Friday, May 22, 2015

The Senate shoe drops on Fast Track (and TPP)

> caption: President Barack Obama wins a victory in the Senate on re-writing the rules of international trade.

by Ken

If you've been following Gaius Publius' coverage of the administration's all-out effort to ram through Congress so-called Fast Track authority, as a prelude to getting the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (and who knows what all else, for up to six years, whoever is president) passed on an up-or-down vote, won't be surprised by tonight's "breaking news." The Senate has passed the bill and pushed back on the assorted amendments that would have undermined Fast Track.

Next up: the House.
Obama wins trade victory in the Senate caption: "This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It's important to President Obama," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said.

By Paul Kane
Washington Post
May 22 at 9:09 PM

President Obama won a big victory for his trade agenda Friday with the Senate’s approval of fast-track legislation that could make it easier for him to complete a wide-ranging trade deal that would include 11 Pacific Rim nations.

A coalition of nearly 50 Senate Republicans and more than 10 Democrats voted for Trade Promotion Authority late Friday, sending the legislation to the House for a difficult fight as Obama faces more entrenched opposition from Democrats.

The Senate coalition fought off several attempts by opponents to undermine the legislation, defeating amendments that were politically popular but potentially poisonous to Obama’s bid to secure the trade deal.

“This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It’s important to President Obama,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said at the close of debate.

TPA’s fast-track provisions would allow Congress, under strict timelines, to consider trade deals with a simple up-or-down vote without any amendments or requirements of a Senate super-majority to end debate. That would help Obama complete the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with the other 11 nations, a bloc that represents about 40 percent of the global economy.

“This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It’s important to President Obama,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said. (Susan Walsh/AP)
If TPA clears Congress, Obama’s negotiators will push to conclude the Pacific trade pact and then send it to Congress for final approval, possibly later this year or early next year. The legislative package also includes new funding for labor training for workers that are certified for having lost their jobs because of foreign competition.

Obama’s aggressive push for the trade agenda has upended his relationship with his long-standing allies in the labor movement, as well as anti-corporate liberal activists who strongly supported his 2008 and 2012 elections. It sparked sharp exchanges, played out in the national media, with the leading liberal icon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), leading to one of Obama’s normally closest allies, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to question whether he was being sexist for singling her out for criticism.

Unions and progressive activists have mobilized their forces against TPA for more than a year now, believing that defeating the fast-track authority would likely also kill negotiations on the Pacific trade deal.

On Friday, union leaders narrowly lost their bid for passage of an amendment designed to create strict regulation of global currency markets, offered by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), whose states have been ravaged by losses of manufacturing jobs to foreign competition.

“This amendment is simply a modest enforcement measure that would direct the administration to conduct negotiations in a manner that will push them closer to getting trade done right. We urge you to support it and oppose any language to weaken it,” William Samuel, a top lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, wrote to senators in a “legislative alert” Friday.

Portman, a former trade representative facing a difficult 2016 reelection campaign, locked arms with Democrats in a bid that was designed as a get-tough gesture toward China, which some have long accused of manipulating its currency to make its exports cheaper. “I want you to be able to tell your workers you not only disagree with currency ma­nipu­la­tion, you want to be able to do something about it,” he said during debate.

However, Treasury Department officials warned that the Portman proposal would prompt a presidential veto, because the other nations would potentially abandon the TPP talks. In the hours leading up to Portman’s vote, Obama worked the phones with wavering senators to defeat the measure, relying heavily on his usual foes — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his top lieutenants — to round up 51 votes to narrowly defeat the measure.

“President Obama will veto any TPA bill that contains this amendment. A vote for Portman-Stabenow is also a vote to kill TPP,” Hatch said just before the vote on the amendment.

In the end, 41 Republicans and 10 Democrats defeated the amendment, which was considered the last major hurdle to securing Senate passage of the legislation.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that the TPA bill will come up at some point in June, after his chamber returns from a 10-day break that began Thursday.

In perhaps the most unusual alliance in the trade debate, Obama’s trade agenda will soon rest largely in the hands of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee.

Now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan is leading the push to secure as many votes as possible from the Republican side of the aisle for Obama’s fast-track authorities on trade deals. He has been working with Boehner’s leadership team convening meetings with Republicans to educate the dozens of junior lawmakers who have never considered a trade deal like the potential Pacific Rim pact.

Just 55 members of the House were in office during the 1993 debate for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and nearly 140 lawmakers — a third of the entire House — have never voted on any trade deal before. The last trade deals, with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, were approved in October 2011.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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In Oregon, score a victory for gun sanity


The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence pays tribute to the people who made this victory for gun sanity possible.

"Make no mistake: what we accomplished in Oregon is monumental. We delivered a crushing blow to the corporate gun lobby, and we’re picking up steam and building momentum the likes of which this issue has not seen in decades!."
-- Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

by Ken

We see all around us such widespread examples of the power of gun in-sanity that it's nice to be able to celebrate a victory for sanity on the subject, and the Brady Center folks want to make sure people know about it. And while I'm not much of a believer in afterlives, except in the sense of what lives on of us after we're gone, if Jim and Sarah Brady are anywhere now where they can look upon this, I'm sure they're smiling.

Certainly in my sense of an afterlife -- what lives on of us after we're gone -- Jim and Sarah can count this a victory. They didn't experience a lot of them in their later years, facing off against the punishing power of the NRA and the streak of violence and insanity now apparently accepted as part of the American character. So score one for those of us who like to think that the "right" to kill and maim isn't any part of who we are.

Here's what Brady Center President Dan Gross had to say in his e-mail yesterday:
Yesterday, I was on the ground in Oregon celebrating the latest victory in our campaign to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales.

Because of your actions—calls, texts, emails, and meetings with legislators—SB 941 is now law—making Oregon the sixth state to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales since the Sandy Hook shooting.

Across the country, 18 states now have expanded Brady background checks. But we’re not going to stop until we’ve expanded life-saving background checks to all gun sales! Can I count on your financial support to help bring our winning formula to even more states across the country?

Make no mistake: what we accomplished in Oregon is monumental. We delivered a crushing blow to the corporate gun lobby, and we’re picking up steam and building momentum the likes of which this issue has not seen in decades! Next stop on our cross-country march is Nevada, where a ballot initiative to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales has already qualified for the November 2016 ballot.

Join us in carrying our momentum forward to success in Nevada and across the country by making a contribution today!

So, like you said, Dan, on to Nevada!

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Democratic Senators Who Need to Be Lobbyists in 2017


Each of these Democrats need to be turned into lobbyists at the earliest opportunity. For three of them, that's January 2017 (click to enlarge and share).

The Senate held its final cloture vote on Fast Track, and after a lot of wheeling and dealing over amendments — whose will get a vote and whose won't — the Democrats above voted to help grease the next NAFTA treaty's passage into law.

Pro-TPP writer Alex Rogers, in the National Journal (Ex-Im means "Export-Import"; my emphasis throughout):
Ex-Im Bank Deal Gets Trade Bill Moving

Last-minute floor trading on reauthorizing the bank secured the votes to proceed on fast-track measure.

The Senate advanced a major trade bill Thursday, after a last-minute deal on a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank prompted Sen. Maria Cantwell and others to break away from a powwow on the chamber floor to say, "Aye." ...

The vote, 62 to 38, came over the objections of [anti-TPP] senators, who claimed that the Senate GOP leadership—President Obama's strange bedfellows on free trade—had throttled debate, allowing only two votes so far despite around 200 amendments filed.

"The last time we did fast-track legislation on the Senate floor it was three weeks of debate," said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. "This is about three days."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had set up the procedural vote Thursday despite other time-sensitive deadlines determining the National Security Agency's bulk-collection authority and highway funding. But he seemed aware of the possibility of failing on Wednesday afternoon. "Well we're going to grind on and finish TPA," he said, "if those who say they're for it end up voting for it."

Those members included Washington state Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who formed a tight circle with McConnell on the floor to hash out an agreement for a future vote on authorizing the Export Import bank, whose charter expires at the end of next month.
What's the Export-Import bank? A slush fund for companies like Boeing and the CEOs who draw their pay from them:
The bank, which helps finances U.S. businesses' exports, is synonymous with "crony capitalism" by conservatives and many House Republicans who wish to kill it. But the bank is also popular with many Senate Republicans, including Graham, who—like the Washington state senators—represents a state with a significant stake in the success of Boeing.
Fast Track is as good as done in the Senate. On to the House.

The Democrats' Trade — Your Rich People for Mine

So here's the trade Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and the other pro-TPP Democrats made. They will vote to give money to rich people who will benefit from TPP. In exchange other senators will vote to give money to rich people who run companies like Boeing. There were a bunch of trades like this in the Yes-on-TPP camp. Who said there's gridlock in DC?

What did we get? If Fast Track passes the House, we get TPP, the next NAFTA, and the one after that, TPIP, the same bad deal on the Atlantic side. These senators, of course, will do quite well in any case.

A Tale of the Rich and the Rest

The TPP story isn't about the U.S. and the world. It's about the rich and the rest, also known as "capital and labor," as this excellent piece by Harold Meyerson explains:
A trade deal at what cost?

So what gives with the American people? Don’t they realize, as my colleague Charles Krauthammer argued last week, “that free trade is advantageous to both sides”?

The sides to which Krauthammer referred, of course, are nations. But perhaps those who’ve experienced such free-trade consequences as factory closings and lower-paying jobs are thinking about two entirely different sides — capital and labor. ...

When advocates make the case for Congress expanding free trade with Pacific Rim nations by passing the “fast-track bill” currently before it, they cite the U.S. industries that the deal will benefit. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial, for instance, acknowledges that, while U.S. exports to South Korea have hardly increased since we signed a trade accord with that nation in 2011, our service-sector growth there has been substantial. Our international law firms can now practice there, the Journal proclaims, and “American investors can now own telecom operations in that country.”

A great deal for international lawyers and investors — two groups of embattled U.S. proletarians who clearly needed our government’s help.

For other American workers, not so great. The treaty was promoted as benefiting the U.S. auto industry, but since its enactment Korean auto imports to the United States have boomed while sales of U.S.-made cars to South Korea remain all but nonexistent.

Is it any wonder, then, that virtually the entire base of the Democratic Party opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the fast-track bill that would ease its enactment? From coast to coast, Democrats are doing their damnedest to raise the very wages that globalized capital has depressed.
But what about restraining the power of China? Meyerson delivers the knockout blow:
Of all the developments that led to the increase in China’s power and the diminution of ours, the one that definitively did both was Congress’s enactment of permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000. That led to a flood of U.S. companies shuttering their domestic plants and shifting production to China. When Beijing insisted that the price of doing business there was the transfer of proprietary high-technology techniques to China, many of those companies complied.

So a trade deal benefiting U.S. investors at the expense of U.S. workers created the rise in Chinese power, and now, we’re told, a trade deal benefiting U.S. investors at the expense of U.S. workers will help us keep Chinese power in check.
"A trade deal benefiting U.S. investors at the expense of U.S. workers" — an apt description in both cases. A tale of the rich and the rest (meaning us).

If Democrats Want to Lobby for Rich People, They Should Register

And you can help by moving them out of their current job and putting them on the labor market. These TPP Democrats are up for reelection in 2016:

▪ Patty Murray202-224-2621 — Now deep in Senate "leadership" and apparently hungry for more of that Schumer-Murray magic.
▪ Michael Bennet202-224-5852 — Mr. Bipartisan. As chair of the DSCC, he oversaw the 2012 election losses, then afterward said he worried that Republicans would be mad at him.
Ron Wyden202-224-5244 — The worst. As Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, he was lead perp in the Senate, patient zero for the fatal infection. He deserves an expensive lobbyist office filled with very uncomfortable chairs — soon.

Their phone numbers are above. Do you vote in Washington, Colorado or Oregon ? Are you a donor to senatorial campaigns? Feel free to pick up the phone and speak your mind. They've certainly spoken theirs, or the minds of their "investors," to borrow Meyerson's phrase.

But What About the Senate?

But what about "the Senate," you ask? First, is this a Senate worth fighting for? Second, with votes like these, do you think candidates like these are more likely or less likely to continue the party debranding that led to the 2014 results?

U.S. trade deficit since 1960. That "steep NAFTA slide" starts in 1994, one of Bill Clinton's signature accomplishments.

Frankly, if you really want a better Senate (I do), abandon all twelve names on the graphic above — let their "investors" take care of them — and elect Blue America candidates like Alan Grayson, Donna Edwards, Russ Feingold and P.G. Sittenfeld. You can help by contributing here.


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Stealing From Medicare To Pay For TPP-- Unhealthy For Republicans... Deadly For Democrats


The vote of TPP is looming in the House and Obama has Jim Clyburn (D-SC) making all kind of handsome offers to Members of the Congressional Black Caucus to guarantee a big vote score from that circle. You won't find caucus members with integrity, like Barbara Lee and Donna Edwards, playing footsie with Clyburn on this, of course.
Would the Republicans suddenly agree to fund summer jobs over trade? Lord knows the President is great at bargaining in a lopsided fashion (2010 Obama: I’ll give up $4 trillion in tax revenue for one year of unemployment benefits).
Several pro-labor Black Caucus members have already said they will vote NO on the deal. Will the gifts change their mind? A whip count at last votes yielded lots of firm NOs even with the gifts. Stay tuned.
Donna Edwards' reaction was a petition against Fast Track Authority. "Fast Track and TPP just got a whole lot worse," she wrote. "Republicans have added $700 million in cuts to Medicare to pay for the trade adjustment assistance... The more the public learns about the wheeling and dealing done to get Fast Track and the TPP passed the worse it looks. And that doesn’t even include the the awful corporate and special interest giveaways inside the actual trade deal!

And while Donna, the progressive candidate for Maryland's open Senate seat, against a wishy-washy Establishment Democrat who stands for nothing beyond his own careerism, was launching her petition, CREDO was launching a Facebook ad campaign against trade reactionaries Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ron Kind (New Dem-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Ami Bera (D-CA). That ad eviscerates the TPP gang for allowing the Medicare cuts. I'm sure Ron Johnson couldn't care less, but that message is likely to freak out Blumenauer and probably Wyden.

Democrats had insisted on financial aid and training for workers displaced by the job-killing TPP, but Republicans have countered that they would only go along if the money was taken out of Medicare. All the Blue America-endorsed candidates are adamantly opposed to Fast Track, to TPP and to pillaging Medicare. 

Mike Noland is an experienced progressive state legislator from Illinois running for the seat being left open by Tammy Duckworth's Senate campaign. He understands the sleight of hand the Republicans are trying to pull with TPP. "Having served in the Illinois General Assembly for the past eight years now," he just told us, "I know that budget sweeps are among the most undisciplined and unprincipled actions a legislator can take."
Funds earmarked for designated programs must be protected. Medicare is a sacred program that provides millions of seniors with the health care services they need. Demanding that funds for job training come from Medicare is just another example of Tea Party Republicans' attempt to dismantle any form of a social safety net. 
Mike's marijuana legislation passed the Illinois legislature yesterday-- 62-53 in the House and 37-19 in the Senate-- and went to the Governor's desk. Under the bill, possession of small amounts of cannabis-- 15 grams or less-- would be punishable by fines of no more than $125. He said, "There has been much talk this year about criminal justice reform and being smarter on crime,” said Noland.
With this measure the Senate and House take an important step in the right direction. The benefits we will see from this plan are innumerable. Today, we become smarter on enforcement of the law while saving judicial resources... 

Illinois has allowed the use of medical marijuana and we need to become prepared for what happens when people actually abuse that law and start driving under the influence. Now is the perfect time.
Noland's bill establishes a limit for driving while under the influence of cannabis. This limit can be tested through blood or through saliva, making Illinois one of the first states for oral fluid testing of THC.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brooklyn Waterfront Watch: Stacking coffee as high as an elephant's eye -- on the eve of Prohibition


"Coffee in Brooklyn," c1920 (click to enlarge). On the flip
side of the photo there's a link to Prohibition! Read on.

by Ken

Of course you know all about "Postcard Thursday" from the Inside the Apple team of Michelle and James Nevius, right? Well, they're not the only ones regularly sending out great archival pictures. The Brooklyn Historical Society dips into its overflowing archives for a "Photo of the Week," and for some reason I can't stop looking at this week's, titled "Coffee in Brooklyn." I don't know, maybe it's the coffee-hoisting getup of the gent on the right, from boots to hat, or maybe it's the totality of the fashion statement made by him and his partner in hoisting. Or maybe it's trying to figure out what exactly our power lifters are going to do with that coffee bag or whatever it is they've got in high-hoist mode.

The photo is presented by BHS digitization associate Tess Colwell:
Artisanal coffee roasters have been popping up everywhere in Brooklyn in recent years, but it might come as a surprise that Brooklyn has a long history of coffee roasting that spans long before it was considered hip. The photo of the week was taken around 1920 in a warehouse at Bush Terminal (now Industry City) and features two men lifting a large bag of coffee. To me, the most interesting part of this photograph is actually the verso (i.e. the text written on the back of the photograph). It speaks to the sentiment towards prohibition at the time and the opportunity for growth in the coffee industry. It reads,

“MORE COFFEE DRINKING WHEN NATIONAL PROHIBITION COMES — A STORY OF PRODUCTION. Stacking coffee in a big warehouse at the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, N.Y. Coffee from Central America. Scientists say that every adult takes some kind of a stimulant, and coffee is the most widely used of all the stimulants. When all traffic in intoxicants is stopped, millions of people will drink more coffee. The consumption of coffee will increase greatly through the lunch room trade. Hundreds of thousands of people will go into lunch rooms and eat pastry and drink strong coffee instead of going to saloons for drinks, when prohibition puts an end to all saloons in this country.”

While it’s not entirely true that prohibition led to increased coffee consumption, it’s true that the popularity of coffee was on the rise. In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was roasting more coffee than any other place in America. John Arbuckle (1839-1912) is credited as pioneering the way we purchase coffee today—roasting and grinding beans onsite, packaging coffee in one pound bags, and marketing it to different consumers around the country. By 1909, Arbuckle was roasting about 25 million pounds of coffee a month. Arbuckle Brothers continued to roast and store coffee at the Brooklyn waterfront factory until 1930, when it was sold to General Foods.
BHS has teamed up with Brooklyn Bridge Park to produce a Brooklyn Waterfront History website, which promises "much more about the history of coffee in Brooklyn, as well as other interesting historical facts about the waterfront." You can begin exploring BHS's online photo gallery here. Finally, to receive BHS's "Photo of the Week" along with news about the society's rich assortment of public programs (the BHS building itself, on Pierrepont Street in Downtown Brooklyn, is a landmark and well worth a visit in its own right), you can sign up here.


Today's isn't. A postcard, I mean. It's a stamp.

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. To honor that achievement, the U.S. Postal Service issued the above airmail (or "air mail") stamp on June 11, just three weeks after the historic landing. That was the same day Lindbergh received the Distinguished Flying Cross, but five days before he collected his $25,000 prize from Raymond Orteig for making the flight.

[More about the flight, and a pic of Lucky Lindy, onsite.]

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If the Supreme Court cripples Obamacare, which way will fingers point?


This photo appears to have been taken moments after a secret agent (right) has injected an enemy agent (left) with a deadly toxin that even now is coursing through his veins, causing . . . oh wait, it's just President Obama glad-handing Chief Justice "Smirkin' John" Roberts.

"Playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works."
-- The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, in "Obama's
Game of Chicken with the Supreme Court

by Ken

As DWT readers surely know by now, Obamacare is on trial for its life (as I wrote in early March, "Our clown Supreme Court takes on the bogus challenge to Obamacare -- and makes believe it's legitimate!"), over four carelessly chosen words in the Affordable Care Act which have been twisted by right-wing psychopaths and dishonest scumbags to mean that people who register for health care on the federal insurance exchange rather than on state exchanges (in the 16 states -- plus the District of Columbia -- that have established them) aren't entitled to federal subsidies as set out in the act.

Now the lying dirtbag plaintiffs in King v. Burwell know perfectly well that their "case" is idiotic on its face -- even in terms of the contested four words, which simply can't mean what they're pretending, at least not to anyone who's at all acquainted with the English language. And of course there's not a word of support anywhere else for their preposterous claim -- not in the entire rest of the ACA, not in the entire legislative history of the ACA, not even in the millions of invective-laden denunciations hurled at the ACA before this tiny phraseological glitch was glommed on. Nothing. And the lawyers have always known this. Their only interest, they have made abundantly clear, is finding whatever means they can to achieve their goal of undoing the act. Nevertheless, betting that there aren't five lying imbecile scumbags on the Roberts Court prepared to go along with the scam seems like an awfully poor bet.

In a new blogpost, New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin takes a new look at what happens if this bet loses, and it's "likely" that most of the 13 million people now receiving subsidies for insurance purchased on the federal exchange "will no longer be able to afford their insurance." Jeffrey presents the question of what happens next as a drama in its own right, which we might think of as being in three acts.

Act I: Democrats are all atremble

"Until recently," Jeffrey writes, "the perception has also been that the Democrats had the largest political stake in the case. After all, the A.C.A. is the signature achievement of the Democratic President."

Act II: Pity the poor GOP!

"Suddenly, though, and paradoxically," Jeffrey writes, "it has come to seem that Obamacare's Republican opponents are most at risk if the decision goes their way. They have the most to lose by winning."
As Jonathan Chait wrote recently, “The chaos their lawsuit would unleash might blow back in a way few Republicans had considered until recently, and now, on the eve of a possible triumph, they find themselves scrambling to contain the damage.” In this view, the peril is especially great for Republicans, because, as Jonathan Cohn recently pointed out, the G.O.P. has failed to propose any kind of plan to address the loss of insurance for so many millions of people.
(I suppose it would be inappropriate for me to suggest that one eminently solvable problem we have here is altogether too many Jonathans involved in the case. Perhaps some of the surplus Jonathans could investigate other names, of which there are many. Julius, for example, or Nathaniel, or Ewan. Maybe Rafael, or Spike? There are a zillion more, more than enough to go around.)
So that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans. As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”

Act III: Hold on there, Harry!

Not so fast, Jonathans (or Rafael, or Spike), says Jeffrey T. "If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party."
To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.
It won't matter, Jeffrey says, how "esoteric" the legal point at issue is. "The central assertion by the plaintiffs is that the Obama Administration violated the law itself," and "the subtlety of the issue at the heart of the case will sure be lost in its aftermath."
The headlines will read, correctly, “Court rules against Obamacare,” and this will be all that matters. The Republicans will argue that the Supreme Court showed that the law was flawed from the start, that the Obama Administration is lawless, that a full repeal of the law is the only appropriate response to the Court’s decision—and that the millions who lose their subsides should blame the sponsor of the law. Watch for references to a “failed Presidency.” There’ll be plenty of them.


No one, after all, knows better than people in the adminsitration "the scale of the problems that would be created by a loss in the Supreme Court." And as "a litigation strategy," there's something to be said for trying to impress on the Court the chaos that will result if the justices turn thumbs-down on the defense. He notes that HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell (the defendant "Burwell" of King v. Burwell) has said "in testimony before Congress and elsewhere . . . that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling."

Which brings us to that line I put atop this post.
But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.
And it won't matter, Jeffrey insists, even if the Court is wrong -- even if, to put it in my terms, there really five or more lying-imbecile-scumbag justices.
For many people, the President of the United States is the government of the United States. It’s why he gets the credit and blame for so many things, like the economy, where his influence can be hard to discern. This is particularly true for a subject in which the President has invested so much of his personal and political capital. If the Supreme Court rules against him, the President can blame the Justices or the Republicans or anyone he likes, and he may even be correct. But the buck will stop with him.
I don't consider myself a great predictor of the responses of the American public. So while I'm not sure that Jeffrey is completely right about this, neither am I sure that he's completely wrong. And when it comes to cranking up the volume of noise, and at maximum volume hurling thunderbolts of blame at parties that may or not be to blame, which side has the better resources and track record?

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The Constant Cost of Carbon — Another California Oil Spill


Oil spill off Santa Barbara coast (Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

by Gaius Publius

Thoreau once wrote, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us." The full quote is:
We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man…. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon.
It's likewise said that we don't grow corn; corn grows us, then uses us to spread its genetic material around the country and the world at our expense. At that task, corn is successful beyond its dreams.

In the same way, we don't burn carbon — oil and gas. By burning the earth, it burns us, and in the process uses us to burn itself, to desequester its long earth-buried atoms and reenter the atmosphere as a gas. Through most of the history of life on earth, CO2 has been far more prevalent in the atmosphere than it has been during the age of humans.

The blue line near the middle shows CO2 concentration during the age of humans, which started about 200,000 years ago. The horizontal dotted line shows 400 ppm, where we are today. The tall red line on the right is where we're headed by 2100 under "business as usual." Notice how neatly that matches most of the past (source).

While carbon is burning us, creating this world, it's also poisoning us, creating this world, a world of ever-increasing spills and explosions, of groundwater arsenic and unlivable shorelines. About those shorelines ...

Oil Spill Off Santa Barbara Coast (Again)

As reported by the LA Times and the Santa Barbara Independent, there's a pretty serious oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast in an area called Refugio State Beach. The source of the spill is a shoreline pipeline whose leak detection mechanism apparently failed to work. The leak poured what was first reported as 21,000 gallons of oil into the ocean ...
During the several-hours-long leak, about 21,000 gallons of oil escaped the pipeline, Coast Guard officials estimated. Coast Guard crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m., said Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.
... but those estimates were apparently provided by the pipeline company itself, Plains All American Pipeline, to the Coast Guard (my emphasis throughout):
The accident has been classified by federal responders as a “medium-sized” spill and was traced to an underground pipeline a few hundred yards inland above Highway 101. The 24-inch pipe is owned and operated by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which stopped the leak at approximately 3 p.m. It’s unclear how long the pipe was leaking, what caused it to break, or exactly how much crude escaped. Plains initially reported that 21,000 gallons of oil made its way into the ocean, but that number is expected to rise after county, Coast Guard, and state Fish and Wildlife personnel tally the true damage.
Nice of the Coast Guard to take the company's word and make it their own. An update at the Independent offered this correction:
Lt. Jonathan McCormick with the U.S. Coast Guard said an estimated 21,000 gallons of oil spilled into the ocean. That estimate comes from Plains All American Pipeline. An independent assessment has not yet been completed, he said, and it's unknown how many gallons of crude remain on land and along the shoreline.
The latest news from the AP puts the number of gallons much higher:
BREAKING: Pipeline company: Up to 105,000 gallons of oil might have spilled from California line.
I'm willing to bet that's not the last word, especially since the source is, again, the pipeline company, with an economic interest in underplaying the problem.

About That Pipeline Company ...

The version of the story at the Independent has some background on Plains All American Pipeline:
Founded in 1998, Plains All American Pipeline is in the business of transporting and storing crude oil and natural gas all over the continent. According to the SEC, the company’s net revenue last year was $1.39 billion. Tuesday’s spill was the latest in a number of similar accidents in recent years. The EPA has recorded at least 10 serious incidents in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas; between June 2004 and September 2007, more than 273,000 gallons of crude was leaked, and in a 2010 settlement with EPA, the company agreed to spend $41 million to upgrade 10,400 miles of pipeline and pay $3.2 million in civil penalties. In 2011, Plains’ Canadian division was responsible for three major accidents in Alberta.

Last May, a 130-mile Plains pipeline that runs through Los Angeles County ruptured and sent 19,000 gallons of crude through the streets of Atwater Village. The leak lasted around 45 minutes, covered a half-mile area in oil, and caused the evacuation of nearby buildings. According to news reports, Plains was not aware of the spill until residents called the city fire department, which then had to notify the company.
Not a small company. And it apparently swings enough pipe of its own to get special oversight dispensations:
The broken Plains pipeline funnels 45,000-50,000 barrels of produced oil a day between ExxonMobil's Las Flores Canyon Processing Facility near Refugio to the Plains-owned Gaviota pumping station. From there, it travels to refineries in Kern County. The 10-mile pipeline was installed in the early 1990s. Notably, it’s the only piece of energy infrastructure on Santa Barbara County land that’s not under the county’s watch. When pipe was put in, Plains successfully sued to place it under the supervision of the State Fire Marshal's Office, arguing state management pre-empted local oversight.
I'd be remiss in not telling you that Plains is "sorry" and "deeply regrets" the incident. So do their stockholders, but I'm guessing on that. The stockholders have yet to speak.

The Political Angle — the California Congressional Delegation

California's District 24 is represented by Lois Capps, who was quoted in the Independent as saying:
“I am deeply saddened by the images coming from the scene at Refugio,” Rep. Lois Capps said Wednesday morning. “This incident is yet another stark reminder of the serious risks to our environment and economy that come from drilling for oil.”
While Capps may be a friend of the coastline (by backing sure-to-fail bills in the U.S. House), she's also a corporate-friend member of the New Dem Coalition and refused to take a position on county Measure P, which would have banned fracking in Santa Barbara County and the Channel Islands.

Measure P lost:
Most Santa Barbara County residents didn’t vote on Tuesday, but those who did made one thing clear: They didn’t support Measure P. Shot down by a whopping 62.65 percent of voters, the contentious initiative — which would have banned all new fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection wells in the county’s unincorporated regions — pitted environmentalists sounding the alarm on climate change against the oil industry calling for fair regulations. And the oil industry — with help from operators in Santa Barbara County and beyond — dug into its deep pockets, shelling out approximately $6.6 million to defeat the measure, while Measure P supporters raised just more than $400,000.
You can buy a lot of votes and lay down a lot of fog with $6.6 million ... in a county election no less.

Lois Capps is retiring after this term and Blue America is looking for a replacement who is more in keeping with what the district needs. In the meantime, in a neighboring district, CA-44, Blue America has endorsed progressive candidate Nanette Barragán.

About that race, Howie writes via email:
CA-44 is an open congressional seat because Janice Hahn is running for Supervisor. One of the most corrupt Sacramento politicians, Isadore Hall, is the Establishment fave. He's the second biggest recipient of money from Big Oil in the legislature and he's the lobbyists' favorite lawmaker. His opponent, Nanette Barragán, got into politics fighting Big Oil-- and beating them.
You can contribute to the Barragán campaign, along with other Blue America candidates, here (adjust the split in any way you like, including 100% for Barragán).

We End Where We Began

We began this piece with the idea that the trains ride us, the corn gene breeds us and feeds us for its own propagation ... and our oil burns us so it can return to the skies.

I'm not sure we can stop the trains — the march of technology — but we can stop the march of carbon into the atmosphere. All we have to do is adopt an Easter Island solution and depose its human agents:
You're a villager on Easter Island. People are cutting down trees right and left, and many are getting worried. At some point, the number of worried villagers reaches critical mass, and they go as a group to the island chief and say, "Look, we have to stop cutting trees, like now." The chief, who's also CEO of a wood products company, checks his bottom line and orders the cutting to continue.

Do the villagers walk away? Or do they depose the chief?

There's always a choice ... 
And now is the time to make it. We can end the rule of carbon, and those who suck money from it, the minute we really want to.


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Dave Reichert Disagrees With WA-08 Voters On Almost Every Substantive Issue


Phony smile on phony politician

There's been a lot of chatter that WA-08 incumbent Dave Reichert would abandon his congressional seat to run for governor against Jay Inslee. Although his name recognition is a healthy 53%, a new poll from PPP shows him scoring only 34% against Inslee's 45%. However, some of the other questions in the poll should give Republicans-- both in Washington and nationally-- more cause for concern. Support for de rigueur Republican positions is crumbling. And the crumbling support isn't just among normal voters; even Republicans are backing away from crackpot GOP positions from past eras.
Over the last couple elections voters in Washington legalized gay marriage and marijuana, and enacted background checks on all gun sales. Our newest poll in the state finds that all three of those new laws are even more popular now after being implemented than they were when voters first approved them.

In 2012 Washingtonians voted to approve gay marriage by 8 points. Now voters in the state say they support gay marriage by 20 points, 56/36. 78% of voters say that its being legal has either had a positive impact on their life or no impact at all, with only 22% claiming gay marriage has affected them negatively. Also 65% of voters in the state think gay conversion therapy should be illegal to only 14% who think it should be allowed. Majorities of voters across party lines-- 78/6 with Democrats, 63/14 with independents, and 51/27 with Republicans- think conversion therapy should not be allowed.

Also in 2012 Washingtonians voted to legalize marijuana usage by 12 points. Now voters in the state say they support marijuana being legal by 19 points, 56/37. 77% of voters say marijuana being legal has either had a positive impact on their life or no impact at all, with likewise only 22% claiming marijuana legalization has affected them negatively.

Just last fall Washingtonians voted to legalize background checks on all gun sales by 18 points. Now voters in the state say they support background checks on all gun sales by 44 points, 68/24. 82% of voters in the state say extended background checks have either had a positive or no impact on their lives, while only 18% claim a negative impact. Even among gun owners 78% grant that extended background checks have had no adverse effect on their lives, and they support the policy 61/31.

Washington voters were on the leading edge of legalizing gay marriage, marijuana, and extended background checks. And since those policies went in effect the verdict has been no big deal, leading to their increasing popularity.
Although the DCCC gives Reichert a free pass to reelection-- which is very strange in a swing district with a PVI of R+1-- the Democratic candidate for the WA-08 seat, Jason Ritchie, is calling Reichert out on how out of touch his voting record in Congress has been with the voters in the district. Last month, when Congress failed to decriminalize medical marijuana by only 3 votes, Reichert was not one of the 35 moderates who crossed the aisle to vote for legalization.

"In 1998 the people of my State of Washington voted to become one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana," said Ritchie after Reichert's betrayal. "In 2012, they again set a precedent by voting overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana commercial sales. Our State Legislature responded and set up a reasonable regulatory and tax structure. This has happened without incident, except for intransigent Republicans like Rep. Dave Reichert who continue to insist their values should supersede the will of the people. His arrogant and baseless opposition only serves to marginalize him from the people he purports to represent. I strongly support marijuana legalization in Washington State and look forward to ending mass incarcerations for non-violent drug possession."

And it isn't just on medical marijuana where Reichert diverges from his own constituents. He has an ugly homophobic voting record-- a 0.0 lifetime crucial vote score! An NRA darling, Reichert also opposes commonsense gun regulations including the background checks that Washington voters passed (and have become increasingly fond of). Reichert also opposes the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that most people in the district support. Washington voters also back raising the minimum wage, which Reichert opposes. These are all issues on which Ritchie is aligned with the voters of WA-08 and on which Reichert is the odd man out. Reichert is also a supporter of unrestricted, unconstitutional surveillance on Americans by the NSA (unwarranted wiretapping and monitoring of emails, texts, etc.).

If you'd like to help replace Reichert with Jason Ritchie, here's the place.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

William Zinsser (1922-2015)


On Writing Well author is remembered by a disciple

William Zinsser, the author of On
Writing Well
and 18 other books, in 1968

"In On Writing Well, this is what Bill had to say about endings: 'When you're ready to stop, stop. If you have presented all the facts and made the point you want to make, look for the nearest exit.' "
-- the conclusion of Mark Singer's
"Tuesdays with Zinsser," on

by Ken

Among the 19 books left behind by William Zinsser, who , you'd think I would at least have read On Writing Well, because wherever it was that I encountered him writing about writing, I was impressed, and I don't impress easily when it comes to writing about writing. But somehow I never got around to the actual book. (I guess I'm pretty much a Strunk-and-White guy.)

Zinsser died a week ago today, at 92. There's a nice NYT obituary by Damon Winter. What belatedly got my attention is a remembrance on the New Yorker website by a writer I admire enormously, Mark Singer (you may remember his dazzling book Funny Money on the spectacular 1982 failure of the energy-inflated Penn Square Bank, located in a shopping mall in Oklahoma), who is in fact quoted at length in the NYT obit as a Zinsser student.

Mark describes his mentor and friend Bill as "a New York City newspaperman turned freelance magazine writer who had reinvented himself as a teacher of writing" (the NYT obit notes that he considered himself “a writer who does some teaching"), and who, without any previous connection to the institution and without any normal academic credentials, wound up teaching at Yale, where the likes of Robert Penn Warren and John Hersey "famously taught oversubscribed fiction-writing seminars."

What Zinsser taught was a "Nonfiction Workshop," which was "independent of the English department or any other department," at the Yale residential college Calhoun College, at the invitation of Calhoun's master, the critic R.W.B. Lewis. (In addition, as the result of some concurrent marital shenanigans in the upper editorial reaches of the Yale Alumni Magazine, Zinsser wound up becoming editor of that.) In the lofty world of Yale, says Mark, "nonfiction" had "an unseemly utilitarian ring." ("Trade school?" he adds parenthetically. "Here, call the number on this matchbook.") Soon enough, however, "word got around about this cheerful fellow Zinsser, not another eyebrow-arching pipe smoker in an elbow-patched tweed jacket but a real professional craftsman who had sneaked in the side entrance of the academy from the real world." Mark speaks of having "wangled" his place in the workshop in the fall of 1971.

The popularity of Zinsser's nonfiction class presumably didn't come because the participants had a jolly, relaxed time.
We met for two hours every Thursday afternoon in a comfortably furnished lounge in Calhoun College. In that room, we mostly listened, as Bill read, along with examples from his own work, passages from writers I’d read but hadn’t properly considered (Thoreau, Orwell, Twain, E. B. White, Red Smith), or knew of but hadn’t much read (Mencken, Perelman, Wills, Didion, Talese). Some I already revered for their supreme coolness (Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe). Others, previously unknown to me (Alan Moorehead, Michael Arlen, Joseph Mitchell), proved to be more enduring influences.

The weekly writing assignments—thousand-word limit, a safeguard for Bill’s sanity—required us to try our hands at a wide range of forms: humor, interviewing, travel, science, sports, criticism, editorials. This regimen inevitably yielded the occasional face-first failure, soon to be transmuted by pedagogical alchemy into an edifying failure. At the end of class, Bill would return our papers from the previous week, each illuminated with his editing suggestions and provocative marginalia. I still wince at his dead-on appraisal of my travel piece: “You’ll notice that I stopped marking this halfway through. What you’ve written is interesting only to you.”
"Our first imperative was to eliminate 'clutter,' " says Mark, "which Bill regarded as 'the disease of American writing . . . unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.' "
After forty years at The New Yorker, I would never suggest that his standards exceeded those of scores of incisive and vigilant editors who have saved me from mortification. I do know that it’s taken me more than an hour to solve this paragraph. Throughout, I’ve been conscious of his voice while refining my own—instinctively applying Zinsserian admonitions, pruning the verbiage, savoring the luxury (to paraphrase Twain) of finding the right word rather than settling for the almost right.

In 1999, twenty years after Bill left Yale and moved back to Manhattan, I sent a group letter to his former students, encouraging them to write about their experiences in “Nonfiction Workshop,” for inclusion in an archive at New York University’s Fales Library, where he had donated his papers. There seemed to be two schools of thought about what color ink Bill used when he cut us down to size. One woman wrote, “William Zinsser’s writing seminar was a humbling experience for me. I remember the ferocity and sting of his red pen.” Another maintained that he once told her class, “I never use red pen to correct. It always looks like the page is bleeding.” Blood turned out to be a pervasive motif: “No one has ever attacked my work with a blue pencil like Bill Zinsser. I watched essays swagger into class like General Custer, only to find themselves cut to shreds and shot full of holes, bleeding on the prairie, wondering where their first three paragraphs had gone. For sloppy, spongy, timid writing, Bill Zinsser’s class was the Battle of Bull Run.” This came from someone who took the course the same term I did, in the fall of 1971. I knew him as Jeff Stuart Goldfarb. Evidently, he took so seriously Bill’s exhortations to eliminate clutter that he had his last name legally blue-penciled and is now simply Jeff Stuart. If he would only work harder, he could be Jeff.
Zinsser left Yale for the Book-of-the-Month Club, where he spent eight years, serving as executive editor. He continued his writing and his teaching until, Mark says,
in late middle age he began having trouble with his eyes. The first insult was a detached retina, followed twenty or so years later by glaucoma, which progressively made the daily commute from his apartment, in the East Sixties, to his office in the East Fifties, an uncertain undertaking.
Even so, he found yet another world to conquer.
In 2010, he proposed writing a weekly essay for the Web site of The American Scholar. Like most eighty-seven-year-olds, Bill did not aspire to digital mastery: he never had an e-mail address; until he started writing a blog, he’d never read one. This deterred neither him nor The American Scholar’s editor, Robert Wilson. (“How could we not say yes?”) The blog—Zinsser on Friday, seven hundred words a week—ran for nineteen months, until his dwindling eyesight forced him to give it up. He closed his office at the end of 2011. His final book, “The Writer Who Stayed” (Paul Dry Books), a collection of selected columns, was published the following year. Meanwhile, The American Scholar had nominated Zinsser on Friday for a 2012 National Magazine Award for digital commentary. Of course, he won.

The 82nd and last "Zinsser on Friday" blog entry, "Envoi: What I've learned writing this blog," in which "a revered journalist, teacher, and essayist says goodbye," appeared Dec. 16, 2011. (Like most of the entries I tried to call up on the American Scholar Web page "The Complete Zinsser on Friday, this one returned a message that begins: "This article is not yet available online," followed by instructions for buying "a single copy of the print edition in which it appears," instructions I think are even less likely to work these several years later since, as far as I know, these blogposts never appeared in print issues.)

Mark writes that Zinsser, "confronted with what he called 'the next chapter in my life,' " sent out a letter (part of which is quoted in the NYT obit)
to his extraordinarily wide circle of friends and acquaintances, announcing his availability for editorial guidance, music lessons, sing-alongs. (He was a lifelong jazz pianist, and an amateur composer and lyricist.)" (Part of this appeal is quoted in the NYT obit.)
Whatever anyone had in mind, he wanted to help—“I’m eager to hear from you. No project too weird.”
What occurred to Mark was "a self-indulgent proposal" that he presented in a phone call.
I didn’t have a project in mind, but what if we were to spend a couple of hours together every week? We settled on Tuesday mornings, a standing appointment etched in my calendar for more than three years. Other friends made similar arrangements. Some mornings, as I entered the apartment, Bill would be seated at his Steinway baby grand, wearing a ball cap and dark glasses, immersed in his daily exercises. I would tiptoe in, take a seat, and allow his softly articulated, freely associated chords to wash over me. The eavesdropping, the delight, felt serenely illicit.

Most days I read to him—articles, books, some chosen by him, others by me—but we spent at least as much time just talking. About his life, about mine, sometimes sounding the depths, but usually bobbing gently and genially in the foam. The last book we finished was St. Clair McKelway’s “The Edinburgh Caper.” Two weeks ago, I began reading to him Mary Norris’s “Between You and Me.” Bill was loving it, and laughing in all the spots she intended.
Several days later Mark "heard from mutual friends that [Bill] seemed to have a mild case of pneumonia." Then, last week,
Last week, I called an hour and a half before my usual arrival time, just to make sure he was up to a visit. His son, John, answered and told me that Bill had died during the night. At ninety-two, at home, in his own bed, in his sleep—lucky to the last.


The 30th Anniversary Edition of Zinsser's best-known and best-selling (1.5 million copies!) book appeared in 2006. Damon Winter tells us in the NYT obit that writing the book was suggested by Zinsser's wife, Caroline (this year they would have celebrated their 60th anniversary), and that since its 1976 debut the book --
has gone through repeated editions, at least four of which were substantially revised to include subjects like new technologies (the word processor) and new demographic trends (more writers from other cultural traditions).

It became a book that editors and teachers encouraged writers to reread annually in the manner of another classic on the craft of writing, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.

Mr. Zinsser went beyond that earlier book’s admonitions on writerly dos and don’ts; he used his professional experience to immerse readers in the tribulations of authorship, even subconscious ones.

“Ultimately, the product any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is,” Mr. Zinsser wrote in On Writing Well. He added: “I often find myself reading with interest about a topic I never thought would interest me — some scientific quest, perhaps. What holds me is the enthusiasm of the writer for his field.”

Zinsser in 2013


Democratic Congressional Candidate Jason Ritchie Makes The Case For Opposing TPP


In the new video above, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley, asserts, "The only sure way to stop excessive risk-taking on Wall Street-- so that you don't risk losing your job or your savings or your home-- is to put an end to the excessive economic and political power of Wall Street by busting up the big banks."

And in a new Senate report, Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements Elizabeth Warren punched back hard at the absurd contentions from the White House about how simply wonderful the Republican trade agenda is that Obama is shilling for. "The President," explains the report, "claims the TPP will have 'higher labor standards, higher environmental standards,' and 'new tools to hold countries accountable.'" Problemo: every administration has been promulgating the same damn lies.

In 1993, President Clinton claimed that “the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] is the first agreement that ever really got any teeth in environmental standards, any teeth in what another country had to do with its own workers and its own labor standards... There’s never been anything like this before.”

In 2005, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman claimed, “[t]he [Central American Free Trade Agreement] has the strongest labor and environmental provisions of any trade agreement ever negotiated by the United States.”

In 2007, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab claimed that the Peru, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements contained “unprecedented protections for labor rights and environmental standards.”

In 2010, President Obama said that the South Korea agreement included “groundbreaking protections for workers’ rights.”

In 2011, the White House insisted that the Colombia trade agreement “include[d] strong protections for workers’ rights, based on the May 10, 2007, bipartisan Congressional- Executive agreement to incorporate high labor standards into America’s trade agreements.” President Obama said in 2012 that “this agreement is a win for our workers and the environment because of the strong protections it has for both-- commitments we are going to fulfill.”

A few months later, the White House made nearly identical claims about the Panama Free Trade Agreements. 
 However, the history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. FTAs lags far behind the promises. This analysis by the staff of Sen. Warren reveals that despite decades of nearly identical promises, the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.

Again and again, proponents of free trade agreements claim that this time, a new trade agreement has strong and meaningful protections; again and again, those protections prove unable to stop the worst abuses. Lack of enforcement by both Democratic and Republican presidents and other flaws with the treaties have allowed countries with weaker laws and standards and widespread labor and environment abuses to undermine treaty provisions, leaving U.S. workers and other interested parties with no recourse. This analysis finds:

The United States does not enforce the labor protections in its trade agreements. A series of reports by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as reports by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State, document significant and persistent problems with labor abuses in countries with which we have FTAs. While GAO acknowledged progress by partners in implementing commitments and by agencies in tracking progress and engaging on problems, their analysis concluded that the USTR and DOL “do not systemically monitor and enforce compliance with FTA labor provisions,” and that the U.S. agencies generally have not been “identifying compliance problems, developing and implementing responses, and taking enforcement actions.”

The U.S. pursues very few enforcement actions. Prior to 2008, the Department of Labor had not accepted a single formal complaint about labor abuses in free trade agreements. Since then, the Obama administration has conducted in-depth investigations into complaints and issued fact-finding reports and recommendations. However, DOL has accepted only five claims against countries for violating their labor commitments, and it only agreed to restart the first ever labor enforcement case under any free trade agreement in 2014, six years after the initial claim was filed. This reveals both the cumbersome nature of complaint process and the overall enforcement problems with these agreements.

Widespread labor-related human rights violations. The United States has 14 free trade agreements with 20 countries. While some of these countries have made progress in improving labor conditions, problems with labor rights and other abuses are widespread. U.S. agencies or other investigators have identified significant problems with use of child labor or other labor-related human rights abuses in 11 of the 20 countries.

Failure to curb even the worst abuses. Case studies of several countries that have signed U.S. free trade agreements reveal continuing horrific labor abuses. Guatemala was named “the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists” five years after entering a trade agreement with the U.S. In Colombia, despite the existence of a special “Labor Action Plan” put in place to address long-standing problems and secure passage of the Colombia FTA, 105 union activists have been murdered and 1,337 death threats have been issued since the Labor Action Plan was finalized four years ago.
Yesterday Paul Krugman made it clear why he's sickened by all the lies woven around the big TPP fallacy.
One of the great blog posts of all time was from Daniel Davies, who declared-- apropos of Iraq-- that
Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.
It’s a good dictum; and if you see a lot of lies, or at least misdirection, being used to sell a policy you should be very, very concerned about said policy.

And the selling of TPP just keeps getting worse.

William Daley’s pro-TPP op-ed in today’s Times is just awful, on multiple levels. No acknowledgment that the real arguments are not about trade but about intellectual property and dispute settlement; on top of that a crude mercantilist claim that trade liberalization is good because it means more exports; some Dean Baker bait with numbers-- $31 billion in trade surplus! All of 0.2 percent of GDP!
Right now that excessive economic and political power Wall Street has accrued in the last few decades is going towards shoving another bad trade deal down America's throat, the TPP. Conservative Democrats beholden to Big Business have joined the Republicans to screw over America's working families. Progressive and populist congressional candidates, like those endorsed by Blue America, are among the few standing up behind Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Alan Grayson and a few other brave legislators opposing Obama's headlong rush into another NAFTA-like bad deal. 

One is Jason Ritchie, from the Seattle suburbs (WA-08). Ritchie is locked in an electoral struggle with a Republican incumbent, Dave Reichert, who is gung-ho on giving Obama fast-track power. Ritchie penned this guest post for us today.

We Can Do Better Than The TPP
by Jason Ritchie

Trade is essential in the global economy and accounts for more than 40% of Washington State’s economy. A good trade deal can grow our middle class and create living wage jobs. But we must demand transparency and accountability or we risk repeating the mistakes of the past.

Trade is balanced when two equal partners create a mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services that respect each other’s laws, grow each other's economies and create stronger ties. Good trade policy will work equally well for businesses, workers, families and communities.

But that’s not what the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP is about.

Based on the leaked sections of the trade agreement, the TPP favors global corporations and will extend the decline of America’s middle class. We would be risking our ability to protect what’s left of our American manufacturing base, jeopardizing our right to fight against unfair trade practices, endangering our ability to fight against unfair currency manipulation, and allowing other countries to set our human rights and environmental standards.

Transnational corporations negotiated the Trans Pacific Partnership in secret-- the same corporations that consider the middle class simply another commodity to be traded. It’s incumbent on the supporters of the proposal to outline who stands to benefit from the trade agreement and why. To date, this hasn’t happened.

This isn’t a question of partisan loyalty. There are Democrats and Republicans on each side of the TPP issue. This is a question of transparency and accountability.

I was born and raised in Michigan. Many in my family worked in the auto industry and belonged to the United Auto Workers. My family and their coworkers built a prosperous region with good schools, solid public infrastructure and a strong sense of community. I know the benefits of good paying middle-class, living wage jobs and a vibrant manufacturing base. I am a product of living wage jobs and I am now a creator of living wage jobs.

I know the consequences of trade deals that are not based on our middle-class values and are negotiated by transnational corporations to the sole benefit of their shareholders. I lived through what the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA did to my family, my community and my country and I will not let that happen again with the proposed TPP.

I am pro-trade and pro-transparency and accountability. Demanding transparency and accountability doesn’t make one opposed to trade. It makes one an active participant in our democracy. It’s time to slow down, drop the recriminations and start demanding answers to questions.

Let’s work for a trade deal that grows our American middle class, protects our currency, our human rights and environmental standards and puts family needs above corporate profits.

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Hillary Clinton, TPP, the World of Money & Center for American Progress


Elizabeth Warren, speaking for the people. Who speaks for money? The Center for American Progress (image source; image artist; more images here)

by Gaius Publius

I'll put the bottom line first. There is no way that Hillary Clinton is not a strong supporter of TPP and Fast Track. Read on for why.

There has been a lot written lately, including here, about the Democratic Party split between progressives and "progressives" — the former of whom have most of the people on their side, and the latter of whom have most of the money. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Alan Grayson and others are firmly in the progressive camp, what's being called the "Warren wing" of the party.

Most Democratic Party officials and electeds, however, are in the latter camp, which many call the "Wall Street wing," though huge swaths of American (and foreign) moneyed interests, not just those on Wall Street, are supporters and controllers of that wing. To take just one moneyed interest — Big Oil — consider that:
The "Wall Street wing" of the Democratic Party is really the Money wing and represents Money wherever it is found. Though some dispute the claim, it seems to me the split between the Warren wing and the Money wing is huge, a chasm, and shows little sign of healing at the moment. It may heal later, artificially and for a time, around a Clinton candidacy, but that time isn't now.

Hillary Clinton and the Money Wing

I think it's fair to say, regardless of how you view Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, that her biggest hurdle on the Democratic side is her perceived connection to Big Money, and lots of it. Her family grew rich by cultivating people with money; her foundation grew fat by cultivating people (and nations) with money; and her donor list has historically included holders of big money, especially Wall Street holders (though Obama seems to have out-raised her on Wall Street in 2008).

She may be able to shed these concerns — there is much time left, too much in fact, until the Democratic primary elections. But she may not need to shed them; for example, the specter of "Republicans in the White House!" may be too much for even the most progressive of voters. We'll have to see how this plays out. Nevertheless, it's fair to say that the tag "friend of money" is one of the vulnerabilities Ms. Clinton may have to overcome.

Center for American Progress and the World of Big Money

One of the most important — and "centrist" (code for "corporate-friendly") — think tanks in the Democratic Party ecosystem is the Center for American Progress, or CAP. They do some good work, and their associated Web group, ThinkProgress, does excellent work. But when it comes time to put their "money" where Money's mouth is — for example, to support cuts to Social Security and Medicare — CAP is on the anti-progressive side, and reliably so.

CAP is strongly connected to the Clinton ecosystem as well as the party ecosystem. CAP was founded by John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff. He's now chair of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign. The current president of CAP is Neera Tanden, who worked for the Obama and Clinton administrations, and also on the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign. With $40 million in 2013 revenue, CAP and those associated with it stand at or near the center of the center of mainstream Democratic politics.

CAP is also extremely secretive about where its money comes from. Here's the always excellent Ken Silverstein, writing in The Nation in 2013 (my emphasis):
Nowadays, many Washington think tanks effectively serve as unregistered lobbyists for corporate donors, and companies strategically contribute to them just as they hire a PR or lobby shop or make campaign donations. And unlike lobbyists and elected officials, think tanks are not subject to financial disclosure requirements, so they reveal their donors only if they choose to. That makes it impossible for the public and lawmakers to know if a think tank is putting out an impartial study or one that’s been shaped by a donor’s political agenda. “If you’re a lobbyist, whatever you say is heavily discounted,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University and an expert on political ethics. “If a think tank is saying it, it obviously sounds a lot better. Maybe think tanks aren’t aware of how useful that makes them to private interests. On the other hand, maybe it’s part of their revenue model.
CAP has emerged as perhaps the most influential of all think tanks during the Obama era, and there’s been a rapidly revolving door between it and the administration. CAP is also among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors. Most major think tanks prepare an annual report containing at least some financial and donor information and make it available on their websites. According to CAP spokeswoman Andrea Purse, the center doesn’t even publish one.

Purse told me that CAP “follows all financial disclosure requirements with regard to donors…. We don’t use corporate funds to pay for research or reports.” But she flatly refused to discuss specific donors or to provide an on-the-record explanation for why CAP won’t disclose them.

After growing rapidly in its first few years, tax records show, CAP’s total assets fell in 2006 for the first time, from $23.6 million to $20.4 million. Assets started growing again in 2007 when CAP founded the Business Alliance, a membership rewards program for corporate contributors, and then exploded when Obama was elected in 2008. According to its most recent nonprofit tax filing, CAP’s total assets now top $44 million, and its Action Fund treasury holds $6 million more.

A confidential CAP donor pitch I obtained describes the Business Alliance as “a channel for engagement with the corporate community” that provides “the opportunity to…collaborate on common interests.” It offers three membership levels, with the perks to top donors ($100,000 and up) including private meetings with CAP experts and executives, round-table discussions with “Hill and national leaders,” and briefings on CAP reports “relevant to your unique interests.”
Regardless of what you think of CAP and what it accomplishes, there's no question that CAP inhabits, is part of, the world of Big Money, just as Wall Street is part of that world, Ford Foundation is part of that world, and everything touched by the Kochs, such as PBS. Welcome to the One Percent and their interests.

CAP's  Donor List

Since the Silverstein article came out, CAP released its donor list:
The liberal think tank Center for American Progress on Friday revealed that it’s funded by some of the country’s largest and most powerful corporations, trade associations and lobbying firms.

Major donors to the group and its affiliate social welfare nonprofit Center for American Progress Action Fund include major retailers, energy interests, health care companies and other corporate actors who spend millions on lobbying and influence peddling in the nation’s capital, according to a list posted on the center’s website.

The group — which is a fundraising powerhouse that takes in about $40 million a year — released its donor list as founder and chairman John Podesta heads into the Obama White House to serve as a senior adviser.

Those corporations and trade associations represent a cross section of corporate America and include Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Google, defense giant Northrop Grumman, T-Mobile, Toyota, Visa, GE, among others. CAP did not disclose the donation amounts.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP — a major player in the health care debate contributed to the group, as did Hollywood’s advocacy arm, the Motion Picture Association of America. Other corporate donors include Microsoft, PepsiCo, Samsung, CVS Caremark, Comcast NBCUniversal and many others.

The firm also has a number of major K Street lobbying firms on the corporate donor list including Akin Gump, the Glover Park Group, Livingston Group and the Downey McGrath Group. All represent dozens of corporate and nonprofit clients.
Do you think maybe CAP supports TPP? (Can it afford not to?)

CAP Strongly Supports TPP

From the CAP main website, a piece written in 2012:
Japan’s Inclusion Makes the Trans-Pacific Partnership a Big Opportunity

New Agreement Could Lead to Better Trade Between U.S. and Japan

... The prospect of Japan joining the TPP is indeed promising for the United States. U.S. goods trade with current TPP economies constitutes 5.3 percent of total U.S. goods trade. Japan’s inclusion would double this to 10.6 percent.

And while Japan is already a leading destination for U.S. exports, the United States has a $62.6 billion goods trade deficit with it. The TPP could help bring down that deficit by reducing trade barriers and opening the Japanese market up to more exports from the United States and other countries. ...
There's even a nice picture of a woman riding a bike past Sony corporate headquarters, with kind words for each.

How Does Hillary Clinton Not Support TPP and Fast Track?

The Center for American Progress sits squarely in the world of money, the world that Obama and his push for TPP seem determined to serve. Hillary Clinton sits squarely in both the world of money and the world of CAP infrastructure. How does she not support TPP? When asked about TPP, all she can say is this:
Clinton punts on trade

Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she will wait until negotiations are completed to take a position on the sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.

“So, I have said I want to judge the final agreement,” she said during a campaign stop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “I have been for trade agreements. I have been against trade agreements.”

Pressure on Clinton to take a position on trade has been coming from both sides, with liberal groups urging her to stand against the trade deal.But doing so would be difficult for Clinton, who backed the deal as a member of President Obama's administration.
When asked about the TPP issue, campaign chief John Podesta, the same man mentioned above, former CAP chair, reportedly quipped, "Can you make it go away?"

This is not the behavior of a TPP opponent. Given all the information here (and there's plenty more elsewhere), there is no way Hillary Clinton is not a strong supporter of TPP and Fast Track.

Clinton's full answer on TPP. Note the mention of "national security" near the end. Obama's Pentagon chief has come out in favor of TPP on "security" grounds.

About those wishy-washy answers, though, I give her points for this — I do believe she's trying hard not to lie, a virtue in a candidate, and not a common one.


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