by Bill Dixon
HR 434 is called the African Growth and Opportunity Act (a.k.a.
NAFTA for Africa) and it candidly proposes that the economies
of the sub-Saharan nations reorganize solely on the principle
of maximum profits for multinational capital. Modeled after NAFTA,
the proposal would make corporate earnings the first and last
words on virtually every dimension of economic development throughout
the region. Unlike the original NAFTA, however, this bill faces
a rival proposal from the progressive Left. It's called HR 772,
the Human Rights Opportunity Partnership and Empowerment (HOPE)
for Africa Act, and it's sponsored by Chicago Congressman Jesse
Jackson, Jr. (2nd District).
Dubbing it the "Africa Recolonization Act", Jackson
led one hundred and eighty-six members of Congress in voting against
the NAFTA-for-Africa bill a year ago. The bill passed the House
but stalled in the Senate. An even nastier version of the measure
has been reintroduced this year.
As before, the new NAFTA-for-Africa bill demands drastic cuts
in public spending (including education and health care funding),
sweeping schemes for the wholesale privatization of public services
and state assets, and assorted bonanzas for foreign investors
by way of giant tax breaks and the general slackening of labor,
consumer, and environmental regulations. The bill makes no serious
commitments to debt relief, and the latest version keeps silent
about US aid as well as basic human rights standards. The growth
and opportunity part of the African NAFTA really means the rapid
expansion of the labor intensive export sectors, mainly clothing
and textiles in addition to natural resources. Meanwhile, the
sub-Saharan home markets are to be filled by non-African imports,
which will help to keep living standards as low as possible relative
to the higher productivity, and ultimately tighten Africas overall
economic dependency on the U.S. and Europe.
Yet as bad as a NAFTA-for-Africa would be, it's still hard
to beat something with nothing. Policy makers today face enormous
pressure from anxious business and (often legitimate) political
interests to negotiate some sort of trade agreement between the
U.S. and the sub-Saharan region, an area all too dependent on
foreign investment. Fortunately, this time the Left has a serious
alternative in Jackson's HOPE bill which, even if watered down,
would still be an historic departure for US trade policy.
While opening a level of preferred access between U.S. and
African markets, HOPE would also mandate that basic labor and
environmental standards for the region be developed and enforced.
In particular, the bill takes a firm stand against the expanded
use of guest workers from Asia, who are now flown into production
for export centers which use little if any home labor, a striking
similarity to Central Americas maquiladora zones. The HOPE bill
would put tight restrictions on imports from Africa made by non-African
workers. This would be a small but notable first for U.S. trade
policy, and a direct challenge to the brave new capitalist vision
of flexible labor markets, where multinationals jump workers across
borders and even continents to escape regulation and union organizing,
all the while furthering the social control of management over
labor at factories far from home.
Crucially, the HOPE bill would also tie increased trade to
increased aid. In 1996, thanks to the Republican majority, the
line item for US aid to Africa was eliminated, making Africa the
only region in the world without any guaranteed level of U.S.
support. Jackson's bill would restore previous levels of aid guarantees
to Africa, and channel money for specific needs like education,
agriculture, health care, etc. Administering the new aid would
be a network of government officials, non-governmental organizations,
and citizen groups, with the aim of making US aid a serious commitment
to the region instead a mere a tool of short term shifts in U.S.
foreign policy. The bill also provides specific funding for combating
the AIDS epidemic in the region, where the disease has been devastating
on an awesome scale and continues to threaten the lives of millions
who for now go without the help of any serious international policy.
Perhaps most importantly, the HOPE bill seeks to eliminate
the regions $230 billion of external debt. The servicing of that
debt currently takes up to twenty percent of the regions export
earnings (not including South Africa). This, of course, would
the first time in the U.S. that expanded trade was directly linked
to significant debt relief. Obviously, it is a linkage which is
long overdue and it should be pushed as far as possible and then
some. Even within corporate and financial circles there is a growing
realization that the crushing weight of foreign debt in the developing
world doesn't discipline emerging economies so much as cripple
them and that, yes, maybe something could actually be done about
that. Still, this remains the most controversial feature of HOPE
and the least likely to pass (that is, unless the AFL-CIO and
the rest of the fair trade camp were to recognize the importance
of it and decide to exert on its behalf some of the same political
muscle which defeated fast track).
Beyond the usual cries of outrage from Big Business and its
Republican Party, the HOPE bill has garnered controversy in some
surprising quarters. Namely, two of Jackson's leading colleagues
in the Congressional Black Caucus and the otherwise staunch liberals
Charles Rangel from New York and Bobby Rush (1st District, Chicago)
have declared support for the NAFTA-for-Africa bill and opposition
to HOPE. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, who led the successful
fight against fast track, voted for the NAFTA-for-Africa bill
last year, while Rep. David Bonoir, usually Gephardt's twin on
labor and trade issues, voted against last years bill and has
signed on to HOPE. Not surprisingly, two of Chicago's own leading
progressives in Congress, Rep. Danny Davis and Rep. Jan Schakowsky,
have also signed on to Jackson's bill.
Please call your Congressman and express
your support for HR 772 and opposition to HR 434. If your Congressman
is already supporting HR 434, please be sure to thank them. For
additional information about HR 772, go to http://www.citizen.org/pctrade/Africa/HOPE/hopehome.htm
DSA members should give special attention
to DSA member Major Owens; please contact him to tell him that
he is mistaken in his support for H.R. 434.
by Bob Roman
The Campaign for Better Health Care has declared April 5 through
10th to be Health Care Action Week. During that week, state legislators
will be at their district offices, and the Campaign hopes to mobilize
tens of thousands of health care consumers throughout Illinois
to raise a frightful clamor for measures that protect consumers,
their communities and health care workers. Specifically, there
are three bills which you can help promote.
The first is HB 626 / SB 626, the Managed Care Consumer
Bill of Rights. Managed care plans have gotten an evil reputation
for rationing care, with little or no recourse. The bill increases
accountability by strengthening grievance and appeal rights, by
establishing a state ombudsman and by giving consumers the right
to sue. It bans some of the more obnoxious practices managed care
plans have fallen into, such as gag rules or "prior authorization"
for emergencies. It increases the amount and quality of information
available to the consumer. This year, the Illinois State Medical
Society has not introduced a competing bill.
HB 2138 is grandiosely entitled Illinois Universal Health
Care Plan of 1999. It is in fact a legislative version of
the proposed Bernardine Amendment which requires the state to
come up with a scheme that provides health care for all
Illinois citizens. It provides a timeline that the state must
follow. HB 2138 differs from the proposed amendment by providing
a longer timeline. It also takes less votes to pass.
HB 1807, the Local Public Health Accountability Act,
was still being drafted at press time, but the object of the bill
will be to regulate the conversion of non profit hospitals into
for profit operations. This has been a real problem for some communities,
sometimes involving pretty scandalous behavior. The legislation
will attempt to strengthen existing safeguards against conflicts
of interest and make timely provisions for public information.
More to the point, it will also put State's Attorneys on notice
that they do indeed have the authority to intervene in these matters.
Lawyers do tend to be creatures of habit and custom.
The Campaign is planning a variety of actions, from consumer
lobbying days in Springfield, to district meetings, to postcards
and letter writing, much of it targeting specific legislators.
However, the Campaign is also encouraging its members to take
the initiative. To find out more about these bills and to find
out how you can help, call the Campaign for Better Health Care
at (312) 913-9449.
The Chicago municipal elections
were a mixed bag. While there were some notable defeats, there
were also some notable victories.
Bobby Rush lost disastrously,
receiving less than 30% of the vote. This election was such a
rout, Congressman Rush could easily be in trouble in 2000.
The Rush campaign suffered from three problems. First and least
of all, it was not a particularly well run campaign. This can
make a difference in a close contest, which this was not.
Secondly, the time was not ripe. There was no strong "kick
the bums out" attitude among voters, giving incumbency an
additional advantage. This can be overcome if the incumbent has
a bad strategy and makes mistakes. Daley did not.
Finally, the Rush campaign repeated the errors of the past
few elections, which envisioned a unified African - American community
rising up to take power on its own terms. It didn't happen.
I would hope that this election will wake-up for that stratum
of the African - American community that have served as the core
for many of the past Black mayoral candidates. In Chicago, ethnic
politics politics is a tradition; in proximity to St. Patrick's
Day, you might even call it "grand". But it is always
done in coalition. Not even the Irish won power by themselves
or were ever united enough to keep it by themselves.
Lu Palmer captures the attitute of this stratum of the African
- American community very well. In the February, 1999, issue of
the Chicago Reporter, he is quoted as saying, "I can't
name one black person in Chicago who has political power. I don't
know one black person in the city of Chicago who can make a move
without turning to some white person or white institution to get
it approved." Taken literally, this is absurd. But it is
true that in a city where Blacks are a large plurality of the
voters, they always end up being the junior partner.
And it is true that no elected or appointed Black public official
is accountable only to the African - American community.
Welcome to the real world, for in fact this mutualism is the very
basis of coalition politics. Harold Washington knew this; it was
one of the reasons he became mayor. The sooner this is realized,
the sooner we'll see another Black mayor in Chicago.
If this takes yet another election cycle to sink in, don't
be too surprised. A similar stratum of white folks along the lakefront
still think "Independent" means something.
Two candidates of note not endorsed by CDSA, also did
well. Alderman Munoz (22nd) won a landslide re-election in a campaign
that had many on the left worried, given that Senator Jesus Garcia
had been narrowly defeated just a year ago. In the 1st Ward, challenger
Cynthia Soto has managed to take incumbent Jesse Granato into
the runoff. This could be an interesting race.
Among the CDSA endorsed candidates, Toni Preckwinkle (4th),
Michael Chandler (24th) and Joe Moore (49th) easily won re-election
with landslide victories.
Two other CDSA endorsed incumbents did not do so well. Both
Helen Shiller (46th) and Barbara Holt (5th) did not gain a majority
of the vote, thus finding themselves in the runoff election on
April 13th. While Helen Shiller had a 2 to 1 plurality over the
nearest challenger, liberals and leftists in Chicago should be
concerned. Barbara Holt may actually be in a worse position going
into the runoff, and it's worth noting that many CDSA members
are supporting her opponent, Leslie Hairston, who is endorsed
by the IVI-IPO.
Other CDSA endorsed candidates did not do so well. Maria Torres
(12th) and Ray Colon (39th), both challengers, both lost. Supporters
of Ray Colon felt reasonably satisfied with their effort, having
scored nearly 40% of the vote against an entrenched incumbent,
Two other CDSA endorsed challengers have made it into the runoff
election: Ted Thomas (15th) and Floyd Thomas (29th). Ted Thomas
is in a reasonably good position to win his election, having come
in first, but Floyd Thomas will have a more difficult time of
it, having come in a distant second to another challenger, Isaac
Carothers. Carothers apparently comes out of the City's Department
of Streets and Sanitation, demonstrating that garbage cans still
get Chicagoan's attention come election time.
Ted Thomas, Floyd Thomas, Ray Colon and Maria Torres were all
New Party endorsed candidates, and I'm happy to report that CDSA
members accounted for well over $3,000 in contributions to these
four candidates alone.
But this story isn't over. The runoff election is April 13,
and Helen Shiller, Ted Thomas, Floyd Thomas and Barbara Holt need
Bill Dixon's cover story for the Spring, 1998, issue of Democratic
Left won First Place in Project Censored's Top Ten Most
Censored News Stories. Project Censored is a media watch-dog
and research group at Sonoma State University in California. Each
year it assembles a national panel of media experts to select
the most important stories that the mainstream media did not,
for whatever reason, see fit to print. The stories will be published
together in a book, Censored 1999, published by Seven Stories
Press. The authors will be feted at an awards dinner in New York
City in April.
Bill Dixon is a member of DSA's National Political Committee
from Chicago. He is a frequent contributor to DSA's national publication,
Democratic Left, and to Chicago DSA's New Ground.
Way to go and congratulations, Bill!
(From Democratic Left)