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

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

The Dispute

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

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Senator Elizabeth Warren and others warn that TPP has Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that set up “corporate courts” in which corporations can sue governments, and that can overrule U.S. laws and regulations. More than 100 legal scholars recently wrote an open letter to Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) objecting to this and saying they need to “protect the rule of law and the nation’s sovereignty” in trade agreements like the TPP. The letter says, “ISDS threatens domestic sovereignty by empowering foreign corporations to bypass domestic court systems and privately enforce terms of a trade agreement. It weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the justice system and using an unaccountable, unreviewable system of adjudication.” (The scholars’ statement is available online at: http://bit.ly/1EA5zeO and the letter itself is available at http://bit.ly/1KX6WYB.)

President Obama has responded, saying,

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

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

Undermine Dodd-Frank Financial Reforms

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

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

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

Broken Promises On Enforcement

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

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

The Solution: Let The Pubic See The Agreement And Decide

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

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

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

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

Show Us the Current ISDS

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

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

Show Us Labor And Environmental Provisions

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

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

Public Only Now Hearing About TPP

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

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

Damage Done By Past Agreements

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

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

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

Our Nation’s Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Senate Democrats Broke The Blockade Of Fast Track

As promised, here is the list of Democratic senators who joined Republicans to break the filibuster of fast track trade promotion authority. Fast track essentially preapproves the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the pubic gets a chance to know what is in it. As I wrote Thursday, this is “for your phone calls and your ‘long memory’ list.”

Michael Bennet, Colorado – (202) 224-5852
Maria Cantwell, Washington – (202) 224-3441
Tom Carper, Deleware – (202) 224-2441
Chris Coons, Delaware – (202) 224-5042
Dianne Feinstein, California – (202) 224-3841
Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota – (202) 224-2043
Tim Kaine, Virginia – (202) 224-4024
Claire McCaskill, Missouri – (202) 224-6154
Patty Murray, Washington – (202) 224-2621
Bill Nelson, Florida – (202) 224-5274
Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire – (202) 224-2841
Mark Warner, Virginia – (202) 224-2023
Ron Wyden, Oregon – (202) 224-5244

“Extremely Lucrative Post-Political Opportunities For Members Of Congress And Staff”

On an obviously (to me) related note, on Thursday Salon published “‘Utter insanity and stupidity': Ex-Reagan adviser unloads on GOP, lobbyists and the myth of the ‘moderate Republican'” interviewing Bruce Bartlett. Bartlett said that he sees lobbying as “one of the most insidious threats to American government.” He sees this as more of a threat than the campaign finance system. One reason, he says, is that companies now see government as a profit center where they get a return on the amounts they spend to bribe lobby Congress. He goes on (emphasis added):

The second insidious element of this [lobbying] is that it has created extremely lucrative post-political opportunities for members of Congress and staff. It used to be that a member of Congress, once they were defeated or were retired, they’d go home or they would just simply literally retire and do nothing. But now, they have all these opportunities to make huge amounts of income as lobbyists. I think it’s changed the nature of being in Congress.

When I first started working on Capitol Hill, it was sort of generally understood that a member of Congress would stay pretty much forever … and it was very common for staff people to stay on Capitol Hill for their entire careers. I think that’s very rare these days. Now, they come, they get their ticket stamped, and then they move on and become lobbyists and make a lot more money — and do a lot less work. So, I can’t prove it, but I honestly think that there are people who run for Congress now not because they actually want to be in Congress, but because they actually want to be lobbyists, and so they want that credential that allows them to get the job that they want.

Do you think they see lobbying as basically a reward they’ve earned from working on Capitol Hill?

Well, yes, and not only that. I learned this from Jack Abramoff: he would go to … Congressional staffers and basically say, Look, if you do this favor for me, there’s a guaranteed job for you the day you decide to leave Capitol Hill. I don’t know if that’s literally bribery, but it certainly borders on it … This was a revelation to me, because that was never the case when I worked on Capitol Hill. But now, I think that people do understand that these options are there and it does encourage them to push the limits of what might be legally or ethically justifiable.

Let me add a footnote to this, one of the things about lobbying that I never see anybody report on, but it is extremely insidious.

Sure, go ahead. What is it?

The employment of spouses and children of members of Congress [in lobbying firms]. Now this information has to be disclosed on their financial disclosure forms, but I’m not aware of anybody who collects it and analyzes it systematically. It’s very common for the wife or husband of some member of Congress to get a job at some lobbying company or some government relations office — and, frankly, a lot of times these jobs are not real jobs. These people are not being hired for their expertise. They’re hired simply to ingratiate the business with the member of Congress and to create a very opportunities for de facto lobbying through the normal, social things that go on in any business. This is very very common, I’m afraid. For some reason it just seems to be off-limits for people to complain about it.

Well, I’m complaining about it right here.

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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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If I Was A Member Of Congress: Letter To President On Fast Track / TPP

What happened in the Senate Tuesday shows why the corporations are fighting so hard to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A legislative body jumped in and interfered with corporate plans. The nerve of those people!

Try to see it from the point of view of the giant, multinational corporations and billionaires. What do we need these “countries” and their governments for? The corporate world looks at Tuesday’s successful blockage of fast track authority and says, “See, this is exactly what we are trying to get away from with TPP. These democracies act on public whims, their politicians are always keeping their ear to the ground for whatever the public fancies, and at any time they are liable to turn against the best corporate plans… We have to put a stop to this meddling.”

If the Congress can just go ahead and thwart the corporate agenda, clearly something has to be done about it. And that something is TPP – and, of course, use fast track authority to preapprove it before people catch on.

If I Was In Congress

If I was in the Congress, this is what I would say:

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Obama’s Anti-Populist Attack On Warren On Trade

As the Senate begins consideration today of the “fast track” trade promotion authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama says that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is expressing concerns because she is “a politician.”

The president’s statement demeaning what Warren (D-Mass.) is saying as just what politicians say makes it seem that he thinks that listening to constituents and doing that they want (a.k.a. “representative democracy”) is a bad thing. But Warren and almost every other Democrat have come to understand that trade agreements that send American jobs out of the country – and the fast track process that is used to push them through – have become core issues that could trigger severe public reaction. This Fast Track vote is politically the third-rail equivalent of the 2002 vote to authorize Bush to invade Iraq.

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It’s Time To Close All The Military Bases In Texas

So Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz are trying to “calm” Texans who think the US government is planning a “military takeover” of the state. They say people’s fear is based on distrust of Obama.

Here is a way to help “calm” Texans. Lets close all of those US military bases in Texas. They cost a tremendous amount to keep open, and they cause Texans to worry that the United States is going to “take over” Texas.

Texas Governor Deploys State Guard To Stave Off Obama Takeover

Texans blame secret military takeover for Walmart closings

Senate Fast Track Vote Tuesday – Where Is Clinton?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled the voting process for trade promotion authority, commonly known as “fast track,” to begin as early as Tuesday. If passed, fast track prohibits the Congress from amending trade agreements no matter what problems might show up, requires these agreements to be voted on within 90 days, limits the debate Congress is allowed and prohibits filibusters.

Passing fast track will essentially pre-approve the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement before the public gets a chance to know what is in it, as well as future trade deals regardless of who is president or what the rigged, corporate-dominated negotiating process produces.

With a vote coming as soon as Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has not yet spoken out for or against fast track.

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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 March Trade Deficit Creating Jobs Elsewhere

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the March goods and services trade deficit was $51.4 billion. This was an increase of $15.5 billion, or 43.1 percent, from the revised figure of $35.9 billion in February.

March exports were $187.8 billion, up $1.6 billion from February. March imports were $239.2 billion, up $17.1 billion from February.

The monthly U.S. goods deficit with China increased in March to $37.8 billion, up from $27.3 billion in February. This is the highest monthly deficit with China on record.

The U.S. goods deficit with Japan increased in March to $6.3 billion, up from $4.3 billion in February.

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Trade Deficit = Slower Economy = Fewer Jobs = Baltimore

Free Trade at Last, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil BendibKhalil Bendib/OtherWords

If you make things and sell them, you do better over time than if you borrow to buy things. If you send jobs and factories out of the country, you end up with devastated cities like Baltimore.

Sure, a few people get rich from that, but 99 percent of us get poorer. How hard is it to see that?

You may have heard that gross domestic product growth was dismal in the last quarter. You may have heard that there were riots in Baltimore. You may not have heard that these are both at least partly caused by our enormous, humongous and continuing trade deficit.

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Columnist Who Said Invade Iraq Says TPP Critics Are Wrong

The great Thomas “Mustache” Friedman is perhaps best known for encouraging the invasion of Iraq (and subsequent resistance insurgency, civil war, thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, eventually leading to the formation of ISIS – plus the trillions in costs) by saying, “What they [Muslims] needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad and basically saying ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?’ … Well, Suck. On. This.” He is also known among the blogger set for what Duncan Black coined as the six-month “Friedman Unit,” because he claimed for years that the Iraq war would be “turning a corner” in another six months’ time.

Friedman on Wednesday explained in The New York Times that critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (and the “fast track” process in which Congress preapproves it before We the People get a chance to know what’s in it) can suck on this, too. He wrote in On Trade: Obama Right, Critics Wrong,

…there has never been a more important time for the coalition of free-market democracies and democratizing states that are the core of the World of Order to come together and establish the best rules for global integration for the 21st century, including appropriate trade, labor and environmental standards. These agreements would both strengthen and more closely integrate the market-based, rule-of-law-based democratic and democratizing nations that form the backbone of the World of Order.

A coalition of “free-market democracies” like Vietnam and Brunei? The rules for a new “World of Order” in the 21st century negotiated in secret? Negotiated with only corporate representatives at the table? The rules for “democracy” must be preapproved by Congress with fast track before the public is allowed to see the agreement?

Friedman also writes that, “These trade agreements can help build trust, coordination and growth that tilt the balance in all these countries more toward global cooperation than ‘hunkering down in protectionism or nationalism and letting others, or nobody, write the rules.'” Apparently to Friedman, trying to save American jobs, balance trade (the trade deficit was $505 billion last year) and stop the stagnation of wages and devastation of communities that has resulted from our corporate-dominated trade agreements is “hunkering down in protectionism or nationalism”?

Friedman writes that TPP is an “effort to expand trade on our terms.” Whose terms? TPP is secret, negotiated by corporate representatives for the corporations they represent. With the fast track process We the People of the United States of America don’t get to know what’s in TPP until some time after Congress preapproves it, and even our Congress won’t get to seriously debate or amend it after we do get to see it. So too bad if we don’t like it. Suck. On. That.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership – an agreement negotiated entirely of, by and for corporate representatives who represent giant, multinational corporations that don’t even pay us taxes anymore – is not an agreement on “our” terms. We the People will get nothing from a rigged process like that, no matter how much these so-called “American” corporate giants might profit from it. We won’t get better pay, we won’t get better schools or infrastructure, we will only get even more cutbacks in the things our government does to make our lives better. TPP with fast track is an agreement between the plutocrats of the various giant corporations involved, some perhaps calling themselves “American” and others not.

If Thomas Friedman of all people is claiming you are right and your critics are wrong you really, really, really, really, really, really, really ought to rethink your position.

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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.