If you want to get a good understanding of how thoroughly corrupted and sold-out our government in Washington is, you need only look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a series of trade “deals” that is heading towards passage right now, and that, like its predecessors, NAFTA and CAFTA, as well as the World Trade Organization, will be sucking jobs out of the US for years.
The key point to notice about TPP, as with earlier trade deals, is that it is being negotiated in secret. The reason for this is that there are so many outrages in it which undermine US sovereignty and democratic control, and so many things in the deal that benefit multinational corporations at the expense of the American worker and the broader American public that there would be almost universal outrage if they were known.
What really demonstrates the collapse of US democracy is that even though the Republican Party claims to loath and distrust President Obama, their majorities in both House and Senate have voted to give him “fast-track” authority to negotiate the TPP. That means they want this man whom they claim to completely distrust to negotiate the whole TPP treaty, and then to present it to them as an unalterable take-it-or-leave it deal, with no amendments or changes allowed.
Why are they doing this? Because the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, like the president, want to pass this bill without letting the public find out what’s in it. And the members of Congress of both parties, who have been flooded with campaign contributions (really bribes) and other perks by corporate America to ensure that TPP is passed without discussion.
Where else could you find a government body that would willingly — no enthusiastically — surrender its power to investigate, debate and amend a major bill or, in this case, treaty? Especially a government body that is run by one party that is surrendering its power to the leader of the supposed opposing party — a man who is openly loathed and distrusted by them?
What this demonstrates is that the whole government in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, is owned now by corporate America. What corporate America wants is what this thoroughly corrupted government gives it.
So what are they giving away in TPP? Well, the main thing is that the TPP cedes to an unelected supra-national body of government bureaucrats the right to decide in secret tribunals whether some law in a member country — say the US — unfairly restricts trade. And if that secret tribunal concludes that the law does restrict trade or interferes with some multinational company’s ability to make obscene profits doing something that the country in question has democratically decided it shouldn’t be able to do, the nation’s law is ruled to be invalid.
This is true even if the company that is filing a complaint with the tribunal is based in the country whose law is being challenged!
Take a hypothetical example. If General Electric, a huge US-based multinational company that actually earns most of its revenues and profits and has most of its employees these days based overseas, were to file a complaint with the TPP claiming that a US law banning the import of microwave ovens that leak dangerous microwaves when they are used is interfering with sales of a product that they are making in China for sale in the US, the TPP bureaucrats could rule that America’s safety laws concerning microwave devices is illegal.
Outrageous? Of course it is. Product safety rules in the US are voted into law by the elected representatives of the people of the US, and the idea that unelected bureaucrats from other countries could simply toss them out runs counter to any principle of democracy.
But why be hypothetical? As the always spot-on political gadfly Jim Hightower notes, a WTO tribunal in 2012 overturned a law passed by Congress in 2002 that mandates that food companies always note on the label the country of origin of the food we buy in the US. Hightower notes  that since passage of that Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Act, US corporations in the food industry have lobbied furiously, but unsuccessfully, to get it overturned. They always failed because some 90% of Americans want to know where their food comes from (understandably since so many countries have even worse food safety laws than our own) and even our corrupted Congress has not had the guts to challenge that powerful a public sentiment, at least openly.
So instead, they let the WTO do it by ceding to the WTO the power to overturn national laws passed by WTO member states!
Now if you are angry that COOL is no longer the law of the land, your Congresscritter can say, “Gee, that’s terrible, but what can we do. We passed that law, but the WTO overturned it.”
And it gets worse. These international trade treaties that Congress keeps passing also allow companies that win in an international tribunal to get “damages” from the country whose law was overturned. But in a particularly nasty turn of the knife, since most big corporations are multinational now, with subsidiaries all over the globe, it turns out that the very companies that were unable to get Congress to repeal a law like COOL can have an overseas subsidiary file a protest with the WTO, or NAFTA or, if it passes, the TPP, and then accomplish what the parent company couldn’t accomplish through domestic lobbying (bribery). And it can get the US taxpayer to fork over damages, which then accrue to the parent company back in the US.
Clearly, if we have both Republican and Democratic Presidents asking, and Republican and Democratic Congresses voting for trade pacts that they negotiate in secret and then vote on as immutable faits accompli — pacts which surrender US sovereignty over worker safety, food safety, environmental protection and other laws passed by our elected Congress, we do not have a democracy at all. We have a government that is the property of the multinational corporations that have financed the passage of these treacherous trade pacts.
There is a direct causal link between these trade pacts and the ongoing destruction of America’s working class (euphemistically called the “middle class” in a nation that is still terrified at talking in terms of class and that even has trouble uttering the word “capitalism”). The more the government surrenders its right to pass laws in the public interest, in order to increase the profits of corporations, the fewer jobs there will be that pay a decent living in the US, and the worse American living standards will be.
More importantly, these trade deals expose the ugly reality that American democracy is essentially dead. At this point, to restore any sense of public control over Washington it will take a revolution by the public — one that would involve ousting all the millionaires in Congress, and removing private money entirely from campaigns.
America is not being threatened by Muslims. It’s not being threatened by black helicopters from the UN either. The America that was founded in blood in 1776, and that has been handed down to us through almost two and a half centuries, is threatened by giant corporations loyal only to wealthy capitalist owners, and by a political class that has decided it’s much more profitable to legislate in favor of those fat cats with their fat wallets than to legislate in favor of the people who voted them into office.
Get out your pitchforks!
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).