Trans Pacific Pillage
The Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is the latest “free trade” deal being pushed onto us. Free trade, like free enterprise, basically means free of pesky government regulations meant to protect consumers and the environment, free of health and safety rules for workers, free to loot and plunder in an orgy of predatory capitalism. This free trade mania began under Reagan, but Clinton put it on steroids with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the formation of the WTO, the World Trade Organization. The TPP would be among twelve nations: the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Brunei. China is conspicuous by its absence. President Obama, the biggest supporter of this horse plop, justifies his stance by saying the U.S. needs to rewrite the rules of trade in the Asian Pacific, or China will. I’m afraid that horse has already left the barn.
This deal has been negotiated for years in total secrecy by about 600 corporations, or more properly, their attorneys and lobbyists. If it goes through, it will represent about 40% of world commerce. A few members of Congress have been admitted to the inner sanctum to view the document, but were forbidden to bring a camera phone or even make notes. They were also warned that disclosing anything they read there could lead to their arrest and incarceration. But some things have leaked out. Of the 29 chapters, only 5 have to do with trade. The rest cover intellectual property and copyright law, environmental regulations, and provisions that would give pharmaceutical companies more power to prevent Congress from passing reforms to lower drug costs. These trade agreements all have something in common: they benefit multi-national corporations to the detriment of everyone and everything else.
Do you remember candidate Obama in 2008? He promised a new era of government transparency, but after he took office he expanded the NSA’s secret surveillance of all U.S. citizens (exposed by Edward Snowden). 130 members of Congress petitioned the White House for more transparency on the TPP, and they were told to go pound sand. But fortunately, my heroes over at WikiLeaks have published some information on one of the nastiest bits, called Investor State Dispute Settlement. It works like this: say some foreign mining company owns some U.S. land, and sets up mining operations in defiance of EPA regulations, dumping their waste in the air, rivers and streams. If the EPA tries to do anything, the company can sue the government for loss of future projected profits caused by EPA regulations. In which U.S. court would the case be heard? None! It goes before a secret arbitration panel made up of corporate attorneys and lobbyists. The decision is final, and cannot be appealed. Well, what could be more impartial than that?
You may be thinking, oh, that can’t happen, that can’t be right. Let me tell you it’s already happened, and is happening now. Remember dolphin-safe tuna labels? Some fishing nets also scooped up dolphins, which swim near yellow fin tuna, and most die. Other bets and techniques are designed differently so the dolphins don’t get caught. That’s how I discovered albacore, the only tuna I will eat now; it’s excellent. A decades long battle was just decided by the WTO in May, that these labels discriminate against Mexican caught tuna. Also under the WTO, earlier this month the U.S. House voted to drop Country-of-origin labels on imported beef, pork, and chicken, because Canada and Mexico were losing future projected profits. Right now, the Philip-Morris tobacco company is suing the governments of Australia and Uruguay, due to those countries’ strict anti-smoking campaigns. Future projected profits. If the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t get built, TransCanada will sue the U.S. for those same future projected profits, and you can bet your booty on that.
Before the TPP goes before Congress, the President has pushed for TPA, or Trade Promotion Authority, familiarly known as fast track. Under that, Congress could not debate, amend, or filibuster the deal, just a straight up or down vote. Stop the car — Screeech! Now wait just a minute. Are we going to blow up what’s left of the Constitution? Article I, Sec. 8 says “Congress shall have Power . . . to regulate Commerce with foreign nations.” And Article II, Sec. 2 says the President “shall have Power . . . to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senate present concur . . .” Two thirds, that’s 67votes. How do you get around that? Simple. You don’t call them treaties, you call them trade agreements.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To get to the TPP, part of the TPA is the TAA, or Trade Adjustment Assistance. That sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it? It’s a program to re-train all the American workers that they admit will lose their jobs because of the TPP. It will cost $700 million, and here’s where fast track was derailed. Senate Republicans, before passing the TPA, added a poison pill rider that the money would be cut out of Medicare, because what do the Republicans always cut, but programs to help the poor and needy? That’s just how they roll. In the House, the Democrats stood against their President and shot the thing down, making Obama look weak and ineffective. Now the whole thing is in limbo, and they’ll have to rework it.
What are “investor states”? They are multi-national corporations, now put on the same level as sovereign states, nations. Actually they will be more powerful than the countries they will be defiling. What happens if a country tells the WTO to go to hell? They would be hit by economically crippling trade sanctions. Welcome to what President George H.W. Bush called the New World Order, 25 years ago. The U.S. is also working with European nations on an Atlantic version of this trade agreement, the TTIP. If these things become law, it will be the triumph of the Corporate State, a global coup d’etat. They will be able to override minimum wage laws, environmental, health, and safety laws of this or any other country, at their whim.
Many are puzzled, as am I, by how President Obama could betray U.S. workers like this. But I told people in the summer of 2008 that if Obama hadn’t been fully vetted and passed by the corporate state (as with Hillary Clinton and the other contenders), he would have been marginalized and ignored, like Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich. They’ll try to do it to Bernie Sanders, too, because he won’t toe the line for them. This is why Thom Hartmann calls the TPP the Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement — SHAFTA. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Obama knows something we don’t, but to quote the Magic 8-Ball, “All signs point to no.” If this deal is so damned good, why can’t anyone see it? The corporations love it, the Republicans love it, and the unions hate it. That tells me all I need to know. I’m also struck by the irony that the Republicans, who for six years have staunchly opposed everything Obama has tried to do, are in lock step with him over this.
By the time this is posted, the TPA may already be a done deal, and the only thing left will be an up or down vote on the TPP. You can bet the corporations are putting all their clout into it. If it becomes law, we’re all screwed. And by the way, fast track would affect any trade deal a president makes over the next six years, no debate, amendments, or filibusters. So it’s time to call that Congressperson and voice your opinion. I tend to believe the war is already over and the corporations are already in control of everything, which is a prime definition of fascism. I could be wrong, though, and fervently hope that I am. Look at what can happen when millions of people make their voices heard. Obama was ready to send troops into Syria till millions of Americans said “No!” The majority of us are okay with same sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana, and those things are happening. When FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler stated that he thought it would be cool to end net neutrality, over 4 million of us told him “Not so fast!” So I’m urging you to call your Senators and Congressperson. The best way to get through is to call the congressional switchboard: (202) 225-3121. Tell the operator whose office you want to talk to. If you don’t know who your congressperson is, the operator will ask you for your zip code, and put you through to that person’s office. Remember to be firm but always polite. If your congressperson is a Republican, mention the term “Obamatrade.” Someone, either on the left or right, came up with that one, and when Republicans hear it they go all antsy. So let them know. As Thom Hartmann says, “Tag, you’re it!”