Rallies And #FightFastTrack Twitter Storm This Week

Fast track trade promotion legislation is likely to be introduced soon and will be used to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement – but the public knows very little about what this would mean to them.

To help get the word out, there will be a series of rallies across the United States this week and next week to oppose fast track legislation.

A list of February #FightFastTrack rallies around the country can be found here.

On Thursday, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Eastern time, you can join the #FightFastTrack Twitter storm, using the hashtag #FightFastTrack.

Here are some sample tweets you can use:

Don’t let Congress rubber stamp the #TPP and send jobs overseas. Join a rally near you to #FightFastTrack http://bit.ly/1ykSu0k

Tell Congress: Don’t rubber stamp #TPP with Brunei and Vietnam, serial violators of human rights. #FightFastTrack

Rallies to #FightFastTrack are being held all over the US this week and next. Find one near you to stop the TPP.http://bit.ly/1ykSu0k

What’s At Stake

“Fast Track” is a weird process in which Congress voluntarily gives up its power to define, consider and amend trade deals. With Fast Track Congress is not allowed to amend (a.k.a. “fix”) trade agreements, is only allowed very limited debate on the House and Senate floor, and must pass the agreement within 90 days of the public seeing the text of the agreement for the first time. The Senate is not allowed to filibuster the deal.

Why would Congress give up their duty and power like this? Fast Track gets passed because the multinational corporate sponsors of these trade agreement put on well-funded PR campaigns that put massive pressure on legislators. The PR campaigns tell the public that legislators will “hurt jobs” or are “anti-business” if they vote against Fast Track and these trade deals. In fact, the record is that these trade deals are great for the owners of giant multinational corporations, but have hurt jobs and “Main Street” businesses.

The basic argument the corporations make for Fast Track is that the trade deals could never be completed if the negotiators thought Congress could “meddle” with the results. In other words, these deals can’t stand the test of being acceptable to a democracy so they have to rig the process in advance. The trade deals are negotiated in a rigged process that excludes representatives of different parts of society who might object to rules that favor the giant multinational corporations that will benefit from these deals. Representatives of labor, environmental, health, LGBT, democracy, consumer and other interest groups are not “at the table” as part of the negotiating process – so of course the end result does not reflect the interests of these “stakeholders.”

Or, to put it another way, look at what has happened to the world’s economy and environment since the corporate “free trade” and deregulation ideology came to dominate elite thinking in the late 1970s-early 1980s. The interests of the giant multinational corporations and the 1 percent behind them have done very, very well. The rest of us? Not so much.

You can follow the week’s events on Twitter at @PCGTW.

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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 “Grand Alliance” To Save Our Public Postal Service

The Conservative/Wall Street/1 Percent/Republican anti-government strategy is to set government up to fail (usually by starving it of funding). Then they point to the resulting “crisis” they created and say it proves that government doesn’t work so we should “privatize” it – in other words, rig the system against We the People by handing our common wealth over to a few wealthy people to harvest for personal profit.

Now they’re coming for the U.S. Postal Service.

Manufacturing A Crisis

Republicans created the problems with the Postal Service. In 2006 Republicans in Congress required it to come up with $5.5 billion per year to pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. This means the Postal Service has to set aside money now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.

They also require the Postal Service to make a profit – or at least break even. But democratic government is supposed to provide services to We the People. It is not supposed to be about making a profit off of us. Yet Republicans say government should be “run like a business.” Then they hamstring it, preventing it from competing with businesses because they say it has too many advantages and any competition would be unfair.

From the post, “You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done To Our Postal Service”:

Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service “crisis”:

  • The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies.
  • Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.
  • Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even.
  • While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. … [M]any people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
  • But along with requiring the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service’s ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. … [W]hile detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy, the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies. …

The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won’t let it. They won’t help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace … they give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn’t work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be “privatized” …

Privatization Destroys People And Communities

Privatizing the various parts of the postal service will move the workforce from good union jobs to low-wage, no-or-low-benefit private-sector jobs. Aside from the effect this would have on employees and their families – not to mention the inexpensive delivery of mail to even the most remote locations – privatization also destroys the surrounding communities. The USPS is the country’s second largest employer, so in this case the surrounding communities are … all of the communities in the United States.

In “The Privatization Scam: Five Government Outsourcing Horror Stories,” I wrote about a study that showed that wage and benefit cuts resulting from privatization hurt communities, including declining retail sales, greater reliance on public assistance and a larger share of at-risk children in low-income families.

Fighting Back

Now the people who work for the Postal Service are fighting back. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is announcing “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service.” As the alliance’s new website explains,

“In the face of aggressive attacks, a wide range of national organizations have come together to create A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. These organizations are united in the demand that the public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. The Alliance is fighting to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.”

This Grand Alliance consists of a large number of organizations (At least “63 religious coalitions, retiree organizations, educational and postal unions, lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups”, according to The Washington Post, and more being added as I write) as well as individuals (you) who sign the pledge to “support the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now—and for many generations to come.”

Two Years In The Making

At his swearing-in ceremony in November 2013, APWU President Mark Dimondstein pledged to build a “Grand Alliance” to save the postal system, saying,

“We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers. We must mobilize our allies and their organizations, including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and business groups in defense of America’s right to vibrant public postal services.”

Two years later, at a press conference Thursday, Dimondstein explained that this alliance is forming “because the postal service belongs to the people and it is in danger.” He said there are “two competing visions of the future” – privatizing vs. staying public – and that there will be a conversion from “living wage to low-wage jobs” if the Postal Service is privatized.

Dimondstein said that the Postal Service “is our democratic right” and that it can operate cost-effectively “if you get rid of the manufactured crisis created in Congress.”

Also at the press conference, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civil Participation and convener of Black Women’s Round Table Public Policy Network said, “this is a fight for the people, we the people.” She called the Postal Service “a national treasure” and said, “We’re here today to stand in solidarity … Our national postal offices have faithfully served communities.”

The mission of this Grand Alliance:

The United States Postal Service is a wonderful national treasure, enshrined in the Constitution and supported by the American people. Without any taxpayer funding, the USPS serves 150 million households and businesses each day, providing affordable, universal mail service to all – including rich and poor, rural and urban, without regard to age, nationality, race or gender.

The U.S. Postal Service belongs to “We, the People.” But the USPS and postal jobs are threatened by narrow monied interests aimed at undermining postal services and dismantling this great public institution.

Even some postal executives have been complicit in the drive toward the destruction of the Postal Service and ultimate privatization: They have slowed mail service, closed community based Post Offices and mail processing facilities, slashed hours of operations, tried ceaselessly to end six-day service as well as door to door delivery, and eliminated hundreds of thousands of living wage jobs.

Good postal jobs are vital to strong, healthy communities, and have provided equal opportunities and the foundation for financial stability for workers from all walks of life, including racial and ethnic minorities, women and veterans. Postal services are essential to commerce and bind together families, friends and loved ones. In the day of e-commerce, a public postal service is as relevant as ever.

Yet those corporate forces who want to privatize public services allege that curtailing postal services and eliminating jobs are necessary due to diminishing mail volume and “burdensome” union wages and benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, a Congressionally manufactured USPS “crisis” imposed an unfair crushing financial mandate on the Postal Service that no other government agency or private company is forced to bear. (The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 compels the USPS to pay approximately $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance.) Without this unreasonable burden, the USPS would have enjoyed an operating surplus of $600 million in 2013 and over $1.4 Billion in 2014.

The people of this country deserve great public postal services. We advocate expanded services, such as non-profit postal banking and other financial services. We call on the Postmaster General and Postal Board of Governors to strengthen and champion the institution.

The public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. Join us in the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.


Meghan Byrd contributed to this post.

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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.

Enormous, Humongous Trade Deficits Widen, Further Exposing Failed Policy

In December the trade deficit in goods and services made its largest percentage jump in more than five years and the 2014 yearly total is its highest since 2012 – which begs the question: Why is the Obama administration doubling down on the failed trade policies of its predecessors?

The U.S. has run massive trade deficits for decades since the Wall Street-driven “free trade” ideology came to dominate. “Free trade” de-industrialization has cost our country millions of jobs, tens of thousands of factories and entire industries. It has pushed down wages and greatly increased inequality. Now the Obama administration is doubling down, pushing a vast “NAFTA-style” trade agreement and asking Congress to pass a rigged “fast track” process to pre-approve it.

December’s Numbers

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday that the December trade deficit jumped $6.8 billion (17.1 percent) to $46.6 billion, the largest since November 2012 and the biggest percentage increase since July 2009.

Exports fell $1.5 billion to $194.9 billion (with a chunk of our exports being oil and gas and other raw materials, not manufactured, finished goods). Imports rose $5.3 billion to $241.4 billion.

2014’s Totals

For all of 2014, the trade deficit increased $28.7 billion (6 percent) to $505 billion. There was a $6.5 billion (2.9 percent) increase in the services trade surplus and a $35.2 billion (5.0 percent) increase in the goods trade deficit. Note that exports increased, but imports increased more. Exports were $2,345.4 billion, up $65.2 billion or 2.9 percent. Imports were $2,850.5 billion, up $93.9 billion or 3.4 percent.

The resulting trade deficit subtracted 1.02 percentage point from last year’s GDP growth and is causing the government to revise growth forecasts downward.

The Economic Policy Institute’s Robert Scott pointed out that “The U.S. trade deficit in manufactured products increased to $524.2 billion in 2014, an increase of $76.8 billion (17.2 percent) from 2013. … Growing trade deficits in manufactured products have been a primary driver in the displacement of U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2000.”

The 2014 trade deficit with China increased by $23.9 billion to $342.6 billion. Exports to China were up $2.3 billion to $124.0 billion while imports from China increased $26.2 billion to $466.7 billion. Again, exports increased but imports increased more, resulting in job loss and a drain on our economy.

Korea and NAFTA

Since the Korea Free Trade Agreement, our trade deficit with Korea has surged more than 80 percent, which equates to the loss of more than 70,000 U.S. jobs. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea increased 20 percent in 2014 to more than $25 billion. 2014 exports to Korea were lower than 2011 — which was before entering into the KORUS Korea FTA.

Brad Markell, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, issued a statement that included the following:

These numbers are a consequence of a murderer’s row of bad trade deals. Together, NAFTA, PNTR, CAFTA, and KORUS have gutted the U.S. manufacturing sector. They’re a hall of fame of horribles.

So why is the Obama administration doubling down on the failed policies of its predecessors? Especially when the President and his team have worked hard to encourage American manufacturing by saving the domestic auto industry, establishing a national technology strategy, and enforcing trade-rule violations. Their dogged pursuit of more old-style trade agreements will undermine all of the progress we have made.

Instead, the Obama administration should crack down on foreign government’s currency manipulation to help our manufacturing sector. Prominent economists across the spectrum like Art Laffer, Larry Summers, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker and Rob Scott all agree this is a significant problem that should be addressed in trade agreements. But President Obama recently acknowledged provisions on currency manipulation are being left off the table.

Currency Manipulation

A major cause of the trade deficits was currency manipulation by other countries. By manipulating the value of their own currency countries can cause American-made goods and services to cost more internationally. China and Japan are two of the worst offenders.

Currency manipulation is not addressed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement now under negotiation.

A February 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “Stop Currency Manipulation and Create Millions of Jobs,” shows how currency manipulation by China and others are costing the United States between 2.3 million to 5.8 million jobs.

Japan’s currency manipulation contributes to the approx. 897,000 us jobs lost to our 2013 trade deficit with that country — 466,000 of those in manufacturing.

Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute explains:

The U.S. dollar gained 13.3 percent against other major currencies between December 2013 and January 2014 (according to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System) as a result ofcurrency manipulation by Japan and the slowdown in Europe.  Dollar appreciation reduces the competitiveness of U.S. exports and increases the U.S. goods trade deficit.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) And Fast Track

The Obama administration is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by saying that we need this trade deal to keep China from dominating the region. But our problem with China is because of trade deals. We set up conditions when we agreed to bring China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and we were promised jobs from exports. Instead we got massive imports.

President Obama talks about “boosting exports” but does not mention imports or the enormous, humongous trade deficit. The administration is putting up with these trade deficits and refusing to do anything about currency manipulation by China, Japan and others, while pushing TPP.

The TPP has nothing that fixes this problem. It does not require balance; it does not address currency manipulation. All it does is set up rules that create conditions for the giant multinational corporations to dominate and prevent competition.

EPI’s Robert Scott, in Increased U.S. Trade Deficit in 2014 Warns Against Signing Trade Deal without Currency Manipulation Protections warns of consequences of TPP, because several of the TPP countries are currency manipulators:

U.S. trade and investment deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and China’s membership in the World Trade Organization, have resulted in growing U.S. trade deficits and job losses and downward pressure on U.S. wages.   Several members of the proposed TPP are well known currency manipulators, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan. In fact, Japan is the world’s second largest currency manipulator, behind China. The United States should not sign a trade and investment deal with these countries that does not include strong prohibitions on currency manipulation.

Action note: The Alliance for American Manufacturing asks you to: “join us in telling Congress to ensure currency manipulation is addressed in the TPP.

We don’t need any more “free trade” agreements. The U.S. has run large and increasing trade deficits since the late 1970s, when the “free trade” ideology took over. The results are obvious. These trade agreements have devastated entire “rust belt” regions of the country. They have kept wages stagnant for decades. They have caused “structurally” high unemployment. They have shifted the middle class down into demeaning, low-wage jobs. They have brought incredible, massive wealth to a very few gazillionaires as they move more factories and jobs out of the country and pocket the wage and environmental-protection differential and these gazillionaires are now controlling our entire political system.

Enough Is Enough

We don’t need more corporate-dominated, rigged trade agreements. Instead we need to fix the agreements we already have. To do this we need to reform the corporate-dominated process that has gotten us where we are today. We need to bring in all of the stakeholders in these agreements and put them at the negotiating table.

Imagine a trade agreement negotiation by representatives of consumer, labor, environmental, health, LGBT, democracy and other citizen “stakeholder” groups instead of solely by and for the giant multinational corporations. Imagine the changes in the way we can all live.

Imagine a trade agreement that prohibits employers from threatening to move a job out of the country to keep someone from getting a raise. Imagine a trade agreement in which the participants agree not to import any goods from countries that allow pollution of the environment. Imagine a trade agreement that outlaws the sale of goods made in conditions that are unsafe for workers. Imagine a trade agreement that sets minimum standards for product reliability and customer support. Imagine a trade agreement that sets a limit on the gap between CEOs and their employees.

Honestly, democratically and transparently negotiated trade agreements could bring about a new direction for the world’s economy and citizens.

Actions

Campaign for America’s Future says: “No More Job Killing Trade Agreements.”

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) wants you to: “Tell Congress: We Can’t Afford to Outsource More Jobs.”

Robert Reich says, “I’m collaborating with my friends at Democracy for America and MoveOn to spread the word about why the TPP is such a bad idea. Check out this email that I made with MoveOn — and then sign DFA’s petition to Congress.”

Public Citizen wants you to email your representative to keep us from taking the Fast Track down the same losing path.

Magic: The “Inside the Beltway” Distortion Trick

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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.

Let’s Take Apart The Corporate Case For Fast Track Trade Authority

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman appeared before Congress Tuesday to make the corporate argument for “fast track” trade promotion authority. The USTR and President Obama are pushing fast-track pre-approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other big “trade” agreements they are working on. The Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and other corporate groups and lobbyists are also pushing hard for Congress to pass fast track.

The promoters of fast track say we need it to push “trade” agreements through Congress to expand trade and increase exports. “What we’re going to do through this trade agreement is open up markets,” Froman told Congress Tuesday, “and then level the playing field so we can protect workers, protect American jobs and then ensure a fair and level playing field by raising labor and environmental standards, raising intellectual property rights, standards and enforcement, making sure that we’re putting disciplines on state-owned enterprises that pose a real threat to workers.”

These corporate arguments (you can see them in this Chamber of Commerce slide show “Ten Reasons Why America Needs Trade Promotion Authority”) just make me more skeptical of what they are selling. Here’s why.

1) President Obama, trade representative Froman, the Chamber of Commerce and others repeat the talking point, “95 percent of the world’s markets are outside the U.S..” This makes me skeptical of what they are selling because it is a “look over there at that shiny object” argument.

Saying that 95 percent of the world’s markets are outside the U.S. implies that we need TPP and other agreements because we are currently not selling goods to 95 percent of the world. This is patently false. We sell goods and services around the world already. In fact, it contradicts other corporate arguments for these agreements like, “More than 38 million American jobs already depend on trade.”

This argument deceives people about the very nature of these agreements. Most of the objections being voiced over these coming agreements are about non-trade issues. Only five of TPP’s 29 chapters deal with what people understand as “trade.” So an argument that TPP and similar agreements will “expand trade” masks what the bulk of these agreements are really about, which is getting governments off the backs of the giant corporations and protecting their profits from competition and democratic regulation.

Just one example of this is the “investor-state dispute settlements” provision, which I have called “corporate courts.” This part of “NAFTA-style” trade agreements, including TPP, allows corporations to sue governments that pass laws and regulations that interfere with profits. Similar clauses in trade agreements around the world have, for example, enabled tobacco companies to sue governments for trying to protect the health of their citizens. Under TPP these suits will be adjudicated by corporate attorneys, not democratically constituted courts.

Other examples are expanded copyright and patent protection for the giant multinationals, which will increase the cost of pharmaceutical products and potentially restrict the freedom of the Internet.

Obviously the corporate advocates of these agreements want this, so they are using distraction, diversion and shiny promises of increased trade and more jobs to sell the agreements.

2) Froman, testifying before the Senate Tuesday, said that we need these new agreements because our country has low tariffs and other barriers to entry while many countries we trade with have high tariffs and barriers to entry.

Wait, back up, he is saying that other countries have high tariffs and barriers to entry but we let goods from those countries into our country with low tariffs and few barriers? What? Doesn’t this undermine our country? Don’t low import tariffs cost badly needed revenue and enable offshoring of jobs and factories? Isn’t this a recipe for imbalance, job loss and huge trade deficits? (And don’t we have imbalance, job loss and huge trade deficits as a result of that recipe?)

In other words, he is saying that the U.S. has been an absolute and complete patsy on trade. And obviously we have been paying the price. Our government hasn’t enforced trade balance and hasn’t protected American interests, which has cost us wages, jobs, factories and entire industries. We have an enormous, humongous trade deficit and that has lowered our standard of living, and driven inequality. Trade agreements haven’t fixed this — recent trade agreements like NAFTA and South Korea have worsened this problem, with more job loss and even larger trade deficits.

The USTR and the president argue that TPP will reset this problem and will enforce good labor and environmental standards. (Enforcing international labor standards would require our government to boost enforcement and a number of U.S. states to change their laws, by the way.)

The U.S. government has no credibility when it comes to protecting Americans from trade imbalances and the resulting loss of wages, jobs, factories and entire key industries. Yet with this terrible record Froman and the president are asking Congress to pre-approve new trade agreements by passing fast track. They are asking this while the coming agreements – negotiated using the same corporate-dominated process that caused the mess – are still secret. They are asking this even though fast track will prevent Congress from adequately examining and debating agreements and fixing problems. Fast Track also keeps the public from having time to read and comprehend the agreements and rally opposition if opposition is warranted.

Saying that we have been patsies isn’t an argument for setting up a fast-track process to pass more trade agreements; it is an argument for backing up and replacing everyone and everything involved in setting and enforcing our government’s trade policies. Pushing through even more agreements using the same corporate-dominated process that caused the mess is not a way to fix the mess; it is a way to make things even worse.

3) Corporate advocates for fast track argue that we need to increase exports. This is exactly right, but they never, ever, ever, ever, ever mention imports and trade deficits. Why is that? We need balanced trade. If imports increase more than exports this represents a net loss of jobs, technology, manufacturing ecosystem and our living standard. If trade imbalances continue over time it throws the entire world’s economy out of balance. (It does things like enable 80 people to have as much wealth as half of the world’s population, and 1 percent of the world to have more wealth than all of the rest combined.)

Is there a section of these new agreements – the five of 23 chapters that are actually about trade, anyway – that requires that trade be balanced so we can stop losing jobs, wages, factories and industries? TPP is still secret, so we don’t really know. And fast track doesn’t give us time to find out once we do see the agreement, and doesn’t allow us to fix it if it doesn’t require balance.

4) Corporate advocates say “more than 38 million American jobs already depend on trade. This is one in every five jobs across the country.” I’m not sure how this is an argument for new trade agreements when they say we’re already doing so great. In any event, they are not bringing up the jobs we have lost to imports – which is more than the jobs we have gained from exports. They’re again saying “trade is good” to divert us from seeing that only five of the 29 chapters of TPP are even about trade at all. The rest is about getting democratic government off the backs of the giant multinational corporations and protecting them from competition.

5) Another corporate argument is that 97 percent of American companies that export are small businesses. This is another misleading and irrelevant number. They don’t say what percent of our exports come from these small businesses. And trade agreements that reinforce the monopolies held by giant multinational corporations by expanding their copyright and patent dominance certainly do not help smaller businesses. They are instead designed to limit competition.

What is needed is for the the contents of the TPP agreements to be made public now and for stakeholders like labor, environmental, consumer, democracy, health and all other groups to be part of the process right now. Then, when an agreement is concluded, Congress and the public need adequate time to fully analyze and discuss these agreements and their implications. Finally, Congress should be able to fix problems with the agreements to bring them in line with the interests of all Americans.

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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.

Protesters Disrupt Senate Fast Track Hearing

US Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman testified before the Senate Tuesday. He was there to push Congress to pass Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), so new trade agreements can get pushed through. Protesters disrupted the hearing. The people are trying to make their voices heard over the corporate push for Fast Track.

Heating Up

Things are heating up as big new corporate “trade” agreements get closer to coming before Congress. These trade agreements have a terrible track record for American workers, because they have driven inequality, devastated entire regions of the country, and hollowed out the middle class. New corporate-centered trade agreements being negotiated will go far beyond previous NAFTA-style deals, by setting up monopoly protections for giant multinationals, elevating corporate rights above the rights of governments, and setting up corporate-run tribunals, that will have the power to override laws and regulations if they interfere with corporate profits.

Monday, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations resumed in New York City. Even though the big blizzard was starting, the negotiators were greeted by protests, as hundreds of people representing trade, labor, environmental, health, communities of color, anti-GMO and food justice, anti-fracking, animal rights, and other groups that will be hit hard by TPP and other upcoming agreements.

Hearing Disrupted

Tuesday, USTR Froman testified before the Senate, and was met with protests. Roll Call reports, in “Protesters Arrested at Fast-Track Trade Hearing”:

Capitol Police arrested three sign-carrying, slogan-shouting demonstrators who disrupted a Tuesday morning Senate Finance Committee hearing on the president’s trade policy agenda.

The protesters wore shirts reading “No Fast Track” and greeted U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman with signs stating, “Froman lies” — a response to his statement to the committee that trade promotion authority “is Congress’s best tool to ensure that there is ample time for public scrutiny and debate on U.S. trade agreements.”

The Daily Dot reports, in “Internet freedom activists storm congressional TPP hearing”:

Margaret Flowers, a member of Physicians for a National Healthcare plan and a longstanding TPP critic, burst in carrying a sign reading “Trading away our future,” and shouting “we know the Trans-Pacific Partnership is negotiated in secret!”

As she was being escorted away by security, a pair of male protesters entered from another door. “You’re going to super-size NAFTA!” one yelled, as the other simply repeated “No TPP!” The two unfurled a banner behind Froman, who stared straight ahead with an annoyed look on his face.

Then a third wave hit: Three protestors sitting behind Froman held up other signs, like one reading “Fast track constitutional train wreck.”

Fast Track Limits Congress’ – Democracy’s – Ability To Make Changes

Froman was asking Congress to pass “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a process that sets aside Congress’ Constitutional duty to define and review (and fix) trade deals. Under Fast Track, Congress agrees not to amend agreements, to limit the amount of time spend discussing the deals, and to vote on approving the treaty within 90 days of Congress and the public first seeing what is in the agreement.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), appeared on the Thom Hartmann show to discuss Fast Track process:

The Fast Track legislation prohibits subcommittee debates, subcommittee hearings, subcommittee markups, full committee debates, full committee hearings, full committee markups, and it limits us in the House of Representatives to 88 seconds of debate for each one of us. Eighty-eight seconds to extend to 40 other countries (if we count both trade deals the President is working on), the disaster that’s been visited upon the U.S. economy simply by having a dozen existing countries with these deals in effect. They want to put our $30/hour workers directly in full head-to-head competition with the $0.30/hour workers in Vietnam and Brunei and in other places like that, who have no environmental protection, no labor rights, and in many cases are [relying on] slave labor. That’s what these deals are trying to do. It’s the Fast Track to Hell.

In addition to only 88 seconds per Representative to discuss the treaty, 90 days from first seeing a trade agreement does not give the public time to read and analyze the repercussions of these massive trade deals. It does not give the public time to organize opposition if opposition is warranted.

It is no wonder that citizens are trying to overcome the corporate juggernaut pushing Fast Track. It is a rigged process, designed to push these agreements past Congress and democracy, before the public can do anything about it.

Call your member of Congress, and both of your Senators, and tell them you oppose Fast Track. The coming trade agreements will require sufficient time for the public to read and fully comprehend them. They might have flaws that Congress should be able to fix.

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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.

Protests As Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks Resume In New York Today

Negotiators working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) convened today in New York City. Even the location was kept secret until the last possible minute, but hundreds of trade, labor, environmental, health, communities of color, anti-GMO and food justice, anti-fracking, animal and other activists still showed up in the big blizzard to protest the secret trade agreement and “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA).

TPP is a huge “trade” agreement, which will set the rules for 40 percent of the world’s economy. It is being negotiated in secret. Corporate representatives are part of the process, stakeholders like environmental, consumer, labor, democracy, health and other groups are excluded from the negotiations. Needless to say the agreement (some of it has leaked) reflects corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us and our governments. Meanwhile President Obama is asking Congress to pass fast-track TPA, which rigs the rules so that Congress essentially pre-approves TPP before Congress and the public even see what is in the agreement, never mind have the time to study it and rally opposition if opposition is warranted.

TPP Grants Monopolies

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) helped organize the protests because of their objection to extended monopolies being negotiated in TPP’s copyright rules. In their post, Secret TPP Negotiations—And Public Protests—To Be Held in New York City, they explained,

… The countries negotiating TPP with the US are willing to give in and agree to bad copyright rules as long as they get the other gains they were promised—things like market access and lowered tariffs so they can sell their products to US consumers. But those other countries will not budge without a guarantee that the overwhelming public opposition to the agreement won’t prevent its adoption in the United States. Fast Track offers that guarantee; that’s one reason the White House is now desperate to pass it.

Several public interest groups are organizing a protest outside the luxury Sheraton Hotel this Monday, January 26 at noon. Many of those demonstrating will be there to oppose other provisions in the TPP, but we encourage people to be there to represent all the users around the world who will be impacted by this massive agreement’s draconian policies.

A “Death Pact” Not A Trade Agreement

AIDS activists joined the various groups at the protests. They are objecting to the monopolies TPP would grant to certain large pharmaceutical corporations, which they fear would bring the price of AIDS drugs beyond the reach of many in need of them. Health Global Access Project (Health GAP) released a statement that included the following,

Previously leaked proposals revealed that the US seeks easier-to-get, stronger, and longer patent monopolies on medicines and new monopolies on drug regulatory data that would prevent marketing of more affordable generic equivalents. It also seeks restrictions on price control measures and enhanced investor rights that would allow drug companies to sue governments when their expectations of exorbitant profits are undermined by otherwise lawful government policies and decisions. These are among the most severe intellectual property rules ever demanded in international trade.

“The TPP would create a vicious cycle. The provisions currently proposed will allow for fracking and other practices that fuel environmental degradation and make people sick. Strengthened intellectual property rules will then prevent people from accessing life- saving medicines,”, said Michael Tikili of Health GAP, one of the endorsers of the demonstration. “Thirteen million people living with HIV depend on generic AIDS medicines and another 20-plus million are waiting line for treatment. By protecting Pharma’s bloated profits, the Obama administration is undermining its own global AIDS initiative – this isn’t a trade agreement—it’s a death pact.”

Other groups represented at the New York TPP protest included the Teamsters, Fight for the Future, Green party, Popular Resistance and others.

Pictures of cold-looking protesters here, here, here, here and here.

Please visit:

Expose the TPP

Stop Fast Track

No fast Track

Stop TPP

Flush the TPP

Communications Workers of America (CWA)

Global Trade Watch

Progressive Democrats of America TPP Page

People Demanding Action

Trade Justice

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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.

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What You Need To Know When Obama Talks Trade

President Obama is likely to use the State of the Union to push for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the rigged “fast track” trade promotion authority. Here are some facts to counter the expected public relations campaign.

Of Course “Trade” Is Good

But first, of course “trade” is a good and necessary thing. We all trade with others. This is how people, businesses and even countries “make a living.” Critics of our country’s current trade policies are not “anti-trade”; they are anti-trade-deficit. They are opposed to the use of so-called “trade” agreements to promote the interests of the largest multinational and Wall Street corporations at the expense of America’s working people, its middle class, its domestic “Main Street” companies, our environment and the country’s long-term economic health.

Compare the timeline of a chart of our country’s trade deficits with the increase in the economic tensions of our middle class, our manufacturing regions and other economic troubles:

Trade policies that are rigged to boost the interests of the giant, multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us are not good at all. “Trade” agreements and “offshoring” of jobs have become synonymous. But “trade” doesn’t at all have to be about moving American jobs and factories out of the country so that executives can pocket the pay difference and the difference in the cost of enforcing environmental protections.

The Recent Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement Is An Example

During the State of the Union speech the president is expected to feature the owner of a small business that has increased its exports to South Korea since the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was signed. This is ironic. Americans believe in and support small business – hence the use of the owner of one – but our country’s trade deals have been negotiated primarily for the benefit of giant, multinational corporations, and their interests often collide with the interests of smaller, “Main Street” businesses.

Some American businesses have indeed added sales and workers as a result of the KORUS FTA. But the fact is that since that trade agreement was signed the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has grown 50 percent – a metric that has resulted in 50,000 American jobs lost. In other words, since the KORUS FTA went into effect, South Korea is selling much more to us than the country is buying from us – and this problem is getting worse and worse. And as the trade deficit chart above shows, this just happens to be the record of our “trade” agreements.

Please take a look at this Census Bureau data page, “Trade in Goods with Korea, South.”

The KORUS FTA went into effect in March 2012. That month we sold $4,224 million in goods to South Korea and we imported $4,788.2 million in goods.

In November 2014 the U.S. had a $2.8 billion monthly trade deficit with Korea – the highest monthly U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea on record. We had $6.3 billion in imports from Korea (a record) and $3.5 billion in exports to Korea that month. In the first two years of the KORUS FTA, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea went up by 50 percent (a $7.6 billion increase).

So since March 2012 our exports to South Korea decreased from $4.224 billion to $3.5 billion. Meanwhile, our imports increased from $4.788 billion to $6.3 billion.

The KORUS FTA has hit American small businesses harder than large ones. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, small firms with fewer than 100 employees saw exports to Korea drop 14 percent while firms with more than 500 employees saw exports decline by 3 percent. According to “Report Funded by Big Business Explains to Small Businesses What’s Best for Them” at Public Citizen’s Eyes on Trade blog, “As a result, under the Korea FTA, small businesses are capturing an even smaller share of the value of U.S. exports to Korea (just 16 percent), while big businesses’ share has increased to 72 percent.”

This is the record: The KORUS FTA so far has resulted in a trade deficit of $2.8 billion a month, representing the loss of around 50,000 jobs. It has been harder on smaller businesses than larger ones, allowing the larger businesses to push the smaller businesses aside. But in the State of the Union, the president is going to bring attention to the owner of one small business that increased its exports and hired more workers, and use this to say to make the public think that the KORUS FTA has been good for our country – and that we should enter into more agreements like it.

Other Trade Agreements

The KORUS FTA certainly is not our only “free trade” agreement. NAFTA is the shorthand name many Americans use for our trade agreements generally. How has NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – worked out for the U.S.?

The Public Citizen Global Trade Watch report titled, “NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Mass Displacement and Instability in Mexico, Record Income Inequality, Scores of Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws” compared the promises with which NAFTA was sold to the results measured 20 years later. Some of the effects of NAFTA that are highlighted in the report include:

● a $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada,
● one million net U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA,
● a doubling of immigration from Mexico,
● larger agricultural trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,
● and more than $360 million paid to corporations after “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.

The data also show how post-NAFTA trade and investment trends have contributed to:

● middle-class pay cuts, which in turn contributed to growing income inequality;
● U.S. trade deficit growth with Mexico and Canada 45 percent higher than with countries not party to a U.S. Free Trade Agreement,
● U.S. manufacturing and services exports to Canada and Mexico that have grown at less than half the pre-NAFTA rate.

What about our deal to bring China into the World Trade Organization? Obviously South Korea is small potatoes when compared with China and the data bear this out. In August 2012 the Economic Policy Institute estimated that the U.S. lost 2.7 million jobs as a result of the U.S.-China trade deficit between 2001 and 2011, with 2.1 million of those lost in the manufacturing sector. Along with these job losses, U.S. wages fell due to the competition with cheap Chinese labor, which has cost a typical U.S. household with two wage-earners around $2,500 per year.

The Commerce Department reported earlier this month that our November trade deficit with China was $29.8 billion. That’s $29.8 billion in one month! Our exports to China decreased $200 million to $11.1 billion and our imports from China decreased $100 million to $40.9 billion from the previous month. Think how many jobs would be created here if $29.8 billion of additional orders came in to companies making and doing things inside the U.S., and this continued every month!

Balance Needed

Trade should be balanced or economies are thrown out of whack. “Trade” is supposed to mean we buy from them and they buy from us. It is not supposed to mean we buy from them and later they use the money to buy us. It is not supposed to mean we send jobs and factories out of our country so that a few executives and shareholders can pocket the wage difference and the reduction of environment enforcement costs.

Exports are great, but if a deal to increase exports increases imports even more, we have a trade deficit and are still at a net loss of jobs, factories and wealth. This means that we are still offshoring jobs so that executives can line their pockets with the wage differential. This has been the case with the KORUS FTA. This has been the case with NAFTA. This has so obviously been the case with China. The last thing We the People need is even more of this.

The reason our trade policies are working out this way is because the beneficiaries of this kind of trade deal are the ones controlling and negotiating these trade deals. The giant, multinational corporations and Wall Street make money from offshoring U.S. jobs and production – partly because our tax laws encourage this activity. The rest of us, including our “Main Street” businesses and the country at large, are net losers. This is obvious to anyone who drives through much of the country or who talks to regular, working people. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the timeline of that trade deficit chart and compares that to the economic shifts of our last few decades.

Our trade negotiating process is rigged from the start. Giant, multinational and Wall Street corporate interests are at the negotiating table. Consumer, labor, environmental, human rights, democracy, health and all the other stakeholder representatives are excluded and the results of these negotiations reflect this. A rigged process called “fast track” is used to essentially force Congress to pre-approve the agreements before the public has a chance to analyze and react to them.

Obviously the giant, multinational and Wall Street corporations would want the public to believe that everyday small businesses gain from our trade deals, when in fact they do not. It is less obvious why President Obama would want to present at the State of the Union the story of one small business that does not reflect the reality of the trade deals he is promoting.

Intentional Suffering — The Next Phase Of Capitalism?

I’ve said that the next phase for airlines is to put a big spike in the center of each seat. Then they can make passengers pay them $10 for each inch they lower the spike. In Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer Tim Wu explains at the New Yorker that this is actually the airlines’ current business model,

Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

This isn’t a joke. There are any number of ways that monopolizeed businesses can make us suffer to squeeze money out of us.

How about armament companies starting wars or keeping them going? (Click the link.)

Here’s one, what about getting kids (and here) hooked on terribly addicting drugs that also happen to cause horrible lung diseases, just so they can profit from selling the drug delivery system? No, that’s just too terrible to imagine.

Right now pharmaceutical companies publicize obscure diseases, or just invent them, to get us to ask doctors for prescriptions. But what happens when one of them spreads a terrible disease for which they sell the only cure?

What about the possibility of some day giant ag companies potentially spreading crop diseases for which they are the only company with a cure or a resistant seed?

How many ways can corporations cause us to suffer, so they can profit from the fix or the cure?

Spikes in seats? Why not! Hey it just makes business sense, doesn’t it? The capitalists will be the first to tell you — capitalism cures suffering!

Get Ready Now For Fast Track Fight

As soon as the new Congress is sworn in next year, the fight over Fast Track will begin. Start preparing now.

David Cay Johnston, explains in “Full Speed Ahead On Secretive Trade Deal”: (Note the ‘t’ in his last name. I am David C JohnSON.)

Early next year, after the 114th Congress begins meeting, a new Washington coalition will move quickly to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade agreement that will destroy American jobs, restrict individual liberty and burden American taxpayers. Oh, and it will do so without any real debate.

… The agreement would even let foreign companies seek damages if U.S. or state rules threaten their profits. Plaintiff companies would not have to sustain damages to collect damages from American taxpayers. They would only need to show a threat to their profits, leaks from the trade talks have revealed. Under previous trade deals, American taxpayers already have paid $3 billion in damages, with $14 billion in claims still in litigation.

Johnston explains that this will be pushed using Fast Track:

Fast track = little debate

Don’t expect a vigorous congressional debate exploring the agreement and its implications, especially for workers, before it becomes the law of the land.

Obama wants Congress to fast-track the agreement, which would mean perfunctory congressional hearings followed by an up-or-down vote within 90 days, no amendments allowed. That congressional Republicans favor fast-tracking has an “Alice in Wonderland” quality, given GOP attacks on his supposed dictatorial use of executive orders. (He has issued far fewer executive orders per year than any other president in the last century.)

Secrecy and fast track are not how democracy is supposed to work. They are also a glaring contradiction of candidate Obama’s transparency promises in 2008.

There will be a massive effort to push this through. Richard McCormack has the story on this effort over at Manufacturing and Technology News, in President Obama, Wall Street Financiers, Corporate CEOS And Members Of Congress Meet Together To Plan Strategy To Sell And Pass Free-Trade Agreements, (note that TPA is commonly know as “Fast Track.”)

The country’s top executives from Wall Street and corporate America are working directly with President Obama and members of his cabinet and appointees on passing a free-trade agenda that is unpopular among the president’s natural constituents of democrats, labor unions, environmental and consumer groups and the American public as a whole.

Obama, his staff and members of Congress met directly with CEOs of major multinational corporations in Washington, D.C., on December 11 to discuss the “ground game” — as his aides described it — needed to persuade Americans on the benefits of free trade and to lobby Congress on passage of Trade Promotion Authority [TPA] and the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] next year.

… In joining the meeting of his Export Council, Obama sat between council co-chairs James McNerney, CEO of Boeing, and Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corp., and encouraged them — along with two dozen other executives from companies like IBM, Archer Daniels Midland, Dow, Pfizer and Deloitte — to help him “make the sale. . . It’s going to be very important for business to be out there and champion this and show that this is ultimately good for you, for your suppliers, for your workers,” Obama said.

Obama told Boeing CEO McNerney to galvanize his company’s suppliers “and their workers . . . presumably in every congressional district [to make] the case so [that] it’s not just a bunch of CEOs calling [members of Congress] but it’s people who understand they’ve got a stake in it.”

So there will be a massive, well-funded push by the administration and the giant multinational corporations starting early next year. They will promise jobs and prosperity. They will push Congress to pass Fast Track, which essentially pre-approves trade agreements before anyone even knows what is in them. The model for doing it this way is the recent “Citibank Budget.” Citibank snuck a provision deregulating derivative trading with taxpayer-protected funds into the budget at the last minute. So the debate was over whether voting against it would shut down the government, and not over the merits of the provision.

We Need Balanced Trade, Not More Imports

The President says he is pushing these trade deals because we need to increase exports. He is right that it is a good thing to increase exports, but the Wall Street Journal explains the problem with this, in U.S. Manufacturing Rebound Lags Behind Work Sent Abroad, “The U.S. has continued to grow more reliant on imports from China and other Asian countries despite a much-discussed trend toward “reshoring” of manufacturing, a study by the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc. shows.”

In other words, the things we have been doing to gain jobs by increasing exports have cost us even more jobs than we gained, because we increased imports more than we increased exports. What we need is balanced trade, not more trade.

Fast Track essentially pre-approves trade agreements before people get a chance to read them, analyze them and rally opposition. It prevents Congress from fixing problems in the agreements. This is the wrong way for our country to do this.

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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 “Citibank Budget” Push Foreshadows “Fast Track” For Trade Deals

It is worth examining how the process was rigged to push that budget deal through Congress over the weekend that contained Citibank-written derivative deregulation and all kinds of other goodies for the rich and powerful. That’s because the “cromnibus” formula will be formalized in the next big deal, in a process called “fast track.”

Congress passed the “cromnibus” (continuing resolution for omnibus budget) right at the deadline for another government shutdown. (After they extended the deadline, actually.) The budget contained a Citibank-written provision that undoes some Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations. It authorizes a cut in many people’s pensions by up to 60 percent, severely cuts the IRS budget and its ability to collect taxes, dramatically expanded the ability of big money to influence elections, reduced the EPA’s authority, and included many other provisions that could not have passed in the light of day. This budget “deal” was pushed through Congress using a rigged process that kept representative democracy from stopping it.

What lessons can we learn from the way the “Citibank” provisions in the budget deal were pushed through? How do these lessons apply to the next big fight?

Continue reading

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.