Monday, July 2, 2012

The Trans Pacific Partnership, Yet another Opportunity to Chop-Shop America

A chop shop is a place where you take something whole and useful and bust it into pieces, each of which can be sold at a profit. Chop shops are highly profitable and used to be illegal (and still are for automobiles) until the United States Congress made them legal entities for Wall Street and large corporations.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), if it is allowed to become law, will be our fifteenth venture into this area of so-called free trade since 1985 and sixteen more are in various stages of development. Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore started this particular TTP ball rolling in 2006 and here we are almost exactly six years later, about to enter the 13th round of negotiations (July 2-10) in San Diego. How fitting; America’s 236th birthday.

All that’s heard in Washington these days is the deficit and the partisan fight over which services to the poorest of Americans must be cut. The true deficit is a trade deficit and its brief (and continuing) history of free-trade agreements is killing us.

Prior to 1985 we had a relative balance of exports and imports, a healthy economy, industry and job base. Since then, imports have swamped exports, jobs disappeared and American on-shore industry took a beating. The answer is not to bring deficit spending under control by removing what few social safety-nets remain, but to reclaim the jobs and industries lost to ‘free-trade’ agreements. They are not ‘free,’ they come at the expense of a drained and overworked, underpaid middle class. They come at the expense of architects now driving cabs, line-workers flipping hamburgers and entire industries closing down.

For an impartial view, one has only to look at who supports and who opposes TPP.

Supporters include
       Halliburton, a company so controversial that it moved its headquarters to Dubai and has major international offices in 42 countries (including Iran).
       Chevron, found to have evaded $3.25 billion in federal and state taxes from 1970 to 2000.
       PHRMA, an umbrella group of pharmaceutical companies "broad patient access to safe and effective medicines through a free market, without price controls and strong intellectual property incentives.”
       Comcast, the largest cable network and subject of criticism for its stance on net neutrality.
       The Motion Picture Association of America, whose purported goals of ‘preserving copyright’ are a mere straw man for maintaining total control over member media pricing.

The latter three organizations are boldly using TPP to redeem the loss in Congress of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Senate version full title, Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity). The House and Senate got such a deluge of voter resistance that they tabled the legislation.

Opposition includes
       Advocates of Internet freedom
       Agricultural and Trade Unions
       American Express Company, AOL, craigslist, Discover, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, PayPal, Reddit, Twitter and Wikipedia
       A growing number of Congressmen and Senators, primarily led by Senator Ron Wyden

In a not unrelated development, many of the weaknesses in trade agreements have been exposed by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Assange created a sort of pants-around-the-ankles embarrassment to governments worldwide. Even so, as yet there seems to be no evidence of anything that would approach the charges of ‘treason’ and/or ‘terrorism’ that the U.S. Government supposedly has awaiting his expected extradition from Sweden. Assange stands to be executed or disappeared into prison for life, should that extradition take place. The purpose of course is to chill dissent and protect the power structure, which is always the international purpose of closing down rather than opening transparency. 

But by our own government? Surely not. Still, the late president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, South African Nelson Mandella and Burmese dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (a Nobel Peace laureate) would all have understood the current threat to Assange and its origins. So there’s much at stake in San Diego and my guess is that Mr. Obama will have his way. 

Whether that will hurt or help his reelection, who can tell? Whether it will hurt or help the already super-wealthy at the expense of the already underemployed is pretty much a certainty.