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Truthdigger of the Week: Lori Wallach

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating. Nominate our next Truthdigger here.

The extreme want of coverage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in even the independent, alternative press is a testament to the near-complete domination of politics and the news media by transnational corporate interests. This was made possible — and we could say, was achieved — by the gradual, long-standing and ongoing economic starvation of journalists, editors and publishers who do not work under the aegis of those interests. Were it not for a relatively small group of committed professionals and other concerned people, we’d know even less.

If like many news readers you haven’t been informed, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a hyper-secret multinational trade accord born in the darkened basement of neoliberalism. It has the full support of Democratic President Barack Obama, who, along with its other promoters, describe it as a way to “modernize” the international economy. That language should give you pause. Modernization is the same advertisement U.S. Treasury leaders Bob Rubin, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner slapped on the 1999 act that repealed Glass-Steagall, legislation from the 1930s that placed a barrier between mom-and-pop and investment banking, and for almost a century prevented a repeat of the Great Depression. “Modernization” is code for deregulation and its full register of economic horrors, including depressed wages, high prices, lost jobs and unnecessary and increasing danger for workers and the environment, and deregulation is what the TPP is all about.

Few people outside the international cabal hatching the scheme seem to know this with the force and precision of Lori Wallach. Wallach is a lawyer and the founder and director of Global Trade Watch, an arm of the U.S. public advocacy group Public Citizen that has monitored the major trends and consequences of economic globalization — the driven and increasing interdependence of international markets and economies, to the conspicuous benefit of major Western corporations — since 1995. For the last two decades, she has shared her expertise on the impact of international trade deals such as NAFTA and CAFTA on “jobs, off-shoring, wages, the environment, public health and food safety” with legislators, civil society groups, scholars, journalists and activists around the world.

Over the years Wallach has appeared on nearly every major news network and been quoted extensively in leading papers. In advance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Indonesia next week, where he’ll affirm the American government’s interest in the developing trade contract, Wallach appeared on “Democracy Now!” on Friday to give viewers a concise run-through on what is publicly know about the deal. “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman introduced the topic as follows:

“The TPP is often referred to by critics as ‘NAFTA on steroids’ and would establish a free trade zone that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile, encompass 800 million people—about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto.”

Wallach filled in the blanks: “[O]ne of the most important things to understand is it’s not really mainly about trade. I guess the way to think about it is as a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations.”

“For instance, there are the same investor privileges that promote job offshoring to lower-wage countries. There is a ban on Buy Local procurement, so that corporations have a right to do sourcing, basically taking our tax dollars, and instead of investing them in our local economy, sending them offshore. There are new rights to, for instance, have freedom to enter other countries and take natural resources, a right for mining, a right for oil, gas, without approval.”

“And then there’s a whole set of very worrisome issues relating to Internet freedom. Through sort of the backdoor of the copyright chapter of TPP is a whole chunk of SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act, that activism around the country successfully derailed a year ago. Think about all the things that would be really hard to get into effect as a corporation in public, a lot of them rejected here and in the other 11 countries, and that is what’s bundled in to the TPP. And every country would be required to change its laws domestically to meet these rules. The binding provision is, each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic laws, regulations and procedures.” (Italics added.)

“Now, the only reason I know that level of detail is because a few texts have leaked, and I have been following the negotiations and grilling negotiators from other countries to try and find between the lines what the hell is going on; otherwise, totally secret.”Did you take in the italicized lines? As far as our most informed observers can tell, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a package deal aimed at embedding a slew of pro-corporate policies, which have proven unpopular with publics worldwide, into the legal constitutions of member countries, including the United States. It would precisely cancel every piece of legislation written to protect people and ecosystems from the ferocious appetites of industrial finance capitalism. Wallach illustrates the point with examples about fracking — the highly environmentally destructive and energy intensive practice of blasting the inside of the earth with poisonous, high-viscosity liquids to force out a minimum of otherwise hard-to-reach crude oil and natural gas — and Wall Street’s predatory banking.

“This would rewrite wide swaths of our laws. And again, it’s mainly not about trade. So, if we have this agreement in effect, for instance, it would be a big push for fracking. Now you would say, ‘Why fracking?’ Because it doesn’t allow us to have bans on liquid natural gas exports. Or, if this were in effect, we couldn’t ensure the safety of the food we feed our families. We have to import, for instance, fish and shrimp that we know, from the limited inspection that’s done, is extremely dangerous from certain kinds of growing ponds that are contaminated, etc., in some of the TPP countries. Or, for instance, some of the financial reforms where the banksters were finally regulated would be rolled back. All of this, and it would be privately enforceable by certain foreign corporations.”

In other words, the deal would create a legal means for businesses to attack and subvert government. The new laws would be enforceable by what Wallach describes as “the very controversial investor-state system, which empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as ‘judges,’ and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation.” The penalty for breaking the laws (in potentially many instances, remember, for the sake of protecting the public) amounts to another opportunity for companies to make money. “They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action—a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety—that undermines the investor’s expected future profits.”

“Infamously,” Wallach continues, “these kinds of investor-state cases have extracted billions of dollars and undermined important laws. So, [for example, the tobacco company] Philip Morris has used this to attack Australia, one of the TPP country’s plain-packaging-of-cigarette laws. … A lot of the TPP countries are very worried that they would be basically handcuffed from being able to regulate for health around tobacco. … The U.S. originally was going to offer an exception. [But] big tobacco came in and basically won the day.”

Remarkably for the degree of corporate intrusion into politics, even members of Congress have been kept in the dark about the details of the deal. (That tells us the agreement is not being written by legislators, but dark hands moving in the world of business.) Lawmakers weren’t allowed to see a draft of the accord until this June. Congress has the power to accept or reject the deal, but if the White House has its way, representatives will get only a short amount of time to figure out what’s in it; they won’t be able to modify the bill in any way, and will pass or deny it with a simple up-or-down vote. The process, known as “Fast Track,” is a collective surrender by U.S. lawmakers of their exclusive authority over the process of shaping legislation. Wallach says lawmakers got access to a single chapter of the deal last year only after 150 of them screamed loud enough, and even then their ability to study the text was severely limited. “Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter.”

Outside observers may think this event unlikely to pass, as it constitutes an insult to lawmakers by essentially denying them their office and function. To entertain the possibility, they need only remember that in a Washington run by lobbyists for Wall Street, prescription drug companies and defense contractors, everything is bought and sold, and honor is no exception.

Fast Track is not yet in effect. If Congress folds, as it seems likely it will, and significant opposition by the American public doesn’t miraculously spring into existence, it will be up to the leaders of other nations to tank the treaty. “The reason there isn’t a deal” yet, Wallach says, “is because a lot of the other countries are standing up to the worst of these U.S. corporate-inspired demands.” If their opposition fails, it will mean the U.S. government is legally obligated to honor, support and protect the poisoning of food, air and water, the loss of jobs, the destruction of ecosystems, limits on Internet freedom, lower standards of quality for all sorts of essential goods and services, and more, all for the purpose of further enriching the already obscenely rich. It’s the biggest story impinging on the basics of life that no one is talking about. For doing what she can to bring it to our attention, we honor Lori Wallach as our Truthdigger of the Week.

Read a comprehensive fact sheet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership endorsed by Wallach here, and see “long papers and information from other countries” here. “Between those two sets of information,” she says, “you’ll see there’s almost no part of your life or the things you care about that this agreement couldn’t undermine.”

‘Democracy Now!’:

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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