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The strategy being used to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership has parallels elsewhere.  Global and local efforts by corporations to increase profits are showing a strong preference for bypassing citizens.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Lambert's post on Sunday about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) looks at the deal from an important perspective: Its effect on popular sovereignty.  He links to Dean Baker's short post and highlights this: "The main thrust of the negotiations is to impose a regulator[y] structure in a wide range of areas — health, safety, environmental — which will override national and sub-national rules."  International agreements have always had that character, of course.  Treaties, conventions like the Geneva Conventions and Convention Against Torture and so on also (theoretically) supersede national and sub-national rules.  They would be worthless otherwise.

The idea that trade agreements weaken national laws is also not new.  One of the sticking points in the NAFTA debate was that worker and environmental regulations would be degraded as part of a rush to the bottom.  There's a big difference between warning of a risk, though, and actually quantifying the impact afterwards.  Perhaps the growing awareness of those real world consequences has helped many realize just how much those without a seat at the table stand to lose from capital-privileging acts like TPP.1

Unlike treaties and conventions, these agreements have a key third party: investors and corporations.  Lambert notes (emph. in orig.) "the tribunal can order your government to pay an investor for damages to their investment which may, as we saw in the definition of investment, include expectations of a return" (lest you think he's being alarmist, he also links to a couple of examples).  A major trade agreement, negotiated in secret, in anticipation of being hustled through Congress does not smack of democratic process - even if all the forms are technically observed.

I realize many conservatives make a similar argument about loss of sovereignty - or freedom, their preferred term - through laws like Obamacare.  Say what you will about Obamacare, though, it was passed by elected representatives over an extremely public, contentious and drawn out (remember the Gang of Six? Good times) process.  It was challenged and upheld in court.  One might reasonably believe it is not an accurate expression of popular will, but it is silly to believe it did not adhere to the spirit of democratic process.

The sovereignty angle of TPP resonates with me because it seems to be an emerging theme.  I am seeing it on a topic I just happen to follow closely; it isn't hard to imagine other areas having similar developments.

The resource extraction industry is trying to route around troublesome outbreaks of democracy, and the strategy seems to be a TPP-like subversion of citizens' self-determination.  For instance, last week three cities in Colorado voted to ban fracking within their city limits; they are now poised to be sued by oil and gas companies.  The state's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the industry in the past, and if it does so again it will raise the question of just how much citizens may decide what they want in their neighborhoods.

Meanwhile here in Ohio, Sunoco is looking to use eminent domain to expand one of its pipelines.  Pipelines have become a new issue this year because their perceived lack is seen as a drag on capacity.  In fact, they have been in the news elsewhere quite a bit as well, usually for bad reasons.  Like the ruptured one in North Dakota that was discovered by a farmer and not disclosed to the public for eleven days.  (Not an isolated incident either.  But it's being contained and remediated!)  Or the one in Arkansas that spilled so much oil homes now need to be demolished.  And of course the Big Kahuna is still out there.

We know that pipelines stay in place for decades and are rarely inspected, and we know what to expect from that, so naturally residents of the affected areas are concerned.  In addition, this particular item appears to be set up to carry more than just oil.  Is it right to use eminent domain for unrestricted use by a for profit company?  We aren't talking about installing a municipal sewer system here.  The purpose is not the common good but corporate enrichment; must citizens really have no say in the matter?

At both the macro and micro levels there appears to be a new enthusiasm for using public tools for private purposes, with the intention of circumventing democratic processes or subverting popular sentiment.  No one expects government to work the way we were taught in civics class, but there are limits to the amount of cynical manipulation a polity will stand.  Take away popular sovereignty and the consent of the governed will follow not too far behind.  And at that point, things get ugly.


1.  Let's stop lending a rhetorical hand to neoliberals by using their preferred terminology.  These kinds of odious laws aren't about free trade, so let's not join the charade.

Originally posted to danps on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 02:50 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Capitalism Is Taking On Sovereignty Now. (12+ / 0-)

    It's been taking on democracy since long before the 1700's, as long as there's been democracy. Our present ongoing overthrow got underway in earnest in the 60's.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 04:50:46 AM PST

    •  And is really just a "coincidence" that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, poorbuster

      three major pro people leaders, JFK, RFK, MLK ALL ended up dead in the 1960's??

      gimme a break.

      "The 1% don't want SOLUTIONS; they've worked very hard the last four decades to get conditions the way they are now".

      by Superpole on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 05:17:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It cuts both ways.... (7+ / 0-)

    This use of eminent domain for private good is not new and corporations are exceedingly clever in using it to their own ends.  

    That is why it is heartening to read about Richmond CA who is using this legal tool for the benefit of their citizens.  We should all stand with Richmond and other cities to show that the people's rights can supersede greedy corporate interests when they choose to fight back.

    And while we're at it, let's look closer at the corporate game and see if we, the people, can play it better.  For example, why can't we setup the People's Mutual Fund, which uses the people's money to become shareholders and influencers from within the system rather than by trying to change it from the outside?  Wouldn't it be great to be a majority owner of News Corp!  

    Our largest Corporations have been using our money for years to do their dirty business and stealing it at their whim.  Some accountability seems to be in order.  Maybe there's a "personhood" angle.  Too bad the People don't have their own think tanks to develop these ideas and implement them like the wealthy do...

  •  A big part of the challenge is that (10+ / 0-)

    Third Way democrats, apologists and complacent moderates will not think critically or responsibly about issues such as this, Wall St. regulatory development or enforcement, trade mechanisms to address labor and environmental concerns, the NSA and other security state features, because they either deny their importance, support them or fear Party repercussions.

    As I've said many times, we could easily overwhelm the Republicans if it weren't for the high pile of Democratic obstructionists in the middle...

    And so long as we engage in protecting the Third Way electorally while simultaneously refusing to support and organize around other forms of applying pressure for change, Crashing the Gates remains Polishing the Gates.

    Trust, but verify. - Reagan
    Vote, but Occupy. - commonmass
    The 3rd Way has squandered our Resistance for a pocket full of mumbles, Such are promises All lies and jests; still a kossack's about the horse race And disregards the effects...

    by Words In Action on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 08:03:31 AM PST

  •  this is the big lie in operation (4+ / 0-)

    the vast majority of Americans would never believe that Obama would agree to something so regressive and unprecedented, so we look the other way.

    i'd like to see Hillary be made to take a public stand on this, especially given the clintons and nafta.

    one world government is here: a conglomeration of multinationals is in charge

    when will the majority of kossacks get this?

  •  The third ingredient (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, alice kleeman, Chi

    In the past when wealthy interests became oppressive people could immigrate or, like Virginia, go out and plunder the native peoples working for a corporation that had an odd bit of democracy added by a Progressive (Sir Edwin Sandys) who allowed elected representatives from the districts to sit in at corporate meetings called the House of Burgess.  The modern global system is hard to escape.  They have the ability to not only plunder but destroy the land making it hostile to nature and unable to provide food to natives.  Combined with global warming we little creatures are either running from flooding storms on the coast, radiation in the ocean from Japan, oil spills all over the middle US that are ignored and fracking in our backyard.  Democracy is a pretty word, but it is the first to go when the wealthy decide to make their extraction moves.  Hard to stand and fight, but no reason to bow and scrape.  The global fat cats, despite their treaties, may not get the easy money they think the treaties will provide.  US corporations had their massive military to back up their treaties.  Will their volunteer army fight for the fat cat?

  •  "How much may citizens decide what they want" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alice kleeman, Chi

    Well, if you don't pay your property taxes the state will take your property in lieu of back taxes. Sovereignty is a complicated issue; we live in communities and give up some of our "freedom" in order to do so - it's the price we pay for civilization.

    That said, the dividing line between government and corptocracy is almost non-existent these days. Economic growth/corporate growth is sovereign. It seems this growth, as it is presently constructed, is inimical to life on this planet. I'll pay taxes for civilization and a livable planet, but to be required to pay for their destruction is an outrage.  An outrage we are soothed into believing is for our own consumptive pleasure.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:39:30 AM PST

  •  Capitalism failed democracy a long time ago. (0+ / 0-)

    Not enough profit margin.

    "Onward through the fog!" - Oat Willie

    by rocksout on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:11:19 AM PST

  •  Capitalism and Democracy are always at odds (0+ / 0-)

    They come from two different ideologies and they will never be able to work together.

    None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. -Johann von Goethe

    by gjohnsit on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:50:15 AM PST

    •  Capitalism and Democracy are not the same thing. (0+ / 0-)

      Even though many Americans, trained by capitalism, confuse them. A choice of 30 different kinds of toothpaste is not freedom.

      I think the best economic system is something hybridized, much like what is true of government itself. Communism is obviously even worse. The solution is something like Western European style "Social Democracy", a basically capitalist system with a metric fuckton of regulation designed specifically to keep corporations and the super rich from becoming too powerful. (Here they've been far too powerful for decades.) That would "ironically" result in a more truly free market in which startups can compete, just for example.

      Capitalism in its purest form would ultimately destroy everything, even itself.

      by Edward L Cote on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 04:51:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  In more ways than TPP, but TPP is the ultimate (0+ / 0-)

    at the moment.

  •  Better term than free trade? Thx (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." -- JC, Matthew 6:24

    by Chi on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 05:57:54 AM PST

  •  Bingo. (0+ / 0-)

    This is why I always laugh at conservative confusion over the nature of China these days. They call it a communist country and they don't like that. But the cognitive dissonace comes in when they have to admire the Chinese ability to dominate markets and to sell their crap. What hasn't dawned on many is that China is a capitalist dictatorship.  In that sense, it is a model for what they would like to do to America (that struggle has been going on for awhile).

    Capitalism dispenses with governments or, in China's case, uses government to further its ends. That's capitalism on steroids - not communism.

    In any case, the diarist is absolutely correct: corporations wish to supplant government altogether and are doing a pretty good job of it.

    If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

    by Bensdad on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 10:33:37 AM PST

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