Daily Archive: 05/18/2015

May 18 2015

Qui Bono?

Who is writing the TPP?

By Elizabeth Warren and Rosa DeLauro, The Boston Globe

May 11, 2015

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (are) where big companies get the right to challenge laws they don’t like in front of industry-friendly arbitration panels that sit outside of any court system. Those panels can force taxpayers to write huge checks to big corporations – with no appeals. Workers, environmentalists, and human rights advocates don’t get that special right.

Most Americans don’t think of the minimum wage or antismoking regulations as trade barriers. But a foreign corporation has used ISDS to sue Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage. Phillip Morris has gone after Australia and Uruguay to stop them from implementing rules to cut smoking rates. Under the TPP, companies could use ISDS to challenge these kinds of government policy decisions – including food safety rules.

The president dismisses these concerns, but some of the nation’s top experts in law and economics are pushing to drop ISDS provisions from future trade agreements. Economist Joe Stiglitz, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, and others recently noted that “the threat and expense of ISDS proceedings have forced nations to abandon important public policies” and that “laws and regulations enacted by democratically elected officials are put at risk in a process insulated from democratic input.” That was exactly what Germany did in 2011 when it cut back on environmental protections after an ISDS lawsuit.



Clinton has called for trade agreements to “avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own,” such as ISDS. By definition, massive trade deals like the TPP override domestic laws written, debated, and passed by Congress. If fast-track passes, Congress will have given up its power to strip out any backroom arrangements and special favors like ISDS without tanking the whole deal that contains those giveaways.

We will have also given up our right to strip out whatever other special favors industry can bury in new trade agreements – not just in the TPP, but in potential trade deals for the next six years. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has testified before Congress that trade negotiations involve “pressure to lower standards” on financial regulations and other public interest laws, and that President Obama has resisted that pressure. But Obama will soon leave office, and he cannot bind a future president. We hope he is succeeded by a Democrat, but if not, this legislation risks giving a future president a powerful tool to undermine public interest regulations under the guise of promoting commerce.

Powerful corporate interests have spent a lot of time and money trying to bend Washington’s rules to benefit themselves, and now they want Congress to grease the skids for a TPP deal that corporations have helped write but the public can’t see – and for six years of future agreements that haven’t even been written. Congress should refuse to vote for any expedited procedures to approve the TPP before the trade agreement is made public. And Congress certainly shouldn’t vote for expedited procedures to enact trade deals that don’t yet even exist.

Elizabeth Warren at the Roosevelt Institute (TPP and More)

by Bud Meyers, The Economic Populist

May 12, 2015 – 3:51pm

Elizabeth Warren and Rosa DeLauro could have also mentioned Coke in their article. When the government of Australia’s Northern Territory considered creating a 10-cent refund on recycling plastic bottles, Coca-Cola poured millions of dollars into a misleading campaign to oppose the plan. But after the people Down Under had decided, the plan had passed — but then Coke sued the government to stop the program. Coca-Cola runs similar campaigns all over the world. Of course, this is only one of many other examples.

In other words, President Obama and others who are pushing hard for the TPP trade agreement are really advocating to forfeit our national sovereignty to a group of “multi-national” corporations.

May 18 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: A Catastrophic British Election Result, where do we go from here?

By NY Brit Expat

Like everyone else, I got it wrong. I was expecting a Tory minority government propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) if needed to get legislation passed.

It was also clear that the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) had been courting the Tories hoping for another small shot at power; their slogan that “they would give the Tories a heart and Labour a brain” really made me think that they had never understood the Wizard of Oz; if they had, they would have realised that the Wizard was a fraud who only granted what the Tin man (heart) and Straw man (a brain) already had; provision of a testimonial and a diploma do not change reality, only perceptions of reality. I wondered who wrote their script; revealing that you are frauds is never a good idea for a political party.

I was at a friend’s house planning to watch the beginning of the election results there and then I saw the exit polls. I gasped and my stomach screamed! I thought surely this was wrong. I grasped at straws: it didn’t include postal votes, people do not always tell the truth (in the US people deny that they wouldn’t vote for a person of colour as they do not openly want to admit their racism) … I went home to watch a national nightmare unfold (one does not put a fist through your friends’ only telly, it is certainly not good guest behaviour).  

The exit polls (316 Conservatives/Tories, 239 Labour, 58 SNP, 10 Liberal Democrats, 2 UKIP, 2 Greens, 4 Plaid Cymru) actually underestimated the extent of the damage. The Tories were predicted to be heading towards a minority government; I thought that was bad enough, but it was nothing compared to the final result.

While I knew that the Lib Dems were signing their own death warrant by joining the Tories in coalition, I thought that they would lose seats in the Labour heartlands (Northwest and Northeast) squeezed by Labour, lose their seats in University towns that they won from their opposition to the Iraq war (due to their support of increasing university tuition fees which they opposed in their manifesto). I expected student votes to go to the Greens, but not enough to give them the seats which went to Labour), but I thought that they would hold historical bases of support in Devon and Cornwall (where the main opposition is Tory); I had underestimated the obvious fact that why vote Tory-lite when you can have the Tories in all their glory?

I knew Labour would suffer severe losses in Scotland (their unionism during the elections, corruption of Labour councils up there, the uselessness of the carrot offered by Gordon Brown towards the end of the referendum and strong opposition to austerity in Scotland), but wiped out except for 1 seat in Glasgow was more than I expected. In Scotland, I knew that the Lib Dems would hold Orkney (and lose everything else; I stayed up to watch Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander‘s head roll which given everything else was a small bright spot in election results); the Tories have been very weak in Scotland for a while, so their having one seat near the Scottish borders does not surprise me at all. But the Scottish National Party winning 56 seats was beyond my expectations (and their own, I think).

I went to bed at 6:30am stressed out and still hoping for a Tory minority government. I woke up to a political nightmare. The Tories have won a majority, they do not need the DUP, they do not need UKIP (who only won 1 seat anyway; small favours, but they took their first local council in Thanet). They most certainly do not need the Lib Dems; who will be very lonely sitting in Parliament.

May 18 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

Paul Krugmsn: Errors and Lies

Surprise! It turns out that there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make his own run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.

But many influential people – not just Mr. Bush – would prefer that we not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.Well, let’s not – because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Obama’s Trade War Against Warren Wounds His Party — and His Legacy

Well, this is awkward. A few days ago President Obama literally laughed off Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s concern that his so-called “fast track” provision, which would limit Congressional power regarding trade deals for the next six years, endangers 2010’s Dodd/Frank financial reforms. [..]

Just four days later, Canada’s finance minister used a similar trade deal to challenge the “Volcker rule,” a key provision of Dodd/Frank. “I believe — with strong legal basis — that this rule violates the terms of the NAFTA agreement,” Joe Oliver told a banking conference.

As we were saying: awkward. [..]

In fact, the White House appears to be playing word games when it insists that, as paraphrased by [Politico In fact, the White House appears to be playing word games when it insists that, as paraphrased by Politico’s Ben White, “the fast-track bill currently before Congress includes language that expressly forbids changing U.S. law without congressional action.” That may technically be true. But, by lowering the bar for Senate ratification of trade deals, it makes it easier to pass provisions which would change U.S. law.]‘s Ben White, “the fast-track bill currently before Congress includes language that expressly forbids changing U.S. law without congressional action.” That may technically be true. But, by lowering the bar for Senate ratification of trade deals, it makes it easier to pass provisions which would change U.S. law.

David Cay Johnston: Journalists are not terrorists

Reporters need freedom to do their jobs, even if it means contacting unsavory characters

The U.S. National Security Agency placed an Al Jazeera journalist on a terrorist watch list on the basis of contacts he made with sources, according to an Intercept report published last week. The story should alarm the public about government threats to journalists and misuses of raw intelligence data.

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief, was identified as a member of both Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood by an NSA software program called Skynet that analyzes communication metadata such as phone contacts and location. On the basis of whom Zaidan telephoned, who called him and where the calls took place, Skynet labeled him a member of both organizations. The Intercept reported these findings on May 8 based on analysis of one of the numerous documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

One of those documents, an NSA PowerPoint slide listing Zaidan’s imagined affiliations, would be ridiculous if it weren’t so serious. This is how America’s intelligence apparatus with its massive funding, cutting-edge computers and armies of big-brained analysts identifies enemies of the state? Is it any wonder that so many civilians have been accidentally killed in drone attacks?

Robert Kuttner: Grand Theft Automated

The day after the New York Times published its stunning two-part exposé of labor conditions in New York City’s nail salons, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, nobody’s idea of a radical, discovered that he was sitting on power that he didn’t know he had. Cuomo ordered a crackdown against a broad pattern of thefts of wages that were hidden in plain view, had he bothered to look.

Cuomo’s new efforts will collaborate with an enforcement initiative by New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, two officials who don’t like each other and seldom work together. [..]

What’s occurring, belatedly, is growing recognition that America’s working people are getting cheated, whether retail and fast food workers earning too little to feed a family or immigrants being exploited in nail salons.

The press can help shed light on these abuses and government can use its executive power to crack down. But the pendulum won’t swing back because of some law of physics. A true transformation will require a broad social movement with the power to bring government back on the side of working families.

Michael Brenner: Osama Bin Laden — The Truth Be Told

Sy Hersh’s revelations about the systematic misrepresentation by the Obama administration of how it brought Osama bin-Laden to bay are causing a stir. Justifiably so. For they puncture the carefully constructed myth of how America revenged itself and renewed itself through this act of righteous justice. Moreover, the account of unsavory chicanery in high places once again spotlights the deceit that now is the hallmark of how our government works. [..]

The claim that the official U.S. version provides an honest, forthright accounting is no longer sustainable. The version offered by Zero Dark Thirty went a step further in substituting pulp fiction — of the mythological kind — for truth. It satisfies a gnawing hunger; it meets a powerfully felt need. It allows us to avoid coming to terms with how America went off the rails after 9/11. It fosters the juvenile in us.

The instinctive denial mechanism at work in the response to Hersh’s revelations tells us that we indeed are politically immature.

Andy Powell: The Arctic is Shell’s New Corporate Crisis

Twenty years ago, the oil giant Shell was plunged into a corporate crisis after it was internationally criticised for trying to dump the redundant Brent Spar oil platform in the North Sea and for being complicit in the murder of the acclaimed Nigerian activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.

As Shell recoiled from the intense public scrutiny and criticism of these two events, the oil giant spent millions rebranding and rebuilding its image. It would take years for Shell to recover.

Since then, Shell has tried to argue that it is a responsible energy company, which is walking the tight-rope of sustainability on the one hand and society’s short-term energy needs on the other, which includes fossil fuels.

Its critics have always maintained that Shell has acted deeply irresponsibility over the last two decades, missing a golden opportunity to lead the oil majors into a clean energy era.

May 18 2015

On This Day In History May 18

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 image to enlarge

May 18 is the 138th day of the year (139th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 227 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1917, U.S. Congress passes Selective Service Act.

Some six weeks after the United States formally entered the First World War, the U.S Congress passes the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917, giving the U.S. president the power to draft soldiers.

When he went before Congress on April 2, 1917, to deliver his war message, President Woodrow Wilson had pledged all of his nation’s considerable material resources to help the Allies-France, Britain, Russia and Italy-defeat the Central Powers. What the Allies desperately needed, however, were fresh troops to relieve their exhausted men on the battlefields of the Western Front, and these the U.S. was not immediately able to provide. Despite Wilson’s effort to improve military preparedness over the course of 1916, at the time of Congress’s war declaration the U.S. had only a small army of volunteers-some 100,000 men-that was in no way trained or equipped for the kind of fighting that was going on in Europe.

To remedy this situation, Wilson pushed the government to adopt military conscription, which he argued was the most democratic form of enlistment. To that end, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which Wilson signed into law on May 18, 1917. The act required all men in the U.S. between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service. Within a few months, some 10 million men across the country had registered in response to the military draft.

The World War I Draft

During World War I there were three registrations.

   The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

   The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. A supplemental registration, included in the second registration, was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918.

   The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.

After the signing of the armistice of November 11, 1918, the activities of the Selective Service System were rapidly curtailed. On March 31, 1919, all local, district, and medical advisory boards were closed, and on May 21, 1919, the last state headquarters closed operations. The Provost Marshal General was relieved from duty on July 15, 1919, thereby finally terminating the activities of the Selective Service System of World War I.