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.

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

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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?

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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.

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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Here’s What ’60 Minutes’ Should Have Reported About Infrastructure

“60 Minutes” ran a report Sunday, “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure,” describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Here are a few choice quotes, but really you should click through and watch the whole thing (and then come back here):

  • “Except for the stimulus nothing much has happened. It is ‘just another example of political paralysis in Washington.’ “
  • “1 of every 9 bridges (70,000) is structurally deficient.”
  • “It all comes down to funding.”
  • “These all are tragedies waiting to happen.”
  • “32% of major roads in America are in poor condition.”
  • “It’s falling apart because we haven’t made the investment.”
  • “Public spending on infrastructure has fallen to its lowest level since 1947.”

How bad is the problem? The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a regular “report card” on “the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure.” The 2013 grade is D+ and the cost to get us back to normal is now at $3.6 trillion. (The longer we wait the more the cost increases.) Because of this, The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks the U.S. as 16th in the quality of its infrastructure.

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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.

Give Americans A $2000 Check From “Deferred” Corporate Taxes

U.S. multinational corporations are hoarding an estimated $2 trillion “offshore” to take advantage of a loophole in our tax laws. At our 35 percent top federal corporate tax rate, that represents up to $700 billion in taxes owed but “deferred” because they are “offshore.” This is not imaginary or future money; it is taxes owed on $2 trillion of profits these companies have already made. Who should get this money?

A loophole in the corporate tax code allows companies to “defer” paying taxes on profits made outside of the U.S. until they “repatriate” it – bring the money back to the U.S.. Because of this loophole corporations are holding an estimated $2 trillion of profits “offshore.” Companies are increasingly moving jobs, production and profit centers out of the country to take advantage of this scheme – or are engaging in schemes to make it look like they are. (The amount is increasing 11.8 percent a year and the rate of increase is increasing as well.)

That $700 billion is serious money. Washington lobbyists are working with Congress to come up with various corporate tax “reform” schemes designed to let the corporations off the hook for much of this tax bill – and to lower their future tax bills as well.

The most popular “centrist” idea is to let the corporations just keep much or most of the tax money they owe, if only they would just let us use some of it to maintain our country’s infrastructure. Going along with this would reward these companies for engaging in schemes to “offshore” jobs, production and profit centers, thereby moving (or making it appear that they moved) these profits out of the country – and certainly would encourage doing even more of this from now on.

Send A $2,000 Check To Every Adult – AND Fix Our Infrastructure

Instead of letting these companies off the hook for this tax bill, here is an alternative idea: Let’s collect the taxes that are due on these profits that have already been made, send every adult in the U.S. a check for $2,000, and use what’s left over to fix up our infrastructure.

This is real money, and a lot of it. Instead of making a “deal” on deferment and letting the corporations just keep this money they owe us, let’s fix this loophole and give most of this tax money to the 242 million U.S. residents over 18 as a $2,000 check. What’s left over (and there might be a lot – as much as $215 billion) can be used to fix our infrastructure and other priorities like research and development, fighting Ebola and other diseases, forgiving student debt – you name it.

This is about who gets the money. Do we give the tax money that is already owed to We the People, or do we let the giant corporations just keep it? By making this about a $2,000 check directly to every adult, it becomes personal. It becomes an issue of real money in people’s pockets, not some distant sum that “government” uses for their own good but that people never really feel or touch. Sending people a $2,000 check turns this battle over this money into a personal fight, not just some nebulous, distant, complicated government policy issue.

Who Should Get The Money?

By the way, when we talk about “corporate” money and corporate tax cuts, this is what – more accurately “who” – we are really talking about:

The top 1 percent own 50.9 percent of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets. The top 10 percent own 90.3 percent. The bottom half of all of us own 0.5 percent – one half of one percent. That was 2007 – the top few have only increased their ownership percentages since.

This is about who gets the money. There is up to $700 billion in taxes due and someone is going to get that money. By making this about a $2,000 check to each adult American vs. billions to the owners of the giant corporations, we’re making the “who gets the money” argument personal instead of abstract.

Effect On Economy

What happens to our economy if every adult gets a $2000 check? How much hiring happens in local stores, etc?

What happens to our economy with up to $215 billion going into infrastructure work, with the related hiring and purchases of supplies?

What happens to our economy if companies lose the incentive to move jobs, production and profit centers offshore to take advantage of this loophole?

But wait, there’s more. There’s also that other $1.3 trillion – the “after tax” part that is offshore, too. If we do something about this deferment scam companies would lose the incentive to move jobs, production and profit centers out of the country to make it look like their profits are made elsewhere, and would “bring that money back.” The money would either be invested in the corporation or distributed to shareholders. This would be a big stimulus to the economy either way.

The Numbers

There’s as much as $2 trillion (maybe more) sitting offshore representing up to $700 billion in taxes owed at the top tax rate of 35 percent. (Taxes already paid to other countries are subtracted from what is owed here. This is why the tax bill is “up to” $700 billion. State taxes are also due on these profits, this article concerns itself with the federal share.)

According to the Census Bureau’s QuickFacts there were 316,128,839 Americans in 2013, 23.3 percent of them under 18, leaving 242,470,819 adults.

Sending a $2,000 check to 242.5 million adults costs about $485 billion. Up to $700 billion owed minus $485 billion leaves up to $215 billion for infrastructure and other priorities.

Summary

It’s a great way to accomplish several things that are good for the country:

1) Get cash to people right now. Helicoptered in, $700 billion would make a very big difference that people would feel now and the economy would feel for a while.

2) A $2,000 check shows people how corporate tax breaks are seriously costing them.

3) This puts pressure on “corporate tax reform” deals that reward the corporations by letting them keep any of it.

5) The best part is these companies already owe the money. This is about who gets the money that is owed to We the People. It makes the “We the People” part personal.

The awareness “making this personal” would bring to the issue would lend public support to other efforts to get companies to pay their taxes.

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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.