Daily Archive: 04/01/2013

Apr 01 2013

TPP: Expansion of Corporate Power

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership continued under wraps in Singapore earlier this month.

The 16th round of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) began in Singapore today, as trade delegates and private stakeholders from 11 participating countries gather to discuss this the contours of Pacific trade. EFF and many others are deeply concerned about TPP, because it appears to contain an intellectual property (IP) chapter that would ratchet up IP enforcement at the expense of digital rights. The TPP could turn Internet Service Providers into copyright cops, prompt ever-higher criminal and civil penalties for sharing content, and expand protections for Digital Rights Management. The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) has announced that they plan to complete the TPP by the fall of this year.

We say “appears to contain” because the negotiations have been carried out in secret: our understanding of the U.S. proposal is based primarily on leaked texts from February 2011. However, there have been some additional leaks, like those following the USTR announcement that the TPP would include exceptions and limitations to copyright. Despite the USTR’s effort to suggest that introducing fair use into the TPP was its idea, the leaked negotiating text made it clear that the U.S. was likely pressured into agreeing to exceptions and limitations as a concession. The leak also showed that the U.S. and Australia opposed any fair use that would extend to the “digital environment.” Thus, it appears the USTR continues to lobby for ever more stringent international IP standards without much regard for the collateral damage to the public interest.

The AFL-CIO is also concerned that TPP would have a negative impact on basic labor rights, including free association and collective bargaining:

For example, regarding labor rights, the “Outlines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement” released in November 2011 reads: “TPP (Trans-Pacific FTA) countries are discussing elements for a labor chapter that include commitments on labor rights protection and mechanisms to ensure cooperation, coordination, and dialogue on labor issues of mutual concern,” but fails to mention core labor standards (as determined by the International Labor Organization) or even whether the labor provisions in the final agreement will be enforceable.

Margaret Flowers, a congressional fellow with Physicians for a National Health Program and a pediatrician based in Baltimore and Kevin Zeese, activist lawyer and co-director of It’s Our Economy, discussed the agreements impact on  labor, environmental, and internet rights with Paul Jay of the Real News Network.

TransPacific Partnership Will Undermine Democracy, Empower Transnational Corporations

by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Truthout | News Analysis

On critical issues, the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated in secret by the Obama administration will undermine democracy in the United States and around the world and further empower transnational corporations. It will circumvent protections for health care, wages, labor rights, consumers’ rights and the environment, and decrease regulation of big finance and risky investment practices.

The only way this treaty, which will be very unpopular with the American people once they are aware of it, can be approved is if the Obama administration avoids the democratic process by using an authority known as “Fast Track,” which limits the constitutional checks and balances of Congress.

If the TPP is approved, the sovereignty of the United States and other member nations will be dissipated by trade tribunals that favor corporate power and force national laws to be subservient to corporate interests.

Apr 01 2013

Energy Secretary Nominee a Shill For Big Oil and Fracking

The Department of Energy, like the Treasury Department and Justice, has become a revolving door for shills for oil and fracking companies. Pres. Barack Obama’s nominee for Energy Secretary, Ernest Muniz to replace out going Secretary Steven Chu, is no different.

President Obama’s pick to run the Department of Energy has been a highly paid consultant for a private equity firm heavily invested in the oil and gas sector while running MIT’s premier energy research center, according to financial disclosure documents.

Ernest Moniz, who has directed the MIT Energy Initiative since it was established in 2006, has earned at least $75,000 since 2008 advising Riverstone Equity Holdings LP, which according to government filings has $2.5 billion invested in a variety of fossil fuel production and storage companies in the United States and abroad.

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now discussed Prof. Muniz’s nomination with Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative and ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott, who have both authored investigations into Moniz’s ties to industry.

Energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz has deep ties to oil, gas, and nuclear industries

by John Upton, Grist

The Republican minority in the Senate loves to obstruct confirmation of President Obama’s Cabinet nominees, but it isn’t saying boo about the man who appears set to become the nation’s next energy secretary.

That might be because Ernest Moniz has friendly relations with a number of dirty energy companies – the kind of companies that generously fund so many senators’ campaigns. [..]

Moniz also directs the MIT Energy Initiative, which gets significant corporate funding from BP, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Chevron, and a number of utilities that operate nuclear plants.

At the same time, Moniz has stressed the importance of moving away from coal and has promoted and called for more funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency. That’s earned him praise from the Natural Resources Defense Council. But other environmental and watchdog groups are campaigning against his nomination because of his industry ties. [..]

Moniz is also coming under criticism for a big report on natural gas released by the MIT Energy Initiative in 2011. It called the environmental impacts of fracking “challenging but manageable,” endorsed natural-gas exports, and talked up gas as a “bridge fuel” that could help the country move away from dirtier fossil fuels and toward clean energy (a controversial notion).

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Moniz April 9. MIT has said that Prof. Muniz is not giving interviews, and the White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.  

Apr 01 2013

Tar Sands Oil Spilled In Arkansas

On Friday, a 20 inch pipeline carrying Canadian heavy crude oil ruptured in Arkansas flooding the town of Mayflower with 84,000 gallons of the world’s dirtiest oil. The pipeline was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude, a heavy bitumen crude diluted with lighter liquids to allow it to flow through pipelines. the oil is produced in the Athabasca region, where the oil sands are located.

According to Exxon, the Pegasus pipeline carries 90,000 barrels of oil per day from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels per day from Canada the Gulf Coast refining hub. This is the second spill of Canadian oil in the past week. A tanker train derailed in Minnesota spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.

This has prompted critics of Keystone XL, to point out the dangers of the pipeline and urge the president to reject the permit. “This latest pipeline incident is a troubling reminder that oil companies still have not proven that they can safely transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States without creating risks to our citizens and our environment,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Chris Takkett at Treehugger explains what happens when a pipeline breaks:

I’m no engineer, but from what I understand, when a section of pipe ruptures, the quantity of oil that can spill is as large as the pipe is thick and long until you reach the nearest shutoff valve. It also depends on how fast the pipeline operators notice the spill, shut off the flow and close the leak.

At Crooks and Liars, Diane Sweet noted:

In 2009, Exxon modified the capacity of the Pegasus pipeline, increasing the capacity to transport Canadian tar sands oil by 50 percent, or about 30,000 barrels per day. In a 2012 report, Bloomberg News reported the pipeline daily capacity to be 96,000 barrels of oil per day.

Tar sands oil is the most toxic fossil fuel on the planet, that leaves in its wake scarred landscapes, a web of pipelines, and polluting refineries.

This morning on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman spoke with environmental activist Bill McKibben of 350.org about the spill.

The Sierra Club explains why this type of oil, diluted bitumen (dilbit), is different making it difficult to clean up:

Apr 01 2013

Influential Men

5 x Five

Apr 01 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 the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Lessons From a Comeback

Modern movement conservatism, which transformed the G.O.P. from the moderate party of Dwight Eisenhower into the radical right-wing organization we see today, was largely born in California. The Golden State, even more than the South, created today’s religious conservatism; it elected Ronald Reagan governor; it’s where the tax revolt of the 1970s began. But that was then. In the decades since, the state has grown ever more liberal, thanks in large part to an ever-growing nonwhite share of the electorate. [..]

A dozen years ago, the state was supposedly doomed by all its environmentalists. You see, the eco-freaks were blocking power plants, and the result was crippling blackouts and soaring power prices. “The country’s showcase state,” gloated The Wall Street Journal, “has come to look like a hapless banana republic.”

But a funny thing happened on the road to collapse: it turned out that the main culprit in the electricity crisis was deregulation, which opened the door for ruthless market manipulation. When the market manipulation went away, so did the blackouts.

Thomas Homer-Dixon: The Tar Sands Disaster

IF President Obama blocks the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all, he’ll do Canada a favor.

Canada’s tar sands formations, landlocked in northern Alberta, are a giant reserve of carbon-saturated energy – a mixture of sand, clay and a viscous low-grade petroleum called bitumen. Pipelines are the best way to get this resource to market, but existing pipelines to the United States are almost full. So tar sands companies, and the Alberta and Canadian governments, are desperately searching for export routes via new pipelines.

Canadians don’t universally support construction of the pipeline. A poll by Nanos Research in February 2012 found that nearly 42 percent of Canadians were opposed. Many of us, in fact, want to see the tar sands industry wound down and eventually stopped, even though it pumps tens of billions of dollars annually into our economy.

Dean Baker: Profit Share Hits Post-War High and the Post Doesn’t Notice

The revised GDP data for the fourth quarter released yesterday showed the profit share of corporate income hitting 25.6 percent. This is the highest since it stood at 25.8 percent in 1951. However if we look at the after-tax share of 19.2 percent, we would have to go back to 20.8 percent share in 1930 to find a higher number, excepting of course the 19.3 percent number hit last year.

To put this in context, the after-tax profit share was just 14.5 percent in Reagan’s Morning in America days. The difference would have come to roughly $330 billion last year. To put this in the 10-year budgetary window that is the standard framework in Washington these days, the rise in after-tax corporate profits since the Reagan era can be seen as equivalent to a $5.0 trillion tax on the nation’s workers.

This surge in profits in a weak economy (profits tend to move with the cycle) is striking but readers of the Washington Post version of AP piece on the data wouldn’t know anything about it. This piece includes no mention of the jump in corporate profits in 2012.

Robert Kuttner: Looking Backwards

Jubilant Republicans took back the Senate in yesterday’s mid-term election, and appeared to have increased their majority in the House by about ten seats.

“Barack Obama is now the lamest of lame ducks,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now the Majority Leader, who held on to his own Kentucky seat by about three percentage points, the Senate Republicans only close call of the evening.

“The Senate numbers this year were against the Democrats,” said pollster Stan Greenberg, “but what really killed us with the voters was the economy.” [..]

“This fiasco, once again, is why I don’t call myself a Democrat,” said Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders. “Don’t progressives get even one party?”

Apr 01 2013

On This Day In History April 1

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.

April 1 is the 91st day of the year (92nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 274 days remaining until the end of the year. April 1 is most notable in the Western world for being April Fools’ Day.

On this day in 1700, English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other.

Although the day, also called All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery. Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

April Fools’ Day is celebrated all around the world on the April 1 of every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools’ Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day where everyone plays all kind of joke and foolishness. The day is marked by the commission of good humoured or funny jokes, hoaxes, and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, work associates, etc.

Traditionally, in some countries such as New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Australia, and South Africa, the jokes only last until noon, and someone who plays a trick after noon is called an “April Fool”.

Elsewhere, such as in France, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Russia, The Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S., the jokes last all day. The earliest recorded association between April 1 and foolishness can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392). Many writers suggest that the restoration of the January 1 as New Year’s Day in the 16th century was responsible for the creation of the holiday, but this theory does not explain earlier references.