Trans-Pacific Partnership, media, corruption and security

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This essay is on Wikiversity to encourage a wide discussion of the issues it raises moderated by the Wikimedia rules that invite contributors to “be bold but not reckless,” contributing revisions written from a neutral point of view, citing credible sources -- and raising other questions and concerns on the associated '“Discuss”' page.

This essay primarily discusses sections of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will strengthen the ability of governments to limit freedom of the press and prosecute journalists and whistleblowers who expose violations of laws committed by businesses and governmental officials. It includes a summary of evidence suggesting that the current secrecy rules of the U.S. government may actually threaten national security, defined in terms of the well-being of the bottom 99 percent.

Other concerns with the TPP are also discussed: (a) The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions of the TPP could require taxpayers in signatory countries to reimburse energy companies for loss of profits from changes in law designed to reduce human contributions to global warming while similarly requiring taxpayers to reimburse other corporations for efforts to reduce loss of life from product and workplace safety problems. (b) The TPP also strengthens intellectual property law by potentially extending some patents indefinitely[1] and expanding copyright protections that many believe are already excessive. (c) It also threatens the open nature of the Internet by making it easier for people with deep pockets to take down web sites they don't like.

The essay then identifies actions that anyone can take to obtain better information about current affairs and use that information to improve government.

TPP, journalists, whistleblowers, corruption, peace and security[edit | edit source]

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) reportedly will strengthen the abilities of governments to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers who expose violations of laws committed by public officials and protected by fraudulent claims of national security.[2] This is a major problem at least to the extent that corruption expands to consume the available money -- and may threaten national security, because it encourages government officials to commit acts of war against foreign powers in secret, violating constitutional safeguards.[3]

To the extent that the TPP does chill free speech, it makes it easier for governments to stifle dissent in the name of national security. It makes it easier for public servants to violate the law without fear of exposure. It is therefore wonderful for those engaged in bribery and for politicians soliciting huge campaign contributions virtually required to get elected under current US law (especially after Citizens United v. FEC). It's wonderful for politicians and bureaucrats who secretly violate the constitution and their oaths of office by, for example, organizing coups to destroy democracy in foreign countries, as the US did in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973, and possible others that are still classified (arguably in violation of US law). Have the policies that support these efforts made us better off? U.S. President Obama “asked the C.I.A. to analyze examples of America financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.”[4]

Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, has told the world that she was tortured by a dictatorship that came to power on secret orders from U.S. President Johnson. Are the current government secrecy rules, reportedly strengthened by the TPP, a “threat to democracy and the American way of life”, as Ted Gup, has claimed?[5][6][7] If the final text includes these types of provisions, it will encourage even more outrageous behavior by public servants, giving them increased confidence that their crimes will not be exposed.

Whether or not the TPP represents a “threat to democracy and the American way of life”, some are calling for increased protection of whistleblowers. Courts in the U.S. do not allow defendants in whistleblowing cases to suggest that a classification might be unwarranted. Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, stated that this practice would not allow Ed Snowden to get a fair trial in the U.S.

“Daniel Kaye, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, recently submitted a report to the General Assembly on the protection of whistleblowers and sources.”[8][9] One proposal of this nature is the so-called Snowden Treaty, that “would set global standards against surveillance and protect whistleblowers”.[10][11]

All this suggests that we need a full and open public debate about whether current secrecy rules have made us better or worse off. If the TPP would strengthen the ability of governments to persecute journalists and whistleblowers, we need that discussion now. Otherwise the TPP could be ratified without such debate, possibly as early as January 3, 2016, 90 days after the agreement was officially announced on Oct. 5 (even though the text of the agreement is apparently still secret as of Oct. 27, 2015).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement[edit | edit source]

On 5 October 2015 economists Joseph Stiglitz and Adam S. Hersh questioned the ISDS provisions of the TPP. "To be sure," they wrote, "investors — wherever they call home — deserve protection from expropriation or discriminatory regulations. But ISDS goes much further: The obligation to compensate investors for losses of expected profits can and has been applied even where rules are nondiscriminatory and profits are made from causing public harm. ... Imagine what would have happened if these provisions had been in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered. Rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens. Taxpayers would have been hit twice — first to pay for the health damage caused by asbestos, and then to compensate manufacturers for their lost profits when the government stepped in to regulate a dangerous product."[12] This is hardly a spurious speculation: Philip Morris has already sued Uruguay, Norway and Australia under similar ISDS provisions of other free trade agreements for loss of profits due to tighter packaging requirements that have contributed to a reduction of smoking in those countries. Because of controversy around these cases, tobacco has apparently been excluded from the ISDS provisions of the TPP.

However, many (if not all) other industries may be allowed similar access to ISDS procedures to recoup profits supposedly lost due to governmental action. Stiglitz provided a specific example: He claimed that the TPP would give oil companies the right to sue governments for lost profits due to efforts to reduce carbon emissions and global warming.[13]

Intellectual property[edit | edit source]

The Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution says, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Some are concerned that the intellectual property provisions of the TPP would stifle rather than “promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” by security exclusive rights for almost unlimited terms and in ways that are unduly broad.

Stiglitz and Hersh[12] claimed that, “pharmaceutical companies would effectively be allowed to extend — sometimes almost indefinitely — their monopolies on patented medicines, keep cheaper generics off the market, and block “biosimilar” competitors from introducing new medicines for years.” Supporters claim that the extra revenue would allow the pharmaceutical companies to invest in developing even better therapies.

Lawrence Lessig believes that current U.S. copyright law already violates the US constitution, because “limited times” are now effectively unlimited -- Copyright protection generally lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. If the work was a "work for hire", then copyright persists for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter.

But the law is also so vague that major industry organizations have used Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) to throttle competition. For example, Lessig's Free Culture documents how major media corporations sued:

  • College students for close to $100 billion, because their improvements of search engines made it easier for people in a university intranet to find copyrighted music placed by others in their "public" folder.
  • Lawyers who advised that they had reasonable grounds to believe streaming an MP3 uploaded by a customer only to computers that the customer has logged-in on for the service is legal, and
  • Venture Capitalists who funded Napster.

The result is a legal and economic environment that stifles "the Progress of Science and useful Arts", exactly the opposite of the purpose cited in the US Constitution.

Lessig said that one of the most vibrant comics industry in the world is in Japan, where the local culture simply does not allow enforcement of their copyright law, modeled after the U.S. There have been substantial protests in Japan against the TPP on these grounds.

What you can do[edit | edit source]

This section discusses different things that any individual anywhere can potentially do to strengthen democracy, rule of law, and the prospects for international peace and security while reducing political corruption. These are independent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Develop a voracious appetite for credible information that contradicts your preconceptions[edit | edit source]

Humans tend to discount and overlook information that contradicts our preconceptions.[14] Nearly everyone gives too much credibility to things that come readily to mind. This is fine in situations where our intuition leads us to do things that work well on average without excessive risks of disaster. It is essential in situation of great danger where failing to act is more risky than acting immediately on our preconceptions. However, it creates problems where substantially better options are available to those who look carefully.

Even experts have problems with this, except in fields where clear, immediate feedback is routinely available. Without such feedback, experts are routinely beaten by simple rules of thumb designed by a lay person of average intelligence.[15]

Bottom line: Don't trust your intuition on important issues. Look for credible information that contradicts your preconceptions. And remain skeptical of the things you think you know.

Talk politics with virtually anyone and everyone to the extent feasible without excessive risk[edit | edit source]

Many people say, “We don't talk politics.” However, conservative w:Grover Norquist and liberal w:Ralph Nader agree on many things. Norquist endorsed Nader's 2014 book, Unstoppable: The emerging left-right alliance to dismantle the corporate state[16] This book notes that there is broad public support (between 60 and 80 percent of the electorate on many issues) for many reforms that do not get discussed in our nations legislatures, because people who control major advertising and campaign contribution budgets don't want them.

We need to find ways to make “Talking politics” the national sport. Obviously, we need to be careful about offending customers and co-workers or being attacked for inflammatory rhetoric. However, if we ask more questions, make fewer statements, and accept differences of opinion, we might find sufficient common ground to be able to build coalitions for constructive change.

Some experts claim that elections cannot support personal and political freedom without civil society -- without a culture where people discuss their lives, identify issues of common concern, and collaborate on improvement efforts. In his 1835 Democracy in America, De Tocqueville wrote, “the most democratic country on the face of the earth is that in which men have, in our time, carried to the highest perfection the art of” creating and using associations to help improve all manner of issues.[17] The converse is also true: Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes collapse when confronted with nonviolent resistance that convinces enough regime supporters to defect.[18]

Contact governmental officials[edit | edit source]

In electoral democracies, some of the most effective political actions by individuals involves direct contacts with elected representatives or their staffs. This can take the form of phone calls, letters, petitions, and meetings with small groups of concerned citizens. People can meet in small groups, develop common position statements, and share those with elected representatives, possibly after collecting signatures from others who may share the concerns but may not find the time to attend a particular meeting.

This may not be feasible in a country without a functioning democracy and effective legal support for peaceful assembly and free speech.

However, a number of studies have found that as voter participation declines, government officials pay increasing attention to the elites.[citation needed] That's hardly shocking; we can hope that it will serve to inspire more people to talk politics to the maximum extent feasible, including with potential opponents and with policy makers.

Nonviolence: A force more powerful[edit | edit source]

Nonviolent political activities help organize and energize participants while increasing awareness of their concerns. People wanting to protect the status quo sometimes send agents provocateur to try to disrupt planning sessions or produce violence to discredit participants in the eyes of the media. Even in relatively open, democratic societies like the United States, political activities unpopular with elites can be risky, as witness by the people murdered and imprisoned for nonviolent activities like protesting and asking people to register to vote during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The strength of nonviolence has been powerfully documented in a study of all the major violent and nonviolent governmental change efforts of the twentieth century: Chenoweth and Stephan found that 53 percent of the nonviolent campaigns were successful while only 26 percent of the violent revolutions were.[19] Chenoweth and Stephan found that virtually all victories were achieved through defections, which were more common in response to nonviolent than violent challenges. The reason is simple: Most people have more to fear from violent revolutionaries than from nonviolent demonstrators, and previous supporters often want to distance themselves from governments that use violence perceived to be inappropriate.

Moreover, the worst outcome for the long term prospects for democracy is if violent revolutionaries win, because they bring to power people who know how to settle arguments with guns.

References[edit | edit source]

Kahneman, Daniel (2011), Thinking, Fast and Slow, FSG, ISBN 978-0-374-27563-1

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Stiglitz, Joseph; Hersh, Adam S. (2015-10-05), Opinion: The Trans-Pacific Partnership charade: TPP isn’t about ‘free’ trade at all, MarketWatch, retrieved 2015-10-28
  2. Jeremy Malcolm wrote that, “There are no safeguards to protect investigative journalists, security researchers or whistleblowers, who may obtain access to information without criminal or commercial intent. The inevitable result will be to chill the speech of those who might otherwise have a valid public interest justification for releasing information that had been kept secret.” Stephen Benavides claimed further that under TPP “Article QQ.H.8, investigative journalists and whistleblowers would be subject to criminal prosecution for unauthorized disclosure of 'trade secrets'.” As of this writing, this author has yet to see the official text of the agreement announced weeks ago on Oct. 5, 2015; the best we have is the Wikileaks version cited after Malcolm and Benavides:
  3. The finance industry in the US was a primary source of funds for Obama's election campaigns, and not a single finance executive has been prosecuted in spite of substantial evidence of fraud. By contrast, in Iceland, “26 top bankers [were] sent to prison for role in financial crisis”.
  4. Mazzetti, Mark (2014-10-14), "C.I.A. Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels", New York Times, retrieved 2015-10-25
  5. Gup, Ted (2007), Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life, Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-51475-0
  6. Graves, Spencer (2014-07-18), Restrict secrecy more than data collection, San Jose Peace & Justice Center, retrieved 2015-10-27
  7. Graves, Spencer (2014-07-05), Restrict secrecy more than data collection, YouTube, retrieved 2015-10-27
  8. Hempowicz, Elizabeth "Liz" (October 20, 2015), United Nations: Whistleblowers Need Protection, Project on Government Oversight, retrieved 2015-10-25
  9. Kaye, David (2015-09-08), Promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression: Note by the Secretary-General**, United Nations General Assembly, retrieved 2015-10-25
  10. Resnikoff, Ned (2015-09-24), "Edward Snowden, supporters, unveil anti-spying 'Snowden Treaty'", Al Jazeera America, retrieved 2015-10-25
  11. What is the “Snowden Treaty”?, Snowden Treaty, 2015, retrieved 2015-10-25
  12. 12.0 12.1 Stiglitz, Joseph; Hersh, Adam S. (2015-10-05), Opinion: The Trans-Pacific Partnership charade: TPP isn’t about ‘free’ trade at all, MarketWatch, retrieved 2015-10-28
  13. Goodman, Amy; Stiglitz, Joseph (2015-10-27), Joseph Stiglitz: Under TPP, Polluters Could Sue U.S. for Setting Carbon Emissions Limits, retrieved 2015-10-27
  14. Research psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for seminal research in this area. See, e.g., Kahneman (2011).
  15. Kahneman (2011, pp. 11-12, 217-221, 242-244)
  16. Nader, Ralph (2014), Unstoppable: The emerging left-right alliance to dismantle the corporate state, Nation Books, ISBN 9781568584546
  17. Tocqueville, Alexis, "5. Of the use which the Americans make of public associations in civil life", Democracy in America, retrieved 2015-10-26
  18. Chenoweth, Erica; Stephan, Maria (2011), Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Columbia U. Pr., ISBN 978-0-231-15682-0
  19. Chenoweth, Erica; Stephan, Maria (2011), Why civil resistance works : the strategic logic of nonviolent conflict, Columbia U. Pr., ISBN 9780231156820