‘Dark Cloud’ of ALEC Converges at Annual Corporate-Political Lovefest

Protesters carried signs and chanted “ALEC, go home” during an afternoon demonstration outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel on Wednesday. (Photo: Chris Stone/Times of San Diego)

This week, San Diego hosts ‘a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists’

By Deirdre Fulton

Fighting to protect dark money. Attacking federal efforts to rein in carbon pollution. Undermining local democracy.

These are just some of the “hot topics” on the agenda this week as conservative lawmakers, corporate lobbyists, and top GOP candidates from around the country gather in San Diego for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s annual meeting.

“A dark cloud is headed our way in the form of a shadowy lobbying organization that buys loyalty from state legislatures with untraceable corporate dollars and threatens the very fabric of our democracy,” San Diego County Democratic Party chair Francine Busby wrote in advance of the conference.

ALEC, Busby explained, “is a ‘bill mill’ funded by corporations and billionaires. It creates ‘model legislation’ by and for industries, which right-wing legislators then take back to their statehouses and enact into law.”

Miles Rapoport, president of the grassroots advocacy organization Common Cause, described the meeting as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists,” at which “[t]hey gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy.” (more…)

Your Move, US Congress: EU and UN Back Iran Nuclear Accord

Iran resolution at the UN headquarters in New York on July 20, 2015.

International bodies back diplomatic agreement, agree to lift punishing economic sanctions

By Lauren McCauley

Sending a strong signal to the U.S. Congress to follow suit, both the European Union and United Nations Security Council on Monday endorsed the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

As part of the accord, both bodies agreed to end crippling economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for new limits to its domestic nuclear program.

Representatives from each of the 15 countries within the Security Council unanimously voted to back the landmark deal reached last week between Iran and the so-called P5+1 Nations, which include the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union.

Following the Security Council vote, U.S. President Barack Obama said he hoped the move would “send a clear message that the overwhelming number of countries” recognize that diplomacy is “by far our strongest approach to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”

According to the text, in exchange for Iran’s compliance, seven UN resolutions passed since 2006 to sanction Iran will be gradually terminated. However, BBC reports, “The resolution also allows for the continuation of the UN arms embargo on Iran for up to five years and the ban on sales of ballistic missile technology for up to eight.”

The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is charged with the “verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments.”

Meeting in Brussels, EU Foreign Ministers also formally committed to lift economic sanctions against Iran. The lawmakers, though, also elected to maintain the EU’s ban on the supply of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights, in accordance with the agreement.

The votes mark another step forward within a major worldwide agreement, reached after years of arduous negotiations.

The onus now falls on the U.S. Congress to also approve the accord, which was formally given to both Houses on Sunday, beginning a 60-day deliberation period. Conservative U.S. lawmakers and other warhawks, echoing the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have tried to thwart the international agreement.

“There is broad international consensus around this issue,” Obama continued in his address. Then speaking beyond the agreement’s critics, he added: “My working assumption is that Congress will pay attention to that broad basic consensus.”

More than 150,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on Congress to back the deal and take us off “the path to confrontation and war with Iran.”

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Disrupting Speeches, Protesters Challenge Sanders and O’Malley: Say ‘Black Lives Matter!’

Tia Oso of the National Coordinator for Black Immigration Network joins moderator Jose Antonio Vargas and Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley onstage. ||| twitter

Raising the profile of Black women killed by police violence, demonstration forces candidates to address racial injustice

By Lauren McCauley

Demanding that pervasive racial injustice and police brutality against people of color be addressed on the campaign trail, protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted speeches by Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley Saturday evening.

Cutting off O’Malley’s prepared remarks during the annual Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix, Arizona, activist Patrisse Cullors described the urgency driving the protest. “Let me be clear—every single day people are dying, not able to take another breath,” she said. “We are in a state of emergency. If you do not feel that emergency, then you are not human. I want to hear concrete action plans.”

Protesters said they were galvanized by this week’s one year anniversary of the police killing of Eric Garner and the suspicious and tragic death of Sandra Bland. During the event, they chanted and challenged the candidates to “Say her name,” referring to Bland and other women killed while in police custody, and to “Say that black lives matter.”

The action made it clear that the minority vote should not be taken for granted by candidates on the left.

The Guardian reports:

O’Malley was eventually forced offstage, after the protest and his attempts to respond delayed the appearance of Sanders.

O’Malley, who stood patiently throughout the interruption, which was led by Tia Oso, national coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Phoenix, attempted to answer questions from activists. He eventually left the stage clapping and saying rhythmically: “Black lives matter, black lives matter, black lives matter.”

Sanders began a prepared introduction – as had been delivered by O’Malley – talking about policies, including media bias and the need for a raised minimum wage. Chants of “black lives matter” and either “save our men” or “say her name” then broke out again.

“Black lives of course matter,” Sanders said. “I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and dignity, but if you don’t want me to be here that’s OK. I don’t want to out-scream people.”

Speaking with Buzzfeed after the event, Angela Peoples, co-director of LGBTQ rights group Get Equal, said the activists wanted to hear specific steps from the candidates on how they’re going to address the issue of police violence as well as the overarching issue of institutional racism. The minority community wants to hear the demands and principles of “black lives matter” reflected in their campaign, she said.

Peoples added that Sanders talking about income inequality isn’t enough.

“We can not talk about income inequality as if that’s going to be the silver bullet that protects black and brown lives when they’re in police custody or when they’re being profiled and killed by the police,” she said.

In an interview with journalist David Dayen, protest organizer Ashley Yeats echoed those same ideas. When asked how a candidate can bridge the divide between racial and economic justice when speaking to the progressive community, she said:

When you talk about economic justice, who’s the poorest of the poor? Talk about gentrification, talk about mass displacement. Talk about the things that actually lead to poverty. Who is affected by that? Talk about whose neighborhoods are flooded with really harmful drugs. Talk about who’s denied access to resources. Talk about who [isn’t]? that is all in black and brown neighborhoods. So if you’re doing economic justice but you’re not talking to black and brown people, you’re not actually doing economic justice. So that’s the challenge I pose and that’s how you bridge the gap, get people to realize that if you’re talking about economic issues, black people are part of every category.

Yeats also said she wants to hear “actual steps that show you’re thinking about something,” using “simple and clear language.”

Saturday’s protest specifically aimed to raise the profile of Black women victims and challenge presidential hopefuls to respond to these issues in “real time.” The candidates, Yeats continued, “claim that they represent all of America, but then you get up there and you see when they’re pressured on issues that are specifically black they fumble.”

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How Hawks Are Using Iraq War Talking Points to Stoke Fear Over Iran Deal

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night that the Iran deal will “put us to closer to use—actual use—of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.” (Image: Fox News, Feb 2014)

By Sarah Lazare

In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s announcement of a deal between world powers and Iran, drivers of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are expressing certainty that Iran’s alleged “nuclear weapons program” and “malign activities” pose a grave threat—issuing warnings that analysts say sound eerily similar to their now-discredited claims about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” more than a decade ago.

But despite the fact that George W. Bush and top aides are known to have told nearly 1,000 lies about WMDs, many of the people who created and repeated this narrative still hold offices and prominent platforms.

On Tuesday, these individuals were busy using their positions to raise the alarm about the accord, which has been championed by civil society groups around the world, including from within Iran, as an important step towards relief from devastating sanctions and away from military escalation and potentially war.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night: “What Obama has done, has in effect sanctioned, the acquisition by Iran of nuclear capability. And it can be a few years down the road. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s a matter of months until we’re going to see a situation where other people feel they have to defend themselves by acquiring their own capability. And that will, in fact, I think put us to closer to use—actual use—of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.”

This statement echoed apocalyptic predictions Cheney made in the lead up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, like these remarks to the August 2002 Veterans for Foreign Wars convention: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

Cheney is not alone in spinning this narrative. GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg on Tuesday that the Iran deal is “incredibly dangerous for our national security, and it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”

This is the same man who, on March 2, 2003, told Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein is “lying, Tim, when he says he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction. For 12 years now, we’ve been playing this game, trying to get this man to part with his weapons of mass destruction.”

Graham’s close colleague Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement Tuesday which denounced the deal as “delusional and dangerous,” declaring it “will strengthen Iran’s ability to acquire conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, while retaining an industrial scale nuclear program, without any basic change to its malign activities in the Middle East.”

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist organization,” McCain told Face the Nation on February 16, 2003. “They have common cause in trying to destroy the United States of America.”

While the people behind the 2003 Iraq War are not running the White House today, their spin is influencing media discourse and the political positions of the mainstream Republican Party and some Democrats. In fact, claims about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” are central to arguments against the deal, including from lobbyists and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is despite the fact that there is no public evidence supporting their claims that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

“There is a parallel between claims about the certainty that Saddam Hussein had WMDs—claims that have long been debunked by United Nations inspections—and claims about Iran, where you have a scenario in which you have a debate on how dangerous Iran’s nuclear weapons program is, as if Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. “In fact all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies from 2007 to 2012 have agreed that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons programs and has not even made a decision whether or not it wants nuclear weapons.”

“Every time anyone gets on Fox News or NBC or NPR and references Iran’s nuclear weapons program, they are pretty much never challenged,” Bennis continued. “It goes into the normal discourse that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it is dangerous, and we have to stop it. It becomes normalized, when it is such a clear fallacy.”

These lies are important, because Congress could still sink the deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. Thanks to recently-passed legislation, the U.S. House and Senate will have 60 days to review the final agreement. If lawmakers were to vote against the agreement, and amass the votes to override a presidential veto, Obama’s hands would be tied on sanctions relief and the deal would fail.

“These people want a war with Iran, but they cannot say so because of the fiasco with Iraq,” Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California and editor of the online Iran News & Middle East Reports, told Common Dreams. “So what happens is they oppose negotiations, which means more sanctions and eventually war. This is just as it happened in Iraq: massive sanctions that harmed ordinary people, and then war.

“The same talking points used against Iraq are being more-or-less used against Iran,” added Sahimi. “In Iran’s case they have already turned out to be false.”

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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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