Promote Fair Trade

President Clinton is again promoting the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement to include more of Latin America. Before doing so, it is essential that we expand the rules and framework of NAFTA to ensure that ordinary citizens, family farmers and working people share in the benefits.

In its purest form, free trade can set off a race to the bottom in treatment of working people, family farmers and small entrepreneurs. Those nations most willing to exploit them gain a competitive advantage over societies committed to fairness.

With no rules, international trade forces wage rates down toward developing world levels. As family farmers and small business people are forced to compete with corporate farms paying dirt-cheap wages, they find it increasingly difficult to pay themselves a middle-class income for their own labors.

What can be done? We can't wall ourselves off from the rest of the world. But we can establish a set of international trade rules that allow all to share fairly in the benefits and that include clear and enforceable standards for treatment of labor and protection of the environment. Those who want access to our markets must not gain an advantage through exploitation of people and the environment.

In addition to changing the rules, we must change our way of thinking. The existence of desperately poor people anywhere in the world willing to work at any wage drives income down everywhere for people who work with their hands. In a global economy, we are all in it together. We must find ways to improve opportunities for the poor in the developing world, or working people and family businesses will suffer everywhere. -- Chuck Hassebrook, from the Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter, July 1998.

Mid-term races tighten up

Prospects for changes in control of Congress this fall appear to be remote. In the U.S. Senate, where Republicans have a 10-seat majority, about seven Republican Senate seats are "in play," while eight Democratic Senate seats are seen as "at risk," according to the smart money in Washington. Democrats have the best chances to pick up seats in Indiana, North Carolina and New York, where moderate Democrat Evan Bayh is expected to win the seat Dan Coats is giving up and Lauch Faircloth and Alphonse D'Amato are seen as vulnerable. Democrats also are expected to be competitive in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana and Missouri. Democrats will have to scramble to keep the seats Dale Bumpers is giving up in Arkansas and Wendell Ford is giving up in Kentucky, and they'll have to fight to re-elect Barbara Boxer in California, Carol Moseley-Braun in Illinois, Harry Reid in Nevada, Fritz Hollings in South Carolina, Patty Murray in Washington and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin.

In the House, where the GOP has an 11-seat majority, Stuart Rothenberg, the political handicapper of Roll Call magazine, does not see major changes coming out of this election. Among the Republican incumbents targeted by Democrats are Bill Redmond of New Mexico, Steve Chabot in Ohio, Vince Snowbarger of Kansas, Jon Fox of Pennsylvania and John Hostetler. Democratic incumbents on the run include Jim Maloney of Connecticut, Lane Evans of Illinois, Charlie Stenholm of Texas, Jay Johnson of Wisconsin and Ted Strickland of Ohio. Of 34 open House seats, 19 races (nine Democratic and 10 Republican) are expected to be competitive, according to Roll Call. Four other open seats are expected to switch columns, as Democrats are expected to pick up three and Republicans are expected to pick up one.

House Denies Ballot Access, Presidential Debate Bills

Bills to make it easier for new parties and independent candidates to qualify for ballots and expanding presidential debates to "minor" candidates were handily defeated July 30 during floor action on the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill. The bills were offered by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, as amendments to the Shays-Meehan bill. The ballot access amendment, which was defeated by a vote of 62-363, would have set a ceiling on the number of signature that states could require as a condition for access to the general election ballot for federal offices. The ceilings would be one-tenth of 1 percent of the last vote cast for the office. The other amendment by Paul, which was defeated 88-337, would have required presidential candidates who receive general election public financing to agree to debate any opponent who is on the ballot in at least 40 states.

VOTING CONFERENCES SET--The Center for Voting and Democracy is sponsoring national conferences on proportional representation, fair elections and empowering the voter in San Francisco September 12-13 and in Minneapolis November 13-15. Topics include "PR and Campaign Finance Reform," "Representation of Women," "PR Around the World," "How Do You Count Those Transferable Ballots Anyway?" "Hitler, Coalitions and Complexity," "Foundations and Political Reform," and others. For information contact Steve Hill, 415-665-5044; email shill@fairvote.org; or see www.fairvote.org.

CORRECTION--Roger Hoffman, the author of "Family Farms are Worth Saving" in the 8/98 Progressive Populist, is former executive director of Idaho Rural Council.

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