Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Ian Murphy
The latest corporate bid for global hegemony is here.
It's called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a US-EU regulatory addition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international trade deal being negotiated in secret and rushed through the approval process without any congressional oversight.
For those of us not in the corporate inner circle, Wikileaks has kindly posted one of the most enlightening bits of the TPP, revealing that it's basically a scheme to convince the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, Brunei, and the EU (if TTIP is enacted too) to sign away their citizens' rights to the whims of multinational conglomerates.
Naturally, this is all being negotiated in secret, because talking openly about a plan to forfeit national sovereignty doesn't sound very good, does it? We wouldn't want to air something like that in public. The grownup corporate persons clearly prefer to talk somewhere you can't hear them.
If ratified, TPP/TTIP will subvert democracy in much the same way as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did. We tend to only think of these trade agreements bringing about the loss of domestic manufacturing jobs, cheapening labor markets and destroying America's working middle class, but it's also resulted in the growth of what can only be called corporate fascism.
Both NAFTA and TPP/TTIP contain language regarding investor-state disputes which gives corporations the legal authority to sue the hell out of any government that may be cutting into its bottom line with regulatory nuisances. Even if the corporation's lawsuit is doomed to fail, the sheer litigiousness of the "aggrieved" is frightening enough to lawmakers, making it likely that a mere threat would be enough to force government concessions to avoid a protracted and expensive legal battle.
Amazingly, this is based on the very same legal strategy the railroads used to exploit the language of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment to become legal "persons." Only, the investor-state lawsuits aren't brought to national courts; they're arbitrated by a small, secretive tribunal of judges not bound by domestic law.
It's almost funny how America's small government, weak regulation tea party set supposedly stay awake at night worrying that an otherwise toothless United Nations may be forming an oppressive global government. And by almost funny, I mean incredibly stupid.
A fact of modern times is that nation-states are falling by the evolutionary wayside. There's a relatively new meta-organism in the game that's disrupted the ecosystem of control. This meta-organism is the corporation, which gives zero shits about imaginary lines on a map unless it's cheaper to cross one of those lines to find labor that's easier to exploit. In today's globalized economy, this meta-organism is simply a "fitter" beast than the old nation states, and they tend to lack any kind of moral compass.
The corporate meta-organism is a weird creature. All decisions are surrendered to the gut instinct of maximizing profit for the shareholders. Though created out of us puny human cells, these gargoyles we've unleashed are decidedly inhuman and inhumane. If it's cheaper to pollute and pay the fine, they do. If it's more profitable to perpetuate the revolving-door political system, they do. They must, as defined by the laws that they wrote. From NAFTA to domestic bill mills like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), they have succeeded in making profit the sole driver of public policy.
Though nation states still hold sway over its citizen cells, we're going to have to outgrow them entirely if we want to survive the corporate onslaught. Not to get all "think piece" on you, but these ideas are worth working through to find some semblance of, dare I say, hope on the other side. There will be cat .gifs there, so bear with me.
The human race today stands at perhaps the most critical point in our history, yet we're still repeating the seemingly endless battle between our serfs and lords. The game's shifted a bit, but fundamentally the same since medieval times. While the printing press may no longer be the serfs' weapon of choice, the Internet has replaced it. Thanks to this new social structure, we've seen the rise of leaking, hackers and whistleblowers, along with a return to investigative journalism and a flare up of "civil disobedience and direct action," according to recently convicted Internet hacktivist Jeremy Hammond.
Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in the clink last Friday for obtaining and releasing the internal documents of the private U.S.-based intelligence company Stratfor. While I and others thought the Stratfor hack was actually an FBI trap to ensnare Wikileaks using an Anonymous-like turncoat named Hector Monsegur, Hammond fed the massive pile of data to Wikileaks anyway.
But the Feds didn't snag Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. What they got instead was a journalist named Barrett Brown (and I really hope you know all this already), who merely posted links to the Stratfor leaks for his journalism collective Project PM, of which the late Michael Hastings was a member. Buried in there were bunch of credit card numbers, of which Brown, acting in his capacity as a journalist, had absolutely no interest. Today he's facing 107 years in jail, but the guy who actually lifted the data only got put away for 10. If my maths be right, that's 97 years for practicing journalism.
In the context of this new reality, working together globally over the Internet -- essentially outside the nation-state system -- to defeat the corporate forces is becoming increasingly vital. And yet, here I am, waiting to see if I can pay rent by selling words to a news outlet that's sponsored by Bank of America. (Editor's note: The Progressive is not sponsored by Bank of America, but Ian did have a piece in Politico recently.) But that's how they get you. Poverty is a powerful motivator and we're all forced, in one way or another, to occasionally become part of the problem. But what does this all mean?
I can only conclude that the need for a truly open and neutral Internet is greater now than ever before, even as that dream is slipping away more every day. To turn the gage back toward freedom, we as activists need to have guts; to act with bravery at all costs.
Afterwards, if we're not all in jail for stepping over a curb or some other nonsense, we should probably get some burgers too. Big ones! No pickles. OK, you can have pickles. But only if you trade me a cat .gif. Or better yet, an unregulated cat .gif that strangely applies to our current situation. Ah, here's one...
That's it. I'm taking this to the private tribunal.
Photo: Flickr user Monik Markus, creative commons licensed.
Gif found on iheartcatgifs.tumblr.com.