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Each month Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr. answers questions regarding process thought and faith.
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What is the most important issue now being decided?
The most basic issue now being decided is whether the corporate takeover of political power in the United States and also much of the rest of the world will be completed or will begin to erode. The full takeover hinges on the passage of two so-called “trade” agreements. One, the Transpacific Partnership, is currently seeking “fast-track” treatment in Washington. The other is a similar agreement being negotiated with European countries. I am told it is an even more brazen attack on national sovereignty.
If these agreements are enforced, there will be few economic issues any longer discussed in national or local legislatures or courts. Decisions will be made by discussion among corporations, and disputes will be settled in a new court system set up by the corporate world to do its bidding. Of course, much is already transpiring in these ways, but without these new “agreements” governments still have some ability to establish laws that impinge on corporate freedom within their boundaries. The corporate world does not want to tolerate these nuisances any longer.
Now, we may wonder, why would any government voluntarily hand over its authority to an outside power? The answer, of course, is that governments are composed of people, and many of these people belong to the corporate world. Their loyalties are more to the transnational communities constituted by corporate power than to their multiple nations. Further, even those who might personally be patriotic citizens of their countries know that they have no chance of gaining political power without the support of the transnational corporate community. This is both a matter of financing elections and of being taken seriously by the corporate media.
Nevertheless, there has remained some effective resistance. When Obama sought to get a fast track vote in the Senate, Harry Byrd was in position to prevent it. This happened with virtual secrecy because the corporate media kept it under wraps. Neither party brought it up during elections.
Now Byrd can no longer prevent a vote in the Senate. On this topic, Obama and the Republican leadership both support the corporate world. It might seem that national sovereignty is doomed. Poorly as the nations have acted in relation to the critical issues humanity confronts, their surrender to the corporations of even the power to act will dramatically worsen the situation.
However, I still have hope. Obama’s clout is now limited. Some day the terrible contents of this agreement will become public knowledge, and Democrats will be asked to explain their support. Many will prefer to explain their opposition. Even party leaders may prefer to have the party dis-identified with this agreement. Of course, Obama can count on some Democratic votes, but far from all.
It is doubtful that the Republican leadership will be able to persuade all Republicans to present Obama with this great “victory.” Some may prefer to attack Obama for supporting specific provisions their constituency will hate. In any case, many Republicans are ardent nationalists. They often object to the very mild influence the United Nations exercises over U.S. actions. If they understand that these agreements will subordinate our courts to foreign ones, even though these are the courts preferred by our corporations, not all will agree. The joint opposition of significant numbers of Democrats and Republicans may lead to protracted debate in Congress. The secrecy surrounding the terms of the agreement, so skillfully maintained thus far, may erode. Public outrage may settle matters.
Meanwhile, I dare to hope that Obama’s heart is not in what he is proposing. He may simply be doing what he promised to do in exchange for support for his election, without really hoping for success. That he allowed Harry Byrd to block him in the Senate before the midterm elections may suggest half-heartedness. This may not really be the legacy he wants to leave. Perhaps he will back down rather easily.
Finally, even if the agreement is approved by the U.S. government, there is no longer certainty that the other countries, now waiting to see what happens here, will approve. Secrecy has been less effective in some of them so that public opposition is already strong. A lame duck president’s clout is somewhat diminished in Third World countries as well as at home.
If the TPP fails, the likelihood that the agreement with European countries will even be presented to Congress is greatly reduced. The near success may turn out to be the high water of corporate globalism. The world, in any case, is once again become bi-polar with Russia/China becoming a second center. At least around the edges This Euro-Asian power can nibble away at the Western corporate empire. The United States has made a desperate effort to bring Russia to its knees as a subservient part of the American imperial system with economic sanctions, an attack on the ruble, and undercutting its oil exports. These have only served to tighten its ties to China.
Iran will be part of this new concentration of alternate power. India is likely to join with its continental neighbors. One main function of TPP has been to insure that Southeast Asia remain tied into the Western system and not drift toward China. If TPP fails, the drift is likely to be accelerated. China will demand far less surrender of national sovereignty to be an appreciated trading partner. Half the world will be unified in a far less oppressive way than the American half. Its economy will be smaller, but it will be growing much faster.
The greatest success of the Western system was the creation of the European Union. However, it is now eroding. Throughout this statement I have used “corporate” to include both industrial corporations and financial ones. But it is time to recognize the primacy of the latter. The European Union is dominated by its banks. These have dealt with Europe in much the way ours have dealt with us, that is, scandalously. There has been more resistance in Europe than in the United States. Iceland, for example, did not bail out its banks. Ireland may be creating some kind of public banking. Now Greece may abandon the European Union altogether rather than accept the “austerity” program the central bank is imposing. Nationalist feelings, sometimes misdirected against minorities, threaten the Union in various ways.
I am pained. I have long celebrated the European Community as the sort of community of communities for which I called. I am glad to say that when the individual countries gave up control of their own currencies and adopted the Euro controlled by a central bank, I expressed my distress. The balance between individual freedom and community responsibility was broken. The price has been high.
Many predict another near bankruptcy of the financial system in 2016. The TPP has provisions that make sure that the banks will be bailed out again by the public in each of the affected countries, but if TPP provisions are not in force the financial institutions may have more difficulty this time. They are prepared to seize the assets of their depositors as they did in Cyprus, but this might prove to be a theft from which they would never recover in the public eye. The tightly interconnected system of private central banks that controls so much of what happens in the world may not be able to renew itself. The successful model of all the fast-growing economies, that is, banks actually owned and controlled by governments, may establish itself.
This means that if “fast track” is not granted to the Transpacific Partnership, the nations of the “free world,” including the United States, may once again have some freedom. They might use it more wisely than the corporate-controlled nations have done thus far. The world might have a chance.
I fear that my analysis is shared by the corporate world. When so much is at stake, the corporations will not take defeat lying down. Probably their vast resources will give them the victory. But the struggle may be titanic. I encourage you to follow events closely and to speak up as appropriate.
For factual information about TPP, go to www.stopthetpp.org. Simply providing the facts is the greatest contribution you can make to its defeat.