29 April 2015


This article by John Pilger appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald after SBS sacked a journalist seemingly after Malcolm Turnbull intervened. Another disgraceful episode in the history of journalism and censorship in Australia

There have been a few letters in the media during the last week which support the journalist's views and which seem - so far - not to have been censored - but for how long?

SBS management should have been replaced long ago - this once muticultural organisation has sunk journalistically almost to the lowest common denominator and it seemed could not sink much lower, but how wrong can one be?


Scott McIntyre: I salute this brave young journalist

April 28, 2015 - 11:17PM SMH

John Pilger

He exposed cynical drivel by offending in the best tradition of freedom of speech.
Following a week in which the words "heroes" and "heroism" bobbed on a tsunami of raw propaganda, a tribute is due to two unrecognised Australian heroes. The first is Ray Jackson, who died on April 23.

Ray spoke and fought for a truth which the powerful and bigoted hate to hear, see or read. He said this was a land not of brave Anzac "legacies", but of dirty secrets and enduring injustices that only a national cowardice could sustain. "Conformity is widely understood and obeyed in Australia," he wrote to me, "freedom is not."

Ray spoke and fought for a truth which the powerful and bigoted hate to hear, see or read.

I first met Ray in 2004 during the Indigenous uprising in Redfern, Sydney, that followed the violent death of a 17-year-old, Thomas Hickey. Known as "TJ", he was chased by a police car, lost control of his bike and was impaled on an iron fence. The police denied they had caused his death. Not a single Aboriginal person believed them, least of all Ray, whose campaign for justice will not go away.

Sacked over Twitter comments: Scott McIntyre.
Sacked over Twitter comments: Scott McIntyre.

A Wiradjuri man, Ray was stolen from his mother at the age of two and given to a white family. The experience taught him about Australian genocide. A lifelong socialist, his speciality was his unflagging investigations into police thuggery towards Aboriginal people, especially the multiple deaths in police and prison custody that routinely go unpunished. Australia incarcerates black Australians at a higher rate than that of apartheid South Africa.

When John Howard decimated Indigenous institutions and funding, Ray took his files and videos to his single-bedroom Housing Commission flat and founded the Indigenous Social Justice Association. He fought for the memory of young Kwementaye Briscoe, left to die in a police cell in Alice Springs, and Brazilian Roberto Curti​, Tasered to death by police in Sydney. He was the champion of countless locked-up Iraqi, Iranian and Tamil refugees. "Never stop fighting for your freedom," he told them. Shaming official Australia, the French government awarded him one of its highest human rights laureates.

Ray loathed warmongering and would approve of my second hero. This is Scott McIntyre, the young SBS soccer journalist who, in four now famous tweets, set out to counter the authoritarian sludge that demands we celebrate the criminal waste of life in the British imperial invasion of Turkey a century ago, rather than recognise unpalatable truths about our past and present.

Opportunistic politicians and journalists have turned this melancholy event into a death cult.  Federal governments have spent almost $400 million promoting it as a fake patriotism – more than Britain, France, Germany and Canada combined: countries that lost many more men in the 1914-18 bloodfest. Today, the military and venal militarism are virtually off limits for real public criticism.
Why? Australia, a nation without enemies, is spending $28billion a year on the military and war and armaments in order to fulfil a tragic, entirely colonial and obsequious role, as Washington's "deputy sheriff".

This much we know, perhaps have always known. But watching a contemporary version of crude Edwardian jingoism consume the nation's intellect and self-respect has been salutary, especially the cover provided by those paid ostensibly to keep the record straight. Tony Abbott, zealot, oaf and one of our cruellest prime ministers, "shone" at the Gallipoli Anzac service, according to Peter FitzSimons, whose tomes on the subject show no sign of abating. In the Murdoch press – augmented as ever to promote war after war – Paul Kelly echoes Abbott that remembrance is not enough; that the Anzac death cult "is now the essence of being Australian" .... indeed, "a quasi religious force".

Scott McIntyre drove the Twitter equivalent of a five-ton truck through such maudlin, cynical drivel. He tweeted the unsayable, much of it the truth; and all decent journalists – or dare I say, freedom-loving Australians – should be standing up for him. That Malcolm Turnbull, who made his name unctuously shouting about freedom of speech, should have been involved in the saga with McIntyre's employer, SBS, in whatever form, is a measure of the state of public and media life in Australia.

That a journalism professor of long standing, John Henningham​, can tweet that "freedom of speech meant that journalists had the right to speak without breaking the law but did not have the right to keep their job when offending others" is a glimpse of the obstacles faced by aspiring young journalists as they navigate the university mills.

Many young people reject this, of course, and maintain their sense of the bogus, and McIntyre is one of them. He offended in the highest tradition of freedom of thought and speech. Knowing the personal consequences would be serious, he displayed moral courage. When his union – the MEAA – locates its spine and its responsibility, it must demand he is given his job back. I salute him.

John Pilger is a journalist, author and documentary maker.  

26 April 2015


Military commodities

The Age letters 210415

Your editorial "The cynical selling of the Anzac tradition" (18/4) says Australian soldiers would "turn in their graves" at the commercialisation of Anzac. But in World War I Australian soldiers did not die fighting for freedom or for their country. Their country was never in danger. They died fighting for Britain and the Empire and, more specifically, for the Empire's trade and commercial interests.
As such the much complained about commercialisation of Anzac is completely consistent with how WW1 should be accurately remembered. The soldiers were commodities whose lives were spent so that the Empire wouldn't lose market share to its rival Germany.
Peter Martina, Warrnambool


A chilling step closer to Australian secret police

April 22, 2015 The Age

Jonathan Holmes

Foreign journalists are falling off their chairs in shock at the brutality of our data retention law, yet we hardly blink an eye.
Illustration: John Spooner
Illustration: John Spooner
For days, we've been scaring ourselves silly, because a few Melbourne teenagers might have planned to attack police officers with knives on Anzac Day. Good on the cops for nabbing them, but hardly an existential threat to our society.
Meanwhile, nine days ago, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 became law, after passing through both houses of Parliament with Labor support.
The more power you give any organisation, the more light needs to be shone on how it uses its power.
A record of your electronic communications – who you call, or text, or email, or message, when you do so, and where you are at the time – must now be kept by your service provider for a minimum of two years. And more than 20 law enforcement agencies will have access to those records without the need for a warrant, and without (needless to say) anyone informing you.
Well, Attorney-General George Brandis​ asks, how worrisome is that? After all, before this law was passed, your metadata was available to 85 agencies. 
"The only change that this bill makes to the relationship between the state and the citizen," he told the Senate, "is to introduce safeguards in relation to the access of law enforcement agencies to metadata, which were not there before."
In particular, Senator Brandis addressed the so-called "chilling effect" on investigative journalism that the media feared would result from the authorities' ability to scour reporters' metadata in search of their confidential sources. That's been fixed, he assured us. The new act contains "a large and detailed architecture for the protection of journalists ... which forms no part of the existing law".
So it does. And I've been brooding about that architecture for the past two weeks, as I sat for many hours on aeroplanes, courtesy of the ABC's Foreign Correspondent. I've talked about it to journalists in Paris, Washington and New York, specialists in reporting on terrorism and counter-terrorism. And when I described one particular facet of the act to them – one that has received minimal comment here in Australia – they nearly fell off their chairs.
Division 4C of the amended act lays down that if a law enforcement agency wants to search a professional journalist's metadata in pursuit of his or her source, it first has to get a "journalist information warrant" from an "issuing authority" - usually a judge or magistrate - or in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's case, from the Attorney-General.
The authority should only issue the warrant, the act says, if the public interest in doing so outweighs various other public interests, including the source's right to privacy. The authority must also weigh in the balance any arguments made by a public interest advocate.
This curious person – a senior lawyer (of course) with the necessary security clearances – will be appointed by the Prime Minister, no less. And, in the soothing words of the opposition defence spokesman, Labor's Stephen Conroy, "the PIA will be empowered to stand in the shoes of the journalist and argue why it is contrary to the public interest to issue the warrant".
Well fine. Except there's a Kafkaesque catch-22. The public interest advocate will not be able to inform the journalist or news organisation that a warrant has been sought, so the advocate cannot be briefed on any public interest aspect of the story, or any particular reason why the source should remain confidential, that is not already blindingly obvious.
Indeed, this public interest advocacy will not be public. It will be utterly private: one lawyer secretly trying to persuade another lawyer why a spook or a copper should not get access to a reporter's source, while the reporter – and, of course, the source – remain in blissful ignorance.
And here comes the kicker: the clause that had those foreign reporters falling off their chairs, but was barely mentioned by anyone, so far as I can see, in the parliamentary debates about the bill.
Section 182A of the new act says anyone who "discloses or uses" information about a journalist information warrant – about whether one has been applied for, or has been granted, or exists, or even does not exist - can be sent to prison for two years. Think about that.
What possible justification can there be for this extraordinary provision? After all, these warrants need have nothing whatever to do with terrorism or national security. They can be issued to any agency that is investigating pretty much any crime (including, presumably, the crime committed by any Commonwealth public servant who leaks official information to the media – see section 70 of the Crimes Act).
Section 182A is of a piece with the increasingly draconian enforcement of secrecy that Australians have blithely accepted since 9/11.
The 2003 act, for example, authorises ASIO to detain and question people for up to seven days, even if they are not suspected of complicity in a terrorist act, and prevents them from telling anybody that it has happened. The 2014 act says anyone who discloses information about a "special intelligence operation" can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. And there are many more such examples.
In the course of the debate on the new Data Retention Act, Conroy made this extraordinary statement: "Labor is determined to ensure that our national security and law enforcement agencies absolutely have the powers that are necessary to keep Australians safe."
"Absolutely" – what a dangerous word. Absolutism has no place in a democracy, especially not when it is applied to national security agencies. The more power you give any organisation, the more light needs to be shone on how it uses its power. To meet the terrorist "threat", we have been granting our security agencies and police forces more and more power, protected by ever more obsessive secrecy: more power, and more secrecy, than any comparable democracy in the world.
It is no exaggeration to say Australia is on the way to creating a secret police. What a triumph that is for the terrorists.
Jonathan Holmes is a Fairfax columnist and a former presenter of the ABC's Media Watch program.


 Weekend edition 240415 CounterPunch :Australia's Racist Assault on Aboriginal People

The Secret Country Again Wages War on Its Own People

Australia has again declared war on its Indigenous people, reminiscent of the brutality that brought universal condemnation on apartheid South Africa.  Aboriginal people are to be driven from homelands where their communities have lived for thousands of years. In Western Australia, where mining companies make billion dollar profits exploiting Aboriginal land, the state government says it can no longer afford to “support” the homelands.
Vulnerable populations, already denied the basic services most Australians take for granted, are on notice of dispossession without consultation, and eviction at gunpoint. Yet again, Aboriginal leaders have warned of “a new generation of displaced people” and “cultural genocide”.
Genocide is a word Australians hate to hear. Genocide happens in other countries, not the “lucky” society that per capita is the second richest on earth. When “act of genocide” was used in the 1997 landmark report Bringing Them Home, which revealed that thousands of Indigenous children had been stolen from their communities by white institutions and systematically abused, a campaign of denial was launched by a far-right clique around the then prime minister John Howard. It included those who called themselves the Galatians Group, then Quadrant, then the Bennelong Society; the Murdoch press was their voice.
The Stolen Generation was exaggerated, they said, if it had happened at all. Colonial Australia was a benign place; there were no massacres. The First Australians were victims of their own cultural inferiority, or they were noble savages. Suitable euphemisms were deployed.
The government of the current prime minister, Tony Abbott, a conservative zealot, has revived this assault on a people who represent Australia’s singular uniqueness. Soon after coming to office, Abbott’s government cut $534 million in indigenous social programmes, including $160 million from the indigenous health budget and $13.4 million from indigenous legal aid.
In the 2014 report Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Key Indicators, the devastation is clear. The number of Aboriginal people hospitalised for self-harm has leapt, as have suicides among those as young as eleven. The indicators show a people impoverished, traumatised and abandoned. Read the classic expose of apartheid South Africa, The Discarded People by Cosmas Desmond, who told me he could write a similar account of Australia.
Having insulted indigenous Australians by declaring (at a G20 breakfast for David Cameron) that there was “nothing but bush” before the white man, Abbott announced that his government would no longer honour the longstanding commitment to Aboriginal homelands. He sneered, “It’s not the job of the taxpayers to subsidise lifestyle choices.”
The weapon used by Abbott and his redneck state and territorial counterparts is dispossession by abuse and propaganda, coercion and blackmail, such as his demand for a 99-year leasehold of Indigenous land in the Northern Territory in return for basic services: a land grab in all but name. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, refutes this, claiming “this is about communities and what communities want”. In fact, there has been no real consultation, only the co-option of a few.
Both conservative and Labor governments have already withdrawn the national jobs programme, CDEP, from the homelands, ending opportunities for employment, and prohibited investment in infrastructure: housing, generators, sanitation. The saving is peanuts.
The reason is an extreme doctrine that evokes the punitive campaigns of the early 20th century “chief protector of Aborigines”, such as the fanatic A.O. Neville who decreed that the first Australians “assimilate” to extinction. Influenced by the same eugenics movement that inspired the Nazis, Queensland’s “protection acts” were a model for South African apartheid. Today, the same dogma and racism are threaded through anthropology, politics, the bureaucracy and the media.  “We are civilised, they are not,” wrote the acclaimed Australian historian Russel Ward two generations ago.  The spirit is unchanged.
Having reported on Aboriginal communities since the 1960s, I have watched a seasonal routine whereby the Australian elite interrupts its “normal” mistreatment and neglect of the people of the First Nations, and attacks them outright. This happens when an election approaches, or a prime minister’s ratings are low. Kicking the blackfella is deemed popular, although grabbing minerals-rich land by stealth serves a more prosaic purpose. Driving people into the fringe slums of “economic hub towns” satisfies the social engineering urges of racists.
The last frontal attack was in 2007 when Prime Minister Howard sent the army into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory to “rescue children” who, said his minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mal Brough, were being abused by paedophile gangs in “unthinkable numbers”.
Known as “the intervention”, the media played a vital role. In 2006, the national TV current affairs programme, the ABC’s Lateline, broadcast a sensational interview with a man whose face was concealed. Described as a “youth worker” who had lived in the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, he made a series of lurid allegations. Subsequently exposed as a senior government official who reported directly to the minister, his claims were discredited by the Australian Crime Commission, the Northern Territory Police and a damning report by child medical specialists. The community received no apology.
The 2007 “intervention” allowed the federal government to destroy many of the vestiges of self-determination in the Northern Territory, the only part of Australia where Aboriginal people had won federally-legislated land rights. Here, they had administered their homelands in ways with the dignity of self-determination and connection to land and culture and, as Amnesty reported, a 40 per cent lower mortality rate.
It is this “traditional life” that is anathema to a parasitic white industry of civil servants, contractors, lawyers and consultants that controls and often profits from Aboriginal Australia, if indirectly through the corporate structures imposed on Indigenous organisations. The homelands are seen as a threat, for they express a communalism at odds with the neo-conservatism that rules Australia. It is as if the enduring existence of a people who have survived and resisted more than two colonial centuries of massacre and theft remains a spectre on white Australia: a reminder of whose land this really is.
The current political attack was launched in the richest state, Western Australia. Last October, the state premier, Colin Barnett, announced that his government could not afford the $90 million budget for basic municipal services to 282 homelands: water, power, sanitation, schools, road maintenance, rubbish collection. It was the equivalent of informing the white suburbs of Perth that their lawn sprinklers would no longer sprinkle and their toilets no longer flush; and they had to move; and if they refused, the police would evict them.
Where would the dispossessed go? Where would they live? In six years, Barnett’s government has built few houses for Indigenous people in remote areas. In the Kimberley region, Indigenous homelessness — aside from natural disaster and civil strife — is one of the highest anywhere, in a state renowned for its conspicuous wealth, golf courses and prisons overflowing with impoverished black people. Western Australia jails Aboriginal males at more than eight times the rate of apartheid South Africa. It has one of the highest incarceration rates of juveniles in the world, almost all of them indigenous, including children kept in solitary confinement in adult prisons, with their mothers keeping vigil outside.
In 2013, the former prisons minister, Margaret Quirk, told me that the state was “racking and stacking” Aboriginal prisoners. When I asked what she meant, she said, “It’s warehousing.”
In March, Barnett changed his story.  There was “emerging evidence”, he said, “of appalling mistreatment of little kids” in the homelands.  What evidence? Barnett claimed that   gonorrhoea had been found in children younger than 14, then conceded he did not know if these were in the homelands.  His police commissioner, Karl O’Callaghan, chimed in that child sexual abuse was “rife”. He quoted a 15-year-old study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. What he failed to say was that the report highlighted poverty as the overwhelming cause of “neglect” and that sexual abuse accounted for less than 10 per cent.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a federal agency, recently released a report on what it calls the “Fatal Burden” of Third World disease and trauma borne by Indigenous people “resulting in almost 100,000 years of life lost due to premature death”. This “fatal burden” is the product of extreme poverty imposed in Western Australia, as in the rest of Australia, by the denial of human rights.
In Barnett’s vast rich Western Australia, barely a fraction of mining, oil and gas revenue has benefited communities for which his government has a duty of care. In the town of Roeburne, in the midst of the booming minerals-rich Pilbara, 80 per cent of the indigenous children suffer from an ear infection called otitis media that causes deafness.
In 2011, the Barnett government displayed a brutality in the community of Oombulgurri the other homelands can expect. “First, the government closed the services,” wrote Tammy Solonec of Amnesty International, “It closed the shop, so people could not buy food and essentials. It closed the clinic, so the sick and the elderly had to move, and the school, so families with children had to leave, or face having their children taken away from them. The police station was the last service to close, then eventually the electricity and water were turned off. Finally, the ten residents who resolutely stayed to the end were forcibly evicted [leaving behind] personal possessions. [Then] the bulldozers rolled into Oombulgurri. The WA government has literally dug a hole and in it buried the rubble of people’s homes and personal belongings.”
In South Australia, the state and federal governments launched a similar attack on the 60 remote Indigenous communities. South Australia has a long-established Aboriginal Lands Trust, so people were able to defend their rights — up to a point. On 12 April, the federal government offered $15 million over five years. That such a miserly sum is considered enough to fund proper services in the great expanse of the state’s homelands is a measure of the value placed on Indigenous lives by white politicians who unhesitatingly spend $28 billion annually on armaments and the military. Haydn Bromley, chair of the Aboriginal Lands Trust told me, “The $15 million doesn’t include most of the homelands, and it will only cover bare essentials — power, water. Community development? Infrastructure? Forget it.”
The current distraction from these national dirty secrets is the approaching “celebrations” of the centenary of an Edwardian military disaster at Gallipoli in 1915 when 8,709 Australian and 2,779 New Zealand troops — the Anzacs — were sent to their death in a futile assault on a beach in Turkey. In recent years, governments in Canberra have promoted this imperial waste of life as an historical deity to mask the militarism that underpins Australia’s role as America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Pacific.
In bookshops, “Australian non-fiction” shelves are full of opportunistic tomes about wartime derring-do, heroes and jingoism. Suddenly, Aboriginal people who fought for the white man are fashionable, whereas those who fought against the white man in defence of their own country, Australia, are unfashionable. Indeed, they are officially non-people. The Australian War Memorial refuses to recognise their remarkable resistance to the British invasion. In a country littered with Anzac memorials, not one official memorial stands for the thousands of native Australians who fought and fell defending their homeland.
This is part of the “great Australian silence”, as W.E.H. Stanner in 1968 called his lecture in which he described a “cult of forgetfulness on a national scale”. He was referring to the Indigenous people. Today, the silence is ubiquitous. In Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales currently has an exhibition, The Photograph and Australia, in which the timeline of this ancient country begins, incredibly, with Captain Cook.
The same silence covers another enduring, epic resistance. Extraordinary demonstrations of Indigenous women protesting the removal of their children and grandchildren by he state, some of them at gunpoint, are ignored by journalists and patronised by politicians.  More Indigenous children are being wrenched from their homes and communities today than during the worst years of the Stolen Generation. A record 15,000 are presently detained “in care”; many are given to white families and will never return to their communities.
Last year, the West Australian Police Minister, Liza Harvey, attended a screening in Perth of my film, Utopia, which docmented the racism and thuggery of police towards black Australians, and the multiple deaths of young Aboriginal men in custody. The minister cried.
On her watch, 50 City of Perth armed police raided an Indigenous homeless camp at Matagarup, and drove off mostly elderly women and young mothers with children.  The people in the camp described themselves as “refugees … seeking safety in our own country”. They called for the help of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.
Australian politicians are nervous of the United Nations. Abbott’s response has been abuse. When Professor James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People, described the racism of the “intervention” , Abbott told him to, “get a life” and “not listen to the old victim brigade”.
The planned closure of Indigenous homelands breaches Article 5 of the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Australia is committed to “provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for … any action which has the aim of dispossessing [Indigenous people] of their lands, territories or resources”. The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is blunt. “Forced evictions” are against the law.
An international  momentum is building. In 2013, Pope Francis urged the world to act against racism and on behalf of “indigenous people who are increasingly isolated and abandoned”. It was South Africa’s defiance of such a basic principle of human rights that ignited the international opprobrium and campaign that brought down apartheid. Australia beware.
John Pilger can be reached through his website: www.johnpilger.com

24 April 2015


What is going on with the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the USA and - at the moment - 11 other pacific rim countries - ought to scare the hell out of everybody.

Apathy seems to be the current political climate because people around the world have been brain-washed by our politicians and media for so long that they have lost the power - or didn't want it - to think for themselves - AND ACT ON IT!!!

The items posted below are those that have appeared in media in articles, letters and other online resources, and will hopefully provide the latest overview of the=is most disastrous of plots to subvert our democracies, enfeebled as they already are, by emasculating them altogether.


Business call for government to open up Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations

March 4, 2015 - 1:47AM  The Age
Peter Martin

Peter Martin

Economics Editor, The Age

Trade Minister Andrew Robb.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Australia's largest business organisation has called for the government to open up the negotiation of trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership.
As the Trade Minister Andrew Robb responded to criticism of his actions in keeping the text of the Trans Pacific agreement secret, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it wanted negotiations to be monitored in real time by the Productivity Commission and wanted draft texts disclosed to registered community and business organisations as happens in the US.
Criticised for keeping the negotiations secret in a so-called health impact statement released by the University of NSW Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation, Mr Robb said the text of the agreement would be made public as soon as it was agreed between the 12 nations.
"The text will not be kept secret. Once it is agreed between participants, it will be made public and also subjected to parliamentary scrutiny," he said.
"Since 2011, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has conducted more than 1000 briefings with interested stakeholders, including groups representing health, pharmaceuticals, consumers and unions."
The ACCI wants negotiating drafts to be shown to community and business groups who would then be under an obligation to keep them confidential.
Negotiators would retain their power to conclude deals without reference to the parliament but would be required to "properly consider and balance the merits of civil society's views at all phases of negotiation".
In Australia the parliament can accept or reject but cannot amend agreements negotiated by the minister.
The ACCI also wants the direct costs to the government of negotiating treaties to be clearly identified in future budgets. Its director of trade and international affairs Bryan Clark said the Australian community had no idea how much money had been spent negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership and so was unable to judge the worth of exercise.
Mr Robb said last month Australia takes 22 specialists to each negotiation backed up by teams at home. The US takes 80.
Mr Clark said Australia collected no data on how trade deals were actually used after they were completed and was unable to quickly support businesses that found the concessions negotiated were not offered when their goods arrived at docks in other countries.
The chamber's submission to the Senate's inquiry into the treaty-making process says Australian negotiators do little to ensure that each new trade treaty is consistent with existing ones leading to a mish-mash of overlapping treaties that interfere with each other.

Trans Pacific Partnership: Written in secret, in the interests of corporations

March 4, 2015 Letters The Age
Illustration: Michael Leunig
Illustration: Michael Leunig
The TPP will damage far more than our medicine prices ("Trade deal's bitter pills", 3/3). This "NAFTA on steroids" is less about free trade than about giving corporations power over national governments' laws and regulations. It has been largely written in secret by multinationals with their interests at heart.  No longer will we be able to refuse products that don't adhere to our  environmental regulations ("dolphin safe", chemical use, certification labels), child labour laws, health regulations (cigarette plain packaging, food labelling) and a range of protections we take for granted.  Under the TPP, a tribunal  comprising lawyers from the corporate giants will be set up to rule on such matters.  If we disagree, we will be slapped with sanctions. Any changes to the TPP need agreement by all countries. It is the most insidious, regressive, undemocratic agreement yet penned. It should not be signed.
David Blair, Healesville 

Ratification just a formality

Mr Robb's claims that  "the TPP text will not be kept secret. Once it is agreed between participants, it will be made public and also subjected to parliamentary scrutiny prior to any final ratification" are weasel words.  The  process is that Cabinet authorises the final negotiated text to be signed before it is publicly released. It is then reviewed by a parliamentary committee, but the text cannot be changed.  Parliament only votes on the implementing legislation, not the whole text. This means large parts of the text not requiring legislation – such as foreign investor rights to sue governments (ISDS) and any restrictions on future legislation – are not debated or approved by Parliament. Ratification only comes at the end of this process, after the legislation, and is just a formal exchange of letters before the agreement comes into force.  If we want any meaningful public debate of the final text, it must be released  before Cabinet decides to sign it. 
Patricia Ranald, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network  

We need IP protection

Critics of the TPP trade negotiations, particularly in relation to intellectual property provisions and medicines, have raised concerns that don't tell the complete story. In Australia, we have scientists, clinicians and some great companies working to help develop the newest medicines. But we lack sufficient commercial investment and a globally competitive intellectual property (IP) regime to help protect the work.
I sit on a number of biotech boards and the key question that always arises relates to the strength of IP in relation to a new therapy. IP is at the core of any life sciences company valuation, and as such, the period of the patent and/or the data exclusivity is of paramount importance when we assess which companies or projects we will invest in. Enhanced IP protection for medicines is not a choice between cheap drugs and enriching pharmaceutical firms. It is a choice between helping Australia to be a leader in the next scientific revolution or waiting and hoping someone else will do the job.
Dr George Morstyn, Brighton

Robb's claims eerily familiar

Mr Robb says "I am not going to do something that I think is not in the public interest". This comforting statement sounds eerily like other meaningless promises from this government – the PM's promise to govern for all Australians, Joe Hockey's to produce an  even-handed budget and Christopher Pyne's "improvements" to tertiary education.  At least these policies had to be vetted by the Senate, where many have quite rightly run into a brick wall. So Mr Robb's view of what is in the public interest may differ dramatically from the rest of us. Public, independent scrutiny is necessary before we are locked into this agreement.
Peter Thomson,  Richmond 

When ethics run distant second to greed

On rising anti-Semitism (Comment, 2/3), the most extensive study of the Gentiles who saved Jews from the Holocaust isolated one core factor: the strong values rescuers had learnt growing up.  Aristotle recognised that "moral excellence comes about as a result of habit".  The ancient Greeks understood that integrity develops  in individuals only by personal effort and in societies by sustained communal striving.  Yet,  neo-conservative free-market ideology, which has already delivered two world wars and the Depression, jettisons the common good and promotes individual gain as the greatest virtue.  Ruthlessness, greed and dishonesty pay the biggest dividends, extinguishing ethics from the top down.  In Plato's words, this puts a lie in people's souls.
The life-protecting forces of conscience, empathy, fairness, compassion and respect become quaint anachronisms.  People who live ethically finish last in a morally bankrupt society.
Rising anti-Semitism and other violence evoke the canary in the coal-mine alarm.  It is consistent with the dearth of leadership, from workplaces to the world stage, that champions and rewards ethical values.
Barbara Chapman, Hawthorn 



A "free" trade agreement? To give overseas companies "free" control of critical aspects of the government of our country?
Diana Snape, Balwyn
Are ministers and bureaucrats who sign trade deals that compromise or destroy our sovereignty guilty of treason?
Graeme Madigan, Brighton
So, big business sending billions of dollars overseas protects Australian employment? What a novel idea.
Adrian Peniston-Bird, Hawthorn

Put skids on TPP

TPP Letter in The Age 110315
Thanks, Peter Martin, for pointing out the pitfalls of signing the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (Comment, 10/3).   Senator Elizabeth Warren, a possible Democrat nominee for the 2016 US presidential election, wrote recently in The Washington Post  that the only beneficiary would be  multinationals and that the agreement would undermine the sovereignty of nations via the "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" clause, a feature of TPP.
Warren cites examples of how companies use ISDS to harm nations: a French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, and a Swedish company sued Germany because it decided to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, while a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn't bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing regulations intended to cut smoking rates. Australians must insist the government put the skids on the TPP.
Bill Mathew, Parkville 

Do Corporations Really Need More Rights? Why Fast Track for the TPP Is a Bad Idea


Nation of change 140315


The TPP won't expand U.S. exports, thus creating jobs and opportunities for small businesses—it will instead strengthen corporate rule. The international agreement undermines democracy, economic justice, the environment, human health and small business.

Published: March 14, 2015 | Authors: David Korten | YES! Magazine | Op-Ed
President Obama is currently pressing members of Congress to pass Fast-Track authority for a trade and investment agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If Fast Track passes, it means that Congress must approve or deny the TPP with minimal debate and no amendments. Astonishingly, our lawmakers have not seen the agreement they are being asked to expedite.
The rulings of these tribunals pre-empt national laws and the decisions of national courts.
The TPP is presented as an agreement to increase U.S. exports and jobs. But what is really at stake is democracy—in the United States as well as in the 11 other Pacific Rim countries that are parties to the TPP.
Given past agreements on which the TPP is modeled, including the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), TPP provisions will likely have significant implications for nearly every aspect of American life—including intellectual property rights, labor and environmental protections, consumer safety and product labeling, government procurement, and national resource management. Given the way these agreements are crafted, we can be quite certain that the implications will favor corporate profits over human well-being. And once the agreement is approved, its provisions will trump national and local laws, including the U.S. Constitution, and will not be subject to review or revision by any national legislative or judicial body—including the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is expected that the TPP will include an Investor State Dispute Settlement provision that gives foreign corporations the right to sue governments for lost profits due to laws—such as environmental standards and safeguards for workers—they claim deprive them of revenue they might otherwise have received. Such claims are settled in tribunals comprised of trade lawyers whose identities are secret. The rulings of these tribunals pre-empt national laws and the decisions of national courts and are not subject to review by any national judicial or legislative body.
Also in the mold of NAFTA and similar previous pacts, the TPP is being drafted in secret. The main players at the negotiating table are trade officials from the party countries and representatives from the world’s largest global corporations.
Since negotiations began in 2005, the public, press, and members of Congress and their staff have been denied access to the TPP meetings and to drafts of the agreement. In stark contrast, according to a 2014 report by The Washington Post, 566 advisory group members can view and comment on proposals. Of these members, 480 represent industry groups or trade associations and dominate the most important committees.
The secret gatherings of unelected government officials and corporate representatives in which agreements like the TPP are negotiated have become de facto transnational legislative bodies, drafting international laws the democratically elected legislative bodies of signatory countries then rubber stamp.
President Obama’s assurance that this time will be different carries little credibility.
Because such sweeping provisions supersede the U.S. Constitution, one might expect that their approval by the U.S. Congress would require the same high bar as a constitutional amendment. At a bare minimum, approval should be subject to the same review, debate, and approval process considered essential for any normal piece of legislation. Yet our elected representatives have time after time voted to approve such agreements under expedited rules that trade away the rights of people in favor of the rights of global corporations.
President Obama recently appeared on Seattle’s KOMO TV news making the claim that the TPP will expand U.S. exports, thus creating jobs and opportunities for small businesses. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and President George W. Bush all made the same promises on similar previous agreements.
But expanded trade not only means more exports; it also means more imports. Previous similar agreements have produced greater growth in U.S. imports than growth in U.S. exports. The result is a net loss of jobs, especially industrial jobs with good pay and benefits, and the closure of many small businesses. President Obama’s assurance that this time will be different carries little credibility, based on this historical experience.
These agreements are written by global corporations such as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, HSBC, and JPMorgan. These companies are not in the business of creating jobs and benefiting small businesses. They are in the business of maximizing their own profits. In regard to small businesses, the agenda is to capture their markets, buy them out, or squeeze them to the bone as captive suppliers and contractors.
Because these trade and investment agreements are not in the public interest, their corporate and governmental sponsors go to great lengths to keep the negotiations secret. If the TPP provisions were truly beneficial, there presumably would be no need to press the members of Congress to expedite approval under Fast Track rules before the public and members of Congress have seen the text.
Members of Congress will surely receive copies of the TPP documents before their final vote on the actual agreement. But these agreements are typically more than a thousand pages of detailed legalese meaningful only to experienced trade lawyers. If past experience is any guide, our lawmakers will have little time to read the agreement, let alone do a meaningful assessment of its implications or discuss it with constituents before it is called to a vote.
The time has come to end the use of international agreements to strengthen corporate rule. In the case of the TPP, passing no agreement is better than passing one that undermines democracy, economic justice, the environment, human health, and small business. We have no need of stronger protections for corporate rights. Rejecting Fast Track will create the opportunity for a long-overdue public conversation on a new framework for international trade and investment agreements that strengthen democracy, hold global corporations accountable to the public interest, secure worker rights, raise working conditions, and strengthen environmental protections in every signatory country.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has just released a report called “Principles for Trade: A Model for Global Progress.” The principles it outlines provide an excellent starting point for such a conversation:
  • Protect the authority of national legislative bodies to set trade policy
  • Restore balanced trade
  • Put workers first
  • Stop currency manipulation
  • Secure each nation’s right to give preference to national procurement
  • Protect the environment for future generations
  • Prioritize consumers above profits
  • Assure the right of national judicial systems to settle legal disputes with investors.
  • Secure affordable access to essential medicines and services
  • Respect human rights
  • Provide a safety net for vulnerable workers
As the vote on Fast Track approaches, this is a good time for citizens to call for a national and global public conversation about economic policies that put the interests of living people, living communities, and living Earth ahead of corporate profits.
It is also the right time for each of us to let our members of Congress know where we stand on Fast Track and the TPP and that we are paying close attention to how they vote.
We can have democracy and a prosperous, just, and sustainable human future. Or we can have corporate rule. We cannot have both.
David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, president of theLiving Economies Forum, an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, and a member of the Club of Rome. His books include the international best-seller When Corporations Rule the World, which will be released in an updated 20th anniversary edition in June 2015.
Bio: David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, president of the Living Economies Forum, an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, and a member of the Club of Rome. His books include the international best-seller When Corporations Rule the World, which will be released in an updated 20th anniversary edition in June 2015.
Tags Fast Track, global economy, politics, TPP, trade deal, U.S. Economy

Flush the TPP nationofchange 210315


President Barack Obama and the Republicans are united when it comes to so-called free-trade agreements. While Obama has been negotiating the agreements, which increase corporate power, grass-roots activists are organizing against the TPP.

Published: March 21, 2015 | Authors: Amy Goodman | NationofChange | Op-Ed
President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress are united. Yes, that’s right. No, not on Obamacare, or on the budget, or on negotiations with Iran, or on equal pay for women. But on so-called free-trade agreements, which increase corporate power and reduce the power of people to govern themselves democratically, Obama and the Republicans stand shoulder to shoulder. This has put the president at loggerheads with his strongest congressional allies, the progressive Democrats, who oppose the TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the most far-reaching trade agreements in history. TPP will set rules governing more than 40 percent of the world’s economy. Obama has been negotiating in secret, and the Democrats are not happy.
The battle lines are being drawn over the TPP and TPA. If you are confused, well, that is exactly what many of the most powerful corporations in the U.S., and around the world, are counting on. Trade policy is arcane, complex and long the domain of economists and technocrats. But the real-world implications of these dry texts are profound. President Obama wants to pass the TPP, which is a broad trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries in the Pacific Rim: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. In order to expedite the process, President Obama is seeking the second acronym, TPA, or Trade Promotion Authority, also called “fast-track.” Fast-track gives the president authority to negotiate a trade deal, and to then present it to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, with no amendments allowed. A growing coalition is organizing to oppose TPP and the president’s request for fast-track. The outcome of this conflict will reverberate globally for generations to come.
The TPP negotiations have been held in secret. Most people know what little they do because WikiLeaks, the document disclosure and whistle-blower website, released several chapters more than a year ago. Members of Congress also have been given limited access to briefings on the negotiations, but under strict secrecy rules that, in at least one instance recently, include the threat of imprisonment if details leak.
The TPP would be an expanded version of earlier trade agreements, like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, involving the U.S., Canada and Mexico. NAFTA went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994, and was so harmful to the culture and economy of the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico, that they rebelled on that very day, in what is known as the Zapatista Uprising. Attempts to create a global trade deal, under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, provoked one of the largest protests against corporate power in history, in Seattle in late 1999. Thousands of protesters locked arms and literally blocked delegates from getting to the ministerial meeting. As unexpected solidarity between union members and environmentalists flourished in the streets, despite widespread police violence, the WTO talks collapsed in total failure.
The TPP, if passed, would implement trade rules that make it illegal for governments to create and enforce regulations on everything from environmental standards, to wage and labor laws, to the duration of copyrights. A law prohibiting the sale of goods made in sweatshops in Vietnam could be ruled illegal, for example, as a barrier to trade. Or certification requirements that lumber not be harvested from old-growth forests in Malaysia could be overturned.
Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch program is one of the leading critics of TPP:
“It’s a delivery mechanism for a lot of the things [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and the Republicans like. So, for instance, it would increase the duration of patents for Big Pharma and, as a result, give them windfall profits but increase our medicine prices. It could roll back financial regulation on big banks. It could limit Internet freedom, sort of sneak through the back door the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA,” Wallach explained. “It would give special privileges and rights for foreign corporations to skirt around our courts and sue the U.S. government to raid our treasury over any environmental, consumer health law that they think undermine their expected future profits, the so-called ‘investor-state’ enforcement system. Plus, it would have the NAFTA-style rules that make it easier to offshore jobs, making it easier to relocate to low-wage countries.”
The TPP, she went on, “was negotiated with the assistance of 600 corporate advisers, official corporate trade advisers in the U.S. The agreement has been the initiative of the Obama administration. It was started by [President George W.] Bush, but instead of turning it around and making it something different, the Obama folks picked it up and, frankly, have made it even more extreme.”
Grass-roots activists are organizing against the TPP and fast-track. They work on diverse issues ranging from human rights and Internet freedom to fair trade, labor rights and the environment. The moneyed interests in Washington have the ear of the president, so they need only whisper. Now people must raise their voices, in unison, and demand to be heard.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
(c) 2015 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate
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Bio: Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

Don’t Keep the Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks Secret

COLUMBUS, Ohio — WHEN WikiLeaks recently released a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, critics and proponents of the deal resumed wrestling over its complicated contents. But a cover page of the leaked document points to a different problem: It announces that the draft text is classified by the United States government. Even if current negotiations over the trade agreement end with no deal, the draft chapter will still remain classified for four years as national security information. The initial version of an agreement projected by the government to affect millions of Americans will remain a secret until long after meaningful public debate is possible.
National security secrecy may be appropriate to protect us from our enemies; it should not be used to protect our politicians from us. For an administration that paints itself as dedicated to transparency and public input, the insistence on extensive secrecy in trade is disappointing and disingenuous. And the secrecy of trade negotiations does not just hide information from the public. It creates a funnel where powerful interests congregate, absent the checks, balances and necessary hurdles of the democratic process.
Free-trade agreements are not just about imports, tariffs or overseas jobs. Agreements bring complex national regulatory systems together, such as intellectual property law, with implications for free speech, privacy and public health.
The level of secrecy employed by the Office of the United States Trade Representative is not typical of how most international agreements are negotiated. It’s not even how our negotiating partners say they want to operate. Yet it is the way that the Obama administration handles trade deals, from a failed anti-counterfeiting agreement more than two years ago to the TPP today. The trade representative’s office keeps trade documents secret as national security information, claiming that negotiating documents — including work produced by United States officials — are “foreign government information.”
The justification for secrecy in trade is that negotiations are like a poker game: Negotiators don’t want to reveal their hand too soon, or get pressured by concerned domestic constituencies. But the trade representative’s office takes this logic too far. After being forced to turn over documents in a 2002 lawsuit, it began regularly classifying trade documents. Now the office uses classification to invoke the national security exemption to open government law. Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic is challenging this behavior in a lawsuit. (I submitted testimony in the case.)
The peculiarity of this secretive approach is becoming more apparent as our foreign negotiating partners push toward transparency in trade. The European Union now voluntarily releases its side of trade negotiations in an effort to be as transparent as possible; New Zealand officials pressed for greater transparency in previous trade negotiations with the United States.

Secrecy has real costs. Because the negotiating process combines a general shield from the public with privileged access for industry advisers, the substance of American free trade agreements does not represent truly national interests. It represents the interests of those members of industry who sit on the office’s Industry Trade Advisory Committees, which have regular access to negotiating information.

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Free foreign trade benefits are articles of faith, with theoretical economists.No denying free trade hugely benefits less developed nations....


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The Republicans are trying to do and end-run around our democracy to obtain favorable terms for their wealthy donors. A few rich...


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Sir Humphrey Appleby noted that the purpose of the Official Secrets Act was not to protect secrets, but to protect officials. The real...

One justification for keeping trade negotiations in the executive branch is that it can keep lobbyists at bay. But the current system brings those entities inside, using classification to keep out citizens and competitors. Perhaps in response to these sorts of criticisms in 2014, the Obama administration announced the creation of a new public interest advisory committee. But that committee would be given less direct access than industry groups, and couldn’t discuss some issues with the public.
Secrecy also delegitimizes trade agreements: The process has been internationally criticized as undemocratic. The European Parliament, for example, rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in large part over legitimacy concerns. In some of our trading partner countries, citizens have objected to trade agreements by calling them undemocratic. And they rightly fear that the American commitment to these agreements is weak because the United States public might rebel once the texts are released.
Congress is soon likely to consider whether to authorize an up-or-down vote on a trade deal, with what’s known as “fast track” legislation. Free trade now involves dozens of areas with complex subject matter, and the agency responsible for negotiating it often fails to tap key expertise. The discussion over the trade negotiating authority is not a question of which is better: the executive branch or the legislative branch. It’s a question of whose input we’re getting on decisions that reach far beyond trade — into questions on the price of generic drugs or whether websites will have to monitor users online.
As it considers fast track here, Congress must address the secrecy, and the views of the privileged advisers, that shaped the agreement. Otherwise, “fast” will be little more than a euphemism for “avoid the public, and benefit the fortunate few.”
Margot E. Kaminski is an assistant professor of law at Ohio State University and a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

Gold standard trade deal is littered with pitfalls

April 15, 2015 - 12:45AM the age

Leon Berkelmans

Trade deals were once about securing global trade. So, a shift towards negotiating issues other than trade is troubling.Australian Prime Minister
        Tony Abbott meets with leaders of Trans-Pacific Partnership
        Agreement at the US Embassy in Beijing.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott meets with leaders of Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement at the US Embassy in Beijing.
In 1983, Australia and New Zealand signed a trade agreement. The Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement ran to 24 pages. Additional annexes came in at 47 pages. Fast forward to 2004, and Australia signed a trade agreement with the United States that came in at 271 pages. I'll leave it to the interested reader to count the annexes, but Annex 2-B, for the US only, comes in at 560 pages. You get the idea.
Right now negotiators are sweating over another tome: the Trans Pacific Partnership. This is an agreement that covers 12 countries, $28 trillion in gross domestic product, and 800 million people (notably absent from the agreement is China). It appears to be continuing the trend towards complexity. The US takes 80 specialists to each negotiation, Japan 120, and Australia 22.
It is difficult to see documents with 500-page annexes leading to a simple, open system of world trade.
Clearly, somewhere along the way, we decided that bigger is better. The Trans Pacific Partnership has been touted as a "gold-standard" trade agreement. It is apparently going to include provisions on intellectual property, investor protection, along with ... well, many things, I guess. Nothing has been made public yet. Nothing will be until it is signed. We won't know, for example, if there will be provisions on currency manipulation.
This all represents quite a change for Australian trade policy. Once upon a time, it was all about trade. Negotiating on intellectual property and other mutations wasn't even contemplated. And when negotiating, it was all about getting a global deal done. It's time to return to those roots.
Let's start with the shift to bilateralism and regionalism. During the heady days of the 1980s, we were told that tariffs were generally bad, and free trade good. It would seem, then, that any agreement that brought tariffs down, whether it be multilateral or not, would be progress. That's not quite right.
Suppose that we import cars from the US and China and each face a tariff of 50 per cent. Now suppose we reduce the tariff on cars from China. There is a chance Chinese cars will crowd out US cars, but not actually lead to a substantial decline in price. If that happens, cars in Australia do not become much cheaper to buy, and the government misses out on tariff revenue. This is a well-known problem of trade liberalisation that is not multilateral. Economists call it trade diversion.
Trade diversion might, in part, be why we do not seem to have experienced large gains from the trade agreements already negotiated. In fact, the political process may tilt the field towards trade-diverting agreements. That was the conclusion of Elhanan Helpman, of Harvard University, and Gene Grossman, of Princeton University, in a paper they published in the world's top economics journal, the American Economic Review. They concluded "trade diversion [of an agreement] will enhance [its] political viability while contributing to an inefficient allocation of resources in the two partner countries".
The shift towards issues outside of trade is even more troubling. The benefits of free trade of goods and services have firm theoretical foundations. There's a theorem, called the "first fundamental theorem of welfare economics", that lays out general conditions under which free trade is efficient. Sounds important, doesn't it? It is.
Unfortunately for the proponents of expanding the scope of trade agreements, there is no similarly theoretically robust reason why, for example, intellectual property rules need to be harmonised. In fact, it's the opposite. In a paper written nearly 10 years ago, once again in the American Economic Review, Grossman and Edwin Lai, of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, concluded "harmonisation of patent policies is neither necessary nor sufficient for global efficiency". All harmonisation does is shift gains from the users of intellectual property to the producers.
Similar concerns pervade the other non-trade aspects of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Investor-state dispute settlement provisions would allow foreign investors to sue the Australia government, even though Australia's legal system and protections are already strong. This is not the kind of thing one finds in an economics textbook on market efficiency.
The desire to pursue trade agreements is understandable, given the problems the World Trade Organisation is having. There are hopes that trade agreements are a stepping stone to global free trade. It is possible, but difficult to sustain when looking at the complexity of these agreements. It is difficult   to see documents with 500-page annexes leading to a simple open system of world trade.
As much as it might be hard to accept, the best course of action might be just to go back to the World Trade Organisation and focus on trade and our multilateral tradition. Progress might be slow, but at least when change is made, it is likely to be beneficial.
Dr Leon Berkelmans is director, international economy at the Lowy Institute for international policy.

A Trade Rule that Makes It Illegal to Favor Local Business? Newest Leak Shows TPP Would Do That And More


The newest leaked text is full of dense legal jargon. But a close reading makes its corporate agenda crystal clear.

Published: April 17, 2015 | Authors: David Korten | Yes! Magazine | News Report
Secret negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and investment agreement involving 12 nations of the Pacific Rim, are coming to a close, and President Barack Obama will soon submit the final agreement to the U.S. Congress for approval.
Here are the Cliffs Notes in simple English.
Presumably, he will urge the deal’s passage with the same unsubstantiated and misleading claims his administration has offered all along: that the TPP will support Made-in-America exports, enforce fundamental labor rights, promote strong environmental protection, and help small business.
But a newly leaked document belies those claims. The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s text consists of a number of chapters, among the most important of which is the one on investments. On March 25, WikiLeaks released a confidential draft of that chapter dated January 20. The draft contains instructions indicating that it will be declassified only “Four years from entry into force … or, if no agreement enters into force, four years from the close of the negotiations.”
A quick reading of the leaked chapter makes it clear why TPP sponsors have gone to great lengths to keep their negotiations secret. The document substantiates claims by opponents that the TPP is a corporate-rights agreement designed to facilitate the export of U.S. jobs, allow corporations to sue governments for enacting labor and environmental protections, make it illegal for governments to favor local businesses, and advance the colonization of national economies by global corporations and financiers.
As problematic as this chapter is, we can be thankful that it is out in the open. Now the need is to understand what all the legalese means.
The leaked document includes many technical details decipherable only by trade lawyers. Here are the Cliffs Notes in simple English.

1. Favoring local ownership is prohibited

Let’s start with the Investment Chapter’s section on how the TPP’s member countries should treat foreign investors:
Each Party [country] shall accord to investors of another Party treatment no less favorable than that it accords, in like circumstances, to its own investors with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments in its territory.
Put in plain English, the above paragraph means that signatory countries renounce their right to favor the domestic ownership and control of the lands, waters, and other productive assets and services essential to the lives and well-being of their people.
The 12 countries further renounce their right to favor locally owned businesses, corporations, cooperatives, or public enterprises devoted to serving their people with good local jobs, products, and services. They must instead give equal or better treatment to global corporations that come only to extract profits.

2. Corporations must be paid to stop polluting

Another provision limits what member countries can do in regard to corporate investments:
No Party may expropriate or nationalize a covered investment either directly or indirectly through measures equivalent to expropriation or nationalization (“expropriation”), except: (a) for a public purpose; (b) in a nondiscriminatory manner; (c) on payment of prompt, adequate, and effective compensation [emphasis added] … ; and (d) in accordance with due process of law.
This provision may sound reasonable, until you look at the chapter’s definition of “investment,” which includes “the expectation of gain or profit.” This odd definition means that a corporation can sue a signatory nation if the country deprives the corporation of expected profits by enacting laws that prohibit the company from selling harmful products, damaging the environment, or exploiting workers. Other language in the chapter makes it clear that this applies to actions at all levels of government.
In other words, a country in the TPP has every right to stop a foreign corporation from harming its people and the environment—but only if the country compensates the corporation for the expense of not harming them.
Similar provisions are already on the books in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to Public Citizen’s Trade Watch.
Foreign firms have won more than $360 million in taxpayer dollars thus far in investor-state cases brought under NAFTA. Of the 11 claims currently pending under NAFTA, demanding a total of more than $12.4 billion, all relate to environmental, energy, land use, financial, public health and transportation policies—not traditional trade issues.

3. Three lawyers will decide who’s right in secret tribunals

The leaked chapter also describes how disagreements will be settled:
Unless the disputing parties otherwise agree, the tribunal shall comprise three arbitrators, one arbitrator appointed by each of the disputing parties and the third, who shall be the presiding arbitrator, appointed by agreement of the disputing parties.
The arbitrators are private lawyers who are not accountable to any electorate. They are empowered by the TPP to order unlimited public compensation to aggrieved investors. The proceedings and the identities of the tribunal members are secret, and the resulting decisions are not subject to review by any national judicial system.
According to The New York Times, NAFTA tribunals, on which the ones in the TPP are modeled, even have the power to overturn judgments of national courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court. John D. Echeverria, a law professor at Georgetown University, has called this method of dispute settlement “the biggest threat to United States judicial independence that no one has heard of and even fewer people understand.”

4. Speculative money must remain free

Yet another provision prohibits restrictions on movement of money from one country to another:
Each Party shall permit all transfers relating to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay into and out of its territory. …
Forms an investment may take include: (a) an enterprise; (b) shares, stock, and other forms of equity participation in an enterprise; (c) bonds, debentures, other debt instruments, and loans; (d) futures, options, and other derivatives.
Thus, the TPP guarantees the right of speculators to destabilize national economies through the manipulation of exchange rates and financial markets, without interference from national governments.
In so doing, the TPP strips national governments of the right to limit speculation in favor of investment in strong, stable, and productive national economies.

5. Corporate interests come before national ones

Another passage assures that corporations need bear no obligation to serve the interest of the people who live in the countries where they do business:
No Party may … impose or enforce any requirement or enforce any commitment or undertaking: (a) to export a given level or percentage of goods or services; (b) to achieve a given level or percentage of domestic content; (c) to purchase, use or accord a preference to goods produced in its territory, or to purchase goods from persons in its territory.
The article continues on with six additional provisions, which together prohibit governments from requiring that a foreign investor be under any obligation to serve the host country’s people or national interest.
The 12 countries would renounce their right to favor locally owned businesses
Obama administration officials say these provisions are needed to level the playing field for American companies doing business abroad. This raises an important question: What is an American company?
The Institute for Policy Studies reports that U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries currently hold $2.1 trillion in profits offshore to avoid paying taxes to the government of the United States. These include highly profitable companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, General Electric, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron. One wonders on what basis we should consider these globe-spanning, tax-dodging, job-exporting corporations to be American.
Approval of the TPP means sacrificing our democracy and our right to manage our markets and resources for the public good. And for what gain? To secure rights for corporations—which claim an American identity only when convenient—to exploit the peoples and resources of other countries that have signed the same nefarious agreement.
Bio: David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, president of the Living Economies Forum, an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, and a member of the Club of Rome. His books include the international best-seller When Corporations Rule the World, which will be released in an updated 20th anniversary edition in June 2015.
Tags TPP

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Obama and Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership … Unfortunately

There’s an important issue out there you may never have heard of, which is just what its proponents would like. That’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently being pushed by the Obama administration and its corporate (and mostly Republican!) allies. It’s a blatant attack on labor, farmers, food safety, public health and even national sovereignty.
And the details of the deal are largely secret. Other than what’s been leaked, the public has no access to its contents, and even members of Congress don’t know much. (On the other hand, “cleared advisers,” mostly corporate lawyers, have full access.) That’s because the TPP is way too important to its sponsors to allow little details like congressional or public input to get in its way, even though constitutional authority over trade is granted to the legislative, not the executive, branch.

Mark Bittman

Nutrition, agriculture and health policy.

This is a bipartisan effort if ever there was one; George Will has called the TPP “Obama’s best idea.” Thus we see the administration, along with pro-business Democrats and Republicans, trying to bulletproof the deal. Last week, a bill was introduced that would give the president “fast-track authority” on the TPP. If that passes, Congress could vote only up or down on the deal, not amend it. That’s quite a bit of presidential power for a scheme that would have a striking impact on the global economy — and the food on our table.
The TPP is little more than enhanced corporation power branded as free trade. It gives corporations the right to challenge government regulations and seek compensation if they think they’ve been treated unfairly by any of the 12 Pacific Rim nations in the deal. (China is currently, but not necessarily permanently, excluded; part of the thinking behind the TPP is to lock up an agreement with these partners before China does.)
Even if you look “only” at food and the environment, the TPP should be ripped apart and put back together with public and congressional input. The pact would threaten local food, diminish labeling laws, likely keep environmentally destructive industrial meat production high (despite the fact that as a nation we’re eating less meat) and probably maintain high yields of commodity crops while causing price cuts.
It would certainly weaken food safety. For example, more than 90 percent of our seafood is imported, a figure that includes fish that were caught domestically and sent overseas for processing before coming back in, which makes the inspection process even more complicated. All told, that’s more than five billion pounds of imports annually, and according to the Center for Food Safety, just 90 federal inspectors guarantee its safety. (The Food and Drug Administration inspects less than 2 percent of imported seafood.) By reducing restrictions on Southeast Asian imports, the TPP would allow more fish containing chemicals that are illegal in domestic aquaculture to reach our shores; by making inspections less effective, it would virtually guarantee that those chemicals make it to our tables.
The agreement would even allow countries to challenge one another’s laws, so that “equivalency” may simply mean that the least powerful regulations become the norm. The United States would have no special standing: If our laws are seen as restraining trade or limiting profits, they could be challenged in special courts, per the TPP’s “investor state” clause. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay over that country’s antismoking laws under just such circumstances; there are several examples of American companies’ flouting local laws and citing trade agreements as an excuse; and Mexico has been sued repeatedly for theoretically diminishing investor profits.
When individual governments have little say, corporate “efficiency” amounts to the global economy’s being run as an ill-regulated business model (an equally egregious trans-Atlantic agreement is currently being negotiated). The projected benefits to the public – as usual, “job creation” leads the list — are mythical, and you don’t have to take my word for it.
Historically, trade laws were geared to enrich the “mother” country — look at the 19th-century Opium Wars in China, which forced open illegal markets so Britain and its allies could benefit. Between World War II and the 1990s, free trade arguably benefited the economies of the countries involved. But the new laws, starting with 1994’s North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), recognized that capital is now mobile — it doesn’t “live” anywhere — and owes no allegiance to any flag; only shareholders matter.
Nafta is the paradigm of what are most accurately called deregulation deals. It promised better jobs in both the United States and Mexico. Instead, as well-paid workers in the United States were losing jobs to worse-paid workers in Mexico, badly paid Mexican workers were losing jobs to worse-paid workers in China, which in turn put more pressure on workers in the United States.
In fact, if you wanted to single out a culprit for income stagnation and the decline of the power of labor in the United States, Nafta would be a good candidate. It allowed large corporations to move where tax breaks were best and environmental regulations weakest, while forcing labor to compete against lower global wages. While likely not the only cause, since its passage collective and individual gains have been nearly frozen in Mexico; in the United States, the story is much the same.
The situation may be most dire for Mexican farmers. Millions have been displaced, many emigrating north for menial jobs. Meanwhile, imports of American corn (a basic staple in the form of tortillas for 5,000 years), increased fourfold. Imports of wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans have increased similarly. In brief, Mexican farmers have gone to work for transnational companies, whether in Mexico, the United States or elsewhere. Nor did this do much good for farmers to the north, who have seen corn prices fluctuate wildly, leaving them to scramble to maximize yields, which in turn causes environmental damage.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich called the TPP “Nafta on steroids” (“corporate coup d’état” is also good). As the economist Dean Baker said to Bill Moyers, “This really is a deal that’s being negotiated by corporations for corporations, and any benefit it provides to the bulk of the population of this country will be purely incidental.” At this point, nothing about Obama should surprise us, but it’s worth noting that in 2008, as a presidential candidate, he said, “I voted against Cafta, never supported Nafta, and will not support Nafta-style trade agreements in the future.”

Recent Comments


28 minutes ago
Once again, the REAL issue facing all of us is sitting, sadly, quietly and behind the curtain of our denial; climate change/global warming!...

Daniel A. Greenbum

28 minutes ago
According to Paul Krugman, who is mildly against the TPP, says it just is not worth the effort both sides are putting into it. I am...

Lorraine R

28 minutes ago
Obama said in the Chris Matthews interview that Elizabeth Warren is “wrong” on fast tracking the TPP and he is “right.” What he meant is...

All of which is making for some very odd alliances and demonstrating that “far right” and “far left” labels are increasingly useless. That’s because this is a struggle between transnational corporations and just about everyone else.
Of course, some Republican opposition could be crafty positioning, so that when the TPP is found to cost jobs and endanger public health rather than create them and assure it, cynics could simply say, “I told you so.” But in this case Obama has asked for the bad publicity. And although Hillary Clinton’s husband was the architect of this kind of policy, and she worked hard for the TPP while secretary of state, she’s now backing away from what may well be a losing proposition.
That’s the good news: The opposition to fast-tracking appears strong. As Patrick Woodall, a senior policy advocate for Food & Water Watch, said to me, “The forces pushing fast-track are huge, but there is unbelievable public opposition, and at this point the wind is at our back.”
There is such a thing as a good trade agreement, though it’s barely conceivable that Obama and Congress could negotiate one. We could imagine, for example, something that did away with tax havens for corporate profits. (For a detailed analysis of this, see this paper from the Economic Policy Institute.)
But even to have a shot, fast-track must be defeated, and a solid debate must be opened among well-informed representatives, with plenty of public input. More exploitation of labor, fewer public health regulations, more facile production of useless goods and bad food — that is not the direction the global economy needs to go.




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Preston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm