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Obama at Nike

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I get that President Obama is frustrated with Democratic opposition to his beloved Trans-Pacific Partnership. But his behavior shows just how out of touch he is with the party base on economic issues. First, holding a big TPP event at Nike offices in Oregon is outrageous, but also quite telling. For Obama, Nike is a success story because it creates a lot of high-paying jobs in Oregon while sending all of its production to Vietnam and other Asian countries.

But there are huge problems with the Nike model, even outside of how it treats its workers and the fact that it was a pioneer in outsourcing shoe production. Virtually none of those jobs in the US are blue collar jobs and these are the people most in need of decent employment opportunities. While quite a bit of middle management, design, and other jobs actually could be outsourced (and I suspect will be quite rapidly) probably most well-educated upper middle class Americans are going to do OK going forward. These are Obama’s success stories because there is so much emphasis in conventional wisdom speak about spurring economic creators and innovators. But none of this does anything for the poor. Had Obama spoken at a New Balance factory, which at least makes some shoes still in the U.S., he would come across as less indifferent to the lives of working class Americans who did not benefit from NAFTA nor the many other trade deals of the last 50 years that shipped most blue-collar jobs overseas. Obama doesn’t seem to get that this is where job creation needs to take place, not with the innovators.

Core to the problem here is that while Obama keeps saying the TPP has stronger trade and environmental provisions than previous trade agreements, there’s no evident reason to take this claim seriously or believe it meaningful. First, we still don’t know what the specifics of these provisions are, but we won’t know before fast track is voted on so we have to go with what we have. Second, it’s far from clear whether all the nations involved are on board with said provisions, whatever they may be. Third, it is almost 100 percent positive that these provisions will not include any ability for workers or citizens themselves to go after companies. Since no trade agreement has ever empowered citizens, my guess is that the so-called improvements will likely consist of little more than vague language, but again, we are going to have to wait and see. Combined with the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that have a strong likelihood of being used by corporations to override governments from taming corporate behavior, and as many have pointed out, the TPP is really more a pro-corporate interest agreement than a trade agreement per se.

And as Elizabeth Warren and Rosa De Lauro write, once fast track is granted, the ability to Congress to stop the process or make any kind of changes to the deal is basically dead. So the TPP must be stopped now.

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