Monday, June 1, 2015

Strange Alignments - Trade and Democracy

As the battle for fast track status for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues watching the alignments for either side form has been curious at least. President Obama and generally progressive Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) have been bullish on the pact, as of of course has been conservative stalwarts like Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Mitch McConnel (R-KY). Obama claims that if we don't pull this off soon (thus fast-track) will lose a big opportunity to control trade relations with China. 

Critics like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are claiming that not only is the deal secretive from the public, as the Intercept reported recently,

        " So who can read the text of the TPP? Not you, it’s classified. Even members of Congress can only look at it one section at a time in the Capitol’s basement, without most of their staff or the ability to keep notes. But there’s an exception: if you’re part of one of 28 U.S. government-appointed trade advisory committees providing advice to the U.S. negotiators. The committees with the most access to what’s going on in the negotiations are 16 “Industry Trade Advisory Committees,” whose members include AT&T, General Electric, Apple, Dow Chemical, Nike, Walmart and the American Petroleum Institute. "

But critics argue the agreement will likely empower global corporate behemoths to override local (national) policies. Wyden and Obama deny this, and suggest that pending legislation for fast track has safeguards and enforcement and a window of 90 days where citizens can read and debate the final agreement before Congress votes it up or down. Wyden clearly sees the TPP, if done right, as an economic boon for his home state of Oregon. East coasters like Warren and Sanders constituents won't see the same benefits as Wyden's. But are Wyden's and Obama's faith in global trade regimes misplaced?

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks so.

     " The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations meant to protect America’s own economy and citizens. Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes."

 And so do groups as diverse as Public Citizen, Doctors Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundaton....

A study just released this week by The Guardian of financial contributions to the Senate between January and April of this year shares some interesting findings.

     "Fast-tracking the TPP, meaning its passage through Congress without having its contents available for debate or amendments, was only possible after lots of corporate money exchanged hands with senators. The US Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – the fast-tracking bill – by a 65-33 margin on 14 May. Last Thursday, the Senate voted 62-38 to bring the debate on TPA to a close. Those impressive majorities follow months of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the world’s most well-heeled multinational corporations with just a handful of holdouts. 

Using data from the Federal Election Commission, this chart shows all donations that corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP made to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when fast-tracking the TPP was being debated in the Senate."

While it might be hard to prove a quid pro quo with these donations, what they do show is that the increasing inequality and the power of the 1% to shape policy. They have access via cash contributions and invitations to participate in trade advisory committees that typical citizens do not enjoy. One of the findings in The Guardian study stands out as representative of that power.
  • In just 24 hours, Wyden and five of those Democratic holdouts – Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, and Bill Nelson of Florida – caved and voted for fast-track.
  • Bennet, Murray, and Wyden – all running for re-election in 2016 – received $105,900 between the three of them. Bennet, who comes from the more purple state of Colorado, got $53,700 in corporate campaign donations between January and March 2015, according to Channing’s research.
 The only antidote to the hijacking of our democracy is for citizens to use their voice and and their vote. The proposed rush to get this deal done has its own unpleasant odor to it. Wyden and other supporters of this deal look to see the US profit from such agreements.  But with the rules rigged, there will be losers, and something tells me it will be the 99%.