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Thursday, July 19, 2012

THE HIGH COST OF FREE TRADE






Earlier this month, 600 representatives of multinational corporations completed the latest round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has been called The Mother of all Free Trade Agreements. Since 2008, industry representatives have been secretly discussing this lucrative trade agreement that will be binding on all nations that sign. Currently believed to include about a dozen nations, it is designed to be a multilateral agreement that an unlimited number of countries can be bound to by unelected "representatives."

All we know of TPP is through leaked documents that indicate that under the agreement, nations can be sued by individual corporations in a kangaroo court of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Not even Senate Trade Subcommittee Chair Ron Wyden has been allowed access to official negotiation documents.
 If that is not enough to send alarm bells ringing, then Americans have forgotten the meaning of national sovereignty.

Free trade agreements are championed by Democrats and Republicans alike as the key to opening up export markets and producing jobs in manufacturing, but the promise has not lived up to the hype. The reason is that all free trade agreements are designed to benefit the multinational corporations that back them, regardless of the cost to workers, consumers and ultimately, taxpayers. We have seen that trading national sovereignty to regulate trade for the illusory benefits of “free trade” has not created jobs in the US, but in China and nations where workers are treated even more poorly.


Under current rules governing the WTO, if a nation complains of “unfair” laws or trade practices that limit in any way the ability of corporations to conduct trade in that nation, the corporation can ask the government in which it is incorporated to file a complaint. The dispute is decided by an unelected three member panel representing the interests of multinational corporations that profit by subverting the ability of a nation to enact laws to protect consumers, workers and the environment. Under the FPP, corporations would no longer have to file complaints through a government, making nations increasingly irrelevant in a world economy controlled by corporate CEOs in their own self-interest.


As one example of the power of the WTO under current agreements, it recently ruled that a US law protecting consumers by requiring country of origin labeling was an “unfair” restriction on the right of foreign corporations to dump their potentially tainted agricultural goods on an unsuspecting US market.
  Even if these foods are safe, American consumers lose the right to know if they are buying American.

Imagine how much worse it would be if deep-pocketed corporations could demand that the US and Pacific Rim nations that sign on to TPP can force these governments to face judgment by a small panel of hand-picked lawyers representing their interests. We cannot allow this naked power grab to succeed.


Most Americans do not want to be dictated to by multinational corporations that have no allegiance to any nation or its people. The TPP is the next step in corporate control of the US and world economies supported by a majority of US politicians who never met a free trade agreement they didn’t like. The only way that we can fight it is to do what we should have done when Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress gave away our sovereignty to the WTO: demand transparency and that our elected representatives do what we elected them to do. That means putting the interests of the American people over the profits of multinational corporations that pay for their election campaigns.



We cannot allow an unelected international body to rule on the legality of US laws designed to protect consumers, workers and the environment. The WTO exists only to maximize profits to corporations that are shipping our jobs overseas.
  Please contact your members of Congress. Let them know that you want them to fight to drag this monster out of the dark and into the light where it can be killed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

GOOD GOD! ENDING THE WAR BETWEEN ATHEISM AND RELIGION


Today's blog is by Robert Austin. It originally appeared in his blog Robertlovespi on July 15, 2012.








My Favorite Passage from the Bible, and How One Atheist Thinks We Just Might Use It to Avoid Extinction.


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You may already know I am an atheist, and may be unaware that some of us have favorite passages from the Bible which were not selected for purposes of ridicule, nor of criticism of the Bible, nor because of dislike of any religion. This is my favorite passage because it contains excellent advice. I do not need “faith,” as that word is commonly understood, nor a literal belief in the devil, to recognize, and appreciate, good advice.  

What’s not to like about self-control? Or being alert? Those things can keep us all alive. They are important. I used to only cite the first sentence here as my favorite part of the Bible, but have decided to include two complete verses, for context, and elaboration through metaphor, as I interpret this passage. I see no reason not to.

Atheists (only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, by the way) don’t have denominations, nor creeds, and there are as many different types of atheist as there are atheists. Atheism isn’t a religion — the word simply describes existence without religion. Everyone is born an atheist, albeit an unconscious one. Also, those who remain, or return to, atheism, change, during the course of our lives, just as theists do. The only people who do not change are the dead.

In defiance of stereotype, we are not all angry and bitter, although some of us, it must be admitted, are. (I used to be far more bitter than I am now, although I am working hard to change that.) Many of us even believe in non-theistic ideas which make absolutely no sense, such as, for example, 9/11 conspiracy theories. We only have one thing in common: we lack belief in deities. You almost certainly lack belief in at least some deities, ones which others fervently believe in. If you are a theist, well, atheists just take things a bit further than you — that’s all. We don’t all hate theists, and (thankfully) not all theists hate us. 

The ability to respectfully disagree is at least one of the keys to peaceful coexistence. Universal agreement among humans simply will not happen (and would be horribly boring, anyway), until the death of the penultimate person, at least. Even if there is a “last person alive” scenario in the (hopefully very distant) future, this unknown last human being will still have internal disagreements, and will almost certainly disagree with remembered ideas of the dead. In fact, given human nature, and history, such a disagreement might even be the cause of the next-to-last person’s death, at the hands of the last man, or woman, ever to live.

I do not want homo sapiens to end this way.  I’d like us to continue, for many generations, until evolution, and speciation, replace us with successor species, a long time from now — still people, but different, in ways we cannot now know, and, hopefully, people who have long ago learned to live without constantly killing each other.  Isn’t it about time we left this nasty habit called “war” behind, along with murder, rape, and the rest of the litany of human horror?

I’m a big fan of John Lennon, but I’d far rather imagine no war than “imagine no religion,” and I no longer accept the idea, common among atheists, that the second is a prerequisite for the first.

Since we have, as a species, figured out several ways to self-destruct, we cannot afford to wait for evolution to “teach” us how to coexist peacefully.  Evolution is far more efficient at destruction than creation, after all, being a random process.  Far more species have gone extinct than exist today, and the process of evolution simply does not care whether we live or die.  Entropy happens.  It took 3.85 billion years of natural selection to get here, and we will not get a second chance to get it right.

We must figure out effective ways to live with our differences now.  I do not mean that we should somehow erase our differences, for I have no desire to live in a world of clones of myself, and I doubt you want to live in your version of such a world, either.  We do, however, need to come to terms, as a world-wide society, with the inescapable fact that people are different.  We have a right to be different, it’s good that we are, and the fact that we vary so much is certainly is no excuse for killing, nor even hating, anyone.

There is another part of human nature that is on our side in our struggle for survival, and this is the hopeful part of this essay. We are good at figuring things out. We actually enjoy trying our best to solve puzzles. We pay hard-earned money for them constantly! Some of us absolutely obsess over single problems, for days — or years — at a time. Well, this is the best, most important problem we have ever faced, with the highest stakes imaginable:  how to avoid our own extinction. The world isn’t a casino with no exit, though.  It has been mostly a game of chance, so far — and we’ve been lucky to have made it to the present.  However, it doesn’t have to be the way it has been, with us stumbling through history, like drunk monkeys in a minefield — which we pretty much are, right now.

We have minds, and it’s time to use them. We can stop playing roulette, especially the Russian variety, and sit down at the table to play chess, instead. We can figure this out.

If this Big Problem isn’t solved soon, though, there may not be a long wait for extinction.  It could very well be later than you think.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to, in the words of the Bible, “Be self-controlled and alert.” That’s a good place to start.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

INTERDEPENDENCE DAY 2012




Today, we celebrate the sacrifices of the American colonists whose belief in self-determination was so unassailable that they put their lives on the line to prove that democracy was possible. A small minority of radicals reached out to those who sensed the oppression of the economic aristocracy of the day but who lacked the clear vision to see that the problem was inherent in a system where a few are given the power to determine the lives of the rest. They convinced growing numbers that only the overthrow of this system could end the threat of economic slavery. When enough colonists understood that it was their God-given right to rule themselves, the resistance was born out of which came the American Revolution.  

The Revolution was not merely a reaction to taxation without representation. The spark that lit the fuse was a special corporate tax break for the East India Company that benefited only the English aristocrats who controlled the British government and used it to advance their own narrow self-interest. When the good of all was threatened by the fascism of its day in 1775, We the People of colonial America arose to fight the tyranny of crony capitalism, giving birth to a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all white men with property were created equal.

In the decades since, there has been a continuous battle between those who understand that democracy is based on equality of all persons and those who would preserve the advantages of a fortunate few. Americans fought a Civil War where brother murdered brother to pay in blood for the original sin of allowing slavery to persist in the newly united states of America. Women won the right to vote only when the men who loved them stood at their side demanding that their rights be respected by the ruling class. It took unseating some of the lying men in Congress who claimed to support suffrage to make the point that liberty for women was not to be denied because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

We are now engaged in another form of civil war, one in which Americans are divided between those who fear radical change and those who understand that only a peaceful democratic revolution can ensure that the American experiment in democracy does not fail and the last, best hope for Mankind does not perish from the Earth. American must help their fellow citizens realize that to save democracy we must once again come together as one with the common purpose of ensuring liberty and justice for all. To engage now in divisive politics where those with whom we disagree are regarded as the enemy is to forfeit our right to rule ourselves by consensus to guarantee that our children will not be enslaved in a fascist New World Order. If we do not come together in a spirit of universal concern for the rights of all, we will not only have failed those who have willingly given their lives in the belief that they were fighting for freedom. We will have failed in our responsibility to our own children to assure that they will inherit a world better than that into which their parents were born.

The rights of former slaves were assured not by bloody civil war but by a constitutional amendment declaring them citizens with equal rights and a unified movement by a rainbow coalition to assert those rights when they were threatened by racism and hate. Similarly, the voting rights of women were assured only through constitutional amendment and the struggle by men and women who understand that democracy depends on equality and were willing to stand together to ensure those rights and that America would continue toward true democracy where liberty and justice for all were more than just a reassuring myth.

Following a senseless world war between corporate Empires, in the 1920s those sickened by war came together in an international effort to declare that war was illegal. They succeeded only by putting aside differences in strategy and working simultaneously in the League of Nations and through efforts to ratify by treaty the principle that every nation has a right to self-determination without the threat of unprovoked war by powerful alliances of governments operating solely for the benefit of a privileged few. This is the only way to ensure that the American dream of democracy will spread to the world at large. In the end there will be no democracy in America until all Americans stand for liberty and equality for every citizen of Earth.

The task for Americans is to free themselves from corporate rule by unifying behind a constitutional amendment that will make it forever illegal for themoneyed class to buy politicians who put their interests over those of We the People. Such an amendment can be passed if Americans ask of candidates for federal office whether they will support an amendment that will undercut the current source of funding that has entirely corrupted the electoral process in the US. They cannot be paralyzed by the fear of failure. If they believe in the ideal of democracy they will find a way to bridge the vast chasm between those who choose to identify with the imaginary tribes of conservatives and liberals. If they can agree that they will not be willing slaves of corporate Puppetmasters who control the US government, they can free themselves and the world from the grip of fascist tyranny once and forever. When we do, we truly will have won the war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy for the first time in human history.
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