01/22/2015 archive

Are you ready for Hillary?

NAFTA, TPP & The Clinton Global Initiative’s “Free Trade” Activism

By Gaius Publius, Crooks & Liars

1/21/15 10:36am

(L)et’s fix three pieces in our brains:

  • Before NAFTA passed, Bill Clinton, Pete Peterson and a raft of “pre-NAFTA economic studies” predicted one million new jobs, increased exports, and a lower trade deficit.
  • After NAFTA passed, we lost one million jobs, increased imports, and increased the trade deficit by a factor of almost 5.
  • Pro-NAFTA companies, who promised to create new jobs here, moved existing jobs abroad almost as soon as it was signed.

The third piece counts. Clinton claims to have been mistaken on free-trade policy (as opposed to having been knowingly complicit with the damage). But I can’t imagine either Peterson or any American CEO didn’t have the obvious stapled in front of them – that when it’s cheaper to export jobs, you export jobs and pocket the cash. That NAFTA was going to be a gift of cash from the day it was conceived.

In other words, NAFTA was designed by its creators to export jobs, and “predictions” to the contrary were just propaganda. CEO substitution rule: When they mention “more jobs,” they always mean “more profit.”

The next NAFTA is called “TPP” (the Trans-Pacific Partnership), there’s a trans-Atlantic version in the wings (called, TPIP), and Barack Obama is playing the Clinton game with both. He and his corporate-controlled friends are pushing for them, starting with TPP, hoping that a Republican Congress can give him what a Democratic Congress could not.

Of course they’re promising “more jobs” again, but the deal itself and the negotiations are in secret, and they’ll only allow a vote under “Fast Track” rules – no amendments, just an up-or-down vote. All of this to promote deceptively named “free trade,” meaning freedom for the global holders of wealth to do whatever they want with it anywhere in the world.

Keep all this in mind when the phrase “lesser evil” turns up again in 2016. Just as Hillary Clinton is a carbon candidate (click to see why), she’s a “free trade” TPP candidate as well. Yes, she once said … sorta, under pressure of a political campaign … that NAFTA could have been better (“has not lived up to its promises”).

(T)he Clinton Foundation’s CGI is used as an agent of neoliberal policies. Swenson’s whole section on this is worth reading.

The do-gooder aspect of the Clinton family’s CGI – yes, family; the official name of the umbrella organization is “Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation” – obscures its definition of “good.” The organization promotes these “good” things – more carbon emissions in the form of fracked methane (“America’s natural gas”), privately-owned schools, privately-owned public infrastructure like bridges and roads – and it does so by hosting forums presented people like Robert Rubin, fracked methane CEOs, and other billionaire beneficiaries of these policies.

CGI sells “energy independence” – meaning continuing profits for “U.S.” oil and gas companies.

CGI sells privatized education, and road and bridge repair financed with “public-private partnerships”.

“Public-private partnership” means using corporate money to finance public needs, then giving the bulk of the benefit back to the corporation in the form of profit (most of which lines CEO-class pockets). Think parking meters in Chicago.

CGI also promotes studies in “behavioral psychology” to find better ways to influence (“nudge” … “gently urge”) changes in public behavior that benefit the billionaires.

The U.S. television viewer is already heavily “influenced” (nudged; propagandized) by what she watches. There’s a science to it, and CGI wants to help billionaires harness that science to their benefit.

All in all, the bottom line is clear. The piece closes by noting the obvious contradiction – how can a “meeting of one-percenters” address problems their own policies, eagerly pursued, are causing?

What’s the goal of CGI? The answer has to be – to prop up the One Percent (actually the 0.001%, the 1% of the 1%) while appearing to do good, or by doing enough good to appear to be all-good.

As to CGI’s managers, from the Clintons on down, are they failing to solve global economic problems out of ignorance of the obvious – that their proposed “solutions” are in fact the cause? Or are they failing for some other reason? If trade deals, to pick just one issue, are so bad for the average worker, are they too … what, dumb? … to see that, or too venal to cop to it?

And what about the Clintons themselves? What causes this family to collect millions for a foundation loved by “do-gooder” billionaires – and likely funded by them – a foundation that promotes policies that keep these people rich and the rest of us poor, despite its stated objectives?

There are several ways to answer these questions, some social, some intellectual, some financial. None is flattering.

I want to tie up this bundle. This is in part about TPP, but it’s also about Hillary Clinton and what CGI says about how she would act if elected. I want to ask three questions:

  • Is there any question that NAFTA and TPP are good only for billionaires?
  • Is there any question that the Clinton Global Initiative promotes billionaire policies, including but not limited to job-killing “free trade” deals?
  • Is there any question that CGI’s activism represents policy directions that all of the Clintons, CGI principals, approve of?

And a fourth question:

  • If the answers above are No, No, and No, how is Hillary Clinton the “lesser evil” on America’s most important domestic issue, extreme and worsening economic inequality?

I’m not sure I can answer that in a way that comforts left-leaning 2016 voters.

Is the State of the Union Economically Strong?

Just how strong is the US economy? In his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touted it strength and made proposals that would make it stronger but how does that hold up in the face the recessions in European and Asian countries? Real News senior editor, Paul Jay discusses the real state of the union with William K. Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City, and James S. Henry, economist, attorney and investigative journalist.

Transcript can be read here

The Breakfast Club (Breaking Netscape)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgYeah, usually I’m the first and last guy to break format.  The first because I need something that suits my style and the last because once you’ve set up something that works, why fix it?

Today I find myself caught between conflicting forces.  I’ve been much busier than you think in my personal life and the schedule that I normally adhere to quite rigidly (9 to 11 and 4 to 6 with the orchids) is shot to hell, has been since the holidays, and I expect it to continue at least through Groundhog Day.  This bothers me much more than it does you or should because it’s not necessarily bad news unless you pride yourself on certain expectations of performance.

The second is that there is one piece of earth shattering news that kind of eclipses everything else.

What?  Obama suddenly turned populist during the State of the Union?

You wish.  Microsoft is going to be giving away Windows 10 for “free”.

Allow me to explain.

Windows 8 was a stinker, a deal breaking piece of crap that was not only buggy as hell (ala Vista to which it was never too early to say Hasta la to baby) but fundamentally required businesses, only 70% of Microsoft’s market, to invest in exhorbitantly expensive hardware upgrades and even more in training costs.

Let me emphasise the training costs, most workers only know what the need to know to get the job done.  They are trained by the people around them to the level of competancy required in order to be productive and in most cases personel turnover is not high enough to justify a dedicated and highly compensated staff to educate them.

If you go into an office situation you’ll find that most desktops look and feel remarkably similar to the standard set down by Windows 95, the last radical interface introduced by Microsoft to gain wide acceptance.  This is true whether they run Windows 98, XP, NT, Server, Vista, or 7 (or variants of them like XP-64 Pro).

As a home user your experience is quite different.  Each default installation has all kinds of incompatible visual tweaks and cues and garish backgrounds and skins to make it look “fresh”, “exciting”, and “new”.  IT pros knew that there was always a secret hidden button that would restore the Windows “Classic” look and feel and eliminate training the basics of interacting between the screen, mouse, and keyboard.

But the business market is stable and not growing.  They buy solutions to problems and once the problem is solved have no incentive to change.  XP still has 18% penetration in offices, my Doctor’s for instance where they just rolled out a new paperless record keeping system that took Billions to develop and deploy.

Here is where economics and greed raise their ugly head.  Because the Stock Market is nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme casino, profitability doesn’t matter- only growth.  I can charge you a Dollar for a program that is stable and requires no investment besides the nickle it costs for a CD to burn it on and make 95 Cents Millions of times a day.  Wall Street does not reward that behavior.

Nope, Mr. Market has already discovered the value of that and unless you’re into clipping coupons and collecting dividends at rates in line with the prevailing economy with little risk it has no attraction.  You want to be a Lion Tamer.

Apple ran into this problem early.  They had the Educational sector sewn up but were not making any progress otherwise with their proprietary and high priced hardware and software.  For them the solution was to get into the toy business.  Who needs a digital Walkman if you have a Walkman that works perfectly fine?  Nobody, not even a Walkman that plays TV.  But you can promote this attractive nuisance as a business category that is growing and in which you have a dominant position and attract lots of money from gamblers who you can con into thinking this is the next big thing no matter how tiny and insignificant it actually is.

At last even mighty Microsoft fell into the trap.  Windows 8 is an Operating System for toys and gadgets, not for working and businesses who were very unhappy.  To its credit Microsoft heard them, sacked those responsible for doing the Opening Credits in Norwegian, and rushed back to redo the User Interface.  Thus Windows 10 is born.

About that price

Microsoft’s 3 year obsolescence cycle is about more than driving new purchases.  They’ve also decided it’s not cost effective to be stuck with maintaining old products.  Likewise they are trying to reduce the number of them.  One goal which has not changed is making Windows work across many platforms (phone, tablet, PC) which Microsoft justifies on ease of use but is really intended as a cost reduction measure.  They’re also not above giving away software to get greater penetration and destroy the market, witness what they did very successfully to the Netscape Navigator browser with Internet Explorer.

Attempts to repeat that have a mixed record, Windows Media Player and CD Burner has not really killed Nero (which costs a pretty penny but is mostly bundled free with your optical drive) or StarBurn (always free), Windows Defender has not replaced the multitude of anti-virus programs (most of them no better than viruses themselves), nor has their speech recognition Dragon Naturally Speaking.

They’re under increasing pressure from other “free” applications like Goggle Chrome which is a browser based Operating System to Linux which does it all and is arguably better.  To counter this Microsoft has said for years that they want to move to a service based business model where you, as a consumer, don’t actually “own” anything and instead pay a yearly fee like your phone or cable bill.  Think this won’t work?  Ask anyone who’s had the misfortune to put Norton’s or McAffee’s anti-virus on their machines where it is practically impossible to remove and will brick your computer (i.e. turn it into a non-functional door stop) unless you pay for their annual update.

Also, in the gadget marketplace (phones and tablets), they are already giving it away in a desperate attempt to win share.  The profit margins in those appliances is virtually non-existant anyway, companies give you the hardware to get your signature on a long-term contract and then nickle and dime you into bankruptcy.

Will Windows 10 succeed?  The price is right but no amount of money is sufficient to compensate for the cost of re-training.  If it were everyone would be running Ubuntu.

Science and Tech News

Science and Tech Blogs

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

No News, Blogs, Video, or other Obligatories today.

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

Laura Flanders: If People Were Pipelines

The UN has called on Nigeria to restore law and order in the northeast and investigate mass killings alleged to have been carried out in the past few weeks by the militant group, Boko Haram. [..]

Black lives don’t matter as much as white to the West, that’s clear. But everywhere #profitsmattermost.

Western media stereotypes notwithstanding, Nigeria’s not some tin-pot state. The largest economy on the continent, a founding member of OPEC, one of the world’s leading oil producers, it’s not the government that’s poor, only the vast majority of its people. Nigeria’s seen billions of oil dollars flow through it, the lion’s share to corporations including Chevron, Exxon and Shell, but the oil giants have kicked back plenty to Nigerian leaders, elected and not, in exchange for protection.

As a result, the military’s annual budget today exceeds $6bn, and they’ve never been reluctant to use it to protect pipelines.

Bryce Covert: Obama Brings the Work/Family Debate Out of Women’s Heads and Into the Mainstream

In 1970, President Nixon was poised to sign into law bipartisan legislation passed by both houses of Congress that would have addressed one of the biggest unfinished fights from the women’s liberation movement: universal childcare. He was in favor of it, too, until his adviser Pat Buchanan convinced him to veto it. Veto it he did, with such scathing force that the issue all but disappeared from the political radar for decades.

Until last night’s State of the Union address. President Obama has called for universal preschool before, but he has consistently couched it in terms of educating future workers, rarely talking about how quality care-starting at age zero-could help working parents. And he’s also called for more affordable childcare, particularly at the White House Summit on Working Families last June. But for the first time, he not only brought up childcare as national priority in his State of the Union address; he not only talked about universal childcare; he also talked about it as a gender-neutral crisis.

With last night’s State of the Union, Obama moved work/family issues like unaffordable childcare and an absence of paid leave into the mainstream-for everyone, not just women.

Zoë Carpenter: Campaign Finance Reform: Not Just for Democrats?

Ask Maine State Senator Ed Youngblood what’s changed most since he first ran for office in 2000 and the answer is easy: the money. Back then, legislative races in the state attracted less than a quarter of a million dollars in outside spending. By 2012, political groups were pouring more than $3.5 million into those contests. Much of that swell had to do with the decision that the Supreme Court handed down five years ago today in Citizens United v. FEC, the case that opened the door for unlimited corporate political spending. [..]

Maine seems to illustrate a dire state of affairs, with out-of-date rules governing an electoral landscape that has been profoundly altered by unfettered big money. At the federal level campaign finance reform looks increasingly partisan, and with Republicans in control of Congress there’s little hope for movement on any of the several bills Democrats have put forward.

But the real action is at the state and local level, and Maine is actually one of the places where reformers are most hoping for progress. There, Youngblood is one champion in a campaign to strengthen the same public financing program that got him elected. Lawmakers in a number of other states and municipalities are considering proposals ranging from similar public financing programs to stricter disclosure requirements and incentives for small donors. “Efforts to simply restrict big expenditures are going to run afoul of the Supreme Court until we win a constitutional amendment, ” explained Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of the reform group Public Campaign. “In the near term, the most important things we can win right now, the things that will make most change immediately, are small donor-enhancing systems.”

Michael Winship: In SOTU, President Punts on Income Inequality

Much of the buildup to President Obama’s State of the Union address made it sound as if he was going to read chapter and verse from French economist Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century – you know, last year’s 700-plus page best seller, the one that was unexpectedly all the rage as it argued that vast economic inequality is as much about wealth (what’s owned) as it is about income (what’s earned). That one. [..]

Not that anyone really expected the president to address Congress like a tutorial in global economics, but the Piketty meme took hold in a lot of the media. “Echoes of Piketty in Obama Proposal to Address Income Inequality” read a headline in The New York Times previewing the address just hours before it was delivered. The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog predicted, “President Obama finally has his Piketty moment.” The paper’s Matt O’Brien wrote, “The state of the union is pretty good, actually, but President Obama has an idea to make it better: taxing Wall Street and the super-rich to make middle-class work even more worthwhile. It’s Piketty with an American accent.”

If only.

Charles M. Blow: Inequality in the Air We Breathe?

There is a long history in this country of exposing vulnerable populations to toxicity.

Fifteen years ago, Robert D. Bullard published Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. In it, he pointed out that nearly 60 percent of the nation’s hazardous-waste landfill capacity was in “five Southern states (i.e., Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas),” and that “four landfills in minority ZIP codes areas represented 63 percent of the South’s total hazardous-waste capacity” although “blacks make up only about 20 percent of the South’s total population.”

More recently, in 2012, a study by researchers at Yale found that “The greater the concentration of Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans or poor residents in an area, the more likely that potentially dangerous compounds such as vanadium, nitrates and zinc are in the mix of fine particles they breathe.”

Among the injustices perpetrated on poor and minority populations, this may in fact be the most pernicious and least humane: the threat of poisoning the very air that you breathe.

I have skin in this game. My family would fall in the shadow of the plume. But everyone should be outraged about this practice. Of all the measures of equality we deserve, the right to feel assured and safe when you draw a breath should be paramount.

Brendan Fischer: 5 Years after Citizens United, Democracy Is for Sale

Over the last five years, the Koch political network has evolved into what many have described as a shadow political party. The Kochs and their network of wealthy donors spent $300 million in the 2014 elections, after raising at least $400 million in the 2012 presidential races, with almost all of the spending passing through an array of political vehicles that are officially “independent” from candidates and political parties.

Today, candidates who receive the blessing of Charles and David can watch their political fortunes skyrocket, thanks to the huge financial resources the Kochs and their deep-pocketed allies can funnel into elections. Joni Ernst, for example, was a local elected official four years ago, yet this year was sworn-in as a U.S. Senator and delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address–a rapid trajectory which she attributes to support from the Koch political network.

If a “Koch primary”–where a handful of wealthy donors can determine political futures, regardless of political party–sounds more like an oligarchy than a democracy, you are probably right.

On This Day In History January 22

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 22 is the 22nd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 343 days remaining until the end of the year (344 in leap years).

On this day in 1968, the NBC-TV show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, debuted “from beautiful downtown Burbank” on this night. The weekly show, produced by George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, then Paul Keyes, used 260 pages of jokes in each hour-long episode. The first 14 shows earned “Laugh-In” (as it was commonly called) 4 Emmys. And “you bet your bippy”, Nielsen rated it #1 for two seasons. Thanks to an ever-changing cast of regulars including the likes of Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Arte Johnson, Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, JoAnne Worley, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Richard Dawson, Judy Carne, President Richard Nixon (“Go ahead, sock it to me!”), the show became the highest-rated comedy series in TV history.

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In ran for 140 episodes from January 22, 1968, to May 14, 1973. It was hosted by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin and was broadcast over NBC. It originally aired as a one-time special on September 9, 1967 and was such a success that it was brought back as a series, replacing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Mondays at 8 pm (EST).

The title, Laugh-In, came out of events of the 1960s hippie culture, such as “love-ins” or “be-ins.” These were terms that were, in turn, derived from “sit-ins”, common in protests associated with civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the time.

The show was characterized by a rapid-fire series of gags and sketches, many of which conveyed sexual innuendo or were politically charged. The co-hosts continued the exasperated straight man (Rowan) and “dumb” guy (Martin) act which they had established as nightclub comics. This was a continuation of the “dumb Dora” acts of vaudeville, best popularized by Burns and Allen. Rowan and Martin had a similar tag line, “Say goodnight, Dick”.

Laugh-In had its roots in the humor of vaudeville and burlesque, but its most direct influences were from the comedy of Olsen and Johnson (specifically, their free-form Broadway revue Hellzapoppin’), the innovative television works of Ernie Kovacs, and the topical satire of That Was The Week That Was.

The Daily/Nightly Show (State Of The Union)

What do we know now?

Mike Yard is a regular.  Tonight’s show is about the State Of the Union.  We were invited to submit our questions about President Obama.  Now I could have gone a different way with this and asked about the fact that African-Americans, who are wildly over represented in the less affluent demographics because of historic and persistent racial prejudice, have actually seen their economic position decline under the policies of this President, Obama, and that Police Violence against the African-American community has increased under his Administration and militarized Law Enforcement; but as I’ve indicated I think it does a disservice to The Nightly Show and Larry Wilmore to use a merely racial and tribal lens when watching.  African-Americans are Americans.  Their struggle is our struggle and class knows no race.

Besides, it’s too much research for midnight and I have other things to do with my life which include careful examination of the inside of my eyelids.

So instead I went with some things where the facts are undisputed-

How do you feel about Obama’s protection of torture, bank fraud, & indiscriminate surveilance, and his dozen+ new wars?

Would Larry have Bill Cosby on as a panelist?  Hell yeah!  And Mike Yard is actually funny-

Tonight’s panel is John Lovett, David Remnick, Amy Holmes, and Godfrey.  Sorry about last night, now that I know where to look I’ll try to include it.  Did I mention the Kinks?


Admiral Zhao

This week’s guests-

The Daily Show

When last we saw Anne Hathaway she was a phantom in Hugh Jackman’s dying mind-

Tomight she’ll be on to talk about her debut as a producer (though she also stars) Song One.

The real news below.