The Wartime Opportunists
Corporate interests and their proxies are looking to exploit the September 11 tragedy to advance a self-serving agenda that has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with corporate profits and dangerous ideologies.
Fast track and the Free Trade Area of the Americas. A corporate tax cut. Oil drilling in Alaska. Star Wars. These are some of the preposterous "solutions" and responses to the terror attack offered by corporate mouthpieces.
No one has been more shameless in linking their agenda to the terror attack than U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. Writing in The Washington Post last week, Zoellick proclaimed that granting fast-track trade negotiating authority to the president -- to assist with the ramming through Congress of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, designed to expand NAFTA to all of the Americas, among other nefarious ends -- was the best way to respond to the September 11 tragedy.
"Earlier enemies learned that America is the arsenal of democracy," Zoellick wrote, "Today's enemies will learn that America is the economic engine for freedom, opportunity and development. To that end, U.S. leadership in promoting the international economic and trading system is vital. Trade is about more than economic efficiency. It promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle."
No explanation from Zoellick about how adopting a procedural rule designed to limit congressional debate on controversial trade agreements advances the democratic and rule-of-law values he says the United States must now project.
The administration has identified fast track as one of the handful of legislative priorities it hopes to see Congress enact this year.
Getting fast track passed isn't big business's only priority for the shrinking legislative calendar. The Fortune 500 has been whimpering since George Bush was elected president and top administration officials told the business community to silence their demand for corporate tax cuts until after passage of the inequality-increasing personal income tax cut.
Even before the September 11 attack, business interests and the anti-tax ideologues were increasingly making noise that corporate tax cuts were the solution to the coming recession.
Now they are beginning to argue that capital gains tax cuts and corporate tax breaks are America's patriotic duty.
In releasing a study purporting to explain how a capital gains cut would spur economic growth, the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) touted a capital gains tax cut -- a tax break that exclusively benefits the wealthy -- as an anti-terrorism initiative. "By reducing the rate at which capital gains are taxed, President Bush and Congress could help revitalize the sagging economy and bring new revenues to Washington -- decidedly aiding our war against terrorism," said NTU director of congressional relations Eric Schlecht.
Not wishing to be outdone, Senator Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, didn't wait long to explain how the terror attack makes it imperative to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). "There is no doubt that at this time of national emergency, an expedited energy-security bill must be considered," the Alaska senator announced last week. "Opening ANWR will be a central element in finally reducing this country's dangerous overdependence on unstable foreign sources of energy," he said.
Neither Murkowski nor the oil companies pushing for opening ANWR have ever been able to offer a coherent explanation of how using up U.S. oil reserves heightens energy security. Security rests in maintaining the reserves. Real energy security and independence can only come from renewables (particularly solar and wind) -- where the supply is plentiful and infinitely renewing. Only a failure of public and private investment leaves the country (and the world) unable to harvest renewable energy efficiently.
[Editor's note: Murkowski later backed off his position, but Senator James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, stepped in to support opening up ANWR as a legitimate response to the September 11 attacks.]
And, of course, the purveyors of Star Wars couldn't let the opportunity pass them by. The Center for Security Policy --the center of a web of defense industry-backed think tanks and organizations pushing for a National Missile Defense program -- urged President Bush in advance of his address to Congress to announce that "this Administration will use every tool at its disposal to ensure that the resources and latitude needed to develop and deploy missile defenses are made available."
A missile defense system -- even if it overcame the technical obstacles which have so far proved insurmountable, after billions spent -- would have done nothing to stop the September 11 attack. Nor would it do anything to stop any other conceivable terrorist attack on the United States, none of which involve might missile delivery systems.
Opportunism and cynical manipulation of tragedy are nothing new in Washington. But the proposals to exploit the September 11 tragedy for narrow corporate aims mark a new low.
The United States is emerging from a national mourning period. Now is the time to proceed with caution and care, as the nation seeks to address legitimate security concerns (e.g., airport security) and tend to victims of the attack. It is no time to rush through proposals on matters essentially unrelated to the attack, especially damaging and foolhardy proposals that have been unable to win popular or Congressional support when the public has had a chance to consider them dispassionately, and on the merits.
Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1999).