Archive for International

This is breaking about 4 a.m. EDT.

Greece reaches a deal with creditors after all-night summit:

Euro zone leaders clinched a deal with Greece on Monday to negotiate a third bailout to keep the near-bankrupt country in the euro zone after a whole night of haggling at an emergency summit.

“Euro summit has unanimously reached agreement. All ready to go for ESM programme for Greece with serious reforms and financial support,” European Council President Donald Tusk announced on Twitter, referring to the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund.

However the tough conditions imposed by international lenders led by Germany could bring down Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government and cause an outcry in Greece. Even before the final terms were known, his labour minister went on state television to denounce the terms.

The deal would create a fund for repaying Greek debt from privatizing unspecified state assets.

Details now trickling out (via the Guardian, 5:34 a.m. EDT):

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Jul
11

Revenge of the Midas cult

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King Midas with his daughter, from A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls by Nathaniel Hawthorne (text author). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The troika didn’t take well to Greek voters telling them where they could stick their austerity. Rebels from the country that invented democracy last week seemed poised to jump into their X-wing fighters and … okay this is really going off the rails. Or maybe not.

Creditors counterattacked and tightened their grip. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras now seems ready to accept more austerity with no write-down of his country’s debt, something voters soundly rejected just last Sunday:

“Each one of us shall be confronted with his stature and his history. Between a bad choice and a catastrophic one, we are forced to opt for the first one,” Tsipras said in a speech before his party’s lawmakers, according to local media. “It is as if one asks you for your money or your life.”

It’s just slightly less than Bond-villianish. The Washington Post reports that the deal includes “phasing out a subsidy for poor pensioners and privatizing sprawling state industries.” The voters have spoken and were ignored.

At the Guardian, George Monbiot examines how the financial powers have built a colonial empire that essentially renders democracy moot. (Throughout, I’m citing the referenced version of this piece from Monbiot’s blog.):

Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes. It’s controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and the other means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

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Jul
07

One can only hope

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In his post-Greek referendum analysis, Howard Fineman sees echoes of the past:

It’s a new echo on a global scale of the politics of a much earlier, but in some ways remarkably similar, era in the U.S. As the U.S. became a continental economy in the late 19th century, with vast new hordes of wealth built in railroads, coal, electricity and communications, a political backlash arose. The new “money power” was judged too big and uncontrollable: an engine not of prosperity, but of inequality and corruption. The backlash launched America’s Progressive movement, which among other reforms pushed laws to rein in the power of big corporations in the interests of ordinary people.

Now that the planet’s economies have essentially become one, and the world’s top dozen banks control $30 trillion in assets, the callous demands of a new and even larger “money power” is starting to spark a worldwide backlash.

The International Monetary Fund, writes Fineman, has become since its founding “something akin to a collection agency” for private banks. Still, it is not clear yet whether the backlash Fineman sees is real or apparent.

The corruption of democracy by this system (or perhaps the subjugation of democracy to it) is beginning to filter into the public consciousness. When TV stations in Georgia start doing investigations of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), opinion is beginning to move. The ugliness of this system is becoming ever more apparent to the public at large.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jun
17

The business of business

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President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” But in examining the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trade Promotion Authority, etc., one can see the business of business is not America.

It was clear last week that the TPP and TPA (fast track) were not dead, but unlike Monty Python’s parrot, really just resting. Politico reports on maneuvers by House Speaker John Boehner and Republican leaders to revive fast track:

Under the emerging plan, the House would vote on a bill that would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, sending it to the Senate for final approval. To alleviate Democratic concerns, the Senate then would amend a separate bill on trade preferences to include Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker aid program that Republicans oppose but that House Democrats have blocked to gain leverage in the negotiations over fast-track.

Decoupling TAA and TPA might be a non-starter with many Democrats. But the political mechanics are not as interesting as the broader trajectory of dealings between government and business.

In any of these deals, no matter what the promised benefits, the general public always seems to come out holding the short end of the stick. You can smell it. Somebody is going to make a lot of money. It’s just never us. We get to do the paying.

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Jun
10

Oh, Lawdy-Lawd, he’s desp’at!

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This Tweet went by the other day and I just had to go back and find it:

Comparisons have been made and disputed between Walker’s diversion of state funds to the arena and his cuts in state education funding. And yes, team owners have conned Democrats too. But the specifics of the Wisconsin deal are not what interests me this morning.

These deals always remind me of the Blazing Saddles scene in which Sheriff Bart puts his own gun to his head and threatens to shoot himself. Except with sports arena deals it is owners threatening to shoot their teams, “Build us a new stadium or your team gets it!” Flustered officials blurt out, “Hold it, men. He’s not bluffing.” Then they ante up taxpayer dollars. We pay them to make money.

We regularly decry corporate capitalism’s race to the bottom. But the phrasing assumes there is a bottom. I’m not so sure. Considering offshoring, tax incentives, and tax repatriation legislation, you have to wonder just what level of taxation — including none — would rent-seeking, modern corporations accept without whining, without looking for even more ways to squeeze blood from a stone or more work from workers for even less?

There is a runaway, kudzu-ish element to corporate capitalism, but there is a Tom Sawyer-ish feature as well. Public corporations won’t be satisfied until We the People are paying them for making a profit — the way Tom Sawyer tricked friends into paying for the privilege of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence. These sports arena deals remind us that when an Obama tells business owners, you didn’t build that, he’s right.

Pretty soon working people will be paying the elite in brass door knockers (or their equivalent) for building it for them.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jun
08

Peking sitting ducks

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So while most of the press is wondering when ISIS will kill us in our beds with their long, curved knives, or taking bets on how many clowns Republicans can fit into that car, I am watching this dispute over control of the South China Sea. It is the sort of thing that in the 20th century sometimes led to unpleasantness.

China has been rapidly building what is being called the Great Wall of Sand. Engineers and fleets of dredges have descended on the disputed Spratly Islands to construct artificial islands built from sand thrown atop reefs and capped with concrete and imposing buildings of unknown purpose. And a runway. Photos here. Worrisome yes, but militarily? Sitting ducks.

The Washington Post Sunday summarized what is going on:

For generations, the South China Sea was a regional common. Fishing boats from all of the surrounding countries would roam its waters, pausing now and then to trade cigarettes or potatoes or gossip.

But then Vietnam, followed by the Philippines, began staking claims to some of the islands, and now China is moving in, in a big way. Beijing is building up the outposts it has established, enlarging islands that it controls and claiming exclusive rights to fishing grounds.

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May
31

Round up the unusual suspects

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When the IRS’ chief of criminal investigation this week uttered the phrase “World Cup of fraud,” for a moment I thought he meant criminal indictments were finally being issued for Wall Street bankers over the criminal practices that precipitated (and followed) the 2008 financial crisis. How naive.

“If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or through using our world class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption,” FBI Director James Comey said of the charges leveled this week against officials of FIFA, international soccer’s governing body.

Not being a big team sports guy myself – as the Monkees’ Davy Jones said, “It’s ’cause I’m short, I know.” – I had to Google FIFA. This explainer from Vox helps:

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May
30

More than meets the eye

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When a conservative politician uses some oddball term that makes my ears prick up, makes me cock my head like a dog and baroo, I have learned to dig deeper and not simply shrug it off. It is often a dog whistle. There’s more going on than meets the ear.

So when President Obama went to bat for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, kept it out of public view, and seemed ready to go to the mat for an agreement that seems likely to hurt American workers, you would think I might have done the same instead of thinking it was just the neoliberal agenda. But when Mike Lux yesterday (Slavery? Really?) highlighted that, in pursuit of the TPP, the first African-American president was ready to oppose any moves by the Senate requiring Malaysia to put the brakes on its tolerance for slavery, something finally clicked. Perhaps there was more going on than meets the eye. I dug deeper.

First, Ryan Grimm at Huffington Post:

That measure would bar governments considered to be complicit in human trafficking from receiving the economic benefits of a fast-tracked trade deal. Menendez, the author of the provision, has described it as a human rights protection that will prevent U.S. workers from competing with modern-day slave labor. The administration has pushed against the provision, saying it would prevent Malaysia from participating in the deal, and eliminate incentives for the country to upgrade its human trafficking enforcement. Human rights advocates strongly support the language that passed the Senate on Friday.

The president argues that if the U.S. doesn’t cut deals with these partner countries, China will, to U.S. disadvantage.

But you know all that. Mike Lux at C&L writes, “We’re not going to object to slavery because a country that openly engages in it might trade more with China than with us? Doesn’t this kind of blow up the whole ‘most progressive trade agreement in history’ thing?”

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May
27

Super-deluxe, Extra-special, Inc.

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Avoiding responsibility is just what the corporate form was designed for, wasn’t it? That’s why corporations will always go to the mat to protect their special rights and privileges as super-citizens. Those include not to facing jail time for repeated criminal behavior. Petty crime? Three strikes and you’re out. Corporate crime? Nobody’s counting. Justice for corporate crime is a different ball game.

“Banks have been on a criminal wilding,” Katrina vanden Heuvel writes, “allegedly laundering money for drug dealers, systematically defrauding homeowners on their mortgages, routinely committing perjury in courts and much more.” Their companies pay fines, yet virtually no one in charge goes to jail. Isn’t that special?

RJ Eskow ticks off a lengthy series of criminal behavior by large banking firms: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS Financial Services. All repeat offenders:

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May
26

Isn’t that special?

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Re: Trans-Pacific Partnership investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals.

Query: If corporations can sue over loss of “expected future profits” they didn’t earn, can people get food over loss of “expected future work”?

It has always seemed to me that people should be holding the corporate leash, not wearing the collar. “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.” Yet we seem ready to hand mega-corporations a new and improved leash.

TPP is a “sellout of democracy” by “well-intentioned, sophisticated, realistic people … used to disregarding democracy when they want to accomplish something important,” writes Duke law school’s Jedediah Purdy at Huffington Post (emphasis mine):

From what we know of the TPP, it works as an economic policy straitjacket, locking its members into a shared set of market rules. It even brings in “investor-state dispute settlement” — a fancy term for allowing foreign corporations to sue governments whose lawmaking interferes with their profits, outside the courts of law, in suits resolved by private arbitrators. All of that is fundamentally anti-democratic. It reverses the basic and proper relationship between a political community and its economy. But plenty of Americans are seeking just that reversal. Not all of them believe the market is perfect and magical; but they believe it works, more or less, and that democracy does not. They are more than half right that this democracy, “our democracy” (a phrase that’s hard to say without irony), does not work. And that is the reality that makes their anti-democratic agreement so plausible.

I just said it in plain English. That extra-legal process violates not only democratic principles, but all the “Makers” and “personal responsibility” bullshit our corporate Brahmins spew to keep the rest of us in line — especially the poorest among us. But when you are that special, living your hypocrisy is just another of the perks.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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