Obama Promises Lame-Duck TPP Push Despite Uproar Over Pro-Corporate Provisions
Photo: Bikas Das/AP
Ten Indian trade unions staged one of the largest strikes in human history on Friday, with tens of millions of public sector workers participating in a shutdown of parts of the Indian economy to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic plans.
But if you’re an American relying on cable news, it would be hard to know it ever happened.
Not a single American cable news network ran a segment focused on India’s massive strike, even on Labor Day, the U.S.’s annual holiday dedicated to workers.
The strike came after Modi began a push for increased foreign investment and privatization of some state-run industries. Unions fear these policies will undermine both wages and employment.
The size of the strike alone forced the government to offer concessions prior to Friday in an attempt to avert it, offering a boostin the minimum wage for some non-skilled workers and the unfreezing of some public employee bonuses.
The unions were not persuaded by this offer. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his fight is with poverty, but it seems his fight is with the poor in this country,” Indian National Trade Union Congress Vice President Ashok Singh said prior to the strike.
The unions petitioned the government with a list of demands, including a call to increase the minimum wage to 18,000 rupees a month (around $271 USD). India-based The Hindu published a short video report on the strike with English subtitles. Watch it here:
The only mention of the strike on U.S.-based cable news was during a segment on CNN International where the CEO of the human resources consulting firm ManpowerGroup cited the Indian strike as part of global concerns about technology suppressing wages.
Contact the author:
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
A provision that would let foreign corporations challenge new American laws and regulations has become the latest flashpoint in the battle over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, even as President Obama on Tuesday said he will renew his push for its passage in the lame-duck session of Congress.
“We’re in a political season now and it’s always difficult to get things done,” Obama said at a town hall meeting in Laos. “So after the election, I think people can refocus attention on why this is so important.” He sounded confident: “I believe that we’ll get it done.”
The latest salvo from opponents of the deal came in the form of a letter to Congress signed by hundreds of law professors and economists – including Laurence Tribe, who taught Obama at Harvard – protesting the inclusion of “Investor State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) provisions in the TPP agreement.
The ISDS provisions would empower corporations who object to U.S. laws and regulations that cut into their profits to sue the United States before an international arbitration panel. The signatories to the letter write that this “system undermines the important roles of our domestic and democratic institutions, threatens domestic sovereignty, and weakens the rule of law.”
“It’s about leverage,” Warren said. “Leverage for big companies to threaten an intimidate governments who might dare take action that threatens their profits.”
She cited the example of Canada being successfully sued under ISDS rules contained in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by a U.S.-based company that was denied a permit for an open-pit mining project.
Listen to the call:
The Obama administration has pushed back at critics of the ISDS provisions, saying that it is a routine system that exists in thousands of other international agreements, including 50 that the United States is currently a party to.
But that routine system has undermined domestic laws in some countries.
Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby recently reviewed dozens of ISDS rulings, documenting how corporations used these international arbitration panels to avoid the reach of domestic courts.
For instance, following the ouster of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the country sentenced Dubai-based real estate mogul Hussain Sajwani to five years in prison for corruption charges related to a sweetheart land deal between his company Damac Properties and the country’s Mubarak-era tourism minister.
Within a week of his conviction, Damac decided to sue Egypt using the World Bank’s arbitration process – arguing that because the previous regime had agreed to the terms, the deal was not criminal.
As Sajwani enlisted the help of some of the world’s top ISDS lawyers to argue his case in a court in Paris, Egypt decided to settle. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but we do know that Sajwani’s prison sentence was completely eliminated.
That set a precedent for a wave of ISDS claims. More and more firms used the ISDS process to avoid penalties handed down from Egypt’s courts.
Under the TPP, the U.S. would be exposed to a larger number of potential ISDS claims.
“If these provisions are included in TPP, the number of foreign investors who’d be empowered to use this mechanism would double from what we currently have in our 50 agreements already,” said Melinda St. Louis, international campaigns director at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
In all, Public Citizen estimates that passage of the TPP would newly empower over 10,000 U.S. subsidiaries owned by foreign corporations to launch investor-state cases against the American government.
Corporations from six countries that do not currently have the ability to bring ISDS claims against the United States — Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei – would gain that right under the TPP.
As The Intercept has previously reported, banks and other financial institutions would be able to use TPP provisions to sue over virtually any change in financial regulations affecting future profits in an extra-judicial tribunal.
The United States has not yet lost an ISDS case, but is facing a major claim from TransCanada. The company is using arbitration under NAFTA to seek $15 billion after the Obama Administration decided not to approve its Keystone XL Pipeline project.
Contact the author:
Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite/U.S. Army
The United States is spending more money on more missions to send more elite U.S. forces to train alongside more foreign counterparts in more countries around the world, according to documents obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act.
Under the Joint Combined Exchange Training program, which is designed to train America’s special operators in a variety of missions — from “foreign internal defense” to “unconventional warfare” — U.S. troops carried out approximately one mission every two days in 2014, the latest year covered by the recently released documents.
At a price tag of more than $56 million, the U.S. sent its most elite operators — Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and others — on 176 individual JCETs, a 13 percent increase from 2013. The number of countries involved jumped even further, from 63 to 87, a 38 percent spike.
The JCET program is a key facet of a global strategy involving America’s most secretive and least scrutinized troops. Since 9/11, special operations forces (SOF) have expanded in almost every conceivable way — from budget to personnel to overseas missions. On any given day, 10,000 special operators are deployed or “forward stationed,” conducting missions that vary “from behind-the-scenes information-gathering and partner-building to high-end dynamic strike operations,” then-chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year.
In 2014, more than 4,800 elite troops took part in JCETs, compared to just over 3,800 the year before. “The purpose of JCETs is to foster the training of U.S. SOF in mission-critical skills by training with partner-nation forces in their home countries,” Ken McGraw, a spokesperson for U.S. Special Operations Command, told The Intercept. “JCETs allow U.S. SOF to use and further develop their language skills and cultural knowledge plus hone their skills training indigenous forces.”
Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who is Votel’s successor as head of SOCOM, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that “working with our international partners allows us to share the burden more appropriately. We must engage, not only where problems occur, but also in places critical to our vital national interests where no visible threat currently exists.”
The recently released documents note that, in addition to the training opportunities afforded to elite U.S. troops, the JCET program also provides “incidental benefits,” namely building military-to-military contacts, improving interoperability with foreign forces, and “gaining regional access with a minimal footprint.” The files further refer to JCETs as “low signature” missions.
A 2015 investigation by The Intercept revealed JCETs were regularly conducted with foreign militaries implicated by the U.S. State Department in gross human rights violations. And a more recent effort by The Intercept and 100Reporters found JCETs formed one facet of a global training network typified by a lack of coherent strategy and effective oversight.
A 2013 Rand Corp. study of JCETs conducted in areas covered by Africa Command, Pacific Command, and Southern Command found “moderately low” effectiveness of the missions in all three regions. Asked for comment on the findings, McGraw of SOCOM had little to say. “I have not and do not have the time to review the Rand study,” he told The Intercept, noting that he was aware of no one at the command who had read Rand’s analysis. “We are not going to comment on the study.”