Friday, November 15, 2013

What’s Edward Snowden’s connection to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)?

Actually, none in the straight line we’re used to, as in his NSA leaks. But connections are not always direct and occasionally, setting the stage is vitally important to the play that follows. In this particular case, the whistle was blown on a key portion of the secretive TPP ‘trade’ meetings by another controversial guy, Julian Assange at Wikileaks.

This trade agreement (and I use the word loosely, because less than half a dozen of its 26 chapters deal directly with trade) has been under negotiation for a good long time. It didn’t raise much in the way of eyebrows until lately. Who really pays attention to this stuff in a crowded news cycle? Yet, flying well under the public radar, it’s a highly secretive affair, one the United States Congress consistently demanded information about, but can’t get. Can’t bloody get it

Penny Pritzker, the Secretary of Commerce is negotiating the future of working America and will not tell the Congress what she’s up to. President Obama plans to have a neat little package wrapped by New Year and is asking for ‘fast track’ congressional approval, without Congress knowing what’s in the box. Fast track means no discussion or amendments—an up or down vote.

That’s where, by my reckoning, the Snowden connection comes in.

Believe him a traitor or a courageous whistle-blower, Edward Snowden gave us a dark peek inside what a good many have suspected for years—our government was telling us and the leaders of the world bald-faced lies about privacy issues, terrorism prevention, foreign-relations and the run-up to two very expensive and fruitless foreign wars. Like it or not—and the administration likes it not one bit-- the evidence is on the table. We have been and continue to be, consistently lied to by our elected officials.

Which rather elegantly sets the stage for the OZ-like theater our President is about to unveil. The cast of characters includes a narrow selection of country representatives from a dozen nations, as diverse as Brunei, Japan, Singapore and the United States, but we Americans are the big guys at the table. And all representatives are sworn to secrecy, lest the facts get out.

“The TPP is ostensibly intended to be a "high-standard" agreement specifically aimed at emerging trade issues in the 21st century.[11] These ongoing negotiations have drawn criticism and protest from the public, advocacy groups, and elected officials, in part due to the secrecy of the negotiations, the expansive scope of the agreement, and a number of controversial clauses in drafts leaked to the public. On November 13, 2013, a complete draft of the treaty's Intellectual Property Rights chapter was published by WikiLeaks.”[1]

But there are those who have access and they don’t need to be told to keep mum, they’ve plenty of reasons to keep their coat collars up and dark glasses on. 

If ‘intellectual property rights’ makes your eyes glaze over, think about controlled pricing and access to food, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, energy, Hollywood movies, CDs, free access to the internet, the offshoring of jobs, and, essentially the lowering of labor standards in America to compete with the lowest cost provider anywhere else.

“There is one exception to this wall of secrecy: a group of some 600 trade “advisers,” dominated by representatives of big businesses, who enjoy privileged access to draft texts and negotiators.”[2]

Big business, Wall Street, the film and pharmaceutical industry is in the loop—you and I and the United States Congress are out in the cold, looking in. Of course our elected officials in the Congress have long been on the payroll of the above-mentioned business interests, but this is beyond the pale. In the words of Claude Rains (as Captain Renault in Casablanca), “round up the usual suspects.” 

Do I have you attention now? Is TPP another nail in the coffin of American jobs? If it isn’t, then why the cloak-and-dagger secrecy?

“In the years 2007 and 2008, candidate Obama indicated that he'd take a more nuanced view than the absolutist one from Hollywood and other interests that work relentlessly for total control over this increasingly vital part of our economy and lives. But no clearer demonstration of the real White House view is offered than a just-leaked draft of an international treaty that would, as many had feared, create draconian new rights for corporate "owners" and mean vastly fewer rights for the rest of us.”[3]

If TPP passes, you can’t even take these scoundrels to court anymore under American law. This ‘trade agreement’ supersedes national laws and allows them to sue any nation they damned well please for loss of profits they claim they might have made, had national laws been followed. Constitutional restrictions in our (or other) sovereign nations are circumvented as well.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a hot ticket these days as speaking as a public advocate, mostly on financial issues, but she’s made herself heard on TPP as well. In a letter to the White House, Warren wrote,

“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the administration's policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. I believe in transparency and democracy and I think the US Trade Representative should too.”

A difficult position with which to argue and, I would note, another ‘connection’ to the Edward Snowden saga. In both cases, TPP and the Snowden leaks, the longer the debate stays out there without resolution, the more public opinion swings in favor of transparency. 

A 2011 opinion poll showed the American public has moved from “broad opposition” to “overwhelming opposition” toward NAFTA-style trade deals.[4]
We are ultimately a nation of public opinion. Or we are not and the word for that is fascism or oligarchy, but it is certainly not republican democracy.

[1] Wikipedia, Trans Pacific Partnership
[2] New York Times, Obama’s Covert Trade Deal, June 2, 2013
[3] The Guardian UK, Thanks to Wikileaks, We See Just How Bad TPP Trade Deal Is for Regular People, Nov 14, 2013
[4] Wikipedia, Trans-Pacific Partnership

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