A new leak exposes US attempts to boost mega-corporations by undermining privacy rights and internet freedoms through the top-secret TISA trade deal.
On Wednesday, the Associated Whistleblowing Press published a new leak revealing US attempts to undermine privacy rights, net neutrality and internet freedoms through top-secret negotiations over the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Even a quick glance at the leaked document is already extremely revealing. At the top of its front page, in capital letters, the word CONFIDENTIAL is highlighted — and further down the full extent of the treaty’s secret nature is revealed: “Declassify on five years from entry into force of the TISA agreement.”
A full reading and understanding of the text, however, not only explains these harsh terms, but makes them necessary. Because what government would tell its citizens, explicitly, that they are opening the door for mega-corporations to take control of their public services? What company would clearly inform its customers that their private data will be handed over to foreign entities without any restrictions? In the case of TISA, when the players involved include the US, the EU and more than twenty other countries — together making up almost 70% of the world services market — the answers are painfully obvious.
As Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (a global federation of unions that represents over 200 million workers, and one of the most active voices against TISA) puts it: “the leaked documents confirm our worst fears: that TISA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth.” These interests, of course, are directly opposed to those of most of the world population.
Where did TISA come from?
To understand the nature of the treaty, we have to go back to 2001, when the Doha rounds of the World Trade Organization intended to tear down all barriers and limitations to global commerce. After the failure of these negotiations and other similar treaties — such as ALCA — the global powers began the process of signing bilateral and multilateral treaties to achieve their goals. The objective is always the same: to open up all possible services to international competition on a minimally regulated market.
The global financial crisis of 2008, however, forced a drastic change of plans, and there were even a couple of important voices that timidly spoke out against the deregulatory trend they believed had sparked the crisis. At this point, the big fish behind this trend of market liberalization — the United States, Canada, the European Union and Switzerland — conceded, if only for a while.
But now that the smoke has cleared these same countries and the powerful business lobbies behind them — who actually call themselves ‘Really Good Friends of Services’ and who claim that there is no connection between market deregulation and the global financial crisis — are planning to bypass public concerns through secrecy and completely liberalize up to 70% of all services worldwide, even those related to our personal privacy.
“The end of privacy as we know it”
All of this is why, for now, the little information we have about TISA has come to us through a set of carefully leaked documents. The first time the public caught a glimpse of what was happening between negotiators in Geneva was thanks toWikileaks, who published a chapter on finance last June, revealing that these global powers were well on their way to achieve their plans for further deregulation by the time public concern had diminished.
The new documents — technically referred to as the United States’ Proposal of New Provisions Applicable to All Services and the Annex of Professional Services — shed a whole new light on the scope of the treaty: legal services, private education, veterinary care, taxation services and even bookkeeping are all on the table, as well as technical services such as internet providers, electronic transactions, digital signatures and Big Data flow.
This last point, relating to the movement of information, is particularly serious. Article X.4 states that “no party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in conduct of the service supplier’s business.” According to lawyerJosep Jover, an expert in intellectual property, this spells “the end of privacy as we know it,” as “the consumer becomes fuel for the services provider.”
On this issue, Rosa Pavanelli is once again crystal clear: “Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individual rights … Negotiating provisions that potentially circumvent privacy laws in the interests of corporate profits is a scandal. The TISA negotiators have now lost the confidence of the public and can only regain it with the immediate release of all documents.”
Now that we know that this is probably just wishful thinking, we can only hope that the leaks keep on coming — and the public resistance to this highly secretive trade deal keeps on growing.
Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solsticeuntil the summer solstice in 2015.
The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. The Talmud recognizes the winter solstice as “Tekufat Tevet.” In China, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice by families getting together and eating special festive food.
Until the 16th century, the winter months were a time of famine in northern Europe. Most cattle were slaughtered so that they wouldn’t have to be fed during the winter, making the solstice a time when fresh meat was plentiful. Most celebrations of thewinter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun god and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.
In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, to honor Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, debauchery and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed into Christmas celebrations.
One of the most famous celebrations of the winter solstice in the world today takes place in the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, England. Thousands of druids and pagans gather there to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.
Pagan author T. Thorn Coyle wrote in a 2012 HuffPost article that for many contemporary celebrants, solstices “are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred.”
In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles, or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.
In connecting with the natural world in a way that honors the sacred immanent in all things, we establish a resonance with the seasons. Ritual helps to shift our consciousness to reflect the outer world inside our inner landscape: the sun stands still within us, and time changes. After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun — is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance.
By Bill Van Auken
20 December 2014
President Barack Obama, Thursday, signed into law legislation imposing a new set of sanctions against Venezuela. The action, taken just one day after he took what have been widely described as “historic” steps to “normalize” relations with Cuba, shed considerable light on the real aims being pursued in relation to the Caribbean island nation.
The “human rights” sanctions were imposed on the pretext of punishing individual Venezuelan officials for the handling of violent anti-government protests launched last February with the aim of deposing President Nicolas Maduro. The violence claimed the lives of 40 people, including numerous members of the security forces, as well as supporters of the government and others killed in confrontations at barricades erected by Maduro’s US-backed rightist opponents.
The “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act” abrogates or denies visas for a number of top Venezuelans and orders the freezing of any assets they may have in the US.
In another measure that serves to undermine the Venezuelan government, the US-based Fitch rating agency downgraded Venezuela’s credit rating from “B” to “CCC”, which suggests a likelihood of failure to meet payments.
Maduro, who only the previous day had praised Obama for his “brave and necessary gesture” toward Cuba, on Thursday denounced the new sanctions as “insolent measures taken by the imperial elite of the United States.” At the same time, he noted, “On the one hand, it recognizes the failure of the policies of aggression and blockade against our sister Cuba (…), and, on the other hand, it launches a new escalation of attacks” against Venezuela.
Underlying this seeming contradiction is a definite logic, however. The move toward rapprochement with Cuba and the sanctions against Venezuela are different tactics that are directed toward the same aim: bringing to power pliant regimes prepared to more fully accept US semi-colonial domination.
Washington is banking on the driving down of oil prices destabilizing Venezuela and creating better conditions for orchestrating a right-wing campaign to depose the Maduro government. At the same time, it sees economic and political destabilization of Venezuela, which has provided a lifeline to Cuba in the form of discounted oil shipments as well as tens of billions of dollars in loans, investments and grants, as a means of weakening Cuba and facilitating a restoration of the type of regime that characterized the country before the 1959 revolution.
For all of Obama’s rhetoric about “democracy,” “human rights” and “empowering the Cuban people,” these are the real aims and interests underlying the shift in Washington’s policy toward Havana.
And, while much has been written about Obama’s “bold move,” the reality is that the driving force behind a change in Cuba policy has been ruling corporate and financial sectors, which have seen a market that they believe should be theirs, dominated by China, Spain and other countries.
Fortune magazine’s response to Wednesday’s announcement was a story headlined, “Corporate lobbyists score victory in loosening of Cuban trade embargo.”
The story noted that truck and tractor manufacturer Caterpillar, the personal care product maker Colgate-Palmolive and the insurance giant Chubb “all spent tens of thousands of dollars to lobby government officials this year about the Cuban embargo, according to regulatory documents.”
“PepsiCo wants in. So does Caterpillar and Marriott International,” the New York Times exclaimed. “Within hours of President Obama’s historic move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, companies in the United States were already developing strategies to introduce their products and services to a market that they have not been in for the better part of 50 years—if ever.”
The Financial Times reported, “Cargill, the private US commodities trader, was among the first to welcome the announced easing of US trade restrictions on Cuba.” It noted that the company, “although a long-time supporter of the Republican Party […] has long urged ending the more than 50-year trade embargo.”
While US business interests currently are exporting approximately $500 million worth of goods to Cuba annually, consisting mostly of agricultural products, this flow is hobbled by financial restrictions requiring pre-payment through a third-party bank, typically in Europe. Other competitors, including Brazil, have been able to gain a greater share of the market by offering credit. Among the executive measures that Obama has announced will be an easing of these financial barriers.
Propelled by these big business interests, Obama’s changes in Cuban policy will apparently be rolled out rapidly, with regulatory changes on trade and travel made “as soon as new regulations can be published in the Federal Register ,” according to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the process of restoring diplomatic relations is expected to begin next month with a visit to Havana by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson. The official told the newspaper that the reestablishment of formal ties could be accomplished simply through an exchange of letters, and that Washington would then “change the sign” on its large US Interests Section in Havana, turning it into an embassy.
Asked about how quickly the new measures expanding trade, travel and US banking operations, as well the quadrupling of the amount of money that can be sent to individuals on the island, will be implemented, Jacobson told thePost, “I am quite certain we’re talking about days or weeks. Certainly not months.”
Washington’s strategy is for the expansion of US trade and investment to intersect with the series of counter-reforms implemented over the past five years by the government of President Raul Castro, which have slashed government jobs and social spending while spurring private enterprise and offering more favorable conditions for foreign capital to exploit cheap Cuban labor. The ultimate aim is the fostering of a new bourgeois layer as the social basis of a semi-colonial Cuban regime.
WRITTEN BY Leo Mirani@lmirani
Of the many attractions offered by my hometown, a west coast peninsula famed for its deep natural harbor, perhaps the most striking is that you never have to leave the house. With nothing more technologically advanced than a phone, you can arrange to have delivered to your doorstep, often in less than an hour, takeaway food, your weekly groceries, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs (over-the-counter, prescription, proscribed), books, newspapers, a dozen eggs, half a dozen eggs, a single egg. I once had a single bottle of Coke sent to my home at the same price I would have paid had I gone to shop myself.
Silicon Valley catches on
In San Francisco, another peninsular city on another west coast on the other side of the world, a similar revolution of convenience is underway, spurred by the unstoppable rise of Uber, the on-demand taxi service, which went from offering services in 60 cities around the world at the end of last year to more than 200 today.
The new middlemen
There are only two requirements for an on-demand service economy to work, and neither is an iPhone. First, the market being addressed needs to be big enough to scale—food, laundry, taxi rides. Without that, it’s just a concierge service for the rich rather than a disruptive paradigm shift, as a venture capitalist might say. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a large enough labor class willing to work at wages that customers consider affordable and that the middlemen consider worthwhile for their profit margins.
There is no denying the seductive nature of convenience—or the cold logic of businesses that create new jobs, whatever quality they may be. But the notion that brilliant young programmers are forging a newfangled “instant gratification” economy is a falsehood. Instead, it is a rerun of the oldest sort of business: middlemen insinuating themselves between buyers and sellers.
All that modern technology has done is make it easier, through omnipresent smartphones, to amass a fleet of increasingly desperate jobseekers eager to take whatever work they can get.
By Joseph Kishore
19 December 2014
Wealth inequality in the United States is at its highest on record, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. The analysis confirms previous reports documenting the immense transfer of wealth to the top during Obama administration’s “economic recovery.”
As a measure of wealth inequality, Pew compares the median net worth of upper-income families with the median net worth of middle-income and lower-income families. Upper-income families are defined as those with more than twice the overall median income, adjusted for family size.
In 2013, upper-income median net worth was 6.6 times more than median net worth for middle-income families, up from 6.2 times in 2010 and 3.4 times in 1983, when the Federal Reserve began keeping such records. It is nearly 70 times more than the median net worth for low-income families, also the highest on records going back to 1983.
The data on median household net worth documents a sharp diversion of fortunes over the past 30 years.
In 1983, the median net worth of lower-income families was $11,400 (in 2013 dollars). This had fallen to $9,300 in 2013—down nearly 20 percent. Between 2007 (just before the economic crash) and 2013, median net worth for this layer of the population fell nearly 50 percent, down from $18,000.
In contrast, the net worth of high-income families more than doubled between 1983 and today, rising from $318,100 to $639,400. Since 2007, the wealth of this layer has fallen slightly.
For middle-income families, median wealth is flat over the past 30 years, while it has fallen nearly 40 percent (from $158,400 to $96,500) since 2007.
By the definition used by the Pew report, 21 percent of families are categorized as upper-income. One third of families are categorized as low-income (those with less than two-thirds of the overall median net income), and about half of families are middle-income (between two-thirds and twice the median income).
Thus the Pew report actually underestimates the growth of wealth inequality, since the greatest concentration of wealth is actually accrued to the top one and even the top 0.1 percent of the population.
Earlier this year, a report from economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that “virtually all the increase in the top 10 percent and top 1 percent shares over the last three decades is due to the rise in the top 0.1 percent share, from 7 percent in the late 1970s to 22 percent in 2012.”
A separate report from researchers at the University of Michigan found that wealth inequality had doubled since 2003, with households in the top 5 percent now having a wealth that is 426.5 times the average wealth of households in the bottom 25 percent.
The stock market has been a principal mechanism for the transfer of wealth from the working class to the corporate and financial aristocracy. Particularly since the crisis of 2008, Obama administration and Federal Reserve policy has been focused on bolstering the nominal value of shares, which are overwhelmingly owned by the richest segments of the population.
The rise in share prices has been accompanied (and is to be paid for) by the continual driving down of wages, along with the attack on social programs and other restraints on corporate profitability.
Fueled by trillions of dollars through “quantitative easing” programs and near-zero interest rates, the Dow Jones Industrial average has more than doubled since 2009 and has surged nearly 40 percent since the beginning of 2013.
On Thursday, encouraged by the statement from Chairman Janet Yellen that the Fed would be “patient” in considering interest rate increases, the Dow surged 421 points, its largest point gain in three years.