May 17, 2015 § 1 Comment
Modern technology has created a global economy. Multinational trade agreements like NAFTA and the currently pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) are corporate business responses to this development. These so-called “free trade” arrangements feature trans-national agreements for standardizing trade regulations, patents, copyrights and other laws designed to control the impact of corporate policies and practices on the welfare and incomes of citizens of participating countries. The arrangements are enforceable by affected businesses through appeals to arbitrators with authority to design remedies that supersede the constitutions and laws of those nations. [For a description of this process with respect to the TTP, here is a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership#Potential_members.%5D
In this essay I will contend that a glaring omission from these agreements and the processes by which they are negotiated is representation by spokesmen for the interests of members of the working class and underclass in the nations affected by the trade agreements. I will also contend that, just as the restrictions on “conspiracies in restraint of trade” and other anti-trust laws are understandably exempted from the negotiation of multinational trade agreements, the rights of workers to engage in secondary boycotts and other non-violent arrangements for collective action should be suspended insofar as such tactics are employed as bargaining power in the process of reaching trans-national labor agreements.
My title was suggested to me by Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay entitled “A MODEST PROPOSAL for Preventing the children of the poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick”.
Here is a link: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h.htm
I was reminded of this essay because the prevailing focus on corporate welfare disregards the growing inequality of wealth and the workers’ dwindling share of it.
The Negotiation Process
The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has not yet been finalized. Congressional action on the President’s demand for “fast track” authority is before the Congress, following a vote against it by the Senate. There will probably be another vote in the Senate and the White House is exerting its considerable influence to overcome dissent by Senate Democrats, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ron Wyden and Minority Leader Harry Reed. The debate process is hampered by the fact that the substance of the issues has been kept secret. Members of Congress can read current drafts, subject to tight secrecy restrictions, but they are prohibited from disclosing to their constituents or the press what they learn.
Too Much Secrecy
What we know is the result of leaks published by Wikileaks. This, to me, is contrary to the proper functioning of a democracy. We are not dealing with any matter of national security, the usual excuse for secrecy. President Obama asks us to trust him and his “team” to protect our interests. He claims divulging the details of the negotiations would unduly inhibit the give-and-take of the bargaining process.
There is some merit in this argument, but the problem is: we are asked to grant authority to negotiate without knowing what we are agreeing to. We are also asked to limit our ability to express approval to parts of the agreement when negotiations are completed. Our elected representatives will have to accept or reject the entire agreement – no directions to return to the bargaining table seeking modifications. This is not a proper process for framing an agreement that will significantly affect the lives of Americans for several decades with no way to change it if it proves to have been a mistake.
I have not seen one word indicating that any member of the “teams” who have done and who will do the negotiating of this TPP represented the interests of workers. This looks like “trickle-down” economics on steroids: “What’s good for corporate America is good for America”. Do we really have reason to believe this, given the recent evidence?
Here is Ron Wyden, speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate during the debate on “fast track” authority:
“The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. […] More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a model of transparency. I disagree with that statement.”
Here is link to the opinion of Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, writing last January about this TTP: http://www.alternet.org/robert-reich-largest-most-disastrous-trade-deal-youve-never-heard.
Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Laureate professor of economics at Columbia University; former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration. Here is his reaction to TTP:
My Modest Proposal
I have written several essays about Thomas Piketty’s book, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century”. He has compiled a prodigious database to establish a fact: capitalism exerts relentless pressure toward wealth inequality. His analysis concludes: the only remedy to avoid a degree of inequality that becomes unsustainable, either due to violent revolution or implosion when consumer demand no longer suffices to support demand for investment, is a global remedy that redistributes wealth from the wealthy to the middle and underclass. It seems to me that globalization resulting in corporate pressure for multinational trade agreements may also suggest a way to design and implement the kind of global remedy required by Piketty’s analysis.
Removing trade barriers is a good idea, but only if the wealth generated by a more efficient market is fairly distributed. That fairness can be achieved by arming the bargaining representatives for the working class and the underclass of capitalist nations with the bargaining structure and power to demand fair distribution of wealth.
There are some historical examples pertinent to this idea that are interesting to me. Applying the reasoning and justifications for trade agreements to a proposal for labor agreements is similar to Marx’ conversion of Hegel’s dialectical idealism to dialectical materialism, a process sometimes referred to as “standing Hegel on his head”.
I know that today’s political climate is unlikely to take seriously any idea of a trans-national labor agreement. I believe, however, in Piketty’s prediction. Wealth inequality will continue to grow and, as it does, pressure for a remedy will become stronger.
Globalization has been accompanied by the explosive impact of social media on the pace of social change. We are, right now, witnessing the way a relatively small group of brutal men, using religious fanaticism as a cloak, can become a force threatening the stability of nations. I don’t think they will prevail but they have demonstrated a solution to a problem that limited the effect of “Occupy Wall Street” and the “Arab Spring”. I thought those efforts would be transformative. They weren’t. They failed to create permanent structural changes to implement the ideas they expressed. ISIS has accomplished that.
I hope these problems will attract and inspire creative and courageous people to demand a global solution to a global problem. The seeds of the TPP were planted over ten years ago. The negotiations have continued for seven years. It will take years to create a structure for global labor negotiations with developed capitalist countries. My “modest proposal” is a suggestion fueled by hope. Here is the longshoreman philosopher, Eric Hoeffer’s advice to those who might accept my suggestion, across the decades:
May 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Last Thursday the Second Circuit rendered a unanimous decision in ACLU v. Clapper. They reversed the dismissal of ACLU’s suit challenging the NSA’s metadata surveilance program. They ruled the Patriot Act did not authorize it. They discussed. but did not rule on. ACLU’s claims based on the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. They described the various defenses offered by the government in support of the Judge Pauley’s decision to dismiss the suit. They disapproved of each of those defenses and came close to stating some of those claims were deliberately deceptive.
The panel consisted of Judges Sack, Lynch and a District Court Judge sitting by appointment. Two were appointed by Obama; one by Clinton.
Judge Sack wrote a concurring opinion. He included the following quote that neatly stated the nature of this legal argument.
“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national
conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its
dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the
continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will
compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and
security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and
political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the
risk of being less free.”
The Federalist No. 8 (Alexander Hamilton).
Hamilton is not my favorite Founder but his warning is prescient.
I have expressed my own ideas about the surveillance program in three posts on this blog:
Technology, the Law and the Constitution; The Surveillance Debate; and A Second Thought About Surveillance.
The first one of these essays discussed the District Court’s decision in this case and compared it with another District Court decision, Klayman v. Obama, which ruled squarely opposite to the ACLU case . Klayman was appealed and, on April 7, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to review it. In this 2d Circuit decision, the Court adopts some, but not all, of Judge Leon’s reasoning in his Klayman decision.
As stated, I agree with Hamilton, but, ironically, his Federalist Party sponsored the Alien and Sedition Act , a broad-based threat to individual liberty that stained the first decades following the adoption of the Bill or Rights. That history is a perfect example of how rhetorical promises are forgotten when they conflict with political ambitions.
I fear the consequences of arming the government with ways to snoop and then threaten to expose the private behavior of any person in this country who becomes a political problem. I do not trust our criminal justice system, even less our political system to observe appropriate limits on that kind of power. The McCarthy decade; the “drug wars” and the DEA ‘s methods; the “Global War on Terror”; the CIA’s record of deception and interference in the internal affairs of other countries – this is only a partial list of my reasons for distrusting our government with unbridled power. The Patriot Act granted power to one of the most reckless Presidents in the history of the USA – a man who served as a compliant puppet of Dick Chaney and Donald Rumsfeld. Secret access to the telephone habits of our entire population is power with which no person or group of persons should be trusted. I
It is true we live in perilous times, but we should not be so distracted by fears of foreign peril that we surrender ourselves to the discretion of politically powerful people in our government. To do so is especially dangerous now, when our political system has been corrupted by legalized bribery – when the so-called “money primary” has become more important than the electoral process in the selection of our choices of rulers.
For those of you who want to read the 2d Circuit opinion, here is a link: Clapper This link will require some manipulation. It will take you to the 2d Circuit’s web page. At the top you can click on “decisions; then use the drop-down arrow to pick the period of time. The ACLU decision came down on May 7, 2015. The opinion is a long one (about 100 pages). I spent over four hours highlighting the essential parts, but I finally gave up. There may be some way for WordPress (the program I use for this blog) to link to a highlighted Adobe copy of a court decision. I’ve searched online and read the instructions. I think it is a problem because this computer is a Mac and the instructions are for Widows – I’m not sure. What I have finally concluded: two college degrees and 50+ years of law practice have equipped me with less capability in the field of computer technology than the average 12-year-old and I don’t have a 12-year-old handy. So, dear readers, you will have to skim through the opinion and find the interesting parts.
Here are some hints: The Court describes the kind of information that can be gleaned from knowing the date, time, duration, location and phone number of a caller and receiver. The way a clever analyst can use that kind of information is interesting. The Court, in a footnote, cites an article from Science magazine that is part of that discussion. Use Control-F to search for “Science”.
The background of the argument is interesting. Do a word search for “Snowden” (BTW don’t use the quotes)
You can skip most of the discussion of “preclusion” – it’s not very interesting and the Court rules that it doesn’t apply.
The Court’s demolition of the government’s claims that it needs everyone’s telephone records but it doesn’t actually “review” any except those “relevant” to a legitimate inquiry is interesting. The Court reminds the government that the 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable “search and seizure” of a citizen’s property and information. I have not before seen a court use the distinction between “search” and “seizure” so effectively.
The judges who wrote the majority and concurring opinions are good writers. The legalese is not there. They write plain English, so it won’t be too bad to read their opinions. Not as good as Holmes or Brandeis, but not bad.
I urge you to read the relatively short concurring opinion by Judge Sack. He includes some interesting history of the “Pentagon Papers” episode. He also gave me the quote from the Federalist with which I began this item.
This decision from the Second Circuit reverses the District Court decision with which I disagreed. Also, the Supreme Court’s denial of cert. in the appeal of the District Court decision with which I did agree, gives me some satisfaction that some of the damage done by he Patriot Act may be eventually undone.
[For non-lawyers: “cert.” is short for certiorari, Latin for “to be more fully informed”. When an appellate court wants to review a lower court decision to see if, in the appellate court’s opinion, it was correctly decided, the appellate court grants a “writ of certiorari” – a demand that the lower court send to the appellate court the entire record of its consideration of the case to “fully inform” the appellate court the bases for the lower court’s decision. When the appellate court denies an application for certiorari, it leaves the lower court decision in tact and effective.]
During the next few days, the Congress will debate ways to amend the Patriot Act. The analysis in the 2d Circuit’s decision should provide some resources to those who are seriously trying to restore some respect to the Constitution. It will be messy. Some in the GOP will vote against granting any power to Obama, regardless of any concern for, or understanding of, the merits of the argument. Some Libertarians like Rand Paul and some Tea Partiers will be motivated by some flavor of general anti-government ideology. And some, like Ron Wyden, will probably present my own reaction to the phone surveillance program. The fact that Mitch McConnell wants to keep everything as is assures me that I am on the right side of this argument.
April 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
A recent newscast informed me that President Obama is “considering” removing Cuba from a list of terrorist sponsors. Huh! I didn’t know Cuba was on such a list. This caused me to think about how Cuban school children might react to this news.
A Short History of U.S. Cuba Relations
I assume that they, like American school children, are taught the history of their country. So, I assume they learn that Cuban patriots, in the 1890’s, revolted against Spanish colonial rule, just as America revolted against British colonial rule. Then, I assume they learn that, following an explosion on the American battleship Maine, the United States sent an army to Cuba, not to join the revolution, but to replace Spain’s colonial control of Cuba. They probably also read that the Maine explosion may have been part of a plot to create an excuse for the American invasion.
Next, they probably learn that a guerrilla army led by Raul Castro, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara waged a successful war against Fulgencia Batista, a puppet dictator of the United States and loyal friend of American corporations enjoying profitable arrangements in Cuba. That revolution lasted from July 1953 until January 1, 1959. On that New Year’s day, the victorious guerrillas swept into Havana, drove out Batista and established Cuba as a free country.
Fidel Castro became President, an office he still holds. The Cuban government nationalized property owned by American corporations. In retaliation, the American government imposed an embargo seeking to destroy the Cuban economy and confiscated all Cuban funds located in the United States. The Soviet Union loaned Cuba money to enable it to survive these destructive efforts and established a close relationship with Cuba.
In 1961, the United States attempted to overthrow the Cuban government with a military invasion at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s southern coast. The Cuban army defeated the invaders.
After serving in various capacities following the revolution, Che Guevara, a communist from Argentina, went to Bolivia. There he organized a revolutionary force opposed to a military dictator, Renee Barrientos. CIA commandos were sent by the United States to support Barrientos. One writer claims that Klaus Barbie, a Nazi war criminal living in Bolivia, aka The Butcher of Lyon, assisted and advised the CIA about the capture of Guevara. Finally, on October 9, 1967, Che Guevara was executed by a Bolivian soldier, on orders from Barrientos.
I can only imagine, given this history, how Cuban school children might react to the news that this history brands their government as a sponsor of terrorism. I suspect they would like for the restrictions lifted on travel to and from the U.S.. They probably would like to emigrate to the U.S.. But they would be only human to question why this record labels their country with the same label as the one pinned on ISIS. They may even know of some Cuban version of an old saying about the pot calling the kettle black.
Are revolutionary efforts to free a population from brutal colonial rule or military dictatorships “terrorism”? If so, in addition to “considering” the removal of Cuba from a list of sponsors of “terrorism”, I think we should reconsider the definition of “terrorism”. The United States’ history of sponsoring and supporting military dictators all over Central and South America hardly gives us credentials to pin labels on Cuba or anyone else until we change our policies.
April 4, 2015 § 2 Comments
There’s an ancient vaudeville quip generally associated with Henny Youngman: “A fellow asked me, ‘How’s your wife?’ I said, ‘Compared to what?” Yes. It’s offensive. But it reminds me of the current reaction to the negotiations about Iran’s nuclear weapons. Netanyahu and every Republican oppose any agreement with Iran unless the Iranians promise to dismantle their nuclear capacity, change their foreign policy to conform to the preferences of Israel and declare that they will no longer oppose the policies and actions of the Israelis, usually described as ” agreeing that Israel can exist.” It appears they will be joined by a few chin-stroking Democrats, who affect a thoughtful pose and intone, “I think the Congress needs to become involved in this process.” [These stalwarts meekly abandoned their constitutional duty when LBJ began the Vietnam War and when George W began the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Now they suddenly want to second-guess negotiations concerning technical issues far beyond their knowledge designed to prevent a potentially dangerous Middle East war.]
My first reaction to all this is: First, it’s hard to treat your reaction as a reaction because a reaction usually occurs after the event to which it responds. Your “reaction” to this negotiation result began weeks before it was announced. Second, your reaction is based on the failure of the negotiations to propose solutions to problems entirely different from the issues considered by the negotiators. These negotiations concerned only nuclear weapons. They did not seek to settle all differences between Iran and the other negotiating nations. And finally, as this essay indicates, I find the negative reactions fatuous because they propose that the United States refuse to accept the negotiated framework and insist on more damaging economic sanctions.
This latter idea is so delusional that I do not, for one minute, believe that its proponents are making a serious and good faith proposal. They know very well that the Iranian leadership could not and would not return to their country to say, “Well, we tried, but we couldn’t get the U.S. and Israel to agree, so we’ll just have to dismantle our nuclear program and meet their demands.” That is the message of surrender after a devastating war; not a practical political response to the citizens of a proud nation.
I have a kind word for Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas freshman Senator. He is becoming a sort of Strangelove-Intern. Listening to him talk is like watching an vivified GI Joe doll. He proposes the logical alternative to a negotiated deal with Iran: Start bombing them. He is, at least, an honest nut.
A friend sent me a link to an excerpt from Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists. It contains the reactions to the proposed framework from twelve experienced and fully qualified scientsts. Eleven of the twelve praise the results of the negotiations and express cautious confidence that an historic basis for peace may ultimately be achieved. One scientist, from a think tank in Tel Aviv, expresses skepticism, but her skepticism is not based on the treatment of Iran’s nuclear program. She complains because the proposed agreement did not address Iran’s general international policies which she correctly identifies as opposed to those of Israel. In other words, she argues that restraints on Iran’s nuclear program should not be imposed unless Iran agrees to stop its other objectionable behavior.
Here is a link to that interesting Bulletin article.
One final note: Fox News has already been playing and replaying the celebration in Iran when the negotiation results were announced. Fox news’ message is: If Iran is happy, it’s bound to be a bad deal. I think that’s typical Fox News reasoning.
It is plain to me that when Iranians celebrated in the streets at the news of the negotiations result, the Iranian leaders got a message: “We want a deal.” Try to imagine the result if, on July 1, 2015, the Iranian leaders come back and report: “Sorry. The sanctions will continue. We couldn’t get an agreement. But, don’t worry. We have preserved the right to start a nuclear war with Israel and the U.S..” How much celebration would that evoke?
March 31, 2015 § 1 Comment
The friend who sent me the funny notice from an Indiana shop keeper has suggested that my sarcasm may not have been obvious enough. The imaginary notice from an Indiana business person was a joke – a fiction. I thought that was understood. I don’t want to be responsible for initiating some urban legend. I don’t want some reporter to start trying to identify the business person.
Hey! It was a joke. It didn’t really happen.
This teaches me a lesson: Don’t write a joke without plainly labeling it: Warning! This is a joke.
March 31, 2015 § 1 Comment
This is sort of an addendum to the Lipsticked Pig item I posted a few hours ago. A friend from Guatamala emailed to me this sorrowful reaction to the Indiana RFRA. I thought you, dear readers, might be empathetic with this poor Hoosier business person. Here is his or her lament:
March 31, 2015 § 1 Comment
I watched Indiana Governor Pence’s press conference this morning. It will be interesting to see what kind of “fix” he and the bigots in the Indiana legislature produce. As I watched his shucking and jiving, I couldn’t help recalling a picture a friend of mine in Corpus Christi sent me a few days ago. Jack Cooper is a talented internet scavenger who keeps me supplied with both serious and humorous postings that comment about current social and political issues.
The picture I recalled was a shot of the signing ceremony when the Governor signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. Here is an annotated part of that picture:
Here is a link to an internet site where the native Hoosier has been waging a vigorous war against this law.
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/03/31/3640801/conservatives-indiana-discrimination. His name is Wilson Allen. If you go to his Facebook site, you will find some excellent commentary concerning every aspect of this conflict.
I am posting this for two reasons: First, I think it illustrates the damage the Supreme Court did when they ascribed religious beliefs to a corporation in the Hobby Lobby case. There seems to be no limit to the grotesque results of equating corporations with human beings.
Second, this episode neatly illustrates the dilemma facing the GOP: How to maintain allegiance to corporate money while honoring the bigotry and ignorance of the so-called “social issue” oriented mob. The corporate lobbyists are experts at using race and religion as wedges to weaken political coalitions of working class Americans, but when their efforts threaten the profits of their corporate business clients, they always react with acute awareness of which side of their bread is buttered.