Thursday, October 17, 2013

If the Government Shutdown Wasn’t About Obamacare (And It Isn’t), Then It Was About?. . . Ready To Be Hot Under The Collar?

Montage above: Koch funded anti-healthcare creepy Uncle Sam ad, David and Charles Koch from Forbes 400 and from a story about  Koch funding of climate change science denial.
After a national election in which the Republican Party substantially lost the presidential election, lost the U.S. Senate, and lost the popular vote for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party has been deferring to a fractional extremist fringe within its ranks, allowing that faction to steer the whole country into a government shutdown and near default on all its financial obligations, theoretically to prevent the enactment of “Romneycare” (now renamed “Obamacare”).  Really?  Romney/Obamacare is a healthcare plan that was originally developed by and sought by the Republican Party.  It was ultimately adopted by President Obama as a concessional compromise that gave the Republican Party what it once said it wanted.

This is really why the government was shutdown and we went to the precipice of default at huge financial cost to the country?  That’s why we risked complete and total chaos in the economy?

Really and truly?

Absolutely not.  Think again.

There are quite a few theories about why the Republicans, chose to prostrate themselves before their Tea Party faction, shutting down the government.  None of them actually accurate.  They are:
    1.    Republicans believed that the Romney/Obamacare would be a complete and total disaster so damaging to the country that it was worth bringing the country to its knees, incapacitating it and threatening the very worst in order to prevent its rollout.

    2.    Republicans actually believe the opposite, that Romney/Obamacare will be a tremendous success, that Americans will wind up loving it and will become (as predicted by Republican Senator Ted Cruz) addicted to its “sugar” when implemented, making it impossible to repeal.  Since even Republicans, including very possibly subcategory Tea Party members might, when actually experiencing the law, decide they sincerely like the result of having healthcare, it is important to nip this in the bud . . .  because, if the Republican and Tea Party constituency realize that the doctrinaire lies they have been fed about Romney/Obamacare aren’t true, it could, among other things, undermine the future credibility of the Republicans and the Tea Party on other matters was well as this.

    3.    Republicans believe that being generally obstructionist will always benefit them in the polls.  (Not exactly the way things are working out.)

    4.    As expressed in a recent Paul Krugman column, Republicans are “deeply incompetent,” so much so that they “can’t even recognize their own incompetence.”  (See: The Boehner Bunglers, October 6, 2013.)

    5.    Shall we, for the sake of a more profound debate, stay away from the perception, often expressed by comedian-commentator Bill Maher (however much unfortunate truth may actually be in it) that Republicans oppose everything Obama does simply because Obama is black?
What is really going on?

Sometimes things in this world turn out as no one could expect, chance having its way, and unexpected results coming out of the blue.  But there are many other times when it is instructive to look at outcomes and assume they were intended from the start.  In this regard, it is valuable to note the recent and well-documented New York Times report that orchestration of the current shutdown crisis was planned way in advance, going back to at least January/February of this year.  According to the Times, “The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort.”  See: A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire, October 5, 2013, accompanying timeline graphic here: House Republican Efforts to Repeal or Weaken the Health Care Law, October 5, 2013.
So, are we to believe that the number one priority of the Koch brothers for which they would shutdown the United State government is denying healthcare to American citizens?

Within days of the Times article the Koch brothers through their chief corporate spokesperson issued a denial of involvement in the shutdown as part of an attack on the healthcare program with an October 9, 2013 letter.  Notwithstanding, when that letter is read carefully against the documented facts it is really not much of a denial.  See: Kochs Deny Pushing for Shutdown Over Health Law, October 9, 2013.

One hint that the manufactured crisis was never really truly about opposition to the Democrats’ passage of a  Republican-formulated healthcare law is that in the waning days of the crisis, as an immediate default on government obligations was about to be avoided, the dialogue had readily shifted from being about the healthcare bill to being about other things, mainly broader government spending and general budget matters.  Like defense spending?: No, that wasn't talked about. . .   One of the problems for the Republicans when they tried to halt the roll-out of Obamacare by defunding the government is that Obamacare is self-funded and therefore rolled out nonetheless.  The other indication of what all of this craziness this is really about is that resolutions sought by the Republicans involved kicking the can down the road with deferral of dates so that the nation will potentially be kept in a state of constant crisis with more of this craziness almost guarnteed to transpire again in the future.

If all this drama and damage to the country has not actually been about the Koch brothers wanting to block a healthcare program, what is it really about?   . . .   Instead of believing that the Koch brothers have an intense, burning and paramount desire to deny healthcare to Americans (which seems rather absurd), let's think about what the Koch brothers are really interested in and where they direct most of their other political spending: They direct that money to climate change science denial and to the frustration of any efforts to societally address the issue of global warming.

The Koch brothers are vastly wealthy and their wealth comes principally from the extraction of fossil fuels.  With an estimated personal wealth of $36 billion each this year, Charles and David Koch are now tied for fourth place on September’s Forbe’s 400 list.  If we think of them as a single united unit of family wealth then the Koch’s jump to the head of that Forbes list alongside of Bill Gates and place well ahead of the $58.5 billion that earns Warren Buffett his Number Two status on this list. Lesson to us all: The Koch’s wealth has been rocketing up concurrent with their involvement in politics.

Would American industrialists really do something as outrageous as wrecking the government for the sake of advancing their personal wealth and private industrial pursuits?  Is that so very different from putting the fate of the entire human race and the rest of the planet at risk with climate change— or simply a mere subset of such behavior?

How is the attack on healthcare and the government shutdown connected with efforts to fend off people doing something about climate change?  Just think what would be happening if we had not been embroiled in this silly mess about preventing Romney/Obamacare from going into effect: With a working government we would very likely be proceeding to the biggest priorities at hand.  We might therefore be taking measures to deal with climate change at this very moment.  Even if we weren’t dealing with climate change right now we’d certainly be getting to it considerably sooner.

For how many weeks and months has the issue of the pending government shutdown been consuming all the oxygen in the media for any discussion of anything else?  Attention everywhere has been diverted as we heard about this silliness 24/7 in ad nauseam detail.

It goes further than that.  At the same time that we haven’t we heard anything about what the government ought to be doing about climate change we also haven't heard about the reverse: We haven’t heard anything about the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (TPP) which will go a long way to prevent government from doing something about climate change.  In fact, most Americans are probably unaware that the TPP exists at all or that it is a stealth corporatist attack on government regulation, including government regulation of such fossil fuel climate change game-over business activities as hydro-fracking.  It is, if you will, another envisioned form of government shutdown, intended to replace government control of corporations with corporate control of governments.  See: Saturday, October 12, 2013, The Other Government Shutdown Now In The Works (One You Are Not Hearing About): A Corporate Replacement Of Government Via The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty.

At first blush it might seem odd that John Boehner, Speaker of the Republican House, would have sacrificed so much of the Republican Party's reputation, deferring to the Tea Party faction, the extreme end of his party financed by the Koch brothers, rather than letting majority rule solve the problems.  Of course, the analysis is offered that with such things as gerrymandered districts, average and middle-of-the-road Republicans are more afraid of being ousted in primaries than in being perceived by the general electorate as extremist, but it is important to know that the Kochs don't just finance the Tea Party.   The "moderates" are beholden to the Kochs as well, even before you consider whether Koch brother money can be used to threaten in primaries.

The visuals below are for the purpose of illustrating something the last set of election results have probably not significantly changed: How the Koch brothers have contributed to over half the members of the House and half the members of the U.S. Senate.  They are from the one-hour Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) 2012 documentary “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream” about income inequality in America, including very particularly its corrosive effect on politics.

The Zeitgeist of the Tea Party, and now the Republican Party as well, is an extreme refusal to allow the government to work.  One can't help but notice that for the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel industries gridlock that preserves the status quo is a win.  So, yes, in this regard, those who perceive a working healthcare program as a threat to Republicans are in a sense right: Because if your goals is to have a dysfunctional government you want the public to see as few examples of successful government programs as possible.

But, I suggest to you, in the end, crippling the government is only an intermediate goal:  The end goal is to defer the day of reckoning for the industries like the Kochs' that are fast and furiously bringing us climate change that, unaddressed, we are less and less likely to survive.  Feel any heat under your collar?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Other Government Shutdown Now In The Works (One You Are Not Hearing About): A Corporate Replacement Of Government Via The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

It sounds like a science fiction vision of a futuristic dystopia, the kind of story whose horrific elements have been slathered on thickly to emphasize the “cautionary tale” a creative writer has dreamed up, one of those, not now, not here, not just yet, but “could be” essays commenting on what might go wrong in the future given the seeds we can observe in today’s society:
A select army of coordinating and elite-trained corporatist operatives, 600 strong, deploy around the world planning to replace government control of corporations with corporate control of governments.   Having found their more nefarious goals stymied by democracy and public debate, the corporations plan a secretive end-run around public process to supplant government with corporate supremacy and, in one fell swoop, enact, unfettered, their long wish list of desires, even at the cost of public health, welfare and the environment.  In the end, even the earth itself may be doomed as a result of this power grab.
The only problem is that this is not science fiction.  It is actually happening.  What I have just described is the move toward passage of something called Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (“TPP”) and though it may sound like pure paranoia, the fact that political adversaries Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Occupy Wall Street are both among those very concerned about its effects should be a pretty good indication that the nightmare threats are very real.

The TPP gives corporations the right to tell governments to stand down from their functions of protecting the public.  That’s because, in the corporatist view, governments should not be allowed to interfere with the expectations that corporations and their investors have of receiving profits.  It has been described as giving corporations a new “corporate bill of rights” to make profits notwithstanding public detriment.

So, for example, in August New York’s Mayor Bloomberg wrote an Op-Ed published in the New York Times fearful that one result of the TPP’s passage would be that New York City could no longer regulate smoking the way it does because doing so would interfere with the profits the tobacco companies want to make.  The NYC Bloomberg era ban on smoking is considered a signature and, in retrospect, very popular (82% approval) achievement of the mayor’s administration, copied elsewhere around the world.

The TPP’s provisions are actually secret from those who are not among the 600 corporatists working on it, a problem we will get to in a moment.  Mr. Bloomberg, who apparently knew something about what was actually in the TPP about regulating smoking at various times, commented:
The early drafts of the agreement included a “safe harbor” provision protecting nations that have adopted regulations on tobacco — like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions — because of “the unique status of tobacco products from a health and regulatory perspective.” This provision would have prevented the tobacco industry from interfering with governments’ sovereign right to protect public health through tobacco control laws. 
(See: Op-Ed Contributor: Why Is Obama Caving on Tobacco? By Michael R. Bloomberg, August 22, 2013.)

Unfortunately, as Mr. Bloomberg was also aware, the tobacco industry successfully lobbied to have the provision removed.  Mr. Bloomberg complained about the agreement's alternative:
weak half-measures at best that will not protect American law — and the laws of other countries — from being usurped by the tobacco industry, which is increasingly using trade and investment agreements to challenge domestic tobacco control measures. 

    . . .  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.
There is actually something wrong with this picture of Bloomberg championing protection of the public health: It is Mr. Bloomberg’s very narrow focus about what is wrong with the TPP.  Tobacco is certainly an addictive poison the use of which governments would do well to curtail, but under the TPP it is not just anti-smoking measures, but virtually all public health protections that would be sacrificed or in jeopardy if they conflicted with a desire for corporate profit.

Elsewhere in his Op-Ed Mr. Bloomberg commends that (in his view):
The pact is intended to lower tariffs and other barriers to commerce, a vitally important economic goal.
And later he says:
I could not be more strongly in favor of trade agreements that expand economic opportunity here and around the globe.
In actuality, most of the TPP does not concern itself with these issues of trade.  The current version of the TPP has 29 chapters.  Of these, only five reportedly have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters involve a wide range of grabs by the corporations. Days ago Naked Capitalism commented that the TPP has been mis-branded as a “trade deal”:
The reason the label is misleading is that trade is already substantially liberalized; the real point of the TPP and its cousin, the pending EU-US trade agreement, is to weaken the power of nations to regulate, which will allow multinationals to lead a race to the bottom on product and environmental safety.
(See: Thursday, October 10, 2013, Will China’s Gambit to Undermine the Trans-Pacific Partnership Succeed?)

In this race to the bottom, what else would the TPP override in terms of public protections?  That’s where the problem of secrecy comes in.  Discussion of the treaty’s provisions is very difficult because the provisions under negotiation are being treated as "classified."  The army of 600 corporatist soldiers working on the document may be intimately familiar with the wish list items they are inserting, but the public is not allowed to know anything about them.  A good starter guess though is that anything that has to be secret is not good news for the public.

Said Senator Elizabeth Warren in September:
For big corporations, trade agreement time is like Christmas morning. They can get special gifts they could never pass through Congress out in public. Because it's a trade deal, the negotiations are secret and the big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. We've seen what happens here at home when our trading partners around the world are allowed to ignore workers rights, wages, and environmental rules. From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters, and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the upcoming trade deals in their favor.

Why are trade deals secret?  I've heard people actually say that they have to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be opposed.  Think about that.  I believe that if people would be opposed to a particular trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not happen.
Congress, which has exclusive authority to approve treaties (in this case both houses), is being asked to “Fast Track” the approval of this treaty  “But until this June, they were not even allowed to see the draft text,” according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who explained that, after 150 members of Congress made a tremendous fuss, the situation now is that:
    . . members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter.  This is in contrast to, say, even what the Bush administration did. The last time we had one of these mega-NAFTA expansion attempts was the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And in that instance, in 2001, that whole draft text was released to the public by the U.S. government on the official government websites. So, this is extraordinary secrecy, and members of Congress aren’t supposed to tell anyone what they’ve read. So, for instance, you know, Alan Grayson, who was one of the guys who helped to get the text released, Alan Grayson said, "I can tell you it’s very bad for the future of America. I just can’t tell you why." That’s obscene. 
(See: "A Corporate Trojan Horse": Obama Pushes Secretive TPP Trade Pact, Would Rewrite Swath of U.S. Laws, Democracy Now October 4, 2013.  A full Democracy Now transcript of the video below is available.)

The Obama administration reportedly wants to push through the “Fast Track” authority that would delegate Congressional authority for the treaty review to get it adopted by the end of this year-. . . That’s just months, practically a matter of weeks away, and yet the public knows virtually nothing about what that would mean.  “Fast Track” authority would limit the congressional lawmakers to an up-or-down vote on the TPP.  BTW: The current government shutdown may be a distraction from what is going on but it reportedly isn't slowing down the efforts to bring about this other envisioned shutting down of government functions via the TPP.

What kinds of things are crammed into the TPP?  TPP has been referred to as “son of SOPA” because it contains most of the intellectual property rights restrictions that corporations tried, and ultimately failed, to lobby through as part of “SOPA,” the “Stop Online Piracy Act.”  Remember that fight?  That was when Wikipedia and other internet sites shut down for a day to call attention to that law's proposed Draconian provisions (See: Wikipedia Blackout: 11 Huge Sites Protest SOPA, PIPA On January 18.)

The hotly debated SOPA amounts to 38 pages coming out of my printer.  Think of that as just one of the 25 non-trade related chapters of the TPP!  The money and the corporatists wanted to see that law passed but the public was against it.  Listed on Wikipedia 125 organizations supported the law while 222 opposed it and many others refused to support it: List of organizations with official stances on the SOPA and PIPA.

Here is a list of the corporate end-runs presently understood to be in the TPP that will give you an idea of why the TPP is often referred to as “NAFTA on steroids.”  Note that although there are 25 chapters full of non-trade related provisions, the list below doesn’t approach that number:
    1.    Limitations on food quality and food safety regulation.
    2.    Limitations on regulation of agriculture and forestry practices.
    3.    Limitations on environmental standards, and environmental protections (including provisions whereby corporations expect to be able to avoid having to pay for environmental damage).
    4.    Limitations on the regulation of toxins and poisons.
    5.    Limitations on climate policy measures.
    6.    Limitations on regulating energy markets.
    7.    Establishment of corporate rights to seize natural resources, including for such things as mining.
    8.    Protections for corporations to charge high and unregulated prices for such things as water, gas, energy, transportation and other utilities (unless government provides them to the public entirely without a fee).
    9.    Limitations on regulation of banks and the financial industry, including back doors for those institutions to get around what presently exists.
    10.    Restrictions on taxes such as a ban on the proposed “Robin Hood” tax on speculative Wall Street investments.
    11.    Restricting measures governments undertake to make medication affordable, including limiting generics and affordable medicines.
    12.    Limitations on other consumer health laws like those that deal with cigarettes. (Prevention of gun control regulation Mr. Bloomberg?)
    13.    Restrictions on internet freedoms and intellectual property rights (The “son of SOPA” provisions).
    14.    Effects on labor unions (see discussion below).
    15.    Give corporation new rights to sue governments that try to regulate them and entitle corporations to taxpayer-funded damages for such unpermitted regulation.
    16.    Elevate rights of corporations to a higher level equating them with governments.  It looks as if foreign corporations would thereby wind up empowered with greater rights than U.S. companies in the United States. 
    17.    Turn adjudication and resolution of these corporate rights matters over to new pro-corporate international foreign courts outside of and not bound by the existing legal systems.  The idea is that the those representing corporations seeking to assert their rights would rotate through taking their turn as the adjudicating judges.
Full-fledged world-wide dystopia as was described at the outset?  The twelve countries negotiating to put the TPP into effect (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) comprise about 26 percent to 30 percent of world GDP), but that overall reach can be expanded, partly, as Naked Capitalism points out, with the implementation of other parallel treaties.   The exploits of the James Bond super-villains, most of whom all had their own super-corporation empires, once seemed satisfyingly fantastical in scale, but most of them would have picked more sparingly from the above menu in concocting their world-domineering schemes. (In 2008's “Quantum of Solace,” my candidate for the most disappointing of the Bond franchise films, you had a fairly exact match for just one of the schemes above: The villain was a counterfeit environmentalist named “Greene,” whose goal was to monopolistically corner the market for water in Bolivia so as to be able to charge the populace higher prices.)

The above list, generically covering all the bases, manages to be automatically comprehensive about protecting all the worst possible corporate behaviors.  So, for example, those who perceive hydro-fracking to be a threat to our health, water, and with climate change the survival of much of the life on this planet, would lose all possible tools to address the practice.  The hard-fought fight to prevent fracking in New York State?: The industry would have achieved an end-run around it.

When I and others write to say that the TPP contains such disturbing provisions, are we wrong?  If they’d only make the TPP provisions public we’d know exactly what to worry about with accuracy and specificity.  Otherwise we just leave it to those working for Halliburton and Monsanto to assure us that the unpublished provisions they are stuffing into the bill will be as good for us as they will be for them!

Would foreign corporations doing business in the U.S. gain greater rights than domestic corporations?  Days ago, without bring up the advent of the TPP as a possible contributing reason, the New York Times was reporting:
From New York to Silicon Valley, more and more large American corporations are reducing their tax bill by buying a foreign company and effectively renouncing their United States citizenship.
(See: New Corporate Tax Shelter: A Merger Abroad, by David Gelles, October 8, 2013.)

The effect of TPP on jobs and labor unions in the United States under the TPP is not a simple discussion.  Many blame NAFTA for draining jobs out of the U.S.  It is true that when jobs go overseas other jobs can be created here in ways that are complicated and not easy to measure.  Many economists believe a liberal approach to free trade usually results in a net plus.  However, when our domestic labor unions compete with workers in other countries where workers rights are not enforced or don’t exist there is a serious race to the bottom problem.  The subject is too long and complex to debate in this short article, but that complexity too is another example of why passage of this secretly formulated corporate wish list cannot be rushed through without due and proper discussion and airing.

What then might the concerned citizen want to do about the TPP?    Contact your senators and congressmen.  Tell them you are concerned and that, at a minimum, the TPP should not be "Fast Tracked."

Here are sites at which to further educate yourself:
 •        Expose the TPP

 •        Public Citizen’s TPP Trade Watch site

 •        Sierra Club TPP page

 •        Occupy Wall Street TPP page

 •        Citizens Trade Campaign TPP page

 •        Amnesty International TTP information
 •        Public Knowledge TPP page 
 •        Electronic Frontier Foundation TPP webpage and petition
 •        Food and Water Watch TPP page
There is a MoveOn Petition you can sign calling for no "Fast Tracking" of the the TPP:

  •        MoveOn Petition: Congress: Don't renew "fast track" authority

Here is a short, simple video to send around through social media: "Why you should care about the TPP."