After more than two years of campaigning, the CAFTA fight has come down to the wire with a vote scheduled to take place this week. NAFTA led to the loss of almost one million US jobs, the displacement of 1.5 million Mexican campesinos and an environmentally toxic border, all while multinational corporations gained huge profits. The passage of CAFTA is sure to presage more of the same.
As Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch argues, the passage of CAFTA "would serve to push ahead the corporate globalization model that has caused the â€˜race to the bottom' in labor and environmental standards and would promote privatization and deregulation of key public services."
Indeed, many NGOs working in Central America contend that the pact, while delivering substantial profits to multinational corporations, would do little for the poor of that region. Organized labor, progressive farm groups, environmental groups, civil rights groups and human rights groups are all opposed to the trade agreement.
So, with the heaving sound of an old tree suddenly splitting apart in a storm, the labor movement is finally breaking up.
On Sunday, leaders of four of the country's largest labor unions announced they would boycott this week's AFL-CIO convention, and officials from two of those unions, SEIU and the Teamsters, withdrew from the Federation on Monday.
The five unions now comprising the Change To Win Coalition (CTWC)--along with SEIU, the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers, and UNITE HERE--have formed what amounts to a rival federation--whether they all formally leave the AFL-CIO or not, which now seems likely. These unions' collective 5 million membership represents 40 percent of the AFL-CIO's 13 million total. If the mammoth 2.7 million member National Education Association aligns with the effort, CTWC will hold exactly half of all union members in the United States.
At a time when the scale of corruption in Congress has risen to obscene heights, the fight to achieve a clean government has heated upâ€“and the good Senator from Wisconsin, Russell Feingold, is admirably spearheading the campaign to usher in a new era.
Feingold, who with John McCain led the fight for passage of campaign finance reform, understands the importance of this fight better than anyone. So, this month, the tough-minded reformer introduced the Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act in the Senate (Martin Meehan has similar legislation pending in the House). Once again, Feingold is doing good service to his nation by pushing into the next frontier of reforming lobbying corruption in Washington.
The bill's key provisions are designed to reduce the power of special interests by forcing lobbyists to file disclosure reports quarterly instead of twice a year, prohibiting lobbyists from taking trips with members of Congress and their staffs, and requiring former members of Congress and some senior executive branch officials to wait two years after leaving government service before working as a lobbyist. And, as Feingold told The Hill, the bill would prohibit "lobbyists from giving gifts to members" or staff and require "members and campaigns to reimburse the owners of corporate jets at the charter rate when they use those planes for their official or political travel."
Congressman Maurice Hinchey had the crowd of more than 900--packed into New York's Ethical Culture Society's sweltering auditorium this beautiful summer Saturday--on its feet.
Hinchey was the second of three speakers at a Town Hall event this afternoon co-sponsored by The Nation and Democrats.com. (He joined former Congresswoman Liz Holtzman--who was brilliant in laying out the legal process available to hold administration officials responsible for torture at Abu Ghraib, as she wrote about in her recent Nation article--and Air America's Randi Rhodes--who alternately made the crowd laugh and wince with her scathing and funny debunking of Administration spin and lies. Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.Com skillfully moderated.)
"Torture and Lies: Who is Accountable?" was the question. Hinchey, who has represented a largely conservative district in upstate New York since 1993, answered unflinchingly. "Never have I seen such an unlawful Administration, one with such arrogance toward the rule of law. Their activities are criminal."
If House Democrats had stuck together in opposition to moves by the Bush administration to reauthorize the worst elements of the Patriot Act, the legislation would have been defeated and a major victory would have been won for civil liberties.
Unfortunately, Democrats did not stick together on Thursday, when the House considered sixteen provisions of the act that are set to expire at the end of the year unless they are reauthorized by Congress.
Following a day-long debate on Thursday, the House voted 257 to 171 to extend, and in some case make permanent, the most controversial provisions of the law that was hastily crafted in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Now we know the truth. The Patriot Act was never intended as an emergency measure," argued Representative Lynn Woolsey, the California Democrat who has long been an outspoken critic of the law that had its start in former Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department. "It appears the sponsors were always interested in a permanant crackdown on civil liberties."
The Apollo Alliance, one of the best progressive ideas of the millennium, gained some important new supporters last week. Six new Democratic governors--Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)--joined an earlier three--Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)--in embracing the Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade.
In an open letter to President Bush the six newcomers, joined by Richardson, applauded Apollo's efforts and invited Bush to "lead a bold national project" to achieve its aims. The nine governors are all leaders in state-based efforts at energy efficiency and increased use of renewables, the core twin planks of the Apollo program.
That program calls for a national investment of $300 billion over the course of ten years to build the basic production and distribution infrastructure needed for a cleaner energy economy. Less than the estimated costs of the Iraq war (after just two years), the investment would pay for itself many times over. Direct economic benefits would include annual energy savings and improvements in our trade balance of about $200 billion; the creation of some 3 million permanent new jobs; and an added $1 trillion in GDP over ten years.
If you like the Patriot Act and Guantánamo, you'll love John
Roberts. More than anything else, to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court, the Bush White House sought an advocate for ever-expanding executive branch powers. The stakes in Roberts's nomination could not be higher. Bruce Shapiro reports.
In 1999, when he was trying to appeal to the conservative base that would eventually deliver the Republican presidential nomination to him, Candidate George W. Bush said the Supreme Court justices he most admired were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The clear intimation was that, given the opportunity, Bush would nominate someone like Scalia and Thomas-- a conservative judicial activist bent on upsetting established law--to the high court.
More recently, as he has finally been faced with the task of naming a nominee to the Court, President George W. Bush has attempted to sound more moderate and thoughtful, suggesting that "a nominee to that Court must be a person of superb credentials and the highest integrity, a person who will faithfully apply the Constitution and keep our founding promise of equal justice under law." President Bush has said that he prefers nominees who display "respect for the rule of law and for the liberties guaranteed to every citizen" and who "will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench."
So which George W. Bush named federal appeals judge John G. Roberts Jr. to fill the opening on the Supreme Court created by the decision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to retire? Is Roberts the Scalia/Thomas clone that Candidate Bush promised or is he the mainstreamer President Bush suggested he was looking for?
As Reuters was the first to report tonight, President Bush's nominee to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court is conservative appeals court judge John Roberts.
Liberal groups immediately sounded the alarm, citing Roberts' positions in cases involving free speech and religious liberty and especially a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion. ("The court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion ... finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution," the brief said.)
Moreover, as the Alliance for Justice noted in a report prepared in 2003 after Roberts' last court appointment, he "has a record of hostility to the rights of minorities and women. He has also taken controversial positions in favor of weakening the separation of church and state and limiting the permissible role of the federal courts in protecting the environment. Although Mr. Roberts is indisputably a very capable lawyer, that alone does not qualify him for such a prestigious and critical post."
The House of Representatives is moving toward a vote on the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the spin machines of the White House and the corporate special interests - along with their amen corner in the media - are working overtime.
These are the days when the big lies get told - as we learned more than a decade ago when the Clinton White House was busy working with congressional Republicans to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and more recently when Congress debated establishing permanent normal trade relations with China.
To counter the Orwellian twists of facts and figures that are sure to come from the White House and its political allies, fair trade campaigners (www.citizenstrade.org and www.wiscotrader.org) have come up with a top 10 list of trade doublespeak - and the facts to counter it:
"Whenever the other side has you talking their language, they've got you. That, to me, is what it's about in a nutshell and it's almost that simple." George Carlin in an interview with Tim Russert, when asked why he thought the Democratic Party and John Kerry failed to connect with the voters. (November 23, 2004)
Matt Bai had a cover story in Sunday's New York Times magazine. ("The Framing Wars," July 17, 2005) It's spin about spin. On one level, it's an article about how Democrats now understand the value of "framing"--that language and narrative matter in politics.
Caught up in democracy-spreading adventures abroad, Congress continues to ignore residents who are clamoring for democracy in its own backyard.
The 560,000 citizens of Washington DC--the only geographic region in the country without representation in Congress--are tired of having no voice. "When this country committed troops to Iraq, I had no vote," US House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC's non-voting representative, told the Washington Post, "...the taxes paid to this war, I had no vote."
So last week, Norton and scores of DC voting rights activists came up with a clever solution to get the attention of Congress: they drummed up the support of the international community. As delegates of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) converged on Washington for their annual meeting, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/01/AR2005070101959.html">hundreds of protestors urged them to "Free DC."
Next Saturday, July 23, is the three-year anniversary of the meeting at #10 Downing Street in London that was recorded in the now infamous minutes known as the "Downing Street Memo." Suggesting that the Bush Administration was intent on going to war with Iraq with or without intelligence on Saddam's WMD, the memo has given new impetus (and vindication) to antiwar critics of the invasion.
To highlight these disclosures, AfterDowningStreet.org, a new and growing coalition of veterans' groups and activist organizations working with Rep. John Conyers, has organized hundreds of events, dramatic performances, house parties and study circles planned coast to coast next July 23. At least eight events will involve members of Congress. Click here to see what's happening in your area.
In New York City, The Nation and Democrats.Com are teaming up to present a public forum at the New York Society of Ethical Culture featuring Rep. Maurice Hinchey, the Hon. Liz Holtzman, Air America host Randi Rhodes and Bob Fertik, President of Democrats.com. The event starts at 2:00 and is free to the public. Click here for more info and click here to read Holtzman's recent Nation mag piece outlining the legal case that could and should be made against senior Bush officials for the torture at Abu Ghraib.