Monthly Archives: September 2015

Will TTIP Get Terminated? Negotiations Falter as Europe Balks

As EU-US trade talks flounder, France doesn’t rule out ‘an outright termination of negotiations’

Written by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-28-2015.

Almost 3 million people across Europe have signed a petition calling on the European Commission to scrap the agreement. (Photo: greensefa/flickr/cc)

Almost 3 million people across Europe have signed a petition calling on the European Commission to scrap the agreement. (Photo: greensefa/flickr/cc)

While public opposition to the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—the massive proposed “trade” deal between the European Union and the United States—has grown steadily since negotiations started two years ago, new signs suggest that official government backing is also faltering across Europe.

In an interview with French regional newspaper Sud Ouest published Monday, Junior Trade Minister Matthias Fekl said TTIP negotiations were favoring American interests and “either weren’t advancing or were progressing in the wrong direction.”

“If nothing changes, it will show that there isn’t the will to achieve mutually beneficial negotiations,” he said, before adding: “France is considering all options including an outright termination of negotiations.”

Meanwhile, a group of more than 55 UK members of parliament (MPs) has signed onto a motion expressing major concerns about the mammoth trade pact, which civil society groups have dubbed a corporate giveaway. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, put forward the Commons motion, and it has now been signed by every member of the Scottish National Party group at Westminster, as well as the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Politico‘s Paul Ames wrote of the “cooling ardor on both sides of the Atlantic” earlier this month, saying that since talks began in July 2013, the trade deal “has lost some of its shine.”

Concern over the impact of TTIP has united disparate groups,” he wrote, “from French farmers to German constitutional lawyers and politicians on the left and right.”

Almost 3 million people across Europe have signed a petition calling on the Commission to scrap the agreement.

Last week, the Oxford-based group ‘We Own It,’ which deals with national issues surrounding public services, held a demonstration against the proposed TTIP, warning that it could lead to private businesses being too heavily involved in public services.

Cat Hobbs, an organizer with the group, told the Oxford Mail: “The idea is that it would open up new markets to private companies and the reality here is that it’s going to open up public services to private companies. Multi-national corporations’ rights will become more important than ours.”

And a much larger action is being planned for October 10 in Berlin, when over 50,000 demonstrators are expected to gather in front of the city’s central train station to protest both the TTIP and a similar deal between the EU and Canada, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). That event is part of the week-long International Days of Action against corporate-friendly trade deals.

Speaking to EurActiv about the planned demonstration, Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, head of the German progressive church coalition Brot für die Welt, called TTIP an “attempt to force the rules of rich industrialized countries upon global trade.”

Opposition to TTIP is particularly intense in Germany, where only 39 percent of the population backs the trade deal.

All of this backs up a thesis put forth earlier this month by American Prospect co-founder and editor Robert Kuttner, who wrote in an op-ed that both the TTIP and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) could be “on the verge of collapse from their own contradictory goals and incoherent logic.”

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Climate Catches ‘Huge Break’ as Shell Calls It Quits in the Arctic

At least for the ‘foreseeable future,’ the oil giant will put a hold on its offshore drilling in Alaska after finding insufficient deposits

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-28-2015

In response to the announcement that Shell will cease drilling operations in the Arctic for the "foreseeable future," Greenpeace produced this image to offer their sentiments of farewell. (Image: Greenpeace/Twitter)

In response to the announcement that Shell will cease drilling operations in the Arctic for the “foreseeable future,” Greenpeace produced this image to offer their sentiments of farewell. (Image: Greenpeace/Twitter)

In what environmental campaigners are calling “a huge break” for the Arctic region and by extension the world’s climate, the Royal Dutch Shell oil company announced on Monday it would end exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea after disappointing results from its controversial operations in the Alaskan waters that took place this summer.

In a corporate press statement released Monday, the company said that its drilling vessel—located approximately 150 miles offshore and in about 150 feet of water—had “successfully” drilled an exploratory well to the depth of 6800 feet. Though the company claimed it “found indications of oil and gas,” it said the amount was “insufficient to warrant further exploration” and said the prospected site will now be “sealed and abandoned.” Continue reading

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To Achieve Highly-Touted Development Goals, End Business-as-Usual, Groups Say

“There is no development on a dead planet,” says 350.org executive director May Boeve

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-25-2015

Campaigners outside of the UN building in New York on the eve of the Sustainable Development Goals Summit. (Photo: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development via flickr/cc)

Campaigners outside of the UN building in New York on the eve of the Sustainable Development Goals Summit. (Photo: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development via flickr/cc)

World leaders gathered at the United Nations on Friday and adopted a set of development goals—from eradicating poverty, to achieving gender equality, and taking urgent action on climate change—but they’ll only be achievable, according to anti-poverty organizations, if we bring an end to business-as-usual.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the objectives for 2030 known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as “bold yet achievable” and “the result of the most open and transparent consultation process in the history of the United Nations, in which individuals, community organizations, businesses, scientists, academics and other partners worked with Governments.” The goals’ stated focus is “leaving no one behind.” Continue reading

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Ayotzinapa: an unheard cry for justice

In the end, Ayotzinapa “was the State”, inasmuch as it was, and continues to be, the result of impunity and systematic abusive practices within the various levels of government in Mexico.

By Gema Santamaria. Published 9-25-2015 at openDemocracy.

"Ayotzinapa was the state". Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“Ayotzinapa was the state”. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

One year has passed since 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in the state of Guerrero were disappeared by perpetrators whose identity remains unknown and whose crimes remain unpunished. The brutality attributed to the disappearance and alleged killing of the students, as well the covert and overt involvement of public officials and security personnel, put an end to the silence and inertia that seemed to had taken hold of Mexico.

Despite the several episodes of brutality and impunity shaking the nation over the last decade, including the mass killing of 22 civilians in Tlatlaya in the State of Mexico only two months before Ayotzinapa, no event had produced such a national sense of indignation as the disappearance of the 43 students.  Ayotzinapa shattered at once the image of stability, cohesion, and economic modernization so carefully crafted by president Peña Nieto since the moment he took office in 2012. Ayotzinapa demonstrated that violence and insecurity were far from becoming an ancillary topic in the public agenda and that despite the government’s otherwise successful economic reforms, security and justice would continue to reflect the state’s incapacity to establish the rule of law. Continue reading

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Million-Liter Cyanide Spill in Argentina Highlights Canadian Mining Crimes

‘They cannot continue to handle affairs that are so delicate, that affect the environment and people this way.’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-25-2015

The Argentine government announced it was launching a legal investigation of the Canadian firm to see if there had been any criminal wrongdoing. If so, the company will allegedly face sanctions. The firm is already being sued in civil court over the leak, with plaintiffs demanding that it pay compensation for harm done to people, goods, and the environment. (Photo: ProtestBarrick.net)

The Argentine government announced it was launching a legal investigation of the Canadian firm to see if there had been any criminal wrongdoing. If so, the company will allegedly face sanctions. The firm is already being sued in civil court over the leak, with plaintiffs demanding that it pay compensation for harm done to people, goods, and the environment. (Photo: ProtestBarrick.net)

Highlighting how corporate extractivism and lack of accountability is driving the destruction of Latin American communities, a Canadian mining company has now confirmed that more than one million liters of cyanide solution spilled from the Barrick Gold Veladero mine in San Juan, Argentina this month—making the spill more than four times larger than originally estimated.

The Toronto-headquartered mining company initially said it had spilled just 224,000 liters of the toxic liquid, used to leach gold from processed rocks, into the Potrerillos River. On Wednesday, the corporation amended its statement (pdf) and said that in fact 1.072 million liters of a cyanide and water solution were spilled due to a failure in one of the valves in the mine’s pipes. Continue reading

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Fearing Blow to Corporate Trade Deal, Auto Industry Buried Car Safety Report

Observers have pointed out that ‘cars form a big part of the EU’s case for TTIP’

Written by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-24-15.

"EU and U.S. trade negotiators would potentially be putting lives in danger by allowing vehicles approved in the U.S. to be sold today in Europe and vice-versa," ETSC executive director Antonio Avenoso told The Independent. (Photo: Jean-Jacques M./flickr/cc)

“EU and U.S. trade negotiators would potentially be putting lives in danger by allowing vehicles approved in the U.S. to be sold today in Europe and vice-versa,” ETSC executive director Antonio Avenoso told The Independent. (Photo: Jean-Jacques M./flickr/cc)

For fear of sabotaging the corporate-friendly TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and European Union, the car industry buried a report showing major discrepancies between the safety records of U.S. and EU vehicles, according to exclusive reporting in The Independent on Wednesday.

Citing a leaked version of the analysis (pdf), which has since been “quietly posted on the University of Michigan’s website,” reporter Paul Gallagher wrote:

The major study was commissioned by the car industry to show that existing EU and U.S. safety standards were broadly similar.

But the research actually established that American models are much less safe when it comes to  front-side collisions, a common cause of accidents that often result in serious injuries.

The findings were never submitted – or publicly announced – by the industry bodies that funded the study.

The findings showed “substantial differences in performance,” Gallagher wrote. “Of particular concern to safety groups is the finding that passengers in a typical EU model are 33 per cent safer in front-side collisions, an accident that often results in serious injury, than those in a typical U.S. model.”

As the second- and third-largest vehicle producers in the world, the EU and U.S. together account for roughly one-third of global vehicle production, according to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service in 2014.

In announcing that the report had been commissioned in May 2014, the industry lobbyists noted that “[u]nder a TTIP, the two regions would represent the largest share of auto production and sales ever covered by a single trade agreement.”

Indeed, observers such as economist and author Martin Whitlock have pointed out that “cars form a big part of the EU’s case for TTIP.”

In a briefing published Thursday, the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), a Brussels-based nonprofit, explained: “The car industry is hoping to be one of the biggest beneficiaries from a TTIP agreement, partly by removing tariffs on imports, but mainly by removal of so-called non-tariff measures (NTMs). One example of NTMs is the fact that car manufacturers have to meet two separate sets of safety and environmental standards for the EU and US markets.”

In 2013, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers—which represents companies including BMW, Toyota, and Volvo—stated that regulatory differences between the U.S. and EU “can act as non-tariff barriers to trade,” in turn raising costs for consumers.

To that end, the ETSC continued, “[c]armakers on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that safety standards are equivalent, i.e. not the same, but offer similar outcomes.”

But the auto industry’s clandestine report clearly shows that is not the case.

With that in mind, the ETSC declared on Thursday:

We consider that the work done until now, is not comprehensive enough to justify recognition of ‘equivalence’ today in full or in part. That situation is unlikely to change within the deadline for the TTIP negotiations i.e. the end of this year.

We also consider the process by which the current work is being done lacks the necessary transparency and openness required for an issue of public policy as important as vehicle safety, which is quite literally a matter of life and death.

One example of this problem is that the EU’s own research and position papers on vehicle safety for TTIP have only been made available for public and expert scrutiny after they have already been discussed by trade negotiators.

The appropriate and precautionary approach would be to remove vehicle safety harmonisation from the TTIP negotiations.

On social media, TTIP critics seized upon the latest news as just one more reason to oppose the mammoth “trade” deal.

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“This study shows that EU and U.S. trade negotiators would potentially be putting lives in danger by allowing vehicles approved in the U.S. to be sold today in Europe and vice-versa,” ETSC executive director Antonio Avenoso told The Independent. “What’s needed is an open and transparent process for getting both sides up to the highest level of safety across all vehicles. Clearly without much more research and analysis, including vehicle safety standards in the TTIP agreement would be irresponsible.”

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Confidential Charter School Memo Blasted as ‘Outline for a Hostile Takeover’

Critic says billionaire’s plan to “charterize” Los Angeles public schools is “a ham-handed effort to circumvent democracy in a major American city.”

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-23-2015

A sign at Sunday's protest outside the new Broad Museum in Los Angeles. (Photo: Joel Rubin/Twitter)

A sign at Sunday’s protest outside the new Broad Museum in Los Angeles. (Photo: Joel Rubin/Twitter)

A California billionaire is enlisting other wealthy backers in a $490 million scheme to place half of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District into charter schools over the next eight years—a plan at least one critic says would “do away with democratically controlled, publicly accountable education in LA.”

The Los Angeles Times obtained a confidential 44-page proposal, “The Great Public Schools Now Initiative,” drafted by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates. Continue reading

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Is Canada Importing Voter Suppression Tactics from the United States?

Agency that oversees country’s elections warns of U.S.-style ‘scare tactics, misinformation’

By Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-22-2015.

By JMacPherson (Flickr: Youth_vote) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Calgary election fraud protest on March 11, 2012. Photo by JMacPherson (Flickr: Youth_vote) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The agency that oversees elections in Canada issued a warning to its staff last year to keep a lookout for U.S.-style tricks aimed at suppressing the vote in the national elections that are slated for October 19, The Canadian Press revealed on Monday.

In May 2014, the agency Elections Canada delivered the presentation “An Introduction to Emerging Trends and Threats in Electoral Operations”—which was later obtained by The Canadian Press through an Access to Information Act request.

“We need look no further than the United States to find a vast overview of contemporary voter suppression and surveillance practices,” the presentation notes reportedly state, citing 17 cases in 15 American states between 2004 through 2012. Continue reading

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Japan Takes Leap Toward Militarism With Passage of Controversial ‘Security’ Bills

‘We cannot allow a situation to arise anew in which our young people are sent off to war to kill and be killed.’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-18-2015

Protesters hold signs against the then-proposed changes to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. (Photo: Christian c/flickr/cc)

Protesters hold signs against the then-proposed changes to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. (Photo: Christian c/flickr/cc)

Japan’s parliament passed into law on Saturday contentious bills would allow its troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.

The Japan Times reports that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s

goal was to find a way to remove some of the key legal restrictions that the war-renouncing Constitution imposes on the Self-Defense Forces during overseas missions in order to strengthen Japan’s all-important military alliance with the United States.

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Right-Wing soft power, the refugee crisis and Europe’s failure

The fact that Syriza was crucified more often and with more intensity than Viktor Orbán speaks volumes in itself. It is just that most people do not want to listen.

By Srdjan M. Jovanovic. Published 9-20-2015 on openDemocracy

Austrian foreign minister meets Serbian finance minister and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.

Austrian foreign minister meets Serbian finance minister and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.

By the very end of the twentieth century, in the late 1980s, Joseph Nye coined the term ’soft power’. Little did we know that he had hit an ontological political jackpot. Oculus tauri. Nye wrote that ’the dictionary tells us that power means an ability to do things and control others, to get others to do what they otherwise would not’, giving the very definition of power as it is, an almost proverbial potestas per se. Traditionally, power was seen as brute force, an almost strictly military instance. ’Today, however, the definition of power is losing its emphasis on military force and conquest that marked earlier eras’, he wrote. ’Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade’.

No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, today’s Europe (and much of the rest of the world) is a willing slave to the Right-Wing’s soft power. This power is so strong that it has persuaded us that the Right Wing is not even Right-Wing. Until it becomes ’extreme’, such as the case of Viktor Orbán. Soft power is the Right-Wing’s bread and butter. And it works. Continue reading

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