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It's time to knock the Trans-Pacific Partnership off the "Fast Track"

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Reprinted from Hightower Lowdown

New trade pacts create secret, pro-corporate tribunals that use their powers to eviscerate our democratic laws

When I was just a tyke, my momma warned me not to eat anything unless I knew where it came from. Sensible advice -- so good that even Congress has acted on it.

In 2002, responding to public demand, lawmakers decided that you and I have a need and a right to know where the meat sold in supermarkets comes from. Thus, Congress enacted a simple and straightforward law called COOL (Country Of Origin Labeling), requiring meat marketers to tell us right on their packages whether the enclosed steak, pork chops, lamb shanks, chicken wings, etc., are products of the USA, Mexico, China, or Whereintheworldistan.

This is useful information that empowers us consumers. Whether you have health concerns about imported meat or just prefer to have your food dollars go to American farmers and ranchers, COOL lets each of us know the source so we can decide such matters for ourselves. And that is precisely why global agribusiness giants hate it. Foreign meat producers (especially the US food conglomerates that have moved their meat production and slaughtering operations to nations that pay low wages and/or aren't fussy about health inspections) don't want you knowing or deciding. They've been all over Washington officials, saying they want the #@$&! labeling law repealed.

But who cares what they want? COOL is America's law, and American courts upheld it when the agribusiness powers tried to strike it down. It's also solidly supported by our people -- a 2013 Consumer's Union poll found that a whopping 90 percent of Americans favor the right-to-know label! That's such an overwhelming majority that even the anti-consumer Republicans now in charge of Congress are not about to mess with it. So that's that.

WARNING: Mind-exploding Outrage Ahead. Unfortunately, that's not that. Unbeknownst to most people, a cabal of corporate and political elites (including Presidents Clinton, Bush II, and Obama) has stealthfully negotiated international trade deals during the past two-plus decades that have fabricated, piece by piece, what now amounts to a privatized world government. It's a secretive, autocratic, plutocratic, bureaucratic government of, by, and for multinational corporations. Most astonishingly, it has been empowered [Second warning: Take a deep breath before reading on] to eviscerate laws and policies enacted by our own elected officials.

Embedded in these voluminous agreements are rules limiting what our domestic governments are permitted to do, plus new rights and privileges for corporations enforced through supra-national closed-door tribunals. This adds up to a privately gated "government." A corporation from a foreign country that has signed on to these deals can directly attack the real government in countries where it has a subsidiary. They can demand cash compensation from us taxpayers for any action by our government that they think harms their profit picture.

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I realize that this sounds like something from a 007 spy fantasy. When I've spoken about it at various events, audiences are incredulous at first, looking at me with expressions that say, "That can't be true. Can it?"

Alas, it's all too real. And if the World Trade Organization tribunals like the one that sacked COOL were not bad enough, such trade documents as NAFTA and CAFTA -- all approved by our own legislatures in the name of "job creation" -- give foreign corporations even more direct power to overturn our laws. The slimy little secret of these trade deals is that they have little to do with trade and everything to do with enhancing corporate sovereignty over public governments and the interests of all other people -- including labor, environmentalists, consumers, privacy defenders, et al. Here's how the privatized government system works:

A so-called trade agreement includes a process called ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement). This is a devilish bit of legalistic hocus-pocus that elevates mere corporations to the status of "corporate states," putting them on par with our nation states. It allows them to go to foreign tribunals staffed by corporate lawyers and sue governments to demand taxpayer compensation for a particular national, state, or local law -- the offending law could be anything from an environmental regulation to a community's "Buy Local" ordinance. (Under WTO rules, the complaining corporation gets its home nation's government to sue on its behalf, while NAFTA and CAFTA rules allow corporations to challenge sovereign nations directly.)

Even if the law that a foreign corporation wants struck down serves a clear and legitimate public interest and has been properly enacted, ISDS clauses decree that the corporation wins its case simply if it shows that the government's law might restrict the "expected future profits" of corporate investors.

These corporate challenges are not made in our nation's courts, but in special, private tribunals created by the World Bank and the United Nations.

Each case is heard and decided by three "tribunalists" drawn from a pool of private attorneys. These attorneys, especially those who routinely rotate between being judges in one case and being employed as a corporate lawyer in the next, tend to be biased in favor of corporate challengers. Even though tribunalists serve as judge and jury, they are subject only to the most minimal conflict-of-interest rules.

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These faceless, bureaucratic tribunalists are not accountable to any electorate. They decide cases behind closed doors, and their decisions are final -- there is no appeal of their ruling to a real court. World Bank tribunals even keep their written rulings secret.

Only corporations can initiate challenges, and only they and the defending government can be part of the proceedings -- no intervention is allowed by affected parties. Workers, local residents, small business owners, et al., are locked out.

When a government loses a case, its taxpayers must pay the corporation for its alleged "loss" of expected profits. To comply with a tribunal's ruling, a losing government is expected to rewrite or eliminate its law.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.


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