As Elites Aim To Finalize Secret ‘Profit Over People’ Trade Deal, An Alarm Sounds

Photo courtesy of Stop The TPP-Hawaii (March 14, 2015 Waikoloa Marriott)

Trade ministers will be met in Maui with a colorful demonstration against secret corporate agreement

By Sarah Lazare

As trade ministers gather for negotiations at a luxury resort in Hawai’i on Wednesday to finalize the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, hundreds of people are planning to stage protests, hold performances, and raise a sacred “call to attention” to send the message that attempts by the global elite to put “profit over people” are not welcome and will not be tolerated.

“The TPP is a threat to our sovereignty as Native Hawaiians, and as human beings,” said Kaleikoa Ka’eo, professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai’i, in a press statement. “This secret trade agreement would allow corporations to control decisions about how we live without any accountability to us, the people of this land.”

Under the banner “Stop TPP by Land and by Sea,” protesters from organizations including Kāko’o Haleakalā, AiKea, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club will gather on the Kā’anapali Beach on the island of Maui to voice their opposition to the deal, which has been broadly criticized by social movements and civil societies across the globe.

In the early evening, the protest will culminate in an attempt to break the global record for the “largest number of conch shell (pū) blown at one time,” according to a press statement.

“We chose the pū for this demonstration because in ancient times the sound of the pū was a call to attention; a kahea (call) to recognize something important is about to occur. Today is a call to attention, to join together against this attempt to put profits over people,” said organizer Trinette Furtado.

“This event calls attention to all struggles against entitled behavior across the globe. We send this kāhea of the pū out past this hotel and the secret TPP negotiations, and out into the ocean, through the mountains, around the world,” Furtado continued. “People are awakening, discovering their power. They are hungry to effect a positive change in the world.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government and multinationals are moving rapidly to strengthen their strangleholds on the global economy. The White House is hoping that this week’s four-day meeting will clinch a final deal—just a month after President Barack Obama signed controversial Fast Track legislation into law.

The accelerated timeline can be attributed at least in part to the political climate in the United States.

Watchdog group Public Citizen said last week in a statement (pdf) that the White House is “desperate” to announce a final accord: “Unless the Obama administration can not only announce a final [TPP] deal by the start of August, but also by then complete a TPP text and give notice to Congress of intent to sign it, a U.S. congressional vote on TPP almost certainly will be pushed into the politically perilous 2016 presidential election year.”

Opponents of the deal say that now is a critical time to mobilize against what they call an unjust and far-reaching corporate giveaway.

The mammoth pact has been negotiated in secret since at least 2008 and includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. These countries together represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP, making this the largest trade deal yet.

Its many controversial provisions, revealed almost entirely through leaks, include “investor-state dispute settlement” systems (ISDS), popularly known as corporate tribunals, which would create a parallel legal avenue for corporations to sue governments for loss of “expected future profit,” with the power to overrule national protections of environmental and human rights.

Analysts and campaigners have also warned the deal poses a threat to workers’ rights, protections against human trafficking, and basic privacy.

Humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders declared last week that the TPP is poised to be the “most damaging trade agreement ever for global health.” If approved, the accord would “strengthen, lengthen and create new patent and regulatory monopolies for pharmaceutical products that will raise the price of medicines and reduce the availability of price-lowering generic competition,” the group warned.

Public Citizen said of the talks in Maui: “Whether or not any real deal is made, a ‘breakthrough’ likely will be announced. But for whom would it be a breakthrough?”

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‘Dark Cloud’ of ALEC Converges at Annual Corporate-Political Lovefest

Protesters carried signs and chanted “ALEC, go home” during an afternoon demonstration outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel on Wednesday. (Photo: Chris Stone/Times of San Diego)

This week, San Diego hosts ‘a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists’

By Deirdre Fulton

Fighting to protect dark money. Attacking federal efforts to rein in carbon pollution. Undermining local democracy.

These are just some of the “hot topics” on the agenda this week as conservative lawmakers, corporate lobbyists, and top GOP candidates from around the country gather in San Diego for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s annual meeting.

“A dark cloud is headed our way in the form of a shadowy lobbying organization that buys loyalty from state legislatures with untraceable corporate dollars and threatens the very fabric of our democracy,” San Diego County Democratic Party chair Francine Busby wrote in advance of the conference.

ALEC, Busby explained, “is a ‘bill mill’ funded by corporations and billionaires. It creates ‘model legislation’ by and for industries, which right-wing legislators then take back to their statehouses and enact into law.”

Miles Rapoport, president of the grassroots advocacy organization Common Cause, described the meeting as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists,” at which “[t]hey gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy.” (more…)

Could Anti-Climate Amendment Torpedo Fast Track?

Last-minute anti-climate effort led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) slammed by green groups and some lawmakers

By Sarah Lazare

Environmental groups have long (warned) of the dangers Fast Track poses to the environment. Now they have solid proof.

With the controversial House Fast Track vote expected to take place Friday, an 11th-hour GOP effort to forbid U.S. trade officials from taking action on climate change has raised the fury of environmental groups and lawmakers, as well as hopes that the unpopular legislation could be torpedoed altogether.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, an amendment was inserted late Tuesday into a customs and trade bill currently being weighed alongside Fast Track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority.

The language is designed “to ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

But political observers see it as a last-ditch attempt to get reticent Republicans on-board.

As the National Journal reports, Ryan is “working hard to win Republican support for the trade bill. Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that the climate-change amendment acts as an olive branch for House Republicans fearful that the president might use his trade negotiating power to take action on climate change.”

Critics say, in the midst of a climate crisis, it is outrageous that Ryan would seek to tie a trade representative’s hands, especially given the broad scope of the multiple corporate-friendly deals currently under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement.

“President Obama needs to make it clear that ‘21st century trade deals’ cannot block climate action,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth. “The president should start by telling Republican leadership and the public that the provision in the customs amendment is unacceptable.”

“President Obama cannot credibly claim that trade deals will force other countries to raise their environmental standards if he allows the same deals to secure a pass for the U.S. to keep dumping carbon into the planet’s atmosphere,” Galvão added.

The Fast Track legislation was already opposed by civil society and social movement groups around the U.S. and world—who criticize it as a tool for ramming through secret corporate-friendly deals, at the expense of people and the planet.

Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org said that this latest move could jeopardize Fast Track altogether: “Forbidding U.S. negotiators from ever addressing climate change in trade deals might might win over a couple of votes on the far right, but it’ll lose many more in the center and on the left because the new language is a disaster for our climate.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) derided the maneuver, declaring, “Now Republicans want to use [Fast Track] to prevent any new climate change standards in our trade deals.”

All eyes are on the vote, expected to take place Friday, with many high-profile politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), remaining mum on how they will vote.

Patrick Woodall of Food & Water Watch declared in a press statement Thursday, “With Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership now on its way to the House floor, it’s time for our Representatives to stand up to the so-called free trade attacks on common sense protections for public health, the environment and consumers.”

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WikiLeaks Strikes Again: Leaked TISA Docs Expose Corporate Plan For Reshaping Global Economy

“It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. (Image created by Common Dreams)

Leaked Docs reveal that little-known corporate treaty poised to privatize and deregulate public services across globe.

By Sarah Lazare

An enormous corporate-friendly treaty that many people haven’t heard of was thrust into the public limelight Wednesday when famed publisher of government and corporate secrets, WikiLeaks, released 17 documents from closed-door negotiations between countries that together comprise two-thirds of the word’s economy.

Analysts warn that preliminary review shows that the pact, known as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), is aimed at further privatizing and deregulating vital services, from transportation to healthcare, with a potentially devastating impact for people of the countries involved in the deal, and the world more broadly.

“This TISA text again favors privatization over public services, limits governmental action on issues ranging from safety to the environment using trade as a smokescreen to limit citizen rights,” said Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, in a statement released Wednesday.

Under secret negotiation by 50 countries for roughly two years, the pact includes the United States, European Union, and 23 other countries—including Israel, Turkey, and Colombia. Notably, the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are excluded from the talks.

Along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, which are also currently being negotiated, TISA is part of what WikiLeaks calls the “T-treaty trinity.” Like the TTP and TTIP, it would fall “under consideration for collective ‘Fast-Track’ authority in Congress this month,” WikiLeaks noted in a statement issued Wednesday.

However, TISA stands out from this trio as being the most secretive and least understood of all, with its negotiating sessions not even announced to the public.

Wednesday’s leak provides the largest window yet into TISA and comes on the heels of two other leaks about the accord last year, the first from WikiLeaks and the other from the Associated Whistleblowing Press, a non-profit organization with local platforms in Iceland and Spain.

While analysts are still poring over the contents of the new revelations, civil society organizations released some preliminary analysis of the accord’s potential implications for transportation, communication, democratic controls, and non-participating nations:

>Telecommunications: “The leaked telecommunications annex, among others, demonstrate potentially grave impacts for deregulation of state owned enterprises like their national telephone company,” wrote the global network Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) in a statement issued Wednesday.

>Transportation: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), comprised of roughly 700 unions from more than 150 countries, warned on Wednesday that the just-published documents “foresee consolidated power for big transport industry players and threaten the public interest, jobs and a voice for workers.” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “This text would supercharge the most powerful companies in the transport industry, giving them preferential treatment. What’s missing from this equation is any value at all for workers and citizens.”

>Bypassing democratic regulations: “Preliminary analysis notes that the goal of domestic regulation texts is to remove domestic policies, laws and regulations that make it harder for transnational corporations to sell their services in other countries (actually or virtually), to dominate their local suppliers, and to maximize their profits and withdraw their investment, services and profits at will,” writes OWINFS. “Since this requires restricting the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, the corporate lobby is using TISA to bypass elected officials in order to apply a set of across-the-board rules that would never be approved on their own by democratic governments.”

>Broad impact: “The documents show that the TISA will impact even non-participating countries,” wrote OWINFS. “The TISA is exposed as a developed countries’ corporate wish lists for services which seeks to bypass resistance from the global South to this agenda inside the WTO, and to secure and agreement on servcies without confronting the continued inequities on agriculture, intellectual property, cotton subsidies, and many other issues.”

The warnings follow concerns, based on previous leaks, that TISA poses a threat to net neutrality, internet freedoms, and privacy.

Moreover, global social movements charge that the deal poses a threat to democracy itself.

In a letter released in September 2013, 241 civil society groups from around the world aired concerns about the TISA deal: “Democracy is eroded when decision-making about important sectors– such as financial services (including banking, securities trading, accounting, insurance, etc.), energy, education, healthcare, retail, shipping, telecommunications, legal services, transportation, and tourism– is transferred from citizens, local oversight boards, and local or provincial/state jurisdiction to unaccountable trade’ negotiators who have shown a clear proclivity for curtailing regulation and prioritizing corporate profits.”

Analysts note that the leak underscores the intense secretiveness of the talks, whose texts are supposed to be kept completely secret for five years following the reaching of a deal or abandonment of the process.

“That the negotiating texts say they are supposed to stay secret for five years is quite shocking, and therefore it is really important that the text is made public,” Melinda St. Louis, international campaigns director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, told Common Dreams.

“It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, in a statement released Wednesday.

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Latest Guilty Pleas Prove Big Bank Criminality ‘Rampant,’ But Jail Time Non-Existent

In announcing settlement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch calls the crimes ‘a brazen display of collusion’ that caused ‘pervasive harm’

By Deirdre Fulton

In the wake of Wednesday’s announcement that five global financial institutions have agreed to plead guilty to multiple crimes and pay about $5.6 billion in penalties for manipulating foreign currencies and interest rates, corporate watchdogs are reiterating the call to ‘break up the banks’ in light of their ongoing malfeasance.

As with other recent settlements, Wednesday’s news provides further evidence to those who say certain megabanks are still considered “too big to fail”—or criminal bankers to jail.

“There are two messages in today’s plea deal,” said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman in a statement on Wednesday. “First, criminality is rampant on Wall Street. Second, the era of too-big-to-jail is alive and well. Even as they beat their chests announcing how tough they are, government regulators refuse to apply to the giant banks the same rules that apply to everyone else.”

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Five global banks have agreed to pay more than $5 billion in combined penalties and will plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve a long running U.S. investigation into whether traders at the banks colluded to move foreign currency rates in directions to benefit their own positions.

Four of the banks, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, and Citigroup Inc., will plead guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros, authorities said.

The fifth bank, UBS AG, received immunity in the antitrust case, but will plead guilty to manipulating the Libor benchmark after prosecutors said the bank violated an earlier accord meant to resolve those allegations of misconduct. UBS will also pay an additional Libor-related fine.

The New York Times adds:

The Justice Department forced four of the banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland — to plead guilty to antitrust violations in the foreign exchange market as part of a scheme that padded the banks’ profits and enriched the traders who carried out the plot. The traders were supposed to be competitors, but much like companies that rigged the price of vitamins and automotive parts, they colluded to manipulate the largest and yet least regulated market in the financial world, where some $5 trillion changes hands every day, prosecutors said.

Underscoring the collusive nature of their contact, which often occurred in online chat rooms, one group of traders called themselves “the cartel,” an invitation-only club where stakes were so high that a newcomer was warned, “Mess this up and sleep with one eye open.”

In announcing the settlement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the megabanks’ crimes “a brazen display of collusion” that caused “pervasive harm.”

Lynch declared: “Today’s historic resolutions are the latest in our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, and they serve as a stark reminder that this Department of Justice intends to vigorously prosecute all those who tilt the economic system in their favor; who subvert our marketplaces; and who enrich themselves at the expense of American consumers.”

But as Weissman noted, “important questions remain about this plea deal,” including:

Will individual executives be prosecuted? And did the DOJ charge the parent companies in this case to avoid triggering potential sanctions with real and significant business consequences for the banks, including charter revocation hearings? The public deserves answers to these questions. In that information is some insight into whether the government continues to protect the megabanks—those colloquially labeled “too big to jail.”

“What becomes clear is that regulators genuinely are afraid of enforcing the law when it comes to the megabanks,” Weissman concludes. “As a result, and notwithstanding today’s announcement and others like it, these banks are not deterred from violating the law—indeed, they are literally not subject to the same standards as other banks and other companies. A democratic society cannot tolerate having banks above the law. There’s a solution to this problem: break them up.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill to do just that—the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act—under which regulators on the Financial Stability Oversight Council would compile a list of institutions which say they are so large that their collapse could trigger an economic crisis. The Treasury Secretary, in turn, would then have a year from the bill’s passing to break up such banks.

In a recent report, the Corporate Reform Coalition warned that regulators’ continued reluctance to crack down on megabanks leaves the U.S. vulnerable to another financial crisis.

“Avoiding another meltdown depends on the will of federal regulators to use the new powers they were granted in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” said Jennifer Taub, author of the report and professor of law at Vermont Law School. “If they behave as if they are beholden to the banks, we will likely face a more severe crisis in the future.”

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