A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership: the end of sovereignty?

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., July 13, 14 or 15

Beyond sacrificing U.S. jobs, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could end life as we know it – at least what’s understood as national sovereignty.

Organized labor has been credited or blamed for delaying TPP’s passage, but resistance to the deal also included Feminist Majority, the NAACP, the League of Conservation Voters, consumer groups, churches, the conservative Heritage Action for America and the libertarian Electronic Frontier privacy group.

Last month, House Democrats in rare defiance of President Obama initially blocked TPP’s fast-track authority, which essentially pre-approves TPP and its schemes by restricting debate and preventing amendments by Congress – which has had limited access to what it says. A week later a different version passed so it could be re-considered by the Senate, which on June 24 approved fast-track with a 60-38 tally, almost guaranteeing it and companion measures will go to Obama for his signature.

Essentially written by corporations and negotiated over the last five years, the 12-nation TPP – the largest accord of its kind – is more than a trade agreement. It’s mostly a corporate power grab masking as a trade deal, one threatening representative government. Its secret, unaccountable “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) tribunals could override laws that “impair” profits.

Empowered to enforce the TPP, the tribunals could supersede laws or regulations, with no appeals.

“The rationale for ISDS is that some of the countries in the pact do not have an independent judiciary where foreign investors can be assured of fair treatment,” says economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of “The End of Loser Liberalism.”

“This may be the case with Vietnam and Malaysia,” Baker continues. “It is certainly not the case with Japan, Canada, Australia and the United States. So we are supposed to set up this extra-judicial structure, which can in principle question almost any law or regulation, so that U.S. corporations can feel more secure with their investments in Vietnam?”

David Morris, reporting for On The Commons, further clarifies that ISDS makes rules passed by elected representatives subservient to Big Business.

“Corporations, rather than only governments, would have the right to sue,” Morris writes. “And they could sue for loss of potential profits. And they would do so via a new, extra-territorial judicial system that favors commerce over community and corporations over governments.”

In fact, similar impediments to domestic laws exist on smaller scales. On the same day that Congress initially blocked fast track, the House overturned rules requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat, responding to a World Trade Organization ruling that judged U.S. country-of-origin labeling unfair competition with meat coming from nations such as Canada and Mexico. Rather than fight trade sanctions or lawsuits from countries shipping meat into our country, Congress caved.

“If this gets signed by Obama, even the mere possibility of a lawsuit will have struck down a wholly reasonable law that protects our health and supports our local economies,” says Paul Loeb, author of “The Impossible Will Take a Little While.”

Indeed, Morris adds, “Modern, multi-faceted trade pacts have more to do with pre-empting national, state and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs.”

Despite the ISDS component, 13 Senate Democrats voted for fast track, including Dianne Feinstein of California and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. (Illinois’ Republican Mark Kirk supported it; Democrat Dick Durbin opposed.) Presidential candidates were divided. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voted no; Lindsay Graham (R-S. C.) voted yes; Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn’t vote.

Some apparently were swayed by a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program to help workers who lose their jobs, which passed June 24 in a separate voice vote. The TAA program – which as drafted would be funded by taking $450 million from Medicare! – is revealing in itself.

“The very existence of the TAA bill means these people in D.C. know the trade bill will be a job-destroyer. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother,” says William Rivers Pitt, author of “The Greatest Sedition is Silence.”

And despite fleecing Medicare, Capitol Hill wouldn’t be providing enough for helping Americans whose jobs will vanish to “a country with no labor laws where people work for $2 a day during 18-hour shifts making the clothes you used to be able to afford before we laid you off, so here’s $10 so you can take in a movie and get your mind off things,” Pitt continues. “It’s a button Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”

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