Rethink Trade

Any Congress member who tells you he or she is in favor of restricting immigration and securing our borders but then votes to expand "free trade" and put foreign corporations in charge of our ports is either a fool or a liar. But they sure seem to think voters are fools.

Even as they set up hearings around the country to whip up anti-immigrant feelings, House Republicans on July 20 narrowly approved a "free trade" deal with Oman 221-205 in a largely party-line vote. All but 28 of 232 Republicans voted against the deal, while only 22 out of 202 Dems supported it.

The deal was similar to the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which passed 217-215 on on July 27, 2005 after a night of arm-twisting by House GOP leaders. CAFTA, which would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement to Central America and the Dominican Republic, was opposed by all but 15 House Democrats.

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch noted that labor provisions in the Oman deal are identical to CAFTA -- only requiring that Oman, a sultanate on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, enforce its existing labor laws, which are "exceptionally bad -&endash; considerably worse than Central American laws, with independent unions explicitly forbidden." The State Department's most recent report cites Oman for forced labor and human trafficking, among other human rights violations.

But the Oman deal goes even further than NAFTA and CAFTA in giving foreign investers the right to challenge many US government decisions about federal contracts, leases or concession agreements affecting a covered foreign invester.

US trade negotiators inserted language in the deal that would grant any company incorporated in Oman the right to acquire and operate port facilities in the US. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., noted that it would allow companies to "drag the US before a UN or World Bank tribunal" to demand compensation if Washington blocked it from acquiring and operating US ports, as Dubai Ports World, based in the United Arab Emirates, was forced to abandon its planned purchase of terminal operation rights at major US ports earlier this year because of security concerns.

Once again the Bush administration and GOP leaders of Congress, along with some centrist Dems, have put the profits of multinational corporations ahead of the well-being of US workers, home-grown industry and national security.

In July, talks to expand the World Trade Organization in Doha, capital of the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, collapsed in the face of growing opposition in poor and rich countries alike. In the past decade, the number and percentage of people living on less than $1 a day has increased in the world's poorest regions. Household income for US families has stagnated, while the US trade debt has grown from $95 billion in 1993 to $717 billion in 2005, threatening global economic stability. The US agriculture trade surplus also virtually disappeared and, yes, hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Central American workers came north seeking jobs to support their families.

The United States should lead the world back to the drawing board to create a trading system that will improve the lives of workers and farmers and protect the environment around the world. A fair trade system can be devised, but multinational corporations cannot call all the shots, as they have so far.


Cons Go Green

Practically all the financial support to put Carl Romanelli's name on the Pennsylvania ballot for the US Senate came from right wingers who apparently hope the Green candidate will take votes away from Democratic Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr. The centrist Casey, son of a popular former governor, defeated a more progressive candidate in the Democratic primary and is leading in polls to unseat right-wing Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. Journalists found that $66,000 raised by the Luzerne County Green Party in June to fund a petition drive came from from Santorum supporters or their housemates, other GOP donors and conservatives. Also, six of those who collected voter signatures to put the Greens on the ballot worked for Santorum's campaign.

Green Party leaders reject criticism of their Senate candidate in Pennsylvania. They note that the acceptance of conservative support is legal and they rationalize it as a way to advance progressive issues. "If Mr. Romanelli were not in the race, voters would be limited to Mr. Casey and Mr. Santorum, both of whom support the war on Iraq, oppose women's reproductive rights and equality for gay Americans, and accept contributions from powerful corporations seeking to influence their votes in the US Senate," a Green Party press release stated.

As we've said before, Greens are free to run for office, but they should face reality: Their quixotic candidacies this year can do no good for progressives, but put themselves in the service of the right-wing agenda.

If Santorum stays in the Senate, that increases the likelihood that Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who says that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," stays as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. If Casey unseats Santorum, it increases the chance that Max Baucus replaces Inhofe. If Baucus isn't a green hero, at least he voted with the League of Conservation Voters 55% of the time in 2005 while Inhofe scored a goose-egg. And swapping Pat Leahy, D-Vt., for Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at the helm of Judiciary is also a good move. Leahy supported the ACLU 100% and NARAL 75% in 2005, while Specter managed only 43% support for liberty and 20% for choice last year. Other upgrades if Dems take over include Tom Harkin at Agriculture; Robert Byrd at Appropriations; Kent Conrad at Budget; Ted Kennedy at Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; and Jay Rockefeller at Intelligence.

In case you haven't noticed, the Supreme Court is one right-winger away from letting Bush take the Marks-A-Lot to the Bill of Rights. A Democratic Senate would still need the nerve to swat down Bush's next Scalia clone, demand answers from the White House and the Pentagon and occasionally speak up for workers, civil liberties and the environment. But this year a Democratic Senate is the only chance we have.


Weakness Inflamed Mideast

In a dispute as intractable as the Israel-Palestine-Lebanon conflict, it hardly matters who fired the first shot in the latest volley. For the record, it was Hamas, Hezbollah or the Israeli Defense Forces, depending on who you're talking to. A better question is, who will stop the shooting?

Tony Blair on Aug. 4 delayed his summer holiday while he worked to secure a UN resolution to stop hostilities in the Israel-Lebanon conflict. The previous day, Bush blithely left Washington for his month-long vacation. Neither Bush nor his secretary of state were in any hurry to stop the Israeli bombing -- which was mainly accomplished with US armaments.

Israel would not have proceeded with the bombing of Lebanon without first getting a green light from White House neocons. And perhaps Iran and Syria would not have supplied Hezbollah with rockets and other weapons if Bush had not 1) identified Iran and Syria as places he would like to invade once he got Iraq squared away and 2) gotten the US military bogged down in Iraq. Meanwhile, Russia and China are aiding Iran and view the US with contempt. As economist Max Sawicky noted, "What a superpower." -- JMC

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2006

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