TPP/Fast Track Trade Fight Is On

TPP/Fast Track Trade Fight Is On

October 30, 2013

TPP/Fast Track Trade Fight Is On
You’ve probably been hearing warnings about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement that is being negotiated. And you might have heard that the big corporations are going to push to use something called “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) to push it through.It’s time to learn about TPP and fast track, and then call your member of Congress to let them know if you want them to hand the giant multinationals an end-run around democracy and national sovereignty.

The Fast Track Push Is Coming

“Fast track” trade promotion authority, if passed, means Congress yields its constitutional authority and obligation to review and amend trade agreements. A “fast track” treaty has to be voted on quickly, cannot be amended, and Congress has to give it an up-or-down vote.

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman is pushing Congress to pass “fast track,” in hope of pushing through the TPP agreement by the end of the year. Politico lays it out, in “Froman pushing Congress to finalize trade deals,”

President Barack Obama was often criticized in his first term for moving too slowly on trade, but now his chief negotiator is pressing Congress to pick up the pace as the White House pushes to conclude a landmark trade deal in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the year.

[. . .] Froman and his team at USTR are pushing to finish the TPP talks by the end of the year, putting pressure on Congress to move a TPA bill to set the stage for the final phase of talks.

Fast Track To Push TPP

The next “trade” treaty will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a huge treaty with only a small part covering trade. Most of the agreement (according to leaks) sets down a new kind of regulatory structure for the giant corporations that would supersede the ability of any country to rein them in. The treaty is being negotiated in secret with only business interests “at the table.” Representatives of others with a stake in the outcome are not part of the process. Groups representing the interests of consumers, labor, human rights, the environment, democracy or even smaller and innovative companies that might want to compete with the giant multinationals are not part of the negotiations.

Economist Dean Baker explains that TPP is not about “free trade” and growth, writing,

Of course the TPP is not about free trade, in most cases the formal trade barriers between the countries negotiating the pact are relatively low. The main thrust of the negotiations is to impose a regulator structure in a wide range of areas — health, safety, environmental — which will override national and sub-national rules. This has little to do with trade and in some cases, such as the increased patent protection for prescription drugs being pushed as part of the deal (which is noted in the article), will actually involve increased barriers to trade.

In The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists, Baker writes, “The

TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

… The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table.

Continue reading TPP/Fast Track Trade Fight Is On

Senators Oppose Obama Cuts

Warren, Sanders Ready to Face Down Obama over Social Security, Medicare Cuts

As budget negotiations restart, Obama, GOP still pushing austerity

– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Both images: Reuters


Though the ‘deficit scold dream‘ of a so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ may be diminished on Capitol Hill, a mini-version—circulating among some as the ‘Small Deal’ version of a 2014 austerity budget—is still on the table as congressional budget negotiations are set to resume Wednesday.

With austerity proposals again taking the lead in the latest budget battle, however, at least two progressive senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, are ready to fight such a deal.

“Instead of talking about cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we must end the absurdity of corporations not paying a nickel in federal income taxes.” –Sen. Bernie Sanders

“Instead of talking about cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we must end the absurdity of corporations not paying a nickel in federal income taxes,” Senator Sanders, who is on the Senate and House budget conference committee, wrote in an op-ed in the LA Times Monday.

Pushing for progressive tax reform as opposed to further cuts to key social programs and earned benefits, Sanders added, “We cannot impose more austerity on people who are already suffering. When 95% of all new income between 2009 and 2012 went to the top 1%, and while tens of millions of working Americans saw a decline in their income, we cannot cut programs that working families depend on.”

Among the austerity proposals put forth in Obama’s 2014 budget and still considered a bargaining chip in the new round of talks, significant worry among progressives centers around a plan that would reduce the annual cost of living calculations for Social Security payments, known as the ‘Chained CPI’, which would effectively reduce benefits for seniors.

“Chained CPI is just a fancy way to say ‘Cut benefits for seniors, permanently disabled, and orphans,’” warned Sen. Warren in a recent interview. “Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families, and we cannot allow it to be dismantled, inch by inch.”

According to the Boston Globe’s analysis, “Warren’s voice on the issue is key to liberals, and could put pressure on other Democrats to avoid compromising on the issue.”

“Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families, and we cannot allow it to be dismantled, inch by inch.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren

“Her six-minute floor speech on the role of government during the shutdown,” the paper notes, “drew about 1  million views on YouTube, even though she had no official role in leading the Democrats’ case.”

Continue reading Senators Oppose Obama Cuts

Lawsuit to Stop Frack Dumping in Allegheny River

Federal lawsuit: Plant in Warren discharging drilling waste into Allegheny River

October 28, 2013 11:41 PM


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Allegheny River at Warren, PA
Allegheny River at Warren, PA

By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Clean Water Action has filed a federal lawsuit against Waste Treatment Corp., alleging the commercial water treatment facility in Warren is illegally discharging gas drilling wastewater containing high levels of salts, heavy metals and radioactive compounds into the Allegheny River.

The statewide environmental organization, which filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Erie, said the company has violated its discharge permit limits more than 400 times since 2010.

Despite those violations, and the ongoing 200,000-gallon-a-day discharge of drilling wastewater containing 125,000 pounds of salt, the state Department of Environmental Protection has not taken any effective action to stop the pollution, said Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action state director.

“You hear all the time that gas drilling wastewater doesn’t end up in our rivers anymore. However, this is one case in which it clearly is,” Mr. Arnowitt said.

A 2012 DEP study, cited in the lawsuit filing, found levels of chloride, bromide, lithium, strontium, radium-226 and radium-228 downriver from the plant that were more than 100 times higher than those found upriver from the plant.

The Allegheny River is the drinking water source for several public water suppliers, including the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which has 400,000 customers.

The Waste Treatment Corp. treatment plant was one of 16 water treatment plants that were asked by then DEP Secretary Michael Krancer and Gov. Tom Corbett in April 2011 to “voluntarily” stop disposing of drilling wastewater. The DEP had said that all complied, including the eight of those discharging upriver from Pittsburgh’s drinking water intake pipe in Aspinwall.

Continue reading Lawsuit to Stop Frack Dumping in Allegheny River

How Billionaire Businesses Expect the Public to Subsidize Their Low Wages and Opposition to Unions

McDonald’s Tells Worker She Should Sign Up For Food Stamps

By Emily Cohn
Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

McDonald’s workers struggling to get by on poverty wages should apply for food stamps and Medicaid.

That’s the advice one activist McDonald’s worker received when she called the company’s "McResource Line," a service provided to McDonald’s workers who need help with issues like child and health care.

"You can ask about things like food pantries. Are you on SNAP? SNAP is Supplemental Nutritional Assistance [Program] — food stamps … You would most likely be eligible for SNAP benefits," a McResource representative told 27-year-old Nancy Salgado, who works at a Chicago McDonald’s. "Did you try and get on Medicaid? Medicaid is a federal program. It’s health coverage for low income or no income adults — and children."

Salgado is one of many fast-food workers who have walked off the job in recent months to protest the industry’s low wages, part of a nationwide movement aiming to raise pay to $15 an hour. She has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years, and earns $8.25 an hour in her current job as a cashier. Earlier this month, Salgado was detained after pressing McDonald’s President Jeff Stratton for higher wages.

"Do you think this is fair that I have to be making $8.25 when I’ve been working at McDonald’s for 10 years?" Salgado said during the confrontation.

The audio of Salgado’s call to the McResource Line was posted Thursday on YouTube by advocacy group Low Pay Is Not OK. In the call, the McResource representative points the worker towards government assistance when she explains she needs help.

The YouTube version of the call is edited, but Low Pay Is Not OK provided a fuller recording to The Huffington Post. In the longer version of the audio, the McResource representative tells Salgado that because she’s employed by a McDonald’s franchise, which does not pay for the McResource service, she is not eligible for consultation. Still, the representative goes on to offer advice, including recommending that Salgado reach out to resources like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

McDonald’s pointed out to The Huffington Post that the audio is clearly edited. “This video is not an accurate portrayal of the resource line as this is very obviously an edited video," Lisa McComb, McDonald’s’ director of U.S. media relations, told The Huffington Post.

"The McResource line is intended to be a free, confidential service to help employees and their families get answers to a variety of questions or provide resources on a variety of topics including housing, child care, transportation, grief, elder care, education and more," McComb said.

A flier for the McResource line that hung a break room at a McDonald’s restaurant, according to a representative from the advocacy group, Low Pay Is Not OK.

"It made me mad [that I couldn’t get help from the McResource line] because I thought that all the McDonald’s employees qualified for it," Salgado said in a phone call with HuffPost Thursday. McDonald’s did not clarify what percentage of its workers do qualify for its consultation services.

More than half of fast-food workers rely on public assistance, a reality that costs taxpayers more than $7 billion a year, according to an estimate from the National Employment Law Project published last week. McDonald’s low wages cost taxpayers about $1.2 billion annually, the study found.

McDonald’s announced on Monday that it earned $1.5 billion in profits in the third quarter, which is a 5-percent jump over last year.

In an emailed statement, McComb defended McDonald’s wages.

"McDonald’s and our independent franchisees provide jobs in every state to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Those jobs range from entry-level part-time to full-time, from minimum wage to salaried positions, and we offer everyone the same opportunity for advancement,” she wrote.

"We’re working for one of the richest employers," Salgado said. Their response to her inquiry, she added, shows that they admit they don’t pay their workers enough to get by.

Rothfus Tea Party Demand: Cut Social Security & Medicare

Republicans Demand Social Security And Medicare Cuts, Is It Reported?

October 24, 2013

Tea Party Rep. Keith Rothfus
Tea Party Rep. Keith Rothfus

Republicans are demanding cuts in Social Security and Medicare if Democrats want to change the terms of the “sequester.” I’m sure their Tea Party “base” would be shocked if they understood this. So would most Americans. So is the media giving Americans the information they need in order to make informed decisions?

Yesterday The Hill reported, in “House GOP says sequester is leverage in next budget battle,” that House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan is pushing for cuts in Social Security and Medicare:

In a meeting with House conservatives, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), told rank-and-file lawmakers that, as the party’s chief budget negotiator, he would push instead [of killing Obamacare] for long-term reforms to entitlement programs in exchange for changes to sequestration spending cuts that Democrats are expected to demand.

[. . .] Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said that during the GOP meeting, Ryan pointed to sequestration as the party’s leverage with Democrats and said the Republican negotiators would not accept revenue increases in exchange.

“We’re going to try to push for some substantial reforms on entitlement spending and our backstop is sequestration,” Salmon said in describing Ryan’s remarks.

Most American’s don’t read The Hill. And most Americans don’t know that “long-term reforms” to “entitlement spending” specifically means cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Continue reading Rothfus Tea Party Demand: Cut Social Security & Medicare

Keith Rothfus Shutdown: Miners Die

Another coal miner dies on the job

October 13, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Mine Explosion

This is the 4th fatal coal-mining accident since the federal government shutdown began on Oct. 1 forcing MSHA to furlough 1,400 of its 2,355 staffers nationwide and end its regular inspections in favor of “targeted” inspections of high-hazard mines.

Keep in mind that the government shutdown also has stopped MSHA’s work on a long-delayed set of rules aimed at requiring mine operators to install proximity devices, equipment aimed at helping to prevent crushing and pinning deaths in underground mines.

The bad news from Indiana has been confirmed: Another coal miner died on the job, this time at the Five Star Mining Co.’s Prosperity Mine in Pike County, Ind.  It happened at about 2:20 p.m. on Friday. Here’s the preliminary information from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration:

At approximately 2:20 pm (EST), a shuttle car driver on Unit No. 5 was tramming in a crosscut from entry 6 to entry 7. The car driver saw the victim and stopped. They talked a few seconds. The victim proceeded by the car and walked straight into the next crosscut between entries 7 and 8 thinking that the car driver would turn down entry 7 to go around the pillar. The victim told the car driver that he was in the clear. The car driver did not turn down entry No. 7 as the victim thought but continued forward through the crosscut between entries 7 and 8. The shuttle car pinned the victim between the car and the coal rib on the blind side of the shuttle car.

The miner killed was identified in the MSHA preliminary report as 59-year-old Larry Schwartz.