Welcome login | signup
Language en es fr
OccupyForum

Forum Post: Chris Hedges | The Last Gasp of American Democracy

Posted 3 months ago on Jan. 6, 2014, 3:45 p.m. EST by LeoYo (4891)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Chris Hedges | The Last Gasp of American Democracy

Monday, 06 January 2014 12:42 By Chris Hedges, Truthdig | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21052-chris-hedges-the-last-gasp-of-american-democracy

This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us—one of the final ones, I suspect—is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.

The public debates about the government’s measures to prevent terrorism, the character assassination of Edward Snowden and his supporters, the assurances by the powerful that no one is abusing the massive collection and storage of our electronic communications miss the point. Any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian. Our corporate state may not use this power today. But it will use it if it feels threatened by a population made restive by its corruption, ineptitude and mounting repression. The moment a popular movement arises—and one will arise—that truly confronts our corporate masters, our venal system of total surveillance will be thrust into overdrive.

The most radical evil, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, is the political system that effectively crushes its marginalized and harassed opponents and, through fear and the obliteration of privacy, incapacitates everyone else. Our system of mass surveillance is the machine by which this radical evil will be activated. If we do not immediately dismantle the security and surveillance apparatus, there will be no investigative journalism or judicial oversight to address abuse of power. There will be no organized dissent. There will be no independent thought. Criticisms, however tepid, will be treated as acts of subversion. And the security apparatus will blanket the body politic like black mold until even the banal and ridiculous become concerns of national security.

I saw evil of this kind as a reporter in the Stasi state of East Germany. I was followed by men, invariably with crew cuts and wearing leather jackets, whom I presumed to be agents of the Stasi—the Ministry for State Security, which the ruling Communist Party described as the “shield and sword” of the nation. People I interviewed were visited by Stasi agents soon after I left their homes. My phone was bugged. Some of those I worked with were pressured to become informants. Fear hung like icicles over every conversation.

The Stasi did not set up massive death camps and gulags. It did not have to. The Stasi, with a network of as many as 2 million informants in a country of 17 million, was everywhere. There were 102,000 secret police officers employed full time to monitor the population—one for every 166 East Germans. The Nazis broke bones; the Stasi broke souls. The East German government pioneered the psychological deconstruction that torturers and interrogators in America’s black sites, and within our prison system, have honed to a gruesome perfection.

The goal of wholesale surveillance, as Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” is not, in the end, to discover crimes, “but to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population.” And because Americans’ emails, phone conversations, Web searches and geographical movements are recorded and stored in perpetuity in government databases, there will be more than enough “evidence” to seize us should the state deem it necessary. This information waits like a deadly virus inside government vaults to be turned against us. It does not matter how trivial or innocent that information is. In totalitarian states, justice, like truth, is irrelevant.

The object of efficient totalitarian states, as George Orwell understood, is to create a climate in which people do not think of rebelling, a climate in which government killing and torture are used against only a handful of unmanageable renegades. The totalitarian state achieves this control, Arendt wrote, by systematically crushing human spontaneity, and by extension human freedom. It ceaselessly peddles fear to keep a population traumatized and immobilized. It turns the courts, along with legislative bodies, into mechanisms to legalize the crimes of state.

The corporate state, in our case, has used the law to quietly abolish the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution, which were established to protect us from unwarranted intrusion by the government into our private lives. The loss of judicial and political representation and protection, part of the corporate coup d’état, means that we have no voice and no legal protection from the abuses of power. The recent ruling supporting the National Security Agency’s spying, handed down by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, is part of a very long and shameful list of judicial decisions that have repeatedly sacrificed our most cherished constitutional rights on the altar of national security since the attacks of 9/11. The courts and legislative bodies of the corporate state now routinely invert our most basic rights to justify corporate pillage and repression. They declare that massive and secret campaign donations—a form of legalized bribery—are protected speech under the First Amendment. They define corporate lobbying—under which corporations lavish funds on elected officials and write our legislation—as the people’s right to petition the government. And we can, according to new laws and legislation, be tortured or assassinated or locked up indefinitely by the military, be denied due process and be spied upon without warrants. Obsequious courtiers posing as journalists dutifully sanctify state power and amplify its falsehoods—MSNBC does this as slavishly as Fox News—while also filling our heads with the inanity of celebrity gossip and trivia. Our culture wars, which allow politicians and pundits to hyperventilate over nonsubstantive issues, mask a political system that has ceased to function. History, art, philosophy, intellectual inquiry, our past social and individual struggles for justice, the very world of ideas and culture, along with an understanding of what it means to live and participate in a functioning democracy, are thrust into black holes of forgetfulness.

The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, in his essential book “Democracy Incorporated,” calls our system of corporate governance “inverted totalitarianism,” which represents “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry.” It differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader; it finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian movements do, replace decaying structures with new structures. They instead purport to honor electoral politics, freedom of expression and the press, the right to privacy and the guarantees of law. But they so corrupt and manipulate electoral politics, the courts, the press and the essential levers of power as to make genuine democratic participation by the masses impossible. The U.S. Constitution has not been rewritten, but steadily emasculated through radical judicial and legislative interpretation. We have been left with a fictitious shell of democracy and a totalitarian core. And the anchor of this corporate totalitarianism is the unchecked power of our systems of internal security.

Our corporate totalitarian rulers deceive themselves as often as they deceive the public. Politics, for them, is little more than public relations. Lies are told not to achieve any discernable goal of public policy, but to protect the image of the state and its rulers. These lies have become a grotesque form of patriotism. The state’s ability through comprehensive surveillance to prevent outside inquiry into the exercise of power engenders a terrifying intellectual and moral sclerosis within the ruling elite. Absurd notions such as implanting “democracy” in Baghdad by force in order to spread it across the region or the idea that we can terrorize radical Islam across the Middle East into submission are no longer checked by reality, experience or factually based debate. Data and facts that do not fit into the whimsical theories of our political elites, generals and intelligence chiefs are ignored and hidden from public view. The ability of the citizenry to take self-corrective measures is effectively stymied. And in the end, as in all totalitarian systems, the citizens become the victims of government folly, monstrous lies, rampant corruption and state terror.

The Romanian poet Paul Celan captured the slow ingestion of an ideological poison—in his case fascism—in his poem “Death Fugue”:

Black milk of dawn we drink it at dusk

we drink it at noon and at daybreak we drink it at night

we drink it and drink it

we are digging a grave in the air there’s room for us all

We, like those in all emergent totalitarian states, have been mentally damaged by a carefully orchestrated historical amnesia, a state-induced stupidity. We increasingly do not remember what it means to be free. And because we do not remember, we do not react with appropriate ferocity when it is revealed that our freedom has been taken from us. The structures of the corporate state must be torn down. Its security apparatus must be destroyed. And those who defend corporate totalitarianism, including the leaders of the two major political parties, fatuous academics, pundits and a bankrupt press, must be driven from the temples of power. Mass street protests and prolonged civil disobedience are our only hope. A failure to rise up—which is what the corporate state is counting upon—will see us enslaved.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

4 Comments

4 Comments


Read the Rules
[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4891) 3 months ago

By Pushing the TPP, Obama Is Repeating the Mistakes of NAFTA

Monday, 06 January 2014 10:52 By Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network | Video Interview

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21039-by-pushing-the-tpp-obama-is-repeating-the-mistakes-of-nafta

TRANSCRIPT:

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

We're continuing our second part of our conversation with David Bacon on the 20-year anniversary of NAFTA.

David Bacon is an award-winning photojournalist, author, immigrants' rights activist who's spent over two decades as a labor organizer. His most recent book is The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration.

Thank you so much for joining us again, David.

DAVID BACON, AUTHOR, JOURNALIST, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Thank you.

NOOR: And, David, I'm reading a 2012 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll that says more than half of Americans want the U.S. to withdraw or renegotiate NAFTA. Only 15 percent believe that the U.S. should continue its current participation in NAFTA. When President Obama ran in 2008, he said he voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, he never supported NAFTA, and that he would not support NAFTA-style free trade agreements in the future. Yet now he is aggressively pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, which has been described by critics as NAFTA on steroids. Has the U.S. government, has the Obama administration learned the right lessons from NAFTA?

BACON: No. I think what happened is that once the Obama administration took office, it began bowing to the wishes of corporate America, which wanted these new trade agreements and certainly did not want the administration to renegotiate the existing ones. But we could have predicted this, because actually during the campaign itself, one of Obama's aides kind of whispered quietly that corporations didn't really need to worry about the renegotiation of NAFTA, because he was only saying it for the purpose of the campaign.

People in the United States do not like the North American Free Trade Agreement. And I think those poll numbers are undoubtedly accurate, because we also lost on this side of the border. While big U.S. corporations were making a lot of money from their investment policies and the low wages in Mexico, what happened also here is that workers in the United States lost their jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that 680,000 U.S. workers lost their jobs because they were directly transferred to Mexico as a result of this agreement. In fact, the Bush administration, before Obama, told the Department of Labor to stop releasing publicly the number of workers who were applying for special extended unemployment benefits (which was part of the trade treaty) as a result of losing their jobs because of NAFTA, because it was kind of providing political ammunition for the Democrats in the middle of an election campaign. So we don't even really know how many U.S. jobs were lost as a result of it. That 680,000 is undoubtedly a very low estimate.

So here in the U.S., people lost jobs because of this transfer to Mexico. But that doesn't mean that Mexicans won something as a result of it, because not only were the conditions for those jobs, once they were in Mexico, very poor and the wages were low; a lot of other things happened to Mexicans as a result of it at the same time, so that, for instance, the dumping of corn and meat and agricultural products in Mexico by huge U.S. corporations, like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland and Smithfield Foods, led to a situation in which Mexican farmers could not sell what they were growing--corn, for instance, or pigs--couldn't sell them for a price that was high enough that it would pay for the cost of growing these things. And this was an effort by U.S. corporations to take over the Mexican market, which they've done. Right now, 25 percent of all the pork meat sold in Mexico is coming from one company, Smithfield Foods--has headquarters in Virginia. The largest retailer in Mexico that's selling all these products is Walmart, the same large retailer that we have in the United States.

So I think that in many cases working people in the United States, especially if they belong to unions, which campaigned very heavily against NAFTA, kind of started to open their eyes about what the real conditions of their compatriots or their fellow workers in Mexico actually were, what was leading to this relocation of jobs.

So one of the good things, really, that came out as a result of NAFTA is that workers and unions, especially progressive ones, on both sides of the border, have drawn together in ways in which they are beginning to participate in defending each other's interests. When the Mexican government, for instance, tried to change Mexico's labor law or campaigned for the same kind of education reform that we've seen in the United States with standardized testing, or when it campaigned to privatize the electrical industry and the oil industry, U.S. unions also participated with Mexican unions in trying to oppose these changes, understanding that the effect wasn't just going to be felt in Mexico, but was going to be felt in the United States as well, both by the displacement of people and the migration of people to the United States, but also because in many cases U.S. unions and Mexican unions were starting to face the same economic policies, the same trade policies, and even the same employers.

So this kind of cross-border cooperation and this cross-border solidarity, I think, is a permanent fact of life in our labor movements in all three countries. In fact, this includes Canadian unions as well. And this was sort of a positive development, and not an intended one, certainly, I don't think, by the authors of NAFTA, who I don't think were sympathetic and aren't sympathetic to unions at all. But nevertheless, it's something that took place as workers learned that the effects of the agreement were being felt by working people on both sides of the border in very negative ways.

NOOR: David Bacon, thank you so much for joining us.

BACON: It's my pleasure.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4891) 3 months ago

NAFTA: 20 Years of Regret for Mexico

Monday, 06 January 2014 11:29 By Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21045-nafta-20-years-of-regret-for-mexico

It was 20 years ago that the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico was implemented. In Washington, the date coincided with an outbreak of the bacteria cryptosporidium in the city's water supply, with residents having to boil their water before drinking it. The joke in town was, "See what happens, NAFTA takes effect and you can't drink the water here."

Our neglected infrastructure aside, it is easy to see that NAFTA was a bad deal for most Americans. The promised trade surpluses with Mexico turned out to be deficits, some hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost, and there was downward pressure on US wages – which was, after all, the purpose of the agreement. This was not like the European Union's (pre-Eurozone) economic integration, which allocated hundreds of billions of dollars of development aid to the poorer countries of Europe so as to pull their living standards up toward the average. The idea was to push US wages downward, toward Mexico's, and to create new rights for corporations within the trade area: these lucky multinational enterprises could now sue governments directly before a corporate-friendly international tribunal, unaccountable to any national judicial system, for regulations (eg environmental) that infringed upon their profit-making potential.

But what about Mexico? Didn't Mexico at least benefit from the agreement? Well if we look at the past 20 years, it's not a pretty picture. The most basic measure of economic progress, especially for a developing country like Mexico, is the growth of income (or GDP) per person. Out of 20 Latin American countries (South and Central America plus Mexico), Mexico ranks 18, with growth of less than 1% annually since 1994. It is, of course, possible to argue that Mexico would have done even worse without NAFTA, but then the question would be, why?

From 1960-80 Mexico's GDP per capita nearly doubled. This amounted to huge increases in living standards for the vast majority of Mexicans. If the country had continued to grow at this rate, it would have European living standards today. This is what happened in South Korea, for example. But Mexico, like the rest of the region, began a long period of neoliberal policy changes that, beginning with its handling of the early 1980s debt crisis, got rid of industrial and development policies, gave a bigger role to de-regulated international trade and investment, and prioritized tighter fiscal and monetary policies (sometimes even in recessions). These policies put an end to the prior period of growth and development. The region as a whole grew just 6% per capita from 1980-2000; and Mexico grew by 16% – a far cry from the 99% of the previous 20 years.

For Mexico, NAFTA helped to consolidate the neo-liberal, anti-development economic policies that had already been implemented in the prior decade, enshrining them in an international treaty. It also tied Mexico even further to the US economy, which was especially unlucky in the two decades that followed: the Fed's interest rate increases in 1994, the US stock market bust (2000-2002) and recession (2001), and especially, the housing bubble collapse and Great Recession of 2008-9 had a bigger impact on Mexico than almost anywhere else in the region.

Since 2000, the Latin American region as a whole has increased its growth rate to about 1.9% annually per capita – not like the pre-1980 era, but a serious improvement over the prior two decades when it was just 0.3%. As a result of this growth rebound, and also the anti-poverty policies implemented by the left governments that were elected in most of South America over the past 15 years, the poverty rate in the region has fallen considerably. It declined from 43.9% in 2002 to 27.9% in 2013, after two decades of no progress whatsoever.

But Mexico hasn't joined in this long-awaited rebound: its growth has remained below 1%, less than half the regional average, since 2000. And not surprisingly, Mexico's national poverty rate was 52.3% in 2012, basically the same as it was in 1994 (52.4%). Without economic growth, it is difficult to reduce poverty in a developing country. The statistics would probably look even worse if not for the migration that took place during this period. Millions of Mexicans were displaced from farming, for example, after being forced into competition with subsidized and high-productivity agribusiness in the United States, thanks to NAFTA's rules.

It's tough to imagine Mexico doing worse without NAFTA. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Washington's proposed "Free Trade Area of the Americas" was roundly rejected by the region in 2005 and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is running into trouble. Interestingly, when economists who have promoted NAFTA from the beginning are called upon to defend the agreement, the best that they can offer is that it increased trade. But trade is not, to most humans, an end in itself. And neither are the blatantly mis-named "free trade agreements".

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4891) 3 months ago

NAFTA at 20: Lori Wallach on US Job Losses, Record Income Inequality, Mass Displacement in Mexico

Monday, 06 January 2014 11:16 By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Interview

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21042-nafta-at-20-lori-wallach-on-us-job-losses-record-income-inequality-mass-displacement-in-mexico

The North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada went into effect 20 years ago this week on January 1, 1994. The massive trade pact was signed into law by President Bill Clinton amidst great promise that it would raise wages, create jobs and even improve health and environmental safety standards. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs have vanished as companies sought lower-wage workers in Mexico. Meanwhile, NAFTA has generated more poverty in Mexico, forcing millions of citizens to migrate to the United States in search of work. We speak to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of the new report, "NAFTA at 20."

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to this 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, which went into effect January 1st, 1994. The massive trade pact was signed into law by President Clinton amidst great promise that it would raise wages, create jobs, even improve health and environmental safety standards. This is President Clinton speaking as he was signing the historic treaty in December 1993.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I believe we have made a decision now that will permit us to create an economic order in the world that will promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace. We are on the verge of a global economic expansion that is sparked by the fact that the United States, at this critical moment, decided that we would compete, not retreat. In a few moments, I will sign the North American Free Trade Act into law. NAFTA will tear down trade barriers between our three nations. It will create the world’s largest trade zone and create 200,000 jobs in this country by 1995 alone. The environmental and labor side agreements initiated by our administration will make this agreement a force for social progress as well as economic growth.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, 20 years after NAFTA took effect, it has failed to deliver on many of the promises Clinton and others made. Thousands of U.S. jobs have vanished as companies sought lower-wage workers in Mexico. Meanwhile, NAFTA has generated more poverty in Mexico, forcing millions of citizens to migrate to the United States in search of work.

Well, one group that saw much of this coming was the indigenous people in the Mexican state of Chiapas. On the same day NAFTA went into effect, on January 1st, 1994, they joined the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN, in declaring war on the Mexican government, saying that NAFTA meant death to indigenous peoples. They took over five major towns in Chiapas, with fully armed women and men. The uprising was a shock, even for those who for years worked in the very communities where the rebel army had been secretly organizing. This is Zapatista Comandante Tacho explaining the uprising in a clip from the 1999 documentary, Zapatista, produced by Big Noise Films.

COMANDANTE INSURGENTE TACHO: [translated] It was early in the morning on January 1st, 1994, when we appeared, because the conditions and the situation in which we live in these mountains. We did not take up arms to gain political post or office or some other important place. We rose up in arms because we would not die forgotten, so that people would hear our demands and not forget that in this corner of Mexico lived many indigenous people who have been abandoned for years.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C., Lori Wallach is director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. They’ve written a new report called "NAFTA at 20." In a moment, we’ll go to Mexico.

Lori, talk about NAFTA, 20 years later.

LORI WALLACH: Well, not only haven’t the promises made by its proponents come true, but in most instances the actual opposite occurred. For instance, listening to President Clinton made my blood boil, because in no year of NAFTA were 200,000 jobs created. Rather, now 20 years out, one million net U.S. jobs have been lost to the growing trade deficit with Mexico and Canada under NAFTA, and there’s a list of an explicit 400,000 with Canada, 845,000 total jobs lost to NAFTA, specific workers certified under just one narrow program called Trade Adjustment Assistance that’s very hard to qualify for.

And on that end, if you want to see the actual effect of NAFTA in your community, you can go to our website, TradeWatch.org, look at the Trade Data Center. You can put in your zip code, and actually it will pop up the list of companies. A lot of them were companies that explicitly said during the NAFTA debate, "Congress, if you pass NAFTA, we’re going to create X number of jobs in Y community." And you can actually go by the company name and see Caterpillar, GE, Chrysler promising jobs then, offshoring jobs in reality, using NAFTA’s investor protections. Now, the one place that U.S. exports did grow was in dumping subsidized corn.

Over 1.5 million campesinos in Mexico displaced. As folks know, desperate immigration from Mexico after the NAFTA wipeout increased—doubled in the years after NAFTA. Meanwhile, in the corporate tribunals, over 365,000—sorry, $365 million have been paid out to corporations attacking environmental and health laws. So even the environmental improvements didn’t happen. Poverty increasing in Mexico, job offshoring in the U.S., and that is in effect across the economy. So if you weren’t one of the people who lost your job to NAFTA, the effect of having those million people displaced from higher-wage jobs meant they were competing for the service-sector jobs in the U.S. that aren’t subject to offshoring. So the government data shows that when someone lost their job to offshoring, on average, they lost 20 percent of their income and then went into the pool of people searching for non-offshorable jobs. So even in those sectors that are growing in the service sector, wages are flat or declining, which is a key factor to this growing income inequality.

That’s the reality of 20 years of NAFTA. But despite that, now the Obama administration is trying to do NAFTA on steroids, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, given the record, is outrageous—can be stopped, but is pending.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how NAFTA passed. I mean, in this period, President Clinton was vowing to get this passed at all costs, and that’s precisely what he did. It was extremely controversial, right to the last minute. How were congressmembers, how was Congress pressured?

LORI WALLACH: Basically, there were a combination of factors. These trade agreements, like the TPP, NAFTA 20 years ago, are like the corporate Christmas tree. This is the one piece of "legislation" that every corporate interest loves. It jacks up medicine prices with patent extensions for Big Pharma. Big Content loves it because they’re like SOPA-type copyright rules. The chemical and pharmaceutical companies like it because they have actual rights to not be regulated and inspected. The oil and gas companies love it because it gives them absolute rights to natural resources. The chronic job offshoring companies love it because it gives them new investor protections to offshore. So they all lobbied Congress, squeezed Congress.

But in the end, the reason NAFTA passed was Fast Track, the arcane Nixon-era procedure that allows the executive branch to write legislation, stuffing in all kinds of goodies unrelated to the trade agreement to buy congressional votes, special deals. And then that goes through Congress with no amendments allowed, very quickly, yes-or-no vote. So, if you don’t like TPP, if you don’t like what 20 years of NAFTA has done, the mission now is we have to make sure there is never this Fast Track legislative luge run, because it gets a mechanism for something as outrageous as these kind of agreements to basically get railroaded through Congress, even though, as, Amy, you said, there was enormous public opposition, which, by the way, the U.S. public’s opposition to NAFTA has only gotten larger, stronger, more diverse. Democrats’, Republicans’, independents’ majorities oppose NAFTA. But here we go again with the TPP.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4891) 3 months ago

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama said he wants to fast-track the TPP. Explain what that means.

LORI WALLACH: So, under Fast Track, it’s a mechanism that Nixon cooked up in the '70s where Congress delegates away its constitutional authorities. So, under Fast Track, if that were to be passed, Congress basically would give away all of its ability to control the content of a trade agreement and to control what's in a bill that would come to Congress. So, if there is Fast Track, say, for TPP, President Obama could sign the agreement before Congress votes, regardless of what the contents are and whether or not it meets what Congress said should be in there—and the U.S. Congress, under the Constitution, has exclusive authority over trade; despite that, delegate it away—president would be able to sign it before it was voted on and railroad it through Congress, legislation written by the executive branch, not amendable in congressional committee, packed with who knows what other things that you wouldn’t want have going through Congress, yes-or-no vote on the floor of the House 60 days after it’s submitted, 90 days in the Senate, no amendments allowed, limited debate. It is literally like a legislative luge run.

And it delegates away all of the powers for Congress to have checks and balances against the executive branch, using "trade negotiations" to rewrite wide swaths of U.S. non-trade law. Now here’s the thing. It’s gotten so unpopular, Fast Track, with Democrats and Republicans, that in the last 18 years since NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, it’s only ever been in effect for five years. So Obama, when he was a candidate, said he’d replace it—a more democratic, open way to do trade agreements. So, basically, a trade agreement could pass—if it was good, you wouldn’t need this extraordinary, obscene procedure. Only bad trade agreements need the Fast Track. But now he’s back asking for Congress to actually give him this extraordinary delegation of its authorities, and, frankly, giving away their ability to represent us and our interests.

And that’s going to be the knockdown, drag-out trade fight that’s going to start next week. Legislation to establish Fast Track will be submitted. Congress has to actively give away this authority. So, if this does not sound like a good idea to you, make sure your member of the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike—151 Democrats, 27 Republicans have already said, "Basta! No more Fast Track." If a majority says no, we’re not going to have railroading of these bad trade agreements. And for more details on the history of Fast Track, you can go to TradeWatch.org, our website. And among other things, I have a new book on the history of Fast Track and what’s a better way of doing trade policy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Lori Wallach of Public Citizen. When we come back from break, we’ll also go down to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, to the heart of, well, where the Zapatistas rose up 20 years ago. Stay with us.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.