Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote

‘We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we,’ says Democracy for America

by: Deirdre Fulton

According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass. (Image: Screenshot)Update (3 pm EDT):In what was immediately heralded as a victory for the grassroots, Senate Democrats on Tuesday stymied President Barack Obama’s corporate-driven trade agenda by voting to prevent the chamber from taking up Fast Track legislation.According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass. Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, was the only Democrat to vote yes.Civil society groups lauded Tuesday’s outcome and what it could mean for future trade votes.”The Fast Track train went off the rails today,” cheered Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for Fast Track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrats and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.”Still, now is not the time for the grassroots to become complacent, warned Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain in a statement released just after the vote.”While we celebrate today’s failed Fast Track vote for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, the hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists who have united behind Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders to defeat the TPP will not rest until it’s dead, buried, and covered with six-inches of concrete,” Chamberlain said. “Today, the army of corporate executives and industry lobbyists who wrote the Trans-Pacific Partnership by and for themselves failed to secure support for the Fast Track legislation they know they need to ram their bad trade deal through Congress.”However, he added, “We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we.”Other Fast Track opponents expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been a vocal opponent of Fast Track and gave a stirring speech on the Senate floor prior to the vote on Tuesday, added: “The Senate vote today was an important first victory in what will be a long battle.””Today was a good step forward,” he said, “but much more needs to be done.”Earlier…

Progressive opposition to Fast Track, and the dangerous trade deals the authority is designed to promote, continues to mount both on and off Capitol Hill. (Photo: UFCW International Union/flickr/cc)Amid convoluted political machinations and ever-mounting progressive opposition, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion to move forward with Fast Track authority, which would for six years help ram corporate-friendly trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress.The vote is likely to be very close—”a cliffhanger,” according to Politico; “a knife-edge vote,” says Reuters; “a squeaker,” as per the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.”Today, every United States Senator has a decision to make: will they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents who oppose the dangerous secrecy inherent in the Fast Track / Trade Promotion Authority process, or will they bow down to the White House and the incumbent industries who have been spending millions lobbying to protect their power?”—Evan Greer, Fight for the FutureProponents in the Senate must secure 60 votes on Tuesday to begin debate on Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority. While the vote is procedural, the Wall Street Journal notes that it “could indicate where members stand” on the authority, so fervently sought by President Barack Obama and his Cabinet, which would pave the way for passage of the 12-nation TPP.Reuters notes, “Failure would send a worrying signal about the level of support for Fast Track, which unions, environmental and consumer groups strongly oppose, as do some conservatives.””Even if the free-traders get the required 60 votes, supporters won’t have momentum going into a vote in the House, where the legislation faces a tougher slog,” Milbank added.As the Washington Post reports, the “vast majority of the 245 House Republicans are expected to support the president, leaving White House officials to find possibly 25 to 30 Democratic votes. According to one Democratic estimate provided Monday, there are just 17 House Democrats so far supporting [Fast Track].”According to news reports, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block the trade bill until senators agree to a way forward on highway and surveillance bills, both of which face end-of-the-month deadlines.In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who negotiated the details of the Fast Track bill introduced last month, has told his colleagues that he will not support starting the debate unless Republicans promise to also move forward with two other trade measures: a customs enforcement bill that would also crack down on currency manipulation and the African Growth and Opportunity Act that provides trade preferences to sub-Saharan African countries.

According to Politico, “Wyden’s vote is being watched closely by both Democrats and Republicans as the pivotal yes or no that will determine whether work on the trade bill can begin now or must wait until June.”

“If Wyden votes no, he may take enough pro-trade Democrats with him to sink Tuesday’s vote,” write Politico journalists Burgess Everett and Manu Raju. “That possibility has boosted the anti-trade faction of the Democratic Party, which is now predicting that without [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s intervention the vote on Tuesday will fail.”

The Post reports that Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he had “no indication” that Republican leaders would agree to combine the various bills in such a way that would pass muster with enough Democrats to proceed.

“I would say, at this point, most Democrats are inclined to vote no unless they know what they’re voting for,” he said.

However, “McConnell faces a delicate calculus,” the Wall Street Journal adds, because placating Senate Democrats by including one or all of the additional provisions “could create opposition among Republicans who support the bill, thus making it harder to line up enough support to ensure passage.”

Of course, such political horse-trading does little to address the fundamental problems with Fast Track or the dangerous trade deals the authority is designed to promote, which progressive groups were quick to underscore on Tuesday.

In a statement, Evan Greer of the digital rights group Fight for the Future declared: “Today, every United States Senator has a decision to make: will they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents who oppose the dangerous secrecy inherent in the Fast Track / Trade Promotion Authority process, or will they bow down to the White House and the incumbent industries who have been spending millions lobbying to protect their power?”

Labor groups also escalated their rhetoric. “America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations,” Leo W. Gerard, United Steelworkers international president, wrote in a blog post published Tuesday. “Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different.”

“Simply put: a vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate the inherently environmentally dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas.”
—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

And in an interview with Greg Sargent of theWashington Post published Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued her verbal sparring with Obama, warning that passing Fast Track would have long-term implications. Because Trade Promotion Authority would apply for six years, for example, the next president could potentially “negotiate a trade deal that undercuts Dodd Frank,” Warren said, referring to the financial reform bill passed in the wake of the Great Recession. 

As for the TPP’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, which she has repeatedly criticized, Warren said it “imposes a financial penalty, which has caused countries to change their regulations…[ISDS mechanisms] never had the authority to override regulations. What they had was the authority to impose a monetary penalty directly against the government and its taxpayers. That’s the point at which governments have backed up and said, ‘we can’t afford this, we’ll just change the law’.”

Meanwhile, in the House, environmental and public health groups are condemning Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) for coming out in support of Fast Track in a joint op-ed with Wyden published last month in The Oregonian. On Tuesday, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace began running television advertisements in Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C. blasting Blumenauer as “wrong on trade.”

The groups point to provisions in the TPP and other so-called “free trade” deals that would require the Department of Energy to automatically approve natural gas exports to countries included in the pact—which they say would lead to more fracking around the U.S.

“Simply put: a vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate the inherently environmentally dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. In helping pass the measure through the House Ways and Means Committee, she continued, “Rep. Blumenauer voted to give foreign oil and gas companies powerful new trade litigation tools to go after the growing grassroots movement to ban fracking in statehouses, county seats and municipalities across the country.”

Source: Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

GOP Helps Predatory Lenders Target Troops

© Josh Sager – May 2015

The Republican Party loves to call itself patriotic, pro-military, and pro-troop, but their actions rarely match up with this rhetoric. Unfortunately, this has been made extremely clear during the last few weeks, as GOP politicians are currently trying to help payday lenders and banks exploit our troops with predatory lending practices.

payday-lenders-600

In 2006, a law was passed that would allow the Dept. of Defense to restrict banks and payday lenders from applying exploitative interests rates when lending to troops. This was necessitated by the fact that lenders were giving short term loans with annual interest rates well into the hundreds of percents, trapping thousands of active-duty soldiers in endless cycles of debt. In order to support their families, soldiers would be forced to take out loans, which would balloon and require them to take out even more loans to keep afloat.

If you need a better understanding of the problems behind payday lending schemes, you should watch John Oliver’s segment on the subject, as it was the clearest and most concise summary of the issue I have encountered:

Last year, the DOD finalized its rules restricting exploitative lending practices aimed at active-duty soldiers, and are now trying to get them implemented. Unfortunately, during the last two weeks, the Republican majority in the Congress has voted twice to delay this implementation process and potentially kill the reforms entirely.

Currently, an amendment to the NDAA that stalls these protections is being finalized by Representative Stivers (R-OH) and will shortly be voted on. It is expected to pass and will be included in this year’s NDAA. As Obama is unlikely to veto the NDAA over this provision (defunding the entire military), it appears as though the Republican sellouts will be successful in stopping these protections and enabling continued abuse by unethical lenders.

In effect, the Congressional Republicans are trying to make it easier for legalized loan-sharks to ruin the lives of the people who we send to protect our nation. They may claim to love the troops, but have shown through their actions that they clearly love the banksters who pay them campaign contributions far more.

slide_420258_5367680_free

While I certainly don’t support many of the choices made by our military’s leaders (ex. invading Iraq) or even the conduct of many of our troops (ex. Abu Ghraib), I find it amazing that anybody can justify the exploitation of soldiers to turn a profit. Our soldiers put themselves into harm’s way, ostensibly in order to serve their country, risk life and limb on a regular basis, and are paid a frankly-pathetic wage for their efforts (ex. the starting salary for an E1 Army Private is $18,378 per year).

Because they are often away from home and make such low wages, soldiers often are forced to borrow money just to support their families. If this weren’t shameful enough for our country, we have allowed predatory lenders to live in this niche and use the desperation of soldiers to force them to accept usurious interest rates. Just to complete this injustice, we then have politicians who take money from the lenders in order to facilitate their crimes and who also take money from the military-industrial complex in exchange for starting even more wars.

This multi-faceted collage of greed illustrates just how immoral and corrupt our politics have become in recent years. We have elected corporate sellouts who are willing to aid and abet the exploitation of even those who protect our nation if it will fill their pockets with campaign donations. Any politician to support payday lenders over soldiers should have to answer for their vote come election time—conservative pro-military groups in particular should hold these politicians to account for voting in favor of corporate cronyism and exploitation rather than the best interests of citizens.

Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Local activists say city payment plan is ‘unsustainable’ and unjustbyLauren McCauley, staff writer 8 Comments”We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story,” said DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade. (Photo: Detroit Water Brigade/Facebook)Despite international outcry over a previous push to shut off water to its poorest citizens, the city of Detroit on Monday will begin to hand out notices to as many as 25,000 residents, threatening once again to turn off the taps.The warnings will be hung on the doors of households where water bills are at least 60 days late or exceed $150 in overdue payments. Residents will only be given 10 days to pay their bill or sign up for a payment assistance plan.However, despite the city’s attempt to increase assistance to the lowest income customers, advocates say that these efforts don’t go far enough.”They can send out the notices, but really are not reaching out to the people,” DeMeeko Williams, of the grassroots humanitarian group the Detroit Water Brigade, told the Detroit News.”We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story,” added Williams.After the initial wave of mass shut-offs began in December 2014, the city was met with fierce resistance including a damning statement from the United Nations, which accused Detroit of violating the human right to water.”If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that?” —Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights OrganizationUnder the city’s new payment option, dubbed the “10-30-50” plan, overdue households enter a two-year agreement by first paying down 10 percent of their past-due balance, while at the same time covering their monthly bill. If a payment is missed, the resident will then have to pay 30 percent of their balance; after that, 50 percent of the balance. If a fourth payment is missed, residents face having their water shut off.However, a recent survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that nearly all of the customers signed up for the plan are now 60 days overdue.ACLU reporter Curt Guyette writes:According to the most recent numbers provided by Detroit’s Department of Water and Sewerage, 24,743 residential customers are enrolled in a payment plan. Of that number, 24,450 are at least 60 days past due on their payments—meaning that their homes are in danger of losing water service once the city resumes shutoffs.    Stated another way, only 300 of the 24,743 customers put on the mayor’s payment plan were able to keep up with their payments and ensure their water will keep flowing.    “You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the outcome would be,” Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told Guyette. “If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that? The plan was fundamentally flawed from the beginning, and we said that.”MWRO has started a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene against the renewed shut-offs, which the group says target “low-income families and have affected the homes of children, the disabled, and our honorable veterans.”With some families forced to pay as much as 30 percent of their monthly income to restore their water supply, the petition charges that the city’s payment options are “unsustainable” and unjust.”No mother or father should have to choose between paying a water bill and meeting their family’s other basic needs,” reads the statement. “The crisis is growing, and Detroit’s families need your help.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Source: Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community