By Stan Santos
President Obama Comes to Fresno
On Feb. 14, President Barack Obama arrived at the Fresno Airport aboard Air Force One accompanied by Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno). Hundreds of Fresno residents waited enthusiastically for a glimpse of their nation’s leader from the Chestnut Avenue side of the airport. The President’s jet landed and taxied to within a few hundred yards of the fence, then turned and stopped on the tarmac.
Rather than greet the public, the President’s entourage boarded a waiting helicopter that would take them to a series of press events with agricultural representatives focusing on the Valley’s drought-stricken west side. It was an impressive sight as several huge V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor military craft with security personnel lifted off in advance of and alongside the lumbering presidential helicopter.
Among the public were a few dozen protesters, several reportedly from the Tea Party. They sought to press Obama and Congress to build more dams, cut California’s high-speed rail and, as one of them told the cameras, “they should decrease the amount of water going to the fish and increase the amount of water going to the farmers.” That is their solution to a decades-old and increasingly complex global problem.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) converged on the public gathering with 15 activists and to their surprise were met by several energetic youths with signs opposing the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the NSA (National Security Agency). One of them, who will remain unidentified, said that they were simply an autonomous group of concerned people. They seemed to know exactly what their generation has to lose with the current “security state” and a world guided by agreements like the TPP.
While the cameras focused on the crowd, and interviewed the Tea Party activists, these tenacious individuals were determined to have their story told. They soon became the focus of the cameras, although the storyline read by commentators was not the same as what was reflected in their signs. Are local media representatives so uninformed that they do not know the difference between “Tea Party” and “TPP”? Should the public be concerned with this fact?
Why Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
What do workers in the United States share with farmers in Japan and Mexico, or children toiling in clothing sweatshops in Bangladesh? Why have thousands of men in rural communities in India committed suicide? They are all victims of the fast track of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It has been 20 years since these agreements were passed, and they have had tragic consequences. As if the fast tracking of NAFTA and WTO were not enough, the TPP carries even more risks for other countries, as well as our own fragile economic recovery.
The TPP, which is being negotiated at this time between 12 signatory countries, is sometimes referred to as “NAFTA on steroids!” Others liken it to “NAFTA and WTO on crack!”
The TPP obviously regulates investments by both U.S. investors in foreign operations and foreign investors in the United States. But it also touches patents, fish, cheese, biotechnology and, in one of its more frightening aspects, our freedom to unobstructed access to virtually anything on the Internet.
The source documents for any details are available only through WikiLeaks and require some patience and the ability to wade through lengthy legalistic language. But the truth comes through in the following phrases, which permeate the documents:
“Each Party may…adopt measures necessary to protect public health and nutrition…provided that such measures are consistent with the provisions of this Chapter.”
“With regards to the protection and defense of intellectual property referred to in this chapter, any advantage, favour, privilege or immunity granted by a Party to the nationals of any other country will be accorded immediately and unconditionally to the nationals of the other Parties.”
Under the “Rules of Origin,” another example:
“Do not consider origins of fishing products, obtained in third party territories.”
The TPP cites the WTO model regarding the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, which, according to the WTO, are “meant to ensure that regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles.”
How Does the TPP Affect the Internet?
The TPP requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to create programs that will search the Web and seek out anything that might be perceived as a copyright violation. This could be documents, music and technical or manufacturing products of a foreign national or U.S. citizen. The ISP is not only required to track and report but also to remove the material from the Web, which includes shutting down the Web site. And the threshold for proving violations is practically nonexistent, sacrificed by the need for immediate removal of the suspect material from the Internet.
The consequences for infractions under the TPP Internet authority include civil and criminal charges. If the ISP does not perform due diligence in this function, it will be subject to the same punitive measures. Imagine hundreds or perhaps even thousands of “virtual drones,” employing weapons in the form of algorithms and lines of code. They will search trillions of bits of data on servers and private computers, looking for anything that appears to be a copyright violation. Where would they draw the line? What other applications could personal information be subjected to? Where are the constitutional protections from illegal search and seizure and freedom of expression?
Fast Track Trade Authority
Just as dangerous as what is being negotiated is the manner in which negotiations are cloaked in secrecy and the return of fast track authority. Fast track came into being in 1974 under then President Richard Nixon and has reared its head under various administrations, including President Bill Clinton, when he signed NAFTA and the WTO in 1994. Fast track also brought about a similar trade agreement with Israel.
In the case of NAFTA, the negative trade balances that these agreements were meant to combat have grown. The United States continues to import far more from these countries than we export. One has to ask what benefit is derived from a free trade agreement with countries such as Vietnam (wages hover around 20 cents per hour) or Brunei, with GDPs that amount to a fraction of California’s? What will they buy from us?
These are questions that can only be resolved through transparent negotiations that are open to input from the public. At this time, fast track excludes the public from this knowledge because those details would likely doom it. And the TPP has no sunset. The measures would continue beyond the current administration, along with the ability to add signatory countries, including those with histories of severe human rights violations and deplorable working conditions.
Rep. Costa’s Washington legislative staff was asked why he did not sign a letter supported by more than 150 Democratic representatives asking for a halt to fast track. The D.C. staff simply stated that they did not know. When asked if the information was available for the public to view, they said no, but that Congress was our negotiator.
Was our Congressional Representative able to share any of those details? Again, the answer was no.
They were also asked about the tribunals that would resolve disputes between citizens or corporations of one country or another. They reportedly would have authority above and beyond the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court. Who would comprise the members of the tribunals? Would they be government officials, corporate representatives or lawyers? Again, Rep. Costa’s D.C. staff said they did not know.
When Rep. Costa was asked why he supported the TPP and fast track, he simply responded that the President had asked him to.
Media Coverage of the TPP
The CWA, along with affiliates of the Fresno-Tulare-Madera-Kings Central Labor Council and community groups such as Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), the Sierra Club and others, have held several informational pickets at Rep. Costa’s office in downtown Fresno. Announcements were sent to local media, packets were prepared and calls were made asking for coverage of what should be considered an important news item. In one case, the CWA representative was surprised when he called Channel 47 News, and the phone was answered by the same individual who answered the phone for Channel 24 News. He was quickly reminded that they are now one.
Since the efforts to stop the TPP have begun in Fresno, the only coverage has come from Channel 21 Univision and Channel 59 Telemundo, along with a small article in the Fresno Bee’s Business Section. Attempts by an officer of the CWA and Judy Hess of PDA to reach newsroom staff by going to their offices on the day of one event were met with unresponsive reception staff. A security guard at Channel 30 met them in the parking lot and said that they could not enter the station without an appointment.
There is a larger question of media ownership and control of the public’s right to know. Perhaps that is consistent with these times, when far-reaching agreements can be negotiated and signed without the input or knowledge of the public. The tide may be turning for fast track and the TPP with recent announcements of opposition by Sen. Harry Reid (D–Nev.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco). But what is next, and how will the public be informed?
For more information regarding the TPP and local efforts to stop it, contact Stan Santos at 559-908-6701 or visit www.cwa-9408.org.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at email@example.com.