Category Archives: Law

Creditors drive Puerto Rico deep into the abyss


It’s an all-too-frequent occurrence, a hallmark of the 21st Century.

Reduced support from neoliberal governments drives regions into debt as they strive to keep their services and citizen support systems afloat, and themn, when deadlines pass, creditors and their accompanying flocks of vulture capitalists swoop in, ready to pick the bones clean.

Bu this time it’s not happening in Greece, Spain, or Italy.

This time its in the U.S., in Puerto Rico, a territory whose residents are full citizens of the U.S.

From teleSUR English:

The humanitarian crisis ravaging Puerto Rico is a result of the “behavior from some creditor groups just as we saw in Argentina and Greece,” Jubilee USA’s Eric LeCompte told teleSUR.

Puerto Rico’s Government skipped a US$422 million debt payment on Monday, with billions more still owed to hedge funds, credit unions and other bondholders.

LeCompte praised this decision in an interview Monday as important for the ordinary people of Puerto Rico as the government made the “significant choice” that “keeping schools and hospitals open” is more important than paying a debt. LeCompte argues this will help the government continue providing essential public services to its citizens, with around 45 percent of the U.S. territory’s population living in poverty.

However, LeCompte fears that “a greater crisis” could hit the island in coming months. On July 1 Puerto Rico faces repayments with the “most challenging creditor groups,” including Goldman Sachs, Oppenheimer and UBS Asset Management, who between them have “about US$10 billion stake in the debt” and believe that they say should be paid off first. “Paid before anyone else is paid, paid before other creditors, before pensions are paid and before teachers are paid,” said LeCompte, who noted that such groups “have the lobyists on Capitol Hill” that regular people do not.

The TTIP pact leaks drop like a digital bombshell


German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TOOIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TPIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The one thing the Internet does extremely well is to provide citizens of the world a first-hand look at documents the powerful try desperately to keep secret, documents we should all known about if we are to make uniformed choices about our lives.

And the latest online bombshell [previously] comes from the Netherlands, it’s subject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — the largest trade agreement in history, negotiated in secret by representatives of corporations, banks, and national and regional governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

From Greenpeace Netherlands:

Today Greenpeace Netherlands releases secret documents of the EU-US TTIP negotiations. On www.ttip-leaks.org the documents will be made available for everyone to read, because democracy needs transparency.

“These documents make clear the scale and scope of the trade citizens of the United States and the European Union are being asked to make in pursuit of corporate profits. It is time for the negotiations to stop, and the debate to begin.

Should we be able to act when we have reasonable grounds to believe our health and wellbeing is at risk, or must we wait until the damage is done?

Were our governments serious in Paris when they said they would do what was necessary to protect the planet, and keep climate change under 1.5 degrees?

Environmental protection should not be seen as a barrier to trade, but as a safeguard for our health, and the health of future generations.

We call on citizens, civil society, politicians and businesses to engage in this debate openly and without fear. We call on the negotiators to release the latest, complete text to facilitate that discussion, and we ask that the negotiations be stopped until these questions, and many more have been answered. Until we can fully engage in a debate about the standards we and our planet need and want” – Sylvia Borren, Executive Director Greenpeace Netherlands.

A report from RT offers some context:

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and Europe is set to create the world’s largest free trade zone, many Europeans worry the agreement would elevate corporate interest above national interest. TTIP opponents say that cheaper goods and services would only hurt the EU and help the US.

Europeans argue that international corporations would be given power at the expensive of small and medium-sized businesses. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations has also come under fierce criticism.

Just a day before Obama’s visit to Germany, thousands of anti-TTIP protesters hit the streets of Hanover.

According to a recent survey conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation, only 17 percent of Germans think the TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. In the United States, only 18 percent of people now support the deal, compared to 53 percent in 2014.

More from Foreign Policy, including the sense of urgency driving the Obama administration in its mania to gut the European regulatory regime:

Less than two weeks after Obama made his pitch to Europe for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, documents leaked by Greenpeace on Monday are giving many European opponents of the deal further ammunition to shoot it down. The secret documents show, among other things, “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, and that the two sides are still at odds over U.S. demands that would require the EU to break environmental protection promises.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” reads an internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and U.S. approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Proponents of the deal, which would cover more than 800 million people, scrambled into damage control mode Monday. “In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a blog post.

>snip<

If the deal gets pushed to the next administration, Obama will be forced to abandon not just TTIP, but likely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive, 12-nation Asia trade deal that covers nearly 40 percent of global GDP. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned the president that there are not enough votes to get it through Congress. Obama wants both deals done before he leaves the Oval Office.

European reservations on the rise

Deutsche Welle’s report on the leak notes Obama’s central role in pushing for the pact:

In April, Obama defended the necessity of the trade deal, which would currently cover roughly one-third of global trade, prior to his arrival in Hanover, where demonstrators called for the negotiations to be suspended.

“There’s still barriers that exist that prevent businesses and individuals that are providing services to each other to be able to do so seamlessly,” Obama told British broadcaster BBC. “The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth.”

However, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who also serves as deputy chancellor, said the trade deal would “fail” if Washington did not offer concessions.

“The Americans want to hold on to their ‘Buy American’ idea. We can’t accept that. They don’t want to open their public tenders to European companies. For me that goes against free trade” Gabriel told German business newspaper “Handelsblatt” recently.” If the Americans stick to this position, we don’t need the free trade treaty. And TTIP will fail.”

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

Headline of the day: Bathroom bigotry bastion


From the Christian Science Monitor:

Welcome to the home of the toughest ‘bathroom bill’ in America

The Oxford, Ala., City Council passed an ordinance that punishes transgender people with up to six months of jail for using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The move draws support – and questions.

Headline of the day: Equal opportunity bigotry


From the Los Angeles Times:

Top L.A. County sheriff’s official resigns over emails mocking Muslims and others

A top Los Angeles County sheriff’s official has resigned amid mounting criticism over emails he sent mocking Muslims, blacks, Latinos, women and others from his work account during his previous job with the Burbank Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department announced Sunday.

Obama demands Europe ease the way for GMOs


The Obama administration maintains the servility expected of both political parties when it comes to running the affairs of state in the singular interests of the corporate bottom line.

In the latest instance of servility, the administration is demanding that the European Union abandon its stricter rules governing GMOs if European car makers want easier access to the American market to be included in the pending Transatlantic trade agreement.

From the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

The United States government is putting more intense and significantly more far-reaching pressure on the European Union than previously thought during the ongoing negotiations to reach an accord on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This has become evident from copies of confidential negotiation documents that have been made available to Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR. The material, consisting of 240 pages, was provided by Greenpeace and will be published this coming Monday. Several people familiar with the negotiations confirm that the documents provided are current.

According to the documents, Washington is threatening to prevent the easing of exports for the European car industry in order to force Europe to buy more U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. government concurrently has criticized the fundamental prevention principal of the EU Consumer Centre which protects 500 million Europeans from consuming genetically modified food and hormone-treated meat. The documents further reveal the fact that the U.S. has blocked the urgent European call to replace the controversial private arbitration tribunals, responsible for corporative lawsuits, with a public State model; instead, Washington has made a suggestion on the matter that had hitherto not been disclosed to the public.

The publication of these TTIP documents provides citizens with an unfiltered insight into the negotiations between the U.S. and Europe. Ever since the start of negotiations three years ago, the public could only try to guess what both sides were discussing, which has prompted millions of people to take to the streets in protest of TTIP. While the EU is making its suggestions publicly available, the U.S. insists on keeping their stances on issues secret. Washington utilizes this tactic to ensure a larger scope for negotiations. The disclosure of these 16 TTIP negotiation papers finally offers a fuller transparency for the 800 million people spread over two continents whose lives will be affected by the biggest bilateral trade agreement in history.

The papers allow for a deep insight into U.S. tactics, such as Washington’s active push to prevent the easing of export regulations of the European car industry, as this sector plays a central role in Europe’s economy. One of the confidential documents demonstrates that the U.S. government “hastened to point out that it would need to consult with its industry regarding some of the products and that progress on motor vehicle-related parts would only be possible if the EU showed progress in the discussion on agricultural tariffs.”

More from a second Süddeutsche Zeitung report, focusing on Washington’s thuggery in demanding Europe abandon the precautionary principle, under which GMOs and other products must be proven safe before they can be approved for human consumption.

Instead, Washington demands Europe apply a fair looser standard:

The confidential papers obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR, which reveal details of the TTIP negotiations, demonstrate that risk evaluation is a central point of contention in these ongoing talks; two very different approaches to this topic being at the heart of the debate. In the U.S., the scientific principle reigns supreme, meaning that a product is considered safe until the opposite can be proven to be true. Europe on the other hand follows the prevention principle which can prompt bans to be passed even if only the slightest hint of possibly detrimental consequences exists.

The documents demonstrate, for the first time, how invested the U.S. is in annulling the prevention principle. The scientific principle is stressed in several places, such as where hygiene regulations are concerned. The U.S. demands that when “undertaking a risk assessment appropriate to the circumstances, each party shall ensure that it takes into account…the relevant available scientific evidence.” The EU does not exactly reject this proposal but insists on “preserving each Party’s right to protect human, animal or plant life and health in its territory and respecting each Party’s regulatory systems, risk assessment, risk management and policy development processes.”

But what exactly is the scientific principle? “It does, initially, sound very sensible but it hides a perfidious concept which is supposed to enable companies to halt any regulatory legislation processes,” says Bärbel Höhn of the Green Party. The impending ban of a product could therefore be prevented, based on the fact that not enough scientific evidence that relates to its potential dangers has yet come to light. In fact, the U.S. feels that there is a need for both “parties…[to] strengthen their cooperation in the field of standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures to reduce and eliminate unnecessary technical barriers to trade.” Translated into plain English this means that bans that are not based on the scientific principle are “unnecessary technical barriers to trade,” and that these need to be reduced and eliminated.

In addition to the demands to grease the skids for GMO exports, Washington is also decreeing that Europe must withdraw its demands that tribunals to decide on corporate litigation alleging damages for restrictions should open to the public.

Instead, Washington wants the tribunal sessions to convene in secret with only the barest results to be made public, a process already implemented in the North American Free trade Agreement, where corporations may allege damages before a secret tribunal.

From Deustche Welle:

The German outlets said the documents disclosed by Greenpeace also showed that the US was blocking an EU demand that arbitration panels to handle corporate lawsuits be public not private as sought by Washington.

Greenpeace trade expert Jürgen Knirsch said what had so far trickled out of the talks had “sounded like a nightmare.”

“Now we know that this could very much become reality,” said Knirsch.

The head of Germany’s consumer advisory bureaus Klaus Müller told the SZ that the texts confirmed “pretty much all of our fears in terms of what the US-Americans want to achieve on the food produce market through TTIP.”

What else to expect from a President who began his political career as the Senator from Monsanto?

Headline of the day II: Panoptical eyes of Texas


From the Intercept:

Texas Prisons Assert Right to Censor Inmates’ Families on Social Media

A new rule in Texas that prohibits prisoners from maintaining a social media presence could infringe on the free speech and expression rights of ordinary citizens who maintain accounts on behalf of incarcerated loved ones.

Netanyahu’s zealotry is derailing German alliance


Guilt for the horrors of the Holocaust have made Germany Israel’s most reliable supporter in Europe, the source of massive financial support and reliable political backing.

But the fanaticism of Israeli Prime Minister and his cynical exploitation of guilt are now threatening an already frayed alliance.

From Der Spiegel:

By now, Angela Merkel is used to it. Whenever she meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the confidential content of their discussion appears in an Israeli newspaper a few days later. But the story that appeared in Israel Hayom, a free, pro-Netanyahu newspaper on Feb. 16 surprised even the German chancellor. “Merkel: This Isn’t the Time for Two States,” was the headline. That was the chancellor’s message to Netanyahu, the paper claimed, during the German-Israeli government consultations that had just taken place in Berlin.Merkel’s advisors were furious. The Israeli premier had apparently twisted her words to such a degree that it seemed as though she were supporting his policies. In fact, though, Merkel had repeatedly made it clear to Netanyahu that she believes the effects of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories are disastrous. The settlement policy, she believes, makes it unlikely that a viable Palestinian state can be established in accordance with plans aimed at a two-state solution. Any other approach, Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are convinced, would ultimately transform Israel into an apartheid regime. Netanyahu, however, has not shown himself to be the least bit impressed by such arguments.

The Israeli prime minister has always been able to depend on Berlin ultimately standing together with Israel and not joining the country’s most vocal critics. But many, particularly in the Berlin Foreign Ministry, have begun wondering if Germany sent the wrong signals in the past. An example that is frequently mentioned is Chancellor Merkel’s speech in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in 2008 when she said that Israeli security is part of Germany’s “raison d’état.”

“The perception has been growing in the German government that Netanyahu is instrumentalizing our friendship,” says Rolf Mützenich, deputy floor leader for the Social Democrats (SPD) in parliament. The SPD is Merkel’s junior coalition partner and Foreign Minister Steinmeier is a leading member of the party. Mützenich says it would be a welcome change if the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery were to rethink the relationship with Israel.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the zealous Netanyahu turned out to be Palestine greatest, albeit unintentional, ally?