Monday, April 27, 2015

President Obama, Liberals and TPP

"L'etat c'est moi"
President Obama recently invoked a surly and petulant tone when he lashed out against critics of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership fast track trade deal (TPP). TPP is a so-called free trade agreement that would theoretically increase economic integration among twelve Pacific Rim countries with the notable exclusion of China. President Obama claimed that the critics of the legislation didn't know what they were talking about. President Obama said that if this deal wasn't good for working Americans he wouldn't support it. It's ironic that at the same time President Obama was telling Senator Warren that she didn't know what she was talking about and angrily denouncing anyone who would question his advocacy of certain trade deals that he also had temporarily to break stride and apologize for bombing and killing people who shouldn't have been bombed or killed. In other words he made a mistake. He was wrong. I might discuss the drone situation sometime later but contrary to what the Boxers among us might think, Napoleon President Obama is not always right. Like many corporate bosses when things go well, (Bin Laden is dead), the President takes credit. When things go wrong some supportive media suddenly releases detailed information on how the drone program doesn't need the President's signoff for every target and so mistakes really aren't the President's fault. Fascinating. The President might want to remember that just because he supports something doesn't mean other people need to accept his judgment without question. The President's interests are not synonymous with America's interests. If he was wrong about something like a drone program, he just might be wrong about a trade deal. President Obama's good intentions do not necessarily make something good. There was no need for President Obama to make policy differences personal, but I guess when you don't have to run for election again you can drop certain masks. So it goes.

It's alternately amused and irritated me that President Obama tends to save his most biting personal criticisms not for the open racists on the right, who have continuously insulted him, his wife, father, daughters, and mother in the ugliest and most personal of terms but for people on the left who question his policies. In what universe does it make sense for President Obama to compare Senator Warren to Sarah Palin? TPP, divorced from economic and historical reality, might sound good in theory. But like everything else the devil is in the details. Of course we don't know all the details because those are secret. We do have some general outlines though. It's safe to say that just as with NAFTA, the TPP is not as much about free trade as it is about increasing the ability of corporations to exploit labor and sidestep restrictions on profit making activities across nations. It's about wage arbitrage. TPP would reduce the ability of governments at all levels to "interfere" with corporations as they pursue their happiness. This is a good thing if you happen to be a corporation, a lobbyist, a trade or patent attorney, or perhaps someone at a high level who works for the aforementioned entities. But if you're not in that group you might want to consider if the TPP is a good thing for you. Hint, it's not. You also might want to review how median income has done over the past fifteen years. You might wonder if helping corporations to outsource more jobs from the First World and raise drug costs in the so-called developing world really is the path we ought to be taking. You might want to go down to your local clothing or electronics store and see how many goods you can find that are still made in the US. You might wonder how it is that so many jobs have moved overseas and what that means for American workers.

But if you want to know the answers to these questions and have your Senators and Representatives debate and discuss them openly the President will accuse you of not knowing what you're talking about. People like MSNBC analyst Chris "tingle up my leg" Matthews will say you're a protectionist. Well someone who does know what he's talking about and is not a protectionist is Nobel Award winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Over a year ago he sounded the alarm here. And he hasn't changed his tune, pointing out that those in favor of these deals are all corporations and wealthy capitalists. This isn't news to the people on the streets. The working class, the people of all colors who are most impacted by crappy trade deals, isn't buying it. And some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which as a group has often given cover to the President's more centrist or rightist agenda elements, may have found a limit to how far they will go.
To make up for what could be dozens of Republican No votes in the House, the administration may need to persuade 20 or more House Democrats to vote Yes. The White House hopes some of those votes will come from members of the black caucus. But the going has not been easy. Rep. Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn is a loyal Obama supporter, but she found she couldn’t say yes earlier this month when the president engaged in some personal lobbying. Ms. Clarke promised to “go back and have a conversation with my constituents,” she said, recounting the conversation. But she isn’t optimistic: “The people in my district—they are radically against” the Pacific trade deal, Ms. Clarke said in an interview. But by last week, Mr. Rangel sounded pessimistic about finding common ground with the Obama administration. He said the White House hadn’t offered him anything concrete that would assure jobs—at least “nothing that I could explain to my voters.”
Two-thirds of the House members in the caucus signed a letter to Mr. Obama complaining that any trade deal would need to do more to strengthen workers’ rights. And only Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) is on record in favor of the fast-track legislation, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D., Texas) is thought to be a swing vote.
“There’s too much downward pressure on wages,” said Rep. David Scott (D., Ga.), a frequent ally of businesses who said he has made clear that the White House shouldn’t even bother trying to win his vote.
President Obama should know that snark and sarcasm are no substitute for facts and transparency. Various corporations have been able to see the text of the TPP. Duh! They're the ones writing it! If, as President Obama claims, the TPP is a great deal for workers, then as Senator Warren suggests, declassify it. Let's have it openly debated and discussed. Perhaps the President is correct. Once we all know the details maybe there will be hundreds of thousands of $14/hr American workers marching in the streets demanding passage of the TPP. American IT workers may rejoice at the prospect of training their Pacific Rim lower cost replacements. Maybe American workers in general think that they have too much safety in their job and want their boss to have more flexibility to replace or fire them. But I doubt it. I think that the TPP is just the latest in a long line of moves by corporations and the wealthy to reduce labor costs and limit democratic oversight of business. Senator Warren is right. President Obama is wrong on this one. He needs to be fought tooth and nail on this. And he needs to lose.

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