'Eternal Vigilance' As a Sine Qua Non of Sustainable Business


Paradoxically, while nothing remains constant, the more things change, the more they stay the same. People almost always discover that after an election, unless a coup lurks in the wings, a la the National Socialist's victory in 1932. Now that the Republocratican wing of Demopublican/Republocrats has swept back into power, via Mad Hatter Tea Party antics and a recognition by plenty of voters that this process is not democratic regardless, THC does not anticipate a Krystalnacht in the immediate future.

As such, he can revel in the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Demopublican activists and suggest that they take a gander at a few recent posts that explain the fraud of the so-called 'two-party' system, and how that dissimulation traces back to that sector of the founding energy of the U.S. that favored the wealthy and property over the workers and their labor. Either they should shout with glee at the triumph of the corporate agenda which is the beating heart of their party, or they should find themselves a new set of running mates, as it were.

And he can chortle at the braggadocio of fat-cat Republocrat whiners, fully anticipating their coming self-immolation, inasmuch as 90% or more of them need to read his entire oeuvre just to get a clue about how the world works.

Winning a rigged game, when the winners aren't even aware that the referees have received stipends for the fix of the outcome, does not deliver the capacity to solve any of the devolution about which this 'Right Wing' so vociferously howls.

To be perfectly frank, THC had fully intended to leave these complicated and oh-so-easily reified macroeconomic matters for later, after the first of the year, who knows? A couple of things conjoined to make producing a pair of basic introductions seem apt this week, however.

The first was purely happenstantial, when he stumbled on the information that 100 years ago, Friday, the plutocrats, for whom Smedley Butler toiled so diligently, gathered together under the pretense of hunting ducks to outline the Federal Reserve System. Therefore, a very rudimentary introduction to that process will be forthcoming on Friday. Happy anniversary to all and sundry.

The second was that, in hunting hither and yon for materials to demonstrate a policy point in regard to Carl Fechner's lovely "Fourth Revolution", he came across the following dryly sinister announcement in an international law PDF file that looked like it might apply. Folks should consider this barrister's assessment soberly.

"This brief paper considers the question of non-tariff barriers and renewable energy from the perspective of the law of the World Trade Organization. The first part of the paper (Part I), examines whether and to what extent, under the law of the WTO, government policies to promote renewable energy may be disciplined as non-tariff barriers."

This expert's delicate formulation caused a brief nausea reaction in THC, but that emanation of bile lessened as I read along. Perhaps folks will see why, when they consider the following follow-up.

"Where electricity itself is traded, policies that favor renewable energy sources of electricity generation over non-renewable sources are unlikely to constitute discrimination under WTO rules, because the processes for generation are, in many respects, 'unlike,' and WTO rules on non-tax policies only address with discrimination between 'like' products."

So as things stand now, those who favor 'renewable energy support policies' are in the clear according to University of Michigan's Professor Robert Howse. But alarm bells started ringing. THC knows, or strongly intuits that he can prove in any event, that the political economic purpose of the World Trade Organization(WTO), flowing as it does from the Bretton Woods protocols that founded the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade(GATT), is to pump up the profits of the most powerful plutocrats on the planet.

And as THC has already begun to demonstrate about much more microeconomic elements of the energy picture--in particular nuclear protocols, the plutocracy simply adores Plutonium and thereby looks askance at renewable energy. Thus, THC could not help but wonder why Professor Howse had felt himself compelled to create his "brief paper."

Perhaps the designated visionaries among the ruling elite, realizing that nukes have no basis for victory economically or socially, wanted to shore up the political basis for their promulgation. Perhaps the vaunted 'nuclear renaissance' of Obama-the-Magnificent, via his Republocratic crony, the honorable Richard Cheney, might need an insurance policy down the line.

In any event, this little discovery, currently hopeful but discomfiting inasmuch as such a consideration--the OUTLAWING OF RENEWABLE ENERGY SUBSIDIES BY THE WTO--might even be imaginable, sent me scurrying at least to begin this process of introducing readers to these matters. Thus, THC thought of Seattle, and a few mediated products came into view.


In preparing to create a brief, mediated introduction to the World Trade Organization(WTO), as a counterpoint to his more routine, locally focused articles, THC discovered that what seemed an excellent choice for review--a film by the name of "Unseen Crimes," by a production outfit that has, according to THC's contacts in the film-biz, been doing marvelous work--was unavailable for streaming via Netflix. In fact, the only documentary accessible seemed, on the surface, at best puerile and solipsistic.

Fully prepared to pillory a media distribution system that failed once more to provide even a semblance of real choice, THC is gleeful to report that, instead of his dire predictions' coming to pass, "30 Frames a Second: the WTO in Seattle" has only its tendency to personalize undermining a stark and simple democratic message. And such a quality can act as a portal as well as a blockade, after all.

Some critics have focused on the inherent confusion of the director's first person point-of-view, but again, given the hideous--and some would say, purposive, complexity of these aspects of contemporary political economic reality, a dose of muddle might actually force viewers to consider their own ignorance more honestly. After all, the filmmaker sees fit to speak forthrightly in this regard.

In any event, bon chance, the movie ended with a flourish of Thomas Jefferson, instead of acceding to the ultimate corporate henchman, Alexander Hamilton, or spinning things toward an opportunistic befuddlement of the equities, along the lines that Madison so cleverly suggests for his wealthy progeny in Federalist Number Ten. THC begs his readers' favor in considering this plausibly important work by Rustin Thompson.


The strength of this documentary is also its weakness. Its heartfelt passion evinces a lack of analytical cool. A personal praxis fits perfectly with a choice to forego any sort of overarching historical or empirical grounding. A commitment to ideals and ideas permits a finessing of material reality that nevertheless reaches out from the screen and grabs the viewer by the throat.

Repeatedly, this sole videographic miracle worker--one can well believe that he won Pulitzer prizes for his CBS productions when he was feeding at the corporate trough--acknowledged utter confusion at what he saw and confronted for five days in Seattle. In one moment, therefore, he promises "the story the way I saw it," and in the next shares that he considered giving up on the whole project because he felt so dislocated, so uncertain, so lost in a fog of tear gas and mixed emotions.

Moreover, early on, he gives in to the language and labels that stem from WTO's media pals in the corporate press and among 'established' journalists. Three or four times during this hour-long narrative and visual extravaganza, Thompson shows a broken plate-glass window, which he identifies the first time as a 'Starbucks' casualty.

He proffers this property in extremis to advance the notion that protesting citizens had strayed from avowed non-violent roots. He accedes to the terminology, to describe the popular upsurge, of "riot," over and over using this word to describe the scene in Seattle.

The video that he has so lovingly edited, however, and the films which will have to await another turn in the queue, paint a very different portrait. They show a militant police force, aggressive with batons, with cannonades of gas, with threats--at a couple of junctures to that humble correspondent.

They fit, in other words, with the assessment of what the equities and responsibilities for this debacle actually were, by participants and observers alike: police-state, militarized, disciplined-but-brutal, anonymous-but-personally-vicious, arbitrary-and-agitated but focused-and-furious flying squadrons of SWAT-team, armored, clearly directed elite troops assaulted admittedly raucous and noisy furry freaks among the young demonstrators.

Thompson even muses that, had the police sought to pick such a fight with the Steelworkers contingent, an army of workers with the same capacity for discipline and focused intensity that the police had, a very different outcome might have transpired by Puget Sound. He doesn't say what this upshot might have been, but something akin to an opening salvo in a rebellion comes to mind.

In a similar 'admission against interest,' in terms of supporting the idea that 'rioters' had anything to do with Seattle, except perhaps among the Polizei on parade, the narrator notes, after showing just a tiny tad of the widely available footage of police firing volley after volley of pepper gas at demonstrators merely having a party, that the ensuing uproar resulted from a contrary wind, which blew the gas away from the crowd and thereby debilitated the chemical's effect. Thus leading the police intensified their invasive tactics.

Thankfully, the director himself makes a plain argument about the arbitrary, seemingly pointless, and vicious actions of the police on many occasions as well. He shows individual coppers wantonly battering and hurling folks who have done nothing, except, in well-chosen words, "come too close." Too close to what is never a subject for discussion, though Thompson does converse about the pace of film and the pace of life and the ability of consciousness to comprehend reality. This is the source of the title, a reference to a Jean Luc Giddard comment about the nature of movie-making.

One choice that frequently rescues the project from spinning out of control, or devolving into propagandistic gibberish, is the willingness to follow chronology. The five days must go in order; a definite arc of intensity shows up that viewers can see as objective, that puts the actions of the powers that be in perspective. This 'first-and-then-second-and-then-third' methodology effectively amplifies the repeated statement among participants that "99% of us" proceeded peacefully to stand up for our right to gather and speak.

These voices, meanwhile, are the throbbing heart of this movie. Young and not always coherent, masked and ever changing--Thompson marvels that the passing of the bullhorn made knowing the strategy and leadership of the crowd impossible, on the part of the filmmaker or the police--they articulate the heartfelt need to stand and deliver. Tired and worn yet brightly optimistic, wry and resigned yet unshakably focused, screaming in pain or shrieking with rage, the people's chorus comes through.

And this sense of articulation comes through in the snatches of song, in the repeated sloganeering and chanting of filing marchers, in the waves of signs that pass by, textualizing voice and specifying message. Some of this footage magnifies what the film itself does not develop.

The police remain morose and silent, but for one dapper elder officer who suggests that the scene reminds him of nothing that he can recall, except a long-past gathering of the tribes in 1968, when a far-away war enraged the popular consciousness. "And I was in high school," he chuckles. This senior officer, demure and human, does not don the imperial-storm-trooper guise that is the uniform of the remainder of what Mayor Richard Daley once named 'the forces of disorder.'

The most disappointing aspect of the film was its lack of investigation, conceptualization, or even basic expression of what the World Trade Organization is, what it stands for, from whence its authority stems, or anything even vaguely analytical or expository in this regard. Then President Clinton extols the virtues of trade; Thomspon notes that the poor countries are lining up to join (completely disingenuous and out-of-context, as further articles will prove); the director makes one brief sally into the Convention Center itself, where, but for a pair of brief sound bites, he obtains little of substance.

Then again, Rustin Thompson makes clear that his is not that sort of documentary. He wants his viewer to feel his confusion and dislocation and discomfiture. What does penetrate a viewer's psyche, as the documentarian's primary foundation, is the sacrosanct promise of the First Amendment--to assemble and speak, peaceably, for a 'redress of grievances.' Though Thompson never says so directly, his witness clarifies that--in so far as Seattle and the WTO determine--these sacred rights are profoundly at risk.
As a gateway or first step toward understanding, as an initiation of a process of reflection, "30 Frames a Second" is a useful social tool; it is also a lovingly crafted documentary statement the artistry of which is indisputable. That which might detract from its value, viewed from a more generous perspective, is precisely the sort of admission that THC and almost everyone else would benefit from making: 'I am ignorant, I do not understand, nothing is certain.'

What Thompson will not do, and what THC insists is essential, is to explicate past this initial, completely truthful confusion. That purposeful attempt at discovery is one key aspect of 'responsibility' in the 21st Century context. It is not present in this film. But it does encourage a curious viewer, such as THC, to establish the inquiry as the basis for a process. 'Lord willing and the creek don't rise,' answers will appear, and the WTO will make sense.


As THC continues to contextualize his place on the planet, finishing up the TVA series, building out the nuclear power in the South series, and generally examining as much as he can find about the Appalachian South, he also intends to begin to flesh out other aspects of what he has produced. Specifically this will entail examining what one might term the 'dark side' of international relations, or merely the necessity of globalized trading relationships, depending on one's orientation.

THC, clear that history must guide such matters, will be demonstrating in upcoming pieces that organizations such as WTO are extensions of the highest expressions of empire. As such, they cannot in their current form have even a whispering, meek ghost of a chance of serving community needs. They are, or so THC will endeavor to demonstrate, in unshakeable alliance with Darth Vader and the imperial machine.

However, that does not mean being anti-trade. Not only are 'Fair Trade,' democratically developed and community controlled trade, plausible, but they are also the sole mechanisms for obtaining sustainable business short of some ecocidal fantasy of sustainability in a death-to-the-earth dystopia of "Terminator" dimensions.

In its "Introduction to the Global Economy," Global Exchange puts this point neatly as follows.

"In 1999, Global Exchange was one of a democratic, consensus-based core of organizations that inspired tens of thousands of nonviolent protesters to converge in Seattle to challenge the WTO."

It goes on to pose the obvious query, "WHY?" and answers,

*"To uphold democracy and our right to participate in decisions about our lives and environment...
* Because WTO rules are written by and for corporations, putting profits above people and the planet.
To protect the human dignity of every single one of us...
* Because WTO rules trample labor and human rights."

THC prefers to tease out the historical threads of such assertions, so upcoming postings on this topic will begin with the League of Nations and proceed to the Bretton Woods meeting that practically killed Alfred Keynes and FDR combined, beholden as they were to the ideal of an Economic Bill of Rights that was never slated to be. He also insists on seeing multidimensional interrelatedness in tangible form, so exact intersections between WTO and empire, between WTO and militarized production, and so on and so forth, will be the stuff of later essays on this topic.

For now, another summation from Global Exchange seems an apt way to close out this portion of today's dialogic exchange. Its number one reason for rejecting WTO hegemony is its abrogation of the sine qua non of sustainability. "The WTO Is Fundamentally Undemocratic."

It then provides some documentation for readers.

"The policies of the WTO impact all aspects of society and the planet, but it is not a democratic, transparent institution. The WTO rules are written by and for corporations with inside access to the negotiations. For example, the US Trade Representative gets heavy input for negotiations from 17 'Industry Sector Advisory Committees.' Citizen input by consumer, environmental, human rights and labor organizations is consistently ignored. Even simple requests for information are denied, and the proceedings are held in secret. Who elected this secret global government?"


Even to prepare to ponder such matters as the overall meaning and operational protocols of the WTO, one has no choice but to consider matters of political economy. Seeing the power relations and economic agendas that appear likely in an organization like WTO is transparently easy. Again and again and again, basically without fail, the financial and industrial matrix dominates any concern for any other value, no matter how dear or critical to survival.

'The market will care for us,' is the hue and cry. And of course, this faux 'free-market' system, this macro-economic version of the 'rigged game' that the Republocratic wing of the Demopbulicratican Party just declared itself omnipotent in winning, has taken care of the plutocratic rulers, just as the electoral context has provided handsomely for the henchmen and spinmasters of the GOP.

Future assessments of WTO and its offshoots, such as the Federal Reserve retrospective on Friday, will begin to give readers a firmer, more analytical and narrative foundation in comprehending such material. For THC's purposes now, a bit of an epistemological turn, one which he has ever tended to promote, seems apropos.

The Transnational Institute, a fraternal twin of the Institute for Policy Studies on this side of the Atlantic, is another of the few remaining progressive think tanks that can churn out the monographs and thought pieces in such a fashion as to keep up with the hundreds of highly funded avatars of the Hoover Institute, or the dozen pro-nuke flack agencies currently in existence. A recent article from TNI begs readers to take note.

"A distinct understanding of knowledge and its organisation is fundamental to participatory politicisation. The traditional division of labour between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement was historically underpinned by a very restricted, notion of knowledge as social scientific laws known only to experts. The practical know-how of the frontline worker or the insights of service users embedded in their experiences and desires were not considered legitimate sources of knowledge."

Again and again, THC has begged to differ. Without capacity, discovering how much one knows can be monstrously difficult. But the process of policy creation itself simply must become more inclusive, or humanity will consign itself to the most stinking, rotten, smoldering, and toxic ash-heap of history.

"There is now a more pluralistic understanding of what and whose knowledge matters, but there is still little recognition of the significance – including by trade unions themselves – of the knowledge of organised workers and of other social movement actors."

This TNI article, "A New Kind of Trade Unionism in the Making," produced by some anonymous committee of Institute geniuses, went on to speak of the creative potential inherent in recognizing a greater scope to expertise. That such a breadth of vision necessitates permission for all to give voice and take part goes without saying. The article concludes by referring to "(r)elational collectivity" (as potent) beyond the atomised individualism of the market."

Talking of creativity brings me to a final point about the distinctive kind of politics that is emerging in alliances between trade unions and citizens organisations. It concerns the relationship between individualism and collectivity. The distinctive kind of politics involves a distinctive notion of collectivity in which the realisation and contribution of each individual is a condition for the realisation and contribution of all."

As the marchers in Seattle chanted, to various percussive instruments, "This is what democracy looks like." And to JustMeans readers as well, one might add, sustainable business appears most plausible in such a guise.