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Every general circulation newspaper in the land should be asked why there is such silence on the secrecy and inaccessibility to both the press and the people of the proposed World Trade Organization (WTO) that Congress will vote on at the end of this month.

The newspapers have been printing some news articles on the WTO controversy, but there are no editorials, to my knowledge, on its secret tribunals and committees.

There is much at stake for the American people. Their health and safety laws in the consumer, environmental and workplace areas can be challenged by foreign governments before these tribunals in Geneva and, if the U.S. loses, we have to either repeal the laws or pay perpetual trade fines. There is no independent appeal from the decisions of these closed tribunals.

Already, the European Community, Japan and Canada have issued reports listing the federal and state laws in our country that they believe would be invalidated by the WTO tribunals. If they or any other nation wanting to ship their food, vehicles, asbestos, chemicals and other goods to our shores, take the U.S. to the Geneva tribunals, the burden of proof is on the U.S. to show that our living standards are not trade restrictive.

There is an irreducible editorial integrity expected of the press and that is a firm commitment to open and accessible governance.

The WTO is an international autocratic system of governance that can damage our democratic processes. It is not bound by our freedom of information laws. Our courts cannot overturn its decrees because, should Congress be foolish enough to approve U.S. membership in this 123 nation association, the trade pact becomes federal law and we are bound by its terms and its own interpretation of its terms.

What is most astonishing about the media’s silence here is that their own colleagues have written a strong public protest to President Clinton. This September 14th letter, by fifty-one leaders of major news organizations and journalism groups, urged him “to restore democratic openness to this crucial process. To do otherwise would break a sacred pact with the American people.” (To obtain a copy call 615-321-9588)

Still the silence. Granted that there are many big companies who find such silence congenial to their lobbying for this trade pact through Congress. But if not for editorial integrity and consistency, these editors must know that history will judge them harshly if they tolerate such a global rejection of basic democratic traditions, including the right to petition, the right to obtain the briefs and other documents submitted to these tribunals, including transcripts, and the right to open public appeals.

One of the letters co-signers, Paul McMasters, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said that “to close this essentially judicial process to the American people and public is asking for trouble on a global scale.”

Folks, the only real safeguard for our democracy is you, the people. If you cannot rely on the press to oppose secret courts that affect your living standards, you just know that you have to rely on a more vigorous civic organization of yourselves.

Even the reporting of the WTO pact is thin and non-investigative. The New York Times and the Washington Post have become cheerleaders for this trade agreement and the politicians and corporations who shaped it. That two dictatorships can outvote the U.S.A. in this 123 member regime and that the U.S. has no veto seems to trouble them not at all.

Nor does the ban on amendments in Congress, the busting of the budget required before the Senate can vote, and the gross amount of pork for corporations snuck by Clinton in to the implementing legislation.

Also ignored are the past broken promises of net job increases that have accompanied previous revisions of the GATT, especially the so-called Tokyo Round about 15 years ago. Since that Round of tariff reductions, the U.S. trade deficit has zoomed upward, meaning that by buying more from abroad than we sell abroad, we’re exporting many jobs.

This year, the trade deficit, despite a cheap dollar, may break all records and almost certainly will exceed $150 billion.

So when you hear from Clinton other GATT-WTO boosters those figures about how many jobs it will create, take it with a grain of domestic salt. As on Department of Treasury official put it, when challenged about the basis for such wildly ambitious numbers: “They’re just a shot in the dark.”