Jim Hightower

The WTO Torpedo Turns

The World Trade Organization, the secretive tribunal in Geneva, was the brainchild of a handful of giant U.S. corporations. They wanted a world governing body that would advance the global corporate agenda, literally giving the WTO veto power over national and even local laws worldwide. They got their wish. But, whoops, what they hadn’t figured when ramming this totalitarian beast through a lame-duck session of Congress in 1994 was that foreign corporations might sic the WTO on some of the sweetheart, special-interest laws that Congress has passed for U.S. corporations. And this is exactly what has happened. European corporations complained to the WTO about a U.S. law that allows giant American firms to hide profits in offshore subsidiaries, thus avoiding taxes. Indeed, such outfits as Boeing, GE, General Motors, Microsoft?and of course, Enron?are big users of this loophole, evading more than $4 billion a year in taxes.

The WTO, in secret session, has now ruled that this tax-haven law is a subsidy that violates WTO rules and must be rescinded. Or, if Congress prefers, the corporate subsidy can stay and we taxpayers can compensate for it by forking over billions of dollars in penalties to the European companies. So what we regular Americans have here is a triple whammy. One, Congress passes a stupid law allowing corporations to avoid paying taxes. Two, Congress sets up the anti-democratic WTO, which allows corporations to overturn our own laws. Three, when the WTO overturns our stupid tax-haven law, the corporations lobby to force us to cover their WTO penalties in a game of global corporate gotcha.

QUE HABLE EL PUEBLO

While George W’s PR flacks keep insisting that the Enron scandal is too complicated for us commoners to grasp, the people themselves seem very engaged and have no trouble connecting all the dots to see the big picture. One place to find what folks are thinking is in one of the mass media’s last democratic forums: letters-to-the-editor columns. As I travel around the country, I’m impressed by the savvy people are showing as they pen their thoughts, practically all of which express outrage at what Enron represents.

Carol Fletcher from Pflugerville, Texas: “Enron failed to pay any income taxes in four of the past five years, all the while lobbying for and receiving tax rebates. The hubris of Enron and similar companies is nauseating. I hope to see candidates take a stand with specific recommendations, not just rhetoric, as to how to end this corporate gluttony.”

C.L. Fincher of Little Rock: “Oh, yes, we little people understand exactly what happened at Enron, and we are furious about it. Our course of action is crystal clear: appoint a special prosecutor who is acceptable to both parties.”

Anne Kirby, Palo Alto: “In addition to punishing the wrongdoers, we should see to it that the money they made in this scandal is taken from them and returned to the investors they duped, especially their own employees.”

Peter Hill of Boston, commenting on a fired Enron worker who now has no money for his son’s illness: “If this country had universal health care, a company’s failure would not mean the end of health coverage for laid-off employees.”

John Koppel of Bethesda, Maryland: “Enron’s collapse was a product of a culture of greed, dishonesty, ethical blindness, and wishful thinking that has characterized much of corporate America and that has been allowed to flourish essentially unchecked for the last 20 years (largely because politicians from both parties are dependent on campaign contributions from big business).”

HOW LOW CAN THEY GO?

Even by Wall Street?s corrupt standards, the lobbying assault that the big drug corporations launched shortly after September 11 is hamfisted, selfish, and sleazy. The New York Times reports that the pharmaceutical barons are the most powerful lobby in Washington. They spend about $200 million a year on lobbyists and campaign contributions?more than any other industry. They have 134 lobbying firms on their payroll, which gives them 625 registered lobbyists to push their agenda. That’s 90 more lobbyists than there are members of Congress! Within hours of September?s crashbombings, this army was deployed going corridor to corridor, agency to agency, and all the way to the top, to Bush himself. In a coordinated campaign, they used our nation’s fight against terrorism and the public scare about anthrax as covers to win a list of legislative stinkers for their industry that they had long wanted, but couldn’t get Congress to swallow.

But, now, they wrapped those stinkers in our American flag and declared, as the CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb put it: “We are part of the nation’s defense system.” Some patriot. Bristol-Myers’ contribution to national defense was to demand a three-year extension on the patent for its diabetes drug, Glucophage. This meant that diabetes patients would not be able to get a cheaper generic version for another three years, and Bristol-Myers would pocket an extra $6 billion. Among the other stinkers that the lobbyists pushed in the name of national security was a waiver from certain FDA rules for drugs that could be marketed to combat bioterrorism. Bush officials said they might waive the testing and safety requirements on these drugs, as well as waiving the responsibility of drug makers to notify authorities of serious illnesses and injuries caused by their products.

Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected]

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