Validation

April 18, 2015

 

At last the TPP comes before Congress

April 17, 2015

I’ve been ranting so long about the danger and harm in the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that I’m at a loss for something new to say now that it is actually before Congress for a vote.

The TPP is an agreement among 12 nations, including the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan, which would set limits on financial regulation and food safety standards and make drug patent and copyright laws more restrictive.

hulk-tppIts most controversial provisions is the Investor State Dispute Settlement system, which would allow foreign investors to seek sanctions against governments whose labor, environmental, health and other laws deprived it of its just profits.

Under ISDS, “foreign investors” – mostly transnational corporations – have the ability to bypass U.S. courts and challenge U.S. government action and inaction before international tribunals authorized to order U.S. taxpayer compensation to the firms.

Today Congressional leaders announced support for fast track authority, which means that the House of Representatives would have no more than 60 days to debate the agreement and the Senate 30 additional days, after which they would vote “yes” or “no”.

This does not mean that fast track has been approved.  This would require a vote by the full House and Senate, which is yet to come.

The TPP is a thick and complex document.  Negotiations have been conducted under strict secrecy, and the material will be new to most members of Congress.  What little is publicly known comes from leaked negotiating documents, many of them through WikiLeaks.  (Thank you, Julian Assange).

If TPP is approved through a fast track process, I would bet that dozens of congresspeople a year later will be saying they wouldn’t have voted for it if they had realized all that was in it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Public Citizen on the Trans Pacific Partnership

April 17, 2015

tpp-nafta-on-steroids-infographicSource: Public Citizen.

Top congressional leaders, including Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate finance committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, chair of the House ways and means committee, announced their support for “fast track” approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

This would mean that the House would have 60 days to discuss this complicated agreement, and the Senate an additional 30 days, after which they would have to vote the agreement up or down, without amendment.

But the fact that the leaders support fast track doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.  The procedure still must go before the House and Senate as a whole.

I think the TPP is a bad idea, but, even it were a good idea, it deserves more discussion than fast track would allow.

Doctors Without Borders on the TPP

April 17, 2015

tpp_infographic2_0

It is too late to modify these harmful rules.  Negotiations among the United States and 12 other nations have been completed, and it is now up to the United States Congress to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement—or not.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on the TPP

April 17, 2015

tpp_1Well, it’s too late now to try to influence the negotiations.

Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate finance committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the chair of the House ways and means committee, agreed to support fast-track approval for the proposed 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

This would mean that the House would have 60 days to discuss the agreement, and the Senate would have an additional 30 days, before they voted “yes” or “no”, with no possibility of amendment.

The fact that President Obama and powerful Congressional leaders support fast track does not mean that it has been approved.  The procedure requires a vote of the House and Senate, and, since there is strong opposition in both parties, it may well not be approved.

Adam Curtis and machines of loving grace

April 17, 2015

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace is a remarkable three-part documentary film series made by Adam Curtis for the BBC.

He explores the consequences of looking at the economy, at nature and at human nature as an self-regulating cybernetic-like system, governed by automatic feedback, without the need for human thought.

Thinking this way make people assume that political action is futile and it is better to stand aside and let things come into adjustment automatically.  This is profoundly anti-democratic.  Also, it doesn’t work.

Love and Power is about the idea that the economic system will come to a desirable equilibrium based on individual self-interest without outside regulation.

He reports on Ayn Rand and her attempt to set up a utopian community based on the virtue of selfishness, and on Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who internalized the values of Ayn Rand.

Read the rest of this entry »

As cities raise minimum wage, no big job loss

April 16, 2015

Conservatives have long portrayed minimum wage increases as a harbingers of economic doom, but their fears simply haven’t played out. San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, DC, were among the first major cities to raise their minimum wages to substantially above state and national averages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the increases had little effect on employment rates in traditionally low-wage sectors of their economies.

Economists with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley have found similar results in studies of the six other cities that have raised their minimum wages in the past decade, and in the 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum. Businesses, they found, absorbed the costs through lower job turnover, small price increases, and higher productivity.

via Mother Jones.

The world invests in China’s new bank

April 16, 2015

aiib-graphic

Fifty-seven governments, including all the major powers except the USA, Canada and Japan, have signed up to participate in China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The AIIB may or may not be an important force in building infrastructure in Asia.  But the eagerness of the world’s governments to participate shows a willingness to follow the leadership of China even against the advice of the USA.

The red countries on the map are governments that participate in the Asian Development Bank, which is supported by Japan and headquartered in Manila, who also participate in the Asian Infrastructure Investment banks.  The blue countries on the map are other countries who have joined the AIIB.

The yellow countries are Asian Development Bank participants who held back from joining the AIIB.

I know, from reading of history, that China is following a pattern of drawing other countries in to itself rather than engage in overseas conquest.

During the Age of Discovery, for example, Europeans had a trade deficit with China and also India.  All the exploits of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus were intended to find a route by which the European nations could trade directly for the porcelain, silk and spices of Asia rather than through Muslim middlemen.  All the gold and silver that Cortez and Pizarro found in the New World and brought back to Spain eventually went to China and India.

China went into temporary eclipse during the 19th and early 20th century, but the current Chinese government has restored China to its historic position—the nation that the rest of the world comes to, and tries to connect with.

I do not claim to know whether how much Asian infrastructure will in fact be built through the AIIB, nor what the future holds for China.  As stockbrokers say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But for now, the Chinese policy of offering things to people is more successful than the U.S. policy of forcing things on people.

LINKS

57 nations approved as founding members of China-led AIIB by Gary Huang for the South China Morning Post.

The infrastructure gap: Development finance helps China win friends and influence American allies by The Economist.

The power of the new Chinese investment bank by Richard Javed Heydarian for Al Jazeera.

 

Hillary Clinton promoted fracking to the world

April 16, 2015

Urkaine_map

gas_landsMy e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey in Baltimore sent me a link to a well-researched article in Mother Jones documenting how Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State promoted fracking in foreign countries.

Fracking—hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas—is a destructive process that, among other things, creates increased risk of earthquakes and contamination of ground water and uses up vital supplies of fresh water.

I’m opposed to fracking unless there is a more desperate need for fuel than there is now.

But however you look at it, promotion of fracking in foreign countries in no way benefits the American public, except for a few wealthy investors and corporate investors, such as Beau Biden, the Vice President’s son, who is on the board of directors of an energy company that hopes to do fracking in Ukraine.

There is a strong grass-roots opposition to fracking in many countries, and, to the extent that the American government is seen to be promoting fracking, this generates ill-will toward the U.S. government and Americans generally.

Unlike in the USA, most landowners do not own the mineral rights under their land. Those rights are owned by governments and can be sold, leased or given away even if the owner objects. So fracking decisions are not usually made by an individual landowner to get income, but by government officials.

Hillary Clinton did not decide to promote fracking on her own. This is President Obama’s policy.

I doubt Republicans in Congress have any objection to promoting fracking abroad. They object to the Obama administration presuming to regulate fracking on U.S. public lands.

LINK

How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World by Mariah Blake for Mother Jones.

Why the minimum wage should be $15 an hour

April 15, 2015

CRminimumwage8dXSp

The key economic problem for the USA is that American wages are too low.

American consumer demand is the engine that has driven not only the U.S. economy, but much of the world economy, for the past 60 years.

If people don’t have enough money to buy things, there is no economic incentive to make things.

If there is no economic incentive to make things, the world’s wealth does not increase relative to the population.

If there is no economic incentive to make things, rich people and institutions invest in debt, which in the long run makes the problem worse.

If there is no economic incentive to make things, unemployment increases.

There is an economic theory that says that the way to cure unemployment is to allow wages.

It is true that, in a generally prosperous economy, an individual employer might hire more workers if they were available at a lower wage.  But that wouldn’t work for the economy as a whole because workers are customers.  Without mass prosperity, economic activity is devoted to serving the desires of a tiny economic elite.

One way to wage raises is to raise the minimum wage.  This is good for all working people, not just those earning minimum wage or slightly above.  It pushes up the general wage level and increases the market for goods and services.

And aside from all these other considerations, do we really want to live in a rich nation in which millions of hard-working people are poor?

Read the rest of this entry »

Can fast food afford a $15 minimum wage?

April 15, 2015

Answer to the question: Yes.

An individual fast food restaurant manager might not be able to pay $15 an hour minimum wage and still compete with other restaurants paying $7.25 an hour.  But there would be no competitive disadvantage if there was a floor under all wages.

Can a $10 minimum wage end working poverty?

April 15, 2015

Answer to the question: No.

IRS budget cuts are bad for honest taxpayers

April 15, 2015

-1x-1-1-1x-1

The Internal Revenue Service is less and less able to serve the public well because of budget and staff cuts imposed by a Republican-dominated Congress.

Nobody likes to pay taxes—I certainly don’t—but IRS employees don’t write the tax laws.  Their responsibility is to collect the taxes, without which the government couldn’t function.

When Congress cuts the IRS budget, it means that the IRS is less able to serve honest taxpayers and to audit and collect from dishonest taxpayers.

If the process of filling out income tax forms is overly complicated, only Congress has the authority to simplify the tax code.

Some of the recent IRS scandals have been bogus, some real, but the way to deal with a real scandal is to fire the people responsible, not to hamstring the agency as a whole.

This starts a cycle, which may be intentional, in which Congress supposedly punishes an agency for bad performance by cutting its budget, which results in worse performance, which generates more punishment, and so on.

LINKS

An Emotional Audit: IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed by Devin Leonard and Richard Rubin for Bloomberg Business.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)   This is the source of the charts.

The IRS sucks because Republicans made it suck by Joan McCarter for Daily Kos.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

There should be a right to video-record police

April 14, 2015

15041thedifferenceHat tip to The Weekly Sift

Michael Slager, a policeman in North Charleston, S.C., said he shot and killed 50-year-old Walter Scott because they were engaged in a violent altercation, and Scott grabbed for Slager’s Taser.

There would have been hardly any way to challenge that story if a brave soul named Feidin Santana hadn’t recorded the incident and come forward with the video.

The North Charleston Police Department did do the right thing, by filing murder charges against Slager, once they saw the video.

Unfortunately the public can’t count on somebody with a video camera being in the vicinity every time there is a fatal police shooting.

And more unfortunately still, it’s unclear whether there is a legal or constitutional right to videotape police officers in the course of their duty.  Santana’s camera could very well have been confiscated and the record destroyed.

It would be nice if American police departments made a practice of video recording all police encounters with the public, but I suspect that recordings might have a tendency to be lost or destroyed in cases such as this.

I think there should be laws in every state upholding the right to make video recordings of police and other government employees when they are on duty and in public, subject to restrictions to keep the video photographer from physically getting in the way of police and others doing their jobs.

LINKS

In Many States, Including South Carolina, the Right to Videotape Police Isn’t All That Clear by Daniel Denvir for The Atlantic.  [Hat tip to Cop in the Hood]

Everything The Police Said About Walter Scott’s Death Before a Video Showed What Really Happened by Judd Legum for ThinkProgress.

Walter Scott Shooting Video Caught Police Propaganda Machine in Action by Andrew Jewell Jones for The Intercept.

Paul Krugman makes a case for the Democrats

April 14, 2015

Paul Krugman, whom I respect, thinks that Americans will have a real choice in 2016 between the Republicans, who represent the wealthy, and the Democrats, who represent the public interest.

I think he’s right about the Republicans, but I’m not so sure about the Democrats.  Here’s what he wrote:

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman

As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other.

The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

For example, any Democrat would, if elected, seek to maintain the basic U.S. social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — in essentially their current form, while also preserving and extending the Affordable Care Act.

Any Republican would seek to destroy Obamacare, make deep cuts in Medicaid, and probably try to convert Medicare into a voucher system.

Read the rest of this entry »


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