Originally Published: 6/1/2013
TPP: We have NAFTA, CAFTA, and now we have SHAFTA. While everyone has kept the news on IRS-gate and Benghazi-gate, Obama has been quietly pushing for fast-track authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (TWW, Free Trade, 5/4/13) (See Fast-Track History) Fast-track authority means that the president negotiates the deal and Congress approves (or disapproves) it as it is. Congress has no authority to change anything. As I told you last December (TWW, Trans-Pacific Partnership, 12/1/12), TPP has been described as “NAFTA on steroids” and a “corporate coup.” There are 26 chapters in the agreement, but only 2 have anything to do with trade. Public Citizen said that the agreement “will give more power to corporations to attack nations.”
Investor-State System: TPP will turn national sovereignty - ours and every other nation that signs it - over to corporations. Thanks to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), we already have arbitration tribunals, stocked with corporate hand-picked lackies, who have the power to negate laws passed by the trade signers. According to a new report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), “foreign corporations are taking governments to court under the notorious investor-state system at an alarming and increasing rate. . . In 68% of these cases, it was a developing country whose health, environmental, or other public policy was being directly challenged by a foreign firm. . . The UN report concluded that the ‘trend of investors challenging generally applicable public policies, contradictory decisions issued by tribunals, and increasing number of dissenting opinions, [and] concerns about arbitrators’ potential conflicts of interest all illustrate the problems inherent in the system.’” There was also an increase in the “awards” that corporations received - taxpayer funded penalties that governments must pay to corporations for interfering with their investment rights. (Public Citizen) This is the investor-state system, where corporate investors become state entities. They aren’t happy just being people. Now they want to be nations. How long do you think it will be before 68% of the cases stop being developing countries and become the developed countries? Remember, the WTO has determined that “dolphin-safe” tuna labels are illegal because they restrict trade. (Huffington Post) Unsafe trucks coming from Mexico must now be allowed in the U.S. (Public Citizen) Both of these cases involved the U.S. paying fines to corporations for interfering with their business. So what will more of this look like? Want to stop the Keystone XL pipeline? They can block it through our WTO agreement. Want to stop fracking? They can step in and block that. Want to ban genetically-modified food? Good luck.
Why TPP: If multinational corporations can already do pretty much what they want through the investor-state system, why push for the TPP? Because they don’t yet have it all. TPP will give them the rest of the enchilada, including overriding state laws where, in some places, they’re getting hammered. TPP will allow them to block state laws, too. With TPP, corporations will be able to by-pass the legislative (and lobbying) process and eradicate national and state laws. According to Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, co-directors of It’s Our Economy, “Many of those corporations that have failed to get what they want from Congress are now getting their way through the secret back door of the TPP.” (TruthOut) Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) has warned that the agreement will undo Dodd-Frank, which is why Wall Street is pushing for the deal. (Democracy Now) Call your congress critters and the White House and make your voice heard.
Indiana: The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Indiana’s appeal of a state appeals court decision to invalidate Indiana’s law that banned Medicaid funds for abortions. The decision means that “low-income women in Indiana will continue to get basic reproductive healthcare, including screenings and contraception.” (Guardian)
Apple: I found this great explanation of Apple’s tax dodging strategy. If you want to understand what they’re doing, watch it. (Guardian)
Corporate Taxes: Last week’s response to Apple’s sheltering money from taxes (TWW, Tax Code, 5/25/13) was just the tip of the iceberg. Bill Moyers provided a list of the top 10 corporations that added at least $5 billion to their offshore profit holdings in the past year. Apple, of course, is on top but it’s followed closely by Microsoft. Interestingly, most of what Apple is doing isn’t sending money to tax havens, but they are huge problem. If you really want to delve into it, there’s this great infographic sent to me by a Wonk reader on tax havens. It estimates that there’s $21 to $32 trillion in tax havens - about one-third of the global GDP. In the U.S. there’s about $1.7 trillion in tax havens - only about $1 out of every $3 is kept in the U.S. - which translates to about $150 billion in lost taxpayer dollars every year. That means you and I have to either pay more or lose services to make up for the lost revenue. Or just go farther into debt. Where are the tax havens? You think of the Cayman Islands, don’t you. Broaden your thinking. They’re everywhere, including the U.S.
Tax Expenditures: These are “exclusions, preferential rates, and credits in the federal tax system” that “cause revenues to be much lower than they would be otherwise for any given structure of tax rates.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the 10 largest tax expenditures in the individual income tax system in 2013: (1) exclusions from taxable income (employer-sponsored health insurance, net pension contributions and earnings, capital gains on assets transferred at death, portion of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits), (2) itemized deductions (certain taxes paid to state and local governments, mortgage interest payments, charitable contributions), (3) preferential tax rates on capital gains and dividends, and (4) tax credits (earned income tax credit and child tax credit). The chart here depicts quintiles, which are each one-fifth (20%) of the filing public. As you can easily see, and as CBO points out, tax expenditures are distributed unevenly across the income scale. “More than half of the combined benefits . . . will accrue to households with income in the highest quintile [top 20%] . . . with 17% going to households in the top 1%.” Ya think maybe the tax code needs an overhaul? If you’re not convinced yet, then think about this. CBO estimated that over the next decade we taxpayers will hand out tax expenditures totaling $12 trillion. And remember, most of that is going to the wealthiest Americans.
Defense Authorization Act: It’s that time again. Time to renew the National Defense Authorization Act. And, once again, it contains this provision: “Prohibition on the use of funds for the transfer or release of individuals detained at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” (See Subtitle D, Section 1026) Let me remind you that most of the prisoners still in Gitmo have already been approved for release. Approved years ago, in fact. But Congress won’t let Obama have the success desired by the American people to let them go.
Gun Trafficking: In July 2011 Obama introduced new rules under his executive powers that requires gun dealers in states abutting the border to report to federal officials any multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles to individuals within a 5-day period. Of course, the NRA sued, “complaining that the measure was a ruse by Obama to introduce a register of gun sales via the back door.” But a panel of the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that they would allow the implementation of the new reporting, saying that the reporting “does not come close to creating a ‘national firearms registry.’” The NRA will probably appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Guardian)
James Comey: Apparently he’s going to be Obama’s pick to head the FBI. (BBC) Lots of people are happy about this. Comey not only is a Republican, supporters of the decision say that nominating him shows Obama’s bipartisanship. (You can assess that for yourself.) Comey made headlines by opposing some of the warrantless wiretapping being done by the Bush administration. (TWW, James Comey, 5/19/07; Late-Night Hospital Run, 6/2/07; Gonzales Testifies on Spying, 7/28/07; Cheney & Bending Justice, 9/20/08; Rush to the Hospital Story, 10/4/08; See also Is Gonzales Lying?) The ACLU, however, isn’t so enamored. In a statement it released, it reminded us that Comey’s record includes approving “enhanced interrogation” (torture), including waterboarding and indefinite detention in Gitmo with no charges, no trial, no right of habeas corpus. (Talking Points Memo)
Poverty: The Census Bureau has reported that the number of people in poverty has risen for 4 consecutive years. For 2011 21.9% of children under age 18 was in poverty; 13.7% of people 18-64 was in poverty; and 8.7% of people over 64 was in poverty. (Social Security is working, isn’t it?) That means about 1 in 6 Americans are living in poverty. But it’s actually worse than that. Census figures include things like unemployment insurance, public assistance, veterans’ payments, supplemental security, etc. Without adding these in, more would be listed as in poverty. Also, almost half of all Americans had no assets in 2009 - their debt exceeded their assets. (Economic Policy Institute) Last week I told you that the OECD reported that inequality has increased since the recession, with a 30-year decline in wages worsening. (TWW, Inequality, 5/25/13) And with all this poverty, Republicans want to cut food stamps. (MSNBC)
Food: China is going to buy one of the U.S.’s largest meat producers, Smithfield Foods, which produces brands like Armour and Farmland, for $4.7 billion cash. Apparently China’s booming economy and rising middle class has strained its food production and now it’s coming here to get what it needs. (NY Times) So, what if they buy more food producers? What if they ship everything to China? What would that do to the costs here? Would we have any food or would it all go to China?
The Problem with Coal: Here’s a nifty little video from the Sierra Club about the problems with coal - from which we still receive 40% of our energy. You’ll notice that this addresses the health problems posed by coal. Let me point out that these are externalities - the coal companies don’t pay for them as the cost of doing business; we do. We pay for them in our healthcare costs.
Monsanto: Last week I told you about the protests being organized. (TWW, Protest, 5/25/13) It happened over Memorial Day weekend. Almost 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries took part in a worldwide protest against Monsanto - 1 company. (International Business Times) Did ya hear about it? No? If the Koch brothers are gotten 200 tea partiers to march against Obama it would have been all over the news - headlines, in fact. And here’s something else not given much coverage. Monsanto’s genetically-modified wheat has been found growing wild in Oregon. The European Union has banned genetically-modified food (TWW, GMOs, 4/2/11) so it’s asking EU member states to check their imports of wheat from the U.S. to see if it’s GMO. (AFP) And Japan has suspended wheat imports from the U.S. since they can’t be sure if the stuff has been modified or not. (AFP) So, what does this all mean for wheat farmers? They’re screwed.
Walmart: It pled guilty to 6 counts of violating the Clean Water Act “by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States.” It also pled guilty in Kansas City, MO to violating federal law governing the proper handling of pesticides that had been returned by customers at stores across the county.” When combined with actions also brought in California and Missouri, Walmart will pay $110 million in fees. (USA Today) In 2010 Walmart’s profits were $15.7 billion. (CNN) This fee amounts to .7% of its 2010 profits. Not earnings. Profits. If you make $100,000 a year after taxes and got slapped with a fine of $700, how much would it hurt you? Not much. For Walmart, it’s just the cost of doing business. If corporations are people, it should get a much more severe penalty. Then again, corporations have a different justice system.
Energy Consumption: Wonder why global warming is an issue? It’s because our energy use has increased so dramatically since the 1970s. Check out the chart from the Energy Collective. The percentage of energy use from fossil fuels, however, has remained steady at 80.6%. While China is the biggest user, followed closely by the U.S., the energy use per person gives us a different picture. The biggest user per person is Canada, with the U.S. right behind. As a portion of the country’s GDP, the biggest is Russia, followed by China. And, of course, the biggest user of energy is the industrial sector at 52%, followed by transportation at 27%. The good news is that, while 80.6% comes from fossil fuels, we’re up to 16.7% from renewables.
Energy Policies: According to a survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University, the majority of Americans favor policies to ameliorate climate change. While support is mostly greater by Democrats, Republican and Independent support was also in the majority. (Energy Collective) You think stricter policies would get past the investor-state arbitration panels?
Lack of Energy Policies: The first town victim of climate change has fallen. An archipelago in the mouth of the Senegal River in west Africa is gone - under water. The fishing village of Doun Babe Dieye, once called the Venice of Africa, was settled by Normans in 1364. All the residents have left. Where these people will go to be able to make a living and feed their families is anyone’s guess. (AFP)
Keystone Pipeline: Portions of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline have, in the past 2 weeks, been dug up and repaired. There were found “dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds.” The pipe has been in the ground for only about 6 months so “it is believed that problems identified on this section . . . must have triggered the current digging, raising questions from landowners about the safety of the pipeline and the risk to personal property and water supplies.” (Public Citizen) Ya think?
RARE Act: H.R. 981, the RARE Act of 2013, has been introduced by Rep. Henry Johnson (D, GA). According to the CBO, it would authorize the appropriation of $10 million for the U.S. Geological Survey “to conduct a global assessment of rare earth elements.” As I told you before, most of rare earth elements are currently coming out of China. (TWW, Rare Earth Elements, 12/26/09) However, in 2007 the Geological Survey found that Afghanistan has an even bigger deposit of rare earth elements than does China. (TWW, Rare Earth Elements, 1/1/11) The biggest (current) uses of rare earth elements are smart phones, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, wind turbines, and guided missiles. Anyone else think that maybe we’re still in Afghanistan for a reason other than finding Osama bin Laden? (TWW, Afghan War, 10/8/11; Rare Earth Elements, 9/17/11) So, now they want the taxpayers to pay for finding more caches which will, of course, be turned over to corporations for mining and profits. Does this sound familiar to you?