RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Dems Buckle on Fast-Track Vote

Like you, I signed the petitions and called my senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill, to point out the foolishness of giving Fast Track authority to the President and his little band of corporate insiders. Claire’s behavior was worrisome because she was one of the Ds that refused until the vote to say where she stood on the subject. Only Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren stood fast in opposition.

Silence is the opposite of courage. For a Senator, keeping mum means someone is looking down the road at a lobbyist job. And so, I was disappointed and not surprised when Claire and 12 other Democrats gave Mitch McConnell his victory on Trade Promotion Authority, Trade Adjustment Assistance for displaced workers and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. McConnell was gloating, “If we all keep working together and trusting each other, then by the end of the week the President will have TPA, TAA and AGOA and Preferences on his desk.”

Trusting each other? Are you kidding me?

After statements like that, the Supreme Court wins for gay marriage and Obamacare plus the triumphant expulsion of the Confederate flag in South Carolina seem like bones tossed to a dog. Democracy being the dog. We the people are grateful for the wins, yes, but the wins don’t make us forget.

Obama signed the bill, the “Trade Promotion Authority,” or TPA, granting himself power to finalize the negotiations with Pacific Rim governments and create a free-trade area. Potential traders include Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. This Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is just one of the trade agreements in the works. Another is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe.

TPA gives Congress the right to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the final agreements, while staying silent on the details. For a reminder of the meaning of silence, re-read paragraph #2.

The exact impact of the new trade agreements will be a surprise but even Republican Presidential hopefuls Huckabee and Paul are trying to distance themselves. We’re hoping that Wikileaks comes up with a current copy. So far, since we don’t know, and won’t know, just what is in these new trade agreements. Going on past experience with, say, NAFTA, and with a draft published on Wikileaks in 2014, we can predict that American jobs will be lost and our environment will suffer.

Look at these two statements on the TPA, the first from the AFL-CIO and the second from the far-right US Chamber of Commerce: The Union said, “It will do nothing to prevent repeating the mistakes of failed trade policies that have contributed to stagnating wages, increasing inequality and the closure of more than 60,000 factories since 2000.” The Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue countered, “Today’s vote is an important step towards revitalizing our economy, creating more good American jobs, and reasserting our country’s global economic leadership.”

Virtually nobody except Donohue believes that new trade agreements will keep American jobs in the US no matter how many times big industry says so. Nascent and constructive “Buy-American” campaigns will apparently be thrown out as illegal if TPP is approved. This means that our own local, state and federal governments, financed by taxpayers, won’t be able to choose American products for their own purchases. Let that roll around in your head for a while. All those supplies for universities, colleges, city halls, prisons, police departments, the military will come from the lowest bidder.

And what about the environment? This race to the bottom will inevitably dismantle environmental regulations in the US, to compete with nonexistent regulations in other nations. As it becomes harder to compete in labor costs with, say, Vietnam and Brunei, expect more of our natural resources to be sold off, exported as raw materials to other nations and brought back as finished goods.

A year ago, Sierra Club’s Michael Brune saw a copy of the TPP draft on Wikileaks and said, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s ... This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues—oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections—and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts.” NRDC’s Jake Schmidt added that the TPP alone would affect 40% of the world’s gross domestic product.

The enviros predict overfishing, illegal logging, harvesting of endangered species, more US fracking, and a lack of traceability and enforceable regulation. Schmidt particularly criticizes language that cannot be enforced in court. Instead of sentences containing the forceful word “shall,” the TPP uses vague constructions to suggest what nations might do.

A couple of elections ago, a young friend, disgusted with the system, made a deal with her dad. He is a flaming Republican and she is a Progressive Democrat. Instead of canceling each other’s votes, they promised, they would throw support to a third party.

When she first told me this, I thought it was a ridiculous idea. Now, with the Democrat votes for TPA, I’m taking another look.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2015

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