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Say No to Signing a Sellout

Founding Fathers.pngA date has been set for the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's scheduled for February 4th, in New Zealand. Representatives from all twelve countries involved -- the United States, Canada,  Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia -- are expected to attend.

Amidst much fanfare, the United States government -- along with the administrations of eleven other countries -- will sign a document surrendering our liberty, safety, economy, and national sovereignty to a handful of multinational corporations. This treaty will make it even easier for big businesses to dismiss our laws, mistreat our workers, poison our food, outsource our jobs, wreck our environment and dodge our taxes. It will enable them to dismiss our government, from the Supreme Court to Congress, by declaring our rules and regulations "barriers to trade." It will also create instability, increase poverty, and ruin lives worldwide.

Luckily, this will not be the final test the TPP must pass. Congress has a chance to stop it, and many prominent politicians don't support the deal. All three Democratic candidates for president have come out against it, as have Congressional luminaries including Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. On the other side of the aisle, even some Republican candidates -- including the unlikely duo of Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina -- have condemned it. Others, while endorsing so-called "free trade," deplore the shady manner in which it was negotiated. Republicans in Congress are not entirely on board, either; Senator Orrin Hatch, the oldest member of the Senate, has objected to some of the pact's provisions, while some Tea Party members oppose it. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan faces pressure from Wisconsin's dairy industry to disapprove the deal, and senators like Mitch McConnell and Thom Tillis, conservatives from tobacco-producing states, object to the bill on the basis that tobacco is not included as an ISDS-approved industry (meaning it can't bypass our court system to obtain a favorable settlement).

Just 16% of Americans approve of how our elected officials are running the country. Only 30% favor free trade even in theory, while 63% say that trade restrictions are necessary (and 84 percent prioritize "protecting jobs" over gaining access to more products). Our elected officials need to listen to us. In fact, Congress should be delighted at this opportunity to defend our interests -- and, thereby, increase its own favorability...


Alson Streeter: Forgotten Populist

campaign poster.pngOn this Martin Luther King Day, we should also remember the birthday of another, far more obscure, campaigner for social justice: Alson Streeter, born January 18th, 1823.

The eldest of eight children, Alson Streeter and his family moved from New York to a farm on the Illinois frontier when he was thirteen. Their blacksmith was another New England transplant named John Deere, whom they paid in wagonloads of charcoal. The Streeters would become the owners of one of the first steel plows in the world... the invention that would make John Deere famous.

At 23, with thirteen dollars to his name, Alson attended the newly-formed Knox College, where he supported himself by working odd jobs and carving shingles. Alson's education ended after three years, since college regulations prohibited students from marrying and Alson had fallen in love with Deborah Boone, a direct descendant of Daniel. Together, they set out for the California gold mines, arriving one year too late to qualify as 49'ers.

After two years, Alson learned that mining was neither fun nor profitable. So he went back to Illinois, where he farmed livestock; he led two cattle drives back to California, having discovered a more promising way of obtaining the region's gold. During the Civil War, Alson signed up as a veterinarian, but was later transferred into a regular regiment.

Alson Streeter entered politics as a Democrat and a Granger, serving as a county supervisor before running for the state legislature. In its House, he attempted to curb the railroads' power, favored protective tariffs, and voted against a bill to distribute the governor's annual message in foreign languages. During this time, Alson -- formerly a supporter of the traditional gold standard -- morphed into a Greenbacker, a supporter of inflationary policies designed to reduce debt by lowering the dollar's value.

Streeter ran for reelection with the Greenback-Labor Party, losing by wide margins. Two years later, he was the party's nominee for Governor of Illinois. Soon after this campaign, the Greenbackers dissolved into the Anti-Monopoly Party; Alson served as chairman at its first convention, when it nominated the former Union general Benjamin Butler (renowned for freeing slaves -- and stealing spoons -- during his service in the South during the war) for president. This party was committed to fighting monopolies, gaining an eight-hour workday, regulating corporations, and obtaining a graduated income tax and direct election of Senators.

Later that year, Alson went to the State Senate on a Greenback-Democratic ticket, winning by 61 votes. A prolific legislator, Alson joined seven committees and sponsored eighteen bills, on issues ranging from curbing the railroads' power, to making it easier to apprehend horse thieves, to prohibiting the sale of tobacco to kids. Only one of his measures passed -- a bill reforming the manner in which school district elections were conducted. During his second term, he was able to raise the age of consent for girls from ten to fourteen years, but didn't make any headway with the rest of his regulatory agenda.

During the 1870s, following the end of his term, Alson became involved with the fledgling Farmer's Alliance, quickly becoming president of the Northwestern Farmer's Alliance. He urged for a merger with the powerful Southern Alliance, but other members of the movement were less willing to acknowledge the end of the Civil War.

In 1888, Alson was nominated for president by the new Union Labor Party. He attempted to negotiate a merger with the United Labor Party, but the parties differed on the issue of taxation: Streeter's group wanted a graduated income tax, while the United Labor Party wanted a heavy tax on land. In early September, the region's Democrats -- together with the Ku Klux Klan -- resorted to violence and intimidation to prevent the Union Labor candidate for governor (Charles M. Norwood, a one-legged Confederate veteran who was supported by an enormous, racially diverse electorate that included most of the region's Republicans) from being elected. Other Union Labor candidates in the state -- and those who alleged fraud and corruption -- were murdered.

Despite the risks, Streeter actively campaigned for other Union Labor candidates -- including the unfortunate Arkansans -- and for himself, taking to the stump in ten states. On Election Day, Alson polled well in Kansas and Texas; nationwide, he received 1.3 percent of the popular vote. (In part, this was due to the fact that ballots for the Union Labor ticket were only given out in 23 states; voters in other parts of the country had to write to party headquarters to obtain a ballot).

Later, Alson would come five votes away from winning a seat in the United States Senate (then appointed by the state legislature). But he would never again attain political prominence; instead, he focused on his farm, home of an enormous crow's roost, and the enormous ranch house he'd built. Known as the "Sage of New Windsor," Alson Streeter was well-liked by those in his community -- and never lost faith in the third-party movement.


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