Wednesday, May 29, 2013

With TPP's Fast Track Authority, Who Needs Congress?

Despite the Obama Administration’s well-known penchant for secrecy, enough information has leaked out of its closed-door negotiations on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to reveal there is much to oppose about the Mother of all Trade Agreements.  
Rarely mentioned in trade discussions is the inevitable connection between establishing a global corporate-financial apparatus within the military-economic objectives of American foreign policy.  After all, what country would dare reject American demands for ‘trade’ in the face of the most domineering military presence since the Roman Empire.   

According to “The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Authority” by Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, only five TPP chapters out of 29 are strictly devoted to ‘trade’ with the remainder focused on a broad array of public policy issues.  How would the American public respond if they knew that TPP’s agreed-upon authority will take absolute precedence over all relevant US Federal and state law representing a grave threat to our democratic federal republic.

As the TPP slides under the radar to Congressional approval, one of the more egregious elements of the Agreement is the not-so-innocuous-sounding Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  Also known as ‘fast track’ authority, the TPA is receiving little attention given TPP’s gargantuan nature with more widespread tentacles than any previous agreement that reaches far beyond  a basic trade agreement. Since the President considers ‘fast track’ essential to assure passage of what would otherwise be highly controversial if the American public were informed, the TPA will apply to not just a seriously-flawed TPP but to all future trade agreements, with a separate Congressional vote on the TPA  expected in June. 
After two years of clandestine discussions with a dozen, mostly Pacific Rim, countries, revelations have identified TPP’s  extraordinary attack on the sovereignty of established US law subject to an international tribunal as the Agreement takes a giant leap to generate a massive economic integration steamrolling toward a fully corporatized global economy.   

Never meant to be a vehicle for economic equality or noble ideals, here are two brief examples of how 600 participating corporations expect to amass unprecedented power to own the world:  the TPP would give companies the right to circumvent the judicial process as it challenges Federal and state regulations and ‘investor states” would allow corporations to sue a host government with a panel of private attorneys to act as judges.   

As proposed, the TPA would eliminate Congress’ Constitutional responsibility as defined in Article I, Section 8  to ‘regulate commerce with foreign nations.”  There is nothing ambiguous about Constitutional intent in 1789 – having just concluded a revolutionary war against an imperial autocrat with trade disputes a central issue, separation of powers and  ‘checks and balance’ were a clear decision by the country’s Founders to prevent a strong Executive from usurping power from the legislative branch – and that included foreign trade.   

What’s at issue is not just the TPA being used by a determined Executive to seize Congressional authority, much as the War Powers Act has been appropriated, but as a guise to push an objectionable trade agreement without the American public understanding how trans-national corporations are destabilizing the democratic principles of self-government.

Keeping in mind the magnitude of the issues encompassed by TPP (many details are still secret), here’s how ‘fast track’ would subvert Constitutional intent,  Congressional protocol and the public’s right to know:   there would be no public hearing, no witness testimony or debate by any Congressional committee, no ‘mark up’ of the TPP,  no amendments and no vote for adoption.  Instead, the TPP would go directly to the House/Senate floor for action within a prescribed timetable during which there would be no floor debate and no amendments with only one up-or-down vote – with the Senate probably not requiring the usual 60 vote majority.   In other words, if and when Congress approves the TPA, it will have willfully acquiesced its own legal authority and its legislative prerogative as well as its proper oversight role on Executive decision-making - as if intent to further destroy its already-dismal credibility.  

Since the Administration has refused to provide a draft for Congressional review,  and  no member of Congress has so far been allowed to attended the hush-hush negotiations, there will be no Congressional input into the TPP content with no assurance that the Agreement will reflect the needs of the American people.  Admittedly it might be delusional to suggest that a mediocre Congress might  have the intellectual wherewithal to make a meaningful contribution or that a comatose Congress might recognize the stunning revelation that the TPA  violates the fundamental rules of American governance.

None of this should come as a surprise.   Since President Richard Nixon initiated the first fast track authority on trade agreements in1974, Congress has voted to diminish its own Constitutionally- mandated role six times, according to Lori Wallach.   Despite labor union opposition, the Democratic establishment in Congress has consistently supported trade agreements when Vice Presidential candidate Al Gore called NAFTA a ‘good deal for the country.’  (See CNN’s classic video of the 1993 Gore-Perot NAFTA debate)

By 2008, after five million American manufacturing jobs had been shipped overseas, Presidential candidate Barack Obama criticized Sen. Hillary Clinton for her support and referred to NAFTA  as  ‘a mistake.’ Obama went on to make repeated promises to renegotiate and enforce labor and environment improvements.   Even as Obama was suggesting that the US leave NAFTA if it could not be renegotiated, the New York Times was reporting that Austen Goolsbee, a senior campaign economic advisor, was quietly assuring the Canadians that the candidate’s words “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”  

According to Wallach, candidate Obama promised to “ensure that Congress plays a strong and informed role in international economic policy” and that he would “replace fast track” as a process.

Meanwhile, talks have begun with the EU on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to further eliminate market and regulatory barriers to trade.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Operation Urban Shield: Protecting the Homeland

As if the recent NSA revelations were not reason enough to worry about the Federal government's drift toward an authoritarian state, shortly after the bombing of the Boston Marathon that took three lives and seriously injured scores of others, three black helicopters, accompanied by heavily armed soldiers, were spotted buzzing downtown Chicago.   Independent research confirmed that the exercise was conducted by the Pentagon utilizing a combination of special force troops and local law enforcement, similar to a drill that took place prior to NATO ‘s Chicago conference in 2012 described by City Hall as a ‘routine military training exercise.”

So how ‘routine’ is it for military drills to occur in highly populated, dense metropolitan neighborhoods that includes simulated gunfire and strafing runs, troops rappelling out of helicopters, building breaching for practice amidst assorted flares and smoke bombs?   Although the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits military forces from acting as civilian law enforcement on American soil, similar full-scale military exercises, known as Operation Urban Shield (OUS),  continue to occur in many of the country’s  largest municipal areas including Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
While OUS exercises are conducted by ”military personnel, designed to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments,” its roots can be traced to Presidential Policy Directive #8 of 2011 entitled “National Preparedness.  The Directive provided the framework to create the Urban Security Areas Initiative (USAI) dedicated to  provide “support for high-threat, high-density urban areas to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from threats or acts of terrorism.” As an agency within FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), USAI is funded by the Department of  Homeland Security 
The City of Boston’s Urban Shield drills in May, 2011 and another in November, 2012, present an ideal opportunity  to consider how well the program functioned during that city's recent true-life emergency and whether it is a valuable tool in terrorist situations to justify the dismantling of the nation’s once-sacrosanct civil liberties.  We now know it was the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) that issued the ‘shelter-in-place’ order on April 19 that challenged the fourth amendment with house-to-house searches.   Utilizing a high-tech ‘wireless emergency area’ message system, described as ‘phone sirens”, MEMA sent a media advisory announcing the upcoming search as part of its ensuing tracking operation.  

Despite those earlier drills and a massive 9,000 member dragnet with every technological advantage at its fingertips,  a wounded, unarmed 19 year old amateur-terrorist who had no after-plan or escape route managed to elude the manhunt until he was discovered in a boat by an observant neighbor. 
Not surprisingly, our well-funded intel agencies appear to have been caught flat-footed by not more closely following up on earlier alerts from the Russian government warning about Tamerlan Dzhokhar - although details about the nature of the relationship of those agencies with the older brother are still ambiguous.   While authorities remain tight-lipped about the details of the Thursday night shoot-out that killed Tamerlan, it would be essential to know if Urban Shield recommends a ‘no kill’ order or use of a sophisticated laser stun-gun to subdue a critically-valuable suspect.  If so, we might have considerably more relevant information than we have today. 
Since there was no way for OUS to predict the bombing, the inescapable conclusion is that such full-scale military trainings are of limited use after a ‘situation’ has occurred, therefore, leaving open the question of why military training needs to take place in urban areas and where and when will such training be necessary.   The argument that Urban Shield will prevent a future attack neglects the reality that OUS was not directly responsible for the capture of the suspect.  More to the point, the intel game plan that asserts Operation Urban Shield strategic value has apparently failed to calculate the inherent complexity of conducting a house-to-house search and a massive dragnet within the tight confines of a densely crowded urban neighborhood.
 Despite the advantages of Federal government largesse of unlimited funding and manpower  and an enormous bureaucracy, there remains a fundamental question of whether any amount of money, training or preparation can defend against or anticipate a lone-wolf, homegrown kind of attack – and at what cost to the Bill of Rights.