Would The Damn Media Please Pay Attention to The TPP?!?

Fast-Track-to-TPPHow the hell did Republicans and Obama finally find common grounds on the Trans-Pacific Partnership–The TPP—such a crappy so-called “free trade” agreement that is so bad as to be exponentially worse than NAFTA (in fact it’s called NAFTA on Steroids)and is  incredibly bad for the U.S.??

Is anybody paying attention to anything except Donald Trump’s bloviating bullshit? What the hell does it take to open American’s eyes?

I don’t know why we didn’t learn our lesson from the NAFTA debacle that Billy-Bob Clinton got us into, but in my opinion, Clintons and Obama should quit sticking their noses into economics because they either don’t understand it or take incredibly bad advice, (see: Hillary’s economic advisor—Larry Summers, the same douche-bag Obama wanted to make Fed Chairman until so many Democrats howled that he relented and chose Janet Yellen instead) or just don’t give a shit about the U.S. worker as much as they do their big business backers.

All over the world the US and various country-groups are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called free-trade agreements; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the EU.

Today, such deals are more often referred to as partnerships, as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant to these ill-informed deals.

It doesn’t take a ( Bush-ism alert: ) Rocket Surgeon to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, in that they seek to govern investment and intellectual property as well. They even go so far as to impose fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.

Perhaps the most offensive – and most dishonest – part of such agreements as the TPP concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against rogue governments seizing their property. But that is not what these provisions are about. There have been very few confiscations in recent decades, and investors who want to protect themselves can buy insurance from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a World Bank affiliate, and the US and other governments provide similar insurance.

The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations meant to protect America’s own economy and citizens. Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes for pete’s sake. The TPP, in essence, takes away any consumer protection and gives it all to huge corporations, including the ability to sue the U.S. government for loss of profit should the corporations dispense some insidious, unknown poison and the U.S. decides to stop the distribution of it.

This is not just a theoretical likelihood. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia for requiring warning labels on cigarettes. Admittedly, both countries went a little further than the US, mandating the inclusion of graphic images showing the consequences of cigarette smoking. The labeling is working. It is discouraging smoking. So now Philip Morris is demanding to be compensated for lost profits. Naturally they are testing the waters elsewhere because the American public would probably burn any cigarette company  to the ground, at least figuratively, if they tried that here.

In the future, if we discover that some other product causes health problems (think: asbestos), rather than facing lawsuits for the costs imposed on us, the manufacturer could sue our government for restraining them from killing more people.

Bill Clinton’s council of economic advisers, or at least the anti-environmentalists on that council, tried to enact a similar provision, called “regulatory takings”. They knew that once enacted, regulations would be brought to a halt, simply because government could not afford to pay the compensation.Fortunately, both initiatives were beaten back in the courts and in the US Congress. We weren’t so lucky when Billy-Bob Clinton signed away our future with the repeal of Glass-Stegall and the enactment of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. For a Democrat, ole Billy-Bob sure acted a lot like a Republican when it came to economics…I’m afraid the same would happen if Hillary succeeds.

Now, under Obama and the Republicans,  the same groups are attempting an end run around democratic processes by inserting such provisions in the TPP, the contents of which are being kept largely secret from the public (but not from the corporations that are pushing for them). It is only from leaks, and from talking to government officials who seem more committed to democratic processes, that we know what is happening.

Fundamental to America’s system of government is an impartial public judiciary, with legal standards built up over the decades, based on principles of transparency, precedent, and the opportunity to appeal unfavorable decisions.

But all of this is being cast aside, in favor of the corporate interest, as the new agreements call for private, non-transparent, and very expensive arbitration. This kind of secrecy often hides blatant conflicts of interest; for example, arbitrators may be a judge in one case and an advocate in a related case.

The actions have gotten so expensive that Uruguay has had to turn to Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy Americans committed to health to defend itself against Philip Morris. And, though corporations can bring suit, others cannot. If there is a violation of other commitments – on labor and environmental standards, for example – citizens, unions, and civil society groups have no recourse!

If there ever was a one-sided dispute-resolution apparatus that violates basic principles, this is it. That is why luminaries like Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, US legal experts, including from Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, have written to Barack Obama explaining how damaging to our system of justice these agreements are.

American supporters of such agreements point out that the US has been sued only a few times so far, and has not lost a case. Corporations, however, are just learning how to use these agreements to their advantage. And high-priced corporate lawyers in the US, Europe and Japan will likely outmatch the underpaid government lawyers attempting to defend the public interest. Worse still, corporations in advanced countries can create subsidiaries in member countries through which to invest back home, and then sue, giving them a new channel to block regulations.

If there were a need for better property protection, and if this private, expensive dispute-resolution mechanism were superior to a public judiciary, we should be changing the law not just for moneyed foreign companies but also for our own citizens and small businesses. But there has been no inkling that this is the case.

Rules and regulations determine the kind of economy and society in which people live. They affect relative bargaining power, with important implications for inequality, a growing problem around the world.

The overriding concern should be whether we will allow rich corporations to use provisions hidden in secretive trade agreements, like the TPP, to dictate how we will live in the 21st century.

I hope to God citizens in the US, Europe and the Pacific answer with a resounding hell no.

Harvey Gold