Are We Stupid, or What?
December 5, 2002
Many in the U.S. want war with Iraq. Most of those people
don't give a damn about the facts. Well, what about a few
other facts on the state of the nation and the world? Most
people in this country and around the world don't have a clue
about a little trade agreement called by its acronym, GATS.
Most have, at one time or another, seen the acronym GATT (General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and as horrible as that agreement
is for everyone except corporations and their stockholders,
GATS is much worse.
GATS proposes to force governments around the world to privatize
basic services any time a corporation wishes to horn in on
those services formerly operated by national and provincial
governments. Water, health care, education, electricity and
other energy services--all are up for grabs with the latest
GATS treaty, as administered by the World Trade Organization.
The pertinent clauses in this proposed agreement are a CEO's
wet dream. Article author Maude Barlow writes: "Corporations
plan to use the GATS agreement to profit from the privatization
of educational systems, health care systems, child care, energy
and municipal water services, postal services, libraries,
museums, and public transportation. If the GATS agreement
is finalized, it will lock in a privatized, for-profit model
for the global economy. GATS/WTO would make it illegal for
a government with privatized services to ever return to a
publicly owned, non-profit model. Any government that disobeys
these WTO rulings will face sanctions. What used to be areas
of common heritage like seed banks, air and water supplies,
health care and education will be commodified, privatized,
and sold to the highest bidder on the open market. People
who cannot afford these privatized services will be left out."
Comments on WTO/GATS rules from member states are expected
by the WTO by March, 2003. In our national legislature, approval
of this corollary treaty to WTO will likely fly right through
the Senate, since Congress has already given President Bush
"fast-track" treaty approval. This fast-track legislation
limits debate in the Senate to only 20 hours, and gives the
Senate only an up-or-down vote on the treaty legislation.
Congress has effectively given away its ability to force changes
in any trade legislation, even though the Senate is ultimately
responsible for treaties.
The effect of this proposed treaty modification is to turn
over most functions of governments to corporations. Any corporation
can, effectively, seize the operations of governments around
the world. and if the government resists, can extort payments
to the corporation for lost profits through the WTO arbitration
process, which is secret, non-governmental and free from public
input or influence.
In theory, Tenet Health or Columbia/HCA could force the governments
of Great Britain, France or Canada to turn over the administration
of their nationalized health care systems to those corporations,
unless those governments could prove that they can continue
to administer their programs more cheaply and effectively
than could the challenging corporation. Likewise, the United
States might have to give up administrative control of Medicare
or Medicaid, or both, to some domestic or foreign firm, or
have its taxpayers pay heavily in the form of fines for the
failure to do so. Same with the public schools. Edison Schools,
a financially and intellectually near-bankrupt firm in the
business of privatizing education, could take over your local
school system, if they claim they can do better.
Privatization of essential public services has caused considerable
difficulty world-wide; Bolivia, forced by the IMF to privatize
its water system as a condition of IMF loans, sold its water
system to Bechtel. Bechtel immediately increased rates to
more than double those imposed by the Bolivian government,
and prompted riots in the streets of Cochabamba. Argentina,
desperate for world bank loans, gave in to Draconian measures
demanded by the World Bank, changed its currency standards
and privatized portions of its publicly-monitored civil services.
Its water system was privatized, and portions of its water
service, pipelines, were sold to the most prominent down-in-flames
American corporation, Enron, and rates skyrocketed. Demands
by the World Bank and the IMF for privatization of water supplies
in some African countries have resulted in similar problems.
In virtually every case, privatization of government services,
here and abroad, has resulted in drastically increased rates,
diminished quality of service, civil strife and economic impoverishment
of both individuals and nations.
Who's behind this nonsense? Well, no less than American big
bidness. As Maude Barlow relates: "One American trade official
summed up the GATS/WTO process by saying, "Basically it won't
stop until foreigners finally start to think like Americans,
act like Americans, and most of all shop like Americans."
Does this official care about American governmental institutions
with mandates to protect the interests of citizens? Obviously
not. In the minds of the free-trade, laissez-faire types,
corporations rule, dudes. But, when they get into trouble,
they run to the government for a bailout, at taxpayer expense.
When are our citizens going to understand that this is theft,
purely, simply, and does not deserve any support? What will
it take for the bulk of citizens to tell their representatives
that they would rather vote for Satan than watch their rights
under government dissipated by approval of treaties intended
by corporations to destroy the base of support for government?
Fast-track approval was a horrid mistake. GATS is another
horrid mistake, pending. Take the time to warn your representative
that if they can't or won't read legislation and understand
its implications for the American people and the people of
the world, you'll vote for people who can read and do understand.
punpirate is a writer in New Mexico who reads GATS like
a bookie reads the racing sheets.