April 26, 2015
Crisis: TPP - in Guardian, by Warren, by Nader, and by Strether; Spiegel on Spying
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton


1. Trans-Pacific Partnership: bill on trade deals passes key
     Congress committee

2. Elizabeth Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On

Obama, Corporate “Free Traitors” and You!
4. The TPP: Toward Absolutist Capitalism
5. Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for
     NSA Cooperation


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, April 26, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. It so happens that 4 of the 5 items are about the TPP:  Item 1 is a rather bad piece on The Guardian, although it correctly reports that a TPP bill was passed; item 2 is about a letter Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown wrote about the TPP to Obama (who freaked out and lied); item 3 is a good piece by Ralph Nader on the enormous dangers of the TPP; item 4 is a fine piece by Lambert Strether about - again - the enormous dangers of the TPP; and item 5
is about an article on Spiegel On Line that outlines that the Germans in fact know
and tolerate since 2008 (at the latest) that the Americans spy from German soil.

1. Trans-Pacific Partnership: bill on trade deals passes key Congress committee    

The first item today is an article by Reuters (in Washington) on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Legislation to speed trade deals through the US Congress cleared a key committee but low Democratic support signalled a looming battle over a Pacific trade pact central to President Barack Obama’s strategic shift toward Asia.

Democrats and Republicans clashed over proposals to punish countries that manipulate their currencies to gain an export edge and ways to give lawmakers more leverage over trade deals like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Despite the partisan wrangling, the vote in the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee on Thursday marked an important step forward for the legislation, which would prohibit Congress from amending trade deals and allow for simple yes-or-no votes.

Obama and major US trade partners, including Japan, have said the measure is vital to seal the TPP deal.

This article is here mostly because of its title: the text is mostly a very tasteless middle-of-the-road exercise that barely manages to convey that there is criticism of the TPP, but not at all what the criticism is (for which see Elizabeth Warren,  Ralph Nader and Lambert Strether below).

I am sorry but this is manipulative journalism by Reuters and also by The Guardian [1].

But the title is correct, and now we shall turn to some expositions of what the TPP is like (which is difficult, because it is secret, though parts have been published by Wikileaks), and what the criticism is.

The next three articles explain the views of Elizabeth Warren, Ralph Nader and Lambert Strether
(the last writes for Naked Capitalism) on the TPP. In case you are not interested, I am sorry: in this Nederlog all but the last article happen to be about the TPP. 

Here is a very brief outline of the TPP taken from Wikipedia (minus note numbers):
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty. As of 2014, twelve countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region have participated in negotiations on the TPP: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
Some global health professionals, internet freedom
activists, environmentalists, organised labour, advocacy groups, and elected officials have criticised and protested the negotiations, in large part because of the proceedings' secrecy, the agreement's expansive scope, and controversial clauses in drafts leaked to the public. Wikileaks has published several documents since 2013.
Also, it may be noteworthy that the secret "trade deal" TPP is not the same as the also very secret "trade deal" the TTIP (from Wikipedia, minus note numbers):
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. Proponents say the agreement would result in multilateral economic growth, while critics say it would increase corporate power and make it more difficult for governments to regulate markets for public benefit. The American government considers the TTIP a companion agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
OK - these were just some necessary details. To start with, here is Elizabeth Warren:

2. Elizabeth Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On Trade

The next item is an article by Zach Carter on The Huffington Post:

This has a fairly long subtitle, that I reproduce here because it clarifies some:

'We respectfully suggest,' reads a letter from Sens. Warren and Sherrod Brown to President Obama, 'that characterizing the assessments of labor unions, journalists, Members of Congress, and others who disagree with your approach to transparency on trade issues as 'dishonest' is both untrue and unlikely to serve the best interests of the American people.'

In fact, it was an impertinent and intentionally false slur by Obama, who wants to push these secret "trade deals" through Congress with the least possible opposition or criticism, and without any amendments.

The article itself begins as follows

Progressive Democrats have been hoping to see a showdown between Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton for years. Instead, they're getting a public feud between the senator from Massachusetts and President Barack Obama.

Obama accused Warren and congressional Democrats on Friday of being "dishonest" and spreading "misinformation" about the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a trade pact the administration is negotiating among 12 nations. The overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress oppose TPP, while Republican leaders support it.

It was an unusually aggressive attack for the president -- accusing members of his own party not of having misplaced priorities, but of actively working to deceive the public. Obama is rarely so severe even with his Republican opponents. Obama said that the Democratic criticism that "gets on [his] nerves the most" is the notion that his TPP pact is "secret," and went on to insist that the terms of TPP will help American workers.

Indeed, and he stated a sick lie that he could have totally prevented, namely by
publishing the secret text of his secret "trade deal", so that everyone who has to decide (Congress) and everyone who is involved (many hundreds of millions of persons) get a chance to read the very secret "trade deal" before it is implemented, which chance they also would have gotten if the U.S. had been still a working democracy.

The reason Obama does not want to publish that very secret text, and does his all to push it through Congress unread, uncriticized, and unamended, is that this "trade deal" (like the other very secret "trade deal", the
TTIP) is in fact a neo-fascist bill [2] that will kill the sovereignty of the people, of their governments, of their laws, and of their rights, and will give all of these to secret neo-fascist courts [2] that will be led by corporate lawyers whose one and only principle will be  ... the (expected) profits of the big corporations.

You do not believe this? Read on: Here is the eminently reasonable letter to the president by Senators Warren and Brown:

On Saturday, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded with a letter essentially telling Obama to put up or shut up. If the deal is so great, Warren and Brown wrote, the administration should make the full negotiation texts public before Congress votes on a "fast track" bill that would strip the legislative branch of its authority to amend it.

"Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules," Warren and Brown wrote in the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

Democrats and some Republican critics have been particularly frustrated by Obama's decision to treat the TPP documents as classified information, which prevents them from responding to Obama's claims about the pact in detail.

"Your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal," the letter reads. "It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that Members of Congress may 'walk over ... and read the text of the agreement' -- as we have done -- you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public."

Obama also neglected to say that the members of Congress who are allowed to see this neo-fascist bill [2] are not even allowed to take notes on it. (And are not allowed to even discuss what they remember.)

And there is this:

Warren and Brown said that corporate support for the deal shouldn't be surprising.

"Executives of the country's biggest corporations and their lobbyists already have had significant opportunities not only to read [the TPP text], but to shape its terms," the letter reads. "The Administration’s 28 trade advisory committees on different aspects of the TPP have a combined 566 members, and 480 of those members, or 85%, are senior corporate executives or industry lobbyists. Many of the advisory committees -- including those on chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles and clothing, and services and finance -- are made up entirely of industry representatives."

In other words: About the only ones who are allowed to read and change the
very secret TPP are ... the legal representatives of the very big corporations that are the only ones who are going to profit enormously from this very secret "trade deal", essentially by destroying the sovereignty of nations and goverments, and destroying the rights of the people, and destroying the laws and judicial protection of nations, all so that the big corporations profit as much as they can, and can prosecute governments, in special "courts" that are mostly secret and run by corporate lawyers, for anything these governments did that lessened the estimated profits of the big corporations.

But we are not yet discussing the content (which is also difficult, since it is all very secret). Here comes Ralph Nader:

3. Obama, Corporate “Free Traitors” and You!

The next item is an article by Ralph Nader on Common Dreams (and also on Nader's own site):

This starts as follows:

The pro-big business President Barack Obama and his corporate allies are starting their campaign to manipulate and pressure Congress to ram through the “pull-down-on-America” Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and foreign investment treaty between twelve nations (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam).

The first skirmish is a fast track bill to have Congress formally strip itself of its constitutional authority to regulate trade and surrender this historic responsibility to the White House and its corporate lobbies.

Lest you think the TPP is too commercially complex to bother about, think again. This mega-treaty is the latest corporate coup-d’état that sacrifices the American consumer, labor and environmental standards – inventively called “non-tariff trade barriers” – and much U.S. sovereignty to the supremacy of corporate commercial trade.

No single column can adequately describe this colossal betrayal – camouflaged by phrases like “free trade” and “win-win agreements.” For comprehensive analysis of the TPP you can go to Global Trade Watch (http://www.citizen.org/trade/).

Precisely! And here is why Ralph Nader and Elizabeth Warren oppose this "corporate coup-d’état that sacrifices the American consumer, labor and environmental standards (..) and much U.S. sovereignty to the supremacy of corporate commercial trade":

This is why Senator Elizabeth Warren is opposing the TPP. She wrote in the Washington Post that the TPP, “would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court.”

For example, if a company doesn’t like our controls over cancer-causing chemicals, it could skip the U.S. courts and sue the U.S. before a secret tribunal that can hand down decisions, which can’t be challenged in U.S. courts. If it won before this secret kangaroo court, it could be given millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, charged to you, the taxpayer. Again, the big business “free traitors” are shredding our sovereignty under the Constitution.

Scores of such cases already have been brought under the WTO. Senator Warren explained that “recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that 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 new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.”

This - the last paragraph - is also why I call these "trade deals" neo-fascist. [2] And the TPP and the TTIP will make this a lot easier, and indeed they are really not "trade deals": they propose the end of national law, national governments, national sovereignty, parliamentary sovereignty and human rights of any kind.

But perhaps that is still unclear? Check out the following item:

4. The TPP: Toward Absolutist Capitalism

The next item is an article by Lambert Strether that I found on Truth-out but that first appeared on Naked Capitalism:

This is a very good article you should read all of. I will quote two parts of it. The first considers the ISDS, that is: the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisn, which is essentially a secret "court" in which corporate lawyers will decide cases (in secret, without appeals):

Toward Absolutist Capitalism

Let’s look more deeply into the ISDS as an institution. First, we’ll look at the “Absolutist” nature of the TPP. Then we’ll look at “Capitalism” under the TPP.

The TPP Implies a Form of Absolute Rule, a Tyranny as James Madison Would Have Understood the Term. First, the ISDS tribunals, putatively courts, are completely unaccountable. Public Citizen:

TPP ISDS tribunals would be staffed by highly paid corporate lawyers unaccountable to any electorate or system of legal precedent.

Second, the ISDS tribunals are riddled with conflicts of interest and open invitations to corruption. Public Citizen:

Many of [the corporate lawyers] involved rotate between acting as “judges” and as advocates for the investors launching cases against governments. Such dual roles would be deemed unethical in most legal systems. The leaked text does not include new conflict of interest rules, despite growing concern about the bias inherent in the ISDS system.

Third, there is no appeal from the judgements of these putative courts. Public Citizen:

There is no internal or external mechanism to appeal the tribunal members’ decisions on the merits, and claims of procedural errors would be decided by another tribunal of corporate lawyers.

Fourth and finally, the discretion of the ISDS tribunals is so great that they can write the rules, as well as interpret them. Public Citizen:

There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.The leaked text reveals the same “safeguard” terms that have been included in U.S. pacts since the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). CAFTA tribunals have simply ignored the “safeguard” provisions that the leaked text replicates for the TPP, and have continued to rule against governments based on to which governments never agreed.

In the first three points, the ISDS tribunals are acting as putative courts, albeit conflicted, potentially corrupt, and anti-democratic and unaccountable courts. However, in the fourth point, the tribunals are, functionally, legislatures. Here is what Madison had to say about mixing judicial and legislative power. Federalist 47:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. …Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator.

So, what Madison warned of is exactly what ISDS does: The judge is the legislator, leading to “arbitary control.” And arbritary control is absolutism, just as surely as it was in the age of the divine right of kings.  And for bonus points, the judges and the legislators are conflicted, open to corruption, and accountable neither to the voters nor to any system of precedent.

That is a long quotation, but I suppose it does clarify some of my reasons to call this schema "corporate neo-fascism" a.k.a. "tyranny" (rather than "absolutist capitalism" - but yes, I do know a lot about fascism, and I also know many don't like the term, also not when its use is quite appropriate).

In case this is not clear, here is the second quote:

In other words, TPP elevates capitalization — the expectation of profit — as a principle to the level of, say, the Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And then, government, when it provides concrete material benefits to its citizens, must “compensate” capitalists whenever their calculated, immaterial expectations — capitalization — have been “expropriated.” What a racket! TPP is the biggest enclosure in the history of the world!

But this TPP + TTIP schema is the schema Obama very much wants to move through Congress, without it being read, without it being discussed, and without any rights for Congress (!!) to amend it...

5. Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for NSA Cooperation

The last item today is an article by six journalists on Spiegel On Line:

This starts with a summary that I reproduce because it clarifies things (bold in the original):

US intelligence spent years spying on European targets from a secretive base. Now, it seems that German intelligence was aware of the espionage -- and did nothing to stop it.

I must say I am not very amazed, simply because (i) spying on everyone will produce enormous amounts of information that may be used for all sorts of ends, now and later (thus, you may be locked up in 2035 for some things you wrote in private to a friend in 2015), and because (ii) secret organizations like the NSA and the BND (the German NSA, in brief) tend to be a law to themselves through being secret (and uncontrolled, while being heavily funded from the taxes).

Here is some on the cooperation between the NSA and the BND (and the "tin can" that gets mentioned is an American spying center on German soil):

The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.

But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the "tin can" were doing. The Americans weren't just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn't even shy away from pursuing German targets.

The Germans noticed -- in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013, when an analysis triggered by whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks showed that the US was using the facility to spy on German and Western European targets.

On Thursday, though, SPIEGEL ONLINE revealed that the US spying was vastly more extensive than first thought. The revelations have been met with extreme concern in the German capital -- partly because they mark the return of a scandal that two successive Merkel administrations have never truly sought to clear up.

Note especially that "The Germans noticed -- in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013" - and then nothing much was done either.

There is considerably more in the article.


P.S. Apr 27, 2015:
I corrected "TPIP" to "TTIP".


[1] As an aside, but continueing the Nederlog I wrote in February: I do not think I have seen one single properly sharp photographic picture on the site of The Guardian (that was "renewed" in a truly horrible way, it seems mostly to push half an article of Javascripts on naive users) since it was changed: Every picture I saw was - it seems carefully and on principle - unsharpened (and no: this happens only on The Guardian's site, and I look every day at least at 40 other sites); and I also have not seen any properly sharp video on The Guardian site.

As I am not English, I have chosen not to care much (having seen the formerly quite fine Dutch paper NRC-Handelsblad, that I read from 1970-2010 - a mere forty years - go nearly completely to pieces since 2010), but I find these changes quite amazing, as is the total lack of any discussion (that I saw).

It also reminds me strongly of a tendency I first noted around 2000: Many ordinary commodities are cheapened, simplified, uglified, as if to make clear to their buyers that they are definitely second-rate ciitizens. I do not know whether this is true (but I did see a great lot of
cheapened, simplified, and uglified commodities),  but in any case I now expect that The Guardian will be much like The Times within 5 years or so. It's a very great pity, but since I am not English, I have chosen not to care.

[2] You do not need to agree with me, but I do think that a secret bill that destroys the sovereignty of nations and of governments, destroys the legal rights of populations, and allows big corporations to attack any law and any governmental measure that threatens to diminish their expectations of their profits a neo-fascist bill if there ever was one.

And in case you want to protest: I am the son of a man who spend over 3 year and 9 months in German concentration camps as a convicted "political terrorist"; and the grandson of a man who was murdered in a German concentration camp because he too was convicted as a "political terrorist". Unless you have been reading for 50 years in philosophy and science, and unless you have my excellent M.A. degree in psychology and B.A. degree in philosophy (only A's), it is quite likely you do not know - by far - as much about fascism as I do.

       home - index - summaries - mail