By Jerry Waxman
“Things are not always as they seem…”
Back in April of 2011 I wrote an article called “Watch The Sound Of My Voice (Never Mind What My Hands Are Doing)” in which I alluded to our current president as the best Three Card Monte man or Pea in the Walnut Shell man I’ve ever seen. Why? Because he has the ability to make you believe him. He is a consummate con artist which is not necessarily a bad thing in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, he has never used his prestidigitation abilities to benefit most of us who trusted him and voted for him. Since that time I have not seen any reason to change that assessment. Sure, he has some solid accomplishments under his belt but it feels more like the bait and switch tactics of unscrupulous retailers; you go to buy the advertised product only to find that it is not available but a substitute can be found that won’t match the better quality or lower price of the desired product. Sure, we’ve got health care, but not anything near what we should have or want, and we’ve got something resembling banking reform, which somehow made the banks richer while we got poorer. Sure, we got a stimulus, which worked for some but not for others and was not nearly enough. The fact that he’s allowed Arne Duncan to continue to destroy public education under the guise of “reform” is a crime, but that’s for another article.
To understand this rant let’s go back to the 2008 campaign season. During their frequent debates Barack Obama never let the chance go by to get his claws into Hillary Clinton by mocking President Clinton’s embrace of NAFTA, saying he would not approach trade deals that way. He also took the opportunity to belittle Hillary’s stance on the Iraq War. This was all very calculated as it was strictly to get the support of those progressive Democrats who might have otherwise supported her. He also made a few gaffes that provided insight into his character, especially his God, Guns and Gays speech in rural Pennsylvania and his allusion to Ronald Reagan as a “Transformational President”. But wait! Were they really gaffes, or were they really cold, calculated subliminal hints? His speech in Pennsylvania, which created a big media uproar did not hurt him with the Democrats, and the Alabama/Mississippi sections of Pennsylvania would never vote for him anyway. He also alluded to Ronald Reagan in a positive way. Anytime a Democrat says anything positive about Ronald Reagan you know there has to be an ulterior motive. It was to assure the old Reagan Democrat crowd that they could trust him, and also to assure those independents on the fence that he wasn’t a big city liberal. He also kneecapped Hillary again by adding that Bill was not a transformational figure like Reagan, conveniently forgetting that Bill brought the corporate world into democratic politics in a way that no one before did, and from which candidate Obama benefitted greatly, conveniently forgetting that it was Bill Clinton who implemented NAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, giving us Fox News and spreading Rush Limbaugh’s influence as well as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 which overturned Glass-Steagall and opened the way for the destruction of our economy and the middle class. Hold these thoughts in mind as I wend my way to the main theme of this essay-President Obama’s embrace of the Trans Pacific Partnership aka the TPP. I’ve written about the TPP several times so I won’t go into its history so much except for historical context. The negotiations actually began during GWB’s second term, but something that big was going to have to transcend administrations the same way that NAFTA did. Clinton did sign the agreement but the negotiations were all done under the previous Bush administration, which tried to fast track it and failed. It took two years to bring about congressional debate which nearly failed. Vice President Al Gore had to cast the deciding vote in the Senate in order for NAFTA to succeed. And NAFTA definitely succeeded in diminishing us as the foremost exporter nation in the world. It was and still is a terrible deal for the average American.
We have a history of terrible trade deals dating back to the Russian Wheat Deal of 1972, also known as the Great Grain Robbery. Basically what happened was that Russia had a failed wheat crop and had to go to the open market to purchase wheat. We had surplus wheat through our policies of buying up extra wheat production from farmers in order to keep prices stable. We sold them about 440 million bushels at very reduced prices, which benefitted grain suppliers but caused prices to skyrocket and the taxpayers paid the subsidies for years to come. The GAO called it an extremely mishandled transaction that cost us dearly. In our trade deals with Japan we have always allowed them to export to us but our exports to them have been severely limited. The Nixon administration introduced Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which gave the President the ability to negotiate trade deals with strictly an up or down vote in Congress and no debate time or amendment proposals. Congress went along with it because Nixon was trying to open up China and he could not appear weak to the authoritarian Chinese. Basically, Congress gave up its constitutionally mandated authority to approve trade negotiations. The time limit for the TPA expired and has to be renewed, which the administration is eagerly trying to do. Why is a president who is supposedly all for openness and accountability, who as a campaign promise said he would not be involved in this kind of charade, trying so hard to fast track a bad deal for 98% of Americans under such a cloak of secrecy? Haven’t our experiences with NAFTA and CAFTA taught him any lessons? Think hard. Some of the answers will boggle your mind because things are not exactly as they seem. Read MacBeth and Othello again, or for the first time and be aware that even though you know what’s going on, the affected characters don’t, yet Shakespeare handles it perfectly.
President Obama owes Wall Street and many of these transnational conglomerates big time, and everything he’s done over the last five years has been to benefit them with their tacit approval no matter what they say publicly. He’s been aided in this by certain blue dog democrats in congress like Sen. Max Baucus. Yes, the same Max Baucus who not only killed the public option but gave us the prostituted law that the opposition calls “Obamacare”. Baucus is the point man for the Democrats on TPA and TPP hearings, so that doesn’t bode well. When I posed the question to my sources as to why Harry Reid did not get rid of Baucus as committee chair and replace him with a more progressive senator I was told not to go there, but given no reasons. Hint…”we don’t to wind up like Manning and Snowden and neither do you.” So, understand that Wall Street is looking at the gazillions of dollars to be made at our expense and the administration is going to help them make it. That’s one hell of a payback. It’s also a main reason why Larry Summers, a Wall Street insider who was complicit in the crashing of the economy, was considered for the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve.
People in the know are figuring that at this time fast track will pass the Senate. It sounds strange but too many Democrats are also beholden to the banks also. Even if it comes down to Joe Biden having to cast a tie breaking vote he’s not going to vote against his own administration. The best chance we peons have of defeating fast track is, strangely enough, in the House of Representatives, where clearly John Boehner has no control over the most radical elements of his party. It’s a perfect chance for the progressives to get together with the tea party types and kill it forever. If fast tracking fails there is no way that it will be revived for the scrutiny it will have to be subjected to. It is incumbent upon everyone, regardless of party affiliation, to call on their representatives to defeat the fast track.
On Friday, September 27 there was an Anti TPP rally at the Communication Workers of America Hall Local 3108 in Orlando sponsored in part by the CWA, Central Florida Sierra Club, AFL-CIO Central Labor and the Orlando Light Brigade. Speakers included CWA member and event organizer James Howe who spoke on the history of the labor movement and its social relevance, Lorraine Tuliano, former president of CLC, who reminded all why we don’t need another NAFTA, Jeannie Economos of the Farmworkers of America who spoke of the dangers to American food producers and farmworkers that is represented by the TPP. Other speakers included Phyllis Hancock, head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, who spoke about how low wages negatively impact minorities, Marjorie Holt, from the Central Florida Sierra Club, who voiced the club’s concerns over the disregard of environmental protections that will happen if the TPP is passed. Yours truly also spoke to the effect that reduced wages would have on the small business community. I was followed by Roger Harris of the AFL-CIO and Steve Wisniewski, President of Local 3108. Both men reiterated labors concerns. The main speaker of the evening was Alisa Simmons of Public Citizen and Global Watch. Simmons has been traveling the country talking to different groups as well as lobbying politicians on Capitol Hill. Her remarks were both enlightening and chilling and she stressed the need for immediate mobilization and action from the grass roots.
The more we learn about the TPP the more dangerous it becomes and we only know a small percentage of what is in these documents. The secrecy behind these talks is as tight as the Manhattan Project. Why? It doesn’t stand to reason that our trusted leaders would sell us down the river for little or no gain, or does it? Nobody wants to give away trade secrets, especially the guy who claims he’s got nothing up his sleeve. Next week there is an unscheduled session in Bali which will be attended by the president’s hand picked point man, Michael Froman, whose sole function is to get our participation passed by Congress. That’s a far cry from a candidate who frowned upon NAFTA and excoriated the banks among other broken campaign promises. So, considering all the factors who can we trust? I’m not sure I have faith in our leadership to do right by us anymore. It especially hurts when you genuinely like a man like our President. Once that faith and trust has been lost it is virtually impossible to regain it. Being the man we voted for would be a good start because the man we have is part of the bait and switch.
The real quote by Plato is: “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” It appears as a dialog between Phaedrus and Socrates in “The Phaedrus”. Abraham Lincoln said it too in slightly different words. It’s time for this con to end.