Counting the Votes on the TPP Trade Agreement with Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

New Orleans   Larry Cohen may have recently stepped down as President of the Communications Workers’ of America, but, if anything, he has stepped up his fight with the coalition of labor, environmental, and community groups opposing the passage in Congress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. In a visit to Wade’s World, he was furious with facts and figures and unwilling to give an inch to the Administration or the President on the weaknesses of the agreements so-called protections, and, he reminded us that he didn’t tell us anything he hadn’t told President Obama personally.

Cohen, who is also spending his alleged retirement, as a volunteer and stand-in for Democratic presidential candidate, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, indicated he was pleased to see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, long an advocate of the treaty in her old job, announce her opposition recently in her quest for her new job. He was clear though that her support was just politics-as-usual unless she also stepped up to help persuade the twenty-eight Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted earlier for “fast track” status for the TPP to now vote to reject it. That was an easier fight and this one is harder since it is an up-or-down vote on the whole agreement. The Senate he believes is a lost cause and firmly behind the agreement. Cohen sees the House as the battleground.

Cohen in a rare look behind the curtains had detailed the TPP fast track lessons for progressives in a fascinating checklist on the votes in the current issue of the journal, Social Policy.  His key takeaway is where the broad community-labor coalition actually mobilized into action, it made a difference. Where the endorsements were not matched with the same fervor on the ground, it didn’t. His best examples of where it worked involve the Congressional Black Caucus and North Carolina. The President personally had lobbied the CBC arguing to them that they were his people and his base and they needed to stand with him on this. Instead they said, “Sorry,” this doesn’t work for our people and of the 43 members only 3 broke ranks, including surprisingly Congressman Meeks from Queens who common sense and Cohen indicate now faces electoral challenges in his district. In North Carolina working with Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday’s, the NAACP, labor, and many, many others three blue-dog Democrats had voted against fast track. Shocking on the other hand, as Cohen whipped the votes, was the loss of about the same number of votes in the blue-to-the-bone state of Oregon, where the US Senator and others have seemingly jumped into the shoes provided by Nike, headquartered in the state, and a huge supporter of the TPP.

Cohen fires off objections to the pact. He totally dismisses the labor protections for workers and wages in Vietnam and Malaysia. Talking about labor violations and the double-standards of the protections for multinationals, Cohen had a great one-liner: “Multinationals get reparations, we get reports.” Cohen is particularly offended by the fact the multinationals are using their special access to sue countries over trade restrictions to collect damages for what might have been future profits. He cites a verdict for Occidental Petroleum against Ecuador for $3 billion for denial of offshore drilling rights and another claim against Germany’s banning of nuclear power for $6 billion for that industry, meanwhile for violations for labor infractions in Honduras, which he also reported on for Social Policy, dust is collecting on a report that received no action.

For Cohen this is all part of a pattern of what he calls NAFTA, CAFTA, and now with TPP, SHAFTA. This fight is a long way from over, and he and many others will be counting the votes carefully when it comes before Congress early in 2016.

Special Multinational Court in Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

1439533698362New Orleans     President Obama sees the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as a legacy marker. News reports refer to the announcement of an agreement with the Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Peru, Mexico and many others as a “capstone” agreement for the president. The White House says that there are labor and environmental protections that are unprecedented for a trade agreement. Malaysia, Vietnam, and other countries had to agree to protect labor rights in a major announcement. Many big national environmental organizations are touting the agreement as a breakthrough including the World Wildlife Federation. Australia supposedly pushed hard enough that big Pharma can’t run roughshod over generics and cheaper access to drugs in developing countries.

Sounds good, huh, but what do we have here?

The Organizers’ Forum delegation met with a researcher and campaigner in Warsaw recently named Roland Zarzycki working with the Institute for Global Responsibility. In the course of the dialogue we touched on the troubling elements in the likely TTP agreement. One that was especially worrisome had to do with the special court provisions that would allow transnational companies to sue countries over restrictions on trade in their products, but would not allow countries to sue the multinationals nor provide access to any other parties to adjudicate their concerns. Such special provisions for multinational companies paint a picture of a world of particular privilege and provision for globalization that is worrisome.

Is this some imagined problem for the paranoid? Hardly. The proof seems to be in the last minute jostling that indicated that there would be special provisions in the TPP to prevent tobacco companies from being able to sue countries that are trying to put in place health protections for the many diseases advanced by tobacco. Under some agreements Big Tobacco has already tried to take countries like India and others to such international courts. So, this door was reportedly locked for tobacco in the TPP, and that’s good, but what about other ugly, unhealthy multinational products and practices that will continue to be able to access these special courts in order to try to circumvent country by country provisions and protections?

We really don’t know of course. The negotiations are conducted in secret and the agreements reached will not be public until such time that President Obama starts the 90-day clock for Congressional review and an up or down vote to approve or disprove the trade treaty as negotiated. It’s hard to dispute the need for some quiet and confidentiality in negotiations, but the lack of information about vital pieces of the agreement privileges insiders and multinationals as well, compared to all of us biscuit-cookers out there trying to figure out what’s up.

Maybe this is as good as they are spinning, but until we know the whole story, it’s worth a lot of worry, and in the wake of countless agreements like this in the past, it’s hard to be optimistic that this is going to be as good for all of us as it is for big companies and special interests who clearly already have the inside track.

Karl Rove Points the Way to the White House for Democrats

election2016New Orleans               You don’t expect Karl Rove to be the voice of reason for Republicans, given his role as the master political operative between the two Bush presidencies, but these days you have embrace whatever help you can find.  In this case,  Rove was writing a “sober up” memo to the Republican faithful and trying to pop a balloon floating around their ranks that they could win the White House by doing a better job at turning out more conservatives who they were claiming they were “stay-at-home” voters last time.  Rove marshals extensive evidence in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, that the dealers of this story are essentially smoking their own dope.

The point of Rove’s message is obviously an attempt to reign in the radicals including a handful of whom are running for President in the Republican primary, the likes of Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Rand Paul, and a gaggle of others.  He is clearly stepping up as a voice of the right-center “moderate” wing of the party, and given his closeness to the Bushes, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him fronting for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s campaign.

But saying all of that, there are two sides to this coin, and the other side points the directions for the Democrats as clearly as it scolds the Republicans.  Rove’s comments go right to the heart of voter turnout and why the field program is still going to be the secret sauce for a winner in 2016.  The voter turnout dropped from 131.5 million when Obama won in 2008 to 129.2 million when he won his second term.  Rove is crystal clear that while turnout may have sagged, the percentage of self-declared conservative voters in 2012 had never been higher, reaching 39%, which is pretty scary in itself.

Rove says that,

“Republicans concerned about voters who failed to show up should look elsewhere.  There were approximately 4.9 million fewer self-identified moderates, 1.7 million fewer white Catholics, and 1.2 million fewer women who voted in 2012 than in 2008.”

Among the Catholics who didn’t vote, Rove claims they appear to be middle-class and blue collar voters, who were turned off to Obama, but couldn’t stomach Romney, largely because of his elitism.   That’s an emerging, troubling issue for the Hillary-Democrats as well.

So, what are the tips for the Democrats?  In general, they are going to have to double down to pull the same number of African-Americans as Obama did in both elections.  Hillary Clinton may think she can do that, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t be Bill, it has to be Obama himself working that base, which would temper any criticism from any candidate. Young voters are not mentioned by Rove, because the Republicans know there’s not much chance there, though Rand Paul is betting he can take a slice, and Democrats will have the same problem, except with younger women if Hillary is the candidate.  There’s also little doubt that with Hillary as the candidate there will be a significant, and perhaps historic, increase in women voting, if the campaign keeps it together.  Hillary and any of the announced candidates are not going to be able to hold onto the Hispanic loyalty against Jeb Bush or Senator Marc Rubio, but once again Obama might be the difference here given all of his recent initiatives.

Here’s my takeaway.  We’re going to hear a lot from Hillary and the rest of them that we have to appeal to the moderates to win.  Maybe so, but if you study Rove’s remarks, it also looks like to win we need President Obama to see 2016 as his third presidential election with his legacy on the line in order to hold onto the key blocks that have to perform in order to win.

Hope in an Unlikely Place: Obama’s White House

veto-presidentNew Orleans   These days it’s simply the better course of both valor and discretion to face a new year with trepidation, especially when it comes to the national political horizon. We’re facing some bad business and constant attacks to the progressive forces with the Republicans in ascendancy both in Congress and the majority of the states in 2015. Nothing much good will probably be allowed to happen in 2016 with the presidential contest in full flower, so 2015 will set the table for better or worse.

I don’t want to start the year as a Debbie Downer though, so I’m going to look at the silver lining, and darned if it we finally can’t find it in perhaps the most unlikely place to look:the White House.  After six years of half-steps and more “maybe we will,” than “yes, we can,” President Obama seems to finally have seen the butt whipping of the November mid-terms as a flashing light giving him a choice of just taking an exit off the route or going through construction and making the best of it.  With one decision after another from evaluating schools differently to immigration reform to initiatives on climate change with China and opening up a different chapter in Cuba, we are starting to see the Barack Obama we had thought we were voting for in 2008. Perhaps this “hope-y” thing, as Sarah Palin called it, is finally going to work out for us.

There’s one thing we can count on.  Obama has been clear that after 6 years of few vetoes, he’s ready to handle the goal line stands.  On something like protecting the Affordable Care Act, Congress seems to be
conceding that they can vote to repeal, but it’s a symbolic step with no chance of overriding the veto in the Senate.  With another 2 years of millions enjoying the benefit of health care, this could be hard to ever
turn back.  Regardless, we will see the White House at the goal line a lot over the next two years, so remember the DEFENSE chant regardless of the season.

On the positive side certainly Obama is still a politician, so when it comes to 2016, just as we all most recently witnessed in 2014, he’s not going to take any action that imperils the chance that there will be a Democrat in the White House to protect whatever he leaves behind as a legacy or the future of other programs in the pipeline.  Nonetheless, 2015 could continue to be Obama’s year of “living dangerously,” and forging new ground both domestically and internationally where he has the power of the presidency and the full resources of the White House and can prevail. That could be exciting, so it’s worth getting those kind of New Year’s resolutions to Pennsylvania Avenue as soon as you can!

There’s a chance that after six years of thinking that his silver tongued oratory would be enough to move the political markers, the President is finally ready to go all in, push the envelope, and stop asking for permission to make change.

That’s my hope for 2015.

Preparing for the Implementation of Obama’s Immigration Order

Angelica Salas

Angelica Salas

Little Rock       When CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, got ready to implement the Affordable Care Act in route to signing up 10 million people for health insurance more than $100 million was allocated by the federal government for navigators and another amount as large for community clinics and a like amount in the states in order to assist in enrollment in this new program.  Now within months up to 5 million people will engage in a similar process of applying for work permits and pushing mountains of paper through the Department of Homeland Security to determine their eligibility under the still to be established terms and procedures to take President Obama’s executive order on immigration and translate it into on-the-ground reality.  And, if 5 million might be eligible, many millions more will be trying to figure out if there’s any chance they are eligible or might qualify in some way or another. 

            Here’s the big difference though.  The task of advising and assisting these millions will not be facilitated by hundreds of millions of dollars of grants from the federal government.  The burden will disproportionately fall on the nonprofit, social service sector.

            Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, estimated that “the new and expanded programs could draw more than 250,000 applications from New Yorkers in the first few months, posing what he described as a ‘massive human services challenge.’”   In New York, they are trying to put groups and money together to meet the surge of expected interest, but that’s not going to be the case in many of the red states where this order is being resisted aggressively, and some of those states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida are where interest will be extreme.

            Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) told reporters in Las Vegas where President Obama formally announced his order that he had stopped on the way out of the hall and told her, “Now sign them up.”   That’s a tall order with limited resources even though Angelica will no doubt get some help from the state of California, but even so with an estimated quarter of the eligible in California her office and many others will be overwhelmed.

            This is a golden opportunity but it’s not hard to see the bumpy road ahead in our “red” states where nonprofits will be besieged.   There are a couple of months to get ready, but volunteers, lawyers, churches, unions, and others in cities and towns throughout the country need to think about “citizen wealth centers” as we are that can be prepared to offer assistance.  This opportunity is only real and will only work, if as the President instructed, we can “sign them up.”  It’s something we know how to do, but are going to need a lot of help to make happen.

            People get ready!


Obama Immigration Action is a Band-Aid, Not a Cure


(Photo: Drew Angerer Getty Images)

New Orleans   Make no mistake, President Obama’s immigration news is good news for everyone but rightwing ideologues. They are winning the air war perhaps for a hot minute by framing the action in a lie, and once again the administration is not doing well at explaining itself, but once the first wave of reaction settles, the wisdom of this action will be clearer.

Here are some important things to understand.

This is not amnesty. Far from it! This is a maximum three year Band-Aid being applied on a gaping national wound with no cure still in sight. All some immigrants are getting from this executive order is a chance to apply, after paying any owed taxes and new fees and proving they do not have criminal records, for a three-year work permit and a social security number. These workers are not even going to be allowed to qualify for benefits like those offered with subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Frankly, some may not chance this opportunity because it is temporary, but hopefully many will.

Remember as well that the only immigrants being given this opportunity are those that are the parents of American citizens or permanent residents born here. This program unites families. How bad could that possibly be? The order also added another 250,000 DREAMers to the list of those who can walk in public without fear by extending the protection from 2007 in his earlier order to 2010 in this new action.

President Obama is also right. If Republicans and the far right don’t like this, they can finally join in the process of taking the heat from folks they are stirring up now, and pass a bill making something permanent. Or, they can win the Presidency by a democratic vote of the people, and make a different judgment.

And, the talk about filing suit either at the state or national level to stop this is not going to work in court either. Using the concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” the President is prioritizing going after criminals rather than families, and that’s the right thing to do. There will be injustice in that push still. There will be deportations of immigrants arrested for minor slip-ups but still seen as criminals, but this is still better than the ridiculous situation currently. Thankfully, there will be fewer of these kinds of minor abuses because very importantly, the President is also terminating the Secure Communities program that has made junior immigration agents out of local police departments giving rise to the abuses of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio and many others who have accurately been accused of creating a new apartheid and arresting people for the crime of “being brown,” and criminalizing the fact that they are in the country illegally.

Once the temperature cools on some of the political mischief, it is also clear who is really worried about some of Obama’s action, and that’s low wage employers practicing wage theft on undocumented immigrants and farmers depending on such labor for the same reason. The Wall Street Journal was crystal clear in their report that a big part of the burn is all about the money:

By giving work papers to millions of illegal workers, Mr. Obama’s plan could affect businesses in unexpected ways, enabling workers to seek new jobs and higher wages to the benefit of some business sectors more than others. Some in agriculture, for example, worried that affected workers would leave for other sectors.

Finally, in this executive order no one is really happy. The techsters didn’t get unlimited visas for big brains they wanted. Reformers didn’t get the real solutions advocated during this administration and the last. Heck, on the progressive left we even bear the burden of having gone for comprehensive reform over the last six years when we always knew we had the best chance of winning a piecemeal package that united families right from Obama’s inauguration day, if we had been willing to settle for it. Six year later we have only won a temporary solution on something that might have been a slam dunk in the first 100-days.

There will be time for cold facts evaluation, but right now it’s all about looking forward and Obama’s action, and his inspiring framing of his order, presents a new challenge and opportunity for us to make the best of this moment.


Please enjoy Earthquake Driver by Counting Crows, Thanks to KABF.