Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Other Government Shutdown Now In The Works (One You Are Not Hearing About): A Corporate Replacement Of Government Via The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

It sounds like a science fiction vision of a futuristic dystopia, the kind of story whose horrific elements have been slathered on thickly to emphasize the “cautionary tale” a creative writer has dreamed up, one of those, not now, not here, not just yet, but “could be” essays commenting on what might go wrong in the future given the seeds we can observe in today’s society:
A select army of coordinating and elite-trained corporatist operatives, 600 strong, deploy around the world planning to replace government control of corporations with corporate control of governments.   Having found their more nefarious goals stymied by democracy and public debate, the corporations plan a secretive end-run around public process to supplant government with corporate supremacy and, in one fell swoop, enact, unfettered, their long wish list of desires, even at the cost of public health, welfare and the environment.  In the end, even the earth itself may be doomed as a result of this power grab.
The only problem is that this is not science fiction.  It is actually happening.  What I have just described is the move toward passage of something called Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (“TPP”) and though it may sound like pure paranoia, the fact that political adversaries Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Occupy Wall Street are both among those very concerned about its effects should be a pretty good indication that the nightmare threats are very real.

The TPP gives corporations the right to tell governments to stand down from their functions of protecting the public.  That’s because, in the corporatist view, governments should not be allowed to interfere with the expectations that corporations and their investors have of receiving profits.  It has been described as giving corporations a new “corporate bill of rights” to make profits notwithstanding public detriment.

So, for example, in August New York’s Mayor Bloomberg wrote an Op-Ed published in the New York Times fearful that one result of the TPP’s passage would be that New York City could no longer regulate smoking the way it does because doing so would interfere with the profits the tobacco companies want to make.  The NYC Bloomberg era ban on smoking is considered a signature and, in retrospect, very popular (82% approval) achievement of the mayor’s administration, copied elsewhere around the world.

The TPP’s provisions are actually secret from those who are not among the 600 corporatists working on it, a problem we will get to in a moment.  Mr. Bloomberg, who apparently knew something about what was actually in the TPP about regulating smoking at various times, commented:
The early drafts of the agreement included a “safe harbor” provision protecting nations that have adopted regulations on tobacco — like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions — because of “the unique status of tobacco products from a health and regulatory perspective.” This provision would have prevented the tobacco industry from interfering with governments’ sovereign right to protect public health through tobacco control laws. 
(See: Op-Ed Contributor: Why Is Obama Caving on Tobacco? By Michael R. Bloomberg, August 22, 2013.)

Unfortunately, as Mr. Bloomberg was also aware, the tobacco industry successfully lobbied to have the provision removed.  Mr. Bloomberg complained about the agreement's alternative:
weak half-measures at best that will not protect American law — and the laws of other countries — from being usurped by the tobacco industry, which is increasingly using trade and investment agreements to challenge domestic tobacco control measures. 

    . . .  not only will cigarettes be cheaper for the 800 million people in the countries affected by the trade pact, but multinational tobacco corporations will be able to challenge those governments — including America’s — for implementing lifesaving public health policies. This would not only put our tobacco-control regulations in peril, but also create a chilling effect that would prevent further action, which is desperately needed.
There is actually something wrong with this picture of Bloomberg championing protection of the public health: It is Mr. Bloomberg’s very narrow focus about what is wrong with the TPP.  Tobacco is certainly an addictive poison the use of which governments would do well to curtail, but under the TPP it is not just anti-smoking measures, but virtually all public health protections that would be sacrificed or in jeopardy if they conflicted with a desire for corporate profit.

Elsewhere in his Op-Ed Mr. Bloomberg commends that (in his view):
The pact is intended to lower tariffs and other barriers to commerce, a vitally important economic goal.
And later he says:
I could not be more strongly in favor of trade agreements that expand economic opportunity here and around the globe.
In actuality, most of the TPP does not concern itself with these issues of trade.  The current version of the TPP has 29 chapters.  Of these, only five reportedly have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters involve a wide range of grabs by the corporations. Days ago Naked Capitalism commented that the TPP has been mis-branded as a “trade deal”:
The reason the label is misleading is that trade is already substantially liberalized; the real point of the TPP and its cousin, the pending EU-US trade agreement, is to weaken the power of nations to regulate, which will allow multinationals to lead a race to the bottom on product and environmental safety.
(See: Thursday, October 10, 2013, Will China’s Gambit to Undermine the Trans-Pacific Partnership Succeed?)

In this race to the bottom, what else would the TPP override in terms of public protections?  That’s where the problem of secrecy comes in.  Discussion of the treaty’s provisions is very difficult because the provisions under negotiation are being treated as "classified."  The army of 600 corporatist soldiers working on the document may be intimately familiar with the wish list items they are inserting, but the public is not allowed to know anything about them.  A good starter guess though is that anything that has to be secret is not good news for the public.

Said Senator Elizabeth Warren in September:
For big corporations, trade agreement time is like Christmas morning. They can get special gifts they could never pass through Congress out in public. Because it's a trade deal, the negotiations are secret and the big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. We've seen what happens here at home when our trading partners around the world are allowed to ignore workers rights, wages, and environmental rules. From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters, and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the upcoming trade deals in their favor.

Why are trade deals secret?  I've heard people actually say that they have to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be opposed.  Think about that.  I believe that if people would be opposed to a particular trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not happen.
Congress, which has exclusive authority to approve treaties (in this case both houses), is being asked to “Fast Track” the approval of this treaty  “But until this June, they were not even allowed to see the draft text,” according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who explained that, after 150 members of Congress made a tremendous fuss, the situation now is that:
    . . members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter.  This is in contrast to, say, even what the Bush administration did. The last time we had one of these mega-NAFTA expansion attempts was the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And in that instance, in 2001, that whole draft text was released to the public by the U.S. government on the official government websites. So, this is extraordinary secrecy, and members of Congress aren’t supposed to tell anyone what they’ve read. So, for instance, you know, Alan Grayson, who was one of the guys who helped to get the text released, Alan Grayson said, "I can tell you it’s very bad for the future of America. I just can’t tell you why." That’s obscene. 
(See: "A Corporate Trojan Horse": Obama Pushes Secretive TPP Trade Pact, Would Rewrite Swath of U.S. Laws, Democracy Now October 4, 2013.  A full Democracy Now transcript of the video below is available.)

The Obama administration reportedly wants to push through the “Fast Track” authority that would delegate Congressional authority for the treaty review to get it adopted by the end of this year-. . . That’s just months, practically a matter of weeks away, and yet the public knows virtually nothing about what that would mean.  “Fast Track” authority would limit the congressional lawmakers to an up-or-down vote on the TPP.  BTW: The current government shutdown may be a distraction from what is going on but it reportedly isn't slowing down the efforts to bring about this other envisioned shutting down of government functions via the TPP.

What kinds of things are crammed into the TPP?  TPP has been referred to as “son of SOPA” because it contains most of the intellectual property rights restrictions that corporations tried, and ultimately failed, to lobby through as part of “SOPA,” the “Stop Online Piracy Act.”  Remember that fight?  That was when Wikipedia and other internet sites shut down for a day to call attention to that law's proposed Draconian provisions (See: Wikipedia Blackout: 11 Huge Sites Protest SOPA, PIPA On January 18.)

The hotly debated SOPA amounts to 38 pages coming out of my printer.  Think of that as just one of the 25 non-trade related chapters of the TPP!  The money and the corporatists wanted to see that law passed but the public was against it.  Listed on Wikipedia 125 organizations supported the law while 222 opposed it and many others refused to support it: List of organizations with official stances on the SOPA and PIPA.

Here is a list of the corporate end-runs presently understood to be in the TPP that will give you an idea of why the TPP is often referred to as “NAFTA on steroids.”  Note that although there are 25 chapters full of non-trade related provisions, the list below doesn’t approach that number:
    1.    Limitations on food quality and food safety regulation.
    2.    Limitations on regulation of agriculture and forestry practices.
    3.    Limitations on environmental standards, and environmental protections (including provisions whereby corporations expect to be able to avoid having to pay for environmental damage).
    4.    Limitations on the regulation of toxins and poisons.
    5.    Limitations on climate policy measures.
    6.    Limitations on regulating energy markets.
    7.    Establishment of corporate rights to seize natural resources, including for such things as mining.
    8.    Protections for corporations to charge high and unregulated prices for such things as water, gas, energy, transportation and other utilities (unless government provides them to the public entirely without a fee).
    9.    Limitations on regulation of banks and the financial industry, including back doors for those institutions to get around what presently exists.
    10.    Restrictions on taxes such as a ban on the proposed “Robin Hood” tax on speculative Wall Street investments.
    11.    Restricting measures governments undertake to make medication affordable, including limiting generics and affordable medicines.
    12.    Limitations on other consumer health laws like those that deal with cigarettes. (Prevention of gun control regulation Mr. Bloomberg?)
    13.    Restrictions on internet freedoms and intellectual property rights (The “son of SOPA” provisions).
    14.    Effects on labor unions (see discussion below).
    15.    Give corporation new rights to sue governments that try to regulate them and entitle corporations to taxpayer-funded damages for such unpermitted regulation.
    16.    Elevate rights of corporations to a higher level equating them with governments.  It looks as if foreign corporations would thereby wind up empowered with greater rights than U.S. companies in the United States. 
    17.    Turn adjudication and resolution of these corporate rights matters over to new pro-corporate international foreign courts outside of and not bound by the existing legal systems.  The idea is that the those representing corporations seeking to assert their rights would rotate through taking their turn as the adjudicating judges.
Full-fledged world-wide dystopia as was described at the outset?  The twelve countries negotiating to put the TPP into effect (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) comprise about 26 percent to 30 percent of world GDP), but that overall reach can be expanded, partly, as Naked Capitalism points out, with the implementation of other parallel treaties.   The exploits of the James Bond super-villains, most of whom all had their own super-corporation empires, once seemed satisfyingly fantastical in scale, but most of them would have picked more sparingly from the above menu in concocting their world-domineering schemes. (In 2008's “Quantum of Solace,” my candidate for the most disappointing of the Bond franchise films, you had a fairly exact match for just one of the schemes above: The villain was a counterfeit environmentalist named “Greene,” whose goal was to monopolistically corner the market for water in Bolivia so as to be able to charge the populace higher prices.)

The above list, generically covering all the bases, manages to be automatically comprehensive about protecting all the worst possible corporate behaviors.  So, for example, those who perceive hydro-fracking to be a threat to our health, water, and with climate change the survival of much of the life on this planet, would lose all possible tools to address the practice.  The hard-fought fight to prevent fracking in New York State?: The industry would have achieved an end-run around it.

When I and others write to say that the TPP contains such disturbing provisions, are we wrong?  If they’d only make the TPP provisions public we’d know exactly what to worry about with accuracy and specificity.  Otherwise we just leave it to those working for Halliburton and Monsanto to assure us that the unpublished provisions they are stuffing into the bill will be as good for us as they will be for them!

Would foreign corporations doing business in the U.S. gain greater rights than domestic corporations?  Days ago, without bring up the advent of the TPP as a possible contributing reason, the New York Times was reporting:
From New York to Silicon Valley, more and more large American corporations are reducing their tax bill by buying a foreign company and effectively renouncing their United States citizenship.
(See: New Corporate Tax Shelter: A Merger Abroad, by David Gelles, October 8, 2013.)

The effect of TPP on jobs and labor unions in the United States under the TPP is not a simple discussion.  Many blame NAFTA for draining jobs out of the U.S.  It is true that when jobs go overseas other jobs can be created here in ways that are complicated and not easy to measure.  Many economists believe a liberal approach to free trade usually results in a net plus.  However, when our domestic labor unions compete with workers in other countries where workers rights are not enforced or don’t exist there is a serious race to the bottom problem.  The subject is too long and complex to debate in this short article, but that complexity too is another example of why passage of this secretly formulated corporate wish list cannot be rushed through without due and proper discussion and airing.

What then might the concerned citizen want to do about the TPP?    Contact your senators and congressmen.  Tell them you are concerned and that, at a minimum, the TPP should not be "Fast Tracked."

Here are sites at which to further educate yourself:
 •        Expose the TPP

 •        Public Citizen’s TPP Trade Watch site

 •        Sierra Club TPP page

 •        Occupy Wall Street TPP page

 •        Citizens Trade Campaign TPP page

 •        Amnesty International TTP information
 •        Public Knowledge TPP page 
 •        Electronic Frontier Foundation TPP webpage and petition
 •        Food and Water Watch TPP page
There is a MoveOn Petition you can sign calling for no "Fast Tracking" of the the TPP:

  •        MoveOn Petition: Congress: Don't renew "fast track" authority

Here is a short, simple video to send around through social media: "Why you should care about the TPP."

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