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WASHINGTON – When he campaigned for president in 2008 in the industrial Rust Belt, no one could have been firmer in opposition to NAFTA-style free trade agreements than Sen. Barack Obama.

“While NAFTA gave broad rights to investors,” he said then, “it paid only lip service to the rights of labor and the importance of environmental protection.” As NAFTA passed its 20th anniversary with this new year, its scars are obvious on the former industrial neighborhoods of Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit, cities setting new watermarks of pockets of deep poverty and joblessness. The heaviest burden, as always, has fallen on black and other minority populations.

Suddenly unconscious of the noxious effects of industrial flight, President Obama has undergone a dramatic transformation of his views of free trade. He quietly marked another anniversary on Dec. 31. A self-imposed deadline passed. It was Obama’s benchmark for the U.S. signing of the godmother of all free trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Now the president is repeating the siren song of the swelling ranks of Beltway players: millionaire lobbyists, lawyers and consultants, many drawn from the ranks of former members of Congress, their aides and administration staffers. A reconfigured Obama now speaks of “leveling the playing field,” and “supporting American jobs and exports.”

It’s the same baloney President Bill Clinton offered America when he signed NAFTA in 1993, and the China trade bill in 2000. Since NAFTA and the China trade bill, America has off-shored between 4 million and 5 million industrial jobs.

In addition to Obama’s barefaced hypocrisy, another hallmark of his Trans-Pacific pact is its abject secrecy. No aspects of this treaty among its 12 partners, including Japan, South Korea, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Canada, Singapore and Australia, may be made public before it is signed. In Australia, the government has refused to disclose its terms to Parliament. In the United States, it’s only a touch better. Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., told eugeneweekly.com that the White House said he could look, but only if he came alone, took no notes and didn’t talk about what he remembered. He said forget it. This is open arrogance, the new statism, Obama-style.

The secrecy is required by national security concerns, the administration claims. With the Absolute Sultanate of Brunei? With Vietnam?

Obama wants Congress to give him a quick up-or-down vote. It’s called fast-track authority. Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo opposes this, according to a letter he signed along with other House Democrats. He also opposes concessions made to state textile firms in communist Vietnam, and reported deals with Japan’s automakers. Higgins and other Democrats also demanded Obama deal with currency manipulations by our Asian partners. These requests, along with another asking Obama to “consult” with Congress, are met with silence from the palace.

Industrial job flight erodes the middle class, widens the gap between rich and poor, makes pensions riskier, increases federal and state deficits and puts downward wage pressure on those hamburger-flipping and service jobs that our Asian friends have left to the 99 percent.

“Free trade” has been good for those prowling the halls for cushy post-government jobs here, and other elites. Its weight falls most heavily on the already desperate, the forgotten in Buffalo and other Rust Belt towns where there are few if any entry-level jobs. Where a ladder is hard to find.

By the way, here’s a statistic for blacks who think Obama has been good for them. In New York, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for blacks at the end of the recession was nearly double what it was before it started.

email: dturner@buffnews.com