Fight for the Future parked a truck adorned with a Jumbotron on Capitol Hill for an impromptu “film festival” as part of the group’s ongoing campaign to pressure Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to drop legislation that would fast track the multi-national Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade deal between countries in Asia, Australia and the Americas would boost U.S. trade, but activists fear it would jeopardize transparency due to issues of internet censorship. “Senator Wyden has built his career on a platform of government transparency and support for Internet freedom,” Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer said.
This week Congressional Quarterly reported that Senator Wyden was holding a fundraiser at Bistro Bis, an upscale restaurant near Capitol Hill. The invitation said “Friends of all industries are welcome to attend.” The day before the event we called for a protest in order to highlight that Wyden was fundraising for industries that would profit from fast track. After our call for a protest, he moved the fundraiser to a still undisclosed location. It was interesting to see how quickly he moved to hide his actions at the big bribe-fest. He’s being tight-lipped not only about where it was held but who attended and how much money was raised. What’s he hiding?
The TPP-Free Trade USA push goes back even further, however, to at least 2010. That’s when Obama put Jeff Immelt, the CEO of the giant U.S. global corporation, General Electric, in charge of a special Presidential Committee tasked with coming up with recommending future USA trade initiatives. TPP was one of them. But before acting on Immelt’s 2010 recommendations, Obama had to first wrap up the loose ends of the several bilateral free trade agreements still on the table between the USA, South Korea, Colombia, Panama and other countries. Then there was the 2012 presidential elections. Obama and Democrats knew trying to push the TPP through before would risk their re-election chances. So they waited. Then came the November 2014 midterm Congressional elections.
The TPP Investment Chapter, published today, is dated 20 January 2015. The document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations. The Investment Chapter highlights the intent of the TPP negotiating parties, led by the United States, to increase the power of global corporations by creating a supra-national court, or tribunal, where foreign firms can “sue” states and obtain taxpayer compensation for “expected future profits”. These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals are designed to overrule the national court systems. ISDS tribunals introduce a mechanism by which multinational corporations can force governments to pay compensation if the tribunal states that a country’s laws or policies affect the company’s claimed future profits. In return, states hope that multinationals will invest more.
In recent months, progressives have been voicing their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And they might try and make an example out of Sen. Ron Wyden over it, even though he’s been a reliable ally for years. The free trade agreement, which would involve 12 Asia-Pacific countries—including the U.S. along with countries like Mexico, Japan and Canada—could account for 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of all world trade. Progressive groups say that the deal is no good: it could ship more jobs overseas, undercut environmental and labor standards, and increase Internet censorship. The deal’s future may rest with Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and his support for the partnership has some progressives thinking about going after one of their own in their fight against the deal.
Earlier today, activists lead by Popular Resistance flooded Congress in a silent protest against TPP and Fast Track. Starting in the Dirksen building, activists put on vests noting all the facets of our lives and rights that would be “Silenced” by the TPP and Fast Track. Along with the vests, blue tape was also used to physically silence the groups as we flooded through the halls of Congress. Split into two groups, activists walked by Congressional offices in the Hart building, accompanied by Press and supporters. Police intervened after a banner drop after which the activists headed to Senator Ron Wyden’s office to drop off personally written letters and occupy his office.
The TransPacific Partnership is labelled as a “free trade” magic elixir that will cure all ills – Jobs! Prosperity! World Peace! – but in fact it’s a toxic brew that weakens the American body politic and the Constitution. And when you look at how it came about you see that those are design features, not bugs. The historical record is clear: what are misleadingly called “free trade agreements” were never really about trade. Their goal is to render independent nation states null and void, and hand power over to unaccountable, transnational corporatist authorities. This sounds like a plot lifted from a Bond supervillain, yet it is precisely what a powerful State Department official told a Congressional hearing in 1967. And much of what he laid out nearly 50 years ago has come to pass under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Across the country people are rising up against corporate free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnerhsip (TTIP). Through continuous organizing and creative action we have shown that we have the power to stop the world’s largest corporations, to end their assault on our communities, workplaces, democracy, and environment. But we still have a big fight on our hands, the fight of a lifetime, and no one will lead this battle but us. Join us next week as we “Flood Congress” to express our collective disillusionment with the corporate “free trade” agenda. We will gather next Thursday, March 19, at 11:30 AM in the downstairs food court in Union Station (Washington D.C.) for lunch and training before we head to Congress. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can keep in touch with you if details change.
Sen. Ron Wyden was greeted Friday morning at his Umatilla town hall meeting by a 30-foot-long blimp urging him to oppose an upcoming trade pack that critics say could curb internet freedom. Activists from Fight for the Future — a Boston-based nonprofit that works on a variety of open internet issues — planned to tote its rented blimp around to three other Wyden town halls Friday and Saturday in La Grande, Baker City and Ontario. For grassroots groups like Fight for the Future, the Oregon Democrat has always been one of their biggest champions in Congress. He’s been with them on everything from fighting government electronic surveillanceto playing a key role in blocking anti-piracy legislation sought by Hollywood and other big content producers.
Over 100 law professors sent an open letter to Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) saying they need to “protect the rule of law and the nation’s sovereignty” in trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While TPP is still secret, leaks and precedent indicate that it will contain provisions allowing giant, multinational corporations to bypass our country’s legal system. These provisions will allow these multinational corporations to sue governments, including ours, in “corporate courts” if they decide to pass laws and regulations that restrain the profits of these giant corporations, such as efforts to help citizens quit smoking.
People across the political spectrum are recognizing that past claims about trade and jobs have been false and it is more accurate to call these agreements “job-killing trade agreements.” As the Coalition for Prosperous America writes: “While it’s been too slow, the country is now beginning to see that the deals they supported in the past have not produced the growth and job creation that were promised. America was lied to. The promotional trade treaty arguments of today are simply re-runs of past arguments that turned out to be false.” Reuters reports: “Nearly 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs — one in four — have been lost since NAFTA and the various post-NAFTA expansion deals were enacted through fast track.” And, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports: 3 out of 5 displaced workers who found a job are earning less money and one-third took a pay cut of 20% or more.