My guest is progressive political activist, the PEN. Welcome back, PEN.
Joan Brunwasser: You've been very active in getting the word out about the fast-tracking of the Trans Pacific Partnership. You and I have talked about it a lot lately*. For those readers not yet familiar with the TPP, what is it, why is it so bad and what's so urgent?
PEN: The only reason we know it's so bad is that there are leaked documents which have surfaced about what they are planning. The worst of it is that they are proposing a new maxim of international law, which would define as "indirect expropriations" any national law intended to protect the environment, labor, privacy, etc. It represents, for example, a new corporate RIGHT to pollute and the power to collect damages from anyone who resists, on the logic that corporations are entitled to profit from polluting the environment and to collect damages as their estimated lost profits if prevented from doing so. And that's just the start of the horrible stuff they are trying to pack into this thing. No wonder they are doing everything to keep it all the most extreme secret, and to fast track it without any real scrutiny.
JB: Yikes! What have you been doing and how's that going?
PEN: Of course there are many groups fired up about this. For our part, our own participants just through our own action pages have already generated upwards of 20,000 protest messages altogether, EACH going to at least their own three members of Congress. And we are also cc'ing the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways And Means Committee, which they are also trying to bypass even with their deceptive fast track proposal. And it is clear that all of these protests are having an impact, at least it is slowing them down.
But we also have some unique capabilities that we have brought on line expressly for this fight. The latest addition to this is our new People Lobby congressional call logging interface. There are many people who are motivated to actually call their members of Congress on the phone about policy questions. What this new resource empowers you to do is make a public record of what the congressional aides you speak to are saying, to cut through all the puff about where they actually stand and whether or not we, the people, can count on their vote, and to demand that they vote in our interest. Just like the name says, the intent is to make the voice of the people a real lobbying force for the first time.
JB: Explain exactly how this works. Give us an example, please.
PEN: OK, let's say you call their offices now and they give you some bogus runaround, and you hang up and you say to yourself, "Wow, I wish I could tell someone else about this." Now you can. You make notes of what happened in the call in the new People Lobby interface, which has tabs for each of your own members of Congress, and it gets posted blog comment style for everyone else in your own district to see. In this way, we can very quickly document who is just blowing hot air at us, and even who doesn't even bother to answer the phone at all.
JB: And this gathering of data, district by district, is displayed how?
PEN: Right under the compact input form is a running display, most recent notes recorded on the top, of the results of each call. And you can also check off whether the member of Congress has committed to support the will of the people, and that is displayed too, with color coded dots and also a running percentage tally.
JB: Okay, let's take this a bit farther, PEN. This sounds really good and I know you guys have been working overtime to make this available. But, if publicity is one of the few things that actually affects our elected officials, how do THEY know that their comments are being monitored and publicized? In other words, where's the other side of the equation? We may know that they're hiding from us or promoting bad policy, but how do they know that we know?
PEN: I'll get to the long term impact in just a second, but the primary deception in the offices of members of Congress is to PRETEND that their calls are not going they way they actually are. So we instantly cut through all that. And the big payoff comes election time when we absolutely plan to make available all their histories. So for example, people will be able to see that Congressperson X voted the wrong way despite getting Y number of documented calls going the other.
JB: That makes sense. And it seems like members of Congress would become familiar with and fear the power of this tool. That's good. Let them be very afraid. I understand that despite all the secrecy regarding the TPP fast-track, you've discovered some very important and disturbing news. Or should I say, one of your citizen journalists discovered this. Please tell us more.
PEN: It's so beautiful the way it is working already, just like we dreamed it would. One of our first callers to the Senate Finance Committee, our participant advocate, Maggie, really jammed their aides and got to the truth of the matter: that there are no real, open hearings planned even for consideration of the TPP fast track proposal. At most they are going to have a couple "executive sessions" with minimal notice to the public, inadequate disclosure of what is to be discussed, and testimony only from a couple self-serving industry stooges, if any. The whole process is just a complete, honking fraud. And kudos to our valiant Maggie for nailing them down on all this. And you can read for yourself the details she uncovered at http://www.peoplelobby.org