Why Baltimore is Burning

If you want to understand what’s going on in Baltimore right now, just ask John Angelos, the COO of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

Seriously, I’m not kidding.

On Sunday, one day after his team’s stadium was locked down to protect fans from nearby protests, Angelos took to Twitter to respond to Brett Hollander, a local sportscaster angry at protesters for “violat[ing] the basic freedoms of non-protestors.”

While he agreed with Hollander that the “principle of peaceful, non-violent protest… is of utmost importance in any society,” Angelos said that he was ultimately more concerned with the root cause of this week’s unrest: the obliteration of Baltimore’s middle and working class by decades of so-called free trade deals.

“[M]y greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case,” he said,

is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

As Angelos then went on add,

while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

That really is about as good of explanation about of what’s going in Baltimore right now as you’re going to get.

Riots and violent protests do not occur in a vacuum. They are the natural, if unfortunate, outcome of poverty and failed policy.

There is a long history of this from Roman times to the French Revolution forward. In this case, though, the failed policy in question isn’t, as it was in 1789, France’s war debt. Today, it’s so-called free trade.

From the founding of the Republic and really the Reagan and Clinton eras, America operated on the same set of principles set forth by Alexander Hamilton in his famous “Report on Manufactures.” We had tariffs that protected domestic industry, and as result, supported good working-class job.

But then, Nixon, Bush, Reagan and Clinton began embracing a new school of thought about how to grow the wealth of nations. This new school of thought, pushed by Wall Street and corporate America, said that so-called “free trade” deals were the best and fastest way to riches.

All that the free trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA really did, though, was take the most important and profitable part of our economy - manufacturing - and send it overseas. According to Public Citizen, NAFTA alone led to a net loss of over one million jobs.

For cities like Baltimore that thrived off industry and sold manufactured goods all across America, this new era of free trade was a death sentence. It destroyed the American middle class - while building a new Chinese and Vietnamese middle class - and pushed the American working class into poverty.

So while Freddie Gray and years of racist policing may have been the spark for today’s unrest, economic devastation as a result of free trade was the kindling - the root cause of why Baltimore is burning.

If we really want to prevent other cities from the going the way of Baltimore, we will, of course, have to seriously rethink our policing practices. But we’ll also need to rethink our trade policies.

FDR once said the best welfare program is a job, and when capitalism is failing like it is now as a result of Reaganism and so-called free trade, the government needs to step in and do two things: 1) make the government the employer of last resort with a massive public works program, and 2) recalibrate capitalism so that it works for every American.

In this case, “recalibrating capitalism” means going back to the trade policies that worked so well from the founding of the Republic until they were destroyed by the Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.

Right now, as a result of free trade, we are consuming trillions of dollars worth of products from around the world when we could be making them here at home and creating tens of millions of good jobs in the process. It’s time for this insanity to end, both for Baltimore’s sake and the nation’s.

So call your congressman today and tell them that you oppose so-called free trade in all forms, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And let's roll back Reaganism, while we're at it. It's done nothing but rip our country apart and tear down our standard of living.

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