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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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September 30, 2008

Thoughts on Bailout Vote

In no particular order...

Bomb_2 Wall Street might have needed a bailout, and it's conceivable that the Paulson-Dodd-Frank approach was the right one. But this case has to be made by credible people who can distill the problem into soundbytes. There are very few people in the leadership of either party that have such credibility: remember that the Republicans spent years crying that trade agreements with Central America and Oman were vital to U.S. economic prosperity, and many in Democratic leadership spent much of 2007 arguing the same for the NAFTA expansion to Peru.

Now, as the economy tumbles around us, we've got folks in Congress who only want to talk about NAFTA expansion to countries like Panama. You can only cry wolf so many times before you lose all credibility. History will not judge kindly those policymakers who spent the last few years wasting political capital and legislative time pushing ridiculous FTAs with small, poor countries instead of dealing with the housing and financial crises. And as Sirota points out, answering basic questions in a non-fearmongering fashion should be a basic prerequisite for allocating 5% of our national income.

Most consistent fair traders voted against the bailout. But there were consistent anti-fair traders like Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) who opposed, while very serious fair traders like Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) voted for it. Here's his statement. Nevertheless, with (mostly) left and (mostly) right uniting in shared opposition to the package, you had a bit of an uprising dynamic. As John Nichols writes,

They do not usually unite--although it has happened a few times in recent years on trade votes. And they do not usually hold together in the face of whipping--not to mention outright bribery--by party leaders... on Monday, urged on by two of the Capitol's more consistent dissenters, California Republican Darrell Issa and Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur--who developed something of a rogue coalition to whip the "no" votes--the outsiders briefly became the bosses of Capitol Hill."

Financial deregulation and trade are not separate issues: in fact, they're closely linked, since NAFTA and the WTO- style pacts have been used to further tear apart financial safety nets. Bill Clinton, when he failed to get Congress to approve Glass-Steagall repeal in 1998, had his trade team make a WTO commitment to repeal it. If it hadn't been repealed in 1999 by Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the United States would have been in violation of our WTO service-sector commitments, and could have faced trade sanctions. Similarly, backers of the Peru FTA from last year gave Citigroup more tools to lock in that country's failed social-security privatization. Going forward, there may be any number of trade pact blocks on the reregulation of the financial sector. More on this later...

September 29, 2008

Can we even remember what democracy looks like?

American Prospector Ezra Klein reviews the "Battle in Seattle" over at the Guardian website. Along with a quote from Stuart Townsend that shouts us out, here are some highlights from Ezra's take on the movie:

Of the fissures running through the American left, the deepest, and most impenetrable, is probably trade... It's a complicated issue. But you wouldn't know it from Stuart Townsend's new film, Battle in Seattle. ... It is, in Townsend's telling, a seminal moment in political history. It's just not clear why.

The core of the movie is the protesters. But the core of the protesters proves curiously hollow. ... At no point does any character explain the problems with the World Trade Organisation, or detail their vision for a better world or give a reason for their presence that doesn't sound like the sort of thing you'd say to get laid at a protest rally. If Townsend's point was that protest is a form of superficial self-definition rather than an actual engagement with the issues at hand, then, point well made. But I don't think that was his point...

Toward the end of the film, Django and Jay are sitting in jail. Trying to cheer up his friend, Django leans over. "Look man, a week ago nobody knew what the WTO was!" Then he considers the statement. "Actually, they still don't know what it is! But at least they know it's bad." Having thus articulated the movie's thesis, they both laugh.

It continues to be revealing to me that the best reviews the movie has gotten were from people active in the global-justice movement and from journalists that actually covered the protests, including from the typically pro-corporate trade Seattle papers. Is this motivated by the narcissism of seeing ourselves depicted on the big screen? Maybe in part. But I think there's more to it than that.

Stuart took a big risk in depicting recent history. As an artistic matter, BIS is one of a crop of recent movies set in the 1990s, along with "The Wackness" and "Recount," about the 2000 election. The Seattle protests were the culmination of a decade of Clintonism, where the left was paid short shrift when it wasn't thrown directly under the bus. Meanwhile, corporations like Citigroup and Wal-Mart ruled D.C. (still do), pushing the creation of new commercial institutions and instruments that required a law degree to understand.

Middle-class left activists groomed in the late 1990s drew more inspiration from tree-sitters and direct action than the debating salons of the Ivy League, or their modern-day equivalent: political blogs run largely by Ivy Leaguers. Watch Recount and Battle in Seattle right next to each other: you'll see, on the one side, a Democratic Party that had forgotten how to fight (personified by Warren Christopher) and, on the other side, the cry of the excluded. My reaction to the depiction of Christopher is probably akin to the many centrist movie reviewers when they saw BIS: retching at the all-too familiar stench of players on the other side of a political divide.

Continue reading "Can we even remember what democracy looks like?" »

September 26, 2008

One Way that Uribe is Better than Bush

Doug Palmer from Reuters reports:

President George W. Bush is moving to suspend longtime U.S. trade benefits for Bolivia because of that country's failure to cooperate in drug-fighting efforts in the past year, the top U.S. trade official said on Friday.

The move reflects the increasingly strained relations between the United States and Bolivia under the leadership of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

"The Morales administration's recent actions related to narcotics cooperation are not those of a partner and are not consistent with the rules of these programs," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement.

Unfortunately, as CEPR has shown, the Bush administration has all but undermined ANY U.S. government presence in Bolivia by taking sides in the country's internal political debates, and has even politicized institutions like the Peace Corps, which is supposed to be a non-political channel for U.S. kids to do some good around the world. Way to go, W!

Moreover...

"In South America there was unanimous and very strong support for the government. Other countries from the region, left, right and center, don't see the opposition as having a legitimate grievance," said Mark Weisbrot, head of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Even Colombia's Uribe is backing Evo! What gives, Georgie?

September 25, 2008

From Blockbusterization to Bustamoverization

Wow. Direct action has gone so mainstream that even former VP Al Gore is calling for it. According to the NYT:

“If you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration,” he said at the third annual meeting of former President Bill Clinton’s initiative, which arranges partnerships between the very rich and the very needy.

In a related note, I took in Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle" last Friday night here in DC, after years of anticipation and weeks of positive and negative critical reviews. (And it's opening in a ton of new cities this weekend.) Mark Weisbrot fairly captured the movie in his recent column:

Perhaps most unusual for a feature film, it gives the protesters credit for what they accomplished: they changed the debate over what has been deceptively marketed as “free trade.” They were beaten and jailed, choked with tear gas and shot with rubber bullets, but they succeeded in raising awareness about what these organizations and international agreements really do.

The movie also captures the instances of both tension and cooperation between diverse tactics, such as insider lobbying, "Yes Men" style infiltration, outsider direct action, and even property destruction. Stuart could have put a seal of approval on any one of these methods, but he holds back. Would an obscure international commercial agency like the WTO have received attention if thousands of people hadn't put their bodies on the line, if there hadn't been broken Starbucks windows? Is negative attention better than no attention? You'll just have to make up your own mind.

There were some puzzling reviews of the movie. The Washington Post, for instance, chided the movie for not focusing on telling us enough about the WTO, but then also for giving insufficient attention to character development. On the third hand, other reviews slammed the movie for giving us too much character backstory.

Huh, what? A drama that discusses in rapid but significant detail issues like the WTO sea turtle case and the TRIPS agreement does not tell us enough about policy? Well, if you insist, I could put on a tweed jacket and a top hat and tape myself speaking into a handheld camera about the base and growth of export trends to Bahrain. I could even put some wicked Manu Chao tracks over it. But, judging from my wife's glazed over eyes anytime I get into that level of detail (and she's a flippin' economist), I'm betting there's a pretty limited audience at best for greater detail into the issues that Stuart generously provides.

Young The charge of insufficient character development also rings untrue. I have worked, partied, supped, dated, and studied with people in the global justice movement for over a decade. With very few missteps, Stuart captures almost exactly the personality of the median activist: earnest to a fault, a little weak on understanding of (class, establishment, etc.) politics and details, occasionally fruity in their interpersonal relations, unable to compartamentalize different parts of their life, but mostly absolutely devoted to making this world a better place. There are outliers of course, who try to get the rest of the movement to take class politics and/or fun more seriously, but there's a reason that they have to write books to make their point.

Think activists wouldn't say "icons of violence"? Tell that to the kid that handed me a flyer slamming the movie for being a "Blockbusterization of Reality." This ain't agitprop, it's a mostly loyal reading of the cohort of people who made Battle in Seattle happen. And for better or worse, it celebrates both our past accomplishments and the real challenges we face in growing the movement and making it as effective as possible in 2008.

Latest on the FTA with Republic of Damocles

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

Rossella Brevetti of BNA reports on the status of the 3 NAFTA expansions that W. has left hanging like a sword of Damocles for the next election:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Sept. 23 confirmed the widely held view that Congress will not take up any of the stalled free trade agreements before the Nov. 4 presidential and congressional elections but said that "we'll see what happens after that."

"No action's going to happen on trade before the election. We'll see what happens after that," he said during a question-and-answer period after a speech at the Center for American Progress. Hoyer had been asked whether he saw any action on the Bush administration's stalled trade agenda in light of the financial crisis that has rocked Wall Street.

And here's a now dated interview with Austan Goolsbee, Obama economic advisor, in the Chicago Tribune.

Q: Why does Obama want to amend NAFTA?

A: NAFTA's many things. It's a thousand pages long, it's riddled with loopholes. There are parts of it that are good. So his view from the outset is not that we should abolish NAFTA but that we should put environmental and labor agreements into the core of the agreement. NAFTA is not a state-of-the-art treaty. The most vocal proponents vastly overstated what it would do … rebuild manufacturing in the U.S., reduce illegal Immigration. If you're not going to open up the dialogue to all sides and take into account the people left out, you're not going to do any favors to the cause of open markets...

Q: Why has the campaign gone quiet on trade issues?

A: The biggest issue by far is taxes, alternative energy, health care and then if there's a fourth, it's probably issues with housing, the credit crunch and how to get the economy moving again. You might be putting excess importance on just trade. It's falling into the Republican trap to say that this involves trade agreements. It is more critical for us to address our fundamentals than arguing about whether we should sign a free trade agreement with Panama. That is an issue of symbolic importance.

September 21, 2008

Standing Firm and Shouting Down the FTA Push... & Its Wacky Backers

Dsc_5486_sm_2

If you couldn't get too close to the corner of 14th and F today in DC, we apologize - sort of.

Dsc_5532_sm_2While Colombian President Alvaro Uribe took the podium at the National Press Club Luncheon to peddle more lies about the FTA, over a hundred human rights, labor rights, afro rights and environmental advocates picketed the entrance. Chanting down the human rights abuses in Colombia as only the beginning if a new NAFTA deal were enacted with the Colombian government, protesters made it very clear: No FTA, NO WAY!

Dsc_5424_sm_3 But US labor leaders from the Teamsters and the Steelworkers were there to reaffirm their solidarity with Colombian unions and workers who are repressed and murdered for using their human rights. Afro-Colombian leaders denounced the conditions on the ground in their communities, and Uribe and friends' complicity in violently displacing and massacring Afro- and Indigenous Colombians in order to steal their land and resources. Human rights defenders condemned how more FTAs will displace peasant farmers, force migration and feed the armed conflict that has haunted Colombia during five decades. Environmentalists denounced the FTA's opening up the Amazon to investment by US companies whose reckless devastation of the planet's lungs is enough to make you gasp for air in advance.

Dsc_5454_sm We made it clear: the only ones to benefit from the US-Colombia FTA will be the the corporate elite and their paramilitary proxies who terrorize already impoverished people for their own profit.

There were about up to about 8 counter-protestors on site who apparenlty are ok with that. Some we recognized as Embassy staff, none of whom articulated anything positive about they expected from the FTA, simply insisting it was patriotic to blindly follow Uribe's lead. There were a few ruffians though, none of whom ruffled our feathers much.

But boy did they try. One of them, seemingly another member or staff to the Colombian delegation, we'll just call him El Agrofascista, must have just been so outraged at the site of so many labor, afro rights, environmental rights and humans rights leaders exercising free speech without targets on our foreheads that he went completely ballistic.

Sure he got in our faces and screamed unintelligibly, flipped us the bird, and looked like he was about to hit me, but its no biggie. Confronted with the angry right-winger, we just danced and smiled. Creation trumps destruction.I just hope if I ever encounter El Agrofascista again, its not on Colombian soil. If he's anything like his colleagues in the Uribe government, he's likely to have some friends that I'd rather not tangle with...

The AFL-CIO is out denouncing Uribe's pro-FTA deceptions as well. They are right on in continuing to oppose a vote on this horribly misguided policy, and for giving much doe kudos to Chairman George Miller for failing to actually convict human rights abusers, refuting the Colombians claims that they've implemented programs sufficient to address the problem.

But fair traders must remain vigilant. As Reuters reports:

[Ways and Means Chairman] Rangel said he would meet with Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House on Saturday.

Whether Congress returns and votes on any trade deal depends largely on whether Bush decides to "call us into a lame duck session," Rangel said.

"That doesn't mean we would have the votes" to approve the deals, he added.

September 20, 2008

GJ Euros Rocking the Party, and the Booze

The French global justice movement is shaking up the electoral picture. Here from the NYT:

Olivier Besancenot, 34, is the extremely adept leader of the hard French left, a beacon for disaffected young members of the Socialist Party and the remnants of the once-powerful Communists. Having already run twice for the French presidency, and as an articulate presence on news and talk shows, Mr. Besancenot has higher favorability ratings in some polls than established politicians like Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party presidential candidate who lost last year to the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy...

5747857143d7ec903oyx2 So he is trying to gather other small, left-wing parties into a new grouping: the New Anti-Capitalist Party, which is intended to provide an umbrella voting list for those unhappy with the impact of capitalism and globalization on the poor, the environment, the third and fourth worlds, and on the rights of women and homosexuals. The new party intends to run in the elections for the European Parliament next June.

“We aren’t soldier-monks,” he said. “We are the exploited, oppressed, the young and the salaried, who don’t whine but want to be respected — and for that, at some point, we lift our heads through engagement.”

Ahh, France. Like Berkley, except bigger!

And don't think the struggle is only at the ballot box. The German global justice movement helping out a party of a hoppier kind. Again from the NYT:

Beer from the state-owned brewery here deep in the Black Forest, founded as part of the St. Blasien monastery in 1791, has grown into a surprise hit in big cities around the country, and nowhere more so than in Berlin. Rothaus has managed to thrive in an era dominated by multinational beverage concerns, on little more than crisp beer and its quaint, old-fashioned image...

Every once in a while, a product captures the zeitgeist of a nation. Rothaus’s quirks — its famous brown bottles of Pilsener are known as Tannenzäpfle, or “little fir cones” — and even the fact that it is wholly owned by the state of Baden-Württemberg, lends it a sense of homeyness in a rootless era.

That, in turn, has given it credibility with the anti-corporate, anti-globalization crowd. In Germany, where unrestrained capitalism is viewed with deep mistrust and populism is on the upswing, that is not such a small audience.

“It has to do with tradition. They haven’t sold out,” said Basti Wisbar, 31, a bartender at Waldohreule, a bar in the trendy but traditionally counterculture neighborhood of Kreuzberg in Berlin. “I could never identify myself with a beer like Beck’s,” said Mr. Wisbar, referring to Germany’s top export, which belongs to the Belgian mega-brewer InBev, which  bought Anheuser-Busch over the summer for $52 billion.

September 19, 2008

Use your Freedom of Choice: See Battle in Seattle

The Battle in Seattle goes live today. Here's a message I received from GTW director Lori Wallach:

Come to the Battle in Seattle!" The call spread nationwide. By November 1999, 50,000 people converged to protest the WTO summit. History was made when a devastating plan to expand the WTO's reign of corporate globalization was derailed. 

On September 19, an entertaining new film, Battle in Seattle, opens in select theaters. Starring Charlize Theron, Andre 3000, Michelle Rodriguez, Channing Tatum, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta, and others, Battle in Seattle is a full feature drama that tells the story of a dozen characters whose lives come together during the historic Seattle protests. One of the characters is an MSF doctor fighting the WTO rules that limit access to meds. Our story and our fight on the big screen where the whole country can get educated and activated!

This is the film Big Hollywood doesn't want us to see. Its being independently distributed -- starting in 15 cities. In 1999, folks took to the streets at the Seattle WTO protests. You can help deliver the Seattle Surprise Round II! Hit the seats!  If the opening theaters are packed for the film's first two weeks, the film will get a national distribution - turning on a new generation to the joy, fun and power of the Seattle Spirit and how we can win the better world we know is possible.

Here's how you can help:

  • Organize your local group or your friends to purchase a block of tickets to a screening. Visit www.battleinseattlemovie.com to find theaters near you.
  • For discount tickets (including group), cool widgets for your website and email action alerts you can send your friends, contact Michael at mcrawford@citizen.org.
  • Forward this to your friends and allies.

Here's a highlight from the NYT review of the movie:

“Battle in Seattle” is a film that leaves bruises. A visceral fictionalized account of the 1999 demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, it repeatedly plunges you into the kicking and screaming melee of peaceful protest gone awry. Cries rend the air and bodies crumple as police batons are swung and tear-gas canisters explode. This is what happens, the movie warns, when the powers that be are unprepared for the magnitude of organized opposition and impulsively lash back. Resistance gives way to fury, and fury incites chaos.

The filmmaking debut of Stuart Townsend, an Irish actor, “Battle in Seattle” makes no bones about where its sympathies lie. Except for the anarchistic fringe, it is wholeheartedly on the side of the demonstrators, a loose coalition of grass-roots activists from the environmental and labor movements joined by students and other groups who opposed globalization.

In related news, Theron's appearance on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, where Stewart jokes that - because the level of public awareness about the WTO is so low - the institution is "like the Freemasons", controlling everything from a hidden bunker. Elsewhere, director Stuart Townsend commented that the WTO "overturned" the U.S. clean water air act. This comment set off one of my all time favorites "anti-political", technocratic memes: that the WTO can't force a country to do anything.

Yes, the WTO doesn't directly overturn national laws: that would be illegal and Orwellian.

What it does is issue a panel report pointing out laws that are inconsistent with strict WTO rules, and then countries have the "choice" to change the law to secure compliance (which generally results in a change in a neoliberal direction), or they can "choose" to pay perpetual trade penalties (usually cash or trade sanctions in other sectors) until they do. Unlike penalties for labor violations in many NAFTA-style FTAs, these are not capped in dollar amount by an pact text.

To call this a choice? That's just regular ol' Orwellian.

This kind of "choice" is a lot like what workers face everyday in today's economy: you can choose to work at a job which does not adequately compensate you and which is demeaning, or you can choose to be fired. The option of raising standards is a quaint, folksy memory from the bad old days; best to forget about that. It's like Devo said,

A victim of collision on the open sea
Nobody ever said that life was free
Sink, swim, go down with the ship
But use your freedom of choice

And here's the song itself.

September 18, 2008

Battle in Seattle Opens! - Critics Chatter!

Tomorow, Stuart Townsend's new movie, The Battle of Seattle, opens across the country. There's still time to get involved in spreading the word about this movie, which depicts how everyday people can work together to change our system. Get involved here.

There are also plenty of reviews.

  • David Postman of The Seattle Times, who covered the protests, says of Townsend: "When he began the project several years ago, he said he wanted to make something that would show "the meaning and limits of democracy." I think "Battle in Seattle" does that."
  • John Hartl, doing the actual review of the movie for The Seattle Times, says: "Atlanta had "Gone With the Wind." New York City got "King Kong," more than once. And now our Emerald City has "Battle in Seattle." ... In the tradition of such movies as "Inherit the Wind" and "Compulsion," which appropriated Clarence Darrow's courtroom antics but never called him Clarence Darrow, "Battle in Seattle" features recognizable historical figures whose identities are partly inventions."
  • Democracy Now has an interview with Townsend, and activist David Solnit, who helped orchestrate direct action events at the Seattle protests, and has written critically about the realism/authenticity of the protest scenes in the movie. He now says he is pleased with the movie and the debate it is engendering.
  • Townsend writes about the David and Goliath moment on HuffPost.

The AFL-CIO features Steelworker president Leo Gerard's talking about the movie on the AFL blog:

It’s rare for a feature film to celebrate union power—or how activists of any stripe can trounce the world’s largest corporations. The writer and director, Stuart Townsend, tells our story in a way that lets a broad audience connect and learn about one of the proudest moments in American history.

The powers that be in Hollywood did not want this film made. Heaven forbid that the real story got out about the outrage of corporate globalization, the WTO or how motivated activists won against impossible odds.

Just like we organized turnout at the Seattle protests—telling our friends, posting information in our union halls, sending out e-mails and fliers—we can create another Seattle surprise! The fat cats in the big Hollywood studios are just like those CEOs sitting pretty the day before the Seattle summit started. I urge you to see the film and bring your friends, family and union brothers and sisters.

UPDATE: Also see Charlize Theron on Jon Stewart here:

NAFTA Health Care Suits and Melamine Milk

Embassy, Canada’s Foreign Policy Newsweekly, reports that Melvin J. Howard, an Arizona businessman, frustrated after failed attempts to open private surgical centers in Canadian provinces, is asserting the rights NAFTA gives private investors: He is suing the Canadian government for over $150 million in lost expenses and profits!

Or at least he’s trying to - he's filed the first round of paperwork.

Canadian consumer advocates, legislators, and health care professionals will be up in arms! Rightfully so. Canadians have been assured time and time again that their federal trade negotiators have safeguarded their health care system and not ceded control to private investors.

Sound familiar?

This case would expose all sorts of vulnerabilities for health care services, many of which were discussed in a report issued by Public Citizen a few months ago.

What does this mean for us?

First off, the United States is just as vulnerable as Canada to these kinds of NAFTA investor suits. That is bad news since foreign investors have succeeded five times with NAFTA Chapter 11 claims, and $35 million in public funds have been paid in compensation to foreign investors by governments.

Furthermore, this example brings attention to the kinds of challenges legislators might face as they try to bring desperately needed reform to our health care system. Options on the table, like the single-payer systems proposed in 16 states and pharmaceutical purchasing plans, are among the many reform measures vulnerable to investor challenges.

Luke Eric Peterson, investor-state guru, thanks his lucky stars Canada already had a single-payer system in place before NAFTA:

A few years ago, lawyers working for the Romanow Commission warned that if Canada had been bound by NAFTA-type obligations in the 1960s, we might never have seen our single-payer government health insurance scheme brought into being. Quite simply, the price of paying off all of the private insurance operators might have been too high and the government would not have introduced a single-payer system.

That analysis doesn’t bode well for our own reform efforts in the United States. Peterson also discusses possible NAFTA hurdles a future pharmacare plan might face:

Concerns have long been raised that the NAFTA’s “expropriation” provisions might prevent governments from bringing private sectors of the economy into the public fold.  For example, Liberal proposals for a national Pharmacare plan raised questions as to whether such a public scheme might encroach upon—or, in NAFTA terms, expropriate—the turf of private insurers. If that were the case, Ottawa might need to compensate any U.S. investors who lost their business-line at the hands of the government.

Peterson points out that at the very least, if Howard brings his case to a NAFTA tribunal, we’ll get a chance to see some of NAFTA’s ambiguous language clarified.

On an even more disturbing health-care note, let’s shift to China.  At the end of last year, we discussed the recall of dangerous toys and dog food imported from China. Unfortunately, regulators this time around failed to protect Chinese consumers from baby formula which contained melamine, a chemical additive found in plastics and fertilizers (the same additive found in the dog food that was making pets sick last year).

The NY Times reports that 3 babies have died from the contaminated baby formula, with at least 6,244 babies sickened. 

The reason behind melamine in baby formula?  A mad dash for increased profits.

Continue reading "NAFTA Health Care Suits and Melamine Milk" »

September 17, 2008

Coolness to NAFTA Strong - Especially in Battleground States

The latest Democracy Corps / Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll shows that a significantly greater percentage of likely voters (henceforth voters) are “cool” rather than “warm” to “NAFTA and international trade agreements” (henceforth NAFTA), and that the “economy and jobs” (henceforth jobs) are their top concern. In both instances, the coolness to NAFTA and concerns about jobs are significantly stronger in battleground states than in the nation as a whole. Battleground states include Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

SUMMARY
•    A majority (52 percent) of battleground voters rank jobs as their top concern among 10 issues, including energy, Iraq and health care. The figure is 48 percent in the nation as a whole.
•    Twice as many battleground voters are cool as are warm to NAFTA (43-22 percent). Out of 17 issues and personalities, only four are less popular (state of the economy, gay marriage, George W. Bush, and Iraq War) than NAFTA. The battleground negatives on NAFTA are nearly twice that of the rest of the country, which are 38-26 percent cool-to-warm. NAFTA’s negatives in the rest of the country rank roughly in the middle of the 17 issues and personalities. (Congress, immigration and big corporations also have higher negatives than NAFTA in the country as a whole.)
•    While liberals and Democrats are very cool to NAFTA, independents and moderate-to-conservative Democrats and liberal-to-moderate Republicans are warier of NAFTA than their more partisan fellow voters. This is true in both battleground states and the nation as a whole.

BATTLEGROUND STATES
•    A majority of battleground voters are cool to NAFTA regardless of level of electoral participation, region, past presidential favorite, degree of loyalty to McCain or Obama, party affiliation, ideology, who they supported in the primary, what they think is the top concern facing the country, gender, age, generational cohort, race, educational level, union membership status, marital status, parental status, religion, how they feel about the direction of the country, and which party controls their congressional district.
•    In battleground states, there is little variation in the coolness to NAFTA. The following numbers refer to the percentages that are cool-warm-neutral on NAFTA.
•    The coolest attitudes to NAFTA are among Catholics (52-18-24), and irregular Catholics (59-17-24), who are seen as a key constituency in this year’s race.
•    Also very cool to NAFTA are Northeasterners (51-19-23), coast dwellers (51-19-23), white rurals (50-16-23), voters in congressional districts that are won by Democrats with a small margin (51-21-20), voters in Missouri (56-12-21), Wisconsin (50-19-23), “light blue” states (50-20-23), potential but unfirm McCain supporters (51-23-19), independents (51-21-20), Hillary supporters (51-18-24), and men without college education (52-16-25).

Continue reading "Coolness to NAFTA Strong - Especially in Battleground States" »

Colombian Minister Booster of McCain, FTA and more $ to Death Squads

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

In a recent interview published in the Huffington Post's Off the Bus, former Colombian foreign Minister Fernando Araujo hardly strayed from official campaign talking points in endorsing McCain. He expected McCain to win because "what North Americans value most is security, stability and experience".

Sadly, the experience of normal people with other policies that Araujo advocated in the interview - more NAFTAs for one - has been decidedly negative. I'm sure he didn't mean for us to consider our national experience of losing millions of good-paying jobs, the current macro-economic instability that has resulted from the FTAs and other market fundamentalist policies of the Bush years, or the insecurity that U.S. workers are feeling in a time of deep financial uncertainty, though many of you undoubtedly will.

I am even more certain that Araujo does not want you to consider a certain element in the experience of Colombian General Montoya. The WP says that Montoya has "for years been a trusted caretaker of the sizable aid package Washington provides Colombia's army" - the $641million in military aid that Araujo above argues should be expanded -  but that he now has a slight problem. The WP goes on:

[A] former paramilitary fighter has said in special judicial proceedings that Montoya, who heads Colombia's army, collaborated with death squads that took control of this city's poor neighborhoods from the guerrillas a few years ago. His testimony, along with that of at least four paramilitary commanders, is illuminating the links between Colombia's potent, U.S.-backed military and its brutal paramilitary proxies.

Essentially, our tax dollars are going into the stewardship of a man reputed to have funneled said resources to the death squads. And its no surprise to us that Araujo wants both the FTA and even more money to the paramilitaries. We've noted for some time how the elite and their paramilitary allies will emerge the winners from a more globalized and less accountable Colombia.

But this does spell big trouble for the General and his boss, President Alvaro Uribe, whose reputation has already smarted for links to right-wing death squads that terrorize union activists and other advocates for the poor. Uribe arrives this week in the US to continue a final push for approval of the US-Colombia NAFTA deal. Amid rising allegations of direct military culpability for extra judicial killings, and now further links between his government and the death squads, his bogus claims that Colombia is reformed will be met with much greater scrutiny on the Hill.

After lobbying for Congress to thwart democratic accountability to pass the FTA, and misleading Congress about the FTA's support in their country, it makes you wonder how they can continue to show their face in Washington and spew the same tired misinformation and lies.

September 16, 2008

Consumers/States Against Trade Premption Insurance Bill

A host of consumer and subfederal officials - including yours truly - are questioning a provision in H.R. 5840, an insurance bill on the House floor today. You can find their letters on the topic here, but today's Congress Daily has the main scoop:

Public Citizen, the Center For Economic Justice, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group sent a letter Monday to lawmakers asking that they vote against the legislation by Financial Services Capital Markets Subcommittee Chairman Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa. The bill would allow the proposed office to establish federal policy on international insurance matters, ensuring that state laws are consistent with international trade agreements.

The groups argue the bill would give the office too much latitude to interpret international agreements on matters that are under congressional purview. They fear that such authority would allow the office to pre-empt state consumer protection laws.

"There is no way to predict -- and thus provide safeguards for -- all of the U.S. consumer protection measures that might annoy foreign insurance firms in the future. Thus, the very concept of empowering any federal agency to enforce such international commercial agreement obligations for foreign governments and firms against U.S. states is fatally flawed," the groups wrote.

Nerds v. Suits, 2-1

Last Friday, we did an analysis of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's latest pro-FTA screed, and showed that their selective use of only 10 of the 14 FTA countries to make a point about export growth was seriously misleading. Stumo called "truthy" on 'em, which sounds about right.

The Chamber has responded, and they confirm that when all 14 countries are thrown into the mix, U.S. export growth to non-FTA countries is in fact higher than to FTA countries.

287 But they then attempt to make at another selective cut, this time including Jordan and Israel but still excluding Canada and Mexico (i.e. NAFTA). There is no clear reason for doing that, since, as they note, NAFTA is the biggest FTA. But it does weaken their argument, since export growth to NAFTA nations is the lowest of any of the FTAs. Hey, we didn't exclude Chile from our calculations - why should they exclude NAFTA??

Nerds, 1.

However, the Chamber scores a point for catching that we were not using the estimates of 2008 exports as our base for calculating growth trajectory for Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Kudos to the Chamber's Brad Peck for catching my bubu.

Suits, 1.

However, because the export growth rate to the full 14 FTAs is still below that of non-FTA countries, there continues to be an "export penalty" under this exercise of $17.4 billion. That's a little less than our original export penalty calculation, but it's still a penalty.

Nerds v. Suits, 2-1.

Of course, the whole exercise is more than a little D&D. As we noted last week, making arguments about export growth without reference to import growth and the overall trade deficit is about as useful as using a halfling to fight a hell hound (err, or whatever). And is also sidesteps the issue of why one would promote an FTA, rather than just promote trade or tariff reduction more generally.

September 15, 2008

Biden's Son, WTO, Internet Gambling, Sleaze thread

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

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Robert Hunter Biden, vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden's son, did some lobbying work of trade relevance:

Federal lobbying records show that Hunter Biden’s firm was hired in June by lawyers for J. Russell DeLeon and his wife, Ruth Parasol, billionaire expatriates who founded a Web site called PartyPoker. Their company, PartyGaming P.L.C., which later went public in London, stopped doing business in the United States after President Bush signed a bill into law in 2006 aimed at curbing online gambling.

Wyeth Wiedeman, a lobbyist hired by Mr. DeLeon and Ms. Parasol, said Mr. Biden helped46_large put together a lobbying campaign to persuade Congress to pass a law that would clarify the question about whether online gambling was legal prior to 2006. Mr. Wiedeman said the Justice Department has been examining the couple and others involved with the PartyPoker site.

Mr. Wiedeman said Mr. Biden visited a House member from North Carolina to discuss the issue...

Published accounts have said that Ms. Parasol, a lawyer who now lives in Gibraltar, started out as an adviser to her father’s telephone sex-chat business and then operated pornographic Web sites before turning to online gambling.

Hunter Biden could not be reached for comment. David Wade, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said Mr. Biden’s involvement in the lobbying effort “gives much ado about nothing a whole new meaning.” He said Mr. Biden was hired by PartyGaming’s law firm, Sharp & Barnes, to provide expert advice because he specialized in electronic commerce and served on a working group on Internet gambling issues when he worked at the Commerce Department in the Clinton administration.

There is no report that any of this was connected in any way to the presidential campaigns. To see the official document detailing the $50,000 in lobbying expenditures by Biden for the gambling company investors in the gambling company, click here. (Taken from the Senate Office of Public Records.)

PartyGaming was shut out of the U.S. market when Congress passed an Internet gambling ban in 2006. Interestingly, although their lawyers PartyGaming's investors' lawyers paid Biden Biden's company thousands of bucks to lobby Congress for clarification that online gambling provision was legal prior to 2006, the company actually stated in their public offering documents that they knew it probably was illegal... and that they didn't care. As Kurt Eichenwald reported:

The Justice Department and numerous state attorneys general maintain that providing the opportunity for online gambling is against the law in the United States - and PartyGaming does it anyway. Indeed, of its $600 million in revenue and $350 million in profit in 2004, almost 90 percent came from the wallets and bank accounts of American gamblers.

To justify this, PartyGaming walks a very thin line. Providing online gambling is not illegal per se in the United States, the company argues - federal prosecutors just say it is. The company has already received an e-mail message from the Louisiana attorney general demanding that it cease providing online gambling in that state; PartyGaming simply ignored the communication and waited for additional action that never came.

The company's prospectus - a British document that is not available in the United States - at times reads something like a legal brief, citing American case law to support the company's position that no prosecution would ever take place.

Still, in its offering documents, PartyGaming makes no secret of the fact that even if the company's view of the law proves wrong, it is banking on its executives' belief that there is little that law enforcement can do - or will do - to prosecute. "In many countries, including the United States, the group's activities are considered to be illegal by the relevant authorities," PartyGaming says in its offering document. "PartyGaming and its directors rely on the apparent unwillingness or inability of regulators generally to bring actions against businesses with no physical presence in the country concerned."...

Now, as the largest company pushing into the United States market, PartyGaming is best positioned to benefit if the question of online gambling is decided in its favor. Already, the World Trade Organization and foreign governments are siding with companies like PartyGaming and against the United States.

LATE last year, for example, the W.T.O. agreed with the Caribbean island nation of Antigua that United States legislation criminalizing online betting based in other countries violated global laws. An appellate body at the trade organization upheld the principal conclusions in that ruling in April.

And it has still been upheld, as we reported on recently in our lawsuit against the Bush administration.

UPDATE: 9/17: The NYT has issued a correction, stating that:

An article on Saturday about a decision by R. Hunter Biden, a son of Senator

Joseph R. Biden Jr.

, to quit working as a

Washington

lobbyist included an incorrect identification from Senator

Barack Obama

’s campaign for the clients of a law firm, Sharp & Barnes, that had hired the senator’s son to lobby on an online-gaming issue. The firm’s clients are two investors, J. Russell DeLeon and Ruth Parasol — not the company PartyGaming P.L.C.

I corrected the info above.

Obama Advisor on What's So Cool About Free Trade

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

Obama campaign staffer Jason Furman has a piece out in the Harvard Law & Policy Review that touches on trade. (It came out in the summer edition, but I just saw it.) You may remember the decision to hire Furman caused a bit of a stink a few months ago. Here's what he and co-author Jason Bordoff, in a piece mostly about tax policy, have to sez:

The Growing Protectionist Backlash

The U.S. economy has become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world over the past twenty years, due to advances in technology and transportation. The result has been greater flows across borders of goods, services, capital, people, and ideas. In 2007, the sum of exports and imports amounted to 29% of GDP, up from 19% in 1979.

Concomitant with this rise in global economic integration in recent years has been a protectionist drift among Americans and their representatives. Trade deals have stalled in Congress, most notably one with South Korea, and Congress allowed the President’s trade promotion authority to expire last summer. Voters, meanwhile, are becoming more skeptical of the benefits of trade. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, the share of Americans who believe that trade is good for their country has plunged from 78% in 2002 to 59% in 2007, the lowest proportion among the forty-seven countries included in the survey. This concern is not limited to Democrats: a Wall Street Journal poll in the fall of 2007 found that Republican voters were skeptical of free trade by an almost two-to-one margin (59% versus 32%).

Beyond free trade, protectionist sentiment is likely to be fueled further by increased foreign direct investment in the United States. Voters and policymakers alike expressed outrage when the Chinese energy firm CNOOC tried to purchase the U.S.-based Unocal, and similarly when Dubai Ports World tried to purchase operations at six U.S. ports. Such concerns are likely to be exacerbated in the coming years as the sovereign wealth funds of some foreign nations increasingly seek investment opportunities in the
United States.

The Promise of Global Economic Integration

The growing protectionist backlash against global economic integration is a serious threat to our economic well-being. Greater openness has greatly benefited the U.S. economy—even though it admittedly can precipitate concentrated harm to workers in particular industries and communities. For example, one study found that trade provided an aggregate benefit to the U.S. economy of $1 trillion per year. Free trade allows people to specialize in the goods and services they produce with the most comparative efficiency— the classic idea of “comparative advantage”—while also allowing producers and consumers to benefit from economies of scale. In doing so, free trade leads to increased productivity and GDP growth, which ultimately are necessary to raise standards of living and provide the resources needed to address costly challenges such as health care and climate change. For consumers, free trade also promotes competition, which introduces new low-priced goods and services and constrains markups on existing goods and services. For workers, free trade may be associated with competitive labor markets that can sustain lower rates of unemployment without triggering inflation.

Closely linked to greater trade are greater international capital flows, which have grown even more quickly than trade volumes in recent decades. American firms are leaders in financial services, and financial openness allows U.S. investors to find new and more productive investment opportunities abroad and permits foreigners to invest in the United States. America’s large budget deficit and low private savings would have had much more serious consequences were it not for America’s open capital account, which allows substantial foreign investment to help maintain America’s production. Moreover, open trade has been beneficial for the United States recently because, as the economy has slowed and the dollar has weakened, a rising share of economic growth has come from exports.

Finally, globalization is a benefit not only to the United States, but also to the rest of the world—particularly the developing world. Trade is driving economic growth throughout the world, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and has proven far more effective at doing so than has traditional development aid. Openness to trade and investment can facilitate growth, and growth and poverty reduction go hand in hand. Even for those countries trapped in a cycle of poverty, one leading scholar argues that what is needed more than increased foreign aid is increased market access for the “bottom billion” to the economies of the rest of the world.

Here's what Senator Obama had to say about the Korea trade deal that the Jasons reference:

Obama, who has made criticism of free-trade pacts a staple of his campaign, called the accord between the two nations ``badly flawed.''

``In the interests of cultivating bipartisan cooperation on trade policy, I urge you not to send this agreement forward to the Congress,'' Obama wrote in a letter to Bush released today. Instead of pushing the agreement, the U.S. trade office should use existing laws to challenge ``barriers to U.S. exports,'' Obama said.

Obama Advisor: We Want to Make Colombia FTA Possible

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

481700415_698bf66104_2 Several presidential campaign advisors and otherwise big wigs spoke at the 12th annual Corporación Andina De Fomento (CAF) conference on trade and investment in the Americas. Dan Restrepo is Obama's Latin America dude, and a Center for American Progress staffer who hosted Colombian President Alvaro Uribe a while back. (Here are the pics in case you forgot.) Here is what Rossella Brevetti of BNA reported:

Regarding the Colombia FTA, Restrepo noted that Obama has expressed concern on a number of occasions over the continuing level of violence against trade unionists in Colombia. Colombia can consolidate its past security gains by bringing an end to the impunity that surrounds the violence, Restrepo said. "Unfortunately there has not been as much progress as one would like to see with regard to impunity," he remarked. "It's important to continue down that path," he said.

"We understand the importance of the FTA to the Colombian government ... We want to work to make it possible," Restrepo said. He indicated that Obama needs greater confidence that the Colombian government can hold people accountable for past abuses.

September 12, 2008

Nerds Fight Back Against Exporting Lies

I've got a long and kinda nerdy post today, but hopefully you'll find it fun. (9/16 update here: Chamber responds!)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a memo yesterday that attempted to project a possible trajectory for U.S. exports if pending trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea were approved.  Extrapolating from the U.S. export growth rate under a select 10 other so-called “free trade agreements” (FTAs) implemented under President Bush’s tenure, the Chamber estimated that annual exports to Colombia, Panama and South Korea could total $101 billion without the FTAs, and $143 billion with the FTAs, by the year 2012. The difference between the two figures – $42.6 billion – would constitute an export “premium,” in the Chamber’s wording. John Murphy, the Chamber’s vice president for international affairs, went so far as to call this “a $42 billion economic stimulus that’s almost free.”

Nerd There are several problems with the Chamber’s report and framing. First, the Chamber’s calculation is incomplete and highly misleading. As with past Chamber and Bush administration estimates (PDF),  U.S. export performance in Canada, Israel, Jordan and Mexico – FTA partners all – is curiously excluded. This is curious because these four countries account for 83 percent of all U.S. exports to FTA markets. Instead, the Chamber’s calculation only includes a select 10 FTAs negotiated with mostly poorer countries under the Bush administration.

The graph and table posted here shows that once these four FTA partners are reinserted into the calculation, U.S. export growth in FTA markets since 2003 (8 percent) is not only lower that the select 10 Chamber estimates (24 percent),  but is lower than U.S. export performance in non-FTA markets (14 percent). In other words, U.S. export growth in non-FTA markets was nearly twice that of FTA markets, and the U.S. export growth rate to all FTA countries is only a third that of the Chamber’s select 10 FTA countries. I present to you (fanfare please!): the FTA export penalty.

Continue reading "Nerds Fight Back Against Exporting Lies" »

Colombian Delegation Lobbies for MORE Impunity

But this time it's not for the Uribe administration's pals in his country's paramilitary Death Squads, but for our own US Congress!

The Colombian embassy is currently, in its own words, 'taking over' the Hill with an over-sized delegation of over 80 'representatives' (more on the quotation marks below). Having failed to win a vote on the FTA with their multi-million dollar efforts to whitewash their national image, they scheduled a last-gasp onslaught of 125 lobby meetings in two days.

Con_democracy_2 Their specific message: that the Congress should snub US public opinion and pass the wildly unpopular Colombia NAFTA expansion deal during a lame duck session when democratic oversight is at its lowest.

Doug Palmer of Reuters writes:

"Our main goal now is to have it considered in a 'lame duck' session," Eduardo Munoz, Colombia's vice minister for foreign trade, told reporters on Tuesday during a break in a major Colombian government lobbying effort for the pact...

In an article titled "Colombia Presses For Lame-Duck FTA Vote, ATPDEA Extension", today's Inside US Trade elaborates:

“The political climate doesn’t allow for a vote on the Colombia FTA
or any FTA” in September, Munoz said in a Sept. 9 press conference.
“What everyone tells us is that, unfortunately, the discussion of
the free trade agreement between Colombia and the U.S. has gotten stuck
in the domestic political discussion, and what people feel ... is that
once the electoral process is out of the way, that a lot of those
political tensions would ease and then it would be easier to get
consideration of the FTA.”

Several lobbyists this week argued that even Republicans, who generally
view the FTA much more favorably than Democrats, may not favor a vote on
the controversial FTA before the elections because it could hurt the
image of the Republican party in crucial battleground states.

Apparently the process by which we keep our lawmakers accountable is 'unfortunately' allowing regular Americans to have a say in US economic policy. Sad, I know. But Colombia's open advocacy of tactics to circumvent the public will should not come as a surprise, not from an Uribe government famous for its links to death squads that prevent regular Colombians from organizing for greater accountability. This clumsiness and blatant hypocrisy is uncharacteristic of their typically slick lobby operation.

But this is not to say the usual spin and misinformation was absent in the Colombian government's and Embassy's desperate rally. Vice Minister Munoz claimed that Colombians from "all walks of life" were united in support of the FTA, and that 'representatives' from all sectors of society were among the delegations lobbying for the FTA. 

Regular readers will be well aware of the repeated declarations by acknowledged leaders of unions, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous peoples in fervent opposition to this FTA for the damage it will cause their communities and constituencies. That any Member of Congress could be fooled by a delegation that happens to include pro-FTA individuals from those sectors of Colombian society only reminds of the tragically low level of discourse and high level of cynicism in the Capitol.

What ever happened to their line about FTAs promoting democracy? Apparently passage of the FTA - and the glorious peace, prosperity and democracy it will create - is just too important to let the real voices of unionists, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders, or those pesky accountability-inducing US elections get in the way.

September 11, 2008

Rep. Michael Capuano Co-Sponsors T.R.A.D.E. Bill

I wanted to share this note that came from some union members in Massachusetts after an in-district meeting they had with Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) about the T.R.A.D.E Act. Rep. Capuano's co-sponsorship of the bill brings us to 71 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives!

A hearty thanks to Rep. Capuano for standing with working people and to Rand Wilson, Joe Powers and the others who helped to make this meeting happen. Here's their note:

Capuano_meeting

Rep. Michael Capuano co-sponsors T.R.A.D.E. bill

A small delegation of union members recently met with Rep. Mike Capuano to discuss the merits of the "Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act" (T.R.A.D.E.) / House Bill 6180, and the impact of trade and investment treaties on our congressional district.  Picture of the group is attached.

The U.S. trade deficit is greater than ever and hundreds of thousands of family-supporting jobs have been destroyed (many right here in the 8th District of Massachusetts), yet President Bush and many in Congress want more trade as usual. 

It is time for the United States to bring its trade policy in-line with economic reality and our values; the TRADE Act provides just such an opportunity.  For more info and action steps, visit http://www.citizenstrade.org/tradeact.php

Representative Capuano agreed that we need a new model for U.S. trade policy and he will now be a co-sponsor of the bill.

Hats off to Joe Power of Carpenters Local 40 for arranging the meeting with Rep. Capuano!

Free Trade for Golfers!

The Latin American Trade Coalition - a chaired by execs of infamous Wal Mart, Citigroup and Caterpillar - held a final, last-ditch effort rally yesterday morning to promote passage of more discredited NAFTA model trade deals.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab told of the dire need for more NAFTAs. The reason? The Colombia FTA will increase golf ball purchases by eliminating those onerous and unjust tariffs that currently plague the typical South American golfer.

Killergolf Schwab held up a golf ball, referenced a recent victory by a Colombian Pro, claimed that the sort of golf balls he plays with 'are responsible' for over 1000 jobs somewhere in MA, and that we should see the connection. She skilfully avoided mentioning the brand of golf ball and intentionally did not state they were made in the US, so we are to take it on her mere assertion.

But in some ways we couldn't agree more. As the global gap between rich and poor widens, both within and between countries, Global Trade Watch also expects the golfing class in Colombia to make a killing (forgive the pun) under the FTA. Its very likely they'll spend some of the profit on increased golf ball consumption, especially if there are no big bad tariffs on them.

Hopefully at the next press conference she'll won't leave out the plight of downtrodden yacht club members and or the meager polo-playing class so that we can all forget about the inconvenient truths of the real injustices in Colombia: the murder of unionists and the repression of the basic human rights of anyone who openly states that a fair share of the wealth should go to the folks that don't own a five iron.

September 09, 2008

FactCheck.Org Checks McCain

FackCheck.org focuses its fact-checking might on John McCain's radio ad in Florida promoting the Colombia FTA. What they find?

McCain's new radio ad, in Spanish, aims to show Florida would benefit from the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which he supports. But every number in the ad is wrong, except one, a prediction of job gains taken from a group favoring the trade deal. And even that number is rounded upward so generously as to flunk third-grade arithmetic.

September 08, 2008

How will the election affect fair trade?

Bob Davis and Greg Hitt at the WSJ make some informed guesses:

Some McCain priorities are likely to go nowhere in a Democratic Congress, especially free-trade pacts. Democrats have already blocked approval of pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, and have tied President Bush's hands in negotiating new deals. A McCain victory might stiffen Democratic opposition, because Sen. McCain is probably a more committed free trader than President Bush, and the number of anti-free-trade Democrats running for office is increasing.

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

September 04, 2008

Return of the Bitter

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

We reported back in April about Obama's "bitter" comment. To refresh your memory,

At the fund-raiser in San Francisco last Sunday, Mr. Obama outlined challenges facing his presidential candidacy in the coming primaries in Pennsylvania and Indiana, particularly persuading white working-class voters who, he said, fell through the cracks during the Bush and Clinton administrations.

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Mr. Obama said, 

Many liberal commentators jumped to Obama's defense, saying they knew people down on their luck who were bitter. Obama himself, perhaps sensitive to the charges of an elitist tone, tried to disown the comment.

But the "bitter comment" won't die. Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, in her convention speech last night, brought up the bitter comment again, while also trying to steal some thunder from Obama-Biden by mentioning her labor connections, and making some jabs at community organizing:

You know, from the inside, no family ever seems typical, and that's how it is with us... Todd is a story all by himself. He's a lifelong commercial fisherman and a production operator in the oil fields of Alaska's North Slope, and a proud member of the Untied Steelworkers Union. (Cheers, applause.) And Todd is a world champion snow machine racer. (Cheers, applause.) Throw in his Yupik Eskimo ancestry, and it all makes for quite a package. And we met in high school, and two decades and five children later, he's still my guy. (Cheers, applause.)

Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska -- (cheers, applause) -- I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. (Cheers, applause.) I guess -- (interrupted by chants of "Sarah! Sarah!") -- I guess a small-town mayor if sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities. (Cheers, applause.)

I might add -- I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they're listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening. (Cheers, applause.) No, we tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco. (Cheers, applause.)...

My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of personal discovery. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) This world of threats and dangers, it's not just a community and it doesn't just need an organizer. (Laughter.)

September 03, 2008

Bush's Bestie in Sincelejo Slammer?

Colombia Reports is reporting that George W. Bush and John McCain's bestie - Colombian president Alvaro Uribe - is being ordered by a lower court to serve a three-day prison sentence for failing to enforce a labor policy affecting the Colombian courts.

Moreover, US LEAP and Escuela Nacional Sindical report that:

Assassins murdered Alexander Blanco Rodriguez in front of his coworkers during a shift change on August 26th, 2008. Mr. Blanco, a leader in the oil workers' union, was the 41st Colombian trade union member to be murdered this year.

Between January 1st and December 31st 2007, 39 union members were murdered, a significant decline from the previous year. Unfortunately this trend has been reversed, with this number already surpassed in 2008 with four months remaining in the year.

With the FTA on the horizon, looks like things are getting worse, not better: more dead unionists, and prez is in slammer.

Thanks to failed trade policices, drugs on rise

Juan Forero and Joshua Partlow at the Washington Post show how trade policy-facilitated commodity gluts on global supply markets are leading Andean farmers to turn toward illegal drug cultivation:

Hightimes200 "The prices of oranges, mandarins, coffee and other products are too low, and they do not give you enough to survive," said Cocarico, 50, adding that he plans to double the size of his coca crop. "So we are obligated to plant coca."

Across the Andean region, the size of the coca crop has increased 18 percent in the past five years, a period during which the United States has spent $4 billion on anti-drug programs...

The Andean cocaine supply now exceeds the amount produced in the 1990s, when U.S. policymakers pushed anti-drug aid to the region to counter powerful Colombian cartels. In 1993, when a U.S.-supported police unit shot dead the drug lord Pablo Escobar in his home town of Medellin, the Andes produced 200 fewer tons of cocaine than it did last year.

"If you look back at the days of Escobar, the names have changed but there's as much cocaine or more cocaine coming out of the Andes as a whole as in the peak anti-Medellin war on drugs," said John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a policy group critical of U.S. anti-drug policies in the region. "We're talking almost 20 years later."

And we're set to expand these policies through NAFTA for Colombia? Give me a break, I mean a hit, well, you know what I mean...

Bush to Hold off on Panama, despite U.S. getting its way in domestic politics

According to Doug Palmer at Reuters:

President George W. Bush does not want Congress to vote on a free trade agreement with Panama before it votes on a similar deal with Colombia, Bush administration officials said on Tuesday after a major obstacle to approval of the Panama agreement was removed.

Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who is wanted in the United States on charges of killing a U.S. soldier in 1992, stepped down on Monday as president of Panama's National Assembly.

This created an opening for the White House to push for quick approval of the Panama trade pact before two other much more controversial agreements with Colombia and South Korea.

However, the U.S. officials said Bush had no plans to ask Congress to do that.

GOP Release Trade Platform

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

The Republican Party has released its platform, and there's a trade section. From the looks of it, the Buchananite base got Palin, and that's all they're getting:

Free and Fair Trade

Greater international trade, aggressively advanced on a truly level playing field, will mean
more American jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living. It is also a matter of national security and an instrument to promote democracy and civil society in developing nations.

With 95 percent of the world’s customers outside our borders, we need to be at the table when trade rules are written to make sure that free trade is indeed a two-way street. We encourage multilateral, regional, and bilateral agreements to reduce trade barriers that limit market access for U.S. products, commodities and services. To achieve that goal, Congress should reinstate the trade promotion authority every president should have in dealing with foreign governments. Trade agreements that have already been signed and are pending before Congress should be debated and voted on immediately.

An aggressive trade strategy is especially important with regard to agriculture. Our farm economy produces for the world; its prosperity depends, more than ever before, on open markets. U.S. agricultural exports will top $100 billion this year. We will contest any restrictions upon our farm products within the World Trade Organization and will work to make the WTO’s decision-making process more receptive to the arguments of American producers.

We pledge stronger action to protect intellectual property rights against pirating and will aggressively oppose the direct and indirect subsidies by which some governments tilt the world playing field against American producers. To protect American consumers, we call for greater vigilance and more resources to guard against the importation of tainted food, poisonous products, and dangerous toys. Additionally, we recognize the need to support our growth in trade through appropriate development and support of our ports in order to ensure safe, efficient and timely handling of all goods.

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