The Hostess Shuffle: Feds put the ‘dough’ in this doughnut

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“The devil,” wrote Shakespeare, “hath power to assume a pleasing shape.”

It is just such a devil that has been summoned forth from the still warm remains of Hostess Bakeries in the form of millions of dollars of assistance money being paid out to thousands of former Hostess workers.

At first glance, it is a very pleasing devil indeed. In a Feb. 19 press release, Sen. Max Baucus lauded how more than 200 Montana workers would qualify for “personalized job training,” “help finding a new job,” “extended unemployment insurance benefits,” and “support to cover 72.5 percent of qualified health insurance premiums.”

What’s not to like? We had a Hostess bakery in the Kalispell area for many years, and when Hostess announced they were shutting down their operations, that meant 10 lost jobs here. Getting help for those workers and others like them sure seemed like a good idea.

But wait a minute. Why should those former Hostess workers get extra help from the federal government when so many other people are out of work, too? What makes this former cupcake maker the Hostess with the mostest?

Sen. Baucus tried to explain it to me with his self-congratulatory press release. It turns out that, “The support comes from the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program Baucus has repeatedly championed in the Senate. The program will expire at the end of this year, and Baucus will again lead the charge to ensure it is extended.”

OK, so what exactly is the Trade Adjustment Assistance program?

This is where the devil starts to look a bit more like Jason in a hockey mask instead of a nice wholesome inviting Hostess Twinkie.

You see, according to the Department of Labor website, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program is actually money that Congress has allocated for “trade-affected workers who have lost their jobs as a result of increased imports or shifts in production out of the United States.”

But wait a minute! Didn’t Hostess go out of business in a well-publicized blaze of glory because union workers refused to accept concessions that would have allowed the bakery to stay open?

Well, yeah, but in a brazenly Orwellian rewrite of history, the Department of Labor announced that “an investigation found that increased imports of baked products contributed importantly to the company’s sales declines and worker separations.”

“Importantly.” That’s a nice vague word, isn’t it?

Apparently, in this alternative universe we now inhabit, Hostess went out of business because some foreign country like Mexico or China has been importing massive amounts of knockoff Ding Dongs, Ho-Hos and Zingers into the United States using incredibly cheap child labor so that they could undercut the price Hostess could afford to charge.

I know, I know. It’s hard to believe. After all, when’s the last time you saw “Made in China” stamped on a cupcake?

And yet, the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape. If there are benefits attached, we are just supposed to shut up and thank the Congress for doling out more millions — or more billions. Good job, Congress! You guys really know how to stretch a dollar!

But here is why that just won’t work this time. Not only did imported cupcakes have absolutely nothing to do with the demise of Hostess, but in fact some of the very same workers who are going to benefit from the Trade Adjustment money were actually responsible for the death of the company in the first place.

According to Investors Business Daily, “imports of baked goods have been basically flat since 2010,” and the domestic industry is actually expected to see modest growth for the next seven years.

So forget about imports. It’s about the workers — and everyone knows it. The reason Hostess committed suicide is because it was being extorted by greedy union workers who kept coming back for more — and more — and more. The AFL-CIO-affiliated Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International refused to accept the company’s final offer, knowing full well that it was going to cost more than 18,000 people their jobs.

But heck, in this topsy-turvy world of unlimited spending, maybe those union workers knew exactly what they were doing. Who wouldn’t want the government to pay your bills for you over the next year or two, then pay your way through college, so you could be qualified for that dream job you always wanted?

I mean, that’s what government’s for, isn’t it?

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