Category Archives: Corpocracy

Obama leads global drive to gut the commons


Nations participating in the Trade in Services Agreement. Via Wikipedia.

Nations participating in the Trade in Services Agreement. Via Wikipedia.

Barack Obama isn’t a liberal, isn’t a liberal politician like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called for the creation of public institutions to help lift the nation out of economic misery.

No Barack Obama is a neoliberal, an heir to the tradition embraced as national policy by Bill Clinton, who pushed ruthlessly for elimination of public assistance programs created under Roosevelt and replacing them with privately owned counterparts.

And now the Obama administration is pushing for the end of a host of public institutions on a global scale, with everything from post offices [and the postal banks embraced in some nations], hospitals, and more up for privatization.

And with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, that agenda is certain to roll forward.

What proof do we offer for our claims?

Consider the Trade in Services Agreement [TiSA], now in final stages of negotiations by representatives of 23 nations, including the European Union.

From Vice News:

WikiLeaks has released a thousands of documents that critics of free trade said shows how officials negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, could force privatization on public institutions around the world.

The most surprising revelations in the WikiLeaks documents released this week involve state-owned enterprises, or SOEs — government-owned corporations that often operate like private businesses but pursue public goals, experts said.

The United States Postal Service might be considered a SOE. The service has a monopoly on snail mail. But it also competes against private companies by selling money orders, retail merchandise and express deliveries. When the postal service needs more money, it raises the price of stamps and other products or, when times are desperate, goes hat in hand to Congress.

WikiLeaks and others claim that negotiators from the United States and 22 other countries want to erode SOEs to clear the way for multinational corporations to take over their functions. TiSA would seek to lower trade barriers for finance, telecommunications and other service industries. It would cover around 75 percent of the world’s $44 trillion services market, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Here’s the Wikileaks announcement, and the link to the documents:

WikiLeaks releases new secret documents from the huge Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which is being negotiated by the US, EU and 22 other countries that account for 2/3rds of global GDP.

This release includes a previously unknown annex to the TiSA core chapter on “State Owned Enterprises” (SOEs), which imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and will force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses. This corporatisation of public services – to nearly the same extent as demanded by the recently signed TPP – is a next step to privatisation of SOEs on the neoliberal agenda behind the “Big Three” (TTIP,TiSA,TPP).

Other documents in todays release cover updated versions of annexes to TiSA core chapters that were published by WikiLeaks in previous releases; these updates show the advances in the confidential negotiations between the TiSA parties on the issues of Domestic Regulation, New Provisions, Transparency, Electronic Commerce, Financial Services, Telecommunication Services, Professional Services and the Movement of Natural Persons. WikiLeaks is also publishing expert analyses on some of these documents.

The annexes on Domestic Regulation, Transparency and New Provisions have further advanced towards the “deregulation” objectives of big corporations entering overseas markets. Local regulations like store size restrictions or hours of operations are considered an obstacle to achieve “operating efficiencies” of large-scale retailing, disregarding their public benefit that foster livable neighbors and reasonable hours of work for employees. The TiSA provisions in their current form will establish a wide range of new grounds for domestic regulations to be challenged by corporations – even those without a local presence in that country.

Wikileaks offers a sobering analysis

Along with the documents Wikileaks posted are analyses of each of the documents. Professor Jane Kelsey, of University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law provided the analysis on State Owned Enterprises [SOEs] provisions, and the document is sobering:

On 6 October 2015 the US proposed an Annex on SOEs for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) – two days after the 12 parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), including the US, concluded their negotiations. The TPPA contains a unique Chapter 17 that imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and gives the parties to the TPPA rights to demand information on other parties’ SOEs and to challenge aspects of their operations.

When the TPPA negotiations began in 2010 the US made it clear that it required a chapter on SOEs. The goal was always to create precedent-setting rules that could target China, although the US also had other countries’ SOEs in its sights – the state-managed Vietnamese economy, various countries’ sovereign wealth funds, and once Japan joined, Japan Post’s banking, insurance and delivery services. All the other countries were reluctant to concede the need for such a chapter and the talks went around in circles for several years. Eventually the US had its way.

The US proposal for TISA adopts and adapts key parts of the TPPA chapter that force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses. The most extreme, complicated and potentially unworkable provisions in the TPPA relating to state support are not included – yet. But there is an extraordinary power for a single TISA party to require the development of those rules if another TISA country, or a country seeking to join TISA, has too many large SOEs. China is the real target of the US’s ‘disciplines’ on SOEs in both TISA and the TPPA, along with any other countries that have a strong presence of state companies in their economy. As President Obama said of the TPPA in October 2015, these agreements are about the US making the rules for the global economy in the 21st century, not China, in ways that ‘reflect America’s values.’

Included in the analysis was this summary:

A snapshot of the TISA annex

  • The TISA Annex is modelled on the US-driven chapter on State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), concluded on 4 October 2015.
  • An SOE must operate like a private business, using purely commercial considerations when it buys and sells services or when it buys goods if it is a services SOE.
  • The SOE doesn’t have to apply purely commercial considerations where it has a public mandate to deliver a service, but it still can’t give preferences to local services and suppliers.
  • Any administrative body that regulates an SOE must exercise its regulatory discretion impartially in relation to all the entities it regulates.
  • If one TISA party thinks that 30 of the largest 100 companies in another TISA member is an SOE, or its SOEs contribute 30% of that country’s overall GDP, it can demand the TISA parties develop further rules that ‘aim to ensure’ it does not provide ‘non-commercial assistance’ (financial support or through goods and services) that cause ‘adverse effects’ to ‘another Party’s interests’. That rule would not apply to domestic services supplied by an SOE, but would apply to its activities that provide services across the border, which are commonly intertwined.
  • The same obligation would be triggered if a country with that proportion of SOEs (such as China or India) wanted to join TISA.
  • In addition to the general transparency obligations in TISA a government must provide specific information requested about a SOE (although this does not go as far as the requirements in TPPA).

Cui bono? Who are the beneficiaries?

Hint: It’s ain’t the workers and it isn’t the poor.

Among the avid supporters of TiSA is an outfit called the Coalition of Service Industries [CSI]. Here’s how they describe TiSA:

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) is the most promising opportunity in two decades to improve and expand trade in services. Initiated by the United States and Australia, the TISA is currently being negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland with 50 participants that represent 70 percent of the world’s trade in services.

As of July 2015, participants in the TISA include Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union*, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States.

The last major services agreement, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) was established by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Since then, the world has evolved dramatically from the result of technological advances, changing business practices, and deeper global integration. The TISA can establish new market access commitments and universal rules that reflect 21st century trade.

And what is the Coalition of Service Industries?

Click on their Members page and here’s what you discover:

BLOG CSI

Map of the day: China invests in Cal, 2000-2015


Invests are mapped by Congressional district:

Investments are mapped by Congressional district

From New Neighbors 2016: Chinese Investment in the US by Congressional District, a report from the Rhodium Group and the National Committee on US-China Relations, which notes that:

California is the number one destination for Chinese investment in the US, with aggregate investment of $8 billion since 2000. The state has 452 Chinese establishments that provide more than 9,500 local jobs. These are concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area and greater Los Angeles, spread across a wide range of industries but with a particular focus on high-tech and real estate.

The Empire Files: A call for a new political force


In 2013 Kshama Sawant became the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council, winning reelection two years later.

And as the presidential election draws ever nearer and Hillary Clinton’s grasp on the nomination grows tighter, Sawant staked out her position in an essay for Jacobin posted Tuesday:

The racist, right-wing ideas given new life through Donald Trump’s campaign represent a serious threat to social progress in America. But the mainstream liberal strategy to stop Trump by rallying behind Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street–sponsored candidacy is only throwing fuel on the right-populist fire.

Despite Trump’s dubious distinction as the most unpopular major party nominee in history, Clinton’s neoliberal record has helped make her the second-most unpopular (likely) nominee ever — and polls show her lead over Trump narrowing.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders consistently polls extremely well against Trump. Why, then, has the Democratic establishment so fiercely and undemocratically backed Clinton if their goal is to defeat Trump?

In this era of global capitalist crisis, rising inequality, and naked corporate corruption, we can only undercut right-wing populism by building solidarity around an unambiguously pro-worker, anti-establishment movement.

Sawant, who holds a doctorate in economics, actively supports the movement calling on Bernie Sanders to run as an independent candidate should Clinton in the Democratic Party nomination [see their petition here], and in this, the latest edition of The Empire Files, host Abby Martin sits down with Sawant to discuss the petition and the need to forge an ongoing alliance to the two-party duopoly.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Fighting Hillary is How Progressives Win — Kshama Sawant

Program notes:

As the flailing Hillary Clinton camp steps-up its attacks on Bernie Sanders, her poll numbers continue to drop—and for the first time, have her losing to Donald Trump in a general election.

On the cusp of the Democratic Party Convention, millions of Sanders’ supporters are wondering what to do other than vote for a ‘lesser of two evils.’

To gain some insight, Abby Martin interviews Kshama Sawant, an open socialist who just won re-election to Seattle’s city council—who also ran an insurgent campaign against the party establishment—about her advice to the Sanders’ movement, and how struggles like the Fight for 15 can keep advancing regardless of the presidency.

Headline of the day II: Pharma Bro takes a stand


From the Independent:

Martin Shkreli supports Donald Trump: ‘Most-hated man in the world’ announces his support for Republican nominee

Shkreli is best known for hiking the price of an AIDS drug by more than 5,000 per cent

Spooky news: Here’s lookin’ at you kid


Two items of note in the world of spooky panoptical perception, including a nasty bit of corporate spyware that targets your kids.

First, from the Intercept, news of a bill that would give the FBI the right to look at your email data and more, all without a warrant or even eventual disclosure to the target of their snooping:

A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs—most commonly information about the name, address, and call information associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of its provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

And then there’s this, a little corporate cyber-pedophilia — except this time it isn’t your child’s body they’re lusting for, but her thoughts.

From the Guardian:

In a promotional video for Amazon’s Echo virtual assistant device, a young girl no older than 12 asks excitedly: “Is it for me?”. The voice-controlled speaker can search the web for information, answer questions and even tell kids’ jokes. “It’s for everyone,” enthuses her on-screen dad.

Except that it isn’t. An investigation by the Guardian has found that despite Amazon marketing the Echo to families with young children, the device is likely to contravene the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), set up to regulate the collection and use of personal information from anyone younger than 13.

Along with Google, Apple and others promoting voice-activated artificial intelligence systems to young children, the company could now face multimillion-dollar fines.

“This is part of the initial wave of marketing to children using the internet of things,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group that helped write the law. “It is exactly why the law was enacted in the first place, to protect young people from pervasive data collection.”

Massive protests over labor law sweep France


We begin with a video report from euronews:

France: Strike raises stakes in showdown over labour reforms

Program notes:

With pumps at more than 4,000 petrol stations in France now partially or fully dry, the showdown between the government and the hardline CGT union over contested labour reforms intensified on Thursday.

Nationwide blockades and rallies, travel disruption and a strike at the country’s nuclear power plants are putting more pressure on Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls who insists the law won’t be withdrawn.

From Sputnik, raw footage of confrontations today in Paris between activists and police:

French Protest Against Labor Reform

Program notes:

France’s trade unions took to the streets of Paris once again to voice their opposition to French labor reform. Almost 19,000 French nationals have participated in a nationwide rally in Paris. The protest turned violent as police clashed with mask-wearing young demonstrators.

The reason for the massive action is a set of labor “reforms” imposed by the socialist-in-name-only government of French President François Hollande

BBC News summarizes the main point of the government’s new rules:

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

The Deutsche Presse-Agentur covers the government’s response to the strike:

[Prime Minister Manuel] Valls said there could be some changes to labour legislation, which is aimed at easing employment regulations on issues such as dismissal practices and negotiating rules. But he rejected the possibility of entirely withdrawing the reforms as national strikes drew out fuel blockages and disrupted traffic across France.

“I am always open when some aspect should be improved, but on the main lines of the text, particularly article 2, there is no question of touching it,” said Valls on broadcaster BFM-TV. “We cannot cede to a desire to make the government fold by blocking the economy.”

Article 2 of the legislation changes the labour code to give working hours agreements at company-level greater clout than those made by unions at industry-level.

French President Francois Hollande, in Japan for the G7 summit, was quoted by French media voicing his support for Valls’ position.

Members of the umbrella CGT union, one of the seven unions that called for the nationwide strike, have called for a complete withdrawal of the legislation. Secretary General Philippe Martinez called for Hollande to live up to promises he made while a candidate.

From France 24, an interview with a representative of the union organizing the massive job action:

France Labour Law strike chaos: “We want more social rights for the workers”

Program note:

Benjamin Amar, member of the General Confederation of Labour, CGT – Val de Marne, came to the studio to explain his organization reaction while the strikes and demonstrations continue in the country.

Lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Carcinogenic endocrine disruptor in most rivers


We posted a lot about triclosan [previously], a chemical capable of killing bacteria and fungi that’s a primary active ingredient in those “healthy” antibacterial hand soaps, as well as a host of other products.

Besides helping microorganisms evolve to become even more dangerous, the chemical has also been linked to liver cancer, malformation or heart and skeletal musculature, and its a powerful endocrine disruptor.

And now it’s been found in the waters of most of the streams in the United States, leaving scientists to worry about just what long-term effects the ubiquitous chemical might be having, and if it might be working its way into our food through those stream waters used to irrigate crops.

From the American Society of Agronomy:

Most U.S. homes are full of familiar household products with an ingredient that fights bacteria: triclosan. Triclosan seems to be everywhere. When we wash our hands, brush our teeth, or do our laundry, we are likely putting triclosan into our water sources.

Triclosan is in antibacterial soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, toys, and toothpaste. These products can feel comforting to germ-wary consumers. However, these products are only slightly better at removing bacteria than regular soap and water. And in antibacterial soaps, triclosan may not add any benefit to removing bacteria compared to regular soap and water.

The problem with triclosan is that it kills both good and bad bacteria. Studies also show that it contributes to medically necessary antibiotics becoming less effective. Triclosan is also toxic to algae and disrupts hormones in animals. This can hamper normal animal development. The FDA is currently investigating its impact on humans.

Most of the triclosan is removed in waste water treatment plants. However, a U.S. Geological Survey found the antibacterial in nearly 58% of freshwater streams.

“What you use has an impact even though you’re probably not thinking about it,” says Monica Mendez. Mendez is an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Texas A&M International University. She is interested in triclosan-contaminated streams and rivers. These streams often serve as the water source for crops.

“If a river happens to be a source of irrigation, could triclosan possibly get into our food?” Mendez wonders.

Mendez and her colleagues wanted to understand what happens to soils and plants watered with triclosan-contaminated water. They intentionally watered onions, tomatoes, and bare soils with triclosan-contaminated water in a long-term study.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading