Category Archives: Politics

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?

Scores ‘disappeared’ in Guerrero police action


And it happened in the same Mexican state where the 43 students from the from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College vanished after a similar violent clash with police of the night of 26 September 2014.

From teleSUR English:

Over 200 people were injured and 64 were arrested when Mexican federal police in Guerrero, where the Ayotzinapa tragedy took place, attempted to end a protest.

The dangerous southern Mexican state of Guerrero has hit the headlines once again as at least 100 people were apparently forcibly disappeared by federal police who violently evacuated hundreds of union protesters that blocked a main highway and various streets in the capital Chilpancingo, various local news outlets reported Friday.

“We have over 100 people disappeared, including two minor, over 64 people were arrested and more than 200 injured,” said community leader Maria Eugenia Salgado.

The Transport Council Union and the Union of Peoples of the Guerrero Sierra told Proceso that the Federal Police evacuated them violently and added they hold the state Governor Hector Astudillo responsible for the police brutality and the disappearance of their members.

The transportation union members, which include bus and taxi drivers, had completely blocked the main highway, Autopista del Sol which mainly links Acapulco with Mexico City, for over 12 hours until Astudillo ordered the evacuation claiming huge financial losses.

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.

Radio wingnuts face furious financial flameouts


Right wing talk radio is in a serious meltdown, with its two leading names being toward oblivion as their audiences age to the point advertisers are placing their media buys in other markets and stations are turning towards other formats.

From Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

From Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The theocratic Glenn Beck, who left a fat Fox paycheck to launch his own media empire, is fing that the main fuel of The Blaze these days is investor and banker capital.

The Daily Beast reports:

The axe fell once again on Glenn Beck’s crumbling media empire Thursday as employees in the New York and Washington offices of The Blaze, Beck’s multi-media online operation, along with business staffers in Los Angeles and the documentary unit in Columbus, Ohio, were told their jobs are on the chopping block, according to multiple sources who spoke The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.

Sources estimated that nearly 40 people are being laid off—including about 20 in New York, a dozen in Washington, five in Ohio and two or three working out of the LA office suite of former Blaze CEO Kraig Kitchin—in order to satisfy the requirements of a multimillion-dollar bank loan taken out recently to keep Beck’s revenue-challenged enterprise running.

Ironically, the mass layoffs are occurring shortly after the company hired CNN alumnus Matt Frucci, former executive producer of the cable network’s New Day morning show, to run The Blaze’s television operation in New York—which apparently will no longer exist.

 New York-based radio and television personality Buck Sexton will remain with Beck’s operation, according to an informed source, although at least some of Sexton’s production staff are losing their jobs.
From Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

From Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And radio’s most famous wingnut, the man who gave us “feminazi,” “gorbasm,” and other bilious neologisms, is also facing tough times, reported Eric Boehlert of Media Matters earlier this month:

For talk radio, there’s probably only one contract that enters that realm of notoriety: Rush Limbaugh’s eight-year, $400-million deal, signed in the summer of 2008 with his longtime radio employer Premiere Radio Networks.

Owned by Clear Channel Communications, which has since changed its name to iHeartRadio, Premiere’s Limbaugh deal instantly dwarfed any payout in AM/FM history. (Only Howard Stern’s contract with Sirius was larger.) The contract, which included a staggering $100 million signing bonus, never panned out as the wheels began to come off Limbaugh’s radio empire.

This year, his contract is up and the timing couldn’t be worse. The talker is facing ratings hurdles, aging demographics, and an advertising community that increasingly views him as toxic, thanks in part to his days-long sexist meltdown over Sandra Fluke in 2012. (He’s also stumbling through the GOP primary season.)

Concurrently, iHeartRadio’s parent company, iHeartMedia, is heading to court, teetering on bankruptcy. The once-dominant radio behemoth is saddled with $20 billion in debt, thanks to a misguided leveraged takeover engineered by Bain Capital in 2008, the same year the radio giant inked its disastrous Limbaugh deal.

Limbaugh’s been plagued of late by those declining numbers, along with dropped stations, and decl9ining interest from other media in covering hsi scurrilous rants.

But there’s still no conspicuous mainstream radio presence from the other end of the political spectrum.

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?

More environmental woes in Latin America


From Brazil, the first our three stories today, starting with an ongoing problem, reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Latin America’s largest country is still losing tropical forests the size of two football fields every minute, despite attempts to tackle illegal logging and improve local land rights, a former head of Brazil’s forestry service has said.

Deforestation rates in Brazil, home to the world’s biggest expanse of tropical forests, slowed significantly between 2004 and 2010, but have picked up again in recent years due to a lack of innovation and government planning, Tasso Azevedo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Preserving forests is a key way to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases and combat climate change, as trees suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Forests are also home to hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihood.

“In some cases, we are walking backwards,” warned Azevedo, citing poor cooperation between competing government departments and civil society in Brazil.

And from Brazil and the Thomson Reuters Foundation again, more devastation, this time human, as activists fighting to preserve lands and forests continue to die at the hands of developers:

Land rights campaigners and environmentalists are facing growing violence and intimidation in Brazil, with at least six activists killed so far this year, a human rights group said.

The killings, tracked between January and February 2016, happened in three largely rural Brazilian states with a history of land conflicts: Rondônia, Maranhão, and Alagoas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported this week.

South America’s largest country has some of the world’s widest inequality in land distribution, according to a U.S. government report, with one percent of the population owning nearly half of the country’s land.

A growing number of activists demanding land reform and rights for indigenous people are facing “an increase in acts of violence, repression and criminalization”, the IACHR, that monitors human rights across the Americas, said in a statement.

And for our third story, we move closer to home, via teleSUR English:

The southern Mexican state of Chiapas has been hard hit by the El Niño climate phenomenon causing such an intensive drought that 13 rivers have been completely dried up, Mexican newspaper Reforma said Friday.

State Director of Civil Protection Luis Manuel Garcia told Reforma that 40 Chiapan municipalities have been affected, of which four are experiencing extreme drought.

“All of the biggest rivers in the coastal area of Chiapas have been practically dried up,” Garcia said.

In light of the extreme circumstances, Garcia said they would send a petition to the federal government requesting that they issue a state of emergency decree for three of Chiapas’ municipalities in order to get financial resources from the National Disaster Fund.

UC Davis chancellor investigated, sent on leave


University of California, Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi [previously], formerly known as the boss of the Pepper-Spraying Cop and the beneficiary of large chunks of cash from corporations publishing textbooks used by her students and operating a for-profit university, is out, at least for now.

The move comes two weeks after the University of California Students Association formally called for her ouster.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Suddenly, however, Katehi was gone — abruptly placed on administrative leave late Wednesday by UC President Janet Napolitano.

Napolitano ordered an outside investigation into “serious questions” over Katehi’s involvement in jobs for family members, possible misuse of student funds and “material misstatements” about her role in the hiring of social media firms to bury negative publicity about a campus police pepper-spraying of peaceful student protesters in 2011. If proven, Napolitano said, the actions may violate university policies on conflicts-of-interest, ethical conduct and use of student fees.

Katehi’s attorney has called the allegations “entirely unjustified,” while the chancellor told faculty members on Wednesday morning that she was “100% committed” to staying at Davis.

On Thursday, the campus was abuzz with a central, perplexing question: How could such a brilliant woman stumble so badly with a string of such questionable decisions?

The latest issues raised follow weeks of controversy over Katehi’s decision to take two paid board positions — one with a textbook publisher, the other with a for-profit firm, DeVry Education Group, which is being investigated by state and local authorities for allegedly deceiving students over job and income prospects.

In addition to her personal profiteering Katehi came to the university with a express agenda: Pull research away from the big questions of general science and refocus on work that could lead to profitable patents.

From Ars gratia artis to Ars gratia emolimentum.

There’s a certain hypocrisy in Napolitano’s action, given that the university system actively hypes its celebrity academics who reap millions from startup companies they found based on work they did on the public payroll.