Mysterious deadly black fungus being found on fish in Pacific Northwest — Gov’t: There was some concern Fukushima radiation could be involved

May 22, 2015

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Mysterious deadly black fungus being found on fish in Pacific Northwest — Gov’t: There was some concern Fukushima radiation could be involved — Biologists investigating how this landbased mold is now appearing in ocean — Many reports of unusual rotting sores, growths, bumps, cancer (PHOTOS)

Posted: 21 May 2015 08:45 AM PDT

Gift to Multi-National Corporations as Senate Pushes Fast Track Forward

May 22, 2015
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A final vote on Fast Track trade authority could come as soon as Thursday afternoon

breakingnewsfasttrack.jpgAccording to the Huffington Post, “the measure nearly failed, and only advanced after about a dozen senators engaged in a tense discussion in the middle of the Senate floor while they were still several votes shy.” (Photo: Screenshot)

Thumbing its nose at the wide swath of constituencies and civil society groups that oppose corporate-friendly trade deals, the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to end debate on Fast Track trade legislation, handing a significant victory to President Barack Obama and moving the bill a step closer to passage.

Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority, would allow the president to send the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as other so-called “free trade” pacts, to Congress for an up-or-down vote, preventing such deals from being amended by Congress. The authority would remain in place for six years.

According to news sources, a final vote on Fast Track could come as soon as Thursday afternoon if senators agree to limit the final 30 hours of debate allowed under Senate rules.

“The majority of our senators chose corporate polluters over the American people by voting to forfeit their input into trade negotiations.”
—Luísa Abbott Galvão, Friends of the Earth

The Huffington Post reports that “[t]he measure nearly failed, and only advanced after about a dozen senators engaged in a tense discussion in the middle of the Senate floor while they were still several votes shy.”

In the end, the bill passed 62-38; the full roll call can be viewed here.

According to The Hill, 12 Democrats voted to end debate: Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Tom Carper (Del.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Chris Coons (Del.), Mark Warner, Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Environmental, labor, food safety, public health, and digital rights groups oppose Fast Track on the grounds that it forces Congress to abdicate its policy-making responsibility while greasing the skids for secretly negotiated, corporate-friendly, rights-trampling trade pacts like the TPP. They voiced that opposition on Thursday.

“The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers.”
—Senator Bernie Sanders

In a statement following Thursday’s vote, Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Luísa Abbott Galvão chastised the senators who “chose corporate polluters over the American people by voting to forfeit their input into trade negotiations. Fast Track eases approval of trade deals with provisions that would impede future action by Congress and states to act on climate. A vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate climate change in the name of corporate profits.”

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of 38 senators to vote against the bill, declared: “The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers. If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas.”

The Washington Post reports that Fast Track “is now almost certain to pass the Senate, possibly over the weekend, and then heads for an uncertain fate in the House, where Democratic opposition to Obama’s trade agenda is more deeply ingrained.”

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Petition: Stop the TPP

May 22, 2015
The bill to allow the president to rush through the TPP is being debated right now. Take action and sign our petition today.

 

I wanted to be sure you saw Russ’s message on why we need to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the “fast-track” authority the Obama administration will use to rush this bad trade deal through Congress.

Unfortunately, too many members of BOTH parties haven’t learned the lessons of past trade agreements like NAFTA: They’re still ignoring the consequences for working families when American manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas.

That’s exactly why Russ is running for Senate: To take on the special interests in Washington and fight for working families who have experienced the disastrous results of bad trade agreements firsthand.

Show Russ you have his back by signing his petition against the TPP.

The Senate is considering the bill that gives the president “fast-track” authority on TPP right now, so we don’t have much time. Stand with Russ in the fight against TPP to‌day.

Thanks for all you do,

Cole Leystra
Deputy Campaign Manager

STOP THE TPP »

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Russ Feingold
Date: Tue, May 19, 2015
Subject: Wisconsinites won’t be fooled

Russ for WisconsinCole —

A dangerous mistake. That’s what Congress is poised to make — again — if they move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the backs of American workers.

I’ve launched my campaign for Senate to be an independent voice for Wisconsin, especially when it means fighting back against the D.C. insiders and corporate interests. I wasn’t fooled by past trade agreements like NAFTA, and I don’t believe Wisconsinites are fooled by the TPP, either.

Wisconsin workers have already lost far too many jobs because of bad trade deals. Now, corporate interests and their multimillionaire Republican allies like Ron Johnson want to repeat history, negotiating the biggest trade deal in history in secret and maximizing corporate payoffs at the expense of Wisconsin jobs.

So I’m making a big push to say no to fast-track and stop the TPP in its tracks. But to win this one, we’re going to need broad grassroots support.

Join me as I make one BIG push against both fast-track authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. No deal is better than a raw deal for American workers.

Join Daily Kos and Russ Feingold and stop the TPP

Trade deals are written for the corporations who benefit from their negotiations and not the workers stuck with the raw deal. The TPP itself has been authored by just 12 countries, and while some large corporations have access to read the document, the American public does not. And though the TPP’s contents are under a cloak of secrecy, we know what it will mean for workers.

There are two main issues at hand in the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. First, Congress can authorize “fast-track authority,” or TPA, which would give President Obama the power to call for an up-or-down vote, without amendments, on any trade agreement. Second is the corporate profit-driven TPP itself, the text of which is effectively hidden from the eyes of the general public.

That’s why I oppose both fast-track authority and the TPP: I won’t stand idly by and allow Congress to rig the system against American workers.

Sign your name, and help me make the biggest push yet to stop the TPP in its tracks.

Together, we can fight to make sure Congress doesn’t give our workers a raw deal.

Thanks for all you do,

Russ Feingold

STOP THE TPP »

 

 

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Scientists Warn We’re Ever-Closer To The Apocalypse

May 21, 2015

Posted: 01/22/2015 7:21 pm EST Updated: 01/23/2015 12:59 pm EST

WASHINGTON -– The world crept closer to doomsday on Thursday.

That’s according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which each year updates the hands on a clock meant to symbolize how close we are to the annihilation of the human race, or midnight. For the last three years, the world was five minutes from the end. Today, we’re three minutes away.

The two-minute move is symbolic, but it gives a sense of how grim the outlook some of the best scientific minds have for humanity. The decision to move the hands forward, said Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists executive director Kennette Benedict, came about largely due to the threats posed by anthropogenic climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

“World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from catastrophe,” Benedict said Thursday at an event held in the auditorium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Stunning governmental failures have imperiled civilization on a global scale.”

The announcement came the day after the U.S. Senate voted to acknowledge that climate change is real, bringing it up to speed with every major world scientific body, but it declined to acknowledge that human activity plays any role.

Decisions on the Doomsday Clock are made by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. Richard Somerville, a member of the board and a research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, ticked off a list of climate-related reasons for pessimism this year. He cited the latest National Climate Assessment,released in May, the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the fact that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that 2014 was the world’s hottest year on record. While those indicators all are grim, world leaders have moved slowly on enacting meaningful limits on emissions.

“To profoundly transform the Earth’s climate will harm millions of people, and threaten many key ecological systems upon which humanity relies,” said Somerville. “To avoid such unacceptable levels of climate change, the need for urgent action instead of continued procrastination is clear.”

While world leaders have set a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the current emissions trajectory puts the world on path to more like 3 degrees to 8 degrees C (5 degrees to 15 degrees F). “It only took modest 3- to 8-degree warming to bring the world out from the frigid depths of the last ice age,” said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute specializing in climate risks. Warming on that level again, he said, raises “the specter of a future where the surface of the earth is again radically transformed.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the clock in 1947 to use “the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.” The closest the hands have ever come to midnight was 11:58, in 1953, after the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union began testing thermonuclear bombs.

While the movement of the minute hand closer to midnight signals distress among Bulletin members, the whole point of the symbolic clock is to draw public attention to the issues in hopes forcing change.

“This threat looms over all of humanity,” said Somerville. “We need to respond now while there is still time.”

May 20, 2015

OpEdNews Op Eds 5/19/2015 at 17:30:01
Bernie Sanders Has a Plan: Tax Wall Street and Make College Free
By John Nichols (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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Reprinted from The Nation

From flickr.com/photos/79684288@N00/16603911673/: Senator Bernie Sanders

From flickr.com/photos/79684288@N00/16603911673/: Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders
(image by AFGE) License DMCA

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders keeps bending the rules of Senate service and presidential campaigning by offering up proposals that imagine America as the fair, functional, and prosperous country it could be. Instead of playing politics within the narrow lines prescribed by the partisans and pundits who police the political process in America, the recently announced contender for the Democratic presidential nomination is going big — this week with a plan to provide tuition-free higher education for students at four-year colleges and universities in the United States.

“We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world,” says Sanders. “That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”

The contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is, of course, right.

But the United States isn’t supposed to be able to do the right thing anymore.

According to the Republicans who are running Congress — and running for president — there’s just no money for free higher education. Or for other useful initiatives. In an age of austerity, as defined by House Rules Committee chairman Paul Ryan and his minions, we are told that all Americans have to look forward to are more cuts, more privatization, wage stagnation, and staggering income inequality.

 

Ryan and his ideological amen corner moan that there’s just no money for programs that might educate and employ and care for Americans.

Of course, there is money: trillions of dollars that can be freed up, at the drop of a hat (or a stock market), to bail out banks and fund wars. But Republicans like Ryan and the contenders for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination claim the country is damn-near broke — with just enough money left for one more tax cuts for one more billionaire campaign donor. And, too frequently, America’s “fair and balanced” media and compromised and compromising Democratic Party go along with the fantasy.

What has distinguished Sanders’s Senate service and his presidential bid is a refusal to buy into the lie of austerity. Instead, the senator is identifying problems that need to be solved and identifying where the money to solve them can be found.

Consider the legislation Sanders is sponsoring to provide tuition-free higher education for college students. This is not a new idea. As the senator notes, “Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people. They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same.”

“We used to lead the world in the percentage of our people who graduated college. Today we are in 12th place,” argues Sanders. “We used to have great universities tuition free. Today they are unaffordable. I want a more educated work force. I want everybody to be able to get a higher education regardless of their income.”

 
The case for eliminating undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities — and for substantially lowering student debt and bringing down interest rates on college loans — is sound. And popular.

So we have an appealing proposal that makes economic and social sense.

Cue the chorus of “we can’t afford that.”

But Sanders says we can.

At the same time that the senator is proposing to make higher education free he is also proposing that the United States follow the lead of other countries that have introduced a financial transactions tax. Under the comprehensive plan proposed by the senator — which would also overhaul student loan programs to eliminate profiteering and expand work-study options to keep costs down — “the federal share of the cost would be offset by [revenues raised from the] tax on Wall Street transactions by investment houses, hedge funds and other speculators.”

Specifically, Sanders is sponsoring Senate legislation to introduce a nominal financial transactions tax on speculative trading in stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments. Parallel to the Inclusive Prosperity Act, a measure sponsored by Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, the Sanders proposal would bring the United States up to speed with the dozens of other nations that have recognized the wisdom of establishing financial transactions taxes.

European nations have focused on financial transactions taxes because, as the European Commission explains, “Member States and their citizens want to ensure that the financial sector makes a fair and substantial contribution to public finances. Moreover, the sector should pay back at least part of what the European tax payers have pre-financed in the context of the bank rescue operations.”

In addition to raising revenues, financial transactions taxes have been embraced as tools to reduce the risks of high-speed and irresponsible speculative trading, explains the commission.

National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, whose union has been outspoken in its advocacy for a “Robin Hood Tax” on the speculators, says that the Sanders plan can raise hundreds of billions of dollars every year to pay for higher education.

The financial transactions tax “is the perfect way to fund this program, as well as providing the resources we need for other vital humanitarian needs, including healthcare and good paying jobs for all, affordable housing, eradicating poverty and environmental justice,” said DeMoro. “It is the hallmark of a civilized society and a more just nation.”

More than 170 labor, civil rights, religious, environmental, community, consumer, and student groups have endorsed America’s campaign for a Robin Hood Tax, joining groups in countries around the world that have embraced the movement.

 
There’s a reason for this widespread interest in financial transactions taxes: economic realism.

“Income inequality is now at the center of our national political discourse, with politicians of every stripe recognizing it as a major problem of our time,” explains George Goehl, the executive director of National People’s Action. “What too few are willing to say is that we must demand more revenue from corporations and the one percent to level the playing field.”

Sanders, Ellison, and a handful of other members of Congress are saying it: arguing that the United States can recognize human and societal needs, come up with plans to address them, and find the resources to get the job done.

That’s a rejection of economic austerity. But it is also something else: a rejection of the political austerity — as practiced by Republicans and Democrats — that has prevented progress for too long.

Copyright – 2014 thenation.com — distributed by Agence Global

John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

Nichols writes about politics (more…)

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NOBEL PRIZE WINNER JOSEPH STIGLITZ AGAINST GLOBAL COURT SYSTEM

May 20, 2015

steiglitz.jpg

Economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote this letter to Congressional leaders outlining why the global court system, called Investor State Dispute Settlement, should not be a part of trade deals

Among important points, Stiglitz writes:

Proponents argue that ISDS measures are needed to protect the rights of U.S. and other foreign investors in partner countries.  Few would argue that investors should not be secure and made whole in their expectation that governments would not literally expropriate assets.  But if that were the problem, we already have the solution: insurance against the risk provided by the Word Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, and the United States’ Overseas Private Investment Corporation. …

Most fundamentally, if there were something wrong with their system of property rights protection, why should it be changed only for foreign firms.  If there were something wrong with their system of dispute adjudication, why should that be changed only for foreign firms and only for this particular class of disputes. …

Consider asbestos: for years, companies produced a cancer-causing product and through public civil law were forced to pay settlement to their victims.  But if the ISDS rules had been in place, and the offending companies had been owned by a foreign firm from a country with which we had an investment agreement, the asbestos manufacturers would have been able to sue the government for imposing new laws attempting to regulate asbestos manufacturing. The US taxpayer would have been asked to pay the firm not to produce the death-inducing product.

In the asbestos example, US firms would be out of luck but the foreign firms would gain taxpayer compensation.

See the whole text of the letter here.

Let The Public Read The Completed Parts Of The Trans-Pacific Partnership

May 20, 2015

OpEdNews Op Eds 5/19/2015 at 15:07:35

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Reprinted from Campaign For America’s Future


Map by YES! online team.
(image by Yes Magazine) DMCA

Basic facts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are under public dispute. Fast track must not be approved until this is cleared up. We the People deserve to know what is being voted on with fast track.

The Dispute

There is a big public dispute between President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren over certain facts about the TPP. This dispute is hardly only between the president and Warren, it is about the effect TPP could have on all of our lives. This dispute is mainly over (but not limited to):

Whether the agreement gives corporations certain powers that could let them overrule the laws and regulations of the US and other governments.
Whether the agreement could undermine our Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms.
Whether the agreement has clearly enforceable “progressive” labor and environmental provisions.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Senator Elizabeth Warren and others warn that TPP has Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that set up “corporate courts” in which corporations can sue government, and that can overrule U.S. laws and regulations. More than 100 legal scholars recently wrote an open letter to Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) objecting to this and saying they need to “protect the rule of law and the nation’s sovereignty” in trade agreements like the TPP. The letter says, “ISDS threatens domestic sovereignty by empowering foreign corporations to bypass domestic court systems and privately enforce terms of a trade agreement. It weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the justice system and using an unaccountable, unreviewable system of adjudication.” (The scholars’ statement is available online at: http://bit.ly/1EA5zeO and the letter itself is available at http://bit.ly/1KX6WYB.)

 

President Obama has responded, saying,

“This is the notion that corporate America will be able to use this provision to eliminate our financial regulations and our food safety regulations and our consumer regulations. That’s just bunk. It’s not true. … Under these various ISDS provisions, the U.S. has been sued a total of 17 times. Thirteen of those cases have been decided so far. We’ve won them all. They have no ability to undo U.S. laws. They don’t have the ability to result in punitive damages.”

The White House has assembled a web page to answer criticisms of ISDS.

Undermine Dodd-Frank Financial Reforms

On the ability to undermine Dodd-Frank financial reforms, Warren says, “fast track creates a procedural loophole that could be used to push major legislative changes to Dodd-Frank through Congress as part of that upcoming deal.”

 
The president has responded, “The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it? I’d have to be pretty stupid.”

Bloomberg News took a “fact check” look at this in “Why Obama Is Wrong and Warren Is Right on Trade Bill Quarrel.” The title states the conclusion.

Broken Promises On Enforcement

The president says the labor and environmental standards in TPP are “the most progressive in history.” (Which isn’t saying much, if you think about it.) Warren released a report Monday, “Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements,” that says, “… the history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. FTAs lags far behind the promises. This analysis by the staff of Sen. Warren reveals that despite decades of nearly identical promises, the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.”

This enforcement makes all the difference. As I wrote in the post “How TPP Increases Corporate Power vs. Government — And Us,” it isn’t just the words in an agreement that matter, it is the enforcement of that agreement. Corporations have written the special ISDS enforcement channel into TPP to make sure their concerns get address and on their terms. The corporate negotiators also made sure that labor and environmental concerns do not getan enforcement channel. “Corporations get a special channel of their own for enforcement of rules written by their representatives at the negotiating table. Labor, environment and other stakeholders don’t get that in TPP. This is how TPP will increase corporate power over governments and working people.”

The Solution: Let The Pubic See The Agreement And Decide

There is, of course, an easy way to settle disputes about what is in the TPP and what its consequences might be: let We the People see the text of the agreement and we can decide for ourselves.

The president says that we can’t see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it is still being negotiated. He says other countries will not “make their best offers” if the people in their countries can see what they are offering.

I’m not sure that it is the job of the United States to help other countries hide things from their own citizens, but OK, then how about letting us see the parts that are not still being negotiated?

Surely allowing We the People to read and analyze the “settled” provisions cannot cause other countries to hold back offers in the unsettled provisions.

Show Us the Current ISDS

The ISDS provisions of TPP leaked to Wikileaks and the New York Times earlier this year. What leaked clearly shows that corporations will be able to overrule U.S. laws and regulations.

So maybe the ISDS provisions have changed. Let We the People see the current ISDS provisions that the president says will not do this. The previously leaked provisions say they will, so they must have changed. But we can’t know until we see the text.

 

Show Us Labor And Environmental Provisions

The president says that there “are,” not “will be,” very good labor and environmental standards in TPP. In other words, this part is not being negotiated; it is completed.

So let us see the labor and environmental provisions so we can see for ourselves how “progressive” they really are and how “progressive” the enforcement mechanisms are.

Public Only Now Hearing About TPP

President Obama is selling TPP as rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century. But the nation’s “corporate” news media has (until very recently) largely been silent on this massive trade agreement. The big network broadcast news shows have maintained what can only be called a blackout of information on the TPP.

 

The dispute is finally forcing the news media to begin reporting that the TPP is coming. Right now many in the public are hearing for the first time that there is a massive trade deal before Congress. This is occurring while Congress is already voting on fast track, which essentially preapproves this deal. This is not a great record for an industry whose function is supposed to be providing the citizens with the information they need to make the important decisions about the direction of our country.

Damage Done By Past Agreements

Maybe TPP will turn out to be the best thing that ever came along for our working people and for the people who are exploited in countries like Vietnam. Maybe it will require a good minimum wage that lets Vietnamese workers buy things we make here, and will let them organize unions. Maybe it will require balanced trade instead of petting other countries sell to us without buying from us — not something you can really call “trade.”

But the “trade” agreements our country has entered into so far have not been good for working people here or elsewhere. They have allowed companies to move production away from our unions, and our wage and worker safety rules, and bring the same goods back here to sell in the same outlets. They have not been good for the environment, allowing corporations to move production away from our environmental rules and bring the same goods back here to sell in the same outlets. They have not been good for our country’s economy, resulting in enormous, humongous trade deficits that drain jobs, wages and our future. They were negotiated using a rigged corporate-dominated process that resulted in lower wages paid by corporations, and enabled them to move factories and jobs across borders to escape environmental, wage and safety laws. The result has been devastation of entire regions while a few billionaires and corporate/Wall Street executives are massively enriched.

So excuse We the People for being suspicious when yet another corporate-dominated trade agreement comes along, supported by the usual suspects: Wall Street, the Chamber of Commerce, industry lobbyists and Republicans; opposed by all of organized labor, all progressives, literally thousands of public interest groups and those Democrats not expecting to get lucrative lobbying jobs once they are out of office.

Our Nation’s Values

The president says that TPP is about rewriting the rules of doing business for the 21st century. He says it is crucial to “get it right.” In a letter emailed to Organizing for America supporters, the president wrote,

“Right now, we have an opportunity to set the most progressive trade agreement in our nation’s history — with enforceable labor and environmental protections we simply can’t count on other nations to pursue.

“Here’s why this means so much to me: I want to make sure that any deal we reach reflects our nation’s values, in a way that hasn’t always been true in the past. That’s why I’ve said I’ll refuse to sign any agreement that doesn’t put American workers first.”

One of “our nation’s values” is supposed to be that We the People are part of the process. Congress is currently in the voting process for fast track. But the public has no idea what is in the TPP, and little idea that this huge trade agreement, “rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century” is even being finalized!

Let us — We, the People — see the agreement before Congress decides whether to essentially pre-approve it by voting on fast track. At least let us see the parts that are completed, and give us good reasons why we can’t see the rest.

 

 

Dave Johnson is Founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest. Dave is a frequent public speaker and talk-radio guest and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community. He does a regular weekly segment on the popular Fairness (more…)

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Officials: 6,000% cancer rate increase in Fukushima children’s thyroids

May 20, 2015

ENENews


Officials: 6,000% cancer rate increase in Fukushima children’s thyroids — Expert: Urgent countermeasures against the suspected outbreak are necessary — Professor: Gov’t stopped me from checking thyroid exposure levels after 3/11 (VIDEO)

Posted: 19 May 2015 04:05 PM PDT

Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #4: Bust Up Wall Street

May 20, 2015

Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog

19 May 15

 

hen Americans think of how the economic rules are stacked against them, they naturally think of Wall Street.

When the Wall Street bubble burst in 2008 because of excessive risk-taking, millions of working Americans lost their jobs, health insurance, savings, and homes.

But The Street is back to many of its old tricks. And its lobbyists are busily rolling back the Dodd-Frank Act, intended to prevent another crash.

The biggest Wall Street banks are also much larger. In 1990, the five biggest banks had 10 percent of all of the nation’s banking assets. Now, they have 44 percent – more than they had at the time of the 2008 crash.

They have a virtual lock on taking companies public, play key roles pricing commodities, are involved in all major U.S. mergers and acquisitions and many overseas, and responsible for most of the trading in derivatives and other complex financial instruments.

And as they’ve gained dominance over the financial sector, they’ve become more politically potent. They’re major sources of campaign funds for both Republicans and Democrats.

Wall Street banks supply personnel for key economic posts in Republican and Democratic administrations, and lucrative employment to economic officials when they leave Washington.

It’s a vicious cycle. The bigger they get, the more likely it is that government will bail them out if they get into trouble again. This, in turn, confers on them an ever-larger competitive advantage over smaller, community-minded banks that don’t have the implied guarantee – which gives the biggest banks even more economic and political power.

What should be done?

First, resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment from commercial banking.

Second, put a small sales tax on every financial transaction. This would discourage speculation and slow down the casino. Not incidentally, such a tax could generate billions of dollars a year for, say, better schools.

But the most important thing we should do is bust up the big banks. Any bank that’s too big to fail is too big, period.

Antitrust law should be used the way it was against the big oil trusts and the telephone monopoly. The idea was to prevent too much economic and political power from concentrating in too few hands. And that’s precisely the problem with Wall Street.

The only sure way to stop excessive risk-taking on Wall Street so you don’t risk losing your job or your savings or your home, is to put an end to the excessive economic and political power of Wall Street.

It’s time to bust up the big banks.

 

Fossil Fuel Subsidized by $10 Million Per Minute, Says IMF

May 20, 2015

Marathon Petroleum refinery in Canton, Ohio. (photo: PR/Guardian UK)
Marathon Petroleum refinery in Canton, Ohio. (photo: PR/Guardian UK)

By Damian Carrington, Guardian UK

19 May 15

 

‘Shocking’ revelation finds $5.3tn subsidy estimate for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2015/mar/16/the-biggest-story-in-the-world-why-we-need-to-keep-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground-videoossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”

Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”

The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending subsidies for fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20%. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date.

Ending the subsidies would also slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50% – about 1.6 million lives a year.

Furthermore, the IMF said the resources freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer” for many countries, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction through greater investment in infrastructure, health and education and also by cutting taxes that restrict growth.

Data on fossil fuels and subsidies. (photo: IMF)
Data on fossil fuels and subsidies. (photo: IMF)

Another consequence would be that the need for subsidies for

renewable energy

– a relatively tiny $120bn a year – would also disappear, if fossil fuel prices reflected the full cost of their impacts.

“These [fossil fuel subsidy] estimates are shocking,” said Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s head of fiscal affairs and former finance minister of Portugal. “Energy prices remain woefully below levels that reflect their true costs.”

David Coady, the IMF official in charge of the report, said: “When the [$5.3tn] number came out at first, we thought we had better double check this!” But the broad picture of huge global subsidies was “extremely robust”, he said. “It is the true cost associated with fossil fuel subsidies.”

The IMF estimate of $5.3tn in fossil fuel subsidies represents 6.5% of global GDP. Just over half the figure is the money governments are forced to spend treating the victims of air pollution and the income lost because of ill health and premature deaths. The figure is higher than a 2013 IMF estimate because new data from the World Health Organisation shows the harm caused by air pollution to be much higher than thought.

Coal is the dirtiest fuel in terms of both local air pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions and is therefore the greatest beneficiary of the subsidies, with just over half the total. Oil, heavily used in transport, gets about a third of the subsidy and gas the rest.

The biggest single source of air pollution is coal-fired power stations and China, with its large population and heavy reliance on coal power, provides $2.3tn of the annual subsidies. The next biggest fossil fuel subsidies are in the US ($700bn), Russia ($335bn), India ($277bn) and Japan ($157bn), with the European Union collectively allowing $330bn in subsidies to fossil fuels.

Data on fossil fuels and subsidies. (photo: IMF)
Data on fossil fuels and subsidies. (photo: IMF)

The costs resulting from the climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions account for subsidies of $1.27tn a year, about a quarter, of the IMF’s total. The IMF calculated this cost using an official US government estimate of $42 a tonne of CO2 (in 2015 dollars), a price “very likely to underestimate” the true cost, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The direct subsidising of fuel for consumers, by government discounts on diesel and other fuels, account for just 6% of the IMF’s total. Other local factors, such as reduced sales taxes on fossil fuels and the cost of traffic congestion and accidents, make up the rest. The IMF says traffic costs are included because increased fuel prices would be the most direct way to reduce them.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change chief charged with delivering a deal to tackle global warming at a crunch summit in December, said: “The IMF provides five trillion reasons for acting on fossil fuel subsidies. Protecting the poor and the vulnerable is crucial to the phasing down of these subsidies, but the multiple economic, social and environmental benefits are long and legion.”

Data on fossil fuels and subsidies. (photo: IMF)
Data on fossil fuels and subsidies. (photo: IMF)

Barack Obama and the G20 nations called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in 2009, but little progress had been made until oil prices fell in 2014. In April, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told the Guardian that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now,” he said.

Reform of the subsidies would increase energy costs but Kim and the IMF both noted that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries. Gaspar said that with oil and coal prices currently low, there was a “golden opportunity” to phase out subsidies and use the increased tax revenues to reduce poverty through investment and to provide better targeted support.

Subsidy reforms are beginning in dozens of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand. In India, subsidies for diesel ended in October 2014. “People said it would not be possible to do that,” noted Coady. Coal use has also begun to fall in China for the first time this century.

On renewable energy, Coady said: “If we get the pricing of fossil fuels right, the argument for subsidies for renewable energy will disappear. Renewable energy would all of a sudden become a much more attractive option.”

Shelagh Whitley, a subsidies expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: “The IMF report is yet another reminder that governments around the world are propping up a century-old energy model. Compounding the issue, our research shows that many of the energy subsidies highlighted by the IMF go toward finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, which we know must be left in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change.”

Developing the international cooperation needed to tackle climate change has proved challenging but a key message from the IMF’s work, according to Gaspar, is that each nation will directly benefit from tackling its own fossil fuel subsidies. “The icing on the cake is that the benefits from subsidy reform – for example, from reduced pollution – would overwhelmingly accrue to local populations,” he said.

“By acting local, and in their own best interest, [nations] can contribute significantly to the solution of a global challenge,” said Gaspar. “The path forward is clear: act local, solve global.”

 


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