OK, you remaining Obama fans: tell me why we should trust the biggest baiter and switcher in the history of the Presidency, particularly when he insists on unprecedented levels of secrecy? Because he has nice teeth and cute kids?
We mention in another post tonight how the Administration is being remarkably tight-lipped about the progress-towards-completion of the health care exchanges that will be fully or jointly run by the Federal government (34 in total). But the mere failure to make normal disclosures pales next to the “all secrecy all the time” that appears to be the Administration’s default.
We’ve mentioned before the unheard-of steps the Administration is taking to keep a large, and potentially important trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, under wraps. We say “trade deal” but that is already a misnomer. International trade is already substantially liberalized. Based on what little information has been wrestled from the Administration, the TPP is most important a means for financial firms and multinationals to undermine nation-based regulations.
An overview from an earlier post:
Apparently Obama wants to make sure his corporate masters get as many goodies as possible before he leaves office. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both inaccurately depicted as being helpful to ordinary Americans by virtue of liberalizing trade. Instead, the have perilous little to do with trade. They are both intended to make the world more lucrative for major corporations by weakening regulations and by strengthening intellectual property laws…
One of the most disturbing aspects of both negotiations is that they are being held in secret….secret, that is, if you are anybody other that a big US multinational who has a stake in the outcome.
[Dean] Baker describes in scathing terms why these types of deals are bad policy:
…these deals are about securing regulatory gains for major corporate interests. In some cases, such as increased patent and copyright protection, these deals are 180 degrees at odds with free trade. They are about increasing protectionist barriers…
And this sort of erosion of the right to regulate will most assuredly extend to financial services. Dodd Frank? The Brown-Vitter bill that some see as a great new hope for tougher financial regulation? They are already unworkable under existing trade agreements. As Public Citizen noted:
One of the most controversial WTO agreements is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)…One of the most controversial service sectors covered by the GATS is finance….
Taken as a whole, the WTO’s limits on financial service sector regulation are expansive. These rules not only guarantee foreign financial firms and their products access to U.S. markets, but also include numerous additional rules that limit how our domestic governments may regulate foreign firms operating here:
No new regulation: The United States agreed to a “standstill provision” which requires that we not create new regulations (or reverse liberalization) for the list of financial services bound to comply with WTO rules. Translated out of GATSese, this means that the United States has bound itself not to do what Congress, regulators and scholars deem necessary – create new financial service regulations…
The draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a NAFTA-style FTA under negotiation between the United States and 10 Pacific Rim countries, contains the same limits on financial regulation as the WTO, and more. In addition, these rules would be privately enforceable by foreign financial firms that could “sue” the U.S. government in foreign tribunals, which would be empowered to order payment of unlimted sums of U.S. taxpayer money if they saw our laws as undermining such firms’ “expected profits.” Also, even as the International Monetary Fund has officially shifted from opposition to qualified endorsement of capital controls, which are used to avoid destabilizing floods of speculative money into and out of countries, the TPP would ban the use of these important regulatory tools. Despite years of pressure from former House Financial Services Committee Chair Rep. Barney Frank to permit capital controls, the Obama administration is the strongest promoter of this ban in the TPP.
Back to the current post. Now get this: the draft text of the TPP is classified. This is simply unheard of for a trade deal. The US Trade Representative has been providing summaries of the US position on key issues to Congress but that falls way short of adequate disclosure. Congressmen almost never have the time (even where they have the ability) to read long agreements in full and parse how key sections work (which often mean going back to definitions and in some cases, existing law). So keeping most staffers and third parties with expertise away assures that (until the last minute) the discussion and “clarifications” of the provisions under negotiation will come only from parties that are already in the tank.
As anyone who has been involved in legal-related drafting knows, the actual language is critical. General terms and concepts that sound innocuous can serve as Trojan horses for all sorts of clever “gotcha” provisions. The plan is clear: Obama intends to spring a long, dense agreement on Congress, with the claim that all these other countries are on board and it can’t be changed. The TPP is intended to be a cramdown.
Zack Carter of the Huffington Post reported today:
Members of Congress have been provided with only limited access to the negotiation documents. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) told HuffPost on Monday that he viewed an edited version of the negotiation texts last week, but that secrecy policies at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative created scheduling difficulties that delayed his access for nearly six weeks. The Obama administration has barred any Congressional staffers from reviewing the full negotiation text and prohibited members of Congress from discussing the specific terms of the text with trade experts and reporters. Staffers on some committees are granted access to portions of the text under their committee’s jurisdiction.
“This, more than anything, shows the abuse of the classified information system,” Grayson told HuffPost. “They maintain that the text is classified information….they tell me that they don’t want me to talk to anybody about it because if I did, I’d be releasing classified information…
“What I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it…
“Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty,” Grayson told HuffPost. “And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America. I think that’s fair to say from what I’ve seen so far. But I’m not allowed to tell you why!”
Now it’s not hard to imagine that the six weeks of scheduling delays were “dog ate my homework” level excuses by the USTR to put off Grayson as long as possible.
Now it may be that the low-level drumbeat of complaints (including a petition last month) is what led the USTR to allow Grayson to see the draft text. After all, it’s a non-concession concession. What have they given up since the draft’s bizarre, unjustifiable classified status means Grayson can make almost no use of what he’s learned. So the Administration may have decided to throw critics a few bones to give them a talking point or two (“see, we have let interested Congressmen see the draft text”). Or it may be that the pact is close to being final and the Administration is on the verge of pushing it through Congress (that seems unlikely, given that Japan just joined the negotiations, but one never knows for sure).
But in any event, these secret negotiations reveal how Obama is systematically stripping away our few remaining democratic protections so he can hand the country, lock, stock, and barrel, over to major corporate interests. The sooner ordinary citizens wake up to what a menace his policies are to their well-being, the better.