Originally Published: 12/14/2013
TPP: The Huffington Post published documents obtained and released by WikiLeaks, related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, particularly as it refers to the costs of prescription medications and bank regulations. Zach Carter wrote: “One of the most controversial provisions in the talks includes new corporate empowerment language insisted upon by the U.S. government, which would allow foreign companies to challenge laws or regulations in a privately run international court. Under the World Trade Organization treaties, this political power to contest government law is reserved for sovereign nations. The U.S. has endorsed some corporate political powers in prior trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], but the scope of what laws can be challenged appears to be much broader in TPP negotiations.” [Emphasis added.] This is exactly what I’ve been saying (TWW, WikiLeaks and TPP, 11/16/13; Investor-State System, 6/1/13), that corporations will be given vast new powers over financial, environmental, labor, and other laws. According to Public Citizen, TPP will is a “corporate power tool of the 1%.” It lists the main problems: it will offshore millions of American jobs, free the banksters from oversight, ban Buy America policies needed to create green jobs and rebuild our economy, decrease access to medicine, flood the U.S. with unsafe food and products, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards. The time is now. Call - don’t email - your representatives. Stop this thing.
Canadian Spying: More Snowden documents have disclosed that Canada set up “covert spying posts around the world” and conducted espionage for the NSA and for 20 other countries. “The briefing notes make it clear that Canada plays a very robust role in intelligence-gathering around the world in a way that has won respect from its American equivalents.” (CBC) Well, bully for them.
Trade: The World Trade Organization (WTO) just completed its first global trade deal in 20 years. “At the heart of the agreement were measures to ease barriers to trade by reducing import duties, simplifying customs procedures, and making those procedures more transparent to end years of corruption at ports and border controls. . . But the World Development Movement (WDM) warned it was ‘an agreement for transnational corporations, not the world’s poor.’” [Emphasis added.] (Guardian) Of course it is. All trade agreements thus far have been to the benefit of international corporations.
Amnesty International: It’s taking legal action against the UK “over concerns its communications have been illegally accessed by UK intelligence services.” Based on Snowden documents, AI said it is “highly likely” that its emails and phone calls have been intercepted. (Guardian)
Australia: The High Court struck down gay marriage in the nation’s capital, ruling that only parliament can approve it and not the local authorities. The 27 couples who have been married will have their marriages annulled. (AFP)
India: The Indian Supreme Court struck down a lower court decision that ruled that the 1861 law banning gay sex was a crime. It imposed a 10-year prison sentence. The Supreme Court said that only parliament could change the law. (NY Times)
Syria: That intrepid investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote an interesting piece about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But neither The Washington Post nor The New Yorker, who regularly publish his work, would take it. Why? Because he questioned the claims that the pro-Assad forces had used sarin gas. The London Review of Books, however, published it. He claims that Obama cherry-picked the information when he claimed that Assad was behind the sarin attacks. “Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the U.S. intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin . . . In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order - a planning document that precedes a ground invasion - citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaeda, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred, al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” Obama appeared to be moving along with the right toward war but pulled back and Assad agreed to dismantle his arsenal. “In Hersh’s view, those second thoughts by Obama were likely sparked not so much by antiwar protest, but the president realizing that he was being rolled with false or unproven intelligence by those wanting us to bomb-bomb-bomb Syria.” (Nation)
Uruguay: It legalized the production and sale of cannabis. (Guardian)
Oklahoma: Oklahoma City was recently hit with a 4.5 earthquake, but it’s been having minor earthquakes almost continuously for quite a while - going from a yearly average of about 50 to thousands. This year there were 2,600 with 87 just last week alone. In 2011 they had a 5.6 - the biggest ever recorded in the state. What’s going on? Scientists believed that it’s fracking. (NY Times)
Michigan: The anti-abortion group Right to Life collected more than 300,000 signatures on a petition to put legislation before the state legislature prohibiting insurance companies “from offering abortion coverage as part of both public and private health plans, except when a woman’s life is at risk. Employers and individuals who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies, known as riders.” The petition went before the legislature and it passed, 62-47 in the House and 27-11 in the Senate, almost entirely along party lines. It will become law in March without the signature of the governor because it was a citizens’ initiative. Michigan now joins Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma with such a law. (AP)
The Budget: The House and Senate budget negotiators have cut a deal for a budget that would take us through September 30, 2015. This mandatory conference was part of the deal to re-open the government. (TWW, Final Deal, 10/19/13) They’re planning to increase military and domestic spending over the next 2 years - thus eliminating almost all of the sequester cuts, except for the cut to Medicare providers, which will be extended through 2023. This would be paid for by increased costs for airline fees, higher contributions from federal workers for their pensions, slower cost-of-living increases for military pensions, and higher contributions from companies into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). “States receiving mineral revenue payments would have to help defray the costs of managing the mineral leases, saving $415 million over 10 years. Deepwater, natural gas, and other petroleum research programs would end.” Democrats gave up on extending unemployment benefits. (NY Times) Of course, they didn’t deal with any of the cuts that have already taken place. And they didn’t deal with the debt ceiling, which will be hitting again soon. And they didn’t do a farm bill or deal with tax loopholes. I could go on and on but you get the picture. Robert Borosage wrote a piece published by AlterNet that lays out “5 Things Terribly Wrong With the Ryan Murray Budget Deal.” The House passed the measure. (Reuters) The Senate will tackle it next week.
Pension Rip-Off: One of the (few) things the above deal has to increase revenues is to get it from the federal employees. This is, in effect, a wage cut. Now remember, these people have had a wage freeze for several years, have been furloughed, and gone through a government shutdown. But more than that, I don’t get it. When workers pay into their pension funds the monies go into a separate fund. Increased payments can’t go to the general fund - or can they? If they do, then it’s not “higher contributions” but an additional tax. I’d sure like to see this explained somewhere. I’d also like to see the increased contributions to the PBGC explained. That, too, is a separate fund. Are they “sweeping” these funds to get money to pay the military?
Discretionary Spending: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has compiled a list of discretionary items that can be reduced in order to save a bunch of money. Number 1 on the list is “Reduce the size of the military to satisfy caps under the Budget Control Act” - the sequester - which would save us $495 billion over the next 10 years. The proposed budget (above) restores that spending. The next biggest savings would come from reducing funding for International Affairs Programs - $114 billion over the next 10 years. There’s a big difference in the savings between number 1 and number 2, isn’t there?
Income Inequality: According to Credit Swisse Global Wealth Databook for 2013, the U.S. is now the most unequal of all advanced economies. It found that 75.4% of all wealth is owned by the richest 10% of the people, and 90% of the bottom own only 24.6%. In Denmark it’s 72.2%, Switzerland 71.5%, Sweden 71.1%, Israel 68.9%, Norway 65.9%, Germany 61.7%, Singapore 61.1%, Ireland 58.4%, New Zealand 57.6%, Canada 57.4%, Netherlands 54.6%, Spain 54.0%, UK 53.3%, France 51.8%, Australia 50.3%, Italy 49.8%, Japan 49.1%, and Finland 44.9%. In the less developed world you see income inequality levels almost like ours. In Indonesia it’s 75.0%, South Africa 74.8%, India 73.8%, and Chile 72.5%. Check out the graph (p. 18) of the distribution of global wealth. Europe is beating out North America. Guess all that democratic socialism is a killer, huh?
9/11: I’m sure you remember that of the 19 hijackers who attacked us on 9/11/01, 15 were Saudis. Not Afghanis. Not Iraqis. Saudis. It’s been hinted over the years that these guys had direct links to the Saudi royal family “and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.” Earlier this year Representatives Walter B. Jones (R, NC) and Stephen Lynch (D, MA) “were given access to the 28 redacted pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002, which have been thought to hold some answers about the Saudi connection to the attack. Of course, they were sworn to secrecy and cannot disclose what they read. However, Jones said: “I was absolutely shocked by what I read. What was so surprising was that those whom we thought we could trust really disappointed me. I cannot go into it any more than that. I had to sign an oath that what I read had to remain confidential. But the information I read disappointed me greatly.” (International Business Times)
Antibiotics: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adopted a new policy in order to phase out the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in cows, pigs, and chickens raised for meat. As we all know, this has contributed to drug-resistant bugs and is endangering human life. “At least 2 million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections.” (NY Times)
New Greenhouse Gas: A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, has found a new one. Called perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), it’s 7,100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth. It has “been in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century.” It does not occur naturally and “breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate.” It’s important to note that concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low as compared to carbon dioxide, and PFTBA “does not in any way displace the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal as the main drivers of climate change.” (Guardian)
Gulf Coast Tar Balls: According to a study conducted at Auburn University, the tar balls all along the Gulf coast from the Deepwater Horizon disaster “contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.” The bacteria is called Vibrio vulnificus. “According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. (EcoWatch)
Great Barrier Reef: Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbot has approved a major coal port expansion on the Great Barrier Reef coast for one of his “big business mates.” Conservationists “slammed” the approval “warning it would hasten the natural wonder’s demise.” The project by India’s Adani Group will “dredge some 3 million cubic meters from the seabed to allow for freighters to dock at the port in Abbott Point, lifting the facility’s capacity by 70% to make it one of the world’s largest coal ports. WWF [World Wildlife Fund] Australia said the material dredged during the expansion would be enough to fill 150,000 dump trucks that ‘lined up bumper-to-bumper would stretch from Brisbane to Melbourne,’ a distance of more than 620 miles.” Greenpeace said they are ignoring the “serious concerns of scientists, tourism operators, fishers, and UNESCO.” (AFP)
Boeing: It’s searching for a home for its new 777X jet manufacturing. And it wants a lot. It’s sent its proposal to 15 locations, with a long list a “must-haves.” They include a site at “no cost, or very low cost.” Facilities at “no cost, or significantly reduced cost.” Infrastructure improvements provided by the location. Full support in worker training. And “Entire applicable tax structure including corporate income tax, franchise tax, sales/use tax, business license/gross receipts tax and excise taxes to be significantly reduced.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) In other words, they want taxpayers to fund their new project. A report prepared for the New York State Tax Reform and Fairness Commission found: “Economic development officials value business tax incentives as tools needed to compete with other states. There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives. In addition, business tax incentives violate principles of good tax policy and tenets of good budgeting.”
General Motors: The U.S. has sold the last of its shares in G.M. Total cost of the G.M. bailout was $10.5 billion. We recovered $39 billion of the $49.5 billion investment. (AP) Pretty good investment, if you ask me. We saved more than 1 million jobs - probably more if you look at the supply chain. This was part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) where we gave more than $1 trillion to financial institutions - some have calculated that it’s closer to $8 trillion when you consider the under-the-table deals the Fed did to help them. And don’t forget all the taxes we collected from G.M. and all those people working, not to mention not having to shell out Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc. Good deal.
Volcker Rule: This is a rule named after former Fed chair Paul Volcker who pushed for this reform. The rule prohibits banks from betting on financial markets with their own money. “Wall Street banks will need to prove to regulators their trades are done on behalf of clients or to protect against market risks and are not speculative bets for their own profit.” The regulators also proposed a provision that would “prohibit so-called ‘macro-hedging’ that has caused large speculative losses at institutions in the past. . . The provision is designed to prevent a repeat of such trading debacles as JPMorgan’s $6 billion trading loss in 2012, dubbed the ‘London Whale’ because of the huge positions the bank took in credit markets.” (TWW, JPMorgan Chase, 5/12/12) However, regulators did negotiate with the banks on the deal, including giving them a “wider exemption for the trading of government bonds, which will now be permitted for foreign sovereign fixed income instruments and not just for U.S. bonds.” (Reuters) If you want to know more, the Guardian has it. And if you want a good summary of banking and other issues, watch this 12 minute interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA). (Bloomberg) She addresses the Volcker Rule, Quantitative Easing, Glass-Steagall restoration, and Social Security.
TARP: The Trouble Asset Relief Program has a special inspector general (SIGTARP) who, though we’ve not heard anything about it, “has pursued criminal charges against 107 senior bank officers, most of whom have been sentenced to prison.” It also has resulted in $4.7 billion in restitution being paid to the government and victims. “Lawmakers are holding SIGTARP up as a model and questioning why other agencies are not producing similar results.” (Washington Post) Good question.