David Sirota

David Sirota
Denver, Colorado,
November 02
David Sirota is a political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future , the founder of the Progressive States Network and a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. He also blogs for Credo Action. and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. His two books, Hostile Takeover (2006) and The Uprising (2008) were both New York Times bestsellers. In the years before becoming a full-time writer, Sirota worked as the press secretary for Vermont Independent Congressman Bernard Sanders, the chief spokesman for Democrats on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, the Director of Strategic Communications for the Center for American Progress, a campaign consultant for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and a media strategist for Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont. He also previously contributed writing to the website of the California Democratic Party. For more on Sirota, see these profiles of him in Newsweek or the Rocky Mountain News. Feel free to email him at lists [at] davidsirota.com

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Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 19, 2009 12:58PM

On Canada Trip, Obama Floats the Discredited NAFTA Canard

Rate: 6 Flag
Bad news from CBS:
Obama: Economic Crisis May Delay NAFTA Negotiations

President Obama made a U.S.-led renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) labor and environmental standards a central promise of his campaign. But asked today if he plans to start negotiations during his Thursday visit to Canada, Mr. Obama suggested that economic duress may postpone the NAFTA plans.

“There are a lot of sensitivities right now because of the huge decline in world trade,” Mr. Obama told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

This is troubling on two levels. First and foremost, we need to renegotiate NAFTA to put labor and environmental standards into the agreement so that they are truly enforceable. We protect pharmaceutical patents, intellectual property and copyrights in NAFTA - that is, we protect corporate rights in the agreement, and we need to protect human/environmental rights too, just as Obama promised during the campaign.

But even more upsetting is the broader ideology Obama seems to be espousing in his rationale for potentially delaying systemic trade renegotiations.

Though he reluctantly went on to say he thinks labor and environmental protections need to be put into NAFTA, the way he structured his comments - specifically, the way he juxtaposed economic growth against reformed trade - seems to subscribe to the discredited concept that making trade rules more fair somehow at odds with economic growth . Oddly, he's implying this at the very same time he has said worker rights (ie. The Employee Free Choice Act) and environmental protection (for example, investing in green jobs) are key to long-term economic growth here at home.

Of course, the idea that basic environmental and worker rights in trade agreements are bad for the economy has no actual basis in data or fact. It's all free-trade theology - but certainly not "pragmatism" and certainly not based in any concrete evidence. This theology asks us to believe that protectionism for patents and for (as Dean Baker repeatedly points out) professional jobs is great for economic growth at a time of crisis, but the same protectionism for human rights and the environment would exacerbate the economic crisis.

Where is this theology coming from? Likely from the Team of Zombies. Obama has put the same free-trade fundamentalists in his government that originally crafted and championed NAFTA and NAFTA-style trade agreements (Summers, Geithner, Emanuel, etc.). These are people whose careers coddling corporate power are directly at odds with Obama's campaign promises (made, of course, in key industrial swing states) to seriously reform our trade policies.

This, of course, says nothing of the broader trade reforms that Obama also promised during the campaign - procurement reforms, reforms of international trade organizations, etc. Labor/environmental standards are the absolute minimum that needs to happen. And again, no one has been able to substantively show how the pragmatic fair trade reforms most progressives are pushing would weaken economic growth.

So now Obama has to choose whether to follow through on his campaign promises, or back out of them at the behest of his Washington advisers. Between his tepid statements on basic Buy America laws that he originally promised to vigorously support and now these weak statements on NAFTA, it looks like he's starting to prioritize the Washington status quo on trade over real change he promised.

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Not the kind of "change," or lack thereof, that Obama voters were expecting to see.
it's politics, because Canada's labour and environmental laws are generally as good as or better than American. The real "villain" in that area is Mexico, but, because of Hispanic voters, Obama can't say so. Nor can he say "we really have nothing to negotiate with canada."

Except how you ignored NAFTA & the WTO to screw our software lumber industry.
I hope you're wrong about this, David. A lot of us have placed our hopes in Obama. I hope we haven't missplaced them. The Washington cronyism is a given. I don't see any way around that. As far as his Team of Zombies goes, it's true they're retreads, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a condemnation, although it may be. We'll find out soon enough. Where I'm confused is your position on protectionism. Whoever says it's good for some things and bad for others has got to be off the mark. I don't see protectionism working at all.
Not that I don't have the same concern but it's possible Obama is simply trying to keep his focus simple and direct. NAFTA is not an immediate worry. It has been in place for years and whatever changes get made won't have any direct much less immediate effect on turning the economy around.

Yes, yes, the vampires. I'm aware and I'm worried but it's back-burner stuff. Saving the nation from the corrosive effects of the Bush economy comes first.
"Where is this theology coming from?" He's about to sit down with the U.S.s largest trading partner. What do you think he was going to say?

Also is this a worse move than telling the CBC that they'd be re-negotiating as soon as possible? Who would do that on the eve of a first official visit? Bush, maybe.
Sadly your politics are showing. I read the words "postpone" and "delaying" in your post, and while you might have liked to take them out, you couldn't. The current economy will force the reprioritization of a great deal of issues including campaign promises and you damn well know it. You will undoubtedly be joined by a cast of other characters who will seek out opportunities to chip away.... and that too is sad.

“…the broader ideology Obama seems to be espousing…the discredited concept that making trade rules more fair somehow at odds with economic growth. […] Obama has put the same free-trade fundamentalists in his government that originally crafted and championed NAFTA and NAFTA-style trade agreements (Summers, Geithner, Emanuel, etc.).”

Yep, this is the key. Obama is a corporatist; he always was. Anyone who is surprised by this was not paying attention during that past few years.

Perhaps you might explain why postponing and delaying negotiations is necessary; I don't see what leads to that conclusion.
Nice reference of "Team of Zombies". 2 points I'd like to say,
1. Its only been a month..whatever happened to "lets give him a chance"

2. Back to the "Team of Zombies" I, also agree with JoeRiverReid about "retreads". My question is why couldn't Our President pick some new blood, I'm sure that there are very qualified economist from Harvard, MIT Yale etc etc that are qualifed. That, to me would indicate true change.

"...why couldn't Our President pick some new blood"?

"...whatever happened to "lets give him a chance"?

I'm just elbowing you a little, not attacking.
Obama just said he raised it with Harper, and hopes discussions will move forward in a way that do not disrupt trade with Canada.
Hello Rick (elbower)... I will not pretend to know the scope of circumstances that necessitate the delay, nor will I second-guess the decision. My vote was a vote of confidence... that he has the bandwidth and the vision to understand what needs to be done now and what can be postponed. I can only hope that he makes the right decisions, but the least we can do is not publish confetti to further confuse the issue and "elbow" a large segment of the country's population that is already sulking. To sit back and "cheap shot" each decision as he makes them is too easy ... but not entirely unexpected. Like I said... sad.

So, do you think this is a "cheap shot" by Sirota? Perhaps it is a little over-sensationalized?

My thinking is that American society has been way too complacent in recent years, so let's stir things up and get things turning. We are stagnant.
On this point we are in violent agreement, but Obama should not be the held acountable for our stagnant status. The man has not been in office for two months yet. And yes... Sirota's article is most certainly sensationalized.
So, will Obama be the next moderate republican president?

Why yes, of course. After William Jefferson Clinton...

It looks like he is turning into 'republican light' and that's just in the first month. His record before that was troubling enough but we got our 'saviour'. The hunt is starting for the next one I'm sure...

FISA, rendition, defending Bushist power grabs, keeping many Bushist secrets secret. Disturbing... Stay tuned.
What Brian B said, con gusto.

And there are a whole lot of people up here who would LOVE to have NAFTA opened up again. We got hosed by our own pols in the 80s.
Unfair David. I am a fan of yours but jumpin jeebus does Obama have to tackle everything TODAY? He's still juggling 3 or 4 bailouts at the moment, coupla wars to deal with, and whipping out a NAFTA redo in Canada on his first, very short visit just might be a little much. Trade is still on the plate, just back there behind the peas, let's let him get the meat and taters out of the 1st, K?
Wow sounds familiar? Bush could not get to his campaign promises because of the war on terror. Clinton could not get to his campaign promises because of the economy (he created NAFTA). In 8 years did he fix SS or health care? Nope.

I agree with the author, NAFTA has a lot to do with our current economic problems. It favors the select few large corporations and destroys millions of manufacturing jobs in this country. Add to this China and you can see why the list of billionaires keeps growing and the middle class keeps shrinking.

Who do you think received most of the FannyMay and Freddymac money? China paid in full. The Americans who had savings accounts pennies on the dollar.

NAFTA and our trade agreements are important, and are tied to the long term growth of this country. Please president Obama, do what you promised.
Mr. Obama has acted very, very wisely with NAFTA. Canada is in the middle of a serious domestic political crisis, and is a core Ally of the United States, mandatory to detecting and mitigating the conequences of a Russian attack across the Polar Routes, and mandatory to defending against a Russian attempt to seize and destroy the Alaskan pipeline in order to lever Japan against the United States, and mandatory to defending aginst a similar Russian attempt to seize Iceland and break American SLOC's with NATO.
If you think that sounds archaic, then you believe military satellites that are tracked constantly to within meters go bump in the night.
If you think the first paragraph sounds archaic, you think that submarines "happen" to go bump in a fashion most consistent with a ramming attempt; just look at the depths necessary in the "accident:" highly unlikely to be a coincidence, and given the Quebecois and the probably Franco-Russo alliance, don't mess with Canada. Please. Even if you only care about Afghanistan, look at the troop situation, and how we have been cut off by the Russians already.
As to NAFTA, Mexico is a Mandatory American Neutral in terms of American SLOC's to East Asia and Western Europe. There are hundred of thousands of American servicemen whose lives are at stake on a daily basis. Messing around with the world's trading order now is a terrible idea. Terrible.
Do you not remember Beggar thy Neighbor Trade patterns that help to generate the last Great Power War? We are close enough as it is.
We will need allies.
As to trade, I will grant that in the future, the capitalist classes will need to re-think property.
If Lenin and ThorsteinVeblen were to return, he would correctly argue that it is the export of capital to equilibrate rates of return within the World System, and its inevitable side effect of therefore equilibrating living standards across the planet that has now pitted the Many of the Core against each other within the Core, and the Many of the Core against the many of the Periphery.
Whether this finishes in a War of the Few against the Many globally remains the interesting question.
But as an American, think very carefully about disturbing the international trading equilibrium; it is under a tremendous amount of stress as it is. Living standard pressure is bad; trade wars are worse; Great Power Wars... Think a little more.
The true NAFTA canard is that NAFTA was bad for the United States. It simply isn't the truth.

UCLA did a study that showed the net effect on jobs was minimal and that there was a very slight gain in jobs. Of course, these days, we'll take any slight gain in jobs but the point is, in a country where half a million jobs go poof in a month, creating 3K jobs over three years is chump change. Over a five year period, they found a minimal change in jobs due to NAFTA.

So, both the people who said there would be a giant sucking sound and those who said there would be a huge boom are wrong. The net effect was very slight and amounts to nothing but noise in the data.
I agree with Brian, Boanerges1 (we Canadians tend to think NAFTA didn't do us no favors - we got bullied - and that any tinkering probably won't be to our benefit), Court Jester & Don Rich. (I hope they aren't contradictory!)

BTW, Kerry, you mentioned zombies and Mick Arran mentions vampires. Where was it I just read about the difference between vampires, zombies and, I think, werewolves. Anyway, vampires are smart and in control. Zombies are, well, uncoordinated and unconscious. Werewolves are Jekyl/Hyde types, alternate personalities not taking responsibility for the other. These archetypes (!) were applied to political figures...damn...where did I read this, either Salon or Huff I think. Anyway, it's one of those theories that can be helpfully (or amusingly) applied to various world leaders.

Okay, just remembered - it was in MacLeans, a Canadian newsmagazine (for fellow Canadians, the article made the argument that former PM Martin is a werewolf, haha). (I guess the charming & elegant Trudeau would have been a vampire....and maybe Obama is - he sure shows his teeth a lot...literally at least, while the real bite we may not notice until our hemoglobin count drops...)
Oh my Lord. Canadian Politics can be summed up very quickly. Alberta is oil rich and is heavily against any kind of environmental reform. Even though they, of all our provinces are most able to afford it. It just means that they'll get less buckets of money handed to them. They may claim that oil prices are against them, but does anyone believe that oil prices are going to stay low?

Returning to Canadian Politics, the entire province of Alberta was won by Harper. The rest of Canada just doesn't see any merit in changing government because we're election weary. Plus, we have our own share of Conservative goons.

Canada's environmental policies are embarassing, and Harper won't bite the oil filled hand that feeds him. This country used to be consistently number one on the UN's nations of developed countries as the place to live. Sadly we sold out on that. We have hope in Obama, because we need that kind of environmental leadership. Even leverage.
Mr. Sirota, your whining is getting increasingly tiresome. I recall your recent screed against my town, Las Vegas, against which you railed for its unsustainability, even as you flew in, leaving your immune-to-irony heavy carbon footprint in your wake. I know you think quite highly of yourself. Poignant, to be sure, but equally vapid.
I'm not troubled by this. I'm troubled by an opposition that opposes mindlessly without alternative solutions. It's highly debatable, as Mick, Tony and others have pointed out here, that NAFTA is a net negative for the US. Steering us toward a more protectionist stance would be much more disturbing: Republican medium-heavy, at the least.
Remember the Russia House. They didn't go away, they just hibernated to appear non-threatening for a while. That is the real story now, Russia, and it must of necessity drive U.S. foreign policy. I don't want another Cold War particularly, but Putin does, and that is what matters.
Protectionism is bad economics. Obama, Clinton, and McCain all knew that and had to play the game during the election. NAFTA is resoundingly better for all parties than no NAFTA. Don't you think the buggy makers probably didn't want to have to compete with cars way back when? Aren't you glad the US wasn't solicitous to them? I'm so glad we have a President who is smart enough to understand basic economic principles.
Hey man, you seem like a cool guy, but come on now. As heinous as it is for my part of the world right now (the post-industrial outskirts of the MO-2), for the moment, making trade rules "more fair" is at odds with both long- and short-term economic growth. We need massive loans from developing economies that are suddenly contracting hard. We need them with manageable interest rates and we need them immediately. Obama's plan was to "create 3.5 million new jobs," it's now to "create or save 3.5 million jobs." In short, Obama knows full-well that many many Americans will not be going back to work any time soon, and that there's nothing he can do about it.

Fact is, Obama made promises during his campaign that could never have foreseen an economic outlook so-dire that even the feckless economic shitwit fundamentalist Lindsay Graham has conceded that "going Sweden" with the temporary nationalization of the nation's financial industry may soon be a very real and very necessary possibility. Roubini told the WSJ that it's coming in the next six months.

In short, insisting upon "more fair" trade rules right now is a very, very short term way of thinking about the national economy. I'm all for much of the progressive American platform, but you need to accept that much of that platform is now going to have to wait until 2011--and significantly longer than that unless we fare much luckier than we deserve.