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Taiwan's Power Struggle
Construction of Taiwan's controversial and previously canceled fourth nuclear power plant is set to resume after an ambiguous ruling by a judicial panel in January sparked a political crisis.
The Council of Grand Justices ruled in January that the executive Yuan had improperly failed to consult with the legislature in its October 2000 decision to suspend construction of the plant, but stopped short of explicitly voiding the decision.
Leaders in the legislature, which is dominated by the Nationalist Party (KMT), called for an immediate resumption of construction.
In February, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which controls the executive branch, backed down in its showdown with the KMT, and allowed construction to continue. In exchange, the KMT agreed to debate a comprehensive energy bill which will lay out a plan for a move toward renewable energy and an eventual abandonment of nuclear power.
The plant, sited in the coastal town of Kungliao, has a checkered history, intimately tied to Taiwan's transition to democracy.
Originally proposed in 1980, the project was put on hold for financial reasons in 1985. During the martial law period, a handful of scholars dared to write articles opposing the plant, marking the beginning of Taiwan's environmental movement.
Throughout the 1990s, the state-owned Taipower company continued to push for the plant's construction, while local residents and environmentalists fought against the project, organizing annual protest marches that sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands. The project was restarted in 1992. In 1996, the legislature cancelled the plant, but later in the year re-approved the project, under pressure from the executive branch.
In March 2000, the DPP's Chen Shui-Bian was elected president on a platform that included a promise to stop the construction of the plant. Last October, after a re-evaluation of the plant, the executive Yuan announced a decision to halt construction, citing concerns about nuclear waste and possible accidents, and the goal of sustainable development. The total financial loss on the project, now about one third complete, was estimated at between US$1 billion and $3 billion.
After decades of single-party rule, the plant has become the key testing ground for the balance of power between the president and the legislative Yuan. Premier Tang Fei resigned in October, partly because of objections to scrapping the plant. After the new premier announced the decision to halt the plant, tens of thousands of DPP supporters marched in both the capital Taipei and the southern city of Kaohsiung in a bid to pressure the legislature to accept the decision. After the judicial panel's ruling threw the issue into uncertainty, the KMT refused to debate the issue in parliament. The resulting power plant standoff was front-page news in Taiwan, widely blamed for the recent poor performance of the economy, with pressure rising on both parties for a resolution.
The safety issues cited by Premier Chang Chun-Hsiung in his decision to scrap the plant reflect long-standing concerns of anti-nuclear activists, several of whom sat on the reassessment committee.
Activists have argued for years that the densely populated island is poorly suited to nuclear power. One point reiterated by the premier in his report is that evacuation would be effectively impossible in case of accident literally millions of people live within a 10-mile radius of the proposed plant.
Anti-nuclear activists also highlight Taipower's poor safety record. "Nuclear power plant number 1 is notorious for emitting radioactive airborne particulates," says National Taiwan University Professor Yang Chao-Yeuh. "Number 2 has been found discharging highly radioactive groundwater. ... Number 3 had a big fire in the mid-1980s." Yang and others are dismissive of claims that the fourth plant will be safer, pointing to its huge size and relatively new design.
The premier also echoed long-standing activist concerns about disposal of nuclear waste. Taiwan's "low-level" nuclear waste actually a combination of low-level and mid-level waste, following U.S. practice is mostly stored at a "temporary" facility on Orchid Island. Taipower has already missed two deadlines for the promised removal of the waste.
A plan to ship waste to North Korea has apparently been scuttled due to international pressure (see "Taiwan Dumps on North Korea," Multinational Monitor, April 1997), and various proposed sites around Taiwan have met with fierce local opposition. High-level nuclear waste poses an even more daunting problem. These wastes, which will remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years, are currently in temporary storage on site at the three operating power plants, an arrangement many environmentalists say is dangerous.
Taiwan environmentalists have long pointed to the United States as a major force behind the country's nuclear program. The United States sent an "atoms for peace" delegation to Taiwan in the 1950s, and nuclear opponents have documented circumstantial links between various official and semi-official U.S. visits and decisions about Taiwan's four nuclear power plants.
The turbines and reactors for Taiwan's first three nuclear power plants were all supplied by General Electric and Westinghouse.
"We are sure that these contracts were connected to the international politics between Taiwan and the United States," says George Cheng, a long-time nuclear opponent and now the head of the environmental group Taiwan Watch. "All of the engineering and consulting companies were from the United States, and many had direct connections to the U.S. government."
Japanese and U.S. activists see the plant as important to their countries' efforts to sell nuclear power plants through Asia. "The initial decision [to scrap the power plant] was a slap in the face" for General Electric, according to Michael Mariotte of the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "They have not been competitive" in most of the world. In 1997, Japanese activists called for a boycott of Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba, because they are important subcontractors for the Kungliao plant.
Even if the Kungliao plant construction proceeds, Taiwan activists have already succeeded in shifting the debate on nuclear power, with the KMT agreeing that, after the fourth plant, no new plants should be built, and endorsing the long-term goal of a nuclear-free Taiwan.
Environmentalists and local residents have no intention of giving up this battle, however. At press time, they were gearing up for mass protests to block the resumption of construction.
The WTO's Yes Men
Mistaken for the real World Trade Organization, a group of cyber-pranksters attended an October legal seminar on international trade in Salzberg, Austria, where they lampooned the WTO's perspective on "trade regulation relaxation." Apparently, no one at the seminar got the joke.
The hoaxters, known as the "Yes Men," manage www.GATT.org, a WTO imposter web site (the real WTO site is www.WTO.org). Because the site looks like the real WTO web site, the legal seminar organizers apparently gave it only a quick look before using it to send a speaking invitation to Michael Moore, the WTO's director general.
The Yes Men's "Michael Moore" responded to the invite by asking if he could send a substitute: "Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer," a name the group picked out of an Austrian phone book. After exchanging correspondence with Professor Denis Campbell of the Center for International Legal Studies about his unwillingness to pay a discounted seminar fee, "Bichlbauer" showed up in Salzberg with a cameraman and security assistant in tow. The assistant's presence was justified by a "recent spate of pieings" (e.g. of IMF director Michel Camdessus) which made such precautions necessary.
"We were somewhat puzzled by Dr Bichlbauer's participation at the conference," Campbell wrote to "Alice Foley" (who he took to be an assistant to Michael Moore) the day after the conference.
"The essential thrust of his speech," which was accompanied by a slick Powerpoint presentation, "appeared to be that Italians have a lesser work ethic than the Dutch, that Americans would be better off auctioning their votes in the presidential election to the highest bidder, and that the primary role of the WTO was to create a one-world culture."
(In addressing non-tariff barriers to trade, including how local customs "impede the march of commerce," Bichlbauer projected a picture of a sleeping Italian worker and asserted that perhaps the KLM/AirItalia merger failed because the Dutch and Italians have different work habits. "Siestas, etc. all has to be standardized," he suggested.)
"Bichlbauer" replied to Campbell that he was "dismayed indeed to have caused offense to any parties present," but that he had hoped the conference would provide a forum for the WTO's "most edgy ideas and concepts. Š We imagined that our policies and ideas could be presented to this Œgroup of international business lawyers' without any watering-down, as an intellectual help to more careful formulations. Š apparently we were wrong."
None of the seminar participants openly questioned some of Bichlbauer's other assertions, including his thesis that "consumerism is the ultimate form of democracy in the world."
"While we of course do not advocate vote-selling or siesta-banning at the present time, it is quite true that efficiency and the streamlining of culture and politics in the interests of economic liberalization is at the core of the WTO's program," "Michael Moore" later explained to Campbell, adding that Bichlbauer would be "required to attend a refresher course on public speaking, communication, and policy before any further appearances on behalf of the WTO."
After his speech at the seminar, Dr. Bichlbauer was "hit in the face with a pie outside the hotel," an incident which caused the cameraman used as a justification to return to the hotel to carry out an investigation.
The farce was kept up for over a month afterwards via correspondence between Bichlbauer, his colleagues and the seminar organizers.
Gatt.org representatives such as "Werner Daitz" (a reference to a Nazi economist) explained in a message to all of the delegates that they were continuing to investigate the pieing incident because Bichlbauer had contracted a grave sickness from "an active bacillus agent" planted in the pie. Eventually, he "passed on. ... We feel sure that you understand the urgency now with which we ask you all to furnish us with any and all information you may have regarding this crime, which to this day remains wholly unsolved."
"I am sorry to note that WTO will now probably have to undertake tighter security measures when its professionals speak even in a quasi-private forum," one attorney responded. "This is a tragic situation for all of us involved in these international trade matters. I trust that after the investigation has been carried out and the criminal caught, WTO will make the entire incident public so that the effects of this sort of outrageous behavior can be more widely known and condemned."
After discovering that the whole thing was a hoax, few of the seminar participants were amused. "While I must admit that your stunt was indeed impressive in terms of sheer gall," wrote Paul Brinkman a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland and Ellis, "in the end I'm afraid you and your colleagues have proved very little other than your general ignorance of the important trade issues on which you profess to care, and cemented your well-deserved reputation as Œprotestors in Nike tennis shoes.' Š In my day, protestors cared deeply about their views and were not afraid to debate them. Š Believe it or not, there is a lot of academic work on both sides of the globalization issue, and the lawyers in the room were not nearly as close-minded as you think." "Mr. Moore" has reportedly received another invitation to attend a textile conference scheduled for August in Finland. The Yes Men say they would like to get enough money together to send a colleague of Dr. Bichlbauer. "We think the ethical thing to do is to represent the W.T.O. more honestly than they represent themselves." The cyberhoatxers call themselves "Yes Men," despite the fact that they are both men and women, because they "use any means necessary to agree their way into the fortified compounds of commerce, ask questions, and then smuggle out the stories of their undercover escapades to provide a public glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of business (In other words, the Yes Men are team players ... but they play for the opposing team.)"
- Charlie Cray