Did Obama Administration Downplay Malaysia Slavery To Grease Trade Deal?

“Pope Francis says when the economy controls politics both lose … When economics takes over we tolerate anything for the sake of the dollar.”
– Sister Simone Campbell

Cheap labor is the whole point of our corporate-rigged, NAFTA-style trade agreements. Companies get to move jobs, factories, even entire industries out of the U.S. to countries where people are exploited, the environment is not protected and “costs” like human safety are kept low.

But even so … tolerating slavery? Flat-out slavery? Really? Unfortunately, it looks like that’s what is happening with fast-track trade promotion authority, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Obama administration.

Malaysia Reclassified

A few weeks ago Wall Street and the giant, multinational corporations got their way and pushed “fast track” through the Congress. This set up a special voting procedure for trade agreements – and only for trade agreements – that makes sure these rigged deals can get through Congress before the public can be organized to rise up in opposition.

However, one good thing did make it into this recent fast-track bill. The bill said the administration cannot go into a trade deal with any country that is a “Tier 3″ human trafficking (slavery) violator.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) requires the State Department to compile a Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report that ranks countries according to their compliance with certain TVPA standards. Countries are ranked:

Tier 1 if the fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards.
Tier 2 if they do not fully comply but are making significant efforts to come into compliance.
Tier 2 Watchlist if 1) they are Tier 2 and the number of victims is either very high or increasing; or ; or 2) they were Tier 2 the prior year and have no evidence of trying to fix that or; or 3) they had promised to take additional future steps over the next year.
Tier 3 if they do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making serious efforts to do so.

Malaysia was a Tier 3 country in the 2014 TIP report. The 2015 TIP report was supposed to be released in June but was delayed coincident with the passage of fast-track legislation with the slavery clause. The report was released Monday, and changes Malaysia’s TIP rating from the worst “Tier 3″ to a “Tier 2,″ even though there is little or no change in Malaysia’s actual performance.

Being a human trafficking country means real things to real people. For example, in late May Malaysian police found mass graves containing the bodies of 139 people, apparently trafficked migrant workers. (Click through for photos of cages where people had been held.)

The findings appeared to indicate a system of jungle camps and graves that dwarfs those found by Thai police in early May, a discovery that ignited regional concern about people smuggling and trafficking.

The discovery also follows repeated denials by top Malaysian officials – who have long been accused by rights groups of not doing enough to address the illicit trade – that such sites existed on their soil.

David Dayen further explains Malaysia’s human trafficking situation at The Intercept, in “Blocked From Trade Pact By Its Failure on Slavery, Malaysia Suddenly Gets a Passing Grade“:

In 2014, the State Department demoted Malaysia to Tier 3 status for being a destination “for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking.” Malaysia’s 4 million foreign workers are threatened by large smuggling debts and confiscated passports that put them at the mercy of recruiting companies. Women in particular, recruited for hotel or beauty salon work, are routinely coerced into the commercial sex trade. And forced labor runs rampant in agricultural, construction and textile industries, producing the same goods that would get duty-free access to U.S. markets under TPP.

So there it is. You can’t have Tier 3 human trafficking countries in TPP, and Malaysia is a Tier 3 human trafficking country … uh oh, a big problem for TPP, and for the Obama administration’s desire to get TPP through with Malaysia in it.

So to fix the problem the Obama administration just changed Malaysia’s classification from “Tier 3″ to “Tier 2″ for no apparent reason except TPP. Problem solved. Malaysia’s slavery problem and its victims? Not so much.

Faith And Human Rights Groups Respond

Representatives of faith and human rights groups responded on a conference call Monday, moderated by Melinda St. Louis, Director of International Campaigns, Public Citizen and with Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson, Director, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Office of Public Witness; Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK (Nuns on the Bus); Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch, Deputy Director -  Asia Division; Tom Andrews, President of United to End Genocide and former Member of Congress and Reverend Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe,  General Secretary of United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society participating as speakers.

Here are notes from that conference call, quotation marks used where certain:

St. Louis’ comments set the stage. The TIP report, released six weeks late, changed Malaysia to a Tier 2 country, even though 139 graves of trafficking victims were found just this May. Congress barred trade deals with Level 3 countries. It looks like the State Department report was manipulated to facilitate Malaysia’s participation in TPP.

Nelson spoke of “our creator’s call for the perpetuation of human dignity. This accrues to individuals but also to nations.” He added, “Our faith calls us to stand against this type of denial of human dignity .. the usury mill of individuals.”

Nelson called for the Obama administration and Congress “to truly move forward, not elevate from one tier to another when it is clear they are involved, not being upgraded to a position where they can sit at a table and financially benefit as well as our nation while debasing individuals.”

“This is about the integrity of our nation, for people of faith it is about the integrity of our faith,” Nelson said.

Campbell said the TIP report raises Malaysia from bad actor to a watch list; it doesn’t appear to be any evidence of why there has been a change. Malaysia had nine convictions for trafficking in 2013 but only three in 2014. The report contradicts itself in claims that Malaysia is trying – by the data they have not improved.

“Even Cambodia prohibits domestic workers from going to Malaysia because they are so likely to be exploited,” Campbell said.

When Cambodia has it right and we have it wrong that is a bad day for all of us, she said.

Campbell urged the administration in preparation for Pope Frances’ visit to change its ways.

Robertson explained that the situation is “far from sufficient to justify this upgrade.”

“How can the State Department call this progress?” Twenty-five percent of Malaysia workforce come from somewhere else, using recruitment firms, smugglers, debt bondage, restrictions on movement, even human trafficking. Malaysia doesn’t even stop employers from seizing passports from workers. There is no substantive action to deal with corrupt officials.

Malaysia’s own reporting says 80 percent of Malay border officials are involved in corruption. Migrants fear going to the government because of official connivance with traffickers, and traffickers are not brought to justice.

This upgrade is about TPP not fighting human trafficking. This damages an important report that has been about global efforts to combat slavery.

Andrews also said there is widespread and pervasive corruption, with women and girls forced into prostitution. We know about the camps, mass graves at the Thai border. But Malaysia said there are “no criminal elements” involved with these mass graves.

The TIP Report’s aim is to enlighten, energize and empower activists, this release has done exactly the opposite. Despite all evidence that Malaysia does not deserve this upgrade, we believe the administration is undermining the credibility of this tool, which leaves the world’s move vulnerable populations to suffer the consequences, Andrews said.

Burton said a coalition of faith organizations is fighting human trafficking. They had applauded U.S. monitoring and the TIP report before this. The decision to upgrade Malaysia is especially disturbing. “We are gravely concerned that our brothers and sisters will become more susceptible.” Malaysia is at best not enforcing. This does not reflect our nation’s commitment to human rights. The U.S. needs to rethink its upgrade from tier 3 to tier 2.

Key Statements

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J):

“I am profoundly disappointed by this year’s TIP report. The Administration has turned its back on the victims of trafficking, turned a blind eye to the facts, and ignored the calls from Congress, leading human rights advocates, and Malaysian government officials to preserve the integrity of this important report. They have elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights.

… In Malaysia, members of the Parliament, the legal profession, and human rights activists have urged the United States to support their efforts and to maintain the Tier 3 ranking they tell us Malaysia deserves. Today, we have failed them. … The United States’ commitment and credibility in fighting the scourge of modern-day slavery is on the line. We need to make clear that the TIP report must not be subject to political manipulation.”

Communications Workers of America (CWA):

“A bad trade deal for the American people is made all the worse when its pursuit tramples on our country’s basic values and makes a mockery of the supposed independence of the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. The facts are clear – Malaysia has a serious human trafficking problem that has not improved and the Obama Administration is placing the completion of the TPP ahead of human trafficking concerns.

“Further, Malaysia’s upgraded ranking calls into question TPP backers’ claims about this trade deal upholding and advancing global improvements on human and labor rights and environmental standards. We simply should not be rewarding bad actor countries like Malaysia with inclusion in trade deals.

“For those who followed the fast track debate closely, it shouldn’t be a surprise that backers of the TPP would resort to any means possible to finish this deal. But that we are not surprised shouldn’t diminish the audacious and troubling nature of today’s announcement.”

AFL-CIO:

This decision is wrong and outrageous. It is a political decision that undermines the integrity of the TIP Report and signals that the U.S. is willing to turn a blind eye to modern slavery and grave human and labor rights abuses in order to advance its trade agenda.

The administration has had difficulty securing approval for fast track. Today’s cynical upgrade of a nation where forced labor, human trafficking, and exploitation remain pervasive, undermines its promises on labor rights, human rights, and anti-corruption in trade deals and does not bode well for TPP passage.

Alisa Simmons, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch,

“The administration knows that the TPP will have trouble in Congress, but turning a blind eye to Malaysia’s grave human rights violations in order to include Malaysia in the pact because it’s one of the few TPP countries we don’t already have a trade deal with and keeping the TPP on Fast Track so Congress’ oversight is limited is shameful. If the Obama administration is willing to ignore people-smuggling camps in Malaysia, why should we believe it would not also ignore TPP member Brunei’s criminalization of homosexuality, TPP member Vietnam’s widespread child labor or TPP member Peru’s rollback of environmental protections?”

Citizens Trade Campaign is asking people to sign on to this action: “Speak out now against any attempt to gloss over human trafficking in TPP countries.

And from Public Citizen: “Sign the Pledge to Fight the TPP

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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.

Next Big One: Repatriation Tax Holiday Giveaway To Corporations

Here comes the next big one. Now that the corporations have fast-track trade authority in the bag, they are trying to push a huge, huge tax giveaway through Congress. We have to get the word out so this doesn’t just sneak through. We can’t let them continue to rig the system against us like this.

Up To $770 Billion Is Owed On $2.2 Trillion In Corporate Profits Stashed In Tax Havens

You might have heard about all that money the giant corporations have been stashing in tax havens so they can dodge paying their taxes. You might not have heard how much they owe us. Corporations have somewhere around $2.2 billion of “offshore” profits stashed in tax havens. They owe up to 35 percent in taxes on that money. That’s right; they owe up to $770 billion that We the People could have right now for our roads, schools, health care, scientific research, space exploration, to forgive student debt … we could have free college tuition, expand Social Security, high-speed rail across the country…. Instead, we’re told we can’t have these things because there are “budget deficits.”

And on top of that, at least another $50 billion per year of tax money is kept from us because of this scam.

Congress could just tell these corporations to pay up, and We the People would have up to $770 billion to use to make our lives better, and another $50 billion or more each year.

See if you can guess what Congress is getting ready to do instead?

Tax Holiday

Right now the giant, multinational corporations owe up to $770 billion in taxes on the $2.2 trillion they are holding outside the country in tax-haven mailbox subsidiaries. Right now. They have the cash in the bank (in tax-haven countries) and could write checks tomorrow if Congress told them to. Again, this is taxes they already owe but haven’t paid. Think of the things our country could do with that money.

But instead …

Congress is proposing to give these companies a tax holiday and let them off from paying the taxes they already owe on that money. There is all kinds of complicated language being used to mask what is happening, but it’s really simple: Some members of Congress are proposing letting them off from the taxes they already owe on “offshore” profits, and then letting them off from paying taxes on future profits made “outside the country” from now on.

For example, the Charles Schumer-Rob Portman bill in the Senate will tax this money (on which 35 percent is already owed), “at a rate significantly lower than the statutory corporate rate.” And then it will cut tax rates on future “offshore” profits forever.

Quick question: For years these companies have been moving jobs, production and profit centers out of the country to take advantage of this tax dodge. If they are rewarded for this with this huge tax cut, how many more companies will move jobs, production and profit centers out of the country from now on? Bonus question: Will there be any jobs, production or profit centers left inside the U.S. if Congress lets companies off the hook from taxes on profits made from moving jobs, production and profits centers out of the country?

Don’t Let this Sneak Past Us

The corporations and billionaires count on these things sneaking through under cover of complicated language, so we never find out what is happening to us. Later they tell us “we’re broke” and there is no way to “pay for” things like roads, schools, and other needs. They tell us we have “deficits” that could “bankrupt” us, so college tuition has to go up, we have to pay to use toll roads, they have to cut funding for schools, we can’t have high-speed rail, they can’t afford to do scientific research or space exploration or fight global warming or fix up national parks, and so on.

But what is really going on is the game is being rigged. Corporations get huge tax breaks and subsidies, a few billionaires and plutocrats get the cash, and We the People, the 99 percent, have to make up the difference.

We need to get the word out about this. This is the next big one they are trying to slip through before we know what is happening to us.

We have to fight this. We have to make noise. Even if we don’t win this, at least we will know what happened this time. Then, later, when they come back and say there’s no money to do things that make our lives better, we will be able to see through the smokescreen. We will know where the money went, and eventually enough people will understand how the game is being rigged – and stop it.

Congress should tell the giant, multinational corporations that it is time to pay the taxes the already owe on “offshore” profits. They should not reward companies for moving jobs, production and profit centers out of our country.

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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.

Wall Street And Big Corporations Got What They Wanted – This Time

Fast track passes. Our Congress – the supposed representatives of We the People – voted to cut themselves and us out of the process of deciding what “the rules” for doing business “in the 21st Century” will be.

How do the plutocrats and oligarchs and their giant multinational corporations get what they want when a pesky democracy is in their way? They push that pesky democracy out of their way.

Because of fast track, when the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and any other secretly negotiated “trade” agreements are completed Congress must vote in a hurry with only limited debate, cannot make any amendments no matter what is in the agreement, and they can’t be filibustered. Nothing else coming before our Congress gets that kind of skid-greasing, only corporate-written “trade” agreements – and it doesn’t matter how far the contents go beyond actual “trade.”

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All Hands On Deck: House Fast Track Vote Could Come This Week

ALL HANDS ON DECK. This is not a drill. The vote in the House of Representatives on fast track trade authority, preapproving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the public finds out what is in it, is coming up very soon. It is even possible it could happen later this week. The Senate has already passed fast track; if the House passes this it goes to President Obama and he will sign it. That will make TPP a done deal.

Fast track is a weird procedure, invented by President Richard Nixon, whereby Congress sets aside the normal procedures for considering, debating and voting on a bill – but only for so-called “trade” agreements. Under fast track Congress agrees to rush the agreement through with little debate, agrees not to make any amendments, and not to filibuster it. (How else could they get approval for deals that allow companies to ship jobs and factories out of the country to places where workers and the environment are not protected?)

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Make One More Call To Senators To Stop Fast Track

The fast track trade promotion authority vote in the Senate is itself being fast tracked. The last time fast track was in front of the Senate, members spent three weeks discussing it. This time the Senate gets just a few days.

The final Senate vote is coming up. Make a few calls and see if we can head this off.

The Senate is considering the rigged fast track trade promotion authority process that, if passed, will be used to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and future trade bills under future presidents.

Please make one more call to your senators and let them know you do not want them to vote for the Fast Track bill. If it passes the Senate it will then move to the House soon after the Memorial Day break. The House is where the real fight will take place; it is important that you start contacting your representative in Congress about this.

Big Rush

Fast track is being rushed through the Senate at an unusual pace, and senators are largely being denied the chance to offer amendments. Thursday the Senate voted 62-38 to halt debate soon after it began, with 13 “Democrats” joining Republicans to rush the process of pushing fast track through before the public can catch on that the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is being “greased.” Fast Track essentially preapproves TPP before the public can even see what is in the agreement.

Michael McAuliff, in Senate Advances Fast-Track For Obama Trade Deals at HuffPo, writes that even Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions wants to know what the rush is:

“We’re moving to this massive bill with very little debate even on the fast-track policy. And if that’s adopted and the bill — TPP — appears, there will be no amendments on it,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), referring to the fast-track rules that don’t allow Congress to alter trade agreements.

“I see no reason that we have to rush this,” Sessions said, adding that he has not received enough assurance from the administration that the trade deals will be good for workers.

“I sent a letter to the president of the United States asking how fast-track and the vast Trans-Pacific Partnership would impact the jobs and wages of American workers. A simple question. Would it increase or reduce manufacturing jobs and wages in the United States?” Sessions said before the vote. “Shouldn’t we know that? Is that a question improper to be asked? He’s refused to answer. I think the reason he’s refused to answer is because the answer is not good.”

Currency Amendment

One amendment that actually will get a vote is a currency amendment by Sens. Rob Portman (D-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Passing the currency amendment requires 51 votes. This amendment would add a requirement to the fast track legislation telling trade negotiators to include provisions to hold countries accountable to International Monetary Fund standards. It would add enforceable currency language necessary to ensure that foreign competitors don’t use their exchange rates to subsidize their exports at the expense of products made by American workers.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she wants to see currency rules like this in TPP and this amendment will help make that happen. CNN has the story in “Clinton finds problems with Obama TPP trade proposal“: “The Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential race said she wants to see rules included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would penalize countries for driving down the value of their currencies in order to give their exports a price advantage in the U.S. market.”

Business groups affected by unfair competition from countries that manipulate currency also want this to pass. For example, the American Automotive Policy Council, which represents Ford and GM, wants the Portman-Stabenow amendment to pass. The U.S. Business and Industry Council also issued a statement that begins:

Kevin L. Kearns, USBIC president, issued the following statement: “For far too long, our domestic manufacturers have been subject to attacks by foreign competitors using artificially low prices courtesy of undervalued currencies. As a result, the United States has seen its domestic manufacturing base hollowed out and former manufacturing centers turned into blighted cities. It is time this predatory practice, which violates IMF requirements, is eradicated. To do so, there needs to be a defined process and specific penalties in trade agreements. Portman-Stabenow is an important first step in seeing that modern trade agreements put a halt to currency manipulation.”

Make A Call, Then On To The House

Michael Stumo of the Coalition for a Prosperous America writes at Economy in Crisis, in “What to expect re: upcoming trade votes“:

We do expect the Senate to approve Fast Track this week. Do not be disappointed or discouraged if and when you hear that news.

Indeed we have always expected the Senate to approve it. While we had a brief surprise last week when the Senate defeated a cloture vote, that lasted two days and was for procedural maneuvering reasons rather than a fundamental shift. … After likely Senate approval, the House is expected to take up Fast Track in early June.

… This is a big battle. The pro-trade deficit advocates are well funded. The battle, in many ways, will continue for some time.

The point of this message is: The Senate will likely vote for Fast Track, this is expected, it should not discourage you from future advocacy, and the big battle is in the House.

It is very important to call your state’s two senators TODAY and let them know your feelings about rushing fast track through with little debate and almost no consideration of amendments.

Call the Capitol Hill operator at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your senators. Or, find the direct number here.

The 13 Democrats who broke ranks and voted with Republicans should get particular attention, if you are in one of their states. These are Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

After fast track is rushed through the Senate, it will be brought up for a vote in the House soon after it returns from Memorial Day recess June 1. If you are able to attend an event with your member of Congress in person over this break please do so; please let them know you are paying attention and do not want them to preapprove TPP by voting for fast track. Otherwise give your representative’s office a call, write a letter and let everyone you can talk to know that this is coming up and is very important for the future of working 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.

These 13 Democrats Are Helping Rush Fast Track Through The Senate

Democratic Senators voted to limit trade debate

Fast track is being super-fast tracked in the Senate. Wall Street and the big corporations really, really want this one and the Senate is responding, including 13 “Democrats.” When the fix is in and you are rigging the game anyway, why bother with the pretense of meaningful and open public debate?

Sometimes a vote is a clear either/or, where you are either voting with Wall Street and the giant, multinational corporations or you are voting with 99 percent of Americans who actually (try to) work for a living. These trade votes are one of those clear choices. Thirteen Democrats joined today with Republicans, Wall Street and the giant, multinational corporations to rush fast track through the Senate with little public debate and few votes on amendments.

These are the 13 “Democratic” Senators who voted to rush the TPA bill: Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

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These Senate Democrats Broke The Blockade Of Fast Track

As promised, here is the list of Democratic senators who joined Republicans to break the filibuster of fast track trade promotion authority. Fast track essentially preapproves the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the pubic gets a chance to know what is in it. As I wrote Thursday, this is “for your phone calls and your ‘long memory’ list.”

Michael Bennet, Colorado – (202) 224-5852
Maria Cantwell, Washington – (202) 224-3441
Tom Carper, Deleware – (202) 224-2441
Chris Coons, Delaware – (202) 224-5042
Dianne Feinstein, California – (202) 224-3841
Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota – (202) 224-2043
Tim Kaine, Virginia – (202) 224-4024
Claire McCaskill, Missouri – (202) 224-6154
Patty Murray, Washington – (202) 224-2621
Bill Nelson, Florida – (202) 224-5274
Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire – (202) 224-2841
Mark Warner, Virginia – (202) 224-2023
Ron Wyden, Oregon – (202) 224-5244

“Extremely Lucrative Post-Political Opportunities For Members Of Congress And Staff”

On an obviously (to me) related note, on Thursday Salon published “‘Utter insanity and stupidity': Ex-Reagan adviser unloads on GOP, lobbyists and the myth of the ‘moderate Republican'” interviewing Bruce Bartlett. Bartlett said that he sees lobbying as “one of the most insidious threats to American government.” He sees this as more of a threat than the campaign finance system. One reason, he says, is that companies now see government as a profit center where they get a return on the amounts they spend to bribe lobby Congress. He goes on (emphasis added):

The second insidious element of this [lobbying] is that it has created extremely lucrative post-political opportunities for members of Congress and staff. It used to be that a member of Congress, once they were defeated or were retired, they’d go home or they would just simply literally retire and do nothing. But now, they have all these opportunities to make huge amounts of income as lobbyists. I think it’s changed the nature of being in Congress.

When I first started working on Capitol Hill, it was sort of generally understood that a member of Congress would stay pretty much forever … and it was very common for staff people to stay on Capitol Hill for their entire careers. I think that’s very rare these days. Now, they come, they get their ticket stamped, and then they move on and become lobbyists and make a lot more money — and do a lot less work. So, I can’t prove it, but I honestly think that there are people who run for Congress now not because they actually want to be in Congress, but because they actually want to be lobbyists, and so they want that credential that allows them to get the job that they want.

Do you think they see lobbying as basically a reward they’ve earned from working on Capitol Hill?

Well, yes, and not only that. I learned this from Jack Abramoff: he would go to … Congressional staffers and basically say, Look, if you do this favor for me, there’s a guaranteed job for you the day you decide to leave Capitol Hill. I don’t know if that’s literally bribery, but it certainly borders on it … This was a revelation to me, because that was never the case when I worked on Capitol Hill. But now, I think that people do understand that these options are there and it does encourage them to push the limits of what might be legally or ethically justifiable.

Let me add a footnote to this, one of the things about lobbying that I never see anybody report on, but it is extremely insidious.

Sure, go ahead. What is it?

The employment of spouses and children of members of Congress [in lobbying firms]. Now this information has to be disclosed on their financial disclosure forms, but I’m not aware of anybody who collects it and analyzes it systematically. It’s very common for the wife or husband of some member of Congress to get a job at some lobbying company or some government relations office — and, frankly, a lot of times these jobs are not real jobs. These people are not being hired for their expertise. They’re hired simply to ingratiate the business with the member of Congress and to create a very opportunities for de facto lobbying through the normal, social things that go on in any business. This is very very common, I’m afraid. For some reason it just seems to be off-limits for people to complain about it.

Well, I’m complaining about it right here.

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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.

Senate Fast Track Vote Tuesday – Where Is Clinton?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled the voting process for trade promotion authority, commonly known as “fast track,” to begin as early as Tuesday. If passed, fast track prohibits the Congress from amending trade agreements no matter what problems might show up, requires these agreements to be voted on within 90 days, limits the debate Congress is allowed and prohibits filibusters.

Passing fast track will essentially pre-approve the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement before the public gets a chance to know what is in it, as well as future trade deals regardless of who is president or what the rigged, corporate-dominated negotiating process produces.

With a vote coming as soon as Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has not yet spoken out for or against fast track.

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

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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A Trade Campaign Built On Four Pinocchios

A newly launched public relations campaign in support of trade promotion authority, a.k.a. “fast track,” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) calls itself “the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.” At its foundation is a set of misleading (at best) claims that begin with a four-Pinocchio whopper.

It is unclear who is in the coalition, why they call themselves “progressive” when progressives are opposed to TPP and fast track, and flat-out wrong that the trade agreement is going to produce “American jobs.”

American Jobs? “Four Pinocchios”

The “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs” sent out a press release earlier this week promising that the TPP will “support hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the United States.” This is the same promise that Clinton used to sell NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and we know how that turned out. (Hint: lost jobs, lost wages, lost factories, lost industries, devastated regions of the country, increased trade deficits and a few CEOs and Wall Street types made vastly richer.) (See also, Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Promises Echo Clinton’s On NAFTA.)

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