Dishonest Trade

In light of a recent Wikileak’s release of the pending TISA trade agreement https://wikileaks.org/tisa/ it appears that an earlier BlueLouisa posting about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP didn’t go nearly far enough in pointing out just how bad this and other international trade deals are likely to be.

Or  adequately capture the extent to which big business and their supporters in politics and the media have been systematically whitewashing obvious truths about what  these trade agreements really are. Allowing these  corporations writing these agreements to evade any responsibility for the social, economic and ecological catastrophes those trade policies  will unleash.

Take a look at what twenty years (1994-2014) of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA along with the actions of the World Trade Organization, or WTO have accomplished in Virginia. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during this time Virginia lost 141,453 jobs, approximately 38 percent of its manufacturing jobs.

 Keep in mind that these are these are aggregated numbers, and more specific data shows that 71,611 workers were certified as having lost their job due to imports or off-shoring under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.  And since China joined in the trading fund a member of the WTO in 2001 some 51,700 jobs have been lost in Virginia, with another 2.7 million jobs lost throughout the country.

One of the reasons that this staggering loss of jobs and their economic impact has gone relatively unnoticed is because of decade’s long use of carefully crafted language which effectively “frames” any discussion about free trade in a certain direction. Language carefully crafted by the corporate community to cognitively short-circuit any thinking about the subject, one that has been reinforced over the past three decades by a increasingly compliant pro-business news media.

People hear the words “free trade” and their brain stops working as decades worth of unquestioned and unchallenged assumptions about the miracles of the free market kick in — “Of course, trade is good,” assumptions which serve to effectively end any discussion before it even gets started.

By calling the TPP a trade agreement its supporters can preemptively claim that anyone opposed to it is “anti-free trade.” When in fact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership isn’t about trade, its always been about creating special privileges for corporations and their investors.

By calling it a trade agreement, it diverts attention away from the fact that the TPP is essentially a protection racket designed to protect the interests of corporations and investors; by extending patents, copyrights and other monopolies, allowing them to continue to collect “rents,” on these intellectual properties well past any reasonable expiration date.

A sleight of hand which allows them to continue to “rig of the world’s economy for their benefit,” with trade agreements that are not in any sense of the word free trade.

While giving corporation’s extra-legal channels to sue governments, labor, environmental, consumer and other “stakeholders” if they believe that their ability to profit from these extractive practices is being threatened. Actions that will greatly help them in forcing wages down, breaking unions, and polluting in nations around the world with impunity.

Its supporters claim that it has unprecedented protections for the rights of working people, the environment, even wildlife. In theory, such rules are great; but enforcement of those rules is what counts.

Without enforcement, they might as well not exist – and their going out of their way to make sure that these same stakeholders have no similar legal recourse only shows that their real intention is to increase the power of corporations over governments – and us.

Jon Taylor

Whitewashing the Future

When it comes to actively engaging in historical revisionism, and ignoring the lessons of the past, presumptive presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s recent statements about his brother’s and his administrations actions in Iraq are one of the first things come to mind.

Where “now that we know what we know, we’d do the same thing,” is passed off as prevailing wisdom.

When in fact,  the Iraq war was one of the worst foreign policy decisions that this country has ever made. These are comments intended to distract the public away that truth. And in Jebya’s case they also serve to conceal the fact that many of the same people responsible for this debacle are now advising him on foreign policy issues.

Bush Knows

Still his brothers administration wasn’t able to accomplish all of these dubious deeds just by a sheer force of will or by simply telling the same lies over and over. To do that, they needed the help of a compliant Congress, along with a cowed news media who unquestioningly repeated whatever they were told.

In George’s case, one example of his idea of wisdom was his heavy use of signing statements which he claimed gave him the legal authority to ignore the hundreds of laws he didn’t agree with. Signing statements which included a unilateral use of executive powers that limited Congress ability to approve international treaties to an up or down vote without even knowing what they were voting for.

This “we don’t need any stinking rules,” attitude quickly became an inherited and hidden power which for the most part this current administration ignored. At least until they started using it to strong arm Congress into passing the Trade Promoting Authority bill.

If Congress passes the TPA, it would give the President the authority to; recommend international trade agreements to Congress, allows for no amendments, limits Congress’s ability to debate it, and calls for a straight majority yes or no vote.

Granting him and any future presidents the authority to circumvent Congress’s role in monitoring international trade agreements, adding constitutional insult to the economic injuries those trade agreements will cause.

Already the Senate has already approved giving the President fast track authorization by a 62-37 margin, with both of Virginia’s Senators voting for it. Now this bill is headed to the House where its passage is less clear

Keep in mind that when it comes to international trade that most of the countries involved in the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement already have working free trade agreements with the United States — and that trade agreements aren’t what they used to be.

These new agreements are less about trade and more about multinational corporations finding additional ways to rig the world’s economy to further benefit themselves.

So who is writing the TPP agreement?

It turns out that approximately 85 percent of the 450+ people writing it are  industry lobbyists or senior executives, and most of its committees are made up entirely of industry representatives, leading to a rigged process and a rigged outcome.

Consider one key provision of the TPP: the ISDS or Investor-State Dispute Settlement where multi-national companies can challenge a countries law simply because they might “harm” their ability to “profit” before industry friendly arbitration panels — which operate outside of any nation’s court system, where there are no appeals, and whose verdict is final.

A system of appeals which by design; fails to grant similar rights of legal challenges against corporations and nations participating in this treaty to workers, human rights advocates, and environmentalists who are harmed by these treaties.

Make no mistake, corporations will use and abuse this arbitration process to challenge any government policy decisions — including food and environmental safety or even financial regulations they don’t agree with. And in the case of earlier trade agreements, they already have.

Ordinarily most Americans wouldn’t consider minimum wage laws or anti-smoking regulations to be trade barriers, but international corporations have used this same arbitration process built into  earlier free trade agreements to sue Egypt simply because they raised their minimum wage. And Phillip Morris used it to go after Australia and Uruguay to stop public health rules designed to cut smoking rates

Even as these trade deals are being written, corporations are doing everything possible to preemptively stack the deck in their favor. Like how the European Union recently removed any regulation of endocrine disrupting pesticides from the pending  Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). http://www.alternet.org/environment/eu-dropped-pesticide-laws-due-us-pressure-over-ttip-documents-reveal

By definition, international trade agreements like the TPP, and TTIP will override any laws passed by Congress, and should Congress give President Obama TPA authority to “fast track” these agreements they will also be giving future presidents the same  powers to make unilateral trade agreements with minimal Congressional oversight.

Powerful corporate interests have spent a lot of time and money bending the rules to benefit themselves, and now they are determined to set the stage for Congress to rubber stamp, I mean approve the international trade agreements they wrote.

Agreements like the TPP, which members of Congress can only see in a locked room, are not allowed to take notes from, and are legally prohibited from discussing with the public, or fellow members of Congress.

How many members of the Senate, and now the House will take the time to actually read this document is  something the public will likely never know since they are not allowed discuss it, or will admit that they never read it.

Furthermore, language contained in three of the know provisions (out of 24) of the TTP agreement which have been released by Wikileaks; https://wikileaks.org/tpp-investment/https://wikileaks.org/tpp-ip2/, and  https://wikileaks.org/tpp-enviro/pressrelease.htm, indicate that this same process will be applied to any future trade agreements over the next 6 years, such as the pending TISA, or TTIP trade agreements.

 

TPP

Given all the secrecy behind these international trade agreements, and the fact that their passage would give corporations and the investor class even more ways to manipulate the worlds economy for their benefit,  Congress should refuse to approve the TPA bill that would allow this or any future president to fast track trade deals like the TPP.

Jon Taylor

Support ERPA

NOTE: reprinted with permission of author.

Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner:

I am a resident of Louisa County, and a member of the Louisa County Democratic Executive Committee.

I call on you to step up and support the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 (ERPA) that was introduced in Congress last month. This bill has been introduced and failed twice before at the hands of lawmakers who don’t see the problem with racial profiling.

If this bill passes, police departments will finally be held accountable for abusive and biased policing practices that, though committed by a minority of officers, have affected so many in the community.

ERPA will establish a federal definition of racial profiling into state and local law enforcement practices—and ban it. The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to maintain policies and procedures to eliminate discriminatory practices, and to collect data to enable more thorough investigation into profiling.

How many more Freddie Grays, Michael Browns, Tamir Rices, and Eric Garners must there be before racial profiling and police brutality are taken seriously by our elected officials who swore to protect the constitution and all of its citizens?

Respectfully yours,

Melvin Burruss

 

Omitting Details

Local concerns about the quality of reporting by our local paper The Central Virginian start with their op-ed page overflowing with large political cartoons and notices of how well they are informing their readers, accompanied by syndicated commentary from the farthest right.

Content aggregated onto a single page, carefully choreographed to  limit space for local letters, creating an atmosphere where few will even think to ask “So where are the local opinions?

Concerns which go well beyond what points of view are being represented in their letters to the editor, concerns which extend to decidedly stenographic approach to reporting local news and events, and a style of minimalist journalism which serves to quietly preserve the status quo lest anyone be offended, I mean informed.

It’s a persistent failure to cover local events accompanied by a noticeable slanting of their stories, along with a pattern of treating certain local events like they never even happened.

Like last years Town Hall Meeting with Louisa’s three state representatives, where they sent a reporter to interview people, who took photos, and yet somehow failed to print a single word.

Or last month’s Republican call for candidates  at the Louisa Library where there was reporter taking photo’s, and who presumably talked to other people at this meeting  not named Commonwealth Attorney Rusty McGuire, while saying absolutely nothing about this event .

In both instances, it appears that their editorial staff made a conscious decision not to cover these local events, opting to print letters to the editor which talked about the very stories they failed to cover.

Actions which raise the question, does printing these letters make up for their failure to cover these stories in the first place, or help contribute to the illusion that they are actively informing their readers?

It’s a form of journalism which effectively transfers any responsibility along with “heat” of public opinion for the content (aka reporting) of those letters.

Speaking of insulated content, the CV’s readers might  have noticed the full page ads by Dominion Power appearing on their very last page, ads which they have been running since the beginning of April.

Ad’s that first told us how hard Dominion is working to keep their prices of electricity low and now  are telling us how reliable and well regarded they are.

Claims which their management has known for several months are misleading and deceptive but steadfastly refuse to allow any commentary on, because apparently “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Even their “Detours and Things to Do” section of free public announcements about local community events now limits their reader’s access to information, because their “new policies” restrict what can be put in these announcements.

Such as telling certain groups  that they couldn’t list their guest speaker or topic, just the time, date and places for their recent May monthly announcement. Whether this represents another wrinkle in the CV’s under informing their reader’s remains to be seen.

One thing is clear; there are two standards when it comes to their treatment of public announcements; such as the April 30th Chamber of Commerce Meeting and National Day of Prayer, where both  announcements clearly listed speakers, topic, along with pertinent details.

Raising the question of why were these notices treated so differently?

And one of the first things that comes to mind is that the CV is favoring certain kinds of messages and content over others.  Whether this arises from unconscious assumptions or uncritically accepting whatever lines they are fed by local officials, or even deliberate actions on their part is at this point a distinction without a difference.

Perhaps their editor’s was unaware that by jumping on the “Christianity is under fire bandwagon” with her editorial supporting the May 7th National Day of Prayer that the CV was overlooking a parallel “invitation only” meeting at the Louisa Arts Center which took place just before the noon prayer on the Courthouse lawn.

A gathering where guest lecturer, Rena Lindevaldsen from Liberty University’s Center for Law and Policy gave a presentation titled “America-the Land of Religious Hostility” to a pre-selected group of local pastors and ministry leaders.

Where she reportedly claimed that the reasons for maintaining separation between church and state in our civic and political affairs were no longer relevant, and were not important enough for us to be very concerned.

It should also be noted that the parent  National Day of Prayer organization removed all information about who guest speakers at their events around the country were and what they would be talking about  (including this one) less than 24 hours later.

Their Eastern regional coordinator, Nancy Sharman stated that she was “surprised” to learn this information was no longer available saying that perhaps it was because their site had been “hacked” numerous times over the past week.

While the local coordinator, Terri Detrick would confirm who spoke and what the subject of the lecture was, she adamantly declined to confirm any other details such as how many people attended this event, and what if any logistical and financial support her group received from the national organization.

While it’s certainly not unusual for notices to be removed after events are over, it’s worth noting that on the National Day of Prayer organizations drop down menu there is an events survey link which presumably local coordinators like Ms. Detrick are asked to fill out. And that one of the final question on this “survey” dutifully asks if the local coordinators purchased any National Day of Prayer merchandise, ahem resources from their web store.

Actions which bring up more questions; is this nationwide “event” was ever about embracing religion, or is it nothing more than monetized propaganda?

With some groups claiming that this organization goes well beyond the explicit promotion of Christian religion at the expense of other religions, and is another vehicle for promoting right wing ideology.

The 2010 mission statement of the NDP Task Force states that their goal is to mobilize the Christian Community “to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: government, military, media, business, education, church and family.”

Claims which are certainly reinforced by recent legislative actions in conservative states like Indiana’s infamous religious liberty law, or more recently this little gem from Louisiana.

It should also be noted that the CV failed to report that both the Town of Louisa and the Louisa Board of Supervisors issued public proclamations supporting this event. Overlooking the question; do our local public officials seriously believe that the role of government is to sanction events which favor one religion over others?

Seemingly oblivious to the perception that they might be improperly using their powers of state, a uniquely Southern form of self inflicted injury.

Much like the CV’s publishing several blurbs about multiple Chamber of Commerce meetings, yet failing to mention a single word about presentations by Rusty McGuire and Major Lowe at their April meeting.

Perhaps they did not follow their own precedent because their editor is a prominent member of this organization, and they don’t particularly care to see the magnitude of Major Lowe’s fearful claims become public knowledge.

Who on one hand pedals fear of dangerous gang activity in the county, and on the other claims the reason Louisa County was such a “safe” place to live was because so many dangerous criminals had been locked up in the regional jail thanks to their get tough on crime approach.

Claims which conveniently overlook the fact that of the five counties using this jail, Louisa’s numbers have risen the fastest and now account for 40% of all inmates housed at this jail. Or that for years County’s cost for housing their prisoners was buried in the profits the jail used to make by housing federal prisoners in this jail.

Now that the jails source of federal profits has dried up, the county no longer has “free housing” and will be facing a economic hit of several millions dollars next year, long after the election is over.

Or perhaps they didn’t want their readers to notice any connection between Donnie Lowe’s outlandish claims and their own “breaking” multi-part Gang Ties series http://www.thecentralvirginian.com/?p=15527

While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, responsible public servants shouldn’t be in the business of trying to pass them off as facts.

Especially unelected officials like Major Lowe who continues to use meetings like these to promote his own job security and his bosses re-election. Since Sheriff Ashland Fortune’s name is the one the ballot, he’s who we should be holding accountable for his lack of oversight for his underlings stealthy propaganda I mean re-election campaign.

While it’s conceivable that both of these stories will be discussed in more detail in future editions of the CV, keep in mind that incomplete notifications, slanted stories, along with non-existent coverage are no longer isolated glitches and bugs; they have become permanent features of their reporting.

Contrary to their over sized proclamations on their op-ed page, it’s not always your government who’s keeping you from being informed; sometimes it’s your local paper. And they  will continue promoting their “it’s your right to know” brand convinced that no one is any the wiser.

Jon Taylor

Contract Fairness

If you ever wondered what happened to the roughly 1 million dollars collected for earthquake assistance to Louisa residents by the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, you could start with how the previous County Administrator, Robert Dube awarded Louisa contractor, RTW Construction forty seven (47) different contracts, apparently because they were the lowest “responsive and responsible” bidder.

In all, RTW was paid $421,165, while two outside contractors were paid $128,065 for the remaining 2 contracts. RTW’s owner is R. “Tony” Williams who currently sits on the Louisa Board of Zoning Appeals, and who is now running for the vacant Board of Supervisors seat in the Jackson District.

With no local minority contractors, and only 2 “outside” vendors getting contracts it raises the question of what “responsive and responsible” means in terms of a company’s or individuals eligibility to bid on Louisa’s contracts?

At a minimum, when one contractor gets an overwhelming majority of the County’s business there is an appearance of preferential treatment. Raising another question; given his current position on the Zoning Board, did Mr. Williams parlay his inside access to into preferential treatment?

It has been said that among the many “reasons” past Supervisor Dube gave for this was that there were no other “qualified” contractors, or that they lacked the “expertise.” To avoid future appearances of impropriety, perhaps a re-examination of County’s bidding process is needed to ensure that they are being conducted fairly, openly and transparently.

The County should make every effort to “spread the wealth” of their contracts between local companies, actions that will help ensure  this money is being spent in Louisa County, and will find it’s way to other local businesses up and down the chain, acting as an economic multiplier which keeps this money circulating even longer.

While giving those same contracts to a single company won’t have anywhere near the same economic impact.

These are just some small ways that County officials can begin to chip away at a cycle of inaction which continues to marginalize minorities, circumstances mirrored by their dramatic under representation as County employees. Leaving a County that continues to be segregated along racial and economic lines, and a tragic waste of human resources.

Gloria Pope

More Deceptions

Last week, roughly 80 people attended the Republican Committees mass call meeting, and three potential Republican candidates were introduced. It was an exercise in authoritarian efficiency so well run by Roberts revised Rules of Order that even the 7th Congressional District Republican Chair; Fred Gruber called it “slimy.”

A slipperiness imbedded in their public announcement in the Central Virginian. Most readers might have reasonably thought that it called for people who are in “accordance” with conservative principles and who want to nominate Republican candidates for local offices. Or on the other hand, it could have meant that the nomination of Republican candidates was open to all, and even Democrats and Socialists were welcome.

The Party’s leadership left no room for questions or interpretations, quickly motioning for several procedural votes that moved the conversation down the road.

It should be said that many employees from the sheriff’s office and the fire and rescue departments were at this meeting. With neither being well known for attending political meetings, it does raise the question of whether they will be seeing any changes in their next paycheck, or performance review?

When the audience started to ask the candidates questions, they quickly turned into personal attacks which Major Donnie Lowe, his relatives and others used to go after Mike Silberman who was seeking the Republican nomination for Sheriff.  Words which made it clear the outcome of all three nominations was a forgone conclusion.

With Rusty McGuire being asked no questions — nominated by an unrecorded vote, while Silberman and Robert Michael who was seeking the Clerk of the Court nomination needed a majority vote to be the party’s candidates. Unsurprisingly, neither received enough votes (38) to be nominated, with the Republican chair, declining to give the audience any sense of the totals.

Maybe it was the size of Donnie Lowe’s hit squad which tilted those votes away, or perhaps those votes didn’t really matter, just who rigged, I mean counted the votes. In the words of another recent writer to the CV, it was an exercise in how to “assure a perpetually stacked deck of candidates.”

A deck filled with stealth candidates who won’t appear on any ballot, like Donnie Lowe hiding behind the Sheriff’s coattails, who will apparently suffer no consequences for abusing the communities trust. Perhaps it’s time that the people of Louisa consider holding his boss, Ashland Fortune accountable for that lack of oversight at the polls.

Should either Mr. Silberman or Michael continue to run for office, they will do so as independents. Given what transpired last week that might not be such a bad thing.

Jon Taylor