Originally Published: 8/8/2015
TPA and Human Trafficking: During negotiations for Trade Promotion Authority (TWW, Fast Track, 7/4/15; Fast Track, 6/27/15; TPA, 6/20/15), a condition (a poison pill?) was placed in the bill that no country with a Tier 3 rating on the human trafficking report could get “fast-track” status for trade agreements signed with the United States. (Japan Times)
Tier 3 and TPP: The State Department rates countries that “have anything to do with human trafficking” with a Tier System. (See the State Department’s Diplomacy in Action.) Tier 3 countries “are the most egregious participants in human trafficking.” (Human Trafficking) A Tier 3 rating “carries certain economic sanctions and signifies the government does not comply with the minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so.” (AFL-CIO) By placing this condition in the TPA, “trade deals with a Tier 3 country could not go to Congress for a guaranteed up-or-down vote without the possibility of filibuster or amendment.” (Intercept) In other words, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), or any of the other pending so-called trade deals, include a country labeled a Tier 3, that agreement is in danger.
Malaysia Trafficking: Malaysia, one of the 12 countries negotiating the TPP, was a Tier 3 country. There’s no question that Malaysia’s history in human trafficking is despicable. In 2014, the State Department had demoted Malaysia to Tier 3 status “for being a destination ‘for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Malaysia’s 4 million foreign workers are threatened by large smuggling debts and confiscated passports that put them at the mercy of recruiting companies. Women in particular, recruited for hotel or beauty salon work, are routinely coerced into the commercial sex trade. And forced labor runs rampant in agricultural, construction, and textile industries, producing the same goods that would get duty-free access to U.S. markets under TPP.” (Intercept) And a 2014 report by Verité exposed Malaysia’s electronics sector.
Upgrading Malaysia: The Obama administration’s State Department, headed up by John Kerry, determined that nothing would interfere with the TPP - and other trade agreements - getting passed. So it upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 status. The State Department cited that Malaysia’s legislature put an amendment onto an existing anti-trafficking law. Of course, it has passed only one of their legislative houses. It still has to be passed by the other house and then must be signed into law. Malaysia has also set up a pilot program to “aid trafficking victims housed in government facilities.” The State Department also cited that Malaysia had increased its investigations and prosecutions of trafficking operations. However, convictions in 2014 - the year for which the report was written - fell by more than half from the prior year. So, they may have increased investigations and prosecutions, but they had fewer convictions. According to Reuters, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) - “a government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking” - was “repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments” of the 14 countries cited in this year’s report. “As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba, and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan, and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them.” David Dayen at the Intercept wrote that this upgrade was made “despite scant evidence that the country has improved oversight of the businesses that enslave workers within its borders. . . Just a couple months ago authorities discovered a mass grave of 129 Bohingya Muslims, who fled discrimination in Burma and were sold into slavery upon their escape. Trafficking enforcement remains week: in April, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Yun criticized the country for doing too little to stop slavery. The Wall Street Journal found persistent forced labor abuses on Malaysian palm oil plantations.”
Saving TPP: So, what does this do for passage of the trade agreements? “The move is significant as it impacts the TPP . . . A provision in a trade bill passed by Congress in June bars Malaysia and other Tier 3 countries from fast-tracked trade deals with the United States like the TPP. By upgrading Malaysia to the Tier 2 Watch List, the United States has effectively removed yet another barrier to the completion of the agreement - the Obama administration’s signature trade initiative.” (The Diplomat) I think there’s no doubt that the Obama administration has done what it needed to in order to get the TPP passed - even if it means turning a blind eye to human trafficking and slavery and even helping increase the profits from those activities. Shameful.
ISIS: Airwars, “a project by a team of independent journalists,” is publishing the details of 52 airstrikes “with what it believes are credible reports of at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including those of more than 100 children.” These were all air campaigns against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. “To date the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), the lead force in the campaign, has published one official investigation - a report in May that found 2 children were killed in a November 2014 strike in Syria.” (Guardian)
Kansas: Governor Sam Brownback (R) has cut taxes so much that they’re budget is in tatters. So now they’re cutting spending rather than raising the taxes back up. (TWW, Kansas, 4/25/15) One of the places they’ve been cutting is schools, and they’ve cut so much that several districts had to end the school year early for lack of funds. (Wichita Eagle) In fact, a U.S. District Court panel “ruled that the state’s school financing violated the Kansas Constitution by allowing inequitable distribution of more than $4 billion in annual funding.” So teachers have been fleeing the state. In order to deal with the lack of teachers, the Kansas Board of Education has decided to allow 6 school systems - including 2 of the largest in the state - “to hire unlicensed teachers to ease the shortage.” (Washington Post)
Texas: A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the Texas voter ID law “discriminated against blacks and Hispanics and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” (NY Times)
New Budget: It’s that time again. The federal fiscal year (FFY) ends on September 30th and Congress has yet to come up with a new budget. The House has been in recess since last week, the Senate is closing down this week, and they’re only scheduled to work a handful of days in September. Not much chance for getting a budget passed. Stan Collender at Forbes puts the chances of a government shutdown at 60%. “The leadership has already admitted that nothing has been decided about how to deal with this situation. In other words, this will be the kind of last minute, ad hoc decision that in the past has repeatedly failed and led to unwanted consequences . . . like a shutdown. In budget technical terms, the House and Senate leadership will be flying by the seat of its pants.”
Cecil Fallout: After the senseless killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, several things have happened. Obama’s new National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking will include a ban on nearly all ivory sales in the United States. “The administration said that for the first time, vendors must prove beyond any doubt that ivory offered for sale complies with the Endangered Species Act.” (Washington Post) And 3 U.S. airlines have changed their cargo policies. Delta, American, and United airlines “will no longer ship lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, or buffalo killed by trophy hunters.” (Guardian) However, United Parcel Service (UPS) will not ban shipping the animal parts. (Washington Post) But Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, the group studying African wildlife who had a tracking collar on Cecil, has received donations of more than £550,000. (Guardian)
Planned Parenthood: Senate Bill 1881, “a bill to prohibit Federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America,” was introduced by Senator Joni Ernst (R, IA). Knowing that the bill would affect Medicaid spending, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was asked to compile the budgetary effects of the bill. CBO determined: “Enacting the bill would probably affect spending for Medicaid in 2 ways.” The first is that the services that Medicaid recipients received from Planned Parenthood would cause them to go elsewhere for the services, “but not all of them. As a result, there would be some decline in the use of Medicaid services.” But CBO also estimated: “However, CBO also expects that some of the services that would not be used if S. 1881 was enacted would include those that help women avert pregnancies and deliveries. Reduced use of such services would be expected to lead to additional births, increasing federal spending, primarily for Medicaid. In addition, some of those children would themselves qualify for Medicaid and possibly for other federal programs.” In other words, cutting funding to Planned Parenthood will cost the U.S. federal government more money. The bill stalled in the Senate, being filibustered by Democrats. (Washington Post)
Abortion Funding: I’m just throwing this in because I’m tired of hearing all the lies. The Hyde Amendment passed in 1977 prohibits federal funds from paying for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. It is an amendment that is routinely attached to the annual appropriations bills. It primarily affects Medicaid. (Women’s Issues)
Glacier Melt: According to a discussion paper written by NASA’s former lead climate scientists, the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are melting 10 times faster than previously estimated. This will result in a sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics)
Algae Bloom: This year’s toxic algae blooms in the Pacific Ocean are already “the largest ever recorded.” They stretch from southern California to Alaska and appear to have reached the Aleutian Islands. The blooms are responsible for “unprecedented closures of fisheries and unusual deaths of marine life up and down the Pacific coast.” (Al Jazeera)
Clean Power: The Environmental Protection Agency released the details of the “first national set standard to limit carbon pollution from power plants.” All states will be required to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 by 32% from 2005 levels “to combat the affects of climate change” (Talk Radio News) Murray Energy Corp., “the country’s largest privately held coal mining company,” is filing 5 lawsuits against the EPA, “and it expects to win.” (The Hill)
Fast Food Workers: What would happen to the price of a burger if fast food workers’ minimum wages were raised to $15 an hour? According to a study by Purdue University, the wage increase “would lead to an estimated 4.3% increase in prices at those restaurants.” So a Big Mac that currently goes for $3.99 would cost about 17¢ more, or $4.16.
Pay Ratio: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved, in a 3 to 2 vote, a new rule that will require public companies to regularly “reveal the ratio of the chief executive’s pay to that of the average employee.” (NY Times) In this way workers will know exactly how their top boss’s pay compares with their own, which could be quite embarrassing for many companies.
Jobs: The economy added 215,000 jobs in July, but it wasn’t enough to get the unemployment rate below 5.3%. (Washington Post)