Where Are The Democratic Debates?

I was wondering when there will be Democratic Party Presidential debates. So I looked up how the debates worked in the 2008 cycle. 2007 corresponds to 2015 in this cycle.

The first debate was April 26, 2007, at South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, South Carolina. Present were Senator Joesph Biden, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Senator Barack Obama, Governor William Richardson and the debate was moderated by Brian Williams.

Then, up to today’s (Aug. 5) date there was:

June 3, 2007 at Saint Anselm College, Goffstown, New Hampshire
June 28, 2007 at Howard University, Washington, D.C.
July 12, 2007 at NAACP convention, Detroit, Michigan
July 23, 2007 at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina
August 4, 2007 at the YearlyKos convention in Chicago, Illinois

There had already been 6 debates between the Democratic candidates by this point. In the rest of August alone there were 3 more, August 7, August 9 and August 19.

What about the rest of 2007?

September 9, September 12, September 20, September 26, October 30, November 15, December 4 and December 13.

So by comparison, how are we doing so far in the 2016 cycle? And why is that?

Was Greece Lured Into “Strategic Deficits”?

The job of a lender is to evaluate risk and price a loan accordingly. If there is risk you charge a higher interest rate. That way you still make money on a broad portfolio of loans even when there are a few defaults.

That’s the job of a banker, supposedly. It’s what they are supposed to be good at. If they are bad at their job, give loans to deadbeats (or countries that can’t pay you back) you lose money, and probably shouldn’t in the business of being a lender.

The lender is supposed to evaluate the risk and say no if the borrower is irresponsible, not complain later about the borrower being irresponsible.

Unless their job is to get the borrower in over their head so you can get stuff. As in “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” In that case you try to get governments to borrow, you even bribe the leaders of governments to borrow like crazy so you can later control whoever is then in charge. From “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man“:

We are an elite group of men and women who utilize international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks. Like our counterparts in the Mafia, EHMs provide favors. These take the form of loans to develop infrastructure – electric generating plants, highways, ports, airports, or industrial parks.

… Despite the fact that the money is returned almost immediately to corporations that are members of the corporatocracy (the creditor), the recipient country is required to pay it all back, principal plus interest. If an EHM is completely successful, the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh.

Former president Ronald Reagan, for example, said he was trying to run up the borrowing in order to force the government to cut back on things it does to make our lives better. He cut taxes, increased military spending, a strategy called “strategic deficits.” (Google that.)

Later we had budget surpluses under Clinton. Then Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan complained that the government was paying off the debt too fast. Then “W” Bush cut taxes and doubled military spending and said it was “incredibly positive news” (Google that, too) that the government was going back into deficits because it would force spending cuts.

Strategic deficits. Done on purpose. Are Greece’s lenders bad at their job? Or are they good at a different job?

Atrios earlier:

“You lend money at a risk premium. Borrowers pay that risk premium for a reason. That reason is that they might stop being able to pay. Then you eat the loan.

… The banksters are supposed to be genius financial intermediaries, properly pricing risk and making loans accordingly. It seems that they aren’t very good at their jobs? I suppose it depends on whether that really is their job.”

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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Will TPP Kill The Post Office?

Corporations are notorious for sneaking things into laws and regulations before the public can find out and rally to stop it. And we know from the conservative Supreme Court arguments against the Affordable Care Act that even what amounts to a typo can be used to change the obvious meaning and intent of a law.

These are reasons we need to see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before Congress votes to preapprove it with fast track trade promotion authority (TPA). They are pushing what is literally a pig in a poke on us. We the People need to open that bag and have a good, long look inside before fast track buys the TPP pig in our name.

Negotiated in secret by corporate representatives, it is probable that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is loaded with things the big corporations have snuck in. We already know from leaks that TPP contains provisions allowing companies to sue our government in “corporate courts” if they feel a law or regulation is cutting into their profits. What else is in there?

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Let The Public Read The Completed Parts Of Trans-Pacific Partnership

Basic facts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are under public dispute. Fast track must not be approved until this is cleared up. We the People deserve to know what is being voted on with fast track.

The Dispute

There is a big public dispute between President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren over certain facts about the TPP. This dispute is hardly only between the president and Warren, it is about the effect TPP could have on all of our lives. This dispute is mainly over (but not limited to):

  • Whether the agreement gives corporations certain powers that could let them overrule the laws and regulations of the US and other governments.
  • Whether the agreement could undermine our Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms.
  • Whether the agreement has clearly enforceable “progressive” labor and environmental provisions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Senator Elizabeth Warren and others warn that TPP has Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that set up “corporate courts” in which corporations can sue governments, and that can overrule U.S. laws and regulations. More than 100 legal scholars recently wrote an open letter to Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) objecting to this and saying they need to “protect the rule of law and the nation’s sovereignty” in trade agreements like the TPP. The letter says, “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.” (The scholars’ statement is available online at: http://bit.ly/1EA5zeO and the letter itself is available at http://bit.ly/1KX6WYB.)

President Obama has responded, saying,

“This is the notion that corporate America will be able to use this provision to eliminate our financial regulations and our food safety regulations and our consumer regulations. That’s just bunk. It’s not true. … Under these various ISDS provisions, the U.S. has been sued a total of 17 times. Thirteen of those cases have been decided so far. We’ve won them all. They have no ability to undo U.S. laws. They don’t have the ability to result in punitive damages.”

The White House has assembled a web page to answer criticisms of ISDS.

Undermine Dodd-Frank Financial Reforms

On the ability to undermine Dodd-Frank financial reforms, Warren says, “fast track creates a procedural loophole that could be used to push major legislative changes to Dodd-Frank through Congress as part of that upcoming deal.”

The president has responded, ‘The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it? I’d have to be pretty stupid.”

Bloomberg News took a “fact check” look at this in “Why Obama Is Wrong and Warren Is Right on Trade Bill Quarrel.” The title states the conclusion.

Broken Promises On Enforcement

The president says the labor and environmental standards in TPP are “the most progressive in history.” (Which isn’t saying much, if you think about it.) Warren released a report Monday, “Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements,” that says, “… the history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. FTAs lags far behind the promises. This analysis by the staff of Sen. Warren reveals that despite decades of nearly identical promises, the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.”

This enforcement makes all the difference. As I wrote in the post “How TPP Increases Corporate Power vs. Government – And Us,” it isn’t just the words in an agreement that matter, it is the enforcement of that agreement. Corporations have written the special ISDS enforcement channel into TPP to make sure their concerns get address and on their terms. The corporate negotiators also made sure that labor and environmental concerns do not get an enforcement channel. “Corporations get a special channel of their own for enforcement of rules written by their representatives at the negotiating table. Labor, environment and other stakeholders don’t get that in TPP. This is how TPP will increase corporate power over governments and working people.”

The Solution: Let The Pubic See The Agreement And Decide

There is, of course, an easy way to settle disputes about what is in the TPP and what its consequences might be: let We the People see the text of the agreement and we can decide for ourselves.

The president says that we can’t see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it is still being negotiated. He says other countries will not “make their best offers” if the people in their countries can see what they are offering.

I’m not sure that it is the job of the United States to help other countries hide things from their own citizens, but OK, then how about letting us see the parts that are not still being negotiated?

Surely allowing We the People to read and analyze the “settled” provisions cannot cause other countries to hold back offers in the unsettled provisions.

Show Us the Current ISDS

The ISDS provisions of TPP leaked to Wikileaks and the New York Times earlier this year. What leaked clearly shows that corporations will be able to overrule U.S. laws and regulations.

So maybe the ISDS provisions have changed. Let We the People see the current ISDS provisions that the president says will not do this. The previously leaked provisions say they will, so they must have changed. But we can’t know until we see the text.

Show Us Labor And Environmental Provisions

The president says that there “are,” not “will be,” very good labor and environmental standards in TPP. In other words, this part is not being negotiated; it is completed.

So let us see the labor and environmental provisions so we can see for ourselves how “progressive” they really are and how “progressive” the enforcement mechanisms are.

Public Only Now Hearing About TPP

President Obama is selling TPP as rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century. But the nation’s “corporate” news media has (until very recently) largely been silent on this massive trade agreement. The big network broadcast news shows have maintained what can only be called a blackout of information on the TPP.

The dispute is finally forcing the news media to begin reporting that the TPP is coming. Right now many in the public are hearing for the first time that there is a massive trade deal before Congress. This is occurring while Congress is already voting on fast track, which essentially preapproves this deal. This is not a great record for an industry whose function is supposed to be providing the citizens with the information they need to make the important decisions about the direction of our country.

Damage Done By Past Agreements

Maybe TPP will turn out to be the best thing that ever came along for our working people and for the people who are exploited in countries like Vietnam. Maybe it will require a good minimum wage that lets Vietnamese workers buy things we make here, and will let them organize unions. Maybe it will require balanced trade instead of petting other countries sell to us without buying from us – not something you can really call “trade.”

But the “trade” agreements our country has entered into so far have not been good for working people here or elsewhere. They have allowed companies to move production away from our unions, and our wage and worker safety rules, and bring the same goods back here to sell in the same outlets. They have not been good for the environment, allowing corporations to move production away from our environmental rules and bring the same goods back here to sell in the same outlets. They have not been good for our country’s economy, resulting in enormous, humongous trade deficits that drain jobs, wages and our future. They were negotiated using a rigged corporate-dominated process that resulted in lower wages paid by corporations, and enabled them to move factories and jobs across borders to escape environmental, wage and safety laws. The result has been devastation of entire regions while a few billionaires and corporate/Wall Street executives are massively enriched.

So excuse We the People for being suspicious when yet another corporate-dominated trade agreement comes along, supported by the usual suspects: Wall Street, the Chamber of Commerce, industry lobbyists and Republicans; opposed by all of organized labor, all progressives, literally thousands of public interest groups and those Democrats not expecting to get lucrative lobbying jobs once they are out of office.

Our Nation’s Values

The president says that TPP is about rewriting the rules of doing business for the 21st century. He says it is crucial to “get it right.” In a letter emailed to Organizing for America supporters, the president wrote,

“Right now, we have an opportunity to set the most progressive trade agreement in our nation’s history — with enforceable labor and environmental protections we simply can’t count on other nations to pursue.

“Here’s why this means so much to me: I want to make sure that any deal we reach reflects our nation’s values, in a way that hasn’t always been true in the past. That’s why I’ve said I’ll refuse to sign any agreement that doesn’t put American workers first.”

One of “our nation’s values” is supposed to be that We the People are part of the process. Congress is currently in the voting process for fast track. But the public has no idea what is in the TPP, and little idea that this huge trade agreement, “rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century” is even being finalized!

Let us – We, the People – see the agreement before Congress decides whether to essentially preapprove it by voting on fast track. At least let us see the parts that are completed, and give us good reasons why we can’t see the rest.

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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 TPP Increases Corporate Power vs. Government – And Us

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.

Enforcement Matters

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.

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A Look At The Fast Track Bill Shows It’s The Wrong Thing To Do

The “fast track” trade promotion authority bill has been introduced in the Senate. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast track, Congress relinquishes that power and agrees to pass trade bills brought to them by the executive branch in a very short time frame with little debate and without making any changes should any problems present themselves.

Though it was announced that this year’s fast track bill was the result of a “deal” between Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the 2015 bill is nearly identical to the 2014 bill that died in Congress without support for a vote. See this side-by-side comparison from Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear from this comparison why the “negotiations” between Hatch and Wyden took so long, and what Wyden got that enabled him to put his name on it, enabling the bill to be sold as “bipartisan.”

Fast Track Sets Aside Normal Procedure

Congress does not set aside normal procedure, debate, the ability to fix problems that turn up and agree to vote within 90 days except for trade agreements – even though trade agreements have now proven to have such a tremendous and often detrimental effect on our economy, jobs, wages and inequality. Where did the idea to do this come from? According to Public Citizen, this unusual procedure was “initially created by President Richard Nixon to get around public debate and congressional oversight.”

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Over 100 Legal Scholars Warn About TPP Dangers

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.

The scholars’ statement is available online at: http://bit.ly/1EA5zeO and the letter itself is available at http://bit.ly/1KX6WYB.

The letter was organized and released by the Alliance for 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.

Will Media Continue Blackout Of Progressive Budget?

Next week, progressives in Congress will release their annual budget proposal. They do this every year, and every year the national news media largely ignores it. Will the elite media report on it this year? Make some noise, and maybe they will.

There are alternative ways to run a government budget, but they are just excluded from the national debate. The elite position creates a “conventional wisdom” that there are no alternatives. But America’s top income tax rate used to be more than 90 percent, to combat inequality and the threat inequality poses to democracy — and the rich still got richer. At the same time, the corporation tax rate was 50 percent, and corporations paid 32 percent of all taxes. That has dropped to just 8.9 percent now, and Congress and the president are now proposing to reduce the corporate tax rate dramatically — again. As a result of these cuts, inequality has soared, budgets have been thrown out of balance, schools have declined, we no longer even maintain — never mind modernize — our crucial infrastructure.

We can have a budget that serves “We, the People.” It’s about priorities. Frankly, in the richest country in history, it is possible to make sure that everyone has a job, good medical care, a good retirement, a good free education, and keep our infrastructure modernized and up-to-date — and all while making sure that the budget is balanced. It really is just a matter of priorities — choices about how we distribute the country’s resources. Unfortunately for 99 percent of us, “we” choose intense inequality and a vast military machine.

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