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Category Archives: trade agreements

Stay classy, USA.

Updated below.

Hurricane Irma is battering the north edge of Cuba as a category 5 hurricane as I write this.  The only comment I have heard on the news about Cuba vis a vis Irma has been relief expressing that by hitting Cuba first, some of the force may be drained off before she makes landfall in the US.

Here’s how the state of Florida is preparing for Irma: mandatory evacuations from cities along the projected path of the worst of the storm.  Repeated announcements that you are on your own to either heed the evacuation notices and get out, or to survive as best you can if you stay.  Repeated warnings to potential looters (note: the term “looters” only means desperate people looking for food or shoes or a free TV after their home just got blown away; it does not refer to the bankers, insurers, and real estate speculators who will rape and pillage the entire area for profit after the storm is over.  Those guys will not only be encouraged to loot wholesale, they will be given tax breaks for doing so.).  Warnings to those who may have criminal charges pending against them that if they seek safety in public shelters, they will be taken to jail because the ID check required as one enters the emergency shelters will expose their status.  The gas stations immediately ran out of gas and the roads north immediately filled with congested traffic.  The airlines jacked up their prices and started cancelling flights.  There were no emergency bus or train services offered, aside from the usual scanty routes already available, because we do not invest in public transportation in the US.  All those people heading north in their cars can only hope they don’t run out of gas along the way.  And where, exactly, they are going seems to be a mystery, as the hotels are completely booked for several states above Florida.  So much for trying to heed those evacuation orders.  After the hurricane, you might be able to get a loan to rebuild your house.  (Or maybe not.  See:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/business/harvey-aid-sba-disaster-loans.html)

Congress has approved some emergency funding for the victims of both hurricanes (Harvey in Texas, and Irma in Florida), at the same time that the current administration is making sure the agencies charged with emergencies like these are defunded and understaffed.  This is the rugged individualism of the US.  You are on your own, although in a somewhat schizophrenic manner, you will be praised for helping your neighbors after the fact, and we all join in with the feel-good sentiment that in an emergency, we “all come together”.  If you haven’t noticed, what they mean is that we “come together” and “help one another out” by sharing our own meager scraps of what we have left after paying taxes and jacked-up exorbitant prices for necessities, while the government only considers “helping one another” to be some socialist plot.  It’s just kind of a shame that the politicians and the media don’t think that spending US taxpayer money on actual US taxpayers should happen except in the most dire of circumstances, and even then, it is done begrudgingly, and demands will be made that US’ians have to give up social spending elsewhere later to pay for it.  Probably not going to get much infrastructure spending in the next budget for the rest of the country, because Congress gave a little something-something to Texas and Florida now, and you may find that Medicare and Social Security get cut to pay for this, as well.  Note must be made here that the ‘infrastructure spending plan’, such as it is, is mostly a plan to give the common infrastructure over to private companies to run at a profit anyway, but now Congress may decide to do away with any public ownership or investment altogether.  When things are rebuilt in these two states, they will be built in the same way they were built before: defiant of the inexorable demands of nature.  If you pave over the swamps and bury hazardous materials under your homes, you get floods because the water has nowhere to go and you get lethal shit released into the air and water when a bad weather event occurs.  In Houston, it is estimated (this is an early estimate, sure to be calibrated upwards as the weeks go on) that two million pounds of hazardous chemicals had been released into the air during the flood.  Texas took care of the problem by turning off its air monitors in the Houston area during hurricane Harvey.  (Can’t worry about what you don’t know, is the theory behind this.)  30,000 gallons of crude oil flowed into the floodwaters that people were wading in when two oil tanks ruptured.  The current condition of all the Superfund sites in the flood zone is unknown.  [Superfund sites are locations polluted with hazardous and toxic materials that require long-term clean-up responses.]  In Florida, there are 54 Superfund sites at risk of flooding and leeching out of containment during heavy rains and storm surges; the EPA claims that all of them have been secured, although reporters found no-one working at any of them in the past week.  Nonetheless, no lessons will be learned and nothing will change, as we will insist that our way is the best because we are just that exceptional.   This brings to mind the “healthcare” debacle. The US politicians refuse to ask all those other countries how they set up their universal healthcare systems – which apparently work efficiently enough and save enough money that none of them ever want to give them up – and instead simply declare that universal healthcare is “not feasible”.  And when the insurance costs skyrocket this winter, as they will due to the shortfalls of the ACA combined with the deliberate efforts of Trump and the Republicans to sabotage the little bit that works, the public will be told it was inevitable and that they must accept something even worse.

In Cuba, as compared to the US emergency system, there has been a network in place for decades where each family, household or neighborhood is paired with one or more of the same on the opposite side of the island.  Evacuation transportation, by any and all available means, and emergency routes have been planned in advance to cover any contingency, as part of the networks.  Everyone therefore is able to be moved quickly and they already have a place to stay during the emergency.  Despite the fact that Cuba is hit fairly frequently with hurricanes, there is very little death toll thanks to this pre-planning based on the public good.  Of course, this is an example of Dread Socialism at work, so the media in the US simply doesn’t talk about how Cuba manages hurricane preparedness, nor do they talk about Cuba at all, except as I said above, to crow that by running over Cuba first, Irma will be less dangerous to the US.

To add insult to injury, because there is nothing the US likes more than jabbing sharp sticks in the eyes of small nations everywhere, last night at the same exact time that Irma was making landfall along the northern coast of Cuba, the Trump administration announced that the trade embargo against Cuba is going to be extended for another year, until Sept., 2018.  Trump’s presidential memo states that the embargo, which prevents American companies from importing goods from Cuba or exporting goods to the island nation, has been extended under the Trading with the Enemy Act “in the national interest of the United States.”

I guess this presidential memo stands in lieu of any statement of support for, or commonality with, Cuba during an event that is likely to harm both countries severely.

USA, always classy!

Update, 4:30 p.m. 9 Sept., 2018

Earlier today, the weather services announced that they think the track of Irma will run up the west coast of Florida rather than the east coast (which is what they had predicted a couple of days ago).  This led to newly-declared mandatory evacuations of some cities on the western side of Fla.  These places seem very unprepared, which seems rather odd, given that the hurricane is wider than the entire state. No matter which coast it runs up, the entire state will get hurricane force winds, both coasts will get storm surge, rain and possibly tornadoes.  One would think the entire state would have prepared emergency shelters.  Anyway, about two hours ago, I saw a bit on one of the news shows wherein the reporter was walking along a line of people who were waiting to be accepting into a stadium that had just been opened as an emergency shelter in one of the west-coast Fla. cities.  These were people who had not been under mandatory evacuation orders until around noon today.  In other words, they had just been told they had to leave and, gas no longer being available and the storm making landfall by tomorrow morning, they headed for the only place made ready for them as a shelter.  Thousands of them were lined up, some with babies in strollers and old people in wheelchairs, some carrying packages of bottled water, and little satchels of clothes.  The line wasn’t moving at all.  The stadium can hold about 6000 people (without their wheelchairs, strollers and suitcases).  Why is the line not moving?  As the reporter got to the front of the line, he mentioned that he couldn’t get any officials to talk to him.  However, you could see that behind him, the people at the front of the line were filling out multiple sheets of paper clasped on clipboards before they were allowed to present these papers to some official and be let into the stadium.  A stunningly bizarre insistence on some byzantine paperwork while moving people into emergency shelter.  There is no way in hell they are going to get all those people inside before dark.  It will be dark around 7 p.m. here on the east coast of the US, just a few hours from now, and the eye of the storm will make landfall around 8 tomorrow morning.  But the eye wall is rather irrelevant, since the outer bands are already over Fla, and the winds are picking up right now.  Get the people in and settled, assholes.  Asking for papers to be filled out right this minute is just arbitrary bureaucracy.

Something else: last night, in the wee hours, I caught a re-run of some Fox News segment which apparently aired earlier in the evening.  I don’t know the reporter’s name or the name of the show, and it’s Fox News, so who gives a fuck anyway?  The lady reporter was practically shrieking that the “fake news” outlets were trying to use a hurricane to sell the Fake Idea of fake climate change.  Under her angry twisted-up face, there was a banner which read, “Liberal news sites try to promote global warming.”  She and her co-hosts were appalled that a hurricane, of all things, was used as an example of climate change.  And, they pointed out, the projected path of Irma had been changed, like, a lot over the past week, by the incompetent weather people, all of whom, they insisted, work for the government, which is totally run by liberals and whackaloons, except for the parts run by Trump and the Republicans, but they aren’t the ones to blame for the liberal, fake weather people and their sinister global warming hoaxes, and the altered trajectory of the storm proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that climate change is bullshit.  Some people  – maybe a lot of people – watch this crap and believe it.  So let’s consider climate change for a moment, while we are talking about hurricanes and weather.  Imagine you are sitting on your porch on a breezy autumn day.  A leaf falls from a tree and gets caught in the wind.  It swirls and dances around the yard.  Where will it land, you might idly wonder as you watch it flutter about.  Thing is, no matter what you predict, you will probably be wrong; there are too many variables at work, from the air temperature to the ground temperature, to the strength of the breeze, to the air pressure, to obstacles in your yard.  Weather prediction is hard.  It is a science and it is currently enhanced by computers, but it is still hard.  The expected path of Irma changed a little within the past twelve hours because it went over Cuba’s landmass, because the temperature of the ocean below it may have changed a bit, because the prevailing winds shifted a tad, but it is still heading for Florida and it is still a huge storm.  To claim that this slight alteration means climate change as a whole is therefore false is just ignorant.

There are other theories about why we are having massive droughts some places, record-breaking rainfall in others, hurricanes, flooding and wildfires all over the planet aside from man-caused global warming.   You might believe that the weather is always changing and this is just part of a normal cycle of cooling and warming.  You might believe that the government is playing with the weather so as to force us to pay higher taxes to alleviate the bad weather they caused on purpose.  You might think the power companies are hyping a fake story so they can usher in carbon taxes, where they can collect a shit-ton of money from you on top of whatever they rip you off for in normal circumstances.  You might believe that reptile space aliens are screwing with weather patterns as part of their plan to take over the earth.  I’m not sure why Americans are so wedded to their simplistic belief systems that they can only believe in binary truths; everything has to be just one thing or it can only be the exact opposite thing.  We have no nuance in this country and no ability for complex thought.

I think it is proven that the climate is changing due to the burning of fossil fuels.  But it can also, simultaneously, be true that there are normal cycles of the weather in the long term, and the effects of these normal cycles are merely enhanced by our mistaken overuse of coal and oil.  It can also be true that politicians and energy companies want to abuse the science to foist financial misery on everyone for their own profit.  It can also be true that the US government plays with the weather  – hell, they were already doing it during the Vietnam war, and proud of it.  Probably the space alien thing isn’t true, though.  Point is, it doesn’t have to be all one or the other, and claiming the whole shebang is a hoax is dangerously simpleminded and keeps us from doing what we ought to ameliorate the worst of the effects of climate change.  The climate is changing.  And that is a fact.

Another fact is that the US military wants to, or already is, using the weather as a weapon against other countries.  Don’t take my word for it; read this white paper, written in 1996 as a precis for the Pentagon.  This is major fucked-up fuckery, right here:

Title: Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025

Opening disclaimer: “2025 is a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future. Presented on 17 June 1996, this report was produced in the Department of Defense school environment of academic freedom and in the interest of advancing concepts related to national defense. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government.  This publication has been reviewed by security and policy review authorities, is unclassified, and is cleared for public release.”

[This is followed by over 40 pages of how the US can manipulate the weather to create adverse conditions for other countries, to use the weather as a weapon of mass destruction, and to weaponize space for the same purposes.]

http://csat.au.af.mil/2025/volume3/vol3ch15.pdf

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Notes on the TPP.

The TPP was written in complete secrecy by corporate CEOs and their lawyers, along with official governmental trade negotiators, over a five year period. The trade negotiator for the US is Michael Froman. He served in the Treasury Dept under Bob Rubin within the Clinton administration, during which time the Glass-Steagall Act was overturned, leading directly to the conditions giving rise to the economic meltdown years later.  After that gig, he and Rubin both went to work for Citigroup (big bank and hedge fund a-go-go). In 2013, he became our trade negotiator. I mention this because it’s relevant that our trade negotiator is a big bank guy who worked for one of the banks that helped tank the economy in ’08.

Obama signed the TPP in Feb. this year, as did all the leaders of the 12 signatory nations. None of them, however, has gotten the deal ratified in their countries yet; i.e., the TPP has not been passed through the parliaments or Congresses of any of the 12 nations yet and so has not legally gone into effect.

They have 2 years to ratify the TPP. If it isn’t ratified by Feb 2018, they can put it into force with only 6 countries participating, if the GDP of those 6 countries combined equals 85% of the GDP of the original 12 countries.

The TPP includes an ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] mechanism. This clause allows a company to sue a treaty-participating country for monetary damages if local laws affect their business. It does not allow them to make changes to local laws, but it does allow them to sue a government for “damages”. The ISDS is run by a tribunal of 3 judges: all of whom are corporate heads, chosen by a panel of big corporations. It has been pointed out that previous trade agreements with an ISDS clause have pushed participating countries to loosen environmental and labor regulations in an effort to preemptively stave off potential lawsuits under ISDS, thus inherently influencing which laws are passed or altered by signatory countries.  It is the ISDS that ensures an end to our national sovereignty, as if the TPP even without it, weren’t bad enough. Any member of Congress that votes yes for this trade agreement and the president that signs it into law is committing treason, in my opinion.

While the ISDS clause cannot forcibly change US laws, some US laws will need to be changed in order to comply with the TPP itself. Obama had the duty (signed into law with the passage of the “Fast-track” bill; aka the Trade Promotion Authority or TPA) of working with the heads of the various US agencies (Dept of Ag, Commerce Dept, Treasury Dept, OSHA, etc.) to create a list of which laws would need to be altered, and to present this list to Congress at the same time the TPP is formally presented to them for vote. Obama signed an executive order in July handing this duty over to Michael Froman (our trade representative). We will find out what laws have been changed if/when Congress votes yes on the TPP. Congress can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the TPP and its attached list of regulatory changes; they are not allowed to amend, filibuster, debate, add to, delete from, or alter any text at all.

Which means that any politician (like Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid) who suggests that the TPP can “be improved” by Congress before it is passed is lying through his teeth. Congress cannot change a word of the TPP. Any improvements that Congress might want to suggest before they would pass the damned thing would necessitate the renegotiation of the agreement with the other countries. (Congress cannot amend the text themselves, but they might, behind the scene so to speak, suggest changes that would ensure passage.) In other words, if Congress says they want x,y, or z clauses to be changed, the TPP has to be re-presented to all the countries with the alterations and the whole negotiation started over again, with the leaders of these countries having to sign a new agreement and presenting that new one to their parliaments for ratification. Obama wants this thing done before he leaves office, so it’s unlikely he would consider any recommendations from Congress that would cause the TPP to have to go into renegotiation. And when Clinton makes breezy promises to “improve” it when she is the president, she is eliding the fact that any improvements she might want will likewise send the agreement into renegotiation. (Remember, the countries only have 2 years to ratify the TPP through their parliaments, so there is little time to negotiate a new treaty.)

The “fast-track” bill that Congress wrote and passed and that Obama signed into law last year has its own stipulations that the media has chosen to completely ignore. This bill governs how Congress votes on any trade agreements for the next 6 years. It reads that Congress can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on any of these agreements without debate, alterations, or amendments, as I mentioned above. I also mentioned that it made the president responsible for telling Congress of any changes to our existing laws that have to occur to comply to the agreements (a duty that Obama handed off to Froman).

In case you think I am inventing the idea that some of our laws will require alteration or amendment (or, in fact, to be overturned altogether) with passage of the TPP, it is quite obvious that this is the case, as the Fast-track bill includes these paragraphs:

“if changes in existing laws or new statutory authority are required to implement such trade agreement or agreements, only such provisions as are strictly necessary or appropriate to implement such trade agreement or agreements, either repealing or amending existing laws or providing new statutory authority.[…]”

and:

“within 60 days after entering into the agreement, the President submits to Congress a description of those changes to existing laws that the President considers would be required in order to bring the United States into compliance with the agreement.”

But there are further rules imposed by the fast-track law, and these are overarching requirements for any trade agreement for the next 6 years. Fast-track demands that no trade agreement can discourage or prejudice commercial activity between the US and Israel. It stipulates that trade agreements must discourage movements such as BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) against Israel. This “no-BDS” clause includes everyone; the definition is given thusly:

“Definition.–In this paragraph, the term ‘actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” means actions by states, non-member states of the United Nations, international organizations, or affiliated agencies of international organizations that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

This formal declaration against the BDS movement was included despite the fact that Israel is not a participating country in any of the troika of trade agreements potentially coming up for vote in the near future. [What I call the troika consists of the TTP, the TTIP, and TISA.]

Fast-track also puts an end to any notion that we will ever have the labeling of products like GMOs or nano-technology, as it includes the following, a provision that none of the trade agreements can include:

“unjustified trade restrictions or commercial requirements, such as labeling, that affect new technologies, including biotechnology; […]”

When Obama signed the fast-track bill into law, he also signed the updated TAA (aka the Trade Adjustment Assistance law). This bill acknowledges the fact that trade agreements cost the US millions of jobs and so Congress authorizes funds for the “re-training” of American workers who will need to find new jobs with which to support themselves. The TAA has existed for years, but was set to expire in 2015. Congress reauthorized the bill and increased the funding because they knew that the upcoming TPP would cost jobs. They had to pass the TAA in order to get the fast-track bill passed: Obama demanded both at the same time, as did members of Congress who otherwise opposed the fast-track legislation, specifically because they know the TPP, TTIP, etc. will lead to job losses. Some of them even said so out loud while debating the fast-track and TAA bills – that the TPP will cost the US several million jobs, which is a vast understatement, according to labor experts. In order to pass the TAA re-training bill, Congress scotch-taped it to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade bill supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, to attract more yes votes. In the updated bill, Congress supplied the necessary $950 mm funding (their estimate of the minimum needed for worker re-training if the TPP passes) by cutting Medicare further. They extended the Medicare sequestration reductions – Medicare benefits have been cut repeatedly since Obama took office – through 2024 and reduced reimbursements for Medicare patients who are on dialysis for acute renal failure. If you are one of the Americans qualified to get “re-training” money to help you “upgrade your skills” so you can find a new job at McDonald’s or WalMart after the TPP erases your current job, thank an elderly dialysis patient. Oh, wait, you won’t be able to – they’ll all be dead. And by the way, the amount of money you’ll get from the federal government toward a “re-training” program is $1500. Good luck.

No-one in the media noted that while Congress was talking about how the TPP was a swell idea, so “wonderful” that they wanted (and got) the fast-track bill in order to get the TPP passed as quickly as possible when it comes to a vote, they were admitting within the body of a bill passed at the same exact time as fast-track that the TPP was going to cost US jobs. Obama’s trade-policy advocates say the TPP will create jobs at the same time they say it will cost jobs. Which is it?  According to them (depending on the day of the week and which shill they have talking about it for them that day), it will do both.  Let’s call it the “Vietnam War Theory of Economics and Job Growth”. This new economic theory is that jobs must be lost in order for jobs to be created, and that a “good” trade deal is one that will lead to lost jobs and lower wages, which then must be partially offset by more federal spending for the displaced work force (funded with the tried and true method of simply taking monies from another sector of the public sphere); said pool of “displaced workers” having been created by the government passing the trade agreement in the first place.

And the TPP is what Clinton calls the “gold standard” of trade agreements, at least until she decided she had to lie about her position on it in order to garner votes.  For some reason, we allow our votes to be heavily invested in outright political lies.

The TTIP and TISA, the other two trade agreements currently under negotiation, have the same issues that the TPP does, and while I am not going into the specific details of those two here, if they are signed and brought before Congress, they will also be enacted within the mandates of the fast-track law. Some good information about both can be found on wikipedia, and websites such as publiccitizen.org are doing an outstanding job of reporting on them.

The TPP and the other trade agreements aren’t about trade. Tariffs are already near zero. They are about giving big, multi-national corporations complete control of and power over judicial and legislative decisions in every country, as well as providing unlimited opportunities for corporate cartels to strip money from wages and reduce governmental spending on the commons.

 

The oligarchs are hosting an election.

The oligarchs and corporatocracy are hosting an election in the United States this year.  They have chosen the candidates, the issues to be discussed, the methods of voting, the perimeters of the voting districts, and dictated what the media will say about the event.  You, as a member of the “voting public”, are invited to attend the event or just watch from a distance.  It hardly matters, since it is unlikely the outcome depends upon your participation.

This week-end, the media is exclusively talking about, in exhausting and tedious interviews with “the experts”, the potential results of the Iowa caucuses; the first in our series of caucuses or primary elections (depending on the state) that will decide the nominees for the Democrat and Republican parties.  I wasn’t sure how a caucus worked as Maryland is a primary state, so I dug up some information on the subject.  Turns out it is a fairly useless procedure which actually goes on for months in caucus states, although the pundits only pay attention to the first round of the affair.  The fact that the way the public votes during this first of the series of caucuses may not be proportionally represented once the Dem. and Rep. delegates make it to the National Conventions to cast their vote for the nominee goes completely unremarked.  Everyone eligible to vote during the general election can go to the caucuses, which are held in school auditoriums, churches, or even private homes.  Well, assuming there is not a blizzard in Iowa that night, that you have a babysitter – these things take hours – that you aren’t sick and that you don’t have to work that evening. There are close to 1700 precincts in this first round of caucuses.  Usually only about 20% of the voters show up, and Iowa is not one of our more populous states in any case; these facts do not deter the “experts” from declaring that the Iowa caucuses are really, really, really important.

So how do caucuses work?  Here’s the quick and dirty.  To start with, at the initial caucus, a delegate is chosen to represent the voting outcome at the next level of caucuses/conventions.  After the precinct caucus, there are the county conventions, the district conventions, the state convention and then the DNC or RNC national convention.  Are you beginning to get how silly it is to consider the first in this series of caucuses to be the most important?  The national committees of each of the two major parties decide the caucus rules, so how they are run differs.  The Republicans have a simple process.  First they say the Pledge of Allegiance.  Because, duh, they’re Republicans, and wherever two or more Republicans are gathered, there will be a flag and everyone will pledge to it.  Close scrutiny is given as to whether all those present appear sincere during the Holy Recitation.  [Aside: I always wondered about the idea of pledging to a flag rather than just the country, but that’s just me.  It appears that we are the only country that routinely uses a pledge like this, and certainly the only country which has schoolchildren doing a pledge of any sort, with the exception of North Korea, where the kids start their day pledging allegiance to their Dear Leader.  Originally, when Americans recited the pledge, people were expected to raise their right hands toward the sky while speaking, but after Hitler rose to prominence in Germany, that started to look, rather obviously, like the Heil Hitler salute, so the gesture was changed.]  Anyway, after reciting the pledge, the caucus-goers are treated to some speeches from someone or another.  Then they have a secret ballot where everyone writes down his/her choice for the nominee.  Some places use ballots, some just scraps of paper.  The votes are tallied and reported to the RNC.  Everyone goes home, except for the chosen delegate of that precinct and some party leaders, who shoot the shit a while longer.

The Democrats have a much more complicated system.  The voters arrive and are separated into groups depending on whom they support.  Then the various factions scream campaign slogans at each other, trying to convince anyone who doesn’t support their candidate to switch sides.  They throw water balloons at each other until a gong sounds, at which point, everyone scrambles for the limited number of seats available in the middle of the room.  Well, okay, I made up the part about the water balloons and the musical chairs, but the rest is pretty much correct.  After a designated time, people have to sort themselves out according to how they have decided to vote and a count is taken.  If the guy your side supports has less than 15% of the votes, he’s out.

If your guy has been tagged out for the rest of the game, you will then be harangued to join someone else’s group.  Eventually, someone calls a welcome end to this part of the process and a final tally is taken.  There is no secret ballot here: all your neighbors can see which group you are standing with.  The number of delegates to represent each candidate are chosen in proportion to the number of voters who chose him, and the delegates go on to the next round of caucuses at the county level, etc.   The delegates can switch their votes around to some other candidate at the later levels of caucus, and some delegates to the Democratic national convention are simply assigned by the DNC, so it would appear that there is absolutely no meaning in any of this.  For all I know, bags of money are left on doorsteps to convince the delegates to switch their votes later.

At both the Dem and the Rep caucuses, ties are sometimes settled by tossing a coin.  Maybe they should just start with the coin toss from the get-go.  If you want to read more about this stuff, you can go here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_caucuses

For the rest of us, there are primary elections where people go into their polling place and cast a ballot.  A number of states don’t allow Independents to vote in the primaries, since they are used to vote for the Dem and Rep nominees.  Delegates to the Rep and Dem national conventions, where they will vote for the final candidate of each party, are supposed to be chosen in proportion with the voter’s choices, but here you run into the issue of the strange “electoral college” system we use.  No-one knows how it works.  It has appeared in past elections that the delegates can vote randomly or that their votes can be over-ridden by the national committees.  In any case, after all that hoopla, everyone goes on to the national elections to vote for a president.  At that point, you can vote for whomever you want, although there will be names on the ballot you don’t recognize because the media has never mentioned them.  You can hope the voting machines aren’t rigged at either the primary or the general election level, but chances are about equal that they are.

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/34607-will-the-2016-primaries-be-electronically-rigged

I mentioned that the caucuses use paper ballots or simply a head count, so you might think that those votes can’t be rigged; however, this year both parties have been given a free app from Microsoft so that party leaders can calculate the totals instantly and send them in to the press.  Thank you, Bill Fucking Gates!  You just never sleep, do ya?  Bernie Sanders, no dummy, is a mite suspicious about the motivation behind this free Gates swag offered to the process, and his team has built its own reporting system to verify the results.

The 2016 election, no matter who “wins”, will have the intended effect of shooting the hostages.  Those hostages would be us; the workers slaving away to the rules written by the oligarchs and corporate cartels and never able to catch up, the people unlucky enough to be living in  oil- and resource-rich countries (including the US – we just haven’t glommed onto the fact yet that our resources are vastly more important to the elites than we are; a truth that we will only dimly perceive and that, way too late), and those who try to protest the alarming rise of Monsanto, Exxon, Goldman Sachs, et al, and protest their enablers in the various houses of governments around the planet.  The protesters will be silenced by any means the cartels deem necessary.  These huge corporations and the bankers are in control of not only our human activities, but the natural world as well, and whomever wins the presidential election is unlikely to stand up for us.  At the congressional level, it is certain that a mere handful of “our elected representatives” gives a damn about the “voters”.  They will sell us down the river, as they have done for a long time now.  No matter which nominal candidate wins, the cartels and warmongers will be the actual winners.  This is the final Great Taking, and they will have it all – the money, the assets, the lands, the resources – and we are expendable.

The situation is far simpler than the media pundits and self-proclaimed experts would have you believe.  We are in the middle of a class war.  The rich versus all.  There is a secondary class war; that of the middle class versus the poor, which has been strategically engineered by the elites for decades.  The middle classes are narrowing and are, on the one hand, being taught to believe that the poor are the enemy and are to be despised as lazy and useless; and on the other hand, convinced that one day, they too will make it to financial success.  Liberals want to pretend the class war between the middle class and the poor doesn’t exist, or that it all about race.  Conservatives push the narrative that there is no class war at all, that we can all be rich if we just work hard enough.  We could have had a national discussion about our poverty crisis, but Obama was probably the last chance we had at seeing that happen.  And he doesn’t seem to notice, much less care about the issue.  The Democrats in Congress have agreed to all the austerity measures put to a vote, and finished off 2015 by nodding to the virtual end the food stamps for the elderly and the disabled and lowering these benefits drastically for the poor; the Republicans never wanted anyone to have food stamps or such in the first place.

The statistics on food poverty in the US are really staggering.  We currently have the highest level of food insecurity since the 1970s.  We had almost entirely eradicated hunger in our country back then.  Right now, one in six Americans is going hungry every day, while 30% of Americans are described as “food insecure” – meaning they can’t guarantee they have a way to put food on the table.

The low interest rates imposed by our economic policies (decided by a bunch of former big bank executives in cooperation with the private Fed) has resulted in zero interest income for Americans who try to save some money, and the same zero interest is realized on the skimpy retirement funds older people may have set aside.  Congress has basically done away with the annual cost of living increases given to those living on social security by using fake numbers for the rate of inflation.

Only two of the candidates, Sanders and strangely, Trump, talk about unemployment.  The real unemployment rate, if it were to be accounted for accurately, would be around 25%, not the 5% currently claimed by the Labor Department.  Wages have been stagnant for decades, and according to the last Oxfam report, “the 62 richest billionaires now own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.”  Just wait until the TPP trade agreement and the wonders of automation, technology, and robotics strips what’s left of the jobs right out from under our feet.  As economist Michael Whitney said:

[…] Obama and the Republican-led Congress have done everything in their power to keep things just the way they are by slashing government spending to make sure the economy stays weak as possible, so inflation is suppressed, the Fed isn’t forced to raise rates, and the cheap money continues to flow to Wall Street. That’s the whole scam in a nutshell: Starve the workerbees while providing more welfare to the slobs at the big investment banks and brokerage houses.  It’s a system that policymakers have nearly perfected as a new Oxfam report shows. […]

Wealth like that, “ain’t no accident”, brother. It’s the policy.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44014.htm

Want to know how much the average person in the US earns?  The candidates won’t talk about it, but I will.

The Social Security Administration has released its data for 2014. Their chart shows actual W-2 earnings in the US as given by the IRS records based on tax returns for 2014.

The numbers are pretty abysmal. The median wage was under $29,000, meaning that half of American workers earned under that amount. The “average wage” is higher than that at $44,569, but is so skewed by the few on the highest income bracket that it is not a really meaningful number, in my opinion.  (The 134 people who earned over $50 mm last year can really alter that average; even taking that into account, 67% earned under the $44,569 “average wage” in 2014.)  In 2014:

-38 % of all American workers made less than $20,000
-51 % of all American workers made less than $30,000
-62 % of all American workers made less than $40,000
-71 % of all American workers made less than $50,000

Since the SSA and the IRS reports are based on each “wage-earner’s” tax-return total earnings rather than counting each and every W-2 turned in to the IRS as a discrete “wage”, this means that the data does not give any information on what the average job might pay and one should not make the mistake of coming to any conclusions about that. In other words, a “wage-earner” may have earned $30,000 in 2014, but might have had to work two or three jobs to earn that amount.  The SSA charts are easy to read, and there is a tool you can click on to look at charts from previous years.

https://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2014

This time around, the oligarchy has trotted out some of the most repugnant, bizarre, and downright ignorant candidates to which we have ever been treated.  Their motto for 2016 is: “2016 – the year we won’t give you any lesser evils to choose from.”  But this is the end result of the capitalist system on display, and we are a capitalist country on its down trajectory; at this point, Americans will buy dog shit if it is packaged properly and advertised heavily.

None of the candidates will cut any of the Pentagon’s budget, nor will any of them consider the possibility that we ought to end the crusades against foreign nations, none of which actually threaten us and with none of whom we are legally at war.  Last year, we dropped an estimated total of over 23,000 bombs in six countries.  This breeds terrorism, for the obvious reasons.  ISIS was a creation of the US; of our policies and actions, if not a direct creation of the CIA and secret ops in conjunction with mercenaries.  Yet according to the people running for president, what we need is more bombs, more American forces killing people abroad, and more help in the fight from “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.  There could be another way to fight terrorism, as one might note that in socially balanced societies, terrorism does not thrive, but we seem incapable of considering an alternative to bloodshed.  We are addicted to it now.

This has resulted in a flood of refugees and/or terrorists to the EU which did not exist prior to the destruction of law and order in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Syria – before the “strong men” who ruled and did not tolerate bombings and mayhem by religious zealots were murdered by the US.  Now we are bent on some ridiculous quest to further “contain the Middle East” and kill those who are determined to avenge their loved ones. As always, the innocent on both sides get fried, while the war machine enjoys the profits.

Even Sanders thinks the [illegal] drone-bombing should continue; I wonder if he will feel okay about carrying out the “Terror Tuesday” duties should he become president?  Will he be surprised to find that he is just as adept and casual at ordering the murders of strangers across the planet as Obama has been?

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday that if elected president he would not end the U.S.’s controversial drone program in the Middle East.

Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos ” that he would continue with the targeted killing campaign but suggested he would somehow reform the program so that drones don’t kill innocent people abroad.

“I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively. That has not always been the case,” Sanders said. […]

http://www.hngn.com/articles/124393/20150830/bernie-sanders-will-end-drone-program-elected-president.htm

We are going back in to Libya, as if we hadn’t already destroyed that once thriving country and created a failed state.  See “Pentagon prepares another war in Libya”:

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/29/pers-j29.html

We have never left Afghanistan and have re-entered Iraq.  We are the main drivers behind the destabilization and bloodshed in Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Ukraine.  We are aiming for Russia, Iran, and China.  Oh, Jesus, forget it; I can’t even begin to list all the countries we are bombing, invading, attempting to destabilize, ruin economically, or instigate coups in now.

Why do Americans approve of drone-bombing, ignore the CIA-instigated terrorism around the globe, seemingly enjoy being at war against countries that don’t threaten us, see the warrior class as superior and deserving of accolades and perqs despite the fact that they are engaged in killing people while we are legally at war with no nation, and scream with approval when some political demagogue talks about “keeping us safe” and nuking the rest of the world into submission?  Why is the public satisfied with the selection offered us in presidential candidates in which even the nominally Democratic “front-runner” is a woman who wants to invade yet another country and do away with their elected leader and who constantly threatens a multitude of other countries?   Why do none of the “candidates” talk about reducing the Pentagon’s budget, getting rid of the Fed, overturning the Patriot Act, or – at the least, for God’s sake – dislodging the most egregiously unconstitutional clauses in the NDAA?  Why do our “Christian” ministers approve of the “war on terror”?  Why do the pundits and the politicians promote violence against everyone and why does the public apparently agree with this as though it were reasonable and of some necessity?

Because in this country we have been taught that greed and theft are virtues, that bullying is the sum total of diplomacy, that other cultures are inherently dangerous and to even examine and consider their viewpoints is subversive. We have been taught that every country on the planet is inferior to our own.  The corporate oligarchs and their courtiers in Congress love ignorance, racism, and herd mentality and have worked very hard to see that Americans are poorly educated and even more poorly informed.

But we sure got Iraq’s gold. And Libya’s. And Ukraine’s. Wanted their oil, too, but it is proving to be a little more difficult to wrest complete control over the oil fields, because we created ISIS (in the case of Iraq and Libya), who are interfering in the process (which may be on purpose to hurt the Dread Russians, under the rather abstruse economic theory that harming Russia’s economy is worth the cost of harming ours) and because we created Nuland’s Nazis Civil War (in the case of Ukraine), which has so far blocked completion of the Biden Bid for Oil Takeover of Eastern Ukraine.

Even so-called “liberal” writers add their voices to the propaganda in support of more war, although they do it a little more subtly than the conservative pundits.  This is from the “liberal media” at Salon, reprinted by the “liberal media” compiler at Alternet, in an article ostensibly about the one of the GOP debates:

 […] Oh, the candidates know that Bashar al-Assad is on one side and ISIS is on the other and that Vladimir Putin is being a dick, all of which is probably more understanding than the typical Republican voter has regarding the whole thing. But memorizing these little factoids is hardly relevant when you still think the solution to an intricate civil war that mostly isn’t about us at all is to stand around declaring how tough you are. […]

http://www.alternet.org/comments/news-amp-politics/gop-debate-scorecard-big-winner-wasnt-anyone-stage-it-was-democrats#disqus_thread

Uh-huh. Those aren’t “factoids”; they’re bullshit.  While the rest of the article about the GOP debate that night is probably true and is certainly funny, this bit is typical blase media propaganda stupidity and why I quit reading Salon, which supposedly offers the liberal viewpoint of things.  Facts:  al-Assad is on one side.  ISIS, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the CIA, and the weapons’ manufacturers are on the other. Putin is not being a dick; Russia is the only country that is helping the legitimate government in Syria legally right now. Let’s say that again: Russia is there legally. The rest of the countries currently bombing Syria to hell and gone are not. Russia and al-Assad are trying to get the US-created and US-armed terrorists out of there.

Apparently, Sanders and O’Malley are the only two amongst the candidates who think that we should uphold the nuclear deal with Iran (which was not trying to develop nuclear weapons anyway), while even our former Sec. of State is of the opinion that we ought to show the Iranians just what dickhead liars we are and sanction them again; retroactively, mind you, since the ballistic missile test that has caused the uproar was carried out prior to our agreement with them.  The missiles tested by Iran were incapable of carrying a nuclear payload and so wouldn’t have broken the agreement no matter when it was signed at any rate.  Nonetheless, as soon as Clinton called for further sanctions, Obama signed an executive order to do just that.

US Treasury imposes new ballistic missile sanctions on Iran:

https://www.rt.com/usa/329240-us-sanctions-iran-ballistic/

Once again we have shown that we cannot keep our “agreements”, “treaties”, or “deals” for more than one second after the ink dries.  The only reason any country even “negotiates” with us any more is that they are aware that if they don’t, we will invade their country and bomb the fuck out of it.  As a nation, we have no morals, no rigorous intellect, and no diplomatic abilities.  As a nation, we are liars, thieves, and murderers, completely bereft of the normal human empathy, the ability to compromise, and the honest self-assessment required to interact in a mutually beneficial way with other societies.

How long before some other nation says, “basta!” and drops a Fat Man on our asses?

All the candidates swear undying support for Israel, none more vociferously than Clinton, as though this were some purity test they have to undergo, and sadly, many Americans see it just that way.  America is exceptional in this way: its politicians place allegiance to a foreign country above loyalty to their own, and the only promises they keep are the ones they make to that foreign country.  And sometimes that oath to serve the interests of the other country above their own nation is the tipping point to get them elected.

What this says about the political system, the politicians, and the electorate in the US is appalling and embarrassing.

So we are being offered for our viewing pleasure an assortment of motley con men and corporate stooges.  Sanders may be the exception to some extent and the fact that the media and the other candidates are busy red-baiting him and regularly try to dismiss his positions out of hand bolsters my belief in his sincerity in some measure.  As I said, however, he isn’t going to dismantle the war machine, and that is a large part of all the other problems this country has.

Then you have the narcissistic Trump, billionaire and game-show host, who has picked up on the unrest out in the flyover zones and plays to it with gusto.  It’s hard to tell what he would do if elected, since he can barely keep his proposals and ideas straight in his own head.  His speeches frequently contradict things he has said before, but it is hard for people to get through all his verbiage to pick up on that.  He’s so loquacious you’d think he was being paid by the word.  He was recently endorsed by our other great orator, Sarah Palin, who left off tending her miscreant brood to offer up this bit of gloss: “Where, in the private sector, you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritize, to keep the main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing: a president is to keep us safe economically and militarily. He knows the main thing, and he knows how to lead the charge.”  You just know the two of them spent their time while waiting in the green room before the great endorsement speech fighting over who was hogging the mirror.  But Trump himself is one of the rich elite who has made his jack off the capitalist system; he isn’t going to gore that ox.  On the other hand, he probably wouldn’t start a hot war with Russia, so there’s that.

There is the skeevy and very creepy Ted Cruz, who was doubtless the Grand Inquisitor in Spain during his last incarnation on this earth.  He is in a fight with the establishment Republicans and neocons, or so we are told to believe, although his ideas about carpet-bombing the Middle East and “lifting the rules of engagement” in the fight with ISIS suggest he fits right in with the PNAC crowd.  He is talking here about illegal methods of warfare and getting rid of the Geneva Conventions, but that doesn’t bother too many of the people in charge, most of whom supported the same ideas when offered by George W. Bush.  Cruz is like some crazed fundamentalist faith-healer who wants to pray the gays away and damn it all, get his chance to nuke some shit for Jesus.  He responded to the Flint, Michigan water crisis by donating bottled water… teaming up with the anti-abortion group Flint Right to Life, with instructions that the water go exclusively to crisis pregnancy centers.  These centers are anti-abortion organizations that try to manipulate women into keeping their pregnancies.  Tough shit about those already-born children and adults who have been drinking toxins in Flint for the last few years.  He, like all the Republicans, wants to cut taxes for corporations, get rid of all bank regulations, privatize everything that could possibly turn a profit for the corporate world, doesn’t support any minimum-wage increases, and has a tax plan that completely decimates the poor and middle class while ass-kissing the wealthy.  He sort of forgot to report his Goldman Sachs campaign contributions to the FEC, and his wife works there; we have yet to see if anyone cares.  Cruz appeals to a certain evangelical, but hawkish, subset of the American public.   Despite their professed “Christian” faith, if Cruz and his base were given the choice between Jesus and that other guy, they’d be screaming, “Free Barabbas!” at the top of their lungs.

Marco Rubio sometimes rattles off sound-bytes like he’s on amphetamines, but he is not saying anything we haven’t heard from the farthest right of the right-wing; he’s just saying it hysterically.  Lots of people think he is cute and endearing, but the dude is one rabid neocon.  He loves the spy programs, Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and torture, and hates the needy, the LGBT community, and Muslims.  That’s his platform.

Chris Christie ruined his own home state and now wants to have a go at the rest of the country. He calls himself the “disaster governor” with pride (I put a different twist on the title than he does, I gather) while at the same time refusing to help the victims of the two disasters that have hit New Jersey since he’s been in office.  We just had a huge blizzard here on the East Coast, and parts of NJ were inundated with flood waters along with the snow.  He happily chirped that there was no “residual damage” because the flood had receded, although it’s quite obvious that buildings that have had 5 feet of water and icebergs wash through them are going to be left with damage, if not have to be outright condemned and torn down.  Not to mention the other stuff that got majorly fucked up in the flood.  We can guess what kind of relief he’s going to offer the affected cities.  He’s said some other things on the campaign trail.  I couldn’t say for sure what, though.

Carly Fiorina is just vicious as a wolverine with rabies, and Ben Carson thinks it would be okay to bomb children on general principles.  When asked if he would order airstrikes that might kill innocent children by the thousands, he mentioned operating on kids with brain tumors and how they hated it but later on loved him, and finished his comments by saying,”and by the same token, you have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by 1,000 pricks.”   So in other words, Ben Carson thinks bombing civilians and children is somehow merciful because it finishes the job quickly.  The crowd applauded the twisted fuck for his bedside manner.

Jeb Bush is running and may end up being the Republican nominee if the oligarchy can finesse the situation properly.  This might not make him very happy, actually, as he seems most intent on making himself invisible.  He’s like the chubby kid who tried out for the soccer team because his daddy made him.

O’Malley has some fine ideas about the economy and doesn’t seem to be too enthusiastic about continuing the efforts to take over the world, so he will be quickly taken off the scene.  Poor guy barely made in on the scene, so eager are the Democrats to waylay one of their own.

I wrote an entire post about the war-pig Hillary Clinton, who is currently busy trying to paint Sanders as a Commie, so I’ll try not to repeat all the same stuff here.  She is so sure she will be the Democratic nominee, as are the pundits and mainstream media, that she hasn’t bothered to reciprocate to Sanders’ pledge to back the eventual nominee.  I think the media and the talking heads totally fail to understand the rancor and pure loathing felt for her at the street level.  If one reads the comment section on any article about the candidates, even articles supporting Mad Hillary, one sees the same thing over and over: people hate her.  People do not trust her.  People do not intend to vote for her even as “the lesser of two evils”; she is not seen as the lesser evil in any line-up.  To the public, she is defective and never should have made it through quality control.  Clinton is the least sincere candidate we have ever had running for office, and the people sense that.  She will sign the TPP into law given the chance, and you can be sure that she would reneg on all her promises, except the ones where she promises to bomb other countries, as quick as shit through a goose should she be elected.  She has a neocon’s view point toward the use of military power, which she and the media insist on referring to as “foreign affairs”, thus mistaking military policy with diplomacy and foreign policy, a viewpoint that made her such a bad and dangerous Sec. of State.  She felt her job in the State Dept. was to threaten other countries and to work arms deals instead of promoting civil discourse between nations.  She, in fact, gets “foreign policy guidance” from the same firm that advises Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.  (Which may help explain why all the ideas Clinton and the Republicans have for dealing with terrorist issues are similar in that they are illegal by US law, in violation of international laws, and break numerous treaties and agreements.)  The media that promotes her jabbers on about the “commander-in-chief” part of the president’s job because even they recognize in some part of their reptilian brains that Bernie Sanders’ domestic policies appeal to the voters more than hers do.  They – and she – hope that by presenting her as a hard and tough predator, she will gain some popularity with the fearful.  The constant talk about terrorism and terrorists, from all the candidates, serves to keep most of us focused away from the neglected and dismal state of things in our own country.

She may be running into trouble now.  With any luck, and with the assumption that some agencies in the US are still willing to do their jobs, she may be facing criminal charges.  God knows, she should have been jerked up short by the DoJ long before now.  I was very interested to see that one of the major legal threats to her involves the use of her position at the State Dept. to garner donations to the Clinton Foundation, and that Haiti is specifically mentioned.  I brought these things up in my last post about her.

Hillary Clinton’s Coming Legal Crisis

by Charles Lipson
January 13, 2016

The latest release of Hillary Clinton emails entails real risks for her, churning just beneath the surface of her successful primary campaign. True, Democratic voters have shown little interest, and the mainstream media only a bit more. Their focus, when they do look, is on the number of documents now considered classified, their foreign-policy revelations, and the political damage they might cause. These are vital issues, but Clinton faces a far bigger problem. She and her closest aides could be indicted criminally.

Secretary Clinton is exposed twice over. First, she used an unsecured, home-brew server to send and store reams of classified materials. Second, in her official capacity, she worked closely with major donors to the Clinton Foundation. Each poses legal risks, with potential ramifications for the Democratic frontrunner, her party, and the Obama administration.

To understand the gravity of these issues, it is important to recognize that this is not just an “email scandal.” It is an “email + server + foundation” scandal.” Secretary Clinton didn’t just send sensitive (and now-classified) emails over open lines, she stored them on private servers that didn’t meet the government’s cyber-security standards for sensitive documents. On its face, retaining classified materials in such vulnerable settings is a criminal violation. Senior intelligence officials have been charged for less – far less. Storing some 1,300 classified documents on a personal server, and doing it for years, poses a special problem because it shows the mishandling was not inadvertent. It was Clinton’s standard operating procedure.

The State Department has done everything it can to protect its former boss. When it finally received her documents, it flatly refused to comply with long-standing Freedom of Information Act requests by releasing them. It took several court orders for the agency to begin trickling out small batches with large sections blacked out. The redactions only underscore why the documents should never have been held on private, unsecured servers in the first place.

The latest document dump shows why the State Department is so skittish. One reveals the secretary of state telling a senior department official, Jake Sullivan, to strip all the security markings off one document and send it to her on an insecure connection. We don’t yet know if Sullivan actually complied, but, if he did, both he and Clinton face serious legal jeopardy.

Beside these national-security matters, the emails reveal obvious conflict-of-interest issues pertaining to the significant overlap between Clinton’s official duties and her family foundation’s operations.

Major donors to the foundation often had business before the State Department, and they sometimes received help. After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for instance, Bill Clinton was named co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the State Department began directing parties interested in competing for Haiti contracts to the Clinton Foundation.”

Not surprisingly, many contractors became foundation donors, or were already. The FBI now has to decide if any of this was a “pay to play” arrangement. Proving a quid pro quo is notoriously difficult, but Fox News reported Monday that public corruption is now a second track in the FBI investigation.

So far, Hillary has suffered only modest political damage from these scandals. Democratic primary voters are mostly indifferent; her main challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, says he’s tired of hearing about it; and, other than Fox News, no major media outlet has done serious investigations.

But that doesn’t mean these messy issues are dead — depending on what happens inside the Justice Department. Clinton is about to face the most serious crisis of her candidacy — a set of legal decisions by the FBI and then the Department of Justice. Those will either kill the issue or kill her chances.

The FBI reportedly has assigned some 100 agents full time to the investigation and another 50 temporarily. The bureau would not commit such massive resources unless the initial investigation raised troubling questions of potential criminality. FBI Director James Comey is monitoring the case closely and coordinating with the intelligence agencies, which have to review the documents. Comey has a reputation for integrity, and it is his call whether to refer charges to the DOJ. Attorney General Loretta Lynch would then decide whether to indict.

Whatever Lynch decides, there will be a maelstrom if FBI agents found substantial evidence of criminal wrongdoing.[…]

Regardless of the attorney general’s decision, if the FBI does recommend criminal charges for Hillary Clinton or any of her associates, she will face two very pointed questions from the media, the electorate, and her Republican challenger.

“Secretary Clinton, if you are elected president, do you unequivocally promise to appoint an independent counsel to investigate these charges and, if warranted, prosecute them?”
“Do you promise you will not pardon anyone before these cases are fully adjudicated?”

She won’t be able to wave these questions off and say, “The attorney general decided all that.” It will look too much like a coverup by a Democratic administration for a Democratic Party leader.

To reach the White House, Hillary Clinton has to get past the coming legal crisis, and she will have to answer those hard questions.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/01/13/hillary_clintons_coming_legal_crisis_129293.html

You should really read the whole article; I left some paragraphs speculating about the potential effects this could have on the elections out of the blockquote due to space.  Another interesting article is a brief one written by Glen Ford at blackagendareport regarding the Clintons’ interference into Haiti’s elections, and gives a bit of a rundown on their unwelcome and colonial-style relationship with Haiti.  See, “The Clintons: We Came, We Stole, Haitians Died”:

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44069.htm

I fail to understand how anyone can think we still have a democracy in this country.  When you look at these candidates and take honest stock of what they are offering, how can you find any escape in some sad and outdated notion that this is a government of, by, and for the people?  Hell, the Obama trade agreements, the first of which (the TPP) is quietly coming up for a vote soon if Congress bothers to follow its own legislation, suffice to render our national sovereignty and any pretense of a government “for the people” null and void if they are passed.  I will allow some exception for Sanders in my condemnations, as I think he may actually mean at least some of what he says and is the only one who even affects to worry about how life is going for the average American.  He ought to talk more about the TPP, since it has come out that this dangerous piece of crap posing as a “trade agreement” will probably do away with the UK’s health system and could prevent universal healthcare forever in the US.  As to the rest, when any of those bought-and-paid-for bastards steps up to the podium and lies to the audience about how much he/she really, really cares about the working stiff and has our best interests at heart, I feel nothing but contempt and revulsion.  The corruption at the top of this country is so widespread and so legalized that we cannot avoid another financial catastrophe and perhaps even another world war.  These are the goals of the oligarchy so they can strip the US and the rest of the world of its remaining assets, and the dolts, criminals, grifters, and bullshit artists up there on the stage posing as “presidential material” are willing to lead us right into the pit.

No-one with enough neurons firing to keep breathing can take this election seriously.  I doubt I will bother to take a chance on the voting machines myself.  Seems pointless, unless by some weird happenstance Sanders is on the ballot.  If it comes to a race between Clinton and Trump, that might also motivate me enough to haul my ass out of the chair to go vote for Trump, just to help save us from her.

What a wretched selection we have in front of us.  Who shall we have?  Caligula or Nero?  Choices, choices.

I don’t blame those who think that perhaps it is time to join the dolphins and get the hell out of Dodge.  If only there were a way to escape to some other planet entirely.  A different country on this one may not be far enough – the Powers That Be have their clutches on all of them.

 

Barry does Jamaica.

Obama went to Jamaica this week, but it wasn’t for a vacation; he managed to bullshit them into signing an agreement whereby they would become basically the world’s largest natural gas (NG) storage and distribution facility.  This is being promoted as “helping alleviate Jamaica’s poverty” (skyrocketing since the US banker-caused ’08 meltdown) and “helping to supply their energy needs”.  Since we have been manipulating the oil/NG prices in an [illegal] effort to hurt Russia, our storage facilities in the US are running out of room.  We are fracking the hell out of our own country, as well as giving the green light to an ever increasing number of deep-water and offshore oil drilling operations.  The glut of oil/NG on the market, the lowered demand for fossil fuels, the desire of the oil companies to hold the oil and natural gas until the price goes back up through the magic of “market forces” (as though the reason for the declining prices were a bug-fucked mystery to the industry) have all combined to create such a serious glut of oil and NG that we don’t know what to do with it all.  They were talking about building more sea tankers that would just float around the world’s oceans, loaded to the gills with the stuff.  And maybe spilling some, but since we have already killed the oceans, why worry over that possibility, which the oil industry deems remote, in any case?  No-one will seriously consider the notion of  halting production and thinking about renewable or alternative energy sources, and although most NG fracking operations have been laying off thousands of employees due to the fact that they are losing money at a rapid clip now, the answer the industry demands through its well-established collective wisdom is to keep on doing what they are doing and just find (or create) a new market to dump the products on.   We will soon enough find out how over-burdened they are with loans and how heavily the lenders have invested in NG-related derivatives products, but that will be a financial meltdown story for another day.  No, the cartels have spoken: we shall frack and dig until every aquifer and waterway is contaminated, every state has its share of fracking earthquakes, and all the land, air and oceans are completely toxic.  Hell, we’ll dig until the entire mainland US fucking caves in if we have to. There will not be any viable alternative researched or offered until we’ve gotten every last molecule of this shit on the market.  Because, money.  We went to the trouble and expense of digging it all up and goddamnit, someone will buy it.  The administration, State Department, Pentagon, and Congress all agree, by the way, which is why they run all over the globe promoting the American fossil fuel industries and forcing reluctant countries to go along with the plan.  One way or another.

But this Jamaica thing is a much better idea than floating storage facilities.  Get Jamaica to import, store, refine and distribute the excess – it’ll create jobs, give them a place in the industrialized world, and put the cost on them.  No reason why our oil companies should bear the entire burden of building tankers or new storage facilities here, eh?  And this agreement binds Jamaica to purchase the shit and sell it to other Caribbean and Latin American nations, so it won’t be our problem any more, in any case.  A whole new market of buyers just waiting for us.  We can’t just let them continue to buy oil from – Ewwwww! – that socialist Venezuela, can we?  But wait, there’s more!  As extra tasty goody goodness, the privatization is built in.  The agreement will create “new partnerships” that will “mobilize private sector projects”; i.e., American banks and corporations will have free rein to oversee, invest, invade, and occupy.  This is the kind of prefab privatization the US does best.  See the US corporate takeover of Ukraine vis a vis fracking and GMO agriculture for an example of the latest such corporate coups.  And as with Ukraine, we have Joe Biden at the helm, acting in the interest of the corporate oligarchy, under his Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI).

What else were those silly islanders doing with their beachfront property, anyway?  Productively, I mean.  You can tell they have never considered the wisdom of free market capitalism before; I understand they have never had an oil spill there or fracked the first acre.  Such a waste of primo real estate, those Caribbean nations.

Obama visits Jamaica as part of regional “energy security” initiative

By Thomas Gaist 
10 April 2015

US President Barack Obama landed in Jamaica Wednesday night, accompanied by US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. He was greeted on the tarmac by Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller.

On Thursday, Obama met to discuss regional energy issues with 14 Caribbean governments in an effort to achieve “cooperative solutions to promote energy security,” according to White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

Thursday morning, Jamaican officials announced a new energy pact with the US Department of Energy. The agreement aims to secure Jamaica’s role as a primary importer and distributer of liquid natural gas (LNG) produced by US energy corporations. US firms are seeking to become leading suppliers of LNG throughout the Caribbean.

“It is a good start and it signifies tremendous opportunities and possibilities going forward,” Caribbean Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell said in response to the deal. Paulwell denied that the deal signified a shift away from friendly relations with Venezuela, insisting that Jamaica intends to “work closely with both countries.”

Obama announced that the deal would include a new US-backed investment fund for “clean” energy infrastructure projects in the Caribbean. Obama vowed that the US would pursue a package of “new partnerships” as part of a drive to “mobilize private sector projects in clean energy for the Caribbean and Central America.”

The fund will be managed by US Vice President Joseph Biden’s Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI), launched from the White House in June 2014. CESI aims to “transform the energy systems of Caribbean states,” integrating the region’s gas and petroleum sectors within the framework of a North American trade zone dominated by US energy corporations and banks.

Signatories to an official CESI Joint Statement issued from the White House in January 2015 included Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom.

Obama’s Jamaica visit is part of a political offensive in the Caribbean aiming to alleviate the contradictions plaguing American capitalism through the seizure of markets and resources throughout Central and Latin America. Growing Chinese competition for economic influence in the Caribbean, including billions of dollars of Chinese investments in sugar production and infrastructure in Jamaica, including a $1.5 billion port facility to be built by the Chinese Harbor Engineering Company, is threatening US imperialism in a region it has long considered its “backyard.”

In his public statements yesterday, Obama promised that the new agreements would enable Caribbean countries to purchase energy at much lower prices. “Caribbean countries have one of the highest energy cost in the world,” Obama lamented.

US firms are desperate for new energy markets, with oil prices down 50 percent from mid-2014 amid an historic supply glut in the US oil market. The dumping of cheap energy onto Caribbean markets serves to relieve pressure in the US market, and may also serve to temporarily tamp down growing social unrest on the island, fueled by high prices for Jamaican energy consumers and decades of grinding economic crisis.

The US-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in a recent assessment that economic conditions in Jamaica are threatening the breakdown of “social cohesion” on the island. Jamaica’s economy has shrunk by an average of .3 percent every year during the past two decades, and poverty has skyrocketed since the economic crisis began in 2008, with 25 percent living in poverty according to government statistics from 2014.

The Obama administration announced Thursday that a final decision has already been reached over whether to remove Cuba from the “state sponsors of terror” list. As part of moves to strengthen ties with Havana, Obama is expected to announce that Cuba will be taken off the US black list during the Summit of the Americas in Panama this weekend.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/10/jama-a10.html

 
 

Wikileaks releases a chapter of the TPP trade agreement.

Today, Wikileaks released the Intellectual Property chapter of the secret TPP [TransPacific Partnership] trade agreement.  I am going to give excerpts from two articles on this subject, and although they may be lengthy, I think they are important reading.  I do not believe that there is any such thing as being “too alarmist” over the TPP and its sister trade agreement in the Atlantic areas, the TTIP.

Breaking: Pivotal Trans-Pacific Partnership Section Revealed

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 09:39

By Staff, PopularResistance.org| Press Release

The TPP has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning because the Obama administration knows that the more people know about it, the more they will oppose the agreement. The release of the full Intellectual Property chapter today by Wiikileaks confims what had been suspected, the Obama administration has been an advocate for transnational corporate interests in the negotiations even though they run counter to the needs and desires of the public.

This is not surprising since we already knew that 600 corporate advisers were working with the US Trade Representative to draft the TPP.  This means that for nearly four years some of the top corporate lawyers have been inserting phrases, paragraphs and whole sections so the agreement suits the needs of corporate power, while undermining the interests of people and the planet.

Now from these documents we see that the US is isolated in its aggressive advocacy for transnational interests and that there are scores of areas still unresolved between the US and Pacific nations. The conclusion: the TPP cannot be saved.  It has been destroyed by secret corporate advocacy.  It needs to be rejected.  Trade needs to be negotiated with a new approach — transparency, participation of civil society throughout the process, full congressional review and participation, and a framework that starts with fair trade that puts people and the planet before profits.

Congress needs to reject Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority as these documents show the Obama administration has been misleading the people and the Congress while trying to bully other nations.  This flawed agreement and the secrecy essential to its becoming law need to be rejected.

From Wikileaks:

Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP.

From Public Citizen:

Leaked Documents Reveal Obama Administration Push for Internet Freedom Limits, Terms That Raise Drug Prices in Closed-Door Trade Talks

U.S. Demands in Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Text, Published Today by WikiLeaks, Contradict Obama Policy and Public Opinion at Home and Abroad

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secret documents published today by WikiLeaks and analyzed by Public Citizen reveal that the Obama administration is demanding terms that would limit Internet freedom and access to lifesaving medicines throughout the Asia-Pacific region and bind Americans to the same bad rules, belying the administration’s stated commitments to reduce health care costs and advance free expression online, Public Citizen said today.

WikiLeaks published the complete draft of the Intellectual Property chapter for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international commercial pact between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American countries.

http://truth-out.org/news/item/20006-breaking-pivotal-corporate-dominated-trans-parcific-partnership-section-revealed

 

The Wikileaks press release is here:  https://wikileaks.org/tpp/pressrelease.html

Within this press release, Wikileaks gives a link from which you can download the complete text of the Intellectual Property chapter of the TPP as a pdf.

The NY Times editorial board has endorsed the TPP; Maira Sutton of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes that the Times endorsement “[…] raises two distressing possibilities: either in an act of extraordinary subservience, the Times has endorsed an agreement that neither the public nor its editors have the ability to read. Or, in an act of extraordinary cowardice, it has obtained a copy of the secret text and hasn’t yet fulfilled its duty to the public interest to publish it. […]”

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/11/how-can-nytimes-endorse-agreement-public-cant-read

The excerpt below is from Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism.   Yves writes and summarizes the subject so well that I couldn’t stand to cut much.  She does her usual great job here:

[…]  Word has apparently gotten out even to Congressmen who can normally be lulled to sleep with the invocation of the magic phrase “free trade” that the pending Trans Pacific Partnership is toxic. This proposed deal among 13 Pacific Rim countries (essentially, an “everybody but China” pact), is only peripherally about trade, since trade is already substantially liberalized. Its main aim is to strengthen the rights of intellectual property holders and investors, undermining US sovereignity, allowing drug companies to raise drug prices, interfering with basic operation of the Internet, and gutting labor, banking, and environmental regulations. […]

“Fast track” authority limits Congress’s role in trade negotiations. The Administration presents a finished deal, and individual members have only an up or down vote. At that point, because the pending agreements have been misleadingly presented as “pro trade,” dissenters will be depicted as anti-growth Luddites. […]

Let’s give more detail on how heinous this deal and its ugly sister, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP], aka the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, are. They would extend the authority of secret arbitration panels to hear cases against governments and issue awards. Mind you, the premise of these panels is that some of the signatory nations have banana republic legal systems that might authorize the expropriation of assets, like factories, so foreign investors need recourse to safe venues to obtain compensation. This is a ludicrous proposition to most of the signatories, not only to signatories of the Atlantic agreement (all advanced economies with mature legal systems) as well as potential signatories like Singapore, Japan, Canada, and Australia (and while America’s judicial system leaves a lot to be desired, it can hardly be accused of being unfriendly to commercial interests).

A post in Triple Crisis by Martin Khor gives a good overview:

In the public debate surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an issue that seems to stand out is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. It would enable foreign investors of TPPA [e.g., the TPP] countries to directly sue the host government in an international tribunal.

In most US free trade agreements (FTAs) with investor-state dispute provisions, the tribunal most mentioned is the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an arbitration court hosted by the World Bank in Washington.

ISDS would be a powerful system for enforcing the rules of the TPPA, which is currently being negotiated by the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. Any foreign investor from TPPA countries can take up a case claiming that the government has not met its relevant TPPA obligations.

If the claim succeeds, the tribunal could award the investor financial compensation for the claimed losses. If the payment is not made, the award can potentially be enforced through the seizure of assets of the government that has been sued, or through tariffs raised on the country’s exports.

ISDS is related to relevant parts of the TPPA’s investment chapter. One of the provisions is a broad definition of “investment” which includes credit, contracts, intellectual property rights (IPRs), and expectations of future gains and profits. Investors can make claims on losses to these assets.

Under the “national treatment” provision, a foreign investor can claim to be discriminated against if the local is given preference or other advantage.

Under the clause on fair and equitable treatment, which is contained in many existing trade and investment treaties, investors have sued on the ground of non-renewal or change in the terms of a licence or contract and changes in policies or regulations that the investor claims will reduce its future profits.

Finally, investors can sue on the ground of “indirect expropriation”. Tribunals have ruled in favour of investors that claimed losses due to government policies or regulations, such as tighter health and environmental regulations.

Even though no one has seen the exact language of the text, since it is being kept under wraps, both deals are believed to strengthen and extend investor rights, which means give them easier access to the courts. Consider this description from a July presentation by Public Citizen:

What is different with TAFTA [pending Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement] (and the TPP) is the extent of “behind the border” agenda:

• Typical boilerplate: “Each Member shall ensure the conformity of its laws, regulations and administrative procedures with its obligations as provided in the annexed Agreements.” …

• These rules are enforced by binding dispute resolution via foreign tribunals with ruling enforced by trade indefinite sanctions; No due process; No outside appeal. Countries must gut laws ruled against. Trade sanctions imposed…U.S. taxpayers must compensate foreign corporations.

• Permanence – no changes w/o consensus of all signatory countries. So, no room for progress, responses to emerging problems

• Starkly different from past of international trade between countries. This is diplomatic legislating of behind the border policies – but with trade negotiators not legislators or those who will live with results making the decisions.

3 private sector attorneys, unaccountable to any electorate, many of whom rotate between being “judges” & bringing cases for corps. against govts…Creates inherent conflicts of interest….

• Tribunals operate behind closed doors – lack basic due process

• Absolute tribunal discretion to set damages, compound interest, allocate costs

No limit to amount of money tribunals can order govts to pay corps/investors

• Compound interest starting date if violation new norm ( compound interest ordered by tribunal doubles Occidental v. Ecuador $1.7B award to $3B plus

• Rulings not bound by precedent. No outside appeal. Annulment for limited errors.

And that’s alarming in light of some of the cases already brought before these panels in existing trade agreements like NAFTA. For instance:

Eli Lilly is suing the Canadian government for not having the same extremely pro-drug-company patent rules. It is seeking $500 million in damages for two drugs that Canada approve to be sold as generics. If Eli Lilly prevails, other drug companies are sure to follow suit.

Vattenfal, a Swedish company, is a serial trade pact litigant against Germany. In 2011, Der Spiegel reported on how it was suing for expected €1 billion plus losses due to Germany’s program to phase out nuclear power…

Phillip Morris threatened suit against Australia for its plain cigarette packing rules and is suing Uraguay for anti-smoking regulations

Now consider what this means. These companies are not suing for actual expenses or loss of assets; they are suing for loss of potential future profits. They are basically acting as if their profit in a particular market was guaranteed absent government action. […]

So this is the time when it is REALLY important to call or e-mail your Representative and let him or her know how terrible this deal is and how firmly opposed to it you are. Use the link to the Public Citizen overview (http://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/GlobalTradeWatch_TAFTAslides_070913.pdf) or cite other posts or articles you think they should see. […]

Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/11/house-pushing-back-on-trade-deal-more-detail-on-how-secretive-arbitration-panels-undermine-laws-and-regulations.html#xlGHK5yg6O31B8Xo.99

“These companies are not suing for actual expenses or loss of assets; they are suing for loss of potential future profits. They are basically acting as if their profit in a particular market was guaranteed absent government action.”

“If the claim succeeds, the tribunal could award the investor financial compensation for the claimed losses. If the payment is not made, the award can potentially be enforced through the seizure of assets of the government that has been sued, or through tariffs raised on the country’s exports.”

Thus is the Great Taking revealed in all its plastic elastic glory.  (As is Obamacare and the continuing bank bailouts and all the austerity crap, but those are subjects for another time).  The loss of any potential and theoretical future profits may be sued for, and will be adjudicated by a tribunal of corporate attorneys, in secret.  The compensation for losses, both in the present and in the misty imaginary future, may include seizing the assets of the government being sued.  Those are your assets, people.  Those assets might be buildings, lands, any amount of taxpayer monies paid to the IRS (in the USA) in the form of taxes, tariffs on our (admittedly few) exports, or – who knows what the corporations might demand? – the funds held in the social security system.

This is not “free market capitalism”.  This is simply an oligarchic/corporate taking; a shake-down of nations in a magnificent and breathtaking coup.  Started by former President Cheney Bush. Carried forward, fully supported, and gleefully promoted by President Obama.  And although about 170 members of the House have signed letters objecting to the fast-track method of cramming this thing through, that does not necessarily indicate an objection the TPP per se.  This number also indicates that there is a large set of House members who don’t object to fast-tracking (or, presumably, again, to the trade agreement itself).

Occucards has an informative card on the TPP; you may read it and/or buy copies to pass around here:

http://www.occucards.com/tpp/

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 13, 2013 in corporatocracy, trade agreements

 

Exit from Eden.

The books of the Bible are generally divided into two types; books of revelation, which reveal the history of God’s people, and books of prophecy, which predict events that had not yet happened at the time of the writing of those particular books.  Thus, the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) is actually a book of prophecy, not revelation.

I have long thought that the first chapters of the book of Genesis, understood to be a book of revelation (i.e., history), is actually a book of prophecy.  The first humans were given the earth as a Garden of Eden and told to care for it.  But having eaten from the tree of Knowledge of good and evil, God expelled them from the Garden. I see this as an on-going event.  The more we use our knowledge as a tool to destroy the earth and kill our fellow humans, the further we are removed from the Eden-like qualities of the earth. Eventually, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, we will have made the earth a place which cannot support human life and we will bring ourselves to an extinction event – or close enough to it that it may not matter if we are technically extinct or not; there may be so few of us left that we are never again the dominant species on earth.

Oh, sorry, you are probably not comfortable with references to the Bible and God, particularly if you are “on the left” of the political spectrum.  It’s a common and hypocritical stance for those on the left to vociferously defend the right of the Muslim to follow his faith, to express earnest admiration for the Buddhist and to loudly proclaim that the atheist has it right, while denigrating and mocking anyone, particularly any American, who professes any sort of Christian belief.  I weary of it, quite frankly, and get annoyed at the childish references to “Dog” or “The Flying Spaghetti Monster” used in place of the word “God” that litters the comment sections of progressive websites.  While I agree that most Christians in America are practicing a faith that doesn’t resemble in the least the teachings of Jesus, and is in fact antithetical to those teachings and in some instances actually dangerous to society as a whole, and while I don’t belong to any church myself, I think to cut off all discussion of faith or religion guarantees that we will not ever reach a meaningful dialogue with those who practice the more inhumane versions of Christianity (without going into details, which I feel no need for in this post, these forms of Christianity are what I refer to as Sharia Christianity, and its adherents are the sort of people who would inflict their strict interpretations of the Bible on the United States collectively).  We certainly aren’t going to convince them to come anywhere near our viewpoint by mocking them before a conversation even begins.  Just my opinion, for what it’s worth.

So let’s put this in more scientific terms.

We have a planet which has allowed us to evolve into the species we are today: homo sapiens sapiens, or “wise, wise man”.  (Yeah, we thought we were so smart that we felt compelled to put the ‘wise’ in there twice. Although who we thought we were impressing with this name – gorilla gorilla, perhaps? – is beyond me.)  We did not get very far into our evolution before we started finding ways to bump off rival human tribes and the other species with whom we share the planet.  We have reached the point where we are destroying the very things we need in order to survive on the earth.  We are the only species which has guaranteed its own extinction and which has turned against its own herd in such vicious, unrelenting fashion.

Nature is subtle and nuanced; yet we treat it as though it were all a crude game that we can manipulate and rig.  By all evidence, we will continue to do this until we die out.  We choose to pollute our water, the air we breathe, and the food we eat.  Perhaps you and I do not personally dump toxic waste into the rivers, but we have allowed ourselves to become so stressed by the elites and big companies that run this country that we don’t protest much when they do it.  We are too busy trying to hang onto the poorly paying jobs we have (90% of the new jobs created this year are part-time.  And they are all poorly paid), or trying to figure out how to stay in our homes, or pay for the kids’ educations and the like that we can’t pay too much attention to the myriad other ways we are being beaten down, abused, and poisoned.

We are also dealing with a Triple-Crown of phenomena on these issues. First, we have been stupid enough (and it is stupidity and ignorance and lack of enough curiosity to check into these matters ourselves) to let politicians, the wealthy, and big corporations dupe us into blaming each other for every ill in our society.  A huge number of Americans blame their poor neighbors for the “budget deficit” rather than the big banks and the war/weapons/spying programs spending.  Secondly, we have almost complete media black-out on the issues.  The media is owned by only a handful of companies, which are almost entirely comprised of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world.  The reporters and television personalities toe the line and only report what they are told to; there is no longer an adversarial press in this country.  The third phenomenon is that of the complicity and mendacity of our elected government officials.  With only one or two exceptions, our state and federal representatives have taken the bribes offered by big corporations and the MIC.  They not interested in the well-being of the American populace.  They want to be re-elected until they can finally retire to collect the reward of sitting on a board of directors or as an executive in a big company – a reward offered by the very companies that write the Congressional bills our elected officials vote into law.

You may not want to think that your local politicians don’t care about you, but if you live in Wisconsin, Ohio, or certain other states, surely you can’t be deluded about it any longer.  Even in my state, Maryland, the governor has recently become enamored of some of the very things he ran against in his recent and successful bid for a second term, such as fracking.  And you may not want to believe that our Congress in Washington, DC has completely sold us out, but it is a simple fact.  They are throwing their lot in with the wealthy and the big companies and the rest of us do not matter.  Don’t believe it?  Ask yourself why Congress wrote and voted for, and Obama signed into law, the NDAA, and did so two years running, about which Chris Hedges writes:

The three branches of government may want to retain the ability to use the military to maintain control if widespread civil unrest should occur in the United States. I suspect the corporate state knows that amid the mounting effects of climate change and economic decline the military may be all that is left between the elite and an enraged population. And I suspect the corporate masters do not trust the police to protect them[…]

If Section 1021 stands it will mean that more than 150 years of case law in which the Supreme Court repeatedly held the military has no jurisdiction over civilians will be abolished. It will mean citizens who are charged by the government with “substantially supporting” al-Qaeda, the Taliban or the nebulous category of “associated forces” will be lawfully subject to extraordinary rendition. It will mean citizens seized by the military will languish in military jails indefinitely, or in the language of Section 1021 until “the end of hostilities”—in an age of permanent war, for the rest of their lives. It will mean, in short, obliteration of our last remaining legal protections, especially now that we have lost the right to privacy, and the ascent of a crude, militarized state that serves the leviathan of corporate totalitarianism. It will mean, as Forrest pointed out in her 112-page opinion, that whole categories of Americans—and here you can assume dissidents and activists—will be subject to seizure by the military and indefinite and secret detention[…]

“There’s nothing that’s built into this NDAA [the National Defense Authorization Act] that even gives a detained person the right to get to an attorney,” Afran said. “In fact, the whole notion is that it’s secret. It’s outside of any judicial process. You’re not even subject to a military trial. You can be moved to other jurisdictions under the law. It’s the antithesis of due process.”[…]

http://www.nationofchange.org/last-chance-stop-ndaa-1378214357

Congress allows the wholesale spying on every American through the phone and email systems in the US.  They have never charged the big banks with fraud or any of the crimes of which they are guilty – and now the statute of limitations is up for most of the criminal activities with which they brought down the global economy in ’08.  Congress defunds the EPA, the FDA, and all the regulatory agencies rather than making sure these agencies do their jobs.  Why are they giving subsidies to the oil industries that poison our water and destroy our land instead of pursuing any sort of green technologies?  Why are they giving them subsidies at all?  The big oil companies are making more profit than any other companies in history.  Why are we invading and destroying country after country around the globe – and bankrupting our nation in the process – in an effort to steal their resources rather than just engaging in honest trade with them?  Congress is letting Monsanto, Sygenta and Bayer fuck around with the DNA of the very food we eat, letting Halliburton, Exxon, et al dump toxic chemicals in our water, and ensuring we have no access to the courts for redress when it turns out these companies are killing us.  Congress is still talking about the chained CPI as a way to cut back on the Social Security we paid for and is starving the aid programs for people who are hungry and have been forced from jobs and homes instead of any having any discussion about cutting war-spending or shutting down any of the 850 military bases we run around the globe.  Congress, the Supreme Court, and the current administration – they may not be actively trying to kill you, but they sure don’t give a shit if you die.

The numbers coming out of Congress and printed in the papers regarding job creation and the financial state of the country are complete and utter fabrications.  One might notice that each month’s jobs reports are “corrected” later or that every article contains gross inconsistencies within its paragraphs.  One might notice that the jargon is becoming harder to decipher as the “financial writers” struggle to maintain the illusion that all is well when, in fact, the wizards of Wall Street are playing their games of worldwide grand theft with sheer bravado and a vengeance not seen even during the Great Depression.

The US Treasury is operated in complete accordance with the policies and wishes of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, with absolutely zero measure of counter-balancing dissent, and thus the US Treasury acts solely and entirely on behalf of the private Federal Reserve and its (the Fed’s) Owner/Member Banks over, above, and at the direct expense of any needs or protections for the US citizenry at large; thus the citizens have found themselves lacking any governmental ally whatsoever in the war for survival against the financial oligarchy.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was pleased to announce in May that, though the US has again, for the second time this year, hit its Congressionally mandated “debt ceiling”, the Treasury is able to have that not be a problem because of certain unelaborated, mysterious, some might even say miraculous, reasons, as follows: “The U.S. bumped up against its borrowing limit Sunday, forcing the Treasury Department to employ ‘extraordinary measures’  to make sure the government keeps paying its bills. Congress agreed to suspend the nation’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit the last time they approached it, in January.  In a letter to congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the extraordinary actions should allow the government to meet all its obligations at least through the Sept. 2 Labor Day holiday.”  – Chicago Tribune, The Hill

None of the publications, not even any of those that bothered to comment on the fact of the US hitting its debt ceiling in the first place, even bothered to ask exactly how the Treasury Secretary mysteriously manages, once again, to have that debt (or its ceiling) simply disappear, i.e., what, dear sir, are those extraordinary measures of which ye speak – be they magical incantations of the sort we might rely on for the long haul, or be they mere flimflammery?  They are most happy to wield these mystical powers, inexplicable though they may be, particularly as that old black magic is so obviously and unambiguously good for the global financial cartel of US megabanks, who are now receiving a bare minimum of acknowledged, direct, and on-balance-sheet (US-national-debt-increasing) transfers a total annual sum approximately equal in size to the entire stated Pentagon/DOD budget (each being greater than or equal to $1.2 Trillion per year).  And even that accounts for only the acknowledged and on-balance-sheet transfers, a tiny subset of the full amount of financial assistance and largesse actually being extended exclusively to those same megabanks by their (privately held) Federal Reserve.  Hitting the debt ceiling yet again, were it noticed by anyone, might help create some public interest in questioning why, exactly, we might be giving a handful of megabanks at least as much money as we give the Pentagon, which itself is utterly ridiculous, and/or might bring some in the financial sector or the public sphere to actually question the long-term sustainability of the economy and the US itself under such management.  And the Treasury Secretary can’t have that happening, obviously, so it remains in the articles as the never explained ‘extraordinary measures’.

The pain the banks are inflicting across the world are also affecting us here at home – these are equal opportunity takings, after all, and we Yanks are not immune: there are now over 100 million people in the US living under the poverty level while the Fed continues to print an astonishing amount of cash each month which it simply gives to a handful of banks.

Changing subjects, let’s now look for a moment at the poisons our Congress has decided are acceptable for us to ingest.  This would be the same Congress that purportedly looks out for our welfare and puts the interests of the public as its top priority.

The gas and oil extraction practice called ‘fracking’ is known to poison waterways and underground aquifers, cause earthquakes, and ruin the land leased to the fracking companies.

The Wilderness Society Feb. 2011 report [http://beyondoil.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/drilling-in-america-february-2011.pdf ] states that by the end of 2009 there were already 2.6mm oil and natural gas wells, of which 1mm were active, and 2,000 active drilling rigs, plus 4,000 Gulf of Mexico platforms adding over 40,000 new oil and gas wells each year.  The US has more drilling rigs and wells than any other country on earth, and is the top natural gas producer in the world and the number three oil producer, despite having less than 2% of world’s oil supply and less than 4% of world natural gas.  The US accounts for 23% of world oil usage and 21% of world natural gas usage; so no amount of drilling will ever close that gap.  Ecowatch, Feb., 2013 [ http://ecowatch.com/2013/land-leased-oil-and-gas-industry/] reports that at the end of 2011, the top 70 oil/gas companies held extraction leases on 141mm acres in the US, more land than California and Florida combined.  90% of all US oil and gas production is via fracking. Environmental and other restrictions and regulations governing fracking on the Bureau of Land Management Federal leased land (federal public lands account for 1/3 of above total) have simultaneously been loosened.  NRDC, from a 2011 report, states that as of 2009, the US already housed 2/3 of all the oil and gas wells ever drilled in the entire world. [http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas/drilling_us_has_been_there_don.html]

Post-production out-of-service wells are almost as problematical from an environmental toxins standpoint as the ones in active production and are often used as a permanent underground storehouse of the toxic wastes from the production phase.  Yet the BLM allows them to then be simply and completely abandoned with no more liability to the extraction company, end of story.  And federal oil and natgas regulations on drilling, chemicals, disclosures, study periods, environmental impact, etc., have continued to be weakened each year to today.

Then there is the problem of methane leakage from the natural gas fracking operations:

 

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have reconfirmed earlier findings of high rates of methane leakage from natural gas fields. If these findings are replicated elsewhere, they would utterly vitiate the climate benefit of natural gas, even when used to switch off coal.Indeed, if the previous findings — of 4% methane leakage over a Colorado gas field — were a bombshell, then the new measurements reported by the journal Nature are thermonuclear:
… the research team reported new Colorado data that support the earlier work, as well as preliminary results from a field study in the Uinta Basin of Utah suggesting even higher rates of methane leakage — an eye-popping 9% of the total production. That figure is nearly double the cumulative loss rates estimated from industry data — which are already higher in Utah than in Colorado.

How much methane leaks during the entire lifecycle of unconventional gas has emerged as a key question in the fracking debate. Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4).  And methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than (CO2), which is released when any hydrocarbon, like natural gas, is burned — 25 times more potent over a century and 72 to 100 times more potent over a 20-year period.[…]

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/01/02/1388021/bridge-to-nowhere-noaa-confirms-high-methane-leakage-rate-up-to-9-from-gas-fields-gutting-climate-benefit/?mobile=nc

As a further threat, we have the GMO (genetically modified organisms) industry giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, and Bayer playing God with the DNA of the foods we eat, and by extension, with our DNA.  We have little understanding of how this interference will affect us in the long run, despite industry claims that no harm will come from eating GMO crops (a claim disputed by the scientific communities here and abroad, at least by the scientists not paid by Monsanto to obfuscate the facts).  Our bodies have evolved to handle certain foods, and this evolutionary process takes millenia.  I suppose we could eventually adapt to eating, say, arsenic without being poisoned to death by it, but we could not force this adaptation in one generation.  What Monsanto is doing is forcing us to handle altered DNA into our bodies as “nourishment”.  The DNA of these crops is altered, for the most part, to allow the plants to accept Round-up (a powerful weed-killer descended from Agent Orange) without the death of the plant itself.  Thus, the fields are drenched in Round-up to kill the weeds and pesticides to kill the bugs (unfortunately killing the bees and other pollinators along the way – too bad, sorry about that), while the corn, soy, beets, or whatever the crop is, will grow, produce fruit and be taken to the market.  You are not only getting a product that has altered DNA, you are getting a product that has been inundated with weed-killer and pesticides.

The GMO product itself is engineered to be resistant to these poisons so you can spray the shit out of your field (after fertilizing it with super toxic ammonium hydrate and phosphorous, of course) and not worry about weeds or bugs.  They’re all dead.  And the land takes decades to recover, so it’s now dead.  And the crops they produce uptake the poisons (and has poisons coded into its altered DNA) so we sure as hell shouldn’t be eating the shit or continuing to allow these soulless corporate gollems to directly poison us and our land, sea, and air.  The media largely covers the topic of GMO’s to paint any protests against them as some sort of hysterical reaction from nuts and conspiracy theorists.

Congress is heavily lobbied by the companies and has written (and passed for the second time) what is called the Monsanto Protection Act.

Congress extends Monsanto Protection Act

…Called “The Monsanto Protection Act” by opponents, the budget rider shields biotech behemoths like Monsanto, Cargill and others from the threat of lawsuits and bars federal courts from intervening to force an end to the sale of a GMO (genetically-modified organism) even if the genetically-engineered product causes damaging health effects….

http://rt.com/usa/monsanto-protection-extended-house-741/

It was one of my own Md. Senators, Barbara Mikulski, a “progressive” [sic] “Democrat” [sic] who made sure that the original Monsanto Protection Act was inserted into another bill and passed into law.

None of anything I wrote above matters much if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (the TPP) trade agreement goes into effect.  (I have written about the TPP several times.  See under ‘trade agreements’ on the menu bar to the right.)  Obama can’t wait to approve this monster and is seeking fast-track status for it from Congress.  The TPP will end the sovereignty of any nation that signs it.  We will be under the rule of corporate lawyers, who would be able to override the laws of every signatory country to the benefit of big business and big banks.  At that point, there is no longer a need for Congress or a Constitution.

I wanted to end this post on a positive note, since it’s all been such a downer. However, I find there is nothing more to say – certainly nothing cheerful.  The odds are overwhelmingly against us and the forces aligned against the common man are powerful and ineffably evil.  I can only hope you have someone to share your campfire with as we enter a strange sort of feudalistic new Dark Ages, for unless the entire world is able to somehow unite and fend off those who are engineering our demise for the sake of monetary profit, our fate is fairly well sealed.

 

Further reading:

Obama, Congress advance plans for deeper social spending cuts 
[…]  Meanwhile, Treasury Department figures released Thursday show that the federal deficit, supposedly the reason for austerity measures, has plunged to the lowest level since Obama took office, less than $700 billion in fiscal 2013:
http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/09/16/budg-s16.html

The EPA’s controversial new Protective Action Guides (PAGs) allows exposure to very high doses from radiation releases before the government would take action to protect the publichttp://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2013/09/16-3

Congressional approval for new gas and oil drillinghttp://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/07/house_approves_bill_to_greatly.html

Speculation on the food markets leading to hunger around the globehttp://www.nationofchange.org/six-shameful-facts-about-hunger-1372075687

Speculation on the ethanol market – This topic brings a lot of things together, farm subsidies, gmo corn, fossil fuels, predatory bank speculation, cornered commodities, and a fucked-over public.
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/business/wall-st-exploits-ethanol-credits-and-prices-spike.html

Increasing militarization and surveillance state in the US:
http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bill-and-melinda-gates-foundation-kindly-fund-research-student-worn-bracelets

http://rt.com/usa/army-raytheon-jlens-blimps-594/

http://stratrisks.com/geostrat/12516

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/06/29/immi-j29.html

FBI biometric data program:
http://rt.com/usa/disclose-facial-program-recognition-387/

http://epic.org/foia/fbi/ngi/

https://www.eff.org/press/releases/eff-sues-fbi-access-facial-recognition-records

Environment:
– “Extinction Crisis”: 21,000 of World’s Species at Risk of Disappearing
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/07/02-9-

‘Canary in the Ocean’
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/05/16-2

– Roughly 80 percent of all the packaged foods sold within the United States contain chemicals outlawed in other parts of the world.   http://rt.com/usa/banned-additives-food-outlawed-089/

– Unlimited Arsenic and Other Poisons Dumped Daily Into US Waters
http://www.nationofchange.org/unlimited-arsenic-and-other-poisons-dumped-daily-us-waters-1374673846

– Effects of frackinghttp://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/06/25-4

http://www.nationofchange.org/duke-study-links-fracking-water-contamination-epa-drops-study-fracking-water-contamination-137225702

http://www.alternet.org/fracking/fracking-already-straining-us-water-supplies

 

Fukushima:

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/06/radiation-levels-skyrocket-at-fukushima.html

http://www.nationofchange.org/radiation-levels-hit-new-high-fukushima-1378647935

http://enenews.com/japan-times-discharges-of-nuclear-material-into-the-pacific-from-fukushima-have-effectively-contaminated-the-sea-melted-reactor-cores-will-burn-again-if-water-not-perpetually-poured-in-t

The fact that the Fukushima reactors have been leaking huge amounts of radioactive water ever since the 2011 earthquake is certainly newsworthy.But the real problem is that the idiots who caused this mess are probably about to cause a much bigger problem.  Specifically, the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.
http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/09/the-real-fukushima-danger.html

Gulf of Mexicohttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/06/130621-dead-zone-biggest-gulf-of-mexico-science-environment/

– GMOs:

Genetic Roulette  http://geneticroulettemovie.com/

http://www.nationofchange.org/first-long-term-study-released-pigs-cattle-who-eat-gmo-soy-and-corn-offers-frightening-results-13723

TPP:
http://www.nationofchange.org/tpp-trans-pacific-pact-1-solution-democracy-government-corporate-dictates-1372167065

http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/1005-trade/307503-president-ready-to-engage-with-congress-on-fast-track

http://www.nationofchange.org/tpp-another-job-killing-trade-deal-so-why-are-both-parties-supporting-it-1377784863

 

 

Andrew Marshall on the TPP.

Updates below.

Andrew Gavin Marshall has written an important and informative three-part series on the TPP (TransPacific Partnership) for Occupy.com.  The first part may be read here:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/11/19/the-trans-pacific-partnership-this-is-what-corporate-governance-looks-like/

The second part may be read here:

http://www.nationofchange.org/why-so-secretive-trans-pacific-partnership-global-corporate-coup-1353687546

I will give a link to part three when it is published on Monday.

Update:  Here is part three:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/11/26/the-trans-pacific-partnership-what-free-trade-actually-means/

Update:

Hillary Clinton pointed out the importance of the TPP as it relates to the plans of the US in the Asian region during a speech she gave at the Singapore Management University on 17 Nov.  Her speech makes it clear that the “pivot to Asia” is not just an increase of US military in the area, but that, in fact, the build up of military might is to serve the interests of the American business community.  While China is not excluded from joining the TPP, it will have to pay a high price.  One specific target of the TPP is any sort of nationalized product or business endeavor (the dreaded “socialist agenda” wherein a nation regulates and controls certain resources for the benefit of its people rather than giving control over to private companies).  We see, for example, Hillary supporting the latest Australian measures aimed at privatizing everything in that country: energy, land, water, etc.  The purpose of the military is to ensure that certain corporations have control over the entire globe; countries which insist on holding resources for the good of their own people are a particular target and the intent of the TPP is to end such practices once and for all.

Clinton’s speech was remarkable in its frankness.  It will therefore remain unremarked in the media.  The wealthiest corporations and banks own people like the Clintons, Obama, and the US Congress, who will serve their interests even to the point of using the military and the State Department to protect them and enforce their agenda.  And they don’t care if you know it.  The fact that they also own the media, however, means they can make sure it is somewhat difficult for us little people to realize just how bad things are getting and how much worse they will become.  To those who do pay attention, the message from this corporatocracy is no longer denial, it is, “Fuck you.  We won, what are you going to do about it?”

Below are excerpts from the Clinton speech.  The excerpts are not taken out of context and do not change the meaning of mad Hillary’s words.  Bolding is mine.  You may click on the link at the bottom to read the speech in full.  Deep into the speech, we find the real reason we destroyed Libya: “to harness market forces and private-sector solutions for these growing African economies”.  Hillary-we-came-we-saw-he-died sure showed that socialist Ghaddafi with his ideas of nationalized banking and oil fields to support free health care and education for his people. We also discover the reason for the invasion of Afghanistan; namely that we would like to create a New Silk Road to benefit US companies.  (And you thought we were there to end the oppression of Afghan women or some such shit.)  Economic sanctions are seen as a wonderful “tool” to help force recalcitrant countries into cooperating with the program.  This is from our top “diplomat”, who has also threatened countries in the Eurozone with trade sanctions if they continue to resist Monsanto.  One of the most breath-taking hypocrisies in the speech is this sentence, “Now, regimes in places like Tehran and Pyongyang, that violate international norms and beggar their people in pursuit of greater military strength pose a stark contrast with emerging economic powers that are delivering benefits for their people.”  I should not have to point out, but will, that the US is beggaring its own people to support growing military strength or that the prime aim of the TPP (and the US) is to make sure that the economic policies of any given country cannot benefit its people.  Quite simply astonishing is her contention that private businesses are more transparent and accountable to the public than state-owned enterprises.  Note, too, the support for the World Bank, as though its high-interest loans and deregulation and privatization policies were a good thing for developing countries.

[…]Now, I think one of the questions that may be on your and others’ minds is: “Why is the American President spending all this time in Asia so soon after winning re-election?” Well, the answer for us is very simple. Because so much of the history of the 21st century will be, is being, written in this region. America’s expanded engagement represents our commitment to help shape that shared future. The strategic and security dimensions of our efforts are well known. But the untold story that is just as important is our economic engagement. Because it is clear that not only in the Asia Pacific but across the world, increasingly, economics are shaping the strategic landscape. Emerging powers are putting economics at the center of their foreign policies, and they are gaining clout less because of their size of their armies than because of the growth of their GDP.

For the first time in modern history, nations are becoming major global powers without also becoming global military powers. So, to maintain our strategic leadership in the region, the United States is also strengthening our economic leadership. And we know very well that America’s economic strength at home and our leadership around the world are a package deal. Each reinforces and requires the other.

[…] This connection between economic power and global influence explains why the United States is placing economics at the heart of our own foreign policy. I call it economic statecraft.

Now, these ideas are hardly new. After all, it was Harry Truman who said our relations, foreign and economic, are indivisible. But today that carries renewed urgency. Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we have turned this vision into action in four key areas: first, updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account; second, turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; third, stepping up commercial diplomacy — what I like to call jobs diplomacy — to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, and level the playing field for our businesses; and fourth, building the diplomatic capacity to execute this ambitious agenda.

In short, we are shaping our foreign policy to account for both the economics of power and the power of economics. The first and most fundamental task is to update our foreign policy and its priorities for a changing world. For the last decade, as you know, the United States focused enormous time, resources, and attention on a war in Iraq that is now over, and a war in Afghanistan that is winding down. Responding to threats will, of course, always be central to our foreign policy. But it cannot be our foreign policy. America has to seize opportunities that will shore up our strength for years to come. That means following through on our intensified engagement in the Asia Pacific and elevating the role of economics in our work around the world.

[…]In negotiations with China and India on bilateral investment treaties, we are seeking a level playing field between American companies and their competitors, including state-owned enterprises.

And with Singapore and a growing list of other countries on both sides of the Pacific, we are making progress toward finalizing a far-reaching new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The so-called TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region. It will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment. Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia’s middle class and rebalance the global economy. Canada and Mexico have already joined the original TPP partners. We continue to consult with Japan. And we are offering to assist with capacity building, so that every country in ASEAN can eventually join. We welcome the interest of any nation willing to meet 21st century standards as embodied in the TPP, including China.

The United States is also moving economics to the center of our agenda elsewhere in the world. For example, we want to improve our economic partnership with our allies in Europe. That is every bit as compelling to us as our security partnership through the NATO alliance. So, to that end, we are exploring negotiations with the European Union for a comprehensive economic agreement that would increase trade and spur growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

Africa. Africa is currently home to 7 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. I deliberately said that slowly because so many people look surprised when I say it. And so, we are changing the way we do business with Africa. Certainly regarding our development agenda, but also trying to do more to harness market forces and private-sector solutions for these growing African economies.

[…] Now, our next step will be to transform these regional efforts — the TPP, the EU agreement, our bilateral trade deals — into a truly global vision. In the same way that the general agreement on trade and tariffs offered a global blueprint following World War II, we need new arrangements to take on the challenges that inhibit trade today, from non-tariff barriers to preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises.

As we do more to define our foreign policy priorities in economic terms, we also need to update the tools we use. So our second main area of action is finding ways to tap economic solutions for strategic challenges. Just look at what’s happening now in Burma. The cost of economic sanctions and the benefits of rejoining the global economy helped spur the government to begin opening up.

[…]The United States is also supporting World Bank programs that will provide more than $80 million for infrastructure projects in the country’s townships, and financial support for small businesses.[…]

The same goes for another regional vision we call the New Silk Road, a web of trade and transportation links reaching from the steps of Central Asia to the southern tip of India. Forging stronger economic ties across this region is a key element in our long-term strategy for Afghanistan. If you look at the map, you see why Afghanistan has been fought over and part of the great game for so many generations because of its very strategic position right in the middle of this trading route.[…]

We are also using new economic tools to address one of the world’s preeminent security challenges: Iran. A broad coalition is revolutionizing how the international community enforces sanctions and builds pressure. We went after Iran’s central bank and finance sector, and we reached out to private insurers, shippers, oil companies, and financial institutions to help us target pressure points that make it harder for companies and governments to do business with Iran.

Now we see results. Every major importer of Iranian oil has lowered their consumption. All 27 nations of the European Union have joined a boycott. In one year, Iran’s oil exports are down by more than one million barrels a day, costing the Iranian Government at least $3 billion each month. […]

Now, regimes in places like Tehran and Pyongyang, that violate international norms and beggar their people in pursuit of greater military strength pose a stark contrast with emerging economic powers that are delivering benefits for their people.[…]

So, the United States is stepping up our game, using our network of more than 270 embassies and consulates to advocate for American firms, and help achieve President Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports in 5 years. With 95 percent of the world’s customers living beyond our own borders, this has become an economic imperative. So our diplomats are working to make it easier for U.S. businesses to find answers and get advice about navigating markets. We’re helping them connect with foreign partners and compete for contracts. And whenever a U.S. Government official travels overseas now, we try to include business events on our schedules. In fact, later today I will visit a General Electric aviation facility here in Singapore.[…]

We’re proud to go to bat for the Boeings and Chevrons and General Motors and so many others. […]

Now, recently we saw a break-through when India retooled its policy on foreign direct investment. Their old rules barred companies that carry multiple brands in one store — like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, or similar foreign companies — from doing retail business in the Indian market. That limited competition. But, more than that, it prevented the kind of knowledge transfer and supply chain modernization that India needs. So we and — I should note — other countries, as well, raised this issue with India’s leaders at the highest level for years. And we are pleased that Delhi has now agreed to loosen its restrictions.[…]

The fourth and final area we are focused on is making sure America’s diplomats and development experts have all the skills and support they need to actually implement economic statecraft. So, we are focused on recruiting, retaining, and rewarding the most talented people we can find. I appointed the State Department’s first-ever chief economist. And I combined our work on energy, the environment, and economics under a single under secretary position to maximize synergy and cooperation. We are ramping up our training curriculum for economic officers, and developing new tools and incentives to help them do their jobs. Now, these kinds of changes unfold over years, but they show a commitment to match our practices to our priorities. And they will help hard-wire economic statecraft into American foreign policy.[…]

Now, state-owned or state-supported enterprises are not necessarily problematic in all cases. But they do often lack the transparency and accountability that come with private boards and investors. […]

http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/11/200664.htm

My own posts on the TPP are mainly here: http://teri.nicedriving.org/2012/06/the-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp/

and here:  http://teri.nicedriving.org/2012/06/the-trans-pacific-partnership/