Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Trans Pacific Partnership:
The Dictatorship of the Multinationals


 We have known for a while that the Obama administration is morbidly secretive.They think nothing of having their Department Heads appear before Congress to lie blatantly in order to conceal the National Security Agency's telephone surveillance program. They think that Congress and the voters should stay out of government's business.
We should be used to this by now but the latest example of official secretiveness is nevertheless very alarming. Over the last so many months, the Obama administration has been negotiating a treaty known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP for short, in complete secrecy. The little anyone else knows about the proposed treaty has been made available by Wikileaks. No one knows what is being negotiated. The situation is so bad that even members of Congress are now demanding that the government inform them about the negotiations.
The TPP agreement is being negotiated — in secret, even from Congress — between representatives of governments and giant, multinational corporations. (Government negotiators are not prevented from seeking lucrative corporate jobs if negotiations are completed in favor of those corporations.) Groups representing the interests of labor, environmental, consumer, human rights or other stakeholders in democracy are not at the negotiating table. And, not surprisingly, it appears that the agreement will promote the interests of giant, multinational corporations over the interests of labor, environmental, consumer, human rights or other stakeholders in democracy.”(http://ourfuture.org/20130823/congress- public-waking-up-to-tpp-threat?gclid=CMXMl56-xrsCFYEDOgodHkAA-Q)
The government responds to such criticisms by asking for "fast track approval." They want Congress to approve this treaty by a single up or down vote without debate, without the possibility of amendments, without letting American citizens know what is being negotiated and what is being approved and how it will affect our daily lives. Why this open assault on democratic procedures? What are they afraid of?
If this treaty were to be open to discussion and amendment, Congress would have severe hesitations. The treaty turns out not so much to be about free trade in the Asian basin,--Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are the eleven countries participating in negotiations on the TPP with the US-- but about enabling global corporations such as drug companies to make more money than ever at the expense of their customers. It is a treaty between global corporations and their closest friend, the US government.
Here is what little seems to be known about TPP:
The TPP proposes to forbid 'parallel importation.'
An example of “parallel importation,” as described by the World Health Organization, is as follows:
'…in Mozambique 100 units of Bayer’s ciprofloxacin (500mg) costs US$740, but in India Bayer sells the same drug for US$15 (owing to local generic competition). Mozambique can import the product from India without Bayer’s consent…'
Giant US pharmaceutical companies do not approve of impoverished Mozambicans being able to get the drugs at a cheaper price so they have advised the US government to press for new regulations [that would prohibit Mozambique from importing cheaper medications from India] that would increase profits (regardless of whether more Mozambicans die from infections).” (http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/12/09/countries-remain-opposed-to-some-of-more-extreme-us-proposals-in-tpp-negotiations-according-to-wikileaks/)
A recently leaked document showed that the US sees the TPP as a means of extending patent monopolies for its drug companies. Put bluntly, this would increase the cost of medicines for all us, hitting with particular force those who are sick and those who can least afford to be coughing up more cash to pay for vital medications.” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/06/the-tpp-negotiations-could-be-a-bitter-pill-to-swallow-for-australians)
In the weeks to come we can expect more news about the TPP in spite of the government's efforts to keep the whole thing under wraps. Watch for more information to come out. Be in touch with your representatives to urge them to oppose this massive sellout to global corporations.
The multinational enterprises are planning a serious take-over of democratic government. The Obama administration is happily participating by keeping the whole negotiating process secret.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Minimum Wage

We have known for a long time that when WalMart hires a new employee, HR explains to him or her how to get food stamps and get on Medicaid, because what WalMart is going to pay this new employee will not be enough to buy food and health care for the new hire's family.
This year, we have learned that employees of fast food companies have the same problem.
Now comes this morning's newspaper and reports that, according to the University of California Labor Center, 31% of all bank tellers get paid so poorly that they cannot survive without help from the government. The government spends close to $900,000 to supplement the incomes of poorly paid bank tellers.
That's, of course, a bonanza for WalMart, Fast Food restaurants and the banks. The money that taxpayers—you and I—lay out to help families who do not earn enough to live, raises the profit of these private companies. Companies with low wage jobs are subsidized by the government. We call that welfare for the rich.
One more example of the blessings of the “free market place.”
With ever new disclosures about workers paid too poorly to be able to live without government assistance, we may well ask: How many underpaid workers are there in the US?
There are different answers to that. The Federal minimum wage stands at $7.25. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, the percentage that prices have risen since the end of World War II, it would today stand at $10.74.i
If we accepted the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 as the standard, 46% of workers would be underpaid. If we accept $10.74 as the proper minimum wage, then 26% of the workforce—35 million Americans-- gets paid less than minimum wage.
That is pretty alarming. One full quarter of all Americans working get not paid enough to meet their essential needs of food, shelter, clothing, health-care and education for their children. That certainly suggests that our economic system is not functioning. The least we should be able to expect from the economy is to provide a decent living to everyone working. Our economy is not doing that.
But even more startling are the arguments offered against raising the minimum wage.
One of them claims that half the people earning less than the minimum wage are under 26. Being under 26 is then presented as high-school kids doing part-time work after school. But being under 26 means for many Americans that they are working, that they are in a stable relationship, and are having or expecting children.
But even if many of the low wage earners are kids, can we be proud of a country that underpays its young people? That does not seem to me a good strategy for bringing up a new generation of eager and responsible workers. A society must take care of bringing up a new generation to fill the jobs that need doing. If we teach our young people that working does not pay, we are liable to produce a generation of people who hate their work even before they join the full-time workforce.
Even more startling is the standard prediction, that if we raise the minimum wage, the economy would loose 300,000 jobs.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage, mostly ardent advocates for capitalism, are telling us that our economic system is not able to provide jobs that pay decently to all who want to work. We have a choice between having a quarter of the workforce underpaid or having a very high rate of unemployment – which in turn, of course, depresses wages.
Capitalism, as we practice it today, is great for the rich. It makes them a lot richer. But that capitalism is not good at all for more than a quarter of the American population. However hard they work, they will end up dependent on government handouts. They will find themselves looked down upon by everyone else and make them ashamed for not making an adequate living, even though, God knows, that is not their fault.
However much it may produce for the rich, an economic system that does not provide good and rewarding work for everyone is an unacceptable system. Capitalism, as we practice it today, is a failure.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage as much as admit that.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Dictatorships are very secretive because they want to retain as much decision-making power as they can without interference from the people at large. Under authoritarian governments, the press is tightly controlled. Information, often seriously misleading, is doled out sparingly. The population is meant to remain in the dark about the government's actions.
Government secrecy is meant to circumvent popular control. It thereby serves to weaken democracy and to make democratic institutions ineffective.
Governments have many reasons for secrecy. If ministers or high-ranking generals are involved in corrupt practices, in transferring government funds to their private accounts, they clearly do not want this publicized. If governments act illegally, or if their actions are known to be widely unpopular, they will try to keep them secret. Governments expand the range of policy options for themselves when they conceal their actions. What citizens do not know, they cannot criticize or oppose. Governments don't risk public censure as long as their actions remain unknown.
How secretive government is, in the US, emerges from time to time when one little secret leaks out. The newspaper divulged recently that in the early 2000s the CIA sent a number of men, suspected of planning terrorist acts, to a Polish prison where they were interrogated and tortured. On the same day the newspapers mentioned a secret area at Guantánamo Bay, called “Camp 7”, that had previously been concealed from the general public.
Inmates of the Guantanamo complex have been on hunger strikes for a long time but the press does not cover that, in order to deprive the public of understanding of Guantanamo, and in order to deprive those hunger strikes of influence on public opinion.
And then, of course, there is the NSA scandal and the disclosure of massive government surveillance of US citizens.
Our government does not want it to be known that they practice torture. They want to conceal that treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay is as harsh and illegal as the treatment of prisoners by other countries, whom we publicly chastise for human rights violations. They most definitely did not want us to know that they keep track of all our telephone calls, and keep mountains of other information about each of us.
But we brag a lot about our democracy and admonish other countries to follow our shining example. Only yesterday, Vice-President Biden, visiting in Beijing, publicly criticized the President of China for restricting the activities of US journalists over there. You would think that our government would be much more restrained in keeping secrets than they actually are. But the reality is that there are some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies working on programs related to counter terrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
From time to time the top dogs in that vast and secretive bureaucracy come before the public with stories that these hidden efforts have rendered our country much safer in a very dangerous world. Support for this story is, unfortunately, classified so we just have to take their word for it.
The truth is that our government is steadily undermining our democracy. Citizens uninformed about large areas of government activity cannot influence government policy. Instead of active independent citizens, we are a manipulated mass of followers. Our government holds us, its citizens, in contempt when it conceals its actions from us. It believes that it knows better than we do what they should be doing.
When the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, or traveling Senators and Congresspersons admonish foreign countries about their undemocratic practices, they are really trying to persuade us, the folks back home, that we live in a democracy when in fact popular control of government is seriously limited by obsessive government secrecy.
Right on, Vice-President Biden. tell the Chinese that it should not impede the free flow of information. Then come home to Washington and give the same message to our government at home!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Compromise with Iran

The compromise over the production of nuclear fuel and the sanctions imposed on Iran is encountering considerable criticism in the US. A coalition of conservatives and diehard supporters of Israel is very critical of the compromise the Obama administration has forged with the Iranian government.
Their reason: you cannot trust Iran.
On the one hand, this is clearly true. Some of the critics of the treaty with Iran are survivors of the hostage crisis in 1979 when the Iranian students, backed by their government, held 66 Americans hostage for 444 days. It was a grueling experience for the Americans.
        These days the Iranians are supporting Assad, the brutal dictator of Syria. Their foreign policy is based exclusively on their national interests. They have absolutely no concern for the immense suffering of the Syrian people.
        So yes, you cannot trust the Iranian government. While that's true it is also a completely ridiculous reason for opposing the agreement with Iran.
What government can you trust?
        26 years before the Iranian hostage crisis, the US government and the CIA engineered the overthrow a democratically elected Iranian government. The Prime Minister was threatening to nationalize oil companies in Iran. Concerned about the bottom line of US-based global oil companies, our government managed to engineer a coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh. The US had no concern for the Iranians and their democratic rights. All they (we) cared about was the private profit of oil companies.
        At the time of 9/11, the Taliban had been talking to our government for a while about surrendering Osama bin Laden. Our government cut short those negotiations by invading Afghanistan. Soon after that we invaded Iraq.
        The people in that region of the world have no reason whatsoever to trust us.
        Can you trust the US government? Shortly after the head of the National Security Agency denied in Congress that his agency was conducting surveillance of the phone conversations of US citizens, Edward Snowden revealed documents that showed the head of the NSA to be a liar. The US government did not discipline him for lying to Congress, let alone to all American citizens. Our government condones its agency heads lying to the public.
        You have known for many years that our government has meddled in the internal affairs of many foreign countries. We now know that they do not hesitate to extend surveillance over US citizens in spite of all constitutional protections.
        Conservatives in the US are critical of the accord with Iran because, they say, you cannot trust Iran. Iranian conservatives are critical of the accord because, they say, you cannot trust America.
        They are both right.
         But the criticisms of the Iranian accords are silly.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

In a previous blog I mentioned the book by Howard Zinn about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I was struck by the naked brutality employed by the police and local sheriffs departments in the Deep South to resist the efforts of black teenagers and college students, and their white associates, to integrate lunch counters, buses and bus station waiting rooms, and to take brave Black farmers to town to register to vote. The young men and women were arrested again and again, and emerged from the jails bleeding after savage beatings. The federal government offered little protection to them. It did not mobilize itself until Martin Luther King himself was arrested and threatened with violence in Albany, Georgia.
Zinn cites "what Newsweek writer Karl Fleming was told in an Alabama city: 'We killed two year old Indian babes to get this country and you want to give it to the niggers.' “ An extraordinary statement for many reasons. It testifies to the long memory of the conquest of the South. The Native Americans had had their land taken with great violence a century before the revolution in the South in 1950ties and 60ties.
The Sheriff's statement is also an open admission of how cruel a process that had been. In addition, the statement also recognizes the moral burden Southerners assumed with their cruelty. The Sheriff seems to be saying “We committed terrible outrages in order to acquire dominance in this land. Having paid such a frightful price, we will not surrender our lands to anyone, let alone to Blacks.”
Today Native Americans are in terrible shape. Especially those who live on reservations often live in abject poverty. On some reservations unemployment is more than 60%, alcohol and drug addiction are rampant, health care is difficult to get and life expectancy is significantly lower than that of other underserved groups, let alone that of whites.
But all of that is completely hidden. We have MLK Day, and streets named after Dr. King. The killing of Trayvon Martin arouses a great deal of comment. Native Americans are not in the News, their suffering is not noticed, they must bear their pain in silence. The responsibility of white society for that suffering is never acknowledged. Few give it any thought.
This despite the fact that their ancestors have been on this continent for 10,000 years, that they developed more than 100 languages and the distinct cultures that went with them. Some of the tribes invented democratic institutions that were a definite influence of on our “Founding Fathers.” Many, as for the instance the tribes that helped the English immigrants through their first winter and their first years, were much more giving and generous than most of us. Some constructed cities and great religious monuments. Others were fierce warriors and as capable of brutality as the most notorious Southern sheriffs.
As we very slowly and often reluctantly try to overcome the heritage of racist brutality, we must also be more deliberate about bringing the plight of Native Americans to public attention and to take responsibility for our bloody history in relation to the original inhabitants of this continent.