As Pancho Villa lay dying, he suddenly realized his followers would expect some memorable last words from him. But he wasn’t prepared, so with his final breath fast approaching, he passed into history with this desperate utterance: “Don’t let it end like this! Tell them I said something.”
I think of Pancho every time I read another article about Bill Clinton’s embarrassing obsession with his “legacy.” This is the Democrat who fantasized about being FDR or at least JFK, but ended up somewhere between Calvin Coolidge and Gerald Ford. As his wasted presidency gasps to a close, you can almost hear Clinton pleading: “Tell them I did something.”
But wait! At the 11th hour–on May 24, 2000, to be precise–“The Legacy” surfaced! That was the day Clinton successfully rammed Wall Street’s bill for “Permanent Normalized Trade Relations” with China through Congress. He can now go down in history as the guy who sold out what was left of his party’s principles and populist constituency for the avaricious agenda of Global Trade Uber Alles.
The “PNTR” vote on China is the bookend to Clinton’s other triumph for Wall Street: passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the first year of his presidency. These “achievements” came after his ’92 election promises that he would never abandon labor rights and environmental protections (as his NAFTA and China bills do) and that he would never engage in “coddling dictators” (as his China bill does as well). The New York Times calls Clinton’s reversal on these promises “vision.” You might call it a shameful betrayal.
During Clinton’s entire eight-year tenure, the NAFTA and China fights are the only two times he’s really used the presidential powers, wielding all the sledgehammers and blowtorches at the disposal of a president who really wants to get something done. He hasn’t come close to doing likewise for campaign-finance reform, sweatshop labor, universal health care, a living wage, ending corporate welfare, protecting our air and water or other issues that a real Democrat would gleefully fight for.
Instead, both of his knock-down, drag-out fights have been for corporate trade scams that rip off the middle class here and trash the economic and democratic aspirations of people in Mexico and China. The May 24th vote was actually about the annual debate that Congress has on whether goods manufactured in China should be allowed privileged access to our markets. The privilege means that companies making products in China can ship their clothing, computers, chemicals, cars, frozen crawfish, cameras, and so forth to stores here essentially without having to pay any tariffs, honor any quotas, adhere to any human-rights standards, or even say “pretty please.”
U.S. corporations have eagerly moved their manufacturing to China, where they get labor for 13 cents an hour or less (prison and slave labor are also common) and don’t have to worry about the consequences of committing gross environmental contamination. They make a killing by making their stuff in China and then selling it to you at the same high prices they charge for U.S.-made goods. Not surprisingly, these greedheads want to do much, much more of this.
Pulling the plug on debate
For years, Congress has held an annual debate about China’s trade status with us, questioning whether the corporate interest in China is in our larger public inter- est. Yes, corporations profit there, but others pay the price:
First, the rush of U.S. companies to China is costing American families hundreds of thousands of good middle-class jobs, including the high-tech jobs that are supposed to be our future. Second, independent human-rights organizations uniformly report that pay and working conditions there are abominable, even by Third World standards, which raises the moral question of why the U.S.A. would be importing these sweat-and blood-stained products. And third, there’s the ugly fact that sales of Chinese products in America puts hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the cof- fers of the dictators of China, financing their continued repression of democracy activists, labor organizers, minorities (especially Tibetans), religious practitioners, and anyone else perceived as a threat to their rule.
General Electric, General Motors, and other generals of Corporate America find such public questioning irritating as well as embarrassing, so they came up with a simple plan: stop the debate. If they could get China’s privileged trade status made per- manent then the annual questioning would go away.
The CEOs knew they could count on their boy Clinton in the White House as well as on the cash-induced support of the Republican leadership in Congress, so this is the year they decided to launch their assault and make China’s trade access to our country’s markets permanent.
Reading between the lines
Clinton’s core assertion was that this bill was about exports! He claimed that granting the trade privilege would open up China’s massive market to “American products made on American soil.” Sounds grand, but Bill knows better: The per capita income in China is $350 a year. They’re not going to buy a lot of Buicks on that.
Well, said Clinton, they’ll buy our wheat, corn, and other grains. Hello? China has a surplus of grain. Not only does it not need our grain, but Chinese grain will flood into the U.S. now that quotas and tariffs on their exports have been eliminated. This is why Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and others in the grain- trade cartel had their lobbyists swarming through Congress the last few weeks, pushing hard to open our markets to Chinese grain.
Corporate globalists also spent $50 million on TV ads, lobbying, and fake grassroots (“astroturf”) campaigns to push this scam through Congress. For example, Motorola spent at least $1 million on TV ads, including this 15-sec- ond gripper, with a basso profun- do voiceover: “American workers make the finest products in the world. China’s 1.3 billion customers want what Americans make, but if Congress doesn’t approve trade with China, America will be making something else–a big mistake.’
Reading between the lies:
(1) China doesn’t have 1.3 billion ‘customers,’ but 1.3 billion people who, again, average $350 a year in gross income;
(2) Congress was not being asked to approve ‘trade with China’ (Chinese goods already are swamping our market); and
(3) Motorola is a leader among the corporations abandoning American workers and communities. Motorola forgot to mention it in its ad campaign, but 10 days before the congressional vote, the company applied to Chinese authorities for permission to build a $1.9 billion manufacturing com- plex in Tianjin, China, to make semiconductors and telecommunications equipment. This would bring Motorola’s investment in Chinese production facilities to a whopping $3.5 billion.
The China vote was never about trade. It was always about production-moving more American jobs and technology to China. Allan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council writes that corporate websites openly brag about how they intend to dash to China once this deal is done; General Electric, Kodak, Dow Chemical, and others are planning to displace American jobs by exporting from Chinese factories; Motorola, Proctor & Gamble, and Westinghouse are among those that not only say on their web- sites that they’ll make their prod- ucts in China, but also that they plan to get their parts and raw materials from there, abandoning U.S. suppliers entirely. Welcome to the New World Order
Dime con queen andas, y te digo queen eres, goes the Spanish dicho: Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are. The Democrat-in-Chief put his presidency and party in lock-step with the corporate lobbyists.
At the end, it all came down to the crass business of Clinton doling out federal goodies. For example: Martin Frost, the no. 3 Democrat in the House, sold his vote for assurances that the Navy would give more contracts to arms-maker Northrup- Grumman, located in his district; Sylvester Reyes of El Paso got a speed-up on EPA approval of a dangerous, polluting gas pipeline he wants to run from Houston to his district; Bud Cramer of Alabama traded his vote for a weather-monitoring station in his district; and-my favorite–Mike Thompson of Napa Valley, was promised a new zip code for his district in exchange for his vote.
Especially lame was the role of Richard Gephardt, allegedly the lader of the House Democrats. He has been against most of these trade scams in the past, but now he’s chasing corporate campaign contributors to finance his fall’s congressional races–a shift of six seats would give the Democrats the majority, allowing Gephardt to achieve his long-sought goal of becoming Speaker of the House. So what was our rannabe Speaker to do? Grab the money . . . or stand on principle? Why not try to do both!? Gephardt ultimately announced that he personally was against the bill, but as minority “leader” he would be neutral. If the meek ever inherit the earth, Gephardt will be a land baron.
A People’s Rebellion
Not everyone rolled over for the corporate crowd. Their deal hit a glitch called The American People. Despite the Washington-Wall Street united front, and even with the media openly propagandizing for it, the public declined tc swallow this glob of globaloney.
Indeed, 79% of Americans polled said that they opposed the bill.
Prodded by steelworkers, auto workers, and Teamsters, the AFL-CIO unleashed its grassroots lobbying power on lawmakers. The Citizens Trade Campaign (a project of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen organization) coordinated a tremendous coalition campaign that involved students, farmers, environmentalists, veterans, labor activists, religious and human-rights advocates, and others opposed to awarding this ‘blank check” to China traders.
Clinton had planned to fly 40 undecided lawmakers to China, but the Citizens Trade Campaign delivered ‘Propaganda Survival Kits’ to the members and the media containing a Bible (outlawed in China), a union card (it’s illegal to form a union there), a bottle of clear air (China enjoys the worst air pollution in the world), 13 cents (the hourly sweatshop wage), and a pair of monogrammed handcuffs (for all the political prisoners the delegation would not get to see), When news of this kit got out, the junketeers ran for cover, and only two undecided Congress critters traveled to China for Clinton’s dog-and-pony show.
The CEOs and their Washington puppets had to resort to an ugly display of brute legislative force to get a vote of 237-197, with 73 Democrats providing the margin of victory.
After the vote was taken that afternoon of May 24th, members of both parties left the House chamber and joined corporate lobbyists at separate fund-raisers that the two parties had conve- niently scheduled for that same evening. The Republicans raised $14 million from a Who’s Who of Corporate America, while the Democrats scored a record $26.5 million from the same cash cows. in fact, the Democrats’ one-night total was more money than the entire 1992 Clinton campaign raised. That’s what eight years of loyalty to Wall Street can deliver.
But that loyalty comes at a heavy price. This was more than just another vote. Clinton, Gore, and 73 House Democrats put the party squarely on the side of Big Money, flaunting their disrespect for the core constituency of the Democratic Party.
The day after the vote, party officials called labor leaders with messages of “healing” and “reconciliation.’ Good grief! The party stabs labor in the back and then says “Give me a hug”? The Teamsters, steel workers, and auto workers are among those in no hugging mood (see short, “The UAW speaks up”).
Democratic leaders seem clueless about the anger that most people (especially young people) feel toward the Globaloneyists the party has embraced. If Democrats don’t stand up for this majority, why should it stand up for Democrats? Union rank-and- filers who now have zero enthusiasm for the election of turncoat Democrats will likely not voteor else will vote third party in November. The same goes for environmentalists, students, and others who were sold out on the China vote.
Operatives for Al Gore already are dissing Ralph Nader, claiming that his campaign will pull votes away from Gore. But no one can pull votes away from Gore and other Democrats as effectively as they did themselves on May 24th. People feel about political betrayal the way you would if your dog bit you: The bite will heal, but you’ll never feel the same about that dog again.