Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TPP: A Pimper's Paradise

As expected, the Obama administration has decided to ignore the atrocities of the Malaysian slave trade in order to make the world even more comfortable for global plutocrats and their unfettered capital.  This cynical move is all of a piece with the long American tradition of deploring the behavior of countries our officials don't like (Russia, North Korea, Iran) while turning a willful blind eye to the deplorable behavior of countries which either buy US weapons of mass destruction (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt), or allow the extraction of their human and material resources for the benefit of the American ruling class and its corporations.(name just about any third world country.) These fire sale-type extractions usually follow bribes in the form of loans from the International Monetary Fund. The collateral is the imposition of austerity on poor and working people. Since the countries are rarely able to make timely repayments, the plunder by creditors is then free to proceed with a vengeance.

Malaysia is one of the twelve nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In order for Barack Obama to salve his alleged conscience enough to sign the accord, his State Department has simply "upgraded" Malaysia to a less-bad level of human rights violations. This is despite the recent discovery of a mass grave containing the murdered bodies of hundreds of enslaved people, or as pseudo-democratic governments like to euphemise them, "human trafficking victims." 

Dave Dayen writes in The Intercept:
The move to officially upgrade Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the department’s annual report on human trafficking came despite scant evidence that the country has improved oversight of the businesses that enslave workers within its borders. It has raised concerns among some anti-trade activists that the decision was made for purely political reasons.
The trade promotion authority that Congress approved, which was signed into law by President Obama in June, came with a condition: No country on Tier 3 of the human trafficking report could get “fast-track” status for trade agreements signed with the United States.
In other words, trade deals with a Tier 3 country could not go to Congress for a guaranteed up-or-down vote without the possibility of filibuster or amendment. Malaysia is one of 12 countries negotiating TPP. The White House tried on multiple occasions to neutralize this language without success. So the State Department’s upgrade for Malaysia could be seen as a Plan B.
Despite the White House’s contention that trade deals like TPP are “the most progressive in history,” it appears to be overlooking significant forced labor violations to get it passed.
In 2014, the State Department demoted Malaysia to Tier 3 status for being a destination “for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking.” Malaysia’s 4 million foreign workers are threatened by large smuggling debts and confiscated passports that put them at the mercy of recruiting companies. Women in particular, recruited for hotel or beauty salon work, are routinely coerced into the commercial sex trade. And forced labor runs rampant in agricultural, construction and textile industries, producing the same goods that would get duty-free access to U.S. markets under TPP.
Of course, the human rights catastrophe in Malaysia is already the direct result of American foreign policy as inflicted by the IMF. By "progress," Obama presumably means that the slave trade can forge ahead even stronger than ever, if and when the TPP is ratified and signed into ignominy. Just as he and previous presidents have always feebly insisted,  the inclusion of "deplorable" nations in the global free market will be predicated on the flimsy promises of said nations to do the nicey-nice in the future. 

As The Nation reports, the very existence of the State Department's tiered rating system of human trafficking nations is itself a cynical ploy to make the United States the global moral arbiter which can and will grant altruistic clemency to hardcore delinquent nations like Malaysia -- on the mere promise that they will mend their ways. And once they don't mend their ways, the US more often than not will turn another willful blind eye to the broken promises. The fact that Colombia, for example, continues its abysmal record of assassinating trade unionists with impunity after Obama's signing of CAFTA is a case in point.

The Obama administration, as have other human bondage apologists before it, carefully concentrates on only the "trafficking" part of Malaysian slavery -- thus reducing it, in the court of public opinion, to just what it sounds like: a minor traffic violation rather than felony murder, kidnapping and rape. Maybe if Americans were able to view the abused victims of the Malaysian slave trade as thousands of Bill Cosby victims who are never allowed to escape his coercive clutches, they could then begin to feel some empathic outrage.

The transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 18th centuries was not about the "movement." It was about permanently enslaving 11 million Africans, on top of merely "transporting" them across the ocean. Malaysia, too, is more than a "route." So, the question must be asked: where are the 21st century abolitionists?

The reason that Barack Obama can so easily condemn the predations of a Bill Cosby while easily accepting the existence of slavery is the usual one: money, and lots of it. Slavery is a truly progressive growth industry, generating billions of dollars in profits every year, a profit margin greater than any other industry in the world, whether legal or illegal. The State Department estimates that one woman or child is trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation every 60 seconds.

As researcher Siddharth Kara writes, 
Trafficked sex slaves are by far the most lucrative slaves in the world. Only 4.2 percent of the world's slaves are trafficked sex slaves, but they generate 39.1 percent of slaveholders' profits. To benchmark the astounding profits generated by the exploitation of sex slaves, one need look no further than the fact that the global weighted average net profit margin of almost 70 percent makes it one of the most profitable enterprises in the world. By comparison, Google's net profit margin in 2006 was 29 percent, and it is one of the most profitable companies in the United States."
Slavery has always been an integral, even necessary, part of capitalism. Globalization and "free trade" deals have made it even more so, creating as they do crisis situations in countries bearing their brunt. As jobs disappear and wages plummet, millions of women and children become vulnerable to exploitation. The IMF's prescription of the "shock doctrine" of austerity in the name of the free market has actually encouraged and accelerated slavery. Malaysia found itself in the neoliberal crosshairs in the early 90s, as speculators and hedge fund predators "invested" money in the country, leading to bubbles and currency devaluation. Then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad was blunt in his assessment:
We are told we must open up, that trade and commerce must be totally free. Free for whom? For rogue speculators. We had tried to comply with the wishes of the rich and mighty, but when the big funds use their massive weight in order to move the shares up and down at will and make huge profits by their manipulations, then it is too much to expect us to welcome them, especially when their profits result in massive losses for ourselves. The currency traders have become rich, very very rich through making other people poor.
The IMF/banking cartel did not take this radical rebellion against the Invisible Fist graciously, and the longest-serving prime minister in Malaysia's history was eventually forced to resign, with much help from Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and austerian vice president Al Gore.

 Punishment by the IMF/global banking cartel for debtor states' failure to adopt "reforms" (austerity) always comes with a price. Just look at Greece. Just look at Detroit. Just look around your own foreclosed neighborhood.

And now, with the Obama administration's renewed, tacit acceptance of Asian slavery as an engine of economic growth, it is not hyperbole to label any complicit politicians who vote for "trade deals" not only whores, but pimps, high and free on capitalistic crack.

The victims of the global sex trade are the comfort women of the plutocrats -- each and every one of whom calls himself a devoted family man, or a simpering feminist with a shallow verbal penchant for "empowering" poor women and breaking the glass ceiling.

Where are the 21st century abolitionists? Where are the protests? Where are the scolding magazine covers that shame and call out the political pimps and the plutocratic predators?

"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength". -- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 "The fact is some folks are just opposed to trade deals out of principle, a reflexive principle. And what I tell them is, ‘You know what? If you’re opposed to these smart, progressive trade deals, then that means you must be satisfied with the status quo.’ ” -- Barack Obama at Nike Headquarters, May 2015, doing Orwell one better. Not only is slavery free, and freedom slavery, but the whole abomination is eminently sane. The slaves are just too damned stupid to realize that their progress across national borders is preferable to just staying put in their miserable countries of origin.

"This is a testament to when we're not vigilant in defense of human rights, what can happen". -- Barack Obama on his visit to the Senegal Slave Trade Memorial, June 2013.


Valerie said...

i just read a heart-breaking article on the agriculture workers in the San Quentin Valley and the way they are treated. Most are indigenous people from South and Central America who are duped into coming to Mexico to work at good paying jobs. They end up being treated like black tenant farmers trapped in a credit cycle with the company store. They long to make enough money to pay their debts and return to the land and way of life - poor that they were - that they left to come to Mexico. THAT is what NAFTA and free trade has brought us. It will only be worse with the TPP - nothing but a race to the bottom. It is all such a lie - Free Trade will be the rising tide that lifts all boats - rubbish!

I don't know why Australia is signing on. Our sugar industry had high hopes of breaking into the overly protected sugar market in the U.S. but Obama is maintaining protections - But turnabout is not fair with the TPP - The pharmaceutical industry will ruin our health system by driving up costs - and wait until the ISDS set in. I live in a working class town with a smelter owned by a Swiss multinational. After the state government went out on a limb to clean up the smelter by giving Nystar a 350 million dollar package to replace the massive furnace that was polluting the area, Nystar promised jobs, jobs, jobs. Ha! So far, all we have seen are contractors who work here during the week and fly out on weekends. Wait until a corporation like that decides it doesn't think it should pay union wages.

These faux trade agreements hurt the workers living in the Developed World and hurt the exploited worked and the environment in the Developing World. It is all so depressing.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Valerie. What is particularly upsetting to me is how xenophobia has gained such a strong hold, even among self-professed "liberals." Nobody seems to care how American foreign policy -- both financial and bellicose -- is creating a crisis situation across the globe.

And forget about immigration. I can't write a comment in the Times expressing sympathy for migrant workers or detainees in Obama's family border gulags without being attacked as un-American, soft on crime, hypocritical, or even urged to deport myself. (purely on the basis of my Spanish last name.) These America-firsters, again, always make sure to self-identify as Democrats and liberals, so as to elevate themselves above the low-info Republican voters. It is getting damned fascistic out there.

Meredith NYC said...

that's how liberals like Krugman, who is not really against TPP too much, and calls himself a free trader, give examples to democrats who elevate themselves above the Gop rw ignoramuses. A role model supposedly liberal, but making the right wing seem a bit plausible.