How the Media Misrepresent ‘Fast Track,’ TPP, and TTIP

Eric Zuesse

Both conservative and liberal ‘news’ media misrepresent U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed international trade-deals as if they were about only such things as lowering tariffs and reducing national trade-protectionism – which are relatively minor surface-features of these huge proposed treaties: TTIP with Europe, TPP with Asia, and TISA (Trade in Services Agreement). All of these proposed Obama trade-deals are actually about transferring to panels of international corporations the powers that currently reside in the various individual nations’ regulatory and legal authorities – i.e., that reside in the democratic governments that are accountable to the population that elected them instead of to the few global billionaires who control the international corporations.

A typical example of this misrepresentation is an article by Ryan Grim and Amanda Terkel at Huffington Post on May 6th. Its headline is “Clinton Campaign Chairman On Trade Deal: ‘Can You Make It Go Away?’.” It says: “If TPA [Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority] passes, the issue won’t go away, as Congress would be allowed a 60-day period to review the final draft, which isn’t yet complete.” This statement gives the impression that Fast Track can pass and then the trade-deal that has been fast-tracked can fail to pass Congress – but this is something that has actually never happened.

For example, if you will google-search in one-and-the-same search the two phrases together “fast track was passed” “bill was defeated” you will get the following: “No results found for ‘fast track was passed’ ‘bill was defeated’.” 

The reason why this is the case is laid out in the book by Public Citizen, The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority. It explains that Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was created by President Nixon in order to get around something: to get around the U.S. Constitution’s having placed America’s treaty-making authority in a balance-of-powers framework with Congress, something that the Constitution did in order to prevent the emergence of dictatorship by excessive power in the hands of the federal Executive, the President (which dictatorship was Nixon’s goal to achieve). The book also explains how TPA has been consistently used since Nixon in order to provide mega-corporations more and more control over the economy, not just within this country but globally. 

Only 16 times since Nixon was in the White House has his Fast-Track TPA been applied, and yet hundreds of free-trade agreements have passed Congress without any need for (or application of) Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority during that time. How and why has this been so, and why does the public not know these crucially important things?

TPA, or “Fast Track,” is the device that is used only when a President wants to ram through Congress a trade-deal that would never be able to pass Congress under the traditional, and fully Constitutional, method, because these are the few trade-deals that have provisions in them that, for the typical member of Congress, would cause him or her to lose the congressional seat if he or she didn’t at least try to get the bill amended before it was passed. In other words: only fascistic, or outrageously pro mega-corporate, trade deals, need TPA in order for them to pass Congress. That’s why Nixon initiated TPA. It works as he intended it would.

In Congress, to vote for TPA is to vote for the trade-deal that’s about to be fast-tracked; and to vote against TPA is to vote against that trade-deal. On 8 January 2015, Forbes bannered, “No Fast-Track = No Free-Trade Agreement,” and John Brinkley said: “Let’s get something straight about the whole fast-track/free trade debate: without the former, you can’t have the latter.” He ignored that most “free-trade agreements” pass with no fast-track authority even being requested. But he was correct about this particular deal.

Here is what happens when a President proposes Fast Track and his trade-deal that he wants passed on a Fast-Track basis is so bad politically that Congress won’t even pass his Fast Track to “grease the skids” for a trade-deal that would otherwise crash many congressional careers: the Fast Track bill quietly dies. (Before that had happened, the Los Angeles Times headlined, “Clinton Pulls Trade Bill Rather Than Risk Defeat,” but Republicans then tried to resuscitate it, and couldn’t do so.)

This article at Huffington Post tries to pull Bill’s wife, Hillary Clinton, off the hook, for her refusal to commit pro-or-con on her former boss Barack Obama’s Fast Track, and so this HuffPo article just stenographically and uncritically transmits the PR or propaganda from her Presidential campaign, about this matter. For example, there’s this in it, about John Podesta, who is Hillary’s campaign chairman:

“Podesta, a source close to him said, was referring to the fight over trade promotion authority, or TPA. Known as ‘fast track,’ TPA would grease the skids for trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If fast track passes, Congress would have 60 days to debate the trade deal and vote it up or down, with no opportunity to amend it. The source also said Podesta was speaking more in the context of how difficult the issue was for Democrats in general, not Clinton in particular. …

“Podesta’s lament is born of a simple political calculation: Any benefits that might come from the vast trade deal, if they do, won’t appear for years, while the down payment on the political price will be due upfront.” 

That statement describes the trade-deal as if it’s something that will be in America’s long-term best interest but that’s unpopular today; however, that’s false; it’s the exact opposite.

The article then goes on:

“In her book, Hard Choices, Clinton also expressed concern about a key piece of the trade agreement, writing that the United States ‘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.’

While it is widely described as a trade deal, much of the agreement deals with corporate governance issues, seeking to find ‘regulatory harmony’ among different nations — which can often mean weakening regulations.

First of all, Hillary’s record on these actually hyper-corporate or fascistic sorts of trade-deals, and also on her lying about what her record on them has been, is already well-documented; so, we already know that she favors them and that she says she doesn’t.

Second, this phrase, “’regulatory harmony’ among different nations — which can often mean weakening regulations,” misrepresents the issue, because it can also mean strengthening regulations (which the journalists didn’t even mention, because it wasn’t in the propaganda that was handed to them by the Clinton campaign); and what is really at issue here is instead the method by which this crucial treaty-making power will be handled, and for what purposes – for whose purposes.

Contrary to the propaganda from pro-Democratic-Party propagandists who are pumping sell-out Presidents and Presidential candidates that have the mere label ‘Democrat’ (like the Clintons and Obama), and contrary also to the propaganda from pro-Republican-Party propagandists who are pumping the sell-out ideology, conservatism, itself (which actually stands behind these sorts of trade-deals, and which is why Republicans in Congress love them), the issue here is not about advancing ‘a level playing field’ and reducing ‘trade-protectionism,’ but is instead about whether the future of human society will be national democracies (which might or might not some day evolve into one global democratic federal government), or will instead be outright international fascism: a global government ruled by the few people who control international corporations. Will this be a world of democratic nations that do business with one-another, or instead a world of international cartels that crush the public in every land, every nation – driving down wages, despoiling the environment, and poisoning the foods, etc., for the greater wealth of the few?

Here is how extreme the provisions of a chapter that was wikileaked are: On 1 April 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation headlined, “Leaked TPP Investment Chapter Reveals Serious Threat,” and their lawyers noted that the international panels that are to replace national laws and regulations will consist of “three private-sector attorneys who take turns being the judge and the corporate advocate,” and that these corporate-attorney panels would “pose a threat to any law that is designed to protect the public interest … [and would be] an affront to democracy itself–but the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) wants to convince the public otherwise. Which is why they have since come out with a FAQ page … that is full of misinformation.”

This is the most consequential of all news stories in our time, because its outcome will shape whether the future is to be global fascism, or instead something democratic. On no other issue is truthful and insightful news reporting so important, and so urgent (urgent because Fast Track is now on Congress’s front burner).

The aristocracy already control all of ‘our’ ‘news’ media; and, so, even relatively good media such as Huffington Post, and even relatively good employees of them, such as the two who did this particular ‘news’ ‘report,’ unfortunately allow mere stenography and propaganda to pass as being ‘news,’ when it should instead be (like here) an authentic journalistic challenge: the exposing of frauds.

It’s fine, up to a point, to report what a politician says, but not beyond that point, where the politician is saying things that mislead or even outright lie. Beyond that point, authentic journalism consists only of investigative journalism – such as here.

However, mainly, investigative journalism ignores the biggest scandal of all, which is the corruption that’s rampant in ‘our’ ‘free’ press. This is a news-beat that’s simply too hot to touch. (How much did the ‘news’ media investigate their own failure or even just change their operation, after they had stenographically reported the G.W. Bush Administration’s lies about “Saddam’s WMD” and his alleged assistance to Al Qaeda?) The scandal of ‘our’ ‘free’ press is ignored even by both the liberal ( and and the conservative ( and media-watchdog organizations. It’s journalism’s orphan, because ‘journalism’ is actually owned by the aristocracy, and no aristocrats want it to become honest. Aristocrats instead want honest journalists to become fired. Journalists just want to keep their jobs.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.