We saw Jane Goodall the other night as part of a university lecture series. Her visit was controversial because she wanted to talk about the danger of GMO’s as well as her signature topic of chimpanzees. Goodall has been touring with Stephen Drucker, author of Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, a book detailing how GMO corporations have, “subverted science, corrupted government and systematically deceived the public.” Dr. Goodall wrote the forward to the book, describing it as one of the most important works of the last 50 years.
Altered Genes, Twisted Truth is the result of more than 15 years of intensive research and investigation by Druker, who came to prominence for initiating a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that forced it to divulge its files on GM foods. Those files revealed that GM foods first achieved commercialisation in 1992 only because the FDA:
• Covered up the extensive warnings of its own scientists about their dangers.
• Lied about the facts.
• And then violated federal food safety law by permitting these foods to be marketed without having been proven safe through standard testing.
I was planning on writing about GMO’s and how the corporations pushing them have followed a familiar template to bring dangerous products to market. However, the battle between the two factions of the Democratic party over the TPP is far more pertinent. Besides, the two stories are related as you will see.
The fight between President Obama and Senator Warren involves the debate over the TPP (Trans-Pacific-Partnership). Obama is pushing Congress to grant him fast track authority to negotiate this treaty. Senator Elizabeth Warren is opposing the TPP. She wrote in the Washington Post that the TPP, “would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court.”
Scores of such cases already have been brought under the another so-called trade treaty–the WTO. Senator Warren explained that
“recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned… Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.”
ISDS is an acronym that means Investor-State Dispute Settlements. It would create a system of private, international tribunals through which corporations (i.e., “investors”) could sue our sovereign governments to overturn laws that might reduce the level of corporate profits that they expect to make. These corporate tribunals are a big part of the TPP and why there is such resistance to it by those such as Senator Warren.
The ISDS aspect of the TPP really exemplifies the undemocratic nature of these so-called trade treaties. In fact, rather than a trade treaty, we should view the TPP as what it truly is–a corporate coup.
And, here’s where we double back to the original story about the dangers of GMO’s. The Trans-Pacific-Partnership and its evil step-sister, the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) would force European and Asian nations that have resisted GMO’s to allow them or else face the corporate tribunals of the ISDS.
Somewhere George Orwell is taking notes.
The fight over the TPP and TTIP represents a larger narrative. There is a battle going on for the soul of the Democratic party. Since President Clinton, the neoliberal, corporate Democrats have been ascendant, but with the middle-class in limbo, corporate profits and CEO compensation sky high and wages stagnating, there is a feeling out there that something is desperately wrong and moreover that change is required.
This contest will be between the traditional Democratic constituents–labor, environmental groups, consumer advocates, minorities, gays and lesbians–and the Wall Street and high tech elites the party has been tapping lately to fund their campaigns. It’s also largely about neoliberalism–the new religion of Democratic elites. Bill Clinton was a neoliberal, so is Obama and Hillary. Neoliberal’s believe that globalization is inevitable and benign and that the revolution in information technology is fast democratizing commerce and politics. On that note, neoliberal’s love free trade, privatization and deregulation. They also claim that the US is just like a household and must balance its budget through austerity.
Recently this wing of neoliberal Democrats has been challenged by Senator Warren on several fronts. She is joined by Senator Brown and Sanders, and the Democratic Progressive caucus, including Alan Grayson.
I’m with the progressives in this fight. The Democratic party as represented by the Clinton’s and President Obama is not much different than traditional Republicans of yore. We desperately need a political party to articulate an alternative to the type of race to the bottom, neoliberal capitalism that’s destroying our world. We need an economy that is smaller, more democratic and participatory, and especially more sustainable. We need a commons that isn’t privatized but one that is managed for all as to reduce costs for small businesses. We need to reclaim our small-d democracy, where we are citizens with rights rather than consumers with needs. We need a civic renewal where there is a sense that we’re all in this together rather than the feeling that only rich people matter.
Right now the rules are rigged against workers and the middle-class in favor of corporations and the wealthy. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich describes this reality, and how so called trade agreements like the TPP exasperate this dynamic.
“Workers worried about keeping their jobs have been compelled to accept this transformation without fully understanding its political roots. For example, some of their economic insecurity has been the direct consequence of trade agreements that have encouraged American companies to outsource jobs abroad. Since all nations’ markets reflect political decisions about how they are organized, so-called “free trade” agreements entail complex negotiations about how different market systems are to be integrated. The most important aspects of such negotiations concern intellectual property, financial assets, and labor. The first two of these interests have gained stronger protection in such agreements, at the insistence of big U.S. corporations and Wall Street. The latter—the interests of average working Americans in protecting the value of their labor—have gained less protection, because the voices of working people have been muted.”
This fundamental disparity in political power is the elephant in the room. Along with labor unions, the Democratic party used to represent average Americans in the undeclared class war between labor and capital. No longer. The Democrats have become the other party of capital. Professor Reich describes what this has meant for the average American worker.
“The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it, while average workers have steadily lost bargaining power—both economic and political—to receive as large a portion of the economy’s gains as they commanded in the first three decades after World War II. As a result, their means have not kept up with what the economy could otherwise provide them. To attribute this to the impersonal workings of the “free market” is to disregard the power of large corporations and the financial sector, which have received a steadily larger share of economic gains as a result of that power. As their gains have continued to accumulate, so has their power to accumulate even more.”
Obama has been described as a socialist by the Republicans, but he’s quite conservative. In fact progressives who wonder why the Republican party has become so deranged need to look at their own history. When President Bill Clinton moved to the right and appropriated many conservative policies the Republicans moved even further to the right as a response. Now they’re way out in crazy land.
The fight over the TPP addresses Obama’s legacy. The more dependent politicians become on their financial backers, the greater is the willingness of such politicians and their appointees to reorganize the market to the benefit of these moneyed interests. Obama wants the Clinton treatment when he retires. And to get that he has to get some important things done that the billionaires and corporations funding his retirement and historical museum want.
Obama, by this decision to fight like a wildcat for the TPP is showing his true colors.
“According to the generally progressive Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio (who, along with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is one of the Senate’s three leading opponents of Mr. Obama’s proposed international-trade treaties), President Obama has been lobbying Senators more insistently and more intensely on getting them to grant him “Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority” to ram these treaties through, than on any other single issue since Obama first became President in 2009. No issue, not even Obamacare nor any other, has been as important to Obama as is his getting signed into law the TPP and TTIP. It would certainly be the culmination of his Presidency if he succeeds. It would be his crowning achievement. He and his heirs will be amply rewarded if he succeeds; and that’s apparently what he really cares about.”
The brawl over the TPP will have huge implications for the Democratic party and the country going forward.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble.