Interview with Kevin Zeese by Jessica Desvarieux, www.therealnews.com
June 8th, 2015
Kevin Zeese is co-director of PopularResistance.org and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. He’s also an attorney who is one of the original organizers of the National Occupation of Washington, DC. He has been active in independent and third party political campaigns including for state legislative offices in Maryland, governor of California and U.S. president, where he served as press secretary and spokesperson for Ralph Nader in 2004. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and was the only person ever nominated by the Green Party, Libertarian Party and Populist Party.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
This past Wednesday WikiLeaks published 17 different documents related to a secret trade deal known as Trade In Services Agreement, or TISA, which has been taking place since early 2013. The trade agreement is being negotiated between the U.S., the EU, and over 20 WTO members. The deal is largely based on trade liberalization.
Here to help us dissect these WikiLeaks revelations is Kevin Zeese. Kevin is the co-director of PopularResistance.org and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. Thank you for joining us, Kevin.
KEVIN ZEESE, POPULARRESISTANCE.ORG: Happy to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So Kevin, let’s talk about the contents of these leaked documents. First let’s just talk about them as a whole, though. What’s the main agenda?
ZEESE: The main agenda is the neoliberal economy. To essentially push deregulation of services and privatization of services. And it deals with both public services like a post office or school system, and private services like the financial systems. The financial services industry, the healthcare–at least in the United States, healthcare is a private service. Most of the world it’s a private service, but the United States it’s a private one.
So it’s a broad range, professional services, accountants, all of this can be put into this. It’s a massive agreement. It covers about 70 percent of the world’s economy, 48 countries, as you mentioned. And for the United States, 80 percent of our economy is services. And so something like the postal service would fall into this. And what it basically–take the postal service for an example. This agreement would essentially push toward privatization of the postal service.
The postal service right now is a public service. It’s the most popular service the government provides, to be able to get a letter across the country for a cheap price at a consistent speed, people appreciate it a great deal. It’s important to all parts of the country, poor, rural, everyone’s treated the same. And so it’s a very much beloved–it’s in fact the largest employer of African-Americans in the country. And under this agreement–this agreement does not like state-supported enterprises. It pushes toward privatization. So it’d push the postal service toward opening up to competition from private profiteers. So rather than a public good, it becomes a commodity.
The interesting thing about this agreement is it pushes toward privatization. And once a country allows privatization of its telephone system, its postal service, its utility system, whatever, once it allows privatization you can’t go back to public control. You can’t go back to national. It’s a one-way street.
DESVARIEUX: It’s a one-way street.
ZEESE: One-way street toward privatization. And so this is–and for the financial industry for example, which we know needs regulation, after the economic crash. In fact, the regulation put into effect was pretty minimal. We actually need more regulation than we’ve had. It would make deregulation the reality and not regulation. And again, once you’ve put it in deregulation you’re not going to be allowed to put in the regulation–
DESVARIEUX: I understand.
ZEESE: It’s going to control that. So it’s removing the democratic power over services and moving toward a neoliberal, deregulated, privatized, everything’s a commodity type of economy.
DESVARIEUX: Got it. You read all 17 documents, and so I want to talk about the specifics. What to you was some of the most egregious parts of this deal?
ZEESE: Well you know, we all advocate for more transparency. People believe that a government that’s transparent is going to be a more effective government. People have the chance then to have their input into the way the government’s going, and people know what’s going on in their lives and their futures.
And this–actually, a couple of the documents leaked by WikiLeaks dealt with transparency. Interesting about the transparency in this agreement is it’s another corporatization-only thing. Corporations under this agreement would be required to be told when a government is considering legislation or policy that would affect their business, at an early stage. So a corporation is told in advance, so it has a chance to help to write the legislation, help to shape it, make sure it doesn’t hurt them, and really have an impact. But there’s no transparency to the public. Unions aren’t told, environmentalists are not told, the public’s not told. It’s again a one-way street for corporate power.
And that’s really what this comes down to. All these, this triad of trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Partnership, and the Services Agreement, all three of these really are pushing toward a whole type of new, global corporate governance, where nation-states are weakened, where democracy is weakened, where the people’s voice is even made more quiet, and corporations gain greater and greater power.
And so the transparency revision, the push toward privatization, these are really examples, I think, of where these agreements want to take us. And that’s why there’s such resistance. There’s massive resistance, even though the Services Agreement’s only been negotiated for the last two years, so it’s not that well-known, and people don’t know what Services mean, it’s a hard agreement to get your head around. There’s massive opposition already to it.
I think it’s tough for Obama that these leaks happened when they did right now. Because as you know, we’re in the midst of this really vigorous debate over whether we should have fast-track trade promotion of authority for these three agreements and more that will come in the next six years that this, that the fast-track will be put in place. This really hurts him.
DESVARIEUX: So people understand this fast-track is not only going to affect the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This would affect TISA.
ZEESE: Exactly. It will affect TISA, it will affect the Atlantic, the Pacific, and any other agreements that come up in the next six years. So it’s not just under Obama’s presidency. It could be under Ted Cruz’s presidency, or Hillary Clinton’s presidency, or whoever follows Obama. They will have the same fast-track capability. Which essentially means they can push through anything they want through Congress. There’s never been a trade bill defeated if fast-track is in force. The only times we’ve been successful at stopping these, these corporate-rigged trade agreements has been when fast-track didn’t exist. This fast-track fight is the fight.
DESVARIEUX: Kevin, tell us about that fight. What have you been doing–I know you’re an organizer, you’re out there
ZEESE: Well, we’re out there doing lots, and we just–you can go to PopularResistance.org and sign a petition that, we’re part of about ten different other groups, about demanding Congress make the trade agreement public so we know what’s in it before fast-track is voted on. That would be a great thing people could go and sign on to on PopularResistance.org.
We’re also, just yesterday we started–actually it was kind of a test of a new tactic which is a rigged trade rebellion. We’re out there all day throughout the day vigiling, with big signs and people handing out literature between the Capitol building and the House office buildings. So at 10:00 AM–what we’re going to start doing is on Tuesdays and Thursdays next week, 10:00 AM we’ll start and go all day. And this is a chance–it’s a great location. That was one of the things we loved about it, was we had members of Congress walking by and we could talk to them. And many members of Congress actually had their picture taken.
DESVARIEUX: They were engaged, wow.
ZEESE: They were engaged. We–and you know, some of them have their phones in their ears, maybe trying to ignore us.
DESVARIEUX: Exactly. Crossing the street.
ZEESE: But others actually–others oppose us and others support us, and we can talk to both. And we then,we also had some big union members walking by who just met with Pelosi, so we got to hear about that, how she’s looking at things.
DESVARIEUX: But I mean, President Obama. I mean, he’s come out and said he’s pretty confident that this is going to pass.
ZEESE: I don’t think he is. He’s saying that.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah, he’s saying that.
ZEESE: And so is Ryan, Paul Ryan, who’s the key guy in the House on the Republican side on this, has been saying we’re getting closer, we’re getting close, for like, the last month. He keeps saying we’re getting close.
But if they don’t finish it this month they’re not going to finish it. I mean, Boehner, the majority leader–the Speaker of the House, excuse me, made the point yesterday that if we don’t pass it in June there’s no reason it will pass in July. So I think these next three weeks are the key. And we were very happy to hear Pelosi say yesterday that it’s not her job to get the votes for President Obama.
ZEESE: Yeah. She’s been traditionally opposed to fast-track. And she’s been taking no position on this one. She’s been allowing Obama’s team to make presentations to the Democratic caucus. But what it looks like to me is they’re running up against a wall. Obama is working this harder than anything he’s worked in his presidency.
DESVARIEUX: And he’s quoting the Congressional Black Caucus.
DESVARIEUX: Heavily, yes.
ZEESE: Gregory Meeks, who’s one of the corporate traders from New York, African-American from Queens, has been pushing the Black Caucus. And they use these kind of coded terms to play a race card. You know, they say, every other president’s gotten fast-track, why not President Obama?
Well, the reason President Obama’s not getting it is not a race issue. What it is is an issue of people now know what these trade agreements do. We know from NAFTA, over almost 20 years now of NAFTA, we know that it’s a job killer. We’ve lost a million jobs since NAFTA, we’ve had a massive increase in our trade deficit, it’s been undermining the economy. We know now what these agreements do. We want them fully debated.
Plus, thanks to WikiLeaks, there’s been a number of leaks on all these agreements. So we can see what they–minimally we can see some of the things they’re doing. And it’s not good for us. This is a triad of trouble, these three trade agreements, the TPP, the Transatlantic, and the Services Agreement. If we want to see a future of democracy, we’ve got to stop these agreements. Because these agreements will reshape the way the rule of law applies throughout the world. They will create a global corporate rule, and we will be the serfs.
DESVARIEUX: Kevin, just really quickly. I’m on the Hill, and I’m hearing a lot of people talk about if we don’t sign this agreement, we don’t sign fast-track into law, that China is going to lead. That is their main argument. What do you say to that?
ZEESE: That is such a weak argument. I can’t believe they say that with a straight face. I mean, China is obviously a very big economy. In some ways you measure it’s already larger than the United States economy. They’re starting their own bank, they’re part of the BRICS system.
By the way, BRICS–Brazil, Russia, China, India, and South Africa are not part of–that’s some of the few countries that are not part of this services agreement. For some reason, they’re closed out. So this is very much a Western corporate fight versus those who have different kinds of governments and different kind of economies, in many ways that are more successful than the U.S. economy is during this depression that we’re in.
So the China issue is a big fear for the United States, but the reality is China is going to continue to grow at a rapid rate, and they’re already negotiating agreements with different countries in the region. This agreement is not going to make that much difference. We already have trade agreements with most of the big economies in Asia. So it’s not going to change that much.
DESVARIEUX: And it’s not to say that something couldn’t be necessarily built in China, let’s say up to 40 percent or 60 percent–.
ZEESE: Yes, there’s room for that.
DESVARIEUX: And then sent over to Malaysia, which is a country that we do have a partnership with.
ZEESE: Malaysia’s an interesting country you bring up. I don’t know if we have time to talk about this slavery issue. But the Senate passed an amendment to the fast-track agreement that said no country involved in human trafficking, slavery, is allowed to be part of the TPP. Malaysia’s probably the worst country in the world on that issue. One third of the workers, the migrant workers who work in the electronics field in Malaysia are essentially slaves, they’re indentured servants, and the top ten U.S. companies in Malaysia are electronics companies. And Malaysia’s very key to the military pivot in Asia.
And so Obama calls that anti-slavery provision a poison pill. So you have the very weird situation, the first black president coming out against stopping slavery. Very strange. And so that’s going to be an interesting issue for the Congressional Black Caucus, which is as you mentioned a key player in this. Will they vote for slavery, or against slavery. Because that’s really what this choice comes down to when you look at some of the provisions of the fast-track bill.
So it’s a very interesting struggle. Obama’s in a very strange position. I’m not sure why he’s pushing this so aggressively, but he’s putting everything he has into it. And luckily there’s the biggest anti-corporate trade movement ever pushing back. And right now we’re winning. Right now we’re winning. And we got to keep escalating, keep mobilizing in order to bring this to the finish and conclude it this month.
DESVARIEUX: Well, you’re going to keep escalating and keep mobilizing, we’re going to keep dragging it.
ZEESE: That’s the spirit.
DESVARIEUX: So Kevin, thank you so much for joining us in studio.
ZEESE: Happy to do it.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.