Bill Clinton's "Magic Act" in Asia

While Monica and Ken take center stage again in Washington, Bill and his trusty sidekick Al have skedaddled to Asia. The vice President got headlines there this week for publicly rebuking the Malaysian prime minister, and the President intends to speak loudly (while carrying no stick at all) to the Japanese prime minister on Thursday.Meanwhile, none of our national leaders, Republican or Democrat, seem to have noticed that the American economy itself is rushing to hell in a jet-powered hand basket. Check the working class: downsizing is roaring again. In only the last two weeks, Texaco eliminated 1,000 jobs, International Paper cut 800, Monsanto punted 2,500 workers, J.P. Morgan offed 740, Levi Strauss has furloughed 4,000 people-while BankAmerica, Cadence Design, Olin Corporation, US Steel, IMC Global, H.J. Heinz, Nordstrom, LTV, Lam Research, Nine West, and Eastman Kodak each disposed of between 150 and 700 jobs. And these are just the ones publicized.More than half a million jobs are gone already in 1998, and the year is likely to be the worst of this bad decade, surpassing even the infamous downsizings of '91 and '93. Next year promises to be worse. The Wall Street Journal reports that massive corporate mergers and the collapse of international speculation in Asia, Russia, and elsewhere is causing "a growing number of [U.S.] firms to cut back on capital-spending plans and hand out pink slips."Yet Clinton and Gore, cheered by a Hallelujah Chorus of Republicans in Congress, are gaily traipsing across Asia this week peddling the same Wall Street Snake Oil that is ruining economies (and millions of lives) everywhere. It's essentially the same voodoo that two other economic flimflammers, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, hawked: allow speculators, brokers, bankers, and global corporations to work their will, unfettered by any concerns for workers or the environment, and these geniuses will "magically" pull prosperity out of their hat for all of us.Asians have learned the hard way that magicians don't perform "magic"; they perform an illusion, and the highly ballyhooed "Asian Miracle" is fast crumbling into the reality of abject poverty.The simple lesson of the collapse there and elsewhere is that sound economies are not built on investor greed, but on steady grassroots development based on good jobs at good pay. Knocking down working families-whether in Asia or in America-is knocking down your customers . . . and ultimately the whole house of cards. It's time to re-regulate the financial pirates and to move capital into job-creating, sustainable enterprises. Money is like manure, it doesn't do any good unless you spread it around.

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