Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who knew NAFTA had so many enemies?

I stole the title but it was too good to pass up. Jon Tasini has a great wrap up of the NAFTA debate that broke out last night in Ohio. It doesn't happen that often that politicians openly talk of our country's trade policy(its more of a criticize it in an election year/vote for it the next type of thing), so it's worth a look at the full post that has the text of each speech.
I am entirely not interested in what the candidates said in the past and whether they have changed their positions. Not because it isn't relevant and a legitimate debate. Rather, I think that that focus simply spirals into a pointless rhetorical back-and-forth that obscures this--it is important to focus entirely on what they say TODAY about the future and what they will do about NAFTA.

And there I think lies the true danger. Both candidates are talking about renegotiating NAFTA, using the club that the U.S. will opt out of NAFTA if enforcement is not toughened up on labor and environmental standards. To recap, Sen Obama: "I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced." Sen. Clinton: "I have put forward a very specific plan about what I would do, and it does include telling Canada and Mexico that we will opt out unless we renegotiate the core labor and environmental standards".

This is a frame of thinking that says, really, let's tinker around the edges. Neither candidate is willing to say: we have to abandon so-called "free trade" and start our thinking from scratch. While the two focused a lot on trade and environmental provisions, the real danger, as John Edwards pointed out, are the Chapter 11 provisions in so-called "free trade" agreements like NAFTA that give huge, broad rights to corporations irrespective of the side agreements on labor and the environment.

Edwards took a huge swing at the corporate lobbyists by singling out the NAFTA-like Chapter 11 rights. I explained this briefly (and Public Citizen has a detailed explanation) but the upshot of Chapter 11 rights is this: Let's say a company doing business in a country that is a party to one of these so-called "free trade" agreements believes a law violates rights or protections the company has under the trade deal. The company can take its case before a trade tribunal, which can, then, rule that a law--say an environmental law or labor--is illegal under the so-called "free trade" regime and award tax-payer dollars to corporations. And this tribunal operates behind closed doors, with no public input or scrutiny and none of the basic due process or transparency one would expect in open courts.

This is really huge. These Chapter 11 rights are one of the most odious provisions of so-called "free trade" deals. They allow companies to undercut our democracy--laws that are passed by the people we elect can be overridden by an unaccountable, unelected tribunal.

Until we have a president willing to declare that, from this moment on, trade agreements will be built around the rights of communities and workers, and not corporate rights, we will not end the cycle of so-called "free trade" that is powered by Chapter 11 rights that effectively allow undermining of basic wage levels and social safety nets. It is that simple.

I can't climb into the minds of Sens. Obama and Clinton to understand what makes them really tick on trade. Is it a real belief in so-called "free trade" and the so-called "free market" that have worked so well (note the heavy sarcasm) for people here and abroad? Is it simply a fear that they cannot alienate political contributors, so they must tread lightly on any deep critique of so-called "free trade"? Or both?
(Emphasis Mine)

I basically agree with his take, and the point about chapter 11 agreements is particularly important. Remember that a lack of environmental and labor protections isn't a problem with the deals, the lack of these standards IS THE REASON for their existence. If they had to obey those pesky labor standards and environmental laws, they might as well have stayed in the US! The deals aren't flawed... the model is working exactly how it was planned! The problem is that the model itself is broken, and and if we talk about changing the model itself instead of small changes to a broken system, we might get real change a trade policy that actually raises standards. Maybe not this election cycle, but that day will come.


  1. i saw the debate & my concern was that while Obama could hammer Hillary over and over again about her support of NAFTA, he didn't want to create too many waves by pledging to dismantle it if he became prez. i guess i can't really blame him, though. the nomination is now decidedly his to lose so he doesn't have to do anything outlandish at this point. plus, i thought the moderators, especially tim russert, were WAY more critical of Clinton than Obama during the debate. what do y'all think? is this another case of the media deciding who will win?

  2. To a certain extent I think the media has been going harder at Hillary recently. From all accounts her campaign is horrible to deal with and takes a unusually hostile approach in dealing with the media, so I think people might have gotten sick of that and are looking to get their kicks in while she's down.

    I might feel bad about all this if the media weren't solely responsible for creating her into a vital presidential candidate. From 2003 until November this year, all we heard was the media hyping her as the next nominee when her accomplishments/political talents hardly merited her being a US senator. Not really sure why they decided to tear her down now, but it's the least they can do for after senselessly building her up. As for the media deciding the race... as Hillary Clinton's inexplicable rise to frontrunner shows, their role in this process can't be overestimated.

  3. oh don't get me wrong, i don't feel bad at all for Hillary, it was just pretty easy to see Obama getting served up softballs and her getting dumped on time after time. i thought it was pretty hillarious actually, until i remembered that its not the media's job to make me laugh.

    also, i forgot to mention after your latest train of thought lounge post, but i completely agree w/ south's choices. don't sleep on the video for "Disarm," a great video and equally great song:

  4. I missed the debate (coaching hoops), so I'm not going to weigh in on that, but let's just say the Smashing Pumpkins make some of the best rock videos ever. All of them are good. E, I forgot about the video for "Disarm"--good stuff. One more, then I'm done, check out the video for "Zero":

    This is my favorite Pumpkins song, and the video is great.

  5. South I remember one night when we were pre gaming and listening to that whole album, and some people we didn't really know that well came by. They didn't know how to take it when Zero was on and you snap into this Billy Corgan-like trance, grab me and yell "Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness
    And cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me!!!!" and then we started jumping around. Great times.