Daily Archive: 03/30/2015

Mar 30 2015

Some Reasons Republicans Should Vote Against TPP

What makes this piece by Joe Firestone so interesting is that it is full of reasons why your Republican Representatives should vote against TPP, especially if they’re crazy Tea-Baggers (don’t tell them I called them that of course, use ‘populist conservatives’ instead).

The New York Times Covers the TPP: A Commentary

by Joe Firestone, New Economic Perspectives

Posted on March 27, 2015

Wikileaks did us all another service yesterday by releasing the “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP): Investment Chapter Consolidated Text,” and collaborating with the New York Times to get the word out. Jonathan Weisman wrote the story for the New York Times.



Why are we negotiating the TPP at all? Why is it the business of the Representatives of the people of the United States in Congress to support agreements that will mitigate the political risks borne by American businesses who chose to invest in other nations, as well as the political risks borne by foreign corporations, who choose to invest in the United States? Why is it their business to provide protection against such risks to foreign corporations beyond the protections we provide to our own corporations?

The “expectations” of business investors are their own business, not the public’s business; and there’s no reason why either the government of the United States or the governments of other nations should have to accommodate themselves to these expectations. If it is the will of the people of a nation as expressed through their representatives to pass legislation that destroys the “expectations” of business investors, then that’s just too bad for the investors.

Private businesses have no right to expect that their governments will protect them against risks that they alone choose to take, and that they alone will profit from. Risk is part of the game of investing. It’s business.

In free market ideology businesses are supposed to shoulder their risks. They’re not supposed to manipulate their political systems to get legislation providing them with financial protection at the expense of the public. That’s not capitalism, it’s lemon socialism; and it is also one of the key components of fascism.

How have we come to this pass that we view it as legitimate for American businesses to demand that the American public ought to ensure them against the business risks they take abroad? When did it become acceptable to insulate large multinational corporations against the hazards of their folly?



The TPP provides for three-judge “courts” to conduct the dispute settlement proceeding. One of the judges is actually selected by the corporate plaintiffs. All of the judges are private attorneys who in other disputes may have represented corporate plaintiffs, and it is common for attorneys to be shifting roles from “corporate advocates” in one case to “judges” in another. Of course, the advocates get paid far more than the judges.

Can anyone imagine a more criminogenic environment than this, where all the incentives are aligned in such a way as to extract funds from state treasuries for the benefit of corporations and corporate attorneys alike? Where are the representatives of the various nation-states in these tribunals?

To add to the travesty, there are no limits on the tribunals in the size of the awards they can mandate. So, let’s get this straight, according to the TPP, tribunals staffed by private attorneys who frequently advocate for the very corporations whose complaints they are deciding upon have unconstrained authority to award damages of unlimited size to these same corporations and then the governments of the nations would be obligated to pay these awards. So, assuming present policies in effect for government financing in most nations including the United States, the governments would increase taxes or increase borrowing to pay these awards.



So, tell me do we really want an international “trade agreement” that will expose the United States to unplanned levies from multinational corporations that would create budgetary political crises in the United States? Would any sane citizen want to take this risk, to mitigate the risks American investors take when they choose to invest overseas? Where does this craziness come from?



“We’ve done this before” is no defense of a proposed agreement among 12 nations that would expose the citizens of each of them to the risks that properly belong to foreign corporations, or American corporations operating in foreign nations for their own profit. Such corporations are guests in the nations they do business in. They should not be given advantages that aren’t enjoyed by domestic businesses.



With the TPP Congress is being asked to buy the proverbial pig in the poke. Well, they’ve previously bought three highly touted free trade agreements, and none of them has delivered net benefits to the American people in terms of net jobs created, or a higher standard of living for most of the population, or greater economic equality. So, I think the Administration, really needs to answer the question “What’s in it for us?” in concrete terms without delivering the glittering and deceptive generalities this President is so skillful at offering.



Free trade is an ideological commitment for many. But there’s no doubt that general implementation of free trade rules would prevent the government from legislating industrial policy, and more specifically would limit the policy space of the government in nurturing industries that it viewed as vital to the American future or to American national security. In view of this, I would never approve any agreement prohibiting the government favoring the products of American companies, if the government wanted to follow such a policy.

Being able to “Buy American” is an essential aspect of the sovereignty of the United States. And in my view Congress and the President have no right to give away this aspect of our sovereignty.



In my view, this trade-off isn’t in accord with public purpose, and it gives away key aspects of the sovereignty of the United States. In addition, it undermines American democracy and takes another step down the true road to serfdom.

Emphasis mine.

Nothing wrong with a little Mobying and Bi-partisanship say I.

Mar 30 2015

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

New York Times Editorial Board: Stronger Dollar in a Weak Global Economy

In the last several months, the dollar has strengthened tremendously against other currencies like the euro, the pound and the yen. This largely reflects the realization among investors that the American economy will do much better than other major economies in the coming months. [..]

For the United States, a stronger dollar will serve to dampen growth, though by how much nobody can accurately predict because the relative values of currencies are hard to forecast. Some American manufacturers have said they are losing orders or seeing their profits decline as they are forced to cut prices to compete with the lower prices offered by European and Japanese businesses.

The appreciation of the dollar is a good reason for the Federal Reserve to hold off on raising interest rates this summer. But more than anything else, the stronger dollar serves as a reminder that the world is still far too reliant on the United States, which itself has not yet fully recovered from the financial crisis. That does not augur well for sustainable global growth.

David Cay Johnston: No, the estate tax isn’t destroying family farms

The latest pitch for an estate-tax repeal repeats a long-discredited lie

Congress is voting this week on whether to repeal the estate tax. The step would be a huge boon to billionaires and others whose fortunes would forever escape taxation, creating an even larger dynastic class of inheritors who owe their riches to their skill at picking their parents.

But that’s not what was heard at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing last week. Instead the theme was how the tax was eviscerating American farmers. [..]

The fact is that any claim that the estate tax is killing family farms is a lie.

How many of America’s 2.2 million farms have been sold to pay estate taxes? None. [..]

We need to reform the estate tax system. I would start by changing the code to tax capital gains at death, as Canada does, and to limit the estate tax to huge concentrated fortunes – say, of $1 billion or more. But we should all agree to reform it on the basis of facts, not lies.

Dean Baker: The sharing economy needs a public option

The public doesn’t need a middleman for sharing-economy services, but it does need to make sure they are regulated

So-called “sharing economy” companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit are posing policy headaches for governments around the world. Their argument that they should be exempt from existing regulations because their services are ordered over the web does not make much sense, but it provides an adequate fig leaf for politicians seeking campaign contributions from these highly capitalized newcomers.

For those who have missed the hype, “sharing economy” refers to a wide variety of companies that use the web to connect consumers and providers. While there is not reliable data on its size, in part because it is not well defined, Airbnb now boasts far more room listing that Hilton or Marriot, and Uber has quickly grown to be the largest taxi service in the world.

Part of the response to the innovations associated with these sharing economy companies should be to modernize regulations. It is reasonable to regulate taxi services in ways that ensure that cars are safe and drivers are competent and responsible. It is also reasonable to regulate rented rooms to ensure they are not fire traps. Similarly, both should be regulated in ways that ensure access to the handicapped and prevents discrimination. In addition, employees in these companies should be covered by workers compensation and protected by minimum wage and overtime rules.

Mark Weisbrot: Destroying the Greek economy in order to save it

European authorities are using dirty tactics to bring Greece to heel

There is a tense standoff right now between the Greek government and the so-called troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). ECB President Mario Draghi went so far this week as to deny that his institution is trying to blackmail the Greek government.

But blackmail is actually an understatement of what the troika is doing to Greece. It has become increasingly clear that they are trying to harm the Greek economy in order to increase pressure on the new Greek government to agree to their demands. [..]

The amounts of money involved are quite trivial for the ECB. The government has to come up with approximately 2 billion euros of debt payments in April. The ECB has recently shelled out 26.3 billion euros to buy eurozone governments’ bonds as part of its 850 billion euro quantitative-easing program over the next year and a half. The ECB’s excuses for causing this cash crunch in Greece ring hollow. For example, it argues that banks under the previous government didn’t have to have the limit that the ECB is imposing on banks now, because the prior government had committed to a reform program that would fix its finances. But so has this one.

It could hardly be more obvious that this is not about money or fiscal sustainability, but about politics. This is a government that European authorities didn’t want, and they wish to show who is boss. And they really don’t want this government to succeed, which would encourage Spanish voters to opt for a democratic alternative – Podemos – later this year.

Robert Kuttner: 5 Radical Ideas Hillary Should Support

The repositioning of candidate Clinton has already begun. One of the fascinating indicators is a report of a commission on inclusive prosperity organized and released in January by the Center for American Progress. The report, co-authored by Larry Summers (!), sounds more like something Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute or Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz might have written.

Among other things, the report calls for much more public investment, more help for trade union organizing, full employment, disdain for fiscal austerity, taxation of the rich, and lots of other good stuff usually associated with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  [..]

So while it’s good that Clinton is positioning herself as more of a progressive, I think she needs to be even more radical, both to generate real enthusiasm and to address America’s real problems.

Robert Naiman: Schumer’s Choice: To Succeed Reid, He Must Back Iran Deal

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced that he will not run for re-election. Reid has endorsed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) to succeed him as Democratic leader.

But in order to succeed Reid as Senate Democratic leader, Schumer is going to have to pay a price: he’s going to have to back President Obama’s multilateral diplomacy with Iran, which Bloomberg reports could produce a “framework agreement” this weekend. Some of Senator Schumer’s New York constituents might not like that, but as the soldiers say, they’ll just have to “embrace the suck.” Senate Republicans may think it’s ok for them to try to undermine a diplomatic agreement. But the prospective leader of Senate Democrats isn’t allowed to do that. [..]

Schumer will have to make a choice. If he maintains his support for the Corker bill, he would help kill the talks. But then he would never be the leader of Senate Democrats. If he wants to be leader of Senate Democrats, Schumer will have to support President Obama on Iran diplomacy.

Mar 30 2015

TBC: Morning Musing 3.30.15

I have 3 articles for you this Monday morning!

First, cars are getting a lot better:

EPA: New Cars Are More Efficient Than Ever, Beating Standards By A ‘Wide Margin’

Vehicles from 2013 achieved an all-time record fuel economy of 24.1 mpg, a 0.5 mpg increase over 2012 and an increase of nearly 5 mpg in the last decade. The CAFE standards covering vehicles made between 2012 and 2025 are projected to save 12 billion barrels of oil, cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases and save drivers more than $8,000 in fuel costs, according to the EPA.

The standards also help protect consumers from the pocketbook pain that can come from volatile gas prices.

Jump!

Mar 30 2015

On This Day In History March 30

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.

March 30 is the 89th day of the year (90th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 276 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signs a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.”

Alaska Purchase

Russia was in a difficult financial position and feared losing Russian America without compensation in some future conflict, especially to the British, whom they had fought in the Crimean War (1853-1856). While Alaska attracted little interest at the time, the population of nearby British Columbia started to increase rapidly a few years after hostilities ended, with a large gold rush there prompting the creation of a crown colony on the mainland. The Russians therefore started to believe that in any future conflict with Britain, their hard-to-defend region might become a prime target, and would be easily captured. Therefore the Tsar decided to sell the territory. Perhaps in hopes of starting a bidding war, both the British and the Americans were approached, however the British expressed little interest in buying Alaska. The Russians in 1859 offered to sell the territory to the United States, hoping that its presence in the region would offset the plans of Russia’s greatest regional rival, Great Britain. However, no deal was brokered due to the American Civil War.

Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Tsar then instructed the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, to re-enter into negotiations with Seward in the beginning of March 1867. The negotiations concluded after an all-night session with the signing of the treaty at 4 a.m. on March 30, 1867, with the purchase price set at $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre ($4.74/km2).

American public opinion was generally positive, as most editors argued that the U.S. would probably derive great economic benefits from the purchase; friendship of Russia was important; and it would facilitate the acquisition of British Columbia.

Historian Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer summarized the minority opinion of some newspaper editors who opposed the purchase:

   “Already, so it was said, we were burdened with territory we had no population to fill. The Indians within the present boundaries of the republic strained our power to govern aboriginal peoples. Could it be that we would now, with open eyes, seek to add to our difficulties by increasing the number of such peoples under our national care? The purchase price was small; the annual charges for administration, civil and military, would be yet greater, and continuing. The territory included in the proposed cession was not contiguous to the national domain. It lay away at an inconvenient and a dangerous distance. The treaty had been secretly prepared, and signed and foisted upon the country at one o’clock in the morning. It was a dark deed done in the night…. The New York World said that it was a “sucked orange.” It contained nothing of value but furbearing animals, and these had been hunted until they were nearly extinct. Except for the Aleutian Islands and a narrow strip of land extending along the southern coast the country would be not worth taking as a gift…. Unless gold were found in the country much time would elapse before it would be blessed with Hoe printing presses, Methodist chapels and a metropolitan police. It was “a frozen wilderness.

While criticized by some at the time, the financial value of the Alaska Purchase turned out to be many times greater than what the United States had paid for it. The land turned out to be rich in resources (including gold, copper, and oil).

Senate debate

When it became clear that the Senate would not debate the treaty before its adjournment on March 30, Seward persuaded President Andrew Johnson to call the Senate back into special session the next day. Many Republicans scoffed at “Seward’s folly,” although their criticism appears to have been based less on the merits of the purchase than on their hostility to President Johnson and to Seward as Johnson’s political ally. Seward mounted a vigorous campaign, however, and with support from Charles Sumner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, won approval of the treaty on April 9 by a vote of 37-2.

For more than a year, as congressional relations with President Johnson worsened, the House refused to appropriate the necessary funds. But in June 1868, after Johnson’s impeachment trial was over, Stoeckl and Seward revived the campaign for the Alaska purchase. The House finally approved the appropriation in July 1868, by a vote of 113-48.

Mar 30 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: When a Socialist Becomes the Boss by MrJayTee

It wasn’t that hard when I was a grunt. As long as my job was constructive, something that made the world suck less, a regular job was OK. I was a working class guy, the Man was the Man, and never the twain would meet.

Now, I’m the boss. Sure, it’s a non-profit, but I’m still in a position to hire, fire, and order people around. It’s also important to note that “non-profit” doesn’t mean nobody is taking home too much money. It doesn’t mean the work really helps anyone. Non-profits are, if anything, more worried about their reputation than for-profit businesses, who don’t need to appeal to the goodwill of the bourgeoisie for sustenance. I have confidence in the decency and mission of the outfit I work for, but as anyone who has spent time in the non-profit/NGO world understands, organizations change and non-profits can be quite ruthless. They are every bit as flawed as the human beings who run them.

For better or worse, I help run this one.

Now, instead of separating myself from the Man, I find I am the Man. I manage several dozen employees who depend on me to be competent and fair in my decisions, which critically effect not just their working life, but their homes and families, and even their long-term employability anywhere.

What’s a good socialist to do?