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Greg Sargent has what I think is a pretty solid run-down of where progressive Democrats are with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In short, it’s not a strong hand. In this era where many congressional Democrats basically ignore labor and neoliberalism rules the day, we are stuck relying on a combination of Democrats who care more about the American working class than U.S. foreign policy advantages and Republicans who won’t vote for anything Obama supports. And I think most of the latter will fall by the wayside. The AFL-CIO is working the best angle, which is trying to create conditions for its passage rather than full rejection. First and foremost is the ability for Congress to come back after the deal is finalized and vote it up or down. This just makes sense. Given how much of the TPP has been negotiated in total secret, it’s ridiculous to give any president the ability to fast track without Congress having say later. If Obama says that it could torpedo the whole deal down the road, well good. Make the deal palatable to organized labor.

As for the arguments Obama and TPP supporters make, I have a very hard time buying any of them. Obama says it will have strong labor and environmental protections. Without labor and environmentalists’ input in this process, will said provisions be strong? Almost certainly not. If Clinton didn’t need labor and environmentalists’ support to pass NAFTA, Obama certainly doesn’t need it for the TPP and I suspect the agreement’s final language will reflect that. If it actually has enforceable provisions that put power in the hands of the world’s workers, then that’s great. I’m not holding my breath. As for the position that we need to support the TPP so that China doesn’t impose its own trade agreement, I just don’t think Cold War-esque fears of a communist rival are reason to pass an agreement that will send even more American jobs out of the country. It’s not like we are forming NATO here and that Vietnam can’t also sign a trade agreement with China. But this kind of foreign policy argument will always appeal to moderate Democrats who aren’t too close to unions anyway.

As you may have heard, Wikileaks was able to leak some of the TPP proposed language. And it’s as much a document about international corporate rackets as you fear.

According to an analysis of the leaked chapter by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, tens of thousands of foreign and US owned companies would be able to access ISDS courts under the TPP to challenge signatories’ rules and regulations.

The tribunals, which fall under the jurisdiction of the World Bank and the United Nations, would operate without transparency, and be staffed by private sector attorneys who would rotate between advocate and judge.

Although the purpose of ISDS courts is to provide safeguards for companies against improper property seizure and to guarantee that they aren’t discriminated against by host countries, they’ve increasingly been used to challenge public interest laws.

In 2012 alone, there were sixty cases brought to ISDS by private companies against sovereign governments—the majority came from US businesses looking to skirt regulations in developing countries.

Under previous trade agreements, corporations have used these international courts to attack environmental, public health, and financial regulations and laws. Companies have been awarded more than $440 million from taxpayers under previous investor-state settlements associated with US free trade agreements.

They appear designed to have a chilling effect on regulation—particularly in countries that can ill-afford to lose expensive court battles.

In other words, corporations are creating the type of international legal framework to oppress workers and support their own interests against national regulatory structures that I want for workers to force corporations to abide by international labor and environmental laws. The TPP is going to be a great deal for multinational corporations. Whether it’s anything less than a horrible deal for the world’s workers, well, I guess we are going to find out.

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  • sanity clause

    And if you’re waiting for the Tea Party types to protest this yielding of American sovereignty to shadowy international organizations, please wait somewhere comfortable, because odds are you’ll be there awhile.

  • DAS

    If Democrats vote for the TPP, the Tea Partiers will protest against it, GOoPers will campaign against hypocritical Democrats who screw over everyday ‘Murkins, they will win elections and screw over ‘Murkins even more efficiently than the Democrats did, and, in loosing elections to the GOP, the Democratic party will take home the message “we were too liberal; we must move further to the ‘center'”

    • Rob in CT

      This comment makes me want to drink.

      I cannot argue with it.

  • Peterr

    The tribunals, which fall under the jurisdiction of the World Bank and the United Nations, would operate without transparency, and be staffed by private sector attorneys who would rotate between advocate and judge.

    Sounds like the municipal court system in Ferguson and the surrounding cities in St. Louis county, and we know how well they work:

    Seventy-nine municipal courts give the small towns and cities of St. Louis County significant autonomy in judging minor infractions as such speeding tickets, tall weeds or zoning violations. The judges and prosecutors work part time — in smaller jurisdictions, just two or three times a month for a few hundred dollars per each municipal court session.

    As a result, those judges and prosecutors often work for more than one town; and a prosecutor in one place may be a judge in another. The system, as a whole, starts to become a web of overlapping hires.

    In its recent report, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Ferguson used its municipal court abusively. It wrote the court handled cases “not with the primary goal of administering justice or protecting the rights of the accused, but of maximizing revenue. The impact that revenue concerns have on court operations undermines the court’s role as a fair and impartial judicial body.” Soon afterward, Ronald Brockmeyer resigned as the Ferguson municipal judge, and stepped down as prosecutor or judge in Breckenridge Hills, Dellwood, Florissant and Vinita Park.

    A review of municipal court data compiled by St. Louis Public Radio shows that one person holding various roles throughout St. Louis County is not unusual. While 72 attorneys hold just one position, 13 individuals have positions in three or more municipalities. Twenty hold two.

    From prosecutor to judge to prosecutor? Maximizing revenue rather than justice? No one could have anticipated . . .

    Nope, there’s nothing to worry about here with TPP. Move along, move along . . .

    • keta

      It’s so execrable that the exact text of the agreement will not be made available to the public for four years after its signing.

      Another glorious deal made possible only by an apathetic electorate.

  • liberal

    First and foremost is the ability for Congress to come back after the deal is finalized and vote it up or down.

    I thought Congress had that ability under fast track. Rather, it wasn’t allowed to change the document. From Wikipedia: The fast track negotiating authority for trade agreements is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

  • liberal

    The AFL-CIO is working the best angle, which is trying to create conditions for its passage rather than full rejection.

    Pointless. It will never, ever be a good deal for labor, or for anyone who isn’t a narcissistic, pro-corporate sociopath.

    • No, but you have to take the least bad deal you can sometimes.

      • Phil Perspective

        So, we have to pass crappy trade agreements as long as they aren’t super crappy?

        • Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying…..

  • liberal

    As you may have heard, Wikileaks was able to leak some of the TPP proposed language.

    Maybe the Israelis could spy on the negotiations and give the entire text to progressive Democrats. /rimshot

    • Steve LaBonne

      But Netanyahu swears up and down that they don’t spy on us and we have to believe him because he’s an honest man, amirite?

  • drwormphd

    I was listening to some right-wing radio a few weeks back, and there was a lot of vitriol about TPP, usually characterized as ‘Obama shipping jobs overseas’. I think everyone’s right that Republican opposition to the bill will be mild and superficial at best, but it might be a sleeper issue in the Repub primary.

  • fledermaus

    Perhaps the most stunning thing about this is supporters keep trotting out the same lies used to pass NAFTA and more recent trade agreements. One only has to look at the results of the Korea trade agreement passed 3 years ago to see that is does not increase goods exports, nor create jobs.

    And that doesn’t even get into the ISDS provisions or increased patent length, IP nonsense and ban on re-importation of prescription drugs, which is exactly the opposite of “free trade”

    • Why can’t we just believe Obama that this trade agreement will be TOTALLY DIFFERENT!?!

    • sanity clause

      Would be nice if trade agreements only regulated trade – tariffs, border inspections, stuff like that.

      But I think they’ve figured out that most people’s eyes glaze over when you say the words “trade agreement,” so they can sneak practically anything into the law as long as it’s characterized as part of a trade agreement.

  • sanity clause

    Maybe progressives should shoot for getting a clause in any legislation approving the TPP that says something like:

    No part of the TPP may be interpreted in a way that impinges on the validity of any existing Federal, state, or local law, or reduces the authority of the Federal government, the states, and localities to pass and enforce laws in the future regulating conduct within their jurisdictions.

  • keta

    I don’t know why anyone opposes the TPP.

    Why shouldn’t corporations have legal rights and recourse over the laws of the country in which they’re doing business?

    I mean, who wants to get fucked just a little bit when you can be royally boned and rolled by the best?

  • Rob in CT

    Well, at least I can say that both of my senators have staked out anti-fast-track positions.


    The letter is signed by Senators Al Franken, Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Christopher Murphy, Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, Carl Levin, Jeff Merkely, Jack Reed, Richard Blumenthal, Edward Markey, and Sheldon Whitehouse.

    Murphy/Blumenthal >Dodd/Lieberman. By a LOT.

    Of course, opposing “fast track” isn’t all of it. But I think my 2 senators are keeping pretty good company there…

    • Really wish there were more than 12 senators on that list.

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