Friday, August 30, 2013

Trans-Pacific Partnership: The new, not so improved, NAFTA

Letting corporations write their own laws without federal oversight is a very dangerous practice. Many corporations are established to make profits without any concern for the consequences to society at large. They see making laws as just another opportunity to make profits for themselves and their owners.

This practice has created ALEC, a secretive organization that enables corporations to write bills and send them to state legislatures. ALEC makes a number of virtuous-sounding claims on its public web site but has secret agendas that only become apparent after bills have been turned into laws. Officially, ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but its staff members have no problem calling it conservative when they are speaking to a friendly audience, as Michael Hough did when he was interviewed on NRA TV.

ALEC is not the only forum where corporations are permitted to make their own laws, however. The Obama administration is currently participating in a series of “stake-holder forums” to create a new international trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Foreign countries and international corporations are involved in the negotiations, now in their 19th round. The people of the US are missing from the table, although we will all benefit or suffer from the consequences of these negotiations.

Particularly offensive is the attempt of the Obama administration to get approval for the “Fast Track” authority that has been enjoyed by every president since Nixon. The administration has changed its name to “Trans-Pacific Authority”, but it's still the same fast track authority that enabled previous presidents to adopt World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with little opportunity for discussion. It was a bad idea then and it's a bad idea now.

WTO(1995) and NAFTA(1993) have decimated the middle class in America. President Clinton signed NAFTA in 1993 promising that the treaty would mean better jobs and higher wages for the US. After surging for a few years, wages have been stagnant since 2000. More and more production jobs have been off shored but new, high-skill jobs have not materialized to take their place. Instead, low-paying service jobs have proliferated, along with higher unemployment and more underemployment. The corporate elite who pushed these laws have prospered.

Well-connected business interests like agriculture and energy were able to preserve their subsidies under free trade. Agricultural interests, with a negligible labor force, were able to keep high subsidies owing to the undemocratic design of the US Senate. Oil lobbyists kept Congress from levying a windfall profits tax or a cap and trade tax as the price of oil skyrocketed and their profits with it. Wall street brokers and banks raked in huge profits by rigging the housing market and then packaging their bad debts into derivatives and selling those to their hapless clients. It turned out the banks were playing with house money, since the US bailed them out to stave off another Great Depression

Now the same corporate elites want more “free trade”. They want more favorable regulations and see TPP as a way to get them. The companies holding copyrights, having failed to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) through the Congress are trying to get the same laws, this time in an international treaty. Wall Street Banks are trying to use TPP as an end run around restrictions passed by the US Congress.

There are more than 600 people with access to documents revealing the proposals in TPP. There should be 300 million more: the American people. We deserve to know everything about a treaty that will affect our lives and well-being for the foreseeable future. We are not disenfranchised members of some backwater dictatorship. We are voters in the greatest democratic republic in the world.

We elected Barack Obama as President partly because he promised us transparency in government. His Trade Representative, who is negotiating the treaty for the American people, refuses to provide us with information that is crucial to our well-being. He evidently fears that, if we find out what is in the treaty, we won't like it. He's probably right, but that is all the more reason we should know all about it.

Corporations know the details. Other countries know the details. Many unelected organizations know the details. But our government refuses to give us a seat at the negotiating table.

Transparency means we, the People, have a right to know all about what the government is doing on our behalf. It's getting dark here. President Obama, we could all use a little more light.

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