Fast Track to Corporate Rule

Rick North Facebook

Our senators and representatives have a choice: Vote for Fast Track and propel us along a path toward a world even more dominated by back-room corporate deals or draw a line in the sand and say “Enough.”

Like many of you, I’m on numerous e-mail lists, dealing with the environment, food safety/GMO’s, health, nutrition, corporate malfeasance, labor, campaign finance, you name it. My Inbox runneth over.

Except for outrage over Citizens United, I’ve never seen more convergence on any issue than the vehement opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It’s a lightning rod of every group whose members have been harmed by previous trade agreements. These pacts have led to the outsourcing of millions of U.S. jobs, impoverishment of millions of Mexican farmers and the acceleration of the Race to the Bottom strategy of multinational corporations that lowers wages everywhere. This isn’t fun to watch - TPP’s no Thrilla in Manila, it’s a Disasta like NAFTA.

This Pacific Rim trade agreement has been negotiated in total secrecy mainly by corporate executives and lobbyists, with minimal public interest representation. A bill, the Trade Priorities Act, better known as “Fast Track,” has been introduced by Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. David Camp. It would give President Obama authority to sign the treaty, then have Congress vote only up or down with limited debate - no amendments allowed.

There’s a general consensus that if Fast Track is defeated, it would be very difficult to pass TPP, because revealing its provisions would infuriate the public. But if it passes, it will be very difficult to stop it.

The resistance is so massive that yesterday over 550 organizations sent a strongly-worded opposition letter to Obama. National groups signing on included Public Citizen, Citizens Trade Campaign, Sierra Club, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America, UAW, National Farmers Union, American Nurses Association, National Consumers League, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Organic Consumers Association, MoveOn.org, Code Pink, Witness For Peace and the Gray Panthers.

In Congress, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have lambasted Fast Track, as has Rep. Peter DeFazio, one of 151 House Democrats signing a petition expressing concerns with it. There have also been 23 Republican members of Congress signing a similar petition, standing up to Speaker John Boehner, who has found a rare issue in which he agrees with President Obama. This is not the kind of bipartisanship I was naively hoping to see out of Washington when Obama was elected.

Just today, 45 state attorneys general, including Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum, signed on to a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman stating explicitly that national, state and local laws regulating and taxing cigarettes would be undermined by TPP. It would open up the threats of costly lawsuits against governments by tobacco companies, who obviously love the trade pact.

Who else is promoting it? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Boeing, Exxon/Mobil and, well, you get the picture. This isn’t left against right as much as it’s top against bottom.

An Oregonian article
by Jeff Mapes last week quoted Ron Wyden as saying “there has to be more transparency associated” with TPP, adding “What we’ve got to do is figure out a way to expand the winner’s circle, to assure more people win.”

That’d be nice, but how do you achieve transparency when all negotiations have been held in secret, when most Congressional staff can’t even look at the draft provisions and when Congress is under a gag order not to reveal its contents? And how do you achieve transparency when the only thing the public knows is what’s been leaked, a fraction of the total pact?

As for expanding the “winner’s circle,” how do you expand a circle that’s set in stone? There’s some opportunity now while provisions are still being negotiated. But if you pass Fast Track first, before the TPP bill’s provisions are revealed, there’s virtually no negotiating strength by public interest groups, no informed public debate and no amendments. Talk about the cart before the horse – this is absurd.

Our senators and representatives have a choice: Vote for Fast Track and propel us along a path toward a world even more dominated by back-room corporate deals or draw a line in the sand and say “Enough.”

With TPP, you can have Fast Track or you can have democracy. But you most assuredly can’t have both.

NOTE: There will be a rally followed by visits to Congressional offices this Friday, January 31 at noon at the PSU Park Blocks at SW Park and Harrison. It’s sponsored by the Alliance for Democracy, Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Jobs for Justice and Positive Force NW and will feature speakers from labor, environment and economic and social justice. For more information, see https://www.facebook.com/events/389069187895001/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming.

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