Nel's New Day

June 11, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership, A Deal with the Devil

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is nearing fruition tomorrow as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has worked hard to make a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by dumping the proposed Medicare cuts to pay for workers displaced by the agreement. Boehner’s word on this is worthless because he plans to attach the Medicare cuts to a separate trade “preferences” bill with African countries that is not considered must-pass legislation. Fast-track authority gives the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements and limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on them, with no amendments or filibusters permitted, that requires only fifty-one votes, not sixty, to pass.

Despite President Obama’s furious push to “fast track” the TPP and Pelosi’s caving in on a worthless agreement, a large number of Democrat House members plan to vote against the fast tracking. Even so, the White House thinks is has 19 Democratic votes with others still in play. Thirty GOP House members are “no” or “leaning no” on the vote, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

 

As the vote grows closer, more has been disclosed about the secretive agreement, and none of it is good. While skipping over the details about how the TPP was negotiated by corporations for the benefit of corporations around the world to lower wages and benefits while erasing regulations through blackmailing countries, the following is more information about the TPP—all of it bad.

The House has made the TPP worse than the Senate version after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) successfully attached a new negotiating objective late Tuesday night: it specifically instructs the U.S. trade representative to ignore action on climate change while negotiating future trade deals. Specifically, it “ensure[s] that trade agreements do not require changes to US law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

The TPP may force privatization of so-called “public” institutions such as the post office, public schools, public roads, public libraries, public parks, public pensions, etc. so that corporations can replace these with profit-making enterprises that send the profits to the wealthy few. The U.S. Trade Representative website says TPP will have “groundbreaking new rules designed to ensure fair competition between state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private companies.” Also:

“We are also pursuing pioneering rules to ensure that private sector businesses and workers are able to compete on fair terms with SOEs, especially when such SOEs receive significant government backing to engage in commercial activity.

“… Commitments ensuring SOEs act in accordance with commercial considerations and compete fairly, without undue advantages from the governments that own them, while allowing governments to provide support to SOEs that provide public services domestically; and Rules that will provide transparency with respect to the nature of government control over and support for SOEs.”

Corporations are also battling to privatize highways and make public schools into corporate profit centers. Private companies have largely taken over the U.S. prisons to the detriment of everyone. Private prisons contain 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Corporations are trying to take over water delivery from publicly-owned municipal systems.

A majority of people in the United States seem to understand the danger of the TPP. According to an International Business Times poll, 62 percent oppose the TPP, and 85 percent of moderate and conservative Republicans oppose it. A top concern is that U.S. workers shouldn’t have to compete with imports made under conditions less costly to employers. Those benefiting from TPP are Philip Morris, fossil fuel companies such as Exxon, financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, military profiteers such as Halliburton, pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer—the list of corporations goes on and on.

The legislators who have voted for TPP or plan to vote for the TPP tell naysayers that this trade agreement is different, that it won’t be like all the others—although they most likely have not read the agreement and have no idea what they’re talking about. With past trade agreements almost identical to the proposed TPP, U.S. workers compete with children coerced to work in foreign factories, trafficked and forced labor, and foreign workers so mistreated that they jump to their deaths from factory buildings. U.S. consumers buy products made in collapsing and/or burning buildings that kill thousands of foreign workers. Labor provisions of trade agreements aren’t enforced, and union activists are murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and threatened. The 14 free trade agreements that the United States signed with 20 countries allow filling of complaints for labor violations, but almost no one has done this filing because no one is told about the provisions. Even for the few complains, serious allegations, such as human trafficking and child labor, remain unsettled for years.

The newest leak of the TPP draft reveals that it would block Congressional reforms for lower drug costs and extend the life of patents through “Evergreening,” slight modification of products for new patents. A comparison of drug costs between Canada and the United States shows the exorbitant prices that people on this side of the border pay. Doctors without Borders declared that the TPP could become “the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines” in developing countries.

Even if the TPP fails, the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating for two other, more dangerous deals. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would bind the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and the European Union, and the largest agreement, the 51-nation Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), combines the U.S. and the European Union with 22 other countries scattered throughout the world. TiSA, negotiated for the past two years, would liberalize global trade covering almost 80 percent of the U.S. economy. (TPP will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity.) Like the TPP, it would restrict how governments manage public laws through a regulatory cap and dismantle state-owned enterprises, turning these services over to the private sector. TiSA measures:

  • Limit regulation on service sectors at all levels with “standstill” clauses to freeze regulations in place and prevent future rulemaking for professional licensing and qualifications or technical standards such as staff to patient ratios in hospitals or safety controls on airlines.
  • Make any broken trade barrier irreversible through a “ratchet” clause.
  • Disallow regulations that are “more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service.”
  • Eliminate restrictions on foreign investments with corporate control.
  • Permit corporations a dispute mechanism giving them money equal to “expected future profits” lost through violations of the regulatory cap.
  • Allow financial services suppliers’ transfer of individual client data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws.

To satisfy the trade agreement supporters who want to open up trade in services among the 51 TiSA nations, an international deal, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), governs these sectors through the World Trade Organization (WTO). TiSA’s goal is to deregulate and privatize services worldwide, even among emerging nations with no input into the agreement. Social, cultural, and even public health goals would be sidelined in favor of a regime that puts corporate profits first. It effectively nullifies the role of democratic governments to operate in the best interest of their constituents.

The love that the GOP, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, K Street lobbyists, and giant multinational companies have for the TPP should be a red flag for the dangers of the TPP. Bill Moyers wrote:

“[The TPP] favors CEOs over workers, profits over the environment and corporate power over the rule of law. Small wonder that it was drafted in secret or that Obama, McConnell and Boehner are determined there will be no amendments permitted once it is made public.”

Congressional supporters of the TPP are selling the soul of the United States to the devil.

May 1, 2013

ALEC, GOP Want Bangladeshi Model

It’s International Workers’ Day, the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago when people protested for the eight-hour workday. When someone threw a bomb at the police trying to disperse the assembly, they fired into the crowd and killed four of the demonstrators.

Also this week, ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is having its “Spring Task Force Summit” to organize legislatures against not only workers but everyone else except the wealthy. Corporations give so-called lawmakers already-prepared legislation to take back to their states with the purpose of eliminating workers’ rights, public education, and environmental and consumer protections. Other ALEC laws suppress voter rights, lower corporate tax rates, and undermine food safety through “ag gag” laws. Of course, the elected officials present this legislation as their own, hiding the fact that corporations drafted the bills.

Sitting on all nine ALEC task forces, corporations such as Koch industries fund ALEC and are equal members to the legislators who take away 1,000 bills each year. Twenty percent of these make it into law for unsuspecting state residents. Spinning itself as “transparent,” ALEC keeps its organization invisible, refusing to release its agendas.

Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir, an ALEC Board Member, is on the ALEC National Board of Directors, until recently chaired the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force, and was the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin. Last October she wrote an op-ed, “In Defense of ALEC,” that was published in Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel.

In response to an open records request for all ALEC-related records relating to the Oklahoma meeting, however, Vukmir’s office replied that they do “not have any documents that are responsive to your request.” Yet a Texas legislator released an ALEC email with a link to its Health and Human Services Task Force agenda that Vukmir had led in the past.

ALEC avoids direct email in communicating model bills and meeting agendas. Instead, it provides a link to an Internet drop box for access to documents. The link expires in 72 hours. Thus the Texas legislator provided the email but not the contents of the ALEC’s folder, despite the fact that the request for information specifically asked for that information.

Last year, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit against five Wisconsin legislators for hiding from the open records law by using a personal email account, such as gmail or yahoo, for ALEC correspondence. As part of the settlement, legislators, who agreed that they had failed to release ALEC-related emails, promised that they would in the future.

Missouri is another state sympathetic to ALEC and its corporations. At least 60 legislators belong to ALEC, and over 40 bills have come from ALEC model bills. These include so-called right to work laws which remove union rights, support for the Keystone XL pipeline, acceleration for the privatization of public schools, and others that create legal and financial shields for corporations whose products injure or kill people.

Legislators financially benefit from ALEC “scholarships:” corporate-funded gifts of flights, meals, and hotel rooms for those who attend ALEC meetings.  ALEC provided South Dakota legislators over $4 million in scholarships, while state taxpayers were charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for legislators’ ALEC memberships and trips to ALEC meetings. In turn, ALEC gave state residents the “Stand Your Ground” law that increased homicides in states by 8 percent and climate change denier education in the schools.

ALEC benefits in North Carolina from millionaire Art Pope, the state’s budget director, who also funds state campaigns for legislators who will provide giveaways to corporations. His latest project is “tax reform” giving cuts to the wealthiest 20 percent and increasing taxes for the bottom 60 percent. Thus a person making $24,000 would pay an additional $500 whereas a $1-million earner could get a $41,000 decrease.

By supporting what they call “free enterprise” or the “free market,” ALEC supports what I could call the “Bangladesh model.” Hundreds of Banglideshi workers die because of burning or falling to their death in substandard buildings. Through the destruction of regulations, worker safety, living wages, and human rights, ALEC will bring these same disasters to the United States.

GOP lawmakers want “labor reforms” to support “free trade,” increasing exports. Nations can use one of two ways to be competitive in exporting: either develop a more skilled workforce or slash working class wages. In their anti-education approach, the GOP has decided that the latter is far more effective. The result is worsening recessions, which makes the GOP try to further slash wages in a frantic “race to the bottom.” Out of this race, the laws create crime as corporations refuse to pay not only overtime but also the wages that they have already promised.

ALEC claims to “foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way” and boasts of being an “open exchange of ideas.” Both the press and average citizens, however, are barred from ALEC meetings. A petition is circulating to disseminate information about ALEC.

While ALEC provides regressive bills to GOP legislators, conservatives in  South Carolina are having trouble replacing former Republican Tim Scott with another conservative. Mark Sanford, infamous for exposed trip to Argentina to visit his mistress and the ensuing divorce mess, continues to look like a fool.

AshleyMadison.com, a website that connects users looking to have casual affairs, spent only $6,000 for this billboard featuring Sanford’s photograph on I-26 that gets almost 60,000 cars daily.

sanford_billboard_ashleymadisoncom_605

The major GOP organizations may have abandoned Sanford, but Freedomworks, the conservative PAC that its founder Dick Armey left in disgust, gave $7,000 for yard signs and door hangers. The anti-abortion group National Right to Life added a bit more money for mailers and fundraising calls. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is having a fundraiser tonight. And both Pauls, Sen. Rand (R-KY) and former Rep. Ron (R-TX) have endorsed Sanford.

The elder Paul also endorsed Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) for senate. Last year Broun declared that “evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory” are all “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Broun is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. He has compared President Obama to Hitler and said that the president was interested only in upholding the “Soviet constitution.”

My favorite endorsement of Sanford, however, comes from Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who praised him as “the sex pioneer of our time.”

Flynt added:

“Sanford’s open embrace of his mistress in the name of love, breaking his sacred marriage vows, was an act of bravery that has drawn my support. His attack on sexual hypocrisy is the only issue in this campaign. It is what defines Mark Sanford. Placing sex at the top of the agenda, he continues his courageous fight, demanding forgiveness while brazenly hugging his mistress at campaign parties.”

Of Sanford’s supporters, Flynt said,

“They have the courage to toss aside lifelong convictions to embrace the sex pioneer of our time. They have rejected the religious teachings of their Bible-thumping preachers and tossed the false sanctity of marriage into the trashcan. Sanford’s fellow pioneers are teaching their children the invaluable lesson that traditional values are nothing more than a scam.”

I love the dilemma in South Carolina this coming Tuesday. Do conservatives vote for a symbol of  free sex or—horrors—a Democrat.

[Update: In a final act of desperation, conservatives have started a smear campaign against Sanford’s opponent with not one shred of truth to it. People claiming to be from SSI polling are calling homes with bogus questions such as “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had had an abortion?”; “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if she had done jail time?”; and “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you a judge held her in contempt of court at her divorce proceedings?” There’s no validity to any of these veiled accusations, but that doesn’t stop conservatives.]

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