While I appreciate Joe Jammal’s sincere attempt to “alleviate [my] fears” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership with a little lesson on checks and balances, it unfortunately had the opposite effect; I am more worried than ever, as I realize that people of my generation still hold such blind faith in the government.
Jammal’s article essentially hinges on one argument: that if things get really bad, don’t worry, Congress will save us. Jammal’s faith in the checks and balances system unfortunately does not take into account how firmly members of Congress are nestled in the pocket of big business.
Jammal cited a few instances where Congress’s check on the executive branch has been beneficial. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. What follows are a few examples where Congress has completely failed the American people by ceding their own power, which is what they’ll do by passing the TPP as well.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964: After a supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress to pass this resolution, which allowed him to send troops into Vietnam without an official declaration of war from Congress. Essentially, it enabled the president to do whatever he could to protect members of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, which Vietnam wasn’t even a part of, but their rationale was about protecting other parts of Southeast Asia.
Congress passed the resolution, enabling the start of the Vietnam War. Although Congress eventually repealed this resolution in 1971, it was too late for the tens of thousands of Americans and many more Vietnamese civilians who had already died in one of the most unnecessary wars in history.
The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001: If you were involved in politics during September 11, 2001, you may remember this one as it happened. This act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress, enabled the government to tap into phones, e-mails, and financial records without a court order. The government was able to indefinitely detain potential “terrorist suspects” and search offices or homes without the occupant’s permission or knowledge. Congressmen Jim McDermott and John Conyers Jr. were famously recorded saying that many members of Congress didn’t read the bill itself.
The Iraq War Resolution of 2002: Congress was tricked by false evidence and fear-mongering into handing over power to authorize military action to the executive branch, eventually starting another one of the world’s most unnecessary wars. Even one of my all-time favorite politicians, Hillary Clinton, voted in favor of this resolution. This simply shows the fallibility of Congress when it has been misled.
As much as I desperately wish I lived in Jammal’s world, where the ever-vigilant U.S. Congress would not allow legislation that harms Americans to sneak past, it just doesn’t exist.
Jammal’s other supporting arguments don’t hold up either. It was shocking to read that TPP negotiations are kept secret because each of its participants “have actors in their country that could prove resistant to the TPP” and that it is a “prudent decision to shield executives from pressure”. These statements are shocking not just because they’re true, but because Jammal readily admits that it is being kept secret because there would be way too much popular opposition to it.
There might be people who disagree with it, so let’s just hide it from them? Don’t let people put pressure on executives? Imagine if American people were not allowed to pressure executives! The Vietnam War would’ve stretched out beyond belief. Abraham Lincoln may never have taken a position against slavery. The entire concept of elected officials representing the people would be pointless, if the people were not supposed to pressure their leaders to do what they wanted.
Interestingly enough, Jammal doesn’t ever counter any of the original points I made about the contents of the TPP. He opts instead to question my sources.
The Public Citizen Global Trade Watch is a respected source. Public Citizen is a national nonprofit that was founded over forty years ago. The Global Trade Watch section of it was founded in 1995 by Lori Wallach, the woman I quoted. Public Citizen and GTW are expansive and effective organizations that have been fostering public debate over trade agreements for years and definitely know what they’re talking about.
So, let’s recap: Does the TPP offer an incentive for shipping jobs overseas? Yep. Does it allow companies on U.S. land to disobey our environmental standards? Yes. Under the TPP, can foreign companies sue the U.S. over any law that gets in the way of their profits? Absolutely. Would the TPP cause the prices of medicine to skyrocket, severely affecting low-income people in all the countries that have signed on to the partnership? Certainly. Does the TPP force the U.S. to accept food that does not meet our food standards? Affirmative. Does the TPP revive SOPA? Indeed it does.
Jammal does not contradict any of these claims, and these claims alone are enough to make me alarmed by this bill. Because Congress is not actually a perfect organization of strength and protection, nothing has changed: we still have fight against this treaty, and despite the secrecy, we do have to put pressure on our representatives and president to work in our best interests. Anyone who wants to find out more can visit http://www.citizen.org/trade/.