Archive for Corporatocracy


TPP: More trans(fer) than partnership

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In days of yore (pre-Internet), I telephoned the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) about a wall-sized world map I had heard about developed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When I described what I was looking for, the woman on the other end said the GPO didn’t carry the map from the CIA.

“You want DMAODS,” she said matter-of-factly.

“And that would be?” I asked.

“Defense Mapping Agency Office of Distribution Services,” she said.


Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) and Kevin Drum of Mother Jones (MJ) point to a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on the prospective economic benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The projected economic impact, Drum observes, is “pretty close to zero.” Drum produced a handy chart (at top).

Drum writes:

Generally speaking, I’d say this means you should mostly ignore the economic aspects of TPP. The benefits will be minuscule and the damages will be minuscule. The error bars on a 30-year forecast are just too big to say anything more. Instead, you should focus on other aspects of the agreement. How will it affect poor countries in Asia? Is it a useful bulwark against the growing influence of China? What do you think of extending US patent and trademark rules throughout the world? All of those things are real. The economic impact is basically a crapshoot.

But is it? Jared Bernstein comments that it might seem incredible “that we’ve been intensely wrangling over this trade deal so hard for so long when these are the predicted outcomes.”

“Enquiring minds want to know” why, if the economic payback is so lean, are international business interests so keen on passage of TPP? Johnson worries that it is not the economic impacts Americans have to worry about:

[The report] estimates a decline in output for U.S. manufacturing/natural resources/energy of $10.8 billion as exports would increase by $15.2 billion and imports would increase by $39.2 billion by 2032. This translates to a loss of even more U.S. jobs in these key sectors.

Keep in mind that this ITC report assumes that there will be a “level playing field” on which other TPP countries will not manipulate currency, suppress labor or other things that hurt American jobs. It also assumes that the countries will buy from us (trade) instead of following national economic strategies to enhance key national strategic industries by selling to us but not buying from us. Of course, this is not what happens in the real world, other countries protect themselves as countries with key national economic interests; we do not.

These are only the economic projections from TPP. They do not take into account that most of TPP is not about the economic results from “trade”; it is about enhancing the power of corporations over governments. Even if TPP dramatically increased economic activity (which all goes to a few at the top now anyway) it would not be worth handing over our democracy and sovereignty to the billionaires behind the giant corporations.

But, “good news.” Public Citizen observes that historically these ITC economic projections tend to be wildly off-base:

Looking back, the USITC predicted improved trade balances as a result of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and 2007 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The agency projected only a small deficit increase from China’s 1999 World Trade Organization entry deal and the granting to China of Permanent Normal Trade Relations status.

Instead, the U.S. trade deficits with the trade partners increased dramatically and, as detailed in the text of the new study, manufacturing industries from autos to steel and farm sectors such as beef that were projected to “win” saw major losses. A government program to help Americans who lose jobs to trade certified 845,000 NAFTA jobs losses alone.

That is to say, trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and TiSA tend to leave American workers USCWOAP.

(cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Drowned in the bathtub

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Final scene from short film by Jeremy Helal

Why yes, we really do mean to drown the government in the bathtub.

Thanks to Congress slowly drowning the U.S. Postal Service in the metaphorical bathtub, the form I put in the mail to my doctor last week traveled 90 miles south and across a state line for sorting before delivery to his office four miles away. Slow death by mandated prefunding of its retiree health benefits means USPS closed the local mail processing facility last year to save costs, worsen service, and keep government from competing with private firms in the delivery business. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 be damned. The Market demands human sacrifice. (Strange, but its name appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, unlike the Post Office. Must remember to look for The Market in the colonial apocrypha.)

It appears The Market now has turned its attention to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, with a “utility-like mandate to keep credit flowing in the housing markets.” Matt Taibbi examines why the Obama administration is invoking executive privilege to keep secret 11,000 communications covering federal conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The administration claims the release would harm financial markets. The federal judge that ordered last week’s release says the government simply doesn’t want to be embarrassed.

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Categories : Corporatocracy
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Incentives for the perverse

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Not all political deflections are bright and shiny. Hyperventilating over public aid to those at the bottom of the wealth curve is an oldie but goody. Is Wall Street defrauding the planet to the tune of trillions? Well, but LOOK! Over there. A poor person. Eating!

Properly incentivizing the poor is a perennial handwringer for Fox News and other watchdogs of personal morality on the right (who otherwise think the government should mind its own damned business). Nicholas Kristof, however, spares some column inches this morning on the incentives driving our beleaguered corporate persons at the top. He gets downright snarky about it:

A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

The study in question comes from Oxfam. The group finds:

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Short Attention Span Theater

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After several years of delays, Short Attention Span Theater will again resume production on Repatriation Tax Holiday 2.

Robert Reich flagged District Studios’ announcement yesterday on Facebook:

I’ve spent the last day in Washington, where Democrats are quietly gearing up to negotiate a “tax amnesty” for American-based global corporations that have parked some $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits abroad (mostly in tax havens) to avoid paying their U.S. taxes. The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but Obama is ready to offer 14 percent if they’ll bring the profits home; Republicans want 10 percent; some Democratic senators are willing to go even lower (Barbara Boxer is teaming up with Rand Paul to offer 6.5 percent). Corporate lobbyists are swarming over Capitol Hill, suggesting if they don’t get a great deal they might not just keep the profits abroad but even move their corporations abroad (like Pfizer is doing).
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Bonana fanna fo Fump

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It’s the blame game this morning as fingers point to who is to blame for the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Eric Boehlert of Hillary-friendly Media Matters examines how the media’s obsession with Donald Trump has yielded millions in free air time for the billionaire:

We seem to have entered unchartered territory where campaign coverage, at least Trump’s campaign coverage, is based on what’s popular (or what makes money for news outlets), and not based on what’s newsworthy. Casting aside decades of precedent, campaign journalism seems to have almost consciously shifted to a for-profit model.


Writing at The Observer, Ryan Holiday suggested a new paradigm is in play this campaign season:

Politicians have always sought to manipulate the public. What’s changed is that media is now not only a willing co-conspirator, they are often the driving force behind the manipulation. No longer seeing itself as responsible for reporting the truth, for getting the facts to the people, it has instead incentivized a scrum, a wild fight for attention in which anything that attracts an audience is fair game. And as long as theirs is the ring where the fight goes down, they’ll happily sell tickets to as many as will come.

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Elizabeth Warren indicts “shockingly weak” enforcement

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Photo by Tim Pierce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(],via Wikimedia Commons.

If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie. – from Rigged Justice

In the first of what she promises will be annual reports on enforcement, Sen. Elizabeth Warren this morning released Rigged Justice: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy. Calling the Obama administration’s enforcement against corporate criminals “feeble,” Warren’s report cites 20 criminal and civil cases from 2015 in which authorities punished corporate crimes – where they were enforced at all – with a slap on the wrist. Prosecutors took only one of these cases to trial. She follows up with an op-ed in the New York Times, writing, “These enforcement failures demean our principles.” The report begins:

Much of the public and media attention on Washington focuses on enacting laws. And strong laws are important – prosecutors must have the statutory tools they need to hold corporate criminals accountable.  But putting a law on the books is only the first step.  The second, and equally important, step is enforcing that law.  A law that is not enforced – or weakly enforced – may as well not even be a law at all.

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Oh, but poor people…

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Greedy Humpty Dumpty (Fleischer, 1936).

Greedy Humpty Dumpty (Fleischer, 1936).

So now TransCanada is suing the United States under NAFTA for $15 billion over President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline deal:

In filing the NAFTA claim, TransCanada said it “had every reason to expect its application would be granted” as it had met the same criteria the U.S. State Department used when approving other similar cross-border pipelines.

It’s like suing for breach of promise. Except America never promised. Think Progress has this:

In the notice to submit a claim for arbitration, TransCanada notes that two previous pipelines, carrying oil from the same tar sands region across the U.S. border, were both approved. This, TransCanada claims, suggests that the denial was political in nature, which is prohibited under NAFTA.

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TPP: It’s The Company’s world. They just let you live in it.

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Credit Mary Shelley with the “creation gone wrong” trope. Or perhaps Genesis. Yet, the evil mega-corporation is as much a staple of popular fiction as the radiation-spawned monstrosities and failed experiments we grew up with at matinees as kids. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) from Robocop, for example, Ridley Scott’s Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, or the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (“The Company”) from his Alien films. All fictional. But like those, it seems the real beasties are neither biological nor technological, but legal.

Enter TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The full text was released yesterday, but as a series of PDFs. The Washington Post has made the full agreement searchable. (Note: some English spellings are internationalized.) At Vox, Timothy Lee explains that it may take a month to examine and sort out its impact:

But the agreement is also a lot more than a trade deal. It has more than two dozen chapters that cover everything from tariffs to the handling of international investment disputes. The reason these deals have gotten so complex is that people realized that they were a good vehicle for creating binding international agreements.

Modern trade deals include a dispute settlement process that helps ensure countries keep the commitments they make under trade deals. If one country fails to keep its commitment, another country can file a complaint that’s heard by an impartial tribunal. If the complaining country prevails, it can impose retaliatory tariffs on the loser.

Following on the heels of last week’s New York Times three-part series on how arbitration agreements have essentially privatized the courts to the benefit of corporations and to the harm of consumers, one wonders how much more extra-judicial authority TPP may be handing our budding Weyland-Yutanis in shifting power from the people to the plutocrats. How much of the thousands of pages is fine print?

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“Privatization of the justice system”

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Just yesterday I was wondering what ever happened to “frivolous lawsuits” and the runaway juries Big Bidness and Republican lawmakers used to cite as reasons to push for tort reform. It seems Republicans couldn’t deliver. Big Bidness went to Plan B: circumventing the courts entirely. The New York Times brings us up to date:

Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.

The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.

“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”

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Exxon Playing Dumb

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