A Corporate Coup

flush the tpp

“The WTO, Corporate Globalization, and the TPP”
Presentation at Tomes Bookstore on Dec. 2, 2013

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia, where anti-WTO demonstrators have taken over the streets.  On Tuesday, the first day of the talks, demonstrations were held around the world to mark the Global Day of Action Against Toxic Trade Agreements.

A particular focus for protestors here in the United States and in other Pacific Rim nations was the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a so-called “free-trade agreement” that would consolidate corporate power over member nations.  The TPP would be a vast expansion of corporate power.  It has been called “NAFTA on steroids.”  It has also been called “a corporate coup” and a “corporate power tool of the 1%.”

Why are the WTO, NAFTA, and free-trade agreements such as the TPP “toxic?”  Because they put trade (or rather, the free flow of capital) above all else, because they cover far more than trade, and because they give corporations the power to determine what laws a country can or cannot have.  They are vehicles through which corporations make and enforce rules for governments to follow.

Of course, all of this sounds bad, but abstract.  And the institutions we are talking about are so big and so powerful that it seems like there’s nothing we can do to slow things down or reverse course.  But that’s not true.

It is important to understand what is at stake and how corporate domination of governments and global institutions affect us negatively in so many ways.  That is one reason I wrote my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economic system and the institutions that dominate our world.

A chapter entitled “The Unholy Trinity:  The IMF, World Bank, and WTO” gives detailed examples of specific “trade” disputes and how the dispute process works to overturn laws created by governments.  This section, “The WTO: A Corporate Bill of Rights,” explains how corporations use trade agreements in their attempt to consolidate global corporate rule:

“Clearly, the United States and other nations see their interests as tied to corporate interests. As corporate power increases, however, the power of governments decreases, until governments, the lucky ones, end up riding on corporate coattails. But corporations, once they are truly globalized, have no loyalty at all, except to the bottom line. They are not even loyal to their “home” governments. They can even change nationalities at will.

“Though the rhetoric of the IMF and World Bank has been about development and raising the standard of living, the actual effects of these multilateral bureaucracies has been to integrate poor nations into a world economy dominated by global corporations and powerful nations. They have used structural adjustment policies (SAPS) to “pry open” the economies of developing nations, creating complete dependency.

“How can global corporations further pry open the U.S. economy and the economies of other industrialized nations? How can they finish what they started during the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s? How can they bypass the messiness of the democratic process altogether while gutting regulatory agencies and eliminating troublesome laws that interfere with corporate profits? How can they perpetuate the “smoke and mirrors” illusion that nation-states have power, while eliminating the very laws that governments use to protect the rights and well-being of their people? How can they privatize the potentially lucrative public-services sector, including publicly funded hospitals, schools, libraries, prisons, utilities, water services, and social services, and offer these and all other services up for sale? How can they ensure that wealthy, industrialized nations will ultimately be as dependent upon the global system that they dominate as are poor and indebted nations? How can they bring structural adjustment policies home? How can global corporations extend their power and consolidate their dominance over people, their governments, and the earth itself? The answer: they create trade agreements and global bureaucracies that convince governments to do this for them, institutions like NAFTA and the WTO, which essentially take the matter out of government hands.”

In spite of this direction that the institutional Powers are pushing, I’m quite hopeful that we the people will be successful in raising awareness, mobilizing opposition, and preventing the TPP from coming into being.  As the saying goes, we need to “flush the TPP.”

Fourteen years ago this month, I joined thousands in the streets of Seattle for nonviolent action and hundreds in King County Jail during the WTO meetings there.  The meetings ended in failure and have never really gotten back on track.  Since Seattle, global civil society has prevented other attempts to consolidate global corporate rule, and we can do it again.  That was another reason I wrote Shaking, to inspire hope and motivate action for healing and transformation.

After Seattle I wrote:  “It seemed clear to me then, as never before: no matter how entrenched are the Powers that seem to rule the world, they govern only through the will of the people. If the people withdraw their consent these ruling institutions will collapse like a house of cards. And I felt deeply grateful to the One who is `far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:21), the Creator of the universe in all its splendor, who is on the side of justice and love.”

“Another world is possible.”  This is the faith that motivates my life.

Agenda 21 vs. the TPP

Stop TPP

A new wave of reaction to Agenda 21 threatens to confound the public and undermine efforts toward global cooperation on both environment and development.  Meanwhile, those who raise the alarm about Agenda 21, a non-binding agreement, are silent about negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a binding agreement that would grant corporations new rights to interfere with our democracy.   

Agenda 21

 I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992, during the historic United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or “Earth Summit,” where Agenda 21 was signed.  The agreement was negotiated openly in advance, with input from governments, corporations, and civil society.  Its purpose was to suggest principles, policies, and guidelines that could help the nations of the world move cooperatively into the 21st century (hence the name) in ways that could both protect the earth and raise poor nations out of poverty.

 Agenda 21 is not a treaty, so it was not ratified by the Senate.  It does not have the force of law.  It is non-binding, to be enacted voluntarily as governments see fit.  Some jurisdictions in various countries, including the United States, have enacted policies based on  Agenda 21’s suggested principles, such as protecting biodiversity, controlling pollution,  reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the progression of global warming, combating poverty, strengthening the role of marginalized groups, etc.  Agenda 21does not infringe upon national, state, or local sovereignty.  It’s goal is not to abolish private property or take away our freedoms or create an “eco-dictatorship,” regardless of what Glen Beck or Fox News have to say.

 The TPP

Now let’s look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.  It is being negotiated secretly, behind closed doors.  The public does not have access to the draft, yet corporations have not only seen it but are helping to write it.  Portions of the document have been leaked, so we know that this so-called “free-trade agreement” deals with far more than trade.   If enacted, its reach will extend into every aspect of our lives. 

 Unlike Agenda 21, the TPP would take precedence over U.S. law, and would bind us far more than any treaty.   The enforcement mechanism of treaties is internal to each country, but the enforcement of trade agreements is external.  If our government refuses to change a federal, state, or local law that is ruled “illegal” under the TPP, fines or tariffs would be leveled against us.  The position of the U.S. government is that we will change our laws to comply with the terms of  trade agreements.  This has resulted in many of our democratically-enacted laws being overturned through World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunals.

 The TPP incorporates the worst of the WTO and NAFTA, and expands corporate rule even further.  With the WTO, a corporation has to convince a government to file a dispute against (sue) another country.  With the TPP, as with NAFTA, a corporation can sue a country directly for lost profits, past, present, and future.  In other words, if people in a particular town rise up to prevent a corporation from building a power plant, the corporation can sue the federal government for profits they might have realized if the project had gone ahead.

The TPP not only threatens U.S. sovereignty, it places corporate profits above the democratic  process.  Why the silence on the TPP?  Why the alarmist rhetoric about Agenda 21?  I agree with Thom Hartmann’s analysis:  “It’s a sleight-of-hand technique to keep us focused on bogeymen, while the ranks of Texas oilmen, outsourcing CEOs, and Wall Street banksters carry out the true destruction of the United States of America: the pillaging of the Middle Class at home and the construction of a WTO-style one-world corporate government to promote unfettered capitalism and free trade everywhere on the planet.”

The major challenges facing humanity will require global cooperation, through open negotiation and the input of civil society.  It’s a big mistake to abandon our precious world to agreements like the TPP, a corporate bill of rights that would result in the consolidation of corporate rule.

 

The damage caused by free-trade agreements motivated me to write Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economy, a description of its rule-making institutions (such as the WTO and NAFTA),  nonviolent resistance to global corporate empire, and globalization from below.

For more truth-telling about Agenda 21, see Thom Hartmann’s “Agenda 21: The Latest Sleight of Hand Trick by Corporate Elite” or the scholarly article on “Property Rights and Sustainability” by ethicist Donald Brown.

Find out more about the TPP and take action to Stop the TPP at Popular Resistance .  Find more resources at Public Citizen  or Flush the TPP

 

Corporations Can’t Dance

parade 2012

According to U.S. law, corporations are “persons” under the law and are entitled to the constitutional rights and protections that we human beings have fought for and won over the centuries.  This has created a crisis in our democracy, because of the huge power imbalance between corporations and regular human beings.  Transnational corporations can harness their vast wealth to purchase media time and political power to use as a megaphone to drown out the voices of “we the people.”

Of course, everyone knows that corporations aren’t really persons.  For one thing, corporations can’t dance.  But we can!  Rehearsals start on Wednesday, June 19, at 6 p.m. in Pioneer Park in Nevada City for the “Corporations Aren’t People” dance that we will be doing in the 4th of July parade.

This will be fun!  Last July 4 our local Move to Amend group won third place in the Nevada City parade. This year the parade will be in Grass Valley, and our contingent will be bigger, more colorful, and will have even better music.  It will be a parade within a parade.  It will start with people carrying a big banner that says “Corporations are not people” and end with another that says “Money is not speech.”  Our Move to Amend truck, “Bubba,” will carry children and play  the Corporations Aren’t People song (adapted from Depeche Mode’s “People are People”).  We will have as many dancers as possible–last year at least 20 of us danced.   Others in our group will walk, carrying signs and passing out literature.  A few “corporate persons” will be in costume as well. See us in last year’s parade video.  You can also watch the full training video with Amous Lou, set in my living room with her kids playing around her.  Join us or use the training video to prepare for a parade or a flash mob.

Our local Move to Amend group is part of the National Move to Amend coalition.  We support the passage of a constitutional amendment that would make it clear once and for all that corporations are not persons and money does not qualify as free speech. We support the “We the People Amendment,” which has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Corporations can’t dance.  Nor do they breathe air or eat food or drink water.  They can’t love or take action for the common good.  Their only conscience is the bottom line.  As John Steinbeck said in The Grapes of Wrath, “They breathe profits:  They eat the interest on money.”

But we can dance, and we will.  We will celebrate our humanity, our ability to love, our commitment to clean air, clean water, and clean food.  And we will celebrate the “power of the people” and our determination to create a working democracy for the sake of the whole community of life.

(To find out more about our local group, go to our Nevada County Move to Amend website or our FaceBook page.  Go to the national Move to Amend website for more information or to find a group near you.  For more of my writings on this topic, see “They Breathe Profits” or “Democracy is for People.”  Sign up if you want to receive notice by email of my blog postings.)

Stop the Global Warming Train

train

I’m grateful this morning for the weather.  There’s been plenty of rain in the past few days.  The sun is out now, along with the clouds, and there’s a nice, cool breeze.  Mmmmm.  Lovely.

I’m grateful that we have weather at all.  I’m grateful for the exquisitely balanced climate system, which has evolved along with life as we know it over billions of years.  I’m also deeply concerned about the disruption of the climate system and the warming of the earth caused by ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

This is no hoax, even though 240 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted that it is.  How can they believe this?  To whom are they listening?  Not to the majority of scientists, for whom  the debate is over about the two key facts about climate change:  1) Global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and 2) This trend is caused primarily by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases.  Go to The Consensus Project to find out more.

There is debate and skepticism among scientists about other issues related to climate change, such as climate sensitivity, projected rates of warming and other effects of continued greenhouse gas emissions, analysis of factors leading to short-term fluctuations (such as “flattening”) of the warming effect, what if any action should be taken (nuclear power, fracking, renewables, etc.)  After all, science is a skeptical discipline.  But there is a strong scientific consensus about the above key facts.

Still, the Global Warming Train continues to pick up speed, with CO2 emissions reaching 400 parts per million (ppm) this month.  Those who are driving the train, the policy makers (such as the House members), must not be listening primarily to scientists.  They must be listening to someone else.

In last night’s presentation on climate change, we looked at the controversy surrounding climate change.  For the most part it is a political and ideological controversy.  Climate change skeptics downplay, deny, or dismiss the key facts of global warming based on politics, economics, or ideology.  The popular media in the United States treats the key scientific facts as debatable.  The fossil fuels industry and their supporters, free-market think tanks (such as the Heartland Institute), and anti-science religious associations (such as the Cornwall Alliance) actively work to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming.  No wonder people are confused and feel powerless to take action.

This raises the question of who is actually driving the Global Warming Train.  Policy makers in government have special responsibility.  But when corporations write laws, create industry-funded “studies,” and dominate the media and the political process, they are also driving the train.  Furthermore, policy decisions are made in the context of the global system of unrestrained free-market capitalism, which is based on the values of greed and profit.  Those who are driving the train have a vested interest in keeping the current system in place.

Many people are already getting run over by the Global Warming Train, especially those who live in poor nations that are especially sensitive to climate change, along with poor people everywhere.  Some of us are passengers.  We pay our fare and help support the system by buying gas for our cars, heating our homes, taking airplanes.  Some of us may feel guilty for doing so.  Some of us try to live simply and reduce our carbon footprint, but still the train is accelerating.  What can we do?

Last night we began to answer that question by looking at what we could do as a society if it were politically possible.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels and invest in conservation and renewable energy.
  2. Stop subsidizing agribusiness and invest in supporting small organic farms.
  3. Stop using the U.S. military to preserve access to oil.
  4. Engage in good-faith negotiations toward an international treaty with binding limits of greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Employ a progressive “fee and dividend” approach to lowering emissions.

What we can do and what we must do is change what is possible.  The rest of the presentation covered some of the things that people are doing to bring about positive systemic change.  “Another world is possible” has become the slogan of the global justice movement.

Humanity is captive, on a train towards irreversible, catastrophic climate change.  Those who are driving are debating about how fast we are going, what’s up ahead, what would happen if we slowed down, why we should (or should not) keep going.  They are making policy decisions that affect all of humanity, other species, and future generations.

Meanwhile the train is picking up speed.  We see the signposts as we go by:  350 ppm, 400 ppm.  At what point do we decide to take responsibility for ourselves and our fellow passengers?  At what point do we decide to stop the Global Warming Train?

A Call to Resist

Occupy Wall Street 053

Chris Hedges has again issued a call to conversion, a call to leave behind the moral inertia that the global system of corporate domination instills in its subjects, a call to rise up for the sake of life.  He says, “It is time to build radical mass movements that defy all formal centers of power and make concessions to none.” He goes so far as to say, “Resistance to tyranny saves our souls.”  Read the article here:  We, the Vast Underclass, Must Rise Up Against Global Mafia – or Die.

In this article, Hedges likens the global system of unrestrained free-market capitalism to the doomed ship Pequod in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  He writes, “We are sailing on a maniacal voyage of self-destruction, and no one in a position of authority, even if he or she sees what lies ahead, is willing or able to stop it. Those on the Pequod who had a conscience, including Starbuck, did not have the courage to defy Ahab. The ship and its crew were doomed by habit, cowardice and hubris. Melville’s warning must become ours. Rise up or die.”

This is a call to conversion because Chris Hedges warns not only of the economic, social, and environmental results of corporate domination, but also of the spiritual effects:  “habit, cowardice and hubris.”  He also points a way forward:  “Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred.”

I, too, issue this call in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.  In the excerpt below, “The Spiritual Effects of the Powers:  A Paralyzed Conscience,” I address the inner, spiritual effects of the Powers, the political, economic, and military institutions that make up the system of global capitalism, and I point to resistance as a way to respond as fully human beings:

“The negative external effects of the Powers at work in the world today are not too difficult to see: environmental destruction, growing inequity, violence, and so on. But the internal effects are what prevent most people from effectively engaging the Powers. These internal effects are apathy and moral confusion.

“At some level we all know that if we do not take responsibility, our children or grandchildren will have to deal with the consequences of our inaction. For instance, at some level everyone must know that society’s addiction to fossil fuels is unsustainable. But people feel powerless to stop, hopeless about significantly changing what seems to be the inevitable course of events.

“The demons of anxiety, apathy, denial, despair, rage, helplessness, and hopelessness are pervasive in our culture. They are the other side of the colorful media images of seemingly endless choices of products and entertainment opportunities. People try to lock out the reality that threatens the future, and the Powers are quite willing to help. In fact, that is what they require of human beings: to become less than fully human and to leave the Powers in control.

“How can we live humanly, enmeshed as we are in a global system that is creating misery, destroying life, and threatening the future? In times when social sin and institutional evil are pervasive, the only way to remain human is to resist.

“Resistance can take many forms. Resistance grounded in faith begins with spiritual struggle. In the words of Jim Douglass, from his book Resistance and Contemplation, ‘In solitude, in the depth of aloneness, lie the resources for resistance to injustice. Resistance arises first from a perception of suffering and from the assumption of one’s own responsibility to seek the transformation of a murderous system into a human society. . . . In the age of genocide, to be human is to resist.’”