Monday, July 7, 2008

The Colombia Free Trade Agreement

A few months ago, The Clintons fired pollster and campaign strategist Mark Penn. Hillary had been speaking out against the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and Penn had met with Colombian officials to strategize on how to get the bill passed.
I've been saving editorials ever since, waiting until an appropriate moment to put together something that might be worthy of your attention.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has been in the news lately for helping orchestrate a dramatic hostage rescue.
John McCain has been down there, trying to promote the Free Trade Agreement.

So let's get started. This is from Arianna Huffington:

(After Penn's resignation), then came word that Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson also has financial ties to Colombia via his involvement the Glover Park Group, a company founded by Clinton administration alum Joe Lockhart that has also been advising the Colombian government.

And that's not all. It wasn't just Penn and Wolfson and Lockhart. Someone else was taking money from the Colombian government in exchange for influence. Someone much closer to home. Someone who lived at home. One of the owners of the freakin' home.

And, of course, there is the Whitman sampler of Colombian goodies gobbled up by Bill Clinton, including: $800,000 in speaking fees from a Colombian pro-free trade agreement group; a "Colombia is Passion" award bestowed by Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe (who honored the former president as an "unofficial minister of tourism"); and a sweet Colombian oil field deal for a company Clinton pal Frank Giustra's investment firm had advised. Giustra is the mining magnate who has donated $31 million to Clinton's charitable fund, and whom Bill personally introduced to Colombian President Uribe (Giustra is the same guy Clinton helped land a uranium deal in Kazakhstan, but that's a Clinton story for a different blog post).

I apologize for the amount of sleaze in this particular post, and I hope the good people at don't censor all this. Ms. Huffington goes on to describe how the He-Clinton bundled an aid package, a giveaway for Lockheed-Martin, and other goodies in the same package.

I'm afraid that I've made the Colombian government sound like the villain here. That's not the case. They're merely the weak storefront on the block, forced to pay protection money to the guys with connections who run the rackets. At least that's what Kimberly Strassel says.

Critics will point out that all this smacks of a protection racket, as Democratic lobbyists and consultants cash in by offering to protect companies from their own party's agenda. There's undoubtedly some of that, but it's old Washington news. Many lobbyists and politicians take up causes with which they aren't entirely in tune. It pays the bills, and also siphons up cash for their greater political purposes. Talk to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who last year stepped in to save private equity firms from a big tax threatened by his own party. In thanks, the industry coughed up for his Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is now working to add several Democratic seats to the Senate.

I love that line..."cash in by offering to protect companies from their own party's agenda".

Various opponents of the Free Trade Agreement point to a high level of violence against union officials. Not so, says The Boston Globe in the preceding link. President Uribe and the Colombian government know where their bread is buttered.

Others point to the quantity of coke and weed produced in Colombia, coke and weed that somehow makes it across our borders despite not being a part of anyone's trade agreement. They say this is harmful, and that the Colombian government doesn't do enough to stop the drug trade. Not so, says former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Colombia works very hard, under the circumstances, to curtail the drug trade. According to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, there are now more Latin American and South American deaths from North American tobacco than there are North American deaths from Latin and South American cocaine.

I know this is hard to believe. But yes, Jimmy Carter was once elected President of The United States.

Here's an editorial from Daniel Weintraub that explains why the chief benefit of a Colombian Free Trade agreement would be the elimination of the 20% tariff that Columbia currently has on American imports. (If you're a total geek, do some Googling on a concept called "The Lerner Theorem". It essentially states that a 20% tariff on imports is the same as applying a 20% tariff on your exports. This is something that everyone but Hillary and Barack have known since 1936. Yes. 1936. There are people in high places who rely on you being economically....dense.)

Finally, here's a John McCain press conference. I'm not wild about the guy, since he's a Republican, and the Republican Party needs to be punished. (As for as government spending goes, they've made the Democrats look like coupon-clippers who wear their socks twice to save on detergent.) But McCain's supports Free Trade, and seldom hesitates to say so. Heck, he went to Iowa and spoke out against the ultra-protectionist Farm Bill.

Let's go back to the Daniel Weintraub piece. Nancy Pelosi of California seems to be the primary obstacle with getting this bill passed. Here's Weintraub:
Pelosi could have been the grown-up on this issue, drawing on her own state's experience to show that globalization, just like technology, has made our economy more dynamic and robust, and, over the long term, healthier. Instead, she is playing to the worst impulses of her party and pandering to those who believe that economic nationalism is the road to prosperity. The best argument for free trade is a moral one: The government ought not use discriminatory tariffs to discourage two parties from buying and selling goods that otherwise would be legal. It shouldn't matter whether the trade is between a Californian and a Kansan or a Californian and a Colombian. It's a matter of free will.

So here's the problem..... Hillary's advisors have made plenty of money, taking Colombian cash for access to Congress. Bill has made money on the deal. The Friends Of Bill have made money on the agreement. Has no one thought to buy off Nancy Pelsosi? Or do the Democrats want to leave it out there, thinking the electorate is dense enough to condemn McCain for supporting it? Do the Republicans want to leave it out there, thinking that Obama's waffling on trade issues will hurt him in November?

The Colombians are moving heaven and earth in order to be partners with us, giving their citizens access to markets that doesn't involve the drug trade, and they've long been one of our allies in the region.

Why hasn't someone thought to pay Nancy Pelosi to get out of the way?

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