Today's spotlight is brightly focused on the economy. The government is debating bailouts to the tune of billions, possibly trillions of dollars before it's all over. And as usual, it will be you and me, the taxpayers, who will pay for it.
This market crisis was predicted. In the last eight years, the administration, with its corporate cronies, has gone on a deregulation rampage. They have ensured that corporations had very little government oversight and paid as few taxes as possible.
Even after the Enron scandal, financial firms have been able to sidestep rules and regulations that were created to protect the American people. Many corporations continued to engage in such risky behavior, knowing that their eventual demise or collapse would threaten our entire economic system. And now, after shunning government regulation, corporations are begging for government bailouts.
We are at a standoff. Whose interests will win out?
The forecasters of the effects of unfettered corporate greed are dramatized in a new film out this week in limited release.
"Battle in Seattle" tells the story of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Although originally intended to be mostly peaceful, the protests turned violent and police attacked even peaceful protestors. The people of Seattle found themselves prisoners in their own city as a curfew was imposed and the Washington National Guard patrolled the streets.
The World Trade Organization was founded in 1995 with the intent of destroying barriers to trade and opening markets to goods. While this has proven profitable for multinational corporations, the rules of the WTO are also used to punish poor countries. For example, countries debilitated by HIV/AIDS are penalized if they try to offer generic cheaper AIDS medications.
At the same time rich countries destroy the ability for farmers in Africa and Latin America to grow food through "dumping" — raiding local markets with cheap substandard products, making those countries more dependent. Companies benefit from these rules and promote the "race to the bottom" — consistently seeking the cheapest labor in the poorest country to exploit.
So often when I talk with African Americans about international economic issues, there is a disconnect between our domestic battles against racism and classism at home and the international economic system.
Nevertheless, in the U.S., Black Americans are the prime victims of globalization. NAFTA has taken decent jobs out of our cities, leaving nothing for the sons and daughters of Detroit, Pittsburgh and my hometown, Buffalo. The "Rust Belt" for so many is a trap rather than the region of opportunity our grandparents came to from the South. While the WTO headquarters may be thousands of miles away, much of the decision making happens in Washington, DC and these decisions have wide ranging effects we all should care about.
While "Battle in Seattle" is a crash course in international economic policy, see it for more than just that. For five days at the end of 1999, individuals from all walks of life, White, Black, steelworkers and farmers stood as one. They faced arrest and police violence in the name of our future. And their beliefs then should be our beliefs even now — that human values are paramount. No corporation has the right to deny the world the right to work, the right to clean air and water, or the right to food. Corporate interests should not win out over human lives and livelihoods.
Today, the advancement of this free trade ideology has resulted in countless good jobs moving overseas, only to be replaced by horrible sweatshop jobs in developing countries. No one wins. In countries like Colombia, Black workers are forced into appalling working conditions that are blatantly ignored by multinational corporations, as well as by the WTO.
The Battle in Seattle was a battle for Nairobi, Johannesburg, Detroit and South Central. And the battle is not over; who wins is up to you.
Nicole C. Lee is the executive director of TransAfrica Forum.