Thursday, March 26, 2015

TPP: Even Worse Than We Thought

Not only are they secretly planning to take over the world, they were actually planning to keep us all in the dark about their multiple coups d'etat for four years. In four years -- or so the latest leaked document claims -- they were finally going to let us all know we'd been robbed. How very white of them.

 Somehow, the corporations and their political lackeys thought that the widespread replacement of legislatures and judiciaries with private corporate tribunals would go unnoticed, for four long years. The estimated one third of the world's population to be victimized would remain unaware of why they were losing their jobs, their savings, their environments and their very lives.

Meanwhile, the people doing the plotting have to be fully aware of how criminally diseased the Trans-Pacific Partnership truly is by slapping a four-year moratorium on the newly-leaked portion of the contents.

In classifying their coup, they admit that they'll never be able to claim that "mistakes were made." Because the people negotiating this deal are acting deliberately. Every bit as deliberately as the pilot who allegedly crashed the German plane into a mountain the other day.  The only difference is that the negotiators piloting this neoliberal coup-deville will survive their own recklessness. But only for a little while. For when wealth and power are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the whole edifice is bound to collapse from its own top-heavy weight.

Apparently, the TPP plotters thought that suing governments in dispute resolution tribunals and then winning their cases by default would enable them to collect their final judgments from us without our knowledge. They'd never even have to serve us with a subpoena. We would be denied our day in court to act in our own defense. The money would just magically disappear from our pockets and bank accounts, and we'd be none the wiser.

 The thieving pathocrats would do what they always do: lecture us and poor-shame us. We didn't save enough for retirement. We lived beyond our means. We didn't eat healthy foods. We didn't develop the necessary skills to survive in the New Abnormal Economy (aka the Plutonomy.)

But now, thanks to Wikileaks, we know the truth. Whenever an undemocratic government classifies a document, it's to keep the corruption hidden and the rest of us ignorant. So, passing this deal from hell just got a little bit harder for them. When even the New York Times can no longer ignore the criminality, President Obama's astroturf propaganda campaign, sold as a renegotiation of NAFTA and a middle class, progressive triumph, will have to come up with some brand new bullshit in a hurry. Senator Ron Wyden, Obama's main Democratic co-conspirator in getting fast track approval authority rammed through Congress, is being threatened with a primary challenge.

Public Citizen explains all the newly-leaked horror of a global tribunal system run amok, by plutocrats:
Enactment of the leaked chapter would increase U.S. ISDS liability to an unprecedented degree by newly empowering about 9,000 foreign-owned firms from Japan and other TPP nations operating in the United States to launch cases against the government over policies that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms. To date, the United States has faced few ISDS attacks because past ISDS-enforced pacts have almost exclusively been with developing nations whose firms have few investments here.
The leak reveals that the TPP would replicate the ISDS language found in past U.S. agreements under which tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to foreign investors attacking land use rules; water, energy and timber policies; health, safety and environmental protections; financial stability policies and more. And while the Obama administration has sought to quell growing concerns about the ISDS threat with claims that past pacts’ problems would be remedied in the TPP, the leaked text does not include new safeguards relative to past U.S. ISDS-enforced pacts. Indeed, this version of the text, which shows very few remaining areas of disagreement, eliminates various safeguard proposals that were included in a 2012 leaked TPP Investment Chapter text.
“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “This leak is a disaster for the corporate lobbyists and administration officials trying to persuade Congress to delegate Fast Track authority to railroad the TPP through Congress.”
In the past three years alone, at least 150 ISD cases have been launched under the much smaller trade agreements which are currently in effect.  Investors have, for example, already attacked Canada's patent medicine and fracking policies and Australia's anti-smoking policy. Chevron has dodged responsibility for despoiling the Ecuadorian ecosystem with its toxic oil. Under the TPP, American taxpayers would theoretically not only be on the hook for cleaning up the next major oil spill, it would end up owing multinational oil giants many more billions in lost profits. Crooked politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would never even have to make another sweetheart deal with Exxon Mobil. Polluters would avoid being sued, either criminally or civilly, in the first place.  And then they'd be able to collect cash damages under the table without so much as an embarrassing press release.

All perfectly legal. All perfectly tax-free. All perfectly corrupt. A shadow legal system is just what the shadow banking system needs to complete the global coup.

It's no accident that Michael Froman of Citigroup, President Obama's chief trade negotiator,  pocketed a multimillion dollar "exit bonus" from his employer to complete the dirty deed. Or that Bank of America gifted Stefan Selig with a $9 million severance package when he went to work for Obama's commerce secretary, billionaire Obama donor Penny Pritzker.

So let's stop them in their tracks. Tell your congress critter to say No to fast track authority for Barack Obama and the global mafia. Because the last I heard, we're still allowed to vote amongst all the variants of greater and lesser evil. Let's cling to the remaining tatters of democracy as tenaciously as they accuse people of clinging to their guns and religion.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wonky Warmongering Wankers

The neoliberal colonization of Afghanistan proceeds apace, and Wall Street is laughing all the way to Wall Street.  And why not?  One of their own is now nominally in charge of the Graveyard of Empires. A boorish corrupt tribal leader of a puppet has been replaced by an urbane corrupt World Banker of a puppet so perfect as to be almost a clone of Barack Obama himself.  Permawar has finally gotten itself some class and nuance to sanitize the venality and the death.

The New York Times is on it:
When President Obama meets this week with Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president, he will finally be sitting across from an Afghan leader who is not brooding, agitated, suspicious or openly belligerent toward his American allies.
The previous Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, had a relationship with Mr. Obama that was fractious and poisonous almost from the beginning. The new Afghan president arrives for Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting looking for a similar menu of American commitments on troops and money as his predecessor, but Mr. Ghani is well-schooled in Washington’s culture of politics and diplomacy: He spent 15 years in Washington at the World Bank and used to own a house in suburban Bethesda, Md.
He knows enough not to blow his nose onto his sleeve, or have a drug-dealer brother. This suavity makes the corruption and the murder and the bribery so much more appealing to squeamish plutocrats who prefer their puppets to be pre-existing members of their own club. The guy is an Insider. The bribery was a done deal decades ago.

But despite the bonhomie between intellectual equals, the warmongering establishment must still pretend that Ghani is an outsider presenting a "challenge" so as to avoid accusations of collusion between mercenary equals:
Mr. Ghani is certain to push hard to keep the current 10,000 American troops and thousands of private contractors in his country through, or perhaps beyond, 2016 when Mr. Obama insists the United States’ longest war will come to an end. Mr. Ghani is also seeking long-term commitments of money and support from the United States, where members of the public are skeptical of the value of that investment.
“If the troops come out in 2016, the money is going to come out 20 minutes later,” said David Barno, the senior American commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “That’s going to be a disaster. They can’t operate without that money.”
The war will end, but the fighting and death will continue. If "we" get out now, investors will lose money. One warmonger pretends to push, the other warmonger pretends to pull, and thus will the coalition remain intact. The Times article does not inform readers that Barno is a fellow of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington think tank founded, funded, and operated by the Permawar Industry. Among the CNAS directors and investors who stand to lose profits in the event of an Afghanistan troop pullout are revolving door Senator Joe Lieberman, and officials of Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs and such investment outfits/defense contractors as Evercore, Mannheim LLC, and the hilariously-named security software developer "Endgame." And we can't forget former Carlyle Group director Bill Kennard, the "key force" behind Obama's decision to launch negotiations for the anti-regulatory, anti-democratic Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Kennard, an Obama campaign bundler who was duly named EU ambassador, now helps run the telecom-heavy Grain Management private equity giant, which also manages some of the country's largest pension funds.  He used to sit on the board of the New York Times Company. Talk about diversification. Follow the wanky war money all throughout this tangled web... if you can. If you dare.

 So, the New York Times "news analysis" continues with the usual anonymous government source gratuitously insisting that the MIC's new puppet is both independent and feisty:
And Mr. Ghani can be difficult. His broadly pro-Western outlook is balanced by a deep nationalist streak, and he is known in Afghanistan as much for his technocratic skills as he is for his short temper. Western diplomats know well that he is more than willing to “give us the back of his hand,” as one American official put it, when he thinks Afghanistan’s interests are being trampled by its allies.
As much as I would love to see Ashraf bitch-slap Barack in a fit of plutocratic pique, I have a feeling that the man becomes a real pussycat as soon as the White House shows him the money. He is a banker, for God's sake. The Times continues,
Advisers to Mr. Ghani and Mr. Obama expect that they will relate easily. Mr. Ghani is far more of a financial technocrat than a natural politician, and his professorial approach to governing is sure to seem reassuring to his American counterpart.
In the eyes of American officials, Mr. Ghani has also proved willing to take on the role of wartime leader, unlike Mr. Karzai, who sought to limit raids and airstrikes by foreign forces, and even by the Afghan Army.
Two Obamas in a pod. Unrelatables who can relate. Cool, detached professors who can kill without breaking a sweat, unlike those recalcitrants who balk at their women and children becoming collateral damage during night raids by uniformed psychopaths. Ghani is presentable enough to be paraded in plain sight, allowed to eat in public, and express articulate appreciation as he is escorted to the same tourist sites he could probably see from his D.C. suburban backyard not too many years ago.
Doug Ollivant, who worked in the National Security Council for Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush, said Mr. Ghani is a “Western-oriented” leader who would be comfortable rubbing shoulders with intellectuals at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, or the Aspen Ideas Forum in Colorado.
“He’s a creature of Washington, a creature of Aspen and Davos,” he said. “He’s extremely comfortable moving in these circles.”
Cue Tom Friedman, who will no doubt wax rhapsodic about this sophisticated banker-wanker creature in an upcoming column. Who knew that you could be a plutocrat and a puppet at the same time? You can be a hybrid creature called a Plupup who needn't even grovel or suck up.  If you can rub shoulders at Davos and Aspen, then who cares about all the innocents you're rubbing out someplace else? Certainly not your fellow pathocrats.

Ollivant, as the Times conveniently forgets to mention, is also a war profiteer par excellence. His think tank, the New America Foundation, is funded by Bill Gates  and other Silicon Valley billionaires, with an emphasis on Common Core training for a compliant cannon fodder citizenry. As a member of the David Petraeus Brain Trust of military "intellectuals" who have failed upward since their destabilization of Iraq, Ollivant makes big bucks in private equity. And as a lifetime member of the Council of Foreign Relations, he is a sought-after White House consultant who also frequently appears on CNN to drum up the terror and the patriotic fervor, lest the public remember that Iraq and Afghanistan have been unmitigated, deadly disasters.  His job at Monument Capital Group Holdings is based on expertise in "post-conflict/emerging markets."

In other words, he specializes in the Plunder division of Disaster Capitalism. And lots and lots of killing. A blog post he wrote for the Terror Channel (CNN) couldn't be more blatantly bloodthirsty and money-hungry if it tried. Some snippets:
...We need to promote our forces who work best with allied forces in these spaces where the state is weak or nonexistent: the Army's Special Forces (popularly known as "Green Berets"). These forces have undergone significant neglect in the past decade, as the anti-terrorism capabilities of Joint Special Operations Command (SEAL Team Six and Delta Force) were seen as the most pressing need.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Special Forces teams were known to be tasked by their commands — or decide on their own — to pursue a more aggressive "kill and capture" mission, rather than work "by, with, and through" their indigenous partners. It will require cultural change (and likely an improved funding stream) inside the military to emphasize that these Special Forces teams — seen as considerably less glamorous than their Joint Special Operations Command counterparts — are the capability most needed for future warfare.
Third, we need to continue to focus on prepared and ready land power — our own rifle squads, companies and battalions who can do the dirty business themselves, if need be....


... Many observers have pointed out that the military's traditional personnel management system has defects, both in recruiting and development. There are a host of suggestions, but any proposal that increases flexibility and expands the talent pool without degrading the necessity of producing leaders who can lead young men into combat should be seriously considered.
Long-standing suggestions to increase language training, allow for late entry and/or sabbaticals, increase technical skills, get input from subordinates on their leaders, and recruit outside traditional pools -- for instance, in Silicon Valley -- should all be seriously considered. All will be necessary for these coming ambiguous fights.
Young men from the lower classes fight dirty over there so that the plutocratic "thought-leaders" can schmooze and munch caviar at the Aspen Ideas Festival over here.

What would be a nightmare to normal people is Ollivant's blissful wet dream:
 It is possible that our next war will resemble nothing that anyone has predicted, perhaps a naval battle over the Arctic, or — God forbid — a nuclear exchange. And yes, it is possible that war could emerge between China on one side and South Korea, Japan or even the United States on the other in the South China Sea, though it is not overstatement to claim that this would bring about the end of the world economy as we currently understand it. But the most likely outcome, barring some shock to the world system, is that future wars will strongly resemble those occurring today. 
Never once does this warmongering wanker even remotely consider diplomacy as an alternative to wars. It's not part of his job description. Peace would be the kiss of death to profit.

It's no surprise that Ollivant titled his blogpost "What War Has in Store." Because as far as the global oligarchs are concerned, death and destruction are tantamount to a global shopping spree of orgiastic proportions.

But you won't learn about this in the pages of the Paper of Record, where war is  about how well a bunch of wealthy, well-dressed intellectual wankers can all get along so famously.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

NYT Grants Anonymity to Basher of "Crazy Left"

Since becoming a national referendum on Wall Street Democrats, Chicago's contest between neoliberal incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanual and local county commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia has been heavily featured this week on the Paper of Record's homepage.

The coverage has been heavy on the rehabbing of Rahm's well-deserved corrupt image and equally heavy on dissing Garcia's alleged "vagueness." (shades of Occupy-dissing.) "In his first one-on-one debate with Mr. Emanuel," the Gray Lady sniffed, "Garcia appeared shaky when pressed for his plans to fix the city’s finances. His first campaign ad appeared only last week."

Oh no! Because as we should all know by now, political success and credibility and legitimacy can only be measured by the money and the marketing. You shall be judged not by the content of your character, but by the garish display of your cash.
In a debate last week, Mr. Garcia repeatedly attacked Mr. Emanuel as a tool of the “rich and powerful” in Chicago. He said Mr. Emanuel was interested only in the priorities of “millionaires and billionaires.”
Still, Mr. Emanuel has been moving up in the polls since he was forced into a runoff, and his advisers say the left will find it difficult to defeat him.
Mr. Garcia, 58 and known as Chuy, has been vastly outspent by Mr. Emanuel, but he flew to Los Angeles last week to try to drum up last-minute cash from donors. Whether he can raise enough to hurt Mr. Emanuel is an open question.
Mr. Garcia is starting to draw more attention on liberal email lists, but he has yet to draw a total of even $100,000 from small donors using the liberal fund-raising hub ActBlue. (A week of network television advertising in Chicago costs over $600,000.)
“Unless they get the crazy lefty money machine going nationally, it’s not going to matter that there’s a resurgent left,” said an adviser to Mr. Emanuel who did not want to speak publicly about strategy. “The liberals at Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park can think great thoughts and read poetry for Chuy, but nothing else will happen.”
We'll just have to wait and see whether poetry has more power than cash.

Meanwhile, shame on the Times for granting a cowardly apparatchik anonymity for purposes of impugning the mental health of anybody not in bed with the Big Money Boys. According to Rahm and his cronies, if you're not rich then you have to be nuts. Impugning the mental health ("gaslighting") of one's political opponents is the last refuge of neoliberal scoundrels like Rahm, who earlier this month crazily screamed at mental health activists for "not respecting" him.

It brings back fond memories of Rahm calling progressives "fucking retarded" in 2009 for not getting down with Obama's abandonment of a public option in his health care plan.

And if calling their mental health into question doesn't work, there's always the racial guilt approach. Because where would impugning the left be without the helpful input of Obamabots playing the corporate race card?  Millionaire TV host and professional pseudo-activist Al Sharpton does the honors in the same Times article:
Others on the left are showing ambivalence about campaigning against a candidate who has the full-throated support of the president of the United States.
“It would energize the progressive side of the party that many of us are part of,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said of a possible win by Mr. Garcia. “The apprehension is that the right-wing media would take it as some people abandoning the president’s endorsement. That’s why it gives some of us pause. We don’t want to feed into some of the hysteria against the president.”
Mr. Sharpton, the longtime civil rights activist, said that as he considered whom to endorse, he was faced with “a dicey choice.”
“I’m attracted to Chuy’s populism and his consistent progressive base. He goes all the way back to Harold Washington,” Mr. Sharpton said, referring to a 1980s mayor of Chicago. “But Rahm is good with the black business community, and he’s been good on some of the stuff when he was with the president as chief of staff.”
Got that? A vote for Garcia and a vote for your own economic interests would be a punch in the face to the president. According to Sharpton's convoluted logic, a crazy left wing vote for Garcia would also be a vote for the right wing crazies and their anti-Obama attack machine. This is just the latest example of the scourge of the Third Way: the ideological crusade of the plutocrats who use wedge issue divide and conquer techniques to keep the masses confused, the politicians bought, and the wealth flowing in an endless geyser to those at the very top.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Budget Shock & Awe

Spring is here, and so is another season of Budget Kabuki in the Feudal States of America. This is the horror show where the extreme right wing attacks and sucks up all the oxygen in the media room, forcing the gasping pseudo-journalist class to treat them seriously because they talk about personal responsibility and sharing the sacrifice. This is the movie where only the lonely Paul Krugman has the courage to call them out on their fraud and perfidy and end yet another column admonishing the liberal class to feel some outrage. 

Feel Krugman's outrage:
One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.
But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.
Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.
Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.
Krugman is so mad that he forgot to mention that there is even an alternative. So I mentioned it in my response to his column:
The GOP budgets are the usual dystopian manifestos we've come to know and despise, immiserating regular people as they leave the departments of surveillance and military aggression largely intact.

These Ayn Rand potboilers not only cause an annual shock-and-awe media frenzy--they allow the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party to move further to the right, as they trade more bliss for the rich for less drastic cuts to social programs. The military and Homeland Security budgets are always left largely intact, even increased, because Permawar has become essential to this financialized economy.

In the end, thanks to Citizen United, the interests of the oligarchs and the war-mongers will be served, because they own the place.

You might not know it, but there's also a progressive congressional People's Budget out there. It hardly gets covered at all, because cruelty and terror and outright fraud make for better copy. This humane budget contains a government jobs program, expansion of Social Security and other safety net programs like SNAP, a minimum wage increase, a debt-free  ollege education, a transition to single payer health care and a tax on carbon pollution.

It allocates $820 billion for infrastructure, taxes investments at the same rate as work, creates a new tax bracket for incomes over $1 million and terminates the carried interest deduction.

We need a lot more than outrage at the GOP. We need the People's Budget. We need a revolution.
Of course, with a name like "People's Budget," the corporate media crowd will automatically assume that it's a commie socialist plot. (And the Times moderators immediately buried my comment under their Golden Times Picks, all seemingly of the male persuasion* which variously cast aspersions on the evil GOP, the weak Democrats, the stupid voters, and, to show how fair and balanced they are, upon the "radical" Krugman himself. None of the comments mentioning the People's Budget was highlighted, lest The People discover its existence.)

And the sad part of it is, the People's Budget isn't even all that radical. As they did last year, our progressive congressional leaders deemed it necessary to immediately placate the phony plutocratic austerians by boasting that their budget reduces the deficit and balances the budget. It only offers a "pathway" for individual states to adopt Single Payer health insurance rather than calling for an immediate implementation of Medicare for All. Check out the neoliberal buzzwords in the intro:
The People's Budget fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead. Despite their skills and work ethic, most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities. They earn less and less as corporations and the wealthy continue amassing record profits. It has become clear to American workers that the system is rigged.
The People’s Budget levels the playing field and creates economic opportunity by increasing the pay of middle- and low-income Americans. More customers and higher consumer spending advance American businesses, not tax cuts and relaxed regulations. The People’s Budget drives a full economic recovery by creating high-quality jobs and reducing family expenses, restoring the buying power of working Americans.
The People’s Budget closes tax loopholes that companies use to ship jobs overseas. It creates fair tax rates for millionaires and provides needed relief to low- and middle-income families. It invests in debt-free college, workforce training and small businesses within our communities, helping return our economy to full employment and giving a raise to Americans who need it most. Investments in The People’s Budget boost employment and wages by addressing some of the biggest challenges of our time: repairing America’s rapidly aging roads and bridges, upgrading our energy systems to address climate change, keeping our communities safe, and preparing our young people to thrive as citizens and workers.
A fair wage is more than the size of a paycheck. It’s having enough hours, paid overtime, sick and parental leave, and affordable health and childcare. It’s being able to afford a good education for your kids and never living in fear that your job will be sent overseas. It’s knowing you can make ends meet at the end of the month. The People’s Budget helps achieve that with a raise for American workers, a raise for struggling families and a boost to America’s long-term global competitiveness.
But I quibble. The document does go on to call for public financing of elections and admits that our real unemployment rate is well over 11 percent. So were we still living in a functioning democracy, I would rate the "progressive" proposal as just left of center. It passive-aggressively emphasizes aid to states to finance their own programs, rather than federally mandate reforms.  It doesn't call for a free college education -- it only espouses a restructuring of onerous student debt and "investment" in pre-school education. Using the term "investment" when it comes to people is one of my biggest pet peeves. Stop referring to kids as though they were pork belly futures that might someday provide a huge return to speculators!

And then the alleged progressives use the weasel-worded phrase "modifies our defense postures to create sustainable baseline defense spending." What the hell does that even mean? I looked and I looked, but saw nothing in the "progressive" budget that would demilitarize the economy, defund or dismantle the NSA and other totalitarian Homeland Security behemoths. But, to their credit, the progressives do call for an end to the nefarious and open-ended war mongering slush fund euphemized as "Overseas Contingency Operations."

Meanwhile, President Obama is ignoring even these modest proposals and, like Krugman and other liberal pundits, is limiting his remarks to lambasting Republican cruelty and math deficiency. He has vowed to veto any cuts to military spending (and should this veto be overridden, that's where the OCO will come into play) while continuing to tout plutocrat-friendly small bore public-private initiatives like My Brother's Keeper and enterprise zones. So far, anyway, he hasn't threatened to veto any of the proposed cuts to the safety net. Those slashes will be modified in Congressional back rooms, as they have been in every other year, when such various manufactured crises as the Debt Ceiling and the Fiscal Cliff are dragged out of the Kabuki prop department for our terrorized delectation.

Oh, and the troops will now be staying in Afghanistan indefinitely. It's Permawar, remember?

* There has been an actual scientific study conducted on the New York Times reader commentariat. It turns out that only 25% of the comments are written by women. Of course, of the dozen or so regular op-ed writers that the newspaper employs, only three are women (Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins and Linda Greenhouse.)  So it figures, much in the same way that the nihilistic GOP budget figures.

 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Race for the Bucks

For sheer tone-deaf chutzpah, Starbucks and its billionaire CEO Howard Schultz deserve every single one of the vitriolic Tweets being hurled their way over their latest phony marketing campaign. The ploy is to get the rich white people who buy their overpriced coffee -- and the poor white people who serve them their overpriced coffee --  to forget all about wealth inequality and the class war, and have an awkward concern-trolling conversation about black people instead.

As if you needed another reason to boycott Starbucks.

But, if you still insist on patronizing this franchise for your $5 fix of caffeine, I suggest you also instigate a conversation about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Starbucks is, after all, one of the 600 or so lucky multinational corporations negotiating in secret to take over the world. So, walk into Starbucks armed with a magic marker as well as your cash, and change the motto on the cup from "Race Together" to "Race Together to Stop Fast Track."

Initiate a conversation with your barista and your fellow customers about how this secretive deal will destroy thousands of American jobs. Saunter in carrying an anti-TPP sign. Demand that Howard Schultz tell his employees and his customers all about what the public is not being allowed to see. Godzillionaire TPP negotiator Mayor Mike Bloomberg, after all, has spilled the beans in a New York Times op-ed, revealing that Big Tobacco will supersede anti-smoking laws of sovereign nations by availing themselves of undemocratic corporate tribunals:
 If the Obama administration’s policy reversal is allowed to stand, not only will cigarettes be cheaper for the 800 million people in the countries affected by the trade pact, but multinational tobacco corporations will be able to challenge those governments — including America’s — for implementing lifesaving public health policies. This would not only put our tobacco-control regulations in peril, but also create a chilling effect that would prevent further action, which is desperately needed.
 So shouldn't fellow billionaire Schultz himself be willing to spill a few beans as well as roast them? Shouldn't he be just as concerned with health justice as with racial justice?

Flush the TPP has more helpful hints to help you harass Schultz and the whole cult of comfortable corporatists.

Meanwhile, what a coincidence that Schultz is initiating his Race Together murketing campaign in pro-labor Washington State, where activists and elected officials alike have been out in force protesting the TPP. Washington and neighboring Oregon just happen to be ground zero for the Obama administration's astroturfed propaganda campaign for fast track trade authority. These are major exporting states, and Oregon is also the home state of Senator Ron Wyden, Democratic chairman of the powerful Finance Committee and a TPP proponent.

 Gaius Publius quotes from the Obama-aligned P.R. firm's own press release:
With Congress set to debate concrete measures for strengthening the American economy this year, the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs (PCAJ) is launching today to pave the way to trade promotion [Fast Track] authority for President Obama and to help pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. PCAJ is kicking things off with a significant digital advertising effort in Oregon and Washington State and will expand to other key states in weeks to come.
PCAJ will bring together progressive voices across the activist, advocacy, and business communities to share information about the benefits of this groundbreaking trade agreement—which is expected to support hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the United States.
Mitch Stewart, Battleground States Director for the 2012 Obama for America Campaign, and his fellow partner at 270 Strategies Lydia Tran, are coordinating the public launch and will provide strategic counsel for the coalition.
I'm surprised that the White House is not also urging "folks" to all race together to their nearest Starbucks for some refreshment to swallow along with the trade swill. Starbucks stands to profit big-time should the TPP get rammed through  Just think -- they can hire Vietnamese baristas for 30 cents an hour to schmooze with the local potentates over the plight of the nicotine-addicted peasants.

Starbucks is already doing phenomenally well. As the New York Times reports,
For the quarter ended Dec. 28, the company reported operating income of $915.5 million, up from $813.5 million in the period a year earlier. Revenue increased 13 percent, to $4.8 billion.
Still, the company is searching for new revenue streams, facing stiffer competition from rivals as it moves into higher-end coffees. With the race campaign, the brand may have been looking for a way to break away from its competitors, said Jeetendr Sehdev, who teaches at the University of Southern California.
“This is not about starting a conversation. This is about coffee wars,” he said. “The sole objective here is to try to increase the brand’s cultural relevance.”
Schultz never misses an opportunity to use his humble origins to justify his race to the top of the plutocratic pile. During her 2014 trip to China (where they're complaining about the high Starbucks prices) first lady Michelle Obama even oddly included Schultz in a list of civil rights and sports heroes for repressed Chinese students to emulate. 

What a coincidence that the Obama administration is now scapegoating China in its push for a coup by Starbucks and hundreds of other multinational corporations. Mrs. Obama, champion of healthy eating that she is, might want to take a look at Starbucks' food menu while she's busy touting Schultz's civil rights marketing campaign.  Here it is, courtesy of Food Babe:




Starbucks is a proud member of the Grocery Manufacturing Association, which lobbies for both the TPP and for GMO (genetically modified organism) food. And if any TPP partner country has the nerve to ban proplyene glycol from the food that children eat, Starbucks can haul them before an investor dispute tribunal and soak their poor populations for huge monetary damages. Starbucks and Big Tobacco and Big Pharma and hundreds of their closest friends and lobbyists can all Race Together, vying for the gold in the Greed Olympics.

NAFTA on Steroids, or Capitalists on Crack. No matter what you call the teams, the game is always fixed.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Selling the TPP

This just in: President Obama will sell the corporate coup known as the Trans- Pacific Partnership by hilariously claiming that it's a sweeping renegotiation of NAFTA, and ideal for Etsy sellers, to boot.

That was the big takeaway from an Organizing for Action conference call last night with one of President Obama's top advisers. Besides spending an hour not answering a few pre-selected questions, White House communications guru David Simas provided the several hundred Obamabots who phoned in with some handy talking points to convince their progressive friends that the TPP is progressive. (If you call runaway unregulated capitalism progressive, then I guess that would be a correct characterization.) The TPP would, for instance,   make it easier for those struggling to get by in the New Economy to sell their crap on Ebay and Etsy.  Those tariffs are apparently real killers when you're trying to unload a shitload of knockoff Beanie Babies on some rube in Vietnam.

I took copious notes on the conference call, and what follows is a rough and truncated, but essentially accurate, transcript. The moderator identified herself as Sara El-Amine of OFA. I've saved the debunking of the many White House claims promising TPP Nirvana for the end of this post. Meanwhile, I have marked the outright lies with an asterisk; the veiled threats are in bold; the many boilerplate bromides should simply speak for themselves.

Sara: There are hundreds of activists calling in tonight to listen to some of the most incredible minds and senior advisers named David Simas!

David Simas: The TPP is the pillar of what the president wants to do. In 2008, he said he'd renegotiate NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement.) He will enforce labor and environmental standards. He won't sign anything that doesn't have American workers at its heart. TPP at its heart is a renegotiation of NAFTA.

Sara: Cool!

David: The Asian economy is the fastest growing in the world. Two billion Asian people will join the middle class economy. China has no labor and environmental standards. Will the world economy be ruled by Chinese values or progressive values? We have high trade surpluses*.  We have to break through high tariff barriers to level the playing field. Ninety-eight percent of our exports are from small businesses. We will renegotiate NAFTA. We will protect intellectual property.

In 2014, President Obama brought nine trade enforcement actions against China. We got China to stop with hoarding the rare earth minerals. We sued Guatemala on their labor abuses.*

I don't like it when people say Fast Track authority. I want you to call it Trade Promotion Authority instead, because it's not fast. We need fast track TPA because the next horrible president will then be forced to honor labor and environment clauses and progressive values. President Obama wants to fight for everyone who works hard and plays by the same rules on a level playing field.

Sarah: Wow. We received almost 6,000 questions and we have time for five. Next question: Is the TPP really NAFTA on Steroids?

David: NO,NO,NO.  It will renegotiate NAFTA. It will put teeth in NAFTA. We will accept no imports from forced labor. There are good dispute resolution provisions.* This is an opportunity to fix NAFTA. Tell your friends! China. Level playing field. Compete.

Sara: How do we get other countries to play by the rules?

David: Enforcement! We filed a Guatemala action. Progressives must seize the Progressive Moment. Because China. We included 150 new environmental regulations in DR-CAFTA (Dominican-Central American Free Trade Agreement) alone. 

Sarah: Beautiful!  The next question is, why is the TPP so secretive?

David: So, this fast trade TPA is anything but fast. There are three separate 90-day phases. Stop calling it Fast Track Authority -- it is Trade Promotion Authority. Congress will be allowed to make wish lists. We are taking unprecedented steps to increase transparency. We've brought special interest groups, unions, environmentalists, to the front end. They know our objectives. The text is available to Congress.* There is more dialogue and outreach than ever before. We are forward-leaning.

Sarah: Incredible! But, some progressives are against it.

David: President Obama is a Progressive! If not fast track TPA now, then when? If we cede ground to China, what will happen? What happens if auto workers are at a disadvantage?* We are Aggressive Progressives! We go to the heart of what it means to be a Progressive! We held Guatemala accountable! And we understand the concerns of past trade deals.

Sarah: Wonderful! One last question. What are some basic ways to talk about this? How do we go about it?

David: Begin with the status quo. If you're against the status quo of NAFTA, then the TPP is for you. This is an opportunity to compare the values that we hold dear to China's values. EBayers are exporters. Etsy could have its trade barriers lowered. Right now it's too competitive to sell our poultry to Vietnam. Exporters pay 18% higher wages. We have to out-compete and outsell everyone else. Thanks to OFA, wages are up*  and incarceration is down. It's all about We. Thank you.

Sara: We will be sending out more information on how you can bullshit talk to your progressive friends on President Obama's behalf. (end of call.)
 *****

That's the bullshit. Now for some reality.

Before I get started on last night's vapid propaganda, I'd like to point you to an investigative piece by Gaius Publius, about a related pro-TPP astroturf group co-opting the "progressive" mantle for fascist purposes.  Called 270 Strategies, it's also run by former Obama campaign and White House staffers whose job is to plant friendly corporate coup stories in the mainstream media and gin up some drama. Writes GP:
Selling TPP as “progressive” is a stretch, but it’s an interesting move. It creates and leverages confusion on the left, and by dividing the left, attempts to finesse support for Fast Track, to sneak it past the finish line. Say “job killer” and the left is united against. Say “progressive” and “groundbreaking” and some on the left may be intrigued, may even be interested, may even be flattered enough to be tempted to agree.
This strategy may not work, but regardless, that’s the plan. 270 Strategies was hired to execute it — to put the confusion-sowing message bolded above, that TPP is a progressive treaty, into the mainstream press, to get that message mainsteam-blessed and make it part of “what everyone already knows.” As I said, a stretch, but that’s the job.
And just like magic, we suddenly see this in Politico.....
“Progressives Split on TPP”
Nice — and excellent message placement by the newly formed “Coalition” and their helpmates, 270 Strategies. Was this Politico paragraph the result of a nice “catch” by Politico, whose writers naturally read the same Daily Kos non-front-page diaries we do? Or did someone at the media-connected “270 Strategies” whisper into Politico’s ear on behalf of the “Coalition” and get them to put their — as I said, confusion-sowing — frame and message in the headline and then to bury the criticism (“astroturf” operation) behind a link that few will click? If I had to put money on it, I’d say the latter.
Notice that the “Coalition”-friendly framing is threaded throughout the paragraph. And notice that the only goal of this piece — of this whole operation, in fact — is to brand TPP as “progressive” and the disagreement as a disagreement “among progressives.” They don’t care, at this point, if the disagreement is covered, so long as it’s framed as a left-on-left discussion.
Mission accomplished. If 270 Strategies tried to be successful, they succeeded. If they didn’t try to succeed, they got very very lucky. Your call on which way this went down.
Just to make sure they succeed, OFA is enlisting "hundreds" of the same unpaid stalwarts who walked door to door selling Obamacare insurance policies to now go door to door in order to propagandize for a corporate coup. The White House is openly encouraging people to lie and say it's a whole dismantling of NAFTA. Smells pretty desperate to me.

As well it should. What David Simas didn't see fit to mention on his conference call is that the trade deficit is actually worse since the passage of free trade deals. Government data released last week show that the trade deficit with Korea has skyrocketed by more than 80% since the passage three years ago of Obama's North America-Korea Free Trade Agreement. His promise that the pact would expand exports and create American jobs turned out to be the exact opposite of the reality. The equivalent of 85,000 American jobs have been lost because of that ill-conceived pact. And meanwhile, exports from Korea to the US have gone up by 18%.

 Simas should be worried about auto exports. While the administration will try to spin the statistics, showing that American auto dealers sent an additional 23,000 passenger vehicles to Korea, South Korea exported an additional 450,000 of its own cars during the same time frame. That is real progress.

And then there was Simas's repetitive talking point about Obama's DR-CAFTA lawsuit against Guatemala over unfair labor practices. That trade pact, too, has had paradoxical consequences, to say the least:
Contrary to the promises of U.S. officials—who claimed the agreement would improve Central American economies and thereby reduce undocumented immigration—large numbers of Central Americans have migrated to the United States, as dramatized most recently by the influx of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras crossing the U.S.-Mexican border last summer. Although most are urgently fleeing violence in their countries, there are important economic roots to the migration—many of which are related to DR-CAFTA.
One of the most pernicious features of the agreement is a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. This allows private corporations to sue governments over alleged violations of a long list of so-called “investor protections.”
As for Obama's promise that he will also insist on environmental protections in any TPP deal he signs, the history gives lie to his claim. Central American countries have been devastated and workers' lives destroyed,by predatory multinational mining industries laying waste to the landscape. His recent suit against Guatemala over its labor practices came conveniently just as Guatemalan children began crossing the border in the hundreds. Many of them were deported and others remain incarcerated in private Texas holding pens pending adjudication of their refugee status. The crackdown is also widely seen as a fig leaf for the TPP, a political ploy for the president to show that he's "serious" about protecting workers in trade partner countries.

Now, let's get to Simas's boast that the TPP will protect intellectual property. This is the part that neoliberal economist Paul Krugman mildly dislikes the most about the TPP:
So why do some parties want this deal so much? Because as with many “trade” deals in recent years, the intellectual property aspects are more important than the trade aspects. Leaked documents suggest that the US is trying to get radically enhanced protection for patents and copyrights; this is largely about Hollywood and pharma rather than conventional exporters. What do we think about that (slide 7)?
Well, we should never forget that in a direct sense, protecting intellectual property means creating a monopoly – letting the holders of a patent or copyright charge a price for something (the use of knowledge) that has a zero social marginal cost. In that direct sense this introduces a distortion that makes the world a bit poorer.
There is, of course, an offset in the form of an increased incentive to create knowledge, which is why we have patents and copyright in the first place. But do we really think that inadequate incentive to create new drugs or new movies is a major problem right now?
You might try to argue that there is a US interest in enhancing IP protection even if it’s not good for the world, because in many cases it’s US corporations with the property rights. But are they really US firms in any meaningful sense? If pharma gets to charge more for drugs in developing countries, do the benefits flow back to US workers? Probably not so much.
Which brings me to my last point: Why, exactly, should the Obama administration spend any political capital – alienating labor, disillusioning progressive activists – over such a deal?
Um, maybe because Hollywood is one of Obama's biggest donors?  In case any studio bigwigs were listening in to last night's conference call, David Simas wanted to send the message to them loud and clear that the politicians they've bought are still on board with copyright protections.

Oh, and about that whole "TPP is NAFTA reform" malarkey. When Obama made renegotiating NAFTA a campaign promise in 2008, he was only kidding. Black Agenda Report has the long, sordid history of the president's serial NAFTA mendacity here. He was caught assuring the Canadians that it was just political posturing, that he had no intention of standing in the way of job-destroying hypercapitalism.

And as he'd told a group of banksters in 2006, at the launch of the conservative Hamilton Project, he is a hardcore free trader, fully aware that neoliberalism destroys jobs and is harmful to the middle class. "It's not," he blandly said,"a bloodless process." 

And he wants volunteers to go out there and lie for him. This is how he always rolls. It's an m.o. that keeps on working.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of healthy skepticism out there. Congress critters are at least posturing their animus. Despite the transparency boasts of David Simas, House Democrats are upset that a White House meeting on the TPP set for tomorrow has been declared "classified."
Members will be allowed to attend the briefing on the proposed trade pact with 12 Latin American and Asian countries with one staff member who possesses an “active Secret-level or high clearance” compliant with House security rules. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told The Hill that the administration is being “needlessly secretive.”
“Even now, when they are finally beginning to share details of the proposed deal with members of Congress, they are denying us the ability to consult with our staff or discuss details of the agreement with experts,” DeLauro told The Hill.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) condemned the classified briefing. “Making it classified further ensures that, even if we accidentally learn something, we cannot share it. What is USTR working so hard to hide? What is the specific legal basis for all this senseless secrecy?” Doggett said to The Hill.
One more debunk and I'm done, but please feel free to let me know if I've missed any other lies. To be fair to David Simas, though, when he said that wages are up, he probably meant to say that income is up, drastically...  for the already hyper-rich plutocrats negotiating the TPP. High rollers gotta roll, right along with the nonstop propaganda.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kochclintopia, Inc.

As I wrote this weekend in yet another comment to yet another New York Times article about the never-ending saga of the Hillary Clinton email scandal:

Just so we're perfectly clear: in the upcoming Neoliberal Death Match the choice will be which dynastic brand we proles would prefer to serve the uber-wealthy. Because while the rich and the well-connected have their personal servers, both internet and human, the public itself is not being served at all. Widespread poverty and racial/social injustice in the richest country on earth, underemployment, the creeping military/spy/police state, "trade" deals -- they're all being conveniently ignored in favor of the personal corruption of emperors and empresses in waiting. As Bernie Sanders notes, Hillary's emails are not being widely discussed in the town square. People have too much else on their (empty) plates.

What else is new in the New Abnormal?

Our post-Citizens United political system is so dirty that the elites of the two big business legacy parties no longer even pretend there's much difference between them. As a matter of fact, they gleefully rub our noses in their perfidy.They brag about how chummy they all are, slithering as they do within the same exclusive exalted circles.

Vote Democrat lest the Koch Brothers take over the place? You have got to be kidding me. The Clintons and the Kochs are buddies. They hang out at the same places and toast each other at galas. They brag about their philanthropies, which in brave neoliberal world aim to replace taxation of the rich and  government-mandated social safety nets. Money trumps ideology and the common good in what Gore Vidal called one political party with two right wings.

This incestuous corruption is hiding in plain sight in the New York Times Style section:
In a cocktail area in the front of the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, guests primped and posed in floor-length gowns. Hair was sprayed to perfection, and many of the faces did not appear to move. A young crowd this was not.
But perhaps the most surprising thing about the evening was that while David H. Koch and his wife, Julia, held court in one area of the lobby, Chelsea Clinton was in another.

Ballet apparently makes for strange bedfellows. Mr. Koch, the conservative billionaire who oversees a well-funded political network, said he has met the Clintons before, including at a benefit last year for the Wildlife Conservation Society.


“Toward the end, this U.N. ambassador asked if I wanted to meet the Clintons,” said Mr. Koch, who on this night wore a blue velvet tuxedo jacket and bow tie. “I said ‘sure.’ So I walked over to the next table, and Bill Clinton was there with Hillary and Chelsea. I started talking to them, and within three or four minutes, there must have been 30 people gathered around the table trying to hear my conversation with three Clintons.”
 Moments later, Ms. Clinton returned the compliment. “I have tremendous respect for the Kochs’ support of the arts,” said Ms. Clinton, who was wearing a black dress from Chanel and arrived with her husband, Marc Mezvinsky. “We’re standing in the Koch Theater, and I’m thrilled Julia Koch is a fellow board member. She joined the board a couple of years ago, so I’ve had the privilege of getting to know her.”
And then they all dined on caviar and boogied together on the dance floor amidst their fluttering $1 million checks. I am sure that whether it's D or whether it's R, there's a seat waiting at the White House table for Julia Koch for some greed-washing public-private "initiative." 

If Hillary wins, I think it's a safe bet that Bill Clinton as First Dude will not be relegated to an office in the East Wing. It's very possible that Chelsea Clinton will be the de facto First Lady, just as Julie Eisenhower filled that role for her parent in the corrupt final days of the Nixon Administration.

If you still don't believe that Democrats and Republicans aren't joined at the hip, there was last night's incestuous Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington. This annual affair is restricted to the most insidery media-political complex insiders.  Journalists whose job description used to be affliction of the comfortable had to pledge a solemn oath not to write about the coziness that transpired. But according to controlled leaks, Barack Obama yucked it up big time with his frenemy, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and they all guffawed uproariously over the very serious national trauma that is the Clinton email scandal.

From the Washington Post's account:
The dinner is a love letter to a Washington that never really existed — a romanticized place where politicians, despite all the squabbling, share an abiding respect for each other, the press and the political process. If it was ever true, it’s certainly not now — but it must be nice to pretend for a few hours....
 With a guest list of 650 — a fraction the size of the much-hyped White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — Gridiron is arguably a far more coveted ticket within Beltway circles. Gridiron is also the most insular of the city’s press dinners. None of the speakers have to play to C-SPAN or CNN cameras, so they keep it for Washington, by Washington, with insider jokes designed for VIP political junkies who breathlessly parse every off-hand aside for hidden meaning....
 The skits are a mixture of hokey and slick, the journalists dressed in elaborate costumes but often bolstered by strong-voiced ringers for the song parodies. There were male reporters playing Colombian prostitutes in a Secret Service skit. There were puns and bad jokes but nothing damning: The same reporters who appear on Sunday morning talk shows decrying the letter GOP senators sent to Iran had nothing to say about it on stage.
It's all an act, folks. The press conferences, the Sunday shows, the corporate newspaper op-eds. Acting in the private interest disguised as the public interest is such a hard job, but somebody's got to do it. I'm sure the liberals cackled as much as the conservatives over a misogynistic skit ridiculing Latin American sex workers.

No word whether the Koch Brothers were in attendance, or whether they hobnobbed with Obama. But there was a ditty (sung to the tune of an old Coke commercial) about them, composed and performed just for the special occasion. It's exploding into the public domain like a bottle of sugary soda left in the freezer too long:
“We’d like to buy the world for Koch
There’s a billion we will spend
We pay to play in the USA
So freedom doesn’t end.”
As Ken Vogel has revealed, the top 100 political donors gave as much money as nearly five million small donors in the last election cycle. This doesn't even take into account all the anonymous dark money being channeled through Pacs and SuperPacs and 501(c)s. Not only do our votes not count, our combined dollars don't count for much either. 

Welcome to the American oligarchy.