July 2003

From the people who brought us NAFTA…

Imagine, if you will, a well-scrubbed candidate for president, the Senate, or the House of Representatives holding a campaign press conference to announce the following bold plan for the good old U.S. of A.:

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“Let’s extend that job-busting, farm-bankrupting, environmentally destructive NAFTA scheme to all the countries of Latin America (except those infidels in Cuba, of course). This will allow our corporations to flee not just to Mexico or Canada, but to any of 31 other countries, scouring the entire hemisphere for the most miserly wages, most exploitable resources, and most corruptible regimes, pitting one group of poor people against another in the race to the ethical bottom.

“Then we’ll let Wal-Mart, GM, Tyson Foods, and all the rest haul these poverty- produced goods right into our lucrative U.S. market, whistling across the border completely free of any tacky tariffs or other restrictions on their corporate greed.
“ We’ll call it the ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas’—got a nice ring to it, don’t you think? It’ll be NAFTA on Viagra, moving more of our manufacturing, high-tech, and agricultural production out of the country. This way, people here won’t have to make anything—we’ll all just be consumers and play the stock market till we die. What’s not to like about that?

“And . . . wait, don’t walk away. . . . The best is yet to come! In addition to creating the FTAA, let’s also use it and that World Trade Organization over in Geneva to ‘liberalize’ public services—by which I mean privatize. Let’s take the public out of such services as water, education, health care, social security, postal delivery, food safety, electric utilities, prisons, environmental protections, licensing of doctors and lawyers, etc., etc.

“We’ll put provisions in both the FTAA and the WTO that will open all of these services to corporate privatization in any country, state, or city on the planet—plus we’ve added language that outlaws any public regulations that are deemed ‘more burdensome than necessary’ to the corporations providing the services.

“Who’ll decide what’s ‘more than necessary’? The corporations themselves, silly. We’re adding one more provision allowing any corporation to sue any government if it feels that its profits have been limited by a public policy. These corporate cases to overturn public decisions will not be taken to our civil courts, but to secret, autocratic tribunals set up inside the FTAA and WTO bureaucracies.

Everybody does better when everybody does better.

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“Yes, this effectively removes your right to self-government and your local, state, and national control over the basic services of your society—but hey, you’ll be too busy shopping and playing the market to worry your fuzzy little head about such matters. Relax. . . . Let it go. . . . Trust us.”

Chances are, upon hearing this pitch, you’d simply assume that any politicos advocating such blatant, preposterous, and un-American usurpation of our people’s sovereignty are running on the Loopy Party ticket and need to have their brains hauled in for a lube job.

But in today’s Wacky Wonderland of Washington, the blatant and preposterous have become business as usual, and the above proposals are not only real, but in imminent danger of being enacted—and not through the efforts of the Loopy Party, but with the aggressive support of both the Democratic and Republican hierarchies.

Inside the temple

Who’s doing this to us, to our country, and to the other peoples of the world?
First we have to credit our boy Bill Clinton. Having teamed up with the odious Newt Gingrich to ram NAFTA through Congress in 1993, Clinton then went the extra mile for NAFTA’s corporate backers by convening the 1994 “Summit of the Americas” in Miami to launch discussions of an FTAA to reach from the Arctic to the Antarctic. The deliberations were secret. This led to another secret session in 1998 called the “Santiago Summit,” where the 34 nations of the hemisphere (minus Cuba) set up nine working groups of their top trade officials to cover all areas of corporate interest in the sweeping trade agreement.

Of course, Republican leaders were wildly enthusiastic for the FTAA privatization push and grateful to Bill for taking the initiative on behalf of their corporate constituency. Gore would have continued the push, but with Bush & Co. seizing office in ’00 (pronounced oh-oh!), the wildest dreams of CEOs came true and the negotiations sped up.

You’d never know it from your local globally conglomeratized media sources, but the nine working groups of trade officials have been meeting since then in closed-door sessions every three or four months, quietly plotting the corporate takeover of our public decision-making authority and public resources.

They have not been meeting alone, however. Among those in the kitchen with Dinah and strumming on the old banjo are Wal-Mart, Halliburton, GE, GM, Dow Chemical, Citigroup, and so many more corporations. Through the “Trade Advisory Committee System,” obediently set up by the 34 nations, some 500 corporate representatives have been given security clearances to review FTAA negotiating documents in advance, to make comments and proposals, and to lobby the trade officials.

Indeed, coinciding with each of the formal meetings of the FTAA trade ministers is a convenient gathering of corporate big shots sponsored by the Council of the Americas. This council, a Who’s Who of corporate power, is chaired by a top executive of Citigroup and includes on its board of directors such interested parties as America Online, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Bear Stearns, Colgate-Palmolive, Exxon Mobil, Ford, GE, GM, IBM, J.P. Morgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Schering-Plough.

The Americas are not the only playground for these corporate powers. Simultaneously, another round of secret negotiations is taking place through the WTO, seeking to force privatization of public services elsewhere in the world through a global trade deal called GATS—General Agreement on Trade in Services. Among the pushers are Accenture, Bechtel, EDS, GE, HCA, Halliburton, Suez, UPS, Vivendi, and Wackenhut.

l While Paul O’Neill, Jesse Helms and that ilk squawk endlessly about the sliver of federal spending that goes for foreign aid (about a penny of each tax dollar), what goes unmentioned is that more than a third of foreign aid goes not for humanitarian or economic assistance, but straight into military and police operations abroad—and the two largest recipients of our aid, Israel and Egypt, get three-fourths of theirs for military purposes.

2 The FBI’s $4-billion-plus budget has been switched by Attorney General Ashcroft and Director Mueller from focusing on domestic crime-fighting to focusing on Bush’s interminable war on international terrorism, including imprisoning thousands of people without charges and trying suspects in unconstitutional military tribunals.

3 The infamous Drug War, a $19-billion-a-year program ostensibly intended to stop drug use here, increasingly is being converted into a military operation in such places as Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela to prop up economic elites.

4 We are still paying tens of billions of dollars each year for past militarism, both in terms of former soldiers (military retirement and veterans’ benefits) and in terms of interest paid on the national debt, more than half of which is derived from past military buildups.

5 The Department of Energy’s budget covers the maintenance of our nuclear-weapons stockpiles and the enormous cost of nuclear-weapons dumps.

6 And now comes “The Thing,” Bush’s lumbering new bureaucratic behemoth called the Department of Homeland Security, which will amass 22 agencies (from hoof-and-mouth inspectors to Secret Service agents to the Coast Guard) into a domestic-security detail that’ll suck up at least $38 billion more for militaristic purposes. By the way, Bush wants this awesome new federal authority to be exempt from both the Freedom of Information Act and the Whistleblowers Act.

The bulk of this spending is a transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to major corporations that have become welfare-dependent on military largesse. These special citizens maintain hordes of lobbyists to assure that, no matter what else the country might need, the war machine is fed first and most.

A staggering amount of this is sheer waste. The Pentagon’s own inspector general, for example, recently conceded that the Defense Department cannot account for 25% of the funds it spends. It is unable to account for $2.3 trillion in transactions. It was reported at a Senate hearing that $13 billion handed out to weapons contractors between 1985 and 1995 was “lost”—yes, gone missing! Yet Washington is throwing even more of our tax dollars down this hole.

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do." --Jim Hightower


Bush and Rumsfeld once talked the language of smaller government, saying that they would only push for necessary new weaponry. But after September 11, they said: “Oh, the hell with that, now we can have it all!”

So in their budget is such gross waste as $2 billion for Boeing’s technologically challenged V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that keeps crashing, having already killed 23 Marines in test flights; $3.5 billion for Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that can’t fly the long sorties to reach landlocked countries like Afghanistan; another billion bucks for Boeing’s Comanche helicopters, an unnecessary aircraft that’s already saddled taxpayers with huge cost overruns; a half billion for United Defense’s Crusader artillery system, a 42-ton mobile cannon that’s too slow for today’s warfare, more than twice as heavy as the Army says is feasible for field use, and that even Rumsfeld doesn’t want; and $9.3 billion more for the embarrassing but continuing Star Wars boondoggle (see Lowdown, March 2001).

War—at any cost!

What we have here is a vicious cycle of welfare, with a whole class of corporations lined up at the government trough generation after generation demanding a steady flow of military-oriented contracts, which requires that the country be kept in a perpetual state of war. The “Red Menace” and the “Yellow Peril” served this purpose during the 40 years of the Cold War. When the Soviet Union collapsed (in large part because of the financial crush of sustaining its own military machine), there was no celebration at warfare-dependent corporations. Why? Because the rationale for massive military budgets suddenly disappeared.

You might remember some serious talk in the early ’90s of a “peace dividend,” “new priorities,” and “military conversion.” Even within the weapons-making industry, there were anxious discussions about finding other kinds of work to do, like mass transit.
However, the industry’s hawks and warfare hogs prevailed, flatly asserting that militarism was their business and, by God, they would simply press Washington to keep their troughs full:

l New global threats were conjured up, such as “dirty bombs” and biological warfare (remember Clinton’s bombing of the aspirin factory in Sudan); old bugaboos were puffed up (including that nasty ol’ Saddam and even the pathetic North Koreans); and regional and ethnic wars were entered—all to keep politicians, media, and voters scared. “See,” they warned, “it’s a dangerous world out there, folks!”

2 The Drug War was militarized and privatized (one outfit alone, DynCorp, is drawing hundreds of millions of dollars for drug interdiction, eradication missions, reconnaissance, search and rescue operations, and other armed military actions it performs against the rebels in Colombia).

3 Subsidiaries and subcontractors were dispersed literally into every Congressional district to create a “local” political base for demanding continued financing of our militarized economy.

4 More lobbyists were hired, including lots of former Congress critters—such as Norman Mineta, who resigned from the House to become a Lockheed lobbyist, until George W. plucked him out to become Transportation Secretary.

5 Executive suites were beefed up with top Washington insiders to serve as rainmakers for their corporations—such as Dick Cheney, the former Defense Secretary who went to Halliburton (where he more than doubled the company’s consumption of government money, snarfing up $3.8 billion), and even Daddy Bush, the former prez, joined former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and former Secretary of State Jim Baker at the Carlyle Group, which quickly rose to become America’s 11th-largest military contractor through its ownership of such entities as United Defense (which grabbed the $11 billion deal to produce the practically useless Crusader artillery system).

6 They expanded their marketing, and by the end of the century America has become the No. 1 arms dealer in the world (including sales to many of the thugs and madmen we now send our troops to fight).

Within ten years, these warmongering contractors had dispelled all talk of a peace dividend, and in the 2000 presidential election both Bush and Gore campaigned on pledges to hike military spending, with Al promising the biggest boost. Still, the contractors enthusiastically put their money on the GOP ticket, and Bush and Cheney incessantly parroted the industry’s line that America’s military muscle had atrophied since the Cold War, creating a crisis of “readiness.”

Hogwash. We were still spending as much as we were in the Cold War, even though we had no Soviets threatening us. Also, we were spending six times more money on our military than all of our potential enemies combined were spending on theirs.
Yet in his first year in office, Bush and Congress gleefully poured even more gravy onto the plates of the contractors.

Then came September 11 . . . and the contractors finally had what they wanted: a long-term replacement for the Cold War, a rationale for ripping the lid off the public treasury and taking all they wanted. The honcho of a San Diego-based defense consortium reacted like a fat man getting a trainload of Ding Dongs earlier this year when Bush added an extra $30 billion to the Pentagon’s budget and gave $20 billion to Homeland Security: “I think it’s real good news. This is probably going to be the first year of some very substantial investments in new technologies to create the new weapons systems to fight terrorism,” he exulted.

Let’s ask ourselves: Is fighting terrorism now what America is about? Where does this take us? Bush and the rest can mouth platitudes about America’s democratic ideals until the cows come home, but the no-bullshit answer to the question of where we’re headed is to be found in the numbers, in the skewed national priorities our elected officials support with our public funds.

Yes, we have to defend against terrorists. But I daresay that the bulk of the bucks—now almost a trillion dollars a year—that Bush’s 2003 budget proposes to pump into ever-expanding military and police purposes will do nothing to stop terrorists. It will, however, shrink the historic possibilities of our country.

It’s absurd that Washington will put $11 billion into a dog like the Crusader, but won’t spend $2 billion to fund Head Start for every child. It’s an embarrassment that they will sink another $9.3 billion next year into the vast vacuousness of Star Wars, but won’t invest $1 billion a year for the next 10 years in the renovation of all of America’s crumbling schools. It’s criminal that they keep giving billions in insider deals to weapons contractors who “lost” $13 billion of the previous funds they got, but Washington won’t allocate $6 billion to provide health coverage for every uninsured child.

Myriad other national needs go begging, from a clean environment to industrial infrastructure. To build the autocratic “anti-terrorism” empire that Bush envisions—from all around the globe to your neighborhood—means not building the America that could be. This generation of Americans has it within our grasp to advance our society dramatically with such investments as a crash program based on conservation and renewable fuels, free higher education for all, a high-speed train system criss-crossing the country, affordable housing in every community, health care for all . . . and so much more.

It’s time to fight for the America we want.

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