. “If I beat Reynolds on the Save Jobs Party platform, I will have knocked off the fifth most powerful Republican,” he said.

Reynolds and his fellow Republicans will try to dismiss Davis’s platform as the delusional ravings of an old man woefully out of step with the new global economy.

“Reynolds is representing the Republican Party and Bush,” Davis said, “not the people in this country.”

THE RETURN OF THE KNOW-NOTHINGS?

There are obvious comparisons to Fillmore and the Know-Nothings. “Buffalo’s role in national politics has come full circle in 150 years,” Mr. F said, “like some long suffering dog finally turning around to gnaw on its own grotesquely infected leg.”

I’m not sure what that means, but there is a strain of virulent xenophobia running through Davis’ ideology. It doesn’t come across in his pithy soundbites: “China is outsourcing their unemployment.” But get him on the subject of immigration and undocumented domestic workers.

“Send them back,” he says of illegal workers. “Put the Army on the border.”

He talks of a halcyon day when migrants picked grapes, then returned to Mexico until the next harvest. But now, he says, they stay in the United States full-time. He points to the costs in education, health care, and incarceration, and says: “It’s costing us – it would be cheaper to pay American workers.”

What about the oft-repeated claim that Americans don’t want to do the jobs performed by illegal immigrants? As Mexican president Vicente Fox recently said, “There is no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work, are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States.”

Davis has a quick reply: “Americans don’t want to work on those jobs at the same price as Mexicans.”

That kind of talk plays in certain circles, but it’s “out of the mainstream” these days. If he sticks to it, Davis may find himself easily dismissed as some archaic right wing nut.

In the end, Davis’ biggest gaffe likely won’t be his anachronistic attitudes about foreigners ruining this country. It will probably be his decision to eschew the more prominent parties and start his own. After all, there’s not a very good track record in this country for upstart political parties.

The Know-Nothings have been reduced to a historical footnote. They died an ignominious death after running Fillmore as their candidate for president in 1856 and losing badly.

What did it all mean? I called Mr. F. “It’s easy,” he said. “If there’s any fairness, then the fate of the Know-Nothings will befall the Republicans – and then the Democrats.”

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