The Konformist

KON4M 99
December 1999

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Post WTO Reports

 

WTO SHUT DOWN!!!

NO NEW ROUND!!!

Yes, it's true!!! The WTO delegates have decided to cancel the proposed "Millenium Round" of Trade deregulation talks. This is a wonderful day for the forces of democracy and the safety of our planet. The Millenium Round was going to be set up to ensure that further deregulation and globalization occurred over the next decade. The "Uruguay Round" lasted from 1985 until 1994 and was the setting for the birthplace of the WTO itself and the expansion of the powers of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The Uruguay round also birthed other agreements such as the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), which has the potential of being expanded to cover education, healthcare, and even municipal water treatment systems. The fact that the Millenium Round is not going to happen is monumental. Globalization has been stalled; perhaps this is the beginning of the end of the trend toward the consolidation of corporate power globally.

The scene outside the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle was one of protest. People had found out that many WTO delegates were in the building and a crowd of several hundred had gathered there to raise their voices. The crowd was mellow. It was a festive, yet determined atmosphere. People had locked themselves to the door and the general feeling of the crowd was that no one would be leaving until the police met the demands. The demands were: reduce the charges of those who remained in jail for exercising their right to free speech from misdemeanor to infraction status, a pubic apology from Mayor Schnell for the immense amount of police violence against the peaceful protestors, and the release of all those peaceful protestors who were still in jail around 300 people.

This was the scene when the announcement came from members of Public Citizen the ongoing meetings of the WTO delegates into the night had reached a conclusion and that there would be no new round of trade talks. The crowd burst into a joyous cheer and the party began. People began chanting "THE PEOPLE CAME AND STOLE THE SHOW… W-T-O HAS GOT TO GO!!!" Dancing and music continued.

This is a massive victory for the prootestors. Seattle is reeling from the weekend of chaos and disruption, yet the majority of people are angry, not at the protestors, but at the mayor and the police for their brutal attempts to silence the non-violent protests. The people hav spoken. The delegates week was entirely disrupted. The talks were demoralized and not "productive." The magnitude and persistence of the protests was and still is beyond anyone's expectation.

However, over 300 people remain incarcerated in the King County Jail in downtown Seattle. An all-night sit-in is happening as these words are being typed (11:45 pm PST). The people are saying that they are not leaving until those imprisoned are released. Stay tuned…

US Trade representitative Charlene Barshevsky will hold a press conference tomorrow morning (Saturday) to elaborate on the US position on the WTO decision.

Meanwhile, to get reports from non-corporate, indipendent media sources, check out this website:

http://www.indymedia.org

In the spirit of resistance,

Andy Burns

*****

Media Beat

December 2, 1999

IN SEATTLE, FREE TRADE'S HAPPY FACE PEELS OFF

By Norman Solomon <mediabeat@igc.org>

 

SEATTLE -- After enjoying a free ride in American news media for many years, the World Trade Organization just hit a brick wall. The credit should go to a vast array of civic activists -- represented by tens of thousands of protesters from every continent who took to the streets here with determined nonviolence.

The WTO has been fully accustomed to operating with scant media scrutiny in this country. Even for alert consumers of mainstream news, the WTO was apt to seem distant, aloof and fully protected from the intervention of mere mortals. No more.

By the time President Clinton arrived in Seattle on Wednesday for the WTO summit, it was clear that mere mortals have thrown themselves onto the gears of global trade designed by the rich and powerful. The Oz-like curtain shielding the operators of corporate machinery had gone up in smoke -- symbolized by the tear gas and pepper spray wafting over the city.

This month began with the acrid smell of illusions turning to ash. For the general public, the WTO will never again be able to claim automatic legitimacy. And while the hotshots running the WTO lose momentum, the parallel activities of global loan sharks like the International Monetary Fund are also sliding into further disrepute.

The peaceful marchers in downtown Seattle compelled media attention because they were so clearly and deeply rooted in communities across North America and every other continent. Formerly isolated from each other, advocates for diverse interests -- the environment and labor rights, for instance -- are finding common cause.

At a union-sponsored demonstration that stretched for many blocks, amid protesters dressed as sea turtles (endangered by WTO edicts), I saw a sign that captured the moment: "Turtles and Teamsters -- United At Last."

Over the years, news coverage has been stuck in a default position, routine and implicit: When government leaders and top corporate officials reach agreement on economic rules for the planet to live (and die) by, those rules are basically sound. Kindred elites arrived in Seattle hoping for a celebratory event. Instead, resistance spoiled their party.

Guardians of the WTO's image got a break when a small group of hoodlums went on a window-smashing spree and drew appreciable media attention. It's easy enough for TV cameras to videotape scenes of random violence in a shopping district. A much more difficult task would be to cover the institutionalized violence that is a quiet part of daily life.

While Western banks collect huge interest on loans to poor countries, the suffering -- and the links between wealth and poverty -- go largely unreported. That's how 20,000 children worldwide continue to die each day from preventable diseases.

The chain of events that led to a virtual military lockdown of Seattle's core business district at midweek was set in motion by wide opposition to the WTO in many societies around the globe. Now, the battle of Seattle has torn off the WTO's happy-face stickers.

Without such visible opposition, reigning power brokers are glad to pose as tolerant souls. But at the historic crossroads in Seattle, when the WTO found itself unable to proceed with business as usual, it was time to exchange the velvet glove for the iron fist.

This is logical. After all, the World Trade Organization is supremely anti-democratic. Unelected WTO officials deliberate in secret and issue rulings that deem local or national laws to be unfair "trade barriers" if they impede the pursuit of profits. This, we are told, is "free trade" -- and laws that protect workers or the environment or human rights are supposed to get out of the way.

As I write these words on Wednesday evening, a few blocks away police are attacking nonviolent protesters in downtown Seattle with heavy batons and new rounds of pepper spray and tear gas. Armored personnel carriers have moved in. Some policemen are arriving on horses. National Guard troops are putting on gas masks. All day, helicopters have droned steadily overhead.

In a perverse way, all this seems to make sense. While boosters of the World Trade Organization keep talking about "free trade," the consequences of contempt for democracy include more contempt for democracy. Elites may insist on the right to rule, but the rest of us -- including journalists -- should not go along to get along.

*****

After Seattle: A Pro-Democracy Movement

By Norman Solomon <mediabeat@igc.org>

[From the daily World Trade Observer newspaper published in Seattle, 12-3-99]

 

A GLOBAL PRO-DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT

It's a pro-democracy movement. And it's global.

The vibrant social forces that converged on Seattle -- and proceeded to deflate the WTO summit -- are complex, diverse and sometimes contradictory. Yet the threads of their demands form a distinct weave: We want full democratic rights for all people.

Leaders of the U.S. government are pleased to say nice things about some pro-democracy movements -- far away. But here at home, their pretense is that the conditions of democracy have already been achieved.

Yes, many of us sampled those conditions in Seattle, complete with tear gas and pepper spray, thick batons and rubber bullets. The law-enforcement partners of the WTO pursued the goal of routing protesters in much the same way that top officials of the WTO go about reaching trade agreements. They want to do whatever it takes -- to maintain control and preserve the power of elites.

The marketeers who are so fervent about the glories of the WTO are determined to preserve the kind of social order described a century ago by writer Anatole France: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

As U.S. Congress member Dennis Kucinich commented the other day, the World Trade Organization has achieved great transparency -- we can see right through it.

Genuine pro-democracy movements are always profoundly threatening to those with their polished boots on the necks of the poor. In the United States, corporate-owned media -- and corporate-leased politicians -- don't see any fundamental problem. The system is treating them very well, thank you, and they're returning the favor. (Or is it the other way around?)

America's punditocracy is adept at changing the subject, away from the basics. But the obvious -- like the purloined letter in Edgar Allen Poe's classic tale -- is often so omni-present that it goes unnoticed. Every daily newspaper in the U.S. has a business section; none has a labor section. On NPR, even though "Public" is its middle name, there's not even a weekly labor update -- while the same network airs an hourly NPR "business update."

The implicit media assumption that wealth creates all labor is simply another inversion of reality. What passes for mainstream journalism is standing on its head in order to serve corporate interests, as we've seen yet again. Carried in a march through Seattle, a huge banner noted: "The Corporate Media Diverts Your Attention from Police and WTO Violence."

The Capital Gang is just one of many network TV programs providing an incessant national chorus of corporate-friendly political pundits. It's an apt metaphor: Although we're supposed to assume that the name of the CNN show is a reference to Washington, D.C., my guess is that "Capital" could be more appropriately understood as financial capital.

If a pro-democracy movement is going to grow much more in this country, it must deal with the reality that the news media are hostile to populism that is progressive -- but appreciably more hospitable to the right-wing variety.

The first political pundit to appear on national TV seven days a week was Patrick Buchanan. Now he wants the Reform Party's presidential nomination.

Buchanan has become fond of voicing anti-corporate sentiments. He came to Seattle trolling for votes from the anti-WTO bandwagon. Meanwhile, he doesn't support basic union rights of American workers. Significantly, he opposes a raise in the minimum wage. And he scorns the environmental movement as an affront to holiness. "Easter's gone," Buchanan declared angrily a few years ago. "Now it's Earth Day. We can all go out and worship dirt."

From Corporate America's vantage point, Pat Buchanan is just about ideal as a national candidate waving the populist banner. Buchanan is hobbled by heavy far-right baggage -- which he grips with white-knuckled defiance as he equivocates about Nazi Germany and routinely denigrates people for failure to be white, heterosexual and Christian (as he defines Christian).

In sharp contrast, the progressive forces at work in Seattle have boosted momentum for democratic change. We're learning to reach out across borders and many other barriers, finding out how to affirm our common humanity while struggling against corporate power. As hundreds of people kept chanting outside the King County Correctional Facility during a festive celebration of resistance on the night of December 2: "This is what democracy looks like."

A global pro-democracy movement. The time has come.

___________________________________________

Norman Solomon's latest book is The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media.

Copyright (c) 1999 Norman Solomon

*****

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

Media analysis, critiques and news reports

Media Advisory:

WTO Coverage: Prattle in Seattle

December 7, 1999

As an estimated 50,000 protesters rallied in Seattle to shut down the opening conference of the World Trade Organization meeting last week, mainstream media treated protesters' concerns with indifference and often contempt. That hostility translated into slanted coverage of both the demonstrations and the police reaction.

In mainstream reports, "anti-trade" became a common--though wildly inaccurate -- label for the demonstrators. "A guerrilla army of anti-trade activists took control of downtown Seattle today," a Washington Post article (12/1/99) began. ABC News reporter John Cochran (11/30/99) said Seattle had become a "home for protests against world trade." ABC anchor Jack Ford (12/1/99) pitted the demonstrators against the city hosting them: "No American city exports as much, President Clinton was happy to point out today, which helps explain why a good many people in Seattle are angry -- at the protesters and their very anti-trade message."

Even coverage that did attempt to describe the protesters' goals dealt with them in only the vaguest terms--and often at a level of generalization that rendered the descriptions inaccurate or meaningless. An ABC News story by correspondent Deborah Wang in Seattle failed to address the activists' concerns with anything more than platitudes:

"They are fighting for essentially the same issues they campaigned against in the '60's. Corporations, which they say are still exploiting workers in the Third World. Agribusiness is still putting small farmers out of work. Mining companies, still displacing peasants from the land.... But what is different is that, for these protesters, this single organization, the WTO has come to symbolize about all that is wrong in the modern world."

More helpful than such generalities would have been a summary of some of the protesters' specific complaints: that the WTO has issued rulings forcing member countries to repeal specific laws that protect public health and the environment; that it proposes new rules limiting countries' freedom to regulate foreign corporate investors; and that its decisions are made in secret by an unaccountable tribunal.

The lack of understanding of the demonstrators' concerns was unsurprising, given how seldom the media spoke with them. When the police first started using tear gas against street blockades, CNN reporter Katherine Barrett (11/30/99) turned for comment to Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. Jasinowski confessed that he was "struck by how loopy some of the protesters were" and observed that they were "shouting a lot of crazy different messages."

Perhaps the single WTO opponent who received the largest amount of time on CNN to expound his views was Pat Buchanan, who was interviewed, one-on-one and at length, by Inside Politics anchor Judy Woodruff (11/30/99). Though right-wing nationalists appeared to make up--at most--an infinitesimal fraction of the actual protesters in Seattle's streets, the media seemed to anoint Buchanan as a major leader of the anti-WTO movement. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote (12/1/99) that "knaves like Pat Buchanan" had "duped" the demonstrators--"a Noah's ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix" -- into protesting the WTO.

"What's driving [the protests]?" CNN political analyst Bill Schneider asked on Inside Politics (11/30/99). "Resentment of big business for its irresponsible behavior, a resentment shared by the left"--followed by a soundbite of AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney--"and the right"--followed by a soundbite of Pat Buchanan. This type of right/left "evenhandedness" concerning the protests did not appear to be justified by the actual composition of the anti-WTO movement.

Media outlets seemed unconcerned by Buchanan's less-than-sterling record as an advocate for labor. As co-host of CNN's Crossfire (7/3/91), Buchanan once grilled public-sector union leader Gerald McEntee--one of the labor officials present at the Seattle demos--on "the suicidal impulses of American unions":

"A lot of the jobs now have disappeared-they're gone. One reason, one complaint, is the pay of the United Auto Workers and the benefits.... Aren't you fellows committing suicide by yourselves?"

Perhaps mainstream news outlets' confusion concerning the protesters' goals contributed to their often skewed coverage of the behavior of the Seattle police and National Guard. A continuing theme in news reports was that the use of tear gas and concussion grenades was an appropriate response to "violent" activists.

CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported (12/1/99) that "the meeting of the World Trade Organization was thrown into turmoil by violent demonstrations that went on into last night. That brought on today's crackdown." A CNN report from Seattle (12/1/99) claimed that "as tens of thousands marched through downtown Seattle, [a] small group of self-described anarchists smashed windows and vandalized stores. Police responded with rubber bullets and pepper gas."

But the sequence of events described in these reports was wrong. As Detective Randy Huserik, a spokesman for the Seattle police, confirmed, pepper spray had first been used against protesters engaged in peaceful civil disobedience. CNN anchor Lou Waters asked Huserik (11/30/99) why the gas was used:

Waters: How would you characterize the nature of the threat today? Were police assaulted? Is that what precipitated this?

Huserik: Well, a rather large group of protesters...were determined to continue blocking public entrance and exit in access of some of the various venue sites. They were given a lawful order to disperse, which was ignored. Officers then announced that the Seattle police officers would deploy pepper spray if the crowd did not disperse. For those that remained, the pepper spray was deployed in order to disperse that crowd.

One eyewitness, nonviolence trainer Matt Guynn, distributed the following account of police brutality over the Internet:

"In one scene I witnessed this morning (at 8th Ave and Seneca), police who had been standing behind a blockade line began marching in lock-step toward the line, swinging their batons forward, and when they reached the line they began striking the (nonviolent, seated) protestors repeatedly in the back. Then they ripped off the protestors' gas masks, and sprayed pepper spray at point-blank range into their eyes repeatedly. After spraying, they rubbed the protestors' eyes and pushed their fingers around on their lips to aggravate the effect of the spray. And after all THIS, they began striking them again with batons.... The police then were able to break up the line, and the protestors retreated to the steps of a nearby church for medical assistance."

The lack of condemnation of police tactics--especially their tear-gassing and pepper-spraying of peaceful protesters--was a striking feature of the coverage. "Thanks for joining us and good luck to you out there," CNN anchor Lou Waters told a Seattle police spokesperson (12/1/99) as police continued their crackdown on demonstrators. A front-page Los Angeles Times article on the protests (12/2/99) featured a subhead that read "Police Commended for Restraint." Yet the only source cited by the Times was Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who praised the "professionalism, restraint and competence" of his forces.

Contrast that with this account from Seattle physician Richard DeAndrea, posted on the website Emperors-clothes.com :

"The police were using concussion grenades. They were... shooting tear gas canisters directly at protesters' faces. They were using rubber bullets. Some of the damage I saw from these rubber bullets took off part of a person's jaw, smashed teeth... There are people who have been... treated for plastic bullet wounds. Lots of tear gas injuries, lots of damage to [the] cornea, lots of damage to the eyes and skin."

One of the few media accounts that conveyed the brutality of the Seattle police was written by a local correspondent for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (12/2/99), who reported that "three Seattle police officers slammed me to the pavement, handcuffed me and threw me into the van. I was charged with failing to disperse even though I showed them reporter's credentials and repeatedly said I was just covering a story."

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