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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Silicon Valley Rising Fights for Worker Justice

Silicon Valley is an area of contrasts. When you stop at a traffic light in Silicon Valley you will often find a Maserati or Tesla on one side of you and a beaten up, 15-year-old Accord on the other. It seems there are more high-end Mercedes, Jaguars, Bentleys or the occasional Maybach than in other areas.

Silicon Valley companies, many run by stock-billionaires, pay a lot at the top, and squat at the bottom. There are the lucky employees, and a huge number of “contractors” – employees who are not called employees. The employees that reach over a certain age are discarded.

There are not a lot of people in the space between Silicon Valley’s top and its bottom. One in three Silicon Valley workers cannot even afford to live anywhere within a one-hour drive. The regular three-bedroom house costs a million dollars and don’t even ask about the rents (starting at more than $2,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment), but on the streets in working-class neighborhoods there are so many cars parked that you can barely pass – because there are so many people and families crammed into the housing. And, of course, the traffic is terrible, but you have to use a car because public transportation is cut back due to tax-dodging by giant companies like those in Silicon Valley.

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Postal Workers And The Public Want A Postal Banking Public Option

Contract talks between the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the U.S. Postal Service for a new contract start Thursday. Along with asking for fair wages and benefits, the APWU wants improvements in customer services, including postal banking.

“There are two competing visions of the future of the Postal Service,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “Postal management’s policy has been to severely degrade service, dismantle the postal network, and engage in piecemeal privatization. … Management has shortened hours at neighborhood post offices, closed mail processing centers, lowered delivery standards, and slowed mail delivery.”

Instead of trying to “save money” by cutting service with layoffs and closings that cause more customers to turn away, which costs revenue, the Postal Service should add services such as postal banking. This would also help millions of people who currently are left wide open to predatory services like payday lending.

Postal Banking: A Public Option For Banking

Until 1967, the Postal Service (then called the Post Office) operated postal banking through the United States Postal Savings System. Reviving postal banking would be like offering a “public option” for financial services. It would let people have accounts they could use to cash checks, get small loans, pay bills and even get prepaid debit cards. These services would enable lower-income Americans to avoid the exploitative “payday lenders” and check-cashing “services” that eat up working people’s earnings.

The Postal Service would use existing bank infrastructure as the backbone for these services, particularly the debit card service. In “A public option for banking,” Mike Konczal explains how the Treasury Department is already doing this with their Direct Express debit card program for disability and pension payments.

The program allows unbanked recipients of Social Security, federal disability and a few pension-related federal programs to receive their benefits on a debit card. The program emerged from congressional efforts in the 1990s to move from paper checks to direct deposits for these benefits. Congress tasked Treasury to make sure there were low-cost accounts available to the unbanked so they could access deposits.

… By 2007, the department initiated a competitive bidding process for the cards, and Comerica won the account by offering the low-fee schedule the cards now have.

The Treasury Department is already offering this service. There is no reason the Postal Service could not do the same thing with postal banking.

Millions Would Benefit

A lot of people would benefit if the Postal Service offered postal banking. The term for people with no bank accounts is “unbanked.’ According to the 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, “7.7 percent (1 in 13) of households in the United States were unbanked in 2013. This proportion represented nearly 9.6 million households.” On top of that, “20.0 percent of U.S. households (24.8 million) were underbanked in 2013, meaning that they had a bank account but also used alternative financial services (AFS) outside of the banking system.”

In “The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank, David Dayen explains how this idea could free these millions from the grips of “check-cashing stores, pawn shops, payday lenders, and other unscrupulous financial services providers who gouged their customers to the tune of $89 billion in interest and fees in 2012,” and help the Postal Service at the same time. With small fees for services, including small, low-interest loans, the Postal Service would be helping Americans and increasing its funding.

Post offices could deliver the same services at a 90 percent discount, saving the average underserved household over $2,000 a year and still providing the USPS with $8.9 billion in new annual profits, significantly improving its troubled balance sheet. The report calls simple financial services “the single best new opportunity for the posts to earn additional revenue.”

These millions are not being served now by the financial industry, as Dayen explains,

Banks don’t want these customers; if they did, they would actually make a play for their business. Large banks have closed branches in the very low-income communities with the largest percentages of unbanked Americans. In fact, banks find it more profitable to fund payday lenders that charge junk fees and outrageous interest—currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation—than actually take market share away from them.

Instead of partnering with predatory lenders, banks could partner with the USPS on a public option, not beholden to shareholder demands, which would treat customers more fairly.

If ever there was an idea whose time has come (again) it is the idea of a public option for postal banking. It would help millions of people, would boost the revenue of the Postal Service and would demonstrate that our government actually can be on the side of regular people. (Note that a government service in a democracy should be providing a government service, not trying to “operate like a business” and “make money” off of citizens.)


Also see “A “Grand Alliance” To Save Our Public Postal Service.”

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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 To End Unemployment

Alongside Friday’s good employment data, there is a brouhaha on the Internets over claims that the government’s employment numbers are a “big lie.” Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the Gallup polling company penned “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment,” claiming that “the media” is “cheer-leading” and the White House is “scor[ing] political points” over phony numbers that the government makes up to make things look better than they are.

In fact, the “top line” unemployment number – now 5.7 percent, representing 9 million people, does not factor in people who have given up looking, 6.8 million part-time workers who want to work full-time, 2.2 million “marginally attached” people, people who are grossly underpaid, etc. But everyone knows that, and the government reports that. The “official” number has a specific definition, the “U-6 “alternative measure of labor under-utilization” reports the more accurate 13.5 percent number. So somewhere between 15 and 20 million Americans count as un- or underemployed. But even that doesn’t count those who have given up. It’s still bad out there, but the government’s figures are not being manipulated.

Intentionally High Unemployment

I want to suggest that this high un- and underemployment is intentional. Here is why. Two things that the government could easily do right now would pretty much get rid of unemployment. But our government is blocked from doing those things by extremely wealthy people, who benefit from the low wages, and a desperate and “cowering” reserve army of unemployed status quo.

First, balancing the trade deficit would by itself bring back more than 5 million jobs. This is based only on the 3.1 million lost to the China trade deficit, 1 million lost to NAFTA and 900,000 lost to the Japan trade deficit. We also have trade deficits with Germany, South Korea, and others.

A way to visualize this is to imagine the effect on our economy of $500 billion of new orders coming in to businesses that make and do things inside the U.S. Then another $500 billion next year and every year after that. Our annual trade deficit is $500 billion. Fixing that means $500 billion of new business here, now,  and continuing every year from now on. What you are visualizing is the damage this trade regime has done to us since Wall Street and the right’s “free trade” ideology took over.

Second, we have deferred maintaining our infrastructure since the Reagan era started the cycle of tax cuts and spending cutbacks. To bring the country’s infrastructure up to standards (never mind modernizing) we would need to spend $360 billion each year for 10 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card. If you conservatively estimate that each $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 30,000 jobs, $350 billion translates to 350×30,000 = 10.5 million jobs.

So that’s conservatively 15.5 million jobs if we just go back to doing what the country did before the Reagan era. (This gives you a hint at the damage Reagan’s “trickle down” economics, and “free trade” market ideology have done. Look around. The extreme inequality that resulted tells you why it was done.)

Balance trade and fix up our aging infrastructure means at least 15.5 million jobs. (Think about what that would mean for wages, too.)

But That’s Just Catch-Up

But those things are just playing catch-up. It comes close to giving jobs to the unemployed, part-time for economic reasons and “marginally attached” workers. It doesn’t even start to dig into the people who have given up and left the labor market.

We got here by cutting taxes for the rich, gutting government, deferring maintenance, a and letting a few billionaires harvest our public wealth through privatization, etc. We’ll get out of it by fixing the trade deficit, repairing our infrastructure, undoing policy mistakes that have continued since the Reagan era, and ending “trickle down” tax cuts.

How do we take this a step further? The following things would employ tons of people and bring a long-term economic return far above any “cost.”

First, retrofit buildings and homes to be energy-efficient. Start with the basics: plug leaks and drafts, paint roofs white. These simple things could employ tons of people who we call “low skilled.” Take it a step further, and install energy-efficient windows, insulation, modern heating and cooling systems, solar on the roofs, etc. — all made in America, of course — and we will employ millions more. The energy payoff would be enormous, and we would go into the future with a much more efficient economy.

Next, engage in 21st century infrastructure projects like high-speed rail across the country and into Canada and Mexico — just like China is already doing. (See: “New Silk Road.“) We’ll create jobs, and end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Then, modernize our power grid and install wind turbines across the plains states. Again, we end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Requiring American-made supplies boosts the return to our economy.

What about building out national, high-speed, fiber internet? Imagine the innovation that would result.

There is so much we could do to first bring about full employment, and then move our economy into the 21st century. But we are held back by this weird Reagan/Wall Street/conservative ideology that tells us not to believe that We the People deserve a government that spends to make our lives better. That spending boosts us up now, makes our lives better, and more than pays for itself later. But we are kept from dreaming and doing because that return on our investment would go to us, instead of into the pockets of a few billionaires.

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

Enormous, Humongous Trade Deficits Widen, Further Exposing Failed Policy

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

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

December’s Numbers

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

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

2014’s Totals

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

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

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

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

Korea and NAFTA

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

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

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

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

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

Currency Manipulation

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

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

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

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

Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute explains:

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

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) And Fast Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough Is Enough

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

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

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

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

Actions

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

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

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

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

Magic: The “Inside the Beltway” Distortion Trick

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

Watch TPP Outsource A Congressman’s Office

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

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

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

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

And visit No Fast Track at nofasttrack.org

Prosecute Or Pardon Bush, Bankers And Cops Who Kill

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

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

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

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2014 Election Lesson: Politics Is About Delivering For Your Constituents

Politics is about delivering for your constituents. Underneath it all, this election was a statement by people against an economy that is not working for them.

We’ve heard the story but here it is again.

  • Most people say the country is still in a recession as far as their own life is concerned.
  • All the gains of the recovery went to the top 10 percent.
  • Middle-class incomes are down.
  • The new jobs in the economy pay less than the jobs people lost.
  • People are not able to find good jobs. Lots of people have given up looking for work.
  • Student debt is at crushing levels.
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

The Republican strategy since 2009 was to obstruct any and all efforts to make things better for people, and then campaign on people’s dissatisfaction with things not being better for them. It worked. You can blame Republicans all you want, but the fact is they kept Democrats from delivering, and Democrats paid the price for not delivering. Democrats failed to deliver a better economy and a better life for most people, and voters held them accountable. Staying home and not voting is just as much a form of accountability as voting against Democrats.

However, the core of this is about more than just passing some bills, raising the minimum wage, providing some relief to the long-term unemployed. This is about the need for much bigger, transformational changes in the who-gets-what of our economy. The bigger picture is about deciding who is our economy for, anyway? Republicans say it is for the already-wealthy few. If Democrats are going to deliver for the people they are supposed to deliver for, they are going to have to face up to the core of the problem and do something about it. Until then … well, we saw what happens.

Harold Meyerson brilliantly lays it out in “The Democrats’ Catastrophe and the Need For a New Agenda” over at The American Prospect,

… [T]he Democrats’ failure isn’t just the result of Republican negativity. It’s also intellectual and ideological. What, besides raising the minimum wage, do the Democrats propose to do about the shift in income from wages to profits, from labor to capital, from the 99 percent to the 1 percent? How do they deliver for an embattled middle class in a globalized, de-unionized, far-from-full-employment economy, where workers have lost the power they once wielded to ensure a more equitable distribution of income and wealth? What Democrat, besides Elizabeth Warren, campaigned this year to diminish the sway of the banks? Who proposed policies that would give workers the power to win more stable employment and higher incomes, not just at the level of the minimum wage but across the economic spectrum?

The economy is not going to get better for most Americans until some fundamental changes are made. It’s a structural problem. The system is rigged for the benefit of a very few and their giant corporations. This is what has to be fixed before a better life can be delivered to most people.

It’s the economic paradigm, stupid.

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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.