Once More, Government By and for Corporations
Published on Sunday, May 20, 2001 in the Fort Worth Star Telegram
Once More, Government By and for Corporations
by Molly Ivins
AUSTIN - A bizarre example of "fair and balanced" media coverage was the Summit of the Americas trade meeting in Quebec, Canada, in April.

The first night of the trade summit, ABC spent four minutes covering the minimal violence created by a tiny fraction of demonstrators, whereupon Peter Jennings came on and asked his correspondent: "What are these people protesting? Or are they just looking for a fight?"

The correspondent replied comprehensively, "They're against capitalism." So much for that argument.

In this era of ur-capitalism, when free trade is equated with democracy, raising questions about the specifics of trade agreements, or even pointing out the downside of NAFTA, has become a media solecism, akin to wearing white shoes after Labor Day. It's Just Not Done.

But the newsies are behind the curve again; it's actually quite chic among your forward-thinking multinational corporations to encourage labor and environmental protections in new trade agreements.

Haven't heard that? Neither have the media. They're still stuck on the old Tom Friedman script: Globalization is Good and anyone who questions it is Bad - or as The Wall Street Journal so happily put it, "Luddite whackos."

It's interesting to see who gets it and who doesn't on this issue.

When the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1993, we were told it would create 200,000 jobs in the first year alone. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA has eliminated 766,030 actual and potential U.S jobs. By 2000, the trade deficit with both Canada and Mexico had increased by 378 percent to $62.8 billion.

As Jim Hightower said in his newsletter, "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."

One common side effect is the downward pressure on wages, as factory workers are forced into the low-paying service jobs. This in turn contributes to rising income inequality, another subject about which the American media do not talk. They're too busy with the Robert Blake story.

Here's a modest proposal: Fox News regularly eats up mountains of time reporting foreign news with its in-depth segment, "Around the World in 80 Seconds." I think they can get it down to less than 10: "This just in: News still bad." This would free up 70 precious seconds for a report on the Doug Jones Average.

The Doug Jones Average, an old Hightower concept to replace the Dow Jones, would report on how average ol' Doug is doing today: up, down, anything Alan Greenspan up to affecting him? New trade treaties? How's it by Doug? Anyone warned Doug about Chapter 11?

If you still think Chapter 11 means bankruptcy, you are not up on your trade treaties. The new and more horrible Chapter 11 (not the bankruptcy law that Congress just finished screwing up) is about government by corporations. As Bill Greider said in a Nation article in late March, "Chapter 11 is the smoking gun" that proves we have given up national sovereignty for corporate rule.

Chapter 11 of NAFTA established a new system of private arbitration for foreign investors to bring injury claims against governments. Under the rules, foreign investors in any country can bring suit against the government and demand compensation if the profit-making potential of their venture has been injured by a government decision "tantamount to expropriation." For starters, this gives foreign-based companies more rights than domestic businesses operating in their own countries.

"In Mexico," Greider reports, "a U.S. waste disposal company, Metalclad, was awarded $16.7 million in damages after the state of San Luis Potosi blocked its waste site in the village of Guadalcazar. Local residents complained the Mexican government was not enforcing environmental standards and that the project threatened their water supply. Metalclad's victory established that NAFTA's dispute mechanism reaches to subnational governments, including municipalities."

No one knows how many of these cases have been filed, because there is no requirement to inform the public. The contesting parties, Greider reports, choose the judges who will arbitrate, choose which issues and legal principles are to apply, and also decide whether the public has access to the proceeding. It is assumed that these disputes are none of the public's business, even though public laws are under attack and taxpayers' money will pay the fines.

If I hated lawyers as much as George W. Bush hates lawyers, I'd step on that before it starts crawling.

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate. Her columns appears on Thursdays and Sundays.

© 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas ###