Where the heck is Kenosha and why does it matter?

 

Hardly anyone outside of Wisconsin had ever heard of Kenosha before a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by a policeman two weeks ago. The policeman, Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department, held Blake’s shirt as he shot Blake in the back seven times while Blake’s children waited in the car.

image: politico.com

I had heard of Kenosha only because I had just finished reading a feature-length article in Harper’s magazine about how Kenosha county where, after having supported Democrats in almost every election for almost every office for forty-four straight years, voters had swung to President Trump in 2016.

Kenosha is critical in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. As Kenosha goes, so does the country. Democrats have to take back Kenosha and nearby Racine to take Wisconsin. And they have to win Wisconsin to beat Trump nationally. No wonder it’s called “the tipping-point state.”

Wisconsin, before voting Trump, would have seemed familiar to Canadians. In his article for Harper’s, James Pogue says: “Wisconsin had a homegrown tradition of political congeniality and soft egalitarianism that traced its origins to the days of Robert La Follette and the Progressives.”

Similar to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which the continent’s oldest community-owned professional sports franchise outside baseball, Wisconsin’s Green Bay Packers are the only publicly-owned, not-for-profit, major league professional team in the United States.

Why would a state, so seemingly familiar to Canadians, vote for someone that Canadians generally despise?

The answer is multi-faceted: dwindling union solidarity led to less involvement in the community and a diminished sense of pulling together; betrayal on the part of the Democratic Party; and a fading vision of the American Dream that promised opportunity.

Wisconsinites became disillusioned when both major parties agreed that what was good for the boardroom was good for America. The union jobs of Wisconsin, with the highest wages in America and therefore in the world, went south to states with right-to-work laws and weak unions.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement over the desperate opposition of labour groups and Midwestern Democrats. House majority leader Dick Gephardt called the treaty “a threat to our wages and our standard of living.”

President Obama, who had won industrial counties in Wisconsin by margins that Democrats hadn’t achieved in a generation, promised to expand labour’s organizing power with the Employee Free Choice Act. It was never passed.

Disillusioned, Wisconsinites looked for anyone outside the mainstream. Congressman Mark Pocan told James Pogue: “People thought at first, ‘Oh he’s going to fight China, this’ll help.’  Folks are realizing that no matter how much they thought that Trump was going to support them, it hasn’t turned out better.”

Now Kenosha is the focus of racial tension. Parts of the state are harshly segregated. According to one analysis of recent census data, the quality of life for black residents in Milwaukee and Racine is among the worst in the country.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter and armed young men descended on Kenosha on August 25 in what Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth described a “chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running.”

In the mayhem, a Trump supporter, a white 17-year-old with an assault rifle from Illinois, killed two protesters and wounded a third.

President Trump defended the young killer on Monday, illogically claiming that he was acting in self-defense when unarmed protesters confronted the shooter.

Kenosha, a small city the size of Kamloops, will loom large in the upcoming presidential elections on November 3.

 

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for killing the TPP

It’s a rare thing when the views of president-elect Trump and Canadian activists align as in their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump has vowed to kill the deal the day he is sworn in.

However, the source of loathing couldn’t be more different. Canada is a trading nation and we depend on the flow of goods for jobs. Trump wants to set up barriers to trade and regards such deals as “job-killing.”

Unlike the deal between Canada and Europe, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), we were on the sidelines when the TPP was negotiated. The TPP had little to do with reducing trade barriers. Law professor Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa outlines the other provisions:

“Much of the TPP focused on economic regulation, such as intellectual property enforcement, health regulation and environmental standards. Trade agreements are a poor place to negotiate these issues, which have traditionally fallen within the purview of international organizations that develop consensus-based treaties with broad stakeholder participation (Globe and Mail, November 16, 2019).”

Trump has NAFTA within his sights, too. With the North American Free Trade Agreement threatened by the belligerent president-elect, it’s vital that Canada look elsewhere. Canada already reached a deal with South Korea in 2014 and has engaged in talks with Japan, India and China regarding similar agreements.

Ongoing irritants plague all of these trade deals because corporations insist on corrupting them with their own interests under the label of “free trade.” One of those irritants is the investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) which allow companies to seek damages from governments when local regulations interfere with profit making.

Canada was stung by an ISDS under NAFTA in which a Delaware-based company proposed expansion of a quarry in the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia rejected it on environmental grounds. The federal government rejected it. Then a secret NAFTA tribunal approved it and we are stuck with a bill of hundreds of millions in compensation.

Tribunals aren’t a necessary part of trade agreements when you consider we have a court system. It’s not like we’re dealing with developing countries whose court systems are unknown or viewed as dodgy. CETA is a slight improvement over NAFTA. Members of the tribunal will be appointed by countries instead of corporations giving it the aspect of an international court.

One way to bypass trade deals is for unions to negotiate international agreements that are not susceptible to tribunals. Canadian auto unions have recently bargained deals with the big 3 auto manufacturers worth $1.6 billion. Jim Stanford, former economist for the Canadian Auto Workers and Unifor, and now professor McMaster University is thrilled with the deal which acknowledges superior productivity in Canada:

“Most Canadian auto plants operate at or near full capacity. Combined with advanced technology and work organization, that gives the Canadian industry an important productivity advantage. Output per worker is 10 per cent to 15 per cent higher than it is in the United States (November 21, 2016).”

Trade deals have been muddied by the addition of non-trade provisions, although I doubt that’s what motivates Trump.