Category: Business

TPP — The secret corporate takeover

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate

The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,”as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms…

Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant.

It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions…

The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations meant to protect America’s own economy and citizens. Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes.

This is not just a theoretical possibility. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia for requiring warning labels on cigarettes. Admittedly, both countries went a little further than the US, mandating the inclusion of graphic images showing the consequences of cigarette smoking.

The labeling is working. It is discouraging smoking. So now Philip Morris is demanding to be compensated for lost profits.

In the future, if we discover that some other product causes health problems (think of asbestos), rather than facing lawsuits for the costs imposed on us, the manufacturer could sue governments for restraining them from killing more people. The same thing could happen if our governments impose more stringent regulations to protect us from the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions…

Fundamental to America’s system of government is an impartial public judiciary, with legal standards built up over the decades, based on principles of transparency, precedent, and the opportunity to appeal unfavorable decisions. All of this is being set aside, as the new agreements call for private, non-transparent, and very expensive arbitration. Moreover, this arrangement is often rife with conflicts of interest; for example, arbitrators may be a “judge” in one case and an advocate in a related case.

The proceedings are so expensive that Uruguay has had to turn to Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy Americans committed to health to defend itself against Philip Morris. And, though corporations can bring suit, others cannot. If there is a violation of other commitments – on labor and environmental standards, for example – citizens, unions, and civil-society groups have no recourse.

If there ever was a one-sided dispute-resolution mechanism that violates basic principles, this is it. That is why I joined leading US legal experts, including from Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, in writing a letter to President Barack Obama explaining how damaging to our system of justice these agreements are.

Meanwhile, Blue Dog Democrats join with their evil twins among Congressional Republicans to authorize fast-tracking the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

We have to realize that when the White House flunkies in the press talk about “bipartisan” solutions – what they really mean is combining forces between pawns and pimps to turn every aspect of economic life over to corporate control. The tripartite myth of executive, legislative and judicial systems governing America doesn’t mean much when all three are at the beck and call of corporate America.

Oil baron wants Oklahoma University to stop studying quakes, fire scientists

harold hamm

Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation.

Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, is a major donor to the university, which is the home of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. He has vigorously disputed the notion that he tried to pressure the survey’s scientists…Hamm was quoted as saying…”I don’t try to push anybody around.”…

Yet an e-mail obtained from the university by Bloomberg News…says Hamm used a blunt approach during a 90-minute meeting last year with the dean whose department includes the geological survey.

“Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select OGS staff dismissed,” wrote Larry Grillot, the dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, in a July 16, 2014, e-mail to colleagues at the university. Hamm also expressed an interest in joining a search committee charged with finding a new director for the geological survey, according to Grillot’s e-mail. And, the dean wrote, Hamm indicated that he would be “visiting with Governor [Mary] Fallin on the topic of moving the OGS out of the University of Oklahoma.”

Kristin Thomas, a spokeswoman for Continental, says the company has no comment.

Hamm’s meeting with Grillot resulted in no apparent changes at the university. Reached by telephone, Grillot confirmed his discussion with Hamm. He says…he never discussed Hamm’s displeasure with OGS staffers…”I didn’t want it to impact their day-to-day work,” he says. “Foremost for us is academic freedom.” Grillot adds that Hamm was not added to the search committee for the new OGS director…

Hamm has been a generous donor to the University of Oklahoma, including a 2011 gift of $20 million for a diabetes research center named after the oilman. University President David Boren, a former U.S. senator, sits on the board of directors of Hamm’s Continental Resources…

Scientists overwhelmingly attribute the sharp rise in earthquakes across swaths of the central U.S. to the oil and gas industry, primarily the deep underground disposal of vast amounts of wastewater, which is produced with oil and gas. The injected water can alter underground pore pressures and cause faults to slip…

In Oklahoma, where the number of earthquakes of a magnitude 3.0 or greater increased from an average of 1.6 a year before 2009 to 585 last year, researchers at the OGS have been slower than many others to draw a link between the industry and the earthquakes.

Nice to see that academic freedom is still respected in Oklahoma.

Is everyone confident things will remain this way? Hardly.

Someone stole $1 billion from Moldova — an eighth of the country’s GDP

When thousands filled the streets of Moldova’s capital last week, their complaint was pretty significant.

Late last year, about $1 billion disappeared in an apparent banking scandal that’s mystified Europe’s poorest country…To put that sum into perspective, it’s an eighth of the country’s GDP. In United States terms, that portion of the economy would add up to more than $2 trillion.

The money reportedly vanished in a series of murky loans dealt out last November by three major banks — one of them state-owned — to as yet unknown recipients.

Officials wised up to the scheme only earlier this year.

Investigators [including the US auditing firm Kroll – who’re pretty sharp] are looking into the matter but have released few details. The speaker of Moldova’s parliament finally released a report by Kroll late Monday night that implicated a Moldovan businessman in the scheme, but recommended further investigation.

Many Moldovans are mad about all this…They say it’s symptomatic of the widespread corruption that’s plagued their country since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That’s also why Sunday’s protest was about more than just missing money. It drew at least 10,000 demonstrators, police said. If that sounds unimpressive, consider that there are just 3.5 million people in Moldova…

Kroll released their report this week and it ties a local businessman, Ilan Shor, to phony loans issued by banks he’d manipulated into controlling interests + money-laundering schemes + several banks and companies outside Moldova involved in illicit transactions. It would be a comic opera if it wasn’t the sort of corruption that can bankrupt a country the size of Moldova.

Catch this one: Eduard Harunjen, head of the anticorruption division of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, noted that the report did not have legal standing – so, he wasn’t arresting anyone.

The woman who founded Mother’s Day and later tried so hard to have it abolished

anna jarvis

Years after she founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis was dining at the Tea Room at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. She saw they were offering a “Mother’s Day Salad.” She ordered the salad and when it was served, she stood up, dumped it on the floor, left the money to pay for it, and walked out in a huff. Jarvis had lost control of the holiday she helped create, and she was crushed by her belief that commercialism was destroying Mother’s Day.

During the Civil War, Anna’s mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother’s Friendship Day. When the elder Jarvis passed away in 1905, her daughter was devastated. She would read the sympathy cards and letters over and over, taking the time to underline all the words that praised and complimented her mother. Jarvis found an outlet to memorialize her mother by working to promote a day that would honor all mothers.

On May 10, 1908, Mother’s Day events were held at the church where her mother taught Sunday School in Grafton, West Virginia, and at the Wanamaker’s department store auditorium in Philadelphia. Jarvis did not attend the event in Grafton, but she sent 500 white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. The carnations were to be worn by sons and daughters in honor of their own mothers, and to represent the purity of a mother’s love.

Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Jarvis’s zealous letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She was assisted by well-heeled backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day…

The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day—newspapers told stories of hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.

Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

RTFA for the whole tale — and a sad ending.

Bank loses foreclosure case — still tries to collect from homeowners!

Joseph and Mary Romero in front of their home in ChimayoMarla Brose/Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe, New Mexico — Even though a Chimayó couple won a major New Mexico Supreme Court decision last year vacating foreclosure on their modest home, they later received letters saying they owed payments to the bank that foreclosed on the house.

That led to a judge here issuing an order…holding the Bank of New York and its loan servicing agent in contempt of court.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton wrote that the bank and Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC had violated her orders about communications with Joseph and Mary Romero, who fought for years to save their modest home before the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that they’d been burdened with an “unrepayable loan” during the housing boom whose end sent the country into economic recession.

“These communications continue to assert that the Romeros owe various sums to BONY (Bank of New York),” she wrote. “This is not the case. BONY has been determined to have no standing to bring the foreclosure suit and its claim has been dismissed. BONY’s and Ocwen’s continued communications for them to pay amounts they do not owe BONY have caused the Romeros anxiety and may well be a violation of the law in addition to being in violation of the Court’s (Singleton’s) Orders.”…

Singleton ordered the bank to pay the Romeros $2,823 to cover attorney fees for raising the issue and said further violations “may result in more severe sanctions.”…

The Romeros responded to a cold call solicitation in 2006 and refinanced their house with an inflated mortgage without the lender requiring proof of income or assets. They were soon behind on their payments – Joseph’s annual income was about $5,600 – and, in 2008, the Bank of New York filed for foreclosure.

The Romero’s lawyers maintained lenders had taken advantage of the Romeros limited education, using predatory practices to structure a loan to strip them of equity and with no regard for their ability to pay off the loan. The Supreme Court, in its decision last year, said, “A lender’s willful blindness to its responsibility to consider the true circumstances of its borrowers is unacceptable.”

This sort of crap sales technique was commonplace, essential to the causes of the Great Recession.

I recall waiting in a real estate sales office in 2006. I was there to consult on security matters for the firm. Waiting my turn, I witnessed the manager signing up a young couple who spoke little English. Only the husband was employed and he wasn’t making a whole boatload of money. Nevertheless they were signed up for a mortgage for 95% of the inflated price of their new home.

Before we sat down to business – after they left – I asked him casually how he was able to manage a sale like that. His reply was the law allowed it. He could fudge the income because proof wasn’t required. They were going to run the mortgage through a sleazy storefront finance company down in Albuquerque which, in turn would sell the paper to Countrywide Mortgage. No problem.

We all know what followed. The bubble constructed upon lies and deceit burst in December 2007. Countrywide was sold off to Bank of America. No one did any time.

Chemical companies force EPA into playing Toxic whack-a-mole!

In 1961, a DuPont toxicologist warned colleagues that exposure to their company’s increasingly popular Teflon chemicals enlarged the livers of rats and rabbits. Studies over the following decades found no safe level of exposure in animals and determined that humans, too, got sick when exposed to the chemicals — which were also seen to build up in the body and resist breakdown in the environment…

By the end of 2015, some of these most notorious polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, will be fully phased out of use in the U.S. But emerging in their place, warn environmental health experts, are another group of PFASs that share many of the same concerning characteristics.

“We know these substitutes are equally persistent. They don’t break down for geologic time,” said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the UC Berkeley and the executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute.

…The journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a document known as the Madrid Statement, signed by more than 200 scientists from 38 countries. The statement highlights the potential harm of both old and new PFAS chemicals. You may know them best as the stuff that protects your carpet from stains, keeps your food from sticking to packaging or pans, repels rain from your coat and prevents mascara from running down your cheeks. If you got a pastry with your coffee this morning, a PFAS substance probably even lined the waxy paper it was served on…

In an editorial accompanying the statement, Linda Birnbaum, head of the national toxicology program for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Philippe Grandjean, chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, cite the common industry practice of replacing phased-out chemicals with structurally similar ones, such as the recent swap of bisphenol S for bisphenol A. Other experts have pinned this pattern — what Blum has previously called “toxic whack-a-mole” — on the nation’s outdated toxic chemical legislation, which allows chemicals to remain innocent until proven guilty.

The Madrid Statement cites data that links exposures to PFASs with certain cancers, delayed puberty, decreased fertility, reduced immune response in children and elevated cholesterol, among other health problems. A Danish study published in April adds to the concerns, linking blood levels of PFASs, including the new short-chain versions, with up to a sixteenfold increase in the risk of miscarriage…

A decade ago, in 2005, the EPA assessed a $16.5 million fine, its largest ever, to DuPont, saying the company had withheld decades of information concerning the hazardous health effects of PFASs. That’s according to a helpful reminder from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in a separate report also published on Friday. They note that internal documents revealed DuPont had long known the chemicals “caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide.”…

In the end, none of the alternatives may end up quite as effective as today’s synthetics. But, as Blum noted, that might be good enough, at least in some cases.

And that’s a relevant point. This ain’t rocket science. If it were, some of this crap might be mission critical. Mostly, we’re discussing water repellent jackets and how to cook supper.

Massive dead zones threaten the Atlantic Ocean

Dead zones in the Atlantic — so called because their lack of oxygen can’t sustain life — have been seen for the first time by scientists.

These areas of extremely low oxygen occurred in the tropical North Atlantic. The levels of oxygen were the lowest ever recorded in the open Atlantic. And while some microorganisms can live in these zones, most sea life can’t, which could lead to massive fish kills…

The oxygen levels found in the open North Atlantic had about 1/2 the concentrations scientists expected to see, lead-author Johannes Karstensen said…

Most dead zones are found near inhabited coastlines, after rivers carry fertilizers and other chemicals that cause algae blooms. When the algae die, they’re decomposed by bacteria that take up the oxygen.

The Atlantic dead zones, by contrast, appear to form in large (60 to 100 miles) eddies, “with the dead zone taking up the upper 100 meters or so,” explains Karstensen, a researcher at GEOMAR, the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, in Kiel, Germany.

“The fast rotation of the eddies makes it very difficult to exchange oxygen across the boundary between the rotating current and the surrounding ocean. Moreover, the circulation creates a very shallow layer — of a few tens of meters — on top of the swirling water that supports intense plant growth similar to coastal algae blooms,” Karstensen said. “From our measurements, we estimated that the oxygen consumption within the eddies is some five times larger than in normal ocean conditions.”

“Given that the few dead zones we observed propagated less than 100 kilometers north of the Cape Verde archipelago, it is not unlikely that an open-ocean dead zone will hit the islands at some point. This could cause the coast to be flooded with low-oxygen water, which may put severe stress on the coastal ecosystems and may even provoke fish kills and the die-off of other marine life.”

But, hey, as long as there’s sufficient cheap labor available from the local unemployed to clean the hulls of every Cruise Line skyscraper pulling into souvenir harbors – why worry?

The for-profit theatrics of riot control

The unrest in Baltimore after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray after he was critically injured in police custody has reopened longstanding debates over public-order policing. Where does protest end and rioting begin? What counts as violence? Is property damage ever legitimate? Listening to Fox News analyze the meaning of the word “thugs,” it feels as if we are doomed to repeat Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote “Riots are the language of the unheard” until we are blue in the face…

Riot control largely arose out of the repression of rebellious peasants and slaves. Early forms of policing in the U.S. included slave patrols that searched residences, broke up gatherings and monitored roads. A more structured practice for dealing with urban minority unrest after the Civil War was imported from white European colonial experience. In 1829, U.S. cities began to adopt parts of the British policing model, creating organized departments with full-time officers…

We saw…space-based control practices play out in Baltimore on April 27. As Mother Jones reported, in the Modawmin neighborhood, where violence started that day, police shut down the local subway stop, forced people to disembark buses and corralled students into a police-controlled space. With public transportation cut off and streets blocked by heavily armored, shield-barrier police lines, people were trapped — forced to fight or attempt to flee, risking arrest and further brutality.

Such acts of entrapment and suffocation are most visible when tear gas is also deployed, as police did in Modawmin, along with pepper balls. While pepper balls and spray tanks filled with tear gas are modern inventions, the practice of poisoning the air to control populations has been used by U.S. law enforcement for nearly a century…

As journalist Belén Fernández has noted, these bodily and spatial policing practices reflect Israeli military and police training for controlling the occupied territories. Baltimore Police Department representatives have received training overseas from Israeli experts. Training happens at home as well, from former Israel Defense Forces soldiers such as B.K. Blankchtein, who educated officers at the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission from 2008 to 2011.

Private companies specializing in Israeli enforcement also train Baltimore officers in control techniques. The Israeli Tactical School operates a number of programs in Maryland, including the Warrior Weekend, fashioned after training at the Israeli Counter Terror School. For $1,500, participants receive tactical education in, as the company’s website puts it, “the Israeli Individual Warrior doctrine designed to win the fight against all odds.”

But these Israeli-imported practices of controlling public space are not an isolated phenomenon. The riot control industry is a transnational enterprise, with competitions, workshops and products around the world. Selling myths of security in the form of violent technology, it profits from racial fears, police vulnerability and the militarization of public space…

The riot control market is driven by the increase in the demand for these systems amongst law enforcement agencies due to the economic crisis and political unrest prevailing in the nations, which results into riots or protests by the public against any authority.

When that authority is the police, there are sales opportunities on all sides.

RTFA for more detail. Your friendly neighborhood patrol cop is getting this training whether you approve or not.

And taxpayers get to pick up the tab.

Sleazy hospital of the week

They haven’t a leg to stand on in their defense. Har!

A south Florida man is suing a hospital for emotional distress, saying his leg was amputated and thrown in the garbage with his name tag still on it.

John Timiriasieff, 56, had his right leg amputated below the knee in October at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables.

“Rather than properly disposing of the plaintiff’s limb as expected and as required by Florida law, Doctors Hospital threw the Plaintiff’s amputated limb into the garbage, with tags indicating it belonged to the Plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit filed…in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

A month later, Timiriasieff said his family was contacted by homicide detectives investigating if he had been the victim of foul play…

Doctors Hospital Inc, part of the Baptist Health South Florida Inc, said it could not discuss the incident in detail because of patient privacy considerations…

Normally, amputated limbs are incinerated by hospitals, said Clay Roberts, a lawyer for Timiriasieff…

The leg was discovered at a waste management facility and reported to police.

The medical-industrial complex has attitudes as disgusting and anti-human as the military-industrial complex.

Inaccessible nutrients may limit ability of plants to slow climate change

Many scientists assume that the growing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will accelerate plant growth. However, a new study co-written by University of Montana researchers suggests much of this growth will be curtailed by limited soil nutrients.

The end result: By the end of the century, there may be more than an additional 10 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere, which would accelerate climate change…

Cory Cleveland and co-authors looked at 11 leading climate models to examine changes in nitrogen and phosphorous. They found that nitrogen limitation actually will reduce plant uptake of CO2 by 19 percent, while a combined nitrogen and phosphorous limitation will reduce plant uptake by 25 percent.

Most of the world’s leading climate models assume that plants will respond to increased atmospheric levels of CO2 by growing more and more, which is known as the CO2 fertilization effect. The more the plants grow, the more CO2 they absorb from the atmosphere, thereby slowing climate change…

Cleveland said most climate models so far have not included nutrients because such biogeochemical processes are difficult to simulate and vary greatly from one type of terrestrial ecosystem to another. The Community Earth System Model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, is one of the first to begin considering the role of soil nutrients in the models that are used for climate change projections…

“We found that instead of acting as a carbon sink and drawing down CO2, the terrestrial biosphere could become a net source of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere by the end of the century, with soil microbes releasing more carbon than growing plants could absorb,” Cleveland said.

Uncertainties remain, however. One of the questions is how soil microbes – which free up nitrogen in the soil, but also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – will respond to warming temperatures. Similarly, scientists don’t know if plants will become more efficient at drawing up additional nutrients from the soil. If not, plants won’t be able to keep up with society’s CO2 emissions.

Symptomatic treatment is guaranteed to change only one side of the equation – if and when it works. Unless the continuing causes of anthropogenic climate change are dealt with the ever-expanding calculus of stupidity will still result in negative sums for our species.

We get screwed so corporate barons like the Koch Bros. can continue to optimize profits.