After Cancellation, Sanders Vows to Hold WV Town Hall ‘In The Streets’

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As the former presidential candidate continues to draw thousands in red states, officials pulled the plug on Monday speech in impoverished McDowell County, West Virginia

Se. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to a sold out audience in Charleston, West Virginia on Sunday night. (Photo: F. Brian Ferguson/Gazette-Mail)

Se. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to a sold out audience in Charleston, West Virginia on Sunday night. (Photo: F. Brian Ferguson/Gazette-Mail)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he will not be “intimidated” from speaking in West Virginia’s McDowell County, “one of the poorest areas in one of our poorest states,” after officials pulled the plug on a Monday town hall event.

“If anyone in West Virginia government thinks that I will be intimidated from going to McDowell County, West Virginia, to hold a town meeting, they are dead wrong,” declared Sanders in a Facebook post on Sunday after the state’s National Guard announced the meeting, which was slated to be aired on MSNBC‘s “All In with Chris Hayes,” would not be able to take place at the Welch National Guard Armory two days before it was scheduled to occur.

“If they don’t allow us to use the local armory, we’ll find another building. If we can’t find another building, we’ll hold the meeting out in the streets,” vowed the Vermont independent. “That town meeting will be held. Poverty in America will be discussed. Solutions will be found.”

Hundreds of people had already signed up to attend the event, Sanders said.

On a speaking tour to promote his new book and highlight some of the most economically distressed areas of the country, the progressive champion and former presidential candidate continues to draw massive crowds in some of the most conservative corners.

An upcoming speech in Topeka, Kansas on Feb. 25th had to be moved to a larger venue after more than 1,500 tickets were sold in one week.

In the West Virginia state capital of Charleston, where U.S. President Donald Trump won 57 percent of the vote, Sanders addressed a crowd of over 2,000 people on Sunday evening.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “Sanders challenged the people of West Virginia to resist any efforts by President Donald Trump to become an authoritarian and undermine the country’s court system.”

“What he is doing is what demagogues have always done, and that is to pick on minorities and try to divide this country up,” Sanders said. “What a real statesman attempts to do—what good government is about—is bringing people together to improve life for all.”

Sanders also reiterated his vow to hold Trump accountable for his campaign pledges not to slash Social Security or government healthcare programs and said he would continue to draw attention to the plight of poverty in the United States.

In McDowell County, where more than half the population lives beneath the poverty line, residents have the lowest life expectancy in the nation and drug addiction is at an epidemic rate. During his Sunday speech, Sanders said he was “enormously impressed by the dignity and courage of the people there who stood up and talked about the issues and talked about a new future” when he visited during his presidential primary campaign.

During the presidential election, Trump won 74.1 percent in McDowell County, six months after Sanders won the Democratic primary there with 55.2 percent of the vote.

Both Trump’s faux-populism and Sanders plan for a dramatic economic overhaul, which included infrastructure investments, healthcare-for-all, and free college tuition, resonated with residents of the impoverished and largely forgotten community.

“If you think we are not going back to McDowell County, you are very mistaken,” Sanders again promised Sunday evening.

According to a statement provided to the Gazette-Mail from the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, the approval for Monday’s event was revoked by officials on Friday after “it became apparent that it would run afoul of [Department of Defense] and State Armory Board policy” which forbids “the use of military facilities for political and election events and specifically includes town hall meetings as an example of such activities.”

That decision prompted protesters to descend on the governor’s mansion on Sunday afternoon. According to the Gazette-Mail, “the group of approximately 25 people chanted and held signs more than an hour.”

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Treasury Set for Wall Street Takeover as Mnuchin Poised for Confirmation

With no Republicans indicating opposition, Senate likely to confirm ‘foreclosure king’ as Treasury Secretary

Steven Mnuchin’s nomination has been seen as one of many signals that the Trump administration is breaking its promise to rid the White House of corporate power. (Photo: Reuters)

Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin, who is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Monday, is reportedly looking to fill cabinet positions with Wall Street executives and Republican establishment figures.

Politico reports:

Senior Goldman Sachs banker Jim Donovan is under strong consideration for deputy Treasury secretary and could serve as Mnuchin’s No. 2 if confirmed by the Senate, people familiar with the matter said. Justin Muzinich, a former Morgan Stanley banker now at Muzinich, is likely to take a senior position possibly as undersecretary for domestic finance or counselor, the people said. The counselor position would not require Senate confirmation.

Economist David Malpass, a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, is expected to be nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as undersecretary for international affairs.

Although none of the decisions are final, all three men are “well-known on Wall Street and in Washington,” Politico writes.

Mnuchin’s nomination has been seen as one of many signals that the Trump administration is breaking its promise to rid the White House of corporate power.

He passed out of the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month amid a Democratic boycott of nominees after Republicans flouted rules requiring at least one member of each party present on the panel to hold a vote.

Democrats have vowed to vote against the former Goldman Sachs banker they’ve nicknamed the “foreclosure king,” but no Republican has indicated opposition, setting the stage for a 52-48 confirmation along party lines, Reuters notes.

The Senate vote is scheduled to take place as late as 7:00pm Monday.

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NAFTA Has Harmed Mexico a Lot More than Any Wall Could Do

The Wall, US border, separating Mexico from the US, looking east, along Highway 2, Sonora Desert, Mexican side (flickr/cc)

President Trump is unlikely to fulfill his dream of forcing Mexico to pay for his proposed wall along the United States’ Southern border.

If it is built, though, U.S. taxpayers will almost certainly foot the bill, which some have estimated could be as high as $50 billion.

With that said, it’s worth taking a step back to look at the economics of U.S.-Mexican relations to see how immigration from Mexico even became a political issue someone like Trump could use to his advantage.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly called NAFTA, is a good starting point.

While it is finally widely recognized that so-called free trade agreements have harmed millions of U.S. workers, thought leaders from both sides of the political spectrum continue to assume NAFTA has been good for Mexico. This assumption is forcefully contradicted by the facts.

If we look at the most basic measure of economic progress, the growth of gross domestic product, or income per person, Mexico, which signed on to NAFTA in 1994, has performed the 15th-best out of 20 Latin American countries.

Other measures show an even sadder picture. The poverty rate in 2014 was 55.1 percent, an increase from the 52.4 percent measurement in 1994.

Wages tell a similar story: There’s been almost no growth in real inflation-adjusted wages since 1994 – just about 4.1 percent over 21 years.

Why has Mexico fared so poorly under NAFTA?

Well, it must be understood that NAFTA marked a continuation of policies that began in the 1980s under pressure from Washington and the International Monetary Fund, when Mexico had been left particularly vulnerable from a debt crisis and world recession.

These policies included the deregulation and liberalization of manufacturing, foreign investment and ownership – 70 percent of Mexico’s banking system is now foreign-owned.

Mexico also moved away from the pro-development policies of the previous decades toward a new, neoliberal prescription that tied Mexico ever more closely to its northern neighbor and its questionable ideas about economic development.

The purpose of NAFTA was to lock in these changes and policies in an international treaty so that they would be more difficult to reverse.

It was also designed to add special privileges for transnational corporations, like the right to sue governments for regulations that reduced their potential profits – even those dealing with public health or environmental safety. These lawsuits are decided by a tribunal of mostly corporate lawyers who are not bound by precedent or any national legal system.

About 2 million net jobs have been lost in Mexican agriculture, with millions more displaced, as imported subsidized corn has wiped out small farmers. From 1994-2000, immigration to the U.S. from Mexico increased by 79 percent, before dropping off in the 2000s.

Now about that wall: If the Mexican economy had just continued to grow post-1980, as it did for the two decades prior, Mexicans would have an average income at European levels today. Very few Mexicans would take big risks to live or work in the U.S.

But growth collapsed after 1980 under Washington’s failed experiment.

Even if we look just at the 23 years post-NAFTA – the much better years – GDP per person has grown by just 29 percent, a fraction of the 99 percent growth Mexico saw from 1960-1980.

The wall would cause significant environmental and economic damage, if it is ever built. But it is the long-term damage that Washington has helped visit upon the Mexican economy that has brought us to the point where a U.S. president could even propose such a monstrosity.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

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