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April 14, 2008

Bitter fallout, murders, dodges, rules, deals

(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)

Following Obama's "bitter" comment, most progressives are rallying to his defense: see Sirota here, Jane Smiley here, and Katrina vanden Heuvel here. A lot of progressives I know think that Obama was just channeling Thomas Frank. I dunno, I read the comment as throwing Frank in with the Kansans, and dismissing both. After all, trade criticism was listed right along religion as a seeming opiate of the masses. It seems, however, from yesterday's news cycle that Obama did not intend to send this message. Obama now says:

“Obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that,” Obama said in a phone interview with the Winston-Salem Journal. “But the underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully so.”

On the right, Bill Kristol, no NAFTA opponent, writes in the NYT on the Obama bitter remark:

Obama ascribes their anti-trade sentiment to economic frustration — as if there are no respectable arguments against more free-trade agreements. This is particularly cynical, since he himself has been making those arguments, exploiting and fanning this sentiment that he decries. Aren’t we then entitled to assume Obama’s opposition to Nafta and the Colombian trade pact is merely cynical pandering to frustrated Americans?

But mostly, all was quiet on the trade angle of Obama's remarks from the corporatists, who love to use the Guns-God-Gays wedge issues while also pushing failed trade policies.

In other news, BoRev shows video showing Hillary unwilling to answer questions about her husband's ties to Colombia.

Simon Romero writes on the union killings in Colombia, showing that Citigroup employees are among the unionists targeted for murder just this year - which has seen an uptick of killings relative to 2007:

The case of Leonidas Gómez, Ms. Gómez’s brother, is one of several examples of union officials killed in recent weeks who were involved in organizing rare protest marches last month against paramilitaries. Government investigators here said they were investigating all the recent killings but had not yet identified those responsible.

Carlos Burbano was a vice president in the hospital workers’ union of the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán in southern Colombia who disappeared March 9. His body was found four days later in a garbage dump in an area considered paramilitary territory. Mr. Burbano, who had received threats before from paramilitaries, had been stabbed multiple times and burned with acid.

Like Mr. Burbano, Mr. Gómez, a member of the Bank Workers’ Union here in Bogotá, was an outspoken critic of the paramilitaries. He had also traveled throughout Colombia to speak against the trade deal, which he expected to raise salaries of senior Citigroup executives while eroding the benefits of employees, said Luis Humberto Ortiz, a fellow union official and Citigroup employee.

Mr. Gómez, last seen at a meeting with leftist politicians on the night of March 4, was found dead in his apartment on March 8, with stab wounds and his hands tied behind his back. Missing from his apartment were his laptop computer, U.S.B memory sticks and cash from his pockets, said his sister, Ms. Gómez.

Inside U.S. Trade on Friday had some interesting dissection of what Pelosi's Fast Track move last week means. Here is my paraphrasing of their reporting:

  1. Pelosi - confirmed by Rules Cmte and House vote - removed the Fast Track timeline, as well as the provision that it is highly privileged and cannot be debated. This safeguards against the scenario where Rangel passes it out of Ways and Means Committee but Pelosi remains opposed. It also safeguards against any member of Congress calling for a vote when they want. So leadership will be in control.
  2. The Colombia FTA is still not amendable, however, and the Senate rules remain the same: once the House sends it up, the FTA has up to 15 days in Finance Committee, and up to 15 additional days for a floor vote.
  3. However, if the Senate wants, it can vote under Fast Track rules today, but then would have to formally approve it again after the House sends it up. (This happened on CAFTA, when the Senate GOP leadership just wanted to get some momentum going by passing the pact before the House, and then taking a second vote later.)
  4. Because Bush has already dropped the Colombia FTA, it will have to be voted on this Congress, or it dies. Next year, if the president wanted to resubmit it, they could, but it wouldn't automatically receive Fast Track treatment. A new Fast Track vote would have to be taken if they wanted that to apply. Ed. comment: I'm betting we see Fast Track replaced by a different system, so I wouldn't expect any new Fast Track votes.

Finally, IUT cites an April 4 letter from Rice, Paulson and various cabinet secretaries to Pelosi saying that:

In seeking to identify an agreed path forward for the Colombia FTA, the Administration’s efforts have been guided by three objectives you identified in conversations with several of us that need to be met before the Colombia FTA would have the necessary support to pass the House of Representatives. They are: (1) a strong, bipartisan vote on legislation to implement our FTA with Peru; (2) a solid Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) reauthorization package; and (3) progress on labor violence and impunity in Colombia. As noted above, the first objective was satisfied by the strong bipartisan votes on the Peru FTA last year. [emphasis added]

That's the first time I've seen such clear preconditions on the record. Wonder if they're true?

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