In case you had not heard, there was a momentary euphoric feeling on Tuesday when the fast track authority couldn’t pass the muster of a super-majority now demanded for anything to happen in the senate. However after who knows what happened – the cynical among us would say a quick infusion of “corporate campaign donations” – the senate saw the error of its ways and once more voted to have a vote to once more hand over its power to some president, any president.The power in this case is to approve trade agreements.
This makes a mockery of the concept of checks and balances. There is still one check in the system and that is the House of Representatives. Even with all the money, gerrymandering, voter suppression and electronic chicanery that is rampant in our voting system, House members still may respond to an uprising of their citizens on issues. This is a time when an uprising is called for. Your phone or cell phone is your tool. Your mission is to call your local representative and let them know that so-called fast track authority for trade agreements is no longer acceptable. Here are the numbers for Iowa’s representatives:
1st district Rod Blum 202-225-2911
2nd district Dave Loebsack 202-225-6576
3rd district David Young 202-225-5476
4th district Steve King 202-225-4426
This is the part in the movie where the irate citizens storm the walls of the guarded fortress of those in control. The oppressed citizenry have had enough. We can’t let them take away democracy under the guise of free trade. But rather than storming the walls, start storming the phone lines and let your representatives know that fast track authority and the TPP are undemocratic.
Just in case you have forgotten or never knew why the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership is potentially so bad for the United States, here is a small refresher. First, for an agreement that will have a reach into darn near every household in the US there is an amazing amount of secrecy. Only members of congress, or their staff with proper clearances are allowed to see the document as it stands now. They get only an hour to look at it and can do so after being stripped of any type of recording device including a pen or pencil – remember you can write notes on your hands.
Wikileaks has leaked a few passages of the TPP document. The passage that attracted the most interest by far is the ISDS or Investor-State Dispute Settlement passage. Briefly, if a corporation feels that some law or regulation imposed by a member state will impede on its profit the corporation can bring suit before the ISDS. As spelled out here by Elizabeth Warren:
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.
If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?
If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.
At a minimum, America needs a full and open hearing in both houses of congress on the TPP. Democracy demands that government must operate in the open. Considering the impact the TPP will have we would be fools to expect less.
There is a lot on the TPP on the internet right now. Thank goodness the internet is still neutral. If it had been handed over to corporations, finding anti-TPP articles may have been hard. Here are a is one good article that shows some of the potential effects.
A short but very good article by Joseph Stiglitz plays TPP to its ultimate conclusion.
Above are some of the Australian cigarette packages that Phillip Morris is trying to make the Australian government pull through trade treaty action similar to ISDS.