Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No "Bailout" for The World's Poorest

Published on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 by Inter Press Service

No "Bailout" for The World's Poorest

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - As a spreading financial crisis threatens to deepen the economic recession in the United States, the news of an unprecedented 700-billion-dollar bailout package reverberated through the corridors of the United Nations last week as over 100 world leaders gathered in New York for the annual talk-fest: the 63rd session of the General Assembly.

[Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in the 1987 film "Wall Street." His speech to a meeting of stock traders is still considered a classic on Wall Street: "The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works." (File photo)]Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in the 1987 film "Wall Street." His speech to a meeting of stock traders is still considered a classic on Wall Street: "The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works." (File photo)

At a time when the United Nations is seeking increased financial assistance from rich nations to help developing countries meet the faltering Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including a 50-percent reduction on extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, the current U.S. economic crisis and its predictably negative fallout overseas is expected to be a major setback.

Addressing delegates last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the current gloomy outlook threatens the well-being of billions of people, "none more so than the poorest of the poor."

"This only compounds the damage [already] being caused by much higher prices for food and fuel", he added.

Ban has called for 72 billion dollars per year in additional external financing to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

As one Asian delegate put it: "The 72 billion is peanuts compared to the 700 billion the White House wants to dish out to save some of the Wall Street firms from going belly up."

"And the urgent needs of developing nations will now be the least of the priorities of the United States and other Western donors," he predicted.

Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockman of Nicaragua, the newly-elected president of the General Assembly, warned that the current financial crisis will have "very serious consequences" that will impede the significant progress, "if indeed any progress is made", towards the targets established by the MDGs, "which are themselves insufficient".

"It is always the poor who pay the price for the unbridled greed and irresponsibility of the powerful," he said, taking a passing shot at the staggering 700-billion-dollar bailout proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush to save the high-stakes investment banks of New York from bankruptcy and collapse.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told delegates that "money doesn't seem to be a problem, when the problem is money".

"Let us look for a moment at what is happening on Wall Street and in financial markets around the world. There, unsound investment threatens the homes and jobs of the middle class," he added.

There is something fundamentally wrong, he argued, "when money seems to be abundant, but funds for investment in people seem so short in supply".

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding told the General Assembly that the crisis currently rocking the world's financial markets reflects the inadequacy of the regulatory structures that are essential to the effective functioning of any market.

But it is more than that. It represents the failure on the part of the international financial system to facilitate the flow of resources into areas where they can produce real wealth -- not paper wealth, he added.

Golding said the world is not short of capital: "What it lacks are the mechanisms to ensure the efficient utilisation of that capital."

As the economic meltdown in the United States continues, the casualties are piling up both among commercial and investment banks: Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual (allowed to collapse with no government bailout); American International Group, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley (allowed to survive with emergency financial assistance, including some from the government); Merrill Lynch has been folded into Bank of America and Citigroup has taken over Wachovia Bank.

The outrage against Wall Street, described as the world's financial capital, is also directed at the high salaried chief executive officers and the middle rung bosses who make multi-million-dollar salaries, with stock options and perks that set them up in a privileged class by themselves.

According to one report, the lowest salary on Wall Street was around 280,000 dollars a year in a country where the average low or middle class employee would go home with a pay packet of 50,000 or 75,000 dollars per year.

In 2007, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, was paid 68.7 million dollars -- described as "the most ever for a Wall Street CEO."

As the entire U.S. economic edifice is in danger of collapsing, the White House has been called upon to save some of the biggest financial institutions in the country and, at the same time, redress the excesses of Wall Street business tycoons who earned multi-million-dollar salaries and extravagant bonuses.

The greed factor in the crisis is that these same tycoons, who are responsible for mismanaging their companies, still insist on continuing with their same lavish lifestyles and lofty salaries even after the massive taxpayer-funded bailout.

But these salaries and bonuses are likely to be curbed as part a return for the bailout package.

Addressing the 192-member General Assembly last week, the President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the economy of any country is "too serious an undertaking to be left in the hands of speculators".

Ethics must also apply to the economy, he said. But, unfortunately, in the race for profits, the ethical factor has ceased to exist.

The president quoted the Brazilian economist Celso Furtado who once said: "We must not allow speculators' profits always to be privatised, while their losses are invariably socialised."

And as a postscript, the Brazilian president added: "We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all."

In the 1987 Hollywood movie 'Wall Street,' Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas plays the role of a ruthless corporate raider, Gordon Gekko, who forsakes all business ethics to climb to the highest echelons of the business world.

His speech to a meeting of stock traders is still considered a classic on Wall Street: "The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works."

"Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."

Douglas, who is the U.N.'s goodwill ambassador for disarmament and a "messenger for peace", was at the United Nations last week to participate in the International Day of Peace.

Responding to a reporter who asked him: "Are you saying, Gordon, that greed is not good?," a visibly annoyed Douglas shot back: ""I am not saying that. And my name is not Gordon. He's a character I played 20 years ago."

© 2008 Inter Press Service

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Soldiers who hand prisoners to US could face legal action, MPs warned

There are 117 days until Jan. 20, 2009.

Soldiers who hand prisoners to US could face legal action, MPs warned

Duncan Campbell

The Guardian,

Monday September 29 2008

British troops who hand over prisoners in Iraq to US military personnel could find themselves facing prosecution, according to a legal opinion compiled for parliament. The finding has led to calls for the British government to rethink its current policy and investigate how the US treats its prisoners, and whether torture is employed against them.

Earlier this year the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition sought legal opinion from Michael Fordham QC on whether a human rights violation would arise under the European convention on human rights (ECHR) and the 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) if an individual in British detention in Iraq were handed over to US military personnel, "despite substantial grounds for considering that there is a real risk of that person being subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment".

The conclusion reached by Fordham and his colleague Tom Hickman is that an offence would definitely have been committed. If acted on, the opinion could mean that UK troops would not be allowed to "render" detainees to the US military until it was clear that they would no longer face the possibility of torture or ill-treatment.

What prompted the inquiry was a statement made in February this year by Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier who was on active service in Iraq. In his statement, Griffin said that he was "in no doubt" that individuals handed over to the US military "would be tortured". He cited what had happened to those detained at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram airbase and Abu Ghraib prison.

The opinion adds: "UK forces operating in Iraq are potentially also subject to UK criminal law, tort law and Iraqi law. Notably, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it a criminal offence for a public official, whatever his nationality and wherever located, to commit an act of torture."

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee which commissioned the report, said there had been a number of allegations that UK forces had been capturing people and handing them over to US authorities, knowing that these detainees were at risk of being tortured or mistreated.

"I commissioned a legal opinion to establish whether the UK acted unlawfully when they were handed over," said Tyrie. "I now have the answer. The UK remains legally responsible for the subsequent treatment of anybody who has been detained by the UK. It is likely that British policy on this area is not only ethically questionable but is also unlawful. The government now needs to radically rethink its policy on this issue."

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal action charity Reprieve, also welcomed the findings. "We are delighted that the all-party parliamentary group has recognised the illegality of British troops handing over prisoners to US custody in Iraq, " he said. "These prisoners promptly disappear into an unaccountable prison network in which over 20,000 prisoners are held for illegal interrogation and torture. If it is confirmed that this has been happening, the British government must immediately reveal how many people have been handed over, where they are now, and what has been done to them."

Paul Marsh, president of the Law Society, called on the government to investigate what happens to prisoners rendered from British custody. "Extraordinary rendition has been used by some states as a means of bypassing the formal justice system," said Marsh. "To do so is a breach of the rule of law and puts individuals at risk of ill-treatment. The Law Society calls on the UK government to look beyond assurances from other countries and positively investigate and monitor whether individuals rendered from British custody are receiving equivalent standards of due process. It is time we returned to our values in the rule of law."

• guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Protesters Move In Path of Pipeline

Published on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 by Canada News Network

Protesters Move In Path of Pipeline

by Darren Bernhardt

KERROBERT, Saskatchewan - Led by two men on horseback, roughly 60 First Nations people carried placards and marched through Kerrobert on Monday as part of a demonstration over the construction of a 1,590-kilometre oil pipeline known as the "Alberta Clipper" through traditional Treaty 6 territory.

[Red Pheasant Chief Sheldon Wuttunee was among the protesters, as Native leaders set up camp on the Enbridge Pipelines Inc. pipeline near Kerrobert to make it known they want a share in the construction and revenues. (Photograph by : Richard Marjan/The StarPhoenix)]Red Pheasant Chief Sheldon Wuttunee was among the protesters, as Native leaders set up camp on the Enbridge Pipelines Inc. pipeline near Kerrobert to make it known they want a share in the construction and revenues. (Photograph by : Richard Marjan/The StarPhoenix)

The protesters say they haven't been consulted and are demanding a share of the revenues.

"We want to put out a message that we've had enough, that we're going to stand together as Indian people to make sure we get our fair share of the resources that come from our traditional lands," said Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Sheldon Wuttunee, who led the procession through town wearing a ceremonial headdress.

The march concluded with a pass through the yard of the Kerrobert headquarters of Enbridge Pipelines Inc., the company behind the Alberta Clipper.

Construction will take place about 80 kilometres from the Red Pheasant reserve northeast of Saskatoon. Topsoil has been removed along several kilometres of land to prepare for trenching as the project edges closer.

Wuttunee and his band members, along with supporters from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and First Nation bands in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., set up a campsite Monday adjacent to the pipeline path just south of Luseland.

Four teepees have been erected, including one directly on top of the pipeline path.

"We're not out to tar and feather anybody. This is a peaceful demonstration seeking dialogue with the company and the government to make sure Indian people get their fair and equitable share," FSIN Chief Lawrence Joseph said during a press conference at the campsite prior to the march.

When the treaties were signed 134 years ago, the First Nations in Treaty 6 -- which spans Alberta, Saskatchewan and a portion of Manitoba -- allowed European settlement in return for certain guarantees from the government.

"We did not agree to live in poverty," said Joseph. "We want a piece of the action."

"We want what's rightfully ours as per treaty," added Wuttunee.

Other speakers seemed less concerned with revenues than with the environmental impacts of oil development. Chief Allan Paul of the Alexander First Nation, northwest of Edmonton near the Fort McMurray oilsands, said the water is becoming poisoned and causing deformities in fish and killing ducks.

The cancer rate has also spiked in his people.

"It has to stop somewhere," he said. "It hurts to see what is happening."

Joseph said there has to be a balance between economic development and the desecration of the earth. First Nations people are stewards of the land, protecting it for future generations, he said.

But at the same time, the resources "given to us by the Creator" must be mined to provide economic security, he said.

Enbridge spokesperson Gina Jordan said the company has had public consultations with 40 First Nations and Metis groups during the past two years and is "looking forward to continuing discussions with Red Pheasant and other First Nations. We want to make sure they have participation (in the pipeline project)."

She added several First Nations people are employed in the construction, contracting and security fields regarding the pipeline.

Senior management from Enbridge, Jordan said, are intending to meet with Wuttunee and other First Nations officials as soon as possible, but she did not know when that might happen.

Wuttunee has said the camp will remain set up "until we are dealt with."

According to Paul, the various pipelines that presently cut through Treaty 6 territory from Fort McMurray generate $65 billion in activity annually.

"And what are they going to give you? Nothing, not even a royalty. A few token jobs, maybe," said Chief Terrance Nelson of the Roseau River Anishinabe (Manitoba) First Nation.

"Good for you to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough. We own that land. We're sure as hell not going to give it up to everyone else.' "

Earlier this month, Wuttunee warned action was being considered to halt construction of the pipeline until First Nations feel their issues have been addressed.

It began Sunday east of Regina, where protesters representing Treaty 4 First Nations brought traffic on Highway 1 to a crawl and barricaded the road leading into the Waschuk Pipeline construction compound.

© 2008 Canwest Media

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Bill Quigley | Shame: The US War Against Unarmed Working Mothers


t r u t h o u t | 09.30


Shame: The US War Against Unarmed Working Mothers

Tuesday 30 September 2008

by: Bill Quigley, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Is this what our nation has come to? War against unarmed working mothers? Have we no shame?

Dozens of petite young mothers gathered this week in the parking lot outside the US Department of Homeland Security in Gulfport, Mississippi. Each wore a long dress or pants to hide her electronic ankle bracelet. Lift up a pants leg and you can see the black plastic band and monitor, which is the size of a pack of cigarettes. Most wore sandals. Several were obviously pregnant.

From the outside, the building looked like any office park. But a blue Homeland Security flag waved right next to the red white and blue out in front. Inside, the mothers were being interviewed and readied for deportation.

The crime these mothers are charged with? Not guns, not drugs, not spying. Working to put food on the table for their families and not being citizens of the US.

Heavily armed federal agents stormed the Laurel, Mississippi, parts plant where they worked in late August. Helicopters swarmed in an operation ABC News described as "paramilitary." Agents shackled hundreds of workers at the wrist, waist and ankles.

About one hundred women and nearly three hundred men were arrested. Most of the men are in prison. The women are wearing ankle bracelets 24/7.

One of the women has been working in the US for eleven years. She has children 8 and 7 years old. Another has been here two years and has a one-year-old child. One started work at the raided plant three weeks before the arresting immigration agents showed up.

In the Homeland Security office, no guns were visible. Agents were polite as interviews were conducted at several desks in an open office area. Yet, tears dripped down the face of one mother as federal agents questioned her.

These hundred mothers are a tiny fraction of the casualties of the US war on unarmed mothers and fathers.

In 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 30,408 immigrants, about double the number for 2006.

This 2008 election season finds federal criminal agents more active than ever. A few recent operations will illustrate.

In April 2008, federal agents arrested about 400 immigrants working at chicken plants in Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

In May, US officials rushed eleven restaurants in San Francisco, arresting 63 immigrant workers.

Later in May, 389 immigrants were arrested in Pottsville, Iowa, for working at a meatpacking plant in what was then the largest workplace raid in US history. Federal agents packing heavy-duty weapons surrounded the plant, while others in helicopters swarmed overhead.

In July, 43 agricultural workers were arrested in Hawaii.

In August, federal officials arrested 59 people working at a parachute plant in North Carolina. Also in August, ICE agents arrested 42 undocumented people working at the Dulles airport.

Later in August, over 350 workers were arrested in a workplace raid in Laurel, Mississippi.

Thus far in September, there has been an increasing number of raids. In early September, federal agents raided a bakery in Palm Springs, arresting 53 workers. Another September raid netted 65 arrests at a candle plant in Arizona. In Chicago, federal agents swooped in by helicopter and arrested 21 people.

In the last week, federal agents raided a house in Hercules, California, arresting 21 undocumented workers, and raided a hotel in Maui, arresting another 21.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops, no leftist group, condemned the raids in September, saying, "The humanitarian costs of these raids are immeasurable and unacceptable in a civilized society."

What the hell is going on? How many working mothers and fathers and children must be sacrificed in this election-year war?

Does the US feel so vulnerable that we really need to declare war on unarmed working mothers and conduct paramilitary raids on bakeries, candle shops and meatpacking plants in order to feel safe?

The militarized war on unarmed immigrant mothers, fathers and children is expected to continue until at least after the November elections. By then, thousands more will be arrested and deported. After the election, the new Congress and the new administration will certainly turn their attention to substantive immigration reform. The high-profile war on unarmed working mothers will likely slow down a little. Mothers, fathers and children will go back to work. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker will be back in business and the shame will continue.


Bill is a human rights attorney and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill and others at Loyola are helping the Catholic Legal Immigration Network represent dozens of mothers arrested in Laurel, Mississippi. Bill can be e-mailed at Quigley77@gmail.com

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Is 'Taking it to the Streets' Worth it?"

Is 'Taking it to the Streets' Worth the

Bruises, Tear Gas and Arrests?

By Mark Engler, AlterNet

Posted on September 29, 2008, Printed on September 29, 2008


Nine years after the World Trade Organization came to

Seattle, a new feature film sets out to dramatize the

historic protests that the institution's meetings

provoked. The issue that "Battle in Seattle" filmmaker

Stuart Townsend seeks to raise, as he recently stated,

is "(what it takes) to create real and meaningful change."

The question is notoriously difficult. In the film,

characters like Martin Henderson's Jay, a veteran

environmental campaigner driven by a tragedy

experienced on a past logging campaign, and Michelle

Rodriguez's Lou, a hard-bitten animal rights activist,

debate the effectiveness of protest. Even as they take

to Seattle's streets, staring down armor-clad cops

(Woody Harrelson, Channing Tatum) commanded by a

tormented and indecisive mayor (Ray Liotta), they

wonder whether their actions can have an impact.

Generally speaking, the response of many Americans is

to dismiss protests out of hand, arguing that

demonstrators are just blowing off steam and won't make

a difference. But if any case can be held as a

counter-example, Seattle is it.

The 1999 mobilization against the World Trade

Organization has never been free from criticism. As

Andre 3000's character in the movie quips, even the

label "Battle in Seattle" makes the protests sound less

like a serious political event and more "like a monster

truck rally." While the demonstrations were still

playing out and police were busy arresting some 600

people, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman issued

his now-famous edict stating that deluded activists

were just "looking for their 1960s fix." This type of

disregard has continued with the release of the film. A

review in the Seattle Weekly dismissively asked,

"Remind me again what those demonstrations against the

WTO actually accomplished."

While cynicism comes cheap, those concerned about

global poverty, sweatshop labor, outsourced jobs and

threats to the environment can witness remarkable

changes on the international scene. Today, trade talks

at the WTO are in shambles, sister institutions such as

the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are now

shriveled versions of their once-imposing selves, and

the ideology of neoliberal corporate globalization is

under intense fire, with mainstream economists

defecting from its ranks and entire regions such as

Latin America in outright revolt. As global justice

advocates have long argued, the forces that created

these changes "did not start in Seattle." Yet few trade

observers would deny that the week of protest late in

the last millennium marked a critical turning point.

What Happened in Seattle?

"Battle in Seattle" accurately depicts the mainstream

media as being overwhelmingly focused on the smashed

windows of Starbucks and Niketown -- property

destruction carried out by a small minority of

protesters. In the past two decades, the editorial

boards of major U.S. newspapers have been more dogged

than even many pro-corporate legislators in pushing the

"free trade" agenda. Yet, remarkably, acknowledgement

of the WTO protests' impact on globalization politics

could be found even in their pages. Shortly after the

event, the Los Angeles Times wrote, "On the

teargas-shrouded streets of Seattle, the unruly forces

of democracy collided with the elite world of trade

policy. And when the meeting ended in failure ... the

elitists had lost and the debate had changed forever."

Seattle was supposed to be a moment of crowning

achievement for corporate globalization. Big-business

sponsors of the Seattle Ministerial (donors of $75,000

or more included Procter & Gamble, Microsoft,

Weyerhaeuser, Boeing and GM) invested millions to make

it a showcase of "New Economy" grandeur. Any student of

public relations could see that the debacle they

experienced instead could hardly be less desirable for

advancing their agenda.

Rarely do protesters have the satisfaction of achieving

their immediate goals, especially when their stated

aims are as grandiose as shutting down a major trade

meeting. Yet the direct action in Seattle did just that

on its first day, with activists chained around the

conference center forcing the WTO to cancel its opening ceremonies.

By the end of the week, negotiations had collapsed

altogether. Trade representatives from the global

South, emboldened by the push from civil society,

launched their own revolt from within the conference.

Jumping between scenes of street protest and depictions

of the ministers' trade debate, Townsend's film

illustrates this inside-outside dynamic. Dialogue at

one point in the movie for actor Isaach De Bankole, who

plays an African trade minister, is pulled almost

verbatim from a real statement released that week by

Organization of African Unity. The ministers railed

against "being marginalized and generally excluded on

issues of vital importance for our peoples and their future."

The demands of the developing countries' governments

were not always the same as those of the outside

protesters. However, the diverse forces agreed on some

key points. Expressing his disgust for how the WTO

negotiations had been conducted, Sir Shridath Ramphal,

the chief Caribbean negotiator, argued, "This should

not be a game about enhancing corporate profits. This

should not be a time when big countries, strong

countries, the world's wealthiest countries, are

setting about a process designed to enrich themselves."

Given that less powerful countries had typically been

bullied into compliance at trade ministerials, this was

highly unusual stuff. Yet it would become increasingly

normal. Seattle launched a series of setbacks for the

WTO and, to this day, the institution has yet to

recover. Efforts to expand the reach of the WTO have

repeatedly failed, and the overtly unilateralist Bush

White House has been even less effective than the

"cooperative" Clinton administration at getting its way

in negotiations.

This past summer, analyst Walden Bello dubbed the

current round of WTO talks the "Dracula Round" because

it lives in an undead state. No matter how many times

elites try to revive the round, it seems destined to

suffer a new death -- as it did most recently in late

July. Other agreements, such as the Free Trade Area of

the Americas, which aimed to extend NAFTA throughout

the hemisphere and which drew protests in places like

Quebec City and Miami, have since been abandoned altogether.

"We Care Too"

The altered fate of the WTO is itself very significant.

But this is only part of a wider series of

transformations that the global justice protests of the

Seattle era helped to usher in. Toward the end of

"Battle in Seattle," Andre 3000's character, an

activist who spends a decent part of the film dressed

as a sea turtle, makes a key point: "A week ago nobody

knew what the WTO was," he says. "Now ... they still

don't know what it is. But at least they know it's bad."

The Seattle protests launched thousands of

conversations about what type of global society we want

to live in. While they have often been depicted as

mindless rioters, activists were able to push their

message through. A poll published in Business Week in

late December 1999 showed that 52 percent of

respondents were sympathetic with the protesters,

compared with 39 percent who were not. Seventy-two

percent agreed that the United States should

"strengthen labor, environmental and endangered species

protection standards" in international treaties, while

only 21 percent disagreed.

A wave of increased sympathy and awareness dramatically

changed the climate for longtime campaigners. People

who had been quietly laboring in obscurity for years

suddenly found themselves amid a huge surge of popular

energy, resources and legitimacy. Obviously, the

majority of Americans did not drop everything to become

trade experts. But an impressive number, especially on

college campuses and in union halls, did take time to

learn more -- about sweatshops and corporate power,

about global access to water and the need for local

food systems, about the connection between job loss at

home and exploitation abroad.

With the protests that took place in the wake of

Seattle, finance ministers who had grown accustomed to

meeting in secretive sessions behind closed doors were

suddenly forced to defend their positions before the

public. Often, official spokespeople hardly offered a

defense of WTO, IMF and World Bank policies at all.

Instead they spent most of their time trying to

convince audiences that they, too, cared about poverty.

In particular, the elites who gather annually in the

Swiss Alps for the exclusive World Economic Forum

became obsessed with branding themselves as defenders

of the world's poor. The Washington Post noted of the

2002 forum, "The titles of workshops read like

headlines from the Nation: 'Understanding Global

Anger,' 'Bridging the Digital Divide' and 'The Politics of Apology.'"

Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist of the World

Bank who was purged after he outspokenly criticized the

IMF, perhaps most clearly described the remarkable

shift in elite discussion that has taken place since

global justice protests first captured the media

spotlight. In a 2006 book, he wrote:

I have been going to the annual meetings (in Davos,

Switzerland) for many years and had always heard

globalization spoken of with great enthusiasm. What was

fascinating ... was the speed at which views had

shifted (by 2004). ... This change is emblematic of the

massive change in thinking about globalization that has

taken place in the last five years all around the

world. In the 1990s, the discussion at Davos had been

about the virtues of opening international markets. By

the early years of the millennium, it centered on

poverty reduction, human rights and the need for fairer

trade arrangements.

Changing Policy

Of course, much of the shift at Davos is just talk. But

the wider political changes go far beyond rhetoric. As

Stiglitz noted, "Even the IMF now agrees that capital

market liberalization has contributed neither to growth

nor to stability." Grassroots activity has translated

into concrete change on other levels as well. Even some

critics of the global justice movement have noted that

activists have scored a number of significant policy

victories. In a September 2000 editorial titled "Angry

and Effective," the Economist reported that the movement

... already has changed things -- and not just the

cocktail schedule for the upcoming meetings. Protests

... succeeded in scuttling the (Organisation for

Economic Co-operation and Development's) planned

Multilateral Agreement on Investment in 1998; then came

the greater victory in Seattle, where the hoped-for

launch of global trade talks was aborted. ... This has

dramatically increased the influence of mainstream

NGOs, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and Oxfam.

... Assaulted by unruly protesters, firms and

governments are suddenly eager to do business with the

respectable face of dissent.

Various combinations of "respectable" negotiators and

"unruly" dissidents have forced shifts on a wide range

of issues. It is not glamorous work to trace the

issue-by-issue changes that activists have eked out --

whether it's compelling multinational pharmaceutical

companies to drop intellectual property lawsuits

against African governments seeking to provide

affordable AIDS drugs for their citizens, or creating a

congressional ban on World Bank loans that impose user

fees on basic health care and education for the poor,

or persuading administrators at more than 140 colleges

to make their institutions take part in the

anti-sweatshop Worker Rights Consortium. Yet these

changes affect many lives.

Take just one demand: debt relief. For decades,

countries whose people suffer tremendous deprivation

have been forced to send billions of dollars to

Washington in payment for past debts -- many of which

were accumulated by dictators overthrown years ago.

Debt relief advocates were among the thousands who

joined the Seattle mobilization, and they saw their

cause quickly gain mainstream respectability in the

altered climate that followed. In 2005, the world's

wealthiest countries agreed to a breakthrough debt

cancellation agreement that, while imperfect, shifted

roughly $1 billion per year in resources back to the global South.

In early 2007, Imani Countess, national coordinator of

the American Friends Service Committee Africa Program,

noted that the impact of the deal has been profound:

In Ghana, the money saved is being used for basic

infrastructure, including rural feeder roads, as well

as increased expenditure on education and health care.

In Burundi, elimination of school fees in 2005 allowed

an additional 300,000 children to enroll.

In Zambia, since March 31, 2006, free basic health care

has been provided for all (along with) a pledge to

recruit 800 medical personnel and slightly over 4,000 teachers.

In Cameroon, (the government made) a pledge to recruit

some 30,000 new teachers by the year 2015 and to

construct some 1,000 health facilities within the next six years.

"They won the verbal and policy battle," said Gary

Hufbauer, a "pro-globalization" economist at the

Institute for International Economics in 2002, speaking

of the groups that have organized major globalization

protests. "They did shift policy. Are they happy that

they shifted it enough? No, they're not ever going to

be totally happy, because they're always pushing."

A Crisis of Legitimacy

In its review of "Battle in Seattle," the Hollywood

industry publication Variety notes that "the post-9/11

war on terror did a great deal to bury (the) momentum"

of the global justice movement. This idea has become a

well-worn trope; however, it is only partially true. In

the wake of 9/11, activists did shift attention to

opposing the Bush administration's invasion and

occupation of Iraq. But, especially in the global

South, protesters combined a condemnation of U.S.

militarism with a critique of "Washington Consensus"

economic policies. In the post-Seattle era, these

polices have faced a crisis of legitimacy throughout much of the world.

Privatization, deregulation and corporate market access

have failed to reduce inequality or create sustained

growth in developing countries. This has led an

increasing number of mainstream economists, Stiglitz

most prominent among them, to question some of the most

cherished tenets of neoliberal "free trade" economics.

Not only are the intellectual foundations of neoliberal

doctrine under assault, the supposed beneficiaries of

these economic prescriptions are now walking away.

Throughout Latin America, waves of popular opposition

to Washington Consensus policies have forced

conservative governments from power. In election after

election since the turn of the millennium, the people

have put left-of-center leaders in office.

The Asian financial crisis, which occurred shortly

before Seattle, and the collapse of Argentina's

economy, which took place shortly afterward, starkly

illustrated the risks of linking a country's future to

the whims of international financial speculators. Those

Asian countries hammered in 1997 and 1998 have now

stockpiled massive currency reserves so that the White

House and the IMF will not be able to dictate their

economic policies in the future. Similarly, Latin

American nations have paid off IMF loans early to

escape the institution's control.

The result has been swift and decisive. In 2004, the

IMF's loan portfolio was roughly $100 billion. Today it

has fallen to around $10 billion, rendering the

institution almost impotent. As economist Mark Weisbrot

noted, "the IMF's loss of influence is probably the

most important change in the international financial

system in more than half a century."

Currently, the United States is experiencing its own

crisis of deregulation and financial gambling. We are

now afforded the rare sight of Sen. John McCain

blasting "Wall Street greed" and accusing financiers of

"(treating) the American economy like a casino."

Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama decries the removal of

government oversight on markets and the doctrine of

trickle-down prosperity as "an economic philosophy that

has completely failed." In each case, their words might

have been plucked from Seattle's teach-ins and protest signs.

Townsend's film ends with the admonition that "the

battle continues." The struggle in the coming years

will be to compel those in power to transform

campaign-trail rhetoric into a real rejection of

corporate globalization. The White House would still

like to pass ever-newer "free trade" agreements. And

the WTO, while bruised and battered, has not been

eliminated entirely. Because its original mandate is

still intact, the institution has considerable power in

dictating the terms of economic development in much of

the world. Opposing this will require continued grassroots pressure.

On a broader level, huge challenges of global poverty,

inequality, militarism and environmental degradation

remain. Few, if any, participants in the 1999

mobilization believed that a single demonstration would

eliminate these problems in one tidy swoop, and I very

much doubt that anyone involved with the "Battle in

Seattle" thinks a single film will solve them, either.

But the coming fight will be easier if the spirit that

drove those protests animates a new surge of citizen

activism in the post-Bush era.

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a

senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author

of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the

Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached

via the Web site DemocracyUprising.com

(c) 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.