Multinational Monitor

DEC 2001
VOL 22 No. 12


Corporations Behaving Badly: The Ten Worst Corporations of 2001
by Robert Weissman and Russell Mokhiber


Report from Doha: Intrigue at the WTO, as Developing Countries Try to Keep Their Heads Above Water
an interview with
Cecilia Oh


Behind the Lines

Assault on Democracy - In Memorium: John O’Connor

The Front
Mahogany Buyers Stumped - Lord of the Fries

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News

Book Notes



Assault on Democracy

War is virtually never good for democracy. Wartime invites suspicion and clampdowns on civil liberties. It provides a rationalization for all kinds of “exceptions” to standard democratic procedures and for dispensing with due deliberation of controversial policy choices justified as wartime expedience.

But even judged by the typical standard of wartime constriction of democracy, the Bush administration has capitalized on its war against terrorism to a remarkable degree.

Atop the list is the rushed passage of the USA Patriot Act, which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, will: allow for indefinite detention of many non-citizens; minimize judicial supervision of federal telephone and Internet surveillance; expand the ability of the government to conduct secret searches; and give the Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations. Soon after passage of the USA Patriot Act, the administration issued an executive order authorizing unbridled detention of non-citizens in the United States — including those legally in the United States — and the trying of these citizens before military tribunals, with practically no guidelines.

It is important not to be alarmist about such measures. On the other hand, both history and common sense make clear the need to reject the administration’s “trust us” approach. The sweeping powers afforded to the executive branch by the USA Patriot Act and the executive order are too discretionary, too dangerous and too prone to abuse — even conceivably against persons wholly unconnected to real terrorism, but who aggressively challenge U.S. foreign or economic policy. Certainly the administration’s outrageous ongoing, secret detention of hundreds of Middle Eastern men bodes ominously.

The much-publicized civil liberties restrictions are merely one example of the administration’s multi-faceted assault on democracy, however.

  • The administration is looking to sneak through a major deregulatory initiative while the public is distracted with the war in Afghanistan and related issues. After a request from John Graham, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget, a Republican Congressional aide summoned a dozen business lobbyists to provide a list of “overly burdensome” regulations, the Washington Post has reported.
    The strategy seems to be rush through a series of repeals, exceptions or other provisions to gut a wide range of health, safety and environmental rules on the grounds that they are too “paperwork intensive.” Among the regulations targeted on the business fantasy list are standards dealing with matters ranging from coal-mine ventilation to food labeling, truck safety to family and medical leave.

  • The White House rammed fast-track trade authority through the House of Representatives, crassly capitalizing on the argument that at a time of war, Members of Congress should not undermine the president. This proved perhaps a better argument than U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick’s claim immediately after September 11 that fast track was needed as an antidote to terrorism — but it was no less cynical than Zoellick’s maneuver.
    Fast track is a Congressional procedure that limits Congressional debate on trade deals, and requires Congress to vote up-or-down on trade agreements, with no amendments permitted. The administration will try to use this abdication of Congressional responsibility to pick up the pace for negotiations of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, an effort to expand the disastrous NAFTA throughout the Western hemisphere.
  • In October, against the backdrop of September 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a new adminstration statement on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Essentially, it strongly encourages agencies to refuse FOIA requests to the fullest extent possible, and, when in doubt, to refuse requests for citizen information. Although the order was issued under the guise of safeguarding national security and promoting effective law enforcement, it also lists respect for “business confidentiality” as a priority reason to maintain secrecy.

Remarkably, Ashcroft has not been satisfied with the administration’s efforts to erode civil liberties and entrench business power. He wants everyone to silently assent. In testimony to the Senate, he said those who challenge the administration’s civil liberty restrictions “aid terrorists. … They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of goodwill to remain silent in the face of evil.”

Such extraordinary language should serve only to highlight the imperative of mobilization against the administration’s assault on democracy.

In Memorium

We are sad to report the passing away of John O’Connor, who died suddenly at age 46 on November 30. John O’Connor was a leader in the U.S. environmental community who also cut his teeth as a labor organizer. As founder and executive director of the National Toxics Campaign, he was instrumental in some of the biggest grassroots environmental justice battles of the 1980s and early 1990s, lending support to community-based struggles against waste industry proposals to build toxic waste incinerators and leading the campaign to pass the Superfund and Right-to- Know laws in 1986. He went on to become an environmental entrepreneur, author and Congressional candidate. John O’Connor had a motto he kept over his desk: “The fun is in the fight.” That summarized his philosophy. John O’Connor will be very sorely missed for his leadership, humor, courage, audacity and unquenchable thirst for justice.



Mailing List


Editor's Blog

Archived Issues

Subscribe Online

Donate Online


Send Letter to the Editor

Writers' Guidelines