Is There Even a Trade Deal?

This is from Inside Trade and I got it from Lexis, so I can't provide a link.  But I'm beginning to think that the 'deal' announced on trade actually was just a press conference and a Rorschach Test mashup.  Here's what I mean.

Lawyers for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative are exploring ways to make the new free trade agreement template "legally binding" without reopening the Peru and Colombia free trade agreements, according to House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Jim McCrery (R-LA).

He acknowledged that this would require convincing Democrats such as Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI), who last week said the new template announced May 10 requires the reopening of already signed FTAs.

What was announced was an agreement to move forward on trade based on specific principles, and Sander Levin was a key figure bringing credibility from labor.  There was no legislative language because there was no legislation or new trade deals to vote on.  All this 'deal' consisted of was a set of principles around which negotiations would happen.  Apparently Sander Levin thought that this meant trade deals before Congress would be reopened, while business lobbyists and the Bush administration did not.  Each side saw what they wanted to see in the announcement, and now it appears that this disagreement wasn't resolved in the 'deal'.  So what exactly was this except for a press conference?

I'm not sure, but Rangel is really mad.

"I think there's a lot of misunderstanding with the agreement," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, told PBS' Nightly Business Report. "I cannot see how anybody would be upset in the Democratic Party, except for one thing: they were not included when we had the press conference."

Well since the only thing that proponents really seemed to have in common was this press conference, I suppose that his perspective makes sense.  Or maybe this was his first bad day since.

I will say that Rangel would have a lot more credibility if he had actually managed to get the minimum wage increase through that the Democratic leadership promised.  That is a popular and obvious piece of legislation, as well as a campaign promise that Bush promised he'd sign.  The only thing holding it up is wrangling from Rangel, Baucus and Senate Republicans, who will crumple if forced to filibuster.  The minimum wage hike will happen, I'm sure, but it's clear that his priorities are out of whack since he's not actually expending enough effort to make it happen.  He's too busy cutting bipartisan trade deals that don't actually seem to be anything but press conferences.

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Kentucky Primary Tomorrow

Tomorrow's Democratic Kentucky gubernatorial primary a very big deal, and it could set the stage for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's defeat in 2008 or allow his easy survival.  The Democratic primary pits a corrupt Republicrat named Bruce Lunsford against a Democrat named Steve Beshear.  Lunsford has the support of a corrupt insider Democratic Party leadership in Kentucky, while Beshear is pulling progressives and labor.  Lunsford is extremely wealthy and a closet Republican and McConnell supporter.  If he is the nominee he will undermine any campaign against Mitch McConnell.

McConnell is a very smart and very savvy Senator, and he will beat us over the head if he's allowed to survive in 2008.  By contrast, if he loses, it will show the Republican Party that intransigence will lead to extinction, and the party will reform itself into a traditional moderate party structure.  Republican politicians are politicians, after all.

Anyway, it's going to be a very low turnout primary, and though Beshear has the lead in the polls, Lunsford is putting out lots of cash.  Here's a nice ad put out by an anti-Lunsford 527.

If you have friends or family in Kentucky, make sure to get them to vote for Beshear tomorrow.  This is one of those contests where every vote counts.  And it's one of those significant and unnoticed turning points where a progressive American is built and nurtured, or strangled in its crib.

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Who's Winning the Iraq Debate?

One way to tell who's winning the debate over the Iraq bill is to look at the arguments from the other side.  Buried at the bottom of this Roll Call report is a hilarious nugget of spin from the RNC.

But the Republican National Committee looked for the bright side in polling data it released. "We show the increase in people who feel the war is going badly has stopped," the RNC said in a memo released Friday. "Although a majority of the public continues to feel the war is going badly, we have seen a small increase throughout the spring in the number of people who feel things are going better in Iraq."

And I hear the Titannic is offering discounts on its breakfast buffet.

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Dkos Straw Poll and Microsoft Office

The most interesting piece of the new Dailykos straw poll is Hillary's doubling of support, from 3 to 6.  She's not at an all-time netroots high, and is the only candidate aside from 'I don't know' and Gravel that is gaining.

This could be a blip, but I'm going to guess that it's a bit more than that. And I'm going to guess, based on the polling trends of the last month, that it's wider than the blogs, but picks up on the whole liberal internet-infused organizing movement that Chris and I are calling the open left. What do you think is going on?  I have a number of guesses.

1) No one is putting up a fight.  I have heard virtually no direct criticisms of her from any of the candidates.

2) The other campaigns are getting weaker.  Obama's rise has hit a ceiling, and Edwards is not running a particularly coherent or inclusive campaign.  Richardson is out of step with the times.

3) Clinton is a charismatic television figure and she's beginning to inspire liberals.  (A historical note - this is a typical Clinton characteristic, as HRC was awesome on TV during her testimony for the health care bill in 1993 before fucking it all up.)

4) This is a blip.

5) All the campaigns are blurring their messaging.

It's probably a mixture of all five, with a particular emphasis on number five.  I don't get the sense that any of the candidates are distinguishing themselves.  I could see a lot of ways to make distinctions, which I'll hopefully write about in a future post.  But let me hint that it involves criticizing her advisor Mark Penn and her corporate connections.  But for now, if everyone is pretending to be the standard wordprocessor, why not just choose Microsoft Office?

Anyway, what do you think?  Why is Clinton gaining a bit of open left support?  

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The Open Left and Tom Friedman

I gave my first public speech yesterday at the Personal Democracy Forum, following Dana Boyd.  The speaker before Dana was Tom Friedman.  The topic of my speech was the origin of the open left, and you can find the text here. I hope they put the video online, because the text of the speech is different from what I actually said.  The basic narrative is that the story of the open left is the story of betrayal.

My speaking technique is as follows.  It all has to start with an amusing or interesting anecdote that illustrates a basic point, so I write and rewrite a bunch of different thoughts, anecdotes, and quotes that I want to highlight.  Then I work on writing out a speech, using the anecdote as narrative anchor.  I rewrite it.  Then I rewrite it again.  And then I give the speech to myself, and as I'm giving it I'm also rewriting it.  If I use slides, I always try to use pictures that illustrate a point and not bullet points of text, which only distract from the speaking piece.  And then I give the speech a few more times, rewriting so it gets smoother every time.  As I'm practicing the speech, I'm internalizing the different points, so that I can begin to riff and keep the timing tight and coherent.  My weakness is that I often wander when speaking or writing, which is an outgrowth of inadequate preparation.

Finally, I print out a full copy of the speech in a big font, and use that as a guide to how I'm going to talk.  During the speech itself, I try to start with a literal reading of the intro so that I'm confident at the start (which sets a tone), and then I tend to riff off of the ideas in the speech.  I usually throw out a large part of the speech as I'm talking, because there's still a lot of extraneous stuff in there.

Anyway, my weakness, and this is a function of my blogging and a lack of commitment to anecdote in my writing, is that I don't have enough crisp anecdotes and examples that illustrate my points.  I have to work on this, so expect more anecdotes in my blogging.  If I'm confident in my preparation, the speech should go well.  If I'm not, it's boring or awkward.  All speaking engagements - TV, radio, in person - operate the same way.  I recently screwed up an appearance on radio riffing on the Republican debate because I didn't have a lot of insight and hadn't prepared adequately.  That's not going to happen again, because I've learned that you either know what you're talking about or you don't, and making it up when you're there does not work.

Yesterday, I did reasonably.  What frustrated me is that I wanted to go after Tom Friedman aggressively, but I did not.  He said in his speech that the biggest competitive challenge in the future will be between you and your imagination, and so I wanted to make a joke about him sounding like an Epcot ride.  I sort of flubbed it.  What I should have said is that Friedman holds a special place in my development.  I took a class from him at college on 'globalization', and read most of his books.  In 2002, he and Ken Pollack were the two people that I relied on for guidance with regards to Iraq.  I trusted him.  I believed in him.  And he got it one hundred percent wrong.  And while honest people tend to admit their mistakes, and when the mistake is particularly soaked in blood, do a lot of soul-searching and apologizing, he never has.  My mistake in looking at the Iraq war still pains me, and though I was a 24 year old kid with no experience in foreign policy or politics, my gullibility and the betrayal from my former guides still colors my thinking.  For someone like Friedman, who should know better and occupies the most valuable opinion space in the world, it's stunningly immoral to pretend to having no responsibility in this quagmire.  All of us are responsible, and the first step is to admit error.  Maybe if I said this he finally would have understood where we come from, though I doubt it.  But I didn't say it.

I was really tired because I had been up since 3:30 in the morning working on my speech, and so I didn't have the composure to say what I should have said with him in the audience.  I hadn't prepared for it, and my preparation takes a lot of time and effort.  But I wish I had figured it out anyway.  I guess what I'm saying is that I am not a shy person, and I tend to be a no-bullshit type.  I don't mind criticizing powerful people, in person, to their face.  I've done it before, to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mark Halperin, and John Cornyn, though I've learned to be respectful about it or else they know to ignore you.  But I didn't seize this opportunity when I could have.  People make mistakes.  I know I do.  And I'm pretty hard on other when they err.  But know that I believe that criticism, including self-criticism, is actually a spur to achievement and not destructive.  And so that's the spirit in which I hope all of us can learn to debate, with an open mind, a civil tone, a tolerance for error, but a withering contempt for bad faith.

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Grist and Climate Politics

Bill Richardson came out with his energy plan today.  Dodd, Edwards, and Richardson are now out with proposals to deal with climate change, even as it becomes clearer every day that we dramatically underestimated the scope of the problem.  I'm nearing the point where I cannot take a candidate seriously who does not make a drastic cut in carbon their top priority.  If we don't deal with this now, our civilization is over.  It's that simple.

With that said, it's worth noting that Obama's climate plan is nonsense and a sop to the coal industry (in contrast to Jon Tester, who is responsible and sees a role for coal).  This isn't a deal-killer, since no plans actually get implemented exactly as written in a Presidential campaign, but it should disabuse all of us of the notion that Obama represents a new kind of politics or is a progressive.  He's not.  At this point, he's just another centrist candidate pushing incrementalist policies.  There's no there there.

I don't know anything about Clinton's plan, while Grist seems to like that of John Edwards. Other friends I respect say that Edwards' plan makes a lot of sense.  Regardless of the nominee, expect to hear lots of carping from wingnuts about how much carbon is being used discussing global warming.  And I'm going to guess that the emergency is going to become more obvious every year, as the dialogue has changed dramatically this year.  So the political capital for extreme action will be there in a year or so.

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Clinton on the Bankruptcy Bill

Ari Berman has an important article in the Nation on Clinton's crew.  The whole thing is worth reading, and it touches on a bunch of episodes I've blogged about, including the Fox News-Nielson fight and Glover Park and Dewey Square's involvement in net neutrality.  Berman called Glover Park the 'White House in exile'.

This is a very scary prospect.  Though I do a fair amount of criticism of the firm, I do want to be fair.  Here's an illustration of how they just won't reciprocate.  An anonymous reader tipped me off that Glover Park was involved in crisis management for AG Gonzales.  I found this hard to believe but not out of the realm of plausibility, so I called the firm up four times to get either a confirmation or a denial, and never heard back from anyone over there.  I know that Chip Smith was one of the partners my message went to, and he didn't respond.  Through a reporter at the Polito, I was told that the Glover Park denied this allegation absolutely, but no one over there had the common courtesy or common sense to call me back and say this to me directly.  I still haven't gotten a denial, and I notice that Smith was an executive at MCI from 1996-2000, MCI being one of the biggest corporate frauds in history.  The prospect of a firm this close to the bevy of hucksters in union-busting corporate America being at the core of the next Democratic administration should be worrisome.

I found this fact particularly interesting.

Clinton's rarely been the threat to the business community that many on the right typically allege. She's often partnered with Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist. In 2002 she backed a harsh position on welfare reform reauthorization that put her at odds even with conservative Republicans like Orrin Hatch. She persuaded her husband to veto the bankruptcy bill in 1997, voted for a similar version in 2001 and missed the vote in 2005, when Bill was in the hospital. She advocated weakening the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, telling Feingold to "live in the real world." Unlike Edwards and Obama, she accepts campaign contributions from lobbyists and corporate PACs. "Ask them why they don't take money from lobbyists," Wolfson retorts. "We're proud of our support."

The Bankruptcy Bill is a useful lesson for progressives, because it is precisely the type of out of the spotlight legislation that most Democrats could vote for without penalty and generate corporate contributions.  It was one of those gimmes, a little-noticed bill that wasn't supposed to pass.  And when no one was looking, Clinton voted for the bill.  In 2005, would she have voted for it?  Who knows?  She might have been responsible for the veto in 1997.

Clinton is a very dangerous candidate.  She has a very strong base of support, a huge number of women who love her, and power among the youth.  She is also surrounded by a group of opportunistic anti-progressive con men and women.  It's a disturbing state of affairs.  I hope that someone organizes a PAC or 527 against her brand of centrism, and points out the wild inconsistencies from the left.

Update [2007-5-17 17:52:1 by Matt Stoller]:: A commenter pointed out that she voted against cloture in 2005, so it's fairly likely she would have voted against the 2005 bill. Still, in 2005, it was a high profile issue, and in 1997 and 2001 it wasn't, so her vote must be looked at through that prism. In 1997 it looks like she opposed the bill, in 2001 she voted for the bill. The times when we're not looking is when character comes out, and in Clinton's case her vote for the bill in 2001 is a useful indicator as to where her loyalties may lie. It's possible she's changed, it's just that it's not clear. That was my point.

Update [2007-5-17 18:10:56 by Matt Stoller]:: A friend pointed me to this Radar piece on a Glover Park person offering hypothetical PR advice to Gonzales. The AG certainly didn't take it.

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Sequels Suck

During the NAFTA fight, pro-NAFTA forces were able to peel off just enough environmentalists and pro-labor members with a series of 'side agreements' that pledged to uphold labor and environmental standards.  The key point to remember in the 'deal' announced last week is that the 'deal' was more of a promise to rewrite the trade agreements between Peru and Panama.  Apparently, though, what may actually be going on is that free trade forces aren't going to rewrite the deals so much as they will add side agreements for environmental and labor standards.

To put this in context, for people who remember the NAFTA fight, this is like the Bush administration putting to Congress a resolution for the authorization of the use of military force in Iran and promising to do everything possible to avoid a military strike, including inspections for nuclear facilities.  So it shouldn't be a surprise that the Senators cut out of the process are livid.

Five Senators with strong ties to labor unions expressed outrage today about the side deals negotiated between Congressional leaders and the White House to include labor and environmental standards in a new trade policy proposal, and said that they want to be invited to the table.

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said at a press conference today that they want to push for new benchmarks in future trade agreements to measure their success and allow Congress to review any agreement in any five-year period.

"We would say to all of those who played a role in these negotiations that we intend to be a part of the negotiations and will be with respect to what we described: benchmarks and accountability," Dorgan said.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and U.S. Trade Ambassador Susan Schwab reached an accord with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to include environmental and worker protections in new trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, Panama and Peru.

However, Brown said in a statement that "if the plan is to offer side deals, then nothing new is on the table except a $5.00 Rolex."

I don't like sequels in general.  And this is surely a sequel: a slowing economy, a President named Bush, a decimated labor force, a neoliberal group in Congress, strong business coalitions, a Clinton running for the Democratic nomination promising to be on the side of the people while surrounding the campaign with corporate-allied operatives, a country looking for change, and a secretive trade deal on the table.

Sequels are always worse than the original.  This one is no different.

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Hot Breakfast and Trade Spats

I just got this from a source.  Apparently Sirota's right that there's immense strife in the caucus around this trade deal.  The other side tends to tell me that they got the Republicans to cave on big demands, and that labor shouldn't be complaining that much.  The problem is that labor got pushed out of the room when the deal was negotiated, as did Fair Trade Democrats, and the New Dem Democrats don't have such a great record on trade.

It's becoming pretty clear that the politics here are too screwed up to move forward.  There's also the lobbying reform issue to tackle, and the budget.  Lots and lots of sticky stuff.

And a hot breakfast. They really want people at this meeting.

Update [2007-5-16 18:20:42 by Matt Stoller]: Rep Brad Miller calls me out in the comments.

There's a joint caucus and whip organization meeting every Thursday morning at 9:00 in HC-5, and a hot breakfast is always served. There may be ultimately be strife in the caucus about the trade deal, but that's kinda thin evidence of intra-caucus warfare.

I'll take Miller's word on this. Note to self: don't blog while hungry and thinking about breakfast. It's my favorite meal of the day by far.

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Tangled in Kentucky

As the Republican Party collapses into an orgy of sadism, dishonesty, and corruption, we have to start to figure out how to operate effectively in an environment where we are the majority party with very serious problems to solve.  That means our biggest hurdle is, as usual for majority parties, the Senate, where filibusters can stop progressive legislation.  The most skilled Senator on the right at procedural obstacles and politicking is Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.  Unless we get rid of him, he will stand in the way of progressive legislation for twenty years. 

Fortunately, he's not very popular in his home state and is up for reelection in 2008.  Though he has raised millions, in terms of his political position he's so weak that he's putting out loaded polling to front his numbers.  His Iraq stance is costing him, with antiwar groups going after him with hundreds of thousands in ads.  And he's going to be in the national spotlight representing the GOP, which will put him at odds with the Kentucky public.  In 2006, nearby Indiana saw three districts flip from Republican to Democrat, Kentucky flipped one, and Singer noted that Ohio shifted dramatically in terms of its party allegiance.  This is a realigning region, with economic populism working.  The state isn't as labor-oriented as Ohio, with a more Appalachian and Southern flavor, but as we saw in Virginia in 2006 that kind of messaging works all over.  Moreoever, with Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher unbelievably unpopular, McConnell may have a weight around his neck symbolizing his big business fueled machine which includes his free trade stances and his shady connections with China.

That said, there's a potentially serious problem brewing.  The Kentucky Democratic Party is the worst party in the country, corrupt insular, and possibly favoring Mitch McConnell's reelection.  Currently, there's a gubernatorial primary in the Democratic race between Bruce Lunsford and Steve Beshear.  Beshear is a pretty good candidate, and he's leading in the polls by about 9 points over Lunsford.

Lunsford, though, is a walking disaster, and if he wins the primary, McConnell is going to have the advantage in 2008.  Lunsford will undermine the Senate candidate, as he's done in the past.  It's really odd that Lunsford is supported by party insiders.  He's a big donor to Republicans; from 1995-2000, he gave $52,000 to political candidates, 77% of which went to Republicans.  In 2006, he gave more to Republican Anne Northrup than to her Democratic challenger and current Congressman John Yarmuth.  He's also a strong Republican ally.  In 2003, after he promised to support the eventual gubernatorial nominee, he endorsed Republican Ernie Fletcher anyway.  Elaine Chao, current Secretary of Labor and wife of Mitch McConnell, is on the board of the company he ran.  Lunsford is also corrupt, with his nursing home company Vencor involved in Medicare fraud, bankrupcty, 'patient dumping', and shareholder rip-offs.  It's really really bad, and there's more here.

Lunsford isn't a Democrat, he's a greedy rich guy who has the support of party insiders.  If he gets the nomination, he's going to undermine the campaign against Mitch McConnell.  In addition, the prospect of a corrupt insider running against a corrupt insider is corrosive and cuts against a change message, which is what is necessary to realign the region.  I'll have more soon on the Kentucky Democratic Party leaders, and how they are undermining the party base in this primary.  Because of our Federalist system, local party machines that are corrupt can have huge consequences, keeping in place reactionary thugs like Mitch McConnell who can kill action on global warming for twenty years.  Local machines are basically where power comes from.  Much of the NAFTA legislative process went through Chicago, as did Clinton's campaign (and now Obama's).  Movements must be national and local in scope, because you can't untangle the two in our system.

For now, if there's anything you can do to help Beshear get the nomination, go for it.  The election is next Tuesday.

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