By Jim Miller
Last week, I wrote about Project Censored’s Top 25 most underreported stories, one of which was “Wikileaks Revelations on Trans-Pacific Partnership Ignored by Corporate Media.” Coming in at number three on their list, Project Censored notes that what is important about this story is that :
Eight hundred million people, and one-third of all world trade, stand to be affected by the treaty—and yet only three people from each member nation have access to the entire document. Meanwhile, six hundred “corporate advisors,” representing big oil, pharmaceutical, and entertainment companies, are involved in the writing and negotiations of the treaty.
The influence of these companies is clear, as large sections of the proposal involve corporate law and intellectual property rights, rather than free trade. Corporations could gain the ability to sue governments not only for loss, but prospective loss. At the same time, patents and copyrights would see more protection. This means longer patents, leading to less access to generic drugs, and a lockdown on Internet content. Commenting on the leaked TPP chapter, which details how corporations could seek financial compensation for non-tariff barriers to trade, Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign observed, “The Tribunals that adjudicate these cases don’t have the power to literally demand that a government change its policies, but they can award payments worth millions and even billions of dollars, such that if a country doesn’t want additional cases brought against it, it gets the line.”
And while the release of the Wikileaks documents checked an earlier push to jam the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress, Common Dreams reported on New Year’s Eve, that the Obama Administration is set to make another effort now that the new Republican majority in the Senate offers them a better chance to push the treaty because it has elevated “pro-trade lawmakers to key positions in leadership and committee control.”
This despite the fierce opposition of people like Senator Bernie Sanders and hundreds of labor, environmental, and social justice groups who have decried the corporate coup that the TPP represents. More specifically, critics of the agreement note that it will increase the outsourcing of U.S. jobs, threaten collective bargaining, undermine environmental regulations, jeopardize food safety, limit access to affordable prescription drugs, and much more.
Thus at the same time that the Obama administration is winning praise in some quarters for negotiating a toothless climate pact with China and embracing the low bar set at Lima, it is also, with very little public notice, pushing hard for a trade deal that will undermine regulations designed to protect the environment and fight climate change. While the lofty sentiments in these symbolic international agreements might give us hope, the real world implications of the TPP will push us further and faster toward a grim future. As Bernie Sanders puts it:
Let’s be clear . . . The TPP is much more than a “free trade” agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system. If TPP was such a good deal for America, the administration should have the courage to show the American people exactly what is in this deal, instead of keeping the content of the TPP a secret.
This is precisely the kind of corporate friendly, anti-democratic, bi-partisan “accomplishment” that many progressives have feared Obama would pursue after the Democrats’ midterm drubbing. Obama has won praise from progressives for several key executive orders that defied the incoming Republican majority, but his support of this neoliberal nightmare should give us great pause.
Unfortunately, Obama’s aggressive promotion of the TPP underlines precisely how much the Democratic establishment doesn’t get it. Obama has accused critics of the TPP of “fighting the last war” as if it is somehow now clear that these trade deals have been a huge boon for the average American. But nothing could be further from the truth as our continued drift toward entrenched oligarchy nationally and internationally amply illustrates.
Nonetheless, the President and too many folks in the Democratic Party seem to think that the only reason the right triumphed in the last election was because people just didn’t know how great the Obama years have been for them. But, as Brent Budowsky recently argued in the LA Progressive:
Many voters who refused to support Democrats in recent years are those who have been economically disadvantaged during those years. They include women without college degrees, working-class white males, young voters who find a shortage of good-wage jobs after they graduate from school and cannot buy affordable homes early in their careers, and a number of Hispanic voters. That is dangerous for Democrats.
These economically pained voters include the nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty who historically have voted for Democrats by large majorities but are too beaten down and depressed to vote. They have been made nonpersons in our political and media discourse, including by the president and many leading Democrats who are advised by consultants to talk only about “the middle class.”
And as we slouch towards 2016, despite continued calls on the left for a Warren or Sanders run, the smart money is on a Hillary Clinton (a Wall Street favorite and fan of precisely the kind of neoliberal economic policies the TPP represents) as the Democratic nominee going up against the likes of Jeb Bush, a more palatable face than the Tea Party for the average white swing voter in the sprawling exurbs. While there will certainly be a lot of culture war and petty personal political drama in that contest, in economic terms, it would be a win-win for the status quo. As Budowsky puts it:
The greatest danger for Democrats (are you listening, Hillary Clinton?) is not Republicans but a neo-bourgeoisie class of insider Democratic elites, lobbyists and consultants who idolize what Pope Francis calls the cult of money and have lost touch with core values and voters that make Democrats, Democrats and are essential for Democrats to win elections.
But, for the time being, it’s not Jeb Bush we have to fear, but our present Democratic President whose administration is happy that they can deal with the “pro-trade lawmakers” in the new Republican majority to sell our democracy even further down the river than it already has been by passing the TPP. Obama’s not “fighting the last war,” he’s fighting the current one and he’s on the wrong side.
The great irony here is that progressives’ best chance of stopping this horrible deal might be to find some strange bedfellows on the right who hate what they call “Obamatrade” so much that they’ll vote against TPP not just because the President supports it but because they rightly fear the erosion of national sovereignty if it passes.
Let’s “hope” for such a perverse gift as this, otherwise the arc of history will keep bending toward corporate rule.