Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
It’s becoming clear why TPP was negotiated in secret: it includes some strongly opposed provisions that will override US law. Jordan Pearson reports at Motherboard:
Digital rights advocates’ worst fears were confirmed on Friday morning after the finalized intellectual property chapter of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was leaked by Wikileaks, just days after talks concluded in Atlanta.
Under the agreement, it appears that internet service providers could be forced to block websites hosting content that infringes copyright.
The leaked copyright chapter of the TPP is just a portion of the text that all 12 negotiating nations agreed upon; the rest of the agreement will remain a closely-guarded secret until the full text is released in the coming months.
According to the leaked text, Canada was able to preserve its more measured takedown system, compared to the US at least, which is based on notifying all parties before any action is taken. But it comes at a cost: internet service providers must “remove or disable access” to content upon “becoming aware” of a decision by a court that says the content infringes copyright. According to internet legal expert Michael Geist, that court order could come from any TPP signatory.
“Canada didn’t take a very strong stand on many copyright issues”
“The broadly worded provision could force Canadian ISPs to block content on websites after being notified of a foreign court order—without first having to assess whether the site is even legal under Canadian law,” Geist wrote in a blog post this morning.
That means that if a US court were to, say, find that a popular filesharing website was distributing copyrighted Hollywood movies, ISPs in all TPP countries would be compelled to block access to that site.
Until now, leaked drafts of the agreement’s chapters have been outdated works in progress, leaving commentators guessing as to which provisions would actually be left in the final document.
But while the TPP text may be finalized, the agreement must still be ratified by the governments of all signing countries, which could push back against the agreement’s provisions or even abandon the deal altogether. At the very least, it’s possible that the content blocking stipulation could be reevaluated and clarified, Geist said, but it’s unlikely.
“Canada didn’t take a very strong stand on many copyright issues, it would appear,” Geist wrote me in an email. “Not sure of the interest in doing so later.”
The leaked chapter also confirms that US negotiators succeeded in pushing for extended copyright terms—70 years plus the life of the author, for all countries, which include developing nations like Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam. . .
The term of copyright being 70 years plus the life of the author is WAY too long. Works, IMO, should enter the public domain one generation (30 years) after the life of the author.
Very interesting column by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:
at with a former peanut-company owner, Stewart Parnell, being sent to prison for knowingly selling salmonella-tainted peanut butter, and Volkswagen’s C.E.O., Martin Winterkorn, resigning after revelations about the cheat software in the firm’s diesel-powered cars, it took a special magnitude of corporate misbehavior to make the business-news headlines in the past couple of weeks. But Martin Shkreli, the C.E.O. of Turing Pharmaceuticals, managed it when his company said it was raising the price of a sixty-two-year-old lifesaving drug from $13.50 to seven hundred and fifty dollars a pill. The move quickly became a major scandal; Shkreli was called “the most hated man in America.” Yet the true scandal of Turing’s profiteering scheme was that it was entirely legal.
Daraprim—which is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a condition that afflicts AIDSpatients, among others—first came on the market back in 1953, so it has long since gone off patent. But what Shkreli recognized was that, even with a generic drug, regulatory barriers and a lack of competition can make big price hikes possible. In Daraprim’s case, only one company had regulatory approval to sell the drug in the United States. So, in August, Turing bought those rights. Shkreli knew that, in principle, other companies could produce their own versions of Daraprim. But it seemed a fair bet that none of them would try. The market for Daraprim is small—eight to twelve thousand prescriptions a year in the U.S.—and any company that wanted to enter the market would have to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of getting F.D.A. approval. As it happens, several companies already make and sell a generic version of Daraprim abroad, but they weren’t a worry, either, because they, too, would have to jump through the F.D.A.’s hoops to sell it here. Turing loaded the deck even further in its own favor by insisting on a model of “closed distribution” for the drug, restricting access to patients, doctors, and a limited number of distributors and pharmacies. In the unlikely event that another company wanted to produce Daraprim, it would be hard to buy enough of the drug to reverse-engineer.
Essentially, Shkreli is exploiting rules devised to protect consumer safety in order to create a virtual monopoly and then charge whatever he wants. Monopolies are inherent to the drug industry in the U.S.: patents, in effect, are temporary monopolies. But we have patents because they give drug companies an incentive to invest in developing new drugs. There’s no such justification in the case of Daraprim. Turing’s price gouging does not reward innovation and it doesn’t reflect the cost of production. In the United Kingdom, Daraprim sells for less than a dollar a pill.
Turing’s business model is a quintessential example of rent seeking: increasing profits not by adding real value for customers but by exploiting loopholes. And, unfortunately, Turing is not alone. Last year, another company run by Shkreli acquired the rights to a kidney-disease drug called Thiola and raised the drug’s price twentyfold. In 2011, K-V Pharmaceutical got F.D.A. approval to market a synthetic hormone that had been used for decades to prevent preterm births. Once K-V got approval and exclusive rights, it raised the price from around fifteen dollars to fifteen hundred dollars an injection. There have also been alarming increases in the prices of common drugs like doxycycline. Generic-drug makers have been merging with each other, leaving fewer competitors. “Without price competition, the generic model fails,” Gerard Anderson, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins, told me. “Without competition, there are no market forces that limit price increases.”
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. In place of closed distribution, the F.D.A. can require companies to make samples of their drugs available to competitors. The F.T.C., as Anderson argues, should be more aggressive in limiting mergers among generic-drug makers. And the U.S. and other developed countries should also adopt an arrangement known as regulatory reciprocity: if a drug maker has approval to sell a drug abroad, it should be able to sell that drug here, and vice versa. Safety concerns may rule out importing drugs from just anywhere, but there is no good reason for a company selling a drug in, say, Germany to have to spend time and money to get the right to sell it here. Foreign competition has played a central role in holding down retail prices in industries ranging from automobiles to consumer electronics. It’s time drug prices were subject to the same rules. Shkreli has said, since the backlash, that Turing will roll back the Daraprim price increase. But the fate of toxoplasmosis sufferers shouldn’t depend on the egomaniacal whims of a “pharma bro.” . . .
They should be required to record and report wrongful arrests. Take a look at this one.
Loretta Lynch doesn’t make any sense on this issue, and she’s the Attorney General. While Eric Holder seems to have taken as his signature mission protecting Wall Street and ensuring that no one in the financial community faced any accountability, Lynch is starting a program to allow the police to do whatever they want without accountability, and that begins with ensuring that what the police do is kept secret: no reports of people killed by police.
Ciara McCarthy reports in the Guardian:
Attorney general Loretta Lynch says the federal government should not require police to report fatal shootings of civilians, sharply diverging from her predecessor Eric Holder’s stance on police killings.
In a conversation with NBC journalist Chuck Todd on a range of criminal justice issues, Lynch said on Thursday that she does not support a federal mandate to report people killed by police.
“One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept,” she said at the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by AtlanticLIVE and the Aspen Institute.
Lynch said the Justice Department does “encourage” local departments to maintain records on police shootings but that improving police-community relations is more important. She noted that the small size of the average police department could make record-keeping difficult. . .
It seems obvious (though apparently not to Lynch) that keeping records and maintaining transparency would improve police-community relations. It seems very much as though she has not thought this through and is taking the typical prosecutorial stance of protecting the police automatically.
Eric Holder, her predecessor, was quite clear on the need for keeping records and on how that would help police-community relations. From later in the same article:
. . . Lynch’s statements show a sharp contrast from her predecessor’s position on tracking police violence. Holder, the former attorney general who left office in April, has called the lack of official data “unacceptable”. Before leaving office he called its collection the “first step” toward improving police-community relations.
“I’ve heard from a number of people who have called on policymakers to ensure better record-keeping on injuries and deaths that occur at the hands of police. I’ve also spoken with law enforcement leaders – including the leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police – who have urged elected officials to consider strategies for collecting better data on officer fatalities,” Holder said in January. “Today, my response to these legitimate concerns is simple: We need to do both.” . . .
UPDATE: If I follow Loretta Lynch’s argument, she is saying that having the police record and report those they kill will be a great burden on police departments because they kill so many. Right? And she’s talking about small police departments not being able to do the recordkeeping, presumably because those small departments are killing so many people that keeping track would be a burden.
It’s not exactly subtle. Glenn Greenwald has a good account of how strongly the US is resisting having an independent organization investigate the attack on the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. The reason the US is resisting investigation by an independent outside investigator is obvious: the US would then not be able to control the investigation and shape the findings. That is, despite the many statements that US wants transparency in this investigation, that in fact is the last thing it wants. It wants the investigation to show that the attack was an “accident,” despite (a) the military knew full well the GPS coordinates of the hospital and (b) the military continued the attack for 30 minutes after getting notification that they were attacking the hospital.
The full story is well worth reading. It begins:
In Geneva this morning, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demanded a formal, independent investigation into the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz. The group’s international president, Dr. Joanne Liu (pictured above, center), specified that the inquiry should be convened pursuant to war-crime-investigating procedures established by the Geneva Conventions and conducted by The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. “Even war has rules,” Liu said. “This was just not an attack on our hospital. It was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated.”
Liu emphasized that the need for an “independent, impartial“ investigation is now particularly compelling given what she called “the inconsistency in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over the recent days.” On Monday, we documented the multiple conflicting accounts offered in the first three days by the U.S. military and its media allies, but the story continued to change even further after that. As The Guardian’s headline yesterday noted, the U.S. admission that its own personnel called in the airstrike – not Afghan forces as it claimed the day before – meant that “US alters story for fourth time in four days.” All of this led Liu to state the obvious today: “We cannot rely on internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.” . . .
The report, which includes a video and an exchange between US officials and reporters, concludes:
. . . Many Americans, and especially a large percentage of the nation’s journalists, need no investigation to know that this was nothing more than a terrible, tragic mistake. They believe that Americans, and especially their military, are so inherently good and noble and well-intentioned that none would ever knowingly damage a hospital. John McCain expressed this common American view and the primary excuse now accompanying it – stuff happens – on NPR this morning:
They’re certain of this despite how consistent MSF has been that this was a “war crime.” They’re certain of it despite how many times, and how recently, MSF notified the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of this hospital. They’re certain of it even though bombing continued for 30 minutes after MSF pleaded with them to stop. They’re certain of it despite the substantial evidence that their Afghan allies long viewed this exact hospital with hostility because – true to its name and purpose – the group treated all wounded human beings, including Taliban. They’re certain of it even though Afghan officials have explicitly defended the airstrike against the hospital on the ground that Taliban were inside. They’re certain of it despite how many times the U.S. has radically changed its story about what happened as facts emerged that proved its latest claims false. They’re certain of it despite how many times the U.S. has attacked and destroyed civilian targets under extremely suspicious circumstances.
But they are not apparently so certain that they desire an independent, impartial investigation into what actually happened here. The facially ludicrous announcement by the State Department that the Pentagon will investigate itself produced almost no domestic outrage. A religious-like belief in American exceptionalism and tribal superiority is potent indeed, and easily overrides evidence or facts. It blissfully renders the need for investigations obsolete. In their minds, knowing that it was Americans who did this suffices to know what happened, at least on the level of motive: it could not possibly be the case that there was any intentionality here at all. As McCain said, it’s only the Bad People – not Americans – who do such things deliberately.
But those who already know that this was all a terrible mistake, that no U.S. personnel would ever purposely call for a strike on a hospital even if they thought there were Taliban inside, should be the ones most eager for the most credible investigation possible: namely, the one under the Geneva Conventions which MSF this morning demanded, by the tribunal created exactly for such atrocities.
Perhaps of interest: Two jaundiced looks at Ben Bernanke prompted by his recent book:
David Dayen reports in The Intercept:
Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke joined practically everyone in America by saying in his new memoir, The Courage to Act, that more Wall Street executives should have gone to jail for criminal misconduct that led to the financial crisis.
“It would have been my preference to have more investigation of individual action, since obviously everything what went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm,” he wrote.
Unlike practically everyone else in America, however, Bernanke in a pretty good position to actually facilitate criminal misconduct proceedings, if he wanted to see them so badly — as head of the nation’s most powerful bank supervisory agency from 2006 to 2014.
The Fed, like all banking regulators, can initiate criminal referrals to the Justice Department for individuals they find to have broken the law. This acts as the first line of defense to discipline criminal misconduct on Wall Street.
But such activities were absent during the period when Bernanke was chair, according to criminologist and law professor Bill Black. “The Federal Reserve appears to have made zero criminal referrals; it made three about discrimination,” Black told Bill Moyers in 2013.
And when Bernanke took action, his stumbling attempts at accountability weren’t just inadequate; they were absurd. The one major action his Federal Reserve took regarding specific conduct regarding the financial crisis wound up as the most embarrassing display of fake accountability in the history of the Obama Administration.
The mortgage securitization process that fed the housing bubble and generated the financial crisis also led to widespread foreclosure fraud, and in April 2011, the Fed, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, issued enforcement orders against ten major banks over “misconduct and negligence related to deficient practices in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.” . . .
Pam Martens and Russ Martens write in Wall Street on Parade:
Will the American people ever get an honest writing of the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse? If you think it is to be found in the new book released on Monday by former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (which we seriously doubt you are thinking) you will be disappointed.
What you will find in Bernanke’s book are photos of his grandparents, a photo of theTime Magazine cover with himself named “Man of the Year,” a photo of Bernanke with the masterminds of the repeal of the investor protection act known as Glass-Steagall (Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers), a photo of the grand double staircase in the Federal Reserve building, and so forth.
What you will not find is an honest accounting of how the Fed allowed Citigroup to grow into a financial Frankenstein and then quietly and secretly shoveled trillions of dollars into the firm to keep it afloat.
You won’t find any of that because on March 3, 2009, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified under questioning from Senator Bernie Sanders that “the Federal Reserve lends to healthy firms on a collateralized basis…” In reality, Citigroup was a financial basket-case at that point. Its stock closed that day at $1.22. It would take a court battle launched by Bloomberg News and legislation pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders to unearth from the Fed the fact that it had funneled over $16 trillion in cumulative loans to save the financial system. Citigroup was the largest recipient of those loans, with a take of over $2.5 trillion cumulatively, on top of $45 billion in TARP funds and over $306 billion in asset guarantees.
Bernanke’s account in his new book, The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, attempts to resuscitate the bogus scenario that it was the collapse of Lehman and AIG that set the crisis in motion, not mega banks weakened by lax regulation by the Fed and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a decision supported by the Fed. (Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, and AIG, an insurance company, were not overseen by the Federal Reserve at that time.)
Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC during the crisis, has already revealed that Citigroup was far from a healthy institution when the Fed was secretly shoveling $2.5 trillion in cumulative loans into the firm, many at below 1 percent interest rates. Bair wrote in her own book, Bull by the Horns, the following: . . .
I am leery of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Paul Krugman points out that it’s reassuring to see who is against it and why. From his brief blog post (and do click the link to read the whole thing):
What I know so far: pharma is mad because the extension of property rights in biologics is much shorter than it wanted, tobacco is mad because it has been carved out of the dispute settlement deal, and Rs in general are mad because the labor protection stuff is stronger than expected. All of these are good things from my point of view.
However, James Surowiecki in a brief New Yorker column describes some drawbacks:
In 2012, Australia implemented tough anti-tobacco regulations, requiring that all cigarettes be sold in plain, logo-free brown packages dominated by health warnings. Philip Morris Asia filed suit, claiming that this violated its intellectual-property rights and would damage its investments. The company sued Australia in domestic court and lost. But it had another card to play. In 1993, Australia had signed a free-trade agreement with Hong Kong, where Philip Morris Asia is based. That agreement included provisions protecting foreign investors from unfair treatment. So the company sued under that deal, claiming that the new law violated the investor-protection provisions. It asked for the regulations to be discontinued, and for billions in compensation.
The case has yet to be decided, but the concerns it raises help explain President Obama’s embarrassing setback last week, when the House failed to give him fast-track authority over one of two big trade agreements that had been envisaged as a key part of his legacy. Both agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with eleven Asian and Pacific countries, and an agreement with Europe called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—include provisions very like the ones at the heart of Australia’s fight with Big Tobacco. Known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (or I.S.D.S.) provisions, they typically allow foreign investors to sue governments when they feel they have not received “fair or equitable treatment,” and to have their cases heard not by a domestic court but by an international arbitration tribunal made up of three lawyers.
These provisions have been opposed by an unusual coalition of progressives and conservatives, who contend that they will let multinationals override government policy, and, as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, “undermine U.S. sovereignty.” On the other side, the Obama Administration and business groups insist that this is just fear-mongering. They point out that I.S.D.S. provisions have been around for fifty years, that lawsuits under them are rare, and that companies typically don’t win them. I.S.D.S., they argue, doesn’t limit the ability of governments to regulate but gives foreign investors some redress if they get treated unfairly. That makes them more likely to invest in countries that don’t have robust legal systems, which fuels economic growth. In the old days, aggrieved American investors would call on the Navy to protect their interests—thus the phrase “gunboat diplomacy.” How much better that now they just call their lawyers.
But these days signing such agreements is risky for countries. I.S.D.S. lawsuits used to be rare, but they’re becoming a growth industry. Nearly a hundred have been filed in the past two years, as against some five hundred in the quarter century before that. Investor protection, previously a sideshow in corporate law, is now a regular part of law-school curricula. “We’ve also seen an expansion in the types of claims that have been brought,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, told me. I.S.D.S. was originally meant to protect investors against seizure of their assets by foreign governments. Now I.S.D.S. lawsuits go after things like cancelled licenses, unapproved permits, and unwelcome regulations.
This mission creep has been abetted by the fact that the language of I.S.D.S. provisions is often vague. Jason Yackee, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in international-investment law, told me, “The rights given to investors are so open-ended and ambiguous that they allow for a lot of creative lawyering.” Canada lost a case where it had rejected, after an environmental study, a proposed mining and marine-terminal project. The country was also sued when Quebec imposed a moratorium on fracking. Germany is in the midst of a $4.7-billion lawsuit occasioned by its decision to phase out nuclear power. Uruguay is facing a lawsuit from Philip Morris International, much like the one brought against Australia.
There’s nothing wrong with domestic courts reviewing government regulations, but outsourcing the responsibility to international tribunals is troubling. . .
Continue reading. He suggests that I.S.D.S. should be dropped altogether.
And John Cassidy, also in the New Yorker, talks about the TPP and the likely impact on world poverty, a column also worth reading. From that column:
With a good deal of justification, critics like Bernie Sanders argue that previous deals, such asNAFTA, favored business interests at the expense of workers and the environment. Many progressives argue that the T.P.P. will be another giveaway. Meanwhile, conservative critics such as Donald Trump, with rather less justification, argue that the United States’ trading partners have outsmarted and out-negotiated us. In fact, the known details of the agreement, which include strong guarantees for intellectual-property rights and some binding resolution procedures for cross-border disputes, appear to reflect pretty closely what corporate America wanted, even if some individual interests, such as tobacco producers, aren’t happy about last-minute concessions that U.S. negotiators made in order to get a deal.
For the sake of American workers threatened by overseas competition, sick people in poor countries who buy American drugs, and many, many others, it is important to get the details right. But the larger context is also worth bearing in mind. With the remarkable rise of China and India, the global economy’s center of gravity has shifted to the east—and there, despite the problems currently facing China and other developing countries, it is is likely to stay. Not for nothing are the White House and other supporters of the T.P.P. busy promoting it as way of defining some rules for a more Asia-centric world, and also—in traditional mercantile fashion—as a means of checking a rising rival power, in this case China.