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On Thursday, July 25, 2001, the people of the United States were still reeling from the tales of corporate corruption on Wall Street, and their intimate genetic relationship to the rise of George W. Bush. Congress passed so-called "landmark" legislation against insider trading, accounting abuses, and other Wall Street shenanigans that have recently helped threaten to transform American political economy. But as the New York Times wryly observed in a July 27 editorial regarding the subsequent banker-friendly overhaul of bankruptcy laws, "It was probably expecting too much to think that Congress’s stand-up attitude to big business would last until the weekend."
In the wee midnight hours of late Friday, July 25 and Saturday morning, the same House of Representatives that claims credit for battling corporate corruption (while it rewrites the bankruptcy code to benefit giant credit card companies), passed an even greater legislative gift to crony capitalists. They slipped "fast track," or presidential trade negotiating authority for the Bush/ Harken/ Cheney/Halliburton oil administration, through the House in the dead of night. The vote was 215-212, with 25 Democratic representatives acting like "independent" Enron board members and going along with Bush Corp. Less than 48 hours after their orgy of self-congratulation for supposedly doing something to stop corporate crime, a narrow House majority hypocritically reopened the corporate "free trade" candy store, with Dick Cheney presiding at a secure location behind the ringing cash register.
"Fast track" grants power for Bush and his cronies to negotiate corporate power instruments in the name of "trade." They don’t have to deal with annoying democratic processes, or even any meaningful debate involving the working families at home and abroad whose interests will be most directly threatened by the international corporate casino economy, misleadingly labeled "free trade." These unconstitutional powers granted by Congress to the First Nepotist in the White House will perpetuate and strengthen the same corporate abuses that have so recently appalled America.
For the past ten years the supporters of corporate-managed "free trade" have been advocating deregulation of business and privatization of essential public services under the WTO, NAFTA, and the future FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) would render all the financial, auditing, pension, and social service sectors, including water distribution, health care, education, communications, social security, and virtually everything else people need to live in prosperity and govern ourselves democratically, completely freed from regulation. That’s what free trade is all about. George W. Bush and the hypocrites in Congress act as if that were a good thing for all the obvious reasons dishonesty, greed, and the mountains of corporate cash funding their political careers.
The deregulation, speculation, environmental and human rights violations, insider rip-offs and other downsizing of jobs and democracy associated with the recent scandals of Enron, MCI/Worldcom, Global Crossing, and the other corporate behemoths have their political and economic roots in the so-called "free trade" system of corporate-dominated market fundamentalism. Congresspersons who are trying to pass themselves off as legitimate representatives of the American people, while voting for scams like "fast track," have absolutely no shame. None whatsoever.
The ongoing corporate corruption scandal that Congress supposedly addressed last week is in reality part and parcel of the whole "free trade" era. It is not just a matter of a few crooked accountants at Arthur Andersen. "Free trade" agreements and "fast track" powers for the President are not about tariffs and import/export quotas any more. In the 21st century, they affect every aspect of our lives, including food safety, labor rights, environmental conservation and health, public services, and even the vigor and effectiveness of democracy itself. Such issues have increasingly given way to corporate domination via "free trade" policies of the last twenty years, empowering giant multinational corporations to swing the deals that rocked our world after the Enron explosion late last year. These fundamental issues of public policy are far too important to leave to the likes of George W. Bush, "Kenny Boy" Lay, and the other corporate titans who funded Bush’s string of disastrous business deals and extremist right-wing political maneuvers for decades.
We live in a nation and world where giant multinational corporations unjustly dominate our political and economic lives. Our dim-witted boy president revels in that sad fact. Indeed, it is precisely what made him into what he is today, finally holding an actual job after his father’s associates repeatedly shoveled money into his pockets through one business flop after another and he always came up roses. The "free trade" era of market fundamentalism and deregulation of the global casino economy is based on the same market absolutist policies that empowered a rising class of mega-corporate pirates to steal the rest of us blind, and also sponsored Bush’s improbable rise to power. Now "fast track" even further empowers Bush and giant corporations to undermine democracy, the constitution, workers’ rights, the environment, and the public interest.
This latest "fast track" legislation previously passed the House of Representatives in December 2001 by a single vote, mostly based on claims that it was necessary for national defense to support the president in time of war. Since then we have learned how inattentive and even grossly incompetent the top security and intelligence officials of this administration really were before the crimes of September 11. Moreover, we have been appalled at their shameless use of war for partisan political purposes, issuing new and vague warnings of anticipated attacks when it suits their purposes to distract Americans from problems with their policies. And we know that this administration is a wholly owned subsidiary right down to whatever incorporeal property interest it may have that passes for a "soul" – of the exact same corporations whose shady dealings have recently done so much to undermine Americans’ trust. The Enron/Andersen sector of American politics simply cannot be trusted with the undemocratic powers that "fast track" gives them. The 215 Congressional representatives who can’t see that obvious fact need to be privatized immediately.
Come November, it’s time to flush them out of Congress. Democrats who opposed "fast track" should use every opportunity to denounce their opponents who passed this scam, by making the link early and often between the corporate corruption scandals and "fast track/free trade" economy of greed. Greens should put all available resources into targeting the 25 Democrats who provided the margin of victory. Until these hypocrites are swept out of office on a tide of real reform and globalizing justice, all talk of Congress cracking down on corporate corruption will be pure hot air, with nothing to back it up.
Tom Stephens lives in Detroit. He can be reached at: email@example.com