Toking on Free Trade, Rich Americans Party On

Hemisphere A-Go-Go

George Bush’s state dinner for Mexican president Vicente Fox this fall promises to be quite the party. They’ll be celebrating the new Free Trade Area of the Americas, a super-NAFTA forged last week in Quebec City. The agreement promises to set off the biggest fire sale in the hemisphere’s history. We haven’t seen a geopolitical shift this great since the Louisiana Purchase.

Under the Quebec agreement, which still must be ratified by the Senate, corporations based in the U.S. will storm south for bargains — phone companies, electric utilities, mining ventures, cattle ranches, assembly production plants. Feeding the frenzy is the prospect of pennies-a-day labor across the border and a chance to leave behind U.S. environmental controls.

This is Bush’s answer to our so-called energy crisis, with oil and gas production in Mexico offering a serious alternative to our dependence on Middle East oil. The agreement brings closer the day when Mexico’s gas will come north via a pipeline and its electrical production by wire. The pressure to drain these resources will grow because Bush is relaxing automobile emission standards and cutting back on other energy efficiency measures, all of which will increase — not decrease — the demand for energy in the U.S.

Trade policy is also key to our emerging free-market policy on agriculture. Instead of using American farm products for processed foods, agribusiness concerns can just import cheaply grown food from elsewhere in the hemisphere, leaving that symbol of America’s past — the family farmer — in Nowheresville.

And what of the hemisphere’s poorer states? The theory is that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank can help them hold their own in competition with their first world neighbors. But nobody really believes this, because developing nations are only getting poorer and more dependent on aid from neocolonial masters. Indeed, both liberals and conservatives in Congress deride these development policies as next to useless.

How Israel Uses U.S. Weapons to Threaten Our Troops

Unfriendly Fire

Wherever they go to stamp out trouble, America’s fighting men and women are placed in harm’s way — not by our myriad enemies, but by our own energetic arms manufacturers and their compatriots in so-called allied nations, who help our foes arm themselves against us.

That lesson was underscored this month in the China spy plane incident. U.S. officials now say Chinese F-8 jets, like the one that collided with our lumbering EP-3E, are armed with an Israeli-made air-to-air missile. The Python-3 missile was produced by the Israeli Armaments Development Authority.

Jane’s Defense Review reports that the Python-3 missile traces its origins back through several generations of weapons to the American Sidewinder, an air-to-air missile created in the late 1960s and purchased by Israel. The Israelis souped up the weapon and tested it in the Bekáa Valley of Lebanon during 1982, then sold it to China. There are reports of export orders from Israel to Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Romania, South Africa, and Thailand. Israel is believed to have licensed the new design to China, which now manufactures its own line of air-to-air missiles.

“We don’t have any comment on sales from Israel to foreign countries,” said Rafael Barak, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington. “We’re surrounded by enemies that don’t hide the intention that they want to kill us.”

As everyone knows, the U.S. leaps at every chance to build up the might of our ally Israel. But this was a bit much, having a virtual surrogate in the Middle East selling missiles to China that might very well be used to kill our own troops. Said one Pentagon official, who spoke to CNN on the condition that he not be named, “Here we are bending over backward to give Israel a qualitative edge, and they are selling hardware to our adversaries.”

This is part of the price the U.S. pays for being the world’s largest arms dealer. Last year, we sold more than $8 billion in weapons, with licenses for outstanding sales totaling another $26.4 billion. In 1998 the U.S. armed or trained the military of 168 nations.

The overall effects of this business are increasingly dangerous to civilians — as when an American-made plane in Peru downed an aircraft carrying Baptist missionaries last week — and in certain instances pose great risk to American troops as well. The U.S. provided ammo and small arms to Indonesia while that country was putting down the East Timor rebellion. We gave weapons to Colombia that, according human rights groups, were used to kill civilians. The most celebrated case was the refusal of President Bill Clinton to ban outright the manufacture of land mines, which kill civilians around the world at alarming rates. A deal to let the Israelis sell U.S. enhanced-radar technology to China was blocked last year under pressure from the Clinton administration. Yet American arms continue to provide the springboard for modernizing the world’s armies. Currently, the United Arab Emirates is purchasing advanced models of U.S. fighters that exceed anything we now have in operation.

Israel gets $3 billion in arms aid from the U.S. every year. In 2000, there was a move in Congress to shave $250 million from the package because Israel was then in the midst of negotiations to sell Phalcon missiles to the Chinese. The Phalcons, according to the Pentagon, were actually U.S. weapons that had been enhanced by the Israelis, who then claimed them as their own invention.

Shrub Yanks Student Aid for Drug Offenders

Bush’s War on Youth

The Bush administration has begun enforcing a law that denies federal financial aid to college students with drug convictions. In the past, thousands of students simply didn’t answer a question about drug offenses on their forms and got aid just the same. Now if they don’t answer, the application will be rejected.

The law says that anyone convicted of possession or sale of a controlled substance “shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance.” The ban runs from one year for a first count of possession to two years for a second offense. A third offense makes the ban indefinite. First sale brings a two-year ban, with an indefinite ban for a repeat offense.

According to Brian Gralnick of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, on requests for this current school year over 270,000 of the 10 million applicants left the question blank. Only 8900 applicants reported disqualifying convictions and lost some or all of their aid. But because of new enforcement, some 14,000 people have had their assistance pulled. Gralnick predicts that number may swell to 70,000, hurting disadvantaged kids most.

“We feel this law is discriminatory against the poor, who need financial aid,” Gralnick said. “And it’s also discriminatory toward African Americans, who we know are targets of the drug war more so than the whites… I believe that the war on drugs is nothing more than the war on youth.”

U.S. Screws Try the Rack

Four-Point Restraint

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is now being accused by a group of Atlanta attorneys of running a torture chamber.

In an April 20 letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch and ranking Democratic member Patrick Leahy, Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, asked for an investigation of the bureau’s practice of using four-point restraints. Bright describes one prisoner who was restrained in this manner for five days at the penitentiary in Atlanta. “Four-point restraint involves chaining an individual’s wrists and ankles to a bed or other surface in a ‘spread-eagle’ position in order to limit the individual’s motion.” Bright continues, “Our client was needlessly chained to a bed in four-point restraints for five days and forced to urinate and defecate on himself during that time.”

Eventually the Bureau of Prisons paid the man $99,000 to compensate him for this treatment.

This is not an isolated practice, the lawyers wrote. “In the course of investigating our case, we learned that during a two-year period (1996-97), approximately one hundred inmates were held in four-point restraints for days, weeks, and even months — many for offenses as minor as throwing a cup of water on staff or kicking on a cell door. One inmate was held for two months in four-point restraints. The Bureau of Prisons successfully resisted our efforts to obtain information about more recent practices, although we did learn that at least one Atlanta federal inmate died while in four-point restraints in 1999. In addition, during the course of our investigation, we received numerous reports of long-term, punitive use of restraints at federal prisons across the country.”

Four-point restraints have been a horrendous problem in mental institutions. And in 1998, The Hartford Courant documented 142 deaths, over a 10-year period, resulting from the use of such restraints in psychiatric facilities. Bright goes on to say other prisoners got lost in the bureau’s red tape. The situation has grown worse since Congress cut off funds to finance suits by prisoners. Hence, with the exception of a handful of tiny nonprofit legal outfits, there is nothing to stop the Bureau of Prisons from transforming federal prisons into torture chambers.

The Indian Way

The brutal facts of daily life for Native Americans, as reported by the Associated Press:

  • Indians between 12 and 20 are 58 percent more apt to become the victims of crime than either whites or blacks.
  • Indian youths get murdered at twice the rate of white teenagers.
  • Indian kids kill themselves at more than twice the rate of non-Indian youths.
  • Indian teenagers are 10 times more apt to die from drinking than kids of other races.
  • Indians under 18 get arrested for alcohol-related crimes at a rate more than twice the national average.

Additional reporting: Adam Gray and Rouven Gueissaz