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Democrats Do a Trade Deal

The Employer of the Future

With no apparent irony or conspicuous public approbation U.S. President Barack Obama is making his pitch for the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) ‘trade’ deal at Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon. With the promise of ten thousand new jobs to be created in the U.S. if the TPP is passed, left unaddressed is precisely whose wages would be ‘adjusted’ to fit Nike’s plantation / sweatshop business model. With America’s cities in the early stages of anti-neocolonial rebellion, the only certainties are that neither Nike nor Mr. Obama will be held to account for either the number of jobs created or for the first-world working conditions implied in the promise. The primary result of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to date has been increased corporate profits.

Accompanying the politically sensitive and socially aware choice of Nike as prospective employer of the future is a letter from bailed out Wall Street bankers written in support of Mr. Obama’s TPP ‘trade’ deal. In recent decades Wall Street has provided the financing needed to relocate U.S. manufacturing to more hospitable climates in former U.S. and / or European colonies. With this letter Wall Street executives join leading Democrats in the insight that ‘free-trade’ is the dominion of empires seeking favorable terms from prospective colonies-to-be. With Wall Street and Nike now openly supporting the TPP, prospective colonies Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles are being scouted by ‘peace’ officers to assess potential worker compliance with employer directives.

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Worker suicides like this at a Foxconn factory in China reduce productivity. Tighter worker control through anti-depression ‘medication,’ installation of windows and roof doors that can’t be opened and ‘suicide nets’ to prevent escaped workers from killing themselves on company property are potential solutions. Original image source: collapsereport.com.

Virtue Goes to Wall Street

With Wall Street endorsing the accedence of civil authority to multi-national corporations through the TPP, Democrat capitulation to plutocracy is nearing completion of its five-decade long trajectory. The culture wars that have so motivated partisan gamesmanship are being resolved by corporations in their own favor. Corporate proponents of the TPP conspicuously couldn’t care less about abortion or gay marriage. Virtue of the self-serving sort is to be found in the calculation of corporate profits. Plutocrats supported George W. Bush and Congressional Republicans when their war against Iraq was making money for them. They now support Barack Obama as he brings them bailouts, guaranteed health insurance ‘customers’ and direct say over civil governance as it relates to business interests. The criteria for plutocrat support is economic, it isn’t ‘cultural.’

Monsanto, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs all support gay rights almost as much as they support their own right to overrule any civil rights legislation that interferes with their imagined future profits. Alternatively, under some semblance of economic democracy— a guaranteed job with a living wage, high quality education and health care and social protection from unprovoked violence, gays could tell bigots to go screw themselves and the consequences of doing so would be minimal. Under the bi-partisan embedding of corporate economic ‘rights’ through ‘trade’ agreements like TTP and TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) the legal principles that support human rights legislation are sublimated to an opportunistic calculation of ‘profits.’ See the United Nations’ explanation of the threat here.

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A who’s who of bailed out bankers and financiers signed a letter in support of the TPP ‘trade’ agreement that Barack Obama is pushing. The ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) mechanism subordinates civil governance to corporate profit calculations through the right of corporations to sue for ‘lost’ profits, either real or imagined. Original image source: google images.

Abortion and gay rights are class issues that have been sold as civil rights. The central purpose of the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) mechanism in these ‘trade’ deals is to undermine civil legislation, including civil rights. The unquestioned control over economic life that Wall Street and companies like Nike support is the realm of petty tyrannies. This isn’t to dismiss these as issues, but rather to take them out of the liberal / neoliberal fantasy that ‘rights’ exist outside of the economic capacity to effectuate them. Put in ‘external’ terms, indigenous rights legislation that might preclude logging and cattle farming on indigenous lands would be a prime target of corporate lawsuits under pending ‘trade’ agreements. The multi-national corporations seeking to override civil legislation understand that by controlling the economics they control the realm of the civil.

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Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would hardly be worth remembering if his tenure didn’t still have symbolic value. After reviving global financial markets with his monetary policies Mr. Bernanke is now ‘harvesting’ the fruits of his public service through multi-million dollar contracts to work for the financial companies that he so benefitted. Center-left assertions that Mr. Bernanke’s policies benefitted the poor and middle class require non-conflictual theories of economic distribution. Interest rates paid by the poor and middle class might have been lowered if Mr. Bernanke’s current patrons hadn’t rendered them poor credit risks through crashing the global economy. Original image source: google images.

Trade Deal, Meet History

The historical context missing from support of the modern Democrat Party lies in FDR’s success at bringing ‘capital’ to heel. In his effort to ‘save’ capitalism by taming its more suicidal, and outwardly destructive, tendencies FDR told bankers and industrialists that they could continue to thrive with less or they could go down in revolutionary flames. The compromises he forged salved working class tensions and facilitated growth of a middle class even as ‘external’ U.S. imperialist endeavors continued unabated. This compares with Bill Clinton’s wholesale capitulation to international bankers through financial deregulation and neoliberal ‘reforms’ that now finds Barack Obama ‘bookending’ his Presidency with bank bailouts that left the poor and middle class much worse off and ‘trade’ deals that represent a ‘soft’ coup by international capital against civil society. The obvious lesson is that is that capitalism should have been buried in a vampire’s grave most of a century ago.

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With ‘information’ regarding the TPP controlled by government and private interests, the critique that challenges to it are uninformed deserve no credence— the information that has been leaked is damning and with the political and economic stakes as high as they are, the information could be released and presumably would be if it supported Mr. Obama’s case that the ‘agreement’ doesn’t undermine national sovereignty. With this in mind, here is a graphical interpretation of the lead negotiators hard at work. That they resemble pirates and clowns is wholly coincidental. Original image source: google images.

The Democrat Party today is a caricature of the plutocrat defending Republican Party that FDR sent into the political wilderness after the Great Depression. Bourgeois liberals and progressives who today continue to support Democrats and their neoliberal (capitalist) policies have become the class enemies of the working class and poor. This may seem hyperbolic until the relation of Democrat policies to the social outcomes being experienced by working and poor people is considered. The foreclosure crisis made possible by bank deregulation and facilitated and covered up by the Obama administration for the benefit of banks and bankers disenfranchised poor and working class communities, largely communities of color, in ways that will persist for generations. The TPP and TTIP ‘trade’ deals are intended to crush labor and environmental regulation, both of which will disproportionately hurt the poor and powerless.

A question that Democrats may wish to ask themselves is: if, in the midst of renewed financial crisis and clear and abundant evidence that the TPP and TTIP are the catastrophes for sovereignty, labor and the environment that naysayers are predicting, what is the likelihood that Hillary Clinton or insert name of Democrat President here will refuse to bail out Wall Street again and / or attempt to recover sovereign, labor and environmental rights from the corporations and their plutocrat owners to whom they have been granted? That bailed out bankers are publicly supporting the TPP in 2015, and that this support doesn’t seriously endanger its passage, illustrates the one-way nature of these policies— once they are passed neither Party will be motivated to reverse them unless revolution is the alternative.

The best guess here is that the TPP, TTIP and fast-track authority that precludes Congressional amendments to these ‘trade’ agreements will be passed. The alternative to Democrats isn’t Republicans; it is political engagement outside of the two-Party system. In the parlance, the ‘tone-deafness’ of Democrat Barack Obama selling his ‘free-trade’ deal at Nike headquarters is evidence of how far from the reality the rest of us live by the Democrat Party has removed itself. Economic democracy is the realm where the civil ‘rights’ Democrat loyalists long deemed important at least stand a chance of gaining content. The current trajectory is in the opposite direction.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist.

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Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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