I always get nervous when Democrats and Republicans in government work together on something. This is because we have reached the stage in politics in the US where oligarchic control is so extensive that it seems like the only force that can overcome the sheer pettiness, greed, and ambition of the elected representatives who are so divided on social issues. So signs of bipartisanship that are so revered by the establishment are for me warning signs that moves are in the works that the oligarchy is pushing strongly for and that will be bad for the rest of us. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) issue provides a case in point.
A second warning sign is when the bipartisanship is between president Obama and the Republicans with the Democratic party members in Congress opposed, because that is a sign that the deal being pushed is so bad that even the Democratic party realizes that their base might revolt. As Dave Johnson points out, “The President’s alignment with Republicans, Wall Street, and corporate lobbying organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, and against progressives, labor, and almost all Democrats to push TPP is frustrating Democrats across the board.”
A third warning sign is more stylistic. When Obama goes into a faux-populist mode of speaking, using down-home phrases, calling people ‘folks’, dropping his g’s, and the like, then I know he is perpetrating a swindle. To use a metaphor from poker, it is a classic ‘tell’ for him.
All these signs are on display in the maneuvering over the TPP agreement where yesterday’s vote in the US Senate stopped advance of the bill approving fast track authority for the deal. All but one of the 46 Democratic and Independent senators voted against moving the bill forward and the measure failed 52-45, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Both senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have campaigned strongly against the bill and the latter explained her reasons.
I have three objections. The first is that the president is asking us to vote to grease the skids on a trade deal that has largely been negotiated but that is still held in secret. The second is that we know that corporations under this deal are going to get sue countries for regulations they don’t like, and that the decisions are not going to be made by courts, they’re going to be made by private lawyers. And the third problem is that he wants us to vote on a six-year, grease-the-skids deal.
I have not read the details of the TPP. There is a good reason for that because the document has not been made public, despite Obama’s utterly misleading assertions that critics can find out what is in the bill. Only a select few are allowed to see it under extraordinary conditions of secrecy, which is yet another warning sign, and the full text will be released only just before the final up-or-down vote. Senator Barbara Boxer describes the measures taken, including handing over all electronic devices before gaining access to the room where she is allowed to read it and, if she takes handwritten notes, those must be relinquished too.
Senators Sherrod Brown and Warren have demanded that the text of the treaty be released before having a vote on fast track authority but Obama has refused. The White House even threatened that any Democrat who revealed to the public any information given to them at a briefing could be prosecuted for a crime and Obama has taken to sneering at critics, comparing them to Sarah Palin and her death panels. The Most Transparent Administration In History™ in action, folks!
But the deal is not secret from everyone though. After all, foreign governments know what is in the deal. In addition, Warren explains that while members of Congress have highly restricted access to the information, lobbyists for big businesses have actually been working on the deal and have plenty of access.
I have been able to go to a special, secured room. I can’t take any electronic devices – no computer, no iPhone. I can’t even walk out with paper notes. I can go and read about the agreement, but I cannot come out in public and talk about any of the specifics. The press can’t see it. The public can’t see it. But I will tell you this – there are some folks who’ve seen it. There are 28 working groups that have helped shape the trade deal. And in those 28 working groups, there are more than 500 people. It turns out that 85 percent of them are either corporate executives – senior corporate executives or lobbyists for the industries that are being affected. The way I see this, that’s a tilted process, and a tilted process yields a tilted result.
Alleen Brown describes in detail all the huge corporations and other business-friendly entities that have access to the details of the deal that are hidden from you and me and are actually involved in shaping it, even though they stand to gain from the deal.
All the warning signs are there that this is a bad deal. Readers may recall an earlier occasion when Obama aligned with the Republicans and big business and that was in trying to get a so-called Grand Bargain passed, where the oligarchy would get their cherished goal of cutting people’s earned benefits like Social Security and other benefits. This was thwarted because of concerted grass roots opposition channeled through the Democratic members of Congress.
The oligarchy is very keen on passing TPP. They have got the Republican leadership and Obama solidly in their pocket on this one. They will try to provide some incentives for Democrats to switch their votes and provide some face-saving measures to try and shield them from the wrath of labor and other progressive groups. And it is plain that for all his populist talk, Obama really has his heart set on passing TPP despite popular opposition from the very groups he claims to speak for.. It will take a lot of effort to prevent them from succeeding.