The Last Major Fault Line in the Democratic Party

Foundations of buildings of an early 20th century resort that was used before the rising waters of the Salton Sea turned this hill into Mullet Island, one of the four Salton Buttes, small volcanoes on the southern San Andreas Fault, are seen on July 3 near Calipatria, California. Mullet Island, the only place for many thousands of island nesting birds to breed at the Salton Sea, will become vulnerable to attacks by predators such as raccoons and coyotes if the water level drops just a couple more feet. Scientists have discovered that human-created changes effecting the Salton Sea appear to be the reason why California's massive 'Big One' earthquake is more than 100 years overdue and building up for the greatest disaster ever to hit Los Angeles and Southern California. Researchers found that strands of the San Andreas Fault under the 45-mile long rift lake have have generated at least five 7.0 or larger quakes about every 180 years. This ended in the early 20th century when authorities stopped massive amounts of Colorado River water from periodically flooding the into this sub-sea level desert basin. Such floods used to regularly trigger major quakes and relieve building seismic pressure but the last big earthquake on the southern San Andreas was about 325 years ago. Dangerous new fault branches that could trigger a 7.8 quake have recently been discovered under the Salton Sea.
National Journal
Feb. 10, 2014, 5:14 p.m.

In 2008, the small world of lib­er­al and labor ad­voc­ates who care about trade policy — long dis­ap­poin­ted by Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents alike — thought they had a cham­pi­on in Barack Obama. Dur­ing a primary de­bate hos­ted by the AFL-CIO, Obama pledged to “im­me­di­ately” rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­ic­an Free Trade Agree­ment to “re­flect the ba­sic prin­ciple that our trade agree­ments should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.”

“We were hop­ing for a dif­fer­ent type of trade policy from this pres­id­ent. And that op­tim­ism con­tin­ued in­to the first years,” says Celeste Drake, who works on trade for the AFL-CIO.

But now, as the White House pushes le­gis­la­tion to al­low the ad­min­is­tra­tion to fast-track a massive new trade deal with a dozen Pa­cific coun­tries, that hope has van­ished. “We did not ex­pect that the rene­go­ti­ation of NAF­TA would come in a form of su­per-NAF­TA,” says Peter May­barduk, who works on ac­cess to medi­cine is­sues for Pub­lic Cit­izen.

It’s a dis­ap­point­ment shared widely by lib­er­al mem­bers of Con­gress, where the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade agenda has now run aground, thanks to op­pos­i­tion from his own party. While most Amer­ic­ans prob­ably pay little at­ten­tion to trade, this is per­haps the last ma­jor fault line left in the Demo­crat­ic Party. In a party more united than it has been in re­cent memory, trade pits lib­er­al act­iv­ists and mem­bers of Con­gress squarely against a more mod­er­ate White House.

The Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship treaty is gi­ant, cov­er­ing some 40 per­cent of U.S. im­ports and ex­ports, with 29 draft chapters on everything from tra­di­tion­al trade is­sues such as tar­iffs to in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­erty and en­vir­on­ment­al and labor stand­ards. The ad­min­is­tra­tion wants Con­gress to ap­prove fast-track au­thor­ity, something few pres­id­ents have en­joyed (and only after their own knock-down, drag-out fights with Cap­it­ol Hill). It would al­low for a swift up-or-down vote in Con­gress on any new trade deal, with law­makers hav­ing no abil­ity to make changes.

But in the past few months, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has hit one set­back after an­oth­er. In Novem­ber, the same month WikiLeaks pub­lished the first of two chapters of the secret draft treaty text, 151 of the 200 House Demo­crats signed a let­ter op­pos­ing fast-track au­thor­ity. About 30 Re­pub­lic­ans have taken the same po­s­i­tion.

If that wasn’t enough, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id came out the day after Pres­id­ent Obama’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress to say that he, too, op­poses fast-track au­thor­ity, and he even sug­ges­ted that he might not al­low a floor vote in the up­per cham­ber.

“Re­id sent a very clear mes­sage, but he only comes in­to play if the House passes it, and that is, at best, ex­tremely un­cer­tain,” said Pub­lic Cit­izen trade ex­pert Lori Wal­lach.

Add to that a prob­lem the White House cre­ated for it­self. With Max Baucus be­com­ing am­bas­sad­or to China, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is los­ing its biggest ally on this is­sue in the Sen­ate. Baucus, the only Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or on the re­cord sup­port­ing fast-track au­thor­ity, will be suc­ceeded as chair­man of the power­ful Fin­ance Com­mit­tee by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has been much more cir­cum­spect and has cri­ti­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion for what he sees as a lack of trans­par­ency sur­round­ing ne­go­ti­ations.

U.S. Trade Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mi­chael Fro­man, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s point man, ac­know­ledges this is no slam-dunk. “This is a mara­thon, not a sprint,” Fro­man told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “These are al­ways dif­fi­cult bills, these are al­ways dif­fi­cult votes.”

Op­pon­ents have a lit­any of con­cerns. Glob­al health ex­perts worry that TPP will make it harder for poor coun­tries to ac­cess gen­er­ic drugs, In­ter­net free­dom act­iv­ists worry it will cur­tail on­line liberty, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists worry it will re­ward pol­luters abroad, and or­gan­ized labor wor­ries it will ship jobs over­seas. In ad­di­tion, some mem­bers of Con­gress say the fast-track au­thor­ity im­pinges on con­gres­sion­al power, be­cause the Con­sti­tu­tion gives the le­gis­lature the power to set ma­jor trade stand­ards.

Fro­man says the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ad­dress­ing all of these is­sues. “This is not 1993 or 1994; it’s 2014. It’s 20 years later, and we’re re­spond­ing to the con­cerns of a lot of those groups — but more than re­spond­ing to those con­cerns, we’re driv­en by those con­cerns,” he said.

“At the end of the day, our bot­tom line is that we need to achieve mean­ing­ful out­comes in all the tra­di­tion­al areas of trade agree­ments,” Fro­man said. “But we also need to achieve mean­ing­ful out­comes on rais­ing labor stand­ards, rais­ing en­vir­on­ment­al stand­ards, as­sur­ing ac­cess to medi­cines, main­tain­ing In­ter­net free­dom and the free flow of data in the di­git­al eco­nomy — these are all areas that TPP is firmly fo­cused on.”

The U.S. Trade Rep­res­ent­at­ive’s Of­fice also points out it has taken steps to boost trans­par­ency, bring­ing more out­side stake­hold­ers in to en­gage with ne­go­ti­at­ors than ever be­fore. Be­sides, they are rene­go­ti­at­ing NAF­TA, Fro­man said: “We’re at the table with Canada and Mex­ico and ad­dress­ing is­sues that have come up since NAF­TA.”

Bill Re­insch, the pres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al For­eign Trade Coun­cil, said that while Re­id’s op­pos­i­tion slows TPP down, “it’s not dead in the wa­ter.” Still, Re­insch ac­know­ledged a bit of a chick­en-and-egg prob­lem here. Demo­crats won’t want to vote on fast-track au­thor­ity un­til TPP is done — something he ex­pects will take at least an­oth­er six months — but once the treaty is done and the text be­comes pub­lic, op­pon­ents will find plenty to at­tack, mak­ing fast-track au­thor­ity harder to ob­tain. “The whole thing is go­ing to be com­plic­ated,” he said.

When that point comes, the spot­light may turn to House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi. In a bit of a role re­versal, Re­id has be­come something of Obama’s pro­gress­ive con­science on this is­sue, while Pelosi is more cau­tious.

“It’s un­usu­al,” says Neil Sroka of Demo­cracy for Amer­ica, the pro­gress­ive grass­roots group foun­ded by Howard Dean. “Tra­di­tion­ally, we would have ex­pec­ted Nancy Pelosi to take this lead­er­ship role.” DFA and a co­ali­tion of oth­er lib­er­al groups have gathered 125,000 sig­na­tures ur­ging Pelosi to take the same po­s­i­tion as Re­id.

“There are lots of reas­ons to op­pose it, and not the least of which is polit­ic­al,” said Sroka, point­ing to polling com­mis­sioned by the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica, which shows that 62 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans op­pose fast-track au­thor­ity, in­clud­ing a large ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents. “We’re try­ing to stop can­did­ates from run­ning in­to a buzz saw on this,” Sroka ad­ded.

Drake, of the AFL-CIO, said she wouldn’t be sur­prised if TPP comes up in Demo­crat­ic primar­ies. “Look at how many Demo­crat­ic seats are com­ing up in the House,” she said. “Voters are go­ing to want to know where the Demo­crats stand. Is it go­ing to be more cor­por­ate-rights agree­ments that send more jobs over­seas, or is it go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent ap­proach?”

Stand by for the biggest civil war in the Demo­crat­ic Party, if any­one both­ers to pay at­ten­tion.

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