fresh voices from the front lines of change







Democrats failed to provide relief or even offer hope to people who haven’t seen their pay go up for years – and Democrats paid for it in last week’s elections. This week, President Obama is in Asia pushing yet another job-killing, “NAFTA-style” trade agreement.

Is that supposed to offer hope to working people? Is that any way to restore people’s faith in government’s ability to make their lives better or “reboot” the image of Democrats?

The president and giant corporations are pushing to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, often referred to as “NAFTA on steroids.” This is a major agreement that rewrites the rules for the economies of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

TPP is being negotiated in secret. Our own government negotiators are, as Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) put it,

  • 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.

(See also: Lee Fang’s “Obama Admin’s Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks,” Richard Eskow,” For Services Rendered? Wall Street’s Big Paydays For Trade Negotiators” and Timothy B. Lee at The Washington Post, “Here’s why Obama trade negotiators push the interests of Hollywood and drug companies.”)

Meanwhile, representatives of labor, environmental, consumer, health, human rights and other stakeholder groups are kept away from the negotiating table. The result of this rigged negotiating process is an agreement that carves up the economic pie for the giant corporations while limiting competition, innovation and governmental efforts to rein in the plutocrats and oligarchs behind these giant corporations.

Currently TPP is secret from the public, but parts of it have leaked. Some members of Congress have been allowed to see parts of the agreement in their current form, and some of those have reported to the public that what they have seen is worse than our fears.

Every “free trade” agreement so far has hurt our country, while enriching the few. They are sold with a promise of more jobs, but they have cost jobs and increased the trade deficit. (See “U.S.-Korea Trade Deal Resulted in Growing Trade Deficits and Nearly 60,000 Lost Jobs” and “Job-Killing Trade Deficits Soar under FTAs: U.S. Trade Deficits Grow More Than 440% with FTA Countries, but Decline 16% with Non-FTA Countries.” )

By allowing corporations to move jobs and factories across the borders of our democracy while bringing the same goods back to sell in the same stores, they have undermined wages and environmental standards. They allow companies to threaten to move even more if governments ask them to follow reasonable rules. They allow managers to threaten employees with moving their jobs across a border if they speak out. The few at the top of these corporations pocket these wage and environmental-protection costs for themselves – causing massive inequality worldwide.

Harold Meyerson writes in “Free trade and the loss of U.S. jobs“: “By now, even the most ossified right-wing economists concede that globalization has played a major role in the loss of American manufacturing jobs and, more broadly, the stagnation of U.S. wages and incomes.”

The President wants TPP completed and signed so he can tout an “accomplishment” on an international “agreement” before he leaves office. Republicans want it because it pushes the interests of the giant corporations and billionaires who fund their party.

The public is well aware of the damage these “NAFTA-style” trade agreements have done to our economy and their wages. Look at the poll-reporting site

  • 62 percent oppose the passage of fast-track negotiating authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.
  • 56 percent believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership will make things worse for American salaries and wages.
  • 72 percent believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership will help large corporations, while 64 percent think it will hurt America’s small businesses.
  • 56 percent believe trade agreements that allow corporations to sue governments, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should be rejected.
  • 62 percent oppose trade agreements that contain proposals to limit access to generic medicines, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in favor of branded medicines, which are usually more expensive.
  • 61 percent say it is unacceptable that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not made available to the public until negotiations are finished.

Also 53 percent of Americans believe the United States should “do whatever is necessary” to “renegotiate” or “leave” NAFTA, while only 15 percent believe the United States should “continue to be a member of NAFTA.”

How do you get a rigged agreement resulting from a rigged process like this past Congress? By rigging the approval process with something called “fast track.”

Fast Track: Congress Abrogates Constitutional Powers Before Reading Treaty

How do you get Congress to pass a “trade” agreement that lets tobacco companies sue governments (in “corporate courts“!) to block anti-smoking efforts because they hurt tobacco profits? Answer: by getting them to give up their power to fix the agreement – before they can even read it.

In the next few months Congress will be asked to pass “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). If they don’t pass it in the coming “lame duck” session there will be a big push to pass it next year after Republicans take over the Senate.

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress, not the president, exclusive authority over trade:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, DutiesTo regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes …

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur…

But in the fast-track process Congress votes to set these constitutional duties aside and give them to the administration. This is not done for any other kind of treaty, just trade treaties. Then, when the treaty is completed, they agree they must vote within 90 days – preventing the public from having time to rally opposition to the treaty. They agree they won’t amend the treaty – even before knowing what is in it. They agree it will get an “up or down” vote – even though there have been 458 filibusters since President Obama took office.

With fast track, Congress agrees to this rigged process before they even know what is in the treaties. But because corporate representatives negotiated the treaty and corporate “advisors” have access to the treaty, the corporations have time to set up a massive and well-funded OR campaign to apply significant pressure, beginning on day 1 of those 90 days.

E$$entially “fa$t track” mean$ Congre$$ agree$ to rig the rule$ to grea$e the $kids to pu$h a trade agreement through – before they or the public even know$ what i$ in the trade agreement! Why would member$ of Congre$$ do thi$? $uffering $uccota$h! Why do you think? (Hint: money has $omething to do with it.)

Click here to tell Congress to vote no on “fast-track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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