Ramble: It’s a Big Club and You Ain’t In It

Originally published on December 19, 2012 on occupy.com

In his 2006 HBO special “Life is Worth Losing,” George Carlin presciently noted: “They call it the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

With stunning tact and foresight, Carlin predicted much of what is happening today, including “increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming your Social Security money, they want your (fucking) retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know what? They’ll get it from you, they’ll get it all from you sooner or later, because they own this (fucking) place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

He’s right. So are the Occupy activists who point to the extreme economic polarization in this country. We are now faced with the reality that 1% percent of our nation controls about 43% of our wealth, our taxpayer dollars bailed out corrupt financial institutions that engaged in reckless behavior which resulted in millions of Americans losing their homes, and now, the reality that politicians are seriously considering cutting programs such as Social Security and Medicare as a solution to the budget problem.

There have been many steps that have led us to this current predicament – and our elected officials are hugely to blame for expediting the process. Because politicians have become no more than actors employed by special interests, the “big club” has had the political assistance required to deregulate the economy and pave the way for their pseudo-monopolies and tax-dodging cartels.

A few key repeals include the Glass-Steagall Act, which contained provisions that segregated commercial banks and investment banks; relaxing the Sherman Antitrust Act, which outlawed trusts; the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, which augmented the Sherman Antitrust Act and made room for unions; and the Robinson-Patman Act, which outlawed price discrimination (but exempted cooperative associations).

To point to a significant example, the Glass-Steagall Act is what would have prohibited Citicorp, a commercial bank, from merging with Traveler’s Group, an insurance company, to form Citigroup in 1998, a conglomerate vastly involved in the current mortgage crisis. The Federal Reserve gave Citigroup a temporary waiver that year, while their political stooges were working on the next piece of legislation: the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999, which allowed security firms, investment banks and commercial banks to merge. The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

This was the same President that signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated OTC derivatives and credit default swaps, paving the way for the investment banks, now consolidated with commercial/consumer banks, to tie their sub-prime mortgages into the derivatives without government oversight or regulation and sell them on our casino-capitalist market.

Let us not forget who the Treasury Secretary was under the Clinton administration: Robert Rubin, an employee of Goldman Sachs for 26 years, and who served as a member of the board as well as the co-chairman from 1990 to 1992.

After he left the Clinton administration, Rubin continued to serve on the board of directors of many entities such as the New York Stock Exchange, the Harvard Corporation, the Ford Motor Company, the Council on Foreign Relations and, most importantly, his own brainchild: Citigroup. During his tenure at Citigroup, Rubin made an estimated $126 million in stock options and cash. It was also under his watch that the federal government injected about $45 billion into the company.

Speaking of TARP, who was leading the rallying cry for the bailouts? Then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs. The TARP bailout was a perfect illustration of how our tax dollars don’t go towards improving infrastructure and eradicating poverty, but to propping up corrupt financial institutions, formed through deregulation, to continue their criminal activity.

Deregulation has led to a strip mall in every rural town, a Walgreen’s on every corner, a McDonald’s at every stoplight, a Starbucks on every block, a Wal-Mart on every three-acre plot, and a Home Depot on an area that used to include many family hardware stores.

You name the industry – retail, telecommunication, Internet, food, home repair, goods and services – and increasingly only a few companies are controlling and dominating them. There used to be family-owned stores, flower shops, pharmacies and hardware stores. Now the road is paved only for those on the inside: the big club.

To be part of the “big club” is also to be absolved of any criminal activity. When faced with a conviction or accusation that would warrant a criminal prosecution for the everyday citizen, those in the “big club” get off with a fine amounting to a few weeks or months of profit, paid to a government that in exchange lets the criminals go free.

This is illustrated with the recent finding that HSBC Bank laundered and processed about a billion dollars of drug money of some of the most notorious and dangerous drug cartels in Mexico. They paid a good amount as retribution, $1.9 billion, but not a single individual was criminally indicted or convicted for their activity.

With alarming boldness, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer declared that “despite HSBC’s ‘blatant failure’ to implement anti-money laundering controls and its willful flouting of U.S. sanctions, the consequences of a criminal prosecution would have been dire. Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

The federal investigation even revealed that “senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity.” You know you’re in the big club when the sanctity and ubiquity of your institution will never be sacrificed by thorough, blatant and disgraceful criminal activity.

Goldman Sachs, when faced with trial, paid a petty $550 million fine for misleading investors with sub-prime mortgage products, and thus avoided criminal prosecution. MF Global, an institution that lost about $1.6 billion of consumer money, got off with no criminal prosecution or indictment. JP Morgan, which lost billions of dollars in trading, was let off with no criminal indictment or prosecution. British Petroleum was charged with manslaughter for their negligence regarding the Deepwater Horizon explosion, but no one was sent to jail for the incident. The list goes on: no time for the white-shoe boys – even if you’re found, like HSBC, having violated the Trading with the Enemy Act.

The situation has become so neurotic that a group of CEOs, posing as rational and well-intended people, have formed a political campaign known as Fix the Debt comprised of the wealthiest and most powerful CEOs on the planet. On their list of solutions, you’d expect to find perhaps a mirror or a magnifying glass to more closely examine their tax returns. No such luck: the only thing on their list is our retirement money and our future health care money that we pay into.

So, at a time in history when these institutions have gotten away with so much already, we as citizens must decide if we are going to accept the lie that “entitlement programs,” as they’re referred to, are actually posing the gravest threat to our massive $16 trillion debt. With middle-class incomes collapsing and jobs coming with less and less decent wages and benefits, we must not let our politicians sacrifice the programs that were built to help us.

“Austerity” is code for a banking takeover

Originally posted on October 29, 2012 on occupy.com

What is austerity? A dictionary definition will provide you with the definition of a “strict economy.” It will also provide you with an antonym: leniency. Although the current austerity practices in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere certainly match those definitions, the implications of enforcing these measures against the will of the majority population — and imposing them as a rational solution to the socioeconomic problems we face — are far graver, dangerous and outright scary.

Let’s examine the conditions of the loans aimed at getting countries (like Greece and Spain) out of debt: they want to raise the retirement age, increase the work day and have people work for lower wages, cut funding to education, maintenance and other important public sector areas, cut Social Security, cut pensions, and even privatize the municipal water and electric systems.

But at least the measures are democratic, right? Wrong. These austerity policies have been entered into and implemented despite resounding political opposition. Almost weekly protests all over Europe have been gathering outside centers of governmental power with signs like “No Nos Representan” (They Don’t Represent Us), or scissors with a slash through it, or the European Union flag peeled away to reveal the flag of Nazi Germany, or “No es la Crisis, es el Sistema” (It’s not a crisis, it’s the System). And many just plain and simply read: NO. And you call this government by the people’s consent?

When austerity measures were first introduced in Greece, George Papandreou, the prime minister at the time, attempted to hold a referendum for the acceptance of the bailout deal but was pressured to resign. He was replaced almost immediately by Lucas Papademos, who was governor of the Bank of Greece from 1994 to 2002 and became vice president of the European Central Bank from 2002 to 2010.

Thus in Greece, the “cradle of democracy” was robbed by bankers. And what does Christine Lagarde, head of the cleverly re-named International Mafia Foundation (IMF), have to say about it? “Pay your taxes. I have more sympathy for children in sub-Saharan Africa.”

A similar situation happened in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, who was sentenced last week to four years in prison for tax fraud, proposed a referendum to accept the austerity package that was proposed in his country at the time. Under pressure from Congress and from population, he resigned and was replaced by Mario Monti, former European Commissioner from 1995 to 2004, and the minister of economy and finance for two years. The austerity measures were implemented.

One result of these austerity measures is that they give rise to dangerous, desperate and misguided ideologies just as the situations are becoming more unsustainable in those countries. For example, the Golden Dawn, an ultra-right, ultra-nationalist party that rails against immigrants now has approximately 14 percent of Greeks’ support, twice as much as it did in June when Greece elected 18 of its party members to Parliament.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand how economic instability in Europe affects us in the United States; easier to dismiss them as being across the Atlantic, and left to solve their own problems. But their actions do affect us, they can have severe consequences, and vice versa. The LIBOR scandal, for example, should be the number one story of this year. The key banks that receive the LIBOR rate were manipulating that basic interest rate upon which student loans, car and credit card loans are based all over the world; they knew which way the rates would go, then made bets on them.

Essentially, the crisis “over there” has great parallels to our own in the U.S., where a few major banks knowingly sold sub-prime mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, treating them as AAA products when they were far from it, and insured these securities with institutions such as AIG. When the housing bubble burst, the bankers didn’t want to pay for their lost bets and insurances so they created a scheme to dump it on the taxpayers. To a large extent they’ve succeeded because of our compliance and refusal to study the issue.

Let’s be clear: there is no easy way out of the so-called crisis. The euro has lasted but 10 years. Under our current rigid, unforgiving, global dynasties of bankers and corporations that comprise the economic and political elite, the solution will always be to remove money from the public sector and the working person, to print more increasingly worthless electronic money, to sign away people’s sovereignty and basic human rights, and to centralize power.

But if we, the people, choose to actually look at and study the problem, it isn’t that there aren’t enough funds. It’s that our money is being allocated and distributed in bluntly unethical ways, funneling toward fewer and fewer people while populations bail out the very criminal enterprises that took us down.

And what’s most frightening and discouraging is that these policies — the ethics of austerity — are being entered into undemocratically, that is, without the support of the citizens they are ostensibly being designed to serve. So let’s say it like it is. Let’s call a spade a spade: through “austerity,” international bankers and corporations are imposing economic neo-feudalism on us all, by seizing the governmental levers of power and using that power to craft legislation and social policy that benefit those corporations and bankers, while rendering the everyday citizen powerless.

The question is, once we understand and openly recognize this truth, what are we going to do about it?

CISPA 2.0: Say Goodbye to our Constitutional Rights

Originally published on February, 28 2013 on occupy.com

Reprinted on Truthout

The unrelenting attack on our civil liberties and our privacy continues. Last year we managed to survive an onslaught of legislation that would have destroyed entrepreneurship and free enterprise on the Internet, and our ability to define how we share music, art and information in general.

First there was the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, or SOPA and PIPA, respectively: two pieces of legislation geared at protecting the copyrights of monopolistic media companies and taking drastic measures to enforce them, like shutting down websites that allow the sharing of this copyrighted material for free. The New Zealand police raid of the house of Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload, and the site’s subsequent shutdown by the FBI provided a glimpse of what lies ahead if laws like these are passed.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, took measures a step further by allowing governments to monitor the Internet to enforce copyright law and supposed intellectual property rights. Tens of thousands of Europeans mobilized in response, telling businesses and politicians that companies could not intrude on fundamental human rights, or morph and twist the law to enforce their hand-picked business model.

But despite resounding political opposition in the U.S. and worldwide to Internet censorship and infringements on freedom of speech and privacy, our callous and out-of-touch politicians managed to craft an even scarier piece of legislation: CISPA.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed in April of 2012 in the House by a vote of 248 to 168, but stalled in the Senate because of a disagreement over privacy concerns. At the time, the White House threatened to veto the law because Obama’s advisers raised additional privacy concerns, chief among them Howard Schmidt, who resigned suddenly last May after the bill’s introduction. Schmidt also helped author statements against SOPA and PIPA.

But lo and behold, the two principal authors of the CISPA bill, Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Calif.), re-introduced the same exact bill several weeks ago on February 12 – presumably in response to recent so-called cyber-attacks from China and security breaches by the hacktivist group Anonymous, whose non-violent actions are a direct response to government’s malfeasance and abuse of online authority.

The provisions stipulated in the CISPA legislation are intimidating and far-reaching. Although CISPA does not require private companies to share information with the government, it opens the floodgates for an unprecedented and endless funneling of private communication information to federal military intelligence agencies such as the NSA and the FBI. The only justification for a company to share information with the government is broadly and vaguely defined by a single term: “cybersecurity.”

Additionally, CISPA would override current privacy law such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act; in fact, it grants companies complete immunity from judicial oversight and prosecution for the violation of privacy. Under CISPA, information provided to the government would be exempt from FOIA requests.

Furthermore, CISPA does not require companies to notify the individuals from whom they’re collecting data or information – which makes its section about the ability to form a lawsuit against the government little more than a formality.

“If [this bill is] passed,” claims Namecheap, a domain service opposing CISPA, “the U.S. government gains the power to ask your ISP about any/all of your online activities and personal information. Advocated under the premise of anti-terrorism legislation, this legislation is so broad that it threatens to endanger the privacy of every individual and ordinary and law abiding citizens.

“This act makes your private online activity now public, giving ISPs the right to share your personal information completely without your knowledge, due process, or authorization.”

The same day that CISPA was reintroduced, President Obama signed an executive order that deals specifically with information sharing by the owners and operators of CI, or critical infrastructure, such as the banking, communication, transportation and utility industries.

It would not require the passing along of our private information to the government. Additionally, the executive order focuses on the government’s sharing of information that it can already legally collect with the CI companies – instead of its rights to gather new information from private ISPs, as stipulated in CISPA.

Part of the reason SOPA and PIPA were booted from Congress was the overwhelming citizen mobilization against it, but also because companies like Google, Firefox, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia and other giant Internet businesses realized the legislation would devastate their enterprises.

Unfortunately, this time around, we won’t have these companies fighting on our side because CISPA grants them immunity from lawsuits and has provided them with enough assurance that it will not affect their business in any significant way.

The drafting and introduction of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and CISPA are all examples of our elected leaders’ growing disregard for citizens’ fundamental privacy rights, Constitutional rights and free speech rights as manifested in the digital world. Essentially, this legislation provides the formality our government needs to legitimize and legalize what it is either currently doing or what it wants to do. Just look at the NSA, which is already performing extensive and unprecedented data-mining on U.S. citizens in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment – but using only vague legislation to justify it.

Passing CISPA will be a significant step in America’s already far-progressed trudge towards a police state — and will, more specifically, encourage already-compliant businesses to provide our personal information to our government as if those two enshrined words did not exist: Constitutional rights.

How the Monsanto Protection Act Became Law

Originally printed on occupy.com on March 29, 2013

Reprinted on Truthout

Reprinted on Nation of Change

Once again, the largest corporations and their governmental cohorts succeeded in sealing their dominance over our lives without any oversight, transparency or leniency. This time it concerns food safety, as Monsanto and lobbyists have shoved through dangerous legislation that effectively makes any oversight of GMO food void.

The Monsanto Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law this week, will strip judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, consumers and the environment. The result is that GMO crops will be able to evade any serious scientific or regulatory review.

The insistence of our government, and of corporations, is stunning. Like the civil liberties-violating CISPA law that is now being re-introduced in Congress after a year of languishing, Monsanto and its lobbyists are re-introducing the same provisions in the 2013 Farm Bill as they did in 2012. Lobbyists and politicians are relying on Americans’ amnesia to push through their secretive, sweeping agendas.

Modest amendments to the Farm Bill proposal in 2012 were shot down. The Sanders Amendment, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, was struck down by a 73-26 vote, 28 of which were Democratic. Sanders sponsored earlier legislation popularly known as the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, but Vermont lawmakers allowed the bill to stall after a representative threatened to sue the state if it passed, based on claims that food oversight should not be delegated to the states but handled by the FDA.

Monsanto is no stranger to our political and judicial system – especially when it comes to influencing it. Currently eight lawmakers own stock in Monsanto: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) and Reps. Dave Camp (R-Michigan), Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts), Alan Lowenthal (D-California), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Fred Upton (R-Michigan).

Additionally, according to Open Secrets, Monsanto spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in 2012 and contributed about $500,000 to federal candidates in the last election.

As a couple of other examples of the breadth of Monsanto’s political influence, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a purportedly philanthropic organization fund established by Bill Gates, purchased 500,000 shares in Monsanto back in 2010, valued at more than $23 million.

And then there’s the election last fall in California where Proposition 37, which would have mandated the labeling of genetically modified organisms in the state, was debated at great cost – and violations of the truth – before its eventual defeat. Monsanto poured about $8,112,000 into advertising and political campaigns against the legislation. The same organization claimed that the No to 37 campaign, largely funded by Monsanto, fabricated a quote that bore the FDA official logo. The quote read:

“The [FDA] says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be ‘inherently misleading.’”

The campaign supporting Proposition 37 sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding action against the No to 37 campaign for its flagrant violation of law, specifically section 506 of the U.S. Criminal Code. But we should expect no comment or action from the department.

Regarding its influence on the judicial system, Monsanto recently wrapped up a Supreme Court case in which it pressed charges against an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, whom it accused of breaking a patent agreement on second-generation Roundup Ready soybean seeds.

Bowman bought the seeds from a grain elevator after a farmer, who had purchased Monsanto’s seeds legally, sold them to the grain elevator. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, whose line of justices includes a former lawyer for Monsanto: Clarence Thomas. Thomas did not recuse himself from the case. The verdict has yet to be decided, but food advocacy groups are apprehensive about the ruling.

Monsanto devotes about $10 million a year and 75 staffers to investigating farmers for possible patent violations. 93 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton and 86 percent of corn in the U.S. are grown with Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Just as central and major commercial banks are attempting to control the economy, just as corporations and other large entities are attempting to control our politics and elected officials, just as large oil companies are attempting to control the debate on climate change and the environment in general, biotech and agriculture giants are attempting to control food production through patented, genetic manipulation, using dirty political clout to support it and a lack of judicial or legislative oversight to continue it.

From Italy to Iceland: The Promise of Digital, Direct Democracy

Originally printed on www.occupy.com on May 8, 2013

Reprinted on Truthout

Reprinted on Mint Press News

The use of the Internet as a means of spreading political ideas and organizing social movements has sent shock waves throughout the political establishment over the last few years. And as political and economic elites scramble to seize total control over what is currently a free, transparent and equal online environment, citizen activists and other individuals are paving the way for a new type of political mobilization never yet seen. Their tactics include direct democracy and a complete disregard for current political parties. The movement that has perhaps best embodied this trend is “Il movimento cinque stelle,” or the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Beppe Grillo, the leader and main spokesman of M5S, has built the movement’s status and influence chiefly through one medium: the Internet. What began as a blog for his political ranting evolved into a formidable political movement. In the middle of 2005, Grillo launched a “Meetup” station on his blog. He encouraged those who were intrigued by his ideas to begin to meet up in person and to begin to organize face-to-face.

Around 2009, the movement began to take root. Grillo, with the help of his friend and “digital guru” Robert Casaleggio, toured 73 locations around Italy, building an online presence and galvanizing a young, distraught and indignant Italian population whose youth are stuck with a 35 percent unemployment rate.

The five stars, representing the core principles of Grillo’s movement – public water, sustainable transport, development, connectivity, and environmentalism, not to mention a staunch anti-corruption and anti-austerity stance – resonated with the aggravated Italian population; the party secured 25.5% of the vote in Italy’s general election held in February, which equated to 163 of the Italian Parliament’s 630 total seats, denying the frontrunner Pier Luigi Bersani the clear majority he needed to form a working government.

On top of that, the Five Star Movement used perhaps the most important tactic yet: it will not, Grillo vowed, form a coalition government with either of Italy’s two major political parties, which Grillo has deemed are corrupt beyond repair. In an early move to show the movement’s commitment to transparency, public transport, the environment and access to water, one of the M5S’s delegates posted his lunch bill on the Internet, while others took public transport to Parliament — only to be dismayed that the water in Parliament must be drunk with a plastic cup.

On another important front, the Pirate Party — devoted to reforming copyright and patent law, protecting civil liberties and promoting direct democracy and transparency in government — has stormed into parliament in several different countries in Europe in recent years.

The party was officially founded in Sweden on January 1, 2006, with the launch of a website by Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate Party’s founder. In the Swedish elections that took place nine months later, the party garnered .63% of the vote. The Swedish Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) received about .7 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 2010, making it the largest Swedish political party outside of Parliament (it did not win any seats). Most importantly, in 2009, the Pirate Party got 7% of the Swedish votes for the 2009 European Parliament elections, which earned the party two seats in the European Parliament after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

In Germany, the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) captured 8.9 percent of the vote in Berlin in 2011, winning 15 out of 141 seats in the city parliament. Last year, the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote to win four seats in Saarland; 8.2%, or six seats, in Schleswig-Holstein, and 7.8%, or 20 seats, in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Further north, on April 27 of this year, the Pirate Party took three of 63 seats in the Icelandic Parliament, winning 5.1% of the vote. Parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, who has worked with Wikileaks and who rose to prominence after Iceland kicked out its government, is one of the three Pirate members in the Parliament and calls the party the “political arm of the information revolution,” one dedicated to freedom of expression and political transparency.

Iceland is becoming a beacon of how to implement and experiment with digital, direct democracy. The country is attempting to draft the first crowdsourced national constitution, a process by which Icelanders submit ideas and contribute through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter directly to an elected committee drafting the document.

Political parties in Iceland are coordinating with a non-profit organization known as the Citizens Foundation that offers an online platform on which users can debate and suggest policies. Participants can “like” policy ideas, from micro-issues to major budget decisions which affect their community. Those policies that are “liked” enough times move their way up the priority list, spurring faster action.

For these reasons, our political leaders and the corporate entities that control them are scrambling so diligently to stifle and control the Internet. Whether it is SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISPA, the ITU, the secret chapters on intellectual property rights in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the legislation that aims to fine technology companies for failing to comply with wiretap orders: those in power are attempting to shut down and monitor any opportunity for citizens to express political opinions in the digital world and to mobilize around those opinions – using outdated copyright law as a justification.

“No longer bound by conventional political rules of engagement,” writes Gerald Celente in the Spring 2013 issue of The Trends Journal, “freed from the necessity to raise mega-millions to wage campaigns and no longer solely reliant on media approval for coverage, the Internet candidate will be a new-millennium voice speaking a new-millennium language that appeals to the politically disenchanted and disgusted.”

Why Transcanada’s $15 billion lawsuit against the U.S. is a bad omen for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Originally printed on January 11, 2016 on www.occupy.com

Reprinted on Popular Resistance

The latest expression of our corporate-controlled economic structure revealed itself last week when TransCanada, the Canadian-based energy giant that hoped to build the Keystone XL pipeline, filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the United States government for rejecting the pipeline’s construction, under guidelines set forth in NAFTA. The lawsuit presents the most recent evidence of the prioritization of corporate profits and interests over the rights of citizens in a sovereign, domestic nation. Yet instances like this will only increase with the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a statement accompanying the news, TransCanada announced that it had “undertaken a careful evaluation of the Administration’s action and believe there has been a clear violation of NAFTA and the U.S. Constitution in these circumstances.” The company also called the government’s decision to reject the pipeline “arbitrary and unjustified.”

Arbitrary and unjustified indeed. The pipeline, about 1,200 miles long, would have carried over 830,000 daily barrels of crude oil, or tar sands, from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would have been built over precious aquifers throughout the midwestern U.S., namely the Ogallala Aquifer. It would also violate tribal sovereignty and potentially pose problems with eminent domain – where landowners would be forced to give up their land to a foreign corporation under the argument that it was somehow serving the “public interest.”

How dare we, as a free nation, come to the conclusion that this pipeline is bad for our country?

But here’s the real kicker: not only can TransCanada sue the U.S. government over the costs of the project, but the company is also allowed to seek an array of damages taking the form of “expected future profits.” What we have here is a foreign corporation suing the American taxpayers because their government made a democratic, sovereign, autonomous decision to reject a commercial project, on both ecological and economic grounds. The process is occurring in an extrajudicial forum completely outside the realm of U.S. domestic law, cites the non-profit Public Citizen, “in which three private attorneys are authorized to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation.”

“The amount is based on the ‘expected future profits’ the tribunal surmises that the corporation would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking,” the group writes. “There is no outside appeal. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal ‘judges’ and as the lawyers launching cases against the government on behalf of the corporations.” The private attorneys aren’t bound by conflict of interest or impartiality rules, and “if a government doesn’t pay, [the plaintiff] has the right to seize government assets in order to extract our tax dollars.”

In fact, the American taxpayers have already shelled out over $440 million as a result of these extreme investor-state systems included in many U.S. trade deals. Most of the lawsuits were filed under the domestic state tribunal guidelines outlined in NAFTA, which we can thank former President Bill Clinton for signing into law.

Prelude to the TPP?

The TransCanada lawsuit, in short, is a forerunner of what we can to happen should the TPP come into effect. When speaking in front of Nike, in Beaverton, Ore., Obama mocked individuals that claimed that the TPP and similar trade agreements were circumventing national governmental decisions.

“Critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation, food safety, worker safety, even financial regulation. This is…(chuckles)…they’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws,” said the president. He went on, “[The TPP] reflects our values in ways that frankly, some previous trade agreements did not. It’s the highest standard, most progressive trade deal in history. It’s got strong enforceable provisions on…child labor [and] on the environment…NAFTA was passed 20 years ago. That was a different agreement.”

One can argue about the meaning of the word “progressive,” but in the traditional American rhetoric, it’s probably not supposed to be used to describe a policy granting supranational judicial powers to corporate entities. To use it with a superlative is particularly unsettling. And “our values?” Please speak for yourself, Mr. President.

Obama’s statements contradict Public Citizen’s findings. Lori Wallach, head of the group’s Global Trade Watch, has indicated that “the actual language that TransCanada is using in this case…is the same language that, word-for-word, is replicated in TPP.” But more important to discuss are the implications of the corporate tribunal system that allows foreign multinational corporations to sue sovereign nations for making decisions that could, potentially, impact their profits. Businesses that didn’t get what they wanted with the passage of NAFTA have contributed to the secret crafting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its Atlantic twin, the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, or TAFTA.

It is the right of any free nation to dictate its own laws and guidelines – especially if those laws and guidelines help strengthen food and water safety, financial regulation, and environmental regulation. Supranational lawsuits like TransCanada’s directly contradict and infringe upon that right. As corporate leaders secretly tighten their grip on the economy, governments, and particularly the citizens of those governments, fear they will slowly become subservient to those corporate entities. More frighteningly, with the airtight, secretive trade agreements being crafted behind closed doors, there will be no legal or political recourse to reverse the decisions.

Government’s Newest Trade Deal is PPP: Poison the Population for Profit

Originally published on February 4, 2016 on www.occupy.com

By now most of us know about the story that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who, in April of 2014, redirected the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River in an effort to save money. As a result, the corrosion from the water wore out the lead solder on the water pipes, leading thousands of children and families to be permanently poisoned.

What began in Flint, however, didn’t stay in Flint. Recently, news came out about water poisoning in Sebring, Ohio. And just last week, The Detroit News revealed that, in fact, many Michigan cities have a similar if not worse water contamination crisis on their hands. Now, incidences of poisoned water are snowballing into a colossal emblem of state governments’ prioritization of corporate interests and profit over the basic health needs of the population.

But while the issue has only recently taken the spotlight, in truth it’s a very huge snowball that is already far advanced.

What is the common thread tying together these neglectful and unforgivable actions on the part of our political leaders? Corporate usurpation of our government and, with it, a rewiring of the legislative, executive and judicial neurons of the body politic in an effort to serve none other than the 1%.

The pathological elites, those who seem enshrined in political immunity for their actions, couldn’t care less about the state of the water when it isn’t their children who are drinking it. They receive the facts well before anyone else and, true to form, they take care of themselves. Newly discovered e-mails show that Michigan officials trucked in clean water to the state building in Flint as far back as January of 2015.

Sadly, the individuals who have been working most diligently to reprogram our societal nervous system have already deflected most resistance to that reprograming. They have accomplished this by shifting the accountability for their actions on to others – otherwise known as “emergency managers” – so that despite the severity of the crime it appears that no one in the room is to blame. Not so, by a long shot.

Removal of accountability

The poisoning of our precious resources, like what happened in Flint, offers a stark illustration of not only political malfeasance – but the associated criminal immunity that comes with it.

Laws that allow for the appointment of emergency managers are a way of circumventing democracy and accountability for the benefit, and profit, of the 1%. Appointed individuals are not answerable to the public, and instead represent a concentration of power in the hands of unelected individuals instead of elected city councilors and mayors. Gov. Rick Snyder is an elected official. Darnell Earley – who moved on from water to education, and abruptly stepped down Tuesday as the emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools – is not.

According to The New York Times, “Under the administration of Mr. Snyder, who has held office since 2011, seven cities or school districts have been declared financial emergencies and placed under appointed management, state officials said. During the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jennifer M. Grenholm, a Democrat, five cities or school districts were given emergency managers.”

The irony, of course, is that if funding had not been removed from city budgets in the first place, the appointment of emergency managers would not be necessary. Some heads have already rolled: Susan Hedman, an administrator that oversaw the EPA’s regulations in Midwestern states, has resigned. Additionally, the director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, Snyder’s chief of staff and chief spokeswoman, and the Flint director of Public Works have all been forced out. But these are merely pawns shielding the true criminal orchestrators behind the scenes.

Gov. Snyder, save some massive public uprising, will not pay a significant price for the crimes in Flint because he is enshrined in the political elite and, therefore, is granted immunity. Case in point: the Board of State Canvassers recently rejected a petition to recall Governor Snyder.

He is not alone. In the same vein, President Obama will not face repercussions for backtracking on his promise to pull out of Afghanistan. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld will not be charged as war criminals for stoking lies that brought about the invasion of Iraq. BP will not face criminal charges for spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The six banks convicted on felony charges of rigging the LIBOR rate will never face criminal charges. The list goes on and on.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald beautifully laid out the two-tiered justice system in his book “Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. The Flint water crisis is just the latest extension of this already well-developed, dichotomous brand of justice.

Water is a human right and a basic necessity. The flagrant neglect to protect Flint residents’ health by elected officials, and those they appointed, illustrates the immoral if not unthinkable degree of crimes carried out in the name of profit and a corporate-controlled politics. If the people don’t demand justice from those who injured us, no one in a courtroom will.