Saturday, February 14, 2015

Editorial: Derail Trans-Pacific Pact

Democratic members of Congress need to stiffen their spines and, when it comes to vote on fast-tracking consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they must say no to President Obama. Principled conservative Republicans also ought to reject the threats to national sovereignty that the trade pact represents.

The TPP has been negotiated behind closed doors for more than six years, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he wants to reintroduce a bill granting Fast Track Authority in February to grease the skids for the trade deal.

Fast Track Trade Authority was created in 1974 by President Richard Nixon to minimize public debate and congressional oversight on trade deals. It has been used 16 times since then, often to enact controversial trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and establishment of the World Trade Organization. Those deals made it easier to move manufacturing jobs out of the United States and they also lowered trade barriers to let foreign manufacturers export their goods into the United States, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch noted.

Fast Track allows the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for “trade” pacts, negotiate their contents and sign the agreements and then submit them to Congress, where both the House and Senate are required to vote the agreement up or down, without amendments, within 90 days.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership dates back to 2002, when Chile, New Zealand and Singapore started talking about trade liberalization. More nations joined the talks, including the US in September 2008, during George W. Bush’s administration. Participant nations hoped to wrap up the pact in 2012, but contentious issues such as agriculture, intellectual property, and services and investments dragged out the negotiations. As of 2014, 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region participated in negotiations, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam. China and South Korea reportedly are considering joining TPP.

Global Trade Watch noted that the TPP would expand the NAFTA model that has spurred massive US trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on wages, unprecedented levels of inequality and new floods of agricultural imports. TPP expands NAFTA’s protections for firms that offshore US jobs. And US negotiators used the 2011 Korea trade deal – under which exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged – as a template for the TPP.

Although it is called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not just about trade. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on to maintain safe food, a clean environment and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to conform with TPP rules.

Radio talker Thom Hartmann prefers to call TPP the “Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement” (SHAFTA).

According to leaked documents, TPP would extend patent protections for drugs made by Big Pharma to prevent rival companies from making generic version of those same drugs, Hartmann noted in a recent commentary. “This a huge deal,” he said.

“If the TPP goes through, real live breathing people (Doctors Without Borders estimates about half a billion of them) will effectively lose affordable access to the medicine they need to survive.”
The TPP also would let corporations sue countries in international courts run by corporations, with judges handpicked from corporate law firms, Hartmann noted. “In other words, if a corporation doesn’t like a regulation, or thinks it’ll diminish their profits, they can sue your town, state, or our federal government over it — and that would gut environmental and financial rules without any input from ‘We the People’ or our elected representatives in Congress.”

Considering what’s at stake, Hartmann noted, you’d think it would be widely covered by the news media. But Media Matters for America recently reported that during the 17 month period between August 2013 and February 2015, only one nightly network news show, PBS’ Newshour, mentioned the trade deal — and they only mentioned it eight times. ABC, CBS, and NBC didn’t mention the TPP once.

Cable news stations did little better when it comes to TPP coverage than their network counterparts. According to Media Matters, Fox “News” and CNN each talked about the trade deal once and MSNBC talked about it 71 times. But those 71 mentions were mostly on one show, The Ed Show, and because MSNBC is only available by cable subscription, most Americans never watched Ed Schultz talk about the TPP.

So you can’t depend on finding the truth about TPP or other issues in which the owners of broadcast media have a financial interest, and daily newspaper editorial pages are largely unwilling or unable to buck the corporate line, either.

You should contact your congressional representative and your senators to urge them to vote against giving President Obama Fast Track Trade Authority. If the bill is worth passing, it ought to be able to survive consideration in the regular order of business, starting with committee hearings and amendments if necessary.

If your representative is a Republican, and particularly if he or she aligns with the Tea Party, you can say that their claims of being a conservative intent on preserving American sovereignty will ring hollow if they vote to give President Obama — the supposed socialist tyrant — a clear route to gain approval of the trade deal that his administration negotiated.

You can call members of the House and Senate either at their local offices or by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Good News at the FCC

Considering the neglect of reporting on the TPP and the overall lack of scrutiny by the corporate-owned media on corporate power and the growing oligarchy that is strangling democracy, it is all the more important that President Obama’s Federal Communications Commission appears to be heeding the wishes of millions of grassroots activists to declare that broadband Internet service providers are a public utility.

Obama may have disappointed progressives with his promotion of a trade deal that hands multinational corporations more power, but he encouraged progressives last Nov. 10 when he embraced the principles of “Net Neutrality.” And progressives were elated when Obama’s FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for telecoms, announced on Feb. 4 that he will base new “Net Neutrality” rules on Title II of the Communications Act, which will regulate broadband Internet service providers as a public utility, as telephones are regulated. Those new rules are expected to ban ISPs from throttling, blocking and prioritizing their customers’ messages based on their pay plan.

“If the FCC ignores the industry pressure and approves Wheeler’s rules, activists who have fought for a decade to keep the Internet open will have plenty to celebrate,” Matt Wood and Candace Clement of Free Press wrote in a Feb. 11 column on “Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal Ever.”

If you are reading this newspaper, God bless you, and we’ll keep it coming, but you probably know that you are among a dwindling population of newsprint readers.

The younger generation — and by that we mean people under 40 — increasingly depend on the Internet for their news and information. (Go ahead and buy a youngster a gift subscription anyway!) It is vital to our democracy that corporations aren’t allowed to serve as a gatekeeper for liberal and progressive websites, podcasts and liberal talkers like Hartmann, Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower and others whose programs are available over the Internet. Obama and the Democratic majority on the FCC are taking a major step forward to preserve free speech on the Internet. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2015

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Selections from the March 1, 2015 issue

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Media covers up transgressions by Williams, Cosby & others, until it doesn’t

By Marc Jampole

Today’s New York Times contains four articles on Brian Williams’ propensity to lie about his personal involvement in ongoing news stories such as the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina: two in the business section, one in the science pages and an opinion column by David Brooks. The Times covers multiple aspects of the story: the potential financial impact on NBC, the plunge in Williams’ “trustworthiness” rating, the easy corruption of memory by lies and Brooks’ opinion that Williams should not be forced to resign (BTW, Brooks proffered no such defense for Dan Rather after Rather’s producer forgot to fact-check a forged document in 2004).

The Times represents a microcosm of what’s happening in media land: a full-scale feeding frenzy that includes some 53.6 million stories about Williams’ mendacity identified by Google News. Compare that total to the mere 116,000 stories about the attempt by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to destroy public sector unions or the just under 6 million stories about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s peevish and counterproductive plans to give a speech about Iran to the U.S. Congress. The Williams lies are attracting more coverage than even Alabama’s almost statewide defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court order to allow people of the same sex to marry in a civil ceremony, which racks up some 43 million stories on Google News. Note dear readers that when you do a Google News search on these topics you may come up with different figures, since the counts are not static.

I note these numbers not to make the point that celebrity news tends to trump real news. Anyone who peruses Internet news portals knows that already. I am merely demonstrating how big the news of Williams’ lies has become—and yet it’s a very old story. Suspicions that the NBC anchor didn’t encounter enemy fire and did not really find a body floating past his 5-star hotel in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been around for a long time, but the news media chose not to cover them.

Just like the media determined for years that Bill Cosby’s predilection for drugging and raping women was not of interest to the American public. At the peak of the feeding frenzy a few months back, when it seemed as if every day a different woman was coming forth (heroically, since it stirred up bad memories in each, plus Cosby has a lot of money and clout to discredit the victims), several journalists admitted that they participated in a cover-up of decades-long rumors and accusations against Cosby. The media, perhaps too enamored by this folk hero, collectively refused to follow the story.

Until they did.

The Jerry Sandusky scandal unfolded in a similar way. The only way to describe the media coverage of an aborted investigation of Sandusky for pederasty more than 10 years before the big story broke is “media blackout.”

We know why the news media finally picks up on these scandals. The story becomes too big to ignore or the discussion on social media sites becomes too intense. The big question is why does it take so long for the media to get around to reporting these scandals?

I think we get an inkling of an answer when we contrast the media’s slowness to cover Williams, Cosby and Sandusky with the way it jumped into the fray when it came to accusations against Hillary Clinton—all false—in the Benghazi debacle or accusations—again, false—that John Kerry did not display heroism under fire during the Viet Nam War.

Let’s face it: the mainstream news media operates from a slightly right of center position and looks rightward. It defends those who reflect this point of view, and surely Williams, Cosby and Sandusky all do so in their own right: Williams delivers a right-of-center version of the news. Cosby’s character of Cliff Huxtable represents the American ideal of upper middle class consumerism, and Cosby himself has tended to blame his fellow African-Americans for their lack of social mobility. And what could be more American than Penn State football—except maybe an image of SUVs packed with unneeded purchases tooling home from a mall.

Some will question my examples, since Clinton and Kerry are both political figures, whereas Williams, Cosby and Sandusky are not, but consider these arguments:

The mass media—controlled by the wealthy and ultra-wealthy—tend to look rightward, and are therefore more likely to publish unsubstantiated rumors about left-looking centrists than about conservatives. For example, for years no one published the rumors that Bush I had a love nest; and the media positively buried the incredible amount of evidence that Bush II shirked his National Guard duty. The politician most protected by the mainstream news media today may be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is tied to a long series of scandals involving self-dealing and cronyism, and yet is routinely touted as having presidential timber. I predict that a waterfall of reporting of Christie scandals—let’s call it the Christie moment—will begin just as soon as he starts to represent a serious challenge to Jeb Bush, the mainstream media’s choice for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

To current practitioners of mainstream journalism, there is absolutely no difference between an elected official, a news anchor or a football coach. They’re all celebrities and are all treated like celebrities. The media pump up the celebrities they like and tear down those they don’t like. And behind the reasons for liking and not liking are always subtle ideological reasons.