Nel's New Day

February 20, 2014

Flush the TPP

When President Obama took office, dewy-eyed progressives believed that he might change the United States for the better. We supported his dreams and hoped of a better life. Some of his struggles during the past 5+ years have come from the racial prejudice against the black half of him. Another issue, however, is his conservative nature. As he channels presidents Eisenhower and Reagan, Democrats have started losing faith in him.

The latest opposition he faces is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret and that the president wants “fast-tracked” before anyone finds out what it contains. Michael Froman, the U.S. top trade official, is the latest person to push the TPP onto leaders of labor, environmental, consumer, and online progressive groups.

The first cautionary fact about the TPP is that Congressional GOP leaders and big business support the Asian trade pact. The liberal faction, is unified against the trade agreement. There’s a good reason that corporations like TPP: they wrote it.

“Fast-track” means speeded-up congressional action by barring amendments, something that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is ready to do. The GOP likes lower-priced imported goods and services, but progressives worry about the loss of U.S. manufacturing and service jobs. Free-trade agreements of the past, such as NAFTA, have destroyed living wages for workers in the U.S.

While supporters claim that the TPP eliminates tariffs and boosts economic growth, the agreement, like NAFTA, allows corporations—including those in the U.S.—to circumvent any regulations and laws. Courts and Congress have no control over corporate activities. Leaked documents show that an international tribunal would have the power to overrule individual country’s legal standards and impose economic penalties on them. Corporations can go to these tribunals to sue governments for compensation claiming that regulations such as tobacco, prescription drug and environment protections undermine their business interests.

Globalization is happening, according to Froman, and it will be shaped by U.S. values or by others. The values shaping the TPP are the corporate values, the same ones that have bought politicians across the country so that huge, wealthy companies can get only bigger and richer. Froman claimed that TPP would “put labor and environmental standards at the core of trade agreements and make those standards enforceable like any commercial commitment.” Yet he is unwilling to release any concrete information that would show how this happens. Only a very few, primarily corporate executives and lobbyists, have been privy to the TPP proposals.

Although Froman tried to shut down the opposition by saying that organized labor had more access to documents and briefings, one participant called that claim “just downright silly.” The person said, “We don’t have access to the text.”

Recently, Froman offered liberal nonprofit groups access to further briefings and documents in a Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee, information already available to hundreds of corporations. Business groups have long opposed the inclusion of nonprofit organizations because it might decrease their corporate interests. Almost four years ago, Fanwood Chemical Inc. president Jim DeLisi said:

“Exports are created by business, investments are created by business, and good, high-paying jobs are created by businesses. The key point of this whole system is to be sure that the [government] negotiators understand the needs of businesses.”

One meeting participant who requested anonymity said this regarding the Huffington Post article:

“You missed my favorite Froman quote that night when he told us that based on our logic that we should all go home and just throw away our computers and get rid of automation.”

Activist and author Noam Chomsky is very clear about his opposition to the TPP:

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

His objection stems from the fact that the TPP contains issues outside trade, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power. The end result of the TPP is actually undermining freedom of trade; instead it supports investor rights.

This month tens of millions of members from 550 groups signed a letter asking legislators to vote against “fast-track” authority for the negotiation between the U.S. and eleven other Pacific Rim nations. Another 50 groups launched to kill the agreement that they call “NAFTA on steroids.” This story, however, may be the most uncovered one in the United States. Until last week, there was almost nothing about the TPP on broadcast or cable news shows. Now the mainstream press is reporting on President Obama talking in vague terms about how this agreement will be good for the nation.

Transcripts of six months evening news shows ending on January 31, 2014, shows not one mention of the TPP on ABC, CBS, or NBC. On PBS Newshour, one guest argued that “the TPP would improve relations with Asian nations.” [visual]

tpp_coverage 1 During the same time, only The Ed Show routinely covered the TPP on evening cable news shows. CNN mentioned it once in the six months, and the Fox network totally ignored the trade agreement. [visual]

cabletppcoverage 2

Despite the lack of information until recently, enough voters know about the TPP to oppose it. Although Boehner and other congressional GOP leaders support the agreement, a majority of conservative voters are against fast-tracking the agreement by more than two to one. The poll results match earlier surveys showing a negative view of trade agreements. One of the main reasons for opposition to the TPP is that it will drive down wages for people in the U.S. while benefiting big corporations.

Leaders involved in negotiating and promoting the TPP have gotten big bonuses from big business for their government participation. Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the undersecretary for international trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.

Froman received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman’s] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.”

CitiGroup pays extra retirement pay for employees who take a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.” That bank isn’t alone: Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, the Blackstone Group, Fannie Mae, Northern Trust and Northrop Grumman are among other firms offering financial rewards for government service after retirement.  Negotiations for the TPP are scheduled in Singapore next week, and senior legislators from seven countries are asking for transparency in the agreement. Decision-makers from Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru are demanding that the draft text is openly published before any agreement is signed.

This is a 180-degree turn from the beginning of negotiations. Five years ago, negotiators agreed that the text would not be released until negotiations were completed and any documents other than the text would be concealed until four years after the agreement is signed or after the last round of negotiations if the agreement is not finished.

The GOP members of Congress have declared that they are through for the year after they raised the debt ceiling. They will take their $174,000 salary for their less than four months of work this year with their only achievement having promised to pay the country’s already-accrued debts. If that means they don’t pass the TPP, it might be worth the almost $100 million that taxpayers are paying them for causing gridlock.

February 1, 2013

GOP Leaping off the Right Edge

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:41 PM
Tags: , , , ,

When Chuck Hagel appeared before the Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense yesterday, a few Democrats and most Republicans pretty much beat up on him, the worst perpetrator being Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).  Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) called his ideas “extreme” and “far to the left” of Obama although she may have been reacting to his endorsement of her opponent, Vietnam vet Bob Kerrey, for her position.

Hagel’s radical ideas were to “engage–not retreat–in the world” and not rule out military force with Iran. He also said, “America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together, and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.”

After Hagel became a multimillionaire in the business world, he served two Senate terms as a Republican from the conservative state of Nebraska. McCain said in 2000 that, if elected president, he would appoint Hagel as Secretary of State. Yet Hagel faced great opposition from the 12 Republican senators during his hearing in front of the  Armed Services Committee.

This is only one case that illustrates Noam Chomsky’s recent statement that President Obama would have been a moderate Republican in the past. On The Young Turks, a daily news and political commentary program, the MIT professor and “world’s top public intellectual” told Cenk Uygur that changing U.S. economic power had moved both major parties to the right since the 1970s.

Although considered a progressive in the current usage of the word—and socialist by those who don’t know the definition of the word—President Obama is similar to GOP centrists of four decades ago. “Kind of a mainstream centrist with some concerns for liberal ideals and conceptions but not much in the way of principle or commitment,” Chomsky explained. “And on some issues he is pretty reactionary–civil liberties, for example.”

“The redesign of the economy since the 1970s” replaced the more liberal policies promulgated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with bank-friendly policies. Adding to the change was the shift of manufacturing jobs overseas because developing countries provided cheap labor. Chomsky said:

“So you have these two tendencies getting started, and they have consequences. One consequence was the very sharp concentration of wealth. This is not a big secret, but since then, wealth in the United States has concentrated enormously. The concentration of wealth leads very quickly to the concentration of political power. By now it is so obvious you can’t even debate it.”

A history of GOP platform positions shows how radically right that this party has become in the last half century. It had no mention of abortion until 1976 and minimal reference to religion until the 1990s. Lower taxes did not define the GOP until the 1980s. Over the last half century, the GOP has moved from “a socially moderate, environmentally progressive, and fiscally cautious group to a conservative party that is suspicious of government, allied against abortion, and motivated by faith,” according to Marc Fisher in The Washington Post.

Trying to avoid the radical GOP platform adopted last August in Tampa (FL), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters, “Anybody read the party platform? I never met anybody.” (Evidently Boehner doesn’t talk to many people.)

In striving to win national elections, the GOP increasingly appeals to its base in the South, becoming “the dominant party of white suburbia, and finding ways to marry its traditional pro-business foundation with less affluent, more socially conservative voters.”

This is a huge change from 1960 when the platform described the GOP as having “progressive Republican policies” such as “liberal pay” and saying the government “must be truly progressive as an employer.” At this time, the GOP gave “firm support” to “the union shop and other forms of union security” and said that “Republican conscience and Republican policy require that the annual number of immigrants we accept be at least doubled. They also supported court orders for school desegregation” and affirmed the rights of civil rights protesters.

An equal-rights amendment was part of the platform in the 1960s and 70s as was the need for government workers to receive “salaries which are comparable to those offered by private employers.” Not until 1984 did public-sector workers become “bureaucrats” and “Washington’s governing elite,” blamed for “an epidemic of crime, a massive increase in dependency and the slumming of our cities.”

Republicans emphasized federal funding for public transit until 1980 when the platform stated, “Republicans reject the elitist notion that Americans must be forced out of their cars.” The 1968 platform addressed air and water pollution, crowded slums, and discrimination against minorities, all with “a new mix of private responsibility and public participation in the solution of social problems.”

Keith Poole of the University of Georgia and Howard Rosenthal of New York University have charted the ideological shifts and polarization of the political parties in Congress from the 18th century until now.

nominate-house_mediansOne new representative has the answer to the gridlock that the conservatives are causing because of their radical right approach: Just do what we say. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) actually said that the federal government could get more done if it let new members of Congress take charge. “I think it can happen, and if they allow us to lead this charge, I think it will happen,” he said. When asked who “us” is, Davis said, “Those that were elected, those who are willing to sit down and find a common solution like a balanced budget agreement in 1997.”

After Davis complained about how the president’s stance on immigration reform differs from the Republican goal of controlling the Senate and White House, he said Republicans are making more of an effort to move legislation. He thinks that the GOP goal is “to govern. It’s not just about partisan politics.” It’s the view from the right.

People in Arizona, including some Republicans, have a different approach: a citizens’ group called Respect Arizona is working to recall notorious, immigrant-hating Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The group needs to gather 335,317 signatures by May 30 in order for the county to call a special election for the sheriff’s office. The chair of Respect Arizona is Williams James Fisher, a Republican attorney.

In the 2012 election Arpaio squeaked by with 50.7 percent of the vote after he received over $8 million campaign money, mostly out of state, and the treatment of Hispanic voters created hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots, many of which may never have been counted. In the most recent election, Arizona sent a majority of representatives to Washington—five out of nine. Perhaps the state will be even bluer if the ballots from all adult citizens in the state are counted.

The GOP has spent untold hours and money since the 2012 election less than three months ago in trying to figure out how to repackage its message to appeal to minorities, women, and the 98 percent of the people in the United States struggling to make a living wage. Returning to the time of environmental awareness, equal rights for women, labor unions, positive immigration policies, and bipartisan cooperation would be a start.

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