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Hometown: Detroit, MI
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
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8 Terrible Things About the Trans-Pacific Partnership

from In These Times:

8 Terrible Things About the Trans-Pacific Partnership
It’s no wonder the Obama administration tried to keep this secret—the corporate-friendly trade agreement, decoded.


In October, President Obama hailed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as “the most progressive trade deal in history.”

But progressive public-interest organizations say that the final text, the fruit of seven years of secretive trade talks between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, dashed even their low expectations. The deal not only continues most of the troubling features of trade agreements since NAFTA but also breaks worrisome new ground.

Like most recent international economic agreements, the TPP only glancingly resembles a classic trade deal, concerned mainly with tariffs and quotas. Rather, like the WTO agreements or NAFTA, it is an attempt to set the rules of the global economy to favor multinational corporations over everything else, trampling on democracy, national sovereignty and the public good. The more than 600 corporate lobbyists who had access to the draft texts used their insider status to shape the deal, while labor unions, environmentalists and others offered testimony from outside, with little impact.



Foreign corporations would be empowered to drag the U.S. government in front of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals composed of three private arbitrators. Many ISDS arbitrators are lawyers who rotate between suing governments for corporations and acting as the “judges.”

There is no limit on the amount of our tax dollars the government can be ordered to pay when foreign corporations successfully argue that their TPP rights have been undermined. Compensation orders could include a corporation’s estimate of the future profits it would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking. Even when governments win, under TPP rules they can be ordered to pay for the tribunals’ costs and legal fees, which average $8 million per case.

The TPP’s expansion of the ISDS system would come just as a surge in ISDS cases elevating corporate profits over the public interest has led other countries, such as South Africa and Indonesia, to begin revoking their ISDSenforced treaties. Recent cases include Eli Lilly’s attack on Canada’s cost-saving medicine patent system, Philip Morris’ attack on Australia’s public health policies regulating tobacco, Chevron’s attack on an Ecuadorian court ruling that ordered payment for mass toxic contamination in the Amazon, and Vattenfall’s attack on Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power. ................(more)


Freight Shipments Go to Heck, Hammered by Inventory Glut, Weak Demand

Freight Shipments Go to Heck, Hammered by Inventory Glut, Weak Demand
by Wolf Richter • December 15, 2015

[font color="blue"]The goods-based economy swoons.[/font]

The transportation sector just keeps getting worse. Even after today’s uptick, the Dow Jones Transportation Average is back where it was in April 2014, and down 18% from its peak a year ago. Within this transportation sector is freight, a gauge of the goods-based economy, which is having a rough time.

In November, the number of freight shipments in North America plunged 5.1% from a year ago, according to the Cass Freight Index. It hit the worst level for any November since 2011.

The index is based on $28 billion in freight transactions processed by Cass on behalf of its client base of “hundreds of large shippers,” Cass explains. It covers shipments, regardless of the mode of transportation, including shipments by truck and rail. It does not cover bulk commodities. Shippers include companies in consumer packaged goods, food, automotive, chemical, OEM, heavy equipment, and retail.

This index of shipment volume has been lower year-over-year every month, with the exception of January and February, which makes for an increasingly awful looking year:

Reasons for these lousy shipment volumes are spread throughout the economy, including a litany of big retailers that have come forward with crummy results and disappointing projections. ...............(more)


Rats fleeing the ship

Ben Bernanke: I’m Ditching The Republican Party Because Of Their ‘Stupid Economic Conspiracies’


Longtime Conservative Actor Robert Duvall Is Abandoning The GOP ‘Mess’


Resisting Regulation, Predatory Lenders Pump Millions Into State Political Campaigns

Resisting Regulation, Predatory Lenders Pump Millions Into State Political Campaigns

Tuesday, 15 December 2015 00:00
By Fred Schulte, The Center for Public Integrity | News Analysis

After years of financial ups and downs, Gloria Whitaker needed some quick cash to help keep a roof over her head.

So she and her son, Devon, went to a TitleBucks store in Las Vegas and took out a $2,000 loan, pledging his gold 2002 Ford F-150 truck as collateral.

Whitaker, 66, said nobody verified she, or her jobless son, could repay the loan, which carried interest of 121.545 percent. When she paid off the loan, she said, the company didn't give back the title to the truck. Instead, employees talked her into borrowing $2,000 more, which plunged the family deeper into debt, she said. Whitaker knows that was a mistake, but also feels misled by aggressive - and legally dubious - lending tactics.

"I had a hardship," Whitaker said. "I was between a rock and a hard place."

In October, Whitaker filed a complaint with state regulators, who say the giant lender, TitleMax, which operates TitleBucks, violated state lending laws and estimate that it overcharged Nevada customers more than 6,000 times this year by nearly $8 million. ..............(more)


Like Copenhagen Talks, Paris Climate Negotiations Were Mostly Smoke and Mirrors

Like Copenhagen Talks, Paris Climate Negotiations Were Mostly Smoke and Mirrors

Tuesday, 15 December 2015 00:00
By Robert James Parsons, Truthout | Op-Ed

The recent climate conference in Paris followed a nearly inverse format from the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, but its results were the same: more woefully inadequate commitments in the face of impending climate disaster.

At the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen, the heads of state arrived at the end. President Obama then proceeded to shut himself up with a carefully selected minority of other heads of state to produce a toothless "statement" that satisfied nobody and represented a major step backward in climate control.

At the COP in Paris, the heads of state arrived for the first days (for "the biggest gathering of heads of state in history," as we were constantly reminded). They had themselves photographed together, chatted bilaterally or multilaterally, and then mostly departed, leaving their delegations to do the work of eliminating the dozens of disputed passages in the text (all in brackets). The result is supposed to represent the victory that eluded the delegations at Copenhagen. Rather, it is as much a sham as Copenhagen's "statement."

If the final drafting could be so easily delegated, it is because the primary outcome has long been known apart from the details: It will codify the woefully inadequate commitments already submitted to the Conference by the member states. These submissions represent what each country is prepared to commit itself to doing in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Well before the conference's opening, the climatologists and vigilant members of civil society were pointing out that, even if all the commitments were implemented (which is highly unlikely in view of past performances), we would still be on track to a warming of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, depending on whose figures one chooses to trust.

It is worth recalling that the 2-degree limit was never a scientific estimate. Long ago, when the polluters were less impeded in spreading doubt about the whole warming process underway, they were able to insist that the science was embryonic, too immature to be trusted as a basis for any serious policy decisions, that their (hired) science postulated that the earth could tolerate warming of up to 3 degrees before any major difficulties might appear. The scientific community maintained its claim that, after 1 degree, major disruptions were in store. The end result was a compromise: the 2-degree limit. ............(more)


With Soaring Rents and a Vanishing Middle Class, San Francisco Becomes a City for the Rich

With Soaring Rents and a Vanishing Middle Class, San Francisco Becomes a City for the Rich

Tuesday, 15 December 2015 00:00
By Adam Hudson, Truthout | Report

In San Francisco's November election - in which Mayor Ed Lee was re-elected - housing was the number one issue. Two major progressive ballot measures related to housing were defeated: One would have regulated Airbnb by limiting the number of short-term vacation rentals, while the other would have put a moratorium on development in the city's Mission District.

Airbnb spent over $8 million to defeat the proposition that would have regulated it. Even though the development moratorium lost, progressives promise to continue fighting against "market-rate" housing development in the Mission and other neighborhoods, the issue being that few people in San Francisco can afford "market-rate" housing, except those who are rich.

In addition to tenants themselves, nonprofit organizations that assist tenants are also feeling the pain of gentrification. Two San Francisco nonprofits that help tenants avoid eviction - Eviction Defense Collaborative and Tenants Together - are, ironically, getting kicked out of their offices to make room for WeWork, an office-space provider company.

What's happening in San Francisco is not just a story about one city; it's a story of what is happening to urban areas around the globe. As the days go by, San Francisco is solidifying itself as a city for the wealthy, putting it on par with wealth havens like New York City, London and Singapore, where long-time residents have been pushed out and replaced by corporations and the super-rich.

Super High Rents

The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,500 per month, according to real estate website Zumper's latest monthly report for November. In October, median rent for a one-bedroom was $3,670 per month, making this the first rent decrease to occur in a while - a decrease of 4.6 percent. However, San Francisco monthly rents remain astronomically high compared to other cities like Chicago and Washington, DC, which are $1,980 and $2,160, respectively. ...............(more)


Prof. Richard Wolff on The David Pakman Show: "Will Automation End "Full Employment?"

by Richard Wolff.

Professor Wolff joins David Pakman to discuss the the future of employment in the context of automation and technological unemployment.

These Students Are Demanding Higher Education at Lower Costs

from In These Times:

These Students Are Demanding Higher Education at Lower Costs
At last, a nationwide movement for free college is taking off.


[font size="1"]Hundreds of UC Santa Barbara students gather in front of Storke Tower during the Million Student March on Nov. 12, 2015. (Kenneth Song/News-Press/Zuma Press/Newscom)[/font]

On Nov. 12, 2015, students at the University of California, Berkeley, redecorated their idyllic campus with a “wall of shame.” On pieces of paper taped to the administration building, students proclaimed how much debt they had assumed in order to attend the prestigious university—for some, more than $160,000.

With chants of, “Free college: That’s our right. What do we do? Fight, fight, fight,” the students called for an increasingly popular solution to the growing burden of student debt: abolishing tuition entirely at public colleges and universities.

Throughout most of the 20th century, many public colleges and universities were free, or nearly so. California’s landmark 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, for example, was essentially a pledge to educate all residents of the state who wanted an education for free or for a nominal fee. But the plan was soon attacked by Gov. Ronald Reagan, who painted free public higher education as welfare for privileged twenty-somethings and began shifting costs to students when he took office in 1967. Today, the total cost of tuition and fees at the state’s public University of California campuses stands at $12,240 for in-state residents. City University of New York (CUNY), likewise, didn’t begin charging tuition until 1976. It now costs $6,330 per year for in-state students, not including fees.

The idea of free higher education has gained new political life thanks in part to a high-profile champion. Sen. Bernie Sanders has made tuition-free college a signature issue of his presidential campaign, calling it the key to a “stronger economy and a stronger democracy.” Under Sanders’ plan, the federal government would cover the cost by imposing a financial transaction tax on Wall Street. Sanders has stressed that public universities are already tuition- free in Germany, Mexico and many other countries, and said in a June 2015

Students rose to the challenge this fall, staging a Million Student March on Nov. 12, 2015 with demonstrations on more than 100 campuses. The protests centered on three demands: tuition-free public universities, a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers and cancellation of student debt. ...............(more)


Paul Krugman: A Lesson From Iceland: It Pays to Have Your Own Currency

A Lesson From Iceland: It Pays to Have Your Own Currency

Tuesday, 15 December 2015 09:23
By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed

One of the major lessons of the euro crisis was this: When big adjustments in a country's wages and prices relative to those of trading partners are necessary, it's far easier to achieve those adjustments via currency depreciation than via relative deflation - which is one main reason that there have been such huge costs for the euro.

But many economists remain deeply unwilling to accept this point. And so in Thorvaldur Gylfason's otherwise useful survey of Iceland since the financial crisis, we get this: "In Ireland, the 2007 level of the purchasing power of per capita (gross national income) was restored a year later than in Iceland, in 2014," Mr. Gylfason wrote recently at VoxEU.org.

It is, therefore, not true that having its own currency (which lost a third of its value in real terms during the crash) saved Iceland from the sorry fate that Ireland would have to suffer because Ireland is anchored to the euro. Ireland adjusted by other means. Iceland, had it used the euro, could have done the same. The Icelandic króna has lost 99.95 percent of its value vis-à-vis the Danish krone since 1939 when the two currencies were equivalent, convincing many local observers that Iceland is ripe for the adoption of the euro.

First off, that comment about depreciation since 1939 - 1939! - is a cheap shot. But what about the comparison with Ireland? It's true that gross domestic product per capita in Ireland (in this case, using gross national income doesn't make much difference) recovered to its pre-crisis level only a bit later than Iceland's did. But G.D.P. isn't the only indicator, and it's one that is arguably distorted by the nature of the Irish export sector, which held up fairly well and is highly capital-intensive (think pharmaceuticals) - that is, it contributes a lot to G.D.P. but employs very few people.

If you look instead at employment (see the chart), Iceland did far better than Ireland. Unemployment data in Iceland also shows a much more favorable picture. Less formally, everyone I know who tracked both countries has the sense that the human toll in Iceland was much less severe than it was in Ireland. ...................(more)


Robert Reich: The Revolt of the Anxious Class

The Revolt of the Anxious Class

The great American middle class has become an anxious class – and it’s in revolt.

Before I explain how that revolt is playing out, you need to understand the sources of the anxiety.

Start with the fact that the middle class is shrinking, according to a new Pew survey.

The odds of falling into poverty are frighteningly high, especially for the majority without college degrees.

Two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Most could lose their jobs at any time. ...............(more)


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