Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Greatest Nation on Earth

On the south western shores of the beautiful San Francisco Bay an old friend of mine opened a small café called the Diving Pelican. On the outside patio you could sit beneath the shade and watch the bay lands while you ate lunch or sipped a cup of coffee. Just across the road you could while away the hours hiking in a wildlife preserve, one of the few, which consisted of gently rolling hills and dirt pathways. As you walked along the bay a flock of pelicans flying in a vee formation might glide silently over your head so close you could hear the wind whistling in their wings or you might see them paddling along in the bay dipping their beaks in unison as they fed on fish, a kind of pelican ballet. There you could also see egrets, white wraiths still as statues, waiting for their dinner to swim by. You could also see ducks and Canadian geese, cormorants or flocks of tiny yellow feet swirling in the air flashing white and black as they wheeled in the bright sunlight.

My friend had opened the Diving Pelican when times were good in the Bay Area where it served people in nearby office buildings. Now these buildings are like a ghost town empty and forlorn, monuments to better days much like a lot of Silicon Valley when businesses took root and thrived in the boom times of the technological marvels of Silicon Valley where people worked hard and raised families dreaming dreams of even better days for their children. Of course most of that is long gone now never to return. Now it is a sea of empty office buildings and empty parking lots though of course there still are some companies but nothing even close to what it once was.

If one assumes that one of the important things in life is the quality of said life you might wonder what happened. What happened to all those jobs and small start up companies that employed so many people? Greed was the grim reaper in the form of the so-called free trade agreements those self same agreements implemented by politicians who told us that the global world was upon us, it was inevitable they told us, it would produce more jobs yet the net effect was the destruction of a healthy economy.

According to Public Citizen NAFTA is really a give away to foreign investors.

NAFTA was a radical experiment - never before had a merger of three nations with such radically different levels of development been attempted. Plus, until NAFTA, “trade” agreements only dealt with cutting tariffs and lifting quotas to set the terms of trade in goods between countries. But NAFTA contained 900 pages of one-size-fits-all rules to which each nation was required to conform all of its domestic laws - regardless of whether voters and their democratically-elected representatives had previously rejected the very same policies in Congress, state legislatures or city councils.

NAFTA requires limits on the safety and inspection of meat sold in our grocery stores; new patent rules that raised medicine prices; constraints on your local government’s ability to zone against sprawl or toxic industries; and elimination of preferences for spending your tax dollars on U.S.-made products or locally-grown food. In fact, calling NAFTA a “trade” agreement is misleading, NAFTA is really an investment agreement. Its core provisions grant foreign investors a remarkable set of new rights and privileges that promote relocation abroad of factories and jobs and the privatization and deregulation of essential services, such as water, energy and health care.

Remarkably, many of NAFTA’s most passionate boosters in Congress and among economists never read the agreement. They made their pie-in-the-sky promises of NAFTA benefits based on trade theory and ideological prejudice for anything with the term “free trade” attached to it.

And from this 2001 New York Times article entitled Powerful Little Secret--

Their meetings are secret. Their members are generally unknown. The decisions they reach need not be fully disclosed. Yet the way a small group of international tribunals handles disputes between investors and foreign governments has led to national laws being revoked, justice systems questioned and environmental regulations challenged. And it is all in the name of protecting the rights of foreign investors under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The corporations — American, Canadian and Mexican alike — that directly invest in neighboring countries are thrilled that Nafta provides some protection. But foes of the trade pact say some of their worst fears about anonymous government have become reality. And as Western economies move toward more free trade and globalization, environmentalists, consumer groups and anti-trade organizations are increasingly worried about how the tribunals influence the enforcement of laws. The groups are gearing up for a fight at the Summit of the Americas next month in Quebec, where President Bush will be pushing a vast new Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would provide for similar tribunals.

But please read the whole article as it is worth a few minutes of your time. When you think about all of this it is really rather astounding -- we went from a fairly healthy economy with the promise of a bright future to exporting jobs to China and other Asian countries to private wars in the Middle East where the true cost of profits for the energy companies and American construction companies are likely to be in the trillions leaving a bloody path of destruction in its wake, over half a million dead Iraqi, thousands of dead American soldiers and a grim future for our children who will be paying the price for the stupid and barbaric greed of our feckless politicos as their palms are greased with blood money.

Today many Americans go blithely through life paying little or no attention to the murders that have been committed in our name oblivious to the looming possibility that we are mere years from becoming a third world country with the rich and wealthy living in gated communities while the middle class becomes nothing but a fond memory as people work longer hours for less money till the economy finally gives its last gasp in a hideous death rattle. And the great patriots will sit on their garbage heaps waving their pathetic little flags as they beg for food while they tell themselves we are the greatest nation on earth.