Will the Chilean People Save the U.S. by Electing Michelle Bachelet?

By William K. Black

For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  John: 3:20

The effort by corporate CEOs to dominate the global economy and global government is reaching the end-game stage.  Corporate CEOs view government and democracy as their gravest threats and are constantly seeking to discredit and hamstring government and democratic decision-making.  CEOs are particularly eager to discredit, destroy, or capture regulation and they have enlisted enormous support in both major U.S. parties and many of the world’s dominant parties for these efforts.  President Obama has continued and made worse the effort of President Bush to betray our nation, our democracy, and our people through the secret, draft Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.  In this first column on TPP I explain that while there is no realistic chance of convincing Obama to repudiate the TPP, there is a chance that the people of Chile will save our democracy and our national sovereignty.

Chile’s national election will occur on November 17, 2013 and it is widely expected to return former President Michelle Bachelet to power.  In this article I describe the disgraceful position that the U.S. has taken in the TPP negotiations in which it sides with corporate interests rather than the victims of a terrible parasitical infection that is epidemic in much of Latin America and a serious problem in the United States.  Chagas is a serious problem in Chile, which is one of the countries negotiating TPP.

The failure of Chile under President Sebastián Piñera’s leadership (and the failure of Peru and Mexico) to stand up to the U.S. and expose and block its effort to block vital treatment for victims of Chagas disease represents a national disgrace by the heads of state of the U.S., Chile, Peru, and Mexico.

Progressives should urge Dr. Bachelet, should she be elected President, to make the full drafts of TPP public immediately.  Dr. Bachelet is a pediatrician who doubtless treated victims of Chagas disease.  She will understand fully the threat posed by the TPP to public health.  I urge her to demand that the draft TPP be scrapped and fundamentally changed to build democracy and national sovereignty and to control the multinational corporations rather than allow them and their plutocrat panels to dominate and denigrate democracy and national sovereignty.

CEOs are mounting their most audacious assault on national sovereignty, the rule of law, and democracy through TPP.  If this assault succeeds there will no longer be any democratic means to defeat the CEOs.  The assault cannot be mounted openly, for the peoples of the world would reject the CEOs’ demands by an overwhelming margin.  The assault is taking place under conditions of extreme secrecy.  But for groups like Public Citizen and WikiLeaks we would have woken up to a fait accompli and had no democratic recourse.

WikiLeaks revealed part of the draft, secret TPP text on November 13, 2013.  It deals with Intellectual Property (IP).  WikiLeaks explained the TPP process.

“Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text.”

The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013.”

This article on TPP discusses only one obscene example of the Obama administration’s positions in TPP.  Broader analyses of why TPP betrays our democracy and national sovereignty have been done well by others, particularly Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach.  I applaud her efforts and thank her for providing me with source materials.

The partial draft of the TPP agreement on IP and health contains this provision.

“Article QQ.A.5: {Understandings Regarding Certain Public Health Measures7}

The Parties have reached the following understandings regarding this Chapter:

The obligations of this Chapter do not and should not prevent a Party from taking measures to protect public health by promoting access to medicines for all, in particular concerning cases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, [US oppose: chagas] and other epidemics as well as circumstances of extreme urgency or national emergency. Accordingly, while reiterating their commitment to this Chapter, the Parties affirm that this Chapter can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of each Party’s right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”

The “US oppose[s]” adding “chagas” to this list of exceptions.  Chagas is a very nasty, sometimes lethal, parasite that causes immense misery from most of the U.S. to Argentina.  Over 8 million people are infected with Chagas disease in Latin America.  It is estimated that 500,000 Americans suffer from Chagas disease.

Chagas is particularly common in rural Mexico and Bolivia.  In addition to its primary insect vector, It can be spread through contaminated food, blood transfusions, and by an infected mother to her fetus.  This means that Chagas disease is a serious threat to Americans as well as our neighbors.  Chagas is insidious because it often lacks observable symptoms during its chronic infection phase, even when it is causing potentially fatal damage to the heart.

Vigorous efforts to reduce Chagas (there is no vaccine) should be a high priority for the U.S. and Latin America (Mexico, Chile, and Peru are also parties to the TPP negotiations).  The U.S., however, is insisting on excluding Chagas disease from the list of “epidemics” for which a nation may “protect public health by promoting access to medicines for all.”  This kind of “understanding” clause is designed to provide guidance on the correct interpretation of TPP.  It appears that the current state of the TPP draft is that the other nations included Chagas but it was excluded from this clause due to the sole opposition of the U.S.  The provision of “access to medicines for all” is particularly vital in the case of Chagas disease because early drug treatments of infected newborns are extremely effective in eliminating the disease in newborns who were infected maternally.

The combination of indifference to the victims of Chagas disease and depravity of trying to prevent governments making available low or no-cost medicines to the victims – an action that will lead to many more victims (including tens of thousands of American victims) is so obscene that it brings to mind what lawyers consider the most perfect and deserved legal insult.

Richard Kluger quotes this passage from Plessy (the Supreme Court decision that upheld racial segregation as consistent with “equal protection of the laws”) in his book Simple Justice (1976):

“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Kluger then comments:

“Of all the words ever written in assessment of the Plessy opinion, none have been more withering than those … [of] Yale law professor Charles L. Black, Jr., who [said that in] … the two sentences… ‘The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.’”

The Obama administration’s effort to block governments from providing medicine to the victims of Chagas disease represents the intersection of callousness and stupidity at their respective maxima.  The heads of state of Chile, Mexico, and Peru have disgraced their office by failing to denounce the U.S. position on Chagas, to make public the TPP documents, and to withdraw from the treaty negotiations.

In his January 27, 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama blasted the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on grounds that help explain why TPP represents the ultimate in hypocrisy and betrayal of all that Obama claimed to champion.

“To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”     

Obama has caused the TPP to violate every standard he endorsed in his 2010 SOTU address.  Lobbyists are involved in making TPP policy – secretly rather than “openly.”  They need not disclose “contact[s]” with government officials making TPP policy.  There is no limit on the political contributions that corporations can make to influence TPP policy or disclosure of their lobbying positions.  The TPP is “bankrolled” by the world’s “most powerful [corporate] interests” including what Obama described as “worse” – “foreign corporations.”  TPP policies are not made by the American people, but they are also not made by our elected representatives in Congress.  TPP policies are kept secret from the citizens of every nation and their elected representatives in parliament.  Obama’s “fast track” process for adopting TPP is designed to eliminate normal congressional powers.  Obama knows TPP is indefensible and that 95% of Americans would vote against it.  He is desperate to avoid any open, democratic debate between the people of America and the corporations, most of them foreign, that TPP seeks to make our unelected, all-powerful rulers.  He “hateth the light” because sunlight remains the best disinfectant.  This is why President Bachelet could do the world a priceless service by immediately making public the entire travesty that is TPP.

Once TPP is adopted, democratic rights and national sovereignty will be extinguished by corporate power which can be exerted, again in secret, before a tribunal run by private lawyers (what I call the “plutocracy panels”) with strong conflicts of interest that lead them to favor corporate interests.  I will expand on that disgrace in a second column.  A nation that asserted its sovereign rights to protect its citizens from an epidemic such as Chagas (if U.S. opposition continues to exclude it from the list of epidemics that allow the nation to “protect public health by promoting access to medicines for all”) could be crippled by economic penalties that would literally bankrupt a nation.  A nation with a sovereign currency would normally be immune from bankruptcy, but the plutocracy panels have no meaningful limits on their powers so they could impose massive fines payable in another currency, which could bankrupt even nations with sovereign currencies.

Criminalize IP Violations: Ignore Fraud Epidemics Led by Bank CEOs

The Obama administration has, to date, failed to prosecute a single elite banker for the fraud epidemics that caused the financial crisis and the Great Recession, but it using the TPP to lead the charge to criminalize any alleged interference with intellectual property (IP) rights.  TPP mandates each signatory nation to make IP interference a criminal offense, to ensure that the criminal penalties are severe enough to deter violations, to make it a crime for any person to “aid and abet” an IP violation, and to provide for the destruction of materials found to violate the TPP provisions.  See “Article QQ.H.7: {Criminal Procedures and Remedies / Criminal Enforcement}.”

An IP “violation” could include providing free medicine to victims of health epidemics if it were, for example, a generic drug which a rival firm claimed to violate its trademark.  If the plutocracy panels decided in their secret hearings that an NGO had “aided and abetted” the doctors who committed the “crime” of providing free medicine to cure infants who were the victims of the Chagas epidemic (e.g., because they provided free generic drugs that the plutocrat panel decided violated another drug company’s trademark) the government of Chile would be required under TPP to prosecute the NGO and the doctors and to destroy any remaining generic medicine so that it could not be used to cure other infants infected with Chagas.  If the plutocracy panels found in their secret hearings that the government of Chile violated its TPP treaty obligations by refusing to prosecute the NGO or the doctors who provided free generic medicine to the infant victims of Chagas the plutocracy panel could fine the government of Chile billions of dollars.  The government of Chile would have no recourse – the corporate interests will hold all the cards under TPP.

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