Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Can Trump Make Himself Useful By Helping Derail The TPP?


The video above, by the head of the Old Skool fringe group the John Birch Society, is the kind of thing right-wing voters are hearing more and more about lately. Very few people listen to this nut. But they do listen to Donald Trump, who is ready to exploit legitimate concerns as well as confusion and turmoil around the TPP for his own purposes. Fine.

Once word started leaking out yesterday that the secret negotiations on the TPP were basically done, the first congressional reaction I saw was from Alan Grayson, an implacable foe of trade agreements that ship American jobs overseas. He remarked that this one is --
another grievous injury to America’s workers. Deals like TPP have cost us trillions of dollars and millions of jobs. TPP will only add to our record $11 Trillion trade deficit. It will further line the pockets of corporations who ship our jobs, and their profits, overseas. This deal was crafted by Wall Street to benefit corporate America. It will not only harm jobs and wages, but it threatens food safety, affordable medicine, and other issues working Americans care about. We should be negotiating agreements that protect our workers instead of hurting them.

Adding insult to this injury, Congress will not be able to amend this deal when it comes to us next year-- we will only be allowed to vote 'yea' or 'nay.' I will pore over this agreement and work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to promote trade agreements that put American workers first.
Within minutes, another foe of trade deals that are bad for U.S. workers while helping Big Business, Mark Pocan (D-WI), was demanding that the final text be released immediately. I don't think he plans to frame it and hang t over his mantle.
These negotiations, which have been conducted almost entirely in secret, are even more concerning given our apparent adherence to political timelines with little regard to the interests of U.S. workers. Reports throughout the course of the negotiating process raise serious questions about the impact of this agreement on a number of areas, ranging from workplace and environmental protections to food safety. Initial reports indicate that labor standards remain subpar, currency manipulation has not been adequately addressed, rules of origin for autos have been weakened, and human rights issues in countries like Malaysia and Brunei have not been dealt with properly. Along with these concerns, corporations still have the ability to supersede the laws of our country through the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process.
Even earlier, Bernie Sanders was fuming on Twitter. Later he released a statement calling it a big victory for Wall Street and for big corporations. "Now it's on us to stop it from becoming law... Make no mistake: if TPP passes, it will further hurt consumers and cost American jobs... In the Senate, I will do all that I can to defeat this agreement."

The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA that have been supported by corporate America and that cost America millions of decent-paying jobs.

Since 2001, nearly 60,000 manufacturing plants in this country have been shut down, and we have lost almost 5 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. NAFTA alone led to the loss of almost three-quarters of a million jobs-- the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China cost America four times that number: almost 3 million jobs. These agreements are not the only reason why manufacturing in the United States has declined, but they are important factors.
The TPP would also give multinational corporations the ability to challenge laws passed in the United States that could negatively impact their “expected future profits.” Take, for example, a French waste management firm suing Egypt for over $100 million for increasing the minimum wage and improving labor laws. Egypt’s “crime” in this case is trying to improve life for their low-wage workers. Or Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, has used this process to sue Germany for $5 billion over its decision to phase out nuclear power. Should the people of Germany have the right to make energy choices on their own or should these decisions be left in the hands of an unelected international tribunal?

We face the same threats here at home if the TPP passes.

Virtually every major union and environmental organization in the United States is against the deal. Major religious groups are as well because they know what it could mean for some of the poorest people on the planet.

Wall Street, corporate America and their representatives in Congress will try to pass this bad trade deal. This is our chance to make our voices heard.
Still, Krugman just wrote that he's re-thinking his not very strong opposition to the TPP. "What I know so far: pharma is mad because the extension of property rights in biologics is much shorter than it wanted, tobacco is mad because it has been carved out of the dispute settlement deal, and Rs in general are mad because the labor protection stuff is stronger than expected. All of these are good things from my point of view. I’ll need to do much more homework once the details are clearer."

With the House Republican embroiled in yet another a bloody civil war, this one over which self-promoting careerist will be the next Speaker, all policy decisions have taken a back seat to The Crazy. However, one crazy Republican is just getting ready to use the TPP as a cudgel with which to knock the crap out of his competitors. As Greg Sargent argued in yesterday's Washington Post, Trump has plans for the TPP. Remember, these trade deals are fundamental Republican (and conservaDem) policy. But that isn't how Trumpy is painting them. Sargent expects Trump to "roll out a whole new story about how Republicans and Democrats alike are conspiring with a shadowy cabal of international elites to help China and other foreign countries continue destroying the living standards of American workers," and, he asserts, the Republican establishment-- and not just the sociopaths running for the presidential nomination-- is worried about this, very worried.
The TPP may be debated in Congress precisely when the voting is fully underway in the GOP presidential primaries. And Republican leaders are worried that Trump’s rhetoric against “free trade” will create complications for the party’s Senate incumbents, who would presumably want to vote to pass the deal. But that’s not all: the TPP could also provide Trump with a weapon to wield against his GOP rivals. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio support it. By contrast, Trump has railed against the TPP by warning that China will be given back-door access to the deal, further enabling China’s ongoing ripoff of American workers, and against international “free trade” deals in general by claiming we are being “defrauded” by other countries.

And in another signal, Trump gave an interview to John Harwood in which he claimed we are getting taken to the cleaners by a number of other countries, particularly China’s currency manipulation and tariffs. “Countries are taking advantage of us, big league,” Trump said. Thus, his attacks on the TPP could be seamlessly woven into the broader story that Trump is already telling, in which immigrants are to blame for the suffering of American workers. Trump can simply add international trade-negotiating elites, their enablers among the GOP presidential candidates and among Republicans and Democrats in Congress-- and a new version of the Chinese menace, which he has been heartily bashing already-- to the cast of villains. (There will be plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize the TPP; Trump will likely opt for a lurid and xenophobic tack.)

If Trump does go this route, it will be interesting to watch, because it will test the assumption that GOP primary voters (many of whom already appear to agree with the tale he’s telling about illegal immigrants) agree with GOP orthodoxy on “free trade.” As Ron Brownstein has explained, Trump has built a particularly firm foundation among blue collar Republican voters. And Ed Kilgore has noted that Rust Belt and southern conservatives tend to be alienated by internationalist free trade talk. Who will these voters listen to on the Trans Pacific Partnership-- Jeb Bush, who is trying to talk in reasonable tones about the virtues of lowering international trade barriers, or billionaire Trump, who is warning that foreign elites are looking to rip off American workers even more than they have done already?

In the last congressional go-round, in June, 191 Republicans and 28 Democrats (almost entirely New Dems and Blue Dogs) voted in favor and 157 Democrats and 54 Republicans voted against. It barely passed, 219-211. That's very close. If Trump makes enough commotion, I could see enough kooks from the fringe who voted for it to switch-- like, say, the nut-cases from Tennessee and North Carolina with constituents even crazier than themselves, Marsha Blackburn, Stephen Fincher, Diane Black, Phil Roe, Scott DesJarlais, Chuck Fleischmann; and David Rouzer, George Holding, Renee Ellmers, Robert Pittenger, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, and Patrick McHenry, as well as a few who are facing tough reelection battles, like Mike Coffman (R-CO), Frank Guinta (R-NH), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Rod Blum (R-IA), John Mica (R-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Robert Dold (R-IL).

It could make the difference, especially now that Republicans, who can't control their antipathy for Obama, are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces. What irony-- despite Establishment Republicans barging into the argument to try to save it for their corporate masters now.
GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump claims to be a free trader, but he complains, “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t win anymore. We don’t beat China in trade. We don’t beat Japan, with their millions and millions of cars coming into this country, in trade. We can’t beat Mexico, at the border or in trade.”

This sentiment comports with a growing protectionist bent among conservatives, who seem to think that the U.S. loses when individuals and companies buy from another country and win when we sell to other countries.

But free trade isn’t about “beating” another country, it’s letting individuals and companies buy and sell what they want. If you think a foreign-made car is the one that best meets your needs and budget, YOU WIN-- regardless of whether Japan, Germany or the U.S. made and sold it.

And if a foreign car manufacturer can make a better car at a lower price, it should win.

Help defeat this disastrous line of thinking by making a commitment to support Bernie Sanders' campaign here. As for Hillary's Johnny-come-lately opposition... she pushed the TPP 45 times for flipping into opposition, at least by Jake Tapper's count.

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