Opponents of fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are gaining momentum. In spite of a virtual media blackout, public awareness of the coming trade deal is increasing.
More and more public-interest organizations are organizing and denouncing the rigged fast-track approval process and TPP trade agreement. One after another, members of Congress are announcing opposition to fast track and demanding that trade problems like currency manipulation be covered by the TPP agreement.
Meanwhile, the expected fast track bill has been delayed again.
Fast Track “Stuck”
Fast track is a process under which Congress agrees to bypass its duty to define, consider, debate and approve trade deals. Fast track limits discussion and debate and gives Congress only 90 days in which to bring the deal up for a vote. It is a rigged process designed to ensure that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, the “history’s largest trade deal“, is pushed through Congress before the public has time to fully analyze, understand and consider its ramifications and organize opposition if opposition is warranted.
Silicon Valley is an area of contrasts. When you stop at a traffic light in Silicon Valley you will often find a Maserati or Tesla on one side of you and a beaten up, 15-year-old Accord on the other. It seems there are more high-end Mercedes, Jaguars, Bentleys or the occasional Maybach than in other areas.
Silicon Valley companies, many run by stock-billionaires, pay a lot at the top, and squat at the bottom. There are the lucky employees, and a huge number of “contractors” – employees who are not called employees. The employees that reach over a certain age are discarded.
There are not a lot of people in the space between Silicon Valley’s top and its bottom. One in three Silicon Valley workers cannot even afford to live anywhere within a one-hour drive. The regular three-bedroom house costs a million dollars and don’t even ask about the rents (starting at more than $2,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment), but on the streets in working-class neighborhoods there are so many cars parked that you can barely pass – because there are so many people and families crammed into the housing. And, of course, the traffic is terrible, but you have to use a car because public transportation is cut back due to tax-dodging by giant companies like those in Silicon Valley.
While construction of other high-speed rail lines around the country has been blocked, California’s line between San Francisco and Los Angeles is actually getting built. This single project is triggering a lot of potential American hiring.
As it proceeds, we should build pressure to bring high-speed transportation – and the jobs and economic boom that will follow – to other gridlocked areas of the country.
California’s highways and airways are reaching capacity, and the population is only expected to grow – a lot. You can only build so many highways and new airports. And more and more cars and planes are not particularly good for the environment.
Eight senators on Thursday let the country know there is going to be a fight over fast-track trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took to the Senate floor to speak about fast track, TPP and fair trade.
A fight is coming because past trade deals have cost jobs and wages, devastated entire regions, and accelerated corporate power and income/wealth inequality – which it is becoming clear was the intent. Whitehouse, for example, said parts of TPP are “a question of pure raw economic power by massive corporate interests being used to make governments knuckle under.”
Sanders said, “Enough is enough. This country now is in a major race to the bottom.”
First up on Thursday was Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who began by saying that trade agreements are often “… pushed through this body [the Senate] so quickly that the corporations pushing them hope we won’t notice that these agreement are loaded with corporate handouts that weaken our nation’s ability to chart its own course.”
NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – was sold with promises of jobs and prosperity on all sides of the border. What really happened was that an increased trade deficit sucked demand and jobs out of the U.S. economy; workers lost bargaining power, resulting in pay and benefit cuts; and income inequality rose as corporations pocketed the wage differential.
Now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being sold with literally the same promises. Here is why TPP is not going to work out better than NAFTA did.
Note the pitch used to sell NAFTA by President Clinton and former presidents Ford, Carter and George H. W. Bush as they were featured together in this September 14, 1993 news report.
Contract talks between the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the U.S. Postal Service for a new contract start Thursday. Along with asking for fair wages and benefits, the APWU wants improvements in customer services, including postal banking.
“There are two competing visions of the future of the Postal Service,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “Postal management’s policy has been to severely degrade service, dismantle the postal network, and engage in piecemeal privatization. … Management has shortened hours at neighborhood post offices, closed mail processing centers, lowered delivery standards, and slowed mail delivery.”
Instead of trying to “save money” by cutting service with layoffs and closings that cause more customers to turn away, which costs revenue, the Postal Service should add services such as postal banking. This would also help millions of people who currently are left wide open to predatory services like payday lending.
Postal Banking: A Public Option For Banking
Until 1967, the Postal Service (then called the Post Office) operated postal banking through the United States Postal Savings System. Reviving postal banking would be like offering a “public option” for financial services. It would let people have accounts they could use to cash checks, get small loans, pay bills and even get prepaid debit cards. These services would enable lower-income Americans to avoid the exploitative “payday lenders” and check-cashing “services” that eat up working people’s earnings.
The Postal Service would use existing bank infrastructure as the backbone for these services, particularly the debit card service. In “A public option for banking,” Mike Konczal explains how the Treasury Department is already doing this with their Direct Express debit card program for disability and pension payments.
The program allows unbanked recipients of Social Security, federal disability and a few pension-related federal programs to receive their benefits on a debit card. The program emerged from congressional efforts in the 1990s to move from paper checks to direct deposits for these benefits. Congress tasked Treasury to make sure there were low-cost accounts available to the unbanked so they could access deposits.
… By 2007, the department initiated a competitive bidding process for the cards, and Comerica won the account by offering the low-fee schedule the cards now have.
The Treasury Department is already offering this service. There is no reason the Postal Service could not do the same thing with postal banking.
Millions Would Benefit
A lot of people would benefit if the Postal Service offered postal banking. The term for people with no bank accounts is “unbanked.’ According to the 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, “7.7 percent (1 in 13) of households in the United States were unbanked in 2013. This proportion represented nearly 9.6 million households.” On top of that, “20.0 percent of U.S. households (24.8 million) were underbanked in 2013, meaning that they had a bank account but also used alternative financial services (AFS) outside of the banking system.”
In “The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank, David Dayen explains how this idea could free these millions from the grips of “check-cashing stores, pawn shops, payday lenders, and other unscrupulous financial services providers who gouged their customers to the tune of $89 billion in interest and fees in 2012,” and help the Postal Service at the same time. With small fees for services, including small, low-interest loans, the Postal Service would be helping Americans and increasing its funding.
Post offices could deliver the same services at a 90 percent discount, saving the average underserved household over $2,000 a year and still providing the USPS with $8.9 billion in new annual profits, significantly improving its troubled balance sheet. The report calls simple financial services “the single best new opportunity for the posts to earn additional revenue.”
These millions are not being served now by the financial industry, as Dayen explains,
Banks don’t want these customers; if they did, they would actually make a play for their business. Large banks have closed branches in the very low-income communities with the largest percentages of unbanked Americans. In fact, banks find it more profitable to fund payday lenders that charge junk fees and outrageous interest—currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation—than actually take market share away from them.
Instead of partnering with predatory lenders, banks could partner with the USPS on a public option, not beholden to shareholder demands, which would treat customers more fairly.
If ever there was an idea whose time has come (again) it is the idea of a public option for postal banking. It would help millions of people, would boost the revenue of the Postal Service and would demonstrate that our government actually can be on the side of regular people. (Note that a government service in a democracy should be providing a government service, not trying to “operate like a business” and “make money” off of citizens.)
My topic was “Deconstructing the Corporate Case for Fast Track – One Argument at a Time,” based on my recent post, Let’s Take Apart The Corporate Case For Fast Track Trade Authority. But I began by going over a few basics, like how our country has an enormous, humongous trade deficit, and what that does to jobs and the economy. Then I talked about what fast track means, and how it will be used to rig the approval process, essentially pre-approving the TPP. Finally, I talked about the problems with the corporate arguments in favor of fast track and TPP. Then there is a question and answer period.
I wrote the other day that we can imagine a trade agreement that is negotiated of, by and for We the People:
We don’t need more corporate-dominated, rigged trade agreements. Instead we need to fix the agreements we already have. To do this we need to reform the corporate-dominated process that has gotten us where we are today. We need to bring in all of the stakeholders in these agreements and put them at the negotiating table.
Imagine a trade agreement negotiation by representatives of consumer, labor, environmental, health, LGBT, democracy and other citizen “stakeholder” groups instead of solely by and for the giant multinational corporations. Imagine the changes in the way we can all live.
Imagine a trade agreement that prohibits employers from threatening to move a job out of the country to keep someone from getting a raise. Imagine a trade agreement in which the participants agree not to import any goods from countries that allow pollution of the environment. Imagine a trade agreement that outlaws the sale of goods made in conditions that are unsafe for workers. Imagine a trade agreement that sets minimum standards for product reliability and customer support. Imagine a trade agreement that sets a limit on the gap between CEOs and their employees.
Honestly, democratically and transparently negotiated trade agreements could bring about a new direction for the world’s economy and citizens.
Fast track trade promotion legislation is likely to be introduced soon and will be used to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement – but the public knows very little about what this would mean to them.
To help get the word out, there will be a series of rallies across the United States this week and next week to oppose fast track legislation.
On Thursday, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Eastern time, you can join the #FightFastTrack Twitter storm, using the hashtag #FightFastTrack.
Here are some sample tweets you can use:
Don’t let Congress rubber stamp the #TPP and send jobs overseas. Join a rally near you to #FightFastTrack http://bit.ly/1ykSu0k
Tell Congress: Don’t rubber stamp #TPP with Brunei and Vietnam, serial violators of human rights. #FightFastTrack
Rallies to #FightFastTrack are being held all over the US this week and next. Find one near you to stop the TPP.http://bit.ly/1ykSu0k
What’s At Stake
“Fast Track” is a weird process in which Congress voluntarily gives up its power to define, consider and amend trade deals. With Fast Track Congress is not allowed to amend (a.k.a. “fix”) trade agreements, is only allowed very limited debate on the House and Senate floor, and must pass the agreement within 90 days of the public seeing the text of the agreement for the first time. The Senate is not allowed to filibuster the deal.
Why would Congress give up their duty and power like this? Fast Track gets passed because the multinational corporate sponsors of these trade agreement put on well-funded PR campaigns that put massive pressure on legislators. The PR campaigns tell the public that legislators will “hurt jobs” or are “anti-business” if they vote against Fast Track and these trade deals. In fact, the record is that these trade deals are great for the owners of giant multinational corporations, but have hurt jobs and “Main Street” businesses.
The basic argument the corporations make for Fast Track is that the trade deals could never be completed if the negotiators thought Congress could “meddle” with the results. In other words, these deals can’t stand the test of being acceptable to a democracy so they have to rig the process in advance. The trade deals are negotiated in a rigged process that excludes representatives of different parts of society who might object to rules that favor the giant multinational corporations that will benefit from these deals. Representatives of labor, environmental, health, LGBT, democracy, consumer and other interest groups are not “at the table” as part of the negotiating process – so of course the end result does not reflect the interests of these “stakeholders.”
Or, to put it another way, look at what has happened to the world’s economy and environment since the corporate “free trade” and deregulation ideology came to dominate elite thinking in the late 1970s-early 1980s. The interests of the giant multinational corporations and the 1 percent behind them have done very, very well. The rest of us? Not so much.
You can follow the week’s events on Twitter at @PCGTW.
The Conservative/Wall Street/1 Percent/Republican anti-government strategy is to set government up to fail (usually by starving it of funding). Then they point to the resulting “crisis” they created and say it proves that government doesn’t work so we should “privatize” it – in other words, rig the system against We the People by handing our common wealth over to a few wealthy people to harvest for personal profit.
Now they’re coming for the U.S. Postal Service.
Manufacturing A Crisis
Republicans created the problems with the Postal Service. In 2006 Republicans in Congress required it to come up with $5.5 billion per year to pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. This means the Postal Service has to set aside money now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.
They also require the Postal Service to make a profit – or at least break even. But democratic government is supposed to provide services to We the People. It is not supposed to be about making a profit off of us. Yet Republicans say government should be “run like a business.” Then they hamstring it, preventing it from competing with businesses because they say it has too many advantages and any competition would be unfair.
Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service “crisis”:
The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies.
Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.
Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even.
While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. … [M]any people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
But along with requiring the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service’s ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. … [W]hile detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy, the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies. …
The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won’t let it. They won’t help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace … they give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn’t work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be “privatized” …
Privatization Destroys People And Communities
Privatizing the various parts of the postal service will move the workforce from good union jobs to low-wage, no-or-low-benefit private-sector jobs. Aside from the effect this would have on employees and their families – not to mention the inexpensive delivery of mail to even the most remote locations – privatization also destroys the surrounding communities. The USPS is the country’s second largest employer, so in this case the surrounding communities are … all of the communities in the United States.
“In the face of aggressive attacks, a wide range of national organizations have come together to create A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. These organizations are united in the demand that the public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. The Alliance is fighting to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.”
This Grand Alliance consists of a large number of organizations (At least “63 religious coalitions, retiree organizations, educational and postal unions, lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups”, according to The Washington Post, and more being added as I write) as well as individuals (you) who sign the pledge to “support the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now—and for many generations to come.”
Two Years In The Making
At his swearing-in ceremony in November 2013, APWU President Mark Dimondstein pledged to build a “Grand Alliance” to save the postal system, saying,
“We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers. We must mobilize our allies and their organizations, including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and business groups in defense of America’s right to vibrant public postal services.”
Two years later, at a press conference Thursday, Dimondstein explained that this alliance is forming “because the postal service belongs to the people and it is in danger.” He said there are “two competing visions of the future” – privatizing vs. staying public – and that there will be a conversion from “living wage to low-wage jobs” if the Postal Service is privatized.
Dimondstein said that the Postal Service “is our democratic right” and that it can operate cost-effectively “if you get rid of the manufactured crisis created in Congress.”
Also at the press conference, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civil Participation and convener of Black Women’s Round Table Public Policy Network said, “this is a fight for the people, we the people.” She called the Postal Service “a national treasure” and said, “We’re here today to stand in solidarity … Our national postal offices have faithfully served communities.”
The United States Postal Service is a wonderful national treasure, enshrined in the Constitution and supported by the American people. Without any taxpayer funding, the USPS serves 150 million households and businesses each day, providing affordable, universal mail service to all – including rich and poor, rural and urban, without regard to age, nationality, race or gender.
The U.S. Postal Service belongs to “We, the People.” But the USPS and postal jobs are threatened by narrow monied interests aimed at undermining postal services and dismantling this great public institution.
Even some postal executives have been complicit in the drive toward the destruction of the Postal Service and ultimate privatization: They have slowed mail service, closed community based Post Offices and mail processing facilities, slashed hours of operations, tried ceaselessly to end six-day service as well as door to door delivery, and eliminated hundreds of thousands of living wage jobs.
Good postal jobs are vital to strong, healthy communities, and have provided equal opportunities and the foundation for financial stability for workers from all walks of life, including racial and ethnic minorities, women and veterans. Postal services are essential to commerce and bind together families, friends and loved ones. In the day of e-commerce, a public postal service is as relevant as ever.
Yet those corporate forces who want to privatize public services allege that curtailing postal services and eliminating jobs are necessary due to diminishing mail volume and “burdensome” union wages and benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, a Congressionally manufactured USPS “crisis” imposed an unfair crushing financial mandate on the Postal Service that no other government agency or private company is forced to bear. (The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 compels the USPS to pay approximately $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance.) Without this unreasonable burden, the USPS would have enjoyed an operating surplus of $600 million in 2013 and over $1.4 Billion in 2014.
The people of this country deserve great public postal services. We advocate expanded services, such as non-profit postal banking and other financial services. We call on the Postmaster General and Postal Board of Governors to strengthen and champion the institution.
The public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. Join us in the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.
Call details: Dave will dismantle claims made by lobbyists, and explain, point by point, exactly WHY fast track authority for the president (and the trade deals he plans to use it to force through) would be an economic disaster for American businesses and workers.
We’ll also hear from Celeste Drake, Trade and Globalization Policy Specialist with the AFL-CIO, about the current climate in Washington and plans for Presidents’ Day recess week actions targeting Congress, beginning next weekend and continuing through February 22.
*ABOUT THE CALL: We don’t use AnyMeeting for audio; you can’t connect with your computer to the phone line we use, so disregard onscreen audio codes. After you follow the link above and enter the requested information, just click on the phone receiver icon you see on the screen, advance to the next screen, and click “close.” You’ll be in the meeting room.
Alongside Friday’s good employment data, there is a brouhaha on the Internets over claims that the government’s employment numbers are a “big lie.” Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the Gallup polling company penned “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment,” claiming that “the media” is “cheer-leading” and the White House is “scor[ing] political points” over phony numbers that the government makes up to make things look better than they are.
In fact, the “top line” unemployment number – now 5.7 percent, representing 9 million people, does not factor in people who have given up looking, 6.8 million part-time workers who want to work full-time, 2.2 million “marginally attached” people, people who are grossly underpaid, etc. But everyone knows that, and the government reports that. The “official” number has a specific definition, the “U-6 “alternative measure of labor under-utilization” reports the more accurate 13.5 percent number. So somewhere between 15 and 20 million Americans count as un- or underemployed. But even that doesn’t count those who have given up. It’s still bad out there, but the government’s figures are not being manipulated.
Intentionally High Unemployment
I want to suggest that this high un- and underemployment is intentional. Here is why. Two things that the government could easily do right now would pretty much get rid of unemployment. But our government is blocked from doing those things by extremely wealthy people, who benefit from the low wages, and a desperate and “cowering” reserve army of unemployed status quo.
A way to visualize this is to imagine the effect on our economy of $500 billion of new orders coming in to businesses that make and do things inside the U.S. Then another $500 billion next year and every year after that. Our annual trade deficit is $500 billion. Fixing that means $500 billion of new business here, now, and continuing every year from now on. What you are visualizing is the damage this trade regime has done to us since Wall Street and the right’s “free trade” ideology took over.
So that’s conservatively 15.5 million jobs if we just go back to doing what the country did before the Reagan era. (This gives you a hint at the damage Reagan’s “trickle down” economics, and “free trade” market ideology have done. Look around. The extreme inequality that resulted tells you why it was done.)
Balance trade and fix up our aging infrastructure means at least 15.5 million jobs. (Think about what that would mean for wages, too.)
We got here by cutting taxes for the rich, gutting government, deferring maintenance, a and letting a few billionaires harvest our public wealth through privatization, etc. We’ll get out of it by fixing the trade deficit, repairing our infrastructure, undoing policy mistakes that have continued since the Reagan era, and ending “trickle down” tax cuts.
How do we take this a step further? The following things would employ tons of people and bring a long-term economic return far above any “cost.”
First, retrofit buildings and homes to be energy-efficient. Start with the basics: plug leaks and drafts, paint roofs white. These simple things could employ tons of people who we call “low skilled.” Take it a step further, and install energy-efficient windows, insulation, modern heating and cooling systems, solar on the roofs, etc. — all made in America, of course — and we will employ millions more. The energy payoff would be enormous, and we would go into the future with a much more efficient economy.
Next, engage in 21st century infrastructure projects like high-speed rail across the country and into Canada and Mexico — just like China is already doing. (See: “New Silk Road.“) We’ll create jobs, and end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Then, modernize our power grid and install wind turbines across the plains states. Again, we end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Requiring American-made supplies boosts the return to our economy.
What about building out national, high-speed, fiber internet? Imagine the innovation that would result.
There is so much we could do to first bring about full employment, and then move our economy into the 21st century. But we are held back by this weird Reagan/Wall Street/conservative ideology that tells us not to believe that We the People deserve a government that spends to make our lives better. That spending boosts us up now, makes our lives better, and more than pays for itself later. But we are kept from dreaming and doing because that return on our investment would go to us, instead of into the pockets of a few billionaires.