ENRON BILLIONAIRE ARNOLD HAS A PROBLEM WITH LIBRARIANS’ PENSIONS
Former Enron trader and hedge fund billionaire John Arnold is launching a multimillion dollar national PR campaign attacking the hard-earned pensions of public sector workers. Arnold has already quietly poured tens of millions of dollars into his efforts to persuade politicians to reduce middle class retirement security and now it looks like he may really just be getting started.
Power is the ability to control, to tell what to do, to get your way. Corporations have a lot of power over working people in our country now, and they might be about to get a lot more.
The proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) tell us that it will have unprecedented “progressive” protections for the rights of working people, the environment, even wildlife. So there is likely to be flowery-sounding language in TPP, just as President Obama says.
What matters is whether there will be clear and guaranteed enforceability of those words.
Rules are great; enforcement is greater. Without enforcement, a rule may as well not exist – especially when everyone knows there is not enforcement.
We see rules with no enforcement all around us. Here’s an obvious example. Right now several obvious presidential candidates say they aren’t candidates so they can get around rules about contribution limits to their campaigns and coordination with super PACs. The Federal Election Commission is not enforcing the rules that say candidates can’t do this. These candidates know there is no enforcement and thus continue to violate the rules.
The “fast track” trade promotion authority bill has been introduced in the Senate. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast track, Congress relinquishes that power and agrees to pass trade bills brought to them by the executive branch in a very short time frame with little debate and without making any changes should any problems present themselves.
Though it was announced that this year’s fast track bill was the result of a “deal” between Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the 2015 bill is nearly identical to the 2014 bill that died in Congress without support for a vote. See this side-by-side comparison from Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear from this comparison why the “negotiations” between Hatch and Wyden took so long, and what Wyden got that enabled him to put his name on it, enabling the bill to be sold as “bipartisan.”
Fast Track Sets Aside Normal Procedure
Congress does not set aside normal procedure, debate, the ability to fix problems that turn up and agree to vote within 90 days except for trade agreements – even though trade agreements have now proven to have such a tremendous and often detrimental effect on our economy, jobs, wages and inequality. Where did the idea to do this come from? According to Public Citizen, this unusual procedure was “initially created by President Richard Nixon to get around public debate and congressional oversight.”
Senate Finance Committee leaders Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden appear poised to introduce a “fast track” trade promotion authority bill along with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. But months of closed-door negotiations were continuing on Friday, congressional aides said.
The power, largely embraced by Republicans, pits many congressional Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and potentially Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting Charles Schumer, against the White House.
The measure would allow President Barack Obama to submit free trade agreements to Congress for straight up or down votes without any amendments. It’s seen as key to completing his signature 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.
Fast track is, in essence, congressional pre-approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. With fast track Congress agrees to give up its much of constitutional duty to define negotiating objectives, carefully deliberate and debate, and fix problems that might turn up. With fast track rendering Congress unable to fix flaws, even if any problems do turn up that might seriously hurt the country or our economy, a vote on the trade agreement will occur under the enormous pressure of the media blasting, “surely they won’t just kill the whole thing over a few problems.”
The idea is that allowing Congress (democratic government) to “meddle” will get in the way and keep other (non-democratic) countries from “making their best offers.” Congress is considering this pre-approval of TPP and future trade agreements even though the national news media is not reporting on fast track or TPP, and Congress and the public haven’t yet even seen the agreement (never mind had time to analyze it and consider its ramifications).
On Wednesday at 11 am in Washington D.C.’s Upper Senate Park, more than 600 union members will rally at an event organized by the United Steelworkers (USW) on Capitol Hill. The rally will feature Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), USW President Leo Gerard, AFL-CIO Executive VP Tefere Gebre, AFGE President J. David Cox, National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando, American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, and Sierra Club National Campaign Director Debbie Sease.
Lawmakers, labor union leaders and their members will hold a rally Wednesday on Capitol Hill and follow that up with 50 grassroots events around the country and in more than a dozen countries on Saturday as part of the weeklong effort. …
The efforts include letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, petitions and door-knocks.
There will also be a “Don’t Trade Our Future” demonstration on April 20, the final day of the Populism2015 Conference in Washington, which is sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), National People’s Action (NPA), USAction and the Alliance for a Just Society. People will assemble at 11:30 a.m. at AFL-CIO headquarters at 815 16th Street NW, and will march first to the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and then to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. They are urging Congress to vote down fast track.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), columnist Jim Hightower and Communication Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen will address the demonstration.
Public Against More Job-Killing Trade Agreements
As the fast track fight enters the Congress, polls show that politicians will take a great risk by voting for fast track or TPP legislation. For example, one recent poll shows one senator’s vote for fast track could bring a primary opponent. The Huffington Post reported in February in, “Secretive Trade Deal Could Pose Problems At Home For Ron Wyden,”
“Half of the Oregon voters polled said they would be less likely to vote for Wyden in 2016 if he joins Republicans to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between the United States and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as fast-track authority, which Obama is seeking in order to get TPP and other trade deals through Congress without amendments or filibusters.”
Other polling shows that public sentiment against trade deals and fast track is strong. One poll in January 2014 shows the breadth of public opposition,
By more than two to one, voters say they oppose (62%) rather than favor passage of fast-track negotiating authority for the TPP deal. Among those with a strong opinion, the ratio climbs to more than three to one (43% strongly opposed, just 12% strongly favorable). Demographically, opposition is very broad, with no more than one-third of voters in any region of the country or in any age cohort favoring fast track. Sixty percent (60%) of voters with household incomes under $50,000 oppose fast track, as do 65% of those with incomes over $100,000.
… Republicans overwhelmingly oppose giving fast-track authority to the president (8% in favor, 87% opposed), as do independents (20%-66%), while a narrow majority (52%) of Democrats are in favor (35% opposed).
People believe our trade agreements destroy jobs and lower wages. In a September 2014 Pew Poll, Americans say “trade” generally is good, but only 20 percent say it creates jobs while 50 percent say it destroys jobs, and 17 percent say it raises wages while 45 percent say it lowers wages.
This can have election consequences. In an April 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll a plurality of Americans said they would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”
So it appears that the battle will be in the Senate this week. Here are some resources to visit.
Real Progressive Coalition for American Jobs. (“Every U.S. labor union and almost 600 environmental, consumer, faith, family farm, civil rights, seniors, LGBT and other civil society organizations opposed Fast Track. This is the REAL Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.”)
A key section of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has been leaked to the public. The New York Times has a major story on the contents of the leaked chapter and it’s as bad as many of us feared.
Now we know why the corporations and the Obama administration want TPP, a huge “trade” agreement being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries, kept secret from the public until it’s too late to stop it.
One part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to set up rules requiring companies to disclose the median annual total compensation of all employees, the total annual compensation of the chief executive officer, and the ratio of the median employee pay to the CEO’s pay. It’s 2015 and the agency still has not done so.
In December, 16 Senators sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White asking for the SEC to vote on the final pay-ratio rule before the end of the first quarter of 2015.
Over 100 law professors sent an open letter to Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) saying they need to “protect the rule of law and the nation’s sovereignty” in trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
While TPP is still secret, leaks and precedent indicate that it will contain provisions allowing giant, multinational corporations to bypass our country’s legal system. These provisions will allow these multinational corporations to sue governments, including ours, in “corporate courts” if they decide to pass laws and regulations that restrain the profits of these giant corporations, such as efforts to help citizens quit smoking.
The provisions in question are called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and let corporations take cases to a tribunal made up of corporate attorneys instead of civil courts. These attorneys will then decide if countries have passed laws or imposed regulations, including health, environmental, labor, consumer and other protections that cause these companies to lose profits.
The law professors’ letter asks Congress and the USTR to ensure that language is not included in proposed trade agreements like the TPP.
The letter concludes:
ISDS threatens domestic sovereignty by empowering foreign corporations to bypass domestic court systems and privately enforce terms of a trade agreement. It weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the justice system and using an unaccountable, unreviewable system of adjudication.
Trade is great. We all trade. A lot of us trade labor for money that buys other things. A farmer trades corn for money that buys other things, and so on. No one is “against trade.”
But is anything called “trade” always good for all involved? Imagine you’re a farmer and you make a deal to trade corn and wheat to get money for a new tractor. So the farmer orders a new tractor, but the “trade partner” never buys any corn or wheat. After a while the “trade partner” shows up with a big bill, saying the farmer owes money for the tractor. And then the farmer finds out that the “trade partner” plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the tractor to grow their own corn.
In modern terms, we would say that the farmer was “running a trade deficit.” How much damage do you think that “trade deficit” is doing to that farmer, and the farmer’s ability to make a living in the future? How long do you think that farmer would let that “trade agreement” continue?
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.