Stop the ‘free trade’ highway robbery

A decade ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was sold with promises it would create 200,000 new jobs in the U.S. in the first two years while raising the living standards of the people of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Instead, NAFTA has destroyed jobs and living standards in all three countries. It has only raised the profit “standards” of corporations.

Here in the U.S. it has been a huge factor feeding unemployment and poverty, a “race to the bottom” in wages, health care and pension benefits. NAFTA has also created a humanitarian crisis for workers and farmers in Mexico, forced to leave their homes and families to seek employment in the U.S.

Now, the Bush administration is ramrodding the Free Trade Area of the Americas, FTAA. It is described as “NAFTA on steroids,” an agreement that would open the door for even more vicious corporate takeaways.

Labor, farmers, environmentalists, peace activists, students and youth are heading to Miami for a week of protests demanding cancellation of the FTAA. Many Democratic presidential contenders have backed away from the Clinton administration’s pro-NAFTA line and are calling for termination or overhaul of FTAA, including protection of workers’ rights and the environment. FTAA is not a done deal.

These “free trade” agreements are really “free capital flight” agreements, which have nothing to do with improving the standard of living for workers and impoverished countries. One of the laws of capitalism is: the race to the bottom for workers means a greater profit rate for the capitalist class.

There is another point: The Bush-Cheney doctrine of preemptive and unilateral war is the flip side of this so-called “free trade” policy. If they succeed in their conquest of oil-rich Iraq, expect them soon to set up a “free trade zone” in the Middle East.

The time to outlaw this highway robbery is now.

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Air, water, wildlife Bushwhacked

The Bush administration last week dropped Environmental Protection Agency investigations of 50 power plants for massive violations of the Clean Air Act. The decision reflected heavy arm-twisting by Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, a secretive body dominated by the oil and gas monopolies that also control coal production.

The move is a frontal attack on efforts to curb air pollution from coal-fired power plants along the Ohio River that is contributing to a major increase in respiratory diseases. It also strikes a heavy blow against efforts to curb acid rain that has killed fish and plant life in the lakes and rivers in the Northeast. It is a brazen payback to energy corporations that poured more than $40 million into Bush-Cheney coffers in the stolen 2000 election. Now these corporations are lining up again to buy Bush a second term.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) spoke the truth about this outrage when he said, “This latest attack on the environment sends a clear message to the president’s corporate polluting cronies: Do whatever you want to do to improve the bottom line. Profits are more important than cleaning the air for children who suffer from asthma and seniors with respiratory diseases.”

It goes hand-in-hand with Bush attacks on the Kyoto Accord on global warming, his drive to expand logging and oil and gas drilling in national forests and in fragile protected lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He is open in his contempt for the Endangered Species Act. Bush is racking up a record as the worst environmental president in history, earning the wrath of nature lovers throughout the land.

The environment looms as a crucial issue in the 2004 election with environmentalists understandably proclaiming: “Anybody but Bush.” Voters should demand that candidates seeking the presidency speak out clearly on how they will reverse Bush-Cheney pro-corporate, anti-environment policies and protect the nation’s air, water, and wildlife.