Nel's New Day

April 14, 2018

DDT: Week 64 – Shifting Opinions, More Executive Orders

Another blow to the defense of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in the Russian investigation is the revelation that his lawyer Michael Cohen was in Prague during the summer of 2016 despite Cohen’s denials. That information shows that the Steele dossier about DDT was not wrong in claiming Cohen’s visit to the city and that he may have taken over for campaign communications with Russia after Paul Manafort was fired by the campaign. Sources maintain that Cohen went to the Czech Republic through Germany so that his passport didn’t need to be stamped.

In his latest attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act, DDT expanded “hardship exemptions” to the law’s individual mandate by waiving fines for those without insurance to those who say they object to abortion rights. Anyone living in an area where all affordable health plans in the federal exchange provide abortion may apply for an exemption of fees from months that they weren’t covered. This criterion is added to exemptions for being homeless, experiencing domestic violence, and experiencing a family member’s death. The new guideline will not always work in the 26 states that ban marketplace plans from covering abortions, but people living in a county with no or only one insurer can also apply for the exemption. All counties have ACA healthcare plans, but 26 percent of enrollees live in areas with a single insurer on the marketplace.

This weekend was the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima (Peru), but DDT skipped the event in order to bomb Syria as he hoped to cover up all his scandals. U.S. presidents attended the first seven summits; with a 16 percent approval rate in South America, DDT probably didn’t want to face anyone there. Meanwhile, China is making great investment on the continent, especially Brazil, and President Xi Jinping has been there several times.

DDT got a lot of traction from his supporters by refusing participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now he changed his mind after the 11 other countries already made their own trade pact. DDT told his trade representative and the new National Economic council Director to examine how the U.S. could get back into the agreement. A tweet after the order made DDT appear to waffle about his demand although it may be one of the few ways to persuade China to back down from its proposed tariffs.

DDT may worsen negotiations with China and upset his supporters by bailing out farmers with a Depression-era program, Commodity Credit Corporation, that can borrow up to $30 billion from the Treasury Department for farmers whose orders from China shrink. History shows the misuse and unfairness of CCC, and it doesn’t stop a trade war. Farmers also fear long term effects when South America becomes more competitive because of unreliability in U.S. supplies, and the U.S. loses its markets. Providing welfare for farmers can result in more trade wars when other countries fight the U.S. at the World Trade Organization. Ad hoc subsidies in the late 1990s and early 2000s led to a year-long dispute with Brazil about U.S. cotton subsidies that resulted in millions of dollars in payment from Washington. The farm bill already pays from $5 billion to $7 billion in welfare to farmers for price and revenue drops as well as subsidizes 62 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums. Another $3 billion covers disaster assistance for producers after hurricanes and wildfires last year. The apparel and chemical industries can also be hit with DDT’s trade wars.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a declaration from DDT, who bragged about his own sexual assaults, tries to hide those of others, and nominated a Secretary of Education who protects rapists in schools:

“Sexual assault crimes remain tragically common in our society, and offenders too often evade accountability. These heinous crimes are committed indiscriminately: in intimate relationships, in public spaces, and in the workplace. We must respond to sexual assault by identifying and holding perpetrators accountable. Too often, however, the victims of assault remain silent. They may fear retribution from their offender, lack faith in the justice system, or have difficulty confronting the pain associated with the traumatic experience. My Administration is committed to raising awareness about sexual assault and to empowering victims to identify perpetrators so that they can be held accountable. We must make it as easy as possible for those who have suffered from sexual assault to alert the authorities and to speak about the experience with their family and friends.”

Part of the declaration spells “assault” as “assult.”

The U.S. Postal Service is caught in the middle of DDT’s vendetta against Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com. History about the USPS shows that Congress, not Amazon, is at the heart of the issue. A nonprofit business, USPS is required to deliver to every home and business in the U.S., and Congress sets is charges and locations of postal office. In 2006, Congress mandates that the USPS prefund retirees’ health benefits up to 2056 at an annual $5 billion cost which creates a “manufactured crisis.” Unlike other delivery services such as FedEx or UPS, the USPS cannot lobby for any changes.

Both UPS and FedEx save money by contracting with USPS to deliver parcels for the rural and most-expensive routes. With mail volumes shrinking, the USPS makes up for the lost revenue in reduced first-class mail by contracting with Amazon and other internet retailers. Federal regulators have determined that the contract between Amazon and the USPS is profitable for the USPS. Striking out at Amazon because of his anger at Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, DDT issued an executive order for an administration task force, chaired by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, to evaluate he USPS finances and operations with proposed changes.

As for DDT’s criticism about Amazon not charging state sales tax—although it does—DDT’s online store of the Trump Organization charges sales tax only in Florida and Louisiana, not even in New York where the business has a physical presence in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1992 Quill Corp v. North Dakota ruling to the contrary. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case from South Dakota next week that will decide whether companies will be required to pay sale tax in all states that have sales tax. Ten percent of shopping is now done online.

The Department of Homeland Security is extending DDT’s Big Brother lifestyle in its project “Media Monitoring Services” that establishes a database of journalists. It will include reporters on general media and other “media influences” for searching contact information, professional history, and “sentiment,” permitting intimidation for journalists reporting negative information about political leaders.

Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget who also took over the Consumer Protection Bureau, is now removing regulatory power from the Treasury Department for his own purview. He is now responsible for reviewing tax regulations before they take effect, including the massive tax break for non-corporate “pass-through” businesses. The new arrangement prevents Treasury from publishing “any tax regulatory action” without his permission. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin lost the argument to keep the 34-year agreement giving his agency the ability to write tax rules and regulations. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) pointed out that “this administration added more bureaucratic red tape to a fundamentally flawed law.”

Much is being said about James Comey’s heroism in declaring his opposition to DDT in his new book Higher Loyalty. Yet Comey, then a Republican, stated that he might have deliberately come out with more accusations of Hillary Clinton emails just ten days before the presidential election in order to influence the outcome. The excuse for Comey and the FBI not revealing its investigation into Russian assistance to DDT’s campaign against Clinton at least six months before the election was the need for the FBI to be apolitical, evidently only true if the person being protected is from the same political party as the investigator. The same cannot be said regarding Robert Mueller, also a Republican.

DDT tweeted today, “Mission Accomplished!” Almost 15 years ago, George W. Bush used the same words on May 2, 2003 before the war slogged on for another 15 years with no resolution. Like Bush’s approach in Iraq, DDT has not identified any mission in Syria. John Bolton wa in the White House only four days before he found some place to bomb.

If the bombing of Syria yesterday has any humor, it comes from Alex Jones, top conspiracy theorist and (former) DDT supporter, who burst into tears and moaned:

“We’ve made so many sacrifices and now he’s crapping all over us. It makes me sick.”

Jones claims that DDT’s administration is “done.”

May 14, 2016

How Far Will the GOP Go?

Republicans are going crazy after “the people” spoke and chose a candidate that they—and the majority of people in the United States—consider unsuitable. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) met with other GOP legislators and presumptive GOP heir Donald Trump to lay down the law. Trump appeared to back down on all the backing down that he had done during the past week, and Ryan, who foolishly believes that he can control a loose cannon, found him “warm and generous”—although not enough to endorse him. Other Republicans are going off on their own crazy ways.

Ryan’s governor, Scott Walker, blames the state’s deferment of $101 million in debt on President Obama, costing taxpayers at least $2.3 million in just interest plus tens of millions more. Wisconsin has the money, but Walker put it into the general fund for any shortfalls. The president’s economy has added jobs every month for six years, but Walker’s failed policies badly hurt Wisconsin. Yet Walker’s rainy day fund has $280 million thanks to the president’s gains in the stock and job market. His reason for looking poor is to make future budget cuts to use the Koch brothers’ “starve the beast” government strategy.

Some of the GOP craziness is ongoing. The Platform Committee of the Texas GOP is voting next Wednesday on an “independence” resolution. Then Gov. Rick Perry hinted that Texas might separate itself from the “United States,” but this vote will be the first action in its 171-year history about a decision to make the “state” an independent nation. With ten county chapters supporting the resolution, the Texas Nationalist Movement seems to be moving toward the political main stream from a fringe group.

In the GOP’s effort to “Benghazi” Hillary Clinton, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is working with Fox host Adam Housley to find the fake witnesses swearing that military assets could have saved the lives of four people at the diplomatic compound almost four years ago. Fox has no evidence, but Gowdy wants these non-existent people for his committee. Housley is known for finding Dylan Davies who claimed that he scaled the wall on the night of the attack and engaged combat with the terrorists—before Davies admitted he lied.

Randy BarnettRandy Barnett is blaming John Robert for Donald Trump’s popularity because of Robert’s vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act. He claims:

“Roberts increased cynicism and anger at play-by-the-rules conservatives and decreased respect for institutions across the board.”

Barnett’s article in highly conservative The Federalist is based on the premises that John Roberts knows that the health care law violates the constitution but he pretends that it doesn’t because of his belief that courts should not overturn law passed by majorities. The argument overlooks Roberts’ deciding votes that gutted the Voting Rights Act, campaign finance law, and gun control legislation—and other decisions. Somehow, however, Barnett has convinced himself that the Trump supporters vote for the businessman because of a judicial review. This man who teaches lawyers at Georgetown University has even crazier ideas—so far right that the John Birch society doesn’t agree with them.

A recent GOP fit (they have so many!) comes from a report claiming that Facebook suppresses conservative articles in its Trending Topics feed. There is no support for the allegations from former Facebook workers, and Republicans have never expressed any concern that “fair and unbalanced” Fox is anything but. The RN accuses Facebook of “censoring” the right and using its power “to silence view points and stories that don’t fit someone else’s agenda.” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) has declared that he “wants to haul Facebook employees before Congress.” He wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with the demand that Trending Topics employees brief the Commerce Committee by May 24.

Despite all the vacation days and the health crisis of the Zika virus moving through the southern states, GOP finds that “Facebook hearings are a matter of urgent national interest.” Even if someone could find support for allegations, the question begs congressional oversight for a private social-media company. Thune now worries about Facebook’s integrity whereas his opposition to net neutrality declaimed that any political interference in Internet operation is unacceptable. In 2007, during a fight against the “Fairness Doctrine,” Thune argued:

“I know the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I hear government officials offering to regulate the news media and talk radio to ensure fairness. I think most Americans have the same reaction. Giving power to a few to regulate fairness in the media is a recipe for disaster on the scale that George Orwell so aptly envisioned.”

In avoiding a consideration of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Republican congressional members decided that the last elected year of the president’s four terms is a “lame-duck session,” but they are considering a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the real “lame-duck session” between the general election and the changing of the guard at the end of December. Only three trade-related bills have been voted on in a lame duck: 1974, 1994, and 2006.

TPP is a really bad idea: extending drug company monopolies over their products, undermining environmental and labor regulations, allowing corporations to send more jobs oversea, voiding U.S. consumer laws with unelected international tribunals, etc.  Republican legislators who lose in November can vote for the TPP before they leave Congress and then take jobs for giant corporations grateful for their vote.

Publicity about the North Carolina “bathroom law” keeping trans people out of the appropriate facilities just hasn’t stopped. The Department of Justice has ordered the state to rescind the law to keep its federal funding, and North Carolina is suing the DOJ for its order. At the same time, all 10 GOP House members gave the Department of Education until yesterday to promise—provide the state with “immediate assurances”—that the North Carolina won’t suffer monetary penalty for violating federal civil rights. GOP state leaders, who complain about being “bullied” by the federal government are telling lobbyists that their employing corporations that they can expect retribution for speaking out against HB2, the potty law.

Gov. Pat McCrory wants to overturn the Civil Right Act of 1964 to make segregation legal again so that the state can “make special circumstances for those individuals [transgender students].” He also claimed that the “far left … brought this [agenda] up.”

Middle Age RiotThe latest lawsuit against the federal government, filed by “North Carolinians for Privacy,” is identical to a suit in Illinois from the Alliance Defending Freedom. It begins with the falsehood that DOE’s guidance “forbids educational institutions from maintaining sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms” and moves on to the argument that gender identity is not a component of sex. The lawsuit’s main claim is that the DOJ “unmistakable ultimatum” to either prohibit sex-specific restrooms or lose federal funding endangers all the students’ access to education. Another premise in the lawsuit is accusing the DOJ of violating the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) because the agency discriminates on the basis of gender identity against non-transgender people because it allows “some, but not all, biological males the right of entry and use of female restrooms and locker rooms.” The suit claims that North Carolina’s HB2 “treats all persons the same, regardless of their gender identity.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has dived into the bathroom controversy by describing it as the “biggest issue facing families and schools in America since prayer was taken out of public schools.” About potentially losing $5 billion of federal funding for Texas education, he added, “Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver.” The analogy indicates that either he or Texas—or both—should be compared to Jesus who was betrayed by Judas for “30 pieces of silver.” Answering Patrick’s comments, including the one about no longer giving poor students free lunches, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “I think this does underscore the risk of electing a right-wing radio host to elected statewide office. No one should be discriminated against because of who they are.” Texas cut school funding 25 percent in the ten years following 2002 and ranks 38th in the nation in per K-12 student funding.

The U.S. disdain for the Republican party is at its highest level since 1992; 62 percent look at it unfavorably whereas only 33 percent view it with favor. The positive perception fell four points in the past six months. Only 68 percent of self-identified Republicans approve of their party, an 11-point drop from October. Independents prefer the Democrats to Republicans, 37 to 28 percent. The majorities of minorities oppose the GOP: women, 62 percent; blacks, 79 percent; and Hispanics, 61 percent. Among whites, 37 percent view both parties favorably while 59 percent have an unfavorable view of Democrats and 58 percent—only one percent less—have the same view of Republicans.

Update: Wisconsin’s debt deferment was erroneously listed as $101. It is $101 million.

 

June 20, 2015

Congress Struggles with Defense, TPP Bill

Conflicting headlines this past week show the confusion with the defense bill in the Senate. On Thursday, senators passed the $612 billion defense policy bill that would ban torture and authorize weapons for Ukraine. The 71-to-25 vote also tightened restrictions on resettling detainees in other countries, blocking President Obama from closing the Gitmo detention facility by requiring congressional approval. The bill included a $38 billion slush fund for war, the same fund that allowed George W. Bush to spend billions outside the budget for his wars and sidestepped the sequester law restricting expenditures. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY), the only Republicans to vote against the bill, joined Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 22 Democrats to oppose the bill. President Obama said he would veto the bill because it violates the sequester law.

Immediately after this vote, the Senate rejected a measure to pay for the defense bill because it didn’t lift spending limits in other areas of the budget. The bill to fund the defense budget failed to overcome a filibuster, 45 to 50, with only the only positive Democratic vote from Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly.

While the Senate was struggling with defense bill, the House passed the TPP fast-track for the second time, still trying to give the president the authority to close trade deals. Last week, the vote was 219-211, but the companion measure, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help workers displaced by trade failed. This week the vote was the bare minimum of 218 to 208 with the promise the Republicans will support the TAA at some other time.

William Pitt described how the “trade adjustment” works. A worker for a software company gets a living wage and health benefits by doing customer assistance on the phone. The TPP can air-mail the job to the Pacific Rim because those workers get paid much less–$0.56 an hour in Vietnam, for example. All the other jobs have been sent across the ocean, too, leaving the jobless destitute. The “assistance” is the part that didn’t get passed although Republicans said they would get back to it—sometime. It’s a guarantee that TPP will kill jobs, and without the minimal “assistance” for “trade adjustment, ex-workers will have nothing instead of very little.

The GOP-dominated Senate requires two 60-vote majorities to pass the TPA (ability to fast-track the TPP without the bother of amendments or debate) and TAA separately before trying to connect them for return to the House. Representatives will have to vote on it and then provide reconciliation and another passing vote. The president has sworn that he won’t sign the fast-track without the money piece, but he may be desperate enough to get the TPP passed that he may change his mind.

Even legislators with good intentions have folded on their principles. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) passed out of committee an amendment to the TPP to bar Tier 3 nations, offenders of human trafficking, from being a part of the trade deal. The White House called the amendment a “deal breaker” because it wants Malaysia, and Menendez watered down his amendment to state that Tier 3 countries would have to make “concrete efforts” to stop human trafficking, also commonly known as slavery. President Obama is willing to accept slavery in order to get his trade deal.

On the same day last week that Congress slowed down the TPP by voting against the TAA, the House voted to overturn rules requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat. Support for the law came from a response to 1999 World Trade Organization rules while opposition declared that labeling the meat was “unfair” to foreign countries and worried about sanctions or lawsuits from countries sending meat into the United States. Overturning a labeling law would keep people from being informed consumers, supporting U.S. farmers, or knowing that their meat had been inspected.

The House struck down a law because they were afraid of international tribunals that adjudicate trade disputes. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement process is primarly controlled by corporations and their lawyers.  Trade agreements erase the ability to regulate commerce and finance which raises prices and guts laws for the common good.

Columnist David Brooks’ column about the harm from the defeat of the TPP needs fact-checking:

Claim: Damage the U.S. economy as evidenced by the growth in the nation’s manufacturing exports from earlier trade treaties. Fact: Lori Wallach reports that on NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, the U.S. has a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada with a related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs and over $360 million paid to corporations because of the “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies. The United States Department of Agriculture has projected that GDP gains from the TPP is approximately zero.

Claim: Stifle future innovation. Fact: Proposed TPP copyright provisions silence businesses, researchers, and artists while expensive cost of enforcement would impede new Internet-based start-ups. Excessive copyright terms prevent artists and creators from accessing, remixing, and recreating new works out of existing ones.

Claim: Imperil world peace. Fact: With the conservative enthusiasm and history in attacking the Middle East, and now considering an attack on Russia because of Ukraine, this statement smacks of hypocrisy. Brooks claims that the TPP protects the U.S. from being controlled by China, yet there’s nothing preventing China from joining the TPP and taking over because corporations are in control of it.

money capitol tppLegislators are making millions of dollars—200 of them, to be exact—from their votes in favor of TPP. The highest paid representative was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who brought in $5.3 million for his yes vote; Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was second at $2.4 million, the same as Paul Ryan (R-WI). Fourth spot was $1.6 million for Pat Tiberi (R-OH), the same as Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who changed to nay and got only $282,710 for that vote. Other House members getting over $1 million for yes votes are Joe Crowley (D-NY), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Richard Neal (D-MA).

 

For representatives who voted against the TPP, TPP lobbyists—security brokers, investment companies, and bankers—paid over $23 million to oppose them..

Information about the TPP:

With no currency provisions, the TPP will not help U.S. economy. Companies like Walmart and GE benefit from an over-valued dollar, since it allows them to buy and/or produce goods cheaply abroad.

Trade agreement will not increase the number of jobs in the U.S., but it increases barriers in copyright protection for drugs and Hollywood media and raises prices for drugs and media content.

The ballooning trade deficit from trade agreements weighs down economic growth and wages. For example, the agreement with South Korea increased U.S. exports by $1 billion while increasing imports by $12 billion. It cost the United States 75,000 jobs.

The TPP is weaker than the 2007 deals with Peru, Panama, and Columbia.

The TPP allows corporations to sue sovereign governments–such as the United States–for monetary damages in what companies perceive as “expected future profits.”

Only corporations can sue governments; workers don’t have that right.

In seeking to “harmonize” regulations, trade agreements set a regulatory ceiling that will, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said, “punch holes in Dodd-Frank without directly repealing it,” by forcing regulators to roll back capital or leverage requirements. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress, “Normally in a trade agreement, the pressure is to lower standards [on regulations] and that’s something that we just think is not acceptable.” President Obama may try to hold the line, but a future GOP president will definitely use trade deals to further undermine regulations.

Weak “rule of origin” guidelines allow China to import goods into TPP member countries without any tariffs, while freed from following any TPP regulations.

The TPP is a secret deal that most members of Congress have not gone to the effort to read. Even if they have, they are forbidden from telling anyone what is in the agreement.

President Obama’s claim that everyone opposing the TPP is just a “politician” overlooks the fact that the president, too, is a politician. The TPP gives nothing to the United States and erases progress, going so far as to replace parts of the constitution.

June 13, 2015

TPP, McKinney – Updates

My sincerest apologies to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Last week, I accused her of caving into voting for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Instead she might be the reason that it failed–thus far. As usual, she provides great leadership for her caucus while House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), can’t, according to Rachel Maddow, lead a hungry puppy to a hamburger.

pelosi

On the House floor before the vote, Pelosi said, “You cannot separate commerce and environment” in reference to the trade agreement allowing corporations to sue governments that “interfere” with their business—even if the government wants carbon reduction goals and other environmental legislation. She referenced Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) amendment that would “ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

The option to fast-track the TPP passed by two votes more than needed, 219-211, but fast-track can’t move forward without the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that provides inadequate assistance to workers who would lose jobs or be injured by the TPP bill. That bill failed by a 302-126 vote. The GOP has called for a re-vote on Tuesday, but if it fails again, the option may die. If the entire package doesn’t pass, the bill goes to a joint conference committee to resolve differences between the House and the Senate. Each chamber will have to again vote on the compromise bill. Opposition to the TPP is increasing with a coalition of more than 2,000 groups opposed to Fast Track and the TPP—including women’s rights, labor, LGBT, environmental, civil rights, senior citizen’s groups and more—redoubling its efforts for next week’s fight.

A chief argument from proponents of the TPP is that it isn’t actually secret—although every legislator who has read it states that the document is classified. Ryan, however, finally admitted just how secret the TPP is. During his House Rules testimony, he said, “It’s declassified and made public once it’s agreed to.” He actually meant that the TPP would be declassified after Congress agrees to the fast-track option, but the fast-track up-or-down vote with no amendments and a pass by a majority of 51 in the Senate provides little oversight. The next two agreements being negotiated, TiSA and TTIP, are not even available to members of Congress who must go to a secret room to read the TPP.

Another big chunk of news last week came after twelve law enforcement officials went to a swimming pool because of a report from 911 about a fight. Eric Casebolt, the police officer supervising the other 11 police officers, resigned after videos of his brutalizing a teenage-girl in a bikini and his drawing his gun on other teenagers in bathing suits went viral.

Fox network dived into the pool fight by defending the police officer and denigrating all the black teens at the party, despite the fact that many of them lived near the pool and had passes to get in. One of the chief witnesses on Fox, cheered on by Sean Hannity, was Sean Toon, who claimed that “the police did nothing wrong” and that there were no racial overtones in the incident.

McKinney whte woman 2Further examination of videos taken on the day show that Toon and his wife, Shannon Barber Toon, most likely started the confrontation. Barber Toon was with the two women who called the teens “black f*ckers” and other slurs before initiating a physical attack on a 19-year-old girl. Grace Stone, a 14-year-old white McKinney resident, heard Toon say, “You should go back to the Section 8 [public] housing where you’re from because you don’t belong in our neighborhood.” Stone does live in the neighborhood.

When Toon was 18, he and friends abused and murdered animals housed in a rival high school’s agriculture center. A teacher in the program said, “Cows and pigs were cut and bruised, apparently beaten with wooden boards. And baby turkeys were slain, their limbs torn apart. It was brutal. There’s no way to describe it. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Toon was fined $300 and sentenced to 285 days in jail. The same year he was charged with “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon” and made a plea deal for 75 days in jail.

Tracey-Carver Allbritton, a woman involved in the attacks on the teens who started punching the top of the girl’s head while shouting racial slurs, was found through a Facebook profile linking her to the incident. She worked for a contractor with the Bank of America, that conducted an investigation to see if she was a bank employee. Allbritton’s employer, CoreLogic Inc, has provided financial and home loan information services to Bank of America since 2011, when it settled a $335 million lawsuit for racially discriminating against Blacks and Latinos in home mortgage lending. She is now on administrative leave.

In another fallout from the pool problem in McKinney, Karen Fitzgibbons, a fourth-grade teacher in Lubbock (TX) has been relieved of her duties after she posted this reaction to Casebolt’s resignation on Facebook:

“This makes me ANGRY! This officer should not have to resign. I’m going to just go ahead and say it…the blacks are the ones causing the problems and this ‘racial tension.’ I guess that’s what happens when you flunk out of school and have no education. I’m sure their parents are just as guilty for not knowing what their kids were doing; or knew it and didn’t care. I’m almost to the point of wanting them all segregated on one side of town so they can hurt each other and leave the innocent people alone. Maybe the 50s and 60s were really on to something. Now, let the bashing of my true and honest opinion begin…GO! #imnotreacist #imsickofthemcausingtrouble #itwasagatedcommunity”

Fox also invited Kisa Jackson to appear on the network after she blamed parents for the problems and justified Casebolt’s actions in a video. “It’s about, again, the parents, and teaching our children to respect authority figures.” She told host Fox host Steve Doocy that the parents needed to “take ownership” of their children’s actions. Omitted from the segment was the problem that police in Baton Rouge (LA) had in arresting Jackson’s son, Jalen Mills, after he punched a woman in the mouth. Investigators issued a felony arrest warrant for Mills, a defensive back on the Louisiana State University football team, after he failed to show up for a scheduled appointment and didn’t return phone calls. He was initially charged with second-degree battery and suspended from the team, but the charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor because prosecutors could not prove the woman suffered “permanent disfigurement or unconsciousness.”

That’s it: one temporary success and one vindication after Fox went quiet about the McKinney pool party.

June 11, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership, A Deal with the Devil

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is nearing fruition tomorrow as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has worked hard to make a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by dumping the proposed Medicare cuts to pay for workers displaced by the agreement. Boehner’s word on this is worthless because he plans to attach the Medicare cuts to a separate trade “preferences” bill with African countries that is not considered must-pass legislation. Fast-track authority gives the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements and limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on them, with no amendments or filibusters permitted, that requires only fifty-one votes, not sixty, to pass.

Despite President Obama’s furious push to “fast track” the TPP and Pelosi’s caving in on a worthless agreement, a large number of Democrat House members plan to vote against the fast tracking. Even so, the White House thinks is has 19 Democratic votes with others still in play. Thirty GOP House members are “no” or “leaning no” on the vote, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

 

As the vote grows closer, more has been disclosed about the secretive agreement, and none of it is good. While skipping over the details about how the TPP was negotiated by corporations for the benefit of corporations around the world to lower wages and benefits while erasing regulations through blackmailing countries, the following is more information about the TPP—all of it bad.

The House has made the TPP worse than the Senate version after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) successfully attached a new negotiating objective late Tuesday night: it specifically instructs the U.S. trade representative to ignore action on climate change while negotiating future trade deals. Specifically, it “ensure[s] that trade agreements do not require changes to US law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

The TPP may force privatization of so-called “public” institutions such as the post office, public schools, public roads, public libraries, public parks, public pensions, etc. so that corporations can replace these with profit-making enterprises that send the profits to the wealthy few. The U.S. Trade Representative website says TPP will have “groundbreaking new rules designed to ensure fair competition between state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private companies.” Also:

“We are also pursuing pioneering rules to ensure that private sector businesses and workers are able to compete on fair terms with SOEs, especially when such SOEs receive significant government backing to engage in commercial activity.

“… Commitments ensuring SOEs act in accordance with commercial considerations and compete fairly, without undue advantages from the governments that own them, while allowing governments to provide support to SOEs that provide public services domestically; and Rules that will provide transparency with respect to the nature of government control over and support for SOEs.”

Corporations are also battling to privatize highways and make public schools into corporate profit centers. Private companies have largely taken over the U.S. prisons to the detriment of everyone. Private prisons contain 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Corporations are trying to take over water delivery from publicly-owned municipal systems.

A majority of people in the United States seem to understand the danger of the TPP. According to an International Business Times poll, 62 percent oppose the TPP, and 85 percent of moderate and conservative Republicans oppose it. A top concern is that U.S. workers shouldn’t have to compete with imports made under conditions less costly to employers. Those benefiting from TPP are Philip Morris, fossil fuel companies such as Exxon, financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, military profiteers such as Halliburton, pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer—the list of corporations goes on and on.

The legislators who have voted for TPP or plan to vote for the TPP tell naysayers that this trade agreement is different, that it won’t be like all the others—although they most likely have not read the agreement and have no idea what they’re talking about. With past trade agreements almost identical to the proposed TPP, U.S. workers compete with children coerced to work in foreign factories, trafficked and forced labor, and foreign workers so mistreated that they jump to their deaths from factory buildings. U.S. consumers buy products made in collapsing and/or burning buildings that kill thousands of foreign workers. Labor provisions of trade agreements aren’t enforced, and union activists are murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and threatened. The 14 free trade agreements that the United States signed with 20 countries allow filling of complaints for labor violations, but almost no one has done this filing because no one is told about the provisions. Even for the few complains, serious allegations, such as human trafficking and child labor, remain unsettled for years.

The newest leak of the TPP draft reveals that it would block Congressional reforms for lower drug costs and extend the life of patents through “Evergreening,” slight modification of products for new patents. A comparison of drug costs between Canada and the United States shows the exorbitant prices that people on this side of the border pay. Doctors without Borders declared that the TPP could become “the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines” in developing countries.

Even if the TPP fails, the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating for two other, more dangerous deals. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would bind the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and the European Union, and the largest agreement, the 51-nation Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), combines the U.S. and the European Union with 22 other countries scattered throughout the world. TiSA, negotiated for the past two years, would liberalize global trade covering almost 80 percent of the U.S. economy. (TPP will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity.) Like the TPP, it would restrict how governments manage public laws through a regulatory cap and dismantle state-owned enterprises, turning these services over to the private sector. TiSA measures:

  • Limit regulation on service sectors at all levels with “standstill” clauses to freeze regulations in place and prevent future rulemaking for professional licensing and qualifications or technical standards such as staff to patient ratios in hospitals or safety controls on airlines.
  • Make any broken trade barrier irreversible through a “ratchet” clause.
  • Disallow regulations that are “more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service.”
  • Eliminate restrictions on foreign investments with corporate control.
  • Permit corporations a dispute mechanism giving them money equal to “expected future profits” lost through violations of the regulatory cap.
  • Allow financial services suppliers’ transfer of individual client data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws.

To satisfy the trade agreement supporters who want to open up trade in services among the 51 TiSA nations, an international deal, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), governs these sectors through the World Trade Organization (WTO). TiSA’s goal is to deregulate and privatize services worldwide, even among emerging nations with no input into the agreement. Social, cultural, and even public health goals would be sidelined in favor of a regime that puts corporate profits first. It effectively nullifies the role of democratic governments to operate in the best interest of their constituents.

The love that the GOP, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, K Street lobbyists, and giant multinational companies have for the TPP should be a red flag for the dangers of the TPP. Bill Moyers wrote:

“[The TPP] favors CEOs over workers, profits over the environment and corporate power over the rule of law. Small wonder that it was drafted in secret or that Obama, McConnell and Boehner are determined there will be no amendments permitted once it is made public.”

Congressional supporters of the TPP are selling the soul of the United States to the devil.

May 19, 2015

David v. Goliath; Or Shell No!

No U.S. laws will change because of the TPP. That’s President Obama’s claim through his push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Senate, however, has two companion trade bills. One will allow any president to negotiate trade agreements within the next six years with no amendments of filibusters in Congress. The second bill is a trade adjustment assistance (TAA) bill that provides federal funds for workers displaced by free trade agreements. This help includes from job training, placement services, relocation expenses, income support, and health insurance subsidies.

TAA gets part of its funding from $700 million in Medicare cuts. Although sequestration (except for “defense”) expires in 2024, the TAA bill expands it while the other $2.2 billion comes from customs user fees. Compared to billions, $700 million isn’t much, but it’s another chip in social services, a reduction while the pet “defense” budget increases. The bill continues Congress’s philosophy that treats Medicare as its own piggy bank. Also the $700 million shows how little help the tens of thousands of people losing jobs will receive. The falsehood that TPP changes no U.S. laws just adds to the misrepresentations of a “trade agreement.”

The U.S. fight to prevent TPP is reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath. Congressional legislators and the president forge ahead in the face of telephone calls to them showing an opposition of 25 to 1. You can add your voice here.

President Obama has created another David & Goliath story in the Northwest. A week ago, the Obama administration opened the door to drilling in the Arctic when it granted approval to Shell for exploration in this area “subject to rigorous safety standards,” according to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Shell plans to drill up to six wells about 70 miles offshore of the northwest coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea this summer between July 1 and the end of September. The plan is open to comment for another week.

If Shell were to develop the area, the leases would result in eight offshore platforms, 400 to 457 production wells, 80 to 92 service wells, 380 to 420 miles of offshore pipelines, 600 to 640 miles of onshore pipelines, a shorebase, a processing facility, and a waste facility. The agency approving Shell’s plan reported that there was a “75% chance of one or more large spills” occurring in the area over the next 77 years. During development, about 800 oil spills of less than 1,000 barrels apiece are “considered likely to occur,” some even at the exploration-only stage. It can be expected that at least two large spills greater than 1,000 barrels of oil will occur. Such occurrences would devastate both ecosystems and the people who rely on these for their living. 

This remote area is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill for oil. Rescue and cleanup is almost nonexistent with the closest Coast Guard station for this purpose over 1,000 miles away. Three years ago, Shell left the Arctic after a number of disasters, including the Kulluk oil rig that had to be towed to safety in late 2012 and sold for junk after it ran aground because of the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks,” according to a report released by the U.S. Coast Guard. The catastrophe left 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid along a formerly pristine coastline. The next year, the Interior Department stated that Shell failed to meet safety mandates and ordered the corporation to stop drilling.

For years, Shell has been talking about the problems of climate change and how the increase in temperature—double former projections—will cause devastating rising of oceans. Shell remains a member of the far-right legislative-writing organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and then states that climate change regulations are the purview of policymakers. Then the company argues that the opposition of global warming cannot distract from the growing energy demand from the growing population and people living in poverty. As Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, said, “The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.”

Obviously, Shell finds its moral obligation in “energy access for all.” Restricting global temperatures makes U.S. Arctic oil extraction economically unviable. The more the ice melts, the greater chance Shell has of finding oil in the area. Despite van Beurden’s call for an informed debate surrounding climate change, Shell continues to partner with ALEC. As executive chair of Google, Eric Schmidt, said last year when the company pulled out of ALEC, “They are just literally lying [about climate change.]”

Despite Shell’s claims to have a “thoroughly responsible plan,” the company refuses to test essential oil spill equipment in Arctic conditions. After the company tested the containment dome in 2012 when it “crushed like a beer can” in safety testing, it has been tested only in waters off Washington State. Shell has also retained Noble Drilling after it had to pay $12 million after pleading guilty to eight crimination offenses working for Shell in 2012. These included the falsification of records, unauthorized alterations to essential equipment, and “willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer.”

Shell has even failed to obtain necessary permits from the City of Seattle, where it leased mooring near a dense residential area at a container terminal not intended as a home port. The city has claimed that Shell violates the terminal’s use and demanded an additional use permit from Seattle. A lawsuit claims that the port failed to comply with public processes, zoning regulations, and environmental regimes and calls for a new environmental review. Mike O’Brien, a city council member, talked about concerns that the drilling fleet could “discharge oil and other toxic pollutants” in the Puget Sound and damaging a fragile ecosystem that the area has worked for decades to clean up.

An alternative to Seattle for Shell’s moorage is Dutch Harbor (AK), but comes at a higher cost with rougher weather. Shell also wants to avoid Alaska’s fossil fuel tax. The Noble was trying to escape that fuel tax when it managed to ground the drilling rig on the coastline because of bad weather. The owners of both vessels that Shell wants to leave in Seattle when they aren’t operating in the Arctic have both been cited for safety dangers and pollution discharge. The Noble Discover’s pollution-control system, which broke in 2012, also failed last month in near Hawaii. The owner of the other, Transocean, paid $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killing 11 workers and blowing five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The first permit that Shell received is conditional, based on the requirement that the company obtain another seven state and federal permits including incidental harassment authorizations from the National Marine Fisheries Service, letters of authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and wastewater discharge approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency. Growing noise levels and vessel traffic from Shell’s endeavors threaten the whales in the Arctic: gray whales are there year-round, bowhead whales migrate through the area, and Beluga whales raise their young there. Other species in the area are Pacific walruses, polar bears, seals, and various seabird populations.

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest.  Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle's Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans.  Photo by Greenpeace

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest. Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle’s Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. Photo by Greenpeace

Seattle residents aren’t accepting the drilling rigs. Hundreds of activists are blocking road traffic—including port workers—to the port. Another 500 “kayaktivists” surrounded the Polar Pioneer drilling rig that arrived last Thursday despite the dangers. Kayakers too close to the propwash, the propeller stream, can get sucked into the frigid water, and kayakers in the way of the ship’s momentum can drown. Their plan is to make sure that the semi-submersible drilling unit with a 170-foot-tall derrick doesn’t leave to destroy the Arctic. Shell’s other drilling rig is already avoiding the inhospitality by mooring farther north at Everett (WA).

ARCTIC_DRILLING_43917475As the kayakers’ sign read, “The people vs. Shell.” I’m rooting for the people. Maybe David will win again.

May 18, 2015

TPP Closer to Passing But No Better Deal

“The president has done an excellent job on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership].” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made this statement yesterday on This Week. That alone should tell people that the TPP is very wrong for the country. Those touting the wonders of the proposed trade agreement have refused to address its flaws.

Any legislator who reads the highly secret document in the windowless basement room of the Capitol is first stripped of any electronic devices, told they couldn’t take notes, and then strictly forbidden to tell anyone what they’ve read, on threat of prosecution. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) broke these rules and told members of Congress why they should oppose the proposal.

A major complaint is that the agreement is a “living document,” meaning that the president can change at will after Congress passes the TPP. Sessions is concerned, of course, about what President Obama would do after Congress okays the agreement, but others should be highly concerned about what a GOP president would do to the country through changing the TPP. The first trade representative in the Obama administration, Ambassador Ron Kirk, has said that “if the American people knew what was in this agreement it would never become law.”

President Obama attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her opposition, dismissing her as a “politician.” When the Democrats turned on him for his treatment of her, he softened his approach, but Warren is still speaking about the TPP’s problems.

This morning Warren issued a report of failed trade enforcements, including ones by the current president. He has consistently insisted that the TPP contains robust labor protections and called Warren’s criticisms “dishonest,” “bunk” and “misinformation.” The U.S. consistently fails to enforce any labor protections in trade agreements, according to reports from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) as well as the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State. Since Barack Obama became president, the DOL accepted only five claims for labor violations, and the first-ever labor enforcement case too six years to restart after it was originally filed.

Of the 14 U.S. trade agreements with 20 countries, 11 countries continue to perpetrate child labor, forced labor, or other human rights abuses related to labor. The president called a deal with Colombia a “win-win for workers” in 2011, but 105 union activists have been murdered there in the past four years and 1,337 death threats have been issued since the special “Labor Action Plan” was finalized four years ago.

President Obama has said that he has a commitment to bring “the first-ever labor dispute under a free trade agreement”–in Guatemala. Although the AFL-CIO has pushed for action on violations in Guatemala for over six years, the dispute is unresolved, and the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for union workers. Seventeen labor activists were murdered there in 2013 and 2014, three of them during a dispute over unpaid back wages.

The Obama Administration predicted that the South Korea Free Trade Agreement would create 70,000 jobs and deliver up to $11 billion in exports. While imports have climbed to over $12 billion, the United States exported $1 billion to Korea. The growing good trade deficit with Korea eliminated over 75,000 jobs in the last three years.

The president touts the TPP as involving 40 percent of global GDP. The United States already represents 22 percent, and existing trade agreements with six TPP partners make up 80 percent of the TPP. Japan, with its 1.2 percent tariff has most of the rest.

GDPThe TPP will also not create “an additional 650,000 jobs,” according to Peter Petri of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He said, “We don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.” Because the agreement increases copyright and patent protections, prices for drugs, movies and music will increase here and abroad.

Most of the arguments supporting the TPP cite improved trade, but the agreement backers ignore imports, and thus the rapidly increasing trade deficit. Another favorite argument is “containing China.” Either China can join the TPP because the agreement is a “living document,” or it can import goods into TPP countries with no tariffs without following any TPP regulations.

Robert Reich wrote, “[The TPP is] being sold as a way to boost the U.S. economy, expand exports, and contain China’s widening economic influence, [but] the biggest beneficiaries would be giant American-based global corporations, along with their executives and major shareholders.” He further explains how worker protections are unenforceable, as he discovered when he was Secretary of Labor and asked to implement NAFTA. It also won’t help U.S. exports because it does nothing to prevent other nations from manipulating their currencies to boost exports. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is trying to fix that problem with amendment, but the TPP is a “living document.”

Warren also talked about the danger of trade agreements to the Dodd-Frank Act designed to protect consumers. Major financial institutions have lobbied hard for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union, and strongly support the TPP.

The TPP may keep the Federal Reserve from imposing separate liquidity requirements on foreign banks that force banks to have a certain level of assets they can sell off in case of a crisis. Agreements could also change the Dodd-Frank compliance rules on derivatives that currently protect people from another recession. U.S. banks could reincorporate outside the country to avoid regulations. The TTIP also has a provision to evaluate bank regulations on trade impact instead of financial stability, again avoiding reforms. President Obama might not allow this, but President Jeb Bush would definitely put benefits to banks above those to individuals.

Supporters of TPP consistently declare that U.S. law can’t be changed without congressional action, but trade agreements automatically make laws for anyone dealing with corporations outside the United States. Many companies are moving to other countries to avoid U.S. law. Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate to be repealed; the trade agreement is a much easier route for a GOP president. In addition to Dodd-Frank, environmental and labor regulations can be at risk through the same fast-track process.

Opposition to the TPP comes from legislators such as Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Warren, and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as well as most Democrats in the House. These people are not isolationists; they support workers, the environment, net neutrality, and human rights.

The Apple Corporation is a classic example of the predatory companies that have designed the TPP. Apple’s overseas untaxed cash, now about $157 billion, is expected to be $200 billion within two years. Cheap construction of their products overseas makes enormous profits for the company. A 16 GB iPhone 6 costs about $200 to manufacture, but without an expensive phone contact with a wireless carrier such as Verizon or AT&T, the product sells for at least $650.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has praised Apple for its job creation of over one million jobs in the United States. Apple, however, has 66,000 employees in the U.S., half of them retail store workers. The company pays their full-time retail “specialists” less than $30,000 a year while earning $600,000 profit for each one: employees generate $20 in profits for each $1 they are paid.

Laborers at Chinese factories such as Foxconn suffer from low wages, forced overtime, safety hazards, abuse, and increased production quotas. They worked 15 hours a day for ten weeks without a day off before the iPhone 6 launch in late 2014. These problems and others, such as locked fire exits, are reminiscent of the U.S. a century ago.

According to leaked documents, the TPP drops the tariff, bringing far more profits to Apple, Nike, and other huge corporations while destroying the middle class in the U.S. That’s why McConnell approves of the president’s “excellent job” and pushes for the TPP to pass the Senate this week. TPP will destroy the U.S. ability to set regulations, allow corporations to control U.S. law through international tribunals, further eradicate the middle class, outsource more jobs, and block manufacturing in the United States. And McConnell says that no one in Congress is going home until it passes.

May 8, 2015

Nike Proof of Trans-Pacific Partnership Dangers

President Obama visited Oregon’s Nike offices today to talk about how much he loves the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how deluded the opponents on both the left and right are. I’m one of those strong opponents, disagreeing with my usually progressive senator Ron Wyden. People can argue that I haven’t read it and therefore know nothing about it. True, but I’m not allowed to read it. Neither is almost everyone else in the United States.

The supreme secrecy of the TPP is excessive, even in a government that prizes secrecy. Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote:

“If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.

“If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.

“And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read.”

Rep.Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) said, “It’s like being in kindergarten. You give back the toys at the end.” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) claimed, “My chief of staff who has a top secret security clearance can learn more about ISIS or Yemen than about this trade agreement.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) commented, “[The president is] incredibly condescending. It’s like, ‘You’d be all for this if only you hadn’t gotten an F in economics.’” He opposes what he’s seen because it lacks labor standards and measures to address currency manipulation. “We know when we’re being suckered,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who he believes that the agreement quotes percentages instead of absolute values on trade statistics that give an overly positive impression. “It’s not only condescending, it’s misleading.”

Members of Congress are also upset because Michael Froman, the man behind the agreement presented false information in a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the “fast-track” process:

  • Fast Track doesn’t put “Congress in the driver’s seat” because it gives the executive branch all the power before “an up-or-down vote with no amendments or changes.”
  • There is no trade surplus with the TPP partners: the U.S. has a $180 billion trade deficit with the 11 countries and a $51 billion manufacturing trade deficit with all FTA partners.
  • Negotiations are not working for “access to affordable life-saving medicines” but instead giving greater monopoly protections for drug companies.
  • Froman’s “diversity of voices” are actually 90 percent representatives for industry interests.
  • His claims about the growth of exports are also false.

More details from Jonathan Tasini are available here.

Labeled a “free trade” agreement, the TPP covers many other subjects. Only five chapters deal with traditional trade issues. The others give foreign corporations to equal status with sovereign nations by allowing them to enforce corporate rights and privileges while limiting government policies for health, safe food and water, and wages. Nations in the agreement, including the United States, cannot make laws that might endanger any corporate profits.

This look at Nike, where President Obama tried to show how beneficial his trade agreement is to people in the U.S., describes the company’s decimation of jobs in the United States.  Phil Knight, head and co-founder of Nike, is worth $23 billion because of outsourcing jobs to overseas sweatshops, avoiding U.S. taxes through P.O.-box subsidiaries in tax havens, and threatening to extort tax breaks from its “home” state. Enrolled at Stanford Business School, Knight came up with the idea of using cheap labor at overseas factories in 1964. His 1962 thesis was on the profitability of offshore low-wage production of goods to be sold in the U.S.  At that time, 4 percent of U.S. footwear was imported; now 98 percent of this product is made overseas. By offshoring its labor, Nike has participated in driving down U.S. wages and benefits.

When horrible working conditions at the Nike overseas factories became an issue, Knight and other company officials claimed that they weren’t responsible for safety problems or labor conditions because they didn’t own the factories. A 1996 Life magazine article called “Six Cents an Hour,” picturing a boy sewing Nike soccer balls, brought the issue to a head. The exploitation of Nike’s offshore cheap labor created “brand erosion,” which could cost the company several million dollars. Two years later, Knight promised to get rid of child labor.

Nike earned $27.8 billion in revenue in 2014 and “employs”—through contractors—over 1 million workers. Fewer than one percent of these employees are in the United States. That’s 10,000 out of 1,000,000 workers. At this time, Nike pays Vietnamese workers $.56 an hour to make shoes, at a cost of $10, that sell for $320. The company had moved to Vietnam after wages rose in China. In today’s speech, President Obama said that Nike had promised to bring back “thousands of jobs” if the TPP is confirmed. The 10,000 new employees that Nike promises adds one percent to the total number of Nike manufacturing jobs in the United States.

All Nike shoes are produced outside of the U.S. In 2013, none of the 68 factories with Nike made shoes. Nike cut one-third of its U.S. production contracts and dropped the employees by one-third, from 13,922 to 8,400 U.S. workers. By contrast Massachusetts-based New Balance makes shoes in five U.S. factories. The TPP would force these factories to close because of the agreement’s lower tariffs on shoes made in such places as Vietnam, benefitting Nike.

An Obama administration argument for TPP is special “progressive” labor rights provisions for Vietnam, in recognition of its bad labor conditions. When that happened in Colombia, more than 100 union organizers were assassinated, and another 1,000 were threatened with violence.

Tax havens have saved Nike $2.2 billion in federal taxes. Nike had twelve shell companies in just Bermuda alone, ten of them named after Nike’s shoes: Air Max Limited, Nike Cortez, Nike Flight, Nike Force, Nike Huarache, Nike Jump Ltd., Nike Lavadome, Nike Pegasus, Nike Tailwind and Nike Waffle. Although the company appeared to have scaled down its tax shelters outside the United States, the company must disclose only “significant” subsidiaries. On the most recent financial report, issued last Friday, half the Bermuda subsidiaries from the previous year have disappeared.

The UK discovered that Nike is dodging taxes there as well by funneling millions of pounds from its sales through its Dutch division. The company that sponsors the England football team and tennis stars such as Maria Sharapova siphoned £8.3m from Britain to a sister company in Hilversum, Holland, because the Nike “subsidiary” in the Netherlands “owns” the rights to “license” something to Nike in other countries.

While Nike pays 90 percent less than its fair share in taxes, Knight managed to get huge tax breaks by threatening to leave the state. The legislature passed a bill agreeing to tax Nike only a portion of its sales for the next 30 years. Nike gets $2 billion for investing $150 million in a project with 500 jobs–$4 million per job. Nike has few employees here, shelters most of its revenue offshore, and had no intention of leaving Oregon, but its threats paid off big.

At this time, only one representative and one senator from blue Oregon oppose the TPP. The newest one to go with the president’s arguments, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, said she’s backing the bill because it would help boost exports. Sadly, she there’s no proof. Bonamici does have concerns that it “include strong labor standards that will, among other things, guard against child labor and human trafficking” and to contain “unprecedented environmental standards to protect our land, air, and water and conserve our precious natural resources.” Even if the agreement that she approves—although she may not have seen it—has these provisions, it is a “living agreement,” which means that it can be changed after she votes to approve it. At this time, the TPP includes 12 countries, but it is open for every nation to join and open to changes in the provisions.

The president needs at least 30 House Democrats to make up for the missing 60 or more missing GOP votes. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) got six of the 11 other Democrats on the Finance Committee to back the legislation last month, but Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to filibuster the TPP.

flush the tppAs Robert Reich wrote, “Nike isn’t the solution to the problem of stagnant wages in America. Nike is the problem.”

What Nike does isn’t illegal. The company can legally use sweatshop labor and shelter its revenue from taxes. Part of the legality comes from trade agreements. The president is now promising Nike and other huge corporations that he will push through another agreement that will be far more beneficial to them and far less beneficial to U.S. workers. I understand why Knight wants the TPP. I don’t understand why President Obama wants the agreement.

 

[Protesters greeted President Obama at the entrance to the Nike offices.]

March 31, 2015

Stop the TPP

Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”

According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.

History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”

The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”

Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.

Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.

Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.

Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.

U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.

While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.

If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.

My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation.

Moveon.org has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.

January 22, 2015

Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement

President Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this week rated higher than his previous ones with 81 percent of the 31.7 viewers having a very or somewhat positive opinion and only 18 percent reacting negatively. Watchers’ confidence that the president’s policies “will move the country in the right direction” increased 15 percentage points from a pre-speech survey to 72 percent. The high point of the speech for many people happened after Republicans interrupted it with applause when the president said, “I have no more campaigns to run.” He responded, “I know, because I won both of them.” Democrats applauded, and Republicans whined about how nasty the president was.

On their website, House Republicans omitted a couple of the president’s statements.  some of the president’s statements. One was his saying that GOP tried to avoid discussion of climate change by saying that they are “not scientists,” and the other, the president’s statement about torture:

“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”

In his response to the president, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) showed himself not yet ready for prime time when he interrupted his own speech about a minute into it by muttering, “Ah, lemme start again.” The video was pulled from YouTube but is available here.

The president’s one clinker in his speech was his support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade deal in history with countries from Chile to Japan representing 792 million people and 40 percent of the world economy. It was worked out by lobbyists from the nation’s biggest corporations and banks with no participation from the U.S. public.People should know how bad this secret deal by the support from Republicans and rejection of Democrats.

The U.S. chose free trade, opening borders to products made overseas, after World War II to raise living standards and create different jobs. In the last few decades, the win-win situation of free trade skewed the payoff from trade agreements to those at the top. With low tariffs, negotiations are more concerned with protections for intellectual property while decreasing labor laws, financial regulations, and rules for health, safety, and the environment. Big Business still wants free trade while extending their trademarks, copyrights, and patents abroad and protecting their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans. With those rights, they want to stop interference with their profits by doing away with protection for consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment.

Leaks from the TPP proposal show it gives stronger patent protections for pharmaceutical industry to delay cheaper generic versions of drugs. Global corporations will gain an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets. The same tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits from a nation’s regulations. Right now, Philip Morris is using this provision against Uruguay in a bilateral trade treaty between that country and Switzerland; the corporation claims that their profits are unfairly diminished by Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations. The year 2012 saw nearly sixty cases in which Big Business sued governments, most of them by U.S. companies trying to undo regulations in different countries.

With TPP’s “minimum standards” affecting financial regulations in a trade deal, a country could be ordered to pay an international bank if the government doesn’t bail out the failing institution. An example is the $200 million cost against the Czech Republic in 2006. TPP rules could also “curtail certain limitations on the size or the operations of financial firms,” according to a letter that three Senators sent U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about their objections to his delegation’s provisions. The TPP could also stop any future financial transaction taxes.

Because the TPP lets Big Business eliminate all laws and regulations that threaten their profits, foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations can destroy regulations in the United States and take compensation from any laws that protect people from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, fraudulent securities or predatory lending, unsafe working conditions, and toxic emissions.

In his speech, the president claimed that the TPP will increase U.S. exports in its competition with China. The same agreement, however, lets U.S. corporations outsource even more jobs abroad. President Obama wants the TPP to be on “fast track” (aka Trade Promotion Authority) because he then gets the constitutional trade and legislative writing authority from the Congress. It prevents amendments and debates on any trade deal that the president negotiates.

At the end of the last century, NAFTA was supposed to be a boon to the United States. Instead it lost almost 700,000 jobs (60.8 percent in manufacturing), expanded inequality, degraded the environment, and destroyed Mexican agriculture. Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China lost over 2.7 million jobs in the U.S., and the Korea Free Trade Agreement destroyed another 70,000 jobs. The most recent South Korean trade pact has lost jobs and expanded U.S. trade deficits.

Proposed trade agreements such as TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) promise the same result. The TTIP agreement with Europe would drive the United States into the same horror of austerity as the EU. Like TTP, Big Business designed its further deregulation of economic, financial, health, labor, safety, privacy, and environmental protections to weaken labor and government. Yet the most optimistic projection of the trade agreement’s impact is a one-time increase of 0.1 percent of GDP.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has provided more ways that the TPP could hurt working families:

Outsourcing even more jobs overseas: More than 130,000 jobs would go to Vietnam and Japan alone. Also disappearing from the U.S. would be many of these service sector jobs in outsource call centers; computer programming; engineering; accounting; and medical diagnostic jobs. More manufacturing jobs would vanish because the TPP provides special benefits to firms that offshore jobs and reduces risks associated with operating in low-wage countries.

Benefiting and expanding Wall Street at everyone else’s expense and financial instability: TPP would stop governments from imposing “capital controls” to avoid financial crises. There can be no financial speculation tax to limit huge transfers of speculative capital in and out of countries responsible for the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s.

Threatening wages, benefits, and collective bargaining: Workers in the U.S. will be competing with those in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56 cents per hour. 

Undermining environmental protection: Pending claims worth over $14 billion have been filed in other countries on the basis that regulations, mostly environmental, negatively impact future profits. International tribunals will bypass domestic courts to decide these cases.

Ending “Buy America” laws: TPP requires equal access to foreign corporations for competition in contracting with the government. Even companies with horrible human rights records must receive government contracts paid by U.S. taxpayers.

Rewarding authoritarian regimes: The TPP would give all countries, even those that violate basic international standards for human rights, duty-free access to the U.S. market. The Sony hackings could not be reported under TPP rules.

The TPP has no expiration date. It can be repealed only with the consensus of all the countries that agree to it. Other countries, such as China, can also join the TPP in the future.

Two weeks ago, Sanders asked Michael Froman, the chief trade representative for the U.S., to submit the full text of the proposed TPP.  At this time, Congress can assess the proposal only through a few leaked documents. If Froman turns down Sanders’ request, he has asked for the legal basis for a denial. Sanders also plans to introduce a bill requiring that the contents of any trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. would be made public with the request of any member of Congress.

If the TPP were good for people of the U.S. , it wouldn’t be secret. ISIL is less of a threat to the people of the United States than the proposed trade agreements are. All we can hope for is that the Republicans hate President Obama so much that they won’t give him anything he wants even if the GOP might support it.

[More horrifying information about TPP is available here. And here.]

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