Enron is Whitewater in spades.
Argentina finds out it's not easy being the poster child of neoliberalism.
No one will mistake the WTO agreement in Doha, launching a new round of global trade negotiations, as a victory for the people. The usual cast of characters, led by the biggest kid on the block, the United States, orchestrated a familiar drama of high peril--world cataclysm if the negotiations fail--and then congratulated themselves for achieving a comparatively modest agenda for going forward. Poorer peoples of the world did not win; neither did the millions of citizens from wealthier nations who have mobilized to oppose the advance of corporate domination. On one issue after another, those people were losers. What else?
Well, in fact, there was something new about this diplomatic dust-up. The big kids realized they had to make nice with the little kids. If you are among the protesters whom the Wall Street Journal unaffectionately calls "Luddite whackos," you may take a little credit for that. At Seattle, remember, one of the central themes raised by people in the streets was the terrible inequities visited upon developing nations by globalization and its dominant powers, the multinational corporations. The initial reaction from governing elites and their media camp followers was disbelief. What on earth are the rabble talking about? Don't they know that globalization lifts all boats, especially those of the poor? Two years later, those pious sermons have been dropped. The governors instead made confession and solicitude the themes of their speeches. It's true, they announced, the poor have been screwed, but we want to make it up to them. Thus, they claim, this new round will be devoted to "development" and correcting the economic injustices.
That's rhetorical blather, of course, and the poorer countries weren't deluded. Still, it is one more small banner of progress in the long and difficult march toward forcing real reform. The developing countries have gained some leverage for their independent views and sovereign aspirations--not a lot but some. They were assisted in this by those voices in the street.
A far more substantive advance is the great concession made by the United States and others when they accepted that public health in poor countries comes before the patent rights of Big Pharma. The monopolistic greed of the drug companies is so blatantly inhumane that one hardly needs to congratulate our trade officials for recognizing it. Given the spongy nature of these agreements, we cannot even yet be sure that the breakthrough is real. Still, this was another major objective of the grassroots movement, led by ACT UP and other activists who campaigned alongside the ministers from Africa, Asia and Latin America. If the pharmaceutical lobbyists maneuver to undo the achievement in the back room, they will be up against a still broader phalanx of ferocious protest from rich and poor nations alike. If the leaders of globalization slyly try to rescind their concession, the WTO's weakening legitimacy will sink further and faster.
Building power globally by uniting distant peoples who seem powerless is a long march, uphill all the way. But we knew that. The lesson from Doha is that zesty, conscientious and honest dialogues across the vast space of global differences can yield real results. With many more conversations and agitations, the vision of coalescing citizens will endure--vigorous, viable and someday capable of winning much larger victories.
The organizers of the Globalization and Resistance Conference, held at the City University of New York's Graduate Center on November 16 and 17, had a very bad stroke of luck.
A final declaration for the fourth WTO Ministerial Session was finally issued on November 14 after negotiations that extended well past the original deadline.
It's been more than five years since Congress ended welfare as we knew it by passing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, over the objections of activists who warned of a large-scale social catastrophe once a recession came. Those dire predictions were dismissed as alarmist, and after four years, with welfare rolls down 50 percent, the law was declared a success. Now, with the economy in recession and unemployment spiking to 5.4 percent, the disaster is imminent, if not already upon us. Congress has begun to debate the reauthorization of the act, which expires next year, and this time, its critics are vowing not to go down without a serious fight.
Thanks to welfare "reform," this is the first recession since the 1930s in which we have virtually no safety net. Of the 415,000 jobs the economy shed in October, 111,000 were in the service industry--a sector dominated by the kinds of temporary, low-wage, low-skill jobs commonly portrayed as a stepping stone out of poverty for welfare moms. Only 40 percent of those tossed out of work collect unemployment insurance, an outrage the so-called stimulus package passed by the House does nothing to address. Of the rest, a disproportionate share are poor single mothers, who don't qualify because they have worked part time, left jobs as a result of childcare problems or recently come off welfare. (Before it was eviscerated, welfare functioned as a sort of unemployment insurance system for such women--offering the added benefit of stimulating a sluggish economy by steadying their purchasing power.) Immigrants who entered the country post-1996, comprising a growing share of the low-wage work force, are mostly ineligible for welfare and other benefits. Worst of all, in most states, poor families will be reaching their five-year welfare time limit over the next six months, just as the recession may be deepening.
It is against this ominous backdrop that the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, a coalition of grassroots groups, is partnering with organized labor, civil rights, women's and faith-based organizations to push for an overhaul of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the block grant that replaced the old system. Their "End Poverty: Make TANF Work!" campaign is asking Congress to stop the time-limits clock for families in compliance with welfare rules; expand education and training; create a decent public jobs program; restore benefits to immigrants; and insure that women never have to make a choice between their income and the well-being of their kids. Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii has introduced a bill (soon to be followed by a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Paul Wellstone) that includes many of these proposals.
In recent years, grassroots groups representing low-income women have made great strides at the local and state levels--winning increased welfare benefits, living-wage guarantees, healthcare for the uninsured, real job training and expanded childcare benefits. And they demonstrated some national strength this past spring, winning a partly refundable child tax credit in an otherwise feudal tax bill. Next year's battle over welfare will test their newfound unity. It's a fight many of their members simply cannot afford to lose.
This week, George W. Bush began peddling the "three legs" of his program to "restore confidence in the economy": fast-track trade legislation, his big-oil energy program and a multibillion-dollar piñata of corporate and high-end tax cuts. In other words, his old agenda repackaged as a response to war and recession. None of these could have been enacted prior to September 11. And remarkably, all are still in trouble now. The President's soaring opinion polls aren't making his agenda any more palatable.
In the war abroad, the President captured the middle ground by spurning the calls of the holy-warrior conservatives for a war of civilizations against Islam. By going with Colin Powell and coalition, United Nations-sanctioned diplomacy and a war targeted on Osama bin Laden, Bush cemented his support across the political spectrum. Democrats like Senator Joe Biden are now leading the defense of Administration policies.
Initially, Democrats offered similar support at home. Bush started meeting regularly with the leaders of both parties. Together they rushed through $40 billion in emergency appropriations for war and reconstruction and the $15 billion airline bailout, which did nothing for workers. They handed Attorney General Ashcroft virtually all the intrusive powers he sought in the antiterrorist legislation. Republican senators led the charge to federalize airport security, a bill that passed the Senate 100 to 0. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt pledged that he would allow "no light and no air" between the President and the Democrats.
Bush seemed to reciprocate, even pledging $20 billion to New York City for rebuilding, and pinching Senator Chuck Schumer's cheek on national TV. He then signed off on the bipartisan principles for an economic stimulus put together by leaders of the budget committees.
But "patriotism," as that old Tory Dr. Samuel Johnson quipped, "is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Eight days after the terrorist attack, the Wall Street Journal laid out the scoundrel agenda in an editorial arguing that Bush's newfound popularity made his "agenda far more achievable"--including billions more in tax cuts, drilling in the Alaska wilderness and the appointment of reactionary judges. Scoundrel time opened immediately. Senate Republicans held up the defense bill, trying to attach the President's energy program to it. They filibustered foreign assistance appropriations, trying to force Democrats to confirm some of Bush's Neanderthal judicial nominees. House Republicans sat on the emergency airport security bill, theologically opposed to making that a federal function. US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick campaigned for fast-track trade authority, suggesting that its opponents, like bin Laden, reject the modern world. And House majority leader Dick Armey and others in what Newt Gingrich called the "perfectionist caucus" of the party went ballistic at Bush's embrace of a balanced stimulus package and marched up to the White House to bring the President to heel.
So, House Republicans passed, on a virtual party-line vote, a shameless special-interest bauble of corporate and upper-end tax cuts in the name of stimulus. The bill showers two-thirds of its $212 billion, three-year benefits on corporations and three-fourths of its individual tax cuts on the top 10 percent of income earners. In the name of giving a temporary boost to the economy, the bill permanently repeals the alternative minimum tax on corporations (a law that insures that no matter how clever their lobbyists and accountants, profitable corporations have to pay something in taxes). Laughably, the House bill makes the repeal retroactive for fifteen years, with the result that IBM gets $1.4 billion in rebates, General Motors $833 million, General Electric $671 million and Enron (the leading Republican contributor) $254 million.
More than 500,000 workers have been thrown out of work since September 11. Two-thirds will get no help from our unemployment insurance system. Few will be able to sustain health insurance for their families. But Dick Armey dismissed bolstering unemployment insurance as against "the American spirit," and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill scorned it as part of a "spending package, not a stimulus package." Similarly, even as cities and states face a deepening fiscal crisis, the White House opposes any assistance to them in the stimulus bill.
War profiteering is as old as the Republic. But usually the corporations involved are producing something for the war effort, not simply raiding the Treasury. And usually Presidents try to curb the profiteers. Now Bush cheers them on, announcing that he is "very pleased" with the House bill.
The blatant plunder in the House bill finally sparked a reaction. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, already enraged by the airline bailout, mobilized workers across the country to demand aid for the unemployed. Progressive Democrats revolted in the House caucus, stiffening resistance to the Republican bill. Focus groups and polling showed people angered by the corporate profiteering. This was tonic for the courage of Democrats setting up a battle over the bill in the Senate. At the same time, Senate Democrats faced down the Republican filibuster on judges. Lack of support deferred votes on fast-track trade authority in the House and on the energy bill in the Senate.
Bush seems intent on pushing his flawed stimulus bill and forcing a vote on fast track. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is busy brokering a back-room deal. But the scoundrel patriots are disgracing the flag they drape themselves in. They can succeed only if the public remains distracted by anthrax and Afghanistan. If people of conscience in both parties stand up and the public gets a whiff of what's going on, Bush may find that even the leader of a nation at war can't sell these lemons.
It's time to ask "borderless" corporations: Which side are you on?
Joe Stiglitz is no fan of Washington consensus-style globalization. Read "The Globalizer Who Came In From The Cold," an interview with Stiglitz on the IMF, World Bank and WTO conducted by Gregory Palast.
Moving to exploit a shifting political landscape in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush's Congressional point man on free