By Lambert Strether as Corrente
The left critique on TPP starts with how it hurts labor, and moves on to how it hurts the environment. The difficulty here is that these critiques don’t appeal to the right, and it will take left and right, ganging up, to defeat the party establishments on TPP. I would like to suggest that a focus on national sovereignty — more concretely, framing the proponents of TPP as traitors — is a better approach, because left and right can agree on it. Let’s start with this gem from the press:
In my inbox: "Sanders Welcomes McConnell Decision to Block TPP." Interesting to see Sanders cheering on a Republican pic.twitter.com/owpdiBDpIm
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) August 26, 2016
(“Interesting that…” on the Twitter is never interesting in a good way; openers like “Interesting that puppies are cute” do not figurely largely there, and certainly not in political Twittter. Personally, I find it interesting that Times stenographer Alcindor is not only displaying open bias against Sanders, but vending the Clinton line that Sanders is really doing the Republicans’ work (“cheering on”). Perhaps I’m guilty of oldthink; after all, we have so few reporters these days, and so very many public relations operatives in training. But I digress.) What I find interesting is that it’s possible for a socialist like Sanders and a reactionary like McConnnell to find common cause in opposing TPP (assuming, for the sake of the argument, that McConnell isn’t simply trying to muscle Obama to get a better deal for Kentucky tobacco interests). More like that, please.
First, I’ll show how to frame the proponents of TPP as traitors. Then, I’ll look at the political state of play, and apply the framing.
Why the Proponents of TPP Are Traitors
There are two reasons: First, they consciously seek to weaken the national defense. And second, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system is a surrender of national sovereignty.
This might be labeled the “Ghost Fleet” argument, since we’re informed that Paul Singer and Augustus Cole’s techno-thriller has really caught the attention of the national security class below the political appointee level, and that this is a death blow for neoliberalism. Why? “The multi-billion dollar, next generation F-35 aircraft, for instance, is rendered powerless after it is revealed that Chinese microprocessor manufacturers had implanted malicious code into products intended for the jet” (Foreign Policy). Clearly, we need, well, industrial policy, and we need to bring a lot of manufacturing home. From Brigadier General (Retired) John Adams:
In 2013, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board put forward a remarkable report describing one of the most significant but little-recognized threats to US security: deindustrialization. The report argued that the loss of domestic U.S. manufacturing facilities has not only reduced U.S. living standards but also compromised U.S. technology leadership “by enabling new players to learn a technology and then gain the capability to improve on it.” The report explained that the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing presents a particularly dangerous threat to U.S. military readiness through the “compromise of the supply chain for key weapons systems components.”
Our military is now shockingly vulnerable to major disruptions in the supply chain, including from substandard manufacturing practices, natural disasters, and price gouging by foreign nations. Poor manufacturing practices in offshore factories lead to problem-plagued products, and foreign producers—acting on the basis of their own military or economic interests—can sharply raise prices or reduce or stop sales to the United States.
The link between TPP and this kind of offshoring has been well-established.
And, one might say, the link between neo-liberal economic policy “and this kind of offshoring has been well-established” as well.
So, when I framed the issue as one where pro-TPPers “consciously seek to weaken the national defense,” that’s exactly what’s going on. Neoliberalism, through offshoring, weakens the national defense, because it puts our weaponry at the mercy of fragile and corruptible supply chains. Note that re-industrializing America has positive appeal, too: For the right, on national security grounds; and for the left, on labor’s behalf (and maybe helping out the Rust Belt that neoliberal policies of the last forty years did so much to destroy. Of course, this framing would make Clinton a traitor, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. (Probably best to to let the right, in its refreshingly direct fashion, use the actual “traitor” word, and the left, shocked, call for the restoration of civility, using verbiage like “No, I wouldn’t say she’s a traitor. She’s certainly ‘extremely careless’ with our nation’s security.”)
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement system is a hot mess (unless you represent a corporation, or are one of tiny fraternity of international corporate lawyers who can plead and/or judge ISDS cases). Yves wrote:
What may have torched the latest Administration salvo is a well-timed joint publication by Wikileaks and the New York Times of a recent version of the so-called investment chapter. That section sets forth one of the worst features of the agreement, the investor-state dispute settlement process (ISDS). As we’ve described at length in earlier posts, the ISDS mechanism strengthens the existing ISDS process. It allows for by allowing foreign investors to sue governments over lost potential future profits in secret arbitration panels. Those panels have been proved to be conflict-ridden and arbitrary. And the grounds for appeal are limited and technical.
(More from NC on the ISDS panels, the TPP clauses on ISDS, the “code of conduct” for lawyers before the ISDS, pending ISDS settlements, and the potential constitutional challenges to the ISDS system.)
Here again we have a frame that appeals to both right and left. The very thought of surrendering national sovereignty to an international organization makes any good conservative’s back teeth itch. And the left sees the “lost profits” doctrine as a club to prevent future government programs they would like to put in place (single payer, for example). And in both cases, the neoliberal doctrine of putting markets before anything else makes pro-TPP-ers traitors. To the right, because nationalism trumps internationalism; to the left, because TPP prevents the State from looiking after the welfare of its people.
The Political State of Play
All I know is what I read in the papers, so what follows can only be speculation. That said, there are two ways TPP could be passed: In the lame duck session, by Obama, or after a new President is inaugurated, by Clinton (or possibly by Trump).
Passing TPP in the Lame Duck Session
Obama is committed to passing TPP (and we might remember that the adminstration failed to pass the draft in Maui, then succeeded in Atlanta. And the House killed Fast Track once, before voting for it (after which the Senate easily passed it, and Obama signed it). So the TPP may be a “heavy lift,” but that doesn’t mean Obama can’t accomplish it. Obama says:
[OBAMA:] And hopefully, after the election is over and the dust settles, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won’t just be a political symbol or a political football. And I will actually sit down with people on both sides, on the right and on the left. I’ll sit down publicly with them and we’ll go through the whole provisions. I would enjoy that, because there’s a lot of misinformation.
I’m really confident I can make the case this is good for American workers and the American people. And people said we weren’t going to be able to get the trade authority to even present this before Congress, and somehow we muddled through and got it done. And I intend to do the same with respect to the actual agreement.
So how would Obama “muddle through”? One way is to appeal to legislators who won’t have to face voters again:
So it is looking like a very close vote. (For procedural and political reasons, Obama will not bring it to a vote unless he is sure he has the necessary votes). Now let’s look at one special group of Representatives who can swing this vote: the actual lame-ducks, i.e., those who will be in office only until Jan. 3. It depends partly on how many lose their election on Nov. 8, but the average number of representatives who left after the last three elections was about 80.
Most of these people will be looking for a job, preferably one that can pay them more than $1 million a year. From the data provided by OpenSecrets.org, we can estimate that about a quarter of these people will become lobbyists. (An additional number will work for firms that are clients of lobbyists).
So there you have it: It is all about corruption, and this is about as unadulterated as corruption gets in our hallowed democracy, other than literal cash under a literal table. These are the people whom Obama needs to pass this agreement, and the window between Nov. 9 and Jan. 3 is the only time that they are available to sell their votes to future employers without any personal political consequences whatsoever. The only time that the electorate can be rendered so completely irrelevant, if Obama can pull this off.
(The article doesn’t talk about the Senate, but Fast Track passed the Senate with a filibuster-proof super-majority, so the battle is in the House anyhow. And although the text of TPP cannot be amended — that’s what fast track means! — there are still ways to affect the interpretation and enforcement of the text, so Obama and his corporate allies have bargaining chips beyond Beltway sinecures.)
Now, when we think about how corrupt the political class has become, it’s not hard to see why Obama is confident that he will win. (Remember, “[T]he preferences of economic elites have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.”) However, if the anti-TPP-ers raise the rhetorical stakes from policy disagreement to treason, maybe a few of those 80 representatives will do the right thing (or, if you prefer, decide that the reputational damage to their future career makes a pro-TPP vote not worth it. Who wants to play golf with a traitor?)
Passing TPP after the Inaugural
coronation inaugural, Clinton will have to use more complicated tactics than dangling goodies before the snouts of representatives leaving for K Street. (We’ve seen that Clinton’s putative opposition to TPP is based on lawyerly parsing; and her base supports it. So I assume a Clinton administration would go full speed ahead with it.) My own thought has been that she’d set up a “conversation” on trade, and then buy off the national unions with “jobs for the boys,” so that they sell their locals down the river. Conservative Jennifer Rubin has a better proposal, which meets Clinton’s supposed criterion of not hurting workers even better:
Depending on the election results and how many pro-free-trade Republicans lose, it still might not be sufficient. Here’s a further suggestion: Couple it with a substantial infrastructure project that Clinton wants, but with substantial safeguards to make sure that the money is wisely spent. Clinton gets a big jobs bill — popular with both sides — and a revised TPP gets through.
Finally, an even more radical proposal, again from a conservative source:
What Clinton needs is a significant revision to TPP that she can tout as a real reform to trade agreements, one that satisfies some of the TPP’s critics on the left. A minor tweak is unlikely to assuage anyone; this change needs to be a major one. Fortunately, there is a TPP provision that fits the bill perfectly: investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), the procedure that allows foreign investors to sue governments in an international tribunal. Removing ISDS could triangulate the TPP debate, allowing for enough support to get it through Congress.
Obama can’t have a conversation on trade, or propose a jobs program, let alone jettison ISDS; all he’s got going for him is corruption. So, interestingly, although Clinton can’t take the simple road of bribing the 80 represenatives, she does have more to bargain with on policy. Rubin’s jobs bill could at least be framed as a riposte to the “Ghost Fleet” argument, since both are about “jawbs,” even if infrastructure programs and reindustrialization aren’t identical in intent. And while I don’t think Clinton would allow ISDS to be removed (her corporate donors love it), at least somebody’s thinking about how to pander to the left. Nevertheless, what does a jobs program matter if the new jobs leave the country anyhow? And suppose ISDS is removed, but the removal of the precautionary principle remains? We’d still get corporate-friendly decisions, bilaterally. And people would end up balancing the inevitable Clinton complexity and mush against the simplicity of the message that a vote for TPP is a vote against the United States.
I hope I’ve persuaded you that TPP is still very much alive, and that both Obama in the lame duck, and Clinton (or even Trump) when inaugurated have reasonable hopes of passing it. However, I think raising the ante rhetorically by framing a pro-TPP vote as treason could help sway a close vote; and if readers try that frame out, I’d like to hear the results (especially when the result comes from a letter to your Congress critter). Interestingly, Buzzfeed just published tonight the first in a four-part series, devoted to the idea that ISDS is what we have said it is all along: A surrender of national sovereignty. Here’s a great slab of it:
Imagine a private, global super court that empowers corporations to bend countries to their will.
Say a nation tries to prosecute a corrupt CEO or ban dangerous pollution. Imagine that a company could turn to this super court and sue the whole country for daring to interfere with its profits, demanding hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars as retribution.
Imagine that this court is so powerful that nations often must heed its rulings as if they came from their own supreme courts, with no meaningful way to appeal. That it operates unconstrained by precedent or any significant public oversight, often keeping its proceedings and sometimes even its decisions secret. That the people who decide its cases are largely elite Western corporate attorneys who have a vested interest in expanding the court’s authority because they profit from it directly, arguing cases one day and then sitting in judgment another. That some of them half-jokingly refer to themselves as “The Club” or “The Mafia.”
And imagine that the penalties this court has imposed have been so crushing — and its decisions so unpredictable — that some nations dare not risk a trial, responding to the mere threat of a lawsuit by offering vast concessions, such as rolling back their own laws or even wiping away the punishments of convicted criminals.
This system is already in place, operating behind closed doors in office buildings and conference rooms in cities around the world. Known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, it is written into a vast network of treaties that govern international trade and investment, including NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress must soon decide whether to ratify.
That’s the stuff to give the troops!
 Trump: “I pledge to never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers.” Lotta wiggle room there, and the lawyerly parsing is just like Clinton’s. I don’t think it’s useful to discuss what Trump might do on TPP, because until there are other parties to the deal, there’s no deal to be had. Right now, we’re just looking at Trump doing A-B testing — not that there’s anything wrong with that — which the press confuses with policy proposals. So I’m not considering Trump because I don’t think we have any data to go on.
 In-Depth News explains the mechanisms:
To pacify [those to whom he will
corruptappeal], Obama will have to convince them that what they want will anyway be achieved, even if these are not legally part of the TPP because the TPP text cannot be amended.
He can try to achieve this through bilateral side agreements on specific issues. Or he can insist that some countries take on extra obligations beyond what is required by the TPP as a condition for obtaining a U.S. certification that they have fulfilled their TPP obligations.
This certification is required for the U.S. to provide the TPP’s benefits to its partners, and the U.S. has previously made use of this process to get countries to take on additional obligations, which can then be shown to Congress members that their objectives have been met.
In other words, side deals.
 This should not be taken to imply that Clinton does not have corruption going for her, too. She can also make all the side deals Obama can.