Sunday, September 29, 2013

SECRET TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) UPDATE

PNN
9/29/13

PNN's News Director Rick Spisak & 
Special Guest Co-Host  Luis A. Cuevas of PROGRESSIVE PUSH

Congressman Alan Grayson

Terry Day  - MOVE-ON's TPP - Point-man for Florida 

Marjorie Holt Conservation Chair Sierra Club - Environmental Aspect of TPP

Jerry Waxman - Journalist


1. Fukushima Daiichi underwater fences breached

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says underwater barriers in the facility's port have been breached. The so-called silt fences are intended to prevent the spread of radioactive materials.

Tokyo Electric Power Company officials said on Thursday they found damage in the curtain-like barriers near the intake canals of the No. 5 and 6 reactors.

The silt fences are to stop contaminated sea-bed soil from near the damaged No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 reactors polluting water near the still-intact No. 5 and 6 reactors.

TEPCO is investigating the accident's cause. It plans to repair the fences once high waves triggered by an approaching typhoon subside.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority instructed the power company to measure radiation levels in the sea near the No. 5 and 6 reactors.

The underwater barriers were also damaged in April. TEPCO officials attributed the cause to high waves.

Asahi Shimbun, September 27, 2013: Highly radioactive water accumulating in underground tunnels at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is spreading to the surrounding soil, according to new data. Radioactive substances of 400,000 becquerels per liter were found in water samples from a well [...] TEPCO said it detected radioactive materials that emit beta rays, including strontium [...] According to TEPCO, the unusually high radioactivity levels were discovered in water sampled from a well it had recently dug on the seaward side between the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings. [...]
TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi NPS Prompt Report, Sept. 26, 2013: We would like to announce the measurement results of cesium and all β in the water taken from the groundwater observation hole No.1-16 (on the mountain side of No.1-3 where former observation was performed) located on the east of the Units 1-4 Turbine Buildings, sampled for the first time today on September 26. [...] Cesium-137: 2.1Bq/L [...] All-β: 400,000Bq/L [...] We will continue sampling, analyzing, and monitoring the situation.

Fukushima Voice, Sept. 27, 2013: [...] September 18, 2013, the Japan Meteorological Agency scientist, Michio Aoyama, told the audience at the IAEA 2013 Scientific Forum [...] that 60 GBq of Cesium-137 & Strontium-90 directly go out to the ocean outside of the Fukushima Daiichi port daily [900 billion of Cs-137 per month and 900 billion of Sr-90 per month], contradicting the Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s words [...] Unit 5 and 6 take up the Fukushima Daiichi port water for cooling and release the contaminated effluent north of the port, directly into the Pacific [...] [Aoyama] had his research censored by the government [...] his team was deprived of funding to check environmental radioactivity almost immediately after the accident and ordered not to take any measurements. [...] Then Aoyama was told not to release [...] that the Fukushima oceanic contamination was several orders of magnitude higher than that from the past nuclear testing and at least one order of magnitude higher than the contamination in Black Sea and Baltic Sea due to the 1986 Chernobyl accident. His superior said to take this part out [...] Aoyama could not publish this study due to the Meteorological Agency not giving him permission. [...]

National Geographic, August 13, 2013: Jota Kanda, an oceanographer at Toyko University of Marine Science and Technology, calculated that the plant is leaking 0.3 terabecquerels [300 billion becquerels] of cesium-137 per month

New Scientist, August 23, 2013: Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts says the Kanda estimate [of leakage into the sea from Fukushima Daiichi] is probably the best he is aware of, and closely matches figures released on 21 August by Tepco, of 0.1 to 0.6 TBq [100 billion to 600 billion] per month for caesium-137 and 0.1 to 0.3 [100 billion to 300 billion] for strontium.



(naked capitalism)
I got this e-mail from a law school professor this evening:
wtf is with Eric Holder personally meeting with Jaimie Dimon? Since when do other targets of investigations get such access and solicitude? Do you think any AG would have met with Michael Milken when he was being investigated? Unreal.
It should be no surprise by now to see the degree to which Administration officials toady and scrape to the banks. Oh yes, you’ll witness the occasional stern word in public from Obama and his minions to maintain the appearance that that they operate independently of their financial lords and masters. But Holder has been so absent from any meaningful action that it’s surprising to see him pretend to play a hands-on role. I’d was certain he had forgotten how to practice law, since his main job seemed to be acting as propagandist for Team Obama enforcement theater.
In case you wondered what the indignation was about, here’s a Washington Post recap:
The sage of Wall Street journeyed to Washington on Thursday, but Jamie Dimon’s visit was unlike any the JPMorgan Chase chief has made before.
Dimon sought a meeting with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in an urgent bid to dispose of multiple government investigations into the bank’s conduct leading up to the financial crisisand avoid criminal charges. The deal that Dimon discussed with Holder would involve paying the government at least $11 billion, the biggest settlement a single company has ever undertaken, according to several people familiar with the negotiations…
For Holder, 62, meanwhile, a landmark settlement with JPMorgan could help quiet criticism that the Justice Department has failed to hold Wall Street accountable for sparking the housing market’s crash and the ensuing recession. Holder was criticized by lawmakers and consumer advocates this year for saying that some banks had become too big to prosecute.
“Sage of Wall Street”? Ready the barf bag. The most lofty title Dimon has been given before it “titan” which is acceptable, if cloying, given JP Morgan’s size. But “sage of Wall Street” has heretofore been limited to Warren Buffett, who has not only his investment record but his cagey corn pone to legitimate that label. “Sage” connotes wisdom above all, and Dimon’s conduct during and after the Whale affair was anything but.
But the more disturbing bit is the Administration’s high odds of jumping on what I suspect is a JP Morgan PR line, that touting this settlement as “the largest evah” will give Holder & Co. some sort of newfound credibility. Even the WaPo isn’t buying it:
Even at $11 billion or more, the bank would be paying just a fraction of the damage it wreaked on mortgage investors, government agencies and homeowners. And a deal might ensure that no senior executives go to jail, which some experts say would let Wall Street avoid full responsibility.
Comparing the past settlements to the pending JP Morgan deal is like comparing apples to stinky fruit. The next biggest one was for a single abuse, that of GlaxoSmithKline for selling antidepressants illegally. This settlement, by contrast, even though it involves only one product, covers a swathe of bad conduct across three institutions: Bear, WaMu, and JP Morgan. And it also includes the monster Fannie and Freddie putback liability. All the banks that had large subprime businesses are going to stump up large payments to put those claims to bed. By going out early and wrapping other outstanding litigation into the mix, the Morgan bank makes the settlement look more serious than it really is.
In addition, JP Morgan has managed to promulgate the myth it was less deeply involved in the mortgage business because it perceived the risks and stayed away. Not true. For instance, it was rumored in February 2007 that Dimon was sniffing around Bear as a possible acquisition. Several correspondents wrote today of how eager JP Morgan was to increase its participation in the CDO business (mind you, I’ve heard this repeatedly over the years from insiders). From one message:
I had JPM CDO salesmen banging down my door in 2006 and early 2007. They wanted to do more, but didn’t have the staff, assets etc. They didn’t miss out on CDO carnage because of good risk management. They just weren’t that good at it.
So let’s understand what Dimon’s confab with Holder was likely about (the JP Morgan chief also brought his general counsel and bank regulatory uberlawyer Rodg Cohen). The subtext of the article was that Dimon was pressing for a deal to be done quickly. Why the urgency? Well, one has to wonder how much Dimon is effectively appearing in a personal versus an executive capacity. It would be, um, inappropriate to conflate the two discussions, but it’s not hard to imagine that Dimon thought a personal meeting with Holder, showing what an impressive figure he is, could only work in his favor (it isn’t only Dimon who is impressed with his own impressiveness; journalists like Andrew Ross Sorkin and Gillian Tett, who uncharacteristically looks to have been swayed by being embedded at JP Morgan, have also fawned over him). Remember, the CFTC has not settled its Whale charges, and it might unearth some further violations or facts that make JP Morgan top brass look even worse. The DoJ (through its Southern District of New York office) has charged two JP Morgan traders. It isn’t clear whether it will succeed in getting either one extradited, but if it did, you can be sure they prosecutors would be seeing if they could get them to cop a plea bargain to implicate more senior management.
Thus it’s nuts for the DoJ to enter into any settlement that includes JP Morgan executives as individuals until it sees how the pending cases play out. And recall that we’ve already said even before the $920 million settlement that Dimon was a clear-cut case for a criminal Sarbanes Oxley prosecution. The information in the SEC’s order only strengthens our view (mind you, that does not mean we think in a nanosecond that Dimon will be charged criminally. But that threat could be used to force long-overdue corporate governance changes and if more damaging evidence were to surface, a timetable for Dimon’s departure).
But the flip side is that the negotiations supposedly included the question of whether the bank would be charged criminally. That sort of move has not been all that well received, since past criminal settlements have involved only subsidiaries (having a parent or critically important sub admit to criminal conduct would bar quite a few customers from doing business with it, and that’s widely viewed as a nuclear option and thus unusable in practice). And JP Morgan may be playing “don’t throw us in the briar patch,” acting as if it is extremely loath to admit to criminal charges at a subsidiary level when it hopes that that sort of sanction will buy the Administration enough PR points so as to make it less eager to pursue individuals to the maximum extent.
Holder indirectly acknowledged that issue. The Washington Post again:
The discussion centered partly on whether the bank could avoid criminal prosecution if it paid the fine and whether it would have to admit guilt. Asked about the negotiations in an unrelated news conference, Holder acknowledged the meeting but snapped at a reporter who suggested that “prison time” was not part of the talks. “You weren’t in the room when I said I was talking to them,” Holder said.
Mind you, the Financial Times makes the meeting sound more like normal commercial haggling. If so, why did Dimon press to make a personal appearance? From the pink paper:
Mr Dimon’s trip to Washington followed Mr Holder personally rejecting a previous offer to resolve the matters as being too low. Talks were rekindled after the US threatened on Tuesday to sue the bank…
JPMorgan is arguing over the extent to which it should be responsible for the actions of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, both institutions that the bank bought during the crisis with the encouragement of the government.
The bank has said in disclosures to investors that it “believes it has no remaining exposure related to loans” sold to Fannie and Freddie. Mr Dimon has suggested it is not fair to punish the bank for past allegations of the two companies.
Yves again. The only reason one might normally use to legitimate a meeting like this, is if talks between the two sides has become so acrimonious that the principals needed to meet. But that makes no sense with Dimon represented by the best lawyers money can buy, who happen also to be much cooler headed than he is, both in general and by virtue of not having to negotiate for themselves.
So the good news is Jamie is actually breaking a sweat. The bad news is the Administration has signaled how accommodating it is likely to be through the unseemly act of giving him an audience.



3. Breaking: Investment Chapter of TPP Leaks for All to Read

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive trade agreement between several countries, has had one of its chapters leak. One of the major concerns that arose from this leak is that the TPP threatens to re-write large portions of American law.

If you ever needed any evidence that the TPP was way more than just a complete redesign of copyright law, this was certainly one leak worth checking out. Public Citizen apparently got their hands on the investment chapter of TPP. We are aware of the copyright chapter leak, and now this chapter leaks. This is apparently the 12th chapter which should tell you how much is being covered. We’re not sure what is contained in the other 10 chapters or if there are even more chapters after this. In any event, this chapter has raised alarm bells by those publishing the document:

    “The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of TPP negotiations,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Via closed-door negotiations, U.S. officials are rewriting swaths of U.S. law that have nothing to do with trade and in a move that will infuriate left and right alike have agreed to submit the U.S. government to the jurisdiction of foreign tribunals that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to foreign corporations that don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms do.”

    Although the TPP has been branded a “trade” agreement, the leaked text of the pact’s Investment Chapter shows that the TPP would:

    - limit how U.S. federal and state officials could regulate foreign firms operating within U.S. boundaries, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms;

    - extend the incentives for U.S. firms to offshore investment and jobs to lower-wage countries;

    - establish a two-track legal system that gives foreign firms new rights to skirt U.S. courts and laws, directly sue the U.S. government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for financial, health, environmental, land use and other laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges; and

    - allow foreign firms to demand compensation for the costs of complying with U.S. financial or environmental regulations that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms.

    [...]

    The leak also reveals that:

    - Australia has refused to submit to the jurisdiction of the “investor-state” private corporate enforcement foreign tribunal system;

    - U.S. negotiators are alone in seeking to expand this extra-judicial enforcement system to allow the use of foreign tribunals to enforce contracts that foreign investors may have with a government for government procurement or to operate utilities contracts and even related to concessions for natural resources on federal lands;

    - Other countries are proposing safeguards for financial regulation and limits to the corporate tribunals that the U.S. has not supported.

We took a look through this chapter looking for anything related to intellectual property or technology related content. There was actually some provisions related to intellectual property related matters and those provisions seem to say that the whole idea of an international tribunal system does not apply to intellectual property related topics. So, there are exceptions to what is covered by this international tribunal system that works on its own set of rules.

All this, of course, doesn’t mean that this chapter doesn’t have political ramifications. Far from it as far as I can tell. The idea of corporations now being able to operate on their own laws and skirt domestic laws can be a rather disturbing thought, let alone be something that is actively being drafted. If I’m reading this chapter right (and, I should emphasize I’m not an expert in business), then this could allow some corporations to be literally above the law because they can say, “while we are in your country, we don’t have to abide by any of your rules because we abide by a different set of rules.” Sounds pretty scary to me anyway.

4. GOOGLE, FACEBOOK, YELP - Climb into ALEC's Killing Machine
Union-busting, fighting Obamacare, backing the Stand Your Ground laws that led to Trayvon Martin’s death, denying the proof of climate change… there’s nothing the American Legislative Exchange Council won’t stoop to.
The public outcry against ALEC has caused nearly fifty corporations to drop out over the past several months. But now Facebook, Google and Yelp are looking to reverse that trend. The companies recently joined the group responsible for some of the most egregious anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-poor, and anti-minority legislation in the past decade. Now, we need to raise an outcry to show them that getting in bed with ALEC is unacceptable, before all the hard work over the past year is undone.

Demand Facebook, Google and Yelp drop their ALEC membership now.


5. Take Over Bldg
by Kevin Zeese

Washington, DC – This afternoon, September 23rd, protesters concerned about the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) covered the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative with banners calling for a democratic process and a release of the treaty’s text. The group, which included members of FlushTheTPP.org, Backbone Campaign, Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK, and Earth First!, say that the TPP will have vast consequences for U.S. laws, workers rights, the environment and many other aspects of life.

We decided to expose these secret negotiations by going right to their national office and plastering the Office of the US Trade Representative with messages that let them and the public know what they are doing. We took over their office building today, and plan to continue to escalate tactics in Congress and wherever we see opportunities to expose the TPP, stop the undermining of democracy through Fast Track and have a real debate over whether the US wants rigged trade for big transnational corporations or fair trade that puts people and the planet before profits.
So far, the TPP has been drafted with an unprecedented degree of secrecy. While information has been kept from the public more than 600 corporate advisers have access to the treaty’s text – including companies such as Halliburton, Monsanto, Walmart, and Chevron. The Obama administration has kept the TPP classified, making it the first-ever classification of a trade agreement. In addition to denying public access to its text, the president has urged Congress to use Fast Track to pass the treaty. Fast Track would limit congressional consideration of the text to a quick up or down vote and give President Obama the power to sign and negotiate the treaty. This turns the Constitution on its head as the Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to “regulate commerce among nations” not the president.”
Seven advocates dressed as workers attached four massive banners to the front and side of the US Trade Representative’s office. Banners read “Transparency: Release the Text,” “Democracy, not Corporatocracy,” “Corporate Coup against the People and Planet” and “Flush The TPP.org.”  Other activists at the front of the building held a large 15 foot tall sign that said: “Trading Away People’s Lives and the Planet’s Future.”  They were able to cover the building in banners and hold this un-permitted protest and negotiate doing so without anyone getting arrested, in fact one activist who had been held in handcuffs was even released.
Margaret Flowers, MD, who dressed as a workman to attach a sign to the front of the US Trade Representative said that “the TPP will undermine health care systems, make pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices more expensive and therefore increase pain and suffering and even cost people their lives.” Flowers an advocate for a national health care plan that treats health care as a human right rather than a commodity warned that “The TPP will undermine the excellent single payer health care systems in Japan, Australia and New Zealand and make it more difficult for the United States to put in place a single payer system — which is what most Americans and doctors want to see.”
The protesters join Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), and many others who are opposing Fast Track and calling for the text’s immediate release. Earlier this summer, Rep. Grayson stated that, “this, more than anything, shows the abuse of the classified information system,” calling the treaty an “assault on democratic government.” Sen. Warren noted in her letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, “if transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”   Groups of Republicans and Democrats are beginning to speak out against Fast Track, the lack of transparency and the TPP.  Just as the war against Syria was stopped by a cross-partisan coalition, such a coalition can stop the TPP. Indeed 14 trade agreements have not become law in the last ten years because of citizen opposition preventing countries from reaching agreement.
An agreement that will empower corporations to dominate every aspect of our lives — food, water, health care, wages, jobs, Internet and more — should be debated openly and transparently.  The United States is supposed to be a democracy; acting in secret to create the largest trade agreement in history makes a mockery of democracy.  Minimizing the checks and balances between the Congress and president undermines the Constitution.  And, giving away U.S. sovereignty to transnational corporations is the opposite of a country of, by and for the people.
While the full content of the treaty remains unknown, public opposition to what little has been leaked is growing. We are confident the TPP can be stopped, if people know what is in  the agreement. They are keeping this agreement secret because they know its contents are so unpopular. People remember the negative impact of NAFTA, the TPP is NAFTA on steroids and will do great damage to working people all over the world as well as to the environment.
A new report from the Center for Economic Policy and Research finds that the TPP will produce small economic growth of only 1/10th of 1 percent per year, but it will hurt working Americans as 90 percent of workers will see their income reduced as a result of the TPP. Unions including the Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO and Teamsters have raised serious concerns about the TPP’s impact on working families, and doctors have also highlighted consequences for access to healthcare and life-saving medicines.
Resistance is not limited to the U.S. alone. Other members of the treaty, including Japan and Malaysia, have seen significant public demonstrations in opposition to the agreement, while the lead negotiator from Chile, Rodrigo Contreras, resigned earlier this year citing concerns that the treaty would restrict Chile’s ability to shape public policies, control financial institutions and address issues of health, education, and development.
One protester from FlushTheTPP.org, who locked himself to Margaret Flowers on top of the building’s scaffolding, has firsthand experience with how transnational corporations control and design free trade agreements like these. Steven Bray decided to quit his job after his former employer, Caterpillar, sent the entire company a link to an automated message in support of the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement. “When I learned how many of my coworkers responded without actually considering the text and its potential consequences, I couldn’t stand it. This made the voice of one CEO sound like the voice of 10,000.” The Colombia trade agreement has had a serious negative effect on farmers and workers in Colombia and has resulted in massive nationwide protests.
Protesters promised to escalate their tactics if President Obama continues to undermine the Constitution, transparency, and democracy. On Tuesday, the protesters will crash a Fast Track train into Congress after driving it across the city from the US Chamber of Commerce at 11 AM.


6. PEW TRUST REPORT - 
In May of 2013, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report that sounded a frightening alarm. Titled “Retirement Security Across Generations” and widely cited throughout the national media, the study found that a lack of retirement savings, less guaranteed pension income and the economic downturn have collectively exposed the next generation of Americans “to the real possibility of downward mobility in retirement.”
Summing up the study’s implicit push to stabilize Americans’ retirement future, a Pew official declared that lawmakers must focus on creating policies that help workers “make up for these losses and prepare for the future.”
Pew’s analysis, though eye-opening, was not particularly controversial. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, conservative Martin Morse Wooster acknowledges that the Pew Trusts are “treated as benign truth-tellers, so high-minded as to be beyond politics” – and the call to shore up Americans’ retirement security, indeed, upheld the organization’s promise
to “generate objective data.” Based on indisputable evidence, it proved that the country’s move away from guaranteed pension income – and states’ willingness to raid worker pension plans to finance massive corporate subsidies – will have disastrous consequences.
What was surprising was the fact that at the same time one branch of Pew was rightly sounding this moderate non-ideological alarm to shore up retirement security, and Pew’s Economic Development Tax Incentives Project was warning of states’ wasteful tax subsidies, a more political branch of the organization was working in tandem with controversial Enron billionaire John Arnold to begin championing an ideologically driven plan to make the retirement problem far worse.

This Pew-Arnold partnership began informally in 2011 and 2012 when both organizations marshaled resources to try to set the stage for retirement benefit cuts in California, Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas. With legislative success in three of those four states, Pew and Arnold created a formal partnership in late 2012 that targeted another three states, Arizona, Kentucky and Montana.
This formal partnership continues today, with the organizations issuing joint reports and conducting joint legislative briefings advocating cuts to guaranteed retirement income. It is widely expected that this partnership will continue working in these same states and potentially expand operations into Colorado, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Nevada.
Should an Enron Executive Be Dictating Public Pension Policy?
In the lead-up to his anti-pension partnership with Pew, Arnold’s most relevant connection to pensions and retirement security came from working at Enron – a company whose collapse destroyed its own workers’ pensions and helped to damage the financial stability of public pension funds across America. Indeed, as the New York Times reported, “The rapid decline of the Enron Corporation devastated its employees’ retirement plan.” Meanwhile, in a separate story, the newspaper noted that “across the United States, pension funds for union members, teachers, government employees and other workers have lost more than $1.5 billion because of the sharp decline in their Enron holdings.”
In light of Arnold’s corporate pedigree, it’s no surprise that, rather than “laying the foundation for effective government solutions,” as Pew’s mission promises, the Pew-Arnold partnership has been a campaign to reduce guaranteed retirement income for pensioners. As Marketwatch reported in 2013, Pew and Arnold are “advocat(ing) for cash balance plans.” They are advocating for 401(k)-style defined contribution plans as well.
Like President George W. Bush’s proposal to radically alter Social Security, many of these plans would transform stable public pension funds into individualized accounts. They also most often reduce millions of Americans’ guaranteed retirement benefits. In many cases, they would also increase expenses for taxpayers and enrich Wall Street hedge fund managers.
A Pension-Cutting Movement That Ignores Data
These pension-slashing initiatives are part of a larger movement that aims to reduce or eliminate guaranteed retirement income for public workers. Leading this movement under the euphemistic guise of “reform,” Pew’s Public Sector Retirement Systems Project and the Arnold Foundation are trying to distract attention from what McClatchy Newspapers documented: namely, that “there’s simply no evidence that state pensions are the current burden to public finances that their critics claim.”
Rather than acknowledge that truth, Pew and Arnold have successfully manufactured the perception of crisis – which has prompted demands for dramatic action. Pew and Arnold have consequently helped shape those general demands into specific efforts to cut guaranteed retirement income – all while downplaying (or altogether omitting) any discussion of the possibility of raising revenue through, for instance, ending taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies and so-called tax expenditures.
This deceptive message persists, even though these annual subsidies are typically far larger than the annual pension shortfalls. Indeed, to advocate cuts in retirement benefits, Pew and Arnold cite a 30-year, $1.38 trillion pension gap – a $46 billion annual shortfall. Yet, they rarely ever mention that, as the New York Times reports, “states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion each year to companies” in the form of subsidies and tax expenditures.
Such an insidiously selective message is eerily reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous “There Is No Alternative” framing. It suggests that harming millions of middle-class workers is the only way forward – and that states shouldn’t dare consider raising pension-fund revenue by eliminating corporate subsidies. Thanks to Pew, Arnold and other groups, this has now become the dominant argument even though the amount state and local governments now spend on such wasteful handouts is far greater than the pension shortfalls.
Perhaps the most famous illustration of the pervasiveness of this deceptive argument comes from Detroit. When the city recently declared bankruptcy, much of the media and political narrative around the fiasco simply assumed that public pension liabilities are the problem. Few noted that both Detroit and the state of Michigan have for years been spending hundreds of millions of dollars on wasteful corporate subsidies. Worse, the very same political leaders pleading poverty to demand cuts to municipal pensions were simultaneously promising to spend more than a quarter-billion taxpayer dollars on a professional hockey arena.
But as outrageous as the blame-the-pensioners mythology from Detroit is, it is the same misleading mythology that is now driving public policy in states across America.
In Rhode Island, the state government slashed guaranteed pension benefits while handing $75 million to a retired professional baseball player for his failed video game scheme.
In Kentucky, the state government slashed pension benefits while continuing to spend $1.4 billion on tax expenditures.
In Kansas, the state government slashed guaranteed pension benefits despite being lambasted by a watchdog group for its penchant for spending huge money on corporate welfare “megadeals.”
In each of these states and many others now debating pension “reform,” Pew and Arnold have colluded to shape a narrative that suggests cutting public pension benefits is the only viable path forward. This, despite the fact that a) cutting wasteful corporate welfare could raise enough revenues to prevent such cuts; b) the pension “reform” proposals from Pew and Arnold could end up costing more than simply shoring up the existing system; and c) pension expenditures are typically more reliable methods of economic stimulus than corporate welfare.
Those inconvenient facts have been ignored in the political debate over pensions. Thanks to the combination of Pew’s well-known brand and Arnold’s vast resources, the pension-slashing movement’s extremist message has been able to dominate the political discourse in states throughout America.
The result is a skewed national conversation about state budgets – one in which middle-class public sector workers are increasingly asked to assume all the financial sacrifice for balancing the government books, and corporations and the wealthy are exempted from any sacrifice whatsoever.
A Microcosmic Story for the Citizens United Age
This is the story not merely of two nonprofits nor merely of one set of economic issues – it is a microcosmic tale of how in the Citizens United age, politically motivated billionaires can quietly implement an ideological agenda in local communities across the country.
Operating in state legislatures far away from the national media spotlight, these billionaires can launder their ideological agenda through seemingly nonpartisan foundations, with devastating legislative consequences for millions of taxpayers and families. And as the battle over America’s retirement proves, it isn’t just the infamous Koch brothers at work anymore.
In this particularly important fight over pensions, Arnold is leveraging his Enron fortune and his ties to top Republican activists to forge a powerful partnership with Pew. Having already spent at least $10 million on his crusade to cut retirement benefits, Arnold’s partnership with Pew is now driving and distorting the legislative debate over public pensions in at least seven states – and has helped enact huge cuts to retirement benefits in many of them.
With other billionaires now reportedly following Arnold’s lead and investing in the campaign to cut public workers’ retirement benefits, the Pew-Arnold plot is poised to expand into every state in America. Indeed, as Institutional Investor reports, “From Blackstone Group co-founder Peter Peterson to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, some of the wealthiest Americans are beginning to pay increasing attention to this issue,” meaning that pensioners will “have to get used to billionaires brandishing checkbooks” in their political crusade to cut retiree benefits.
The Corporate Bait-and-Switch
The goals of the plot against pensions are both straightforward and deceptive. On the surface, the primary objective is to convert traditional defined-benefit pension funds that guarantee retirement income into riskier, costlier schemes that reduce benefits and income guarantees, and subject taxpayers and millions of workers’ retirement funds to Enron’s casino-style economics.
At the same time, waging a high-profile fight for such an objective also simultaneously helps achieve the conservative movement’s larger goal of protecting profligate corporate subsidies.
The bait-and-switch at work is simple: The plot forwards the illusion that state budget problems are driven by pension benefits rather than by the far more expensive and wasteful corporate subsidies that states have been doling out for years. That ends up 1) focusing state budget debates on benefit-slashing proposals, and therefore 2) downplaying proposals that would raise revenue to shore up existing retirement systems. The result is that the Pew-Arnold initiative at once helps the right’s ideological crusade against traditional pensions and helps billionaires and the business lobby preserve corporations’ huge state tax subsidies.
In bequeathing its brand to an Enron billionaire and embracing this campaign, Pew is being steered back toward its ultraconservative roots. In the process, the retirement security of millions of Americans is being jeopardized.

7. NSA Reportedly Uses Data To Chart Americans' Social Ties
Efforts by the National Security Agency to track potential suspects and find connections between them have led the agency to collate its reams of data with information drawn from sources that include GPS locators and Facebook profiles, according to . The newspaper cites documents provided by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contract worker, as well as interview with officials.
"The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information," the newspaper says, "as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents."
The alleged practice is part of a broad attempt to use mountains of data to track and find connections among potential suspects. It could, for instance, determine patterns of behavior or determine when two people were in the same location or traveled together.
An NSA spokeswoman tells the Times, "All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period."
But citing an internal NSA memo from 2011, the Times reports that the "large-scale graph analysis" of metadata like that described in the documents can be done without verifying the "foreignness" of every e-mail address or phone number.
The newspaper also cites NSA documents that describe a catch-all database called Mainway, into which a large number of phone numbers, e-mail addresses and other data flow.
"An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day," the Times reports. "In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider," according to the report."
The allegations about the NSA program comes days after four senators introduced legislation that targets the NSA's practice of collecting Americans' phone records in bulk, as the Wednesday.
After the Times report emerged Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union responded by questioning the agency's rationale for its surveillance in the U.S.
"This report confirms what whistleblowers have been saying for years: the NSA has been monitoring virtually every aspect of Americans' lives – their communications, their associations, even their locations," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said of the actions described in the Times report. "The NSA apparently believes it can conduct this surveillance because 30 years ago the Supreme Court upheld the government's warrantless collection of basic information about a criminal suspect's telephone calls over the course of a single day."


8. LAWSUIT TO VENTILATE REACTOR INUNDATION NIGHTMARE SCENARIOS
NRC Withholding Documents Confirming Risks to One-Third of U.S. Nuclear Plants

PEER Press release
For Immediate Release: Aug 15, 2013
Posted on Aug 15, 2013 | Tags: NRC

Washington, DC — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is wrongfully withholding reports about dam failure leading to inundation of reactors, as well as protests from its own engineers about its failure to address this risk facing nearly three dozen U.S. nuclear facilities, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As with the 2011 nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Dai-chi facility, flooding could cause core meltdowns with catastrophic consequences.

Many of the documents at issue concern South Carolina’s Oconee Nuclear Station, where the NRC has known for more than two decades that failure of a dam ten miles upriver from the plant would swamp the plant’s three reactors and their cooling equipment. In that event, the reactor would go to core damage in less than 10 hours. Within three days, the flooded reactor would release its fission products into the atmosphere. This is comparable to what took place at Fukushima when it was hit by an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The tsunami’s monster ocean waves duplicated the effect of a dam-break flood.

The risks at Oconee are not unique, however. Comparable flood threats from upstream dams exist at dozens of plants such as Watts Bar in Tennessee, Prairie Island in Minnesota and the Fort Calhoun Station in Nebraska. These flood-vulnerable facilities represent approximately one-third of the country’s entire reactor-based electric generation capacity.

In the middle of the last decade, the NRC began removing material on dam failure inundation from public circulation. Recently, some of the agency’s own engineers objected to this after-the-fact secrecy, as well as NRC’s lack of action in making utility operators undertake plant modifications or mitigation measures.

As its stated reason for cloaking its scientific reports on inundation risk and related documents, the NRC is invoking a law enforcement exemption in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) usually reserved for shielding the identity of confidential informants.

“We strongly disagree that the NRC has a plausible basis for withholding this material and will vigorously pursue full release,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass who filed the complaint today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “This is not an academic point as these inundation accidents could make large swaths of the country uninhabitable for at least a century.”

According to NRC calculations, the odds of the dam near the Oconee plant failing at some point over the next 22 years are much higher than were the odds of an earthquake-induced tsunami causing a meltdown at the Fukushima plant. In fact, NRC assessments conclude “a Jocassee Dam failure is a credible event.”

The NRC has no direct control over the operations of these upstream dams. Ironically, the agencies which do have operational control over dams – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Homeland Security – have all consented to the release of the material that NRC has chosen to keep hidden.

“It is no secret that water flows downhill,” Douglass added. “This case is about the NRC shielding its negligence from public view.”

9. internet limiting by $$$$
The big providers don’t want to do that, though, so instead they are trying to figure out ways to charge customers more for what they already pay for. And the amounts they are charging are exorbitant. For instance, Verizon Wireless’ HomeFusion service has a top tier of $120 a month for 30 GB, with a $10 charge for every gigabyte over that. Since, as the article notes, Netflix can take up to 700 MB for an hour of streaming, that cap will get blown through pretty quickly. And it’s completely inadequate for the next generation of video: you can forget about streaming a movie that takes 45 to 60 GB.

The reason they are doing this is because they want to do away with net neutrality. If lots of their customers are getting data from site A then site A is a problem. If only they didn’t have to connect their customers to it, or maybe if they could charge the site a premium! And that’s where usage based broadband pricing comes in. If Verizon succeeds against the FCC and net neutrality is gutted, web site owners face the prospect of being charged extra by providers for the privilege of delivering content to customers.
We are already seeing a version of that as providers make deals to serve certain content free of data cap usage. And when you’re on a plan that has a 30 GB per month cap with $1 for every GB over, that’s a pretty big deal. It begins to make sense to confine yourself to those sites that your ISP doesn’t count against your cap just to make sure you don’t accidentally blow through it. Of course, some take a more sanguine view:

10. internet limiting by $$$$
      we are 33rd in available web speed to consumers

11. After NSA Court Hearing, Government Must Unseal Documents by December 20

A federal judge ordered the government to unseal more documents concerning the NSA spying programs by December 20, 2013. The judge issued the ruling in EFF's lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, which began in 2008 over the NSA spying program initiated by the Bush Administration, which continues to this day.
In light of the declassifications inspired by the June leaks, Judge Jeffrey White ordered the government to unseal any declassified material, like exhibits, declarations, and other ex parte submissions that the government had previously submitted to the court under seal.
In response, the government asked that it only release a new declaration. The Department of Justice lawyers reasoned that reviewing the material submitted since the case began in 2008 would be a heavy burden. We objected, noting that recently declassified documents have shown that the government had submitted misleading material to the court overseeing the spying, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court).
Judge White denied the government's request, noting that the government had the resources to carry out such a review. He also noted that there should be a "fulsome" record for the court, the public, and the plaintiffs to draw from. The judge also set a briefing schedule on the procedural issues that it wanted resolved before turning to the critical question—whether the spying program is legal and constitutional.
We look forward to the government's submissions and will be reporting on them when they are released.

12. House passes GOP plan for $39B cut in food stamps

    Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told USA TODAY’s Capital Download on Thursday that Democrats are not opposed to food stamp cuts.

    “I’m certain that we could embrace as House Democrats some measure of cuts,” she said. “I mean, every program can benefit from some savings.” But the first go-round the Republicans’ proposed cut was $20 billion. Then they passed an amendment that was $31.4 billion. And now that still isn’t good enough for the Tea Partiers. Now we’re at $40 billion. What they’re saying is that in America it’s OK for people to go hungry.


13. The seagrass is gone, the fish are gone, the birds are gone…” 

This is how Jonnie Swann, my friend and longtime Audubon member, described the conditions in the Indian River Lagoon. She asked me what can be done to turn around the devastation from billions of gallons of polluted water that had been flushed into the fragile estuary. 

Behind her home there is a small dock that leads to a remarkable view of the river – historically lush seagrass meadows, clear water, fish and crabs below and pelicans and Osprey above - a view of what makes Florida such a special place - a place worth protecting.

Her words are still with me, “What can we do?”


I promised her that Audubon’s staff and volunteer leaders are hard at work turning this crisis around – stopping the discharges of polluted water. To get action, we all have to work together to rally the public. Decision-makers need to know that we all care.

Post a Comment