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Monday, February 23, 2015

Your Weekly Oliver: Tobacco Deaths, "Trade" Courts (and a Stray Obama Thought)

by Gaius Publius

This piece is about corporations as predators, as plunderers, in a literal sense. Please follow closely; I want to get past the sense that "predator" is a metaphor. I want to make the case that the word is a literal description of the way the rich harvest the world.

Indonesia's "smoking baby"

In a recent piece I wrote about how the world's rich, controllers of the world's largest corporations, were plundering the world and noted specifically that "plunder" was indeed the right word:
What does [Hillary] Clinton want [from Elizabeth Warren]? Policy ideas, an endorsement, or some second-hand credibility? Policy ideas are free and obvious — rein in Big Money, take away some of their plunder (yes, that's the right word for it), and give that recovered loot back to the people they took it from.
We tend to see language like this as extravagant. Are corporations literally "killers," as the Coca Cola Corporation or Ford Motor Company are accused of being? Language like that is received as polemical, even by sympathizers with the anti-corporate cause.

John Oliver, Killer Tobacco and International "Trade" Courts

In that light, consider this piece by the best political comedian on the air, John Oliver, from a recent edition of Last Week Tonight. It's reasonably short and despite the content, fun to watch. As you do watch though, ask yourself — What is your honest moral evaluation of the CEO class that controls tobacco companies like Philip Morris? In other words, if the corporation were a person, what words would you use to describe their behavior?

Just to draw you in, here's how he starts:
"Tobacco. It used to be a cornerstone of American life. It was how we knew that sex was over before the female orgasm was invented." 
But that's not the good part. The good part is helping you clearly see the role of "free trade agreements" as agents of corporate predation. Every example Oliver cites in the clip has a "free trade court" as the corporate weapon of choice. Go back and check. Starting at 5:55 in the clip:
"Countries can try to counteract the influence of that marketing..."
... but they can't, thanks to "free trade courts." Examples:

▪ Australia's 2011 "plain packaging law" was challenged in the highest Australian court and upheld. Then Australia was sued in an "international court" under a 1993 trade agreement for lost "value of its trade mark and intellectual property." Notice that the news presenter at 8:10 calls this court an "international court" without saying it's a "trade court."

▪ Then countries like Ukraine complained to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that Australia was hurting its tobacco exports to the land down under — of which, in the case of Ukraine, there were none. (Did I mention the western-backed Ukraine was a hotbed of neoliberalism?)

▪ Philip Morris International is suing Uruguay for its increasingly aggressive tobacco health warnings. And yes, a trade court is the agent:
The company  [PMI] complains that Uruguay's anti-smoking legislation devalues its cigarette trademarks and investments in the country and is suing Uruguay for compensation under the bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay.[2] (Philip Morris is headquartered in Lausanne.)[3] The treaty provides that disputes are settled by binding arbitration before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
▪ Philip Morris International is also threatening to sue Togo, one of the poorest countries on earth, to prevent cancer warning pictures, instead of just words, on cigarette packs (keep in mind that 40% of the country is illiterate). The PMI threat — "an incalculable amount of international trade litigation." That means "trade courts" again.

▪ Oliver also cites similar threats to Namibia and the Solomon Islands. For Namibia, the corporate agent is, again, trade laws. The New York Times:
Alarmed about rising smoking rates among young women, Namibia, in southern Africa, passed a tobacco control law in 2010 but quickly found itself bombarded with stern warnings from the tobacco industry that the new statute violated the country’s obligations under trade treaties.
And in the Solomons:
[T]the industry responded to the Government’s regulations for the new Tobacco Control law by submitting its own version and threatening legal action if it was not implemented[.]
Because the Solomon Islands government stands fully behind its new, and implemented, Tobacco Control law, the only lawsuit venue can be "trade" courts.

World trade — because nothing says "corporate control" like a nation-trumping "trade" court. With brings us to ...

The Obama Connection

President Barack Obama is pushing hard, very hard, to get the next trade abomination (sorry, "job"-creator) passed through Congress. Trade agreements kill, as should be obvious from the above, all for corporate profit (meaning millionaire and billionaire CEO-class compensation). Tobacco deaths are real deaths, just as Ford Pinto deaths — those condemned to die by (psychopathic?) profit-driven humans who do cost-benefit analyses — are still human deaths. And all for profit.

What used to be a Pinto after a rear-end collision

Is this exaggeration? If not, and in that light, why is Barack Obama pushing so hard for TPP? It's a corporate wet wish, a must-have, just like tax-forgiveness for trillions held untaxed abroad (which Obama also strongly supports, by the way). I can only think of two answers to the question above:

Obama is too deluded to understand what John Oliver sees clearly.

Obama is trading lives for legacy and Clintonian post-presidential income and acclaim.

The second question asks, in short, "Is Obama is cashing out?" (Do most politicians "cash out" these days?) About that Clintonian income and foundational "legacy":
One of the largest donors to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation is the government of Saudi Arabia. The Clintons' personal net worth now probably exceeds $200 million, and while earned legally, both the money's sources and the Clintons' public statements indicate a strong aversion to rocking boats or making powerful enemies.
That's not chump change, though it's pocket lint to the Kochs, the Dimons and the Waltons. Does Obama want some of that? The theme of this piece is language and its accuracy. Is the above language polemical or accurate? Or do you have a third answer to the question?

Because if you don't, you're stuck with the two answers above. A challenging thought, I know; real cognitive dissonance territory if you have a Democratic party loyalist bone somewhere inside you. But there it is. Neither you nor I are making him do this stuff.