May 2001

The FTAA is NAFTA on steroids

Open wide . . . here comes another great big glob of globaloney that the Powers That Be want to shove down your throat. They forced us to swallow NAFTA, the WTO, and NAFRICA (NAFTA for Africa), and now they have a brand-new acronym for global greed: FTAA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

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The same cabal of Wall Street arrogance and Washington ignorance that came up with NAFTA as a way to haul good jobs out of our country and undermine our environmental and worker-saftey standards is now trying to press down upon our brow the FTAA crown of thorns. It promises to extend NAFTA to 31 other nations, granting corporate power such diverse new venues as Guatemala and Guyana, Belize and Brazil for pitting people and their economic aspirations against each other, and for subverting national sovereignty throughout the hemisphere.

But the FTAA takes NAFTA from loopy to sheer lunacy by insisting that even the public sector of all local economies must be opened to “market competition.” This means that corporations could use NAFTA-style closed tribunals to force national, state, and local governments to let them privatize schools, water systems, Social Security programs, utilities, mail delivery, prisons, and other public services.

Until the FTAA reared its ugly head, it was workers in manufacturing and transportation that had to worry about being displaced by these trade scams, but public employees would suddenly find themselves sucked into this vortex if the FTAA is approved.

Citizens who count on getting everything from medical care to mail, roads to retirement benefits from these public programs might also be alarmed that control over such services could be usurped by globe-hopping profiteers.

What’s so bad about NAFTA?

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


Let’s take a moment to review our seven-year experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement. We were promised that this three-nation trade scheme—foisted on us in 1993 by Bill Clinton, a Democratic-controlled Congress, and a gaggle of corporate lobbyists—would create 200,000 new U.S. jobs in its first year alone. Instead, even the Labor Department now concedes that we’ve lost at least 400,000 jobs to Mexico as a direct result of NAFTA.

Also, corporate chieftains routinely use the back-door exit to Mexico as a threat to abandon workers and communities here unless the workers accept major pay cuts, give up health and pension benefits, speed up the work line, and put in more hours. This is one big reason that real wages in our country average less today than when Richard Nixon was president—and that working families are stressed to the max.

But at least it helped Mexico, right? We wish. NAFTA contains no provisions that corporations moving there must pay a living wage or avoid polluting the air and water. So they don’t.

Most corporations don’t even pay the sub-poverty Mexican minimum wage. Since NAFTA, a million more Mexicans are now paid less that the minimum wage, and eight million Mexican families have slipped from the middle class into poverty.

Likewise, the captains of industry have thumbed their noses at the people’s pollution concerns, dumping tons of chemical wastes into the impoverished neighborhoods where Mexican workers live, creating a nightmarish toxic soup in the air and water that has dramatically increased cancers and birth defects.

Then there’s NAFTA’s dirty little secret: Chapter 11 of the trade deal gives any global corporation the ability to sue the governments of Canada, Mexico, or the United States over any domestic law or regulation that the corporation doesn’t like, merely by claiming that the local rule interferes with its business activity.

Yes, this insidious, anti-democratic provision makes private, profit-seeking, corporate elites sovereign over We the People, allowing them either to overturn our laws or to force the taxpaying public to pay millions of dollars to corporations for doing us the courtesy of complying with our laws.

This may read like Kafka meets Orwell, but it’s really happening:

[bullet] Already global corporations have won a NAFTA case striking down a U.S. law protecting dolphins from being slaughtered by Mexican-based tuna exporters;

[bullet] A Canadian funeral conglomerate has sued to overrule the Mississippi court system because the company was convicted there of anti-competitive practices, and now demands that the federal government give it $775 million to cover future business losses;

[bullet] A Canadian steel fabricator says our “Buy American” policy on federal highway projects violates NAFTA and must be rescinded, or we must pay it $90 million;

[bullet] And a Canadian company that makes a gasoline additive is demanding nearly $1 billion in payoff money from us because the additive has been banned in California for contaminating the state’s drinking water, thus depriving the additive maker of profits it expected to get from future sales of the pollutant.

“Let us pollute—or pay us” is the cockeyed logic of NAFTA’s Chapter 11.

The Canadian and Mexican governments, too, have been successfully sued under this absurd corporate-supremacy clause, forcing their citizens to cough up corporate compensation, rewrite their laws . . . or both.

By the way, these suits are not litigated in our countries’ court systems, but in special NAFTA tribunals that even allow the suing corporation to hand-pick one of the three judges! These tribunals meet in secret and are exempt from constitutional rules of due process—and their decisions cannot be appealed.

For corporate eyes only

Of course, the usurpers hoped very much that they could tiptoe their latest power grab through our Congress before any of us rabble were onto their scheme. Until last month, the hush-hush plan was working perfectly, for practically no one knew that the FTAA had been in the works for six years.

Neither Bush nor Gore whispered a word about it in last year’s election, though both knew about it. No Republican or Democrat running for Congress chose to alert the people about such an ominous development. And America’s vaunted mass media, which lamented the lack of big issues to discuss during Election 2000, didn’t do a single report on it.

The FTAA was hatched in Miami in 1994, when trade officials from North, Central, and South America were convened by the Clinton team for a hemispheric summit. In 1998, they met again, this time in Santiago, Chile, for more secret talks about creating a bigger, stronger NAFTA. Since then, negotiations on the substance and language of the 34-nation agreement have taken place every few months—all behind closed doors.

But the trade officials were not negotiating alone; someone was in the kitchen with Dinah. More than 500 global corporations had representatives on several “trade advisory committees” that met regularly with the official negotiators. They reviewed and rewrote drafts of the language, shaping the FTAA in their image.

No one else was at the table. No citizen groups, no labor, no enviros, no human- rights advocates, no farmers, no consumers. Not even members of Congress were allowed to see the drafts. Just corporations.

In April, a final drafting session was held in Buenos Aires. In addition to the corporate presence of the “trade advisory committees” at that session, a group called the Americas Business Forum just coincidentally held a meeting at the same place at the same time. ABF is comprised of such giants as Microsoft, ADM, Caterpillar, Motorola, Monsanto, Cargill, and AOL Time Warner.

Technically, ABF was not allowed to sit in on the official drafting session. No problem—ABF’s assembled corporate executives simply summoned all of the trade ministers to come to them . . . and they did! The government officials dutifully trekked over to the hotel to get the approval of the executives.

I ask you—where was the media? Wouldn’t this have made excellent television? Show the executives disembarking from their corporate jets at the airport, show them at their posh hotel, show the trade ministers arriving to kiss the corporate ring . . . show something, damnit!

The story tells itself, and it’s Emmy Award-winning stuff. Except that the conglomerates that own the mass media are part of ABF, so that story was off-limits to any reporter who might have wanted to cover it.

On the streets in Quebec

The FTAA would still be a closely guarded secret, withheld from the public, except for the phenomenal citizens’ trade movement that has arisen in America and all around the globe. This growing movement is daring to confront, expose, and rally a grassroots rebellion against the globaloneyists who conspire through secretive insider deals like the FTAA to do nothing less than enthrone multinational corporations as the world’s new sovereigns, holding supremacy over every other interest, including the democratic will of We the People.

Even the corporate media now has got to give it some coverage, though their first presentation of this monumental issue, with its historic implications for our very democracy, was to portray the citizens’ movement as crazed, unfocused, rather motley and threatening, hurling itself at the dignitaries of commerce who came to the Quebec summit.

What the corporate powers, their political puppets, and the media empires cannot hide, however, is their fear of the public. They negotiate these deals in secrecy, and when they must present a public face, they bring in 6,000 armed police, surround peaceful Quebec City with chain-link fence, attempt to close the U.S.- Canadian border (ironic for a trade meeting that talks about “open borders”), clear the jails in order to have room for the mass arrests of peaceful protesters, and suspend constitutional rights.

The media establishment haughtily chides us citizens for our “outsider” tactics, ignoring the obvious fact that we’re locked out. Then, from their aloof perches, pundits and politicians snidely ask, “What are these people protesting, anyway? What do they want? Why were they in Quebec?”

Aren’t the answers obvious by now? What we’re protesting is plutocracy. What we want is democracy. We’re there because that’s where the corporate supremacists happen to be. And wherever they are, that’s where we’ll be.

BUSH SAYs

MY TEXAS TAX CUT, BAWLING CALVES, AND FAT CHICKENS

Man, did I get out of Texas ahead of the sheriff or what? I pulled a slick one on ’em, and they’re just now catching on down there.

It was Karl Rove’s idea. (“Klever Karl” I call him, ’cause he can turn BS into succotash and get the media to gobble it up.) Karl said to me when I was governor, “Governor, we can put you in the White House like your old man if you’ll just say ‘tax cut, tax cut, tax cut’ all day long, every day.”

Well heck, that fit me as natural as a pair of $3,000 kangaroo-skin boots. I mean, my family never has believed in taxing wealth, and none of the oil guys or ball- club owners I run with like it, either.

Then Karl—I tell you, he’s a smart boy, got brains out the ass—he told me not to just talk about it, but to hit the 1999 legislature with a bold Texas tax cut, and to push that sucker hard right from the start.

Karl said that if we got a tax cut through, this’d cause the national money boys’ tongues to hang out just thinkin’ what I could do for ’em as president. Plus it’d give me an “accomplishment” of my own to run on—not something all those smart-asses could say was handed to me by my father. It chaps my butt to hear that talk, daddy this and daddy that. (Though lemme say that the Lord knows my heart and knows I love the big fella.)

So I did just what Karl said, and damned if those legislators weren’t so cowed by all the media and corporate big shots jettin’ down to Austin to see me that they passed a whopper tax cut. I told ’em we had a budget surplus and oughta return money to “the people.” Sure enough, we took $2 billion right off the top of the state’s revenues.

Remember me talkin’ about that last year in the election? I stayed on message, just like Karl told me every morning when he woke me up. I’d say to folks in all those candidate forums that I’m the only proven tax-cutter on the ballot, that I’d done it in Texas and what I’d done there I’d do in Washington, too—just you hide and watch. Well. Here I am.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, so to speak, those same state legislators that rolled over for my $2 billion whack in the state budget are now bawling like a bunch of straggly calves with no mommies. It’s hit ’em that they don’t have any money to do the governmenty things they want to do.

Want to do? Hell, I saw where they’re short $700 million just to cover the basic budget! (Between us chickens, I gotta say that the budget for basics in Texas is pretty chickenshit when it comes to stuff like poverty, the environment and gettin’ enough teachers and such. But c’mon, government can’t do everything, and like Karl says, it shouldn’t. I never lost sleep over it.)

Even the sleepwalkin’ Texas press has woke up and started reportin’ about how the schoolhouses are overflowing and in disrepair, the highways have a $1 billion construction backlog, teachers don’t have a health-care plan, the Medicare program for getting’ health care to poor kids is such a mess that the federal courts are about to take it over, the prison guards (and we’ve got beaucoup of them) are so overstressed and underpaid that they’re threatening to walk, there’s still that thing about getting’ every kid into kindergarten, and . . . well, the state budget’s got a bad case of the shorts.

My Republican buddies who control the state senate ran the tab on the things they say’s gotta be done to keep Texas one step ahead of Mississippi, and the tab is $6 billion more than they’ve got revenues to cover.

We postponed all this when I was governor, ’cause it’d take a tax increase to cover it, and I had to have a cut, like Karl said. Now those saps in the legislature are grumbling that I stuck them with a fiscal mess and skipped town. Things are so bad that Chris Harris, a Republican state senator from Dallas has introduced a bill to repeal my ’99 tax cut.

This might have worried me now that Karl and I are trying to run the same game here in Washington, but the national press, God bless ’em, are ignoring the Texas story.

Like they say in baseball: Luck beats brains every day. And I sure got luck.

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