Making trade work – The TRADE Act

Posted on March 28th, 2010 by James

As I’ve mentioned before, international trade is seriously messed up. It is negotiated between unequal parties, meaning the countries with more power end up with policy that unfairly helps them, to the detriment of the less powerful countries.

Trade agreements can also disproportionately affect people within countries. For example, they can be written to really help corporations, while hurting small farmers, for example.

Currently, there are no (or at the very least, insufficient) checks and balances on the process of negotiating trade agreements. There is no mechanism for checking back in on an old one to make sure it is working and is actually beneficial.

Those are some of the gaps that the TRADE Act hopes to fill. The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, and has gotten cosponsors in both.

There are a few components to the bill-

  1. Calls for a check in on all trade agreements every two years. This will include an analysis of how each agreement has affected unemployment, wages, costs of goods, and paying special attention to agriculture.
  2. Requires any new treaties to include provisions on labor standards, human rights, environmental standards, food & product safety, and more. It won’t allow provisions that lessen a country’s already existing standards. It would ensure that farmers in all countries signing the agreement would get adequate returns.
  3. If these standards are not met upon review, the President has to submit a plan to renegotiate the treaty to make it satisfy the TRADE act.

So basically, it sets standards for trade agreement, calls for periodic review of each agreement, and requires the agreement to be renegotiated if it isn’t satisfactory.

I’m really excited to see this in both the House and the Senate. It shows that people are realizing that trade agreements are a powerful tool, and have been really misused. This bill cuts down on the likelihood that they can be abused by the powerful, and sets a good base level of standards that should be present.

Read the bills here (House, Senate), and I’ll try to keep track of it as it moves through the process.

People are people are people

Posted on March 26th, 2010 by James

Do you listen to This American Life? If not, you should. Seriously. I listen to the podcast while I do dishes, and it is awesome. It’s story telling at its best. 10, 15, even 50 minute stories that are interesting and awesome, and are usually pretty thought provoking.

Last week, they re-released a 2003 show called “My Pen Pal,” the story of Sarah York and Manuel Noriega’s relationship as pen pals. Noriega was the Saddam Hussein of the late 1980′s- Dictator of Panama, drug trafficker, CIA double agent, trained at School of the Americas. York was an 11-year-old from Nothern Michigan who began writing to Noriega because her dad liked his hat.

They wrote back and forth, and York soon realized something that went against everything she was hearing about Noriega. She realized he wasn’t a monster. He was a person.

Yes, he was a person who did some awful things. Some awful awful things.

But people fought York (11 years old) over the idea that he was a person. They wanted to believe he was incapable of being human. They had to believe that he was pure evil.

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, let’s take a look at Hitler. Hitler did terrible things. But he was also a person, capable of love and friendship.

Now, I am in no way defending these people. They are guilty of terrible things. But I do think that every time we reduce a person to the “other” and then further on to a “monster”, we are doing ourselves and our communities a major disservice.

By demonizing the other, it becomes easier to do things that we wouldn’t do to people. It becomes not just simple, but logical, to become a monster yourself. It’s easy to say, “They’re not actually human, so I don’t need to treat them like one.”

And this isn’t just about evil dictators. It’s about the awful neighbor whose dogs won’t shut up. It’s the landlord who takes 8 months to fix a leaky sink. It’s the coworker who is annoying as all get out.

Look for the humanity in everybody, no matter their actions. To deny someone else their humanity is to give up your own.

Free Trade with Haiti harmful, admits Bill Clinton

Posted on March 22nd, 2010 by James

In the mid 1990′s, then President Bill Clinton convinced Haiti it would be a great idea to lower tariffs on rice imported from the U.S. And it was great- for U.S. rice farmers.

But Clinton recently admitted that this policy, along with other free trade/neoliberal policies, have really been detrimental to Haiti. Read more in this article at the Huffington Post.

This mirrored what happened in Mexico after NAFTA was passed (also under President Clinton). In one example, tariffs were lowered for importing pork from the US to Mexico, and the US heavily subsidized pork production in the US. Far from being a fair playing field, pork producers in Mexico were unable to compete, and went out of business. Immigration to the US skyrocketed after NAFTA was signed as more and more farmers were put out of business. (You can read a paper I wrote on NAFTA & Immigration here.)

Likewise, the number of Haitian immigrants in the U.S. has doubled since 1990.

The article above says that the damage in Haiti went even further than putting farmers out of business. This agreement, along with other factors like tons of aid, ruined the entire food production industry of Haiti. Now, with the earthquake interrupting the importation of food, they’re finding there isn’t enough food in the country to sustain them. And hunger and starvation has been a problem for years.

Free trade. “Free” sounds like it’s an excellent thing. And maybe it would be, if it was free trade between equal parties. But sadly, the powerful countries have used it to their own benefit, at the severe detriment of poorer countries. And the people who made those deals are still eating well- it’s the people they govern who suffer.

This hurt isn’t new

Posted on March 16th, 2010 by James

I’ve heard the argument multiple times that the Mennonite church is being torn apart by PinkMenno (and the LGBTQ movement in the Mennonite church in general, but I’m most familiar with PinkMenno). It’s causing conflict, creating divisions and hurt. These movements are not welcoming to ethnic Mennonite groups, who are generally even less accepting of homosexuals than the Mennonite Church in general.

I would argue, however, that these movements are not creating a new conflict. Rather, they are  bringing an existing conflict to the surface, and asking the Mennonite church to deal with it. Racism was a conflict long before the Civil Rights Movement. Sexism was a conflict long before the Women’s Rights Movement. Oppression is a conflict. This oppression, a conflict, has deep roots in the Mennonite Church. So these movements are not creating a new conflict.

And they’re not creating divisions and hurt. The division of gay vs straight and the hurt imposed by those with privilege has existed. It seems to me that these divisions that once were quiet and assumed are now more in the open.

And it particularly irks me to hear the idea that Pink Menno should stop what it is doing because it is hurting church unity and may cause people to leave the church. In other words, a decision to include LGBTQs in the Mennonite church would also be a decision to exclude people who disagree from the Mennonite Church.

The church is actively excluding gay and lesbians from full church life. Gays and lesbians did not make this choice. They want to be fully involved, to be able to use their God-given gifts for the good of the church. But the church says no.

This is completely different than if, by some miracle from above, the church decided to be welcoming to LGBTQs, and people left. Sure, they were affected by a decision the church made. But it is their choice to leave. The church did not stand at the church door and send them away.

Do I want people to leave the Mennonite Church? Absolutely not. That is not the point of these movements. The point is to make the church open to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. How people respond is up to them.

Vos Sos el Dios de los Pobres

Posted on March 13th, 2010 by James

This is a song from La Misa Campesina Nicaragüense by Carlos Mejía Godoy. I encountered it on a trip to Guatemala, and loved the music and words. It keeps popping into my head 2 years later, and I thought I’d share it (and a rough English Translation) with you.

Vos sos el Dios de los pobres
Vos sos el Dios de los pobres
El Dios humano y sencillo
El Dios que suda en la calle
El Dios de rostro curtido.

Por eso es que te hablo yo
Así como te habla mi pueblo
Porque sos el Dios obrero
El Cristo trabajador

Vos vas de la mano con mi gente
Luchás en el campo y la ciudad
Hacés fila allá en el campamento
Para que te poguen tu jornal.

Vos comés raspando allá en el parque
con Eusebio, Poncho y Juan José
Y hasta protestás por el cirope
Cuondo no te le echan mucho miel.

Vos sos el Dios de los pobres…

Yo te he visto en uno pulpería
instalado en un caramanchel.
Te he visto vendiendo lotería
sin que te avergüence ese papel.

Yo te he visto en las gasolineras
Chequeando los llantas de un camión
Y hasta patroleando carreteras
con guantes de cuero y overol.

Vas sos el Dios de los pobres…

Translation (Please feel free to correct me)-

You are the God of the poor ones
The human and modest/simple God.
The God who sweats in the street
The God with a weather beaten face.

This is why I speak to you
Just like my people speak to you
Because you are the worker God,
The worker Christ.

You walk hand in hand with my people
Struggle in the country and the city
You wait in line in the refugee? camp
To earn your daily wage

You eat ice cream? there in the park
With Eusebio, Pancho, y Juan José
And even protest for more syrup
When the don’t give you enough.

I’ve seen you at the corner store
Working in a little shed
I’ve seen you selling lottery tickets
With no shame in what you’re doing.
I’ve seen you in the gas station,
Checking a truck’s tire pressure
Even patrolling the highways,
with leather gloves and overalls.

These rituals represent different things

Posted on March 11th, 2010 by James

Goshen College, my alma mater, released its plans for implementing the decision to play the national anthem.

Part of the plan is to include a statement in the programs for events where the anthem is played. The statement includes the following-

Prior to the game, we will invite you to stand for the playing of the national anthem followed by a reading of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. We offer this time as space for people to respond respectfully as they wish, recognizing that these rituals represent different things to different people.

I think that’s a major point right there- these rituals represent different things to different people. Well, to be honest, the ritual of singing the national anthem before a sporting event means different things to different people. Because reading the Peace Prayer isn’t exactly what I’d call a ritual… yet.

To me, the national anthem (and the flag, the pledge, etc) is tied up in a ton of meaning, mostly not good. It represents the wars fought in the interest of making the rich richer and maintaining the status quo. It represents the assassinations of democratically elected leaders. It represents the genocide of the Native Americans, the centuries of slavery, internment of Japanese.

Not that the anthem doesn’t have good meanings to me- the humanitarian aid, the progress the country has made in regards to human rights, freedom of religion, etc. It’s just that the negative is inescapable for me.

But when I’m at a sport event, and I don’t sing along, I can’t explain that to the people around me. I just hope that they respect the fact that the anthem represents something different to me. And I do not begrudge anyone for singing the anthem. It means something different to them (at least I really hope it does), and I may even agree with what it means to them. But it isn’t what it means to me.

So while I’m torn on whether or not Goshen should play the anthem, I’m not torn on whether or not I personally will sing it, because of what that ritual represents to me.

Part of the body, update

Posted on March 10th, 2010 by James

I have a couple corrections I want to make clear about my post, Part of the body, not outside agitators. My anecdotes are faulty, but I still stand by the points I was making.

I contacted Pastor Marc Hershberger, whose quote about “outside sources” triggered my rant. He clarified that the outside sources he was referring to was not extra-Mennonite, as I read it to mean. He meant that since this was for pastors, he wanted this to be a forum for pastors, not from seminary professors. He brings up some good points on why this should be the case.

So to be clear, he was not referring to “outsiders” as I understood him to say. I apologize to him for assuming the meaning of his speech.

Also, Shawn, the Director of Six11 Ministries also posted a comment. He does indeed have Mennonite connections, but doesn’t put them on his web site-

Now, I consider myself first a Christian (a lover of Jesus), and then a (fill in denomination name). So, no, I do not have my Mennonite heritage on my site … sorry, I just don’t think it’s that important to note. Besides, six11 Ministries is a non-denominational ministry. We work with the Body of Christ, of which Mennonites (straight and gay) are a part of.

So I want to apologize to both of these men, and thank them for being willing to engage and clarify.

Glenn Beck and Social Justice

Posted on March 9th, 2010 by James

Found this on Digg- “Glenn Beck Urges Listeners to Leave Churches that Preach Social Justice”.

Am I surprised? Not really… here’s a Conservative telling Conservatives to leave churches that most Conservatives wouldn’t even think of attending anyways.

Beck’s reasoning is that social justice and economic justice leads to communism.

I’ve heard this before, and from inside the church. I had someone tell me they were concerned for “social justice-y people like me”, because the AntiChrist will be a man of peace, and will be the deceiver. So anyone who valued peace and justice is in grave danger of following the AntiChrist. So, you know, if I had any questions, I should ask him, because he has read up on the end times.

The problem, I think, is that Beck didn’t go far enough. Getting people to leave churches with a message of social or economic justice is maybe a good step- but why stop there? The Bible is full of this message. Jesus and the merchants in the temple. The Good Samaritan. The prophets preached social justice.

The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, according to Ezekiel 16:49. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Micah 6:8 and other places throughout the Bible remind the reader to “DO Justice.” It’s a command.

How about James 1:27- “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”

The message of social and economic justice is an inescapable truth throughout the Bible. To expose yourself to the teachings of the Bible can and does lead to a revolutionary understanding of the world, and an understanding of how God is the God of the poor, the needy, the disenfranchised, and how it is part of our necessary work in this world to DO justice.

So Beck won’t meet his objective of eradicating social justice by simply getting people to leave churches that preach social justice. Because down the road, some child may pick up the Bible, start reading it, and have some funny notions that maybe God wants us to actually do justice here on earth.

No, to completely eradicate social justice, Beck needs to make a stand, and tell his listeners to throw away the Bible.

Part of the Body, not Outside Agitators

Posted on March 2nd, 2010 by James

I’ve started getting a bit anxious whenever TMail, the weekly ezine from TheMennonite, hits my inbox every Monday. There’s always something that seems to make me sad, and makes me less hopeful for the future of the church. This week, that came in an article called, “Conference Affirms Teachings on Sexuality“.

First of all, it’s a tricky headline- the conference in question is not a upper-case-C Conference. It’s not Lancaster Conference or Franconia Conference or Pacific Southwest Conference.  I read the article 3 or 4 times, trying to figure out what Conference this was, and finally figured out that there wasn’t a Conference involved. It was the “Affirming the Faith: What the Mennonite Church Believes about Homosexuality” conference. In other words, this was not a church body, but a group of pastors who are in the Mennonite Church. Nothing official happened.

I may get into the article/conference more at length later, but one thing that jumped out at me was something I’ve seen come up multiple times in regards to the PinkMenno movement. Read this quote [NOTE: In communicating with Hershberger after I wrote this post, it seems the "outside sources" was referring to seminary professors, and the need for the pastoral role in this situation, not outside agitators as I read it. Apologies for my misunderstanding. I do think that my general point still stands.]

“As this was a conference to encourage and equip members of our Mennonite community, the input was provided primarily by pastors from this community, rather than outside sources,” (Marc) Hershberger (pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, Pa.) said.

Who are this outside sources he speaks of? They obviously don’t need to be specified- you know who he means.

I actually wouldn’t, except I’ve seen this before. Hershberger is mirroring the idea heard from MCUSA leadership that PinkMenno, Open Letter, BMC, and other groups are influenced by some vague outsiders.

Outside agitators were blamed for the Civil Rights Movement, the Flour Riot of 1837, and many more recent riots and social movements in general. The thinking seems to be that “Obviously, this outrageous thinking couldn’t possibly be coming from inside our community- it must be people from the outside.”

This was reflected in the Fact Sheet put out by the Immigrant Church Leaders-

Most Mennonites seem not to be aware of the funds, training and support pro-LGBT Mennonites receive from secular LGBT groups.

Obviously, these gullible youngsters are being influenced by others. Don R. Martin’s Letter to the Editor in TheMennonite calls the PinkMenno press conference that was held at Columbus 2009 “inappropriate” and said it “demonstrated a remarkable ignorance of Anabaptist-Mennonite history”. The PinkMenno campaign, in his view, was asking for the outside world to put pressure on the church.

Those outsiders!

But the people of Pink Menno are not outside agitators, bent on the destruction of the Mennonite Church. In talking with other people involved in these Movements, looking over the lists of people who have signed the Open Letter, and in general,  my feeling is that these are pastors, professors at Mennonite institutions, and people in general who are invested in the Mennonite Church. They are people who see the brokenness in the church, but still see enough value in it that they deem it worth their time and trouble to work towards what they see as a better, more Christ-like church.

Back to the original article, I think it is important to note that there were “outside agitators” at this conference. They invited Harvest USA and Six11 Ministries (note- Six11 Ministries does have Mennonite ties- see Shawn’s comment below) to speak. In looking at their sites, it appears that there is no Mennonite affiliation- if you can find one, let me know. The message, to me, is clear- outsiders who agree with them are welcome, but dissenting opinions from Mennonites are not.

So call me an agitator, for I don’t hesitate to agitate when there is need. Just don’t call me an outsider.

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