The Daily Show presented a hilarious animated cartoon last night, an “ode to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia” who last Friday (Thursday too) clearly had a “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.” By contrast, President Obama apparently had “the best week of his presidency.” Not nearly as funny, though.
Here’s how the week began for the President:
The week began with Obama winning a trade fight over fast-track negotiating authority that looked to be on thin ice even a week ago. He did so by pulling off something even more remarkable and unlikely: successfully collaborating with Republican congressional leaders to find a path to passage of a rare shared priority.
While fast-track authority for Obama is not the same thing as a successfully negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (get smart on all the trade deals here) it preserves the possibility of that 12-nation deal coming to fruition and provides Obama a bit of momentum stateside as well. If Obama is able to help make TPP happen, that will be a major foreign policy achievement with consequences lasting well beyond his presidency.
Well I’ll say this. It's clear who's gonna benefit from those “lasting consequences.” First let’s explain something about the TPP. Writes Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the TPP contains a “common feature of trade agreements” called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. Under the TPP,
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.
In March, the New York Times and WikiLeaks released new information about ISDS. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor said, "The TPP has developed in secret an unaccountable supranational court for multinationals to sue states. This system is a challenge to parliamentary and judicial sovereignty. Similar tribunals have already been shown to chill the adoption of sane environmental protection, public health and public transport policies." Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) told the Times:
“This is really troubling… It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”
Except for the United States Trade Representative, that is. This "office dismissed such concerns as overblown. Administration officials said opponents were using hypothetical cases to stoke irrational fear when an actual record exists that should soothe worries."
Overblown, irrational and hypothetical? Hardly. Just read this article in today’s New York Times, which appeared after the paper was able to review “[l]etters, emails and other documents from foreign governments, the chamber’s affiliates and antismoking groups.” Here’s the story they told:
From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight antismoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.…
The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.…
So what are Big Tobacco and the Chamber specifically doing? For one thing,
The tobacco industry has increasingly turned to international courts to challenge antismoking laws that countries have enacted after the passage of the W.H.O. treaty. Early this year, Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill Gates set up an international fund to fight such suits. Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that administers the fund, called the chamber “the tobacco industry’s most formidable front group,” adding, “it pops up everywhere.”
Notes the Times, the U.S. Chamber, with its $165 million in annual revenue, “spends more on lobbying than any other interest group in America.” In addition, “it also has more than 100 affiliates around the world.” So, “[f]acing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned for help to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.” Indeed, “in Washington, Thomas J. Donohue, the chief executive of the chamber, has personally taken part in lobbying to defend the ability of the tobacco industry to sue under future international treaties, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership.…”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Under the TPP,
[A]ccording to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States would be empowered to bring cases against governments here. Those are as diverse as timber and mining companies in Australia and investment conglomerates from China whose subsidiaries in Trans-Pacific Partnership countries like Vietnam and New Zealand also have ventures in the United States.
More than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.
It’s the Chamber’s dirty world. We’re just living in it.