Masters Of War

Come you masters of war You that build all the guns You that build the death planes You that build all the bombs You that hide behind walls You that hide behind desks I just want you to know I can see through your masks. You that never done nothin' But build to destroy You play with my world Like it's your little toy You put a gun in my hand And you hide from my eyes And you turn and run farther When the fast bullets fly. Like Judas of old You lie and deceive A world war can be won You want me to believe But I see through your eyes And I see through your brain Like I see through the water That runs down my drain. You fasten all the triggers For the others to fire Then you set back and watch When the death count gets higher You hide in your mansion' As young people's blood Flows out of their bodies And is buried in the mud. You've thrown the worst fear That can ever be hurled Fear to bring children Into the world For threatening my baby Unborn and unnamed You ain't worth the blood That runs in your veins. How much do I know To talk out of turn You might say that I'm young You might say I'm unlearned But there's one thing I know Though I'm younger than you That even Jesus would never Forgive what you do. Let me ask you one question Is your money that good Will it buy you forgiveness Do you think that it could I think you will find When your death takes its toll All the money you made Will never buy back your soul. And I hope that you die And your death'll come soon I will follow your casket In the pale afternoon And I'll watch while you're lowered Down to your deathbed And I'll stand over your grave 'Til I'm sure that you're dead.------- Bob Dylan 1963

Sunday, May 31, 2015

US oil production hits modern record even as US drilling rigs fall for a record 25th week

it was looking like it was going to be a rather slow and uninteresting week in the oil patch until midday Thursday, when the EIA released their weekly Petroleum Status Report (62 pp pdf) and updated all the data sets therein...what we thought was an ongoing gradual decline in US oil production in the face of a 60% drop in oil rigs is no more, as the past week saw US oil production jump by 3.2% to 9,566,000 barrel per day, the largest weekly spike in our oil production in 19 months, 13.3% higher than the 8,472,000 barrels per day oil output we saw in the same week last year, and setting a new modern era high for US oil production as it was the greatest weekly output in records going back to 1983...

however, even with the big jump in production, our stocks of crude oil in storage fell again, from 482,165 million barrels last week to 479,363  million barrels this week, as US oil refineries were running at full capacity and US oil imports hit a 3 week low, falling 7%, from 7,199,000 barrels per day last week to 6,696,000 barrels per day in the current report...even so, our oil inventories were still 22.0% more than the 392,954 million barrels we had stored in the 4th week of May a year ago, while our oil imports averaged 6.8 million barrels a day over the past 4 weeks, just 3.4% below the imports of the same 4 weeks of 2014...

since we suddenly have a new production record, we'll include the historical graph of Weekly U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil below…here we can see the track of oil output in thousands of barrels per day since 1983, and note that US production had fallen to roughly 5 million barrels a day during the 2006 to 2008 period, and only gradually picked up slowly after that horizontal drilling began…then, spurred on by higher oil prices and easy credit courtesy of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, US oil production has increased steadily since 2011, and as we’ve seen this week, still shows no sign of letting up despite the reduction in new oilfield activity...

US oil production, week ending May 22nd:
May 22 2015 oil production

once again, the number of drilling rigs operating in the US and coastal waters fell for an unprecedented 25th week in a row, as the number of rotary rigs drilling for oil fell by 13 to 646, the number of working gas rigs rose by 3 to 225, while there were also 4 miscellaneous rigs in use, which was unchanged from last week...working oil rigs are now down by 890 from a year ago, and down by 963 from the recent peak of 1609 oil rigs that were operating during the week ending October 10th; active gas rigs are down by 101 from a year ago and down by 131 from the 2014 peak of 356 gas rigs that were operating during the week of November 11th...of the 875 rigs active at the end of last week, 844 were land based, 9 less than last week, 2 were drilling on inland waters, 1 less than last week, while the offshore rig count was unchanged at 29...of the total, 674 were horizontal drillers, down 9 from last week and down 577 from 1251 a year ago; 111 were vertical rigs, down 6 from 117 last week and down 292 from 403 a year ago, and 90 were directional rigs, an increase of 5 for the week but a decrease of 61 from a year ago...

despite an increase of 3 rigs working the Eagle Ford shale, the rig count in Texas was down by 4, with the shutdown of 1 rig in the Permian basin the only likely horizontal reduction there...there were also 3 rigs shut down in California, leaving them with just 10 at mid week...and despite the increase in gas rigs, the Marcellus shale saw a reduction of 3 rigs, with Pennsylvania rigs down by 2, apparently with the addition of one rig working in the Utica...Louisiana and Arkansas also saw their rig count reduced by 2, while one rig was shut down in North Dakota's Willston basin...meanwhile, two rigs were added in both Colorado and Oklahoma, bringing their active rig counts up to 41 and 106 respectively, while both Alaska and New Mexico saw one added, bringing their totals to 10 and 48 respectively...the rig count in Ohio was once again unchanged, as were the rig counts in the other states not herein mentioned...
this week's Canadian rig count was a surprise, in that their number of active rigs increased by over 36%, as they added 20 oil rigs this week to almost double their active oil rig total at 44, while they started up 6 more gas rigs to bring their gas rig total to 54...still, the 98 rigs they were running this week is down 100 from the year ago 198, with oil rigs down 61 from 105 and gas rigs down 39 from 93....however, as recently as January 16th of this year, Canadians were running 440 rotary rigs, of which 234 were drilling for oil and 206 were drilling for this week's increase of 26 is just a small fraction of the total that they've shut down so far this past year...

it's now been 6 months since the Thanksgiving Day OPEC meeting that changed the course of the global oil markets and set off the decline in drilling in the US that persists to this day, so it might be time to take a look back at where we've been...the graph below shows the past year's track of the contract price per barrel of the US benchmark oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), at or to be delivered to the oil depot in Cushing Oklahoma...we can see that oil was still near $100 a barrel last summer, in the same price range it had been since 2011, during the period when drillers were still adding rigs and expanding production....and we know that oil drilling continued into the fall, with the rig count peaking in October, even as oil prices slipped below $80 as the global surplus was developing...we can then see the precipitous collapse of prices beginning in the last week of November, when the price of oil fell from $78 to $65 in the days immediately following the OPEC decision to continue their level of production...oil prices then fell below $45 a barrel in intra-day trading in mid January, a level at which 97% of US shale wells became unprofitable, before climbing back up above $58 again in February...they touched the January lows again in March before starting their recent rally to near $60, a price that seems to have nearly as many drillers willing to restart their operations as there are those that are still shutting down...

oil prices, 5/30/15:
May 30 2015 oil prices

even though natural gas prices were not affected by the OPEC decision, their trajectory has been quite the oil graph above, the graph below shows the benchmark contract price for natural gas based on the price per mmBTU at Henry Hub, Louisiana....(gas is also sometimes quoted in mcf = thousand cubic feet = 1.028 x mmBTU = million BTU) ...again, note the price near the $4 range thought to be breakeven for most of the Haynesville and Marcellus gas wells prior to November, and then the collapse to under $3 per mmBTU since, which has led to the reduction of drilling activities in those fields...however, unlike oil, where the US benchmark has generally been within 10% of the global price, US natural gas prices are far below those on the international markets...for instance, Japan had been paying $15 to $17 per mmBTU for LNG imports since the shutdown of it's nuclear facilities, which has only recently fallen into the $14 mmBTU range...Europeans also want to import more LNG, too; LNG prices in Europe were over $11 mmBTU until recently, when they fell to the $9 range with the global collapse of oil if Obama gets his trade agreements passed, which will mandate exports of our gas to those markets, US prices will eventually move up to the global prices, and US natural gas exploitation will explode....

natural gas prices, 5/30/15:
May 30 2015 natural gas prices

where we go from here is anyone's guess...i had thought US oil output had started falling in March, and that the US oil glut would gradually subside...this week's data suggests there's no sign of that yet...and in the global markets, Saudi oil output continues to hit new records, Iraq expects to increase their output to a record 3.75 million barrels a day in June, and Iranian oil will soon be flowing again as sanctions are lifted, so it appears that the oil glut will persist for some time...this all flies in the face of what i thought i knew; if someone would have asked me a year ago, i would have told them it'd be damn near impossible for oil to be priced below $80 a barrel for any length of time, based on what i knew then of exploration and production costs...if someone had suggested to me then that we would be looking at an oversupply of oil this year, i would have dismissed them as an impossible dreamer...but now the idea of an oil shortage is nowhere in sight; and it's clear that any increase in prices will bring back the US rigs and worsen the global oversupply it looks like low oil prices are here to stay, and that forecasts that oil prices may yet trend lower are not unfounded...

more here...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

the Santa Barbara oil spill, a toxic Texas oil well blowout, and other news…

the major oil story this week was the 105,000 gallon spill from a ruptured 24 inch crude oil pipeline on the Refugio State Beach coastline just west of Santa Barbara on Tuesday...not detected until beach-goers noticed the smell, the buried pipeline a few hundred yards inland apparently spewed oil into a culvert and then into a storm drain that empties into the ocean for 3 hours before the Coast Guard was able to shut it off....first erroneously reported as a 21,000 barrel spill, it was then corrected to 21,000 gallons in later reports that same day, and then revised to the final 105,000 gallon total now being carried in all recent reports, with an estimated 21,000 gallons of that total reaching the Ocean...initial reports were of a 4 mile long oil slick offshore drifting towards Santa Barbara; by Wednesday that had spread out into a 9 mile wide oil slick, which resulted in the closure of two state beaches and area fisheries, and as oil-covered birds and other ocean wildlife began washing ashore, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency to free up state resources to deal with the spill and its consequences...for those interested in seeing what it looks like, the Boston Globe offers 31 full size full color photos in their "Big Picture" gallery this week...the cleanup is expected to take months, so once again the oil industry is delivering on the increased job opportunities that they've been promising us... 

to give you an idea of the area affected, we'll include a map below that was sourced from the LA Times...on that map, the little squares in the ocean indicate the location of offshore oil platforms, the dark black lines show the location of pipelines, the orange blocks in the ocean represent the boundaries of oil company lease holdings, and other orange figures represent the locations of oil storage depots (circles), treatment plants (diamonds), and refineries (i shape) respectively...the pipeline that failed originates from ExxonMobil's Las Flores Canyon Processing Facility near Refugio, and runs west along the coast about 15 miles to the Plains-owned Gaviota pumping station, where the oil is then pumped to refineries in Kern County; Refugio Beach is roughly 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, so we're talking about the pipeline that runs west along the coast from there..(the spill is often described as having occurred at Refugio State Beach, just "north" of Goleta, which is about 10 miles west of Santa Barbara; "north" on this portion of coast apparently means to the west, as reporters seem to assume the entire California coast runs due north/south)...the map below also shows the nearby Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and another ocean preserve in dark blue, but does not show the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, which extends along the coast from west of Goleta to Point Sol, which is about 20 miles north of Point Conception, the Cape to the west of the spill area...also shown as black spots are select recent historical oil spills, indicated by a date and number of gallons spilled, most of which were smaller than the current spill, but all of which are dwarfed by the 3 million gallon 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which at the time was the largest spill in US the upper left hand corner of the map, we also see the Guadalupe Oil Field, where an estimated 12 million gallons of oil have oozed out underground from at least 80 leaks in pipelines in an oil field operated by Unocal since the 1950s...

May 23 Santa Barbara spill map

although the Center for Biological Diversity had filed a lawsuit to stop dangerous offshore fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel earlier this year, we have seen no indication that the oil that was spilled came from a fracked oil well...the operator of the pipeline that failed here, Houston based Plains All American Pipeline, has a long history of federal safety violations, and had already been cited for 10 crude oil spills between June 2004 and September 2007, in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas, for which they were fined a total of $3.25 million and told to carry on...Plains, with environmentalist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as a key original investor, also has a long history of fighting environmental regulations, and successfully won themselves an exemption from Santa Barbara county oversight more than 20 years ago; as a result, none of the welds on the pipeline that failed had ever been inspected by county officials, and the Plains pipeline was the only pipeline in the county not to have an automatic shut-off valve, which could have shut down the flow quickly when the initial pressure drop was detected...

elsewhere, in Karnes county Texas, in a largely rural area over the Eagle Ford shale, an oil well exploded on Tuesday, spewing toxic hydrogen sulfide gas that forced the evacuation of several homes nearby...the blowout then continued to spew the poisonous gas, along with methane and oil, for two days, while the area roads were closed to travelers and residents, while operators struggled to regain control....furthermore, even after the well was brought under control on Thursday, residents were still not allowed to return home...reports were that much of the area, including roadways, fields, homes, fence lines, and grass had been covered in oil that had fallen as a mist during the two days that the blowout was a result, Encana, the well operator, is providing motel rooms and incidental expenses to the evacuated residents while it works to establish a timeline for them to safely return to their homes…

meanwhile, both oil production and oil inventories fell this week, in what some are interpreting as a sign that drilling and fracking cutbacks are starting to have an impact...domestic oil production fell by almost 1.2% to 9,262,000 barrels per day in the week ending May 15th, from 9,374.000 barrels per day in the prior week, while our output still remained 8.9% higher than the 8,434,000 barrels per day production during the 3rd week in May a year ago...our stocks of crude oil in storage fell by a bit more than half a percent, from 484,839 million barrels last week to 482,165 million barrels this week, but that's still 23.2% more than a year ago, and except for the higher levels of the past two weeks, still the most oil we've had stored in the 80 years we have records for... despite what seems to be excessive inventories, our crude oil imports still averaged 7.199 million barrels per day last week, up by 318,000 barrels per day from the previous week.  according to the weekly Petroleum Status Report (62 pp pdf) from the Energy Information Administration, our crude oil imports have averaged over 7.0 million barrels per day over the last 4 weeks, 0.4% more than the same 4 weeks last year...

the weekly change in the rig count has become so inconsequential that it hardly seems worth reporting it, as the rig count fell by just 3 in the week ending May 22nd, with oil rigs down 1 to 659, gas rigs down 1 to 222, and miscellaneous rigs down 1 to 4...from a year earlier, the number of drilling rigs operating in the US is now down 972, with oil rigs down 869, gas rigs down 103, and miscellaneous rigs unchanged...560 horizontal rigs have been shut down over that span, leaving 685; another 292 vertical rigs were stacked, leaving 117 operating, and the count of directional rigs fell by 120 to 85...Texas drillers shut down 516 of the rigs they were operating a year ago, leaving them with 373 as of Friday; North Dakota, California, Wyoming and Utah have also shut down more than half their rigs, with the rig count in California falling from 48 to 13, the rig count in North Dakota falling from 174 to 78, the rig count in Wyoming being cut from 45 to 22, and the rig count in Utah falling from 27 to contrast, the Woodford shale in Oklahoma has seen an increase in active rigs over the past year, with rigs operating in the Cana-Woodford increasing from 24 to 34 and rigs in the Ardmore Woodford increasing from 5 to 6...the rigs operating in the Marcellus shale, which were cut considerably after natural gas prices collapsed in late 2011, have only slowly been idled through this downturn, as the count of active rigs in West Virginia has fallen to 18, from 25 a year ago, while the count in Pennsylvania has just dropped by 11, from 60 last year to 49 last Ohio, meanwhile, the rig count has dropped by 16, from 39 a year ago to 23 last week, with the total Utica shale count falling from 41 to 24 over the same span...

(more fracking news links here)

The War On Terror - How's That One Going?

Embedded image permalink

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tibet's Spectacular Seda Monastery (21 photos)

High in a treeless valley in China's remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture lies the the largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world. Founded in 1980, the Seda Larung Wuming Tibetan Buddhist Institute consists of a few main buildings and a tens of thousands of small dormitories built on the surrounding hillsides. At any given time, the Institute houses up to 40,000 monks and nuns who come from different schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Gelug, Sakya and Kagyu. Students usually take six years to complete the formal training. Higher levels of training can take 13 years.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Living while dying for and from fear

Fear has its roots in our DNA. It has been fed to us since the beginning of time.

We devour it to no end, as if it is our only nourishment.
We lay at the trough of fear begging for our next dose.

We fear the known, and most of all we fear the unknown.
It has no meaning.
We act and react to fear for any reason at all.

We fear our own shadow aside the reflection in the mirror.
We live in fear awaiting the last fear of death.

We relish the thought of our ever lasting fear.
It keeps us out of the realm of reality.

We condone and wait for a new fear to be brought upon us.

Not to worry.
The Masters of Fear never sleep.
Our revolving chair on the hamster wheel of fear is their amusement park.

Chaos and horror is their driving force. Be it real or manufactured.
Fear is a tool, a mechanism to be used as a cog in the machine of the regime. Any and all regimes have, do, and will use it.

Even the regime that you live under and duly elected.

Playing the fear card is even more horrific in a democracy because its citizens believe that it has to be true.

It has to be true because the people that are the fear mongers were duly elected by and for the people.

Fearing death is the greatest absurdity of all.

Do not fear death, welcome it.
Grasp it, and understand death as it speaks to you.

For it is the only truth to power that waits for our awakening.

Once you overcome the last fear of death, you will be truly free.

For nothing ends.
It just changes.

Tao Dao Man 

May peace be with you.

fracking and Obama's corporate trade deals, again

this past week we witnessed an elaborate kabuki in the Senate, wherein the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that Obama has sought at first appeared to have blocked by the Senate Democrats, and then within 48 hours, a deal was cut and we saw it pass...hence, the last chance to stop this TPA, and hence the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will mandate exports of our gas and oil to Asia and turn half this country into a fracking resource extraction hell-hole, lies with the House, where we'll need a coalition of progressive Democrats and tea-party Republicans to stop it...if it is not stopped, any hopes for home rule in Ohio, or anywhere else in the nation, will be waylaid by the coming multinational corporate state, and we'll begin the transition into a world wherein our national laws and environmental regulations will be subservient to the international investors and corporations that will ultimately become the de facto new world government...

so, while we've discussed this issue before, most recently 7 weeks ago, it's worth reiterating what it's all about...for over 5 years, the Administration has been working in secret to get two major trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with 12 nations on the Pacific Rim, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, between the US and countries of the European Union, completed and ratified...the larger purpose of these pending agreements is to benefit multinational corporations, who in doing business worldwide, must presently contend with different laws and regulations in each country they do business in, and the ultimate goal of these agreements, and of those that will eventually follow them, is to create what will be an overriding international corporate government with its own laws and court system that will trump the laws of the member nations, and give corporations free reign to do business everywhere, unencumbered by national laws, under this new system worldwide...under our own Constitution, such international treaties would normally need to be reviewed and ratified by a two-thirds vote of Congress; under TPA, aka "fast track", this administration, and the Jeb Bush administration to follow, will be granted the right to negotiate trade treaties without input from Congress, and once completed, these trade treaties will not be reviewable or amendable by Congress, who can then only ratify them with a simple majority...

as noted, these two agreements have been negotiated in secret, and most of what we know about them has come from Wikileaks, who has obtained and released a few of the 29 secret chapters of the TPP...the TPP has been negotiated by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, in consultation with 605 corporate advisers, and their counterparts from the other 12 nations; and neither the people nor their representatives in Congress have had any fact, if a Congressman wants to read the copy of the current text, he or she must go alone, to a guarded and locked room in the basement of the capital building, and surrender any notes they take after leaving; they are sworn not to reveal what they've read, and their staff, or advisors, who might be able to interpret the trade legalese, are not permitted to accompany chances are that if you would read the TPP chapter on the environment released by WIkileaks, and the TPP chapter on the investor-state protections, you would know more about what's in these agreements than 90% of the congresscritters who are voting to allow them to go forward...

as the Sierra Club warned us two years ago, passage of these agreements would unleash a nightmare of increased oil & gas fracking activity, as not only will these agreements allow for oil and gas exports, they effectively mandate those exports, giving the signatories equal claim to our oil and gas resources as our own citizens, and supersede domestic energy policy and protections currently in place...furthermore, there will no longer be legal recourse available under US law to control this drilling activity...the investor-state provisions of these agreements set up a supra-national court under the World Trade Organization's Dispute Settlement Body, whereby corporations will be able to sue governments and obtain taxpayer compensation for whatever "expected future profits" that any state or local law encumbered...hence, the state of New York could be sued by the natural gas leaseholders in the Southern tier of the state who've been economically encumbered by the state fracking ban, Pennsylvania frackwater disposal operations could sue Ohio after being shut down for causing earthquakes in Trumbull county, and California oil companies could sue the counties who passed fracking bans last November...

furthermore, with the international price of oil running $5 to $10 dollars more than the US oil price, US frackers would take advantage of the higher prices they'd garner from selling their oil overseas, with the attendant increase in fracking, and hence eventually the US price would rise to the world price level...even worse, US domestic natural gas, now fairly landlocked with few approved LNG export terminals, would be sold in Japan near $15 per mmBTU, roughly five times the $3 per mmBTU that US natural gas has been priced at in recent months...even considering the additional costs of liquefying and transporting American gas to Asia, American producers stand to triple their profits or more by selling LNG overseas....and if they can get $15 from Japan, don't imagine that US prices will stay anywhere close to where they've not only will passing this agreement upend our environmental regulations, it will also be the impetus for higher domestic prices for oil and gas and increased fracking in even the thinnest bands of shale that have been ignored up till now...furthermore, natural gas prices for heating and industry will skyrocket, and with natural gas priced higher than coal, utilities will return to coal, and strip mining of Appalachian communities will come back with a vengeance...

up until this week, it seemed that these trade deals could be stopped...but after seeing the quick turnaround of the Senate vote, where just enough concessions were made to the opponents to get the votes to pass the trade promotion authority, i'm not so seems the administration is willing to do what it has to, horse trade whatever it needs to, to get this done...and ominously, i've been seeing news of a number of gas export terminals in the planning stages, as if they're preparing for the eventual passage that they know will, just this week, Delfin LNG submitted applications for an offshore LNG facility in the Gulf and Cheniere Energy announced they'd begin construction on a sixth LNG export facility in Corpus Christi...oil & gas prices have been rising rapidly, too, despite the glut we've talked about, as if they're anticipating news that hasn't been obvious to i dont know...

since the outcome on these trade agreements so obviously affects the future of fracking in our area, i'm going to start this week with selection of links on the news and opinion relating to them from the past two weeks, so you can see what's been going on with them...the regular fracking news stories, with a brief review of oilfield and production activity, will follow in a separate package...


Republicans push Barack Obama to rally Democrats for TPP vote - The top Republican lawmaker on trade has called for US President Barack Obama to work even harder to build support among Democrats for a crucial trade bill on the eve of what are expected to be divisive votes in Congress. “We’ve still got a lot of raindrops to run through here without getting splashed,” Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, told the Financial Times in an interview. The Utah Republican is one of the sponsors of a bill unveiled last month that would grant Mr Obama the “fast-track” authority he needs to wrap up the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim economies. If successfully concluded, the TPP, which covers about 40 per cent of the global economy, would be the biggest trade deal sealed in the world in two decades. The bill to grant the president what is formally known as “Trade Promotion Authority” is expected to come to a Senate vote as soon as this week and to be presented in the lower House of Representatives before the end of May. It faces stiff opposition from many Democrats who are coming under intense pressure from labour unions to resist Mr Obama’s trade agenda. But Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, insist they need Democratic support to offset defections by some Tea Party Republicans opposed to giving the president anything at all. Mr Hatch said he and fellow Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, were having a degree of success convincing some Tea Party Republicans. He also praised Mr Obama for taking on his critics in the Democratic party more forcefully in recent weeks.

Critical Alert': Jeff Sessions Warns America Against Potentially Disastrous Obama Trade Deal - Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)is sounding the alarm to his colleagues Senate-wide, warning them and the American public with a “critical alert” published Sunday evening that voting for the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) deal that would set up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with Asian countries is fraught with problems and concerns. “Congress has the responsibility to ensure that any international trade agreement entered into by the United States must serve the national interest, not merely the interests of those crafting the proposal in secret,” Sessions’ team writes in a document that lays out the top five concerns with the Obama trade deal. “It must improve the quality of life, the earnings, and the per-capita wealth of everyday working Americans. The sustained long-term loss of middle class jobs and incomes should compel all lawmakers to apply added scrutiny to a ‘fast-track’ procedure wherein Congress would yield its legislative powers and allow the White House to implement one of largest global financial agreements in our history—comprising at least 12 nations and nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP. “The request for fast-track also comes at a time when the Administration has established a recurring pattern of sidestepping the law, the Congress, and the Constitution in order to repeal sovereign protections for U.S. workers in deference to favored financial and political allies.” The Sessions document then goes point-by-point for five full pages through the TPA trade deal, laying out why it wouldn’t help Americans—rather, it would likely hurt American workers—and why the deal doesn’t in fact provide Congress with more power over trade despite talking points from the Obama trade deal’s proponents like House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell , and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner..

Obama’s TPP doesn’t deserve free trade agreement treatment - The U.S. Congress is being asked to give President Barack Obama full “fast track” negotiating authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), supposedly a free trade agreement with 11 other mostly wealthy Pacific nations. Yet when you examine the Wiki-leaked version of TPP which is all we have, it is far more notable for the draconian intellectual property provisions than for any truly significant easing of trade barriers. I would argue that such tight intellectual property rights are an historic aberration, incompatible with a truly free market, so that TPP would overall raise barriers against free market exchange rather than lowering them. If it is to be economically beneficial, TPP needs a truly free-market negotiator at the U.S. end – which means it should wait until 2017. Like all regional trade treaties, TPP is in principle an unsatisfactory substitute for the real thing, which is a truly global free trade agreement along the lines of the moribund Doha round, hanging fire since 2001. Regional treaties allow countries to raise non-tariff barriers against non-members and erect innumerable incompatible international product standards which form barriers to truly free world trade. In TPP’s case there are some genuine advances, such as opening up Japanese agriculture (if that indeed happens). However trade among the TPP partners is mostly free with low tariff barriers already, since several of the TPP members already have free trade agreements with the United States.

President Obama Is Badly Confused About the Trans-Pacific Partnership - Dean Baker -- That was the main takeaway from a NYT article on his trip to Nike. According to the article, he made many claims about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and opponents of the deal which are clearly wrong.  For example, the article tells readers: "he [President Obama] scorned critics who say it would undermine American laws and regulations on food safety, worker rights and even financial regulations, an implicit pushback against Ms. Warren. 'They’re making this stuff up,' he said. 'This is just not true. No trade agreement’s going to force us to change our laws.'" President Obama apparently doesn't realize that the TPP will create an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism which will allow tribunals to impose huge penalties on the federal government, as well as state and local governments, whose laws are found to be in violation of the TPP. These fines could effectively bankrupt a government unless they change the law. It is also worth noting that rulings by these tribunals are not subject to appeal, nor are they bound by precedent. Given the structure of the tribunal (the investor appoints one member of the panel, the government appoints a second, and the third is appointed jointly), a future Bush or Walker administration could appoint panelists who would side with foreign investors to overturn environmental, safety, and labor regulations at all levels of government. (Think of Antonin Scalia.) President Obama apparently also doesn't realize that the higher drug prices that would result from the stronger patent and related protections will be a drag on growth. In addition to creating distortions in the economy, the higher licensing fees paid to Pfizer, Merck, and other U.S. drug companies will crowd out U.S. exports of other goods and services. Obama is also mistaken in apparently believing that the only alternative to the TPP is the status quo. In fact, many critics of the TPP have argued that a deal that included rules on currency would have their support.

A Trade Pact in the Corporate Interest - Spurred on by powerful multinational corporations and aided by their corporate lobbyists, the administration wants Congress to sign a blank check for yet another "free trade" deal, with the same inadequate safeguards as previous failed deals. The administration is pressuring Congress to pass special legislation, known as "fast track," intended to prevent a full and open discussion of an expansive new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Because tariff barriers are very low, this is not really a trade deal; it is about the protection of corporations. This deal contains major new provisions that would directly affect the lives of every American by moving important national decisions on regulating corporations, from product labeling to pollution out of the hands of the legislature and into those of special corporate dominated international tribunals.  Neither the history of past trade agreements nor the way "fast track" has been handled to date should give the American people confidence that we can dispense with full Congressional discussion and a thorough examination of the proposed new agreement.

A Multinational Trojan Horse: The Trans-Pacific Partnership -- You don't have to know much about the "trade" deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be more than a little suspicious.  First, there are the very peculiar bedfellows. Supporting the TPP are President Obama and most Congressional Republicans, the same Republicans who've vehemently opposed his every initiative for the past six and one-half years. Against the TPP are most (but not all) Congressional Democrats, Ford Motor Company, virtually all trade unions and environmental groups, watchdog groups such as Public Citizen, and usual Obama allies such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who, in a testy open letter to the President on April 25, called for greater transparency on the TPP.  Furthermore, when asked to lend his support for so-called "Fast Track" authority for the TPP, Obama water-carrier and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid chafed, "So the answer is not only no, but hell no."Also opposed: liberal icon Noam Chomsky, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, many Tea-Party groups, and conservative Republican editorialist and former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan. Conspicuous by silence: Hillary Rodham Clinton.  What's going on here? Why the strange alliances? Peel back the layers of the TPP and you'll find what some believe to be a "corporate Trojan horse." Disguised as "free trade," the TPP's provisions and tactics undermine Constitutional safeguards and national sovereignty. But there's also a silver lining. The TPP exposes who, in the marbled halls of political power, is working for whom. It forces politicians to put their cards on the table, and by their hands you will know them.

TPP: The Fascism Issue -- If the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement will, if implemented, and as I’ve argued elsewhere, result in the death of national and state sovereignty, constitutional separation of powers, and democracy, then what system and what principles will replace these things? Eric Zuesse answers that it will be Fascism. And implicitly, that we are going through an evolution from representative democracy to fascism and that trade deals like the TPP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) mediate the transfer “. . . of democratic national sovereignty to international fascist bodies that represent global corporate management. . . . ” The motivation behind U.S. President Barack Obama’s trans-Pacific trade-deal TPP, and his trans-Atlantic trade-deal TTIP — the motivation behind both of these enormous international trade-deals — is the same, and Democratic U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are correct: it is not at all progressive. It is instead to transfer political power away from the public in a democracy, and for that power to go instead to the international plutocracy (i.e., to go as far away from any national democracy as is even possible to go). This is to be done by switching the most fundamental thing of all: the global power-base itself. Instead of that power-base being democratic votes of the national publics, who elect their political representatives who determine the laws and regulations, that national democratic political system becomes instead the exact opposite: the global aristocratic stockholder votes of the international plutocracy who elect the corporate directors of international companies, who will, in their turn, then be selecting the members to the international-trade-panels which, in TPP and TTIP, will, in their turn, be determining the rules and enforcements regarding especially workers’ rights, product-safety, and the environment.

Extreme secrecy eroding support for Obama's trade pact - If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving. And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read.“It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”For those out to sink Obama’s free trade push, highlighting the lack of public information is becoming central to their opposition strategy: The White House isn’t even telling Congress what it’s asking for, they say, or what it’s already promised foreign governments.

Trade with Asia Isn't About Jobs -  -  U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is a very smart man who’s at home in the military-industrial complex, but he’s not very sharp on trade issues. Case in point: Carter’s recent claim in a speech at the start of his Asia trip: “We already see countries in the region trying to carve up these markets.” That was Carter’s attempt to show his support of the Obama administration’s big push to obtain fast-track authority to win eventual passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the implication being that without TPP, America will lose ground in Asia. But all Carter did was show that when it comes to economics, he’s stuck in an earlier century. And with such scare talk, he and the administration are vastly overstating the benefits of TPP, which risks exacerbating America’s already tense relationship with China. Carter’s imagery of carving up markets unwittingly calls to mind one of the most famous political cartoons of all time: the iconic image by British caricaturist James Gillray that captured 18th century British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and Napoleon “carving up” the world into spheres of influence. But it doesn’t work that way with trade. There are no spheres of influence, there’s no winner-take-all game. In contrast to colonial-era territorial acquisition and mercantilism, the possibilities of who can trade with whom are, for all practical purposes, nearly endless. TPP will not provide American ownership of markets in the countries involved, nor will it cede that ownership to any other country.

WH takes on Reid over trade - The White House is criticizing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid for his promise to block a vote on fast-track trade authority for President Obama. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Senate should be able to move on fast-track quickly, taking issue with the Nevada senator's call for the chamber to take up other issues first. “We are setting the bar awfully low if the Senate cannot handle multiple issues at once,” Earnest said.We should be able to expect the United States Senate to do more than one thing over the next month.” Reid has long opposed fast-track, which would prevent Congress from amending trade deals negotiated by the Obama administration and make those agreements much easier to complete. He said Tuesday that he would work with other Democrats to prevent a vote on the measure and called on the Senate to first take up legislation on highway funding and the National Security Agency (NSA). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that his plan is to address fast-track after the Senate completes work on the GOP budget and an Iran bill. Reid’s office questioned whether McConnell can complete work on the highway and NSA bills if he also insists on taking up the trade legislation. Reid staffers noted that fast-track is expected to move with several other pieces of trade legislation, including bills to lower tariffs on imports from countries in sub-Saharan Africa and a bill to give assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of trade. 

TPP: Obama’s Folly -- Barack Obama’s petulant criticism last Friday of Democrats who do not support his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership reminds me of the old tongue-in-cheek advice to young lawyers: “If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the other lawyer.” The facts are definitely not on the president’s side. For two decades the trade deals negotiated by the last three presidents have lowered U.S. wages, lost jobs and generated a chronic trade deficit that requires our country to borrow more money every year in order to pay for imports. The president’s main argument that exports have risen, without mentioning that imports have risen much faster, is now transparently deceitful to anyone who can add and subtract. Neither is the law in his corner. As did his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George Bush, he assures Americans that this deal will be different because, you see, it will protect workers. But the secret draft, which had to be revealed to Americans by Wikileaks, shows that once again a trade agreement will be used to enhance the power of multinational corporate investors over people who have to work for a living. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pointed out recently, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is charged with negotiating and enforcing the deal, does not even believe that murder and other brutal acts committed against labor union activists violate the “worker-protection” clauses to trade agreements.So, like a lawyer trained to defend the indefensible, Obama is desperately pounding the opposition. They are “just wrong,” he says, without showing us why. He accuses them of “making stuff up”—that is, that they are liars. He whines that they are “whupping on me.” He charges, nonsensically, that they “want to pull up the drawbridge and isolate themselves.”

Elizabeth Warren fires back at Obama: Here’s what they’re really fighting about - In an interview with Yahoo News that ran over the weekend, President Obama intensified his push-back against Elizabeth Warren and other critics of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, flatly declaring that Warren is “absolutely wrong.” That came after a speech Obama delivered at Nike headquarters, in which he continued making an expansive case for the deal as a plus for American workers — and not the massive giveaway to huge international corporations that critics fear.  This week, the Senate will vote on whether to grant Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate the TPP agreement, which involves a dozen countries around the Pacific and could impact 40 percent of U.S. trade.   If the “fast track” framework passes, Congress would hold only an up-or-down vote on the TPP once it is finalized, without amendments. But Congress could also repeal that fast track authority if the TPP is not to its liking, and try to push changes to it, before any final vote.  Warren has previously claimed that the TPP’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, or ISDS, could undermine or chill public interest regulations in the U.S. and other participating countries, and could even undercut Dodd Frank financial reform, one of Obama’s signature achievements. The ISDS is designed to create a neutral international arbitration mechanism that creates a stable legal environment, facilitating investments in countries where investors might fear unfair legal treatment by foreign governments. Obama has strongly rejected Warren’s arguments in the interview with Yahoo and elsewhere. I spoke to Senator Warren about their disagreements. A lightly edited and condensed transcript follows.

5 Leading Legal Scholars on TPP: We Write Out of Grave Concern  --We write out of grave concern about a document we have not been able to see. Although it has not been made available publicly, we understand that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement currently being negotiated includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. ISDS allows foreign investors—and only foreign investors—to avoid the courts and instead to argue to a special, private tribunal that they believe certain government actions diminish the value of their investments.  Courts are central institutions in the rule of law. Americans have much to be proud of in the evolution of our court system, which has evolved over the centuries and now provides equal access for all persons. Courts enable the public to observe the processes of development of law and to watch impartial and accountable decision-makers render judgments. We write because of our concern that what we know about ISDS does not match what courts can provide. Those advocating using this alternative in lieu of our court system bear the burden of demonstrating why such an exit is necessary, and how the alternate system will safeguard the ideals enshrined in our courts. Thus far, the proponents of ISDS have failed to meet that burden. Therefore, before any ISDS provisions are included in the TPP or any future agreements, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), their content should be disclosed and their purposes vetted in public so that debate can be had about whether and if such provisions should be part of proposed treaties. Below, we detail the ways in which ISDS departs from the justice opportunities that U.S. courts provide. 

Put Trade on the Right Track — Not the Fast Track -Time is growing short in a heated debate over the Obama Administration's ambitious new trade deals. As early as this Thursday, the Senate will vote on granting the President's request for "trade promotion authority" or what is more commonly known as "fast track." The bill before the Senate is procedural: it will provide for the fast tracking of the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" (TPP) negotiated with eleven other Pacific Rim countries and a trade and investment agreement with the European Union (TTIP) expected later this year. Fast track provides for an up or down Congressional vote on the drafts that the President's negotiators bring forward, without the possibility of further amendments by Congress. Getting fast track out of the Senate has been harder than the President expected, with Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and most progressive Democrats opposing the Pacific deal, which they say would undercut American labor, environmental protection and democratic government. The President has shot back with heated criticism of his opponents, assuring the public that the TPP is the "most progressive trade agreement in our history." But it is hard for outsiders to verify the President's claim, since the draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership remains classified under a national security provision and is thus unavailable for public scrutiny. In fact, members of Congress can only see the draft trade agreement in a secure basement room, after leaving cell phones at the door. Those who have seen the text are later allowed to provide only broad descriptions of what it contains. While the draft TPP may be viewed by those with security clearance, the European negotiations are at a less advanced stage, and no draft of the TTIP is yet available to Congress. But the fast track authority being decided this week would authorize the same up or down Congressional vote on whatever the President's team eventually delivers. In fact, if Congress approves fast track, the grant will last for six years, guaranteeing this Administration--and the next--a chance to push forward the TPP, the TTIP, and any future trade agreements.

Fast Track Authority for Toxic Trade Fails Key Vote in Senate --  Yves Smith - The Senate gave Obama a decisive defeat by refusing to let fast track authority for the TPP and other pending trade deals advance to the stage of being debated. Thanks to all of your calls, e-mails and letters to Senators, Representatives, and local media. This is one of those rare cases where the process worked. From Reuters: Legislation giving U.S. President Barack Obama authority to speed trade deals through Congress failed a crucial procedural test on Tuesday, delaying a measure that may be key to President Barack Obama’s diplomatic pivot to Asia. In a setback to the White House trade agenda, the Senate voted 52-45 – eight votes short of the necessary 60 – to clear the way for debate on the legislation, which would allow a quick decision on granting the president so-called fast track authority to move trade deals quickly through Congress. The vote marked a big victory for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, an outspoken opponent of fast-track. The failure to garner the necessary votes came after key pro-trade Democrats, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, announced they would vote no on the procedural vote because the measure lacked some trade protections. Bloomberg bizarrely has the heading for its Fast Track article, on its main page, in red, “Last Minute Rebellion”. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that most Democrat Congressmen opposed the deal; Obama has been trying to win over enough to give Republicans air cover so that they can claim these traitorous deals are “bipartisan”. From the story:Senate Democrats staged a last-minute rebellion against one of President Barack Obama’s top legislative priorities by blocking a test vote on a trade measure that didn’t include companion measures they sought. The vote, 52-45, effectively delays fast-track legislation Obama wants to expedite approval of trade accords. Supporters needed 60 votes to advance the bill to a final vote.

Senate Democrats Defeat The President: Why Obama Is Rushing To Fast-Track The TPP - Moments ago, in an embarrassing setback for the president, Senate Democrats in a 52-45 vote - short of the required 60 supporters - blocked a bill that would give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to expedite trade agreements through Congress, a major defeat for Obama and his allies who "say the measure is necessary to complete a 12-nation Pacific trade deal that is a centerpiece of the administration’s economic agenda."  The passage failed after a leading pro-trade Democrat said he would oppose the bill: Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said he would vote no and his loss was a major blow to hopes of attracting a sufficient number Democrats to get 60 "yes" votes in the chamber.  According to Reuters, the Senate vote was one of a series of obstacles to be overcome that hinged on the support of a handful of Democrats. The White House has launched a campaign blitz directed at them in support of granting the president authority to speed trade deals through Congress.  Fast-track legislation gives lawmakers the right to set negotiating objectives but restricts them to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals such as the TPP, a potential legacy-defining achievement for Obama. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hoping to shore up support, reminded his fellow senators that Tuesday's vote simply would pave the way for debating fast-track legislation. The WSJ cites Mitch McConnell who told reporters shortly before the vote, which he expected to lose, that “This issue’s not over" adding that "I’m hopeful we’ll put this in the win column for the country sometime soon.”

Senate Democrats Throw Obama Under the Bus: Fast Track Trade Bill Stalls; Right For Wrong Reasons -- In rare political reverse alignment, Senate republicans voted for Obama's Fast Track proposal while Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans. To proceed, the bill needed a super-majority of 60 votes. In a vote likely to shock president Obama, Fast Track Failed 52-45 Senate Republicans have been working with the Obama administration to reauthorize fast track negotiating authority aimed at assisting Obama in finalizing a trade pact with 11 Asia-Pacific nations. Fast track authority authorizes the president to submit to Congress negotiated trade deals that can only be approved or rejected, not amended, on an expedited basis. The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill, 20-6, in a bipartisan vote last month. Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Senate GOP leaders believed they had reached an agreement with the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to begin debate this week on the fast track legislation, with assurances that it would move in tandem with a trade adjustment assistance package to aid American workers negatively affected by trade deals. However, Democrats en masse demanded Tuesday that Republicans include in the deal two additional, committee-approved bills: a non-controversial measure supporting African economies and a customs enforcement measure that includes controversial language aimed at cracking down on China for currency manipulation.Wyden announced Democrats could not move forward unless there was assurances that "all four of the measures I've described are actually enacted." Republicans balked. "What I'm not going to put up with is the minority trying to craft a bill before we even get on it. That's just simply unacceptable," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Obama’s Trade Backfire - WSJ: The trade bill failed a major procedural vote on Tuesday, with every Senate Democrat save one blocking debate on what President Obama continues to call an economic priority. The 52-45 liberal blockade doesn’t mean trade-promotion authority is dead. But preventing a setback from becoming a rout will require a Republican salvage operation to rescue Mr. Obama from the consequences of his governing methods. The politics of trade require Presidents to cultivate coalitions from the center out, building a majority between statist progressives and the protectionist right. But that is not Mr. Obama’s thing. His instincts are to govern from the left, treat Members of Congress as peasants who must bow before his superior wisdom, and then assail the motives and character of his opponents. Mr. Obama’s attack-and-polarize approach worked while he had overwhelming liberal majorities, despite private unrest among Democrats about the White House’s ex-cathedra habits. They didn’t mind when he attacked Republicans as moral cretins and dissemblers. The difference is that on trade Mr. Obama has turned his contempt on Democrats. At the Nike campus in Oregon over the weekend, Mr. Obama berated “my fellow-travellers on minimum wage and on job training and on clean energy. . . . And then on this one, they’re like whooping on me.” He added that these critics are “just wrong” and “they’re making this stuff up.”

Senate Reaches Deal To Vote Thursday On 'Fast-Track' Trade Bill -- One day after Senate Democrats blocked the "fast-track" trade authority bill that has been championed by both President Obama and Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says an agreement has been reached to move forward.The solution calls for separate votes on bills that Democrats had wanted to move as a single package on the floor, according to NPR's Ailsa Chang. Ailsa says the Senate will vote on a customs enforcement bill that includes Sen. Charles Schumer's safeguards aimed at reducing currency manipulation.The customs bill "will get a vote tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.," Ailsa reports, along with "a vote on a bill giving trade preference to sub-Saharan African countries."Votes on final passage of those two measures is slated for 12:30 p.m. ET.The deal comes a day after the "fast track" bill that would give the president TPA — or trade promotion authority — fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to avoid a Senate filibuster. As Brian Naylor reported for The Two-Way on Tuesday, the trade authority "would ultimately clear the way for passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership — a complex trade agreement that its supporters say will provide new markets for American goods as well as new jobs."

After Lobbying by Obama, Senate Agrees to Vote on Trade Bill After All -  Senate leaders, after personal intercessions by President Obama, reached an agreement Wednesday on a path to grant the president accelerated power to complete a sweeping trade accord ringing the Pacific Ocean — just a day after fellow Democrats had blocked him.The larger aim is to secure a 12-nation agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, spanning the Pacific from Canada and Chile to Japan and Australia and encompassing 40 percent of the world’s economic output. Mr. Obama sees the pact as a central part of his economic legacy, the largest trade deal in two decades and the realization of his foreign policy pivot toward Asia.It also means money. Major American business interests, from Nike to Boeing and Hollywood to Silicon Valley, want the deal badly. Labor and environmental groups see it as a threat to American workers at the expense of profits.A series of trade-related votes will begin Thursday and stretch well into next week. The trade promotion authority would give the president the ability to move more quickly on the deal, leaving Congress with the power to vote up or down on the agreement but with no ability to amend it. While the pathway to passage became clearer Wednesday, it is still treacherous. Most Senate Democrats will ultimately oppose the trade promotion bill, and with the stated opposition of Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, both Republicans, there are now louder rumblings on the president’s right flank. “Now is not the time to celebrate,” said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Finance Committee chairman. “While this agreement solves a temporary procedural issue, now is when the real work begins.”

Fast Track will empower GOP president, McConnell says - Yesterday, Senate Democrats blocked the bill that would have given President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals, subject only to a Congressional up-or-down vote later. Though this battle is far from over, this raises the possibility that Democratic opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership could ultimately succeed in derailing it by scuttling the Fast Track process itself.Now opponents of Fast Track may have inadvertently been given some new ammunition by an unlikely source: Staunch TPP-advocate Mitch McConnell. In an interview with John Harwood, McConnell said that Republicans should support Fast Track authority, explicitly because — and here’s the rub — it will empower the next GOP president to negotiate trade deals more easily, despite Democratic opposition to them in Congress:“If we had a Republican president right now, not a single Democrat would vote for Trade Promotion Authority. So what I’ve said to my members, if we want the next Republican president, who we hope will be sworn in less than two years from now, to have a chance to do trade agreements with the rest of the world, this bill is about that president as well as this one.” McConnell added, by way of illustration, that Fast Track is a “six year bill.” Expect Democratic opponents of Fast Track to grab on to this. It dovetails nicely with the argument they are making: That Fast Track could ultimately undermine achievements like the Dodd Frank financial reform bill.

Senate Passes Obama's TPP Fast-Track Trade Proposal -- Two days ago there was some rejoicing and much surprise when the "Warren-faction" of Senate liberals turned against Obama, and failed to vote for a fast-track approval of the TPP. That surprise lasted for about 48 hours when moments ago, in a 65-33 vote, the Senate finally advanced a measure allowing Obama to expedite approval of trade agreements, a bill with bipartisan support in that chamber which however according to Bloomberg may run into strong opposition from House Democrats. The vote followed separate votes sought by Democrats to pass proposals curbing currency manipulation and boosting imports from sub-Saharan Africa. The Senate plans to consider amendments to the fast-track trade proposal next week.  As previously reported, a rebellion Tuesday among Senate Democrats seeking the currency provision previews what may be fiercer battle ahead between Democrats and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.  “There’s a broad feeling we have to do something against China” on currency manipulation, New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, told reporters before the vote on advancing the trade bill. He called the currency measure “a shot across China’s bow that we’re not going to just sit there and do nothing.”

Influence peddlers seem to know more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership than Congress - The restrictions the Obama administration has placed on members of Congress wishing to peruse the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a managed trade agreement among the United States and 11 other countries, are something of a shock in a democratic republic. Lawmakers can bring staff, but only those with the necessary security clearances. They can take notes, but must surrender them to the guards upon leaving. They may not bring in electronic devices such as cameras or cellphones that could be used to copy passages of the bill.   As Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., pointed out in an impassioned floor speech attacking the restrictions, the document is not a matter of national security, but rather regulates commercial transactions among nations. The administration made the text available to Congress under the aforementioned restrictions in a bid to win its support for fast track trade authority, allowing the president to negotiate the deal and then submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote, with no amendments.  The extreme secrecy of the text hasn’t stopped interest groups from lobbying in its favor, though. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing the agreement, quoting studies on the unread document that project it will lead to a $124 billion surge in U.S. exports by 2025. A review of first quarter lobbying filings shows 134 corporations, 78 trade associations and 13 labor unions lobbying on the bill. The interests pushing the pact include industry groups like the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Research of America and the American Apparel and Footwear Association, corporations like Caterpillar and Coca-Cola, agricultural groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Milk Producers Federation and the National Chicken Council, and the Emergency Committee for American Trade (ECAT).

The Secret Corporate Takeover -- Joseph Stiglitz --- The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,”as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant. It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions. Perhaps the most invidious – and most dishonest – part of such agreements concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against the risk that rogue governments will seize their property. But that is not what these  provisions are about. There have been very few expropriations in recent decades, and investors who want to protect themselves can buy insurance from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a World Bank affiliate (the US and other governments provide similar insurance). Nonetheless, the US is demanding such provisions in the TPP, even though many of its “partners” have property protections and judicial systems that are as good as its own. The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations meant to protect America’s own economy and citizens. Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes.

Sovereignty For International Investors (Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)) -- Elizabeth Warren makes a compelling case against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose, where she says:  ISDS [Investor-State Dispute Settlement] would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it 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 it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. 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. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?…  I understand Senator Warren’s focus on the United States, but it diverts her from a darker issue raised by the TPP. The TPP gives international investors sovereignty equivalent to national governments.

(the aforementioned brief review of the week’s oilfield and production activity with the fracking news links are here)

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TPP Making the World Safe for Big Business