Austan Goolsbee, Obama's economic adviser, says that "60 to 70 percent of the economy faces virtually no international competition." America's 18.5 million government employees, among whom organized labor finds its growth, have almost no vulnerability to foreign competition, and neither do auto mechanics, dentists and countless other professions. Furthermore, Goolsbee, with whom Obama might profitably have a conversation, says that globalization, meaning free trade and attendant deregulation, is responsible for a "small fraction" of today's widening income disparities.
Under the Andean Trade Preference Act, passed by a Democratic Congress is 1991, the U.S. imposes tariffs on only 8 percent of imports from Colombia. But more than 90 percent of U.S. exports to Colombia are subjected to tariffs, some as high as 35 percent. The trade agreement would make this "one-way free trade," which now primarily serves Colombia's interests, more mutually beneficial.
Nevertheless, U.S. unions oppose the agreement, probably to preserve the moral clarity of their monomania: Damn the details, full speed ahead in opposing more free-trade agreements, anywhere, anytime.
Colombia, America's best South American ally, shares a border with America's most aggressive South American enemy, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe has made stunning progress against the drug cartels, right-wing militias and FARC, the 9,000-man Marxist terrorist group that is financed by drug smuggling and kidnapping. But Obama, nimble at the art of enveloping the courtship of interest groups in clouds of high-mindedness, says Colombia has not done enough to protect its trade unionists.
Colombia's unions, however, document that the number of murders of their members has sharply declined. Edward Schumacher-Matos, visiting professor of Latin American studies at Harvard, notes that "it was far safer to be in a union than to be an ordinary citizen in Colombia last year": The murder rate of unionists was less than one-eighth the murder rate of Colombians generally.
When this campaign is over and it is too late for legality to matter, it may be determined that Penn and others, including some of the lobbyists with which John McCain's campaign is larded, have been involved in violations of campaign laws pertaining to entanglements between corporations and campaigns. What will still matter is Colombia, which may be a casualty of presidential politics.