Environmental Groups Denounce Fast Track Trade Process

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters and 41 other environmental groups sent a letter to Congress this week, asking them to oppose “fast track” trade promotion authority for upcoming trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). They asked Congress to instead set up an open, transparent trade negotiating system that gives stakeholders, other than just corporate representatives, input in the process.

The letter begins, “As leading U.S. environmental and science organizations, we write to express our strong opposition to ‘fast track’ trade promotion authority, and to urge you to oppose any legislation that would limit the ability of Congress to ensure that trade pacts deliver benefits for communities, workers, public health, and the environment.”

Background On Fast Track, TPP

Currently, trade negotiations are conducted in secret. Corporate representatives are part of the process, and the negotiators come from or expect to go into the corporate world. Stakeholders like environmental, consumer, labor, democracy, human rights, and other groups are excluded from the process.

Once these agreements are finalized, a process known as “fast track” is used to push the agreement through. Fast track asks Congress to forgo the usual process of careful deliberation, and vote within 90 days of Congress and the public first seeing the agreement. Congress also agrees in advance not to amend or filibuster the agreement. This sets up a rushed situation, in which massive corporate PR campaigns can pressure Congress to pass the agreement, and not “kill the whole thing” over problems that they might find. The public does not have time to digest the implications of the agreement and rally opposition, if warranted.

The letter from the environmental groups explains”

“Fast track was originally designed in the 1970s, when trade agreements focused on traditional trade issues such as cutting tariffs and lifting quotas. Today’s trade agreements, however, are about much more than tariffs and quotas and have significant implications for our environment, public health, and global climate.”

TPP is a massive agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries. It has 29 “chapters” – only five of which cover trade issues at all. Other chapters cover things like rules limiting how countries regulate corporations, limiting how countries make laws that might limit corporation profits, and other rules that grant giant multinational corporations special protections from competition.

Instead of this corporate-dominated process, the environmental groups ask for an open, transparent process that delivers benefits for working people, not just for the owners of the largest corporations. From the letter:

“U.S. involvement in trade negotiations should be guided by democracy, transparency, political accountability and must lead to a ‘race to the top’ that provides real protections for communities, workers, and the environment. A new model of trade that delivers benefits for most Americans, promotes broadly shared prosperity, and safeguards the environment and public health is possible.’

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said, “Trade should be done right — not just fast — to protect our families and neighbors from pollution and climate disruption. Fast-tracking flawed trade pacts is a deal-breaker. With fast track, we would be trading away clean air, clean water, and safe communities.”

Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Congress shouldn’t give a fast lane to trade pacts that don’t protect our public health and climate. These trade bills would give foreign corporations and governments the right to challenge our bedrock protections for clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food and proper chemical safeguards. We shouldn’t trade away our sovereignty. We need trade bills that tackle the 21st-century environmental challenges, not take us backwards.”

Click here to view the letter: sc.org/EnvirosAgainstFastTrack

Signers of this letter include:

  • 350.org
  • Athens County (OH) Fracking Action Network
  • Berks Gas Truth
  • Catskill Mountainkeeper
  • Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Center for International Environmental Law
  • Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  • Clean Economy Coalition of the Coastal Bend
  • Clean Water Action
  • The Delaware Riverkeeper
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Earthjustice
  • Earthworks
  • Energy Action Coalition
  • Environmental Action
  • Environmental Health Coalition
  • Environmental Investigation Agency
  • Food & Water Watch
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Friends of Merrymeeting Bay
  • Greenpeace USA
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Policy Program
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Oil Change International
  • Olympic Climate Action
  • Partnership for Policy Integrity
  • People Demanding Action
  • PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources)
  • Progressive Democrats of America
  • Progressive Democrats of America Maryland
  • Rainforest Action Network
  • Safe Climate Campaign
  • Sierra Club
  • Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
  • Sustain US
  • Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition
  • The Texas Drought Project
  • Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science and Democracy
  • U.S. Climate Plan
  • Washington Environmental Council
  • Wild Earth Guardians

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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.

What Obama Got Wrong In His State of the Union Remarks On Trade

The President briefly spoke about trade in his State of the Union speech. He admitted that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype” but then he called for doing more of the same. He called for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — “Fast Track” — to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Here is what President Obama said about trade (from pre-released transcript):

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

But…

1) Exports are good for an economy, but exports and imports must be balanced. While our exports are up, our imports are up even more. This is why we have an enormous, humongous trade deficit. When imports are greater than exports it means jobs, factories and if the imbalance continues eventually the necessary pieces of industry ecosystems are lost. Our trade deficit is enormous and our trade has been out of balance since the 1970s.

Here is Paul Krugman, writing at his blog Monday,

The immediate problem facing much of the world is inadequate demand and the threat of deflation. Would trade liberalization help on that front? No, not at all. True, to the extent that trade becomes easier, world exports would rise, which is a net plus for demand. But world imports would rise by exactly the same amount, which is a net minus. Or to put it a bit differently, trade liberalization would change the composition of world expenditure, with each country spending more on foreign goods and less on its own, but there’s no reason to think it would raise total spending; so this is not a short-term economic boost.

Krugman also points out that current trade tariffs and protections are low, so a “trade” deal doesn’t really remove imposing barriers. He suspects that groups representing the giant multinationals, like the Chamber of Commerce, are really pushing this deal because it rigs the system in their favor and “will yield them a lot of monopoly rents.” Which leads to Obama’s next argument.

2) This idea that “we” should “write the rules” to “level the playing field” is interesting. Yes, China would like to write rules of trade in its favor. But it doesn’t follow from this that we should allow the giant multinational to write the rules in ways that rig the system against everyone but them. And this is exactly what TPP does. TPP is being negotiated in secret with participation of corporate representatives while representatives of labor, consumer, democracy, human rights, women’s, environmental and other “stakeholder” groups are kept away from the table. Only a small part of TPP is about “trade” at all, while parts of it elevate corporate rights above the rights of citizens in democracies to make their own laws. (For example tobacco companies can sue governments for profit-loss from anti-smoking campaigns. Under similar “trade” agreements this is already happening.)

And speaking of rigging the system …

3) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) hardly “protects American workers.” Also known as “Fast Track,” TPA essentially pre-approves trade agreements before anyone even sees them. TPA pre-rigs the approval process by forcing an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed within 90 days of anyone even seeing the agreement for the first time. This means the public doesn’t have time to fully comprehend what is in the agreement and rally opposition if opposition is warranted. Fast Track shifts the public and press focus to “will they kill the whole agreement” rather than on what is actually in the agreement. (This is how they were able to push Wall Street deregulation through the last “Citibank Budget” deal.)

4) There is nothing in past or upcoming trade agreements that will incentivize bringing manufacturing and other jobs back to the US, which the President promised. On the contrary, TPP includes Vietnam which boasts a minimum wage of 30 cents per hour and has a terrible record on labor rights. This tells us what we need to know about the incentives for manufacturers to bring jobs back.

5) One of the biggest factors in American job loss is currency manipulation, but TPP does not address currency manipulation. (TPP is being negotiated in secret but leaks and other indications tell us that there is nothing to address currency manipulation.) Jared Bernstein wrote about this in a January 9 NY Times op-ed, How to Stop Currency Manipulation, saying,

“… there’s one thing the administration can do that will both win over some opponents and address one of the biggest issues in global trade: add a chapter on currency manipulation.

… In a compelling argument for including a chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to restrict currency manipulation, C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that America’s trade deficit “has averaged $200 billion to $500 billion per year higher as a result of the manipulation” by the rest of the world, resulting in the loss of one million to five million jobs.

The loss of 1-5 million jobs to currency manipulation is a lot of jobs, yet this isn’t even in the agreement!

6) The President said that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.” Please see last week’s post What You Need To Know When Obama Talks Trade for a breakdown of what has happened with previous trade agreements. Also see the Public Citizen report, Prosperity Undermined: Fast-Tracked Trade Agreements’ 20-Year Record of Massive U.S. Trade Deficits, American Job Loss and Wage Suppression for a more comprehensive look at what these trade agreements have cost US workers, our manufacturing ecosystem and our economy — just so that a few executives and billionaires can get even wealthier.

Boost Wages Or Trade Agreements — But Not Both

The President wants to address income inequality. But these trade agreements have been a major driver of income inequality. American worker wages have been frozen for decades as workers were threatened with their jobs being moved out of the country. A few at the top have pocketed this wage differential for themselves. Trade deals that pit American workers and the “costs” — higher wages, environmental protections, etc — of democracy against non-democracies where people don’t get good wages and the environment is not protected work against the President’s stated goals.

Josh Bivens writes at the Economic Policy Institute blog, Trade Agreements or Boosting Wages? We Can’t Do Both,

To put it plainly, if policymakers—including the President—are really serious about boosting wage growth for low and moderate-wage Americans, then the push to fast-track TPP and TTIP makes no sense.

… the most staid textbook models argue precisely that for a country like the United States, expanded trade should be expected to (yes) lift overall national incomes, but should redistribute so much from labor to capital owners, so that wages actually fall. …

Also see Obama vs. Obama: The State of the Union’s Self-Defeating Trade Pitch at the Eyes on Trade blog for “a side-by-side analysis of how Obama’s push to Fast Track the TPP contradicts his own State of the Union agenda.”

A Few Other Reactions

At a Wednesday press conference with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and other House Democrats, Rep. Slaughter said, “The president said last night that previous trade deals had not lived up to the hype. That may be the understatement of the century. We will fight this tooth and nail, and I believe we are going to win.”

Also at the press conference, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) said, “Fast track is designed to embed into these so-called free trade agreements a bunch of things that are detrimental to the American public.”

Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) “The Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) advocates a new direction in trade policy focusing upon balanced trade, a comprehensive US competitiveness strategy, and producing more of what we consume here. We oppose Congress ratifying the past, wrongheaded trade strategy which produces trade deficits, job loss, and incentives to offshore manufacturing for re-import into the US.”

Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM): “By ignoring the concerns of industry, workers, and majorities of the House and Senate, he’s not only putting the TPP at risk, he’s putting a whole lot of auto jobs in the US at risk, too.”

Communications Workers of America (CWA):

“…[W]e cannot stand with the President in his alliance with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable to send more U.S. jobs offshore, undermine U.S. communities and weaken U.S. sovereignty under the guise of “free trade.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has much more to do with protecting the investment of multinational corporations and maneuvering around China than lowering trade barriers.

Public opposition to “fast track authority” and the TPP is strong, and growing more vocal everyday. Consumer groups, workers, environmentalists, people of faith, students and more have united to stop this attack on U.S. jobs and communities. Conservatives, who do not believe that nations should relinquish their sovereign power to secret tribunals, also are on board.

Over the past 20 years, millions of U.S. jobs have been lost. The jobs U.S. workers had been promised over those years of course never materialized. In fact, just two trade deals – NAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement — have resulted in the loss of nearly 800,000 jobs. The promoters of the TPP are again promising job gains through growth in U.S. exports. But we can do the math. Any new jobs will be dwarfed by the flood of jobs that go offshore.

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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.

Watch TPP Outsource A Congressman’s Office

If we let Congress pre-approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Fast Track we won’t need Congress anymore. Corporations will decide what the rules should be.

PS: This is for real. The next round of “NAFTA-style” trade agreements actually let corporate courts — with corporate attorneys as the judges — stop countries from passing laws that interfere with profits. Treaties like these already let tobacco companies sue countries to block government-sponsored anti-smoking campaigns. This is for real.

So essentially passing Fast Track outsources Congressmembers’ jobs! See for yourself:

Get ready now for the Fast Track Fight. Call your member of Congress and let them know you say NO FAST TRACK.

And visit No Fast Track at nofasttrack.org

That Judge Who “Ruled” Immigration Order Unconstitutional

Tuesday a federal judge “ruled” that President Obama’s executive actions on immigration are unconstitutional. He wasn’t ruling on a case, just issuing his opinion.

Judge Arthur J. Schwab of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has a controversial history. TPM says he is “No Stranger To Controversy“.

Schwab was nominated by President George W. Bush. The Senate vote to confirm Schwab to be a U.S. District Judge was 92-0. Not a single Senate Democrat objected.

So the past actions of Democrats again come back to haunt them. Not doing their duty to carefully screen nominees they put into important positions, thereby letting ideologues and kooks like Schwab become judges.

It should be noted that Democratic senators already knew better. Bush was put into office by Supreme Court justices who were put on the bench with votes from Democratic senators.

Remember that scene in Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, when not one Democratic senator would join House members to object to seating Bush as President?

I suspect this is part of why people aren’t bothering to vote. Only 1/3 of potential voters bothered to vote in this year’s midterm elections — the lowest turnout since WWII. I think that things like this, over the years, have added up and made the Democratic Party irrelevant to many people’s lives. (Let me emphasize, that’s some Democrats, not all Democrats, there are great Democrats. That video clip has House Democrats begging Senate Democrats to stand up for electoral integrity. You should always show up and vote.)

The Thing In The Budget Bill That No One Supports But Won’t Be Taken Out

The budget bill called the “Cromnibus” (for Continuing Resolution and OMNIBUS budget bill) contains a provision that undoes an important part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill. It would allow banks to gamble on derivatives using money from taxpayer-protected accounts. Citibank literally wrote the provision and paid someone to put it in the bill.

No one in the House or Senate will say who was paid to put it in the bill. No one will admit to putting it in the bill. No one will say that support this provision. But it will not be taken out of the bill.

OK this is not a rhetorical question, it is a question to broadcast. This was written word-for-word by Citibank, to benefit Citibank, putting the taxpayers at great risk. How can something like this be in a bill if no one put it in the bill and no one indicates support for it? How can we not get it taken out if no one will say they put it in and no one will say they support it?

Someone was obviously paid to put it in the bill. People are obviously being paid to keep it in the bill.

How FAR from the principles of democracy, transparency, accountability and everything the country, the Constitution and the Congress are supposed to stand for can we go here?

Please click here now to call your senators and tell them to stand up against this dangerous attempt to rig the rules for Wall Street – and against us.

Prosecute Or Pardon Bush, Bankers And Cops Who Kill

Are we a nation of laws or not? No one is held accountable for invading Iraq, bank fraud, shooting unarmed citizens or even torture. It’s time to restore the rule of law.

Everyone please, please watch this 4-minute segment from All In with Chris Hayes: Are really we a nation of laws?

In a New York Times op-ed, American Civil Liberties Union Director Anthony Romero called on President Obama to at least issue a pardon to Bush and Cheney and Bush administration officials for the crime of torture. In “Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured,” Romero writes: “… it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.”

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Is The Democratic Party Relevant Anymore?

Many Democrats examining what happened in the 2014 midterms are asking “what did the voters want?” But the right question is why did only 36.4 percent of potential voters bother to register and vote? Obviously Democrats did not give those voters a good enough reason to take the trouble. Is the Democratic Party relevant anymore?

“New Coke” Democrats

In 1985 Coca-Cola was the market leader, but Pepsi was gaining market share. Coca-Cola’s executives panicked and reformulated its flavor to taste like the more-sugary Pepsi. But Pepsi drinkers already drank Pepsi and Coca-Cola drinkers were left with no brand that they liked. If this sounds like an analogy to the Democratic Party consultants who keep urging Democratic candidates and politicians to be more like Republicans, that’s because it is.

Democrats were considered the majority party from the time of Roosevelt’s New Deal until the 1980s. All they had to do to win was to get a high enough voter turnout. Democratic operations were more about Get Out The Vote (GOTV) than giving people reasons to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. They just assumed most people agreed with them – because most people agreed with them. But that time has passed.

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With Election Over, First Order Of Business Is $450B In Corporate Tax Breaks

The election is over. Congress is back in Washington. The first order of business after the election is to give big tax breaks to the corporations – $450 billion worth. Fortunately, President Obama is trying to do something about this.

Tax Extenders

Every year Congress renews a package of “temporary” corporate tax breaks. The renewal process is called “tax extenders” because they extend the term of these temporary breaks. So now the Congress is working on this year’s extenders package, except this time it wants to just make many of them (the ones that mostly give handouts to giant corporations and campaign donors) permanent. The Washington Post calls this process “a periodic bonanza for lobbyists.”

A few of the special tax breaks in the extenders package are really good and serve an important purpose. For example, part of the package is tax credits that provide incentives to invest in renewable energy. But most others are just giveaways and handouts to the already-wealthy, like depreciation tax breaks for people who own racehorses. (Yes, really.) Even worse, some of these are loopholes that actually encourage corporations to shift U.S. profits offshore into tax havens. (Yes, really.)

The good breaks are used to grease the wheels to slip these special favors through – as in “if you want to get those wind tax credits you’re going to have to pass a tax break for Mitt Romney’s racehorses.”

The media is reporting that Congress is near a deal on these extenders. The deal kills several “good” tax breaks that help working people and the middle class, like an expanded child tax credit for the working poor and expanded earned-income credit. The deal phases out the wind power tax credit after 2017.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) pointed out that companies that renounce their U.S. citizenship would even get special breaks from this deal:

“The package would provide a permanent boon to large corporations, even those that renounce their U.S. citizenship and invert,” he said. “And adding insult to injury, the proposed deal chooses to leave behind working families and would make things harder for millions of Americans. …The overall package is simply unacceptable and adds more than $400 billion to the debt. We need to grow the middle class, not punish those working hard to get by while always giving preferences and priority treatment to big corporations who can hire high-priced, well-funded lobbyists.”

Not Paid For

These tax breaks are not “paid for” – they just add to the deficit. Remember how Congress rejected providing benefits for the long-term unemployed because they were not “paid for?” Congress won’t fix the country’s infrastructure because doing so is not “paid for.” Even disaster relief had to be “paid for!”

But none of these corporate tax breaks and loopholes being considered are “paid for” – but for some reason this isn’t a problem – this time. Because racehorses. Anyway, we’re only talking about $450 billion.

President Says He Will Veto

The President says he will veto this deal if it reaches his desk. Roll Call has the story, in, “Obama Would Veto Corporate Tax Cut Bill“:

President Barack Obama would veto an emerging $450 billion tax cut deal coming together in the Senate because it doesn’t do enough for the middle class, according to the White House.

“The President would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families,” said Jen Friedman, deputy White House press secretary.

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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.

Whoever Wins, Democrats Should Learn This Lesson: Be Democrats

Democrats should to learn a lesson from this year’s election campaigns: Democrats should be Democrats. Democrats should not try to run away from the things Democrats stand for. It doesn’t work.

Supporting Republicans ideas is not going to win you Republican votes. It won’t stop Republicans from calling you a socialist, communist, extremist, whatever. And it is not going to give you any cover at all when the public gets their chance to weigh in. If you do things the public doesn’t like it is going to come back and bite you. Unless you are campaigning for the job of post-defeat lobbyist, embracing Republican ideas so you can call yourself a “moderate” or a “centrist” buys you nothing.

Exhibit A: the “centrist” Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting plan. Right now Republicans are running campaign ads attacking Democrats who supported the Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting plan, because it proposed “entitlement reform” that would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits and raise the retirement age.

Here is a Republicans ad running in North Carolina. “Hagan is a big believer in a controversial plan that raises the retirement age…” referring to the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan:

Here is a Republican ad running in Georgia attacking John Barrow for supporting Simpson-Bowles:

Democrats should never forget that Republicans have been running ad after ad after attack ad like these, going after Democrats who supported deficit “entitlement reform.”

Exhibit B: In Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor voted against background checks for people buying guns at gun shows. How did that work out? Answer: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is spending $1.3 million to defeat Pryor in Arkansas.

Lesson: Democrats Should Be Democrats, Not Try To Be Republicans

This election should provide a lesson to Democrats, forever, to remain Democrats and not fall for DC elite calls to be “moderates” by supporting things like cutting entitlements or otherwise acting like Republicans. If you think you are going to be praised and rewarded for following the conservative/corporate line — ain’t gonna happen.

Democrats are for things like:

  • Social Security.
  • Medicare.
  • Helping the poor.
  • Higher minimum wages.
  • Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations to fund the fruits of democracy.
  • Good and well-funded public schools and colleges.
  • Maintaining and modernizing the country’s infrastructure.
  • Protecting the environment.
  • Regulating giant corporations and Wall Street (that includes airlines and telecommunications).
  • Helping people join unions.

Democrats are against things like:

  • “Fast tracking” trade deals that send jobs out of the country.
  • Letting corporations get away with ripping people off and deliver bad or harmful or fraudulent products.
  • Letting corporations use their size and power to keep other companies from innovating and competing.
  • Letting corporations pollute the environment and harm workers.

P.S. In 2010 Democrats were blasted by hundreds of millions of dollars of ads accusing them of “cutting Medicare” and it was these ads that helped Republicans take the House. Even though this was about Obamacare, and was a just a lie, it should have been a warning that things that make people’s lives better, like Medicare and Social Security, are popular.

Visit PopulistMajority.org to learn about other things that are popular.

If They Take The Senate Republicans Will Pass Trade Deals That Clinch Plutocracy

Trade deals like NAFTA have helped create terrible inequality by outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries so “investors” can pocket the wage difference. These corporate trade deals also create “corporate courts” that bypass the borders of democracy and place billionaires and their corporations beyond the reach of governments when it comes to deciding on laws and regulations that protect citizens.

There are more of these “NAFTA-style” being negotiated right now. These are much bigger than the trade deals that have already created such inequality and corporate hegemony. If Republicans take the Senate and keep the House they will pass these new trade deals and clinch this deal worldwide – and President Obama has already indicated he will sign them. This is serious so try to talk a few non-voting friends into showing up this time.

Trade Deals Being Negotiated Now

The big corporations are pushing our government to finalize three very big trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). These are not really trade deals but cover all kinds of issues, including the ability to place corporate rights alongside or above the rights of countries to make their own laws.

These “trade” deals will, if passed by Congress and signed by the president, cement a corporate right to profits above the rights of citizens to pass laws to protect our health, environment, wages, working conditions and anything else we might decide to do to make our lives better. That’s right, these trade agreements place corporate rights above national sovereignty, and they do this behind a veil of secrecy.

These deals, like NAFTA and other “NAFTA-style” agreements, have “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions that let giant corporations sue governments for passing laws that might cause investors to make lower profits. For example, these (and current) agreements allow tobacco companies to stop governments from engaging in anti-smoking initiatives to protect the health of their citizens. These suits do not come up in front of government courts. These are adjudicated by corporate-controlled tribunals of private arbitrators — “corporate courts” set up by these trade agreements. The “judges” are often corporate lawyers who just happen to also represent global investors and whose livelihood depends on the very corporations they are judging.

These deals are being negotiated with only the interests of the giant corporations at the table. Citizens groups, labor groups, consumer groups, environmental groups, health groups and other representatives of stakeholders in the world’s economy are excluded from the process.

Why is our own government negotiating a deal that gives so much to the big corporations and the billionaires behind them, and takes so much away from regular people? Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) sums it up, saying there are three kinds of people negotiating these agreements on behalf of our government:

  • People who used to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements.
  • People who want to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements.
  • People who used to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements and want to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements again.

Why would the giant corporations and the billionaires want these agreements? Because they clinch the deal and get them around the borders of democracy.

Wow, That Sounds Extreme

Trade deals are placing corporate rights above national sovereignty? They are intentionally undermining democracy? This sounds extreme. What kind of person would make such extreme accusations?

Yes, it sounds extreme. This is a dilemma progressives continually face when describing the agenda and actions of the corporate/conservative right. Because so much of what they are accomplishing is hidden behind a veil of secrecy, obfuscation and long-term step-by-step strategy (think frog in a pot with the water being heated slowly), and because people pay very little attention to the news and current events until something smacks them in the face (or wallet) you sound like a crazy extremist when you simply describe to people what is going on.

  • They’re trying to privatize Medicare? What an extreme accusation to make.
  • They are trying to make it hard for legitimate citizens to vote? Wow, what an extreme statement.
  • They’re trying to get rid of public schools? What an extreme thing to say.
  • They’re trying to engineer a cut in everyone’s pay and benefits? What an extreme … oh, wait, we all can see now that they did that.

The corporate right depends on this one-two punch of secrecy and a poorly informed public to get their way.

Tea-Party Republicans vs. Chamber Of Commerce Republicans

So far enough Democrats have opposed these trade deals to keep the Congress from passing the “fast-track” trade promotion authority that is used to push them through. Fast track requires Congress to rush to a vote immediately after the treaty is made public, prevents Congress from amending the agreements and prevents filibusters from blocking them in the Senate. But if Republicans take the Senate and keep the House, there may no longer be enough non-corporate-controlled members of Congress to keep this from happening.

However, there would still be one hope for blocking these trade deals, even if Republicans take the Senate, and that’s the party’s tea party wing.

These trade agreements undermine the sovereignty of our country. They allow others to override our own ability as a country to make our own laws. This is one place where the tea party gets it squarely right. And this is one place where the tea party wing of the Republican Party is at war with the Chamber of Commerce (corporate-controlled) wing of the Republicans. National sovereignty is important to tea party Republicans, so they oppose these agreements. Also they oppose them because they are favored by President Obama. “Don’t let Obama negotiate away our national sovereignty” is a tea party rallying cry.

If Republicans take the Senate, let’s hope this appreciation of national sovereignty overrides their appreciation of corporate cash.

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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.

Democrats – There’s Still Time

“It is hard to understate the intensity of the response to the role of big money.”

Mike Lux, writing at The Huffington Post in “Four Weeks Out: What Will Be the Narrative of Election 2014?,” echoes something that we have been pounding on here at OurFuture.org: Democrats who campaign with a populist message will do better than Democrats who support the “centrist” – big corporate, Wall Street – positions.

In his post, Lux writes:

In a fascinating memo from Stan Greenberg and James Carville’s Democracy Corps and Page Gardner at Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund, they suggest that there is a modest but nonetheless quite significant trend toward Democratic candidates in the battleground Senate races. … They argue that a populist message especially focused on women voters’ top economic concerns and attacking the big money corporate interests that want to “make sure CEOs paid no higher taxes and that their loopholes are protected, while working men and women struggle” moves these razor-tight races an average of 4 crucial points, from -2 to +2.

… Democrats should be driving the story of the corrupting influence of big money in politics. As the DCorps memo states: “It is hard to understate the intensity of the response to the role of big money.”

I’m going to repeat that. Focusing “on women voters’ top economic concerns and attacking the big money corporate interests that want to “make sure CEOs paid no higher taxes and that their loopholes are protected, while working men and women struggle” moves these razor-tight races an average of 4 crucial points, from -2 to +2.”

How can Democrats say this? Lux suggests this:

The real-world narrative Democrats should tell is about the spending of the Koch brothers and their agenda, which they laid out at their secret meeting in June: no minimum wage, no Social Security, no public education or student loans, lower taxes for the wealthy, and less regulations. “Because we can make more in profit,” said their so-called “grand-strategist” Richard Fink.

Not a bad idea, considering that the Koch brothers network is driving much of the Republican party at this point, and certainly their money is driving much of the election.

Democrats, there is still time.

Here are a few posts to check out (Many of these, plus some other useful posts, are on our “Winning Issues for 2014″ page):

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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.

Why You Shouldn’t Be “Optimistic” About Corporate “Tax Reform”

Washington elites are “optimistic” about another “reform.” That’s never good.

According to an article in The Hill this week, “WH adviser ‘optimistic’ for corporate tax reform“:

A top economic official in the White House on Tuesday expressed confidence that the next Congress can pass corporate tax reform.

… Obama has proposed lowering the corporate statutory rate from 35 percent to the high-20s while eliminating many deductions. Camp also proposed to lower the rate, but down to the mid-20s.

Camp has proposed shielding most of the profits corporations make offshore from U.S. taxation, while Obama has called for a minimum tax on global earnings.

Why is it that any time you hear the word “reform” coming out of Washington, it always ends badly for about 99 percent of us? They talk about entitlement “reform” – meaning cutting Social Security and Medicare. They talk about regulation “reform” – meaning our food and workplaces are going to be less safe. They talk about spending “reform” – meaning doing less of the things that make We the People’s lives better. (They never “reform” the military budget. It is more than double what it was when ‘W’ Bush took office. Because we have to defend against the Soviet Union.)

“Reform” is lobbyist-speak for opening up the floodgates, hanging the flags out, lighting the savings accounts on fire, letting dozens of blackbirds fly out of the pie, letting the horses out of the barn and generally fleecing the citizenry.

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