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Current affairs items for 2015:

Can multiculturalism stop killings?    Syriza win in Greece    The Bettencourt Case   Corporatocracy   US Congressional Progressive Caucus statement    new


Can multiculturalism stop killings?
People say things that imply that all that is needed to deal with tension and violence between Muslims and non-Muslims is multiculturalism. I think they are naïve.
Failure of multiculturalism in Europe
There must be some countries that are naturally multicultural, where a tolerant attitude has grown naturally without the dominance of one culture over the others. I am sure there are such places although I cannot name one. Then there is the idea, probably born in Canada, that a country can decide to be multicultural and create the structures needed for that attitude to gain hold in the population. Canadians billed it as a mosaic rather than a melting pot. It seemed to work tolerably for some decades, and might continue to do so. A number of other countries followed Canada's lead.
But the Canadian model is not exactly what it seems. It is built on the starting point of the two and then three founding nations: the English, French and native First Nations. What had grown up since the birth of Canada was a separation between these three and the Federal Government dealt with them separately, each having its own cultural institutions. So in enlarging this system to include the various ethnic groups that had immigrated to Canada, the governments did not deal with individuals in cultural matters but with the leaders within each ethnic group. These leaders were often unelected and more conservative in cultural and religious matters than the people they were supposed to represent. The system started to look like a great number of small isolated boxes. It may work in Canada (although it has its problems) and it is thought of as a proud Canadian 'value' by a great many Canadians.
A number of European nations tried multiculturalism, and they did really try. But for most the idea was a failure. The isolated boxes were too much like little ghettos controlled by strong men of various sorts (political, religious, economic). Instead of decreasing tension, attempts at multiculturalism put a spot light on the failure to integrate and made tensions grow. It is now recognized in many of these countries that multiculturalism has failed; some other solution is needed. What most people want is a sharing of a diverse single culture not a lot of isolated cultures. They want the core values, laws and institutions of the country to apply to everyone. Countries are trying desperately to hold back the rise of xenophobia while at the same time finding ways to further integrate immigrants. Some of the tensions come from the immigrants being from former colonies with both the host population and the immigrants being very sensitive to the history of their relationship. Some problems come from so many immigrants being refugees starting off their new lives with no assets and few skills, at the bottom of the pile. Tensions arise from the wars that are happening in the original homes of the immigrants to the extent that they resent the military actions of the host country and have quarrels with immigrants from other countries. Unemployment is a problem. There is also a feeling of ownership of 'their' country by the established population – they feel it is their country with their history, their values and their language. Newcomers have arrived in 'their' country and should embrace it. It is very hard for them to think otherwise and they do not have to be bigoted, racist, or xenophobic to feel this attachment to the land and ways of their ancestors.
Into this problem is added a religious divide. All religions have fundamentalists and in most there are some fundamentalists that are also violent. No religion is above this.
What is a fundamentalist?
Sociologist, Ruud Koopmans, director of the WZB Berlín Social Science Centre in Germany, has been studying the ideology of religious fundamentalists. Fundamentalism does not automatically mean violent behavior.
Religious fundamentalism is defined in three ways by Koopmans:
“(1) Believers should return to the eternal and unchangeable rules laid down in the past. ...
(2) Rules only allow one interpretation and are binding for all believers. ...
(3) Religious rules should have priority over secular laws... ”

Koopman analysed the beliefs of 9000 Europeans. He compared the religious fundamentalism of immigrants and the children and grandchildren (mostly Sunni) and native European Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehova's Witnesses and Pentecost believers) in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, countries with a long generational history of immigration.
The results were that between 40% and 45% of European Muslims have fundamentalist religious ideas, that is they agree with all three definitions of the term. Austria is the country with the highest percentage, 55%, while Germany has the lowest, 30%. So the majority have liberal views but there is a large minority that are fundamentalist Muslims. Taking the definitions separately, first and second generation Muslims hold the three views: 60% to return to the roots of Islam, 75% that there is only one way to interpret the Koran, 65% that religious rules are most important.
Christians by comparison had only 4% fundamentalist ideas in that they agreed with all 3 definitions. For Protestants alone the figure was 12%.

For both Christians and Muslims the figures were lower for those with a high social/economic status.
Studies in the US give a different picture with Christians being more fundamentalist than Muslims. The European figures apply only to Europe and not other Western countries or any of the Muslim countries. Fundamentalist believers tend to be the target for radicalization and recruitment to violent acts.
Hostility towards other out-groups tends to follow fundamentalism (70% of fundamentalists were hostile to out-groups). Looking at attitudes towards homosexuals, Jews and Westerners, 30% of all Muslims rejected these groups (although hostility to just Christians was less than 5%). Unlike the Muslim attitude to Christians, 70% fundamental Christians were hostile to Muslims and 30% hostile to Jews.
These figures have probably been the picture for some time. What is relatively recent is the growth of violence, linked to the situation in Syria and Iraq, and which has served to aggravate the problem. This is what he found, although some historians disagree. Other studies find that 15% of EU Muslims are prepared to use violence against outsiders.
Two types of religion
There is a divide between spiritualism and organized religion, but that is not what I am referring to. The relationship between religion and the state is the issue. Religions are on a spectrum from no involvement (no state interference with religion and no religious interference in politics) to complete identification (the state enforcing a state religion and controlling it, or a theocracy where the religion controls the state). In Europe we have many countries with more or less distinct separation of church and state. In many Muslim countries there is almost no separation at all between them. How did this come to be?

In ancient times each city or state had its own gods to protect it and it would have been treason to worship other gods. The rulers were often religious as well as political/military leaders. The Romans had a religion that centered on the emperors, even treating them as Gods. Both the Christians and the Jews were discriminated against and even killed because they refused to make sacrifices to the state religion. Eventually the Catholic church became the state religion. This lead to the persecution of the Arians and other Christian heretics and of the Jews. Catholicism became the religion that anointed the kings and gave legitimacy to the states of Europe. And the states in turn controlled many of the appointments of bishops etc. The church looked after religious courts, marriage, burial, naming of babies, education, welfare for the destitute and things like that, as an arm of the state. The church and state were very clearly not separate.
Then came the reformation. There were many wars, with states taking sides with the Catholics or a Protestant church. And eventually the wars stopped on the understanding that each state (ie its ruler) could choose a religion for the whole state. This was still not separation. However, the wars had sickened people about this particular set of quarrels and they took to the new thing, the Enlightenment. The dates are: Wars of Religion 1520-1650; the Enlightenment 1650-1790; the French Revolution 1789. The French Revolutionaries used Enlightenment ideas as their justification and it became their new creed. Napoleon spread the creed around Europe with his 'revolutionary' army. The Enlightenment ideals included: they favoured rational thought and empirical science over authority; they thought public life should be secular (separation of church and state) with individuals free to worship as they pleased and tolerant of others who worshipped differently; they thought democracy and the rule of law was best but tolerated 'enlightened absolutism'; they favoured a free market economy. Blasphemy and apostasy in particular were considered to be non-crimes. This became through the years following the French Revolution, the basic philosophy of most of Europe.
The Muslim countries have a very different history. Muhammad, himself, was a ruler in Medina, then Mecca and then a large part of the Arabian peninsula. Much of Muslim thinking was developed during this period of his establishing a state as well as a religion. They were not separate. Sharia law dates from this period, although it evolved. The way that Muhammad and his immediate successors handled the running of a state together with a religion is the model that continued until the fall of the last Caliphate (the Ottoman empire) and the start of colonial times with the imposition of Western styles of government. These new governments were often considered illegitimate, lacking in moral authority and foreign by the local populations.
In a Caliphate, there is a Caliph who has been chosen in a quasi-democratic way by bodies representing various tribes, groups, locations, interests etc. The caliph is to rule in a moral way, to consult, as a duty, with what we today would call stake-holders, to administer Sharia law and consult and follow the lead of Islamic scholars in legal matters. The early Caliphs used armies to enlarge the Muslim domain (jihad). They set up Sharia courts, built mosques, started Madrasah schools. There was a scholarly class that stopped moves towards dictatorship. Muslim have a hard time dealing with non-religious government or a non-political religion.
The response to the European takeover was the rise of charismatic leaders heading revolts (like the one that killed Gordon in Khartoum). But these revolts failed and Westernization was imposed by British, French and Russian colonial administrations. The result was the division of Islam in the Middle East into small pieces and a population that longed for a pan-Arab nation. This was crushed. But the next reaction was Islamist resistance. With the rise of Wahhabism in Islam, the conflict between Suni and Shia Muslims is, if anything, more intense that the one with Westernized governments. Oil is an important factor. It bestows a great deal of power to some states but attracts invaders.
It will take more than good will to resolve the position of Muslims in Europe. Islamists seem to be trying to force a wedge between 'moderate' and 'strict' Muslims and so do European authorities and the press. There is also a wedge being forced by the same forces between Europeans who value enlightenment ideals highly and those that are not particularly concerned. So far the trend is towards more extreme positions. The hot spots are racial/religious discrimination, anti-Semitism, free-speech, control of education, dress codes, foreign policy, immigration, and violent criminal actions. The people who advocate multiculturalism, don't just not have a solution, they don't understand the problem. Some cherished notions with have to change. Which and by whom is the unknown question.
Here is G. Pullum explaining why it would be hard for some in Europe to make compromises:
“All official Muslim commentary on the Paris massacre has voiced shock and disapproval, but BBC Radio 4 interviewed a couple of British Muslims who insist that nothing can justify insulting the prophet, so the editorial staff and cartoonists in Paris brought their fate upon themselves. This is really rather shocking. The people who hold these views truly miss the point of the kind of society we have in countries like France, Britain, and America. It is simply not negotiable for us whether people should be free to express unpopular or even offensive views, linguistically or artistically: unless very substantial arguments can be given that harm will ensue (you don't get to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, or threaten someone with death), you should be free to hold whatever opinions you have come to and express them in any way you wish.
No matter how offensive some publication might be in (say) its denigration of religion—possibly your religion—the act of committing violence against its authors and publishers in reaction or revenge against it is far worse. In part this is because your freedom to practice and preach whatever religion you may choose (which Western values take to be essentially unchallengeable) can only be guaranteed by a society free enough to also allow other people to mock or denigrate your religion. Trying to take away the latter freedom is not compatible with defending any freedoms at all. So you may think some of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons have been offensive, but then I may think your religion is offensive. The only way to build a decent society (or so we believe in the West) is to grant both of us the freedom to express ourselves, and to deny us the right to silence each other.” 

On the other hand, a Jewish group is promoting an extensive change in the laws in Europe. From the Guardian report:
A “document, A European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance, according to the drafters, seeks to define, codify, and balance rights, liberties and security at a time when governments are scrambling over how to cope. But it goes much further, calling for the criminalisation of “overt approval of a totalitarian ideology, xenophobia or antisemitism." The drafters are currently touring the parliaments of Europe trying to drum up support for a consensus that would get many, if not all, of the proposals turned into law across 28 countries. Given the national disparities on gay rights, libel laws, holocaust denial and more, the proposals represent a legal minefield. “Tolerance is a two-way street. Members of a group who wish to benefit from tolerance must show it to society at large, as well as to members of other groups and to dissidents or other members of their own group,” says the document. There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant. This is especially important as far as freedom of expression is concerned: that freedom must not be abused to defame other groups. Antisemitism is clearly part of it, but by no means the thrust of the project,” he said. “It’s about tolerance and if you expect tolerance, you have to show tolerance. Otherwise it becomes very obnoxious.”


One or another of these two views is shocking and at the present time completely unacceptable to a great many people. 

Syriza win in Greece
A New Left in Europe: Austerity Gives Rise to New Political Parties. This was published in the Washington Post in early January before the Greek election results by Harold Meyerson:
Supporters of the leftwing Syriza Party in Greece raise flags. A new Left is rising in Europe as the new year begins. And despite the fears it engenders in polite society, this New Left is less Marxian than it is — oh, the horror — Keynesian.
Keynesianism is a complex economic theory, but its central insight is simple enough: If every institution stops spending, economic activity will decline. Self-evident though this may be, this insight has eluded such global economic institutions as the International Monetary Fund, as well as Europe’s economic hegemon, Germany, when dealing with the depression that has devastated southern Europe, and Greece in particular.
In confronting the economic crisis that began with the 2008 implosion of Wall Street, nations such as Greece and Spain were unable to bolster their economies by devaluing their currencies, which would have made their products more competitive. They didn’t have currencies of their own; they had the euro, over which they had no control. The other way they could have bolstered their economies, at a time when their banks and businesses were reeling and had no capacity to invest, was to follow the Keynesian course of having their governments invest more by enacting a stimulus, as our government did at the outset of Barack Obama’s presidency. But the European Union, steered by Germany, blocked that option by threatening to cut off credit and loans to southern Europe unless those governments enacted major cuts in spending. Cowed, that’s what the governments of Greece and Spain did.
The counter-Keynesian “logic” behind these cuts was that, by injecting more fiscal discipline into their systems, these nations would improve their competitiveness and return to prosperity. The consequence of these cuts, however, has been exactly what the Keynesians predicted: With both private and public spending drying up, the economies of these nations tanked. And with Germany continuing to insist on even deeper cuts, their economies stayed tanked.
Greece has now experienced three years of 1932-levels of depression, with between 25 percent and 27 percent of its workers unemployed and youth unemployment stuck at a seemingly perpetual 50 percent, spiking once to 61%. The situation in Spain hasn’t been much better. This came as a surprise to the institutions that imposed the austerity regime — the IMF had predicted that Greek unemployment would peak at 12 percent — but, preferring their theory to reality, they insisted that more austerity would turn the economy around.
For a time, Greeks gave some credence to these theories, but three years of desperation with no end in sight has exhausted their patience. In both Greece and Spain, much of the public has turned against the politics of austerity and the mainstream political parties that enacted them. In both nations, new parties of the left — Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain — lead in the polls. (With this week’s dissolution of Greece’s parliament and new elections set for Jan. 25, it’s entirely possible that Syriza will come to power on a platform of negotiating debt reductions to the country’s creditors and restoring some governmental programs and economic investment. - Note this sentence was written before the election which has resulted in a Syriza government) If the European Union refuses such proposals, it’s also possible that Greece will drop the euro as its currency.
The policies that the European Union — that is, Germany — has imposed on southern Europe run counter to every lesson history teaches us about how to counter a prolonged economic crisis. In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt devised the New Deal not merely to counter the Depression’s effects but specifically to bolster what was then the underdeveloped economy of the American South and Southwest. His remedies extended beyond such successful stimulus programs as the Works Progress Administration , which gave millions of Americans jobs building needed public infrastructure. His policies also were crafted to bring the Southern economy into the 20th century through such programs as the Tennessee Valley Authority and rural electrification. The Jeffersonian anti-statism of today’s South notwithstanding, it was the New Deal and postwar military spending, as well as minimum wage and civil rights legislation, that enabled the Southern economy to catch up with the rest of the nation.
A similar understanding of the economics of depression and under-development could have yielded more successful economic outcomes in the European south over the past few years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also could have learned a lesson closer to home: It was the austerity policies enacted by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning in the early 1930s that plunged Germany deeper into depression and paved the way for the Nazi takeover. Say this for the German misunderstanding of macroeconomics: It’s consistent.
While a neo-Nazi party (Golden Dawn) has also sprung up in Greece, polls show the Greeks favoring the neo-Keynesian Syriza. That’s an eminently sane response to the insane immiseration that the Germans have inflicted on them.


The Bettencourt case
The Bettencourt story has been rumbling on in the background and making new headlines every few months for a few years. The main case may be coming to an end but the other stories coming from it are still going to be there to entertain us. From the Guardian by Angelique Chrisafis:
“After five weeks of courtroom drama, judges will retire on Thursday to consider the story of the richest woman in France, Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the world’s largest cosmetics firm, and the charges against an eccentric celebrity photographer and dandy whom she saw has her best friend, now accused of exploiting her frail mental state to get hundreds of millions of euros in gifts from her.
Also in the dock are nine other allegedly greedy hangers-on, including Bettencourt’s financial manager, whose trail of presents and brown envelopes are claimed to lead to the top of French politics and have raised issues of the very workings of the French state.
The family soap opera of the woman behind the L’Oreal empire that has unfurled in a courtroom in Bordeaux – mixing luxury, wealth and mental frailty in an investigation which could have long-term ramifications on politics and privacy issues – has gripped the public.
Bettencourt, now 92, had long been seen as the nation’s poor little rich girl. The only child of the French chemist who invented one of the first synthetic hair dyes and created L’Oreal, she lost her mother when she was five, began as an apprentice at the company at 15 and grew up in the spotlight. She was no stranger to controversy, not least when her father and her husband, the politician Andre Bettencourt, were accused of being Nazi collaborators during the second world war; L’Oreal later addressed charges of giving jobs to Nazi collaborators after the war by making sweeping boardroom changes.
In her peaceful widowhood at her mansion on the edge of Paris called The White House, a morose Bettencourt – estimated to be worth €33bn (£24bn), by Forbes magazine – was alleged to have found a new best friend in the outrageous and eccentric François-Marie Banier, a society photographer 25 years her junior. She showered him with so many gifts that even his own lawyer admitted in court that he had been “drowning in gold” and briefly made him her sole heir.
Alarmed, Bettencourt’s only daughter brought a legal case accusing Banier of manipulating her frailty. The court heard how Bettencourt has been suffering from increasing dementia and by 2011 was unable to tell what year it was.
Banier, now 67, who first met Bettencourt when he photographed her for a magazine, presented himself in court as a rich and well-connected celebrity photographer, a charming eccentric who did not need the money. He was said to be the only person who really made Bettencourt laugh, sharing a passion for culture.
But certain domestic staff at the mansion described him otherwise. He would, they said, lie on her bed with his shoes on, tuck requests for money in her bra, call in the middle of the night and urinate in her flowerbeds. He would address Bettencourt – a woman so obsessed with her immaculate looks and slim figure that she lived surrounded by photos of her glamorous younger self — as “my fatty”. Bettencourt’s former secretary described him as a “guru”. Bettencourt’s daughter told the court he was a “conman”, bent on shattering her relationship with her mother, saying he “divided and conquered” the household to better control her.
The court heard how from 2006 to 2010, Banier received gifts from Bettencourt worth €414m, including life-insurance policies, paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian, manuscripts and cash. In court Banier conceded that just hearing the figures sparked “an enormous vertigo”. But he said Bettencourt chose to bestow the gifts, it “gave her immense pleasure to do it” and she had been of sound mind. He said if he tried to turn down gifts, she got angry. Most of the value of the gifts was paid back before the court case.
Banier’s lawyers said he was happy to be showered with gold, but that didn’t make it “an abusive act”.
But the state prosecutor – accusing him of robbing Bettencourt of her money “but mostly of her family life, the love and support of those close to her” – requested judges give him the maximum penalty of three years in prison and a €375,000 fine.
The amount of cash sloshing around the Bettencourt household and regularly dished out as gifts to several people was pored over in court. “When you’re called Bettencourt, you don’t help people out with a box of chocolates,” said one witness.
But the trial was more than just a family feud. Among the other accused is Eric Woerth , a former minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government and campaign treasurer for his 2007 presidential campaign. He is alleged to have taken an envelope of cash via his friend and fellow accused Patrice de Maistre, who managed Bettencourt’s fortune.
Bettencourt’s former accountant told the investigation she was asked by de Maistre in early 2007 to take out €150,000 cash for Woerth, adding, “It’s for Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign.” These allegations tarnished Sarkozy, who after being voted out as president was placed under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing and takibettencourtng advantage of Bettencourt.
Those charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October 2013 due to lack of evidence. Woerth, who told the court “I did not receive cash from de Maistre to finance this campaign or anything else” is likely to be acquitted over lack of evidence.
Another accused, Alain Thurin, 64, a former nurse for the frail L’Oreal heiress, tried to hang himself in the woods near his house just before the start of his trial and is currently in a coma.
All the accused deny the charges. The judges are expected to return verdicts before the summer. The Bordeaux court will now go on to hear several other spin-off cases from the initial Bettencourt investigation – including a trial for influence-peddling in Bettencourt’s entourage, breech of privacy relating to secret tapes made by Bettencourt’s butler, and the case of an investigating magistrate accused of leaking inquiry details to the media.”
(L'express cartoon translation “Nicolas (Sarkozy) do not insist, I will not refund the Greek debt!”)


Corporatocracy
'Corporatocracy' is the name for a country ruled by business corporations, directly or indirectly. For example the British East India company ruled much of the Indian subcontinent for a considerable length of time, in a very direct fashion. On the other hand, corporations have a great deal of indirect control over American society because they use their immense wealth to control the press, buy candidates running for government elections, finance support for sources of information (think tanks, experts, research projects, ALEC), hold bidding wars for the sites of factories and offices and many like activities. The US is or is very close to a corporatocracy, as are a great many other countries. Right now a large fraction of the world's wealth and power is held by less than 20 huge corporate conglomerates that span the world.
However they cannot always get their way – democracies, pressure groups and stubborn dictators are still occasionally able to thwart them. But if you watch them, they seem to have a plan. There is a way to get rid of upstart inventors, small businesses, peasant farmers, environmentalists, trade unions, safety regulators, community activists, protectionists, and others who get in their way. They can just jump over all the levels of government (local, regional, national, and super-national) and make government laws, institutions and constitutions meaningless. The way to do this is called the “Investor State Dispute Settlement” provision. It is written into NAFTA and is proposed for the trade agreements in the Pacific and with the EU.
What the provision does is set up a court just for corporations to sue national governments for lost profits. So if a government thinks that something is a health hazard and bans it, then the corporation that makes and sells that product can sue the government to recover the profits they have lost. So take smoking as an example. If this provision has been in place than all the laws that restrict where people can smoke, how it can be advertised, sold and packaged would not affect the tobacco companies because they would sue the governments for their profit. This provision would be the end of environmental standards, safety regulations and protections of traditional industries that government laws give their populations currently. The reason it is so dangerous is that these 'court' cases would not be decided by normal courts but by secret proceedings, by secret trade lawyers (ie the corporations), would preempt national laws and national court's decisions and finally could not be reviewed by a nation's courts or legislatures. Absolutely nothing (except other corporations) could stand in the way of whatever a corporation wished to do (or to not do but get paid for). As some corporation projects are more expensive than some smaller states' total finances, this is not a trivial threat.
The trade deals that include these provisions are negotiated in secret by trade experts working for governments and for corporations. There is no input to the writing of the treaties with elected representatives and officials, from organizations that are affected by the agreements or by pressure groups. There is no discussion of the deals in the press or legislatures. “Since TPP negotiations began in 2005, the public, press, and members of Congress and their staff have been denied access to the TPP meetings and to drafts of the agreement. In stark contrast, according to a 2014 report by The Washington Post, 566 advisory group members can view and comment on proposals. Of these members, 480 represent industry groups or trade associations and dominate the most important committees.” When something is this secret, you have to be suspicious.
This sort of deal is the death of effective moves against many things that people care deeply about. And given the urgency it could destroy the last chance to control climate change. We have to remember that corporations see themselves as having only one real responsibility – to make the profit for shareholders as large as possible.
cartoon PPTWhere did the idea come from that it would be better if multi-national corporations ran the world? It comes from what is called 'market fundamentalism' or 'neoliberalism'. Thank Hayek, Von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand. Thank Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, General Pinochet, … Steven Harper. The neoliberals believed that rights are of a 'negative' nature which require other individuals (and governments) to refrain from interfering with the market. Economic considerations trump all other considerations. Hayek had argued that "economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends." Government must be small. Markets should not be restrained or regulated. Meritocracy is best and the poor are poor because of their character flaws. There is nothing wrong with inequality; nothing should interfere with the growth of capital. People do not know what is best and democracy is overrated. It is “not necessarily include democracy where law is made by majority vote by citizens, because there is nothing in the bare idea of majority rule to show that majorities will always respect the rights of property or maintain rule of law.” When they say reforms they mean “economic reform policies such as eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers, and reducing state influence on the economy especially by privatization and fiscal austerity.” Social welfare is not part of a state's role.
We are facing a world run by big oil, big pharm, big agro-biz, big food, big arms, big mining, big IT – a world of growing extremes of rich and poor, of endless war, of pollution, ecological ruin and run-away climate. And, except for the damage to the planet, it is no worst than feudalism or slavery. But damage to the planet is a big 'except'. It is the very big multinational corporations and not the ordinary businessman, farmers, tradesman, working and retired people that benefit from a corporatocracy.
(Cartoon is from OtherWords by Khalil Bendib)


US Congressional Progressive Caucus statement

Principles for Trade: A Model for Global Progress


America’s current trade policy fails working families while increasing profits for the world’s largest corporations. Trade agreements should create a net increase of good American jobs, spur more balanced trade between partners, and improve governance, public health, and environmental protections around the world. The Congressional Progressive Caucus believes the following principles can ensure fairer trade agreements by prioritizing middle class families and removing special protections and privileges for corporations:


Since implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the United States has lost millions of jobs in key sectors like manufacturing, wages have stagnated, and the standard of living for working families has dropped.

Outside of the United States, misguided trade policies are devastating both rural and urban communities in emerging nations, from the displacement of millions of small farmers in Mexico to low wages and terrible conditions for garment factory workers in Honduras. Trade agreements that destroy local livelihoods and provide workers with little economic opportunity create strong incentives for immigration to the United States. U.S. trade policy must focus on creating economic opportunity for working people in the United States and abroad, not only on maximizing short-term profits for large corporations

The United States negotiates some of the world’s largest trade agreements. These deals must put working families and our environment first. The United States must stop using trade agreements as investment deals for the world’s wealthiest corporations and instead prioritize higher wages, safer work and environmental standards, and a healthier world economy.

PROTECT CONGRESS’ AUTHORITY TO SET TRADE POLICY
Fast Track must be replaced with a process appropriate to today’s expansive trade agreements.

The 1970s “Fast Track” trade authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), undermines Congress’ ability to represent the interests of the American people. Fast Track established trade advisory committees that have provided more than 500 corporate representatives privileged access to negotiation texts and processes.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress exclusive authority to determine the terms of U.S. trade policy. The expansive domestic, non-trade policies affected by recent trade agreements underscore the need for Congress to play a meaningful role in trade negotiations from start to finish.

Once trade agreements are ratified, U.S. domestic laws can be challenged by partner nations, often resulting in lower standards for food safety and environmental protections. Given the scope, permanence, and enforceability of policies set by trade negotiations, Congress must have a robust role in the process.

Congress should have the ability to determine which nations are eligible partners by establishing criteria for inclusion in negotiations. Furthermore, Congress must provide mandatory negotiating objectives delineating what must and must not be included in an agreement. Following the end of trade negotiations, Congress must vote to certify that objectives have been satisfied before the President can sign and enter into an agreement.

Currently, the process lacks transparency. Trade agreements must be negotiated in the open. Members of Congress and appropriate staff must be able to receive details of ongoing negotiations and fully access draft text. This will ensure that Executive Branch negotiators are meeting Congress’ policy objectives.

RESTORE BALANCED TRADE
Trade agreements must contain a companion trade regulatory program that systematically brings down the U.S. trade deficit by requiring imports be balanced against exports. A goal of U.S. trade policy must be to restore balanced trade and bring down the current deficit of $912 billion, ending decades of trade deficits that translate into millions of good-paying American jobs lost.(i )

The Center on Economic and Policy Research estimates that increasing exports or reducing imports enough to bring the trade deficit into balance would generate 4.2 million jobs directly, and another 2.1 million jobs through multiplier effects—a total increase of 6.3 million jobs. (ii)

NAFTA has contributed the most to America’s increasing deficit with free trade agreement (FTA) partners. Under NAFTA, the U.S. trade deficit with Canada ballooned while a U.S. trade surplus with Mexico turned into a nearly $100 billion deficit. More recent deals have produced similar results.(iii )

Instead of stimulating jobs growth here at home, American trade policy is rewarding corporations that offshore jobs, drive down wages, and increase unemployment and underemployment.

PUT WORKERS FIRST
Trade agreements must guarantee that every worker is respected, valued and properly rewarded. Congress should have the ability to investigate and alter trade agreements if trade partners fail to enforce meaningful labor protections.

Trade agreements must contain robust labor protection provisions that are easily understood by unionists in partner nations, and properly enforced.

Despite the May 10th, 2007 Agreement, or “Bipartisan Trade Deal’s” attempt to improve labor standards in trade agreements, serious labor rights abuses remain in countries that have signed FTAs with the U.S. since 2007. The May 10th compromise between Democratic House leaders and the Republican president aimed to set a higher standard for both labor and environmental provisions in FTAs by imposing robust enforcement mechanisms.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the enforcement of labor provisions in five of the most recent FTAs since 2007 found that “persistent challenges to labor rights [remain], such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment, and, in Colombia and Guatemala, violence against union leaders.” Agencies that investigate and monitor labor violations do not clearly convey processes to unionists for filing formal complaints, and lack a systematic approach to manage complaints that are submitted.(iv) Processes for submitting formal labor violation complaints must be clear, systematic, and ensure that all relevant agencies respond in a timely manner.


Trade agreements cannot be approved until signatory countries adopt domestic labor rights as provided for in the core International Labor Organization Conventions. This must include protecting a worker’s right to organize and collectively bargain without interference or intimidation by their employer.

STOP CURRENCY MANIPULATION
U.S. trade agreements must contain enforceable provisions that prohibit partner nations from manipulating the value of their currencies.

Exchange rates significantly affect trade flows. Undervalued exchange rates allow partner countries to boost their exports and impede the flow of goods and services from other trading partners. Currency manipulation contributes to trade imbalances and leaves millions of American jobs at risk due to decreased export potential of American goods. Currency devaluations by TPP partner Japan accounts for nearly 900,000 American jobs displaced since 2013.(v)

By using the International Monetary Fund standards that set forth measurable criteria such as persistent current account surpluses, regular government intervention in currency markets in one direction, and overly large foreign exchange reserves, measures can be designed that provide ample policy space to manage monetary policy while targeting trade- affecting manipulations. Trade pacts must provide for the suspension of tariff benefits if a partner nation is found to have engaged in currency manipulation.

EXPAND BUY AMERICAN PROCUREMENT PRACTICES
Trade agreements must respect all nations’ right to set government procurement practices.

From the workers who manufacture the materials to upgrade America's bridges and highways to those who build the cars driven by our government officials, the Buy American Act of 1933 and other related federal, state and local government procurement policies create U.S. middle class jobs by recycling American tax dollars back into our economy. Buy American policies require that contracts for government purchases of goods go to U.S. firms, unless a product is much more expensive, or difficult to source domestically.

Four out of five American voters – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike – support Buy American provisions.(vi) However, past trade pacts have required the United States to waive these procurement policies for firms operating in FTA partner countries, shipping jobs and American tax dollars overseas. It is estimated that a third of new jobs created by domestic sourcing would be in the manufacturing sector if large-scale infrastructure projects were restricted to domestic supplies.(vii)

Trade agreements must not limit the United States government’s ability to set contract guidelines. Further, the definition of “Made in America” must remain robust for U.S. domestic sourcing requirements to be meaningful.

PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
Climate change and other forms of environmental degradation pose serious threats to the world. Trade agreements must contain legally binding obligations for partner nations to adopt, maintain, implement, and strengthen domestic environmental laws and policies. Such provisions would help protect communities and the environment, including vulnerable communities in the developing world exploited by multinational corporations seeking access to raw materials or markets without consumer protections.

Trade agreements must respect sovereign laws and allow stronger climate and environmental protections in partner nations to take precedence over standards negotiated in a trade deal. This means, for example, that the United States must retain the ability to make decisions about energy exports based on the national and public interest. Further, governments must retain the flexibility to incentivize local production of renewable energy technologies.

Trade agreements must also allow governments flexibility to strengthen existing policies, or implement new ones to protect the environment and climate after an agreement has been signed. Such policies include, but are not limited to feed-in tariffs, a carbon cap and/or tax, renewable energy programs, and energy efficiency standards or labels. Conversely, agreements should also provide enforceable, punitive provisions against partner nations that lower environmental standards. Trade deals must require countries to adopt, maintain, and implement commitments made in multilateral environmental agreements, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

PRIORITIZE CONSUMERS ABOVE PROFITS
Trade agreements must allow countries to adopt and implement policies to protect the health and safety of consumers without limit or exposure to challenge. Only goods and services that comply with a nation’s consumer safeguards may gain entry into its market. Any provisions for regulatory convergence must require high standards of consumer and other protections.

Increasingly, trade agreements require numerous non-tariff policies that change domestic laws and lower consumer protections. Domestic food and product safety standards, financial regulations, internet governance rules, and other non-trade consumer policies are secretly negotiated between countries’ trade agencies under the influence of the very commercial interests being regulated. Past trade pacts have allowed into market products and services that do not meet U.S. health and safety standards. Some provisions have required U.S. regulations to conform to “harmonized” standards negotiated to be more
convenient to business, instead of respecting more robust domestic standards. Trade deals must not supersede a nation’s ability to protect its citizens.

PROTECT NATIONHOOD RIGHTS
Trade agreements must not contain provisions that allow for Investor State Dispute Resolution.

Foreign investors are increasingly using Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in trade pacts to initiate proceedings against sovereign nations. ISDS grants corporations special rights to bypass court systems and challenge consumer protection legislation that may threaten profits. This forces trade partners with smaller economies into repealing good policies that protect consumers.

From 1959-2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS cases initiated. Conversely, from 2003- 2014, there were 514 ISDS proceedings; many of which challenged environmental, energy, financial, public health, land use and transportation policies. For example, tobacco giant Philip Morris is currently suing Australia for loss of expected profits due to packaging regulations that highlight the health risks of smoking and restrict branding. Regardless of outcome, nations prosecuted under ISDS are required to pay for the full cost of the tribunal, which on average costs eight million dollars.(viii)

When disputes occur between a foreign investor and a sovereign nation, the case must be settled in domestic court or nation-to-nation dispute resolution. Under this system, corporations and multinationals will not be given preferential standing, but instead will be subject to the same treatment as domestic investors and firms.

SECURE AFFORDABLE ACCESS TO ESSENTIAL MEDICINES
Trade agreements must safeguard affordable access to medicine for patients by preserving the ability of governments to negotiate reduced drug prices for public health care systems.

Governments must maintain the ability to direct public health policies and programs to meet the needs of all patients, but especially the most vulnerable. Trade deals should not impose requirements that prevent countries from using compulsory licensing, parallel imports, or pricing mechanisms designed to provide access to essential medicines. Congress and state legislatures must retain their right to make prescription drugs more affordable through price negotiation and other means.

Trade agreements must not establish unfair drug patent protections that delay access to affordable generic drugs.

The production of generic pharmaceuticals is an important tool for increasing access to life- saving medicines in the U.S. and abroad. The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) attempts to balance the patent rights of pharmaceutical corporations with the need to expand access to life-saving drugs. New trade agreements should not tip that balance further toward the monopoly rights of pharmaceutical corporations, delaying the entry of lower-priced generics into the market through the inclusion of TRIPS-plus provisions to extend or require patent periods, allow firms to continually renew patent licenses, or permit the withholding of data.

Agreements must balance affordability with innovation. Partner nations should maintain the ability to set domestic patent license periods, and reward or revoke patents. This respects a nation’s right to both incentivize innovation and support generic drug competition to make life-saving medicines more affordable and accessible.

RESPECT HUMAN RIGHTS
U.S. trade agreements should require signatory countries to implement and enforce domestic laws consistent with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Failure of a partner nation to meet this standard must be subject to effective punitive provisions and enforcement mechanisms.

Protection of human rights is a core American value and must take precedence in diplomatic and economic relations with other nations. This includes protecting the rights of minority groups, LGBT citizens, and women.

Nothing in trade agreements can prevent the U.S. or partner nations from using trade benefits to promote human rights. As a global leader, the United States must urge economic partners to adopt internationally recognized civil, political, and human rights standards. The United States has a moral responsibly to use its economic power to promote the respect of human rights.

PROVIDE A SAFETY NET FOR VULNERABLE WORKERS
U.S. trade policy must prioritize American workers, providing for robust Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), extended unemployment benefits, retraining for workers, and assistance to communities hurt by trade agreements.

Even if the terms of trade agreements were reformed, many industries like agriculture and manufacturing remain vulnerable to the effects of the liberalization of U.S. trade policy. Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) enacted in 2009, provides assistance to the broad range of U.S workers hurt by trade policies, including service sector workers, workers in the manufacturing sector not directly employed in production, farmers and fishers, and small business owners.

In order to provide support for workers and communities are negatively affected by American trade policies. Congress must immediately enact a new TAA that expands on the 2009 program. Funding must be reinstated to at least 2009 levels, with provisions made for continued funding when initial appropriations are spent down. This program must recognize the reality of trade-related worker displacement by expanding assistance eligibility to workers in both the service and public sectors. Such a robust TAA program must be in effect before Congress considers any further trade agreements.