TPP And TTIP: Insurance Policies For World’s Billionaires.

by Jerry Alatalo

Alphabet Senator Barbara Boxer of California describes how she went to read the TransPacific Partnership, was instructed she must turn over her electronics to the guard there, that she couldn’t take notes – or if she did take notes, she’d have to give them to the guard before leaving, while aware telling her constituents about the deal was a crime. Just to make certain people understand the full meaning and importance of the previous sentence: Barbara Boxer is a long-serving United States Senator from California. Who, exactly, is responsible for making it illegal for United States Senators and members of the United States House of Representatives to tell their constituents – the American people – details of the largest trade deal in the history of the United States?

Seriously, whose idea was behind making it illegal for the people’s elected representatives to tell the American people (can anyone remember “We the People?”) about two multi-nation, binding trade deals that will directly affect their and their family’s lives? While we’re getting to the bottom of things, who originated the concept called “fast track”, which pushes completely over the cliff members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives’ obligation/duty to thoroughly debate trade deals with other nations, especially when talking about the massive TransPacific Partnership and TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

Seriously, who thought up the idea of fast track, and why? Why has the Barack Obama administration not answered to millions of citizens’ concerns about TPP and TTIP, namely by giving an explanation for the deals’ creation in secret, unable to become viewed and studied (with notes) by every American, and illegal for elected officials to discuss in public? The Obama administration has failed as well in giving an adequate explanation for Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in TPP and TTIP, where corporate-agenda, non-governmental panels – not already established legal institutions and courts – decide who wins and who loses: investors or states.

In the years and decades since wealth inequality started growing to today where wealth inequality on Earth has set a historical record, those at the top of wealth accumulation, billionaires, have invested large amounts of excess, accumulated wealth for more profit-making. In a vicious investment cycle resulting in ever more concentration of wealth in fewer hands, the negative consequences for more and more of the great majority of average people has led to an increasingly powerful pushback and intensified demands for an end to increasing wealth concentration/inequality. This pushback has led to average citizens rising up for economic justice, elected representatives (sometimes) hearing their citizens’ demands and acting by creating laws to slow or halt further concentration of wealth, and what some describe as haircuts or constraints for billionaire investors.

What TPP and TTIP have been engineered to accomplish is putting an end to stronger pushback by average citizens against corporate actions which result in declining standards of living in the areas of employment, finance, food safety, economics, health, education etc., and fighting for an equal voice in how their governments carry out their majority ideas on the range of issues affecting their lives – commonly called democracy.

The manner in which the TransPacific Partnership and TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been written by corporate lawyers in secret, with virtual zero transparency, and, most disturbingly, making it illegal for United States Senators to give the people they represent the details – can only be described as actions of a type absolutely the furthest distance possible from the idea of “We the People”: democratic. The entire process has been scandalously deceptive and dishonorable – a repugnant disgrace.


(Thank you to TheBigPictureRT at YouTube)


David Korten: Capitalism, Socialism… Or A New Story?

by Jerry Alatalo

aaa-33Alphabet David Korten is 77 years-old. His most recent book “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth” (February 2015) is available for purchase on

After referring to David Korten’s 1994 book “When Corporations Rule the World” in comments on articles about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for the book’s and Mr. Korten’s prophetic nature, it seemed possibly beneficial to find any recent talks by him. Fortunately a 1-hour, 20-minute talk on Earth Day April 22, 2015 at Seattle University was found on Todd Boyle’s YouTube channel, and that is the topic of this post.

Mr. Korten is one of the founders of Yes! Magazine:


A partial transcript/description of David Korten’s talk at Seattle University on the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, 2015, followed by the video…

“…turning to a living economy, for living human beings, on a living Earth. (On the) 45th anniversary of Earth Day, we live under corporate rule in a suicide economy bent on destroying itself.” Mr. Korten finds the current problematic global condition the result of choices made with respect to the religious saying “(one) cannot serve both God and money”. He points out that a transformation has become necessary from a system which exploits life to make money for a handful of rich people to one which encourages life and community.

He points to recent comments by Pope Francis about “idolatry of money, truly lacking in purpose” and noted that it’s not money by itself that is “evil” but “worship, love of money (that) is the root of all evil”. According to David Korten, “it comes down to simple principles, principles that live in the human heart”. The difficulty is that fundamental truths are “opposite to what we’re taught”, that it’s necessary to awaken a new reverence for life, and that the challenge is coming up with a new “sacred story” drawing from indigenous wisdom, traditional religious/spiritual traditions’ teachings, and scientific discoveries.

“Defining aspect of human nature is that we can choose our nature. (It’s) impossible to live together unless we have an authentic, common story.” Without authenticity, humanity has come to corporate rulership, serving money at the expense of life in situations around the world. Mr. Korten shares a statement he heard from a friend “Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your politics”, and then illustrates two options in that regard: 1. God created in our image, an elder male who demands a hierarchical system of domination over women, children, and even including the rich and powerful, OR 2. A God of connection, inter-relation, true community, spirit.

He talked about a March 2012 meeting of indigenous leaders he attended where he heard opposition to privatization, commoditization, selling the Mother Earth, and the belief that “we must protect and maintain her (Mother Earth)” He contrasts the phrase “time is life” with “time is money”, and suggested through questioning whether time is for living or for “organizing our lives around accumulating accounting chips, destroying life to make money”.  Mr. Korten then told the audience that “we still have to prove humans are an intelligent species”.

At this point in the talk, David Korten lists the corporate “truths” taught in schools and universities:

time is money

money is wealth

making money creates wealth

making money is the defining purpose of people, business, and the economy

the rich are society’s wealth creators

affluent lifestyles are their fair and just reward

material consumption drives prosperity and the path to happiness

the Earth belongs to us

it is our human nature to be individualistic, competitive, and acquisitive

driven by the free market, creativity drives technologies to eliminate humanity’s dependence on nature

the community interest is simply an aggregation of individual private interests of its individual members

corporations are groups of persons, engines of wealth creation, and entitled to the same rights as any person

we all do our best when focused on maximizing our own individual private interest

Mr. Korten then asked the audience: “Did you notice anything in these statements that was true? Every element of that story is either false or grossly misleading”.

“Maximizing returns to money absolutely guarantees an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and an ever-growing gap between those who control great wealth and those who don’t, increasingly excluded as those on the top monopolize, control access to means of living. Control access to means of living and you control society”.

“So, why do we accept this obviously false story?” According to David Korten it comes to out-dated cosmologies (cosmology: the theory or metaphysics of the universe as an ordered integration or whole). He then lists three types of cosmology (story) current:

distant patriarchy story

grand machine story of science

story of mystical unity

Distant patriarch story All agency resides with patriarch (God) who lives apart (heaven). If things aren’t going well here on Earth, the obvious solution is to pray to God to fix it. Get on God’s side to get a good place in the afterlife. Relieves us of responsibility

Grand machine story The universe is like a giant machine or clockwork, and maybe there was a God or clock maker who set it up, set it in motion. Basically, (the universe) is just a mechanism winding down to death as its spring unwinds. Literally, there is no agency, and absolutely no meaning. Here, David Korten added, “that is depressing, I think I’ll go shopping…”

Mystical unity story The only true reality is mystical unity – spirit, that what we perceive as reality is simply an illusion created by the ego, and “that is the cause of our depression and separation”. Meditation becomes practiced with the goal of getting rid of the ego, merging into oneness, and escaping from “all this pain”. Korten sees no particular meaning to existence in that story.

The three stories, each partial, none of which offers a true guide to addressing the realities of the failures of society according to Mr. Korten, when we begin to put them together,  offer a “very interesting synthesis”.

There is intelligence and consciousness essential for the unfolding of the universe. Science, mechanism and chance are part of material existence, giving us an insight/lens into the deepest structure of reality and creation. Mystical unity/spirit is the ground of all creation; that all creation is a manifestation of spirit. “So, put these all together for an emerging new story”.

David Korten views the beginning is spirit – the spirit that has in a sense driven humans to understand/know the meaning and purpose of our lives. He suggests that perhaps spirit longed for that same knowledge, and asks “how does it know itself, when there is nothing else? By becoming, by expressing, by exploring its possibilities…” “It burst forth” in this cloud of energy particles as science describes it. Of the billions and billions of galaxies, on one planet – Earth, organisms organized as community and transformed conditions “on Earth unlike anywhere in the universe”.

“You also see in the total pattern of this unfolding of creation a consistent arrow, always (moving) toward increasing complexity, greater beauty, greater awareness, and greater possibility. And every being, every organism, whether simple-cell or complex humans, whether a grain of sand or great mountains, or great galaxies; each is contributing to the continuing unfoldment of the whole. Each has its place in creation”.

What is our human place in creation?

The New Framing Story: The Sacred Life and Living Earth story replaces the Sacred Money and Market story:

time is life

real wealth is living wealth

money is just a number, useful as a medium of exchange and well-regulated markets

we humans are living beings, born of and nurtured by living Earth, itself born out of a living universe, and that changes everything

life exists only in community

we are part of nature, not apart from nature

Earth does not belong to us, we belong to Earth

our health and prosperity depends on Earth’s health and prosperity

our human nature calls us to care and share for the benefit of all, brain science has discovered this is wired into our brains

serving the living community that sustains us is essential to community health, and that service is our source of greatest happiness

Here Mr. Korten interjects: “Now this one is really interesting”.

individualistic greed, ruthless competition, and violence against life are indicators of serious psychological and societal dysfunction

“They are the characteristics of the psychopath, the sociopath, and yet we set it up as the ideal for economic behavior. Wow”.

poverty in reality is the consequence of a lack of opportunity

the proper purpose of any human institution, whether business, government, or civil society is to support people as productive, contributing, sharing members of a vibrant and prosperous living Earth community

corporations that seek to monopolize resources and decision-making power in the pursuit of purely financial ends have no place in a healthy society

“We have the foundation for creating a living economy that organizes as life organizes to maintain and enhance the conditions for life. Environmentalism isn’t about some do-gooder cause – it’s about survival. It’s about discovering our true nature and our true purpose. All around the world, in communities almost everywhere, increasing numbers of people are organizing to bring forth the living economy. They are rebuilding their local economies, their communities; they are engaging in organic agriculture, young people going back to the soil; creating farms to feed themselves and their neighbors”.

David Korten sees no institutional structure on Earth devoted to the study of our fundamental human story.

Q+A segment:

What advice can you share with young people?  What can they do?

“Work on creating, bringing forward, the new. Be open and explicit that what you are doing is part of a new, essential vision”. Mr. Korten spoke of education’s failure in the sense of training young men and women to work for “social predators”, and through student debt, a lifetime of work to repay as corporations and the wealthiest could pay their share of taxes and make life easier for university students. Speaking to the students in the audience, he admits “your generation (is) faced with ‘one hell of a mess’ left by my generation”.

David Korten asks the audience if anyone has moments where they feel depressed or hopeless, and shared that he has low moments like those as well.  He sometimes gets asked, “do you think there’s any possibility that we can really change?”

“Well, if I look at it as an objective academic observer, we haven’t got a chance in hell of getting out of this – it’s already too late; we’re in too deep. Then I remind myself that if we take that as our assumption, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes absolutely certain – that outcome. And that is an intolerable outcome; it’s an unacceptable outcome. So I have to do everything I can, based on the assumption that it’s not too late, based on the assumption that it is possible to change – to create a new reality”.

“Now, another piece of that is it’s a whole lot more fun getting together with friends, creating the new reality, than it is sitting around becoming cynical (and) depressed. Also, at 77 years-old, I’ve lived through a bit of history, and I’ve seen some incredibly dramatic changes take place – very quickly. You know, racism, racial segregation, racial domination goes way, way, way back, again to the beginning of empire. The suppression of women goes back to the beginning of empire”.

“If you’re going to have a hierarchy, a dominator system, you’ve got to have most people at the bottom, so who are you going to put at the bottom? Skin color, gender, and so on, they’re all on the bottom, and that makes it a whole lot easier for us white guys at the top. Oh my, the changes that have happened in my lifetime in terms of gender relations and race relations… Huge”.

“We saw the Soviet Union collapse in the blink of an eye. We saw the end of apartheid in South Africa. Going back to just after World War II, India, totally dominated by the British, inspired by Gandhi the Indians freed themselves from the most powerful empire in the world. It all happened very quickly. As the forces for change build, it’s like tectonic plates, and then there’s a sudden shift. It all has to do with a moment of readiness”.

“Did the WTO (World Trade Organization) demonstration, did it have any impact? It had an enormous, enormous impact. First of all, it developed awareness all around the world of the insidious nature of these trade agreements and what ‘free trade’ is really about. But also, following the Seattle WTO demonstrations – which literally shut-down the negotiations, shut-down the meeting – prevented any progress toward further consolidation of corporate rights. That inspired people around the world. For the next two years every place the elites met to conspire, to roll back democracy and human rights in favor of corporate rule, hundreds of thousands, in some instances millions of people, came out to stop that”.

“Now, what happened?”

“Well, it actually all got disrupted by 9/11. Our government came forward and said any act of dissent is terrorism – siding with the terrorists. There were all sorts of crackdowns around the world, and it scattered the movement. The movement was also built around a focus on those economic issues and specifically corporate rule, but our government at that time, they were talking about a ‘Pax Americana’; about American empire imposing democracy by military force, if you can imagine anything more contradictory”.

 “That had the impact of essentially shutting down the movements. We also realized that another part of that is we had created a story around which people could organize. They knew who the enemy was, they knew what to attack, what to respond to, in terms of the corporate rule and this process of globalizing corporate power. Partly what happened was a deflecting of energy. A great many of us turned away from street protests and turned into these initiatives of rebuilding from the local; creating the new rather than resisting the old”.

“We’ve got to come back and do both at the same time. That is possible and, certainly from my perspective, being very much part of the movement that led up to the WTO protests and beyond, WTO protests had a huge impact, even though it was not sufficient”.

“Everything must change. We have many initiatives. We need to continue with those, both the initiatives and the pro-action, but we also have to bring it together into a larger framing story so that we each see how our individual contributions connect to the contributions of others”.

“Coming back to the issue of the story, the thing I’ve learned is that timing is everything. There is a moment around each of our issues where there is a readiness in society for deep change and for a new conversation. And, I’m getting all sorts of signals that this is the time for a discussion about the deeper story. And it may sound like it’s kind of a diversion, it’s a little ‘woo-woo’, we’ve got to get (the story) out on the street”.

“But the power of the story… We got a group of some forty people redefine that story (trade deals are great, etc.), took it out into the world, people mobilized on a massive scale, because there was a readiness at that point in time for a new story and action. People everywhere are realizing that the current system doesn’t work; the old stories make absolutely no sense. If you lay out the Sacred Money and Market stories as I did tonight everybody ‘gets it’ instantly. Well, there’s a few people that don’t, but…”

“The readiness for this deeper examination – what is the purpose of our lives, why are we here, what is the nature of our reality? , how do we pull together all those findings of the leading edge of science to make sense of it in a larger way? If there was ever a moment in human history for that, it is right now”.

Americans enjoy watching a stupid game more than having a meaningful conversation about our lives… What happened to Occupy?

“Occupy is a very interesting example. It put inequality on the map. It brought that into the conversation when it was never there before, and it’s still there, because inequality’s getting even worse. But… we need to keep this deeper perspective in mind. If you understand the history of 5,000 years of empire, it took us literally 5,000 years as a species to get into the mess we’re in. It’s not going to end with a single demonstration. And it gets back to the story”.

“Essentially, the Sacred Money and Market story is the guise of economic science. A lot of my insights about the deeper story actually came from the experience of living in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia (In the past, David Korten has lived on various continents for several years), and the immersion into the Asian culture and that deep sense of connection to the Earth, and to family, and to community. Particularly in my earliest trips to Asia around 1961, and seeing in those rice-based cultures the melding of humans into nature, this connection with the seasons, people working in community in the fields as their ancestors had for thousands of years”.

“Not affluent, not rich, but basically very healthy, strong, deep communities, and that’s part of my own awakening of my consciousness to our own real nature and possibilities. And the question is can we marry modern technology with those deeper beliefs so that we’re not being ruled by technology, or driven by profit, but using the most beneficial aspects of it to create a wholly new civilization that works with nature, helps Earth heal these systems, but ultimately actually increases the regenerative capacities of Earth in support of life – in support of all life”.

“And that is a part of our human contribution. Again, I share your despair and nobody can get more cynical than I can. But, we have to touch the center of possibility in our core. And the more we recognize the true nature, the true nature of the unfolding of creation and where we fit into that, the more I have a sense of possibility”.

“And I just think that the vast majority of humans are ready to hear that message. But of course, in the place you’re talking about nobody’s even talking about that message. That’s what we need to encourage”. 


(Thank you to Todd Boyle at YouTube) 

Step Aside Hillary, Bernie’s Coming Through…

by Jerry Alatalo

aaa-11Alphabet Senator Bernie Sanders and Thom Hartmann have teamed up for the weekly Q+A call-in program “Brunch With Bernie” for several years now. Bernie says he’s getting close to announcing that he will campaign for President of the United States. Here’s hoping he runs and here’s hoping he wins. Step aside Hillary, Bernie’s coming through. That’s kind of a catchy campaign slogan, come to think of it.

Here’s how Bernie Sanders of Vermont becomes the next President of the United States. First, he and Massachusetts Senator and progressive wing of the Democratic party superstar Elizabeth Warren strike a secret deal, known only to the two of them. Ms. Warren, because of her principled stands against Wall Street corruption, has men and women across the nation urging her to run for the highest office in the land. If she had decided to run her odds of garnering more votes against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination would have been poor, because Ms. Clinton has more political experience – first lady for eight years, Senator from New York, a near win in 2008 for President, and Secretary of State.

In addition, two women battling it out for the nomination would have resulted in Hillary’s 2008 voters going for her again this time. This is only a guess, but Senator Sanders will soon enter the race, and when the campaign gets into full-swing and hot and heavy, as per the secret deal, Bernie will hold a press conference where Senator Warren will appear after Bernie Sanders tells Americans that “If I win the nomination of the Democratic party, Elizabeth Warren has agreed to become my Vice-Presidential running mate”. Or, Senator Sanders will run as an independent third-party candidate, so “Elizabeth Warren has agreed to become my Vice-Presidential running mate against Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush”. At that point the front page of newspapers all across America, without exception, will contain “the photo” of Sanders and Warren standing side-by-side smiling, hand-in-hand raised vertically toward the sky, with the headine… “SANDERS – WARREN!!”

Most Americans who agree with progressive policies – policy proposals locked into the platform of a Sanders-Warren Democratic or Independent ticket – would in unison across the 50 states exclaim/erupt with decades-of-internalized political frustration and disappointment miraculously transformed into joy: “Finally!!”

In a very short time after the mega-announcement, some fellows by the name of Koch, Adelson, Bush, Walker, etc. will be on phones urgently arranging appointments with their respective psychiatrists, because “visions” of hundreds of millions of dollars being flushed down the toilet have them very worried about experiencing odd hallucinations and unmanageable, severe depression. Let us say that the fellows have become, well… a little “shook up”, like that actor Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther movies whose eye twitches when Peter Sellers is around.

Herbert Lom





Presidential campaigns are well-known for their unexpected, vote-swinging bombshell news events. Will the Sanders-Warren scenario described come to pass? Many people have come to the point where “nothing surprises anymore in this world”, so just remember the possible secret deal between Senators Sanders and Warren comes from the imagination. Then again, some people claim that creative visualization really works…

After a little harmless fun, here’s a brief overview of some of the topics discussed on the April 23, 2015 broadcast of “Brunch With Bernie”. Before taking phone comments and questions Senator Sanders talked about the previous week, with particular focus on the Republican budget priorities. Sanders tells Thom Hartmann’s viewing audience that the provisions are so bad that people may not believe it when he tells them. He goes through a list including taking health insurance from 16 million people who’ve signed on to the Affordable Care Act, cutting $90 billion over ten years from Pell Grants for college students, cuts in Headstart funding, “devastating” cuts to the food stamp program, tax breaks for the top .2% through repeal of the Estate Tax, higher taxes on low-income and working people, $billions more in military spending, plus cuts to programs helping the elderly and children.

Sanders notes that the media has not reported on the GOP proposed budget nearly enough given the huge consequences for average Americans.

The first caller asked the Senator when he would announce he’s running for President, and Sanders explained it was a difficult decision because of the forces he and his supporters would come up against: Wall Street, multinational corporations, pharmaceutical companies, military contractors, the Koch brothers and fellow billionaires, etc. He said that a major grassroots movement will have to emerge, not to mention creating a credibly funded campaign in light of unlimited campaign contributions guaranteed by Citizens United. In response to the caller on when, he said “shortly”.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the topic for several callers, to which Bernie Sanders replied by saying he was against it, that he and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden have a “strong disagreement” on the proposed trade deal, and that all presidential candidates “can’t wiggle your way out of telling the American people where you stand on TPP”. Although he did filibuster the TPP proceedings in the Senate, he admits the action only slows down the process, but that filibusters can’t stop the vote.  He noted that 60,000 manufacturing plants have closed since 2001 due to TPP-like trade deals, workers in Vietnam (one of the prospective nations of TPP) making 56-cents an hour, Americans can’t find/buy products “made in America” anymore, and that people need to call their representatives in opposition.

Thom Hartmann shared his perspective on TPP: “It’s like a show of horrors”.

After a caller asked Senator Sanders why voter turnout in the mid-term 2014 elections was so low, he responded by saying the average American looks around and asks “who is listening to me?’,  then decides not to vote because they don’t want to give a completely corrupt system credibility. He elaborated, saying there is massive demoralization in the country, that too-many people see that nobody in Congress is speaking for them, and concluding it (voting) doesn’t matter, because the rich will get richer whoever takes office. Sanders pointed out that a mass movement is necessary across America; a movement whose central message is “enough is enough”, and that it’s either developing that type of powerful grassroots movement “or lose”.

The last caller touched on the 2014 mid-term election and his perception that candidates in the Democratic party did an abysmal job of “selling” their ideas and agenda for the country, and that this was the main reason for losing many seats in Congress. Bernie Sanders agreed with the caller, then listed a number of progressive stances on issues that most Americans agree with:

infrastructure improvements creating millions of jobs

an increase in the minimum wage

pay equity for women

transforming the national energy system from fossil fuels to renewables, creating millions of jobs and economic growth

decreasing Wall Street power by breaking up too-big-to-fail banks

ending tax breaks for billionaires and large corporations

single-payer health care system

and more

Finally, Bernie Sanders stresses the clear and urgent need for a progressive agenda focused on average Americans which “takes on the billionaire class”.

Promise you won’t tell anybody about that secret deal between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It’s supposed to be a surprise.


(Thank you to thomhartmann at YouTube)

Public Banking Movement And Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

February 1, 2015

(Cross-posted from


Is The Trans-Pacific Partnership A Danger To Public Banks?

posted by  
January 29, 2015

Many people fear that secretive trade talks with corporate lobbyists may prohibit public rights to control common assets.

The United States Congress is very close to granting President Obama the authority to “fast track” negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal largely negotiated in secret that could have profound implications on financial, labor, and environmental standards in the United States. Democracy Now! reports:

The top U.S. trade official has told lawmakers the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal could be wrapped up within months and urged Congress to give the White House fast-track authority to approve the deal. Protesters with the group Flush the Trans-Pacific Partnership repeatedly interrupted U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s testimony before Congress. The protesters — Dr. Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and retired steelworker Richard Ochs — were all arrested after being removed from the hearing.

And, according to Barbara Chicherio, writing last year in Nation of Change:

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has the potential to become the biggest regional Free Trade Agreement in history. . . The chief agricultural negotiator for the US is the former Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddique.  If ratified the TPP would impose punishing regulations that give multinational corporations unprecedented right to demand taxpayer compensation for policies that corporations deem a barrier to their profits.

For at least the last two years, since activists have been expressing concern about the TPP, many commentators have speculated that the agreement poses an immediate, long-term threat to publicly owned banks like the Bank of North Dakota. The rationale for this concern is that public banks are “state-owned enterprises” that are seen as a barrier to private profits—something against which the TPP would throw considerable barriers. In an April 2013 interview on The Real News Network, Kevin Zeese called the TPP “NAFTA on steroids” and “a global corporate coup,” warning:

    No matter what issue you care about—whether its wages, jobs, protecting the environment . . . this issue is going to adversely affect it . . . .

If a country takes a step to try to regulate the financial industry or set up a public bank to represent the public interest, it can be sued . . . .

The suspicion that publicly owned entities would be targeted by the TPP, and that public banks would be included in that targeting, is most notably detailed in a March 2013 analysis by Sam Knight, who describes trade lobbyists as specifically concerned with the “preferential financing” afforded to public services—possibly (though not decisively) services like those financed by the BND. According to Knight,

Publicly owned enterprises, for example, are being targeted by negotiators. One such entity in the United States that has been the subject of considerable interest in recent years is the Bank of North Dakota (BND) – the only fully publicly owned financial institution in the country. The BND, which is only allowed to lend wholesale, was a stabilizing force that helped keep the already energy-rich state insulated from the shock of the financial crisis (Alaska, for example, didn’t fare as well). It has also brought a small fortune to the state’s treasury – $340 million in net tax gain between 1997 and 2009. Legislators in at least 13 different states have proposed studying or emulating the North Dakota model – state-owned development of central-bank style institutions guaranteed by tax revenue. But if the TPP is passed, that option might not be available. Weisel said that State Owned Enterprises (SOE) are routinely “competing directly with private enterprises, and often in a way that is considered unfair.”

“Some of the advantages that can be conferred on State Owned Enterprises are things like preferential financing,” [trade lobbyist] Weisel said. “Those are things that wouldn’t be provided to private companies – preferential provision of goods and services provided by a government.”

She said that “State Owned Enterprises – which in some cases can comprise a significant percentage of an economy – can be used to undermine what we’re otherwise trying to gain from this free trade agreement.”

A spokesperson for the BND declined to comment on whether or not this outlook was perceived by the bank to be an institutional threat. But, depending on the report’s language, foreign bankers could claim that the BND stops them from lending to commercial banks throughout the state.

These concerns led Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers to conclude:

These same provisions about state-owned enterprises will affect public banking too. North Dakota is the only state in the US to have a public state bank, although over a dozen states and cities are considering them. Public banks are used to hold taxes that are collected, administer payroll for public employees and provide loans for public projects. The advantage is that all public dollars are managed in a public institution rather than having to pay fees and interest to a private bank. But the TPP would consider public banks to have unfair advantages and therefore violate free trade.

The greatest indication that the TPP threatens to stymie or eliminate public banks comes from trade lobbyist Michael Wendell’s testimony to the Congressional Subcommittee on Trade:

SOEs [state-owned enterprises], by definition, are interested in promoting the interests of their home country, and are all too often guided by state interests, rather than commercial interests. Why does this matter? Let’s consider a Chinese SOE. Chinese SOEs benefit enormously from below-market-rate financing by state-owned banks at rates well below what American companies pay. Many of these loans may not have to be repaid at all. How does a commercial entity here in the U.S. compete with the U.S.-based operations of an SOE that sets up shop here? . . . There are many ways that disciplines on SOEs can be developed as part of the TPP talks. The best approach would be to ensure that all transactions are based on commercial considerations.

There is certainly no question about whether TPP advocates are eager to target, penalize, and discourage public entities. Even “liberal” American commentators take a negative view of state-owned enterprises, particularly government management of banking assets. Writing for the Center for American Progress, Sabina Dewan argues:

A number of Trans-Pacific Partnership participants—among them Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore—manage their economies through a state-capitalist model in which the government directly or indirectly controls many of the economy’s productive assets, formal financial systems, and activities. These enterprises participate in commercial markets but enjoy state backing. They benefit from preferred access to bank capital, below-market-rate financing, favorable tax treatment, capital injections, and other advantages that distort the playing field and put American firms and workers at a competitive disadvantage.

Similarly, in his analysis of the TPP, the Brookings Institute’s Joshua Meltzer perpetuates the assumption that there is an inevitable “trade distorting impact” when public entities “do not [operate] according to competitive market-based principles.”

Making what, to me, appears to be a typical recommendation, the decidedly anti-“statist” Dewan says that U.S. negotiators “should insist that state-owned enterprises be evaluated under the agreement as if they were operating solely according to commercial considerations.” Of course, we know that public banks may well have mission statements in their charters that mandate operations for the sake of non-commercial considerations. Given this divide, it’s easy to understand why many commentators are worried that public banks would be targeted by the TPP.

It is language and assumptions such as these that lead commentators like Les Leopold to worry that, under the TPP,

Depending on the final language, it is possible that the activities of the Bank of North Dakota could be ruled illegal because “foreign bankers could claim the BND stops them from lending to commercial banks throughout the state” . . .

The assumption that state-run financial operations “distort” the free market, of course, ignores the fact that governments, including and especially the United States, currently prop up big banks to the tune of trillions of dollars, utilizing both bail-outs and, now, bail-ins, intervening at almost every stage of the game, and not necessarily in ways that are conducive to the interests of the majority.

Such assumptions ignore an important distinction made by Ellen Brown in The Public Bank Solution: the distinction between government ownership of the means of production (also known as socialism), and the philosophy of public banking:

. . . government oversight of the system of credits and debits that undergirds a functioning economy, ensuring that the system operates effectively, fairly, securely, and to the benefit of all. Banking, money, and credit are not market goods but are economic infrastructure, just as roads and bridges are physical infrastructure. Banking and credit need to be public utilities for a capitalist market economy to run properly. By providing inexpensive, accessible financing to the free enterprise sector of the economy, public banks make commerce more vital and stable. (The Public Bank Solution, p. 3)

So the real question is whether TPP negotiators and interpreters will see banking more as a market good, or more like a road or bridge (since it is unlikely that public infrastructure such as roads and bridges will fall under critical scrutiny in the regime of TPP trade complaints). Those opposing the TPP believe that nothing in the history or trajectory of America’s big bank-driven policy making suggests that trade representatives would interpret banking as a utility; after all, the very reason that we don’t have more public banks in the United States is precisely that banking is seen as a profit-making venture rather than a utility.

All of this is speculative, though, because the TPP is being negotiated almost entirely under a shroud of secrecy—and this uncertainty doesn’t make anyone concerned about the TPP’s effects feel any better about possible outcomes.

In the end, then, we will not know what the impact of the TPP will be on the BND and other potential public banks in the United States until long after it is negotiated. Given the tendency of trade negotiators to view banks as profit-making businesses, and to argue that state-owned enterprises should be evaluated through the criteria of pure “commercial considerations,” there is understandable suspicion that passage of the TPP will significantly complicate the implementation and existence of public banks.

It wouldn’t be the first time that public banks were challenged, though, nor would it be the only international agreement-based challenge to public banking: As Ellen Brown outlines in The Public Bank Solution, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision created new global rules (called Basel III) raising the mandatory reserves banks are required to hold, ostensibly to avoid another 2008-style crisis. As Greg Keller and Frank Jordans argued at the time, the rules are a threat not only to community banks, but also public sector banks.