He sees it as a geopolitical issue

Those trade deals, and the way free trade can overrule all kinds of regulation – environmental, labor, consumer, all of it. The New Republic asked Bernie Sanders about that.

I don’t think that anybody would debate that the gap between Democratic leadership and grassroots America is very, very wide, and that has a lot to do with the fact that over the last 30 to 40 years, Democrats have spent so much time raising money. People are just astounded by the amount of time somebody like Hillary Clinton spends talking to 20 people so she can walk away with a few hundred thousand dollars, rather than relying on ordinary people.

One issue that will affect working people is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade pact being pushed by President Obama. You tried to get a commitment in the party’s platform to not hold a vote on TPP, but you were unsuccessful. Are you worried that there is going to be an attempt to pass it in the lame-duck session of Congress?

Yes. The president has been adamant in his support for the TPP. I spent a half-hour with him on the phone talking about the issue. He is dead wrong, but he feels very, very strongly about it.

The corporate world virtually never loses on trade. Since I’ve been here, they always win. Wall Street, drug companies, corporate America—that is a very heavy-duty group. When they push with their unlimited sums of money, they can make things happen. I will do everything that I can to rally the American people to understand that TPP is a continuation of disastrous trade policies, and that it should not be passed.

So why does President Obama think it’s a good idea?

He sees it as a geopolitical issue. He does not pretend, as previous presidents have, that this is going to create all kinds of jobs in America. His argument is that if you abandon the TPP, you’re gonna leave Asia open to Chinese influence.

So he’s not making a NAFTA argument—that a rising tide of trade will lift all boats.

Right—that mythology seems to have disappeared. But one of the interesting things about the TPP, in particular, is not just that it’s gonna force American workers to compete against people making pennies an hour in Vietnam or slave labor in Malaysia. It also includes an investor-state dispute system. If my state of Vermont, or the United States government for that matter, passes a piece of legislation designed to protect the health of the American people or the environment, then that government entity could be sued by a multinational foreign corporation, because the legislation would impact the corporation’s future profits. As an example, Obama did the right thing in killing the Keystone pipeline, because he concluded that it would add to the crisis we’re facing from climate change. But the United States is now being sued for $15 billion by TransCanada, the owner of the pipeline, because NAFTA bars governments from taking actions that limit the profits of a multinational corporation. And the lawsuit doesn’t go to an American court. It goes to a three-person tribunal, which is made up of corporate lawyers.

Under these trade agreements, the president must accede to corporate profits. If a poor country wants cheap prescription drugs for malaria or for AIDS, and a corporation says you can’t use a generic product because we can make more money by keeping the brand name, then people will die in that country, and likely the tribunal will sustain that. This is a world of insanity, and it’s enshrined in the TPP.

That. I think that is entirely wrong, and terrible, and we seem to be stuck with it. We’ve been objecting to it since the Clinton administration, but we seem to be stuck with it.

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