Environmental Destruction Agency
WTO’S Eco Disaster
The revolt in the streets of Seattle Monday was aimed as much as anything at the way the World Trade Organization is run, doing its dirty business within secret tribunals of corporate lawyers. This is where the big companies apply the wrecking ball to what little there is in the way of environmental protection—undercutting the tenuous protections against toxic chemicals that have been in place in the U.S. since the 1960s.
In the past, no matter how bad things got, politicians, industry, and the general public relied on the simple principle that before a product can be put on the market the manufacturer must demonstrate both its efficacy and its safety. The principle hasn’t worked very well in practice, as demonstrated by the hundreds of dangerous chemicals used in medicines and pesticides that have wormed their way into daily use. But it has always been a basic goal.
And, as Peter Montague of the Environmental Research Foundation points out, it’s in adherence to this basic goal that we’ve banned radioactive fallout lest it harm the general populace. That precautionary ban was followed by bans on DDT, leaded gasoline, PCBs, and other chemicals. The supersonic transport airplane was killed for fear it might injure the upper atmosphere. We require labeling (“dolphin safe” or “recycled”) so consumers have an added tool in the marketplace.
Corporations have fought these regulatory initiatives on the grounds that they unfairly interfere with the market. Now the WTO gives them a new way to undercut these protective measures. The WTO, for example, has ruled that the method of production, say, catching tuna in nets that also kill millions of dolphins, can’t be used as a way of discriminating against a product. It also has ruled that trade restrictions must be “necessary,” which in practice means an affected country must prove there is a scientific consensus on the danger and a WTO tribunal of corporate lawyers must agree the restriction is reasonable.
What this means is that a product, such as genetically engineered food, can seldom be banned outright. Instead, it must be regulated using the iffy tool of risk assessment, under which government and industry join in trying to predict how much toxic pollution is acceptable.
Wall Street Rules
From the presidential campaign, one would scarcely know there is any kind of political debate in the U.S. over trade. Even though this issue has caused strains among the Democrats in the House of Representatives and led to the creation of a so-called left-right coalition of liberals and conservatives, the trade issue is still generally perceived politically as a rear-guard fight by a minority of union members and a small number of activists on both sides.
Theoretically, the success of world trade depends on an unfettered international marketplace. In practice, success depends on monopoly capital. The biggest leap forward toward free trade is not the secret bureaucratic WTO apparatus in Geneva, but the recent banking law reforms so eagerly embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike. That act, which makes possible the merger of Wall Street investment capital with big commercial banks and insurance companies, creates international monopolies that will dictate the terms of free trade forevermore.
This week’s protesters in Seattle—with their union 401(k)s and mutual fund IRAs—in fact all stand to gain from lower worldwide wages and delays in costly environmental cleanup, which work together to push the value of their shares higher. Human misery and environmental degradation in the world’s poor South means a higher standard of living in the industrialized North. The key to change does not lie with the WTO, but downtown on Wall Street. Alan Greenspan, not Mike Moore, runs this show.
More Women Behind Bars
Prison by Numbers
Women are now going to prison at a faster clip than men, according to a new study by The Sentencing Project, an independent Washington-based nonprofit group. There are now nearly seven times as many women in state and federal prisons as there were in 1980, an increase from 12,300 in 1980 to 82,800 by 1997. Most of the increase is due to drug offenses and mandatory sentencing laws. Drug offenses accounted for 91 percent of the increase in the number of women sentenced to prison in New York from 1986 to 1995. Most of the women have low incomes, high rates of substance abuse, and mental illnesses. In addition, more than half have been physically or sexually abused.
Canada’s Newest Export?
Nukes for Turks
As if things weren’t bad enough in Turkey, the West has been pushing that country’s government to build nuclear power plants in seismically sensitive areas near earthquake faults. Canada’s state-owned nuclear company, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), is widely considered to be the leading contender to build a Turkish nuclear plant at Akkuyu Bay on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. AECL is competing against Nuclear Power International (NPI—a consortium of the German company Siemens and the French company Framatome), and a third bidder, a partnership of Westinghouse (U.S.A.) and Mitsubishi (Japan).
The nuclear power plant projects have been pushed into the background temporarily by the earthquakes, including last month’s at Duzce, where more than 700 people died. The quake at Izmit during the summer killed 17,000. Seven major earthquakes have struck Turkey since 1939.
Raining nuclear power plants on Turkey is part of Canada’s scheme to bolster the state-owned nuclear industry, which is prevented from selling reactors inside Canada itself. The nuclear industry within Canada, as in the U.S., has been in the dumps, with Hydro Ontario, the nation’s largest utility system, closing down eight of its 22 reactors over the last few years. Prime Minister Jean Chretien has joined with the nuclear industry to pump nukes abroad, citing specious grounds that nuclear power is cheaper and safer than other forms of electric production and provides a solution to global warming.
In a letter to a former Turkish prime minister, Chretien gave his personal endorsement to a bid by Atomic Energy of Canada to sell Turkey Canadian reactors, predicting a bright future for nuclear power. “Canada has used nuclear power for over 30 years, and we have found it to be a safe and economical way of producing electricity,” he wrote in the letter, dated August 4, 1998, to Mesut Yilmaz, then Turkey’s prime minister. “I am convinced that nuclear energy will have to be an important part of the energy mix as we all endeavor to deal with the global warming challenge.”
The Canadian company hopes to sell Turkey two reactors for about $4 billion, with the federal government providing $1.5 billion in financing through the Export Development Corp. David Martin, of Canada’s Nuclear Awareness Project, which opposes the sale, said the Canadian government spent $15 billion to subsidize the nuclear consortium over the last 40 years while Ontario Hydro’s nuclear program nearly bankrupted the provincial utility company. He said the private sector will no longer finance nuclear power plants, hence the need for the EDC’s financing for the proposed Turkey project.
The Sierra Club in Canada already has sued to block these reactor deals by challenging a previous Canadian arrangement with China, which the environmental group said was undertaken without any environmental planning.
The Turkish project won’t be decided until year’s end. An accident in southern Turkey could bathe the eastern end of the Mediterranean—Greece, Cyprus, and possibly Israel—in radioactive debris.
Forbes Friend Fights Islam Abroad
Onward Christian Soldiers
Time was when Republican candidate Steve Forbes gushed about free market capitalism. But for this year’s presidential campaign the rich kid comes on as a social values convert and has surrounded himself with conservative Christians like Paul Weyrich, a founder of the New Right and leader of the Free Congress Foundation, a right-wing group in Washington. Weyrich once urged conservatives to stop sounding off and learn how to govern. More recently, he threw up his hands over the course of godless politics and started sounding more cranky than usual, urging followers to retire from wider society altogether, set up their own schools, and organize their own courts. Still, he’s a key Forbes backer and recently nudged the Princeton grad onto a most uncertain path.
Writing with William S. Lind, a Free Congress colleague, Weyrich cheered on the Russian campaign in Chechnya. The two declared: “In fact, the Russian army in Chechnya is fighting for us, too, and for everyone who does not want to live under the oppression of Islam,” adding, “a decisive Russian victory would be good news for Americans, at least for those Americans who still see themselves as part of Christendom.” Forbes had no comment.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 30, 1999