Originally Published: 6/13/2015
TPP and Healthcare: On Wednesday WikiLeaks published the Healthcare Annex to the Transparency Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement dated December 2014. “The Healthcare Annex seeks to regulate state schemes for medicines and medical devices. It forces healthcare authorities [like Medicare, Medicaid, etc.] to give big pharmaceutical companies more information about national decisions on public access to medicine, and grants corporations greater powers to challenge decisions they perceive as harmful to their interests.” [Emphasis added.] WikiLeaks believes that the Annex is “designed to cripple New Zealand’s strong public healthcare program and to inhibit the adoption of similar programs in developing countries. The Annex will also tie the hands of the U.S. Congress in its ability to pursue reforms of the Medicare program.” [Emphasis added.] WikiLeaks pointed out that the chapter is “restricted from release for 4 years after the passage of TPP into law.” Philip Dorling at the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: “The text has been hotly contested in the TPP negotiations as United States trade negotiators have aggressively pushed for provisions favoring multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers at the expense of national governments and public healthcare system.
TAA: There is a separate bill passing through with the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill. The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) is the bill where trade-offs are being accumulated. You know, what people insist they must have in order to vote for TPA. This bill is inextricably linked to TPA. Fast-track cannot be passed without the passage of TAA. The NY Times has the rundown on the goodies Republicans have loaded into the TAA. The biggie is the clause that takes money from Medicare to pay for job training for people who lose their jobs due to the TPP. If it’s so good for American workers why are they planning for a loss of jobs?
TPA: The House passed TPA but couldn’t get the votes to pass TAA, so the vote on TPA was a waste of time. They needed to pass TAA (see above) in order to pass TPA. (Talk Radio News) And TAA failed, primarily due to the plan for funding displaced workers from Medicare. (Washington Post) TAA failed overwhelmingly. A third of Republicans voted for it but only one-fifth of Democrats did. While Democrats have provided support for trade agreements in the past, their support has been dwindling as effects on American workers become apparent. (Washington Post) Apparently Speaker of the House John Boehner (R, OH) is going to attempt to hold another vote next week.
Domestic Surveillance: As I told you last week (TWW, Patriot Act, 6/6/15), the new U.S.A. Freedom Act allows for a “transition” period allowing the NSA to continue collecting mass amounts of data until December. However, they still have to deal with that pesky Court of Appeals decision calling the program unconstitutional. (TWW, NSA, 12/21/13) So, just 4 hours after Obama signed the new Act, the NSA went to the FISA court to ask for permission to continue the surveillance during the transition period. (Guardian) Since the FISA court has traditionally been a rubber stamp for anything the NSA wants, what do you think they’re going to say?
Iraq: Obama is going to send an additional 450 military “advisers” to Iraq to perform more training and to help them to deal with ISIS. This will bring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to about 3,550. (Talk Radio News) And Britain is sending 125 troops to help train, bringing their total to 275. (Daily Mail) More training? We’ve been training them for 13 years.
G7 Summit: The G7 - “the world’s leading industrialized nations” - met for their annual summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. The nations - U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Japan, Italy, and Germany - were met with thousands of people protesting “inaction on climate change, the pending Trans-Atlantic Trade in Partnership (TTIP) agreement, ongoing wars and militarization, and the overarching assault on global democracy that has seen the power of corporations rise alongside nearly unprecedented levels of economic inequality.” According to Common Dreams, the police outnumbered the protestors by 2 to 1. “Though more than 20,000 police officers were deployed to keep the voice of the people away from powerful leaders, the critiques offered by demonstrators appear highlighted by the enormous efforts made to silence them.” Apparently there was an even larger demonstration in Munich “which saw tens of thousands march beneath those same messages.”
Transnational Corporations: For those of you interested in this stuff, here’s A Brief History of Transnational Corporations published by the Global Policy Forum. It’s fascinating. “Transnational corporations are among the world’s biggest economic institutions. A rough estimate suggests that the 300 largest TNCs own or control at least one-quarter of the entire world’s productive assets, worth about U.S. $5 trillion.” [Emphasis added.] There’s plenty more that will surely stun you.
Florida: Governor Rick Scott (R) signed a bill that requires women to make 2 visits to a clinic before obtaining an abortion, with a mandatory 24-hour waiting period in between. (Reuters)
Hawaii on Energy: It just enacted a law that mandates that all of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources no later than 2045. It’s the first state to adopt such action. (Hawaii News Now)
Hawaii on Abortion: About 5 years ago Hawaii moved away from abstinence-based sex education. Since then teen pregnancy and abortion rates have gone down about 30% - “the greatest abortion decline in the nation.” (Maui News)
Maryland: The legislature passed, and Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed, a law banning fracking for 2.5 years. The bill also “requires the state to write standards to regulate the practice for when the ban lifts.” (The Hill)
Michigan on Adoption: The legislature passed, and Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed, a package of bills that would allow faith-based adoption agencies, including those who take taxpayer dollars to place children who are in the state’s custody, to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. This includes unmarried couples, same-sex couples, and those who hold different religious beliefs. (Detroit Free Press)
Michigan on the Poor: The governor signed a law that “makes families of students who miss school ineligible for government benefits designed to combat child poverty and hunger.” It’s called the Parental Responsibility Act. (Raw Story)
North Carolina: The legislature passed, Governor Pat McCrory (R) vetoed, and the legislature overrode the veto to enact a bill allowing government officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages by citing religious objections. (Reuters)
Texas: A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans upheld the “toughest provisions” of a Texas law that required all abortion clinics “to meet the same building, equipment, and staffing standards that hospital-style surgical centers must meet.” According to the NY Times, this could close about half of the state’s abortion clinics, “leaving the nation’s second-most populous state with fewer than a dozen clinics across its more than 267,000 square miles.”
More Lost Money: Where does it end? We had the $9 billion the Defense Department (DoD) “lost” in Iraq. (see Where’s the $9 Billion?) Now Reuters has a 3-part series on the Pentagon. Part 2 addresses the money the Pentagon regularly “loses.” It discovered the DoD has “lost” about $8.5 trillion since 1996. A 1990 law required all government agencies to be audited but the Pentagon has never complied. (Yahoo Finance) What’s worse is that they have consistently fudged the books by inserting phony numbers - called “plugs” - into DoD accounts so that they would square with the Treasury’s numbers. Reuters calls this “a balancing-the-checkbook maneuver required of all the military services and other Pentagon agencies. And every month, they encountered the same problem. Numbers were missing. Numbers were clearly wrong. Numbers came with no explanation of how the money had been spent or which congressional appropriation it came from. ‘A lot of times there were issues of numbers being inaccurate. . . We didn’t have the detail . . . for a lot of it.’” In 2012 the Pentagon falsely reported $9.22 billion to reconcile its spending with its budget. Sadly, no one has ever gotten in trouble for the slight-of-hand maneuvers and still, despite sporadic congressional attempts, no legal consequences have been adopted. Reuters also found that “the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.” Maybe it’s time to break up the Pentagon.
Hand Guns: The Supremes refused to take up an appeal to a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit which said that San Francisco’s law requiring that handguns be stored in a lockbox or secured with a trigger lock was not an undue burden on Second Amendment rights. 2 justices objected to the refusal - Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. (Washington Post)
Born in Israel: The Supreme Court struck down the law allowing Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on passports. They ruled that the law “embraces the interpretation that Jerusalem belongs to Israel,” something that is far from settled. They ruled it unconstitutional because “Congress has a role in managing the nation’s foreign affairs but not in recognizing foreign nations and governments.” (Washington Post)
Student Loan Debt: MarketWatch has an amazing “ticker” on student loan debt. It’s growing at the rate of more than $3,000 a second. It’s now more than $1.2 trillion. “This student loan clock provides a window into the growing risks to the economy as well as to student loan borrowers and their families.” The reason is “skyrocketing college costs, cuts to public funding for higher education, stagnant incomes, and the growth in the college-going population.” The result is that these people cannot buy homes or cars or other things that fuel economic growth. “And only 37% of borrowers are actually paying down this debt.”
Fracking Pollution: Refuting its own 2004 study, the EPA’s latest report on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water found that toxic fracking fluids that leak into the water table can contaminate drinking water. The final draft of its report stated that fracking for shale oil and gas has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources” but said that it could contaminate drinking water under certain conditions, such as when fluids used in the process are leaked into the water table, and found isolated cases of water contamination.
No Fossil Fuels: The G7 summit (see above) has produced an agreement to cut greenhouse gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century. (Guardian) Not nearly soon enough.
California Oil Spill: Plains All American Pipeline estimated that the costs for restoring the waters near Santa Barbara for the oil spill (TWW, California Oil Spill, 5/23/15) ran as high as $3 million a day, for a total cost of more than $60 million. (Reuters)
Guess Who’s Suing: There are 2 separate lawsuits in which the government “stands accused of overstepping its authority when it took extraordinary measures to prevent a financial meltdown in the fall of 2008.” One of the suits is brought by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former CEO of AIG. The other is a group of hedge funds “that bought Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac] stock for pennies per share after the companies were put in government conservatorship.” They say “their property was seized without compensation, in violation of the Constitution.” In other words, “they didn’t benefit enough from the bailouts and that taxpayers should pay them tens of billions of dollars more.” In the words of Steven Pearlstein writing at the Washington Post, “We bailed you out and now you want what!?!”