Monday, September 14, 2009

Your Local Chamber of Commerce and Corruption

Like most communities, my home city, Asheville, NC has a local Chamber of Commerce. This organization of local business interests is manned by enthusiastic and, from experience, well intended people. On the plus side, these good folks unite the business community and give voice to the importance of commerce. On the minus side, like most special interest groups, they are busy gaming America.

Special interest groups can serve a good purpose in raising awareness on issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. Unfortunately in today's "big government" America, where the free enterprise system and rule of law have been selectively laid aside, it is very difficult for special interest groups to resist the temptation to join the herd and milk the system. The result is a parade of selfish interest groups busily trumping the common interests. Despite a well contrived image, the 'American as apple pie' Chamber of Commerce is no exception.

It will come as no surprise to you that most politicians are elected and influenced on the basis of money above all other considerations. Over the past 10 years the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has invested more dollars in this insidious "Buy America" plan than any other lobby group in America. In fact they have outspent their nearest competitor - the American Medical Society - two fold. (1)

If you are businessman in America and a member of your local Chamber, ask yourself if that money has produced results you are proud of? If you are an average citizen, ask yourself if those dollars are directed toward the common good, or somebody's idea of a special deal? You can bet that no one invests these kinds of dollars in Washington just to feel warm and fuzzy.

When most folks think of the Chamber of Commerce there is an immediate mental connection with conservative values. It is a common mistake to place people or organizations with a business bias, like the Chamber and sister organizations such as the Manufacturers Executive Association, under this umbrella. Like many of our politicians, having a few conservative positions does not a conservative make.

Looking back at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsement of "Hillary Care" during the Clinton years offers a sobering reality check on the difference between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce image and reality. (2) There are others.

The U.S. Chamber's position on illegal immigration represents a chamber of horrors for those who believe in our free enterprise system and the rule of law. For decades, the Chamber has consistently fought reform and obfuscated immigration realities to the benefit of select members.

Their most recent illegal immigration offense was set-back this past week when Federal Judge Alexander Williams ruled against the U.S. Chamber and other plaintiffs fighting the use of E-Verify to validate legal employment status for Federal contract workers. (3) It was his position that the delay they sought would benefit their private interests more than public ones.

"While the court understands that some harm and inconvenience always accompanies changes ... plaintiffs have failed to show they are likely to suffer irreparable harm," Williams wrote. "Contractors can avoid contracting with the government if they do not want to use E-Verify for whatever reason."

In our community, as in many others in America, Chamber members and other special interests are using non-English speaking labor from an estimated pool of 15 - 20 million illegal aliens while 15 million Americans remain unemployed. (4)

With 10.1 percent of adult males in this country out of work, how does any organization continue to honestly claim that illegal workers do jobs that Americans won't or that good American workers can't be found for the jobs that do exist? (5)

The deeper truth is that many Chamber members want to have their company in America, make use of the benefits of our culture, but run their business with imported labor willing to work for wages lower than those necessary to attract American workers. This artificial means of wage manipulation sidesteps the natural wage adjustments that would occur under a more honest free market economy. (6)

You and I should be willing to pay a quarter more for a burger cooked by a legal worker. If a company's business model doesn't work here then then they should take their business elsewhere - not try to import their labor pool through the back door.

Paradoxically those who game the system are usually undermining their fellow Chamber members who try to use legal American labor for American jobs at American wages. The passivity of the "play it straight" membership with their organization's short-sighted policies on illegal immigration is fascinating. (7)

Speaking of shooting one's self in the foot, you might have an interest in our local Chamber's upcoming "luxury" trip to China. (8) At a time when our every energy should be devoted to keeping American jobs in America, vacationing with the country most often manipulating or ignoring our trade agreements and taking most of those jobs is a form of economic treason. This model is probably being mirrored in your own community.

For a bargain of $2,000, Asheville Chamber members can travel to China, Inc. for 10 days and get to know our abusers a little better. One has no doubts that the historically self-less and benevolent Chinese government is enabling this adventure with an eye on making sure that American jobs stay in America and the 'way out of balance' trade imbalance rights itself. Right?

No, not if you take a closer look at the industrial and manufacturing rape of America over the past 15 years. The U.S. government and the U.S. Chamber have led a charge that has found America going from one of the strongest manufacturing nations in the world to one of the weakest - from a nation that once funded the world to a nation that now lives on borrowed dollars and a fantasy future. (9)

Don't believe it? Ask yourself whatever happened to all that fairy dust once used by every Chamber of Commerce in the U.S. touting "high tech" bio-tech as the future that was going to replace "low tech" manufacturing. Seen any bio-tech lately?

Then there is that accompanying and frequently recited Chamber nonsense about America's future being found in the service industries and fair and free trade laws. As a country, if you are not building, growing, or mining something then you are slipping down the food chain. And there has been absolutely nothing close to a fair or free trade agreement for America in decades.

As former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca once famously warned, "We can't build an economy flipping burgers for each other and shopping in each others stores. Somebody's got to make something." The official policy indifference to the crucial importance of production over consumption illuminates the U.S. Chamber of Commerce more realistically as the U.S. Chamber of Corruption.

One does not need to be a business expert to see that America's economic foundation is eroding at an alarming rate. Take a look at the empty store fronts, shuttered plants, and loss of middle class jobs in your community. Don't be distracted by all the new foreign cars whizzing by - each represents more jobs in another country and less jobs here. Each is a 4 wheeled billboard pretending that "Made in America" doesn't count.

Speaking of which, the Chamber has consistently been at the forefront of the mass exodus of our economic base by pretending that making it here with legal workers doesn't matter. In fact, the Chamber has a persisting history of resisting and mocking "Buy American" initiatives. (10)

Why? Unlike China, 21st century American business thinks more about now than later. Our stock market, executive's salaries, and consumer based economy are all grounded in making sure the wheels keep turning today. One can burn their house to keep it warm, but that seems a bastardization of the American Dream.

It would not be my position that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is no longer relevant or necessary. To the contrary, this vast network has tremendous potentials to retrace its role of corruption and rededicate itself to the crucial mission of honest commerce.

Continuing to fight illegal immigration interventions and "Buy American" initiatives, while advocating for a consumer based service economy and unrealistic and abused trade relationships that steal our revenue and jobs, is dangerous work. These acts of cultural suicide should not go unchallenged.

That should be the mission of every Chamber of commerce member in America. Don't quit your organization - step forward and begin the process of recapturing it.

The good old boys and girls at the local Chamber have been busy swapping the American Dream for an American Nightmare. It's time to wake up.

Carl Mumpower
Asheville City Council

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