Plan B: Ditch Help For Workers, Just Get Corporations What They Want

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) have hatched a plan to muscle through Fast Track for President Obama. But there is no guarantee their plan will work.

As a new GOP-led approach to approving Fast Track authority on behalf of the Obama administration materializes, the process itself signals just how noxious the contents of deals like the TPP must be

By Jon Queally

Legislative maneuvering around Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or Fast Track) continued late Tuesday, as GOP leaders in Congress, the Obama administration, and a handful of anti-democracy Democrats hatched a plan to hold a straight vote on Fast Track—handing the White House the authority it wants to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pending corporate-friendly agreements—while separating out a provision offering assistance to workers displaced by future trade deals.

It’s not a simple or guaranteed path forward for Fast Track, but Politico explained the GOP leadership’s latest approach this way:

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

The leaders’ behind-the-scenes machinations are an attempt to allow both bills — TAA and the fast-track measure known as Trade Promotion Authority — to move to Obama’s desk separately, sidestepping the objections of House Democrats that stalled the package last week. The idea, which has been discussed among top congressional leaders and the White House, would be tantamount to a dare to pro-trade Democrats in both chambers to vote it down.

The plans are fluid and could change. But multiple congressional leaders, speaking anonymously to candidly describe their strategy, said they felt this was the only hope to reverse the trade package’s flagging fortunes.

The big question in the House remains how many of the 28 House Democrats who voted for Fast Track when the worker assistance program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), was on the table would do so now that it’s been taken off. But even if the GOP-controlled House does pass a clean Fast Track bill, the path in the Senate is not likely to be smooth sailing. As The Hill notes, when the Senate approved Fast Track it included “both programs, and the support from 14 Democrats in the upper chamber hinged in part on that fact.”

And according to the Huffington Post:

As rumors swirled about Boehner being ready to move forward with a stand-alone TPA bill, House Democrats called for an emergency caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, where pro-TPA Democrats were expected to try to garner support for the Republican strategy. That meeting was abruptly canceled late Tuesday, after the House Rules Committee opted not to line up a floor vote on a clean fast-track bill. A committee aide said the panel had no plans to meet again this week to take up TPA.

Despite the committee’s punt on Tuesday, House Republican leaders appear ready to push through a clean TPA bill. Their latest strategy, according to Democratic and Republican aides, is to pass the clean bill and send it to the Senate, where lawmakers would then attach TAA to a separate trade bill for African countries, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The strategy behind that approach would be to convince members of the Congressional Black Caucus to support TAA this time around, since the controversial funding would then be tied to AGOA.

If House Republicans do pursue a stand-alone TPA bill, it won’t necessarily make matters better for the president’s agenda. Passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate. Obama has vowed to veto a fast-track bill unless TAA is also passed or attached, and passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate.

Sen. McConnell, President Obama, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have been discussing their options since the defeat last Friday, but it was McConnell on Tuesday who expressed the most optimism that Fast Track could still become law in the coming weeks.

“The Speaker and I have spoken with the president about the way forward on trade,” McConnell told reporters. “It’s still my hope that we can achieve what we’ve set out to achieve together, which is to get a six-year trade promotion authority bill in place that will advantage the next occupant of the White House as well as this one.”

Critics of both the TPP and Fast Track point out that machinations necessary to get them passed through Congress bodes poorly for the contents of the corporate-friendly agreements themselves. As David Morris, executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, argued in a piece at Common Dreams on Tuesday, the whole process stinks of an anti-democratic culture in which the contents of so-called “free trade” deals are being actively kept secret from the people—even as lawmakers jump through procedural hoop after procedural hoop in order for multinational corporations to get what they want. Moving forward, hope opponents, Congress should consider how the process has eclipsed substantive debate over the trade agenda’s wide-ranging implications for public health, the environment, and workers’ rights. According to Morris:

We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.

And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.

Morris noted that the existing system ostensibly allows for such debate, explaining that Obama, as president, can always submit a trade agreement—which historically were considered treaties and required approval of the Senate for passage. “If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill,” Morris explained. “And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.”

Though the White House, according to the Huffington Post, has been “coy about what efforts are being made behind the scenes to get the trade package passed,” previous reporting by Common Dreams makes it clear that the political “arm-twisting” is happening at the highest levels.

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Delay Could Sink Fast Track, But Corporate ‘Arm-Twisting’ Not Over Yet

“I will continue to vote against Trade Promotion Authority until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fixed,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), above, declared on Monday. (Photo: Center for American Progress/flickr/cc)

“The delay shows that there is not Congressional will to walk the plank for a corporate trade agenda that is reviled by the voters.”

By Deirdre Fulton

While House Republicans and the White House consider their options for reviving failed Fast Track legislation, civil society groups are heralding the delay as a sign of the measure’s imminent defeat.

A trade package including Fast Track failed to pass the House on Friday. Now, according to news reports, Obama administration officials and lawmakers are considering “a list of complicated procedural options that could circumvent House Democratic opposition” in favor of Fast Track. But, as stakeholders on both sides of the issue have acknowledged over the past few days, the setback could spell doom for Fast Track and the corporate-backed trade deals the authority is designed to promote.

To buy more time, House Republicans on Monday night extended—to July 30—the possibility for the chamber to vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) again. Overwhelming opposition to TAA is what derailed the Fast Track trade package in the House last week.

“The corporate trade agenda is stalled in Congress,” said Patrick Woodall, research director and senior policy advocate for Food & Water Watch. “By extending the re-vote period by six weeks, the GOP leadership and the White House gave themselves time to work their parliamentary witchcraft, arm-twisting and gift-giving to cajole Congress into caving into the corporate trade agenda. But the delay shows that there is not Congressional will to walk the plank for a corporate trade agenda that is reviled by the voters. Congress is listening to the public and recognizes the TPP and other trade deals pose genuine risks to consumers, workers and the environment.”

Fast Track, or trade promotion authority, would hand over the power to negotiate international trade deals to President Barack Obama, reducing Congress’s say on such mammoth agreements to an up-or-down vote. Environmental, public health, and digital rights groups say Fast Track would weaken democracy and eliminate congressional oversight of critical details included in the trade agreements, while increasing global corporate influence.

With such criticisms in mind, the AFL-CIO is thanking Democratic lawmakers who stood with organized labor in blocking the Fast Track trade deal in the House last week. “Thank you for standing with working families,” the ads state, featuring photos of the lawmakers. The labor federation, along with climate, public health, and digital rights groups, is also urging members to call their representatives to “ask him or her to hold the line on the next Fast Track vote and say NO.”

Because, as Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) put it in a piece published at Medium on Monday, “My colleagues and I who voted against Trade Promotion Authority are not isolationists. We’re not against trade. We understand we live in a global economy. Many members of Congress have proposed models for fair trade deals that can’t even get a debate or a vote in the Congress. But the newest trade proposal before us, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), repeats the harmful practices of past deals. It contains specific threats to working people. I will continue to vote against Trade Promotion Authority until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fixed.”

According to Ellison, lawmakers should ask themselves the following questions before voting on Fast Track:

-Does the proposed deal help or hurt Americans who work hard every day to make ends meet?

-Does the proposed deal bring back jobs to communities like Baltimore, Flint, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Oakland?

-Does the proposed deal ask our partner nations to stop jailing labor organizers; to stop human trafficking; to raise environmental protections?

Ellison concluded: “If the answer to these questions is no — I think it is a resounding no — then we should vote no.”

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IMF Report Admits IMF’s Obsession with Capitalism Is Killing Prosperity

“By releasing this report, the IMF has shown that ‘trickle-down’ economics is dead; you cannot rely on the spoils of the extremely wealthy to benefit the rest of us.”

By Jon Queally

In light of how the International Monetary Fund has spent most of its existence parading around the world telling governments to make their economies more friendly for multinational corporations by suppressing wages, restricting pensions, liberalizing industries, and more or less advocating they ignore the popular will of workers and the less fortunate—all in the name of market capitalism and endless economic growth—a new report released by the IMF on Monday contains an ironic warning: stop doing all that.

Though it perpetuates the idea that economic growth is the master to whom all should bow, the new research—conducted by the IMF’s own economists and submitted under the title Causes and Consequences of Inequality (pdf)—argues that many of the policies promoted by the IMF have actually harmed nations by exacerbating widespread economic inequality. As many have noted, current disparities between the world’s richest and poorest represent a nearly unprecedented level of global inequality which the report described as the “defining challenge of our time.”

In order to strengthen economies, the report declares, nations should admit that “trickle-down” theories of wealth and prosperity do not work. In lieu of those, the study recommends raising wages and living standards for the bottom 20 percent, installing more progressive tax structures, improving worker protections, and instituting policies specifically designed to bolster the middle class.

“Fighting inequality is not just an issue of fairness but an economic necessity,” said Nicolas Mombrial of Oxfam International in response to the report. “And that’s not Oxfam speaking, but the International Monetary Fund.”

This is not the first time the IMF’s own research has bolstered the arguments of its biggest critics. According to the International Business Times, the new analysis on inequality “echoes previous IMF research that show that redistributive policies have a positive effect on countries’ economic output.”

But as the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott notes, the new paper creates obvious “tension between the IMF’s economic analysis and the more hardline policy advice” it continually gives to countries seeking foreign assistance or development funds. With Greece as the most obvious example, Elliott cites details from the report and writes:

During its negotiations with Athens, the IMF has been seeking to weaken workers’ rights, but the research paper found that the easing of labor market regulations was associated with greater inequality and a boost to the incomes of the richest 10%.

“This result is consistent with forthcoming IMF work, which finds the weakening of unions is associated with a higher top 10% income share for a smaller sample of advanced economies,” said the study.

“Indeed, empirical estimations using more detailed data for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries [34 of the world’s richest nations] suggest that, in line with other forthcoming IMF work, more lax hiring and firing regulations, lower minimum wages relative to the median wage, and less prevalent collective bargaining and trade unions are associated with higher market inequality.”

The study said there was growing evidence to suggest that rising influence of the rich and stagnant incomes of the poor and middle classes caused financial crises, hurting both short- and long-term growth.

No one should be fooled into thinking that the new research aims to alter the IMF’s central commitment to advancing the financial interests of the global elite.

In fact, part of the argument presented in the paper is that such enormous levels of global economic inequality could seriously undermine the institution’s public defense of capitalism’s overall supremacy. “For example,” the paper states, “[too much inequality] can lead to a backlash against growth-enhancing economic liberalization and fuel protectionist pressures against globalization and market-oriented reforms.”

According to a recent report by Oxfam International, almost half the world’s wealth is owned by one percent of the population, while the bottom half of the world’s population owns the same wealth as the richest 85 people in the world. For Oxfam’s Mombrial, who heads the international anti-poverty group’s office in Washington D.C., the IMF’s report is a welcome development that should put a nail in the coffin of the austerity-driven policies prescribed by governments and powerful financial institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and others.

“The IMF proves that making the rich richer does not work for growth, while focusing on the poor and the middle class does,” Mombrial said. “This reinforces Oxfam’s call on how we need to reduce the income gap between the haves and have-nots, and scrutinize why the richest 10 percent and top 1 percent have so much wealth. By releasing this report, the IMF has shown that ‘trickle-down’ economics is dead; you cannot rely on the spoils of the extremely wealthy to benefit the rest of us. Governments must urgently refocus their policies to close the gap between the richest and the rest if economies and societies are to grow.”

As Oxfam and other international campaigners have been saying it for decades, he concluded, “The IMF has set off the alarm for governments to wake up and start actively closing the inequality gap, not just between the rich and poor, but for the middle class too. Their message to them is pretty clear: if you want growth, you’d better invest in the poor, invest in essential services and promote redistributive tax policies.”

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Could Anti-Climate Amendment Torpedo Fast Track?

Last-minute anti-climate effort led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) slammed by green groups and some lawmakers

By Sarah Lazare

Environmental groups have long (warned) of the dangers Fast Track poses to the environment. Now they have solid proof.

With the controversial House Fast Track vote expected to take place Friday, an 11th-hour GOP effort to forbid U.S. trade officials from taking action on climate change has raised the fury of environmental groups and lawmakers, as well as hopes that the unpopular legislation could be torpedoed altogether.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, an amendment was inserted late Tuesday into a customs and trade bill currently being weighed alongside Fast Track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority.

The language is designed “to ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

But political observers see it as a last-ditch attempt to get reticent Republicans on-board.

As the National Journal reports, Ryan is “working hard to win Republican support for the trade bill. Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that the climate-change amendment acts as an olive branch for House Republicans fearful that the president might use his trade negotiating power to take action on climate change.”

Critics say, in the midst of a climate crisis, it is outrageous that Ryan would seek to tie a trade representative’s hands, especially given the broad scope of the multiple corporate-friendly deals currently under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement.

“President Obama needs to make it clear that ‘21st century trade deals’ cannot block climate action,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth. “The president should start by telling Republican leadership and the public that the provision in the customs amendment is unacceptable.”

“President Obama cannot credibly claim that trade deals will force other countries to raise their environmental standards if he allows the same deals to secure a pass for the U.S. to keep dumping carbon into the planet’s atmosphere,” Galvão added.

The Fast Track legislation was already opposed by civil society and social movement groups around the U.S. and world—who criticize it as a tool for ramming through secret corporate-friendly deals, at the expense of people and the planet.

Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org said that this latest move could jeopardize Fast Track altogether: “Forbidding U.S. negotiators from ever addressing climate change in trade deals might might win over a couple of votes on the far right, but it’ll lose many more in the center and on the left because the new language is a disaster for our climate.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) derided the maneuver, declaring, “Now Republicans want to use [Fast Track] to prevent any new climate change standards in our trade deals.”

All eyes are on the vote, expected to take place Friday, with many high-profile politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), remaining mum on how they will vote.

Patrick Woodall of Food & Water Watch declared in a press statement Thursday, “With Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership now on its way to the House floor, it’s time for our Representatives to stand up to the so-called free trade attacks on common sense protections for public health, the environment and consumers.”

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Furthering a Failed Strategy, Obama To Send More Ground Troops to Iraq

Critics say that everything the administration is doing in Middle East is making things worse, not better.

By Jon Queally

In a move anti-war critics and foreign policy experts are certain to call simply an extension of a policy that has proved a failure, the New York Times reports the Obama administration is planning to build a new military base in the western part of Iraq and send additional ground troops in an attempt to turn the tide against Islamic State (ISIS) forces who have continued to take and hold ground on sides of the Syrian border in recent weeks.

After recent advances by ISIS that allowed them to capture the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar Province, the Pentagon is talking openly about sending what it calls “additional trainers” to bolster the Iraqi army in the Sunni-dominated region that skirts Syria.

As the Times reports:

In a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province, Iraq, and to send 400 more American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi. […]

The additional American troops will arrive as early as this summer, a United States official said, and will focus on training Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Army. The official called the coming announcement “an adjustment to try to get the right training to the right folks.”

Though there are already approximately 3,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq, President Obama made headlines on Monday when he spoke from the G7 summit in Germany and admitted that the U.S. did not yet have a “complete strategy” for dealing with ISIS.

However, as Jason Ditz writes at Anti-War.com, the idea to send additional U.S. troops to Iraq was not entirely unexpected,

as President Obama had previously indicated this his primary goal at this point was to speed up the training of Iraqi troops. The new troops are being labeled “trainers,” but are likely to be among those that Pentagon officials are openly talking about “embedding” on the front lines, meaning they’d be sent into direct combat.

As losses have mounted in Iraq and Syria, with ISIS taking more and more cities, the Pentagon has repeatedly rejected the idea that the strategy was at all flawed, and has tried to blame Iraqi troops for not winning more. The US appears to be doubling down on this narrative by adding troops.

But according to critics of Obama’s foreign policy and war strategy in Syria and Iraq, everything the administration is doing “right now is making the situation worse” – not better. (more…)

WikiLeaks Strikes Again: Leaked TISA Docs Expose Corporate Plan For Reshaping Global Economy

“It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. (Image created by Common Dreams)

Leaked Docs reveal that little-known corporate treaty poised to privatize and deregulate public services across globe.

By Sarah Lazare

An enormous corporate-friendly treaty that many people haven’t heard of was thrust into the public limelight Wednesday when famed publisher of government and corporate secrets, WikiLeaks, released 17 documents from closed-door negotiations between countries that together comprise two-thirds of the word’s economy.

Analysts warn that preliminary review shows that the pact, known as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), is aimed at further privatizing and deregulating vital services, from transportation to healthcare, with a potentially devastating impact for people of the countries involved in the deal, and the world more broadly.

“This TISA text again favors privatization over public services, limits governmental action on issues ranging from safety to the environment using trade as a smokescreen to limit citizen rights,” said Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, in a statement released Wednesday.

Under secret negotiation by 50 countries for roughly two years, the pact includes the United States, European Union, and 23 other countries—including Israel, Turkey, and Colombia. Notably, the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are excluded from the talks.

Along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, which are also currently being negotiated, TISA is part of what WikiLeaks calls the “T-treaty trinity.” Like the TTP and TTIP, it would fall “under consideration for collective ‘Fast-Track’ authority in Congress this month,” WikiLeaks noted in a statement issued Wednesday.

However, TISA stands out from this trio as being the most secretive and least understood of all, with its negotiating sessions not even announced to the public.

Wednesday’s leak provides the largest window yet into TISA and comes on the heels of two other leaks about the accord last year, the first from WikiLeaks and the other from the Associated Whistleblowing Press, a non-profit organization with local platforms in Iceland and Spain.

While analysts are still poring over the contents of the new revelations, civil society organizations released some preliminary analysis of the accord’s potential implications for transportation, communication, democratic controls, and non-participating nations:

>Telecommunications: “The leaked telecommunications annex, among others, demonstrate potentially grave impacts for deregulation of state owned enterprises like their national telephone company,” wrote the global network Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) in a statement issued Wednesday.

>Transportation: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), comprised of roughly 700 unions from more than 150 countries, warned on Wednesday that the just-published documents “foresee consolidated power for big transport industry players and threaten the public interest, jobs and a voice for workers.” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “This text would supercharge the most powerful companies in the transport industry, giving them preferential treatment. What’s missing from this equation is any value at all for workers and citizens.”

>Bypassing democratic regulations: “Preliminary analysis notes that the goal of domestic regulation texts is to remove domestic policies, laws and regulations that make it harder for transnational corporations to sell their services in other countries (actually or virtually), to dominate their local suppliers, and to maximize their profits and withdraw their investment, services and profits at will,” writes OWINFS. “Since this requires restricting the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, the corporate lobby is using TISA to bypass elected officials in order to apply a set of across-the-board rules that would never be approved on their own by democratic governments.”

>Broad impact: “The documents show that the TISA will impact even non-participating countries,” wrote OWINFS. “The TISA is exposed as a developed countries’ corporate wish lists for services which seeks to bypass resistance from the global South to this agenda inside the WTO, and to secure and agreement on servcies without confronting the continued inequities on agriculture, intellectual property, cotton subsidies, and many other issues.”

The warnings follow concerns, based on previous leaks, that TISA poses a threat to net neutrality, internet freedoms, and privacy.

Moreover, global social movements charge that the deal poses a threat to democracy itself.

In a letter released in September 2013, 241 civil society groups from around the world aired concerns about the TISA deal: “Democracy is eroded when decision-making about important sectors– such as financial services (including banking, securities trading, accounting, insurance, etc.), energy, education, healthcare, retail, shipping, telecommunications, legal services, transportation, and tourism– is transferred from citizens, local oversight boards, and local or provincial/state jurisdiction to unaccountable trade’ negotiators who have shown a clear proclivity for curtailing regulation and prioritizing corporate profits.”

Analysts note that the leak underscores the intense secretiveness of the talks, whose texts are supposed to be kept completely secret for five years following the reaching of a deal or abandonment of the process.

“That the negotiating texts say they are supposed to stay secret for five years is quite shocking, and therefore it is really important that the text is made public,” Melinda St. Louis, international campaigns director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, told Common Dreams.

“It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, in a statement released Wednesday.

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As Patriot Act Expiration Looms, Critics Hope for Sunset on Mass Surveillance

With a deadline for the USA Patriot Act fast approaching, Congress has little time to decide how to proceed—but the call to ‘sunset’ the law is growing. (Photo: Dan Cook/flickr/cc/with overlay)

‘Together we will end the Patriot Act, and the sun can rise on a new day filled with freedom and privacy for all.’

By Nadia Prupis and Deirdre Fulton

With the fate of the USA Patriot Act still hanging in the balance late afternoon Friday—and lawmakers eager to leave Washington, D.C., for Memorial Day barbecues and campaign stops in their home states—the chance to see the sun go down on the controversial spying bill is still on the table.

The debate over the Patriot Act is centered around one of its key provisions, Section 215, which is set to expire on June 1 absent congressional action. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) previously relied on Section 215 to justify its mass phone data collection operation, but its expiration would force an end to that program.

With that “sunset” approaching, lawmakers have the chance to reform the Patriot Act, end it altogether, or pass a clean re-authorization that renews all the provisions set to expire in mere days.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the most outspoken supporter of a clean re-authorization, arguing that the Patriot Act in its current form is a crucial tool in the so-called “War on Terror.” FBI director James Comey also said this week that it would be a “big problem” to lose the authority that the law bestows on the intelligence agencies.

Adding to the urgency is the Obama administration’s warning that Congress only has until Friday to act on the law, because the government will need time to scale down its phone data program if it is not re-authorized. The House of Representatives has already left for the Memorial Day weekend.

The White House, along with the U.S. House, supports reform legislation called the USA Freedom Act, and warned that “there is no Plan B, these are authorities Congress must legislate.”

Should the Senate fail to pass the reform bill, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday, there is nothing the president can do to stop the Patriot Act provisions from lapsing.

Of course, that would be just fine with privacy activists and advocacy groups who oppose intrusive government surveillance. At protests held in dozens of cities on Thursday, demonstrators called on Congress to oppose any re-authorization of the Patriot Act and instead let its spying provisions sunset as scheduled on June 1.

“It’s time we came together and let the sun go down on this dark age of government surveillance,” said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer. “Together we will end the Patriot Act, and the sun can rise on a new day filled with freedom and privacy for all.”

Free Press Action Fund government relations manager Sandra Fulton added, “The nationwide sunset vigils have sent a signal to Washington: It’s time we closed this chapter on mass surveillance and restored everyone’s rights to connect and communicate in private.”

However, The Hill reported Friday that “momentum appeared to be on the side of reformers, whose hopes were buoyed by the near certainty that the Senate will either need to pass [the House version of] the USA Freedom Act, or allow three parts of the post-9/11 law to sunset.”

The report went on to say the USA Freedom Act “has the backing of the majority of the Senate—including all Democrats—but it remains unclear whether it has the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles during what increasingly looks like a rare Memorial Day weekend session.”

The USA Freedom Act passed the House on May 14 with an overwhelming 338-88 vote. But according to advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the USA Freedom Act is a “small step instead of a giant leap,” particularly in comparison with previous iterations of the bill, introduced in 2013 and 2014, which offered stronger reforms but failed to progress through Congress.

The Act grants a five-year extension to Section 215.

After the bill passed the House, Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, warned that the USA Freedom Act would actually “expand the scope of surveillance” by the NSA and others.

“This is a fake privacy bill,” Cheng said. “Corrupt members of Congress and their funders in the defense industry are attempting to package up their surveillance-powers wishlist and misleadingly brand it as ‘USA Freedom.’ This is disappointing and offensive, and we will continue to work to kill this bill and any other attempt to legitimize unconstitutional surveillance systems.”

Opposition to the Patriot Act has grown steadily since whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed Section 215’s role in the NSA spying program. The call to let the provision expire only grew after a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the agency’s phone surveillance operation is illegal. And as Mike Masnick at Techdirt points out, a Justice Department investigation into the FBI’s use of Section 215, released Thursday, found that the provision has never been particularly useful in anti-terrorism efforts.

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Growing Global Inequality Gap ‘Has Reached a Tipping Point’

‘When such a large group in the population gains so little from economic growth, the social fabric frays and trust in institutions is weakened.’

By Nadia Prupis

With the gap between the rich and poor growing worldwide, a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published Thursday suggests that the only way to reverse such rampant inequality is by implementing government measures aimed at balancing the playing field

Chief among those measures: Tax the rich and push for gender equality.

In its 34 member states, income inequality has reached record highs, the OECD found in its study, In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All. The average income of the top 10 percent was 9.6 times higher than the bottom 10 percent, the OECD found. In the U.S., it was 19 times higher.

“We have reached a tipping point,” said OECD secretary-general Ángel Gurría. “The evidence shows that high inequality is bad for growth. The case for policy action is as much economic as social. By not addressing inequality, governments are cutting into the social fabric of their countries and hurting their long-term economic growth.”

“In recent decades, as much as 40% of the population at the lower end of the distribution has benefited little from economic growth in many countries,” the study found. “In some cases, low earners have even seen their incomes fall in real terms. When such a large group in the population gains so little from economic growth, the social fabric frays and trust in institutions is weakened.”

Working conditions have also deteriorated, largely due to the rise of a “non-standard” economy that incentivizes part-time work, self-employment, and temporary contracting.

“Between 1995 and 2013, more than 50 percent of all jobs created in OECD countries fell into these categories,” the OECD stated in a press release on Thursday. “Low-skilled temporary workers, in particular, have much lower and instable earnings than permanent workers.”

However, the study found that an increase in the number of women working “helped stem the rise in inequality, despite their being about 16% less likely to be in paid work and earn about 15% less than men.”

Inequality is highest in Chile, Mexico, the United States, Turkey, and Israel. It is lowest in Denmark, Slovenia, Slovak Republic and Norway.

Higher inequality also drags down economic growth by making opportunities more scant for the bottom 40 percent and often preventing low-income children from receiving quality education, or enough of it. The long-term rise of inequality “has indeed put a significant brake on long-term growth,” from developed nations to emerging economies, the OECD found.

“If the bottom loses ground, everyone is losing ground,” the report states.

The OECD recommends a wide range of solutions to reverse the growing wealth gap, including removing the obstacles that prevent mothers from working; doing more to provide youth with useful skills and allow workers to continue updating those skills over time; and redistribute wealth through taxes and transfers, which the report describes as a “powerful instrument to contribute to more equality and more growth.”

“In recent decades, the effectiveness of redistribution mechanisms has been weakened in many countries,” the OECD states. “To address this, policies need to ensure that wealthier individuals, but also multinational firms, pay their share of the tax burden.”

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Latest Guilty Pleas Prove Big Bank Criminality ‘Rampant,’ But Jail Time Non-Existent

In announcing settlement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch calls the crimes ‘a brazen display of collusion’ that caused ‘pervasive harm’

By Deirdre Fulton

In the wake of Wednesday’s announcement that five global financial institutions have agreed to plead guilty to multiple crimes and pay about $5.6 billion in penalties for manipulating foreign currencies and interest rates, corporate watchdogs are reiterating the call to ‘break up the banks’ in light of their ongoing malfeasance.

As with other recent settlements, Wednesday’s news provides further evidence to those who say certain megabanks are still considered “too big to fail”—or criminal bankers to jail.

“There are two messages in today’s plea deal,” said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman in a statement on Wednesday. “First, criminality is rampant on Wall Street. Second, the era of too-big-to-jail is alive and well. Even as they beat their chests announcing how tough they are, government regulators refuse to apply to the giant banks the same rules that apply to everyone else.”

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Five global banks have agreed to pay more than $5 billion in combined penalties and will plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve a long running U.S. investigation into whether traders at the banks colluded to move foreign currency rates in directions to benefit their own positions.

Four of the banks, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, and Citigroup Inc., will plead guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros, authorities said.

The fifth bank, UBS AG, received immunity in the antitrust case, but will plead guilty to manipulating the Libor benchmark after prosecutors said the bank violated an earlier accord meant to resolve those allegations of misconduct. UBS will also pay an additional Libor-related fine.

The New York Times adds:

The Justice Department forced four of the banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland — to plead guilty to antitrust violations in the foreign exchange market as part of a scheme that padded the banks’ profits and enriched the traders who carried out the plot. The traders were supposed to be competitors, but much like companies that rigged the price of vitamins and automotive parts, they colluded to manipulate the largest and yet least regulated market in the financial world, where some $5 trillion changes hands every day, prosecutors said.

Underscoring the collusive nature of their contact, which often occurred in online chat rooms, one group of traders called themselves “the cartel,” an invitation-only club where stakes were so high that a newcomer was warned, “Mess this up and sleep with one eye open.”

In announcing the settlement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the megabanks’ crimes “a brazen display of collusion” that caused “pervasive harm.”

Lynch declared: “Today’s historic resolutions are the latest in our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, and they serve as a stark reminder that this Department of Justice intends to vigorously prosecute all those who tilt the economic system in their favor; who subvert our marketplaces; and who enrich themselves at the expense of American consumers.”

But as Weissman noted, “important questions remain about this plea deal,” including:

Will individual executives be prosecuted? And did the DOJ charge the parent companies in this case to avoid triggering potential sanctions with real and significant business consequences for the banks, including charter revocation hearings? The public deserves answers to these questions. In that information is some insight into whether the government continues to protect the megabanks—those colloquially labeled “too big to jail.”

“What becomes clear is that regulators genuinely are afraid of enforcing the law when it comes to the megabanks,” Weissman concludes. “As a result, and notwithstanding today’s announcement and others like it, these banks are not deterred from violating the law—indeed, they are literally not subject to the same standards as other banks and other companies. A democratic society cannot tolerate having banks above the law. There’s a solution to this problem: break them up.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill to do just that—the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act—under which regulators on the Financial Stability Oversight Council would compile a list of institutions which say they are so large that their collapse could trigger an economic crisis. The Treasury Secretary, in turn, would then have a year from the bill’s passing to break up such banks.

In a recent report, the Corporate Reform Coalition warned that regulators’ continued reluctance to crack down on megabanks leaves the U.S. vulnerable to another financial crisis.

“Avoiding another meltdown depends on the will of federal regulators to use the new powers they were granted in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” said Jennifer Taub, author of the report and professor of law at Vermont Law School. “If they behave as if they are beholden to the banks, we will likely face a more severe crisis in the future.”

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Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote

‘We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we,’ says Democracy for America

By Deirdre Fulton

Update (3 pm EDT):

In what was immediately heralded as a victory for the grassroots, Senate Democrats on Tuesday stymied President Barack Obama’s corporate-driven trade agenda by voting to prevent the chamber from taking up Fast Track legislation.

According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass(52-45). Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, was the only Democrat to vote yes.

Civil society groups lauded Tuesday’s outcome and what it could mean for future trade votes.

“The Fast Track train went off the rails today,” cheered Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for Fast Track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrats and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.”

Still, now is not the time for the grassroots to become complacent, warned Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain in a statement released just after the vote.

“While we celebrate today’s failed Fast Track vote for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, the hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists who have united behind Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders to defeat the TPP will not rest until it’s dead, buried, and covered with six-inches of concrete,” Chamberlain said. “Today, the army of corporate executives and industry lobbyists who wrote the Trans-Pacific Partnership by and for themselves failed to secure support for the Fast Track legislation they know they need to ram their bad trade deal through Congress.”

However, he added, “We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we.”

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been a vocal opponent of Fast Track and gave a stirring speech on the Senate floor prior to the vote on Tuesday, added: “The Senate vote today was an important first victory in what will be a long battle.”

“Today was a good step forward,” he said, “but much more needs to be done.”

Earlier… (more…)