Sunday, December 8, 2013

Spock's Report

The Ninth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference has just concluded in Bali.

From the article:

In announcing a final agreement in Bali, Indonesia on Saturday morning, head of the World Trade Organization Roberto Azevedo, said: "For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered."

Unfortunately, say critics, what the deal is certain to "deliver" is more pain and suffering for the world's poorest people and farmers at the expense of the world's largest and most powerful nations and corporations.

[] John Hilary, executive director of the UK-based War on Want, slammed the deal:

"Any suggestion that there is a deal to celebrate from the WTO talks in Bali is absurd. The negotiations have failed to secure permanent protection for countries to safeguard the food rights of their peoples, exposing hundreds of millions to the prospect of hunger and starvation simply in order to satisfy the dogma of free trade. It is time to end the WTO charade once and for all, and focus instead on undoing the harm it has already caused across the world.

"There is a rank hypocrisy at the heart of the WTO that cannot be glossed over. The USA and EU continue to channel billions in subsidies to their richest farmers, yet seek to destroy other countries’ right to protect their poorest citizens from starvation. The WTO is an institution that has lost any claim to legitimacy. No amount of spin from Bali can disguise that fact."

Maude Barlow, speaking on behalf of the Council of Canadians, expressed equal outrage:

"This was not a historic win for developing countries at the WTO. They scrape by with modest and temporary protections for food security policies that should be completely excluded from corporate trade rules, which are still biased in the interests of corporations and rich countries. The bargain, if you can call it that, also came at the high price of agreeing to a trade facilitation agreement that further locks in a neo-colonial trading system that has condemned much of the world to poverty.

"It is unfortunate that some countries will leave Bali with a vain hope that further negotiations will conclude the WTO’s so-called development agenda over the next year. The reality is rich countries like Canada, the United States and Europe have abandoned the idea completely and are focused on moving their corporate agenda as far as it can go in transatlantic and transpacific free trade deals, as well as a highly secretive international services agreement being negotiated on the outskirts of the WTO in Geneva by a small cabal of developed countries."

George Monbiot last month had plenty to say on the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA or TTIP).


The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.

The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It's already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.

The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.

During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people's energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.

In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada's patent laws are changed.

[More on this, including how the nuclear power industry is suing Germany for phasing out its nuclear power stations, here.]

Calling George Monbiot's article a 'polemic' (classic establishment propaganda tactic - ignore substance, attack character), Conservative MP Ken Clarke 'responded' to it by somehow managing not to respond to any of the serious concerns raised.


I have never had Monbiot down as an ungenerous character, but to ignore all of this in favour of blowing up a controversy around one small part of the negotiations, known as investor protection, seems to me positively Scrooge-like. Investor protection is a standard part of free-trade agreements – it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least. Clearly the US falls in a somewhat different category and those clauses will need to be negotiated carefully to avoid any pitfalls – but to dismiss the whole deal because of one comparatively minor element of it would be lunacy.

This 'tiny element' is absolutely vital, the part which enables corporations to sue nations for billions when their products are banned or restricted for health or safety reasons etc.

Meanwhile, in the latest episode of the endless series of daily scandals involving corporations, we discover that Atos and G4S paid NO corporation tax in the UK last year, despite being given £2 billion of taxpayer-funded work.

From the article:

A report by the National Audit Office, published today, disclosed for the first time how much Government work is now outsourced to the private sector.

It found that the four biggest suppliers - Atos, Capita, G4S and Serco - carried out £6.6billion-worth of work for the public sector and central Government last year.

Yet two of them – Atos and G4S which carried out £2billion-worth for work for the Government and public sector – paid no corporation tax at all in the UK in 2012. Capita paid between £50million and £56million, while Serco paid £25million in tax.

Atos and G4S were criticised by Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

An edited extract of a speech by David Simon, creator of acclaimed series The Wire, was today published in the Observer. In it he points out that Karl Marx correctly predicted what happens when capitalism is allowed to run rampant. He observes that capital has purchased democratic governments around the globe, and that it must be brought under control, but did not suggest any particular strategy for a way out of the almighty hole we are in.

In order to aid Mr. Simon in this, we can employ a rather cliched analogy...

An alien (let's call him Spock) charged with observing our planet would be confused indeed, and in the report to his superiors on the mother ship, Spock would likely describe Earth as a slave planet run by a tiny cabal of cruel, violent, amoral masters.


Spock would note that the richest 300 people on the planet have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, with 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. He would further note that over 29 million people are slaves, with millions more in effective debt slavery and deep poverty even in rich nations, with the poor being rounded up in the US and incarcerated for profit in the name of the fake war on drugs - slavery by another name.

He would observe millions of humans trafficked into the sex industry; and 21,000 people (mostly children) dying needlessly of starvation every day while thousands of tons of edible food is thrown away in more fortunate climes. He'd watch in growing horror as genocides proliferate unchecked where the corporations can still make a profit, using the indigenous peoples as cheap or slave labor and women and children are raped or kept as sex slaves.

He'd see animal trafficking, inadequate healthcare, preventable diseases and epidemics, AIDS, drug abuse, addiction, drug trafficking, discrimination, ethnic cleansing, genital mutilation, torture, political prisoners, corruption, persecution, depleted uranium munitions, land mines, cluster bombs, climate change, pollution, desertification, drought, famine and war.

And he would recognize that all these things are preventable. He'd further realize that these ills are exacerbated and sustained directly by the policies and actions of the tiny ruling class in order to feed their insatiable greed and sustain their domination indefinitely as they ensure the resources of the world continue to flow directly into their hands with only scraps left to throw to the masses.

He'd see the tens of trillions of dollars kept in offshore accounts just sitting there while multitudes suffer and die in wars they neither want nor understand, or in the miserable, endless cycle of poverty and hopelessness, while knowing that these funds could easily resolve every single human rights issue on Earth. He'd note that the major institutions of the planet: the IMF, the World Bank and state governments are merely covers and enablers of corporate power - imperialism - with the UN impotent in the face the machine.

And then, to his utter bewilderment, Spock would watch the victims of these vile depredations along with their fellow humans actively support and vote for them to continue, and even react with anger or violence - and most commonly, indifference - when the status quo is attacked, while the very few who see the system for what it truly is are derided as paranoid conspiracy freaks.

Spock, being observant and intelligent, would see the TPP, TAFTA and WTO agreements (among others) for exactly what they are: a means of sealing corporate power over the planet and its denizens indefinitely. David Simon, in his speech, would have done well to point out that if humans are ever to be free of the yoke of corporate domination, all nations that remain relatively free (several South American nations, Iceland etc.) have to at the very least band together and renounce these 'trade agreements', have to declare illegitimate any contracts with the IMF and the World Bank, and form a new organization like the United Nations without veto power and with a true peacekeeping mandate.

Naturally, if Mr. Simon had said such things, he would have been widely denounced as irresponsible and unrealistic - a dangerous radical. However, that does not change the fact that the truth is the truth, and that this is precisely what will be required, along with a popular uprising on a global scale. If these 'trade agreements' become law, nothing less will suffice.

Would Spock, in his report, recommend that his leaders destroy planet Earth in order to put us out of our misery?

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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