TPP agreement will deal mortal blow to democracy in US - Nation magazine chief ― RT SophieCo

President Obama’s term is coming to an end, and 2016 is going to see candidates race for the Oval Office. Obama is going to leave quite a legacy: promises undelivered, wars unfinished, terrorist threat brewing in Middle East, and some Americans unhappy with the state of affairs in their country. But is the public in for another round of same promises and same mistakes? Is it even about the president – or there are forces much more powerful than the official leader of United States? And with the presidential wannabes we have on our hands, is there even a slight hope for a change? We ask these questions to the editor of the Nation magazine; prominent journalist Katrina vanden Heuvel is on Sophie&Co today.

SS: Years of austerity, cutting social programs coupled with rising taxes have resulted in popular backlash in EU and momentum for the left. Now, you write about the rise of the Left in the U.S. in the run-up to 2016 elections. The Democrats are growing unhappy with Democrats in power – why?

KVH: I think we’re looking at the populist moment in this country, Sophie, where economic inequality has become a crisis of our time. There are movements on the streets of America – on April 15, for example, across 200 cities, fast-food workers protested, seeking a $15 minimum wage. It now varies, but it’s not that. You have mayor of NYC who just unveiled an economic inequality agenda. Perhaps, the most popular Democratic politician in this country, Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, who speaks for working families and about the rigged system that benefits the few, not the many. So I think you’re seeing great ferment, and it’s both movements in the street and, inside the electoral system, you do have a good portion of Democrats who are responding to this momentum with new kinds of policies. So, you are seeing some of the anti-austerity politics and the protests against those that we see in Europe here in the U.S. , which are in different form, but similar in spirit.

SS: Alright, but in context of upcoming elections, terms like “left”, “populist”, “progressive” – they aren’t exactly badges of honor in American politics. I mean, people there distrust those words and ideologies. What makes you think these movements won’t scare off American voters?

SS: But why is becoming President so expensive in the U.S.? Why does Hillary Clinton, for instance, need a billion dollars for a campaign? Americans spend more money on just raising money for the elections than the two main British parties on their entire election campaign…

SS: And corporate sponsorship of parties is something Obama promised to take care of – and 8 years on, nothing has changed. Is it impossible to break the hold of big money over American politics?

SS: But, I mean, big money isn’t going anywhere. During last Romney-Obama presidential contest corporations like Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street heavyweights – they were actually giving money to both camps, to both candidates. So, are they just buying insurance no matter who wins? And also, doesn’t that mean whoever wins; will end up doing what their sponsors want? Like you’ve said, the lobbyists’ interests…

SS: You brought up President Obama’s decisions, foreign policy-wise, Obama’s promises of change brought him the Nobel Peace prize – but the change never really happened. What stopped it?

KVH: Let me break it down, just briefly. I think in two areas we’ve seen some change. One is with Cuba. I mean, you have to understand, and this is an issue – Cuba is a country which has been part of both of our countries’ foreign… imaginations and nightmares for years. But the normalization of relations with Cuba, way overdue, is critical, is vital. And there’s a major support for it. Republicans are on the wrong side of history on this one. I think President Obama’s attempt to engage Iran is very important. There was a diplomatic doubling down. We will see where that goes. There has been an enormous opposition form the Republican Party. I think, in terms of taking on what I might call “a Deep State” – the National Security State – for variety of factors, Presidents over these last decades have been fearful of doing that, and post 9/11 – very tough. So we continue to see drone attacks, we continue to see continuation of George W. Bush’s preemptive war making policies, which I think, are illegal and must be stopped, and finally, there’s bipartisan complicity in terms of Ukraine. There has been a reset in the last week – John Kerry going to meet with President Putin, but until then, this country has done disserve with a relentlessly one-sided media-political think-tank narrative about how Ukraine is simply Russia’s fault, when I think, certainly, both sides have a lot to do with making what was a civil war into a proxy geopolitical war, failing to understand 25 years of NATO expansion and other such issues which have contributed to the crisis, which has no military solution, only a diplomatic one.

SS: When you’re observing from the outside, we see the drone strikes, the secret prisons around the world, a lot of torture going on – it does seem like the CIA runs the show when it comes to many aspects of U.S. foreign policy. What do you say?

SS: I want to talk about another deal that’s grabbing attention now in the U.S. and that’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership. However, the details of this agreement are unknown, Obama insists the TPP is not secret, but in reality, a deal that is supposed to affect millions of Americans is classified, and even members of Congress can’t just go and flip through the pages without minder hanging about. Why?

KVH: I don’t think it’s consistent with American principles, but I’ll tell you: it seems the trade agreements have been, for the last decades, negotiated this way. But, this time, because of a mobilization of labor groups, citizen groups, workers, people inside the Congress, business isn’t being done as usual. People are saying: “Enough! We don’t want this to be done in secrecy; we’ve learned enough from our history to see what these trade agreements have done to communities around the country and workers.” In fact, Sophie, one of the most controversial parts of the trade agreement is the investor dispute settlement provision – which is truly anti-American, allowing corporations to suit governments and countries if they try to institute health and safety measures. It was leaked by WikiLeaks, which is how people know about it. So we need a new way of doing business, we need a new way of doing trade. I’m not…progressives are not against trade, they are against the way banks and investment firms have dictated the terms of trade. In fact, the big fight over TPP is really about corporate power and who’s going to write the rules about the global game, so to speak. I think this is a wake-up moment, and I place it very clearly in this populous moment I described earlier.

SS: But the people who are most outspoken about being against this deal are trade unions and worker’s rights groups and environmentalists – those are the ones, the people who traditionally are on Obama’s side. Now, if the agreement is going to hurt them…

KVH: This is an interesting, very interesting new alignment, but it’s a very interesting new alignment that President Obama is essentially fighting the core elements of his own party. This is not fully new, because President Bill Clinton with NAFTA 20 years or so ago was also at war with his own party. But this coalition is far stronger, Sophie, far stronger, because… President Obama accuses his own coalition of peddling recycled arguments – no. This coalition has learned from history, workers have learned on their own backs, communities have died, jobs have gone, factories closed – but others are now standing up and saying: “enough! We want true enforcement mechanisms of labor and environmental protection; we want to know what’s in the agreement.” How is this truly American to have agreements, conceived in secret with private corporate courts overseeing and arbitrating agreements? No, enough!

SS: Now, you’re also saying that TPP means loss of jobs and sinking middle class, extreme inequality. But those who are in favor say that it would actually benefit the U.S. companies and create new jobs at home. Why are they wrong?

KVH: I think you need to look at history. Those were the same arguments, Sophie, peddled, 15-20 years ago, and we haven’t seen those benefits. Again, not against trade or globalization, but the way the rules have been written have shown that they don’t benefit workers, they don’t increase wages, and they don’t help environmental problems. So, I think, we need to step back – and there are, by the way, good proposals, the Congressional progressive caucus, the group of about 80 Representatives in the House, have put forward an alternative. I think we need to end this particular round, step back and think anew about what a fair trade deal would mean. Finally, President Obama now seems to be…you know, there are new arguments, the new arguments are now about how we need to really counter China in setting the rules of the global economy. This is very tricky, to use this trade agreement for that purpose.

SS: But just really quickly, in a nutshell, can you really undermine China in the region, economically? I mean, is that really possible?

KVH: No. In fact, China is already between the partnership with Russia, the Investment Bank it has set up, bringing in both the UK, I think, and Germany; what you want to do is engage, you don’t want to have a so-called “pivot”, which essentially is countering or jettisoning the relationships. So no, I don’t think so.

Katrina vandenHeuvel

Why Economic Inequality Is the Crisis of Our Time | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation noted that “there’s a lot of big money” behind the fact that the Clinton and Bush families are mainstays in the political system, but said a disapproving population could change things if it wanted to.)