Monday, November 25, 2013

Big Anti-TPP Protest At Obama Fundraiser Today

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A few weeks ago a friend invited me to a formal dinner at which former L.A. area congressman David Dreier, a mainstream conservative, would be delivering a keynote address. I had nothing better to do-- and it was at Culina, a restaurant with a good reputation I'd been meaning to try-- so I went. The restaurant was OK, but nothing I would go try again. Dreier was even worse. You may have missed it, but John Kerry asked him to represent the U.S. at the Bali Democracy Forum, a key meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders. Dreier, whose congressional career was ruined when a revolt among homophobic bigots in the GOP House caucus forced then-Speaker Denny Hastert to withdraw Dreier's appointment to replace Tom DeLay as GOP Leader, retired from Congress and is now chairman of the Annenberg-Dreier Commission, which is supposed to work to foster international cooperation between Asia-Pacific nations. It's another "free trade" operation and includes a gaggle of untrustworthy Wall Street shills, from war criminal Henry Kissinger to former China Ambassador Jon Huntsman and "Mack" McLarty, ex-Chief of Staff for Free Trade evangelist Bill Clinton.

Maybe it was the wrong crowd for Dreier to exert any energy for but he was a basically a hackneyed dud who slept-walked through a droll speech about nothing in particular. Dreier was the founder of the Congressional Trade Working Group and in 2009 he made a "free" trade speech on the House floor that must have pleased the campaign donors who financed his long DC career. "It goes back to my education in college; and that is, the notion of the United States of America playing a leading role in global economic growth so that we can increase the number of good American jobs. That means good jobs right here in the United States of America. I believe that trade is key to that. Trade, global trade, is going to play a big role in creating jobs, jobs, jobs." Really? Joshua Holland, cut Dreier's corporate cheerleading to ribbons in his book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies About The Economy.
Dreier gave that speech during the most severe unemployment crisis the United States had faced since the 1930s. It’s a stunningly counterintuitive assertion, because trade agreements facilitate the offshoring of jobs to countries with lower labor costs, which in turn beefs up companies’ profits. That dynamic is evident in executive pay—a 2004 study by the Institute for Policy Studies found that “CEOs at companies that outsource the most U.S. jobs are rewarded with bigger paychecks.” The authors found that “Average CEO compensation at the 50 firms outsourcing the most service jobs increased by 46 percent in 2003, compared to a 9 percent average increase for all CEOs at the 365 large companies surveyed by BusinessWeek.”

As Dean Baker put it, “The truth is, we carefully structured these trade agreements-- we put great effort into it-- to put our manufacturing workers into competition with manufacturing workers in developing nations.

"That meant going to these places and asking: What kind of problems does General Motors face if they want to set up a manufacturing plant in Mexico or Malaysia or China? What can we do to make it as easy as possible? That means that they know they can set up their factory and not have it nationalized, not have restrictions on repatriating profits, etc. Then they need to be able to import the goods back into the United States, and that means not only making sure there are no tariffs or quotas, but also that there’s no safety or environmental restrictions that might keep the goods out."

The offshoring trend can only get worse as long as we stay the present course on trade. Alan Blinder, a conservative economist at Princeton University, estimated that as many as 29 percent of U.S. jobs are offshorable.

And it’s not simply a matter of jobs sent overseas. In a 2007 study analyzing fifty years of research, economist Josh Bivens argued that the current (and largely bipartisan) trade regime adds some bucks to the paychecks of America’s highest earners but keeps wages down for 70 percent of the U.S. workforce, even adjusting for the greater purchasing power they might enjoy because of cheap imports flooding the shelves of Wal-Mart. He found that corporate-driven “free-trade” agreements not only increase the gap between richer and poorer countries, but also add to inequality among citizens of wealthy states such as the United States. Bivens estimated the direct cost of “free trade” deals to families in the middle of the economic pile to be $2,135 per year. That’s about 50 percent more than the same family pays in federal income taxes annually ($1,495).

It’s tempting to focus only on the economic impacts of trade deals such as NAFTA, but it’s just as important to dig deeper into the antidemocratic nature of the “free trade” orthodoxy pushed by Big Business. All too often, progressives tie themselves up in knots discussing trade because they argue the issue on corporate America’s terms, instead of going to the root of the matter: “free trade” isn’t free, and it often has nothing to do with what most people would consider “trade.”

If the central question we’re asking is “Free trade or protectionism?” the debate is already lost. That’s how the corporate globalizers have presented it and that’s how the media-- which clearly have a horse in the race-- report it. And that’s why the so-called free traders have been able to keep the upper hand.

Here’s the truth about “free trade” agreements. When you talk about trade policy, you’re really talking about the enormous influence of corporate power over democratic governance. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the gutsy leader of the fair-trade caucus, explained the close connection during the lead-up to the vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005. “Our political system is now up for the highest bidder,” Brown told me at the time. “Energy bills are written by oil companies and environmental bills are written by the chemical companies.

"Similarly, this trade agreement-- CAFTA-- but other trade agreements, too, have been written by a select few for a select few-- and that select few is typically the drug industry, the insurance and financial institutions, and the energy companies, and the largest multinational corporations. It’s the same old song, whether it’s international or it’s domestic.

In his book The Myths of Free Trade, Brown described thousands of corporate jets stacked up over D.C. as the vote neared, carrying industry execs eager to descend on the city to lobby for the agreement. Trade policy is clearly an insider’s game.

In their book Whose Trade Organization, Lori Wallach and Patrick Woodall found that among the hundreds of “experts” who sat on the advisory boards that hammered out the thousands of pages of WTO and NAFTA rules, there were only a handful of representatives of labor. The rest were multinational execs and various lawyers, lobbyists, and sundry industry experts. There was almost zero input from human rights groups, environmentalists, or the rest of society. It’s not only that the treaties we’ve signed are flawed, but the process by which they’re created makes it all but impossible that they would benefit working people or protect our commons. These are simply not corporate America’s priorities (nor those of its counterparts in Japan or the EU).
Watch for Kerry to appoint Dreier to something nice and plum soon. This afternoon, starting at 3pm there will be a big protest across from an Obama fundraiser at the Beverly Hills Hotel against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement. It'll be at the Will Rogers Memorial Park at 9650 Sunset Blvd in Beverly Hills. Flush the TPP reminds us that what we're talking about is a secret trade agreement being negotiated behind the backs of Congress and the American people, which threatens to undermine not just the economic well-being of millions of families but also democracy itself. "Srom food safety and the environment, to worker rights and access to healthcare, the TPP is about much more than trade. It his a global corporate coup." If you're in L.A. today… it goes from 3pm to 6pm.

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2 Comments:

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