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#StopCETA: Thousands protest EU-Canada trade deal in demos across Europe

RT | January 22, 2017

Protesters in more than a dozen European states have taken to the streets in scheduled demonstrations against the yet-to-be-approved CETA trade agreement, charging it will result in the loss of jobs, lower safety standards, and grant freer rein to corporations.

“The people and the planet are not merchandise,” read a banner carried at the front of a column of demonstrators in Madrid.

In Dublin, protesters dressed as politicians from the ruling Fine Gael party handed over a “blank check” to a man dressed as a “corporation,” wearing a skull mask.

A procession of 130 tractors and as many as 18,000 people marched through the heart of Berlin before symbolically handing over a petition at the German agricultural ministry. The demonstration, organized by Germany’s Green Party and environmentally-conscious farmers wasn’t exclusively aimed at CETA, but the treaty received prominent mentions in the list of complaints.

Other notable rallies, documented on social media, were staged in Paris, Madrid and several other Spanish cities, Ourense in Portugal and Brussels.

TTIP, and TiSA, two other unratified pro-free trade treaties were also condemned.

The broad coalition of anti-globalists, environmentalists and labor movements that was behind what they called the Decentralized Day of Action against CETA, which had been negotiated for seven years, prior to being signed last October, outlined three main objections to CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

The first was regulatory harmonization between Canada and the EU which would mean goods are produced to the same standard, and can be easily imported without additional certification.

“With the excuse of improving trade between the countries, regulations designed to protect the environment, workers’ rights, public services and consumer standards, will be reduced to the minimum common denominator,” said StopCETA.net.

The second is the additional legal protection given to foreign investors.

“Multinational corporations will have the right to sue governments if laws or regulations are introduced that cause them loss of profits,” continued the organizers.

And the third argument focused on the secrecy of the treaty, which was negotiated behind closed doors, and which will need to be ratified by the European Parliament this spring, before being approved by the national legislatures of the 28 EU member states.

Proponents of CETA argue that it will boost trade between Canada and Europe by 20 percent, and annually add €12 billion to the EU economy and €8.4 billion to Canada’s economy.

After several decades in which trade barriers were removed by governments with scant consultation with the public, there’s been growing resistance to new agreements from both above and below.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a deal similar to CETA, but involving the much larger US economy, has also been met with fierce public resistance in Europe, and Donald Trump has signaled that dismantling TTIP is one of his priorities as President of the US.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) that plans to open up the service industries of 23 mostly developed countries to foreign companies and individuals, has gone through 21 rounds of negotiations since 2013, with no final document published yet, and no deadline for the end of talks.

January 22, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama on farewell tour says globalization is here to stay

RT | November 17, 2016

US President Barack Obama has strongly defended globalization during his visit to Berlin on his final European tour before leaving office. He will stay in Germany until Friday before heading to Peru for the APEC summit.

In a joint article for business magazine Wirtschaftswoche Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said cooperation was vital in terms of the rapidly growing global economy and “there will not be a return to a world before globalization.”

“Germans and Americans must take the opportunity to shape globalization according to our values and ideas. We are committed to broadening and deepening our cooperation with our businesses and our citizens, indeed the whole of the world community,” they said.

While visiting Athens, Obama acknowledged that globalization had fueled a “sense of injustice” and needed a “course correction” to address growing inequality.

The US and German leaders expressed support for the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU, saying it was a chance to “shape globalization based on our values.”

The strong support of the international trade deal comes as a counterweight to US President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionist stance. Trump has been a critic of global free trade agreements and welcomed Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

TTIP “would help us grow and remain globally competitive for decades to come” and that it would “lift living standards” for both European and US “employers, workers, consumers, and farmers,” the Obama-Merkel article said.

Thousands of Europeans have protested against TTIP since the trade deal was proposed three years ago. They have criticized the treaty for its secretiveness and lack of accountability.

Trump has also opposed the agreement, blaming similar economic pacts like NAFTA for job losses in the US.

TTIP aims to promote trade and multilateral economic growth by creating the world’s largest free trade zone between the United States and the European Union.

READ MORE: Merkel warns Trump against slide into protectionism

November 17, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 1 Comment

Reported Death Of TTIP – An Abhorrent Political Deception

Reported Death Of TTIP Is Nothing More Than Political Deception Tactic

By Graham Vanbergen | TruePublica | September 9, 2016

The global mainstream media have loudly hailed the stunning success of the peoples uprising against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP in the light of its demise. In the last few years protests broke out all over Europe as the unelected bureaucrats steamed ahead with this unpopular trade deal, even after the results of the largest ever consultation study in the EU Commission’s history resulted in a 97% negative response of 150,000 people.

The emerging movement spawned enormous online activism never seen before, culminating in the largest petition in Europe’s history with a staggering collective of over 3.2 million signatures delivered by passionate foot-soldiers right to the epicentre of where the political elite inhabit in the EU. The beating heart of TTIP activism was Berlin, Paris and London. This is not to forget the huge protest effort made by citizens across almost all of the EU’s major cities.

Infographic: Corporate Europe Observatory

Infographic: Corporate Europe Observatory

When preparing for TTIP negotiations, 560 meetings took place between 2012 and 2013. Just 4% were represented by public interest and civil society. Unashamedly, the Commission allowed 92% of all TTIP meetings to be dominated by lobbyists and corporate trade associations  Today, these shadowy agitators amount to over 30,000 grey suits stalking the halls of the Commission HQ in the de facto capital of the European Union in Brussels.

In May of this year Wikileaks confirmed that TTIP amounted to “a huge transfer of power from people to big business.” Greenpeace Netherlands then leaked 248 secret pages of the controversial trade deal between the U.S. and EU, exposing how environmental regulations, climate protections and consumer rights were effectively being “bartered away behind closed doors.” Tensions amongst civil society rose to fever pitch with the devastating news.

Der Spiegel Germany wrote “Protests Threaten Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal” as the leaks became public. With concerted effort activists seemingly brought the trade agreement to the brink of collapse within days. At the same time, Merkel’s grandly staged meeting with US President Barack Obama in Hanover was nothing more than showmanship. It aimed to show the strain of negotiations, as if somehow Germany (and therefore the EU) was going to get a better deal from TTIP and pacify the building rage of her citizens.

As if to rub salt into the wounds a report by TruePublica, published in The European Financial Review confirmed that corruption in the EU trading bloc had now reached 14 per cent of GDP – a staggering €1 trillion. By now 70 per cent of all European citizens believe corruption to be at the heart of their respective governments and the EU Commission itself, and that a corporate coup d’tat is taking the place of democratic principles that Europe fought so hard for over generations.

Then, out of the blue, an unexpected announcement is made last week. The media on all sides of the spectrum is broadly going along with the story that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel have agreed that negotiations between the EU and the US on TTIP, have essentially failed. That’s it – the deal is dead. Hoorah!

The Telegraph – “EU’s TTIP trade deal with the US has collapsed, says Germany”

The Independent – “TTIP negotiations should stop, French government says”

ZeroHedge – “The Americans Give Us Nothing”: France Effectively Kills TTIP’

RT – ‘TTIP negotiations between EU and US have de facto failed’ – German economy minister”

Not so fast. You don’t think that the American’s are going to let the biggest trade deal in human history fail just because 97% of citizens reject it do you? No, France and Germany just need a plan. After Brexit, Britain can stay out of the firing line of the protest movement for a while.

Mass protests in Japan, the second largest economy in the TPP bloc are under pressure by the US to open up its agricultural and automotive sectors.

Mass protests in Japan

So, they looked to Japan. It had the same problem with its version of the trade deal similarly called TPP. Mass protests broke out as the same secret meetings gripped the political foreground. Its Prime Minister “Shinzo Abe, instructed the coalition early in the year not to “forcibly” proceed with the TPP negotiations until after elections, Kyodo News reported. Abe genuinely “feared a voter backlash in the Upper House elections” amid the growing scandal of a 242 page leaked document laying bare the bones of the deal. Having been elected June 11th, Abe now intends to force the deal through “this fall”.

I made enquiries with sources close to the ground on the EU/US TTIP deal along the same lines; was this simply a delaying tactic until after elections in 2017 for France’s Hollande and Germany’s Merkel? The response was not wholly unexpected.

“The seemingly early celebration of the end of TTIP has also surprised us a bit. Despite last week’s statements by the German and French trade ministers and the way these have been portrayed, we are continuing to campaign against the deal.”

In another exchange:

“The declarations of French and German leaders aim to: divert attention away from CETA, reduce the numbers in the streets of Germany on 17th September, put TTIP on hold while elections take place in France, Germany and the USA. The fifteenth round of TTIP negotiations will happen in the first week of October… This has been confirmed by our US friends.”

I then contacted Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). It is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making. They have been exposing the misinformation and propaganda of the EU Commission for years.

The CEO response to my same question was emphatic and quite clear:

“Public opposition to CETA and TTIP has led French and German leaders to please voters with words against TTIP. Unfortunately, the next round of TTIP negotiations is scheduled for early October and no EU leader has publicly said he or she will vote against CETA in the EU Council in October. This is clearly not the end of TTIP and CETA, just the beginning of electoral campaigns in France and Germany.”

Germany and France have taken the same stance as Japan on these trade agreements, they are not dead at all – they are lying.

I then spoke to Peter Koenig, an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also former World Bank staff and worked extensively around the world in the fields of environment and water resources and posed the same question. He said:

“Following a debate on PressTV Edition Française, where I was one of the interviewees, the focus was on the German and French Ministers’ expressed conclusion that TTIP negotiations failed. I wrote an article “The TTIP is Dead”, hoping that spreading of this ‘promise’ by the highest authorities of the two key countries in the EU would make sure among the European populace that any deviation from this ‘promise’ would be perceived as a lie and receive strongest public expressions of protest.”

“In the meantime, it has become clear that the TTIP and TISA ‘deals’ are not at all dead. In fact, shortly after the German and French announcements, Jean-Claude Juncker, the unelected President of the European Commission, declared majestically that for him the negotiations are not dead.”

Koenig continues,

“There are other means to infiltrate the TTIP into the EU, i.e. through CETA and according to Juncker, doesn’t need ratification of each EU members’ parliament. Then there is TISA, the even more secret ‘trade agreement’ between 50 countries around the globe. TISA could easily be used to clandestinely impose TTIP rules on Europe.”

Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now confirmed what Peter Koenig is saying in a Guardian piece “Think TTIP is a threat to democracy? There’s another trade deal that’s already signed

“TTIP is not alone. Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). CETA is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months.

The one positive thing about CETA is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries.

CETA contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.”

What is missing from this statement is that any American corporation headquartered in Canada can sue any nation in the EU via CETA for the same reasons – namely, loss of ‘expected’ profits. They don’t actually have to be Canadian corporations.

As Global Justice also confirms, Canada has itself fought and lost a plentiful and diverse range of legal cases brought by US corporations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) for “outlawing carcinogenic chemicals in petrol, reinvesting in local communities and halting the devastation of quarries.” If TTIP doesn’t bring this horrific erosion of democratic power to the shores of Europe, CETA will. ‘Brexit’ will mean for nothing. It will be sold to the British people as a global trade agreement which will be heralded as a great success and supported by much of the media who themselves have a vested interest in such deals.

In the end, does it matter if it’s called TTIP, CETA, TISA and the like, they are all shadowy unaccountable acronyms designed to enrich the few via extreme neoliberal capitalism under the guise of free trade.

September 11, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post-Brexit, Is the EU Flaunting Its Undemocratic Tendencies?

By Joyce Nelson | CounterPunch | July 6, 2016

Stung by Brexit, the EU bureaucrats seem intent on showing just how undemocratic they can be. Here are two examples just in the last seven days.

The Glyphosate License

On June 24, EU member states again refused (for a third time this year) to approve a renewal of the license for the weed-killer glyphosate manufactured by Monsanto and other corporations involved in GMO crop cultivation. That should have meant that the license would expire by the end of June, and Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate weed-killers would have to be withdrawn from Europe by the end of this year.

Instead, on June 29 the European Commission (EC) decided “unilaterally” to extend the glyphosate license for another 18 months. [1]

The decision “drew heavy criticism from the Greens in the European Parliament, who said the decision showed the Commission’s ‘disdain’ for the opposition by the public and EU governments to the controversial toxic herbicide.” [2] Belgian Green Member of the European Parliament Bart Staes said, “As perhaps the first EU decision after the UK referendum, it shows the [EC] executive is failing to learn the clear lesson that the EU needs to finally start listening to its citizens again.” [3]

Many were simply shocked that an unelected body of bureaucrats would cater so blatantly to the corporate sector’s last-minute lobbying.

The EC claims that, because of member nations’ indecision on the matter, its own decision about glyphosate was based on assessments made by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), prolonging the authorisation until a new scientific review is concluded before the end of 2017, but Greenpeace has called the EFSA study “a whitewash.” [4]

Lawrence Woodward, co-director of Beyond GM, has called the EC’s unilateral decision “reckless.” [5] It comes at the same time that dozens of individuals and organizations have signed an open “Letter from America,” urging European citizens, politicians and regulators to not adopt a “failing agricultural technology” and sharing examples of glyphosate and GMO repercussions across North America. [6]

CETA Ratification

At virtually the same time that the EC made this controversial decision on glyphosate, it made another that is even more undemocratic.

On June 28, a German news agency reported that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EU leaders the Commission is planning to push through a controversial free trade agreement between Canada and the EU – known as CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – without giving national parliaments any say in it. [7] According to the German press, Juncker argued that allowing national parliaments to vote on the agreement would “paralyze the process” and raise questions about the EU’s “credibility.” Juncker claimed that CETA “would fall within the exclusive competence of the EU executive” and therefore doesn’t need to be ratified by national parliaments within the 28-nation bloc, sources in Brussels told the Germany news agency DPA. [8]

Most EU members, however, view CETA as a “mixed” agreement, meaning “that each country would have to push the deal through their parliaments.” [9]

In late June 2016, the EC’s Juncker was reported as saying that he “personally couldn’t care less” whether lawmakers get to vote on CETA. [10]

Millions of Canadians and Europeans have fought against CETA for the past six years. Like the TPP and TTIP, it is a draconian agreement that would hand multinational corporations immense power to overrule elected local governments on numerous fronts. In Canada, CETA was supposed to be voted on by every Canadian provincial and territorial government before any ratification could take place, but in September 2014 (during the reign of Stephen Harper) the CETA deal was signed without there having been any public consultation whatsoever in Canada. The 2014 announcement was also the first time people in Canada and Europe were allowed to see the official text, which had been kept secret during the years of negotiations.

Unfortunately, Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is enthused about what the EU is doing. According to The Globe and Mail newspaper (July 3), “The British vote to exit the European Union has refocused

Europe’s attention on the need to send a message to the world that liberalized trade is the path to greater prosperity, Ms. Freeland said.” [11]

She also explained that once the European Parliament approves CETA, “a great deal of the agreement would come into force immediately, more than 90 per cent,” she said, “those portions deemed to be within the European Union’s jurisdiction, those go into force right away.” [12]

Freeland told The Globe and Mail that concerns about CETA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism – which allows multinational corporations to sue governments over regulations that harm their future profits – had been addressed by a rewrite of the treaty’s investment chapter. [13] But according to Council of Canadians, those changes “actually make [the provisions] worse. The reforms enshrine extra rights for foreign investors that everyone else – including domestic investors – don’t have. They allow foreign corporations to circumvent a country’s own courts, giving them special status to challenge laws that apply equally to everyone through a [private] court system exclusively for their use.” [14]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Europe this week for a NATO summit, and officials “say he will lobby hard for other European leaders not to stand in the way of [CETA’s] ratification.” [15]

The Pushback

Reportedly, the pushback in Europe has been immediate, with Germany and France wanting “their national parliaments to be involved” in CETA ratification. On July 5, Deutsche Welle reported that “Juncker appears to be backtracking,” and would propose at a July 5 EC meeting that CETA would require “both the approval of the European parliament and national legislatures.” [16]

The Globe and Mail reported on July 5 that Juncker’s “new recommendation… could call for applying those EU parts of the treaty while the ratification process [by national legislatures] is under way.” [17] That would mean (as Canada’s Chrystia Freeland had earlier explained) more than 90% of CETA could be approved by the EU as part of its “jurisdiction” and needing no national legislative approvals. Such a process would make a mockery of democratic rights on both sides of the Atlantic.

That appears to be what is happening.

Following the July 5 EC meeting in Strasbourg, France, the CBC reported: “Legal opinions advanced by the commission suggest that most of the agreement – perhaps as much as 95 per cent – falls comfortably with the European Union’s jurisdiction… ‘This is an agreement that Europe needs,’ EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement. ‘The open issue of competence for such trade agreements will be for the European Court of Justice to clarify, in the near future. From a strict legal standpoint, the commission considers this agreement to fall under exclusive EU competence. However, the political situation in the council is clear, and we understand the need for proposing it as a ‘mixed’ agreement, in order to allow for a speedy signature’.” [18]

But as nations gear up to wrangle with the EU (in the European Court of Justice) over what parts of the CETA treaty fall within their jurisdiction, and what parts “fall under exclusive EU competence,” the EC could approve 95% of CETA before elected legislatures even vote.

The Council of Canadians warns on its website (July 5): “One important concern to note, ‘The commission may recommend provisionally applying the EU-parts of the Canada deal while full ratification is pending.’ The French newspaper Le Monde has previously reported that even if CETA is deemed to be a ‘mixed’ agreement, the deal could enter into force ‘provisionally’ even before EU member state parliaments vote on it. It notes, ‘If EU ministers agreed at the signing of the CETA on its provisional application, it could come into effect the following month. Such a decision would have serious implications. Symbolically, first because it would send the message that European governments finally [have] little regard for the views of parliamentarians and thus of European citizens strongly against the agreement’.” [19]

Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow stated after the EC meeting in Strasbourg, “Like many Canadians, Europeans are worried about CETA’s attacks on democracy, its weakening of social and safety standards, its contribution to privatization and attacks on public services. After the Brexit vote, policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic would be better counseled to listen to voters, rather than pushing discredited [trade] solutions down people’s throats.” [20]

Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden has called CETA a “toxic deal” and says that the way the EC is acting “reinforces the widely held suspicion that the EU makes big decisions with harmful consequences for ordinary people with very little in the way of democratic process,” he said. “Rather than take a step back and question why there is hostility to the EU, they try to speed up this awful trade deal.” [21]

Union members, environmentalists, social activists and “fair trade” groups say CETA is just as dangerous as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the EU and the U.S., which hands massive power to multinationals and is a direct threat to democracy on both sides of the Atlantic. The way the EC is handling CETA is a stark clue to what’s in store for TTIP.

Footnotes:
[1] “European Commission Extends Glyphosate License without Real Restrictions,” Sustainable Pulse, June 29, 2016.

[2] Frederic Simon, “EU muddling on glyphosate fuelled Brexit populism,” EurActiv.com, July 1, 2016.

[3] Quoted in ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Katie Pohlman, “Neil Young: Say No to GMOs on ‘Behalf of All Living Things’,” EcoWatch, July 1, 2016.

[6] Quoted in ibid.

[7] “EU Commission Seeks to Push Through Free Trade Agreement with Canada (CETA) without Parliamentary Approval,” Deutsche Welle, June 28, 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Reuters, “EU Commission to opt for simple approval for Canada deal: EU official,” June 28, 2016.

[10] “EU Commission: CETA should be approved by national parliaments,” Deutsche Welle, July 5, 2016.

[11] Robert Fife, “Despite Brexit vote, key EU powers vow to ratify CETA deal,” The Globe and Mail, July 3, 2016.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Council of Canadians, “CETA changes make investor-state provisions worse,” February 3, 2016.

[15] Fife, op cit.

[16] “EU Commission: CETA should be approved by national parliaments,” Deutsche Welle, July 5, 2016.

[17] “EC set to scrap plans to fast-track CETA deal: report,” The Globe and Mail, July 5, 2016.

[18] “Canada gets clarity on how Europe will ratify trade deal,” CBC, July 5, 2016.

[19] Council of Canadians, “CETA to be considered a ‘mixed’ agreement, now more vulnerable to defeat,” July 5, 2016.

[20] Council of Canadians, “CETA vulnerable to defeat: Council of Canadians,” July 5, 2016.

[21] Lamiat Sabin “Brexit ‘Might Not Stop Awful Ceta’,” Morning Star, July 5, 2016.


Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton’s Project For A New American Century

By Dan Wright Dan Wright | ShadowProof | June 9, 2016

Here we go again. Earlier this year, some were surprised to see Project For The New American Century (PNAC) co-founder and longtime DC fixture Robert Kagan endorse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president.

They shouldn’t have been. As is now clear from a policy paper [PDF] published last month, the neoconservatives are going all-in on Hillary Clinton being the best vessel for American power in the years ahead.

The paper, titled “Expanding American Power,” was published by the Center for a New American Security, a Democratic Party-friendly think tank co-founded and led by former Undersecretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy. Flournoy served in the Obama Administration under Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and is widely considered to be the frontrunner for the next secretary of defense, should Hillary Clinton become president.

The introduction to Expanding American Power is written by the aforementioned Robert Kagan and former Clinton Administration State Department official James Rubin. The paper itself was prepared in consultation with various defense and national security intellectuals over the course of six dinners. Among the officials includes those who signed on to PNAC letters calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, such as Elliot Abrams, Robert Zoellick, Craig Kennedy, Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross, and Flournoy herself, who signed on to a PNAC letter in 2005 calling for more ground troops in Iraq.

The substance of the document is about what one would expect from an iteration of PNAC. The paper cites a highly revisionist history of post-World War II American policymaking, complete with a celebration of America’s selfless motives for every action. Left out is any mention of overthrowing democratically elected and popular governments for US business, or the subsequent blowback for such actions in Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

For the neocons and liberal interventionists at the Center for a New American Security, the United States has always acted for the benefit of all.

The paper primarily focuses on the economy and defense budget, and American security interests in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Supporting the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are considered the highest priority, as they will bind the main drivers of the US-led “liberal world order”—the US and Europe—closer together.

According to the paper, “Even in a world of shifting economic and political power, the transatlantic community remains both the foundation and the core of the liberal world order.” In other words, the West must maintain control of the planet, for the good of all, of course.

Part of the European concerns are a rise in nationalist sentiment in eastern Europe and the United Kingdom, for which the paper blames Russia, even bizarrely claiming that Russian funding is the cause of the disunity within the European Union—a claim without foundation, especially in the UK’s case.

The revisionist history continues, as the paper makes an astonishingly absurd claim on the US role in Asia, stating, “U.S. leadership has been indispensable in ensuring a stable balance of power in Asia the past 70 years.” No mention of the calamitous US war in Vietnam or its reciprocal effects in the killing fields of Cambodia. Nor is the US role in the genocide in East Timor dispensed with anywhere.

Then we come to the Middle East, where things really get slippery. The paper breezes past the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a sorry, not sorry statement: “Despite recent American misjudgments and failures in the Middle East, for which all recent administrations, including the present one, bear some responsibility, and despite the apparent intractability of many of the problems in the region, the United States has no choice but to engage itself fully in a determined, multi-year effort to find an acceptable resolution to the many crises tearing the region apart.”

And with that, the paper demands regime change in Syria and that “Any such political solution must include the departure of Bashar al-Assad (but not necessarily all members of the ruling regime), since it is Assad’s brutal repression of Syria’s majority Sunni population that has created both the massive exodus and the increase in support for jihadist groups like ISIS.” Left out is the US role in destabilizing Iraq and arming jihadist rebels in Syria.

The paper goes on to regurgitate alarmingly facile claims about regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia that could have been written by the government of Saudi Arabia itself, such as, “We also reject Iran’s attempt to blame others for regional tensions it is aggravating, as well as its public campaign to demonize the government of Saudi Arabia.” It also states that “the United States must adopt as a matter of policy the goal of defeating Iran’s determined effort to dominate the Greater Middle East.”

If that appears like a commitment to more reckless regime change in the Middle East, that’s because it is.

But the overriding concern of the entire paper, with all its declarations about bipartisanship and universal altruism, is a concern with the American people being increasingly apprehensive towards the empire, and that concern leading to further defense budget cuts and unwillingness to support adventurism abroad.

The authors of the paper hope an improved economy can help change the current situation. “Ensuring that the domestic economy is lifting up the average American is still the best way to ensure support for global engagement and also contribute to a stronger, more influential America,” they write, though they see no end in sight, regardless of public support, claiming, “the task of preserving a world order is both difficult and never-ending.”

That this is what a think tank closely associated with Hillary Clinton is openly claiming should be concerning to all. While such analysis and declarations no doubt please the Center for a New American Security’s defense contractor donors, the American people are less-than-enthused with perpetual war for perpetual peace.

Former Secretary Clinton already affirmed her belief in regime change during the campaign, but now it looks like those waiting in the wings to staff her government are anxious to wet their bayonets.

June 10, 2016 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dangers of Free Trade Agreements: TTIP’s Threat to Europe’s Elderly

Medical+Bill+

By Michael Hudson | CounterPunch | May 11, 2016

The most obvious approach to look at how European care for the elderly will evolve is to project technological trends and the costs of people living longer as diagnostic equipment, drug treatments and other medical science continues to improve. This kind of projection shows a rising cost to society of pensions and health care, because a rising proportion of the aging population is retiring. How will economies pay for it?

I want to point to some special problems that are looming on the political front. I assume that the reason you have invited me from America is that my country has been doing just about everything wrong in its health care. Its experience may provide an object lesson for what Europe should avoid (and indeed, has avoided up to this point).

For starters, privatization is much more expensive than European-style Single Payer public health care. Monopoly prices also are higher. And of course, fraud is a problem.

America’s Obamacare and health insurance laws have been written by political lobbyists for special interests. So has the TTIP: Transatlantische Handelsabwollen. Since George W. Bush, the U.S. Government has been prohibited from bargaining for low bulk prices from the pharmaceutical companies. Most Americans think that Health Management Organizations (HMOs) are rife with corruption and billing fraud. The insurance sector has made a killing by spending a great deal of money on bureaucratic techniques to reject patients who seem likely to require expensive health care. Doctors need to hire specialists working full time just to fill out the paperwork. Error is constant, and any visit to the doctor, even for a simple annual checkup, requires many hours by most patients on the phone with their insurance company to correct over-billing.

The dream of U.S. “free market” lobbyists to shift the costs of health care onto its users instead of as a public program. According to current plans backed both by the Republicans and by much of the Democratic Party leadership, these user costs ideally would be paid by pre-saving in special “health savings” accounts, to be managed by Wall Street banks as a kind of mutual fund (with all the financial risks this entails – the same kind of risks that are troubling most U.S. pension funds today).

The reason why the U.S. discussion of health care for the elderly is so relevant for Europeans is that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that President Barack Obama pushed on German Chancellor Angela Merkel two weeks ago poses a far-reaching threat to European policies.

The agreement has been drawn up in secret, and has only been available to Congressmen in a special room as a read-only copy. Not even Congressional staff have been permitted to see the details. The reason is that the terms of the TTIP are so awful that it could never be approved by voters. That is why the lobbyists for banks, insurance companies, drug companies, oil and gas companies and other special interests that wrote the law are trying to bypass democratic government and are going directly to Brussels – and in the United States to the Executive Branch of government.

The aim of the TTIP is to replace the application of national laws with special courts of referees nominated by the special interests. This includes the organization of health care. Last week Britain’s main labor union, Unite, warned that the TTIP would mean that the National Health Service would have to be wound down and privatized.[1] Although “Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy do have explicit reservations in the TTIP text to protect existing rules relating to healthcare,” the privatization lobbyist strategy is to have the treaty “provisionally applied” to force matters, by backing compliant politicians. Objections will be sidestepped as the “provisional’ law becomes a fait accompli.

I think that the best perspective that I can give you is to discuss how the various interest groups are working to shape political decisions regarding the public and private role of health care. This is an area I have been involved with for forty years. In 1976, I contributed the economic section for two reports by The Futures Group in Glastonbury, Connecticut for the National Science Foundation analyzing the economic and financial consequences of life‑extending technology: When We Live Longer: Prospects for America (with Herb Gurjuoy et al., 1977) and A Technology Assessment of Life-Extending Technologies (Vol. 5: Demography, Economics and Aging, 1977). I believe these were the first reports to pinpoint the implications for the Social Security system of an aging population and its inter-generational financial tensions.

American politicians and economic futurists were concerned with the effect on public health budgets of a rising proportion of the population able to live out the maximum present human lifespan of 125 years (called “squaring” the life expectancy curve). What is the best public response to what should be a dream being realized? More to the point, how should governments cope with special interests seeking merely to profiteer from such breakthroughs – and use their promise in an extortionate manner?

Every interest group has its own perspective. Most politicians in the United States are lawyers, and they worried that the Social Security, pension and health care contracts were a legal right that could not be broken or modified. President Eisenhower had called Social Security the “third rail” of American politics – meaning that any politician or party that sought to downgrade its promises would quickly be voted out of office.

It was obvious that a population living longer would receive more Social Security and pension payments, and that a rising proportion of national income would be spent on their health care. Some of the politicians I talked to were so pessimistic about the costs involved that one said that he was sorry that kidney dialysis procedures had been invented, because with so many people having kidney problems, it would cost a fortune to provide this service to everyone who medically needed it.

Some politicians sought ways to not to fund expensive medical technologies – on the ground that if these were developed, the government might have an obligation to supply the most expensive technologies (especially dialysis and organ transplants) to the population at large. The costs of doing this would absorb nearly all the economic growth.

One set of futures envisioned that the more costly medical treatments might become available only on islands – in the Caribbean, for instance. After all, did not Hippocrates practice on the island of Cos?

As forecast decades ago, health care is the most sharply rising cost in the United States. What none of us were cynical enough to forecast was the corrupt role played by special interests in maximizing the costs by treating each element of health care as a profit center – indeed, as an opportunity to extract monopoly rent.

Privatization of health insurance under Obamacare has been a bonanza for the financial sector and the insurance industry. Initially a Republican “free market” proposal, it required the Democratic Party in power to disable popular pressure for “Medicare for all” in the form of single payer public health care. No discussion within Congress was even permitted to favor public health care. (I was economic advisor to Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, whom the Democratic Party leadership blocked from even discussing a public option in the Congressional debate.)

The enormous power of lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry bought the loyalty of politicians who blocked anti-trust laws from being applied against the drug companies. As I noted earlier, these lobbyists even succeeded in blocking the government from negotiating directly with the drug companies over prices.

I mention these points because the U.S. solution should serve as an object lesson for what European and other countries should avoid in managing their care for the elderly. This is especially important to Europe, because its neoliberal policies favoring the financial sector imply a slow economic crash squeezing household and employer budgets. Five concerns are paramount.

Triage: restricting the most expensive health care only to the wealthy

Lower incomes lead to shorter lifespans as a result of worse health, and also suicides. Marriage and birth rates also are lower as economies polarize and growth slows. Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and other post-Soviet states show this – and it may be a forecast of European experience. This raises the ratio of elderly to working-age populations. A slowly growing labor force must support more and more retirees.

Studies in almost every country have shown that health standards and lifespans are polarizing between wealthy and poor. A recent U.S. study notes: “The life-expectancy gap between rich and poor in the United States is actually accelerating. Since 2001, American men among the nation’s most affluent 5 percent have seen their lifespans increase by more than two years. American women in that bracket have registered an almost three-year extension to their life expectancy. Meanwhile, the poorest five percent of Americans have seen essentially no gains at all.”[2]

This has important implications regarding recent proposals to raise the retirement age at which people can qualify for Social Security. Only the well to do are living longer, not blue-collar labor. Raising the retirement age would deprive the latter of the retirement years that better-paid individuals enjoy as a result of their healthier lives.

I mentioned above one scenario drawn by futurists: that the best medical care might only be available in “medical islands” or their equivalent in the United States, called “Cadillac health insurance plans.”

Blaming the victims for their unhealthy environment as the problem were their “personal responsibility.”

George W. Bush recommended that the poor simply should go to hospital emergency wards when they get sick. This obviously is the most expensive approach. Prevention is by far more economical. But public moves along this line are being fought tooth and nail by the tobacco and soft-drink industries, and other purveyors of bad health.

Better health and longer lifespans are achieved not only by advanced medical technology, but by better public health standards, and personal diets and exercise. The most serious behaviors impairing health and longevity are smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and eating junk foods to the point of obesity. In the United States, childhood diabetes is rising sharply, especially among racial and ethnic minorities, and the poor in general.

An obvious way to keep down health expenditures is to lead a more healthy life. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg sought to ban the sale of large sugar-drink servings. Lawyers for the junk-food industry, supported by fast food restaurants and movie theaters, blocked his initiative. And an even more powerful legal tool to block public health warnings is contained in the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement and its European counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These proposed treaties follow the earlier North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in levying enormous fines on government who warn populations of the dangers of smoking or other unhealthy behavior that is highly profitable to cigarette companies, soft drink “sugar water” makers, and fast food restaurants selling food-like substances that give little nourishment. Under the proposed neoliberal agreement being put in the hands of Brussels politicians by American lobbyists, government warnings of the health hazards of smoking will require these governments to pay the tobacco companies what they would have earned if cigarette sales had not declined as a result of these warnings! Fines already have been levied against Australia for seeking to improve public health by requiring such warnings on cigarette packages. A recent Australian report concludes:

Tobacco policies implemented in the past have been effective at decreasing overall rates of smoking, but new and innovative interventions will be needed in the future to affect change in all populations.

Six chapters were identified with potential to limit governments’ ability to implement tobacco control policies. The key chapters are: investment, particularly the ISDS mechanism; rules related to trademarks in intellectual property, regulatory coherence, cross-border services and technical barriers to trade. … Multiple chapters may also interact with the potential for amplified effects on tobacco control. Various provisions in these parts of the TPP may provide the tobacco industry with greater influence over policymaking and more avenues to contest tobacco control measures, as well as preventing governments from introducing new policies.[3]

Last week the European Court of Justice upheld the 2014 Tobacco Products Directive against challenges from British-American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris. Like similar laws in other countries, the European law called for public warnings on cigarette packs telling smokers that nicotine kills. But the tobacco companies vowed to fight back, and the TTIP is now their major hope.

Dangers of privatization of health law under the TTIP

A recent British article lays out the problem:

A salient goal of TTIP is to shadow the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system (ISDS), an instrument of public international law granting firms the right to raise an action in a tribunal on the basis that a state’s policies have harmed their commercial interests. … The economist Max Otte has called ISDS ‘a complete disempowerment of politics’. The tribunals are confidential, as is usual in arbitration. Negotiations over ISDS within TTIP are also secret, the aim being to get the ink dry on the agreement before it can provoke opposition by being made public. …

As the Economist put it, ‘if you wanted to convince the public that international trade agreements are a way to let multinational companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people, this is what you would do.’[4]

Dangers of financialization

The most efficient way to finance care for the elderly – and pensions – remains pay-as-you-go planning. This is becoming difficult in a neoliberal political environment with shrinking economic growth and consequent demographic shrinkage. The horror story today is a Ukraine-like situation where the labor force has fled, leaving the elderly to be supported without much of a social budget. That is becoming the post-Soviet model, from East Germany to the Baltics.

The American situation is worse, because Social Security, Medicare and pensions are front-loaded by being financialized – paid for in advance. For decades, savings have been set aside in the form of stock and bond purchases. The problem is that when more workers retire than are contributing to the pension plan or similar plans, their prices will decline. This will leave the retirement plan under-funded.

As interest rates have been reduced to nearly zero since 2008 by Quantitative Easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve and now European Central Bank, pension funds and insurance companies have become desperate to meet their statistically required targets. They have turned to gambling on complex financial derivatives – and have lost heavily, because their managers are no match for Wall Street sharpies.

It may be appropriate here to note the monetary madness of the eurozone not having a central bank to monetize budget deficits to spend into the economy to help it grow. That is the proper function of a real central bank, from the Bank of England to the U.S. Federal Reserve System. European voters are being frightened by junk economics claiming that only commercial banks should create money and credit, not central banks. The reality is that central banks can create the money to fund health programs without inflating the economy. What would inflate health care costs, especially proper care for the elderly, would be privatization and a relinquishing of health policy to the large corporations best in a position to profiteer.

Danger of trade agreements raising the cost of drugs and medical technology

The technological medical revolution involves high rent-extracting opportunities, especially in treating the elderly. The Australian study cited above notes the dangers posed by the TPP (and hence also by its European version) to public health expenditure, especially health costs for the elderly. Designed largely to protect “intellectual property rights,” the proposed treaty aims to increase monopolyrent extraction by the pharmaceutical sector.

Provisions proposed for the TPP that have the potential to limit implementation of new food labelling requirements in Australia include the ISDS mechanism; the regulatory coherence chapter and technical barriers to trade chapter. Provisions in these parts of the TPP have the potential to restrict policymakers to regulate using the most effective public health nutrition instruments. For example, the food industry could argue that introduction of mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling would be a technical barrier to trade. Without strong compensatory intervention to improve consumer awareness of the relative healthfulness of foods, it is likely that there will be no change to current high rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome and non-communicable diseases. This would have a negative impact on health, particularly for vulnerable populations.

For starters, the trade agreement limits the ability of public or community pharmacies to bargain for lower drug prices. Also, any attempt at anti-monopoly legislation would require governments to pay the foreign producers or investors as much money as they would have earned if no “interference with markets” (that is, regulation of monopoly prices) had existed. This would sharply increase the cost of healthcare, and “many TPP provisions proposed during the negotiations are likely to be harmful to health.”

There is sufficient evidence which show that increases in the cost of medicines lead to greater patient copayments through the PBS, and that increases in patient copayments lead to lower rates of prescription use. Changes to prescription costs impact particularly on vulnerable populations who have less capacity to accommodate increased out-of-pocket expenses such as women, elderly adults, cultural and linguistic minorities, and low-income populations; people with chronic disease; geographically remote communities; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

Many provisions proposed for the TPP had the potential to increase the cost of medicines. These were identified in leaked drafts of the intellectual property chapter; the healthcare transparency annex; and the investment chapter, which includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. These provisions, if adopted, could be expected to lead to an increase in the costs of managing the PBS by delaying the availability of generic medicines, and constraining the ability of the PBS to contain costs. An increase in the cost of the PBS to government would be likely to lead to higher copayments for patients.

Summary

European sponsors of U.S.-style neoliberalism pose a threat of transforming European politics, and with it the structure of economies and society. Enormous sums of money are being spent on public relations, and to support politicians willing to shepherd corporate monopoly power against that of democratic government and voters. The most serious threat to European health care and care for the aging population in general is pressure from U.S. firms and diplomats to ram through the TTIP.

It is much more than a free trade agreement. Its “investor dispute” mechanism threatens to disenfranchise governments. The intent is to block them from protecting Europe’s economy, population and basic social philosophy that has developed over the past century of social democracy.

That is why so many of us in the United States also are fighting against this agreement. It has been a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign. Republican nominee Donald Trump has affirmed that the public option is by far the most economic. And Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has opposed Hillary Clinton’s support for her patrons on Wall Street and in the pharmaceutical monopolies. I hope that a similar fight will be waged in Europe.

This is the text of Michael Hudson’s speech to SANICADEMIA, May 9, 2016 in Villach, Austria for the 5th International Congress on Geriatrics and Gerontology = 59th Austrian Convention for Hospital Management, “We’re Living Longer: The healthcare challenges for today and tomorrow.”

Notes.

[1] Hazel Sheffield, “TTIP could cause an NHS sell-off and UK Parliament would be powerless to stop it, says leading union,” The Independent, April 29 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/ttip-could-cause-an-nhs-sell-off-and-parliament-would-be-powerless-to-stop-it-says-leading-union-a7006471.html

[2] Sam Pizzigati, “Inequality Kills: Top 1% Lives 15 Years Longer Than the Poorest,” Naked Capitalism, May 3, 2016, originally published at Other Words. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/05/inequality-kills-top-1-lives-15-years-longer-than-the-poorest.html

[3] Katherine Hirono, Fiona Haigh, Deborah Gleeson, Patrick Harris, Anne Marie Thow and Sharon Frie, “Is health impact assessment useful in the context of trade negotiations? A case study of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement,” April 4, 2016. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/4/e010339.full. The report notes: “The final agreement also included an optional tobacco carve-out from ISDS, allowing TPP countries to prevent the use of ISDS to challenge tobacco control measures. Yet even these apparent ‘wins’ have some limitations. Unlike tobacco, the health system, food and alcohol were not carved out from ISDS, leaving these policy areas vulnerable to claims by foreign investors. While various safeguards have been included to try and protect public health, experts have raised doubts about whether they will be sufficient.”

[4] Glen Newey, “Investors v. States,” London Review of Books blog, April 29, 2016. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2016/04/29/glen-newey/investors-v-states/

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Reporters Without Borders – not independent but “strictly linked to US foreign policy”

By Graham Vanbergen | TruePublica | May 4, 2016

Reporters Without Borders has published the latest 2016 report on press freedom where Britain has fallen yet again with the organisation making the following statement about press freedom in Britain:

“Terrorist attacks have led to the adoption of draconian security legislation. The government reacted to the London public transport bombings in 2005 with a Terrorism Act the following year that restricts freedom of expression. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) adopted in 2000 allows the authorities to obtain the phone records of journalists in cases of threats to national security. Worse still, despite a law protecting the confidentiality of sources, the police have since 1984 been able to ask the courts to order media outlets to hand over unpublished journalistic source material “in the interests of justice.”

It is hardly surprising that Britain has fallen 4 places in 2016 behind such countries as; Tonga, Belize, OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States), Samoa, Ghana, Suriname, Namibia, Jamaica, with Burkino Faso and Botswana just behind, given recent legislative actions by the Conservative government since 2010.

The Guardian revealed in January 2015 that the British intelligence agency GCHQ described journalists as a “potential threat to security” and that huge quantities of emails of many journalists were among  interceptions that went as far back as 2008. It was only the result of the Edward Snowden leaks that as many as 70,000 emails from journalists captured by Britain’s surveillance agency became known.

On the 15th October, Gordon Raynor, Chief Reporter at The Telegraph said– “Investigative journalism will be stopped dead in its tracks and local newspapers may be driven out of business when new laws restricting Britain’s free press come into force next month.” He continues – Media organisations face “the most substantial threat to press freedom in the modern era” as a result of the “menacing” laws passed in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry.

An independent report into the implications of the Crime and Courts Act, which came into force on November 3, says that The Telegraph’s landmark investigation into what turned out to be the most explosive political scandal in decades over MPs’ expenses would have been all but impossible under the new regime.

Britain sitting at number 38 flatters reality.

‘Freedom of Press’ is published by the US-based Freedom House, an NGO established in 1941 that has been ranking countries worldwide since 1980 in relation to democracy, human rights and press freedom. In May 2014 it reported that Britain has slipped down the global rankings for freedom of the press to 36th place.

According to Freedom House, “only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press—that is, where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.” Although Britain is ranked as safe in press freedom terms one has to wonder given the very heavy handed behaviour by the government at The Guardian over the Snowden files and state surveillance over journalists more widely.

Meanwhile, without any sense of shame, US President Obama, the leader of the ‘free-world’, having presided over continual declines in press freedom sees the USA drop to a pitiful 41st place has the Whitehouse Briefing Room release the following statement (first paragraph):

“On World Press Freedom Day, we thank the journalists around the world without whom democracy could not flourish and whose courageous work helps hold authorities to account. These are the men and women who work to ensure that debate on public issues can be, in the words of Justice William Brennan, “uninhibited, robust, and wide open.”

One glaring component missing from all these so-called press freedom reports is that the biggest economic trade deals in the history of humanity are due to be signed in 2016 …. in total secrecy. In the EU, the European Commission is making the secret Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal even more secret than any normal person would think possible by the introduction of a new rule last year that means politicians can only view (some selected) TTIP text in a secure ‘reading room’ in Brussels. That is, of course, only after their mobile phones, memo pads, and pens have been taken away and two guards ominously placed in the room to ensure no notes are taken. And even then only after signing confidentiality agreements that threaten prosecutions for any leaks.

In the US, the same ‘reading room’ exists. As The Independent reports:

“In the basement of the US capitol, there is a room, a locked soundproof room, and the only people allowed in this room are US senators, and they can’t bring their assistants, they can’t bring their phones, they can’t even take notes in there. Inside this room is not the codes for our nuclear weapons, it’s not CIA files, it’s not the documents that tell us an alien landed in Roswell. No, in this room is the text of a trade deal (TTIP).”

Press freedom?? This type of secrecy, designed by corporations and the unelected politicians of the EU Commission would have made Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany proud. The EU Commission have now become completely independent of the politicians who represent the 508 million citizens of the 28 nation bloc where millions sign petitions and protest on the streets, get arrested and/or fined in their thousands and yet remain unheard. This is extreme press freedom censorship in every sense of the word. It says something when citizens have to rely on people like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Edward Snowden for any real information on the matter – and both of them are in hiding from British and American police.

And so we come back to RWB who that as it turns out, is financed by none other than the US Congress and by various agencies tied to the US government – who coincidentally are conducting the talks on TTIP.

As GlobalResearch reports: “If we go to the RWB website to find who stands behind these self-anointed judges of world press freedom, we find nothing. Not even their board of directors are named, let alone their financial backers. Their annual published Income and Expenditure statements give no clue who stands behind them financially. RWB’s former Secretary General Robert Menard admitted that the budget for the organization was provided by “US organizations strictly linked with US foreign policy.”

Unfortunately, Reporters Without Borders are pretty much in the same boat as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists amongst many others who have thoroughly important sounding names but in the end prove to be little more than propagandists for their masters.

We asked Reporters Without Borders why there had been no mention of TTIP in any of their reports. At the time of publication, we have received no reply.

May 8, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dutch Set to Deliver Second EU Bombshell Referendum Over TTIP Deal

Sputnik | April 15, 2016

A Dutch petition demanding another referendum – this time on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the European Union and the United State – has gone past the 100,000 mark and is rapidly gaining support.

People in the Netherlands delivered a blow to the European Union last week in a referendum over Ukraine’s accession to the EU, which developed into a vote of confidence in the EU. On a turnout of about 33 percent, 61 percent voted against the Approval Act.

Both petitions use the Dutch system, whereby 300,000 signatures are needed to force a referendum and, although the Ukraine one was started as a joke by a satirical magazine, the TTIP vote could prove more damaging and controversial.

The TTIP negotiations are due to create the biggest trade pact in the world, between the European Union and the United States. However, the talks have been beset by controversy — not least over the massive lobbying by multinational companies and worries that they are likely to be able to sue governments for loss of trade.

Critics of the TTIP deal point to the fact the European food regulations are different from — and some say more stringent than — those in the US.

They also fear strict European environmental regulations will be flouted under the proposed deal, which critics say has been dominated by big business lobbying. Concerns have also been raised that EU regulations in every sector will be rendered powerless, because multinational companies will hold more powers under TTIP.

States Sued

Crucially, at the heart of the TTIP is a controversial proposal for an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which would allow companies to sue governments if their regulations or laws affected their profits. Thus, if a US multinational company lost profits because their product or service was banned by law for health or other reasons, they would be able to sue a government — or the EU — for loss of earnings.

Under ISDS, in April 1997 the Canadian parliament banned the import and transport of MMT, a gasoline additive, over concerns that it poses a significant public health risk. Ethyl Corporation, the additive’s manufacturer, sued the Canadian Government for US$251 million, to cover losses resulting from the “expropriation” of both its MMT production plant and its “good reputation.”

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is currently suing Uruguay and Australia over tobacco packaging and the Dutch insurance company, Achmea, is suing the Slovakia for trying to reverse health privatization.

The Dutch petitioners say:

“Large companies can sue governments in special tribunal. Europe will have to accept the often poorer American standards for consumer protection, social rights and environmental protection. Then we will see the introduction of US legislation in Europe without citizens or parliaments having any say over it.”

April 16, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Five reasons why the TTIP talks are looking a bit wobbly

By Guy Taylor | TruePublica | February 26, 2016

Why TTIP negotiations are looking a bit like it might all fail

The twelfth round of negotiations for TTIP, the biggest trade deal of them all, started this week in Brussels. The impacts of TTIP are disturbing and well documented elsewhere on this site, but we are seeing signs of panic setting in on the pro-TTIP side of the fence. They’re right to panic.

1) TTIP is hugely behind schedule. It should have been signed off by now, and well into the ‘legal scrubbing’ stage where the lawyers tie up the legal loose ends and smooth of the rough edges. These negotiations are not open ended. Every delay, every extra month taken up at this stage is a threat to the entire project. We have the US elections looming, two of the frontrunners are against the new generation trade deals like TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). There is no secret about the desperation of the Obama machine as they try to get the deal done and signed off before he vacates the White House at the end of the year. Obama is due to visit Germany in April to plead with all concerned to get a move on with the project. It is not impossible for the ratification vote in the European parliament to be held in 2019, after the next elections. That would make ratification in Europe very uncertain indeed.

2) There is a huge crisis over the proposals of corporate courts or ‘ISDS’ as it is often known. As the most contentious part of TTIP, it has attracted huge criticism and upset amongst members of the European parliament and in the public domain as well. In 2014, 150,000 responded to a European consultation on the issue and 97% of those responses were very negative. Since then, the trade commissioner in Brussels has dreamt up the Investor Court System as a proposed alternative. It has been made very clear that ICS is not alternative, more a repackaging of the dangerously flawed ISDS. Earlier this month,the largest association of German Judges completely slammed the ICS idea as undemocratic and undermining the sovereignty of domestic courts.  Slowly, our representatives in Brussels are beginning to realise this. We need to keep shouting about this

3) You might have noticed, but there is going to be a referendum on membership of the EU in the UK in June. Everything is up for grabs. If the UK votes to leave the EU, TTIP will probably still apply to us. In the horse-trading and arguments that will rage between now and the day of the vote, there will be concessions and deals struck – maybe, just maybe, TTIP could become a casualty. And in the run up to the referendum, the very idea of Brussels politicians signing off on such a far-reaching corporate power grab is adding a whole lot of fuel to the Brexit fire.

4) Procurement at all levels of government, both sides of the Atlantic is proving to be a sticking point. The EU wants access to state level procurement in the US – that’s a huge market to access. And at country level in the EU there’s an almost equally lucrative market to exploit for US corporations. The trouble is, this isn’t a deal being negotiated at state or nation state level. The US Trade Representative and the DG Trade in Europe are doing their utmost to keep scrutiny and influence at that level to a minimum, but agreeing stuff that is essential to their underlings at local level is part and parcel of TTIP and is inflaming opposition. Local authorities across the EU and in the UK are declaring their opposition to TTIP and CETA. In the States, there’s a similar move afoot. It was recently announced that the EU and USA were going to swap procurement market access offers at the end of this month and then hold a special intercessional meeting to discuss them.

5) And finally, one thing that cannot be ignored, is the growing movement of ordinary people across the EU & the US gaining knowledge and understanding about the deals (despite the best efforts of our governments and media). From the 3.2 million people who signed their opposition in the European Citizens’ Initiative last year, to the trade unions and community organisations saying ‘no’ to the deals, we are building a force that will be hard to resist. We can win this fight if we continue to step up the pressure.

More atglobaljustice.org.uk

February 28, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room

By Katja Kipping | CounterPunch | February 12, 2016

TTIP, the EU-US free trade deal, has secrecy written all over it. Those responsible for it live in dread of any public scrutiny. If it was up to me, I would give everyone who’s interested the chance to make up their own minds on the text of the agreement in its current form. Sigmar Gabriel, Minister for Economic Affairs and a top cheerleader for TTIP, has now set up a reading room in his ministry where since the beginning of February German MPs can each spend two hours looking at those texts on which consensus has already been reached.

A political friend of mine asked me the day before whether she could come with me into the reading room. I had to say no. After a long, tough struggle with the government, at least MPs are able to read the text, but they are the only ones. We are not even allowed to take security-cleared specialists with us into the reading room. As for members of the public, who will ultimately have to bear the brunt of TTIP, they are to have no access whatsoever to the secret text. Not what transparency looks like in my book!

Access ‘granted’

Even the registration procedure for the reading room speaks volumes. Once I’d registered, I was sent the instructions on how to use the room. The first thing that I noticed was that the terms and conditions had already been the subject of negotiations between the European Commission and the USA. Get your head round that: TTIP isn’t even signed yet, and already individual countries have lost the right to decide who gets to read the texts, and on what terms.

The following extract from the rulebook for MPs who, like me, want to use the reading room reveals the attitude towards democracy that lurks behind TTIP: “You recognise and accept that in being granted access to the TTIP texts you are being extended an exceptional degree of trust.”

Now I’d always thought that elected MPs have a right to information. Yet the TTIP negotiators (and who gave them their legitimacy?) reckon they are GRANTING us access out of the goodness of their hearts. Access as a sign of exceptional trust. Whoever wrote that – did they really think that we MPs would feel flattered? To me it smacks more of totalitarianism. ‘Granting access’ and ‘extending trust’ is not the language you use if you really believe in democracy.

Tuesday 2 February was my day. I’d registered for the reading room. A guard took me in through security and asked me to lock away my jacket and my bag. He checked that I wasn’t taking any camera or mobile phone into the reading room, and then knocked on a door. The heightened level of secrecy made me all the more excited as to what I was going to find, but the room itself was nothing special. There were eight computer work stations, and I was only allowed to sit at the one designated for me. A friendly woman sat in the room. She got me to sign the visitor rules – if you don’t sign, you don’t get in, so I signed. There was a thermos of coffee and a plate of biscuits in the corner. Yet no amount of caffeine or blood sugar would have made it possible to get through the 300 or so pages of text in the two hours I had available to me.

Fodder for crafty lawyers

The criticism has often been made that the TTIP texts only exist in English. Not every MP has grown up using English as a second language, and you can just imagine what would happen if US senators were only granted access to the texts in French. So much for equality between negotiating partners. There were dictionaries in the room but no internet access, and thus no way of using any translation apps, which didn’t make the translation of the technical legal wording any easier.

Even those MPs who have no difficulty reading official English texts are faced with a problem: without a legal commentary you are still in the dark as to the potential impacts of many of the terms used. Let me give an example that I expressly did not see in the reading room, but in an insider report coming out of Brussels.

The US side has assured the EU that there will be no restriction on its ability to introduce ‘science-based regulations’ in future. Any unbiased person might conclude from this that it will still be possible to restrict the use of certain types of genetically modified organisms within the EU. But the USA considers large parts of the EU’s food safety regime not to be ‘science-based’, so a resourceful trade barrister could make use of the clause in question to launch a successful lawsuit against those food safety regulations. For us MPs to have a proper understanding of the potential significance of the terms used, we’d need not only to have the full text of TTIP but also to get all the wording checked by international trade lawyers, and these are precisely the people we are not allowed to have in the room with us. In some cases, however, you don’t need that much imagination to work out how a crafty lawyer could make use of the wording – in the interest of big business, of course.

What I DIDN’T read

Given that Sigmar Gabriel claims that TTIP is going to be of particular benefit for small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany, I was naturally curious to read what the documents had to say about them. Now, I am not allowed to tell you anything about the text that I read. But I never signed anything to say that I can’t reveal what I DIDN’T read. So, for the record: I read nothing that even vaguely supported Gabriel’s claim.

Of course, this is no great surprise. A recently leaked Council document made no secret of the main objective of the EU negotiators in the TTIP talks, namely: access to the massive procurement contracts of the USA. The complex tendering processes involved are not the usual stamping ground of small businesses, either here or there.

The two hours I had in the reading room were obviously not enough to read all the documents. Yet afterwards I realised that nothing I had read would make me rethink any of my previous criticisms of TTIP. I read nothing to alleviate my concern that the US side wishes to make life more difficult for public and community enterprises and to secure better terms for transnational corporations in the battle for public tenders. I also read nothing to calm my fears that EU negotiators are prepared to sacrifice our social and environmental standards for the prospect of winning lucrative contracts for big European firms.

I read nothing that would lead me to reconsider my previous criticism that consumer protection plays no part in TTIP other than to proclaim free market competition to be the highest form of consumer protection that exists.

Crawling with typos

I hope I’m not breaking any state secret if I register my amazement that the documents are simply crawling with typos. The word ‘and’ is regularly written ‘andd’ and ‘the’ often appears as ‘teh’. Either the negotiators are really shoddy workers or this is one of those famous security measures we’ve heard about. Just in case anyone manages to get round the camera ban and copies a screenshot of the secret documents, these specially introduced ‘errors’ will enable the authorities to work out who was the source of any leak.

It is revealing in itself that the Ministry for Economic Affairs is prepared to go to such lengths in order to keep the text of TTIP under wraps. And they have every reason for doing so. Anyone who was going into these negotiations to enhance environmental protection, consumer protection and labour standards would have nothing to fear from transparency. Anyone who’s engaged in selling out democracy, on the other hand, is obviously going to want to avoid public scrutiny. If Sigmar Gabriel and the negotiators are really so convinced of the benefits of TTIP, why don’t they just make the text available to everyone online?

February 14, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Brookings Wants to Strengthen the Syrian Rebels by Bombing Hezbollah

By Steven MacMillan – New Eastern Outlook – 24.10.2015

Western think tanks have been working relentlessly to try and counter Russia’s geopolitical masterstroke in Syria, which has clearly taken most strategists in the West by complete surprise. Reading through the analysis by these think tanks on Russia’s role in Syria, one is starkly reminded of how immoral Western foreign policy actually is, when you remember that these organisations are freaking out because Russia is bombing terrorists! Obviously, the reason why they are so distraught is because Russia is bombing the West’s terrorists, which they have been using as proxy armies to try and force regime change in Damascus (a strategy that has completely failed).

Potential countermeasures are the subject of a recent article for the Brookings Institution written by Pavel K. Baev, a nonresident senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings, titled: Russia’s Syrian entanglement: Can the West sit back and watch? Baev suggests that “the decision to withdraw the batteries of Patriot surface-to-air missiles [from Turkey] must be cancelled”,before arguing that the US and its allies could bomb “Hezbollah bands around Damascus”:

“Finally, the United States and its allies could deliver a series of airstrikes on the Hezbollah bands around Damascus. That would be less confrontational vis-à-vis Russia than hitting Assad’s forces. Hezbollah has already suffered losses in the Syrian war and is not particularly motivated to stand with Assad to the bitter end, away from [its] own home-ground in Lebanon. (Israel would appreciate such punishment, too.)”

Striking Hezbollah may not have the desired effect Baev seems to envisage however, as this belligerent action is as likely to galvanize the group and ensure it will fight “to the bitter end” with the Syrian army, than encourage it to scale back its involvement in Syria. Airstrikes on Hezbollah could also potentially provoke a response against the perpetrators of the violence, further escalating a conflict that already involves a plethora of regional and international powers. Furthermore, many people would consider an attack on Hezbollah to be essentially an attack on Iran, as the Lebanese based group is funded by Tehran and closely aligned with the country.

Brookings recommendations once again highlight the fact that large sections of the US establishment have absolutely no focus on defeating ISIS in the region, as Brookings is advocating bombing a major group that has been fighting ISIS for years now. Rather, many within the US are still focused on toppling the regime in Damascus (which is never going to happen) in addition to weakening the forces that are battling ISIS. If the West was serious about defeating ISIS, they would support and cooperate with the forces that are truly fighting against this new so-called caliphate.

TTIP is an Geoeconomic Tool against Russia

 Western strategists are terrified of Europe moving closer to the East, and an EU-Russian (especially a German-Russian) alliance arising. Merging Russia and the EU in the future is an objective of some US strategists, but Washington only desires this if both Russia and the EU are completely subservient to US dictates. Today however, Russia is a sovereign, independent nation which is not controlled by the US, and some within the EU are increasingly tiring of being vassals of Washington. This means closer relations between Russia and the EU is a geopolitical disaster for the US at the present moment, as Washington’s power will be severely diminished if this tectonic shift occurs.

By understanding this reality, it is now obvious how essential the trade deal between the US and the EU – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – is to US geostrategy. As well as being a corporate fascist deal that empowers multi-national corporations at the expense of citizens, TTIP is a geoeconomic weapon against Russia to cement the transatlantic alliance between the US and the EU.

Ensuring TTIP passes was a recommendation of another Western organisation that has been working on potential counter strategies to Russia, namely the Washington-based Atlantic Council (AC). In a testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on October 8, 2015, Gen James L. Jones, Jr., the Chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and a former National Security Advisor, Jones emphasises the importance of TTIP “successfully concluding” for the West:

“Energy security is instrumental for transatlantic growth, prosperity, and security. The same can be said of successfully concluding TTIP. Europe and the US have the largest trading partnership in the world. Strengthening it serves our mutual interests and reaffirms the centrality of the transatlantic alliance in the 21st century. TTIP also affords the U.S. a unique opportunity to author the rulebook and roadmap for 21st century advanced economies.”

Jones other recommendations include working to diversify the EU’s energy supply to “undermine Putin’s use of energy as a political weapon”, continuing to impose sanctions on Moscow, in addition to admitting Montenegro into NATO next year and working to pull Macedonia into the military alliance. The retired General also asserts that the US should provide the government in Kiev with “anti-tank missiles, intelligence support, training and counter-electronic warfare capabilities”.

Russia of course is well aware of the importance of TTIP to Washington’s long-term agenda. In Vladimir Putin’s speech at the United Nations at the end of September, Putin appeared to confront some of the US-led trade deals which we have seen being negotiated in recent years, most probably referring to TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (from 18.45 into the speech):

“I would like to point out another sign of a growing economic selfishness. Some countries have chosen to create closed and exclusion economic associations, with the establishment being negotiated behind the scenes in secret from those countries own citizens, the general public [and] the business community. Other states whose interests may be effected are not informed of anything either. It seems we are about to be faced with an accomplished fact that the rules of the game have been changed in favour of a narrow group of the privileged, with the WTO having no say. This could imbalance the trade system completely and disintegrate the global economic space. These issues affect the interests of all states and influence the future of the world economy as a whole.”

For a multitude of reasons, defeating TTIP would be a colossal achievement for the world. Many European’s are diametrically opposed to this deal, with hundreds of thousands protesting TTIP in Germany a recent illustration of this sentiment. Stop TTIP!

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Lipstick on a pig’: EC’s proposed corporate court system slammed by campaigners

RT | September 16, 2015

Campaigners sharply condemned a European Commission (EC) proposal to create a new corporate court system to replace its highly controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism on Wednesday.

The ISDS system is central to an EU-US trade agreement being negotiated behind closed doors, which could allow corporations to sue governments if they act against their interests.

Known as The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade deal has been shunned by almost 3 million European citizens. Some 97 percent of respondents to an EC consultation flatly rejected the trade deal’s ISDS dimension.

The EC put forward a proposal for an alternative court system on Wednesday – a move it said would make the ISDS mechanism more transparent and allow states to appeal against multinationals’ legal challenges. But campaigners say the suggested changes are merely cosmetic, and would still allow corporations to sue governments in secret court settings.

Another EU-Canada trade deal known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is currently awaiting ratification, contains an old version of the ISDS mechanism. It has also received widespread opposition from campaigners worldwide.

Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden said the EC’s proposed new court system is effectively “a PR exercise.”

“The European Commission says that this new proposal is based on ‘substantial input’ from its public consultation, but 97 percent of the thousands of responses it received in this consultation were clearly opposed to ISDS in any form,” he said on Wednesday.

“This alternative proposal is essentially a PR exercise to get around the enormous controversy and opposition that has been generated by ISDS.”

Dearden said the proposed corporate court system will still give corporations unnerving new powers.

“The Commission can try to put lipstick on a pig, but this new proposal doesn’t change the fundamental problem of giving corporations frightening new powers at the expense of our national democracies,” he said.

“Although a little more transparency is no bad thing, the real issue at hand here is that of corporate power.

“This change shows the European Commission is feeling the pressure of nearly 3 million people opposing TTIP and CETA, the two looming deals featuring ISDS,” Dearden added. He noted, however, that the EC has failed to halt the ratification of CETA.

Redacted documents detailing covert meetings between the EC and powerful tobacco lobbyists recently compounded fears TTIP would allow tobacco giants to sue governments that attempt to legislate in the public interest.

The documents, which confirmed the EC had met with lobbyists paid to peddle the interests of Big Tobacco, were published in late August.

This glaring lack of transparency sparked widespread fear among TTIP’s critics that the trade deal would empower tobacco giants to sue governments that seek to regulate the tobacco industry more stringently.

Powerful tobacco firms have previously used comparable trade deals to sue the governments of other states, who sought to crack down on its advertising.

US tobacco giant Phillip Morris previously took legal action against the Australian government after it introduced mandatory plain cigarette packaging. The firm is also embroiled in a $25-million lawsuit against Uruguay’s government in a bid to stop it from enlarging health warnings on cigarette packaging.

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics, Video | , , , | Leave a comment