Fortunate Son Trump Has to Decide: 50,000 Troops to Afghanistan? Eli Lake, Bloomberg A new Afghanistan war strategy approved last month by President Donald Trump’s top military and national security advisers would require at least 50,000 U.S. forces to stop the advance of the Taliban and save the government in Kabul, according to a classified …
Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to …
Recently President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders which was the largest clemency granted since 1960. This was a drop in the bucket considering nearly half of the 207,000 men and women in the federal prison system are serving sentences for drug crimes. Mandatory minimum sentencing arouse in the 70’s and 80’s during the height of the drug epidemic in this country that saw a dramatic increase in crime.
Congress is now considering two bipartisan bills to scale back mandatory sentences.
As senators work to meld several proposals into one bill, one important change would be to expand the so-called safety-valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison than the required mandatory minimum term if they meet certain requirements.
Another would allow lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25 percent reduction of their sentence. Lawmakers would also like to create more alternatives for low-level drug offenders.
While theses bills are commendable they fall far short of addressing the whole problem, John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” points out in this week’s segment:
“Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime,” Oliver said. “Prison sentences are a lot like penises: If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick – is a rumor I have heard.” [..]
There should be a lot more pardons and commutations. But if we really want to address this problem permanently, we need states and the federal government, not just to repeal mandatory minimums going forward, but to also pass laws so that existing prisoners can apply for retroactively reduced sentences.
Because almost everyone has agreed that mandatory minimum laws were a mistake. And we cannot have a system where people are continuing to pay for that mistake – and where perhaps their best chance of getting out of a prison that they should no longer be in is somehow finding a turkey costume and hanging around the fucking White House at Thanksgiving.
VOX‘s German Lopes has an excellent background article as a follow-up to John Oliver’s segment.
A couple of weeks ago HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver took the chicken industry over the coals for a thorough roasting, uncovering facts that the public may not have known, the exploitation of contract chicken farmers, most of whom living below the poverty line.
Lo and behold, his genius satirical take down had an effect:
Comedian influences Ag Bill, members of Congress say
By Jonathan A. Capriel, Scripts Howard
The Department of Agriculture may be able to protect chicken farmers from industry retaliations in 2016, and satirical news anchor John Oliver may be part of the reason.
A draft of the 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Bill was unanimously approved by a House subcommittee Thursday.
It passed without any amendments that might prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from punishing meatpacking companies if they use deceptive practices against contract livestock and poultry farmers.
Part of the credit goes to the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” some members of Congress said.
On his show last month, the comedian criticized contracts that poultry producers, including Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, and Perdue, have their chicken farmers sign. [..]
These contract farms take out loans to build facilities, buy equipment and chicken feed – usually from the meat processing companies. The farmers are paid to raise the chickens, but they don’t get to sell them. The company owns the animals. Some farmers say they don’t make enough money in this system, but are usually in so much debt they can’t leave it.
The companies also force farmers to compete with each other. Lower-performing farms get less money. [..]
But Oliver also took a jab at members of Congress, who he said, have “fought efforts to protect chicken farmers” by adding riders to appropriations bills.
He told viewers that anyone on the House Appropriations Committee who votes against an amendment giving USDA power to protect farmers was a “chicken f–.” Oliver said this while flashing images of each of the committee members with their states and party affiliations.
The clip has gotten nearly 3 million views on You Tube. [..]
It’s still a long way from passage. The bill still has to pass the full House Committee on Appropriations, where it could be amended. It then must pass the full House and go through the same process in the Senate. If it weren’t fro John Oliver, the bill would never have been written. It’s good to know that someone in Congress watches these left wing programs.
This afternoon the Trade Promotional Authority passed cloture by a hair, 60 – 37 setting it up for passage on Wednesday
The Senate on Tuesday voted to advance President Obama’s trade agenda, approving a measure to end debate on fast-track authority.
The 60-37 motion sets up a vote on final passage on Wednesday. If the Senate approves fast-track or trade promotion authority (TPA), it would then be sent to Obama’s desk to become law.
Fast-track authority would allow Obama to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes. The White House wants the authority to conclude negotiations on a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.
Thirteen Democrats backed fast-track in Tuesday’s vote, handing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a major legislative victory. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) voted against the procedural motion.
The bill will then go to President Obama’s desk for his signature. However, the bill is being moved forward does not contain the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) measure that would provide financial aid and job training to workers who lose their jobs due to foreign competition. TAA, in truth, is a sucker deal
For starters, the money in TAA is a pittance, compare to the direct damage that this deal will do to American workers. And it does nothing to protect consumers and citizens from the other elements of the deal that weaken regulatory standards.
Trade Adjustment Assistance is not really about doing much for workers. Mainly, it’s about giving Democrats who are in bed with corporate elites some political cover. The cover is pretty threadbare.
It also stands little chance of passing in the House, even if the Senate manages to pass it, as House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised. The president has said the he would no sign TPA without the TAA.
Many Senate Democrats insisted their vote on Wednesday was conditional on the passage of separate TAA legislation. The Senate will likely pass that legislation on Wednesday, but the bill faces steeper challenges in the House, where Republicans overwhelmingly oppose it. Obama has said he wants both TAA and the fast-track bill to be enacted. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will deliver the votes necessary for its passage.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama expects Congress to send him the TAA bill this week, but didn’t say whether the president would sign the TPA bill before that happened. House Democrats could join Republicans to vote down TAA, potentially daring Obama to sign fast-track without the program. [..]
(Sen. Patti) Murray, on her way to the Senate floor, told reporters she’d been given assurances by McConnell and Boehner that Congress would take up assistance to workers displaced by the deal. In the prior Senate vote on TPA, which took place in May, Murray had urged Democrats not to vote with McConnell without major concessions from the GOP leader. She and Cantwell ultimately cut a deal with McConnell to get a vote reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. McConnell embarrassed Murray by delivering only a nonbinding vote on the measure.
Democrats now hope to attach a reauthorization to a highway bill as an amendment.
Wyden said Tuesday that Boehner’s late promises helped win votes.
While, eventually, the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement will most likely pass the Senate, its fate in the House is unknown sonce the Tea Party caucus opposes any agenda proposed by Pres. Obama. GOP presidential candidates Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) are also opposed to the bill and are reliant on the Tea Party votes of their base. Both voted against TPA passage today. If you’re shaking your head in wonder that the sane Democrats would have to rely on the GOP lunatic fringe, you’re not alone
Up Date: 6/18/2015 This morning the House passed Fast Track by 218-208, with 28 Democrats voting for it. It now must return to the Senate because it didn’t include Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) which failed to pass the House as a separate bill last week. The president has said that the would veto it if it did not include the TAA.
The bill was attached to HR 2146 Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act.
The push is on to get Fast Track passed. After the Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, killed the Trade Promotion Authority by voting against Trade Adjustment Assistance, the Republicans are bringing a “clean” bill to the floor. Well not quite “clean.” This is the latest from Huffington Post
To move a clean fast-track bill, the House Rules Committee attached the legislation Wednesday evening to a firefighter and police retirement bill sent over by the Senate.
Once the clean TPA bill is sent back to the Senate, it will be up to the upper chamber to handle TAA independently. [..]
The plan, according to Democratic and Republican sources, is that after the clean TPA bill is passed and sent to the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will then attach TAA to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a separate trade bill involving African countries.
As Republicans revealed their strategy, House and Senate Democrats who had previously voted in favor of fast-track headed to the White House to meet with Obama about the path forward. The question will be whether Republican leaders and Obama can convince Senate Democrats to vote for fast-track on the promise that TAA will reach the president’s desk later. [..]
A Senate Democratic aide confirmed that there is no agreement among Republicans and pro-trade Democrats in the upper chamber about how to move forward once fast-track is sent their way. Talks are expected to continue tomorrow.
This past Friday the House of Representatives passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), aka Fast Track, by a slim margin of 219 – 211. It did so without the crucial Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill which failed, massively. The TAA is included in the Senate version of Fast Track and without it Fast Track is dead and so, in all likelihood, is the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP), its European version, Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services (TiSA) agreements.
In an unusual parliamentary maneuver, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) moved to reconsider the TAA in desperate hope that he can convince enough Democrats and Republicans to change their votes. That doesn’t appear to be possible as Joe Firestone, the managing director of New Economic Perspectives, explains:
Likelihood of Approval of TAA (and Consequently TPA/fast-track) In a Re-vote in the HouseLikelihood of Approval of TAA (and Consequently TPA/fast-track) In a Re-vote in the House
I’ve read every post-mortem on Friday’s TPA result I could find since Friday’s TAA vote. And while there’s a lot of speculation on what will happen if there is a re-vote of TAA on Tuesday, very little of the analysis seems to depart from an explanation of the actual roll call results of roll calls 361 and 362 by Party. [..]
Since, on Friday, the TAA was perceived as the key vote on both the TAA and the TPA, why was roll call 361 so decisively against both, while roll call 362, on the TPA alone was narrowly in favor of the TPA? In other words, why were these votes so at variance with each other? No post-mortem I’ve seen has really considered this carefully, and tried to explain it. But plainly, one’s explanation has to be the foundation for projecting how any re-vote in the House on the TAA/TPA is likely to come out. [..]
In short, even though the mainstream view of the maximum limit of Republican opposition to the TPA was 57, roll call 361 shows 158 Republican votes against it, an entirely unexpected result showing that the Republican leadership has lost touch with their members when it comes to gauging the extent of their resentment against leadership attempts to force trade adjustment benefits and a small tax increase down their throats for the sake of the interests of Wall Street and the multinationals. Republicans might generally support corporations and view small business as one of their important constituencies, but that doesn’t mean they love foreign multinationals and the lemon socialism they are bringing to the table.
On the Democratic side, the Party’s traditional support for trade adjustment assistance was overcome with 144 votes against, because Democrats realized that a vote for the TAA was a vote for the TPA, and the vast majority of them were against that passionately. Not just out of principle, but because 1) Democratic leadership was obviously divided on the issue with the Administration wanting it badly; 2) the formal leaders in the Houses were seemingly neutral, and many other influential Democrats, as well as the rank and file strongly against it; 3) the Democratic Party in the House was probably recognizing that the Administration had lost them the key election of 2010, and made them weaker in 2012 and 2014 then they otherwise would have been, with its insistence on passing and supporting a neo-liberal health care “reform” bill, bailing out the health care insurers, that couldn’t possibly begin to be effective until 2015; 4) the Administration had tried to lead them down a primrose path of more electoral failure with its failed “Grand Bargain” effort to cut the entitlements so important to Democratic constituencies and the identity of the Party; 5) the Administration’s determined effort to pass the potentially very unpopular package of the TPA, followed by the TPP, TTIP, and TiSA agreements would very likely also seriously erode their electoral support with their core constituencies; and 6) in the end, most of the Democratic members may have realized that there was no percentage in them voting against their own perceived interests for the sake of the President’s “legacy” and may, just perhaps, even gotten very angry over being asked to secure this legacy over their potentially very dead political bodies, in return for a TAA bill that would provide some $463 million in such assistance to be divided among a likely one million people and very possibly many more, that projections seemed to show would be put out of work by the contemplated trade agreements. Such Democrats might be forgiven for thinking that an attempt to buy them off with an average of $463 per unemployed person was not a very handsome offer from those wanting to pass the TPA and the subsequent likely trade agreements. [..]
Implications of the Explanations for a Re-vote
I think the explanations suggest that the likely result of any re-vote on the TAA will be similar to the first vote for a number of reasons. First, for Democrats, their will be resentment over the fact that the Republican leadership, with the obvious encouragement of the President isn’t respecting the decision taken by the House on Friday, and is trying to make them go on the record again in rejecting their TPA program. I think they will view this as adding insult to the injury that the Administration has done them by putting them in the position of having to vote on these trade issues in the face of their obvious desire to forget about NAFTA-like trade agreements that have already caused the Party so much grief in the past. [..]
With Pelosi, now publicly on the anti-TPA side and Clinton certainly tending toward that definite position, how many of the 40 Democrats who voted for TAA/TPA will stick with their position? What’s in it for them to support their lame duck president, while remaining in seeming disagreement with their most likely choice for the top of their ticket in 2016? Anyone for those 40 Democrats suddenly becoming 20, or even 5 or 6, come Tuesday?
And on the Republican side, with 158 of them in opposition to the TAA/TPA on Friday, and 54 of them still in opposition to the TPA even when they had a chance to vote on a clean TPA bill which was purely symbolic and did not require them to vote for the hated TAA “welfare,” how many of them do you suppose will now vote for TAA/TPA on the re-vote? They too, will be angry at Boehner and Ryan for making them vote again on the combined TAA/TPP.
So why would that initial 158 Republican votes in opposition suddenly be less than in the first TAA vote? And even if were, and that number fell to say 146 or so in opposition, which is the other side of the coin of Boehner’s statement that he doesn’t think he can produce more than 100 votes for the TAA in the re-vote, even if there still were 20 Democrats who remain in support of TAA, then we would still have 146 Republicans + 168 Democrats or so against the TAA on Tuesday, a vote of 314 against and, at most, 120 votes for.
At Salon, lapsed blogger David Dayen points out the hurdles the GOP leadership must jump to get this to the president’s desk. The options aren’t good:
Pass TAA on a re-vote. Speaker John Boehner set this up for a vote next week, where they will try to persuade more Democrats and Republicans. Republican support topped out at 93 (votes started moving away from TAA once it was clear it wouldn’t pass), meaning that 124 Democrats would need to give their support. That’s a very tall order, especially now that it’s clearly the only thing standing between the President and his trade authority. Democratic groups, which demanded a no vote on TAA, will surely continue to whip the vote on their side.
Pass a separate standalone fast track bill. Just the threat of this, leaving Democrats with the President’s trade authority in place and no TAA, might be enough to get TAA passed. But it shouldn’t be. Just because 219 members voted for fast track on a meaningless vote today doesn’t mean they would be there on a standalone vote. Also, there is no way the Senate would concur on a fast-track trade bill without TAA: that would lose too many Democratic votes to pass. So this seems like an idle threat. Mitch McConnell could pass fast track with a promise to pass TAA later, but he’s already done that gambit once, getting fast track forward with a promise of a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. That promise has been broken, and there’s no reason for Senators to believe McConnell again.
Make changes to TAA or fast track to get enough Democrats on board: This is what Pelosi was intimating, but it’s hard to see how that could plausibly occur. They would have to get any changes agreed to by the House and the Senate, which opens the process up to a lot of messiness. And even if all the issues with TAA were dispensed with – no paying for the assistance with Medicare cuts, no exemptions for public employees, etc. – the bill has now become the impediment to more corporate-written trade deals that set regulatory caps and facilitate job loss, and liberal Democrats know it. As Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told the Huffington Post, “You can’t take the politics out of politics.”
Give Democrats something they want: Nancy Pelosi’s Dear Colleague letter makes this clear: “The prospects for passage (of fast track) will greatly increase with the passage of a robust highway bill.” This means that, if Republicans vote for more infrastructure spending, Pelosi would be likely to supply the votes for trade. But it’s not clear whether this is coming from Pelosi only, or if it would have buy-in from her caucus. She might be making a deal her caucus hasn’t empowered her to make. Plus, that would involve Republicans in the House and Senate agreeing to fund more infrastructure, and nobody knows where the money would come from.
Now add to the mix, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton finally addressed the issue:
“The president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress starting with Nancy Pelosi, who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers to make sure we get the best strongest deal possible,” she said. “And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.” [..]
Clinton said a final deal must protect American jobs, raise American workers’ wages and protect American national security interests.
“The president actually has this amazing opportunity now,” the Democratic presidential candidate said. “Let’s take the lemons and turn it into lemonade.”
Not as decisive as some would like but clear enough.
The fight to Stop Fast Track and these non-trade agreements is not over by a long shot. We need all hands on deck today and tomorrow before the vote.
There is no time to waste, do this NOW. Call and tell your representative to vote no on these bills.
Up Date: TAA has failed to pass the House by a vote of 126 – 302.
The House will now vote on Fast Track.
Up Date: TPA (Fast Track) passed 219- 211.
In an unusual move, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made a motion to reconsider the TAA which was tabled for later consideration.
House now voting on the Customs Enforcement Bill.
Up Date: The Trade Enforcement and Customs Act passed 240 – 190.
The vote on the motion to reconsider TAA will take place on Monday June 15. Without it the TPA bill cannot move forward:
Technically, the vote was on a portion of the legislation to renew federal aid for workers who lose their jobs through imports.
A second roll call followed on the trade negotiating powers themselves, and the House approved that measure, 219-211. But under the rules in effect, the overall legislation, previously approved by the Senate, could not advance to the White House unless both halves were agreed to. That made votes something less than a permanent rejection of the legislation.
In complex maneuvers to get more Democrats to vote for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, aka Fast Track), Republicans pulled language from the TAA bill that would have cut $700 million from Medicare to offset the cost. Don’t Be Fooled! The Republicans just moved the cuts to another bill that will be attached to Fast Track. From Dave Johnson at Crooks and Liars:
A bill on customs and trade law enforcement is being “loaded up” with amendments that will be attached to the fast-track TPA law, after (and if) fast track passes. These include amendments that would forbid the U.S. from doing anything through the trade agreement to address climate change, restrict actions to fix immigration laws or allow more visas, require trade laws to expand markets for Alaskan seafood, as well as other items intended to “buy votes” for fast-track TPA from reluctant Democrats. The customs bill also tries to get Democratic votes by undoing a provision that cuts Medicare in order to “pay for” trade adjustment assistance for workers who will lose their jobs if TPP passes.
Democrats who vote for the customs bill are voting to approve the ideological amendments added by Republicans. Many Republicans may choose to vote against fast-track TPA if the customs bill does not include the ideological amendments.
In other words, the Medicare cuts are still in the TAA and Democrats must vote for the Customs Bill to change it.
Lori M. Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, explained to MSNBC host Michael Eric Dyson how these bills will hurt everything from climate change and emigration, to killing jobs and greases the path to passing the TPA. Also on the show discussing how very bad these bills are Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jim Keady, director of Educating for Justice.
As Democracy for America puts it this is a trap
The Fast Track plan includes a trap: a $700 million cut to Medicare in order to pay for Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits and services for people who lose their jobs to foreign trade. Although Trade Adjustment Assistance and Fast Track are two separate bills, they’ve been linked by Republicans.
As the AFL-CIO and other allies are saying right now to House members, the bottom line is clear: A vote for the current Trade Adjustment Assistance bill and a vote for Fast Track is a vote to cut Medicare.
This is it. We need all hands on deck — and we need to take drastic action to win.
There are eight Democrats who are still undecided, whose votes could decide whether Medicare gets cut and whether Fast Track passes. Can you give these eight Representatives a call right now? Even if you’re not a constituent, they need to hear from you. It’s that important.
Oh, and in case you are wondering about what we mean we say “it’s a trap,” check out these Medicare attack ads that Republicans ran against Democrats in 2014 — a video made possible by our friends at the Communications Workers of America:
I don’t often agree with DFA these days but they are spot on exposing the GOP agenda.
The TAA bill has passed the Senate. Senate Republicans cut TAA funding by 21 percent from current levels, excluded public-sector workers from receiving any assistance and required that Medicare be cut to pay for what remains. Yet several Democrats agreed and voted for the bill. Now with the bill before the House, House leadership is trying to lure Democratic votes for the TAA bill by changing the funding from Medicare cuts in the sub-Saharan Africa bill, while retaining the ability to use the recorded TAA vote to cut Medicare against them in the coming elections.
The AFL-CIO has come out against TAA. Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, has stated his opposition to the TAA bill. Many Democrats who support fast-track TPA will find it political difficult to continue to do so without assistance for the workers who will lose jobs as a result of their support. [..]
This is widely called a “trade” vote, but from what is known about the actual TPP agreement (it’s secret from the public) it is largely about things other than what would usually be understood as trade. For example, one provision called investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) has been leaked to Wikileaks so it is known that it allows corporations to sue governments for laws and regulations that interfere with the corporation’s ability to collect current and “expected” profits.
Another leaked provision revives the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that Congress killed a few years ago. Yet another extends patents and copyrights far beyond what Congress has approved.
The Hill has been maintaining a “whip list” of who is for or against the fast-track bill. As of late Thursday, 118 Republicans and 20 Democrats were either declared or leaning “yes” votes. There were 44 Republicans and 135 Democrats declared or leaning “no.” That left 33 Democrats and 83 Republicans in the “undecided” column.
Especially the members who are undecided need to feel the heat from you to vote against fast track. If you have not made that call to your member of Congress, use our click-to-call tool to make that call now.
There is no time to waste, do this NOW. Call and tell your representative to vote no on these bills.
The House of Representative will most likely begin consideration of the Trade Promotion Authority, aka Fast Track, which would give the president a blank check to negotiate so-called “free trade” agreements.
The House will begin voting on trade legislation on Thursday, setting up a high-stakes vote Friday on a critical bill to give President Obama fast-track powers.
The complicated new process, laid out by GOP leadership late Wednesday night, is designed to address objections from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about how the trade package would be structured on the floor.
On Thursday, the House will first take up a trade preferences bill that includes new offsets to pay for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a related bill that provides aid to workers displaced by trade deals. Those new pay-fors, negotiated by Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would come from increased tax enforcement rather than through cuts to Medicare, which were part of the Senate-passed TAA bill.
The major problem with the TAA “fix” is that it doesn’t fix this:
Today, Wednesday 10 June 2015, WikiLeaks publishes the Healthcare Annex to the secret draft “Transparency” Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), along with each country’s negotiating position. The Healthcare Annex seeks to regulate state schemes for medicines and medical devices. It forces healthcare authorities to give big pharmaceutical companies more information about national decisions on public access to medicine, and grants corporations greater powers to challenge decisions they perceive as harmful to their interests.
Expert policy analysis, published by WikiLeaks today, shows that the Annex appears to be designed to cripple New Zealand’s strong public healthcare programme and to inhibit the adoption of similar programmes in developing countries. The Annex will also tie the hands of the US Congress in its ability to pursue reforms of the Medicare programme.
The draft is restricted from release for four years after the passage of the TPP into law.
The TPP is the world’s largest economic trade agreement that will, if it comes into force, encompass more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Despite the wide-ranging effects on the global population, the TPP and the two other mega-agreements that make up the “Great Treaty”, (the TiSA and the TTIP), which all together cover two-thirds of global GDP, are currently being negotiated in secrecy. The Obama administration is trying to gain “Fast-Track” approval for all three from the US House of Representatives as early as tomorrow, having already obtained such approval from the Senate.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks publisher, said:
It is a mistake to think of the TPP as a single treaty. In reality there are three conjoined mega-agreements, the TiSA, the TPP and the TTIP, all of which strategically assemble into a grand unified treaty, partitioning the world into the west versus the rest. This “Great Treaty” is descibed by the Pentagon as the economic core to the US military’s “Asia Pivot”. The architects are aiming no lower than the arc of history. The Great Treaty is taking shape in complete secrecy, because along with its undebated geostrategic ambitions it locks into place an aggressive new form of transnational corporatism for which there is little public support.
Director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program, Peter Maybarduk, and
John Sifton, advocacy director, Human Rights Watch expressed their concerns about TPP’s provisions increasing corporate controls over public health.
As the Obama administration praises the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), backlash continues to grow against the deal. WikiLeaks has just published another section of the secret text – this one about public healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry. Newly revealed details of the draft show the TPP would give major pharmaceutical companies more power over public access to medicine, and weaken public healthcare programs. The leaked draft also suggests the TPP would prevent Congress from passing reforms to lower drug costs. One of the practices that would be allowed is known as “Evergreening.” It lets drug companies extend the life of a patent by slightly modifying their product and then getting a new patent
The TPP will raise the costs of healthcare globally:
The TPP section requires countries to share decisions about pricing and regulation of drugs with pharmaceutical manufacturers, provide opportunity for comment on those decisions and create a process through which those decisions can be reviewed at the request of affected companies.
According to an analysis of the leaked document by Jane Kelsey (pdf), a law professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, these rules are enough to expose national health authorities to legal challenges under TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement process, or ISDS. ISDS empowers companies to challenge countries’ domestic laws before a tribunal of international judges if they believe the laws unfairly limit investment. The tribunals have the power to impose significant fines on countries if their laws are found responsible for the investment hardship in question. While pharmaceutical companies could not challenge national health programs’ policies through ISDS, their grievances would be eligible for ISDS if the companies claimed the policies hindered investment.
The clause removed from a leaked 2011 draft promises pharmaceutical companies the right to charge “competitive market-derived prices,” according to New York Times reporting on the TPP section released by Wikileaks. [..]
Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines project, attributed the change to the “unanimous opposition” of non-U.S. TPP negotiating partners, and to U.S. groups like AARP and the labor union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Maybarduk and other advocates argue that despite the lack of explicit price requirements in the new draft, the other TPP pharmaceutical and medical device transparency provisions still expose government drug purchasing programs to new legal challenges from pharmaceutical companies.
“The language previously was a little more specifically designed to attack the reimbursement rates” of government drug insurance programs, Maybarduk told The Huffington Post. “Now it is more about process rather than outcomes,” but the intent to undermine government drug price negotiation remains the same.
In an earlier statement (pdf), Maybarduk expressed concern that the rules would “limit Congress’ ability to enact policy reforms that would reduce prescription drug costs for Americans — and might even open to challenge aspects of our health care system today.” companies to challenge countries’ domestic laws before a tribunal of international judges if they believe the laws unfairly limit investment. The tribunals have the power to impose significant fines on countries if their laws are found responsible for the investment hardship in question. While pharmaceutical companies could not challenge national health programs’ policies through ISDS, their grievances would be eligible for ISDS if the companies claimed the policies hindered investment. [..]
But Maybarduk worries that USTR’s assurance notwithstanding, the language of the deal is broad enough to leave open the possibility of challenges to current Medicare policy.
The likelihood that TPP would preclude future Medicare policies is even greater, Maybarduk said. He is concerned that enabling Medicare to negotiate bulk drug prices would not be allowed under TPP. Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, is currently prohibited from negotiating drug prices, but many health policy experts have touted it as a way to lower costs for Medicare and its beneficiaries.
Read the TPP Transparency for Healthcare Annex here
Read the Analysis by Dr Deborah Gleeson (Australia) on TPP Transparency for Healthcare Annex here
Read the Analysis by Professor Jane Kelsey (New Zealand) on TPP Transparency for Healthcare Annex here
The Trade Promotion Authority Act (TPA), aka Fast Track, that the president and the corporatist congress are pushing, covers more than just the TPP. It will also apply to the equally terrible European TTIP & the Trade In Service Agreement that has just been uncovered by Wikileaks. If you thought TPP was bad, you haven’t read the Trade In Service Agreement. This “trade” agreement is a corporate friendly document that would reshape how everyone in the world does business.
Today, WikiLeaks released the secret draft text for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) Financial Services Annex, which covers 50 countries and 68.2%1 of world trade in services. The US and the EU are the main proponents of the agreement, and the authors of most joint changes, which also covers cross-border data flow. In a significant anti-transparency manoeuvre by the parties, the draft has been classified to keep it secret not just during the negotiations but for five years after the TISA enters into force.
Despite the failures in financial regulation evident during the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis and calls for improvement of relevant regulatory structures2, proponents of TISA aim to further deregulate global financial services markets. The draft Financial Services Annex sets rules which would assist the expansion of financial multi-nationals – mainly headquartered in New York, London, Paris and Frankfurt – into other nations by preventing regulatory barriers. The leaked draft also shows that the US is particularly keen on boosting cross-border data flow, which would allow uninhibited exchange of personal and financial data.
TISA negotiations are currently taking place outside of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework. However, the Agreement is being crafted to be compatible with GATS so that a critical mass of participants will be able to pressure remaining WTO members to sign on in the future. Conspicuously absent from the 50 countries covered by the negotiations are the BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The exclusive nature of TISA will weaken their position in future services negotiations.
The draft text comes from the April 2014 negotiation round – the sixth round since the first held in April 2013. The next round of negotiations will take place on 23-27 June in Geneva, Switzerland.
Current WTO parties negotiating TISA are: Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, which includes its 28 member states Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
China and Uruguay have expressed interest in joining the negotiations but so far are not included.
1] Swiss National Center for Competence in Research: [A Plurilateral Agenda for Services?: Assessing the Case for a Trade in Services Agreement (pdf), Working Paper No. 2013/29, May 2013, p. 10.
2] For example, in June 2012 Ecuador [tabled a discussion (pdf) on re-thinking regulation and GATS rules; in September 2009 the Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, convened by the President of the United Nations and chaired by Joseph Stiglitz, released its final report (pdf), stating that “All trade agreements need to be reviewed to ensure that they are consistent with the need for an inclusive and comprehensive international regulatory framework which is conducive to crisis prevention and management, counter-cyclical and prudential safeguards, development, and inclusive finance.”
Experts are still pouring over the documents but here is some of the preliminary analysis of what TISA will effect:
Wednesday’s leak provides the largest window yet into TISA and comes on the heels of two other leaks about the accord last year, the first from WikiLeaks and the other from the Associated Whistleblowing Press, a non-profit organization with local platforms in Iceland and Spain.
While analysts are still poring over the contents of the new revelations, civil society organizations released some preliminary analysis of the accord’s potential implications for transportation, communication, democratic controls, and non-participating nations
Telecommunications: “The leaked telecommunications annex, among others, demonstrate potentially grave impacts for deregulation of state owned enterprises like their national telephone company,” wrote the global network Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) in a statement issued Wednesday.
Transportation: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), comprised of roughly 700 unions from more than 150 countries, warned on Wednesday that the just-published documents “foresee consolidated power for big transport industry players and threaten the public interest, jobs and a voice for workers.” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “This text would supercharge the most powerful companies in the transport industry, giving them preferential treatment. What’s missing from this equation is any value at all for workers and citizens.”
Bypassing democratic regulations: “Preliminary analysis notes that the goal of domestic regulation texts is to remove domestic policies, laws and regulations that make it harder for transnational corporations to sell their services in other countries (actually or virtually), to dominate their local suppliers, and to maximize their profits and withdraw their investment, services and profits at will,” writes OWINFS. “Since this requires restricting the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, the corporate lobby is using TISA to bypass elected officials in order to apply a set of across-the-board rules that would never be approved on their own by democratic governments.”
Broad impact: “The documents show that the TISA will impact even non-participating countries,” wrote OWINFS. “The TISA is exposed as a developed countries’ corporate wish lists for services which seeks to bypass resistance from the global South to this agenda inside the WTO, and to secure and agreement on servcies without confronting the continued inequities on agriculture, intellectual property, cotton subsidies, and many other issues.”
Despite assurances that Fast Track would force the president to reveal the contents of these agreements, it also removes congresses ability to amend, debate or filibuster. Right now, only congress members can view these complex documents. They are not allowed to take notes, ask questions or even discuss the contents amongst themselves, while big corporations are free to read and discuss it. This is not how transparency works, Barrack.
Meanwhile, to promote transparency, Wikileaks is offers $100,000 to anyone who will reveal the missing chapters from the TPP. Only three of the of the 26 chapters have been uncovered so far. It is imperative that Americans and the world know what our governments are doing in our names.
The Fast Track vote is coming up this week. Help Stop Fast Track
Last week many received an e-mail from Democracy for America claiming the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would cut Medicare for senior citizens by $700 million:
There’s a big — brand new — attack on Medicare that’s just been added in the Senate to the Fast Track bill for the TPP. The bill would cut a whopping $700 million from Medicare, hurting seniors who need access to health care.
That’s right, Republicans insisted on cutting Medicare spending to pay for a Trade Adjustment Assistance program that Democrats got added to the bill in order to support workers who lost their jobs due to trade deals like the TPP.
A few bloggers were a little confused by this claim and dug a little deeper.
Lambert Strether, at naked capitalism, had a few good questions:
1) Has Trade Adjustment Assistance been added to the TPP Fast Track bill?
2) Has $700 million been cut from Medicare as a result?
3) Does Trade Adjustment Assistance serve any public purpose?
The answer to question #1 is No.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA) and the Trade Promotion Authority (“Fast Track”) are separate pieces of legislation, so when DFA says that TAA has “just been added in the Senate to the Fast Track bill for the TPP,” that’s not correct. Still, that doesn’t mean that a deal wasn’t cut, and that seems to be just what’s happened. [..]
And the bills indeed moved in tandem; the Senate voted for closure of both Fast Track and TAA last Thursday, May 14.
The answer to #2 is Yes. The cut is in the TAA. It was added by Republicans who insisted that the cost of bill be offset:
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, sponsored by Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), would rely on $700 million in reduced Medicare spending in 2024 to pay for [sic] healthcare coverage and other benefits for workers who lose coverage because of any agreements negotiated under fast-track trade authority sought by President Barack Obama.
The $700 million in savings would be achieved by increasing Medicare cuts that were part of the sequester by 0.25% in 2024.
Lambert points out the more colorful language from the National Journal
Apparently using Medicare as a piggy bank to pay for [sic] everything under the sun has become the new legislative norm for Congress,” Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said in a statement to National Journal. “Rather than balancing priorities or considering a penny of new revenue, congressional leaders are proposing to once again funnel Medicare resources into unrelated programs and fixes-this time it’s the trade adjustment assistance program.
Brown lists a ton of reasonable seeming tweaks and enhancements. Reading through the list, though, I’ve got to say I’m both ticked off and skeptical:
Ticked off, because how come the millions who got kicked out of the labor force when the powers-that-be decided to downsize it aren’t eligible for the same treatment? For example, it sounds like the Health Care Tax Credit workers screwed over by trade deals get is a better deal (at least in terms of dollars, even though it’s a tax credit) than COBRA, which is what workers screwed over by recessions and depressions get. What a horrible patchwork.
And skeptical, because in today’s post-crash and crapified labor market, is training really the answer? Especially for over-50s?
So I’m not convinced that TPP + TAA nets out positive for workers, or even makes them whole. [..]
Bottom line is that TAA is a bandaid on a cancer, and the Democrats – assuming good faith, which I think with Sherrod Brown it’s fair to do – traded away something for nothing, as so often. If corporations can go to a rigged court and sue for lost profits, how come workers can’t go to a rigged court and sue for lost wages?
Over at Salon, lapsed blogger David Dayen had this to say about the TAA and the Democrats sell out of seniors:
There’s substantial disagreement on whether TAA actually helps workers get new jobs, but Democrats strongly support the program. Even pro-trade Democrats made renewing TAA a condition of passing fast track, and the two bills will move together in the Senate this week. But even though supporters constantly talk up the economic benefits of trade, they nevertheless offset the $2.9 billion in TAA funding by cutting other spending. Supposedly, trade increases jobs and therefore federal revenue, leaving enough money available to pay for TAA. But in Congress’ eyes, some other priority has to pony up that cash nonetheless.
That priority happens to be Medicare. TAA is partially financed through $700 million in Medicare cuts. Sequestration expires in fiscal year 2024, but the TAA bill expands it by piling those cuts onto the back end. Most of the other $2.2 billion gets financed through customs user fees. [..]
The other problem here is that it fundamentally breaks that promise – already, before any vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership or any other fast-tracked agreement – that no laws will change in this new era of corporate-friendly “free trade.” This continues a troubling trend, identified by Paul Krugman, about not being able to trust the White House’s categorical denials about the consequences of their trade agenda. They said the investor-state dispute settlement process couldn’t weaken regulatory priorities; that’s not true. They said Dodd-Frank would be protected in any trade deals; that’s not true either. To quote Krugman, “The Administration is in effect saying trust us, then repeatedly bobbling questions about the deal in a way that undermines that very trust.” The Medicare cuts represent another drop in that bucket. [..]
Every hit on the credibility of the free trade agenda makes it less likely that the bill will pass the House. Republicans claim they are gaining momentum in picking up votes, but all public whip counts show the tally coming up short. Adding Medicare cuts into the mix makes voting for fast track an even heavier lift for the House Democrats likely needed to get the bill the required votes. Republicans have repeatedly torched Democrats for Medicare cuts in campaign ads. They cannot relish giving another opening for that attack.
These are all bad bills that in the long run will hurt the vast majority of workers. So fight back by arming yourself with the facts then contact your congressional representatives via letters, e-mail and phone calls. Get together with a few people, make an appointment and visit their offices to express your concerns. Delegations get attention. Write letters to the editors of newspapers. And don’t let up, be persistant and polite.
The lies about TPP need to be exposed and this agreement needs to be stopped.
Just a day after stopping the fast tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the Senate Democrats cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring it back for another vote:
Under the agreement, the Senate will hold a series of votes on Thursday on three separate trade measures: two standalone votes on bills that reflect Democrats’ priorities, including one that would crack down on Chinese currency manipulation, and then another vote on a bill that would give Obama so-called “fast-track” negotiating authority.
If that sounds like a bad idea, well it is because neither of those bills has the backing from Republicans to pass in the Senate. In the bright side, the exclusion of protection for labor and regulations on currency an manipulation could doom fast track in the House.
Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been able to count on broad and deep support for the trade agenda, which is less about trade and more about smoothing out regulations to benefit multinational corporations. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn’t have that same luxury when it comes to granting so-called fast-track authority to Obama. [..]
People close to House leadership say Boehner expects to lose, at this point, roughly 50 Republican votes. Lobbyists and staffers on both sides of the issue said they think such a count is highly optimistic, and that House Republicans realistically have around 140 “yes” votes.
House Republicans start with 245 members and, thanks to two vacant seats, need 217 votes for a majority. Lobbyists and House staffers don’t expect more than 20 Democrats to join with Republicans — the number is said to be at 17 as of now — which would put the tally just shy of the number needed, giving Boehner and Obama a fighting chance to get over the top. But if the GOP is indeed only in the 140s and needs to flip 50 undecided or “no” votes between now and the time of the vote, the challenge is a daunting one. Even getting to 170 would leave trade-bill backers well short.
In such a scenario, lobbyists and operatives say, Boehner would elect not to bring the bill to the floor at all, so as not to set an anti-trade precedent and to spare his members a vote that angers the business community with one decision and the tea party with the other. [..]
The customs enforcement bill would toughen up punishments for businesses and countries that cheat trade rules by underpricing goods, and ban imports of goods made with forced child labor. Somewhat more importantly, the currency manipulation measure within the bill would clamp down on countries that seek to make their goods cheaper by devaluing their own currencies. It’s a major priority for Democrats, but by agreeing to hold a vote on it that’s separate from the fast-track bill, it all but guarantees the House will not take it up.
If House GOP leadership chooses to ignore the bills Democrats demanded votes on in the Senate, and they likely will, House Democrats may try to push the issue.
In the end, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Javier Becerra, said Republicans shouldn’t expect Democrats to help them out on trade.
“I don’t believe that Republican leaders should count on Democrats to bail them out of their bill, Becerra said.
The short of it: even if these bills manage to make it to President Obama’s desk, he will veto them and we will be stuck with another economically devastating trade bill. The Democrats meed to wake up.