Harald Welzer writes: The municipal utility company in the city of Potsdam is currently wooing new customers with a special “BabyBonus” offer. The slogan reads, “We value little energy robbers! Welcome to the world!” Every newborn receives a credit of 500 kilowatt hours of electricity, allowing him or her to revel from the start in a world where everything, especially energy, will always be available in abundance. These babies may later find they’re in for a surprise.
When the United Nations Climate Change Conference wrapped up in Warsaw the weekend before last, it did, despite what most observers and disappointed NGO representatives believe, yield a result. It just wasn’t officially announced: the termination of the at-least symbolic general agreement that urgent action must be taken to counter global warming. In other words, climate change has been definitively removed from the global policy agenda.
The intense concern over climate change triggered by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports in 2007 and widely popularized by Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” — a concern that led even Angela Merkel to make an appearance in the Arctic as the “climate chancellor,” decked out in a red all-weather jacket — actually dissipated a while ago, but no one wanted to say so out loud.
The United States’ lack of interest in an international treaty is dressed up by its argument that gas extracted by fracking is more climate-friendly than coal, while in Japan, the Fukushima disaster and resulting phase-out of nuclear power has provided those responsible with an excellent argument for why the country now needs to burn more coal in order to stay economically competitive. Hannelore Kraft, governor of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, feels much the same way about her own state. And Australia, Canada, Poland and Russia have never really grasped why global warming should stop anyone from burning everything the oil rigs, mines and pipelines have to offer in the first place.
To put it another way: The primacy of economics has prevailed. It no longer seems to matter how we’re supposed to get through the rest of this century if the world grows warmer by three, four or five degrees Celsius. National economies require an ever-growing dose of energy if their business models are to continue functioning, and, in the face of this logic, all scientific objections to the contrary are just as powerless as the climate protest movements, which are, in any case, marginal. [Continue reading...]
David Streitfeld writes: On its home territory, Amazon.com is routinely hailed as a jobs machine. Thanks to its warehouse building spree, it is hiring tens of thousands of workers, plus many more for the holidays. President Obama, speaking at the retailer’s Chattanooga, Tenn., warehouse in July, called Amazon “a great example of what’s possible.”
Referring to an Amazon program that offers tuition assistance to hourly workers, Mr. Obama said, “That’s the kind of approach that we need from America’s businesses.” He also celebrated the company’s achievement in general, saying, “I look at this amazing facility and you guys, you don’t miss a beat.”
The recession might have cut deeper in Europe, making the question of new jobs even more crucial, but the attitude there is much cooler toward Amazon and its high-tech ways. In Germany, there is continuing labor strife. France is erecting barriers against the company’s aggressive discounting. And in Britain, the warehouses that so impressed President Obama have been compared, in a February story in The Financial Times, with a “slave camp.”
That shocking charge resurfaced in the latest investigation, when a BBC reporter, Adam Littler, went to work briefly at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse. His report, broadcast this week on the show “Panorama,” showed him hustling to keep up with the demands of his hand-held scanner, which gave him only a few moments to find each product.
In his ten-and-a-half-hour night shift, Mr. Littler said: “I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles, just short of 11 miles last night. I’m absolutely shattered.” He added, “We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves.”
Michael Marmot, a labor expert identified by the BBC as “one of Britain’s leading experts on stress at work,” told the show that with “the characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.” [Continue reading...]
In August, Democracy Now! interviewed Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland on her undercover investigation:
Nafeez Ahmed reports: A stunning new report compiles extensive evidence showing how some of the world’s largest corporations have partnered with private intelligence firms and government intelligence agencies to spy on activist and nonprofit groups. Environmental activism is a prominent though not exclusive focus of these activities.
The report by the Center for Corporate Policy (CCP) in Washington DC titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage against Nonprofit Organizations draws on a wide range of public record evidence, including lawsuits and journalistic investigations. It paints a disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage programme that is out of control, with possibly as much as one in four activists being private spies.
The report argues that a key precondition for corporate espionage is that the nonprofit in question:
“… impairs or at least threatens a company’s assets or image sufficiently.”
One of the groups that has been targeted the most, and by a range of different corporations, is Greenpeace. In the 1990s, Greenpeace was tracked by private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) on behalf of the world’s largest chlorine producer, Dow Chemical, due to the environmental organisation’s campaigning against the use of chlorine to manufacture paper and plastics. The spying included:
“… pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.”
Other Greenpeace offices in France and Europe were hacked and spied on by French private intelligence firms at the behest of Électricité de France, the world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, 85% owned by the French government.
Oil companies Shell and BP had also reportedly hired Hackluyt, a private investigative firm with “close links” to MI6, to infiltrate Greenpeace by planting an agent who “posed as a left -wing sympathiser and film maker.” His mission was to “betray plans of Greenpeace’s activities against oil giants,” including gathering “information about the movements of the motor vessel Greenpeace in the north Atlantic.” [Continue reading...]
“Fulfillment,” in Amazon’s lexicon, is all about getting what you want and getting it now. It is the acme of the consumer age through which the maximum number of desires can be fulfilled in the minimum amount of time. And it is in the service of this debased expression of human existence, that Amazon dedicates all its efforts.
But Amazon’s commitment to fostering customer loyalty, creates the impression of a human interest, concealing the indifference that the company displays towards its own workers — workers who are treated so badly that they probably envy their counterparts at Walmart.
The fact that Amazon calls its warehouses “fulfillment centers” shows the degree to which as a company, Amazon views its employees as simply expendable cogs in a machine. And since the closest most Amazon customers ever come to a human interaction with the company comes indirectly via UPS deliverers, most of Amazon’s actual workers toil invisibly in conditions far removed from anything that could be defined as fulfilling. Adding insult to injury, these workers then get branded with job titles like “Pick Ambassador” — tokens of respect, clearly designed to obscure the lack of respect with which Amazon views its employees.
In 2011, the Allentown Morning Call reported on conditions inside Amazon’s Lehigh Valley warehouse:
Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.
During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.
An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an “unsafe environment” after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems. The doctor’s report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.
In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour moving inventory through a hot warehouse. But with job openings scarce, Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants in the swollen ranks of the unemployed.
Many warehouse workers are hired for temporary positions by Integrity Staffing Solutions, or ISS, and are told that if they work hard they may be converted to permanent positions with Amazon, current and former employees said. The temporary assignments end after a designated number of hours, and those not hired to permanent Amazon jobs can reapply for temporary positions again after a few months, workers said.
Temporary employees interviewed said few people in their working groups actually made it to a permanent Amazon position. Instead, they said they were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured. Those interviewed say turnover at the warehouse is high and many hires don’t last more than a few months.
From Jeff Bezos’s point of view, Amazon represents nothing less than the nature of the future and in saying this he is expressing a kind of technological determinism — the latest face of unstoppable progress.
But what he is articulating is more importantly a philosophy of commerce in which human interaction is seen as redundant or a form of inefficiency.
Sure, he wants to cultivate strong relationships, but these aren’t relationships between people; they are relationships between customers and an amorphous corporate entity towards which we are meant to turn for the fulfillment of all our needs.
Finally, just in case anyone took the bait of the promise of goods delivered by drones (a prospect that should be viewed as skeptically as the chances of Santa Claus climbing down a chimney), James Ball lists a few of the logistical problems:
It’s all well and good for the unmanned vehicles to fly to a particular GPS site, but how does it then find the package’s intended recipient? How is the transfer of the package enacted? What stops someone else stealing the package along the way? And what happens when next door’s kid decides to shoot the drone with his BB rifle?
None of that starts to come close to the legal minefield using drones in this way entails. At present, flying drones of this sort for commercial use would be illegal in the US. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates this area, intends to make commercial drones legally viable and workable by 2015, but this deadline is all-but impossible: managing the skies with this much low-level traffic is a problem people are nowhere near solving. Opening up crowded urban areas full of terror targets to large numbers of flying platforms is always going to be packed with conflicting interests and difficulties. And all this has come before the first lawsuit caused after someone is injured by a faulty drone (or that one your neighbour shot), crashing down to earth.
What Jeff Bezos announced amounted, essentially, to an aspiration to change how his company delivers products, in about five years time, if technology advances and regulation falls his way. If his TV appearance hadn’t included the magic word “drones”, Bezos’s vague aspirations to change an aspect of his company’s logistics probably wouldn’t have made waves. Lucky for him, he did – winning his company positive publicity just ahead of what is usually the biggest online shopping day of the year, the dreadfully named Cyber Monday.
Floating an exciting-but-impractical innovation for a swath of press coverage is such an old PR tactic you’d hope no one would fall for it, and yet everyone still does.
An article that recently came out in Rolling Stone, titled “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” by Matt Taibbi, asserts that the government is afraid to prosecute powerful bankers, such as those running HSBC. Taibbi says that there’s “an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.” What is your view on the current state of class war in the U.S.?
Well, there’s always a class war going on. The United States, to an unusual extent, is a business-run society, more so than others. The business classes are very class-conscious—they’re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. Occasionally this is recognized.
We don’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.
It’s true that there was a one-sided class war, and that’s because the other side hadn’t chosen to participate, so the union leadership had for years pursued a policy of making a compact with the corporations, in which their workers, say the autoworkers—would get certain benefits like fairly decent wages, health benefits and so on. But it wouldn’t engage the general class structure. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why Canada has a national health program and the United States doesn’t. The same unions on the other side of the border were calling for health care for everybody. Here they were calling for health care for themselves and they got it. Of course, it’s a compact with corporations that the corporations can break anytime they want, and by the 1970s they were planning to break it and we’ve seen what has happened since.
This is just one part of a long and continuing class war against working people and the poor. It’s a war that is conducted by a highly class-conscious business leadership, and it’s one of the reasons for the unusual history of the U.S. labor movement. In the U.S., organized labor has been repeatedly and extensively crushed, and has endured a very violent history as compared with other countries. [Continue reading...]
Nick Cohen writes: With Britain hobbling in to 2014 like a battered beggar, we should accept that corporations can be as demented and dictatorial as any millenarian movement. People resist the comparison because businesses seem such modest enterprises. The godly persecuted heretics and apostates and the communists punished all dissent because they believed the kingdom of God or workers’ paradise could be theirs if believers followed the one true course.
Businesses don’t want Utopia. They just want to make money. Dennis Tourish, Britain’s best academic authority on how hierarchies enforce obedience, has no problem with the comparison, however. His latest book, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership, puts the Militant Tendency alongside Enron, the mass “revolutionary suicide” by Jim Jones’s followers at Jonestown with the mass liquidation of Britain’s wealth by the banks. The ends of an L Ron Hubbard or Fred Goodwin may be incompatible, he says, but the means are same.
In any case, the language of business has become ever more cultish. In the theory of “transformational leadership”, which dominates the business schools, the CEO is a miracle worker. In Transformational Leadership, by Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio, he is described, not by some gullible Forbes hack, but by two supposedly intelligent American academics. The transformational leader “inspires” his follower to “achieve extraordinary outcomes”, they say. He “empowers them” to “exceed expected performance” and show ever greater “commitment to the organisation”.
I don’t see why anyone should find the comparison with fanatics so hard to accept and not only because the idea that CEOs can manufacture new and better subordinates matches Trotsky’s belief that the revolution would create a “new man who raises himself to a new plane”.
The nearest you are likely to come to experiencing life in a dictatorship is at work. Unless you are fortunate, you will discover that the management is the source of all ideas and all power. Executives will have privileges that bear no more relation to real achievement than the fat and ugly cult leader’s expectation of sex. In 2012, the median pay for CEOs in the USA was $14.4m, the average salary for employees $45,230. In Britain, the High Pay Commission found that the average annual bonus for FTSE 300 directors had increased by 187% in 10 years even though the average year-end share price had gone down by 71%.
Above all, whether you are in the public or the private sector, John Lewis or Barclays Bank, you will learn that if you challenge authority you will lose the chance of promotion and if you challenge it in public, you will lose your job. To prosper in the workplace, as in the dictatorship, you must tell leaders what they want to hear. [Continue reading...]
Charles Seife writes: If there’s a gene for hubris, the 23andMe crew has certainly got it. Last Friday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the genetic-testing company immediately to stop selling its flagship product, its $99 “Personal Genome Service” kit. In response, the company cooed that its “relationship with the FDA is extremely important to us” and continued hawking its wares as if nothing had happened. Although the agency is right to sound a warning about 23andMe, it’s doing so for the wrong reasons.
Since late 2007, 23andMe has been known for offering cut-rate genetic testing. Spit in a vial, send it in, and the company will look at thousands of regions in your DNA that are known to vary from human to human—and which are responsible for some of our traits. For example a site in your genome named rs4481887 can come in three varieties. If you happen to have what is known as the GG variant, there is a good probability that you are unable to smell asparagus in your urine; those blessed with the GA or AG varieties are much more likely to be repulsed by their own pee after having a few spears at Spargelfest.
At first, 23andMe seemed to angle its kit as a fun way to learn a little genetics using yourself as a test subject. (“Our goal is to connect you to the 23 paired volumes of your own genetic blueprint… bringing you personal insight into ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits,” read the company’s website.) The FDA had little problem with the company telling you why you had dry ear wax (rs17822931) or whether you’re likely to sneeze when you look at a bright light (rs10427255).
That phase didn’t last for long, because there is much more interesting stuff in your genome than novelty items. Certain regions signal an increased risk of breast cancer, the impending onset of metabolic diseases, and sensitivity to medications. 23andMe—as well as a number of other companies—edged closer and closer to marketing their services as a way of predicting and even preventing health problems. And any kit intended to cure, mitigate, treat, prevent, or diagnose a disease is, according to federal law, a “medical device” that needs to be deemed safe and effective by the FDA. Since mid-2009, 23andMe has been negotiating with the agency, and in July 2012, the company finally began the process of getting clearance from the FDA to sell the kit that it had already been selling for five years.
Everything seemed rosy until, in what a veteran Forbes reporter calls “the single dumbest regulatory strategy [he had] seen in 13 years of covering the Food and Drug Administration,” 23andMe changed its strategy. It apparently blew through its FDA deadlines, effectively annulling the clearance process, and abruptly cut off contact with the agency in May. Adding insult to injury the company started an aggressive advertising campaign (“Know more about your health!”), leaving little doubt about the underlying medical purpose of 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service. This left the agency with little alternative but to take action. “As part of our interactions with you, including more than 14 face-to-face and teleconference meetings, hundreds of email exchanges, and dozens of written communications,” the agency complained, “we provided you with… statistical advice, and discussed potential risk mitigation strategies.” It is the tone of a spurned spouse, exasperated and angry that 23andMe is putting no effort into salvaging their relationship.
But as the FDA frets about the accuracy of 23andMe’s tests, it is missing their true function, and consequently the agency has no clue about the real dangers they pose. The Personal Genome Service isn’t primarily intended to be a medical device. It is a mechanism meant to be a front end for a massive information-gathering operation against an unwitting public. [Continue reading...]
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes: American scientists have made an unsettling discovery. Crop farming across the Prairies since the late 19th Century has caused a collapse of the soil microbia that holds the ecosystem together.
They do not know exactly what role is played by the bacteria. It is a new research field. Nor do they know where the tipping point lies, or how easily this can be reversed. Nobody yet knows whether this is happening in other parts of the world.
A team at the University of Colorado under Noah Fierer used DNA gene technology to test the ‘verrucomicrobia’ in Prairie soil, contrasting tilled land with the rare pockets of ancient tallgrass found in cemeteries and reservations. The paper published in the US journal Science found that crop agriculture has “drastically altered” the biology of the land. “The soils currently found throughout the region bear little resemblance to their pre-agricultural state,” it concluded.
You might say we already knew this. In fact we did not. There has never before been a metagenomic analysis of this kind and on this scale. Professor Fierer said mankind needs to watch its step. “We really know very little about one of the most productive soils on the planet, but we do know that soil microbes play a key role and we can’t just keep adding fertilizers,” he said.
The Colorado study has caused a stir in the soil world. It was accompanied by a sobering analysis in Science by academics from South Africa’s Witwatersrand University. They fear that we are repeating the mistakes of past civilisations, over-exploiting the land until it goes beyond the point of no return, and leads to a vicious circle of famine, and then social disintegration.
Entitled “Dust to Dust“, the paper argues that the erosion of soil fertility has been masked by a “soup of nutrients” poured over crop lands, giving us a false sense of security. It said 1pc of global land is being degraded each year, defined as a 70pc loss of the top soil.
Once the top soil crosses a crucial threshold, the recovery rate plunges. Chemicals can keep crop yields high for a while but the complex ecology beneath is being abused further. Yields have already fallen 8pc across Africa as a whole. The paper calls for a complete change of course as the “only viable route to feeding the world and keeping it habitable.” [Continue reading...]
Heidi Moore writes: Pope Francis is a pontiff who has constructively broken all the rules of popery – so far to widespread acclaim. He’s faulted the Catholic church for its negative obsession with gays and birth control, and now he has expanded his mandate to economics with a groundbreaking screed denouncing “the new idolatry of money“.
As the Pope wrote in his “apostolic exhortation“:
The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings.
His thoughts on income inequality are searing:
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.
The pope’s screed on “the economy of exclusion and inequality” will disappoint those who considers themselves free-market capitalists, but they would do well to listen to the message. Francis gives form to the emotion and injustice of post-financial-crisis outrage in a way that has been rare since Occupy Wall Street disbanded. There has been a growing chorus of financial insiders – from the late Merrill Lynch executive Herb Allison to organizations like Better Markets – it’s time for a change in how we approach capitalism. It’s not about discarding capitalism, or hating money or profit; it’s about pursuing profits ethically, and rejecting the premise that exploitation is at the center of profit. When 53% of financial executives say they can’t get ahead without some cheating, even though they want to work for ethical organizations, there’s a real problem.
Unlike Occupy, which turned its rage outward, Pope Francis bolstered his anger with two inward-facing emotions familiar to any Catholic-school graduate: shame and guilt, to make the economy a matter of personal responsibility.
This is important. Income inequality is not someone else’s problem. Nearly all of us are likely to experience it. Inequality has been growing in the US since the 1970s. Economist Emmanuel Saez found that the incomes of the top 1% grew by 31.4% in the three years after the financial crisis, while the majority of people struggled with a disappointing economy. The other 99% of the population grew their incomes 0.4% during the same period.
As a result, federal and state spending on social welfare programs has been forced to grow to $1tn just to handle the volume of US households in trouble. Yet income inequality has been locked out of of the mainstream economic conversation, where it is seen largely as a sideshow for progressive bleeding hearts. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church.
The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, was the first major work he has authored alone as pope and makes official many views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.
In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money”, and urged politicians to “attack the structural causes of inequality” and strive to provide work, healthcare and education to all citizens.
He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.
The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.
The analysis, which was welcomed by the former vice-president Al Gore as a “crucial step forward” found that the vast majority of the firms were in the business of producing oil, gas or coal, found the analysis, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Climatic Change.
“There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world,” climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado said. “But the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”
Half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years – well past the date when governments and corporations became aware that rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil were causing dangerous climate change.
Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which – if they are burned – puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change. [Continue reading...]
Jonathan Freedland writes: The stories of his personal modesty have become the stuff of instant legend. He carries his own suitcase. He refused the grandeur of the papal palace, preferring to live in a simple hostel. When presented with the traditional red shoes of the pontiff, he declined; instead he telephoned his 81-year-old cobbler in Buenos Aires and asked him to repair his old ones. On Thursday, Francis visited the Italian president – arriving in a blue Ford Focus, with not a blaring siren to be heard.
Some will dismiss these acts as mere gestures, even publicity stunts. But they convey a powerful message, one of almost elemental egalitarianism. He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over “a poor church, for the poor”. It’s not the institution that counts, it’s the mission.
All this would warm the heart of even the most fervent atheist, except Francis has gone much further. It seems he wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”.
There is no denying the radicalism of this message, a frontal and sustained attack on what he calls “unbridled capitalism“, with its “throwaway” attitude to everything from unwanted food to unwanted old people. [Continue reading...]
Wikileaks: On November 13, 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.
The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China.
Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text. [Continue reading...]
George Monbiot writes: It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.
The political role of business corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main political parties in Britain.
Most of the scandals that leave people in despair about politics arise from this source. On Monday, for instance, the Guardian revealed that the government’s subsidy system for gas-burning power stations is being designed by an executive from the Dublin-based company ESB International, who has been seconded into the Department of Energy. What does ESB do? Oh, it builds gas-burning power stations. [Continue reading...]
Bruce Schneier writes: The public/private surveillance partnership between the NSA and corporate data collectors is starting to fray. The reason is sunlight. The publicity resulting from the Snowden documents has made companies think twice before allowing the NSA access to their users’ and customers’ data.
Pre-Snowden, there was no downside to cooperating with the NSA. If the NSA asked you for copies of all your Internet traffic, or to put backdoors into your security software, you could assume that your cooperation would forever remain secret. To be fair, not every corporation cooperated willingly. Some fought in court. But it seems that a lot of them, telcos and backbone providers especially, were happy to give the NSA unfettered access to everything. Post-Snowden, this is changing. Now that many companies’ cooperation has become public, they’re facing a PR backlash from customers and users who are upset that their data is flowing to the NSA. And this is costing those companies business.
How much is unclear. In July, right after the PRISM revelations, the Cloud Security Alliance reported that US cloud companies could lose $35 billion over the next three years, mostly due to losses of foreign sales. Surely that number has increased as outrage over NSA spying continues to build in Europe and elsewhere. There is no similar report for software sales, although I have attended private meetings where several large US software companies complained about the loss of foreign sales. On the hardware side, IBM is losing business in China. The US telecom companies are also suffering: AT&T is losing business worldwide.
This is the new reality. The rules of secrecy are different, and companies have to assume that their responses to NSA data demands will become public. This means there is now a significant cost to cooperating, and a corresponding benefit to fighting. [Continue reading...]