NAFTA at 20: “A Vehicle To Increase Profits at the Expense of Democracy”

Thursday the AFL-CIO released a new report, NAFTA at 20. The report makes the point that, “On the whole, NAFTA-style agreements have proved to be primarily a vehicle to increase corporate profits at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.”

In a press release accompanying the report AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says that working people and democratic governance on all sides of NAFTA’s borders are now worse off, and Congress should recognize this before approving any more “NAFTA-style” trade agreements.

“There is no success story for workers to be found in North America 20 years after NAFTA,” said Trumka. “The NAFTA model focuses on lifting corporations out of reach of democratic governance, rather than solely reducing tariffs. This report should serve as a cautionary tale to the Obama Administration and Congress as they consider negotiating and implementing new trade deals.”

Trade Agreements Should Stop Following The NAFTA Model

Preceding the report, Trumka gave a major speech on trade at the Center for American Progress. He talked about the history of “a disastrous, outdated, failed model of global economic policies.” He said that trade agreements should abandon the NAFTA model and instead offer a “global new deal … to bring the basic infrastructure of modern society—electricity, water, schools, roads, internet access—to everyone on Earth.”

The Report

A summary of the report contains these points about NAFTA:

– It’s a flawed model that promotes the economic interests of a very few and at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.
– While the overall volume of trade within North America due to NAFTA has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant in all three countries.
– Productivity has increased, but workers’ share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates.
– NAFTA pushed small Mexican farmers off their lands, increasing the flow of desperate undocumented migrants.
– It exacerbated inequality in all three countries.
– And the NAFTA labor side agreement has failed to accomplish its most basic mandate: to ensure compliance with fundamental labor rights and enforcement of national labor laws.

The NAFTA architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protections allowed companies to move labor intensive components of their operations to locations with weak laws and lax enforcement. This incentivized local, state and federal authorities to artificially maintain low labor costs by ignoring–or in some cases actively interfering with–such fundamental rights as the rights to organize, strike and be free from discrimination. This dynamic undermined organizing and bargaining efforts even in areas with relatively robust labor laws. Today, it is commonplace for employers to threaten to move south—whether to South Carolina or Tijuana—if workers do not agree to cuts in wages and benefits.

See the report at NAFTA at 20.

The Speech

In his speech Trumka began by outlining how NAFTA failed regular people by killing jobs and keeping wages down, which enriching an already-wealthy few – setting the stage for the 2008 financial collapse.

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Related stories: Mexico’s tomato-farm workers toil in ‘circle of poverty’ and America’s War on Immigrants

Paris Elects Its First-Ever Female Mayor / Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections

Paris Elects Its First-Ever Female Mayor

Paris has elected its first-ever female mayor, the Spanish-born Socialist Anne Hidalgo, even as elsewhere in the country more right-wing candidates won their races. Hidalgo received 54.5 per cent of the vote.

Hidalgo promised major investment in housing, transportation, and green spaces, hoping to stay the exodus of middle and working-class families from the city, aiming specifically to create 10,000 new social housing units and 5,000 kindergarten places.

Read more at Gawker

Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image attribution: Gobierno de Chile [CC-BY-3.0-cl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/cl/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in local polls that had become a referendum on his rule and said he would “enter the lair” of enemies who have accused him of corruption and leaked state secrets, saying “they will pay for this”.

But while Erdogan’s AK Party was well ahead in overall votes after Sunday’s elections, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appeared close to seizing the capital, Ankara.

Erdogan, fighting the biggest challenge of his 12-year rule, addressed supporters from a balcony at the AKP headquarters at the end of a long and bitter election campaign in which he has labelled his opponents “terrorists” and an “alliance of evil”.

The harsh tone of his balcony address suggested he felt he now had a mandate for strong action against his enemies. “From tomorrow, there may be some who flee,” he said.

The election campaign has been dominated by a power struggle between Erdogan and a moderate US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of using a network of followers in police and judiciary to fabricate graft accusations in an effort to topple him. Erdogan has purged thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors since anti-graft raids in December targeting businessmen close to him and sons of ministers.

Read more at France 24

Egypt: sentencing to death of more than 500 people is a ‘grotesque’ ruling

Relatives cry sitting outside the courthouse after hearing the verdict. © AFP/Getty Images

‘This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen … anywhere in the world’
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East & North Africa Director

Numbers are more than total death sentences in Egypt in last three years combined

The handing down of mass death sentences by a court in Egypt today has been condemned as a grotesque move by Amnesty International. According to state media reports in Egypt, in a single hearing this morning the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi to be executed for their alleged role in violence following his ousting last July.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“This is injustice writ large and these death sentences must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries’ use of capital punishment in a year.

“This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.

“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces.

“While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence for the deaths of 37 detainees.”

The Egyptian authorities do not release figures on death sentences and executions, despite repeated Amnesty requests. However, Amnesty knows that Egyptian courts handed down at least 109 death sentences in 2013. There were at least 91 death sentences in 2012, and at least 123 in 2011. The last known execution in Egypt was carried out in October 2011, when a man was hanged for the killing of six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police guard in a drive-by shooting in 2010.

via Amnesty International UK

The Conscience of Syria

An Interview with Activist and Intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is often called the conscience of the Syrian revolution. Born in Raqqa in 1961, he was arrested in 1980, while a medical student in Aleppo, and imprisoned for his membership in a left-wing organization. He remained a political prisoner until 1996, spending the last of his sixteen years behind bars in the notorious desert-prison of Tadmur (Palmyra).

Saleh has emerged as one of the leading writers and intellectual figures of the Syrian uprising, which began three years ago this week. In 2012 he was given the Prince Claus Award (supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but was unable to collect it, as he was living in hiding in Damascus. Now living in exile in Turkey, Salehwrites for a variety of international Arabic-language publications. Along with a group of Syrians and Turks, he recently established a Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul called Hamish (“margin” or “fringe”). Saleh has published several Arabic-language books, most recently Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014).

For many in the West, the situation in Syria looks very confusing. On August 31, 2013, for example, President Obama said the “underlying conflict in Syria” was due to “ancient sectarian differences.” It is often heard – both in official foreign policy circles and among leftists and antiwar activists – that there are “no good guys” in the Syrian conflict, that all sides are equally bad, and therefore there is no one to support. What do you think of this stance? How would you respond to those who say there is no one to support in Syria?

Actually I find it confusing that many people in the West find our situation in Syria confusing. Is it a matter of information and knowledge? I tend to think that it is a matter of politics. Confusion could be a function of a certain position toward our struggle: inaction, which in my opinion is the worst kind of action, not from our perspective as Syrians but also from a regional and international perspective, not to mention humanity and human solidarity with the oppressed.

Sectarian differences? What a subtle analysis! When an armed structure uses the supposedly national army, media organs, and resources to kill its own people when they oppose its tyrannical rule—this can hardly be considered a sectarian conflict. We’re not talking about just any structure—we’re talking about the repressive state apparatus of the Assad regime. It thus becomes absurd to explain the Syrian struggle in sectarian terms. To the best of my best knowledge, states are not sects, are they?

I am by no means turning a blind eye toward sectarian tensions and conflicts in Syrian society. Many writers, myself included, have written about sectarianism in Syria. My main conclusion is that sects are politically manufactured entities, and sectarianism is a political tool for controlling people, a strategy for political domination. It certainly is not a matter of social “differences” but rather a method for guarding social privileges and transforming a struggle against tyranny and manipulation into sectarian strife, a fitna. The word fitna has religious echoes about it, and it is remarkable that the ‘secular’ Bashar Assad used it sixteen times in his first speech after the beginning of the revolution on March 30, 2011.

Even now, after more than a thousand days of the Syrian struggle, it is still a tremendous political and ethical mistake to say that all we have are bad guys. The regime is essentially criminal and has no solution whatsoever to Syria’s many problems. I think those who says Syria’s sides are equally bad are the same people who believe in that despicable slogan of realpolitik: a devil you know is better than a devil you don’t know. Meaning the devil you know isn’t really a devil after all. It’s only the devil you don’t know who is the bad guy. This is bad politics, devoid of knowledge, devoid of human values.

Read more at the Boston Review

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Koch Brothers Are Principal Stakeholders in Canadian Tar Sands

“The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.” via the Washington Post.

David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

You might expect the biggest lease owner in Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, to be one of the international oil giants, like Exxon Mobil or Royal Dutch Shell. But that isn’t the case. The biggest lease holder in the northern Alberta oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the privately-owned cornerstone of the fortune of conservative Koch brothers Charles and David.

The Koch Industries subsidiary holds leases on 1.1 million acres — an area nearly the size of Delaware — in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, according to an activist group that studied Alberta provincial records. The Post confirmed the group’s findings with Alberta Energy, the provincial government’s ministry of energy. Separately, industry sources familiar with oil sands leases said Koch’s lease holdings could be closer to two million acres. The companies with the next biggest net acreage positions in oil sands leases are Conoco Phillips and Shell, both close behind.

What is Koch Industries doing there? The company wouldn’t comment on its holdings or strategy, but it appears to be a long-term investment that could produce tens of thousands of barrels of the region’s thick brand of crude oil in the next three years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of barrels a few years after that.

The finding about the Koch acreage is likely to inflame the already contentious debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline and spur activists and environmentalists seeking to slow or stop planned expansions of production from the northern Alberta oil sands, or tar sands. Environmental groups have already made opposing the pipeline their leading cause this spring and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Koch brothers Charles and David “un-American” and “shadowy billionaires.”

The link between Koch and Keystone XL is, however, indirect at best. Koch’s oil production in northern Alberta is “negligible,” according to industry sources and quarterly publications of the provincial government. Moreover, Koch has not reserved any space in the Keystone XL pipeline, a process that usually takes place before a pipeline is built. The pipeline also does not run anywhere near Koch’s refining facilities. And TransCanada, owner of the Keystone routes, says Koch is not expected to be one of the pipeline’s customers.

Read more at the Washington Post

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America’s war on immigrants

Al Jazeera America

In the name of safeguarding the nation, acute violations of human rights go unchallenged

Activists hold family photos outside the White House on March 12 to protest the nearly 2 million deportations that have taken place during Barack Obama’s presidency while Congress debates immigration reform.Brendan Smialowski//AFP/Getty Images

As the interminable debate in Washington over immigration reform wears on, undocumented migrants in the U.S. continue to exist at the mercy of law enforcement efforts that defy all pretenses of justice and legality.

Earlier this year, Al Jazeera America reported on the stop-and-frisk-style raids being conducted in New Orleans by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to boost migrant deportation quotas. In that article, a Honduran immigrant recounts his experience of being handcuffed and shackled in the back of an ICE vehicle, which had been deployed to round up undocumented people using racial profiling techniques, saying, “I heard one of the agents say to another, ‘This is like going hunting.’ … And the other responded, ‘Yeah, I like this s—.’”

Also mentioned in the article is the fact that ICE agents in New Orleans “use mobile fingerprinting devices similar to those used by the U.S. military during its counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

If we add to this mix the prevalence of abuse that deportees face from federal officials, fatal shootings of migrants by Border Patrol personnel and the rampant construction of nativist border walls, it begins to appear that the U.S. is indeed waging a war on immigration. It starts at the very top: Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama has overseen more deportations than any other president in history — nearly 2 million people in the six years he has been in office.

The severity of such statistics is partially camouflaged by Republican accusations that Obama isn’t tough enough on immigration. Meanwhile, he is able to invoke Republican intransigence to excuse his inaction on reform. That much is clear. What is less clear and much more insidious is that political inertia ultimately benefits those in power, regardless of party.

This is where the story gets interesting:

Read more at Al Jazeera America

The NRA shoots down a qualified Obama nominee


Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, Feb. 4, 2014, in Washington, DC.
Charles Dharapak/AP

By Krystal Ball

We reported last week that the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s surgeon general nominee, was in danger because Murthy has advocated gun safety and linked public health to gun violence. Our reporting now appears to be coming true: According to the New York Times, Dr. Murthy’s nomination is unlikely to come up before November if it goes forward at all.

That the National Rifle Association is poised to scuttle the president’s choice for surgeon general is both depressing and absurd.

Murthy’s nomination passed out of the Senate Health Committee with the unanimous support of the committee’s Democrats and even one Republican – Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk. Since then, Murthy has faced increasing opposition from pro-gun senators, right wing media outlets and the NRA. Their stated opposition stems from a letter Murthy signed as a founder of Doctors for America where he advocated gun safety measures including an assault weapons ban, limits on ammunition sales, and mandatory gun safety training. Dr. Murthy has also opposed bans on doctors discussing gun safety in the home with patients.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender, has been particularly forceful in his opposition. Paul penned a letter to Majority leader Harry Reid stating that Murthy “has disqualified himself from being surgeon general because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans’ right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign.”

The NRA has also written a letter strongly opposing the Murthy nomination and announced it would score the confirmation vote. This means a vote for Murthy would count against lawmakers’ pro-gun ratings, placing maximum pressure on vulnerable red state Democrats.

Read more at msnbc.com

Court denies NRA request to block city’s gun magazine law

Court denies NRA request to block city’s gun magazine law

Voters in the Bay Area city of Sunnyvale, Calif., in November approved a ban on gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Wednesday denied an emergency request by the National Rifle Association to block enforcement of a Bay Area city’s ordinance that bans gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

A court spokesman said Kennedy denied the request without comment. Kennedy oversees emergency appeals from California and eight other Western states.

Sixty-six percent of Sunnyvale voters approved the ban on high-capacity magazines in November. It went into effect on March 6, and since then, anyone with a magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds was committing a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, six months in jail or both.

Since 2000, California state law has outlawed the making, selling, giving and lending of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds – but it does not ban possession of such magazines lawfully acquired before 2000. Overall, the state has the toughest gun control laws in the nation.

Sunnyvale and San Francisco took the ban further and passed measures that made possession of high-capacity magazines a misdemeanor crime, moves widely seen as reactions to the 2012 shooting deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

San Francisco’s law, passed by the Board of Supervisors in October and signed by Mayor Ed Lee in November, bans possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It is scheduled to take effect April 7. The Sunnyvale ordinance outlaws use as well as possession of the magazines.

Read more at Al Jazeera America