Originally published August 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 22, 2007 at 3:32 PM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

Bet your bottom amero that U.S. sovereignty is safe

The John Birch Society staked out some turf in downtown Seattle last Saturday, holding flags and carrying signs. The signs read, "Preserve...

The John Birch Society staked out some turf in downtown Seattle last Saturday, holding flags and carrying signs. The signs read, "Preserve the Traditional Farm," "Stop Benefits to Illegal Aliens," "Keep America Sovereign" — and a curious one, a slash through the initials "NAU."

That would be the North American Union. It is a curious thing, because there is no proposal in North America for an entity like the European Union, and no popular demand for it. There was, however, a meeting Monday of the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The purpose of it, according to the White House, was to discuss current issues and "review progress and continued cooperation under the Security and Prosperity Partnership."

"Security and Prosperity Partnership" is a catch-all for political cooperation. As a bogeyman, it's blah. Rename it "North American Union," and it has potency, and can keep your customers suitably alarmed.

It is an old technique, and not used only by the right. In the run-up to the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999, some left-wing greens took a dull, technical proposal for zero tariffs on lumber — it was called "accelerated tariff liberalization" — and renamed it the "Global Free Logging Agreement." Protesters used this term so often, some of them thought there really was a "free logging" agreement.

So with the North American Union. The Birch Society magazine, The New American, ominously warns that the Security and Prosperity Partnership really is aimed at "dissolving the borders between Canada, Mexico and the United States." The Web page www.StopTheNAU.org opines that "just three years from now" the United States "may cease to exist as an independent political entity." It warns of a "NAFTA Superhighway" slashing across the USA.

Is it U.S. policy to forsake its sovereignty? To meld into a North American Union? To build a NAFTA Superhighway? I put these questions to the government's chief negotiator on trade, Susan Schwab, in Seattle last week. She wagged her head in disbelief, either at the question or my foolishness in asking it.

"No, no and NO," she said. "I have no idea where that came from. It is one of the stranger urban legends. The United States is very comfortable in maintaining our own sovereignty, and the governments of Canada and Mexico have no interest in losing theirs."

The U.S. government has a Web site, www.spp.gov, in which it says that "in no way, shape or form" does it plan "the creation of a European Union-like structure" in North America. That appears to be so — but denials don't matter to a certain type of mind, which assumes that appearances are false and truth is concealed.

None of this is to deny some specific questions about sovereignty regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, in which the U.S. government has limited itself, and the states, from exercising power in certain ways regarding trade. It has also signed treaties promising not to use its power to test nuclear bombs and mistreat prisoners of war. But it may break these promises, or renounce them, and that means the sovereign power is still in its hands.

The Birchers might have an argument if they said NAFTA could, over a long time, prepare the American mind for continental government. It would be something to think about. But it would not be potent enough to bring out protesters on a Saturday afternoon.

So they overreach. They warn of such fantasies as the replacement of the U.S. dollar by a new currency called the amero. No politician proposes this. A professor of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver published "The Case for the Amero" in 1999. But it was one book, and the Canadian dollar was below 70 cents at the time. The loonie has since revived, and the Canadians are not about to discard it.

Sovereignty, for the moment, is safe.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is bramsey@seattletimes.com" for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to Opinion at seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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