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The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History November 10, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Trade Agreements.
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Roger’s note: Here are two articles that lay out what is at stake with respect to the three so-called trade agreements (TTP, TTIP, TISA).  This is pretty frightening stuff.  Keep in mind that a central definition of fascism is when corporations and governments are indistinguishable.

By Chris Hedges

November 09, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “Truthdig – The release Thursday of the 5,544-page text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a trade and investment agreement involving 12 countries comprising nearly 40 percent of global output—confirms what even its most apocalyptic critics feared.

“The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history,” Ralph Nader told me when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental protections [to be] unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance. The TPP establishes a transnational, autocratic system of enforceable governance in defiance of our domestic laws.”

The TPP is part of a triad of trade agreements that includes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). TiSA, by calling for the privatization of all public services, is a mortal threat to the viability of the U.S. Postal Service, public education and other government-run enterprises and utilities; together these operations make up 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The TTIP and TiSA are still in the negotiation phase. They will follow on the heels of the TPP and are likely to go before Congress in 2017.

These three agreements solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.

The TPP removes legislative authority from Congress and the White House on a range of issues. Judicial power is often surrendered to three-person trade tribunals in which only corporations are permitted to sue. Workers, environmental and advocacy groups and labor unions are blocked from seeking redress in the proposed tribunals. The rights of corporations become sacrosanct. The rights of citizens are abolished.

The Sierra Club issued a statement after the release of the TPP text saying that the “deal is rife with polluter giveaways that would undermine decades of environmental progress, threaten our climate, and fail to adequately protect wildlife because big polluters helped write the deal.”

If there is no sustained popular uprising to prevent the passage of the TPP in Congress this spring we will be shackled by corporate power. Wages will decline. Working conditions will deteriorate. Unemployment will rise. Our few remaining rights will be revoked. The assault on the ecosystem will be accelerated. Banks and global speculation will be beyond oversight or control. Food safety standards and regulations will be jettisoned. Public services ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to the post office and public education will be abolished or dramatically slashed and taken over by for-profit corporations. Prices for basic commodities, including pharmaceuticals, will skyrocket. Social assistance programs will be drastically scaled back or terminated. And countries that have public health care systems, such as Canada and Australia, that are in the agreement will probably see their public health systems collapse under corporate assault. Corporations will be empowered to hold a wide variety of patents, including over plants and animals, turning basic necessities and the natural world into marketable products. And, just to make sure corporations extract every pound of flesh, any public law interpreted by corporations as impeding projected profit, even a law designed to protect the environment or consumers, will be subject to challenge in an entity called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) section. The ISDS, bolstered and expanded under the TPP, will see corporations paid massive sums in compensation from offending governments for impeding their “right” to further swell their bank accounts. Corporate profit effectively will replace the common good.

Given the bankruptcy of our political class—including amoral politicians such as Hillary Clinton, who is denouncing the TPP during the presidential campaign but whose unwavering service to corporate capitalism assures her fealty to her corporate backers—the trade agreement has a good chance of becoming law. And because the Obama administration won fast-track authority, a tactic designed by the Nixon administration to subvert democratic debate, President Obama will be able to sign the agreement before it goes to Congress.

The TPP, because of fast track, bypasses the normal legislative process of public discussion and consideration by congressional committees. The House and the Senate, which have to vote on the TPP bill within 90 days of when it is sent to Congress, are prohibited by the fast-track provision from adding floor amendments or holding more than 20 hours of floor debate. Congress cannot raise concerns about the effects of the TPP on the environment. It can only vote yes or no. It is powerless to modify or change one word.

There will be a mass mobilization Nov. 14 through 18 in Washington to begin the push to block the TPP. Rising up to stop the TPP is a far, far better investment of our time and energy than engaging in the empty political theater that passes for a presidential campaign.

“The TPP creates a web of corporate laws that will dominate the global economy,” attorney Kevin Zeese of the group Popular Resistance, which has mounted a long fight against the trade agreement, told me from Baltimore by telephone. “It is a global corporate coup d’état. Corporations will become more powerful than countries. Corporations will force democratic systems to serve their interests. Civil courts around the world will be replaced with corporate courts or so-called trade tribunals. This is a massive expansion that builds on the worst of NAFTA rather than what Barack Obama promised, which was to get rid of the worst aspects of NAFTA.”

The agreement is the product of six years of work by global capitalists from banks, insurance companies, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto and other corporations.

“It was written by them [the corporations], it is for them and it will serve them,” Zeese said of the TPP. “It will hurt domestic businesses and small businesses. The buy-American provisions will disappear. Local communities will not be allowed to build buy-local campaigns. The thrust of the agreement is the privatization and commodification of everything. The agreement has built within it a deep antipathy to state-supported or state-owned enterprises. It gives away what is left of our democracy to the World Trade Organization.”

The economist David Rosnick, in a report on the TPP by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), estimated that under the trade agreement only the top 10 percent of U.S. workers would see their wages increase. Rosnick wrote that the real wages of middle-income U.S. workers (from the 35th percentile to the 80th percentile) would decline under the TPP. NAFTA, contributing to a decline in manufacturing jobs (now only 9 percent of the economy), has forced workers into lower-paying service jobs and resulted in a decline in real wages of between 12 and 17 percent. The TPP would only accelerate this process, Rosnick concluded.

“This is a continuation of the global race to the bottom,” Dr. Margaret Flowers, also from Popular Resistance and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said from Baltimore in a telephone conversation with me. “Corporations are free to move to countries that have the lowest labor standards. This drives down high labor standards here. It means a decimation of industries and unions. It means an accelerated race to the bottom, which we must rise up to stop.”

“In Malaysia one-third of tech workers are essentially slaves,” Zeese said. “In Vietnam the minimum wage is 35 cents an hour. Once these countries are part of the trade agreement U.S. workers are put in a very difficult position.”

Fifty-one percent of working Americans now make less than $30,000 a year, a new study by the Social Security Administration reported. Forty percent are making less than $20,000 a year. The federal government considers a family of four living on an income of less than $24,250 to be in poverty.

“Half of American workers earn essentially the poverty level,” Zeese said. “This agreement only accelerates this trend. I don’t see how American workers are going to cope.”

The assault on the American workforce by NAFTA—which was established under the Clinton administration in 1994 and which at the time promised creation of 200,000 net jobs a year in the United States—has been devastating. NAFTA has led to a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada and the loss of at least 1 million U.S. jobs, according to a report by Public Citizen. The flooding of the Mexican market with cheap corn by U.S. agro-businesses drove down the price of Mexican corn and saw 1 million to 3 million poor Mexican farmers go bankrupt and lose their small farms. Many of them crossed the border into the United States in a desperate effort to find work.

“Obama has misled the public throughout this process,” Dr. Flowers said. “He claimed that environmental groups were supportive of the agreement because it provided environmental protections, and this has now been proven false. He told us that it would create 650,000 jobs, and this has now been proven false. He calls this a 21st century trade agreement, but it actually rolls back progress made in Bush-era trade agreements. The most recent model of a 21st century trade agreement is the Korean free trade agreement. That was supposed to create 140,000 U.S. jobs. But what we saw within a couple years was a loss of about 70,000 jobs and a larger trade deficit with Korea. This agreement [the TPP] is sold to us with the same deceits that were used to sell us NAFTA and other trade agreements.”

The agreement, in essence, becomes global law. Any agreements over carbon emissions by countries made through the United Nations are effectively rendered null and void by the TPP.

“Trade agreements are binding,” Flowers said. “They supersede any of the nonbinding agreements made by the United Nations Climate Change Conference that might come out of Paris.”

There is more than enough evidence from past trade agreements to indicate where the TPP—often called “NAFTA on steroids”—will lead. It is part of the inexorable march by corporations to wrest from us the ability to use government to defend the public and to build social and political organizations that promote the common good. Our corporate masters seek to turn the natural world and human beings into malleable commodities that will be used and exploited until exhaustion or collapse. Trade agreements are the tools being used to achieve this subjugation. The only response left is open, sustained and defiant popular revolt.

Chris Hedges, previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

© 2015 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Re-enserfment of Western Peoples

By Paul Craig Roberts

November 09, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – The re-enserfment of Western peoples is taking place on several levels. One about which I have been writing for more than a decade comes from the offshoring of jobs. Americans, for example, have a shrinking participation in the production of the goods and services that are marketed to them.

On another level we are experiencing the financialization of the Western economy about which Michael Hudson is the leading expert (Killing The Host). Financialization is the process of removing any public presence in the economy and converting the economic surplus into interest payments to the financial sector.

These two developments deprive people of economic prospects. A third development deprives them of political rights. The Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic Partnerships eliminate political sovereignty and turn governance over to global corporations.

These so called “trade partnerships” have nothing to do with trade. These agreements negotiated in secrecy grant immunity to corporations from the laws of the countries in which they do business. This is achieved by declaring any interference by existing and prospective laws and regulations on corporate profits as restraints on trade for which corporations can sue and fine “sovereign” governments. For example, the ban in France and other counries on GMO products would be negated by the Trans-Atlantic Partnership. Democracy is simply replaced by corporate rule.

I have been meaning to write about this at length. However, others, such as Chris Hedges, are doing a good job of explaining the power grab that eliminates representative government.

The corporations are buying power cheaply. They bought the entire US House of Representatives for just under $200 million. This is what the the corporations paid Congress to go along with “Fast Track,” which permits the corporations’ agent, the US Trade Representative, to negotiate in secret without congressional input or oversight.

In other words, a US corporate agent deals with corporate agents in the countries that will comprise the “partnership,” and this handful of well-bribed people draw up an agreement that supplants law with the interests of corporations. No one negotiating the partnership represents the peoples’ or public’s interests. The governments of the partnership countries get to vote the deal up or down, and they will be well paid to vote for the agreement.

Once these partnerships are in effect, government itself is privatized. There is no longer any point in legislatures, presidents, prime ministers, judges. Corporate tribunals decide law and court rulings.

It is likely that these “partnerships” will have unintended consequences. For example, Russia and China are not part of the arrangements, and neither are Iran, Brazil, India, and South Africa, although seperately the Indian government appears to have been purchased by American agribusiness and is in the process of destroying its self-sufficient food production system. These countries will be the repositories for national sovereignty and public control while freedom and democracy are extinguished in the West and the West’s Asian vassals.

Violent revolution throughout the West and the complete elimination of the One Percent is another possible outcome. Once, for example, the French people discover that they have lost all control over their diet to Monsanto and American agribusiness, the members of the French government that delivered France into dietary bondage to toxic foods are likely to be killed in the streets.

Events of this sort are possible throughout the West as peoples discover that they have lost all control over every aspect of their lives and that their only choice is revolution or death.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts’ latest books are The Neoconservative Threat To International Order:  Washington’s Perilous War For Hegemony, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.

Can the US and Bolivia get along? February 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy.
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 78244074WM004_Supreme_CourtPhoto: Dado Galdieri, AP

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 February 2009 19.00 GMT

Perhaps – but first the Obama administration must settle differences over drug enforcement, diplomacy and trade


With the Obama administration‘s policy toward Venezuela pretty much decided, and the embargo on Cuba considered untouchable because no one is willing to risk losing support among Cuban-Americans in the swing state of Florida, that leaves Bolivia as a left government in the region where the hostility of the Bush administration could be quickly reversed.

However, there are a number of outstanding issues between the two countries. The United States and Bolivia currently do not have ambassadors. Bolivia expelled the US ambassador on 10 September, on the grounds that he and Washington were intervening in Bolivia’s internal affairs. Among other offences, the US embassy was caught trying to use Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar for spying; US ambassador Phillip Goldberg had met privately with opposition leaders at a time when elements of the opposition were engaged in destabilising violence; and the US seemed to lend tacit support to the Bolivian opposition by not condemning this violence or even offering condolences when dozens of government supporters were massacred in Pando on 11 September.

The Bush administration responded to the expulsion of the US ambassador by expelling Bolivian ambassador Gustavo Guzmán. But there are also other important issues for Bolivia. On 26 September, the Bush administration suspended Bolivia’s trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. The official reason was that Bolivia had not been cooperating sufficiently in the war on drugs. But according to the UN’s 2008 report, Bolivia’s coca cultivation had increased by just 5 per cent, compared to a 27% increase in Colombia, the biggest beneficiary of US aid in the region.

The Bolivians are eager to begin a new chapter of improved relations with Washington. To demonstrate this willingness, the Bolivian government refrained from filing a complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the United States for the suspension of its trade preferences. Their legal case is quite solid: under WTO rules, countries are allowed to establish rules for preferential access to their markets, but the rules must be applied equally to all countries receiving the preferences. Before filing a complaint at the WTO, however, Bolivia wanted to see if the new administration is interested in improving relations.

Then there is another holdover from the Bush administration: Bolivia’s new constitution declares that healthcare, along with water and other necessities, is a human right and cannot be privatised. In keeping with their constitutional law, Bolivia asked the WTO for permission to withdraw the previous government’s commitment to open up its hospitals and healthcare sector to foreign corporations. According to the WTO’s procedural rules, if there are no objections to such a request within 45 days, it is approved. The EU, home to some of the big healthcare corporations that might have an interest in the issue, responded that it had no objections. On 5 January, the last day of the waiting period, the Bush administration objected.

The Obama team has not yet decided whether it will rescind the Bush administration’s objection to Bolivia’s WTO request. Presumably they will – if not, it would be an unmistakable signal of continued hostility. Far from being an arcane detail of constitutional or international law, it has real meaning to millions of Bolivians. The struggle against water privatisation was a significant part of the movement that brought Evo Morales to power. This is the political origin of the constitutional provisions establishing these essentials as human rights that cannot be infringed upon by private interests: many poor Bolivians had found themselves unable to afford water after it was privatised and user fees tripled.

Bolivia has also kicked out the US drug enforcement agency, and it does not look like they are coming back. To the Bolivians, the US is using the “war on drugs” throughout Latin America mainly as an excuse to get boots on the ground, and establish ties with local military and police forces. They see the whole process as destabilising and a threat to their sovereignty and democracy.

Despite all of these differences, it is still possible that Washington might choose to normalise relations with Bolivia. There are apparently some divisions within the administration over tactics. The “doves” apparently include Thomas Shannon, the current top state department official for the western hemisphere, and a holdover from the Bush administration. These officials can see that there is a public-relations problem in abusing Bolivia, the poorest country in South America and more importantly one led by the country’s first indigenous president, Morales. To most of the world, he is the Nelson Mandela of Bolivia, with his government bringing an end to centuries of apartheid-like exclusion of the country’s indigenous majority.

For the “doves” in the new administration, it would be better to avoid a public fight with Bolivia, so as not to distract from the guy who is sitting on what may be the largest petroleum reserves in the world – in Venezuela – and whom they have already successfully vilified in the media. On the other hand, there are hard liners who feel the need to “lay down the law” with Bolivia. We will soon know who has prevailed

Free Trade May Not be Fair Trade: The Pacts are Always Biased Toward the Economically Stronger Nations August 26, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Free Trade, Political Essays (Roger).
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 (I had been asked by its organizers to try to arrange for Canadian representatives to the “Hemispheric Conference of Parliamentarians” that took place in Quito in 2002.  The subject of the conference was free trade and the impact it would have on Latin American countries.  I spoke by phone with the offices of several Canadian New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) MPs, without success.  Not being a member of any parliament myself, I was therefore invited by the organizers to be an official observer of the Conference.


There were members of parliaments from most Latin American Countries in attendance, including supporters of the Chávez government in Venezuela and oppositionist Senators from embattled Colombia.  Meeting them and hearing their opinions was what I found most interesting.  I was put up at a small hotel with some of the other attendees, and I had lunch with the executive assistant of an Ecuadorian congressman whose name was, no kidding, Fidel Castro.


Several months later I was in Los Angeles studying much of the material I had brought back from the Conference and thinking about what I had learned.  The article that follows, which was published as an opinion piece in the “Los Angeles Times,” November 20, 2003, was a result of this experience.  It was picked up and reproduced by a number of Internet web sites – including a porno [!] site which I suppose must have only seen and misunderstood the word “trade.”)


By taking a look at how free trade works, we can see why virtually every labor, ecological and anti-poverty organization in Latin America is strongly opposed to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is the subject of this week’s Miami gathering of trade ministers from Western Hemisphere nations.


The critics see thing this way: Let’s say that the Newcastle mining industry in Britain can produce a ton of coal at the cost of $10, which it sells on the domestic market.  The industry thrives.  At the same time, coal mining in Pennsylvania is just as efficient, but with transportation and British import tariffs the cost to export coal to Britain would be $15 a ton.  No deal.  But the Pennsylvania mining interests, desperate for export markets, have powerful lobbyists in Congress, which in turn enacts the “Coal Law,” providing a government subsidy of $5 a ton.  Further, with a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Britain abolishing the $2-a-ton tariff, there would be a net gain of $7 a ton for the Pennsylvania mining industry.  Now its actual – if artificial – cost of production is $8 an exported ton, $2 cheaper than the $10-a-ton Newcastle coal.  Voila!  Coals to Newcastle.  Goodbye Newcastle mining industry.  Hello massive British unemployment.


The logic is simple.  There are two ways to “protect” local industry: import tariffs and export subsidies.


Free trade eliminates tariffs, giving the economic advantage not only to those producers that are more efficient production-wise (largely because they are more capitalized) but also to those industries blessed with governments capable of delivering massive subsidies.  In other words, to the already industrial and wealthy nations.


Coal miners in Newcastle may not have to worry about my hypothetical example, but corn growers in Mexico have every reason to panic.


Grains are to Mexico as coal was to Newcastle.  Since the initiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 1994, the earnings of Mexican growers of corn, wheat and rice, along with beans, have plummeted, while the cost to the Mexican consumer has risen by 257%.


Mexico, the land where corn was first domesticated centuries ago, is now importing “cheap” subsidized U.S. agribusiness corn.  Coals to Newcastle indeed.


With a dramatic difference in industrialization (70 U.S. tractors, for example, for every Mexican tractor) and the powerful agricultural lobby in Washington maintaining enormous subsidies, it is no wonder that Mexican farmers cannot compete once the protective tariffs are eliminated.


In theory, free trade should make everyone more competitive, replacing the inefficient with the efficient.  The idea is that everyone should do what they are best at and purchase from their neighboring countries what those countries do best.  Everyone gains.


In theory.


In reality, for historical and geopolitical reasons, what Third World countries are “best at” is having their natural resources extracted and exported to the industrialized nations (which in turn sell back manufactured products at high cost) and having their populations exploited for cheap labor.


Advocates of free trade – the already developed industrialized nations and those in the Third World countries who do their bidding – argue in the abstract, taking advantage of words with positive connotations such as “free” and “trade.”  In the real world, however, economics is not a matter of ideology but rather of production and markets and the intervention of government. Bilateral agreement between unequal partners are inherently biased in favor of the stronger – and the greater the disparity, the greater the bias.


This is exactly the situation that exists between the U.S. and Latin American Republics.


The World Trade Organization treaties and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas are characterized by undemocratic processes, such as secret and semi-secret pre-agreements and unrealistic deadlines, and economic blackmail including threats to withhold the International Monetary Fund and World Bank funding upon which the weaker nations’ governments have become dependent.  Rapidly expanding U.S. military presence worldwide only serves to reinforce the economic hegemony.


The impoverished nations of the Western Hemisphere have much to fear from the proposed trade agreement.




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