Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What's really so bad about the TransPacific Partnership?

The Conservative Tribune, a publication I was not familiar with until seeing a post on Monday, presents the problem as allowing
foreign investors the rights to acquire American land, businesses, ports, natural resources, infrastructure and other property.
Even more significantly,
... foreign investors the ability to work around U.S. courts and sue the United States before a dispute tribunal if they feel U.S. law violated their “rights” under the deal.
Of course, from the right-wing perspective, this is "Obama's fault," as if the President's entire administration and agenda has been to undermine the sovereignty of the United States. Unfortunately, that's not really the story.

Here's the headline,

DEVELOPING: Obama Set to Sign Deal Allowing Foreign Takeover of America’s Land and Resources

To understand, we have to grasp the concept of Free Trade and its context in American History. That goes back more than a century and traces its roots directly to the Constitution.

Morris makes the case that the Commerce Clause in the Constitution has been interpreted by SCOTUS since the 1800s in very much the same way that Free Trade agreements like the TransPacific Partnership (and before that NAFTA and pretty much every other international trade agreement) are designed -- to circumvent lawful mechanisms by which local and state governments (and now the Congress/federal government) can protect citizens. From (about Morris' book),
In Gaveling Down the Rabble, author/activist Jane Anne Morris explores a century and a half of efforts by corporations and the courts to undermine local democracy in the United States by using a "free trade" model. It was that very nineteenth-century model that was later adopted globally by corporations to subvert local attempts at protecting the environment and citizen and worker health.
Gaveling Down the Rabble is essential reading for understanding the background of the current struggle for U.S. democracy — local, state and national — against growing corporate power and how we can challenge it.
In chapter two of Gaveling, Morris gives us the example of Big Oleomargarine.
After the Civil War, the burgeoning U.S. livestock industry provisioned military excursions carrying on the "Indian Wars," and brought meat to city dwellers who no longer kept food on the hoof in their yards. It also produced enormous quantities of "byproducts," many then unusable.
One person's byproduct is another's feed stock (and gold mine): more than one inventor around the world sought to turn slaughterhouse offal into something that people could be convinced to eat. If it had a long shelf life and was cheap to make, all the better. [...]
Quoting from Mark Twain's Life On the Mississippi, Morris includes a conversation between two businessmen on a riverboat,

You can't tell it from butter; by George, even an expert can't!... We're going to have that entire trade. Yes, and the hotel trade, too. You are going to see the day, pretty soon, when you can't find an ounce of butter to bless yourself with, in any hotel in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, outside of the biggest cities... we can sell it so dirt-cheap that the whole country has got to take it.... There's more money in oleomargarine than -- why, you can't imagine the business we do.
As Morris further explains,
The "Oleo Wars" that ensued pitted state legislators against the growing power of meatpacking corporations. Corporate efforts to put oleomargarine in the nation's pantries tell the archetypal story; at issue was whether state and local governments would determine their own laws, or have terms dictated to them by distant corporations.
The original oleomargarine was made not from vegetable oils (as it is today), but from slaughterhouse byproducts subjected to industrial processes in a factory. Mere inspection of a firkin of manufactured oleomargarine could not determine whether it had been made from inferior, doctored, or even dangerous ingredients. To add insult to possible injury, sometimes this easily adulterated industrial food product was fraudulently sold as real dairy butter. In addition, many feared that competition from oleomargarine would threaten the growing dairy industry. Health, consumer protection, and economic concerns were closely intertwined.
Responding to citizen concerns, state legislatures passed laws against oleomargarine. Morris describes how a Pennsylvania state law was challenged by Big Oleo and upheld in state courts. In 1893, an agent for a Rhode Island oleomargarine-manufacturing corporation sold a 40-pound tub of oleo in Pennsylvania. While violating the Pennsylvania law, the agent followed all provisions of a federal law.  Pennsylvania's Supreme Court upheld the ban but the interstate commerce case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in 1898 that the Commerce Clause held precedence.

Ten years earlier, Morris explained, SCOTUS had upheld an oleo ban as a legitimate use of a state's police power. In the case brought by the Rhode Island corporation, Big Oleo's "lawyers argued that the Pennsylvania oleomargarine ban was what today the WTO tribunals would call an illegal trade barrier."

From the World Trade Organization's dot org website,
Dispute settlement is the central pillar of the multilateral trading system, and the WTO’s unique contribution to the stability of the global economy. Without a means of settling disputes, the rules-based system would be less effective because the rules could not be enforced. The WTO’s procedure underscores the rule of law, and it makes the trading system more secure and predictable. The system is based on clearly-defined rules, with timetables for completing a case. First rulings are made by a panel and endorsed (or rejected) by the WTO’s full membership. Appeals based on points of law are possible.
However, the point is not to pass judgement. The priority is to settle disputes, through consultations if possible. By January 2008, only about 136 of the nearly 369 cases had reached the full panel process. Most of the rest have either been notified as settled “out of court” or remain in a prolonged consultation phase — some since 1995.
There's some mighty fine euphemistic bullshit in that WTO explanation. But they leave out any effort to help readers understand that the WTO enforces trade agreements that supersede constitutional and other laws of member nation-states. Hence, the RABBLE -- you and me -- are gaveled down.

So, is the Conservative Tribune correct in its interpretation of the TPP and casting aspersions on President Obama? Well, I haven't looked at the fine print or detail of the TPP. Frankly, because of the clarity with which Morris exposes what Free Trade really means, I don't need to. It's abundantly clear that the TPP is an egregious betrayal of the sovereignty of American citizens.

Is it "Obama's fault?" Well, Obama, despite doing some very good things as POTUS, did push this trade deal pretty hard. THIS is a classic neoliberal strategy.

Because in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles there really was not an alternative to neoliberalism, we got what we asked for, kinda. But in 2016, there IS a pseudo and a genuine alternative. Briefly, about neoliberalism,
The thrust of international policy behind the phenomenon of economic globalization is neoliberal in nature. Being hugely profitable to corporations and the wealthy elite, neoliberal polices are propagated through the IMF, World Bank and WTO. Neoliberalism favours the free-market as the most efficient method of global resource allocation. Consequently it favours large-scale, corporate commerce and the privatization of resources.
Donald Trump is as gross of a caricature of ridiculousness as they come in American politics. But there's a reason he's leading the GOP pack. In between his outrageous outbursts, he speaks the language of populist economics. But he is SOOOOOO wrong in so many ways for the job of president.

Some people (like Jeb Bush) have posited a conspiracy theory that Trump is in cahoots with Hillary Clinton. I find that notion to be a bit far-fetched, even though based on the fictional House of Cards television series, it seems plausible.

Under such a scenario, a Trump GOP nomination, in a general election match up with Hillary makes Hillary more palatable to people who know in their heart of hearts that a President Trump would be disastrous.

But Hillary Clinton IS a neoliberal. From December 2014,
Is it inevitable that we swallow the nomination of the neo-liberal Clinton, whose support of Bush’s Iraq madness (not to mention Obama’s Afghan and Libyan stupidity) and her husband’s recklessly pro-“free trade,” pro-banker, pro-deregulation politics ought to send reasonable liberals fleeing?
From The Guardian in 2013, Nancy Fraser wrote,
As a feminist, I've always assumed that by fighting to emancipate women I was building a better world – more egalitarian, just and free. But lately I've begun to worry that ideals pioneered by feminists are serving quite different ends. I worry, specifically, that our critique of sexism is now supplying the justification for new forms of inequality and exploitation.
In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women's liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society.
In the Democratic debate last Saturday, Hillary did nothing to dispel the notion -- though she did try to hide her view -- that she's is firmly on the side of Free Trade. From AP coverage of the earlier October debate,
The former secretary of state has also faced criticism that she’s shifted her positions on trade, gay marriage and other issues to match the mood of voters — a charge she denied Tuesday.
“Like most human beings, I do absorb new information, I do look at what’s happening in the world,” Clinton said. Pressed specifically on her newly announced opposition to a Pacific Rim trade deal she touted while serving in the Obama administration, Clinton said she had hoped to support it but ultimately decided it did not meet her standards.
Has Clinton expounded publicly on what exactly is in the TPP that doesn't "meet her standards? That she had hoped to support it tells us all we can and need to know to expose her as an unabashed neoliberal.

Do you now understand what's really so bad about the TPP? If so, you should also have a clear understanding of why Bernie Sanders is the only viable alternative to sending the country further down the rabbit hole of Free Trade.

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