From There to Here

 

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Pott. County Democrats Lunch (Photo Credit: Linda Nelson)

Chapter 1

 

A child lays in a hospital bed with tubes running into her allowing medications to flow into her. This child is very sick, and the doctors do not know what she is suffering from or how to treat it. Her family is there waiting, not knowing what to do or how to help their daughter.

After hours of waiting, the many doctor’s visits, and multiple hospital stays they have an answer to what their daughter has and a possible treatment. The doctors informed her family that she has cystinosis, a metabolic disease that causes cells to crystallize causing early cell death. The disease slowly destroys the organs in the body including the kidneys, liver, eyes, muscles and brain. They tell them that their child has an incurable disease that will eventually take her life.

I am that child. I, Mika Jayne Covington, am the daughter that lives with that fatal illness. I am 25 years old and still living thanks to the doctors and researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I am still alive.

Cystinosis has been a struggle, and it has been a challenge for me including those who care about me. Yes, perhaps I’m a survivor. However, I’m still living with it every day. There is no break, and I do fall apart from time to time because of it.

When I was a kid, I was always seen as different. Every day, I would go to the nurse’s office to take medications. Many days I had bad breath and body odor from my medications, and I felt sick to my stomach, which usually ended in me vomiting.

Elementary and middle school were particularly challenging for me because of this. Not to forget all the doctor appointments and hospitalizations that I had which caused me to miss a lot of school. Growing up with cystinosis is challenging and quite the journey.

Cystinosis is not the only thing that defines me. I am more than my diagnosis. I am a progressive democrat, a feminist, a human rights activist, an organizer, and a student, beyond all of this, I am a person.

However, cystinosis is part of everything. It is with me every day and intersects everything I do. Because I must take medications daily and I must make sure that I have health insurance no matter where I go to school or work. I even cannot leave for a weekend vacation without packing medications, and it is not just a couple, it is thirty different drugs. Because of them, I am reminded of the disease every several hours.

In the second grade, there was a boy in my class; we would go to his house and play games together. We frequently played at school during our recesses. I was drawn to him. He always stood up for me against the big bad bullies. He would hug me and tell me, “Don’t cry, I won’t let’em hurt you.”

At that age, I did not think that I was different or see that there was anything wrong with me. I had no idea what being gay was. I was me, and he was my best friend, that was all I saw back then.

Later, my family moved to Wahoo, Nebraska and I never spoke to him again. I was in the third grade when I first heard the word ‘gay.’ I did not understand what it meant and I was too busy playing and being a kid to worry about it. Until my classmates started calling me gay and a sissy because they saw me as weak and I did not do or like what most of the other boys did. There were also these feelings that I did not quite understand. I thought that they were normal, so I did not pay much attention to them.

I was busy trying to be ‘normal’ while living with cystinosis. Taking medications and dealing with side effects. Making up school work from missed classes because of hospital stays and doctor’s appointments. I just did not have the time or want to deal with another thing that made me seem different from everyone else.

Around the end of third grade, someone called me a ‘faggot.’ I cried that day for hours. I could not understand what it meant but knew that it hurt me that people would call me these names. I began to realize that I was different and I had no idea what they saw in me that was bad or wrong with me.

It was in the fourth grade when I began having sexual feelings and started to think that I might be gay. I tried to push them away and tell myself, “No, it’s wrong to think like that.” I believed that I was sick and depression set in. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to go back to second grade and be with my friend; he would make all the bad things go away. I tried to pretend that I was sick all the time so I would not have to go to school or be able to leave early to get away from the bullying.

In 2010, my senior year in high school, I turned 19 and lost my health insurance. In Nebraska, a person becomes a legal adult at age 19 and per Medicaid rules, one must re-apply for coverage. I did just that and was denied. I was told that I was not eligible for coverage for having a pre-existing condition (cystinosis). I tried applying four times with the same results.

Thus, while attempting to be a regular high school student and completing my senior year, I needed to figure out how in the world I was going to get health insurance. I needed the insurance to cover all my medications that kept me alive and keeps the disease at bay.

At this point, I was working at J.C. Penney, but not nearly making enough money to cover private health insurance. Not to forget, I was beginning my process of coming out as transgender. And finding my political affiliation as a Democratic Socialist.

While many of my friends were talking, and laughing about who they were dating, talking about what college they planned to attend, and what classes they would take, I wasn’t, no not me. They made me feel angry, hurt, and mad at the world and God. Nevertheless, I understood that perhaps I saw the world a bit more clearly than they did. I guess they all may have made me stronger, and that they made me into the person I am today. I was even forced to make sacrifices that I did not want to make, but I knew I needed to so that it would protect me and get things done.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

With no avenue to appeal their decision, I decided to focus on graduating high school and going to college until my scheduled trip to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that fall. I went most of that year without any medications, which resulted in me going into end stage renal or kidney failure and it probably cut a few years off my life. I went from needing a kidney transplant in 2-4 years to needing one in six months to one year. If I had had health insurance and access to the medications, I might have been able to wait until after college to have a kidney transplant.

After I had graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to contribute to society in any way possible and work to create the change I seek. Unfortunately, having cystinosis and going on dialysis forced me to stop working. To stay busy, I volunteered on issue and political campaigns, such as fighting for full federal LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) equality, voting rights, and healthcare for all. I am passionate about these because I look forward to a future where everyone has the right to vote, has full and equal human rights, and access to high-quality health care. For me, these causes are important because I know first-hand how not having access to health care can cause a chronic disease to get worse like mine did.

Chapter 2

In 2011, I faced more challenges that made it more difficult for me to attempt to put cystinosis in a box as just one detail of who I am because my kidneys failed. I would need a kidney transplant or start dialysis. Therefore, my doctors put me on hemodialysis and at the time I did not have an organ donor.

hemodialysis1Hemodialysis is a form of kidney dialysis that can be done with a catheter (a plastic tube) placed in the chest into the superior vena cava (a very large vein right about the heart) that is used to cycle blood into a machine that cleans it and returns it. I was on this form of dialysis every other day for four hours in a medical center for about ten months.

I knew that I would need to look for a kidney donor because I could not indefinitely live on dialysis. After a couple of months of searching, I found one, and her name was Erika von Kampen. She was a match, and we had the transplant scheduled at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (Nebraska Medicine). Unfortunately, the operation was unable to happen there, and I had to move on.

PD Bag
PD Bag

Therefore, in February 2012, I switched to peritoneal dialysis. This form of dialysis uses my body, the peritoneal membrane in my abdomen as a filter to clear wastes and extra fluid from my body and returns electrolytes.

I was on peritoneal dialysis for fifteen months. This form can also be continuous, which I did go to when I had a cycler so that it could cycle the fluid at night while I slept. I was on it from 2012 to May 30, 2013, when I received a kidney transplant from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC).

PD Cycler
PD Cycler

Sophomore year at Wahoo High School was sort of the best and worst year I had ever had in Wahoo. I decided that I could be ‘normal.’ I worked to open up to people and put myself out there. I just wanted to be like everyone else, to be normal. I decided that to be normal, and I should find a girlfriend. My cousin had a friend who I also knew, and we had several things in common. I asked her and my cousin to go to the homecoming dance. I thought it would be a safe way to attempt to belong.

New Year’s Eve, I was with my older sister and cousin, we were celebrating the promise of the New Year, and I told them that I was indeed bisexual. Both my cousin and sister said, “Yea, we know.” They poked fun for a bit, in a loving way, and we continued chatting as we always had. I finally felt like I could be myself.

The next day was a new year; I felt it was time to live openly, and I experienced firsthand what living honestly meant. Including the pain of being different in a small town high school in the United States, and especially in Nebraska where it was legal to bully and harass a fellow student based on their sexual orientation. To this day, there are no state or federal laws banning bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

As an openly ‘gay’ student, I experienced bullying and harassment in a new way, but I decided I would have to live with what was thrown at me. Soon the bullying escalated to the point where I needed to leave Wahoo. I became very depressed and angry. I didn’t completely understand why I felt that way. Especially since I just came out and from my research, I should be feeling better. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel any better. I still felt wrong in my body.

One Summer day, after watching my older sister have her nails done, something happened. It was like a light went on. I started to wonder what it would be like to have my nails painted. Thus, when I went back to school a couple of my friends, and I painted my nails, and I liked it.

Soon, I felt more comfortable and started looking at expanding my gender expression. I looked at wearing tighter jeans from Hot Topic. I knew that guys were not ‘supposed’ to paint their nails or wear so-called ‘girly’ clothes. However, I wanted to wear them, and they made me feel more safe and comfortable. They also scared me to death. Then, I became active in other things to express myself such as choir, drama, and activism.

 

As I’ve said, cystinosis is only a part of my life, and peritoneal dialysis changed my life to make it a smaller part of it. It was like I had some of my freedom again. I was able to follow my passion and fight for what I believed in again. I was able to become active in politics, and I met many wonderful people including Amber Bordolo a Field Organizer with Organizing for America (OFA).

While I went to college at Iowa Western Community College (IWCC), working on my Associate’s degree in psychology, Amber invited me to a couple of her events. I finally attended one of them, became friends with her, and she recommended that I apply to become a Summer Fellow (intern) at OFA. Little did I know how big of an impact that was going to have on my life.

398777_10150940759848430_1366498105_nIn the beginning, I worked to organize house parties and other events to get supporters together, fired up and ready to go to work to get the President re-elected. Soon, I moved into a different stage of the campaign where I made many calls to convince voters to support him. Additionally, on the campaign, I had the chance to go to Des Moines, Iowa to see the President speak to a crowd of supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds where I was able to stand on stage behind President Barack Obama.

While I worked with OFA, I considered going to UIHC to get on their transplant list and perhaps have a living donor transplant.

University of Iowa Medical Center
University of Iowa Medical Center

In September of 2012, I went to Iowa City, Iowa for medical tests and evaluations at UIHC Transplant Center to see about being placed on their list. I passed and was placed. Additionally, I went out to find a living donor. This included me sharing my story and health condition with people. Then I sent out packets of information and forms to eight individuals who were interested. However, only three were returned to the transplant center, and one was a match, but had complications and could not donate. I had to make a choice, spend more time sending out packets or see if Erika was still willing to donate her kidney.

I was lucky because Erika was still interested in donating. Once she filled out the forms, and they were returned to the transplant center, they immediately scheduled her for an appointment to be evaluated since we already knew she was an excellent match. The operation was scheduled for May 30, 2013, which I dubbed adoption of Serenity because I named the new kidney Serenity.

Chapter 3

IV meds post-op transplant.
IV meds post-op transplant.

I wake up feeling pain and choking on the dryness in my throat. The nurses around me are talking and doing things with my iv lines. I couldn’t understand exactly what they were doing.

One of them asks me, “Mika, what is your pain level?” I don’t respond, and I just groan because I still am fighting the hoarseness and dryness in my throat. I try to swallow the saliva that isn’t there and fall back asleep.

I wake again hearing someone ask me, “Mika, can you tell me what your pain level is?”

I clear my throat and say, “I feel pain. A lot of pain.”

The person replies, “Yes, what is the pain level? One to ten.”

I reply, “It is an 11.” I then feel someone touching my arm, and I fall asleep once again.

Jon and me after our surgeries!
Erika and me after our surgeries!

The next thing I remember is people talking and being in a different room but I was not wearing an oxygen mask. Someone in the room was speaking but not towards me. I ask, but to no one in particular, “Water, I need water.”

At one moment of my consciousness, before I was fully awake, I turned to my grandmother and weakly said, “No more dialysis.”

I am a bit more conscious and aware, and I see that I am in a private patient room with family around. A nurse is trying to talk to me about the surgery, the morphine pump, only being allowed ice, and needing to get up to walk by 10:30 pm.

I am living with full kidney function thanks to Erika and the staff at UIHC. The transplant gave me my life back literally and figuratively. I started the journey to kidney transplant on November 22, 2010, to May 30, 2013. Those were three very long years of two types of dialysis, doctors’ visits, and hospital stays. All I must deal with now is immune – suppressants, cystinosis medications, blood thinners, transgender hormones, and fighting to continue to have health insurance.

But, it is still hard. I don’t know what it is like to just live. To live without there being a struggle or some challenge to overcome. Ever since I graduated high school, I have been living from one struggle or challenge to overcome to the next. No time to breath, no time to relax or get comfortable. Or at least the moment that I start to relax something new happens, another challenge confronts me. I know how to survive but do not know how to live.

Nevertheless, cystinosis and most of the challenges that I have faced have not halted my endeavors. I wanted to do more for society, and I have done that. Therefore I volunteered with the Iowa Pride Network and volunteered to be on their College Leadership Team.

On their team, I organized and ran the IPN Southwest Regional Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition. This Coalition was a great way for LGBTQIA youth and students to come together and have a safe space. Additionally, the coalition consisted of one meeting a month, and the meetings were educationally based on filling the education gap on LGBTQIA studies and issues.

While I was a member of the College Leadership Team, I was a college student at Iowa Western Community College, and in the summer of 2012, I had my first taste of political campaigning.

As I spoke about before, I became a Summer Organizer for Organizing for America (OFA) or the Obama campaign. In that position, I had many responsibilities including working closely with volunteers and talking with Iowa voters. I recruited, managed, and trained volunteers to organize their communities and neighborhoods into teams that registered, persuaded, and motivated voters. I organized my turf, which included most of Iowa House District 16. I planned and successfully organized one of the largest Equality Nights in Iowa.

During that Equality Night, I lead a discussion on the accomplishments of President Barack Obama and the Democrats for the LGBTQIA community. Additionally, I worked to grow neighborhood teams on a grassroots level and managed team leaders.

For me, this was an excellent experience to develop as an adult, learn how to handle several tasks at once and focus on total goals. It was also fun. I loved talking to voters and making connections with them about what is important in their lives and how Democrats can work with them to better their lives.

In 2007, I left Wahoo, Nebraska with my family. Most of that summer we lived in a subdivision of Omaha, Nebraska. When school started, I moved in with my cousin and her family, that way I was able to attend school with her at Millard South High School. There I met many new people. People were finally accepting of my sexual orientation and gender expression. I even met other openly LGBT students. Millard South was a safer environment for me. I was able to open up and become the person who I truly was all along.

Millard South even offered many additional academic opportunities than the small-town school. I was able to take part in the German program at Millard South. I was able to thrive there, and I gained some confidence.

Students and teachers at Millard South thought something of me. They believed that I could accomplish some awesome things in my future. I had a couple of teachers who believed in me especially when I did not believe in myself. They kept giving me encouragement. They told me to keep fighting for what is right. They believed in me when I needed someone, even when my family was not there for me. I will never forget all that they have done for me, and I hope I can repay them.

My new pride and confidence did not help me at home. As I become more open about myself, my mother and her boyfriend became negative towards me. My mother not only did not understand who I was, but she also seemed not interested in trying to learn. Both thought that I needed mental help for who I was.

On that particular issue, perhaps they were right. I needed help dealing with the damage that they were causing. I also needed someone who could help me understand myself. I’d known for years that I was different and my time at Millard South allowed me to develop and embrace parts of my identity. But, I felt that there was something more. I could not piece together why I felt that I was incomplete.

The therapist that I did see understood that the problems at home were multifaceted and did have a lot to do with my mother and her boyfriend. She understood that some of the challenges I faced were related to being queer and dealing with bullying and harassment in my life. These sessions helped me begin to accept a fact about myself that I had previously been unable to come to terms with. I could identify the roots of some of the problems and discovered more about my identity. I realized that the only way to overcome the feelings of injustice I had was to continue to fight for my rights.

At one of the sessions where my mother and I were at, I remember yelling, “Well, I am sick of listening to you cry about your problems! We are here about me! I am transgender!”

That day forward, I began coming out to people. On October 11, 2009, I told the store manager at J.C.Penny that I was transgender. I told her that from that moment on I would be identifying as female, using female pronouns, and prefer being addressed as Mika. This is the time I began the process of coming out at school and requesting my teachers to address me the same.

Chapter 4

Coming out as transgender was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was terrified. I knew my family didn’t like me being queer. I was concerned about how my friends at school and work would treat me. I even expected to lose my job.

It has been a long journey. I wonder why I did not notice or understand sooner. Coming out opened my mind to new possibilities. It helped me accept myself, and I could improve my academics and work beyond what I thought I could.

After nearly six years of living openly as myself, I have started the medical transition to assist me in confirming my gender. I recently started transgender hormone therapy. The hormone therapy helps in establishing my secondary gender characteristics.

During the hormone therapy, I take two medications spironolactone (Aldactone) and estradiol (Climara). The spironolactone is used to suppress the male sex hormone (testosterone), and the estradiol is used to add the female sex hormone (estrogen).

Furthermore, I have hypogonadism, which causes my body’s sex organs not to produce healthy levels of testosterone. Because of the hypogonadism, my body was never exposed to large amounts of testosterone. Therefore, I could transition into my real gender much easier socially.

Coming out as transgender, has abled me to become a full person. I can be who I was all along. Yes, there were many challenges that everyone including myself faced. For example, many of us cannot access high-quality health care, find health insurance, change of identity documents, fair housing at colleges and universities.

In my case, I had numerous experiences of health care providers refusing to recognize my gender identity. This led to many occasions of embarrassing moments where a nurse would call my name, and I would walk over. The nurse would then ask me who I was, and I would tell them. They would say, “You aren’t a male, I am looking for a male.” Yes, that kind of occasion. There were also those events where the doctor comes in and asks me, “Where is Mika at?” I would tell them, that I am the patient. Then, I would get, “Oh! Well, I guess I have the wrong room.” Yeah, it was wonderful!

In regards to gaining health insurance, transgender individuals can get health insurances regardless of their gender identity. Despite that, most insurance policies do not cover any gender confirming treatments, and they are unlikely to include gender-confirming surgeries. Consequently, transgender individuals do not get the health care they need and in many cases or must pay out of pocket.

Thus, many transgender people are not getting the health care they require. Hence, why I waited six years to start any form of gender confirming treatments. Only recently did government policies change to allow Medicare and Medicaid to pay for some gender confirming procedures. At the moment, all of my gender confirming procedures are covered under Medicare part D. I am lucky because many transgender individuals do not have cystinosis that qualifies them for Medicare and Medicaid.

Furthermore, changing your identity documents is not a walk in the park either. It costs money and if you do not have that money you just cannot change them. As a transgender person, it destroys you every time you must show that card to someone, and it doesn’t represent who you are.

Imagine, how would you think you feel if you go to an airport to go on a vacation and going through security you must show a card that says you are male. But you apparently look like a female, and on top of that, you must use a name that isn’t you. This is the situation for many transgender individuals.

Additionally, transgender individuals face many difficulties when applying for on-campus housing at colleges and universities. Many college and university housing policies say that they make placement decisions based on the legal or biological sex of a student. This is unfair and a problem.

In my case, I first applied to live on campus at Iowa Western Community College, and the campus housing administration had to have a discussion with me on my “trans issue.” They told me during that conversation that I could live on campus if I lived in a male dorm, and they said I would probably need to dress as a male.

Ever since getting involved in politics in 2012, I stayed involved because I felt that it was an important endeavor. Therefore, I became more active within the local party and learned more about Iowa politics, my new home. I stayed involved in Nebraska as well, where several Nebraska citizens were interested in fighting for second parent adoption.

It was in the winter of 2012, and I worked with these residents who did not have the ability to secure their families through second parent adoption or join adoption in their state. After we had done extensive research, we began working with Nebraska State Senator Sara Howard (District 9) to introduce a bill in the state legislature.

photo (1)Senator Howard introduced LB380 in February 2013 to correct Nebraska law. I then ran a grassroots campaign for the bill that consisted of an online petition, emails, and calls to State Senators. And I organized postcard making parties in several cities throughout eastern Nebraska, which was sponsored by MoveOn.org. Unfortunately, the bill did die that session, but Sen. Howard continues to fight for families in the state legislature.

While, I was working on the second-parent adoption bill, I was the field director of Forward Equality. The organization was formed by myself, several friends of mine including a former professor of mine. Forward Equality worked on progressive issues ranging from workers’ rights to civil rights. I worked (non-paid) at Forward Equality from April 2010 to April 2014 when it dissolved.

Chapter 5

As I said, I continued to be involved in the Iowa Democratic Party. I was elected to serve as the Pottawattamie County Affirmative Action Chair, and I served from February 2014 to October 2015.

11391246_981335545240787_107062442060574773_nAs the Affirmative Action chair, I organized an Affirmative Action Committee in Pottawattamie County for the County Democrats. We worked to ensure that our party was following the Democratic Party’s rules and regulations on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and their diversity requirements. This included organizing our involvement in several Pottawattamie County events such as Celebrate Council Bluffs and Heartland Pride LGBTQIA Parade and Festival. We also assisted in ensuring that the Pottawattamie County 2016 Caucus locations were ADA accessible to the best of our abilities, and we worked to bring those who historically felt unwelcome back into the party.

Moving forward, I have been involved in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. I supported Senator Bernie Sanders for President, and I first met him back in September 2014 at an event he was speaking at in Des Moines, Iowa.

From that moment on I knew that he was a person that I was willing to fight for and put in long hours campaigning for. Sen. Sanders wasn’t running for president at that moment, though. He was only considering it. I decided that I had to work to get him to run. Thus, I volunteered with the Run Bernie Run campaign to convince the Senator to run for President as a Democrat.

On May 26, 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders surprised many people including myself by announcing that he was indeed running for president and that he was going to run as a Democrat. I knew at that moment that I had to learn how I could help him while living in Council Bluffs, Iowa. However, I was still the Affirmative Action Chair, and I was forced to make a choice. I had to decide if I wanted to throw my full public support behind him.

The decision was thrust upon me the last week of June when I received a call by the Sanders campaign asking me if I would be interested in introducing the Senator at his town hall in Council Bluffs on July 3rd. I felt overwhelmed with excitement and terror. I have never spoken publicly to over 2,000 people. Thus, my first response to the staffer who called me was to give me some time to think about it. I said this even though in my heart I was screaming to go and do this.

On July 3, 2015, I gave one of the first speeches kicking off the Bernie Sanders campaign in Iowa. I was nervous, but I did my job and did it well for Bernie. That day forward, I began volunteering for the Senator. I did this for his campaign for months until December when I was hired on to the campaign as an Organizing Fellow. I was officially on the Bernie Sanders campaign payroll.

Introducing Sen. Sanders
Introducing Sen. Sanders

I was an OF for two months before I was promoted Field Organizer. I that position, I recruited managed and trained volunteer. I built and led several volunteer canvass and phone banks.

14102677_10153641460691923_3415136486597262791_nOn the campaign, I worked in Iowa and Nebraska on their caucuses. While in Nebraska, my turf included Lincoln but I also knew people in three other counties. Thus, I helped to organize them as well. Two of the three counties went for Bernie.

After the Nebraska caucuses, I was sent back to Iowa to work on our county conventions making sure that Sen. Bernie Sanders got a fair representation by having all his delegates show up.

Between working on the Iowa conventions, I was sent to Kansas to help organize the campaign’s participation at their state district conventions. Afterward, I went back to Iowa to work on the district conventions. Nonetheless, I was sent to Colorado to assist with organizing for their State Convention. In Colorado, I helped in several ways including monitoring the official ballots and observing the counting of those ballots. I also signed off on the initial hand count of the official ballots as the Sanders, campaign staffer.

I am proud to have worked for Senator Bernie Sanders and voted for him in the Iowa caucuses. I worked for him as an FO from February 2016 to May 3rd, 2016. Nonetheless, I was not finished working for and representing the movement for a progressive future and the political revolution started by the Senator. At the 3rd Congressional District convention, I ran for national delegate to represent Iowa at the Democratic National Convention. I did not win enough votes to go.

Later at the State Convention, I ran for Democratic National Committee member to represent the movement of progressive voices and the youth voice of Iowa. I won a significant number of votes to make me a strong challenger against the party establishment. Unfortunately, I did fail to gain a majority of the votes. Moreover, we did show the establishment that their politics are no longer what many in the party want and they should begin to listen to us otherwise, they may lose their power.

Today, I am living my life. I am out and open about who I am. This is who I am, a human being who has a tremendous passion for making this world a better place for all. I am a person who lives with cystinosis and who is a transgender woman. I am a sexual assault survivor, a human rights activist, a feminist, a student, and a fighter.

This is my story, and it continues.

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Let’s Talk about LGBTQIA+ Equality & the Democratic Caucuses

Dem 2016 South Carolina (5)Senator Bernie Sanders has been with us for years. As Mayor of Burlington, VT in 1983 Bernie signed the city’s first Gay Pride Parade proclamation and later he signed a city ordinance banning housing discrimination.

One can even look further in Bernie’s past and see that he supported equal rights. In the 1970s when he was a student and a member of a third party called the Liberty Union he wrote, “Let us abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people.”

As a student in the 1960s, tumblr_nrl0q4Z4FG1tlu3kdo1_1280Bernie was an activist, he was a front-line champion for equality. Bernie was even arrested while protesting the segregation of schools, he organized against segregated housing in Chicago, and he marched on Washington, D.C. with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand was not on the same track. On the Senate floor in 2004, debating a marriage amendment which she voted ‘no’ on would have put a ban on marriage equality in the Constitution Hillary still said the follow:

the fundamental bedrock principle that marriage exists between a man and a woman, going back into the midst of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults (Biddle).

Personally, I find her statement hurtful. First, it tells me that she believes that LGBTQIA+ individuals cannot have families and are not competent to care for children. Second, it tells me that she is a traditionalist and that means that no matter what is right on the basis of civil rights she will hold true to her tradition.

On the Rachel Maddow Show (RMS), Hillary said this while speaking about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA),

a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.” She said this while attempting to tell us that these measures where passed to stop the Republicans (she says they are one of her enemies) from passing something worse (Johnson).

Hillary also had this to say,

I think that sometimes a leader in a democracy you are confronted with two bad choices and it is not an easy position and you have to try and think what is the least bad choice and how do I try and cabin this off from having worse consequences (Johnson)?

However, when Bernie Sanders served in the House of Representatives during the same time, he voted against both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 and the “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996. Bernie stood up for what was right when he faced a fork in the road to do what was easy and go with the majority or take a stand. He chose to take a stand.

Recently, at the Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Sen. Sanders said this on the issue,

It was called the Defense of Marriage Act – brought forth by a Republican – led Congress. Its purpose was to write discrimination against gays and lesbians into law. […] I’m sorry to tell you that the bill won by an overwhelming majority of 342 to 57 in the House and 85 to 15 in the Senate.”

Senator Bernie Sanders is a fighter for the least of these and he has proven that throughout his lifetime. He is fighting for the working class and young adults. He continues to speak truth to power.

As he says,

I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity, not for some, not for the few, but for all (Johnson).

tumblr_nqlaao1CY21rk3xbfo1_1280Bernie knows that in many states you can get married in the morning and in the afternoon get fired for putting up a picture of your partner. He knows that in many states you can still be denied housing or public accommodations just for being transgender or gender non-conforming. Bernie believes that this is unacceptable and must change.

As Senator, Bernie is a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He has even kept a lifetime perfect 100% score from the Human Rights Campaign and has consistently supported legislation that would guarantee LGBTQIA+ Americans would be treated as equal citizens (www.berniesanders.com)

As President, Senator Bernie Sanders will:

  • Sign into law the Equality Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, and any other bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals.
  • Work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure LGBTQIA+ Americans have access to comprehensive health insurance which provides appropriate coverage and do not have to fear discrimination or mistreatment from providers.
  • Continue the work of President Obama’s State Department’s Special Envoy (which was enforced by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary) for LGBTQIA+ Rights and ensure the United States helps protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals around the world.
  • Advance polices to ensure students can attend school without fear of bullying, and work to reduce suicides.
  • Require police departments adopt policies to ensure fairer interactions with transgender individuals, especially transgender people of color who are often targeted by police unfairly, and institute training programs to promote compliance with fair policies.
  • Bar discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals by creditors and banks so that people will not be unfairly denied mortgages, credit cards, or student loans.
  • Veto any legislation that purports to “protect” religious liberty at the expense of others’ rights (www.berniesanders.com).

0915_Bernie_LGBT_11x17_Signs-thumb

Senator Bernie Sanders believes that,

we need a political revolution to transform American politics. I am talking about bringing in the voices of millions who have given up on the political process. When that happens everything that I talk about will be passed. If it does not, virtually nothing will (Johnson).

Thus, I ask all of my fellow LGBTQIA+ sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors to join the political revolution and stand with Senator Bernie Sanders as he runs for the Democratic Party nomination for President!

Just say NO to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Weisma).

what_is_tppThe trade agreement is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s economic agenda for his second term in office. The agreement faces tremendous criticism from many Democrats and progressives. Collectively, they claim that this deal would be damaging to U.S. sovereignty, that it expands the ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement), and it adds new substantive rights to foreign companies and investors. All of which many say would hurt the U.S. economy, damage the environment, roll-back human rights, and destroy privacy.

LNG_Terminal_5_tpp_meme_2-01_copyThe trade agreement would grant broad powers to multinational companies and investors operating in North America, South America, and Asia. Under the agreement, companies and investors would be able to challenge any regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state or local – that they do not agree with before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations (Weisma).

Importantly, two weeks ago the negotiators reached an agreement, and now, we all must continue to wait for the full details of the agreement to be released. The New York Times predicts that it may take another three to four months for Congress to enact the agreement (Lee). However, under the “fast-track” legislation, it ensures Congress will only be able to vote yes or no and not debate it. This legislation was pushed by the Obama administration.

Thus, the public cannot see the agreement or know what is in it. Not to forget that all of the negotiations were done in secret. However, Congress should pass it without debating it. This is not democracy. The following includes information provided through Senators, Representatives, and leaked documents.

The trade agreement would grant foreign companies and investors rights that are not applicable to U.S. companies and investors, such as access to extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers. These lawyers can rotate between acting as “judges” and representing the governments who  have conflicts of interest (Wallach and Beachy, pgs. 3-4). They have no public accountability and there is no requirement for tribunalists to be impartial. They also have no right to appeal. In addition, these tribunals can order governments to pay unlimited  monetary compensation.

Specifically, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has a massive overreaching definition of “investment” for all companies and investors involved. The following is that definition from the leaked documents:

Every asset that an investor owns or controls, directly or indirectly, that has the characteristics of an investment, including such characteristics as the commitment of capital or other resources, the expectation of gain or profit, or the assumption of gain or profit, or the assumption of risk (Wallach and Beachy, pg. 4).

Under these terms of the trade agreement, the investors could demand monetary compensation if nations “expropriate or nationalize covered  investment either directly or indirectly.” Therefore, this could be interpreted broadly to include multinational companies opposing regulatory or legal changes that diminish the value of their ‘investments.’

4aaThese new rights could mean more cases like the one in 2013, where Eli  Lilly, a pharmaceutical company used a  similar provision under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to sue Canada for $500 million. Eli Lilly accused Ottawa, Canada, of violating its  obligations to foreign investors by allowing Canada’s courts to invalidate patents for two of their  drugs (Weisma).

According to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA),

Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt  the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.

resizeThe following is an example Senator Warren gave to describe the new powers of ISDS. Imagine that the U.S. bans a toxic chemical that is added to gasoline because it is  harmful. If one company makes the toxic chemical and opposes the law, it would normally challenge the law in a U.S. court. However, with ISDS, that company could skip the U.S. court and go before one of the tribunals. If the company wins, the ruling could not be challenged in U.S. court, and the tribunal could require U.S. taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in damages.

Unfortunately there is a growing number of ISDS cases. From 1958 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims in the world. In 2012, that number rose to 58 cases. Recently, a Swedish company  sued Germany because Germany decided to  phase out  nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster. Philip Morris has even attempted to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing their new tobacco regulations (Warren).

Under this expansion, TransCanada could force  the U.S. government to build the Keystone XL Pipeline or incur a large monetary payout for damages to  TransCanada by not building the pipeline. The expansion is troubling, especially to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who said

This continues the great American tradition of corporations writing trade agreements, sharing them with almost nobody, so often at the expense of consumers, public health, and workers (Weisma).

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a cornerstone of President Obama’s economic agenda  which faces tremendous criticism from his  own Party. The agreement is enormous and could damage U.S. sovereignty, expands the ISDS, and it adds new substantive rights to foreign companies and investors. Many continue to say that this agreement could hurt the U.S. economy, damage the environment, roll-back human rights, and destroy privacy.

Are you are Bernie Sanders supporter and wish to stand with him against the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Are you against the Trans-Pacific Partnership but not a Bernie Sanders supporter?


Works Cited

Lee, Timothy. “The just-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, explained.”     Vox.com Vox, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

Wallach, Lori and Beachy, Ben. “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text,” Public Citizen (2015): 3-5 Print.

Warren, Elizabeth. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose.” Washingtonpost.com. Washington Post, 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 April. 2015.

Weisma, Jonathan. “Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S.” nyti.com. New York Times, 25 March. 2015. Web. 26 April. 2015.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Must Be Stopped

DSC_7198

“Savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government,” said United States Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY) on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (Weisma).

The TPP is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s economic agenda for his second term in office. However, the trade agreement faces tremendous criticism from many Democrats and progressive organizations. Collectively, these Democrats and progressives claim that this trade deal would be damaging to U.S. sovereignty, that it expands the ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement), and it adds new substantive rights to foreign companies and investors. All of which would hurt the U.S. economy, damage the environment, roll-back human rights, and destroy privacy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would grant broad powers to multinational companies and investors operating in North America, South America, and Asia. Under the TPP, companies and investors would be able to challenge any regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state or local – that they do not agree with before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations. The trade agreement would also expand that authority to companies and investors in countries as wealthy as Japan and Australia (Weisma).

Importantly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is moving through Congress by obtaining fast-track authority, which means that when the TPP bill lands on the floor of both houses of Congress, it will only get a yes or no vote. No debate and no amendments. Recently, on the 23 of April, the House Ways and Means Committee passed the trade promotion authority (TPA) for the TPP on a vote of 25 – 13 sending the TPA to the full House (Needham).

Additionally, the negotiations of the trade agreement have all been in secret. The only information that the public has on the agreement has come from leaked documents and from what Senators and Representatives have told the public. These Senators and Representatives can only view the official document in a secure room and they are prohibited from taking any notes.

Furthermore, the trade agreement (TPP) would grant foreign companies and investors rights that are not applicable to U.S. companies and investors. It would grant access to extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers. these lawyers can rotate between acting as “judges” and representing the company or investor in cases against governments who have conflict of interest (Wallach and Beachy, pgs. 3-4).

Conveniently, the company or investor initiating a case can choose the venue and select one of the “judges” from a roster. The defense (usually a national government) choose another judge. Jointly, the two Parties select the third judge (Wallach and Beachy, pgs. 3-4). Thus, these tribunals lack judicial ethics. They have no public accountability and there is no requirement for tribunalists to be impartial, also they have no right to appeal. In addition, these tribunals can order governments to pay unlimited monetary compensation.

Specifically, the TPP has a massive overreaching definition of “investment” for all companies and investors involved. The following is the definition of “investment” from the leaked TPP documents:

“Every asset that an investor owns or controls, directly or indirectly, that has the characteristics of an investment, including such characteristics as the commitment of capital or other resources, the expectation of gain or profit, or the assumption of risk” (Wallach and Beachy, pg. 4).

The text continues to enumerate as example:

Regulatory permits; instruments such as stocks and derivatives; “construction, management, production, concession, revenue-sharing, and other similar contracts;” and “licenses, authorizations, permits, and similar rights conferred pursuant to domestic law” (Wallach and Beachy, pg. 4).

Under these terms of the TPP, the investors could demand monetary compensation if nations “expropriate or nationalize a covered investment either directly or indirectly.” In addition, “indirect expropriation” could be interpreted broadly to include multinational companies opposing regulatory or legal changes that diminish the value of their ‘investments.’

Thus, under the trade agreement, a member nation could be forbidden from favoring “good produced in its territory.” For example, Iowa soybean farmer cannot favor their product without facing financial punishment.

“This is not about expropriation; it’s about regulatory changes.” said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch. “You Now have specialized law firms being set up. You go to them, tell them what country you’re in, what regulation you want to go after, and they say, ‘We’ll do it on contingency'” (Weisma).

“This deal [TPP] would give protections to international corporations that are not available to United States environmental and labor groups,” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in an interview. “Multinational corporations to sue national governments in international forums and win cash judgement that cannot be appealed” (White).

Meaning, that TransCanada could use the TPP to sue the U.S. for not building the Keystone XL pipeline.

Moreover, a specific part of the leaked TPP text, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), would be expanded to include,

“written agreements” . . . “between a national authority of a Party and covered investment or an investor of another Party . . . that grants rights to the covered investment or investor: a) with respect to natural resources that a national authority controls, such as for their exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution, or sale; b) to supply services to the public on behalf of the Party, such as power generation or distribution, water treatment or distribution, or telecommunications, or; c)to undertake infrastructure projects, such as the construction of roads, bridges, canals, dams, or pipelines, that are not for the exclusive or predominate use and benefit of the government” (Wallach and Beachy, pg. 5).

Under this expansion, TransCanada could force the U.S. government to build the Keystone XL pipeline or incur a large monetary payout for damages to TransCanda by not building the pipeline. The expansion is troubling, especially to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH),

“This continues the great American tradition of corporations writing trade agreements, sharing them with almost nobody, so often at the expense of consumer, public health, and workers” (Weisma).

According to U.S. Senator Warren (D-MA,

“Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.”

An example she gave to describe the new powers of ISDS would give to these companies and investors included imaging that the U.S. bans a toxic chemical that is added to gasoline because it is harmful. However, if one of these companies or investors make the toxic chemical and oppose the law, it would normally challenge that law in a U.S. court. However, with ISDS, that company or investor could then skip the U.S. court and go before one of these tribunals. If the company or investor wins, the ruling could not be challenged in U.S. court, and the tribunal could then require U.S. taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in damages (Warren).

Unfortunately, there is a growing number of ISDS cases. From 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims in the world. But in 2012, that went up to 58 cases. Some recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage. A Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because they did not bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Even, Philip Morris has attempted to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing their new tobacco regulations (Warren).

“Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals. And progressives should oppose ISDS because it would allow big multinationals to weaken labor and environmental rules,” added Senator Warren (D-MA) (Warren).

President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement goes further, it would provide substantive rights that would only be available to foreign companies and investors. For instance, the right to claim damages for government actions (such as new environmental, health or financial policies) that reduce the value of a foreign investor’s investment or that go against the level of regulatory scrutiny that an investor might have had when dealing with a previous government (Wallach and Beachy, pgs. 8-9). These new rights could mean more cases like the one in 2013, where Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company used a similar provision under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to sue Canada for $500 million. Eli Lilly accused Ottawa, Canada of violating its obligations to foreign investors by allowing Canada’s courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs (Weisma).

24Yes, there are some Democrats who support President Obama’s trade deal, and they formed a group called the “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs (PCAJ).” This group claims to be a group of, “progressives and Democrats committed to leveling the playing field for American workers.” The team who formed the PCAJ includes many senior members of President Obama’s former campaign team. Including Mitch Stewart, the former aid that ran Organizing for America (OFA) and Lynda Tran, the former OFA press secretary.

“When we looked around for other progressive voices making the case for free and fair trade, we found that there wasn’t really a vehicle for engaging the public around the benefits of this deal,” Tran wrote in an email. “So we decided to get involved and help launch the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs to bring together progressives across the activist, advocacy, and business communities” (McMorris-Santoro and Nocera).

A spokesperson from the White House said this when asked about the PCAJ,

“The president has made it clear that expanding jobs and opportunities through progressive trade deals is a priority. It’s not surprising that groups that share this commitment have decided to add their voice to the discussion, and we welcome their input” (McMorris-Santoro and Nocera).

The National Economic Council Director, Jeffrey Zients had this to add in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

“The purpose of investment provisions in our trade agreements is to provide American individuals and businesses who do business abroad with the same protections we provide to domestic and foreign investors alike in the United States.”

Signaling his support for the trade agreement and specifically ISDS. He specially said this on ISDS,

“ISDS does not undermine U.S. sovereignty, change U.S. law, nor grant any new substantive rights multinational companies” (White).

On the contrary, the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs (PCAJ) faces strong criticism from progressives and Democrats who believe that this group is not at all a ‘progressive’ group.

“Who are they? Are they getting paid? And this group will convince anybody of what?” asked U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). He went on to say, “There is zero progressive interest in this [TPP]” (McMorris-Santoro and Nocera).

“If you look at the progressives – labor unions, activists, online organizations – who are lined up against the TPP, there are no credible groups left to build a ‘coalition,'”

said an aid to a progressive House member who has doubts about the PCAJ. The aid added,

“The creation of a front group like PCAJ is a sign people pushing for a bad trade deal don’t have the votes to jam [trade deal] through Congress.”

Not to forget, the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, has privately cautioned her members in the House of Representatives to keep their powder dry in order to negotiate the most liberal deal possible (McMorris-Santoro and Nocera).

Additionally, Candice Johnson, spokesperson for the Communications Workers of America, said,

“It’s insulting.” She added, “You put progressive in your name and that’s going to convince people?”

Beck Bond, president of CREDO, the San Francisco-based activist organization had this to say,

“As far as I know, the only thing ‘progressive’ about this so called ‘Progressive Coalition for American Jobs’ is the first word of the groups’ name” (McMorris-Santoro and Nacera).

Finally, a top progressive consultant in Washington, D.C., Mike Lux had some resounding words on this trade deal and the PCAJ,

“I have been in the trenches working on TPP from the beginning, and as far as I can tell there is no one in favor of it except big corporations.”

Mike Lux added,

“Every progressive group and sector that works on economic issues – labor, consumer groups, enviros, the online groups, civil rights groups, you name it – is vehemently against TPP, so I don’t know what progressives are in this group’s coalition” (McMorris-Santoro and Nocera).

Conversely, 139 United States law professors signed a letter in March, urging Congress and President Obama,to protect the rule of law and our nation’s sovereignty by ensuring ISDS is not included” in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The letter also stated,

“ISDS threatens domestic sovereignty by empowering foreign corporations to bypass domestic court system and privately enforce terms of a trade agreement. It weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the justice system and using an unaccountable, unreviewable system of adjudication” (Wallach and Beach, pgs. 7 and 11).

Another letter, signed by former judges, law professors and other prominet lawyers in May of 2012 warns,

“the foreign investor protections included in some recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and their enforcement through Investor-State arbitration should not be replicated in the TPP” (Wallach and Beachy, pgs. 7 and 11).

Of course there have been many letters sent to President Obama and Congress on the TPP describing why it should be stopped and or opposed. Including the following letter, a letter sent in December of 2014 to the president by U.S. Senator Warren (D-MA) – member of the Senate Banking Committee – and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Edward Markey (DMA) urging the president not to include terms from past U.S. FTAs in the TPP. The letter adds,

“that could limit the ability of the government to use capital controls” (Wallach and Beachy, pgs. 7 and 11).

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a race to the bottom for the United States of america. It is especially harmful to the workers and consumers. If the TPP receives final approval from Congress and President Obama signs the agreement – ensuring that it is a cornerstone of his economic agenda – then he will have turned his back on progressives across the country. Passage of the TPP would mean that companies could use the ISDS and their new investor rights to raise costs of medications in the U.S. and depress the economy while those same companies can get large monetary payouts from the U.S. government. Therefore, the TPP is a bad deal and it will hurt the economy, environment, human rights, and health care. This deal must be stopped.

Join the effort here: Stop Fast Track! 

Works Cited

Heedham, Vicki. “Panel approves Obama trade powers.” http://www.thehill.com. TheHill, 23 April. 2015. Web. 24 April. 2015.

McMorris-Santoro, Evan and Nocera, Kate. “Progressives: We’ve Never Heard of This “Progressive” Group Backing Obama’s Trade Deal.” http://www.buzzfeed.com BuzzFeed News, 12 March. 2015. Web. 24 April. 2015.

Wallach, Lori and Beachy, Ben. “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text.” Public Citizen (2015): 3-5 Print.

Wallach, Lori and Beachy, Ben. “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text.” Public Citizen (2015): 4 Print.

Wallach, Lori and Beachy, Ben. “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text.” Public Citizen (2015): 5 Print.

Wallach, Lori and Beachy, Ben. “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text.” Public Citizen (2015): 8-9 Print.

Wallach, Lori and Beachy, Ben. “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text.” Public Citizen (2015): 7 and 11 Print.

Warren, Elizabeth. “the Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose.” http://www.washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 April. 2015.

Weisma, Jonathan. “Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S.” http://www.nyti.com. The New York Times, 25 March. 2015. Web. 26 April. 2015.

White, Ben. “Elizabeth Warren’s next target: Trade deals.” http://www.politico.com. POLITICO, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 April. 2015.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) = Race to the Bottom

DSC_7198I am opposed to the President’s trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and I urge you all to oppose it too. 

Join me in speaking out and let’s STOP FAST TRACK! Visit this website to learn how to best use your voice: stopfasttrack.com

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America, and Asia. A total of 12 nations. TPP would allow companies and investors to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state, or local – before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations. Thus far, TPP is supported by corporate Democrats, Republicans and various businesses. The trade deal would even allow multinational companies to sue in the United States and elsewhere. Therefore, the overall priority of TPP is to protect corporate interest at the cost of the consumers.

 

“Multinational corporations are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in an interview with POLITICO.

These corporations will be able to do this because of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) within the TPP. ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws – potentially to pick up huge payout from the taxpayers – without ever stepping into a U.S. court. Moreover, from 1959 to 2002, there were about 100 ISDS claims worldwide. However, in 2012, there were 58 cases. Two recent cases include a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bailout a bank that the company partially owned.

“Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals,” said Sen. Warren (D-MA) in the Washington Post.

With more and more progressives coming out against the TPP, pro-TPP Democrats are combating our arguments by being dismissive of them, and especially of Senator Warren by saying that she has been stoking unrealistic fears. One of these pro-TPP Democrats said, “Throwing out ISDS based on trade opponents’ nightmare scenarios would be like tearing down the entire U.S. judicial system because someone sued Starbucks over spilling hot coffee.”

Another Democrat opposed to the TPP Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) had this to say, “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”

The TPP gets even better, under it, a member nation could be forbidden from favoring “goods produced in its territory.” Meaning that “every asset that an investor owns or controls, directly or indirectly, that has characteristic of an investment,” including, “regulator permits; intellectual property rights; financial instruments such as stocks and derivatives; construction management, production, concession, revenue-sharing and other similar contracts; and licenses, authorization, permits and similar rights conferred pursuant to domestic law.”

“You now have specialized law firms being set up. You go to them, tell them what country you’re in, what regulation you want to go after, and they say ‘we’ll do it on contingency,’” said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch and an opponent of the TPP.

For example, in 2013, Eli Lilly took advantage of a similar provision under NAFTA to sue Canada for $500 million, accusing Ottawa of violating its obligations to foreign investors by allowing its courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs.

It has been reported that the Obama administration hopes the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a centerpiece accomplishment of his second term. The officials also claim they are confident in passage of both TPA and TPP, however with largely Republican support and just some Democrats. The administration is asking Congress to “fast-track” the TPP, meaning that lawmakers wouldn’t be able to amend the deal, only vote up or down on what the administration negotiates.

President Barack Obama had this to say on the TPP, “I have fought my entire political career and as president to strengthen consumer protections. I have no intention of signing legislation that would weaken those protections.”

Even so, many progressives including myself cannot stand the TPP, they make up the organized left (trade unions, environmentalists, human rights, etc.).

Conversely, a group that calls themselves “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs” claim to be progressive and supports the TPP. They say they are a group of “progressives and Democrats committed to leveling the playing field for American workers,” according to their website. It goes on to say, “It’s critical that we give the president trade promotion authority and establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Excuse me? Progressive?

“Who are they? Are they getting paid? And this group will convince anybody of what?” asks Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “There is zero progressive interest in this [TPP].”

24Progressive Coalition for American Jobs (PCAJ) includes some of the most senior members of President Obama’s former campaign team. Daily Kos reported Mitch Stewart, former aide the president asked to run Organizing for America (OFA), and Lynda Tran, the former OFA press secretary. Earlier this month, a press release from 270 Strategies announced the campaign firm started by Stewart and President Obama’s former field director, Jeremy Bird.

This is very upsetting for me personally as a former OFA member and as a supporter of President Obama.

“If you look at the progressives – labor unions, activists, online organizations – who are lined up against the TPP, there are no credible groups left to build a ‘coalition,’” said an aide to a progressive House member. Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to support the TPP, as she privately cautioned her members to keep their powder dry in order to negotiate the most liberal deal possible.

Candice Johnson, spokesperson for the Communications Workers of America said on PCAJ, “It’s insulting.” She went on to say, “You put progressive in your name and that’s going to convince people?”

“At this point, 270 Strategies is well known for its AstroTurf efforts to slap a progressive label to the endeavors of Wall Street Wing Democrats and their corporate masters, but this is an earth-shattering new low,” Neil Sroka, spokesperson for Democracy for America. “You can be a progressive committed to fighting for working families or you can be for this massive job-killing trade deal written by 500 corporate reps, but you can’t be both.”

PCAJ was asked about who funds the group and who the members are. Tran, the former Obama aide wouldn’t answer any of those questions. She did say, “We won’t be hosting rallies or organizing major field activities.” Instead she said they will focus on helping “get the word out” on President Obama’s trade deals.

“There is a progressive case to be made for this and I think the goal of this group [PCAJ] is to say, ‘There’s more than one kind of progressive out there with a message on trade’ and what hasn’t been heard,” said an aide to a member in the New Democratic coalition who has been working with the PCAJ.

The White House has been asked about the group, and a spokesperson said that the administration “welcomed” the group’s input. The spokesperson added, “It’s not surprising that groups that share this commitment have decided to add their voice to the discussion, and we welcome their input.”

Image found on google
Image found on google

A top progressive consultant in Washington, D.C., Mike Luz, wrote in an email on PCAJ and TPP, “Every progressive group and sector that works on economic issues – labor, consumer groups, enviros, the online groups, civil rights groups, human rights groups, you name it – is vehemently against TPP, so I don’t know what progressives are in this group’s coalition.”

Based on all of the above and additional resources, I believe I am better able to understand the TPP. Therefore, I stand against it, and I ask you all to join me in speaking out against this terrible “trade agreement.” I believe that President Obama does wish the best for our nation, however he is most definitely wrong when it comes to the TPP.

Join me in speaking out and let’s STOP FAST TRACK! Visit this website to learn how to best use your voice: stopfasttrack.com

 

*Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, POLITICO, and BuzzFeed News*