WTO (Wasn't That Obtuse?)
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 99 08:49:04 -0800
Subject: WTO (Wasn't That Obtuse?)
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Forwarded-by: Paul Hostetter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It was WTO (Wasn't That Obtuse?) coverage
AUSTIN -- You, too, can feel like a presidential candidate this morning by
taking this simple pop quiz -- not 'from' your friendly news media but
'about' your friendly news media.
Here's the situation: 35,000 people go to Seattle to raise crucial issues
concerning the World Trade Organization, an outfit that (just for starters)
affects everyone on the planet and operates in complete secrecy.
Of those 35,000 people, fewer than 1,000 misbehave by trashing some local
stores. How much more coverage do the 1,000 who misbehaved get than the
34,000 who didn't?
(A) 35 times as much.
(B) 34 times as much.
(C) Virtually all the coverage.
You are correct: "C" is the answer. Do the other 34,000 people get any
coverage? Yes -- they are referred to as "some people concerned about
Human rights (especially slave labor and child labor), workers' rights
(especially health, safety and living wages) and the natural environment of
the planet on which all our lives depend are "some people concerned about
Meanwhile, the violent protesters are interviewed on national television,
identify themselves as anarchists and explain to us all that owning property
is wrong and that none of the Earth should be in private hands.
Question: Next time a group wants to draw attention to its concerns by
getting lots of media coverage, do you think they will:
(A) Peacefully rally, speak and march?
(B) Smash a lot of windows in downtown stores?
If civil disagreement and civil debate draw no attention from the media,
what is the alternative? Next time you hear one of those solemn panels on
the causes of violence in this society, consider that conundrum.
To have covered the issues raised in Seattle about the WTO as though they
were entirely a matter of free trade vs. protectionism, or as though the
protesters were "opposed to globalization," is poppycock.
Anyone who bothered to listen to the Nov. 30 AFL-CIO rally in Seattle (the
only place you could find it was on C-SPAN) knows that it was not about
simplistic trade-bashing. Superb presentations were made by human rights
advocates from Ireland, India, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and many
other places. They were eloquent and thoughtful.
Union leaders, including James Hoffa Jr., gave excellent presentations of
their concerns. Student leaders from across the country who have been active
in forcing Nike to clean up its corporate act made sensible suggestions.
The only simplistic nonsense I heard came from the media. Having grasped
the great Clintonian principal that trade is good, many of the dimmer media
minds have gone on to posit that all trade is good.
I actually heard it argued that free trade inevitably leads to democracy
and human rights. You would think, would you not, that people would have
enough sense to check the evidence before making a statement like that.
Among the WTO's members in good standing are Colombia, Cuba, Rwanda,
Myanmar, Angola, Pakistan and many others high on the hit lists of human
rights organizations around the world. It's enough to make you wonder about
the double standard of those who condemn the admission of China to the WTO
as some heinous new offense against concern for human rights.
Look, trade is good. Markets are good. But markets have to be restrained by
society and by political organizations. Unrestrained markets get rid of
Jesus and Jefferson at the same time. There is no necessary corollary
between free trade and secrecy. Free trade doesn't mean free to trash the
environment or to trample on people.
After the WTO talks collapsed, the news media informed us that this was A
Big Defeat for Clinton: Clinton, Big Loser.
Clinton isn't the big loser -- we are.
Huge multinational companies have so far been the chief beneficiaries of
free trade. May I point out that many of these huge multinationals are in
the media business? Katrina Vanden Heuvel of 'The Nation' recently suggested
that we are close to a kind of 'karetsu' --the Japanese network of
interlocking government and corporate interests.
What you missed if you saw only the major media coverage of Seattle was not
just the impressive labor rally but significant conferences by experts on
topics related to globalization: a whole day on human rights, a whole day
on women and globalization, a whole day on the environment, a whole day on
alternative models of globalization.
Fifteen specialists from around the world made presentations on what fair
trade and democratic globalization should look like. They offered real
content and sensible solutions. They were not "people concerned about
Fortunately, we still have several sources of news that offer more than
shallow corporate blather. Anyone who wants to be well-informed can find
them at a good newsstand or bookstore or on the Web.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Star-Telegram. You can reach her at
1005 Congress Ave., Suite 920, Austin, TX 78701; (512) 476-8908.
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© 1999 Peter Langston