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A Few Things You'd Have to Believe to Believe What McCain Staffers Say About Sarah Palin

3:30 PM, Nov 6, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Let's add some context to the Carl Cameron and Newsweek airing of rumors from anonymous McCain/Palin staffers. The most controversial claims, all of which come without names attached because the purveyors are apparently determined to stick around to undermine future campaigns and candidates, are that Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent as opposed to a country, and that she didn't know who the members of NAFTA were.

Let's start with NAFTA. If folks want to believe Gov. Sarah Palin did not know even the most basic facts about NAFTA, they have to believe a couple other improbable things.

Before she became governor, Palin's husband Todd's commercial fishing business on Bristol Bay accounted a decent percentage of the family's income. The couple reported about $46,000 from the business last year on a license Todd purchased from his grandfather in the 1970s. He has been a lifelong commercial fisherman and she has often been his partner both in the business and literally on the boat.

Surely while the two were working in the commercial salmon fishing industry in post-NAFTA Alaska, they would not have missed the effect farmed-salmon imports from Canada had on the industry, causing the number of fisherman, the size of the harvest, and the value of permits to go down significantly in Alaska. According to a 2003 AP article:

"This loss of equity, which for self-employed fishermen is equivalent to retirement accounts, will continue to reverberate throughout the Alaska economy in coming years," Gilbertsen said.

The economic losses have ricocheted through coastal communities as fewer fishermen have caused a decline in both crews and shore-based services. Monthly employment in the state's seafood processing industry fell from 11,200 in 1992 to 7,400 in 2002.

Chile and Canada are the two major suppliers to the U.S. market of farm-raised salmon. The two countries accounted for 94 percent of the Atlantic pen-reared salmon, valued at $818 million.

Canada is a partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which removed certain trade barriers, and Chile has fewer environmental regulations and cheap labor, the analysis showed.

"The fact that Canada is a NAFTA partner, and that the U.S. has just approved a bilateral free trade agreement with Chile, would seem to indicate that these imports will continue to grow," Gilbertsen said.

So, let's say for argument's sake the couple missed that bit of information. They would also have had to miss the fact that in 2002, the federal government decided to make commercial salmon fisherman on Alaska's Bristol Bay eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance under the North American Free Trade Agreement due to the impact Canada's farmed-salmon had on the industry. From a 2002 AP brief:

The U.S. Department of Labor has certified about 200 commercial salmon fishermen in the Bristol Bay area as eligible to apply for transitional adjustment assistance under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The certifications cover Sept. 5, 2001, to Nov. 25, 2004. Workers laid off or reduced to part-time work during that time may be eligible for extra benefits and services.

The Labor Department found that major customers for Bristol Bay salmon increased their reliance on imports of salmon from Canada, adversely affecting fishermen.

NAFTA authorizes assistance to cover workers affected because of increased imports from Mexico or Canada or shifts in production to those countries.

After they are certified as eligible, workers may apply for benefits at a state employment service office. They may receive retraining services, career counseling, job placement assistance and income support.

On the flip side of the coin, Canada is within the top three of Alaska's trading partners, a position it moved into in the increased trade years after NAFTA was passed. It's a huge market for seafood and metals mined in Alaska.

Disgruntled McCain staffers not only require you to believe that the chief executive of the state of Alaska knew nothing about one of her state's most important trading partners, but that she was equally oblivious to the economic winds affecting the industry that provided her very own livelihood. Perhaps they should head to the NYT next, which has a history of employing anyone who has a penchant for writing slam books about Republicans.

This accusation didn't pass the smell test to begin with, but because McCain staffers are requiring us to defend our popular former vice presidential nominee against NYT-like attacks, there are some facts to consider.