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Akst: Secret trade pact looks like bad deal

This just in: Engineers are scrambling to build an instrument accurate yet sturdy enough to measure just how disgusted Americans are with the highly paid, generously benefitted people in Washington, D.C. who supposedly work for us.

Congress’s approval rating this week is 9 percent, according to Gallup. Nine. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is 39 percent, the lowest of his presidency (also Gallup).

One big reason for these miserable report cards is that the legislative and executive branches just can’t seem to agree on anything.

So it’s noteworthy that this week, almost three dozen House of Representatives members ranging from deep-red Republicans to deep-blue Democrats publicly agreed on something.

They agreed to publicly condemn the president’s proposed trade agreement with 11 Pacific nations collectively known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

On Wednesday, 22 Republicans and 12 Democrats released letters blasting the president’s attempts to get the TPP signed via “fast track,” a power essentially giving the president the ability to bring trade deals to Congress without letting Congress (or staff) debate or even see the details.

“Under fast track, the executive branch is empowered to sign trade agreements before Congress has an opportunity to vote on them, and then unilaterally write legislation making the pacts’ terms U.S. federal law,” the GOP letter reads.

I agree with the bipartisan condemnation. The TPP is an extraordinarily bad idea that will make already bloated corporations (about 600 of them) much richer while worsening the lives of ordinary Americans – indeed, the lives of ordinary people everywhere.

The president should abandon the entire proposal immediately and should be ashamed for endorsing it in the first place.

I haven’t seen the actual contract. Nor has Congress. Nor has nearly anyone because of the extreme secrecy with which negotiations have been handled.

WikiLeaks released the intellectual property rights chapter of the contract Wednesday.

In the blunt but accurate words of writer/researcher Andrew Gavin Marshall, TPP is “the most secretive trade negotiations in history, with no public oversight, input, or consultations.”

Jim Hightower, a former commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture and now a syndicated columnist, gives us a taste (pun intended) of how bad TPP is with regard to food safety.

“Any of our government’s food safety regulations (on pesticide levels, bacterial contamination, fecal exposure, toxic additives, etc.) and food labeling laws (organic, country-of-origin, animal-welfare approved, GMO-free, etc.) that are stricter than ‘international standards’ could be ruled as ‘illegal trade barriers,’ ” he writes. “Our government would then have to revise our consumer protections to comply with weaker standards.”

Similar concerns surround the devastation of safeguards in areas like U.S. job loss, environmental regulations, banking, internet freedom, and public utilities.

On banking, Hightower notes that TPP “explicitly prohibits transaction taxes (such as the proposed Robin Hood Tax here) that would shut down speculators who have repeatedly triggered financial crises and economic crashes around the world. It restricts ‘firewall’ reforms that separate consumer banking from risky investment banking. It could roll back reforms that governments adopted to fix the extreme bank-deregulation regimen that caused Wall Street’s 2007 crash. And it provides an escape from national rules that would limit the size of ‘too-big-to-fail’ behemoths.”

Besides the U.S., the TPP includes Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Canada, Mexico, and Japan. Together, that’s 40 percent of the global economy. If passed, TPP would make all other trade agreements in modern history look puny by comparison.

Obsessing about politics gives me no pleasure. In fact, it makes me queasy.

So here’s the TPP take-away: When unabashed liberals AND conservatives scream that this is a bad deal that will hurt America, something is terribly wrong.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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