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Ames Plaza once left traditional Main Street with more gaps than stores. Now it is quickly turning into a ghost town itself.

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Disappointed delegates at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. DarioLopez-Mills

Globalization Hits the Catskills

by Kelly Cogswell

SEPTEMBER 5, 2002. On the radio this week in upstate New York, one of the favorite sources of jokes has been the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, usually reduced by dj's to an effort by those hippy-dippy Europeans to try and make us Americans give up our SUV-way of life. Ironically, the conference's issues of poverty, water, fairness in the global economy, and global warming, are all essential for the Catskills.

The long months of drought, and the thick dust on everything, seem to be an extension of the struggling economy. In Delhi (pop. 3,000), the Delaware county seat, Ames Plaza once left traditional Main Street with more gaps than stores. Now it is quickly turning into a ghost town itself.

The Grand Union supermarket closed its doors months ago. The strip mall's flagship store, the regional discount retailer, Ames, is going out of business any day now, and it may take down with it a pizza parlour, a hair salon, the town's one Chinese restaurant, a bank, and even a Rite Aid drugstore.

Things aren't better elsewhere. Up in Johnson City, a gritty town near Binghamton, the guy in the hot dog van outside the half-empty Home Depot worriedly told me business has been "slow, really slow."

Ordinary people are struggling across the board. Dairy farmers and apple-growers have been awarded some farm aid — if the federal government actually hands it over — but most of U.S. farm subsidies will continue to go to mid-Western states which have fewer people, but a proportionally bigger impact on presidential elections.

In the meantime, the global market for American products is being jeopardized by the Bush administration's growing habit of breaking international free trade treaties, the very same ones the U.S. succesfully sold to the rest of the world. Take, for example, the punishing tariffs recently imposed on foreign steel and the special treatment given to U.S. companies using offshore subsidiaries to trade.

While Bush may be locking in steel votes for 2004 and guaranteeing big campaign contributions, he's also earning ill will towards America and its products. Just for starters, the World Trade Organization has ruled that the European Union can impose $4 billion in retaliatory sanctions against American goods. U.S. multinationals will find ways to protect themselves. Smaller producers may not be able to.

Radio jocks nonwithstanding, all issues these days are global issues. The two-tiered system here at home with Mid-Western voters winning the largest subsidies is just another face of U.S. agricultural favoritism decried by trading partners from Latin America to Asia. A protester anywhere denouncing the unregulated power of the U.S. multinationals speaks for a Catskill farmer who doesn't have strings to pull, either, or a chance to hide vulnerable assets in an offshore bank. Whether they both know it or not.

The same corporate interests that abuse workers' rights abroad have persuaded Bush to try to make U.S. safety guidelines voluntary, and cut the budget at the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the agency primarily responsible for conducting job site inspections. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most dangerous jobs in America include construction, service sector jobs and agriculture, all leading industries in New York state.

The increased closing of regional and national chain stores in upstate New York communities is symptomatic of the problems of globalization world-wide, where national, or international businesses move in, suck out profits for outside investors, destroy local competition, and move on or shut down when the profits aren't worth it. As in Delhi, local people are left with a damaged local economy, gaps in services, and a weakened business infrastructure.

The veneer of progress and the few minimum wage jobs they provided seem barely worth it afterwards. The United Nation's catch phrase "sustainable development" is as essential in Delhi, N.Y. as it is in Delhi, India. The Catskills needs industries with local roots that have a stake in the region's success, and keep the profits recirculating in the local economy. In other words, it needs its own "anti-globalization" movement.

There's also the matter of having a clean water supply and healthy environment, both essential as the region continues to rely both on agriculture and tourism. And yes, part of this means dealing with pollution by developing alternative energy sources and reducing reliance on oil. Which includes improving gas mileage on cars and trucks and limiting use of SUV's.

No one is arguing that farmers should negotiate dirt roads in low-slung Hondas, but city-dwellers going on paved roads from Manhattan to their country homes or kids merely going back and forth to school have no excuse for their gas-guzzling indulgences.

Farmers that have watched their corn shrivel up, or trees wither, or that have had to shell out the money for a new well as the Castkills region increasingly suffers extended periods of drought, are in for a surprise no snickering radio jock has prepared them for: it's going to get worse. Without action, global warming can, and will, increase disastrously. Which is what the summit was all about.

For Global Warming: Bush Fiddles While New York Burns

For Going Global: An Interview

For The Specter of Globalization

For Complete Coverage Race/Class

For Complete Coverage Bush Plus

Related links:

For the UN's site for the Johannesburg Summit 2002.

For the BBC's Minority workers hit by US recession.

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