For a glimpse into the workings of the imperial mind, one could hardly do better than the headline of a front-page article in the September 13 Wall Street Journal. The headline asks: "Wealth Gap Grows: Why Does It Matter." (Hint: it doesn't.)
The gap in incomes between the rich and everybody else, here and around the world, has been growing steadily for the last 25 years. For most of the elites who make economic policy, that's just fine. One of the main objections to the mechanisms of the World Trade Organization is that it virtually institutionalizes further expansion of that gap and ensures debilitating poverty for much of the world.
And, so, predictably, the backlash to media coverage of impending protests of the WTO talks in Seattle next month has begun. One of the most spectacular manifestations was a letter written last month by Washington's junior senator, Patty Murray, to her hero, Bill Clinton. The letter is so breathtaking in its arrogance and contempt that it's worth quoting at length:
"Dear Mr. President,
"I am writing to express my deep concerns about the recent press accounts that detail the plans of certain anti-trade groups to try and disrupt the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle later this year. The information contained in these reports is troubling. . . ." (Note: it's unclear whether she objects to the plans or the media coverage of them—probably both. And almost all groups involved in the protests have emphasized that they are not "anti-trade," but support what they call fair trade; they specifically object to the mechanisms being used by the WTO.)
She continues: "The Seattle Host Organization is reporting that many companies and associations are hesitant to become active supporters because they are concerned about security and confrontations with various demonstrators." (Heaven forbid! Corporate fat cats having to mix with ordinary citizens!) "I strongly recommend you take two steps now to promote job-generating trade expansion and to lessen the probability of disruptive confrontations at [the WTO talks].
"First, I believe you should give a major pro-trade address in the United States as soon as possible . . . you should also describe in detail how important the WTO is to trade. The WTO is the indispensable rule making enforcement body . . . for all countries, developing and developed alike."
What happened to the US Constitution!? You know, Patty, the one you swore to uphold—the Bill of Rights, Congress, elections, judges, and all that? Guess it's no longer necessary. Very reminiscent of the 1996 quote from then-Director General of the WTO, Renato Ruggiero, who described how "We are writing the Constitution of a single global economy." Again, a telling glimpse into the imperial mind.
Murray goes on to her other request: "Second, I urge you to meet with the responsible leaders of groups including labor, environmental and consumer organizations . . . to point out and to emphasize . . . that you do not want disrupting and damaging actions distracting the media and the public from your important goals. It is important for these groups to understand that many of their concerns will be raised and in fact championed by your administration. . . ."
First, let's dismiss that last sentence as pure, unadulterated BS. Far from championing even mild reform of the WTO, the Clinton Administration is architect of the WTO exactly as it now stands. It wants to expand—not limit or even assess—powers to abridge the sovereign rights of nations to prevent corporate plunder of labor, the environment, and human rights.
And whatever happened to freedom of speech? Like, say, the First Amendment? Murray wants no public debate on the WTO—no "distracting" the media or anything that would take away from the crowning glory of Seattle hosting the event that might well finalize an all-powerful secretive world government dominated by transnational corporations. Sounds outrageous, but there you have it. Important goal, indeed.
White House pressure on recalcitrant Dems has already worked once. Weekend calls to King County Council Democratic swing votes provided the margin by which a pro-free trade welcoming resolution was essentially restored last month. The chance such an appeal would work nationally is very real.
In fact, the Administration's tepid September 30 response to Murray, while ignoring her protester concerns, noted efforts (such as the November 29 window-dressing symposium with NGOs) already under way to co-opt opposition. Nationally, folks like Carl Pope of the Sierra Club and John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO are joined at the hip to Al Gore and might well be persuaded to not "embarrass" Clinton or Gore. You'd think that it would be embarrassing enough, selling your constituents down the river and all, but over the last seven years that's proven less important to these folks than the prestige of occasional White House luncheon invitations and zeppelins-full of hot air. This is precisely why Clinton/Gore has been more damaging on the environment and trade policy than Reagan or Bush Senior ever dreamed of.
Murray could try actually meeting with some of the folks who are coming here from overseas and find out why they're so gosh-darned upset about this WTO thing. Instead, she's not only uninterested in their opinions, but is actively taking steps to try to ensure that nobody hears them. How long will it be before these professional "activists" figure out that the Democratic Party, as presently constituted, is a dead end? When and if they do, will the steady erosion of workers' rights, living wages, the environment, civil rights, the ability of lawmaking bodies at all levels to craft laws not placing corporations first, a free and independent media—to name but a few of our losses over the past generation—will these losses have already gone too far? Will it even matter any more? To the imperial mind, it never did.
Thanks, Patty, for the most illuminating letter between pals. Don't forget to burn the Constitution on your way out.