Whenever a lot of things are going on I can't make sense of there's something in the back of my mind that starts to gnaw at me. This has happened ever since my Vietnam War days.
At the impressionable age of just 19 I experienced my first gnawing feeling. I had a lot of things going on around me that didn't make sense. Back then they all revolved around the Vietnaminization Program; the grand scheme that convinced the American people we were winning the war and laying the groundwork for achieving "peace with honor" to allow for our eventual withdrawal from the war. I started investigating and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. To make a long story short let's just say that as a result I went from being totally supportive of the U.S. war effort to being an active member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War while still stationed there.
Lately that gnaw is back. It came back about the time all the political oxygen started being sucked up in the government shutdown/default saga. I have been feeling it increase in intensity as the shutdown days have rolled on. Please read on below the fold to allow me to explain.
Right now there is no shortage of drama and everyone from small town America to world leaders are concerned. Just a quick look at the headlines confirm this.
There was a fleeting moment of optimism as positions seemed to soften on both sides.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president and Congress are "obviously in a better place than we were a few days ago, in terms of the constructive approach that we've seen of late" but that there was still no agreement. "We're talking about a very fluid situation."...
Boehner has offered a proposal to extend the debt limit for six weeks...Susan Collins, working with senators in both parties is working on a framework that includes a six month stopgap funding bill through March and a debt ceiling increase through January.From Politico: 11 October 2013
House Republicans sought to move forward on raising the debt ceiling for six weeks to open up budget talks but leave government shuttered. Collins said that limited game plan is “baffling,” and she wasn’t the only Senate Republican to say so.But there have been days of pessimism and numerous dramatic reactions to the events taking place.
“I don’t think that we should just address the debt limit and not address the shutdown,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a backer of Collins’s approach.
“We’ve got to deal with a CR [continuing resolution] as well. I’d like to do both,” said conservative Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “I don’t think we’re serving any policy or political goals by keeping the government shut down.”
It has been upsetting Wall Street:
The government shutdown is bad for business, bad for the economy and bad for your 401(k). So why aren't the politicians listening to the overwhelmingly negative sentiments of Wall Street and the big-business lobby? After all, business titans like Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon have managed to get their way on financial regulations before Congress, so why can't they break the log jam and get government reopened?It has had world leaders worried and nervous.
"What is chilling is that US politicians are willing to engage in a game of brinkmanship that is tantamount to detonating a nuclear device over their economy," writes the Times of India. "A bunch of intransigent American politicians are holding not just President Barack Obama, but the entire world to ransom."From NPR 11 October 2013: At Global Gathering, Many Worry About U.S. Strength
This week, the nation's capital is welcoming guests from all over the world. Thousands of finance ministers, central bankers, scholars and industry leaders are in Washington, D.C., for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.And to my delight and the delight of most people on this site it has been seemingly pitting Republicans against Republicans.
But instead of being impressed by the buffed-up home of the world's superpower, the guests are finding a capital in disarray. The federal government is still partly shut down and Congress has not yet agreed to avoid a debt default.
The disorder is prompting a lot of criticism of the United States, and concerns about U.S. economic leadership in the world.
Under attack for the government shutdown, some of the most vocal elements of the conservative wing of the Republican Party are publicly splintering, a sign of growing concerns among even hard-core conservatives that the defeat-health-care-at-any-cost strategy may have backfired....And again to my delight and the delight of most people on this site the polls are indicating just that.
On Thursday, the divisions were on display as conservative groups like the Heritage Action for America said they would not fight a short-term increase in the debt ceiling while Americans for Prosperity insisted just a few days ago that any increase be tied to cuts in social programs....
The conflicting opinions, which had been kept mostly private for months as the budget conflict in Washington escalated, reflect a growing fear that the Republicans will be blamed for fallout from the government shutdown without anything to show for it.
First the TPP:
..Are there specific things that you can point to where you already have seen some damage?And the TTIP:
And the one that occurs to me is the trade deal that you’ve tried to do in Asia. The leaders today announced that they still want to wrap it up, but they no longer are able to say they want to wrap it up by the end of this year.
Had you been there, do you think you could have gotten that additional push?
And the President's response:
...we don’t know, but it didn’t help that I wasn’t there to make sure that we went ahead and closed a trade deal that would open up markets and create jobs for the United States and make sure that countries were trading fairly with us in the most dynamic, fastest growing market in the world. I should have been there....
The TTIP negotiation sessions planned for this week (7-11 October 2013) in Brussels had to be cancelled due to the US administration shutdown.So that is the public face of what is going on in our world of domestic politics. Now to get to the gnaw I've got. First the things I don't understand. On the surface they just don't make sense.
Why is the Republican Party angering Wall Street? Why, all of a sudden, has Wall Street influence and sway not making a difference. It doesn't make sense.
Why is the Republican Party freaking out international financial markets and world leaders? It doesn't make sense.
Why is the Republican Party basically shooting themselves in the foot in terms of public opinion? It doesn't make any sense.
Why is the Republican Party fracturing and fighting among themselves as never before after such a long history of party discipline? It doesn't make any sense.
Just like way back in my Vietnam days I think it is time to question and investigate. Too much is not making sense.
This nation has a long history of Wag the Dog type of diversions to mask their true intentions. These were meticulously documented in best selling books such as The Shock Doctrine and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
I'm not one normally to entertain conspiracy theories unless there is a confluence of factors pointing in that direction. The confluence of factors for me in this case, all revolve around these two trade agreements currently being negotiated - the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
Let's take a brief look at both.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the first international commercial agreement pursued by this administration to date from scratch. And, it would be the largest one since the 1995 World Trade Organization. It would link Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada into a “free trade” zone similar to that of NAFTA. The subject matter being negotiated extends far beyond traditional trade matters. TPP’s 29 chapters would set binding rules on everything from service-sector regulation, investment, patents and copyrights, government procurement, financial regulation, and labor and environmental standards, as well as trade in industrial goods and agriculture. (emphasis mine)From the European Commission:
What is TTIP?
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement that is presently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.TTIP has many of the same provisions as TPP, mostly concerning lowering environmental and public safety standards. For example, the US Trade Rep is already lobbying to lower new EU fuel standards so tar sands oil won't suffer a "competitive disadvantage".
It aims at removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.
On top of cutting tariffs across all sectors, the EU and the US want to tackle barriers behind the customs border – such as differences in technical regulations, standards and approval procedures. These often cost unnecessary time and money for companies who want to sell their products on both markets. For example, when a car is approved as safe in the EU, it has to undergo a new approval procedure in the US even though the safety standards are similar.
The TTIP negotiations will also look at opening both markets for services, investment, and public procurement. They could also shape global rules on trade.
The elephant and the relationship to what is going on now.
The Congress of the United States will have to approve any trade deal, whether through a majority in both Houses (an “agreement”) or through two-thirds of the United States Senate (a “treaty”). And both Houses will have to write and pass implementing legislation wherever the agreements (or treaties) require changes in U.S. law.So the President needs fast track "trade promotion authority" to conclude these two huge agreements. If the public becomes aware of what is in them they just might get alarmed.
The American presidential system is unlike political systems in almost every other country. Prime Ministers preside over the majority party of legislative bodies. They derive their authority from leading the majority party. When they commit their countries internationally, they almost always can guarantee the approval of their legislatures. American Presidents, however, have no such authority....
The President and Congress, mutually recognizing that the United States was unable to negotiate trade agreements in good faith because negotiating partners could not rely on the President’s signature, created “fast track authority” in 1974. The President promised to engage Congress throughout trade negotiations; Congress pledged a vote, up or down without amendment, on trade agreements and treaties. (President George W. Bush renamed “fast track” “trade promotion authority” (“TPA”).) Fast track, or TPA, promised nothing as to implementing legislation, but trading partners were assured that the text of the agreement itself would not be changed by Congress after the President had signed it.
I wrote about TPP on 27 September, 2013 in my article: TP Partnership - And I Don't Mean Toilet Paper!
In concrete terms, Fast Track delegates five major elements of Congress' constitutional authority to the executive branch:
1. the power to select trading partners;
2. the power to set the terms of trade agreements and to actually sign the agreements before Congress votes on them;
3. the power to write implementing legislation, circumvent Congressional committee review and submit the legislation directly for a vote;
4. the power to override Congressional leaders' control of House and Senate floor schedules;
5. and the power to override normal voting procedures, including a ban on all amendments and limits on debate.
Under Fast Track, Congress does provide a list of "negotiating objectives" that the U.S. Trade Representative is supposed to try to meet, but these objectives are not enforceable.
1. Allow corporation to sue governments in private tribunals over environmental and other laws and policies (that) may reduce a corporation's profits;Bob Swern, a fellow Kossack, wrote an excellent article on 10 October, 2013 entitled: U.S. Gov't Quietly Pushes to Conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership (a.k.a. “Corporate Coup D'Etat”)
2. Pave the way for increased fracking across the United States; and
3. Reduce the ability of governments to put in place policies to protect the climate.
I highly recommend reading it but here are a couple of quotes:
Tonight, we're reminded via Reuters that significant efforts by citizens and activists over the past few months have had a negligible impact upon the outcome of this situation, to date.Is all of this true? I'm not sure. There is a lot of secrecy. From the Huff Post: Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks Headed For Finish Line Amid Official Secrecy 4 October, 2013
The news agency is reporting, over the past few hours, that the U.S. government appears almost as hell-bent as the corporatocracy that owns it on doing whatever's necessary to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement "done" by year-end, despite the fact that--as noted farther down below--many refer to it as "N.A.F.T.A. on Steroids" and a "Corporate Coup D'etat" that will undermine the sovereign laws of all nations that are a party to it.
If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is passed in any semblance of the form that it's reported to be in now, we can: forget about stopping Keystone XL and reversing climate change; forget about putting a saddle on Wall Street; forget about controlling the spiraling costs of pharmaceuticals; forget about enabling social activism; forget about an open source world and universal Internet access; forget about the effort to put a lid on domestic and international surveillance; forget about a world free of genetically modified crops; and forget about significantly curtailing record-breaking income inequality.
But what the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will contain is so far a matter of rumour, conjecture and guesswork...All I know is that right now a lot of things happening on the political scene just don't make sense. They don't make sense until I plug in the two huge trade deals hanging in the balance.
1. All the political oxygen is being sucked up to divert attention away from the real agenda of passing these trade agreements.
2. this concocted politically motivated "crisis" is a ploy to divert the American public's attention away from the implications of these agreements.
3. the government gets funded and the debt ceiling is raised only after major damage to our domestic economy and international financial markets has happened.
4. President Obama uses the crisis to argue that to get the economy back on track and calm international markets there is a critical need for Congress to grant fast track or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and get these agreements approved.
It's the gnaw I have. But the gnaw makes sense to me when I concede to the what if's.
In such times I have found it useful to question, investigate, and try to think outside the box. And I've always been of the belief that in order to make sense of things it is important to follow the money. This could be a "Wag the Dog" kind of theater going on with the real goal being that of getting these major "free trade" agreements ratified with little or no debate or public outcry.
If these trade agreements pass Wall Street will be very happy, international business tycoons around the globe will be very happy, heads of governments will be very happy and the Republican Party that always carries the water for big business will be very happy.
And the sad thing is people on this site and progressive activists throughout the country will be happy too. We will have worked hard signing petitions, calling our representatives and demonstrating in the streets in our successful efforts to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling, thwart changes to the Affordable Care Act and preserve Medicare and Social Security for future generations. We will think we have won!
And all the while this is playing out on the "Wag the Dog" field of play the trade agreements will quietly cross the finish line and become the international law of the world. Sometimes I just have to admire just how well these international captains of industry play their game!
Now that I've taken the time to put all this down on paper that gnawing feeling in my head is starting to recede and is being replaced. It is being replaced by that knot in the stomach, gut wrenching, nauseating sense of betrayal I felt when I served in Vietnam.
In times like these fervent vigilence is called for. What is happening on the surface just might not be what is really going on. Keep an eye on these trade agreements especially TPP. There is still time to influence the final outcome.
The Sierra Club has assembled a tool kit to help guide you through the ways to engage and influence the outcome of the TPP. They suggest you:
2. Engage Policy Makers Call your Senators and Representatives and urge them to vote no on granting fast track authority. Ask them for a copy of the documents.
4. Engage the Media
While all the political oxygen is being sucked up by such stories as the government shut down, the continuing resolution, the never-ending maneuvers by the Republicans to defund the Affordable Care Act and the possibility of default, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade agreements continue to progress under the radar of the crowd watching the game.
It's time to change that and make sure they are examined in the light of full transparency before it is too late. Let's play the game better this time!