Archive for May, 2015

Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade. It’s About Corporate Control.

May 31, 2015

Julian Assange. (photo: Democracy Now!)
Julian Assange. (photo: Democracy Now!)

By Democracy Now!

30 May 15

 

http://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2015/5/27/julian_assange_on_the_trans_pacifics negotiations continue, WikiLeaks has published leaked chapters of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership — a global trade deal between the United States and 11 other countries. The TPP would cover 40 percent of the global economy, but details have been concealed from the public. A recently disclosed “Investment Chapter” highlights the intent of U.S.-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations can sue governments if their laws interfere with a company’s claimed future profits. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns the plan could chill the adoption of health and environmental regulations.

Watch more from our Julian Assange interview: Part 1 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Monday.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, let’s stay with the United States for a moment, with the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which certainly doesn’t only involve the United States, but there’s a huge debate within the United States about it right now. And I dare say, some of that debate is as a result of what WikiLeaks revealed. For some people, this treaty, that will determine 40 percent of the global economy, the only thing that we have seen about it comes from WikiLeaks. Explain what the TPP is and the information that you got, that you put out about this top-secret agreement.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the TPP is an international treaty that has 29 different chapters. We have released four of them, and we are trying to get the remainder. For the information that has been released, through the chapters that we got hold of and through some congressmen who have seen the contents of some of the others, but they are not allowed to write it down—

AMY GOODMAN: They can go into a room and look at it.

JULIAN ASSANGE: They can go into a room. It has been—it’s not formally classified, but it’s being treated as if it was classified, in terms of how the information is being managed. They go into a room. If they try and take notes, the notes have to be handed over to the government for safe keeping. And, of course, congressmen under those situations won’t take notes. So it is very well guarded from the press and the majority of people and even from congressmen. But 600 U.S. companies are part of the process and have been given access to various parts of the TPP.

OK, so it’s a—the largest-ever international economic treaty that has ever been negotiated, very considerably larger than NAFTA. It is mostly not about trade. Only five of the 29 chapters are about traditional trade. The others are about regulating the Internet and what Internet—Internet service providers have to collect information. They have to hand it over to companies under certain circumstances. It’s about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital healthcare system, privatization of hospitals. So, essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.

And so, that is erecting and embedding new, ultramodern neoliberal structure in U.S. law and in the laws of the other countries that are participating, and is putting it in a treaty form. And by putting it in a treaty form, that means—with 14 countries involved, means it’s very, very hard to overturn. So if there’s a desire, democratic desire, in the United States to go down a different path—for example, to introduce more public transport—then you can’t easily change the TPP treaty, because you have to go back and get agreement of the other nations involved.

Now, looking at that example, what if the government or a state government decides it wants to build a hospital somewhere, and there’s a private hospital, has been erected nearby? Well, the TPP gives the constructor of the private hospital the right to sue the government over the expected—the loss in expected future profits. This is expected future profits. This is not an actual loss that has been sustained, where there’s desire to be compensated; this is a claim about the future. And we know from similar instruments where governments can be sued over free trade treaties that that is used to construct a chilling effect on environmental and health regulation law. For example, Togo, Australia, Uruguay are all being sued by tobacco companies, Philip Morris the leading one, to prevent them from introducing health warnings on the cigarette packets.

AMY GOODMAN: That we have in the United States on our own cigarette packages.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. And it’s not even an even playing field. Let’s say you’ll say, OK, well, we’re going to make it easier for companies to sue the government. Maybe that’s right. Maybe the government is too powerful, and companies should have a right to sue the government under various circumstances. But it’s only multinationals that get this right. U.S. companies operating purely in the U.S., in relation to investments that happen in the U.S., will not have this right, whereas large companies that are multinationals, that have registrations overseas, can structure things such that they’re taking investments from the U.S., and that then gives them the right to sue the government over it.

Now, it’s not so easy to get up these cases and win them. However, the chilling effect, the concern that there might be such a case, is severe. Each one of these cases, on average, governments spend more than $10 million for each case, to defend it, even successfully. So, if you have, you know, a city council or a state considering legislation, and then there’s a threat from one of these multinationals about expected future profits, they know that even if they have the law on their side, even if this TPP is on their side, they can expect to suffer.

 

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The Challenge of Journalism Is to Survive in the Pressure Cooker of Plutocracy

May 31, 2015

Bill Moyers speaking at New York Public Library on May 26, 2015. (photo: Katherine Phipps)
Bill Moyers speaking at New York Public Library on May 26, 2015. (photo: Katherine Phipps)

 

By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company

30 May 15

 

hank you for allowing me to share this evening with you. I’m delighted to meet these exceptional journalists whose achievements you honor with the Helen Bernstein Book Award.

But I gulped when [New York Public Library President] Tony Marx asked me to talk about the challenges facing journalism today and gave me 10 to 15 minutes to do so. I seriously thought of taking a powder. Those challenges to journalism are so well identified, so mournfully lamented, and so passionately debated that I wonder if the subject isn’t exhausted. Or if we aren’t exhausted from hearing about it. I wouldn’t presume to speak for journalism or for other journalists or for any journalist except myself. Ted Gup, who teaches journalism at Emerson and Boston College, once bemoaned the tendency to lump all of us under the term “media.” As if everyone with a pen, a microphone, a

camera

(today, a laptop or smartphone) – or just a loud voice – were all one and the same. I consider myself a journalist. But so does James O’Keefe. Matt Drudge is not E.J. Dionne. The National Review is not The Guardian, or Reuters TheHuffington Post. Ann Coulter doesn’t speak for Katrina vanden Heuvel, or Rush Limbaugh for Ira Glass. Yet we are all “media” and as Ted Gup says, “the media” speaks for us all.

So I was just about to email Tony to say, “Sorry, you don’t want someone from the Jurassic era to talk about what’s happening to journalism in the digital era,” when I remembered one of my favorite stories about the late humorist Robert Benchley. He arrived for his final exam in international law at Harvard to find that the test consisted of one instruction: “Discuss the international fisheries problem in respect to hatcheries protocol and dragnet and procedure as it affects (a) the point of view of the United States and (b) the point of view of Great Britain.” Benchley was desperate but he was also honest, and he wrote: “I know nothing about the point of view of Great Britain in the arbitration of the international fisheries problem, and nothing about the point of view of the United States. I shall therefore discuss the question from the point of view of the fish.”

So shall I, briefly. One small fish in the vast ocean of media.

I look at your honorees this evening and realize they have already won one of the biggest prizes in journalism — support from venerable institutions: The New Yorker, The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. These esteemed news organizations paid — yes, you heard me, paid — them to report and to report painstakingly, intrepidly, often at great risk. Your honorees then took time — money buys time, perhaps its most valuable purchase — to craft the exquisite writing that transports us, their readers, to distant places – China, Afghanistan, the Great Barrier Reef, even that murky hotbed of conspiracy and secession known as Texas.

And after we read these stories, when we put down our Kindles and iPads, or — what’s that other device called? Oh yes – when we put down our books – we emerge with a different take on a slice of reality, a more precise insight into some of the forces changing our world.

Although they were indeed paid for their work, I’m sure that’s not what drove them to spend months based in Beijing, Kabul and Dallas. Their passion was to go find the story, dig up the facts and follow the trail around every bend in the road until they had the evidence. But to do this — to find what’s been overlooked, or forgotten, or hidden; to put their skill and talent and curiosity to work on behalf of their readers — us — they needed funding. It’s an old story: When our oldest son turned 16 he asked for a raise in his allowance, I said: “Don’t you know there are some things more important than money?” And he answered: “Sure, Dad, but it takes money to date them.” Democracy needs journalists, but it takes money to support them. Yet if present trends continue, Elizabeth Kolbert may well have to update her book with a new chapter on how the dinosaurs of journalism went extinct in the Great Age of Disruption.

You may have read that two Pulitzer Prize winners this year had already left the profession by the time the prize was announced. One had investigated corruption in a tiny, cash-strapped school district for The Daily Breeze of Torrance, California. His story led to changes in California state law. He left journalism for a public relations job that would make it easier to pay his rent. The other helped document domestic violence in South Carolina, which forced the issue onto the state legislative agenda. She left the Charleston Post and Courier for PR, too.

These are but two of thousands. And we are left to wonder what will happen when the old business models no longer support reporters at local news outlets? There’s an ecosystem out there and if the smaller fish die out, eventually the bigger fish will be malnourished, too.

A few examples: The New York Times reporter who rattled the city this month with her report on the awful conditions for nail salon workers was given a month just to see whether it was a story, and a year to conduct her investigation. Money bought time. She began, with the help of six translators, by reading several years of back issues of the foreign language press in this country… and began to understand the scope of the problem. She took up her reporting from there. Big fish, like The New York Times, can amplify the work of the foreign language press and wake the rest of us up.

It was the publisher of the Bergen Record, a family-owned paper in New Jersey who got a call from an acquaintance about an unusual traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. The editor assigned their traffic reporter to investigate. (Can you believe? They had a traffic reporter!) The reporter who covered the Port Authority for the Record joined in and discovered a staggering abuse of power by Governor Chris Christie’s minions. WNYC Radio picked up the story and doggedly stuck to it, helped give it a larger audience and broadened its scope to a pattern of political malfeasance that resulted in high-profile resignations and criminal investigations into the Port Authority. Quite a one-two punch: WNYC won a Peabody Award, the Record won a Polk.

A Boston Phoenix reporter broke the story about sexual abuse within the city’s Catholic Church nine months before the Boston Globe picked up the thread. The Globe intensified the reporting and gave the story national and international reach. The Boston Phoenix, alas, died from financial malnutrition in 2013 after 47 years in business.

So once again: How can strong independent journalism thrive when independent outlets can’t afford to pay reporters, writers or producers a living wage; or when websites ask them to post four or five items a day; or when they leave journalism school and take jobs logging algorithms at

Facebook

(what does that even mean?). What happens to a society fed a diet of rushed, re-purposed, thinly reported “content?” Or “branded content” that is really merchandising — propaganda — posing as journalism?

And what happens when PR turns a profit and truth goes penniless? One of my mentors told me that “News is what people want to keep hidden, everything else is publicity.” So who will be left to report on what is happening in the statehouse or at the town hall? In the backrooms of Congress, the board rooms of banks and corporations, or even the open and shameless bazaar of K Street where the mercenaries of crony capitalism uncork bottles of champagne paid for by “dark money” from oligarchs and PACs? What happens when our elections are insider-driven charades conducted for profit by professional operatives whose spending on advertising mainly enriches themselves and the cable and television stations in cahoots with them? We know the answer, we know that a shortage of substantial reporting means corruption remains hidden, candidates we know little about and even less about who is funding them and what policy outcomes they are buying. It also means even more terrifying possibilities. As Tom Stoppard writes in his play Night and Day, “People do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse in the places where everybody is kept in the dark.”

A free press, you see, doesn’t operate for free at all. Fearless journalism requires a steady stream of independent income. Allow me to speak from personal experience. After I left government in 1967 — including a stint as White House press secretary — it took me a while to get my footing back in journalism. I can assure you: I found the job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place. Unless you’re willing to fight and re-fight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work for nuts going over every last detail again and again to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after hit accusing you of “bias,” there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I have. And still do.

Forty years ago my team and I produced the first documentary ever about the purchase of government favors by PACs — political action committees. For the final scene, we unfurled yard after yard of computer printouts across the Capitol grounds, listing campaign contributions to every member of Congress – including several old friends and allies with whom I had worked during my time in government. You could hear the howls all the way to kingdom come. Even members of Congress who had just recently voted to create PBS were outraged. This and other offenses by kindred journalists in public television prompted Richard Nixon and his communications director Pat Buchanan to try to shut off the oxygen.

Nevertheless, early in the Reagan years, we produced a documentary called The Secret Government. Our reporting exposed an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries and predators, ex-generals and profiteers working outside the legitimate institutions of government to carry out foreign follies without regard to public consent or congressional approval. We followed that one with High Crimes and Misdemeanors about the Iran-Contra scandal. Republicans accused public television of committing — horrors! — journalism. Well into the next decade they invoked both documentaries as they threatened PBS funding. When we documented illegal fundraising by Democrats in 1996 – in a documentary we called Washington’s Other Scandal because it wasn’t about sexual antics in the White House – this time it was the Clinton administration that howled.

But taking on political scandal is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington. Working on a Frontline documentary about agriculture we learned that the pesticide industry was behind closed doors trying to dilute the findings of a National Academy of Sciences study on the effects of their chemicals on children. When word of our investigation got around the industry, they mounted an extensive and expensive campaign to discredit our reporting before it aired. A Washington Post TV columnist took a dig at the broadcast on the morning before it was to air that evening. He hadn’t even seen the film and later confessed to me that his source had been a top lobbyist for the chemical industry. Some public television managers were so unnerved by the blitz of misleading information about the documentary that they had not yet broadcast or even watched, that they protested its production to PBS with letters that had been prepared for them by the industry!

We spent more than a year working on another documentary called Trade Secrets which revealed how big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers information about toxic chemicals in their products. We weren’t peeking through the keyhole; we had the documents. We confirmed that major American companies were putting human lives at risk. We showed what the companies knew, when they knew it and what they did with what they knew — they deep-sixed it.

Our reporting portrayed pervasive corruption in the chemical industry and raised profound policy implications from living under a regulatory system designed by the industry itself. The attack on us was well-funded, deceitful and vicious. To complicate matters, the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the chemical industry – over 20 years in the House of Representatives — was the very member of Congress who had jurisdiction over PBS appropriations. Fortunately, we hadn’t used any public funds to produce the documentary, the leadership of PBS again held firm, our report aired — and won an Emmy for investigative journalism.

But remember: I had an independent stream of income – from a handful of foundations that believe democracy needs journalism, and from my sole corporate sponsor of almost 30 years, Mutual of America Life Insurance Company.

Before Mutual, I had lost three corporate funders because of broadcasts that offended their CEOs, directors, customers or their cronies in high office. Now, I can tell you that losing your underwriter can send an independent producer to the showers, end your career and — more deadly — unconsciously distort your intuition about what is permissible the next time you think about producing another documentary. Self-censorship is all the more insidious when you don’t recognize that you have been infected. But Mutual of America had my back. Not once in almost three decades of reporting from the intersection where corporate influence touches political power did I have a single complaint from anyone at the company, even when I knew they were getting an earful from others. Consider yourself blessed if you are backed by capitalists with courage.

Once upon a time the networks supported muscular investigative reporting into betrayals of the public trust. But democratic values lost out to corporate values when media giants merged news and

entertainment

and opened the throttle on what Edward R. Murrow called their “money-making machine.” Mind you, there was no “golden age” of broadcasting at any network, but there were enough breakthrough moments that we could imagine a future in which subjects treated in the books being honored here this evening — subjects that extend the moral reach of journalism — might be staples in the schedule.

It wasn’t to be. And the challenge of journalism today is to survive in the pressure cooker of plutocracy. Where, in this mighty conglomeration of wealth and power, when for all practical purposes government and rich interests are two sides of the corporate state — where is the moral center of the commonwealth? How does journalism serve the endangered ideals of democracy? Can we find the audience that will dive deep — the audience that rebels against being treated as a branded market identified by the price tag on it? How do we report on the creeping dystopia of a cynically frivolous society with a political class that has made an ideology of ignorance, demoralizes workers and disdains the future? Can journalists be both patriotic and subversive — will we cover those who seek to disrupt the workings of a dominant and ruthless over-class with the attention and enthusiasm we accord the powers that be — by whom so many journalists appear mesmerized?

In an oligarchic era, you can be quickly marginalized by a corporate media and political class so comfortable in the extravagantly blended world of money, politics and celebrity that they don’t bark at the burglars of democracy, much less bite the hand that feeds them.

Wrestling with these questions is unavoidable. It requires on the part of journalists a high tolerance for public or private cuffing, as well as qualities of inquiry, observation and understanding that are either supported by the organization you work for or assured by an independent stream of income.

We still find great investigative reporting at certain legacy organizations. And the Web boasts some superb truth-telling. But everyone knows the digital future is precarious. As Clay Shirky once wrote: “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.” For an optimistic forecast of the possibilities I urge you to read the speech Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, delivered in April at the University of California, Riverside. For a dazzling trip to new media’s cutting edge, read the current edition of the Columbia Journalism Review, reported and written by 14 of the school’s own students. For a sobering perspective, consider the Knight Foundation’s recent third report on the status of nonprofit news ventures. Of the 14 nonprofits that it followed since the last report, three have been able to grow, four have cut staff and seven have held steady. Only one could be called a stand-out success — the Texas Tribune, with 42 full-time employees and an operating budget four times larger than any of the other organizations in the study. For the rest of the organizations in the study, however, the growth in staffing and traffic seem stalled, prompting the Columbia Journalism Review to say that if the report was a weather forecast, the prediction for nonprofit news would be partly cloudy with a chance of sun.

In the face of such chaos and uncertainty, some of us have been talking a lot about how to pay for independent journalism. In moments of reverie we even imagine there are sympathetic billionaires worried about how other billionaires are buying up the political system and wonder if that concern runs deep enough to fund a multi-billion trust fund for investigative journalism – say, a new Carnegie or Rockefeller Foundation devoted exclusively to encouraging continuous scrutiny of how America is working — and for whom? Both Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were rapacious capitalists who nonetheless invested much of their fortunes in the improving of democracy. Carnegie funded libraries all across the country — including one in my hometown of Marshall, Texas — to serve the public thirst for knowledge. Why not a modern Carnegie — even a Google – that would spread independent journalistic websites dedicated to the public’s need to know?

We know that contributions from individuals, not institutions, make up most of American philanthropy, and we think some of that should be directed toward nonprofit journalism. An FCC report in 2011 found that if Americans spent one percent of their charitable giving on nonprofit media it would generate $2.7 billion a year. If community foundations put five percent of their spending toward local journalism it would generate $130 million annually. And if the foundations of the top new media corporations and their founders put five percent of their spending toward local accountability journalism it would generate $220 million annually.

But we need more than money to sustain independent journalism. We need laws to ensure that reporters can protect their sources. We need to hound government at every level to respond to public records requests. We need stronger reporting requirements for corporations so that they can be held accountable.

Above all, we need journalists and writers like those you honor tonight. They participate in what the iconic filmmaker John Grierson called “the articulation of our time.” No matter the technology employed, it is the deeply moved and engaged individual who can transcend the normal province of journalistic convention to see and speak truths others have missed in all that is hidden in plain sight.

I am privileged to be in your company. Thank you again for inviting me. And congratulations to the recipients of the Helen Bernstein Award. Thank you for keeping the flame burning.

 

TPP Would Restrict Access to Affordable Medicines, Top Dem Says

May 31, 2015

Congressman Sandy Levin. (photo: Reuters)
Congressman Sandy Levin. (photo: Reuters)

By Peter Sullivan, The Hill

30 May 15

 

ep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, says a new trade deal could be a “major step backwards” on access to affordable medicines.

In an op-ed Thursday, Levin raised concerns that the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which the U.S. is negotiating, will curtail access to generic drugs.

“Is TPP the most progressive trade agreement in history?” Levin wrote in The Huffington Post, referring to a claim made by President Obama, who backs the emerging deal. “Not if you need access to affordable medicines.”

House Democratic leadership met earlier on Wednesday and decided they will all back Levin’s substitute amendment, according to a Pelosi spokesman.

“The leaders agreed to all support the Levin substitute in an effort to try to improve the TPA bill,” the aide said.

Levin, the House Ways and Means Committee’s ranking member, is staunchly opposed to the fast-track bill backed by the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

He argued the deal would leave Congress without a meaningful role in negotiating the Latin American-Pacific Rim trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“That is not the way to get TPP right, which I want. It is not the way to get a TPP with broad bipartisan support,” Levin said.

Levin’s bill includes specific negotiating instructions on all of the major outstanding issues in the negotiations.

For example, he calls for Congress to craft stricter enforcement rules for countries deemed to have manipulated their currencies.

His alternative also addresses what needs to be done to bring countries like Vietnam and Mexico into compliance with international labor standards, which he said isn’t addressed in the fast-track bill.

His alternative doesn’t allow for expedited consideration of any trade deals until bipartisan groups of House and Senate advisers determine that the White House followed the instructions.

Also, Congress would be tasked with writing consultation procedures, including what negotiating texts must be shared with Congress.

 

Surge in whale deaths along West Coast

May 30, 2015

ENENews


Surge in whale deaths along West Coast — Experts: “So many in such a small area is setting off alarms… We really don’t know what’s going on” — Professor: “I’m not sure this is just a natural event… There may be a disease in ocean” — Gov’t: “We’re not even concerned about it” (VIDEOS)

Posted: 29 May 2015 06:15 PM PDT

Japan volcano violently erupts without warning — Gov’t issues highest level alert for first time — Reuters: “Smell of sulfur, smoke blacked out sky… Officials warn of more big eruptions” — Expert: “I don’t think this is finished… We could see a more powerful eruption” — Upsurge in volcanic activity linked to 3/11 quake (VIDEO)

Posted: 29 May 2015 08:50 AM PDT

Ten Ways to Make the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few #7

May 29, 2015

1-unions-healthcare

American workers need a union to bargain on their behalf. Low-wage workers in big-box retail stores and fast-food chains need a union even more. If we want average Americans to get a fair share of the gains from economic growth, they need to be able to unionize.

TEN WAYS TO MAKE THE ECONOMY WORK FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW: #7, STRENGTHEN UNIONS AND PREEMPT STATE “RIGHT-TO-WORK” LAWS

One big reason America was far more equal in the 1950s and 1960s than now is unions were stronger then. That gave workers bargaining power to get a fair share of the economy’s gains – and unions helped improve wages and working conditions for everyone.

But as union membership has weakened – from more than a third of all private-sector workers belonging unions in the 1950s to fewer than 7 percent today – the bargaining power of average workers has all but disappeared.

In fact, the decline of the American middle class mirrors almost exactly the decline of American labor union membership.

So how do we strengthen unions?

First, make it easier to form a union, with a simple majority of workers voting up or down.

Right now, long delays and procedural hurdles give big employers plenty of time to whip up campaigns against unions, even threatening they’ll close down and move somewhere else if a union is voted in.

Second, build in real penalties on companies that violate labor laws by firing workers who try to organize a union or intimidating others.

These moves are illegal, but nowadays the worst that can happen is employers get slapped on the wrist. If found guilty they have to repay lost wages to the workers they fire. Some employers treat this as a cost of doing business. That must be stopped.  Penalties should be large enough to stop this illegality.

Finally – this one has been in the news lately, and if you only remember one thing, remember this: We must enact a federal law that pre-empts so-called state “right-to-work” laws.

Don’t be fooled by the “right to work” name. These laws allow workers to get all the benefits of having a union without paying union dues. It’s a back door destroying unions. If no one pays dues, unions have no way to provide any union benefits. And that means lower wages.

In fact, wages in right-to-work states are lower on average than wages in non-right-to-work states, by an average of about $1500 a year. Workers in right-to-work states are also less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance and pension coverage.

When unions are weakened by right-to-work laws, all of a state’s workers are hurt.

American workers need a union to bargain on their behalf. Low-wage workers in big-box retail stores and fast-food chains need a union even more.

If we want average Americans to get a fair share of the gains from economic growth, they need to be able to unionize.

This post originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

Noam Chomsky: “America is Not a Democracy (and Was Never Intended to Be)”

May 29, 2015

 

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I don’t know where or when this priceless gem was recorded (it seems to have been at MIT, and shortly after the 2000 Presidential elections). But it’s hard to imagine seeing Chomsky nail one of his most basic themes any more clearly and soundly on the head…

 

 


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(Article changed on May 29, 2015 at 06:58)

(Article changed on May 29, 2015 at 06:59)

 

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US Gov’t: Melted fuel most likely burned through containment at Fukushima reactors

May 29, 2015

ENENews


We’re concerned about failures underground… “Where did it leak out? How did it leak out? We don’t know” — Expert: Corium may have flowed into reactor buildings, burned through floor (PHOTOS & AUDIO)

Posted: 28 May 2015 11:30 AM PDT

Nuclear Realism

May 28, 2015
Published on
by

The “Baker” explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946. (Photo: Wikimedia)

There’s a category of political intellectuals who proudly proclaim themselves “realists,” then proceed to defend and advance a deeply faith-based agenda that centers on the ongoing necessity to prepare for war, including nuclear war.

These intellectuals, as they defend the military-industrial status quo (which often supports them financially), have made themselves the spokespersons for a deep human cancer: a soul cancer. When we prepare for war, we honor a profoundly embedded death wish; indeed, we assume we can exploit it for our own advantage. We can’t, of course. War and hatred link all of us; we can’t dehumanize, then proceed to murder, “the enemy” without doing the same, ultimately, to ourselves.

That isn’t to say there’s an easy way out of the mess we find ourselves in, here in the 21st century. Indeed, I see only one way out: a critical mass of humanity coming to its senses and groping for a way to create a peace that that has more resonance than war. We don’t have much political leadership around this, especially among the planet’s dominant — and nuclear-armed — nation states. But there is some.

Finding it and connecting with it, however, seems almost beyond the realm of possibility. Robert Dodge of Physicians for Social Responsibility wrote recently, for instance, that the U.N.’s recent, month-long Review Conference on the 45-year-old Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons “was officially a failure due to the refusal of the nuclear weapons states to present or even support real steps toward disarmament.”

They displayed, he wrote, “an unwillingness to recognize the peril that the planet faces at the end of their nuclear gun and (are) continuing to gamble on the future of humanity.” But to conceal this, they are “presenting a charade of concern, blaming each other and bogging down in discussions over a glossary of terms while the hand of the nuclear Armageddon clock continues to move ever forward.”

The “realists” attempt to scale back the intensity of such anti-nuclear outrage by balancing these fears with the certainty that greater dangers exist, at least for Western civilization, in a world without nuclear weapons.

Keith B. Payne, president of the National Institute for Public Policy, defending the nuke realism perspective this week in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, ended his essay by quoting that iconic realist Winston Churchill: “Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapons until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.”

Payne adds: “The emergence of a new, benign world order at this point is nowhere in sight, and the prospects for the cooperative move to nuclear zero appear to be zero. Realists do not pretend otherwise.”

Humanity has now been officially poised at nuclear standoff for 70 years. This isn’t just an academic debate about the nature of geopolitical dangers. What the self-proclaimed realists have on their side is something that looks an awful lot like reality: that is to say, a convergence of economic, political and social forces locked into the continued existence of nuclear “deterrence.” This locked-in determination to maintain the nuclear status quo continues to make the anti-nuclear viewpoint appear both idealistic (unreal, impossible) and naïve (ignorant of the real dangers our enemies, nuclear-armed and otherwise, pose to us).

There are multiple flaws in this sort of “realism,” however. Here are two:

First, while Churchill’s advice may (or may not) have been temporarily sound when he uttered it at the dawn of the Cold War, it’s not immortal; nor is it consequence-free. “Not letting go of the atomic weapons” has meant, 70 years later: an expenditure of unfathomable trillions of dollars by the world’s Nuclear 9; the radioactive contamination of testing sites around the world; the ongoing possibility of nuclear accident and unintentional nuclear war; and the empowering of military psychopaths, who keep looking for excuses to develop “tactical” nukes, which can actually be employed in battle (because, come on, what fun is a weapon you never get to use?).

Furthermore, the enormous profit to be had in nuclear preparedness has created the rise of the military-industrial complex, which has a financial — and emotional — stranglehold on Congress and the mainstream media, pretty much guaranteeing that government policy will continue to be chained to the concepts of military dominance and nuclear deterrence. This means continued development of nuclear technology and the wasting of further trillions of dollars that might otherwise be spent for the good of humanity.

Second, Payne laments that “the emergence of a new, benign world order at this point is nowhere in sight.” This is the destructive cynicism of faux-realism, dismissing the possible future with a shrug — as though peace either arrives hand-delivered as a gift from God or it doesn’t arrive at all.

What he’s really saying is that a benign world order is nowhere in sight and we’re not going to help create it, because our vested interest is in the nuclear status quo, precarious and toxic though it may be. We’re living on the brink of human annihilation; what could possibly go wrong?

Countering this vested-interest realism is a global movement demanding the creation of a nuke-free world order and the transcendence of war. At last December’s Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, the state of Austria made a pledge to devote itself to the elimination of nuclear weapons on Planet Earth. More than 90 nations have so far endorsed the pledge, which is now called the Humanitarian Pledge. It includes such wording as:

“Emphasizing that the consequences of a nuclear weapon explosion and the risks associated with nuclear weapons concern the security of all humanity and that all states share the responsibility to prevent any use of nuclear weapons . . .

“Affirming that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances . . .”

I don’t know. I have my doubts that such a movement will succeed before a nuclear accident — or something else — shatters the political and economic power of the vested-interest nuclear “realists,” but I reach out to it in solidarity. “All states share the responsibility …”

Maybe this is how a new sort of world, with foundations planted in human solidarity and connectedness, will come into being. Maybe this is the true value of nuclear weapons: to scare us into learning how to get along.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website atcommonwonders.com.

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Japanese Nuke Restart Gets Greenlight Despite Safety Concerns of Residents

May 28, 2015
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Sendai nuclear power station is now poised to be first nuclear restart since Fukushima crisis shuttered country’s industry

Demonstrators stage protest in 2014 against Kagoshima prefecture assembly's vote to resume operations at the Sendai nuclear plant. (Photo: AFP: Jiji Press: Japan Out)

Demonstrators stage protest in 2014 against Kagoshima prefecture assembly’s vote to resume operations at the Sendai nuclear plant. (Photo: AFP: Jiji Press: Japan Out)

Despite the health and safety concerns of local residents, Japan’s Sendai nuclear power station on Wednesday was granted final regulatory approval to restart its operations, meaning it is now poised to be the first such facility to reopen since the industry was halted nation-wide following the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.

Asia One reports that Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday approved “operational safety programs for the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant,” meaning all necessary permits have now been granted.

The publication explains that the Sendai plant, which is located in the Kagoshima Prefecture, “now needs to pass two procedures before restart: an inspection before start-up, in which the NRA inspectors examine facilities, and a safety inspection in which the inspectors check whether the plant’s operation and management systems are compiled as operational safety programs stipulate.”

Both procedures are already underway, and Kyushu Electric Power Co., which runs the facility, says it hopes to restart the No. 1 reactor as early as July.

Residents had formally petitioned to block the restart of the plant but their efforts wererejected by the Kagoshima District Court in April.

The restart is moving forward despite majority opposition in Japan to a resumption of the country’s nuclear industry.

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Is US Trade Rep a Wall Street Crony? Groups Demand Transparency.

May 28, 2015
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Public interest watchdogs say Americans deserve to know what US top trade negotiator Michael Froman ‘has been privately saying to big banks’

froman_0.jpgUS Trade Representative Michael Froman, the groups note, “received a more than $4 million golden parachute from Citigroup upon leaving the large financial institution to join the Obama administration in 2009.” (Photo: US Institute of Peace/flickr/cc)

Noting deep ties between the country’s top trade negotiator and Wall Street banks, ten groups representing millions of Americans are calling on the White House to make public all communications between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and the massive financial institutions that stand to benefit from proposed trade deals.

In a letter (pdf) addressed to Froman—lead champion of President Barack Obama’s corporate-friendly trade agenda—groups including National People’s Action, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and CREDO Action request “the prompt, voluntary, and proactive disclosure of all records of communication between yourself and representatives of the ten largest U.S. financial institutions—including lobbyists, employees, and trade associations—during your tenure as U.S. Trade Representative.”

“If the Obama administration gets Fast Track, it would delegate Congress’s constitutional authority to a U.S. Trade Representative who, by background and mindset, responds to Wall Street rather than ordinary people.”
—Michelle Chan, Friends of the Earth

Those financial institutions include JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup.

In particular, the letter’s signatories are concerned that provisions in proposed trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) would weaken or rollback existing U.S. financial regulations, for the benefit of big banks.

Critics have warned, for example, that Wall Street lobbyists are pushing to undercut the Dodd-Frank banking reforms through international trade negotiations.

“Citigroup snuck a lobbyist-written Dodd-Frank rollback into last December’s CRomnibus, so we already know they’re willing to hijack unrelated bills to weaken regulations on Wall Street,” said Kurt Walters of Rootstrikers. “Wall Street has been lobbying to include financial regulation in ongoing trade negotiations, and Americans deserve to know what Froman has been privately saying to these big banks.”

In a press release, the groups highlighted the links between Citigroup—which has lobbied extensively on the TPP, TTIP, and Fast Track authority—and Froman, who they note “received a more than $4 million golden parachute from Citigroup upon leaving the large financial institution to join the Obama administration in 2009.”

“It’s no surprise that the [Trans-Pacific Partnership]—an unprecedented corporate giveaway—is being negotiated by someone as cozy with Wall Street banks as Michael Froman,” said Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director at CREDO Action. “The American people deserve transparency,” he added, in order “to see what kinds of commitments Froman is making to his Wall Street cronies behind closed doors.”

The letter specifically points to how Fast Track authority, which would provide a means for legislation to be passed under expedited rules by a mere 50-vote simple majority in the Senate, could provide a mechanism for future presidents to use the process  to roll back U.S. financial regulatory policies that would not survive normal Senate voting procedures.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), made a similar point in a May 5 speech to the Institute for New Economic Thinking in Washington, D.C. “In the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to give the president Fast Track authority,” she said. “If Fast Track passes, a Republican president could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules.”

Furthermore, stated Michelle Chan, director of Economic Policy at Friends of the Earth: “If the Obama administration gets Fast Track, it would delegate Congress’s constitutional authority to a U.S. Trade Representative who, by background and mindset, responds to Wall Street rather than ordinary people.”

Should Froman’s communications demonstrate that he “personally and privately communicated” to Wall Street banks that financial reform rollbacks would “never happen under any circumstances, that would help build trust in the Administration’s position,” the letter reads.

“On the other hand,” it continues, “if your communications with large financial institutions on this issue are somewhere less clear with respect to these regulatory concerns—or if there is anything in your communication that undercuts the Administration’s public position that these concerns are ‘baseless’—that is something members of Congress and the American people have a right to know.”

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