President Tells Congress TPP Is Coming Their Way. What Will Clinton Do?

One day after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton strongly underscored her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in a speech in Detroit, President Obama officially started the clock on a lame-duck congressional vote on that agreement.

Politico has the story, headlined “Obama puts Congress on notice: TPP is coming“:

The White House put Congress on notice Friday morning that it will be sending lawmakers a bill to implement President Barack Obama’s landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a move intended to infuse new energy into efforts to ratify the flatlining trade pact.

The submission of the draft Statement of Administration Action establishes a 30-day minimum before the administration can present the legislation, but it is unlikely to do so amid the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign that has depicted free trade deals as major job killers.

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Clinton Should Tell Obama To Withdraw TPP To Save Her Presidency

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but is having trouble convincing people to believe her. Imagine the trouble Hillary Clinton will have trying to build support for her effort to govern the country if TPP is ratified before her inauguration.

According to Politico’s Wednesday Morning Trade, the Obama administration is launching a “TPP blitz” push to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker last week said the administration is planning at least 30 trade events by the end of the month. That effort, similar to last year’s “all of Cabinet” push for trade promotion authority, is expected to shift to Capitol Hill in September when lawmakers return from their summer break.

In spite of the opposition of much of the public, both presidential candidates, all of labor, almost all Democrats, all progressive-aligned consumer, human rights, environmental and other organizations and even the Tea Party right, what is happening here is that Wall Street, the multinational corporations, most Republicans and unfortunately President Obama are preparing to insult democracy by pushing to ratify TPP. This undermine’s Clinton’s credibility while campaigning for election, and if it passes it harms her ability to govern if she is elected.

There is something Clinton can do to bolster her credibility on the TPP. Clinton on Thursday is giving an economic speech near Detroit. This speech is an opportunity for Clinton to put this behind her for good. She should loudly call on President Obama to withdraw TPP now, and call on Democrats to vote against the TPP if he does not do that.

Progressive groups are asking her to do just that, calling people to sign a petition telling Clinton: “Lead against lame-duck vote on TPP.”

Clinton Opposes TPP, But …

Clinton has stated her opposition to TPP, but has not asked Democrats to join her in opposition, particularly during the “lame-duck” session of Congress that follows the election. This is one reason that Clinton continues to have a credibility problem on TPP.

Donald Trump repeatedly tells audiences that Clinton isn’t really against TPP; she is just saying it for votes. He says she will “betray” us. This is Trump in his Monday “economy” speech in Detroit:

The next betrayal will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hillary Clinton’s closest friend, Terry McAuliffe, confirmed what I have said on this from the beginning: If sent to the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton will enact the TPP. Guaranteed. Her donors will make sure of it.

Along with McAuliffe, who is the governor of Virginia, Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue has said she will reverse herself. And it was Clinton delegates who blocked putting specific TPP opposition in the Democratic platform. So yes, there is a credibility problem.

Dan Balz, writes about her problem at The Washington Post, in “Clinton has yet to respond to Trump’s attack on globalism“:

Clinton came out against the agreement last year to put herself in alignment with Sen. Bernie Sanders … But in doing so, she put herself at odds with the views enunciated by her husband, Bill Clinton, when he was president, and raised questions about whether her change of heart was mere political expedience.

Which is why her position on trade and global economics has remained suspect to those on the left…

Balz asks:

What does Clinton really think about this aspect of economic policy? How do her views today square with what she has thought and advocated during her public career? …

Those are issues about which she has so far been relatively silent. … Trump has presented her with a challenge; is she is prepared to take it up?

… In her responses to Trump’s Detroit speech, Clinton did not address what the GOP nominee said about trade. It’s difficult to believe that was an oversight.

… Does Clinton not owe the public a fuller explanation of her views on a topic that her rival has made central to his candidacy?

Passing TPP Would Destroy Clinton Presidency Before It Starts

Polling shows that Clinton continues to have a problem with “unfavorables” and credibility with the electorate. As of now it appears Clinton will almost certainly win the election – maybe even in a blowout. But this will not necessarily be due to overwhelming support of Clinton. Instead it will be at least partly because of the ugly words and actions of her reprehensible opponent. After the election, much of the public will likely remain divided, looking for signs that things will be OK after all under a Clinton presidency.

Imagine if TPP does come up for a vote in the lame-duck session and passes. The public, particularly progressives, will certainly feel betrayed. It will also bolster the opposition, who will say, “I told you so” because of Trump’s predictions of a betrayal on TPP. If that happens, it won’t matter that Clinton has said she opposes TPP. People will feel she just said it to get votes, and now that the election is over…

This is a terrible recipe for beginning a presidency of a divided country.

Progressive Groups Asking Clinton To Lead Opposition To Lame Duck TPP Vote

The Hill has the story on how progressives intend to “pressure Clinton on TPP ahead of economic speech“:

Progressive groups are urging Hillary Clinton to publicly announce that she opposes a lame-duck session vote on the Obama administration’s Pacific Rim trade deal.

After initially supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Clinton reversed after Bernie Sanders made his opposition to the deal one of the cornerstones of his insurgent campaign for the presidency.

On Wednesday, the grassroots liberal groups Democracy for America and CREDO will begin circulating petitions urging Clinton to go further by making a public statement “urging the White House and Democratic congressional leadership to oppose any vote on the TPP, especially during the post-election lame duck session of Congress.”
The groups would like Clinton to make that declaration in her policy address on the economy this Thursday outside of Detroit.

Buzzfeed rounded up some statements from progressive leaders, beginning with Democracy for America’s Robert Cruickshank:

“Right now, Donald Trump is running around the country using the specter of a lame-duck vote on the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership to divide Secretary Clinton from the millions of voters who agree with her that this disastrous trade deal has to be stopped,” Robert Cruickshank, a senior campaign manger at Democracy for America, told BuzzFeed News in a statement.

CREDO’s Murshed Zahee also weighs in:

“Now we need her help to stop it from being jammed through Congress in a lame duck session. A personal and public statement from Secretary Clinton in opposition to a lame duck vote would provide huge momentum in the fight to stop the TPP once and for all,” CREDO’s political director Murshed Zaheed said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

Sign The Petition

You can add your own voice to this effort to get Clinton’s help stamping out TPP by adding your name to this CREDO petition:” Tell Sec. Clinton: Lead against lame-duck vote on TPP“: “Make a public statement urging the White House and Democratic congressional leadership to oppose any vote on the TPP, especially during the post-election lame-duck session of Congress.”

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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 Progressive Breakfast.

New Rules On Corporate Secrecy Have Glaring Loopholes

Last week the Treasury Department released a new rule and several proposals they said are intended to address the problem of corruption and dirty money in secret U.S. shell companies. A White House press release claimed, “Today, the Administration announced several important steps to combat money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion, and called upon Congress to take additional action to address these critical issues.” (A White House fact sheet is available here.)

The new rules initially appeared to be strong. But after examining the details several watchdog groups are warning that the new regulations and proposals leave open several glaring loopholes, and even practically provide instructions for how to get around the regulations.

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Panama Papers Expose Another Way Our Trade Agreements Fail Us

Global Witness recently presented this TED talk on “how exposing anonymous companies could cut down on crime.”

Should our own government help oligarchs, billionaires and their corporations, criminals and terrorists hide their loot, launder their funds, and drain countries and their governments of needed revenue? Or should our government try to help stop this?

So far our government has too often been on the side of the bad guys.

Criminals, drug cartels, human traffickers, arms dealers, tax evaders, corrupt politicians, terrorists, oligarchs and plutocrats can use anonymous, secret shell corporations in tax-haven countries to stash, launder and hide their money. There are trillions of dollars of hidden wealth, much of it accumulated through crime and corruption. The secrecy is draining governments around the world of badly needed tax revenue, and it is enhancing and accelerating poverty and inequality.

Frederick E. Allen explains at Forbes, in “Super Rich Hide $21 Trillion Offshore, Study Says“:

A new report finds that around the world the extremely wealthy have accumulated at least $21 trillion in secretive offshore accounts. That’s a sum equal to the gross domestic products of the United States and Japan added together. The number may sound unbelievable, but the study was conducted by James Henry, former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, an expert on tax havens and offshoring. It was commissioned by Tax Justice Network, a British activist group.

The Panama Papers

The Panama Papers exposé by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has helped expose how certain countries enable the world’s plutocrats, outlaws, corrupt leaders, terrorists, warmongers, and the rest of the worst to use tax havens and anonymous shell corporations to hide their wealth, dodge taxes, dodge sanctions and even drain the wealth of countries. The reporting so far shows that just one Panama company had created up to 215,000 offshore shell companies for 14,153 clients. The reports link 143 politicians (or their families and close associates) to the use of tax havens to shield huge amounts of money. Again, this is from just one company in just one tax-haven, anonymous shell corporation-enabling country.

This also exposes how our own government is sometimes a party to enabling, even encouraging this activity. Our own government allows anonymous shell corporations here at home, and does not fight countries that enable them abroad when it negotiates so-called “trade” agreements that are supposed to lay down rules for financial interaction.

So-Called “Trade” Agreements, For Example

Our government negotiates what are called “trade” agreements with other countries. These negotiations are an opportunity to set up the rules for financial interactions between countries.

The 2012 U.S.- Panama Trade Promotion Agreement is promoted by our own U.S. Trade Representative’s office as “a comprehensive free trade agreement that provides elimination of tariffs and removes barriers to U.S. services, including financial services.” This agreement was an opportunity to fight global tax evasion, shell-corporation secrecy and other results of Panama’s bank and corporate secrecy. We could have negotiated to require an end to bank secrecy and shell corporations. But bank and corporate secrecy were not even part of the negotiations.

This demonstrates how the warped priorities of our “trade” process are hurting not just U.S. citizens and government but all citizens and governments.

Repeated Warnings

Before the Panama trade agreement was approved, individuals, organizations and even politicians warned repeatedly that the agreement would enhance the ability of corporations and individuals to hide wealth and taxable income from governments and criminal investigators.

In 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, gave a speech on the Senate floor opposing the trade agreement, warning that Panama’s entire economic output at the time was obviously too low to be of any benefit to American workers. “Then why would we be considering a stand-alone free-trade agreement with Panama?” Sanders said the real reason for the agreement is that “Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade taxes.” He said it “will make this bad situation much worse.”

To show how Panama enables people and corporations to hide behind corporate secrecy, an intern at Public Citizens set up her own personal Panama shell corporation. Here’s what The Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney wrote about this:

It’s so easy for U.S. corporations to set up an offshore tax haven in Panama, an intern could do it. Really! To make this point, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division had one of its interns call up some Panamanian law firms for advice on starting up a shell company.

“Panamanian corporations basically pay no taxes on foreign-derived income,” one man explained to the intern, Jessica. Another said: “You’re protected by the strictest banking secrecy laws in the world,” thereby “totally removing you from the legal trail.”

Public Citizen was warning that the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) did not fight and in fact further enabled the secrecy:

“It would give investors registered in Panama new rights to challenge U.S. anti-tax haven regulations and other initiatives for taxpayer-funded compensation,” said Todd Tucker, research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, in an interview with The Huffington Post.

… Tucker said that the Panama FTA would compromise the Obama administration’s recently-announced crackdown on tax havens, which the president said would save $210 billion over the next decade. (A 2008 Senate report estimated that the U.S. loses $100 billion to tax havens every year.)

With so many groups and individuals warning that the Panama agreement would boost the ability of people and corporations to dodge U.S. taxes using subsidiary shell corporations and secret bank accounts, the Obama administration announced in 2010 a “Tax Information Exchange Agreement with Panama.” This agreement had a loophole letting Panama to set aside tax transparency provisions if Panama decides they are “contrary to the public policy” of Panama. Of course, Panama invoked the loophole because so much of Panama’s income comes from bank secrecy, tax-free status and the ability to set up anonymous Panama shell corporations.

This week Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach issued a statement on the revelations in The Panama Papers:

“Nearly five years after the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) vote, the Panama Paper leak proves once again how entirely cynical and meaningless are the American presidents’ and corporate boosters’ lavish promises of economic benefits and policy reforms from trade agreements. The top promise about the benefit of the U.S.-Panama FTA was that it would end Panama’s financial crime secrecy protections and tax haven and money laundering activities, but what this leak shows is that, if anything, Panama’s outrageous financial crime facilitation has intensified while the FTA’s investor protections and official U.S. stamp of approval have increased inflows of dirty money to Panama.

Our Isaiah J. Poole writes, in “Panama Papers Controversy Offers An Opportunity To Push For Transparency“:

The silver lining in the Panama Papers scandal is that the world’s attention is being focused on a global problem in which the wealthy and powerful act beyond the reach of law, playing by a different set of rules from the rest of us. The United States does not have to go it alone in addressing this problem. But our elected officials, and the people running to be our next president, should lead. Supporting legislation that supports more transparency would be a start.

Countries that allow banking secrecy, the formation of anonymous shell corporations and tax-haven status should be considered rogue, outlaw countries. There should be international sanctions against individuals and corporations that do any business with such countries. There certainly should not be “free trade” agreements with such countries.

Harmonizing international tax law and prohibiting anonymous shell corporations should be at the center of our trade negotiations. Unfortunately, our corporate/billionaire-dominated trade process appears to have worked toward just the opposite. We the People and all of trade’s stakeholders – labor, consumer, human rights, environmental, democracy and other such groups – need to have seats alongside our businesses and government representatives at the trade negotiating table.

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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.

Foreign Companies Use Trade Agreements To Attack US Law. I’m Not Making This Up.

President Obama says progressives who warn that trade laws let corporations overrule U.S. law are “making this stuff up.” Two attacks on U.S. laws and regulations are underway right now, illustrating how the “corporate courts” provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would open our country up to attacks from foreign corporations.

“They’re making this stuff up.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, legal scholars and others have been sounding the alarm about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that have leaked to the public from the secret TPP negotiations. They are warning that the ISDS provisions, as the New York Times put it, “would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment ‘expectations’ and hurt their business, according to a classified document.”

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Obama To Visit Nike To Promote TPP. Wait, NIKE? Really?

President Obama is scheduled to visit Nike’s Oregon headquarters on Friday to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yes, Nike – a company that grew to billions by outsourcing jobs to overseas sweatshops, a company that sets up P.O.-box subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes, a company that uses threats to extort tax breaks from its “home” state.

Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America’s trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S. The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.

Meanwhile Massachusetts-based New Balance struggles to manufacture its athletic footwear in the U.S. TPP will remove tariffs on imported Vietnamese and Malaysian shoes, benefiting Nike and wiping out New Balance’s efforts to maintain its manufacturing here.

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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.

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.

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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.

Protests As Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks Resume In New York Today

Negotiators working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) convened today in New York City. Even the location was kept secret until the last possible minute, but hundreds of trade, labor, environmental, health, communities of color, anti-GMO and food justice, anti-fracking, animal and other activists still showed up in the big blizzard to protest the secret trade agreement and “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA).

TPP is a huge “trade” agreement, which will set the rules for 40 percent of the world’s economy. It is being negotiated in secret. Corporate representatives are part of the process, stakeholders like environmental, consumer, labor, democracy, health and other groups are excluded from the negotiations. Needless to say the agreement (some of it has leaked) reflects corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us and our governments. Meanwhile President Obama is asking Congress to pass fast-track TPA, which rigs the rules so that Congress essentially pre-approves TPP before Congress and the public even see what is in the agreement, never mind have the time to study it and rally opposition if opposition is warranted.

TPP Grants Monopolies

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) helped organize the protests because of their objection to extended monopolies being negotiated in TPP’s copyright rules. In their post, Secret TPP Negotiations—And Public Protests—To Be Held in New York City, they explained,

… The countries negotiating TPP with the US are willing to give in and agree to bad copyright rules as long as they get the other gains they were promised—things like market access and lowered tariffs so they can sell their products to US consumers. But those other countries will not budge without a guarantee that the overwhelming public opposition to the agreement won’t prevent its adoption in the United States. Fast Track offers that guarantee; that’s one reason the White House is now desperate to pass it.

Several public interest groups are organizing a protest outside the luxury Sheraton Hotel this Monday, January 26 at noon. Many of those demonstrating will be there to oppose other provisions in the TPP, but we encourage people to be there to represent all the users around the world who will be impacted by this massive agreement’s draconian policies.

A “Death Pact” Not A Trade Agreement

AIDS activists joined the various groups at the protests. They are objecting to the monopolies TPP would grant to certain large pharmaceutical corporations, which they fear would bring the price of AIDS drugs beyond the reach of many in need of them. Health Global Access Project (Health GAP) released a statement that included the following,

Previously leaked proposals revealed that the US seeks easier-to-get, stronger, and longer patent monopolies on medicines and new monopolies on drug regulatory data that would prevent marketing of more affordable generic equivalents. It also seeks restrictions on price control measures and enhanced investor rights that would allow drug companies to sue governments when their expectations of exorbitant profits are undermined by otherwise lawful government policies and decisions. These are among the most severe intellectual property rules ever demanded in international trade.

“The TPP would create a vicious cycle. The provisions currently proposed will allow for fracking and other practices that fuel environmental degradation and make people sick. Strengthened intellectual property rules will then prevent people from accessing life- saving medicines,”, said Michael Tikili of Health GAP, one of the endorsers of the demonstration. “Thirteen million people living with HIV depend on generic AIDS medicines and another 20-plus million are waiting line for treatment. By protecting Pharma’s bloated profits, the Obama administration is undermining its own global AIDS initiative – this isn’t a trade agreement—it’s a death pact.”

Other groups represented at the New York TPP protest included the Teamsters, Fight for the Future, Green party, Popular Resistance and others.

Pictures of cold-looking protesters here, here, here, here and here.

Please visit:

Expose the TPP

Stop Fast Track

No fast Track

Stop TPP

Flush the TPP

Communications Workers of America (CWA)

Global Trade Watch

Progressive Democrats of America TPP Page

People Demanding Action

Trade 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.

If They Take The Senate Republicans Will Pass Trade Deals That Clinch Plutocracy

Trade deals like NAFTA have helped create terrible inequality by outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries so “investors” can pocket the wage difference. These corporate trade deals also create “corporate courts” that bypass the borders of democracy and place billionaires and their corporations beyond the reach of governments when it comes to deciding on laws and regulations that protect citizens.

There are more of these “NAFTA-style” being negotiated right now. These are much bigger than the trade deals that have already created such inequality and corporate hegemony. If Republicans take the Senate and keep the House they will pass these new trade deals and clinch this deal worldwide – and President Obama has already indicated he will sign them. This is serious so try to talk a few non-voting friends into showing up this time.

Trade Deals Being Negotiated Now

The big corporations are pushing our government to finalize three very big trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). These are not really trade deals but cover all kinds of issues, including the ability to place corporate rights alongside or above the rights of countries to make their own laws.

These “trade” deals will, if passed by Congress and signed by the president, cement a corporate right to profits above the rights of citizens to pass laws to protect our health, environment, wages, working conditions and anything else we might decide to do to make our lives better. That’s right, these trade agreements place corporate rights above national sovereignty, and they do this behind a veil of secrecy.

These deals, like NAFTA and other “NAFTA-style” agreements, have “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions that let giant corporations sue governments for passing laws that might cause investors to make lower profits. For example, these (and current) agreements allow tobacco companies to stop governments from engaging in anti-smoking initiatives to protect the health of their citizens. These suits do not come up in front of government courts. These are adjudicated by corporate-controlled tribunals of private arbitrators — “corporate courts” set up by these trade agreements. The “judges” are often corporate lawyers who just happen to also represent global investors and whose livelihood depends on the very corporations they are judging.

These deals are being negotiated with only the interests of the giant corporations at the table. Citizens groups, labor groups, consumer groups, environmental groups, health groups and other representatives of stakeholders in the world’s economy are excluded from the process.

Why is our own government negotiating a deal that gives so much to the big corporations and the billionaires behind them, and takes so much away from regular people? Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) sums it up, saying there are three kinds of people negotiating these agreements on behalf of our government:

  • People who used to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements.
  • People who want to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements.
  • People who used to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements and want to work for the giant corporations that benefit from these agreements again.

Why would the giant corporations and the billionaires want these agreements? Because they clinch the deal and get them around the borders of democracy.

Wow, That Sounds Extreme

Trade deals are placing corporate rights above national sovereignty? They are intentionally undermining democracy? This sounds extreme. What kind of person would make such extreme accusations?

Yes, it sounds extreme. This is a dilemma progressives continually face when describing the agenda and actions of the corporate/conservative right. Because so much of what they are accomplishing is hidden behind a veil of secrecy, obfuscation and long-term step-by-step strategy (think frog in a pot with the water being heated slowly), and because people pay very little attention to the news and current events until something smacks them in the face (or wallet) you sound like a crazy extremist when you simply describe to people what is going on.

  • They’re trying to privatize Medicare? What an extreme accusation to make.
  • They are trying to make it hard for legitimate citizens to vote? Wow, what an extreme statement.
  • They’re trying to get rid of public schools? What an extreme thing to say.
  • They’re trying to engineer a cut in everyone’s pay and benefits? What an extreme … oh, wait, we all can see now that they did that.

The corporate right depends on this one-two punch of secrecy and a poorly informed public to get their way.

Tea-Party Republicans vs. Chamber Of Commerce Republicans

So far enough Democrats have opposed these trade deals to keep the Congress from passing the “fast-track” trade promotion authority that is used to push them through. Fast track requires Congress to rush to a vote immediately after the treaty is made public, prevents Congress from amending the agreements and prevents filibusters from blocking them in the Senate. But if Republicans take the Senate and keep the House, there may no longer be enough non-corporate-controlled members of Congress to keep this from happening.

However, there would still be one hope for blocking these trade deals, even if Republicans take the Senate, and that’s the party’s tea party wing.

These trade agreements undermine the sovereignty of our country. They allow others to override our own ability as a country to make our own laws. This is one place where the tea party gets it squarely right. And this is one place where the tea party wing of the Republican Party is at war with the Chamber of Commerce (corporate-controlled) wing of the Republicans. National sovereignty is important to tea party Republicans, so they oppose these agreements. Also they oppose them because they are favored by President Obama. “Don’t let Obama negotiate away our national sovereignty” is a tea party rallying cry.

If Republicans take the Senate, let’s hope this appreciation of national sovereignty overrides their appreciation of corporate cash.

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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.

Everybody Has an Opinion v 2.0

It seems like everybody has an opinion on world affairs and what this President should or should not do even today on the Sunday morning political shows . Arm chair diplomats seem to be everywhere. In fact, every Tom, Dick and Harry is now an expert on Syria, Iraq, Iran, or the terrorist group — ISIS aka ISIL. It’s truly an amazing phenomenon to witness so much commotion from our elected officials, media personalities or everyday citizens. Some want to declare war; others want to bomb, bomb, and bomb; yet while others don’t want any troops deployed, and scrutinize every plane and/or drone that is used.

California’s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein from San Francisco led the Democrats and took her best shot at the President for being too cautious on last week’s Sunday’s Meet the Press, but seems to be coming around to support the President after his statements today. But adding to the polemic is the ever growing pack of Democrats up for re-election, and the Republicans with their tom-tom drums stirring up fear and even more adversity. These GOP naysayers come in all shapes and sizes from the Boobsie Twins, aka Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are both continuously stirring the proverbial pot on the world stage and at home; to Governor Chris Christie who is pounding his chest this week about Russia’s Putin while judiciously checking his poll numbers. Really, really wish there was a way to simmer them all down because it is just not helping. Words do matter and this type of rabble rousing makes people even more uneasy during this time of great upheaval. Frankly, nothing good can come from Geraldo Rivera’s evocative words on social media, except more unrest:

“Morning, the president finally declared our strategic goal to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIS. We must hold him to it. Behead the ISIS butchers.” 5:35 AM — 3 Sep 2014 New York, NY, United States

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Three Charts to Email to Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law — Updated

Problem: Your right-wing brother-in-law is plugged into the FOX-Limbaugh lie machine, and keeps sending you emails about “Obama spending” and “Obama deficits” and how the “stimulus” just made things worse.

Solution: Here are three “reality-based” charts to send to him. These charts show what actually happened.

Spending

Bush_Obama_Spending_2014

Government spending increased dramatically under President Bush. It has not increased much under President Obama. This is just a fact.

Deficits

Bush_Obama_Deficit_2014

Note that this chart starts with Clinton’s last budget year for comparison.

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