How TPP Increases Corporate Power vs. Government – And Us

Power is the ability to control, to tell what to do, to get your way. Corporations have a lot of power over working people in our country now, and they might be about to get a lot more.

The proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) tell us that it will have unprecedented “progressive” protections for the rights of working people, the environment, even wildlife. So there is likely to be flowery-sounding language in TPP, just as President Obama says.

What matters is whether there will be clear and guaranteed enforceability of those words.

Enforcement Matters

Rules are great; enforcement is greater. Without enforcement, a rule may as well not exist – especially when everyone knows there is not enforcement.

We see rules with no enforcement all around us. Here’s an obvious example. Right now several obvious presidential candidates say they aren’t candidates so they can get around rules about contribution limits to their campaigns and coordination with super PACs. The Federal Election Commission is not enforcing the rules that say candidates can’t do this. These candidates know there is no enforcement and thus continue to violate the rules.

Another example is Wall Street. The Obama administration does not prosecute the people at the top of the big banks for violating laws. Instead they reach “settlements,” and the shareholders – not the executives who committed wrongful acts – pay fines, usually without even admitting wrongdoing. In the early 1990s there were 5,490 investigations and 1,100 prosecutions of individuals, with 890 convictions for major fraud following the “savings and loan crisis.” The number of prosecutions and convictions following the Too-Big-To-Fail Wall Street collapse of 2008 and resulting bailouts has been close to (if not) zero. The banks know there is no enforcement and continue to run various scams and manipulations. (See “Watchdog: Wednesday’s Big Wall Street Settlement Is “Laughably Inadequate”,” “Prosecute Now: The Justice Department Can Still Act Against Bad Bankers,” “Bank of America Settlement Only Proves Invincibility of Wall Street,” “How Big Is a $16 Billion Bank Fraud Settlement, Really?,” “10 Things We Learned (or Re-Learned) In Chase’s Latest Fraud Deal,” “Why Is The FDIC Helping Banksters Avoid Trial?,” “Wrecking an Economy Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” and dozens if not hundreds of similar stories.)

An example of (non-)enforcement as it applies to the words in trade agreements is illustrated by the situation in Colombia. The recent Colombia trade agreement has labor standards. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office explains at their website, in “Labor in the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement“:

The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement … includes strong protections for workers’ rights, based on the May 10, 2007, bipartisan Congressional-Executive agreement to incorporate high labor standards into America’s trade agreements. In addition, President Obama insisted that a number of serious and immediate labor concerns be addressed before he would be willing to send the Agreement to Congress. These concerns included violence against Colombian labor union members; inadequate efforts to bring perpetrators of murders of such persons to justice; and insufficient protection of workers’ rights in Colombia.

As a result, the U.S. and Colombian governments announced, on April 7, 2011, an ambitious and comprehensive Action Plan that included major, swift and concrete steps for the Colombian government to take. The U.S. Government has confirmed that Colombia has met all of its Action Plan milestones to date. In addition, successful implementation of key elements of the Action Plan will be a precondition for the Agreement to enter into force.

But since this agreement went into effect, “Colombian workers have suffered over 1,933 threats and acts of violence against unionists – including 105 assassinations of union activists and 1,337 death threats.” The labor standards in trade agreements are meaningless without enforcement.

Flowery language about labor rights vs. labor organizers murdered without enforcement of the flowery words: The contrast between words and results doesn’t get clearer than that.

The words that show up in TPP are relatively meaningless unless there is strong enforcement.

Who Enforces?

Currently enforcement of trade laws is up to the governments that sign the agreements. While China was grabbing tens of thousands of U.S. factories and millions of U.S. jobs in the 2000s, the Bush administration only filed around three trade violation cases per year. The Obama administration created a trade enforcement office in 2012 to “bring the full resources of the federal government to bear on investigations … to counter any unfair trading practices around the world, including by countries like China.” However, according to Politico last August, the Obama administration had also filed around three trade violation cases per year.

That is the record of all trade enforcement, not just enforcement of labor, environmental and other stakeholder language. According to Zach Carter and Dana Liebelson in “Here’s The Biggest Problem With Obama’s New Trade Push” at The Huffington Post:

The U.S. has a poor record on enforcing human rights and labor terms under trade agreements. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that American enforcement of labor terms was “ad hoc and very limited” with “minimal oversight.” Another GAO report from November 2014 found that the situation hadn’t improved much. While the Labor Department has brought a handful of workers’ rights cases under prior trade agreements, they have taken years to investigate and remain unresolved.

How Corporations Get Enforcement

The corporations writing the TPP agreement wrote into it a special channel for corporations to get enforcement when they need it. That’s what the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions are for. With ISDS, corporations get a special “corporate court” channel which they can take claims to and the cases are decided by corporate lawyers acting as judges. (The post “Now We Know Why Huge TPP Trade Deal Is Kept Secret From The Public” discusses the leak to WikiLeaks and the NY Times of this chapter of TPP. From The New York Times report of the leak, “Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S.“:

… the accord, still under negotiation but nearing completion, companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings — federal, state or local — before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Corporations get a special channel of their own for enforcement of rules written by their representatives at the negotiating table. Labor, environment and other stakeholders don’t get that in TPP. This is how TPP will increase corporate power over governments and working people.

So if TPP is passed, corporations can, for example, move factories and jobs to Vietnam and take advantage of their low wages and lack of labor protections. The corporations are protected from violations of the agreement that harm their interests – but labor violations depend on the kind of enforcement that lets Colombian labor organizers get threatened and murdered. Then the big corporations can tell any workers left here to accept even more wage and benefit cuts or their jobs will be moved as well.

Corporations get a special channel for enforcement; labor organizers get murdered. That’s how power is shifted.

Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, recently summed it up, saying, “We cannot create better trade agreements until we get our priorities straight. These priorities should include lifting wages, protecting workers, environmental and safety standards, and enforcing workers’ rights. Unfortunately, TPP will be no different from previous trade agreements that ignore these priorities and approach trade the same old way: by focusing on corporate goals and giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers.”

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Obama Says Warren On Trade Sounds Like Palin Touting Death Panels

President Obama, speaking to the Organizing for America (OFA) Summit Thursday, said that people who have concerns about the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority process and the still-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “don’t know what they’re talking about,” and compared them to conservatives like Sarah Palin, who claimed that the Obamacare health care reform contained “death panels.”

Then, on a Friday conference call with reporters the President complained about people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders saying, “Every single one of the critics who I hear saying, ‘this is a secret deal,’ or send out emails to their fundraising base saying they’re working to prevent this secret deal, can walk over today and read the text of the agreement. There’s nothing secret about it.”

In fact, the TPP is still secret, but parts of it have leaked. It will remain secret from the public until shortly before it is voted on in Congress.

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Conservatives Choose Govt Hatred Over Markets

Conservatives are supposedly all about markets. Markets should decide, not voters. But when it comes to the law of supply and demand for government debt, they go blind.

Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal poses this surprising question: “Is Government Debt Too Low?

The interest rate that rich countries with super-safe debt (in the case of the eurozone, that means Germany but not Spain) pay is astonishingly low: lower than the growth rate of nominal gross domestic product (that is, GDP before subtracting inflation). In the U.S., the Treasury yield has gone from roughly equal to growth in nominal GDP in 2005 to 3 percentage points lower today.

By Mr. [Brad] DeLong’s reckoning, this means those countries are borrowing too little. Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions, so low government bond yields equate to very valuable government bonds. Mr. DeLong asks, “Isn’t the point of the market economy to make things that are valuable?” Since the debt of rich countries is “very cheap to make… shouldn’t we be making more of it?”

Say What?

Here is the argument. There is a huge demand for U.S. government bonds. There is so much demand that interest rates are exceptionally low. You almost have to pay the government to hold your money.

Remember the “law of supply and demand”? When there is a huge market demand for something, isn’t that supposed to mean that more of that thing should be produced?

Shouldn’t government be supplying more bonds? Saying that the government should be producing more government bonds is another way of saying the government should borrow more. This is what it means when the government “makes” bonds to sell.

If the government borrowed more, it could use the proceeds to maintain and modernize our infrastructure (which has to be done at some point, no?) We could build out a modern energy grid, high-speed rail across the country, double the number of community colleges, expand scientific and health research… And of course doing those things would end up employing millions, and making wages go up.

And if everyone had the job they wanted and wages went up, wouldn’t that boost market demand, which would trigger business investment?

And if we did all of those things – high-speed rail, smart energy grid, modern infrastructure, expanded scientific research, expanded educational opportunity, wouldn’t it mean that our economy was positioned to prosper, and everyone’s lives would be better?

And wouldn’t a revitalized private economy mean that people didn’t need to park their money in government bonds, so the supply wouldn’t have to go up any more to meet demand? And wouldn’t all the tax revenue from that revitalized private economy and full employment pay off those bonds over time?

“Gubmint Spending”

But no, we can’t maintain, never mind modernize our infrastructure. We can’t expand educational opportunity. We can’t increase scientific and heath research. We can’t do any of those things. Because government spending. We have to cut back, cut back, cut back.

Conservatives say they are about the belief that markets are better than government (and, by implication, better than democracy). But when it comes down to it, they really are about one and only one thing: They hate government and want to strangle it, period – no matter the cost to our economy and our people.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

A ‘Path To Yes’ On Trade, But Paul Ryan Blocks It

The “fast track” trade bill introduced last week by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has a number of problems. It sets aside Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution and essentially pre-approves the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the public and most of Congress even sees it. Unfortunately, the Senate bill does not specify firm and sufficient objectives to make TPP a trade bill that could work for 99 percent of Americans.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, on Thursday offered an alternative, the Right Track for TPP Act of 2015. (Summary here, full text here.) This bill is a fast track process for doing trade right — or at least for modifying the secretly negotiated TPP so it can be somewhat palatable to more of us than just the 1 percent.

Unfortunately, the House Ways and Means Committee’s chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ruled the substitute measure “out of order,” reported The Huffington Post.

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A Look At The Fast Track Bill Shows It’s The Wrong Thing To Do

The “fast track” trade promotion authority bill has been introduced in the Senate. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast track, Congress relinquishes that power and agrees to pass trade bills brought to them by the executive branch in a very short time frame with little debate and without making any changes should any problems present themselves.

Though it was announced that this year’s fast track bill was the result of a “deal” between Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the 2015 bill is nearly identical to the 2014 bill that died in Congress without support for a vote. See this side-by-side comparison from Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear from this comparison why the “negotiations” between Hatch and Wyden took so long, and what Wyden got that enabled him to put his name on it, enabling the bill to be sold as “bipartisan.”

Fast Track Sets Aside Normal Procedure

Congress does not set aside normal procedure, debate, the ability to fix problems that turn up and agree to vote within 90 days except for trade agreements – even though trade agreements have now proven to have such a tremendous and often detrimental effect on our economy, jobs, wages and inequality. Where did the idea to do this come from? According to Public Citizen, this unusual procedure was “initially created by President Richard Nixon to get around public debate and congressional oversight.”

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WTF Apple?!

So my wife uses a Mac. She gets the new OSX update, and it REPLACED iPhoto with a different program that doesn’t do the same things. “Events” appears to be gone.

I go online and Apple proudly proclaims it’s “Your entire photo collection. Framed in a whole new way.”

Great. Have to learn an entirely new interface, etc. Functionality is different. Great.

Also it crashed twice already.

So I am starting to learn how to use it. It is obvious that it is all about moving you to iCloud — which Apple charges to use.

It’s like how Microsoft decided everyone in the PC world now has to learn an entirely new way to interact with their computers — as if they are tablets — with Windows 8. Great.

Like I said earlier, I have said goodbye to my iPhone, and have a Chromebook. The Chromebook is slowly replacing everything I do on my Windows computer.

Goodbye iPhone!

I installed the new iOS 8.3. The next day I get a message that there is not enough room in iCloud to back up the iPhone and I need to PURCHASE more room.

So I went right out and bought the new Samsung Galaxy 6.

I have the Nexus 7 tablet, and that got me into Android. I use GMail, Google Calendar, etc. I’m in the Google ecosystem and no longer use Apple’s. I even have a Chromebook. So what the hell. I took the leap and this Galaxy 6 is a wonderful device. (But the camera is too wide-angle, and distorts a lot.)

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are beautiful hardware but buggy software that seems entirely about finding ways to pay Apple, so goodbye.

I still haven’t figured out iCloud.

The Fast Track Fight Begins In The Senate

The final fight to stop fast track begins this week. The new trade promotion authority (“fast track”) bill could be released in the Senate at any moment. (It might be out by the time you read this.)

Hatch and Wyden Poised to Introduce Bill

With literally zero reporting from the national TV networks and a virtual news blackout at most newspapers around the country, at least Politico sets the stage for insiders in their report, “Trade fight looms as Congress returns“:

Senate Finance Committee leaders Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden appear poised to introduce a “fast track” trade promotion authority bill along with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. But months of closed-door negotiations were continuing on Friday, congressional aides said.

The power, largely embraced by Republicans, pits many congressional Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and potentially Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting Charles Schumer, against the White House.

The measure would allow President Barack Obama to submit free trade agreements to Congress for straight up or down votes without any amendments. It’s seen as key to completing his signature 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.

Fast track is, in essence, congressional pre-approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. With fast track Congress agrees to give up its much of constitutional duty to define negotiating objectives, carefully deliberate and debate, and fix problems that might turn up. With fast track rendering Congress unable to fix flaws, even if any problems do turn up that might seriously hurt the country or our economy, a vote on the trade agreement will occur under the enormous pressure of the media blasting, “surely they won’t just kill the whole thing over a few problems.”

The idea is that allowing Congress (democratic government) to “meddle” will get in the way and keep other (non-democratic) countries from “making their best offers.” Congress is considering this pre-approval of TPP and future trade agreements even though the national news media is not reporting on fast track or TPP, and Congress and the public haven’t yet even seen the agreement (never mind had time to analyze it and consider its ramifications).

Week Of Action

The AFL-CIO is organizing a “Week of Action Against Fast Tracking Trade Deals.”

On Wednesday at 11 am in Washington D.C.’s Upper Senate Park, more than 600 union members will rally at an event organized by the United Steelworkers (USW) on Capitol Hill. The rally will feature Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), USW President Leo Gerard, AFL-CIO Executive VP Tefere Gebre, AFGE President J. David Cox, National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando, American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, and Sierra Club National Campaign Director Debbie Sease.

On Saturday, the AFL-CIO and its member unions are organizing over 50 events throughout the country in conjunction with hundreds of events planned as part of the global day of action in over a dozen countries.

Click here to find an event or to organize an event.

A Monday story in The Hill, “Labor unions ramp up opposition to Obama trade agenda,” has more on the Week of Action:

Lawmakers, labor union leaders and their members will hold a rally Wednesday on Capitol Hill and follow that up with 50 grassroots events around the country and in more than a dozen countries on Saturday as part of the weeklong effort. …

The efforts include letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, petitions and door-knocks.

Meanwhile CREDO and other organizations are petitioning to ask presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to lead the opposition to fast track and TPP.

Don’t Trade Our Future Demonstration April 20

There will also be a “Don’t Trade Our Future” demonstration on April 20, the final day of the Populism2015 Conference in Washington, which is sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), National People’s Action (NPA), USAction and the Alliance for a Just Society. People will assemble at 11:30 a.m. at AFL-CIO headquarters at 815 16th Street NW, and will march first to the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and then to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. They are urging Congress to vote down fast track.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), columnist Jim Hightower and Communication Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen will address the demonstration.

Public Against More Job-Killing Trade Agreements

As the fast track fight enters the Congress, polls show that politicians will take a great risk by voting for fast track or TPP legislation. For example, one recent poll shows one senator’s vote for fast track could bring a primary opponent. The Huffington Post reported in February in, “Secretive Trade Deal Could Pose Problems At Home For Ron Wyden,”

“Half of the Oregon voters polled said they would be less likely to vote for Wyden in 2016 if he joins Republicans to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between the United States and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as fast-track authority, which Obama is seeking in order to get TPP and other trade deals through Congress without amendments or filibusters.”

Other polling shows that public sentiment against trade deals and fast track is strong. One poll in January 2014 shows the breadth of public opposition,

By more than two to one, voters say they oppose (62%) rather than favor passage of fast-track negotiating authority for the TPP deal. Among those with a strong opinion, the ratio climbs to more than three to one (43% strongly opposed, just 12% strongly favorable). Demographically, opposition is very broad, with no more than one-third of voters in any region of the country or in any age cohort favoring fast track. Sixty percent (60%) of voters with household incomes under $50,000 oppose fast track, as do 65% of those with incomes over $100,000.

… Republicans overwhelmingly oppose giving fast-track authority to the president (8% in favor, 87% opposed), as do independents (20%-66%), while a narrow majority (52%) of Democrats are in favor (35% opposed).

People believe our trade agreements destroy jobs and lower wages. In a September 2014 Pew Poll, Americans say “trade” generally is good, but only 20 percent say it creates jobs while 50 percent say it destroys jobs, and 17 percent say it raises wages while 45 percent say it lowers wages.

This can have election consequences. In an April 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll a plurality of Americans said they would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”

Resources

So it appears that the battle will be in the Senate this week. Here are some resources to visit.

The Stop Fast Track coalition website, stopfasttrack.org.

Expose the TPP.

Flush the TPP!

Stop TPP.

CWA’s TPP info.

10 Ways the TPP Would Hurt U.S. Working Families

Global Trade Watch.

Eyes on Trade and 50 Reasons We Cannot Afford the TPP.

Real Progressive Coalition for American Jobs. (“Every U.S. labor union and almost 600 environmental, consumer, faith, family farm, civil rights, seniors, LGBT and other civil society organizations opposed Fast Track. This is the REAL Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.”)

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

How Can The Earth Be Warming If It’s Snowing Outside?

Drudge and the rest of the Republican chorus are at it again today.

A headline at Drudge Report: Thousands March Through Snow Protesting ‘Global Warming’

Links to this at the Republican Daily Caller:

The “Gore effect” has struck again, this time forcing thousands of Canadian eco-activists to march through the snow over the weekend, rallying against global warming on a cold Quebec City day.

… But the “Gore effect” may, once again, blunt environmentalists’ message on global warming. The “Gore effect” is when cold weather appears as activists protest global warming. These Canadian groups aren’t the first to be hit by the “Gore effect” this year.

Considering how much of this is funded by oil companies, here’s a link to Conservative Is Not An Ideology – It Is Corruption for your reading pleasure.

As Fast Track/TPP Becomes New Third Rail, Where Is Clinton?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — and the rigged “Fast Track” process designed to pass it before the public has a chance to react — has become a new “third rail” for progressives and the activist Democratic “base.” (This is also true on the right, by the way.)

This game-rigging is creating a race to the bottom for people and the planet. The thing is: more and more people are seeing it. And more and more people are asking Hillary Clinton to lead the fight against it.

A Rigged Game

People are fed up with the rigged “trade” game that pits American wages, environmental regulations, consumer protections and other benefits of democracy against exploitative, paid-off, non-democracies. “Free trade” has made democracy’s good wages and environmental and safety protections into a competitive disadvantage in world markets.

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Live or Later: Virtually Speaking Podcast 6pm pacific/9pm eastern

6pm pacific/9pm eastern

Bankrupt American public policy: TransPacific Partnership (TPP); the Republican budget; Iran treaty. Clinton and the dominance of centrist policy and rhetoric in the Dem party.

Commentary from Dave Johnson, Stuart Zechman, Jay Ackroyd. Follow @DCJohnson @Stuart_Zechman @JayAckroyd

2015 Media Panel Andrew Jerrell Jones, Avedon Carol, Cliff Schecter, David Dayen, Dave Johnson, David Waldman, digby, Gaius Publius, Joan McCarter, Marcy Wheeler, RJ Eskow, Stuart Zechman. Alternates: Susan Madrak, Sara Robinson, Spocko, Charles Lenchner.

Listen live or later: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtuallyspeaking/2015/04/06/dave-johnson-stuart-zechman-vs-sundays

Now We Know Why Huge TPP Trade Deal Is Kept Secret From The Public

Healthy Diet Advisor

A key section of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has been leaked to the public. The New York Times has a major story on the contents of the leaked chapter and it’s as bad as many of us feared.

Now we know why the corporations and the Obama administration want TPP, a huge “trade” agreement being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries, kept secret from the public until it’s too late to stop it.

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