By Jerry Waxman
Ship’s Captain: “Bring her around hard aport 220 with a hard rudder amidships”
Bosun: “What’s that, Captain?”
Ship’s Captain: “MAKE A LEFT! MAKE A LEFT!
U-Boat Captain “Hmmm…He brought her around hard aport 220 with a hard rudder amidships.”
1st mate: “ Vas, Herr Hauptmann?”
U-Boat Captain: “HE MADE A LEFT! HE MADE A LEFT!”
With apologies to Charlie Manna’s War at Sea from his best-selling comedy album Manna Overboard.
The late Charlie Manna’s War at Sea routine was a send up of the classic WWII movie, The Enemy Below in which an American Destroyer captain and a German U-Boat captain play a cat and mouse game with each other, anticipating each other’s every move and countering each other’s offensives. It was a taut, tense drama with a not fully satisfying ending. Manna’s routine was very funny, but nothing is funny about the newest threat to our country which is traveling well below our radar, and we only know about it because of a few well isolated pings on our Sonar. We everyday Americans are at sea cruising while the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), running as silently as possible, has us in its periscope sights and the eleven or twelve member wolf pack is ready to draw blood.
To fully understand what’s happening we have to go back about twenty years ago to the early 1990’s when the Bush 41 administration had finalized NAFTA talks and was trying to “fast track” the agreement into action. NAFTA was a free trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada which was supposed to promote more and better trade between the three countries as well as open up more jobs. Most of us don’t read these things because they are voluminous beyond our attention spans and filled with words beyond our comprehension, but rest assured that giant corporations have more to do with the formation of these agreements than governments do and these corporations will do anything they can to create and protect their perceived future profits under these FTA agreements. We the people don’t really matter to them. Bush 41 wasn’t able to fast track the agreement before time ran out and Bill Clinton came into office. Clinton, the ultimate corporate Democrat had to renegotiate the agreement to assure some worker protections, which ultimately led to its passage. Clinton signed the document on Jan. 1, 1994. Clinton was quoted as saying. “NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time”
So did Prohibition, at the time. The trouble is that when you research these things from other that a human nature perspective Murphy’s Law kicks in full force and something bad is bound to happen. In the almost twenty years since the enactment of NAFTA American jobs have yet to make any kind of impact, Mexico’s farm communities have been devastated and Canada isn’t so happy with it either. The only people it has benefitted are the actual corporations who are doing the trading. In fact, it’s even worse than that. Buried somewhere in these agreements are regulations that supersede actual laws of the countries involved. In other words if something a corporate entity does is considered to be illegal by a country or a state it can be overruled by the terms of the agreement. The agreement allows for NAFTA to pick its own arbiters, usually corporate lawyers to determine the outcome, even over and above a Supreme Court ruling. One case in point is The Canadian Parliament banning the use of MMT, a gasoline additive in 1997. Ethyl Corp., based in Virginia, notified the government of Canada of its intent to sue under NAFTA’s Investment chapter. Ridiculous, right? Nope! The Corporate lawyer NAFTA panel rejected Canada’s argument and a year later Canada was compelled to reverse its decision on MMT and to add insult to injury Canada also had to pay out $13 million in fines and corporate profit losses. In 2012 Canada was again in the gunsights of the Eli Lilly Company because of Canada’s restrictions on granting medical patents to Lilly. Lilly filed for $100million in the NAFTA investor court. So far, over $365,000,000 has been paid out on submitted claims and there are 19 other actions under review worth 14 billion dollars. The worst part of this is that this has nothing to do with trade issues; this has to do with environmental and public health issues.
I remember discussing NAFTA with my son’s friend, Morgan who was an AFL-CIO organizer in South Florida back in the mid Nineties. At the time I was not against NAFTA because I believed that Clinton was sincere about how NAFTA would work. Morgan took the opposite view and said that it’s the worst thing that could happen to American labor. I pointed out the worker protection clauses that Clinton had inserted, and Morgan just said “that’s just never going to happen. It’s a ruse.” As it turns out Morgan was right. NAFTA is an unmitigated disaster unless you are the corporations doing the business, and there’s nothing that our government can or will do about it.
“If at first you don’t succeed”
So, what do you do when you see NAFTA is not working out? That’s easy. You expand it to include Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic making it more dangerous that before, after all, why shouldn’t some of our Latin American and Caribbean friends feel our pain as well. This was the work of the neocons in 2005 in the Bush 43 administration. There was a lot of contention in congress over CAFTA and it was only ratified by one vote in the House of Representatives. Again workers lost protection and American jobs were sent overseas. Environmental and health concerns were overlooked and the corporations made a fortune. Combining that with the Bush Tax Cuts we were screwed again.
“Try, try again.”
Not satisfied with enriching their corporate friends and damaging the average taxpayer more than ever, the Bush 43 people entered into talks to create a Pacific Basin partnership originally encompassing nine countries, including The United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The US entered the negotiations in March of 2008 which places it during the Bush 43 administration. Since that time other countries have expressed interest including Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, The Philippines, Japan, Colombia, Laos and Costa Rica. The US is aggressively pushing South Korea to join. Since the original meeting back in 2004 there have been 16 rounds of talks, the last one taking place in Singapore back in March 4-16th of this year. A seventeenth round is scheduled from May 15-24 in Lima, Peru.
Having experienced the difficulties in both NAFTA and CAFTA the US participation in these talks has gone covert. No one talks about it. There is almost a 100% blackout of information in the corporately controlled news media, and what information is available has been gotten through leaks and whistleblowers, and you know what happens with whistleblowers. There is no transparency in these negotiations and from what we can ascertain only 2 chapters of the agreement actually have something to do with trade itself. Much of it has to do with intellectual property, and a lot of it has to do with circumventing labor, environmental and public health issues. What we do know is that the Obama Administration has embraced the TPP and is doing what it can to fast track it. On April 15, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Japan and gave a speech at Tokyo Tech waxing eloquently about the advantages of the TPP. Activist Cherie Faircloth, a contributor to WONO actually called the White House and got through to Robert Spitzer, Senior Trade Policy Advisor with the USDA. In her conversation with Spitzer, he admitted that there were too few corporate agricultural advisors in Florida and he was looking for more. Her article appeared on Feb. 26, 2013.
Back in Early March a group of activists attended an anti TPP rally in the Ybor city section of Tampa. You can find the links to the videos Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The message is pretty clear. We’re in Submarine Alley and all those torpedoes are set to fire on us. Since we know about it we can do something about it. Even though many politicians will deny that they have knowledge of it there are some who are aware of it including Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. Action needs to be taken in the congress to not allow the fast track and to ultimately defeat the US participation in the TPP. You can get more involved by researching the TPP and going to Public Citizen. Org. Maybe we can avoid the torpedoes. Just watch out for the minefields.