Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Mon Nov 15 06:47:20 PST 1999

[bounced bec of an attachment; reformatted & hotmail ad removed]

From: "Christine Peterson" <quintanus at hotmail.com> Date: Sun, 14 Nov 1999 22:49:17 PST

Here are two recent Seattle times articles. The first is from the head of the National Wildlife Foundation - which isn't so settling. And the other is from a patronizing person at the Seattle times who takes the tone like in some articles from the Wall Street Journal that everyone else other than her is a dum dum who hasn't read or learned anything.

Opinion/Editorials : Friday, November 12, 1999

Fix trade, don't trash it by Mark Van Putten Special to The Times

THE center ground is ceasing to hold in a trade debate increasingly dominated by extremes.

Public confidence in the international trade system continues to erode because average Americans increasingly believe trade institutions do not share their values, including respect for the environment.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting to begin in Seattle later this month is veering toward a debacle that could leave lasting perceptions damaging to the cause both of the environment and of trade liberalization.

It need not be so.

It is necessary for those who want to fix the WTO not to be drowned out by those who want to trash it. The Clinton administration bears a heavy obligation to rise to its own rhetoric by presenting a forceful WTO environmental reform agenda. The news media has a responsibility to report substance as well as circus. And free-trade absolutists need to awaken to the democratic impulses of a dawning millennium.

If resolution is to be found in the bitter trade debate, it will come by staking out common ground that restores mainstream confidence that trade respects democratic values. The extremes in this debate may be prominent, but they hold no promise for progress. Shutting down the WTO - as a few of the most vocal propose - would only substitute chaos for the rules that now do exist.

It's well to remember that our last attempt at Fortress America helped precipitate the Great Depression. At the other extreme, rigid adherence to a bygone era's conviction that trade is an end in itself cannot withstand the truth that in an acceleratingly global economy, trade can and does profoundly shape peoples' lives, livelihoods and the environment.

What would it take environmentally to fix the WTO? Despite what one might think from the debate's decibel level thus far, the nation's environmental community is robustly diverse, not a monolith. In an effort to get to yes on trade, the National Wildlife Federation has formulated five basic principles that we believe can help establish public confidence in the WTO. With these reforms:

All nations would be secure that the WTO could not nullify their legitimate environmental standards, including those that exceed international norms.

Similarly, the WTO could not nullify trade provisions of international environmental agreements. The community of nations could rest assured that international safeguards protecting endangered species, regulating the transport and disposal of hazardous waste and repairing the damage to the Earth's ozone layer would be free from attack based on trade rules.

We'd look before we leap into any new trade deals. The United States and the WTO would assess what a proposed trade arrangement would mean for air, water, land and wildlife before closing the deal and in time to avoid predictable mistakes.

Nations would be secure in their right to make trade distinctions between identical products based on whether the product was made or brought to market in an environmentally damaging or benign way. Two chairs may look alike. The wood in one may come from a rain forest clear-cut and from a sustainably managed forest in the other. Nations, and individuals, should have the right to distinguish between the two without interference from trade rules.

Finally, the WTO would operate under commonly accepted democratic standards of openness. The secrecy of the WTO's judicial hearings would end. Disputes would be heard in the open. Members of the public could submit written arguments. Records would be available for scrutiny.

These types of reforms are curative, not radical. They can reconcile trade to the environmental values shared by open societies across the globe. They are achievable.

To his credit, the president, and to her credit, the U.S. trade representative, have endorsed in general terms nearly all these concepts in public statements or policy papers. What neither has done, however, is present them as a clear reform agenda with specific commitments to protect the environment for WTO action during the ministerial.

Protest and demonstration are deeply rooted in this country's traditions. So is building consensus on common ground that unifies once diverse forces.

In Seattle later this month, we'll certainly have one. Just as certainly, we need the other.

Opinion/Editorials : Thursday, November 11, 1999

WTO: 50,000 rabbits and not a fact in sight

PIKE Street was empty that dark October night except for a young man and a giant rabbit carrying a stack of yellow fliers.

They were animal-rights activists fresh off a gig at Benaroya Hall, where Vice President Al Gore (traitorous supporter of animal testing!) spoke. The rabbit had bought his suit off the Internet.

They promised to be back for the WTO.

Expect a high per-capita concentration of fruitiness at the World Trade Organization conference in downtown Seattle just after Thanksgiving. The expected 50,000 protesters will include enough rabbits, fact-free students and pie-in-the-face peaceniks to make it tempting to dismiss the whole bunch.

I don't mind the fruitiness, even if it means waking up Nov. 30 to the sight of a tie-dyed rappeller unfurling a "WTO: free Willy Keiko" banner outside my bedroom window downtown. What bothers me are the half-truths that threaten the protesters' credibility.

So let's get some pesky facts out of the way.

The WTO is an international organization that mediates trade disputes. When a trade practice treats foreign countries unequally, the WTO rules against it. The WTO does not rewrite countries' laws. It does not force countries to accept dirty fuel or kill turtles, nor does it lure children into sweatshops with pesticide-soaked candy.

The WTO does, however, try to reduce restrictions to fair trade - a goal established after World War II with the formation of the GATT, a 23-country agreement on tariffs and trade that grew into the 135-nation WTO.

Posters in labor shops and pastel chalk drawings downtown say the WTO is a fascist source of all evil and must be stopped. They are wrong. The WTO reflects the best and worst of its participant countries - like the United States itself, where our government stacks its trade committees on timber, chemicals and energy with corporate interests.

Environmentalists say the WTO guts laws that protect nature every chance it gets.

Not true. The WTO took a big step in international law in 1998 with a case about endangered turtles caught in shrimp nets. The WTO classified endangered species with nonrenewable resources that warrant special protections under trade law.

Anti-business critics say the WTO shamelessly toadies to corporate interests.

It does when it reflects the practices of its individual member countries. But the WTO has proved capable of making devastating decisions against corporations. In September, the WTO ruled the offshore tax shelters of United States corporations amounted to an illegal export subsidy. These shelters protect American businesses from paying $2.5 billion in taxes a year.

The United States has until next October to change this law - a major victory for citizen taxpayers.

Critics say the WTO destroys the United States' environmental laws. The acceptance of "dirty" fuel from Venezuela is a favorite example.

Definitely not true. The U.S. had deliberately set tougher standards for foreign companies than domestic companies, creating an unfair trade barrier. The U.S. could have chosen to raise its standards for domestic refineries like Exxon; instead, it lowered the bar for countries like Venezuela (and didn't say a peep when environmentalists blamed the WTO).

It's one thing when the editorial staff of the Roosevelt High School newspaper compares the WTO to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, saying it "booted democracy and shredded the Constitution." They've discovered hyperbole and besides, their adviser is out sick.

It's quite another when the experts in the field tell only half the story.

Patti Goldman is a searingly competent attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, and she has followed the GATT and WTO for years. She knows the law cold, but in forums she tends to tell only part of it: She'll talk about Venezuelan oil but not mention the United States' voluntary decision to lower its standards. She'll talk about the poor dead turtles, but not mention the WTO was simply unhappy the United States had applied tougher turtle laws to Asia than to the Caribbean.

I'm not saying the WTO is perfect. I think the definitions of "unfair trade barriers" can go too far, making governments unwilling or unable to protect and support the citizens who elected them, pay taxes and expect something in return. If international law weakens the relationship between people and the governments that serve them, we are all done for.

Both fans and foes describe the WTO as an organization in its adolesence. Both sides agree the WTO needs continuous evaluation to see how its cool abstract policies play out in real life.

The WTO's meetings are closed to the public and press; its existence may encourage governments to ignore consumer preferences and belittle community concerns. I hope that protesters concentrate their energy there - not in scapegoating the WTO for their own government's failings, or in misrepresenting their personal interests as global priorities.

So look for a tall bedraggled rabbit at the WTO conference Nov. 30. If he's not busy overturning my car, he'll be happy to talk to you about the WTO's tacit encouragement of animal torture. He might be right. But just in case, maybe check his facts before you suit up and hop in.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list