This has been a largely sleepless week complete with shocks to the system, requiring me to hang on to my posterior with both hands. I hope you fared better, but I’m not counting on it. Marking off the days until Thursday took all my patience, Mercury going direct just in time to survey the chaotic aftermath of a period of excess and confusion, shifting our energetic response from witness to activist but with great hesitations.
It all seems so complicated these days. Hard not to get discouraged by events of the day, which seem to come in a bewildering stream of shocks and knocks as we get a good look at what no longer works. While feeling our feelings and licking our wounds are well advised, remaining glum about the scope of our dysfunction can’t be the whole of our game plan. There’s too much at stake, too many big issues coming together and requiring our attention.
As I write, the dreaded Fast Track to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has hit the floor of the House of Representatives. Obama is convinced that this trade agreement is necessary because, it’s presumed, of China, looming large. China’s economic and military growth has exploded, and its capacity to challenge and eventually overshadow U.S. interests has led some to say — quietly and behind their hands — that our two countries are in a silent war for supremacy (for at least a decade, I would add, surprised that anyone would feign shock to hear it).
The problem is, according to Thom Hartmann — a political voice I trust — that seeking a way to diminish China’s influence in Asia as ours wanes may be a worthy project, but the TPP ain’t gonna do it. And unfortunately, it will do a great deal of harm while producing little of the result the president desires. If TPA (trade promotion authority) passes through the House — the Senate has already approved it — very little will stop the eventual passage of the TPP, which, reportedly, has less to do with trade than with legal authority favoring corporate interests and further strengthening plutocracy.
Wikileaks is doing its bit to inform the public about the trade package, offering up super-secret text from time to time. The latest revelation is about the boon to Big Pharma, the projected increased costs of life-saving drugs in the overseas market, and threats to public health, world-wide. According to the leaked draft concerning pharmaceutical practice, the TPP would approve “evergreening” prescription drugs, allowing drug companies to extend the life of a patent by making slight modifications to existing medication and applying for a new patent. This jeopardizes the affordable generic options that so many patients depend upon internationally, and threatens Medicare’s ability to negotiate for meds at reasonable prices. That the Veterans Administration, a model for procurement, is left out of (exempted from) this agreement tells us what we need to know about the intent of Big Pharma to take advantage of every for-profit option offered them.
This is only the latest wrinkle in the TPP debate, a trade proposal that is disapproved of by the majority of Americans. Those who have opposed the secret negotiations point to the fact that many of those nations with whom we’re dealing have reprehensible human rights records and virtually no worker protections. According to John Sifton of Human Rights Watch:
The simple fact is, this agreement awards several countries which have atrocious human rights records. One of them is Vietnam, a one party undemocratic state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam, no elections, no freedom of speech. This is a country which locks up dissidents for criticizing the government, voicing their own issues. So that is one trade partner. Another: Brunei, the Sultan of Brunei wants to impose Sharia law, which would result in a adulterers being stoned to death, thieves having their hands cut off, homosexuals whipped. This is a country which is also nondemocratic, ruled by fiat, by a sultan who inherited his power through birth.
Sifton wants to see the TPP agreement used as a tool to further civil liberties in these and other nations like Malaysia, where the record on human rights has worsened in recent years. But in this transcript from Democracy Now, his pessimism that anything can be achieved along those lines is apparent. In order for working conditions to improve, as President Obama has assured us they would in his pitch to sell TPP to voters, there must be authority to implement those changes and a way to police those who ignore them. As far as we know, none of that is implicit in the negotiations, nor are these kinds of regulations traditionally upheld by authority.
Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen has no illusions about how that might work. He’s firmly opposed to Fast Track and the TPP, as are trade unions, human rights activists, and progressive politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have demanded that Hillary take a position or be spewed out as too lukewarm for a robust liberal ticket. Ms. Clinton has baggage to tend on that front. Scrutinizing the Clinton legacy has always been a bit dicey for real lefties, who put public interest before private.
The moderate Clintonian agenda has always been non-threatening to business interests and remains so. The Clinton charity, for instance, raises big (and now, suspect) money for things like AIDS drugs in impoverished African countries, but never criticizes the overpricing of these drugs. Leaked documents assure us that the TPP agreement would worsen this problem, making second-stage antivirals even more expensive. Essentially, that means that more third-world citizens would die, despite charity the Western world is able to provide them.
If more of us were paying attention, we’d be similarly provoked by some of the baggage being loaded on as amendments to Fast Track by opportunistic Republicans. But here’s the good news of the hour: a dedicated group of progressive lawmakers working against passage, the stern refusal of Baggers to provide any assistance (welfare) to those who are hurt economically by such a law, and a few fearless Dems willing to refuse (short term) that proposed assistance to those who would lose employment through a trade deal, unable to compete with what is essentially slave labor in underdeveloped nations, have made stopping Fast Track possible.
UPDATE: checking news of the hour, I see that the bill has gone down in flames in the House. We have dodged this bullet, largely thanks to Nancy Pelosi who refused to back Fast Track by opposing the Trade Adjustment Assistance amendment, completing rebellion by the Dems — Reid had earlier called Fast Track “insanity” — who refused the bill based on issues of human rights, environment, worker protections, and financial regulations.
Those who would like to move along to a less complicated topic need to bear with me for a bit, as the TAA — which offered (fairly inadequate) assistance to workers displaced by trade expansion at the cost of $700 million swiped from Medicare — was the straw that broke the camel’s back on Fast Track, but we still have super-secret trade negotiations going on behind the scenes. The TPP itself has not been stopped, nor has Fast Track died a grisly death, should Boehner find a way to come up with more votes (a lot more — the bill was defeated two to one).
Some say this is about Obama establishing a legacy, but I don’t see it. He already has a legacy that will serve him well. Frankly, I don’t get it, and I’m one of millions who can’t get a grip on what would push him over into partnership with the Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, and so obvious a coalition of corporate characters. Because I have confidence in his intelligence and political savvy, I have a hard time believing he himself believes we’d give over blanket permission for something we haven’t even seen. It doesn’t make sense. As Pelosi herself tells us, the President has been impressive in terms of environment and other populist issues, yet regarding TPP, all of this seems moot. If you think Pelosi is just another fat-cat Dem arguing for her own interests, by the way, I invite you to listen to her speech on the House floor. I think she single-handedly gave permission for this bill to fall on its face, and to my mind, she’s hero of the day!
Another voice that I’ve heard, loud and clear, is that of Howard Dean’s organization, Democracy for America. Like its founder, DFA takes a no-nonsense approach to its political positions, making it clear that any Dems supporting TPP legislation will find themselves unsupported by progressives in 2016, and ultimately primaried and replaced, if possible, with “a real Democrat.”
Oh, I can hear that voice out there, telling me that this is the left going extreme, much as did the Baggers a few years back, just a tit to their tat from a radicalized liberal party. But given how often I hear complaints about how nobody in Congress serves the little people, takes care of anything but their own hide, or risks their position to do the job voters sent them to do, I don’t validate the allegation.
This is the best of populism, a response from those who have been ignored by the very people they ‘hired’ to do the people’s business. This is full-on backlash against corporatism and democracy purchased on the Koch dime. The Tea Party is doing exactly what its adherents asked of it — attempting to kill off government. That is NOT what those on the left side of the political spectrum expect from their leadership.
On TPP, the polls are clear — pig in a poke, unexamined agreements, policies unshared with an apprehensive public that will have to live with the fallout — informed citizens do NOT want this partnership, as is. Democracy for America is simply representing those who refuse to further the corporate agenda and are done supporting elected officials who do.
Once again, the populists are giving fair warning to those who ignore public demand. We’re seeing more and more of that these days, as the public awakens to the consequence of renegade capitalism and those that serve it. That’s heartening, because populism has a proud and productive history in this nation — you’ll find a weekend read, here reminding us how well it served in decades past.
Despite the perilous mix of energies that created a scratchy and disheartening week, it didn’t stop those who were determined to stand up to the TPP. Whatever the impetus for allowing this bill to fail, it was boon to the interests of the public and the nation, and that’s our happy news of the day. Perhaps, eventually, we will even come to the place where we can discuss and promote fair trade, rather than “free” (which is anything but) and negotiate in good faith for the wellbeing of us all.
I am a firm believer that we can come to the table to collaborate with one another, but first we need the “level playing field” that Elizabeth Warren tells us about, which means we have to strip the money — corrupting influence — from the game. If that seems like an impossible task, rest assured that on Friday big money didn’t get its way. We took a big step forward to make the impossible reality this week, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be the first of many.