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The most important thing you’ve never heard of

Mary Fitzgerald headshot in circle, small
Mary Fitzgerald
28 October 2014

Well, thanks to some encouraging ruckus in the last few months, you may actually have heard of TTIP: the anodynely-acronymed “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”. In plain English, it’s a massive trade deal between the EU and North America which could affect everything from healthcare choices to government banking regulations to the air we breathe. (And it gets better, TPP is the US-Asia Pacific counterpart.)

EIC 2 image.jpg

(World Development Movement/Flickr, some rights reserved)

Activists and even some politicians have been up in arms about one particularly nasty element of these behemoths, which together will cover almost 50 percent of global GDP. That element is the proposed secret courts where, in theory, oil companies could sue governments who try to bring in green-friendly policies, tobacco companies could challenge advertising restrictions, and private healthcare providers could pick apart what’s left of national health services. To name a few.

Don’t mention the deal behind the curtain

But in truth, we just don’t know what TTIP will mean because the negotiations are happening in secret. And the European Commission has just made a mockery of its own European Citizens’ Initiative, whereby citizens are supposed to be able to register dissent, by refusing to “allow” that dissent to be registered. (This in fact could prove a spectacular own goal because, in making it so plain that this supposedly-democratic mechanism is toothless, it paves the way for a challenge in the courts.)

What we do know, however, are the lessons from recent history. As Saskia Sassen, who has looked at this question for decades, points out: time and again, when global corporations gain rights through free trade deals, citizens lose out–in large part through a negative boomerang effect of job losses and wage stagnation that cheaper goods just don’t compensate for.

We also know that it’s farcical of the European Commission to try and claim that Europe’s citizens cannot have a say in this process because the treaty will have “no legal effect” on citizens. Grist to the mill of UKIP and others, as if they needed it.

Exposing and challenging this unaccountable “Nafta on steroids” is just what openDemocracy was made for. And here is where we’re doing it. See what Frances O’Grady, head of the TUC; Saskia Sassen at Columbia University and John Hilary of War on Want have to say about it, along with many others, and join the debate.

What you definitely have heard of – but for the wrong reasons

Ebola, on the other hand, is something it’s now hard to avoid hearing about. In the US, the main news channels have finally arrived (catastrophically late) to the party, churning out hourly updates of the isolated number of suspected cases on home soil.

And yet, in the blanket coverage, key points are being missed. Back in August openSecurity published this piece by Bob Rigg which addresses the fundamental question: why have we failed for decades to develop a vaccine for an Ebola? The answer is not to do with science, but with abject market failures and the searing inequities of our world.

Inequities also account for the startling and under-reported fact that 75% of those infected by Ebola in Liberia have been women. Why? Because women fulfil the traditional role of caregivers, that’s part of it and it speaks volumes. But there’s also anecdotal evidence to suggest something even more sinister and calculated at play–that some men might exploit this tradition to keep themselves out of harm’s way. Writing for 50.50 from Abuja, Tooni Akuni makes the rather obvious yet so far largely ignored point that, based on the numbers alone, women must be included in strategies to assess the scope of the outbreak, in designing responses and in implementing interventions.

It now appears inevitable that the Ebola outbreak is going to get worse before it gets better. With over 10,000 infected to date, this is a devastating prognosis. But within that tragedy, there are also thousands of stories of bravery and selflessness. Transformation has published this interview with former child soldier B. Abel Learwellie who, having lost nearly all his family to the disease, is now risking his own life to help treat others. And at Avaaz.org, on this page alone, nearly 4,000 people with badly-needed medical and logistical skills have already signed up to travel to west Africa and risk their lives for people they have never met.

Reading their reasons for doing so, written in scores of languages, offers more than a sliver of hope for humanity. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” B. Abel Learwellie and thousands of others across the world are now living this. We must bear witness to their bravery as well as to all the injustice which has made it necessary.

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