Hair splitting vs fact checking

For all the complaints about Trump seeming impervious to all fact-checking, it doesn’t help very much when fact-checkers at major newspapers of record solemnly announce that Bill Clinton never signed NAFTA on the grounds that George H.W. Bush signed the preliminary agreement and Bill Clinton signed the implementing act of Congress’s vote to ratify it (which he had lobbied heavily for as president). Absurd hair-splitting technicality arguments don’t strengthen fact-checking.

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The EU’s ill-conceived TTIP technocracy strikes again

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The Independent: ‘You need to hear what the EU official in charge of TTIP has told me’ (an account from a TTIP opponent):

When put to her, [EU Trade Commissioner] Malmström acknowledged that a trade deal has never inspired such passionate and widespread opposition [as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has]. Yet when I asked the trade commissioner how she could continue her persistent promotion of the deal in the face of such massive public opposition, her response came back icy cold: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”

So who does Cecilia Malmström take her mandate from? Officially, EU commissioners are supposed to follow the elected governments of Europe. Yet the European Commission is carrying on the TTIP negotiations behind closed doors without the proper involvement European governments, let alone MPs or members of the public. British civil servants have admitted to us that they have been kept in the dark throughout the TTIP talks, and that this makes their job impossible.

 
Not all of the European public’s concerns and trust issues on the negotiations are unwarranted just because a few of them are paranoid. Whether or not TTIP is a good idea (personally I think not), European officials need to take those concerns more seriously — particularly as any deal will have to be ratified by an increasingly jittery 28 national parliaments facing hostile publics more directly.


Previously from AFD on this topic:

“Drawbacks of Technocracy, Part 1: Europe’s Political Crisis”
“The Economist on technocracy in democracies”

June 10, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 130

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), 2015 Turkey elections. People: Bill, Nate, Persephone. Produced: June 8th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and why isn’t it getting more coverage?
– Do the recent elections in Turkey signal another turning point for the country’s democracy?

Episode 130 (52 min):
AFD 130

Related Links

Office of Elizabeth Warren trade history report (on past enforcement failures)
Peterson Institute report (on projected TPP growth)
The Globalist: Getting Past No on Trade Deals
The Globalist: What’s Next for the WTO? (on trade tribunals)
South Africa Business Report: Renegotiating Bilateral Treaties Should Not Scare Off Investors (on trade tribunals)
The Globalist: Trade Deals Must Allow for Regulating Finance
NY Times: Obama’s Covert Trade Deal
The Globalist: Barack Obama a “Progressive”? Teddy Roosevelt Wouldn’t Agree.
Huffington Post / Ralph Nader: 10 Reasons the TPP Is Not a ‘Progressive’ Trade Agreement
Our Turkey elections coverage
Hurriyet Daily News: Water cannon producer’s stock dips after Turkey’s ruling AKP loses majority

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No, Mr. President. TPP is not “progressive”.

“TPP will end up being the most progressive trade agreement in our history” – Pres. Obama

The Globalist rebuttal:

The progressive movement, which Teddy Roosevelt helped champion a century ago, broke up business monopolies. It also promoted fair market competition, reformed taxation and gave voters a direct say on many issues. Furthermore, the progressive movement added protections against abusive labor practices, defended natural resources and reformed the business-captured U.S. Senate.

In this day and age, a progressive would also be someone who will make sure that trade deals are fair and balanced – instead of basically handing the keys to the trade castle to the U.S. multinational corporations, as Mr. Obama has largely done with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Read More.

Are trade deal worker & eco protections actually enforced?

Not if history is any indication according to a detailed new report from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office:

On Monday, Warren fired back, showing that Obama simply has not effectively enforced existing labor standards in prior trade pacts. According to the report, a host of abuses, from child labor to the outright murder of union organizers, have continued under Obama’s watch with minimal pushback from the administration.

“The United States does not enforce the labor protections in its trade agreements,” the report reads, citing analyses from the Government Accountability Office, the State Department and the Department of Labor.

 

Why Brunei? How a tiny, anti-gay monarchy became a U.S. ally.

brunei-map-ciaSecretary of State John Kerry and the Obama Administration are now (justifiably, I’d say, at this point) taking huge heat for trying to cement a major alliance with the podunk Southeast Asian absolute monarchy of Brunei.

President Obama himself had been scheduled to travel to Brunei last fall during the trip to Indonesia, which the government shutdown canceled. Last year, he called the Sultan “a key leader in the Southeast Asia region and also widely respected around the world.”

Outrage has been stirred up with the long-planned launch in April by the government of a phased rollout for an elaborate new penal code with extreme religious conservatism based in hardline Sharia Law interpretations. In particular, U.S. LGBT activists in California are furious over the draconian anti-gay provisions and have been organizing boycotts against local Brunei state investments.

But the anti-gay problem is just the tip of the horrible, no good, very bad legal iceberg for the monarchy with fewer residents than Boston. At least a fifth of the country’s population is non-Muslim, which is now punishable with death by flogging. Interfaith marriages are now adultery, punishable with death by stoning. Breaking the laws of Brunei while outside the country (i.e. in neighboring Malaysia, also located on the island of Borneo) is also to be punishable under Brunei rules.

So why has the U.S. State Department been trying so enthusiastically to secure a partnership with the Sultanate of Brunei and its ironically named Abode of Peace?

Because it’s got a ton of natural gas and oil relative to its size (35th biggest oil exporter and 26th biggest gas exporter in the world), it’s an original member of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, it’s strategically located on the South China Sea coast, it’s been a counterterrorism partner since 2001 … and I guess they weren’t expecting it to go way off the deep end suddenly like this.

But really, I think the warning signs should have been there. Generous oil-funded social welfare policies aside, Brunei has not been cool people for quite some time now. Their human rights abuses, near total lack of civil rights, and obvious authoritarianism were pretty well known before now. The former British protectorate and past regional sea empire has been ruled by one dynasty with a pretty ironclad fist for six centuries.

Some of the pretend constitution’s provisions have been ignored for so long by the monarchy that the country hadn’t even gained independence (1984) at the time they were suspended formally, in the 1960s. The safe money would have been on further regression, not a dramatic improvement, for all the signs the world has been picking up from Brunei in the past decade.

One of those signs? According to the Boston Globe, it should have been the 2013 global human rights report from… drumroll please… the U.S. State Department:

…the State Department’s 2013 global human rights report criticized Brunei for its restrictions on religious freedom; exploitation of foreign workers; and limitations of the freedom of the press, assembly, and association as “the most prevalent human rights problems.”

It went on to mention the adoption of the new legal code based on religious Sharia law but noted that “the effect of the law will not be clear until it is implemented, which was scheduled to begin in phases starting in April 2014.”

 
Nobody could have predicted…

But it seems that finishing a free trade deal with such a pivotal player was too much to pass up. It’s interesting that nearly 600 years after Brunei rose to power by controlling water trade and coastal ports in the dense commercial shipping zone not far from the Spice Islands, it’s leveraging the exact same strategic economic power to do whatever it wants. I guess it’s true what they say!

Free trade has hurt Africa — but could also help it

The IMF forced a lot of countries to end protectionist barriers with first-world nations, which flooded out most of their domestic manufacturing. But the barriers are still in place within the continent. Thus it’s easier for African nations to trade outside Africa than within. But unlike first-world nations that basically have no demand for African supplies except minerals, other African markets would probably make for great sale points. Could reducing continental trade barriers match African goods to big markets that OECD nations can’t offer?