Fast Track Hits House Next Week; Clinton Must Speak Up

The House is expected to vote on fast track trade promotion authority as soon as next week. If it passes, the corporate-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a done deal — even though it is still secret. Why is presidential candidate Hillary Clinton still silent on this?

The Money Wants TPP — The People Do Not

TPP is the most important economic issue facing the Congress between now and the election — because it could happen, and because if it does the results will be terrible for working people. The game will be further rigged in favor of the 1 percent and against the rest of us. It will increase corporate power over governments — and us.

The Money wants TPP, because it will be very, very good for them. The people do not want fast track/TPP because it means increased corporate power, fewer jobs, more pressure, and lower pay.

A corporate/plutocrat-bought Congress is being told by The Money — Wall Street, the giant corporations and the plutocrats — to pass it, and for some incomprehensible reason President Obama will sign it. Street-level activists are fighting tooth and nail to get the word out and rally opposition. This is now. This is urgent. This is the focus.

This is an either/or. There is one side, and there is the other side. This is us vs. them. This is The Money vs. We the People. There is no in-between on this one, no waiting it out, no holding back, and no fence-sitting. It is one or the other. Not choosing a side on this is really just choosing the wrong side.

Clinton Still Silent On Fast Track

Here’s the thing: Fast track essentially pre-approves TPP. Fast track comes up for a vote as soon as next week. If fast track passes, TPP is a done deal. Where is Clinton on this?

Hillary Clinton is the leading Democratic candidate for president. A lot of activists are looking for reasons to enthusiastically support Clinton’s candidacy. She has taken great, progressive positions on immigration and other issues. But it is still early; opinions are not yet hardened. Things can change.

So far Clinton is trying to stay on the fence about fast track and TPP:

“There are questions being raised by the current agreement. I don’t know what the final provisions are yet,” she said. “I want to judge the final agreement. I have been for trade agreements, I have been against trade agreements.”

But fast track preapproves that “final agreement.” The vote on fast track in the House could be as soon as next week. After next week, TPP could be a done deal. Clinton owes it to the public to show up and lead on this. She especially owes it to the activists. They are fighting in the streets over this. They would appreciate some help. They will remember who was there with them — and who wasn’t.

Political Calculation vs. The Right Thing

Clinton’s advisors are calculating that this whole controversy will fade away after fast track’s passage makes TPP a done deal. They are trying to get her past this without taking a stand that risks putting off either side. They are betting that with time people will forget and get over it.

But to the activists on the street, this is the big one — just like the Iraq War vote was. People will remember, because people who know about it are fighting in the streets today, doing everything they can to stop this. And those people will say that taking no position is the same as being for it, because it is allowing it to happen, without laying down in front of the moving fast-track train.

Some people care about the issues, not the horse race. They care about substance, not image. Not everyone cares, to be sure, or is even paying attention yet. But in the long run the positions are what will matter, not the day’s calculated image. This is because the results of this will not fade away; they will matter to people’s lives.

For example, Nike wants TPP because it lowers the tariff on shoes imported from Vietnam and Malaysia. But when this forces New Balance to shut down their U.S. manufacturing, that will be in the news, people will feel it, and they will look back and say “Where was Clinton?”

The Iraq War vote looked like the pragmatic political position to take, but that political calculation came with a cost in the long run because the consequences of that vote mattered to people’s lives. Doing the right thing comes with a reward in the end.

Sitting back and hoping important issues just go away won’t cut it this time. You can’t make it just go away. Better yet, the way to make it just go away is to grab it by the horns and move it in the right direction.

Looking For A Champion Who Pushes For Transformative Change

People are impatient for a real champion. This is not a time to be safe, sit back, read polls, and wait out controversy. The economy simply is not working for most of us, and people know it. People see that the game is rigged and want proposals for transformative change.

There is no question that TPP is on the wrong side of this, and will result in even more hardship for the very people Clinton says she is campaigning to help. Fast Track preapproves TPP and the vote is coming up very, very soon.

Staying on the fence on this one is a mistake. By staying on the fence she risks being remembered as “No-Position Clinton” on the issue that matters most.

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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.

Stop Calling TPP A Trade Agreement – It Isn’t

This is a message to activists trying to fight the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Stop calling the TPP a “trade” agreement. TPP is a corporate/investor rights agreement, not a “trade” agreement. “Trade” is a good thing; TPP is not. Every time you use the word “trade” in association with the TPP, you are helping the other side.

“Trade” is a propaganda word. It short-circuits thinking. People hear “trade” and the brain stops working. People think, “Of course, trade is good.” And that ends the discussion.

Calling TPP a “trade” agreement lets the pro-TPP people argue that TPP is about trade instead of what it is really about. It diverts attention from the real problem. It enables advocates to say things like, “95 percent of the world lives outside the U.S.” as if that has anything to do with TPP. It lets them say, “We know that exports support American jobs” to sell a corporate rights agreement. It enables them to say nonsense like this about a corporate rights agreement designed to send American jobs to Vietnam so a few “investors” can pocket the wage difference: “Exports of U.S. goods and services supported an estimated 9.8 million American jobs, including 25 percent of all manufacturing jobs … and those export-supported jobs pay 13 to 18 percent higher than the national average wage.”

Trade is good. Opening up the border so you can get bananas and they can get fertilizer is trade because they have a climate that lets them grow bananas and you already have a fertilizer plant. Enabling companies to move $30/hour jobs to countries with $.60/hour wages so a few billionaires can pocket the difference is not trade.

Calling TPP a “trade” agreement lets TPP supporters say people opposed to TPP are “anti-trade.”

TPP Is A Corporate/Investor Rights Agreement

TPP is a corporate/investor rights agreement, and that is the problem.

TPP extends patents, copyrights and other monopolies so investors can collect “rents.”

TPP elevates corporations and corporate profits to and above the level of governments. TPP lets corporations sue governments for laws and regulations that cause them to be less profitable. Enabling tobacco companies to sue governments because anti-smoking campaigns limit profits has nothing to do with trade. Enabling corporations to sue states that try to regulate fracking has nothing to do with trade.

While giving corporations a special channel to sue governments, labor, environmental, consumer and other “stakeholder” organizations do not get a channel for enforcement. This helps enable corporations to break unions, force wages down and pollute without cost. This increases the power of corporations over governments – and us.

Who Says?

Paul Krugman, “This Is Not A Trade Agreement“:

One thing that should be totally obvious, however, is that it’s off-point and insulting to offer an off-the-shelf lecture on how trade is good because of comparative advantage, and protectionists are dumb. For this is not a trade agreement. It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharmaceutical companies and firms that want to sue governments.

Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in “No, the TPP Won’t Be Good for the Middle Class“:

…TPP (like nearly all trade agreements the U.S. signs) is not a “free trade agreement”—instead it’s a treaty that will specify just who will be protected from international competition and who will not. And the strongest and most comprehensive protections offered are by far those for U.S. corporate interests. Finally, there are international economic agreements that the United States could be negotiating to help the American middle class. They would look nothing like the TPP.

Jim Hightower, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It’s a corporate coup d’etat–against us!“:

TPP is a “trade deal” that mostly does not deal with trade. In fact, of the 29 chapters in this document, only five cover traditional trade matters!

The other two dozen chapters amount to a devilish “partnership” for corporate protectionism. They create sweeping new “rights” and escape hatches to protect multinational corporations from accountability to our governments… and to us.

On OurFuture.org,” Economist Jeffrey Sachs Says NO to the TPP and the TAFTA Trade Treaties“:

Without touching on the unpopular Fast-Track mechanism necessary to pass these two treaties, Sachs laid out five reasons why, on the substance, they should not be passed or ratified:

1. They are not trade treaties, but agreements aimed at protecting investors.

Josh Barro, “But What Does the Trade Deal Mean if You’re Not a Cheesemaker?

Much of the controversy is because the T.P.P. isn’t really (just) a trade agreement. (There’s a reason I called it an “economic agreement” at the top.) A lot of it is about labor, environmental standards, intellectual property and access to markets for services like banking and accounting. And in contrast with the tariff cuts, there’s a lot more reason to worry that some of the agreement’s non-trade provisions would hurt the world economy even as they benefited specific industries.

Techdirt, “If You Really Think TPP Is About ‘Trade’ Then Your Analysis Is Already Wrong“:

Instead, trade agreements have become a sort of secret playground for big corporations to abuse the process and force favorable regulations to be put in place around the globe.

… If you make the facile assumption that the TPP is actually about free trade, then you might be confused about all the hubbub about it. If you actually take the time to understand that much of what’s in there has nothing to do with free trade and, in fact, may be the opposite of free trade, you realize why there’s so much concern.

Timothy B. Lee at VOX, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is great for elites. Is it good for anyone else?“:

In the past, debates about trade deals have mostly been about trade. … In contrast, debates over the TPP mostly haven’t focused on its trade provisions.

[. . .] As the opportunities for trade liberalization have dwindled, the nature of trade agreements has shifted. They’re no longer just about removing barriers to trade. They’ve become a mechanism for setting global economic rules more generally.

… We expect the laws that govern our economic lives will be made in a transparent, representative, and accountable fashion. The TPP negotiation process is none of these — it’s secretive, it’s dominated by powerful insiders, and it provides little opportunity for public input.

Former IMF chief economist [Simon Johnson] on the problems with TPP:

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a notorious, secretly negotiated trade deal; from leaks we know that it continues “Investor State Resolution” clauses that allow foreign companies to sue to overturn national labor and environmental laws. Johnson’s analysis stresses that trade agreements can be good for countries, but they aren’t necessarily good — and when they’re negotiated in secret, they rarely go well.

Stop calling TPP a trade agreement. It is a corporate/investor rights agreement.

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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.

Make One More Call To Senators To Stop Fast Track

The fast track trade promotion authority vote in the Senate is itself being fast tracked. The last time fast track was in front of the Senate, members spent three weeks discussing it. This time the Senate gets just a few days.

The final Senate vote is coming up. Make a few calls and see if we can head this off.

The Senate is considering the rigged fast track trade promotion authority process that, if passed, will be used to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and future trade bills under future presidents.

Please make one more call to your senators and let them know you do not want them to vote for the Fast Track bill. If it passes the Senate it will then move to the House soon after the Memorial Day break. The House is where the real fight will take place; it is important that you start contacting your representative in Congress about this.

Big Rush

Fast track is being rushed through the Senate at an unusual pace, and senators are largely being denied the chance to offer amendments. Thursday the Senate voted 62-38 to halt debate soon after it began, with 13 “Democrats” joining Republicans to rush the process of pushing fast track through before the public can catch on that the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is being “greased.” Fast Track essentially preapproves TPP before the public can even see what is in the agreement.

Michael McAuliff, in Senate Advances Fast-Track For Obama Trade Deals at HuffPo, writes that even Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions wants to know what the rush is:

“We’re moving to this massive bill with very little debate even on the fast-track policy. And if that’s adopted and the bill — TPP — appears, there will be no amendments on it,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), referring to the fast-track rules that don’t allow Congress to alter trade agreements.

“I see no reason that we have to rush this,” Sessions said, adding that he has not received enough assurance from the administration that the trade deals will be good for workers.

“I sent a letter to the president of the United States asking how fast-track and the vast Trans-Pacific Partnership would impact the jobs and wages of American workers. A simple question. Would it increase or reduce manufacturing jobs and wages in the United States?” Sessions said before the vote. “Shouldn’t we know that? Is that a question improper to be asked? He’s refused to answer. I think the reason he’s refused to answer is because the answer is not good.”

Currency Amendment

One amendment that actually will get a vote is a currency amendment by Sens. Rob Portman (D-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Passing the currency amendment requires 51 votes. This amendment would add a requirement to the fast track legislation telling trade negotiators to include provisions to hold countries accountable to International Monetary Fund standards. It would add enforceable currency language necessary to ensure that foreign competitors don’t use their exchange rates to subsidize their exports at the expense of products made by American workers.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she wants to see currency rules like this in TPP and this amendment will help make that happen. CNN has the story in “Clinton finds problems with Obama TPP trade proposal“: “The Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential race said she wants to see rules included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would penalize countries for driving down the value of their currencies in order to give their exports a price advantage in the U.S. market.”

Business groups affected by unfair competition from countries that manipulate currency also want this to pass. For example, the American Automotive Policy Council, which represents Ford and GM, wants the Portman-Stabenow amendment to pass. The U.S. Business and Industry Council also issued a statement that begins:

Kevin L. Kearns, USBIC president, issued the following statement: “For far too long, our domestic manufacturers have been subject to attacks by foreign competitors using artificially low prices courtesy of undervalued currencies. As a result, the United States has seen its domestic manufacturing base hollowed out and former manufacturing centers turned into blighted cities. It is time this predatory practice, which violates IMF requirements, is eradicated. To do so, there needs to be a defined process and specific penalties in trade agreements. Portman-Stabenow is an important first step in seeing that modern trade agreements put a halt to currency manipulation.”

Make A Call, Then On To The House

Michael Stumo of the Coalition for a Prosperous America writes at Economy in Crisis, in “What to expect re: upcoming trade votes“:

We do expect the Senate to approve Fast Track this week. Do not be disappointed or discouraged if and when you hear that news.

Indeed we have always expected the Senate to approve it. While we had a brief surprise last week when the Senate defeated a cloture vote, that lasted two days and was for procedural maneuvering reasons rather than a fundamental shift. … After likely Senate approval, the House is expected to take up Fast Track in early June.

… This is a big battle. The pro-trade deficit advocates are well funded. The battle, in many ways, will continue for some time.

The point of this message is: The Senate will likely vote for Fast Track, this is expected, it should not discourage you from future advocacy, and the big battle is in the House.

It is very important to call your state’s two senators TODAY and let them know your feelings about rushing fast track through with little debate and almost no consideration of amendments.

Call the Capitol Hill operator at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your senators. Or, find the direct number here.

The 13 Democrats who broke ranks and voted with Republicans should get particular attention, if you are in one of their states. These are Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

After fast track is rushed through the Senate, it will be brought up for a vote in the House soon after it returns from Memorial Day recess June 1. If you are able to attend an event with your member of Congress in person over this break please do so; please let them know you are paying attention and do not want them to preapprove TPP by voting for fast track. Otherwise give your representative’s office a call, write a letter and let everyone you can talk to know that this is coming up and is very important for the future of working people.
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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 13 Democrats Are Helping Rush Fast Track Through The Senate

Democratic Senators voted to limit trade debate

Fast track is being super-fast tracked in the Senate. Wall Street and the big corporations really, really want this one and the Senate is responding, including 13 “Democrats.” When the fix is in and you are rigging the game anyway, why bother with the pretense of meaningful and open public debate?

Sometimes a vote is a clear either/or, where you are either voting with Wall Street and the giant, multinational corporations or you are voting with 99 percent of Americans who actually (try to) work for a living. These trade votes are one of those clear choices. Thirteen Democrats joined today with Republicans, Wall Street and the giant, multinational corporations to rush fast track through the Senate with little public debate and few votes on amendments.

These are the 13 “Democratic” Senators who voted to rush the TPA bill: Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

Continue reading

URGENT – Senate Debating Fast Track Now: Call Your Senators

On a Wednesday press call Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown complained that the Senate leadership is “rushing” through a vote on “fast track” trade promotion authority – a procedure that in essence preapproves trade deals before the public can know what is in them. He said they are limiting the time for discussion and debate of the bill, limiting the number of amendments that can be offered and engaging in the kind of secrecy similar to what the Obama administration is imposing.

If you are following the trade debate over fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), then you know that the votes are being rushed through the Senate with very little debate. Call your senators today and tell them to support critical amendments and to vote against fast track. There is no reason that our Congress should preapprove a massive trade agreement that the public is not allowed to see.

If senators know people are paying attention it makes a difference. The game now is all about pushing fast track through before the public can rally to stop it. That’s why the Senate Republican leadership is trying to get the vote done before the Memorial Day recess.

Press Call With Sen. Sherrod Brown

Brown said that the fast track bill is being rushed through in spite of millions of jobs being at stake. According to Brown, the last time fast track authority was voted on, debate was allowed to continue for three weeks, with more than 50 amendments voted on. Everyone got to explore the ramifications in depth, and this process allowed the public to become informed and weigh in.

This time the debate in the Senate is taking place for less than a week with very few amendments allowed. Brown said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “shutting down amendments” and is rushing this through.

Brown complained about “not following Senate tradition when we used to debate two or three weeks.” He speculated that the reason is that senators do not want to hear the opposition when they go home over the Memorial Day weekend. He said that it is not right that Congress should engage in secrecy, like the way the administration is engaging in secrecy over the TPP agreement itself.

“We can’t have trade promotion without trade enforcement,” Brown said. “That’s why we cannot rush through the biggest trade deal in our history by passing fast track authority this week. While I’ll continue fighting to protect American workers and businesses, I’m urging the administration to make the TPP text public. With millions of jobs on the line, members of Congress, the free press and the American people have a right to an open and informed debate.”

This is a rigged process designed to keep the public from learning what is going on and doing anything about it.

It is not yet clear if the Senate will be allowed to vote on these amendments.

Brown’s “Critical” Amendments

On the call Brown outlined some of the amendments he has offered, to try to “level the playing field” for American workers. These amendments would:

Prevent China from joining TPP without congressional approval: China has expressed an interest in joining TPP. Brown’s amendment would spell out the process for future TPP partners to join the agreement. It would require the administration to notify Congress of its intent to enter into negotiations with another country seeking to join the TPP and the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee would have to certify that the country can meet the standards of the agreement. Then the full House and Senate would vote on a resolution giving approval for the country to join. The country’s entry could be considered under fast track only if congressional approval and negotiations are completed within fast track’s authorization period.

Level the playing field for American workers and industries: This amendment would strengthen trade rules enforcement. It would level the playing field for U.S. industries – like the steel industry – by increasing their ability to fight back against unfair foreign trade practices. It would restore strength to antidumping and countervailing duty statutes that allow businesses and workers in the United States to petition the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission when foreign producers sell goods in the U.S. below market price or receive illegal subsidies.

Crack down on currency manipulation: This amendment would hold countries accountable to International Monetary Fund standards. It would add explicit and enforceable currency language necessary to ensure that foreign competitors don’t use their exchange rates to subsidize their exports at the expense of American-made products.

Secrecy To Keep The Public From Learning What Is Going On

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated under extreme secrecy. Even members of Congress have a very hard time finding out what is in it. It is not just members of Congress who are having trouble learning details; the “cleared advisors” who are required by law to give their advice to negotiators are being shut out of the process as well. Michael Wessel is a cleared advisor who is supposed to be able to access the agreement, and even he can’t. In “I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned,” he writes,

Only portions of the text have been provided, to be read under the watchful eye of a USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] official. Access, up until recently, was provided on secure web sites. But the government-run website does not contain the most-up-to-date information for cleared advisors. To get that information, we have to travel to certain government facilities and sign in to read the materials. Even then, the administration determines what we can and cannot review and, often, they provide carefully edited summaries rather than the actual underlying text, which is critical to really understanding the consequences of the agreement.

The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy, by negotiators who by and large come from and/or will go to lucrative corporate positions. Congress and even cleared advisors are having trouble learning what will be in the agreement, but Congress is being pushed to preapprove it with the fast track procedure. Apparently even the fast track procedure is being rushed and rigged.

Call your senators (you can use this OpenCongress tool to get the number) and ask them not to vote to pre-approve the TPP by voting for fast track until We the People know what is in the agreement. Or at least until we know what is in the completed parts of the agreement. Or at the very least not until they have read the agreement themselves with a trade expert at their side explaining what the impact will be on American companies, workers and our economy.
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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 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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