Saturday, October 22, 2011

President Obama Signs Three New Free Trade Agreements

Although President Obama campaigned heavily against free-trade agreements like NAFTA, he just signed three more into law. The agreements cover US trade relations with Columbia, Panama and South Korea.

During the 2008 Democratic Primaries, free trade became a major campaign issue. Hillary Clinton and Obama exchanged very tough words over the subject as the primaries reached the Midwest. Although Obama faulted Clinton for participating in the process to enact NAFTA, leaked communications between his economic team and members of the Canadian government revealed that Obama privately assured Canada that his tough talk on trade was merely campaign rhetoric.

Although Obama initially denied any allegations of double-talk, he later conceded that language in political debates can become "overheated." Several articles on Dissenting Justice cover this issue (see below).

For more coverage, see:

What Happened to the Thunderous Liberal Opposition to Free Trade?

Don't Blame the Current Economic Conditions: Obama's Softer Position on NAFTA Emerged Almost a Year Ago

Chill Out, Canada: Despite Tough Campaign Rhetoric Obama Will Not Touch NAFTA

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Washington Post Asks: "Is Occupy Wall Street Overblown?" UPDATE

Media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement has increased sluggishly. Undoubtedly, the lack of media attention has deprived the public of meaningful information about the movement and the means to scrutinize its activities.

For these reasons, I was surprised to read Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza's article which asks: "Is Occupy Wall Street Overblown?"  Cillizza implies that the movement is probably overly hyped. He reaches this unstated conclusion after analyzing a recent Pew study which shows that only a small percentage of the public is following the protests "very closely":
Just 17 percent [of respondents] said they were following the protests “very closely”. Independents — at 19 percent — were keeping the closest eye on the “Occupy” efforts while just 12 percent of Republicans did the same.

Only 17 percent of self-identified Democrats said they had were [sic] watching the protests closely, a somewhat surprising number given the party’s recent embrace of the motives and goals of the “OWS” crowd.
"Very closely" is probably too high a standard to measure the importance of any movement's relevance to society at any given moment. This is especially true with respect to embryonic movements like Occupy Wall Street.

My examination of the Pew study adds additional context.  The five stories that respondents said they were following most closely include (in descending order): the economy, the death of Steve Jobs, the 2012 election, Amanda Knox, Afghanistan, and Occupy Wall Street. Yet, the study finds that only 7 percent of recent news coverage related to the Wall Street protests. Not surprisingly, only 7 percent of respondents listed the protests as the most important news story. The scant media coverage makes it difficult for the average member of the public to follow the protests closely.

The study also finds that the public is less concerned with the Wall Street protests than it was with the Tea Party in 2009, during the early stage of its development. Pew finds, however, that media coverage of both movements was roughly equal during their developmental stages.  Cillizza seizes upon this data to bolster his argument about the irrelevance of the protests.  But neither Pew nor Cillizza recognizes that the Tea Party protests were often violent and rancorous -- factors that invited public attention and which undoubtedly led to a subsequent surge in media coverage.

Final Word: A Tip for Organizers

Although I believe that Cillizza's column does not provide nearly enough context to help readers appreciate the Pew study, I also believe that participants in the early Occupy Wall Street movement must quickly cohere around a marketable and distinct message. At the moment, the group has apparently resisted developing a political platform or policy agenda. The lack of specific demands or proposals will likely deter media coverage and hinder growth in public attention.

Historically, successful social movements have utilized creative frames to express and market their messages. They have also developed public policy agendas that they wish to implement through the political process. Furthermore, successful social movements have raised the awareness of not only potential movement participants but of the public at large. Unless the budding Occupy Wall Street movement begins to utilize some traditional social movement mobilization techniques, it will probably dissipate without effectuating any meaningful social change.

[Note: I write and teach in the area of Law and Social Movements.]

Two new surveys suggest that Cillizza's article was shortsighted. First, a Time magazine survey finds that a 54 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Also, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 37 percent of respondents "tend to support" the movement; only 17 percent "tend to oppose" it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Another Civil Rights Champion Dies: Paula Ettelbrick, 56

Another civil rights champion has died. Paula Ettelbrick, a lawyer and activist, succumbed to cancer this morning.

Although Paula's work focused primarily on LGBT issues, she viewed justice in very broad terms. As a result, she championed reforms related to gender, poverty, sexuality, race and many other concerns.

I had the pleasure to know Paula professionally and personally. Her work as an attorney and scholar inspired and taught me. The world has lost a great woman.

Paula's death occurred in the same week that legendary civil rights veterans Derrick Bell and Fred Shuttlesworth died. I hope that people who value justice will study the work of these individuals and become inspired by their tireless efforts. Social change is not an easy project. It requires courage, commitment and honesty. These three champions of equality prove that point.

Urvashi Vaid has a great tribute, which you can find here: Paula Ettelbrick and Feminist Leadership.
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