Jan 08 2014

The Art of the Bluff

There is an apocryphal story about a trial where the defendant is accused of gambling and his defense was that he was playing Poker, which is not gambling at all.

In Poker one of your strongest tools is the Bluff, where you make a strong hand appear weak and a weak hand appear strong (through we generally only think of the latter).  As Joanne Woodward says in Big Hand for a Little Lady– “It’s not cheating, it’s entirely in the spirit of the game.”

Administration Peddling Increasing Blatant Canards on Proposed “Trade” Deals

by Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Posted on January 6, 2014

One of the tricks of dealmaking and legislating is to try to create the impression that the negotiations/vote herding are going well, even when they aren’t. That tactic was fully on display with the Administration’s failed effort to get Congressional approval for intervention in Syria. The White House kept messaging that it was getting support lined up even when whip counts showed that putting the measure to a vote would result in an overwhelming rejection.

Now while things are not as clear cut on the trade deals, they were already in trouble last year. Foreign news reports indicated that various proposed signatories to the TransPacific Partnership simply weren’t on board with provisions that the Americans regarded as critical. A State Department press conference after talks in Bali was so out of tune and arrogant that the press representatives there were openly skeptical. And that was before the Wikileaks disclosure of the text of one of the draft chapters, on intellectual property. It both showed how extreme the American position is and how much opposition it was getting from the other supposed “partners”. We don’t know as much about where the European deal stands, but there’s reason to believe that those potential signatories have much less reason to make the world safer for US IT companies in the wake of ongoing revelations about NSA snooping.

So what line is the Administration, via the Financial Times, pushing? (Note my surmise is this article comes directly or from sources close to the US Trade Representative’s office; it very mildly complains that Obama hasn’t spoken forcefully enough about trade, as if that’s going to make any difference).

In the article, Obama challenge on selling trade deals to resurgent left, there is astonishingly no mention of the issues the prospective partners have with the deal or how the Wikileaks publication showed that the critics if anything had understated how bad the deal is. And the headline pretty accurately reflects the spin of the article: Obama’s is supposedly those damned pinkos, as opposed to his lame duck status and the increasingly obvious outrageousness of the deal. But to an uninformed reader, it’s easy to sell the prejudice that only Luddite lefties are against the motherhood and apple pie of economists and the business community, “free trade”.

Puhleeze. First, these “allies” that the Administration must manfully contend with are wusses. They make a show of opposition and let Team Dem carry on catering to powerful monied interests as usual.

Second, the notice how opposition to the deals are subtly presented as uninformed, as mere prejudice? The resistance is based on mere “belief”. In fact, NAFTA led to nearly a million lost jobs, and as we recounted in a weekend post, also wrecked much of the agricultural sector in Mexico. Tell me exactly how that helped regular people? And further notice the subtle bias in “ordinary workers”. To an FT reader, those are not part of their cohort, which are those directly connected to capital and the technocratic elite (executives, senior managers, policy wonks).

Third, the resistance extends well beyond the usual toothless leftie suspects. Over 200 Representatives, including some Republicans, have signed letters or otherwise voiced reservations about the trade deals. and another 30 to 40 are believed to be concerned. The opposition goes well beyond the small cohort of “progressives”.

Fourth, the Financial Times, rather than doing actual journalism (as in investigating) runs the blatant lie that the Administration is working to get tougher regulations via these deals. The most fundamental provisions of both pacts involve gutting regulations via strengthening the rights of foreign investors to sue governments at all level for anticipated losses (mind you, they don’t even have to prove they’d occurred) before secret international tribunals. As the group Public Citizen has documented in considerable detail, these panels are corrupt and bend over backwards to issue pro-investor rulings.

The Senate Finance Committee is gearing up to move a Trade Promotion Authority, which is just another term of art for what is also called “fast track”. Fast track give Congress a limited amount of time to respond to a tabled trade deal with a simple up or down vote. This is just the old effort to move the pacts forward.

But this messaging means the Administration is still keen to get these deals done, which means it is also incumbent to keep the pushback going. Please call or e-mail your representative and tell them “Hell no!”

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