Giant Sucking Sound II

When the Republican leadership held the vote open for 47 extra minutes to twist arms of House members to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement on July 27, the result put American farmers, textile workers and manufacturers at risk. Multinational corporations got the green light to move factories into Central American countries with poor records on human rights and few protections for poor families or workers. The House GOP virtually guaranteed that more Central Americans who are displaced from farms in their native lands will be moving north in the next few years to compete with Mexicans and American citizens for minimum-wage jobs in the USA.

The deal, which was signed into law by George W. Bush, eliminates tariffs among the US, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It extends to Central America the disastrous job loss and environmental damage caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which cost US workers more than 1 million jobs and caused real wages in Mexico to fall in the past 11 years, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

It's easy to fall into resentment of immigrants, but Democrats noted that opposition in Central America is deep and broad because CAFTA does not promote a better way of life there. In March, more than 8,000 Guatemalan workers protested against CAFTA. In El Salvador, after tens of thousands protested the agreement, the Salvadoran legislature responded by passing the agreement in the middle of the night with no notice and little debate. In Costa Rica 30,000 protesters took to the streets last fall. And the Costa Rican president announced that his country would not ratify CAFTA unless an independent commission could determine that the agreement will not hurt the working poor.

"This flawed and lopsided agreement will result in devastating consequences for Latinos here in the United States as well as in the Central American nations," stated US Rep. Grace Napolitano, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "Estimates put the projected loss of revenue to this country at over $4 billion as a result of CAFTA. The impacts will be felt by working families in this country as factories close, and they will be felt in the CAFTA countries as well." Those who are concerned about immigration to the US from Latin America should look at NAFTA and what happened when the promises of jobs did not materialize in Mexico, she said. "Ten years after CAFTA will we be asking the same question we are now asking about NAFTA -- what happened?"

Democrats held together most of their members, as the bill passed by a razor-thin margin of 217-215. But as David Sirota of WorkingForChange.com noted, the switch of one vote from yes to no would have forced a tie and killed the bill, so each of those 15 Dems who voted for CAFTA can be blamed for its passage. For the record, they are Melissa Bean (Ill.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Norm Dicks (Wash.), Ruben Hinojosa (Texas), William Jefferson (La.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Greg Meeks (N.Y.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Jim Moran (Va.), Solomon Ortiz (Texas), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Vic Snyder (Ark.), John Tanner (Tenn.) and Ed Towns (N.Y.)

After the vote, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi met with her caucus to discuss consequences for the 15 Democratic sellouts. No decision was made public, but a coalition of New York unions and grassroots groups sent her a letter asking her to remove Meeks and Towns from their positions on Financial Services and Commerce committees, respectively, where, they said, the congressmen "have used their committee membership cards to access corporate America's ATM at the expense of working families for far too long."

When Sirota checked to see which of these 15 reps had voted against the middle class on two other notorious economic issues -- the credit-card-industry-written bankruptcy bill and the bill to limit citizens' legal rights in class-action lawsuits, which protects abusive corporations -- he found that the list gets whittled down to nine: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner.

Sirota also noted that 10 Senate Democrats voted for CAFTA. They are Maria Cantwell (Wash.); Tom Carper (Del.); Dianne Feinstein (Cal.); Joe Lieberman (Conn.); Blanche Lincoln (Ark.); Patty Murray (Wash.); Bill Nelson (Fla.); Ben Nelson (Neb,); David Pryor (Ark.); and Ron Wyden (Ore.). When he considers who also voted for the bankruptcy bill and the bill limiting citizens' legal rights, he found five "ultra sellouts": Carper, Feinstein, Lieberman, Lincoln and Bill Nelson.

Sirota said some Democrats might cut lawmakers some slack in swing states and districts, but he concluded, "These are the people who should, for starters, get absolutely no money or grassroots resources from organized labor or regular working people in general. And they are the people that should be high on the list when progressives think about which Democratic lawmakers need to know there are political consequences to selling America out."

Next up is the Free Trade Area of the Americas to further the globalist agenda through South America. Bush already has run up against formidable opposition from leftist leaders in Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. Conventional wisdom seems to be that CAFTA is a Pyrrhic victory that gives the administration no momentum to pick up that fight again, but multinational corporations won't give up. Neither should populists.

Consumers Pay Wasteful Energy Bill

It took a while longer than Dick Cheney and his energy industry cronies planned in their secret "Energy Task Force" back in 2001, but Cheney and George W. Bush finally got most of what they wanted for their industry sponsors with the energy bill that Bush signed into law on Aug. 8. The 1,724-page bill does little or nothing to address the high cost of gas or our long-term dependence on fossil fuels, but it delivers $14.5 billion in subsidies to energy producers and it makes it easier on polluters. The only shame is that Kenny Lay and the rest of the gang at Enron can't enjoy their ill-gotten gains.

Among other things, the measure repeals the Public Utility Holding Company Act, the New Deal law that protects electricity consumers. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., told the Madison Capital Times this comes in the face of ongoing abuses involving the unregulated corporate affiliates of regulated utilities. "I must say that I don't understand how we can give the nuclear industry loan guarantees and over $2 billion in risk insurance but we can't even give small businesses the assurance that unregulated affiliates of public utilities won't unfairly out-compete them."

The measure also weakens the Clean Water Act by exempting certain oil and gas industry activities from stormwater control programs, rolling back 15 years of protection. It also exempts hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas drilling procedure, from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which risks contaminating drinking water supplies.

It isn't like we don't know ways to achieve energy independence. The Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights and business leaders, has outlined a 10-step national agenda to create energy independence by the year 2015 and would create three million green jobs. (See apolloalliance.org for details.) Instead Cheney, energy industry and congressional leaders concocted this raid on the public treasury to increase oil and gas production, much of which probably will end up being consumed in China.

Provisions to increase the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel as well as wind energy gained support for the bill from Corn Belt and other rural lawmakers. Other crumbs were thrown at renewable energy development, but there is precious little good in this bad old bill. -- JMC

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