Recipe for Ripoffs

From Other Words:

Deals that amount to NAFTA on steroids benefit corporations and hurt the rest of us.

By and
June 11,2014

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President Barack Obama is a surprisingly devout disciple of so-called “free trade.”

During his first presidential bid he promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), indicating some concern over the U.S.-Canada-Mexico pact. A month after his 2009 inauguration, Obama declared that he would “be very careful” and take his time meeting that goal.

Instead, he crossed fixing that accord off his to-do list and became a cheerleader for new deals that amount to NAFTA on steroids.

What’s the big deal?

The United States has inked free-trade deals with 20 countries over the past three decades. This country plunged headfirst into the World Trade Organization before it formally launched in 1995. It’s now clear that this zeal benefits corporations while hurting the rest of us.

These accords stoke inequality by driving down wages. The United States exported nearly 700,000 jobs between NAFTA’s 1994 debut and 2010, despite promises that it would expand employment. Following 25 years of stagnation, typical household income remains about $51,000 a year.

Free trade deals hand corporations a shield to fend off national regulations. Hitching its fortune to rules rigged by the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), a Canadian-based mining company called Pacific Rim claims to have a right to dig for gold in El Salvador — even though that country has banned the practice to protect its meager supply of drinkable water.

Pacific Rim is suing El Salvador’s government for $300 million.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal could render this kind of corporate power grab routine. The pact would skew global economic rules for a dozen countries, including our own and Japan, which account for 40 percent of world trade. Among other things, this deal would make it easier for corporations to use “investor-to-state” lawsuits like the El Salvador debacle to get their way over the objections of foreign governments.

This recipe for ripoffs isn’t really about trade. And that’s the point. These arrangements are a gimmick intended to trump local and national laws to suit the whims of corporations.

That’s why merely five of the looming Trans-Pacific deal’s 29 “chapters” have much to do with trade. The rest hand big companies privileges and protections.

With people taking a backseat to profits, it’s no wonder our leaders are negotiating pacts like this behind closed doors. When WikiLeaks spilled the beans on the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s environmental chapter, it turned out that this deal included weaker safeguards than its predecessors, outraging people who spend their lives fighting for cleaner air and water.

The Obama administration is also pursuing a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with European nations. Those talks are just as secret, and that pact would also make it easier for corporations to override environmental safeguards by suing foreign governments to get their way.

Why is WikiLeaks rooting around for these documents and releasing them to the public? The pacts will require Senate approval, yet lawmakers have had to beg for any details about them. Based on leaks, other big concerns center around health issues. For example, some provisions would block government policies that discourage smoking. There are also many concerns about labor rights.

Meanwhile, hundreds of corporate insiders get a seat at the table without making a fuss. A list of 605 big-business insiders leaked in 2012 offers a glimpse of the scope of this influence. It includes industry-wide lobbyists like the American Farm Bureau and the Nuclear Energy Institute, along with a who’s-who of corporate America.

Abbott Laboratories, Caterpillar Inc., Walmart and Yum! Restaurants International, the fast-food powerhouse that includes KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, all made the list while environmentalists and labor leaders remain locked out.

Thankfully, the Senate is denying Obama his request for “fast-track” negotiating authority. Given the kind of gridlock prevailing in Congress, perhaps these deals won’t ever be sealed.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies @ESGrecoOtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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How Inequality Shapes the American Family

From Alternet:

Inequality changes who we are, individually and collectively.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
June 4, 2014

How do you decide who to marry, or whether to marry at all? How many children to have? Whether to engage in short-term hookups or long-term partnerships?

We don’t like to think that economic forces outside our individual control can shape the most intimate aspects of our lives, like whether or not we wed, when to have kids, and what kinds of families we create. But a growing body of evidence suggests that inequality is changing not only American family structures, but the roles men and women play and the calculations they make in pairing and establishing households. Inequality changes who we are, individually and collectively.

Inequality is changing the stakes for forming partnerships. It means, for example that there are fewer men with stable economic cicrumstances for women to choose from as appropriate long-term partners at both the lower and middle rungs of the economic ladder. A shortage of men in the less financially stable groups means that the guys who do look like good prospects realize don’t feel any particular pressure to commit. So they don’t. On the other hand, working-class and poor women who consider marrying men who may get laid off or become financial burdens are less ready to commit themselves.

At the top of the economic ladder, conditions are quite different. There people have resources to cope with childcare, good schools, therapy, and other things that can help families succeed. More lasting commitments and greater family stability go hand-in-hand with greater resources.

Law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn have been investigating how inequality influences family life. In their new book, Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family, they find we are creating profound social changes through America’s tolerance of wealth and income disparities. In the New Gilded Age, class once again becomes a dominant force in human life, just as it was aboard the Titanic. In an email interview, I caught up with the authors to delve further into the new class-based American family.

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“Iraq” Is Still Arabic for “Vietnam”

From Common Dreams:

by Ira Chernus

When George W. Bush and the neocons launched their war in Iraq, critics coined the slogan, “‘Iraq’ is Arabic for ‘Vietnam.'” The point was obvious: Another long quagmire of a war in an inhospitable foreign land would lead once again to nothing but death, suffering, and defeat for America.

That was back in 2003 and 2004, when the parallel was to the Vietnam war of 1965 – 1973.

To see why “Iraq” is still Arabic for “Vietnam” we have to turn the historical memory dial back just a few more years, to 1962 and 1963. That was when John F. Kennedy struggled with the same dilemma now facing Barack Obama: How much, if it all, should we get involved militarily to help a corrupt leader who stays in power by terrorizing his political enemies?

Here’s what JFK told interviewers in September, 1963, about South Vietnam under President Ngo Dinh Diem: “I don’t think … unless a greater effort is made by the  Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there.”

Here’s what Barack Obama told reporters on June 13, 2014: “Iraq’s leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together. … and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq’s communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force.”

JFK: “In the final analysis it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it.”

Obama: “We can’t do it for them. …  The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together.”

JFK balanced his calls for Diem to reform with what sounded like a promise that the South Vietnamese government would get U.S. aid no matter what it did or failed to do: “I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw…. This is a very important struggle even though it is far away. … We also have to participate — we may not like it — in the defense of Asia.”

Obama sounded a similar note: “Given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well. Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces. …  They will have the support of the United States. …  We have enormous interests there.”

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How to Dehumanize a Trans Person in Three Simple Steps

From Slate:

June 3 2014

Humans are hardwired for empathy, which means we are prone to treat other people’s struggles with compassion and sympathy. This rule, however, doesn’t apply when the other people in question can be made to seem disordered, disgusting, and inhuman. The trick for those who oppose granting basic human dignity to any given minority group, then, is to deny their humanity. A human being probably deserves our empathy and respect. A debased freak clearly does not.

The effort to smear gay people as less-than-human was always destined to fail: There are a fair number of us, and once you know a gay person, it’s hard to see them all as disturbed weirdoes. But there are really very few trans people in the world, and, as the National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson recently illustrated in a strangely angry hatchet job on Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox, the drive to deprive them of their dignity remains alive and well. In fact, Williamson’s article is such a marvelously thorough polemic against treating trans people as people that it deserves to be studied in detail. For the convenience of all those who hope to follow in Williamson’s footsteps, here’s a handy guide for dehumanizing trans people—in three simple steps.

1. Compare a trans person to an object or caricature.

Williamson titles his essay “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman,” and he repeatedly drives home his point by referring to Cox as “he” throughout. But Williamson’s real aim is to prove that Laverne Cox is not human. If we see her as a human being, we might start to empathize with her plight and thus agree to respect her identity and personhood. Williamson is obviously horrified by this possibility (though he never actually explains why), so he mounts a clever rhetorical effort to reduce Cox from a person to a mere object. First, Williamson describes Cox as “an effigy”—that is, one of those dummies you burn to show how much you hate someone. Then Williamson brings Cox down yet another notch, comparing her to a “voodoo doll”—that is, those things you stick needles into to cause someone pain, at least in the popular imagination.

I ran Williamson’s comments by David Livingstone Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of New England and author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others.

“What he means here is something like—this person isn’t a person,” he told me. “This isn’t someone with her own identity and her point of view—a human being just like he is. She’s something alien, something that we want to put at arms length.”

The net effect of these insulting comparisons is, of course, to make Cox sound like something you should either light on fire or poke with needles, not a human whose innate dignity deserves your respect. Rather than portraying Cox as a person (or, God forbid, a woman), Williamson has turned her into a caricatured object designed to be destroyed. With that groundwork laid, Williamson moves in for the second, even more degrading blow.

2. Make the trans person sound grotesquely disordered.

Williamson refuses to use the scientific term for a physical sex change, “sex-reassignment surgery,” which sounds far too clinical to meet his purposes. Sex-reassignment surgery sounds like something your neighbor or uncle might get; “genital amputation and mutilation,” as Williamson describes the procedure, does not. This graphic rebranding places in the reader’s mind images of disgusting disfigurement, even barbarism—certainly not the kind of thing a healthy, well-adjusted human being would voluntarily undergo.

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The Challenge of Sustaining Our Oceans

From Common Dreams:

by David Suzuki

June 8 is World Oceans Day. It’s a fitting time to contemplate humanity’s evolving relationship with the source of all life. For much of human history, we’ve affected marine ecosystems primarily by what we’ve taken out of the seas. The challenge as we encounter warming temperatures and increasing industrial activity will be to manage what we put into them.

As a top predator, humans from the tropics to the poles have harvested all forms of marine life, from the smallest shrimp to the largest whales, from the ocean’s surface to its floor. The staggering volume of fish removed from our waters has had a ripple effect through all ocean ecosystems. Yet the ocean continues to provide food for billions of people, and improved fishing practices in many places, including Canada, are leading to healthier marine-life populations. We’re slowly getting better at managing what we catch to keep it within the ocean’s capacity to replenish. But while we may be advancing in this battle, we’re losing the war with climate change and pollution.

In the coming years, our ties to the oceans will be defined by what we put into them: carbon dioxide, nutrients washed from the land, diseases from aquaculture and land-based animals, invasive species, plastics, contaminants, noise and ever-increasing marine traffic. We once incorrectly viewed oceans as limitless storehouses of marine bounty and places to dump our garbage; now it’s clear they can only handle so much.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report described how ingredients in the ocean’s broth are changing dramatically. Life in the seas is closely linked to factors in the immediate surroundings, such as temperature, acidity or pH, salinity, oxygen and nutrient availability. These combine at microscopic levels to create conditions that favour one form of life over another and emerge into complex ecosystems.

The oceans now absorb one-quarter of the atmosphere’s CO2. That’s bad news for organisms with calcium carbonate shells that dissolve in acidic conditions. We’re witnessing the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish along the West Coast of North America. Earlier this year, a Vancouver Island scallop farm closed after losing 10 million scallops, likely because of climate change and increasing acidity. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also linked oyster die-offs along the Pacific coast to climate change.

While we may be getting better at figuring out how to sustainably harvest crabs, lobsters and sea urchins, we’re just starting to investigate whether they can even survive in oceans altered by climate change.

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Doing for the Poor and Doing to the Poor

From Huffington Post:

Washington is full of well-meaning types who want to help the poor. The list of prospective helpers includes not only the standard liberal do-gooder types talking about programs like pre-K education, but also conservatives like Paul Ryan who argue that taking away food stamps and other benefits will give low-income people the motivation they need to go out and get a job.

While sincere efforts to help the poor should be encouraged, we should also realize that our current economic policies are doing much to harm the poor. First and foremost we should realize that the decision to maintain high rates of unemployment is having a devastating impact on the well-being of millions of low- and moderate-income workers and their children.

The reasons are straightforward. When the overall unemployment rate goes up, the rate for the less-educated and minorities rises even more. This has been a regular pattern in the data for many decades that has been very visible in the current downturn.

Before the recession the overall unemployment rate was at 4.5 percent. It peaked at 10.0 percent in the fall of 2009 before gradually falling back to its current 6.3 percent. By contrast, the unemployment rate for workers without high school degrees rose from just over 7.0 percent in the months before the recession to a peak of more than 15.0 percent in peak months in 2009 and 2010. This is an increase of 8.0 percentage points. The unemployment rate for blacks rose from just over 8.0 percent before the recession to a peak of more than 16.0 percent, also a rise of 8.0 percentage points.

High unemployment doesn’t just hurt those at the bottom by denying them jobs, they also work fewer hours than they would like. The analysis in my book with Jared Bernstein, Getting Back to Full Employment, found that hours worked for families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution increased by 17 percent in the boom at the end of the 1990s. By contrast, hours worked barely increased at all for those in the top fifth.

And a lower unemployment rate means higher wages for those at the bottom. We found that a sustained one percentage point decline in the unemployment rate is associated with a 9.4 percent rise in real wages. To summarize, for the poor, lower unemployment translates into more jobs, more hours, and higher pay.

While the data on these points may be clear, many people will question that having high unemployment is a policy choice. That requires a little bit of thought.

At this point we have solid evidence that we can reduce the unemployment rate with increased government spending or tax cuts targeted to those who would spend the money. We have opted not to do so in order to reduce the deficit.

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