Remarks July 21, 2013 at an Occupy Harrisonburg (Va.) Event.
Make your voice heard here.
Thanks to Michael Feikema and Doug Hendren for inviting me. Like most of you I do not spend my life studying trade agreements, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is disturbing enough to make me devote a little time to it, and I hope you will do the same and get your neighbors to do the same and get them to get their friends to do the same -- as soon as possible.
I spend most of my time reading and writing about war and peace. I'm in the middle of writing a book about the possibility and need to abolish war and militarism. I hate to take a break from that. But if we think trade and militarism are separate topics we're fooling ourselves.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a big fan of the supposed wonders of the hidden hand of the market economy says, "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
Of course, there's nothing hidden about that fist. The TPP is planned to include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, with Japan expected to be added this month, and with the ability to expand to any other Pacific nation even after the treaty is created -- if it is created. The U.S. military works closely with the militaries of all of those nations, encourages their militarization, and keeps its own troops in most of them. The U.S. military is currently building up its presence in the Pacific -- including even in Vietnam, where McDonald's also opened its first store this week. In a presidential debate last year President Obama described the TPP as part of a strategy to counter China and exert U.S. influence in Asia, the same rationale behind the naval base on Jeju Island and all the rest of the military build up around China's borders. In this year's State of the Union, Obama said the TPP and an agreement with the European Union were priorities for him this year.
There is also, of course, nothing hidden about the hand of corporate trade agreements. These are not agreements aimed at maximizing competition by preventing monopolies. These are very lengthy and detailed agreements that include protection and expansion of monopolies. Rather than relying on the magic of the marketplace, a corporate trade agreement relies on the influence of lobbyists. Just as the corruption of the military industrial complex helps explain a global military buildup in the absence of a national enemy -- I mean an enemy that is a nation, not a handful of criminals who ought to be indicted and prosecuted rather than blown up along with whoever's nearby -- so, too, the corporate ownership of our government explains our government's trade policies.
What is hidden, in another sense, is the detailed negotiated text of the proposed TPP treaty. Some 600 corporate advisors are helping the U.S. government write the text. Some of these advisors come from those benevolent, public-interest firms known as Monsanto, the Bank of America, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. The rest of us are shut out. The government gathers up our every communication, but we aren't allowed to see what it's doing in our name. We don't influence the text and we don't get to see it. Some courageous person or persons willing to risk charges of aiding the enemy (even if there is no enemy) has made parts of what is in the TPP known.
I dealt with corporate trade agreements a little when I worked as press secretary for Dennis Kucinich for President in 2004. Basically my job was to tell any media outlet that would listen that we were going to end wars, create single-payer healthcare, and abolish NAFTA. But mostly we were going to end wars. I remember in the 2008 campaign, a whole bunch of Democratic primary candidates lined up on a stage for a huge labor-organized debate in a football stadium. Kucinich said he would abolish NAFTA, get out of the WTO, and create bilateral trade agreements with nations, agreements that left in place protections for workers, consumers, and the environment. The applause suggested most people there agreed. But every other one of the candidates refused to say they would end NAFTA. Instead, every one of them, including Barack Obama, said they would re-negotiate NAFTA to fix it by adding in the protections it was missing. Most of them, of course, didn't get elected. The one who did seems to have had a change of plans. The TPP has been under negotiation for 5 years.
A year and a half ago, some of us were living in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., and there was another camp just over in McPhearson Square, and the Occupy Movement had gone national through corporate television and newspapers. A Senate committee was holding a hearing on new corporate trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea. After the lobbyists got their seats, there were a few left for the public, and I took one. The senators were discussing how they would mitigate the damage of what they were about to support. They planned to try to help find jobs for some of the people they would throw out of work. I thought I should point out to them that they could just leave everybody in their current jobs. I was hoping they would realize that on their own. I didn't want to be rude and interrupt. But it seemed an important enough point. So I spoke up. And they arrested me.
Then the senators discussed Korean and U.S. tariffs on beef. A woman in the audience spoke up and asked why we couldn't just leave the Korean beef in Korea and the U.S. beef in the United States instead of shipping beef both ways across the ocean. They arrested her. They arrested everybody who said anything. In the first year of the previous agreement made with Korea, U.S. exports to Korea fell 10% and the U.S. trade deficit with Korea rose 37%. The same sort of results are likely with a new one.
On the plus side, Congress was kept safe from interruptions. The charges carried some months in jail, as I recall. Four of us made deals in court that kept us out of jail but banned us from Capitol Hill for 6 months. In the next courtroom over, some friends were convicted of speaking out against torture when some committee chairman hadn't asked them to. And straight across the hall, that same day, another friend was told she'd completed her probation for having interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Capitol, a punishment imposed even though Netanyahu had thanked her for speaking and bragged about how she'd have been treated worse in Iran -- although the assault she suffered in the U.S. Capitol put her in a neck brace.
The First Amendment is not doing much better than the Fourth Amendment these days. I know that some of you will say nobody should interrupt anyone. How would I like to be interrupted myself? Et cetera. But how much has the corporate media that dominates our communications system, and does so with our subsidies, told us about the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Unless we can organize enough of these meetings, someone is going to have to interrupt someone to get the word out.
Maybe the first thing I would interrupt a super bowl or a state of the union to tell people about the TPP is that it creates corporate nationhood. This is something I started to focus on after interviewing Lacey Kohlmoos of Public Citizen on my radio show. Public Citizen has a website set up at ExposeTheTPP.org. Another coalition has created FlushTheTPP.org. Another is at CitizensTrade.org. And then there's a cross-border effort to organize against the TPP at TPPxborder.org. You can find pretty much everything I have to say, and much more, at those websites. You can sign up and get involved with ongoing campaigns as things develop at those websites.
Many of us have heard of corporate personhood. Corporations have been given the Constitutional rights of persons by U.S. courts over the past 40 years, including the right to spend money on elections. By corporate nationhood I mean the bestowing of the rights of nations on corporations. The TPP, drafts of which have been leaked to Public Citizen, has 29 chapters, only five of which -- according to Public Citizen's thinking -- deal with trade. The others deal with things like food safety, internet freedom, medicine costs, job off-shoring, and financial regulation. Treaties, according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, are -- together with the Constitution itself -- the supreme law of the land. So U.S. laws would have to be made to comply with the TPP's rules.
The United States is party to treaties banning war and torture. Some treaties are treated more like helpful suggestions than the supreme law of the land. That would not be the case with the TPP. Our federal and state and local governments would have to obey the TPP. And if they didn't, corporations could force them to. A corporation could take the U.S. government or other nations' governments to court (or rather, a special tribunal) and overturn their laws. That's corporate nationhood. A bunch of corporate lawyers would make their case to a tribunal made up of three corporate lawyers taking a break from themselves arguing such cases in order to rule on some of them. These three lawyers would answer to no electorate and be bound by no precedents. There would be no appeals process. They would be empowered to order any amount of compensation whatsoever, to be paid to corporations by tax payers.
So, if the United States has a healthcare policy or an environmental or workplace policy or a banking or internet or other public policy that a few corporate lawyers can convince three other corporate lawyers fails to comply with the TPP, the policy will be overturned, the law rewritten, and compensation ordered to be paid by the public treasury to the corporations that suffered from having to provide healthcare or from having to refrain from poisoning a river, or whatever. We don't know all of the details -- I'll get to some of them shortly. But this framework is an outrage no matter what they turn out to be. And it's an expansion of something already being tried under existing corporate trade agreements.