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Hullabaloo


Sunday, August 07, 2016

 

'Who do you protect? Who do you serve?'

by Tom Sullivan


Former Henredon Furniture factory, Morganton, NC.

You're gonna love it. Believe me.

No, Donald Trump did not say that about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But that is essentially the message the public hears at coming-out parties for big trade deals. This is necessary. It will open up trade. It will create jobs. It will lower prices. On and on.

Nearly 100 miles of dead factories strung out along I-40 between here and Hickory, North Carolina say otherwise. Most of them used to make furniture. Some, textiles. We hear about tent cities for the homeless in Seattle or Sacramento or Washington, D.C. Hickory's barely made local news.

Now, Gaius Publius and Dave Johnson are far more versed in the particulars of TPP, so I'll get to why I even mention TPP in a minute.

One thing critics keep bringing up is how TPP is not really a "free trade" deal. Paul Krugman wrote:

One thing that should be totally obvious, however, is that it’s off-point and insulting to offer an off-the-shelf lecture on how trade is good because of comparative advantage, and protectionists are dumb. For this is not a trade agreement. It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.
In one critique of the TPP, Johnson wrote:
Corporations get a special channel of their own for enforcement of rules written by their representatives at the negotiating table. Labor, environment and other stakeholders don’t get that in TPP. This is how TPP will increase corporate power over governments and working people.
Something I read somewhere the other day highlighted that in a way that stuck with me. Essentially, these are deals written solely from the perspective of corporations. They are treaties of, by, and for corporations. The needs, concerns, and fate of the average citizen in the global economy are not even an afterthought. Politicians and business magnates sell the deals to voters simmering like frogs in increasingly weakened democracies as a kind of transnational trickle-down. In the long run, this deal will be great for you. Trust us. "You're gonna love it. Believe me."

This raises a challenge usually heard at anti-police violence rallies: 'Who do you protect? Who do you serve?'

Perhaps that should replace the tiresome "Hey, hey, ho, ho" as the standard the rallying cry outside the White House and on Capitol Hill.

The transpartisan anger sweeping America is about a lot of things. But one component underlying it all is a sense in the collective unconscious that We, the People are no longer in control, that the post-war world of a strong, secure middle class is eroding, regressing towards something at once more medieval and more dystopian in the Blade Runner sense. Leading to, as Firesign Theater once quipped, “the complete and total degradation of... who? [*wine bottle opened] You – the little guy.”

A rare victory for the little guy is why the topic comes up this morning:
A piano tuner in Atlantic City has scored a rare victory turning back casino-industry forces far bigger than him to thwart their efforts to seize and demolish his home by eminent domain.

A court ruling saying he can keep the house with no fear of the bulldozers and the wrecking ball has marked the end of a four-year nightmare for 69-year-old Charlie Birnbaum, who in his time has tuned pianos in local casinos for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and others.
But Birnbaum's three-story house sits on Oriental Avenue and Mr. Moneybags wants to build hotels on it. The ground floor is his piano tuning business and Birnbaum rents out the upper floors to tenants. Birnbaum and his wife live a few miles inland:
His attorney, Robert McNamara, called Friday's ruling a victory for common sense.

"The CRDA's position was that they could take Charlie's property for any reason or for no reason, just because they wanted it," McNamara said in a statement. "Today's ruling emphatically says otherwise."
At least for the time being, so long as the city's financial crisis and surrounding failed projects diminish the clout of the financiers who inspired Monopoly. One wonders if abdicating even more of U.S. citizens' constitutional protections and sovereignty to treaties such as the TPP won't soon and finally trump the Charlie Birnbaums because, you know, the Market wants.

The superior court judge in the case ruled that the attempt by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to condemn Birnbaum’s house is an abuse of eminent domain power. The Authority had wanted to raze the structure to make way for mixed housing and retail development. The structure sits one block back from the beach "in the shadow of the shimmering but currently defunct Revel Casino." The $2.4 billion casino complex declared declared bankruptcy in 2014.

Revel was "the third of four Atlantic City casinos to close in 2014." To be sure, the developers of the Revel Casino told their investors and the community going in, "You're gonna love it. Believe me."