"The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference." - Ralph Nader
The Guardian's George Monbiot this week wrote an informative piece on the potentially monstrous consequences of embracing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a 'trade agreement' between the world's two largest economies, those of the US and the EU.
From the article:
The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.
The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It's already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.
Monbiot supplies some examples:
The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.
During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people's energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.
In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada's patent laws are changed.
He goes on to explain how these rules have been embedded in other trade treaties, and enforced by unaccountable secret panels.
These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.
You don't believe it? Here's what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. "When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all ... Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament."
Investor-state rules could be used to smash any attempt to save the NHS from corporate control, to re-regulate the banks, to curb the greed of the energy companies, to renationalise the railways, to leave fossil fuels in the ground. These rules shut down democratic alternatives. They outlaw leftwing politics.
This 'agreement' brings to mind the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a similar effort formulated and negotiated in secret. An article from Alternet makes it clear that the TPP, like the TTIP, is a 'corporate coup in disguise'.
From the article:
Twenty years later, the gang that gave us NAFTA is back with the TPP, a "trade deal" that mostly does not deal with trade. Of the 29 chapters in this document, only five cover traditional trade matters! The other chapters amount to a devilish "partnership" for corporate protectionism:
—Food safety. Any of our government's food safety regulations (on pesticide levels, bacterial contamination, fecal exposure, toxic additives, etc.) and food labeling laws (organic, country-of-origin, animal-welfare approved, GMO-free, etc.) that are stricter than "international standards" could be ruled as "illegal trade barriers." Our government would then have to revise our consumer protections to comply with weaker standards.
—Fracking. Our Department of Energy would lose its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to any TPP nation. This would create an explosion of the destructive fracking process across our land, for both foreign and U.S. corporations could export fracked gas from America to member nations without any DOE review of the environmental and economic impacts on local communities -- or on our national interests.
—Jobs. US corporations would get special foreign-investor protections to limit the cost and risk of relocating their factories to low-wage nations that sign onto this agreement. So, an American corporation thinking about moving a factory would know it is guaranteed a sweetheart deal if it moves operations to a TPP nation like Vietnam. This would be an incentive for corporate chieftains to export more of our middle-class jobs.
—Drug prices. Big Pharma would be given more years of monopoly pricing on each of their patents and be empowered to block distribution of cheaper generic drugs. Besides artificially keeping everyone's prices high, this would be a death sentence to many people suffering from cancer, HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and other treatable diseases in impoverished lands.
—Banksters. Wall Street and the financial giants in other TPP countries would make out like bandits. The deal explicitly prohibits transaction taxes (such as the proposed Robin Hood Tax here) that would shut down speculators who have repeatedly triggered financial crises and economic crashes around the world. It restricts "firewall" reforms that separate consumer banking from risky investment banking. It could roll back reforms that governments adopted to fix the extreme bank-deregulation regimen that caused Wall Street's 2007 crash. And it provides an escape from national rules that would limit the size of "too-big-to-fail" behemoths.
—Internet freedom. Corporations hoping to lock up and monopolize the Internet failed in Congress last year to pass their repressive "Stop Online Piracy Act." However, they've slipped SOPA's most pernicious provisions into TPP. The deal would also transform Internet service providers into a private, Big Brother police force, empowered to monitor our "user activity," arbitrarily take down our content and cut off our access to the Internet. To top that off, consumers could be assessed mandatory fines for something as benign as sending your mom a recipe you got off of a paid site.
This superb graphic demonstrates that ten corporations control almost everything you buy. It also shows how six corporations own 90% of the US media (as of 2011) compared to fifty in 1983 and how thirty-seven banks have merged to become just four in a little over two decades.
With virtually none of those responsible for the 2008 financial crash and other major transgressions ever having faced criminal charges, it is now clear that big business and major banks can act above the law and with impunity, can literally do almost anything they want. This immunity from the law is kept fresh with a steady stream of pet elected officials, themselves amply rewarded with large financial 'donations' and all the other attractions and rewards of power. These officials push through legislation lobbied for by corporations to ensure a tighter grip on the system and more profits, such as - to cite just one example of hundreds - mandatory prison time for victimless crimes like possession of drugs in order to fill the cells of private prisons.
The world is suffering an ongoing global coup d'etat, effected in stealth and dressed up in cozy, positive language like 'partnership'. This is not conspiracy theory; indeed, what is happening is entirely logical and predictable.
Consider: you are the head of a large corporation. The overriding concern of any corporation is ever increasing profits, to satisfy shareholders and attract further investment. You know that democracy is antithetical to what your corporation needs to flourish further because it contains protections for workers and citizens in terms of wages and safety standards etc. and legal requirements regarding monopolies and so on. Therefore, with the almost infinite resources at your disposal, it is perfectly natural for any corporate head to go about gaming the system as far as you can in order to sustain the undemocratic and commercial environment you require.
With most of the world's elected officials, often power-hungry individuals themselves, firmly in your pocket, 'as far as you can' can become very far indeed. All that is required is to ensure control of the world's strategic institutions like the IMF and the World Bank [check]; to render impotent organizations charged with ensuring peace and human rights like the UN or Amnesty International [check]; to lobby officials for change in legislation to ensure that private citizens have no legal recourse when they feel their rights have been infringed, and to require significant monetary compensation from nation states if losses are incurred due to laws that actually protect people. These last two requirements will be fulfilled by the TPP and TTIP.
Vital also to maintaining the status quo is an ignorant public (please do watch this link...jaw-dropping ignorance on display) and toxic media designed for distraction and misinformation. Rote-style education systems ensure the former, corporate-owned media the latter (and indeed the former). The coup is almost complete. With TPP and TTIP in the bag, the corporations won't lose even when they 'lose', and the green blood that sustains them will continue to flow into their veins. Boycotts will be ineffective with almost every product available controlled by big business. Massive violent uprisings will fail, put down by militarized police forces and the army when necessary, and even if they succeed, these uprisings will be aimed primarily at state governments, and so will be unable to cut out this cancer that has metastasized throughout the globe.
I happened to see an English Premier League football match on television this weekend, and was taken aback at the raw, almost out-of-control passion on the faces of the tens of thousands of fans when their team scored a vital goal. While many would consider this sight quite normal, I found it not only profoundly disturbing but also dangerous, as it brought home the reality that the passions of millions are staggeringly easy to deflect into harmless channels. Along with the garnering of profits, this is indeed the intention of the corporations (with the grateful backing of state governments) that spend billions for the rights to the games. It also highlights just how difficult it will be for the paltry forces fighting against the corporate coup to channel those passions into useful and beneficial directions.
As George Monbiot points out at the end of his article, we are all indeed being 'shafted'. These are not just words...a real coup is taking place in the real world as we speak. Those who say they value democracy, freedom, equality, justice and human rights...wake up and spread the word...we really are being shafted.
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