The American Bear


Neoliberal Overload | Nile Bowie

One of the least discussed and least reported issues is the Obama administration’s effort to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the forefront, an oppressive plurilateral US-led free trade agreement currently being negotiated with several Pacific Rim countries. Six hundred US corporate advisors have negotiated and had input into the TPP, and the proposed draft text has not been made available to the public, the press or policymakers. The level of secrecy surrounding the agreements is unparalleled – paramilitary teams scatter outside the premise of each round of discussions while helicopters loom overhead – media outlets impose a near-total blackout of reportage on the subject and US Senator Ron Wyden, the Chair of the Congressional Committee with jurisdiction over TPP, was denied access to the negotiation texts. “The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, PhaRMA, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement,” said Wyden, in a floor statement to Congress.

In addition to the United States, the countries participating in the negotiations include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Japan has expressed its desire to become a negotiating partner, but not yet joined negotiation, partly due to public pressure to steer-clear. The TPP would impose punishing regulations that give multinational corporations unprecedented rights to demand taxpayer compensation for policies they think will undermine their expected future profits straight from the treasuries of participating nations – it would push the agenda of Big PhaRMA in the developing world to impose longer monopoly controls on drugs, drastically limiting access to affordable generic medications that people depend on. The TPP would undermine food safety by limiting labeling and forcing countries like the United States to import food that fails to meet its national safety standards, in addition to banning Buy America or Buy Local preferences.

According to leaked draft texts, the TPP would also impose investor protections that incentivize offshoring jobs through special benefits for companies – the TPP stifles innovation by requiring internet service providers to police user-activity and treat small-scale individual downloads as large-scale for-profit violators. Most predictably, it would rollback regulation of finance capital predators on Wall Street by prohibiting bans on risky financial services and preventing signatory nations from exercising the ability to independently pursue monetary policy and issue capital controls – signatories must permit the free flow of derivatives, currency speculation and other manipulative financial instruments. The US-led partnership – which seeks to impose ‘Shock and Awe’ Globalization – aims to abolish the accountability of multinational corporations to the governments of countries with which they trade by making signatory governments accountable to corporations for costs imposed by national laws and regulations, including health, safety and environmental regulations.

The proposed legislation on Intellectual Property will have enormous ramifications for TPP signatories, including Internet termination for households, businesses, and organizations as an accepted penalty for copyright infringement. Signatory nations would essentially submit themselves to oppressive IP restrictions designed by Hollywood’s copyright cartels, severely limiting their ability to digitally exchange information on sites like YouTube, where streaming videos are considered copyrightable. “Broader copyright and intellectual property rights demands by the US would lock up the Internet, stifle research and increase education costs, by extending existing generous copyright from 70 years to 120 years, and even making it a criminal offense to temporarily store files on a computer without authorization. The US, as a net exporter of digital information, would be the only party to benefit from this,” said Patricia Ranald, convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network. [it gets worse]

Why Does the NYT Abandon Journalistic Standards to Promote the Obama Administration's Trade Agenda? | Dean Baker

That’s what readers of this NYT piece hyping a European-U.S. trade agreement should be asking. It begins by telling readers:

“President Obama’s call for a free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union has unleashed a wave of optimism on both sides that a breakthrough can be achieved that would lift trans-Atlantic fortunes, not just economically but politically.”

Really? How much of an economic boost should be anticipated from this deal? Will it make up for the impact of the sequester and the end of the payroll tax cut?

That’s not very likely. We don’t know what a final deal will look like, but a couple of months ago David Ignatius was touting the prospect of a deal in a Washington Post column. He cited a study that projected that the complete elimination of all tariff barriers would raise GDP in the U.S. by about 0.9 percent.

Note that this 0.9 boost to GDP is a one-time gain and not an increase to the growth rate. The provisions in these deals are typically phased in over a period of years and it also takes the economy time to adjust to a reduction in tariff rates. If we assume that the effects of an agreement are seen over ten years, we would expect to see an increase in the growth rate of 0.09 percentage points, if the projections from this model prove accurate. Of course since we are unlikely to see the complete elimination of tariff barriers, the actual impact on growth will almost certainly be less than 0.09 percentage points annually.

The point is that this deal is not a serious way to boost the economy in the sense of providing an alternative to stimulus. The deal may well be beneficial to the economies of both the U.S. and the EU, however portraying it as a way to move these economies back to full employment badly misleads readers.

This piece uses the term “free-trade” to describe the proposed pact five times. Many of the provisions of the pact will likely have nothing to do with reducing barriers to trade and some, such as increased patent and copyright protection, may actually increase them. It would therefore be more accurate to simply refer to the pact as a “trade agreement.”

Clinton Says US May Lift Cold War-Era Sanctions on Russia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that the United States would soon lift Cold War-era trade sanctions on Russia, in an example of how hostile Washington has been more than two decades later, although it was unclear whether the move has support in Congress.

Following Russia’s inclusion into the World Trade Organization, Clinton said the US should now normalize trade relations with Russia so that American businesses can benefit from trade with one of the world’s leading economies.

The sanctions have origins in a 1974 law known as Jackson-Vanik and are waived each year, but the fact that they’re still around shows how confrontational Washington still is long after the end of the Cold War. Legislation, once on the books, almost never goes away, especially when it can be used as leverage over other states.

Mitt Romney, and many Republicans in Congress, are pushing back against normalized trade relations with Russia – unless Congress passes legislation that punishes Russian officials accused of human rights abuses, as if that were Congress’s responsibility.

The urge to discipline misbehaving Russian officials in order to further America’s geopolitical hegemony is ill-served by discordant rhetoric and economic warfare.

As Clinton said, “We are grateful for this and other opportunities to work more closely with Russia on areas of common concern that will deliver benefits to the people of both our nations.” Instead, the US has chosen bellicosity, nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War.

(Source: jayaprada, via sarahlee310)

It didn’t have to be this way. It was not preordained that President Obama would become Corporate-Globalizer-in-Chief. The base of the Democratic Party has aligned itself firmly against the ‘free trade’ agenda—so much so that both Obama and Clinton campaigned in 2008 against the NAFTA model and in favor of a ‘fair trade’ alternative. In fact, going into the 2012 elections, there’s evidence that Obama’s betrayal of earlier vows could be a significant liability among voters and a bitter pill for key constituencies the president needs if his campaign is going to overcome the enthusiasm gap between progressives and the Republican faithful. President Obama: Corporate Globalizer | Mark Engler