Results tagged “TPP” from PlanetGreen.org

How Are We Even Having this Conversation?

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And how many more times will I be asking myself this question over the next days?

Tomorrow's presidential election presents a host of conundrums. Voting for a third-party candidate that represents one's moral principles, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein, is an attractive option... and one that those of us in deep-red states like Mississippi have the advantage of taking. However, especially in the swing states, there are reasons to consider voting for a candidate who, however flawed she may be, does not have a history of sexual assault... who has paid taxes within the past decade... who has not based her entire campaign on racist and xenophobic rhetoric, demonizing entire races, religions and ethnicities... who does not threaten to "rough up" those who peacefully protest her policies... who has not threatened to deny the right of women to control their own bodies... who at least makes a pretense, however specious, of encouraging unity rather than fostering hate.

Voting for a misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, violent, regressive-minded "billionaire" should not even be on the table.

Yet, these near-incredible conversations are taking place.

In public policy class last week, my fellow students debated the logistics of breaking apart families with the soon-to-be-created "deportation force" (suggesting sticking "anchor babies" in foster care or orphanages while deporting their criminal parents). Discussions with Trump supporters are no less mindblowing: allegations that Clinton favors "open borders" and is thrilled by late-term abortions (which, by the way, have been outlawed except in the case of the mothers' life sine Roe v. Wade) abound.

Don't get me wrong: Hillary does have many deeply troubling positions on a number of issues, from Palestine to the minimum wage to free health care to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But the solution is not to vote for Trump (or his TPP-touting, funerals-for-fetuses running mate, Mike Pence).

The Republican Party, in the words of its nominee, is "not sending their best" to run for president. "They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs." (Viz. Trump's defense of noted trafficker Joseph Weichselbaum.) "They're bringing crime." (Viz. the only candidate with two court dates -- for fraud and child rape -- set for after the election.) "They're rapists."

But let us forbear from putting everyone in the basket of deplorables just yet: "And some" of Trump's supporters, "I assume, are good people."

Say No to TPP: Brexit and US Trade Policy

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It's official. 51.9% of British citizens decided to leave the European Union in a landmark referendum, choosing national sovereignty and control of their own policies over their forty-three year bond with continental Europe. This decision was definitely influenced somewhat by the ongoing migrant crisis, but also stemmed from widespread frustration with the trend of globalization. Britain decided that the benefits of closer integration with foreign countries - the job creation and international harmony that free-trade deals were supposed to create, but that never materialized - were outweighed by the costs - the loss of many jobs, an influx of imported goods, and the partial loss of national independence.

Here in the United States, we are facing a similar decision on the future of our jobs as a vote on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership looms, but what we may not realize is that we as citizens have the same power Britons just exercised.

According to this document's preamble, it "promotes economic integration to liberalize trade and investment, bring economic growth and social benefits... reduce poverty and promote sustainable growth." Apparently, our government and the corporations it is speaking for here do not expect us to read further. Because if we do, we will notice that this, too, was likely generated in the same specious slippery spirit as all those other things that don't deceive us. We will refuse to be fooled. We will realize that this agreement does nothing to prevent the mass exodus of our American jobs; it merely bids them adieu as the gangplank goes up and they go puffing away. It does nothing to protect the foreign laboring class, give them decent hours or the right to improve their situation through collective bargaining; it merely gives the dignified speech at the cornerstone laying of another faraway sweatshop. It does nothing to hinder the commonplace crimes against our persons, the toxic air and corrupted foods we accept for lack of a choice; it merely sanctions the conspiracy of silence keeping us ignorant of what we're doing to ourselves. And it sets up a subtle satire of the justice system, allowing corporate lawyers to eviscerate our progressive statutes without ever setting foot in U.S. courts, while simultaneously subjecting regulators to the twists and turns of tangled, undeveloped foreign legal systems if they want to enforce the more liberal provisions.

They insist that all this will do us a service, provide a much-needed boost to our economy. But by doing away with the vilified Reign of Tariffs, they are only enabling foreign governments and corporations to encroach on our independence. But we can defeat this if we pull together to remind Congress that they ultimately answer to the people that trusted them to serve us - even if all we could contribute to their campaigns was our support.

We can continue to fight for our economy and our rights as consumers. We can Say No to TPP.

Say No to TPP: Ole Miss Rally

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In conjunction with the international day of protest marking last Thursday's signing of the TPP, I organized a protest rally here at Ole Miss. We heard speeches about the disastrous effects of neoliberal policies in general and the TPP in particular, and signed a petition demanding that Congress refuse ratification. The event was covered by the Daily Mississippian, with a letter to the editor printed in the Oxford Eagle the day before.

tpp protest.pngThanks to Professors Joe Atkins of the journalism school and David Rutherford of the Lott Leadership Institute for their speeches, to Michael McMurray for making signs and spreading the word, to Milly West for taking the photos, to Morgan Walker for covering the story, and to everyone else for turning out despite the cold!

Say No to Imported Poisons

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Fourscore and thirty years ago, the Pure Food and Drug Act passed Congress and the first thorough regulations of food production, sales and labeling went into effect. This law was, in many ways, a lone beacon of liberalism in an age characterized by "liberty of contract" and other manifestations of corporate anarchy. A New York statute providing for a twelve-hour work day had been struck down just the year before. Corrupt legislatures had been allowed to openly grant monopolies in recent memory. Bans on unionizing were commonplace conditions of employment. Yet even a nation so apparently unconcerned with the welfare of its citizens realized that humans do have the right to be reassured that they are not consuming toxins or contaminants along with their daily meals.

Now, after all this time, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is poised to strike down all the progress we've made on this front. According to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the parties are merely agreeing "to cooperate to ensure that technical regulations and standards do not create unnecessary barriers to trade;" however, in reality, even the most basic requirements are now imperiled. Foreign exporters will have to state that their standards of purity and cleanliness are comparable to ours, but we will no longer have the authority to make them actually comply with our regulations. In addition, other provisions of the TPP weaken our country-of-origin legislation, rendering it practically impossible for consumers to find out what if any rules were followed in the making of a particular product.

For example, many of the eleven foreign states we are prepared to sign over our safety to rely on seafood exports as a crucial part of their economy. However, sea creatures are highly likely to ingest mercury and other runoff in both foreign and domestic waters, and fish from contaminated sources have been linked to birth defects, cognitive decline, cancer, and other serious and irreversible injuries. Under the TPP, alien companies would be allowed to import these fish without any significant restrictions or inspections, compelling U.S. regulators and consumers to take their word for it that they have followed procedures equivalent to our own.

Also, any standards the pact does not outright invalidate would still be subject to challenge as "illegal trade barriers," and taxpayers could be forced to hand over exorbitant damages to corporations which have no jurisdictional ties to the United States. Under NAFTA, for example, Canada was coerced into giving the Virginia-based Ethyl Corporation 13 million dollars in recompense and a statement that certain carcinogenic gasoline additives were not harmful after all. There is no reason to believe that our government will not be railroaded into these same forced confessions about hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and other substances currently banned or tightly regulated.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership does not streamline safe and cooperative commerce; rather, it forces us to drink our glass down to the bottom and then reimburse corporate criminals for the cost of the poison they poured in it.

Say No to Labor Losses

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TPP world.pngIt's a well-established fact that neoliberal trade deals weaken labor safety standards, dispense with the right to unionize, evade and disregard minimum wage standards and exploit child labor.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership further demonstrates this idea.

NAFTA meant that we lost jobs to Canada and Mexico -- Canada to dodge paying U.S. taxes, Mexico to avoid anything close to decent wages. (This year, the minimum wage was raised to $4.30 (in U.S. dollars) per day; the average wage in the country is $5.06 per day).

In Vietnam, the minimum wage varies by region and can be less than four U.S. dollars a day. In 2012, Nike factories paid $0.27 an hour -- this has since been raised to $0.48 cents. With wages like these, customs barriers -- already low -- are no obstacle to outsourcing; the U.S. has trade deficits with Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia, Canada and Japan already. (In fact, companies with Chinese factories keep re-outsourcing to Vietnam.) Clearly, we need to work on bringing these jobs back stateside, not sending more away.

In an attempt to deflect from the main issue, the Office of the United States Trade Representative has released a lot of gobbledygook on the subject. It contends that the TPP will promote the following goals:

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
  • Elimination of forced labor;
  • Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor; and
  • The elimination of employment discrimination.
Of course, there are some obvious issues with these specious claims.

The right to join a union -- implied in the first statement -- is highly unlikely to actually be protected. For example, according to Human Rights Watch, "Vietnam bans all independent political parties, labor unions, and human rights organizations. Authorities require official approval for public gatherings and refuse to grant permission for meetings, marches, or protests they deem politically or otherwise unacceptable." In this country, workers often have difficulty exercising their rights when the NLRB and court system is supposed to defend them -- will a panel of corporate lawyers (per the ISDS system) really do better? No, so there goes your "freedom of association and right to collective bargaining."

Second, "forced labor" is not defined. Does it mean blatant slavery, or could it refer to the necessity to work at a job that puts one's life, health and well-being at risk, for paltry wages and (in some, "lucky" cases) accommodations in a huge, crowded, dirty company dormitory? The workers whose deaths caused Apple to put up its famous suicide nets certainly didn't seem to be employed there by their own volition. Wage slavery can be almost as repressive as the unadulterated article, but it's hardly probable that our governments -- or the ISDS courts -- will actually work to abolish the system.

The third provision contradicts itself. How can you promise the "Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor." If you're really abolishing all child labor, why would you need to specifically ban "the worst forms" of it? This is just a taste of the duplicity involved in this deal.

Finally, just exactly how does the Trade Representative define "the elimination of employment discrimination?" We don't have that here. When women make 77 cents for every dollar men are paid, that's employment discrimination. When U.S. jobs are outsourced overseas because American workers tried to form a union, that's employment discrimination. When companies like Smithfield and Holiday Inn preferentially hire illegal immigrants over American citizens -- then intimidate and selectively deport those who agitate for better working and living conditions -- that's employment discrimination on a lot of levels. Companies are getting away with all of this right here in the U.S.A. -- why in the world would we expect America-as-global-policeman to be better at controlling even more flagrant abuses worldwide?

Uzbek Cotton.pngSupposedly, the U.S. will implement "consistency plans" with some of the other TPP countries (notably, not with Mexico) to enforce compliance. This begs the question -- compliance with what? The Atlantic states that "The minimum wage" required by the deal "could be set at a penny an hour--which wouldn't do much to help workers." The Office of the Trade Representative promises to "Establish rules that wil ensure that TPP countries do not waive or derogate from fundamental labor laws in a manner that affects trade or investment" -- because having sanctions instated wouldn't be fun for fat cat stockholders. But we turn blind eyes on some of the most flagrant labor violations occurring today -- for example, no government has applied sanctions to Uzbekistan over their use of child slave labor to harvest cotton. While companies from Walmart to Fruit of the Loom to IKEA to Tesco have banned the use of Uzbek cotton in products they sell, the United States has refused to do anything, since much of Uzbekistan has functioned as a giant military base during our war in Afghanistan. When "national security" -- or profit margins -- enter the picture, labor is ignored.

In conclusion, the United States needs to implement a "consistency plan" with itself, not give lip-service to labor while exploiting all the workers of the world.

Say No To Kangaroo Courts

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Kangaroo.jpgAs I mentioned in my last installment of this series, TPP would eviscerate this country's already weak control over product safety. However, one argument in favor of weakening jurisdiction rules and long-arm statutes is that such an extensive reach would expose our businesses and government agencies to lengthy and costly lawsuits against them by foreign entities.

Enter the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system.

This is a binding arbitration agreement that allows corporations to challenge U.S. regulations without ever even submitting to the procedures and precedents of U.S. courts. Instead of impartial judges, they go up before a panel which, more often than not, would be made up of highly-paid lawyers from firms specializing in defending corporations and challenging government ordinances. Yet these judges would not be forbidden from practicing law between times, and in some cases representing the very parties they have just passed a judgment on. Instead of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or any comparable code, they would operate on a perplexing hybrid of multinational standards.

All the gains this country has made since the Roosevelt administration stand to be reversed. Any increases in the minimum wage, and possibly even our existing wages and hours laws, could be thrown over. What's left of our clean air regulations once our courts are through with them could be dismantled even further. Food safety measures dating back to 1906 are once again in danger of being arbitrarily struck down. Worst of all, though, because this tribunal's jurisdiction is reserved for cases brought by "international investors," U.S. companies, labor unions, and government agencies would still have to enforce the more liberal terms of the agreement in foreign legal systems, which are often inferior in their procedural safeguards and common law decisions.

It is hard for me to believe that we have spent so many decades and centuries attempting to improve our existing justice system and insure the fairness of every detail only to abandon it at the behest of outlaw corporations and their smooth-talking stooges. Yet, if Congress does approve the TPP, it will be rejecting our values of substantive justice at enormous cost to American consumers and workers.

Say No to Jurisdictional Limbo

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The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would authorize outsourcing to Asia on an unprecedented scale. Widespread job loss and tax evasion would obviously result - however, an unforeseen consequence might also be the loss of U.S. jurisdiction over the wrongdoing of foreign corporations.

This side effect of international commerce is far from coincidental. Rather, for both the alien manufacturers contracting to supply goods to this country and the domestic distributors of the imports, it has long been the perfect arrangement to insure that neither has to pay the cost of any negligence that may have occurred in the construction of the product.

The problem began, on its current scale, in 1987, with the Supreme Court's decision in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court of California, 480 U.S. 102 (1987). This case involved a motorcycle accident attributable to defects in the vehicle's rear tire, which injured Gary Zurcher and killed his wife Ruth. The maker of the tire tube, Asahi, did not even bother to dispute the facts in a products liability suit brought the next year. Rather, it claimed that California courts could not exercise jurisdiction over it because its base of business was Taiwan and it had no contacts with California. Shockingly, the Court agreed with this claim, reversing the lower courts even over the objection of local businesses who felt that their decision to remain in this country had gone unrewarded.

If the facts of this case inspire a strange sense of deja vu, that might be because similar injustices continue to occur on an everyday basis throughout this country. Currently, the Japanese-based company Takata is attempting to escape liability for its lethal airbags under similar logic. In our recent memory, airplane owners and operators have shirked responsibility for preventable crashes, fabricators of foodstuffs, cosmetics, and medicines have marketed toxins with impunity, and factories selling their wares here have pointedly refused to comply with the most basic of our regulations. Far from the safeguard of "fair play and substantial justice" the Asahi decision claimed itself to be, it has caused our international economy to deteriorate into a lawless, deceitful exchange of tainted or dangerous goods.

However, we are far from helpless in the face of this judicial anarchy. Many states have adopted comprehensive "long-arm" statutes which locally overrule Asahi and similar decisions, restoring some sense of accountability to their commercial law. Massachusetts extends its reach to any company or individual who "derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed or services rendered, in this commonwealth." New York takes it even further, not even requiring that the "substantial revenue" come from within the state as long as it originates from "interstate or international commerce" of any sort. The U.S. law, though, is not nearly so comprehensive, largely restricting federal jurisdiction to situations either of waiver or "in which the action is based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state; or upon an act performed in the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere." 28 U.S.C. §1605. This will offer almost no protection against defects in the millions of imports that will flood our market if the TPP indeed goes into effect.

I recall that Justice Cardozo once said that "it is possible to use almost anything in a way that will make it dangerous if defective" - and clearly such faulty global policy will indeed be highly hazardous. Therefore, instead of opening the door even further to a practice already costing millions in unpaid damages and an inestimable amount of distress, injury and grief, maybe our government should focus on repairing the laws already in place.

Say No To TPP

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It's another average American evening, and there I am again, wandering the aisles of German-based grocery store Aldi. I begin to examine a package of bright red tomatoes, and intrigued by their unseasonable freshness, I begin to read the label. The vegetables, I discover, were grown in Mexico -- but distributed by a company headquartered in Ontario. Somewhat alarmed by this corporation's deliberate avoidance of the USA, I start examining other products around the store and the town, and discover the omnipresence of foreign goods. Walmart candy: the cherry balls were made in Canada and the peppermints originated south of the border. Canned fruit: the consumer is offered the comforting choice between Chinese and Mexican regulators. Apple juice: Argentina, China, and Turkey make their appearance frequently, but it seems unlikely Johnny Appleseed could find a buyer anytime soon. Silverware: It takes thirty minutes of reading the small print on the backs of tablespoons even to find tableware from Vietnam, and even longer to debate whether that's any safer than China or not. Tinfoil: "Made in America," but the generic brand admits using metal from Russia and the Reynolds Wrap package conveniently doesn't mention it. Even merchandise proudly sporting miniature American flags and other patriotic decorations is more often than not crafted from "imported materials."

Cheap, imported goods are commonplace and unavoidable, thanks to two factors -- international agreements such as NAFTA , which legalized and effectively sanctioned outsourcing, and common law decisions such as Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court, 480 U.S. 102 (1987), which placed foreign companies completely out of the reach of US courts and regulators. Yet it still does not appear the U.S. government has learned its lesson.

Hence the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

According to its official website, the TPP "levels the playing field for American workers and American businesses, leading to more Made-in-America exports and more higher-paying American jobs here at home." But in reality, it opens the door to even more state-sanctioned outsourcing while providing no protections for sweatshop workers or enforceable environmental requirements. Therefore, we at PlanetGreen.org take a firm stand against it, and, in our "Say No to TPP" series," will explore the terms of the agreement not as they are conveniently summarized by the government but as they will affect our everyday lives and our collective strength and growth as a nation.

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