TPP—A Means of Surrendering Our National Sovereignty

The details are out on the the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and critics say the trade deal is worse than they feared. The TPP’s full text was released Thursday, weeks after the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations—a group representing 40 percent of the world’s economy—reached an agreement. Activists around the world have opposed the TPP, warning it will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, free speech and labor rights. Congress now has 90 days to review the TPP before President Obama can ask for an up-or-down vote.  Take the time to learn more about this treaty and then weigh in with your representation in the Congress (both Houses) as to your thoughts.  You can find a PDF version of the actual text of the various chapters here, and a slightly more Internet-friendly glossed over-version of what proponents of the TPP want you to know on Medium.

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Possibly the Most Important Video You Will Ever See — Just Say NO!

Pre-NAFTA trade deficits, 1962-1992

NAFTA related trade deficits, 1993-2012Read More:

#ItsNotUpToThem Week

— Roberta Lange, Nevada State Democratic Party Chair

A few weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a backwards ruling that allows for-profit corporate CEOs to make medical decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor.  That’s right – in the year 2014, the Supreme Court thinks female employees’ healthcare decisions should be made in a corporate boardroom, not a doctor’s office.

This week, the United States Senate will vote on legislation to address the Supreme Court’s ruling and ensure women who work at for-profit corporations have access to reproductive healthcare.  While Democrats like Senator Reid, Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, and Erin Bilbray support ensuring women have access to reproductive healthcare, Republicans like Dean Heller and Joe Heck have consistently voted to restrict women’s access to contraception.

In support of the Senate bill, Nevada Democrats are launching #ItsNotUpToThem week.  All week we will be highlighting how dangerous the Republican agenda is for the health of Nevada women.  Because whether it’s Mark Hutchison leading the charge to go back to a time where private insurance companies could treat being a woman as a pre-existing condition, or Joe Heck voting to weaken the Violence Against Women Act, it’s time we send a message to Nevada Republicans that women’s healthcare decisions aren’t up to them or corporate bosses.

Sign your name here to tell Republicans it’s 2014, not 1914.    


Please note that Roberta mentioned Candidate Erin Bilbray who is running agains Rep. Joe Heck, but failed to mention Kristen Spees who is running against Rep. Mark Amodei to represent those of us who are unfortunate enough to live in NV-Congressional District 2!

Corporate Rights Trump Women’s Health in Hobby Lobby Ruling

‘This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.’

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer at Common Dreams

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Defenders of women’s health and reproductive freedom are reacting with anger to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday which ruled that an employer with religious objection can opt out of providing contraception coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.

Writing for the majority side of the 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the “the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates [employers’] religious beliefs.”

Rights advocates were quick to condemn the court’s decision.

“Today’s decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end,” Hogue continued. “Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms. The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn’t hold up. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.”

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women in the U.S. use birth control for a variety of health reasons, according to research by women’s health organizations.

“The fact of the matter is that birth control is a wildly popular and medically necessary part of women’s health care,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization. Chaudhary adds that despite it’s clear necessity for the reproductive health of the majority of women, one in three women have struggled at some point to afford birth control.

Monday’s ruling focuses specifically on companies that are “closely-held,” which analysts report covers over 90 percent of businesses in the United States.

The dissenting opinion, penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and supported by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and mostly joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, acknowledges that the decision was of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent. —Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The opinion was based largely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that a law that burdens a person’s religious beliefs must be justified by a compelling government interest.

“There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts ‘out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,'” Ginsburg adds, concluding: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Echoing Ginsburg’s concern, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the ruling “a double-edged disaster,” saying it “conjures up fake religious freedom rights for corporations while being blind to the importance of birth control to America’s working women.”

Similar reactions were expressed on Twitter following the news. Summarizing the crux of the decision, NBC producer Jamil Smith wrote:

The Hobby Lobby decision means that in terms of personhood, corporations > women. And Christianity > everyone else.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) June 30, 2014

Others, joining Ginsburg’s outrage that now “legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs” would be denied essential health coverage, expressed their opinions under the banner “#jointhedissent.”

#jointhedissent Tweets

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The majority opinion leaves open the possibility that the federal government can cover the cost of contraceptives for women whose employers opt out, leaving many to look to the Obama administration for their next move.

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Food Lobby Colossus Sues Vermont over GMO ‘Right to Know’

Powerful lobbyist groups claim ‘free speech’ as they file suit against law that says consumers should know what’s in their food

— by Jon Queally, staff writer
Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin last month signed Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill into law on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier.  Joining him was Brigid Armbrust, 11, of West Hartford (in black), who launched a letter-writing campaign in support of GMO labeling. 

Vermont’s Attorney General William Sorrellon has said his office is ready for a “heck of a fight” after some of the most powerful members of the nation’s food industry filed suit on Thursday challenging the state’s new law that requires the labeling of packaged food containing genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

“Every U.S. citizen should be concerned when a multi-billion dollar corporate lobbying group sues in federal court to overturn a state’s right to govern for the health and safety of its citizens.” —Ronnie Cummins, OCA

Though not unexpected, the official filing of the federal lawsuit (pdf) against Vermont—brought by Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers—marks the beginning of a legal battle that could have far-reaching implications in the national fight over GMO food.

Vermont’s new GMO labeling mandate, passed by the state legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin in May, is the first of its kind in the nation and requires labeling of most products containing genetically-altered ingredients by 2016.

“The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” said Falko Schilling, a consumer protection advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Despite the public’s widespread support for the law, the food industry lobbyists are challenging the labeling requirement on free speech grounds.

“Act 120 imposes burdensome new speech requirements — and restrictions — that will affect, by Vermont’s count, eight out of every ten foods at the grocery store,” said the GMA in a statement on Thursday.

But Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association, defended the Vermont law and said the industry lawsuit was simply an example of large corporate interests trying to intimidate other states who are now considering labeling laws of their own.

As Cummins told the Burlington Free Press: “Every U.S. citizen should be concerned when a multi-billion dollar corporate lobbying group sues in federal court to overturn a state’s right to govern for the health and safety of its citizens.”

Just last week, a national poll conducted by Consumer Reports showed an overwhelming majority of U.S. consumers (more than 90 percent) think that before GMO food is sold it should be labeled accordingly. Numerous other polls in recent years have shown similar levels of support and the “right to know” movement that supports labeling has focused on state-level laws as a way to forge progress outside of Washington, DC. where the food industry holds considerable power and influence.

TPP: OF and FOR the sole benefit of Corporations—Definitely a Violation of the Public’s Trust

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)  is facing increasing scrutiny for the extreme secrecy surrounding negotiations around this sweeping new trade deal that could rewrite OUR nation’s laws on everything from healthcare and internet freedom, to food safety and the financial markets. The latest negotiations over the TPP were recently held behind closed doors in Lima, Peru, but the Obama administration has rejected calls to release the current text. Even members of Congress have complained about being shut out of the negotiation process.  Regardless of all the Congressional whining about not having sufficient time to read and understand what’s in a bill, let along a treaty, a bill to “fast-track” approval of  TPP.  Fast-tracking would allow President Obama to sign the treaty (which is massively worse than NAFTA on some seriously wicked steroids) and once signed, Congress would have limited opportunity for debate and would be required to hold an up/down vote within 90 days of the president signing the treaty.  Are you kidding me?  What are they smokin’ on the Hill?

Last year, a leaked chapter from the draft agreement outlined how the TPP would allow foreign corporations operating in the United States to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its rulings. We discuss the TPP with two guests: Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist with the AFL-CIO; and Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center, which has just released a new report on how corporations use trade rules to seize resources and undermine democracy. “What is the biggest threat to the ability of corporations to go into a country and suck out the natural resources without any regard for the environment or labor standards? The threat is democracy,” Shultz says. “The threat is that citizens will be annoying and get in the way and demand that their governments take action. So what corporations need is to become more powerful than sovereign states. And the way they become more powerful is by tangling sovereign states in a web of these trade agreements.”

Drake adds: “We question the wisdom of pursuing the TPP in the first place. We do have, for better or for worse, the World Trade Organization which has lowered tariffs around the world and has allowed us to increase our exports as Mr. Froman was explaining in his speech. So what the TPP is about is all these other things around the tariffs, so it is about the investor state, dispute tribunals, it’s about harmonizing rules for food safety, it’s about harmonizing rules for intellectual property, a lot of rules that if citizens aren’t really participating in the formation of those rules, they’re not necessarily going to work out to the benefit of working people and American citizens. So we’re very active in following the negotiations and advocating for better rules that will help workers, real farmers, small businesses, because our past trade agreements starting with NAFTA and on down the line have basically been big packages that benefit the 1 percent and if anybody else benefits it’s really only by accident and not really by design.”

You will not see a more honest assessment of the threat to democracy posed by TPP than on DemocracyNow:

In Major Blow To Consumers, Supreme Court Protects Mega-Corporations From Liability

By Nicole Flatow on Jun 20, 2013 at 12:10 pm

NicoleFlatowIn case it wasn’t clear already, the U.S. Supreme Court hammered home Thursday morning that it will protect the rights of corporations to force arbitration over the individuals’ access to the court system at any expense.

 In a 5-3 ruling with Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused, Justice Antonin Scalia eviscerated almost any opportunity small merchants have to challenge alleged monopolistic practices by American Express in their credit card agreements.

Sound familiar? Earlier this term, the court turned back on procedural grounds a lawsuit alleging monopolistic practices by Comcast. A week after that, they turned back the claims of workers to challenge employer practices as a class. And in 2011, they issued one of the worst blows to consumer rights in years when they held that consumers challenging $30 fees could not sue together as a class. In each of these cases, the court’s procedural rulings mean the parties may never get to argue about whether these corporations actually violated the law. And as a consequence, these corporations may never be held accountable.

With Thursday’s ruling, the court added small businesses to the list of aggrieved parties whose access to the courthouse has been foreclosed by boilerplate contracts that prohibit parties from filing their challenge as a class, or from otherwise alleviating the immense cost of filing their claims individually. This time, the litigants were small businesses taking on American Express, and their lawyer was none other than conservative powerhouse Paul Clement. Clement has argued many of the major conservative court wins of the past few years, and his argument on the side of the plaintiffs was probably the last best shot at curbing the Roberts Court’s total perversion of the Federal Arbitration Act.

As in the AT&T case, the plaintiffs here argued that the only way they could challenge the policy of mega-corporation American Express was by banding together as a class and pooling their resources. But consumers’ claims in AT&T were struck down on a different rationale, that their state law claims were preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act. This time, the plaintiffs argued that because their antitrust claims are federal , they are protected by the principle of “effective vindication,” meaning that where an arbitration clause effectively immunizes otherwise meritorious federal claims, plaintiffs are entitled to vindication of their actual rights. To show that that the arbitration clause would make any challenge prohibitively expensive, they deployed formal affidavits by economists attesting to the immense cost of these claims — “’at least several hundred thousand dollars, and might exceed $1 million’,” while the maximum recovery for an individual plaintiff would be $12,850, or $38,549 when trebled,” meaning they could not afford to launch their claims without the ability to file them together.

No matter, said the majority. In AT&T, “[w]e specifically rejected the argument that class arbitration was necessary to prosecute claims ‘that might otherwise slip through the legal system’.” This case is about federal law vindication and AT&T was about state law preemption, but as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent, “to a hammer everything looks like a nail.” Joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, Kagan explains the case this way:

Here is the nutshell version of this case, unfortunately obscured in the Court’s decision. The owner of a small restaurant (Italian Colors) thinks that American Express (Amex) has used its monopoly power to force merchants to accept a form contract violating the antitrust laws. The restaurateur wants to challenge the allegedly unlawful provision (imposing a tying arrangement), but the same contract’s arbitration clause prevents him from doing so.

That term imposes a variety of procedural bars that would make pursuit of the antitrust claim a fool’s errand. So if the arbitration clause is enforceable, Amex has insulated itself from antitrust liability—even if it has in fact violated the law. The monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse.

And here is the nutshell version of today’s opinion, admirably flaunted rather than camouflaged: Too darn bad.That answer is a betrayal of our precedents, and of federal statutes like the antitrust laws.

Today’s ruling was yet another point in the Chamber of Commerce’s remarkable tally of wins before the Roberts Court, and another chance for the most business-friendly justices in 65 years to side with their friends.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Transplanting Taxes from Corporations to the Rest of Us

American taxpayers are increasingly picking up the tab for unpaid corporate taxes.

— by Scott Klinger

Scott Klinger

Today, corporate profits are setting all-time records while middle class families continue to struggle financially. These trends are intertwined.

Whether you’ve clicked to send your tax forms to the IRS along the cyber-highway or dropped your return in the old-fashioned blue mailbox, you’ll be paying extra to cover the growing amount of taxes that the nation’s clever corporations are shunting onto individual taxpayers.

Officially, the U.S. corporate tax rate stands at 35 percent, but in practice it’s far lower. Corporations have lots of tricks in their box of tax-avoidance tools.

Consider Pfizer’s track record. The drugmaker increased its offshore profits by $10 billion in 2012, boosting its offshore stash to $73 billion — all of it untaxed by Uncle Sam. Like most pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer registers its patents in a low-tax offshore haven, and then charges a high price for the use of this “intellectual property.” Doing so, it shifts all of its U.S. profits offshore, avoiding U.S. taxes and bloating its overseas bank account.

Pfizer’s tax dodging prowess has earned it a gold medal in the sport, but it has also drawn unwanted attention from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC wrote to Pfizer last year asking them to explain four years of large losses in their U.S. operations despite reporting about 40 percent of their sales on American soil. Undeterred by the SEC investigation, Pfizer added a fifth year of U.S. losses to the string in 2012.

Imagine for a moment one of the physicians that prescribes Pfizer’s products taking their diploma off their office wall, carefully packing it up, and shipping it to a bank vault in the Cayman Islands. That diploma represents the doctor’s intellectual property. Without it, they would not be able to practice their profession.

After each visit, patients approaching the check-out desk would be given their bill and an envelope to mail their check to a post office box in the Cayman Islands. Faced with confused looks, the receptionist cheerfully explains, “Well, we have to pay for the use of the skills represented by the diploma, which is housed in the Caribbean.”

The corporate offshore tax dodge that shifts $90 billion of tax expenses onto individual taxpayers this Tax Day is just that crazy. Just like having a doctor’s diploma parked in the Cayman Islands does nothing to improve the quality of care, having corporate profits transferred from America to tax haven nations provides no enhanced benefits in terms of product quality or service. In other words, there is no economic value. It only serves to add more to already-overflowing corporate coffers.

Taxing Economics, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Taxing Economics: Tax havens put the corporate cart before the individual horse by Khalil Bendib

In the 1950s, corporations paid nearly a third of the federal government’s bills. Last year, thanks to the antics of Pfizer and other examples of overly creative accounting, corporate income taxes accounted for less than a tenth of Uncle Sam’s total revenue. This dramatic shortfall shows up in two ways — federal budget deficit growth and the growing trend of individual taxpayers paying an increased share of the costs of government.

Only about two in every thousand American businesses are even eligible to play this game, and far fewer actually do. Most business owners are proud to pay taxes they know support schools, good infrastructure, and national security.

If tax-dodging corporations were people, they might say thanks to the responsible taxpayers who are picking up their share of unpaid taxes. But since they aren’t human, allow me to say on their behalf, “Have a Nice Tax Day.”

Scott Klinger is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org