Sunday, June 01, 2014

PNN - Mark Pafford and Session 2014 and More, Much More

PNN - 6/1/14
Mark Pafford
Luis Cuevas
Alan Maki
Steve Horn

1. The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Duke Energy reached a deal Thursday afternoon to clean up one of the largest coal ash spills in U.S. history.
The deal comes after months of advocates demanding answers and residents calling for stricter enforcement.
As a result of Duke spilling thousands of tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, NC in February, the EPA decided the company must:
  • Perform a comprehensive assessment
  • Determine the location of coal ash deposits
  • Remove deposits along the Dan River as deemed appropriate by EPA, in consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service
“EPA will work with Duke Energy to ensure that cleanup at the site, and affected areas, is comprehensive based on sound scientific and ecological principles, complies with all Federal and State environmental standards, and moves as quickly as possible,” EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney said in a statement.
“Protection of public health and safety remains a primary concern, along with the long-term ecological health of the Dan River.”
The decision will leave Duke on the hook, financially, too. The company will be required to reimburse the EPA for its time and oversight costs during the cleanup. The order also requires Duke to reimburse all past EPA response costs, along with future oversight costs in connection with the spill.
The spill began on Feb. 2 when a stormwater pipe broke underneath the 27-acre primary pond and drained to the Dan River. Although state regulators and Duke Energy scrambled to get the spill under control, they waited more than 24 hours before notifying the public of the spill on Monday evening. By then, an estimated 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water had dumped into the Dan River, a public drinking water supply for downstream communities like Danville, VA.
More than 48 hours after the spill was discovered, thick, dark gray toxic coal ash sludge continued to flow out of the pipe into the river.

2.It's Geithner vs. Warren in Battle of the Bailout
By Marilyn Geewax, National Public Radio
25 May 14

he financial crisis of 2008 caused such an enormous upheaval that future historians will long be asking: Who caused it? Who fixed it? Could it have turned out better?
Recently, two key players looked back: Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote Stress Test, Reflections on Financial Crisis, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote A Fighting Chance.
The two reached opposite conclusions. Geithner believes the bank bailout proved its worth. Warren remains outraged that wealthy bankers have not been jailed.
So should the financial system's "rescuers" get our thanks for preventing a Second Great Depression, or our disdain for allowing a heist to go unpunished?
Let's look at the fantasy debate that Geithner and Warren might have, using words from their books. At the end, please vote for the winner. But first, here's a little background on our debaters.
Each chose to build a career around public service rather than personal wealth. Warren started out as an attorney. She might have joined a high-priced law firm, but instead became a professor, studying the impact of bankruptcy law on the poor and middle class.
Geithner had opportunities to make windfalls on Wall Street. Instead, he chose to earn a salary at public institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In November of 2008, when the crisis was at its white-hot peak, their career paths crossed in Washington. Geithner was preparing to become treasury secretary. And Warren was assuming her role as chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel to watch over TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Congress had just passed the $700 billion package to shore up the crumbling banking system.
Geithner explains the mindset he was in as he headed to Congress to beg for TARP's passage.
GEITHNER: "The world was burning. What more was there to discuss? ... This was not the time to focus on punishing the arsonists. It was time to focus on putting out the fire. ... As long as TARP could be used to recapitalize the system, I just wanted Congress to pass it as fast as possible."
Warren says it was wrong to focus on keeping banks whole, rather than on helping the millions of workers losing jobs and homes.
WARREN: "As soon as TARP was set up, tens of billions of dollars started flowing to the giant banks ... but that didn't keep credit flowing to the small businesses, and more and more of them were shutting down. At the same time, the tide of foreclosures just kept rising ... TARP seemed to be doing precious little for small businesses or families in trouble."
Geithner often compares the events of late 2008 to war, wildfires and crashing planes. He says taking focus away from implementing TARP to mete out punishment would have been foolish.
GEITHNER: "A lot of firms that didn't deserve saving still needed to be saved ... [That's because] nothing is more dangerous during a panic than the sudden liquidation of a major institution ... Even if we couldn't prevent an ugly crash, I wanted to explore ways to put 'foam on the runway' — anything to mitigate the damage."
Warren was appalled by Geithner's references to "foam."
WARREN: "The Treasury foreclosure program was intended to foam the runway to protect against a crash landing by the banks. Millions of people were getting tossed out on the street, but the secretary of the Treasury believes that government's most important job was to provide a soft landing for the tender fannies of the banks. Oh Lord."
Geithner says homeowners and workers gained much more by having the financial system stabilized than they would've had by spending time on prosecuting bankers.
GEITHNER: "Old Testament vengeance appeals to the populist fury of the moment, but the truly moral thing to do during a raging financial inferno is to put it out. The goal should be to protect the innocent, even if some of the arsonists escape their full measure of justice."
Warren doesn't buy it.
WARREN: "No perp walks. No mass indictments ... Where were the armies of auditors, seizing hard drives and poring over the financial statements?"
Geithner says he can understand his critics' indignation, but they can't appreciate the terror he felt while staring into a financial-system abyss.
GEITHNER: "The overwhelming burden of responsibility combined with the paralyzing risk of catastrophic failure; the frustration about the stuff out of your control; the uncertainty about what would help; the knowledge that even good decisions might turn out badly; the pain and guilt of neglecting your family; the loneliness and the numbness."
Looking back, Geithner feels validated: Banks repaid their bailout money and depositors did not stage bank runs. The economy began growing in the summer of 2009 and Congress passed a sweeping financial reform package.
GEITHNER: "Our unemployment rate rose to 10 percent, but not to 25 percent as in the Depression ... The stock market has exceeded its pre-crisis peak, so retirement funds that lost $5 trillion during the crisis have gained it back."
Warren concedes the bailout did not become a fiscal catastrophe, but says bankers learned only that they can be reckless without risk.
WARREN: "The government eventually recovered the money it put into Citibank and the other banking giants. But at the time those deals were struck, no one knew what the future held, and the risks were all on taxpayers."
And the rewards turned out to be meager for most, she says.
WARREN: "The American people were told that the bailout would make it possible for banks to start lending to small businesses again and to help relieve the foreclosure crisis. But once those no-strings-attached checks were distributed to the big banks, that promise evaporated like a tiny ice cube in the desert. "
So now that each of these key figures has made a case, you can decide: Who was more persuasive?

3. How Should We Write and Fight?
by ANDRE VLTCHEK
Why are the streets of New York, Washington D.C., London and Paris so orderly, so quiet?
Are we – opposition investigative journalists, philosophers and documentary filmmakers – doing such a terrible job? Are we not providing the North American and European public with enough information, enough proof about the monstrous state of the world? Enough so they – the citizens of the Empire – finally get thoroughly pissed off, detach their backsides from their couches and chairs, and flood the capitals and business centers with their bodies, demanding change, demanding the end to atrocities that are being committed all over the world… the end of this imperialist and neo-con madness?

PointofNoReturn300
Are we failing, squarely and patently, to give examples and proof of the pain this world is suffering because of the bestiality of market fundamentalism, because of unchecked neocolonialism and shameless Western supremacy? Are we not providing enough stories and images, enough footage, to convince the citizens of the countries that are ruling the world, that something has gone awfully wrong?

The answer is yes, and also, no.

4. Peasants for Plutocracy
Inn what kind of a country is money considered free-speech? In what kind of a country is a legal construct considered a person? It is definitely not a country to which one would apply the term "democracy."

It is stunning to consider where we have come from democracy to plutocracy. The ruling by the Supreme Court on April 2, 2014 (McCutcheon v FEC) was one of the most egregious blows to democracy that our country has ever seen.

Certainly previous rulings, such as Citizens United v FEC, set up the current ruling. The Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon vs FEC that there could be no overall contribution limits that an individual could donate to campaigns. Whereas in Citizens United vs FEC, the court ruled that there could be no limits on how much an entity could give to any campaign. Those entities include organizations such as corporations, lobbies, and labor unions. Both of the Supreme Court decisions link back to a 1976 Supreme Court decision of Buckley v Valeo in which the court effectively ruled that money equals free-speech. This was a challenge to an amendment to the 1971 law that created the Federal Election Commission -The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which was aimed at controlling campaign funding.

The Un-Public Voices
When you combine the "money equals free-speech" decisions and the evisceration of all attempts to control unlimited funding of campaigns with the concepts of corporate personhood, a legal scenario emerges that is truly frightening. This is particularly true if one is operating within a democracy. Effectively what has been crafted is a complete handover of our political structure to those who have the most money to buy it. In other words, the United States has moved from a society which was a putative representative democracy (eligible citizens selecting representatives to be decision makers) to a plutocracy (rule by the rich). The republicans used to like to remind us that the U.S. is a "republic," thereby reinforcing the concept that it is not a free democracy. This becomes increasingly important as the contexts around who is part of the "public," and who gets represented shift. Certainly a significant part of the overall strategy of moving the United States away from a representative democracy with the broad citizen public as the voters, and into a different form of republic where the rich and corporations are the voting "public," is to redefine who gets to vote. This goes directly to the attack on broad enfranchisement of voters. This process of disenfranchisement is taking three primary paths:

    1) The gerrymandering of districts to weaken the voting power of those who traditionally do not vote Republican (poor and working class, people of color, and traditionally Democratic districts). This had it largest public airing with the "Texas Eleven" who fled to New Mexico for 46 days in 2003 to block a redistricting vote placed on the Texas floor by Republicans.
    2) Recrafting voting rights through various mechanisms involving combinations of voter ID and "purging" of the voter rolls, and at the federal level the undermining of the Voting Rights Act (we can once again thank the Supreme Court for eviscerating that Act of the Constitution).
    3) Promulgating the idea that voting is meaningless and big government overrides the people's needs. This strategy has been used to shrink the voting population, and the smaller the population the smaller a voting block one needs to push forward your own agenda. This also nicely sets up the idea of "shrinking" government in almost all forms and privatizing (corporatizing) its functions.
SCOTUS and the Corporations -- Chamber Music Please

The Roberts' court is argued to be the most corporate court since at least World War II (Epstein, et al, Minnesota Law Review, Vol 97: 1431-1472, "How Business Fairs in the Supreme Court"). Various protections are being offered to corporations but essentially isolate and protect them from virtually any claim or harm. So not only are corporations being argued to be corporate persons within the constitutional sense of the law, but they are increasingly becoming inviolate in that personhood. Those rulings include (according to Brent Kendall of the Wall Street Journal):

Supreme Court Comes to Defense of Business, (WSJ, 6/23/2013).

"The Supreme Court ruled this session that:

    - Comcast Subscribers alleging anti-competitive practices couldn't proceed as a class action because there was no good way to determine monetary damages.
    - Royal Dutch Shell Allegations that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations overseas couldn't be tried in U.S. Court.
    - American Express A class-action lawsuit over card fees couldn't proceed because merchants were bound by a contract they had signed with the card issuer. "
And who is the perpetual player in this theft of democracy; this construction of corpocracy; this rise of the plutocrats? Why none other than the hiding in plain sight, ubiquitous in virtually every town and city in the United States; The Chamber of Commerce. Yes this friendly "welcome to our town;" bring on the conventions; here's your visitor's map folks are truly the Mr. Hyde within Dr. Jekyll (Robert Lewis Stevenson, 1886).
The Chamber of Commerce has been behind many of the cases before the Supreme Court expanding corporate rights and protections. They are also the cornerstone of the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) that is pushing conservative and pro-corporate legislation in every state in the Union (see ALEC Exposed). According to a study (How Business Fairs in the Supreme Court) by Lee Epstein, William Landes, and Richard Posner in the Minnesota Law Review (Volume 97), 

5. Golden Age of the thought crime
opednews
http://www.opednews.com/articles/2/The-Golden-Age-of-Thoughtc-by-Bob-Patterson-Gridlock_Liberals_Radio_Reading-140530-94.html
America has elevated shooting rampages to the level of a sacred religious rite and the only proof that is needed to prove that contention is the article in the Wall Street Journal that asserts that the media is doing the exact opposite of what the psychologists say they should be doing when a new instance of shooting strangers to become a celebrity unfolds on the cable news networks and the big networks' evening news shows. The Armstrong and Getty radio show invited listeners to go to their website to get a link to the story. It's just a remarkable coincidence that their show in the San Francisco Bay Area is preceded on a Fox radio station by the Wall Street Journal radio show.
Is it ironic to note that in the last week of May of 2014, in the land famous for Freedom of Speech, the hot topic was arguing over what can and can not be said about a wide variety of topics?
Is there anything about the shooting that hasn't been said? Reading "How to Talk Dirty and Influence People," we couldn't help but imagine that if he were still alive, Lenny Bruce would find a way to say something which would offend both Liberals and Conservatives. Such as? It isn't too difficult to imagine that Bruce would attempt to elevate the debate to new levels of vitriol by saying: "If prostitution were legal in Cali, those victims would still be alive."
It isn't difficult to imagine Bruce noting that if a good looking young man driving a new Mercedes Benz can't get laid, then America has become a very sick nation.

On Wednesday May 28, 2014, Getty and Armstrong continued their criticism of the news coverage of the shootings (and stabbings) but fell short of going balls to the wall with their point of view. Should they push things to the limit by urging (in an egregious example of irony) people to send in money to start a Shooters' Hall of Fame to raise the glorification of the shooters to an excessively high level of adulation?

The Wednesday edition of the Getty and Armstrong Show included one of the sidekicks telling a personal anecdote about bypassing the waiting phase at a Sushi bar and when the fellow was asked to explain why he got preferential treatment responded: "Because I'm white." On Thursday morning that radio show quickly mentioned that the guy who told that anecdote was no longer working for the show. 

Since Rush Limbaugh loves to goad the Liberals by uttering ideas that come perilously close to taking the concept of edgy off the deep end. Hasn't conservative radio come to resemble (metaphor alert!) the chickie run sequence in "Rebel without a Cause"?

How would Liberals react if Uncle Rushbo read some old Lenny Bruce routines on his radio show? Bruce did use the "n-word" and if Limbaugh read the transcript of a Lenny Bruce rant that included the use of the "n-word," would Liberals condemn that as a reprehensible way to sneak that word on to his radio show or would they then resurrect the old "freedom of speech" arguments that were (was it fifty years ago?) offered in defense of Lenny Bruce? 

The national debate over gun control has morphed into a state of stalemate. Neither side will even listen to the other team's points and (much to the relief of politicians caught in the middle) as a result nothing will ever be done about it.

Mass shootings are a very effective wedge issue and on Wednesday a law maker in California was proposing that citizens who think that a neighbor is mentally unfit to own a gun should be given veto power over any legal attempts to purchase a firearm.

The concept of a wedge issue is to take a dispute and get a wild exuberant political diversion going, ultimately do nothing to change things, and then get on TV and explain how and why the opposition political party thwarted the will of the majority of voters.

Bill Mahr said something that was deemed unacceptable by the patriotic conservatives and he was marginalized for his attempt to think outside the box. Don Imus was discredited by a conservative news organization and then hired by them when the value of his services fell to a much more affordable price.

Do you have an extra coupla billion dollars sitting idle and want to buy a NBA team cheap?

We have been reading "Death of a Pirate," by Adrian Johns, which is about the phenomenon known as Pirate Radio as practiced in Great Britain during the last century.

The Liberal point of view on the publicly owned radio airwaves is as extinct as the Wolfman Jack radio show.

Sometime ago, the World's Laziest Journalist predicted that when Liberal philosophy on radio becomes extinct, it would be necessary to resurrect the concept of pirate radio and offer clandestine programming being broadcast from beyond the borders and which could be heard inside the USA. Some folks say that the Internets fills that need but can a person in a car listen to a show being streamed on the Internets?

Lenny Bruce got in deep trouble for talking about things like gays, blacks, and drugs. He was very adamant about being given his right to free speech and when Rush Limbaugh makes headlines with a new outrageous quote, we wonder if Lenny Bruce would be the first to come to Rush's defense.

Is freedom of speech a one way street only for Liberals or is it a two way street that Bruce would endorse? Partisan punditry is just cheerleading in disguise. Seeing Lenny Bruce defend Donald Sterling's freedom of speech would be a hella notable example of doing a guest shot on a talk show.

On Thursday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, caused a stir by asserting that Liberals were stifling conservative teachers at Harvard.

Are there more Liberals condemning Rush Limbaugh for what he says lately, than there were Conservatives demanding the arrest of Lenny Bruce for what he was saying fifty years ago?

Gridlock in the gun control debate
 could be a symptom that freedom of speech has become moribund and that the most appropriate illustration of the situation would be a photo of the WWI trench warfare where the battle line did not move while thousand died maintaining the status quo. Don't expect to see Lenny Bruce or anyone else asserting that legalized prostitution would have prevented the shootings in Isle Vista.

The main event between Hillary and JEB is more than two years from now and the thought of two solid years of "Yay for JEB, boo for Hilary" on talk radio is stultifying. Doesn't America need partisan punditry in print, on the air, and on the boob tube so that it doesn't get to be so predictable and monotonous that folks loose interest in the election? Or is that Karl Rove's stealth game plan for the next Presidential election? 
On page 31 of "How to Talk Dirty and Influence People," Bruce wrote: "There was also some nut from Rye, New Yor, whose act consisted of standing on a chair, jumping straight up into the air and then diving and landing square on his head."
Now the disk jockey will play George Carlin's "Seven Word," the Rolling Stones C******r Blues, and G. G. Allin's "Needle in My ****." We have to go see who's playing at the Hungry I" in Frisco. Have an "omphaloskepsis" type week.

6. NSA Gathering Millions of Images for Facial Recognition Technology
New York Times report shows spy agency obtains images from social media, text messages, and emails

The National Security Agency is mass collecting facial images through its surveillance programs for use in facial recognition technology, journalists James Risen and Laura Poitras revealed Saturday in the New York Times.
Secret documents exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that the spy agency views facial recognition as the next frontier of surveillance and uses new software technology to obtain facial images from digital communications, including emails, social media, and even text messages.
According to the report, documents from 2011 reveal:
    The agency intercepts "millions of images per day" — including about 55,000 'facial recognition quality images' — which translate into "tremendous untapped potential."
One internal NSA document, dated 2010, states, “It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting."
According to the report, the NSA "accelerated its use of facial recognition technology under the Obama administration."
It is not immediately clear how many people have had their images intercepted by the NSA, according to the report.
However, this agency is not the only one increasingly using this new technology. The report notes that the FBI, state and local police, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security are also increasingly turning to facial recognition programs.

7. Will New Federal Law Facilitate Privatization of US Water?
http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/23955-will-new-federal-law-facilitate-privatization-of-us-water
major piece of legislation funding the development and improvement of water-related infrastructure passed Congress last week for the first time in nearly a decade, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill soon.
Yet public interest groups warn that a key provision in the law would complicate public investment in drinking water and wastewater systems in big cities and small towns alike. The end result, they say, would be to strengthen privately-managed or -owned water systems while leaving the federal government to take on the risk of these investments—essentially subsidizing water privatization.
“This law will facilitate the privatization of water systems and prioritize funding for privatized systems,” Mary Grant, a researcher for the water program at Food & Water Watch, a watchdog group here, told MintPress News.
“The basic problem is that it will only fund up to 45 percent of project costs, but also stipulates that the rest cannot be made up through the use of tax-exempt bonds,” Grant continued. “Yet such bonds are the primary way in which local governments fund infrastructure projects, so why would they try to make use of this funding?”
The broader law, agreed upon by large majorities in both the House and Senate over the past week following a year of negotiation, is known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The full bill authorizes funding for a spectrum of new water infrastructure projects—particularly around ports and waterways, including flood protection and restoration—worth some $12.3 billion, though this money will still have to go through an appropriations process.
Assuming that President Obama signs it, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act will be the first such water-related funding package to become law since 2007. Even then, the 2007 bill passed over the threat of veto from President George W. Bush, primarily due to budgetary concerns. As with any large funding bill, the act has received criticism from conservatives worried that Congress will not be able to provide adequate oversight for what they expect to be a frenzy of project requests.
The bill also includes provisions aimed at dealing with what experts say is a multi-billion-dollar funding gap for drinking water and wastewater systems across the country. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that some $384 billion in improvements would be needed in U.S. drinking water infrastructure over the next two decades. The EPA also found that many of the country’s 73,400 water systems are between 50 to 100 years old.
“[T]he nation’s water systems have entered a rehabilitation and replacement era in which much of the existing infrastructure has reached or is approaching the end of its useful life,” EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said at the time. “This is a major issue that must be addressed so that American families continue to have the access they need to clean and healthy water sources.”
While Congress is receiving widespread plaudits for finally acting on this shortfall, critics are worried that the final law will be detrimental to communities across the country.
Dwindling Public Funding
According to data provided by Food & Water Watch, federal spending on improvements to drinking water and wastewater systems since the late 1970s have dwindled by some 80 percent. Since the late 1990s, the group says, federal grants have offered just $15 billion for this purpose.
In 2012, dozens of federal lawmakers wrote to the congressional leadership to highlight this situation, citing rising concerns among mayors, public water systems directors and others. The lawmakers noted that federal funding for water systems made up just three percent of total costs, down from 78 percent 35 years earlier. This shortfall, they warned, leaves “cities and towns across the country bearing the difficult challenge of pulling together funds for public water systems.”
The new Water Resources Reform and Development Act does attempt to ameliorate this problem, making available $175 million in funding over five years. But the part of the law that focuses on this issue, known as the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, does so primarily by steering communities toward public-private partnerships.
It is unclear whether this is by design. As Food & Water Watch’s Grant notes, a central issue is the fact that the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act does not allow communities to raise funding for infrastructure through the issuance of tax-exempt bonds, a process that the watchdog group says has raised more than $1.6 trillion for local and state infrastructure projects over the past decade.
It appears, however, that this option was only removed after negotiations with an eye toward the federal deficit, following a budgetary “scoring” by the Congressional Budget Office. Groups representing the municipal water sector say the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act won’t work for their members.
“We have huge wastewater infrastructure needs, so we’ve been supportive of having more tools in the toolbox to help communities pay for upgrades and new projects,” Hannah Mellman, legislative manager at the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, a lobby group that represents the municipal wastewater sector, told MintPress.
“Yet the tax-exempt bond exemption will make [the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] pretty unworkable for our members. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t use [the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act], but if they can’t finance their side of projects with tax-exempt bonds we don’t see how it will be usable. So we’re disappointed to see that in the final bill.”
Funding criteria under the bill will also be different than under traditional federal water assistance. For instance, the latter has always been in part based on issues related to public health, but the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act requires no such consideration. Instead, criteria for funding under the act will include issues that strike some observers as odd — for instance, how much of the money would go to areas with significant energy development, or whether the projects already have private financing partners.

Access and Equity
On the one hand, then, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act likely will not offer communities large or small the funding required to address the water infrastructure needs that the federal government admits are necessary and widespread. On the other hand, watchdog groups say the bill’s impact could be more far-ranging still, touching on issues of access and equity.
“We are alarmed by the implications of this bill, which would open the doors to an increase in water public-private partnerships in the U.S. and effectively subsidize water privatization,” Erin Diaz, the director of Public Water Works!, a campaign at Corporate Accountability International, told MintPress in a statement.
“The privatization of water systems around the globe has often resulted in devastating results for the economy and people—rate hikes, layoffs, labor abuses, environmental damage and public safety risks—all while failing to invest in essential infrastructure.”
In 2012, Diaz’s office published an exhaustive report on the international experience of water privatization over the past two decades. With a focus on the World Bank’s role in this issue and a call for the multilateral lender to divest from private water companies worldwide (it has yet to do so), the report undermines the central rationale in favor of privatization: that corporate efficiency leads to lower operating costs.
Such findings have come up repeatedly in the U.S., as well, with surveys finding that investor-owned utilities in dozens of U.S. states charge around one-third more than those owned by the public.
Profit-driven systems also experience problems in deciding where to extend service. Driven by profit rather than public access, companies have at times proved reluctant, for instance, to provide services in low-income areas or very small communities.
Indeed, Grant says this was one of the original reasons that U.S. water infrastructure—much of which was originally privately owned—was taken over by the public sector during the early twentieth century. As this trend has reversed in some places over recent decades, similar concerns have again cropped up.
“Though water privatization remains fairly rare, there has been a lot of work on the part of private utilities trying to expand their operations,” Grant said.
“In West Virginia, for instance, a private water utility has been buying up other utilities, and the result has been smaller households have struggled in attempts to force the company to serve their areas. The company was also trying to cut back on its investments after the state government wouldn’t allow the rate increases it wanted to impose.”
Meanwhile, even as lawmakers are undercutting municipalities’ ability to raise money for water infrastructure from tax-exempt bonds, lobby attempts have made some headway in pushing Congress to remove legal caps on the levels to which bonds to fund private activity would be allowed in the water sector. In mid-May, senators formally proposed removing limits on what are known as private activity bonds for water-related projects, prompting applause from the National Association of Water Companies, a group that lobbies on behalf of water companies.
Lifting these caps would “open the floodgates to financing water privatization projects, effectively subsidized by taxpayers,” Corporate Accountability International’s Diaz told MintPress.
“This interference, present at every level of government, is just one small part of the private water industry’s strategy to expand its market across the U.S.,” said Diaz. “The provisions in [the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] that could provide public financing to private water are just one example of the many policy avenues the private water industry pursues to privatize water and weaken its greatest competitor—publicly-controlled and democratically-governed water systems.”

8. New Federal Database Will Track Americans' Credit Ratings, Other Financial Information
http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/23957-new-federal-database-will-track-americans-credit-ratings-other-financial-information
As many as 227 million Americans may be compelled to disclose intimate details of their families and financial lives -- including their Social Security numbers -- in a new national database being assembled by two federal agencies.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau posted an April 16 Federal Register notice of an expansion of their joint National Mortgage Database Program to include personally identifiable information that reveals actual users, a reversal of previously stated policy.
FHFA will manage the database and share it with CFPB. A CFPB internal planning document for 2013-17 describes the bureau as monitoring 95 percent of all mortgage transactions.
FHFA officials claim the database is essential to conducting a monthly mortgage survey required by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and to help it prepare an annual report for Congress.
Critics, however, question the need for such a “vast database” for simple reporting purposes.
In a May 15 letter to FHFA Director Mel Watt and CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, charged, "this expansion represents an unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of ordinary Americans."
Crapo is the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Hensarling is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Critics also warn the new database will be vulnerable to cyber attacks that could put private information about millions of consumers at risk. They also question the agency’s authority to collect such information.
Earlier this year, Cordray tried to assuage concerned lawmakers during a Jan. 28 hearing of Hensarling's panel, saying repeatedly the database will only contain “aggregate” information with no personal identifiers.
But under the April register notice, the database expansion means it will include a host of data points, including a mortgage owner’s name, address, Social Security number, all credit card and other loan information and account balances.
The database will also encompass a mortgage holder’s entire credit history, including delinquent payments, late payments, minimum payments, high account balances and credit scores, according to the notice.
The two agencies will also assemble “household demographic data,” including racial and ethnic data, gender, marital status, religion, education, employment history, military status, household composition, the number of wage earners and a family’s total wealth and assets.
Only 12 public comments were submitted during the 30-day comment period following the notice's April 16 publication.

The mortgage database is unprecedented and would collect personal mortgage information on every single-family residential first lien loan issued since 1998. Federal officials will continue updating the database into the indefinite future.

The database held information on at least 10.1 million mortgage owners, according to a July 31, 2013, FHFA and CFPB presentation at an international conference on collateral risk.

FHFA has two contracts with CoreLogic, which boasts that it has “access to industry’s largest most comprehensive active and historical mortgage databases of over 227 million loans.”

Cordray confirmed in his January testimony that CoreLogic had been retained for the national mortgage database.

The credit giant Experian is also involved in the mortgage database project, according to an FHFA official who requested anonymity.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who sits on the Hensarling panel and who has followed the mortgage database's development, said he was “deeply concerned” about the expansion.

“When you look at the kinds of data that are going to be collected on individuals, just about anything about you is going to be in this database,” he told the Examiner in an interview.

Critics of the database span the financial spectrum, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.

In a May 16 letter to FHFA, NAFCU's regulatory affairs counsel, Angela Meyster, said the database "harbors significant privacy concerns" and "NAFCU believes greater transparency should be provided by the FHFA and CFPB on what this information is being used for."

Meyster told the Examiner that "it goes back to the breadth of information that they’re asking for without really speaking to what they will be used for."

Meyster said she was unconvinced. "It seems they’re just adding information and they’re not really stating where it’s going or what it’s going to be used for. There’s no straightaway answer. They say they are trying to assemble as much information that they can."

Neugebauer agreed. "Why are we collecting this amount of data on this many individuals?" he asked in the interview.

The Chamber of Commerce said that while Congress did ask for regular reports, it never granted FHFA the authority to create the National Mortgage Database.

“Congress did not explicitly require (or even explicitly authorize) the FHFA to build anything resembling the NMD,” the Chamber told Watt in its May 16 letter.

Cordray in his testimony told the House, "We’re making every effort to be very careful" but he could not promise there would never be a data breach.

Neugebauer said the hacker threat is real. "If someone were to breach that system, they could very easily steal somebody’s identity."

Meyster said she doubts the government can protect the data. “We’re essentially concerned that these government systems don’t have the necessary precautions to make sure that individual consumers are identified through the database,” she said.

Computerized theft of government and commercial data is a major concern for federal officials. Indictments were made public last week for five Chinese military members who allegedly hacked into the computer systems of six American corporations.

A December report from the Government Accountability Office on breaches containing personally identifiable information from federal databases shows unlawful data breaches have doubled, from 15,140 reported incidents in 2009 to 22,156 in 2012.

A May 1 White House report on cybersecurity of federal databases also recently warned, "if unchecked, big data could be a tool that substantially expands government power over citizens.”

9. Grayson Amendment
In the last set of votes on the CJS Appropriations Bill, there will be a vote on having the Federal Government join 49 states in protecting reporter sources. The amendment reads as follows:

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to compel a journalist or reporter to testify about information or sources that the journalist or reporter states in a motion to quash the subpoena that he has obtained as a journalist or reporter and that he regards as confidential.” 

10. Support Rev. William Barber’s Freedom Summer Project

http://ourfuture.org/support-rev-william-barbers-freedom-summer-campaign?
utm_source=pmupdate&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140528

Rev. William Barber, the leader of the Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina, where he is the president of the state chapter of the NAACP, presented an amazing speech about the movement to a “higher ground” for our economy and politics at the end of The New Populism Conference in Washington on May 22.

We want to help Rev. Barber spread what he has started in North Carolina. So we’re asking you to support the Moral Mondays Movement Freedom Summer Project.

The Freedom Summer Project will train a new generation of leaders in how to spread Moral Monday-style movements in North Carolina and other states where Tea Party extremists have taken actions that threaten the economic well-being of working people, strip people of their voting rights, and deny all citizens equality under the law.

Join us in helping Rev. William Barber build a powerful anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-poverty, pro-labor, deeply moral fusion movement in North Carolina and throughout the country.

“Forward together, not one step back!”

11.  Admitting Privileges Laws Threaten Abortion Access in Large Swaths of U.S.
http://go.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?abbr=daily2_&page=NewsArticle&id=44612
May 29, 2014 — State laws requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals threaten to leave women in broad areas of the country without abortion access in their region, particularly in rural and low-income parts of the South and Midwest, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

The laws are especially harmful for abortion clinics in the South because their doctors often come from out of state to perform abortions and do not have connections to local hospitals, according to the AP/Bee. In addition, some hospitals have religious affiliations that bar them from entering into agreements with abortion providers, while others might not grant privileges to out-of-state physicians, the AP/Bee reports.

Some states already have the admitting privileges requirements in place, and others are under court review. For example, a court allowed a law (HB 2) with the requirements to take effect this year in Texas, where 19 of 33 clinics have closed. Tennessee has a similar law, and measures in Mississippi -- which has just one abortion clinic -- and Alabama are on hold while courts consider lawsuits. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 10 states have laws with admitting privileges requirements, including measures about to be enacted in Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Comments

Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for CRR, said there are potentially "huge swaths of the country where women's options are becoming severely limited." She disputed claims by supporters of the laws who argue that the requirements safeguard women's health. Admitting privileges requirements are "absolutely not medically necessary" and are really designed to restrict abortion access, she said.

However, Denise Burke, vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, said the laws are "obvious and medically appropriate regulation[s] of the abortion providers" (Wagster Pettus, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/29).

Richards: Fight Back on Restrictions

The spread of admitting privileges laws across the South threatens to make the U.S. "a country in which a woman's ability to make the private and personal medical decision best for herself and her family will be dependent upon where she happens to live," Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards writes in a CNN opinion piece.

Richards adds that the "only effective way to stop these attacks on women's health is to change who is in office passing these laws." She writes that lawmakers "who are attacking women's health are on the wrong side of this issue," and "thousands of women, men, and young people across the country ... are willing to fight tooth and nail to stop" the abortion restrictions (Richards, CNN, 5/28).

11. Keystone Might still be stopped
Keystone XL would create 5 billion tons of CO2 by 2050. This would further damage our environment and make it even harder to combat climate change.
The existing Keystone pipeline has already spilled more than 30 times. Future spills could contaminate water sources that serve millions of people.
Keystone XL is not a job creator. The project will create only 35 permanent jobs, while threatening farms and communities along its path.
CONTACT THE PRESIDENT AND SAY NO KEYSTONE XL

12. 
 Published on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 by Consortium News
Premature US Victory-Dancing on Ukraine
by Ray McGovern

Washington’s role in the coup d’etat in Kiev on Feb. 22 has brought the U.S. a Pyrrhic victory, with the West claiming control of Ukraine albeit with a shaky grip that still requires the crushing of anti-coup rebels in the east. But the high-fiving may be short-lived once the full consequences of the putsch become clear.

What has made the “victory” so hollow is that the U.S.-backed ouster of elected President Viktor Yanukovych presented Russia’s leaders with what they saw as a last-straw-type deceit by the U.S. and its craven satellites in the European Union. Moscow has responded by making a major pivot East to enhance its informal alliance with China and thus strengthen the economic and strategic positions of both countries as a counterweight to Washington and Brussels.

In my view, this is the most important result of this year’s events in Ukraine, that they have served as a catalyst to more meaningful Russia-China rapprochement which has inched forward over the past several decades but now has solidified. The signing on May 21 of a 30-year, $400 billion natural gas deal between Russia and China is not only a “watershed event” – as Russian President Vladimir Putin  said – but carries rich symbolic significance.

The agreement, along with closer geopolitical cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, is of immense significance and reflects a judgment on the part of Russian leaders that the West’s behavior over the past two decades has forced the unavoidable conclusion that – for whatever reason – U.S. and European leaders cannot be trusted. Rather, they can be expected to press for strategic advantage through “regime change” and other “dark-side” tactics even in areas where Russia holds the high cards.

This Russian-Chinese rapprochement has been a gradual, cautious process – somewhat akin to porcupines mating, given the tense and sometimes hostile relations between the two neighbors dating back centuries and flaring up again when the two were rival communist powers.

Yet, overcoming that very bitter past, Russian President Putin – a decade ago – finalized an important agreement on very delicate border issues. He also signed an agreement on future joint development of Russian energy reserves. In October 2004, during a visit to Beijing, Putin claimed that relations between the two countries had reached “unparalleled heights.”

But talk is cheap – and progress toward a final energy agreement was intermittent until the Ukraine crisis. When Russia supported Crimea’s post-coup referendum to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the West responded with threats of “sectoral sanctions” against Russia’s economy, thus injecting new urgency for Moscow to complete the energy agreement with China. The $400 billion gas deal – the culmination of ten-plus years of work – now has provided powerful substantiation to the Russia-China relationship.

Indeed, you could trace the evolution of this historic détente back to other Western provocations and broken promises. Six months before his 2004 visit to China, Putin watched NATO fold under its wings Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Five years before that, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic had become NATO members.

A Major Missed Opportunity

Not only were these Western encroachments toward Russia’s border alarming to Moscow but the moves also represented a breach of trust. Several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, President George H. W. Bush had appealed for “a Europe whole and free.” And, in February 1990, his Secretary of State James Baker promised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would move “not one inch” to the East, if Russia pulled its 24 divisions out of East Germany.

Yet, a triumphant Washington soon spurned this historic opportunity to achieve a broader peace. Instead, U.S. officials took advantage of the Soviet bloc’s implosion in Eastern Europe and later the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. As for that “Europe whole and free” business, it was as if the EU and NATO had put up signs: “Russians Need Not Apply.” Then, exploiting Moscow’s disarray and weakness, President Bill Clinton reneged on Baker’s NATO promise by pushing the military alliance eastward.

Small wonder that Putin and his associates were prospecting for powerful new friends ten years ago – first and foremost, China. And, the West kept providing the Kremlin with new incentives as NATO recruiters remained aggressive. NATO heads of state, meeting in Bucharest in April 2008, declared: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”

That led to some very foolish adventurism on the part of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been listening to the wrong people in Washington and thought he could play tough with the rebellious regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including attacks on Russian peacekeeping troops. Russian forces gave the Georgians what Moscow normally calls a “resolute rebuff.”

The 2008 declaration of NATO’s intent is still on the books, however. And recent events in Ukraine, as a violent putsch overthrew elected President Yanukovych and installed a pro-Western regime in Kiev, became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

During an interview with CNBC on May 23, 2014, President Putin bemoaned the still-pending NATO expansion in the context of Ukraine: “Coup d’état takes place, they refuse to talk to us. So we think the next step Ukraine is going to take, it’s going to become a NATO member. They’ve refused to engage in any dialogue. We’re saying military, NATO military infrastructure is approaching our borders; they say not to worry, it has nothing to do with you. But tomorrow Ukraine might become a NATO member, and the day after tomorrow missile defense units of NATO could be deployed in this country.”

Putin raised the issue again on May 24, accusing the West of ignoring Russia’s interests – in particular, by leaving open the possibility that Ukraine could one day join NATO. “Where is the guarantee that, after the forceful change of power, Ukraine will not tomorrow end up in NATO?” Putin wanted to know.

Forward-Deployed Missile Defense

Putin keeps coming back specifically to “missile defense” in NATO countries – or waters – because he sees it as a strategic (arguably an existential) threat to Russia’s national security. During his marathon press conference on April 17, he was quite direct in articulating Russia’s concerns:

“I’ll use this opportunity to say a few words about our talks on missile defense. This issue is no less, and probably even more important than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this. … We followed certain logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO …  and NATO ships would dock in Sevastopol. … [Key elements of the latest missile defense system are ship-borne.]

“Regarding the deployment of U.S. missile defense elements, this is not a defensive system, but part of offensive potential deployed far away from home. … At the expert level, everyone understands very well that if these systems are deployed closer to our borders, our ground-based strategic missiles will be within their striking range.”

On this neuralgic issue of missile defense in Europe, ostensibly aimed at hypothetical future missiles fired by Iran, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has taken a perverse delight in having increased concerns in Moscow that such a system might eventually be used against Russian ICBMs.

In his book Duty, Gates defends himself against accusations from the Right that it was his concern for Russian sensitivities that prompted him to revise the missile defense plan for Europe. The revised system included sea-based missiles that were not only cheaper but also more easily and cheaply produced. (Does anyone see why Putin might have been concerned about NATO ships based in Crimea?)

“I sincerely believed the new program was better — more in accord with the political realities in Europe and more effective against the emerging Iranian threat,” Gates added. ”While there certainly were some in the State Department and the White House who believed the third site in Europe was incompatible with the Russian ‘reset,’ we in Defense did not. Making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list.”

Gates proudly noted that the Russians quickly concluded that the revised plan was even worse from their perspective, as it eventually might have capabilities against Russian intercontinental missiles.

As for President Obama, in an exchange picked up by microphones during his meeting with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Seoul in March 2012, Obama asked him to tell incoming President Putin to give him some “space” on controversial issues, “particularly missile defense.”

Obama seemed to be suggesting that he might be able to be more understanding of Russian fears later. “After my election I have more flexibility,” Obama added. But it seems a safe bet that Putin and Medvedev are still waiting to see what may eventuate from the “space” they gave Obama.

Since taking over as Secretary of State in February 2013, John Kerry seems to be doing his best to fill Gates’s “tough-guy” role baiting the Russian bear. Kremlin leaders, after watching how close Kerry came to getting the U.S. to start a major war with Syria on evidence he knew was, at best, flimsy, simply cannot afford to dismiss as adolescent chest-pounding Kerry’s nonchalant remarks on the possibility that the troubles in Ukraine could lead to nuclear confrontation.

As much of a loose cannon as Kerry has been, he is, after all, U.S. Secretary of State. In an extraordinary interview with the Wall Street Journal on April 28, Kerry made clear that the Obama administration and the U.S. military/intelligence establishment are “fully aware” that escalation of the crisis in Ukraine could lead to nuclear war. Are we supposed to say, “wow, great”?

A Half-Century Perspective

Though my Sino-Russian lens is 50 years old, I think that the perspective of time can be an advantage. In January 1964, as a CIA analyst, I became responsible for analyzing Soviet policy toward China. The evidence we had – mostly, but not solely, public acrimony – made it clear to us that the Sino-Soviet dispute was real and was having important impact on world events. We were convinced that reconciliation between the two giants was simply out of the question.

Our assessments were right at the time, but we ultimately were wrong about the irreconcilable differences. It turns out that nothing is immutable, especially in the face of ham-handed U.S. diplomacy.

The process of ending Moscow’s unmitigated hostility toward China began in earnest during Gorbachev’s era, although his predecessors did take some halting steps in that direction. It takes two to tango, and we analysts were surprised when Gorbachev’s Chinese counterparts proved receptive to his overtures and welcomed a mutual agreement to thin out troops along the 7,500-kilometer border.

In more recent years, however, the impetus toward rapprochement has been the mutual need to counterbalance the “one remaining superpower in the world.” The more that President George W. Bush and his “neo-conservative” helpers threw their weight around in the Middle East and elsewhere, the more incentive China and Russia saw in moving closer together.

Gone is the “great-power chauvinist” epithet they used to hurl at each other, though it would seem a safe bet that the epithet emerges from time to time in private conversations between Chinese and Russian officials regarding current U.S. policy.

The border agreement signed by Putin in Beijing in October 2004 was important inasmuch as it settled the last of the border disputes, which had led to armed clashes in the Sixties and Seventies especially along the extensive riverine border where islands were claimed by both sides.

The backdrop, though, was China’s claim to 1.5 million square kilometers taken from China under what it called “unequal treaties” dating back to the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. This irredentism, a staple of Chinese anti-Soviet rhetoric in those days, has disappeared.

In the late Sixties, the USSR reinforced its ground forces near China from 13 to 21 divisions. By 1971, the number had grown to 44 divisions, and Chinese leaders began to see a more immediate threat from the USSR than from the U.S. Enter Henry Kissinger, who visited Beijing in 1971 to arrange the precedent-breaking visit by President Richard Nixon the next year.

What followed was some highly imaginative diplomacy orchestrated by Kissinger and Nixon to exploit the mutual fear that China and the USSR held for each other and the imperative each saw to compete for improved ties with Washington.

Triangular Diplomacy

The Soviet leaders seemed to sweat this situation the most. Washington’s clever exploitation of the triangular relationship was consequential; it helped facilitate major, verifiable arms control agreements between the U.S. and USSR and even the challenging Four Power Agreement on Berlin. As for Vietnam, the Russians went so far as to blame China for impeding a peaceful solution to the war.

It was one of those rare junctures at which CIA analysts could in good conscience chronicle the effects of the Nixon-Kissinger approach and conclude that it seemed to be having the desired effect vis-à-vis Moscow. We could say so because it clearly was.

In early 1972, between President Nixon’s first summits in Beijing and Moscow, our analytic reports underscored the reality that Sino-Soviet rivalry was, to both sides, a highly debilitating phenomenon. Not only had the two countries forfeited the benefits of cooperation, but each felt compelled to devote huge effort to negate the policies of the other.

A significant dimension had been added to the rivalry as the U.S. moved to cultivate simultaneously better relations with both. The two saw themselves in a crucial race to cultivate good relations with the U.S.

The Soviet and Chinese leaders could not fail to notice how all this had enhanced the U.S. bargaining position. But we analysts regarded them as cemented into an intractable adversarial relationship by a deeply felt set of emotional beliefs, in which national, ideological and racial factors reinforced one another.

Although the two countries recognized the price they were paying, neither could see a way out. The only prospect for improvement, we suggested, was the hope that more sensible leaders would emerge in each country. At the time, we branded that a vain hope and predicted only the most superficial improvements in relations between Moscow and Beijing.

On that last point, we were wrong. Mao Zedong’s and Nikita Khrushchev’s successors proved to have cooler heads, and in 1969 border talks resumed. It took years to chip away at the heavily encrusted mutual mistrust, but by the mid-Eighties we were warning policymakers that we had been wrong; that “normalization” of relations between Moscow and Beijing had already occurred — slowly but surely, despite continued Chinese protestations that such would be impossible unless the Russians capitulated to all China’s conditions.

For their part, the Soviet leaders had become more comfortable operating in the triangular environment and were no longer suffering the debilitating effects of a headlong race with China to develop better relations with Washington.

The Détente

Economics now is clearly an important driver from both Moscow’s and Beijing’s point of view, but the sweeping $400 billion natural gas deal, including provision for exploration, construction and extraction is bound to have profound political significance, as well. If memory serves, during the Sixties, annual trade between the USSR and China hovered between $200 million and $400 million. It had grown to $57 billion by 2008 and hit $93 billion in 2013.

Growing military cooperation is of equal importance. China has become Russia’s arms industry’s premier customer, with the Chinese spending billions on weapons, many of them top of the line. For Russia, these sales are an important source of export earnings and keep key segments of its defense industry afloat.  Beijing, cut off from arms sales from the West, has come to rely on Russia more and more for sophisticated arms and technology.

Author Pepe Escobar notes that when Russia’s Star Wars-style, ultra-sophisticated S-500 air defense anti-missile system comes on line in 2018, Beijing is sure to want to purchase some version of it. Meanwhile, Russia is about to sell dozens of state-or-the-art Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters to the Chinese as Beijing and Moscow move to seal an aviation-industrial partnership.

Those of us analysts immersed in Sino-Soviet relations in the Sixties and Seventies, when the Russians and Chinese appeared likely to persist in their bitter feud forever, used to poke fun at the Sino-Soviet treaty of Feb. 14, 1950, which was defunct well before its 30-year term.

Given the deepening acrimony, the official congratulatory messages recognizing the anniversary of the Valentine’s Day agreement seemed amusingly ironic. Nevertheless, we dutifully scanned the messages for any hint of warmth; year after year we found none.

But there is another treaty now and the relationship it codifies is no joke. Just as the earlier Sino-Soviet divide was deftly exploited by an earlier generation of U.S. diplomats, clumsy actions by the more recent cast of U.S. “diplomats” have helped close that divide, even if few in Washington are aware of the significant geopolitical change that it symbolizes.

The treaty of friendship and cooperation, signed in Moscow by Presidents Putin and Jiang Zemin on July 16, 2001, may not be as robust as the one in 1950 with its calls for “military and other assistance” in the event one is attacked. But the new treaty does reflect agreement between China and Russia to collaborate in diluting what each sees as U.S. domination of the post-Cold War international order. (And that was before the U.S. invasion of Iraq and before the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine.)

Earthquakes Begin Slowly

Like subterranean geological plates shifting slowly below the surface, changes with immense political repercussions can occur so gradually as to be imperceptible — until the earthquake hits and the old order is shaken or shattered. For a very long time, the consensus in academe, as well as in government, has been that, despite the rapprochement between China and Russia over the past several years, both countries retained greater interest in developing good relations with the U.S. than with each other.

That was certainly the case decades ago. But I doubt that is the case now. Either way, the implications for U.S. foreign policy are immense. Anatol Lieven of King’s College, London, has noted:

“Whether in the Euro-Atlantic or the Asia-Pacific, great power relations are becoming more contentious, with a loose Eurasian coalition emerging to reduce the U.S. domination of global politics. … The consolidation of Russia’s pivot to Asia is an important result of the first phase of the Ukraine crisis, which will continue to reshape the global strategic landscape.

“The U.S. has no other than Victoria Nuland, and Hillary Clinton who installed her as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, to thank for this foolish mess.”

As the folks from the old People’s Daily used to say, this could “come to a no-good end.”
© 2014 Consortium News


https://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/28-4
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