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Originally Published: 3/28/2015

More From WikiLeaks:  They’ve now gotten ahold of the Investment Chapter of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). If you remember, earlier they obtain the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter (TWW, TPP, 10/18/14; WikiLeaks and TPP, 11/16/13) and the Environment Chapter (TWW, TPP Environmental Chapter, 1/18/14). This document is dated January 20, 2015. It’s “classified and [is] supposed to be kept secret for 4 years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for 4 years from the close of negotiations.” Obviously, they don’t want anyone to know what they’re up to. (WikiLeaks)

 

The NY Times gives a good summary of what’s in this chapter. It “would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America, and Asia. Under the accord . . . companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions, and court rulings - federal, state, or local - before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.” This would be the investor-state system to which we already adhere through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I told you about this before. (TWW, Investor-State System, 6/1/13) So far there’s been limited use of the trade tribunals because most of the companies in the NAFTA accord “do not have the size, legal budgets, and market power to come after governments in the United States.” The TPP is different. It expands that authority to “investors in countries as wealthy as Japan and Australia, with sophisticated companies deeply invested in the the United States.” [Emphasis added.] According to Senator Sherrod Brown (D, OH), “There’s a huge pot of god at the end of the rainbow for these companies.” Let’s be clear about this. This allows corporations to by-pass our government and courts and sue governments in the Investor-State System. But only foreign corporations have access to this. Not domestic corporations. Not citizens. Not governments. Only foreign corporations - who will then have total control of our domestic policy. And it will incentivize corporations to move offshore so they can sue. According to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States would be empowered to bring cases against governments here. Those are as diverse as timber and mining companies in Australia and investment conglomerates from China whose subsidiaries in [TPP] countries like Vietnam and New Zealand also have ventures in the United States.”

 

Let me point out that corporations wouldn’t just be able to sue us if a law causes them to lose money. It allows them to sue us if their expectations of revenue are decreased. According to Public Citizen: “The leaked text would empower foreign firms to directly ‘sue’ signatory governments in extrajudicial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals over domestic policies that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms that foreign firms claim violate their new substantive investor rights. There they could demand taxpayer compensation for domestic financial, health, environmental, land use, and other policies and government actions they claim undermine TPP foreign investor privileges, such as the ‘right’ to a regulatory framework that conforms to their ‘expectations.” As I said before, we’d lose sovereignty. The NY Times piece adds: “Critics say the text’s definition of an investment is so broad that it could open enormous avenues of legal challenge. An investment includes ‘every asset that an investor owns or controls, directly or indirectly, that has the characteristic of an investment,’ including ‘regulatory permits; intellectual property rights; financial instruments such as stocks and derivatives;’ construction, management, production, concession, revenue-sharing, and other similar contracts; and ‘licenses, authorizations, permits, and similar rights conferred pursuant to domestic law.”

 

Abu Ghraib:  U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that the U.S. must release photographs showing the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and in other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government has fought this for more than a decade. It now has 2 months to decide whether to appeal the decision. (Guardian)

 

Afghanistan:  Obama has decided to slow the U.S. troop withdrawal, keeping about 9,800 troops in the country through the end of the year. (Washington Post)

 

Belgium:  It’s reforming its justice system and one thing they’re doing is abolishing all prison sentences under 1 year in length. “The Belgian federal government is worried that short prison sentences could actually encourage small-time criminals to break the law again and argues that such punishments are ineffective and expensive.” (Independent)

 

France:  A new law requires that rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones must be partially covered in either plants or solar panels. (Guardian) They must be getting real serious about the environment. In Paris the smog is so bad they had to order emergency traffic restrictions. The smog hid the Eiffel Tower. (RT)

 

Gaza:  According to the Global Post, the situation in Gaza is so desperate “that some are predicting another war.” More than 2,000 were killed during the last siege by Israel and more than 100,000 are still homeless. “Only 5% of the $5.4 billion in aid pledged by international donors at a conference in Cairo last year has been disbursed - meaning aid agencies have had to cut services for destitute Gazans.” 

 

Iran:  “The U.S. has accused Israel of spying on international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and using the intelligence gathered to persuade Congress to undermine the talks.” (Guardian)

 

Israel:  Finally, the Pentagon has made it official. Israel has nuclear weapons. Everyone has known it. But Israel and the U.S. wouldn’t acknowledge it. “Early last month the Department of Defense released a secret report done in 1987 by the Pentagon-funded Institute for Defense Analysis that essentially confirms the existence of Israel’s nukes.” (The Nation)

 

Japan:  Takeshi Onaga, Okinawa’s governor, has ordered the construction of the new U.S. marine base stopped. He “instructed Japan’s defense ministry to suspend work at the site after local officials found builders had damaged coral reefs when they laid concrete blocks to help conduct underwater boring surveys. . . The ultimatum raises the possibility of a drawn-out legal battle over an issue that has divided Tokyo and local leaders, and soured relations between Japan and the U.S.” (Guardian)

 

Spain:  Last Saturday about 100,000 people took part in a “march for dignity” in Madrid to protest the austerity measures. “The demonstrators were voicing their discontent with the painful austerity policies that have led the government to make spending cuts to the tune of €150 bn ($162 bn) between 2012 and 2014. Education, public health, and social benefits have all been affected.” (Guardian) This was “the biggest show of support yet for anti-austerity party Podemos (TWW, Spain, 2/7/15), whose surging popularity and policies have drawn comparisons with Greece’s Syriza.” (TWW, Greece, 1/31/15) (Guardian)

 

Yemen:  Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes on Thursday against Yemen, “heading a coalition of Arab nations in an effort to dislodge Houthi rebels sweeping through that country.” The U.S. was not involved in the operation but the White House announced that Obama “had authorized U.S. forces to provide logistical and intelligence support to the operation.” (Washington Post)

 

California:  Matt McLaughlin, a lawyer from Huntington Beach, filed a ballot initiative entitled the Sodomite Suppression Act. It calls for “the execution of California residents on the basis of their sexuality.” If he can collect the required 365,880 signatures it will be on the ballot in 2016. (Gay Star News) California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, has a problem. The initiative process means that the attorney general does not have the authority to kill a proposal. But on Wednesday, she said she would be asking a judge to step in. Harris claims that collecting the needed signatures is “an expensive long shot that could cost upwards of $1 million.” She also pointed out that the measure is unconstitutional but, more importantly, it would expose LGBT people to violence. (Guardian)

 

Indiana:  Governor Mike Pence (R) signed the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill. The law allows people and businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion. The law is seen as targeting the LGBT community, but anyone could be susceptible to the discrimination. (CNN)

 

Utah:  Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill allowing the use of firing squads if the state can’t get its hands on lethal injection drugs. (USA Today) Yeah. Kill ‘em anyway you can.

 

Redistricting:  In a 5 to 4 decision the Supreme Court “sided with black challengers” and sent a case back to the lower court “to reconsider whether a redistricting plan drawn by Alabama’s Republican legislature packed minority voters into districts to dilute their influence.” (Washington Post)

 

Pregnant Workers:  In a 6 to 3 vote, the Supremes threw out a lower court ruling that blocked a former UPS driver’s lawsuit accusing UPS of “discrimination for refusing to lighten her work duties while she was pregnant.” The majority decision was written by Justice Stephen Breyer who said “the lower court failed to consider the effects of UPS policies that covered non-pregnant workers who might have disabilities, injuries, or otherwise might need accommodations.” Breyer asked, “Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?” Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas dissented. (Reuters)

 

Voter ID:  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law. If you remember, the law was put on hold back in 2013 until the Supreme Court could rule. By refusing to take the case, the justices have left Wisconsin free to impose its laws. (Reuters)

 

House Budget:  The conservative budget (TWW, House Budget, 3/21/15) was passed by the House 228 to 199. (Guardian)

 

Senate Budget:  The Senate passed its budget 52 to 46. It’s very similar to the House plan but there are differences, meaning it’ll go to a conference committee. (Reuters) Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) offered an amendment to increase Social Security payments. 42 Democratic senators voted for it; no Republicans did. It went down. (AlterNet)

 

Another Warning:  367 House members sent President Obama a letter warning him that they must be satisfied “that any Iranian nuclear agreement must ‘foreclose any pathway to a bomb’ before they lift sanctions against Tehran.” (The Hill)

 

Net Neutrality:  As expected, U.S. broadband companies are suing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over the net neutrality rules (TWW, Net Neutrality, 2/28/15). “The group argues the new rules are ‘arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion’ and violate various laws, regulations, and rulemaking procedures.” (Reuters)

 

National Parks:  The National Park Service said it delayed an estimated $11.5 billion worth of needed maintenance projects last year because of funding cuts. (Washington Post)

 

War on Terror:  A group of physicians - Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War - issued a report: Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of the “War on Terror”. They concluded that at least 1.3 million lives have been lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the wars started following 9/11. Staggering.

 

GMOs:  The Food & Drug Administration has approved genetically engineered potatoes and apples. The potatoes won’t bruise and the apples won’t brown. Even though the FDA said that they are “as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts,” some food suppliers, like McDonalds, are saying they “don’t want any part of it.” The approval covers 6 varieties of potatoes by J. R. Simplot Co. and 2 varieties of apples from the Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits. The apples are dubbed Arctic Apples and the first 2 varieties will be Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Plantings won’t begin until 2017. (Times Union)

 

Ocean Circulation:  According to a new study by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, ocean circulation is slowing down due to global warming. The circulation “helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire - including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York and Boston.” (Washington Post)

 

Antarctica:  It had what may be its warmest day ever recorded on Tuesday. The temperature went to 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The day before it was 63.3 degrees. Until this week’s heat wave, the highest known recorded temperature on the continent was 62.8 degrees back in 1961. (Weather Underground)

 

Greenhouse Gases:  Obama issued an executive order directing the federal government to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and to achieve getting 30% of its energy from renewable sources. (AP)

 

Interest Rates:  Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, said that they planned to raise interest rates. However, they will raise them more slowly than in past recoveries “because of the unusually fragile condition of the American economy.” (NY Times)

 

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