Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

Corporations shell out $1.2mn in Senate contributions to fast-track TPP

RT | May 28, 2015

Records from the Federal Election Commission show corporations have been donating tens of thousands of dollars to Senate campaign coffers, particularly to lawmakers who were undecided over a controversial trade deal involving Pacific Rim countries.

Using data from the Federal Election Commission, the Guardian studied donations from the corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when debate over the trade deal was ramping up.

What the documents showed was that out of a total of nearly $1.2 million given, an average of $17,000 was donated to each of the 65 “yes” votes. Republicans received an average of $19,000 and Democrats received $9,700.

“It’s a rare thing for members of Congress to go against the money these days,” Mansur Gidfar, spokesman for the anti-corruption group Represent.Us, told the Guardian. “They know exactly which special interests they need to keep happy if they want to fund their re-election campaigns or secure a future job as a lobbyist.”

Fast-tracking the TPP means voting to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate a deal without permitting Congress to amend the final document. The Senate first voted to debate Trade Promotion Authority – the fast-track bill – by a 65-33 margin on May 14. On May 21, lawmakers voted 62-37 to bring the debate on TPA to a close and pass the bill.

Little is known about the specifics of the trade deal. According to a draft document leaked by WikiLeaks, the pact would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia, such as the ability to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state or local – before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Besides the United States, the accord would include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Most business interests support the Pacific Rim deal while labor groups have said it will cost American jobs and suppress wages.

Just two days before the fast-track vote, when Obama’s trade deal lacked a filibuster-proof majority, six out of eight Democrats who were on the fence decided to vote in favor of fast-track. Senators Michael Bennett (Colorado), Patty Murray (Washington) and Ron Wyden (Oregon) all received contributions totaling $105,900 combined. Bennett alone received $53,700.

The other Democrats who voted in favor were Dianne Feinstein (California), Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and Bill Nelson (Florida), though it’s unclear if they received contributions.

“How can we expect politicians who routinely receive campaign money, lucrative job offers, and lavish gifts from special interests to make impartial decisions that directly affect those same special interests?” Gidfar told the Guardian. “As long as this kind of transparently corrupt behavior remains legal, we won’t have a government that truly represents the people.”

In comparison, almost 100 percent of Senate Republicans voted for fast-tracking the TPP, with “no” votes from Louisiana and Alaska. Seven of those Republicans are running for re-election in 2016 and received contributions to their campaigns – Senators Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Roy Blunt (Missouri) John McCain (Arizona), Richard Burr (NC), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Tim Scott (SC).

According to the Federal Election Commission documents, most of the donations came from corporations like Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

Read more: EU drops controls on dangerous chemicals after TTIP pressure from US – report

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

UK creates ‘political & economic reform’ fund for Eastern Europe to contain Russia

RT | March 20, 2015

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced the creation of a money pot specifically designed to aid Eastern European countries in tackling any future ‘aggression’ from Russia.

The “Good Governance Fund is aimed at strengthening democratic institutions in areas that are wary of Russia’s influence. The fund will total £20 million ($30 million, €28 million) in 2015 and 2016.

It is broken down into £5 million for Ukraine, and continuing grants for Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

The announcement comes as leaders of the European Union agreed to extend the economic sanctions currently in place against Russia until the end of 2015, in a move to force Moscow to undertake a full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

The Minsk Agreement was reached in February after lengthy talks, but the truce has remained shaky. There have been reports of continuing skirmishes between Ukrainian forces and rebels.

EU leaders have criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged “web of influence” across Europe after the reunification of Crimea in March 2014.

Earlier this month, the prime minister of Crimea said the former Ukrainian territory had returned to its historical homeland.

Russia has also formed an alliance with Cyprus, after Putin agreed a £1.8 billion loan for the country in return for the use of its docks for Russian military vessels.

Putin further created powerful western European allies following Marine Le Pens visit to Russia in the autumn. Russia has agreed to loan her party, the right-wing Front National, £6.5 million.

The Kremlin’s interests also extend to Greece, where Putin offered support to anti-austerity party Syriza when it campaigned for the country’s withdrawal from NATO two years ago.

When the party came to power in January, the Russian ambassador to Athens was one of the first to visit Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras.

The new fund is based on a Cold War program created by Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

At the time, her “Know-How-Fund” was used to help countries that had recently left the Soviet Union to develop, such as Hungary and Poland.

Russia denies it is providing rebels in Ukraine with arms and assistance.

The conflict has cost over 6,000 lives to date.

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rich get richer from fewer labor unions, study says

RT | February 28, 2015

A study by the International Monetary Fund tracked three decades of income and found that as unionization declined, the wealth of the richest 10 percent in advanced countries showed a continuous increase.

More specifically, the study’s authors found that when researching income levels during the period of 1980-2010, the decline in unionization explained about half of the rise in incomes for the richest 10 percent, and half of the increase in the Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality).

“While some inequality can increase efficiency by strengthening incentives to work and invest, recent research suggests that higher inequality is associated with lower and less sustainable growth in the medium run, even in advanced economies,” argued the paper’s authors, Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron.

The authors said traditional research has argued that the rise of inequality in advanced economies can be attributed to skill-based technology changes – such as new technology displacing workers – and globalization. They found that these developments led to some inequality changes at different rates and magnitudes, but not enough to account for the consistent increase in inequality that was being measured.

Researchers looked for answers in recent studies that made the claim that financial deregulation and lower taxes were another factor – but again, that wasn’t showing the steady increases that researchers were charting.

“…A rising concentration of income at the top of the distribution can reduce a population’s welfare if it allows top earners to manipulate the economic political system in their favor,” they wrote, referring to things such as lower taxes and business subsidies.

They then considered what effect the decline in unionization and a flat-lining minimum wage could have on wealth disparity. Previous research said such things were unlikely to have a direct impact, but that is not what Jaumotte and Buitron found. They took samples of advanced economies between 1980 and 2010 and considered gross income, labor market institutions and controls for globalization, financial liberalization, and common global trends.

“Our results confirm that the decline in unionization is strongly associated with the rise of income shares at the top…about half the increase…in net income is driven by deunionization,” said Jaumotte and Buitron.

Economists argue that stronger unions and higher minimum wages increase unemployment, but there isn’t strong evidence to support the claim. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development only found three studies out of 17 that showed an association between unions and unemployment.

What it did find was that union rules lead to equal pay for workers, and that unionization didn’t maintain wages above “market-clearing” levels and cause unemployment. And unions, by mobilizing workers, encourage policymakers to engage in income redistribution and support for social and labor rights.

In the US, there were 14.5 million union members in 2013, or 11.3 percent of the working population, compared with 17.7 million in 1983. Union members in the private sector have fallen under seven percent, levels not seen since 1932. Internationally, Germany has 18.4 percent of its population in unions, Canada 27.5 percent, and Finland 70 percent.

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

IMF announces new $17.5bn bailout package for Ukraine

RT | February 12, 2015

The International Monetary Fund announced a new $17.5 billion lifeline for Ukraine, which would bring the total bailout package to $40 billion. The new sum would be a four-year program.

Lagarde will propose the $17.5 billion expansion program to the IMF by the end of the month.

“The program is not yet approved by the governing council. I hope to offer it for approval by the end of February,” she said Thursday.

“This new four-year arrangement would support immediate economic stabilization in Ukraine as well as a set of bold policy reforms aimed at restoring robust growth over the medium term and improving living standards for the Ukrainian people,” Lagarde said in a statement.

In return Ukraine will have to present a “program of deep economic reforms,” which includes the whole economy and a plan to transform Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state oil and gas company.

“It’s a large program, it’s a longer-term program than the previous one, which was a traditional SBA [Stand-By Arrangement] for two years,” the IMF chief said.

“It’s ambitious, it’s not without risk, but we believe it is a realistic set of macroeconomic framework, ambitious reforms, but reforms the authorities feel confident they can deliver,” Lagarde said.

IMF head Christine Lagarde didn’t answer the question as to whether the four-year international bailout program for Ukraine included credits from Russia.

“The sum includes funds from the IMF and the EU, and also bilateral and multilateral loans.”

Earlier this month, the US promised Ukraine as much as $2 billion in loan guarantees, while the EU said it would disburse €1.8 billion ($2.1 billion).

Boon to Ukraine’s economy

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk stressed that the new bailout program would open sources for Ukraine to get help from other international organizations and partners, making the total sum thus $25 billion.

He confirmed the commitment to reforms that will stabilize Ukraine’s economy and finance. The country’s game plan includes fighting corruption, settling the energy sector, as well as cutting and optimizing state expenditure and increasing investment to 3 percent of the GDP, Yatsenyuk explained.

“Stabilization of the banking system and the exchange rate are also the goals of the program,” Yatsenyuk said.

“Recovery in confidence in Ukraine through the adoption of the 4–year program will be a major factor in the stabilization of the exchange rate, and an objective and strong banking system of Ukraine that will give the opportunity for Ukraine’s economy to develop,” he added.

Yatsenyuk said the government is also going to provide extensive assistance to low-income households. By the end of the year he expects it to include income indexation linked to the level of price rises. He also said the IMF program will provide $500 million for low-income families to help pay for increased energy bills.

READ MORE: IMF gives green light for $17 bn Ukraine aid package

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 1 Comment

US bans Europol from releasing its own documents to European officials

RT | September 9, 2014

The United States has instructed Europol, the European Union’s police agency, to withhold its own annual internal data-protection review from EU lawmakers because the report was written without the US Treasury Department’s permission.

Europol drafted the data-protection report “without prior written authorisation from the information owner (in this case the Treasury Department),” according to the US, violating “security protocols” that could “undermine the relationship of trust needed to share sensitive information between enforcement agencies.”

The report, drafted by Europol’s Joint Supervisory Body, outlines how data concerning EU citizens and residents is transferred to the US, according to the EUobserver. The document is mainly known to monitor implementation of the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, or TFTP. Basically, the US Treasury Department is quite territorial about how the TFTP is adhering to European data protection compliance.

EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said Europol refused to allow her to see the report based on US demands. O’Reilly then confronted US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner in July. Gardner confirmed the order.

On Thursday, O’Reilly said she sent a letter to the European Parliament asking the body “to consider whether it is acceptable that an agreement with a foreign government should prevent the Ombudsman from doing her job.”

“If the US says ‘No disclosure’ then it won’t be disclosed, which is ridiculous because we are EU citizens, we vote, we pay taxes, we have EU laws, and we decide what happens on this continent. Nobody else,” Dutch MEP liberal Sophie In’t Veld told EUobserver. In’t Veld first requested the report in 2012.

In’t Veld said there is no top-secret information in the report that should be viewed as overly sensitive.

“There is no operational information, there is no intelligence, there is nothing in the document. So you really wonder why it is kept a secret,” she said.

The TFTP has received scrutiny in the last year after documents supplied by former US government contractor Edward Snowden showed mass spying by the US National Security Agency on citizens and officials across the world, including in the EU.

The Snowden leaks showed the NSA had gained a “back door” entrance into the SWIFT servers – SWIFT being a financial-record sharing program, which revealed the banking details of millions of European citizens, despite the fact that access to this financial data was limited by the TFTP.

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wall Street wins again: Bank of America settlement with US government is insufficient, critics say

RT | August 22, 2014

While the US government touted its “record” settlement reached this week with Bank of America for mortgage fraud that helped fuel the 2008 recession, the details of the agreement indicate yet another light punishment for an offending Wall Street titan.

Bank of America agreed to a $16.65 billion settlement with federal authorities for selling toxic mortgages and misleading investors, the US Justice Department announced Thursday.

“This historic resolution – the largest such settlement on record – goes far beyond ‘the cost of doing business,’” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

“Under the terms of this settlement, the bank has agreed to pay $7 billion in relief to struggling homeowners, borrowers, and communities affected by the bank’s conduct. This is appropriate given the size and scope of the wrongdoing at issue,” Holder added.

Yet the $7 billion in “relief” is considered a “soft money” fine, in which the bank will reduce some homeowners’ mortgages. Very few homeowners are eligible for the refinancing pursuant to the settlement, AP reported. Those who are eligible may need to wait years to see any settlement aid, as payouts will be ongoing through 2018.

Those already in the hole following a lost home due to foreclosure or a short sale – when a lender takes less money for a home than what the borrower owes – are unlikely to benefit from the terms of the settlement.

Outside of the $7 billion for consumers, the Bank of America settlement includes a $5 billion cash penalty and $4.6 billion in remediation payments. Large portions of the deal will be eligible to claim as business expenses, allowing the mega bank to treat them as tax write-offs.

The Bank of America settlement includes the appointment of an independent monitor to review the consumer relief portion of the agreement. It is yet to be determined when the monitor will be named.

The deal echoes similar agreements the government reached with other Wall Street players, like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, for crimes committed surrounding the recent economic recession.

JPMorgan Chase came to a $13 billion settlement in November. The $4 billion supposedly offered to homeowner relief has yet to benefit many in need, according to the advocacy group Home Defenders League. Citigroup reached a $7 billion deal with the government.

Critics of these deals have blasted the US government for its ongoing, lax attitude regarding mass crimes committed by powerful banks that, they say, are not adequately punished for wrongdoing.

“[T]he latest round of settlements deals with misconduct that even though the banks are getting off on the cheap again, the underlying abuses don’t strike at the heart of the too big to fail mortgage securitization complex,” said Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism.

“So the [Obama] Administration can feign being a little more bloody-minded. Even so, the greater and greater proportion in recent deals of funny money relative to real dough show that this is simply another variant of an exercise in optics.”

No major bank executive has faced criminal charges following the mortgage crisis. Without significant retribution for banks and executives that knowingly passed off fraudulent mortgages, Wall Street players will continue to act with impunity, argued Dean Baker, economist and director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research.

“Knowingly packaging and selling fraudulent mortgages is fraud. It is a serious crime that could be punished by years in jail,” Baker wrote. “The risk of jail time is likely to discourage bankers from engaging in this sort of behavior.”

William D. Cohan, a former senior mergers and acquisitions banker, wrote in the New York Times that, not only has the government barely punished those on the hook for Wall Street crimes, the Justice Department has also offered “sanitized” versions of events that led up to the crimes in its accounts given to the public following investigations.

“The American people are deprived of knowing precisely how bad things got inside these banks in the years leading up to the financial crisis, and the banks, knowing they will be saved the humiliation caused by the public airing of a trove of emails and documents, will no doubt soon be repeating their callous and indifferent behavior,” Cohan wrote.

Bank of America resisted the settlement at first, claiming nearly all bad mortgage securities under scrutiny came from Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Both firms were purchased by Bank of America amid the 2008 financial crisis.

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled in a separate case that Bank of America was liable for the pre-merger mortgages, issuing a penalty of $1.3 billion. The ruling pushed the bank to agree to the settlement. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Thursday that the deal is “in the best interests of our shareholders and allows us to continue to focus on the future.”

Meanwhile, consumers advocates said the faulty mortgages will continue to haunt homeowners and their own vision of the future.

“It is hard to see how these settlements provide relief commensurate with the harm caused,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, according to AP. “Countless families and communities have been devastated by predatory loans that should not have been made.”

Following the Thursday announcement of the settlement, Bank of America’s stock rose more than 4 percent.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Portugal leaves bailout program with 214bn euro debt, 4% lower GDP

RT | May 17, 2014

Portugal exited its international bailout program on Saturday, regaining its economic sovereignty, which it lost after the European debt crisis. However, the country’s GDP is four percent lower than in 2010, a year before it asked for financial help.

The country will become the second eurozone country to leave the bailout after Ireland. Portugal underwent three years of painful austerity, in order to receive a 78-billion euro loan (106 billion US dollars), to help a nation that was on the verge of bankruptcy.

However, not everything has gone smoothly for Portugal, with the end of the bailout coming at a time when data has shown the country’s economy contracted by 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Overall, the country’s GDP is four percent lower than in 2010, a year before they asked the International Monetary Fund for financial help.

The Iberian country is 214 billion euros in debt (293 billion US dollars), which is the third highest in the eurozone. The Portuguese government has focused on trying to increase exports, but this has been hampered by volatile markets abroad. There have been some positive signs, such as the Portuguese government’s success in reducing unemployment from its peak of 17.5 percent in 2013, to 15.1 percent at present, while borrowing costs are at an eight-year low.

The drop in unemployment has been aided by new rules, which make it much easier for firms to hire and fire workers. Labor costs in Portugal fell by 8 percent to 11.60 euros between 2011 and 2013, according to the EU statistics agency, Eurostat.

Nicholas Spiro, managing director at Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, said: “It is still a job half done. The danger is that the reforms grind to a screeching halt. There is a very high risk that that happens.”

With the bailout, Portugal has also sold assets, raised taxes on everything from wages to diesel cars and reduced budget spending by 12 billion euros since 2010. According to Bloomberg, the government said on January 9 it raised 8.1 billion euros from asset sales, more than the proceeds of about 5 billion euros projected in the bailout program.

Last year, it sold shares in its postal service, CTT-Correios de Portugal SA, in the country’s first initial public offering since 2008, and also sold airport operator ANA-Aeroportos de Portugal SA. Earlier it sold stakes in utility EDP-Energias de Portugal SA and in REN-Redes Energeticas Nacionais SA, Portugal’s power and natural gas grid operator.

Although Berlin and Brussels have hailed Portugal’s clean exit from its EU bailout, it has not been popular at home.

“There is a great need in Brussels and Berlin and other capitals to present Portugal and Ireland as success stories. They will claim that their reforms in Portugal have been a success- well, they haven’t, they have destroyed the society and economy,” Rui Tavares, an independent Portuguese MEP told RT in April.

Portugal’s high unemployment has forced the workforce to look abroad for work opportunities, increasing emigration.

During the past 3 years, the work force has defected for more robust neighboring economies in record numbers. In 2012, this reached a new high of 120,000 émigrés, which was coupled with Portugal’s lowest birth rate.

Another harrowing reality is that while many people are struggling with tough austerity measures, a disproportionate amount of people are getting richer and richer. In Portugal, the top 20 percent make six times more than the bottom 20 percent.

May 17, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

EU-US historic trade deal: ‘Putting the corporation above the nation’

RT | November 11, 2013

The successful adoption of the EU-US trade agreement promises both parties massive gains of up to $159 billion, but the profits could come at the expense of the everyday consumer, who could see the quality of their products diminish as a result.

Over 50 US officials are in Brussels to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which, if signed, will create the world’s largest free-trade area, which has also been dubbed an “economic NATO”. Officials meeting in Brussels this week will hammer out details to reduce trade limiting regulations.

The new round of talks will focus on reducing trade barriers on investment, energy, services, and raw materials, and key agreements will be announced Friday.

‘Non-tariff barriers’ increase the cost of business, whether it’s adjusting the voltage on an electronic device, changing a car’s exhaust system to comply with local environmental regulations or a difference in opinion of which chemicals are “harmful” or “hazardous” in the respective territories.

By limiting health, safety and environmental regulations in order to boost trade, the US and EU are “putting the corporation above the nation,” Glyn Moody, journalist and author, told RT in an on-air interview.

“That’s a very big assumption. People may not want to have their food less safe or environment polluted for the sake of more money,” Moody told RT.

Moody also warns the trade agreement could behoove giant corporations like Monsanto, who could use the new ‘de-regulation’ to sue the EU for billions of dollars if they refuse to import GMO products

The EU says the TTIP could bring annual benefits of $159 billion (€119 billion) to its 28 member states. This breaks down to an extra $730 (€545) in disposable income for a family of four in Europe and an extra $875 (€655) per family in the US, according to a March 2013 study on “Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment”.

There would be fewer constraints and companies will benefit, but “the public will pay in terms of regulation reduced protection and that is never calculated in these trade agreements, it’s always about the bottom lines of the big companies,” Moody said.

The week-long round of negotiations were originally scheduled for October but postponed due to the US government shutdown.

On December 16-20 officials will meet in Washington DC for another round of talks. The first round was held in Washington in July after the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland.

The Perks

The trade flow of goods and services between the two blocs reached about $2.7 billion per day in 2012, according to the US Office of Trade and Commerce. Total trade in 2012 was $647 billion.

The agreement could boost employment on both sides of “the pond”, as increasing exports usually creates more jobs.

The European Commission has brazenly promised the deal could boost gross domestic product in the dilapidated EU by 1 percent.

Auto trade will especially benefit from jettisoning regulations. Turnover between the US and Germany could double if the trade agreement makes more umbrella standards- for example, if  a car is crash-tested in America, it need not be again tested in Europe.

North America is an important destination for Foreign Direct investment, and is home to about one third of European foreign direct investment. Investment activity between the EU and US suffered after the financial crisis in 2008, and both sides will also try to find a balance on trade regulation to save big bucks.

Broken trust

Limited trust over the fall out of the NSA spying scandal may also put a hamper on negotiations between the trade giants.

The feasibility of the deal came under question after  NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information showing the extent of espionage on allies abroad. France announced the wanted to temporarily postpone the talks over snooping, but they proceeded as planned.

The spying row shouldn’t affect US-EU trade talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said as the trade partnership is “really separate from any other issues”. The US hasn’t provided any guarantees it will curb spying on its allies.

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment