Meet the TPP: Crony capitalism on a global scale

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Meet the TPP: Crony capitalism on a global scale

// The Problem

Despite attempts to conceal its contents from the public, we know that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would take money and power away from the people and give it to entrenched special interests. We also know that until we confront corruption, the kind of cronyism embodied by the TPP will remain the norm.

// The Plan

Here are three simple things you (yes, you in the pajama pants) can do right now:

  1. Help us spread the word about the TPP by watching the video above and passing this page along to friends and family.  A full transcript complete with sources for all of the facts and figures cited in the video can be found below.
  2. Sign the petition to support the American Anti-Corruption Act by using the yellow “Add My Name” button and help put an end to the corrupt political culture that leads to proposals like the TPP. You can also visit represent.us/#volunteer for more ways to support the anti-corruption movement.
  3. Click here to help Fight for the Future (the people behind the wildly successful SOPA Strike) tell Congress that fast-tracking the TPP is not an option. Fast track legislation has already been introduced in the Senate and could pass any day now — unless we stop it first.

// Transcript

[All sources hyperlinked]

Today we’re going to talk about a giant trade agreement called the “Trans Pacific Partnership” (TPP).

While most Americans  probably haven’t even heard of the TPP, it could affect everything from internet freedom to access to medicine to how many Storm Troopers are going to come crashing through your window if the recording industry finds out that you’re violating a copyright. And while trade agreements used to deal with abstract concepts like… trade, the Trans Pacific Partnership is an entirely different animal.

For example, the United States is using the TPP negotiations to push for patent standards that would make it easier for drug manufacturers to maintain their monopolies on new drugs. Which is awesome if you’re a pharmaceutical company that’s tired of competing with cheaper generics, but not so awesome if you’re an organization like Doctors Without Borders and depend on that competition from generics to stop more people from dying horribly.

Then there’s the horrific prospect of “investor state dispute settlements.” Imagine there’s a company that’s based in another TPP country like, say, Brunei, but that company still does some business in the United States. Now imagine that the United States passes a new safety regulation. That means that company from Brunei has to bring its U.S. operations into compliance, which might require dipping into profits.

But under the investor-state system, foreign corporations like our friends from Brunei could bypass the US legal system, go straight to a trade tribunal and demand compensation for those lost profits directly from the American taxpayer.

That might sound like the craziest thing in the entire universe, but it’s already happening under other trade agreements. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), American pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is currently suing Canada to the tune of $500 million because the Canadian government decided not to extend two of their drug patents. What makes this so extraordinary is that Eli Lilly’s complaint doesn’t have anything to do with Canadian law. Instead, it’s making the case that under NAFTA, it deserves to be treated by the same standards as it would be in the United States. For the folks keeping score at home, that’s a corporation suing an entire country, because that country’s right to govern itself is starting to interfere with that corporation’s profits.

If you’re having a hard time remembering when President Obama made a rousing case for elevating corporations to a position of power that used to reserved for sovereign nations, that’s because candidate Obama and the Democratic Party promised to oppose this kind of thing in their 2008 party platform.  But given the positions the Obama Administration’s trade negotiators have been taking, it’s probably safe to say they’ve changed their mind.

Even though there’s an entire subplot we could do on the host of threats to internet freedom, privacy, and innovation that come with the TPP, I’d like to take a moment to talk about why this is even happening. Because I haven’t even got to the kicker yet: This entire negotiation process was supposed to be completely secret. The only way the public knows about any of the things we’ve talked about so far is because they were leaked to the press by whistleblowers.  And the Obama administration’s trade negotiators won’t show the rest of the draft to anyone.

Except for hundreds of corporate advisors and lobbyists. And while you’re obviously going to want some input from businesses, a trade deal this huge would affect the lives of billions of people, and they might not want the same things as the handful of insiders who have been given special access.

According to a spokesmen for an understandably furious Sen. Ron Wyden, even the few Members of Congress who have been allowed to access the trade documents have to personally go to the Trade Representative’s offices to see them, while the corporate advisors all got passwords that let them view an online version whenever they want.

While defending the need for secrecy in an interview with Reuters, a US Trade Representative named Ron Kirk cited the example of the failed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which collapsed after negotiators released the draft text. This is where the flaws in the logic start to show, because if the argument is that being transparent with the public results in widespread opposition and undermines the US’s negotiating position, you’d think the solution would be to just come up with a trade agreement that the public actually supports in the first place. Instead, the US negotiators are trying to conceal as much of the negotiation process as possible.

It probably doesn’t help that the office of the US Trade Representative is full of people who used to work for Pharmaceutical companies and the entertainment industry. And had it actually stayed secret, a behind the scenes trade deal would have given President Obama a nice way to quietly reverse his positions on controversial issues like intellectual property rights and investor state settlements without enraging the public. But that still leaves us with the question of why President Obama is reversing those positions to begin with.

It could have something to do with the fact that the same special interests that got a sweet advance copy of the TPP and helped shape it into a corporate wishlist also happen to be major political donors. Because while President Obama doesn’t have to worry about raising money for another campaign, the next Democrat who runs for president and the Members of Congress of both parties who will eventually have to approve the TPP do. As much as politicians love to talk about standing up to those evil special interests, they all know that 9 times out of 10, the candidate who raises the most money wins. And since 63.5% of that money comes from .4% of the population, there isn’t a terribly powerful incentive for most politicians to give a damn what the people who aren’t in that .4% think.

So, should we fight stop the TPP? Absolutely yes, and we’ll link you some tools to take action at the end of this video. But unless we get at the root cause — unless we force the money out of our system and criminalize the casual corruption that’s come to define an entire generation of politicians — we’ll be back here in the same place a month from now, fighting the same fight to stop the same kind of innovation-crushing, anticompetitive policies over and over and over again.

The reasons politicians get away with this sort of thing is because they don’t see any consequences for their actions. They’re assuming that they can get away with pushing through as much lobbyist-approved policy as it takes to keep the reelection war chest full as long as they crowbar “middle class” and “jobs” into enough talking points.

I know all of that sounds discouraging, but it really shouldn’t. As far as generation-defining political battles go, we actually don’t have it so bad. We’re not talking about ending apartheid or overthrowing a dictator here — we just have to throw any politicians who won’t make real anti-corruption reform a priority out on their collective ass. And the first step towards making that happen is establishing that getting the money out of politics isn’t some fringe issue. That takes a permanent anti-corruption movement. As it just so happens, that’s what we’re building right here.

I’m Mansur for Represent.Us, and I’ll see you next time.