Saturday, February 14, 2015

Editorial: Derail Trans-Pacific Pact

Democratic members of Congress need to stiffen their spines and, when it comes to vote on fast-tracking consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they must say no to President Obama. Principled conservative Republicans also ought to reject the threats to national sovereignty that the trade pact represents.

The TPP has been negotiated behind closed doors for more than six years, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he wants to reintroduce a bill granting Fast Track Authority in February to grease the skids for the trade deal.

Fast Track Trade Authority was created in 1974 by President Richard Nixon to minimize public debate and congressional oversight on trade deals. It has been used 16 times since then, often to enact controversial trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and establishment of the World Trade Organization. Those deals made it easier to move manufacturing jobs out of the United States and they also lowered trade barriers to let foreign manufacturers export their goods into the United States, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch noted.

Fast Track allows the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for “trade” pacts, negotiate their contents and sign the agreements and then submit them to Congress, where both the House and Senate are required to vote the agreement up or down, without amendments, within 90 days.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership dates back to 2002, when Chile, New Zealand and Singapore started talking about trade liberalization. More nations joined the talks, including the US in September 2008, during George W. Bush’s administration. Participant nations hoped to wrap up the pact in 2012, but contentious issues such as agriculture, intellectual property, and services and investments dragged out the negotiations. As of 2014, 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region participated in negotiations, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam. China and South Korea reportedly are considering joining TPP.

Global Trade Watch noted that the TPP would expand the NAFTA model that has spurred massive US trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on wages, unprecedented levels of inequality and new floods of agricultural imports. TPP expands NAFTA’s protections for firms that offshore US jobs. And US negotiators used the 2011 Korea trade deal – under which exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged – as a template for the TPP.

Although it is called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not just about trade. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on to maintain safe food, a clean environment and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to conform with TPP rules.

Radio talker Thom Hartmann prefers to call TPP the “Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement” (SHAFTA).

According to leaked documents, TPP would extend patent protections for drugs made by Big Pharma to prevent rival companies from making generic version of those same drugs, Hartmann noted in a recent commentary. “This a huge deal,” he said.

“If the TPP goes through, real live breathing people (Doctors Without Borders estimates about half a billion of them) will effectively lose affordable access to the medicine they need to survive.”
The TPP also would let corporations sue countries in international courts run by corporations, with judges handpicked from corporate law firms, Hartmann noted. “In other words, if a corporation doesn’t like a regulation, or thinks it’ll diminish their profits, they can sue your town, state, or our federal government over it — and that would gut environmental and financial rules without any input from ‘We the People’ or our elected representatives in Congress.”

Considering what’s at stake, Hartmann noted, you’d think it would be widely covered by the news media. But Media Matters for America recently reported that during the 17 month period between August 2013 and February 2015, only one nightly network news show, PBS’ Newshour, mentioned the trade deal — and they only mentioned it eight times. ABC, CBS, and NBC didn’t mention the TPP once.

Cable news stations did little better when it comes to TPP coverage than their network counterparts. According to Media Matters, Fox “News” and CNN each talked about the trade deal once and MSNBC talked about it 71 times. But those 71 mentions were mostly on one show, The Ed Show, and because MSNBC is only available by cable subscription, most Americans never watched Ed Schultz talk about the TPP.

So you can’t depend on finding the truth about TPP or other issues in which the owners of broadcast media have a financial interest, and daily newspaper editorial pages are largely unwilling or unable to buck the corporate line, either.

You should contact your congressional representative and your senators to urge them to vote against giving President Obama Fast Track Trade Authority. If the bill is worth passing, it ought to be able to survive consideration in the regular order of business, starting with committee hearings and amendments if necessary.

If your representative is a Republican, and particularly if he or she aligns with the Tea Party, you can say that their claims of being a conservative intent on preserving American sovereignty will ring hollow if they vote to give President Obama — the supposed socialist tyrant — a clear route to gain approval of the trade deal that his administration negotiated.

You can call members of the House and Senate either at their local offices or by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Good News at the FCC

Considering the neglect of reporting on the TPP and the overall lack of scrutiny by the corporate-owned media on corporate power and the growing oligarchy that is strangling democracy, it is all the more important that President Obama’s Federal Communications Commission appears to be heeding the wishes of millions of grassroots activists to declare that broadband Internet service providers are a public utility.

Obama may have disappointed progressives with his promotion of a trade deal that hands multinational corporations more power, but he encouraged progressives last Nov. 10 when he embraced the principles of “Net Neutrality.” And progressives were elated when Obama’s FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for telecoms, announced on Feb. 4 that he will base new “Net Neutrality” rules on Title II of the Communications Act, which will regulate broadband Internet service providers as a public utility, as telephones are regulated. Those new rules are expected to ban ISPs from throttling, blocking and prioritizing their customers’ messages based on their pay plan.

“If the FCC ignores the industry pressure and approves Wheeler’s rules, activists who have fought for a decade to keep the Internet open will have plenty to celebrate,” Matt Wood and Candace Clement of Free Press wrote in a Feb. 11 column on “Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal Ever.”

If you are reading this newspaper, God bless you, and we’ll keep it coming, but you probably know that you are among a dwindling population of newsprint readers.

The younger generation — and by that we mean people under 40 — increasingly depend on the Internet for their news and information. (Go ahead and buy a youngster a gift subscription anyway!) It is vital to our democracy that corporations aren’t allowed to serve as a gatekeeper for liberal and progressive websites, podcasts and liberal talkers like Hartmann, Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower and others whose programs are available over the Internet. Obama and the Democratic majority on the FCC are taking a major step forward to preserve free speech on the Internet. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2015

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