Old Cover Stories
- Parent Category: News
The stock market is the place to begin. Those in the financial community know that the real money is in buying low and selling high. Way back in April, 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, shares of Exxon-Mobile, the largest oil company in the United States and second on the globe sold for a mere $33.44 per share. Last month the stock was trading at $64.33; an increase of around 91%. In April of 2003, Chevron was trading at about $34. Three years after the war began its stock has jumped 89% to an average of $64. But the all around best performer was Conoco Phillips, based in Houston, Texas. Conoco went from $24 a share one month before hostilities to a whopping $70.18 last month, an increase of nearly 188%. Though some of that increase was due to the companys marriage to Russian oil giant Yukoil, and the Kremlins support for the new, defacto oil monopoly in Russia.
As stock prices have increased for these corporate giants, their profits have skyrocketed as well. Last week officials from the above mentioned Exxon-Mobile reported that quarterly profits jumped a staggering 75% to almost $10 billion dollars. This profit was the highest in the companys history, passing the record set in the fourth quarter of 2004, a 32% improvement to $100 billion. These windfalls are attributed to the demand over the summer passing the supply, thus spiking prices in the short term.
Record oil prices, which topped $70 a barrel, pushed earnings as well.
Not to be outdone, ConocoPhillips, also mentioned in the above, said its third-quarter profits also rose 89% percent to a record $3.8 billion dollars.
Phil McPherson, director of research at investment bank C.K. Cooper and Company in Irvine, California says, The economics of oil are great right now, when oil process go up, its supposed to stop demand, but that hasnt happened.
Energy companies and energy profits are part of the going concern known as the War on Terror, arms manufacturers have done well for themselves as well. Prior to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, Boeing stock was stagnant at around $28.00 a share. On Tuesday, November 1st, it closed at $64.64 a share. Similarly, General Dynamics was holding at about $57 a share prior to the war. On Tuesday last it closed at $116.30.
Stock price increases and soaring energy profits are well and good for those who invest in the war on terror, but those who run these companies are doing pretty well for themselves. One example in the legions of others is David H. Brooks, chief executive officer of the company named after his own initials, DHB industries.
Brooks manufactures bullet- proof vests, a business that has boomed since September 11th, 2001. During the first year in the war on terror there was a tremendous shortage of armored vests, and manufacturers scrambled to fill the backlog of orders. As a result, DHB stock took off as Pentagon and private security contractor cash poured in. In the late 1990s DHB stock was valued at less than a dollar a share. In December 2004, it topped out at $22.53 a share. Brooks followed the first rule of the market manipulation and profiteering game and began to sell off shares between November 14 and December 29 of that year, even as the company denied that Brooks was selling off huge chunks of stock. The result was typical in that nervous investors began to sell off as well and the price per share began to tank. It toppled and then bottomed out around $6.50, butt he damage had been done to other investors. Brooks was only able to pocket around $186 million dollars.
However, DHB stock has since rebounded up to trade at $7 a share. Brooks received an additional $70 million dollars in compensation from salary, bonus, and options. During 2001, Brooks had earned just $525,00 from his company, so thats an increase of 13,349 percent!!! This places Brooks at the top of the defense contractor heap in terms of pay increase, earning him Alts very first Krupp Award, named after the arms manufacturing dynasty that brought you both World War I and II. Brooks has since placed a retired general on the board of DHB as a publicity ploy to placate investors, but they havent gotten back on the bandwagon yet.
In the first year of the war on terror, bullet- proof vests were hard to come by, and Brooks leaped into the breach to fill the gap. He took seemingly no known vacations, preferring to bill the company in the year of his profiteering for an additional $87,500 in uncollected time off. This at a time when G.I.s in Iraq were sweating additional combat tours as a result of stop loss orders.
Of course, some may argue that Brooks has an important job as a manufacturer of bullet-t proof vests. In May of this year, the United States Marine Corps recalled 5,277 of his so-called interceptor armored vests, after they failed to stop 9mm pistol rounds. Of course by this time Brooks had pocked over $250 million in war profits. No one knows if any Marines paid with their lives.
And speaking of Marines and their lives, on September 28th of this year, the Defense Acquisition Board of Pentagon fame quietly voted to put the legendary V-22 Osprey back into full production. Having cost a little over 16 billion dollars so far, the contract will now cost the taxpayer another 50 billion before it is over and done. The benefactors of this largess are of course, Boeing, and Textron, Inc., of Houston, who is also allied with Bell helicopter.
The Osprey is a fixed wing aircraft whose wings can tilt upward so the engines point up and the aircraft can take off and land like a helicopter. The plane has been plagued with problems since it first tried to flap its way skyward in 1986. Thirty people have died in four Osprey crashes since it first actually got off the ground in 1989. Even defense Secretary Dick Cheney tried to kill the funding, but congress kept its minimum cash flow alive. The MSRP for this hybrid is listed at $73 million dollars apiece. But the folks over at Global security claim its closer to $105 million. Just last month an Osprey on a routine flight to Edwards Air Force Base experienced a condensation stall and dropped from 18,000 feet and didnt recover until 10,000. It seems the Osprey isnt cleared for de-icing equipment. For those Marines forced into these unfriendly skies, lets it will be.
- Parent Category: News
The only minor parties that stand above this is the Working Families Party and the Greens.
Both major parties control the election process and it is understood that they will battle for the spoils. The minor parties stand on the sidelines. What happens to the process if Demo-Publicans cut a deal?
Sadly that has often been the case in Erie County. Here the first rule of law is (The Frank Clark statue), if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it fall? A more direct interruption of this is if a (election) law is broken, does it get prosecuted if the judges and district attorney run unopposed? The answer is no! (Except, of course, if you a Dick Kern and are pissing political people off)
Republicans Party This is the first Mayoral election in a generation that the Republicans think they can win.
The Republican Party was divided from the beginning over Joel Giambra. Congressmen Tom (the bagman) Reynolds was at odds with Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis, who believed that Giambra would lead the Republican Party to the promised land. Davis was right, Joel did. There was a Republican sheriff, a Republican comptroller and a functioning Republican majority in the county legislature. . However, mainstream Republicans became upset that the majority of the patronage was going to Giambra s Demo-republicans. Then the Republican house of cards came down.
Kevin Helfer and Carl Calabrese led the Republican abandonment of Giambra and his clique during the Great Budget Crisis last year. Rumors of a coup coming with Bobbie Davis being replaced by Carl Calabrese, have been rampant for quite some time.
The Republican strategy is racial politics masquerading as reform. They are looking to take a page out of Anthony San Filippos campaign for City Comptroller against James Pitts. The strategy is to get a one on one race, white versus black and hope for a low minority voter turn out. But this strategy has bizarre twist, Byron Brown, a black man, who is one of the founding members of an insurgent political club Grassroots, Inc. is to be presented as the status quo. The idea is to get the community to believe that Brown is a continuation of the machine politics of the Masiello administrations 12 years of corruption and failure. The second element of the strategy is to challenge Byron Brown for the conservative party line in the primary. This would give Helfer a second line for the South Buffalo Democrats to vote their color without voting Republican.
Kevin Helfer First off, Kevin Helfer is not a racist, but he is a Republican. He is a honest person, direct and hard working. On the policy side he is for privatization of services, pro-life, charter schools, school vouchers and mouths the various Republican talking points such as lowering taxes, and my personal favorite, running government like a business. His economic platform is traditional boilerplate: small business development and job creation, none of which has worked.
Helfer ran a close race for City Comptroller against Anthony Nanula. He lost the Independence party line because Nanula brought it for $50,000 from the State committee after the Buffalo Independence Party endorsed him. The loss of the Independence line was the margin of defeat.
The dark side of Kevin is that he is part of the system. For five years he was a member of the Joel Giambra regime. He bailed when he saw the ship about to be torpedoed. Kevin then landed an $80,000 a year job as Executive Director of the Citys parking board. Developer Carl Paladino, who is a major contributor to his campaign, controls the parking board. Kevin represents the elite business establishment that is the real status quo. Their political philosophy can be best summarized by Benito Mussolinis notion of the corporate state.
Democratic Party Democratic Party Chairman Lenny Lenihan has gotten the Democrats rowing in the same direction, which harder to do than herding cats. The question is, will the coalition hold together? Is Buffalo ready for a black Mayor?
Browns campaign is the first resurgence of black political power in Buffalo since the great purge of 2002 when four Common Council positions were eliminated, three of which were held by vocal critics of the status quo who also happened to be black: Charley Fisher, the late Beverly Gray and James Pitts were removed.
Bryon Brown has made all the right moves in getting the various endorsements of unions, community organizations and major politicos. He has captured the endorsement of the Independence Party, Conservative Party, and Working Families Party. But Charlie Flynn is challenging Brown for the Independence Party Line as is Helfer on the Conservative Party line. If Brown can hold the Conservative Party line in the primary, he will be difficult to beat.
The Brown campaigns strategy is to keep the issue of race out of the campaign and to present a straightforward, professional, conventional and competent image. The Brown campaign is following the conventional wisdom of Buffalo politics. This approach has opened Brown to the attack that he is the status quo.
Byron Brown Brown is one of the founding members of Grassroots Inc. He was elected as the Masten District City Council person for three terms. He was part of that brief moment in Buffalo politics where the black community had real political power through a majority on the Common Council. He ran for his present position as State Senator against Al Coppola, defeating Al twice. Brown did well with all voters, both black and white in his district.
At one point, Byron Brown and Grassroots, Inc made common cause with the insurgent element of the Erie County Democrats under ousted Erie County Party Chairman, Steve Pigeon. Steve and a number of politicos worked through Browns office to set up a sort of Erie County Democratic Committee in exile. They used their money to infleunce and cuts deals with Giambra, Golisano, etc, etc. Brown publicly broke with Pigeon when he began seeking the Democrats endorsement for mayor. The question is how real was the split?
At his core, Bryon Brown is a progressive democrat but he seems to be trying to take a page from the former mayor New York City Rudy Giuliani to push quality of life crime, and law enforcement, which is out of character. Brown has a great deal of support from the white liberal and progressive elements of the Democratic Party and he has strong positions on the tradition issues of environmentalism, regionalism housing and economic development.
The dark side of Byrons campaign is deals, deals and more deals, but that is politics, especially politics in Buffalo. The question again is, can he hold the Democrats together? Members of the present Masiello regime are supporting Byron, but at what cost? The good news is that most of the Buffalo Club elites are backing Helfer. The other major question is the general competence of Grassroots to run the city.
Primary Kevin Gaughan
Who is Kevin Gaughan? Is he the last grand knight of the old Buffalo blue bloods, full of ideas, a visionary on a conquest for the Holy Grail of regionalism? Or is he an old time huckster selling us with flowery words a grand future that will takes us for a ride no where? I love Buffalo and I want to return it to its former greatness, its place in history. Is this guy, Western New Yorks very own music man of regionalism? The guy hired himself to run for mayor. Where is the money coming from? His record of service is a wonderful fiction. He has never been is public service and his law practice is a mirage. He has brought the issue of regionalism forward into the public eye and in the process left a trail of unpaid bills. His regionalism does not pass the smell test. The cost savings simply are not there. And structurally, his plan is profoundly undemocratic and anti-city. His performance in the debates is great to watch. But who is behind this guy? You got ta love it!
Steve Calvaneso Steve is amateur to local politics, not a bad thing. There is no question of his sincerity. He is a successful businessman with a number of restaurants, a catering service and a clothing store. Steve being a restauranteur - a very difficult business in Buffalo - has had a number of his business transactions come to light, including late payment on property taxes. These amateur mistakes have hurt his credibility. In Buffalo politics, a lot of energy goes into getting the dirty on your opponent.
His economic strategy of restoring historical Buffalo to develop a tourism industry does not work (especially not at $3-4 a gallon for gas) This strategy has not worked around the country. There are hundreds of small town and cities that have restored their downtowns for tourism with little success. Steve should get a lot of credit for having the guts to run, and providing an alternative view, however.
Erie County Independence Party The Erie County Independence Party is a functional argument for political reform. Election law enforcement in Erie County is a joke. Their endorsement process is the closest thing to a political Chinese auction.
Charlie Flynn is running against the endorsed Independence party candidate Bryon Brown. Charlie Flynn has a long history of being a political player. He is a commissioner of the BMHA and is the former chairman of the Erie County Independence Party. Tony Orsini and friends purged him. This is a battle for control of the Independence Party. His positions are very conservative and will draw some water in Buffalo, enough to hurt Helfer, if he wins.
Judy Einach and The Erie County Green Party Judy Einach and the Buffalo Green Party are the Rodney Dangerfield of Buffalo politics. But they keep on coming. They ran the late Grandpapa Munster Al Lewis for governor and a congressional candidate who announced his naked truth platform in the nude. They cant get no respect.
Einachs campaign has little organization, and no money. It is alive because of hope. The folks who are longing for real change are hoping Judy can get her campaign together. This is a classic amateur grassroots campaign that is fueled by the desire for real change but the learning curve has been painfully slow - some people would say too slow. Regardless of what Einachs campaign does, she is a real problem for Helfer s one-on- one, white/black strategy. Helfers campaign is going after her hard and challenging her mayoral petitions. If she survives, she will present a bigger threat to the professional political caste system of Erie County. The threat is of speaking truth to power and educating the community as to who really benefits from the political process in this community.
I dont know if I should cry or laugh, but in my heart I love all these candidates. They represent every one of us who wake up at midnight and stare at the ceiling, thinking to ourselves, Ive got to do something to change this stupidity!
- Parent Category: News
It began before dawn on July 16, 1945, in a remote desert area of New Mexico called the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death), when a super-secret government project culminated in Trinity. The worlds first nuclear device, a plutonium-fueled implosion bomb, known as the Gadget was detonated from a 100 ft. high steel tower at 5:30 AM. The resulting explosion was equivalent to 18,500 tons of TNT. It lit the predawn sky with the light of several suns at midday and could be seen and heard from 180 miles away in the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, El Paso and Silver City. Windows were broken in buildings 125 miles from Ground Zero. A tremendous fireball and two more explosions followed the initial blast. The resulting mushroom cloud reached 36,000 feet. The steel tower had evaporated. A crater 1200 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep at Ground Zero was ringed with highly radioactive green glass made from the fused desert sand and could be seen from 5 miles away. Alarmed residents of the area were told that a munitions dump had exploded.
Trinity was probably named by the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, for the Hindu Trinity: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer). His reaction to the Trinity explosion was to quote Shiva from the Bahagad-Vita, I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.
The Manhattan Project
The program to create the atom bomb was originally known as S-1 and was later renamed the Manhattan Project. It was named for the US Army Corps of Engineers Manhattan District. As S-1 the experiment began quietly at the University of Chicago Metallurgic Lab. There, a group of physicists, headed by Enrico Fermi, began to build the first nuclear pile (reactor). This pile went critical (was able to sustain a nuclear chain reaction) on December 2, 1942.
The project itself began to expand exponentially at about this same time under the newly appointed director, General Leslie Groves. Large reactors were built along the Columbia River in Hanford, Washington. Uranium enrichment plants were built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his scientists set up their operations at a large compound in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The University of California, Columbia University in NYC and the University of Rochester were all involved in this project.
The Western New York connection to the project also began about this time. Linde in Tonawanda processed uranium for the Oak Ridge Plant. Simonds Saw and Steel in Lockport rolled the boron control rods for the Hanford reactors. Most disturbingly, the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works in Lewiston-Porter became the repository for Manhattan Project radioactive wastes. Other local private concerns soon joined the operation. Hooker, Electro-Met and Titanium Alloys in Niagara Falls were used to process the nuclear materials necessary for Hanford and Oak Ridge. These sites continued to be used as atomic weapons facilities after Trinity in support of the Cold War effort. They were joined in this effort by Simonds, Bethlehem Steel and the American Car Foundry. West Valley became a major reprocessing site. These sites are still highly contaminated as a result of this participation in the nuclear program.
The project began with a letter, instigated by German ex-patriot scientist Leo Szilard, from his friend, Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt. Concern that the Nazis were working on the atom bomb and would have one to use before the US, set up this race for the bomb. As it turned out, the Nazis had abandoned the search for the secrets of the atom bomb in favor of concentration on their V-1 and V-2 rocket projects. When the Germans were defeated and it became clear that there had been no German atom bomb, attentions turned to the use of the bomb against Japan. The atom bomb has been used in war twice, both by the United States, and both against Japan.
The Manhattan Project was authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt alone, without the knowledge or consent of Congress. At a cost of $2 billion, it was the largest black budget item of World War II, perhaps, the largest ever. The project was so secret that even the vice president, Harry Truman, was not told about it until he took office as the president after the death of Roosevelt. Secrets from this project have still not been declassified 60 years later and some of the documents released under the Clinton administration have been reclassified under the secretive Bush administration. What is clear is that dozens of sites around the nation were involved, leaving these sites contaminated, and hundreds of thousands of workers and innocent residents affected by the radioactive byproducts of this project.
Atoms for Peace
After World War II, the US had a monopoly on nuclear weapons, but this did not last long. The Soviet Union began testing its own atom bombs before the end of the decade. Nuclear proliferation became a global concern. Trumans successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was never comfortable with the bomb. He was quoted in a Newsweek article ( Ike on Ike, November 11, 1963) as having remarked to Secretary of War Henry Stimson regarding the use of the bomb against Japan that, the Japanese were ready to surrender an it wasnt necessary to hit them with that awful thing. His abhorrence to the use of the bomb as a weapon led him to propose a UN program called Atoms for Peace. It involved two major concepts: the control of nuclear proliferation through the UN International Atomic Energy Agency and the use of the atom for peaceful applications such as nuclear energy and nuclear medicine.
Fifty years later, this program has had mixed results. Nuclear proliferation has been kept to a modest level. Eight countries now belong to the nuclear club: the US, Russia, the UK, China, France, India, Pakistan and Israel. Some new countries may have joined this club, such as N. Korea, while others, like Libya, have apparently abandoned, or at least put on hold, their nuclear aspirations. Other aspects of this program have been less successful. The spread of nuclear technology for power generation led to at least one new member of the nuclear club- India. It used the technology given to them for nuclear energy to develop their own bomb program. These dual use technologies threaten to become bomb programs in Iran and other countries. This was a major justification used by the Bush administration for the current war in Iraq. Also, at least 50, and perhaps as many as 131 other countries around the world possess weapons-grade uranium as a byproduct of their nuclear power programs. The US is trying to get this uranium back from these countries, with limited success.
Nearly constant atmospheric testing from 1945 through 1963 when the first Test Ban Treaty was signed (235 tests by the US alone) spawned the Fallout Shelter program, Duck and Cover drills in schools, and the Tooth fairy Project to measure the amount of accumulated radioactivity in childrens teeth. For those of us drinking milk during the 1950s, radioactive fallout rained down over the US, was absorbed by the vegetation, eaten by cows and concentrated in the milk that the Baby Boomers drank. The American Cancer Society website has a method for calculating just how much exposure an individual received based on the year they were born. Some biologists such as Dr. Caldicott have suggested that the radioactive iodine ingested by the Boomers through the milk they drank as children may have slightly damaged their thyroids, leading to the higher rates of obesity that we see among them.
The Bush Administration
The current administration seems enamored with nukes. One major shift comes in the Nuclear Posture, which sets out the potential use of nuclear weapons by the United States. Previous Nuclear Postures have stated that the US would only counter a nuclear attack with a nuclear attack. The Bush version of the Nuclear Posture expands the use of nuclear weapons to counter biological or chemical attacks.
Bushs energy policy encourages the building of many new nuclear reactors for power generation. No new nuclear plants have been built in recent years. The events at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the expense of nuclear reactors, and the lack of a method for safely disposing of nuclear waste, have all been factors in the decision not to build more nuclear plants. Under the Bush energy plan, the nuclear industry would continue to be subsidized and waste would continue to pile up at the reactors. The new hydrogen technology, the great eco-liberator, would rely on nuclear reactors to create the hydrogen.
New nuclear weapons, such as the bunker buster are proposed for production. A new plutonium pit factory (bomb cores) has also been sought. The US has pulled out of the ABM Treaty to resume implementation of missile defense (Star Wars revisited). The time necessary to resume nuclear testing has been shortened. The public has not raised one arm, let alone both arms against any of these initiatives. The attention of the public has been fixed on the events of 9/11/2001, terrorism, the war in Iraq, religion
So happy birthday atom bomb. Whether history will record the Nuclear Age on computer chips or stone tablets, only time will tell. Even Jimmy the Greek is not giving odds on that one.
- Parent Category: News
McQuellen said the War Resisters have invited the mayoral candidates to speak out on their feelings about nuclear proliferation, as the mayors of Japan have asked for the world to support non proliferation.
The common council unanimously passed a resolution supporting non proliferation, McQuellen said. At the time of the interview, McQuellen said our current mayor of Buffalo, Anthony Masiello, had not yet responded to attend the discussion of how cities should be getting involved in the non proliferation campaign.
Another film on the actual costs of the Iraq War will also be shown, addressing taxpayers to where their money is exactly going and what for.
There are huge costs to Erie County (because of the Iraq War), which is in deep financial trouble, McQuellen said. Over $750 million has been taken from our county alone to support the war.
The Buffalo War Resisters League focuses on picketing against the war in Iraq but found in its history that the group is part of the oldest antiwar group in the country, started in 1923, McQuellen said. The latest version of the League saw a need for action in the community.
A few of us got together when we felt there wasnt enough action in Buffalo, McQuellen said. There are atrocious attacks on the people in Iraq, and we want to visibly oppose them on a regular basis.
The group also finds importance in picketing at recruiting bases, and school boards using Junior ROTC money, by asking them not to use the huge funds at the expense of releasing the students personal information for recruitment.
There should be an oppositional (ideology) available to kids, and yet the schools have not let us in during military recruitment days, she said. We need more education, and the media is totally useless in this regard. There is no talk of what is really happening in Iraqthe privatization of American companies stealing Iraqi jobs, controlling the oil, its a nightmare. Iraq is not a threat, and people need to read between the lines. None of this is adding up.
- Parent Category: News
Evidently, the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the third world has been reached and various multinational manufacturers are scrambling to find other places in which to increase capacity. Either that, or they are tired of having to pay the outrageous wages demanded by those workers in China, Vietnam or Mexico, some of whom are getting as much as 50 cents an hour. Also, the staggering demands made by environmentalists have forced these billion dollar businesses to actually provide out door privies and almost potable drinking water to their employees. These very same ungrateful employees have never even thanked these companies for pulling their 10 and twelve year- olds out of their make shift school rooms and providing them gainful employment 12 hours a day, six and a half days a week with no benefits at all. Ingrates!
Local hero to all working class folks, Representative Tom Reynolds ( R ) has repaid those who re-elected him last November by voting for the measure, thus ensuring that even more jobs are sent out of New York. Those who may remember Mr. Reynolds coming out to support the Niagara Falls Air Force Base should be reminded that he voted to close that very same base last year. That being said, Im sure that Mr. Reynolds will be returned to office quite handily in 06. After all, why the hell would you want Jack Davis protecting your best interests in Congress when you can have Mr. Reynolds selling you out to his corporate sponsors??
The Bush administration has placated its friends in the sugar industry by promising to keep resulting sugar imports below a certain level. This would be
accomplished by paying CAFTA countries not to ship sugar into the U.S., or by buying any surplus CAFTA imports and making it available for conversion into nonfood uses, such as ethanol. Representative Mark Foley (R), Florida, initially voted for the bill in the committee, but is now hinting that he will oppose it on the house floor unless the Bush Administration sweetens the existing sugar deal. This raises the art of corporate welfare to a new level.
Democrats complained that the CAFTA bill is not tough enough when it comes to enforcing Central American labor laws, if indeed any are in place at all. The Bush administration came to the fiscal rescue, promising to supply 160 million dollars over the next four years to help CAFTA countries enforce labor and environmental law. Thus allowing them to look good to their constituents while financing the probable doom of the remaining American manufacturing concerns.
Central American leaders are banking on the hope that CAFTA will give everlasting life to their regions growing industrial sector, including textiles and help the region compete with Chinas growing worldwide influence. Competing with China will no doubt lead Central American manufacturers to drive wages lower, eliminate or curtail existing benefits, and toss any costly environmental laws out the factory floor window, The already fragile ecosystem will take yet another hit.
Guatemalan businessman Dionisio Gutierrez, who owns a Guatemala-based fried chicken chain which operates restaurants in the United States and plans to expand into China, has declared that hundreds of leaders and politicians have started a campaign to win votes in the upcoming fight on the floor of the US congress.
The Bill goes to the full House floor for passage after the Fourth of July recess, and the vote is going to be hard fought and close.
Not everyone in the House of Representatives is happy about this bill. Many congressmen, with their eyes firmly on mid term elections next year, have to worry about their folks back home who have fallen victim to outsourcing or lost high-paying manufacturing jobs. They might get an ear full. Then again, a renewed debate over Supreme Court nominees and Roe v. Wade could be just the tonic for displaced workers and their sour grapes. Praise the Lord!
So called free trade statistics are far from encouraging. The U.S. trade deficit in 2004 was a staggering $617 billion dollars, and CAFTA will certainly contribute to its growing ever larger. American manufacturers have lost upwards of two and a half million jobs since the passing of similar North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. NAFTA allowed duty and tariff free imports to Mexico and Canada, and CAFTA will do the same for Central America. The remaining 14.5 manufacturing jobs here at home are now at risk. In 1993 we had a 1.6 billion dollar trade surplus with Mexico, we now have a whopping 45 billion dollar trade deficit with this country. Working conditions just south of the border are third- world at best, with the lowest wages possible, horrendous working conditions and environmental devastation.
Ironically, China has begun to invest in Central American textile manufacturing, as they make an attempt to buy their way into American Oil company supplies via Conocal of California. CAFTA is not popular with everyone, Carlos Reyes, an anti CAFTA organizer, declared that the measure will add more than 1 million people to the unemployment rolls in Honduras and it will increase the informal economy, Crime, and the massive migration of workers to the United States.
But the Bush administration and its multinational companies who bank roll it disagree, and they will do everything they can to force the House to vote for approval.
If they succeed, the results will be disaster for the poor of Central America, and huge profits for multinationals with little concern for their powerless employees.
Quick trip down memory lane...
In November of 1993, the US reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico that would create the largest Free Trade Zone in the world, bringing 360 million consumers and $6 Trillion Dollars under the same roof called NAFTA. This high hope agreement made promises of increased jobs and prosperity for all three participating countries. Mexico in particular became the country in question, as it seemed more like an American story book fantasy that NAFTA would help Mexico to grow up big and strong and be just like the US someday. Despite, the arguments from both side of the border, proponents of NAFTA insisted that Free Trade would bless Mexico with its own Middle-Class,economic and social stability and improved environmental and health conditions. It all sounded good on paper.
To the rest of America, it sounded like American jobs packing up and leaving thousands of workers in the unemployment line. A similar fate awaited Mexicos Peasant Farmers and businessman whose buying and selling power would be dwarfed by their new American competitors. While Mexicos exports of Farm products did see a $4 Billion Dollar increase under NAFTA, Tens of thousands of protesting farmers said that the main beneficiaries were large, corporate farms.
In the end, after only one year NAFTA resulted in 1 million Mexicans jobs lost due to a devalued currency and the privatization of ports, railroads,airlines, mines and other industries. Over the next 10 years export-industry wages remained flat, while other industry wages dropped at an annual rate of 0.2 percent as the new private owners turned union contracts upside down. So much for that Middle-Class. All of this loomed under $13 billion in environmental, health and safety violation lawsuits.
But that was then. This is now. NAFTA is old news. Now we have CAFTA. Same scenario, same promises. New players. This time its El Salvador, Honduras,Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The returning player to this game is, of course, the US. And history is already repeating itself. Massive protests have already begun, alleging that CAFTA will eradicate local agriculture and production of medicines while opening exclusive doors for US Multinationals.
Several of these protests have resulted in tragedy. Guatemala in particular has already seen demonstrators killed, wounded or injured by rubber bullets fired by police officers. Two journalists, Marielos Monzon and Gabriel Mazzarovich, have had their lives threatened for their reports on the protests. One of the threats came from Monzons own house, with the anonymous caller insisting that she stop defending those stinking Indians you bitch or we will kill you. El Salvador has already pushed forward with privatizing their healthcare system, resulting in its own protests.
An overwhelming number of these protests involves union workers, teachers, and peasant farmers, just like in Mexico over 10 years ago. And similar to Mexico, our Nations lawmakers are claiming opportunity and economic growth for the participating countries.
WHAT IS CAFTA?
The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is a regional agreement between the U.S. and five Central American countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The Dominican Republic was docked onto the agreement in March 2004. CAFTA is expected to be brought before Congress sometime in 2005,
WORKERS RIGHTS PROTECTIONS ABSENT IN CAFTA
Human rights organizations in both the U.S. and Central America have been vocal in their criticisms of CAFTA. Workers rights in Central America are far below international standards and workers there are often plagued by discrimination and abuse. The CAFTA model is deeply flawed in its design as it allows substandard and un-enforced labor laws to be accepted as the standard. Instead of conditioning trade benefits on compliance with international workers rights standards, the CAFTA agreement has no meaningful protections for workers.
WORKERS RIGHTS ABUSES ENDEMIC IN CENTRAL AMERICA
According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Labor in El Salvador violates its own inspection procedures, ignores the anti-union conduct of employers, and impedes workers right to freedom of association. The report finds that the Ministry fails to uphold labor laws, and that these laws contain countless loopholes allowing employers to violate workers rights without consequence.
Unfortunately, these violations are not unique to El Salvador, rather they are endemic to the region where attacks on labor organizers in countries like Guatemala have at the most extreme level included torture and murder. CAFTA would undermine working conditions in both the U.S. and the Central American region by ignoring enforcement of workers human rights and encouraging competition among countries with faulty labor standards in a veritable grace
SWEATSHOP CONDITIONS AND VIOLATIONS OF WOMENS RIGHTS
Export Processing Zones (or EPZs) where maquila factories operate are already prevalent throughout Central America and would expand dramatically under CAFTA. EPZs are areas where goods can be imported and assembled for export without normal duties, and are known for their human rights abuses in what are often sweatshop factory conditions. Most of the clothing produced in the region already takes place in EPZ where foreign companies hire mostly women aged 15-25 to provide cheap labor under poor working conditions.iii Women and girls working in the maquiladora sector in Guatemala, though theoretically protected under the law, encounter persistent discrimination. Guatemalan maquiladoras, many of which are suppliers for well-known South Korean and U.S.-based corporations, discriminate against women workers in a number of waysincluding requiring women to undergo pregnancy tests as a condition of employment; denying, limiting, or conditioning maternity benefits;denying reproductive health care to pregnant workers; and, firing pregnant women. .
THREATENING ECONOMIC HUMAN RIGHTS AND RURAL POVERTY
Though each of the five CAFTA countries is unique, they are all developing economies and most are faced with the enormity and complexity of confronting significant poverty levels. Rural areas in particular, present challenges to sustainable development where 60% of Central Americas poor reside and where small-scale producers rely on highly volatile agricultural markets. In Guatemala and Nicaragua, agriculture employs 60 and 44 percent of the economically active population, respectively.v For small-scale producers, agriculture remains central to life and livelihood, and trade agreements like CAFTA, employed without safeguards for small farmers or essential foodstuffs, would make rural populations extremely vulnerable to increased poverty and malnutrition. .
RESTRICTING ACCESS TO MEDICINES
This agreement would lock participating countries into overly restrictive intellectual property protections for big pharmaceutical companies. Under CAFTA, countries would be forced to extend pharmaceutical patent terms beyond the 20 years required in World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, prevent the marketing of generic medicines if a patented version of the product is registered, and restrict the use of original pharmaceutical test data for the registration of generic medicines, a restriction referred to as "data exclusivity."vi One analysis of such patent rules conducted in Costa Rica revealed that the new policies could increase the cost of medicine by as much as 800%.vii
ERODING ESSENTIAL PUBLIC SERVICES
Services that help meet peoples right to food, education, health and basic utilities should be exempt from trade rules. Currently, however, domestic regulations on essential services could be considered barriers to trade under the CAFTA agreement and open to challenges by multinational corporations. CAFTA could also require governments to bid out for certain services, essentially privatizing much needed public services, resulting in prohibitive price increases, reduced access and compromised quality. The loss of governments ability to provide accessible essential services would severely impact the most vulnerable in our society, including the poor, children, and the elderly. Women would also be impacted disproportionately as they are often primary care givers and rely heavily on public services.