Environmental Groups Denounce Fast Track Trade Process

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters and 41 other environmental groups sent a letter to Congress this week, asking them to oppose “fast track” trade promotion authority for upcoming trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). They asked Congress to instead set up an open, transparent trade negotiating system that gives stakeholders, other than just corporate representatives, input in the process.

The letter begins, “As leading U.S. environmental and science organizations, we write to express our strong opposition to ‘fast track’ trade promotion authority, and to urge you to oppose any legislation that would limit the ability of Congress to ensure that trade pacts deliver benefits for communities, workers, public health, and the environment.”

Background On Fast Track, TPP

Currently, trade negotiations are conducted in secret. Corporate representatives are part of the process, and the negotiators come from or expect to go into the corporate world. Stakeholders like environmental, consumer, labor, democracy, human rights, and other groups are excluded from the process.

Once these agreements are finalized, a process known as “fast track” is used to push the agreement through. Fast track asks Congress to forgo the usual process of careful deliberation, and vote within 90 days of Congress and the public first seeing the agreement. Congress also agrees in advance not to amend or filibuster the agreement. This sets up a rushed situation, in which massive corporate PR campaigns can pressure Congress to pass the agreement, and not “kill the whole thing” over problems that they might find. The public does not have time to digest the implications of the agreement and rally opposition, if warranted.

The letter from the environmental groups explains”

“Fast track was originally designed in the 1970s, when trade agreements focused on traditional trade issues such as cutting tariffs and lifting quotas. Today’s trade agreements, however, are about much more than tariffs and quotas and have significant implications for our environment, public health, and global climate.”

TPP is a massive agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries. It has 29 “chapters” – only five of which cover trade issues at all. Other chapters cover things like rules limiting how countries regulate corporations, limiting how countries make laws that might limit corporation profits, and other rules that grant giant multinational corporations special protections from competition.

Instead of this corporate-dominated process, the environmental groups ask for an open, transparent process that delivers benefits for working people, not just for the owners of the largest corporations. From the letter:

“U.S. involvement in trade negotiations should be guided by democracy, transparency, political accountability and must lead to a ‘race to the top’ that provides real protections for communities, workers, and the environment. A new model of trade that delivers benefits for most Americans, promotes broadly shared prosperity, and safeguards the environment and public health is possible.’

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said, “Trade should be done right — not just fast — to protect our families and neighbors from pollution and climate disruption. Fast-tracking flawed trade pacts is a deal-breaker. With fast track, we would be trading away clean air, clean water, and safe communities.”

Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Congress shouldn’t give a fast lane to trade pacts that don’t protect our public health and climate. These trade bills would give foreign corporations and governments the right to challenge our bedrock protections for clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food and proper chemical safeguards. We shouldn’t trade away our sovereignty. We need trade bills that tackle the 21st-century environmental challenges, not take us backwards.”

Click here to view the letter: sc.org/EnvirosAgainstFastTrack

Signers of this letter include:

  • 350.org
  • Athens County (OH) Fracking Action Network
  • Berks Gas Truth
  • Catskill Mountainkeeper
  • Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Center for International Environmental Law
  • Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  • Clean Economy Coalition of the Coastal Bend
  • Clean Water Action
  • The Delaware Riverkeeper
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Earthjustice
  • Earthworks
  • Energy Action Coalition
  • Environmental Action
  • Environmental Health Coalition
  • Environmental Investigation Agency
  • Food & Water Watch
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Friends of Merrymeeting Bay
  • Greenpeace USA
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Policy Program
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Oil Change International
  • Olympic Climate Action
  • Partnership for Policy Integrity
  • People Demanding Action
  • PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources)
  • Progressive Democrats of America
  • Progressive Democrats of America Maryland
  • Rainforest Action Network
  • Safe Climate Campaign
  • Sierra Club
  • Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
  • Sustain US
  • Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition
  • The Texas Drought Project
  • Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science and Democracy
  • U.S. Climate Plan
  • Washington Environmental Council
  • Wild Earth Guardians

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

What Obama Got Wrong In His State of the Union Remarks On Trade

The President briefly spoke about trade in his State of the Union speech. He admitted that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype” but then he called for doing more of the same. He called for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — “Fast Track” — to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Here is what President Obama said about trade (from pre-released transcript):

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

But…

1) Exports are good for an economy, but exports and imports must be balanced. While our exports are up, our imports are up even more. This is why we have an enormous, humongous trade deficit. When imports are greater than exports it means jobs, factories and if the imbalance continues eventually the necessary pieces of industry ecosystems are lost. Our trade deficit is enormous and our trade has been out of balance since the 1970s.

Here is Paul Krugman, writing at his blog Monday,

The immediate problem facing much of the world is inadequate demand and the threat of deflation. Would trade liberalization help on that front? No, not at all. True, to the extent that trade becomes easier, world exports would rise, which is a net plus for demand. But world imports would rise by exactly the same amount, which is a net minus. Or to put it a bit differently, trade liberalization would change the composition of world expenditure, with each country spending more on foreign goods and less on its own, but there’s no reason to think it would raise total spending; so this is not a short-term economic boost.

Krugman also points out that current trade tariffs and protections are low, so a “trade” deal doesn’t really remove imposing barriers. He suspects that groups representing the giant multinationals, like the Chamber of Commerce, are really pushing this deal because it rigs the system in their favor and “will yield them a lot of monopoly rents.” Which leads to Obama’s next argument.

2) This idea that “we” should “write the rules” to “level the playing field” is interesting. Yes, China would like to write rules of trade in its favor. But it doesn’t follow from this that we should allow the giant multinational to write the rules in ways that rig the system against everyone but them. And this is exactly what TPP does. TPP is being negotiated in secret with participation of corporate representatives while representatives of labor, consumer, democracy, human rights, women’s, environmental and other “stakeholder” groups are kept away from the table. Only a small part of TPP is about “trade” at all, while parts of it elevate corporate rights above the rights of citizens in democracies to make their own laws. (For example tobacco companies can sue governments for profit-loss from anti-smoking campaigns. Under similar “trade” agreements this is already happening.)

And speaking of rigging the system …

3) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) hardly “protects American workers.” Also known as “Fast Track,” TPA essentially pre-approves trade agreements before anyone even sees them. TPA pre-rigs the approval process by forcing an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed within 90 days of anyone even seeing the agreement for the first time. This means the public doesn’t have time to fully comprehend what is in the agreement and rally opposition if opposition is warranted. Fast Track shifts the public and press focus to “will they kill the whole agreement” rather than on what is actually in the agreement. (This is how they were able to push Wall Street deregulation through the last “Citibank Budget” deal.)

4) There is nothing in past or upcoming trade agreements that will incentivize bringing manufacturing and other jobs back to the US, which the President promised. On the contrary, TPP includes Vietnam which boasts a minimum wage of 30 cents per hour and has a terrible record on labor rights. This tells us what we need to know about the incentives for manufacturers to bring jobs back.

5) One of the biggest factors in American job loss is currency manipulation, but TPP does not address currency manipulation. (TPP is being negotiated in secret but leaks and other indications tell us that there is nothing to address currency manipulation.) Jared Bernstein wrote about this in a January 9 NY Times op-ed, How to Stop Currency Manipulation, saying,

“… there’s one thing the administration can do that will both win over some opponents and address one of the biggest issues in global trade: add a chapter on currency manipulation.

… In a compelling argument for including a chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to restrict currency manipulation, C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that America’s trade deficit “has averaged $200 billion to $500 billion per year higher as a result of the manipulation” by the rest of the world, resulting in the loss of one million to five million jobs.

The loss of 1-5 million jobs to currency manipulation is a lot of jobs, yet this isn’t even in the agreement!

6) The President said that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.” Please see last week’s post What You Need To Know When Obama Talks Trade for a breakdown of what has happened with previous trade agreements. Also see the Public Citizen report, Prosperity Undermined: Fast-Tracked Trade Agreements’ 20-Year Record of Massive U.S. Trade Deficits, American Job Loss and Wage Suppression for a more comprehensive look at what these trade agreements have cost US workers, our manufacturing ecosystem and our economy — just so that a few executives and billionaires can get even wealthier.

Boost Wages Or Trade Agreements — But Not Both

The President wants to address income inequality. But these trade agreements have been a major driver of income inequality. American worker wages have been frozen for decades as workers were threatened with their jobs being moved out of the country. A few at the top have pocketed this wage differential for themselves. Trade deals that pit American workers and the “costs” — higher wages, environmental protections, etc — of democracy against non-democracies where people don’t get good wages and the environment is not protected work against the President’s stated goals.

Josh Bivens writes at the Economic Policy Institute blog, Trade Agreements or Boosting Wages? We Can’t Do Both,

To put it plainly, if policymakers—including the President—are really serious about boosting wage growth for low and moderate-wage Americans, then the push to fast-track TPP and TTIP makes no sense.

… the most staid textbook models argue precisely that for a country like the United States, expanded trade should be expected to (yes) lift overall national incomes, but should redistribute so much from labor to capital owners, so that wages actually fall. …

Also see Obama vs. Obama: The State of the Union’s Self-Defeating Trade Pitch at the Eyes on Trade blog for “a side-by-side analysis of how Obama’s push to Fast Track the TPP contradicts his own State of the Union agenda.”

A Few Other Reactions

At a Wednesday press conference with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and other House Democrats, Rep. Slaughter said, “The president said last night that previous trade deals had not lived up to the hype. That may be the understatement of the century. We will fight this tooth and nail, and I believe we are going to win.”

Also at the press conference, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) said, “Fast track is designed to embed into these so-called free trade agreements a bunch of things that are detrimental to the American public.”

Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) “The Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) advocates a new direction in trade policy focusing upon balanced trade, a comprehensive US competitiveness strategy, and producing more of what we consume here. We oppose Congress ratifying the past, wrongheaded trade strategy which produces trade deficits, job loss, and incentives to offshore manufacturing for re-import into the US.”

Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM): “By ignoring the concerns of industry, workers, and majorities of the House and Senate, he’s not only putting the TPP at risk, he’s putting a whole lot of auto jobs in the US at risk, too.”

Communications Workers of America (CWA):

“…[W]e cannot stand with the President in his alliance with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable to send more U.S. jobs offshore, undermine U.S. communities and weaken U.S. sovereignty under the guise of “free trade.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has much more to do with protecting the investment of multinational corporations and maneuvering around China than lowering trade barriers.

Public opposition to “fast track authority” and the TPP is strong, and growing more vocal everyday. Consumer groups, workers, environmentalists, people of faith, students and more have united to stop this attack on U.S. jobs and communities. Conservatives, who do not believe that nations should relinquish their sovereign power to secret tribunals, also are on board.

Over the past 20 years, millions of U.S. jobs have been lost. The jobs U.S. workers had been promised over those years of course never materialized. In fact, just two trade deals – NAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement — have resulted in the loss of nearly 800,000 jobs. The promoters of the TPP are again promising job gains through growth in U.S. exports. But we can do the math. Any new jobs will be dwarfed by the flood of jobs that go offshore.

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

Scariest Silly Right-Wing Propaganda Ever

My favorite scary but silly right-wing propaganda ever is still “Chevy Volt Runs Out Of Juice In Lincoln Tunnel.”

1) I say silly to contrast with deadly propaganda that tries to start wars, etc., or toxic conservative propaganda that tries to make people hate Muslims, blacks, Hispanic or poor or sick people, public schools, government, Europe (especially France), etc.

2) The Volt’s gas engine kicks in to charge the battery when it runs low — something that is hard to even notice. The car certainly didn’t stop in the tunnel or anything like that.

Second is the scare that “electric cars are a fire hazard.” As compared to cars that have big tanks full of gasoline!

Question: Why does conservative propaganda so often line up with things the generate profits for oil companies, Wall Street, or other billionaires?

m4s0n501

Oil Cos. Trying To Use Trade Treaty To Bypass Congress And Raise Prices

You may have heard that there is an oil and gas “boom” happening in the US. You might not know that there is a ban on exporting our own oil. This ban is good for the country but bad for oil companies. And the oil industry is attempting an end run around Congress to do something about it.

There is an ongoing “boom” in oil and natural gas production. Production of natural gas is way up. Imports are down about half since 2007. Texas oil production alone has more than doubled since 2011. This increase in domestic oil production has various consequences. We use much of our rail capacity transporting oil to refineries. The increase in natural gas production is pushing coal use down, and lowering carbon emissions as we fight for a transition away from using fossil fuel at all.

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Ford C-Max Is Awesome

I bought a C-Max Hybrid in May. I have had it for a few months and I love this car, so I’m writing this review about it.

I had a 2000 Honda Accord and it was losing its reliability. I spent a lot of time researching cars. (My wife was finally saying “Jeeze, just buy a car already, I don’t care anymore, just buy any car and get it over with.”)

Before trying the C-Max I researched and drove (and rented when I could) Ford Focus & Fusion, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry. My favorite of those was the Volt but it was more expensive and my wife wasn’t as enthusiastic. I also liked the Accord.

The Fusion was nice but oddly my wife could barely see out of the passenger window and there were no options for raising the seat. (She is not short.) After driving the Fusion the salesperson suggested trying a C-Max — otherwise I would not have thought of it and hadn’t really even heard of it. This is when I discovered the C-Max, and both my wife and I loved it.

Gas Mileage

Even though I liked the Accord, I finally decided to buy either a hybrid like the Prius or a plug-in like the Volt or Ford’s Energi. (Notes: 1) I vastly prefer the C-Max now that I have been driving it. 2) Honda’s Accord Hybrid and plug-in Hybrid weren’t readily available yet and more expensive than they should be.) I’m just sick of being so dependent on the oil companies, shelling out huge amounts of $$ every time I fill up and filling up so often. I didn’t want a pure EV like the Leaf because of range. I want the freedom to take longer trips without renting a car. But the plug-in Energi didn’t work for me for a few reasons. (I am starting to regret the decision to just go hybrid.)
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Why Did We Invade Iraq?

With the Russian takeover of Crimea we are seeing just a bit of the damage done to the world by the invastion of Iraq. We used to be able to say, with some authority, “This is wrong, you shouldn’t do it.” But now everyone can say, “What are you talking about? You invaded Iraq based on a bunch of obvious lies.”

We the People have a right to know why this all happened, don’t we? We need a Truth Commission that investigates how the Bush administration led us to war, how the media was complicit, who made money from it, who tortured people, who allowed “contractors” to act with impunity, etc.

Also, there’s this: Why We Did It, a Rachel Maddow documentary:

Here’s A Fresh, New Idea: Hire Some People To Fix Infrastructure!

Washington is embroiled in a round of budget-cutting fervor. There is a “budget conference” going on. There are rumors that “deals” are being made behind closed doors. How much to cut? Who to hurt? Who to lay off or furlough next?

Here’s the thing. The American Majority wants jobs. They want Congress working on jobs. (They also want Congress working on jobs for more than 5 days this month.)

Here’s a fresh, new idea: hire some people to fix the aging infrastructure. Ever since the Reagan tax cuts the country has been deferring essential maintenance. Everyone said, “If you do this, later you’ll be sorry.” Now it’s later, and we’re really sorry. Bridges are falling down. The power grid is ridiculous, as in “worthy of ridicule.” Etc., etc. We’re $3.6 trillion behind — $3.6 trillion that went out to the wealthy as tax cuts instead of used for infrastructure investment. P.S. click that link.

How many people would be hired if we just caught up to doing that deferred infrastructure maintenance — never mind crisp, new, modern, energy-efficient, 21st-century power grid and ports and roads and rail that would increase our country’s competitiveness internationally? $3.6 trillion of work that has to be done anyway, and we really need to employ Americans today. The longer we hold off, the more it costs and the more damage is done.

Speaking of damage done, here’s a simple infrastructure idea: hire some people to install speed regulation systems in trains.

It isn’t hard to realize this. In fact, not hiring people to fix the infrastructure now is intentional. It’s about keeping unemployment high and taxes on the wealthy low. Desperate, hungry people don’t ask for raises, and don’t demand their rights. They’ll take any nasty, humiliating, low-wage job they can find and will be told they should be thankful to have it.

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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

Clean Coal?

This week the EPA a nnounced new rules for CO2 emmissions in new coal-powered plants. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is up in arms, saying this could mean the end of coal as a power source.

So you’d think that the “clean coal” organization would be praising these new rules, because they are all about “clean coal,” right?

Ot maybe not so clean, just a slogan?

Why I Am For Nuclear Energy

People who say we should not develop nuclear power because of the risk are severely underestimating the impact that global warming will have on climate and humanity.

Take the Fukishima Daiichi disaster. A large area has been evacuated and is contaminated. There could be as many as 100 deaths from radiation and associated cancers. Combine this with Chernobyl where a large area is contaminated and there were at least 31 deaths, with between 6,000 and 50,000 thyroid cancers expected (92-96% survivable.)

Suppose every reactor of the older type still operating melted down. And suppose all the waste from all those nuclear reactors got into the environment.

Then suppose we built enough new reactors to let the world stop burning coal for power. (Note that the new designs pretty much can’t melt down, many designs use safer fuels, and many designs burn enough of the material that there is much less of a waste problem.) But suppose ALL of those reactors had disasters, too. Every one.

This adds up to nothing compared to what is coming if we do not stop burning coal (some of which is coming already because of the CO2 we have already put into the air.)

The evacuated, contaminated areas from all of those nuclear disasters won’t add up to a fraction of the coastal land that will be submerged. The uninhabitable areas don’t add up to a fraction of the land mass that will be uninhabitable if we pass 2 degrees centigrade and keep putting carbon into the air. The number of people killed if every one of those reactors blows up doesn’t add up to a fraction of the number who will die from famine and other causes if we don’t stop burning coal.

So get serious and be afraid of the right things. We shold replace every coal plant with nuclear as fast as we can, and then phase out the nuclear if we want to, replacing them with alternatives.