Wednesday, April 29, 2015

4.30.15 Spinal TPP


This article originally appeared in the 4.30.15 issue of Metroland.

You may have caught wind about a bizarre firefight going on between Obama and some prominent Democrats, most notably Elizabeth Warren, over some trade agreements with catchy acronyms like TPP, TIPP, and TAFTA.  This is been a train wreck waiting to happen for a couple years; until now I haven’t paid much attention because the very thought of trade agreements tends to make me drowzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

            What?  Hey!  OK, I’m back.  There are troubling things aplenty with these agreements, one being the process of how they came about.  These agreements have been negotiated for several years in secrecy among various countries’ “trade representatives” who typically are “advised” by “industry leaders”.  Got that?  Absolutely no transparency.  Just government and corporations.  During the last several years virtually everything we’ve learned about these agreements have been via leaks.  While major corporations have had access and input, we regular folk have not, labor unions have not, economic and legal scholars have not, environmental agencies have not, human rights agencies have not.  Why the big secret?  Remarkably, the official word is that if people found out what was in these agreements, they’d never be adopted.  Which lead Senator Warren to observe a couple of years ago “[i]f transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”  Can I get a “duh”?

            Well, maybe it’s a big secret that, as Obama has been yelling, is actually in our best interests.  We should just trust him.  How much I would love to.  How much we just can’t.

            The little bit we know about these things include an expanded role for something called “corporate sovereignty.”   This is where a deliberative body of international business mucky-mucks will preside over what are essentially lawsuits brought by “investor-states” (meaning international corporations) against countries that institute laws or policies that might diminish the corporations’ profits.  The countries can be made to pay damages if this is found to be the case.  Yes, you read that right.

            Say a poor third world country, tired of having huge corporations raping its environment with clear-cutting, mining, particularly dirty industrial operations, etc. decides enough is enough and enacts environmental laws patterned after those in place in the United States.  The poor third world country would face an onslaught of highly paid corporate attorneys seeking compensation on behalf of their “investor state” clients.  Say a big movie studio gets upset with a US court’s fair use copyright ruling, or a pharmaceutical company doesn’t like a patent getting rejected, or an agri-business conglomerate doesn’t like losing a commercial disparagement case it brought against environmental activists?  You see where we’re going here?  Sickening, right?

            Obama has been uncharacteristically and disappointingly aggressive and disingenuous in his defense of these treaties, resorting to the kind of corporate-hugging doublespeak normally associated with Koch-funded Republicans.  He’s demanding that opponents specify what they don’t like about the treaties.  Well, (a) I just did, and (b) the sum total of my and everybody else who’s not a high-level corporate stooge’s knowledge of the treaties comes from leaks, because the full texts of the agreements are STILL SECRET!  Obama argues that the treaties aren’t secret because members of Congress can go the trade representative’s office and review them.  For god’s sake!  The deal is that individual members of Congress (just the actual members, no staff) can go to the office of the US Trade Representative somewhere in Washington DC and look at the treaty while being monitored by USTR staff because copying and note taking are not allowed!  What country is this again?

            Even worse, Obama is deriding opponents as “conspiracy theorists” and just this week claimed that the “corporate sovereignty” arguments are old news, because there are similar provisions in NAFTA, a trade treaty that’s over 20 years old.  This is just sad.  It’s a John Boehner move.  What corporate sovereignty is and how it works has been expanding dramatically in recent years, and what we know about these new treaties indicates new mechanisms by which corporations can run roughshod over countries.  Conspiracy theorists?  Really?  It’s like we’re all Peter Finch and Obama has turned into Ned Beatty screaming at us that we have all meddled with the primal forces of goddamned nature.  Give me a break.

            I’d like to think that this is yet another Obama rope-a-dope, where he’s posturing in order to get what he wants.  Because I can’t believe that he really wants these treaties as they appear to be, that he really approves of the way this has all gone down, that he thinks that this three-card monte of a process is how democracy ought to function.  But when I see him standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Mitch McConnell and the one-percenter robber barons who are championing this travesty, my heart sinks.


Paul Rapp is a local intellectual property lawyer who endeavors to persevere and thinks the new Sean Rowe EP is spectacular.

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