By Ian Fletcher – July 15, 2011
Obama is still pushing for free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and Korea, albeit with the thin fig leaf of demanding they be accompanied by money for so-called Trade Adjustment Assistance, a “painkiller” program designed to blunt the harm to laid-off workers.
The Republicans don’t like TAA, which has held up passage of these agreements momentarily, but both sides are still gunning to pass these agreements some time soon.
You think America has learned its lesson from NAFTA, which the Labor Department has estimated cost us 525,000 jobs? Think again.
Take the Korea agreement, for example. President Obama and the Republican leadership want it despite the fact that the Economic Policy Institute has estimated it will cost us 159,000 more jobs over the next five years.
Yes, you read that correctly. At a time when the president says that his number one economic priority is job creation, and has created an entire commission for that purpose, they’re going ahead with it anyway.
Even the official U.S. International Trade Commission has admitted that KORUS-FTA will cause significant job losses. And not just in low-end industries: the ITC foresees the electronic equipment manufacturing industry, with average wages of $30.38 in 2008, as a major victim.
The supposed logic of America swapping junk jobs for high-end jobs simply isn’t the way the economics really works out. Pace free-market mythology, there are actually well-understood reasons for this, if you dig a little into what economists already know.
Was this the Obama America voted for in 2008?
No. That Obama is at an undisclosed location somewhere. He campaigned against KORUS-FTA during the 2008 campaign. (It was originally negotiated, but not ratified by Congress, by Bush in 2007.) Among other things, that Obama said:
I strongly support the inclusion of meaningful, enforceable labor and environmental standards in all trade agreements. As president, I will work to ensure that the U.S. again leads the world in ensuring that consumer products produced across the world are done in a manner that supports workers, not undermines them.
Nice words. Unfortunately, none of them are reflected in KORUS-FTA, which contains no serious new provisions on these issues.
This agreement is essentially a NAFTA clone. It is, in fact, the biggest trade agreement since NAFTA, and the first since Canada with a developed country.
This agreement, like NAFTA and the dozen or so other free trade agreements America has signed since NAFTA, is fundamentally an offshoring agreement. That is, it is about making it easier for U.S.-based multinationals to move production overseas with confidence in the security of their investments in overseas plants.
The provisions to protect workers and consumers are unenforceable window dressing. (That’s why they’re allowed to be in there in the first place.)
Don’t be fooled by the fact that some unions, like the United Auto Workers (UAW), have endorsed the agreement. This is just a cynical ploy by the White House to split the trade union movement in order to keep the AFL-CIO neutral.
The UAW’s out-of-touch leadership is so punch-drunk from the 2008 collapse of the U.S. auto industry that it has lost touch not only with what is good for the American economy as a whole, but with what is good for rank-and-file auto workers. (There’s a rumor in circulation they did a deal with the White House in exchange for protecting pension and other obligations in the auto industry bailout. I can’t prove this, but it would certainly explain a few things.)
Don’t take my word for it, either: in the words of Al Benchich, retired president of UAW Local 909:
The UAW Administration Caucus is the one-party state that controls the UAW at the International level. Every International officer is a member of the Caucus, and they surround themselves with appointed international reps that unquestioningly do their bidding.
No wonder other, more democratic and more intelligent, unions, like Leo Gerard’s United Steelworkers, are criticizing the UAW for its decision to support KORUS-FTA.
Interestingly, the UAW’s past record of criticizing KORUS-FTA is more honest than anything they’re saying right now. For example, here’s what they originally said about this agreement:
KORUS-FTA has inadequate protections and enforcement mechanisms to enforce either the spirit or the letter of the law.
Precisely. And changes made since then are, as noted, minimal.
As an example of how one-sided the treaty is, consider that it now allows — to great rejoicing — America to export 75,000 cars a year to Korea. This translates to a measly 800 jobs. Korea’s exports of cars to the U.S. in 2009, on the other hand?
Furthermore, even if the U.S. does get to sell more cars in Korea, American companies will mostly not be making the steel, tires, and other components that go into them, because the agreement allows cars with 65 percent foreign content to count as “American.”
Worse, it allows goods with as much as 65 percent non-South-Korean content to count as “Korean,” opening the door not only to North Korea but to the whole of China. Talk about the camel’s nose in the tent!
Despite what the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are saying, this agreement makes no sense as a strategy to reduce our horrendous trade deficit. America’s trade deficits have a long record of going up, not down, when we sign trade agreements with other nations.
Paradoxically, trade agreements even seem to sabotage our own trade with foreign nations: according to an analysis by the group Public Citizen, in recent years our exports to nations we have free-trade agreements with have actually grown at less than half the pace of our exports to nations we don’t have these agreements with. So these agreements don’t hold water as trade-expanding measures.
Even leaving aside trade-balance issues, this agreement is a disaster, thanks to something called “investor-state arbitration.” Like NAFTA, it compromises American sovereignty and subjects American democracy to having its own laws overruled by foreign judges as interfering with trade. Under NAFTA to date, over $326 million in damages has been paid out by governments as a result of challenges to natural resource policies, environmental protection, and health and safety measures. There about 80 Korean corporations, with about 270 facilities around the U.S., that would acquire the right to challenge our laws under KORUS-FTA.
What kind of problems could this cause? The U.S. was forced in 1996 to weaken Clean Air Act rules on gasoline contaminants in response to a challenge by Venezuela and Brazil. In 1998, we were forced to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for sea turtles thanks to a challenge by India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand concerning the shrimp industry. The EU today endures trade sanctions by the U.S. for not relaxing its ban on hormone-treated beef. In 1996, the WTO ruled against the EU’s Lome Convention, a preferential trading scheme for 71 former European colonies in the Third World. In 2003, the Bush administration sued the EU over its moratorium on genetically modified foods.
It gets worse. KORUS-FTA also signs away our right (and Korea’s, too, not that this makes it any better) to a wide range of financial regulations of the kind that might have helped avoid the crisis of 2008. For example, it forfeits our right to limit the size of financial institutions. It forfeits our right to place firewalls between different kinds of financial activities in order to prevent volatility in one market from collapsing another. It prevents us from limiting what financial services financial institutions may offer—Enron Savings & Mortgage, here we come… It bans regulation of derivatives. It ban limits on capital flows designed to tame volatile “hot money.”
Why is the U.S. flirting with making such an appalling mistake yet again? Because a) multinational corporations have bought our political system and b) because our government would rather play power politics than keep its own (declining) economic house in order.
The following letter was delivered to the Greek Government on July 12, 2011 making it clear that the people of Gaza seek freedom and respect for their human rights, including their right to lead a dignified life, not charity. Seemingly deaf to their call, yesterday a spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Delavekouras, repeated the Greek Government’s “generous offer” to deliver limited humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza – instead of helping them gain the freedom that Israel continues to deny them.
12 July 2011
Dear Prime Minister Papendreou,
Dear Foreign Minister Lambrinidis
We, members of Palestinian civil society in Gaza, have been watching the actions your government has taken to block Freedom Flotilla 2 from setting sail towards the biggest open air prison – the Gaza Strip – to challenge Israel’s criminal blockade. Israel’s closure of Gaza has deprived us of things that most people take for granted, first and foremost, our freedom of movement. We are not allowed to pursue adequate health care or educational opportunities because we cannot travel freely. We are cut off from our families in other parts of the occupied territory and abroad; and we are not allowed to invite people to visit us in Gaza. Now, you have imported this restriction on the people whose main mission is to stand in solidarity with us.
The people of Gaza are not only in need of humanitarian aid because we are prevented from building our economy. We are not allowed to import raw materials or to export; our fishermen and farmers get shot at when attempting to fish or to harvest their crops. As a result of deliberate Israeli policy, 80% of our people have become food aid dependent, our infrastructure is in shambles, and our children cannot imagine a day when they will know freedom.
Your offer to deliver the cargo of the Freedom Flotilla entrenches the notion that humanitarian aid will solve our problems and is a weak attempt to disguise your complicity in Israel’s blockade.
We are so sorry not to accept your charity. The organizers and participants of the Freedom Flotilla recognize that our plight is not about humanitarian aid; it is about our human rights. They carry with them something more important than aid; they carry hope, love, solidarity and respect. Your offer to collude with our oppressors to deliver aid to us is totally REJECTED.
While it is clear that you have been under enormous political pressure to comply with the will of the Israeli regime, to collaborate with Israel in violating international law and legitimizing the siege, we refuse to accept your breadcrumbs. We crave freedom, dignity and the ability to make choices in our daily lives. We urge you to immediately reconsider and to let the Freedom Flotilla sail.
Finally we recognize the historical relations between our people and your country’s support for our legitimate rights. With this history in mind and your previous acknowledgment of the freedoms denied to us, we are calling on you to allow the freedom flotilla boats to leave for Gaza, thus challenging Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip and illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
Palestinian Network of NGOs (PNGO)
Representing over 60 non-governmental organizations in Gaza
Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
General Society for Rehabilitation
Deir Al-Balah Cultural Centre for Women and Children
Maghazi Cultural Centre for Children
Al-Sahel Centre for Women and Youth
Rachel Corrie Centre, Rafah
Rafah Olympia City Sisters
Al Awda Centre, Rafah
Al Awda Hospital, Jabaliya Camp
Ajyal Association, Gaza
Al Karmel Centre, Nuseirat
Local Initiative, Beit Hanoun
Beit Lahiya Cultural Centre
Al Awda Centre, Rafah
Middle East Children’s Alliance – Gaza office
Alshomoa Club for Women
General Union for Public Services Workers
General Union for Health Services Workers
General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers
General Union for Agricultural Workers
General Union of Palestinian Syndicates
General Union of Palestinian Women
Palestinian Congregation for Lawyers
Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
Union of Health Work Committees
Union of Synergies—Women Unit
Union of Women’s Work Committees
Palestinian Association for Fishing and Maritime
Palestine Sailing Federation
Fishing and Marine Sports Association
Palestinian Women Committees
Progressive Students’ Union
Israeli Interior Minister, member of the extremist Shas ultra-orthodox Jewish party, Eli Yishai, is demanding that the Israeli cabinet extend the ban on family unification for Arabs and Palestinians for additional six months.
The law itself does not affect spouses that are Jewish, but is mainly meant to prevent Arab citizens of Israel, married to Palestinians, from obtaining family unification documents to be able to live together with their spouses in Israel. It also targets hundreds of Bedouin families in the occupied Negev.
Arab member of Knesset of the United Arab List, Dr. Ahmad Tibi, voiced a strong criticism of the stances of Yishai, and stated that this order is a threat to civil liberties in the country and has nothing to do with security, but directly related to demography.
The ban openly suggests that “by law”, family unification between citizens of Israel and their Palestinian or Arab partners is not allowed, unless the male partner is at least 36 years old and the female partner is not below the age of 26.
Israeli daily, Haaretz, reported that when Yishai asked for an extension for the ban last time, the Israeli cabinet asked him to complete legislation of law contents to become a formal law, part of the comprehensive, so-called, Immigration Bill, that is allegedly meant to serve the “long-term national and security interests of the country”.
According to Haaretz, security officials in Tel Aviv fear that “terror organizations would smuggle members into Israel under family unification laws”.
Israel also claims that %14 of attacks carried out in Israel were conducted by persons who carried Israeli ID cards, obtained through family unification.
The bill itself is illegal under international law and is an open and clear racial discrimination and racial profiling targeting non-Jews in Israel, as Jewish citizens of the country, married to foreign spouses, are not subject to any of these restrictions, and can easily obtain legal documents for their partners.
For five years now, Saleh has only been able to sail for short distances. Most of the time, it sits idle in a parking lot for boats near a sea port to the west of Gaza City.
Saleh is the name of a large boat that belongs to Abu Ayman Kabaja, a 56-year-old fisherman and father of five children, all of whom have worked in Gaza’s fishing industry for many years.
On a Saturday around noon, Kabaja’s three sons — including his eldest, Ayman, a 34-year-old father of four daughters — are busy sticking sheets of fiberglass to Saleh’s body to help preserve the boat as it gets older. They are joined by two of Kabaja’s nephews.
“As you see, my children and my nephews are doing this in order to protect the boat from decaying because of heat from the sun,” Kabaja tells The Electronic Intifada. “This boat Saleh has stopped functioning for the past five years due to our inability to sail beyond the Israeli-enforced limit of three nautical miles. Our fishing work has been badly affected.”
Before Israel imposed its blockade, Saleh and hundreds of other fishing boats used to sail approximately 12 nautical miles off Gaza shores. Yet for the past four years such boats have been allowed to sail only a small distance offshore.
Under the Oslo accords, the US-sponsored peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s, fishermen in Gaza were allotted access up to twenty nautical miles offshore. When Israel imposed the 2007 blockade, this access area was shrunk to just six nautical miles, and within the last year, Israel once again cut the distance to three nautical miles.
Saleh is one of about 25 similar boats in the area that used to sail from Gaza before Israel imposed the maritime blockade. These boats are all out of regular use as a result of the siege on Gaza.
“Saleh and boats like it used to bring large quantities of sardines to Gaza,” Kabaja says. “Sardines are the most popular and cheapest type of fish in the territory. I recall that prior to the maritime siege we used to catch three to five tons of this type of fish every work day and make a very good business out of it. I estimate our net profit every year at $15,000. Or even more, brother, even more.”
Debt still unpaid
Saleh, 16 meters long and 5.5 meters wide, was first used by Kabaja in 2005. He had to borrow thousands of dollars to buy it. Saleh cost him a total of $70,000, $15,000 of which he still owes to a friend.
“At this time of the year, from March through the beginning of July, we used to enjoy the blessings of God as this particular time period is the golden time for us fishermen,” Kabaja says. “Sardines used to be very much available along with some other kinds of fish.”
Kabaja says that in October of 2010, he was harassed by the Israeli navy while trying to earn a living as a fisherman.
“Some colleagues of mine have been frequently exposed to harassment by the Israeli naval vessels. Maybe you heard about the seizure by the Israeli navy of two fishing boats a few weeks ago. It has been even worse at times, to the extent of the Israeli forces firing live shorts against fishermen,” he adds.
According to Kabaja, Saleh now only sails along the port’s beach front. The boat’s short distance trip only takes place during three or four months of the year.
“To maintain Saleh we used to drag it in the water for three to four months in order not to allow the wooden bars and some of the metal, as well as the engine’s fan, to get rusty or broken,” he explains. “Then we would bring it back to the soil here for the rest of the year. We have got used to doing this for five years, since Israel has prevented Saleh and other boats from sailing into the sea.”
No jobs to be found
Kabaja’s son Ayman says the Israeli blockade has meant that there are few job opportunities in the fishing industry. One of the few sources of employment he has found was from the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) but that was only on a temporary basis.
“Can you imagine?” Ayman asks, as he applies some glue to his boat. “Can a three-month temporary UNRWA-provided job opportunity ensure you a living? Absolutely not, absolutely not. I have already availed of that option and now there is nothing more, except what you see me doing, maintaining Saleh. [I wonder] whether Israeli fishermen or any other fisherman in the world would accept to sail for only two and a half nautical miles.”
Ayman’s uncle Abu Mohammad says that Saleh’s first voyages were during a prosperous time for Gaza’s fishermen. “Before the blockade was enforced, myself, my brother Abu Ayman and our own children — almost a total of forty people — used to rely so much on fishing as we used to build house and finance our children’s education and even marriages. But our incomes have sharply decreased,” he tells The Electronic Intifada.
Asked what other factors have caused their incomes to plummet, the fifty-year-old fisherman says: “Our inability to go further from Gaza’s shores has led many other fellow fishermen to try to bring large quantities of various types of fish from Egypt through underground tunnels and then sell them in the local market. You know why? In order for us to sail for almost 12 hours within such a limited distance of three nautical miles of the shores, we need fuel and other things. [It costs] $600 for each sailing but with no guarantees of catching fish. So bringing in Egyptian fish is less costly than sailing.”
Fishing is considered to be a main source of food for the Gaza Strip’s 1.6 million residents. According to statistics from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, there are approximately 8,200 fishermen and workers in the fishing sector in the Gaza Strip, who provide for approximately 50,000 dependents throughout Gaza (“Israeli attacks on Palestinian fishermen at Gaza sea,” 1 February 2011).
“You know, we have been maintaining Saleh for the past month and we have not sailed for fishing,” Ayman Kabaja says. “Why fish? Why? We had better maintain this boat, before Saleh is totally broken. Maybe one day Saleh will be back to normal activity after the Israeli blockade has been lifted once and for all.”
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.