Kevin Zeese is co-director of PopularResistance.org and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. He’s also an attorney who is one of the original organizers of the National Occupation of Washington, DC. He has been active in independent and third party political campaigns including for state legislative offices in Maryland, governor of California and U.S. president, where he served as press secretary and spokesperson for Ralph Nader in 2004. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and was the only person ever nominated by the Green Party, Libertarian Party and Populist Party.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The tax writing committees in Congress that make up the finance committee reached an agreement on Thursday on a bill to give President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade pacts such as the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The unions, such as AFL-CIO, and movements that had historically opposed such trade pacts such as NAFTA are committing to oppose the fast-track as well. Unions are committing large sums of money for ad campaigns to oppose it. Here with me to discuss why in our studio is Kevin Zeese.
Good to have you here, Kevin.
KEVIN ZEESE, CO-DIR. IT’S OUR ECONOMY: Thanks for having me.
PERIES: Kevin Zeese is co-director of It’s Our Economy, as well as the co-director of PopularResistance.org. Thank you for bringing the wealth of information in your coming with you. Just returned from Washington–
ZEESE: That’s right.
PERIES: Being at the committee hearings, what happened?
ZEESE: Well we’ve been down in Washington almost every day since February, when they first planned on introducing this fast-track. It took them from mid-February till mid-April to finally get agreement enough between Senator Orrin Hatch who’s the chairman of the Finance Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden who’s the ranking member, the Democrat on the finance committee, get them to come to agreement on a fast-track bill.
And this is a major step forward for the Obama administration, this is something they’ve been trying to do for as I said, for two months now. Actually for more than two years, but they finally have gotten this far. But it’s a first step, and there’s going to be many steps ahead where we have a chance to defeat this bill.
We have, as you mentioned, a lot of different organizations involved in what is the largest ever coalition opposing fast-track and these trade agreements.
PERIES: Describe some of those organizations.
ZEESE: Well, there’s a website called StopFastTrack.com, which you can go to and take action. But it also lists the 200 or so different organizations. Includes groups like, of course you mentioned the unions. AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, communication workers, the steel workers, and a whole host of other unions and environmental groups. Almost every environmental group is opposed to these efforts. Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth. Even groups that supported previous agreements like NRDC, the National Resources Defense Council, opposed this one. Oppose fast-track for this one.
So we have a very big, basic pillars there, with the environmentalist and the unions. But beyond that, you have the Internet community. You have groups like Fight for the Future, Electronic Freedom Foundation, you have groups that are worried about GMOs and food labeling and food and water. Food and Water Watch for example is opposed to it.
Because the thing about these trade agreements is, it will affect every aspect of our lives. And they’ve been negotiating in secret now–this is the seventh year. Every year the Obama administration, they’ve been negotiating this in secret. They are primarily corporate advisors who are helping to write the legislation in secret, so we don’t know what’s in it except for leaks. Luckily there have been leaks. And what they introduced today was a fast-track bill.
And the fast-track bill is, they tried to put a lot of flowers around it and make it look good. But in the end what it basically is is the Congress giving the power of regulating trade, which is their responsibility under the Commerce Clause, Article 1 of the Constitution says Congress regulates trade between the nations. Giving that power over to President Obama. President Obama will be able to sign the bill, the treaty, before Congress sees it.
PERIES: Now, Republicans are controlling both the Congress and the–
ZEESE: Both the House and Senate.
PERIES: The House and Senate. And they have been getting in the way of President Obama on a number of different very good bills. But this one they’re letting him have authority to negotiate. Why are they doing it, and what’s in it for them?
ZEESE: It’s more complicated than that. Because what you have in both parties are corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans, and you have people who are not corporates, that are more populist. Some on the left for the Democrats, left of center. Some on the right, the Tea Party types in the Republican party.
What you have actually right now, if there was a vote held today in the House, we would win. The best estimates are we have 133 votes. The Hill, a newspaper that covers the Capitol Hill activities, interviewed a lot of people and came to the conclusion that there’s only about 15 Democrats who will support fast-track. And there are about 60 Republicans who oppose it. And so we have about 133 or so votes. You need–I mean 233. You need 218 in order to have a majority. So we have a majority right now.
Now, whether this fast-track bill introduced today will change the game is the question. What we’ve seen so far in the last two hours it’s been introduced, what we’ve seen so far is we’ve seen the AFL-CIO and the unions still staying strong, Public Citizen which is a major player in this staying strong and opposing it, and putting out a very strong analysis about it. You’re seeing Sierra Club and the environment still saying they oppose it, and obviously we’re still working against it.
And so there’s a big popular movement that opposes this, and I think we have a good chance of stopping it.
PERIES: So these are groups that when the chips fall, they fall on the side of the Democrats. Why are they opposing it?
ZEESE: Because they have the experience of NAFTA and the WTO. What they’ve seen in the past, some of the promises in this fast-track are, they put 150 negotiating objectives. You know, protect the environment with enforceable rules, protect labor rights with enforceable rules. Those have been put into every fast-track agreement since the NAFTA and WTO and they’ve never accomplished anything.
In fact there was a leak of the environmental chapter a year ago of the TPP, and it showed that the enforcement sections for the environment are weaker than they were under President Bush’s trade agreements. And so there’s less enforcement of the environment than there’s ever been.
And so you have this fast-track that says the objective is to protect the environment with enforceable protections, and the leak says there’s no enforcement. So it’s a very bizarre Alice in Wonderland kind of false reality, where this fast-track bill says here’s 150 objectives, and we look at the objectives, we say, well, we know that from the leaks none of that’s happening. So what is this? It’s like phony flowers to try and make things look pretty when they’re really ugly.
This is a capitulation to global corporate rule. That’s what this is about in the essence. It really comes down to if they pass this fast-track, they will have three years, could be renewed for three more, up to six years to negotiate these corporate-rigged trade agreements that give corporations tremendous power. Create their own court system, this trade tribunal system that can’t be reviewed even by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gives tremendous corporate power and really creates a global corporate rule. We will become serfs of corporations if these trade agreements become law.
And so this fast-track is the most important thing any activist can do right now. No matter what issue you care about, go to StopFastTrack.com and get involved, join the hundreds of groups already in the movement, we need to stop this. It’s going to take a unified effort to do because the transnational corporations and President Obama and the Republican leadership and the corporate Democrats want this very badly. And we can stop it.
PERIES: Kevin, earlier you said these trade pacts affect every part of our lives. Let’s give some examples of it. Now, self-regulation has lead to things like the BP oil spill and the lack of control of that sector by the EPA, and so on. So that’s one example, and the anniversary of that is coming up next week.
ZEESE: Well, let’s take Baltimore. A local city trying to, say they want to encourage local jobs, they want to buy local. Or they want to move toward a green energy economy and buy green. Under the TPP those will be perceived as trade barriers, and corporations will be allowed to, will demand the right to be able to compete on equal footing with any kind of favoritism to state-favored enterprises like a green economy, if you want to support–if the government wants to support a green [economy].
So limit the choice of a city to determine its future. Its working–the best for its workers, the best for its environment, the best for its resources. And so it limits us on every level of government. And this is true at the national level as well, and in fact the laws that are impacted by the TPP and the Atlantic agreement would have to be changed to be consistent with those trade agreements. So our laws, a buy American law for example. That’s a trade barrier.
And the thing about that, one of the things about this that makes it so dangerous is that not only do you have to harmonize your laws, but then going forward if a city passes a law, or state or federal passes a law in the public interest to protect their people or the planet or their resources, and it undermines the profits of a corporation, they can sue the government for their expected profits. The profits they expected to make. And that means that they go not to a regular court. They go to a trade tribunal. And the judges on this trade tribunal are three judges who are corporate lawyers, on leave from their corporate job, being lawyers, making decisions, and going back to their corporate job. So it’s a rigged trade tribunal, and our courts or Vietnam’s courts or Peru’s courts, any country’s courts, cannot review that decision. The U.S. Supreme Court cannot overturn a decision of the trade tribunal. It becomes the more powerful decision.
And so it’s really, a real attack on our Constitution. The judiciary gets totally decapitated, our legislation has to be harmonized with the trade agreement. And so both our legislature and our courts, two thirds of our government, are destroyed by this. And then you have the fast track, which is a process that undermines the Constitution, because it takes away the responsibility of Congress, under the Constitution, to regulate trade between nations.
And so this whole approach is a move toward global corporate rule on every level of government, and it’s being done through a process that’s done in secret, no transparency, no citizen participation, and then they’re going to rush it through Congress with this fast-track approach. And so that’s what we’re facing. And so that’s why this is the most important issue I think of the moment. Because it affects everything we–that impacts our lives. It will set up a new form of governance that puts corporations before democracy.
PERIES: Create greater havoc in our economies, and our lives.
ZEESE: Will create–oh, and the havoc in the economy is, since we’ve done this we’ve had almost a trillion dollars in trade deficit, millions of manufacturing jobs lost. The wealth divide has expanded. All that will continue. There’s nothing in these agreements that will change that scenario, and that’s what the research shows these agreements will do. It’s to make the wealthier wealthier, and 90% of Americans, according to economic studies by CEPR, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 90% of Americans will see their income go down while the wealthiest go up.
So the wealth divide continues. Jobs are lost. Trade deficit expands. It’s a terrible thing for our economy. I don’t know why–well, we do know why. Because the Senate Finance Committee, for example, is the committee where this starts from. And they received just for the 2014 elections cycle $237 million, their members did, in donations. $237 million for one group of senators on one committee. It is the most corrupt committee. And that’s where this is originating from, and that’s what we’re seeing, is essentially corporate corruption of our government producing global corporate rule.
PERIES: Kevin Zeese, co-director of PopularResistance.org. Thank you so much for joining us today.
ZEESE: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.