Mad cow blues
A funny thing happened this month at what was supposed to be a final round of the talks before the signing of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. and Korean trade negotiators who met Feb. 11-14 in Washington, D.C., decided to book another round.
That's good news for the workers and farmers of South Korea, who've been waging a fierce battle to stop the treaty since the talks kicked off one year ago. The failure to complete the talks, fair-trade advocates say, may mean South Korea has sticking points that the U.S. won't be able to grease before the end of June. That's when President Bush loses the "fast-track" authority that allows him to push treaties through Congress in shotgun-style up-or-down votes, such as the one in which the Central American Free Trade Agreement squeaked by last year.
As with all the rounds (including one held last September in Seattle), a contingent of about 50 South Koreans and Americans staged ongoing protests outside the D.C. talks, which focused in this round on rice, pharmaceuticals, and textiles. The concern for Korean farmers, says Janice Kang, a 24-year-old Seattle protester who attended, is that U.S.-subsidized rice will flood South Korea's market and ruin traditional rice farmers like NAFTA wiped out corn farmers in Mexico.
But the biggest sticking point for the Koreans, says Bob Barnes, a Seattle event producer who also joined the protests, may be their fear of mad cow disease in U.S. beef.
"Beef imports are still an issue because of what the Koreans consider inadequate testing in the United States - they can't verify the beef is disease free," says Barnes, who says he fights "free trade" because it only benefits large corporations. "It was interesting," he adds, "that the week after the talks, knowing this is an issue, the U.S. announced it would decrease its testing for mad cow."
For information on the Korea-U.S. trade negotiations, go to www.nofta.or.kr/en/.
Counting the votes
More than 200 years ago, the U.S. Constitution was adopted to ensure America's government would be created by the people, for the people.
On Feb. 21, at the University Heights Center in the U-District, a lecture by attorney Paul Lehto and scholar Steven Freeman urged citizens to ask: Is the U.S. really a democracy?
Sponsored by Washington Citizens for Fair Elections, the talk focused on the current voting system and the validity of election outcomes.
"There's a lot of things wrong with the system," said Freeman, co-author of Was the 2004 Election Stolen? (Seven Stories Press, 2006) and statistician at the University of Pennsylvania. But among the more urgent problems, "vote counting has to take precedence."
Universal computerized voting was installed in 2002 as part of the federal Help America Vote Act. Yet, the upgrade in technology has made the counting process more secretive.
"Programming codes can change millions of votes, and there's no way of knowing about it," Freeman said.
These machines, formally known as direct recording electronics (DREs), poorly reflect democratic values because they provide no assurance the votes are counted as cast, said both speakers.
"We have no ability to guarantee the count is fair with electronic machines," Lehto said. "Therefore, we have no way to guarantee the accountability of democracy."
According to exit polls, the machines inaccurately represent voting percentages.
In the 2004 presidential election, exit-poll data indicated Bush lost by six million, while the electronic machines' outcome maintained he won by three million.
"If you look at the quantitative data, it just doesn't add up," Freeman said.
Though paper ballots were more time-consuming, they were more accurate than the new system, the lecturers said.
"Where there's machines, there's disparity," Freeman said. "Where there's paper, there isn't."
Lehto thinks the heightened technology leaves the outcome more susceptible to change than other systems.
"The fact that one person can throw a vote in one minute is unprecedented in American history," he said.
Auditing is another issue.
"The only party who can provide checks and balances is the public, because they don't have a conflict of interest like the government officials do," Lehto said. "That's why it's so bad the public has been left out of it."
Instituting a different system is a possibility, but not without persistence from the public.
"What people need to remember is it's not going to change unless we the people demand change and place pressure on our elected officials," said Elizabeth Walter, co-organizer of the event and member of Washington Citizens for Fair Elections. "It's really up to us."
Meghan Peters is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
Grading the levy
The seven-year, $117 million Families and Education Levy got graded this spring, and it's doing so-so, says Seattle mayor Greg Nickels. Nearly all of its programs, which help with academic readiness, health services, and afterschool programs, are meeting targets city administrators set when the levy began in 2005. Among the good marks: school nurses served proportionally more Latino, Black, and low-income students; more middle schoolers who went to afterschool tutoring scored well on the WASL. Bad: nurses don't see as many students who speak limited English; and enrollment was poor in a stay-in-school program for high schoolers. Nickels promises that the city's Human Services Department will make adjustments to focus more sharply on academic success for students who are economically or socially disadvantaged, many of whom attend school in Southwest and Southeast Seattle.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/02/28/feb-28-2007-entire-issue