Whether it's wild and wooly street activism in Seattle, mad mothers against pagans or the vice president and the first lady inserting feet in mouth, it's called political entertainment.
It was a week in which the chaos surrounding the Seattle meeting of the 135-member World Trade Organization, or WTO, dominated the news. United in their opposition to the multinational organization that promotes tearing down trade barriers, environmentalists and labor unions managed to turn an international conference into an embarrassment for the host country but moved the free-trade debate to the front burner.
With leaders and candidates of both major parties opposed to protectionist trade policies, the Seattle meeting likely will not impact the presidential race except as it serves to warn Democrats that the rank and file of two of their core-constituent groups are restless and could jump next year to green or reform tickets. Vice President Al Gore, a free-trader, has received the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and several other unions, while former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, also for free trade, is getting endorsements from anti-NAFTA organized labor. The free-trade-favoring GOP candidates rarely get a second look from the union leaders, but the Teamsters have yet to offer its endorsement and the GOP is still in the race for that nod. Maybe a little protectionism is in order for the Grand Old Party.
In Seattle, the attention was on street theater and marching, but in the nation's courtrooms debates on environmental and trade policy were almost as dramatic. On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of a law to grant states more control of their trade with nations such as China and Cuba that violate human rights. At issue is the Massachusetts Burma Law, which directs state officials to publish a list of Bay State firms doing business with that country, also known as Myanmar, and punishes them by restricting their commerce with state agencies. A lower court struck down the law, claiming it interfered with the authority of the federal government to regulate foreign commerce. A decision is expected next year.
Meanwhile, a Minnesota lawsuit may be a harbinger of things to come for Gore's greens. Partly in response to a 25 percent cut in logging permitted in Minnesota's national forests during the last four years, a coalition of loggers has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service alleging the department is allowing its logging policies to be guided by the "religion" of the Deep Ecology movement. One of the tenets of the belief, supported by Gore, posits that it is man's obligation to God to preserve nature and the forests. Despite chuckles among the state's newspaper editorialists and lawyers, the loggers have a New York court victory on which to hang their hopes.
A federal judge recently ruled in favor of several parents of children in the Bedford (N.Y.) Central School District who alleged that Earth Day celebrations advocated pagan religions and New Age spirituality when students were asked to say prayers and give offerings to Mother Earth (see waste & abuse, p. 47).
As for the greens using the WTO to stir up street activism in a surreal alliance with organized labor, it even may be a part of the Gore realpolitik, say close observers, designed to prevent revolt without being revolting and frightening less frenetic voters. Of course, these things can get out of hand. Gore could face severe backlash from his opposition to logging and his support of the Kyoto Protocol. A number of professional studies paint a dire picture for the American worker if that Kyoto screed is implemented.
A study by the CONSAD Research Corp., a private-sector think tank, estimated that it might cause the loss of as many as 1.6 million jobs. An Argonne National Laboratory study concluded that, for instance, the Gore-backed protocol would …