So-called free trade talks should be in the public, not corporate interest

From The Guardian UK:

Instead a negotiation process that is neither democratic and or transparent is likely to perpetuate a managed trade regime, Friday 5 July 2013

Though nothing has come of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha development round of global trade negotiations since they were launched almost a dozen years ago, another round of talks is in the works. This time the negotiations will not be held on a global, multilateral basis. Rather, two huge regional agreements – one transpacific, and the other transatlantic – are to be negotiated. Are the coming talks likely to be more successful?

The Doha round was torpedoed by the US refusal to eliminate agricultural subsidies – a sine qua non for any true development round, given that 70% of those in the developing world depend on agriculture directly or indirectly. The US position was truly breathtaking, given that the WTO had already judged that America’s cotton subsidies – paid to fewer than 25,000 rich farmers – were illegal. Washington’s response was to bribe Brazil, which had brought the complaint, not to pursue the matter further, leaving in the lurch millions of poor cotton farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and India, who suffer from depressed prices because of America’s largesse to its wealthy farmers.

Given this recent history, it now seems clear that the negotiations to create a free trade area between the US and Europe, and another between the US and much of the Pacific (except for China), are not about establishing a true free trade system. Instead, the goal is a managed trade regime – managed, that is, to serve the special interests that have long dominated trade policy in the west.

There are a few basic principles that those entering the discussions will, one hopes, take to heart. First, any trade agreement has to be symmetrical. If, as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the US demands that Japan eliminate its rice subsidies, Washington should, in turn, offer to eliminate its production (and water) subsidies, not just on rice (which is relatively unimportant in the US) but on other agricultural commodities as well.

Second, no trade agreement should put commercial interests ahead of broader national interests, especially when non-trade-related issues like financial regulation and intellectual property are at stake. America’s trade agreement with Chile, for example, impedes Chile’s use of capital controls, even though the International Monetary Fund now recognises that they can be an important instrument of macro-prudential policy.

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Brazil’s Left Is Eager to Lead the “Swarm”

From Inter Press Service:

By Fabiana Frayssinet
Jul 6 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO,  (IPS) – The street marches in Brazil, initially non-party-political, have begun to take on the hues of leftwing political and social groupings, which are now trying to set the course of the movement that emerged from online social networks.

Augusto de Franco, founder of Escola de Redes, a research group devoted to netweaving, said the movement that originated in large cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro was driven like a “swarm of bees, a manifestation of interactions that could only occur in highly connected societies,” like what has happened in Madrid and other Spanish cities, or in Tahrir Square in Egypt.

The demonstrations were triggered by one specific issue, a hike in public transport fares. But they have grown into the largest protests in the country since 1992, when demonstrations led to the resignation of then president Fernando Collor de Melo.

This time the protests began with 5,000 young people and swelled to 1.5 million in 10 days. And they are innovative in nature, according to Franco.

“They were not centrally organised, they had no formal leadership (although several short-term leaders emerged). They were not masses convened by centralised organisations, but multitudes of people that formed constellations,” he told IPS.

The swarm, without a queen bee, is now in the middle of an “ideological tug-of-war,” according to João Pedro Stédile, leader of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST – Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) which is now joining the protests.

“Since young people do not have a mass organisation, the social classes have begun an ideological debate. They dispute the young people’s ideas in order to influence them,” Stédile said in an interview with IPS.

“On the one hand is the bourgeoisie that used Globo (Brazil’s largest broadcaster) and other media outlets to put the right’s demands in the mouths of young people and on their placards. On the other hand is the left and the working class, that are trying to get on to the streets to push their own agendas,” he said.

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Chomsky: How Do We Defend Ourselves from the Corporate and Imperial Forces That Threaten Our Existence?

From Alternet:

We need a worldwide struggle to preserve the global commons.

By Noam Chomsky
July 5, 2013

With wrenching tragedies only a few miles away, and still worse catastrophes perhaps not far removed, it may seem wrong, perhaps even cruel, to shift attention to other prospects that, although abstract and uncertain, might offer a path to a better world – and not in the remote future.
I’ve visited Lebanon several times and witnessed moments of great hope, and of despair, that were tinged with the Lebanese people’s remarkable determination to overcome and to move forward.
The first time I visited – if that’s the right word – was exactly 60 years ago, almost to the day. My wife and I were hiking in Israel’s northern Galilee one evening, when a jeep drove by on a road near us and someone called out that we should turn back: We were in the wrong country. We had inadvertently crossed the border, then unmarked – now, I suppose, bristling with armaments.
A minor event, but it forcefully brought home a lesson: The legitimacy of borders – of states, for that matter – is at best conditional and temporary.
Almost all borders have been imposed and maintained by violence, and are quite arbitrary. The Lebanon-Israel border was established a century ago by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, dividing up the former Ottoman Empire in the interests of British and French imperial power, with no concern for the people who happened to live there, or even for the terrain. The border makes no sense, which is why it was so easy to cross unwittingly.
Surveying the terrible conflicts in the world, it’s clear that almost all are the residue of imperial crimes and the borders that the great powers drew in their own interests.
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An “ungodly stupid” get-rich scheme: The real border security story

From Salon:

With two wars ending, the “defense” industry sets its sights on its next chance to hit pay dirt: The U.S. border

Saturday, Jul 6, 2013

Last week, John McCain gleefully announced that the Senate immigration bill would result in the “most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” Indeed, an amendment authored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., authorizes a massive increase in border security dollars — including $30 billion for hiring and training 19,000 new border patrol officers over the next 10 years, and over $13 billion for a “comprehensive Southern border strategy” (including 700 miles of high-tech fencing).

What the senators didn’t tout was that the wall is both functionally useless – and will enrich some of the largest military contractors in the world.

Only about half of the country’s unauthorized immigrants entered illegally through the Southern border to begin with. And with illegal entries at a 40-year low, and the undocumented population down by a million from its 2007 peak, the right’s fetish for security spending is shaping up to be a boondoggle for giant defense contractors with a consistent track record of bungling past efforts to “secure the border.”

The amendment passed with 67 votes, including the support of 15 Republicans. NBC News found it “striking” that “some of these Republican senators had opposed previous immigration-reform efforts — like the 2010 DREAM Act.” But, really, it’s not so striking. Immigration reform is being loaded up with a ton of the sort of “bloated government” and “wasteful spending” the right can get behind: military spending.

Perhaps by design, the defense industry is pushing friendly lawmakers to advance the pork-laden bill. Eric Lipton of the New York Times reported that, “the nation’s largest military contractors, facing federal budget cuts and the withdrawals from two wars, are turning their sights to the Mexican border in the hopes of collecting some of the billions of dollars expected to be spent on tighter security if immigration legislation becomes law.”

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‘The real threat to our future is peak water’

From The Guardian UK:

As population rises, overpumping means some nations have reached peak water, which threatens food supply, says Lester Brown

The Observer, Saturday 6 July 2013

Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water. We can produce food without oil, but not without water.

We drink on average four quarts (4.5 litres) of water per day, in one form or another, but the food we eat each day requires 2,000 quarts of water to produce, or 500 times as much. Getting enough water to drink is relatively easy, but finding enough to produce the ever-growing quantities of grain the world consumes is another matter.

Grain consumed directly supplies nearly half of our calories. That consumed indirectly as meat, milk, and eggs supplies a large part of the remainder. Today roughly 40% of the world grain harvest comes from irrigated land. It thus comes as no surprise that irrigation expansion has played a central role in tripling the world grain harvest over the last six decades.

During the last half of the 20th century, the world’s irrigated area expanded from 232m acres (93m hectares) in 1950 to 706m in 2000. This tripling of world irrigation within 50 years was historically unique. But since then the growth in irrigation has come to a near standstill, expanding only 9% between 2000 and 2010.

Farmers get their irrigation water either from rivers or from underground aquifers. Historically, beginning with the Sumerians some 6,000 years ago, irrigation water came from building dams across rivers, creating reservoirs that then enabled them to divert the water onto the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. This method of irrigation prevailed until the mid 20th century, but with few remaining sites for building dams the prospects for expanding surface irrigation faded. Farmers then turned to drilling wells to tap underground water resources.

In doing so, they learned that there are two types of aquifers: those that are replenishable through rainfall, which are in the majority, and those that consist of water laid down eons ago, and thus do not recharge. The latter, known as fossil aquifers, include two strategically important ones, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain and the Ogallala aquifer under the US Western Great Plains.

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Dozens missing after oil train explosion levels Canadian town center

From Raw Story:

By David Ferguson
Saturday, July 6, 2013

A series of explosions rocked the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec late Friday night when a train carrying thousands of tons of crude oil derailed. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Company, the blasts flattened buildings and left at least 60 people missing. Firefighters were still trying to contain the resulting blaze Saturday morning as 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Lac-Mégantic has about 6,000 citizens and is located around 155 miles (250 km) west of Montréal. Witnesses said the derailment took place around 1:00 in the morning.

Zeph Kee, who lives 30 miles from Lac-Mégantic, told CBC that he saw the fireball from the first explosion rise into the sky. Patrons at a local bar were outside when the first fires lit the sky. The bar, said Kee, burned to the ground hours later.

Several homes and businesses, he said, are gone. “It was total mayhem,” he said, “people not finding their kids.”

More than 100 firefighters have converged on the scene, some traveling from the U.S., as officials try to bring the fire under control.

Isabelle Aller, a visitor to the area, said that she has been calling her friends’ phones repeatedly, but they never answer.

“The more time that passes, the more we are worried,” she said, adding that after the initial explosion, people went to the scene to watch the fire and may have been caught in the ensuing blasts.

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