Originally Published: 10/10/2015
TPP Intellectual Property Chapter: WikiLeaks released another chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. (TWW, TPP, 10/3/15; Tier 3 and TPP, 8/8/15; Anonymous on TPP, 7/25/15) The Intellectual Property Rights Chapter gives signatories the ability to block legal proceedings of disputes over property rights if information that would be revealed is “detrimental to a party’s economic interests, international relations, or national defense, or national security.” Economic interests is the operative phrase. Evan Greer, director of Fight For the Future, said: “The text of TPP’s intellectual property chapter confirms advocates’ warnings that this deal poses a grave threat to global freedom of expression and basic access to things like medicine and information.”
TPP, Tariffs, and VAT: It seems that all the negotiators have finalized the TPP. The Guardian quoted an “official” as saying it is “the most sweeping trade liberalization pact in a generation, which will cut trade barriers and set common standards for 12 countries.” It will purportedly “reshape industries and influence everything from the price of cheese to the cost of cancer treatments.” And it will affect 40% of the world economy. The Hill reported that, according to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the big benefit of TPP is that American-made goods “will finally enjoy tariff-free access to consumers in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore.” [Emphasis added.] Let me ask you, how many people in Malaysia can afford American-made products? But that’s not the real problem. While tariffs will be eradicated, TPP does not eliminate value-added taxes (VAT). This is what happened when we joined the World Trade Organization. Countries like Germany no longer charge a tariff for American products, but there still is a VAT tax which prices our products out of the market. So, without eliminating the VAT taxes, eliminating tariffs helps every country in the agreement except the U.S. because we don’t have VAT taxes. More’s the pity.
Britain: Prime Minister David Cameron has suspended the EU ban on pesticides that are linked to serious harm to bees. (TWW, Bee Colony Collapse, 9/12/15) (Guardian) Cameron even applied a gag order on his own expert advisers after they “refused to back an application by the National Farmers Union to lift the ban.” (Guardian)
California: Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill allowing terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs. A doctor can prescribe the drugs if 2 doctors agree the person has only 6 months to live and is mentally competent. (Al Jazeera)
Montana: Montana District Judge Jeffry Sherlock ruled that the mix of drugs used for lethal injections “violates state law, putting a hold on executions in the state, which has 2 inmates on death row.” Montana’s law stipulates that one of the drugs must be an “ultra fast-acting barbiturate” but executioners are planning to use pentobarbital, which “does not meet that criteria.” (Guardian)
South Carolina: Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC), who opposed federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, now wants federal aid for South Carolina because of the flooding. (CNN) This is the same kind of hypocrisy we saw from Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX), who also opposed help for Sandy victims but requested help for Texas for its flooding. (TWW, Texas, 5/30/15) What’s with these people?
Tennessee: It finished its first year of drug testing applicants for Families First applicants. The result? 28,559 applicants were tested; 55 were referred to “substance abuse evaluation;” 23 were passed so a total of 32 were denied benefits. That’s .11%. What did it cost? No one knows. The state paid a contractor $11,000 to conduct the drug screenings, but there’s also “the cost of the staff to do the testing, to file the reports, to do any of the other paperwork, to notify these people.” (WMOT)
Defense Authorization Act: The Senate approved, 70 to 27, a military spending bill appropriating $612 billion. The bill also exempts the military from any mandatory spending cuts. President Obama said he’d veto such a bill and “Republicans are not expected to muster the two-thirds vote that would be needed in both chambers to override an Obama veto as Democrats say they will be less likely to support it in the event of a showdown with the White House.” (Reuters)
New Speaker: House Republicans are now looking for a new Speaker. They have a Questionnaire that wannabes must fill out - and commit to - before they’ll be considered. It a rather frightening document. For instance, question 13: “Would you attach significant structural entitlement reforms included in the FY 2016 budget resolution, such as welfare reform, and significant process change, such a legislation establishing an automatic continuing resolution and the Default Prevention Act, to legislation that would raise the debt limit and not schedule the consideration of another vehicle that contains a debt limit increase?” In other words, the new Speaker will have to agree to cut entitlements - such as Social Security and Medicare - in order to raise the debt limit. They also want a commitment that any appropriations bill will not include funding for Planned Parenthood, “unconstitutional amnesty,” the Iran deal, or Obamacare. Read the document. This is scary stuff.
The Counted: Up to 892 from last week’s 878. (Guardian) That’s 14 people killed by law enforcement this last week. Slow week for police killings.
Benghazi Nonissue: Last year, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee found that the CIA and the military “acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.” (AP) The Pentagon reported that the multiple investigations cost them “millions of dollars and thousands of hours of personnel time.” (The Ledger) Despite the findings of fellow Republicans, hearings have continued. Why? Well, now we know what many suspected. Last week Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R. CA), the House Majority Leader and presumed Speaker when John Boehner (R, OH) leaves, admitted to Fox’s Sean Hannity that the Benghazi hearings - and the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on them - were done solely to harm Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Watch McCarthy admit to a crime. And yes, it is a crime as well as being a violation of the House ethics rules. (Crooks and Liars) This week Rep. Alan Grayson (D, FL) filed an ethics complaint. He said: “This represents the new McCarthyism - the misuse of [official] funds for political purposes to vilify a political opponent.” (Talking Points Memo) By the way, on Thursday McCarthy withdrew his candidacy for Speaker and the Republicans have postponed their October 29th date for selecting a new Speaker. (Washington Post) According to Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, McCarthy pulled out of the race “after a private gathering of Republicans made it clear that he would never be able to get a simple majority of votes.” So, the Republicans are in disarray. What happened? Well, there was the criminal gaff but there’s also the problem that McCarthy can’t speak well, not to mention rumors of other things. Let Rachel Maddow tell you about it.
More Guns Than People: The U.S. now has more guns than people. Yup. Now, no one really knows how many guns are out there, but in 2012 the Congressional Research Service estimated that there were about 310 million - up from 242 million in 1996. The U.S. population is put at 317 million. “If that 310 million number is correct, it means that the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency was an inflection point: It marked the first time that the number of firearms in circulation surpassed the total U.S. population.” (Washington Post)
Income Inequality: 3 former Treasury Secretaries - Hank Paulson, Robert Rubin, and Tim Geithner - comprised a panel at the Milken Institute. [The Milken Institute is an economic think tank founded by hedge fund guru Michael Milken who was indicted for racketeering, securities fraud, and insider trading but, due to a plea bargain, was only convicted of violating securities laws. (Wikipedia)] The panel was moderated by Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg asked them about income inequality. Sam Seder at the Majority Report (You Tube) captured the clip. If you don’t think the very rich are concerned about income inequality, you’re wrong. They’re very concerned about it! They want more of it!
Social Security: The Social Security cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment is scheduled to be announced October 15th. However, recipients can expect NO increase. This is because “the data already suggest that prices have fallen over the past 12 months.” (American Institute for Economic Research) What data, you ask? Well, they use a Consumer Price Index specifically for the “elderly” (CPI-E) calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (There’s also the CPI-U for all urban consumers and the CPI-W for all urban wage earners.) Check out what goes into the calculation. For all groups Housing has the most impact, which is kinda stupid for seniors because so many have their homes paid for or are still paying on loans from a low purchase price. But medical care doesn’t have much weight, something seniors use more than any other group and which has significant annual inflation. I’d say the CPI-E needs reworking.
Federal Prisoners: Given the revamping of federal sentencing (TWW, Reducing Prison Population and Sentencing Commission, 8/17/13), the Justice Department is going to release about 6,000 prisoners - an early release - which will “reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences over the past 3 decades.” This is the “largest ever one-time release of federal prisoners.” Most will go to halfway houses and home confinement “before being put on supervised release.” (Washington Post)
Planned Parenthood: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced that “the GOP’s investigation into Planned Parenthood’s use of federal funds hasn’t turned up anything.” (Huffington Post)
Obamacare: One of the chief ways the Affordable Care Act would expand healthcare coverage for those who didn’t have it was through expanding Medicaid coverage. But the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that states couldn’t be required to expand their indigent coverage has led to a 2-tiered health care system in many states, particularly in the Republican-led, southern states where “the uninsured rate remains disproportionately high.” In sharp contrast, the ranks of the uninsured are falling sharply in states - most run by Democrats - that expanded Medicaid. The Huffington Post has this great graphic that shows which states expanded during the last few years.
Milk: Been drinking low-fat milk? You may have been increasing your risk of heart disease. U.S. dietary guidelines have been recommending that people avoid whole milk for decades. It’s even been banned from most school lunch programs. However, in recent years researchers have found the opposite to be true. “Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over 10 years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.” They also found that, “By warning people against full-fat dairy foods, the U.S. is ‘losing a huge opportunity for the prevention of disease.’” According to Marcia Otto, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas, and the lead author of large studies published in 2012 and 2013, “which were funded by government and academic institutions, not the industry, ‘What we have learned over the last decade is that certain foods that are high in fat seem to be beneficial.’” The upshot is 2 lessons: “Cutting saturated fat from diets, and replacing them with carbohydrates, as is often done, likely will not reduce heart disease risk. But cutting saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats - the type of fats characteristic of fish, nuts, and vegetable oils - might.” (Washington Post)
Coral Bleaching: Scientists are watching a “massive worldwide coral bleaching event” - only the third time on record - which could ultimately result in the loss of 4,500 square miles of coral. The event spans from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean but is worse in Hawaii and other U.S. tropical regions. “The event is being brought on by a combination of global warming, a very strong El Niño event, and the so-called warm ‘blob’ in the Pacific Ocean.” (Washington Post)
Killer Whales: The California Coastal Commission approved a $100 million expansion of the tanks Sea World uses to hold killer whales in San Diego, “but it banned breeding of the captive orcas that would live in them.” According to a statement released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, this will ensure “that no more orcas will be condemned to a non-life of loneliness, deprivation, and misery.” (Guardian)
Pension Plans: House Republicans are working on the budget but, according to CNN Money, it’s unlikely to get through anytime soon due to a “backlash” over add-ons. One of those is a provision to allow multi-employer pension plans to cut pensions. Now, these pension plans are in trouble because the employers have not funded them adequately. So, rather than make the employers pony up, they’re going to take it from the workers. Remember, these workers took less money in wages in order to get the pension plans. Cutting their pensions is stealing. The Pension Rights Center has a summary of the House provisions.