Bill Black: Obama & TPP – Every One That Doeth Evil Hateth the Light
Posted on April 26, 2015 by Yves Smith
Yves here. One of the infuriating aspects of the shamelessness of Obama’s pissy push to get fast track authority passed so he can shackle ordinary Americans with his toxic TPP is the shameless of his lies. For instance, as Black recounts, Obama stated that anyone in Congress can read the draft text. While technically accurate, as we reported earlier, the process was designed to be so difficult as to make it impossible to make anything resembling an adequate review:
And finally, for the Administration to insinuate that the TPP will result in greater transparency is dubious, given that it’s made it well-nigh impossible for anyone in Congress to do a proper review of the text. While the US Trade Representative technically allows access, in practice, that right is empty. The Congressman himself must read the text; no sending staffers or bringing experts allowed, and only staffers from the committees with direct oversight of trade bills (the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee) are allowed to join their bosses. The USTR insists that the Congressman specify what chapter he wants to review in advance. The USTR then insists that the negotiator of those chapters be present. Since those negotiators travel, it usually takes three or four weeks to find a convenient time.
No note-taking is allowed. The text is full of bracketed sections where if language is disputed, the revisions suggested by other countries are in the brackets, with the country initials listed but then redacted, making it difficult to read (as in you can’t even read this dense text straight through; the flow of the document is interrupted by the various suggested changes). Having people from the USTR staring over your shoulder is distracting. And it’s an open question as to whether asking them questions is prudent, since it gives the USTR insight into what the Congressman is concerned about.
Perhaps these Congressmen have exceptional powers of concentration. But I read cases and legally dense material with some regularity, and I find my concentration starts going after an hour to an hour and a half. And I also find it difficult to get much more than a general sense of a contract of any length in one pass. You need to go over it again and again to see how the various sections tie together to even have an approximate grasp of what it means. There’s simply no way that any Congressman has anything more than a very fuzzy idea of what is in the TPP and the TTIP.
They very fact that the Administration is going to such absurd lengths to prevent informed Congressional review should be sufficient reason in and of itself to turn down the Administration’s request for fast-track authority.
While Obama may have loosened up these restrictions in the last week, he’s pushing for a vote on fast track authority this week. Given the complexity of the bill (it runs to 29 chapters) and that Congressmen can’t drop everything they are doing and lock themselves in a room with the TPP’s text, any change in the procedures is mere window-dressing.
Please circulate this post to family, friends, and colleagues, and urge them to call their Representative Monday and tell him in no uncertain terms that you expect him to vote against fast track authority. You can read more about the disturbing provisions in that legislation here.
By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Jointly published with New Economic Perspectives
President Obama wants the world to know that he takes it personally that the Democratic Party’s base opposes his latest effort to sell out the people of the world to the worst corporations through the infamous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. Obama blurted out at a press conference a number of conservative Republican memes as his sole basis for pushing TPP. He then launched personal attacks on Senator Elizabeth Warren and labor leaders (without naming them). Obama, who is famous for keeping his cool when criticized by the GOP, is thin-skinned when criticized by Democrats. Obama never raged at the Republicans’ “death panel” attacks on him, but he raged at Warren as supposedly making an equivalently openly dishonest attack on TPP’s secret drafting process.
One of the most reprehensible aspects of TPP is that it is (still) being drafted in secret – that it from us, the people – but with corporate lobbyists literally drafting their wish list. Obama made the critical mistake of personally attacking Warren, which is roughly equivalent to a small town mayor launching a personal attack on Jon Stewart. You know the results will be that Stewart will wipe the floor with the mayor.
Or, to move the metaphor to Hollywood, the character playing the President in the movie The American President warns his political opponent to limit his attacks to the President rather than his girlfriend: “you better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.” Warren is way out of Obama’s league in this arena of protecting the American people from CEOs’ frauds and abuses. Obama is the one who infamously told the bankers he was protecting them from the American people’s demands for the restoration of the rule of law so that the banksters would be held accountable for leading the fraud epidemics that drove the financial crisis and the Great Depression. Obama, being Obama, phrased that in the form of a vile slander of the American people, claiming that they wanted to use “pitchforks” rather than prosecutions.
Here is the “money quote” from Warren and Senator Sherrod Brown’s letter responding to Obama’s attack.
“Executives of the country’s biggest corporations and their lobbyists already have had significant opportunities not only to read [the TPP text], but to shape its terms,” the letter reads. “The Administration’s 28 trade advisory committees on different aspects of the TPP have a combined 566 members, and 480 of those members, or 85%, are senior corporate executives or industry lobbyists. Many of the advisory committees — including those on chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles and clothing, and services and finance — are made up entirely of industry representatives.”
In sum, Obama stacked the committees to ensure that the CEOs’ lobbyists would completely dominate the secret drafting of TPP. And everyone in America know that the result of that has to be a Faux Trade agreement crafted to allow the CEOs to plunder with impunity.
Obama is demanding an additional reprehensible element – “fast track” – in which the cynical “CEOs’ Christmas in May” deal cannot be amended to remove even the most despicable provisions of the bill placed like land mines by the CEOs’ lobbyists. I don’t think opposing the TPP should be a partisan issue. Republicans should help lead the effort to stop Obama’s latest sell out.
TPP, of course, is being sold through a full court press of the economists who brought us the financial crisis and the Great Recession and the multiple Great Depressions in Spain, Italy, and Greece. Their lie, as always, is that this travesty of special interest deals drafted overwhelmingly by corporate lobbyists represents “free trade.” They first torture the language and truth before they torture the world.
TPP is the opposite of “free trade.” In the jargon of its economic supporters, it is a moldering midden hiding the secretly drafted “rent seeking” provisions designed to help CEOs enrich themselves at the expense of the people of the world. Adam Smith, who supported freer trade, warned over two centuries ago that when CEOs meet secretly it promptly turns into a conspiracy against the public interest and warned that CEOs use their power to aid their own interests at the expense of shareholders and the public. Smith’s warned that it “ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
Similarly, the even more conservative Frédéric Bastiat famously warned:
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.
TPP is the legal system designed to authorize plunder with impunity. Economists are the priests that glorifies the CEOs’ plunder. When you allow CEOs’ lobbyists to secretly draft a deal and then make it impossible through “fast track” for the public or our representatives to vote down even the most despicable of these acts of CEO plunder you make it certain that the law will bring plunder rather than “free trade.”
There are five aspects of Obama’s deal that are indefensible and will cause immense damage to the base and the public at large – and Obama’s efforts to smear critics of these indefensible provisions adds a sixth aspect that cries out for rejection. It is indefensible to:
Draft the deal in secret from the public – through classifying the TPP drafts as purported “national security” information. There was, and is, zero basis for classifying the drafts.
Allow CEOs’ lobbyists to secretly draft provisions of the deal
“Fast track” the bill, making it impossible to remove even the worst plundering through the lobbyists’ language
Give away U.S. and other nations’ sovereignty to a kangaroo (non) court dominated by lawyers for CEOs
Allow these kangaroo non-courts to destroy vital regulations and bankrupt nations at the behest of the worst corporate CEO plunderers – exposing the world to even more frequent and severe financial crises. I have explained these last two points in more detail in the past. These provisions of TPP are so bad that they are depraved – and we have abundant, terrible, and global experience under past, more limited Faux Trade deals with the same provisions to know that the word “depraved” is the appropriate description.
As Zach Carter explained, Obama’s “rage against the base” appears to be based overwhelmingly on criticism by Senator Warren and labor of the first indefensible element of the CEOs’ scheme to plunder.
Obama surprised reporters by appearing on a conference call with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in effort to rebut criticisms from Warren and other key Democrats, who worry that his pending Trans-Pacific Partnership deal will exacerbate income inequality and undermine key regulations.
‘”The idea that we can shut down globalization, reduce trade … is wrong-headed,” Obama said on a conference call. “That horse has left the barn.”
While Obama did not mention Warren by name, much of his commentary appeared to be directed at her. The two have already traded barbs on TPP this week. Obama said in a TV interview on Tuesday that Warren was “just wrong” on the issue. Warren responded by sending a fundraising email to her supporters warning that Obama’s promises on the pact were hollow, since “people like you can’t see the actual deal.”
Obama’s argument is that members of Congress can “see” the text of the TPP now. His wording suggests that he continues to forbid even members of Congress to obtain copies of the draft, which is essential for effective review and demands for removal (except that Obama’s express goal is to remove Congress’ ability to remove even the worst acts of CEO plunder from TPP. It is not clear whether members of Congress are now allowed to take notes on the text as they read it. Obama forbade them do so – again, for the express purpose of making it impossible for them to oppose the lobbyists’ plunder. Zach Carter noted Obama’s legalistic parsing of his failed effort to refute Senator Warren’s criticism.
Obama seemed to implicitly reference Warren’s response on the call on Friday, noting that members of Congress can now view the text of the pact and will have months to review the agreement before voting on the final version.
“Every single one of the critics saying this is a secret deal, or send out e-mails to their fundraising base that they’re working to stop a secret deal, could walk over and see the text of the agreement,” Obama said. “When I just keep on hearing people repeating this notion that it’s secret — I gotta say, it’s dishonest. And it’s a little concerning when I see friends of mine resorting to those sort of tactics.”
Carter has a new article about Warren and Senator Sherrod Brown’s letter responding to Obama’s personal attacks on them. The letter is devastating.
“On Saturday, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded with a letter essentially telling Obama to put up or shut up. If the deal is so great, Warren and Brown wrote, the administration should make the full negotiation texts public before Congress votes on a ‘fast track’ bill that would strip the legislative branch of its authority to amend it.
‘Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules,’ Warren and Brown wrote in the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.
In essence, Warren and Brown have invoked scripture.
John 3:20-21King James Version (KJV)
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Obama did not simply allow lobbyists to largely draft TPP in secret – he classified their drafts – treating them as national security secrets. This would be downright funny if it were not so wicked. It is most certainly revealing about the fact that Obama and the lobbyists knew that the drafts were so outrageous in their substance that Obama had to take preposterous steps to safeguard them from honest experts. Carter’s most recent article explains:
“Democrats and some Republican critics have been particularly frustrated by Obama’s decision to treat the TPP documents as classified information, which prevents them from responding to Obama’s claims about the pact in detail.
‘Your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal,’ the letter reads. ‘It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that Members of Congress may ‘walk over … and read the text of the agreement’ — as we have done — you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public.’
Warren and Brown appeared particularly miffed at being accused of lying.
‘We respectfully suggest that characterizing the assessments of labor unions, journalists, Members of Congress, and others who disagree with your approach to transparency on trade issues as ‘dishonest’ is both untrue and unlikely to serve the best interests of the American people,’ the letter reads.
Obama’s “Three-card Monte” tactics with regard to members of Congress ludicrously limited ability to effectively review and discuss the draft deal are a very old game in Washington, D.C. that was well-developed when I began working there forty-two years ago. But Obama is not simply being disingenuous about TPP being drafted in secret. “I gotta say” that he is “resorting to [the] tactics” of being “dishonest.”
TPP is a deal that Obama, the failed economists, and the CEOs knew could not survive the light. They were aware of the truth of Justice Brandeis’ famous observation that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” TPP was drafted in secret to avoid that disinfectant. People who are doing straight up deals in the public interest would never allow lobbyists to draft the deal and would have welcomed criticisms of their drafts. The secret drafting of TPP largely by the CEOs’ lobbyists was designed to maximize the ability of CEOs to plunder.
Obama cannot deny these facts so he tries to steer the conversation to ignore the drafting by the CEOs’ lobbyists and the removal from Congress of the power to stop even the most depraved assault on the public interest by amendment. What Obama does not tell you is that only a tiny section of TPP’s critics get to see the draft – members of Congress. I have begun to explain how even their ability to criticize was deliberately hamstrung by Obama’s “Three-card Monte.” Anyone who understands Congress knows that the members are strongly dependent on their staffs doing the analysis of complicated legislation like TPP that has been carefully crafted by corporate lawyers to conceal its plunder behind abstruse legalese. It is like trying to spot the “Easter eggs” hidden in a single frame of movie – except that the CEOs’ lobbyists’ task is to ensure that they are all rotten eggs. Congressional staffers overwhelmingly lack the clearance to even review the TPP drafts. An administration “briefing” on a TPP draft is meaningless given the administration’s cheerleading for TPP and its successful efforts to ensure that Congress cannot “kick the tires.”
Someone like Hillary Clinton should plainly be taking a position on TPP, but Obama has given her the perfect out. H. Clinton is not permitted even the limited “Three-card Monte” sneak peak at the TPP drafts. And that illustrates the broader point. Anyone who really wanted TPP understood and the rotten Easter Eggs identified would have given the drafts to teams of people like me to review so we could strip them out of TPP. But Obama makes sure that independent experts like me are excluded from removing the many scandals that the CEOs’ lobbyists have hidden in the TPP legalese.
Mankiw’s Maulers: The Economists Who Mauled Our Economy and Democracy
The fact that experts are excluded from reviewing the draft TPP means that when the failed economists who designed our recurrent, intensifying financial crises sign letters expressing total support for TPP as drafted they literally do not know what they are talking about. N. Gregory Mankiw (the subject of the second installment in this series of articles about TPP) wrote in the New York Times that economists agreed on the desirability of TPP, citing a March 5, 2015 “Open Letter” to Congress that he had signed with other former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers. The list contains the names of the leading architects of the financial crisis and the Great Recession such as Mankiw, Alan Greenspan, and Ben Bernanke, so it automatically fills one with shock and awe. The willingness of Mankiw’s Maulers to give unqualified support for a deal drafted primarily by CEOs’ lobbyists – without ever reviewing the deal – demonstrates that they no longer make even a pretense to intellectual honesty.
The reader may be wondering at this point why I think it is appropriate for me to criticize a deal I cannot read, but inappropriate for Mankiw’s Maulers to be cheerleaders for a deal they cannot read. The answer is that the positions are not parallel for six reasons. First, I am criticizing the deal for being drafted in secret and hidden from independent experts and the public. Second, there have been several leaks of portions of the TPP drafts and they establish that TPP is loaded with rotten Easter Eggs drafted by the CEOs’ lobbyists. Third, economic theory unambiguously predicts that if you let the CEOs’ lobbyists do the drafting the inevitable result is a Faux Trade agreement rather than a “free trade” agreement. Mankiw’s Maulers premised their support for TPP on the blind assumption, which we know to be untrue through economic theory, experience, and prior leaks of the TPP drafts, that TPP would create free trade. Fourth, we have centuries of experience that uniformly confirms that if the CEOs’ lobbyists draft the trade deal the result is a Faux Trade deal. Fifth, even the proponents of the TPP deal admit that it has the kangaroo court provisions that allow the massive fines that are designed by the lobbyists to destroy effective regulation. (Mankiw’s Maulers studiously refrain from noting this assault on U.S. sovereignty and our ability to adopt vital rules to prevent corporate crimes.) Sixth, Mankiw’s Maulers cannot take the position that once they learn about the rotten Easter Eggs secreted in the draft by the CEOs’ lobbyists they will support the removal of those acts of plunder. Their open letter explicitly (if euphemistically through a reference to “trade promotion authority”) supports “fast tracking” TPP in order to strip Congress of its normal constitutional powers to make amendments to eliminate these acts of plunder by CEOs.