Saturday, April 25, 2015

Editorial: Just Say No to Fast Track

President Obama is pushing fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would restrict the government’s ability to regulate multinational corporations in their pursuit of profits in the name of harmonizing trade. Democrats should say, “Mr. President, with all due respect, no.”
Democratic leaders, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Harry Reid (Nev.), as well as Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and most organized labor and environmental leaders have raised concerns about the deal that is being finalized with 11 other Pacific countries. They fear the deal could worsen income inequality and allow private companies to challenge domestic regulations before an international tribunal. Those challenges, critics argue, could undermine key financial, environmental and other regulations.

More than 150 Democrats in the House have signed a letter to the White House circulated by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) opposing the use of “fast track” procedures to usurp Congress’ authority over trade matters.

President Obama on Feb. 21 singled out Warren as wrong. “I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues, but she’s wrong on this,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. He said progressives should “Wait and see what we actually have in this deal before you make the judgement.”

Warren replied, via email, “Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal? Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret. Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: ‘We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.’”

The Office of US Trade Representative has said the deal would not undermine bank regulations, and Obama’s team may have gotten concessions on health and labor standards, but, as Sam Levine of noted, it’s difficult to know exactly what the deal contains because Obama’s administration has deemed the negotiations to be classified. Members of Congress may review drafts of the deal only in a secure room and may not make copies.

Organized labor, which has not been a party to the talks, has been adamantly opposed to more “free trade” deals. “At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs.”

Sen. Brown said, “There’s too much at stake for Congress to be rushing through a bill that would allow more NAFTA-style trade deals. Our manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 1994. While we’ve seen an impressive recovery, the more than 629,000 Ohio jobs tied to the auto industry could be at risk if our trade deals don’t protect against competitors that cheat trade law or manipulate currency. Rushing a trade package through Congress without a healthy debate is not only reckless, but it’s a betrayal to middle class and working families in Ohio.”

Trade promotion authority, also known as “Fast Track,” originally was conceived in the 1970s as a means for Congress to authorize and set guidelines for the negotiations before the talks start. The US entered TPP negotiations in February 2008 during the George W. Bush administration, and the talks picked up steam after Obama was inaugurated and the deal is now being finalized.

The bill before the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees requires the president to notify Congress of the deal’s completion 90 days before he intends to sign it. But the full agreement would have to be made public for 60 days before the president could send it to Congress and Congress would not begin considering it for 30 days after that. So Congress probably would not consider the TPP until at least October, as the presidential primary debates are just heating up.

But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the Trade Promotion Authority bill also would extend Fast Track procedures for up to six years. It would delegate away Congress’ constitutional trade authority, even after the Obama administration dismissed bipartisan and bicameral demands that the TPP include enforceable currency manipulation disciplines. The trade authority proposal would not require negotiators to actually meet Congress’ negotiating objectives in order to obtain the Fast Track privileges, making the bill’s negotiating objectives entirely unenforceable.

“Congress is being asked to delegate away its constitutional trade authority over the TPP, even after the administration ignored bicameral, bipartisan demands about the agreement’s terms, and then also grant blank-check authority to whomever may be the next president for any agreements he or she may pursue,” Wallach said. “Rather than putting Congress in the driver’s seat on trade, this bill is just the same old Fast Track that puts Congress in the trunk in handcuffs. I expect that Congress will say no to it.”

The bill comes despite broad and growing opposition to Fast Track and the TPP, Wallach said. A 2015 bipartisan poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows that 75% of Americans think that the TPP should be rejected or delayed. In recent weeks, voters in Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Colorado and other states protested against Fast Track, citing the devastating impact past Fast Tracked pacts have had on local jobs, small businesses and farmers. Recent data show that similar trade deals have already pushed the United States to the precipice of a historic $1 trillion trade deficit, contributed to the loss of 5 million American manufacturing jobs and increased US income inequality.

Public Citizen noted at that the deal isn’t even mainly about trade. “Of TTP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on in our daily lives for safe food, a clean environment, and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules.

“The TPP would even elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations, empowering them to privately enforce new rights and privileges, provided by the pact, by dragging governments to foreign tribunals to challenge public interest policies that they claim frustrate their expectations. The tribunals would be authorized to order taxpayer compensation to the foreign corporations for the ‘expected future profits’ they surmise would be inhibited by the challenged policies.”

And we only know about the TPP’s threats thanks to leaks – the public is not allowed to see the official draft. Neither Public Citizen nor other public advocates have been allowed to monitor the talks. “Even members of Congress, after being denied the text for years, are now only provided limited access. Meanwhile, more than 500 official corporate ‘trade advisors’ have special access. The TPP has been under negotiation for six years, and the Obama administration wants to sign the deal this year.”

Our suspicions are raised when Republicans, who normally wouldn’t agree with Obama on the time of day, and have delayed the confirmation of his highly qualified attorney general nominee for five months, now are willing to grant the President Fast Track review of the trade deal that Obama’s people have struck behind closed doors. If that isn’t a sign that the fix is in for the Powers That Shall Not Be Named, we don’t know what it is.

As we have said before, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good deal, it should go through the normal legislative process as a treaty, which requires consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Trade deals modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement have proven disastrous for Main Street manufacturers and workers. Maybe this is the one that will turn global trade around to work for us. But we’re still doubters. Say no to Fast Track. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2015

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the May 15, 2015 issue

COVER/Conor Lynch
America’s libertarian freakshow

Just say no to Fast Track


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Discrepancies between men and women

Pipeline blues: who’s to blame;
TPP cartoonist wins Pulitzer;
Anti-Hillary book relies on hoax to back up accusations;
Poll shows turnaround on Obamacare popularity;
Southerners trapped in Medicaid gap;
Richest 0.01% of Americans gave 42% of political donations in 2012;
Talent following super PAC money;
FBI botched hair analysis for more than 20 years;
House PAC expects Benghazi repor
t pre-election;
Podcasting troll patent knocked down;
Woman cites religious freedom law to feed homeless ...

Obama flunks (another) theology test

Ready for Hillary?

Hardliners desperately seeking Satan

Beware of corporate GMO spin doctors

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Polio: Lessons for today

Budgets follow election results

The right’s fiscal nuclear option

Diet and sustainable agriculture

The campaign begins

Former lawman would make cops accountable

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Walt Whitman’s self-help advice for democracy

Robert Moses and the use and abuse of power

Three music documentaries to check out

and more ...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Drones & other automated weapons dehumanize the enemy & make it easier to go to war

By Marc Jampole

It’s so easy to kill an animated figure on a screen in a video game. And then another, and then another, each of them so realistic in their detail that they could almost be human. Pretty soon you’ve knocked off hundreds of imaginary people.

Not so easy, though, for most of us to pull a trigger, knowing that a bullet will rip through someone’s heart and stop their existence. Perhaps we instinctively empathize with the victim and fear for our own lives. Or maybe most of us kill with difficulty because the taboo against killing is so strongly instilled in us, that moral sense that taking the life of another human being is wrong, sinful? 

The problem with all advanced military technologies is that they turn war into a video game, and by doing so distance the possessors of the technology from their adversaries. Whether the attack is by conventional bomber, missile, drone or the robot weapons now under development that will make decisions independently of their human masters, the technology turns the enemy into video images. I know that this distancing leads to fewer deaths among the attackers. But remote warfare dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill lots of them without giving it a thought. The bombardier doesn’t see the victims below, or if he can, they look like specks. The operator of the drone is even farther away from his intended victims.

At a distance, distinguishing between terrorists and the innocent is difficult, if not impossible, as the latest admission by President Obama that our drones killed two hostages tragically demonstrates. Keep in mind, this incident is just the latest drone fiasco. As the New York Times reports, every independent investigation of our drone attacks has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. “When operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

For most of human history, it took a man to kill a man, or perhaps a man to kill 10 men. Soldiers knew full well when they were killing other soldiers and when they were killing civilians, and would often face the full moral force of human society and history when they did the latter.

But now a small group of men can kill 70,000 people with the push of a button, without even considering how many were children and adult noncombatants. I use the number 70,000, because that’s how many people died within hours when the United States dropped a rudimentary atomic bomb on Hiroshima some 70 years ago.

By lowering the cost of battle in human terms, military technology makes it easier for leaders, generals and military industrialists to convince countries to go to war. It makes it easier to propose and implement extreme acts of violence, both from the operational and the moral point of view. Only afterwards, when we read that people we were trying to rescue were killed in our drone attack or that from 150,000 to one million Iraqis died in our war built on lies, only then do we recognize the enormity of our crimes and the bad judgment that went into perpetrating them. Look how it easy was for Obama, who voted against the Iraq War, to get sucked into using drones to target terrorists.

We would have been better off without the invention of bombs and missiles. We would have been better off without the invention of guns. But those genies are out of the bottle. Let’s learn from our mistakes, though, and stop the development of robot weapon systems and stop the use of military drones.

Those who believe that it will be harder to fight the terrorists without drones are living in a delusional world in which American exceptionalism means we’re the only ones who bother manufacturing military technology. Automated weapons efficiently kill the other side, whether it’s the enemy or us. In a few years, the terrorists will also have military drones, unless we stop their development and sign treaties to make sure no nation works on them.

Of course, we can always develop the next generation of weaponry and continue our militaristic death spiral that started with machine guns, tanks and nerve gas.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Surveys show Americans succumbing to lies of the gun lobby

By Marc Jampole

Charles Blow has written the column I toyed with writing, dreaded writing and avoided writing.

In “Has the NRA won?” Blow analyzes the evidence that the United States has become a nation of gun lovers who incorrectly believe that they’re safer with a gun in the house and in the holster. 

Blow tracks the odd phenomenon of rising guns sales after every mass murder. He blames it on a boomerang effect: Mass murders using guns get people talking about gun control, which compels gun-toters to buy more for fear that they won’t be able to when stronger gun laws pass. Not mentioned by Blow, but a similar phenomenon, is the flurry of state legislation that loosen gun regulations after each mass murder.

Like many progressives, I have lately consoled myself with the fact that fewer people than ever own guns in the United States. The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center reports that only 32% of all American households own guns, down from 50% just three decades ago. Since there is about one gun per person in the United States (or 50% of all guns owned privately in the entire world!), that means that those who own guns have more of them. 

Thus, for a long time I and others have reasoned that Americans really do want to rid society of the plague of guns, but that craven politicians afraid of the financial clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) have blocked the passage of laws that make it harder to buy and carry firearms and passed laws that loosen firearm restrictions. The storyline of the bad NRA corrupting politicians to obstruct the will of the people has provided reasonable people with both solace and a large and prominent enemy to battle.

Of course, besides corrupting elected officials, the NRA, helped by the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world, has unleashed a propaganda machine that spouts false information about violent crime increasing and gun ownership making homes and society safer. The little research out there clearly demonstrates that an increase in the number of guns owned in any country increases the number of deaths and injuries from guns. Research also shows that far more people die each year from friendly fire than are saved by pulling out a gun against an attacker or criminal. Note that there haven’t been enough of these surveys done, since Congress passed a law that prevents federal money being used to fund studies on gun violence. What’s out there, however, shows that gun ownership in and of itself makes our streets—and homes—more dangerous places.

The result of this endless barrage of false information and fearmongering is what Charles Blow lays out in his latest column: A new Pew Research Center survey showing more Americans now believe that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership and a 2014 Gallup poll that says that 63% of all Americans believe that having a gun in the home makes it safer. The second statistic is particularly disturbing because just 15 years ago in 2000, only 35% of those polled thought a home was safer with a gun in it. That Gallup poll also showed that 63% of Americans believe crime is on the rise, even though crime is at a 20-year low. Not many people connect this decrease in crime with the decrease in households with guns, possibly because not many people are aware that crime and household ownership of guns are both down.

If only 32% of households own guns and 63% of Americans think households are safer with guns, does that mean that gun sales are set to expand? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it certainly shows that at this point in time, much of our nation is dedicated to making it easier for people to own and carry guns. Lies have won over truth.

“The N.R.A. appears to be winning this round,” is how Blow ends his disturbing article. I think that’s a very optimistic understatement. I’m thinking the NRA has won not just the round, but the entire game. For the time being, we are a nation that supports private ownership of guns with little if any restrictions, certainly less than we place on those who drive automobiles.

That our support is based on lies may enrage and confuse us, but it shouldn’t surprise us. Americans seem to be ever more susceptible to the big lie, be it the lie that guns keep us safe, the lie that humans are not making the Earth too warm too quickly for our own good, or the lie that lowering taxes on the wealthy is the key to creating new jobs and ending economic inequality. In each case, what the liars propose to make things better actually make them worse for most of us.