Arsenic and Old Lace is a movie depicting two older sisters who spike elderberry wine with arsenic and serve it to lonely elderly gentlemen to ease them out of their misery. Declares their nephew, insanity doesn’t run in the family — "It practically gallops."
Now in the third year of secret negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been branded a trade agreement on steroids. The TPP signifies the ultimate corporate power grab — galloping corporatism.
TPP negotiations, hidden from public, media or congressional oversight, have been heavily weighted by 500 corporate versus 100 non-corporate advisors. Even Sen. Ron Wyden, Chair of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Trade, the congressional committee with jurisdiction over the TPP, has been denied access to the text of U.S. proposals submitted during TPP negotiations. After two years of being excluded, in May Sen. Wyden submitted legislation requiring access to the proposal for those with congressional oversight.
One of few granted a view of the text on the condition that he not share its contents, Rep. Alan Grayson called the draft "a gross abrogation of American sovereignty" and "a punch in the face" to the American middle class (what’s left of it). He notes the irony that "the government thinks it’s alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away." Characterizing it an assault on democratic government and the public interest on a variety of fronts, Grayson surmised, "It’s all about tying the hands of democratically elected governments and shunting authority over to the non-elected for the benefit of multinational corporations."
The TPP represents "The largest corporate power grab you’ve never heard of," concluded Rep. Keith Ellison. Ratification of the trade agreement portends disastrous economic consequences, and the death of "democracy as we know."
Some anticipated consequences of the TPP, and its sister European Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), proposal: compromise of environmental and worker protections in virtually every developed nation; banks will become "way too big to fail"; prescription medications will be more expensive; natural gas costs will rise as there will be open season on our lands for fracking in order to export natural gas to the highest bidder; decline of food quality standards will jeopardize health; Monsanto will have free reign for unregulated sale of unidentified GMO foods; and corporations like Nestle will easily corner the market on water as a saleable commodity, rather than a basic right.
Continued Subversion of the Courts by Multinational Corporations
Leaked text reveals that U.S. TPP negotiators are rewriting substantial segments of U.S. law having nothing to do with trade. A two-track legal system would permit foreign firms to sidestep domestic courts and laws to sue TPP governments in foreign tribunals, exposing governments to massive new financial liabilities. Multinational corporations and investors could demand compensation on many different grounds – domestic financial, health, environmental, land use laws and other laws they claim undermine their TPP-defined right to profit.
Critics cite patent and copyright provisions of the agreement that could boost the cost of medicines and restrict Internet freedom, while anti-smoking advocates warn it could create a new forum for tobacco companies to aggressively challenge government efforts to curb smoking.
Further weighting the scales of justice against the people, negotiations reportedly include the condition that foreign tribunals be staffed by "private sector lawyers that rotate between acting as ‘judges’ and as advocates for the investors suing the governments." Among 12 participating countries, U.S. negotiators alone have sought to expand the functions of the extra-judicial foreign tribunals to enforce foreign investor contracts related to operating government utilities and concessions surrounding natural resources on federal lands.
Continued corporate usurpation of the Courts is represented by recent Supreme Court decisions conceding evermore power to corporations while undermining individual access to judicial redress. Citizens United vs. FEC is just one case conceding individual rights to corporate influence. The Center for Media and Democracy has identified 71 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bills narrowing citizen access to the courts, introduced in the first 6 months of 2013. Fourteen of those became law. ALEC model bills cap damages, limit corporate liability, or otherwise make it more difficult for citizens to hold corporations accountable for products or services that result in injury or death.
A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision rejected claims of human rights abuse by a corporation on foreign soil based on the Alien Tort Statute. The decision reinforces near-immunity for private contractors operating in secrecy, without accountability for well-documented war crimes. Thus, four former Iraqi Abu Ghraib prisoners who were tortured are being sued by their torturers. The four had filed a lawsuit against private military contractor CACI International for torture experienced at Abu Ghraib Prison: "electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs." Not only was their lawsuit dismissed by a federal judge who cited the recent Supreme Court decision, the four plaintiffs are now being sued by CACI International which seeks to recoup $15,000 in legal costs from the four Iraqi prisoners. The plaintiffs’ lawyers are appealing the decision on the grounds that a U.S. corporation operating in a U.S. military prison should be subject to U.S. law.
Obama Administration Reversal on Trade Policy
President Obama has moved 180 degrees from his 2008 campaign pledge "to oppose Bush-style free trade agreements that lead to thousands of lost American jobs" and his vow not to support "NAFTA-type agreements." Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch analysis reports that the final 2008 DNC platform draft outlining the Obama Agenda depicted trade agreements as major tools to leverage labor and environmental standards, human rights, poverty alleviation, climate control, national security, as well as other progressive issues.
Instead of fixing foreign trade investment rules to protect the public interest, Public Citizen’s analysis reveals that Obama administration TPP negotiators would expand on the extreme investor privileges outlined in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and subsequent NAFTA-style deals, which some have opposed for undermining public health, the environment, democratic policymaking, and for favoring foreign over domestic firms.
U.S. taxpayers are already on the hook for past trade agreements: Public Citizen notes that there are currently over $13 billion in pending corporate "investor-state" trade pact attacks on domestic environmental, public health and transportation policy. "….mere threats of such cases have resulted in countries dropping important public interest initiatives, exposing their populations to harm that could have been avoided…Over $719 million has been paid out under U.S. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) alone – 70 percent which are from challenges to natural resource and environmental policies, not traditional expropriations."
State Plans for Public Banks Jeopardized by TPP
Currently 20 states are considering some form of state public banking legislation, plans that could well be jeopardized by the TPP. The United States Representative’s chief TPP negotiator, Barbara Weisel, contends that entities like the Bank of North Dakota unfairly compete with private banks. North Dakota, the only state with a Public Bank, has been able to invest in infrastructure and employment, thus weathering economic crisis better than most. Weisel insists that "preferential provision of goods and services" by a government would be unfairly conferred on "State Owned Enterprises"(SOEs), thus disadvantaging private banks. Weisel frankly protests that "State Owned Enterprises….can be used to undermine what we’re otherwise trying to gain from this free trade agreement."
One observer writes, "…depending on the [TPP] report’s language, foreign bankers could claim that the Bank of North Dakota (BND) stops them from lending to commercial banks throughout the state." He cites Rudy Avizius’ New World Order Blueprint Leaked: "If implemented, this agreement will hard code corporate dominance over sovereign governments into international law that will supersede any federal, state, or local laws of any member country."
Fast Track Authority Bypasses Constitutional Congressional Oversight
Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress exclusive authority to determine the terms of international trade agreements. Public Citizen notes that Obama administration TPP negotiators are pushing Fast Track trade promotion authority for the executive branch, which could then determine contents of the trade agreement and sign it without Congressional review or vote.
In June Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan initiated a letter signed by 35 other House freshmen, addressed to Ranking Ways and Means Member Sander Levin and copied to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, expressing serious concern about Congress relinquishing trade authority. "The administration has yet to release draft texts after more than three years of negotiations, and the few TPP FTA texts that have leaked reveal serious problems," the letter reads. "Thus, we are especially concerned about any action that would transfer Congress’s exclusive Constitutional trade authority to the president."
Rudy Avizius names the TPP the ultimate corporate takeover of the public Commons and the overthrow of democracy. He writes, the results of the proposed TPP "would be total corporate global governance with an accompanying police state. In this new system the role of elected governments would be to serve as subservient agents for the transnational corporations, while the armies, police, and courts would serve the interests of these transnational corporations."