Category: Corruption

TPP talks crash and burn — not every nation willing to rollover for Obama

Pacific Rim trade ministers have failed to clinch a deal to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared between Japan and North America over cars, New Zealand dug in over dairy trade and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 percent of the world economy, fell just short of a deal on Friday at talks on the Hawaiian island of Maui…

The result frustrated negotiators who had toiled to cross off outstanding issues and made significant progress on many controversial issues.

Three sources involved in the talks told the Reuters news agency that a last-minute breakthrough had been viewed as unlikely due to issues with dairy and auto trade and a standoff over biologic drugs made from living cells.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the problem lay with the “big four” economies of the United States, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. “The sad thing is, 98 percent is concluded,” he said.

Failure to seal the agreement is a setback for US President Barack Obama, given the trade pact’s stance as the economic arm of the administration’s pivot to Asia and an opportunity to balance out China’s influence in the region…

Obama promised oil income to Canada and Mexico, agricultural income to Canada and Mexico, monopoly power to US Pharmaceutical giants and American Tech firms. Japan as our pet stalking horse on the Asian side of negotiations was promised continued niche protections which would help keep Abe’s political party in power. Everyone else was supposed to line up in tidy little rows and nod their bobbleheads. Especially those nations like Australia with Conservatives holding power.

Didn’t happen.

If this doesn’t happen before the end of the year, the TPP is probably dead. An election year in the United States guarantees no legislative approvals more radical than Congress voting for baseball, motherhood and apple pie.

Prepare for five months of carrots, sticks, butt-kissing and bribes.

The US Is an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery” says former president

Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday on the nationally syndicated radio show the Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, “look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.”

Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United.

HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. … Your thoughts on that?

CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.

Just in case you feel good about the snow job we get on a daily basis from the leaders of the two old parties in the White House and Congress. They fill the air with blather and bluster about our constitutional tradition, free speech in action, the benefits we enjoy as a free people.

It has as much legitimate content as the average infomercial on network TV sold as filler in between fictional cop shows, comedies about fools and so-called reality TV. If you believe any of it – you are the fool.

Jimmy Carter continues to get my vote as the leading ex-president over the last century. He has the courage to tell the truth about everything from our phony foreign policy to criminal behavior in Congress.

Republicans pushing GE to ship $10 billion in work overseas

General Electric Co is taking steps to shift some U.S. manufacturing work overseas now that the U.S. Export-Import Bank will be shuttered at least until September…

GE Vice Chairman John Rice said the conglomerate is bidding on over $10 billion worth of projects that require support from an export credit agency (ECA) like Ex-Im.

With Ex-Im unable to extend new loans or guarantees thanks to an effort by congressional Republicans to shut it down, GE is arranging with ECAs in other countries to finance the deals involved, with much of the production going to GE plants in those foreign locations. The prospective government partners include Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Hungary, he said…

Ex-Im has been unable to consider any new financing requests since Congress allowed the bank’s charter to expire on June 30.

Rice’s comments come as the U.S. Congress starts a five-week summer recess with no clear path to revive Ex-Im in the months ahead. A group of conservative Republicans, who say the 81-year-old trade bank is a nest of “crony capitalism” that doles out government welfare to GE, Boeing Co and other wealthy corporations, want to keep it closed for good…

Rice, who is based in Hong Kong, said GE is not moving to shift work and jobs overseas “just to make a point” to Congress, but to win contracts that require export credit agency support. “We’re doing this because if we don’t, we can’t submit a valid tender,” he said.

In one such power-sector bid, for example, GE would do final assembly work on its aero-derivative gas turbine power generation units at GE plants in Hungary or China instead of a factory in Houston. It already has capacity in place, and export credit agencies willing to support the work, he said.

“Next year, if we win this bid, work that would have been in Houston will be someplace else,” Rice said.

In practice, shutting down the Ex-Im Bank handicaps small-biz as much or more than any other. Such questions devolve from commercial regulations and cause problems just like this one.

I expect Tea Party idjits will ignore the result they cause as often as ever. And if we’re really lucky, Luddites who panic over commerce taking place in a real world which now stretches well beyond the boundaries of the industrial landscape pre-World War 2 will join their peers on the Right.

After more than a half-century of political activism on behalf of the working class I was born into I’m still frustrated by sectarians who can turn an ordinary question of guaranteeing a loan – into religious fears over the purity of their bodily fluids.

Military contractor wants court help extorting money from sick vets

Private military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root is suing 12 National Guard veterans for $850,000 in legal fees that the company has incurred through defending a suit brought by the 12 for damages related to service on behalf of the company while in Iraq.

Early in 2003, the Department of Defense ordered members of the Oregon National Guard to protect supply convoys and repair facilities operated by KBR. The DoD had hired KBR to restore the flow of Iraqi oil to pipelines supplying the West and Europe. At the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility, severely damaged by American attacks and fleeing Iraqis, members of the Guard were exposed to hexavalent chromium, a cancer agent.

After developing health problems consistent with hexavalent chromium exposure, the veterans sued KBR for negligence in Federal Court in Portland. After a month long trial, the jury awarded the veterans $85 Million in 2012. KBR appealed, and sought $30 Million in legal fees and damages from the veterans for initiating the lawsuit.

The soldiers, residents of Oregon and under orders from the Department of Defense, placed on loan to a private entity contracted by the DoD, sued in their home state in federal court, not state court. They argued that a chemical used at the Qarmat Ali treatment facility had, to the knowledge of KBR, contaminated the site. Remaining at the site without being informed of the presence of the cancer agent by DoD or KBR constituted negligence. The Oregon jury agreed.

In May of this year, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. The Court, persuaded by KBR lawyers, determined that an Oregon court, even if a federal circuit court, was not the proper jurisdiction for the case. Rocky Bixby, Ronald Bjerklund, Charles Ellis, Matthew Hadley, Colt Campredon, Vito Pacheco, Brian Hedin, Charles Seamon, Aaron St. Clair, Byron Greer, Jason Arnold and Larry Roberta must now take their case to Houston, Texas, where KBR is located.

A magnanimous KBR was pleased that the 9th Circuit ruled that the Oregon court did not have “personal jurisdiction” over the Texas based company. KBR executive vice president and general counsel Eileen Akerson said, “This ruling is another major step in resolving the few remaining legacy tort claims related to KBR’s work supporting the U.S. military in Iraq. We look forward to bringing closure to all of those matters.” Closure for KBR includes hiding behind its military contractor indemnification clause, and suing the Oregon soldiers for fees and damages incurred through the long course of this trial.

Creeps who should have been indicted as co-conspirators in the lawsuits should have included all the Republicans who profited from the war – starting with Dick Cheney with his ties to Halliburton. Yes, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton while Cheney’s firm was getting all those juicy no-bid contracts from the War Department.

Then, we get to confront our less-than-equal rights before American courts. Of course, we must move the retrial into KBR’s backyard. Makes it easier for lawyers, judges and politicians to discuss the case over cocktails.

Meanwhile, the Oregon soldiers contemplate zero compensation for their abuse and ill health in the Bush-Cheney War.

Cilantro imports banned from Mexican farms littered with feces and toilet paper

The US has banned imports of cilantro from several farms in the Mexican state of Puebla after an investigation found growing fields littered with human feces and toilet paper.

A joint investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration and Mexican authorities found “objectionable” hygiene conditions in eight of 11 cilantro farms inspected in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth-biggest state, 130km (80 miles) south-east of the capital.

Five of the eight Puebla farms have been linked to recurrent outbreaks of the serious gastric disease cyclosporiasis in the US since 2012. The herb is thought to be at least partially responsible for a current outbreak which has so far sickened 200 people in Texas.

The disease, which is caused by a parasite that lives in human faeces, can lead to severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss, nauseas, vomiting, fever, extreme tiredness and other flulike symptoms. It can last from a few days to more than a month, and even after the symptoms disappear, some people will suffer recurrent relapses. In rare cases, people can suffer long-term muscle weakness and tiredness.

The parasite is spread by people ingesting contaminated food or water, but is not transmitted person to person…

In Puebla they found that some farms had no toilet or handwashing facilities for workers, while others had bathrooms but no running water, soap or paper towels. They also found visibly dirty surfaces where the herb was cut, bundled and stored, including the crates used for transportation. The water used to wash coriander in some farms may have been contaminated by sewage.

At one firm, the storage tank which supplied workers with water for handwashing tested positive for the cyclospora parasite that causes the illness…

The summer ban will continue in future years unless a company can prove to health authorities that its product is safe.

The FDA said it is tightening documentation requirements after it found firms producing coriander in Puebla often do business under multiple names and addresses, and some falsely claimed their suppliers are located outside of the state.

Cripes. Grow your own, folks. Easy-peasy as having a basil plant, Italian parsley or some rosemary in your kitchen window.

We planted it once in our courtyard kitchen garden and it came back for years.

UK terrorism case ends in acquittal – no one allowed to say why

image
Ian Cobain

Ian Cobain, a reporter with The Guardian, is one of very few people who know why a student arrested by armed British police officers in 2013 was finally acquitted this year of terrorism charges.

Problem is, he cannot report what he knows. He was allowed to observe much of the trial, but only under strict conditions intended to keep classified material secret. His notebooks are being held by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. And if he writes — or even talks — about the reason that the student, Erol Incedal, 27, was acquitted, Mr. Cobain faces prosecution and possibly jail.

“I know the essence of what was happening,” Mr. Cobain said, “but I can’t tell, I can’t even talk to my editor about this.”

Having initially gone along reluctantly with the reporting restrictions, a number of British news organizations are now challenging them in court. And yes, the challenge itself is being heard under secrecy rules that leave the public mostly excluded. Were Mr. Cobain to break the law and disclose what he knows publicly, his prosecution would also take place in secret…

The case is among the latest to highlight the growing debate about the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. That debate has intensified this year in the United States and across much of Europe, with nations reflecting on decisions they have made since the Sept. 11 attacks and reacting to more recent developments, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to disclosures in Germany about eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency…

But the Incedal case has focused attention on whether governments are cloaking too many of their activities in national security classifications, insulating themselves from public debate and accountability for mistakes or collusion with suspects.

It’s hard to know quite who is being protected in all this,” said David Davis, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party and a former minister…“The implication is that this is more about the embarrassment of the agencies than it is about real questions of national security…”

Please RTFA. This case, the repressive manipulation by government, courts and the thought police is not happening in isolation. The parallels with the American FISA court and actions of the NSA, FBI, other alphabetized fascists is striking.

The good fortune is that journalism in the UK is willing to challenge restrictions – even in roundabout ways – while most US media is self-restricted to entertainment. And it ain’t folks who believe in Free Speech who get to determine what is entertainment.

There is beaucoup detail, anecdotal adventures in the dreamland nightmares of our spooks and politicians.

Colorado coppers charge mom for burning a Confederate flag

toasty confederate flag

It was an hour before midnight on July 22 when a cop knocked on the door of local Black Lives Matter activist Patricia Cameron. She was asleep at home with her 8-year-old son. The officer called out her name and asked her to come outside. Cameron wasn’t dressed, so the cop told her to put on some clothes— he had something for her to sign…

“I was petrified,” she says when she found a uniformed cop at her door at 11:00 at night. The name of Sandra Bland, a young black woman who was found dead July 13, hanging from a trash bag noose in a Texas jail cell days after a traffic stop, flashed through her mind. In the hallway of Cameron’s apartment building, the officer told her he was there to serve her with something, and handed her what looked like a ticket. He asked her to sign it, saying it had to do with an incident on July 4. The document was an arrest summons accusing her of fourth degree arson.

Two weeks prior, the single mom, local political activist and EMT had organized an Independence Day public burning of a Confederate flag in a local park as a form of peaceful protest. Online, photos had been spreading of accused killer Dylan Roof posing with Confederate flags before police say he carried out his attack on nine black parishioners in a Charleston, SC church. In announcing her plans days before the event, Cameron told a local alt-weekly reporter the demonstration was “simply us getting together and reiterating the fact that black lives in fact matter.” She’d alerted the local police department about what she’d planned to do, tagging them in a post on Facebook, though a police spokesperson says the department never saw it. The police chief had also gotten an anonymous e-mail about the event…

Not many people showed up on the day Cameron and a handful of others held their flag burning under a park pavilion that doesn’t allow barbecuing. There, she squirted lighter fluid on a large Confederate flag, someone else lit it, and a third man held the pole as the flag burned on a charcoal grill. With an American flag bandana covering her nose and mouth, Cameron clapped as others waved signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Who is burning black churches?” The local paper dispatched a summer intern to the scene. A video went up on YouTube. Some local TV stations carried the news.

Now, nearly three weeks later, an officer was standing in Cameron’s hallway asking her to sign an arrest summons that accused her of arson. She was not formally arrested and taken to jail. “I was confused,” she says about how it all went down, especially so late at night— and so long after the very public incident…

As for why it took nearly 20 days for the cops to contact Cameron, Police spokeswoman Odette Saglimbeni said the police had conducted a “pretty extensive investigation” after seeing video of the flag burning…Trying to identify all the people involved also took time, she said…

Under state law, fourth degree arson in Colorado is when “a person who knowingly or recklessly starts or maintains a fire or causes an explosion, on his own property or that of another, and by so doing places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury or places any building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage.”

The charge can be a felony or a misdemeanor; Cameron was charged with the latter.

I haven’t had to visit the Colorado Springs area since I got off the road. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason to go there other than for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Local politics are pretty much under the thumb of the US military, local Republicans and headquarters staff for various rightwing fundamentalist Christian groups. I don’t know which has the biggest militia, nowadays.

The arson charge is about as phony as they get; but – you already know that. All it reminded me of was the police chief back in the New England factory town where I grew up threatening to have me arrested for “contributing to littering” when I leafletted the church he attended – inviting parishioners to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

I suggested he call the city attorney first. Looks like Manitou Springs coppers ain’t that bright.

The crooks who would cause the financial crisis again – for the sake of ideology


Phil Gramm, the ideological creep-in-chiefDouglas Graham/Roll Call

Many elected or appointed officials have a specific belief system that they act upon in the implementation of policies. When the policies that flow from those beliefs go terribly wrong, it is natural to want to learn why. As is so often the case, that underlying ideology is usually a good place to begin looking.

In the aftermath of the great credit crisis, we have seen all manner of contrition from responsible parties. Most notably, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan admitted error, saying as much in Congressional testimony. Greenspan was unintentionally ironic when he answered a question about whether ideology led him down the wrong path when it came to preventing irresponsible lending practices in subprime mortgages: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

Other contributors to the crisis have been similarly humbled. In “Bailout Nation,” I held former President Bill Clinton, and his two Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, responsible for signing the ruinous Commodity Futures Modernization Act that exempted derivatives from regulation and oversight. The CFMA was passed as part of a larger bill by unanimous consent, and that Clinton signed on Dec. 21, 2000. Clinton joined Greenspan in admitting his contribution to the credit crisis, as well as saying the advice he received from his Treasury secretaries — Rubin and Summers — was wrong.

The CFMA removed the standard regulations that all other financial instruments follow: reserve requirements, counter-party disclosures and exchange listings…

The exception to any post-crisis self-reflection is former Senator Phil Gramm. Although he was one of the chief architects of the radical gutting of financial regulations and oversight rules during the two decades that preceded the financial crisis, the former senator remains a stubborn believer that banks and markets can regulate themselves.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Gramm drove the legislation that allowed banks to get much bigger and derivatives to run wild. His name is on the law — the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 — that overturned the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that forced commercial banks to get out of the risky investment-banking business…

He led the effort to block measures curtailing deceptive or predatory lending, which was just beginning to result in a jump in home foreclosures that would undermine the financial markets. He advanced legislation that fractured oversight of Wall Street while knocking down Depression-era barriers that restricted the rise and reach of financial conglomerates.

And he pushed through a provision that ensured virtually no regulation of the complex financial instruments known as derivatives, including credit swaps, contracts that would encourage risky investment practices at Wall Street’s most venerable institutions and spread the risks, like a virus, around the world.

…If you want to hold a single elected official responsible for the collapse of American International Group — if any one event could have taken down the entire financial system, that was it — it would have to be Gramm…

Other actors who have yet to come clean include Harvey Pitt, Hank Paulson and George W. Bush. Don’t hold your breath waiting for their mea culpas.

Bear with me if you’ve heard this story from me before; but, I recall sitting in the offices of a firm selling big, family-size mobile homes. Trailer park specials. A young couple legally here from Mexico – not yet citizens – told the sales manager their tale of being turned down by local banks, local branches of chain banks, for a mortgage.

The sales manager told them not to worry. He had a storefront loan company down in Albuquerque that would approve their loan – just put the right numbers on the application. They did it. He did it. They left getting ready to move into a home they couldn’t afford in good times. And this was before the crash of Bush’s Great Recession.

The sales manager told me after they left – he wasn’t worried. He would be able to sell that paper on within 48 hours to Countrywide – and forget about it. And that was a present from Phil Gramm and his bubbas in Congress.

GOP Masters of Sophistry

I make no case for Hillary other than she’s a decent alternative to the cowards, ideologues and bigots staffing and leading today’s Republican Party. That description of that political entity isn’t especially radical. I know too many Recovering Republicans who feel the same.

Who will I vote for in Democrat primaries – after I make my usual every-other-year-registration as someone other than Independent? Bernie, of course. He comes closer to a model of truth and service, sound knowledge and integrity of anyone I’ve had a chance to vote for in decades.

Yes, I still would rather be voting for someone in a 3rd Party independent of ownership by the usual corporate lobbyists. Even that class representation needn’t be restricted to the two old parties. Essentially useless, an impedance to progress.

And, still, Hillary is lightyears ahead of the thugs in the Republican Party. The choice in November 2016 will be easy-peasy.