S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 December 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
Battle Fatigue

 

[]

It turns out that seeing the

global economy in operation is

as traumatic as seeing your

parents having sex. The results

of the trauma (and remember, you

read it here last) were nicely

displayed in Seattle last week,

as thousands of peaceful

demonstrators (oh, them again)

sounded a death knell for what

turned out to be an

already-doomed conference of the

World Trade Organization.

 

The only good thing about

peaceful demonstrators is that

they bring out the

window-smashers, and the Battle

in Seattle has given us a new

name in nonscary intimidation,

more chilling than the Trench

Coat Mafia itself: the

Black-Clad Messengers. Now that

black-clad police and National

Guard forces have done their

work and retired to their

donut-scarred warrens, we can

read at our leisure an old

Seattle Weekly article

explaining how this group of

Anarchists, "advocating

intentional, targeted property

destruction" and named,

inevitably, for a 'zine, has

"polarized" the "mostly tolerant

city" of Eugene, Oregon. (We

also consider it likely —

given that an abhorrence of

property destruction is one of

the main reasons people form

civilizations in the first place

— that the city isn't so

much polarized as disgusted by

these free spirits.) Frankly,

though, there's no mystery to

Anarchists. They don't really

need a reason to protest, and

compared to what they've pulled

off in the past, last week's

shenanigans seem rather tame.

The real curiosity lies in what

that peaceful army of the night

was looking to achieve (beyond

free Frappuccinos, that is).

 

Let's make things easy on

everyone and avoid getting into

too many specifics. For the

record, we are all for canceling

Malawi's outstanding debt

forgiveness, which was one of the

many issues shouted in the streets.

Hell, give us a chance to

go down to the ATM, and we'll pay

the fucking thing off ourselves.

 

Nor are we unhappy to see the

most Craig Buchanan-esque

cheerleaders for global commerce

take an unexpected spill. "Is

there anything more ridiculous

in the news today than the

protests against the World Trade

Organization?," The New York

Times' distressingly buoyant

Thomas L. Friedman sputtered on

Wednesday. "I doubt it." If the puffy

globalist had done a cursory check

for more ridiculous wire stories of

the day, he would have found,

among other items, these tidbits:

1) the arrest of a Nashville man

who robbed a bank using a hot

dog; 2) a lawsuit by Rutgers

University basketball players

forced to run naked laps as

punishment for missed free

throws; and 3) the heartwarming

story of a salamander's

cross-country Christmas.

Small wonder that Friedman's

dedication to hornbook platitudes

concerning Lexuses and olive trees

caused him to miss the anti-trade

backlash brewing in his own country.

 

[]

None of this helps explain the

nebulous constellation of

environmental, labor, and

topless lesbian concerns that

formed the WTO protest, and

neither the apocalyptic

hyperventilating of those who

damn The Man nor the easy blame

of those who merely punish The

Man's stooges have been very

helpful in clearing things up

for us. From our position

(seated in remote-controlled

luxury and unwilling to risk a

Seattle chill, let alone pepper

spray), the only helpful

reporting on the Battle came

from Doug Henwood, the gifted

editor of the Left Business

Observer, and a writer who

proves, like St. Thomas, that a

wrong main idea is no barrier to

top-notch philosphy.

 

The last time we checked in with

Henwood, it was August of 1998,

and he was proclaiming the

arrival of the Big Bear Market that

would undo nearly two decades'

worth of prosperity. The drama in

Seattle's streets, however, had

Henwood on more solid ground,

and his on-the-spot reporting

provided the week's most

entertaining reading. Henwood

cheers the discovery that "hard

hats" may be more than mere

"cretinous reactionaries"; he

schoolmarmishly chides an Indian

physicist whose grasp of

historical theory is less manly

than his own ("Shiva ... urged a

'return to national

decision-making which we

control,' apparently not

noticing that the nation-state

itself was an imperial

inheritance"); he celebrates an

anti-McDonald's action by French

farmer Jose Bové (famous for

"ripping the roof off a French

McDonald's"), who was thoughtful

enough to bring a wheel of

"redolent fromage" from his home

country to the Pacific

Northwest.

 

[Editor's note: While M. Bové was

hanging out in Seattle, the good

citizens of France continued to

take a more forgiving view of

the global economy and its

cultural products, giving

Disney's Tarzan the biggest

opening weekend in French cinema

history and, to the best of our

knowledge, continuing to vote

with their ventres in favor of

the Golden Arches and against

the protectionist terrorism of

Bové and his ilk.]

 

But what sets Henwood apart,

aside from his sharp mind and

erudition, is his unapologetic

Machiavellianism. Activists of

less fiber may object to the

looting of a Starbucks (while

coyly admitting that "it was

good to see"), and vandals may

wear out their welcome, but only

Henwood has enough of Lenin's

syphilitic ghost in him to cheer

the shifting alliances of White

and Red, the sly symbiosis of

Moderate and Extreme. Assailing

a moderate activist who tried to

defend the Niketown storefront

against an impromptu Kristallnacht,

the Left Observer gives us a

political equation Don Corleone

would have enjoyed: "Sober

reformists are incapable of

understanding that they need

immoderates to help make their

case; without crazies to which

they can appear like moderate

alternatives, no one would ever

listen to them."

 

[]

Sadly, this sly thinking deserts

the author when he gets into the

more baroque internal debates

for which the Left is justly

infamous. Where Alexander

Cockburn, an old hand at this

kind of thing, contends that the

AFL-CIO has entered into a

weasel deal by which President

John Sweeney can get face time

with Bill Clinton, Henwood sees

the glass as half full. "Maybe

this is true," he writes. "But

it seems to me the big story was

that the AFL-CIO is here at all

in an official capacity, and

that lots of rank-and-file

unionists have joined in the

street festivities. Steelworkers

— mainly strikers from

Kaiser Steel — were a

significant presence at the

march described above, and I saw

a guy in a Teamster hat chanting

'fuck the corpos!' as he

marched. This is not routine

behavior for the American

working class."

 

Now the belief that the laboring

classes are incapable of guile

is a particular weakness of an

Ivy League upbringing. An author

who had spent a few hopeless years

carrying hods among the proles

would show some healthy skepticism

toward the claim of a

Kaiser Aluminum worker: "I guess

I'm an environmentalist now."

 

Then again, you can hardly blame

a guy for being hopeful,

especially in a situation like

this. The protests addressed a

host of issues — labor

rights, environmental

regulations, assurances that

"natural foods" will not be

displaced by Frankenfoods —

that could only be addressed by

the kind of paradigm shift the

world hasn't seen since Mohammed

stopped proselytizing with the

sword. Indeed, we can come up

with only a handful of entities

that might make all this happen:

1) The WTO; 2) an international

uprising by workers,

environmentalists,

anti-geneticists, and black-clad

messengers; 3) the Easter Bunny;

4) Zoroaster; or 5) Zorro.

 

[]

In lieu of that, we'll be content

for now with trade sanctions

that punish anybody whose lax

labor and environmental

regulations make them more

competitive than we are. In

other words, anybody whose

economy functions under the same

set of rules that allowed the

United States to make its

fortune in the 19th century. In

this respect, the Teamsters and

the environmentalists do have a

joint interest in snatching away

the economic ladder from what

used to be called the "Third

World" and, if all goes as

planned, will no longer deserve

the title "Developing World."

For all the resonant "We will

burn your fucking banks"

sloganeering that went on in the

streets, the week's most

memorable placard was the one

nobody had the gumption to

carry, the one reading, "Don't

do business with poor people."

After all, the poor have other

alternatives to making that

slow, painful slog toward

getting and spending that is the

only proven cure for poverty.

And as any tourist can tell you,

exotic people look more

picturesque in windowless hovels

than in KFC franchises.

 

For all the crocodile tears about

the world's sweatshop-bound

souls, the real solidarity in

Seattle was (like most of the

crowd, tractor terrorists

notwithstanding) as all-American

as a hot-and-juicy rack of ribs.

This is why Bill Clinton so

easily found common ground with

the protesters, and why the

Indian newspaper The Hindu

(which, for our money, shares

greatest-title-ever honors with

The Scotsman) accurately

described anti-globalization

sentiment among northern

countries as occurring "for

reasons yet not fully

understood." In the end, we

reject the WTO for the same

reason we reject the Nuclear

Test Ban Treaty — because we

can. Globalization may or

may not injure Americans, but

the unpardonable insult is that

it may help other people. Let's face

it: When you get to know them,

the foreign poor are about as

exciting as a Saudi beauty

contest. And the final rip-off

is that they just want the same

stupid Nokias and SUVs that

we're already bored with. Let

'em eat redolent fromage.

 
 
courtesy of BarTel d'Arcy