Saturday, April 25, 2015

201.6 - Outrage of the Week: fast-tracking TPP

Outrage of the Week: fast-tracking TPP

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week. And this week it involves a triple outrage that may come to have a huge impact on your life.

I have been meaning to talk about trade and trade agreements and related issues for some time but it always got put off because it seemed too big an issue to be tackled in this space. It always seemed there was too much to explain, too much background to go through, too many details to explain.

I don't know if that was a reflection of the actual issue or my lack of a good grasp of it or my laziness. It doesn't matter, because whatever the reason, that can no longer be allowed to stand in the way of addressing the fact that we are now faced with what Rep. Keith Ellison accurately called “the largest corporate power grab you never heard of.”

It's based in two trade agreements the US is negotiating: the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Pacific and Asian nations, known as the TPP, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, with the European Union. These agreements have been and are being negotiated essentially in complete secrecy and it would not surprise me if you have never heard of either one.

The TPP covers nearly 40% of the world's economy - and while a few summaries of some provisions have been released, the actual text remains under lock and key. Except for members of a certain few committees, even members of Congress can view the text of the agreement only in the Trade Representative’s office, without their own staff members or experts present. They are not allowed to take copies of the agreement back to Capitol Hill for deeper, independent evaluation. It went so far that the White House declared at least one Congressional briefing to be classified.

In January, Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote to Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative, to slam the extreme secrecy involved and urge more openness. He got nowhere.

The few parts that have been leaked show first that little of this "trade" agreement has to do with, well, trade. More of it has to do with how corporations can use the agreement to undermine health, safety, and environmental laws and worker protections that those corporations think not only have hurt their profits but might in the future hurt profits, while making it easier for corporations to offshore jobs and assert control over natural resources.

Meanwhile, the TTIP, which if anything is even less well-known than the TPP, concerns itself mostly with things like copyright protections such that for one thing could prevent nations from making drugs generic, thus protecting the profits of the pharmaceutical industry while denying medicines to millions of people in places like India who could no longer afford them and for another could establish a description of "intellectual property" so broad that it could potentially override "fair use" protections, giving corporations even more control over information than they have now.

And if all that wasn't outrageous enough, let's double up: The Amazing Mr. O wants so-called "fast track authority," also called "trade promotion authority," a procedure under which Congress agrees that no amendments can be made to the proposed agreements, no changes at all, it can only give them an up or down vote and must do so within 90 days. No other bill, no other agreement, no other treaty ever gets fast track authority. It's an attempt to steamroller Congress into approving a massive trade agreement which - remember - most of them will never have seen prior to its formal submission to Congress.

Now triple the outrage: The members of the Senate Finance committee were given 12 hours notice of a hearing to approve fast track authority! Not only are the agreements' supporters trying to fast-track the agreement, they are trying to fast-track fast-track!

We are being played for suckers by a collection of fast-talking con artists from the corporations and Wall Street and their allies, foot soldiers, and sycophants in Congress the White House.

There are still those opposed, including in Congress, including some significant names in Congress. This is not a done deal, which is likely part of the reason for the haste.

But that doesn't change the fact that its having gotten this far is an absolute outrage.

I'm sure there will be more on this in the coming weeks.

Sources cited in links:

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