Why $74,000 won’t buy you dinner with WTO

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According to the FINANCIAL TIMES [free registration required], the Seattle chapter of the World Trade Organization (WTO), that big scary organization that arbitrates global trade issues, is putting on this year’s ministerial meeting in the true spirit of capitalism: they are selling tickets.

The Seattle Host Organization hopes to raise $9 million by hitting up corporations for sponsorships. According to the organization’s fundraising letter, companies are offered the opportunity to contribute to the conference at six different levels. Top of the heap “Emerald” donors ($250,000 and up) can bring five guests to the dinner, “Diamond” donors, the next level down ($150,000-250,000) get only three seats, Platinum ($150,000-75,000) just one. Lowly Gold, Silver, and Bronze donors will be stopped at the door.

The sales of corporate sponsorships, shouldn’t come as a surprise. “This is about buying access to government,” says, Dan Seligman of the Sierra Club. The WTO, after-all, isn’t an agency fighting for the rights of the common citizen.

So, who does the WTO represent? No need to be paranoid about it. The WTO’s “Top Ten Misunderstandings about the WTO” will do that for you: “Is it a dictatorial tool of the rich and powerful?’ Emphatically no.” Ehhh… we never asked that.



The latest walking ads: Students

April 14

According to the FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, the Keller School District in Dallas, Texas is ready to make an advertising deal with shoe company Reebok to plaster the company’s ads around the school in return for deep discounts on shoes for students. The school will become an official “Team Reebok” school and Reebok will be the “official shoe of every athlete in Keller,” according to the district’s athletic director. The district emphasized that students would not be required to buy or wear Reeboks.

This is just the latest in a long trend of corporate advertising insinuating itself into cash-strapped public schools. Schools need the money, and many merchandisers are willing to pay a premium for access to the impressionable minds concentrated there.

The Center for Commercial-Free Education was founded in 1993 in reaction to the introduction of Channel One, an educational broadcast designed for classroom learning that has commercials scattered throughout. Since then, the group reports, nutrition-education programs sponsored by McDonalds and nature curricula provided by Shell Oil have been widely used across the country. A recent campaign by Coke to start a “Coke Day” at an Evans, Georgia high school ended when one student was suspended for wearing a Pepsi T-shirt on the hallowed day.



River report bad news for beavers

April 13

In a week filled with bad news for beavers, American Rivers, a nonprofit group “dedicated to protecting and restoring America’s river systems released its 1999 list of America’s 10 most endangered rivers today. The report is none too encouraging. The report lists Washington State’s Lower Snake River as the most threatened in the country, due to (non-beaver) dam-building by the federal government.

However, most of the rivers on the list are threatened by a more common species: the real estate developer. Six of the top 10 rivers threatened — or in the case of the area surrounding Atlanta the entire Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin — are under attack from urban sprawl. Rivers in Utah, Washington, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia and Alabama are all choking to death due to the side effects of sprawling urban centers.

Meanwhile, the aptly-named Coal River in West Virginia is suffering the effects of mountaintop removal as 200 miles of streams in the Coal River watershed have been buried under waste from mountaintop mines. For a complete list of endangered rivers, what threatens them, and what you can do to combat urban sprawl’s effects on our rivers, see the American Rivers report.



U.S. interfering with cheaper AIDS drugs

April 12

If you buy the White House spin, America’s foreign policy is guided by concern for human rights. But apparently this isn’t the case when it comes to AIDS. According to REUTERS, the U.S. is denying AIDS patients in poorer countries access to cheap medicine. When South Africa and Thailand tried to manufacture and distribute generic versions of high-priced AIDS drugs, both countries were met with threats of U.S. trade sanctions.

Through a little-known practice called compulsory licensing, companies can make cheaper versions of patented products when there is a “public need” — without affecting the original producer’s patent rights. The U.S. has issued such licenses in the past for satellite technology, television programming, music recording, and biotechnology. But the Clinton administration vigorously opposes the use of compulsory licensing for anti-AIDS drugs.

Increasing people’s access to anti-AIDS drugs such as Didanosine (patented by the U.S. government) could help fight the AIDS epidemic, which has now infected 25 percent of the population in some parts of Africa. Although Didanosine is sold by Bristol Myers Squibb in Thailand, workers there can’t afford it — one day’s dose costs slightly more than the average daily wage.

There has been practically no U.S. media coverage of the administration’s stance, despite widespread criticism by international health groups. The issue was the subject of a conference in Geneva last month organized by Medecins Sans Frontiers (a.k.a. Doctors Without Borders), Health Action International, and Ralph Nader’s Consumer Project on Technology.

According to Reuters, pharmaceutical companies are opposed to the licenses and “have lobbied U.S. trade officials to discourage it in order to protect companies’ patents on AIDS drugs,” saying the practice would actually discourage new drug development.




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