Nurses Sound A Code Blue In D.C. On Fast Track & TPP

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With the White House and some of the biggest multinational corporations lobbying Congress to “fast track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between the United States and 11 other countries, National Nurses United today converged on the nation’s capital to explain that what’s good for investors’ balance sheets is not necessarily good for patients.

“Nurses are patient advocates—and by extension advocates of our patients’ families and our communities—and we are here to sound a Code Blue on fast track,” said RN Deborah Burger, a member of the NNU’s Council of Presidents. “While there are many good reasons to reject fast track, the nation’s registered nurses are particularly concerned about these trade agreements’ threats to public health and safety.”

She points to pharmaceutical corporations that would be given years more of monopoly pricing practices on patents for high-priced, brand-name drugs to block distribution of competitive, cheaper, lifesaving generic medications. “That is especially critical for people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other illnesses in developing countries as well as in the United States,” she said.

Burger was one of dozens of nurses to attend a press conference today with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) urging lawmakers to reject fast track legislation for the TPP. Described by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as “NAFTA on steroids,” the TPP is largely being negotiated in secret. The Obama administration and Republican lawmakers want Congress to approve fast-track authority, which would require Congress to ratify the treaty but relinquish its Constitutional authority to amend the trade pact in any way.

That cannot happen.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 7.56.56 AMBeverly Van Buren, RN: “My pastor said ‘sometimes, you have to fly like an eagle.’ Today I am flying for my patients and their families.”

“We say no to any provision in any trade deal that threatens to raise the price of drugs in the name of profits for big pharma. The middle class simply cannot afford it,” DeLauro said.

RN and NNU Co-president Jean Ross says this all does not bode well. And while the public has no access to the negotiations between U.S. trade officials, business executives, and their foreign counterparts, leaked documents and NAFTA provide us a glimpse of what the future might look like under the TPP.

“So no matter what the will of the people in any particular locale, state and nation, these trade agreements can supercede statutes that protect the people’s health and safety. Currently, for example, Lone Pine Resources, Inc., a Calgary-based oil and gas company, is suing the province of Quebec under NAFTA because the provincial government has imposed a moratorium on fracking,” Ross said.

Lone Pine Resources claimed the Quebec government was infringing on its profits and that either that law must be overturned or the people of Quebec must pay compensation to the corporation.

“Will the state of New York, which recently also banned fracking, be forced to compensate oil and gas companies because the state government stood up to protect the drinking water of New Yorkers?” she asked.

Similarly under NAFTA, Canada was forced to lift a ban on a gasoline additive called MTBE banned in the United States as a suspected carcinogen, after a corporate challenge. MTBE is associated with human neuro-toxicological effects, such as dizziness, nausea and headaches and found to be an animal carcinogen with the potential to cause human cancer.

Moreover, said Beverly Van Buren, a St. Louis RN, the TPP “would effectively outsource domestic food inspection to other countries.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 7.57.00 AMSpeakers from left to right: Beverly Van Buren, RN, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Deborah Burger, RN, Jean Ross, RN

“The TPP would require us to allow food imports if the exporting country claims that its health and safety laws are ‘equivalent’ to our own, even if they violate the key principles of our food safety laws,” said Van Buren.

That’s problematic, she said, because U.S. food safety regulations currently need to be strengthened, not weakened.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently checks just 2 percent of imports for contaminants (including drug residues, microbes and heavy metals), according to one study, compared to 20 to 50 percent in Europe, 18 percent in Japan and up to 15 percent in Canada,” Van Buren said. “And when the FDA does inspect seafood imports, it looks for residues from only 13 drugs. In contrast, Europe tests for 34 drugs. That means overseas fish farms can be using a range of drugs for which the U.S. doesn’t even screen.”

Several TPP signatory countries are significant seafood exporters and some have had serious problems with contamination.

DeLauro joined the nurses in exhorting lawmakers to reject fast track, and also offered a personal note of thanks to NNU and nurses across the nation.

“I could not have survived ovarian cancer without great nurses 30 years ago. . . the nurses who could look in my face and tell if it was a good day or if it was a bad day,” she said.

  • Protectionism is the progressivism of fools. Gandhi was a great statesman but a horrible economist. Just as the ignorant in the USA argue that American workers who earn $15 per hour should not have to compete with Chinese workers who make $2 per hour, Gandhi thought that Indian workers should not have to compete with American and European workers who have the benefit of modern machines. As a result India adopted
    protectionism. In 1947 the per capita income of India was similar to
    countries such a South Korea. By 1977 the per capita income and standard of living in South Korea was ten times that of India. India has since largely
    abandoned protectionism and has benefit immensely from free trade. Just as
    David Ricardo proved would be the case when he developed the concept of
    comparative advantage.

    “..

    . In free-market capitalism, capital generates income for
    the owners of the capital which in turn is used to create additional capital.
    This is very good. Sometimes, it can be actually too good. As capital continues
    to accumulate, its owners find it more and more difficult to deploy it
    efficiently. The business sector generally must interact with the household
    sector by selling goods and services or lending to them. When capital
    accumulates too rapidly, the productive capacity of the business sector can
    outpace the ability of the household sector to absorb the increasing
    production.

    Equally unhelpful in terms of addressing the income and
    wealth inequality which results in the overinvestment cycle that caused the
    depression are those who emphasize various non-tax factors. Issues such a
    globalization, free trade, unionization, minimum wage laws, single parents,
    problems with our education system and infrastructure can increase the income and wealth inequality. However, these are extremely minor when compared to the shift of the tax burden from the rich to the middle class. It is the compounding year after year of the effect of the shift away from taxes on
    capital income such as dividends over time as the rich get proverbially richer
    which is the prime generator of inequality…”
    http://seekingalpha.com/article/1543642

  • kevinzeese

    None of what you say justifies creating rigged trade for transnational corporations. These trade agreements have consistently expanded the wealth divide, increased the trade deficit, lowered wages and lost jobs.

    Why are they negotiated in secret? Why do they want fast track so Congress can only do a cursory review without any amendments? Because if people saw what was in them they would see how these are not “free” trade but are rigged corporate trade. This is not surprising since 600 corporate advisers to the US Trade Representative have helped to write the agreement. We need a transparent process where Congress and the people participate throughout.

    We need trade, but not trade rigged for transnational corporations that undermine smaller businesses, national and local sovereignty at the expense of corporate sovereignty. We need trade that puts people and planet before profits.