Wednesday, November 26, 2003

DC Crime Emergency Will Likely Stretch Into 2004

I have been tied down with Robert Rubin's new memoirs, In an Uncertain World for the past few days (more on that later this week) and so have been too distracted to post for a while. But this little news item hits really close to the neighborhood where I live and there are now cops swarming about in our streets.

Mayor Anthony Williams has declared a "Crime Emergency" in our nation's capital. There is something unsettlingly perverse about the "Seat of the Free World" being ranked the 3 worst city for crime in our nation (Baltimore, our neighbor to the north--and birthplace of my sister, incidentally--is 1st).

Just two miles north of the Whitehouse where GWB collects the checks and orders our boys to imminent danger half way around the world, and two blocks from my house, people are shooting at each other in broad daylight.

Forget Iraq. GWB can't even invoke law and order right under his nose (I guess it's actually the responsibility of DC's colonial overlords in the Republican-controlled US Congress who actually hold responsibility for governing us). No one dropped any bombs on us, but we have craters in our streets and obroken down schools, water and health systems. Where's the reconstruction plan for Washington? or for all our other crumbling cities with their tattered social fabric?

So, the kids who are in or have dropped out of our failed schools (public, charter and private), the kids who were left behind when Bush gutted education funding and social programs, the kids who are rotting for want of economic opportunity that has been plucked from their hands (and into those of Bush's corporate cronies), they have nothing better to do. So some fall into drugs, fall into gangs, and wreak havoc on this town. Some might say they terrorize us. But they neither speak Farsi nor sit atop barrels and barrels of precious oil, so we'll leave well enough alone.

There are plenty of things that we need to spend money on right here at home: health care, education, homeland security, jobs, and more that just aren't getting done under president Bush. His mind is on the oil in Iraq and raising money to buy another election. I'm sure he's saving enough of that campaign money to install a state of the art alarm system down in Crawford. As for the rest of us schlubbs who are being trickled upon by the Bush tax cuts and imperial escapades, just try to duck.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Wanted to post something more on the FTAA (like, where is the media coverage?), but my internet connection is way too slow today. Instead, I'll register my formal grievance that the Far Eastern Economic Review is no longer offering free access to its online magazine--not even current content. Now they want me to pay $215 a year to read it online. As if. I'll just swipe one from the news stand at the bus depot downtown, and would encourage others to do so as well. It's still the best news magazine out there if you want to know what's happening in Asia, and I won't be able to give it up very easily.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Loyal readers of Globalize This! have been prattling for more content. My humble apologies for being out of date. Now to the news:

Currently underway in Miami are negotiations to extend an expanded North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Any time you try to get bureaucrats from 34 countries to agree on something, you know it's gonna be a challenge.

Here is the shakedown: The U.S. interest (defined in terms of what Peter Gowan calls the Dollar Wall Street Regime of US hegemony) lies in codifying radical rights for foreign investors first pioneered in NAFTA Chapter 11. Carla Hills and others on the Bush I NAFTA negotiating team conceived Ch. 11 as a way to protect foreign investors against nationalization wrought by Mexico against US businesses in the 1930s. Mostly US oil companies and some banks were the big losers. But Ch. 11 created protections for investors well beyond nationalization, it prohibited national governments from doing anything "tantamount to expropriation." Ch. 11 also created tribunal to serve as a quasi-trinational court for dispute settlement, although it is not subject to any of the checks and balances, transparency, accountability or judicial review regular people might expect. Essentially it is a secret tribunal comprised of a handful of trade lawyers, some of whom helped author Ch. 11. It's good work if you can get it.

This key phrase "tantamount to expropriation" means that any law that diminishes a companies profits is subject to lawsuit under Ch. 11. It is a right that NAFTA grants to corporations, but not to governments, domestic businesses, citizens, or civil society groups. Multinational investors are the only citizens which NAFTA recognizes. In Mexico, the NAFTA tribunal ruled that the government had no right to stop a US company (Metalclad) from building a toxic waste dump. Mexico was ordered to pay millions of dollars to Metalclad (that it was ruled had been "expropriated") in settlement. In Canada, the Ch. 11 tribunal ruled that the government could not ban from use a carcenogenic gasoline additive produced by a US firm and they were ordered to pay restitution. No cases have been decided against the US government yet, though a number are pending and don't look to optimistic (at least from the perspective of popular sovereignty to determine our own public health, environmental and safety standards).

The same interest groups tried previously to globalize the rights of investors over people the world over in the late 1990s in the multilateral agreement on investment (MAI), but failed. These rights for multinational investors in the proposed FTAA are an attempt at baby-stepping the MAI back onto the world trade agenda. In the FTAA, these investor protections would prevent Latin American countries from blocking the expansion of US monopolistic businesses across the hemisphere, thus leaving space for the development of domestic enterprises and international competition (which after all is supposed to be the rationale for international trade). So, for example, US companies would find it harder to force countries to privatize their national resources such as oil wells, copper mines, etc., that US companies would like to seize and incorporate in their production systems, exporting resources to East and Southeast Asia for processing before final sale.

The views from Latin America vary, though it can be said that all countries seek unconstrained and predictable access to US markets. If you are a banana republic, you don't have too many more options than to beg at the door of your rich neighbor to the north. If you are a relatively developed (though highly unequal) large economy, your interests and bargaining power get a lot more interesting. Mexico ain't to keen on the FTAA, which will only erode the trade preference from NAFTA it now enjoys with the US vis a vis other countries. Central America is already negotiating its own free trade agreement (FTA) with the US. This agreement is likely to move ahead much more quickly (given the fact that it encompasses fewer and more homogenous countries in the deal), and so expect them, led by Costa Rica, to sink more resources into a Central American agreement. Incidentally, opposition to the CAFTA is already mounting within Costa Rica.

Brazil is the 800 pound gorilla of the FTAA negotiations, and both the crown jewel and stumbling block for the US. Without Brazil, the FTAA is a no go. Luiz Innacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's syndacilist president and champion of the underdog (and recipient of this year's Letelier Moffittt Human Rights Award), is in a bit of a bind. Brazil is dependent upon international financial markets to underwrite its sovereign debt (incurred with the help of a military dictatorship and the good people at Citibank). These investors can plunge Brazil into a depression of biblical proportions at the drop of a hat, prodding brazil to raise interest rates through the roof which would crush any kind of domestic economic activity in exchange for providing attractive rates of return for foreign investors.

The consequence in financial markets of opting out of the FTAA drives Lula to the bargaining table. But Brazil, as a large industrial economy and a leading agricultural exporter, also stands to gain quite a bit from a well-constructed FTAA. US authorities have weilded anti-dumping laws quite liberally against Brazil's steel, orange juice, sugar, and other key products in recent years. Moreover, Brazil's hacienda soyabean production is being swamped by the abhorrent US agricultural policy and subsidies.

Today's news reports that Brazil and the US struck a backroom deal to limit the scope of the FTAA negotiations, much to the dismay of the 32 or so other countries involved in the negotiations. Primarily, they agreed to leave agriculture out of the negotiations. This, I think, actually makes a lot of sense. The agriculture issues is really a world trade issue. How can the US agree to a change in agriculture subsidies without also bringing in the other big offenders: Europe and Japan. How could an agreement compartmentalize production inteded for Latin America versus the rest of the world. Pissing off the rest of the countries may be bad sportsmanship, but it may be good if, as many think, the US is pursuing a divide and conquer strategy in Latin American trade policy. The US will get more by playing each country or country bloc off against the rest.

My prediction is that the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) negotiations will go the way of Cancun...caput. I say this based upon conferences I have attended over the past twelve or so months that have let in to the inner sanctum of the international capitalist class and their policy elite henchmen. Earlier this year at the Institute for International Economics, Fred Bergsten, globalization's foremost pseudo-academic cheerleader, waxed pessimistic about the prospects for an FTAA, which is scheduled to conclude negotiations by 2007. His reasoning:

1. bilateral agreements will supercede the FTAA and make it unnecessary.
2. Bush is currently entering a re-election campaign and cannot be seen to be sacrificing more American jobs and livelihoods on the altar of "free trade" (see a new study out from EPI here
3. these things always take longer than planned (it's already running late) and 2007 will also butt up against an election year

It is my feeling that there is a groundswell of resentment out there in regular people America about the path we are taking on globalization, though it as of yet is largely flying under the radar screen of pollsters, pundits and the like. This popular sentiment will play an influential role in domestic politics in the years to come. Regular Americans are unideological on trade issues, and more and more people are starting to make connections between a tough job market and stagnant wages at home and the cornucopia of FTAs the US has signed over the past decade. It began with workers in non-durable manufactured goods and has quickly moved up the value chain to even highly paid, college educated technical workers.

While trade-fueled jobs are direly needed throughout much of the world, the current trading regime is unable to produce jobs in great enough numbers, and has actually driven people out of stable employment into work the informal sector (e.g. selling tamales on a street corner, or worse). Moreover, it forces the cost of economic adjustment onto people who have little power to participate in the policy decisions affecting trade and who are the least able to cope with the dislocations. People in both advanced and developing countries are united in the fact that a trading system which bases competitive advantage on the powerlessness of regular people to determine their economic destiny is not in their shared interest. The transnational politics need to do some catching up, before we are irrevocably on the road to indentured servitude.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


The Financial Times reports on a business consultant's study released today that finds "the consequences of Bush's foreign policy have created new risks - and exacerbated existing risks - for US companies around the world...US foreign policy is the most important single factor driving the development of global risk."

The authors of the report mean that Bush's policy of war-mongering is focusing the ire of the world with greater acuity on symbols of US imperialism (i.e. Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and other MNCs). Sure, people big shot corporate CEOs like Michael Eisenr, et. al., are used to being burned in effigy. But they may be realizing for the first time that their business operations--their profit centers--may be at risk for the way the US pursues (jointly and mutually-reinforcing) economic and political domination. (More on this topic later, for now check out Peter Gowan's Global Gamble here). In other words, because Bush is blowing up Iraq, and because Disney airs a movie in Saudi Arabia that flaunts debauchery, their factory sewing stuffed Whinnie the Poohs in Pakistan is put at risk (hypothetically speaking).

The consultants were also sure to point out that "we are certainly not saying [the Bush administration's policy] is bad for business." Sure, making other nations cower from our glare sure makes a man feel big. I'm not talking about driving a Camaro with some really sweet mag wheels kind of machismo. I'm talking about when Bechtel Corporation plunders the public water supply in Bolivia, when Haliburton pirates US taxpayers and Iraq's oil wealth, or when General Electric wants to sell a LNG power plant, they all have the Seventh Fleet in their back pocket. That's way more powerful than a fast car with a T-top.

Let this be a warning to Darth Vader, play it cool or some kook is gonna want to blow up your Death Star.

Friday, November 07, 2003


Man, $4 Billion doesn't buy what it used to. Sure, Turkey got a nice payoff for standing w/ the Bush administration in the "Coalition of the Bribed and Arm-Twisted" against Iraq early last spring, but now that there is real work to be done (more than just being a ceremonial ally), Turkey's nowhere to be found. The nerve.

Here's what Turkey had to say: '"We said from the beginning that we were not too eager anyway," said Mr Gul.'...aka, sorry we had our fingers crossed, thanks anywat for the windfall.

Turkey's refusal to send troops into Iraq is certainly a blow to Bush, but does little to change most of the world's view of him as an illegitimate emperor of Iraq. Will be interesting to see how this story filters thru the US press. My guess is it won't make it too far, and that instead the press will be lulled into submission by Bush's softer overtures to plant a forest of democracy in the middle east.

I remember someone else who wanted to let 'a thousand flowers bloom.' And that man's name was....

BBC: Games at work may be good for you, Dutch scientists hope to study the effects of smoking pot at the office on productivity and job satisfaction. Fascinating.


So, as it turns out, that ABC after school special was not the first to misrepresent Pvt. Jessica Lynch's story. The Pentagon beat them to it:

"There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound - only road traffic accident. They want to distort the picture. I don't know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury."

Witnesses told us that the special forces knew that the Iraqi military had fled a day before they swooped on the hospital.

"We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital," said Dr Anmar Uday, who worked at the hospital.

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried 'go, go, go', with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital - action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan."


Sorry, I'm a little slow on this kind of news. Not having a TV, I have to admit I've lost touch with Diane Sawyer.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I'm no psychologist, but I'm guessing that this guy is compensating for being real ugly, perhaps even fugly:

"Johnston, a biopsychologist at New Mexico State University, takes evident pleasure in pointing out that if you were a dung beetle, dung would taste like sugar on your tongue. “Sugar is a molecule, and we have evolved a brain to generate a positive response for its taste.” The same, he says, goes for our perception of beauty—a perfect smile, an ample bosom, a muscular bicep. All, basically, dung."


"The lawyers said the change grew out of a recommendation by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, which urged the government two years ago to study industry complaints about its enforcement actions."

Could this be the same task force that has stonewalled Congressional investigations into potential conflicts of interest between the VP crafting policy with energy industry donors to the Bush campaign? I'll let the all too transparent facts speak for themselves.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


John Reed--who as former co-Chairman and senior management at Citigroup (the world's largest financial institution) did such great things as finance the apartheid regime in South Africa, launder money for the Russian Mafia and Mexican drug lords (incidentally with close ties to the Bush family), lend $billions to Latin American dictators and then spark the LDC debt crisis, and pioneer predatory mortgage and credit card lending--is now in charge of defending the hub of the international financial system from the avarice of Wall Street and corporate insiders who want to feast on regular people's retirement investments. I'm not making any value judgements seems values play no role in this discussion.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

National Media White Washes $87 Billion Corporate Giveaway:

NYT and NPR are the only media outlets to have reported that the Senate vote to provide $87 billion in sweetheart corporate contracts to Iraq went down in a 5 to 1 voice vote. The voice vote means that the vote of individual Senators are not recorded in the Congressional register, which means none of them need take a public stand and thus none are accountable for the decisions being made to deepen our involvement in Iraq.

While 94 or so Senators didn't bother to show up, the Senate did previously vote on Oct. 17 on a different $87 billion Iraq spending bill when some 12 Senators--all Dems save for the Independent Jim Jeffords of VT--voted against the bill. This previous bill allocated some of the $87 billion in the form of loans repayable by Iraq, and thus didn't fit President Bush's criteria for a no-strings-attached giveaway, and he threatened veto.

Many Dems on murky ground with the Iraq venture felt safe voting for this measure, because it provided a veneer of real accountability and standing up to the president. For many Reps, too, who are beginning to fear the wrath of their constituents, this first bill made for a good vote.

Monday's bill, though, was one that no one wanted to attach their name to: capitulating to the president, sinking more money into the Iraq quagmire, and taking money away from where it is needed at home: investing in homeland security, education, jobs, healthcare, and so on.

What is ultimately disturbing about this incident is that the Reps and the president can get away with such weaseling and not be called to charge by the Dems in the Senate or the national media, who are mythologized as providing the final check and balance on our democratic system. That NYT and NPR even mentioned a voice vote is somewhat remarkable. The rest of the establsihment, profiteering media simply decided not to report how politicians used this opportunity to shirk the democratic process.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Where's the Beef? I just don't get the Howard Dean appeal. I wouldn't buy a used car from this guy. It makes me sick when I hear him wrapping himself up in Paul Wellstone progressive liberalism. This is the same man who wooed a roomful of rabid market fundamentalists at the Cato Institute just a few years back (The Appeal of Howard Dean ). Kind of makes you wonder when the masters of polemic at the WSJ are shilling for the guy ( Confederacy of Dunces) and the rest of the mass media, the same people who brought us Iraq II, give this man a free pass to wear the liberal crown? Not only aint Dean a liberal, he's in bed with the gun nuts.