Friday, July 29, 2005

July 28, 2005

News Blues

Hey, remember the "giant sucking sound?" No, I'm not talking about Monica but the prediction by that little squirt from Texas, Ross Perot when NAFTA was up for approval back in 1994.

Since that trade pact passed the US has lost nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs, some to Mexico, most to Asia. Was it NAFTA that sucked all those jobs off shore? No. But NAFTA sure didn't help. What it did do though was offer manufacturing venues right on the US boarder where manufacturers could exploit both cheap, compliant labor and loose environmental rules.

Now we have son-of-NAFTA – CAFTA – the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It passed by two votes last night.

The House narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement this morning, delivering a hard-fought victory to President Bush while underscoring the nation's deep divisions over trade...The 217 to 215 vote came just after midnight, in a dramatic finish that highlighted the intensity brought by both sides to the battle. When the usual 15-minute voting period expired at 11:17 p.m., the no votes outnumbered the yes votes by 180 to 175, with dozens of members undeclared. House Republican leaders kept the voting open for another 47 minutes, furiously rounding up holdouts in their own party until they had secured just enough to ensure approval....The House vote was effectively the last hurdle -- and by far the steepest -- facing CAFTA, which will tear down barriers to trade and investment between the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. (Full Story)

I have nothing against free trade. In fact free trade is the only option for an increasingly interdependent, crowded world. What I oppose are purely predatory trade agreements that benefit only two groups – US multinationals looking for cheap, easily exploited labor and corrupt regimes just tickled to be in cahoots with exactly those kinds of companies.

What we are seeing in NAFTA and CAFTA are industries that once only fled off-shore to avoid US taxes, now fleeing to these new "free-trade" regions to escape paying fair US wages and strict environmental laws.

Do I blame them? No. It's a bear shits in the woods story. Companies that exist to make a profit will always do whatever the law allows them to do in order to lower costs and increase margins. Some will even go beyond the law – way beyond the law, ALA Enron et al.

But why risk prison time when Congress can accommodate your needs for a few pieces of silver? Once President Bush signs CAFTA into law industry will have a vast new region in which to plant production facilities no US city would allow any place near it.

Everything south of the US boarder, including it's people, environment and even governments, will be ripe for corporate exploitation. Be assured, there will be a lot more than just manufacturing afoot after that. Not to be ethnocentric or anything, but let's be honest, most of the governments south of here are hardly models of representative democracy. They are shaky, fragile and corrupt. In other words, pig-heaven for US manufacturers.

So, US multinationals will open their checkbooks to the parties and/or politicians down there willing to fight any US-style labor and workplace safety, livable or minimum wage or environmental laws. The weak labor and pro-environment groups are just barely hanging on now south of the border, won't have a prayer against US corporate lawyers and political palm-greasers.

As noted above CAFTA passed the House by a mere two votes. So here are the names of the Democrats that voted yes. Remember these names. (The only thing remarkable about those in this group is how unremarkable each of them are. They are, as a lot, the least distinguished members of this already undistinguished minority party.) Got your pencil ready? Okay, here they are:

The Democrats voting in favor were Reps. Victor F. Snyder (Ark.), Melissa L. Bean (Ill.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), William J. Jefferson (La.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), John S. Tanner (Tenn.), Henry Cuellar (Tex.), Ruben Hinojosa (Tex.), Solomon P. Ortiz (Tex.), Jim Matheson (Utah), James P. Moran Jr. (Va.) and Norman D. Dicks (Wash.).

If you live in one of those states, take that name with you to the polls next year.

Circling Their Prey
Out here in the country where I live I can look off my back porch and tell you with certainty that an animal is either dead or dying. If I see a bunch of buzzards circling above a certain stand of woods, I know -- they are waiting for their meal to be done – done dying.

Which brings me to the American consumer.

"They are debt buyers, outfits that acquire unpaid bills from credit card firms and other credit providers for pennies on the dollar and then try to collect. Some of these companies go after bills so old that consumers can no longer be sued for them in court or punished for them on their credit reports.....As the amount of consumer debt has risen over the years, so too has the number of these firms, growing from about a dozen firms in 1996 to more than 500 today....Year in, year out, the Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about debt collectors than any other industry. But in recent years, these complaints have skyrocketed -- from 13,950 in 2000 to 58,687 last year. (Full Story)

I know, all the economic indicators keep going up. Bush administration economists declared yesterday that we are enjoying a "Goldilocks Economy," perfect in every way.

What they don't mention, or seem to care about, is that Goldilocks is paying for all this stuff with high-interest debt. On the same week the administration gushed about the economy, credit card companies sent out notices to their borrowers informing them they were raising rates and tightening terms. Make a payment late, for example, and your "compounded daily" interest rates jumps – no, not jumps, leaps to leaves that would have made Shylock blush.

Between 1995 and 2004, the debt collection industry grew from purchasing $12 billion worth of consumer debt to $77.2 billion, according to the Nilson Report, a newsletter that monitors the credit industry. The report said that last year debt buyers paid an average of 5.4 cents for every dollar of unpaid debt.

But never mind, they will still lend you more money. Got any equity left in your home? Great, they will lend you money against that too. Use it as a down payment on a big ass SUV and they'll even arrange a lease or loan for you on the balance.

And the good times roll on, the administration crows.

Why do I doubt that? For people who like to throw around terms like, "leading indicators," I would think they might worry that the sudden growth in leg-breaking bad debt collection businesses, from a couple of dozen to half a thousand, might indicate trouble on the economic horizon.

I know if I saw 500 vultures circling nearby I would suspect the worst was afoot below them.

Why Terrorism Always Fails
About a year ago I wrote that terrorism always fails because terrorist inevitably "crap in their own mess kits." By which I meant, they end up causing havoc even for their own supporters and friends, who eventually realize they are not freedom fighters but homicidal nuts hiding behind a cause. To wit we read today:

"BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army announced Thursday it is renouncing violence as a political weapon and resuming disarmament in a dramatic declaration designed to revive Northern Ireland's peace process. (Full Story)

The IRA simply got to be bad for business -- the business of business and the business of life. And so their supporters pulled their plug. Today's announcement is nothing but the IRA trying to makes necessity appear virtuous.

We see that same process just beginning in the Islamic world. The same day the IRA story ran, this story ran:

An organization of top American Muslim religious scholars plans to issue a formal ruling today condemning terrorism and forbidding Muslims to cooperate with anyone involved in a terrorist act, according to officials of two leading Islamic organizations. (Full Story)

As security in the US tightened, Islamic terrorists were left all bombed up with place to go. So they started bombing their hosts in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia -- crapping in their own mess kits.

Remember this the next time someone from the Bush administration tries telling you we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here.

The best way to fight terrorists is to mind our own security here thereby forcing them to remain in those handful of countries that support them. I call it the "Ransom of Red Chief" theory of fighting terrorism.

If Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, like these folks so well great, make them stay right there. Because it's only a matter of time before these terrorists-in-heat can't resist using all those guns and bombs against someone, anyone, for any damn reason. Because that's what homicidal nuts do.

Then what should we do? Nothing. Just sit back and watch the show. Like the Irish, they will eventually figure it out.

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