IMPOSTURE, PREDATION MARK 2000 TONE
The WTO becomes honest, children get "tough love" from corporate predators, and the elections really were auctioned off after all
At RTMark, the rough-and-tumble Year 2000 was dominated by significant cultural payoffs, as well as one obvious failure.
And preparing the way for the year's funniest moment was RTMark's first- quarter transfer of Gatt.org (http://rtmark.com/gatt.html) to a group of impostors known as The Yes Men (http://www.theyesmen.org/wto/), who have maintained the site ever since.
IMPOSTORS MAKE THE WTO HONEST
The transfer paid off in May, when an organizer of a conference for lawyers specializing in international trade matters visited Gatt.org and, without reading the text very closely, clicked "Contact" to invite WTO Director-General Mike Moore to speak. "Moore" declined but offered to send a substitute.
In late October, one Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer (actually Veshengo Phuridili, a Yes Man) spoke at the conference. His lecture described the WTO's ideas and ultimate aims in terms that were horrifyingly stark--suggesting, for example, the replacement of inefficient democratic institutions like elections with private-sector solutions like Voteauction.com, an Internet startup selling votes to the highest corporate bidder.
None of the lawyers in attendance expressed dismay at Dr. Bichlbauer's proposals, which The Yes Men have posted, along with all correspondence, at http://www.theyesmen.org/wto/. They are currently preparing video documentation of the lecture, questions, staged pieing, and lunch.
A DOWNTURN FOR A DEMOCRACY
Voteauction.com (http://rtmark.com/voteauction.html), the "private-sector solution" of which Dr. Bichlbauer spoke, itself formed the largest dividend of 2000 for the RTMark investor. Newspaper and TV journalists who covered the story often found ways to mention that corporations already buy votes--exactly the point founder James Baumgartner had hoped would be made. (Baumgartner is currently planning a spring lecture tour to help defray legal costs he incurred fighting lawsuits before the ACLU came to his rescue. He can be reached at mailto:email@example.com.)
But 2000 was certainly not all free speech and good luck. And the year's biggest disappointment began with 1999's biggest triumph.
ETOYS IS DEAD (NEARLY)! LONG LIVE FERRERO!
One year ago today, eToys capitulated to activist pressure--which some say had helped drive down its stock price, recently sighted at $0.03--and officially gave up its attempt to steal an art group's domain name (http://rtmark.com/etoy.html).
Many activists hailed this triumph--lately punctuated by the announcement of eToys' looming bankruptcy--as a lesson to other corporations that might consider taking what is not rightfully theirs. When Autodesk suddenly relented from a similar attack, many felt the lesson had been well learned (http://rtmark.com/autodesk.html).
But unfortunately, corporations do not learn lessons that are not written in law. Many of the entities that were fighting for their lives last December 29 have been forced out of existence by their predators, even before eToys; a few others are still fighting, at ever growing expense (Healthnet.org, Leonardo Magazine, etc.); and dozens of new cases have been brought to RTMark's attention.
In these days of privatized education, it should perhaps come as no surprise that some of the new attacks are against children: Warner Brothers, for example, is going after a fifteen-year-old girl for her Harry Potter fan site, and Ferrero, which makes "Kinder Surprise" chocolate eggs, is attempting to hijack the domain of an Austrian children's charity ("Kinder" means "children" in German).
"Public outrage without legal backup isn't enough," said Rita Mae Rakoczi, lawyer and RTMark spokesperson. "eToys was beaten outside the courtroom, but as a result nothing was written in stone, and companies know they can still get away with this sort of behavior--not to mention much worse. The only solution is to pass laws protecting people from corporate assault, and to rescind laws doing the opposite."
See http://rtmark.com/netabuse.html for more on these cases and others.
ON THE HORIZON
To recover from these indications of colossal failure--which would portend doom for less well-anchored startups--an exciting array of cultural treats is in store for 2001.
* One German project (http://www.deportation-alliance.com/lh/english.html) has already forced a major airline into reconsidering its lucrative but horrible transportation practices; this project is being adapted to the U.S. market with RTMark's help, and public participation will be requested at some point within the first quarter.
* Given the different impacts of corporate abuse in different parts of the world, RTMark will be developing its first full-fledged regional mutual funds in 2001. The first will focus on France, whose population has resisted the push of globalization in unique ways--including by not learning English. The fund will be accompanied by a nearly complete translation of RTMark.com into French, and will be unveiled within the first quarter by its celebrity manager.
* RTMark's communication infrastructure will be overhauled in the first and second quarters. Subscribers will be able to choose from a menu of regular updates--on project additions, new investments in particular projects or funds, developments in specific areas of interest, etc. Also, an online payment system will be made available to facilitate small investments in projects and funds.
Of course, in the cultural-profit as in the financial-profit sector, there is no predicting what new actions may prove necessary in order to push the bottom line in 2001.
CORPORATE POETRY BREAKTHROUGHS
Last but not least, Andrei Codrescu has announced the co-winners of this year's Corporate Poetry Contest (http://rtmark.com/corpoetry.html): Amazon.com in correspondence with Daniel Arp, and three managers overheard by temp worker Missy Chimovitz. An excerpt from one of the latter:
You can play it two sides to the middle...
I really want to know your thoughts--
I'm game to making some internal adjustments,
Because I really want to wrap my arms around this thing.
Suggestions for prizes to be sent to the hapless winners are currently being solicited.
RTMark's primary goal is to publicize corporate subversion of the democratic process. To this end it acts as a clearinghouse for anti- corporate projects.