By Doug Porter
People representing organized labor, environmental and faith groups staged a rally outside the offices of Rep. Scott Peters yesterday, urging him to oppose legislation limiting congressional oversight on trade agreements currently being negotiated.
The demonstration at Peters office is symbolic of a larger political battle being waged over the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP). Business groups and most Republican legislators are supporting the Obama administration, contending an agreement is necessary as an important counterweight to China’s growing clout in the region.
In Washington on Thursday the so-called Fast Track legislation cleared an important hurtle as House Ways and Means Committee voted 25-13 in favor. A companion “fast-track” bill cleared a Senate panel on Wednesday and both are now ready for action in their respective chambers.
Today I’ll do my best–this is complicated–to give you an overview of what’s going on.
Congressman Peters has not declared a position on the issues at hand. But there are past actions that offer up clues, including his public appearances with the chief negotiator of the TPP.
From a recent press release:
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the chief United States official on international trade, came to San Diego Tuesday to highlight California as a national model for why President’ Obama’s historic trade agenda is central to his State of the Union theme of Middle Class Economics: because exports and trade unlock economic opportunity for Americans.
This morning, Ambassador Froman joined with U.S. Representative Scott Peters (CA-52) to tour Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits, a small business that is exporting American-made craft beer to multiple Asia-Pacific countries with whom the United States is negotiating a major trade agreement…
Let’s face it folks, Congressman Peters track record on these sorts of votes is mixed. He got into office in part due to his courting of business interests. But he does have a “D” behind his name and the rank and file constituencies in the Democratic Party are engaging in an all-out effort to derail this legislation.
Machinist Tyler Burgraff, who currently works with Pratt & Whitney, spoke to the crowd outside Peters office, putting a human face to why many fear trade agreements. His job is being exported next January as the company “consolidates” (that’s the word the mainstream media uses) its operations.
Labor Council CEO and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Barrera spoke, saying Peters (who was actually in Washington) needed to understand that “this was the most important vote you’ll ever take.”
Representatives from the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and 350.org also spoke during the rally.
A large petition board was signed by dozens of people. And there were props consistant with the slogan “Flush the TPP”, including rolls of toilet paper and a toilet seat.
Once the speech making was over, the group descended upon the Congressman’s office, delivering petitions and other materials symbolic of the campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The President vs His Own Party
The opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership and the legislation (Fast Track) which would prohibit Congress from amending trade deals and allow for simple yes-or-no votes is motivated by very real concerns over job losses incurred with past deals and the perception that environmental protections could be mitigated.
President Obama has mounted a public relations effort in defense of his trade strategies.
“When people say that this trade deal is bad for working families, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Obama told a group of about 200 volunteers and donors with Organizing for Action, an advocacy group formed by his former campaign team. “I take that personally. My entire presidency has been about helping working families.
I’ve also noticed a concerted effort in the last few days by trade agreement friendly folks on social media drumming up the virtues of these deals. Mostly they remind me of the condescending tone Bill Clinton used against those opposed to NAFTA.
The opposition to these trade agreements includes just about every significant environmental group, consumer groups, organized labor and internet activists.
These groups are motivated by what they see as the negative impacts of previous trade deals. The promises and predictions made about labor, environmental and consumer protections have failed to pan out.
…Back to Reuters coverage of President Obama on TPP:
Obama said he understands the fears, but said the criticism was out of date, arguing the new deal will include strong protections for labor and the environment, and warning that a failure to pass it would cede economic power to China.
“You need to tell me what’s wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago,” he said, urging his supporters to spread the word.
“We can’t just oppose trade on reflex alone.”
Perhaps not, Mr. President. But it’s hard to find any other significant legislation supported by TPP’s business and Republican advocates that’s been beneficial for any of the constituencies opposing it. These are the folks who give comfort to (if not support) climate change deniers. These are the folks who opposed health care reform. And in the case of the Chambers of Commerce, these are the organizations actively funding measures depriving people of the right to collectively bargain with their employers.
So we’re supposed to believe that they’ve actually decided to care about anything else than corporate greed? Go ask the farm workers picking berries in Baja California how these deals have helped them.
The reductionist argument (and there are many on both sides, looking for TV sound bites) made by supporters of the TPP is that their opposition simply opposes all trade deals.
Regarding the TPP, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says, “if we had a trade deal that focused on improving the living standards of the typical worker it would get plenty of support from Democrats.” Baker specifically suggests “strong rules on currency values, so we could reduce the trade deficit,” the reduction of the “patent and related protection” that currently make pharmaceutical drugs more expensive, and measures to open up highly-paid U.S. professionals to international competition.
Enough ranting. I’d love to explain the particulars of the Trans Pacific Partnership to readers, but I can’t. It’s a secret. And I get it that complex deals can’t be negotiated in public. But given the past track record on these agreements, I think there’s good reason to be concerned.
- Some groups opposing the TPP include: The Electronic Freedom Foundation, The Citizens Trade Campaign, and Public Citizen
- The most comprehensive anti-TPP site I’ve seen is ExposeTheTPP
- The Washington Post and Newsweek both have short features explaining the basics of what’s going on with TPP.
- Public Citizen’s report on NAFTA’s legacy is worth a read.
- The Office of the US Trade Representative offers a one stop shop for pro-TPP arguments.
- And the Economist article Fighting the secret plot to make the world richer offers the corporatist point of view.
Civic San Diego: Legal or Not?
Yesterday Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez released an opinion penned by the state legislative counsel saying Civic San Diego does not have the authority to make final land use decisions.
From Voice of San Diego:
“Thus, the issue in each case of delegation is whether ultimate control over matters involving the exercise of judgment and discretion has been retained by the public entity,” the legislative counsel’s opinion reads.
Gonzalez says it’s pretty clear Civic San Diego is making judgement-based decisions that fall outside what the legislative counsel says is OK.
“I think it’s clear Civic San Diego is approving discretionary permits, and clearly under this opinion that is something that is not delegateable, and that’s what our bill corrects, quite frankly,” she said.
“Now, I’m sure the city attorney will do backflips and maneuvers for how this is permissible, but I think legislative counsel was pretty clear.”
And the City Attorney did not disappoint…
From City News Service:
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith subsequently released a memo in which he said the city can delegate to another agency “to perform certain land use- related governmental functions within specific areas of the city, provided that the city’s delegation is limited and specific, accompanied by appropriate controls and safeguards to protect the public, and properly authorized by the mayor and City Council.”
The city has the sole discretion to terminate its agreement with Civic San Diego, but the deal could be improved to strengthen the oversight and reporting requirements by the agency, according to Goldsmith.
In a statement, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the city of San Diego “provides the appropriate safeguards for Civic San Diego to serve our communities. Sacramento’s interference with San Diego will jeopardize park and public safety improvements, threaten our local economy and limit affordable housing opportunities for our neighborhoods.”
Gonzalez has proposed legislation requiring City Council approval on Civic San Diego projects. That’s what Faulconer calls “interference.”
If attorney Cory Briggs wasn’t busy ducking slime being tossed at him a certain news agency (link is to satire), maybe he’d have a chance to test out the City Attorney’s legal theories in court….speaking of which…
Latest Chapter in the Downtown Drama
Dorian Hargrove at the Reader dove into the deposition at the root of Cory Brigg’s recent troubles. Apparently there were some errors along the way… It seems as though the basis for the City Attorney’s conflict of interest claims concerning Briggs’ wife may stem from a typing error…
You’ll need to read the whole story to make complete sense of this, but here’s the money quote:
“The court reporter incorrectly typed up my answer as though I was making a statement. I was actually guessing when I said 20 years because I couldn’t remember. Cory and I have been together that long, so it seemed like a safe guess. When I guessed 20 years, it should have been typed by the court reporter as a question not a statement. Right before that I had said, ‘I don’t know.'”
When asked why the amended version of Cacciatore’s deposition was not released, Briggs responded that it was still under seal from a previous court order.
“Because the final, corrected version of her deposition transcript remains under seal, and because there is obvious collusion between Inewsource, Jan Goldsmith’s office, and the city’s hoteliers and convention center boosters in attacking my wife and me (undoubtedly because of my success in court against them the last several years), I cannot take the risk of discussing directly or indirectly what is in the final, corrected transcript. Those three have demonstrated that they’ll stop at nothing to try to take me down, regardless of the facts or the existence of a court order.”
No Need to Vote
From the Times of San Diego:
The 2016 elections are over a year away, but the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce said Thursday it will support Mayor Kevin Faulconer and County Supervisor Greg Cox in their re-election campaigns.
The chamber’s board of directors voted unanimously in favor of the endorsements at its meeting Thursday after hearing from Faulconer, Kersey and Sherman. Cox is scheduled to address the board at a later meeting.
There’s no word yet on whether the Chamber will challenge the results of the 2016 election if they are not to its liking.
On This Day:1961 – Bob Dylan earned a $50 session fee for playing harmonica on Harry Belafonte’s “Midnight Special.” It was his recording debut. 1990 – The space shuttle Discovery blasted off from Cape Canaveral, FL. It was carrying the $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope. 2013 – An eight-story building housing garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapses, killing 1,129 workers and injuring 2,515. A day earlier cracks had been found in the structure, but factory officials, who had contracts with Benneton and other major U.S. labels, insisted the workers return to the job the next day.
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