So this is how it ends: Obama spends his last months in office shilling for the TPP

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by Soapy
Libcom.org
July 15, 2016

The “hope and change” candidate will go out with a whimper. After nearly eight years of consistent support for neoliberalism, Obama will spend the freest months of his presidency shilling for the likes of Pfizer and Comcast.

Barack Obama has come a long way since he announced his bid for the presidency in 2007. It was back in 2007 that Obama branded himself as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. As part of this branding, Obama's rhetoric on “free-trade” agreements was highly populist. He even went so far as to tell a crowd in Ohio that as president he would “renegotiate” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). "We can't keep passing unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers' interests.” It took Obama about one year before he told a Fortune magazine interviewer that he didn’t really think the US should renegotiate NAFTA saying, “[s]ometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.” And while it didn’t take long for Obama to backtrack on his most progressive positions, few in 2007 could imagine that far from renegotiating NAFTA, Obama would spend his last year in office engaged in an aggressive campaign shilling for the neoliberal trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP allows corporations operating in signatory countries to sue governments for regulating their industries. As Dean Baker writes, the suits are brought to an extrajudicial court, “not bound by precedent and not subject to appeal, which can impose large fines for any measure it chooses.” Public Citizen documents how, “the TPP constrains signatory governments’ ability to ban risky financial products, including those not yet invented.” Also prohibited are measures like the Bernie Sanders endorsed “Robin Hood Tax” which would tax financial transactions. On the subject of the environment, the TPP will allow fossil fuel companies to sue governments for regulating fossil fuel production. A whole slew of bans on regulations are included on issues relating to financial services, the safety of foods, the safety and wellbeing of workers, the environment, and any government regulation that perceivably violates the terms of the TPP can be challenged in a trade tribunal by corporations operating in TPP signatory countries.

All of this is done supposedly in the interests of “free-trade”, a meaningless term. “Free-trade” is a one-way street, what it really means is that corporations want to be free from regulation, while also free to defy natural market forces. For example, the TPP includes a considerable amount of extensions for copyrights and patents related to drug manufacturing. It’s patents on drug manufacturing that allow pharmaceutical companies like Gilead to sell the drug Sovaldi, used to treat Hepatitis C, at the price of $84,000 per treatment . Meanwhile the same drug manufactured in India is sold for $300. All that’s stopping the drug from being sold for much less in America are corrupt intellectual property practices which allow companies like Gilead to avoid market competition. This is something that the TPP is designed to strengthen in America, and to export to countries which don’t already engage in these corrupt practices. In other words the drug companies want Sovaldi to sell for $84,000 everywhere in the world.

Reading off the list of companies that are lobbying strongly for the TPP is like reading off a list of top donors to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. Google, Time Warner, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, National Amusements, General Motors (which donated to the Obama campaign through its lobbying organization Skadden, Arps et al), GE (which is lobbying for the TPP through the lobbying group Business Roundtable), nearly every single top 2008 Obama campaign donor is lobbying for the passage of the TPP. Is it just a coincidence that Obama is pushing so strongly for it?

As if to mock everything that his supporters thought he stood for, Obama appeared on the June 9th episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to “slow jam” the supposed benefits of the TPP, and to offer a short summary of all he has supposedly accomplished. After receiving a 30 second standing ovation from a screaming crowd, Obama launched into a pathetic summary of his supposed accomplishments. It is telling that his first major point, that he helped the country recover from the financial crisis, is just wrong. The jobless rate has still not recovered from before the crash. Moreover, the jobs that have been added back are of lower quality. Obama then delivers, to more adoring applause, a pathetic two-line endorsement of the TPP saying it will “create jobs”.

Tellingly, Obama’s appearance on Late Night signals the breaking of a nearly complete primetime media blackout of the issue. As Lee Fang of The Intercept noted, “A Media Matters report found that a ‘transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC’s World News Tonight, and NBC’s Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.’” Coincidentally, the one commentator who devoted significant time to the TPP, MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, was fired. MSNBC is owned by Comcast, a company that is spending millions lobbying for the TPP. As media critic Adam Johnson pointed out, it was fitting that Obama chose Fallon’s show for the appearance as, “NBC and the Tonight Show are owned by NBCUniversal, a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast.”

So this is one of the last acts of President Obama, shilling for Comcast. By doing so he sends a clear message to anyone who thought that maybe, just maybe, in his final freer year of presidency he would push for the political programs he espoused in 2007. The message is “fuck you”.

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