Daily Archive: 11/04/2013

Nov 04 2013

TPP: Its Real Agenda

President Barack Obama is pushing approval of The Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of the year.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Tuesday that world trade ministers may discuss the U.S.-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization meeting that starts on December 3, with a goal of reaching a deal by year-end.

But several outstanding issues remain, he told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, citing issues ranging from intellectual property to state-owned enterprises, labor and the environment. The WTO meeting will also be held on Bali.

The three-year-old TPP talks, now involving 12 nations, are aimed at establishing a free-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile to Japan, encompassing 800 million people, about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy.

A major goal of the Obama administration, the TPP would tear down trade barriers in areas such as government procurement and set standards for workers’ rights, environmental protection and intellectual property rights.

In actuality, the TPP has little to do with free trade. In a thirty minute interview with Bill Moyers, investment banking expert Yves Smith who runs the blog naked capitalism and economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research discuss the real agenda of the agreement.

A US-led trade deal is currently being negotiated that could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations and even allow partner countries to challenge American laws. But few know its substance.

The pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, a trade deal powerful people, including President Obama, don’t want you to know about. More than 130 members of Congress have asked the White House for greater transparency about the negotiations and were essentially told to go fly a kite. While most of us are in the dark about the contents of the deal, which Obama aims to seal by year end, corporate lobbyists are in the know about what it contains.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Roll Back the Financial Regulations Needed to Avoid Another Crisis

by Expose the TPP

   The TPP would ban capital controls, an essential policy tool to counter destabilizing flows of speculative money. Even the International Monetary Fund has recently endorsed capital controls as legitimate for mitigating or preventing financial crises.

   The TPP would prohibit taxes on Wall Street speculation. That means that there would be no hope of passing proposals like the Robin Hood Tax, which would impose a tiny tax on Wall Street transactions to tamp down speculation-fueled volatility while generating hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of revenue for social, health, or environmental causes.

   The TPP would empower financial firms to directly attack these government policies in foreign tribunals, and demand taxpayer compensation for policies they claim undermine their expected future profits.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists

By Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

There are many other areas where we could envision freer trade bringing real gains to the bulk of the population. However this is not what the TPP is about. The TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

For example, we can expect to see limits on the ability of national and sub-national governments to impose environmental restrictions, such requirements that companies engaging in fracking disclose the list of chemicals they use. There may also be limits on the extent to which governments can restrict the sale of genetically modified foods, with rules on labeling. And, the TPP may prevent governments from imposing restraints on financial firms that would prevent the sort of abuses that we saw during the run-up of the housing bubble.

The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table. Rather than being about advancing free trade, the TPP is the answer to the question: “how can we make the rich richer?

Another Reason to Hate TPP: It Gives Big Content New Tools to Undermine Sane Digital Rights Policies

by Corynne McSherry and Maira Sutton, Electronic Freedom Foundation

Like the rest of the TPP, we only know what has been leaked. Based on that, it seems the negotiators are poised to give private corporations new tools to undermine national sovereignty and democratic processes. Specifically, TPP would give multinational companies the power to sue countries over laws that that might diminish the value of their company or cut into their expected future profits.

The provision that gives them this power is called “investor-state dispute settlement” (or ISDS for short). The policy was originally intended to ensure that investments in developing countries were not illegally expropriated by “rogue” governments, thereby encouraging foreign investment. But what began as a remedy to a specific problem has since been co-opted to serve very different purposes. Under investor-state, if a regulation gets in the way of a foreign investor’s ability to profit from its investment, the investor can sue a country for monetary damages based on both alleged lost profits and “expected future profits.” There are no monetary limits to the potential award.

Apparently a country’s own courts can’t be trusted to administer this kind of lawsuit, so investor-state also requires the creation of a new court. It would be comprised of three private-sector attorneys who take turns being judge and/or corporate advocate.

Nov 04 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting thea Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Those Depressing Germans

German officials are furious at America, and not just because of the business about Angela Merkel’s cellphone. What has them enraged now is one (long) paragraph in a U.S. Treasury report on foreign economic and currency policies. In that paragraph Treasury argues that Germany’s huge surplus on current account – a broad measure of the trade balance – is harmful, creating “a deflationary bias for the euro area, as well as for the world economy.”

The Germans angrily pronounced this argument “incomprehensible.” “There are no imbalances in Germany which require a correction of our growth-friendly economic and fiscal policy,” declared a spokesman for the nation’s finance ministry.

But Treasury was right, and the German reaction was disturbing. For one thing, it was an indicator of the continuing refusal of policy makers in Germany, in Europe more broadly and for that matter around the world to face up to the nature of our economic problems. For another, it demonstrated Germany’s unfortunate tendency to respond to any criticism of its economic policies with cries of victimization.

Dean Baker: Plutocrats vs. Populists: Good Piece Until the End — Answers are Easy

Chrystia Freeland has a good piece in the NYT on the rise of plutocratic politics in the United States and elsewhere and the populist opposition it has provoked. The piece makes many interesting points but then towards the end strangely tells readers:

“Part of the problem is that no one has yet come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs.”

No, this is very far from true. There are very convincing answers to this question, it’s just the plutocrats block them from being put into practice.

Topping the list of course would be aggressive stimulus to bring the economy back to something resembling full employment. This not only would give tens of millions of people more income, it would make many bad jobs into decent jobs.

Robert Kuttner: Lessons of the Obamacare Mess: Public Is Better

The more complex a system is, the more it is at risk of failing in complex ways that were not anticipated by its architects. It would be hard to imagine a more complicated way of expanding health coverage than the Affordable Care Act.

I say that, appreciating that Obamacare will eventually bring health coverage to tens of millions of uninsured people, that it will end the cruelty of denials of coverage based on “pre-existing conditions” (we all have the pre-existing condition of mortality); that it will allow young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance to age 26; and that it will require free preventive care under all insurance plans.

But there was a much simpler way of achieving this. We could have extended Medicare to everyone. Or if that was politically unthinkable, we could have extended Medicare a few years at a time — first to 60 year olds, then to 55 year olds, then to the young, and so on until everyone was covered.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship: The Lies That Will Kill America

Here in Manhattan the other day, you couldn’t miss it — the big bold headline across the front page of the tabloid New York Post, screaming one of those sick, slick lies that are a trademark of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire. There was Uncle Sam, brandishing a revolver and wearing a burglar’s mask. “UNCLE SCAM,” the headline shouted. “US robs bank of $13 billion.”

Say what? Pure whitewash, and Murdoch’s minions know it. That $13 billion dollars is the settlement JPMorgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, is negotiating with the government to settle its own rip-off of American homeowners and investors — those shady practices that five years ago helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure. If anybody’s been robbed it’s not JPMorgan Chase, which can absorb the loss and probably take a tax write-off for at least part of it. No, it’s the American public. In addition to financial heartache we still have been denied the satisfaction of seeing jail time for any of the banksters who put our feet in cement and pushed us off the cliff.

Robert Reich: Why Washington Is Cutting Safety Nets When Most Americans Are Still in the Great Recession

As of November 1 more than 47 million Americans have lost some or all of their food stamp benefits. House Republicans are pushing for further cuts. If the sequester isn’t stopped everything else poor and working-class Americans depend on will be further squeezed.

We’re not talking about a small sliver of America here. Half of all children get food stamps at some point during their childhood. Half of all adults get them sometime between ages 18 and 65. Many employers — including the nation’s largest, Walmart — now pay so little that food stamps are necessary in order to keep food on the family table, and other forms of assistance are required to keep a roof overhead.

The larger reality is that most Americans are still living in the Great Recession. Median household income continues to drop. In last week’s Washington Post-ABC poll, 75 percent rated the state of the economy as “negative” or “poor.”

Ralph Nader: Why the Silence from the Sponsors of the Superior Full Medicare for All?

With the Tea Partiers relentless attacks on each of the troubles besetting Obamacare since its complicated, computer glitch-ridden startup on October 1, 2013, the compelling question is: Why aren’t the Congressional sponsors of H.R. 676 – full Medicare for all with free choice of physician and hospital – speaking out as strongly on behalf of this far superior universal health care coverage?

There are fifty-one members of the House who openly favor the single-payer solution for many good reasons. Legislators behind H.R. 676, such as Reps. Robert Brady (D-PA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Donna Christensen (D-VI), Judy Chu (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Danny Davis (D-IL) know that single-payer insurance with private delivery is by far more efficient, saving $400 billion a year just on administrative simplification.

Nov 04 2013

On This Day In History November 4

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 4 is the 308th day of the year (309th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 57 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discover a step leading to the tomb of King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

The British Egyptologist Howard Carter (employed by Lord Carnarvon) discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb (since designated KV62) in the Valley of the Kings on November 4, 1922, near the entrance to the tomb of Ramesses VI, thereby setting off a renewed interest in all things Egyptian in the modern world. Carter contacted his patron, and on November 26 that year, both men became the first people to enter Tutankhamun’s tomb in over 3000 years. After many weeks of careful excavation, on February 16, 1923, Carter opened the inner chamber and first saw the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. All of this was conveyed to the public by H. V. Morton, the only journalist allowed on the scene.

The first step to the stairs was found on November 4, 1922. The following day saw the exposure of a complete staircase. The end of November saw access to the Antechamber and the discovery of the Annex, and then the Burial Chamber and Treasury.

On November 29, the tomb was officially opened, and the first announcement and press conference followed the next day. The first item was removed from the tomb on December 27.

February 16, 1923 saw the official opening of the Burial Chamber, and April 5 saw the death of Lord Carnarvon.

On February 12, 1924, the granite lid of the sarcophagus was raised In April, Carter argued with the Antiquities Service, and left the excavation for the United States.

In January 1925, Carter resumed activities in the tomb, and on October 13, he removed the cover of the first sarcophagus; on October 23, he removed the cover of the second sarcophagus; on October 28, the team removed the cover of the final sarcophagus and exposed the mummy; and on November 11, the examination of the remains of Tutankhamun started.

Work started in the Treasury on October 24, 1926, and between October 30 and December 15, 1927, the Annex was emptied and examined.

On November 10, 1930, eight years after the discovery, the last objects were finally removed from the tomb of the long lost Pharaoh.

Nov 04 2013

Sunday Train: The Cross-Rail Chicago Project and Midwest HSR

The Midwest HSR Association has long been a Chicago-Centric organization, which is fitting because for many of the urban areas in the nine states that are members of the “Midwest Regional Rail Initiative” intercity rail planning organization, Chicago is included among their top three to five intercity travel destinations.

With the Cross-Rail Chicago proposal, the Midwest HSR Association is proposing to start building from the inside out, providing a set of profits in the Chicago Area that will then provide the through-Chicago system for  intercity rail avoiding the difficult “last mile” problem that the California HSR has to tackle in getting into downtown San Francisco and to Los Angeles Union Station. The proposed project proceeds in phases, with each phase addressing a Chicago regional transport need, even as the total project provides the infrastructure that 110mph and 125mph Rapid Passenger Intercity Rail and 220mph “bullet train” HSR can use to connect to Chicago Union Station and O’Hare International Airport.

The phases are:

  • Expanding Union Station, making use of two existing through tracks and reconstructing unused mail platforms for passenger use;
  • Union Station to O’Hare, reconstructing Metra’s “Milwaukee West” district and building a short section of new rail, initially to a station connecting to the “ATS” people mover extension to the new rental car facility, and eventually via underground stations connecting directly to the O’Hare terminals;
  • Reconstructing the St. Charles Air Line elevated tracks along 16th Street to connect the Union Station through tracks to Metra’s Electric and Rock Island Corridors south of Union Station;
  • With I-90 extensions northwest of O’Hare to Elgin, and then to Rockford Illinois;
  • With I-56 extensions south of the 16th Street Connector to University Park, and then to Kankakee and Champaign

The Midwest HSR Association’s indicative cost estimate for this project is $9.6b, with the Phase One from the 16th Street Connector through Union Station to the O’Hare Transfer Station estimated at $2b.

Nov 04 2013

Sunday Movie Showcase