Civics versus Reality:  Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Kids

Part of my job as a father – a parent – is to raise the kids to take their place in the world as moral and productive adults.  The conversations continue beyond the birds and the bees, which is good since they’re all old enough that if I were now discussing birds and bees with them, I’d probably have multiple grandchildren.  But a significant part of those conversations go to what’s occurring in the world around them and how reality frequently conflicts with what they’ve learned in school.  Such is the case with a conversation about the June 12 vote on HR 1314, in which the House of Representatives denied the President the right to “fast-track” approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty.

The conversation happened twice, the first with Middle and again later that evening with Eldest, Youngest and my wife.  In each case, it was generally composed of three segments.  The first was a general description of what little was known the TPP treaty and that led to the other two segments.  Why was so little known about it and how in the hell could the President get away with making open disclosure of such contents prosecutable.  In the case of the former, little is known about it and purposefully so.  Perhaps the most glaring is that supranational rights would be given to corporations, i.e. that if a foreign corporation objected to a local law, be it state or federal, it could appeal that law to an international court and if upheld, could have said law overturned.  The example that I used with each was if a Chinese corporation wanted to build a plant in a neighboring township and didn’t like the environmental regulations, they could take their case to an international court and have those regulations overturned so that they could proceed with their plant.  Incendiary perhaps, but still a legitimate example and one that’s pertinent since there’s been an ongoing local controversy about an American firm running a gas pipeline through the area despite significant public opposition.  It’s bad enough that we’re becoming part of a domestic corporate fascism with those organizations gaining increasing power over the individual; to be additionally at the mercy of the wishes of a foreign corporation – be it Chinese, German or English – is intolerable.

The next part of the conversation went to the fact that the document itself is heavily guarded and protected as to contents.  It can only be read by members of Congress in a particular basement, guarded, and any notes must be destroyed.  If anyone is caught publicizing details of the proposed treaty, they can be criminally prosecuted.  Still, aspects of the treaty have made it to light and that includes the supranational status given to corporations.  Another aspect that’s come out via leaks and analysis by the New York Times is that the pharmaceutical industry has lobbied heavily on its behalf, most notably for increased intellectual property protection.  While that’s certainly a legitimate concern that goes to pharmaceuticals as well as any other number of industries and products, there is also a push for increased control of patents so that generic drugs would take longer to come to market and keep the cost of medications higher for longer than it is now.  In a society that’s seeing more medical costs being borne by the consumer as deductibles move higher, this is an additional burden on stretched family budgets in the event of medical difficulty.

The vote itself, which was defeated by a large Democratic House contingent joining with some Republicans, was to approve a “fast track” vote on the bill, whose Senate corollary had already been approved.  This fast tracking would’ve forced a straight yes or no vote on the treaty with no debate and with no allowance for any changes whatsoever.  Indeed, Representative Paul Ryan (R) echoed Nancy Pelosi (D) when she spoke the Obamacare vote: you’ll find out what’s in it after you vote for it.  This simple comment was as astounding coming around the second time as it was coming around the first and equally appalling.

The response from all of the kids – Youngest is quite capable of playing up to his elder siblings – was simple disbelief.  None of this was what they’d learned about in their Civics classes – or in Youngest’s case, from talking with me – and it was difficult to reconcile with the theory that they’d learned about the fabled American democracy with it’s freedom of speech and constitutional system of checks and balances.  And honestly, apart from multiple comments as to unconstitutional, the one word that caught my attention was tyranny. 

Tyranny, indeed.  And this came from the mouth of a teenager.

So what’s the upshot of all of this?  There are several…the first is that the kids are absolutely capable in their teen years of learning and understanding what’s going on in their nation and the world, provided that you’re willing to take the time to talk with them.  It’s fine if you tell them to turn off their electronics for a few minutes of discussion, although the first time or two that you do it will seem more like a monologue than a dialogue.  It’s important that you get your salient facts straight and present them with as little rancor as possible, even if you should be wrapping your head with duct tape to keep it from exploding, so that you don’t come off as the foaming-at-the-mouth old man.  And the last is that you have an obligation as a parent, like it or not, to stay apprised of what’s going on in the world around you.  It isn’t enough anymore to feed and clothe them anymore.  There are events and movements within this country that will require our greater attention and activism – yes, I said it – if we’re going to give them a nation worthy of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *