TTIP — the Tipping Point for Collapse of Democracy?

TTIP — Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership — sounds innocent enough, but its range is frightening. And this trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the USA is SECRET. Even members of the European Parliament can read the draft documents only under supervision,and they are not allowed to take phones, tablets, computers or pens into the locked room where the documents are kept. It’s all about protecting commercial interests, you see.

We do know that about 3.2 million people have signed an anti-TTIP petition to the European Commission, and that if the treaty comes into force, open competition in the supply of goods and services — health, education, media and more — will favour powerful multinationals over small local businesses and community not-for-profit enterprises.

TTIP is profoundly, alarmingly anti-democratic. From what is known so far, it would give businesses power over governments. If a corporation believes a government law or regulation would reduce its profits, it could take that government to court. As it stands, a secret court.

More in ‘Solving the Grim Equation‘, pages 191-194

PDR

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Grim Now, Grimmer Later: Time to Act

Official launch on Tuesday July 7th — ‘Solving the Grim Equation’, published by Cambria Books and written by me, Pat Dodd Racher

Upstairs at The Angel, Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo, at 7.30pm.

Author and One Planet Council patron David Thorpe will lead a question and answer session and discussion.

The Grim Equation means that increased consumption now will result in lower consumption in the future.

Exciting pioneer projects in Wales show that families can reduce consumption dramatically and use less energy, and still live happily. Pioneers have had to battle against hostility in local government, but thanks to the Welsh Government’s ‘One Wales One Planet’ policy the chances of projects being approved are increasing.

The One Planet Development policy, and guidance in Technical Advice Note 6, and the establishment in Wales of the One Planet Council, can give Wales a leading role in the inevitable One Planet future — because we have only one planet on which to live.

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The longer we wait, the more uncomfortable the fall


Three Scary Trade Deals

Finding hard data on transnational corporations’ share of world trade is complicated. Perhaps the data is scarce because it is not in corporations’ interests to highlight the extent of their private trade flows, but whatever the reason, accurate information for the public is limited. The ‘shadow’ website http://www.gatt.org, which sharply criticises the World Trade Organisation (WTO), estimated[i] that just the 200 largest multinationals accounted for 28% of global trade. In corporations’ eyes, that was nowhere near enough. They want to grow, grow, grow, but the WTO’s Doha Round talks drag on and on inconclusively, and they became impatient.

So talks on three huge neoliberal trade agreements are currently under way, as far below public consciousness as possible. They would embody staggering concessions to corporations, in the form of investment treaties enabling corporations to sue governments for policy changes detrimental to corporate interests.

The first of the Super Three is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), between the USA, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. Talks, which began in 2008, explore means of opening intellectual property and public services to open competition.

Secondly, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), involving the EU and 20 other countries, came on the horizon in 2012. TISA would cover health, education, energy, water and drainage services, construction, finance, banking, insurance, transport and retailing, opening them all up to corporate competition. Such a deal would surely mean the end of public control of the UK’s National Health Service, because corporations would be able to sue governments for policy changes they disliked.

Summer 2013 saw the launch of talks between the EU and the USA on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The theme is competition right across the economy, including health and education, with corporations empowered to challenge prudent regulations, including regulation of finance, as barriers to trade.

Just why governments are so keen to hand power over to corporations is hard to fathom, unless politicians feel they are all on the same side – the side of private exploitation. Policy changes to which corporations objected would be impossible, unless the offending government, at the very least, paid compensation at full ‘market’ value plus compound interest.

Today’s generation of politicians and their negotiators are, it seems, intent on signing away democratic rights in perpetuity. How come they feel empowered to do this? Because they rely on people, us, not objecting in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

 

[i]www.gatt.org/trastat_e.html, accessed on November 6th 2010.


Free trade and exploitation: the distress of Guatemala

No population can survive without food, therefore it is a strong argument that governments should prioritise secure food supplies.

Free-trade food policies are based on the belief that food should come from areas of the world that can produce it at the lowest immediate cost. Detrimentally for our future, the lowest immediate cost takes no account of environmental degradation, or fossil energy or water depletion, or the livelihoods of small-scale farmers who are affected by globalised food chains. The proponents of free trade generally claim that tariff barriers and financial support schemes which protect farmers in the affluent world mean that farmers in ‘developing’ countries cannot compete successfully, despite their lower labour costs. Yet small-scale farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia are the last to benefit from free trade. The cash benefits go to large farmers and corporations, for planting crops for export rather than food crops for local consumption.

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Guatemala’s volcanic soils have the potential to feed the 14.4 million population, but much of the best land is foreign-owned, and revenues leave the country.

Guatemala in Central America is a stunning country, both for its memorable peoples and landscapes, and for the corruption of its governments down the years. The indigenous peoples continue to suffer from domination by a tiny number of foreign corporations and their local political enforcers.

I spent six weeks in Guatemala in autumn 2007, staying with a family and helping out at a UK-funded school, Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza, in Jocotenango. On Friday October 12th 2007 I was part of a small group travelling to the Mayan ruins at Tikal, in the forests of the Petén. We had to cross Guatemala City, which I remember for ubiquitous McDonalds; Esso, Shell and Texaco filling stations; and high-rise American hotels, encircled by tin-roofed shacks, unfriendly streets, potholes, rubbish and guns.

We followed the CA9 highway north-east out of Guatemala City to El Progreso, Rio Hondo and Quirigua, where there are intricate Maya carvings. Quirigua is in the Motagua river valley, which reaches the Caribbean at Puerto Barrios, Guatemala’s only significant port on the Caribbean.

Most of the valley land is owned by corporations, with fruit plantations and horticultural crops for export, the latter protected by acre upon acre of plastic. The bananas are plastic-protected too, encased in perforated blue plastic to protect against rain, dust and wind. What a lot of plastic to replace when the oil runs out. At Quirigua the plantations belong to Chiquita Brands — descendent of the infamous United Fruit Company — and to Del Monte.

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Banana plantation in the Motagua valley, owned by Chiquita Brands International of the USA.

North from the Motagua valley through the Petén to the ruined Maya city of Tikal, we passed a succession of shiny new evangelical protestant churches (financed from the USA), set in decrepit villages. The farms visible from the road were either under two hectares or vast, containing much unused land. Most of the land north of the little town of Frontera, where the Lago de Izabal narrows into the Caribbean-bound Rio Dulce, is controlled by a handful of powerful families. They used to run cattle, tended by local labourers, but since the road was hard-surfaced in the years around 2000, the labourers have migrated away, to the slums of Guatemala City and as illegals to the USA.

Staying overnight in Finca Ixobel, a country guesthouse owned by an American widow whose Guatemalteco husband was assassinated by a death squad in the ‘civil war’ between 1960 and 1996, in which some 200,000 people died or ‘disappeared’, I read in Revue magazine for June 2007 that over a fifth of the population, 21%, have to exist on less than $1 (59p) a day, and well over half the people, 58%, subsist on less than $2 (£1.18) a day.

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Forest has reclaimed the massive stone monuments of Tikal.

The Petén is, according to Pablo, who works as a guide in Tikal, the world’s fifth largest forest reserve, and the biggest in Central America. The reserve also functions as a drugs highway. Drug runners are constantly building air strips deep in the forest for the lucrative narcotrafico, which finances grand villas behind high walls, and four-by-fours with tinted windows. Drugs are more important to the local economy than tourism, despite the presence of amazing Mayan monuments. “Each year around 150,000 visitors come to Tikal,” said Pablo. Increasingly, they fly in to Flores Airport, to avoid the hazards to life and limb in Guatemala City. Flores Airport is bringing ‘development’ to the Petén, shopping malls plonked incongruously in the rural landscape. Pablo was pessimistic. He said that poverty is increasing because subsistence farmers do not have enough land. The landlords are opposed to any process of land reform, even though their own land may lie idle. Now they are looking forward to a golden era of biofuels, a scenario in which small farmers, campesinos, do not feature. Fewer families can afford to send their children to school, and in Pablo’s view the illiteracy rate was escalating again, above the low point of 40% estimated in 2002.

In Guatemala the law of the jugular applies. There are courts, and prisons, but legal procedures are slow and uncertain, and extra-judicial killings commonplace.

The apparatus of the state in Guatemala, such as exists, is deployed to protect existing power structures. The welfare of the people comes way down this agenda: politicians and businessmen – the same people, often at the same times – have little interest in working to abolish hunger among the indigenous peoples, to provide affordable healthcare, or to create a thriving countryside where families can produce enough food for themselves and their neighbourhoods.

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Flimsy superstructures are no match for torrential rainstorms. Much housing is in tin shacks, often precariously sited on slopes.

The indigenous Maya believed that man was merely part of the natural order on Earth, a natural order that needed to remain in balance. When their practice departed calamitously from this tidy theory, their civilisation declined. The Maya loved mathematics and astronomy. Even today, Mayan children in school are fascinated by numbers and are skilful in arithmetic. Over a thousand years ago, the results of the Mayan linkage of religion with astronomy was causing catastrophe, as their huge, astronomically-aligned temples and monuments, in socially and occupationally complex cities, absorbed too much of their collective energy, and demanded too much food, fuel and construction materials from the rural hinterlands. The forest was felled.

As resources dwindled, Mayan tribes fought intense wars to try and seize as much as they could of the remaining food and water. The knock-out blow at Tikal was a 30-year drought around 1000AD. The occupants of Tikal walked away, and many of their descendants – still poverty-stricken — live in the western highlands of Guatemala, on steep, infertile land which the European families and the multinational corporations have not wanted.

The relationship between trees and human survival is too often overlooked, ignored. Jared Diamond, in Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive[i] points out that forests

“….function as the world’s major air filter removing carbon monoxide and other air pollutants, and forests and their soils are a major sink for carbon, with the result that deforestation is an important driving force behind global warming by decreasing that carbon sink. Water transpiration from trees returns water to the atmosphere, so that deforestation tends to cause diminished rainfall and increased desertification. Trees retain water in the soil and keep it moist. They protect the land surface against landslides, erosion, and sediment runoff into streams. Some forests, notably tropical rainforests, hold the major portion of an ecosystem’s nutrients, so that logging and carting the logs away tends to leave the cleared land infertile.”

— Diamond 2005, p.469 in 2006 Penguin edition

This is what happened at Tikal. and in exploited lands all over the world, from Norse Greenland to Haiti in the Caribbean, from Easter Island in the Pacific to Rwanda in Africa. Deforestation ends societies, even civilisations.

Once free of human interference, the jungle returned to Tikal and clothed the monuments, which slept undisturbed for centuries, while the Mayans were conquered and later dragged unwillingly into a capitalist economy.

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Culture and tradition often count for a lot more than consumer purchases. The blouses, huipils, are home-woven, and each village has its own designs.

Mayans are relatively indifferent to consumer culture, a ‘failing’ which annoys foreign entrepreneurs:

“An enormous disadvantage for this country is that the Indians [the Mayans] won’t work more than just enough to fill their basic needs, and these are very few. The only way to make [a Mayan] work is to advance him money, then he can be forced to work. Very often, they run off, but they are caught and punished very severely.”

— from the story of a German who emigrated to Guatemala in 1892, told in Daniel Wilkinson’s Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal and Forgetting in Guatemala, p.38.[ii]

This German immigrant, Friedrich Endler, ran a coffee plantation. The plantations struggled to find enough labour, so the government instituted a form of slavery, the labour draft. Daniel Wilkinson explains this system in Silence on the Mountain, a moving and tragic analysis of Guatemala in the 20th century:

“The labor drafts. Upon the request of a plantation owner, the governors of each department would round up a work gang of fifty to one hundred Indians and send them to work on the plantation. An 1894 law provided Indians with one way to escape this form of forced recruitment: become an indebted worker for a plantation.”

— Silence on the Mountain p.76-77.

The pass laws, so hated in South Africa later in the 20th century, already existed in Guatemala:

 “ ‘We were slaves because of the law of Ubico,’ recalled the next elderly peasant we talked to. He was referring to President Jorge Ubico, who had governed the country from 1930 to 1944, and the ‘slavery’ he described was not debt peonage but the vagrancy laws that had replaced it. ‘We had to carry a booklet, like an identity card, which showed what plantation we worked in and how many hours we had worked that year. If you didn’t carry it, the government could jail you and make you work without pay’.”

Silence on the Mountain p.97.

Land is at the heart of the unhappy history of Guatemala. Immigrants with access to capital claimed it. Government was for them, not for the Mayans, and there was no question of prioritising rights for the indigenous peoples above rights for plantation owners to obtain as much profit as possible. The landowners have benefited financially from colonisation and its successor, free trade, because they have deliberately marginalised the indigenous peoples.

by Pat Dodd Racher

 

[i] London and New York: Allen Lane and Viking Penguin, 2005.

[ii] Silence on the Mountain was published in 2004 by Duke University Press.


Enough Supermarkets! Now, how do we create vibrant towns for tomorrow?

by Pat Dodd Racher

Who notices when a ‘service’ mutates into a tyranny? What, in fact, does a tyranny look like? These questions rose to the top of my over-cluttered mind on Saturday, November 17th 2012, at the first ‘Independence Day’ gathering, held in Wesley Methodist Church, Frome, Somerset.

The dominant topic was supermarkets and how to stop them closing down our town centres, but the issue is much wider and relates to the power of money, money used to finance psychological research; money for marketing and blanket advertising; and money to buy influence over political processes.

It’s also about the failures of local communities to create more humane alternatives. It’s about public spaces and how to protect them. It’s about resistance to apathy.

The many stories we heard of battles against supermarket giants gave me an acronym, PFUDS.

PFUDS stands for keep to the Point, communicate Fast, Use the skills and methods at your disposal to maximum effect, Delegate, and Simplify.

The hardest of these, I reckon, is Simplify. Distilling the complexities of reality into a memorable message is complicated, and failure means that your campaign is likely to sink with a negative pfud.

Another big message from the day was the importance of a positive vision. Just being against a supermarket development is not enough – there has to be a vision for a more satisfying future.

Keep Frome Local, the organisers, lined up an impressive range of speakers. Andrew Simms, of the New Economics Foundation and the author of Tescopoly, talked about the social benefits of small shops within communities, as places for meeting and for exchanging news good and bad. In the USA, he said, studies about the impact of mega retailer Walmart on communities showed that wages fell, voter participation fell and social contact declined.

Rob Hopkins, founder of Transition Towns, said that several local authority chief executives he had met recently were aware that years of economic growth had come to an end, and that more local resilience would be essential. Neil Lawson, chair of the left-leaning campaigning organisation Compass and author of All Consuming, spoke about the capture of the political system by what he called the consumer-industrial complex. Shop less, he said. Judith Whateley, co-ordinator of the Tescopoly network, stressed that there was no substitute for scrutinising the volumes of planning documents which have to be submitted with each application, to find points to challenge. Several speakers, including Dave Chapman of Bridgwater Forward, drew attention to the importance of communications with planning officers and councillors. In Frome itself, the group Independents for Frome has a majority on the town council.

The colourful presence of the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft, Bristol, included wares from their bone china decorating workshop, adorned with political and campaign slogans and graphics. The china has been rescued from closed-down factories in the Staffordshire Potteries. Brilliant idea from innovator Chris Chalkley, I thought.

Richard Hadley from Ledbury told how the townspeople defeated applications by both Tesco and Sainsbury. They used similar marketing techniques to their superstore opponents, and stressed economic damage, job losses, traffic hell, shop closures and falling house prices. They beat the superstore operators at their own game. Joanna Blythman in discussion with The Guardian’s John Harris spoke about the Fife Diet, a local eating campaign in Scotland and part of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming. Joanna, author of Shopped: the Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, and of other books, has long campaigned against the superstore model of food retailing.

Independence Day was truly national, with participants from Scotland, Wales and all over England. For me it was a valuable educational workshop on campaigning – thanks also to David Babbs and Alex Lloyd from 38 Degrees – and now attention turns to ‘What Next?’ in the effort to revive retail diversity and end the rise of monopolies and with them the high risk of a tyrannical application of combined commercial and political power. Walmart in the USA is a form of tyranny, and I don’t want to travel any further down the road towards it, paved though it may be with good intentions.


Sport and Pictures: the Over-Simplification of Power

The news is like being buzzed and occasionally badly stung by a cloud of wasps. There is too little time to react to each sting, to consider how to prevent them, before the next and the next. The news is a series of events – shootings, floods, fires, droughts, famines, crashes, explosions, unexpected deaths, race wins, tournaments, knock-outs, election successes, election losses.

The cameras speed in, speed out, and capture for a few televised minutes the impacts of prior decisions without properly interrogating those critical decisions. The occasional bit of ‘good news’ is put in to try and cheer us all up, but is often over-dramatised with hyperbole, such as Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France being labelled ‘the greatest ever sporting achievement by a Briton’[1]. A wonderful achievement for Mr Wiggins personally, but brought about by the complex support system that builds a top modern cycling brand.

The visual age ushered in by cinema and then by television has, I think, made it harder for us to think in abstract terms. We praise people and we blame people in circumstances that they do not control, because we can visualise people but not ‘circumstances’ or ‘systems’.

Bradley Wiggins is British cycling at its best, but Mr Wiggins – or Wiggo as even the BBC has called him – did not assemble the money that has made the Sky team he rides for, or British cycling overall, so successful. Money achieved the fine-tuning of bicycle and kit design, money paid for the coaches, the nutritionists, the physiotherapists and the other highly qualified back-room experts. Who sponsors the Sky cycle team? News Corporation is a sponsor.[2] Who heads News Corporation? The chairman and chief executive is Rupert Murdoch, as we all well know.

Professional sport is about marketing, marketing is about brands, brands are owned by corporations, and corporations’ power is hijacking governments around the world. The ‘Monsanto coup’ in Paraguay last month is a current example.

We can’t see ‘power’ on our TV screens, and so we tend not to look for it. That means we let it grow, unseen, while we concentrate on people, their prowess, fame, fashion and lifestyle. While they can do amazing things, they – we—are the visual manifestations of the networks of money and power that are hidden from sight and thus also hidden from accountability.

When we say ‘We need to see the bigger picture’, we are identifying a problem: we can’t see context because it is not a picture, but a synthesis of complex and inevitably incomplete understandings.


[1] ‘Bradley Wiggins on verge of Britain’s greatest sporting achievement ever’ says Chris Hoy’, www.telegraph.co.uk, July 21st 2012.

[2] Statement in ‘Sky and Jaguar laud Bradley Wiggins’ historic cycling win’, by Daniel Farey-Jones, www,marketingmagazine.co.uk, July 23rd 2012.