Daily Archive: 05/02/2013

May 02 2013

Stop TPP: Time to Take Action

I’ve been writing about the Trans Pacific Partnership for over a year, it still flies under the radar in the news media for a number of reasons, the most obvious reason is that the corporate giants don’t want the public knowing how really bad this trade agreement is. It is so bad that Mitt Romney urged Pres. Obama to finish negotiations and ratify it. Those negotiations are slowly coming to a conclusion.

Political corruption and the ‘free trade’ racket by Dean Baker, Al Jazeera

In polite circles in the United States, support for free trade is a bit like proper bathing habits: It is taken for granted. Only the hopelessly crude and unwashed would not support free trade.

There is some ground for this attitude. Certainly, the US has benefited enormously by being able to buy a wide range of items at lower cost from other countries. However, this does not mean that most people in the country have always benefited from every opening to greater trade.

And it certainly does not mean that the country will benefit from everything that those in power label as “free trade”. That is the story we are seeing now as the Obama administration is pursuing two major “free trade” agreements that in fact have very little to do with free trade and are likely to hurt those without the money and power to be part of the game.

The deals in questions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both being pushed as major openings to trade that will increase growth and create jobs. In fact, eliminating trade restrictions is a relatively small part of both agreements, since most tariffs and quotas have already been sharply reduced or eliminated.

Rather, these deals are about securing regulatory gains for major corporate interests. In some cases, such as increased patent and copyright protection, these deals are 180 degrees at odds with free trade. They are about increasing protectionist barriers.

AS part of these agreements, the worst parts of the zombie bill, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are being incorporated to “police” the internet.

Foreseeing opposition and difficulty getting the 2/3rd’s majority to pass this nightmare, Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has proposed amendments to a Senate budget resolution that would speed its passage and implementation:

Hatch, who has been pressing the White House to move forward with fast-track authority, intends to offer an amendment that calls for implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is expected to be completed this year, along with a U.S.-European Union trade deal, which is set to begin talks in June, and any other potential free-trade agreements to be done under trade promotion authority (TPA). [..]

Meanwhile, all of these negotiations have been held in secret. Yves Smith writes this at naked capitalism:

Congressional staffers have confirmed that the text of the TPP draft is classified. That means that only people with security clearances, which for practical matters means Congressmen and certain staffers on key committees (House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee) in theory have access. That is already a monster impediment. Congressmen almost never have the time (even where they have the ability) to read long agreements in full and parse how key sections work (which often mean going back to definitions and in some cases, existing law). So keeping most staffers and third parties with expertise away assures that (until the last minute) the discussion and “clarifications” of the provisions under negotiation will come only from parties that are already in the tank.

But practice is even worse than theory. The full draft text is being withheld. And as anyone who has been involved in legal-related drafting knows, the actual language is critical. General terms and concepts that sound innocuous can serve as Trojan horses for all sorts of clever “gotcha” provisions.

Yves also brings attention to an article from Truthout

   Under federal law, members of the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committees are designated official advisers to the USTR. In addition to every Representative and Senator, those panels’ staffers – being on “committees of jurisdiction” – are made privy to the American delegation’s proposals.

   Not a single person in Congress, however – or in any legislature of any country party to the deal – is allowed to even once-over the latest version of the actual draft agreement. In an email to Truthout, USTR spokesperson Carol Guthrie confirmed that senators and Congresspeople on committees of jurisdiction, along with their staffers, are only allowed to see the USTR proposals – not the working agreement. She added that “others at the discretion of the committees’ chair and ranking member” are given access to USTR proposals.

It is time for some cleansing sunshine.

We need to start to take action by calling our Senators and Representatives to tell them to stop this bill that will give international corporations more power that our own government, laws and courts,

May 02 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

The New York Times Editorial Board: The President and the Hunger Strike

As of Tuesday morning, Charlie Savage reported in The Times, 100 of the 166 inmates at Guantánamo are participating in a hunger strike against their conditions and indefinite detention. Twenty-one have been “approved” for force-feeding, which involves the insertion of a tube through their nostrils and down their throats.

Mr. Obama defended the practice. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” he said.

Most people don’t. But a recently published bipartisan report on detainee treatment by the Constitution Project said “forced feeding of detainees is a form of abuse and must end.” The World Medical Association has long considered forced feeding a violation of a physicians’ ethics when it is done against a competent person’s express wishes, a point that was reinforced on April 25 by Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Dean Baker: Logic Deficit: Why Were Reinhart-Rogoff Ever Taken Seriously?

The controversy continues to simmer around the Reinhart-Rogoff (RR) paper and the now famous Excel spreadsheet error that led to claim that debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent led to sharply lower growth rates. The University of Massachusetts paper that exposed this mistake has led many people to reconsider their earlier acceptance of the Reinhart-Rogoff 90 percent debt cliff.

While that is a positive development, the re-examination should go a step deeper and ask why anyone ever took their argument seriously in the first place. It’s not just the arithmetic on debt-to-GDP ratios that tripped up RR; it was the basic logic of their argument.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Repeal the Sequester – and the Insanity Behind It

Sure, we urgently need to repeal the sequester.  (You can tell your Representative that here.) But it’s even more important to repeal the insane thinking that led to the sequester.  

That means repealing the deficit babble that still dominates Washington (and provided the theme for the President’s weekly Saturday address). It means repealing a conservative Republicanism which is based, not on economic philosophy, but on an atavistic hatred for government in any form.

Most of all, it means repealing the politics of deprivation and replacing them with the politics of growth. We’ve learned that contractionary policy based on government cuts is … well, contractionary.  And that expansion policy is needed if we want the economy to expand.

The argument shouldn’t be about where we should be cutting, but about where we should be spending more money.

William K. Black: The Lethal Lemons on the Road to Bangladesh

I wrote yesterday about the “control frauds” (in which the person controlling a seemingly legitimate entity uses it as a “weapon” to defraud) that target purchasers of bad quality goods (“lemons”) and employees. The example I used to explain these concepts was the collapse of the building housing garment factories in Bangladesh.

As I write, there are terrible reports indicating that the death toll is far greater than currently reported. Again, the initial reports from a disaster often prove inaccurate in important ways so I urge caution and the need to confirm whether the newer reports are accurate.

The higher death toll is not what prompts this article. I write to discuss the intersection of control fraud, austerity, globalization, labor “reform,” and economic development.

Jared Berbstein: The Trouble With Low Inflation

The Fed announced today that they’ll continue to be the only ones in town trying to do something about the stubbornly high unemployment rate:

   The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that its stimulus campaign would press forward at the same pace it has maintained since December, putting to rest for now any suggestion that it was leaning toward doing less.

[..]

The Fed’s “…statement also noted that the pace of inflation had slackened, a potential sign of economic weakness, but it showed little concern about that trend.”

Me, I’m pretty concerned about that trend. On the one hand, lower price growth means higher real wages, all else equal, and that’s important as slower nominal wage growth is another problem right now.

Robert Reich: The Fed, Apple and Trickle-Down Economics

The Fed’s policy of keeping interest rates near zero is another form of trickle-down economics.

For evidence, look no further than Apple’s decision to borrow a whopping $17 billion and turn it over to its investors in the form of dividends and stock buy-backs.

Apple is already sitting on $145 billion. But with interest rates so low, it’s cheaper to borrow. This also lets Apple avoid U.S. taxes on its cash horde socked away overseas where taxes are lower.

Other big companies are doing much the same on a smaller scale.

Who gains from all this? The richest 10 percent of Americans who own 90 percent of all shares of stock.

May 02 2013

On This Day In History May 2

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.

Click on images to enlarge

May 2 is the 122nd day of the year (123rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 243 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 2011, Osama bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, died . He was killed in an attack on the compound where he was hiding outside the Pakistan capital of Islamabad. U.S. President Barack Obama announced on national television that bin Laden had been killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan by American military forces and that his body was in U.S. custody.

The raid began around 1 a.m. local time, when 23 U.S. Navy SEALs in two Black Hawk helicopters descended on the compound in Abbottabad, a tourist and military center north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. One of the helicopters crash-landed into the compound but no one aboard was hurt. During the raid, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, five people, including bin Laden and one of his adult sons, were killed by U.S. gunfire. No Americans were injured in the assault. Afterward, bin Laden’s body was flown by helicopter to Afghanistan for official identification, then buried at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Sea less than 24 hours after his death, in accordance with Islamic practice. [..]

A break in the hunt for bin Laden came in August 2010, when C.I.A. analysts tracked the terrorist leader’s courier to the Abbottabad compound, located behind tall security walls in a residential neighborhood. (U.S. intelligence officials spent the ensuing months keeping the compound under surveillance; however, they were never certain bin Laden was hiding there until the raid took place.) The U.S. media had long reported bin Laden was believed to be hiding in the remote tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border, so many Americans were surprised to learn the world’s most famous fugitive had likely spent the last five years of his life in a well-populated area less than a mile from an elite Pakistani military academy. After the raid, which the U.S. reportedly carried out without informing the Pakistani government in advance, some American officials suspected Pakistani authorities of helping to shelter bin Laden in Abbottabad, although there was no concrete evidence to confirm this.