I have serious concerns about ISDS – a policy in the new TPP trade agreement that would let foreign companies challenge American laws outside of American courts.
I’ll give you a recent example of how it works: A big mining company wanted to do some blasting off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Canadian government refused to provide permits because it thought the blasting would harm the local environment and scare off fish that local fishermen needed to make a living.
Thanks to an ISDS provision in a past trade agreement, that mining company didn’t have to go to a Canadian court to challenge the permit decision – they went right to a special ISDS panel of corporate lawyers. Last month, the international panel ruled in favor of the mining company, and the decision cannot be challenged in Canadian courts.
Now the Canadian taxpayers may be on the hook for up to $300 million in “damages” to the mining company – all because their government had the gall to stand up for its environment and the economic livelihood of its local fishermen. And the next time a foreign company wants a blasting permit, what will the Canadian government do?
ISDS isn’t a one-time, hypothetical problem – we’ve seen it in past trade agreements. Just in the past few years:
- A French company sued Egypt after Egypt raised its minimum wage.
- A Swedish company sued Germany because Germany wanted to phase out nuclear power for safety reasons.
- A Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czech Republic didn't bail out a bank that the Dutch company partially owned.
- Philip Morris is using ISDS right now to try to stop countries like Australia and Uruguay from implementing new rules that are intended to cut smoking rates – because the new laws might eat into the tobacco giant’s profits.
The Obama Administration has said that they have fixed all the problems, and nothing like that will happen here. They just won’t show you how.
Let's send a loud message to our trade officials: No vote on a fast-track for trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal – ISDS and everything else. Sign the petition right now.
I’m not the only one worried about ISDS. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in her book last year:
"We should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors."
In March, more than a hundred law professors from all around the country wrote a letter about their concerns about ISDS. And five of the country’s top legal and economic experts – Joseph Stiglitz, Larry Tribe, Judith Resnik, Cruz Reynoso, and H. Lee Sarokin – all agree:
"ISDS weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the legal system and using a system of adjudication with limited accountability and review. It is antithetical to the fair, public, and effective legal system that all Americans expect and deserve. Proponents of ISDS have failed to explain why our legal system is inadequate to the task. For the reasons cited above, we urge you to uphold the best ideals of our legal system and ensure ISDS is excluded from upcoming trade agreements."
This isn't a partisan issue. I don’t often agree with the conservative Cato Institute, and I suspect they don’t often agree with me. But the head of Cato’s trade policy program said:
"[ISDS] raises serious questions about democratic accountability, sovereignty, checks and balances, and the separation of power... Sen. Warren’s perspective on ISDS is one that libertarians and other free market advocates should share."
The Obama Administration says you have nothing to worry about – to trust them that nothing could possibly go wrong. But they won’t release the text of the TPP agreement to the public for you to see it for yourself.
Frankly, "just trust us" isn’t good enough – not for a trade deal that multinational corporations have been working on for years while the public has been kept in the dark.
Tens of thousands of people have already signed our petition: No vote to fast-track trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal – including ISDS. Please sign the petition now.
Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal?
Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.
Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”
If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it, then that agreement should not become the law of the United States.
Let’s send a loud message to our trade officials: No vote on a fast-track for trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal. Sign this petition right now to make the TPP agreement public.
The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.
For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.
If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.
Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it.
Sherrod Brown has been leading this fight, and he points out that TPP isn’t classified military intelligence – it’s a trade agreement among 12 countries that control 40% of the world’s economy. A trade agreement that affects jobs, environmental regulations, and whether workers around the globe are treated humanely. It might even affect the new financial rules we put in place after the 2008 crisis. This trade agreement doesn’t matter to just the biggest corporations – it matters to all of us.
When giant corporations get to see the details and the American people don’t, we all lose. Let’s level the playing field: No vote on fast-tracking trade until the public can read the TPP deal.
We’ve all seen the tricks and traps that corporations hide in the fine print of contracts. We’ve all seen the provisions they slip into legislation to rig the game in their favor. Now just imagine what they have done working behind closed doors with TPP.
We can’t keep the American people in the dark.
For too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast the debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp. They generally put Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second.
But that so-called “choice” gets it all wrong.
Rules are not the enemy of markets. Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking skyrockets, and markets fall apart. Rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.
Republicans claim – loudly and repeatedly – that they support competitive markets, but their approach to financial regulation is pure crony capitalism. It helps the rich and the powerful protect and expand their wealth and their power – and leaves everyone else behind.
This week, I gave a big policy speech where I presented ways we can promote competition, innovation, and safety in financial markets. The speech was long and wonky, but it really boils down to two principles:
- First, financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to cheat people. Markets work only if people can see and understand the products they are buying, only if people can reasonably compare one product to another, only if people can’t get fooled into taking on far more risk than they realize just so that some fly-by-night company can turn a quick profit and move on. That’s true for families buying mortgages and for pension plans buying complex financial instruments.
- Second, financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to get the taxpayers to pick up their risks. That’s true for using insured deposits for high-risk trading, and it’s true for letting Too-Big-to-Fail banks get a wink-and-a-nod guarantee of a government bailout.
We know what changes we need to make financial markets work better. Strengthen the rules to prevent cheating. Make the cops do their jobs. Cut the banks down to size. Change the tax code to promote more long-term investment. Tackle shadow-banking done by non-bank firms and subsidiaries.
Changes like these can make a real difference. They can help protect hard-working families from cheats and liars. They can help rein in the lawless practices that are still too common on Wall Street. They can end Too Big to Fail.
The secret to better markets isn’t turning loose the biggest banks to do whatever they want. The secret is smarter, more structural regulation that forces everyone to play by the same rules and doesn’t let anyone put the entire economy at risk.
The key steps aren’t hard. It just takes political courage – and a strong demand from people like you – to complete the unfinished business of financial reform.
In 2008, the financial sector collapsed and nearly brought down our whole economy. What were the ingredients behind that crash? Recklessness on Wall Street and a willingness in Washington to play along with whatever the big banks wanted.
Years have passed since the crisis and the bailout, but the big banks still swagger around town. And when Citigroup and the others don’t quite get their way or Washington doesn’t feel quite cozy enough, they quickly move to loud, public threats. Their latest move is a stunner. According to Reuters:
Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.
Citigroup has decided to withhold donations for now to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power, sources inside the bank told Reuters.
JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said.
That’s right, the biggest banks on Wall Street have made it clear that they expect a return on their investment in Washington. Forget making the markets safer (where they can still make plenty of money) and forget the $700 billion taxpayer bailout that saved them and forget the need to build a strong economy for all Americans. Forget it all. The big banks want a Washington that works only for them and that puts their interests first – and they would like to get a little public fanny-kissing for their money too.
Well forget it. They can threaten or bully or say whatever they want, but we aren’t going to change our game plan. We do, however, need to respond.
According to this breaking news, our 2016 Democratic Senate candidates could lose at least $30,000 because of this decision. Can you help us raise $30,000 to match Wall Street’s money right now – and keep fighting for a Democratic Senate that will work for people instead of big banks?
Now let’s be clear: $30,000 is a drop in the bucket to JPMorgan and Citigroup. Heck, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon makes more than $30,000 in just a few hours.
The big banks have thrown around money for years, spending more than a $1 million a day to hold off Dodd-Frank and the consumer agency. But they are moving out of the shadows. They have reached a new level of brazenness, demanding that Senate Democrats grovel before them.
That kind of swagger is a warning shot. They want a showy way to tell Democrats across the country to be scared of speaking out, to be timid about standing up, and to stay away from fighting for what’s right.
Ok, they have taken their shot, but it will not work.
I’m not going to stop talking about the unprecedented grasp that Citigroup has on our government’s economic policymaking apparatus. I’m not going to stop talking about the settlement agreements that JPMorgan makes with our Justice Department that are so weak, the bank celebrates by giving their executives a raise. And I’m not going to pretend the work of financial reform is done, when the so-called “too big to fail” banks are even bigger now than they were in 2008.
The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back. It’s up to us to fight back against a financial system that allows those who broke our economy to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while ordinary Americans continue to struggle. It’s up to us to fight back against a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists – and their friends in Congress – that our regulators forget who they’re working for.
Let’s send the biggest banks on Wall Street our own message: We’re going to keep fighting, and your swagger and your threats won’t stop us. Help us match their $30,000 right now.
The United States is in the final stages of secret, closed-door negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement with 11 other countries.
Who will benefit from it? One provision hidden in the fine print – “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” – may sound harmless, but don’t let that fool you: ISDS could let foreign companies challenge US laws without ever stepping in an American court.
That would undermine US sovereignty and tilt the playing field even further in favor of multinational corporations.
Sign my petition and spread the word: ISDS is a bad deal for America.
Here’s how ISDS would work: Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge that regulation in a US court.
But with ISDS, the company could skip the US courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the multinational company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in US courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions – and even billions – of dollars in damages.
If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Really.
And if the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, giant corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with US operations wanted to challenge our refusal to import a dangerous chemical, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union or human rights group believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the American labor group would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts – and if an environmental group thought the Vietnamese company was dumping waste in their rivers in violation of the new trade agreement, they would have to go to a Vietnamese court as well. In other words, the great deal for corporations is only for corporations – everyone else is left out.
Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal for America. Sign my petition to say no to ISDS.
Opposing ISDS isn’t a partisan issue – even your Tea Party relatives should be worried about this dangerous provision:
- Conservatives who believe in US sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals.
- Libertarians should be offended that ISDS effectively would offer a free taxpayer subsidy to countries with weak legal systems.
- And progressives should oppose ISDS because it would allow big multinational corporations to weaken labor and environmental rules.
Yesterday morning, the church service at First Baptist in Montgomery started the way so many church services start – with warm hellos and plenty of donuts and coffee in the church basement.
But then I met an elderly man who told me he had been in that basement for 11 hours in May of 1961, along with hundreds of people, while a mob outside tried to burn down the church.
This was Dr. Ralph Abernathy’s church, the Brick-a-Day Church. It had been a center for civil rights organizing, and a sanctuary for Freedom Riders and others in the movement who were under attack.
The elderly man described the calls from the church phone, placed by Dr. King to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, asking for help. He said that at first Kennedy had promised to call out the National Guard, but the Guard was local, and many of those men were now part of the mob. The people trapped in the church needed the Army, and Kennedy promised to send it from a military base several hours away. So the man described what it was like to wait in the sweltering basement, listening to the mob outside.
After the church service, I spoke with Rep. John Lewis about that night. I asked him if he had been worried that Kennedy wouldn’t send troops. A mob was upon them, and help was far away. But John Lewis said, “I was never, ever, ever afraid. You come to that point where you lose all sense of fear.”
Four years after the siege of First Baptist, 25-year-old John Lewis had already faced beatings and threats as he prepared to march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. On the day that became Bloody Sunday, the day John Lewis was beaten to the ground and his skull was fractured, he faced it fearlessly, carrying a backpack containing a toothbrush, an apple, and books on religion and politics.
On Saturday, Bruce and I sat behind John Lewis on a bus from Montgomery to Selma to the ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of that march – on the same road the marchers took from Selma to Montgomery. John Lewis pointed out every marker along the way: the airport where people arrived to join the march, the places where they camped, the hospital where people took refuge, until we reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where John Lewis had nearly died.
John Lewis told us that his parents didn’t want him to get involved in civil rights. They didn’t want him to cause trouble. But he had done it anyway. Sometimes it is important to cause necessary trouble, he told us.
In the past half-century, thanks to the necessary trouble of heroes like John Lewis, our country has made great progress – but not enough progress. There are those who want to take away votes, those who want to make it harder to get an education, and those who believe that justice and dignity are reserved only for some people.
The Supreme Court has now struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act. Too many young men have died in police custody. And the grinding heel of poverty has borne down harder on children of color. We celebrate the brave people of Selma, but it is up to US to make change now.
- It’s up to us to make sure every child can walk down the street free from fear and distrust.
- It’s up to us to ensure our justice system works fairly for all Americans.
- It’s up to us to make sure our government and our political system serve not just the richest people and the most powerful corporations, but that our government serves ALL people.
- It’s up to us to build a future so that ALL of our children have the opportunity to succeed.
As Bruce and I left the Pettus bridge on Saturday, Juanita Abernathy, Dr. Abernathy’s widow, took my hand. She leaned in and said, “It’s not about politics. It’s about what’s right.”
We spent this weekend learning more about the civil rights movement and about the work to be done. It’s profoundly important work. But for me, this trip was also a chance to hear first-hand about courage and deep faith, about the certainty of what must be done, and about the willingness to take it on.
The power of Selma is hope – hope that change can happen. It's not a passive hope, but a hope that demands that we make the necessary trouble that will build a better world.
At every turn, organized labor has been there, fighting on behalf of the American people.
But today, instead of implementing policies that strengthen the middle class, Republicans in Congress are pushing a bill to stop the National Labor Relations Board from modernizing its procedures because it just might help – yes, I said help – America’s workers.
The only way we’ll stop this from happening is by raising our voices as loudly as possible. Join me right now to tell Congress to let the NLRB do its job.
Coming out of the Great Depression, America’s labor unions helped build America’s strong middle class. For half a century, as America’s union membership went up, America’s median family income went up, and that was true for families whether they were part of a union or not.
Since 1935, Congress has required the National Labor Relations Board to oversee the workplace elections in which workers decide whether to be represented by a union. More than 90 percent of the time when there’s an election, it all goes smoothly. Employees and employers agree about the process, and an election is held without dispute. Done.
But, in the remaining cases, the rules on how to resolve these concerns have turned into a mess. Over time, a hodgepodge of different rules for resolving these disputes emerged in each of the country’s 26 NLRB regions.
To fix this, the NLRB recently finalized national rules that set out the procedures for resolving pre-election issues and conducting elections. In other words, the NLRB is trying to make dispute resolution clearer, more efficient and more consistent from region to region. This is good for workers.
Trying to make government work better shouldn’t be controversial. But it is controversial. Why? Because some employers like the broken tangled rules. They have learned that they can game the system and oppose union votes all together. They don’t want the NLRB to work, so they are lobbying against these new rules.
And Congressional Republicans are standing up for them, advancing a proposal to stop the NLRB from implementing its final rules.
We can’t let Congress promote an inefficient system that gives employers room to manipulate the process and block workers from organizing. Join me right now to tell Congress: Let the NLRB do its job.
Republicans claim they’re concerned about workers being able to “ambush” their employers with workplace elections. That’s just plain nonsense.
Let’s be honest – the only ambush here is the Republican ambush on worker’s basic rights.
According to a 2011 study from the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, long election delays correspond with higher rates of labor law violations. A delay gives anti-union employers more time to retaliate against union organizers and to intimidate workers.
So it comes down the question I’ve asked before: who does this Congress work for?
Republicans say government should keep on working for employers who don’t like unions and who have figured out how to exploit a tangled system. They complain about government inefficiencies, but then they introduce a bill that is specifically designed so that a broken, inefficient system will stay broken and inefficient – even when we know how to fix it.
But we weren’t sent here just to represent employers who don’t like unions. We’re here to support working people who just want a fighting chance to level the playing field.
Join me right now to tell Congress to let the NLRB do its job.
So far in this new Congress, Republicans have spent weeks debating a pipeline that will mostly benefit a giant foreign oil company – and weeks more threatening a government shutdown of the Homeland Security Department. Meanwhile, millions of people who work hard and play by the rules are still getting squeezed to the breaking point.
The Republicans prove once again how Washington works just fine for giant corporations, but not so much for working people.
It’s time to make different choices – to stand up to the armies of lobbyists and lawyers to begin to make the government work for the middle class once again. That's why this week, Rep. Elijah Cummings and I have launched the new Middle Class Prosperity Project: to push this new Congress to take action to help working people.
Recently, Republicans seem to have discovered the struggles of America’s middle class. Out of nowhere, they’re talking about this problem.
That’s great, but talk is cheap. And when it comes to action, these Republicans seem to have amnesia about what they have actually done to hard-working Americans.
Republican trickle-down policies created tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy while leaving working families to pick up the pieces. I’ll believe Republicans care about what’s happening to America’s middle class when they stop blocking legislation that would require billionaires to pay taxes at the same rate as teachers and firefighters.
Republican trickle-down economics blocked increases in the minimum wage that would have lifted 14 million people out of poverty. I’ll believe Republicans care about what’s happening to America’s working families when they stop blocking minimum wage increases and agree that no should work full time and still live in poverty.
Republican trickle-down economics squeezed billions of dollars of profit out of people who had to borrow money to go to college. I’ll believe Republicans care about what’s happening to America’s future when they agree to refinance student loans.
I could go on, but the point is the same: talk is cheap.
We know how to build a strong middle class. We’ve done it. And we know that the policies we put together here in Washington can make a big difference. That’s what our new Middle Class Prosperity Project is all about: bringing together leaders in Washington, economists and policy experts, and millions of voices of people across the country to get to work.
It’s time for action that will strengthen middle class families and build a strong future. It’s time to put up or shut up.
People face a lot of challenges when they try to save for retirement, but one of the biggest challenges lurks mostly out of sight.
How do you know when a retirement advisor or broker is doing what’s best for you, and how do you know when they are just doing what’s best for them?
Many retirement advisors recommend investments that work best for the customers they work for. But some don’t. Those advisors and brokers recommend investments based on what’s best for them – and what fees, bonuses, free vacations, cars, and other kickbacks the advisor can earn from selling a lousy product.
Today I joined President Obama and Labor Secretary Tom Perez to call for more transparency and stronger rules to make sure the retirement advice you receive is always in your best interest. Join us in saying that it’s time to fix this broken system.
Numerous studies, including some from Harvard and MIT, have found that some advisors consistently steer customers to the highest fee products – despite the fact that high fee funds don’t perform any better, and often perform worse, than low fee funds. And the worst part? For large portions of the retirement market, it’s perfectly legal to push these lousy investment products.
That makes it really tough for unsuspecting customers who could lose thousands – or hundreds of thousands – of dollars in retirement savings when they fall into the hands of the wrong advisor.
And it makes it really tough for the thousands of honest advisors and brokers who already put their clients first. Right now they have to compete against the unethical advisors who don’t. That’s not a level playing field – it’s a broken system.
Today, we begin to fix it. Today, we begin to stand up for the millions who are trying to set aside some money for a decent retirement. And today, we begin to stand up for the honest retirement advisors who are working hard to help them.
Join President Obama and me in saying it’s time to do what we should have done years ago: it’s time to end the bonuses, the fees, the free vacations, the fancy cars, and the other incentives to sell bad products to unsuspecting customers – and to ensure that all of our retirement advisors, not just some of them, are looking out for the best interests of the people they serve.