Nel's New Day

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 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 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.]

February 20, 2014

Flush the TPP

When President Obama took office, dewy-eyed progressives believed that he might change the United States for the better. We supported his dreams and hoped of a better life. Some of his struggles during the past 5+ years have come from the racial prejudice against the black half of him. Another issue, however, is his conservative nature. As he channels presidents Eisenhower and Reagan, Democrats have started losing faith in him.

The latest opposition he faces is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret and that the president wants “fast-tracked” before anyone finds out what it contains. Michael Froman, the U.S. top trade official, is the latest person to push the TPP onto leaders of labor, environmental, consumer, and online progressive groups.

The first cautionary fact about the TPP is that Congressional GOP leaders and big business support the Asian trade pact. The liberal faction, is unified against the trade agreement. There’s a good reason that corporations like TPP: they wrote it.

“Fast-track” means speeded-up congressional action by barring amendments, something that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is ready to do. The GOP likes lower-priced imported goods and services, but progressives worry about the loss of U.S. manufacturing and service jobs. Free-trade agreements of the past, such as NAFTA, have destroyed living wages for workers in the U.S.

While supporters claim that the TPP eliminates tariffs and boosts economic growth, the agreement, like NAFTA, allows corporations—including those in the U.S.—to circumvent any regulations and laws. Courts and Congress have no control over corporate activities. Leaked documents show that an international tribunal would have the power to overrule individual country’s legal standards and impose economic penalties on them. Corporations can go to these tribunals to sue governments for compensation claiming that regulations such as tobacco, prescription drug and environment protections undermine their business interests.

Globalization is happening, according to Froman, and it will be shaped by U.S. values or by others. The values shaping the TPP are the corporate values, the same ones that have bought politicians across the country so that huge, wealthy companies can get only bigger and richer. Froman claimed that TPP would “put labor and environmental standards at the core of trade agreements and make those standards enforceable like any commercial commitment.” Yet he is unwilling to release any concrete information that would show how this happens. Only a very few, primarily corporate executives and lobbyists, have been privy to the TPP proposals.

Although Froman tried to shut down the opposition by saying that organized labor had more access to documents and briefings, one participant called that claim “just downright silly.” The person said, “We don’t have access to the text.”

Recently, Froman offered liberal nonprofit groups access to further briefings and documents in a Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee, information already available to hundreds of corporations. Business groups have long opposed the inclusion of nonprofit organizations because it might decrease their corporate interests. Almost four years ago, Fanwood Chemical Inc. president Jim DeLisi said:

“Exports are created by business, investments are created by business, and good, high-paying jobs are created by businesses. The key point of this whole system is to be sure that the [government] negotiators understand the needs of businesses.”

One meeting participant who requested anonymity said this regarding the Huffington Post article:

“You missed my favorite Froman quote that night when he told us that based on our logic that we should all go home and just throw away our computers and get rid of automation.”

Activist and author Noam Chomsky is very clear about his opposition to the TPP:

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

His objection stems from the fact that the TPP contains issues outside trade, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power. The end result of the TPP is actually undermining freedom of trade; instead it supports investor rights.

This month tens of millions of members from 550 groups signed a letter asking legislators to vote against “fast-track” authority for the negotiation between the U.S. and eleven other Pacific Rim nations. Another 50 groups launched StopFastTrack.com to kill the agreement that they call “NAFTA on steroids.” This story, however, may be the most uncovered one in the United States. Until last week, there was almost nothing about the TPP on broadcast or cable news shows. Now the mainstream press is reporting on President Obama talking in vague terms about how this agreement will be good for the nation.

Transcripts of six months evening news shows ending on January 31, 2014, shows not one mention of the TPP on ABC, CBS, or NBC. On PBS Newshour, one guest argued that “the TPP would improve relations with Asian nations.” [visual]

tpp_coverage 1 During the same time, only The Ed Show routinely covered the TPP on evening cable news shows. CNN mentioned it once in the six months, and the Fox network totally ignored the trade agreement. [visual]

cabletppcoverage 2

Despite the lack of information until recently, enough voters know about the TPP to oppose it. Although Boehner and other congressional GOP leaders support the agreement, a majority of conservative voters are against fast-tracking the agreement by more than two to one. The poll results match earlier surveys showing a negative view of trade agreements. One of the main reasons for opposition to the TPP is that it will drive down wages for people in the U.S. while benefiting big corporations.

Leaders involved in negotiating and promoting the TPP have gotten big bonuses from big business for their government participation. Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the undersecretary for international trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.

Froman received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman’s] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.”

CitiGroup pays extra retirement pay for employees who take a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.” That bank isn’t alone: Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, the Blackstone Group, Fannie Mae, Northern Trust and Northrop Grumman are among other firms offering financial rewards for government service after retirement.

https://openmedia.ca/blog/canadian-mps-push-transparency-trans-pacific-partnership  Negotiations for the TPP are scheduled in Singapore next week, and senior legislators from seven countries are asking for transparency in the agreement. Decision-makers from Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru are demanding that the draft text is openly published before any agreement is signed.

This is a 180-degree turn from the beginning of negotiations. Five years ago, negotiators agreed that the text would not be released until negotiations were completed and any documents other than the text would be concealed until four years after the agreement is signed or after the last round of negotiations if the agreement is not finished.

The GOP members of Congress have declared that they are through for the year after they raised the debt ceiling. They will take their $174,000 salary for their less than four months of work this year with their only achievement having promised to pay the country’s already-accrued debts. If that means they don’t pass the TPP, it might be worth the almost $100 million that taxpayers are paying them for causing gridlock.

January 9, 2014

Iran, TTP – Hope Congress Does Nothing

The 113th Congress is known for doing nothing, and I hope that they continue the trend. Right now there are two issues before Congress that can literally destroy the United States: a Senate bill could put us in war, and a House bill could give corporations 100 percent control of the country.

Issue #1: Iran

Up to 58 senators have signed onto S. 1881, the bill to immediately put new sanctions on Iran if they dare break the current agreement. Iran is willing to negotiate but promised to break off any agreement and destroy existing diplomatic gestures if the U.S. proposes new sanctions. Passing the bill could start another war in the Middle East, costing trillions more dollars.

The bill does state that sanctions would go into effect only if Iran either violates the interim agreement or cannot reach a deal. If that happens, however, the senate could then pass the sanctions rather than disturb the fragile communication between Iran and other world powers regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) said that he has already has prepared a bill in case the nuclear talks with Iran fail.

Former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and former ambassador to Israel, India, and the U.N., Thomas Pickering, have joined others in signing a letter explaining that the bill would question the country’s good faith. The letter states that the senate bill “will threaten the prospects for success in the current negotiations and thus present us and our friends with a stark choice — military action or living with a nuclear Iran.” It adds that attacking Iran would not keep it from developing nuclear weapons; instead if would likely give the Iranians justification to seek them.

Since the agreement on November 24, 2013, modest sanctions relief was exchanged for Iran’s reining in its nuclear program. After the bill was introduced, however, Iranian parliamentarians introduced a measure to enrich nearly weapon-grade uranium.

Secretary of State John Kerry said about the bill, “If we appear to be going off on our own tangent and do whatever we want we will potentially lose their support for the sanctions themselves because we don’t just enforce them by ourselves, we need their help,” referring the U.K, France, China, Russia, and Germany.

Sanctions in the bill include further reductions in Iran’s oil exports and new penalties on other industries, but it goes much farther. The bill insists on zero enrichment to prevent future sanctions, which is unattainable and goes far beyond any UN resolutions against Iran. In addition, the U.S. president would have no power to lift any sanctions. The president would also have no power to issue “cooperating country” waivers for countries reducing their Iranian oil imports unless they reduced oil imports by 30 percent in the first year and ended the imports in the second year, something that countries like China, South Korea, and India are unlikely to do.

The bill also pledges U.S. military support for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program, meaning that Israel put the U.S. into war with another nation for any reason.

Threatening these sanctions while the U.S. is negotiating would strengthen Iranian hardliners. They lost the last election, but new sanctions could empower them to undercut the current diplomatic outreach and return them to political power.

The Senate needs a two-thirds majority, 67, to override the president’s veto. Johnson said that the bill will not go through his committee of jurisdiction. It will have to get to the floor some other way. If the Senate votes on an Iran sanctions bill in the coming weeks, don’t expect it to go through the regular committee process.  He’ll wait as long as Iran is negotiating.

Fewer than one-third of the senators were there to declare war in the early 2000s. Fortunately, Tim Johnson was one of them. He understands the danger of declaring war on Iran.

Issue #2: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The mainstream media has almost no information on the TPP, partly because there as so many other issues and partly because the president wants to keep it secret to get it “fast-tracked”—passed through Congress with no debate and no notice. Twelve nations are negotiating the secretive, multi-national trade agreement that would restrict intellectual property laws and rewrite international rules on its enforcement. Freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and the ability to innovate would all be greatly restricted. Although only 12 countries are involved in the agreement, other countries would most likely be coerced into the “partnership” to maintain trade agreements with the TPP members.

TPP was started in 2008 by George W. Bush and continued by President Obama–who pledged in that same year to be transparent. In 2010, all involved nations signed a pledge to hide the deliberations from the public and keep any related documents secret until four years after the deal is done. Last year, the president’s trade rep, Ron Kirk, declared that secrecy was vital because the agreement would enrage people in the U.S. and keep Congress from rubber stamping it. Kirk has been replaced.

No one is 100 percent sure of exactly what the agreement says because no draft has been officially released; people are learning about it through leaked documents. Because all the negotiations occurred behind closed doors, it was not subject to any system of checks and balances.

We do know that domestic laws and policies would be forced to conform to the agreement. Congress could no longer make law if corporations disagree. The same thing would happen in other countries, requiring them to rewrite recent laws. U.S. entertainment and pharmaceutical industries would be benefited while Internet users and technology innovators would lose flexibility and exceptions.

The greatest benefit from TPP goes to corporations because they can more easily sue government, prevent regulation of GMOs, and keep people in impoverished countries from accessing life-saving medicines. Activities such as sourcing local food for schools, banning fracking, and labeling genetically engineered foods are at the top of the corporate hit list.

The House Ways and Means Committee has joined with the Senate Finance Committee to legislate the “trade-promotion authority” which provides an up-or-down vote in Congress. Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, described TPP as “the Chamber’s top trade priority before the Congress.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that the bill couldn’t pass without bipartisan support, a far reach from his usual partisan position.

People who consider TPP to be a benign trade agreement might want to consider the big tobacco company lawsuits against governments of Australia, Uruguay, and several African countries for violating trade agreements by limiting advertising and packaging cigarettes. British-American Tobacco complained that Australia’s anti-smoking regulations violate its trademark rights because the country requires cigarettes to be sold in drab packages.

Tobacco companies have sued and threatened to sue countries like Uruguay and Uganda, arguing that their tobacco rules unfairly restrict trade or hurt their investments. Namibia has not enforced tobacco regulations because it is not prepared to fight long and expensive legal battles against large companies.

Poorer, developing countries are particularly targeted by Big Tobacco, because governments don’t have the resources to fight back. Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization, said the trade suits are “deliberately designed to instill fear in countries wishing to introduce tough tobacco control measures.” Trade agreements and investment treaties are meant to make it easier for governments to do business internationally, not allow corporations to undermine legitimate public health regulations. Smoking-related illnesses kill nearly six million people a year across the planet, and almost 80 percent of the world’s smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.

This is just one example of environmental, public health, and civil rights laws that big business such as Halliburton, Chevron, and Monsanto might consider trade violations. These corporations are only three of the 600 companies plus some non-governmental groups that advise TPP trade negotiations.

The TTP can also:

  • offshore millions of American jobs by skirting regulations in other countries;
  • free the banksters from oversight by prohibint transaction taxes, restrict “firewall” reforms, and permit banks to regulate themselves;
  • ban “Buy America” policies needed to create green jobs and rebuild our economy;
  • decrease access to medicine and increase prices through monopolies;
  • eliminate regulations for food safety, calling them “illegal trade barriers”;
  • flood the U.S. with unsafe food and products;
  • allow unlimited fracking;
  • govern public services such as utilities, transportation, and education;
  • and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards.

TPP is the end of U.S. sovereignty. Corporations will be making all the laws, and cases will be decided behind closed doors by three-person international tribunals of private attorneys hired by corporations.

Of course, if the Senate declares war against Iran and they use nuclear weapons against us, we might not have to worry about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

November 15, 2013

The Internet Makes a Difference

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:53 PM
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Ten years ago the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could probably have been passed into international law, quietly and in secret. A decade into the 21st century, however, information, varying in accuracy, pours across the world through wireless access. Although the mainstream media has had nothing to say about the TPP, Wikileaks has provided the text of the proposed agreement, and people are gathering in protest.

A letter from 180 members of the House from Tea Partier Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to progressive John Lewis (D-GA) oppose President Obama’s request for Fast Track, an authority which would let the president negotiate and sign the TPP before Congressional debate. Fast Track would allow Congress only an up-and-down vote.

Negotiators for TTP will meet in Salt Lake City (UT) next week, and protesters plan to be present. Communities are passing resolutions opposing the changes in law from TTP that harms them. December 3 will see a global day of protest against toxic trade agreements, and two members of the Australian Parliament will submit a request on that day to make the text of TPP public.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an agreement being negotiated behind closed doors by representatives of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, and Australia. It proposes to control “international obligations and enforcement mechanisms for copyright, trademark and patent law.” Until the Wikileaks made the document public, only 700 representatives of corporations–TTP’s author–had access to the text. No  governments would have been to read it until given an up-or-down vote, and the public has been permitted little or no input in the final version.

Scary content of TPP:

Restricted Internet use: “Authors, performers, and producers of phonograms have the right to authorize or prohibit all reproductions of their works, performances, and phonograms, in any manner or form, permanent or temporary (including temporary storage in electronic form).” Currently, computers use temporary copies to buffer videos, store cache files to ensure websites load quickly, etc. Anyone viewing a temporary version on the computer would most likely be liable to TPP infringement.

Limited access to medicine: Access to affordable medications would drastically shrink, while pharmaceutical companies would greatly profit if consumers were not able to buy competing low-cost companies’ medications. These measures have never been seen before in U.S. trade agreements. The proposals would control countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, extending pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS drugs especially in the Asia-Pacific region. TPP would also create more difficulty for additional generic drugs in the pharmaceutical markets.

Extended patent protections to surgical methods: Patent protections to surgical methods, currently allowed to be excluded under World Trade Organization framework, would be lengthened. TPP makes patent protections’ exceptions to only “surgical methods you can perform with your bare hands,” according to Burcu Kilic, legal counsel to Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.

Longer copyright term protections: Currently copyright term protections are defined by individual countries but capped at the life of the author plus 50 years. TPP could force longer copyright terms to life of the author plus 70 years for individuals “and either 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation for corporate-owned works (such as Mickey Mouse).” Economists and law scholars believe that “the optimal length of copyright is at most seven years.”

The requirement for Internet Service Providers (ISP) to police copyright violations: An analysis stated:

“The TPP wants service providers to undertake the financial and administrative burdens of becoming copyright cops, serving a copyright maximalist agenda while disregarding the consequences for Internet freedom and innovation.”

Three-strike rules would require ISPs to terminate users’ Internet access after three allegations of copyright infringement; require ISPs to filter online communications for possible instance of copyright infringement; oblige ISPs to block websites that may be engaged in copyright infringement; and potentially force ISPs to reveal identities of alleged online copyright infringers to the entities that hold the copyrights in question.

Under the TPP, corporations would be in control; the agreement would supersede government laws and regulations. It has been described as “NAFTA on steroids,” referring to the trade agreement that gave oil and pharmaceutical companies control over Canadian regulations on offshore oil drilling, fracking, pesticides, drug patents and other issues.

Environmental regulations would be shredded while prices would skyrocket if the TPP were to become the law of the land. Although corporations claim that TPP is a trade agreement, that’s only a minor part. The rest of it includes “new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more,” according to Lori Wallach in The Nation. 

All countries would be forced to conform domestic laws and regulations to any TPP’s rules that are written by huge corporations. TPP even limits how governments spend tax dollars and prevents programs such as “Buy America” and other “Buy Local” movements. The TPP rules could be changed only if all countries agree, and it has no expiration date. Breaking any TPP rules could leave countries open to lawsuits before the organization’s tribunals. Under TPP corporations could sue governments.

NAFTA has already required governments to pay $350 million to corporations because of suits against toxic bans, land-use policies, forestry rules and more. Again, think of TPP as NAFTA on steroids. NAFTA and similar pacts has cost the United States more than 5 million jobs and led to the loss of more than 50,000 manufacturing plants. TPP would continue the bleeding of employment in this country.

TPP has proceeded in secret for the past five years. Public, press, and Congress have been prevented from knowing anything about its proceedings. Even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Senate committee with official jurisdiction over TPP, has been denied access to even U.S. proposals to the negotiations. But 700 corporate representatives serving as official U.S. trade advisers have full access to TPP texts and a special role in negotiations.

When challenged about the conflict with the Obama administration’s touted commitment to transparency, Trade Representative Kirk noted that after the release of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) text in 2001, that deal could not be completed. In other words, the official in charge of the TPP says the only way to complete the deal is to keep it secret from the people who would have to live with the results.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pointed out in a letter to the White House:

“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the administration’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. I believe in transparency and democracy and I think the US Trade Representative should too.”

There’s much more wrong with TPP than its lack of transparency.

September 28, 2013

News Hiding among GOP Shutting Down the Government

The news media has been fixated about the possibility of the U.S. government shutting down with a sideways glance at the first conversation between a U.S. president and an Iranian president in 34 years. The latest comes from The Hill which reports that the House voted to move more quickly on the Continuing Resolution that the Senate sent back to them yesterday. (The article reports that “just a handful of Republicans and Democrats” voted against changing the rule: that “handful” is actually 191 votes—44 percent of the members.)

Rapid voting won’t help because the GOP is adding two amendments to the Senate’s version of the CR, one delaying Obamacare for one year and the other repealing the 2.7 percent tax on medical devices in Obamacare. Another addition is a “conscience clause,” meaning that anyone, for example pharmacists, could refuse preventative care for women. This evening they’re just sitting around delaying the vote. It’s gone beyond ideological to thumbing their noses at women’s rights.

One governor who wants Obamacare is Kentucky’s Steve Beshear who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “My State Needs Obamacare. Now.”  Pointing out that Kentucky is among the sickest, most unhealthy state in the nation, he credits the Medicaid expansion and Kynect health exchange for providing affordable coverage to more than 600,000 Kentuckians, creating 17,000 jobs, and saving the state $800 million. He writes to his GOP senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and others:

“So, to those more worried about political power than Kentucky’s families, I say, ‘Get over it.’ Get over it … and get out of the way so I can help my people. Here in Kentucky, we cannot afford to waste another day or another life.”

Here’s other news that hasn’t receive attention because of the concentration on Ted Cruz’s and the Tea Party’s games:

The best news is that 32-year-old Marissa Alexander will receive a new trial after serving of her 20-year prison sentence in Florida. Over three years ago, her husband  broke through a locked door into the bathroom where she was hiding, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her to the floor. She escaped into the garage but couldn’t escape. When she returned  into the house with a gun, her husband said, “Bitch, I’ll kill you.” She fired the gun into the ceiling. The jury took 12 minutes to refuse her claims of self-defense. Firing a gun during a felony gives a mandatory 20-year sentence in Florida.

A state appellate panel reversed the conviction because the court had instructed the jury that she had to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The “stand your ground” law puts the burden of proof on the prosecutor. That’s the reason that the jury failed to award George Zimmerman a guilty verdict for killing Trayvon Martin. The appellate court also stated that Alexander didn’t have to prove she had been injured by her husband because he was not hurt in the shooting.

Alexander, who had no criminal record, had never been arrested, and she had a restraining order against her husband. She was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case.

The next time that conservatives snarl about the current president having used illegal drugs in the past, think about their hypocrisy. According to an advocacy group trying to legalize marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), at least 100 million “successful Americans” have used marijuana and “even more” think it should be legal. These include such high-profile conservatives as presidential wannabes Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and George W. Bush.

The same conservatives who want a “War on Drugs” also think that federal surveillance is important for their safety. A new audit of the Department of Justice finds that the statistics of terrorism have been overstated (aka falsified). In 2009, figures for terrorist convictions were inflated by 13 percent; in the next year, that rate of exaggeration doubled to 26 percent. The Department of Justice branch responsible for these figures, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), gave the reason as human error and “shoddy recordkeeping”—counting terrorists twice or counting those with dismissed charges as convictions. Convictions for non-terrorist crimes such as bank robbery, drug dealing, and animal fighting were also incorrectly classified as terrorist convictions. The insistence that NSA’s surveillance program disrupted 50 terrorist plots is equally false.

By not paying taxes, giant corporations have the money to sue countries around the world. Philip Morris has lawsuits against the Australian government to overturn public health laws aimed at reducing teenage smoking. Chevron has hired 2,000 lawyers in an attempt to avoid paying Ecuador $19 billion in damages due for the horrific oil spills they inflicted. Bayer is suing Europe to overturn their ban on bee-killing pesticide—all while investing millions with Monsanto to defeat an effort to label GM foods in the U.S.

While going through my email requests for petition-signers, I came across this gem. The National Football League (NFL), a $9 billion a year industry, is tax-exempt because it claims to be a non-profit organization. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, makes almost $30 million a year, more than the heads of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart; the NFL controls more than $50 billion in contracts with television networks. Taxpayers fund stadiums where NFL teams play. The Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association aren’t tax-free: the NFL should have to pay taxes.

Allen West, famous for his sexist language while he was a one-term U.S. GOP representative from Florida, has left his job at Pajamas Media. There are two versions about why. West said he resigned. Others said that he was fired after he told a female staffer to “shut up” and called her a “Jewish American princess.” West described it as “an exchange.”

In closing most of its women’s clinics in Texas, legislators used the falsehood that the reason was women’s safety. Texas Tribune has now officially debunked that lie with a review of state inspection records for 36 clinics that provided abortions. Although auditors found 19 regulatory violations they claimed were risks to patient safety at six of the clinics not ambulatory surgical centers, none was severe enough to warrant financial penalties. The facilities’ corrective actions were sufficient to protect the patients. In the past five years, the Texas Medical Board took action for just three doctors who performed abortions, all for administrative infractions. During the past 15 years, however, the maternal mortality rate for Texas has quadrupled.

The tiniest blip on the radar is probably the most dangerous news for people in the U.S. and the world. Secret negotiations for the proposed “free trade” agreement among over 12 countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to be concluded in October, will destroy the U.S.’s ability to make laws protecting the country. A drastic consequence is the dissolution of our internet freedoms. Provisions in this agreement, according to leaks, deal with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. If passed, the TPP provisions will infringe on privacy, freedom of expression, and innovation on the Internet.

Specific risks would include blocking deaf and blind people from existing uses of the Internet; forcing service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards; kicking entire families off the Internet for minor copyright infringements; giving media conglomerates more power to fine you for Internet use and remove online content—including entire websites; and creating a parallel legal system of international tribunals that will undermine national sovereignty and allow conglomerates to sue countries for laws that infringe on their profits.

After individuals and organizations began protesting TPP, the negotiations went farther underground with no meeting announcements from the U.S. Trade Rep. There may have been one in September in Mexico City during which countries resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto the standards may have been strong-armed into doing so. .

Congress members in Peru have presented a motion to demand a thorough and public debate on current TPP proposals and for trade delegates to give a comprehensive report on the ongoing negotiations. Chilean Senators recently called for a public debate on TPP, requesting the President to provide “timely and accurate” information on the affects of the agreement on their country. In New Zealand, a Parliamentary member is demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the secrecy of the agreement and how its provisions could undermine consumer protection laws. Canadian Member of Parliament Don Davies has called on the Prime Minister to give Parliamentary Member access to the TPP, especially in light of documents revealing how a small group of industry associations have had special access to Canada’s negotiating position. The Malaysian Cabinet released a statement saying that it would not be bound by a fixed timeline on TPP and calling for more transparency in the process.

At this point, the timeline for TPP’s conclusion is ambiguous. The U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman continues to claim that the U.S. will not force countries to rush a deal by any particular deadline, while also stating that the Obama administration has placed top priority on concluding the TPP before the end of the year.

My favorite: Two weeks ago when First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water, Rush Limbaugh did his usual attack against her: “This is really absurd.  Drink more water?  It’s none of their business.  Why do they care?  You drink when you’re thirsty.” Hopefully, no one looks at Limbaugh as an example of someone in good health. At this point, one way to kill off conservatives would be for Michelle Obama to recommend breathing. Meanwhile, I’m trying to drink more water. It’s my personal protest against the right-wing conservatives.

August 3, 2013

Taking Action Moves the U.S. Forward

When I looked at today’s email, I saw a the usual plethora of petition seekers, this time asking me to sign onto protests against egregious acts of environmental and political abuses.

  • Major bank executives such as Chase CEO Jamie Dimon who lost $9 billion of depositors’ money through his fraudulent actions are regulating the banking industry by the law that allows them to serve on the New York Federal Reserve Board. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is introducing legislation to make this practice illegal.
  • Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, gubernatorial candidate, refused to repay $18,000 of gifts from Star Scientific, a dietary supplement company that benefitted from its relationship with the AG, because, Cuccinelli said, “There are some bells you can’t un-ring.”
  • New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O’Brien compared Obamacare to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave-owners to take African-Americans out to the state back to the South.
  • The Securities and Exchange Committee has not yet passed regulations to require the disclosure of corporation CEO’s salaries despite the three-year-old Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that mandates this action.
  • Cumulus will reportedly not re-hire Rush Limbaugh, but they may also be trying to jockey a better deal with the misogynist radio show host.
  • Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other stores that sell toxic pesticides containing neoicotinoids (neonics) because these are killing bees, vital for food production, at an inordinate rate; last winter beekeepers reports losses of 50-70 percent of their hives.

These petitions are just the proverbial drop in the bucket. As an activist, I want to make changes in the world; I write a monthly newspaper for the local chapter of PFLAG, help with the local chapter of NOW, and write this blog. But there’s so much more to do. Fortunately, other people are also taking action.

Popular Resistance has a website for people who want to create a sustainable future. It reports that one-third of the people in the United States are members of at least one cooperative, including credit unions. In Seattle, the Community Sourced Capital formed to help people avoid Wall Street and invest in their local communities.

In England, the Church of England has started its own credit union by working with non-profit loan agencies to provide less expensive loan services than the legal loan-shark cost of 1-percent interest per day.

Strike Debt Bay Area is working to reverse the privatizing of public services as in the case of the U.S. Post Office through education.  Another of its projects is to save the historic Berkeley post office, and other groups are focusing on ways the Post Office can expand and provide new services. An early project was to raise money to retire health care debts; as of last January the group had garnered over $11 million.

People in Washington state have put a measure on November’s ballot to require labeling of GMO foods. Companies like Monsanto have poured a great deal of money into the campaign, but success for initiative could lead to a national change. People are also working to buy directly from farmers despite efforts to stop this practice.

In the world, 46 countries get 60 percent of electricity from renewable, clean energy sources. The United States could do this by 2050 at the latest. Last year, the fastest growing source of new energy in the nation was wind that made up 42 percent of new electricity.

Over 600 corporations have been negotiating in secret with the Obama administration and its Office of the U.S .Trade Representative for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would turn people’s rights over to the corporations around the world. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said that it will undermine US sovereignty, and former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk admitted that it would not be signed if people knew its contents. The group Flush the TTP is small but growing as it educates people through displaying banners, distributing OccuCards to commuters, and carrying out other actions on #TTP Tuesdays.

Around the nation, people are occupying different spaces in a “dandelion movement” as they disperse seeds to grow their ideas. Through Moral Mondays, people spent 11 Monday evenings in North Carolina getting arrested for being present in the state capitol while GOP legislators continued to try to take away people’s rights.

Wisconsin police are also arresting people who gather in the capitol to sing. For the past two and a half years, Gov. Scott Walker’s opponents have held Solidarity Singalong most weekdays over the lunch hour. They have refused to get permits for their gathering, saying the state constitution allows them to peaceably assemble without the government’s permission. The GOP legislation passed requirements for permits. U.S. District Judge William Conley temporarily blocked part of the law as unconstitutional, but the rest of the law allowed the arrests last week. Retired Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor Carter Dary collapsed with chest pains after his arrest. He was taken to the hospital in handcuffs.

Wisconsin Protests

o-dream-defenders-facebookThe Florida sit-ins didn’t face the same arrests as protesters in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Activists stayed in the capitol for almost three weeks because the state “stand your ground” law freed George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin. State House Speaker, GOP Will Weatherford, announced that he would ask a House Committee to convene to hold a hearing on the controversial law. The Dream Defenders, primarily young people, say that they will stay in the capitol until their requests are met.

Fast-food workers are striking across the nation to bring up the minimum wage to equal that in the 1960s. Richmond (CA) the city will use its eminent domain power to seize underwater houses threatened with foreclosure and re-finance them.

Because of activism in Ohio, two major oil and gas companies decided not to follow through with fracking in the Delaware River Basin. Nebraska’s Pipeline Fighters are getting their countries to pass zoning laws forbidding tar sands pipelines from crossing through the state as well as writing letters to President Obama, asking him to keep the Keystone Pipeline out of their state.

In May, Gallup released a poll showing that the nation’s shift in ideological attitudes is moving toward the left: more people in the country identify themselves as “liberals” in regard to social and economic issues while fewer of them describe themselves as conservative. A Vanderbilt study shows that conservative politicians overestimate the conservative beliefs of their constituents by more than 20 percentage points on average. Liberal politicians following the same pattern, believing that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are.

Almost 90 percent of Republicans are white; the GOP has only a 13-percent allegiance from Hispanics and less from other minorities. That poll was in February before conservative politicians like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) started talking about how young Hispanics have thighs like cantaloupes because they haul so much marijuana. Polls aren’t always to be trusted, but Republican politicians keep working to alienate everyone in the country except wealthy whites.

At the same time, the percentage of religious progressives is rapidly increasing, particularly among the young. The profile of the Republican is older and white, a demographic that is disappearing. We just need to live long enough to see it disappear and hope that the country has not been destroyed by then. At least two political parties are a good idea, but the United States needs progressives to balance the moderate and right-wing groups.

June 1, 2013

TPP Should Terrify Us

The March against Monsanto was huge last Saturday, despite the lack of press about it. And the Moral Monday marches in North Carolina against the extremist actions of far-right conservatives is growing, based on the number of ordinary middle-class people arrested for chanting and singing outside the House and Senate chambers.

The Forward Together Movement started their protests four weeks ago, and within that time over 150 people have been arrested for not dispersing. A tour has also stopped at 25 cities throughout the state to organize opposition to the outrageous legislative agenda. Their complaints are like those in the rest of the states: cuts to unemployment benefits, education spending and education programs; plans to use tax dollars to underwrite private-school education; rejection of federal Medicaid dollars for lower-income people’s health care; plans to expand sales taxes to pay for cuts to the state income taxes; and plans to reduce voting days and require voters to present ID when voting.

The Occupy encampments are coming back. Today Occupy Homecoming re-takes Liberty Plaza (aka Zuccotti Park). For other people who want information about protesting movements, a new website has been designed to connect and build on the current mass popular resistance.

PopularResistance.org provides daily movement news and resources about actions, events, and tools for community organizing. Its goal is to challenge the corporate control of our government, a corrupt economy, and U.S. militarism to put people’s needs and protection of the planet protection before corporate profits. Two examples are these Occucards on Corporate Media and Public Banking. The website shows a strategic framework and links to 200 tactics proven effective through solidarity among movements and weakening the power structure by involving people in the movement.

Building on the March against Monsanto, the first campaign from PopularResistance.org is to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This issue is being sold as a “trade” agreement, but it’s really a corporate grab on everything from Internet freedom to banking regulation, worker rights to health care, environmental protection and agriculture to consumer safety.

For three years, business interests such as Monsanto, Wal-Mart, Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, Exxon-Mobil, BP, and nearly 600 other corporate advisors have secretly negotiated to draft the TPP. Because the key word here is “secretly,” the only information comes from leaked documents, but these are scary. Really scary. Even Congress doesn’t know anything about it.

From what people have discovered, the TPP is a very big deal. If the Senate and President Obama agree to TPP, it can override U.S. laws and regulations. NAFTA, China’s entry into the WTO, and other “trade” agreements have caused huge trade deficits while sending jobs, factories, and industries out of the country to give wealth to the top 1 percent of our population. In the 2000s we lost 50,000+ factories and at least 6 million jobs just to China. These agreements are nothing compared to TPP.

If the TPP is passed, it will be almost impossible to rescind. And it will tell Congress and state legislatures what laws and regulations that they can pass or enforce in areas such as patents and copyrights, government procurement, investment and land use, service-sector regulation, food and product safety, corporate competition, labor, and environmental standards. It will also limit government regulation of financial services.

TPP can cause prices, such as those for pharmaceuticals, to go sky high: tariffs and quotas can increase costs by 20 to 30 percent, and patent and copyright protection can raise prices by 2,000 or 20,000 percent above the free market price.

Even the just-signed Korea Free Trade agreement is already hurting our economy by increasing the trade deficit, increasing imports, and decreasing exports. One year into the agreement, U.S. goods exports to Korea have declined by 10 percent ($4.2 billion decrease) while the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has shot up 37 percent. That’s a loss of 12,000 jobs.

Good trade agreements can help the country. The bad trade deals that we’ve made have boosted the trade deficit, unemployment, income and wealth inequality, the loss of factories and industries, the hollowing-out of our middle class, and the domination of our politics by the large corporate interests. Our recent trade agreements have made winners out of Wall Street, the 1-percenters, and giant multinational corporations.

The good news is that protest movements are crossing the nation. Seattle became the seventh U.S. city in which low-paid workers walked out of McDonalds, Wendy’s, and other fast-food restaurants to demand a living wage of $15 per hour; Wal-Mart workers launched their first sustained strike and plan their June 7 Ride for Respect to the annual shareholders meeting; United Students against Sweatshops is organizing at 180 colleges to protest sweat shops, unfair wages, and industrial accidents. Even in Cambodia, thousands of women working in garment factories held a sit-down strike despite police wielding cattle-prod-like electric stun batons.

The Home Defenders League organized a protest last week that began at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and ended up occupying the Department of Justice. Some spent the nights in tents. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the bankers are “too big to jail,” yet they continue to take homes from people in the United States, sometimes with no justification.  

The proposed TPP can stop laws to help the bottom 99 percent. For example, the Homeowners Bill of Rights passed in Minnesota because of activist pressure, but the TPP could erase this law and others. Banks and mortgage lenders could sue in trade tribunals for lost profits, where the judges will often be corporate lawyers on leave from their jobs.

The “banks too big to jail” will stay big if TPP goes into effect, and top officials can’t be prosecuted for causing disastrous financial losses. The TPP gives banks greater laxity to move money in and out of countries, stops regulation of banks, and allows casino-style high risk investments to continue. Wall Street will use the TPP to weaken the already weak financial regulation of the big banks.

School closings are crossing the nation, and these can be replaced by private corporate schools under TPP which opposes so-called “state-owned enterprises.”  The result is weakened public services such as health care in favor of for-profit corporate interests.

Corporations have filed 450 suits against 89 governments; these corporations have been paid $700 million, about 70 percent of this from challenges to natural resource and environmental policies. For example, if a country—or even a county as one in New Mexico recently did—the companies can sue for exorbitant lost profits. With TPP, environmentalists can’t protest the raping of the land.

More and more places across the country are voting against corporate personhood, for example, 76.6 percent of those in Los Angeles. That city joined 175 others calling for an end of the rule of money. The TPP can stop this opposition to corporate personhood.

With TPP, Monsanto and other corporations selling genetically engineered foods will be in control. Nobody can stop them. And TPP will force other countries to follow in its field testing and lack of labeling to identify GMOs.

People need to force the transparency of TPP negotiations. Last June, 130 members of Congress wrote to U.S. Trade Representative asking for this as well as requesting their consultation with Congressional members. More than 400 organizations have asked Congress to replace the “Fast Track” system that limits Congress’ (democracy’s) ability to get involved in the process, and to call for a new direction for TPP as well as other trade agreements.

TPP needs strong tests and irrevocable language about withdrawing from the agreement if it harms our economy, environment, smaller businesses, tax base, and/or our working people. All future trade deals, including TPP, must include clear and enforceable rules covering currency manipulation and other ways that countries game the system.

Since Citizens United, the misguided Supreme Court decision that declares “corporations are people, my friend,” to quote Mitt Romney, corporations have gone power-hungry crazy. A fine example of this is the incorporated Hobby Lobby Stores, which is fighting for an exemption from giving employees access to the morning-after pill. First, they argue that emergency contraception is abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The company also opposes coverage for some intrauterine devices.

Second, Hobby’s lawyers argue that the stores are a “a ministry.” They added that the constitutional right to freedom of religion is “not a purely personal right.” According to the lawyer, corporations can have religious beliefs.

The case is in front of eight judges in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. But if Hobby waits for TPP, they can probably do anything they want.

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