Congress’s Cat Burglars Are Pulling a Fast One on TPP

June 22, 2015 by Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger

This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com.

TELL CONGRESS: Don't Fast Track TPP“With cat-like tread upon our foes we steal.” So boasted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance as they decided to try a little burglary for a change. And “steal” is the appropriate word.

It’s hardly a surprise that Republican congressional leaders and their cadre of Democratic allies spurred on by Barack Obama are resorting to a bagful of parliamentary tricks to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a “take it or leave it but you can’t change it” fast-track to enactment by Tuesday.

No sooner had the first round gone to pro-democracy forces than Speaker Boehner – forever remembered as the man who handed out tobacco lobby checks to members on the House floor — promptly scheduled a new vote allowing time to bring pressure on naysayers.

Remember when Tom De Lay, the former House Republican majority leader used to stop the clock of a legislative day at five minutes to midnight, the lobbyists’ favorite witching hour? That way he could whipsaw doubters into line behind something President George W. Bush wanted but couldn’t get through Congress in the open.

Boehner learned a lot from watching DeLay, and now he, Senate Majority Leader Mitch (“Mr. Dark Money”) McConnell, and assorted cronies are consorting to deliver to Mr. Obama the goods he has promised multinational conglomerates in the laughable name of “free trade.” And they are doing it the old-fashioned congressional way: hocus pocus.

The bill was reintroduced last Thursday, unaccompanied by a controversial provision to assist workers displaced by the pact, and passed 218 to 208. It now returns to the Senate for approval in its new form and there its opponents will make a last stand on Tuesday.

What a terrible contraption it still is, conceived in secret with the imprimatur of multinational corporate attorneys and dedicated to the proposition that American workers are expendable, the environment is mere foodstuff to swell profit margins, and sovereign American laws are subject to second-opinion lawsuits by foreign companies. “What looks like a stone wall to a layman,” a humorist of an earlier century once wrote, “is a triumphal arch to a corporation lawyer.”

This bag of tricks is full of deceptive arguments. Fast-track proponents claim that expanded trade will be good for everybody by creating plentiful new jobs here in the US. Unfortunately, specific examples and illustrations are conspicuously lacking.

International Business Times has just published a new report examining the known text of the TPP treaty that shows it would provide special legal rights to corporations that it denies to unions, small businesses and other public interest, environmental and civic groups. Specifically, while President Obama keeps repeating the misleading promise that the deal would “level the playing field,” instead, the TPP would let corporations sue in international tribunals to try to overturn labor, environmental and human rights laws while prohibiting public-interest groups from suing in the same tribunals. How’s that for a “level playing field?” Please, Mr. President, how about you leveling with us?

They say that without the treaty, America will be pushed out of its strong role in the world’s economy by China and a potential list of Asian satellites. If so, why is it we only know about the terms of the treaty through leaks, or a carefully condensed and edited online site, or a version available to Congress only on heavily restrictive terms? And why an end run around the Constitution by giving the president a sovereign power to deny the members of Congress their right to offer amendments against provisions that they believe harm the interests of their districts? What on earth would the Founding Fathers think?

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Plan B: Ditch Help For Workers, Just Get Corporations What They Want

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) have hatched a plan to muscle through Fast Track for President Obama. But there is no guarantee their plan will work.

As a new GOP-led approach to approving Fast Track authority on behalf of the Obama administration materializes, the process itself signals just how noxious the contents of deals like the TPP must be

By Jon Queally

Legislative maneuvering around Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or Fast Track) continued late Tuesday, as GOP leaders in Congress, the Obama administration, and a handful of anti-democracy Democrats hatched a plan to hold a straight vote on Fast Track—handing the White House the authority it wants to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pending corporate-friendly agreements—while separating out a provision offering assistance to workers displaced by future trade deals.

It’s not a simple or guaranteed path forward for Fast Track, but Politico explained the GOP leadership’s latest approach this way:

Under the emerging plan, the House would vote on a bill that would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, sending it to the Senate for final approval. To alleviate Democratic concerns, the Senate then would amend a separate bill on trade preferences to include Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker aid program that Republicans oppose but that House Democrats have blocked to gain leverage in the negotiations over fast-track.

The leaders’ behind-the-scenes machinations are an attempt to allow both bills — TAA and the fast-track measure known as Trade Promotion Authority — to move to Obama’s desk separately, sidestepping the objections of House Democrats that stalled the package last week. The idea, which has been discussed among top congressional leaders and the White House, would be tantamount to a dare to pro-trade Democrats in both chambers to vote it down.

The plans are fluid and could change. But multiple congressional leaders, speaking anonymously to candidly describe their strategy, said they felt this was the only hope to reverse the trade package’s flagging fortunes.

The big question in the House remains how many of the 28 House Democrats who voted for Fast Track when the worker assistance program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), was on the table would do so now that it’s been taken off. But even if the GOP-controlled House does pass a clean Fast Track bill, the path in the Senate is not likely to be smooth sailing. As The Hill notes, when the Senate approved Fast Track it included “both programs, and the support from 14 Democrats in the upper chamber hinged in part on that fact.”

And according to the Huffington Post:

As rumors swirled about Boehner being ready to move forward with a stand-alone TPA bill, House Democrats called for an emergency caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, where pro-TPA Democrats were expected to try to garner support for the Republican strategy. That meeting was abruptly canceled late Tuesday, after the House Rules Committee opted not to line up a floor vote on a clean fast-track bill. A committee aide said the panel had no plans to meet again this week to take up TPA.

Despite the committee’s punt on Tuesday, House Republican leaders appear ready to push through a clean TPA bill. Their latest strategy, according to Democratic and Republican aides, is to pass the clean bill and send it to the Senate, where lawmakers would then attach TAA to a separate trade bill for African countries, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The strategy behind that approach would be to convince members of the Congressional Black Caucus to support TAA this time around, since the controversial funding would then be tied to AGOA.

If House Republicans do pursue a stand-alone TPA bill, it won’t necessarily make matters better for the president’s agenda. Passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate. Obama has vowed to veto a fast-track bill unless TAA is also passed or attached, and passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate.

Sen. McConnell, President Obama, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have been discussing their options since the defeat last Friday, but it was McConnell on Tuesday who expressed the most optimism that Fast Track could still become law in the coming weeks.

“The Speaker and I have spoken with the president about the way forward on trade,” McConnell told reporters. “It’s still my hope that we can achieve what we’ve set out to achieve together, which is to get a six-year trade promotion authority bill in place that will advantage the next occupant of the White House as well as this one.”

Critics of both the TPP and Fast Track point out that machinations necessary to get them passed through Congress bodes poorly for the contents of the corporate-friendly agreements themselves. As David Morris, executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, argued in a piece at Common Dreams on Tuesday, the whole process stinks of an anti-democratic culture in which the contents of so-called “free trade” deals are being actively kept secret from the people—even as lawmakers jump through procedural hoop after procedural hoop in order for multinational corporations to get what they want. Moving forward, hope opponents, Congress should consider how the process has eclipsed substantive debate over the trade agenda’s wide-ranging implications for public health, the environment, and workers’ rights. According to Morris:

We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.

And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.

Morris noted that the existing system ostensibly allows for such debate, explaining that Obama, as president, can always submit a trade agreement—which historically were considered treaties and required approval of the Senate for passage. “If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill,” Morris explained. “And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.”

Though the White House, according to the Huffington Post, has been “coy about what efforts are being made behind the scenes to get the trade package passed,” previous reporting by Common Dreams makes it clear that the political “arm-twisting” is happening at the highest levels.

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Could Anti-Climate Amendment Torpedo Fast Track?

Last-minute anti-climate effort led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) slammed by green groups and some lawmakers

By Sarah Lazare

Environmental groups have long (warned) of the dangers Fast Track poses to the environment. Now they have solid proof.

With the controversial House Fast Track vote expected to take place Friday, an 11th-hour GOP effort to forbid U.S. trade officials from taking action on climate change has raised the fury of environmental groups and lawmakers, as well as hopes that the unpopular legislation could be torpedoed altogether.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, an amendment was inserted late Tuesday into a customs and trade bill currently being weighed alongside Fast Track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority.

The language is designed “to ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

But political observers see it as a last-ditch attempt to get reticent Republicans on-board.

As the National Journal reports, Ryan is “working hard to win Republican support for the trade bill. Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that the climate-change amendment acts as an olive branch for House Republicans fearful that the president might use his trade negotiating power to take action on climate change.”

Critics say, in the midst of a climate crisis, it is outrageous that Ryan would seek to tie a trade representative’s hands, especially given the broad scope of the multiple corporate-friendly deals currently under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement.

“President Obama needs to make it clear that ‘21st century trade deals’ cannot block climate action,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth. “The president should start by telling Republican leadership and the public that the provision in the customs amendment is unacceptable.”

“President Obama cannot credibly claim that trade deals will force other countries to raise their environmental standards if he allows the same deals to secure a pass for the U.S. to keep dumping carbon into the planet’s atmosphere,” Galvão added.

The Fast Track legislation was already opposed by civil society and social movement groups around the U.S. and world—who criticize it as a tool for ramming through secret corporate-friendly deals, at the expense of people and the planet.

Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org said that this latest move could jeopardize Fast Track altogether: “Forbidding U.S. negotiators from ever addressing climate change in trade deals might might win over a couple of votes on the far right, but it’ll lose many more in the center and on the left because the new language is a disaster for our climate.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) derided the maneuver, declaring, “Now Republicans want to use [Fast Track] to prevent any new climate change standards in our trade deals.”

All eyes are on the vote, expected to take place Friday, with many high-profile politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), remaining mum on how they will vote.

Patrick Woodall of Food & Water Watch declared in a press statement Thursday, “With Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership now on its way to the House floor, it’s time for our Representatives to stand up to the so-called free trade attacks on common sense protections for public health, the environment and consumers.”

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WikiLeaks Strikes Again: Leaked TISA Docs Expose Corporate Plan For Reshaping Global Economy

“It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. (Image created by Common Dreams)

Leaked Docs reveal that little-known corporate treaty poised to privatize and deregulate public services across globe.

By Sarah Lazare

An enormous corporate-friendly treaty that many people haven’t heard of was thrust into the public limelight Wednesday when famed publisher of government and corporate secrets, WikiLeaks, released 17 documents from closed-door negotiations between countries that together comprise two-thirds of the word’s economy.

Analysts warn that preliminary review shows that the pact, known as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), is aimed at further privatizing and deregulating vital services, from transportation to healthcare, with a potentially devastating impact for people of the countries involved in the deal, and the world more broadly.

“This TISA text again favors privatization over public services, limits governmental action on issues ranging from safety to the environment using trade as a smokescreen to limit citizen rights,” said Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, in a statement released Wednesday.

Under secret negotiation by 50 countries for roughly two years, the pact includes the United States, European Union, and 23 other countries—including Israel, Turkey, and Colombia. Notably, the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are excluded from the talks.

Along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, which are also currently being negotiated, TISA is part of what WikiLeaks calls the “T-treaty trinity.” Like the TTP and TTIP, it would fall “under consideration for collective ‘Fast-Track’ authority in Congress this month,” WikiLeaks noted in a statement issued Wednesday.

However, TISA stands out from this trio as being the most secretive and least understood of all, with its negotiating sessions not even announced to the public.

Wednesday’s leak provides the largest window yet into TISA and comes on the heels of two other leaks about the accord last year, the first from WikiLeaks and the other from the Associated Whistleblowing Press, a non-profit organization with local platforms in Iceland and Spain.

While analysts are still poring over the contents of the new revelations, civil society organizations released some preliminary analysis of the accord’s potential implications for transportation, communication, democratic controls, and non-participating nations:

>Telecommunications: “The leaked telecommunications annex, among others, demonstrate potentially grave impacts for deregulation of state owned enterprises like their national telephone company,” wrote the global network Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) in a statement issued Wednesday.

>Transportation: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), comprised of roughly 700 unions from more than 150 countries, warned on Wednesday that the just-published documents “foresee consolidated power for big transport industry players and threaten the public interest, jobs and a voice for workers.” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “This text would supercharge the most powerful companies in the transport industry, giving them preferential treatment. What’s missing from this equation is any value at all for workers and citizens.”

>Bypassing democratic regulations: “Preliminary analysis notes that the goal of domestic regulation texts is to remove domestic policies, laws and regulations that make it harder for transnational corporations to sell their services in other countries (actually or virtually), to dominate their local suppliers, and to maximize their profits and withdraw their investment, services and profits at will,” writes OWINFS. “Since this requires restricting the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, the corporate lobby is using TISA to bypass elected officials in order to apply a set of across-the-board rules that would never be approved on their own by democratic governments.”

>Broad impact: “The documents show that the TISA will impact even non-participating countries,” wrote OWINFS. “The TISA is exposed as a developed countries’ corporate wish lists for services which seeks to bypass resistance from the global South to this agenda inside the WTO, and to secure and agreement on servcies without confronting the continued inequities on agriculture, intellectual property, cotton subsidies, and many other issues.”

The warnings follow concerns, based on previous leaks, that TISA poses a threat to net neutrality, internet freedoms, and privacy.

Moreover, global social movements charge that the deal poses a threat to democracy itself.

In a letter released in September 2013, 241 civil society groups from around the world aired concerns about the TISA deal: “Democracy is eroded when decision-making about important sectors– such as financial services (including banking, securities trading, accounting, insurance, etc.), energy, education, healthcare, retail, shipping, telecommunications, legal services, transportation, and tourism– is transferred from citizens, local oversight boards, and local or provincial/state jurisdiction to unaccountable trade’ negotiators who have shown a clear proclivity for curtailing regulation and prioritizing corporate profits.”

Analysts note that the leak underscores the intense secretiveness of the talks, whose texts are supposed to be kept completely secret for five years following the reaching of a deal or abandonment of the process.

“That the negotiating texts say they are supposed to stay secret for five years is quite shocking, and therefore it is really important that the text is made public,” Melinda St. Louis, international campaigns director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, told Common Dreams.

“It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, in a statement released Wednesday.

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Malaysia’s Human Trafficking Problem Complicating TPP

Though the US Senate was perfectly willing to surrender some sovereignty to forward the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), human rights advocates were able to insert a provision into the granting of fast track authority that could doom the agreement.

A provision against human trafficking was inserted into the bill which the White House worried could knock Malaysia out of TPP given the country’s longstanding problems with human trafficking. Those problems came into focus again last week when mass graves of human trafficking victims were discovered on the Malaysia side of the Malaysia-Thailand border.

With this latest grisly discovery it is going to be considerably harder for the White House to persuade Congress to take out the human trafficking provision on TPP.

Malaysian authorities said Sunday that they have discovered a series of graves in at least 17 abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar have been held. The finding follows a similar discovery earlier this month by police in Thailand who unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves in abandoned camps on the Thai side of the border.

The grim discoveries are shedding new light on the hidden network of jungle camps run by traffickers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families.

Of course, there is an opportunity for spin here by the White House and the Malaysian government – that these latest discoveries prove that Malaysia is making a good faith effort to stop human trafficking and therefore no provision within the TPP fast track bill is necessary. But Malaysia appears to be a long way away from getting control of its human trafficking problem.

The State Department notes Malaysia is not only integrally involved in international human trafficking networks but that the country’s agricultural and domestic industries use forced labor.

Talk about racing to the bottom.

Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote

‘We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we,’ says Democracy for America

By Deirdre Fulton

Update (3 pm EDT):

In what was immediately heralded as a victory for the grassroots, Senate Democrats on Tuesday stymied President Barack Obama’s corporate-driven trade agenda by voting to prevent the chamber from taking up Fast Track legislation.

According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass(52-45). Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, was the only Democrat to vote yes.

Civil society groups lauded Tuesday’s outcome and what it could mean for future trade votes.

“The Fast Track train went off the rails today,” cheered Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for Fast Track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrats and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.”

Still, now is not the time for the grassroots to become complacent, warned Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain in a statement released just after the vote.

“While we celebrate today’s failed Fast Track vote for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, the hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists who have united behind Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders to defeat the TPP will not rest until it’s dead, buried, and covered with six-inches of concrete,” Chamberlain said. “Today, the army of corporate executives and industry lobbyists who wrote the Trans-Pacific Partnership by and for themselves failed to secure support for the Fast Track legislation they know they need to ram their bad trade deal through Congress.”

However, he added, “We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we.”

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been a vocal opponent of Fast Track and gave a stirring speech on the Senate floor prior to the vote on Tuesday, added: “The Senate vote today was an important first victory in what will be a long battle.”

“Today was a good step forward,” he said, “but much more needs to be done.”

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