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Get Ready to Call 'Em Out On the TPP!

letsgetitdone's picture

So, on May 22, the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) (“Fast Track”) Bill passed the Senate 62 – 37, with 14 Democrats defecting to the pro-Fast TracK/Trade-Pacific Partnership (TPP) forces. However, all was not wine and roses for the Administration and Fast Track/TPP proponents in the Senate.

First, the pro-TPP forces sustained a temporary defeat on May 12, when the Senate would not approve debating Fast Track, introducing delay into the process. The problem was quickly fixed with agreements to consider and vote on related issues such as Trade Adjustment Assistance, forced child labor, and currency manipulation outside of Fast Track. But nevertheless the glitch was unanticipated, and looked bad for an Administration wanting clear sailing in the Senate for Fast Track.

Second, an amendment to Fast Track unexpectedly snuck through the Senate providing for banning or throwing out nations practicing human trafficking. This amendment is regarded as a “poison pill” that will prevent Malaysia from being included in the TPP, with unknown impact on other possible signators.

At a minimum, the Administration, if it is successful in getting Fast Track through the House, will want this amendment eliminated from the bill, making it necessary to either send Fast Track back to the Senate for further amendment bringing it into agreement with the House, or, alternatively, to go to a Conference committee of the two Houses of Congress, where the “poison pill” would be dissolved. Even if one of these alternatives is successful, the result will be harmful to the Administration in two ways.

First, will weaken the confidence of the TPP negotiating partners that the President can deliver approval of the final TPP agreement by the Congress. And, second, it will delay getting to a final up or down vote in the Congress which the Administration is anxious to get before the end of this calendar year.

Meanwhile, the action now moves to the House, where the Administration's chances of passing Fast Track have always been more uncertain than they were in the Senate, and where John Boehner seems reluctant to schedule a vote without significant Democratic support, and also without increasing the likelihood that 40 – 45 tea party Republicans will drop their opposition to the bill in the face of vocal opposition from Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Matt Drudge, and tea party media phalanx more generally. There is widespread feeling that if Fast Track and TPP aren't concluded by the end of the year, then it will be impossible to get Congress to vote on the TPP in an election year, though I wouldn't discount the possibility that a lame duck Congress might give the lame duck President his fondest wish after the election.

So, this sets the House up as the venue for the most intense fight over Fast Track/TPP yet. It is in the House where the until now predominantly progressive legislative public opposition to the TPP could pick up the tea party conservative support needed to defeat the Administration's proposals and any fig leaf compromises designed to dress them up cosmetically, without changing the reality of corporate dominated ISDS sovereignty over national governments. So, where do we go from here in fighting Fast Track/TPP in the House?

I'll take up that question in a future post. Here, I want to recognize that even though opponents of Fast Track/TPP like myself have to give it all we've got to ensure that the House is the graveyard of both, we also must find the energy, time, and resources to plan what we ought to do if and when the House eliminates the poisoned pill and then we have another Fast Track round in the Senate.

Such a contingency plan must consider three likely alternative possibilities: that 1) the Senate attempts to pass a revised bill aligning itself with the House, 2) the Senate decides to pursue such an alignment through a Conference committee of both Houses to arrive at a common bill, and 3) the House just accepts the Senate version of Fast Track with its “poison pill.” Let's look at the third possibility first.

If the House accepts the Senate version, then the President will have gotten his Fast Track, albeit with its poison pill, and then the opponents of the TPP will have a difficult time getting a “no” vote on that bill, in a Senate which passed Fast Track with 62 votes. On the other hand, the President may still have difficulties with such a Fast Track bill if its outcome is Malaysia's defection from the TPP negotiations due to the human trafficking amendment, followed by the defection of other possible signators responding to the failure to successfully complete an agreement with that nation.

However, these possible consequences of passing Fast Track with the poison pill may not be as likely as the alternative that the President gives assurances to Malaysia that he will not enforce the human trafficking amendment. Malaysia is likely to think that such assurances aren't good enough since the President can only keep such an informal agreement during his term in office. However, against that objection, the President can reply that if a Republican succeeds him, then they too, will be reluctant to enforce the amendment against Malaysia, and that if Hillary Clinton succeeds him, the likelihood, based on her political networks and previous support of “free trade” is that she, too will not enforce the prohibition against human trafficking either, though she may be not be able to stomach Malaysians trafficking in women and girls.

If such reasoning is still unconvincing to the Malaysians, then the Administration can point out to them that since the agreement is a Congressional-Executive Agreement rather than a treaty, there are legal grounds for Malaysia simply withdrawing, since the United States would never committed to a full-blown TPP treaty with it, if it believes that the US hasn't held to the assurances the Administration may offer. So, the likely outcome of this scenario is that “the poison pill” may not be as poisonous as it appears, and that Malaysia will, in the end, have little trouble trying out the agreement in 2016, at least until it has a chance to evaluate how Obama and his successors treat the Menendez amendment.

So, in short, if the House passes the Senate bill without change, then the Administration may just take the bill as it is and run with it. In that case, the response of opponents must be continuous public protest and a variety of other efforts against the bill for the remainder of the Obama Administration. Such continuing pressure won't make the Administration back off the agreement. It will still be the law of the land, but opponents can make its repeal a very potent 2016 campaign issue if they emphasize the sovereignty infringements enabled in it and the Congress's betrayal of national, state, and local sovereignty and the public interest.

What if the Senate attempts to pass a revised Fast Track bill aligning itself with any changes in Fast Track made by the House?. This is probably less likely than other alternatives because when House and Senate bills differ, the leaders in each House normally prefer harmonizing the bills through using a Conference Committee staffed by representatives of both Houses. But, if the choice is made by Mitch McConnell to pass a revised Senate bill identical to what the House passes, then we can distinguish two situations.

First, if the House passes a bill removing the poison pill, then McConnell can try to pass a bill without it too. And second, if the House passes a revised Fast Track with the poison pill amendment, as well as some others, like a tough currency manipulation prohibition amendment, and/or an amendment eliminating or constraining the use of ISDS tribunals to trump national level legislation regarding the general welfare, then McConnell can try to pass that too on the theory that a weak Fast Track is better than no Fast Track at all.

In the first case, it is by no means clear that such a bill would pass, since the margin in favor of Fast Track may shrink somewhat if the poison pill is written out of it. Judging from the latest 62-37 vote in the Senate here are only three votes to spare before Fast Track would not be able to clear the 60 vote hurdle.

So, perhaps Fast Track would simply fail at this point, since there are more than a few vulnerable Democratic Senators in 2016 and 2018 who would be risking defeat if Fast Track becomes very unpopular. In addition, there are Republican Senators who voted for Fast Track the first time around, but who may become more wary of such a vote, if the struggle in the House produces a lot of tea party Republican opposition among whom there may be some who would take a pro-TPP vote by their Republican Senator as an opportunity to mount a primary campaign against their incumbent in 2016 or 2018. So, depending on how the House struggle goes it may be harder to get Fast Track through the Senate, the second time around than it was the first.

Opponents of the Fast Track bill can make it much more likely that any revision reaching the Senate dies there the second time around by mounting a ferocious period of protesting and more generalized popular resistance prior to second round Senate consideration. This effort needs to be organized enough and intense enough that the impression is conveyed to Senators that an anti-TPP movement that is intense enough to seek reprisals in the 2016 election and beyond against Senators who vote for the bill. Democratic Senators who are defecting from the Democratic majority, as well as the Republicans voting with the corporations must be persuaded that the best thing for them in 2016 is for Fast Track/TPP to just go away, and that this won't be the result if they pass Fast Track, but only if they kill it.

Moving to the second case, if a weak Fast Track bill including some tough amendments is passed by the House, then it is doubtful that such a result would be useful to the President, and he might simply pull the plug on efforts to pass such a bill before It was brought up for a Senate vote. If that doesn't happen, however, and such a bill passes, perhaps because some Senators decide to make a statement about free trade agreements, then that would probably lead to wholesale defections from the negotiating process and the death of the TPP.
Opponents of the TPP can facilitate this outcome, if they mount a strong public resistance campaign strengthening opposition in the House that either defeats Fast Track outright, or increases the number of poison pills in it, from one to three or four, making the bill very unpalatable to US TPP negotiating partners and to the White House

This brings us to the Conference Committee approach. Its outcome will very much depend on who the Conference selections in each House are. These, in turn, will depend on which factions in each House are wavering on Fast Track and need to be persuaded that their views are taken account of in a Conference result that makes them comfortable enough to allow them to vote for the compromise bill hammered out by the two houses.

Since the Senate has already passed a bill with the human trafficking poison pill, and the House is reputed to have much more opposition to Fast Track in both parties than the Senate has, I think it unlikely, that the House conferees will come to the negotiation with a harder position on the human trafficking amendment than the Senate took.

In addition, It is likely that currency manipulation prohibitions, environmental protection, pharmaceutical company, and ISDS-related constraints, regulations, and prohibitions will be favored much more intensely in the House than in the Senate, both because seriously negative impacts of TPP are likely to be felt much more intensely at local levels where Congresspeople must be focused than they are at State levels where the concerns of Senators are aggregated. So, for John Boehner to aggregate enough support for the TPP in his raucous caucus, he may have to conciliate those who feel they must have protection from their constituents in 2016 with other poison pill amendments.

This result may set up a situation in the Conference Committee where a middle position acceptable to both Houses would not be a Fast Track bill with just one poison pill, but one with at least two and perhaps three poison pills. Again, this result would cause the death of Fast Track/TPP for the present and also would take both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) off the agenda for the immediate future.

Again, opponents of these national sovereignty, democracy-destroying, “trade” agreements can help to bring about that outcome by increasing the pressure on Representatives in the House and ultimately on the Senators by facing them with a movement. The movement can call out individual Congresspeople and Senators using appeals, frames, and arguments based on job destruction, labor market, environmental, and regulatory impacts of various kinds, political paralysis, budgetary and austerity impacts and others. All these will be effective in varying degrees based on the segments of the voting population being addressed.

But, in my view, appeals based on none of these will be as intensely felt or as widely accepted as those that emphasize TPP and other “trade” agreements undermining national, state, and local sovereignty and replacing it with Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)-based corporate rule. People can have different opinions about all the other issue areas related to the TPP, but except among a truly small number of people, the idea that corporations and the wealthy ought to establish hegemony over national governments backed by popular sovereignty is extraordinarily illegitimate and repellent.

If support for the TPP and other agreements, in light of the proposed powers to be conferred on the ISDS tribunals can be framed as disloyalty to the various nation states negotiating them, then the agreements can be defeated. A movement that can deliver that message, consistently and powerfully, can rout the politicians favoring the TPP, and still win the day. Let us make sure that such a movement takes wings in the coming weeks and sustains its effort for as long as it takes to end this latest threat to democracy.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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Submitted by lambert on

And I'm going to physically go their local offices next week. I don't think I can put a delegation together, but even so it's a good thing. We have only two representatives in Maine, so it won't be hard....

metamars's picture
Submitted by metamars on

Let us make sure that such a movement takes wings in the coming weeks and sustains its effort for as long as it takes to end this latest threat to democracy.

Considering the fact that anti-TPP "activists" had over a year (more like a year and a half), thanks to Wikileaks, to make TPA Dead on Arrival (by educating the public), and more or less completely failed at the task (most Americans never heard of the TPP, at least as recently as a few weeks ago), should you not at least address the question of how such a movement is to come about?

AFAICT, the anti-TPP "activists" don't even have a specific (and quantitative) goal of educating the public about TPP, much less any plan to reach that goal. (The importance of such a methodological desideratum can be inferred from Nine Things Successful People Do Differently ). Therefore, they are, IMO, setting themselves up for failure.

In fairness, I'll remind everybody that they've gotten a large, and very wide-ranging coalition of organizations together opposing TPP. That's fairly impressive, looked at in isolation.

However, it makes their paltry ground game less understandable, and less forgivable.....


Besides failing to make TPA DOA, the anti-TPP "activists" have (so far) pissed away a golden opportunity to drive the approval ratings of both the Democratic and Republican parties into the toilet. (Desirable since any plausible theory of change requires either the reformation of both mainstream parties and/or power accreting to one or more 3rd parties).

The TPP is economic TREASON. Neither the D nor R party has disowned this POS, hence they are silent parties to TREASON, hence they should be made to bear the full brunt of their dark sins of omission.

Ah, but our friendly, neighborhood anti-TPP "activists" are largely silent on this score.

metamars's picture
Submitted by metamars on

I won't even take the time to sketch my vision of what a movement which embraces a respectable anti-TPP educational program would look like.

Instead, I'll just make two points.

One is general - we need to think outside the box (as well as inside it; I'm certainly for calling one's Congress critter and complaining loudly).

Secondly, since the TPP rises to the level of economic TREASON, a normally outside-the-box group of Americans (wrt economic issues) who I'm pretty sure nobody is approaching to evangelize anti-TPP memes are veterans.

I mean, imagine that you could get them to wear their uniforms (? not sure this is legal for a political purpose) while they presented to local Boy Scout troops and PTA's, or tabled at grocery stores, etc.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

I agree that support of the TPP is disloyalty to the United States. I don't say "treason" because that idea is very narrowly defined in our constitution.

Also, I think we ought to start calling our representatives out for disloyalty to the United States if they contemplating voting for the TPP. I don't say "economic disloyalty" because the TPP's scope is more general than that because it elevates corporate "expectations of profit" above all other values. Lambert has called this "absolute capitalism" in a recent blog. But I call it national level fascism since that is what is enabled and encouraged by the ISDS provisions in the TPP along with opening up ISDS potential clientele to another 25,000 foreign multinationals and an additional 25,000 US multinationals. ISDS will over time practically force national governments to collude with multinational and bring them formally into collaborations with the government, creating national fascisms as Mussolini defined that idea.

Submitted by lambert on

Here. I concluded this way:

“Arbitrary control” — absolutism — in service of capital as a global change in the constitutional order, and all done in secret. What could go wrong?

When I wrote that, I wasn't thinking of ISDS, let alone the horrible "Living Agreement" clause, as the overthrowing of the Peace of Westphalia in favor of a sort of neo-liberal Papacy that is trans- and post-national. But now I think that's indeed what's going on. So I don't think that fascism is the right frame. I think we are looking at a new order of things entirely, and even if some of the checklist-style tests for fascism are, I feel, at least, that the political econom(y|ies) against which the checklists are applied will turn out to be a different beast.

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

As I said in my blog on TPP and fascism. It's not enabling fascism at the global level. There it's enabling corporatist feudalistic plutocratic oligarchy. But it is enabling fascism at the national level where people will be under the thumb of the national authorities governing on behalf of the corporations.

Submitted by lambert on

I agree that the Constitution defines treason narrowly, thus:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

However, the Constitution does not define "levying war." I would bet that if we were to look through some military doctrinal material, we'd find financial and informational warfare included. So, in that sense, a TPP vote would indeed constitute "levying war." (I remember making the same point when warrantless surveillance was first coming out; the administration had deployed weapons of war against its own people -- who are, one might add, sovereign.)

What do you think of this argument? I might expand it.

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

I think it's worth expanding, but that it is a stretch to make the legal case. Of course, the use of "treason" precedes our legal definition, so one might argue that older common sense meanings apply for political discourse. For example, the idea of treason against the sovereign is probably well-known in English history. Well, what happens when one's sovereign is the people as in a democracy. Then deliberate attempts to betray democracy or subordinate would be "treason." We certainly have that here.

In a Republic one might argue that the Constitution is the sovereign. In that case, attempts to overthrow would fit that older view of treason. Since the TPP is aimed at breaking down the separation of powers and the supremacy of the legislative branch in law making, it might be called "treason" from that point of view.

Submitted by lambert on

The political class is waging war, through informational and financial means, against the sovereign, and hope to transfer their sovereignty to a transnational entity. We might think of this as a form of Civil War (which makes me wonder what the Constitutional treatment of secession is, and whether it applies to usurpation).

That would be the argument I'd make in a nutshell.

metamars's picture
Submitted by metamars on

You might want to refer to a new posting at, Fast Track For The TPP Should Be Called The “Treason Act” Says the author:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership should be called the Treason Act because it would impose regulations upon the national legislatures and local governments of twelve countries as if they had been defeated in a war. The TPP is an act of war against middle class Americans’ standard of living, against the planet’s climate and against the poor people of 12 nations who will not be able to pay higher costs for life-saving prescriptions. People will unnecessarily die if the transnational corporations win this “war.”

(emphasis mine; the rest of the paragraph strikes me as rhetorical exaggeration, as it apparently conflates the undesirability of TPP's consequences - awful as they may be - with it's 'Constitutionally illegal' subversion )

My justification for calling the TPP "economic treason" is simply that it greatly subverts the Constitutional order, and the subverting entity is a de facto economic union of plutocratic actors.

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Again, it's more than economic treason because it is selling out our ability to legislate for all dimensions of the general welfare if our legislation would impact corporate profits.

Also, thanks for the link. I had seen it elsewhere, but was distracted from actually reading it. I think it is significant. But I also think that the emphasis on subordination of our laws as if we had lost a war is both superfluous and also doesn't make a clear logical connection to the idea of aligning with an enemy in a war by giving that enemy aid and comfort.

However, I still think that a "treason" case, the more general meaning we're discussing here can be made simply by emphasizing the subversion of the constitution and our system of government inherent in the TPP. The case has already been made elsewhere that TPP undermines separation of powers and the role of the legislature in law making. Supporting that is, in my view, treason in that more general sense.

Also, Obama doesn't need to be charged with "treason" in the narrow sense to be impeached and convicted by way of removing him from office. A political standard can be applied there and certainly an attempt to overthrow the constitution is enough to impeach and convict a president if one has the votes.

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Hi Ya, Metamars,

As you know the anti-TPP have been severely handicapped by lack of money, and also by trying to defend the American people against a variety of immediate threats from the corporatists. This has included defending against the Grand Bargain, Net Neutrality, Free Trade Agreements, Police Brutality and repression of civil liberties and civil rights, Environmental Pollution, and climate change, transitions to renewable energy sources, creation of a single standard of justice and law, enhanced Medicare for All, strengthening of the safety and defense of democracy against corporate domination. So, the anti-TPP groups are not just anti-TPP groups. They are groups that are often engaged in popular resistance across the board opposing the transition to plutocratic and oligarchical fascism.

Under the circumstances, I think these groups have done an amazing job. However, what you suggest is certainly needed. I think we ought to take this fight against Fast Track/TPP win or lose, as an opportunity to build that stronger movement that will develop and track the accomplishment of goals such as those you have in mind.

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Submitted by metamars on

Under the circumstances, I think these groups have done an amazing job.

Ahh-h-h, at least here in NJ, in terms of educating the public, it's hard for me to imagine how they could have done a worse job. I've not seen 1 bumper sticker, 1 poster, 1 flyer, 1 protest, etc., against the TPP.

One could say, "Well, perhaps 13% of the public has at least heard of the TPP!", however even that is likely overly optimistic (and says nothing about how many people know any of the damning details). Also, Obama mentioned TPP during his last State of the Union. I was at the gym that night, and could hardly avoid watching it - it prempted a number of the TV channels.

A lot of the people I stopped were in groups, and with one exception, nobody else walking in the groups chimed in "Ah, but I know what it is!" OTOH, there's a 2 or 3 cases of co-walkers saying "no", but I didn't count them.

This video, by RT, taken in Times Square, didn't find anybody who had heard of TPP. (Unfortunately, they don't give us any idea how many people they talked to.)

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

I saw that video. But, it's certainly anecdotal. That said, having campaign paraphernalia like bumper stickers does require funds for supporting one's campaigns. For most of the resistance groups those funds are hard to come by.

metamars's picture
Submitted by metamars on


Green Party USA has a membership of 248 K. Times .028, we guesstimate 6,950 in NJ.

20% (Pareto) of 6950, donating $20 each, yields a pot of $27,803.

At , you can get 5,000 8.5" x 11" brochures for $199.

So, the GP USA, in NJ, alone could conjure up 698,577 flyers.

Population of NJ is 8.9 million. Average household size in US is 2.58 people. So NJ has 3,449,612 households.

Hence, you could easily, from a financial point of view, crowdfunding from GP alone, hand out 1 flyer per 4.9 households.

And that could start the ball rolling, the main stream media blackout be damned.

However, taking the POV that activists have done an "amazing job" (even with 0 evidence of a public education campaign here in NJ) short circuits even the discussion of what sort of unambiguous educational goals are both feasible and possible. ("unambiguous" goals being one of the " Nine Things Successful People Do Differently").

The Green Party shadow cabinet were co-sponsors of the weekly (for a while; they're supposed to resume next week) anti-TPP webinars, along with interoccupy and

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Submitted by metamars on

better wording:

However, taking the POV that activists have done an "amazing job" (even with 0 evidence of a public education campaign here in NJ) short circuits even the discussion of what sort of unambiguous educational goals are feasible, as well as planning to achieve those goals. ("unambiguous" goals being one of the " Nine Things Successful People Do Differently").

The Green Party shadow cabinet were co-sponsors of the weekly (for a while; they're supposed to resume shortly) anti-TPP webinars, along with interoccupy and I'm fine with patting them on the back for their good intentions, as well as their actual accomplishments.

However, their actual accomplishments, regarding public education in NJ, are the same miserable zero as all the other anti-TPP "activists".

In between optimism and pessimism, there is realism. Being realistic might demoralize some people, even hurt their feelings. But is that worse than suffering "activists'" strategic incompetence silently, and then having future generations of Americans (including the children of the incompetent "activists") reduced to TPP - induced serfdom?