American Politics

Secrecy, democracy and the TPP: trade transparency is what the public wants–and needs

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has received heightened attention in this campaign season, including for the lack of transparency in its negotiating process. Renewed focus on the TPP stems from the information that was disclosed when the trade deal’s full text was finally released last November, as provisions with the potential to cause great harm to U.S. labor, the environment, and public health came to light.

Despite this disclosure, the TPP and other trade negotiations remain largely shrouded in secrecy. We wrote about this issue on Labor Day 2015, and one year later, demands for greater transparency for controversial trade deals continue to grow louder.

The TPP is the biggest trade deal in a generation, involving agreements with 12 countries and affecting 40 percent of the world’s economy. Despite its significance, the TPP has been carried out behind doors closed to the public, although representatives from business interests had direct access to the texts and the ability to influence the agreement.

Restrictions were also put on members of Congress: if they wanted to view TPP while it was in negotiation, they were threatened with prosecution if they talked about it.

Without actual documents and with members of Congress throttled, the public was left with what little information could be gleaned from the government, and a few drafts published by Wikileaks. When the full text of the TPP came out in November of last year, it was even worse than expected, according to many groups that were monitoring the secretive trade negotiations. It is clear that from workers’ rights, to access to medicine, to food safety to climate change, the impact of the TPP would be felt in some way by every American. The release of the trade text has strengthened opposition and has stalled the progression of the TPP, particularly because the election season has some Congressional candidates listening closely to their constituents’ opposition to the trade deal.

The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting

By Ari Berman

 The Supreme Court.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.

The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

Our Democracy Is at Stake

By Thomas L. Friedman

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.

This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”

A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip

By Gabrielle Giffords

President Obama with Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly (photo credit Peter Souza )

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

The Failure of Republican Economics

By Paul Rosenberg

Those clinging to Bush-era ideologies and illusions show they simply do not understand economics.

Former US President George W Bush’s new book might be poorly timed [GALLO/GETTY]

What’s wrong with this picture? The George W Bush Institute has just released a book, The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs with a foreword by former President George W Bush. A better question would be, what’s not wrong with this picture? It’s not just the matter of timing – the former Republican president releasing a book just as the current Republican nominee is struggling to establish his own identity and political bona fides. Nor is it simply the additional embarrassment that the book’s subject is economics, which Mitt Romney pretends to be an expert on. It’s not even just the fact that Bush had his chance at producing four per cent growth for eight long years and never once managed to even come close. In fact, he only managed three isolated quarters when the economy grew that rapidly.

It’s all that and much, much more. Because Republicans in general are downright terrible at producing four per cent growth, while Democrats are relatively good at it. In fact, since FDR took office in the depths of the Great Depression, Democratic presidents have produced four per cent annual growth an average of three out of every five years – 60.5 per cent of the time – while Republican presidents have only managed it a little more than one year out of every four – 27.8 per cent of the time. With figures like that, it’s a no-brainer: the best thing you can do to produce four per cent growth is to vote for a Democrat for president.

Fastest years of economic growth

The five fastest years of economic growth all took place under a Democratic president. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, the 11 fastest years of economic growth all took place under Roosevelt or Truman. Democrats presided over 16 of the 20 fastest-growing years, 22 of the fastest-growing 30 years, and 28 of the fastest-growing 40 years. There have only been 36 years in which growth has actually topped four per cent, and Democrats were in charge during 26 of them.

“Republicans love to idolise Ronald Reagan – even though they’d never nominate him if he were running today.”

George W Bush was in charge during zero of them. His best year clocked in at 3.5 per cent growth – in 41st place.

Bill Clinton did it five times out of eight. And Clinton produced that better record while turning massive federal deficits into a surplus, while Reagan almost tripled the federal deficit during his two terms.

In fact, since Reagan took office in 1980, Republican presidents have only produced four per cent growth or better 20 per cent of the time, compared with 45.5 per cent of the time under Democrats.

Republicans like to argue that they are the party of business and therefore the party of economic growth. Democrats are the party of economic redistribution. Republicans grow the pie, Democrats cut it up. This is what Republicans argue, and the so-called “liberal media” largely echoes their message. But the facts simply don’t add up.

Since 1932, growth under Democrats has averaged 4.8 per cent annually, while growth under Republicans has averaged just 2.7 per cent. For a two-term presidency, this amounts to a growth rate almost double under the Democrat: 45.5 per cent growth, compared with 23.8 per cent growth under the Republican. And if it’s sustained growth, year after year that you’re looking for – the sort of growth that Bush is dishonestly promising, the results are even more lopsided.

When’s the last time since 1929 that a Republican president presided over four straight years of four per cent GDP growth? The answer is simple: Never. When’s the last time a Democrat did it? Bill Clinton, from 1997 through 2000. Democrats also put together four or more years of four per cent + GDP under Kennedy/Johnson (five years: 1962-66) and FDR – twice. First was a four-year stretch from 1934-1937, followed by a six-year stretch, 1939 to 1944.

The only year FDR missed four per cent + GDP growth over an 11-year span was 1938, the year he fell prey to the rhetoric of deficit hawks and cut back spending to try to balance the budget. It scared the bejesus out of folks, fearful that the Great Recession would return full force and Roosevelt never considered it again. But that budget-slashing disaster is exactly the same “solution” that Republicans are pushing today – and demonising Obama because he’s reluctant to go along with them.

Obama recently told CBS News that there was a significant difference between running a business and running an economy:

“When some people question why I would challenge his Bain record, the point I’ve made there in the past is, if you’re a head of a large private equity firm or hedge fund, your job is to make money. It’s not to create jobs. It’s not even to create a successful business – it’s to make sure that you’re maximising returns for your investor. Now that’s appropriate. That’s part of the American way. That’s part of the system. But that doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to think about the economy as a whole, because as president, my job is to think about the workers. My job is to think about communities, where jobs have been outsourced.”

Tax cuts for high earners

This is a valid point, and economist Paul Krugman justly backed him up, his point that “business is not economics” linking to a 1996 paper where he makes the larger argument about the systemic differences between a micro-economic and a macro-economic view of the economy – that is, that “a country is not a company”.

In fact, Democrats are so much better at growing the economy that even super-wealthy Republicans do better when a Democrat is in the White House. Attention has repeatedly been focused on the Bush tax cuts for high-income Americans. But those tax lower tax rates pale in comparison to the much stronger income growth under Clinton. So what if you’re paying four per cent more in taxes, if you’re earning way more than you otherwise would?

Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.

3 thoughts on “American Politics”

  1. Excellent, well organized, informative and frightening. I can not imagine giving 3.5 million to any superPAC, let alone having that much money to give away.

    We thought the 2012 election was bad, just wait. The conservatives on this Supreme Court should just put a for sale sign on America.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, genvana. I believe you are referring to Ari Berman’s excellent article in The Nation, The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting.

    I should have mentioned it before, but topic pages do not have individual comment sections, so when commenting on particular articles on pages you should reference those articles for clarity.

    And I agree. Ari’s article is very well written. The Nation is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States. It is the gold standard in American progressive journalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Konigludwig, Sorry, I should of clarified which topic/article I was talking about. You are correct, I was referring to Ari Berman’s excellent article in The Nation. The statement below:

      “Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.”

      Ari Berman went on to clarify that:

      “Nearly 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth ”

      Moving on to another article – following the money:

      The Opinion article, Our Democracy Is at Stake By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. This article displays who shutdown the Government. He quoted the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.: ” Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”o match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.”

      Really, “Give me the money and nobody gets hurt”, was Boehner’s response?? This Congress no longer works for the American people. It was clear that this Congress has never cared what the American Citizens wanted or needed. They work for the SuperPAC donors. 159 donors. They were not even hiding this fact.
      The McCutcheon decision will make this worse. I found the link below in one of the articles. It displays pie charts from the 2012 election. I can not imagine the 2014 & 2016 elections.

      http://www.demos.org/data-bytes/7277

      Liked by 1 person

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