An Aesop fable, “The Scorpion and the Frog,” has been much on my mind today. Short version: A scorpion asked a frog to carry him across a stream. “How do I know you won’t sting me?” asked the frog. “Because if I do,” replied the scorpion, “I will die, too.” Halfway across the stream, however, the scorpion stung the frog. As they sank to their mutual doom, the frog gasped, “Why?” The scorpion replied, “Because it is my nature.”
As I watched the House pass President Obama’s bill giving him fast-track trade authority (TPA) by a slim margin of 218 to 208, I thought to myself, “Here are the scorpions, and we are the frogs.”
Some 28 Democrats voted in favor of it, while nearly twice that number of Republicans, fifty, voted against it. The bill allows the president to submit trade agreements to Congress for a straight vote with no amendments attached. It is, in every respect, the first step toward the president’s ultimate goal: passage of the dangerous, foolish, destructive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
Refresher: The TPP is based on the NAFTA model, but with vastly broader powers and implications. NAFTA was an astonishing job-killer in the US, and the TPP will be worse. It is a massive corporate power grab by multi-national corporations whose control, upon passage, over every aspect of our lives will be multiplied a hundred-fold. Food, medicine, the internet, and especially jobs will be profoundly affected, and if the corporations are challenged, they can seek redress in a trade court whose power will supersede US laws.
The fast-track bill was shot to pieces last week through some fairly clever maneuvering by the Democrats. Packaged in that vote with the TPA was a program going by the nauseating euphemism “Trade Adjustment Assistance,” or TAA (more on that in a moment). Even though most Democrats support the TAA, they voted it down with Republican help as a means of upending the whole rowboat, and it worked … until today, when the TPA was brought to a vote again, but without the TAA attached, and it passed.
A word on this “Trade Adjustment Assistance” thing. Let’s say you work for a software company doing customer assistance over the phone. You make a decent living and get health benefits. You go to work one day and find a note on your desk informing you that, thanks to the wonder of the TPP, your job is being air-mailed to the Pacific Rim. Please clean out your desk by the end of the day, here’s a form for COBRA, and thank you for your service. You go looking for a new job, only to find that every position in your field has also crossed the ocean.
That’s not outsourcing, or getting laid off, or getting royally screwed. It’s “Trade Adjustment.” There would be “assistance” for you, but the folks on the Hill don’t seem interested in passing that portion of the deal. It was more important to get the big deal done, and leave the little deal – you, your livelihood, your future – for some nebulous “later.” They promised they would … and if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.
That’s not some idle fantasy, mind you. Despite all the happy talk from the president and his suddenly enthusiastic Republican allies about the TPP creating jobs for US workers, the very existence of a “Trade Adjustment Assistance” bill gives vivid lie to their hyper-optimistic hogwash. That bill exists because they know, as sure as little fishes swim in the sea, that the TPP will be a job-killer, and they created an “Assistance” plan as some sort of half-assed Band-Aid for all the people who will be streeted if this thing comes to be … but they haven’t passed it. Go figure.
Now, as the logic goes, this looks to be an uphill battle across the board. The GOP-dominated Senate must gather two 60-vote majorities to be able to pass the TPA and TAA separately, bind them together with baling wire, and send this lump of stupid back to the House for yet another vote, where it will have to be reconciled and passed again. Everyone from Mitch McConnell to Lindsey Graham to the sink in the Senate men’s room is swearing on stacks of Bibles that they won’t pass the former without the latter, and the president has likewise sworn he won’t sign the former without the latter.
I trust those sentiments about exactly as far as I can spit a bowling ball. President Obama has stapled his “legacy” to this abomination, and congressional Republicans are positively gleeful: They get to look “bipartisan” in an election season, and by golly gee, a whole slew of their friends – along with the friends of a slew of corporate-entity Democrats – will be swimming in new revenues if this thing passes. All that cheap labor on the other side of the ocean … manna from Heaven, for them.
If you find my lack of trust misplaced, feature this: Malaysia, one of the countries included in the TPP deal, is considered a “Tier 3” offender on the global scale measuring human trafficking. Other Tier 3 countries include Syria, Iran and North Korea. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) drafted and passed out of committee an amendment to the TPP that would bar Tier 3 nations from participating in the trade deal.
The White House called that amendment a “deal-breaker,” because they want Malaysia included. They applied great pressure, Menendez folded, and the amendment was watered down to say only that Tier 3 countries would have to make “concrete efforts” to stop human trafficking, otherwise known more commonly as slavery.
President Obama and his newfound Republican allies are so bent on getting this deal done that they will turn their backs on rampant, brutal slavery with some tepid language tossed over their shoulder about “efforts.” If you think a little thing like assistance for US workers who lose their jobs to this agreement will stop them, I have a nifty bridge over San Francisco Bay to sell you. They know the TPP will cost US jobs, and that it throws a wink and a nod at human trafficking abroad, and they simply don’t care.
Who are the scorpions, and who are the frogs? Turn on the news. You’ll figure it out pretty quick.
We’re about to get stung. After all, it is their nature.