Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bigger Story Missed in Cheney Hunting Accident

That is a mean, sadistic, gun-loving control-freak, who operates secretly (and rejects anybody else's right to do so), and sends people to the hospital is not news. The missed story of Cheney’s hunting party is Pamela Willeford, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, and what she was doing at the private hunting party in Texas.

Why was Ambassador Willeford away from her post in Switzerland and meeting in the U.S. with the V.P.?

On January 13, 2006, the Dallas Morning News reported that the Swiss government is seeking “a warmer relationship with the U.S.”:
Like many Europeans, the Swiss vehemently object to the U.S.-initiated war in Iraq and aspects of the way it's been conducted. President Bush has taken a beating in the Swiss press.

Yet in May, the Swiss government approached the Bush administration seeking to strengthen strategic relations with the United States.

Switzerland has joined two of President Bush's pro-democracy initiatives in the Middle East. The Swiss government wants a formal dialogue on such issues.

The Swiss surprised Washington even more by saying they want a free-trade agreement with the United States – this from a country with tariffs and quotas for cheeses, dairy products and meat that can seem as high as the Alps.

These surprising Swiss overtures have made work a lot more pleasant for Pamela Willeford, the Breckenridge, Texas, native and former vice chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board who has been the U.S. ambassador here for the last two years.

"We share the same basic values," she said, but "we've been through some rocky times."

Last month in Washington, colleagues from other European embassies told her they saw a more general thaw developing.

"There's a feeling of, everybody take a deep breath," she said. "OK. We're not going to agree on everything, but we have real issues to work out, and we better find common ground."

The Swiss are moving faster than most, largely for economic reasons.

Switzerland is a tiny country with just 7.5 million inhabitants. (Ms. Willeford laughs as she recalls one wag telling her, "Switzerland would be as big as Texas if it was flattened out.")

Switzerland has a standard of living comparable with that of the United States. Half the economy depends on trade and investment ties with the rest of the world.

Swiss companies have more than $124 billion invested in the United States, and they account for half a million U.S. jobs, with an average annual salary of $64,000, according to data gathered by the Swiss government.

U.S. firms have invested more than $100 billion in Switzerland.

Trade between the two countries is worth more than $21 billion, with U.S. imports running close to $12 billion and U.S. exports worth $9.3 billion. The figures are comparable to U.S. trade with Italy or Spain, which are much larger.

Like many European countries, the Swiss live in an aging society of slowing economic growth. The economy grew by an estimated 1.7 percent last year but might hit 2 percent in 2006.

The Swiss have looked to free trade agreements to give the economy a lift. Although not a member of the European Union, Switzerland has free trade with the rest of Europe. It also has free trade pacts with Mexico, Chile, Singapore and South Korea.

Ms. Willeford knows what the Swiss want from a deal with the United States.

"They're seeking what they can do to stimulate the economy," she said.

The Washington-based Institute for International Economics estimates a free-trade agreement would boost foreign investment in Switzerland by a whopping 40 percent.

The Swiss government acknowledges it would help the watch, textile, chemical and food processing industries, which pay U.S. tariffs averaging 4.5 percent.

What's in it for U.S.?

Gains for the U.S. from a deal are more elusive. The Institute for International Economics estimates U.S. exports would get a boost of $1 billion. U.S. firms could also find Switzerland an even more attractive base within the heart of Europe for onward sales.

The big benefits for U.S. exporters would come from opening Swiss agriculture.

"Not surprisingly, the discussions on agriculture will be the toughest," Ms. Willeford said. "It will boil down to whether we can bridge that gap, and then, can we sell it?"

Congress would have to approve the deal, as would the Swiss parliament. And under the Swiss system, a free-trade agreement would almost certainly go to the voters in a referendum.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman is expected to decide in the next couple of months whether there's enough merit to a deal to commence formal negotiations.

"Even if there is no free trade agreement, the dialogue is still very beneficial," Ms. Willeford said.

And surprising.

What could the Swiss possibly offer the Bush-Cheney administration?

Information, perhaps?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of police agencies that would love to have access to Swiss numbered bank accounts and find out who they belong to. There are police agencies that would love to prosecute and convict criminals without having to jump through all of the legal hoops required under our constitutional system. But we’re, theoretically, a country that operates by the rule of law and you can’t just go fishing for suspected criminal activity. Our constitution requires probable cause before the government can invade a citizen’s privacy. That’s our system of law. Or it was before the Bush administration began to dismantle it and turn this country into a police state.

Before long, the Bush administration won’t have to put up with nuisances like having to get warrants (“filling out a stack of paperwork, THIS HIGH!”) to go fishing for evidence against anybody that they think is a threat to their continued stronghold on power. They can just rifle your bank account, break into your house without permission, and they don’t even have to tell you about it. They can prosecute you on the evidence that they claimed to have obtained, but of course your lawyer won’t be able to cross-examine them because they’ll just be able to claim national security. Your lawyer won't even know. They can ship you off to a secret prison halfway around the world, never to be seen again.

21st century America, by way of 1984