By Anthony Castillo
In the next few weeks the US Congress could hold votes on two issues that would, if passed, continue the undemocratic and unconstitutional course our country has been on since the 80s. One would further increase wealth inequality, the other continue the erosion of our civil liberties.
The first is the potential to Fast Track a vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). What is the TPP and why Fast Track a vote on it? The TPP is a massive “free trade” agreement being pushed by big corporations, which for the last six years has been negotiated in complete secrecy in closed-door meetings by US officials along with representatives from eleven other countries (Australia, Singapore, Peru, Japan, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, Brunei, New Zealand, Canada). The TPP would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has been described as NAFTA on steroids by some of its critics. Radio and TV commentator Thom Hartman calls the TPP, SHAFTA, due to the negative consequences it would have on everyday working folks. Some of these are: an increase in the US trade deficit; acceleration of American jobs being sent off shore; further increasing income inequality; increased cost of pharmaceuticals; exposure of the US market to unsafe food and other products; it could ban “buy American” policies to create green jobs; demand a roll back to even the weakest attempts to reform Wall Street; place restrictions on a free and open internet; empower corporations to attack local or federal environmental or health safeguards; drive down wages.
And it gets worse. The TPP would increase the use of a process called Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). Through these the TPP would elevate individual foreign companies to equal status with sovereign nations. ISDS allows foreign companies to bypass the legal system of a sovereign government and instead go to an international trade tribunal made up of as few as fifteen corporate lawyers to settle disputes between company and country.
Under the TPP a foreign company could sue a signatory country for “expected future profits” if they feel that the public interest policies of a country frustrate their profit expectations. In other words, we the taxpayers could end up paying our taxes directly to foreign corporations on nothing more than a company’s speculation on what it thinks its projected profit margin may be. Sound crazy? Well it is.
Why has the TPP been such a secret for almost six years of intense negotiations? The terrible track record of NAFTA, the unpopularity of the policies that the TPP would put into place, the negative impact it would have on wages, worker, food and product safety, the potential environmental devastation might be some of the reasons. In fact the only reason the public has been made aware of the TPP at all has been through anonymous leaked partial drafts as it is being hammered out in secret. Wikileaks has posted most of the TTP leaked documents on its web site. The bottom line is this: if the TPP had been talked about and made public from day one, the agreement would not stand a chance of passage, so secrecy is a must to even getting an agreement to bring before Congress.
President Obama and his administration are asking Congress for Fast Track authority to pass this dirty trade deal. By granting a Fast Tract vote on the TPP Congress would delegate away Congress’ constitutional trade authority. A Fast Track vote would all but eliminate any debate on the TPP. In addition, neither the House nor the Senate could amend the TPP in any way, shape or form.
And worst of all, Congress is being asked to do so without a single member of Congress being allowed to read the entire text of the TPP. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said “Rather than putting Congress in the driver’s seat on trade, this bill is just the same old Fast Track that puts Congress in the trunk in handcuffs. I expect that Congress will say no to it.” Let’s hope she’s correct. NAFTA was rammed through Congress by President Bill Clinton and passed by just one vote. While Congress may not know what’s in the TPP, 500 official corporate “trade advisers” have special access to view TPP updates at will.
On the TPP President Obama finds himself at odds with his own party and in bed with corporate Republicans. Newly announced Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Alan Grayson and other Democrats are leading the fight to defeat Fast Track and the TPP, or at the very least demanding to see the full text of the TPP before they are asked to vote on it. In fact while more Republicans support the President on this issue, at last count they can’t muster the votes to pass Fast Track. One reason for that may be a 2015 bipartisan NBC, Wall Street Journal poll showing that 75% of Americans think the TPP should be defeated or at the very least delayed.
Educate yourselves, spread the word and get involved to stop a Fast Track vote on the TPP, because if we do that we will be defeating the TPP itself. For more info go to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch at www.citizen.org, check out a great video on the TPP at Congressman Alan Grayson’s www.tradetreachery.com, and there is also a funny and informative TPP video at www.represent.us. As Congressperson Grayson says, “Free trade is fake trade.”
While I will spend less time in this article on the USA Patriot Act, it is no less important that provisions of it be allowed to “sunset” on June 1, 2015. Passed in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the USA Patriot Act has been the law used to justify every roll back of our civil liberties under the guise of the so-called “war on terror.” Though the Patriot Act is fundamentally unconstitutional and ignores the Bill of Rights, it has been renewed again when it could have been allowed to “sunset” or expire and therefor cease to be law. All Congress would have to do to have Americans regain some of the rights we’ve allowed to be taken from us is to do nothing. That’s right, do nothing. On June 1st 2015 not the entire Patriot Act, but two of its most onerous provisions are set to expire, Section 215 and Section 206. Section 215 violates the 4th Amendment by doing away with the need for authorities to show “probable cause” to obtain records from an individual or entity. This is the part of the Patriot Act used to justify the National
Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance and collection of the metadata from every US citizen. And until the revelations from former NSA contractor turned whistle blower, Edward Snowden, these spy programs were kept secret from the public. Section 206 allows for John Dow roving wire taps which do not require authorities to identify a specific target. This type of wire tap scoops up everyone, no matter how innocent, if they are somehow in the sphere of communications being tracked.
Even while one of the USA Patriot Act’s main authors, Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, has become a vocal critic of how the legislation has been used, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to not only renew these Patriot Act provisions, he also wants them to not sunset for seven years. Two years longer than before. The entire US Patriot Act should be done away with by allowing it to sunset or by abolishing it out right.
There is no justification for Americans to give up their fundamental Constitutionally guaranteed rights to fight a phony war on terror, when in reality, the war is being waged on “we the people” of the US. For there is zero evidence to show that the bulk collection of American’s telephone call records or e-mail has ever stopped a terrorist attack. Join with the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, National Coalition to Repeal the Patriot Act to name but a few, and work to regain our stolen civil liberties. The best thing we can all do to beat both the TPP and the renewal of parts of the Patriot Act is to call Congress both the House and Senate and tell them what we want. No Fast Track authority and no TPP. No renewal of any part of the Patriot Act. Call not only our California representatives, but call those in other states as well. The US Capital switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.
By Anthony Castillo