In 2002, it was reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had told a friend an amusing tale about our man George W. Bush. It seems that the two of them and French President Jacques Chirac had gotten into an economics discussion, after which George supposedly confided to Tony that he was decidedly unimpressed with Jacques' views: "The problem with the French," Bush scoffed, "is that they don't have a word for 'entrepreneur.'"
W's head has always been a no-fly-zone for factual reality. However, what would boggle his mind even more than the fact that we Americans filched that word from the French, is the reality that government is not quite the entrepreneur-devouring ogre (Mon dieu! George, another French word!) that Bush's cartoonish dogma paints it to be. Actually, government-at-its-best can be an entrepreneur's buddy. One surprising place to see this buddyship at work is in one of the most mundane of government offices: Procurement (i.e., the Department of Buying Stuff).
Where does your mayor, school board, governor, or any other "public shopper" go to purchase fixtures, food, furniture, ferns, and whatnot? Where I live, various agencies have Buy Austin, Buy Texas, Buy American, Buy Green, Buy Sweatshop-Free, and other targeted policies that apply our tax dollars to our values. This sensible idea has swept across the country, most likely including where you live, and these agency purchases add up to a big financial boost for start-ups, independents, women-owned, and other homegrown enterprises. Rather than buying everything from Walmart or China (excuse the redundancy there) -- thus shipping truckloads and boatloads of cash out of our communities -- plow that public money back into the home turf for grassroots economic growth and the flowering of local jobs.
Stop making sense
Imagine the uproar if President Obama and Congress tried to pass a bill to outlaw such "preferential procurement" policies, summarily canceling our democratic right to decide where to make public purchases. I'd get pretty PO'd, wouldn't you? And what if they also proposed that foreign corporations in Brunei, New Zealand, Vietnam, and other nations must be given the right to make the sale on any and all products purchased with our tax dollars? That'd set my hair on fire!
The American people would never stand for this brazen affront to our sovereignty, so I can assure you that Obama and Congress will definitely NOT be proposing any such thing. Not directly, that is.
Instead, their hope is to tiptoe it around us. The nullification of our people's right to direct expenditures of our own tax dollars is but one of the horror stories being quietly packed into a political-and-economic bombshell benignly labeled TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
This thing is a supersized and nuclearized NAFTA, the 1994 trade scam rammed through Congress by Bill Clinton, Wall Street's Robert Rubin, and the entire corporate establishment. They promised that the "glories of globalization" would shower prosperity across our land. They lied. Corporations got the gold. We got the shaft -- thousands of factories closed, millions of middle-class jobs went south, and the economies of hundreds of towns and cities (including Detroit) were hollowed out. (Most Mexicans got the NAFTA shafta, too. US grain traders like ADM dumped corn into Mexico, wiping out millions of peasant farmers' livelihoods, and thousands of local businesses were crushed when Walmart invaded with its Chinese-made wares.)
Twenty years later, the corporate gang that stuck us with NAFTA is back, hoping to fool us with an even more destructive multinational deal. (This calls for another immortal quote from George W: "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again." Well, you know what he meant).
This time we really must pay attention, because TPP is not just another trade deal. First, it is massive and open-ended. It would hitch us immediately to 11 Pacific Rim nations (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam), and its door would remain wide open to lure China, Indonesia, Russia, and other nations to come in. Second, note that many of those countries already have trade agreements with the US. Hence, THIS AMAZING FACT: TPP is a "trade deal" that mostly does not deal with trade. In fact, of the 29 chapters in this document, only five cover traditional trade matters!
The other two dozen chapters amount to a devilish "partnership" for corporate protectionism. They create sweeping new "rights" and escape hatches to protect multinational corporations from accountability to our governments... and to us. Here are a few of TPP's provisos that would make our daily lives riskier, poorer, and less free:
Food safety. Any of our government's food safety regulations (on pesticide levels, bacterial contamination, fecal exposure, toxic additives, GMOs, non-edible fillers, etc.) that are stricter than "international standards," as most are, could be ruled as "illegal trade barriers." Then our government would have to revise our consumer protections to comply with the weaker global standards. Also, our government could no longer ban meat imports that don't meet our safe-to-eat laws, as long as the exporting nation simply claims that its inspection system is "equivalent" to ours. In addition, food labeling laws we rely on (organic, country-of-origin, animal-welfare approved, GMO-free, etc.) would also be subject to challenge as trade barriers.
Fracking... Our Department of Energy would lose its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to any TPP nation. This would create an explosion of the destructive fracking process across our land, for both foreign and US corporations could export fracked gas from America to member nations without any DOE review of the environmental and economic impacts on local communities--or on our national interests. It also means that most of the gas produced by this violently polluting process will not go to us, but to foreign users, which will raise our consumer prices and cut manufacturing growth.
Jobs... US corporations would get special foreign-investor protections to limit the cost and risk of relocating their factories to low-wage nations that sign onto this agreement. For example, an American corporation thinking about moving a factory would know it is guaranteed a sweetheart deal if it exports to a TPP nation like Vietnam. The corporation could skirt Vietnam's laws and demand compensation at an international tribunal for any government policy or action (such as a hike in the minimum wage) that undermined its "expected" profits. These guarantees would be strong incentives for corporate chieftains to export even more of our middle-class jobs.
Drug prices... Big Pharma would be given more years of monopoly pricing on each of their patents and be empowered to block distribution of cheaper generic drugs. Besides artificially keeping everyone's prices high, this would be a death sentence to many people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases in impoverished lands. The deal would also restrict the rights of our government to negotiate with drug giants to get lower consumer prices with bulk purchases, as Medicare and Medicaid do in the US.