01/15/2014 archive

WikiLeaks: TPP Waters Down Environmental Protections

WikiLeaks has released the secret draft text for the entire Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) Environment Chapter and the corresponding Chairs’ Report.

TPP Wikileaks photo c1_zpscb2e5e0f.jpg  

The Environment Chapter covers what the Parties propose to be their positions on: environmental issues, including climate change, biodiversity and fishing stocks; and trade and investment in ‘environmental’ goods and services. It also outlines how to resolve enviromental disputes arising out of the treaty’s subsequent implementation. The draft Consolidated Text was prepared by the Chairs of the Environment Working Group, at the request of TPP Ministers at the Brunei round of the negotiations.

When compared against other TPP chapters, the Environment Chapter is noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in ‘environmental’ goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise. [..]

The Chairs’ Report of the Environment Working Group also shows that there are still significant areas of contention in the Working Group. The report claims that the draft Consolidated Text displays much compromise between the Parties already, but more is needed to reach a final text. The main areas of contention listed include the role of this agreement with respect to multilateral environmental agreements and the dispute resolution process.

According to analysis by The New York Times, the Obama administration has backed off support of strong environmental protections under pressure from various emerging nations in Asia, who fear that things like pollution controls will make it more difficult for them to develop their economies.

As it stands now, the documents, viewed by The New York Times, show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections.

The environmental chapter of the trade deal has been among the most highly disputed elements of negotiations in the pact. Participants in the talks, which have dragged on for three years, had hoped to complete the deal by the end of 2013.

Environmentalists said that the draft appears to signal that the United States will retreat on a variety of environmental protections – including legally binding pollution control requirements and logging regulations and a ban on harvesting sharks’ fins – to advance a trade deal that is a top priority for Mr. Obama. [..]

The report indicates that the United States has been pushing for tough environmental provisions, particularly legally binding language that would provide for sanctions against participating countries for environmental violations. The United States is also insisting that the nations follow existing global environmental treaties. [..]

As of now, the draft environmental chapter does not require the nations to follow legally binding environmental provisions or other global environmental treaties. The text notes only, for example, that pollution controls could vary depending on a country’s “domestic circumstances and capabilities.”

The Director of Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, Ilana Solomon released this message about the weak standards and calling on readers to tell congress to reject fast track legislation:

The leaked environment chapter is unenforceable and rife with weak language, according to an analysis of the leaked text by the Sierra Club, WWF, and NRDC.

The leaked environment chapter text falls flat on the standard for environment chapters from the past seven years. Since the May 2007 bipartisan consensus (pdf) on trade by the Bush administration and Congress, the environment chapters of all U.S. free trade agreements have been legally enforceable and included a list of environmental treaties that countries committed to uphold. Today’s leaked text-which is both unenforceable and does not include obligations to uphold commitments made under environmental treaties-does not meet the standard set by Congress.

As Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club stated, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s. This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues – oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections – and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts.” [..]

The current state of the environment chapter is completely unacceptable. It’s unbelievable to think that TPP countries have agreed to allow foreign corporations to attack public interest policies in private trade tribunals, but they can’t agree to a binding environment chapter with strong commitments to help protect natural resources.

This text proves why so many Members of Congress don’t want to give the president “fast-track” authority that could help rush the TPP over the finish line with almost no Congressional input. Tell Congress to reject fast track-legislation that would strip Congress of its own ability to ensure that the TPP, including the environment chapter, actually protects communities and the environment. And the TPP governments must stop pandering to the interest of big corporations and get serious about protecting families and the environment.

Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are opposed to fast track of the TPP. Ms. Pelosi told reporters that she has a problem with the lack of transparency, “We want transparency. We want to see what’s going on there.”

Do not let congress fast track TPP approval


All the World’s a Stage

Oh, yes.  This works

TSA Granting Expedited Security Checks To Entire Lines Of Travelers Undercuts Everything About Its Security Theater

by Tim Cushing, Tech Dirt

Wed, Jan 15th 2014 7:46am

The TSA finally appears to be doing something to trim down the runtime of security theater performances. The PreCheck program, which sold travelers’ rights back to them for a smallish fee is now being applied randomly to people waiting in line. And not just certain somebodies as the TSA did randomly over the holiday season in an effort to appear slightly less annoying. A whole lot of somebodies, according to this report from The Consumerist.

While the TSA would probably prefer this random largesse to be greeted with relief and gratitude, its normal day-to-day enforcement of petty, illogical policies ensures that this sort of thing is only greeted with suspicion.

Chris Morran was naturally perplexed by the TSA’s implicit admission that its security theater was, in fact, security theater. After all, if whole lines can be declared “not terrorists,” then why all the shoeless jumping through hoops the other 99.99% of the time?

Morran has a good reason to be suspicious of this move. Not only does it undercut the TSA’s arguments for pretty much everything else that it does, it also contorts itself to give itself a pat on the back for being so damn good at detecting terrorists. This allows the TSA to give its Threat Assessment Program a veneer of legitimacy it hasn’t earned. Morran points out that he didn’t see a single “screening dog” anywhere and nothing indicating the decision was being made with any sort of “assessment” being involved. It was just business as usual and then, suddenly, everyone swept through the security process with shoes and laptops intact.

While I’m sure the travelers appreciated the expedited process, the real danger here is that the TSA — which is supposed to be ensuring our airplanes are terrorist-free — is now arbitrarily deciding to drop 90% of the process on a whim. Even if the infamous BDOs (and their pet friends) are performing some sort of en masse “assessment,” that process has been deemed no more likely to net a terrorist than the randomly dragging every other person off for extra screening. Either the TSA needs to drop the many pretenses that “support” its procedures or it needs to stand by the very things it has claimed for years are essential to preventing terrorist activity. What if this had nothing to do with assessment and had everything to do with agents feeling less than motivated? It would look exactly the same and would have the same amount of “threat detection” behind it.

Study: Analysis of 225 Terrorism Cases Finds NSA Phone Record Collection Didn’t Prevent Attacks

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Monday January 13, 2014 10:28 am

According to the analysis by the New America Foundation, “An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.”

Telephone metadata collection “played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 percent of these cases.”

Initially, when revelations from disclosures from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began to be published, US intelligence agency officials responded by claiming the program collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans had helped thwart 54 terrorist plots. That fabricated statistic gradually unraveled, especially after Senator Patrick Leahy confronted NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Gen. Alexander has claimed, prior to 9/11, the NSA could not connect the dots because it did not have the dots. This is why it needs the bulk metadata program. But the government did not fail to stop hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar because it did not have this program. “The government missed multiple opportunities to catch Mihdhar.”

In effect, the NSA is exploiting a major policy failure that led to a terrorist attack in order to justify mass surveillance. Had information been shared and had agencies responded to warnings of impending attacks, it is possible Mihdhar could have been stopped.

“The overall problem for US counterterrorism officials is not that they need the information from the bulk collection of phone data, but that they don’t sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that is derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques, the study concludes. It cites a number of recent terrorism attacks where this has been the case: Headley, Maj. Nidal Hasan, Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, Carlos Bledsoe.

This deconstruction of false statements has had an impact. Now, intelligence officials, like former NSA deputy director John Inglis (who retired on Friday), fall back on the argument that the program is an “insurance policy.”

More than six months later, officials have retreated to we must have the phone records of all Americans in a database because it helps us sleep at night. Which proves there is no actual legitimate security justification for collecting and storing the phone records of all Americans.

The only argument for continuing this program is built on an unflinching belief in subjecting a population to mass surveillance. And, when Obama says he will continue it in some form on Friday, he will be arguing for the preservation of a clearly authoritarian program.

Citizens of the USA are the most craven, cowardly people I’ve ever met.

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”.

Wednesday is Ladies Day.

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Yves Smith Administration Peddling Increasing Blatant Canards on Proposed “Trade” Deals

We’ve both written and spoken about the wildly mislabeled “trade” deals that the Obama Administration is still trying hard to conclude, despite its abject failure to meet an arbitrary deadline of year end 2013.

The two pending deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, have perilous little to do with trade. But invoking the magic incantation “free trade” seems to neutralize the reasoning ability of economists and the media. [..]

Why does America have any duty to “level the playing field” if it is not concerned about the welfare of multinational? And spare us Obama’s pretenses to care about the middle class. Un and underemployment languishes in the mid-teens. And our Liar in Chief has taken to trying to depict physically demanding, below living wage jobs (for anyone supporting a household, as opposed to one person) in Amazon warehouses as “middle class”.

And the pretext for the piece is not news. The Senate Finance Committee is gearing up to move a Trade Promotion Authority, which is just another term of art for what is also called “fast track”. Fast track give Congress a limited amount of time to respond to a tabled trade deal with a simple up or down vote. This is just the old effort to move the pacts forward.

But this messaging means the Administration is still keen to get these deals done, which means it is also incumbent to keep the pushback going. Please call or e-mail your representative and tell them “Hell no!”

Ana Marie Cox: That West Virginia Chemical Spill? It’s Likely a Bigger Scandal Than Bridgegate

Sadly, the West Virginia spill just isn’t as interesting for the media and public as the Chris Christie revenge conspiracy. It should be

If we called West Virginia 4-methylcyclohexane-methanol leak “Watergate”, do you think the political press would pay more attention?

Hours of cable news time and thousands of words have been spent in search of what “Bridgegate” means for Chris Christie. An equal and opposite amount of energy has been poured into an examination of what the Christie situation means for Obama.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, there are 300,000 people without useable water, and an unknown number who may fall ill because the warning to avoid the tainted supply came seven hours after the leak was discovered – and perhaps weeks after it happened. (Neighbors of the plant have told reporters they detected the chemical’s odor in December.)

Complaining about desperate news coverage is to call foul on a game that is actually just playing by a different set of rules. I know that. I know, too, that there’s no organized conspiracy, nor even any vague ill will, involved in how it came to be that Bridgegate continues to attract punditry while West Virginia only generates the kind of sympathetic-if-distant coverage we usually grant far-off and not too devastating natural disasters.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Bill de Blasio’s persuasive case for universal pre-K

Last week, as New York found itself in the icy grip of the polar vortex, another deep freeze seemed to be settling over the Empire State – this time between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio – and crystallizing two competing visions for the future of the Democratic Party.

First came dueling news conferences last Monday. Cuomo stood before the Albany press corps, announcing his plan to cut taxes by $2 billion, while de Blasio was in a Harlem classroom, joined by a bevy of labor leaders who pledged their support for his signature policy initiative: funding universal pre-K for 4-year-olds (and after-school programs for all middle schoolers) by increasing the income taxes of New Yorkers making over $500,000 a year by about a half-percentage point. [..]

If de Blasio persuades the governor and state legislators to support him, this will become the model for how to fund crucial priorities in a progressive, sustainable way – and a lesson for Democrats around the country who want to meaningfully address the growing concern about inequality.

Lynn Parramore: How the Big Cell Phone Companies Are Getting Away with Ripping You Off Each Month

If you live in America, there’s a good chance you’ve not been overjoyed by your wireless plan. Simply by using a device essential to your daily life, you have been screwed. Let us count the ways.

If you overestimate how many voice minutes, text messages and data usage you need, you get screwed. If you underestimate, you also get screwed. If you have a contract, you get screwed if the service ends up being bad. If you don’t have a contract, you may find that a company can suddenly raise prices, and so you may get screwed there, too. Studying your bill often reveals still more ways you have been screwed. Did someone with a foreign number text you? Unlucky you! Did you download a ringtone thinking it was free? Oops! You’re screwed. Your bill is a maze of fees: activation fees, upgrade fees, early-termination fees, 411 fees, mysterious third-party fees, fees no one can understand. Customer service is mostly a joke.

Why is this happening to you? Because of a game called Oligopoly.

Zoë Carpenter: Pro-Choice Advocates Plan Offensive in the States

Three years ago, when he was elected governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback promised to sign any anti-abortion bill that landed on his desk. He’s kept his word, signing a handful restrictive measures to force doctors to give medically unsound information to their patients, impose crippling licensing requirements on clinics and divert funds from health providers to crisis pregnancy centers, among other things.

Now, Brownback is facing a re-election campaign that looks decidedly tougher than most expected, and pro-choice activists are eyeing the race as they seek to reverse the momentum of anti-choice laws sweeping the states. Some early polls show Brownback trailing his Democratic challenger, a little-known state representative named Paul Davis who has voted against many of the anti-choice bills.

“Even if Governor Brownback is put on defense because of his abortion stance, that would matter significantly,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.  [..] “There’s a perception that because Kansas is deep red, he’s safe as an anti-choice politician.”

Katha Pollitt: Christie: A Bully’s Bully

Oh, how we love those Republican “straight-shooters.”

I wanted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s press conference to go on forever. And, at 114 minutes, it almost did. I wanted to know more about traffic studies, and Christie’s workout and his personal trainer, his four-hour middle-of-the-night heart-to-heart with his wife, the tight-knit family atmosphere he cultivates at the office and how that had no bearing at all on whether he knew what was going on there. I especially wanted to know more about the governor’s feelings. We know he felt “blindsided,” “humiliated” and “embarrassed” by high-level close associates who arranged for a four-day traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge last September, possibly to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, who hadn’t endorsed him for re-election. And we know he was unhappy (“I am a very sad person today. That’s the emotion I feel”) that, as he tells it, all by themselves deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, Port Authority appointee David Wildstein and other operatives cooked up their retribution scheme, which snarled school schedules and may have contributed to the death of a 91-year-old woman waiting for an ambulance. We know he felt personally betrayed and fired Kelly without even meeting with her because she had “lied” to him. He mentioned her “lies” thirteen times. But there was so much he didn’t tell us! For example, when he said “mistakes were made,” did he know he was quoting Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, or did that particular obfuscatory use of the passive voice just pop into his head? And what about “I am not a bully”? That has a Nixonian ring to it as well. Maybe if he hadn’t fired all those people, they would have told him that if you have to tell people you’re not a bully, you probably are one.


On This Day In History January 15

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.

January 15 is the 15th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 350 days remaining until the end of the year (351 in leap years).

On this day in 1559, Elizabeth Tudor is crowned Queen of England.

Two months after the death of her half-sister, Queen Mary I of England, Elizabeth Tudor, the 25-year-old daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, is crowned Queen Elizabeth I at Westminster Abbey in London.


Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen regnant of England and Queen regnant of Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. The daughter of Henry VIII, she was born a princess, but her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed two and a half years after her birth, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her brother, Edward VI, bequeathed the crown to Lady Jane Grey, cutting his sisters out of the succession. His will was set aside, Lady Jane Grey was executed, and in 1558 Elizabeth succeeded the Catholic Mary I, during whose reign she had been imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.

Elizabeth set out to rule by good counsel, and she depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers led by William Cecil, Baron Burghley. One of her first moves as queen was to support the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement held firm throughout her reign and later evolved into today’s Church of England. It was expected that Elizabeth would marry, but despite several petitions from parliament and numerous courtships, she never did. The reasons for this outcome have been much debated. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity, and a cult grew up around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.

In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and siblings. One of her mottoes was “video et taceo” (“I see, and say nothing”). This strategy, viewed with impatience by her counsellors, often saved her from political and marital misalliances. Though Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs and only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France and Ireland, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 associated her name forever with what is popularly viewed as one of the greatest victories in English history. Within 20 years of her death, she was celebrated as the ruler of a golden age, an image that retains its hold on the English people.

Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous above all for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Sir Francis Drake. Some historians are more reserved in their assessment. They depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity to the point where many of her subjects were relieved at her death. Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor, in an age when government was ramshackle and limited and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. Such was the case with Elizabeth’s rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she imprisoned in 1568 and eventually had executed in 1587. After the short reigns of Elizabeth’s brother and sister, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.