Saturday, March 15, 2014

Justice Advocates Challenge Power of Multinational Corporations

March 8, 2014 by Inter Press Service
by Bryant Harris

WASHINGTON - Advocacy and accountability groups are urging the U.S. Congress to enact new mechanisms that would allow it to hold multinational corporations accountable for rights infringements abroad.

At a congressional briefing on Thursday, legal experts and advocates from Amnesty International, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and Earthrights International proposed measures Congress could take to ameliorate corporate abuses abroad.

“International law itself requires a country to provide a remedy to individuals who are harmed by citizens,” ICAR’s Gwynne Skinner, an associate professor of law at Willamette University College of Law, told IPS.

“So we’re failing if we’re not providing any remedies to victims who are hurt by our citizens and of course corporations are citizens now, right?” (Skinner was referring to a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to make unlimited political donations on the grounds that they are eligible for the same constitutional rights as individuals.)

Earthrights International and other legal advocacy groups have partnered to create a report card indexing the track record of each U.S. lawmaker on corporate accountability. Marco Simons, Earthrights International’s legal director, noted Congress’s lacklustre record on the issue.

“Unfortunately, so far the results have not been very pretty,” Simons said. “The average score in the Senate was 26.6 percent and 44.2 percent in the House. Twelve representatives and 45 senators received a score of zero.”

Representatives from Amnesty International called for increased transparency in corporate lobbying efforts.
“We understand that corporate lobbying is necessary, but at the same time there should be more transparency in that process in order to ensure justice.” —Seema Joshi, Amnesty Intl

“We are looking at a proposal to deftly deal with the corporate-government relationship,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s head of business and human rights. “We understand that corporate lobbying is necessary, but at the same time there should be more transparency in that process in order to ensure justice.”


In particular, advocates are calling for reforms to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a unique law that allows foreign nationals to sue human rights abusers in U.S. courts. Last year, the Supreme Court significantly limited the scope of the statute against multinational corporations in a case known as Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

"Shell [a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Petroleum] and other multinational corporations are free to do business in the United States, and free to commit human rights abuses in other countries around the world, and not have any fear that the victims of those abuses would be able to gain access to a U.S. federal court to obtain justice for those abuses,” Simons said.

“This essentially contravenes the fundamental purpose of the Alien Tort Statute – to not provide protection in the United States for those who violate international law.”

In light of the Kiobel ruling, Earthrights and ICAR are calling on Congress to implement legislation that would explicitly allow victims to sue multinational corporations that operate in the United States for human rights abuses abroad, regardless of where in the world they’re based.

On Thursday, the panellists noted the difficulty in pursuing ATS cases against corporations irrespective of the Kiobel ruling, which often prompts plaintiffs to sue in state courts.

In Doe v. Unocal, another ATS case involving corporate complicity in the abuses of a military regime, Earthrights represented a client from Myanmar in the California court system after the case was thrown out of federal courts.

“Unocal and its partners contracted with the Burmese military regime to provide security and other services for their pipeline project,” Simons told IPS. “In the course of providing these services and, unfortunately very predictably, the Burmese soldiers conducted a series of human rights abuses, including widespread forced labour, torture, and killings.”

Another case, Al Shimari v. CACI, dealt with a private military contractor’s alleged use of torture in the interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner. After the federal courts dismissed that case, an appeal was likewise dismissed because of the precedent set by the Kiobel case.

Limited liability

In addition to ATS reform, ICAR’s Skinner proposed altering limited liability rules so parent corporations could be held liable for human rights abuses of smaller companies that they own.

“A parent company can have a wholly owned subsidiary – as shareholders, they own shares of that corporation – and then, of course, have no liability whatsoever except for the investment that they’ve made in that corporation,” Skinner said.

“Today what we see is this becoming a tool for large, transnational businesses to outsource the risk yet get all of the profit. So many very complex corporate organisations exist so that corporations have minimal risk but get these benefits.”

While some have argued that victims of human rights abuses should simply litigate in their own country, the Kiobel and Unocal cases indicate that many of the countries in question directly perpetrate the documented abuses themselves and have a weaker, more corrupt judicial system.

Skinner points to the relative strength of the U.S. judicial system as a reason why corporations are better off litigating in the United States rather than in developing countries.

She cites the lawsuit brought by Ecuadorians against Chevron, the U.S. oil company, for polluting the Lago Agrio region. This week, the judge ruled in favour of Chevron because of allegedly fraudulent evidence used by the prosecution.

“This kind of proves the point that corporations should actually want to be in front of United States courts,” Skinner told IPS.

“If you’re in front of a court in a country that’s not a developed country, you don’t know what you’re going to get. At least in the United States you’re going to get … a pretty fair trial. So isn’t it in a business’s interest to be in front of a U.S. court?”

Why Society Is More Unequal Than Ever

Five years after The Spirit Level, its authors argue that research backs up their views on the iniquity of inequality

by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
A lot has happened in the five years since we published our book, The Spirit Level. New Labour were still perhaps too relaxed about people becoming "filthy rich". And there was an assumption that inequality mattered only if it increased poverty, and that for most people "real" poverty was a thing of the past.

But so much has changed. In the aftermath of the financial crash and the emergence of Occupy, there has been a resurgence of interest in inequality. Around 80% of Britons now think the income gap is too large, and the message has been taken up by world leaders.

According to Barack Obama, income inequality is the "defining challenge of our times", while Pope Francis states that "inequality is the roots of social ills".

The unexpected success of The Spirit Level owes more to luck than judgment. Although serious non-fiction books rarely sell well, for a week or so we even outsold Jeremy Clarkson. We now feel a bit like the dog being wagged by its tail: in the past five years, we've given over 700 seminars and conference lectures. We've talked to academics, religious groups, thinktanks of both right and left, and to international agencies such as the UN, WHO, OECD, EU and ILO.

The truth is that human beings have deep-seated psychological responses to inequality and social hierarchy. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other.

As we looked at the data, it became clear that, as well as health and violence, almost all the problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder are more common in more unequal societies – including mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer wellbeing for children. The effects of inequality are not confined to the poor. A growing body of research shows that inequality damages the social fabric of the whole society. When he found how far up the income scale the health effects of inequality went, Harvard professor Ichiro Kawachi, one of the foremost researchers in this field, described inequality as a social pollutant. The health and social problems we looked at are between twice and 10 times as common in more unequal societies. The differences are so large because inequality affects such a large proportion of the population.

To the political defenders of inequality, the idea that too much inequality was an obstacle to a better society was a monstrous suggestion. They accused us of conjuring up the evidence with smoke and mirrors.
But since our book, research confirming both the basic pattern and the social mechanisms has mushroomed. It's not just rich countries or US states where greater equality is beneficial, it is also important in poorer countries. Even the more equal provinces of China do better than the less equal ones.

Most important has been the rapid accumulation of evidence confirming the psychosocial processes through which inequality gets under the skin. When we were writing, evidence of causality often relied on psychological experiments that showed how extraordinarily sensitive people are to being looked down on and regarded as inferior.

They demonstrated that social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. Almost absent were studies explicitly linking income inequality to these psychological states in whole societies. But new studies have now filled that gap. That inequality damages family life is shown by higher rates of child abuse, and increased status competition is likely to explain the higher rates of bullying confirmed in schools in more unequal countries.
We showed that mental illnesses are more prevalent in more unequal societies: this has now been confirmed by more specific studies of depression and schizophrenia, as well as by evidence that your income ranking is a better predictor of developing illness than your absolute income.

Strengthening community life is hampered by the difficulty of breaking the ice between people, but greater inequality amplifies the impression that some people are worth so much more than others, making us all more anxious about how we are seen and judged. Some are so overcome by lack of confidence that social contact becomes an ordeal. Others try instead to enhance self-presentation and how they appear to others. US data also show that narcissism increased in line with inequality. The economic effects of inequality have also gained more attention. Research has shown that greater inequality leads to shorter spells of economic expansion and more frequent and severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more vulnerable to crisis. The International Monetary Fund suggests that reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be "two sides of the same coin". And development experts point out how inequality compromises poverty reduction.

Lastly, inequality is being taken up as an important environmental issue; because it drives status competition, it intensifies consumerism and adds to personal debt.

In Britain, one of the few signs of real progress are the fairness commissions set up by local government in many cities to recommend ways of reducing inequalities. Partly as a result, many local authorities and companies now pay the living wage. But the coalition government has failed to reverse the continuing tendency for the richest 1% to get richer faster than the rest of society. The Equality Trust calculates that the richest 100 people in Britain now have as much wealth as the poorest 30% of households. The top-to-bottom pay ratios of around 300:1 in the FTSE 100 companies is not diminishing.

It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets. Politicians must recognise that reducing inequality is about improving the psychosocial wellbeing of the whole society.

GMOs: Ban Them or Label Them?

by Ronnie Cummins
'With no real market for GMOs, EU farmers have refused to grow them. EU activists point out that if meat, eggs and dairy products derived from animals fed GMO grains had to be labeled, there would be no GMOs in Europe. Period.' (File)Since the controversial introduction in the mid-nineties of genetically engineered (GE) food and crops, and the subsequent fast-tracking of those crops by the federal government—with no independent safety-testing or labeling required—there has been a lively debate among activists, both inside and outside the U.S., about how to drive these unhealthy and environmentally destructive “Frankenfoods” off the market.

Some campaigners have called for an outright ban of GE crops. In fact, several dozen nations, thousands of local governments in the EU, and six counties in the U.S. (in California, Washington and Hawaii) have created GMO-free zones by passing bans.

Other activists argue that strict mandatory labeling laws, similar to those in the EU, are all we need in order to rid the world of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Activists in this camp point out that very few products in countries that have mandatory GMO labeling laws contain GMOs, because once companies are required to label GMO ingredients, they reformulate their products to be GMO-free, rather than risk rejection by consumers.

Who’s right?

A review of two decades of anti-GMO campaigning in North America and Europe suggests that mandatory labeling and bans, or GMO-free zones, should be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory. And recent news about increased contamination of non-GMO crops by the growing number of USDA-approved GMO crops suggests that if we don’t implement labeling laws and bans sooner rather than later, we may run out of time to preserve organic and non-GMO farmers and their fields.

Bans and Mandatory Labeling Laws: Lessons from the EU

In the EU in the late-1990s, in what was the largest agricultural market in the world, anti-GMO campaigners, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, at first tried to establish a sweeping production and import ban on all GMOs. They were unsuccessful, largely because politicians and bureaucrats argued that an outright ban of GMOs in the EU would violate World Trade Organization agreements and bring on serious economic retaliation from the U.S. government.

Leading consumer, environmental and farm groups pushing for a ban were successful, however, in forcing EU authorities to adopt significant GMO safety-testing regulations.  All GMOs, under EU law, are considered "novel foods" and are subject to extensive, case-by-case, science-based food evaluation by European regulatory officials. These regulations, much to the chagrin of Monsanto and the Gene Giants, have kept most GMOs, with the exception of animal feeds, out of the country.

EU regulations also permit member nations to establish GMO-free zones.  As of 2012 there are 169 regions and 4,713 municipalities that have declared themselves GMO-free zones in the EU. In addition to these GMO-free zones in the EU, at least 26 nations, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico, and Russia have banned GMOs entirely. Significant labeling and safety-testing procedures on GMOs have been put in place in approximately 60 countries.

Mandatory Labeling in the EU: The Crucial Blow to GMOs

Although EU grassroots forces failed to gain a continent-wide ban on the cultivation or import of GMOs, they were successful in pushing authorities to impose mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods, feeds and food ingredients in 1997. This, combined with strict pre-market safety-testing regulations, has marginalized or eliminated GMOs throughout the EU.

EU foods derived from animals raised on GMO feed, however—meat, eggs, and dairy products—do not have to be labeled in the EU. As a consequence, billions of dollars of GMO-tainted animal feeds, including corn, soybeans and canola, continue to be imported every year into the EU from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina. EU activists, in Germany and elsewhere, have now begun campaigning to eliminate this strategic loophole.

As the EU’s GMO food labeling law came into effect in 1997-98, activists switched gears, successfully pressuring many large supermarket chains, including Carrefour, Co-Op, Tesco, Waitrose  and Marks & Spencer, and food manufacturers, including Unilever and NestlĂ©, to pledge to remain GMO-free. Feeling the heat from grassroots campaigners and realizing that mandatory GMO labeling would be the “kiss of death” for their brand-name products and their reputations, every major EU supermarket, food manufacturing and restaurant chain, including U.S.-based multinationals such as General Mills, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart, eliminated GMOs from their supply chains. As a consequence almost no GMO-derived foods, with the exception of meat and animal products, have been sold in EU retail stores or restaurants from 1997 until now.

With no real market for GMOs, EU farmers have refused to grow them. EU activists point out that if meat, eggs and dairy products derived from animals fed GMO grains had to be labeled, there would be no GMOs in Europe. Period.

Frankenfoods Fight Heats Up in the U.S.

In the U.S., the battle against GE foods and crops has been markedly more difficult. Since 1994, government regulatory agencies have refused to require labels on GMOs, or to require independent safety testing beyond the obviously biased research carried out by Monsanto and other genetic engineering companies themselves.

Despite government and industry opposition, and limited funding, a growing number of pro-organic and anti-GMO campaigners carried out a variety of public education, marketplace pressure and boycotts between 1994 and 2012 designed to either ban or label GMOs. Although GMO labeling bills, which according to numerous polls are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, were introduced in Congress over and over again during the past two decades, none have gathered more than nominal support from lawmakers And media coverage, at least until the California GMO labeling ballot initiative in 2012 (Proposition 37) and the Washington State ballot initiative in 2013 (I-522), has been generally sparse, with reporters routinely spouting industry propaganda that GMOs are safe, environmentally sustainable and necessary to feed a growing global population.

But the tide is beginning to turn. More farmers are rejecting GMO seeds, more consumers are demanding non-GMO foods, or at the least, labels on GMO foods. And the media is beginning to give the anti-GMO movement if not its fair share, at least substantially more ink than we’ve seen in decades.

Farmers Sound the Alarm about GMO Contamination

Between 1994-2012, the number of acres in the U.S. planted in GMO crops has grown significantly. Today, 169 million acres—almost half of all cultivated U.S. farmlands—are now growing GMO crops.

But despite the proliferation of GMO crops, we’re now seeing increased demand for non-GMO seeds. This is partly because farmers are growing frustrated with having to buy more and more pesticides and herbicides for GMO crops, as weeds and pests grow increasingly resistant to products like Monsanto’s Roundup.

But it’s also because organic and non-GMO farmers are speaking out about contamination of their crops by nearby GMO crops. Just this week, a new survey published by Food & Water Watch revealed that a third of U.S. organic farmers report problems with contamination from nearby GMO crops, and over half of the farmers surveyed said they’ve had grain shipments rejected because of contamination.

Consumers Demand non-GMO

Increasing demand for non-GMO crops also stems from consumers’ heightened concerns about health, which in turn is increasing demand for non-GMO and organic crops and foods. The turning point in the anti-GMO Movement in the U.S. came in 2012-13 when organic and anti-GE organizations, led by the Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now, Center for Food Safety, Alliance for Natural Health and others, joined by a number of organic and natural health companies including, Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, Natural News, and Nutiva, decided to bypass the federal government and launch high-profile, multi-million dollar state ballot initiative campaigns for mandatory labeling of GMOs in California and Washington State.

Although anti-GMO campaigners narrowly lost 51%-49% in both states, large genetic engineering and food corporations were forced to spend over $70 million ($12 million of which was illegally laundered by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Washington). In addition GMA members, most of whom are high-profile food manufacturers, seriously damaged their brands and reputations by carrying out a misleading, dirty tricks advertising campaign that flooded the airwaves in California and Washington and antagonized millions of consumers—many of whom began boycotting their products and assailing their Facebook pages.

By 2012, thanks to the massive media coverage of the California GMO labeling initiative, organic foods and products reached $35 billion in sales, representing almost 5 percent of all grocery store sales, with non-GMO “natural” food sales reaching another $15 billion.

This growth in sales has not gone unnoticed by food manufacturers and retailers. Although 75-80 percent of all non-organic processed foods contain GMOs, General Mills, Kraft General Foods, Chipotle, Ben and Jerry’s and Whole Foods Market, responding to public concern and marketplace pressure, are now moving to eliminate GMOs from some or all of their brand name products.

Push for GMO Labeling Laws Continues

In the meantime, grassroots activists continue to push for mandatory labeling laws. In 2012-13, they lobbied legislators in 30 states, achieving partial success in Maine and Connecticut. In 2014 Vermont, Oregon and several others states appear poised to pass GMO labeling laws, while voters in five Oregon and California counties will attempt to pass GMO bans.

Frantically trying to head off the inevitable, the GMA and a powerful coalition of genetic engineering, industrial agriculture, restaurant, supermarket and junk food manufacturers have begun lobbying Congress to take away states’ rights to pass laws requiring GMO food labels. The GMA has also lobbied the FDA and Congress to allow the obviously fraudulent, though routine, industry practice of labeling or marketing GE-tainted foods as “natural.”

At the state level the GE Lobby, Big Food and the Farm Bureau are sponsoring bills to take away the right of counties and municipalities to pass laws banning GMOs or restricting hazardous industrial agriculture practices.

On the international front, genetic engineering, pharmaceutical and Big Food companies are attempting to subvert GMO labels or bans by “fast-tracking,” with no public input or discussion, transnational trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). These so-called Free Trade agreements would allow multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont to sue local, state or even national governments that interfere with their profits, by passing laws regulating or banning GMOs or other controversial agricultural practices.

Although these profoundly pro-corporate and anti-consumer and anti-environmental trade agreements in theory can stop GMO labeling laws and bans from coming into effect, in political terms they are perceived by the majority of the body politic and even many state and local officials as highly authoritarian and anti-democratic. Similarly TPP and TAFTA are correctly perceived by many national political, environmental and labor leaders as undermining national sovereignty, sustainability and economic justice.

Why Both Labeling and Bans Are Necessary

Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products. However as the EU experience shows, labeling must eventually be comprehensive, with a requirement for meat, eggs and dairy products to be labeled if the animals have been fed GMO feed.

But food labeling alone cannot protect the environment, or non-GMO and organic farmers from GE drift and seed contamination. This is why county and regional bans on GMO cultivation and the creation of regional GMO-free zones are important. More than 80 percent of farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch said they were “concerned” about contamination, while 60 percent said they were “very concerned.” Farmers said a lax U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been excessively influenced by the biotech industry.

The Food & Water Watch report comes just as the USDA has extended its public comment period on “coexistence” between GMO and non-GMO agriculture.

In the U.S. the largest food fight in history will soon intensify. Throwing gasoline on the fire, GE companies are arrogantly and foolhardily attempting to introduce genetically engineered fish, apples and “Agent Orange” (2,4 D) herbicide-resistant corn and soy on the market, just at the time when human health and environmental concerns are escalating. These new Frankenfoods and crops will survive in the marketplace only if there are no mandatory labeling laws and no legitimate safety testing.

But this “no labels” scenario is unlikely to continue. State legislative battles in Vermont, Oregon, and other states will likely reach critical mass in 2014, forcing industry and the federal government to finally adopt EU-type regulations and practices on GMOs. Once labeling is in place (including labels on meat, fish dairy, and eggs) genetic engineering companies, led by Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF will have no choice but to abandon GMOs and gene-splicing, in favor of less controversial hybrid seed/cross-breeding practices (which do not require labels) such as “marker assisted breeding.”

If industry and government on the other hand dig in their heels, stomping on consumer, state, municipal and community rights, telling us to “shut up and eat your Frankenfoods,” America’s food revolution may turn into a full-scale rebellion.

America’s organic consumers and natural health advocates invite you to join us in this decisive battle to drive GMOs off the market and make the great transition to healthy and sustainable food and farming. Click here to make a donation to this cause, the Food Fight of Our Lives.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Bringing SOPA to the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Robert Holleyman in the Seat 

The machinery to dominate global intellectual property by American fiat was further tightened by the announcement of Robert Holleyman as deputy US trade representative. President Obama’s announcement is just another reminder what sources of inspiration are governing the drive by Washington to control the downloading and dissemination of information via the Trans-Pacific Partnership. After all, Holleyman was a former lobbyist of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the bill introduced by US Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tx) to gift US law enforcement authorities with the means to combat copyright infringements.

Indeed, Holleyman’s own blurb as an author for The Huffington Post considers him as “one of the 50 most influential people in the intellectual property world”, an individual who “was instrumental in putting into place the global policy framework that today protects software under copyright law.” Such is the nature of mislabelled internationalism – Washington’s policy by another name.

Holleyman has also been heavily involved as a former president of the Business Software Alliance, a body representing the main software vendors including Apple, IBM, and Microsoft. Through the consortium, Holleyman unintentionally put the problems of SOPA, and its sister legislation, PROTECT-IP, in the bright spotlight. He found himself fighting, at least for a time, a losing battle. Protest against them was extensive, with January 18, 2012 featuring the “largest online protest in history”.[1] Congress took heed, shelving the bills. The vendors pondered the next move.

SOPA’s reach would have been global, enabling US law enforcement the means to target websites and individuals outside its jurisdiction. The carceral provisions of the bill were also hefty – five year prison terms for downloading unauthorised content.

It would have also been a rather formidable mechanism to insinuate censorship into the Internet. The legislation would allow the content provider or the US Justice Department to block sites hosting material supposedly in breach of copyright. Having such a provision would effectively overburden internet service providers to err on the side of caution and “over-block”[2] material. If ever you want to enshrine censorship, a fine way of doing so is frightening the hosts into censoring themselves.

The secret negotiations of the TPP have proven to be a feast of select company. The negotiators themselves, such as Stefan Selig[3], nominee for under-secretary for international trade at the Commerce Department, have a direct line to the Bank of America. Selig’s accounts have been inflated to the tune of $9.1 million in bonus pay and $5.1 million in incentive pay. Happy is the bank that can sue for diminished assets and target governments in courts of law.

The clubbable ones are the software demons who have been “cleared” to have briefings, some 700 “stakeholders”. The “cleared advisors”[4] also represent groups such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Entertainment Software Association, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

While the premise of having such vendors involved is ostensibly to protect innovation, the converse is true. The world of innovation does not matter to those who claim they have the ideas and want to protect them at cost. That is a recipe for sloppiness and envy.

The anti-democratic slant in the TPP process has also impressed itself upon observers. The press, and even members of Congress, have been kept at bay. Till parts of the treaty were published by WikiLeaks, elected officials could only view the document on visiting the Trade Representative Office. They would not be able[5] to reproduce or transcribe it.

While SOPA and its twin PIPA were shelved indefinitely, the Obama administration has decided shop in other forums to enforce some of their provisions. One way of doing so is through the faulty premise of free trade, which is simply another way of making some trade freer than others. The American firm features prominently in that guise of freedom.

Aspects of the leaked intellectual property chapter of the TPP so far indicate a model with SOPA trimmings. Provisions, for example, holding ISPs liable for hosting copyright infringement, have been preserved. The life of certain, corporate-owned copyrights will also be extended. In other words, this is SOPA by stealth, a process that “could not [be] achieved through an open democratic process.”[6]

The fact that the Obama administration has also sought to sideline Congress in the debate is indicative of that. As Henry Farrell[7] observed, “The United States appears to be using the non-transparent Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as a deliberate end run around Congress on intellectual property, to achieve a presumably unpopular set of policy goals.” Senate Democrats have been mindful of their shrinking role, and have blocked the president’s attempt to obtain “fast-track authorisation”.

The effect of such authorisation would give the administration scope to limit congressional consultation while using its prerogative powers. Congress would become, in effect, a chamber of marionettes. Appointments such as Holleyman’s show little change of heart away from that policy. The copyright vanguard, along with the dance of secrecy, is digging its heels in.

Notes. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]


The Snowden Testimony

The European Spy Bazaar

If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end.

-Edward Snowden, Testimony, Mar 7, 2014

The case of Edward Snowden is an object study about why whistleblowers have mountains to climb when it comes to revealing abuses within a system. Last Friday1, Snowden detailed a series of answers to submitted questions from the European Parliament outlining what those mountains were.

One particularly troubling one is the pressure exerted by the US intelligence community to spread the web of surveillance through its allies, notably by means of a “European bazaar” of intelligence transfer and sharing. “One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance.” Legal teams at the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ “work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorised by lawmakers.”

Specific examples include pressure on Germany to degrade its G-10 law “to appease the NSA”, the effect of which would diminish civil liberties protected under the Constitution. Agreements are then made with various countries that seemingly protect their citizens while allowing the NSA to spy on others. Just because the NSA promises not to spy on German citizens in Germany does not mean they will not do so from Denmark. The noose is thereby tightened. Each “individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.”

Snowden ventured no less than 10 times2 to make formal complaints about the various government spy programs before releasing information. The National Security Agency disputes3 such efforts claiming that, “after extensive investigation, including interviews with former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Presidential Policy Directive 194, a measure that supposedly grants federal employees scope to question classified programs, did not prove very useful. At a news conference in August, President Obama pointed out that Snowden might well have availed himself of “other avenues”, suggesting that PPD 194 was one.

The directive itself “prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud and abuse” and protects employees serving in the Intelligence community or those “eligible for access to classified information”. As with any of these directives, the measure is designed to avoid any disclosure outside the structured channels advocated by the President, keeping it within the remit of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The impediment to Snowden was one that private contractors with access to government information find – the protective loop is simply not there. Governments can effectively evade the internal restrictions placed on their employees via an outsourcing mechanism. “As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

The intelligence fraternity, like any other bound by oaths, is bound by self-assumptions of archaic loyalty and sinister practice. The very idea that aspects of it might be questioned is highly problematic. Snowden’s descriptions of reactions to his concerns fell into two camps. The first involved “well-meaning but hushed warnings not to ‘rock the boat’.” Remember the fates, he was cautioned, of those other NSA whistleblowers, such as Wiebe, Binney and Drake. “Everyone in the Intelligence Community is aware of what happens to people who report concerns about unlawful but authorised operations.” The second response tended to be the dismissive one – it was someone else’s problem. Besides, complaining about it would not necessarily result in ending the unlawful program while more than likely ending a career.

Snowden’s testimony put more meat on the body of the security states whose complexes he has so spectacularly exposed. It demonstrates the intelligence communities in question are not so much interested to abide by rules than evade them through agreements, forum shopping and outsourcing. They do so, of course, at the behest of their executives and not-so-bright parliamentarians.

While these programs have the effect of chipping away at the corpus of civil liberties, they are fundamentally worthless – “no western government has been able to present evidence showing that such programs are necessary.” People have tended to be saved, as Snowden ventures with the example of the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, not through mass surveillance as good, old fashioned incompetence. Things as they stand are “the inevitable result of subordinating the rights of the voting public to the prerogatives of State Security Bureaus”.


Sunday Talking Heads and a Handbook for Homophobes

No Jobs, No Economy, No Prospects For Life

Over the decades various administrations, seeking to improve their economic record, monkeyed with economic statistics to the point that the statistics are no longer meaningful.  

According to Friday's (March 7) payroll jobs report, the US economy created 175,000 new jobs in February.  If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I'll let you have at a good price. 

Even if 175,000 jobs were created in February--remember now, February was a cold month whose low temperatures are used to explain poor housing and retail sales performance, yet somehow created 40,000 more jobs than needed to keep up with population growth--that is an insufficient amount to drop the unemployment rate.

To see how screwed up US economic statistics are, consider the reported unemployment rate (U.3) of 6.7 percent in comparison with the fact that there are about 6 million Americans who have been unable to find a job and are no longer counted as unemployed. These millions of unemployed are not included in the reported rate of unemployment.

John Williams ( reports that the true rate of US unemployment is around 23 percent.  

Rather than examine the issue, the presstitute financial media trumpets the government's propaganda. In America there is no more of a financial media, except for Pam Martens and Nomi Prins, than a print and TV media.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that there are 1,360,000 unemployed men and women under 25, 2,8000,000 unemployed men and women aged 25-54, and 1,640,000 unemployed men and women 55 and over who are not counted as unemployed, because they have been unable to find a job after searching a long time and have given up looking.

Just as "your" government and "your" prostitute media lie to you about Ukraine, Putin, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, NSA, spying, torture, 9/11, Obamacare, and literally everything under the sun, "your" government lies to you about the economy and hides from you the perilous state of your economic existence.  If you are not among the One Percent, you have no future in America.

Let us have a look at the 175,000 claimed jobs. Are these the promised high-paying jobs of the "New Economy" that Washington and its economists pimps guaranteed us would take the place of the offshored manufacturing and tradable professional service jobs?

Afraid not.  In the many years that I have been observing the monthly payroll jobs reports and the BLS's future jobs projections, I have never seen even one of the "New Economy" jobs.  They simply do not exist.  Yet, the economics profession, an extremely deluded collection of morons, still believes in these jobs.

Again--how many times have I reported this same result--here are the jobs of the "New Economy":   

Of the 175,000 jobs claimed, 13,000 are taxpayer-supported government jobs.

Of the 162,000 private sector jobs claimed, a mere 22,000 or 13.6% are goods producing jobs or which 15,000 or 68% are in construction  The other 140,000 are service jobs.

Are these service jobs the promised high-pay "New Economy" jobs?  No, but judge for yourself.  14,800 are jobs in wholesale trade. Food and beverage stores accounted for 12,000 new jobs. The Federal Reserve accounted for 7,800 jobs in order to continue rigging every financial market, thus replacing capitalism with Federal Reserve Central Planning.

Accounting and bookkeeping services (it is tax time) gave the economy a short-lived 15,700 jobs. There were 24,400 temporary help jobs. The old standby, education and health services, delivered 33,000 jobs. Leisure and hospitality produced 25,000 jobs of which 21,200 are waitresses and bartenders who live on tips.

This has been the jobs profile of the "world's only superpower" for the entirely of the 21st century. Washington, wallowing in its arrogance and hubris, is unconcerned with its economic base. Washington believes its own propaganda about the (non-existent) recovery and America's economic power.