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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The Fast Track Fight Begins In The Senate

The final fight to stop fast track begins this week. The new trade promotion authority (“fast track”) bill could be released in the Senate at any moment. (It might be out by the time you read this.)

Hatch and Wyden Poised to Introduce Bill

With literally zero reporting from the national TV networks and a virtual news blackout at most newspapers around the country, at least Politico sets the stage for insiders in their report, “Trade fight looms as Congress returns“:

Senate Finance Committee leaders Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden appear poised to introduce a “fast track” trade promotion authority bill along with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. But months of closed-door negotiations were continuing on Friday, congressional aides said.

The power, largely embraced by Republicans, pits many congressional Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and potentially Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting Charles Schumer, against the White House.

The measure would allow President Barack Obama to submit free trade agreements to Congress for straight up or down votes without any amendments. It’s seen as key to completing his signature 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.

Fast track is, in essence, congressional pre-approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. With fast track Congress agrees to give up its much of constitutional duty to define negotiating objectives, carefully deliberate and debate, and fix problems that might turn up. With fast track rendering Congress unable to fix flaws, even if any problems do turn up that might seriously hurt the country or our economy, a vote on the trade agreement will occur under the enormous pressure of the media blasting, “surely they won’t just kill the whole thing over a few problems.”

The idea is that allowing Congress (democratic government) to “meddle” will get in the way and keep other (non-democratic) countries from “making their best offers.” Congress is considering this pre-approval of TPP and future trade agreements even though the national news media is not reporting on fast track or TPP, and Congress and the public haven’t yet even seen the agreement (never mind had time to analyze it and consider its ramifications).

Week Of Action

The AFL-CIO is organizing a “Week of Action Against Fast Tracking Trade Deals.”

On Wednesday at 11 am in Washington D.C.’s Upper Senate Park, more than 600 union members will rally at an event organized by the United Steelworkers (USW) on Capitol Hill. The rally will feature Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), USW President Leo Gerard, AFL-CIO Executive VP Tefere Gebre, AFGE President J. David Cox, National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando, American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, and Sierra Club National Campaign Director Debbie Sease.

On Saturday, the AFL-CIO and its member unions are organizing over 50 events throughout the country in conjunction with hundreds of events planned as part of the global day of action in over a dozen countries.

Click here to find an event or to organize an event.

A Monday story in The Hill, “Labor unions ramp up opposition to Obama trade agenda,” has more on the Week of Action:

Lawmakers, labor union leaders and their members will hold a rally Wednesday on Capitol Hill and follow that up with 50 grassroots events around the country and in more than a dozen countries on Saturday as part of the weeklong effort. …

The efforts include letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, petitions and door-knocks.

Meanwhile CREDO and other organizations are petitioning to ask presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to lead the opposition to fast track and TPP.

Don’t Trade Our Future Demonstration April 20

There will also be a “Don’t Trade Our Future” demonstration on April 20, the final day of the Populism2015 Conference in Washington, which is sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), National People’s Action (NPA), USAction and the Alliance for a Just Society. People will assemble at 11:30 a.m. at AFL-CIO headquarters at 815 16th Street NW, and will march first to the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and then to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. They are urging Congress to vote down fast track.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), columnist Jim Hightower and Communication Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen will address the demonstration.

Public Against More Job-Killing Trade Agreements

As the fast track fight enters the Congress, polls show that politicians will take a great risk by voting for fast track or TPP legislation. For example, one recent poll shows one senator’s vote for fast track could bring a primary opponent. The Huffington Post reported in February in, “Secretive Trade Deal Could Pose Problems At Home For Ron Wyden,”

“Half of the Oregon voters polled said they would be less likely to vote for Wyden in 2016 if he joins Republicans to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between the United States and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as fast-track authority, which Obama is seeking in order to get TPP and other trade deals through Congress without amendments or filibusters.”

Other polling shows that public sentiment against trade deals and fast track is strong. One poll in January 2014 shows the breadth of public opposition,

By more than two to one, voters say they oppose (62%) rather than favor passage of fast-track negotiating authority for the TPP deal. Among those with a strong opinion, the ratio climbs to more than three to one (43% strongly opposed, just 12% strongly favorable). Demographically, opposition is very broad, with no more than one-third of voters in any region of the country or in any age cohort favoring fast track. Sixty percent (60%) of voters with household incomes under $50,000 oppose fast track, as do 65% of those with incomes over $100,000.

… Republicans overwhelmingly oppose giving fast-track authority to the president (8% in favor, 87% opposed), as do independents (20%-66%), while a narrow majority (52%) of Democrats are in favor (35% opposed).

People believe our trade agreements destroy jobs and lower wages. In a September 2014 Pew Poll, Americans say “trade” generally is good, but only 20 percent say it creates jobs while 50 percent say it destroys jobs, and 17 percent say it raises wages while 45 percent say it lowers wages.

This can have election consequences. In an April 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll a plurality of Americans said they would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”


So it appears that the battle will be in the Senate this week. Here are some resources to visit.

The Stop Fast Track coalition website,

Expose the TPP.

Flush the TPP!

Stop TPP.

CWA’s TPP info.

10 Ways the TPP Would Hurt U.S. Working Families

Global Trade Watch.

Eyes on Trade and 50 Reasons We Cannot Afford the TPP.

Real Progressive Coalition for American Jobs. (“Every U.S. labor union and almost 600 environmental, consumer, faith, family farm, civil rights, seniors, LGBT and other civil society organizations opposed Fast Track. This is the REAL Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.”)


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.

As Fast Track/TPP Becomes New Third Rail, Where Is Clinton?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — and the rigged “Fast Track” process designed to pass it before the public has a chance to react — has become a new “third rail” for progressives and the activist Democratic “base.” (This is also true on the right, by the way.)

This game-rigging is creating a race to the bottom for people and the planet. The thing is: more and more people are seeing it. And more and more people are asking Hillary Clinton to lead the fight against it.

A Rigged Game

People are fed up with the rigged “trade” game that pits American wages, environmental regulations, consumer protections and other benefits of democracy against exploitative, paid-off, non-democracies. “Free trade” has made democracy’s good wages and environmental and safety protections into a competitive disadvantage in world markets.

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How Our Trade Policies Kill Jobs

Trade is great. We all trade. A lot of us trade labor for money that buys other things. A farmer trades corn for money that buys other things, and so on. No one is “against trade.”

But is anything called “trade” always good for all involved? Imagine you’re a farmer and you make a deal to trade corn and wheat to get money for a new tractor. So the farmer orders a new tractor, but the “trade partner” never buys any corn or wheat. After a while the “trade partner” shows up with a big bill, saying the farmer owes money for the tractor. And then the farmer finds out that the “trade partner” plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the tractor to grow their own corn.

In modern terms, we would say that the farmer was “running a trade deficit.” How much damage do you think that “trade deficit” is doing to that farmer, and the farmer’s ability to make a living in the future? How long do you think that farmer would let that “trade agreement” continue?

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Anti-Fast-Track Momentum Builds

Opponents of fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are gaining momentum. In spite of a virtual media blackout, public awareness of the coming trade deal is increasing.

More and more public-interest organizations are organizing and denouncing the rigged fast-track approval process and TPP trade agreement. One after another, members of Congress are announcing opposition to fast track and demanding that trade problems like currency manipulation be covered by the TPP agreement.

Meanwhile, the expected fast track bill has been delayed again.

Fast Track “Stuck”

Fast track is a process under which Congress agrees to bypass its duty to define, consider, debate and approve trade deals. Fast track limits discussion and debate and gives Congress only 90 days in which to bring the deal up for a vote. It is a rigged process designed to ensure that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, the “history’s largest trade deal“, is pushed through Congress before the public has time to fully analyze, understand and consider its ramifications and organize opposition if opposition is warranted.

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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.”


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.

A “Grand Alliance” To Save Our Public Postal Service

The Conservative/Wall Street/1 Percent/Republican anti-government strategy is to set government up to fail (usually by starving it of funding). Then they point to the resulting “crisis” they created and say it proves that government doesn’t work so we should “privatize” it – in other words, rig the system against We the People by handing our common wealth over to a few wealthy people to harvest for personal profit.

Now they’re coming for the U.S. Postal Service.

Manufacturing A Crisis

Republicans created the problems with the Postal Service. In 2006 Republicans in Congress required it to come up with $5.5 billion per year to pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. This means the Postal Service has to set aside money now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.

They also require the Postal Service to make a profit – or at least break even. But democratic government is supposed to provide services to We the People. It is not supposed to be about making a profit off of us. Yet Republicans say government should be “run like a business.” Then they hamstring it, preventing it from competing with businesses because they say it has too many advantages and any competition would be unfair.

From the post, “You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done To Our Postal Service”:

Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service “crisis”:

  • The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies.
  • Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.
  • Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even.
  • While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. … [M]any people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
  • But along with requiring the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service’s ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. … [W]hile detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy, the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies. …

The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won’t let it. They won’t help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace … they give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn’t work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be “privatized” …

Privatization Destroys People And Communities

Privatizing the various parts of the postal service will move the workforce from good union jobs to low-wage, no-or-low-benefit private-sector jobs. Aside from the effect this would have on employees and their families – not to mention the inexpensive delivery of mail to even the most remote locations – privatization also destroys the surrounding communities. The USPS is the country’s second largest employer, so in this case the surrounding communities are … all of the communities in the United States.

In “The Privatization Scam: Five Government Outsourcing Horror Stories,” I wrote about a study that showed that wage and benefit cuts resulting from privatization hurt communities, including declining retail sales, greater reliance on public assistance and a larger share of at-risk children in low-income families.

Fighting Back

Now the people who work for the Postal Service are fighting back. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is announcing “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service.” As the alliance’s new website explains,

“In the face of aggressive attacks, a wide range of national organizations have come together to create A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. These organizations are united in the demand that the public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. The Alliance is fighting to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.”

This Grand Alliance consists of a large number of organizations (At least “63 religious coalitions, retiree organizations, educational and postal unions, lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups”, according to The Washington Post, and more being added as I write) as well as individuals (you) who sign the pledge to “support the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now—and for many generations to come.”

Two Years In The Making

At his swearing-in ceremony in November 2013, APWU President Mark Dimondstein pledged to build a “Grand Alliance” to save the postal system, saying,

“We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers. We must mobilize our allies and their organizations, including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and business groups in defense of America’s right to vibrant public postal services.”

Two years later, at a press conference Thursday, Dimondstein explained that this alliance is forming “because the postal service belongs to the people and it is in danger.” He said there are “two competing visions of the future” – privatizing vs. staying public – and that there will be a conversion from “living wage to low-wage jobs” if the Postal Service is privatized.

Dimondstein said that the Postal Service “is our democratic right” and that it can operate cost-effectively “if you get rid of the manufactured crisis created in Congress.”

Also at the press conference, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civil Participation and convener of Black Women’s Round Table Public Policy Network said, “this is a fight for the people, we the people.” She called the Postal Service “a national treasure” and said, “We’re here today to stand in solidarity … Our national postal offices have faithfully served communities.”

The mission of this Grand Alliance:

The United States Postal Service is a wonderful national treasure, enshrined in the Constitution and supported by the American people. Without any taxpayer funding, the USPS serves 150 million households and businesses each day, providing affordable, universal mail service to all – including rich and poor, rural and urban, without regard to age, nationality, race or gender.

The U.S. Postal Service belongs to “We, the People.” But the USPS and postal jobs are threatened by narrow monied interests aimed at undermining postal services and dismantling this great public institution.

Even some postal executives have been complicit in the drive toward the destruction of the Postal Service and ultimate privatization: They have slowed mail service, closed community based Post Offices and mail processing facilities, slashed hours of operations, tried ceaselessly to end six-day service as well as door to door delivery, and eliminated hundreds of thousands of living wage jobs.

Good postal jobs are vital to strong, healthy communities, and have provided equal opportunities and the foundation for financial stability for workers from all walks of life, including racial and ethnic minorities, women and veterans. Postal services are essential to commerce and bind together families, friends and loved ones. In the day of e-commerce, a public postal service is as relevant as ever.

Yet those corporate forces who want to privatize public services allege that curtailing postal services and eliminating jobs are necessary due to diminishing mail volume and “burdensome” union wages and benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, a Congressionally manufactured USPS “crisis” imposed an unfair crushing financial mandate on the Postal Service that no other government agency or private company is forced to bear. (The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 compels the USPS to pay approximately $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance.) Without this unreasonable burden, the USPS would have enjoyed an operating surplus of $600 million in 2013 and over $1.4 Billion in 2014.

The people of this country deserve great public postal services. We advocate expanded services, such as non-profit postal banking and other financial services. We call on the Postmaster General and Postal Board of Governors to strengthen and champion the institution.

The public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. Join us in the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.

Meghan Byrd contributed to this post.


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.

Invite: Special Call On Fast Track/TPP Sunday 7:30ET / 4:30PT

“Deconstructing the Corporate Case for Fast Track”


Special Guest Speaker: Dave Johnson, Campaign for America’s Future (me)

Sunday, February 8, 2015 – 7:30 p.m. EST/4:30 PST

Always be sure to phone in FIRST: 605-562-3140 PIN: 951146(lines open 15 minutes before call start)


Click here to link to the video-only portion and access the interactive, real-time chat features*

Call details: Dave will dismantle claims made by lobbyists, and explain, point by point, exactly WHY fast track authority for the president (and the trade deals he plans to use it to force through) would be an economic disaster for American businesses and workers.

We’ll also hear from Celeste Drake, Trade and Globalization Policy Specialist with the AFL-CIO, about the current climate in Washington and plans for Presidents’ Day recess week actions targeting Congress, beginning next weekend and continuing through February 22.

*ABOUT THE CALL: We don’t use AnyMeeting for audio; you can’t connect with your computer to the phone line we use, so disregard onscreen audio codes. After you follow the link above and enter the requested information, just click on the phone receiver icon you see on the screen, advance to the next screen, and click “close.” You’ll be in the meeting room.

Let’s Take Apart The Corporate Case For Fast Track Trade Authority

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman appeared before Congress Tuesday to make the corporate argument for “fast track” trade promotion authority. The USTR and President Obama are pushing fast-track pre-approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other big “trade” agreements they are working on. The Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and other corporate groups and lobbyists are also pushing hard for Congress to pass fast track.

The promoters of fast track say we need it to push “trade” agreements through Congress to expand trade and increase exports. “What we’re going to do through this trade agreement is open up markets,” Froman told Congress Tuesday, “and then level the playing field so we can protect workers, protect American jobs and then ensure a fair and level playing field by raising labor and environmental standards, raising intellectual property rights, standards and enforcement, making sure that we’re putting disciplines on state-owned enterprises that pose a real threat to workers.”

These corporate arguments (you can see them in this Chamber of Commerce slide show “Ten Reasons Why America Needs Trade Promotion Authority”) just make me more skeptical of what they are selling. Here’s why.

1) President Obama, trade representative Froman, the Chamber of Commerce and others repeat the talking point, “95 percent of the world’s markets are outside the U.S..” This makes me skeptical of what they are selling because it is a “look over there at that shiny object” argument.

Saying that 95 percent of the world’s markets are outside the U.S. implies that we need TPP and other agreements because we are currently not selling goods to 95 percent of the world. This is patently false. We sell goods and services around the world already. In fact, it contradicts other corporate arguments for these agreements like, “More than 38 million American jobs already depend on trade.”

This argument deceives people about the very nature of these agreements. Most of the objections being voiced over these coming agreements are about non-trade issues. Only five of TPP’s 29 chapters deal with what people understand as “trade.” So an argument that TPP and similar agreements will “expand trade” masks what the bulk of these agreements are really about, which is getting governments off the backs of the giant corporations and protecting their profits from competition and democratic regulation.

Just one example of this is the “investor-state dispute settlements” provision, which I have called “corporate courts.” This part of “NAFTA-style” trade agreements, including TPP, allows corporations to sue governments that pass laws and regulations that interfere with profits. Similar clauses in trade agreements around the world have, for example, enabled tobacco companies to sue governments for trying to protect the health of their citizens. Under TPP these suits will be adjudicated by corporate attorneys, not democratically constituted courts.

Other examples are expanded copyright and patent protection for the giant multinationals, which will increase the cost of pharmaceutical products and potentially restrict the freedom of the Internet.

Obviously the corporate advocates of these agreements want this, so they are using distraction, diversion and shiny promises of increased trade and more jobs to sell the agreements.

2) Froman, testifying before the Senate Tuesday, said that we need these new agreements because our country has low tariffs and other barriers to entry while many countries we trade with have high tariffs and barriers to entry.

Wait, back up, he is saying that other countries have high tariffs and barriers to entry but we let goods from those countries into our country with low tariffs and few barriers? What? Doesn’t this undermine our country? Don’t low import tariffs cost badly needed revenue and enable offshoring of jobs and factories? Isn’t this a recipe for imbalance, job loss and huge trade deficits? (And don’t we have imbalance, job loss and huge trade deficits as a result of that recipe?)

In other words, he is saying that the U.S. has been an absolute and complete patsy on trade. And obviously we have been paying the price. Our government hasn’t enforced trade balance and hasn’t protected American interests, which has cost us wages, jobs, factories and entire industries. We have an enormous, humongous trade deficit and that has lowered our standard of living, and driven inequality. Trade agreements haven’t fixed this — recent trade agreements like NAFTA and South Korea have worsened this problem, with more job loss and even larger trade deficits.

The USTR and the president argue that TPP will reset this problem and will enforce good labor and environmental standards. (Enforcing international labor standards would require our government to boost enforcement and a number of U.S. states to change their laws, by the way.)

The U.S. government has no credibility when it comes to protecting Americans from trade imbalances and the resulting loss of wages, jobs, factories and entire key industries. Yet with this terrible record Froman and the president are asking Congress to pre-approve new trade agreements by passing fast track. They are asking this while the coming agreements – negotiated using the same corporate-dominated process that caused the mess – are still secret. They are asking this even though fast track will prevent Congress from adequately examining and debating agreements and fixing problems. Fast Track also keeps the public from having time to read and comprehend the agreements and rally opposition if opposition is warranted.

Saying that we have been patsies isn’t an argument for setting up a fast-track process to pass more trade agreements; it is an argument for backing up and replacing everyone and everything involved in setting and enforcing our government’s trade policies. Pushing through even more agreements using the same corporate-dominated process that caused the mess is not a way to fix the mess; it is a way to make things even worse.

3) Corporate advocates for fast track argue that we need to increase exports. This is exactly right, but they never, ever, ever, ever, ever mention imports and trade deficits. Why is that? We need balanced trade. If imports increase more than exports this represents a net loss of jobs, technology, manufacturing ecosystem and our living standard. If trade imbalances continue over time it throws the entire world’s economy out of balance. (It does things like enable 80 people to have as much wealth as half of the world’s population, and 1 percent of the world to have more wealth than all of the rest combined.)

Is there a section of these new agreements – the five of 23 chapters that are actually about trade, anyway – that requires that trade be balanced so we can stop losing jobs, wages, factories and industries? TPP is still secret, so we don’t really know. And fast track doesn’t give us time to find out once we do see the agreement, and doesn’t allow us to fix it if it doesn’t require balance.

4) Corporate advocates say “more than 38 million American jobs already depend on trade. This is one in every five jobs across the country.” I’m not sure how this is an argument for new trade agreements when they say we’re already doing so great. In any event, they are not bringing up the jobs we have lost to imports – which is more than the jobs we have gained from exports. They’re again saying “trade is good” to divert us from seeing that only five of the 29 chapters of TPP are even about trade at all. The rest is about getting democratic government off the backs of the giant multinational corporations and protecting them from competition.

5) Another corporate argument is that 97 percent of American companies that export are small businesses. This is another misleading and irrelevant number. They don’t say what percent of our exports come from these small businesses. And trade agreements that reinforce the monopolies held by giant multinational corporations by expanding their copyright and patent dominance certainly do not help smaller businesses. They are instead designed to limit competition.

What is needed is for the the contents of the TPP agreements to be made public now and for stakeholders like labor, environmental, consumer, democracy, health and all other groups to be part of the process right now. Then, when an agreement is concluded, Congress and the public need adequate time to fully analyze and discuss these agreements and their implications. Finally, Congress should be able to fix problems with the agreements to bring them in line with the interests of all Americans.


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.


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.


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.