These deals endanger our democracy — and the safety of our citizens.
By Ron Carver
NAFTA. CAFTA-DR. TPP. TTIP.
That numbing spoonful of alphabet soup represents four so-called free trade pacts that benefit global capital at the expense of everyone else.
The North American Free Trade Agreement came first, and NAFTA will soon mark its 20thanniversary. The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, known officially as CAFTA-DR, went into effect a decade later.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are in the works now. President Barack Obama wants Congress to grant him “fast track” authority to expedite these deals.
Thanks to firm opposition by progressive and tea-partying activists and legislative gridlock, it’s looking like his administration won’t get this power.
Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers who lost their jobs when U.S. factories moved to Mexico or China? If so, you’re probably more aware of these deals than most Americans.
But all of us should care. You may not believe trade agreements affect you — but they do, profoundly. They also endanger our democracy.
A few cases making their way through shadowy World Bank and UN tribunals should help everyone see what’s dangerous about these deals.
Do you care about the environment and clean water? El Salvador did, and instituted a moratorium on new mining operations after a popular uproar. People there are living with the consequences of gold mining, including the contamination of more than 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water by cyanide and arsenic.
However, citing the CAFTA-DR trade agreement, a Canadian mining company called Pacific Rim Mining Corporation brought a case before the World Bank’s “investor-state” tribunal. Pacific Rim claims El Salvador has no right to restrict mining on its own soil or to require that disputes be resolved in its own courts.
Never mind that the proposed mine is located by a river supplying two-thirds of El Salvador with drinking water. Or that Canada wasn’t even a party to the CAFTA-DR accord. Pacific Rim simply moved its Cayman Islands office to Reno, Nevada. Then, it declared it had jurisdiction under that pact. When that ploy failed, Pacific Rim cited an obsolete law that has since been rejected and replaced.
Philip Morris took a similarly low road when it tried to stop Australia from requiring tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain brown paper packages — minus the cowboys and camels.
After unearthing an old Australian accord with Hong Kong that allows dispute resolution before tribunals, the tobacco titan shifted some investments to Hong Kong. Then it claimed to be an investor there and filed a complaint through its Hong Kong office.
Phillip Morris is now trying to force Australia to abandon its public health initiative or pony up billions to cover the loss of future profits.
Even U.S. regulations are vulnerable. Apotex, a Canadian drug manufacturer, is suing the United States government for $520 million. Why? FDA inspectors temporarily cut off the company’s U.S.-bound exports a few years ago due to manufacturing woes. Apotex now claims that enforcing U.S. drug safety regulations threatens its potential profits and violates NAFTA’s terms.
How can this be?
Our leaders sell trade deals to the public as a means of building our economy by boosting exports. They don’t talk about big business’s desire to topple national regulations and laws that protect public health, labor rights, and the environment.
That’s because the negotiations are held in secret.
Well, they aren’t entirely secret. The corporations who benefit are invited to participate. After Congress made a stink, its members were finally briefed on the ongoing talks as long as they promise not to divulge anything.
The rest of us are kept in the dark.
And those fast-track votes Obama wants on the TPP and TIPP? They’d deny Congress a chance to add or delete provisions along the lines of the ones companies are using to challenge consumer-protecting laws in El Salvador, Australia, and right here in the United States.
It’s time we demand that trade deals be negotiated in the light of day. To paraphrase a Civil Rights movement’s anthem: “We’ve got the light of freedom — let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
Ron Carver is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. IPS-dc.org. TPP graphic compliments of DonkeyHotey / Flickr. Distributed via
The assault on our democracy is a bigger problem than the temporary closure of national parks.
America’s best idea is in trouble, and I don’t mean our national parks. Yes, our parks were closed, which was a crushing disappointment for millions of would-be visitors and an economic gut-punch for neighboring communities — to the tune of $76 million dollars a day.
But what’s really under attack is something even older than our national park system: our democracy.
How did we reach a point where one fraction of one party that controls one chamber of Congress would drive our government into the ground if it doesn’t get everything its members want? ‘This shutdown is like a firefighter standing on the hose to stop the rest of the company from putting out a blaze until he gets a million-dollar raise — all while the building burns.
We didn’t get here by accident. It’s the result of a systematic attack on basic democratic principles by a handful of people who have no interest in a functioning democracy. While there is no excuse, there is an explanation.
It starts with big money. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for a tidal wave of corrupting corporate money into our system. But where is the money coming from and where is it going?
Huge amounts are from polluter-backed groups, which spent more than $270 million on television ads in just two months of the 2012 election — and that explains why Congress has taken more than 300 votes attacking clean air and water. The same people who are poisoning our democracy are also determined to poison our environment. It’s no surprise that 80 percent of Americans agree that political money is preventing our most important challenges from being addressed.
At the same time, special interest groups are spending millions to keep anyone who disagrees with them away from the polls and out of office. No sooner did the Supreme Court gut a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that state houses with Republican majorities pushed through suppressive legislation to keep young people, seniors, students, and people of color away from the polls. It’s no coincidence that those are the same citizens who have voted against them.
These challenges have led the Sierra Club to team up with the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, and Greenpeace to form the Democracy Initiative. Our goal is to build a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform.
Challenges to our democracy might get even worse. We’re fighting a frightening Supreme Court challenge to campaign finance limits that would allow individuals to write million dollar checks to buy influence, brought to the court by Shaun McCutcheon — a coal company CEO.
Only about 1,200 people came close to reaching the spending limits McCutcheon wants overturned — and a good number of them are oil, gas, and coal executives, from the sectors that directly contributed $40 million in 2012. Give them free rein to write whatever size of a check they want, and we’ll see that number skyrocket.
The faster that money pours in, the quicker the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We can’t let that happen. And we won’t. They may have millions of dollars, but we have millions of people. And, thanks to efforts like the Democracy Initiative, we are organizing and coming together to make sure our voices are heard.
If we want to see more shutdowns and debt crises, then we should maintain the status quo. If we want more attacks on our air, water, and climate, then all we need to do is turn away in disgust at the political posturing. But if we want to restore a democracy that works for Americans and will preserve a healthy planet for future generations, it’s time to stand up and fight back.
Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. SierraClub.org. Image courtesy of Oil Change International. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
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My name is Chris Hyepock and I am a working class family man that has announced my candidacy for governor of Nevada. I along with many others feel like the government has lost focus on what they get elected to do, which is to put the people first. The government instead has put special interest groups, big corporations, and lobbyists first.
I love the state of Nevada and I know the potential that it has. If we keep electing the same type of people, we will never witness that. Nevada leads the nation in all the bad categories and is at the bottom of every good category. This is not by accident, this is from bad management from the top. It is time to allow a common sense guy to come in and do the job. I will always present the absolute best to the people of Nevada. I will surround myself with people that are as dedicated as I am to better Nevada and will work across the aisle to do just that.
Unfortunately the way the system is setup money is needed to run successfully. I want to fund my campaign through reaching out to the grass roots. I believe that there are many people just like me out there trying to make a difference, those that believe that it is time for a common man that is not out of touch to reality.
To learn more about Chris leading into the Primary election, check out these links:
Any candidate choosing to make a run in Nevada’s Congressional District 2 will face a very well-funded Republican incumbent, Rep. Mark Amodei. He has enormous resources due to his law practice and his time as a lobbyist.
As you may well know, Brian Dempsey has thrown his hat in the ring as a Democratic candidate. Brian is a working class person just like most folks throughout the district who has hit the ground early and is out working hard to earn your vote. Some of you have had an opportunity to meet Brian as he’s made the rounds to central committee meetings throughout CD2 (Congressional District #2 – Northern Rural Nevada).
Brian has set up a fund-raising account on ActBlue and he’s seeking for small contributions from those of you who will choose to support him in the upcoming primary election. He’s seeking donations of $5, $10, $25 to help support “Brian Dempsey for Congress.”
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Brian Dempsey for Congress mailing address is:
Dempsey for Congress 2014
P.O. Box 6352
Gardnerville, NV 89460